Showing posts with label Brexit Related. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brexit Related. Show all posts

13 May 2017

How Theatre Can Help Us Understand Donald Trump And Brexit


little clown looking through theatre's curtains
Image via Shutterstock
By Hans-Ludwig Buchholz, University of Aberdeen

When it comes to the chaotic policies of Donald Trump or the seeming irrationality of Brexit, traditional political explanations can fail to produce satisfactory answers. The Conversation

Political science may help to solve some of these riddles, but far from all. For example, scholars may be able to argue that those disappointed or marginalised by the US political establishment voted for Trump’s promises. Or they could claim that people voted for the UK to leave the EU because it was seen as the project of a rich elite.

But they cannot fully explain why millions believe in “alternative facts”, or why the arguments for these are made so passionately. Perhaps unexpectedly, theatre can be an instrument for thinking about politics and making sense of Trump, Brexit and other political upheavals.

The type of theatre we’re talking about here isn’t Shakespeare’s historic plays or modern TV dramas in the style of House of Cards or The West Wing – they can make visible what happens behind closed doors. What we really need to do is take a step back to understand what is going on in the whole of society – and in ourselves. And it is theatrical comedy that opens up this way of thinking.

The Swiss dramatist and author Friedrich Dürrenmatt is considered an international writer of classic plays, but is popular only in German-speaking countries. However, Dürrenmatt can teach us how to make sense of irrational policies through the use of literature, and especially comedy. He shows us how everyone can use art to think politically.

Dürrenmatt’s position is that our complicated, chaotic world, where a clear morality no longer exists, has to be translated by literature into an understandable narrative. Theatre can represent certain aspects of the world and place them in a concrete story.

As the audience, we can step back from our own prejudices, and fear for or laugh at the figures on stage. In comedy especially, we can watch something we don’t need to take too seriously – only to realise afterwards that we behave in our own lives exactly as the characters on stage do. Our own frustrations and foibles are revealed to us as the play unfolds. By experiencing the drama, we have unwittingly considered, mocked and judged ourselves. Dürrenmatt once said: “I love to trick the audience into thinking about their own case, which is always political”.

So, how can this theory be applied?

Play for today
Dürrenmatt’s most famous comedy The Visit (1956) tells the story of Claire Zachanassian, a wealthy old woman who visits the now-impoverished village of her youth. She offers the villagers the sum of one billion Swiss francs under the condition that someone kills the owner of the village shop.

As a young woman, Zachanassian had loved this man, but he had jilted her when she was poor and pregnant. Now she wants to exact her revenge and see justice done. At first the villagers reject the immoral offer. But soon they start to talk about how the money could alleviate their poverty and suffering. Then, figuring they deserve it, the locals begin to buy expensive things on credit in anticipation of their wealth, making the shop owner increasingly nervous. In the end – spoiler alert – they accept the offer and kill him.

Of course, the comedy discusses big questions of justice, but as we watch, it mainly makes us laugh and judge. The characters on stage are portrayed in ridiculous ways: their obedient bow to the rich old woman is idiotic; their greed is farcical; their willingness to put aside loyalty is weak; their poor excuses for taking the money are laughable.

The Visit
Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play is a subtle but devastating critique of human nature and society. Amazon, CC BY-SA

After the play ends, we may ask ourselves how we would have reacted to Zachanassian’s offer. We can use it to think about the choices in our lives, like accepting high interest rates that are too good to be true from dubious banks; or voting for politicians who are only acting for those rich or British enough; or for parties advocating low taxation.

And suddenly all our usual excuses and justifications are toppled. In the course of the play we dismiss the villagers as laughable, ridiculous and shameful. But as Dürrenmatt claimed, we have been tricked into thinking about our own lives all along.

Through the parallels of the play to our own lives, we are led into thinking politically without the usual prejudices. Now we begin to understand why people believe lies and vote for irrational politicians. In this situation it is easy to avoid responsibility with feeble excuses – because everyone’s doing it and it’s necessary to survive. It is possible to convince yourself to vote for a necessary evil, just as the impoverished villagers decided to kill the shop keeper.

Dissolving limitations
Appalling lies are swallowed in order to make the chosen evil acceptable. The people hit by Trump’s travel bans, or Britain’s European neighbours, are the necessary sacrifices for what surely must be the only option left, some might reason.

