ORDER! – Edition 5 – 11th December

This week’s edition covers the actions of the new Prime Minister as well an update to the Scottish Independence campaign and a review of the Autumn Statement.

Indyref2 blocked by the Supreme Court

23rd November

This Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges came to the unanimous decision that they were “unable to support [the] argument” of the Scottish Nationalist Party, ruling that Nicola Sturgeon could not hold another Scottish Independence referendum without the approval of Westminster.

The centre of the SNP’s argument was national sovereignty of the Scottish people under international law, and that blocking their right to a referendum was therefore taking away this sovereignty. The SNP submitted that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right in international law”, bringing up the United Nations’ Resolution 1514 which stated that, “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. Whilst the Advocate General recognised the importance of sovereignty they asserted that “the intervener [failed] to make good its implicit and necessary assertion that the right to self-determination in international law obliges the United Kingdom to make provision, either through the terms of the Scotland Act or otherwise, for a further advisory referendum on Scottish independence in the terms of the proposed Bill”, effectively stating that the first referendum was sufficient in regards to satisfying any disputes about national sovereignty. The Advocate General went on to submit that the “principle of self-determination has no application here”. When the judges ruled on this matter, they used the examples of Quebec and Kosovo. For Quebec, the judges referred to the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling that “Canada was a sovereign and independent state conducting itself in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction”, and that Quebecois were not under-represented within the Canadian system, thus undermining the argument for self-determination.

Arguably, the most important aspect of the case was whether another referendum would “[relate] to reserved matters”, in which case it would be outside of the competence of the devolved governments, and any decision on it would need to be made within the House of Commons. The phrase “relates to”, in section 29(2)(b) of the Scotland Act was the centre of discussion, and, ultimately, it was this that decided the outcome of the case. On this matter, the intervener asserted that whilst a “narrow reading” of the term would support the right to a non-self-executing Scottish referendum, “a broad reading of that phrase [“relates to”] would be incompatible with that right [to self-determination]”. In response the judges ruled: “no reading of that subsection, whether wide or narrow, could result in a breach of the principle of self-determination in international law”, maintaining that “The Scotland Act allocates powers between the United Kingdom and Scotland as part of a constitutional settlement. It establishes a carefully calibrated scheme of devolution powers. Nothing in the allocation of powers, however widely or narrowly interpreted, infringes any principle of self-determination”.

In response to the ruling, Nicola Sturgeon expressed her disappointment, arguing that the court’s ruling “helped expose [the] myth” of the UK as a voluntary partnership.

The results of this case will no doubt have far-reaching consequences in British politics and constitutional law, setting the precedent for Parliamentary sovereignty in the future.


23rd November

As PMQs this week followed immediately after the Supreme Court’s striking down of a second Scottish Independence Referendum, no doubt Sunak expected to come under fire from the SNP during this session, in what could be quite an interesting affair.

As usual, Keir Starmer started off the session. He questioned Britain’s slow growth, asking Sunak why “Britain faces the lowest growth of any OECD nation over the next two years”. Sunak retorted that Britain has been the third fastest growing economy in the G7 since 2007, and the fastest growing this year in the G7, and that the Conservatives were “delivering free ports” and “investing in R&D”, before questioning the Labour Party’s involvement with trade unions by calling them the “union pay masters”. Starmer responded that Sunak was “in denial”, and that “Britain was set to be the first country into recession and the last out of it”, commenting again on Britain’s position in the OECD report. Sunak asserted that the same report found that “in the years following the pandemic, we’re projected to have almost the highest growth amongst our peer countries”, following which he claimed the report viewed problems the UK were facing as “entirely international in nature”. Sunak finished off this reply by calling Starmer an “opportunist”, who “isn’t interested in substance”. The Labour leader reasserted that the Conservatives were the party that “crashed the economy”, and that “12 years of Tory failure and 12 weeks of Tory chaos” were the key factors in the poor performance of the British economy. Starmer went on to note that due to the Autumn Statement, a typical household will end up with tax increases of £1,400. Responding to the claim of 12 years of mismanagement, Sunak said, “Labour had 13 years to address this issue and did nothing about it”, arguing that it was the Conservative Party who had delivered on their claims. Both leaders then went back and forth over ‘non-dom’ status, with Starmer claiming that if the status was abolished, 15,000 doctors could be trained a year. Starmer also hit out against dropping home ownership rates, calling Sunak “too weak to take on his party” and “too weak to take on vested interests”, and asserting that the Conservatives had “clobbered” working people for 12 years. Sunak finished the debate between the two by stating that “you can trust [Starmer] to deliver for the party, you can trust me to deliver for the country”.

Ian Blackford (Leader of the SNP in the Commons) now took the stand, questioning the Prime Minister over the democratic values of the Union, by claiming that last year, the Scottish people had voted in a Scottish Parliament “with a majority in the mandate to deliver an independence referendum”. Blackford remarked that “the Prime Minister has no right to deny democracy to the people of Scotland”, and that the “notion that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations is now dead and buried”. In response, Sunak brought up the importance for politicians to “work together” in these troubling times, stating that this is something the government is doing. Blackford retorted by asserting that the current Prime Minister lacked even a personal mandate in the face of the SNPs clear mandate in Scotland, questioning “what right does a man with no mandate have to deny Scottish democracy?” The Prime Minister reaffirmed the governments wishes to “work together” with Scotland to deliver on growth, freeports, and public services. Subsequent questions from SNP MPs attacked the Union, claiming that Scotland was “shackled and imprisoned” in an involuntary relationship.

Autumn Statement

8th November

Jeremy Hunt has now published the Autumn Statement for the Conservative Party; he claims that the aims of this ‘mini-budget’ are stability, growth, and the maintenance of public services.

In the statement, Hunt announced that the economy is already is recession – claiming GDP will shrink 1.4% next year, although the economy overall will grow around 4.2% this year. Hunt chalks the lower-than-average growth down to higher energy prices, due in part to the Russo-Ukrainian War. These higher energy prices are targeted in the statement, with the Chancellor pledging significant support to people, especially pensioners and disabled individuals – bills will be capped at £3,000 a year.

Hunt has pledged to raise the commitment to public spending, pledging support worth £13.6bn to aid firms. NHS spending will also be increased by £3.3bn per annum for the next two years, with school funding rising £2.3bn. Defence spending will be maintained at the NATO mandated 2% of GDP.

The minimum wage is also set to rise to £10.42 an hour in April. National Insurance will be frozen until April 2028 and the top band of 45% income tax will now be applicable to earnings of £125,410, down from £150,000. This is a significant change of approach compared to the Kwarteng-Truss mini-budget that effectively abolished the top band of income tax.

The statement shows commitment to the values that Rishi Sunak has laid out: further funding to the NHS, as well as support to business and pensioners and a commitment to a balanced budget, again in contrast with Truss’ direction.

On Matt Hancock and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

By Sinead D

Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk and former Health Secretary, has recently confirmed his appearance in the TV series “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here: a British reality TV show set in the forests of Australia where celebrity contestants must complete gruelling physical challenges whilst having no contact with the outside world for several weeks. His overall defence for his participation is the desire to educate young people using “this wonderful tool” (the TV show in question), and to raise awareness about dyslexia which he himself is diagnosed with. Yet criticism has surfaced that Hancock’s latest move might be a breach of the MPs’ code of conduct.

