Does personality matter in politics?

In the end it all came down to makeup.

Vice President Richard Nixon’s chances of winning the 1960 election began to diminish with each line of sweat that snaked down the pasty contours of his face during the Great Debates. Recorded on September 26th the presidential debate marked the first in American history and brought both candidates into the homes of an estimated 74 million viewers.

Despite being offered cosmetics Nixon stuck with Shave Stick powder, a pancake mix which masked his perpetual six o’clock shadow but provided almost no protection from the baleful spotlights whose unblinking glare lit the stage. By contrast his Democratic opponent, a relatively unknown senator by the name of John Kennedy, was made up to look brown as a nut. As the then President of CBS Frank Stanton commented  “Kennedy was bronzed beautifully . . . Nixon looked like death.”

It didn’t matter that Nixon was in many ways the superior candidate. A working class background, impeccable credentials as a Cold War ‘warrior’ or eight years of service as vice president counted for little against Kennedy’s Harvard wit and his, seeming, physical vitality. Television reduced the life of each man to little more than the sum total of their performance on stage. Nixon exuviated sickness while Kennedy embodied success. The debates subsequently propelled the young senator into the national spotlight and paved the way for a narrow Democratic win that November.

This marked a watershed in modern elections after which the personalities of the candidates seemed to be as relevant as their political agendas. Note thereafter the increasing significance of scandals to American politics; think Watergate, Iran Contra and Monica Lewinski with all the connotations of mendicity these carried for the incumbent president.

Personality remains a perennial feature of British politics to this day, with the recent general election probably being the nation’s most ‘presidential’ to date. As in the 1960 American race much of the campaigning in 2017 election focused on the personas of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, with their respective parties reduced to a blur.

The Tory campaign presented May as an iron surgeon whose sheer willpower would anesthetise public fears over Brexit, while Corbyn cultivated his image as a political outsider. An old hand was pitched against a new broom, the home counties against urban centres, reaction against reform. With both denied a parliamentary majority, many concluded that neither character had provide an entirely convincing pitch to their electoral ‘Dragons’.

While personality does matter perhaps the current hung parliament says more about ourselves than it does about our current political leaders.

An election is at its simplest a vote on the future and what kind of future we want it to be. However if politics are to transcend the past a new prophet is needed. As James Barber notes in The Presidential Character “The president is expected to personify our betterness in an inspiring way”. Voters therefore invest individual politicians with personalities which embody their own hopes and aspirations.

Nowhere was this more true than in 1960’s America where a young journalist named Norman Mailer attended the Democratic convention in Cleveland and managed to express the choice which faced the nation in the upcoming election. As Mailer saw it “they had chosen one young man for his mystery, for his promise that the country would grow or disintegrate by the unwilling charge he gave to the intensity of the myth, or had chosen another young man for his unstated oath that he would do all in his power to keep the myth buried and so convert the remains of Renaissance man as rapidly as possible into mass man. One might expect them to choose the enigma in preference to the deadening certainty”.

This wasn’t just a choice between Kennedy or Nixon but rather a referendum on the American dream. Would America capitalise upon the adrenaline shot of economic growth and political supremacy on the world stage? Or would the tendrils of social liberalisation be supressed, regulated and stamped out? Either way the celebrity of Kennedy and turgidity of Nixon came to personify a vision of the future for both their respective supporters and opponents. Aesthetics were important in 1960, but they largely served to confirm what Americans already believed about their candidate.

The personality which any given voter associates with a party leader is therefore a reflection of that same voter’s own worldview. As far as personality is concerned Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn could not be further apart. With a hung parliament and both leaders slugging it out in the polls we can only conclude that the future Britain imagines for itself is still very much undecided.

Saudi Arabia’s new look

A new dawn? The irresistible rise of Mohammad bin Salman

If Thomas Jefferson were able to look over the last forty years of Gulf politics, he may wish to add a third concept to his old adage; ‘only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the rule of the House of Saud’. In the most tumultuous region of the world, Saudi Arabia has stood alone as a paragon of stability and continuity.

