Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In Defence of Politics

Nonsuch HP caught this programme on Radio 4 the other night and found it fascinating. Professor Matthew Flinders set out to challenge the public perception of politicians as corrupt and selfish, by arguing that the vast majority of them are extremely hardworking, and are under great pressure to make decisions (and often compromises) on our behalf over very challenging issues.

"Politics succeeds because it generally ensures stability and order:" he writes in an accompanying article, "it avoids anarchy or arbitrary rule...Politicians urgently need to rediscover the moral nerve and capacity to speak with the authority and weight of their predecessors. At the heart of this rediscovery must be the acceptance that the "the first business of government is to govern", as Churchill put it, "which may at times call for the deliberate endurance of unpopularity". "

Politicians such as John Bercow and Tony Blair made contributions in support of his thesis, but not everyone agreed. The Telegraph's Peter Oborne, for example, believes that politicians inevitably become isolated from the world around them and naturally put their own interests first. Strong views indeed - and there will doubtless be more of them over the next two programmes. What is your opinion of all this?

10 Myths about Afghanistan

This Guardian article questions many of our preconceived views about Afghanistan, such as whether any foreign army has succeeded in the country, and whether the Soviets were "defeated" by the Mujahideen.  It is well worth reading, particularly when considering Afghanistan's role in the Cold War and the USSR's recent history, as well as its significance today.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Women in Saudia Arabia get the vote

Well...almost.  King Abdullah announced today that women would be allowed to vote and run in municipal elections in four years' time as well as be appointed to the influential Shura Council that advises the King.  It is a little too early to celebrate though as the vote has been promised previously and taken away again with little justification, no appointments have yet been made to the Council and the King can ignore it anyway.  It also is a relatively small victory when compared with what else women can't do in the country ie drive, sign legal documents and importantly participate in public life without a male relative's agreement.
Read the story on the BBC and the Guardian.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Elizabeth on Film

The Guardian runs a regular column reviewing historical films and considering their accuracy - covering everything from Spartacus to The Social Network. Recently the author has reviewed several films with Elizabethan themes, including Shakespeare in Love (Entertainment: A-, Accuracy C+), Young Bess from 1953 (E: C+, A: B) and 1999's Elizabeth. The latter comes in for a particular roasting because although it is undeniably entertaining (A-), it plays extremely fast and loose with historical accuracy (E) - indeed it gets a lower rating than the recent Cuban-Missile-Crisis-based X-Men: First Class (D+!)

Problems include: portraying Lord Burghley as a 75 year old at the start of her reign when he was in fact in his 30s, over-emphasizing her romantic interest in Robert Dudley, and including him in an amalgamation of various Catholic plots against her, which was highly unlikely as he was a staunch Protestant. The film-makers would argue that their job is to emphasize the dramatic nature of Elizabeth's insecure and lonely position, but clearly a large historical health-warning is needed at the beginning of the film for those who might consider it a reliable source for research... PS: Here is a detailed list of many of the factual errors from the film plus other useful information in an FAQ. PPS: The film's sequel: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" isn't very accurate either, as Alison Weir explains here...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

One to watch - Hilary Mantel

The BBC's Culture Show has devoted a whole programme to the historical novellist Hilary Mantel.  Catch it on BBC iplayer.  She has written some fantastic historical novels including the recent and much acclaimed Wolf Hall and A Place of Greater Safety about the main protagonists of the French Revolution.  Give them a go.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A new female prime minister

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the centre-left coalition in Denmark, won a narrow victory over the right wing government in power to become the first female prime minister in Denmark last night.  Her victory brings the Danish left back to power after ten years in opposition, and is likely to mean Denmark will be more positive on moves towards closer economic co-ordination within the European Union.  She said after her victory: “Today is the day things change in Denmark. This evening we’ve shown that the Social Democrats are a big and driving force in Denmark. We’ve written history today.”
See the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph's reporting of the story.
She also has a close contact with Britain as she is the previous Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law being married to Neil and Glenys Kinnock's son Stephen.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Jimmy Carter

Here is a fascinating interview with Jimmy Carter, President of the USA from 1977 to 1980 and now leading a very active retirement whilst living in a modest bungalow in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Most interesting is his defence of his presidency, often considered to be a failure because it only lasted one term and ended in the shambles of the failed Iranian hostage rescue. During those four years, he says,

"We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people, including Egypt and Israel. We normalised relations with China, which had been non-existent for 30-something years. We brought peace between US and most of the countries in Latin America because of the Panama Canal Treaty. We formed a working relationship with the Soviet Union."

