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Young People As Prime Targets: Student Loan Hike is the Latest Frontier of the Conservative ‘Culture War’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 8:23pm in

By allowing student loan debt to soar, the Government is seeking yet more division between young and old, says Maheen Behrana

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Interest rates on student loans are set to soar as a result of rising inflation. The rate of interest accrued by a recent graduate earning under £50,000 a year will jump from 1.5% to 9%. Graduates earning more than £50,000 can expect interest rates as high as 12%.

Over a lifetime, this that means higher-earning graduates with student debt of roughly £50,000 can expect to pay £3,000 more.

But these changes aren’t the full extent of how the Government has fiddled with the student loans system.

Recently, the Conservatives announced significant alterations to the way in which repayments will be made for graduates starting their degree courses in 2023. These graduates will be required to make repayments for a full 40 years – as opposed to 30 – before their debt is written off, and will see the threshold for beginning repayments on their student loans set at £25,000 rather than the current level of £27,275.

All graduates will also find that the threshold for repaying student loans will be frozen until 2026/27 and will then rise in line with inflation rather than average earnings – a move that has been condemned as disproportionately affecting lower-earning graduates.

In response to the Government's latest move, Labour MP Zarah Sultana, herself just 28 years old, declared that “the Tories despise young people”.

Changes to student loan repayments impact those who attended university after 2012 – and the vast majority of people who did so are likely to be under 30. These changes are undoubtedly harmful, and leave recent graduates worse off at a time when few can afford to see their disposable income drop.

Overall, it’s not a great time to be young. The cost of an average house is more than eight times the average UK salary – compared to a house-price-to-income ratio of roughly 4:1 in the 1980s. The gig economy has been expanding rapidly and, though employment rates in the UK economy may currently look high, much of that employment is precarious in nature. The vast majority of workers filling these precarious jobs are young people

Times are undoubtedly hard for everyone, but the Government seems to have adopted a targeted approach to young people – implementing policies that are actively making things worse for us.

Indeed, the Government is still in austerity mode. While the term isn’t openly being used, policies of high taxation coupled with parsimonious public spending are gutting the welfare state and leaving public services – and individuals – with far less to spare.

The notion that student loan reforms are part of a widespread attempt by the Government to claw back money wherever it can is mistaken. Because it does not hold true when it comes to high-wealth people and entities.

Uber-wealthy individuals are able to take advantage of an abundance of tax dodges to avoid paying their fair share – something that has recently been evidenced expertly by our Chancellor and his family. Look at the profits of oil and gas companies, which seem to be using rising prices to their advantage, despite the fact that spiralling bills are leading to dire poverty.

So, while it is clear that the Government is clawing back money – much of it spent wastefully by the Conservatives during the Coronavirus pandemic – it is not necessarily doing so in the most effective way, often putting the burden on the poorest.

Distortion and Division

The Government's fiscal policy then is a new front in its manufactured ‘culture war’.

The culture war is not real in any tangible way. It largely consists of Conservative Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden popping up on various platforms complaining about ‘wokery’ (which, incidentally, is not even a real word).

But it is a weapon of populism – and the Government references it to distract from the actual problems (of which there are plenty) that the country is facing. It serves as a tool of division, designed to convince socially conservatives voters that their priorities are diametrically opposed to those of socialists and liberals. It is a campaign of distortion.

The changes to student loans may serve an economic purpose, but they also exist as a new frontier in this battle.

It doesn’t really bother the Government that recent graduates are feeling the pinch. Under-30s skewed significantly towards Labour at the 2019 General Election, and they are concentrated heavily in Labour-voting metropolitan areas such as London, which have a young average age and a high percentage of university-educated residents.

Young people are only important to the Conservative Party’s electoral ambitions in the sense that their liberal values can be distorted and demonised to fuel a sense of antipathy among older, more conservative voters.

This is electoral pragmatism at its most ruthless and abhorrent. Instead of trying to curry favour with young people, the Government has instead decided that its political ambitions are best served by maximising fiscal gains and resentment from this group.

This resentment is fuel to its fire; one more way of creating an ‘us versus them’ scenario, dividing the young and the old, graduates from non-graduates. As the cost of living crisis worsens, the hardest hit by Government policy will react most strongly against it – sometimes angrily, and sometimes against those who are only a little bit better-off than themselves.

And this is what the Conservative Party appears to want – ‘woke’ and ‘ungrateful’ young against struggling pensioners; divisions between ‘graduates’ and ‘taxpayers’ (despite the fact that they are often one and the same thing). It wants those who do not support it to feel the consequences of their lack of support. It is tactical, brutal and calculated. It causes pain and targets the pressure points that suits the Government’s agenda.

The Conservative Party’s actual feelings towards young people are likely neither here nor there – but, strategically, it knows that to keep up with its nouveau-austerity and to fuel the culture war, the young must be a prime target.

