Europe

Is Western foreign policy to blame for the ‘European migrant crisis’?

Over the last few weeks, the British public have been well-informed of the harrowing experiences faced by migrants travelling to Europe in an attempt to escape the harsh realities in their homeland. As a result, the media frenzy over the ‘European migrant crisis’ has not only raised fears across the continent over the safety and wellbeing of the incoming migrants, but has also led to an increase in xenophobia towards the thousands of escapees in search of a better life. In Britain there has been a growing apprehension and antipathy aimed in the direction of migrants, swayed by a refusal to accept their newfound habitation in the European Union. This view is somewhat epitomised by David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ in describing the numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of security in Europe.

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But should Britain and its Western compatriots shoulder some of the blame for the recent influx of migrants to the European Union? In answering my own question, Yes. Of course the West should hold a significant amount of responsibility for the crisis.

First and foremost, while the crisis is commonly being described as an issue concerning ‘migrants,’ in reality a huge percentages of those arriving in Europe are in actual fact refugees seeking asylum. This would suggest that the people arriving in the EU are generally not in search of the financial benefits that the region has to offer – as the term ‘migrant’ has often implied. Rather, people have fled from the horrors of violent conflicts, or political and social persecution in their countries of origin.

However, most importantly the majority of the people claiming refuge have directly (or indirectly) been affected by the often self-seeking foreign policies of the West outside of the EU. The highest number of migrants that have travelled to Europe are from Syria. Since the turn of the year, over 100,000 people have fled from the destructive Syrian Civil War, which has seen the country torn between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and armed militia, including the new proponent of Islamic radicalism the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Although the West have stopped short of armed intervention in the civil war, the United States and Britain have consistently bolstered the Syrian opposition by supplying intelligence, training and ammunition to groups fighting against the government. This has only helped to excerabate the severity of the conflict, and further tarnish the lives of civilians in Syria.

syrian_refugee_photo__2014_03_21_h12m42s44__DSAfghans also constitute a significant number of refugees arriving in the EU, largely due to the fallout from the US and NATO led War in Afghanistan. The conflict – which was motivated by the September 11 attacks, has caused widespread devastation across the country. Fourteen years later the war continues to plague the citizens of Afghanistan, with the somewhat unsuccessful removal of the Taliban proving in hindsight to be a costly and ruinous venture for the West. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), over 2 million people have been classified as refugees since hostilities began in Afghanistan.

Like in Syria and Afghanistan, recent Western involvement in Libya and Iraq has extended the extirpation of civil society across the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result has increased the number of refugees entering the EU. In 2011, NATO intervened against the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi following his apparent refusal to cease actions against civilians that the West considered as ‘crimes against humanity.’ Three years later, with the help of his Western allies Barack Obama would also initiate another offensive in Iraq against the growing influence of ISIS in the north of the country.

In both conflicts, the West have to some extent been successful in achieving their military objectives. With that said, the West have also proliferated the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Libya, and have played a decisive role in worsening the living conditions of civilians. In Iraq alone, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that roughly 5.2 million people now need humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter, clean water, sanitation services, and education support. Furthermore, the demise of national order and security within Libya is embodied by the fact that migrants are repeatedly using its northern border as an escape route to Europe. Incredibly, in August 4000 people travelling from Libya were saved from boats off the coast of the country in what has been described as one of the largest rescue missions during the ‘crisis.’

Away from the Middle East and Libya a growing number of refugees continue to emigrate from Eritrea, which is recognised by the UN to have one of the worst records for human rights. In recent months, thousands of Eritreans have escaped to the shores of Italy in response to the oppressive, single-party state under Isaias Afwerki. However, despite the West’s insistence on protecting the liberties of people across the world – as demonstrated in its exploits in the Middle East and Libya, the plight of the Eritrean people has largely been ignored by Western policymakers and its mainstream media. This is typified by the fact that reports on the European migrant ‘crisis’ have scarcely mentioned the amount of Eritreans entering the EU or the reasoning behind their escape. Unlike in the Middle East and Libya, Eritrea does not present itself as a ‘goldmine’ of natural resources, and as a consequence Eritrea falls outside of the West’s economic and political interests.

As the members of the EU scramble to find a solution to the migrant ‘crisis,’ a multitude of people will continue to risk their lives  to leave behind the trials and tribulations they face in their homelands. Europe has now become the ‘promise land’ for many of the migrants escaping their mother countries, with approximately 340,000 men, women and children having already journeyed through cruel and unsavoury terrain towards the EU border. However, many have now perished in the most inhumane of circumstances on the road to a safer environment that they could one day call home. But will there be a robust resolution to the European migrant ‘crisis’? It is unclear. What is certain is that the West must accept considerable accountability for the plight of migrants and take the necessary steps to make certain that they are given the protection they deserve in Europe. Going forward, it is vital that the West re-evaluate the measures used in relation to its foreign policy and ensure that lessons are learned to avoid a migrant crisis on this scale from occurring in the future.

Should we question the integrity of the Conservatives victory in the 2015 General Election?

On Friday 8th May 2015, David Cameron stood victorious in front of the British media after witnessing the Conservative Party defy the polls and sweep to an unexpected triumph in the general election. In what was one of the most anticipated elections in recent history, the Tories would defeat their election opponents across the country and collect an unprecedented 331 seats. This would ultimately be enough to form an outright majority and eradicate the prospect of a successive coalition government. No longer bound by the chains of the Liberal Democrats – soundly beaten during the general election, and with Labour and UKIP also left with some ‘soul-searching’ to do, Cameron gleefully returns to 10 Downing Street with the future of the United Kingdom in his hands.

