“The Beginning Of The End”


By Danny Moran

Upon the ruling of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade [1973], and subsequently Planned Parenthood v. Casey [1992], Clarence Thomas (an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States) has called on the court to overrule three key civil rights rulings including: Griswold v Connecticut [1965], Lawrence v. Texas [2003] and Obergefell v. Hodges [2015]. If the Supreme Court was to overturn these rulings, the buying and use of contraceptives would be restricted, same-sex sexual activity would be made illegal along with the barring of same-sex marriage.

These cases are at risk due to most, if not all, of them relying on the Court’s decision that the ‘right to privacy’ is provided by the US Constitution. For example, Roe v. Wade allowed for a pregnant woman to make the decision as to whether she would abort her pregnancy or not due to the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of liberty.

However, the overturning of this case, due to the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization [2022], means that the same fate may soon be faced by all other cases reliant upon the ‘right to privacy’. With Dobbs stating that an abortion, and subsequently the right to privacy, is not a constitutional right, everything which Americans have fought for over the past fifty years is at threat. The end of Roe marks the beginning, not the end, of judicial overreach by the court’s conservative majority.

This ideological shift of the Supreme Court began when President Trump won the 2016 election. Upon his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a woman who was outspoken against abortion before she was appointed, the Supreme Court’s ideological shift allowed for Dobbs to be a channel to challenge both Casey and Roe. With more than twenty states having prepared legislation, including the passage of thirteen trigger laws, it was obvious that Dobbs would overturn Roe and Casey and that abortion would be strictly regulated across the USA.

With Supreme Court Justice Thomas stating that “substantive due process conflicts with the textual command”, it is no surprise that he calls for the elimination of this from their “jurisprudence at the earliest opportunity”. However, this would also mean the ending of Loving v. Virginia [1967], a landmark ruling, which Thomas did not name, by the Supreme Court which struck down all laws prohibiting interracial marriage within the USA, due to its reliance on the substantive due process doctrine – the doctrine which Thomas is calling an end for. This ruling was also cited in several of the cases which Thomas had wanted to overrule including Obergefell 2015 (same-sex marriage). However, this would mean that Thomas’ own interracial marriage would be deemed illegal in certain states had the Supreme Court not used ‘substantive due process’. With other Justices, including Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, stating that Loving should not be revisited despite its reliance on substantive due process’, it puts into question the real reasoning behind the desire to overturn these landmark cases.

The end of the right to abortion in the USA will lead to severe consequences around the world. With Roe V. Wade causing storms of liberal reproductive laws around the globe from 1973, it’s overturning is sure to lead to the empowerment of anti-abortion pressure groups and threaten the reproductive rights of women everywhere. This is only the beginning of the end.

“Are populist parties a threat to democracy?” (Macmillan Prize Winner 2022)


By Ivan A.

Abstract

In the opening pages of Eatwell and Goodwin’s National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, populism is defined as a political ideology that excels at “prioritising the culture and interests of the nation”. It targets a select “people” who often feel neglected “by distant and corrupt elites” and promises to give them a voice. From former National Rally leader Marine Le Pen promising to protect the 35-hour working week to Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, pledging to raise the American minimum wage to $14 an hour whilst proposing to increase taxes for multinational corporations like Amazon, populist politicians pledge policies that align with the popular consensus and seem to empower “the ordinary man”.

Populism can be argued to encourage more democracy as it is usually linked with increased voter turnout, uniting a wide range of voters in a common goal. However, this essay will argue that there is a darker side to populist parties that threatens democracy in three main ways: (a) by winning elections based on misinformation of the electorate which questions the legitimacy of the party’s mandate to govern (b) by exacerbating an increasing democratic deficit and (c) by eroding the rights of minority groups and reducing civil liberties.

An uptick in political participation

Political sociologist Cześnik argues that widespread participation in an election strengthens and enhances the legitimacy of the result. By extension, Lijphart adds that low voter turnout affects democracy as it can indicate that those from certain demographics aren’t participating in politics. Populism can be argued not to threaten, but in fact strengthen democracy by encouraging high voting turnout, which is essential for democracy, and motivating voters from a wide range of demographics to partake in elections. For instance, in the 2018 Swedish national election, the right-wing populist and conservative party, The Sweden Democrats , were the most popular party amongst 18-35-year olds, illustrated by a 3% increase in first time voters from 83% turnout in 2014 to 86% turnout in 2018. This can be associated with attractive manifesto pledges such as free access to public healthcare for Swedish nationals. Similarly, between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of French women aged between 18-26, who were first time voters and decided to vote for the populist National Rally party, increased from 9% to 32%. Thus, it can be concluded that populist parties have significant support from voters, which is exemplified in increasing percentages of the population present at the polls, in some cases motivating young voters to participate in politics and so therefore enrich democracy.

The case could be made that populism aids democracy by creating an output for voters who feel disenfranchised from the current state of politics and thus enhancing pluralism. In 2016, Donald J Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America and successfully won 304 out of 538 electoral seats by uniting several demographics. These included 64% of white non-university graduates, 62% of men and 53% of voters aged over 65 . Among these groups of voters were popular populist concerns such as fear of loss of traditional values and patriotism, hyper-ethnic change due to rising inequality, immigration, and globalisation. In addition, the 2016 Brexit referendum appealed to Eurosceptic voters, many of whom expressed anti-elitist and or anti-immigration sentiments and wanted greater sovereignty for Britain, a stance which had previously been considered unpopular. Voters with higher anti-immigrant attitudes were revealed to be 66% more likely to vote Leave whereas those with higher anti-elitist attitudes were 49% more likely to vote Leave. The referendum resulted in a turnout of 72.2% representative of 33,551,983 people and made history as the highest recorded turnout for a UK-wide referendum, and the highest for any national vote since the 1992 general election. Reflecting on these two examples, populism can strengthen democracy by allowing for the representation of alternative views which adds greater pluralism but also aids political participation.

High voter turnout aids democracy by giving greater legitimacy to the reached decision and gives populist parties and politicians a strong mandate to govern. However, Cześnik’s statement can be challenged. Even though strong mandates can enhance legitimacy, if they are achieved by supplying fake news and misinformation to the electorate, then the mandate becomes questionable which in turn threatens democracy as the result could be declared non-binding or inauthentic.

