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The Government Continues to Stoke Burning Embers in Northern Ireland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/06/2022 - 9:50pm in

As Boris Johnson prepares to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, Jonathan Lis explores how his recklessness, a hard Brexit and lasting questions of identity are threatening peace once again

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It was not very long ago that people began to talk about Northern Ireland as if it were a normal place. The Good Friday Agreement entrenched, power-sharing in full operation, the province ran – for the most part – smoothly and peacefully. Of course, the main parties disagreed about big and small issues – but everyone had something they wanted and agreed to make the process work. The political crisis which brought down the Northern Ireland Executive in 2017 was not about sectarianism or the constitution but the misspending of public funds.

Today in Northern Ireland the leaders of one of the two main communities argue that their side of the constitutional equilibrium has been upended. The Executive is deadlocked and the nominal First Minister cannot take up her post.

And the UK Government is using the situation as a pretext to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol in whole or in part, thereby ripping up its Brexit Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, breaking international law, and inviting a full-blown trade war with its closest neighbours.

Amid all the talk of crisis, it is easy to dismiss the political earthquake that took place last month. A nationalist party – Sinn Féin – won an election in Northern Ireland for the first time. The borders of Northern Ireland were drawn, quite literally, to prevent that from ever happening. It is supposed to have a built-in unionist majority – that was its only reason to exist.

The result does not bring reunification any closer in practical terms. A border poll would have to be called by the Secretary of State on the basis of clear evidence for popular support. Even if that happened, many thousands of voters who opted for the non-aligned Alliance Party in this election would choose to remain in the UK. And yet a rubicon has been crossed. 

Sinn Féin is no longer a minority party or playing second fiddle – it won a clear mandate as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Vice-President, Michelle O’Neill, has every right to take up her position as First Minister. That, of course, is a part of the problem. 

For all the talk of unionist concerns about the Protocol – which requires checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK – there are strong suspicions that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is refusing to support the Executive on principle. For many unionists it is unthinkable to play ‘deputy’ to Sinn Féin, even if the posts are hierarchised only in name. The leadership of Northern Ireland is for unionists, and if they can’t have control of the ball, they will pick it up and go home. 

The DUP has only itself to blame for what is happening.

The party was warned in 2016 that Brexit would divide people on the island politically and economically, requiring new trade barriers and therefore a new trade border – and still it supported it. It has since done everything it can to avoid taking responsibility for its colossal error or even admitting it made one – a process in which it has consistently put its own electoral interests ahead of its people’s prosperity. Its ensuing self-sabotage has now accidentally ensured the result it most feared. As morality tales go, this one is on the nose.

And yet, of course, the DUP is genuinely aggrieved. A border in the Irish Sea, justifiably or otherwise, makes it feel cut-off from Great Britain and its internal market. The more Britain diverges on regulation, the further that gulf will appear. The DUP was almost inconceivably foolish to believe Boris Johnson when he denied a sea border would ever exist but, unlike him, they at least adhere to a basic political principle.

The DUP and the UK Government are mutually propelling the current crisis. Both have put short-term calculations first; both are bad at politics; both are furious they cannot have their own way and are sacrificing their voters and the UK economy, respectively, to show it. And yet they are not equally culpable. 

The DUP may have been gullible, naive and petulant, but it is the UK Government that has been uniquely cynical and dishonest from the start.

In recent weeks and months, the Prime Minister has again been resurrecting the excuses for why the Protocol needs to be unilaterally modified and fabricating some new ones for good measure. The demands are onerous, he says. They were unforeseen. They threaten the Good Friday Agreement. He even wrote in the Belfast Telegraph that the Government didn’t anticipate the shocks of the pandemic, war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The problem is that everything he says is either sophistry or a lie – it doesn’t matter that unpredictable world events have occurred since 2019. The Protocol was negotiated for all circumstances and for all time. If the Government wasn’t prepared for difficult events, it should not have negotiated something so precarious. Indeed, if circumstances are now so unfavourable that we need to cancel the Protocol, we surely need to cancel Brexit itself. 

“There is no disguising the fact that the delicate balance created in 1998 has been upset,” he wrote, having himself upset it. “I agreed [the Protocol] on the basis that it protected the Good Friday Agreement,” he told Channel 4, having spent the previous three years endangering it. This is, after all, the man who, as Foreign Secretary, compared a border which claimed more than 3,500 lives to the boundary between two London boroughs.

Johnson, as ever, projects his failures onto his opponents and accuses them of that which he is guilty of. He accuses the EU of being insincere in its desire to protect the Good Friday Agreement when, in fact, Brussels was prioritising it before London even acknowledged it was an issue.

The Prime Minister’s most revealing comment was to Channel 4: “I hoped and believed that our friends would not necessarily want to apply the Protocol in quite the way that they have,” he said. In other words, because he had no wish to implement an international agreement, he assumed that the other side wouldn’t either. It encapsulates Johnson’s solipsism – because all he understands is duplicity in the compulsive pursuit of self-interest, he cannot conceive of anyone else behaving in good faith. He cannot even understand them working towards interests that aren’t his.

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The EU has applied the Protocol in just the way it said it would: to the letter. Indeed, it has tolerated both the UK’s extended grace periods and faithlessness and acted more leniently and constructively than many imagined. There was no secret in the Protocol. It announced what it was and the Prime Minister agreed to it. Not only that, he used it as the foundational pillar of an entire election campaign. Opponents warned what that ‘oven-ready’ deal entailed and Johnson dismissed them as liars and fearmongers. 

The first problem for the Government is that new legislation will not help anything. The DUP has already stated that it will not consider joining the Executive until legislation has been enacted, not simply tabled. Meanwhile, the moment it is enacted the EU will retaliate.

The second, much bigger problem, is the Government’s stupidity. As Johnson himself identified, we are dealing with crises that seemed impossible just three years ago: recovery from a pandemic, a major war in Europe, and an economic earthquake hitting every citizen in the country. 

Politically, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK has made a great play of European unity. Britain and the EU have cooperated closely on sanctions, assistance and rhetoric. Beginning a major new political crisis defies not only all logic but the key objectives of solidarity and coordination. The only person who could possibly cheer it is Vladimir Putin himself.

Even more astonishing are the economic ramifications. The cost of living crisis is already pushing millions of people closer towards poverty or deeper into it. The Bank of England Governor, a man not renowned for hyperbole, has warned of “apocalyptic” rises in food prices. It is just possible that a trade war with our largest export partner – and one of our largest suppliers of food – will exacerbate that crisis.

The move to dis-apply parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol are not about improving lives but scoring political points. It may be an elaborate bluff and Parliament may reject it. The point is that the Government is comfortable threatening to wreck Britain’s economy and international reputation – and stoking the embers of a recent civil war. Whatever comes next, that is enough to damn it for all time.

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Resting Place: Marking My Grandmother’s Grave Helped Me Find My European Identity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

Patrick Howse shares the story of three generations of his family – a tale of loss, discovery, conflict and plural identities

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A brand-new stone stands at the head of my grandmother’s grave. It is 90 years since her death, but the plot was marked for the first time just a few weeks ago. Despite having a large family, she died alone in a strange country, and no member of that family ever visited her grave. It took the current generation to piece together her story, and to commemorate her life. It’s a story of war, imperialism, conflicting loyalties, emigration, and loss. And it’s a story in which Brexit played a belated but significant role.

I moved to Germany in 2016 with my Bavarian partner and daughter. My decision to leave Britain was spurred by Brexit. My father was always proud of his Irish heritage (my name is no accident), and I was always aware of my Irish blood. And that blood, passed down by my grandmother, qualified me for Irish citizenship – something I had often thought about, but never too seriously. After all, on the face of it, I’m as English as it’s possible to be. I was born, raised, and educated in England, and I worked there most of my adult life. But Brexit changed everything.

The Brexit debate in England was dishonest and xenophobic. If the world wars were mentioned at all, it was by middle-aged people who claimed ‘we won’ them, with little comprehension of the sacrifices their parents or grandparents had to make – and no understanding at all of what real war is. There was also a widespread and very unhealthy nostalgia for the Empire – something I found particularly distasteful.

Discussions about, or recognition of, our shared European history, values or culture were almost entirely absent. When any positives of EU membership were mentioned, they were the economic benefits.

