The construction of historical narratives and the pedagogic authority they hold has been vital in cultivating a sense of legitimacy with those engaged in violent practices in a geo-political conflict. In fact, these narratives are part of violence itself. Although media and education systems usually hold a significant grip on the dissemination of the teaching and learning of history, displaced and diasporic families have offered important resistance to otherwise dominant versions of history. History becomes the defining factor of national consciousness and therefore legitimacy for that nation state to dominate, kill, plunder and extract.
I believe it important to note that both the dominant imperialist and colonialist nations dominated the education systems where they ruled. The significance of this cannot be understated. Imperialists and colonisers quite clearly wanted more than land and natural resources; they want hegemony. In Ireland, the Irish language was almost completely eradicated by mandatory English-speaking schools. The attempt to integrate colonised peoples into a British identity was not only about dominance but control. In fact, jailed Irish republicans used Irish to communicate covertly. Knowledge of one’s own national history and culture has long been a weapon of the oppressed.
Similarly, history is weaponised in the study of archaeology in Palestine. The discipline has been used as a tool to legitimate colonisation through a history explicitly based on ethnonationalism. The enmeshing of religious history from thousands of years ago with a modern-day nation state’s claim to land is a perfect example of Benedict Anderson’s argument that nationalism is an “imitation of simultaneity across homogenous, empty time”. This claim, however, is overshadowed by the history of the Palestinians who have been dispossessed of their land and of which they have emotional and practical ties to within living memory. These personal histories will be passed down orally through families and will be the spark for resistance to the colonisation process for generations to come.
History can seem like a dry academic investigation of a static past; however, the stage is set for the morality play of history in the mainstream media often. Britain seems to be obsessed with an overly simplistic version its history. When representations are narrow and limited to mostly excavations of world war two, a rare occasion in which Britain made a positive impact through contributing to the defeat of German fascism, it is easy to see how the identity of ‘Britons’ on the world stage can appear as a trans historic moral force to some. This is important to understand how people in the army understand their role as a historical agent and can believe they are doing their duty to a higher moral power, their civic religion: nationalism. It is for this reason that people can participate in imperialist wars such as the invasion of Iraq and keep a personal sense of morality and justice.
Although a new generation is questioning the authority of these narratives. This nationalism is outdated for a country that is home to people from previous colonies of Britain. Eric Williams argues that “the British historians wrote almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery for the satisfaction of abolishing it”. In fact, the cultural homogeneity that supports history as national morality play is swiftly broken by the curiosity, doubt and challenge of a new generation. The petition to teach the empirical truth of colonialism has garnered massive support and shows that a new generation will attempt at establishing their own history. The question that lingers is: will this be based on a new kind nationalism?
Do you know the story of Arsinoe, a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a rebel against the Romans and the sibling of the infamous Cleopatra? No? That is because history is written by the victors. Arsinoe has always been overshadowed by her older and more seductive sister in our historical records, but this article will put forward that Arsinoe was just as ambitious, power-hungry and political as Cleopatra, only buried literally and figuratively before her true, tantalising and treacherous tale could be told.
In order to tell Arsinoe’s scandalous story, we must travel back to ancient Alexandria. Here, we find that the course of history was not following a trajectory, where Cleopatra becoming the iconic ruler of Egypt that we know today was apparent or assured. Indeed, Cleopatra’s ascension to the throne of Egypt as the bride of her younger brother Ptolemy, was unforeseen. This article proposes that this is when Arsinoe is free to take centre stage. Arsinoe’s role becomes significant when Cleopatra falls from a pedestal of power as a result of her contextually controversial political views on the contentious issue of the day: the Roman Empire. Most ancient history books fail to mention the adolescent Cleopatra’s fall from grace, instead merely skipping to the part where she gracefully climbed out of a rug, which was placed inside of Julius Caesar’s bed-chamber in the palace. Classicists and historians, however, usually fail to mention why Julius Caesar was in Egypt in the first place and fail to mention Arsinoe lurking in the shadows of this significant story. Cleopatra was exiled by Ptolemy, her brother and betrothed, as she believed that Egypt should deal with the ever-expanding Roman Empire by forming an alliance with it, instead of engaging the greatest military in the world in battle. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, disagreed. This life-changing political opinion should not be understated. This difference of opinion on the way to approach the Roman Empire between these two siblings would quite literally change the course of history. Ptolemy and Arsinoe forced their elder sister to leave Egypt because of their political disagreements. But, as we are all aware, Cleopatra would not stay away for long.
