Thursday, 29 September 2016

Nonsuch on Radio 4

Radio 4's Analysis programme on Monday 26 September featured interviews with several Nonsuch Politics students and a teacher, plus a major role for the school bell! You can listen to the programme here. In it, Birkbeck Politics professor (and friend of Nonsuch!) Rosie Campbell explores how Britain is undergoing a period of rapid political change, and asks whether it is time to "Tear up the Politics Textbook" and start all over again.

Bridging Units

Over the Summer holidays, the new Year 12 History and Politics students wrote articles on either political topics of interest, or history books that they had enjoyed reading which were connected to their studies. There are plenty of examples of them below this post. Many thanks to all who took part and we look forward to more interesting articles soon!

PS: The picture is of the Gaoliang Bridge in China. Plenty more about bridges here.

Corbyn v Smith: The Battle for Labour

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in becoming Labour leader, the party has undeniably descended into a damaging spiral of irrelevance. From his inability to publically rally up support for the ‘Remain’ camp, to the resignations of countless members of his shadow cabinet; Jeremy Corbyn has proved himself to be nothing but an overly opinionated neo-socialist and not very much of a leader.
Corbyn’s only competitor, Owen Smith, who’s only tactic to gain the votes of Labour members is emphasising the uselessness of Corbyn, and furthermore that if he is re-elected as leader of the party, Labour will “recede into irrelevance, being thought of as not able to take back the reins of power from the Tories”. Smith, who made a mock version of the 2020 Conservative manifesto for his speech in London, predicts that without a strongly led opposition, the conservatives will roll back the state, cut taxes and benefits, sell off social housing, and introduce hundreds of grammar schools- all of which are eventualities he feels would be averted with him as Labour leader.

But simply because Corbyn has proved in the past year that he isn’t the person for the job, doesn’t mean that sexist, anti-immigrant Smith is. Smith has made degrading and derogatory comments countless times, aimed at female politicians such as Nicola Sturgeon and PM Teresa May. From threatening to “smash Theresa May back on her heels”, to referring to a gobstopper as “the perfect gift” for Nicola Sturgeon. Smith even went as far to claim that sexism in the labour party did not exist until Jeremy Corbyn became leader.


Just what is Trump's Plan to Defeat ISIS?

At his latest rally, Trump has coined idea of ‘peace through strength’, in a Reagan-esque appeal for increased military spending, making yet more promises to hold NATO members to their obligation to spend 2% of national income on defence. By increasing said spending, Trump plans to eradicate the IS claiming to ‘know more about Isis (Islamic State) than the generals do’ however when asked about said plan used his favourite way to describe it- incredibly vaguely. To add the hilarity of the situation trump says the terror group will be eradicated within 30 days, a laughable claim.

The plan is ‘great’ with its lack of description down to Trump wanting to appear ‘unpredictable’, appropriate considering his unexpected Republican nomination and controversial style of public appeal. To contrast, the democratic nominee Clinton is not afraid of the enemy knowing her ideas to ‘maintain air strikes and support local troops’.

With his only prior details being ‘bomb the hell out of IS’ and to use ‘a combination of his own plan and proposals from the generals to fight the terror group’, Trump’s lack of military experience, general knowledge of the situation and intelligence all appear to be severely lacking, just like his plan.

More on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's foreign policies here.


The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl, is yet another historical fiction by Philippa Gregory. As the third novel in the ‘Tudor Court’ series, the novel explores exactly what the title states, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s infamous second wife, Anne Boleyn. In the novel, Gregory depicts part of the turbulent reign of England’s Henry VIII through Mary Boleyn’s eyes during her time in and out of court.

Already married to William Carey and barely 14, Mary Boleyn embarks on a several year affair with the King at the beginning of the novel, giving him both a daughter and a son, albeit both illegitimate. “Keep him coming forward but never let him think that you come forward yourself. He wants to feel that he is pursuing you, not that you are entrapping him. When he gives you the choice of coming forward or running away, like then—you must always run away. But don’t run too fast. Remember he has to catch you.” Despite only a year separating them in age, Mary is disastrously more naïve than Anne, who is cunning, intelligent and skilful in the art of seduction, earning the role as Mary’s adviser in the seduction of the King.

“I shall be dark and French and fashionable and difficult. And you shall be sweet and open and English and fair. What a pair we shall be! What man can resist us?”

Mary’s golden fair hair reflects her sweet and caring disposition. “I wanted the heat and the sweat and the passion of a man that I could love and trust. And I wanted to give myself to him: not for advantage, but for desire.” Mary’s decline begins when she falls in love with the King and thus begins to lose sight of the reason as to why she was being courted in the first place. Anne understands that “anyone can attract a man” and “the trick is to keep him,” and, more importantly, Anne understands that love is not important in seducing the King. She understands that “in this world ruled by men” the aim is to rise in status, and to bring her family with her.

The favour of the King is eventually tossed from Mary to Anne. “I have overturned the order. Nothing will ever be the same for any woman in this country again.” Anne bewitches King Henry into tearing the country apart in return for her love. In order to marry her, the King breaks with Rome and brings the Church of England under his control, all for Anne to give birth to a girl, Elizabeth, after promising him she would give him his coveted son. All of this leads to Anne’s demise.

“And then the sword came down like a flash of lightning, and then her head was off her body and the long rivalry between me and the other Boleyn girl was over.”

“Jane would be the next queen and her children, when she had them, would be the next princes or princesses. Or she might wait, as the other queens had waited, every month, desperate to know that she had conceived, knowing each month that it did not happen that Henry's love wore a little thinner, that his patience grew a little shorter. Or Anne's curse of death in childbed, and death to her son, might come true. I did not envy Jane Seymour. I had seen two queens married to King Henry and neither of them had much joy of it.”

By the end of the novel, Mary is evidently less naïve and more intelligent. She is the only Boleyn sibling with her head still attached to her body after the well-known demise of Anne and George. Her conscience, at first, would not allow her to desert her siblings, albeit her husband, William Carey, advises her to protect her children, especially her son, Henry, and the now motherless Princess Elizabeth.


Britain after Brexit

In spite of voting leave, many well informed advocates of Brexit would agree that the immediate economic effects of Britain’s leaving of the European Union would not be entirely positive. The less knowledgeable supporters of Britain’s leaving of the EU promote the notion that Brexit will control immigration. Pre and post the referendum, this idea has been giving a voice to racism in Britain.

It is hard to predict today what the future of Brexit will turn out to be in a decade or even five years time, but it is obvious that Britain’s planned exit of the EU is already provoking serious economic consequences. The most infamous, immediate and, arguably, the most important economic fatality of Brexit has been the value of the pound. Having sank to an alarming low against the American dollar and euro, in simple words, it seems as if us Britons have become poorer as a result of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The pound lost 11 per cent of its value in the short space of two trading days, which raises the question that should have been answered to many less knowledgeable voters before they voted leave: how will Brexit immediately affect our economy?

