Writer of the Month
At the start of each month we select one of our contributors as Writer of the Month. The purpose of this is to recognise people of talent, commitment and who share their passion for public affairs and opinion in a vibrant and engaging way.
THIS MONTH'S WINNER IS: JACK HARRISON
What are you reading at the moment (politics or otherwise!)?
I've really fallen off the wagon with reading at the moment because the start of term has been rather hectic, so I suppose the most interesting way I can answer this question is to comment on a book I finished a while ago - The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. Of course, what with this being written in the 1930s, some of the wording and description is rather outdated to a modern audience. However, Orwell eloquently sums up the problems facing the working class of the time, and through his incisive prose we see in his writing the same problems the working classes face now: the rights of workers being taken for granted or ignored entirely by employers, landlords who simply do not understand or worse do not care for what they are doing to those who rely on them for housing, and of course the absolute desperation of the poorest in British society. Orwell's harrowing description of poverty then bares close relation to scenes I have witnessed myself growing up in one of the poorest parts of the country in the 2010s - the lack of substantial change to how this country treats the poor should have been a national shame back then, and it should be a national shame now. Orwell devotes the second half of his book to making an argument that socialism can help these people - and while he is thin on the ground generally in policy, he was proved right by the Atlee government, who alleviated some of the worst scenes he described by introducing welfare, the national health service and the push for better housing conditions. But, in the aftermath of a financial crisis not dissimilar to that which caused the 1930s to be so miserable, Orwell's message held weight for a reader in the 2010s too, and of course the events of 2020 have been disastrous for the poorest in society, further exacerbating this terrible situation.
What political issue do you think is most underreported today, and why?
The most underreported issues of our times always take similar forms - atrocities committed by nations too powerful to be tackled by the international community. China's movement of a million Uyghur Muslims to camps is something that is rarely discussed on television news and in the papers in the UK, yet there is significant evidence that the Chinese government is engaged in both a cultural and literal genocide of the Uyghur people, and the international community is doing nothing. Meanwhile, in the United States, their immigration service, ICE, is holding their detainees in camps too. While images of children in cages at these camps did gain traction in international news in 2019, there has been little reporting on the situation since then. This is despite some sources claiming that conditions in these camps are sufficiently bad as to label them concentration camps. In particular, it emerged in September this year that a number of women had undergone forced hysterectomies at the hands of their ICE captors. Most major media in the UK and internationally did write articles about this, but few of these organisations pushed this onto the parts of their output that large amounts of people would see. This has led to a situation in which our closest ally is performing involuntary hysterectomies on people kept in camps, and most of the public do not know.
What is your favourite contribution to Liberal Base so far?
My favourite Liberal Base piece so far has been I Tried The Matt Hancock App. It was very good fun to review the app in a piece that I was able to intersperse with jokes, all the while lightly mocking a high profile figure who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum to me. Of course, the style of that piece does not suit every political issue, and most of my writing for Liberal Base has been of a more serious tone, but if the situation warrants it I will try to be funny again, and I can only apologise for the astoundingly low quality humour that may produce.
What pieces of other writers have you enjoyed on the site?
I have enjoyed the work of all of the writers for the site, and I feel honoured to be among such a talented group. I enjoyed a lot of the pieces by Layla Moran when she was running for leader of the Liberal Democrats. I am happy she chose this platform as one of the many places to state clearly and eloquently the liberal purpose, and while she may not have won the leadership contest, the causes she brought to prominence during her time campaigning have had a large effect on many people in the centre-left space of politics, regardless of party affiliation. More recently, two articles jump out to me as having stuck in my mind. Firstly, The Way We Used To Care by David Warren. Warren makes a passionate case for the removal entirely of private sector involvement in the NHS, pointing out how changing the incentive from one of profit to one of care across the entire health sector would have been particularly useful at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The second piece is Free Speech and the Illiberal Liberal by Wayne Chadburn. I did not agree with the points that Chadburn was making, in particular I do not believe there is a free speech crisis at universities at all. However, Chadburn explains his side of the argument in a sensible and measured way, something that is rare in a topic that inspires such heated debate, and makes a compelling case for his point of view. I would perhaps one day like to write my own take on freedom of speech, and I hope that if I do so I can match the standard of argument in that article. It is well worth a read whether you agree with Chadburn or not.