Indeed, it is this sibling squabble that brought Julius Caesar to Egypt on a trip that would become legendary in the year 48 BC… For all of the wrong reasons. It was a trip that would involve intrigue, betrayal, sex, scandal, rebellion and power. Julius Caesar’s arrival in Alexandria set the stage for Cleopatra’s return to her homeland and fueled the flames for a showdown between the royal siblings, Cleopatra, Ptolemy and Arsinoe. The royal will of their father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, decreed that the famous Julius Caesar should be summoned to Alexandria to mediate any dispute in regards to the succession of the Egyptian throne. Arsinoe, who is estimated to have been in her mid-teens around the context of this time, was to be betrayed by her elder sister who was now twenty-two years old. It is widely known that Cleopatra used her ‘slender build’ to roll herself up into a ‘fine’ and ‘expensive’ rug, which was ordered to be placed inside Julius Caesar’s quarters. Ptolemy and Arsinoe were not aware of this until the morning. It is believed that Cleopatra begged Julius Caesar, the fifty-five-year-old friend of her deceased father, to restore her to her rightful place as queen of Egypt, making use of her famed beauty marked by her ‘full cheeks,’ ‘straight nose,’ ‘short neck’ and ‘small chin’ when she was ‘in the prime of her life,’ according to Cassius Dio. Arsinoe, who is believed to have been equally as ‘beautiful’ with similar physical features to her elder sister, did not use her feminine wiles to charm Julius Caesar. At the time, engaging in sexual intercourse with a Roman was considered to be an act of treason.
Indeed, the gritty political drama between Cleopatra and Arsinoe truly takes shape here. When Ptolemy found his exiled elder sister in the bed of Julius Caesar the next morning, the soldiers who supported Ptolemy and Arsinoe’s belief in going to war with the military might of Rome launched an attack on Julius Caesar’s small force of men. If we examine this from the perspective of Arsinoe, it is understandable why she and her supporters would have felt betrayed by Cleopatra. It is apparent that they would have been under the impression that Cleopatra had sold Egypt to the Roman Empire. This led to the supporters of Arsinoe and Ptolemy besieging the royal residence, where Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Arsinoe and Ptolemy still remained. Cassius Dio informs us that ‘war besieged Caesar’ as brother fought against brother over the fate of this very nation and the state of its foreign policy. Amongst this chaos, we are aware that Julius Caesar took Arsinoe as a hostage, alongside Ptolemy. So, what does this tell us? It informs us that Julius Caesar himself did not doubt the political abilities of Arsinoe or Ptolemy, whom he feared could morph into leaders and figureheads for the men attacking Julius Caesar’s soldiers. Julius Caesar and his Roman forces were already outnumbered and he sent for reinforcements, which would take several weeks to arrive by sea. Thus, the balance of power was unclear amongst the flames and fury, and the tables of history could have easily turned.
However, Julius Caesar told his own men to go and set the ships in the harbour alight. This, in turn, enabled an ‘inferno’ to sweep across the city, which led the men in support of Arsinoe and Ptolemy away from the palace, where they turned their attention to curbing the fire in the city. This was a move that would lead to a great opportunity for Julius Caesar/Cleopatra and Arsinoe herself. Whilst Julius Caesar used this moment to send his troops to one of the nine ancient wonders of the world, the Pharos Lighthouse, which controlled all of the ships entering into Alexandria, Arsinoe seized the opportunity to flee from her royal prison. This was a move of great courage undertaken by Arsinoe, who would have only been between thirteen to sixteen years old. She was rebelling against Rome and against the notorious Julius Caesar himself. Arsinoe was choosing the rebel army over the expansionist Roman army, risking her life for her political views. This is evidence that Arsinoe possessed as much ambition and drive as her more famous sister. The rebel forces who supported Arsinoe’s less peaceful foreign policy towards the Roman Empire had taken Arsinoe from Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s clutches and brought her into their city-based headquarters. It seems apparent that the rebel forces were also not in any doubt that the younger sister of Cleopatra could be her match. We can verify this because the rebel forces declared Arsinoe their queen, not the eminent Cleopatra. In her name, the rebel forces launched a surprise attack on Julius Caesar at the Lighthouse of Pharos, which left Julius Caesar needing to swim for his life. Many books of the ancient world seem to have forgotten this part; an attack launched by a teenage girl left Julius Caesar in fear of his life. Arsinoe and her rebel forces took siege of the Lighthouse at Pharos, a motif of her own dynasty’s power, leaving Julius Caesar to stumble back to Cleopatra at the palace, having survived Arsinoe’s attack by swimming further out to sea. Arsinoe raised Julius Caesar’s purple cloak onto the Lighthouse of Pharos as a mark of her impressive victory.
However, Arsinoe’s victory over Julius Caesar and Cleopatra did not last for long. Julius Caesar’s reinforcements arrived, whilst the rebels bickered amongst themselves about the affairs of Ancient Egypt. These reinforcements, brought across from Syria, launched a counter-attack against Arsinoe and her men. The Roman legions went into Egypt and drowned Ptolemy, as the young boy tried to flee across the Nile. One of Cleopatra’s main rivals for the throne was dead, thanks to the dirty work of her lover, Julius Caesar, who was determined to fulfil his promise to her that he would make her sovereign.