Having dropped in value by around 13%, the pound, which was worth $1.50 on 23 June, is now trading at around $1.30, which is a new low for this decade, seeing as the sterling has not been at levels this low since the 1980s. On 23 June the pound was worth €1,30, but now trades at about €1,19, another alarming low.

Conversely, as a result of Brexit, the percentage of race hate crimes has vastly increased. In the weeks before and after the vote to leave the European Union, race hate crimes increased by 42%. Reports of racism have been amassing in the media, and this is no surprise. Immigration was highlighted as a common reason for Brexit amongst voters, and with the vote to leave stealing the coveted victory, those who were against immigration for racist reasons were revelling in their success.

With the value of the pound falling and the amount of race hate crimes increasing, the future of Brexit is not seeming as bright as advertised. However, some argue that the pound was overvalued before and there are, in fact, some benefits that come with a devalued pound regarding British exports and its net worth. Though there is no way to justify racism, some people believe that Brexit simply means reports of racism are piling up in the media, not the incidents themselves. Today, many people link racism in Britain with Brexit, albeit the vote for leave triumphing or the ‘problem’ of immigration may not have been the motive for all of the racist acts that have been occurring as of late.


Theresa May and Grammar Schools

On 11th July 2016 Theresa May took over as Prime minister, due to David Cameron’s resignation. Having been educated at a grammar school herself, May has expressed her desire to reintroduce grammar schools in the UK.

On 9th September, May announced her plans to reintroduce grammar schools and her view that schools should have the right to choose pupils based on ability. The prime minister suggested in her plan schools becoming much more selective and she thinks the ban has been in place far too long, causing a lot of controversy amongst the public. There would be £50m of new funding put towards this plan.

The chief inspector of Ofsted thinks May’s plans will `undo years of progress’ and the labour party thinks the changes will `entrench inequality’. One of the biggest worries is that poorer pupils are under-represented in grammar schools so May declared that new and expanding grammar schools will take quotas of poor pupils or grammar schools will help run other schools to help poorer students get the same opportunities.

The prime minster stated that we are `sacrificing children's potential because of dogma and ideology’ and argues that schools are already selected on house price and wealth. Additionally specialist disciplines such as music and sport can be the basis of selection so the same approach should be taken for those who are academically gifted. The plans will also include the ability for bright children to join grammar schools, not just at 11, but at 14 and 16 as well, so all age groups receive the same opportunities.

Most people assumed an Act of Parliament would be needed to end the current ban introduced by Labour in 1998, however, this is not necessary. To ensure the system is fair, a meeting will take place on how to make the tests more inclusive so it is not limited to families who can pay for tutoring in order to pass the test. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said his party would block these proposals to end the ban and they believe it is ` dividing children on the basis of their perceived ability at the age of 11’.


Innocent Traitor

'Innocent Traitor' by Alison Weir embodies the perfect mix between vast historical scope and enlivened Tudor drama. The novel follows "The Nine Day Queen", Lady Jane Grey and details of her short life of just 17 years. Although proven to be a highly gifted person, her intelligence went unappreciated: Her life was lived in constraint and abuse by her scheming father and ruthless mother. The little salvation she had in her own household was her nurse and only source of comfort, Mrs Ellen.

"For when I am in presence either of father or mother; whether I speak, keep silent […] I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world."

From her very birth Jane was perceived as a disappointment, simply for being female, yet her parents had soon pinned their hopes on her marrying Edward VI, King Henry VIII's son and heir. However, once it becomes evident that Edward's illnesses would eventually lead to his death, their choice for Jane changed to Guilford Dudley, who she was made to marry despite her open contempt towards the marriage.

Edward VI's death marked the beginning of Jane's famously short, reluctant reign. In just nine days of her crowning, Mary I was named as the true monarch and Jane was charged with treason. Weir poignantly describes Jane's execution in the Tower of London on 12 February 1554, a measure taken by Mary to prevent Jane from ever usurping her throne.


Five Years of War Cripples Syria

After over five years of violent conflict in Syria, what is left of the country is heartbreakingly unrecognisable, and the destruction is only set to worsen. With 2011 being the year of Arab spring, where peaceful anti-government protests turned into a full-scale civil war, most Syrian children do not even remember a time of peace. To this day, a quarter of a million people are dead as a result of how prolonged the proxy war has become: Intervention of foreign powers has only made it bloodier. Approximately half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million have been killed or forced to flee their homes, and now their refugee population is the largest in the world.

But have all of these refugees been finding refuge? Many opt for travelling to Syria’s neighboring countries, with Lebanon harboring a staggering 1 million of them. Others are risking their lives to travel to Europe in hopes of finding acceptance there, and not all of them make it across alive. However, most have barely started a journey to real freedom: According to UN estimation, 6.6 million refugees are internally displaced in Syria, especially in cities, where there is stronger humanitarian support than the countryside. As of February 2016, the government only holds 40% of Syria, the rest belonging to other factions - for example, ISIL - that are involved in the war.

According to a review of the political science on the duration of civil wars, Syria's conflict will most likely last through 2020. In only 2016 the country’s unemployment rate sits at its all-time high at 50%, and will continue to creep up; Most Syrians have been plunged into extreme poverty. An estimate of £5 billion is thought to be needed to help the 13 million in need of support, yet the exponential rise of refugees means the figure will inevitably increase, making it even less possible to achieve. With this in mind, it seems that Syria’s future is a dark one.


Great Britain's Great War

As phrased by The Times: ‘If there is one new history of the war that you might actually enjoy, this is very likely it.’ Great Britain's Great War by Jeremy Paxman is as informative as any textbook, yet brilliantly written, with impeccable use of language, and even a hint of humour. Jeremy Paxman tackles the history of world war one from a number of unique perspectives, both those of well-known generals and politicians, and that of the ordinary infantry soldier. The latter, in fact, features first, as the book begins by telling the story of Paxman’s uncle, Charlie, who “in his entire military career… won no medals… never advanced beyond the most junior rank and almost certainly never killed nor wounded a single German.”

Later, he goes on to talk about Kitchener, Sir Edward Grey and Lloyd George, but it is his uncle’s more personal tale that gives the most insight into life at war- the emotions and relatability of it is what separates this from the standard ‘facts-and-dates’ style non-fiction book. The wittily-titled chapters and high quality illustrations and photographs just add to the finesse and the painstakingly sourced personal letters and song extracts that embellish the narrative are invaluable as to the insight they give and the thoughts that they inspire. This book offers both entertainment and knowledge to the reader, and does not require prior knowledge of the war in order to truly understand and profit from what it offers, making it suitable for virtually anyone.


Between Shades of Grey

Between Shades of Grey*, by Ruta Sepetys, is the story from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian, Lina, who, in 1941, is arrested and deported from her home along with her mother, brother and eventually 130000 other Lithuanian civilians, to Siberian labour camps under the orders of Stalin. Lina’s father is separated from the rest of the family, and classed as an enemy resistance member.