Literature in politics can only hint at how we should think. Otherwise we repeat the problems of political science, which is stuck with a rigid way of thinking designed to produce absolute truths. Thinking about difficult moral questions with the help of literature is more playful, and dissolves all limitations.

Taking literature too seriously – making messages absolute and ideological – would destroy this possibility. Instead, literature has to be vague, emotional, and open – used as an opportunity to explore our sense of morality and justice. Literature may not be able to fully explain Brexit, but it can help make sense of it.

Brexiteers are Claire Zachanassian figures in that they promise to save Britain and the NHS – if Europeans living in the UK and British people living abroad are made to suffer the necessary sacrifice. Like the villagers in the play we are then asked the difficult question, and the answer we give should help us see ourselves more clearly – if we are honest.

About Today's Contributor:
Hans-Ludwig Buchholz, PhD candidate in Modern Thought, University of Aberdeen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. 

4 May 2017

Strong And stable Leadership: Inside The Conservatives' Election Slogan

Do you even lift, Jeremy? PA/ Jane Barlow

By Scott Taylor, University of Birmingham

If you’ve heard an interview with any Conservative politician during the current election campaign, you’ve probably heard the phrase “strong and stable leadership”. Theresa May used the phrase three times in seven minutes on the day she announced the vote.

It was clearly a key slogan – and therefore a key aspect of the campaign – right from the start. Since then, Buzzfeed has tracked May’s use of the phrase (giving up at 57 times in ten days). It even featured in the political cartoon for the first edition of the London Evening Standard under its new editor.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just one of those irritating political hooks that are part and parcel of any election. Political history is littered with some far worse campaign slogans (remember the Conservatives’ 2005 “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” – an obscure slogan, to which the public’s answer was a clear “no). But everything we know about leadership tells us that language is central, so we have to take this careful repetition seriously. What does Theresa May mean by “strong and stable leadership” – and why is it important?

Constructing a reality?
Linda Smircich and Gareth Morgan, two of the world’s most prominent and insightful analysts of organisation, argued in the early 1980s that “successful” leadership (that is, persuading someone to do something they wouldn’t normally do) depended on a leader persuading people of a specific reality. This process of social construction happens mostly through language. That makes language central to politics, as a means of persuasion as much as a means of communicating ideas or policies.

Strong and stable” tells us that the Conservative party strategists want us to think of all other options as weak and unstable. Social theorists have been telling us for a long time that the meaning we derive from language is relational. The idea of “strong” is therefore understood in relation to an implicit idea of “weak”. Conservative-sponsored adverts in this election and the last in 2015 are keen to tell us the parties and leaders who are weak and unstable.

There’s usually a hierarchy in this way of constructing meaning. The implication here is that strong is better than weak. This is especially true of the idea of leadership. We are bombarded daily with implicit and explicit messages that strong leadership is the ideal. You don’t have to be a believer in servant leadership to doubt the idea of strong leadership. There’s plenty of evidence of the damage that strong leaders, in politics and in workplaces, can do.

The strong man?
There’s another factor at play here, too. The repetition of “strong and stable” is becoming important because it carries a series of assumptions with it. Who do you think of when someone talks about strong leadership? Someone tall, able-bodied, probably white, speaking in a deep pitch – and probably male. This ideal is reinforced by corporate commissioned leader portraits and by the representation of leaders in popular culture.

Are you getting the message yet? PA/Chris Radburn
The promotion of this leaderly ideal by a Conservative party led by a woman at the moment isn’t especially surprising. We’re in the midst of a significant fourth wave of feminist activism and theory and political representation is one of the key areas of activity. British politics, with the honourable exception of the Labour party, is notoriously resistant to structural change through positive discrimination schemes such as quotas. In representing their woman leader in this way, the Conservatives emphasise their contribution to that wider social movement, but without really questioning it.

This election campaign will see a lot of discussion about whether we can trust political party leaders. Laying claim to being “strong and stable” shouldn’t mean unthinking followership. When any of us hear a politician, or someone with leadership responsibility in a workplace, tell us what kind of leadership they think we need – ask why they need to use language in this persuasive way, what they’re not saying, and what associations the linguistic images bring with them. Then maybe we can avoid following leaders without thinking. That can only end badly.

