Should we worry about North Korea?

Should we worry about North Korea?

Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have increased, with Kim Jong-Un conducting the Norths 6th nuclear test on the 3rd September 2017. Increasingly heated rhetoric has taken ever more unprecedented forms; we have seen a flurry of insults with Mr Kim bringing the word ‘dotard’ into public discourse, and Trump declaring the NK leader to be a ‘madman.’ Threats of ‘fire and fury’ have echoed from the Whitehouse, and after Trump threatened to ‘totally destroy’ the people’s republic in a speech at the UN, Mr Kim stated the U.S. would ‘pay dearly’ for such remarks.[1] While Trumps use of twitter to state NK ‘won’t be around much longer’[2]  if threats continue certainly represents a unique approach to international diplomacy, and may appear concerning, it is important not to overstate the threat faced firstly by NK, and subsequently from Trump’s slapdash approach in confronting it.

Behind the rhetoric you should first observe the intentions of Pyongyang in pursuit of a nuclear programme. The number one goal of all states is survival; in international relations and from the perspective of offensive realism, states behave as rational actors with survival as the prime objective in an anarchical international system, when states can never be certain of the intentions of others.[3] As a result, rather than absolute power, states seek as much power relative to others as possible; because states are assumed rational, the best way to ensure your survival is to become powerful enough to deter an attack. As the BBC acknowledged, the North Korean government reasons that developing their nuclear capability ‘would protect the government by raising the costs of toppling it,’[4] which on some level appears rational. After all, from Pyongyang’s perspective, the U.S. has an estimated 35,000 troops in South Korea, 40,000 personnel in Japan,[5] a powerful nuclear arsenal and a track record of toppling state leaders.[6] Behind the rhetorical threats therefore, the actions of NK in attempting to acquire a nuclear capability likely reflects its wish for security, not a war which could have no benefit for anyone.

Secondly, while the tone and style of communication between Washington and Pyongyang has changed, we have experienced great tensions before and the position of the U.S. has always been clear. In 1994 during the Clinton administration, the U.S. nearly went to war with North Korea in order to halt its nuclear programme after the International Atomic Energy Agency was denied access to NK’s nuclear sites.[7] After despatching greater forces to South Korea, to the obvious alarm and mobilization of the North, the diplomacy of former president Jimmy Carter diffused tensions and avoided military confrontation.[8]

To be clear, this is a deeply complex issue with myriad contributing factors, effecting any calculation of threat potential. These include the role of North Korean identity politics, the potential desperate actions of Pyongyang in the aftermath of a maintained sanctions in the form of a boycott of North Korean trade, and possible miscalculations from Washington. However, diplomacy tends to win out, as neither side wants war, and while Trump’s correspondence with the north appears confrontational, the fundamental message remains consistent to his predecessors; diplomacy is preferred, but the U.S. will not hesitate to the American people and allies by any means necessary.

[1] BBC News, ‘North Korea: Trump and Kim call each other mad,’ BBC News, (2017) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41356836

[2] Julia Allen, ‘Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer,’ The Telegraph, (2017) Available Online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/24/donald-trump-warns-kim-jong-un-wont-around-much-longer/

[3] John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (U.S.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001) 36

[4] BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017) Available Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40882877

[5] Oliver Holmes, ‘What is the US military’s presence near North Korea?’ (2017) Available Online: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/09/what-is-the-us-militarys-presence-in-south-east-asia

[6] BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017) Available Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40882877

[7] Leon V. Sigal, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997) Available Online: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/1997_05/sigal

[8] Leon V. Sigal, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997) Available Online: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/1997_05/sigal

 

 

Sources

Allen. J, ‘Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer,’ The Telegraph, (2017)

BBC News, ‘North Korea: Trump and Kim call each other mad,’ BBC News, (2017)

BBC News, ‘North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?’ (2017)

Sigal. Leon V, ‘The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding The Failure of the ‘Crime-and-Punishment’ Strategy,’ Arms Control Association, (1997)

Mearsheimer. John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (U.S.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2001

Why May survives for now!

Former Conservative leader and Foreign Secretary William Hague once referred to his party as “an absolute monarchy tempered by regicide.” Probably, pretty accurate!

Throughout their chequered history, the Conservative Party has developed a reputation for being ruthless with their leaders, neatly bringing us to the current incumbent and Prime Minister Theresa May.