Arsinoe remained alive… for now. The younger sister of Cleopatra was taken hostage by Julius Caesar once more and she was taken with him back to Rome. Arsinoe, the teenage rebel who dared to challenge the power of Rome was to become subject to its crowds. Julius Caesar sought to have Arsinoe strangled after she was paraded in chains through the streets of Rome as an example of what happened to those who fought against the powers of the Roman Empire, even if they were merely a teenager. However, the people of Rome were horrified at the notion of murdering this little girl, who had ‘tears streaming down her face’ and was miles from her homeland. Julius Caesar understood that killing Arsinoe would turn the crowds against him… And so he spared Arsinoe’s life.
Instead of being murdered for taking on the Roman Empire, the younger sister of Cleopatra was provided with the promise of safety in the name of Artemis and her temple located in the large Roman province of Ephesus. Indeed, Arsinoe was to enter another one of the ancient world’s wonders by taking up residence in the Temple of Artemis. This Greco-Roman Goddess was the protector of political hostages and Arisnoe undoubtedly felt a huge relief that Cleopatra could not reach her here – In sacred walls and many miles away from Egypt.
Unfortunately, Arsinoe’s safety was no longer assured after Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times on the 15th March 44 BC. His death left Arsinoe within the grasp of her elder sister once again, as a certain Mark Antony had connections to Ephesus. When Mark Antony sought money from Cleopatra and Cleopatra sought the death of her younger sister, their relationship was suddenly mutually advantageous. This was evident when the dead body of Arsinoe was found on the Temple of Artemis’ steps.
Arsinoe’s teenage body was buried beneath a structure matching the Lighthouse of Pharos… A motif of her brief and short-lived victory against Rome and Cleopatra.
You cannot understand the confirmation process of Amy Coney Barrett without understanding that of Robert Bork. Nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987, Bork was a polarising figure, known for his disdain for the supposed liberal activism of the court. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, deeming Bork to be too radical for the court, turned away from the bipartisan tradition of assessing a nominee’s qualifications rather than values. The Judiciary Committee hearings featured hostile questioning, and Bork was ultimately rejected by 58-42 in a Democratic-majority Senate. The events produced the term “borked,” referring to the vigorous questioning of the legal philosophy and political views of judges in an effort to derail their nomination. The legacy of Bork lives on today.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) has triggered a high-stakes nomination process just weeks before the election. The Supreme Court is the highest level of the judicial branch in the US, with Justices nominated by the President and voted on by the Senate. The process usually takes a few months, with nominees being interviewed privately by senators, and then publicly by the Senate Judiciary Committee, before being forwarded by the committee to be voted on in the Senate.
However Barack Obama’s final year in office altered the traditional conception of nominating Supreme Court Justices. With the death of Justice Scalia in 2016, Obama, in alignment with the Constitution, nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat. However, in what political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt deemed “an extraordinary instance of norm breaking,” the Republican-controlled Senate refused hearings. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell argued that in an election year the Senate should wait until a new President has been elected, thus giving “the people” a say in the nomination process.
His position proved polarising. The practice of the Senate blocking a specific nominee (as in the case of Bork) would usually be fairly uncontroversial, even happening to George Washington in 1795. The issue was McConnell preventing an elected President from filling the seat at all, something that had never happened in post-construction US politics.
Yet the death of RBG has shown this precedent to be short-lived. Despite a Court seat opening up even closer to the election, the vast majority of Republicans have accepted McConnell’s present claim that his own precedent doesn’t apply in an election year if the same party holds both the Senate and Presidency. Thus, President’s Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, looks set to be confirmed.
It’s unknown how polarising her confirmation will be. The hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1991 were dominated by the questioning of Anita Hill over her allegations of sexual harassment against the then-nominee, with Thomas then accusing the Democrat-led hearing of being a “high-tech lyniching for uppity who in any way deign to think for themselves.” The 2018 Kavanaugh hearings echoed this process, with the then-nominee accused of attempted rape in a widely-viewed public hearing. Although the Barrett hearings are unlikely to prove as sinister, it’s likely the Republicans will accuse the Democrats of finding any means possible to block a conservative justice, as was seen in the Clarence and Kavanaugh hearings.
Barrett is set to be ‘borked’. Her views have been well-documented over her career, and, most notably, Republican Senators seem confident she’ll vote to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 ruling that protected a woman’s liberty to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. The Committee hearings process will likely rally each party’s base going into the election, but the long term implications on civil rights and the legitimacy of the Court have yet to be determined.
Anne Boleyn is an enigma. Contemporaries and historians alike have painted this infamous ‘beheaded’ second wife of Henry VIII as a ‘noble lady,’ ‘a whore,’ ‘an innocent victim,’ ‘a scandal of Christendom,’ and whilst the list of juxtaposing descriptions about the woman with ‘a long neck,’ ‘middling stature’ and ‘black and beautiful’ eyes could go on, flipping back and forth between praise and criticism of the lady that ‘bewitched’ Henry VIII, I would like to add another interpretation of Anne Boleyn to the list, in light of the historical evidence and our own current political climate.