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Above and Beyond the Law: ‘Partygate’ has Fatally Exposed Britain’s Political System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/04/2022 - 3:21am in

In a succession of scandals, Boris Johnson has opened the floodgates to wrongdoing and impunity by politicians like never before – aided by his lawless friends in the British press and a sclerotic constitution 

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They were born into lawlessness, and lawlessly they won and ruled. 

The Vote Leave administration’s coup against the rule of law began when it broke electoral law over-spending limits during the 2016 EU Referendum. Though it took three full years for Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings to march into Downing Street, one of their first actions was to prorogue Parliament, a move later struck down as unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Due to their deliberate failure to strengthen democratic safeguards, allowing dark ads to proliferate on social media, we do not know if other laws were broken during the 2019 General Election. But we do know that, just a few months later when the Coronavirus pandemic began, the first instinct of Boris Johnson’s administration was to break more laws. 

First there was ‘Wallpapergate’. Lord Geidt, the independent advisor on ministerial interests (who Chancellor Rishi Sunak has just referred himself to over questions surrounding his financial interests and those of his wife), chided Johnson for acting “unwisely” over the lavish refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. The Conservative Party was fined £18,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to properly declare the donations. But getting away with that infraction didn’t stop the occupants’ penchant for breaking the rules – it just encouraged them. 

The scandal of crony contracts followed. The High Court ruled last February that Matt Hancock, while Health and Social Care Secretary, had acted unlawfully in failing to publish details of multi-billion-pound Government COVID contracts within the 30-day period required by law. Justice Chamberlain ruled that the failures of Hancock and his department had breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent. In January this year, the High Court ruled that the Government’s ‘VIP lane’ – which awarded personal protective equipment contracts to firms with links to ministers, MPs and officials – was also unlawful.

But that was just the beginning. Though the Byline Intelligence Team calculated that the total value of all the contracts awarded during the crisis amounted at that time to £54.2 billion – more than the GDP of 140 countries and territories – cronyism wasn’t Hancock’s downfall. He breached COVID restrictions when he was filmed kissing ​​his aide Gina Colangelo. In a rare resignation, the married minister admitted the game was up – a move lauded by Johnson’s spokesperson “as the right decision”.

Meanwhile, the rest of Johnson’s Government was enjoying a riot of unlawful parties on Government premises.

When these first came to public attention late last year, and as the Prime Minister’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton was caught on camera joking about lockdown parties, Johnson pleaded ignorance. “I understand and share the anger up and down the country of seeing Number 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures,” he told Parliament. “I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip.”

His language was revealing. It was “infuriating” for the public, but he was personally furious about the clip. No wonder – the cat was out of the bag. The revelations about parties continued. Photographs emerged of a ‘bring your own booze’ event, quizzes with tinsel and prosecco – while the rest of the country isolated and locked down, leaving loved ones alone as they died and mourned.

Still, Johnson insisted that no laws had been broken. This was part of his habitual, almost reflexive, deceptions – an escalation of the ‘hypernormalisation’ of untruths seen in Johnson’s early days in Downing Street, when fast and loose was played with facts about Brexit and the Coronavirus: or, more recently, on Keir Starmer’s role in the prosecution of Jimmy Savile, on post-pandemic jobs, on sanctions against Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, on falling crime.

Lies have been repeated flagrantly to Parliament without consequence, and there is a sense of impunity throughout the highest offices of state.

On lockdown breaking lawlessness, though, there is no way out.

It is only thanks to persistent legal pressure on the Metropolitan Police by the Good Law Project and others that we now know that Boris Johnson and his wife, as well as the Chancellor – along with some 50 others – have been fined for breaking the very rules that they put in place, and have spent a year insisting they did not break. 

So the Prime Minister has, to a criminal burden of proof, lied to the public. He has lied to Parliament and civil servants. And, though it may aid his survival in the short-term, he has co-opted so many senior ministers in his lawlessness that we now have an entire administration compromised in a disturbing new kind of collective Cabinet irresponsibility. 

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Enabling the Johnson Government every step of the way – until now – has been the crisis in British journalism. 

While under David Cameron and Theresa May, the country’s influential tabloid newspapers were right-leaning and encouraging of those in power, under Johnson a fusion has occurred of the media and political classes. This process began when, during the phone-hacking and police bribing scandals, the press was in the dock during the Leveson Inquiry, following dozens of convictions and the threat of tighter regulation. 

Johnson, a Telegraph columnist himself, battled in defence of his friends in the press and its wealthy proprietors. The subsidies and favours flowed both ways – so did the defence of lawlessness on both sides. The result has been a Government led by a journalist, fed by journalists – and vice versa – with the press picking and choosing when it wants to hold the Government to account and when it doesn’t.

While the work of the Mirror and ITV News in revealing the scale of the lockdown-breaking parties should be rightly praised, it should also be noted that ‘Partygate’ isn’t the first Johnson scandal which has been in need of exposing, nor is it necessarily the most egregious. 