In 2021, Matt Hancock resigned from his post as Health and Social Care Secretary due to a scandal involving his affair with staffer Gina Colangelo, which entailed breaking social distancing guidelines, namely the 2-metre distance rule. During a time of mental, economic, and social instability thanks to the pandemic, the former minister’s actions were seen as hypocritical, generating scrutiny of the government’s attitudes to its own ‘lockdown’ legislation. With the current economic crisis facing the UK in the wake of Liz Truss’s resignation as Prime Minister, having only lasted 44 days in the role (a life span shorter than that of lettuce), and with Rishi Sunak’s appointment as Prime Minister without a general election denying choice to the electorate, Hancock’s bid to be crowned ‘King of the Jungle’ could be seen as creating further instability within an already-divided Conservative Party. Arriving in Sydney during the early morning of Wednesday 2nd November, he has signed off absent from work as an MP for the next three weeks, at a time when energy costs are spiralling, with the ongoing war in Ukraine and wider economic challenges. When the Conservative Party should be projecting a united front to the nation, is Matt Hancock instead reflecting an image of the British government that is unserious and humiliating?

His local West Suffolk Conservative Association has said it is “disappointed” and accused Mr Hancock of a “serious error of judgement”, going as far to state that “MPs should be working hard for their constituents, particularly when we have a cost-of-living crisis and people are facing hardship”. Hancock’s attempts to attract sympathy on grounds that “it’s lonely being a politician in the jungle” have been met with little in return, and he now finds himself suspended as a Conservative MP, having the party whip withdrawn after announcing he was off to Australia to take part in the adventurous trials. He will, however, continue to be paid as an independent MP.

Most importantly, this falls short of the behaviour and sense of judgement that constituents expect from their representatives. The Code of Conduct for MPs (reviewed recently on the 14th October 2022) states that it “expects MPs to observe the principles (of respect, professionalism, understanding others’ perspectives, courtesy and acceptance of responsibility)” and especially that of “privacy”. Yet in a reality TV show that is all about scandal and dramatized gossip for viewing pleasure, can we guarantee that Hancock will display respect for privacy? His actions clearly defy the principles set out in the code, further tarnishing the Conservative Party with an evident lack of “professionalism”.

However, we might question whether Mr Hancock is simply trying to gain publicity with a view to standing in future elections. He has made statements which seem designed to appear charming to the nation: saying he will donate some of his fee for the programme – which he will have to declare in the Register of Members’ Interests – to a hospice in his constituency and to dyslexia charities, as well as genuinely wanting to raise awareness of a restraining condition. It may be that some people will view him more favourably as a character, perhaps seeing him as a rebellious and outgoing figure who would make a good leader. Or more realistically, he might prove to be one more reason for the downfall of his party.

ORDER! – Edition 4 – 18th November

This week’s edition covers the actions of the new Prime Minister as well as the Scottish Independence campaign.


9th November

PMQs started rather solemnly this week. With Remembrance Day on the following Friday, all leaders were sure to pay their respects to the soldiers who had given their lives for the country.

Neil Coyle, Independent MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, started the session with a searching question on the nature of the lockdowns in response to the Pandemic, bringing up the “sacrifices” of the people of his constituency, claiming that “these people were betrayed by the Conservative Party who partied their way through lockdown”. Coyle finished by asking the Prime Minster whether he can “promise today that he will use his power of veto to ensure that no one who received a FPN (fixed penalty notice) for breaking COVID laws will be rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords”. Sunak responded by asserting that the Conservative Party “protected people’s jobs” and “[protected] the NHS to get through the difficult times” as well as “rolling out the fastest vaccine programme in Europe”.

With the resignation of Sir Gavin Williamson still fresh in minds, Keir Starmer confronted Sunak on his appointment to Cabinet, bringing up accounts of Williamson’s misdemeanours, asking the PM how “the Prime Minister thinks the victim [of Williamson’s “slit their throat” comment] of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation”. Sunak riposted by stating that “unequivocally the behaviour was unacceptable”; however, he claimed innocence, maintaining that he “did not know about any of the specific concerns of his conduct as Secretary of State or Chief Whip”, finishing by listing the principles of “consideration and respect” that the government will stand by. Starmer responded to this by calling Williamson a “pathetic bully”, whose behaviour was only made possible through government appointment. The Labour leader finished by questioning the Prime Minister on whether he “regrets his decision to make him a government minister”. Sunak responded by saying that he “obviously regrets appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances”, but then asserted that the British people will feel assured that “when situations like this arise, that they will be dealt with properly”. The PM then continued that the investigation will be characterised by “integrity, professionalism, and accountability”. Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the cross-examination was Sunak’s statement that Labour did not stand for the working-class people, and that this was what the Conservative Party was doing, when replying to Starmer’s questions on the failure to tax oil companies.

After Starmer’s questioning of the Prime Minister, Ian Blackford, Leader of the SNP in the Commons, began his. He also probed Sunak’s judgement in relation to his admission of Williamson to Cabinet, claiming it “every bit as bad as his predecessors”. He went on to mention Liz Truss’ plan to put four Tory MPs into the House of Lords, including the current Secretary of State for Scotland. Blackford questioned whether it was right to let someone sit in Cabinet when they “are far more interested in getting [their] hands on an ermine robe than playing by the rules of Scottish democracy”. Sunak replied that he was not going to comment on mere speculation of such a list’s existence, and that if there was a list, it would follow the law. Blackford maintained how “corrupt this all looks”, before going on to ask for a by-election due to the current Secretary of State for Scotland’s distractions by the House of Lords. Finishing his tirade, he asked Sunak whether he “has any integrity left, will he now put a stop to these two predecessors stuffing the House of Lords with his cronies”. Sunak replied that he and the Secretary of State are proudly working together to “deliver for the people of Scotland”.

Overall, this was a highly active session – especially Starmer and Sunak’s debate.

The Welsh Devolution

9th November

Recently a Senedd cross-party committee, chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies, a Labour MS (member of Senedd), has reported on the Welsh government bypassing the Senedd by leaning on Westminster. According to the BBC, this report has said that the trend “could undermine the Senedd […] and the underlying principles of devolution”.

The Senedd is important for passing legislature in the devolved nation, from fiscal policy to cultural laws. However, Westminster can also get involved in matters devolved to the Senedd, normally via the Welsh Government, though for this to happen the Senedd must vote for legislative consent motions. Whilst this may seem highly democratic, the nature of this ‘all or nothing’ vote does not give the Senedd time to properly look through the legislation in any depth, and these motions therefore can seriously hamper the ability for the Senedd to preside over devolved matters.

The cross-party report found that there has been a large increase in such motions, rising from 48 during the whole 2016-2021 Senedd term, to 44 since the election in last May. Irranca-Davies voiced his frustration at the committee’s findings: “We would much prefer to have contributed to the improvement of legislation being made in the Senedd as a means of delivering the best possible solutions for communities across Wales – a role for which Senedd members are elected”.