About Today's Contributor:
Scott Taylor, Reader in Leadership and Organisation Studies, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Bonus Pictures:
"Strong and Stable  - Theresa May and Daleks
Image via Trumpton
Theresa May not so strong and stable
Image via Trumpton

5 April 2017

Easter Egg Row Is An Undercooked Mess That Feeds English Nationalism

EPA/Michael Reichel

By David Tollerton, University of Exeter

Some people have dismissed it as a “storm in an egg cup”, but the controversy over Easter eggs has embroiled quintessentially “English” institutions. And unlike most chocolate eggs currently on sale in shops, the story ultimately has rather more inside it than you might imagine. It touches upon issues of fake news, the contested borderlands of secularism and religiosity, and the fluid interplay of state, church and national identity in Brexit Britain.

The Conversation
It started with an article in The Daily Telegraph. This voice of “small c” conservativism (wrongly) accused Cadbury, a venerable confectioner with nearly 200 years of history, and the National Trust, which looks after many of the UK’s finest stately homes, of dropping references to “Easter” from promotional material for their Easter egg hunts and turning a religious festival into a “chocfest”. The article quoted a spokesman for the Church of England saying: “This marketing campaign … highlights the folly in airbrushing faith from Easter.

The events gained momentum with an accusation by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second most senior clerical position in the Church of England, that this amounted to “spitting on the grave” of Cadbury’s founder. One of his descendants would later claim that, as a Quaker, John Cadbury didn’t actually celebrate Easter – but the archbishop’s vivid condemnation had made its mark.

The the UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, who less than a week after triggering Article 50 might have bigger issues to face, declared that:
The stance they [Cadbury and the National Trust] have taken is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what they are thinking about frankly. Easter’s very important. It’s important to me.

Predictably, a range of politicians weighed in on the topic, with Nigel Farage declaring that this was part of a battle for Britain’s very soul:

There are a variety of curious features to the story, the first of which is that its central premise, that Cadbury and the National Trust airbrushed out references to Easter, is actually pretty weak. Numerous media commentaries spotted that the word “Easter” is sprinkled liberally across both organisations’ websites. Indeed, if they really were trying to expunge mentions of the Christian festival from their material, they were doing a pretty dire job of it. In the rapid fire age of social media anger and freely-given accusations of “fake news”, this whole affair may seem like a prime candidate for dismissal as a confected nonsense.

Defending the faith
But the controversy intersects with several deep and longstanding tensions. One of these is the question of what is actually meant when Christianity is discussed in England. As several pundits have observed, the religious roots of many Easter traditions are decidedly hazy and, in truth, the precise divisions between pagan inheritance, Christian practice and secular appropriation are all difficult to pin down.

One doesn’t have to spend long pondering the vast disconnect between the number of people who self-identified as Christian in the last census and the number of people who actually go to church to appreciate that religious and secular identities are decidedly fluid.
The Archbishop of York may see the advertising of a chocolate egg hunt as a frontline against secularism to be fought over with passion but, in reality, British society is instead full of tiny and opaque daily skirmishes in which religious language and tradition is expressed or sidelined at varying conscious and unconscious levels.

But what is clear is that for some political figures an appeal to visions of Christianity under siege is more irresistible than any chocolate. This is because “Christianity under siege” can become profoundly bound up in ideas of “Britishness under siege”. Nigel Farage’s declaration that “we must defend our Judeo-Christian culture and that means Easter” is of course an obvious case.

Leaving aside the casual alignment of the “Judeo-Christian” with what is, in effect, simply Christian, the intervention maps neatly onto a longstanding UKIP policy of positioning themselves as the defenders of Christian values (see, for instance, their “Valuing Our Christian Heritage” campaign during the 2015 general election).

Traditionalist: John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. PA/John Giles/Pool, CC BY-SA

But Conservative politicians have found fertile ground here, too. In his 2016 Easter address, David Cameron reflected that “we are a Christian country and we are proud of it”, building on a longstanding rhetorical alignment of “Christian values” and “British values”. Given Theresa May’s history of fiercely asserting the importance of “British values”, her firm defence of British Christians who feel marginalised and her mission, in triggering Article 50, to “restore, as we see it, our national self-determination”, the scene is set for a drama in which actors seen to undermine Christian identity are cast as villains of the piece.

The misfortune for the National Trust and Cadbury (which is now owned by US giant Kraft) was to walk onto the stage at the wrong time – and no doubt they won’t be the last to do so. That the evidence of their misconduct is shaky and the crime’s very theological and sociological coherence is questionable are, in effect, minor details within the greater rhetorical purpose.

