Misremembering the Balfour Declaration

One hundred years ago on November 2nd, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour publicly issued the Balfour Declaration. The short statement read:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[1]

Despite its seemingly innocuous and considered tone there are few more controversial documents in modern history. However, it is important to be aware of what preceded the declaration, not just what followed it. There needs to be a correction of the subtle rewriting of history that goes on under the surface when British motivations for the Balfour Declaration are discussed.

Many in Britain still like to offer some congratulatory remarks to the British government’s selfless aims in issuing this declaration. That Britain sought to protect the persecuted Jewish people is seen as a mark of our country’s great compassion. Daniel Hannan’s article ‘Like any parent, Britain should take pride in Israel’ in The Telegraph is an excellent example of a misplaced admiration taken from Britain’s motivations.[2] History tells a rather different story. Whatever humanitarian concerns motivated the Balfour Declaration, they are irrevocably tainted by the British government’s self-interest as a colonial power. If aiding the foundation of a Jewish national home in Palestine had not lined up with the aims of the British Empire in WWI, it is likely that no such promise would have been made.

When Theresa May delivered a speech at the Balfour Centenary Dinner on November 2nd she spoke proudly of the Arthur Balfour’s vision and leadership in seizing the moment to restore a persecuted people to their homeland in the context of Britain’s involvement in WWI.[3] It was suggested by May that Balfour was sensitive to the needs and concerns of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. In reality no such care was taken beyond the words of a declaration these communities had no say in. The Balfour Declaration was irreconcilable with the concerns of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The historian Ilan Pappé convincingly argues that the native Palestinians were not interested in British imperialism, Zionism, or even emerging nationalism, and yet they were caught in the midst of all three.[4]

Balfour’s vision for a ‘peaceful co-existence’ is a modern invention.[5] By forwarding Zionist aspirations for a Jewish homeland, Balfour knew that this could be used to appeal to powerful Jewish lobbies in America and Russia to aid in the British war effort. While speaking to the war cabinet, Balfour said ‘we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America’ where ‘the vast majority of Jews … appeared to be favourable to Zionism’.[6] It should also be noted that all of these considerations came after the determined Zionist Chaim Weizmann had conducted meetings with Balfour in December 1914 and David Lloyd George in January 1915 to push his agenda forward, securing their support in the process.[7] Before these meetings the Zionist cause had met a disinterested reception in the British government. Rather than genuine sympathy for the Zionist cause, Lloyd George and Balfour were motivated almost entirely by the benefit they believed Zionist support could bring. Palestine was an area of great territorial interest for Britain’s empire in the Middle East, particularly as it served as a buffer zone to protect the Suez Canal. The British government was unhappy with the secretive Sykes-Picot agreement between themselves and the French, which left Palestine as an ill-defined area of international commission. Zionist support allowed the securing of the Palestine Mandate in the post-war settlement that finally satisfied British aims in the region.[8]

When one looks back at the actions of Britain in the twentieth century it is important to not lose sight of the power this country once was. For all that came after the Balfour Declaration – the horrors of the Holocaust or the tragic plight of the Palestinian refugees – It is essential that we do not paint Britain’s past intentions with a rose-tinted brush. There is no attempt here to present Britain as the sole founder of the world’s problems and nor should there be. It is important to look at these matters objectively. However, in so far as we should admire Israel’s role in the Middle East, Britain cannot take pride in it ‘like any parent’ would.[9] What kind of parent can take pride in the achievements of a child whose concerns were merely an afterthought to their own self-interested aims?

[1] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-balfour-declaration

[2] Hannan, D, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/21/like-parent-britain-should-take-pride-israel/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-at-balfour-centenary-dinner

[4] Pappé, I, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, 2004

[5] Quote from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-at-balfour-centenary-dinner

[6] Rogan, E, The Arabs: A History, 2009

[7] Schneer, J, The Balfour Declaration, 2011

[8] Rogan, E, The Arabs: A History, 2009

[9] Hannan, D, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/21/like-parent-britain-should-take-pride-israel/

Why the Government should invest more in digital technology

Research highlights that Britain’s ability to cultivate a digital society is dependent on national and local government injecting further investment into digital technology.

Providing digital usage and custom preserves it’s concurrent trajectory in the UK, there will be 156 million ‘internet of things’[1] connections[2]. The UK’s digital economy represents 12.4% of it’s GDP, the largest of any G20 nation, and projected increases in broadband speeds could add £17 billion to it’s economy by 2024[3]. These figures may suggest healthy digital conditions for the UK, however these projected figures are dependent on economical investment relative to technological innovation. This simply is not happening.