Nonetheless, the fact that the Partygate stories have dominated the pages of the established media shows it still has collective power in acting as a fourth estate and holding politicians to account – when it wants to. This, in turn, has shone a light on all the times that this has been desperately needed but badly lacking – from the consequences of Britain’s hard Brexit to the Government’s reckless approach to the Coronavirus crisis, Russian interference and the dangers of Vladimir Putin.

But the media (if it so chooses) can only expose. It is our political system that must possess the mechanisms to hold politicians to account when they refuse to play by the rules. Checks and balances wielding real power over elected politicians can be effective tools if they are built into the structures of our democracy.

With the Partygate scandal, Boris Johnson’s Government has progressed from norm-breaking to law-breaking – and the very idea of the British political system now hangs in the balance.

It has, once and for all, laid bare the vulnerabilities and dangers of a system lacking a written, codified constitution, reliant on checks and balances in the form of honourable customs, precedent and convention. One that is not equipped to deal with the unprecedented, or to move with these dark times.

When Labour MP Dawn Butler was asked to leave the House of Commons last July after calling the Prime Minister a liar, the incident showed the absurdity of a system which enables those in the highest positions of power to lie with impunity, while sanctioning those calling out the lies – all in the name of archaic procedures supposedly still in place in the facilitation of honour.

Surely, now is the time for all those who care about democracy to recognise that fundamental change – including to the workings of the head of state, the checks on the executive and a presidential-style prime minister and our constitution – must be considered. But burgeoning inequalities, fuelling a dangerous disengagement with democracy among the public, continues.

What happens to our ‘good chaps’ democracy when bad actors come to power? 170,000 people have died from the Coronavirus in the UK – every one of them deserving accountability. As things stand, there’s nothing but a ballot box down the line and the consciences of Conservative MPs, worried for their careers, that could give them that.

If Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak remain in office despite unassailable evidence that they broke the law, the values the Conservative Party used to claim it is most proud of – the rule of law, civil liberties and good old British fairness – will mean nothing. With our ‘mother of Parliaments’, “world-beating” institutions and supposedly second-to-none justice system, Britain has for so long wrapped itself in myths about itself – while a different reality is now loudly speaking for itself. 

If the Chancellor and Prime Minister survive, this will surely be a coup against our country and the British public: our law-makers taken over by law-breakers. 

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How has the Black Lives Matter Movement Influenced British Education?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 10:09pm in

Dr Cheryl Diane Parkinson considers how grassroots campaigners are applying anti-racist principles to the schooling system

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Research shows that it is not unusual for a pupil to leave secondary school having never studied a book by a black author.

In 2018/19, only 19% of students who took an English Literature ‘A’ Level were from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in 2020 and the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that spawned as a result, many are considering what changes have taken place within society, and more specifically within schools. 

‘Diversity’ is the practice of involving people from a range of different social, ethnic and personal backgrounds in a particular activity. Schools are more aware than ever that diversity and representation matter. Without it we fuel inequality – leading to segregation, ignorance and radicalism.  

The Brexit campaign of 2016 legitimised racism. Nigel Farage’s famous (and false) ‘breaking point’ propaganda poster – showing large numbers of brown people entering the country – divided the public. This campaign tugged on ideas of British exceptionalism – and whiteness – ingrained through myths of Empire.

The BLM movement is a counter-weight to these ideas, and the change often begins in schools.

Currently, 33% of compulsory school age children are of black, Asian and ethnic minority origin, yet only 7% of children’s books feature a protagonist with a similar background. Representation matters. The primary aim of a school is to educate and empower students – and representation is an important aspect of this.

  • Around 11% of those in the publishing industry identify as black, Asian and ethnic minority
  • In 2018, nearly 92% of teachers were white, while 92.7% of headteachers were white British
  • In 2017/18, only 11% of undergraduate students were Asian and only 6% were black

Exclusion rates for students from a black background are far higher than other groups – five times more likely in some areas – but grassroots campaigns can help to combat this.

There is a resurgence in schools of the causes of diversity and anti-racist education – committing to the Race Charter. Meanwhile, Schools, Students and the Teachers network and Fig Tree International have worked in partnership to develop the Race and Conscious Equality (RACE) Charter Mark – for those institutions that wish to demonstrate their commitment to action and improvement in relation to race equality in all aspects of their work.

Organisations such as Black Curriculum, LGBTQEd network, and WomenEd are also joining together to shape the curriculum in schools.

Within the classroom, teachers are now looking at texts through a post-colonial lens. Empire is being taught alongside Gothic/19th Century novels such as Frankenstein’s Monster by Mary Shelley, and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. Contextual information is used to frame and interpret these novels. Teaching Empire is not only about looking back at outdated texts – it also speaks to many of today’s writers.