Thanks in part to President Trump, the term ‘fake news’ has entered our political vocabulary. Over the past few days for example, we have been bombarded with media headlines that the New York Times claimed the President of the United States paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016-2017. This has of course been labelled as ‘fake news’ by Donald Trump. You are probably reading this article and wondering what on earth Donald Trump could possibly have to do with Anne Boleyn? This article proposes that ‘fake news’ culture should not be perceived merely as a Donald Trump tagline, but a much more dangerous reality for the court of Henry VIII back in 1536.
It is widely known that Anne Boleyn was beheaded on the 19th May 1536. However, it is has been commonly understood by the twenty first century masses that Anne Boleyn had been murdered by her ‘tyrannical’ husband merely because she failed to deliver in her promise to provide the King with a male heir, something which also caused the downfall of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn was Catherine of Aragon’s former Lady-in-waiting who had by all accounts ‘bewitched’ the King and had him follow her to ‘Mass’ and ‘everywhere,’ according to the Venetian ambassador in 1532. Boleyn failed to live up to the expectations of a Tudor Queen after she was crowned, because of the birth of a daughter, Elizabeth on the 7th September 1533 (future Elizabeth I), a miscarriage in 1534, followed by another miscarriage that was reported by the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys of a deformed son of three and a half months on the 26th January 1536. The birth of Elizabeth, who was named after Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York and the miscarriage of what would have been Anne Boleyn’s ‘saviour of a son’ is not the entire story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall. This article suggests that Anne Boleyn’s execution was the result of ‘fake news’ and not merely her fertility, as many believe.
The majority of Tudor historians are in agreement that Henry VIII confided in Thomas Cromwell in the year 1536. He sought an end to his marriage to Anne Boleyn because he had fallen in love/lust with Anne Boleyn’s own Lady-in-waiting the ‘naturally sweet natured’ Jane Seymour, after Anne Boleyn’s two miscarriages. This article proposes that this is where the need for a campaign of Tudor ‘fake news’ came into play at the court of Henry VIII. We cannot ever be completely sure that Henry VIII did not directly behest his chief minister Thomas Crowmwell to find an excuse to execute Anne Boleyn, however it seems unlikely that Henry VIII requested Anne Boleyn’s execution as a way to ensure that his marriage was dissolved. In light of historical evidence housed at The British Library, where an original letter written by Thomas Cromwell himself is preserved, it seems more likely that it was Thomas Cromwell and not Henry VIII who was the architect and political mastermind behind the murder of Anne Boleyn. This letter is the piece of ‘evidence’ that was presented to Henry VIII by Thomas Cromwell himself, accusing Anne Boleyn of lying with five men, including her own older brother. Fake news in the 21st century is typically defined as false stories that are spread across media platforms either because it is intended as a joke or because it seeks to influence political views. If we understand letters to be the Tudor equivalent of our BBC News, CNN and Fox News, Thomas Cromwell’s own letter laced with accusations of Anne Boleyn’s marital affairs could be read as fitting with our own definition of ‘fake news’ as Henry VIII’s infamous secretary potentially concocted these ‘abominable’ crimes in order to fulfil his King’s desire to detach himself from his ‘Most Happy Queen,’ whom he had a ‘sunshine and showers’ relationship with, according to Antonia Fraser. Indeed, it seems likely that Thomas Cromwell invented these affairs in order to influence political views of Anne Boleyn because the likes of Hilary Mantel claim that Thomas Cromwell supposedly sought to avenge the key role that Anne Boleyn played in the execution of Thomas Cromwell’s own mentor, Thomas Wolsey. It appears that Thomas Cromwell potentially wanted to remove Anne Boleyn permanently, which could not have been achieved through a mere annulment of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s marriage. Perhaps, Thomas Cromwell needed some ‘fake news’ in order to remove Anne Boleyn from a pedestal of power, an experience that Donald Trump would no doubt claim to identify with.
Was Anne Boleyn guilty of having sexual intercourse with the five men presented in Thomas Cromwell’s letter? Or was Thomas Cromwell creating some ‘fake news’ to dispose of Anne Boleyn? Perhaps the truth is malleable, and as we see in the age of Trump, it is not what is done or said, but how it is presented that matters. Either way, the accusations made by Cromwell cost Anne Boleyn her life. She was beheaded on the 19th May 1536 by an executioner sent from France, who killed her ‘swiftly’ with a sword for crimes that were either ‘true’ or ‘false.’
