It’s Not The Student Left Shutting Down Debate

When, naive, and blinkered by my rose spectacles, I sauntered in to University, sans a dog-eared Marx,  I was hoping to find a melee of open-minded debaters, and more than a few folks with fingerless gloves, adorned by the iconic image of Che Guevara. Together we would have book-readings, exchange ideas, and become more enlightened, cogent debaters. We would become a fraternity of free-thinkers, united by our passion for debate.

Naive, blinkered, I was undoubtedly optimistic about that.

Whilst student unions are usually berated for being zealously left wing, you can hardly say that of some Universities. Instead, many unions have bred a homogenous group of right wing conformist hecklers who try to steal the mantle of reasonable debate for themselves and who complain the Left go round telling people that they’re wrong when the left are merely respecting debating traditions by establishing what is factually accurate and objectively true and asking the right if they might reflect at length on the way they may be wrong, which is met with trolling. The left gather facts and evidence, presented in sober and convincing fashion, and are attacked for it.

It’d be easy to assume from all this that I’ve found university a horrible experience, but I’ve loved meeting new people and contrasting our ideas. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly frustrating when, trying to explore a political tradition, rampant misinformation and stereotyping strangles and suffocates your best efforts.

It’s incredibly frustrating to witness the level of misinformation and stereotyping levelled against advocates of safe spaces. Whilst there is legitimate, scientific research in to the relationship between PTSD and triggers, qualifying claims that safe spaces ought to be nurtured in aid of minorities and trauma victims, there is a paucity of research in to whether or not safe spaces are damaging free speech. That claim is in vogue in the opinion columns but it’s exactly that; an unsubstantiated claim in vogue in the opinion columns. In the apoplectic moral panic around safe spaces, it is absurd, but amusing, how twisted the most privileged knickers get. They are impervious to reason. Is it really too much to demand trauma survivors be spared the horror of their triggers? Is it too much to ask that their are reasonable adjustments made by Universities to accomodate their needs? The free speechers seem to think they are politically repressed by minorities and trauma survivors overcoming their oppression; it is not condescending to point out that that is indicative of privilege.

In addition, many are hiding behind free speech to protect their bigotry from criticism. Too many graduates of tomorrow unthinkingly accept the insidious notion that freedom of speech and criticism means that prejudice parading as debate can cruise down the rapids of public discussion unchallenged. They invoke free speech to defend transphobia. They complain about people being offended by everything and then get offended to be told they are frankly offensive. The level of hypocrisy is astonishing.

To my mind, the left must accept that right wing views are not the moral failure of individual people, but the symptom of a healthy, pluralist democracy. I’d also like to see more discourse with people who are sceptical about the left but willing to debate respectfully. But we musn’t fear being factually accurate and objectively correct about bigotry just because trolls are upset you’ve called out their lies.

If I’m right that the left is a forward thinking, democratic movement, the prestige of reasonable debate is ours to claim, but we must be more confident in asserting it, in taking it out of the hands of people who would happily abuse the tradition of free speech to further their bigoted agendas.

Mueller’s Russia election inquiry seeks more information about Nigel Farage

Robert Mueller is seeking more information about Prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage in his investigation about Russian meddling in the US presidential election, raising more questions over Russian links to the UK’s Brexit referendum.

Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, said prosecutors working for Mueller questioned him about Farage as well as Ted Malloch, a London-based American academic with ties to Farage.

Corsi confirmed to the Guardian those conducting the investigation were asking about Farage stating

“They asked about both Nigel and Ted Malloch, I can affirm that they did but I’m really not going into detail because I respect the special counsel and the legal process.”

Corsi and several other conservative political operatives have been under investigation by Mueller for months in relation to the theft of Democratic party emails in 2016 by Russian hackers.

Farage has denied all allegations about Russian interference but it is well known prominent Euroskeptics have received Russian support in the past including figures like Marine Le Pen.

Corsi said the questions were about“Predominantly US politics, but of course, Brexit was in the background.”

The investigation had previously taken interest in one of the main financial backers of the leave vote, Aaron Banks. It was reported Mueller had obtained communications that Banks had conducted with Russian diplomats.

More follows

BREAKING: Brexit divorce deal to be signed off tomorrow

A cabinet source has told both The Sun and the BBC that the Brexit withdrawal agreement has been approved ‘at a technical level’ by officials from both sides. Cabinet ministers will meet with the Prime Minister one by one tonight ahead of a full meeting ‘early tomorrow afternoon’.

Former BBC political editor Nick Robinson described this evening as a ‘now or never’ moment for Brexit supporting MPs who have threatened to quit over the deal.