The Church of England’s role is more complex, however. The institution has on occasions voiced public unease at the nationalistic and exclusionary potentials of extolling “British values”, and last year’s row between Farage and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made it plain that UKIP and the Church of England’s understandings of “Christian heritage” are far from harmonised.

But as the egg controversy shows, undercooked and hyperbolic church interventions against organisations deemed to undermine Christian tradition may, intentionally or not, ultimately end up providing a feast for nationalists.

About Today's Contributor:
David Tollerton, Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Contemporary Biblical Cultures, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation..

4 January 2017

Brexit, Comedy And 'Britishness' – What To Do When Parody Becomes Real

A local shop, for local people. BBC
By Neil Archer, Keele University

If as it is said comedy is tragedy plus the benefit of time, sometimes time allows things to come full circle. When in 1999 Edward and Tubbs, characters from the BBC’s The League of Gentlemen, declared their Royston Vasey village store “a local shop for local people” I laughed because their narrow-minded localist zeal seemed so grotesquely out of step with the UK’s global and multicultural attitudes. But in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, where not being “local” became a figurative, legal or literal stick with which to beat others, Edward and Tubbs have lost some comic lustre and gained an eerie relevance.
In much film and television comedy of the New Labour years – such as the Simon Pegg film Hot Fuzz (2007), where civic pride concealed satanic rituals of local “cleansing”, or Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), where the threat to local produce instills villagers with a mob mentality – it is an inclusive, plural, playful sense of “Britishness” that is the implied alternative to these excesses. When I recognised the Britishness of these films and how I identified with it, I realised that, to a large extent, this Britishness did not really exist – or at least, it only existed as an ironic gesture or parody. The alternative, of course, was to assert the sort of cultural and racial essentialism that has long been among the unpalatable myths used by nationalists the world over.

In laughing along, I feel that Britishness is here defined by not taking the concept of Britishness at all seriously. This isn’t itself an innately British quality, but it could be thought of as a certain post-imperial tendency in the comedy that has shaped a prevalent part of British culture since the 1960s. The sort of comedy that is as much obsessed by historical myths of Britishness as it is derisive of them: Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Ripping Yarns, Blackadder, and The League of Gentlemen.
This comic playfulness regarding Britishness has become a key vehicle for promoting British culture abroad through hugely successful rom-coms such as Notting Hill or Love Actually. That the UK tops recent indexes of global soft power owes much to the self-effacing and metropolitan charms of films such as these. It is also apt that Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean persona, Britain’s most exportable comedy brand, should have found a central role in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

The inspired choice to have Atkinson’s weary keyboardist daydream his way through a travesty of Chariots of Fire’s opening scene – a film more often associated with flag-waving jingoism – helped rework the ceremony’s traditional cultural remit towards less aggressively nationalistic or historically essentialist terrain. Recall also that the show began with Her Majesty jumping from a helicopter strapped to a Union Jack parachute. Yet this same send-up of British iconography also served in the context of the ceremony as a form of soft patriotism: one that while drawing a line under Britain’s imperial past, was no less assertive even through parody of its new cultural standing in the world.

But that was 2012. The events of 2016 point towards political isolationism and more tightly prescribed notions of national identity, with significant repercussions for British comedy. How do we reconcile, for example, the divergent comedic impulses to leave or remain? The League’s village of Royston Vasey is taken from the birth name of Roy “Chubby” Brown, a foul-mouthed and anarchic British comedian who has mined cultural and ethnic prejudices to perennially popular effect. The uncomfortable potency of the League’s dark comedy comes from their willingness to flirt with sentiments that have clearly not been banished to the past, but which still churn away just under the surface.

The lessons of “Chubby” Brown and a whole other tradition of British comedy dating from the 1970s (oddly enough, the decade that Britain entered the European Economic Community), such as the Carry On films, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and Mind Your Language, are that comedy can as easily reinforce exclusive and culturally fixed notions of national identity as it can dispel them. Nor can we simply laugh away such comedy’s potent appeal, however much it might make us squirm.

The role of comedy in negotiating not only a hard or soft Brexit, but hard and soft conceptions of Britishness, will be a pressing concern both for comedy producers and those who write about it. It was perhaps fitting that this of all summers should see the BBC attempting, in an evidently nostalgic gesture, to revive popular sitcoms from the 1970s, and just as apt that the week after the EU referendum saw the release of Absolutely Fabulous – a very knowing comedy portrayal of national self-denial. The wider impact of the events of 2016 on the cultural and comedic tendencies to come remains to be seen.