Misinformation and Questionable Mandates

Misinformation can undermine democracy as it challenges the electorate’s right to free expression which is a key component of democracy. A cross-national survey held by academics at the London School of Economics revealed that populist radical right-wing supporters may be more susceptible to conspiracy theories and fake news. In addition to this, populism can be linked to misinformation particularly in Italy where scholars, like Gigiletto, make the case that an overwhelming percentage of fake news consumed by Italian populist supporters echoed the same anti-establishment sentiment encouraged by their respective parties .Guy Berger (UNESCO Director for Strategy and Policy) states that “we cannot have genuine elections without having a free flow of information” , going further to argue that protecting “the right to vote” is at “the core of freedom of expression”. In recent years, populist parties have become culprits for providing false flows of information in order to get elected and gain popularity. For example, in the lead up to the 2016 Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson claimed that leaving the European Union would provide up to £350,000,000 for the NHS, a claim which the UK Statistics Authority described as “misleading”. In this example, Johnson capitalised on “the national interest” (Eatwell and Goodwin), which in this case was a pre-existing concern over maintaining NHS funding and used an incorrect pledge to gain support from voters.

Another example is Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who stoked anti-immigration and anti-elitist tensions in Hungary by falsely claiming that: “They [the EU] want to bring in the mandatory settlement quota; weaken member states’ rights to border defence; facilitate immigration with a migrant visa.” This is of course false given that the EU currently allows for all member states to set caps on legal migration. However, the damage has already been done and supporters of Fidesz (Orban’s political party) would have already become more agitated, thanks to the wildfire spread of misinformation in the digital age. In both instances, a populist party has been able to distort the realities of its voters. This means their choices were not free as they were manipulated by false narratives and so consequently, populist parties undermined the democratic process.

Exacerbating The Democratic Deficit

Populist parties threaten democracy by encouraging supporters to distrust democratically elected institutions and thus contribute to an increasing democratic deficit. This can be defined as when democratic institutions or democratically elected officials fall short of the principles of democracy, typically demonstrated through a loss of faith from within the electorate. Populist parties are often linked with the anti-establishment rhetoric which leads to distrust of vital democratic institutions. For instance, UKIP heavily criticised the EU over its bureaucracy and claimed it was overpaid and challenged Britain’s sovereignty and economic independence. Before the 2016 Brexit referendum, the party contributed to the democratic deficit by utilising slogans such as “Take Back Control” and “Britain Together”
which enhanced pre-existing anti-elitist sentiments amongst British voters, effectively worsening the poor trust Britain had in the EU (in 2015, the UK had the lowest average trust in the EU than anywhere else in Europe with only 33% ).
Similarly, in the 2017 French presidential campaign, Marine Le Pen frequently characterised “unregulated globalisation” as the enemy of the people and called for a referendum for France to exit the European Union. It is important to note that by choosing to leave the EU, France and Britain would no longer be held accountable to laws set by the EU that protect the democratic rights of their citizens. Furthermore, questioning the democracy of structures within institutions like the EU (such as unelected commissioners in the European Commission) weakens their mandate to govern and threatens the democratic decision to participate in them by undermining public trust.

The “Them vs Us” Rhetoric

In The Meaning of Democracy, Charles E Merriam states that in order for democracy to be present, it is necessary for there to be the cultivation of self on a “fraternal rather than differential basis” . On this principle, any political ideology that creates a sense of division or alienation is inherently undemocratic. This sense of division has become key in characterising the way in which populism currently operates. Writers like Jan-Werner Müller make the point that populism naturally creates segregation by splitting the electorate into two; the “people” and the “enemy” which often includes minority groups . Furthermore, Larry Diamond correctly argues that “populists reject the notion of pluralism [which is key in many functioning democracies] and embrace cultural exclusion”.

For instance, the Movement for A Better Hungary, more commonly known as the “jobbik” movement, used the slogan “Hungary is For The Hungarians” during the 2009 general election, which alienated those from alternative ethnic minority backgrounds or immigrants living in Hungary as an “other”. Furthermore, the “jobbik” movement capitalised on pre-existing hostility against the minority Romanian and Jewish communities and as a result has been commonly linked to antisemitism. Based on Merriam’s definition of democracy, populist parties like this are undemocratic as they operate on a “differential basis” by offering policies that only benefit a select group at the expense of others, consequently creating divisions amongst the electorate.

Anton Pelinka adds that “liberal democracy is based on the principle of majority rule as well as on the principle of minority protection”, going further to say that there are “at least tensions between liberal democracy […] and any populist agenda”. The Swedish Democrats have publicly opposed the wearing of hijabs in public schools, claiming it is a choice that must be made at adulthood. This infringes on the rights of minorities as it directly contradicts Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) (the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) which makes the provision for “the freedom to hold […] ideas without interference by public authority” . It could be argued that the Swedish Democrats’ views challenge the protections of minority rights provided by the ECHR and therefore, according to Pelinka’s assertion, the party’s rhetoric is undemocratic.

The trend of populist parties restricting the rights and liberties of citizens can be further demonstrated in the rhetoric of former US President, Donald Trump in several instances. For example, in 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump in an interview with Fox Business declared that he would “certainly look at” the idea of shutting down mosques in the United States. Trump later reprised his statement in November of that same year when he again pledged to “strongly consider” shutting down mosques in America following the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. These comments stand as direct violations of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” . Therefore, it could be argued that these statements are undemocratic as they again express the desire to repress the rights of minority groups.

According to Lijphart, populism could be deemed democratic as it offers high levels of turnout, especially for disenfranchised groups and thus populist parties who win elections have strong mandates. However, these strong mandates can lead to tyranny of the majority and attack the rights and freedoms of minority groups which Pelinka defines as an attack on democracy itself.

Conclusion

Populism operates on the promise of representation and claims to protect the interest of “the people” encouraging substantial amounts of voters to participate politically to combat popular national concerns and thus at first glance may seem to strengthen democracy. However, populist parties achieve their support by challenging the rights of minority groups, misinforming the public and promoting a culture of distrusting democratic institutions, therefore it is entirely rational for one to see how populism places democracy under siege.

“Should strong states have a duty to intervene in a country whose government is inflicting violence against its own citizens?” (Macmillan Prize Runner-Up 2022)


By Grey G.