The full withdrawal agreement is reportedly over 400 pages in length, and ministers will be given the opportunity to scrutinise it before the meeting tomorrow. An EU source confirmed that a “stable text” had been sent to London, but officials were not calling it a deal, saying full agreement at political level was still needed: “It is now about seeing if this sticks”

The future of the Irish border had been the final issue needing to be resolved, and it would appear that has now been done. If approved tomorrow, the cabinet will commence their plan to sell the deal to the public and other MPs.

If the deal is agreed by Cabinet she will need to persuade Parliament to vote for it. A significant number of Tory MPs have already pledged to vote against it, if it resembles her Chequers’ proposal, and Labour have also pledged to vote against it if it does not meet their 6 tests.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, has put out a statement about the developments:

“We will look at the details of what has been agreed when they are available. But from what we know of the shambolic handling of these negotiations, this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country. Labour has been clear from the beginning that we need a deal to support jobs and the economy – and that guarantees standards and protections. If this deal doesn’t meet our six tests and work for the whole country, then we will vote against it.”

The Privatisation of Higher Education

In 2010, it was announced that tuition fees would rise from £3,000 to £9,000 – in defiance of the manifesto pledge made by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

Thousands lost their faith in contemporary politics, which prompted the Student Protests of 2010. News coverage focused on the actions of a minority responsible for damaging infrastructure at the Conservative Party Headquarters in London. The Metropolitan Police were overwhelmed with the violence, Sir Paul Stephenson noted that his offers would go through a ‘thorough operation to get full control of the building’ and recognised that their anticipation of violence could have been ‘better’.

Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, questioned the intentions of Nick Clegg. She asked: ‘In April, he [Clegg] said that increasing tuition fees to £7,000 a year would be a disaster. What word would he use to describe fees of £9,000?’ However, nothing changed despite the violence, frustration, and opposition from members of the House of Commons.

Since then, there was a major change in attitudes and expectations within the higher education sector, with students expecting a better service for their money. Student expectations, caused by rising tuition fees, have torn the heart and soul out of higher education in England and Wales.

Higher education institutions have been slow to respond to the corporatisation of universities and it is not surprising that legal and non-legal action has increased over recent years. In 2014, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, responsible for disputes following internal procedures, ruled on 2,175 cases brought forward by students in England and Wales. In total, the OIA forced institutions to pay £400,000 in financial compensation to students in 2014.

In 2018, following industrial action by staff and students across the country, it is estimated that around 5,000 students united and filed a lawsuit requesting compensation of around £20 million. The main grievance was that students had lost teaching, which they were paying for, and in respect of this loss they should be appropriately compensated by their universities. The University and College Union estimated that the strike action affected more than one million students and led to a loss of 575,000 teaching hours in England and Wales.

With universities falling short of expectations and tuition fees continuing to rise, there has been more calls for the government to create a legally binding contract between institutions and their students. Jo Johnson, former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, claimed that contracts would offer students greater protection and ensure that institutions would deliver to high standards. He stated: ‘Clearly it is in the nature of a contract that someone who feels that the benefits promised in the contract are not getting delivered would have some form of redress.’ He concluded: ‘Clearly, through the consultation options that we will be publishing in the course of time, we’ll see what those options will consist of, but legal remedies are certainly not excluded.’

There has been a low, but constant, move towards the corporatisation of colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. It is no surprise that this statement was issued by an anonymous academic for the Guardian: ‘Eventually, feeling depressed and demotivated, I left my university and the UK. It strikes me that UK academia is in danger of devaluing experience and expertise, taking away academics’ freedom and focusing instead on delivering a standardised product. The marketisation of higher education makes working in a UK university feel like working in a business, transforming it into a stifling, rule-bound environment that damages collegiality.’

So, are we focusing too much on business and not enough on the core values of higher education? If so, we are in danger of permanently changing the nature and direction of education in the United Kingdom.

Opinion from the author -Thomas Howard:

Higher education is being pushed down a dangerous path by the policies espoused by the Conservative Government. How can we save it? It is essential that high expectations are removed, and this can be easily achieved by scrapping tuition fees, or at least lowering them to a sustainable level. Too many students have been disappointed with their results, to the extent of pursuing legal action, or the structure of their course following the increase in tuition fees in 2010. Of course, we should strive for high quality in our universities, but we should not create a hostile division between staff and students and encourage stakeholders to file legal action at the first opportunity. I recognise that legal action may be essential in some cases, but it cannot become the norm. It is essential that we have greater government oversight and that internal routes for redress are made more accessible to students across the United Kingdom. We can save our universities and colleges, but we must act fast.