The Conversation
About Today's Contributor:
Neil Archer, Lecturer in Film Studies, Keele University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

1 January 2017

A Million Reasons To Hope In 2017

Images via 
Dear Avaazers, 
In 2016, hate was given hope -- but now we take it back! 

From terrorism to Trump to Syria, it was a rough year. But hidden by all the darkness filling our screens, there's a simple, beautiful, truth: 

The world has never been in a better place. 
From poverty to literacy, the rise of women and fall of deadly disease -- on virtually every metric -- the world is better off than it's ever been. It's a powerful reason for us all to have hope, and rise to 2017. 

So to kick off the new year, here's a video of 10 beautiful reasons to have hope -- let's share them, add our own, and together give the world a million reasons to hope in 2017: 

Even on the environment, we're winning epic progress on everything from historic ocean conservation to an unstoppable revolution in clean energy!

Political extremists and divisive zealots thrive on fear and desperation. That's why they try to convince us that the world is falling apart.

Master trolls like Trump and Putin have even hired vast armies of both real people and fake "bots" to hijack our social media with smears and lies about how awful everything and everyone else is, except them. (this is true! see sources below). What better way to answer them than a million new year's posts about what gives each of us and all of us hope: 

Let's take this dose of hope, and let it fuel our determination and that of our friends. Because in 2017, together, we rise. 

With hope, 

Loup Dargent
On behalf of Ricken, Pascal, Bert, Emma, Mike, Fatima and the whole Avaaz team. 

PS - This new year's reflection feels so important, for each of us, and for a world that is at a tipping point -- between love, hope and wisdom, and fear, anger and ignorance. Here are 5 points of reflection that might be useful for your reflection this year: 

      1. Yes, things are serious. A new autocratic world order (60% of Avaazers believe even a second rise of fascism) could threaten everything we love.

      2. But this is also a tremendous opportunity. Humanity, like each of us, learns best from mistakes. Much of our greatest progress has been catalyzed by crisis. If we meet this moment right, we can emerge from it stronger and wiser than ever.

      3. We need to be strong, and to challenge the forces of regress. But let’s not be twisted by the darkness and act from fear and anger. We are warriors for love and wisdom. We must act from that light.

      4. When we do come from love and wisdom, we can see that our ‘enemy’ is not so much any people, as it is unwisdom. Misplaced fear and anger. Lack of awareness and understanding.

      5. These are age-old foes of our people. Our grandparents faced far worse with far less, and they won progress. We have every reason to hope, and no excuse for despair.
And lastly - all the forces present in our world are present within us. Fear and love. Hope and despair. The choices we make in our personal lives shape our world through billions of acts of kindness or cruelty, wisdom or foolishness. All we can do is our best. Let's hit that mark this year :).


30 December 2016

Was 2016 Just 1938 All Over Again?

Demonstrators march on international migrant day 2016. EPA
By Julie Gottlieb, University of Sheffield

On December 31 1937, Cambridge classicist and man of letters F L Lucas embarked on an experiment. He would keep a diary for exactly one calendar year. It was, as he put it: “an attempt to give one answer, however inadequate, however fragmentary, to the question that will surely be asked one day by some of the unborn – with the bewilderment, one hopes, of a happier age: ‘What can it have felt like to live in that strange, tormented and demented world?’

Lucas sought to preserve an affective archive, and to write about how it felt to live in an era of spiralling crisis.

As someone who wasn’t born in 1938 I cannot help but feel that Lucas’ solemn hope that his generation was living through the worst of it – and that lessons would surely be learned – have been well and truly dashed. Has 2016 been 1938 all over again?

Bowled over by the news this past year, one can be forgiven for grasping for the crutches of historical analogy. Indeed, a number of eminent historians of inter-war Europe have discerned thunderous echoes of the 1930s.

At present, as in the “Devil’s Decade”, we are experiencing the capricious convergence of historical forces: the fall-out of economic crisis and the extreme polarisation of the political spectrum from far-right to hard-left – the centre doesn’t hold. A tidal wave of refugees is being met by proportionately more xenophobia than compassion. Militant isolationism is thriving. Doors are being closed and walls built. Culture wars are punctuated by attacks on “experts” and intellectuals. 2016 has even seen open an unashamed airing of anti-Semitism.