After a calamitous conference speech, (yes, impacted by some factors outside of her control), a snap election which went badly wrong and a permanent loss of authority, the pressure has been mounting on the Prime Minister.  This pressure reached boiling point this week when a rebellion led by former minister Grant Shapps, with the alleged support of 30 fellow MPs and 5 former Cabinet Ministers publicly called on May to step down.

This number of MPs falls below the 48 threshold needed to force a leadership contest under current Conservative Party rules. Shapps move has been condemned by Tory colleagues who have advised him to “shut up.” Despite the apparent failure of this coup, most senior Tories accept that it is only a matter of time before May has to leave, so why has she survived on this occasion?

The one thing (most likely, the only thing), that the Conservative Party is united on is that they don’t want another General Election for the foreseeable future. This is an election, they would be likely to lose. There are fears that although there is no constitutional pressure to call an election when a Prime Minister is changed, the pressure could lead to exactly this occurrence if May is forced out. It is clear there is a consensus that removing May leads to a situation they cannot control.

Secondly, there is no obvious candidate to replace her. Boris remains popular with the membership, but not so with his colleagues who could block him. Amber Rudd, David Davis or Philip Hammond have also been mentioned but none can make an overwhelming case. The most obvious choice is Ruth Davidson, but she shows no signs of wanting to come to Westminster. Those, and there are many, who want the top job are willing to keep their powder dry until the climate is more favourable towards them.

Lastly, there is Brexit. Brexit impacts everything in our politics. There is a school of thought in the Conservative Party, that with negotiations at a fragile stage this is not the time for a leadership contest. Brexiteers are worried a new leader would seek to halt Brexit and Remainers are worried a new leader would desire a harder Brexit. Both these groups are unwilling to risk a change, with so many factors outside their control.

Theresa May will survive this coup, but is on very thin ice. A Prime Minister with no authority cannot continue indefinitely. The rebels will regroup and will strike again and next time calculations could well have changed for other MPs and potential leaders. It still remains a matter of time.

Labour’s anti-Semitism problem

Labour conference was in buoyant mood this week at Brighton. Understandably so you might say. The mood music was that this was a party with momentum and on the verge of government.

However, in the midst of this jubilant atmosphere, one ugly issue began to rear its head again; anti-Semitism. Remarks at a party fringe event around whether people should be allowed to question whether the Holocaust happened created a worrying sense of deja vu.

Accusations of anti-Semitism have plagued Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership tenure. Immediately after becoming leader Corbyn found himself defending comments he made about Hamas. Controversial remarks from Ken Livingstone then followed in 2016. This, alongside other events, led to the conduction of the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism.

Since last summer the issue has continued to bubble away, but has not flared up again until this moment. There was a hope that a new, stricter rule on anti-Semitism agreed at the conference would put an end to this discussion. Alas not.

The level of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is much debated. Senior Labour MP John Cryer, has said he has been “shocked” by the level of some anti-Semitic tweets sent by party members. Allies of Jeremy Corbyn, however, such as Len McCluskey, Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone argue that these claims of anti-Semitism are driven by leadership plots.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the accusations, this is not an image the Labour Party can shake. This should worry all in Jeremy Corbyn’s team. Ethically, any political party in the 21st century should long have moved on from anti-Semitism, especially one supposedly on the progressive wing of politics.

Electorally, it carries a cost as well. In two heavily Jewish constituencies in London at the 2017 General Election; Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon, the swing towards Labour was notably smaller than elsewhere in London. The 9.1% average swing Labour enjoyed across London would have been enough to win the seats.

Labour as a party need to act swiftly and firmly against these allegations. The longer this whiff of anti-Semitism continues, the more damaging it will be. So, yes question and criticise the actions of the Israeli government if necessary, but know where to draw the line. It is time for the Labour Party to do whatever it needs to, to bring this to an end.

Osborne has over-stepped the line

There is no love lost between George Osborne and Theresa May. The two enjoyed a difficult relationship throughout their time in David Cameron’s Cabinet and often found themselves at odds over policy direction. This feud only heightened when Theresa May sacked Osborne after becoming Prime Minister in 2016 advising Osborne to “get to know the party.”

A lot has happened since then! Official Brexit negotiations have begun. We have had a snap General Election, where unexpectedly Theresa May failed to gain a majority. And, lastly, George Osborne has left Parliament and become Editor of the Evening Standard.

Osborne has enjoyed the freedom of this new role. He has used his newfound influence to stick the knife into the Prime Minister, attacking her on numerous instances. (Examples include the mocking of the Conservative manifesto on election night, labelling the Prime Minister a “dead woman walking and comparing the Prime Minister to the “living dead in a second rate horror film.”