The majority of the government’s investment in the digital space market has been in ‘next generation’ substructure, therefore neglecting development and innovation[4]. Meanwhile, international competitors are becoming increasingly ambitious, exemplified by their move to superfast and ultrafast broadband coverage[5]. Consequently, the UK have started to fall behind: ranked 9th out of the 18 countries for 4G outdoor population[6] and 17th out of the 19 countries for access to full fibre connection[7]. Nearly 25% of rural premises in the UK do not have a decent broadband service[8]. Most notably, South Korea has 96% availability for 4G mobile, compared to the UK’s 66%[9].

Many small and medium businesses in the UK have their digital connectivity needs unmet. In 2016, 20% did not have access to broadband speeds of 30 Mbps (‘superfast’) and around 8% were unable to access speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps)[10]. The Government made some changes to the Electronic Communications Code to improve the ease of rolling out digital infrastructure in 2016. However, many key infrastructure stakeholders consider that progress too slow and uphold further scope for reform[11].

The underfunding would be less problematic if digital technology was not so significant to the UK’s infrastructure being productive. The UK’s internet usage is the largest off all the G-20 countries[12]. Britain’s businesses, banks and governments use the internet for data storage, connectivity and operation and this has significant implications to UK electric supplies, national rail, roads, bridges and wind turbines[13]. Furthermore, the use of mobile apps and machine learning cannot be underestimated in Britain, their ability to collate real-time data on asset condition and maintenance needs allows for the smooth operation of infrastructure. Significantly, communication networks in the UK has contributed more to Britain’s economic growth and social inclusion than it has in any other European country[14].

Ultimately, modest governmental investment in digital innovation is no longer acceptable. In the past, the UK has had the foresight and ambition to connect everyone to electricity, water and transport networks. The benefits today are obvious. The same ambition is now needed for future digital infrastructure.

A coordinated approach is essential. At present, digital infrastructure decisions are fragmented and entwined with the wider policy interests of numerous Government departments and agencies[15]. Digital investment is often too easily deprioritised, however a digital champion within Government should hold relevant departments and agencies to account and ensure the provision of digital infrastructure programmes.

Likewise, local government needs to be more proactive. Digital communications bring significant benefits to local areas. Local authorities must do more to encourage the deployment of infrastructure. The National Infrastructure Commission suggest facilitating planning permission for the investment of UK needs without long delays, as the current planning process is time consuming and costly.

National and local government must foster world class digital connectivity that is seamless, ubiquitous, reliable and resilient. This will promote leading-edge applications at an early date and can promote innovation in infrastructure systems such as networks of sensors, smart appliances and the combination of vastly improved data and machine learning to promote better infrastructure operation, lower costs and increased efficiency.

[1] The Internet of things is the network of physical devices, vehicles, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

[2] Brown, Eric (13 September 2016). “Who Needs the Internet of Things?”. Linux.com

[3] ibid

[4] Ofcom (2015), Strategic Review of Digital Communications; Ofcom (2016), Making communications work for everyone, initial conclusions from the Strategic Review of Digital Communications

[5] Ibid

[6] Ofcom (2016), The International Communications Market Report; Connected Nations 2016

[7] Ofcom (2016), The International Communications Market Report

[8] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.44

[9] OpenSignal (2017), The State of LTE (June 2017). Accessed at: https://opensignal.com/reports/2017/06/state-of-lte

[10] Ofcom (2016), Connected Nations 2016

[11] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.53

[12] http://www.consultancy.uk/news/1988/bcguk-internet-economy-the-largest-of-the-g20

[13] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.53

[14] Oxfam, 2013; Shy, O. (2010), A Short Survey of Network Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Papers.

[15] Ofcom (2015), Strategic Review of Digital Communications

THE PARADISE PAPERS AND THE ROYALS

This month has seen two damning headline stories for the Royal family. The first story concerned the Queen’s offshore investment, as revealed in the Paradise Papers, and the second detailed Prince Charles’ lobbying on political interests. In light of these recent revelations, this article makes the case for the abolishment of the Monarchy. The argument is separated into three points: the principled point, the political point and the economic point.

