Pressure builds on Theresa May

With Theresa May away in Davos this week, pressure has continued to mount on her at home. The latest drama begun with a tweet from Nick Boles who criticised the lack of ambition of the Government. This was followed by Sir Nicholas Soames who branded Theresa May’s vision as “dull, dull, dull.” The drama threatened to blow into a full-brown crisis when media reports indicated a vote of no confidence in Theresa May may be imminent.

Additionally, Theresa May has also had to deal with calls from Boris Johnson for more money for the NHS and Chancellor Philip Hammond angering Tory Brexiteers by calling for a soft Brexit.  This caused new chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg to intervene who called for a fundamental change in ministers tone on Brexit.

So how much trouble is the Prime Minister in? In regards to a vote of no confidence in her leadership, no-one can be totally sure. A quirk of the Conservative leadership system is that only the chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady will be aware of how many letters he has been sent calling for this vote. This vote would be triggered if Mr Brady receives 48 letters, 15% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It is hard to predict with any certainty how many letters Mr Brady has.

Events are starting to move in an ominous direction for the Prime Minister though. Firstly, the Brexiteers are starting to mobilise. Secondly, the criticism of May is becoming public.  Thirdly, the botched reshuffle highlighted how little authority the Prime Minister has. This is a powerful combination. This led to Philip Hammond calling on rebel Tories to “stick with” Theresa May.

Theresa May’s position has been under threat since the disastrous General Election. Famously described by George Osborne as a “dead woman walking” on the weekend after the election, nothing has changed since then. Theresa May has always been at the whim of her backbenchers. If the mood is turning bleaker then Theresa May’s grip on power is likely to be fading fast.

What may save her, is the only thing that has been saving her to date, mainly the Conservative Party doesn’t want a leadership contest and there is no obvious replacement. However, this won’t last for ever.  Theresa May and the Conservative leadership remain in a state of stasis. A leader with no vision and no plan will always be on borrowed time. And that is what it is increasingly feeling like with this Prime Minister.

The Madman Theory – Did Trump Scare North Korea?

It has been a fascinating transition from 2017 to 2018. At the end of 2017 we were facing the possibility of war between a nuclear-armed North Korea and the United States with Hawaii testing its nuclear attack sirens for the first time in close to three decades (Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

In the rising tensions between the US and North Korea, it was Hawaii, that as one of the US states closest to North Korea, alongside Guam, was, if the North Koreans are to be believed, within range of their Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile with its range of 8,100 miles. This placed the US Pacific Command and the Naval base at Pearl Harbour, Oahu island, Hawaii and Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam within the reach of North Korea’s missile capabilities.  (deGrandpre, 11th August, 2017; Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

Flashforward a few weeks and we are now talking about a renewal in North-South Korean high-level talks, the first in two years, the reopening of the emergency hotline between the two nations which has been down since February 2016 and North Korean participation in the February 2018 Winter Olympics (The BBC, 9th January 2018; McCurry, 9th January 2018).

How has this shift come about? Could the US under Trump have re-awakened the classic Nixon-Kissinger “Madman Theory” in an attempt to bring North Korea to heel and create this breakthrough?

The “Madman” Theory of Leadership

The “Madman” Theory of leadership related to the foreign policy approach taken by US President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. The theory was devised by Kissinger, who utilised the image of Nixon as an unpredictable and irrational President whose inclination was to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and who hated communism to the extent that he would use any and all forms of military threat to bring the Vietnam war to a close.   (Dumbrell, 2012 p. 108; Kimball, 1993 p. 155).

As part of the US strategy, it was argued that in order to resolve the conflict in Vietnam, the US might unleash irrational force against North Vietnam rather than utilise Soviet-Chinese diplomacy or “Vietnamisation” to resolve the conflict by forcing Hanoi to negotiate concessions (Dumbrell, 2012, p. 17, 108). The 1969 “secret” bombing of Cambodia, the Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the mining of North Vietnamese ports and destruction of dike systems as well as the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons and occupation of North Vietnam were part of this escalation strategy. It was argued that Nixon and Kissinger used this escalation strategy to pressure not only North Vietnam but its allies, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union to move towards a peace settlement rather than risk Nixon escalating the conflict as a “madman” (LaFeber, 2008, p. 286; Dumbrell, 2012, p. 110-111).

