Graduation (a reflection)

Over last weekend, I managed to successfully graduate from the University of York and obtain my degree certificate.

It was a successful experience on the whole. I managed to climb the stairs in sync with the processions of the ceremony, had the correct name read out alongside my degree, and didn’t manage to trip on my way down. I was relived when I could sit back in my seat and enjoy the rest of the ceremony without having to worry if I would make it up and down in one piece.

After the ceremony came the onslaught of photographs – both professional and ones taken by my parents. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. It isn’t often that the sun shines so brightly in the North of England – but it did on the 24th.

Sitting in central hall, surrounded by so many others – PhD’s, Masters and Bachelors, I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was. Every person in that room had to put up a fight and keep themselves going throughout the pursuit of something they love. Seeing the array of mortar boards worn by people of any age, was incredibly inspiring (and I definitely hadn’t expected it to be.)

This may have been my first graduation – but I don’t expect it to be my last. If I can summon up the resources to finance another stint in education that is…

I feel a sense of sadness when I realise that last Friday were my last moments at the University of York as a student. But I also feel a huge sense of achievement and closure. My graduation was a long time coming, due to the delaying of my final exams. But now I can draw a firm line below my undergraduate life.

I’ll be honest, I don’t currently know what’s around the corner, but who really ever does?

An Election for Change

Image: DW

If you’ve been living in the United Kingdom for the past three years, it can feel as though nothing has changed. Despite having two new Prime Ministers in less than five years, the country has not moved forward and life has got a lot worse for many people.

Nearly a decade worth of austerity has resulted in increasing social deprivation, declining working conditions and education standards due to a myriad of cuts to essential services. They have been preserved by the political elite, whom will never be affected by any struggle. Above all, the legacy of the David Cameron years and the condition of the present day, is far from the promised glory that eradicating the deficit was meant to achieve.

With the next snap election on the horizon, it can feel as though we’re simply repeating political history, due to the 2017 snap election which resulted in the election of former Prime Minister, Theresa May. However, this will be far from history repeating itself, but an election that will mirror calls for staunch, political change.

In 2017, I was one of the, if you like, typified left-wing, young labour supporters, who had a belt of optimism around me. It was my first time voting in a GE, what can you expect? When sharing my opinions online whilst being apart of a Guardian feature on first time voters, older generations were quick to shut me down for my optimism and hope for change.

“I feel strangely optimistic’?! Why? Next you will be saying we live in a democracy!”

“we’ve relied on EU imports since the 15th century”. !!!! What grotesque ideas the young have…”

But like many, I really believed that the 2017 election would be the election of change and in many ways, it was. During the 2017 election campaign, like many students, I could not get as politically active as I would have liked as I prioritized my summer exams which were just around the corner.

Although I was not an active campaigner, I felt like I really found my political voice in the 2017 election. In many ways, it was the first election where I started to truly care. Say what you like about Jeremy Corbyn but he is an excellent campaigner who thrives of the rallying crowds and inspires the feeling of change, as I witnessed at a Labour rally in York, before the 2017 election.

Image: Me at a JC rally in York, PA

In 2017, a year after the Brexit vote had past, the Labour Party made a gain of 30 seats, despite Jeremy Corbyn being reluctant on the issue of Europe and not giving his party a stable stance. The Conservative party lost 13 seats and could not even reach a majority in the House of Commons and as a result, were propped up by the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). Despite valiant attempts, Theresa May failed to get a Brexit deal passed through parliament and resigned this summer.

With the non-election of Boris Johnson, we have seen a shift in the pariamnetary and political rhetoric in this country. His use of rhetoric and dangerous language at times, has changed the nature of political debate in the establishment. It’s harsher, cleaner and not as forgiving. It appears not to make any allowances for issues other than those defined by Brexit. With the ever increasing failure to get ‘Brexit done’ the parliamentary landscape has got more and more divided and the people of this country more frustrated.

With the election of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, change for the Commons is on the horizon, as yesterday during his election speech, he promised to help heal the divisions within the system and make room for coherent and considerate debate on all sides.

As a Remainer, I inherently don’t believe Brexit is a good idea for the country but now take the position of wanting to get the best deal possible so that we can move on and address the more imperative issues. Although Brexit and its ramifications are very real, especially for my generation who will have to live with the long-term consequences, we cannot go on with another decade of political stagnation. It is time for change and the creation of a political landscape of debate which benefits us all, and not one that just serves the agenda of the elite.