It may seem obvious that a strong state has a duty and should have a duty to intervene in a country whose government is inflicting violence against its own citizens. Surely when a government is, or is planning on committing a genocide, a strong state should intervene as, being “strong”, it has the ability to intervene with a potentially successful outcome that would save lives. However, the issue is more complicated than that. For example, an intervention risks violating the principle of sovereignty or having unintentional, negative effects on the country in question. There is then also a difference between a state having the right to intervene, a state having a duty to intervene and whether a state should have a duty to intervene. Governments today are still struggling with these issues when determining whether or not they should intervene when human rights are compromised in distant countries. This essay will argue that strong states should intervene in a country whose government is inflicting violence against its own citizens but only when certain conditions are met. In this essay any references to violence are referring only to actual bodily harm (and not simply the reduction of welfare of citizens for example).


One of the main arguments against intervention is due to the principle of sovereignty which has emerged as a concept from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 . The principle of sovereign equality is a key part of the UN Charter as shown in Article 2.1: “The Organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members” . As a result of the principle of sovereignty, countries generally also believe in the principle of non-interference: it is legitimate for a state to be internally sovereign, i.e. to have absolute authority within their state. These principles dictate that it is not legitimate for one state to intervene in another state’s elections for example. In theory, this can be extended to interference by strong states in another country to safeguard the wellbeing of the citizens who are being inflicted with violence by their own government. By interfering, the strong state, albeit with the aim to maintain the welfare of citizens, is violating the principle of sovereignty. The state’s action is thus illegitimate.


However, I reject this argument due to the theory of contractarianism which is derived from Hobbes’ take on the social contract . Hobbes argued that political sovereignty may come about in one of either two ways: “sovereignty by institution” and “sovereignty by acquisition”. But regardless of which of these two ways a government comes to power, Hobbes argues that political legitimacy is dependent only on whether the government can effectively protect its citizens who have consented to obey it . From this comes the principle of reciprocal obligations in which, broadly speaking, the state has responsibilities towards its citizens, such as protecting them, and citizens also have responsibilities towards the state. In exchange for fulfilling these obligations, the state has the monopoly over the legitimate use of violence. Indeed, the state can be defined as a political entity that claims successfully the monopoly on violence. However, once the state starts inflicting violence upon its own citizens, it is no longer fulfilling the responsibilities it has towards its citizens and has as such, broken the social contract. This then means that the state has lost its monopoly allowing for an intervention to be legal. As an intervention is thus legal when a state is no longer fulfilling its obligations due to inflicting violence on its citizens, strong states have a right to intervene.
The Doctrine of The Responsibility to Protect, which was unanimously adopted at the UN World Summit in 2005, explains why then the international community has a duty to intervene. In this doctrine there are three pillars of responsibility: “Every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”, “The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility” and “If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter” . Pillar One in particular directly links back to the social contractionary law in that each state has a “responsibility to protect its populations”. Pillar Three then explains that when a state has broken its contract, the international community has a duty to then take “appropriate collective action”.


There are, then, three main reasons why this duty to act has arisen. The first is the duty to rescue: let’s say there is a person walking alongside a lake, Person A, and there is another, Person B, drowning in that lake. Person A is able to save Person B by jumping in at no danger to himself. However, in doing so, Person A will ruin his clothes. There is surely a moral obligation for Person A to save Person B as the cost of the clothes being ruined is insignificant compared to the consequence of letting Person B drown . This idea can then be extended to the question at hand. Strong states (Person A) are able to intervene in a country that is inflicting violence on its citizens (Person B) without having any significant cost in comparison to the positive outcome of reducing or preventing the infliction of violence. As a result, strong states have a duty to rescue. The second is consequentialism: the view that actions should be dependent only on consequences . The consequences of intervention are improved welfare and lives being saved. Therefore, from a consequentialist point of view, as the only thing an action should be dependent on is its consequences, strong states should have a duty to intervene as that intervention will have positive effects. The third reason is other special obligations. Here I am referring to when one strong state has an obligation to another state due to historical actions. For example, Britain and France’s colonial actions have resulted in the instability that exists in many countries today. As a result, they are partly responsible when the government of one of these countries inflicts violence on its own citizens. Britain and France should then have a moral duty to intervene as they are partly responsible for causing the problem and they have the ability potentially to fix it.


The duty of intervention should fall upon strong states, as opposed to small states. A smaller, weaker state is less likely than a stronger state to be able to successfully intervene and overthrow a regime. If a weak state is not going to be able to reduce or prevent the inflicted violence, then it should not have a duty to intervene. A strong state, however, is much more likely to be successful and therefore should have the duty. There is then an argument that surely the UN, as it represents the whole international community, is better placed to intervene and as a result it instead should bear the duty. It is arguably stronger than any strong state and is more likely to be intervening solely to prevent the infliction of violence rather than for self-interest. However, the UN also faces its weaknesses. Often, due to its size, it is very slow to act and there is sometimes difficulty passing a resolution through the UN Security Council. Taking a recent example, Russia, using its status as a permanent member on the UNSC, vetoed a Security Council resolution on the 25th February. Although Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not directly relevant to the question at hand, it is still evidence of the UN’s frequent inability to act. A more relevant example is the UN’s failure to act in Kosovo in 1999 as the Security Council members were divided over the issue . As a result of this, NATO (controversially) intervened instead. I, therefore, argue that it should be the duty of the international community to intervene; however, if the UN is unable to act for whatever reason, strong states then should have a duty to intervene because of this failure by the international community.


There are, however, two significant criticisms of Responsibility to Protect. Firstly, it is often very unclear whether military intervention would be successful either during the intervention or afterwards. For example, if the intervention is short-lived, it can result in failure and if the intervention removes a bad but stable government, creating instability, it can also result in failure. If there is a likelihood that intervention would be unsuccessful, there is then an argument that strong states should not have a duty to intervene. For example, the intervention in Libya in 2011 was largely unsuccessful as, after NATO forces left the country, order very quickly broke down. Since then, there have been various human rights abuses and in 2014 a civil war broke out that lasted until 2020. In 2016, US General David Rodriguez declared Libya ‘a failed state’ . This, one of many examples, shows that intervention can be unsuccessful. However, there is then a counterfactual argument in that had the intervention been successful, one would not have known what the alternative would have been. Regardless of what the outcome of the intervention is, though, before the intervention the moral duty to intervene and at least try and save lives remains the same. In the case of Libya, there was a threat that President Gaffadi would carry out a massacre in the town of Benghazi where there had been an uprising against the government. If no intervention had taken place, there would have been the suffering and deaths of the citizens of that town. Strong states in cases like this should have a moral duty to at least try and intervene to reduce the inflicted violence, even if it is not completely effective or successful. The second criticism of Responsibility to Protect is the potential negative impact on national sovereignty. However, as mentioned earlier, the intervention is only taking place when a government is planning to or has inflicted violence against its own citizens. Once the government has done this, it is no longer fulfilling its sovereign obligations. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General (2007-2016) argued that “RtoP [Responsibility to Protect] seeks to strengthen sovereignty, not weaken it” .