Teachers are at the forefront of these changes. A. Rauf, a teacher in a state school in Halesowen, has been instrumental in implementing change, namely through several continual professional development sessions in which she focuses on Empire. She has collaborated with the TES and publisher Penguin to develop these. Last September, she set up a Diversity Working Party to widen the reach of this work beyond the classroom.

However, work also needs to be done at GCSE level, encouraging exam boards to realise the need to change.

Martin Luther King described the white moderate as “one who is more concerned with maintaining the status quo than with justice for the oppressed”. The status quo needs to be changed in the British education system, and more rapidly than many still believe.

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Private Schools Attended by Cabinet Ministers Increase Assets by £300 Million in Six Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 6:41pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin report on the burgeoning wealth of Britain’s elite, fee-paying institutions – and the character of the politicians they have created

Private schools attended by current Cabinet ministers have seen their net assets increase by more than £300 million over the past six years, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Calculations suggest that, as of 2015, the schools held net consolidated assets of some £1.065 billion (equivalent to £1.2 billion in 2020 prices). By 2020/21, the assets of these schools had bulged to £1.528 billion – a 22% real terms increase.

The affluence of Britain’s elite private schools has attracted attention in recent weeks, after it was revealed that Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy had donated £100,000 to his alma mater, Winchester College.

Winchester has increased its net assets by more than £70 million – from £276 million in 2015 (equivalent to £312 million if inflation is taken into account), to £385 million in 2020. Over the course of the last decade, Winchester has seen its assets double from £140.4 million (equivalent to £175.5 million).

“Rishi and his wife have donated to numerous charities and philanthropic causes for many years and will continue to do so,” a spokesperson for the Chancellor told Sky News. “These donations are made to help fund scholarships for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to Winchester.”

It costs £43,335 a year to attend Winchester, a boarding school that before September 2022 has only accepted boys. Winchester did not respond to a request for comment.

The analysis did not count four of the 16 private schools attended by Cabinet ministers, due to the schools either closing, merging or restructuring.

A Two-Tier Society

Winchester College is one of nine institutions included in the so-called ‘Clarendon Schools’ – the oldest and most prestigious private schools in the country.

Named after the 19th Century royal commission that investigated the state of leading schools in England, they are also among the wealthiest educational establishments in Britain today.

As the Byline Intelligence Team has previously revealed, the assets of the Clarendon Schools have increased by 44% or almost £600 million in the past six years.

As the UK has faced a period of economic turmoil – through austerity, a hard Brexit, the Coronavirus pandemic and now war in Ukraine – the nation’s elite, fee-paying institutions have experienced burgeoning levels of wealth.

Indeed, Britain’s private schools claim tax breaks through their charitable status – justified through their pledges to offer education to all, regardless of a student’s socio-economic background. They do this through scholarships and other financial support. 

The Labour Party has estimated that a £1.7 billion tax bill is written-off every year for private schools across the UK. At the party's 2021 conference, Keir Starmer echoed his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn by pledging to end the charity status of independent schools.

It was estimated by the National Education Union that schools in the vast majority of constituencies in England would be worse-off in 2020 than they were in 2015 – while the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that secondary school spending per pupil fell by 9% between 2009-10 and 2019-20, driven by drastic cuts in funding for sixth-forms.

It was reported last week that there are eight parliamentary constituencies in England where there are no schools or sixth form colleges – either independent or state-run – offering 'A' Levels. All but two of these areas are in the north of England.

However, this educational deprivation has not been experienced by the vast majority of Cabinet ministers.

According to the Byline Intelligence Team's analysis, while 7% of the school population is educated at fee-paying institutions, 58% of Boris Johnson’s current Cabinet ministers attended a private school.

This is a common feature of British political life, with 20 prime ministers having been educated at one school – Eton College. During the past 12 years of Conservative rule, the country has spent nine years governed by an Old Etonian.

As this period in politics has demonstrated, the dominance of an economic elite in Westminster has a distorting effect on the country. Those in power – whether intentionally or not – have concentrated opportunity and wealth among their stablemates; opening up the country to the rampant excesses of oligarchs and tax exiles while demonising migrants and cutting spending on public services that are relied upon by the most disadvantaged.

This is the outcome of a system that has awarded power to those drawn from an elite sub-section of society – whose natural privilege has arguably left them impervious to the material suffering of the poor and vulnerable.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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What causes homelessness?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 10:59pm in

I’m writing an open access e-textbook on homelessness. Each chapter will be uploaded to my website as it becomes available. I’ve just finished Chapter 1 titled “What causes homelessness?”

A ‘top 10’ overview of Chapter 1 is available here (in English): https://nickfalvo.ca/what-causes-homelessness/

An ‘top 10’ overview in French is available here: https://nickfalvo.ca/quest-ce-qui-cause-litinerance/

The full chapter is available here (English only): https://nickfalvo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Falvo-Chapter-1-What-causes-homelessness-4apr2022.pdf

What causes homelessness?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 10:59pm in

I’m writing an open access e-textbook on homelessness. Each chapter will be uploaded to my website as it becomes available. I’ve just finished Chapter 1 titled “What causes homelessness?”