The main quality of this novel which makes it stand out among other books about Stalin’s invasion and takeover of the Baltic states is Lina’s incredible ability to hope for a better outcome, despite the hardships which she has to face along the way. Part of this is due to her relationship with a fellow teenager, Andrius (the epilogue reveals what happens to him). However, another key figure is a Soviet guard, Kretsky, who tries to help her mother contact their father, despite Lina’s prejudice against Russians as a whole.

Although Lina’s narration being incomplete (for instance she has no idea why she was deported) and not as aware of her situation as an adult would be, there are plenty of plot details that would almost too hard to read but are tempered with a slight sense of humour and the resilience that she shows.


*Disclaimer: do not confuse this title with another that has a completely different story.

Midnight in St Petersburg

“ Here we are in our poor Russia, a country like a boiler, with the pressure mounting, about to blow, and no safety valve. “

Published in 2013, ‘Midnight in St Petersburg’ by Vanora Bennett follows the life of a young, Jewish Inna as she flees the anti-semitic culture of Southern Russia in Kiev, to the freedoms she hopes Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg will bring her. Through the novel, we see the way her life develops as Russia does also; how things change with the abdication of the Tsar, the Provisional Government’s changes, the Bolshevik takeover and the Civil War. An insight is given into the life of a Russian citizen in these times, as well as the additional hardships Jews and foreigners (known as the ‘enemy class’) experienced also. Thus, despite serving as fiction, realities are integrated into the storyline, merely emphasising the emotion the characters lives can cause.

The story starts off in the Winter of 1911; Stolypin, the Prime Minister, was assassinated in a theatre, and when a consequence of this is propaganda being produced blaming Jews for such an act, Inna steals a passport and flees North, hoping to escape a pogrom. She goes to Yasha -- the son of the family who fostered her after the death of her Aunty Lubya (caused by influenza), who she stayed with after the death of her parents (caused by an anti-Jewish hate crime). Yasha lives with the Lemans, who take an instant liking to Inna: Madame Leman appreciating her hard work around the house, and the men of the house enthralled by both her beauty and musical talent. Also charmed by Inna is an English jeweller, eager for Inna to play the violin for his Bohemian friends and even fellow classicists. Despite the disadvantages we see Inna put at in the first part of the novel -- the Jewish slurs yelled at her on her train journey, her desperate attempt to cut herself a new lifeline on the palm of her hands, not being allowed to leave the house due to her papers being illegal, and eventually having Yasha (whom she fell in love with) run away to join the revolution he loves -- the year of 1911 was certainly easier on her than the years to come. The beginning section of the story ends with Inna agreeing to marry Horace Wallick, the Englishman, after he so carefully courts her, and protects her from the malicious acts of policemen seeking out Jews to blame for their troubles.

The second part of the text is set between the years of 1916 and 1917, continuing at a time where Russia had been at war with Austria and Germany for two years. Now married, Horace and Inna discuss someone whom they once bonded other: Father Grigory, now known infamously as Rasputin. Inna, despite the stories she hears of him being a drunk who actively participates in orgies, remembers the man before he lost his innocent: when he was the peasant who helped her find her way in St Petersburg without being stopped at the train station by gendermes. Therefore, when Felix Youssoupoff -- the Prince who commissioned Horace for paintings and gifts throughout the years -- and his friends assassinate Rasputin in an attempt to save the Tasarina (who is now running the country) and her reputation, Inna feels betrayed, for Horace still takes Youssoupouff’s money. As revolution begins in February, things between Inna and Horace only become more estranged, as Inna reunites with Yasha on the day the soldiers joined in on the riots in the bread queues. Yasha tells her that he was in prison the whole time for they found illegal revolutionary papers on him -- that he never wanted to leave her. The two start an illustrious affair, ending only when Yasha begs Inna to leave Horace -- something she cannot do in fear of hurting him, and losing the security she has in their lives together. Yasha decides to move closer to the Soviets, hoping that now the Tsar had abdicated, the closer proximity will bring him closer still to revolution. He is right when he sees Lenin return one day, becoming intrigued by the Bolshevik rise to power, joining the party as he has always wanted to do. The Lemans, however, are less impressed with the new regime of government, for they lost work once the Bolsheviks began to requisition items both at the jewellers and the violin workshop. Yasha realises he has become an outsider when away from his comrades, and departs from the Lemans -- and Inna -- for good.

In part three of the novel, the year is 1918, and Civil War in Russia between the Reds and the Whites is fast approaching. Inna finds herself hating new life in Russia, from the brutal acts of the Cheka and the mob attacks on foreigners. She fears Horace isn’t safe, but when she asks for them to leave, he is unwilling -- unwilling to leave the artistic and cultural Russia he found a home in, to return to the dull England he dreads. Even when a letter arrives from Youssoupoff, saying he will help them if they come to him in Yalta (a place in Crimea dominated by the Whites), Horace decides there is no need to flee. It isn’t until February 1919 when Inna sees Yasha again -- at a meeting, sitting talking to a known Cheka officer. He tells her afterwards that he was forced into the job: that, because he was once a Bundist, they would arrest him if he refused (and no one refused the Cheka). The two share one night together, before Inna returns home. A few nights later, Inna’s fears realised themselves when Bolsheviks showed up to requisition their apartment and, upon noticing Horace’s foreign origins, ambushed him. With an injured foot and a fear of causing more upset to the Lemans, he finally agrees that the journey to Yalta is one he and Inna must make. The journey was long -- made longer by the way the pair tactfully avoided places where the war was at its peak -- and when finally close, Inna makes a discovery whilst Horace lies sick in bed (an illness brought on by the infection in the wound caused by the attack the night they chose to leave): her period is late, the days coinciding with her last night with Yasha, and thus she came to the conclusion that she’s pregnant. The discovery came at the same time Yasha himself arrived, asking Inna to go with him to America so he can help a trade union after they dropped Horace off at an English boat. Inna finds herself yet again choosing between two men she loves, though as the finally reach Yalta and the boats which will take them away from Russia  for good, something else makes her decision for her: knowing she is pregnant with his child, Yasha makes the sacrifice of his life to allow Inna to safely board the boat with Horace, rather than be requisitioned and attacked by Reds that interrupted their journey. The novel ends with Inna and Horace on the deck of the boat, the glistening sea reminding Inna of the words Father Grigory once spoke to her before he lost his innocence, finding closure in the loss of Yasha knowing she was carrying a part of him in her child, and starting a new life as she watched her last Russian sunset.

Following the story with a pre-knowledge of the historical events happening in the background played a part in amplifying the great emotions provoked by the work: the realisation of the identity of the peasant man with the entrancing eyes who slowly transformed into something else; recognising the name ‘Youssoupoff’ even before he became integral to the story; having an ironic knowing that the people in the story shouldn’t be pleased with the abdication of the Tsar when another revolution and war was just around the corner. Having the characters, whose stories were evolved and discovered so intrinsically, experience the tumult of events alongside the reader, also, merely emphasised what the author was trying to display: the life in Russia for minorities and majorities alike; the similarities in everyone’s hardship and the way people can change.