Despite David Cameron’s now infamous victory, a burning question remains of great interest to political commentators and the public as a whole; did the Conservative Party actually deserve to win the general election? Yes – if the result of the general election is taken at face value. The Tories won five more than the 326 seats required to form the slender majority administration, with the Party seizing 24 seats from its political rivals and surprisingly increasing its percentage of the vote.

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However, if we are to assess the Conservative Party’s share of the vote, and more importantly the often disputed ‘First-Past-The-Post’ voting system, there is an argument that challenges the Tory supremacy over the House of Commons. The Conservative’s did muster an impressive 36.8% of the public vote, but if this percentage is calculated under a system that adheres to proportional representation, the Tories would not have reached the impressive number of seats it tallied at the end of the election.

Arguably as telling was the detrimental effect of ‘First-Past-The-Post’ on the other political parties. Although Labour’s share of seats would have only seen a minimal decrease if it was reflective of the public vote, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats suffered immensely as a result of FPTP. Despite gaining 12.6% and 7.9% of the vote respectively, only 9 seats were gained between UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. Conversely, the SNP – widely applauded for their success in the general election, gained 56 seats despite only obtaining 4.7% of the vote. Whilst the Conservatives would have remained the largest party under a proportional representative voting system, they would have certainly been forced into forming another coalition government and contend with a greater number of diversely affiliated MPs in Parliament. Unfortunately however, the Conservatives can expect a somewhat ‘muzzled’ resistance against their governance over the next five years as a result of the flawed FPTP system.

Another arguement that questions the integrity of the Conservative victory was the indecisive nature of the British electorate and the increased use of ‘scare tactics’ within right-wing politics. The opinion polls right up to the general election suggested that the final result would be too close to call, with Labour fighting tooth and nail with the Conservatives for the right to be in power. However the exit poll would paint an entirely different picture, teasing a Tory victory by implying that they were inches away from the majority they required to govern solitarily.

The ‘Shy Tory Factor’ has been used to theorise the disparity between the opinion polls and the outcome of the general election. Seemingly like in the 1992 general election, a large portion of the British public ‘disguised’ their support for the Conservatives until poling day as a result of their ‘shame’ towards their inclinations to the blue corner of british politics. However, whilst this theory may be true for a portion of the ‘silent’ Tory vote, it appears that many balloters were simply undecided as to who to vote for and made the decision to vote Conservative without having a clear and definitive allegiance to the party on (or days before) polling day.

The decision-making of the ‘undecided voter’ during the election was a reflection of how the right had instilled fear into the electorate. The Conservatives – and more profoundly UKIP, flooded the British public with misconceptions over Labour’s destruction of the economy and immigration, whilst also igniting the subject of Britain’s exclusion from the European Union. This ultimately proved to be a successful tool in dramatically increasing the share of the vote for the Right and consequently destroyed the possibility of the Labour Party gaining a majority in Parliament. Roy Greenslade expressed the view that in the five years leading up to the election, the right-wing press continually propagated the views of the Conservatives and UKIP and gave ‘disproportionately favourable coverage to Nigel Farage and his party.’

Building from this fact, the role of the media cannot be underestimated in swaying public opinion, and fundamentally providing the Conservatives with the platform to win the general election. The Conservatives were backed by six major newspapers – The Sun, The Telegraph, Financial Times, Daily Mail, The Independent and the Times, all of which bombarded its readers with Tory propaganda and anti-Labour hyperbole in attempt to maximise the Conservative vote. The Sun’s insistent character assassination of Ed Miliband was particularly noteworthy in the lead up to the election, damaging the reputation of the former Labour leader and his credentials as the future Prime Minister. The newspaper’s ‘Save Our Bacon’ headline a day before the elections was decisive in sealing the fate of Miliband’s election campaign and was arguably the pinnacle of the Sun’s attempts to persuade its 5 million-plus readership to support David Cameron.

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Broadcasters also appeared to be pro-Conservative; Sky News – another media organisation that Rupert Murdorch has vested interest in, unsurprisingly reproduced the favouritism it showed towards the Tories in the 2010 general election. This was evident during the first televised election debates, where there was no question that Ed Miliband received a far stringent assault against his character from Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley than his Conservative adversary, including personal jibes at his relationship with his brother.

Contrary to popular belief, The BBC have also been noted for their bias towards the Tories. As Phil Harrison eloquently put it in his article ‘Keeping An Eye On Auntie: The BBC & Pro-Tory Bias,’ the BBC lent increasingly towards the right in order to appease the ‘status quo’ of capitalist realism that has been promoted by the Conservatives. The lack of media attention across all of the major broadcasting organisations following the recent protests against the government only days after the election only perpetuates the overwhelming media disposition towards the Tories.

Now that the dust has settled from an extraordinary general election, the Conservatives will go down in folklore as the ‘conquerers of coalition politics’ despite the universal expectation of a hung parliament. However as this article indicates, the Tory victory seeps of unworthiness, not least due to a widely criticised voting system, an electorate with ambiguous political affiliations and a media environment that showed considerable support towards David Cameron and his party – as well as the Right in general. Of course it would be wrong to deny the deficiencies in the Labour election campaign, though there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Conservatives were given more than a helping hand towards their election achievements. Nevertheless, be sure to expect the Conservative’s austerity programme go into full swing and the continual vilification of Labour’s ability to govern the country again by a pro-Conservative press. Oh the despair of another five years with Mr Cameron at the helm of this wonderful country.