Syria Airstrikes: Have MPs Always Voted For War?


British MPs have just approved the use of Syria airstrikes against ISIS. 397 Members of Parliament voted in favour of airstrikes, with 223 opposed. The debate in the House of Commons lasted more than ten hours, with some MPs reportedly close to tears by the end of it. 

5 things Jeremy Corbyn wants; the new Labour leader explained

The new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to shake things up in Westminster;


Who is Jeremy Corbyn?

Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership. Image via Twitter

Unlikely Winner: Jeremy Corbyn was initially seen as an outsider. Via @commentisfree

Jeremy Corbyn is the new Labour leader. The veteran MP for Islington North won with an amazing 59.9% of first preference votes. This is more than Tony Blair won when elected leader in 1994.

Jeremy Corbyn regularly rebelled against Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; voting against the government over 500 times.

Originally seen as an outsider, Corbyn barely managed to secure enough nominations to join the leadership contest. Many of his nominators didn’t want to vote for him; they wanted to ensure a wider debate.



Five things Jeremy Corbyn wants


1) “New politics”

Corbyn wants ordinary people to have a greater say in the political process. Involving the public is a smart move; it was a “grassroots” movement rather than backing from Labour MPs which drove his campaign.

Corbyn has also promised to change the format of Prime Minister’s Questions. The weekly opportunity to quiz the Prime Minister is infamous for being rowdy. Corbyn wants a more serious, respectful debate. Yet when Corbyn asked people to send him questions to put to the Prime Minister the response was… mixed. His first PMQs was a quieter affair, but something he’ll have to push David Cameron harder in future.


2) No more austerity, please.

Jezza C believes ending cuts to public services; he thinks we should invest in the economy. He would use Quantitative Easing (printing more money) to build more social housing and improve roads, railways and public buildings across the country. This would be paid for partly by clamping down on tax evaders.

Corbyn wants to bring the deficit (gap between what the government spends, and what it collects in tax) down. However, he won’t set a date for when this would be completed. Partly this would be achieved by raising taxes for the rich and by reducing tax cuts for companies.


3) No privatisation; go public ownership.

Jeremy Corbyn: renationalise the railways. Gif of a never-ending train

Jeremy Corbyn: renationalise the railways

Corbyn proposes to renationalise the railways and energy companies. This means that consumers, workers and government will collectively own and manage these services, rather than private companies.

For example, British Rail used to be publicly owned, until it was privatised in the 1980s. Similarly the Royal Mail used to be publicly owned. In 2013 the government sold off 70% of the postal service and in 2015, sold a further 15%. The government now owns only 15% of the Royal Mail.

The aim of re-nationalising services like the railways and energy companies is to ensure fairer prices for the consumer, but we need proof that this will actually improve the service we receive?

What does Jeremy Corbyn think about privatisation of the NHS? Err, no. Not ever.

The National Health Service (NHS) was originally created as a publicly owned service. Today it is still mainly publicly owned, but the Health and Social Care Act 2012 allows private companies to bid for some health service contracts.

As campaign group We Own It explains “instead of a publicly funded and publicly owned NHS, the Act created a competitive market for health services in which the government pays for, but does not provide health care.”

Corbyn also wants to create a National Education Service. A bit like an NHS for education, this would be a “lifelong learning service”. Tuition fees for universities would be scrapped (woohoo!) and education grants restored.


4) Don’t go nuclear.

No Nuclear bombs! Jeremy Corbyn's labour leadership. Gif of nuclear bomb mushroom cloud

Jeremy Corbyn wants none of this

This new Labour leader supports nuclear disarmament. He wants to get rid of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system. He has also proposed leaving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stating that a “serious debate” is needed over its power and influence.

Corbyn is against airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria. Bombing Syria “won’t help refugees, it will create more”. Corbyn thinks the answer to the problem is to campaign for peace and for disarmament. The primary objective would be “cutting off the arm supplies and money to ISIL, as well as preventing ISIL selling oil and making money from it.” So far it’s not clear how this would be achieved.


5) Jeremy Corbyn, a ladies’ man?

Emma Watson speaking at HeForShe event on gender equality. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised top roles for women

Well said, Hermione.

Corbyn has promised that 50% of his shadow cabinet will be female, meaning half the top jobs will go to women. He also wants tougher laws on sexual harassment and for companies to publish their pay details in an attempt to close the pay gap between men and women.