Durham’s coal mines closed throughout the 1980s, despite dissent from local communities and mining unions. This was not an anomaly – under Conservative rule, mines were shut throughout the nation, yet these were largely concentrated in the North. As a result, a significant regional divide in unemployment, poverty, and general desolation was created. And yet, although the mines are most certainly shut, the culture and the identity of the miners, and of a mining region lives on. In Durham, mining is deeply tied up in local identity, and a celebration of this shared history occurs every year through the Miners’ Gala. This consists of a loud and proud parade through the city, in which each mining village sends a colliery band, and banners. Upon finishing the city parade, all the mining lodges meet on the cricket field for a large party for all ages. Despite the closure of the mines, the economic hardship and proud history continues to be entwined with present day understandings and contemporary identity; a common phrase heard at the gala is ‘You can get rid of the mines, but you can’t get rid of the miners’.
The first Durham Miners’ Gala was organised by the Durham Miners’ Association in 1871 and was held on the outskirts of the city in Wharton Park. Despite the demise of the mining industry, the gala has survived, and continues to be integral to local identity. The gala is no longer an example of political mass assembly, but as Jack Lawson, a Durham miner, later Labour MP and minister in the Atlee government, said of the gala, it was less political demonstration, and more “the spontaneous expression of their [the miners’] communal life”. The gala is an example of intangible cultural heritage, and an identity which occurs in a specific place. Some have dubbed occasions like the gala as simply reminiscence – journalist James Bloodworth, who visited in 2016, saw the Durham Miners’ Gala as a “carnival of nostalgia”, and “something like a historical re-enactment society”. However, it is much, much more. It is a living history, a continued solidarity with the working class and the loss of jobs caused by a deep deindustrialisation which continues today in the loss, if not disappearance, of heavy manufacturing industries such as ship building.
Labour’s Green New Deal appears to draw upon this history and empathise with the loss of industry and employment in the North. The deal sets out to rebuild industry, jobs, and pride in the towns, with more “rewarding, well-paid jobs, lower energy bills”, and “whole new industries to revive parts of our country that have been neglected for too long”. As the Industrial Revolution brought jobs and pride to the North, the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, hopes to provide funding to restore this. Furthermore, the Labour Party recognises that for some ‘industrial transition’ has become a “byword for devastation”, and blames successive Conservative governments for this continued ignorance of whole industries and communities. The Green Industrial Revolution manifesto states that, “Tories wasted a decade serving the interests of big polluters”, echoing the sentiment of many speakers at the Durham Miners’ Gala. For example, in 2017, one speaker exclaimed that they should draw upon the lesson of the 1984-5 strikes today: that if “on the verge of achieving real change to working class people, the establishment will try to crush you”. Labour’s plans for a Green New Deal show not only the impact of economics on identity, but also, highlights the scars of neglect at the hands of a Tory government.
James Bloodworth also exclaimed in his somewhat scathing review of the Durham Miners’ Gala, that “when the past becomes an obsession, it can act as a dead weight on meaningful action in the present”. Is Labour’s Green New Deal an example of being too preoccupied with the past? Or should we be looking to it? Is an eye to the past not necessarily a bad thing, as Bloodworth states, but instead a chance to rectify past mistakes?
‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, George Santayana wrote these words forgetting that human nature contains a propensity for evil just as it does for good. Being aware of the evils of the past does not prevent evil deeds. China’s totalitarian socialist political system has continued its strangulation of individual liberty, advancing into genocide – bringing into memory the harrowing events of the not-so-long-ago past against the Jewish people.
In an atheist socialist regime, it is sacrilege to speak up against the systematic imprisonment and neutering of the Uyghur and Kazakh people. Xi Jinping’s oppressive regime has directed an onslaught against religion, tearing down Catholic churches, destroying sacred statues and crosses and replacing them with deified images of China’s President. Whilst it would be natural to suggest that the violence directed towards the Uyghurs follows a national purge of religion, the funnelling of Muslims into ‘vocational training centres’, reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps, reveals that the motive is closer to outright genocide. Inside the ‘training centres’, sentences are given for a variety of ‘crimes’, on a point system that penalises Uighurs for owning a Qur’an, having too many children, speaking Uyghur or for speaking up against the treatment of other Uyghurs. In an even clearer sign that the Chinese government is yet again invested in tampering with eugenics, a campaign promoting the intermarriage of Uyghurs and Hans Chinese promises money for housing, as well as amenities such as a refrigerator.
Chinese scholar, Adrian Zen, was one of the first to report that the Chinese government were forcing Uyghur and Kazakh women to undergo sterilisation – an AP report in 2020 revealed far more detailed draconian measures that the government is taking to diminish its Muslim population. By interviewing women in Xinjiang, it was discovered that the Muslim women in the province are forced to undergo regular pregnancy tests, forced to have intrauterine devices implanted which prevent pregnancy, as well as sterilisations and abortions. Women reported being forced to swallow pills or be forcibly injected with unknown medication that made them feel severely unwell, later finding out that they were unable to produce children as a result. Dina Nurdybay, a Kazakh woman imprisoned in one of China’s ‘training centres’, witnessed a Uyghur woman having to recite a speech denouncing herself in Mandarin for having too many children in front of guards. Tursunay Ziyawudun, another Uyghur woman, recalled how she had been given undisclosed injections until she stopped getting her period, and during the process was repeatedly kicked in the stomach as part of the interrogations. China is in the middle of a mass genocide, and it says much for the power of the Chinese government that they can pursue this without real threat of global condemnation and consequences.
