The Politics Behind the Coronavirus

With 319 confirmed cases in the UK at the time of writing, it is easy to forget that this is only 0.0005% of the population of the United Kingdom, but with the domination of headlines, depleting stocks and self-isolation on the rise comes a new set of challenges for the still relatively fledgling UK government.

This is a pivotal time for the government to decide it’s course of action, up until now the response has been relatively measured compared to other European countries, with the NHS suggesting the washing of hands for forty seconds and not touching our faces. All while France bans gatherings of over 1,000 people and Ireland introduces a €3 billion aid package to combat the virus, despite only having 24 confirmed cases. But with panic rising here in the UK, should the government do more? And how will it affect the politics surrounding it?

The government’s chief medical advisor, Prof Chris Whitty, has said in a recent press conference “We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days”. This will have major repercussions across the country and likely lead to the isolation of those unnecessarily. Economically, this will have major impacts, already we can see stocks across the world plummeting, this will only add fuel to the fire and could put a halt to basic services such as bin collection. Depending on the scale of economic impact and how much the government does to cushion the economic impact on everyday people we could see a disastrous performance for the conservatives at the upcoming local election. At current the May local elections are set to go ahead as planned, but with Prof Whitty admitting that the virus is likely to spread  “really quite fast”, it is unlikely that the turnout for the May local elections will be on par with the usual levels of turnout, raising the question of their democratic legitimacy.

While some worried of the financial implications of self-isolation, by the government announcement of statutory sick pay from day one from those self-isolating, this does not extend to those on zero hours contracts, all 883,000 people. They have been advised to claim universal credit, which takes a minimum of one calendar month since the date an application is submitted. For people living pay check to pay check this could have disastrous repercussions for them as they self-isolate without the funds to remain above the breadline, especially in light of the recent panic buying which has seen prices of basic house hold items such as toilet paper, skyrocket.

The coronavirus will have major implications on the global stock market with the FTSE100 expected to fall 6.3%. Stock markets in the US and Europe are expected to see their biggest falls since the 2008 financial crisis following huge loses in the Asian market in Monday. This could have effects on both domestic politics and international relations across the world. If we do see a global recession, as many fear we will, this could see a major turn in the US general election and create similar circumstances to the 2008 US general election which saw Obama’s ascension to the white house and the democrats winning the senate. Trump is currently riding the wave of a good economy, if this is to change, we could see a want in the US for change. So much so that it could sway the democratic primaries in Bernie Sanders’ favour if the US public see a need, such as an economic downturn, to move away from the status quo. The same could be seen in the UK in the May local elections. On an international level, production could be brought into the fray as states that would not usually be able to compete but are not as effected by corona virus are suddenly able to bode a challenge to states such as China, Russia and the US. For example, Saudi Arabia have made the decision to increase their crude oil production in an attempt to drive the US and Russia out of the market. We have also seen a major drop in production on china as workers remain in isolation. This has caused a major decrease in the region’s CO2 emissions amid the economic downturn.

One of the biggest side effects of the coronavirus has been the rise in racists attacks and abuse against people of Asian heritage in the UK and across the western world. While there is not yet a national number in relation to the coronavirus, there are at least six reports of attacks to Devon and Cornwall police, with other reports in London, Birmingham and across the UK. The UK Government has given little to no response on the rise in these attacks, whilst charity Tell MAMA, which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom, steps up to bring these cases to a national level alongside Asian student groups to campaign for support and stronger police presence to protect Asian communities in the UK.

Written by Josh Trood

UCU Strikes, we have been here before- but what next?

On Monday 24th February, it happened, again. The UCU launched fourteen days of strike action. Last term from Monday 25th November- Wednesday 4th December, round one of strike action commenced, with a vote held by the Students Union concluding ‘70% of eligible voters, voted to support UCU’s strike action and its stance in its entirety’. This forms a consensus that the student body is on the side of the UCU, which means our anger is turned to Paul Layzell and the college.

Striking lecturers do not enjoy, I assume, missing work to stand outside in the cold and rain, moping about with no students to pester, losing their income- so what provokes this action? The strikes are protesting on issues regarding contributors to pension schemes, with the UCU calling for the university (employer) and not the lecturers (employees), to cover the deficit. The second disagreement is on pay and working conditions, the UCU believes pay has dropped for academic staff by 17% in real wages since 2009, based on findings from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA). The working conditions element of the dispute focus on gender and BAME pay gap, increased casualisation of staff contracts and increased workloads. These are the exact same reasons lecturers walked out in November 2019, according to the UCU ‘the employers only agreed to properly discuss casualisation, workload and inequality arising from our decision to strike in November 2019. While their offer does represent progress, it is not enough, and they have now said their latest proposal is final – just as they did last May!’