A ‘top 10’ overview of Chapter 1 is available here (in English): https://nickfalvo.ca/what-causes-homelessness/

An ‘top 10’ overview in French is available here: https://nickfalvo.ca/quest-ce-qui-cause-litinerance/

The full chapter is available here (English only): https://nickfalvo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Falvo-Chapter-1-What-causes-homelessness-4apr2022.pdf

Levelling Down: Government Energy Inaction Will Hit the Poorest People and Regions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 11:03pm in

Spiralling household costs will undermine Boris Johnson’s promises to ‘Red Wall’ voters, reports Thomas Perrett

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More than five million households will be plunged deeper into fuel poverty by the recent 54% increase in energy bills announced by energy regulator Ofgem, a new report has found, exacerbated among areas that Boris Johnson pledged to ‘level up’ after the 2019 General Election.

The Resolution Foundation think tank has examined the latest developments in the cost of living crisis, concluding that as real incomes continue to plummet, exacerbated by the highest inflation rates in four decades, the £693 increase in the energy price cap will incur widespread fuel stress, which the foundation defines as a household spending 10% or more of its budget on energy bills.

Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reflect the grim realities of inflation; real wages have fallen by 1% compared to this time last year as pay rises have been rendered obsolete by soaring prices. Moreover, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank has found that using Bank of England inflation forecasts of over 8%, and controlling for the ongoing impact of the war in Ukraine on commodity prices, 34.2% of the population will be living below a socially acceptable standard as of April 2022.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement was widely criticised for insufficiently addressing the impact of inflation on living costs, and for failing to compel oil and gas firms to absorb increased energy costs, instead pushing the burden of rising energy prices onto consumers.

Having argued that Sunak is “completely out of touch with the reality that so many people are facing,” Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has proposed a windfall tax that would allegedly cut energy bills for the poorest by £600, along with a pledge to expand the Warm Homes Discount, which has been removed from 300,000 disabled people due to changes in eligibility rules.

The Resolution Foundation’s report criticised the “universalist approach” that the Chancellor has pursued in mitigating the severity of the cost of living crisis, arguing that council tax rebates, announced in February, which gave £150 to households living in bands A to D, would result in 640,000 families in the three lowest income groups being excluded from the scheme. 

The council tax rebate scheme will also fail to help student households, the report says, who are exempt from paying it, and poorer households living in more expensive areas of the country. By contrast, around half of those in the top income decile would be eligible to receive the rebate, as the Government scheme has erroneously conflated property prices with income levels.

Back in February, the Government also announced a £200 energy bills rebate, intended to reduce the energy price cap to £493, which would still represent an increase of 39%. The Resolution Foundation’s research has already shown that the lowest income households will still spend 10% of their incomes on energy bills even with the £200 rebate, as it will only be payable from October onwards.

The rebate, which will be repaid in £40 instalments from 2023, has attracted criticism from charities and NGOs arguing that more substantive, targeted support for those on lower incomes is needed. Adam Scorer, CEO of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, told the Guardian: “We needed deep, targeted support for the most vulnerable. We have shallow, broad measures for all. That simply does not work”.

Senior economist at the Resolution Foundation Jonathan Marshall, who co-authored the report, also criticised the £200 rebate, telling Byline Times: “The Government was anticipating the price spike to be quite abrupt... But we will have high energy costs for quite a while. If energy bills stay high, the rebate is not really an optimal solution.”

Marshall also criticised the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, which he argued was “not targeted in the way it needed to have been”. Marshall argued that “while there is money available, it isn’t being targeted at those in need,” adding: “It is households on lower means who will struggle with this most. The measures outlined in the Spring Statement were wide of the mark.”

Even more worryingly, further energy price cap rises are due from October; the Resolution Foundation’s report has estimated that it could plunge 7.5 million families into fuel poverty. The devastating economic fallout from rising energy bills would predictably fall heaviest on the lowest earners, as 80% of families in the lowest income bracket will face fuel stress if the price cap increases, compared with just 2% of the highest earners.

Exacerbating Regional Inequalities

The rise in energy bills has also exposed the rampant regional inequalities which Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to address when his Government took office.

Indeed, it is primarily households with the lowest levels of energy efficiency, disproportionately clustered in areas of the country such as Yorkshire and the midlands, that will face the highest levels of fuel stress if the price cap is raised again. Fuel stress is likely to affect over 40% of households in the north-east of England come October, in comparison with just over 20% of households in the south-east.

Research carried out by the NEF has demonstrated that the north-east, and Yorkshire and the Humber, will have the highest percentage of people living below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS), a metric defined by a family having to choose between essentials.

