Anglo-Saudi Relations: A Study in Realist International Theory

As we in the western world wrestle with the cultural theatrics that come with a modern brand of political correctness. From internet trolls to gender and racial tolerance; issues which are a far-cry from the cultural norms of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of numerous basic human rights abuses and of funding international terrorism. So why does the UK, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and a self-proclaimed cradle for modern liberal values overtly engage in the sale of arms and support to the Saudi regime. Realism is a theory of international politics which insists that states act in a rational manner and only to further their own self-interests, as opposed to liberal theory; which posits that states ally themselves in accordance to shared values (known as norms).



In a realists’ world, the UK aligns itself with the House of Saud because the relationship is a beneficial one – in the sense that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia helps to expand the UK economy. The fact that such weapons are being used with complete disregard for Yemeni civilian life, does not seem to be a concern for the British government, as it should be according to subscribers of Liberal Theory (human rights being a supposed UK norm). In its 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which the Saudi state has also tightened its restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It continues to detain, arrest and prosecute writers and online commentators based on vague charges. It also pursues those who attempt to defend human rights within its borders: including founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and the Union for Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2017).

Though there is no conclusive evidence that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the support of ISIL, there are sources which give credence to such allegations. In the famous leaked Emails which plagued Mrs. Clinton’s 2017 bid for the presidency, John Podesta wrote that the Saudis were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (Wikileaks, 2015) Published diplomatic cables from the US State Department serve to reinforce Podesta’s claim: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (Wikileaks, 2009).

But all of this is disregarded by our government, because to address it would be counter-productive to the UK’s plans in the region. Which are representative of the West’s grander plan for the Middle-East; with the Saudi trade partnership and the mutual exchange of oil and arms at its centre. Besides the economic benefits of such a partnership, the UK is willing to ignore Saudi funding of ISIL because the alliance provides the West with a somewhat reliable ally in opposition to Iran, the Taliban and other actors the UK deems as a threat to her interests.

So a few people have their rights infringed upon, and some people may lose their lives because of terrorism, or paradoxically find themselves imprisoned on vague anti-terrorist charges. The fact is, in a realist world system, these things clearly don’t count for much.

 

Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia 2016/2017” (2017): Accessible: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Congrats!, John Podesta Email Chain” (2015): Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3774 (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance” (2009) Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE131801_a.html (Accessed 17/09/2017)

What is Boris up to?

It has been an exhilarating week in Parliament. The Repeal Bill has passed its second reading, the Government has u-turned on the public sector pay cap and Labour gained victories on NHS pay and tuition fees. It has been quite a few days before recess.

Unfortunately, it has also been the week where terror has returned to the country. An explosion at Parsons Green Tube Station saw a number of people injured, although thankfully it appears no loss of life or life threatening injuries. This has led to the Prime Minister raising the security level to critical from severe, meaning an attack is believed to be imminent.

It is amidst this backdrop that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has decided that now is the time to intervene.  In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson has set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. Most prominently in this article, Johnson has repeated the controversial claim that leaving the EU would save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS. Unsurprisingly, this has created a lot of headlines.



This article has drawn criticism from some senior figures in the Conservative Party. Will Tanner, a former adviser to Theresa May called the article a “prelude to resignation” and Ruth Davidson in what was widely perceived as an attack on Boris Johnson said at the present time “the only thoughts should be on service.” Another unnamed Conservative MP described this as an “extraordinarily selfish act.”

Allies of the Foreign Secretary have claimed the article was authorised by 10 Downing Street and that Johnson was merely setting out his position. However, accepting this argument is highly naïve. When penning this article, Johnson and allies would have known it would be interpreted as a leadership bid and the resulting problems this could then cause the Prime Minister, who is due to give a major Brexit speech on Friday. Johnson is no novice.

It is unclear what Johnson is up to here. Leadership; resignation; clearing his name; putting pressure on the PM or a mixture of these things. Take your pick! Regardless, the timing is appalling and will not help the Foreign Secretary or his reputation. It was reported earlier this week Number 10 has been attempting to keep Johnson on board. I think we can now safely say this attempt has just failed! Prior to party conference, Johnson has given the PM another headache.