We need to abandon the rhetoric that parliamentary democracy is a barrier to the political project that is Brexit and start opening up the debate to allow room for the issues which have been ignored. I am alarmed that the current leaders can be so consumed by one issue for so long and are blind to the deprivation going on around them.

This election, although being defined by the parameters of Brexit, is not just about one singular issue, but it is a chance to open up the political spectrum and address social problems which have been ignored for nearly a decade. Another five years of a Conservative government led by Boris Johonson will do our country and its people no favours.

We need to move forward and make way for a government which gives attention to the ramifications of decreased funding in all our schools, the increasing amount of homelessness in our streets, the waiting lists for GP and NHS appointments and the climate crisis which is imminently real. We need a government which cares about other people’s issues – and not just their own self-fulfilling, political prophecy.

After nearly a decade of austerity and four years of prolonging the Brexit debate, forgive me for being an optimist for change, but it is simply the only way forward.

Is Instagram a force for good?

Image: Pinterest

Huddled in the dark, wrapped in my duvet cocoon, I used to spend my evenings in bed scrolling through Instagram. I would obsess over people I knew, people I didn’t know and form goals for the person I wanted to be, based on a snapshot of someone’s life. Simultaneously, I was aware that nothing on Instagram was the reality of peoples’ lives, but at the same time I used it to make comparisons about my own life and what I had achieved in that day.

Instagram works for some people, but it never quite worked for me. In all aspects of my life, I have the bad trait of comparing myself to others. Instagram, the platform that likes to sugar coat the daily lives of others around us, and the celebrities we ideolise, was thus, never a good use of my time. However, it took several years for me to realise that.

I used to love Instagram for being able to see parts of the world I haven’t yet explored; through travel accounts and immersive photography platforms. I also used to love it for cooking inspiration, art and fashion. Despite all its many uses, I have had to abandon it to prevent the comparisons I would always make – between their lives and my own. Comparison for me, has never helped me to achieve good mental health.

Additionally, in hindsight, I believe there is something dangerous about the platform. Either consciously, or subconsciously, it encourages us to boast about our lives, our clothes, our wealth and our fortune, whilst others can be left feeling as if they do not fit in with the culture it perpetuates. The more you have, it seems, the more you can post. Instagram and its culture of fostering “influencers,” bloggers and celebrities, pays homage to the tide of modern capitalism’s dream. Sponsored posts by those which we are infatuated by; bear the remnants of global capitalism and its longstanding legacy. We are encouraged to want and to buy.

But moreover, we are always encouraged to do things. To be constantly around people and then to boast about it. Instagram can be used as a platform to encourage certain conversations; about mental health, the environment and period poverty are to name just a few. But I feel that it is selective about the conversations it gives space to. It doesn’t talk about the social stigma that is still attached to loneliness, it is still a foreign social media phenomena to like being alone with yourself and to engage in simple things. It doesn’t allow for a simple, fulfilling life, this is something it will never be able to perpetuate.

It was a platform that I knew was not good for me in some ways, but one which I still used, partly because I felt compelled to. Everyone else uses it without a problem (or so it seems). I remember telling some people I had deleted it and them seeming genuinely shocked as they echoed, “but why” to my response. Well, this is exactly why.

I’m not saying this is what everyone should do – but it is something that has worked for me. I now spend most of my evenings huddled in bed with a book, which offers little room for me to form toxic, idealistic comparisons. But it is a way in which I can switch off from the real world, the blue screens and picture perfect lives of people I barely know.

Social media can be irrevocably useful and a tool for inspiration and connectivity. But it can also be a toxic one, showcasing picture perfect lives and the imaginary reality of daily lives which do not match up to our own.

14/10/19: A State of Distraction

Image: Queen at the State opening of Parliment (Monday October 14, 2019) SkyNews.

Like most people in the country, I hold my breath each morning as I enjoy the brief silence before I expose myself to the morning’s news. Alas, the exposure has to be done in an attempt to understand the path of British politics as it changes from one minute to the next.