I came to realise the sad truth that I no longer belonged in England, and so, in my fifties, I became an Irish citizen. Even as I applied for that citizenship – by virtue of my grandmother’s country of birth – it dawned on me, and on my sisters, that we knew very little about her, including where she had been buried. 

That inspired the research that found me standing beside a shiny new marble headstone in an English graveyard on the 90th anniversary of her death.

Rita and Harry

Margaret – known as Rita – was born in County Cork in 1897. She had a twin brother, two other brothers, and a younger sister. Difficult days lay ahead for her and for Ireland.

In the Irish War of Independence, and the subsequent Civil War, those family members found themselves on different sides. In the war against the British, that meant a split along pro- and anti-independence lines; in the Civil War, brothers who’d been on the same side apparently took different views of the signing of the treaty that brought the war against the British to an end. 

By the end of 1922, they had all fled the country. Rita married a British Army officer and moved to England; the rest all went to America, along with their mother.

Rita's new husband, Harry, had been through the First World War. As a junior infantry officer, and later as a company commander, he spent 18 months on the frontline, fighting in the Battle of the Somme shortly before his 20th birthday. A second-lieutenant, he joined his regiment in September 1916 as a replacement after the carnage at the beginning of that battle. Three other junior officers joined at the same time – within two weeks they had all been killed or wounded.

Harry went on to lead a company at the Battle of Messines, and then at Passchendaele in 1917.  He survived the war but, by the time it came to an end, he had lost all his close friends and had seen death on a huge scale – but also intimately, up close. 

Reading between the lines of the regimental Commander’s War Diary, it’s probable that he killed during his service. 

He certainly ‘went over the top’ with his men at Messines, and the engagement was a bloody one. A few weeks later, the conditions at Passchendaele – where Harry’s company fought in a swamp between Railway Wood and Sanctuary Wood – were appalling. Harry was wounded there and shipped back home for treatment. That meant he missed Ludendorff’s desperate final offensive of the following spring; an action in which the last of Harry’s contemporaries and friends were slaughtered.

It was with this baggage that Harry was sent to Ireland in 1918. 

Harry Howse in 1932. Photo: Patrick Howse

It’s not easy to trace exactly what he got up to in Ireland because the Commander’s War Diary is of little use. The battalion’s officers were named in the diary’s entries throughout the First World War, so it is possible to know exactly where Harry was on any given day during that conflict. In Ireland, the document becomes much more coy, with no names attached to individual actions (it was also kept secret for 50 years). While this was a regular army unit, and Harry was not a Black and Tan or Auxiliary (both of which played particularly shameful roles in Ireland), I think it’s likely he played a full part in the fight – and the fight got dirty. That’s not something I’m proud of.

I don’t know where or when Harry and Rita met, but they were married in Dublin in 1921. There’s no doubt in my mind that they were in love. Rita would not have had to look hard for reasons not to marry an Englishman. Harry had to agree to any children being brought up as Catholic in order to marry Rita. Marrying an Irish Catholic at that time would not have done his career any favours, and it also caused a rift with his parents. One of my aunts told me once that she remembered Harry’s mother as a harsh old harridan. She vividly recalled “a Victorian looking woman”  who dismissed the small child with disdain and the words “there’s bad blood there”.  

Harry and Rita defied this parental disapproval and got married anyway. They had five children in quick succession. But this isn't a happy story.

Partings of the Way

My father Desmond was born in Bristol in 1922. Ireland’s Civil War was underway, and Rita’s Irish family had taken the decision to move to America (indeed some had already left). 

Rita headed home to show them her son, and say farewell to them for what turned out to be the final time. Of course, there was no question of Harry going with her at that stage.

We only have family legend to go on at this point, but by my father’s account (he was too small to have any actual memories of the events that unfolded) the family got together somewhere in County Cork. A local IRA column broke in, and was about to murder my infant father, when his uncle – Rita’s older brother who was himself an IRA man – intervened and saved his life.

The family went their separate ways, and my father never visited Ireland again.

Harry remained in the Army and, after Ireland won its freedom, he had postings in Egypt and Sudan, and then in India. Rita went with him, at least initially. My father, the eldest boy, remembered his ayah – an Indian nursemaid – with great affection all his life and, as a small boy, was as comfortable speaking to her in her native language as he was in English. Though my grandfather remained in India, the rest of the family returned to England.

In 1932, Rita became ill with a brain tumour and died at the age of 34. My father was 10, and his youngest brother was just a baby. My grandfather – still a serving army officer – was away in India. He, and all the children, were unable to attend the funeral – in fact, none of them ever visited her grave. 

The older children were packed off to schools and the youngest was cared for by acquaintances of Rita’s. They were never even told where she was buried.

Harry left the Army when Rita died. His commanding officer’s reference described him as “a brave, active and intelligent officer”. He returned to England and met the woman who was to be his second wife on the boat home.  

Providing a mother for his five motherless children may well have been a motivation for this whirlwind courtship, and probably provided another reason for not dwelling too much on Rita’s fate – or the whereabouts of her mortal remains. But I believe we can only understand Harry’s actions by looking at them through the prism of his experiences in the trenches, in Ireland, and British imperial India. 

From the time he first went into combat at the age of 19, he had been conditioned to make quick life-and-death decisions and see their bloody consequences play out before his eyes in real time. He was used to being the person who made those decisions, and he was used to being obeyed. There was no room in this process for emotion or sentiment – and certainly grieving played no role at all. All of this inflicted an emotional distancing and insecurity that has blighted my family’s interpersonal relationships for 90 years.

Desmond in 1940. Photo: Patrick Howse

Only one of Rita’s five children is still alive and she is in poor health. She has spent most of her life in Canada. One of Rita’s sons moved to Australia; another lived and died in France. My father worked in the Middle East for a decade and never settled anywhere for very long. He had been a soldier in the Second World War, wounded and captured in North Africa. Those were experiences he never talked about.

Even my mother – who, of course, married into this family – was afflicted by Harry’s emotional legacy. She met my father at Christmas 1945 and they married in 1947. 

My mother fell pregnant for the first time as my father entered his final year as a civil engineering student. She went to stay with her parents as the due date approached and my father prepared to sit his final exams. Very sadly, she had a miscarriage. Her parents contacted Harry with the news, but he did not pass it on to my father – because he took the decision that the exams were the priority and that my father should not be distracted.

Almost 60 years later, as she lay dying, my mother confided this story to me, and talked quietly about the devastating impact facing such a loss – alone, and with no emotional or psychological support – had on her life. 

For me, Harry’s behaviour fits into the pattern established while watching friends and comrades die around him, and losing the woman he loved at a cruelly early age. It fits into the pattern of the carnage that the survivors of war are left to deal with as best they can – usually without very much help and little understanding. It also fits into a pattern of the damage imperialism inflicts, not just on the oppressed, but also on the oppressors.

A New Identity

The family tradition of emigration continued in my generation. My father's five children now live in five different countries. 

What I knew of my family history, and my career as a journalist covering conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, killed off any illusions I might have had about the consequences of war and Britain's place in the world. It seemed obvious to me that the only sane and legitimate response to the lines of Portland headstones in military cemeteries in France and Belgium, and dozens of other countries around the world, was to vow to do everything necessary to stop those wars happening again.

This view was strengthened and deepened for me when my German partner and I had a daughter. I felt we could all have a home in an inclusive, stabilising European Union. The EU was founded to give us all a peaceful future; a mechanism that would ensure European nations talked to each other, cooperated with each other, and didn’t sink into war. That is what it has done successfully for more than 70 years.

Ireland has healed many of its wounds with the help of the EU and, for all its faults, the Republic is now recognisably and comfortably a European nation. My great-uncles had to make irrevocable choices about what sort of Irishmen they were. The Good Friday Agreement, and EU membership north and south of the border, enabled Ireland to move on. Of course Brexit has recklessly endangered that settlement, but the fact remains that the EU has done much to take the sting out of Ireland’s conflicting identities.

The EU, on a continental scale, was designed to make the dilemmas faced by my great-uncles and my grandmother a thing of the past. In that sense, I can belong there. My confused identity can be reconciled under the protection of the EU – I don’t have to choose between being English, or Irish, or even German – by being Irish I can be wholly European.

Which brings me back to my grandmother’s grave; a little piece of England forever in Ireland, so long forgotten. 