 

 

Donald Trump and The Consequences of Society’s “Attention Deficit”

January 20th of this year seems so long ago now, but I implore you to cast your mind back, as many media moguls and tycoons do so fondly; a day for headlines. Of course, it arrived in tow with obligatory cries of fake news and unprofessional reporting; as pictures circulated on social media showing the extensive size or lack thereof regarding the crowd gathered for Donald Trump’s inauguration. This of course sparked debate across the USA and indeed the world; once again lavishing Mr. Trump with the attention he so desperately needs to sustain his ever-burgeoning ego.

Media coverage proved to be a cornerstone of the Trump campaign and indeed it seems likely to play a large role in his presidency. Though many are always willingly enthralled by the President’s latest faux-pas, the result of this 24-hour Big Brother Trump-watch is often that many more important stories go without remark. This phenomenon reveals the true nature of the global media and thus, as consumers of information, we find ourselves bound by an attention deficit; there is an unspecified, finite amount of attention to be divided among various issues. Regarding this, Trump’s titanic share of the day’s headlines can be manipulated by Republican leaders and his administrations’ various antics used to distort the visibility of vastly more important issues.



Famous psycholinguist-turned-activist Noam Chomsky in “A Continuing Conversation with Geographers” commented specifically concerning Trump’s ‘Russia scandal’ and about the way news coverage has been manipulated by high-ranking legislative representatives:

parts of the governmental structure that are beneficial to human beings and to future generations are being systematically destroyed, and with very little attention.

(Noam Chomsky Videos, July 2017)

Chomsky outlines the way in which single-minded programs are being employed by what he identifies as ‘Paul Ryan Republicans’, their prerogative being: offer gifts to the rich and powerful, and “kick everyone else in the face”. (ibid.)

              So, it seems clear that Republicans in both the Senate and the House have come to recognise the utility of Trump in the White House, in fact, they are able to constantly rely upon Trump and his administration as a deflector of negative attention. This allows them to get to work dismantling Obama Care and reducing funding for public welfare programs. But beyond this, perhaps the reality: that there is a distinctly finite amount of attention that the public has at its disposal, is itself a threat to a healthy, modern democracy? Could the fact that, on a cognitive level, we can only follow so many narratives, lead us to become ignorant of what is really going on – of what really matters?

 

How many stories did you miss today?

#Moggmentum

It is impossible to write anything political at present, without prefacing it by saying how unpredictable politics is. Brexit, the rise of Trump and Corbyn’s Labour etc. This, neatly brings us to the curious case of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. Prior to this summer Rees-Mogg was somewhat a laughing stock. His posh accent and old-fashioned views made him a walking stereotype. This summer though, something has changed. Rees-Mogg has become one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader. What has changed?

Firstly, there is no obvious pretender to the Conservative throne. This means journalists and pundits are looking outside of the Cabinet for future leaders. Secondly, Rees-Mogg has authenticity. His opinions are controversial, but there is no doubt where he stands on the major issues of the days. Thirdly, he is a good media performer. His dry sense of humour and articulate speaking style has made him a favourite amongst media producers. Lastly, everyone is looking for the next political shock.

So, can it happen? Rees-Mogg has claimed stories he will stand as the next party leader are part of the media’s silly season but other reports claim he has sounded out friends about his leadership ambitions. He has also just topped ConservativeHome’s survey of party members on who they would like to be next Tory leader.

Comparisons have been made with Corbyn’s rise, but it is important to note Conservative leadership contests have different rules to Labour ones. Rather than all candidates being presented straight to the membership, the parliamentary party first whittles the choice down to two candidates. Rees-Mogg would have support from the Right of the party, but it is clear there would be a significant stop Rees-Mogg campaign, indicating it would be difficult for Rees-Mogg to reach the final two.

If Rees-Mogg was to reach the final two, it is possible he could win. His Eurosceptic stance and traditionalist leanings are popular with Conservative members. But, we are a long way from this scenario. Currently there is no vacancy, and it is unclear when this contest would happen and what the political climate will be. Crucially Rees-Mogg would also have to gain support from the Parliamentary Party. That appears unlikely.

#Moggmentum may be picking up, but I still wouldn’t put any money on Jacob Rees-Mogg being the next Conservative leader.

