What Will Happen Now Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Dead?

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. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2014. (Credit: Ruven Afanador)

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.

Sam Lazenby


Bibliography

The Economist. “Courting trouble: The knife fight over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.” (26 Sep 2020) https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/09/26/the-knife-fight-over-ruth-bader-ginsburgs-replacement

The Economist. “What does Amy Coney Barrett think?” (26 Sep 2020) https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/09/26/what-does-amy-coney-barrett-think

Levitsky, S. and Ziblatt, D. (2019) “How Democracies Die.” Great Britain: Penguin

Liptak, A. “Barrett’s Record: A Conservative Who Would Push the Supreme Court to the Right.,” New York Times (26 Sep 2020). https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/amy-coney-barrett-views-abortion-health-care.html

Pruitt, S. “How Robert Bork’s Failed Nomination Led to a Changed Supreme Court,” History (28 Oct 2018). https://www.history.com/news/robert-bork-ronald-reagan-supreme-court-nominations

Siddiqui, S. “Kavanaugh hearing recalls Clarence Thomas case,” The Guardian, (27 Sep 2018). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/27/brett-kavanaugh-clarence-thomas-anita-hill-hearings

Victor, D. “How a Supreme Court Justice Is (Usually) Appointed,” The New York Times, (26 Sep 2020). https://docs.google.com/document/d/1880187lYZ4z9gXjkVeNDsSsN8F0ZdRK1MIrua4CQmIk/edit

‘You Can Get Rid of the Mines, But You Can’t Get Rid of the Miners’: Industrial Legacy and Contemporary Identity in Durham

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 135th Durham Miners’ Gala, 2019. (Credit: The Northern Echo)

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? 

Emily Glynn


Bibliography

Bloodworth, James, ‘Labour is becoming a historical re-enactment society’, International Business Times, 11 July 2017, https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/jeremy-corbyns-labour-tribute-act-socialism-trade-unions-back-nostalgic-leader-1570061 

Lawson, Jack, Peter Lee, (1949: London)

Labour Party ‘A Green Industrial Revolution’ Manifesto 2020

Housing Reform: Not the Solution to a Prominent Problem

The government’s slogan of “Build, Build, Build”, coupled with radical reforms to the planning system, promises a utopia it will struggle to deliver. 

Modern, red brick houses viewed from above. (Credit: Anthony Brown.)

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.

Maddy Burt

Why Events in the Gulf Still Matter: Implications of Peace Between Israel and the UAE

There’s a joke that goes as follows: ‘…and on the eighth day, God created the Middle East, and said “let there be breaking news”’. In this constant stream of events it can be hard to distinguish between the important and irrelevant – but make no mistake, mutual recognition between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is as important as it gets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a joint statement with Senior US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner about the Israeli-United Arab Emirates peace accords, Jerusalem, 30 August 2020. (Credit: Reuters)

With the exception of Israel, every Middle Eastern country is Muslim. More importantly, with the exceptions of Iran and Turkey, every country is Arab. In the early years of the 20th century, this relationship wasn’t contentious – indeed, the first Iraqi Minister of Finance was Jewish. However, Zionism and the Arab reaction to it, in concert with the destabilising effects of latter-stage colonialism, fuelled a rise in animosity and Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 was met by a declaration of war by its Arab neighbours.

The next 25 years saw two more wars and – in the midst of the Cold War – the US formed a strategy to protect what it viewed as an outpost of Western liberalism. American foreign policy united around providing Israel with a qualitative military edge over other Middle Eastern states. Accordingly, Israel won every major Cold War conflict, and territorial gains they made in these wars forced Arab neighbours to coalesce around a new strategy of ‘land for peace’. This saw Israel return the Sinai to Egypt in 1977 in exchange for recognition, and grant limited Palestinian autonomy in exchange for peace with Jordan in 1994. Eight years later, the Arab League declared that its members would collectively recognise the State of Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

At the same time, two key events took place. The 1979 revolution in Iran turned a staunch American and Israeli ally into an anti-Western, anti-Arab power and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a regional power vacuum. The last two decades have seen an Iran-Arab cold war across the region. Saudi Arabia, along with its Arab allies, is currently waging a war of influence against Iran across the Middle East. Yemen, Syria and Lebanon in particular bear the fingerprints of this struggle.