Gavin Williamson sacking

8th November

Gavin Williamson has left the Cabinet (where he was serving as a Minister of State without Portfolio) amid accusations of bullying raised by former Deputy Chief Whip Anne Milton. Milton claims that this happened during his tenure as Chief Whip under Theresa May, from 2016-2017. He was accused of verbally attacking a Civil Servant, telling them to “slit their throat”, as well as sending aggressive text messages to Wendy Morton, former Chief Whip under Liz Truss.  

This sacking marks a significant U-turn for Rishi Sunak, who came out in support of Williamson once these texts came into the public eye, stating that he had “full confidence” in the MP, and that he had “an important contribution to make to the government”. These comments were made on Monday. Sir Gavin Williamson stepped down on Tuesday, as calls for him to resign heated up, stating in his resignation that he refutes “the characterisation of these claims, but I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing. I have therefore decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is under way and clear my name of any wrongdoing”.

In the following PMQs session, Sunak claimed that he “did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct” when questioned by Keir Starmer. This marks the first real controversy that Sunak has faced (apart from maybe the Braverman appointment), and it will be interesting to see how the Conservative Party reacts to this.

Supreme Court weighs against Hillside Parks Ltd

2nd November

The Supreme Court has come to a conclusion on the Hillside Parks v Snowdonia National Park Authority case, blocking the construction of a 401-home development near Aberdyfi, on the coast of Eastern Wales. The plot was granted to John Madin in 1967 by the Merioneth County Council, and it was agreed that 401 homes would be built on the Aberdyfi site. However, the site has changed hands multiple times, sold to Landmaster Investments in 1978 and then to Hillside Parks Ltd in 1988. The land it was situated in also changed council jurisdiction, as the Merioneth County Council was abolished in 1974, being replaced by the Gwynedd County Council.

From 1967-1973, Madin and the Merioneth County Council made seven changes to the parameters of the land agreement, diverging from the original claims. However, according to court documents, the legal disputes did not start until 1987, when “[Gwynedd County Council] argued in proceedings brought in the High Court by Landmaster Investments Ltd, which owned the Site at that time, that the 1967 Permission had lapsed (“the 1987 proceedings”). The High Court rejected that argument, deciding that the development authorised by the 1967 Permission could still lawfully be completed at any time”.

In 1996, the Snowdonia National Park Authority became the local planning authority, making eight further amendments to the development plan between 1996 and 2011. In 2017, the Authority ordered that all work on the site must be stopped, claiming that the 1967 plan was no longer valid as subsequential departures had made it impossible to implement. Hillside Parks reacted by taking the Park Authority to court; as the court documents say, “Hillside Parks Ltd […] brought a claim against the Authority, in order to ascertain whether the scheme of development authorised by the 1967 Permission could still lawfully be completed”.

In the meantime, Welsh politicians weighed in on the case, Liz Saville Roberts, Leader of Plaid Cymru in the Commons, and Mabon ap Gwynfor issued a joint statement that argued “this proposed overdevelopment would bring no benefit to the local community”, overwhelming local infrastructure.

The Supreme Court has now ruled in favour of the Snowdonia National Park Authority, claiming it would be “physically impossible” for the site to be developed as the plans have deviated so significantly since they were first penned in 1967.  

An investigation into the changes at the top of the UK government since Johnson’s resignation

By Angus M

The last two months have been a turbulent time for British politics. The public has seen three different Conservative Prime Ministers, within the same government, and has experienced a litany of cabinet changes, along with policy U-turns and a significant economic shock. I thought it interesting to explore the changes within the cabinet over this period, and the challenges that have presented themselves. The following changes to the cabinet by Sunak have brought even more chaos, with huge U-turns from Truss’ government on the allocation of ministerial positions causing a huge lack of continuity within the British Government.

49 days – only 7 weeks. Elizabeth Truss was the British Prime Minister with the shortest time in office, breaking the previous record set by George Canning of 119 days in 1827, whose term ended upon his death. This term contained a major and minor cabinet reshuffle, and an attempt at changing the direction of the Conservative government that was swiftly followed by a direct U-turn and then her resignation of the premiership. This uncertainty not only led to a short economic disaster, with markets losing confidence in the Government’s ability to control the economy and therefore contributing further to the economic hardship faced by many in the UK through interest rate rises and a reduced purchasing power of the pound, but it also led to a great loss of credibility in the UK government as a whole. The loss of stability was not a surprise, however, as there was little continuity in cabinet positions as Truss took over. Of the twenty-three permanent cabinet positions (including the Prime Minister), only four remained the same. Rishi Sunak, having waited in the wings, observing the economic chaos of the neo-Thatcherite policies of Truss and her new government that he warned about in party hustings, was rushed into power after Truss’ shock resignation on Thursday 20th October. This followed a hurried and curtailed leadership contest that resulted in only him reaching the required threshold of supporter MPs, with his installation into power therefore not required to be voted on by party members.

Exploring the cabinet further, Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, was the most senior minister to remain in post under Truss, and he remains under Sunak. Given that he backed Truss early, and didn’t stand in either race, it was not a surprise that he remained. It was clear that he chose the defensive concerns of the nation over his own political ambitions – and he remains looking rather good by staying in post and keeping his relationships with other international players in defence. Other senior ministers to remain under Sunak include the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt and James Cleverley as Foreign Secretary. It is essential to have some continuity here, given the precarious international circumstances not just in Wallace’s realm of defence, but also in energy, international trade and foreign aid.

Furthermore, Truss’ decisions to keep the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries of State seemed sensible given the current imperative to maintain open and positive dialogue between the four nations of the United Kingdom with ever growing nationalist movements. The Conservative and Unionist party has the union at its heart, and so keeping politicians who have established relationships around the union in post appears vital to keeping it intact. Sunak also saw the logic in this continuity, and has kept Alistair Jack (Scotland, a relatively long serving minister) in post, along with the Northern Irish secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, but he has replaced the Welsh secretary of state. Continuity was also found in Kemi Badenoch (Trade), Michelle Donelan (Culture), and Tom Tugendhat (Minister of State attending cabinet for Security). More importantly than this, however, was the retention of Mordaunt and True as leaders of the Houses of Commons and Lords respectively. This move attempts to maintain some stability in the party and also keep the right-wing support from MPs through Mordaunt especially. In addition, keeping Alok Sharma as COP26 secretary was sensible from Truss given his key role in the conference, good standing with other members, and strong knowledge of the intricate and complex agreements, but given COP27’s imminence Sunak saw fit to remove this post from the cabinet. As such, Sharma now finds himself on the backbenches again. On a related note, Sunak did indeed attend COP27, the official line being that this decision was taken after some ‘last minute schedule changes’.