Corbyn courted controversy when he said he would consult with women over the idea of “women-only carriages” to help stop sexual harassment on trains. Despite only saying he would consult on this idea Corbyn faced a huge backlash of anger.

Jeremy Corbyn is also under scrutiny as he has failed to appoint any women in the most senior positions of the shadow cabinet. Corbyn has selected 16 women and 15 men to make up the shadow cabinet, but the top five positions are occupied by men.


What does this mean for the Labour party?

Private Eye Jeremy Corbyn vs. the media, from Private Eye / Via Twitter: @adamrgporter

What Corbyn said vs. the media headlines
Does the media think he’s unelectable or something? Private Eye / Via Twitter: @adamrgporter

Political ideas are all well and good, but they mean nothing unless you win a general election and form a government. Many figures within the Labour party itself (including former Prime Minister Tony Blair) say that voting in Jeremy Corbyn would see Labour become a “party of protest” and result in losing the next general election in 2020.

This is the view shared by many media commentators.

Being a party of “protest” doesn’t necessarily mean you have no influence over policy. Commentators have noted how the Conservatives stole several Labour policies after being voted into power. Yet, many Labour supporters want the party to return to power.

The question is: how to do it?

Labour was born out of the trade union movement and is generally seen as a “left-wing” party. Under Tony Blair’s leadership the party re-branded itself as “New Labour”. New Labour moved towards the centre ground of the political spectrum. Blair supporters say that the only way to win an election is to stay in the centre.


Left-wing, right-wing? How the political spectrum works

Corbyn is expected to pull the party back towards the left. He won the backing of the worker’s unions during the contest and now wants to reinstate Clause IV of Labour’s constitution. This commits the party to public ownership and was removed by Tony Blair.

The party is divided between the more left-wing members, and those who want the party to remain more central. If Corbyn can’t unite the party behind him then Labour could end up splitting up. This would almost definitely mean a Tory victory in 2020.

Political party break-up: is Labour heading to a split?

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies (nicknamed “Corbynomics”) like Quantitative Easing have been attacked by the Conservatives. Since the economic crisis the Tories and have pushed the idea that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy. However, many economists have backed Corbyn’s ideas.

Corbyn’s newly selected “shadow Cabinet” of advisors and ministers is a mix of Corbyn’s left-wing allies and those who think the party should be more centrist. Will this unite the divided party?

Many people are wondering how long Corbyn will survive as Labour leader. Will Jezza be overthrown? One possibility is that he will be replaced before the 2020 general election.


What do the other political parties think?

The Conservatives were initially delighted when Jeremy Corbyn entered the contest. They believed that if he won, it would ensure victory for them in 2020. They encouraged Tory supporters to pay £3 to vote in the Labour leadership and vote for Corbyn. Classic Tory banter.

(It’s worth noting: nearly 50% of fee paying Labour party members voted for Corbyn. It wasn’t just the support of the new £3 voters which won it for him)

Be careful what you wish for – now it would seem the Tories don’t find it as funny;

Just after Corbyn won the leadership the Conservatives released an email of Corbyn statements portraying him as a threat to the country. A video followed;


** Update: The Conservatives seem to have taken down their video. Here it is:

Propaganda much? Were these selectively edited quotes, or do we have something to worry about?

The SNP and the Green Party have both stated that they would work with Corbyn fighting the anti-austerity cause. However the Liberal Democrats state that they are the only party to offer a credible opposition to the Conservatives. They currently have only eight MPs and used to be in coalition with the Tories, but we’ll let that pass.

Nigel Farage has stated that if Corbyn supports a British exit from the EU, UKIP would be delighted to unite forces.

A united Labour party with the support of the SNP could do some real damage to the Conservatives. However, it’s yet to be seen whether Corbyn will pull it off.


Corbyn Explained: a Labour 2020 victory is unlikely, but if Jeremy Corbyn can get the Labour party behind him then the Tories are going to have a rough few years.

Is the Labour party doomed, or can Jeremy Corbyn win in 2020? Is this just an experiment in “left-wing” politics, or does the party need to split up? Will involving more ordinary people in the political process actually change things?

Have we missed anything? Get in touch and add to the discussion:


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason



Throughout history lots of companies have made money from wars. But would a government ever make the decision to go to war for economic gain?