Now, for a university which boasts of its history entrenched in women’s liberation, proclaiming through a very expensive four floor library, that Emily Wilding Davison herself attended the college (for one term until she could no longer afford the fees), the issues surrounding pay disparity is surely a huge embarrassment for this institution. Paul Layzell, what is going on? Well, we all know of Paul’s comments made back in November 2017 in a staff meeting, stating women have a  “natural tendency to not have a go and put themselves in for promotion”. Furthermore, his comments came after figures released by Times Higher Education (THE) revealed the university has a 10% gender pay gap for full-time professors,  making it the seventh worst in the country.

This questions the integrity of Mr Layzell to effectively address the strike action, how can we trust Layzell to support the rights of women and BAME academics if he can make these claims? As stated by the UCU, the universities had deemed their latest proposal their final after the November batch of strikes, however on the 5th March the UCU realised their latest update stating ‘It’s clear that most employers have changed their position since our last dispute over USS. They are now willing to agree with us on a range of issues. The two reports of the Joint Expert Panel have vindicated our position.’ This is a glimmer of hope for students and striking staff,  with more talks taking place on the 6th March, could this be the last we see of the strikes?

As we prepare for the last five days of strikes, the progress of negotiations are imperative to how the next academic year will look. As a third year student who lost most of first year and now third year to strikes, based on the findings by the UCU and many conversations with striking lecturers, there is no short term fix. If the college and the UCU do not reach agreement by the end of this strike period, there can certainly be expectations that next academic year will look the same. The issues raised by lecturers and the UCU are not to be overlooked, and shake to the core the integrity of many high ranking universities, including Royal Holloway. What message is a university giving to its students if it cannot facilitate an environment of equality within its staff? How am I expected to trust the university on matters such as sexual harassment and discrimination if the university does not address pay disparity between its staff, and the structural, institutionalized, inequality at the centre of this disparity? Paul Layzell, it is time for change; and no matter the individual stances on strike action, the calls for change being made by the UCU are valid, and do deserve student support. Students and lecturers make this institution what it is, and we can shape it to how we see fit.

Everyone hopes there is an end to this strike action, but if conditions are not met, there must be student outcry against the injustices faced by academics at this institution, and the lack of reparations by the university to students missing an invaluable, expensive, education.

Written by Sarah Tennent

Sources:

https://www.su.rhul.ac.uk/news/article/surhul/UCU-Referendum-Result/https:/

/www.ucu.org.uk/media/10714/Pre-strike-negotiators-briefing-for-members–four-fights-11-Feb-20/pdf/ucu_fourfights_pre-strike-briefing_11feb20-.pdf

https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10667/Negotiations-update-more-USS-talks-on-Friday

Non-EU states held to double standards, despite internal deficiencies

On the 18th of February, the European Union increased the membership of its list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions to include the Cayman Islands, Palau, Panama, and the Seychelles following a meeting of the bloc’s finance ministers. This membership formally blacklists the aforementioned nations alongside several others, resulting in potential reputational damage, greater scrutiny in their financial transactions and the loss of EU funding, disadvantaging nations outside of the European economic powerhouse.

The Cayman Islands is the first UK territory to be added to the blacklist, only weeks after the formal departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union on January 31st 2020, following a nearly four year withdrawal period. Since 2018, Cayman has adopted more than 15 legislative changes in line with EU criteria to satisfy the EU’s finance ministers, but it was determined regardless that the efforts made were not enough to avoid being demoted from the “grey list” – the list outlining nations to maintain an eye on – to the “blacklist”. Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is the head of the government, expressed his disappointment at the EU’s decision to move the Cayman Islands to the blacklist, noting that over the past two years, Cayman had cooperated with the EU to deliver on its commitment to enhance tax good governance.

This list, which was started in 2017, attempts to put pressure on countries to crack down on tax havens and unfair financial competition, and forcefully encourage legislative changes in order to be delisted. As of the conclusion of the last meeting, a total of twelve states are now listed as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. As well as the four states added in February, Guam, Oman, Fiji, American Samoa, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, the US Virgin Islands, and Vanuatu have also been blacklisted.