The extent of this certainty relative to its neighbours merits some attention. A quick glance across the Red Sea to Egypt reveals a country that has experienced over the last century (deep breath): freedom from British colonial rule, the 1952 coup d’état and revolution, the Suez Crisis, a union with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, the dissolution of that union, the Six Day War with Israel, the assassination of a sitting president, the 2011 revolution and counter-revolution in 2013. Each of these events threatened to profoundly alter the nature of the Egyptian state, and this is one of the more stable, successful countries in the region. Meanwhile in that same century, Saudi Arabia has been lead by members of just one family, the House of Saud, and with minimal changes in style throughout the period.

What we mustn’t forget here, of course, is the astonishing effect of oil. It has transformed the country from a mostly uninhabited desert to perhaps the most important geopolitical players in the region, able to exert control not just over its well-paid citizens but also the wider Muslim world, most strikingly through its funding of mosques, schools and imams sent to preach the Saudi brand of Islam to the world.

It comes as quite a shock, then, that the country is undergoing its most tumultuous internal period in decades. Women, it has been announced, will soon be allowed to drive, and then can already attend football matches for the first time. Cinemas have been opened for the first time in Saudi history. A fund of $64 billion is to be provided for the development of the Saudi entertainment industry (a contradiction-in-terms if ever I saw one). And perhaps most shockingly the arrest of dozens of Saudi royals under charges of corruption, held against their will in the palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

All of these developments can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Mohammad bin Salman. Shortened quite unpoetically to MBS in the West, bin Salman has in the space of a few short years gone from being a rather minor royal to the new Crown Prince, a title he took from his uncle, and thereby the next in line to lead the country. He has helped shape much of Saudi Arabia’s new social policy, including the aforementioned changes for women and the arts, as well as curbing the powers of the religious police. His social reforms are matched by his plans for the Saudi economy, after announcing his ‘Vision 2030’ plan to diversify and privatise much of the country’s assets. And over the last year, there have glimpses of what the new foreign policy for the regime could look like, with the united front against Qatar and intervention in Yemen hinting at a more active role for the Saudi state itself, rather than simple funding of interests in the region.

This doesn’t quite cover what is causing all the fuss, though. The Saudi state is predicated upon an agreement between the ruling House of Saud and the Wahhabi religious clerics. In exchange for religious legitimacy and their continued allegiance, the House of Saud provides the clerics with religious and cultural control over Saudi society, and enormous levels of funding, to push its Islamist agenda abroad. This relationship has been in place in one form or another since the establishment of the first Saudi state in 1744, and in real terms it is difficult to argue with its effectiveness (not to excuse the torture, the stonings, the murder committed as a direct result of it).

It is this relationship, upon which Saudi Arabia has been built up to this point, that bin Salman threatens to undermine with his sweeping reforms. There are fears, both in his own country and elsewhere, that as one of the only royal family members not to be educated abroad, with minimal political experience and aged just 32, that MBS doesn’t know what he’s doing. Let’s hope for the sake of the region that he does.


Will the moderates stand up and be counted?

It is not an easy time to be a political moderate. The Labour Party has been captured by the left-wing Corbyn project and the Conservative Party is increasingly being driven rightwards. In the age of ‘populism’, being a moderate does not seem to be a sensible career choice.

Let’s start by looking at the Labour Party. First; their internal organisations. The left of the party has a clear majority on the National Executive, following recent elections and will only see their power enhanced by the resignation of Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol. Secondly; their membership. The Labour membership is dominated by those sympathetic towards Corbyn. This isn’t changing anytime soon. Thirdly and lastly; political reality. Moderates on the Labour side believed the General Election would finish Corbyn off. That was wrong. Labour’s 2017 General Election performance only strengthened Corbyn’s position.