The contrast between Truss and Sunak’s cabinets is also significant. It appeared that Truss wished to pivot the Conservative party to the right. High profile Brexiteers were brought in, who also tended to have more right-wing views. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than her appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industry, a man who believes strongly in an independent Britain and in deregulation. He has recently made a name for himself by trying to push a bill through Parliament that automatically axes all existing EU legislation at the end of 2023 if it hasn’t been retained in a separate act. Furthermore, she appointed other ministers, like Suella Braverman and Thérèse Coffey, who have been strong allies and friends throughout the contest and their time in Parliament together. Braverman looked to strengthen migration policy and is aiming to toughen up the government’s stance on ‘common sense law and order’ while Coffey was considering cuts to services to balance health and care budgets and cutting state support for individual welfare claimants. These are all typical policies of the-right wing of the Tory Party; however, they didn’t seem to go down well with the broader party. As such, Sunak installed some more moderate Conservatives, attempting to continue to capture the centre while keeping some right-wing support, and removing many of those who Truss appointed. Dominic Raab was reinstalled as Deputy PM, resuming his role as Justice Secretary, and some other relatively centrist Sunak supporters were brought into cabinet in some of the more junior departments. Interestingly also, Michael Gove has yet again made it into the cabinet, and much speculation has been made about his exact role and whether he’ll be used not only as Levelling Up Secretary but also to use some of the ‘dark arts’ mentioned in connection to him both when he was working with Dominic Cummings in Education and later when he was in the Cabinet Office.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Truss made a bold choice of Chancellor, in a bid to return to the Thatcherite conservatism of tax cuts, deregulation and a trickle-down economic theory. A new economic plan was drawn up between Kwasi Kwarteng and Truss, often in secret meetings, which would have brought the abolition of additional rate tax, a cut in the basic tax rate, and a reversal of the planned National Insurance and Corporation tax hikes. Furthermore, there were plans to deregulate laws around the banking industry and bonuses to attempt to attract new business to the city. However, with a rushed release of the plan, and a failure to get an Office for Budget Responsibility report, in conjunction with the turmoil of the cabinet reshuffle and new Prime Minister, the markets reacted with a loss of confidence, resulting in Government Bonds and the value of the pound tanking. As the pound lost value, this added to the cost-of-living crisis and inflation, requiring the Bank of England to prop up gilts and to raise interest rates multiple times. The turmoil created by this Thatcherite mini-budget resulted in public uproar, claiming that the concept of trickle-down economics was out of touch with today’s climate, and so under pressure, some of the policies such as the additional rate tax abolition were reversed, and eventually Kwarteng was forced to step down – many would say in order to save Truss’ premiership. Jeremy Hunt was installed as Chancellor, and other tax cuts were reversed, but even with Truss’ strong façade in her press conferences, she too was soon forced to resign. Jeremy Hunt was brought in for her final days of office, and Sunak has elected to keep him, with the pair releasing an Autumn Statement that looks to return the party to its reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility and sound decision making.

Liz Truss, in her 49 days in office, was responsible in the most part for two sets of cabinet substitutions that caused great uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the government, and which added fuel to an already growing economic fire. Her cabinet pulled the party to the right, but cost her many other MPs’ support, as was shown by the shambolic fracking vote that showed huge fissures within the Conservative Party on Wednesday 19th October. Turbulent times, and a difficult job to begin with, led her to preside over perhaps some of the darkest political days for the Conservative Party of the 21st Century. Since his appointment on the 25th October, Sunak has taken the party back in a more conventional direction, and the whole country, regardless of affiliation, hopes that this returns some respectability and stability to the United Kingdom’s government and in turn its markets and economy.

The Jan. 6 Committee: An Exercise in Cinematography

By Lyndon C

A Monmouth University poll showed that the July 2021 hearings of the January 6th Committee had little impact on public opinion; the largest numerical shift was that 4% fewer respondents saw Trump as directly responsible. Following the ninth televised hearing on October 13th, 2022, I remain similarly unmoved. I was hoping to see Cheney box Trump there and then; instead, I was met with liberal usage of the “Animations” function in a well-curated PowerPoint. In my opinion, the committee’s good intentions have fallen victim to the machinations of US politics that we have come to know so well. Regrettably, I do not believe that the committee has meaningfully furthered (to the public’s knowledge) understanding of the events of January 6th, 2021. Additionally, no legislative action been taken as a result at the time of writing.

However, my disappointment was anticipated – despite claims of bipartisanship, nothing has been seen across party lines. Republicans filibustered against a dual commission to investigate the attack; Pelosi appointed seven Democrats and Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump, to the new committee; Kevin McCarthy recommended five Republicans, four of whom had voted to overturn the Electoral College results; and Pelosi appointed the only other Republican to have voted for Trump’s impeachment, Adam Kinzinger.

Furthermore, these nine individuals are not fully united under the aim of seeking justice, as personal agendas have sometimes skewed the focus of the committee. For example, some time has been spent by Liz Cheney defending the Electoral College, a system which Jamie Raskin (another committee member) argues allowed Trump to gain and misuse presidential powers. These are valuable discussions to be had, as the current system has its clear shortcomings; however, the more radical the committee’s recommended changes, the more credibility it will lose among politicians and citizens alike. This catch-22 will only be reinforced if Kevin McCarthy becomes Speaker of the House in the (as of writing) upcoming midterm elections.

Thankfully, the committee agrees on the substantiveness of Trump’s role in the events. Nevertheless, an extra effort has been made to portray him as democracy’s kryptonite. Fifteen months have been spent reasserting what they hold to be the truth – that Trump’s reaction to his loss prompted the attack on the Capitol. Yet great rhetorical, technological, and cinematographic efforts have been undertaken to explain the Trump administration’s “sophisticated seven-part plan” to overrule the 2020 election, beginning with his efforts to spread misinformation and ending with his inaction during the attack itself.

This process has been so arduous partially due to the committee issuing subpoenas to over one hundred individuals – including sitting House Republicans and the U.S. Secret Service. The call for Trump himself to testify only followed a unanimous vote from the committee at the end of the ninth hearing. This was hailed as a significant achievement of the committee, and one that might possibly signify the end of televised hearings. But while this might go some way to clarify the circumstances of the attack, Trump is unlikely to appear. Thus, the subpoena might go no way towards the committee’s central aim – to provide evidence for the Department of Justice. In fact, it might even encourage more divisions, despite the committee’s attempts at bipartisanship; with Trump calling the process a “witch hunt” and some Democrats calling for him to be banned from running for office, the subpoena might have fewer benefits than it seems.

Although the committee has been eager to scrutinise and vilify Trump, this has had an unfortunate side-effect. Other members of his clique who also acted unconstitutionally have taken their subpoena as an opportunity to paint their involvement in the campaign, election, and attack in a more flattering light. During the second hearing, William Barr, a former Attorney General fired only two weeks before the attack, suggested that Trump had become “detached from reality” after showing little heed to “what the actual facts were”. However, in the run-up to the 2020 election, “I have common sense” was his rationale for asserting that foreign countries would sway the result with counterfeit ballots, alongside other similar statements echoing Trump’s claims of election fraud. The inconsistency of his and other witnesses’ testimonies increasingly mystifies Trump’s behaviour during this crucial period, contrary to the committee’s aims.

Ultimately, these testimonies, and everything else discussed here, is a matter of sides – at this moment, seemingly Trump v. Everyone Else. Sectarianism has haunted the committee throughout its hearings as both sides continue to uphold ‘the truth’. However, the Jan 6. Committee has neither the setting nor the people to hold Trump accountable effectively. The committee has not been able to convince Trump of his guilt, and I doubt that it ever will. Unfortunately, it has managed to shine a light upon levels of trust in contemporary politics, and the fact that it has inspired me to put truth in inverted commas is a grim indictment of what we are currently working with.