Compared with the period from 2017 to 2019, the percentage of people living below the MIS has increased by 8.5% in the north east, where a total of 42.5% live under this standard, and by 9.3% in Yorkshire and the Humber, where 40.7% live under it. By contrast, in the south east, the percentage living under the MIS has increased by just 3% to 25.7%.

Strikingly, 48% of British children now live in families living below this subsistence level, up from 40% in 2019. This figure jumps to 96% for children living in families where neither parent works, and 77% for children of single parents – further highlighting the implications of the Government’s failure to up-rate benefits in the Spring Statement.

Moreover, the increase in the energy price cap, accompanied by rising general commodity prices, threatens to outstrip already meagre pay rises in ‘Red Wall’ areas. Back in December 2021, the NEF found that incomes in the north east had risen by less 0.1% since December 2019, compared with 0.2% in the north-west and Merseyside and 0.3% in Yorkshire and the Humber. This stood in stark contrast with the 1.3% increase in disposable incomes in London, and the 1.1% increase in the south-east.

Households in these economically precarious regions are significantly more likely to live in homes with low levels of energy efficiency, indicating that the introduction of low carbon insulation for housing is imperative to reduce the impact of energy bills.

In March 2022, 33 civil society groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Save the Children wrote to Boris Johnson and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, advocating for a £3.6 billion insulation grant for all households, supplemented by a £4 billion grant to replace gas boilers with heat pumps in homes by 2025.

Marshall told Byline Times that successive governments had failed to increase the fuel efficiency of households across the country. “In 2012, home insulation fell by 90% when the Cameron Government ‘cut the green crap’”, he said. “People in poorer areas will face higher bills than they need to. When you combine this with lower than average salaries, you will see higher levels of fuel stress.”

The Resolution Foundation’s report has highlighted the lasting consequences of rapidly rising energy bills for families on the lowest incomes. The inadequacies of the Spring Statement to up-rate benefits, tax the profits of North Sea oil firms or to tackle flatlining real wages has culminated in widening social and regional inequalities, as the cost of living crisis continues to impoverish vast swathes of the country. 

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How Johnson’s Government is Using Oligarchs in its Attempt to Rebuild the ‘Red Wall’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 9:11pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the Government is inviting questionable regimes into Britain’s former industrial heartlands

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If the second half of the 20th Century and the first 10 years of the 21st represented the age of affluence in Britain and America, the period since the financial crisis of 2008 has been marked by stagnation and inequality.

In the UK, real wages have flatlined while state spending has been retrenched. Unlike the post-war period, when economic growth heralded an era of mass prosperity – a period of enduring abundance – the rising tide of GDP no longer lifts all boats.

With prosperity now in shorter supply, people pay closer attention to the concentration and imbalances of wealth – both in terms of social class and region. This was exposed through the Brexit referendum, with people in ‘left-behind’ areas of the country protesting against their relative deprivation – in terms of education, infrastructure and industry – compared to the UK’s thriving metropolitan hubs.

The architects of Brexit were scorned for predicting that the ‘dividends’ of the project would not be seen for decades, but there is a reason these gloomy forecasts didn’t repel voters in the 'Red Wall': people thought that short-term pain was necessary, in order to re-orientate an economy that didn’t serve their interests.

Since the era of deindustrialisation, the status quo has delivered the slow breakdown of pride and prosperity in these places. In their view, at least Brexit promised some light at the end of the long tunnel.

And, if Brexit has shown that raw economic growth is only valuable if it’s accompanied by certain terms and conditions, so has the war in Ukraine. The UK is now desperately attempting to decouple itself from the Russian economy, after the years it spent awarding ‘golden visas’ to Russian oligarchs and allowing Vladimir Putin’s men to exploit our courts.

As Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said in its 2019 report on Russian interference in British politics:

“Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

In other words, even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the UK was both directly and indirectly fuelling Putin’s war effort. Short-term economic self-interest trumped human rights and geopolitical concerns – the consequences of which are now being felt by Ukrainians suffering and fleeing from genocide, and in higher energy prices on the home front.

However, it appears as though the UK Government is set to repeat its mistakes.

While the assets of foreign oligarchs – including and especially those from Russia – have been used to swell our all-consuming capital, these sources of morally dubious finance are now being channelled north.

Indeed, in a briefing paper obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team, relating to an October 2020 meeting between the Saudi Minister of Commerce, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and the UK’s Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, officials emphasised the commercial opportunities for Saudi firms looking to invest in the UK.

This was portrayed, by the UK officials, as a means of fulfilling the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

One of the top objectives of the meeting was to “promote the levelling-up agenda and the opportunities in the regions, including for the top Saudi companies their Government wants to see go global as part of their National Companies Promotion Programme”, the briefing paper states.

“There are significant opportunities, including as part of the levelling-up agenda, for star names like Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Telecoms, ACWA Power and others to come and invest in and grow their global shares/R&D potential in the UK,” it goes on to say – noting that a positive outcome would be to secure a “regional investment visit” from the Saudi administration “in support of the levelling up agenda”.