 

Debate Essentials

Debating in public, whether at university or college can seem like an intimidating prospect. The possibility of forgetting your lines, stumbling over your words or even being embarrassed by an opponent are enough to put many off.

This paints a rather daunting picture. So how can these nerves be defeated? And, how can you ensure that you perform to your best in a debating environment?

These are some potential do’s and don’ts which should hopefully offer some guidance on how you can overcome any issues and reach your debating peak.

Do’s

Be Yourself

Every individual person is different. Not all can be great orators, have perfect comedic timing or even be able to retain a lot of information. However, this does not mean that you cannot be an effective debater.

This means you should be confident in your own individual style. There is no point trying to be something that you are not. You need to play to your strengths. Debate in a way and a manner that you feel comfortable with and highlights who you are as a person.

Know Your Argument

A successful debater will have a strong grasp of their brief. They will be able to provide detailed information and answers on their topic. This means knowing your facts. No matter how you are feeling, having a good grasp of these details is crucial.

A failure to understand your argument or do the necessary research can make you look foolish and can give an advantage to your opponent. Not all the facts or detail has to be used, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary.

Practice

You will not be able to replicate the exact style or format of the debate, but that does not mean you should not practice (bringing friends along to change the atmosphere can also help!) Practice can help with your confidence and can make you feel more secure in your arguments and positions.

Once you are confident with your argument, it is then vital to be able to turn off. Over practising can be potentially damaging and can often make you more nervous. Each individual has to find their optimum level of comfort and walk away from practice when the time is right.

Try and Enjoy Yourself

This is easier said than done! However, it is good to remember why you have put yourself in this place in the first time. This is something that you feel passionate about and that you enjoy. This shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Once you have begun to make your points, you will find that you settle down and that your nerves will begin to dissipate. When this happens, it is quite natural to begin to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your environment.

 

Don’ts

Get Angry

Anger is not your friend. Anger will take you out of your comfort zone and will lead you to stop focussing on your argument and the points that you want to make. From a basic perspective, this will make you less effective.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t be passionate, but there is a clear difference between passion and anger. Understanding this, and understanding how to control your emotions is key for anyone in a debate format.

Get Personal

Personal arguments do not win debates or make good speeches. They take the focus away from the points that you are making and give succour to your opponents who will believe they have been successful in dictating the terms.

It is also not good practice. Choosing to attack the man rather than the ball will make you careless. It will take your focus off your argument and your points and could form a habit. This is not a good habit for any debater to get themselves in.

Worry About Nerves

Nerves happy to everyone. No matter how many times you debate or how many times you speak you will always get nervous. Having nerves before you speak is not anything to worry about and in reality just makes you human.

In addition, don’t be concerned about mistakes. Mistakes also happen to everyone. If you don’t believe me just watch a debate in the House of Commons. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is refocus and concentrate on your initial aim.

Worry about how You Sound

This seems like a really small issue, but is one that needs to be made. Very few people are comfortable with how they sound or how they speak. This can be blindingly evident when you speak in front of people for the first time.

As best as you can, this has to be put to the back of your mind. Remember, it is not how you are talking or the accent that you have that matters, but it is the points you are making. That is what must dictate your performance.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a few do’s and don’ts. It is firmly up to you whether you take this advice.

Anyway good luck and get debating!

 

What should we make of Labour’s new Brexit stance?

The debate around Brexit has focussed largely on the Conservative Party to date, but this week Labour sought to give further detail on their position. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer in an article for The Observer confirmed the Labour Party would seek a transitional deal with the EU and would hope to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market during this period.

The transitional period would be “as short as possible, but as long as necessary” and in that period the country would abide by the common rules of both the customs union and the single market. This means that throughout this transitional stage freedom of movement would continue.

The reaction in the Labour Party to this announcement has been mixed. Chuku Umunna, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group described the statement as a “most welcome announcement.” However, some at the top of the party described the move as “unwise” and “incredibly damaging.”

This debate has been ongoing behind the scenes in the Labour Party for some time, but will be analysed as a victory for the ‘Europhiles’ or the ‘Soft Brexit’ contingent of the party and represents a shift in position. Two months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked members of his front-bench after they supported an amendment designed to keep the UK in the Single Market and a month ago he confirmed Labour would leave the Single Market.