It was the anniversary of her death, but that was pure coincidence – at least, it was no plan of mine. As I stood there on a fine spring day, thinking of my family, I realised that we now had something we had always lacked and had always been searching for: a focus, a place to feel at home. Perhaps Rita’s grave gives us that and we can start a new tradition of gathering from around the world to mark anniversaries (the next will be in June, on what would have been my father’s 100th birthday).

Even as I stood reading the inscription on the stone, I felt a strong conviction that I had returned home to Ireland – spiritually, if not physically. A country my grandmother, father and great uncles had to flee has offered me a political sanctuary and a safe European identity. It’s also given my generation the chance to lay some ghosts of the past to rest. 

It's our job to heal and that's a work in progress. For me, standing at Rita's gravestone was a step along that path.

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The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: An Unprecedented Reign – But What Next for 21st Century Britain?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 9:54pm in

The Queen's 70 years on the throne have seen Britain undergo extraordinary change – how will the monarchy's constitutional and societal role continue to evolve in the years ahead?

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No monarch in history has sat on the British throne for as long as Queen Elizabeth II. As the country celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, it is hard not to conclude that her 70-year reign as the country's sovereign has been anything other than unprecedented.

Inheriting a nation still recovering from another devastating world war and one that ruled over a quarter of the world's map, to the post-colonial Commonwealth era; from audiences with Prime Minister Winston Churchill to 'Cool Britannia'; welcoming 14 American Presidents and confronting the public after the death of Princess Diana; to the annus horribilis and her memorable star turn with James Bond at the 2012 London Olympics – the Queen's reign has seen Britain undergo extraordinary transformation.

For many, she has provided a stability and continuity that cannot be replicated and we will not see her like again. So where does the institution she has spent her life protecting go from here?

The recent State Opening of Parliament provided some interesting insights.

As usual, the imperial state crown was driven past Westminster Abbey and through the sovereign’s entrance of the Houses of Parliament. 'Black Rod' summoned the Commons. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition walked side by side into the Lords, at the head of a huddle of MPs watching on as the Government's new agenda was read out among gold-plated regalia and upon a throne.

The pomp, flummery and ceremony – all celebrated features of the occasion – were are all still there. And yet, the event looked and felt strange. It was the Queen’s Speech without the Queen. 

Presiding over the formality in exactly the same way as his mother has done for 70 years, Prince Charles’ neutral recitations - “to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families” – were criticised by some as out-of-touch and the entire ceremony deemed farcical.

The oddities were reinforced the next day with tabloid headlines declaring ‘I Hope I Did You Proud, Mummy’ next to forlorn images of the Prince of Wales staring at his mother’s crown.

Prince Charles reads the Queen's Speech as he sits next to the imperial state crown during the 2022 State Opening of Parliament. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

That he followed the Queen’s lead to a tee wasn’t the point. That he isn’t the Queen is. 

Whether you love or loathe the monarchy or feel indifferent, most tend to agree that the Queen has been a unifying symbol in Britain – an inoffensive, inspiring figure who has put duty to her country first and who embodies its values in a tangible way.

The 96-year-old acts as a unique bridge between the Britain of Empire and the 21st Century Brexit state it is today in a way no other individual can. When, during the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, she told the nation that "we will meet again" – echoing the words of Vera Lynn's famous wartime song – it was reassuring and meaningful in a way only the Queen could have achieved.

As Chris Grey has observed in these pages, "you don’t have to be a flag-waving monarchist to see just how remarkable and important her reign has been in providing a unifying continuity that is so familiar as to be taken for granted". 

Photographs of the Queen at her 1953 Coronation in flowing robes, jewels and crown do not look dated even today, as the Queen is truly a figure of her age. But, take her out of the picture and what are we left with?

This is no mere philosophical pondering, but quite a practical one too – one which this country will soon be forced to confront. 

Are we happy with Britain having an unelected monarch as its head of state? Or have we been happy with the particular personality of the Queen fulfilling this role for all these years?

The issue is an important one for two reasons.

Firstly, in other countries with a head of state, this is usually an elected position, with the individual having a specific mandate to act as a check on executive power. In the UK, this is where we have a problem. While the monarch does have a constitutional role with prerogative powers which can theoretically act as a check on the Prime Minister and his government, by convention, the monarch chooses not to exercise these powers – elected representatives are given primacy.

The Queen didn’t intervene to stop Boris Johnson from unlawfully proroguing Parliament to stymie Brexit discussions in 2019 – but, equally, if she had, she could have faced accusations of using her unelected power to ‘meddle in politics’. Is either scenario ideal?

Secondly, the issue matters because of what the monarch’s role in Britain’s constitution says more profoundly about the country as a whole.

As former diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall has written for Byline Times, the existence of the monarchy arguably “feeds a culture of hierarchy and deference in our system which is simply outmoded" and "enables a system of titles, privilege and class which infuse our collective unconscious and corrupt our society”. Whether this is reflective of the country we want to be today is eminently worthy of discussion.

As are other considerations. Should the monarch have a more political role and act as a proper check on the Prime Minister and executive, as other heads of state do? Or should the Royal Family be purely ceremonial with no role and no powers in the political system? Either-way, there is currently a lack of clarity around the monarchy’s role in our political system. 

Most of us will not have thought much about these questions. Why would we? Perhaps we don’t care for the royals; perhaps we do. Perhaps the demeanour of the Queen, and the respect she commands, has brushed such queries under the carpet. But the Queen’s presence won’t allow us to dodge these issues forever. And more than at any other time, Britain must start to wrestle with what it stands for – and decide explicitly what its vision for the future is.

The Boris Johnson era has exposed the severe shortcomings of our largely unwritten and uncodified constitution, reliant on ‘good chaps’ and outdated conventions. Honour and fair play alone cannot represent any serious statement of intent. 

Britain will soon have to move with the times – the question is: will it be able to free itself of its trappings and finally look forward to a future not dominated by the past? As Britain’s citizens, it’s a question that should matter to us all. As the Queen’s subjects, it’s one which we have learned to avoid.   

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Imperial Measures: Confected Culture Wars and National Identity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 7:08pm in

Sam Bright considers the metrics that undermine the right’s new ideological gambit

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The approaching Platinum Jubilee, with all its pageantry and national symbolism, is also an occasion for collective debate about Britain and its identity.

The nationwide commemoration, marked by a four-day bank holiday weekend, is already empowering those on the right of the political spectrum – who are comfortable celebrating monarchy and tradition, and who are not overly concerned with the social and colonial hierarchies symbolised by the royal family.

Draped in the Union Jack, their walls adorned with pictures of the Queen, hard-right political figures will signal – both overtly and covertly – that they embody ‘British values’, contrasting their brand of polished patriotism with the supposedly subversive instincts of lefty ‘woke snowflakes’.

But this ideological rupture is largely a figment of the right’s collective imagination. In an attempt to demonise their opponents and retain the loyalty of important socially conservative constituencies, reactionary actors in politics and the media have perpetuated a confected culture war – the key facets of which bear little resemblance to the truth.

Cancel Culture

‘Cancel culture’ is the cornerstone of the culture war – the belief that organisations are pressured by the ‘woke mob’, particularly university students, into no-platforming and silencing prominent right-wing commentators.

This claim is often made through prominent right-wing media outlets by those supposedly ‘cancelled’ – and has formed the ideological basis of two big money broadcasting enterprises that have been launched in recent months.

The first, GB News (backed by £60 million in startup funding from global millionaire backers), claimed that it would “puncture the pomposity of our elites and politics, business, media and academia and expose their growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is” – as stated by the channel’s lead presenter, Andrew Neil, before he resigned from the project.

Picking up the cause in recent weeks has been Piers Morgan, the star of newly-launched Talk TV, who claimed in his opening monologue that: “My mission statement for this show is very simple – I’m going to cancel cancel culture. I’ll defeat this insidious, joyless societal scourge with those most effective of democracy-preserving weapons – common sense and truth.”

In the weeks following the launch of Talk TV, Morgan’s viewing figures have plummeted, hitting a low of 24,000 on 19 May.

Indeed, perhaps part of the reason for Morgan’s subterranean ratings can be found in the fact that cancel culture doesn’t really exist.

Over the past couple of years, the Government has introduced legislation to clamp down on perceived acts of censorship on university campuses. In February last year, for example, the Department for Education announced that it would be appointing a free speech ‘champion’ with the power to fine universities or students unions that, in its view, wrongly restrict free speech.

However, when questioned by opposition politicians about the evidence used to inform its strict new policies, ministers admitted that there have only been “a small number of high-profile reported incidents in which staff or students have been threatened with negative consequences” for their political views.