Therefore, in this increasingly post-Westphalian system, strong states should have a duty to intervene when a country is inflicting violence against its own. However, this intervention should only take place if two conditions are met. The first is that the international community must have already failed to act successfully. The second is that the violence inflicted by the country on its citizens must constitute an extreme harm in order for there to be a duty for the strong state to intervene. This goes back to the duty to rescue; Person A should only intervene if Person B is drowning. If Person B is not drowning, Person A should not have a duty to intervene and as such strong states should not have a duty to intervene.

Reflections On A Supreme Court Remedy: Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation

Opinions Presented:

“The Beginning Of The End” – Danny Moran

“The Problems With The US’s Supreme Court” – Alex Buchanan

“A Constitutional Game of Whodunnit?” – Ivan Ampiah

“Is There A Constitutional Right To Abortion?” – Grey Godsal


Is there a constitutional right to abortion?


By Grey G.

Well, the current Supreme Court would argue there isn’t. Last week they overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade (1973) case which had recognised the constitutional right to abortion. So, is there is a constitutional right to abortion, and if so, why was Roe v. Wade overturned? And if there isn’t a constitutional right to abortion, what was the basis for the Roe v. Wade ruling?

Roe v. Wade was centred around the right to privacy. Bear in mind that the right to privacy is not actually explicitly mentioned in the US constitution. Instead there are various amendments that imply it. The ruling in 1973 and subsequent rulings until last week claimed that the right to abortion was an extension of this right to privacy. This right to privacy, they argued, can be derived from the Fourteenth Amendment and its concept of personal liberty:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” – Extract from the Fourteenth Amendment

Therefore, from the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion in 1973 that the right of personal privacy was “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”.

However, there are fundamental flaws with this argument. To start with, the Fourteenth Amendment makes no explicit reference to abortion; it only mentions that the state does not have a right to “deprive” a person of “liberty”. Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, during a period of increased criminalization of abortion – by 1868 three-quarters of states had made abortion a crime at any stage of pregnancy. This did not change until the Roe v. Wade ruling. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment and its writers had no intention of creating a constitutional right of abortion and so the Amendment should not be interpreted to do so. This formed much of the basis of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade.

When Justice Rehnquist was dissenting the Roe vs Wade ruling back in 1973, he also used the argument that abortion does not fall under the right of privacy. He argued that an abortion is a transaction between a physician and a patient. As such, he believed that an abortion is not a ‘private matter’ and so the right of privacy does not extend to abortion.

As a result, it has been widely known that the Roe v. Wade ruling was very fragile and in threat of being overturned as it has now. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted the right of abortion to be settled on a stronger case that relied on the right to equal protection in the constitution rather than the right to privacy. However, it is the fault of the governments of the past fifty years since the ruling for not explicitly making the right to abortion a constitutional right. Their failure to do so has allowed the overturning of the Roe v. Wade case to result in abortion being immediately criminalised by many states, taking away rights and ruining lives. 

A Constitutional Game of Whodunnit?


By Ivan A.

One prominent constitutional scholar wrote that he “would vote for a statute very much like the one the Court end[ed] up drafting” if he were “a legislator,” but his assessment of Roe was memorable and brutal: Roe was “not constitutional law” at all and gave “almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

-Supreme Court Justice Alito’s Opinion of the Court (June 24, 2022)

The reaction was immediate. Within a few hours of the Supreme Court releasing its ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation in which it decided to repeal the longstanding legal precedent reached in the 1973 case: Roe v Wade (which offered interpreted the right to abortion to be protected by the US Constitution), many states tightened restrictions on abortion laws. Examples include the Texas Tribune which announced its plans to permanently ban abortions including instances where conception was a result of rape or incest, offering a sentence of life imprisonment or a $100,000 fine for doctors who performed abortions on pregnant women. The laws are expected to come into effect by the end of July. States such as Louisianna, Kentucky and South Dakota had trigger laws go into effect immediately upon the ruling, banning abortion as soon as the announcement was made. Political pundits have identified 26 out of America’s 50 states which will either criminalise or seek to heavily tighten their abortion legislation in the coming weeks.

The decision reached last week will take parts of America as far back as 50 years restricting the rights of women on an unequal basis. For instance, a woman in California will have more control over her reproductive rights than one in Oklahoma. As with any shocking disaster, many were quick to find someone to blame and, in this instance, the perpetrator was identified to be the Supreme Court which voted in favour of overruling both Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey. However, the issue at hand is more nuanced than one would think at first glance. Whilst it might have been the judiciary’s decision to have revoked the precedent it is actually the legislature that ought to be held responsible for the insufficient protections offered in upholding Roe v Wade, to begin with. 

According to the doctrine of separation of powers which is a prominent convention in most Western democracies including the United Kingdom and of course America, the state is split into three equal but separate branches: the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. Now whilst the American judiciary has the power to declare statute as unconstitutional and repeal and make legal precedents, its powers are limited as it can only interpret the law. It is only the US Congress (consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate) that can create and strike down statute law as well as make amendments to the constitution. Supreme Court Justice Alito in his highly controversial opinion on the case summarised the argument perfectly stating: “no such right [abortion] is protected by any constitutional provision”. The only way in which constitutional protection of abortion rights can be insured is through an amendment to the Constitution which no other branch of the state except the legislature can offer. This is of no surprise. In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Joe Biden appealed to Congress to codify Roe v Wade stating that “the only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose […] is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law. [acknowledging that] No executive action from the president can do that”. 

Congress’s continued hesitancy to legislate or even draft a bill to be discussed in the House of Representatives, forces the Supreme Court to be justiciable and make unsuitable political decisions. A judiciary being able to determine such protections is simply inappropriate and problematic as the verdicts reached by the court will not be permanent and would likely lead to short-lived protections that could be strengthened or revoked based on the political temperament of the sitting court at the time. For instance, the decision to rule in favour of Roe reflected the more liberal opinions of the court resulting in a seven-justice majority contrasting from the conservative six-justice majority in the current Supreme court which ruled in favour of Dobbs.