Why do UK governments typically fall after 15 years?

By Hasan A

If we were to look at the periods of single-party dominance over the last 100 years, we would easily notice that not one government has survived for much more than 15 years. No party seems capable of retaining power for much longer – with even Thatcher and Major’s governments falling after 18 years of continuous dominance. So what is it that makes every government doomed to fail after this length of time?

One explanation could be down to how the electorate naturally tires of one party’s policy ideas and political direction after a certain period. Even if a government continuously puts forward new legislation, at some point the public are likely to want to see a fresh political impetus, by simple virtue of the fact that they want to feel as though something is changing for the better. Simply put, people get bored of hearing the same things year after year – and before long, they feel as though a new party needs to be in government, who will present new and inspiring reforms to re-invigorate the political discourse. Similarly, it can be difficult for a party to find ways to excite the electorate about the prospect of another term with the same party in power and finding new policies to replace the old ones becomes increasingly difficult – the policies become stale and ideas stagnant.

Also, when one party has been in power for an extended period, it increases the strength of the argument that the country is in a bad state because of that government’s actions. When a government is new, it can simply blame any mishaps on the failings of the previous government and how it inherited a poor legacy from them, just as when David Cameron blamed New Labour for the fiscal deficit that the new Coalition government took on. This argument can no longer be made when one party has been in power for more than two terms of office. Economic downturns also tend to come around about every decade or so, irrespective of how a government has performed – fitting the 15-year cycle well. Take the 2008 financial crisis and the current cost of living crisis for example: 14 years apart. The incumbent government is in the position to feel the brunt of the blame for any economic hardship which the public have to suffer, irrespective of whether it is actually at fault or not. However, while recessions are arguably inevitable in the long run, their depth and severity is down to how fit a state the country was in before heading into the crisis. As a government’s time in office lengthens, it begins to be blamed for every issue the country is facing, whether major or minor. Recessions always come around soon enough to provide sufficient ammunition for opposition parties to blame the government for its handling of the country’s finances. The older a government is, the more likely it is that it will become the scapegoat.

 As time passes, it also allows the Opposition to change tack, re-brand and give a new strength to their message. For example, John Smith – Tony Blair’s predecessor as Labour Party leader – was highly successful at rebranding the party for a new era of more centrist policy, ready for Tony Blair to take Labour into government in 1997.

It can also be said that after an extended time in office, any government tends to become complacent and overly confident. This complacency is often reflected by the scandals that frequently plague a government in its final years. The recent Partygate saga under Johnson and the Cash For Questions scandal that rocked John Major’s government are examples of this. It’s almost as if the party in power forgets what it’s like to be in opposition and begin to take being in government for granted. Struggling political parties also attract innovative, young and visionary leaders – as Blair and Brown were for New Labour – while long-term governments begin to struggle to find fresh talent to re-invigorate the front benches and win new support.

The Conservatives have been in power now for 12 years, in one form or another, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that they won’t make it to 15, with one YouGov voting-intention poll giving Labour a 33-point lead and a projected vote share of 54%. In this case, it seems as though their possible failure will be put down to complacency, and the electorate’s widespread ability to blame one party for the current situation the country faces.

The Special Relationship: The New Sino-Russian Link

By Isadore H.

In June of 2022, Russia Today reported on a coalition of countries working together to establish a new Global Reserve currency, in direct conflict with the goals of the United States. Challenging the dollar, a consortium of BRICS nations (an acronym coined for five emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) among other countries such as Pakistan have come together to attempt to establish a global reserve currency that will be held in addition to the dollar, to provide some resilience to sanctions from America. As Vladimir Putin put it at the BRICS Forum in June 2022, this currency is being developed as to “cut reliance on the Western financial system”.  This is a significant gamble, but it encapsulates the increasingly close relations between the growing Asian economies and, most worryingly to the West, the remarkable rate that Sino-Russian relations have improved since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

The economic sanctions that were thrust upon Russia in the aftermath of the ‘Special Military Operation’ into Ukraine have deeply changed the outlook of Russian policy makers, seemingly turning them away from European dominance and looking towards Asia for cooperation. Ultimately, this move to Asia has brought stronger relations with China and the birthing of the prospect of a BRICS global reserve currency.  The clearest way that one can see the changing priorities of Russian geopolitics towards Asia is the increase of Chinese imports of Russian crude oil: from just over 500 thousand barrels a day in February 2022 to over 1,000,000 barrels in June. China is picking up the slack in Russian oil exports that has been created through European sanctions, effectively bailing out the fossil-fuel export dependant Russian economy. More generally, Russian, and Chinese trade has risen by 35.9% in the past year (according to Reuters), reaching a total of $146.9 billion.

This newfound relationship between the two countries has proved to be mutually highly beneficial; it allows China to diversify its fossil fuel imports, pulling itself off of the volatile and strictly controlled crude oil from member nations of OPEC: a rare luxury that allows China to stabilise her fuel prices which will have knock-on effects for political security. For Russia, the benefits are far more obvious: increased trade with China provides a crutch to steady the Russian economy, shut out from most European markets and the all-important SWIFT banking system.

As well as these individual reasons, the two nations working together provide an effective check on American ambitions in Asia by creating a new Eastern bloc that could prove formidable for American geopolitical interests in the area. This bold approach has alarmed America, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Beijing’s movements as the ‘most serious long-term challenge to the international order’. However, is there actually any feasibility in the BRICS nations or China and Russia individually being able to topple the American Dollar’s stranglehold on the global reserves?

Whilst on the surface, the partnership between Russia and China in creating a new currency might seem worrying. However, there are a slew of problems that come with Chinese or Russian movements to place their currency as a potentially global reserve replacement, or even a hypothetical new currency involving a collaboration between multiple emerging ones.

America may be prone to implementing sanctions on countries that don’t conform with their views including Iran, Cuba, and more recently Russia. However, the usage of these sanctions is not erratic. On the surface, at least, they are clear responses to events that threaten international peace – the invasion of Ukraine or the Cuban missile crisis for example. The United States wouldn’t apply economic sanctions unless the country in question was involved in shady dealings. On top of this, the Chinese Yuan does not float freely; it is pegged to a basic level by the Chinese government in order to make exports cheaper which is vital for the export-reliant Chinese economy. In order to challenge the dollar, China must float the Yuan, as required by the IMF. Currently, the Chinese government artificially lowers its value, and only allows an equivalent of $50,000 in the currency to be exchanged by Chinese citizens in order to hold a tighter control of the economy. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government will be willing to loosen its grip on a fundamental aspect of their finances – yet if they and Russia are to challenge the Americans, it must be done. This problem may prove too significant a political roadblock for the Xi administration to bypass as the knock-on effects of the Yuan’s value skyrocketing within such an export-based country could be near fatal for the 29% [Statista 2019] of China who work in industry. If even a small proportion of that number become unemployed due to a more powerful Yuan, it could provide a significant enough spark within China’s, already tumultuous, internal state to bring down the regime. People are only comfortable with giving away democracy if they are provided with a rate of economic growth that cannot be maintained if the Yuan holds a higher value internationally.