The historical parallels between 2016 and 1938 are abundant. There are important differences in detail, in time and place, but the pattern of events, and of cause and effect, is striking.

Civil war raged in Spain then – as it rages in Syria today. Then as now, these internecine conflicts provide mirrors to existing fissures in international relations and deepening ideological antagonisms. By the end of 1938, and after Abyssinia, Spain, Anschluss, and Kristallnacht, not much faith was left in the ideal of internationalism or in the League of Nations – and this too sounds all too familiar.

The aftermath of the Kristallnacht. Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA

The rescue of refugee children through the Kindertransports was just as symbolically important, yet as negligible, a solution to an immense humanitarian and moral crisis as has been the response to lone children refugees holed up in Calais this year. And what of Aleppo? Shame was, and is, a dominant feeling.

Where next?
The Munich Agreement of September 1938 was perceived by many of its British critics as an act of national suicide. The Brexit decision has likewise, again and again, been described as an act of self-harm, even of national hari-kari.

Writing at the end of the year, contemporary historian R W Seaton-Watson had no doubt that 1938 had “resulted in a drastic disturbance of the political balance on the Continent, the full consequences of which is still too soon to estimate”. Treaties weren’t worth the paper they were written on in 1938 – and at the end of 2016 it is worryingly unclear where Britain will stand after triggering Article 50.

Meanwhile, George Orwell’s assessment of the disarray of the political left post-Munich could just as well apply to Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. As Orwell saw it:
Barring some unforeseen scandal or a really large disturbance inside the Conservative Party, Labour’s chances of winning the General Election seem very small. If any kind of Popular Front is formed, its chances are probably less than those of Labour unaided. The best hope would seem to be that if Labour is defeated, the defeat may drive it back to its proper ‘line’.
Full circle
One could go on seeking coordinates but the sum total would still be the same. The rug has been pulled out from under the assumed solidity of the liberal democratic project. A delicate tapestry of structures and ideas is coming apart at the seams.

Even more specifically, it is the psychological experience, the search for meaning, and the emotional cycle, the feelings – collective and individual – of 1938 that are uncannily familiar.

Post-truth politics is anti-rational. Emotion has unexpectedly triumphed over reason in 2016. Love and/or hate has beaten intellect. That’s true for Hillary Clinton’s “love trumps hate” slogan as much as it is for her opponent.

The referendum result shook many. PA

New political technologies render older ones obsolete. In both Britain’s referendum campaign and in the American election, traditional opinion polls failed to capture the emotion being expressed across social media platforms.

Back in 1938, it was British Gallup and the rival Mass-Observation that were the innovative political technologies. Using very different techniques, each offered fresh insight into the psychology of political behaviour and tried to unseal the stiff upper lip of the British electorate.

Mass-Observation tried to get into people’s heads, and diagnosed an increasing occurrence of “crisis fatigue” as a response to nervous strain and “a sense of continuous crisis”.

Almost immediately after the EU referendum, therapists reportedshockingly elevated levels of anxiety and despair, with few patients wishing to talk about anything else”. And the visceral nature of the US election campaign contributed, tragically, to the exponential increase of calls to suicide helplines. National crisis is inevitably internalised.

Reflecting on the psychological fallout of the Munich Crisis, novelist E M Forster observed that: “exalted in contrary directions, some of us rose above ourselves, and others committed suicide.”

As 1938 drew to a close, serious conversations were dominated by the verbal and physical expressions of fatalism, anxiety, sickness, depression, and impending doom. Lucas wrote in his diary:
The Crisis seems to have filled the world with nervous break-downs. Or perhaps the Crisis itself was only one more nervous break-down of a world driven by the killing pace of modern life and competition into ever acuter neurasthenia [shell shock].
It is too simplistic to say that history repeats itself. And yet, throughout this past year I could not escape the feeling that we have been here before. We share with those who lived through 1938 overwhelming sensibility of bewilderment, suspense, desperation and fear of the unknown. I can’t help but wonder what future historians will make of 2016.

It’s probably sage advice to go see a good movie over the holidays – and La La Land, already tipped to win an Oscar, may provide just the kind of escapism that is needed. However, when someone comes to make the movie of 2016, the soundtrack will probably be the late Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It certainly feels like 1938 all over again. Time to start keeping a diary.