Now, for the coup de grace. In 2015, the US signed a deal with Iran, trading sanctions relief in exchange for Iran scaling back its nuclear programme. Israel and the Arab World were united in their fear of Iran and animosity towards the deal, which allowed Iran to funnel more money to proxy groups in the region. President Trump upended America’s approach, seeking to unite Israel and the Arab states by opposing Iranian regional influence. This bipolar strategy enabled the US to bring Israel and the UAE closer together and on August 13th, the two nations signed a deal mutually recognising each other’s existence.

So why the UAE, of all Arab states? In one respect, the Emirates are keen to bolster their military position. The US may be more willing to sell technologically-advanced weapons, including the coveted F-35, to seemingly less belligerent Arab powers. Israel is also a regional leader in technology, which the UAE may stand to benefit from.

Yet the UAE also benefits from its demographics. Nearly 60% of its population are South Asian foreign workers, employed in massive construction projects in Dubai; only 11% are Arab Emirati citizens. This corporate state structure makes the Emirati monarchy highly stable in comparison to its Arab neighbours, who are populated by citizenries that are generally hostile towards Israel.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, will likely wait and see if other Gulf States follow the UAE’s lead before making its own peace deal with Israel. The primary objective of all Arab autocracies is domestic stability, and Saudi Arabia’s conservative Muslim population might view public overtures towards Israel as a sell-out by the state’s monarchy. The Arab populations in Africa are generally less conservative but they make up for it with anti-imperialist sentiment, and would be unlikely to recognise Israel whilst the occupation continues.

This brings us to the one Arab entity that will not be making peace in the near future – Palestine. Arab states have largely given up on the Palestinian cause and instead come to fear Palestinian freedom, lest it bring to power a people’s government that undermines their fragile authoritarian legitimacy. Until recently, Palestinians still had one bargaining chip. Previously, the Arab League had almost unanimously withheld recognition of Israel. When it did come, as in the case of Egypt and Jordan, it was in exchange for significant concessions. Now that the UAE has agreed to recognise Israel with no significant conditions, Palestinian leaders will feel as if the rug has been swept out from under their feet. The UAE has given an official seal of approval to the occupation; expect to see it remain for a long time.

Seth Weisz 

The Politics of Food: Modern Sumptuary Law?

The politicisation of food by Boris Johnson’s government has proved to be a highly controversial issue. Whilst the necessity of what has been described as an “obesity crackdown” has been supported by Public Health England, there has been backlash surrounding the government’s strategy. In particular, the lack of meaningful support for the most financially-disadvantaged have led to accusations that the government is tone-deaf in its approach. The abandonment of this group of people by food policy is far from a new phenomenon, and the parallels with early modern sumptuary law is compelling.

A family watching British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s coronavirus address. (Credit: AFP.)

Sumptuary law is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as, “Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures for apparel, food, furniture, etc.” These laws impacted everyone in society and were considered vital for maintaining the social hierarchy in the face of increased social mobility. They had a strong moral element: it was believed this hierarchy was mandated by God; refusing to adhere to this was therefore defying Him. Therefore, these laws were seen as essential for the good of society, just as the current government policy regarding obesity aims to lessen the impact of Covid-19 and the strain on the NHS. 

Whilst sumptuary laws set limits upon all, just as we are all to be affected by this new health drive, it was – and is – the financially disadvantaged who experience the greatest restrictions. Legislation and poverty meant the poor of Tudor England were allowed no more than pottage, vegetables, and bread. With the rigours of life at that time, the number of calories that needed to be consumed was much higher than the recommended 2000-2500 today, though even this would be out of reach for many. 

Today, the converse seems to be true, and it is far easier to over-consume on a lower budget. According to the statistics, half of the 10 worst areas for childhood obesity in the UK are also the 10 poorest. Yet the government seems to think the solution is as simple as signposting the healthy options and restricting those high in calories, going so far as removing multi-buy offers. The government does not seem to recognise that choice and control over diet is often a privilege. As Kieran Morris writes in The Guardian, the ability to eat healthily and exercise needs “time, money and space”, all of which have been have become increasingly inaccessible. 