Moreover, ministers cited two academic studies on the topic of university censorship – one of which in fact claims that academic free speech has been “politicised” by the Conservative Party and figures on the right of politics. The study examined events held at King’s College London (KCL) and found that only six out of 30,000 could be reasonably classified as ‘free speech incidents’ over a five-year period.

And, in an even more ludicrous development, the anti-woke warriors have now begun to rage against acts of censorship that haven’t even happened. GB News, for example, has speculated that the works of William Shakespeare may be ‘cancelled’ – despite the fact that absolutely no-one has made this demand.

That didn’t stop Katharine Birbalsingh – the Government’s newly-appointed chair of the Social Mobility Commission – from appearing on GB News and suggesting that: “When I say eventually Shakespeare will go, it could be in five years, it could be 10 years, it could be 15 years, but I think that’s the way we’re heading.”

Trans Debate

Another primary focus of the culture warriors has been the ‘trans debate’ – over the extension of rights for transgender people.

While there is a heated debate about the ways in which trans rights can be extended while strengthening gender equality efforts, the tone of the conversation among right-wing actors is overwhelmingly negative, often exaggerating the fury of those campaigning for reform.

This debate has consequently trickled down to the mainstream broadcasters, with Labour MPs and shadow ministers now interrogated about the trans debate on an almost daily basis.

Yet, this conversation invariably ignores the fact that recorded transphobic hate crimes more than doubled in England and Wales from 2016/17 to 2020/21 – while the Government has “tentatively” estimated that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK, standing at a maximum of 0.7% of the population.

Moreover, a July 2020 poll by YouGov found that British people were broadly supportive of trans rights – with 50% of those surveyed believing that people should be allowed to self-identify as a gender different to the one they were assigned at birth (versus just 27% that disagreed).

As YouGov notes: “Britons tend to support transgender people using their new gender’s toilet (46-49% vs 28-30% opposed) and changing rooms (42-45% vs 32-34% opposed).”

It adds that: “Women tend to reject the argument that allowing transgender women to use female facilities puts them at risk. By 46% to 28% women say that doing so does not present any genuine risk of harm.”

Overall, people are fairly indifferent to ‘woke’ issues. KCL research shows that 35% of people haven’t heard of the term (though signifying a marked decrease from 51% in 2020), while 46% of people don’t think that the country is divided by culture wars. A majority (54%) either don’t know what ‘woke’ means, or think it’s a term of endearment.

“We need to remember that these issues are far from the top of people’s lists of concerns, and the vast majority of people are not as fired-up as the media and social media discussion often suggests,” says Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at KCL.

“But that doesn’t mean the issues are irrelevant to the public – there are important debates to be had about culture change in the UK. However, the tone of the discussion, as much as the content, matters – and the nature of the conversation we’re currently having is risking increased division.”

Tolerant Majority

The latest trigger topic has been the Government’s proposal to reintroduce imperial measurements ‘to mark the Platinum Jubilee’. Again, this debate is laced with fallacies – with the Daily Mail suggesting that we’re only able to make this change due to our departure from the EU.

That’s not the case. While the EU’s weights and measures directive required grams and kilograms to be displayed on products, it was still possible to list pounds and ounces. Johnson has also been promising this reform, to no avail, for years.

On the whole, recent polling suggests that the country is more tolerant and more united than is portrayed on the dimly-lit studios of GB News – and that people are relatively apathetic towards culture war conversations.

For example, British Future has found that around three-quarters of Britons now feel that our society’s diversity is a part of British culture, rather than a threat to it. This is a significant shift from 2011, when – according to the think tank – more than half the public said that having a population with a variety of backgrounds and cultures undermined British culture.

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Views towards immigration have also improved – with 59% of people believing that immigrants are necessary to help economic recovery, compared to 26% a decade ago. At the time of the EU Referendum in 2016, 40% of Brits said that immigration was one of the most important issues facing the UK, yet that concern has since evaporated to around 10% of the population.

Instead, the public is now far more concerned with public services and the economy – 62% of people picking the economy as one of the most important issues facing the country, up from 25% when Boris Johnson entered office in July 2019. Health is now second on the list, at 36%, while Britain’s departure from the EU is selected by just 18% of people, compared to 70% in July 2019.

This may indicate why a confected culture war has been pursued so aggressively by the right: as a replacement for Brexit, which previously acted as a motivating, cohering force for social conservatives, the potency of which has steadily dwindled since Johnson signed his ‘Oven Ready’ deal with the EU.

The culture warriors have therefore reached for ideological weapons that can preserve the pro-Brexit coalition, seeing the political and financial threat of a country beginning to shed its Leave-Remain tribalism.

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Student Privacy and Pandemics: Understanding and Reducing Privacy and Security Risks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 4:20am in

I’m presenting several times at TLTCon 2022 later in May. As part of the conference, they’re having some “live” or synchronous sessions where participants and presenters can interact. One of my sessions was accepted and identified as a virtual, or asynchronous session. This means that I put all of my materials together and make them available for consumption at the please of the participant.

In this post, I’ll share some of my materials and thoughts about the virtual session.

Description

This session will briefly review data security and privacy protection regimes as they apply to institutions of higher education. Data security involves everything you need to know and do to secure the data you have and produce. Data privacy is framed by policies that may be handled by an institution’s legal or compliance office to ensure that people are aware of the laws and risks associated with the handling and dissemination of personal data. Data can be a powerful tool for parents, educators, students, and administrators. This includes not only student data, but also employee, alumni, donor, and vendor information.
   
The session will discuss the different types of student data, how that data is used, and the key policies, practices, and procedures that schools and districts should implement to create a culture of privacy. I outline some potential best practices to establish trust and promote transparency. Tips will be shared for talking with students about privacy including the new challenges posed by online learning.

Slide Deck

Video Recording

References

The post Student Privacy and Pandemics: Understanding and Reducing Privacy and Security Risks first appeared on Dr. Ian O'Byrne.

Lessons for the Left from Scandinavia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Progressive parties in the Nordic countries have also been wrestling with reactionary views towards immigration in recent years, documents Shafi Musaddique

Gaze towards northern Europe and you will see an alternative universe, one in which the left rules.

Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland all have social democrat-led governments – an anomaly in the decline of the European centre-left. 

All these countries appear to be the realisation of a progressive, liberal democracy based on a strong welfare state and relative economic equality. When Sweden elected Magdalena Andersson as its first female leader in November, it cemented four out of five female leaders among the Nordic nations. 

But, scratch the surface, and you will find that the Nordic left is less rooted in the liberalism of equal opportunities than the stereotypes suggest. Indeed, decades of economic liberalisation and inflammatory right-wing rhetoric has co-opted a less generous mood. 

A pervasive narrative that non-European immigrants are largely to blame for a surge in crime has seen much of the Nordic left absorb elements of right-wing nationalism. This was witnessed in violence instigated by hardline anti-immigrant groups targeting Muslims in Sweden in recent weeks – the fruition of years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy.

Denmark has shifted the most against immigrants, shutting out non-native-born Danes from its welfare state – requiring them to work for 37 hours a week in order to receive benefits. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has openly admitted that the rules are directly aimed at women from “non-Western backgrounds” living on benefits.

Frederiksen has implemented ‘ghetto laws’ first established in 2010, that seek to break up neighbourhoods, particularly among Copenhagen’s Pakistani and Somali communities, in what Danes have called the “biggest social experiment of the century”.

Areas with higher than average jobless and crime rates, lower than average educational attainment and those with more than half of the population being first or second-generation migrants fall into the ‘ghetto’ list. More than 11,000 social homes are set to go, along with mass evictions of lower-income people, displacing them to areas where they have no prior links. 

The guidelines do not differentiate between non-Danish born residents and native Danes born to foreign parents. To put it simply, Denmark’s social cleansing policies hinge on race discrimination; high crime neighbourhoods with similar problems but occupied by mostly white Danes would not qualify as a ‘ghetto’.

Former Social Democrat Housing Minister Kaare Dybvad phased out the term ‘ghetto’ – seemingly believing that a change of labels is the way of applying a ‘tolerant’ touch when, in reality, the Danish centre-left has maintained previous right-wing policies. 

Sweden, too, appears to be copying Denmark’s playbook. Prime Minister Andersson has vowed to clamp down and deport “immigrant criminals”. It later turned out that an illegal immigrant, among the very people she has pursued with her rhetoric, had cleaned her house. 