Thus, the Sino-Russian relationship may present a threat to American hegemony, certainly, and should be worrying to American policy makers – especially after Trump’s increasingly isolationist tenure as President. However, the Yuan or any Sino-Russian currency collaboration won’t be able to properly challenge the dollar for a significant timeframe – at least until China has worked out the difficulties within its own system.

The Arctic: The Latest Political Arena

By Orlando V

Four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev announced “Let the North of the globe, the Arctic, become a zone of peace”. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the Arctic was an area of low political tension. However, since the turn of the century, Russian relationships with the Western world have deteriorated, resulting in a more confrontational view of the Arctic due to its numerous socio-economic and military benefits. To the dismay of the US, Chinese interests in the Arctic have also recently been piqued as projected ice-free summers will aid maritime trade. The conflicting aims of these global superpowers and the increasing Sino-Russian relationship has resulted in the Arctic becoming an important geostrategic region: the latest political arena.

The Arctic is crucial to the Kremlin’s foreign policy for a myriad of political, economic and even military reasons. Russia views the Arctic as an important way to counter the threat posed by NATO, as five of the eight Arctic states belong to the organisation. Russia’s renewed military presence, through investment in the Northern Fleet, secures their 24,000km Arctic border and guarantees freedom of operation from the Western world. Russia is also interested in the Arctic due to its role in global maritime trade. In 2017, a Russian tanker circumnavigated the Arctic without the aid of an icebreaker, connecting Europe to Asia in just 19 days – 29 days shorter than the time it would usually take. This expeditious maritime route through the Arctic would crucially help strengthen Russia’s global trading position, saving time and fuel. Control of the Arctic will also help Russia make the most of the Arctic’s untapped reserves of oil and natural gases. Fossil fuels play a key part in Russia’s economy, and in 2020, accounted for 60% of all its exports. A 2012 US Geological Study found that the Arctic holds around 90 billion barrels of oil: these untapped reserves are viewed by the Kremlin as a worthwhile investment. This is more salient then ever given the current global energy situation as Russia look to secure more oil and establish a monopoly, forcing other countries into trade deals in the desperate scramble for a sustainable source of energy. It is for these military and economic reasons that the Kremlin have taken such an interest in the Arctic, ready to reap the benefits of the area’s geostrategic location.

The 2018 ‘Arctic Strategy’ illustrates that China also view the Arctic with covetous eyes. Currently, the UN Law of the Sea and the Spitsbergen Treaty gifts China rights to scientific research, navigation and cable-laying in the Arctic. Nevertheless, this self-proclaimed “near-Arctic state” desires more Arctic influence for further advancements in its economic and military position. The Arctic region is central to Beijing’s efforts to diminish coal dependence and to escalate energy security. It is for this reason that the Chinese have invested in the 3,000km “Power of Siberia” and the Arctic LNG 2, which both provide oil through the Arctic. Investment in the Arctic Northern Sea Route has further aided Chinese industry, reducing fuel costs exponentially. Much to the consternation of the US, China also see the polar region as a strategic military area. The head of the Polar Research Institute for China called the Arctic a “strategic frontier”, arguing that they “cannot rule out the possibility of using force” in the “scramble for new strategic spaces in the Arctic.”

The interests of both China and Russia have called for an adequate response from the US and the West. China’s self-designation as a “near-Arctic region” has been labelled “absurd” by a US official who pointed out that China is located 3,000km from the Arctic Circle. While China does not currently have the capacities to project military power in the Arctic, its investment in the Arctic still constitutes a major threat to American interests. Russia’s reopening of 50 Soviet military posts in the Arctic has also worried the US: according to the American political advisor, Morgan Ortagus, Russia has not only reopened older military bases but also “created new bases that can support long range offensive operations” and heavily invested in the Northern Fleet. US policy-makers understand the dangers of Sino-Russian relations in the Arctic, especially because of the proximity of the Arctic region to America’s Alaskan territory. It is for this reason that ex-Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, invested heavily to “fortify America’s security and diplomatic presence in the Arctic” by “hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding the Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs.” The West fear Sino-Russian activities may ruin the current peacetime cooperation of circumpolar politics and America has started taking defensive precautions, reactivating their Second Fleet and stationing twice as many fifth-generation fighter planes in Alaska. Putin’s felonious war in Ukraine has further increased tensions in the Arctic, and we can only hope that the Arctic council can continue to promote intergovernmental cooperation in a time of ever rising military tensions with potentially destructive consequences.

The Arctic looks set to become the latest political arena as China and Russia invest in the area to improve maritime trade and reap the benefits of access to natural resources. China and Russia’s combined Arctic activity has aroused concerns in the USA due to the alarming proximity of the region to its Alaskan territory. The exploitive aims of Russia and China have transformed this once neglected region into the latest political arena, where the interests of the world’s three greatest powers are colliding.

The Rwanda Plan

By Harry B

So far in 2022, almost forty-thousand people have crossed the channel on small boats to seek asylum in the United Kingdom – nearly five times as many as in the entirety of 2020. The small boat crossings are extremely dangerous and are often tied to people-smuggling operations, as well as placing a massive strain upon Home Office processing facilities such as at Manston. Furthermore, some reports indicate that the majority of crossings are not by legitimate asylum seekers, but instead economic migrants, with up to four out of ten coming from Albania. Additional scrutiny has been drawn to the fact that refugees are obligated to seek asylum in the first safe country where they arrive, and that the channel crossings originate from France, with most having travelled across the European Union. In an attempt to reduce the number of attempted channel crossings and stop human smuggling, the Home Office at the direction of Priti Patel drew up a plan for the transfer of migrants to Rwanda, for the asylum applications to be processed there.

The Rwanda Plan is intended to serve as an alternative to processing asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom, by flying them to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement there. The original plan was designed in concert with Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act, which made asylum claims made by those travelling through ‘safe’ countries such as Italy and France inadmissible. However, Suella Braverman is currently drawing up even more stringent rules that would block anyone who enters the United Kingdom illegally from seeking asylum. Under the plan, migrants arriving in the United Kingdom will be flown to Rwanda, where their asylum claims will be processed in Kigali, the country’s capital. If successful, they will receive residency and accommodation in Rwanda; otherwise they can apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country, but not return to the United Kingdom.

The British government hopes that the plan will deter migrants from seeking to cross the channel on small boats in the first place, and stop the human smuggling that sometimes accompanies it. The Rwandan government intends to use the plan to boost their investment and development by increasing their working age population, but it has refused to accept those with criminal records, those under the age of majority, or families. Rwanda has been promised £120 million to help set up and organise the scheme, as well as around £25,000 per migrant taken on. In the plan’s three-year trial period, it is intended that approximately 1,000 migrants will be processed by Rwanda, but there is to be no limit on the number eventually sent, with Boris Johnson announcing that it could be ‘tens of thousands’. Ultimately, however, the first flight was cancelled in the face of widespread appeals to the ECHR by the deportees, which left it unable to take off and the plan in limbo, as the debate over its legality continues.