What is War Profiteering?

Scene from Iron Man starring Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark, accused of War Profiteering

Tony Stark; War Profiteer?

War Profiteers sell weapons, services or other goods to groups at war in order to make a profit. In other words: making money from war.

War Profiteers can be arms dealers, scientific research groups, and companies selling commodities like oil. Private Militaries (mercenaries) also make money from war. Why fight when you can pay someone else to do it?

States or countries can also benefit from war by winning territory and gathering resources, and also strengthening themselves politically, strategically and geo-politically.


Wars means Weapons

A missile is fired from a jet. Selling weapons to both sides could be considered war profiteering

Is selling weapons to both sides wrong?

Arms dealers are often accused of war profiteering, which is fair given that is basically their job. Think; Tony Stark in Iron Man. War means fighting. Arms companies produce weapons and make a profit from the selling them.

Sometimes arms companies will even sell weapons to both sides in a conflict. Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade describes how international missile systems company MBDA “sold weaponry to the Gaddafi regime in 2007, its missiles were extensively used by the UK and French military in the 2011 war as well as being supplied to rebel forces. In this case they had sold weapons to both sides.”

Double sales equal profits. Great for business but morally questionable?



SIRI, the iphone helper is an example of war profiteering. It was developed using military funding

“SIRI, tell me what war profiteering is?”

Companies profiting from conflict can sometimes create something useful.

Fun-fact of the day: SIRI, the iPhone “helper” was originally developed by SRI international. They took money from a military research group in the US department of defence in order to create SIRI. In fact according to military expert David Brown most of the tech in your iPhone comes from a military research background.

You can also thank military research for creating computers, GPS systems and the internet. Indirectly, the developers of this technology profited from war. Is this wrong, or is it OK because they made cool stuff that was eventually used by everyone?

Commodity, Oddity.

Oil fires up from a well in "There Will Be Blood". Oil companies have been accused of war profiteering

Oil; the number one commodity

Say commodity – think goods, or items that you need… or want.

Wars disrupt production of goods, and generally mean commodities are harder to come by. This usually means the price goes up.

Oil is one of the most important commodities in the world. So it’s no wonder that oil is linked to the most infamous military action in recent history;

Case Study: the Iraq War

Oil fields. Iraq's oil used to be nationally owned, the companies brought in have been accused of war profiteering

For Sale: Iraq’s oil fields

In an article for CNN, journalist Antonia Juhasz describes how the Iraq War in 2003 was “a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.”

Before the war, Iraq’s oil was controlled by the Iraqi government. Today, foreign companies control most of the oil. Juhasz describes how the invasion of Iraq got rid of the two things stopping Western oil companies from setting up shop there. First Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain was removed. Then the USA pushed the new US-friendly Iraqi government to pass laws allowing foreign companies to get in on the oil.

So despite then-Prime Minister Tony Blair describing Iraq as “the central security threat of the 21st century,” some argue that it was all just about money. Several US military high-flyers have even admitted openly that the Iraq War was basically over oil.

Ex-Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney used to be CEO of contracting company Halliburton, which earned billions from the reconstruction work needed in Iraq after the war. Before the war, Cheney chaired a committee that published a report suggesting that the Middle East should “open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.”

Translation: stop hoarding all the goods! Quite ironic, when you think that later his old company would pocket $278 million in a deal to dig oil wells in Iraq.

These examples don’t necessarily mean that political decisions on military matters are influenced by potential income, but it does raise the question of who calls the shots.


How much influence do private companies have over Politicians?

The Independent reports how the UK government made £12.3 billion granting export licences for weapons. The licences allow the export of weapons to countries listed as having human rights abuses. So the UK government considered these countries to have a dodgy record, but still allowed weapons companies to sell their goods there.

Perhaps this is due to pressure from the arms companies themselves. Andrew Smith explains that “politically, the arms industry/pro military lobby has always enjoyed a loud voice in the corridors of power. This is not least because of the revolving door between parliament and the arms trade.”

Ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was suspended from the Labour Party after offering influence in Parliament in return for cash. Owen Jones describes that when Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company AgustaWestland were given an order worth £1 billion for 16 helicopters. He writes that “they were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business.”


So would the UK ever go to war to make money?

War Profiteering - soldiers marching to war

Before we go to war we should really know why we’re fighting

Dr. Jonathan Gumz, a senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham thinks that “getting a government to go to war purely for economic profit is not something that takes place in reality.”