Now onto the Conservative Party. Firstly, who runs the party. A leaked letter from the famous European Research Group set out clear terms of what is expected from Brexit. It would not have escaped Downing Street’s attention this letter had enough signatories to trigger a vote of no confidence. Secondly, the future leadership contest. Jacob Rees-Mogg is clear favourite to be the next Tory leader. His position strengthens with the day (although it is not clear MPs would let him into the final two). Lastly and as with Labour; the political reality. Some strategists in the Conservative Party believe the party can hang onto power not by regaining socially liberal voters, but by moving culturally right and taking votes in Old Labour heartlands. The direction of travel is clear.

However, there are MPs in both parties who are unhappy with this situation who share more in common with each other than certain wings of their party.  So what can they do?

For Labour moderates, there is no clear path to them regaining control soon. Corbyn will not continue forever, but looking at the current membership, it seems inevitable a Corbyn ally will follow. For Tory moderates the chance appears remote. Yes, a Tory leadership contest in this Parliament opens the possibility of putting a moderate on the ballot paper. However, could a moderate win with the membership?

So, what happens next? Firstly, they can form alliances in Parliament and drive the agenda this way, using parliamentary arithmetic to their advantage. Secondly, there is the nuclear option. A new party. Maybe, just maybe this is the way for moderates to coin a phrase ‘take back control.’ This will require bravery and putting aside tribal differences. As time develops, this option may become the most viable. As their parties drift away from them, moderate MPs must consider all options.

These MPs may have to accept the time has come or is coming for them to make a stand. The decision is simply for them; do they allow this to continue or do the act? Over to you moderates!

The Daily Mail’s Nazi Past

Recently, the press has been buzzing with the revelation that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has had connections with a Czech spy. This has been proven to be a false, fake news from the Daily Mail. High profile politicians across the world have had connections with the Soviets, such as Vladimir Putin who was a man inside the KGB or the soviet spy network. A far darker hypocrisy is the fact that the Daily Mail who has suggested that Corbyn is essentially a traitor, is itself a traitor to British democratic and liberal values by supporting Fascism and the Nazis.

The article “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” is one of the most infamous articles that the Daily Mail in which Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail states that the Fascists were a noble cause worthy to be supported. The pro-Fascist sympathies of Lord Rothermere were also published in the Daily Mirror, the other newspaper who owned. However, The Daily Mirror after the war recanted its Fascist past in part with its post-war support of the Labour party since 1945. The Daily Mail has never properly changed from its 1930s paper. Its 1938 “German Jews pouring into this country” is no different from its sentiment today when the paper regularly goes for immigrants as a scape-goat.

It wasn’t that the owner of The Daily Mail just published pro-Fascist publications. According to the book Trading with the Enemy written by Charles Hingham in 1983, Lord Rothermere gave a total of $5 million to help Adolph Hitler ascend to power. This kind of support for Nazi Germany is inexcusable, helping what became the enemy of Great Britain. When The Daily Mail has written articles such as “Crush the Saboteurs”, or has attacked High Court judges as “Enemies of the People”, it has not repented of its Fascist past as it is open in its criticism of Rule of Law and opposition to other political parties, which would make any authoritarian smile. People can change. This almost sounds like a truism. Institutions, political parties and companies change over time. However, The Daily Mail has barely changed since its 1930s flirt with Fascism. It is as much an enemy of the Rule of Law now as it was in the 1930s. This comes at a time when democracies across the world are on the retreat, a right-wing authoritarianism comes back into popularity. Worse though is The Daily Mail’s criticism of left-wingers as “traitors” when such hypocrisy ignores its own past when its owner actively supported a regime that  fought against Britain in a war that killed over 400,000 British people. The Daily Mail thus itself has betrayed British values in the past and has the audacity to attack Left-leaning politicians as “treacherous”.

