Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Politics Bridging Units

The three articles below are based on the "Bridging Unit" work written by new Year 12 Politics students, and it's encouraging that they are already taking an interest in some of the issues which will dominate the political agenda this year. We hope to encourage new bloggers to join us so that they can add their opinions to Nonsuch HP!

PS: The bridge in the picture is the Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai, from this article on "The most beautiful bridges in the world"....

The Migration Cycle

When we say immigrant many words come into mind and over the summer it seemed to be a never ending news item. Immigrants are travelling across the globe in order to make it into the UK. Recently we have seen the chaos that has been provoked at Calais and how we have tried to stop them. As well as this, the recent evaluation of the migrants and refugees has made some interesting progress. We have now proposed to take in up to 20,000 refugees. Refugees are people who need to get away from their own country due to the fear of their lives being at risk. This switch in terminology has twisted the public viewpoint and since put pressure on the Government. However, we need to do much more as a continent in order to improve the situation as a whole.

First of all I wish to look at the source of the problem – the wars and poverty across the globe that have caused people to flee. Most of the immigrants want to get away from war and so try to make it to the UK. Most of the immigrants that are currently living in Calais are mainly from Syria and Afghanistan and have made the journey across the Mediterranean or through the land border at Turkey. From the media and politicians there is plenty of stigma and negativity surrounding the immigrants. Especially as Cameron called them a “swarm” and Katie Hopkins called them “cockroaches”. Neither of which is finding a solution to the overwhelming problem. One issue in the press that struck me the most was an article in the Daily Express which told of an illegal immigrant aged 13 being arrested. The dehumanisation of this piece astonished me and just shows the lack of sympathy the press has for children who have run away from their homes to be safer in the UK.

What we in Britain need to truly consider is the fact that the illegal immigrants are trying to make their way across because of our country’s actions. We started the war in Afghanistan along with the US so the immigrants are fleeing because of what we created and the destructive bombing that continues. As for Syria, the war that rages on and the air strikes that we place on it leads to thousands of civilians travelling to Europe to save their lives. Although we have done our best in supplying aid in Syria it isn’t nearly enough and the war has driven its people away. Whilst the UK has also managed to take in refugees of war there are plenty more looking for a safe home and for every refugee we take in, Germany takes in 24. What seems to be the underlying tone in most of the press is that they want to keep all immigrants out at all costs. This hardly seems fair as they are just human beings like you or I who wish to strive for a better life, one in which they have food and shelter.

However, as we do seem to be battling the current crisis with ‘the asset’ and police officers it seems way too focused and complicated than it really needs to be. First of all we are all aware that immigrants are trying again and again to get through the Channel Tunnel and across on the ferry now with more violence than ever before. This poses danger to the lorry drivers as well as the immigrants. It has also caused roads in the UK to be blocked by hundreds of lorries which are waiting to go to France. The solution to me seems quite simple but does require the cooperation of the French. All of the immigrants are based in Calais and most around France so the question is why are they allowed to stay in France? This is mainly because the French seem to be happy with letting the immigrants there as they know that they will soon move across to the UK. In order to stop the crisis we first need to try and remove the community that has been built around the port at Calais. Secondly we need the cooperation of the Gendarmerie and our own police force to remove any illegal immigrants from France and send them back either to the first European country that they came into contact with, (that mostly being Italy or Turkey as laid out by the Dublin Regulation) or back to their own country. Finally in the case of the hundreds of trucks that are being delayed hasn’t it occurred to them that there are plenty of other ports across the country which can get them to France such as Newhaven and Southampton.

All of this seems a bit harsh considering that we are sending them to their deaths. The immigrants are risking their lives to get to the UK every day. First by making the crossing across the Mediterranean to Italy on boats that are squashed and which pose so much danger. As we keep hearing, migrants are dying because the boat sank or they are being abandoned by those who claimed they could aid them. Then they try to make it past police and onto the trains by climbing over fences and holding onto Lorries. Then we send them back to their war stricken countries where they will try to repeat the process again. There is no real solution to this problem just that with so many wars across the globe that the problem has been heightened. If we want real change then we as a country need to stop creating wars and stop killing innocent people in air strikes day after day.

Financial Crisis in Greece

The financial crisis in Greece that began in 2009 shortly after the Global Financial Crisis is a disaster that is still going on today and has created quite a substantial mess of the country’s economy.
In 2009, while Europe was still trying to recover from the global market crash, Greece announced that it had been understating its deficit figures for years which, rightly, panicked a lot of people and soon after Greece’s credit rating was downgraded by all three of the big credit rating agencies.
In 2010, on the verge of bankruptcy, the International Monetary Fund and the EU agreed to participate in bailing Greece out of its huge debt if the country complied with issuing a number of austerity packages, which it did in return for the first bailout package of €110bn over three years.

Over the next three years seven austerity packages were issued which caused riots and outrage among Greek citizens. Measures in these packages included:
  • Increasing retirement age from 60 to 67
  • 10% cuts on salaries about €1800
  • Increasing working hours of teachers with no additional pay
  • Public pensions cut on average between 5% and 15%
  • Public salary wage cuts up to 30%
  •  Abolishing 15000 state jobs making it easier to fire civil servants

There have been violent protests all over Greece since the austerity packages were announced, with one man even committing suicide a short distance from Greece’s parliament in an act of protest which later became a symbol for anti-austerity groups and resulted in many violent clashes between protestors and police.

As of 2015 Greece has been leant around €240bn from the IMF and the EU and still has a whopping debt of €317bn. Whether Greece will ever recover from this crisis is difficult to predict. With a proper plan of action and constant guidance from the IMF and the World Bank, Greece could eventually one day settle its debt. However the government will need the full support of its citizens so introducing more riot-causing austerity packages is not the best idea. Although the EU and the IMF have attempted on a number of occasions to bail Greece out, the money has not been used efficiently. The money has been used to pay of international loans rather than rebooting Greece’s economy and actually allowing money to make its way back into the country through businesses. A proportion of the loans should have been used to rebuild the economy which would also provide more jobs in the country, which are essential now that the unemployment level has risen above 26% and youth unemployment is around 50%.
There is also the debate over whether Greece should remain in the EU. For now the answer is yes, Greece must stay, however difficult that may be. Leaving the EU would be far worse for the country as this would cause them to be shut out of the global capital markets meaning the economy would sink even lower. Trading would be off limits for Greece and the country would be in even bigger trouble as that time they wouldn’t have the EU to fall back on and be bailed out by. Furthermore if Greece left the EU they would have to change their currency back to the drachma which would only create further chaos and disruption as the drachma would lose value and most likely cause inflation.

Overall, there is a chance that Greece may eventually recover from this financial crisis but first it must rebuild its economy and begin to increase trading again whilst negotiating with the EU and the IMF about extensions on paying back outstanding debts.

Refugee crisis: Why the sudden surge?

As Summer bears to a close, the number of migrants wanting to enter the European Union from war stricken countries such as Syria and Afghanistan is rapidly increasing. Our Prime Minister David Cameron claims there is no room for them here in the United Kingdom, that we simply have room for ‘a few hundred’ when over 4 million are all fleeing the from the Afghanistan war since it broke out 4 years ago. But why has this sudden surge of migrants wanting to come into the EU appeared, and what are we doing to aid them? The answer is sadly, very little.
The Government have said that the number of refugees they will accept as a maximum 1,000.  Germany has offered 30,000 and Switzerland, a country that is just 15,940 square miles, has offered more than 3,500 to refugees. The fact is that the UK on paper and in practice have dealt with the situation far more poorly that its fellow European countries have. It brings shame on a country that prides itself on being the second biggest contributor to aid funds for the war-torn country, yet when confronted with the issues at hand, when they are effectively at your doorstep, Britain is shamefully turning a blind eye.
Whilst the government are fully aware of the issues that the migration of refugees poses to its 64.1 million residents and the effect letting in more than 1,000 may pose for our economy, our jobs and our standard of living; it appears they have forgotten in the midst of the crisis that these are real people. These people have families that need feeding and educating for them to even have a glimpse of hope of a future. At the moment this hope appears to not be something that the UK can offer them; yet we still continue to believe that one of the values we hold dearest as a country is compassion. Where is the compassion in accepting 1,000 migrants out of 4 million?

Articles are continuing to make headlines, offering different perspective and ideas on an ever growing problem- “Is military force the solution?”, “Who are the people smugglers?” and “Five obstacles to an EU migrant deal”. Due to an increased presence of Islamic State in Syria, the civil war there appears to not be calming, and as a result of this more and more people are fleeing, desperate to come to the haven which is Europe- where they will be fed and clothed; even if it isn’t by the UK. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Free from the stresses of exams now, I've been having a lot of fun reading some of the year 7s' efforts at writing historical fiction after their trip to Hever Castle (see previous post). Somewhat inspired by all this creativity, I've decided to post a bit of my own Tudor fiction here. This is, in all likelihood, going to be my final post on this blog, and so I no longer feel any embarrassment about my attempts at creative writing.

I wanted to explore some of the religious tensions of the late 1530s, so this is set at the spectacular event that was the christening of the future Edward VI. It's told from Archbishop Cranmer's point of view, and foreshadows his eventual martyrdom under the regime of Mary Tudor in 1556. Mary never really forgave Cranmer for his role in her father's divorce proceedings and the Royal Supremacy, and I wanted to explore their relationship a bit.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Historical Fiction from the Year 7s

The Year 7s have been hard at work producing historical fiction inspired by their recent visit to Hever Castle. Here are two entries and we hope to publish more soon!

A Meeting with Anne Boleyn

A Deadly Visitor

History Reading for the Summer

The Summer Holidays are nearly here so there may be a little time over the next few weeks for some summer reading. We have created some specific reading lists on Historical Fiction which you may find of interest. They are not complete, and need your input! If you have read any great books on any period of history, please let us know, and we will include them. Here are the current pages...

Historical Fiction: Key Stage 3
20th Century Historical Fiction: Years 9-11
Sixth Form Historical Fiction: Wars of the Roses and the Tudors

If you are in the Sixth Form and considering History at University, here are a few ideas...

David Aaronovitch of The Times has helpfully made some recommendations, which include "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson, which looks at the global history of finance and "The Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800" by Jay Winik, which considers the connections between the momentous political events of the late 18th Century. Both books would obviously provide helpful parallels with our current political and economic problems.

Tudor Historians may find "Mary Tudor:England's First Queen" of interest as it takes quite a sympathetic view of her and David Starkey's "Henry-The Virtuous Prince" looks closely at the often neglected early years of Henry VIII's life. Here is a further selection of Tudor History books and here is a guide from to useful authors.

EH Carr's "What is History" is the classic introduction to the nature of the subject and some ideas of historiography. Although it was published 48 years ago, it still contains many stimulating ideas to get the historian thinking. Other books that follow similar ideas, often written in response to Carr, include Geoffrey Elton's "The Practice of History, Richard Evans' "In Defence of History" and John Tosh's "The Pursuit of History". More information about these ideas can be seen at the Institute of History's special section on "What is History" here and in the Open University's website here.

If you are looking for further inspiration on what to read, check the "History Reviews" sections of the newspapers. Here are links to the The Guardian'sand The Telegraph's history books sections. The Institute of Historical Research also has an extensive Reviews Section

The history section of course has a vast range of books and is worth checking for the latest to be published.

Please pass on any recommendations for books you have enjoyed, and happy reading!

PS: Here is a list of books and articles recommended for old AEA course (for A Level Students who wanted to stretch themselves further) which are worth considering.

Friday, 3 July 2015

589 Days Without a Government

A protest against the lack of action to form a government in Belgium

Between 2010 and 2011, Belgium spent 589 days without an elected government. During this time, they broke the world record for the longest time for a democratic country to go without an elected government, overtaking Cambodia’s record of 353 days set in 2003 to 2004.

The general election on the 13th June 2010 produced fragmented results where 12 different parties were elected to the Belgian Chamber of Representatives from 11 electoral districts. None of these parties had more than 20% of seats. The largest party (the Flemish Separatist Party) controlled only 27 out of 150 seats in the chamber. The next biggest party controlled 26 seats. Therefore, a complex coalition had to be formed to create a majority government. But, the deep division between the Flemish community in the north and the poorer Walloons in the south, made this impossible. The opposing groups were unable to agree on policy issues and form a coalition. Negotiations between all the parties quickly became repetitive and then deadlocked. However, a new election was not called as it was believed that this would produce either exactly the same results or a significant rise in the popularity of populist parties.

During this period, a caretaker government was put in charge to deal with the day-to-day running of the country. It was led by the former Prime Minister, Yves Leterme. A government of this kind is not allowed to implement any major changes, as there is no majority to vote them in – only urgent policy changes or small alterations are allowed. So, in this case, ordinary Belgians noticed few differences in their lives. There were some benefits, however, as the economy continued to grow, exports increased, Belgium contributed to the NATO bombing of Libya and trains were more often on time than previously. Nevertheless, a caretaker government creates some long-term risks. For example, in 2011 Belgium’s debt was 96% of the country’s GDP, and the caretaker government could do nothing to control the situation, so it just got worse. At this time, a survey by GfK found that 57% of Belgians listed the political situation as their most important worry.

Finally, at the end of 2011, Elio Di Rupo (the new Prime Minister) formed a fragile six-party coalition government. This occurred two weeks after an event occurred threatening to plunge Belgium into a debt crisis. Previously the negotiations had been deadlocked, but they all realised how severe the situation had become. The new government was sworn in on the 6th December 2011, marking the 589th day without an elected government. But it is believed that Belgium will split into two nations in the near future, as the division between the Flemish and Walloons causes so many problems and there is a physical language barrier between the two nations, creating significant differences.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

British Hong Kong

In July 1841, Hong Kong was ceded to the British in perpetuity (for an indefinite length of time) after the First Opium War. Following a few months of fighting between the British and the Chinese in China, the Emperor Tao Kuang was alarmed when Beijing was being threatened by soldiers. So, he sent his envoy to negotiate with the British. The envoy (Qi Shan) agreed to give up Hong Kong Island to Britain if they withdrew from Northern China. However, this proposition was accepted by neither the Chinese nor the British. So fighting continued. Until, in June 1841, the city of Nanking came under threat. The Chinese did not want to lose this strategic city, so this time they agreed to Britain’s terms in the Treaty of Nanking. This treaty ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain and exempted British nationals from all Chinese laws, among other conditions.

Then, in June 1898, following mass migration of Chinese from mainland China, the British government petitioned for a land extension for Hong Kong to support the growing population. They were given a larger area than was expected, which increased the size of the colony by 90% as part of the Convention of Peking. However, this land was on a 99 year lease which would come into effect from the 1st of July that year.

In the 99 years that followed, Hong Kong suffered turbulent and testing times. For example, Japan occupied Hong Kong in 1941 during the Second World War, causing food shortages and consequently many people fled to mainland China. After the war, the population dropped to 650,000 from 1.6million. Additionally, in 1967, Maoists rioted in Hong Kong for seven months, at the same time as the Cultural Revolution was happening in China. However, Hong Kong became an incredibly successful colony and in the 1980s, it became one of the world’s top ten economies.

In September 1984, Britain and China discussed Hong Kong’s future following the handover in 1997. An agreement was signed then following years of negotiations, outlining what would happen to the colony. This arrangement led to Hong Kong Island being handed back to the Chinese as well as the islands that were part of the original 1898 lease. The two nations also decided on a ‘one country, two systems’ idea, allowing Hong Kong to keep its capitalist system and to be self-governed for at least 50 years after the handover. Then, on the 1st of July 1997, the highly anticipated handover occurred peacefully and Tung Cheehwa was put in charge.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Breaking History

The rise of Hitler and the Nazis made history. In a short space of time, Germany had gone from an impoverished and politically unstable nation to a great power set on the domination of Europe. The Second World War and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust sent shockwaves across the world, while the alliances and grudges formed in this conflict set the stage for the Cold War, which brought with it a whole new manner of problems for Germans to face.
The Nazi regime set Germany on a new course: self-sufficiency increased, the economic hardship of the 1920s faded away, and new networks of schools, hospitals and roads stretched across the country. Yet a lasting image of Nazi Germany will always be the grainy, black and white footage from Berlin, May 1945. Under the cold light of a grey sky, women bestride the fallen buildings like stepping-stones, clearing away the rubble. These Trümmerfrauen (‘rubble women’) have pixelated faces, but the camera still picks up their stony expressions. When their eyes occasionally flit towards the lens, they betray nothing. Today, these women are a symbol of Germany rebuilding itself without complaint after the war, though less than 5% of the female population of Berlin actually got involved.

Trümmerfrauen in Berlin (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

 But it was not just the German cities and dreams of a thousand-year Reich that lay in ruins. The Nazis did not only make history, they brought about its destruction.

In one respect, this was definitely the fault of the Nazis themselves. Their culture of propaganda and censorship famously destroyed or otherwise did away with thousands of priceless artefacts and works of art. Also, the fire that burned down the Reichstag building in 1933 – if one accepts that the Nazis were indeed responsible for starting it – would have destroyed decades-worth of invaluable parliamentary records and archival material.

But the harm done to History runs deeper than that. It was not merely the physical evidence that was damaged, but our attitudes towards History itself. It remains a problem both in Germany and here in Britain.