He expands; “certainly, all wars start for a reason with a political gain in mind. But…with rare exception, few statesmen actually want wars but they miscalculate and then feel forced into a point where war becomes a more reasonable option.”

So, it’s unlikely the UK would ever go to war just in the interests of money. But even if countries are neutral (not involved in conflict) that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from other conflicts around the world. A paper published by Dartmouth University argues that “the costs that wars impose on neutral countries are usually greatly exaggerated; in fact many neutrals profit slightly from the economic changes caused by war.”

“Neutrals fare well during wars because the economy—especially in this era of increased globalization—is inherently flexible and resilient.”

The paper argues that though wars are likely to disrupt trading patterns between neutral countries and countries at war, new agreements are quickly established. This is because during conflict, the country at war “cannot efficiently produce everything they need…and countries at war can least afford to ignore more efficient international sources of supply.”


Is War Profiteering wrong?

Is War profiteering immoral or not?

Is war profiteering immoral?

We’ve seen how military research has led to technological advancements such as SIRI. So far there is no proof that a decision to go to war was made solely to make money for the country, not that anyone would admit that. So does it matter if a few companies make money from oil or selling weapons?

War means people will be killed, and seriously injured. The argument against war profiteering is that nobody should benefit from the suffering of others.

Andrew Dey from War Resisters International believes that “if you build something and sell it to someone, you have a moral responsibility for what happens with that weapon.” So if you sell a gun, you are partly responsible for what is done with it.

The largest buyer of UK arms is Saudi Arabia, which has been described as one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. UK arms have also been linked to attacks against innocent people in Egypt, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Kuwait and other countries in recent years.

Andrew Smith says “government ministers and arms companies can’t simply abdicate themselves of responsibility for this.”

Even if you profit indirectly, like the scientists whose research into SIRI was funded by the US defence department, you are still taking money and benefiting because somewhere in the world people are dying.

It’s easy to suggest that perhaps arms companies should take a close look at who they do business with. We asked UK arms manufacturers BAE Systems whether they have a specific policy about who they deal with. They replied stating that they operate to “high standards of ethical business conduct as a responsible and trusted partner” and “trade only with legitimate governments and comply fully with UK and international export regulations.” Don’t know what other answer we would have expected though to be honest.

War Profiteering Explained; companies making weapons are likely to make a killing.

Is war profiteering ethically wrong? Or is it fair game? Let us know in the comments below.


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

What happens when a Political Party breaks up?

Part 1: We need to talk


What leads to a Political Party splitting up?

In politics you often hear the term “left-wing” and “right-wing” thrown around. For example; left-wing political ideas are usually big on community and believe that government should be involved in society. Taxes are collected (richer people should pay more) and redistributed to support those who cannot look after themselves.

Political parties usually stick to the same side (left or right) but how close they get to the centre ground depends on who leads them. If the party disagrees with where the leader is taking them it can lead to a break up.

Political Party/Political Parties Spectrum of Left vs Right

Politics; more than left vs. right

Confused by all this “left-wing” “right wing” talk? Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered with our guide to the Political Spectrum


Is Labour about to break up?

Tony Blair changed the remit of the Labour Political Party

Tony Blair: “Fist bump if you’ve ever completely changed what your party stands for!”

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. The original Labour party was born out of trade unions; created to represent the working class and workers in government. It was a “left-wing” party.

Then Tony Blair changed things, re-branding the party as “New Labour” and moving the party more to the centre ground of politics. Having lost two elections in a row the Labour party needs to choose; left or right. Unfortunately they can’t decide, and it may lead to the party breaking up.

When Blair became leader of the party in 1994 he created the concept of “New Labour”. First, he weakened the links to trade unions.  He re-wrote Clause 4 of the party’s official constitution which wanted “common ownership of the means of production.” This allowed big business more influence in politics and weakened the power of worker’s unions. New Labour allowed some privatisation of public services, (something the old Labour party was against) believing this would make public services better and was something the public wanted.

Though the term “New Labour” was dropped in 2010, the party has pretty much stuck to this new set of ideals. As this position sat more in the centre ground of politics many have accused New Labour of becoming like the right-wing Conservative Party.



“I don’t like who you’ve become”

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo. Political Party

Wild Card: Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn believes the Labour party has been pulled too far to the right-wing of the political spectrum.