In my opinion, the theory at its simplest level requires an actor to seek accommodation in the context of a crisis, making the other actor threaten disproportionate escalation that would result in the other side backing down as they would believe they were dealing with a “madman” and would not wish to call his/her bluff.

Could US President Donald Trump’s administration be utilising this theory of leadership against North Korea? Have we seen the coming of the Second “Madman”?

The Coming of the Second “Madman” In the Age of Digital Media

As a starting point lets make an assumption that there is a certain level of rationality within the functioning of the Trump Administration (that might appear difficult but run with it for a moment).

In my opinion, it would be fair to say, that Donald Trump’s Presidency has a reputation of unpredictability, apparent irrationality and an inclination to exceed reasonable and accepted norms of international behaviour (to put it one way) similar to that of Nixon. So, it would not be a stretch to imagine that the administration could utilise that reputation as a foreign policy tool. In the age of digital media and social media platforms like Twitter, it is far easier, I would argue, for the image of an unpredictable and irrational President to be spread across the world, applying pressure on multiple targets at once whilst carrying the weight of the President’s personal desires, particularly when that image is being communicated from the President’s own Twitter account.

Both before and after being elected President, Donald Trump widely utilised social media as a political tool both in terms of communicating domestic and foreign policy. Through the use of Twitter, Trump has made the Presidency far more personal than ever before, with Twitter becoming a “window not only into his thoughts and psyche, but into the kind of messages he wants to communicate” (Buncombe, 19th January 2018).

Trump joked about his “Nuclear button” being bigger, more powerful and more usable than that of North Korea’s Ki Jung-Un, having previously referred to the North Korean leader as a “little rocket man” and that the North Korean regime would not be “around much longer” (Gambino, 3rd January 2018: Allen, 24th September 2017). Such rhetoric I would argue has been used by Trump to communicate a message to the North Korean regime in terms not seen before: backdown because I’m prepared to go all the way.

In my opinion, such tweets in coordination with other speeches by Trump have been designed to demonstrate, in the context of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programme, that the President is unpredictable, irrational, inclined to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and happy to use any and all forms of military threat (in theory though with no practical examples on the ground) against North Korea. The options for the North Korean regime were simple: backdown and allow the situation to de-escalate or face the overwhelming power of the United States who is prepared to escalate the crisis, something which North Korea’s ally, the People’s Republic of China did not desire and would likely have advised the North Koreans against. Arguably North Korea chose the former and decided not to call Trump’s bluff quite possibly because they may have got the message (real or unreal) that there was no bluff.

So have we seen the resurrection of the “Madman” Theory of Leadership in US foreign policy? Maybe but the answer to that question really depends on whether you think Trump is a President pretending to be a “madman” or a “madman” pretending to be a President.

Bibliography

Allen, Julie, the Telegraph (24th September 2017), “Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer`” available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/24/donald-trump-warns-kim-jong-un-wont-around-much-longer/ [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (18th January 2018) “Donald Trump one year on: How the Twitter President changed social media and the country’s top office” available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/the-twitter-president-how-potus-changed-social-media-and-the-presidency-a8164161.html [Accessed on 19th January 2018)

deGrandpre, Andrew, The Washington Post (August 11th, 2017), “Guam Released Guidance to Prepare Residents for North Korean Nuclear Strike” available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/11/guam-releases-guidance-to-prepare-residents-for-north-korean-nuclear-strike/?utm_term=.ccfddcef5246 [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Dumbrell, John (2012), Rethinking the Vietnam War (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke)

Gabino, Lauren, The Guardian (3rd January 2018), “Donald Trump boasts that his nuclear button is bigger than Kin Jong-uns” available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/03/donald-trump-boasts-nuclear-button-bigger-kim-jong-un [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Jones, Caleb and Kelleher, Jennifer Sinco, The Independent (December 2nd 2017), “Hawaii sounds nuclear warning sirens for first time since 1980s” available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/hawaii-nuclear-warning-sirens-north-korea-nuclear-attack-a8088201.html [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Kimball, Jeffery P., “Peace with Honor”, Richard Nixon and the Diplomacy of Threat and Symbolism”, in Anderson, David. (1993) ed. Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945-75 (University Press of Kansas: Lawerence) pp. 152-183

LaFeber, Walter, (2008), “A New Containment: The Rise and Fall of Détente” in America, Russia and the Cold War, 1945-2006, Tenth Edition (McGraw-Hill: New York), pp. 266-298.