The plan has drawn substantial criticism from politicians ranging from Jeremy Corbyn to the former Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd, as well as figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the then-Prince Charles (albeit privately) and campaign groups such as Care4Calais. Newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent have labelled the plan ‘inhumane’, and Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has criticised the scheme on the basis of human rights violations in Rwanda – especially in relation to asylum seekers which it has previously deported back to Syria and Afghanistan. Even the Daily Telegraph and Conservative MPs have expressed caution about the plan, on the basis that it is likely to be a waste of public funds and avoids dealing with the issue arguably intensifying the channel crossings: the government’s poor relationship with France. The plan has also drawn criticism in Rwanda itself, where Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the opposition leader, questioned the country’s ability to afford the program, even if subsidised by the UK. Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has argued that the plan is unlawful, prejudiced and impractical and that the United Kingdom is attempting to shift its burden onto a developing country.

Under the European Convention of Human Rights, it is quite clear that the plan has little legal basis, as evidenced by widespread calls from some of its proponents that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the convention. Excepting the European Court of Human Rights, some might question whether other international organisations have a right to interfere in a voluntary agreement between two sovereign states, and if the United Kingdom does withdraw from ECHR there will be little that anyone can do to stop the agreement going ahead. The moral basis is more dubious, but some may place the responsibility for the illegal crossings upon the migrants themselves, on the basis that if they attempt it, they must accept the consequences. The question of its efficacy is also up for debate. Many fear that the Rwanda plan will not actually deter crossings, with some suggestion that the proposal’s announcement has actually caused an increase in the number of attempts. However, if it did help bring an end to the people smuggling that at least would undoubtably be a good thing.

Conflict in Ukraine: Interview with Mr John Greenwood

Read here for JG’s fascinating account of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Find enclosed a side of the story so often lost in the mainstream media, from accounts of friends getting arrested to reactions to conscription. Read a truly remarkable account of the war from citizen level.

Interviewer: What was the initial response when the invasion started, from both a Russian and Ukrainian perspective?

JG: So, I think the first thing that I should say before I get onto answering that is it’s very easy to see Russia as one homogenous block, and I think that’s also true of Ukraine, and there’s far more nuance that one could give this question than I’ll be able to give in an interview of this scale, but we also mustn’t forget that this conflict really started in 2014. The Ukrainian population had felt this was coming and that’s unlike the Russian population. So in many ways the Ukrainian population was psychologically far better prepared for this than the Russian population was. Throughout Putin’s time in power in Russia, his core popularity has rested on the stability of the regime, and so the initial Russian political response relied first on reassuring the public that this was simply a special military operation, and the distinction there is really important because a war in most Russians’ minds makes them think of the Second World War, they think the Great Patriotic War, they think about the war in Chechnya. And importantly, when you think about war in the Russian context, people think about things that happen to them at home. They think of food shortages and domestic terrorism in the case of Chechnya. So it certainly wasn’t a war because that might disrupt the stability that Putin has been widely praised for. There was a groundswell of public support among a chunk of the Russian population but equally, others were nervous. Of course, the visible elements of the initial response from the Russian side were from those who supported the war, because anybody who attempted to protest against it was shut down extremely quickly. Two of my friends were arrested for protesting. The Ukrainians have been remarkably courageous and determined. When the conflict started, people were scared. Who wouldn’t be, given the size and the previously assumed capabilities of the Russian Army? Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been the figurehead that any state needs in wartime. The Russians were tremendously naive in the first few days when they attempted to spread disinformation, suggesting that Zelenskyy and his people had been killed. Zelenskyy’s experience in the television world also means that he knows how to put on a good show. His appearances in famous Kiev landmarks, insisting that he wouldn’t give up and that he would not leave, gave Ukrainians something to rally behind. He’s now achieved something that has always proven quite difficult for Ukrainian leaders: a common national cause to unite behind.

Interviewer: How did the relationships with Russians living in Ukraine at the time of the start of the war change?

JG: I think the best response to this that I’ve seen came from the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK just a few days ago. That’s Vadym Prystaiko, and he said Russians can be the good guys if they want to be, if they get rid of Putin. That’s basically it. I think the Ukrainians have always made it very clear that their real issue is with the Russian regime and ordinary Russian citizens are just being taken for a ride. Russia and Ukraine are so close in so many ways. But one cannot look at what’s happened in Ukraine without understanding that Ukrainians, ordinary Ukrainians, will feel truly betrayed by huge swathes of the Russian population, these people who they are supposed to be very close with. But it is also important to remember that Russians live in Ukraine. They live in the Baltic States. They live in Moldova. There are Russian speaking groups in all of those places, and I think quite often they’re quite keen to make clear they do identify around the fact that they’re Russian speakers, but that’s not the same as identifying with the Russian government. Ukrainians know all too well what it’s like to live in a society where the flow of information is controlled and where political apathy rather than active political support is key to maintaining the status quo. One way in which Putin has been successful is that he’s managed to convince the Russian population that this doesn’t really affect them too much. Having said that, we know that there have been reports of abuse directed towards Russians, even in London: Russians have been spat at on the tube. And ironically enough, Ukrainians have also had some abuse because people have heard them speaking Ukrainian or perhaps even Russian and they’ve been perceived as Russian.

Interviewer: How has the war changed the perception of President Putin within Russia?

JG: Now, that’s a really interesting one, because Putin has attempted to insulate himself from a lot of the criticism throughout his time in office. The conflict has damaged his reputation in some quarters, as one might expect. The longer this goes on, the more humiliating the defeats, the more that will be the case. It remains the case, though, that the ones who have carried the can for the failures in Ukraine have been his generals: those surrounding Putin, including very high-profile people like Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister. What is new is the nature of some of the criticism. The new sorts of criticism that we’ve seen in recent months are from what you might call orthodox fundamentalists, national democrats, and this interesting group of military bloggers – one of the best known of which is a guy called Igor Girkin, otherwise known as Strelkov, which means ‘shooter’. And the criticism from these corners of Russian discourse suggests that the Russian Army is doing badly, not because the invasion itself was a fundamentally bad idea – which I think is what most people in the West would suggest it is – but because they simply haven’t gone in hard enough, which is why you’re seeing these people being allowed to criticise, because it plays into the Kremlin narrative that the core goal is about restoring Russian greatness, saving it from the West’s decadent, tolerant values, and defending the ‘русский мир’ (russkii mir) meaning Russian world. And the issue here is that the discourse in the media has been grotesquely extreme in a lot of cases in Russia. It really has become silly recently. And a lot of the stuff that you hear these people saying in the media is increasingly preposterous. But criticism of Vladimir Putin directly is limited.

Interviewer: Do those who oppose Putin in Russia feel he can be removed?

JG: I think there’s a belief that Putin will be removed. I said right at the beginning of this conflict that this is the beginning of the end of Putin and the end of Putin’s Russia. I still believe that that’s definitely the case. However, there’s a concern among many, and it’s a concern I share, about who will replace him. And the idea that Putin will be removed, and Russia will suddenly become a functioning democracy that undergoes a period of great reconciliation with the West, which atones for his sins in Ukraine is not only not guaranteed, but also, in my view, is not particuarly likely. We may find that whoever replaces Putin, we don’t like very much at all. And there are all kinds of names in the ring about who might replace him: quite well-known ones like Dmitry Medvedev. The former president has become relatively well-known over the last few months for being almost an ‘attack dog’ in the media and on Twitter, belittling Western governments and criticising Western politicians. And there are people like Sergei Kiriyenko, who’s the first deputy chief of staff, and Vyacheslav Volodin, the Speaker of the State Duma, who is another quite hawkish figure. On the other hand, at this point, the Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, and Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin, have remained relatively quiet about the special military operation. But before the war, they were seen as contenders to replace Putin. So, I think there is a belief not only that he can be removed, but that he will be removed. But I think it’s a question of when, it’s a question of timing, and it’s also a case of who replaces him, because I think that we won’t necessarily like who replaces him.