Although, this position is likely to gain favour with the pro-EU portions of Labour support in student areas and London in particular; it will not be universally popular. To the pro-Leave Labour supporters a transitional deal with no clear end and continued freedom of movement will feel like a betrayal. This could be damaging for the party in Leave marginals across the Midlands and the North.

Accepting the need for a transitional period is sensible from the Labour Party. The refusal, however, to clarify a clear end date for this transitional period will worry voters. Some voters may assess this as the Labour Party looking for a way to stay in the EU indefinitely and renege on their agreement to respect the referendum result.

The Labour Party could now face a difficult few months as they see how this policy lands with their voters and whether there will be any push-back.

The General Election had to go ahead

Tragically, this General Election campaign has been like no other. Two cowardly terrorist attacks in two weeks in Manchester and London led to stoppages in the campaigning as politicians joined with the country to mourn and grieve. The attacks also caused fears that the General Election may have to be cancelled amidst a greater security threat.

This possibility in my opinion was rightly quashed by the Prime Minister in her statement after the attack who confirmed the General Election would go ahead as planned. This decision could be seen as highly controversial, but I believe it is the only decision that the Prime Minister could make.

Sentiments of this sort will have been more eloquently expressed by many before, but is worth repeating. Quite simply we cannot let the terrorists win. It does not mean that we cannot hurt or even that we cannot be a little scared, but it does mean that we cannot let the attacks define our lives. We have to carry on and we have to get on with our lives. That is our way of showing the terrorists they will never win. The concert in Manchester was a fantastic step in this direction and the country going to the polls this Thursday will be the clincher.

Over the next few days we as a country are going to have to ask some difficult questions. This could take us into some tricky places and the debate should be handled with care, but the debate we will have about security is a debate that we must have. Questions about police cuts and their impact on safety, deals with foreign countries as well as whether it is right for politicians to share platforms with certain individuals are fair game. The first job of any aspiring Prime Minister or government is to keep its citizens safe. It is now up to the respective candidates to show how they can achieve this.

These last few weeks have been difficult for most in this country. The attacks have been attacks on our way of life and that is particularly painful. However now is the time to stand together. We have to unite. Voting on Thursday is a part of this. Democracy, the right to vote and the right to openly debate the way forward and determine our future are precious gifts which we are lucky to enjoy. The value of this will never be understood by those seeking to destroy us. Therefore I urge you, in fact I implore you go out and vote on Thursday and show we will carry on.

A sensible Brexit deal

Although Parliament has officially broken up for the summer, the debate about Brexit continues to heat up as MPs head for their summer holidays. The current momentum appears to be moving towards the Chancellor’s position of accepting the need for a transitional phase after Britain’s formal exit from the European Union. This transitional phase could see Britain stay in the Single Market and Customs Union for a limited time period as the final stages of a trade deal are negotiated and business adapts to the new environment.

This apparent change in direction and policy from the Government is a direct consequence of the recent General Election. It is wrong to claim, as some do that the result of the General Election was an uprising against Brexit, but it is also wrong to claim the Government can continue as if nothing has changed. The new parliamentary arithmetic does impact on the type of Brexit the Government could hope to get through Parliament. This indicates the Government is going to have to compromise.

The benefits of a transitional phase are clear. It ends the prospect of a cliff-edge Brexit and reduces the danger of a ‘no-deal’ solution, and in doing so limits the possible economic consequences. This level of compromise would appease some of the more moderate Remainers in Parliament. It would also help provide businesses with clarity, whilst accepting their argument that they will need time to adapt to the new climate. Furthermore, the additional time period could be vital in thrashing out the final details of a satisfactory trade deal between Britain and the EU.

This gives clear ground to ‘Remainers’ but may worry the ‘Brexiteers’. Therefore, in order to highlight the referendum deal is being respected, then there must be a clear end date to the transitional phase when Britain formally cuts all ties with the European Union. A transitional phase cannot be used as an excuse to stay in the European Union indefinitely. A transitional phase which ends before the next General Election which is scheduled to occur in 2022 would appear to most a sensible time limit, which gives the Government time to deliver on their Brexit promise and for business to adapt.