Ideological Shape-Shifting

Britain’s left can heed the lessons of its Nordic counterparts.

According to Home Office figures, the Labour Government deported nearly 21,000 people in 2005. In 2019 to 2020, Priti Patel’s Home Office deported 13,000.

The Nordic left’s loosening grip of its identity, ideology and vision is a lesson for the British left, unable to catch the shifting of the sands. 

Working-class voters have moved towards the right at home and abroad through a growing antipathy towards immigrants and outsiders. In the Nordic countries, there are consequently more and more examples of the left pandering to this bigotry in order to win votes – sacrificing its principles in the process.

Though the UK Labour Party has condemned the Conservative Party’s reactionary policies on asylum seekers – notably its latest promise to deport certain asylum seekers to Rwanda – it has also failed to make the case for a new, tolerant and liberal settlement. Instead, Labour stands on the precipice of lurching right for short-term gain.

This is the strategy of Denmark’s ruling Social Democrats, harvesting voters from the populist Danish People’s Party. 

Nordic progressives used to win 40% or more of the vote – a share of the pie that has reduced in recent years, forcing them into coalitions with opponents, by virtue of their countries’ proportional voting systems.

Perhaps this is why ideological shape-shifting is more acceptable in these countries – the blurring of lines between political parties, involving coalitions and policy haggling – is built into their democracies.

But there have been new attempts from the left to reach a right-wing base without pandering to anti-immigration sentiments.

Sanna Marin, Finland’s popular Prime Minister, has focused on improving paternity rights by increasing parental leave for new fathers, from 2.2 months to 6.6 months. Critics argue that she must widen her appeal beyond urbanites – however, at a time when the UK Conservative Party thinks of itself as the cradle of ‘family values’, leftist policies from the Nordic countries point to an opportunity for Labour.

Meanwhile, there are those who continue to celebrate diversity in the Nordic countries – wrestling with perceptions and stereotypes of history that have cast these nations as mono-ethnic states, much like in Britain.

“A multi-ethnic Denmark is not an option to be accepted or rejected; it is existing fact of life, for better or worse, [but] integration is much less problematic than the rhetoric of politicians on the national scene would have us believe,” says Richard Jenkins in his study of paradoxical identities, Being Danish

The Swedish city of Malmo, pigeonholed by journalists who have overplayed the ‘immigrant crime’ sentiment, hosts an annual festival celebrating Turkish, Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese food, packed with multi-ethnic locals. 

And, as the author Micheal Booth describes in his book, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind The Myth Of The Scandinavian Utopia, Malmo’s diversity is a cause for celebration by all. When its migrant population is not targeted by hate, it can be – and is – “a city at peace with itself”.

Europe’s left, as in Britain, must settle on its place in a diverse, globalised world – establishing how it can appeal to socially conservative voters without sacrificing the cause of progress.

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Dismantling Truths About Emerging Adulthood

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 10:00pm in

We need a really radical re-imagining of, not just how we think about young adulthood, but how we move through our lives and where we find value. I would want people to know that this myth of young adulthood is not your individual burden. Doing the best you can within that has a lot of value....

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Boris Johnson is Fighting a ‘Culture War’ to Cling On to Power

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 5:00pm in

The Prime Minister's divisive comments about trans people are part of a broader attempt to survive rising public anger with his Government, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson is in trouble. Anger over 'Partygate' is combining with frustration over soaring living costs to put the future survival of his Government at risk.

After 12 years in office, the Conservative Party is starting to fear that it could be entering the twilight years of its long dominance over UK politics.

Yet, like all great survivors, Johnson has a plan which he believes could turn things around. And that plan is to replace his losing political war with a winning 'culture war'.

The Prime Minister’s comments about trans sportspeople last week were the latest in a growing series of attempts to drive a wedge between his party and Labour on cultural issues in order to cling onto power.

Whether it’s university free speech, LGBT rights, statues, Black Lives Matter or lockdown laws, Johnson is increasingly attempting to make the big divide at the next election between a socially Conservative Government and a ‘woke’ opposition.

So far it has had limited success. A study by Kings College London and Ipsos Mori last year found that, while there had been an explosion of interest in these subjects in the British media, the general public hadn't taken the bait. The study found that British people were just as likely to see ‘woke’ as being a compliment as an insult, with a plurality of people unaware of what the term meant at all.

The Labour Party too has so far failed to take the bait, with Keir Starmer and his Shadow Cabinet concentrating instead on cost of living and other issues, which polls suggest the public are most concerned about.

Unlike in the US, where such cultural battles now form integral parts of the political identities of the two major parties, UK voters don't appear to yet be willing to head to the culture war frontline.

“Most of the discussions [of culture war issues] that are played out on social media, and the media more generally, are just from the very extreme wings [of public opinion] and most people are just much more nuanced or conditional, or not that bothered,” Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at Kings College London, told Byline Times.

As a result, some of the recent endeavours to ignite culture wars in the UK have gone nowhere.

Attempts to form new political parties and movements based on resistance to Coronavirus lockdowns fell flat, with most voters remaining supportive of public interventions to prevent transmission of the pandemic. Similar attempts by Johnson’s Government to ignite a divide over the Black Lives Matter movement failed to take off, with most voters saying that they were supportive of England footballers who took the knee.

Is Johnson's Culture War Starting to Take Off?

But, while the public may so far have failed to bite, that could be changing. 

The same study by Kings College found that there had been an exponential growth in discussion of these topics in the press over recent years. Byline Times' analysis of press and broadcast coverage over recent months suggests that this trend has massively increased in the year since the study. 

So could the relentless push for a UK culture war ultimately work and could Boris Johnson succeed in igniting the sorts of divisions already seen in US politics?

Bobby Duffy suggests that, while individual attempts to stoke culture wars will have varying levels of success, the strategy could still succeed in forging what he calls new “mega-identities” among voters, which political parties will ultimately be able to exploit.

“The really important feature of a true culture war... is that it’s not really about disagreement over specific cultural issues or even fractious disagreement," he said. "It's about two fundamentally different views of the world where compromise is not possible.

"And the thing that comes through in the US experience with this is the idea of conflict extension – where you start with one issue, or small collection of issues, and then it slowly builds other issues into that in order to form these kind of mega-identities."

To Duffy, these mega-identities "get more and more caught up in your own political identity [which] reinforces that sense of division".

Looked at this way, it becomes clear that Johnson’s push for culture wars over issues such as taking the knee or trans rights, is less about the issues themselves and more about creating a 'wedge' between one bloc of younger, socially-liberal, Labour-leaning voters; and another bloc of older, socially and politically Conservative voters.

Once that wedge has been driven, it then requires very little effort to raise other issues which then help to deepen that political divide.

“The point is that once you activate one of those identities, and you've got these really big identities that cover all sorts of social and cultural issues, then they strengthen each time you activate them," Duffy told Byline Times.

The Casualties of Johnson's Culture Wars Conservative MP for Bridgend Jamie Wallis. Photo: PA Images

The problem with this strategy is that culture wars, like all wars, normally have real-world casualties.

At the end of last month, Boris Johnson used a dinner with Conservative MPs to make a joke about trans people and the Labour Party.

Yet, within hours one of his own MPs, Jamie Wallis, came out as a trans woman. Wallis’ dignified statement forced Johnson into a brief U-turn, as he praised his colleague’s “courage” on the issue.

But far from discourage Johnson from pursuing this particular incursion of the culture wars, he was back on the nation’s screens within days calling for a blanket ban on trans women taking part in women’s sports events. 

A leak to ITV News also revealed that he had removed trans people from his planned ban on conversion therapy. As a result of Johnson’s decision, which was reportedly made in order to 'trap' the Labour Party on the issue, dozens of LGBT groups withdrew from the Government’s planned international LGBT conference.

Broadcasters too have played their part in this new culture war.

News channels, including the BBC, interviewers have regularly asked senior politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, about changing rooms and whether women have penises.

The net effect of all this has been to massively raise the issue of trans rights up the political agenda. And where previous polling has suggested that the public is broadly liberal and tolerant on the issue, Johnson’s comments and the constant coverage of the issue over recent months could change that.

“I think that if you if you went down any street in the UK and spoke to people and said 'do you think that trans people should have access to quick healthcare, do you think that trans people shouldn't be disproportionately made homeless, disproportionately discriminated against at work and targeted with street harassment? I'm pretty sure everyone would say yes,” Labour MP Nadia Whittome told Byline Times.