What caused you to first engage with the political process?
A girl, amazingly. Well, I had been politically active right from being a child, but when I was 16 there were some events in my love life that tied in with the EU referendum - it's a story that it is probably not my place to tell publicly, so I'm afraid that's as much detail as I can provide. But by the morning after the EU referendum, I realised politics had gone from something I was kind of interested in to the main thing I would do outside of my academic study.
What is your earliest political memory?
I remember aged five talking down Michael Howard to disinterested children in my reception class in the run-up to the 2005 general election. I was a weird kid. They had no idea what I was on about, I had no idea what I was on about, I was just repeating things I had heard from my parents and seen on the news. But I do of course still maintain that I was right to have a negative opinion of him.
What do you hope to go on and do/study in the years to come?
I hope to do something to do with politics in the years to come. What form that will take I do not know, and I am always on the lookout for new opportunities. But what I hope to do could really be anything in the political process, be it working for an MP, working for a political party, a think tank, the Houses of Parliament. I just would like to be part of the machine of British democracy.
Complete the sentence. "If I were Acting Prime Minister, the SINGLE change I'd make would be..."
Re-introduction of full economic support for areas going into lockdown. Whether this be a lockdown organised by the devolved governments like in Wales, or a Tier 3 English lockdown like in Liverpool, it is vital both to alleviate the suffering of those living under lockdown and to secure the future prosperity of this nation's economy against the measures necessary to fight this virus that proper economic support exists for these areas. Yet, the government scaled back considerably the business support schemes - businesses forced to close now because of Tier 3 are eligible only for a small amount of money from the government compared to the vast sums available during the first lockdown, and at the end of this month the furlough scheme ends and is replaced by a scheme which amounts to a 17% pay cut for the workers who have been sent home. Given that already the closure of hospitality venues disproportionately affects the lowest paid in society, it is a disgrace that they should be forced to lose another 17% of wages. If I could only make one change it would be to introduce a full package of economic support to stop this socioeconomic disaster from unfolding on the streets of Britain - it would go at least as far as the economic support during the first lockdown, and potentially much further. The government should guarantee that the poor will not be the people who pay for this crisis.
Name the three most underrated politicians in British and American politics.
John Smith - Labour leader from 1992 to 1994. Smith replaced Kinnock, who had narrowly missed out on becoming Prime Minister after the surprise victory of the Conservative Party in the 1992 election. Smith sought to continue Kinnock's legacy in terms of policy, as well as push forward with the modernisation of the internal structure of the Labour Party that Kinnock had started. Under Smith, the block vote of unions at Labour Party conferences was removed and replaced with a one member, one vote policy. As the Conservative government became more and more unpopular, Smith quickly found himself as an extremely popular politician, and by 1994 it was assumed that he would be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom unless something drastic happened. Tragically, something drastic did happen. On 12 May 1994, Smith died of a heart attack. He was only 55 years old. Two months later, Tony Blair would assume the leadership of the Labour Party, and pursue a different path for the United Kingdom.
Ed Miliband - Miliband is underrated not so much for what he did do while leader of the opposition, but for what could have been had he become Prime Minister. In a now infamous tweet, David Cameron claimed that in the 2015 election "Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice - stability and strong government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband." Instead, Cameron's victory in that election sent this nation down a path punctuated by the kind of chaos too chaotic to describe. Imagine the wildly different course the history of this nation would have taken if Miliband had won in 2015 instead. Now, this is not to say that our politics would have been unaffected by the global rise of populism that we saw in 2016, but I think it is fair to say that with Miliband leading the United Kingdom in the second half of the 2010s, we wouldn't have left the EU, and we would probably have a government that knows what they are doing through the crisis we find ourselves in today.