What does it say of human nature that despite no excuse of ignorance of the violence and inhumane treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, nothing of meaning is done to denounce Xi Jinping’s malicious regime? The full details of the violence inflicted towards the Uyghurs is unlikely to be known until the distant future, due to fierce policy guarding and censorship, and China’s tradition of denying outright facts. But perhaps the most sinister and chilling truth lies in the reality that China launched a modern genocide against a Muslim minority within its borders, without genuine fear of consequence, without outcry from the Arab world in the Middle East, and without a concern for history’s dark past repeating itself. China’s position as a global economic powerhouse, and the world’s increasing dependence on the country has put a price on a promise to ‘never again’ relive the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
The government’s slogan of “Build, Build, Build”, coupled with radical reforms to the planning system, promises a utopia it will struggle to deliver.
The reforms centre around deregulation, with the aim being to make it easier to build homes where people want to live. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote in the Telegraph of the reforms building houses “with green spaces”, “new parks at close hand”, “tree-lined streets” and neighbours who are not strangers.
The reality of these reforms will most likely be very different, and jeopardises the livelihoods of some of society’s most vulnerable.
The latest proposals include dividing England’s land into three different categories: growth, renewal, or protection. Pre-approved “design codes” would automatically be allowed in “growth” areas, and granted “permission in principle” in renewal areas.
Additionally, the recent extension of permitted development rights allows buildings such as offices and shops to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission.
A combination of these policies present a threat of the production of low-quality slum housing. Only 22% of permitted development homes meet the space standards nationally accepted, and less than 5% have access to an outdoor area. Automatic planning permission without proper checks, as indicated through permitted development, compromises quality of home and livelihood. With deregulation to the planning system, agreed “design codes” could be produced to a low standard for the sake of developers producing quickly and on a large scale.
As the government aims to fulfil its pledge of 300,000 new houses a year with these proposals and policies, there is a danger that the safety and wellbeing of future inhabitants of the dwellings will be put at risk. Whilst reform to the system is necessary to build sustainable and environmental homes of the future, simply cutting checks of quality and safety whilst hindering local voices is not the solution.
Further, charities such as Shelter, aimed at ending homelessness, have voiced concerns over such schemes. To encourage small developers to build, the proposal is to end “section 106” payments for small sites – the mechanism for developers to be required to produce affordable, social housing. Such payments are also bypassed under permitted development without the need for planning permission. Without such a requirement, social housing will continue to suffer, already underfunded and underproduced.
The government needs to reconsider such proposals and schemes that are in developer’s best interests, but without adequate checks threaten inhabitants with low quality housing, whilst neglecting the desperate need for social housing.
If a history student were to be asked about how visual culture and media can influence politics, they would surely think of examples such as British propaganda in the world wars, or the striking posters used in Nazi Germany. There is widespread agreement on the significant impact of this visual culture and media on people’s beliefs, and therefore the politics of the time.
What is less clear is how much of an impact art can make in the contemporary world. There are countless artists who make political comments with their work. The question is, can this work still genuinely influence politics? With the wide range of ways in which we are fed visual media, particularly through online sources, it is arguably much harder to influence and control opinions and politics in the modern world.
However, with a little research, we can find examples of contemporary artists who have made a genuine impact with their artwork.
Think of Paula Rego, the Portuguese artist who, with her powerful ‘Abortion Series’ (1998-9), has been credited with influencing the decision to hold a second referendum on legalising abortion in Portugal in 2007, after the first one failed in 1998. The series captures the reality of abortion, humanising the experience in a graphic yet beautiful way. Lesley Hoggart, whose research focuses on reproductive health, abortion policy and sexual health, credits Rego’s complex work with having a role to play in the important advance in reproductive rights in Catholic Portugal (The Lancet, 2019).
Another interesting example to look at is the work of Grayson Perry. With 174,000 followers on Twitter, exhibitions in numerous galleries, a 2008 ranking of 32 in the “100 most powerful people in British Culture,” and appearances on This Morning, Loose Women, The Graham Norton Show, and Celebrity Gogglebox, there is no denying that Grayson Perry has the opportunity to reach a large audience with his art.