Controversially, the EU blacklist currently only screens non-EU states and has previously stated that its own member states were already applying high standards against tax avoidance. However, a bloc of EU states, led by the Danish government and backed by Germany, Spain, Austria and France, have prepared a document which urges a discussion on whether or not the European Union had sufficient internal safeguards against tax avoidance and evasion.

Three Member States of the EU, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Ireland, widely use low tax and other incentives to host the EU headquarters of foreign firms, which undermines many of the tax safeguards instilled by other EU states. Ireland, for example, hosts the headquarters of Google, Apple, Facebook, PayPal, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, Twitter and Intel, who all enjoy the significantly lower corporation tax rate of 12.5%, as opposed to the 21% corporation tax currently in place in the United States. These three states were listed in a report by the International Monetary Fund researchers in September 2019 as world-leading tax havens, together with many of the nations currently o the blacklist.

It waits to be seen on whether or not the EU Blacklist will prevail as this situation develops, and whether or not the European Union will blacklist its own members in an effort to standardise their expectations of the global world. As it stands, the European Union’s duplicity and hypocrisy threatens to undermine this list, and the smaller nations look on in anticipation and hope that the European Union will come to a beneficial conclusion for their sake, and the sake of itself.

Written by Milo Dack

The decision on HS2, and the future implications for British infrastructure projects

On Tuesday 11th February 2020, 5 months after Boris Johnson announced the Oakervee review into High Speed 2 and 11 years after the project was even proposed, the government finally declared that the project would indeed go ahead. Despite growing reservations in recent years over the mounting delays and the increase in the estimated cost from a budget of £56bn to a gargantuan £106bn, preparatory works will continue with the aim to complete the first phase and have trains running by 2028. The first phase will consist of a direct line from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street, with additional stops at Old Oak Common and Birmingham Interchange. The second phase, broken into two sections with the first extending from Birmingham to Crewe, and the latter branching off to service the East Midlands, Leeds and York, has yet to receive Parliamentary approval. It will be sure to draw further fire from both opponents to the scheme in Parliament, and from public pressure groups and lobbyists.

Despite announcing the review barely a month after taking office as PM, it never appeared likely that Johnson would ultimately take the proposal behind the metaphorical barn and shoot it – instead the review has given Johnson a way of dodging some of the criticism that was sure to come from giving the proposal the green light. Despite endorsing the project, the review made clear that the endorsement came due to the lack of “shovel ready alternative investments” that would expand UK rail capacity between the north and south, in addition to the £9bn already sunk into the project. Partially insulated from criticism Johnson has been free to approve the project, albeit with changes designed to reign in costs and delays. These include a new ministerial position, which will be responsible for the project and its management on a full-time basis, non-executive directors have been overhauled and the development of the London Euston terminal has been spun out to a new management team.

There has also been a recent fresh twist with the revelation that China Railway Construction Corporation, a part-state-owned Chinese contracting giant, has been in talks with HS2 Ltd regarding a deal for the company to potentially step in and build the line. Such a deal would, according to CRCC, see the UK save billions in construction costs, with the firm aiming to complete the work within 5 years. Despite these claims however, the government has so far had no part in the talks. It also seems unlikely that CRCC will be able to take over all work on the line, given the advanced stage of preparatory work – instead a “joint venture” seems a more likely option.

In addition to this, there would be the added political difficulties of the UK government allowing a Chinese firm to build a major piece of UK infrastructure, particularly given the recent decision by the government to allow Huawei, a Chinese telecom firm, to “continue to be used”  in the UK’s 5G networks. The decision was said to provoke dismay from the US intelligence services, which have lobbied extensively for European countries to ban Huawei from working on their networks, and ““apoplectic” fury” from Trump himself in a call to Johnson.

Written by Andrew Harris

You can’t consent to being killed: A call for the end of the consensual violence defence

On the 20th February 2020, Grace Millane’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison for killing Grace, a 22 year old woman from Essex who was travelling the world. Her case made headlines, as Grace’s killer was a man she met on Tinder, and who she had agreed to have consensual rough sex with. While it was clear the evidence against this man was extremely vast, he was still allowed to use the argument that Grace had been accidentally killed during consensual rough sex as a key part of his defence. As the case high profile case has come to an end, many people are calling for an end to ‘consensual violence’ being a legitimate defence, saying that the current law does not do enough to protect the victim and the victims’ families, and allows for further victim blaming and shame.