“But what the Government is trying to do is stoke a cultural war for for two reasons. Firstly I think, it’s to distract from their own failures with the cost of living crisis, but also because this will be a useful divide and rule tactic in the same way as migrants and refugees and people of colour have been in the past, and still are.”

Just as Boris Johnson's past comments about Muslim women were followed by a reported spike in hate crimes against them, Whittome fears that Johnson’s comments about trans people could also risk placing them in harm's way too.

“I think it's extremely dangerous… given that there's already a hostile environment for trans people facing hate crimes, then stoking this actively puts people in even more danger," she added.

It is too early to know whether Johnson’s attempts to create a new cultural divide in the UK to replace the waning Brexit divide, will work. MPs Byline Times has spoken to in recent weeks say that such cultural issues are still not major concerns being raised on the doorstep during campaigning for the upcoming local elections.

However, similar attempts to stoke such cultural divisions have had some success in the US and, like many other cultural imports, this may be one that Britain eventually takes wholesale too.

But even if Johnson is successful in stoking a culture war, it may be a war his party ultimately loses. Increased levels of university education and decreased home ownership among younger generations could ultimately deprive the Prime Minister of the numbers of troops he needs to win any future cultural battle.

Yet whatever the outcome, this new culture war will have real-life consequences. For trans people, it already means the removal of planned protections from the barbaric practice of conversion therapy.

In the future, Boris Johnson and his successors could be tempted to see the rights and safety of other minority groups as necessary collateral damage for their culture wars too.

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Backwards Britain: Having Rejected a European Future, We Can Only Hark Back to an Imperial Past

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 1:00am in

Hardeep Matharu explores how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed the UK's perilous retreat – at a time when collaboration and a new vision of itself is required to navigate the dangerous realities of a changing world

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When Boris Johnson stood up at a conference in Blackpool and told his party why they understood what Ukrainians were going through, the Prime Minister was attempting another of his bridges to nowhere.

After 23 days of Russian bombs raining down on Ukraine, Johnson claimed his Tories knew that Brits had the same “instinct” as the people of Ukraine “to choose freedom every time”. He had a “famous recent example”. 

“When the British people voted for Brexit in such large numbers, I don’t believe that it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners, it’s because they wanted to be free, to do things differently for this country, to be able to run itself,” he declared.

It was another crass Johnson moment. Outrage swirled among politicians and the media; an invite to an EU summit reportedly rescinded. Ukraine’s former President, Petro Poroshenko, recorded himself asking Johnson “how many citizens of the United Kingdom died because of Brexit” and instructed him: “Please no comparison.”

But it was also a revealing moment. One which exposed an impossible problem: at a time when Vladimir Putin is bringing genocide back to Europe, when a collective stand by united Western democracies is required to fight against Russian neocolonial fascism, Johnson’s Brexit Britain is utterly at odds with our shifting world. 

Inward-looking, insecure and with delusions of past grandeur, ‘Global Britain’ in a world of Putin’s aggression, a global crisis in democracy and climate catastrophe cannot reconcile its infantilised state with the demands of reality. 

With no new ideas, and imagination deeply lacking, it finds itself in a pathetic and perilous position – in retreat as an apparent form of advance. The very idea of itself that Ukraine is fighting for – one of a different, brighter future – is the very idea of itself that Britain lacks, choosing instead to rest on its laurels. Johnson’s provocation suggested he too had spotted the problem. 

In an audacious attempt at reconciliation, he laid out a blueprint for one of his fantastical bridges – to nowhere: that Brexit and the resistance of war-torn Ukraine embodied similar values; that the UK leaving the EU meant Brits understood Ukraine’s instincts in fighting to join it.

This is the same Brexit that painted the EU as a form of neocolonial fascism; of which Boris Johnson said “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically”; and Nigel Farage declared “June 23 is going to be Independence Day”. The same EU which Russian propaganda has characterised as a fascistic super-state.

But this is, after all, Backwards Britain.

For Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University – a specialist in the history of central and eastern Europe and the Holocaust – Brexiters were right in one respect, “that Brexit would bring back Empire”. “This time, though, England would be the colonised, not the coloniser.”

By comparing Brexit Britain and besieged Ukraine, Johnson was also distancing his country further from Putin. But parallels remain.

While Vladimir Putin’s quest to create a ‘greater Russia’ has taken a barbaric and murderous form – thankfully such brutality is nowhere in sight here in the UK – Boris Johnson’s ‘Global Britain’ is also a dangerous project rooted in an imperial past and future fantasy; of a ‘memory politics’ which obscures and justifies how neither country has a politics that can deliver tangibly for its people.

With no new vision, and colonial nostalgia the one constant, neither Britain nor Russia have reconciled with their pasts. 

As Putin presides over a vastly unequal Russian kleptocracy, dominated by oligarchy and the country’s wealth looted by its leaders; Johnson’s Government is overseeing an increasingly captured state and a governing party dominated by wealth, a spiralling cost of living crisis, worsening inequality and the biggest drop in living standards in generations.

To distract from their economic failures and lack of policy, both men have whipped up divisive ‘culture wars’ – advancing ‘wedge issues’, targeting minorities and cracking down on those they believe question their mythic narratives. Putin’s fury about the West ‘cancelling’ author JK Rowling, because she “fell out of favour with fans of so-called gender freedoms”, came in the same week as Johnson kicked off another Conservative bash by saying “good evening ladies and gentleman. Or, as Keir Starmer would put it, people who are assigned female or male at birth”. 

These manufactured conflicts around ‘wokeness’ – of which the majority of the public in Britain have been shown to know little – are nothing compared to the actual conflicts (living costs, healthcare and crime to name a few) that people must contend with in their daily lives, with little support from politicians such as Boris Johnson.

Meanwhile, Brexit – the ‘anti-establishment’ revolution which made the Prime Minister its iconic leader – has left Britain permanently on the outside looking in; encouraged by the Russian President, who saw the UK’s farewell to the EU as the first step in his “information blitzkrieg” in destabilising the West.

Both Putin and Johnson have backed their countries into a corner. In this era-defining moment, their myths are now on a collision course with the reality they seek desperately to avoid.

Britain’s willingness to deny and distort its history, combined with its exceptionalism – vaccines, refugee schemes and the economy are all on a long list of “world-beating” achievements – has birthed a nation unable to mature or grow into a true sense of itself. The present feels hollow, perhaps best exemplified by the hollow men now at Britannia’s helm.

Myth is the country’s fail-safe, when a vision of itself rooted in reality is necessary.

That Britain has no outward-looking ideas of what is possible is not only true of its current leadership under Johnson, but also of its opposition politics where no defining story of the future is being advanced. In the land ideas vacate, myths take root and concerns of emotion and identity are encouraged to bloom.

Tony Blair recently spoke of “the “two competing ideas” Britain has about itself, and how an “older narrative has reasserted itself” in recent years.

“Britain finds it very difficult to tell a story about itself, because there is a narrative that supposes our best days are behind us, and that’s caught up with what happened in the Second World War: Churchill defeated Nazism, Britain’s finest hour,” he told the New Statesman. “My idea was to take what I think are the enduring best qualities of Britain – open-mindedness, tolerance, innovation – and try to give Britain a different narrative that would allow it to think its best days are ahead of it. I think, for a time, that succeeded… We quite deliberately put Britain forward as a multicultural, tolerant society, looking to the future.”

The London Olympics in 2012 seemed to be the culmination of this confident, forward-looking Britain – with its scientific innovation, diversity, Shakespeare and the NHS all at the forefront in its celebratory opening ceremony. Alongside its ‘Cool Britannia’ ethos, New Labour also positioned Britain as a “bridge” between Europe and America, maintaining strong relationships with both. The limits of this became apparent in Blair’s controversial decision to follow the US into Iraq – a move which has defined, and eclipsed, the achievements of his party’s era in power.

But even this reinvention felt like an attempt to brush the “older narrative” under the carpet. Reforms to the state, including the Union, were partial and measures to tackle issues such as institutional racism incomplete. The desire to hark back to the past and the legacy of Britain’s imperial history were not examined, in and of themselves.

And so the older narrative remained brushed under the carpet, ready for a band of hollow men keen to pull the rug from under us all.