The Daily Mail is a paper with a Fascist past. This could have been apologised for, could have been repented of, its editorial stance changed. The Daily Mirror certainly has; becoming the largest left-wing tabloid newspaper in Britain. However, The Daily Mail has not changed. The 19th January 1934 article by the Spectator encapsulates The Daily Mail brilliantly;

But the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made. When Lord Rothermere tells his clientele to go and join the Fascists some of them pretty certainly will. “

Political Competition– A First Glance at Trump’s Midterm Prospects


The Russians are coming! The Democrats are coming! Accusations, challenges and prospective scandals are all very much part of the current political vocabulary in Washington D.C.. But how will this translate into political gains and losses for both President Trump and the Republican Party at the upcoming midterm elections.

To recap, midterm elections are U.S. general elections that are held two years after the election for president. Up for election are members of the United States Congress, including all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate. At first glance, the Republicans stand a good chance of keeping a Senate majority; 26 of the 34 seats up for grabs are Democrat[1] which of course they will all need to hold onto before tackling Republican opposition in the remaining 8 seats. The House of Representatives is perhaps the one to watch with many Republican incumbents retiring and poll ratings being neck and neck at the moment.[2]

Russian meddling in the U.S. election will be a prominent factor of the Democrat attack. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for disruption of the 2016 presidential election, these accusations have all of a sudden become very real and tangible.[3] However, the Democrat’s have yet to come close to the smoking gun they so desperately seek; proof that Donald Trump was actively and consciously involved in this assault on democracy. The CIA fears that both Russia and China will interfere in the midterms but this won’t necessarily hurt Trump or the Republicans in congress with ties to him. CIA chief Mike Pompeo, a Trump ally, worries about the Russians but at the same time stands behind Trump’s engagement with the issue and involvement in its prevention: “he is curious about the facts that we present. He is curious in the sense he wants to understand why we believe them.”[4] Therefore, without further evidence or advancement of the investigation before November, Trump may not stand to be damaged from this. On the contrary, his accusations of a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘hoax’ may resonate with voters, damaging Democrat credibility.

So, if the charge of collusion with Russia is taken out of the equation, why have the Democrats made gains in recent local elections? Linda Belcher, a Democrat, won the special election for a Kentucky House District a few days ago. This win represents the 37th Republican-held state legislative seat to fall to the Democrats since Trump took office.[5] Surely, this symbolises a Democrat resurgence and a vote of no confidence in the president? Well, not necessarily. The ‘Trump effect’ may have galvanised  increased volunteer activity that has edged Democrat candidates to victory but many of these candidates have campaigned on very local issues (For example, in Virginia it was fixing local traffic problems and in Oklahoma, one stressed shortened school hours).[6] When it comes to national, midterm elections, these Democrat advances may not be the best indicator of voter turnout or indeed, which candidates they’ll vote for.

Democrats aside, if the Republicans secure victories, they won’t all be beneficial for Trump. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will run for the Senate seat in Utah. At other Senators’ insistence, Trump has backed him as the Republican candidate but Romney plans to serve as a check on the president when needed; his latest campaign video targets some of Trump’s agenda, including immigration control.[7]  This could make it harder for Trump to pass bills through the Senate or it could play into the president’s hands. Just like the Democrat ‘Witch Hunt’, Romney’s approach has the potential to fail; after all, he represents a failed career politician, an embodiment of the swamp that Trump pledged to drain. Romney’s apparent ‘backstabbing’ could put a sour taste in many voters’ mouths and rally support for other conservative candidates and Trump.

At this stage, the national midterm elections are a hard one to predict. What is clear is that there will be many attacks on the president’s character and policies but the focus shouldn’t be on the attacks themselves but their effect: will they damage Republican chances or backfire and hurt the Democrats?

[1] Pramuk, J. ‘Republicans just got some good news for the 2018 midterm elections: A new poll shows them leading in the race for Congress’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mudde, C. ‘Democrats beware: the Trump-Russia inquiry isn’t the path to power’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[4] Smith, D. ‘Russia is aiming to interfere in US midterm elections, warns CIA chief’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[5] Vazquez, M. ‘Kentucky Democrat wins state House seat in Trump stronghold’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[6] Sargent, G. ‘A blue wave? How Trump is helping Democrats win in unlikely places’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[7] Rogers, K. ‘Trump endorses Mitt Romney’s Run for Utah Senate Seat’ [Accessed 22/02/2018]

Non-voters: Labour’s chance of winning next election?