A transitional phase will not please everyone. The most ardent Remainers will never accept the referendum result, while the most extreme Brexiteers will reject the need for any negotiations with the European Union. However, this sort of agreement could appeal to moderate Brexiteers and Remainers who want to make Brexit work.  With the evidence showing this is where most of the population lie, expect this solution to gain more and more traction in the immediate future.

Bercow under pressure

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has always enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with the Conservative Party. This relationship further soured when Bercow used his position as Speaker to signal that he would not be in favour of President Trump addressing Parliament. This delighted the opposition benches but caused a stir on the Conservative side and has led to back-bencher James Duddridge tabling a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker.

The role of Speaker is vitally important in the House of Commons. The Speaker has a duty to act impartially and respect all sides in Parliament. The Speaker will also represent Parliament across the world and the country and must be respected. Bercow has successes to his name including making Ministers more accountable and introducing long overdue modernising reforms. However if the Speaker is not seen to be impartial and is believed to have overstepped his mark then the position must be in doubt.

This is not the first time John Bercow has found his position in jeopardy. In 2015 Conservative MPs led by William Hague attempted to introduce secret ballots on Speaker elections which would have made it easier to remove a Speaker. This move was defeated by 228 votes to 202 as Tory rebels voted against the whip but was a clear sign of the historic discontent there was on the Conservative side towards Bercow and his supposed lack of impartiality.

The pressure on Bercow has further intensified with video footage seen by the Daily Telegraph showing Bercow’s position on the EU Referendum. The footage shows Bercow stating that he voted to Remain in the EU referendum and casts doubt on whether Bercow can be relied upon to maintain a neutral stance in any future EU debates.

Bercow did overstep the mark in making the comments he did about Trump, and the video footage seen in the newspapers will not have helped him. They have cast doubt on his impartiality and have caused Parliament unnecessary problems. The controversy could easily have been avoided given President Trump has yet to ask to address Parliament. Given that Bercow still commands support from Labour and the SNP it is hard to envisage Bercow losing a Parliamentary vote. Should, though enough Tory MPs vote against Bercow (could be up to 150 according to reports) then Bercow’s position could become untenable.

For some opportunistic Tory MPs who have long disliked Bercow this could provide the perfect opportunity to remove him and could well prove a costly mistake from the Speaker.

 

Paxman’s time is over

Bank Holiday Monday saw the leaders of the Conservative and Labour Party engage in a debate of sorts as they faced questions from a studio audience followed by an interview with Jeremy Paxman. Both sides were quick to claim victory in the debate, but the aftermath appeared to focus not on the performance of either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, but of Jeremy Paxman.

Jeremy Paxman throughout his years as a political interviewer has developed quite a reputation. He is seen as somewhat of a Rottweiler and the ultimate test for any aspiring politician. Paxman has a clear style and throughout his career has undoubtedly gained many scalps, but there are question marks about whether now is the time for Paxman to step down.

Paxman’s interview of Corbyn drew particularly strong criticism. Paxman interrupted Corbyn several times and seemed unwilling to let the Labour leader answer the questions he was posing leading to a significant proportion of viewers getting more and more irate with Paxman and becoming more and more sympathetic with Corbyn.

There are a couple of reasons as to why I think the renowned Paxman style is unhelpful, which were on show last night. Firstly his rude, sneering, arrogant and cynical style does little to engage people with politics. His failure to let politicians answer questions and expand on their ideas ensures the interviewee feels unable to develop a position without being interrupted. This leads to safety first answers which is not beneficial or enlightening to anyone interested in politics.

Secondly Paxman must understand that he is not the star. There is somewhat of an aura around Paxman but the reality is he can never be the most important figure in any interview. The interviewee must face difficult and hard questions but should be treated with respect. This has not happened for some time under Paxman and this needs to change.

It is unlikely that Jeremy Paxman is going to change. His style and technique will always be the same. However maybe these interviews showed the limitations to these methods and that it is time to move in a different direction. Politicians can be put under pressure in interviews through many techniques. A disarming style perfected by the late David Frost which gives politicians a chance to feel comfortable has proved to be highly effective in gaining answers. Maybe it is time to give that approach a go?