A Britain that is about fairness and equality and has a place in the world, where it’s respected for our soft power and our humanity and for our compassion... I was brought up with those values and values are not myths

Gina Miller

Free from the shackles of the EU, Britain would be free to build partnerships and trade with the rest of the world, the Brexiters told us. It would stand alone and still be a leader on the world stage. 

The promised trade deals have not materialised, war in Ukraine has highlighted the difficulties of Britain’s continued friction with Europe, and the UK’s response to both Afghan and Ukrainian refugees has underlined its closedness. 

But ‘Global Britain standing alone once more’ was always a myth. This country was victorious in two world wars it could not have fought without the help of its soldiers from across the Empire. That their subjugation continued after 1945, and little recognition was made of the colonies’ contribution to the conflicts, led to the drive for independence in Britain’s ‘jewel in the crown’ – India – and then elsewhere.

These are inconvenient truths not found in Britain's grand narratives dominated by Blitz spirit, Rule, Britannia! and Churchill.

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, showed the power of these historical touch-points in his address to the UK Parliament, when he told MPs he was fighting the Russian invasion in “just the same way you once didn’t want to lose your country when the Nazis started to fight your country and you had to fight for Britain”. Borrowing from Britain’s favourite wartime Prime Minister, he added: “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”

It’s not that we shouldn’t feel pride in this history – but this pride alone cannot be the basis for a thriving, modern Britain. To move forward, a more accurate and rounded version of our past must be engaged with, in which unpalatable facts can provide perspective and greater, messy truths. 

In 1946, when he said “we must build a kind of United States of Europe”, Churchill was one of the first to express his commitment to the idea of European integration in this way. But from Boris Johnson’s cosplaying of his hero, the man on the street could be forgiven for thinking that Britain’s wartime Prime Minister was a passionate Eurosceptic.

Our British history is a selective history, intolerant of contradictions and complexity. Yet, its problematic nature is not discussed.

For German journalist Annette Dittert, the Russian invasion shows that – despite the praise it has received for its practical support of Ukraine, which has been acknowledged publicly by President Zelensky himself – Britain “cannot afford to see the EU as a failing entity” any longer, and that its inability to engage with its past is part of its present difficulties. 

Speaking on Friday Night With Byline Times, she said this “has a lot to do with Brexit”.

“If you honestly engage with your own history – which Germany had to do because it was horrific – if you do that seriously, I think you do not fall for national myths so easily anymore, and you understand that cooperation is a real good, cooperation with other countries, with other people is the basis of democracy. I think that somehow that escaped some people in this country,” she said. 

“That’s a big danger for a nation, if you don’t look into your past… you fail to understand reality. And the reality is we have to engage with each other. Britain has to start to operate with the EU as a political entity.”

Britain has arguably not experienced any event which has forced such self-reflection – the loss of the Empire wasn’t seen as a revolution or a defeat. Accompanying this complacency are its other trappings.

One look at Prince William and Kate in their ceremonial dress atop a Land Rover surveying troops in Jamaica last month was enough to transport anyone back to the 1950s; into a bygone era of patronising recognition of native subservience and the white man’s burden being discharged in all its finery. If ever there was an image that conveyed Britain’s lack of imagination and lack of ideas, it was this photo of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their recent tour of the Caribbean – a trip beset with controversy over its colonial optics and calls to remove the Queen as head of state by those in Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas. 

Prince William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at an inaugural Commissioning Parade for service personnel from across the Caribbean in Kingston, Jamaica, on 24 March 2022. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images/Alamy

While Prince William expressed his “profound sorrow” about slavery, he did not follow in the footsteps of Belgium’s King Philippe who in 2020 apologised for his ancestor King Leopold II’s brutal abuse of colonial subjects in the now Democratic Republic of Congo.

This reluctance to hold a mirror up to its past is a position also pursued by Britain’s current Government, which characterises any meaningful attempt to present a fuller account as ‘rewriting history’ and the questioning of complex historical figures ‘cancel culture’.

As Corinne Fowler, the historian hounded for helping the National Trust document which of its properties has links to colonialism, told me: “The near hysterical response on most occasions when researchers have simply tried to provide new information about specific ways in which heritage sites relate to the British Empire is worrying.”

But then “part of the colonial legacy,” she added, “is a resistance to having an honest discussion which is evidence-based about what our collective past looks like.”

Discussing the problem of disinformation, “Russia is a very emotional country”, a former Cabinet minister told me recently. They were speaking about a trip to the country shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when a Russian guide said she “can’t believe” what was being said of Stalin’s atrocities.

Timothy Snyder’s analysis of Russia under Putin is that it is stuck in a ‘politics of eternity’ with the “replacement of history with myth”.

Both Brexit and Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement are examples of this – of a grand narrative placing “one nation at the centre of a cyclical story”. Both advocated a return to a successful past snatched away; offering recognition and meaning but no practical solutions. 

According to Snyder, such projects are also ‘sadopopulist’ – premised on the idea that people are willing to undergo pain in order to feel better about themselves. No matter that Trump and a hard Brexit don’t actually improve their lives, deliverance takes the form of a psychic ‘winning’ through which people feel better off because scapegoated others are to be made worse off.

“Eternity politicians imagine cycles of threat in the past, creating an imagined pattern that they realise in the present by producing artificial crises and daily drama,” Snyder observes. Russia, with its mystic tales of victimhood and suffering, is a prime example.

Speaking a fews days into the current Russian invasion, Snyder said that “the basic question in the 20th and now 21st Centuries is: what comes after empire?” In Europe, the answer has been a “process of integration with other post-imperial states”, through the EU. For Russia, the answer is “more empire – it’s an imperial war”.

In his seminal book on Ukraine, The Road to Unfreedom, the historian writes that Ukraine is “the axis between the new Europe of integration and the old Europe of empire”. 

“The politics of integration were fundamentally different from the politics of empire,” he says. “Russia was the first European post-imperial power not to see the EU as a safe landing for itself.” Britain is now another.

At the heart of Putin’s 22-year rule has been an increasing reliance on ‘memory politics’. Just days before he sent troops into Ukraine in February, Putin lamented Russia’s loss of the “territory of the former Russian empire”.

His justification for the invasion, to ‘deNazify’ Ukraine, is premised on a baseless distortion of the past – which has also seen Stalin’s collaboration with Hitler in partitioning and invading Poland during the Second World War airbrushed out of official narratives. Ukraine has no significant presence of far-right elements and President Volodymr Zelensky is himself Jewish – his family members having been killed during the Holocaust. 

As far back as 2011, academic Nikolay Koposov observed: “It is difficult to condemn Stalinism and to keep insisting on the Stalinist conception of history at the same time.”

“The new mythology of the war emphasises the unity of the people and the state, not the state’s violence against the people,” he wrote. “It stresses the peaceful character of the Soviet foreign policy and defends the memory of the state against charges such as complicity in initiating the war, the violence carried out by the Red Army, and its seizure of independent states."

The source of Putinism's legitimacy "lay not in future utopias but in past victories,” he added.

The war crimes being carried out by Russian troops to eradicate the Ukrainian people in the name of an (old and new) Eurasian empire, has brought horrors to Europe we all hoped lay long in the past. But the negation of truth always leads to dark consequences. 

Here in Britain, we take our democracy for granted, with its human rights and rule of law within a rules-based international order. But, in our own ways, we negate the truth. This unwillingness to understand ourselves sets us on a dangerous path of a wider denialism of our own. 

If you honestly engage with your own history – which Germany had to do because it was horrific – if you do that seriously, I think you do not fall for national myths so easily... That’s a big danger for a nation, if you don’t look into your past… you fail to understand reality

Annette Dittert

Britain and Russia are not alone in their memory politics. From Erdogan’s Turkey, where citizens acknowledging the Armenian Genocide have been prosecuted; to Narendra Modi’s India, in which the BJP leadership persecutes Muslims to advance its claims of a ‘Hindu civilisational destiny’ of the world’s largest democracy, countries with populist 'strongmen' everywhere are looking to stay wilfully ignorant of their pasts.

Germany, as Annette Dittert pointed out, is a rare exception.

Its decision to increase defence investment in the wake of war in Ukraine represents a paradigm shift for the country, since one of the legacies of confronting its past atrocities was its commitment to not build up military force again. Its departure from this is reflective of its pragmatism – the reality of Vladimir Putin’s murderous intent in the heart of Europe.