Non-voters; the elephant in the room at every political science convention.  In the 2017 general election, the under 40 bracket had a turnout of 60.25% compared to the average of 69%.  This underrepresentation of under 40s has consequences for the Labour party after all 61% of these people voted Labour. That means that whilst older voters are significantly more likely to turnout and vote, younger voters stay at home, which has ultimately affected policies. Younger people have been far worse off due to austerity and older people have been largely unaffected due to austerity and have actually become better off.  Labour supporters regularly argue that Labour should target non-voters to win the next election. The question is could non-voters actually tip the balance of power in favour of Labour?

One of the most important things to consider is if non-voters would actually support Labour policy. Researching into the political opinions of non-voters is quite difficult after all, one of the reasons why people don’t vote is that they aren’t interested in politics at all! One interesting piece of research by Georg Lutz, Kathrin Kissau, Jan Rosset called The political preferences of political elites, voters and non-voters in Europe  suggests that there are actually differences in political opinions across Europe between voters and non-voters. The research paper suggests that non-voters support redistributive policies more than voters and also support tougher immigration policies than voters. At best, this is a mixed picture for Labour. Its advantageous for Labour to see non-voters picking Labour economic policies but highly disadvantageous to Labour to see them support tougher immigration policies.

A far more concerning research regarding non-voters comes from a Survation study from 2013 which included looking at policy views of non-voters. The research has outcomes which offer grim reading for Labour; many non-voters hold consistently right-leaning views on government policy that is to say the government should prioritise right-leaning policy then left-leaning policy. Examples of this include non-voters significantly more like to prioritise cutting welfare spending, cutting taxes and reducing crime. It is true that more left-leaning policies were supported by non-voters such as increasing the number of jobs and improving schools. Non-voters particularly value increasing the number of jobs. However, what is interesting is that in Britain at least, the old left-wing troupe of non-voters being radicals under the bedsheets is completely unfounded.

So why don’t people vote?  There are many reasons for this. Many people generally lack interest in politics, in fact, 18.9% of people are not interested in politics according to the 2013 Survation poll. This is, however, the minority of those who don’t vote. The largest group in the poll were those who said “my vote wouldn’t make  difference”, followed by “parties and candidates are all the same”.  Considering this is half of all of the non-voters, this should be the focus of policies to reduce non-voting. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be dealt with by Labour. To make votes to be meaningful, it would require electoral reform, which the Labour party doesn’t seem in a hurry to support.  If non-voters still believe that “parties and candidates are all the same”, then nothing will ever convince them to vote because all things considered, Labour and the Conservatives are completely different today. Therefore, it is unlikely for Labour to make substantial gains from non-voters.


Jacob Rees-Mogg is no joke

When Theresa May first took over from the Tory leadership she had an air of competence and strength. Over a year and a half later and not only has she lost her majority, but many would say that she has lost her credibility too. One key Tory figure to emerge from the post-EU referendum chaos and even being spoken about as being a future leader of the party is North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Although at first glance softly spoken and perhaps even strangely endearing, this article argues that Rees-Mogg’s political rise needs to be taken seriously because his deeply conservative ideology risks undoing hard-fought for progress in social justice and threatens modern day liberal values.

Much of Rees-Mogg’s appeal derives from his consistent line against the EU. Amidst the uncertainty regarding the type of deal that Britain is going to get after its exit, and the important questions regarding to what extent Britain will stay integrated with the EU and its respective bodies, Rees-Mogg continues to head the populist camp which rejects all things EU and instead champions “the will of the people”. Of course it is all too easy to spew out empty lines of “take back control” and not go into the detail of what this means, or comment on the constitutional nuances concerning the relationship between EU and UK law which evade even top legal academics, but this type of populist positioning has won Rees-Mogg notable political support. Indeed a recent poll placed Rees-Mogg as second favourite to succeed May, should she be forced out of leadership[1]. Accordingly, his significance in current political discourse should not be doubted.

However, the ascendency of Mr Rees-Mogg needs to be matched with an ample amount of caution. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, Rees-Mogg’s old-fashioned demeanor may afford him less scrutiny and thus an easier rise up the political hierarchies. His caricature-esque personality is comparable to Boris Johnson who to too many was considered a “bit of a joke” in British politics. Yet it is Johnson who, according to the poll cited earlier, is the favourite to succeed May and moreover who now occupies one of the more senior Cabinet positions in his role as Foreign Affairs Minister. We should not have the same dismissive attitude when it comes to Rees-Mogg.

The second reason why he must be taken seriously leads to the crux of my criticism of him: his voting record and ideological beliefs reveal a man of distasteful, discriminatory and dangerous views[2]. His votes on social issues, from a socially liberal point of view, are appalling. He has consistently voted against LGBT rights and other equality measures – in fact in 2013 he even voted against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste! Votes in other policy areas also show how backwards Rees-Mogg is. For instance, true to his climate skeptic self, he has voted against CO2 targets aimed at tackling climate change in regards to new homes and the UK as a whole. The rest of his voting record also illustrates a conservative ideology which places him in the hard right of the Conservative party: his votes show a desire to diminish the welfare system, to scale back on immigration and immigrant rights and demonstrates his support for bankers and big business. Indeed, it is not just his voting record that demonstrates Rees-Mogg unpalatable political views, but also his comments on other issues. For instance, in typical Rees-Mogg-style he is against abortion in all circumstances, rape included[3], and thus flouts all consideration of a woman’s right to choose on this matter.

Going forward, thus, it is important that we take Jacob Rees-Mogg seriously and see him for what he really is: a bigot.







The case for aid!

It has been a troubling week for Oxfam. An investigation by The Times has alleged stories of serious sexual misconduct committed by aid workers in Haiti including former country director Roland van Hauwermeiren.

The investigation has led to calls for taxpayer aid to Oxfam to end and the resignation of Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence. Allegations continue to come to light with many corporate donors reconsidering their ties to the charity. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has also announced the charity is to stop bidding for Government funding. Additionally, this crisis has reopened the debate about foreign aid.

The legal commitment from the Government to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid has been criticised by many on the right of the Conservative Party and some national newspapers. A recent Daily Express petition headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and delivered to 10 Downing Street called on the Government to stop the 0.7% target. Both The Sun and The Daily Telegraph have also openly questioned whether the time is now right to scrap the target. The argument is straightforward; our aid is wasted and goes to the wrong people; charity starts at home or simply we can’t afford it.

Scrapping the 0.7% target would be one response to the Oxfam crisis, but it would not be the correct one. Aid is not a perfect science. Too often the money does not get to the right people. There are many things which can be improved about how and where we deliver our aid. It is also right that Oxfam are properly investigated and are prevented from bidding for Government funding until they prove they have cleaned up their act. But, please let’s not forget the good our aid can do over the world.

If you don’t believe me, read this article from Will Quince, Conservative MP for Colchester about how aid can save lives or this defence of foreign aid by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. It is easy to believe the stereotypes without actually looking at the real life impact aid is having.

Any decision to scrap aid would be an insular decision and would be based firmly on the wrong arguments and the wrong conclusions. How we choose as a nation to spend our money says a lot about our priorities. Choosing to spend this money on those in need and more vulnerable than ourselves is something we should be proud of. And although it is not fashionable after this week to defend aid, it is still the right thing to do.

Gun control will not come anytime soon

The Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida was the eighteenth school shooting of the year – claiming at least 17 lives. This unsurprisingly reignited the debate of gun control in the USA, and while many see these heinous acts  as possible catalysts for gun law reform, the events of Valentine’s Day will do nothing in the form of speeding up gun-related policy.

Almost half of mass shooting cases have involved a shooter who had been ‘red-flagged’ (i.e. someone who has a history of violence or mental health problems), as was the case with Omar Mateen – the shooter responsible for the Orlando shootings in 2016. Despite the logical assumption that lethal weapons must not be easily accessible, there are only four states with restrictions on the purchase of firearms: California, Connecticut, Indiana and Washington. Apart from Indiana, the mentioned states are all within the fifteenth percentile for lowest gun-related deaths. Generally, the states with the tightest gun-purchasing restrictions have the least gun related deaths.

The above facts are not new and is common knowledge even amongst the most ardent supporters of ‘gun rights’. These people are aware of the dangers of guns but often cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution – the protection of the right to bear arms.

Republicans also echo the same arguments as most of the gun-rights ‘activists’, probably not through ideological conviction but through their reliance on National Rifle Association (NRA) donations: the anti-gun-restriction NRA donated $50.2 million to the Republican Party during the 2016 election. The Republicans in Congress will blindly oppose even the most moderate gun-control policies – as they did in February 2017 when they repealed an Obama-era executive order which ensured background checks would be taken on those wishing to purchase guns.

It is not hard to see why Republicans are so religiously against gun-control measures, as the NRA support for Congressional Republicans during elections tends to end in a victory for the Great Old Party (GOP). Of all the state races the NRA poured funds into, only the Nevada race was unsuccessful.

The resolution to gun violence in America is not just a case of debating the pros and cons of gun control but a question of fixing the crooked patronage system which benefits the mere interest group and political party, as is the case with the NRA and Republican Party. With the GOP in control of both houses in Congress, and increasing role of interest groups funding electoral campaigns, gun reform is further away than ever.

Hope for the North Korea – South Korea relationship?

The 2018 Winter Olympics have begun! Significant from a sporting perspective, yes; but quite possibly significant from a geo-political perspective as well! These games held in Pyeongchang in South Korea have taken on added value following the presence of a senior delegation from neighbouring North Korea visiting the country to celebrate the games.

The senior delegation from North Korea featured Kim Jo-jung, the sister of leader Kim Jong-un and a member of the North Korean politburo and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Jong-nam. This senior delegation met with South Korean President Moon Jae-In and delivered a note from Kim Jong-un inviting the South Korean leader to North Korea for talks. President Moon Jae-In has been keen to use the games as an opportunity to reopen regular talks with North Korea. Any resulting summit would be the first of its kind for over ten years.

There could be a number of reasons behind this change of mood from the North Korean leadership. Firstly, this attempt at dialogue could be motivated by the current impact of economic sanctions and the growing effect they are having on North Korea. Secondly, this could be a move to create distance between South Korea and the United States. U.S Vice-President Mike Pence has denied this will happen claiming there is “no-daylight” between US and South Korea over talks, but there could be pressure if the two allies disagree over the next steps. Thirdly, it could be a genuine attempt from North Korea to re-engage with their neighbours and to reach an agreement of some description.

Undoubtedly, this should be seen as a positive step forward. Ongoing tensions between North Korea, the United States and its neighbouring allies have dominated the world scene over the last few years. Any sign North Korea is prepared to engage with the rest of the world should be welcomed.

However, this does also need to be treated with a level of caution. This charm offensive does not change the current facts. North Korea is still regularly testing inter-ballistic missiles on a regular basis. These missiles accompanied by their threats pose a real and severe threat to neighbouring countries. Additionally, there remains little evidence about what the current strategy is within the North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-un has proved more astute than many have given him credit for him on the world stage and this could be part of a larger policy move.

Therefore, let’s tentatively welcome any dialogue but now is not the time to get over-excited. Let’s see what the next few weeks and months hold but hopefully history will go on to record as the beginning of improved relations between North Korea and the West.