The Conversation
About Today's Contributor:
Julie Gottlieb, Reader in Modern History, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

14 December 2016

Never Mind Article 50, Here's Why Article 127 Could Be Crucial To Keeping Britain In The Single Market

Ms Jane Campbell /
By Gavin Barrett, University College Dublin

Britain’s membership of the European single market has become the most contentious issue in the post-Brexit debate. And the legal issues involved are proving rather tricky.

Britain’s single market membership is the product of not one, but two international organisations and their rules – the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). This means that interesting questions (and legal cases) are now arising on how Brexit will work.

Most are by now familiar with Article 50 of the EU Treaty – the formal trigger to leaving the EU. But now, it seems there is another article we might need to trigger – Article 127 of the EEA Agreement – to leave the single market.

Separate to the EU’s rules, the UK is also signed up to the rules of the EEA. These have been signed up to by 28 EU member states along with Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Thanks to the EEA Agreement, these three states share Europe’s single market with the 28 EU states. But little else – no customs union, or common agriculture or fisheries policies.

The EEA owes its 1994 creation to the erstwhile European Commission president, Jacques Delors. His idea was that the EEA would be a kind of economic space absorbing European states into the single market, but without allowing them into what is now the EU – thereby allowing the 12 members of the then European Community (now EU) to continue working toward the creation of the euro currency, as well as internal market reform.

Jacques Delors. Parti socialiste/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The EEA worked out, but somewhat differently than anticipated. There are only three non-EU participant states, rather than the large number Delors envisaged. Some (Finland, Austria and Sweden) joined the EU itself. One, Switzerland, opted out of the EEA entirely.

Non-EU EEA members are also effectively in what has been termed a fax union” – meaning that Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland basically sit at the end of a fax machine waiting for the EU to send them single market rules to implement.

The jury’s out
Awkwardly, the UK electorate was not asked if they wanted to reject the single market – merely the EU. A 52% majority voted to leave that. Before the referendum, many Brexiteers (including UKIP’s Nigel Farage) extolled Norway’s EEA-based status. Now, however, many assert that respect for the June 23 vote requires rejecting the single market entirely, including EEA rules. They say voters sought to end contributions, restrict migration, and avoid even the most indirect application of the European Court of Justice decisions – and that these aims would be frustrated by staying in the EEA.

Single market remainers counter that there was no majority to leave the single market: many reasons for voting for Brexit had nothing to do with the single market (such as a belief that money would be saved, opposition by farmers to the common agricultural policy and fishermen to the fisheries policy – or even Labour voters to austerity). They note future UK contributions will be required anyway to gain market access (as Brexit minister David Davis has now conceded), that restrictions on migration (albeit admittedly limited ones) are possible under Article 112 of the EEA Agreement.

The law is unclear about what will happen to the UK’s single market status if it leaves the EU. The UK government asserts that the UK is party to the EEA agreement only in its capacity as an EU member state. So once the UK leaves the EU, it will automatically cease to be a member of the EEA. But that point is arguable.

Different groups voted to leave the EU for different reasons. Stefan Rousseau PA Wire/PA Images

Article 127 of the EEA Agreement expressly provides only one way of withdrawing: giving 12 months notice to other parties. If that provision applies, then just quitting the EU won’t be enough for the UK to leave the EEA’s single market. The UK will have to give express notice to leave the EEA too.

But maybe it doesn’t apply. Other provisions of the EEA Agreement seem to assume EU members (like the UK) are only signed up to it because they are in the EU. Leave the EU, this argument goes, and you cause a “fundamental change of circumstances” or a “material breach” under international law governing treaties. So, legally speaking, other states can take the view that you have quit the EEA.

Legal challenges
All very confusing. We may soon find out who is right, though. The pro-single market group, British Influence, is seeking a judicial review focused on the government’s EEA position. British Influence would like the Article 127-is-needed view to prevail (and parliament to then refuse to consent to Article 127 notice and the UK to live happily ever after – or at least for a very long time – in the EEA).

There are UK law issues here too. And political issues. The Supreme Court is currently weighing up a legal challenge brought by Gina Miller regarding whether or not parliament’s consent is needed under UK law to trigger Article 50.

If the Supreme Court say “no”, parliamentary consent will hardly be needed to trigger Article 127 either. That would be the end of the Article 127 story. The government will just give the Article 127 notice and say goodbye to the EEA.

If the Supreme Court say “yes”, then parliament’s consent will be needed for EEA exit too. But here is the catch: parliamentarians may not give it, claiming there has been no referendum on the UK’s single market membership.