In mid-March, it was revealed that the Saudi firm Alfanar Group would be investing £1 billion into Teesside to produce sustainable aviation fuel. This followed the announcement in October that Saudi chemical company SABIC would be injecting £850 million into a Teeside chemical plant.

This policy was taken up by the Government’s long-awaited levelling up white paper – setting out the scope of its regional investment project – released in February, which emphasised the merits of foreign direct investment (FDI) into left-behind areas.

“The UK Government’s goal is to maximise the opportunities of its independent trade agenda for UK business,” it said. “Internationally mobile companies are among the most productive, innovative and high investing firms in the UK: UK businesses with inward FDI links were two-thirds more productive than businesses without an FDI link in 2018. However, over half of the UK’s inward investment stock is in London and the south-east.”

The logic behind this was epitomised by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who told BBC Newsnight: “The key to unlocking levelling up is to bring foreign direct investment into the north of England, so taxpayers in the garden of England or anywhere else in this country do not have to pay for all of it.”

Department for International Trade (DIT) records show that the Government has been holding a series of meetings in recent months with sovereign wealth funds and foreign investment companies, about directing their resources to the UK.

DIT records for the final quarter of 2021, for example, show that ministers met with the Saudi National Bank, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Qatar Investment Authority to discuss ‘investment opportunities’ in the UK. All of these institutions are majority owned by their respective governments.

In March 2021, the UK’s Office for Investment and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company – owned by the Gulf state – also signed the UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership (SIP), with the UAE pledging to invest £10 billion in technology, infrastructure, healthcare, life sciences, and renewable energy in the UK.

Mubadala invested £1.1 billion between March and September 2021, while holding a series of meetings with UK ministers, seven in total, over a six month period from February 2021. 

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FDI is clearly important to the economic growth of a country. It is a dangerous myth – one perpetuated by Donald Trump in the US and some Brexiters in the UK – that a nation is able to be prosperous and entirely self-sufficient.

However, Putin’s war in Ukraine has shown the need to more closely align our economic and geopolitical interests – not allowing our commercial centres to be bought and compromised by the actors of hostile states.

The UK’s recent economic reliance on autocracies has been justified, politically, under the notion that liberal capitalism will calm the worst excesses of these regimes. However, in practice, integration has not led to moderation.

While Foreign Secretary in 2017, Boris Johnson said “we want to encourage Saudi Arabia down the path of reform and modernisation”. Yet this did not stop the Kingdom from murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul less than a year later – at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Just a few days before Johnson visited Riyadh in March this year, the Saudi regime executed more than 80 people, confirming the concerns of Amnesty International late last year, that accused the Saudi Government of launching a “relentless crackdown” on dissidents.

Saudi authorities “have brazenly intensified the persecution of human rights defenders and [have] stepped up executions over the past six months,” Amnesty said.

Qatar and Kuwait don’t have a clean slate, either, in terms of human rights abuses. More than 24,000 workers have suffered from human rights abuses on the projects devoted to the football world cup set to be held in Qatar later this year, while the Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers had died during the course of construction.

Human Rights Watch said in its 2022 report on Kuwait that authorities continue to restrict free speech and prosecute dissidents – including criminalising speech deemed insulting to the emir, its ruling monarch.

These are archetypal oligarchies, with state power and wealth amassed among a narrow band of influential families. The ruling Al Sabah family of Kuwait is estimated to be worth $360 billion, the House of Saud $1.4 trillion, and the House of Thani in Qatar some $335 billion.

Inviting investment from bodies attached to these families is therefore fundamentally different to encouraging the construction of a new factory by a Japanese car company or a German pharmaceutical giant. Unlike the German and Japanese firms, the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have political interests as well as economic ones.

The question is therefore whether we want our infrastructure and our economy to be reliant on countries that do not share our core values – states that are perpetuating abuses in the present day, regardless of the crimes that they may commit in the future.

This is an issue agitating the Conservative Party – but largely focused on the case of China.

There was a Conservative rebellion after the Government decided to allow a role for the Chinese tech company Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G network – a backlash that forced a Government U-turn. This is an ongoing concern, continuing this week with the takeover of Newport Wafer Fab – a semi-conductor supplier – by Nexperia, a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We are, seemingly, handing over critical security infrastructure to overseas companies with well-documented links to the Chinese state,” Conservative chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has said in response – with his colleague Iain Duncan Smith calling the sale “ridiculous”.

However, perhaps due to financial self-interest – the Conservative Party has raised substantial amounts of cash from foreign oligarchs in recent years – it hasn’t lifted its gaze beyond the corrupting influence of investment linked to the Chinese state.

As a result, the Government is actively incubating new versions of Londongrad – creating silos of foreign states in the former industrial midlands and north. Following the lead of the capital, these areas are becoming safe havens for the wealth of oligarchs and an insurance policy for foreign governments seeking geopolitical leverage against Britain and the West as a whole.