“I remember very well sitting in endless school days analysing Hitler’s speeches and having to write essays about why there should never be a war coming from German territory ever again,” Dittert told me on Friday Night With Byline Times.

Like many visiting Berlin, I was struck by the Stolpersteine I encountered under my feet – small plaques (or ‘stumbling stones’) commemorating victims of the Nazis, each starting with “here lived”. More than 75,000 of them are dotted around German towns and cities.

The number of different types of memorials in the capital, and the depth of Berlin’s cultural offerings and museums allowing people to access different elements of the country’s history, I found remarkable. Having touched remnants of the Berlin Wall, I looked into the faces of those killed trying to cross it; before learning about the families torn apart through state-sponsored deception at the original secret police headquarters, now the Stasi Museum. And just a short stroll away from the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate sits the ‘Europa Experience’, billed as a multimedia journey through Europe and the EU.

Germany provides an example of how a country can integrate its history in order to look to the future. 

DeNazification didn’t start immediately after the Second World War, when many who had supported Hitler’s regime were still living in German society. But following the high profile trials of notorious Nazi figures such as Adolf Eichmann, things began to change. 

From the 1960s, a grassroots movement, Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung – “working off the past” – started to take shape, to examine and learn to live with Germany’s dark history. The Stolpersteine, for instance, are researched and applied for by local residents. Denying the Holocaust is illegal in Germany, and in many areas – from education to those working in public services – Germans are made to engage with, and learn from, the crimes of the Nazis.

While this hasn’t eradicated all far-right feeling still found in small pockets, ‘working off the past’ is not seen as a one-off exercise, but a process – one which is still ongoing.

The British Empire is still not taught comprehensively in our schools, and even mentioning it continues to be met with awkward silence (as someone who grew up with a father who was born and brought up under the Empire in Kenya and a mother from India, I find these silences bizarre but telling).

From the perplexity at Priti Patel’s hardline approach to immigrants as the granddaughter of refugees, to the former Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner who told me Sir William Macpherson was suffering from “post-colonial guilt” when he conducted his 1999 inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, there is a distinct lack of interest in our collective amnesia and its consequences. 

But perhaps a reckoning is approaching. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not only woken the West up to the need for unity in the defence of democracy, it has exposed Britain’s default, out-of-touch, ‘small island’ mentality – one that has come to particular prominence in the Brexit years.

Even the Queen, now in the twilight of her reign, can surely only hold the royal Firm together in its current form for so long. A uniquely respected figure – a bridge between Britain’s past and present – will the country feel so fondly towards those who succeed her? Or will it be a chance for that much needed self-reflection and real reinvention? A moment to consider the role of monarchy and the notions of deference and supremacy that Britain still willingly wraps itself in?

As former diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall has observed in these pages, “is it not time to set the Royal Family free from their gilded cages and in the process free ourselves from the hierarchical mentality which accompanies royalty?” In a rare recognition, Prince William signalled that times are changing in the Commonwealth in response to his much derided recent royal tour. Maybe events at home will also force the Royal Family’s hand.

But genuine reinvention requires Britain to decide on its values; the lessons from its rounded history it wishes to carry with it, and the future it envisages for the best days still ahead.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in a Land Rover greeting crowds in Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, on 25 November 1953. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

Forty years ago, a Conservative Prime Minister struggling in the polls found political capital in war. Margaret Thatcher won an overwhelming majority following the Falklands conflict, with a victory parade drawing 300,000 people to the mile-long route through central London – the first time the city had celebrated a military event since 1949. At lunch in the Guildhall afterwards, Thatcher said the British people were “proud of these heroic pages in our island story”.

Years later, she wrote that the legacy of the Falklands was that “Britain’s name meant something more than it had” and that its significance “was enormous, both for Britain’s self-confidence and for our standing in the world”.

Though four decades have passed, Thatcher’s imperial spirit is still alive today. Endorsing calls for a Margaret Thatcher Day, Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden recently tweeted that “Margaret Thatcher led the UK to victory in our defence of the Falklands” and “ended our national decline”.

While the Falklands was another harking back, Thatcher did look forward – with her, albeit divisive and at times destructive, vision of a free-market, privatised, ‘Big Bang’ Britain.

Can it now find a way to reconcile the lessons of the past with new ideas for its future; to build a more equitable country, one of genuine equality of opportunity and unafraid of looking ahead?

Speaking after a performance of Bloody Difficult Women, during its recent run at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, businesswoman Gina Miller – on whose story the play is based – told me what prompted her to take the UK Government to court over its plans to trigger Article 50 (and Brexit) without consulting Parliament: she had an idea of what Britain is which she felt was being violated by how the process was playing out.

Born and brought up in Guyana, a former British colony, she said many children of the Commonwealth feel attached to a certain notion of Britain in this way.

“We listened to the BBC World Service every night, the Queen was on the wall, my mother collected blue Wedgwood china – we literally were more British I think than the British... it’s British values that were taught to us growing up; respect and truth and honesty and doing the right thing. All those values are instilled in us and so, to me, it’s what you defend.”

Recalling her appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she said that the journalist observed off-camera – to her shock – that she and Nigel Farage were actually “really similar”.

“He said ‘you both have a very strong view of Britain – yours is different to his, but you have a very strong view of what you’re fighting for’. And I have a very strong view still of what I’m fighting for… a Britain that is about fairness and equality and has a place in the world, where it’s respected for our soft power and our humanity and for our compassion. 

“I was brought up with those values and values are not myths. But the snake-oil salesmen [did sell] a myth… playing on people’s fear and anger and deep resentment.”

The biggest crisis facing Britain is the crisis of facing itself. Time is of the essence in integrating our past and looking to the future – lest we drift further, beyond a point of no return.

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‘Government Risks Damaging Democracy for Generations to Come’, Warns New Report on Citizenship Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2022 - 10:01am in

Citizenship should be redefined to promote a more positive form of it and should not be linked with opposing extremism, according to peers

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The state of citizenship education in schools is “parlous” and being degraded by a Government that should improve it as part of it 'levelling up' of education agenda, peers have warned.

A follow-up report published by the House of Lords' Liaison Committee on progress made three years ago (in the wake of the Government’s new White Paper on Education) accuses ministers of “damaging democracy for generations to come” by neglecting to teach citizenship to school children."

Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, chair of the Lords Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement said today: “We were promised a cross-department minister, we didn’t get one. We were told that Ofsted should treat citizenship education as a core part of the curriculum, the evidence shows they don’t.

"The Government had a chance to put things right in its Schools White Paper. It appears that they have missed the opportunity to do so. There is just one mention of citizenship in the Schools White Paper, and it is mentioned in the context of volunteering. We urge the Government to think again. Otherwise, they risk damaging democracy for generations to come.”

The original report by the Lords charted some 10 years of teaching citizenship in schools which appears to mainly concentrate on the Prevent strategy of tackling anti-terrorism but does not teach the importance of voting, democratic rights and responsibilities. The Government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent was introduced in 2003, but it was only when it was revised in 2011 that extremism was defined as opposing these values.

During this period the number of teachers halved and the concept of citizenship narrowed. The 2018 report said some schools reduced it to putting up Union flags in the classroom and a portrait of the Queen.

The report states that citizenship was defined by the Government as adhering to “fundamental British values – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

Peers in 2018 challenged this assessment saying that citizenship should be redefined as “shared British values” promoting positive citizenship and should not be linked with opposing extremism. These values should be defined as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person”.

“The promotion of shared British values should be separated from counter-extremism policy," the 2018 report said. "The Government should not place guidance on teaching shared values of British Citizenship on the 'Educate against Hate' website. Guidance to teachers should make clear that the primary objective of promoting shared values of British citizenship is to encourage positive citizenship rather than solely aiming to counter-extremism.”

The new report makes 21 recommendations including asking the Government to implement the 78 changes recommendations made in 2018. The 2022 recommendations include appointing a minister in Michael Gove’s levelling up department to coordinate the promotion of citizenship across government. It calls for a statutory right to citizenship education in all primary and secondary schools, and it wants more teachers trained in teaching citizenship, a proper curriculum devised to teach citizenship, and bursaries for teachers to train to teach citizenship. The report is also critical of the 'citizenship test' which people have to take before they can become a UK citizen. It said that the 'Life in the UK' test needed a complete revision and noted that Ofsted ignores citizenship as a curriculum subject, concentrating instead on improving standards in English and maths and the governorship of schools.

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