Continued EEA membership would have huge consequences for Britain’s economic well-being for generations. So the courts – and potentially parliament too – have weighty issues to ponder. First in the Miller case. And now perhaps in the British Influence case too.

The Conversation
About Today's Contributor:
Gavin Barrett, Professor of Law, Jean Monnet Professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law, University College Dublin

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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25 November 2016

Jo Cox Murder Reminds Us That Terrorism Comes In Many Forms

A court drawing of Thomas Mair. PA/Elizabeth Cook
By David Lowe, Liverpool John Moores University

The conviction of Thomas Mair for the murder of the British MP Jo Cox serves as a reminder that terrorism comes in many guises. Mair was tried for murder, rather than terrorism, but the judge in his case made it clear when delivering a whole life sentence that he considered this to be a terrorist murder.

The activities of Islamist groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda over the past 15 years have shaped the way we view terrorism. Particularly since the most recent attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice by Islamic State, many of us tend to more readily associate terrorism with some causes over others. We have come to forget that far-right groups commit acts of terrorism too.

But as Mair’s trial revealed, his political motives were apparent. He owned extreme far-right material and Nazi memorabilia and had visited far-right websites. As he attacked Cox, he shouted “Britain first, this is for Britain”, “Britain will always come first” and Make Britain independent. Cox had been campaigning for the UK to remain in the European Union after the June referendum – a view the far right has always opposed.

This is not an isolated incident inspired by the extreme far right. In June 2015, Zack Davies was convicted of the attempted murder of a Sikh, Sarandev Bhambra. In an unprovoked attack at a supermarket, Davies attempted to decapitate Bhambra. During the attack, Davies shouted racist remarks and had with him a National Action flag.

Formed in 2013, National Action is a Nazi-inspired group that targets mainly disenchanted young people. Its website’s rallying cry is “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. The organisation glorifies national socialism, Hitler and the Holocaust. The group regularly holds impromptu public meetings around the UK, many of which result in violence, as was seen in February 2016 in Liverpool.

Flowers are laid at a memorial to Jo Cox. PA/Yui Mok

Because of what Mair said when he attacked Cox, the activities of the far-right group Britain First have also come under the spotlight. Although its leader, Paul Golding, was quick to distance the group from Mair’s comments, the group has acquired a para-military image because of the training camps it runs for members and its pledge to take direct action against Islam.

The influence these groups have on people like Mair cannot be overestimated. They are racist, anti-semitic, homophobic and intolerant. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they inspire people to kill and inflict violence on those they see as a threat. It’s also clear from social media that these groups inspire hate crimes. Right-wing trolling has become a startlingly common problem. A particularly striking example is the case of John Nimmo, who sent anti-semitic death threats to Luciana Berger, another Labour MP.

One of his tweets read: “watch your back Jewish scum, regards your friend the Nazi”. The tweet that caused Berger to fear for her own safety was one sent three weeks after Cox’s murder saying she would “get it like Jo Cox”.

Nimmo was convicted of sending malicious communications. And due to the anti-semitic nature of the correspondence, his was classified as a hate crime.

The scale of the problem
The impact of extreme, far-right crime should not be ignored. Figures on cases brought to the attention of the British government’s anti-terrorism programme Prevent suggest that in some regions of the UK, there can be a 50:50 split between people inspired by Islamism and those inspired by the extreme far right.

This might make you wonder why far-right groups are not banned like Islamic State or the various factions of the Irish Republican Army, thereby making them terrorist groups. There is an advantage to not doing this though, as it makes it easier for state agencies to monitor extreme far right groups’ activities and prevents the need for them to go underground.
The British far right has never been a cohesive, united group, which has prevented it from becoming an unmanageable problem. The various organisations involved in extreme right-wing activity have tended to have a fractious relationship, as was seen recently with the decline of the British National Party and the English Defence League.

But that decline has led to the emergence of new hardline groups with more dedicated followers. They may not have terrorist cells like the Provisional IRA during the Irish Troubles, but the far right reminds me of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which tended to carry out assassinations of Roman Catholics. Be it through direct violence on the streets or inspiring hate crime or, as seen with Mair, political assassinations, the danger these groups pose is very real.

The Conversation
About Today's Contributor:
David Lowe, Principal Lecturer in Law, Liverpool John Moores University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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