Elizabeth I wearing the “superfluities of silks, cloths of gold, [and] silver” many were not allowed to. (Credit: the ‘Darnley Portrait’, Public Domain.)

Annunziata Rees-Mogg typified this privilege in her tweet on July 27, in which she stated “Tesco 1kg potatoes = 83p, 950g own brand chips = £1.35”. What the daughter of Baron William Rees-Mogg fails to recognise is that it is not ignorance or laziness that is the problem. According to the Trussell Trust, between April 2019 and March 2020, 1.6 million people were estimated to have used a foodbank, which are only able to provide non-perishable, carbohydrate-heavy foods. The average full-time employee in Britain works an average of 42 hours a week, which the TUC claims is “robbing workers of a decent home life and time with their loved ones”. To claim that personal choice is the sole reason behind the obesity epidemic ignores this. 

So, just like sumptuary law, we are all being asked to do our bit for the good of the nation. But this policy, just like the legislation 500 years ago, will disproportionately affect the poorest in society. Whilst we do need to tackle obesity, the government needs to provide support for these people, rather than remove and criticise their already limited choices.

Georgia Greatrex

Do Belarus’ Protests Suggest a Chance for Change, like the 1989 Revolutions in Eastern Europe?

This article will use Russian spellings of Belarusian names for the sake of consistency.

When comparing the situation in Belarus today to the revolutions of 1989, we have to note that each country experienced a different revolution. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in the Baltics were trying to reverse the fifty-year long annexation of their nations since the Nazi Soviet Pact of 1939. The Baltic protest movement also saw an emphasis on salvaging national cultures – particularly language. Poland’s revolution was the result of a more long-term protest movement that began in the shipyards of Gdansk in the early 1980s under the helm of Lech Walesa. Romania saw the violent overthrow of the maverick megalomaniac dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. 

What we are seeing in Belarus is a combination of all three. The protest movement is fundamentally against a long-serving authoritarian dictator whose foreign policy modus operandi is to play east off west, like Ceausescu. As in Poland, the Belarusian protest movement is spearheaded by striking workers. Finally, there is an element of the movement that campaigns for the revival of Belarusian national customs in favour of the more ‘Russified’ and ‘Sovietised’ ones pushed by the incumbent system. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya seems to suggest a blend of these three aspects in her interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza.

It must be said that Tikhanovskaya is not Lech Walesa, Lukashenko is not Ceausescu and Belarus is not the Baltic States. Nonetheless, we still see aspects of 1989 permeate the Belarusian protest movement. 

Belarusian protestors holding old Belarusian flags in support of the opposition, Minsk, August 25, 2020. (CreditL Sergei Grits, via The Associated Press)

The one aspect that is very different to 1989 is Moscow’s willingness to intervene in Belarus. In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev rescinded the Brezhnev Doctrine – the idea that if a country in the Warsaw Pact tried to break away the USSR, other Warsaw Pact nations would intervene to quell the political dissent. In an interview with Russian state television on the 27th August, Vladimir Putin essentially came up with his own version of the Brezhnev Doctrine. He said that Russian police forces would come into Belarus in the event that “extremist elements, using political slogans as cover, overstep a certain boundary.” The fact that Putin publicly admits that Russian forces could be used in Belarus is a reassertion of the Brezhnev Doctrine in a more subtle form – in contrast to Russia’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine where the Russian government denies that its military is present. Putin’s initiative is very bold and risky but if that is what it takes, in the view of the Russian leadership, to keep NATO out of Belarus, then so be it. 

Russian support is the best chance Alexander Lukashenko has got if he is to survive. Beyond the security services and the highest echelons of the Belarusian leadership, Lukashenko has little or no support in wider Belarusian society. The price that Lukashenko will pay for keeping himself in power, thereby protecting his own security and finances, is by outsourcing more of his nation’s sovereignty to Russia. 

Belarus’ protest movement does have some similarities with the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe if we look at some of its aims and the demographics of the opposition. However, Russia is more willing to intervene in the post-Soviet sphere than it was in 1989. Therefore, it is highly likely that instead of moving away from Moscow’s sphere of influence, Belarus may end up much nearer to it.

James Meakin

Trapped in History: The Plight of Lebanon

The explosion that ripped through Beirut on the evening of the 4th August 2020 is estimated to have had one tenth of the power of an atomic bomb. It immediately left over 300,000 people homeless, and destroyed or damaged more than 70,000 buildings.