The principled point

The principled point against the Monarchy is the most compelling: it is out of line with progressive and liberal values to retain an unelected Head of State, appointed by virtue of birth status. Additionally, the excessive wealth of the Royals is – at its mildest – distasteful. Should we really accept a state of affairs where the Queen is preaching about austerity in the House of Commons, whilst draped in an excess of jewels? Is it fair that whilst there are cuts for the public sector, the Royal family get a pay rise of millions of pounds?[1]

Moreover, issue can be taken with the idea that the Crown should be retained as it is “traditional” and represents the country. Firstly, it is no argument to retain something because it is “traditional”, without further exploring the merits of this tradition. Secondly, on the point about the symbolic significance of the Royals, we should think deeper about what the Crown represents. The Royal honours take the titles of, for instance, “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” or “Commander of the Order of the British Empire”. Britain’s history of colonialism oversaw atrocities such as massacring and the establishment of concentration camps; the country’s honours system should not be harking back to the Empire.

The political point

Regarding the constitutional role of the Monarch, it is often said that the Queen’s “political neutrality” undermines any fear of the Crown being involved in the political process. However, it is untrue to say that the Crown has no influence on the legislative process. The recent headlines, as already referred to, demonstrate the point. At the beginning of November it was reported that Prince Charles campaigned to alter climate-change agreements in a way that would benefit a Bermuda company in which his estate had invested[2]. The claim of the Royals’ political neutrality is thus hard to maintain.

The economic point

Finally, supporters of the Royal family argue that the Monarchy is economically beneficial for the country because of the tourism that it brings in. However, such supporters presuppose that all of this tourism would be lost if the Monarchy was abolished. This is difficult to believe – indeed, last year around 7.4 million people[3] visited Le Louvre (where the French monarchy used to reside) and this site continues to be one of the most famous in the world.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/27/queens-income-rises-to-82m-to-cover-cost-of-buckingham-palace-works

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41901175

[3] http://presse.louvre.fr/7-3-million-visitors-to-the-louvre-in-2016/

Have we reached peak Corbyn?

The Government is stumbling from one crisis to another. Two senior ministers have resigned in the last few weeks and many others are under pressure. Brexit talks appear to be at an impasse and there are doubts whether the Government can get the current Brexit bill through Parliament. Under these conditions, most political analysts would expect the opposition to enjoy a substantial and growing lead. Yet this isn’t happening. So why have the polls not moved dramatically?

Firstly, it is not totally fair to say there has been no movement. The Britain elects poll tracker has a slight Labour lead of 1.5%. This is a change from the General Election where the Conservatives enjoyed a 2 point poll victory over the Labour Party. Labour has also gained 9 seats in council by-elections since the General Election whereas the Conservatives have lost 10. So, the evidence does suggest that the Labour Party is ahead at present.

However, that is not enough for many on the Labour side. Former leader and known Corbyn critic Tony Blair has suggested his party should be 20 points ahead. He has not been alone in his criticisms. One possible answer for the current static nature of the polls could be that we have reached peak Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn shocked everybody with his performance at the 2017 General Election. His energy and enthusiasm on the campaign trail was a pivotal factor in costing the Conservative Party an overall majority. This looked to have terminally wounded Theresa May. Yet, May has held on despite coup attempts, a disastrous conference speech and reports that up to 40 MPs are willing to call for a vote of no confidence. Not only this but she still retains a small lead over Jeremy Corbyn in the question over who would make the best Prime Minister. This lead is small, but it is consistent and has been static for the last few months after Corbyn made significant ground before. Very few leaders of the opposition have made the transition to Number 10 without leading on this question.

There could be several sensible explanations for these polls and given what has happened with political polling in the last few years we must take these findings with a pinch of salt. All political parties and leaders do have a ceiling though. Corbyn has divided the nation and maybe given his brand of politics, this is as high as we can expect him and Labour to go. However, until we see further evidence it would be foolish to consider this anything more than a working hypothesis.

The Middle Eastern cold war

In the last year, Saudi Arabia’s flirtation with religious realism has already caused the most pressing humanitarian disaster in world affairs, now it threatens to destabilise Lebanon.

Lebanon is a country defined by religious and political instability. It seemed these issues were going to be allayed with the accession of Michel Aoun as President.

Saudi Arabia continues to mount high profile proxy wars to strengthen its influence over other Arabic nations. It is locked in a cold war with Iran. One where polarised religious interpretation influences political decision making. Covert operations and surreptitious support for either Sunni or Shi’a paramilitaries are how the conflict has perpetuated for many decades. But recently it has reached a dogmatic fever-pitch.