Despite it being characterised by the media as the dreaded decision of doom, the Supreme Court’s ruling could rescue and reinstate the protections of Roe v Wade as it takes the significant power to decide on the matter and “return[s] that authority to the people and their elected representatives”. By handing over the power to individual state legislatures to decide the nature of abortion rights, power is indirectly handed to the American people. Thus, if the electorate feels strongly enough that their rights have been revoked, then the gift that is democracy offers a solution allowing for the people to elect to office representatives that will legislate in the way in which the people wish.

The timing of the decisions also can affect protections on a federal level given that the midterms are not too far ahead (November). The American people have the choice to increase the majority of the Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, making it easier for abortion rights to be codified with minimal Republican party opposition which would be the strongest protection of all.

ORDER! – Edition 1 – 18th May

This week’s edition looks at PMQs, the Queen’s Speech, the latest set of scandals and the standstill in Northern Ireland’s Assembly.


PMQs

18th May

In last week’s round of PMQs, the main issue of debate was the cost of living crisis. Keir Starmer opened his set of questions by advocating for a windfall tax on energy companies to raise billions of pounds, and argued that this would allow energy bills to be cut. He asked the Prime Minister whether he was in favour of a windfall tax, against it or on the fence. Boris Johnson, clearly undecided about the idea, gave no straight answer throughout the debate. Instead, his initial response was to accuse Starmer of not being able “to define what a woman is” (not entirely relevant to question) before arguing that the Conservatives are not in favour of higher taxation. He went on to say “dogs bark, cats miaow and Labour puts up taxes”. In responding to another question on the cost of living crisis in which Starmer mentioned the case of someone who is on a dialysis machine but struggling to pay the high and increasing energy bills, Boris Johnson brought up Crossrail and tried to take credit for it on the basis that he was Mayor of London when it began being built and is PM now it is completed. This is despite the project being initiated by Ken Livingstone (the London Mayor before Johnson) and the Blair government, opening four years late, being almost £4billion over its initial budget, and (unsurprisingly) not being relevant to the question.

The rest of the questions were mostly focused on the cost of living crisis with the PM trying his best to slip in as many statistics as possible to suggest the UK’s economy is strong as a result of his government’s actions.


Queen’s Speech

10th May

The Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament, which took place on the 10th May, for the first time since 1963 due to mobility issues. Prince Charles took her place and read the speech, which is written by the Government. This laid out the Government’s agenda for the next session of Parliament and mainly focused on levelling up, post-Brexit reforms and the economy. Some of the key bills include the Bill of Rights, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Energy Security Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Public Order Bill.

The Bill of Rights will fulfil the Conservative Party manifesto commitment “to update the Human Rights Act”. According to the government, the purpose of this is to “end the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system”. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is one of the main elements of Johnson’s agenda. The bill will enshrine the 12 levelling-up targets that were set out in the White Paper earlier this year into law. The bill also aims to give powers to local authorities to force landlords to rent out empty shops in an attempt to revive high streets. The Energy Security Bill aims to decrease the UK’s reliance on imported fuels and boost renewable energy production. The Financial Services and Markets Bill aims to “maintain and enhance the UK’s position as a global leader in financial services having left the EU”. The Public Order Bill follows on from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, criminalising various protesting tactics.


Scandals

17th May

The Conservative Party have been at the heart of a number of serious scandals recently. On the 17th May an unnamed Conservative MP was arrested following accusations of rape and sexual assault offences that took place between 2002 and 2009. Another Conservative MP, Neil Parish, resigned on the 30th April after admitting to watching pornography twice while in the House of Commons chamber. He claims that the first time was an accident: he was looking at tractors which somehow led him to a porn website. However he does admit that the second time was deliberate. Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Conservative MP for Wakefield, submitted his resignation on the 25th April after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. David Warburton, the MP for Somerset and Frome, was removed from the Conservative Party in the beginning of April following allegations of drug abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviour.

The ‘Partygate’ scandal is coming to a close. The police inquiry into it has ended after a total of 126 fixed-penalty notices were issued with Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak each receiving one. Sue Gray’s report is expected to be published in full in the coming week.

Meanwhile Keir Starmer is now facing his own scandal (’Beergate’) after having spent months criticising Boris Johnson for ‘Partygate’. However, Starmer has promised to resign if he is found to have broken the law.


Northern Ireland Assembly

5th May

On the 5th May, the Northern Ireland Assembly election took place following Paul Givan’s resignation as First Minister in protest against the Northern Ireland protocol. Sinn Féin became the largest party with 27 of the 90 seats, making it the first time a nationalist party has won the election. The Good Friday peace agreement dictates that the main nationalist and unionist parties have to share power and that both sides are required to agree on a speaker. However, the DUP refused to back the election of a new speaker, preventing the executive from forming and the Assembly from operating. The DUP is hoping that this will put pressure on the UK government to unilaterally break its post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU.

ORDER! – Edition 2 – 2nd July

This week’s edition looks at PMQs, the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Bill of Rights, by-election results, and the Scottish Independence campaign.

PMQs

29th June

As the Prime Minister was at a Nato summit on Wednesday, Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Angela Rayner filled in for PMQs. Despite Boris Johnson’s absence, it was still a very lively and combative session. Angela Rayner’s questions covered a wide range of topics including the by-election results, tax rises, the cost-of-living crisis, party leadership and defence spending. Meanwhile, Raab said Labour’s “plan is no plan” and that while the Conservatives are “serving the people of this country”, Rayner is “just playing political games”. The Deputy Prime Minister also had a go at Labour for their mixed response to the RMT strikes and accused the party of “champagne socialism”.

Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in the House of Commons, used his two questions to focus on the fresh campaign for Scottish Independence, claiming that the Conservatives “do not have a right to block Scottish democracy”. Raab argued that it is “not the right time for another referendum given the challenges we face as one United Kingdom” and that the people of Scotland want the Westminster and Holyrood governments to “work together”. Ian Blackford was able to use the first of these arguments against Raab, saying that the challenges at present in the United Kingdom are evidence that “there is no case for the Union”.