This policy came in for considerable criticism at the time, but in from today's perspective, looks to be an increasingly impressive claim.

PS: You can read more about the work of the Carter Center here

Boris Johnson on the Croydon riots

I was delighted to be invited to a Conservative party event last Tuesday evening. The special guest of the night was the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who gave a speech about the riots that occurred last month.

Although he spoke about the riots as a whole, he predominantly focused on repairing Croydon and restoring faith into the citizens that reside there. His aim now is to recreate Croydon to be even better than it was before, by including new tram links and generating business incentives to stimulate the town’s economy.

At the moment, there seems to be a lot of disillusionment with the police. During the first days of the riots, the police took a laid-back approach and looters were free to ransack stores. This seems to be a huge concern for Johnson, therefore he emphasised that the police force is robust and resilient to bounce back from the criticisms.

He then opened the panel to the residents, including the owner of Reeve’s Corner (the biggest building that was set alight in Croydon). The store owner was reassured that he would have support as he reconstructed his business building.

I happily met Johnson afterwards. It was a great speech and a good night. He definitely left the event having a lot of support from the Conservative members of Croydon.

Many thanks to VD for this report.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

9/11 Ten Years On

The tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks will be this Sunday. As you can imagine, there is a vast amount of coverage of this in the media, with many programmes and web articles devoted to it. Here are special sections from the Guardian, the BBC and CNN.  Please let us know of any particularly interesting articles or programmes that you find and we will link to them here.

Republican Debate

There was a lively debate between the Republican candidates at the Ronald Reagan Library in California last night. Eight candidates took part (Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum), but the debate was dominated by clashes between Mitt Romney, who had been considered to be the front runner for many months, and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.  Perry only joined the race last month but has already made a considerable impact, particularly amongst the Tea Party movement.  Perry aggressively criticised many of Romney's policies as governor of Massachusets, but may have damaged his position with more moderate Republicans with his dismissive comments of social security as a "Ponzi scheme" (basically a dodgy financial arrangement) and a "monstrous lie".  It will be interesting to see what effect the debate has on their poll ratings, and watch out for the "Tea Party Debate" on Monday.

PS: Click the video above to watch them in action (after a brief ad), and here are reports and reaction from CNN and Fox News.

PPS: There is also some useful comment here from the New York Times

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Nonsuch Palace model

An Oxford professor has produced a model of the famous local palace based on his own research which should give us a much better idea of what it may have looked like.  Built by Henry VIII and loved by Elizabeth I, the palace was eventually dismantled by one of Charles II's mistresses, Barbara Villiers.  The model is on display from today in Nonsuch Mansion House and will be open to the general public from 17 September.  The BBC site has a tantalising picture of it (above) and Friends of Nonsuch Museum has the opening times of the museum.  Go and visit it as it is just across the park from the school.

All talk no action

A Washington Post article recently made this claim: "So far this year, members of Congress have said the words “create jobs” 1,236 times. Almost once for every hour that Congress was in session, according to C-Span data. President Obama has said those same words at least 116 times. Almost every other day.” It is even more fascinating that zero jobs were created in August, resulting in the national unemployment rate being 9.1%. Both the Democrats and Republicans are accountable for this - they were not able to agree on issues, which resulted in nothing being changed. Now this would be understandable if the rate of unemployment was at a satisfactory level, but Americans are facing the recession head on. When people are moving into long stay motels because they cannot afford housing, it soon becomes a cause for concern. The cracks in the formation of Washington are appearing as the Democrat-controlled Senate is dismissing proposals from the Republican controlled House of Representatives. There may be positive outcomes from having a split house, but this issue in particular is proving to be a huge problem both for the Obama administration and the credibility of the American economy as a whole. Keep an eye on this issue as the autumn progresses.
Many thanks to Politics' VD for this article