We should all want Keir Starmer negotiating in Brussels

Whilst it was Jeremy Corbyn who gave the speech announcing that Labour, if in power, would seek to create a Custom Union with the European Union, the man behind Labour’s Brexit policy is the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer. A man who when appointed to this role was unlucky; he was a potential future leader who is now tasked to stand up and read out statements that most Labour party members hate to hear.

 

Thus far, Starmer has delivered a masterclass in skill, competence, and (mostly) political strategy. He has walked the tight rope of Brexit, balancing the realities of leaving the EU with the referendum result.

 

His proposal on a transition period made economic and political sense. Not only did it provide businesses with confidence and security, if the UK is going to be paying in to EU budgets until 2020 we might as well make the most of the EU’s Single Market. This was a proposal so good that it was immediately copied by the Tories.

 

Yesterday’s announcements marked more genius. A slight move towards a softer Brexit which would solve the Irish border problem that has confounded David Davis. This move was also welcomed by businesses; the CBI hailed the proposal a Brexit that put “jobs and living standards first”. Unions have seemed equally keen, UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Jeremy Corbyn has shown that people really do have a choice on Brexit.”

 

Starmer’s move is clearly perceived as a move that will help the post Brexit economy but critically not endanger the desires of many Leave voters on immigration and having EU laws enforced upon them. It marked for the first time in the Brexit process creative thinking by a major party of how to solve the key issue of the Irish border.

 

His realistic yet optimistic approach has yet again shown to be superior to that of the government when the EU rejected the government’s trade deal and reiterated that the UK “will only be a trade agreement” because Ms May has refused to stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.” The EU has stated that friction would be added to trade due to the customs checks on goods flowing in and out of the EU, but there could be no tariffs and quotas.

 

You can see the difference in thinking between the two parties. Whilst Davis is constrained by the fanatics in his own party the Labour leadership have given Starmer a free hand to find the best deal for all sections of the Labour Party, and the country.

 

But whilst Starmer has taken the problems of Brexit seriously on an economic level, it is party politics where he has truly done well. Labour are divided on Brexit, less so than the Tories in parliament but very much so in the polling booth. Around 35% of their voters in 2015 went on to vote Leave, yet the majority of their constituencies were supported Leave. Labour has had to satisfy Leavers who wanted controls on immigration alongside it’s metropolitan vote who were scared of the impact of losing membership of the Single Market. His tactic surrounding Brexit seems to have come from the London Underground. Clever at minding the gap between Labour’s position and Theresa May’s. This strategy has kept Leavers on side as he delivers the results of the referendum, whilst keeping Remainers, reluctant to defect to an untrustworthy Liberal Democrat resistance to Brexit, voting Labour. By caring about the views of those who voted Remain he has centre ground remainers previously reluctant or unwilling to vote for Labour supporting the party. Both the announcement of wanting the transitional deal and wanting a Customs Union prompted messages to be sent my way about how a friend or family member would now vote for them. It has truly been a master strategy.

 

When Theresa May lost her majority on June 8th, it was of my opinion that she should form a cross party negotiating team for handling the EU. It would have greatly increased the strength of the British negotiators and reduced parliamentary squabbling. It would also have allowed us to get a deal not decided by hard right Brexiteers. The remain vote, who seem to have been put in a box marked ‘not relevant’, would have some influence on their future outside the EU. However, it would allow for her party’s and perhaps won her survival in the long term.

 

Instead the Tories have made every mistake whilst Labour have outmanoeuvred them. If an unlikely general election were to come before the end of the Brexit process, getting Keir Starmer negotiating in Brussels would be one of huge positives of a Labour win.

Connecting the Dots: Cyber-Meddling and Russia’s Grand Strategy

To understand the motivation behind the seemingly indiscriminate nature of Russia’s cyber-meddling operations, it is essential to contextualise them within the evolution of Russia’s grand strategy.

 

In 1989, Vladimir Putin, a young KGB officer stationed in East Germany, witnessed first-hand the power of popular uprising and the infectious nature of chaos as a destabilising agent against established authority. Putin’s lesson in the destructive power of general disarray and the communicability of popular dissent represents the genesis of Russia’s contemporary grand strategy. However, to fully understand the rise of Putin’s Russia, discussion of a man by the name of Aleksandr Dugin is essential.

 

At first glance, Aleksandr Dugin, an occult fascist, seems an unlikely ally of a former KGB operative such as Putin. However, Dugin’s philosophical influence on Putin would further crystallise Russia’s contemporary approach to foreign policy.

 

In 1997, Dugin published Foundations of Geopolitics. The book draws heavily on the work of Halford Mackinder’s who recognised the strategic advantages of occupying the Heartland of Russia and that whoever controlled it would control the world. However, Dugin revises Mackinder’s work and reframes it into a strategy of perpetual conflict as an enduring foreign policy strategy.

 

Dugin’s influence on Putin’s strategy also comes from their shared belief that popular chaos and instability are as potent as military force in the game of power. For Dugin, maintaining a permanent condition of conflict with the West is essential to Russian political power, and the key to this play is the ceaseless subversion of its heartland by sewing internal chaos.

 

In George Orwell’s 1984, the world exists in a state of perpetual and unwinnable conflict within a tripolar global divide. In Dugin’s theory, Eurasia, a name that Orwell borrowed from Mackinder, is at war not with Oceania, but the Atlanticist alliance led by the United States. According to Dugin: “The Eurasian Empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, the strategic control of the USA.”

 

Understanding that Putin’s Russia is not pursuing the unlikely goal of singular world domination, rather the maintenance of a constant condition of Cold War-style tension, so that Russia can hold on to its relative power is key to understanding contemporary its foreign policy. So too is the practical operative strategy to foment domestic imbalance within the Atlanticist heartland in order to realise and maintain a global equilibrium.

 

Echoing 1984, Russia seeks an enduring conflict to divide and contain, rather than one to divide and conquer. This Machiavellian strategy is grounded in the subversion of their enemy’s core through infecting them with domestic disorder. By introducing a virus that attacks the social and political values of its foe, Russia hopes to unleash an epidemic of internal suspicion and agitation that will weaken interior power structures and, in turn, deteriorate their external strength. According to Dugin, for Russia to maintain its power globally, it must continuously erode America’s role as a superpower from within. In doing so, Russia is enacting Dugin’s argument that, “it is important to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States.”

 

Considering the power held by America and its Atlanticist allies, and the rising might of China, which anchors the globe’s third tripolar sphere, it makes sense Russia has developed its grand strategy around relatively inexpensive arms-length cyber destabilisation campaigns. By focusing on remote subversion, Russia can punch far above its military and economic weight to maintain its position as a global power. Cyberwarfare, hacking, leaks, trolling, and bot-spread disinformation operations represent Moscow’s frontline tactics in its drive to weaken Atlanticist democratic society by influencing its citizens’ thought and warping perspectives.

 

Russia’s most infamous cyberattack to influence the result of the 2016 presidential election was a mission designed to infect the United States with the disease of internal division, suspicion, and chaotic paranoia. To Russia, President Trump is a useful idiot, an unwitting dupe in fulfilling Dugin’s plan to energise “extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilising internal political processes in the U.S.” Even Trump’s America First policy affirms Dugin’s desire “to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

 

Contextualising Russia’s wide range of targets within the narrative of its grand strategy connects the dots between the seemingly unrelated actions being directed by Moscow. Each headline issue that includes Russian cyber-meddling demonstrates the relatively inexpensive yet massively effective techniques Moscow is employing to destabilise its enemies and maintain global influence. Unlike the costly version of permanent military warfare in Orwell’s 1984, Russia’s cynical approach to ensuring a perpetual global stalemate is being waged by contaminating the hearts and minds of its enemy’s population. And so far, the plan to sustain an enduring condition of septic chaos within the West appears to be meeting little meaningful resistance.

Definitive guide to America’s gun crisis, and how little is being done

You arrive to school ready to attend the first lesson of the day. Though you’re worried about turning in a project, the atmosphere is one of excitement, mainly because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Someone has sent you a vase of 3 roses. A secret admirer perhaps?
The fire alarm goes off before you have a chance to put the roses away.
What is to follow is one of the deadliest school massacres in history.
You see people stampeding to the exit followed by the ringing of bullet shots.
You run too.
The roses still in your hand, albeit crumpled. You make it out the school alive.
You are worried for the lives of your friends and family who are still in school. You are scared if they are still alive.

Violence is concerning wherever it happens but usually with a solution we can solve or curb it. Typically within a few years a visible reduction in crime statistics shows, quite frankly, that the solution has worked – to varying degrees, but this is rarely never the case in the US when the cause of violence is (or is accompanied with) guns.
The discussion is shut down by either side before a resolute solution hits the ground. Social media is a battleground with accusations of hypocrisy or cowardice and petty insults drown out bipartisan support in favour of gun safety legislation. The government’s inaction in the aftermath of school shootings have become something of a tradition in America.
Highly politicised events, by their very nature, create a lot of noise but little legislation action.
Mass shootings have been on the decline in America until 2007 when they suddenly became more frequent.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) sends campaign contributions to a number of Republicans running for office, but it’s quite obvious that the NRA are heavily invested in Donald Trump.

Peculiarly enough, they even endorsed Trump before he earned the Republican nomination for President. Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director, justified this break from the NRA tradition by claiming that Hillary Clinton was too much of a threat to the Second Amendment.
From the annual NRA conference, Trump warned members that Hillary Clinton wanted to “abolish” the Second Amendment. While Clinton has previously campaigned against handgun ownership, she has never hinted any intention of amending the US Constitution.

Trump has stayed unwavering in his support of the NRA; he has yet to turn back on his words from the conference, “I will never, ever let you down”. So far the ban on bump stocks and other limited gun control initiatives have been endorsed by the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre – although the Republican base are supportive of Trump, for the same gun control legislation, Obama was constructively halted by Congress every time he tried.
The immediate response from Trump’s reaction to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting can be found on Twitter. He seemingly blamed the students and school authorities for failing to report the shooter’s “erratic behaviour”.

However, Nikolas Cruz was receiving mental and emotional treatment but had stopped a year prior to the shooting.

Trump’s response is hypocritical considering that early on in his presidency Trump repealed an Obama-era piece of legislation which kept guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

His latest Fiscal Year 2019 Budget also stripped the Medicaid budget by $1.4 trillion, Medicare by $500 billion and Social Security Disability Insurance by $10 billion.
Medicaid and Medicare are the largest providers of substance-abuse, mental health and disability services in the US. More than 70 million people rely on these programmes, greater than the entire population of the United Kingdom.
Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past at all.

The reaction to school shootings, which are heavily politicised anyway, is also generally marked with large outpourings of shock, sympathy and grief (in that order). A week later from the Florida school shooting, however, the mood is noticeably more angry and full of frustration.

One survivor from the Florida School shooting who requested not to be named told me, “We’re the future. The adults who have failed us better find new jobs now, because we will outnumber and vote them out of a job”.
The sentiment of the survivors can be summed up by the words of their fellow high school senior, David Hogg, in response to attacks from the NRA, “You might as well stop now because we are going to outlive you”.

Donald Trump’s supporters have used the shooting to scapegoat mentally ill people and push their agenda that the Democrats have an interest in taking away gun rights, along with abolishing the Second Amendment.

Many conservative pundits and figures have insulted the survivors of the shooting. The reactions from the conservative camp is strictly on the defensive in respects to their guns. They have made a pre-emptive strike defending gun rights from those who they call “gun grabbers”.

When people say “something needs to be done” one can rest assured that nothing of substance will happen that would last long-term. It is poor enough that one side is willing to ignore the plight of students to defend their freedom, vilifying the mentally ill and poisoning the debate on gun control breaking with expected professional decorum.

In the hope of avoiding another school shooting there are a number of lessons to be learned from this one. I’m not going to purview the right to bear semi-automatic rifles, as I believe the problem to school shooting to be multifaceted and a complex issue that won’t be resolved by impulsive decisions. There is still a convincing case for banning military-inspired weapons like the AR-15 rifles, but just like former President Bill Clinton’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban, such legislation needs to be comprehensive, otherwise they become ineffective.

However, there are a number of important concerns that arise from the current situation. It is necessary to increase federal funding to mental and emotional care. Nikolas Jacob Cruz is not a victim here, but he displayed the characteristics of a disturbed individual relating to delinquency, crime and violence.

His social media show Cruz toting guns, posing with knives and pictures of dead animals (birds and toads) that he reported to have killed. There is one rather telling post where he pointed the barrel of what seems to be a semi-automatic rifle aiming outside a window. His Instagram profile picture shows him wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.

State investigators and health providers did not have access to his social media. They did not have him on their radar for a long enough time to establish an accurate assessment of his mental and social wellbeing, nor were they able to follow up with school authorities that he was a threat to other students. State investigators assessed that he “was at low risk of harming himself or others”.

Nikolas Cruz’s public defender even made the point, “This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter”, he concluded that this was a “multisystem error” as someone who suffered from emotional problems and mental illness like Cruz, and with the problematic social media posts, should have failed the background check for a gun.

To emphasise, gun violence is a public health problem as well as an issue of criminal justice.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) have advocated for firearm safety to patients and have campaigned against handgun ownership. Increasing numbers of health professionals are asking their patients if they have a gun at home since some doctors believe it is important to know the environment and access to harm of their patients.

If gun violence in the US truly is a cultural phenomenon then an approach to pacify the violence may be found by treating gun violence like drug abuse. Rather than hoping mental illness provisions will weed out at-risk students and potential school shooters, a comprehensive public-health approach begins in counselling the public in firearm safety because without knowing how to safely handle and live with firearms then more people could potentially be exposed to gun violence (including unintentional fatalities). It is important to note that firearm injuries is the second leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes.

A medical policy paper said on the issue of gun violence, “Strategies to reduce firearm violence will need to address culture, substance use and mental health, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation, consistent with the Second Amendment, to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who intend to use them to harm themselves and others, as well as measures to reduce mass casualties associated with certain types of firearms”.

Public health research into responsible firearm ownership can inform legislation into what types of weapons should be handled by citizens by law.

Perhaps a multidisciplinary policy objective is key to understanding, if not curbing, gun violence. The shooter in Stoneman Douglas High School was obsessed with guns, the disturbing content he uploaded online were missed by mental health professions and state investigators who assessed him. Clearly a misunderstanding occurred here, a 19-year old young man fell through the cracks of a failing system, exemplified by the increased frequency of these mass shootings (Umpqua Community College shooting, San Bernardino Attack, Orlando Nightclub shooting, Sutherland Springs church shooting and the Las Vegas shooting – 5 major mass shootings in total over 3 years).

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting should not have happened. Yet it did under the watch of President Trump and his administration. All the institutions which are supposed to be overseeing and preventing school shootings are facing cuts. Failure at the federal level, and a database that is missing millions of records and staff shortages – which has been deemed too costly to fix – are contributing to the problems which previous administrations sought to resolve.

Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past – in fact, they’re in direct contradiction. There’s no point in saying you will focus on mental health and school safety, when those are the very things you focused on revoking as President. There’s no point in saying you care about mental illness when you strip funding for the provisions of mental health and make massive cutbacks to mental health budgets.

With all its problems, I fail to see how Trump is taking this issue seriously, his recent comments on arming “20%” of teachers is a typically Trumpesque policy decision with no details on viability.
If Trump wants to deal with these issues, then he needs to overcome the shortcomings of his administration right now.

The illusion of a soft Brexit must end

Jeremy Corbyn finally confirmed this week that the Labour party will support Britain to stay in a customs union after Brexit. The Labour leader has kept an extremely ambiguous semi silence since the Brexit referendum. This probably has to do a lot with his own euro sceptic beliefs but I suspect it is more to do with a finely calculated electoral strategy, to keep equally content those who voted to leave in the old industrial strongholds and those who voted to stay in. As a PM in waiting he has it easier than Theresa May. She has being juggling this divided nation since the referendum happened with her party in a perpetual state of war. Her weakness and her imprecisions come from her intention to please everyone and she is failing to do so with the world and especially the EU watching every single step.

Mr Corbyn has being juggling with exactly the same divisions but away from the relentless media focus. Both are making precisely the same mistake trying to see Brexit as an electoral opportunity instead of a question of state. Jeremy’s new found position is not a very plausible soft version of Brexit which is aimed only at the Government. It not a plan for the future of the country. It is a stratagem to bring down this incapable Tory government by splitting them even further.

It is time now for the main parties to stop disguising reality. There is no such thing as a soft Brexit. It is wrong to keep going on about the choice this country needs to make between a harder or softer version of leaving the EU. The real choice is staying in or leaving. There is no magic formula capable of pleasing everyone. Not even staying in a customs union will provide the perfect solution. Corbyn aims for a customs union where the UK will be able to have a say in future agreements between the EU and third parties which so far the EU bluntly refuses to accept.

On paper being a member of a customs union will be the best solution for the UK. You can have all the trade without the free movement or paying into the European Union chest or being supervised by the European court of justice (ECJ), and most importantly it will bring no hard border between the UK and Ireland. It is not that simple though. The EU has so far agreed to frictionless trade only for countries that have accepted free movement as members of the European Economic Area like Norway. The only example of a country outside the EU with which it has a customs deal is Turkey. It was signed with the hope that one day they would join the EU but as the deal stands now it is not an example of what the UK needs. Their agreement covers only goods and not services or finances and it does follows EU rules on production of goods. Brexit was voted to regain control of the countries own business so neither of these examples will suit this mandate. Same applies to the illusion that membership of a customs union outside the EU would free Britain from the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Something else will have to arbitrate disputes between Britain and the EU. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has been mentioned but EFTA does indeed follow ECJ rulings. The UK will end up following EU trade policy anyway to sell into the EU marketplace but with no power whatsoever to decide its current policies or any changes in the future.

So once you have faced all the facts it seems that a customs union will only work really for the Irish border issue. For the rest it seems a soft Brexit is merely a weapon against the Tories “Brexit means Brexit” as in fact it will leave the UK as close as possible to the EU without being one of its pillars anymore. Immediately the question pops up… why leave then? And so it all starts again. The dilemma this country is facing needs a second referendum. The main parties have proved incapable to look no// further than their own interest when it comes to the future of the country. Brexit means Brexit. No hard. No soft. Completely in or completely out. The final decision should be made by the people not the parliament. Whatever that decision might be. It cannot be worse that this utter nonsense.

Lords Reform: Technocracy or Lottery – Ideas from Athenian democracy

If someone were to design a constitution for a country from scratch, it is inconceivable that they would design the current British constitutional settlement. The House of Lords, among other institutions, is seemingly based on completely arbitrary principles. Some members have their positions because their ancestors were in the right place at the right time, some are appointed because they have expertise, some because they were owed favours by a particular Prime Minister.

Many solutions to this mess of a chamber have been proposed; direct election of all or some of its members, indirect election, abolition entirely or some kind of technocratic chamber, among other proposals. All of them are problematic.

An elected Lords could challenge the Commons for supremacy and create deadlock; Italy and the United States of America are shining examples of too many directly elected chambers. A chamber of ill-defined experts would require members to be appointed somehow; politicians could simply fill the Lords with their supporters, as is the case of many current members of the Lords. Abolition is also a problem, without any checks on Commons power, a government with a majority of one can do whatever it likes. In theory, they could take away our right to a fair trial, abolish elections or persecute minorities.

Ancient Greece offers some fascinating alternatives to the current House of Lords. Athenian democracy bears little resemblance to the modern notion of democracy. A lottery was held among eligible citizens to take up seats within what we would call the legislature, for a fixed time period. Normal citizens would be called up based on complete chance rather than connections or skills; this was true equality of opportunity. It was very similar to jury service in contemporary Britain. These representatives of the people would then vote on who was to lead the armies, policies and so forth. A system where Lords were selected at random from British citizens would give everyone an equal opportunity to participate, rather than merely being able to vote once every five years.

An alternative comes from Plato, the fiercest critic of Athenian democracy. The people, Plato argued, were stupid and easily led to disaster by witty and clever speaking politicians who make promises they can’t possibly keep. The Athenian Assembly voted to execute Socrates, to embark on disastrous wars with Sparta and Syracuse and had brought disaster upon itself. Plato would not be surprised by the Brexit vote or the rise of populists like Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. As far as Plato was concerned, politicians who promise the people a moon on a stick will always win because the people are idiots. Plato’s solution was guardianship; have the ‘kings’ rule as philosophers, or the philosophers rule as kings.’ These days we call this technocratic government; rule by the cleverest, most able people.

A solution to the Lords is to have both systems; half of the chamber can be chosen from among the people by lottery like jury service, the other half technocrats selected according to objective criteria much like recruitment to the Civil Service. Short term limits can be imposed perhaps of as little as two or three months, with regular circulation of members to prevent self-serving behaviour and the emergence of politicised factions.

Everyone agrees the House of Lords needs reform, but no one can agree on what to do about it. Ancient Greece offers us one perspective on how to maintain a check on government power, have a technocratic body which can scrutinise government legislation and include representation of the people.

Corruption, not the constitution, stands in the way of sensible gun laws

On Wednesday 14th February, America witnessed it’s eighteenth school shooting of 2018. 17 people died when a former student – Nikolas Cruz, gunned down teachers and pupils at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Once again questions are being asked whether tighter gun laws could have prevented this massacre from happening.

America is unique in its gun violence problem. It is one of three countries in the world in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, and it is the only liberal democracy in the world which still guarantees its citizens their right to keep a firearm.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they would support more stringent laws, 97% support universal background checks for gun buyers. Amongst a backdrop of on average, one mass shooting per week, most Americans see stricter gun laws as a necessary step in the way of decreasing the frequency of mass shootings. However, 79% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats are still willing to defend the Second Amendment.

Stricter gun laws are long overdue in America. Other liberal democracies including Canada and the UK, suffered their deadliest mass shootings between 1989-1996 and introduced new legislation restricting private ownership of firearms. No mass shootings have happened in these countries since. Since the Sandy Hook mass shooting which took place in 2012 in the US, there have been 1,606 mass shootings in America which have resulted in 1,829 deaths.

The United States Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The Second Amendment brings this declaration into compromise. America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada , and almost 16 times as many as Germany . Statistics suggest that America has 29.7 homicides by firearm for every 1 million people, compared to Australia’s 1.4. The American constitution upholds more strongly, the right to bear arms than the right to life.

In 2013, following the Sandy Hook massacre, Republicans blocked President Obama’s gun control legislation which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Republicans, who fear losing their NRA funding, more than they fear the murder of innocent Americans, stand in the way of stricter gun control.

The National Rifle Association has been advocating for gun rights since it was founded in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis”. The NRA’s revenues total $433.9 million. It’s members have included 9 U.S. Presidents.

Hundreds of members of Congress rely on campaign finances from the NRA. In a recent report by the New York Times, it was revealed that the top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the Senate have received a total of $42,822,711, with Senator John McCain receiving the highest amount of funding, at $7,740,521. The top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the House of Representatives received a combined $4,292,241. Among the top 100 beneficiaries of NRA funding in the House, 95 were Republican. The top 50 receivers of NRA funding in the Senate were all Republicans.

The Second Amendment as a part of the entrenched constitution cannot be repealed with simple legislation, nor does it have any chance of being repealed with a Congress receiving $42.8 million of funding from the NRA. Over the years, members of Congress have attempted to pass gun control legislation, to increase background checks and to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and suspected terrorists. However, most gun control legislation is ineffective when Americans have a constitutional right to own a firearm.

Congress cannot simply rewrite the Constitution, except by a process found in Article V of the Constitution which states that “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments”. This means that, Congress can only change the Constitution, with the consent of ⅔ of the Senate and ⅔ of the House of Representatives or ⅔ of America’s 50 states’ legislative bodies.

The repeal of the Second Amendment would require a national effort by both Republicans and Democrats. If this is ever to become reality, then Republicans must put the lives of Americans before the interests of campaign finances. Until then, more Americans will die at the hands of a Constitution which allows anyone to buy a gun from their local shop.

The impossibility of a partisan repeal of the 2nd amendment alongside the fact that even the strongest gun regulation proponents do not want an outright ban shows no wide scale gun confiscation will ever be enacted. The desire for sensible, European style, gun laws amongst the population continues to grow, but the dollars of the NRA will stop that from mattering.

“Devolution presents an opportunity to improve the lives of people living here in South Yorkshire” says Dan Jarvis MP

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central, announced this month that he intends to stand as a Labour candidate for the Sheffield Region Mayor.

Stating “I’m putting myself forward in this election because devolution presents an opportunity to improve the lives of people living here in South Yorkshire, we’ve got many challenges at the moment -austerity, Brexit, automation, widening inequality – that we’re going to need bold and ambitious solutions to. Although not without risk, devolution gives us a chance to take greater control of our economy an infrastructure and put in place policies that grow our economy, expand opportunities for our young people, and improve our environment.Continuing, he added “I believe I’m the best person to deliver for people in South Yorkshire. Having been one of the leading figures in the devolution debate, I’m well-placed to work with local council leaders and central government to deliver the investment and public services that Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Doncaster need. And I want to push for a bigger devolution deal in the future, which encompasses the whole of Yorkshire because that really would give us the collective clout to cooperate with and compete with other devolution areas”.

Many people in the area voted against having a Mayor, with many not understanding what the mayor would actually be responsible for. but Jarvis says “I believe that we need a Mayor who can, in the first instance, do four things. They are:
· Negotiate the devolution of powers and funding to the Sheffield City Region – without this agreement there will be now new money or powers.
· Deliver stronger public services in South Yorkshire.
· Represent the Sheffield City Region on the national stage.
– Be a leading figure in the ongoing debate about a wider Yorkshire devolution deal”.

Jarvis says his first priority is going to be making sure we actually devolve the power and funding to the Sheffield City Region. Saying “This election is unlike any other mayoral election because the new mayor isn’t going to necessarily have any powers or money after the election. These are going to have to be negotiated and without consensus among the four council leaders, there won’t be any powers or money. So, the first item on my agenda will be building a consensus with the four local council leaders and securing that money and those powers”, he told me.

Jarvis says he intends to continue serving as MP for Barnsley, even if elected Sheffield city Region Mayor, he explains “This election isn’t like the other mayoral elections. The new mayor is going to have to leverage as much influence as possible with national government to get the powers and money that South Yorkshire needs. I am best placed to do this. If my first act as mayor were to stand down from Parliament, I’d be needlessly squandering my ability to put pressure on the Government in those important negotiations. I’ve been clear that this is not a long-term arrangement but one which is necessary to get the Sheffield City Region deal over the line and continue the negotiations into the possibility of creating a much wider Yorkshire deal.

It’s also important to remember that lots of MPs have additional responsibilities – Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, and Chairs of Select Committees. All of them put in place very clear dividing lines between their roles and I would do the same if I become the mayor. The major difference is that I won’t be taking a mayoral salary and will instead use the money to set up a community fund to tackle important local issues like tackling child poverty, helping the homeless, and improving our environment”.

There has been widespread criticism of the lack of diversity in the party, with an all white male shortlist; Dan Jarvis, Sheffield councillor Ben Curran and former Sports minister Richard Caborn. I asked Mr Jarvis why he thought no women or people from ethnic minority groups had decided to stand in the election. Jarvis told me that he completely agreed with the concerns that have been raised adding, “I tried to convince prominent potential female candidates in South Yorkshire to stand and if they had I would have stepped aside. For very understandable reasons, they decided against standing.

I want to use the position of Mayor to develop future female candidates so that we don’t see this kind of situation repeated. We also need to ask ourselves some tough questions as members of the Labour Party about the wider culture in our Party and our society which means that not enough women are coming forward for these important roles”.

Jarvis said his experience in the region and the devolution negotiations made him the ideal man to lift it out of the mire that extensive cuts from the Conservative government have left it in. Jarvis added “I’ve spent a lot of time during the devolution negotiations developing strong working relationships with local council leaders, MPs, and government ministers. Those contacts are going to be incredibly useful when it comes to building consensus among the local councils and getting the powers and money for the Sheffield City Region. And I’ve got a lot of experience of delivering projects in very difficult circumstances – both during my time in the Armed Forces and as an MP”.

Jarvis was a remain campaigner before the referendum and I asked if he had changed his mind since the vote, or if he still believes that the UK would be better in the EU.

“I’m with Jeremy Corbyn on this one” he stated “ I campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU and I think we would be better off if we were staying in. But we do have to respect the verdict of the referendum and it’s now about making sure that jobs, workers’ rights, and environmental protections are protected. I think staying in the customs union is important to doing that and I will argue in favour of that if I’m elected mayor. I believe that devolution should be viewed through the prism of Brexit. By improving economic opportunities here in South Yorkshire through smart implementation of a devolved settlement, we will be more resilient and best placed to deal with the challenges of life outside the EU”.

As an elected member of parliament for Barnsley, I asked Jarvis if he Will look at the individual cities and areas in the region separately or will do you see it as one region?

“That is an interesting question. South Yorkshire is of course a very diverse area and you only have to travel between Sheffield Hallam constituency and Barnsley Central to see that the challenges can be very different” he says, “But devolution is also about drawing together our collective energy to tackle those challenges that we all face: improving our transport system; creating more opportunities for our young people and tackling child poverty; and improving the environment and preserving our green spaces. So, I think the policies the mayor puts in place, has to take account of both of those things”.

Richard Caborn, who has since not been selected as a candidate is a Sheffield United supporter and Ben Curran a Wednesday fan, I asked Dan which of our local teams he thinks will finish highest this season, he said “Well, I can give a cast-iron guarantee that as Mayor I will be scrupulously impartial in not favouring any part of the Sheffield City Region over any other. Except in one respect; and that is that I’ll always support Barnsley FC”

Journalists in Hong Kong threatened over reporting on Chinese government

Hong Kong (HK), being a special administrative region (SAR) of China due to its former colonial status within the British Empire, is governed by different laws and regulations from mainland China (MC), since although it is technically part of China and is dependent on it for military and political protection, HK is an autonomous region with its own media and administration. Most notably, HK has a significantly higher level of political freedom and expression, as it has private press where journalists are able to conduct free reporting on a free choice of topics of inquiry free from censorship.

These discrepancies have led to some political tension between Hong Kong and mainland China, since there have been incidents which were covered up in mainland China but leaked in HK in scandalous fashion e.g. the SARS outbreak in 2003. This tension has seen new heights in recent years, namely the Umbrella Movement where protesters took to the streets to occupy important landmarks of HK and effectively halted civic operation in aims of expressing their call for democracy and transparency in the elections of their government officials. Needless to say that the central government in Beijing is not happy about this, as seen in the incarceration of the leaders of the movement, though on a much lower level of repression than that imposed on political dissent in MC (e.g. Gui Minhai), since HK has its own (western-style) criminal and justice system which has seen the recent release of Joshua Wong et al. who have re-entered civic life in heroic fashion and are now nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. As HK is still technically an autonomous region, it is impossible for the Chinese authorities to directly impose its jurisdiction on its citizens, which is not to say that they cannot suppress the voices of the people in Hong Kong but only that they have to do so rather subtly and indirectly to avoid violating the political agreement between HK, China and Britain.

In past year or so, however, there has been some disturbing news which seems to indicate a waning in the level of political expression in HK. As mentioned above, the people of HK have reacted strongly to the legislative procedures behind the elections of the HK government officials. This has led to popular movement, as described above, as well as the establishment of grassroot organisations that have taken the issue of political independence seriously and have sought to provide as much coverage and exposure of these issues as possible. One such organization is the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) founded by Tom Grundy and co..

Tom Grundy is a UK citizen who travelled to HK and worked steadily to establish and expand the HKFP. Although it is still relatively small as it relies on a small team of administrators who work on a non-profit basis, HKFP is growing exponentially and is fast becoming an international journalist platform for HK news for people both local and abroad. It has hence established itself as one of the main e-platforms for grassroot opinion in HK, which is a remarkable achievement.

Last year, however, it was reported that Tom Grundy received letters of threat from unknown sources coercing him to stop what he had been doing by insinuating possible dangers to Tom and his associates. More dishearteningly, his family in the UK have also received similar letters of abuse which not only indicates a common source of threat but also show rather frighteningly the extent and power of the aggressor who has been able to track the whereabouts of Grundy’s family abroad and intimidate them in a similar fashion. Reports have been made to the proper authorities who have promised to offer safety and protection, though the aggressor has not yet been discovered which means that Grundy and his team are still working in fear of the safety of themselves and their loved ones.

As mentioned before, it is one thing to police your own citizens within your legal territory but quite another to extend the same courtesy to foreign nationals who have affiliations abroad. HK lies in a grey area in that it is an autonomous region which marginally exempts its citizens from central influence. The people of HK have reacted admirably to the pressures from above by making a collective effort to mobilise and directly engage in this long and hard battle for freedom and democracy, yet this magnificent spectacle of popular movement and grassroot determination has been dampened by threats against certain prominent members (Joshua Wong, Tom Grundy etc) who have been intimidated not by law and force but by behind-the-scenes manipulation and terror. There may be barriers between different political regions and countries, but in the modern age of globalization and international amnesty the world has gone far past its feudal territorial past, which has seen the fight against repression extend way beyond the territory in question, not only for the freedom fighters but also for the suppressors. The fight continues and the people of HK beckons.

Where have the values of London 2012 disappeared to in Brexit Britain?

Faces filled with happiness as a sea of red, white and blue inundated Britain’s streets as the Olympic torch paraded Britain’s streets, a moment many will cherish for life.

As the torch made its way to the Olympic Stadium, millions witnessed the pride of Britain. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony “Isle of Wonders” encapsulated the prowess of Britain like never before. Britain was brought together by patriotism at its greatest.

Five years on and Britain has never been so divided, split between leavers and remainers. The friendly, patriotic values which we once held have been converted into prejudicial, nationalist rage. It is incredible that one vote could change the entire nation over a minuscule period of time.

You might think that London 2012 is irrelevant from Brexit. But it isn’t. London 2012 is a milestone which we can look back to and compare with the present. What has changed in five years? What values did we experience in 2012, and which values have we lost from Brexit?

The Opening Ceremony: the UK’s industrial prestige was flaunted to the world

Post-Brexit: a fall in the UK economy, inwards looking

Danny Boyle’s Isle of Wonder begun with Britain’s rapid industrialisation of the 19th century; determined workers swiftly building up booming industries, particularly the iron industry, forming the prestigious Olympic rings out of British iron, raising their heads with pride as the rings showered with glory. And quite rightly. Britain’s rapid industrialisation has led us to the economic standing we view today as one of the wealthiest nations in the world – it is a central part of British heritage and pride.

Yet, Brexit is quite the opposite.

Britain has forgotten its economic prowess and has decided to step backwards. Brexit is ironic; we are losing our economic power by shunning away our biggest export destination: the EU. Brexit Britain has already begun to ruin our economy and will continue to do so. Trade deals cannot simply be drawn instantaneously.

As EU immigrants leave prospect-ridden Britain, industries are failing to replace them as the British unemployed do not put themselves forward. The grit and determination from the Industrial Revolution has deteriorated with regards to some of the present day British working class. You asked for ‘British jobs for British workers’ – what’s the hold up?

The Opening Ceremony: a celebration of the NHS and all its staffs’ hard work

Post-Brexit: failure to keep to £350m promise, continuation of poor performances due to not enough investment, talks of privatisation, a rise in the departure of EU NHS workers

The Opening Ceremony also featured a delightful tribute to the NHS, which Danny Boyle described as ‘urgent and necessary and believed in by our people’. It celebrated the staff, inviting fifty NHS workers to participate in the Opening Ceremony. Dedicating airtime watched by millions across the globe to the NHS emphasised the importance of our wonderful free British healthcare – something which many across Britain could not be more proud of.

But in comes Brexit. Promise of £350 million, plastered over Vote Leave’s bus, was backtracked on – a fundamental part of many Leave voters. By 2022/23, the NHS will fall £20 billion short on funding targets due to failed promises. To add to further difficulties, more than 1,000 European doctors are thinking of leaving the UK due to Brexit, amounting to a 190,000 job gap in the NHS by 2027.

Are the Tories unaware of the huge atrocities they are committing? Do they not understand how important Europe and Europeans are to the NHS ? Do they not remember the glorious celebration which we all shared five years ago?

The Opening Ceremony: a celebration of the different groups

Post-Brexit: sending away EU nationals as they do not feel welcome in the UK, a rise in EU and non-EU discrimination

Not only did the Opening Ceremony bring together athletes of all nationalities, cultures and religions, it also featured a celebration of the first Caribbean immigrants settling in the UK in 1948. Next to them the Suffragettes and members of the Jarrow Crusade.

Here we saw a celebration of Britain’s diversity, the start of a move towards a fairer society.

Post-Brexit, we witness the exact opposite; inwards-looking, isolation, prejudice, and a violation of democracy. Not only has hate crime against EU citizens increased, but so has hate crime against non-EU citizens. EU nationals, working in both the private and public sector; teachers, farmers and scientists are are leaving the UK because they do not feel welcome.

Where is Britain of the 20th century? When we gave women equal rights to vote, when we applauded those who stood up for what they believed in?

We have to remember; we all celebrated the electrifying moment when Mo Farah won two gold medals in 2012. This has been followed up by a Sports Personality of the Year win this year. But Brexit Britain reaches a paradox considering the national love for the British, Somali-born immigrant is lost amongst a sea of hatred in Britain.

And what will come for the golden woman of the pool in 2012. Ruta Meilutyte is from Lithuania, but trains in Plymouth. At the age of 15, she won a gold medal in the 100m breaststroke final at London 2012, and she has continued to win an abundance of major medals since.

The Opening Ceremony: Seb Coe – ‘Welcome to London…I have never been prouder to be British’

Post Brexit: Sadiq Khan desperately attempting to persuade Europe that London is still open (even though London will not get a special trade deal with the EU), Lord Coe has remained quiet over Brexit

Seb Coe finished the Opening Ceremony by telling the world: ‘Welcome to London…I have never been prouder to be British’. It is predicted that 900 million people across the globe tuned in to the Opening Ceremony, whilst two million were welcomed into London across the entirety of the Games.

However, in Brexit Britain, those 900 million are welcome no more because 17 million voted to scrap freedom of movement, prohibiting Europeans from exploring the wonders of Britain, and halting Britons exploration to the wonders of Europe. Furthermore, London is facing an economic crisis, losing tens of thousands of financial sector jobs to other EU nations. Respect has to be payed to Sadiq Khan, who is desperately attempting to persuade Europe that London is still open (even though Khan has been told that London will not gain a special trade deal with the EU). Since Brexit, Lord Coe has remained silent on the issue. However, one would hope he would support liberal Conservatives such as Anna Soubry. And I would plead with those who voted Leave or Conservative to listen to those like Soubry. We should welcome our European neighbours instead of isolating ourselves as a tiny island.

The aims of London 2012: inspiring Britain’s youth

Post-Brexit: the youth have had their futures taken away from them (the majority of students voted Remain)

The motto of the Games was ‘Inspire a Generation’, showcased with the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by Britain’s most promising athletes.

Yet 85% of students voted Remain in the referendum, and two-third of young people want to halt Brexit. With a restriction of freedom of movement imminent, and a downgrade in the UK’s economic forecast, Brexit does not reflect the values pushed by London 2012. Brexit does not inspire a generation. Brexit is seen as doom and gloom by the next generation.

When I look back at London 2012, I see prosperity, harmony, pride amongst Britain and its people. But now, I look at Britain with sadness. Brexit has devastated and will continue to devastate this country because it is a total rejection of those values we shared in London 2012.

I do not blame the 52% who voted Leave in June 2016. However, as a democracy, we have the right to change our minds when new information is brought to us. And, hopefully, this article does that and more. The EU is not our enemy. It is a source of prosperity which we must cherish. It brought peace and harmony after World War II. It enriches the British soil, British idustry and the British people. Let us not Leave, but stay together.

Is Donald Trump a ‘weak dictator’?

The words ‘weak’ and ‘dictator’ are hardly presidential. Donald Trump as President of the United States commands America’s unrivalled military, diplomatic and fiscal resources. Furthermore, he is widely recognised as the leader of the free world.

Yet lately the word ‘weak’ has been used to describe someone other than the President’s ineffectual son in law Jared Kushner. Trump was largely absent from congressional negotiations during both of the recent government shutdowns, leaving Republican lawmakers to thrash out the budget on their own. Some periodicals took this as evidence for the extent to which the President’s own control over the House of Representatives is increasingly constrained.

The President’s recent political absence has also coincided with his increasing seclusion for the media. Gone are the incautious days of the early administration when the doors of the Oval office were thrown open for TIME journalists, with press briefings now sidelined and all audio recordings suppressed.

In fact much of Trump’s first year in office was spent in exile from the city which voted 91% in favour of the Democrats in the 2016 election and whose media remains almost universally hostile to him. Instead the President retreats to his Floridan residence at Mar-a-Lago where, at ease within the setting of what is effectively a royal court, pleasure rather than politics can govern the tedium of a presidential term. NBC has gone so far as to create a tracker measuring the number of days Trump has spent on golf resorts since his inauguration. At the time of writing it was 96, suggesting a president more comfortable on the golf course than the floors of congress.

Donald Trump is evidently not an absentee autocrat nor is America an authoritarian state, despite historical analogues to the contrary. The American press is free to criticise the President thanks to generous libel laws. Civic institutions also remain strong, as demonstrated by judicial blocks on the proposed Muslim travel ban or the ongoing Russia inquiry conducted by various intelligence agencies.

Nonetheless, comparisons between Trump and Hitler continue to flourish because the Nazi regime constitutes one of the few historical arenas for which there remains a sustained interest among the general public and because the Third Reich’s abhorrence is almost universally agreed upon across the political spectrum.

It is surprising then that amidst the recent plethora of crude comparisons between Trump and the Nazi regime no one has yet mentioned the late Hans Mommsen’s description of Hitler as a ‘weak dictator’.

Hans Mommsen is famous for having challenged the popular perception of the Third Reich as a totalitarian police state. He highlighted the fact that the Fuhrer’s day tended to begin at about noon, included a lengthy stroll (downhill), before a film was screened in the evening. It follows that all this ambling left barely any time for personal governance.

This revelation led Mommsen to instead theorise a dictatorship where power was balkanized and authority divided between a series of competing government institutions. Amidst this organisational chaos Hitler appeared an almost peripheral figure who Mommsen described as “unwilling to take decisions, frequently uncertain, exclusively concerned with upholding his prestige and personal authority, influenced in the strongest fashion by his current entourage, in some aspects a weak dictator”.

That quotation could easily have come from an opinion editorial in the American press. In essence Hans Mommsen’s description of a ‘weak dictator’ conforms entirely to the current perception of Trump as an ineffective autocrat, whose grand ambitions are left largely unrealised owing to his lack of either political aptitude or ability. Twitter tirades, afterall, are no surrogate for actual political engagement. Through this prism of thought all of the recent jockeying between the Republican establishment, presidential advisers and intelligence agencies can be interpreted as the direct results of a power vacuum at the top of goverment.

Yet the image of Trump as a ‘weak dictator’, whose fickle policies are shaped by whoever was last to whisper in his ear, fails to appreciate the true dynamic of power within the administration. It seems that the American press have made the same mistake about Trump that Mommsen did concerning Hitler, with neither realising that malleability can exist alongside dominance.

By contrast the Apprentice offers a more nuanced perspective on Donald Trump’s nascent presidential leadership. The programme’s format saw the magnate give an identical task to two rival teams of contestants, who must then rely upon their own initiative to achieve a specific solution. Trump would only return at the show’s end once the assorted teams of sycophants had fought it out for his favour. Boardroom scenes then became little more than a corporate Jurassic Park with strength, rather than reasoning, serving as the main means by which Trump measured success. Consequently the most aggressive or convincing contestants tended to triumph in a Darwinian fashion which Trump himself would actively encourage.

Washington today is the brainchild of Trump’s understanding of television as a form of politics and therefore the logic that politics can be reduced to little more than a television show. Like the Apprentice Trump focuses upon broad political tasks, whose nature is sufficiently unclear that the wider administration can interpret the president’s general objectives as it sees fit.

In an administration where political favour is tied to results it is no surprise that individual initiative is encouraged and that competition flourishes. Staffers struggle for influence while careers rise and fall in accordance with their ability to fulfil Trump’s legislative agendas. Hence the departures of; Michael Flynn, Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci whose presence was as fleeting as their attainments.

Amidst all of this boardroom infighting the White House’s primary resident enjoys the luxury of relative inactivity. Trump can afford to sit in the Oval office or at Mar-a-Lago and wait until a clear winner emerges. Remember that if the president only ever fires losers then he can only ever be on the winning side. Chaos should not be confused with weakness. Afterall, the House always wins.