Standing at on the door of Number 10 during his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnston promised the country that he would restore their faith in democracy with, “no ifs no buts” and deliver Brexit by October 31st. In the Queen’s speech, Johnson seemed to be promulgating a mixture of election style pledges on boosting the regulation of crime and punishment, false promises of education improvements and of course, more policemen on the street. The current climate crisis was merely accounted for, as critiqued by Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton and Pavillion, the Queen’s Speech contained just six words dedicated to the issue.

Brexit related issues in the Queen’s speech include confirmed heightened restrictions on freedom of movement and a proposed introduction of a points-based immigration system from 2021. Additional Brexit promises also included a new Environment Bill to reduce the use of plastics and encourage biodiversity and the proposition to raise the national living wage to £10.50. But remember, all these policies have to be taken with a sack (not pinch) of salt, as Johnson has no parliamentary majority but is instead, high bent on churning out a list of propagandist policies that will vote him into Number 10 in the next following election.

It is highly likely that none of his pledges to make Britain, ‘the greatest place on Earth‘ will ever be enacted due to their failure to be passed by the House of Commons in the following few days (thanks to Johnson’s majority of -43).

But again, there was hardly any concrete information on the progress of leaving the EU, instead the issue seems to be brushed aside in favor of hauling out what seems like election promises instead of addressing the current political moment.

In every interview Boris is keen to reassure UK Journalists that progress on Brexit is fine and dandy – but can never elude to anything more. As the days unravel at a seemingly quicker pace, the public are endlessly left in the dark and with no further understanding of how the course of Brexit is going to play out. It seems the current Prime Minister is lost in his bubble of statecraft, with a sole desire of becoming Britain’s greatest orator – but not the beacon of democracy he so promised on the first day of his premiership.

The pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s arrival into parliament on this drizzly, October day seemed a somewhat perfect reflection of Boris Johnston’s government.

It is merely a governance of showy polemic, with little grounding or care for the future impact of policies which are being muddled through in a blurry haze. Speeches are often propagandist, but this one in particular proved to serve as a distraction from the looming realities of the Brexit deadline. Once more, we are still kept in the dark and it is unlikely to get brighter as the eve of Halloween remains on the horizon.

July in books

Image: On Chesil Beach (film adaptation, 2017)

Although two and a half books in one month is not a lot too most people – it is more than I have read for a while! Earlier on in the month I told myself I wanted to read more for pleasure – and I guess I have succeeded. Next month’s target will be three books – which should be more achievable as I will have finished my exams!

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)

The first book I chose to read this month was one of the most harrowing books I have read for a while. I feel in love with Atonement when I was studying A-Level literature and have always wanted to read more McEwan and this didn’t disappoint. I read the short novel in about two days and was at once taken back to the writing style which made me fall in love with literature. McEwan has such a rich palette for detail and makes every scene come alive. On Chesil Beach follows the account of a newly wed couple on their honeymoon evening. Flipping from their student days until the present, McEwan tells the story of their upsetting struggle. Subtle but innovative, the story is compelling but nonetheless devastating. A perspective not often covered in literature, but tackled with beauty and elegance, the reader can almost feel the tension prickling through the pages. 4/5

Autumn by Ali Smith (2016),

Considered to be the first fiction book written in response to Brexit, this book (and following series) follows a contemporary criticism of Britain in the aftermath of the 2016 vote. Written in the third person, in prose somewhat resembling poetic voice, it offers a stark criticism of the feeling of Britain in a post-Brexit world. Although being fiction, one cannot help but interpret Autumn as symbolic of Britain’s Brexit sentiment as a historic moment. Leaver or remainer, upon reading Autumn, readers should agree that it is a remarkable work of fiction based on a current, real life political event that everyone should read regardless of political persuasion. Autumn is a set of four books which include Spring, Summer and Winter. Each is a reflection of the moments following the Brexit vote. Stark, yet wonderfully written and reflective. (5/5)

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I cannot really write a review of this as I am only half way through, but I thought I would include a some thoughts anyway. As I was impressed by Chesil Beach, I thought I would continue the McEwan theme. Saturday is set in the post 9/11 age and offers a subtle reflection on British politics in the 2000s; the threat of nuclear war with Iran and urban life in modern London. As expected, McEwan intricately describes every nook and cranny of the life of the protagonist, the neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne and his family. It is a novel set in one single Saturday, but the intricacy makes it feel like a lifetime. I am very much looking forward to reading more of it!