Dominic Raab, who is also Justice Minister alongside being deputy PM, faced a couple questions from members of the Labour party and Plaid Cymru on the Bill of Rights. Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, asked for the “woman’s right to choose” to be put into the Bill. Raab argued that the issue of abortion should be left to the “conscience” of MPs and that enshrining the right in law could leave the UK in a similar position to the US. Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts asked for self-determination to be in the Bill of Rights.


Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

24th June

The Northern Ireland Protocol was signed by the EU and the UK as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and it is also responsible for the current deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Bill currently before Parliament becomes an Act, ministers will be given the power to override the Protocol. The government recently won the vote on the second reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the House of Commons by 295 votes to 221. This is despite facing harsh opposition from all sides (bar the DUP) with backbenchers such as former Prime Minister Theresa May calling the plans “illegal”. She also said that the plans are unlikely to achieve their aims and would “diminish the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world”. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, also heavily criticised the legislation, saying it was “damaging and counterproductive” and a “power grab so broad it would make Henry VIII blush”.


Bill of Rights

A few days after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened in the Rwanda deportation, the Government laid out their plans for replacing the 1998 Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, delivering on their 2019 manifesto pledge to “update” the Act. This aim of the Bill of Rights is to reduce the influence of the ECHR, strengthen rights such as free speech and make it easier to deport foreign criminals. However there are fears that the bill will increase the power of the executive and even diminish human rights. The Director of the pressure group Liberty, Martha Spurrier, criticised the controversial bill saying it is a “power grab by a government that has no respect for our rights”.


By-elections

23rd June

Two by-elections took place on the 23rd June: one in Wakefield (triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan who was convicted for child sexual assault) and the other in Tiverton and Honiton (triggered by the resignation of Neil Parish who admitted to watching pornography in the House of Commons). Labour won the Wakefield by-election with an 18 point majority while the Liberal Democrats overturned the 24,000 Conservative majority in Tiverton and Honiton with a 38% swing. The Conservatives also lost two by-elections last year in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham. Oliver Dowden took responsibility for the poor Conservative results and resigned as Chair of the Conservative Party. However, despite increased pressure, Boris Johnson remains reluctant to resign. Indeed, Johnson said he is “thinking actively about the third term”.

The SNP have recently launched a fresh campaign for Scottish Independence. Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to hold a second referendum on 19th October 2023. It is unclear whether it is legally possible for the Scottish Government to hold a referendum without the Westminster Parliament’s consent and Dorathy Bain QC has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether this is legal. Nicola Sturgeon has also argued that the next UK general election will be a “de facto” referendum.

Anarchist Aunt – Eddy Burke – 2nd July

Dear Anarchist Aunt,

Today at school I got detention for not doing my homework. I told father but he said both he and grandad had to do their homework, so I should as well. Something about it creating hardworking values. I told Sally the Socialist about my predicament, and she said if I could not do it other people should step in to help me, and I should do the same for others if they need any help. As nice an idea as this is, it seems like a lot of hard work for the hard-working people, such as myself, while everyone else can be very lazy and take advantage of me fuelled by the sense of victory and will think they’re better than me which would make me constantly anxious. Can you imagine, people taking advantage of one another? I would not stand for it. I really don’t want to do the detention, or the homework, but father said I should look at the school, as a bigger entity than myself, and I should try and keep the school running as calmly as possible, so I should just stop moaning and do the detention. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this ghastly predicament I find myself trapped in.

All the best,

Eddy Burke

Anarchist Aunt replies:

My dearest Eddy,

Very nice to hear from you again. I do hope you are keeping well, and the manor is still as big as ever. In terms of your predicament, I find it infuriating that schools are still standing by pointless syllabi and demanding regular homework from you all. The rigid structure of your day cages you into a rhythm that beats all that creativity out of you. Teachers should not have the authority to demand that you spend your time in a certain way.

I would suggest you do not turn up to detention. May I point you the way of Mr. Karl Marx, who suggests rising up as a body against the oppressive dictators that tyrannically exploit your time and effort. I would advise against forming a communist regime within your school, but you should certainly rid yourselves of authoritative figures who stand between yourself and freedom. Also, whatever your father says, the school is certainly not more important than you are. If it must have a syllabus then let it benefit you however that may be. After all, Einstein said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You must not be judged by society due to your tree climbing abilities if you a talented swimmer. It is your life, and you must choose how you live it – school has no right to dictate to you how to spend your time.

I also believe you that still attend chapel. Not only is this outrageous compulsory use of your time distasteful, but it is filling your young impressionable head with religious beliefs. As Emma Goldman puts it, religion encourages uncritical obedience, something that severely hinders humans’ progression.

Just because your father and grandfather did something, it certainly doesn’t mean you should do it. Good heavens, if that was the case you would still have slaves working for you, although when I imagine what you are paying your workers it does strike me we haven’t moved that far from those days.

Yours truly,

Anarchist Aunt

Interview with Lord Waldegrave – Eton College Provost

Lord Waldegrave was interviewed on Friday 22nd April by Alex B – Editor for The Speaker

Alex had the privilege of interviewing the school’s provost earlier this term. Discussed in that meeting were subjects ranging from the layout of Westminster all the way to meeting chairman Mao, and the tensions between Western powers and Russia. It is a fascinating insight into the world of politics that we would thoroughly recommend reading. We would like to thank the provost for giving up his time and we hope you enjoy the interview found below. 

Interviewer: The House of Commons is often looked at as quite a hostile place. A recent report discussed the layout of the benches being directly opposite each other, creating an almost combative atmosphere. Do you think that the geography of the House discourages constructive debate and, ultimately, is that to the detriment of the country? 

The Provost: I think it’s a very interesting question. The architecture of the House, the structure of the House, in effect, I think, reflects our constitution’s determination always to have a government and an alternative government in play. It’s polarising in that sense. We tend towards that with the first past the post system as well, which also reinforces this tendency to have a system where, in somebody’s phrase, the object is always to have an opposition who can “turn the rascals out”. You always have an alternative government and you’re quite right, I think, to say that the structure of the House does, rather like the structure of a court, have the sense of a defendant and an accuser: the government being the defendant, the opposition being the accuser. I think it does polarise. There are good things about this and bad things about this. It means we have a structure which doesn’t usually like coalition politics and does try and force the parties into being either a unified government or a unified opposition. So, our Parliament is not like the European Parliament or the Senate in the US where people sit in the round. 