Since the 18th century, much has been made by historians of the German Sonderweg (‘special path’). The premise of this idea is that Germany developed in a different way to the rest of the western world, through its placement of moral and cultural values above politics. Politics was considered a science – concerned with the outside world – while literature, art and philosophy were superior practices that concerned themselves with the soul and innermost nature of mankind. This division in society created apathy towards politics, and so this Kulturvolk (‘cultured people’) did little to either support or condemn the actions of German politicians, including the two World Wars.

The strength of the Kulturvolk - and whether or not the Sonderweg existed at all – is still up for debate, but Germany’s rich culture was no doubt impoverished by the Nazi takeover. In 1933, Germany had the greatest intelligentsia in the world. More Germans had won the Nobel Prize than the British and Americans combined, and the great age of physics was about to be ushered in by Germans: Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner, among others.

However, much of this is now forgotten. A culture of guilt and reticence still permeates German society. Even now, German flags are only ever brought out at football matches, in case an overt display of nationalism would hearken back to the days of the Third Reich. There is in Germany a perceived moral responsibility to remember the horrors of the Nazi regime. It is significant that the largest public monument in the centre of Berlin is the Holocaust memorial, made up of 2711 stone slabs resembling nameless tombstones.

The necessity for Germans to look back and learn from their Nazi pasts has cast a shadow over all that came before. The successes of the Kulturvolk seem insignificant in comparison, and aspects of it have been tainted. Let us consider the words of journalist and writer Florian Illies:

Anyone who still said that they liked Caspar David Friedrich stood accused for decades of not being sufficiently critical with regard to German history.

Caspar David Friedrich was an acclaimed landscape painter at the turn of the 19th century. He has been hailed as the greatest romanticist of his generation, and in many ways was the German equivalent of JMW Turner. His work became less popular as the 19th century drew to a close. Art had become less contemplative and more reflective of an increasingly industrialised society, a society that no longer saw green pastures and stormy skies as relevant. This was to change when the Nazis rose to prominence in the 1930s, and Friedrich’s symbolic landscapes were claimed as icons of German nationalism. From its association with the Nazis, Friedrich’s work was subsequently looked upon with distain. Only recently has he been lauded by art historians once again as one of the greats.

One is inclined to describe the Third Reich as an historical mirror: it places a barrier between the 1930s and ‘40s and the more distant past. One cannot see beyond it, and instead sees themselves reflected in it.

In Britain, too, the Nazis have overpowered all other views we hold about Germany. In 2004, when a survey asked 10-16 year olds what they associated with Germany, 78% mentioned the Second World War. Similarly, the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Holy See sparked a media outcry in Britain on account of his Nazi past. Headlines like the Sun’s ‘From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi’ prompted Franz Joseph Wagner in Berlin to write angrily that ‘anyone reading your British popular newspapers must have thought Hitler had been made pope.’

Our obsession is understandable. It is not only the Germans who have sought to take moral lessons from these events, and the Third Reich therefore remains a cornerstone of the national curriculum. We also love sensationalism in history. The three most popular topics in A-level History have always been the Tudors, Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany. Whether it’s Henry VIII or Hitler, it seems our curriculum needs some sort of despot to keep people entertained.

The Second World War also forms a large part of our collective identity. For many, the efforts on the Home Front are seen as a golden age of British patriotism. A far cry from our modern society’s focus on the individual, the 1940s saw men, women and children of all backgrounds banding together to defeat the Nazi menace. One only needs to check the TV listings to find at least five documentaries per week about some aspect of the war, as well as reruns of Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers or ‘Allo , ‘Allo. It is clear to see that the Second World War – for better or for worse - has dominated popular culture.

The world is still slowly moving on from the events of 70 years ago. Close connections between Britain and the Germany have begun to dismiss the stereotypes of the German people, so that, even if it is still often viewed as a nation of car-manufacturers and sunbed-stealers, Germany is no longer perceived as a nation of Nazis. That shadow is beginning to lift. The anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen have also prompted a re-evaluation of the Holocaust, bringing both sides of the war together in widely-publicised services of remembrance.

The anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, celebrated last week, has also allowed us to reflect on the damage caused by the war on both sides, and to what extent the rift has been bridged. In his address at the VE thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

Our gratitude is not simply for victory-in-Europe, but also reconciliation-in-Europe that followed, neither obviously nor automatically. Peace is more than the end of war: reconciliation dismantles the hostilities which previously separated and alienated us from one another and from God.

These ‘hostilities’ and stereotypes might be fading, but more must still be done. Perhaps in this special anniversary year we can make an exception, but there is so much more to German history than Hitler and the Nazi Party, and we should make a more conscious effort to discover it.