By the next morning, the main fire caused by the explosion was mostly extinguished, and a desperate attempt to locate the missing in the ruins of the city was well underway. Scores of people were physically trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Metaphorically, most of the country faces a similar snare, trapped under the rubble of a history of broken government and corruption. 

An aerial view of the port destroyed after the explosions in August. (Credit: Hussein Malla via AP)

The cause of an explosion of such magnitude can be traced back to a history of negligence and corruption. Some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in explosives and fertilisers, had been stored in a warehouse by the port for over six years, and a fire triggered the substance to explode. Only six months earlier, inspectors had warned that the ammonium nitrate could “blow up the whole of Beirut”. Between the ammonium nitrate being seized from a boat heading to Mozambique and the explosion, six letters were sent from the director of customs to a judge warning of the dangers of the substance and asking for instructions on how to handle it. Both Lebanon’s prime minister and president were informed of explosives at the port in July. 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab called the storage of such a substance ‘unacceptable’, and President Michel Aoun has insisted an investigation will take place whilst at the same time rejecting an international inquiry. It is clear that, whoever the blame eventually lands on, the government will not be the culprit. 

The neglect and dismissal of such concerns could be expected in a government with a history of serving its own interests over that of the population. In theory, the political system, a product of colonial rule, represents all religious groups within the government. However, in practice, it causes much divide and delays over decision making, and is well suited to political patronage and money laundering. This system traps those it claims to serve in economic hardship, and only benefits those directly connected with the government. 

Colonial rule contributed to the formation of Lebanon along the lines of various people groups, and its Civil War 1975-1990 gave military warlords a hold on government that has never truly been severed. Once combined with external influence that remains prominent in Lebanon, from Iran and Palestine to Israel and the United States, it is clear the people of Lebanon are trapped in a history that offers them next to no priority or say. 

The Lebanese government is just as aware of these trappings – and can exploit them for their own purpose. The rebirthing of the same corrupt government under a different face has been occurring for years. In February 2005, when the former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated, hope for a new political government was quickly dashed. Similarly, in October 2019 when the former prime minister resigned following mass protests over a newly introduced tax on WhatsApp, there were promises within the government of change, that came to nothing. Such occurrences reaffirm that the recent resignation of the cabinet will do nothing to free the country from corruption – the same members of government will stay on in caretaker form and find new roles within a new government they can still control, whilst making promises that change is coming. 

Lebanon is now facing a great humanitarian and economic crisis, with 25% of the country in extreme poverty, and the failed state having defaulted on its loans in March. The government is aware that they can keep a hold of power, and the people are aware they are trapped. Protests are already thinning and the cycle continues.

Maddy Burt

Decolonising the Curriculum

Whilst the #RhodesMustFall protests began over 5 years ago in South Africa and in the United Kingdom, misunderstanding has continued over movements to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. To ‘decolonise the curriculum’ means to question well established biases and gaps within teaching that limit our understanding of the world around us. Thus, the movement campaigns to give a fuller version of British history to reflect injustice and celebrate the histories of British POC.  

If our curriculum remains entirely static in its distorted presentation of knowledge, it will become stale, risk entrenching racial thinking, and inadvertently devalue POC. As students, if we do not challenge what we are learning (and how we are learning it), entire perspectives and realms of knowledge can go unheard, which can become enormously damaging over time. For our BME peers, our current focus on the great (white) man theory can suggest that BME identity is inferior, as British course contents do not attempt to teach any aspect of their history.

On a personal level, as a white History undergraduate, I am glad to see petitions being submitted to my previous school which call for widened GCSE and A-level History curricula. Despite having both a GCSE and an A-level in History, my learning has been entirely Euro-centric, limited to the Tudors, the World Wars, the Cold War and the Stuart Century. Shamefully, it is only recently that I began to question why my curriculum focussed exclusively on white, western intellectual traditions and histories. To young and impressionable teenagers, this undoubtedly promotes the notion that European history and culture is both universal and superior.  