In his Channel 4 mini-series, All Man, Perry examines the concept of masculinity. He puts himself in typically masculine environments, from cage fighting to the Durham Miners Gala, council estates to the Square Mile, then makes art to capture what he experienced. Tackling subjects such as the gender roles in childhood, family values, the stigma around mental health and the high suicide rate among men in the North East, this mini-series has the potential to challenge views on significant issues, much like Perry’s work has done for many years. He explains in the documentary that the aim of the artwork he is creating ‘is to provoke a conversation,’ which he is definitely successful in achieving. The series won multiple awards.
A final example of note is the Guerrilla Girls, a group of feminist activist artists. Their form of visual culture and media challenges inequalities in the art world itself. Their website explains that they ‘use facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture.’ Active for over thirty years in many cities across the world, the Guerrilla Girls wear gorilla masks and name themselves after famous dead women to maintain anonymity. Whilst there is still a long way to go in the group’s aims, the Guerrilla Girls co-founder, who goes by the name Frida Kahlo, recognises that over time, public opinion has changed, and people in and outside of the art industry are realising the importance of diverse voices in the history of art.
Whilst the impact of Rego, Perry, and the Guerrilla Girls’ work might be quite different, with Rego having a role in clear legislative change, and Perry and the Guerrilla Girls having an influence through a slower process of challenging views and ideas, the significance of all three cannot be denied. The political impact of contemporary art may not be as obvious as the propaganda posters examined in history classrooms across the country, but it would be wrong to ignore the power that visual culture and media such as art still holds in influencing and impacting political opinions and change in the modern world.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 implemented the constitutional monarchy of the UK that we know today, effectively limiting the political role of the Crown to mere pomp and circumstance. Yet, to this day, certain superfluous political liberties have remained. In practice, the sovereign still gives weekly counsel to the Prime Minister. In practice, the sovereign opens Parliament with their speech, albeit drafted by the Commons. In practice, the sovereign must approve all legislation before it can become an act of parliament, although the last bill to be refused in such a manner was vetoed in 1708. While the British political constitution has moved on considerably from its absolute-monarchical days, the monarch’s political role still retains an archaic air, where substance falls short of ceremony. The lack of majority dissent over this archaism can only be explained by the increasing celebrity of the monarchy, caused by the tabloid-frenzied consumption of their every move, from wedding dress to baby name. This infatuation with these winners of a ‘genetic lottery’ completely overlooks the fact that these political liberties are available to be used and abused. Even if they choose not to do so, that is irrelevant to the fact they still exist.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, as, ceremonial politics aside, the monarchy can also be utilised by the party in power when wanting to inspire confidence in their abilities. This was evident in the Queen’s recent coronavirus address where she spoke of the need for solidarity, harking back to the Second World War idea of ‘everyone doing their bit’ and quoting Vera Lynn’s song, ‘We’ll Meet Again’. For a more worrying influence we must look back only to August of last year where Boris Johnson used the Queen’s ability to prorogue parliament to prevent lawmakers from thwarting his Brexit plans. Though the Crown officially adopts an air of impartiality towards partisan politics, it seems the monarchy is still a political tool to be manipulated on a whim. Surely the best way to ensure sovereign impartiality is to remain aloof from the political world. But surely while this demands reform, the monarchy need not be abolished to take its fingers out from the political pie.
When also considering the royal finances, it seems there is certainly no harm in taking this next step either. With £82.2 million paid by taxpayers in 2019 to form the Sovereign Grant – not including security or ceremonial costs – is it really necessary to keep funding this archaic institution? Popular responses say yes, pointing to tourism revenues of £550 million, and ambassador-generated trade of £150 million. Yet the latter number barely makes a dent in the sum of UK exports (£543 billion), and as for tourism revenue, the abolition of the monarchy would not stop tourists from frequenting destinations such as Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. The question we the public should be asking is are the monarchy still relevant? The royal family can still exist in celebrity status and tabloid sensationalism without pulling on the drawstrings of the public purse and without being used as a political tool. The political role of the monarchy should be a thing of the past, celebrated and remembered perhaps, but fit for the vault of history.
A Defence of the Monarchy
A word that recalls the riches and privileges of fairy-tale princes and princesses, but one that also connotes the existential crisis faced by many kingdoms. The twentieth century saw a deadly trend for the end of monarchies: most famously, the tragic demise of the Romanovs. However, new monarchies were forged that have remained to this day, such as Bhutan’s Wangchucks, whose popularity in Thailand has even led to a sharp increase in Thai tourism to Bhutan.
Monarchies carry more influence than is recognised in modern society. In Britain, the House of Windsor encourages support for charitable causes. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, has been outspoken about the importance of mental health services, describing his participation in counselling and advocating open discussion concerning mental health. Alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry founded ‘Heads Together’; a campaign created to increase the visibility of mental health conditions. Using their royal status greatly, the Cambridges and Sussexes promoted ‘Heads Together’ through royal visits, social media presence and tailored events. It was highly successful, with the foundation announcing it had assisted “millions” in talking more about mental health. The British monarchy is still deeply entrenched within our society and culture, engaging with topical issues, and promoting causes that they believe in. The Windsors have become more personal than rulers of the past, and still engage with politics, albeit in different ways. Commentary on social issues is another valid way of engaging with the political constitution.