However, what I enjoyed most about ‘Midnight in St Petersburg’ was the constant presence of violins in the story -- from Inna playing it herself (separated duets with Yasha at night or nervous performances in Bohemian bars) or making her own (rough, nervous pieces made with Monsieur Leman before grief broke him during the first world war, to the final Stradivarius masterpiece she helped to repair: her final work with Yasha other than their child). The way the characters treated the fiddles -- Yasha loving how the wood would forgive your mistakes and allow you to recarve the future, Horace loving how they could pave an artistic future for his wife whilst also bringing her happiness, Marcus Leman loving how he could take pride in continuing his father’s work for him, and Youssoupoff ruining his collection as a child to use in duels with his brother -- show the deepest part of their characters, and the motif of music and instruments in the novel is perhaps the most constant in the story at all.

When Inna begins to think of playing the violin again at the end of the novel, despite not having done so since Yasha first left in 1911, the reader is delivered closure too.

“ ‘I was cutting myself a better lifeline’, she said. “

“ Feeling the deadwood melt away as the curves of its true shape emerged..he brought the future into existence. “

“ These would be the sides of her violin one day -- or, in luthier’s talk, the ribs, because violins were little human bodies in the making.


The Diary of Anne Frank

The diary tells the story of Anne Frank a Jewish girl living in Germany through the second world war. Anne starts by explaining what life is like during the war. Including some of the rules imposed on her and how it made her more grateful for things such as driving in a car. When things get worse, her family prepare to go into hiding and left soon after her father told her. The diary documents her thoughts and feelings showing that even though these troubled times she was able to act like a teenage girl, talking about her relationships and judging others based on her inactions with them. Anne goes onto talking about daily life in the annex and the things she fears and her reactions to several break in showing how she is terrified of being found out.  Despite this, she always manages to escape by thinking about what she would like to do in the future and imagining being somewhere else. When other people join the Frank family in the annex she hear stories from them about what the outside world is like. The diary also talks about the daily hardships of living in annex such as getting ration portions and daily arguments everyone had with the other residents. Anne wrote letters to other people giving her a better understanding and appreciation of the person. Despite having such a traumatic time, Anne feels humbled her situation, constantly saying that she was very lucky as she knew that many other Jews were having a much harder than she was. AS

Brexit: Aftermath of the Historic Vote

Waking up on a sunny Thursday morning on the 23rd of June to the news that the Brexit campaign succeeded was simply one word: shocking. I often thought of Great Britain as a conservative country that did not enjoy the idea of change as previously demonstrated in the past; David Cameron was re-elected Prime Minister the previous year and Scotland had voted against a referendum. As a result of this, I had assumed that an issue as huge as leaving the EU- a trading group that Great Britain had involved its affairs with for 43 years- was a mere empty threat.

Once my short grieving process was over (with the help of a cup of tea) and I had finally accepted the truth: Brexit means Brexit. My peaceful morning was short-lived after I quickly learned that David Cameron- one of the strongest campaigners for the Leave Party- had stepped down from his role of Prime Minister. Yet another devastating blow. After my second cup of PG Tips, I realised why Brexit turned out to be the superior decision. Looking back at the month of rivalry and heavy campaigning, I noticed that the Leave Campaign was way more “active” in spreading the message of “British Pride”. Nigel Farage made headlines with the infamous bus that claimed the £350 million “we send to the EU each week” could be used to “fund the NHS instead”. This strategy was more effective than Labour’s somewhat desperate ads on every newspaper that simply stated: “I’m IN”.

We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead
Despite the immediate drop to the value of the British pound, the economy seems to be boosting- especially within tourism- as the rest of Europe sees Britain as the next Greece: the new cheap holiday hotspot since the economy has “crashed”. This in turn, has led to a record-rise in August of spending within the services sector- a sector that accounts for approximately 80% of the UK’s economy.

So whilst I initially saw the conclusion of the EU referendum as a disaster, it also suggests hope for the UK- or as my father likes to call it: ‘The New Switzerland’. Who knows, maybe Brexit may be one of the new improvements to the country- a decision that could be as historic and hopeful as legalising gay marriage, Sadiq Khan being voted as London’s first Muslim Mayor, and Theresa May becoming Britain’s second female prime minister.  BJ

Young Stalin - Two Reviews

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore is a riveting book which looks into the depths on Stalin’s life before he comes to power in the early 1900’s.
The book explores each part of his life with such extreme detail that it makes you feel like are watching a film as you read it. This book is the first in years which goes into so much detail and truly shows what Stalin did in his life that it is a nice refresher.
The most interesting parts about the book, is Stalin’s “innocence” in the early years of his life. He was in the choir at school, he was a poet, and trained as a priest all before his twenty’s. This peaceful lifestyle he lead in his early life seems quite unrealistic and unreal compared to all the destruction and mayhem he created when he was in power, it’s almost like he was two different people.
He eventually found his true ‘mission’ – a revolutionary. He was a mastermind of bank robbery, arson, piracy and murder. He was in simple terms the most intelligent terrorist in Russia, and soon became the top henchman for Lennin.
Throughout the book we read of his many love affairs and illegitimate children, his friendships both good and bad, the true and the fake. We see he’s personality develop and twist into the man who ruled the USSR with such a ferocity that he is so well known in history for his flawed control.
This book truly reflects and represents Stalin in the most enthralling way that I couldn’t put this book down at all. JC

Through reading Young Stalin, the reader finds out about a bewildering adventure in which Stalin, a man who was born no more than ‘his mother’s beloved treasure’, goes on a journey to become the treasurer of the USSR. There is no doubt that Stalin’s extremist character, whether it was his brutal demeanour or strong work ethic, were the keys to him becoming the leader of the Soviet Union. However, the mystery remains on how the youthful ‘Soso’ transitioned to become the domineering Stalin.
The abundance of alcohol in the Town of Gori partnered with Stalin’s father’s undying love for a drink, left Stalin with a drunk and violent father, known as ‘Crazy Beso’. Stalin’s mother, Keke, also used physical discipline unreservedly leaving Stalin to become ‘heartless’, ‘truculent’ and frequently wanting to be ‘alone’. These violent actions were the foundations for which a pugnacious and unsympathetic leader was made.
The town of Gori, where Stalin lived, was known for ‘… town brawls, wrestling tournaments and school-boy gang warfare’. As a teenager Stalin was the most ‘immaculate streetfighter’ owning a ‘catapult and homemade bow’. Stalin’s lifestyle was made up of violent past-times, which some could argue, allowed actions like carrying out the genocide of millions of Russians easier.

Simon Sebag Montefiore has written a masterful biography however, he does not tell us about the historical significance of the events that occurred in Stalin’s youth, which limits the complexity of Stalin’s image. For instance, Stalin’s ‘webbed foot, pockmarks… and damaged left arm’ physically separated him from others. That may be the reason for his lack of empathy towards the 750,000 executed innocent military men and an essential part of him becoming the ‘man of steel’ he truly was. MK

Brexit means Brexit

On the 31st August 2016, Theresa May led a “Brexit brainstorm” at Chequers Court. 