The movement to decolonise the curriculum is multidimensional and therefore its application, in practical terms, must also be. Firstly, our curriculum should widen its scope to include more internationally diverse thought. Undergraduate reading lists, for example, should encompass a greater inclusion of authors outside of Europe. Further, course contents, from the age of 16, must become more international, and give a fuller version of British colonial history.  

Students at Oxford University calling for the removal of Cecil Rhose’s state in March 2016. (Credit: David Hartly/Rex, via Shutterstock)

In terms of having a genuinely positive impact on POC, providing an accurate and full portrayal of history will help to address the prominent racial attainment gap within academia. Where only 50% of black students are awarded first-class or upper-second class honours, 78.8% of white students are. Many believe this can be partly explained by BME students’ inability to engage with an exclusively white-focused curriculum in the way that their white peers do. We must also fundamentally reconsider who is teaching and how they are teaching. In 2016, only 25 black women were working as professors compared to 14,000 white men – outnumbering black women professors at a rate of 560 to 1. Promoting a more inclusive and diverse teaching body within higher education will help to broaden our perspectives by examining biases within our course content.  

See our podcast with Dr David Andersen for his academic view on the importance of a decolonised curriculum, as well as wider discussion about the impact of the Black Lives’ Matter movement on the Obama and Trump presidencies, alongside many other fascinating topics. Listen to it on Spotify here.

Amelia Crick

A ‘Rooseveltian’ New Deal?

Speaking in the West Midlands on Tuesday, Boris Johnson unveiled the broad outlines of his strategy to tackle the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Boris Johnson giving a speech on infrastructure. (Credit: Number 10, via Flickr)

The Government’s unwillingness to issue an earlier lockdown at the end of March suggested their fear of the economic reverberations that a forced closure of retail, restaurants, and offices would give rise to. Now, in the wake of the Government’s gradual easing of lockdown measures, the economic outlook is bleak.

Mr. Johnson has made no effort to conceal his penchant for Winston Churchill. In June, Johnson issued a strong statement condemning the actions of protestors who had vandalised the wartime leader’s statue because of his objectionable racial beliefs. Johnson has also looked to imitate Churchill’s rhetoric by speaking of a ‘war against the virus.’

But this time, the Prime Minister has looked across the Atlantic for inspiration. On Tuesday he attempted to invoke the spirit of the great twentieth-century president Franklin D. Roosevelt to sell his blueprint to reinvigorate the economy to the public. The Prime Minister was keen to sell his strategy as a ‘New Deal’ for the British people. Is there any merit to this audacious claim?

There is no doubt that the Government will have to navigate a challenging economic situation which will bear at least some similarities with the situation faced under FDR’s presidency. Yet, a comparison of the two crises seems rather farfetched.

Mr. Johnson highlighted the fear created by the ‘vertiginous drop in GDP’ with it reportedly falling by a hefty 20.4% in April. Moreover, an ONS report detailed that the UK economy contracted by 2.2% between January and March which is the biggest economic contraction in 41 years. Yet, in contrast, after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 worldwide GDP fell by approximately 15% and GNP in the US fell to a meagre $590m. Whilst some unsettling comparisons between the crises can be made it would be erroneous to characterise the looming economic downturn as a ‘Second Great Depression.’

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that Roosevelt’s New Deal relied heavily on Keynesian deficit spending which was hoped to kickstart the economy by boosting confidence and ‘animal spirits.’ In turn, it was hoped that jobs and business would start to pick up with this increased investment. FDR spent millions on public works schemes and job creation programmes through his alphabet agencies such as the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Has the Prime Minister adopted a similar approach?

Mr. Johnson has certainly made it clear that he will not revert to the unpopular austerity measures practised by former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne. Instead, on Tuesday Johnson pledged to ramp up government spending, outlining that £5bn would be allocated to infrastructure projects, £15bn to the education sector by 2023 and that he would deliver on his election promise of 40 new hospitals. It sounds like a bold strategy.

Many critics have questioned whether the Prime Minister’s actions go far enough. They have pointed out that the great deal of public works projects that Mr Johnson highlighted in his speech on Tuesday had already been included in the Conservative Election Manifesto. This begs the question as to whether the Government is truly instigating a radical response to this crisis? Ultimately, the proposed £5bn is a mere drop in the ocean, amounting to less than £100 per person. This won’t resemble anything close to FDR’s spending of 40% of the national income on the various alphabet agencies he set up.

