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

Anne Boleyn: A Forgotten Victim of ‘Fake News’?

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.

A painting of Anne Boleyn by an unknown artist, 1570. (Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London)

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.’

Sophie Overton

‘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

Perpetrator of Evil: Uighurs in China

Is the White House in Any Position to Help Chinese Muslims? - Pacific  Standard
Chinese policemen pushing Uighur women protesting, July 7th, 2009, Urumqi, China. (Credit: Guang Niu, via Getty Images)

‘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. 

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

Debate: Monarchy, a Relic or Required?

Monarchy and its Political Pomp and Circumstance

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.

Melanie Perrin

The current British royal family on Buckingham Palace’s Balcony. (Credit: Chris Jackson, via Getty Images.)

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.

Lorna Cosgrave

Will Britain’s History Ever Transcend Empire?

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? 

A propaganda poster for the British Empire, centred around George VI. (CreditL Snowgoose, via Pinterest.)

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.

Sarah Matthews

Does History Link to Geography?

Although separate disciplines, history and geography are tightly intertwined. While history attempts to examine human society, culture and experience through a temporal lense, geography does so through a spatial one.

A map of the world, surrounded by classical imagery. (Credit: Marzolino, via iStock.)

Physical geography and natural phenomena have undoubtedly influenced the course of history: the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, which caused massive global cooling, attests to this. It is human geography, however, which is more closely linked to history. History is, for example, an incredibly important factor in the development (or decline) of cities. The relative economic power of London, owing to it’s strategic location and history as the Roman capital of Britannia, encouraged the Hanseatic League to set up it’s main English trading post there. At this time the government was located in Westminster, but the relative autonomy afforded to the Corporation of London made it the main commercial centre on the island. Having its own government and liberal economic laws, and a notable lack of interference from the national government, made it attractive to traders. The wealth this generated caused an explosion in the urban population and forced the city to abandon the grid-iron street patterns favoured by the Romans to accommodate the growth. This led to an incredibly dense settlement with narrow winding streets, which in turn necessitated the development of public mass transit come industrialisation, now an essential component of every major city in the world.

In stark contrast to the wealth historical factors have helped to produce, an inability to develop regions of Southern Africa can, to a large extent, be traced to apartheid era debt afflicting the region. Not only must South Africans repay debts of a regime that oppressed them, but people in countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, and Mozambique have been saddled with enormous debts fighting South Africa’s apartheid wars. These debts have made Southern Africa the poorest region in the world. As poverty is closely linked to high birth and mortality rates, the region’s history has resulted in modern demographics unseen in other parts of the world, with incredibly young populations and rapid growth. This has resulted in dense urban developments and rapid land degradation as a result of overgrazing and the necessity of intensive agriculture. 

Migration, another incredibly topical theme in modern geography, has also been affected by historical European colonialism. Push and pull factors are a foundation of modern studies of migration, and yet colonial ties have only been appreciated as a significant pull factor in recent history. While much credence was traditionally given to economic and social factors, historical factors have recently been afforded more attention. The Caribbean is a region characterised by a diverse group of people – forced migrants (slaves) from Africa as well as indentured and voluntary migrants from Europe and Asia. In the twentieth century the migration flow reversed and citizens emigrated in large numbers – overwhelmingly to the colonial motherland. While Britain was notable in its extensive attempts to restrict the volume of migrants, France and the Netherlands welcomed and indeed encouraged migration from the French Antilles and Suriname respectively. This is responsible for rapid demographic and social changes in those nations in the late 1900s which have shaped their population pyramids and urbanisation to this day.

History is also an oft-cited reason for territorial claims, such as those in the South China Sea. While geographical factors are the predominant reason why these islands are desirable, – with an abundance of oil and militarily strategic locations – a lack of clarity as to historical ownership has been used to justify claims. The 1951 Treaty of San Francisco failed to specify the status of the islands which left them open to competing territorial claims. China, following a border dispute with the Soviet Union, laid claim to all of the islands, not wanting Soviet ally North Vietnam to exert control over its coastline. After a minor naval skirmish with North Vietnam, China occupied Johnson reef and used this as a base to further its influence in the region. Today no less than seven nations compete for control over this trade passage worth $3.37 trillion.

Although it is obvious from these examples and countless more that history and geography are almost inseparable, historical geography remains a relatively new field with innumerable unexplored areas of research. Ultimately, it is only through an interdisciplinary approach that we can truly appreciate and understand that which we study. Hopefully, geographers and historians can move beyond their differences and appreciate this in future.

Michael Hendöe

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