Along with the many ideas being deliberated at the meeting, Mrs May wanted to make it clear that “Brexit means Brexit”. Yet, there is no need to fret Remainers, as a legal analysis of Article 50 has recently been published, which would have Brexiters across the UK spilling their brandy all over their country-estate-carpet. May said the UK government will not trigger Article 50 until the start of 2017 at the earliest, which in turn would start the 2-year process of Britain leaving the EU. The proposition suggests that once article 50 is invoked there is no turning back – doomsday for Britain. However, the reality is that Article 50 is a notification of Britain’s “intention” to leave the EU. In law, the word “intention” cannot be interpreted as a final and irreversible decision, therefore the “intention” can be withdrawn. So, hypothetically speaking, if a new government was elected which represented the remain side, the intention to leave the EU would be no more, which would cause a rekindling of relationships between the UK and it’s former partner countries. 

Another issue issued discussed at Chequers was the approach towards a possible deal with the EU. May made the need for a "unique" deal for the UK clear, however, what the deal would be or how it would be ratified was not clarified. The reiteration of the issues is hardly ground-breaking progress and, if anything, it is making the idea of a perfect deal which pleases all seem more unattainable than originally thought. The SNP has accused the government of "breathtaking complacency", Mr Hugo Swire MP, who campaigned for Remain, made it obvious that the government has no idea what they want to achieve, and Ex-Chancellor Lord Lawson (a leave campaigner) wants the government to “stop wasting time trying to negotiate the unnegotiable”. 

Is it possible to achieve the “unique deal”? 

Unlikely! Why would the EU grant the UK a perfect deal that would possibly cause the collapse of the whole system? The most likely outcome is that the UK will remain part of the single market, which makes one question the point of the hassle and financial loss, for a life that practically mirrors one inside of the EU. 

Should Brexit really mean Brexit? FB


1984 is a novel written in 1949 about a dystopian world. Control and domination set the tone of the book and we are ultimately met with the power struggle between Winston and his “thought crime” and the indoctrination surrounding him. Big brother is the overseer of the controversial party and presents himself as a dictator; enlisting thought police and telescreens to keep the individuals of the party in line. The only people who possess any freedom are ‘the proles’. A clear impression of Winston’s thoughts and beliefs are made when he unconsciously starts writing “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” repeatedly in his diary. Winston’s job itself is very intriguing; he essentially rewrites history by altering small facts or sometimes rewriting articles in order to coincide with the glorification of big brother and support the idea of him being an omniscient and omnipotent figure. This raises questions about the credibility of historical accounts and makes one think critically about how reliable evidence really is.
The totalitarian state presented draws similarities with the era it was written and brings tyrannical leaders such as Stalin and Hitler to mind. Big brother almost acts as an embodiment of these iconic figures through his actions and the description of his face, for example, he has a “heavy black moustache”.
The ending of the book is very powerful and resonates with the reader greatly. We see Winston submitting to big brother despite his rebellion to the regime throughout the book. This shows that even the most resilient can be beaten by the world around them and that Winston truly loses himself to big brother and the party’s ideology. FA

PS: Here is an interesting article on 1984's 42 different book covers...

The Wars of the Roses on Screen and in Print

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (Alison Weir)
From the point of view of a student that has loved the Tudors and the two factions of York and Lancaster for years, this book gives a very in depth view of the beginnings, endings and effects of the Cousins’ War.

Very much like the book by Orlando Figes, it encompasses: the society at the time, the people and the political regime of the time. “The Burgundian chronicler Philippe de Commines thought the English a choleric, earthy, and volatile people, who nevertheless made good, brave soldiers. In fact he regarded their warlike inclinations as one of the chief causes of the Wars of the Roses. If they could not fight the French, he believed, they fought each other.” Using quotes like this, she shows the brutal, violent and warrior-like medieval world and how this warring culture helped fuel the flames of the wars. She shows how the lords needed the people and the people needed the lords; that the factions could not win without the commons people support.

It showed how women also played a key role in the battles and that the world of politics was not so clean cut. Battles were never decisively in one faction’s favour, they were brutal to both sides and people would always sway to the winning side. The book grasped the idea that even though the War of the Roses wasn’t as big of an event as most historians describe, it was still an event that changed English history and showed that: propaganda, the commons and the alliances were key to the various victories. And that even though: “A king was the Lord’s anointed, hallowed at his coronation with holy oil” it could easily be changed by political power.

The White Queen - TV Series (BBC)
Based on Philippa Gregory's novels, this mini-series gives us a romanticised vision of the Wars of the Roses. Although it shows the various events during the wars and the political rivalry between the Woodvilles and the Nevilles, because it is a TV production there are a few glamourised scenes and events that are glossed over.

I believe that it showcases the women in the period very well (mainly because it is based on novels on the three women), but also the show stuck to the women's’ actions and personalities well. It was a very much surrounded around the three women on the show, but it didn’t hesitate to satisfy the male viewers with various gory scenes of warfare.

However, I would have liked there to be a brief view into the history prior to the War of the Roses. Due to this lack of insight into the beginnings of the rivalry between the houses of York and Lancaster, the house of Lancaster was generally show negatively. It did not show the awful reign of Richard II, or the usurpation of Henry IV and his successful descendant Henry V who died young leaving an infant Henry VI as king who with his wife helped catalyse the events of the Cousins’ War. Because of this romanticised view of the Yorkists and King Edward IV, it was made to seem that the Lancasters were destined for loss until the arrival of Henry VII.

The use of witchcraft is pure fiction, however it is a nice touch that relates to the heritage of Elizabeth Woodville and her mother who was supposedly descended from a water goddess. Overall however, the show is a very good modern-day adaptation of the medieval rivalry and does showcase the rise and fall of both York and Lancaster, however it is a romanticised idyll of the wars to satisfy period drama lovers. SL

Revolutionary Russia, 1891 -1991: A History

Encompassing the events that catalysed the Revolution, the events that occurred during the Revolution and the aftermath of the Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History,  by Orlando Figes (See website) shows a complete history of modern Russia which is still under the effects of Communism and the CPSU.

As a student who has never studied revolutions or political history, it gave an eye-watering insight into the country’s history and current state. I was shocked to hear that: “42 per cent of the Russian population would like the return of a ‘leader like Stalin’.” Figes provides the reader with information that might seem to hold minute importance, but when the reader hears about the Gulags and the various events that occurred outside of the capital in foreign countries such as Ukraine and Poland, it gives the reader an in depth view of the power and strength of communism and its leaders. Unlike most history books, he also includes jokes and idioms from the time that relate to the various leaders and the CPSU to show the effects of the communist regime in Russia.