The Prime Minister’s call for the nation to ‘build build build’, expected to be followed by more familiarly Conservative long-term austerity, may on the surface seem like a sensible remedy to the economic effects of the pandemic. Yet many are already asking why the Government isn’t intervening further? In any case, Johnson’s plans to get the economy moving again seem far from ‘Rooseveltian’.

Ben Carter

Scotland and England: The Irrevocable Divide

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND РJANUARY 11: Protesters take part in a Pro-Independence march on January 11, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. Tens of Thousands of people joined the All Under One Banner march to call for Scottish Independence following the SNP’s success in December’s general election. (Photo by David Cheskin/Getty Images)

The First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP), is currently substantially ahead of Boris Johnson in Scottish opinion polls, largely due to her comparatively steady-handed and rational approach to the coronavirus crisis. Despite recent developments, however, I am not won over by the argument for Scottish independence. This discourse is rooted centuries, millennia even, into the nation’s history, and has simulated deep divisions in Scottish society. Is Scotland even a nation, though? Or is it a country, or a state? These are questions which many are unclear on.

The 2014 Scottish independence referendum caused many young people in Scotland to become politically engaged at an earlier age than one might expect. I experienced this first-hand in my high school, where uniform was strictly enforced and expressions of individuality somewhat quashed. Despite these regulations, peers of mine proudly donning a ‘Yes’ badge on their blazers, and divisive political discourse riddled its way into our trivial early-teen conversations. 

The context and origins of Scottish nationalism do not by any means correlate to a linear or simple narrative. A significant juncture in the Scotland-England historical record, however, can be identified in the Union of the Crowns (1603). This took place following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, who, due to her childlessness, was succeeded by the son of her first cousin once removed, Mary Queen of Scots. In March 1603 King James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland, and the realm became unified, at least in terms of international diplomacy. His accession took place around 300 years after the death of William Wallace (1305) and the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), – two other famous epochs – and roughly 130 years before the Jacobite rebellion (1745). This indicates that conflicts and hostilities have been continuous and relentless historical themes – on scales political, social, cultural, and, more recently, economic – despite the establishment of supposed sovereign unity.

So, taking another historical leap and moving forward a couple of hundred years, tensions remain not only evident but prominent between the lands of the red rose and thistle. The sentiments suggested when describing the Scotland-England relationship in terms of ‘Great Britain’ and the ‘United Kingdom’ are limited in the extent to which they accurately represent popular attitudes. 

In Scotland, those who choose to move south for tertiary education, – albeit with privilege a decisive prerequisite – for instance, are subjected to a degree of implicit judgement for exhibiting accommodation towards their English neighbours. This is also largely applicable to anyone who expresses a favourable, even neutral, attitude regarding a political party that is not the SNP. I have never understood this sequence of behaviours. The arguments for independence seem, to me, to be predominantly based upon internal policies, which would surely precipitate an isolationist sentiment. With the world as unpredictable and turbulent as it currently is, and with little indication that there is any stability or certainty on the horizon, we Scots need all the friends we can get. This is not to undermine our integrity or self-worth, but it is a consideration I feel is relevant to all political entities, regardless of size. 

Westminster – and the centralised authority it represents – is systemically flawed and a serious anachronism. This fact I do not dispute, but actively promote. Having said this, I would rather have an ailing friend than reject and alienate them out of blinded nationalism and grudges. The latter course, I believe, would result in a solitary state wallowing in loneliness, all for the sake of placing shallow pride before pragmatism and realism. Whilst I recognise the manifold shortcomings of this image, I nevertheless feel it has substantial agency. Difference, when accepted and celebrated, reaps innovation and progress. Isolationism, domestic preoccupation, and cognitive homogeneity do not. 

As I conclude this piece, I wish to emphasise that a full and detailed overview of the issue of Scottish nationalism, and the long-standing independence debate, cannot be covered here, but my hope is that an essence of it has been communicated. To be clear, I share in the widespread respect for Nicola Sturgeon, which deservedly permeates borders. She is talented, articulate, a fabulous female role-model, and promotes several legitimate arguments. The mission of her party, however, I fundamentally disagree with. 

Hazel Laurenson