Boris Johnson recently spoke of the “freedom” sought by Brexit voters – in comparison to the convictions of those repelling Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that these voters had foreign economic dependence in mind, when they plumped for Johnson’s project.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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From Nostalgic Disability Direct Action On Screen – To Rishi Sunak’s Cold Shoulder in the Spring Budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

A new BBC film, Then Barbara Met Alan, looking at the beginnings of disability direct action, contrasts sharply with Rishi Sunak ignoring disabled people in his Spring Statement, says Penny Pepper

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The BBC's new comedy drama Then Barbara Met Alan is remarkable for its personal and socio-political impact. Nostalgia imbued me as I watched: I know these characters and call many of them my friends.

The power of DAN (Direct Action Network) should never be underestimated. It became a focused rallying cry for disabled people at a time when we were stuck; before any form of equalities legislation and prior to the digital age. I remember sporadic newsletters arriving in the mail, money needed to sponsor activists’ travel.

While the numbers blocking traffic and handcuffing themselves to buses were few, their influence continues to this day.

But the film blurs reality, as these things often must for the nature of drama. In particular, the eventual passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 was a painstaking collaborative process with activists and campaigners from a vast range of organisations – including much detested charity groups playing a role.

Even now, it’s apparent that few people realise there is a law that purports to be there for our equality. No one can blame the population at large for not knowing as even disabled activists struggle to understand what it means in real terms.

Many equality trainers denounce the Disability Discrimination Act as a chocolate teapot, with its failure to be backed up by any executive that can respond to incidents of discrimination. Disabled people are burdened with it focusing on the individual – I cannot get into your shop, therefore I will magic up the money to sue you. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t happen very often. 

Fast-forwarding from those halcyon days of comrades, actions and my own specific activism within disability arts, we now confront the reality of the Chancellor's Spring Statement – which did not mention disabled people at all.

Inevitably, disabled people will be amongst the hardest hit again in the current cost of living crisis, given the disparity between the low rises to benefits and the high rate of inflation. Poverty affects too many people and multiple factors exacerbate its effects, but disabled people have the least means in a disabling society to soften that. With matters such as energy costs, it will most likely boil down to warmth or food or scooter charging or die. 

Seriously, my own energy bill has tripled in the past year – but my power chair still needs charging and my medical condition demands I have heat. This isn’t about luxury or privilege. We are still forced to fight familiar battles. 

Would going back to full-on DAN-style activism help?

Protests can still make headlines, as shown by the demonstrations against David Cameron’s austerity measures and the work of the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) group. Taking to the streets joins us together, and reminds us we are not alone. And we have to hope that changes happen as a result – however little and however small they may seem.

One extraordinary, albeit depressing, similarity between disabled activism then and now is the attitude on the street to disabled people protesting. It’s annoying, exasperating and downright baffling – the prejudice of ignorance mixed with a good dollop of pity (if we’re lucky). I remember being part of a DPAC blockade at the Department for Work and Pensions in 2012. People literally climbed hand and heel over us without eye contact, conversation or care about our safety. We were in the way of them leaving work for the day. I’ve even seen police officers fall into this behaviour. 

Which brings me back to Then Barbara Met Alan. It struck me as a little light, when the truth was gritty. Another thing it didn’t do – and scarcely could – was convey the great passages of time that occur between political developments for disabled people. 

When anything and everything takes twice as long – usually because of imposed constructs such as physical obstacles or incomprehensible information gaps – life slows significantly. There’s also a menacing irony that, while disabled individuals wait a long time for the things we’ve actioned to happen through government processes, benefit cuts and scandalous assessments tend to speed ahead. Always to their time, never ours. 

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While social media and the internet has democratised our exposure and communication, to some extent it is not offering activists as much of a punch as the early shock tactics of DAN. We are now a buzzing planet of congested online activism – in which I am a happy participant – yet I fear that we are becoming diluted in our actions; that this blunts empathy and the gathering of true allies. 

Many have seen Then Barbara Met Alan as a game-changer. I believe that they are right. It’s the first time I can remember disabled people being shown as the activists they are and always have been, concurrent to the age in which they find themselves.

The National Blind League of 250 men, for instance, marched in 1920 to be greeted by a crowd of 10,000 supporters in Trafalgar Square. Protesting for better employment terms from charities, they held banners stating 'Social Justice Not Charity” – a term that remains redolent today. 

As important in the drama is the cheeky, gutsy love story, complete with sex scenes and a resulting baby. Let me tell you, in this context and taken from life, this is not how we are usually represented.

Through Then Barbara Met Alan we can bear witness to our fallen, and the reassertion that a good many of us (myself included) are saturated with the sensibilities of punk politics. Rishi Sunak can leave us out of his limp budget. Because rest assured: we’re here – no ifs, no buts... get used to it.

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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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