Tabloid papers across the word jumped on the fact that the case focused on Grace’s sex life, jumping on the fact that suddenly it was seemed acceptable to share intimate details of her life and sexual history. An example of this is the New York Post, who ran the headline Killed backpacker Grace Millane was into choking, BDSM, simply repeating what her killer claimed she consented to, publishing it for everyone to read about. There was no tact when it came to the tabloids stories about the case, no thought for Grace’s friends and family who had to listen to people defend her killer and place blame on a young woman for having a sex life. Furthermore, it creates a worrying trend where yet again a women’s sexuality can be used to blame her for violence carried out against her.

‘We can’t consent to this’ is an advocacy group that was set up as a response to the increasing number of women being killed or hurt by men who have claimed that it was simply ‘sex gone wrong’, and that the violence they were subjected to was consensual. This defence is on the rise in recent years and simply just another form of victim blaming – one that the victim is often not around to defend. The group has found that 60 women in the UK have been killed by men who defended their actions by saying it was simply a sex act that had gone wrong, and that this line of defence was successful in 7 of the 17 killings that had reached trial. The result being that the men were found not guilty or not did not receive a manslaughter conviction.

While UK Law does state that no one can consent to their own death, it is clear that this does not go far enough and does not do enough in protecting the victim, who is not around to defend themselves. Due to the fact that in the last 5 years, the ‘consensual violence’ defence has been successful in nearly half of the killings that went to trial, people, especially women, are calling for a change in UK law. At the moment, advocacy groups have created petitions arguing that while the law should be clear, at the moment “consensual activity ‘gone wrong’ gives too good a chance of a lesser charge, lighter sentence, or a death not being investigated as a crime at all.”[1] The amendments purposed to the Domestic Abuse Bill call for there to be no defence for domestic abuse crimes by saying that it was consensual, something that has been a long time coming. However, due to the recent general election, passing the amendment into law has been slowed down, showing how there still needs to be a fight and a push to get it finalized and to stop men revictimizing the women that they killed. Without this amendment, violent men will continue to re-victimize the women that they chose to injure and even kill, more than likely be able to get away with it.

Written by Georgie Day

You can sign the petition to change UK Law here: https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-let-s-end-the-rough-sex-defence-604fb426-47ae-4d92-ad5a-75135fd020ff

Sources used:

https://graziadaily.co.uk/life/in-the-news/men-rough-sex-defence/

 

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0422/amend/domestic_rm_pbc_1007.1-3.html

 

https://wecantconsenttothis.uk/actnow

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/24/rough-sex-defence-murder-grace-millane

 

 

 

[1] https://wecantconsenttothis.uk/actnow

 

Pete Buttigieg: A radical Democratic candidate?

Buttigieg is a white, male, moderate democrat. So, what makes him radical? Buttigieg is the first openly gay man and first millennial with a chance of entering the oval office.

For Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend Indiana, getting this far in the democratic race is admirable, but the prospect of him becoming the democratic nominee, let alone the president, was unthinkable.

Since the start of the democratic race, Buttigieg seems to be squeezing the other moderates in the competition such as Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar. This has only become more apparent in the New Hampshire Primary polls since Buttigieg had his breakout win in Iowa. Seeing Buttigieg leapfrog both Biden and Warren to second place at 18%, although a far cry from Bernie Sander’s 26%, this makes him the first choice for many moderate democrats. Making the prospect of a Buttigieg nomination a much more plausible possibility.

In terms of his practices and demeanour, Buttigieg seems to embody the traditional democratic establishment, but his policies, even during the Obama era would seem unthinkable. Healthcare policy is a tell-tale way is evaluating how ‘radical’ a candidate is due to how polarising this issue is in US politics, with the RealClear Opinion Research Group finding that healthcare is the highest-ranked issue for US voters but also the most polarising. Thus, making it a potential heavy vote looser. Buttigieg’s plan ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’ allows for the continuation of private healthcare while providing a public alternative with comprehensive coverage, not unlike the healthcare system in the UK.  While this co-habitation of public and private healthcare may seem commonplace for us in the UK and Europe as a whole, the idea of a public and taxpayer-funded plan for anyone to use in the US would be a healthcare revolution. Something Obama, who was seen as a radical left-wing democrat in 2008, did not introduce.

josh articlThe fact that Buttigieg supports a universal healthcare system when the idea only holds a 50% support rate, sets him aside from other moderate democrats like Klobuchar and Biden, who have both kept their own idea of what a public healthcare plan would look like vague.