Neutrality is the most important characteristic of today’s monarchy, with the royal veto having been abandoned for over 300 years. The monarch is now idealised to be a leader that the public can stand behind, regardless of the political climate. Prime Ministers cannot command the support nor the majority, which the monarchy can. According to YouGov in 2018, 69% of people support the monarchy, with 21% opposing and 11% stating no preference. No Prime Minister has ever achieved such a high public majority. Theresa May was the second most popular Conservative leader ever, and still only commanded a positive opinion of 30%. In a turbulent modern society, the British monarchy has been a source of constancy.
In a politically chaotic decade, Britain has seen three Prime Ministers in three years under Conservative Party leadership, which has been deeply divisive. However, the popularity of the monarchy has been proven time and time again. For the wedding of the Cambridges, there were 60 million viewers (averaging at 22 million for whole coverage), and sales of the royal issue of the Hello! magazine rose by 25%. Globally, there were 29 million viewers of the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Furthermore, the British monarchy unites 2.4 billion under the Commonwealth, from across five continents.
The grasp upon the monarchy has not been relinquished by the world, but especially not by British society. It has been steadfast for centuries and whether it is universally accepted, monarchy occupies a key part of politics, culture and society in modern Britain. It does not seem as if the world is ready for the monarchy to be a historic concept.
In recent months, racism in Britain has been widely discussed in the light of the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other people worldwide. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained poignancy, with many supporters risking their lives to protest against systemic racism during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When discussing this issue with peers, one comment often made was, ‘I don’t understand why they’re protesting here, that’s all happening in America?’. On the surface this might seem true, however comments like these fail to address Britain’s horrifically racist past, and the continual microaggressions and discrimination people of colour face today as a result of this. And this begs the question – if we’re ‘better’ than America in this respect, can any country ever completely transcend its corrupt past?
The verb ‘transcend’ is broadly defined as the action of going beyond the limits of something, so in order to make a sound judgement on history’s ability to transcend a period of mass exploitation, we must first discover what ‘limits’ empire placed on Britain’s History. Back in school, you might remember History lessons telling you of a time when Britain ‘owned’ almost half the world – the British Empire, reaping massive economic benefits for Britain. The crimes of the British Empire need to be discussed in greater depth.
The British Empire imposed Western ideas of civilisation onto foreign cultures, and colonists committed heinous crimes. An ideological ‘them and us’ binary was instigated by the Empire; British colonists used this dehumanisation to justify horrific acts of violence and oppression against native people, alongside the stealing of land and imposition of culture. All this is delivered to British people today under the guise of either neutrality or a jubilant narrative which ignores and diminishes the atrocities of the Empire, and the lasting effects this ‘them and us’ mentality has had on the lives of BAME people in Britain.
So, while it’s understandable to hope for a History detached from Empire in today’s more progressive society, it’s integral to understand that the global devastation caused by Imperialism cannot simply be forgotten. Remember that it was only in 2015 that the British taxpayer had paid off compensation paid to families of slave owners for their loss of ‘business assets’ after it was abolished in 1833. Imperialism arguably catalysed racism, and years of Black Lives Matter protests have shown that there is no quick fix. To hope for a transcendent utopia away from this is naïve. In many ways, ‘moving on’ from Empire minimises the experiences and culture of those adversely affected by it; derailing discussion and progression in a way which mirrors using the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ as a response to ‘Black Lives Matter’.
One method which gained huge amounts of public backing was a change to Britain’s school curriculum, in which education about the realities of Empire and colonisation are made mandatory. Many of us will remember, and have signed, the government petition for this which gained over 250,000 signatures. However, after first responding to this in July, saying that colonial education is already part of the key stage 3 curriculum (ages 11 to 14), they have now agreed to host a debate on the subject; the date for which will take over 80 days to decide.
One organisation who advocate for education on Black History in schools is The Black Curriculum. In their open letter to the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, they stated their aim to embed, ‘Black History in England’s National Curriculum more explicitly’, to counteract the whitewashed version of History children are taught. This would be an important step to take in tackling racism and inclusivity in schools; the founder Lavinya Stennet and her team have developed an extensive multimedia curriculum to teach Black History in an accessible way. If you’d like to support this cause, you can download their email templates to send to your MP, or donate through the link on their website.
So sadly, there’s no way for Britain’s History to transcend Empire, as this would ignore the experiences of those continuing to be affected by racism, stereotypes and the microaggressions brought about by it. Being able to see past the effects of Empire is a privilege, and one which unfortunately isn’t a reality for many British citizens, despite more information becoming available via social media to help inform everyone of changes that can be made.