All posts by Felix Nobes

A Tale of two Conferences

The Conservative party is in disarray. Its lack of unity, its continued Brexit bemusement and its uncertainty over leadership came to a crescendo at their conference in Manchester last week. By contrast, the Labour party is inexplicably in the ascendency: a strong and stable leader in Jeremy Corbyn, a vibrant and unified atmosphere, appearances for notable intellectuals and social progressives and even an increasingly coherent approach to Brexit, outlined at the Labour conference in Brighton. The two conferences represented a decisive shift of the centre ground in politics, towards the left.

Theresa May and the Conservatives recognise this convergence. It was almost pitiful to see the Conservatives borrow the language of the left, with ‘a country that works for everyone’ emblazoned on every wall. It appears the Conservatives are also desperate enough to reprise a Labour policy from the past promising an energy price freeze (Mason,2017). Conservative efforts to remedy their estrangement with the young was symbolised by an increase to the threshold at which students would have to pay back their debts and a planned freeze on tuition fees increasing again. In a further effort to detoxify Tory perceptions among the youth, there was a promise of a £9bn boost for affordable housing to help younger generations get on the housing ladder (Bush,2017).

As Theresa May coughed and spluttered her way through a painfully unconvincing speech, (disrupted by Simon Brodkin brandishing a P45), Jeremy Corbyn delivered a commanding speech with an unexpectedly clear position on membership of the customs union and the single market, the protection of EU citizens, and a more predictable commitment to a national education service, pledges to control rents and regenerate council housing (The Guardian,2017) – policies proven to be popular with the electorate (Curtis,2017). Corbyn had the confidence of a man aware that he had conquered the mainstream media, dirty Conservative politics, an embittered Blairite coup and two landslide leadership elections. He seemed aware that he has more than earnt his place.

The most exciting and busiest Labour conference for years stood in stark contrast to the anxious and half-hearted proceedings at the Conservative conference. Despite the demonization of Momentum, it has rejuvenated the Labour party, which now has over half a million members (Waugh,2017). With the overwhelming support of young people and ethnic minorities, Momentum has provided a platform for the apathetic and the hopeless to believe in politics once again. Furthermore, its social media campaigning has revolutionised Labour’s communication capabilities. Be in no doubt, that with a return to its grass roots, full support from the unions and with honest, principled politics informing policy, the Labour party could win the next election.

The pinnacle of excitement at the Conservative conference came from the adoring fans of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Ruth Davidson, those extolled as possible successors to Theresa May. They were relentlessly quizzed on their respective positions on leadership. Boris Johnson, another potential leadership candidate accused of destabilising the party, gave a hopelessly jingoistic speech about the lion of Britain roaring despite occupying an isolated and economically impotent place in world politics. He was also sharply reprimanded by Amber Rudd for not applauding the ailing Prime Minister during her speech. Johnson even had just enough time to describe his vision for Libya; he predicted that it could become the new Dubai, as long as we ‘clear the dead bodies away’ (Elgot & Mason, 2017).

Only days later, everyone’s favourite Grant Shapps claimed that an internal plot calling for May to stand down was imminent, and it had the support of over 30 MPs and ‘one or two’ frontbenchers (Bush,2017). It seems that May has been granted her wish of emulating Thatcher, but sadly it may only be in the way she is forced out by a dispute over the EU, by members of her own party. Corbyn, on the other hand, is busy preparing for the future and busy digging graves: one for Theresa, one for austerity and one for New Labour. And over the clear and aerated soil, he has planted a red rose with stronger grassroots, ready to blossom once again.

Bush, Stephen, ‘Five thoughts on Conservative party conference’, The New Statesmen (2017) https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/10/five-thoughts-conservative-party-conference

Bush, Stephen, ‘Could Grant Shapps’ plot to bring down Theresa May succeed?’, The New Statesmen (2017) https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/10/could-grant-shapps-plot-bring-down-theresa-may-succeed

Curtis, Chris, ‘Corbyn’s policies really are popular with centrist voters. But he still isn’t’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/28/jeremy-corbyn-policies-yougov-centre-ground-labour

Elgot, Jessica & Mason, Rowena, ‘Theresa May faces calls to sack Boris Johnson over Libya comments’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/03/sirte-can-become-a-holiday-destination-if-it-clears-the-dead-bodies-says-johnson

Mason, Rowena, ‘Theresa May’s speech to Conservative party conference: key points’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/04/theresa-may-speech-conservative-party-conference-key-points

Waugh, Paul, ‘Labour Party Membership Soars By 35,000 In Just Four Days – After ‘Corbyn Surge’ In 2017 General Election’, The Huffington Post (2017) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/labour-party-membership-soars-by-
33000-in-four-days-since-general-election_uk_59400feee4b0e84514ee930f

The Guardian, ‘Corbyn’s conference speech: the verdict’ (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/27/jeremy-corbyn-conference-speech-verdict-panel-guardian

A cycle of mutual reinforcement – The Israel-Palestine conflict and omens for the future

As with all violent conflicts, a process of othering and a gradual dehumanisation of the opposition becomes an instrument of justification for those on both sides of the crossfire. The insidious combination of fear, racism and stigmatisation can distort a society’s view of other humans to the extent that systematic acts of violence can be committed without empathy and without remorse. Often, this combination is administered by one side so effectively that despite, for example, a comparative contrast in military might, a disparity in social standing or economic development, or perhaps using some of these realities as further justification, violence descends into a cycle of mutual reinforcement. On the other side of the conflict is often an enfeebled, comparatively weaker state, that resorts to symbolic forms of violence to deliver a message about the perceived injustice they face. Only then to be labelled subversives or terrorists in the process. This cycle is one of the most powerful catalysts for conflict taking place on both national and international scales.

The most pertinent example of a conflict locked in a cycle of mutual reinforcement is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Importantly, the cycle itself is perpetuated not just by physical and military violence, but also by cultural violence (Galtung,1990). Israel and Palestine remain separate entities. The Israeli’s, a powerful advanced economy with state of the art military technology. The Palestinian’s, an unrecognised entity living under occupation in the West Bank or under military control on the Gaza strip. Furthermore, the Palestinians remain separated from Israel by a wall and a series of military blockades. The power of this divide is the physical manifestation of the process of othering (Said,1978). The symbolic significance is that it is very rare for an ordinary Israeli to encounter a Palestinian – or an ‘Arab’, as they are almost exclusively referred to by Israeli’s (Peled-Elhanan,2012). The historical significance of this divide is that both Israeli and Palestinian education systems teach alternate and contrasting histories of the region. Not only contrasting histories, but the media depicts two contrasting versions of the present and the future, that only cross when violence has been committed by one side to the other (Deprez & Raeymaeckers, 2010). Thus, the social development of Israelis and Palestinians are mutually constituted by a belief that the ‘other’ is the enemy.

Israel is depicted in Palestine and by the Arab nations as an American agent of destabilisation, the product of colonial pursuits and a heavily militarised denier of Palestine’s collective history and social existence. Palestine is barely depicted by Israel at all. The unacknowledged occupants of a ‘land without a people, for a people without a land’ (Muir,2008). When they are depicted, it is in inflammatory terms. Even for many in the West, particularly in the US, Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism, a lack of development, resistance to democracy and rampant anti-Semitism. It is these carefully cultivated caricatures that allow the cycle of reinforcement to take place. When a terrorist attack happens, it is blamed on Palestinian resistance to the state of Israel and an instinct for violence and anti-Semitism. When Israel responds excessively, with the full force of its indoctrinated and vastly superior armed forces, it is because Palestinian’s are viewed as sub-human terrorists.

This legitimising discourse on both sides necessitates and condones internationally condemned treatment of Palestinians in the form of excessive military responses, widespread displacement and settlement building. Whilst Palestinians continue to fight for nationhood with what little power they possess, usually via demonstration or suicide bombing. This is the reinforcement process, with perceptions carefully conditioned to utilise and distort the narrative of the violence the opposing side has committed. It is unfortunate that this will continue until Israel forces Palestine into submission or Israel contradicts its founding doctrines and recognises a state of Palestine. However, with Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Naftali Bennett’s far-right coalition in power, and the continued settlement expansion into the West Bank, a two-state solution seems impossible (Al Jazeera,2017). And with the Rohingya crisis displaying some similar characteristics to the conflict in Israel, the power of mutual reinforcement continues to threaten international peace (BBC news,2017).

 

Deprez, A. and Raeymaeckers, K., (2010). Bias in the news? The representation of Palestinians and Israelis in the coverage of the First and Second Intifada. International Communication Gazette, 72(1), pp.91-109.

Galtung, J., (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of peace research, 27(3), pp.291-305

Kibble, D, (2012). A plea for improved education about ‘the Other’ in Israel and Palestine. The Curriculum journal. 23:4, pp.553-566

Muir, D., (2008). A Land without a People for a People without a Land. Middle East Quarterly.

Peled-Elhanan, N., (2012). Palestine in Israeli school books: Ideology and propaganda in education (Vol. 82). IB Tauris.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 199.

Al Jazeera [online], UN: Israel settlements big hurdle to two-state solution, (2017), available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/israel-settlements-big-hurdle-state-solution-170829174956923.html [accessed: 20/09/2017]

BBC news [online], Rohingya crisis: Suu Kyi says ‘fake news helping terrorists’, (2017), available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41170570 [accessed: 20/09/2017]