The greatest part of this book is that it identifies that there is a cycle. There will be a period of power held by one political figure, which will soon be followed by a reign of autocracy, to which the people will revolt against. Then a new political regime will ensue and then power will again return to a singular figure followed by a whole new autocratic or dictatorial reign. “The word ‘soviet’ means ‘council’ in Russian (there was nothing particularly Communist about it until after 1917).” Figes shows how the idyllic and romanticised ideal of communism was used for political advancement and the actual idea of communism was lost in the muddy puddles outside of the Kremlin. SL

The Labour Leadership Election - Angela Eagle’s challenge

On 23rd June 2016, the EU Referendum took place, where the UK decided to leave the EU with a final result of 51.9% leave to 48.1% remain with a turnout of 72.2% UK citizens. This resulted in there being a large shake up within the main political parties due to the significant split between members of the same party taking opposing sides. However, one party that is still undecided about the main leadership role is the Labour Party, where the members have been debating whether to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

Since the referendum, members of the party have been discussing whether Corbyn did enough as leader to promote the remain party, especially as in an interview he told the British public that he was only a 7 out of 10 on how much he wanted to remain in the EU. Therefore, politicians believe that one of the main reasons as to why the country voted to leave was because Corbyn failed to lead the Labour Party and to successfully get the working class supporters of the party to vote remain.

Angela Eagle was the first to challenge Corbyn’s leadership, which she did a week after many of the shadow cabinet resigned once finding out the results of the referendum. Eagle has been a member of the Labour Party since she was 17 years old and has been an MP for nearly 25 years. Unlike many Labour Party MPs, when Corbyn became leader, Eagle backed him and called for unity within the party, however, once the referendum had taken place, Eagle was upset to conclude that was not the right person to lead the party.

After being the first to challenge Corbyn, Eagle pulled out of the leadership race ‘in the interests of the party’ so that she could back Corbyn. This was because she realised that her movement would have a much larger chance of being successful if there was only one challenger, and so she dropped out because polls showed that Owen Smith had more of a chance of beating Jeremy Corbyn than she did. MD

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Life of Elizabeth

The Life of Elizabeth is a non-fiction book which explores the life of the infamous Queen Elizabeth I who was only two years old when her father Henry VIII killed her mother, Anne Boleyn, because she had not yet produced a male heir. Alison Weir covers the time period from her birth in 1533 to 1603 and enlightens us on her heritage and family relations. Elizabeth I was often referred to as The Virgin Queen which Weir explains is because she was one of the only English monarchs who did not get married. This was certainly unexpected: she could easily have had her choice of husbands, and the Privy Council and her closest advisors constantly begged her to marry. As a result of her aversion to matrimony, she began to be called the "Virgin Queen".

Because Elizabeth was both husbandless and childless, to overthrow her would be to gain immediate control of the throne; plots against her proliferated. Most involved replacing her with Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic member of the Stuart line but by the end James VI of Scotland was named as her successor. However, Elizabeth's journey to become queen was not an easy one. During Mary's reign Elizabeth was imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels. In 1588, Elizabeth succeeded her half sister to the throne and set out to rule by good counsel. Elizabeth quickly consolidated power and returned the country to Protestantism. During her rule she was rumoured to have been involved in some scandalous affairs due to her distaste in marriage but despite many difficulties she prevailed and was marked in History as a virtuous ruler. M A H


The novel ‘Sashenka’ written by Simon Sebag Montefiore presents a century in Russia, by following the life of a dedicated Bolshevik revolutionary – Sashenka. The novel is split into 3 parts, with the first part focusing on the lead up to the March revolution. Montefiore’s presentation of Russian autocracy is shown through Sashenka’s mother Ariadna Zeletsin. Her unfaithful behaviour, dismissive interest in her daughter, and obsession with materialistic luxuries leads the reader to understand Sashenka’s dedication to the Bolshevik party, as she tries to escape from her mother’s lifestyle. Montefiore presents the Bolsheviks at first as a lacking party, with little resources and members, yet with a strong belief and dedication, shown through Sashenka’s uncle Mendel. Yet during Part 2 1939, the once small Bolshevik party had become an authoritative, dominant one party state, the extent of its growth shown to the reader through leap in time from 1917. Sashenka’s dedication and love for the party is still prevalent, yet her fear is for it is subtly hinted at, with the repeated mentions of the ‘terror years’. The absolute security of Communism in the USSR is demonstrated in the novel – ‘better to shoot a hundred innocent men than let one spy escape, better 1000’. Part 3 of the novel shows the loyalty towards Communism from its party members. Vanya Palitsyn, after being tortured into a false confession and sentenced to death still demonstrates his devotion, shouting ‘long live Stalin’, despite his treatment from the party. Montefiore describes Communism as a religion, and its influence on members such as Satinov shows how deeply rooted it is within such people. Satinov’s inability to tell Katrinka of how he rescued Sashenka’s children outright, since it was a betrayal to the party, shows his faithfulness and fear towards Communism, even 50years later. His web of deception and lies told towards Katrinka of his actions reflect the way he behaved during the era, and how the Communist party performed and acted in the USSR. YC

The Burkini Ban

After many mayors and resorts in France imposed a ban on theburkini many people were left shocked at how such a progressive and democratic country could have such control over women’s clothing. The ban was met by much disagreement and many discussions on social media with the majority of people disagreeing with it as in today’s society it should be up to a woman herself to choose what she would like to wear and this ban took away that freedom.
This world-wide negative reaction led the courts in Nice to make a statement saying that the ban should be removed as it is seen as controlling and oppressive, they have stated that it is a “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms”. Those who disagreed with the ban compared a burkini to a diving suit in order to highlight the hypocrisy and the weak grounds for the ban. 

Many of those who support the ban claim that it stems from the fear of terrorism - the ban only started after a terrorist attack on a French resort. However, the French courts said that this was not enough to issue such a ban as there is no connection between a woman wearing a burkini and terrorism.  Overall, the ban was not accepted by the general public with most people being open minded enough to see that by controlling a women’s clothing in such a manner it makes France no different to other oppressive countries. K A-K

Butchery: A Mystery of Tudor London

Seeing as one of our topics in AS History is British History 1485-1547, I decided to read the fictional book named Butchery: A Mystery of Tudor London by Kenneth Browning. Set in 1550 London, this book combines my interest in mystery, crime and murder with my curiosity to found out more about Britain's life and society in the 15th and 16th century.

Browning uses the main characters of Thomas and Katherine Whyte and George Harwood to depict to the reader a very vivid and descriptive trail to discover the killer of  brutal murder of a newcomer to the fictional town of Cheapside. This then turns into a hunt to resolve many more alike murders. The first murder was placed outside a candle shop in the Butchery district ( hence the title) the body was found savagely decapitated and the murder weapon of a meat cleaver right next to it; which in those times was not surprising that the murderer did not clean up after themselves.  With the murder weapon in hand and a few other clues, Tom, George and further down the line, Katherine use them to help solve the case.