Interviewer: Naturally flowing on from that would be to discuss government accountability. Facing a political opponent allows one to be criticised in a direct fashion. Currently the Prime Minister has been scrutinized for the behavior outside Parliament. Do you think that the current system holds these officials accountable to a high enough degree, especially in light of recent events? 

The Provost: I think it has gotten better in some ways and worsened in others. It’s gotten better in the sense that select committees contribute to keeping the ‘executives’ in check. They are now more powerful than they used to be, are better staffed, and have more resources allowing for more serious and thorough enquiries. It’s got worse recently in that our system rests given on people respecting often unwritten conventions and rules of behaviour. If they just ignore them, then the whole system of accountability begins to crumble. So, there have been some bad trends in that direction. However, Parliament itself has strengthened its capacity, not in the chamber so much, but in select committees and other committees to do good investigatory and accountability work. However, the chamber itself has probably lost some of its power. There are still big occasions when big debates really matter to a government, but perhaps not so many. I think back to Mrs Thatcher’s time at the famous Westland crisis, halfway through her period when she could have fallen if the temper of the House had been different. She was let off the hook really by Neil Kinnock not pursuing her as effectively as he could have done. But nowadays I think less happens in the chamber itself, more in the committees. But what is really worrying people like Lord Hennessy, the great constitutional historian, is that our system, and perhaps all systems, work to some extent on people’s assent to some unwritten rules. If people just ignore them, then we’re in trouble. 

Interviewer: During your time in office, did you feel that every action that you took was almost always under the microscope especially given the increase in media scrutiny of politicians? 

The Provost: The media has become stronger and more variegated. Social media has really come after my time. There’s a huge new social media world that wasn’t there in my time, which has pluses and minuses. It can produce a lot of nonsense, but it can also give voices to people who are otherwise not heard. I myself, was subject to a major enquiry – the Scott enquiry – about alleged sales of arms to Iraq, which was not a judicial enquiry. It was set up by and reported to Parliament. I certainly felt, therefore, that I was cross-examined in that case very thoroughly. In some ways, I feel that there are too many occasions when we do the examination outside Parliament. It seems to show that people are not confident that Parliament is doing enough of the cross-examination. I would hope that power goes to increasingly powerful select committees to do some of that work of parliamentarians, because they can’t subcontract the examination of ministers to unelected officials. Now, of course, there are going to be some cases where it is right that it should be done outside, since it would take years of going through evidence. But I still think it’s a pity Parliament itself loses the capacity for detailed cross-examination of ministers. 

Interviewer: During your time in Cabinet, you are bound by collective responsibility. What’s your view on this in relation to a topic that splits opinion heavily, or when you have two people who disagree vehemently? Are cabinet members forced to agree? 

The Provost: Well, this is a classic issue of government, but also of any organization really, where you have to have a policy, whatever it may be. You argue about it and then you agree that by some process where the majority votes in the cabinet or the boardroom or wherever you choose a route, and everybody agrees to abide by it. You will have some situations, obviously, where you find your disagreement to be so important that you’ve got to resign. An example of that was Robin Cook resigning as Foreign Secretary over Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq. He behaved in a very honourable and right way. Now, you can’t conduct any organization if every time you have a disagreement about anything everybody resigns. So sometimes you’ve got to judge the big ones and ones which are really matters of principle and conscience to resign over. My friend Sir George Young, an old Etonian, resigned from Boris Johnson’s government over the prorogation of Parliament issue, as he felt that that was against the conventions of the House and that it was wrong. And I say that was absolutely right and honourable. I think that was a crucial issue. You can’t, however, resign every time you disagree with something. But if it’s big enough and important enough, it’s, I think, more honourable to resign than to sabotage it from inside. 

Interviewer: Are there any issues in which a minister should have no other choice but to resign? 

The Provost: Yes. There are two kinds of issues. There’s one where you have been called out when you should resign. If you lied to Parliament on an important thing and don’t correct it, then you should resign. I was caught in a storm about that once because I said that there must be some situations, extreme situations where you can’t tell the truth to Parliament. I gave the following example: 

“If the Chancellor Exchequer is considering devaluing the pound (in the time of fixed exchange rates), he can’t say, “I’m considering devaluing the pound” because by saying that, he will have caused a devaluation.” 

Then there is the second category: resignation over a disagreement. There were plenty of things during Mrs Thatcher’s government that I didn’t like, but I liked the overall direction of government. She was a powerful leader, doing big things that were right (though quite a lot of the other things I didn’t care for). But over big things, you might have to resign. Take Europe, for example. If you believed in our membership of the European Union, you couldn’t, I think, work in a government that was trying to take us out of the European Union because it’s so fundamental. So, you have to decide. 

Interviewer: In your memoir, you said in relation to the Thatcher government that in reality “there is no such thing as Thatcherism, at least not as a coherent doctrine”. What did you mean by that? 

The Provost: What I meant by that was, that she was somebody who even though she had read lots of books and spoken to lots of intellectuals, did things based on what she’d experienced. For example, she’d experienced terrible trade union behaviour with mass picketing and so on, and she just saw that was wrong and she’d seen the Heath Government brought down by that and she thought that had to be fought. She believed in free enterprise in the sense that she’d been brought up in, a small family business in Grantham, and she believed in hard work and people making their own way forward and having the opportunity to do so. She also, however, was quite nationalistic about British industry and thought that it should be protected and not all bought by foreigners and so on, which didn’t really fit a belief in a pure free trading world. So, I don’t think she was a theory person, so much as a person who saw things she thought were wrong, often morally wrong, and fought them. Other people invented Thatcherism a bit, I think, rather than she herself: she was always more cautious. She was, as I say in my memoir, much more cautious about reforming the health service than I was. I was thought of as more on the left, but she was a bit more nervous about introducing concepts of competition into the health service than I was, because she knew instinctively that the British people were very fond of the health service and were very nervous about any reform of it. There is a remark by a Greek philosopher who defined two types of people: hedgehogs and foxes. My old teacher Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote a book about it: “The Fox knows many tricks, but the hedgehog knows one trick and it’s a good one.” And you put people into people into two groups, one who has a theory that tries to unite everything – one trick people, hedgehogs. And then foxes who grab experience but have no underlying unifying theory to explain it all. Mrs Thatcher was a fox if that distinction is accepted. 

Interviewer: Did you grow up wanting to be a politician? 

The Provost: I did. I’m one of the old-fashioned ones if you like. I came from a family with a bit of a political background. My father was a junior minister in the House of Lords in the Macmillan Government. But there were lots of politicians on my mother’s side and Sir Robert Walpole is an ancestor of mine. So, politics is in my blood. And I tried to say why in that memoir. I was brought up in that culture of politics being the biggest prize. As I have grown older, I have concluded that it is not a particularly good culture. Politics shouldn’t be a super game with a great prize at the top. Disraeli was really the hero of that kind of politics. He took pretty well every political position imaginable at some point in his life and got to the top of what he himself described as the greasy pole. But when he got there, he didn’t really know what to do. Luckily, he had a couple of good people in his Cabinet who ran a good government for him, but it was the process of getting there that motivated him. I think that’s not a good culture, really. I think politics as public service rooted in clearer ideas about what you want to do for people is better. So, as I get older, I am getting a little bit more cynical about the “glittering prizes” culture than I used to be. 

Interviewer: Looking three years later, I believe you had the experience of meeting Chairman Mao? 

The Provost: I did, yes. 

Interviewer: What was that interaction like? 

The Provost: By then I’d left the civil service and become political secretary to Mr Heath as Prime Minister. There were only two in the political office in No 10 then, we didn’t have 200 SPADS [special advisers] or whatever drinking prosecco. Heath had me, and Douglas Hurd, and then he got his parliamentary seat so it was just me. And all the politics was done in the central office in Smith’s Square. And that’s a much better way of doing things, I think. So, when Heath lost power in the first election in 1974, the Chinese government who had invited him to come as Prime Minister, continued to invite him as Leader of the Opposition. Nixon had gone to China in 1972, I think. The Chinese at that time were in deep and serious conflict with the Russians. So, they were looking around the world for anybody who was hostile to Russia. So, they looked at British Conservatives and they looked at Nixon in the US who were the enemies of communist Soviet Russia and the Chinese worked on the principle that the enemies of my enemy are my friends. So that’s why they did the opening towards Nixon and that’s why they invited Mr Heath. I accompanied him as his political secretary, and we travelled all around China. And then finally Mr Heath had the great invitation that the Chairman would see him whereupon Ted Heath, who was an instinctive negotiator, who had negotiated us into Europe, said “Well, I’m not going to agree to meet the Chairman unless I am allowed to bring all my staff too”. Nobody else had ever asked that before. And there was great consternation from the Chinese. So, we all went there: Tim Kitson was the parliamentary secretary, Douglas Hurd and I, and the press officer who was called Maurice Trowbridge. Mao held on to his hand for a long time and said through the interpreter, “This is a very dangerous man”, because he was the pressman, which was a joke, though it made Maurice rather nervous at the time. Mao was coming towards the end of his time, but he was still a vigorous and dominant figure, and it was an extraordinary privilege to be there. 

Interviewer: In the past five years or so especially, there have been growing tensions between China and Western powers. However, in recent years Russia seems to have become an even bigger opponent. Do you think that we’re going to look at Russia in the future as the primary aggressor of this generation? Or do you think the threat from China creates more danger? 

The Provost: This is a very big question for your generation. It seems clear that within a relatively short time, China will be a military and economic power equal and comparable to the United States. I do, in one sense, believe that China is a ‘status quo’ power. I do not believe that China wants to conquer anybody; although they do believe that Tibet and Taiwan are part of their nation, they’re not a traditional imperial power in the sense of wanting to expand their borders outwards. They want safety and unity within their nation, which is why they’re so neurotic about any kind of ethnic or religiously based division: they’ve been through many crisis periods of civil war in their history. It’s essential for the world that China is built into our international systems. You can’t deal with another defining issue of our time – global warming – without China being completely central to whatever is done. It doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to what’s happening in China in relation to human rights, but I myself think that China’s main interest still lies in making a huge population richer and giving them a higher standard of living, which, as China knows, requires being part of a world trading system. 

On the other hand, Russia is a very different kind of thing. It is quite a modern empire in many ways. The Russian population is not very big for its enormous landmass, and it is declining, which is probably one of the things that drives Putin: population diminution. The country has an economy the size of Italy’s or Australia’s. It is armed to the teeth and neurotic, and not without reason, given its history of being attacked. So, it’s full of neuroses and it didn’t learn how to govern itself properly either under the Tsars or Stalin. It’s never had a satisfactory system of government that’s worked for any long period. It can be characterized as an over-armed nervous empire without clear borders, either in the east or in the west. And that makes it troublesome. Of course, we’ve got to try and live with it, but it is difficult not to be pessimistic about the present situation. If Russia perceives that it’s been defeated by Ukraine as it was defeated by the Japanese in 1905, famously and shockingly to them (that defeat began the decline the Tsar’s regime); if Russia is perceived as having suffered a defeat in Ukraine, what replaces Putin? It’s quite hard to imagine some nice social democratic party appearing from somewhere. It could get worse. So, what I’m saying is I don’t see an immediate solution to the Russian problem. 

I think that Russia is a problem in a way that China isn’t because I think China has its role in the world, sees itself rather arrogantly as the only place that really matters, but has an immense task to bring all its people up to western levels of wealth. It has run the greatest anti-poverty programme the world’s ever seen in the last 30 years already. And it’ll go on doing that, and it needs world trade for that, and it doesn’t want to bust up international systems fundamentally. But the present leader is giving himself effectively life power, which is always a bad sign because emperors for life want to leave a legacy. And what’s the legacy? Taking back Taiwan which could be dangerous. But in the past, I’ve always thought that China takes a longer view and that they think the world is going their way again and that they’ll be back in the proper position they were, in say, the 14th century, as the world’s greatest economic power, minding their own business trading with anybody who wants to trade with them. Russia is different. Russia’s borders are never fixed. Its internal government is always bad. It produces wonderful culture, music and science and art and every conceivable thing. But the one art it’s never learnt is to govern properly. I mean, one has to remember how recent Russian history is. Serfs were effectively slaves. They were owned by the landowners until the middle of the 19th century. Then savage revolutions and slaughter internally, awful war experience with Germany in the Second World War, and now feeling that they’ve lost all their imperial possessions in a very unfair way and everyone’s getting them down. It’s a dangerous, difficult situation which needs real diplomacy from the West. And we really need good American and European leadership, and we need to get the Chinese to play a little bit bigger part, which they will, I think, in steering Russia in a more sensible direction.