McCurry, Justin, The Guardian (9th January 2018), “North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics after talks with South” available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/09/north-south-korea-talks-winter-olympics-nuclear [Accessed 9th January 2018]

The BBC, (9th January 2018), “North Korea to send team to Winter Olympic Games” available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-42600550 [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

 

America’s New National Defense Strategy – What does it mean?

‘The world…is awash in change…Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.’[1] On 19 January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis confirmed that American strategic attention was shifting.

The attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 established terrorism as the supreme threat to the United States, a threat to the safety of its citizens and the very ideals for which their country stands for. The successes, failures and honesty of President Bush’s foreign policy aside, his doctrine established a clear vision of America’s role in the world. It would stand unilaterally in the pursuit of its defence and made no distinction between the terrorists and nations that harboured them.[2]

The waning presence of Islamic State makes Bush’s vision outdated. The threat of IS is now overshadowed by perhaps a more traditional antagonist; rogue or revisionist nation states seeking to disrupt the global order. Russia and China are the primary nations that now constitute the focus of American defense strategy and for good reason. China represents a significant economic threat to the U.S., particularly through its potential ambition to dethrone the U.S. dollar by pricing Oil in Yuan[3].  Russia’s military prowess has been demonstrated in Ukraine and its Middle East intervention has produced significant gains for the Syrian government. Both nations clearly represent a significant threat to America’s global leadership which explains the U.S. shift in Defense policy, illustrated by Secretary Mattis’s recent remarks.  In a sense, this strategy represents a return to the Cold War model, pitting global superpowers against each other in a deadlocked competition.

President Trump’s National Defense Strategy makes sense and is perhaps a more up-to-date version than previous approaches that fixated upon international terrorism.  But is it inward looking as much as it is outward looking? Trump’s administration has more military commanders in top positions than any since Eisenhower’s[4] and this could illustrate bureaucratic pressure to secure a policy favourable to the military’s budget. Moreover, 2018 mid-term elections are fast approaching and the alleged Russian hacking still overshadows Trump to a greater or lesser extent. Tough talk on Russia could effectively shrug off Republican critics such as Senator McCain and help hold much needed seats in Congress for Trump to secure more legislative achievements such as tax reform. Whatever the motives behind this shift in outlook, President Trump is establishing a foreign policy vision of his own, distinct from Bush and Obama; a vision that recognises the threat to American supremacy abroad and clearly seeks to address this. There will be two things to watch for over the coming months. One, how much of this strategy is implemented and in what form it materialises. Two, how Russia and China respond to America’s policy shift and whether this will affect the dynamic of other areas such as dealing with North Korea.

[1] ‘Remarks by Secretary Mattis on the National Defense Strategy’.  www. Defense.gov https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1420042/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-on-the-national-defense-strategy/ [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[2] Jones, S. ‘Understanding the Bush Doctrine’ www.thoughtco.com https://www.thoughtco.com/the-bush-doctrine-3310291 [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[3] Jegarajah, S. ‘China has grand ambitions to dethrone the dollar. It may make a powerful move this year’. www.cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/24/petro-yuan-china-wants-to-dethrone-dollar-rmb-denominated-oil-contracts.html [Accessed 25 January 2018]

[4] Wallace, C. ‘Trump’s generals: President turns to military men for counsel, order’ www.foxnews.com http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/08/08/trumps-generals-president-turns-to-military-men-for-counsel-order.html [Accessed 25 January 2018]

What now for UKIP?

UKIP has enjoyed better days. Embattled leader Henry Bolton, (the party’s fourth in two years) remains under pressure over racist remarks made by his then-girlfriend Jo Marney. Bolton, under pressure from the party hierarchy split from Marney, only to be caught seen having dinner with her this week.

The backlash from this saga has been severe on UKIP.  West Midlands UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge resigned as a party spokesperson and called for Bolton to stand down, with fellow MEP Jonathan Arnott quitting the party totally. Furthermore, rumours abound Bolton will face a vote of no confidence from the UKIP NEC this weekend, but may survive due to the party being unable to afford the contest to replace him.

UKIP has been on a downward spiral for some time.  The 2017 local elections saw the party lose all but one of their councillors. Following on from this, the party went on to gain only a measly 1.8% of the vote in the 2017 General Election. Recent revelations have also indicated the party is losing members. This is not a party moving forward!

It’s not always been like this for UKIP. It was their initial growth which was a factor in Cameron promising the EU referendum in 2013. Additionally, UKIP won the 2014 European elections, gained 2 defecting MPs from the Conservatives and secured nearly 4 million votes at the 2015 General Election. History will still show their impact on UK politics in the last decade as being significant.

So what has happened? Firstly, larger than life former leader Nigel Farage stepping down in 2016 after the EU referendum was a hammer blow for the party. Farage brought air time, recognition and relevance, attracting voters across the country. The party has never fully recovered or found a new appeal.

Secondly, they won. UKIP’s sole purpose was to secure and win a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Now this has been achieved a large proportion of UKIP’s supporters feel the job is complete.  What is their left for UKIP to achieve or campaign for?

Lastly, the internal organisation of the party is shambolic. UKIP have always lacked professionalism and structure. Without this base, no political party can sustain itself for the long term. The chaotic nature of the party is a significant factor as to why it’s in this mess.

UKIP has been written off many times before only to bounce back, but this time it seems like it is at the end of the road. A party with no cause, no charisma and no organisation has no place in UK politics. Until one or probably all three of these factors change UKIP will be destined for the scrap-heap. Still, they can always claim it was fun while it lasted.

 

THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN SCANDAL AND THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE

This year’s award season for actors and actresses has been dominated by the scandal of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Notably at the Golden Globe Awards multiple actors and actresses chose to wear black in order to show their support for the ‘Times Up” movement. Whilst movements of solidarity against sexual harassment should of course be supported, this article serves as a reminder that if true progress is to be made, engagement with such issues needs to go beyond a hashtag or the wearing of black. The article also looks at what can be done in order to tackle the issue of sexual harassment, specifically in the workplace.

On the 5th October last year the New York Times published a story that revealed decades of allegations of sexual harassment against the famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein. This scandal has shone a light on the issue of sexual harassment not just in Hollywood, but in the workplace in general. Everyone agrees that something must be done about this toxic culture that allows sexual abusers to remain in positions of power within their respective fields, and campaigns that show support for those who have suffered abuse are certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, the fact that this show of solidarity has allowed women to feel like they can come forward demonstrates the power that such campaigns can have. Maybe the Weinstein revelations mark a turning point? Take the example of Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen. This month Farrow gave a TV interview detailing the abuse that she has suffered at the hands of Allen. Her allegations have prompted a wave of solidarity. For example, following the interview actress Rebecca Hall apologised for her role in Allen’s new film and said that she will donate her wages to the Times Up campaign. However, this episode also reveals a key problem. It should be remembered that this is not the first time that Farrow has gone public in accusing her father of sexual assault; in 2014 she spoke about this abuse yet there was no celebrity outcry. Obviously the political environment then meant that actors did not feel secure enough to react against the allegations. Without trying to belittle the influence of power play, the changing reactions to Dylan Farrow serve to remind us that it is important that we are all brave enough to shun the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Only with this courage and lack of passivity will there be progress post-Weinstein.

The recent scandal in Hollywood reflects a wider trend that sees men (who dominate the hierarchies of the working world) exploit their position of power to harass women. Indeed according to a BBC survey last year, half of British woman have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.[1] From a domestic policy perspective, therefore, a pressing issue for the UK government is what can be done in order to tackle this. Crucially we need to re-dress the gender balance in positions of power. This task should not be underestimated and will only be achieved when we, amongst other things, stop gender stereotyping from a young age. In the mean time we need to continue to fight against sexual harassment so that it remains a talking point long after the Hollywood scandal ceases to make news headlines. We also need to create an atmosphere where women feel safe speaking out. On this last point it should be noted that we must also ensure adequate protection for those accused of sexual harassment and perhaps the question of anonymity for the accused needs to be re-looked at; this is a difficult issue but especially pressing in light of the recent multiple collapsed rape trials. However, ultimately we need to progress to a stage where the perpetrators of sexual abuse are called out by their colleagues and thus the onus is not on the victims to reveal such scandalous and endemic behaviour.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41741615

FREE SPEECH: IN DEFENCE OF NO PLATFORMING

Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, recently announced that from next April the “Office for Students” (a new university regulator) will be able to fine universities that fail to uphold free speech. This announcement follows the National Student Union’s no-platform policy and several related controversial incidents, for instance Canterbury Christ Church University’s decision to no-platform LGBT activist Peter Tatchell. Although I do not personally agree with all the decisions to no-platform speakers that have been taken by universities (indeed I would strongly question the decision regarding Peter Tatchell) this article does seek to offer a defence of “no-platforming” by showing that there is a degree of nuance to this debate.

Firstly, it is worth starting by noting that the notion of absolute free speech is a fallacy. Hate speech laws are found in several statutes in UK law – for instance s18 of the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred – and this represents a clear example of when free speech is curtailed. Admittedly, however, this, as opposed to the no platform movement, is uncontroversial. A point that more directly supports this movement relates to the importance of inclusivity in debate. In everyday society it is easiest for those in power to get their voice heard. This is typically white, middle class men – Jo Johnson and his spearheading of university policy is a case in point of this. In other words, free speech in everyday life is reserved for those who have access to this and thus those that have a platform. In order to combat this, it is important that institutions provide an atmosphere where individuals from all parts of society – notably minority groups – feel comfortable using their experiences in order to add to the debate. From this point of view no platforming of voices that discourage minority groups – that already face so much oppression – is valid because it encourages a more open culture which allows all voices to engage, not just those that are accustomed to being able to dominate the current discourse.

Another important point is that a distinction needs to be made between someone being invited to speak in order to draw crowds and for the sake of being controversial, and someone who is actively contributing to the debate. A figure such as Katie Hopkins will most likely never change her mind and is not speaking in order to hear other opinions. She is, at least many would argue, only interested in being controversial in order to bolster her brand and employability. From this perspective no platforming Katie Hopkins is legitimate. Moreover, it is not as if no platforming a figure like Katie Hopkins is leading to the censorship of her; she has many other avenues that she can pursue in order to air her views. Another important distinction is the difference between free speech and free debate. I would argue that if a university wants to invite a controversial speaker, the responsible thing to do is to make sure that this speaker is matched with someone who presents a different view so that he/she can be directly challenged. This is often a more satisfactory solution than no platforming because it allows opposing views to be heard, however it also ensures that such views can be effectively challenged so that there is healthy debate – not controversy for the sake of controversy.

In any case, the policy of fining universities for “free speech breaches” is questionable. It does seem somewhat paradoxical to force a university to uphold what is seen as a freedom. Instead of such coercive measures the government should seek to win the argument regarding university speaker policy through the art of persuasion and debate – ironically the very thing that they are encouraging universities themselves to uphold.

 

A look ahead to the next Tory leader

As the year comes to an end it is a good moment to take a glance at who could lead the Tories into the next General Election. Bluntly, May is an interim Prime Minister who has recorded the fastest drop in popularity in modern times, losing a twenty-two point lead in the polls.[1] Accepting this, there are two obvious options; stick with a big name or inject a fresh face. Of the promising up-and-comers, a few names have emerged that can be dropped in conversation to make you seem intelligent.

Firstly, there is Boris Johnson’s’ brother Jo who, until his recent comments about punishing universities that ban certain speakers, was untarnished. The MP for Orpington does not possess the magnetism of Boris and it is safe to suggest considering Boris’ ambitions and reputation his brother will not rise to the challenge and cause a Miliband esque battle. Kwasi Kwartengan, an impressive academic who has been dubbed as “a black Boris”, is a BAME candidate who could draw a broader demographic. He is a Brexiteer who would find favour amongst the 1922 committee and is deemed promising enough to be handed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the change in the political climate to austerity led by Jeremy Corbyn and a weary public weakens Kwarteng because of his economic leanings.

Naturally the next election will be concerned with issues as much as personalities and with Brexit and the Trump presidency, foreign policy is primed to dominate. If so the likes of Johnny Mercer, an army veteran, would carry significant weight after a rise in nationalism following the EU referendum, especially in traditional Labour strongholds. However, Mercer’s inexperience and views on the welfare state undermine his credentials. A candidate of a similar background would suffice, and ex-serviceman (and “mutineer”) Tom Turgendhat stands out. In addition to the army background and being a centre-right moderate he also speaks Arabic, although how important this is to party members is debateable. Turgendhat’s opposition to Brexit would be an advantage to attract a generation of Remainers, but paradoxically will hurt any campaign internally.

The obvious candidates are those in the Cabinet already with proven track records and their names well known with the Conservative Party and the wider electorate. Their problem is they have been in Government for over seven years and carry baggage from austerity and Brexit. David Davies appeals to the base due to him leading the Brexit negotiations and having campaigned for Leave. He also already ran for the leadership in 2005 and is deemed to be a safe pair of hands. However, he also has so far made a mountain out of a mole hill with regards to the negotiations so far. Phillip Hammond is a good technocrat but is not someone that commentators really see leading the party. There are two others that are worth a punt, Amber Rudd and Ruth Davidson. Rudd appears competent and voted Remain which is a big draw for Tory MPs if not members. However, she has experience and came out of the party conference in October looking “dignified and grown up”.[2] Ruth Davidson has lead the Scottish Conservatives to replace Labour as the challengers to the SNP in Scotland. She has rejuvenated the party north of the border, sparking talk of a future leadership contest. Being a gay Scottish woman also has some political benefits. However, she has never been an MP and to challenge for the leadership let alone number 10 will prove a probable impossible task. And yet, a YouGov poll of party members in September put her ahead of Boris Johnson as a “better leader” and put her behind him by only four points as their preferred choice to take over from May.[3]

Therefore, the judgement is that Boris Johnson is still in pole position. The candidate for Prime Minister must be elected as leader by the whole of the Conservative Party and his charm and Churchillian approach is lapped up in the Tory heartland. This has enabled him to be such a threat he appears un-sackable following his article regarding Brexit negotiations prior to Theresa May’s Florence speech and the Sirte comments. The other side of the man, the power-hungry Etonian prone to a gaffe, will find it difficult to poll among swing voters and ensure the youth turnout for the Labour Party remains high.

Those of us who still hope for a Europhilic liberal utopia with a welfare state that will be there when we are old are praying that the rest of the public wake up and see this side of Johnson. Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise and the population can be easily duped by a man who portrays an image of a false but attractive past. If you, like myself, are firmly on the left, Jacob Rees-Mogg would be the dream opponent. Although his aristocratic persona is bafflingly lapped up by some, it would turn the next election into a battle of 1970s economic socialism versus 1870s social values.

[1]   The Economist (2017) “Theresa May’s Record Braking Plunge” Accessed 23/12/2017 https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/12/daily-chart-1

[2] New Statesman 6/10/2017 Accessed 28/12/2017 https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/10/who-will-replace-theresa-may-runners-and-riders-conservative-leader

[3] YouGov / The Times Survey Results: 20th-27th September 2017 Accessed: 27/12/2017 http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/lowelyec40/ToryMembership_Sept2017_W.pdf

Both May and the Government will survive 2018

Politics in the United Kingdom is becoming notoriously difficult to predict. Therefore, it may seem like a fool’s game to predict what will happen this year. However, that is what I am about to do. My predictions are as follows:

  1. Theresa May will still be Prime Minister
  2. The Government will not have fallen.

Let’s begin with my first statement. Theresa May’s position has appeared precarious since the General Election. The loss of the Conservative majority appeared to be a fatal blow from which the Prime Minister could not recover. Undoubtedly, this weakened the Prime Minister, but yet she has clung on and will continue to cling on. Why?

Mainly, it is because the political climate has not changed substantially since the morning of the 9th June 2017. Firstly, there remains no obvious candidate to take over from the Prime Minister. Secondly, Conservative backbenchers remain nervous about whether a move against the Prime Minister would hinder Brexit. Lastly, there does not appear to be a desire from any potential candidate to take over the role whilst Brexit negotiations are ongoing. The Prime Minister’s future is inextricably linked to Brexit and whilst Brexit talks are ongoing which they will continue to be during 2018 then her position is safe.

Ok, let’s now move onto the second statement. The Government only has a small majority and is reliant on support from the DUP. In theory this means the Government is vulnerable. Additionally, we have seen the Government face defeats in the House of Commons since the General Election. So, given this political environment, how can I be so sure the Government will survive 2018?

The answer is simple: Jeremy Corbyn. A number of Conservative MPs may have misgivings about the direction of the party and their policy positions, notably around Brexit. But, crucially they will not do anything to make a Corbyn premiership and an early General Election more likely. The other players to consider in this calculation are the DUP. The DUP have always been highly critical of Corbyn and McDonnell. A Government led by those two would be seen as a disaster by the DUP.  The DUP may seek to renegotiate their current terms but would not facilitate an early General Election and bringing down the Government.

2018 will bring more political surprises and shocks, but I firmly believe these two things will stay the same. In reality only time will tell. Happy 2018 all!

 

 

 

Syria: Putin’s Proxy War

In December, President Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian military base in Syria and announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. The BBC reported that Putin’s visit was to bring the word of victory to the front line. Russia troops could now return to their families, knowing that they had defeated ISIS and defended the Assad Regime.[1] But what has Putin really achieved in Syria?

Understanding Russia’s achievements is Syria requires an understanding of the Kremlin’s motivation. Russia has supported the Al-Assad regime since 2011, providing diplomatic support by vetoing UN resolutions.[2] In 2015, Russia increased its support by embarking on a campaign of airstrikes against groups that the Kremlin defined as ‘terrorist’.[3]

The timing of this extended commitment is significant to understanding why Russia has become so involved in the Syrian conflict. In September of that year, world leaders met at the 70th UN General Assembly to discuss global affairs. During the assembly Presidents Putin and Obama met privately to discuss the crisis in Syria.

At the time, the Western World strongly called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United State even went as far as to publicly lay the Syrian conflict at the feet of Assad’s regime. “Assad reacted to peaceful protest by escalating repression and killing and in turn created the environment for the current strife.”[4]

Russia’s support for Assad, therefore, became a big bargaining chip, one which Putin intended to use during the 70th UN General Assembly. Putin was prepared to withdraw support from the Assad Regime in return for NATO support being withdrawn from the Ukrainian conflict, a conflict which interfered much closer with the Russian sphere of interest.

The meeting between Obama and Putin orchestrated to be a trade-off, Syria for Ukraine. However, this never happened. Following the meeting both leaders came out publicly blaming one another for escalating the crisis in Syria.[5]

Despite the Kremlin’s gamble not paying off, Russia has still been able to gain from the Syrian conflict. The conflict is testimony to the re-establishment of Russia’s global status. Putin has taken a step towards the ‘superpower’ title previously held by the Soviet Union.

Russian has demonstrated its ability to rival the U.S. by rejuvenating its relations with Iran. Just months before the 2015 air-strikes, Iran brokered a nuclear deal with the U.S., limiting Russian influence in Tehran. The U.S. has admitted to being unable to break the relationship between Russia and Iran. The Syrian conflict has been an opportunity for the two nations to work closely on military operations. The cooperation in Syria has become a symbol of the Russian-Iranian relationship.[6]

Putin has been diplomatically victorious in maintaining his alliance with Iran, despite U.S. intervention. This alone is an example of how far Russia has come in terms of global power status. Additionally, Moscow has reshaped the frontlines of the Syrian conflict. With Russian support, Assad has major areas such as; Palmyra, Raqqa and Aleppo.[7] The conflict is evidence that Russia is now capable of effectively performing military operations outside of its own borders.

The effective impact of the Russian military has boosted Russia’s arms industry.[8] Syria is a showcase for Russian military technology, and has been defined as a “perfect commercial for Russian arms producers’”.[9] Going forwards, Russia will be able to expand its arms deals with new parties.

Ultimately, Syria is still a nation torn by war and terror. But the actual conflict has always been secondary to Putin’s goals. What initially began as a bargaining chip has turned into one of Putin’s highest paying investments in recent years. Russia has proven its might in both diplomatic and military terms. As the BBC reported, Putin has been able to “force world leaders to deal with Russia”.[10] In this sense, Russian troops can now return home knowing they have been victorious, even with the war going on in their absence.

 

 

[1] YouTube. (2017). Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout – BBC News. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX75uIA4P5Y

[2] UN News Service Section. (2017). UN News – Russia and China veto draft Security Council resolution on Syria. [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39935#.WkUh7zfLjIU

[3] Shaheen, K., Walker, S. and Black, I. (2017). Bashar al-Assad thanks Putin for Syria strikes as Russia announces US talks. [online] the Guardian. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/21/bashar-al-assad-thanks-russia-vladimir-putin-syria-airstrikes

[4] Sengupta, G. (2017). Obama and Putin Play Diplomatic Poker Over Syria. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/world/middleeast/un-general-assembly-syria-isis-refugees.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Washington Post. (2017). Analysis | The Russian and Iranian ties that the U.S. can’t seem to break. [online] Available at:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/04/11/the-russian-and-iranian-ties-that-the-u-s-cant-seem-to-break/?utm_term=.8de63cd9fd36

[7] Aljazeera.com. (2017). Syria: Who controls what?. [online] Available at:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/05/syria-country-divided-150529144229467.html

[8] Woody, C. (2017). The US and Russia are dominating the global weapons trade. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/us-russia-global-arms-sales-2016-12?r=US&IR=T

[9] Aljazeera.com. (2017). Syria’s war: A showroom for Russian arms sales. [online] Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/syria-war-showroom-russian-arms-sales-160406135130398.html

[10] YouTube. (2017). BBC News. op.cit.

Virgin Trains is wrong to stop selling the Daily Mail

Virgin Trains has announced it is to stop selling the Daily Mail on its West Coast trains. Virgin explained the decision by claiming the paper was not compatible with the Virgin brand and beliefs and that considerable concern had been raised by employees about the Daily Mail’s editorial stance on certain issues such as LGBT rights, immigration and employment.

The decision by Virgin Trains has drawn a considerable response. The Daily Mail unsurprisingly hit back calling the decision “disgraceful.” The decision was also criticised by Boris Johnson who labelled the decision “absurd” and Jeremy Corbyn who said “there would be no bans on a publicly owned railway.” A rare moment when the Foreign Secretary and leader of the opposition were in agreement. Not everyone has been critical of Virgin though. Jane Fae for instance in The Guardian supported the decision of Virgin claiming the paper does not match Virgin’s brand identity.

Virgin’s defence of this decision has been centred on the editorial line and position of the Daily Mail. This is crucial, as this makes the decision a moral and ethical one rather than a business call. If this had been explained as a business decision than the backlash would not have been as severe.

To clarify, this is not a defence of the Daily Mail. I do not read the Daily Mail and rarely agree with their editorial lines. I find the language they use toxic and that as an outlet they do very little to enhance constructive debate on most occasion. I am not a fan of the newspaper and do not see myself ever becoming a Daily Mail reader. However, that is not the crux of the issue in this instance. The real principles in play are that of censorship and freedom of press.

I believe fundamentally people in this country should be free to buy the newspaper they desire. Additionally, I believe that if you do passionately disagree with a editorial line of a newspaper line you choose to engage with the argument rather than ban the newspaper. Living in a free society with an open press means you come across opinions you disagree with. This is to be expected and applauded.  Believe me, the alternative is far worse. Let people decide for themselves what they want to read.