From reading this book I found out quite interesting facts from the 16th century, such as how unhygienic London was  with Browning stating that the dead body would have been there presumably for hours yet no one seemed to mind the dead body in the street. Additionally in the book it referenced that candles back then were made out of animal fat, yet it smelt better than the air outside, which meant that the air in London in the 1500's must have been very polluted. Another factor I learnt about was religion by 1550 Henry VIII was made Supreme Head of the English church, this signified the end of Catholicism therefore in this book there were many reference to a more Protestant England and it was seen that the church was more involved with the state and law of the country. Apart from that I also learnt little things such as jobs and clothing around that area such as Sheriffs, Constables, Inn keepers and butchers to name a few.

Overall I really liked reading this book and thought it gave me a lot more knowledge of the time we will be studying even if it was fictional and  its interesting way of finding out the killer allowed me to hold focus and really enjoy the book. T C-D

The Labour Leadership Election

Following the vote for Britain to leave the EU on the 23rd June, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised by Labour MPs for a disappointing campaign to encourage Labour voters to vote Remain. Despite the Labour party’s official position being Remain, many traditional Labour areas, such as Swansea, Sunderland and South Tyneside voted heavily for Brexit and many put this down to Corbyn’s lacklustre campaign, during which he attended ‘limited’ EU events and was reported to have dropped pro-EU sections from speeches. As a result, two Labour MPs – Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey - submitted a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. This was later passed by a secret vote of 172-40, which led to calls for the Labour leader to resign. Hilary Benn – the shadow foreign secretary – was sacked by Corbyn after it had been shown that he was planning a mass resignation of shadow cabinet ministers to force Corbyn to stand down and told him that there was ‘no confidence in his ability to win the next election’. This then triggered 20 members of the shadow cabinet to resign in protest, as well as several other MPs, totalling 63 resignations. However, Corbyn stood firm and said that he would not resign but would stand against any challenger in a leadership contest.

Anyone wishing to challenge the sitting leader of the party must have the backing of 20% of the 229 Labour MPs and 20 MEPs. Both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith launched leadership bids to challenge Corbyn, who was automatically included on the ballot paper without needing to be nominated by MPs. However, amid calls for there to be just one leadership challenger to Corbyn to act as a unity candidate, Eagle and Smith came to the decision that the one with the fewest nominations from MPs would be the one to pull out of the contest. Eagle who had just 72 nominations in comparison to Smith’s 90, subsequently removed her leadership bid and chose to back Smith. The ballot papers for this election have been sent to Labour members since the 22nd August with the deadline for votes being the 21st September. The result will then be announced on the 24th September. A recent poll conducted by YouGov suggests that Corbyn will win this leadership election with a landslide victory, having 62% of support with Smith having just 32%. This is even higher than in the 2015 election where Corbyn won with 59.5% of the vote. Regardless of the outcome of this election, the Labour party faces an uncertain future, as the past few months have unearthed deep divisions within its members. AE

The Women of the Cousins' War

Over the summer I read ‘The Women of the Cousins’ War’ by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones. This book is a non-fiction book and focused on the extraordinary stories of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort; three women who until now have been largely forgotten by history. The book is based in 16th century Tudor Britain. I was particularly interested in the story of Margaret Beaufort also known as the ‘King’s Mother’ by Michael Jones who focused both on Margaret’s life, her family history and her role as being the mother of King Henry VII.

Margaret lived an interesting life and faced many unusual encounters throughout her childhood, for example she had an arranged marriage with 7 year old John de la Pole when Margaret was only 6 years old herself. His marriage was arranged by William de la Pole – a man who feared his own future and wanted his son to marry into a wealthy family and have a more powerful claim to the throne. In this marriage King Henry VI, the current king at the time, gave a very generous gift of £25,000 in today’s money so that Margaret could have been dressed magnificently. This fact fascinated me as this amount of money was surprising to be spent on a 6 year old! This early marriage of Margaret interested me as this would be very unusual in today’s century and was interesting to find out a few pages later in the book that the King actually planned to dissolve Margaret’s childhood marriage to John de la Pole and arrange another marriage with Henry VI’s own 22 year old half-brother Edmund Tudor. Within this marriage Margaret had one son at the age of 13! This was very shocking to find out and I later found out that the impact of giving birth at 13 years old left Margaret in a poor medical state and left her unable to have any more children. From my own knowledge of the Tudor times I know that dissolving marriages such as the one Margaret encountered was very unusual.

I also discovered from the book that Margaret was deeply religious as she experienced a vision from Saint Nicholas advising her to choose Edmund Tudor over John de la Pole and this experience of encountering a vision was a remarkable experience for her as she had to confide with her spiritual adviser.

Margaret encountered many interesting experiences throughout her life and her main role in life was to advance their fortunes of her only son Henry Tudor (Henry VII).  EB

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Leadsom vs May

As Michael Gove was voted out of the leadership race on Thursday, there are now just two contenders left – Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. This means that the next Tory leader will be a woman, making her the first female Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. But the question remains, which of the two is better suited for the role?

In Thursday’s ballot, May received 199 votes whilst Leadsom won just 84. However, it is suggested that she is still able to gain the necessary support to overtake May by September – especially since the vote on September 9th is opened to all Conservative members.

Leadsom was a prominent figure during the Leave campaign for the referendum, appearing in two TV debates, during which she was highly praised for her well-reasoned arguments. Several MPs, including Nicky Morgan, believe that the best person to lead this country during the upcoming negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU is a Brexit voter, as they will fully understand the motives for people voting leave and truly want a full exit from the EU. As a result, this favours Leadsom as May was a Remain supporter. However, May believes that Britain does not need a Brexit-supporting Prime Minister, as the exit from the EU will only be a small part of the duties of the next leader. The day-to-day running of the country and domestic issues will still need to be dealt with. Additionally, a pro-EU Prime Minister may help to unite the Conservatives and the public after a divisive referendum, as both Leave and Remain voters will feel as if their wishes are being respected.

May has been in politics for much longer than Leadsom, having become an MP in 1997, whereas Leadsom was elected in 2010. This greater experience may mean that she is better able to cope with the challenges of being the Prime Minister. May has experience of being a senior Tory, as she is one of the longest-serving Home Secretaries in British history, having held this position since 2010. However, she has been criticised for failing to cut net migration down to 100,000 a year as was promised by the government. On the other hand, Leadsom currently occupies a junior position as the Minister for Energy and Climate Change. She claims this is no disadvantage, as she had many jobs in the financial sector before entering politics, including being a Barclays investment banker, working at a fund management company and founding her own charity. This real-world, finance experience could be more valuable, as she understands the needs of businesses. However, this is something May has too as she used to work at the Bank of England.

Andrea Leadsom has been accused of tax avoidance using offshore accounts and as a result she has been pressurised to publish her tax returns. However, she has not said that she will do this if elected. Theresa May, on the other hand, said that she would. This has led to an untrustworthy image being painted of Leadsom, which is particularly harmful in this uncertain time when the public need to feel as if they can trust the leader of the country. She has also previously supported scrapping all workers’ rights for employees in very small businesses. Whilst this contradicts with her current promises to protect workers’ rights, it does lead us to question if the protection of the particularly vulnerable is a priority for her.