The Shia paramilitary, Hezbollah, has been a fracture point in this battle for dominance for many years. It has provided opposition to Maronite Christian militias, it has fought Israel during the Lebanese civil war and it has given aid to Bashar Al Assad’s government in Syria.

Lebanon is what is known as a transitional democracy. Against all the odds it had finally attained some stability.

But the political machinations of Saudi Arabia have rudely disrupted this short-lived serenity. Lebanon’s state sovereignty has once again been breached.

The country’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, along with Yemen’s President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have been detained in Riyadh under mysterious circumstances.

What is clear, is that Lebanon’s old foes present a very tangible threat once more. Saudi Arabia has issued a travel ban and advised that its citizens leave Lebanon as a so-called proclamation of war has been predicted. This has prompted widespread concerns about armed conflict within Lebanon – but also between Iran and Saudi Arabia- and between Hezbollah and Israel.

It is speculated that Saudi Arabia blames Iran and Hezbollah for a rocket strike from Yemen that was aimed at Riyadh airport. It is more likely the Saudi’s are disappointed by Hariri’s perceived tolerance of Hezbollah.

Of course, the role of Iran cannot be underplayed here, however,  its direct role is still unclear. Its allegiance with Hezbollah has troubled Saudi Arabia and Israel for many decades.

One factor in the escalating conflict that won’t be so widely discussed is the complicity of the West. Its unmistakable allegiance to Israel seems to be a motive in its appeasement of Saudi Arabia. It has actively supported Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In fact, the war has been waged using US and UK arms, security and tactics – leaving millions of Yemeni people enduring famine and a cholera outbreak.

The pessimists in the region will wince at the alliance of Trump and Kushner’s US with Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially as Trump backs Mohammed Bin Salman’s efforts to strengthen his grip on the house of Saud.

The Middle Eastern heavyweights are engaging in a cold war. They are inviting a battle of destabilisation. Attentive Western powers have designs to scavenge on the political carrion. With transparency in intention becoming harder to decipher, a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasing possibility. The blame game is intensifying as Middle Eastern nations meddle in each other’s affairs, exacerbating perennial religious tensions. It is states resembling Yemen and Lebanon, that standby to be left in the wreckage of religious realism.

Breaking down Brexit

Anyone with some sort of political acumen has an opinion on the primary issue dominating British politics, Brexit. It has hard to employ the word in any sort of discourse or context without feelings of dismay ascending, either because of the lies or connotations that come by implication to the word, these obviously include identity, nationalism and immigration. Whether or not one is a Brexiter, the issue has become heavily polluted, however the thing that I find most infuriating and most dangerous is that the EU debate, held over a year ago, was devoid of any holistic examination about the implications and consequences of the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the European Union. Only now are we seeing the consequences of this, as Prime Minister May struggles to gain any sort of traction in her quest to depart the institution.

Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that the EU are a bureaucratic and aristocratic panel of unelected and undemocratic, sovereign representatives, existing purely to satisfy and satiate cooperate interests. They are largely responsible for the centralisation of capital and wealth in Europe and the West and have contributed to the dearth of progress in developing counties. Yet, despite this very sufficient ineptitude, the argument most heavily proliferated against the EU has been related to immigration. This may be a question for another debater article, but are there deeper structural powers at play here? Because, surely, if the EU’s politics was the problem, then the aforementioned reason would be a more prudent and politically legitimate issue to raise.

Moving on however, by implication of the EU’s political sovereignty, the EU are integral to every part of British infrastructure. As Britain continues to establishes it self as a champion of the single market, propositioned by the EU, essential facets of British society engrosses itself into the EU’s remit. This includes the foundations of society’s structures; trains, buildings, planning regulations all go through procurement processes laid down by the EU and this is essential to Britain’s economy in both a financial and functionality capacity. The importance of this is evidence, yet it begs the question, why was this not mentioned in the debate?

Furthermore, the EU is heavily engrossed in Britain’s research assembly. This is again by implication of having a political system that is so heavily engrossed into the EU’s productivity The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the EU. Over the period 2007 to 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of the €107 billion expenditure available to research, development and innovation in EU Member States, associated and third countries. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU. In terms of funding awarded on a competitive basis in the period 2007 – 2013, the UK was the second largest recipient after Germany, securing €6.9 billion out of a total of €55.4 billion. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate?

 

Then finally, economics. Through access to the single market, London has been able to attract institutional and corporate investment from Europe and beyond these shores. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate? Conversely, on a different dynamic, with an estimated population of 8,615,246 residents, London is the most populous region, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom. London generates approximately 22% of the UK’s GDP, with 41,000 private sector businesses based in London (at the start of 2013). The lack of economic, political and opportunistic devolution in the UK is indicative of the EU’s operational structure. The single market is the most lucrative version of itself in a centralised system where money, labour and politics transpires in the same space, because investors would rather invest in one super-economy with extravagant returns (London), than invest in a split of many healthy economies around where the returns may be more stable but less spectacular. This surely, like my first elucidation, is a far more prudent argument to make against the EU, than a largely fabricated narrative about immigration (which I will clarify in another debater article).

Conclusively, the thing that I am most trying to infer here is that the current format of political destitution and reporting, from both the politicians and the media, needs renovation. In the context of Brexit; the state of political analysis was repugnant. The aforementioned issues, that both highlights the advantages and disadvantages of being an EU member state, was largely ignored and a narrative manifested itself that seemed to purely oppose the establishment or at least a perception of an establishment. Is politics not supposed to be about creating a better society? Well you could have fooled me!

Sexual harassment scandal plagues Westminster

Westminster is a place I largely admire. It is a place of great history, great tradition and great prestige. This week though, has not been a good week for Westminster. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour by MPs across the political spectrum have haunted Westminster. The scandal began when reports emerged of female researchers and aides using a WhatsApp group to share information about alleged sexual abuse and harassment in Westminster.

Whilst this story is ongoing, it is first important to remember two things. Firstly, all have to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, there is a major difference between two consenting adults engaging in a relationship and claims of sexual misconduct or harassment.

At time of writing, the biggest casualty is former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who was forced to resign after admitting his conduct had “fallen short.” This has not stopped further stories about Fallon, including reports of sexual assault, which he strongly denies. Additionally, first Secretary of State Damien Green is facing an investigation. The senior Cabinet Minister is accused of making inappropriate advances to a female activist and Conservative journalist. Furthermore, backbench Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke has seen the whip removed following “serious allegations.” The Times reports that according to a former senior Conservative Minister, seven members of the Cabinet are considering their position.

Labour too has faced a difficult week. At the beginning of the week a Labour activist claimed she was raped at a Labour Party event in 2011 and advised not to report the story. Later in the week, veteran MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended over a sexual misconduct claim. Reports claim Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had previously been warned about Hopkins. Lastly, on Friday the Labour Party announced they were investigating Clive Lewis over allegations he groped a woman at Labour Party Conference. This followed swiftly accusations against former Minister Ivan Lewis who accepted his behaviour towards female women had been “unwelcome.”

Undoubtedly, these revelations provide further evidence Westminster needs a culture change. Powerful men for too long have been exploiting their position. They have abused young aides (mainly women) both verbally and physically who have felt powerless to act knowing these MPs had great power over their future career. This is a situation no-one should have to face. It has likely caused some to leave Westminster and others to shy away from jobs in Parliament. This is a wake-up call for Westminster and one they should heed. It is time for action.

 

 

What to do about Boris?

Boris Johnson is a politician who divides opinion; a marmite figure if you will. Not many sit on the fence when it comes to the Foreign Secretary. Boris is also a figure it is hard to keep out of the news. His ‘unique’ style and tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time makes him a journalist’s dream. Qualities that some might argue are not becoming of a Foreign Secretary.

This week Boris has found himself under pressure again following comments he made to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The Foreign Secretary stated that a British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran had been teaching people journalism at the time of her arrest. Her family and employer have always maintained she was on holiday at the time of the arrest. The Iranian judiciary and media have seized upon these comments and claimed he has now revealed the truth about her actions. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already been sentenced to five years in jail, but could now see this sentence increase as a result of the remarks.

Mr Johnson has since apologised if his comments had “caused anxiety.” This apology of sorts does not go far enough for many and senior Conservatives have called for the Foreign Secretary to be sacked. Mr Johnson has also said that he is willing to meet the husband of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe before he visits Iran in a couple of weeks. This is a trip which could have potentially serious ramifications for his future.

When considering whether the Foreign Secretary should be sacked, it is important to remember we don’t live in normal political times and he is not a normal case.

Presently, Theresa May has limited power. Two Secretaries of State, Sir Michael Fallon and Priti Patel have just resigned from the Government. Parliamentary arithmetic is difficult and Brexit legislation dividing the party is coming fast down the line. This is not an ideal time to sack your Brexiteer Foreign Secretary.

Furthermore, for all his faults Boris is a ‘Heineken politician.’ He reaches the parts of the electorate few other can’t. He was the Conservative candidate who won the mayoralty in Labour London twice. He was the spearhead behind Vote Leave’s success in the EU Referendum. This would be a man people could flock to on the backbenches.

When deciding her next move the Prime Minister has a lot to consider. Britain cannot afford to have a Foreign Secretary who endangers the lives of our citizens abroad. However does the Prime Minister have the authority to carry out the sacking and would she survive the resulting repercussions? It is an unenviable position for a Prime Minister already on life support to face.

Why has the Idea of a Second Referendum not Materialized?

What makes democracies flourish is scrutiny. Opposition to government brings out the best of the governing parties through scrutiny and compromise with government. The Brexit referendum broke this trend in a peculiar way.  Neither of the two main parties in the UK are ardently pro-EU, and Labour’s ambiguity in their stance towards Brexit makes easier the job of the Conservatives – who face less opposition from Labour in regard to the withdrawal from the EU than they ought to. The fundamental reason for this is down to the fear of alienating large swaths of supporters.

Since the General Election in June, Labour has maintained a narrow lead over the Conservatives in the polls, despite the divisions in the Tory party on the manner of the EU withdrawal, while failing to consolidate a strong lead over them.

Labour’s relative success in this election was founded on a mixture of former UKIP, Liberal Democrat and Green voters. This varied coalition has brought Labour into a strong political position in parliament and aided the collapse of the Conservative majority. The Labour party has long awaited success in the polls, and it appears that they are (on face value) succeeding in that regard. This however, makes Labour’s newly established popularity fragile, if one is to assume that Brexit is a major electoral issue. The support is delicate due to Labour’s mixed messages on Brexit – Corbyn made a career of being a left-wing Eurosceptic; Sadiq Khan and Tom Watson not ruling out a second referendum; and Corbyn resisting calls from Labour members to remain in the Single Market. The Brexit ambiguity that is projected by Labour therefore fails to alienate its pro-remain (students, and former Green and Lib Dem) voters, while keeping Britain’s ‘working-class leavers’ happy (estimated to be around 15 percent of the population).

A radical deviation to either ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’ politics would certainly risk Labour’s lead in the polls. This may explain the silence from the strongly pro-EU Labour MPs such as Owen Smith (now in the shadow cabinet), which begs the question: is Labour prioritising its party interests over what many of its MPs believe will damage the UK with Brexit?

Either way, Labour will eventually have to come out of its shell and show a firmer stance in this regard. This will not necessarily harm the party – a plurality of people believe that Brexit will damage the economy, and life more generally. If the damages of leaving the EU become as clear as they were described during the Referendum, then surely a vote on the final deal obtained by the government would not be an unpopular move.

Universities must remain bastions of free speech

Free speech and open debate are qualities we rightly hold in high esteem in this country. The university system embodies these qualities. They provide a place for students to explore their political views and beliefs and debate with fellow pupils. This environment is precious and to be protected fiercely.

So why do these initial points need to be made? The answer can be found in a letter sent this week by Conservative MP and whip Chris Heaton-Harris. Mr Heaton-Harris had written to every university asking for the names of the academics teaching about Brexit. Later it has been claimed Mr Heaton-Harris was acting in his capacity as an MP and not acting on behalf of the Government, with the letter designed for academic research.

This has not spared Mr Heaton-Harris a fierce rebuke from both the political and university sectors. Universities Minister Jo Johnson said the letter “probably shouldn’t have been sent.” Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake believed the letter was “a poorly disguised attempt to shut down debate on Brexit.” Professor David Green, vice-Chancellor at the University of Worcester believed the letter constituted a “British McCarthyism”, with Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University going further saying the letter was an “extraordinary example of outrageous and foolish behaviour – offensive and idiotic Leninism.” There is a possibility now that Mr Heaton-Harris could face an official standards inquiry, after it was claimed that the letters were sent on taxpayer-funded Commons paper.

Brexit is the prevalent issue of our day. Both young and old, university educated and non-university educated have an opinion. It is a conversation that did not end after the referendum and probably will not end for some considerable time. All need the space and the freedom to reach their own conclusions. It is important that we trust our students to reach these positions on their own, even if they are not positions the Government is adopting.

It is unclear whether this was a clumsy attempt to put pressure on universities, or simply part of an ill-thought out academic process. Regardless, it crossed several lines and is not acceptable. The Government should not be in the position of being seen to influence university syllabuses. The condemnation should serve as a warning to any within the political system who would seek to direct our universities and students in a particular political direction.