Irish PM warns UK to “stand by its commitments over Irish Border issue”

The Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar has told the UK Government that it must avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, honouring its commitments to the Irish Peace Process.

With the UK due to leave the EU on March 29th next year, tensions have been mounting that a deal to solve the border issue will not be reached. The EU has cited the issue of Ireland as the key reason no Brexit deal has been reached, and Theresa May has vowed to find a way to stop a hard border. And Varadkar, has said that if there is an arrangement reached, it cannot feature a time limit.

The has deepened in recent weeks due to disagreements over the agreed ‘backstop’, with questions being raised over whether it should apply to the whole of the UK or just Northern Ireland, as well as fears over a proposed ‘time limit.

Any agreement that sees the reintroduction of a hard border would inevitable break the Good Friday Agreement as it would mean goods would have to be checked when they pass through the border and there is speculation of passport checks at the border. However, if there was to be a backstop applying only to Northern Ireland and not the whole of the UK, then this would create a hard border in the sea between N.I. and the U.K., as Northern Ireland would stay in the customs union (potentially for a time-limited period).

Earlier today, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is reported to have called the Irish Taoiseach in order to “calm anger” across the sea over comments made by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab. Mr Raab is rumoured to have claimed there should be a time-limit of just three months on the Backstop agreement, which is said to have left Mr Varadkar deeply concerned and upset. Mrs May is claimed to have reassured him that her very own Brexit Secretary’s comments are not the UK’s policy, reemphasising her commitment to a full backstop that would work for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain.


Deal or No Deal, hosted by Dominic Raab- How the Tories flip flopped on a Brexit deal

At long last we have a clear idea of when a deal will be made with the EU, resolving all issues including the seemingly impossible to negotiate Irish border. Or we did. For two and a half hours.

Much like when a cult leader tells their followers the exact date and time the world will come to an end, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has informed us ‘the end is in sight’ and that he will be able to come to an agreement with the EU by November 21st. Luckily we didn’t have to cross our fingers as the clock passed midnight, instead a spokesperson for Raab’s department told us this date wasn’t official less than three hours after Raab’s proposed timetable was public.

Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary and Raab’s opposite number, called this ‘one of the quickest u-turns in political history’.

The comment was made in a letter penned to the Brexit select committee, who require Dominic Raab to appear in front of MP’s to give evidence regarding the status of the negotiations. The letter was incredibly optimistic and caused a rise in the pound briefly, once Raab backtracked and it was clear the date wasn’t reliable the value withdrew once again.

Theresa May had to distance herself from the comment, an official spokesperson for the Prime Minister saying they were hoping to reach a deal soon but refused to confirm this date as a realistic deadline. Confusion also came from the EU side, as they confirmed ‘nothing new’ had arose from recent talks with the UK and ‘there are no new ideas’ in regards to the Irish border issue.

The Irish border continues to be the major concern as no current proposals reach the mark with any party involved the negotiations. Just over a week ago Theresa May told MP’s in the Commons that 95% of the negotiations were complete but Northern Ireland was still a ‘sticking point’. Despite the Government’s efforts to downplay the significance of Northern Ireland, their lack of progress makes it clear that the issue is worth far more than 5% of the UK’s negotiation efforts. The Prime Minister has her numbers inverted, we still have 95% of the way to go if we are to reach a deal with the EU and avoid violence erupting in Northern Ireland again.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has put the responsibility on the UK and Dominic Raab to step up the intensity of the talks if a deal is to be agreed in the coming weeks. With the Brexit secretary visiting towns on the border this week and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference being held in Dublin, we should know how close we are to resolving the issue by Friday.

However what we should know and what we do know are always two very different things when it comes to this current Tory Government.

AROUND THE WORLD: Tensions rise as Palestinians attempt to end the Gaza blockade

In recent times, Gaza has seen an escalation of violence as local Palestinians attempt to resist the years long blockade of the strip. A drone strike has killed three Palestinian teenagers whom the Israeli Defence Force accuse of laying explosives. A series of protests, which have become known as the great march return home aimed at highlighting the Palestinians right of return, have resulted in heavy Palestinian casualties. An American far right activist was stabbed to death on the streets by a Palestinian teenager. All this shows a clear escalation of violence within the occupied territories.

This has all come at a time where president Trump has substantially cut aid to the Palestinians and has even closed the PLO’s office in Washington D.C. Earlier this year the president moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in a clear symbolic act which accepted full Israeli claims to the holy city. This predictably resulted in protests and clashes.

Likewise, Israel has responded to the violence by strongly enforcing the embargo on Gaza. Since the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza following the Second Intifada, Israel has commenced with a stranglehold on the besieged strip. This has resulted in a dramatic rise in suicides and the strip only sees a few hours of electricity a day.

In response, Palestinians have escalated their protests attempting to end the blockade by land and sea. The PLO have dramatically voted to suspend their recognition of Israel and to end the current security and economic relationship. This has come as a result of the zero sum policies of the right wing Netanyahu government who have consistently dug their heels in during the peace process. The illegal settlement building in occupied Palestine has continued resulting in many doubts towards Israels attitude to the peace process.

The situation for many Palestinians living under occupation has been dire. Leaders of the movement have been imprisoned through extrajudicial means. This includes the detention without trial of elected legislator Khalida Jarrar who is suspected of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a revolutionary Marxist organisation. Likewise, the leader of the group Ahmad Sa’adat was captured by Israeli forces by besieging Jericho prison after his imprisonment was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Both leaders have as of yet not faced fair trial.

Hopes for a two state solution have dropped dramatically since the seemed progress of the Oslo accords. Since the failure of Oslo leading to the Second Intifada, Israel and Palestine have remained locked in their perpetual war against each other.

As confidence plummets in the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver the demands of the Palestinian masses, radical groups spurred by the disillusioned population have remained unrelenting in their resistance against Israeli occupation. The idolisation of Ahed Tamimi and the unwavering commitment to constant protests despite casualties shows that the Palestinian people will not accept the current state of play. If the two state solution is to be successful, Israel must commit to accepting the rightful demands of the Palestinian people. Otherwise it faces a growing radicalised resistance determined to achieve their aims by whatever means necessary.

White poppy, or red poppy? The endless debate

Is it wrong to wear a White Poppy?  A question that has dominated social media over the last couple of weeks, with one individual claiming that the white poppy ‘signifies attention-seeking, virtue-signalling, half-wittery.’ Whereas another claims that it signifies ‘Peace, end to wars, remembrance of all victims of war.’
Some question the relevance of the debate and argue that it is a cyclical debate without meaning. However, the debate was given fuel this year following the comments made by Johnny Mercer, Member of Parliament for Plymouth More View. He claimed: ‘White poppies are attention seeking rubbish.’ He continued: ‘Ignore the wearers of them. If you don’t want to wear a poppy don’t bother; they fought and died so you could choose.’ He concluded that sellers of the white poppy were ‘deliberately’ trying to ‘hijack it’s symbolism for [their] own ends.’
So, what is the difference between the red poppy and white poppy?
The red poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance in 1921, largely due to the prominence of the flowers in the battlefields of Europe – notably in France and Belgium.
Whereas white poppies were created in 1933 with the intent purpose of expressing the message ‘never again’ as some feared that this message was slipping away from those in Britain following the First World War.
The Peace Pledge Union, responsible for selling white poppies, claims that there is three elements to the poppies meaning: ‘they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war.’
Excess funds donated to the Peace Pledge Union are then used for their education and campaign operations with the aim of ‘promoting nonviolent approaches to conflict and challenging militarism.’
Whereas the Royal British Legion, distributors of the red poppy, are responsible for helping members of the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force. They also use funds to support veterans and their families. They note: ‘We also campaign to improve their lives, organise the Poppy Appeal and remember the fallen.’
It seems that your donation, to either organisation, will have a positive impact. However, it does appear that a trend is occurring with poppy sales, with more white poppies being sold than in previous years.
Inflammatory comments fail to undermine the significance of a symbol but can cause unnecessary divisions.

Budget 2018: Defence Budget gets £1bn boost

The Chancellor Philip Hammond today pledged an extra £1 billion for the Ministry of Defence in order to plug capability gaps and prevent further cuts. 

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been campaigning for an increase in spending since taking office last year. In June 2018, it was reported that he had asked the Prime Minister Theresa May for an extra £4 billion a year.

Despite the increase, a long term solution to the £20bn black hole has been delayed by at least 6 months until the 2019 spending review.

Earlier this year, the Defence Select Committee warned that the threat levels faced today were on par with that of the Cold War. They recommended an increase in the defence budget to 3% of GDP in order to maintain influence and capability.

Today’s boost will prevent further cuts to equipment. At the Tory Party Conference last month, it was announced that the amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and Bulwark (right) would be saved from cuts. Many anticipated their saving to come at a cost: the early retirement of a few Type 23 frigates. The extra £1bn should prevent this.