He wants to bring it back to the left and to regain some of the party’s traditional values. E.g. fighting for the workers, higher taxes for top earners (think; those earning about £150K). Jezza also wants to renationalise public services like the NHS and national railways.

This week Tony Blair made a speech about the future of the Labour party. Several comments could be interpreted as digs at Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was seen as wildcard when he put himself forwards, but is now reported to be ahead of his rivals.


“It’s not you, it’s your politics”

Labour Political Party on Twitter


In fairness to Blair, he didn’t officially endorse any candidate and said the contest shouldn’t be about an individual, but about a political platform which works for the country. What Blair thinks about Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing platform is anyone’s guess, though he gave plenty of clues. “When people say ‘well my heart says I should really be with that politics’…well, get a transplant.” Oh Tony, you joker.

If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership could this lead to a split – with half the political party returning to more left-wing politics, and the rest heading in the opposite direction? The party does have a history of break-ups. In 1981 a group of four Labour MPs decided their political party had become two left-wing and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP).


Part 2: Post-break up options


Have some “you” time

All By Myself - scene from Glee, a girl cries in a car in the rain. Political Party Break Up

“I’m doing just fine.”

The whole point of breaking from your party is to get away from the things you didn’t like about them. So many parties try to go it alone. However our electoral system, which is called First Past the Post gives better results for the larger parties. Its design means one party winning overall is more likely.

How the hell does First Past the Post work?

Take a look at this list of all political parties currently active in the UK, and compare it to this list of the number of parties actually in government. The list of parties in government is a lot shorter. So for a better chance of getting some power, some parties decide to team up.



Political Party Break Up; Matt Le Blanc as Joey in Friends with his signature catch phrase "How You Doin'"

Get yo’ flirt on.

No point sitting around moping; get back out there and hook up with someone new. After all there is strength in numbers, and you’ll never get anything done in parliament unless you have support.

After the Social Democratic Party was formed by Labour runaways they flirted with the Liberal Party. They eventually hooked up in 1988 to become the party we know today as the Liberal Democrats.

In the 2015 general election the Liberal Democrats lost a tonne of seats. They now only have eight seats left, and their ex-coalition partners the Conservatives have gone solo to take power. Break ups are brutal; one party always ends up better off.


Maybe the Liberal Democrats should team up with another political party – Tinder, anyone?


Make Up Sex!

Ok, not really. That would just be… weird. But apart from jokes about the Lib Dems getting into bed with anyone (sorry Nick Clegg) this also has a historical basis.

In 1973 Scottish National Party (SNP) members broke away to form the Labour Party of Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Labour). They fought a By-Election in Dundee and lost; only gaining 3% of the vote.

What is a By-Election?

Politically, this could be seen as the equivalent of suddenly being single, going out for the night and ending up being carried home. But they did stop the SNP from winning the seat.

Lots of members of the party returned to the SNP soon afterwards. If you can’t beat them, join them… again.


Warning; get caught two-timing and risk being dumped!

Political Party Break Up - Taylor Swift's "We are never getting back together"

Harsh but fair.

In 2014, two Conservative back-benchers decided it was time to leave. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless weren’t forming a new party but were defecting to the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.

They then both fought, and won by-elections to regain their old parliamentary seats. A future UKIP surge seemed likely.

However, fast forward to the 2015 general election and only Douglas Carswell was voted back in as an MP. Mark Reckless lost his seat, which was taken back by the Conservatives.

There’s not much chance of Reckless being welcomed back by the Tories. This tweet was posted by Conservative candidate Claire Perry;

Tweet by Claire Perry about Mark Reckless losing his seat in the Political Party UK general election 2015

I wonder if the Conservatives will forgive Mark Reckless… Never mind.

Not only that, the Tories are also suing Reckless for money spent on campaign materials printed for him before he left for UKIP. All is fair in love and war.

For Douglas Carswell, the next five years in Parliament as the only UKIP MP may be pretty lonely. UKIP want Britain to split up with the European Union. So at least they’ll get the EU referendum they wanted.

Don’t even get us started on the sort of break up that would be.


Political Party Learnings; break ups are rough and politics is all about relationships.

Should the Labour party split if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership? Is a left-wing agenda the only way for Labour to win in 2020? Who should you vote for in the Labour Leadership Contest?


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason