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Local Elections: A Divided Nation

Local Elections: A Divided Nation

In just under a month, the nation will cast their vote in the last election before Britain leaves the European Union. In recent polls, the nation has not looked as geographically divided as it could do at the ballot box come May 3rd.

All seats in the 32 London borough councils will be up for election, which is likely to only reinforce Labour’s dominance in the capital, recent polls suggest the Conservatives might be lucky to retain the 7 councils they currently control.

Populated by a largely pro-remain demographic, swathes of London are likely to turn red, only reinforcing the overbearing dichotomy between the ‘metropolitan elite’ and the rest of the country.

Much of the interest has been placed, on one side, at the door of Barnet which is seen by many as a ‘winnable’ Labour council. However, with a large Jewish population they are likely to be hampered by recent, consistent and concerning allegations of anti-Semitism against the upper-echelons of the party. Similarly, Labour are closing in on the Conservatives in areas such as Wandsworth, of which the Grenfell Tower tragedy is likely to play a leading role and look to strengthen their hold on councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham.

Over 4,000 seats are to be fought over at these ‘mid-term’ local elections, and it is worth noting that the majority will be contested outside of the capital, but coverage and analysis of these councils have been sparse. That leads to the question, are the media and political parties guilty of neglecting the concerns of the rest of the country?

Launching their local election campaign in the Conservative-led Trafford district of Manchester, the Labour Party have attempted to solidify their stronghold in the North-West and in turn taken their campaign wider than the capital.  Endeavouring to consolidate what is anticipated to be a landslide, the Labour Party could be criticised as not reaching as far as they perhaps should do and engaging with areas of the country such as Peterborough that voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, protesting against the metropolitan elite.

With pollsters predicting that the Tories could lose as many as 100 seats in London, it isn’t surprising however that much of the attention is focused in the capital. What does a Conservative kicking in the capital mean for the party though? The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush has highlighted that “Voters tend to use local elections partly to send a message to the incumbent at Westminster” and for the most part, this is true. Nonetheless, the optics of losing every council in London, could have a detrimental impact for the Conservative Party when the next general election comes around.

Tasked with navigating the testing waters of Brexit and up against a Labour Party thoroughly energised by having 232 MPs returned in 2017, the Prime Minister and her Conservative Party would be right to feel anxious in the coming weeks. We do know there will be Labour gains across the capital, but we wait to see whether the enthusiasm will spread further afield and do significant damage to Theresa May’s premiership.

One year until Brexit.

It has been a year since Prime Minister, Theresa May triggered Article 50, marking the beginning of the formal process of Britain leaving the European Union. This constitutional landmark was meant to mark the inception of a two-year process culminating in the UK’s official withdrawal from the European Union. However, leaving the EU is proving trickier than some may have led you to believe, and recent developments from Brussels have stipulated there will be a transition period that will see the UK’s official withdrawal postponed until December 2020.

One year into the Brexit negotiations, what do we know, and what are the big issues that still need to be discussed?

After a slow opening to the Brexit discussions, in recent months the government has been more willing to make its objectives public, and negotiations have progressed. Last week’s announcement on the ‘orderly withdrawal’ of the UK from the Union was the most important to date and was described by Brexit Secretary David Davis as a ‘decisive step’ in the long road to Brexit.

The implementation period will see Britain retain its membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. However, now it must face the harsh reality of relinquishing its seat at the table and losing its entitlement to a voice on the decisions and policies of the EU moving forward.

The news received a mixed reception. EU fishermen will still have access to British fishing waters during the implementation period, leading to the consternation of hard-line Brexiteers and coastal fishing towns alike.

Nigel Farage even led a cohort of fishermen tipping kilos of dead haddock into the Thames outside Westminster. Many ‘remainers’ found reasons to be unhappy too; Will Straw, head of the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign, facetiously tweeted “we ‘took back control’ today by agreeing to become a rule taker for 21 months and handing over the cash Brexiteers said was for the NHS to the EU”.

The government however, in its characteristically stoic fashion, are celebrating the deal. Brexit Secretary David Davis proclaimed “In December, we set out a shared ambition to reach agreement on the implementation period as soon as possible.

Today we have achieved that ambition, thanks to the hard work and late nights of both our dedicated teams.” The EU’s concession that the UK will be permitted to begin negotiating external trade deals was met with similar warmth from many in the government.

Of course, the implementation period still does not give us a concrete idea of what Britain’s final relationship with the EU will look like. For that, we must peer back to last month, to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech, where she claimed both sides will have to face up to some ‘hard facts’. She said Britain would leave the Customs Union and seek a ‘bespoke deal’ which decides on an industry by industry basis.

In addition, she claimed the UK would like a mechanism for trade disputes with the EU to ensure Britain is not accountable to the ECJ, any deal would need to ensure Parliament reserves the right to pass its own regulations in all areas, including medicine, aviation and chemistry, where it hopes to remain a member of the EU agencies. Britain would also regain control of its fishing waters and would naturally exit from the Common Agricultural Policy.

The sticking point throughout the negotiations, and an issue yet to be resolved, remains the Irish border. An area that was rarely discussed in most parts of the UK during the referendum is now proving a 310-mile long barrier to any final deal.

This week, Britain reiterated its commitment that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but there are fears that in practice, that may mean a hard border across the Irish sea with Northern Ireland remaining in the single market whilst the rest of the UK leaves. An LBC poll yesterday found that more people in Britain care about leaving the EU than Northern Ireland remaining as a member of the United Kingdom, which will be little comfort to anybody in Northern Ireland.

The UK’s departure from the EU remains every bit as complex as experts said it would be, both sides have made concessions and the EU is proving a stubborn negotiating partner, as it has to many others during the past. Britain may still be unclear what its relationship with the EU will look like after it leaves the EU, but we do know we will have to wait a little longer to find out.

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Hate speech is allowed under the guise of democratic debate

Earlier this week, the Home Office published its report into Hate Crime in England and Wales for 2016/17. The report shows that hate crimes in the UK are increasing; in 2016/17 there were 80,393 hate crimes recorded by police, a 29% increase from 2015/16.

Although some commentators have argued that increased public awareness and improvements in recording hate crime negate the need for any real analysis or concern over the results, the spike in crimes around the EU Referendum needs further exploration.

This report has seen the largest increase in hate crimes since the series began in 2011/12, with spikes around the EU Referendum and the Westminster Bridge attack. Arguably, the anti-immigration sentiment evoked during the EU Referendum made people feel as though they too could express anti-immigrant feeling, potentially in the form of a racially motivated hate crime.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration released a report this August declaring the government’s rhetoric on immigration to be fuelling toxic anti-immigration sentiment. They warned against the “poisonous” EU referendum campaigns, which they argued formed a barrier to creating a socially integrated nation.

There has been an increase in this polarising language, imbued with undertones of racism, for example, Theresa May’s now discredited targets of cutting migrant numbers. There was an increase in police recorded hate crime following the Westminster bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market attacks this year.

The “genuine rise in hate crime around the time of the referendum” seems to have been eased by the government’s own actions. Racist, anti-immigration sentiment has been propagated top-down by the government disguised as democratic debate of the EU Referendum. Throughout history, politicians have appealed to a constructed sense of national identity to further their own political causes.

In the case of Brexit, Nigel Farage exploited people’s fear that high levels of immigration would infringe on English identity. This fear was harnessed into a powerful, and largely underestimated, political force. As reprehensible as it is, it is not surprising that hate crime increased around the time of the EU referendum when politicians were playing on people’s fear of the erasure of their own English identity. English identity was crucial to the Leave campaign and of the 30 areas with the most people identifying as English, all 30 voted to leave.

Just as the nation is put under the microscope at a time of political turmoil, such as the EU Referendum, so is people’s own sense of national identity. Farage perhaps had some of the groundwork laid for him by the infamous Enoch Powell whose 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, which defended a sense of national identity from the perceived threat of immigration.

Powell was speaking up on behalf of a proportion of the population who held a sense of resentment, a sense of being overlooked when it came to what they wanted regarding immigration. His rhetorical prowess enabled him to move the immigration debate away from the fringes of conversation and into the mainstream. Today, mainstream political parties are afraid of dealing with immigration, leaving groups of people feeling underrepresented and looking to more extreme parties.

Just as Enoch Powell back in the 1960s gave racism a more acceptable mainstream face, we are seeing much of the same with the popularity of UKIP and other nationalist parties across Europe. The APPG Integration not Demonisation warned that the government’s language and attitude led some people to feel “they could act on racist attitudes which had previously gone unexpressed”.

This has been seen in Europe as well, the FPO has found widespread appeal for their openly Islamophobic and xenophobic views as has Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache played on Austrian’s’ fear of a diminishing of their culture, claiming that Austria was being Islamified and calling for a ban on Muslim symbols.

Enoch Powell championed a form of national identity that was based on racial othering, an “us” and “them” mentality which argued for a reduction in immigration in order to prevent any encroachment on English identity. His legacy permanently entangled race and immigration.

During the EU referendum, the Leave campaign in particular exploited people’s fears about immigration and it is therefore unsurprising we are left with such a toxic legacy, a climate in which racist fears are legitimised and manifest themselves in hate crimes.

 

Are we a nation of constitutional illiterates?

By George Livesey, Public Affairs Intern

As a people, politicos included, we seem to be (not so) blissfully unaware of the procedures that govern our institutions. In light of recent events this, apparent, mass misunderstanding has come to the fore; it was not only the impact on the constitution that the outcome of the Brexit referendum would cause that was not often discussed, but also, the actual act of holding a referendum itself. Unlike the faux constitutional ‘crisis’ that ensued after the result of June’s snap general election, the fallout and furore following the Brexit vote was predicted by some, many of whom suffered much constitutional consternation in fear of either result of the vote.

More of us should consider the advantageous and disadvantageous consequences, brought about by holding referendums, to the way we are governed. More of us should have seen through the media’s sensationalising of the outcome of the general election to notice that Mrs May was at the mercy of a well-oiled constitutional machine. Unlike our transatlantic cousins we leave our constitution almost completely untaught, resulting in it, more often than not, being a thing of derision not of reverence. Perhaps it is just political aficionados that notice it or care for it, yet many seem to have lost sight of our organic constitution whilst caught up in the recent turbulence of British politics.

Public Affairs Brexit EU

Image Courtesy of Rich Girard, flickr.com

Brexit is obviously the biggest constitutional challenge of recent times, yet, the constitutional conundrums thrown-up by holding referendums were not, and are not, discussed. It can be credibly argued that this type of direct democracy does not fit within our representative-trustee model, and can be viewed as ‘fundamentally unconstitutional’, as some scholars have dubbed it. Moreover, Kenneth Clarke MP, the Father of the House and arch-Europhile, was another one of the few that was asking such questions, coming to the conclusion that we should regard the referendum as a ‘glorified opinion poll’.

Ken Clarke

Image courtesy of the House of Commons

Whatever your opinion happens to be, should we not even be slightly worried that we do not seem to have paused and assessed whether this is the direction in which we want to travel? We have stumbled into an ancient debate, one which shaped our constitution, but we have not been delving into it, an exercise which would greatly assist us in deciding how we want to decide things in the future.

The constitution was always going to be strained whatever the outcome was on June 23rd 2016. In addition to the issues caused by leave’s victory, if it had been a win for remain then the issue would have been shunned as a done deal, even though it would have been far from it, continuing to bubble under the surface of public opinion. This catch 22 situation led even died in wool eurosceptics, such as Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, to take no part in the referendum itself.

The outcome has caused the Government’s powers over foreign affairs to be modified after a Supreme Court challenge, created friction between Westminster and the devolved assemblies/parliaments, altered the Westminster model and left a mammoth task of reversing decades of ‘Europeanisation’. Also, a matter of acute constitutional importance, but almost entirely uncommented on, is the fact that we now have a Government where we know beyond doubt that the majority of people in it disagree with their own biggest policy; that of removing the UK from the EU. This also applies to a Parliament that voted to trigger Article 50 even though it had an overwhelmingly remain make-up, although this doesn’t have such a grave impact on collective ministerial responsibility as applies to the Government.

We are in constitutionally choppy waters, yet, many don’t seem to care and see these issues as merely practical problems that can be overcome by any means necessary. We live in a country where we have a continued misunderstanding regarding our rulers’ rules and customs, exemplified by the hysteria following the general election where the constitutional process seemed to be inexplicable and elusive, yet, it was in fact working at its best. We must all accord our constitution with more care and attention, constantly with one eye on the future, particularly at a time when it is at risk of people losing faith in it entirely.

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Could Jacob Rees-Mogg really be the saviour of the Conservative Party?

Two years ago, the idea that a man famed for taking his nanny canvassing, using the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ in the House of Commons, and who is regularly referred to as ‘the honourable member for the early twentieth century, could become the next Conservative Party Leader would have been met with derision. But that was before the surprising ascendency of Trump, Macron and Corbyn. Tellingly, the bookies now have Jacob Rees-Mogg as more likely to become the next Conservative Party leader than Boris Johnson and Ruth Davidson, and there has been a flurry of ‘Moggmentum’ articles both for and against his candidacy show just how seriously many are taking the idea.

Critics of Rees-Mogg ironically highlight many of the traits that many Conservative Party activists actually find appealing: he uncompromisingly supports Brexit and the free market (he recently called for the abolition of stamp duty, something many of his detractors jumped on as proof that he is ‘for the rich’), he isn’t afraid to voice unpopular opinions, and doesn’t attempt to hide his privileged roots. In fact, it’s this authenticity which, like Corbyn, is the key to his popularity. As James Delingpole writes in The Spectator “He’s quick on his feet, comfortable in his skin, knows his own mind and is beholden to no man. Having made his fortune as a value investor in emerging markets before becoming an MP, he is in the unusual position of being able to say what exactly he thinks — and from a position of knowledge and experience”.

We shall have to take our business elsewhere.

A post shared by Jacob Rees-Mogg (@jacob_rees_mogg) on

So could Rees-Mogg be the Conservatives’ antidote to Corbyn?  He certainly has significant grassroots support. In a survey for ConservativeHome, Jacob-Rees Mogg was the second most popular option after David Davis to take over as leader – despite voters having to submit his name, rather than it appearing on the dropdown list. Over 23,000 have signed the ‘readyformogg.org’ petition. He has legions of online fans (pages such as ‘Middle-Class Memes For Rees-Moggian Teens’ have nearly 50,000 likes), and this is only set to increase, given that he has recently joined both Instagram and Twitter. And given how many people seem to warm to him even when they disagree with his politics (e.g. Jess Phillips MP describes him as “charming and funny, kind, mad and totally himself” and Mhairi Black MP refers to him as “my boyfriend – he’s my favourite”), it seems possible that he could reach out and win over a large proportion of the public.

Despite this, could Rees-Mogg ever realistically become party leader? In short, probably not. The way that the Conservative Party elects their leadership differs significantly from other political parties. For example, Jeremy Corbyn was first able to stand as leader of the Labour Party after securing the nomination of just 35 of his fellow MPs before the Labour membership were able to vote for him. In contrast, Conservative MPs are given the task of voting on candidates until they have whittled them down to a final two. Only then are party members able to vote on them. Conservative MPs are unlikely to put forward such a wildcard who has never held a ministerial role before. Moreover, Heidi Allen MP has already threatened to resign from the party if he ever did become leader, demonstrating the uphill battle that he would face in any leadership campaign.

Sadly, for his supporters, we may never get the chance to find out if Rees-Mogg could be successful in a leadership bid. Even he has ruled it out (for now) stating that “I neither am a candidate, nor wish to be one… Nor is this some clever plan to seek other office; if it were, it would have been scotched some weeks ago when it was suggested to the PM, who giggled in response rather more than my mother considered tactful”.

But this hasn’t ended speculation. There is clearly an appetite amongst the grassroots for something a little bit different from the usual names circulated as Theresa May successors (David Davis, Philip Hammond etc), and for many, Rees-Mogg is a viable alternative. Whatever happens, it is clear that the next leader of the Conservative Party is far from a foregone conclusion.

18 Political Campaign Ads that made me question my reality

If anyone ever tells you they are having a bad day, don’t listen to them, because they haven’t spent the last five hours watching Political Campaign Ads/Songs. With the Snap Election just days away, let’s all come together and bask in how abysmal the human race really is.

These are in no particular order (anarchy – Take that establishment!) but let’s begin with something current anyway…

Sam Harrison – ‘I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn’

At a point you have to ask whether people sit at home and think about how much their favourite politicians will love their videos. Is that what you did Sam? Did you think you were helping? ‘My girlfriend tells me that I’ve got a big mandate.’ Lord above. I don’t know whether to cry, vomit, cry or cry after this.

4/10 – People actually take the time to write these songs.

Votin’

Brexit dragged up all manner of anger, frustration, fear and insecurity. But nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – comes close to this atrocity. Where to begin? The irony of spelling learnin’ wrong? The fact that as part of the prime demographic (18-24) for this steaming pile of cringe I know that the letter ‘g’ exists and even indulge in usin’ it sometimes? I don’t know but please don’t make me talk about it anymore.

Typin’, Watchin’, Groanin’, Hatin’, Ratin’ out of 10 (-1000), Turnin’, off.

Ivan Massow – ‘Invite Ivan’

Eurgh. Look, I get it Ivan. No really, I do. You want to discover what makes Londoners tick. What better way than going to meet with and talk to them? But here’s the thing, that’s where this should have stopped. Meeting with the public? Great. Engaging with them? Fantastic. Listening to them? Sensational! Living with them? Abandon ship/Lock the door/Run for the hills.

1/10 – A nice idea executed with all the finesse of a pig using chopsticks.

Joni Ernst – ‘Castrating Hogs’

A scene from Simon Danczuk’s most intimate, sobering nightmares. This monstrosity is enough to make anyone shiver. If any men watching emitted an involuntary high-pitched squeal, don’t feel ashamed, even if that squeal is exactly what Joni wants. You can see Beelzebub dancing in Joni’s pale, merciless eyes as she viciously wills castration on everyone watching. If Joni comes up on your tinder, swipe left before she devours your soul.

666/10 – I cannot in good faith endorse satanic ritual.

Captain SKA – ‘Liar Liar’

Don’t hold back will you? This is savage, and it’s also blowing up right now (one million views and counting). Theresa May may think she’s Strong and Stable but she gets Captain SkA-ewered here. A tad (a lot) whiny for my taste though, we like fun and humour here.

5/10 -#KinderGentlerBlogPosts

Lyndon B Johnson – ‘Daisy’

Brexiteers might still moan about Project Fear, but as far as scaremongering goes this takes the biscuit. Its impact is somewhat lessened, however, by the fact that LBJ was famed for exposing his manhood to white house staff, foreign dignitaries and just about anyone who was within watching distance.

4/10 – An attack ad from a maniac who delighted in flashing everyone – thank goodness American Politics is so mundane these days.

Ted Cruz – ‘The Senator who saved Christmas’

If Ted had his way the Middle East would probably be getting carpet bombed out of existence with exploding bible extracts right now. But as distasteful and divisive as his foreign and domestic policy ideas are, it is those horrible, shifty eyebrows that make Cruz truly unsettling. Disturbing facial features aside, this is excellent. Bonus points for ‘The Grinch who lost her emails’ and ‘Rudolph the underemployed Reindeer’.

5/10 – Would be higher but Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer, so it’s not. I’d sooner spend my Christmas in Dante’s inferno than with the slimy senator.

Mike Gravel and his Rock

Stone-faced Mike Gravel, delivering a gritty message as he drops a rock into some water. We certainly think he made a splash.

7/10 – Is Mike’s message sinking in yet?

Dwight Eisenhower – ‘I Like Ike’ 

As far back as the 1950’s the Americans were pumping out content like this, and our last Prime Minister couldn’t remember which football team he supported (classic nutty geezer/pub legend/one of the lads Daveyboy Cameron eh). Once you’ve heard this delightful little number you’ll be bopping along to it for the rest of the week.

9.9/10 – ‘Ike for president, Ike for president, Ike for president…’

The Green Party – #GrownUpPolitics

How do you even pick a top moment? It’s impossible, but highlights are: Boris on his tricycle (I’m Prime Minister!), Jeremy’s nasty shadow cabinet (Put the rockets away) and, of course, lonely, lonely Tim Farron.

9.98/10 –If the Green Party were as good at politics as they are campaign videos we would be a single-party state.

Rick Santorum – ‘Game On’

It takes a special kind of ineptitude to be less electable than Mitt Romney, but hats off to Rick Santorum as he managed it in 2012. Skin-crawlingly cult-like – Rick’s devoted disciples demand ‘justice for the unborn,’ while lavishing praise on Rick for being: ‘Faithful to his wife and seven kids – he’ll be loyal to our land,’ (Ted Cruz/Danczuk/Berlusconi – take note).

0/10 – A torturous journey of fidget-inducing terror.

Zac Goldsmith – Who even knows what 

An aberration. Lines such as ‘he is worthy of appreciation’ aren’t doing Mr Goldsmith any favours but the video is even more excruciating, as we are treated to Zac looking out of place and unsettled in various ‘common folk’ locations, including the tube (come on Zac, who are we kidding?)

3/10 – There is something there, but it’s buried so deep that only someone who has spent the last 4 hours listening to political campaign songs could recognise it.

The UKIP Calypso

The words UKIP and Calypso just don’t look right when you write them next to each other. Unsurprisingly, they also don’t sound right when forced into this unholy union dating back to 2014. In essence, Nigel Farage performing the Dementor’s kiss/an exorcism on West Indian Culture – profoundly uncomfortable listening.

2/10 – In the words of Ed Milliband: “It’s just wrong.”

Silvio Berlusconi – ‘Thank Goodness for Silvio’

Behold, feminism’s Anti-Christ. Hasn’t got much going for it on a musical level and I don’t buy that anyone has ever uttered the words ‘thank goodness for Silvio’. Thank goodness for what? Economic disarray? Mass unemployment? Flagrant misogyny? If you’re thankful for Silvio, you need to stop hanging out with Simon Danczuk on weekends.

3/10 – It’s three X’s Silvio, but not the type you like you dirty old cretin. You’re out.

Conservative friends of India – ‘David Cameron’

In an age where political discourse is often muddled and confusing, this song is reassuringly familiar in that I have no idea what’s going on. Remarkably, the song makes less sense still once translated. ‘The Sky is blue’ – oh, okay. And yet ‘David Cameron’ repeated in metronomic fashion holds a hypnotic and alluring quality.

5/10 – Bonus point for the pitch that the female singer hits – a boiling kettle.

Tony Blair – ‘1997’

In the context of this list, ‘things can only get better’ is devilishly appropriate. Loving the nostalgic nineties feel of the video. Stay with it until the big reveal towards the end – Mr Blair looks like a man who has just remembered he left the oven on.

6/10 – No real surprise that Labour won the election after this.

Donald Trump – ‘The Trump Jam’

Donald Trump’s political career has plumbed sinister and vitriolic depths, but this is unquestionably the most unforgivable mutation that the frothing Republican candidates’ posturing has created yet. An exemplary demonstration of Trump’s devastating proficiency when employing the Imperius curse – watching these bewitched children stumble around stage is uncomfortable viewing for even the hardiest of folk.

4/10 – Despicable and quite Covfefe.

Kennedy – ‘Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy’

Ladies, Gentlemen, Donald, we have a winner. Indoctrination at it’s simple and masterful best. The message is clear, it’s easy to join in and the lyrics are about as fun as political brainwashing could hope to be.

10/10 – Just about pips ‘I like Ike’, but only just…

 

 

Martin McGuinness: A divided figure that united an island

Martin McGuinness

Those waking up this morning to discover the death of Martin McGuinness will likely take one of two mind-sets: a former terrorist commander personally culpable for the deaths of over a thousand people, or a reformed politician who ditched his gun for a pen and delivered peace to Northern Ireland.

The peace process has been in place in Northern Ireland for almost twenty years now, a tense, precarious sharing of power between two intensely polar opposite ideologies: Irish Republicanism and Unionism. Both dangerous in its rhetoric, both responsible for the abhorrent period known as The Troubles.

It’s easy to look back on the years between 1968 and 1997 and place the blame on transforming the province of Ulster into a warzone squarely on the Provisional IRA and republican terrorists. That is only a half-truth and fails to look at the wider picture. It also explains why a peace process took so long to come to fruition.

Equally as culpable are a series of British Governments and their heavy-handed, short-sighted approach to dealing with the issue dubbed the ‘Irish Question; their guise as the British Army on the streets of Ulster resulted in atrocities that only caused to stir Irish Nationalism and ignite the torch paper. Unionist terrorist groups, so often over-looked, were just as brutal, murderous and extremist in their thinking as their republican counterparts.

Amidst all this was a man who even by his own admission was an active member in the Provisional IRA, but was early to recognise the power of diplomacy in his quest for Irish reunification. As far back as 1972, in the wake of Bloody Sunday, the darkest of days for Northern Ireland and Westminster’s involvement in the province, McGuinness was part of a six-man delegation alongside Gerry Adams to travel to London for talks with British officials to find a solution to the brewing hostilities. Chosen to inject a youthful vigour to Sinn Fein’s façade, the pair left a lasting impression in London, and McGuinness was noted as a potential instigator of peace even then.

During the eighties, it was McGuinness alongside senior figures who spearheaded and encouraged the ‘dirty protest’ by imprisoned Irish republicans. The protests, aimed at restoring political status for paramilitary prisoners, climaxed with the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands at the Maze Prison in Belfast. The dirty protests from ill-treated prisoners at the Maze helped to personalise their plight, put an international spotlight on the nationalist cause and provided McGuinness and co. an electoral platform from which to launch a peace process.

Martin McGuinness Queen ElizabethThe double-act of Adams and McGuinness endured the rocky road from frontline fighting to frontline politics, and whilst the former has audaciously rebuked claims of his involvement as a Belfast IRA commander during the seventies, the latter knew that any legitimacy and acceptance of his political career rested on the recognition of his past role as a terrorist.

He refused to let his tainted past disrupt what he genuinely came to view as the only long-term option for peace in Northern Ireland. From meeting with Prime Ministers and Presidents to reconciling with family members of those killed by his paramilitary hand, McGuinness has pushed harder than anyone to ensure that the peace process lasts until this day. The image of the former IRA strongman shaking hands with the Queen, who famously quipped “I’m still alive” when he asked how she was, represents how far we have come from the dark days of the Troubles.

Indeed, his final act as a politician, his resignation to force the hand of Arlene Foster, shamed in the recent ‘cash for ash’ scandal, was one last attempt to guarantee the power-sharing agreement in Stormont.

Like him or loathe him, there is no denying the leading role McGuinness has played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

The Creative Industries must make themselves heard

Britain has always been a leader in the creative industries, but a question mark hovers over its future. At a time of Brexit, an NHS stretched to breaking point, and spending cuts, it is easy for industries that are doing relatively well to be overlooked by Government but to do so could be a disaster. This has never been truer than for the creative industries, who enjoyed a bumper year in 2016 (contributing £84 billion to the UK economy) but are largely ignored by policymakers. Yet the continued success of this sector is by no means guaranteed.

UK creative industries

Brexit will have far-reaching consequences for the creative industries in a myriad of ways. One of the most significant changes is likely to be to freedom of movement, which could negatively impact the sector’s ability to attract key talent from overseas. Likewise, any requirement for British citizens to have visas to work in Europe could be costly and time-consuming. This will be problematic for anyone in the industry who needs to frequently work in European countries, e.g. musicians on tour. Plus, a business’ ability to protect its intellectual property (which is largely governed by EU law at the moment) could be significantly reduced, affecting everything from design to publishing, film and music.

Additionally, the future funding that Britain’s creative sectors get from EU bodies could be at risk. Figures from Creative Europe show that it supported 230 cultural and creative firms in the UK in 2014/15. There are questions over what will happen to this, and other similar funding streams, after Brexit, and the government should take steps to reassure bodies who might be affected.

And it’s not just the questions over EU funding that could put the creative industries at risk. Continued cuts at both a national and local level have left many having to do more with less money. For example, it has been reported that Bristol Council will be cutting its arts budget by 40%, whilst Bath and North East Somerset Council is cutting all of its grants to arts by 2020. And with continued economic uncertainty, it is unlikely that the Government will prioritise any additional spending for the arts. Moreover, crippling increases in business rates could threaten venues, including theatres, up and down the country.

However, this is surely short-sighted. The creative industries are vital to our economy, and this will only increase after Brexit. The sector employs two million people (and rising) and is growing faster than the workforce as a whole. Last year the creative industries exported £19 billion to the rest of the world, including £644million in music exports and £1.3 billion in TV.

But the value of the creative industries isn’t just economic. The world without theatre, museums, music, art, video games and books would be dull and uninspiring. They encourage us to learn, boost our wellbeing, exercise our imagination and contribute to our national identity. They provide Britain with enormous soft power, moulding how we are seen through the rest of the world. Great British institutions such as James Bond, Harry Potter, Adele, Burberry, all create interest in the UK, attracting investment and draw millions of visitors from overseas. In London alone, it is estimated that ‘culture and heritage’ are the reason for 80% of visits, boosting London’s economy by £3.2 billion.

To their credit, the Government has introduced a number of measures to support our creative industries in the last few years, including tax relief on films (resulting in Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars being filmed in the UK), high-end TV and animation. They have also invested in skills, put coding onto the curriculum and acknowledged the importance of the industry in their new industrial strategy, by making the creative industries one of five key sectors.

Yet there is still much to do. If we want to protect them for the future, it is essential that the industry lobbies the Government and that they work together to meet challenges on the horizon. The creative industries deserve a seat at the table as much as any other and should be at the forefront of Government strategy.

 

My Public Affairs Internship

By Michael Lach

My internship at The PHA Group started in October 2016, after recently completing my degree in International Relations and Politics from the University of East Anglia. I had always been interested in Politics as well as PR, and when I stumbled upon an online invite one day asking me to attend a ‘PHA Open Day for aspiring PR professionals’ I leapt at the opportunity.

The day encompassed of myself and a few dozen others coming to PHA to learn about all the teams and the work that they do. After hearing from Emily, who did an introduction to the Public Affairs team, I knew that this was definitely something I would be interested in pursuing.

michael lach

Fast forward to February and I’ve now been at PHA in the Public Affairs team for a little over 4 months. During this time I’ve worked on some truly big issues, from helping to safeguard the future of British Film, to helping millions of British overseas citizens. Plus, one of the best things about doing work experience with the PHA Public Affairs team is that unlike in other intern roles where basically your biggest responsibility is in charge of making tea or photocopying, at PHA you are truly part of the team and have responsibilities that matter.

In my first week, I was asked to help set up meetings between our clients and MP’s. It felt great that the company trusted me enough to give me such an important responsibility, which ultimately was crucial to our clients’ interests. My responsibilities have also included preparing briefs and reports for the team and our clients, as well as client events and attending high-profile meetings in Parliament with our clients and some of the UK’s top politicians.

Another thing I have enjoyed is that no day is ever the same! When you come into work in the morning, you could be working on a new client that’s just signed up, meeting with a client, or attending events!

As well as being able to work on cutting edge issues, you’ll also get to work in a great team who will be with you every step of the way and do all they can to bring you on board. Also, as everyone in the Public Affairs team has worked in frontline politics, there is no-one better to talk to if you want to discuss an issue or get an understanding of how politics really works.

As well as my time with the Public Affairs team, I have also had the opportunity to meet colleagues who work on some of the other great teams at PHA, as well as working with the tech team alongside my time in Public Affairs. I have also enjoyed hearing from some of the ex-journalists at PHA who really understand the industry and have some great stories to tell.

 

Celebrities stand up to Trump

Big Bang Theory Protest Travel Ban SAG Awards

Image Courtesy of; www.telegraph.co.uk; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

 

It has been 12 days since Trump became the fully fledged President of the United States of America. However, in those 12 days, America is looking less united than ever. His executive orders, from issuing gag orders on abortion and climate change to pushing forward with the highly criticised Dakota pipeline, have sent shockwaves across America and the world over. The most controversial of these has already done irreparable damage to the lives of thousands; this is, of course, the infamous travel ban.

This executive order has suspended the acceptance of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and from another 6 Muslim-majority countries for 120 days, including Iran, Iraq and Libya. These 120 days are supposed to allow time for ‘extreme vetting’ measures to be put in place. However, Trump will allow those of Christian faith to be accepted as refugees, a decision that has led to the ban being aptly renamed the ‘Muslim Ban’. This new regulation is said to be in place for the safety of the American people and was enforced with such haste so the ‘bad guys’ didn’t have time to get in.

Trump May Holding Hands - Special Relationship

Image Courtesy of; thesun.co.uk

 

The order has been widely criticised by politicians, international diplomats, CEOs and celebrities alike, as well as evoking a huge public backlash in the USA and the UK. The UK’s impressive reaction has been bolstered by anger at Theresa May’s inability to condemn Trump’s actions and attitude, with May being branded ‘Theresa the Appeaser’. Parallels have been drawn with previous politicians that chose to appease narcissistic authoritarian leaders, note: it didn’t work for Neville Chamberlain either.

The continued voice of the celebrity has garnered much high-profile media attention around these protests and lent its star-studded hand well to the cause. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Mark Ruffalo, Sia and even Kim Kardashian have used their influence to speak out against the ban, and encourage Americans to stand with their Muslim neighbours and those in need across the middle East.

Rihanna Protest Trump Travel Muslim Ban

Image Courtesy of; www.dailymail.co.uk; Aaron E. Cohen

 

Although the majority of the media has aligned with the sentiment of the protests, and those celebrities involved, there are of course some who have denounced their involvement as irrelevant and uninformed. It is no surprise that Fox News is one of such outlets, who went as far to say that A-list celebrities, like Madonna, were using the protests are a way to stay relevant with a millennial audience. This is a claim echoed in several similar articles and extends as a critique to all of Hollywood for their ‘self-involved’ contributions to the protests. There is an ongoing conversation that celebrities are too far removed from the ‘real world’ to have an opinion on politics; their protest appearances “like gods descending from Mount Olympus”, says presenter Greg Gutfeld.

This is a predictable commentary from this facet of the media. Fortunately, it remains that as human beings, celebrities have the right to free speech and to use their influence to speak about whatever they deem important. The power of celebrity is currently holding strong the largest platform of dissent against Trump, which is more than we have seen from many industry leaders and politicians. With Trump taking a record 8 days to reach majority disapproval, and diplomats preparing an ‘unprecedented dissent memo’, perhaps we will begin to see some meaningful discussion within the White House. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.