Ayanna Pressley - Plessley is part of a group of four members of congress called "The Squad". All four members of the squad are women of colour under 50, the most famous of whom is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And while AOC may get most of the press, all four members are fighting the good fight, and really any one of them would be deserving of this spot on this list. The Squad have been on the receiving end of some of the absolute worst bile that Trump has ever thought of saying, and yet every time he tries to drag them into some kind of controversy, they prove time and time again to be the most dignified politicians in America. I chose Pressley for this list because she is perhaps the member that the least people have heard of, or at least that seems to be the case in the UK, which I feel is unfair on her, as she is one of the heroes of American politics today with her support for Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, and other policies radical enough that if adopted could bring the Democrats in line with European left-wing parties. I really hope American politics sees more of The Squad and their ideas in the future, as Lord knows America and the world needs that.
Jack, make a bet! What you're electoral college prediction for the US presidential election next month?
I predict it's going to be close. Polling for Biden/Trump looks awfully similar to polling for Clinton/Trump did in 2016. But it would be foolish to assume that pollsters would be wrong in exactly the same way twice in a row, as many companies would have looked at why they failed in 2016. This means that it is more likely this year that they are right about a Biden win. However, if the changes made to polling methodology, if they exist, have not gone far enough, then the election will not be the landslide for Biden suggested by the opinion polling. I don't want to predict a winner, but I think a repeat of the situation in 2000 where one state tipped the balance, and the votes in that state were disputed, is a plausible outcome for election night. And with Trump in that mix, I worry about where that could lead.
Who do you think will lead the UK's major parties this time next year?
I think either they will be the same as they are now, or only the Conservatives will have changed their leader. Davey seems pretty safe for now as there is no major electoral test for any party until the local elections, and it seems unlikely right now that the Liberal Democrats will do worse than expected in those; in particular I would be very surprised if there is such an upset in those elections that he sees the need to resign. Meanwhile, Starmer seems safe for Labour too. There is a sizable minority in the Labour Party who are loyal to Corbyn and Corbyn only so want Starmer gone, and there are enough of them to get #StarmerOut trending on Twitter every week, to which an equally sized faction gets #StarmerOutstanding trending. But it takes more people than it does to trend on Twitter to oust a leader, and as Starmer climbs in the polls, albeit slowly, he only secures his position further. Boris Johnson, however, could be in some trouble. He is quite rapidly becoming one of the least popular Prime Ministers in British history, and there is rumour after rumour that he is not up to the job or his private life is in disarray. Of course, we can never know what rumours are true, but Conservatives are beginning to look warily at opinion polls that see Labour tying with a government that was incredibly popular just ten months ago. It could only be a matter of time before they sense blood. However, there might not be enough Conservatives minded in this way to see Boris removed, and there could be equally many Conservatives expecting the usual popularity of Boris Johnson to return once the current crisis is over. Moreover, I do not think Boris will go without a fight - being Prime Minister is all he has ever wanted, he will not give it up just because Tory grandees tell him to. If the next Conservative leadership challenge does occur before this time next year, it could be rather messy. UKIP might change their leader again, since they are on their fourth leader in one year currently. Apparently right now it's Neil Hamilton, yes that Neil Hamilton, from the 90s.
What's a lesser known fact about Mr Jack Harrison?
A lesser known fact about me is that I used to be a member of the Green Party. This was before I was properly politically active - I was 14 and joined because I had a friend who was very into politics and saw Miliband as too right-wing. Some wild things happened during the time I was a member. For example, when the BNP tried to do a march in the town centre, we organised a counter-protest, but then the SWP tried to join the counter-protest and a lot of them had the intention of turning it into a riot, so we convinced them not to participate. Then on the actual day only a very small number of BNP members turned up so they opted to go to Wetherspoons instead of do the planned march, so the counter-protestors stood counter-protesting nothing for a while (I only heard about this later because I was unable to make the actual event).