Interviewer: What has the reaction to conscription been like from both Russian and Ukrainian perspectives?

JG: Well, Ukraine and Russia were constituent parts of the same Soviet Union, and so some degree of military conscription for men has been a common feature in both societies for decades. Men are expected to do military service, subject to certain conditions. Of course, doing your military service in peacetime is very different to doing your military service when there’s a massive war going on. In Ukraine, a travel ban for men was introduced immediately after the invasion started. And there are certainly plenty of men in Ukraine who have felt trapped and worried that they would be called up to fight. Decisions on additional mobilisation are now to be taken by the General Staff, and the threat of compulsory conscription for military service seems to have subsided a little bit in Ukraine because I think a decision has been taken. There’s a general impression that it’s far better to have willing volunteers than unwilling conscripts. I think that’s a lesson that the Russians have not learned, because there were lots of Russian soldiers at the start of the conflict who had no idea that they were being sent to fight in Ukraine. In leadership terms, the idea that one can successfully lead a group of people without telling them about the overall mission, why they are doing what they are doing, is nonsensical. Nevertheless, that’s essentially what the Russian Army has attempted to do. Initially, people weren’t too concerned about it because the Russian political approach was to convince people that everything was normal. The Russian phrase that you always hear is ‘Всё идёт по плану’ (vse idet po planu) meaning ‘everything is going according to plan’, don’t worry yourself, don’t think about this too much. If you think about it too much, you might start questioning whether it’s worth it. There was a big shock when partial mobilisation was announced in Russia and there was a flurry of activity about people trying to protest against that. But as we’ve seen, you can’t protest effectively in Russia. People were not comfortable about it because apathy was something that was harder to maintain. All of a sudden, a recruitment officer could well be knocking on your son’s or your husband’s door saying it’s time to go and join the war in Ukraine. That was not generally well-received in Russia.

Interviewer: How long do the Russian and Ukrainian public expect the conflict to continue?

JG: Well, again, Ukrainians are psychologically better prepared for a longer conflict, I feel. I think that the idea that they’re just going to roll over and give up now is unlikely. There’s certainly no hint of that from their leader. My sense is that the Russians are uneasy about how long this is dragging out. Russians still insist that ‘fsyo eedyot poplanoo’, everything’s going according to plan. If it is, then it isn’t a very good plan. But the Russian government is still adamant that this is going according to plan. I think everyone knows that realistically they expected this to be over a lot quicker than it was. But it’s not just that it’s dragging on, it’s dragging on badly as well. So how long do they expect it to continue? I think there’s a resignation within Russia that it’s likely to grind on for quite a while. There are those (Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be one of them) who believe that this is likely to come to a head at some point in the spring. I’m not a betting man, though, so I certainly wouldn’t be quite so willing to nail my colours to the mast like that. There are too many variables at play here. The Ukrainians are absolutely dependent on Western support, so the political situation in the United States has a bearing on this. The economic reality of what is happening in Europe is also a factor. So, the long and short of it is I think it’s going to go on for quite a while.

Interviewer: Is membership of NATO seen as the answer by Ukraine?

JG: I think quite a few Ukrainians believe that it would be the answer. I think you’d find quite a lot of Ukrainians also starting to wonder: Well, it’s probably a bit late in the day for NATO membership because they’re already being attacked. I mean, from NATO’s perspective, the idea that Ukraine is going to become part of NATO while this is going on, is for the birds, because I don’t think anyone’s going to risk that. I think Ukraine has found itself questioning some historical decisions that it’s made. We mustn’t forget that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine did have a stockpile of nuclear weapons, quite a big stockpile. And Ukraine agreed to destroy that stockpile in 1994, and there certainly has been some discussion in the Ukrainian media which has reflected on that. Would Russia really have done what it did had Ukraine been a nuclear power? I think for some in Ukraine, understandably, it is a troubling question. On the issue of NATO, while some in Ukraine see that as the ultimate guarantee of protection, I’m not sure many in the West are quite so keen for obvious reasons.

Interviewer: Do you believe that the Western European states should be doing more to help?

JG: I think Western European states probably ought to have been doing more to help for over a decade to head this off in the past. It’s always surprised me how much Russia has been able to get away with, going right back to really fundamental issues like journalists being targeted within Russia: people like Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder has still never been solved, and people like Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in central London with a radioactive substance. These things keep happening or have been happening. The Skripals are another case in Salisbury. There’s no doubt about it, the Russian authorities have been emboldened by their success. The idea that the two people accused of committing the Salisbury poisonings appeared on Russian television trying to claim that they were visiting Salisbury Cathedral is an example of the Russian state perhaps becoming emboldened and believing that they really can get away with anything. One can easily see moments where Putin’s regime has been emboldened to take increasingly belligerent steps. I think that it is unsurprising that the Russian authorities appear to have underestimated the West’s likely reaction to the conflict, because for so long the consequences for overstepping international norms have not been there. We are now at a point where we must not back down and we must see this through. I do think that we have made a massive strategic miscalculation in how we have handled Putin’s Russia over the last couple of decades.

Interviewer: How do you see this conflict being resolved?

JG: ‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer to that, I really don’t know. I cannot see it being resolved with Vladimir Putin in power. Something that I’ve heard from a lot of boys who are learning Russian is ‘Can he not just be assassinated?’, and there are so many problems with that of course. First of all, it plays into the Russian narrative that Russia is somehow under siege and is being attacked from the West. That’s no good. Secondly, it relies on that sort of false premise that Russia without Putin will be all of a sudden very cuddly and very friendly with the West. This is not necessarily going to happen so you might resolve one problem but create another. Having said that, I don’t think it’s going to be resolved while Putin is in power, and I don’t think he’s going to give up. You only have to hear about stories of him as a street fighting urchin back in Leningrad to know that this is not a man who gives up, but he’s dug himself in quite deep here and it is quite difficult to see a way he’s going to be able to extricate himself.

Interviewer: After the war, how do you see relationships between the two countries developing?

JG: There are examples of countries which have been at war and really quite horrific wars being able to reintegrate themselves and have normal relationships with their neighbours. I mean, the best examples of that would be Germany in Europe, and the question of national guilt and the desire to atone for what happened in the past manifests itself in all kinds of ways in German politics. That, though, has not happened by chance. It’s happened through very, very careful management of the situation post-war by the key stakeholders, and it’s not just going to happen by chance. I think Russia and Ukraine are extremely close. A normalized relationship between the two countries is not only possible, but it’s also hugely desirable. However, how that comes about is a question for later on. But lots of things have to happen in order for some kind of reconciliation between the two countries to take place, because so many awful things have happened that it’s going to be quite a difficult relationship to normalize.