However, recently, Osborne was considered to have a crossed the line in remarks he allegedly made about the Prime Minister. Reportedly, he told colleagues at the Evening Standard he would not rest until Theresa May was “chopped up in bags in my freezer.”

These comments have drawn sharp criticism from Conservative MPs. Nadine Dorries has called for Osborne to be banned from party conference, Jacob Rees-Mogg has labelled Osborne as “bitter”, Iain Duncan Smith called the language “irresponsible” and Maria Miller said “we need to debate with facts, not vile abuse.” The list could go on and on.

Osborne considered himself humiliated when sacked by Theresa May. Therefore, to a certain extent, it is not surprising that he is enjoying the Prime Minister’s demise. Partially that is just human nature in action.

This does not mean though, that Osborne can say whatever he wants and ignore the consequences of his words. Osborne still holds a position of authority and has a duty to act responsibly. Language such as this is provocative at best, and violent at worst. In an era, where MPs and disproportionately female MPs are subject to vile abuse, all engaged in politics should be toning the language down, rather than dialling it up.

Osborne is a man of great ability, but this is beneath him. Osborne in his role should focus on balance, rather than personal attack. Maybe, a period of silence from Osborne would not be disastrous at present.

 

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]

 

The SNP and Education: radical or just rhetoric?

Education, education, education is once again a priority in Scotland. In the Scottish Queen’s Speech at the beginning of the month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out the SNP’s programme for government, including the promise to ‘deliver the most radical reform of how schools are run since devolution began’ through the introduction of an Education Bill. This is not the first time Sturgeon has promised action on education. Early on as First Minister, she claimed her priority would be to close the attainment gap between the rich and the poor. And yet, the SNP are now under more pressure as not only has this not become a reality, but education standards are rapidly falling. Last year, Scottish schools dropped in world rankings, with tests on maths, reading and science falling to ‘average’ for the first time since 2000. The Scottish Government has also published results showing a drop in Scottish literacy rates, with now less than half of thirteen and fourteen year olds performing well in writing, leading to Prime Minister Theresa May claiming the falling standard of education is a ‘national scandal’. Now more than ever, the SNP need to be seen to be combatting the problem their critics are claiming they have caused.

But are the SNP going about this the right way? John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary, discussed early plans in June for the Education Bill, suggesting wider powers for headteachers and continuing with Regional Education Boards, a supposed ‘middle layer’ of support, encouraged by the OECD which is supposed to be extra support for teachers. The idea would be that these reforms would give teachers and parents more freedom to focus on closing the attainment gap.

And yet, teachers are not so sure. In June, an Education Governance Review was published after the government sought the opinions of a wide range of educational professionals for their opinion of structural reform. The results reflect a widespread belief for ‘no need to fix something that is not broken’ and ‘a strong opposition against the uniform establishment of educational regions’. With results like these, it really draws questions as to why and how the government is justifying these reforms, unpopular and seen not to particularly benefit educational attainment. The benefits of such a reform are unclear, and despite assurances that the reforms should reduce workload for teachers, there are fears the reforms could potentially increase bureaucracy, lose local accountability, and weaken democratic representation.

The changing role of headteachers is also shrouded in mystery as well. It is suggested that headteachers would be responsible over funding, staffing, curriculum content, as well as raising the attainment and closing poverty-related gaps. In theory, these functions focus primarily on the welfare and education of students, removing unnecessary jobs which would distract headteachers from their core goals of supporting students. Critics have argued that these reforms don’t really improve the powers that Scottish head teachers already have. Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative Education Spokesperson, described the reforms as ‘half-baked and only pay lip service to real devolution’. Indeed, headteachers in Scotland already have control over the curriculum, as well as control over staffing and school budgets. It’s not entirely clear yet how their role will be changed, and doesn’t appear as radical as the SNP government is suggesting.

This Bill is one to keep an eye out on in the future, but the motives behind these reforms seem confusing. All evidence points to these reforms being highly unpopular and not really recognising the problems behind Scottish education. It appears to be a distraction from the real issue – a failure to fund resources in schools to an appropriate level. Rather than reform and radicalism, all I can see is a reshuffle that just serves to annoy teachers even further rather than deal with the root causes of the problems.

Anglo-Saudi Relations: A Study in Realist International Theory

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



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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

What is Boris up to?

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

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

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



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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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



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

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

(Noam Chomsky Videos, July 2017)

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

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

 

How many stories did you miss today?

#Moggmentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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