“What about Sander’s ‘Medicare for All’?” I hear you ask. It’s important to note that Sanders historically has not been a democrat. Serving as an independent from 1981 to 2016 both in his role as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (ousting the Democrat incumbent) and as Senator of Vermont. So while Sanders is undoubtedly radical, he traditionally is not a democrat. This doubt from other Democrats came to a boiling point forcing him to sign a “loyalty pledge” to the democratic party and that he would serve as a democrat should he become president – we will not know for sure if this is the case unless he reaches the Oval Office.

This leaves Warren as the only Democrat with a more radical plan for healthcare than Buttigieg. Placing Buttigieg on the radical side of the democratic field on one of the most polarising issues of this election.

Looking past what can be a very thick veneer of left-wing echo chambers, especially those that would consider themselves the left of the democratic party, Buttigieg is radical, at least for the US and lines up with the likes of Sanders and Warren on a number of issues. A $15 an hour minimum wage, quadrupling the earned income tax credit for single adults, “affordable, universal full-day child care and pre-K for all children from infancy to age 5”, route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a cap on all student loan payments as a share of income, forgiven in full after 20 years as well as a universal healthcare plan. Furthermore, Buttigieg has thrown his weight in with some major structural reform ideas such as statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, banning gerrymandering, and putting an end to the electoral college and filibustering. This would be major changes to the way that US elections are held, and could have major impacts on future results, as both Bush Jr and Trump would not have won the presidency without the electoral college.

Buttigieg may not have the same ideas as Sanders or Warren but to deny that his ideas are radical and would not have major long-term effects for the US only because he is seen to be moderate on the surface is precisely the problem. Buttigieg is a liberal able to come across as a moderate, and is it not the job of the nominee to convince those on the other side to vote for them? Only by accepting that they must convince those on the other side will the democrats be able to enact the radical policies they so desperately want.

Written by Joshua Trood

POSTHUMOUS PARDONS: AN ENIGMA

Most people are familiar with Alan Turing. If you aren’t, he was a scientist and cryptanalyst (amongst a plethora of other things) whose work for the British government is often recognised to have shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over 14 million lives.

In 1952, the British government thanked Turing with a prosecution for gross indecency under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendments Act 1885. He was given the ultimatum of imprisonment or probation – the latter with the condition that he undergo chemical castration to lower his libido. Turing’s conviction lead to the removal of his security clearance and barring from continuing his cryptographic work for GC&CS. Turing died on 7 June 1953 by cyanide, 14 months after his conviction.

60 years later, on 24 December 2013, Turing received a posthumous Royal Pardon.

The Alan Turing Law – the colloquial term for the amnesty law legislated in the Policing & Crime Act 2017, which pardons men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation (Buggery Act 1533) that outlawed homosexual acts. I’d forgive you for thinking that this law could right every wrong the government made against gay men, but this isn’t true. These statutory pardons are only for some men convicted of some homosexual offences.

We have just passed the bills third anniversary, which received royal assent on 31 January 2017. It’s a common misconception that this offers a blanket forgiveness for the crimes of the estimated 49,000 men who, like Alan Turing were convicted of consenting same-sex relations under the gross indecency law or other anti-gay legislations. As Justin Bengry, Historian of Britain’s LGBTQ past points out, “it offers too great an opportunity for the state to strategically forget and erase history rather than atone for the damage it has wrought on the lives of queer men”.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation estimates that some 50,000-100,000 men were convicted during the 20th century. Bengry poses the question, why should the pardon be limited only to men punished by these laws in the 20th century? Buggery, after all was criminalised in 1533  – how many more thousands of pardons would be needed for centuries-worth of inhumane convictions under the British government? The last execution for consensual anal sex only happened in 1835. Should these not be pardoned and apologised for?

It’s not wildly known the number of men who are unable to be granted pardons. This includes, but is not limited to, those men whose records cannot be found (you cannot obtain a pardon for an offence which a charge has no record).

For myself, it’s incredibly significant that those men whose crimes would still be illegal today – for example those convicted under indecent exposure (which is criminal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003), -cannot be pardoned. These men sought privacy and safety in public restrooms, solace from these anti-gay convictions and it was these circumstances which they were forced into by the government. These very crimes were the product of British anti-gay laws and deserve to be apologised for, not least to be pardoned. These crimes would never have been committed if the men were not put into this impossible position whereby they must choose between expressing their fundamental rights or be persecuted by a hostile government – one which still won’t right all of its wrongs.

A posthumous pardon is problematic for several reasons. If we look at the language, a pardon is not an apology. It is a forgiveness for a crime committed and in no way implies the person was wrongfully convicted.

Turing received his apology in 2009 by Gordon Brown on behalf of the British Government for “the appalling way he was treated”, however tens of thousands of men are still without apology and many of them without pardon—some of them still alive today.

Is the Government’s posthumous pardon a get out of jail free card? When the innocent party can neither accept the pardon, thus accepting that their actions were criminal, nor deny it— therefore embarrassing the government.

Right now, there are thousands of gay men unable to obtain the pardons offered by the government since 2017, which were intended for people unjustly convicted because of their sexuality. Many of these men were convicted of ‘importuning’ or ‘soliciting’ when in reality, many men were arrested simply for looking at an officer ‘the wrong way’ or speaking to another man on the street. There was no ground for arrest for many of these historic convictions in which a pardon is not offered.

Many men’s lives have been ruined by the mark against their record, which these scared men were forced into signing out of fear, in the belief it could be forgotten about.

It’s also invariably impossible to determine which crimes would still legitimately stand as crimes today? How can the Government blanket pardon all men convicted of queer sex, when some of these cases may well have been non-consensual or involving minors? Justin Bengry makes a point that this sort of detail is unlikely to have been preserved.

For centuries, lives were destroyed; men were executed by the state for homosexual offences. “This history should be preserved actively, publicly and loudly”.I believe that the Government must be held accountable and made to acknowledge its role in the destruction of so many LGBTQ+ lives and until all of the issues surrounding the pardon, including some of the ones I have discussed above have been addressed, it will continue to trick many  people into thinking that thousands of men have been apologised to. A pardon is in no way an apology or even an admission of wrongful conviction.

It should not be employed to distract us from the continued struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, and the Government’s general posthumous pardon simply is not good enough.

I am optimistic that more will be done, but the reality is that forgiveness can never be given by the unknown numbers of deceased men who died at the hands of the Government, and this should never, ever be forgotten. The world can learn from these injustices which must be remembered if we wish for history to never again be repeated.

Germany used the enigma to scramble and confuse messages. The British Government, I feel, do this very well with no such machine.

Written by Rhys Jones

Israeli Ambassador visits Royal Holloway

The Politics and International Relations Society once again host the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev, in an evening filled with questions ranging from relations with the British Labour Party, to unsurprisingly, relations with Palestine. The evening was expertly chaired by PIR Society’s very own President Joshua Trood, leading an array of questions and pursuing clarity from Ambassador Regev.

Ambassador Regev opened with a speech regarding modern diplomacy, highlighting Washington as the capital for mediation, the first remark that hinted at Israeli relations with America. Later on, being questioned on the US ordered killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the Ambassador gave complete support for the killing, stating he had no moral qualms about the assassination. Despite fears from many that this action by America could escalate tensions within the Middle East, Ambassador Regev assured the audience that the actions were de-escalatory as it proved to Iran that they would be held accountable for their immoral actions.  From observing Ambassador Regev’s language towards America, it is evident that allies with the West is an essential piece in Israel’s plan to be considered a credible state, worthy of international recognition and stature. Talking of the US, Trumps so called ‘peace plan’ was raised, Ambassador Regev praised Trumps’ plan for dealing with the question as to whether Jews actually have the right to their homeland, and raised discontent with UN Papers which Ambassador Regev deemed, ‘problematic’. It seemed that every question raised  regarding plans for Israel’s future, was a platform for Ambassador Regev to promote Israel’s democracy and strengthening relations within the region. Boasting of two peace treaties with more than half of the Arab league, Ambassador Regev subtly portrayed the effect these relationships will have on Palestine.

In Ambassador Regev’s promotion of Israeli democracy, he did highlight that Israel is in the aftermath of two unsuccessful general elections in the last year, with the third due in March. However, to reinforce democratic legitimacy, Ambassador Regev added commentary that unlike Syria and the former USSR, he did not know the election outcome. This was the beginning of an assault of reassurances that Israel is in fact a democratic, credible state with a vast future ahead of itself. Questions from the audience about the future of Israel was met with an ambiance of  optimism from Ambassador Regev, boasting of allies within the region. In contrast to Israel, Ambassador Regev persisted, Palestinians cannot vote, they are persecuted if they are to demonstrate and are not in fact living in a democracy, however under Israel they would enjoy democratic rights. Despite the negative, yet expectant light, being shred on Palestine, Ambassador Regev looked to the future of reconciliation and a Middle East which looks, in his eyes, in the spirt and form of the  European Union. In an realistic tone, Ambassador Regev, observed that this would not happen anytime soon. The realism being shred on future relations within the Middle East, did portray how far the region has to go to create peace. However, Ambassador Regev’s attitude and answers to almost every question regarding the Middle East and Israel was of the strengths of Israel as a functioning democracy and of increased relations with its neighbours. With Israeli leaked footage of Israel, Saudi and UAE talks, under the patronage of Mike Pence, there is further emphasis for  the hoped direction  Netanyahu and Ambassador Regev have for Israel.

Ambassador Regev also took questions regarding relations within British politics, specifically, the British Labour Party. With Ambassador Regev being at the centre of criticism against Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, it was no surprise that Ambassador Regev saw Corbyn as hostile to Israel and highlighted the investigation of anti-Semitism within the Labour  Party. Despite condemnation of Corbyn, Ambassador Regev proclaimed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as ‘friends of Israel’ and inspiration from their university reforms were put in place in Israel. The divide between Israel and the British Labour Party was one Ambassador Regev perceived as closing, with the leadership contest well underway, there is certainly hope for a new relationship between British Labour and Israel. Answering an audience  question regarding if relations will change between Britain and Israel now Britain has left the European Union, Ambassador Regev saw an opportunity of improved relations now the UK is looking outside of the EU for trade. Boasting of a nine billion of bilateral trade with the UK, and twenty billion bilateral trade for India and Britain; there was a certain sense that Israel, now seeing the reliance the UK has on US and outside-EU trade deals, could foresee a new relationship with Britain. This ‘opportunity’, as Ambassador Regev framed it, would indeed be vital for Israel, with as stronger relationship between the US and the UK, it seems realistic that the UK can be swayed to support the US in its relations with Israel.

The evening was interesting and thought provoking, however it certainly raised questions about Palestine. Ambassador Regev effectively painted Palestine as another issue within the Middle East, like Syria, that needed fixing. Of course, as a true diplomat, Ambassador Regev ensured that peace talks were always on the table with Palestine, however I felt with the alliances made with Trump’s America, there would be much more bargaining on Palestine’s part than Israel’s. Will there be peace in the region? Certainly not within the next decade, with Israel’s upcoming election, this could be an integral moment for Israel’s in sustaining its strength in continuing the operation for allies both inside and outside of the region.

Written by Sarah Tennent

A Tale of Two Parliaments: John Bercow joins Holloway Faculty

On the 10th of January, Prof. Nicholas Allen announced that the recently resigned Speaker of the House of Commons would be gracing the hallowed halls of Royal Holloway with a talk by the name of ‘A Tale of Two Parliaments’.

The day of his highly anticipated appearance at Holloway started at 7:58am when Prof. Oliver Heath notified students that Bercow would be joining the Politics International Relations and Philosophy Department, and ended with a crowded lecture theatre of nervous starstruck smiles and raucous laughter.

Whilst the announcement was expertly timed on the morning of Bercow’s talk by Prof. Oliver Heath, it left students from across the ideological spectrum shocked, outraged and ecstatic. And why wouldn’t we be? Adore or despise him, he is an icon of British political discourse. Like many other giants in British contemporary politics throughout the last 10 years: from Cameron to Johnson, it is difficult to ever imagine one joining the faculty of your university outside of the gilded corridors of Oxbridge. Let alone a man who stood toe to toe with four Prime Ministers with the power and precedence of Parliament at his fingertips. Bercow has never shied away from the spotlight, never retreated from a fight for Parliamentary sovereignty, and never backed down when peers deemed his numerous outreach schemes as ‘below stairs’. Away from his fiery determination and historic standoffs, his rise in British politics has been widely regarded as powerful and inspirational. Across campus shock and excitement were expected, whilst certain parts of his speech were not.

John Bercow walked into the Shilling Lecture Theatre with an exuberant smile on his face. The audience’s joy at his arrival made it seem as though they were none the wiser of his political shadow and cheered once his grey hair appeared in a sea of PIR committee members and PIRP lecturers at the entrance. Though, the tension from these brewing events was palpable to anyone aware of politico twitter. The moment Prof. Nicholas Allen introduced him, the applause was raucous and long-lasting and Bercow’s smile was Cheshire-like. He began with an anecdote regarding the elephant in the room, his height, and continued playing the humours of the audience with his innate command of language and his jolly spirit. Once the audience was at ease after the ice-breaker and the nervous awe began to wear off, he addressed the accusations of bullying.

‘I have never bullied anyone, anywhere, at any time…’

Bercow spoke of his strong manner in Parliament but assured the audience that he was not guilty of any allegation of bullying. He spoke candidly and passionately, questioning the lodging of the complaint within the political narrative since his departure from the House of Commons. He spoke of hope for the future and new challenges as a Professor, youthful in his giddiness, before moving on to his tale of two parliaments under his term as Speaker.

The details of the story were familiar to the audience but the perspective was unique and fresh. The Tory Prime Minister’s trust in Nick Clegg to prevent a Brexit referendum result, the splitting of a kingdom, and the ensuing chaos. Unlike many who would have the U.K. remain, he accepts this country’s impending fate as the 31st of January looms closer, but clarifies to the audience his true opinion on Brexit.

‘The biggest foreign policy blunder in the post-war period’.

Final point delivered, he continued on to discuss what he saw as the confusion of the government under the Rt Hon. Theresa May in deciding what Brexit truly meant, the hung election of 2017, Corbyn’s rise as opposition power, and how a Brexit at any cost would impact the UK. His perspective was one that was not uncommon held by the public during the trying past years but took on another life when he, a man who had witnessed true Parliamentary chaos from an elevated position, told his story to a room full of rapt students and academics.

‘A vivid imagination would be required to imagine Brexit being better than remain’.

From Brexit chaos to parliamentary reform, he then began to explore his lasting impact on the House of Commons. Mocking the old shooting galleries and acknowledging that in many respects he was not as privileged as many of his peers…

‘I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, let alone a silver trolley service’.

Stating further that claims to social mobility from those with impoverished backgrounds were the strongest claims, and when questioned by a student, went on to say that public institutions need to focus on how they help people from a range of backgrounds.

It is clear to say that he did not regret his lasting impact on parliament, from the addition of a creche to his calling on 17th Century procedure to prevent May’s government taking a third meaningful vote on Brexit when he felt it was the right thing to do. Though controversial at times, exampled by his public outrage over Johnson’s prorogation of parliament from his sunbed in Turkey, he seemed to regret little to nothing during his time as Speaker. One can only aspire to the level of joy and contentment a man like Bercow can have after a long and stressful career, to laugh along with students as he gave spot-on imitations of peers.

When students were allowed the chance to ask this parliamentarian titan questions, he touched on the last of the political demons that snapped at his heels, on the prompting of the Despatch Box Editor-in-Chief: the peerage. He began with a preamble where he was aware that once a Speaker’s term concludes there is a certain convention in the house to push the Speaker away from the politics of parliament. He understood the rationale but clarified that the impression was made that 230 years of precedence would be followed, and a peerage would be offered. When Bercow discovered that was not the case, he had resolutely decided to not lose any sleep over it. Since then we all are aware that Labour expressed the intention to nominate him for a peerage, one would guess to spite the Conservatives, and Bercow agreed to be nominated

The Ex-Speaker finished by touching on the freedom to debate backed up by the Bill of Rights, parliamentary spending issues, impartiality, and checks and balances on government. Finally, Bercow finished telling his epic tale, imparting his final knowledge and lessons learned as if Brexit were simply one of Aesop’s many fables. Goodness knows many would prefer this to be a cautionary tale.

The event ended with many smiles and pictures in the excess, and though Bercow was not in parliament anymore, he was beaming at the future of a Professorship as opposed to a peerage.

Written by Jessica Lee