A likeable personality and an ability to reassure and persuade the public is needed to lead a country successfully. Critics of Theresa May say that she lacks charisma, making her unsuitable for this role. She has also been criticised for failing to guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in Britain following the referendum, when what these people need now is reassurance and certainty.

Overall, I think that May is the candidate more suited for the leadership, as Leadsom’s lack of political experience is a significant issue and May has shown herself to be both capable and competent in holding senior positions in the party.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

EU Referendum talk - Tom Brake MP

A Student Report

23rd June 2016, the day where the final decision will be made by the nation on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union. It has been 41 years since the last EEC (European Economic Community) Referendum, in which the people made the call to remain in the European Economic Community (Now known as the EU). Has time changed the view of the people?


On the 28th of April, we are fortunate enough to invite Tom Brake MP (Carshalton and Wallington) from the Liberal Democrats Party to talk about his views on the issue. He, like the rest of his party believe that the UK should stay in the EU. The ‘Stronger In’ Campaign they call it - ‘Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe than we would be out on our own.’


Firstly, by staying in, it promotes and maintains prosperity of the economy. Britain receives an average investment of £24 billion per year from Europe. In fact, at this time because of the upcoming EU referendum, certain EU based companies have stalled investments for their UK regional developments in fear of Brexit bringing unsettling impacts to its operations, such as limited trade and increasing taxes. Other than direct investments being made by large cooperation, these businesses provide a lot of jobs to residents of the UK. Airbus, as an example of a European company that manufactures aircrafts, directly employs 15,000 workers in the UK with an estimated number of 100,000 other non-direct employees within the country. Not only that large companies contribute to the UK’s economic development, but almost half of the UK’s export is directed to the rest of Europe. Britain’s trade, regardless of export or import is very dependent on the European Union. The EU have well-established trade deals with 50 non-EU countries including the United States, Korea, and Australia ; whilst the UK have not negotiated a deal on its own for more than 40 years. So what will be the future after Brexit for UK’s trading?


Secondly, staying in the EU sustains peace both between the UK and other member states and by defending the UK in unfortunate cases of foreign attacks through NATO. Historically, the UK had come into conflict with France, Spain and Germany very frequently. Some say that the crucial reason for peace in recent decades is the formation of the European Union, installing mutually beneficial relationships between European countries. Furthermore, being part of the EU, guaranteed the UK’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Known as NATO in short). It is a ‘political and military alliance with the essential purpose of safeguarding the freedom and security of its members through political and military means’. Thus, as a member of NATO, the UK is protected by the organisation within the EU borders and will receive support from other NATO members against terrorist attacks and foreign invasions.


Thirdly, being part of the European Union assures freedom of movement. This is a huge advantage to the UK considering it was estimated by the World Bank in 2014 that around 7-8% of the UK population live permanently abroad. In comparison of 3% of Spanish and 3.8% of French, the UK is actually befitting rather than losing from this agreement. Not only so, but it allows easier travelling within the Europe and also for educational purposes especially aimed at students. Additionally, immigration of working people (usually aged 25 - 35) from other countries adds to the diminishing UK working force because of the gradually greying population. This thus boosts productivity and help support the expanding retired population.


Lastly, the EU has bounding legislations on the UK (which excludes the UK Parliament) regarding environmental and welfare protection. Currently, most European laws possess the Doctrine of Supremacy, meaning that it has the presence over UK law. Such cases are able to go beyond the ruling of the Supreme Court into the European Court of Justice. This not only restricts the growing amount of power held by the always sovereign UK Parliament but protects certain civil liberties and settles environmental concerns. For example, environmental targets are being set for minimising air pollution, this includes a ’47% reduction in loss of life expectancy as a result of exposure to particulate matter’ and another ’10% reduction in acute mortalities from exposure to ozone’ by the time of 2020.


Despite controversial debates concerning arguments on both sides, a lot of people have yet still not made up their minds. How would the nation decide? Is staying in actually better for our security, our economy and our people? Only time will tell.



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

How can political participation be increased?

Recently, on the 15th and 16th of March another student and I were fortunate to attend the Dicey Conference at Trinty college, Oxford, which is run by The McWhirter Foundation. The title of the conference was: ‘Is British Democracy Ripe for Reform?’

We had the opportunity to listen to four different people who looked at different aspects of British democracy but the speaker I am going to focus on is Areaq Chowdhury who is the founder of WebRoots. In his lecture he focused on political participation, examples of where it has improved, how it is changing, examples of where it is low and possible changes that can be made to increase participation.

Firstly, political participation can include a whole range of things from standing for public office to merely voting. It also includes joining pressure groups, picking candidates, voicing your demands by contacting your local MP, writing for newspapers and commenting on articles.

This is where the internet has made such a massive impact on political participation. Social media websites such as Twitter has meant that many people who would have struggled to get their views heard before can contribute to online discussions and these websites also make it easier to start online campaigns. 38 Degrees is an example of this where members come together to promote certain campaigns and make a difference. The government also has a website through which you can petition Parliament. After 10,000 signatures petitions get a response from the government and after 100,000 signatures petitions are considered for debate in Parliament. Some people argue that this is evidence that political participation has not decreased and is merely changing.

Others, however, point to recent elections which show that political participation in the form of voting is still a major issue in UK politics. The main reason that this is such an issue is because if elected officials are not voted into office with a high voter turnout then their mandate to govern is brought into question. Recent police commissioner elections have seen some of the worst voter turnouts. In Gwent (2012) the turnout was just 14.3 per cent overall and one polling station in Newport was visited by no voters at all. Areaq Chowdhury also talked about the 2010 Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition and the questions surrounding its legitimacy and mandate. No one voted for the joint rule of these two parties and so they lacked a mandate.

One way that some people suggest voter turnout may be increased is through the increased use of referendums. This form of direct democracy allows people to have a real impact on the eventual decisions and the argument is that people will therefore be more likely to vote unlike in general elections where they are only picking representatives. However, some referendums have received shockingly low turnouts. For example, the 2011 AV referendum vote received a voter turnout of just 42.2 per cent. This is opposed to the 84.6 per cent voter turnout at the Scottish independence referendum. This shows us that the extent to which people engage with referendums relies heavily on the issue.

Other ideas which have been suggested which could possibly increase political participation include lowering the voting age to 16. People argue that this, combined with increased education, would result in higher turnouts because young people would feel as though they have been given more responsibility as well as being more engaged in issues that they understand. Also, online voting for elections and minor referendums to explain to MPs how to vote in certain situations have also been proposed. Although there are security fears concerning the former and the influence of party whips on important and polarising issues would affect the latter.

I would like to thank The McWhirter Foundation and all of the speakers for their time and if you would like to hear more about political participation you can visit Araeq Chowdhury’s HuffintonPost page here: