Unholy allegiance: exploring the hard right’s infatuation with the Putin regime

By Tod M

In the weeks following the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a vast quantity of analysis has gone into how European and American hard right figures have responded to Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine. From Marine le Pen’s disavowal of a regime that was once her benefactor, to Tucker Carlson’s doubling down on pro-Kremlin reporting, to Viktor Orban’s increasingly improbable continued efforts to avoid taking a side at all, a whole range of responses has been on show. But interesting as it may be to watch this schism, and see just how far some are willing to go to justify Putin, there is a perhaps more interesting question in play here – why did the hard right seek, and find, backing from Putin in the first place?

So what do I mean by the hard right? Broadly, the section of the right that has pushed for illiberal policies, such as hijab bans or restrictions on abortions, and adopted an antagonistic approach to international organisations. From their perspective, there have been two key motivating factors. Firstly, Putin has provided benefits: Russian-backed disinformation and hacking in major Western elections. The political gains for the likes of Trump, who had the benefit of Russian government interference in the 2016 election campaign on his side in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” according to the Mueller Report, are clear – particularly as they can avoid being involved in any of the actual interference. The same applies to Britain’s own Nigel Farage, whose largest donor Arron Banks has, according to the Times in 2018[1], been offered business opportunities. In the UK, the 2020 Intelligence and Security Committee Russia Report made it clear that there have been Russian efforts to promote pro-Brexit views online through disinformation and malicious cyber activity. This makes Putin a desirable helping hand for the unscrupulous, beyond the obvious prestige and propaganda potential of photo-ops with Putin himself.

But this is only part of the picture. If the hard right’s allegiance with Putin’s regime were only about political expediency, then you’d expect support for Putin to have evaporated, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made him one of the world’s most politically toxic figures. For those who depend on their electorates, this is true. But for right-wing commentators and agitators, particularly in the US, it is not. Instead, many have stepped up pro-Russian rhetoric – white nationalist Nick Fuentes at the AFPAC, GB News’ broadcast of Russian disinformation claims about bioweapons, and the aforementioned Tucker Carlson to name just a few. Here, pro-Kremlin sentiments are representative of a dark admiration for the Russia Putin has built. Many on the more extreme alt-right have always viewed Putin’s Russia as a bastion of Christian nationalism, but in recent years this view has moved from the likes of longtime KKK leader David Duke to the (more) mainstream hard right, such as Anne Coulter in 2017 said that “In 20 years, Russia will be the only country that is recognisably European”. 

As the hard right have upped the ante in their fight against socially progressive ideas such as LGBTQ rights, feminism, and racial diversity, they have looked east. They have found a natural ally – and example – in a Putin regime that has demonised the queer community with the 2013 ‘Gay Propaganda’ law, emphasised the importance of cultural and ethnic Russianness, and in 2017 decriminalised some forms of domestic violence[2]. For the more assertively Christian elements of the American right in particular, the tight links between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church provide an attractive example of an (un)holy alliance. It has aligned the Russian state and church to the point that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has even issued a statement of support for the invasion of Ukraine. This alignment is another facet of Putin’s regime that some elements of the western hard right would like to mirror in their own countries. So more than just providing political benefits, for some in the west the Russian state is an aspiration, and a model to be copied – a natural ally.

For Putin, meanwhile, the motives are a little murkier. Many actions are denied by the Russian regime, so it can be hard to divine any strategy. However, there is a common thread that has run through the Kremlin’s activities abroad: disunity. Whether it has been anti-EU sentiments fostered through Brexit, le Pen, and Orban, anti-NATO ones that Trump promoted, or (allegedly) separatist ideas they promoted in Scotland and Catalonia, the overarching theme is dividing the west. The Kremlin has worked to influence western politics to undermine not only our democracies, but our international unity. This, then, has been for Putin an advancement of the Kremlin’s geopolitical, rather than ideological, goals, and does give some coherent explanation for the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with western democracies.

So the explanation for this alliance comes in two different types: political gain, and ideological allegiance, both fostered by the Kremlin for its own geopolitical benefit. The distinction between those who see Putin as a tool, and those who see him as an ideal, also helps explain why some in the west have not withdrawn their backing of him as the war in Ukraine has unfolded. They – the Tucker Carlsons, Anne Coulters, and even Trumps – see, to a greater or lesser extent, Putin’s Russia as a model of the state they seek to build in the west.

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/exclusive-emails-reveal-russian-links-of-millionaire-brexit-backer-arron-banks-6lf5xdp6h

[2] https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/23/russia-bill-decriminalize-domestic-violence

Xi Jinping: A Brief Introduction

By Ameya P

When the average person thinks of Xi Jinping, there is a noticeable similarity amongst the ideas and themes that are associated with China’s paramount leader. Perhaps words like ‘authoritarian’ or ‘censorship’ immediately spring to mind. There might be truth in these characterisations of Xi, and one could reasonably argue that his past actions, policies, and attitudes imply that the commonly accepted conception of him is justified. However, more comprehensive knowledge of his history and role in China is necessary in order to understand the most powerful person in the behemoth that is China. This article will briefly outline Xi’s rise to and consolidation of power, his ideological consequences, and why it is relevant.

Xi Jinping was born in 1953 in Beijing, experiencing a tumultuous childhood as a result of the events of the Cultural Revolution as well as his own father’s senior positions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). From 1982 onwards, Xi’s political career officially began, and he held various positions across China which increased in importance. He was elected Vice President of the PRC in 2008, and eventually General Secretary of the PRC (and thus Leader of the Communist Party of China) on the 15th of November, 2012. He has held this role since. In addition to being General Secretary, Xi holds a variety of preeminent roles within the government, ranging from leading the committee which is in charge of internet policy to wielding immense power over the national security affairs of China. Put simply, Xi has his fingers in every possible pie in Chinese politics.

Xi is the 11th General Secretary of the PRC since its conception, and the degree to which he’s consolidated power has not been seen since the rule of Mao Zedong. Since the founding of the PRC, there has been a progression towards collective leadership amongst the party; numerous roles have not been held simultaneously by one individual, power has been less concentrated, term limits have been implemented, and more. Since the appointment of Xi Jinping, however, his leadership has run contrary to this progression. He’s centralised his power, created and led committees to subvert government bureaucracy, purged the party of rivals, removed presidential term limits, and more. These actions place Xi, quite unmistakably, at the centre of the government and party, and therefore at the centre of China’s progression and development.

A brief introduction to Xi’s political philosophy will be useful in furthering one’s own understanding of his ideology and goals for China. Xi’s own policies and ideals, much of which are derived from his writings and speeches, were most comprehensively outlined in the 19th National Congress of the CCP in 2017. Xi introduced his own thought, concisely titled ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ as a new guiding ideology for the party. It was written into the Chinese constitution and was the first eponymous ideology to be incorporated since Mao’s own. Xi Jinping Thought is made up of a 14-point basic policy. Some of the more key points of this policy include practising socialist core values, including Marxism-Leninism and socialism with Chinese characteristics (China employs a socialist market economy, with the predominance of public ownership and state-owned enterprises); promoting the complete national reunification of Hong Kong, Macau and China by promoting the ‘one country, two systems’ ideal; and strengthening China’s national security. Overall, the thought is considered to be a continuation, along with several other previously-implemented ideologies, of the Chinese goal of the promotion and implementation of Marxism adapted to Chinese conditions. One example of an adaptation would be the Chinese peasantry constituting the majority of the proletariat, as opposed to more industrially-based workers.

The origins of Xi Jinping Thought can be divided into three main categories. Firstly, Marxist philosophy serves as its backbone; namely Marxist positions on history and nature. Secondly, Xi follows traditional Chinese ideas regarding man-nature unity and the laws of nature – hence his prioritisation of ecological progress – which are rooted in Confucianism. Thirdly, the thought is preceded by China’s historic prioritisation of development, and Xi refers to China as a ‘torchbearer’ in this regard.

China transitioned from an exploited and internally tortuous nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which clung on to moribund dynastic traditions and suffered as a result, to a global superpower that currently dominates the international economic and political landscape. This fact is remarkable and unquestionable. China’s power permeates all of our lives, and its effects on us, regardless of whether they’re visible or not, will continue to grow. It is crucial, therefore, that we understand the nation, and one way in which that can be achieved is through an understanding of its paramount leader, Xi Jinping, who sets the direction of travel for China in the foreseeable future.

Codified constitution: a remedy for UK democracy?

By Rameen P

In recent years, calls have grown for the UK to adopt a codified constitution. Having a single document where fundamental laws and the overall political system are explained would reduce the need for conventions, outline how power is distributed, and arguably better protect our rights. Although many of the dangers a codified constitution protects against have not yet been fully realised in the UK, it is worth considering as an option.

A codified constitution would diminish the importance of conventions, which are considered non-binding and currently inform much of the UK’s constitution. For example, it is a convention that the government resigns if it loses a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons. However, this could be ignored as it is not legally binding, and one could argue that this puts UK democracy in danger. Some may point out in response that many conventions would be politically difficult to ignore, and that conventions allow for flexibility. For example, a recent convention is that Parliament votes on the use of force and in 2013, it voted against intervention in Syria. Nevertheless, it was flexible enough to allow David Cameron to authorise an RAF drone strike in 2015, which he claimed needed to be carried out immediately. 

However, reducing the need for conventions could remain a benefit of a codified constitution. This is mainly because it is still possible for them to be ignored, which is a dangerous risk to take, especially for key principles such as the Salisbury Convention which influences the power of the House of Lords. In order to have this balance between flexibility and reducing risks, perhaps a pared-back codified constitution, which balances the two, could be a viable option. With regard to conventions, this could be achieved by describing only the most fundamental aspects of Parliamentary procedure (such as when the Prime Minister ought to resign) in the constitution itself. The document would need not go into extended detail about every possible situation, and so allow for flexibility. 

A codified constitution would also outline to a clearer degree how power is split. For instance, one could argue that it is not entirely clear how much power devolved nations should have, or when they should be allowed to leave the union. Some may reply that setting out an entrenched model for the separation of powers would undermine parliamentary sovereignty, which is a key element of UK democracy. Instead, they may claim that constitutional issues should continue to be determined by new Acts of Parliament. However, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty is already being undermined. For example, in the case of R (Jackson) v. Attorney General (2005), Lord Hope (who later became Deputy President of the Supreme Court) pointed out that “Parliamentary sovereignty is no longer, if it ever was, absolute”, suggesting that the rule of law is the “ultimate controlling factor on which our constitution is based”. 

Critics might then point out that it would be difficult to determine exactly how powers should be divided between institutions. The fact that Lords reform stalled after 1999, despite much support for it, could be used as an example of the difficulties of agreeing on how to implement constitutional changes. To mitigate this, again, perhaps a codified constitution which outlines the division of power in general (rather than describing the specific details of every possible circumstance) would be most appropriate.

A codified constitution would also entrench our rights further, and so protect them more effectively. For example, the US Bill of Rights sets out key rights, such as Freedom of Speech. Moreover, amending the US constitution (which is codified) is challenging, with measures in place to ensure that any successful amendments have broad support (the most recent amendment was nearly thirty years ago). This contrasts with the UK where a government could hold a simple majority vote in Parliament to get rid of certain rights. Some may respond that the UK’s current system’s flexibility means that rights can adapt and remain relevant. An example of this flexibility can be seen with marriage, where ideas of what it entails have changed over time. Once again, though, this could be retained if a codified constitution were to focus only on our most fundamental rights, and allow flexibility for those which are less pivotal.

One safeguard of the current system is that it would be politically difficult for the government to take away many of our rights. Even though the current government is considering reforming the Human Rights Act, the most fundamental elements of a new ‘Bill of Rights’ would most likely be very similar to those currently contained in the Human Rights Act. Indeed, the Government is actually planning to strengthen the right to freedom of expression. Nevertheless, although it may be politically difficult to remove our most fundamental protections, it is still legally possible for the government to do so. This could also become a greater risk in the future, which may be a particular issue for minority groups (who do not have as much leverage electorally). Lord Scarman argued in 1974 that when “times are abnormally alive with fear and prejudice, the common law” is at risk, and cannot resist the will of Parliament. In other words, many principles and rights established by common law (or even statute law) which it may seem politically impossible to undo, can in fact be more easily repealed than one may expect.

Although these risks have not yet fully played out, they are still worth preventing. This means that we should engage further in discussions about whether a codified constitution would be the best means of protecting UK democracy. Even a pared-back codified constitution (compared to other countries) may be a useful tool in avoiding putting our rights at risk and give guidance when dealing with certain topics. Although it is true that there would be tricky issues to resolve, such as the role of the judiciary, the potential protections and clarity a codified constitution could provide means it should at least be seriously discussed.

Why Tim Cook’s Apple befriended Trump.

By Clyde L

During the latter part of 2019, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, was seen as friendly as ever to the then-President Donald Trump, in what was seemed like a power play by Cook to get more inside influence on US political matters, to optimise the manufacturing costs Apple had at the time. Whilst the relationship was looked down upon by a lot of the US media, it seems to have worked out very well for Apple. 

Even before Trump had been inaugurated, Trump and Cook had had a cordial relationship. The two had been seen at Trump Tower, alongside Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Elon Musk in late 2016. Cook soon began to “cosy up” to Trump, but unbeknownst to the public this was not done simply because the two were friends. This was first realised when Apple immediately took advantage of the lower corporation tax rates and re-imported their $230 billion in offshore holdings in 2017. This was only the beginning of this unique relationship, at a time where Trump’s trade war with China could have had devastating consequences for the company, which at the time relied heavily on Chinese manufacturing. However, Apple emerged with exactly what it wanted by appealing to the transactional politics that had become synonymous with Trump during his administration. 

Cook built his relationship with Trump in order to advocate for potential changes in trade policy. The majority of devices created now and in Trump’s era are and were manufactured in China, meaning the electronic tariffs that were put in place had a negative impact on the company’s profits. However, it is clear that Cook tried to steer Trump away from implementing these tariffs, arguing how damaging the policy would be to Apple compared to international competition. Even when Trump inevitably did bring in the tariffs, Apple somehow had pre-emptively moved their manufacturing to other countries such as India in order to protect their profit margins.

Cook’s relationship with Trump has led to Apple essentially being left unscathed from the damage that other consumer electronics firms have faced. Policy changes that affected rival firms were pre-emptively matched by Apple changing their own manufacturing policies to keep profits safe. It was almost as if Apple had some sort of insider information, allowing them to know what to do before changes were made that would harm the company. This must have been helped by the relationship that Cook built with Trump over his presidency – thanks to which Apple in recent months became the first $3 trillion company. By showing Trump factories such as the Mac Pro factory in Texas in late 2019, Apple were able to prove that they were not completely reliant on China, leading the President to see the company more favourably, and thus enabling them to get ahead of the competition by showing that they were a valuable asset to US economy. Trump’s trade war should have been as damaging to Apple as it was to the likes of Microsoft, IBM and other large consumer electronics firms, but this wasn’t the case due to the pertinent relationship Cook had with Trump.

It is unclear whether Cook was (or is) a Trump supporter, but by befriending Trump, Apple was able to continue to make their products and keynotes whilst keeping ahead of Trump’s policy making. For a company synonymous with the word innovation, there is nothing innovative about the tactics presented here. Even if the relationship that Cook built with Trump was self-interested, the results have proven to be excellent for Apple, who since Trump’s inauguration not only became the first trillion dollar company, but also the first $2 trillion and $3 trillion company, joining an elite club of firms with more money than the US Treasury itself. Leading into the COVID Pandemic, Apple was able to sustain an even greater level of growth than before, which would not have occurred to the same extent if it not been for their prior growth during the Trump administration. Without Cook’s relationship with Trump, the company may not have reached the heights that it has today. 

The story of Smethwick 1964: Britain’s most racist election

By Wilkie D

In the 1964 general election, the incumbent Conservative government was ousted by the Labour Party. The incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, won with a wafer-thin majority of four. However, one constituency bucked this trend. The constituency of Smethwick, a suburb 4 miles west of Birmingham city centre, voted for the Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths with a swing of 7.2%. This election battle was punctuated by racism and hate. The campaign centred around Griffiths trying to attract the core Labour vote of white working-class men and women.

Griffiths stirred up and weaponised fear and resentment of these people towards Black and South Asian Commonwealth immigrants who had moved to Smethwick following WW2 to bolster industries there. Smethwick had attracted many Punjabi Sikh immigrants especially. This arrival of immigrants had resulted in a long waiting list for council housing, said to be 4,000 by Peter Griffiths in his maiden Parliamentary speech. This was combined with the factory closures in the area and the decline of local industry like the Birmingham Small Arms factory in nearby Small Heath (eventually closed in 1973), causing unrest and dissatisfaction among the white, working-class population of Smethwick.

This dissatisfaction was channelled by Peter Griffiths into fearmongering and scare tactics. Moreover, while Griffiths himself always denied using them, the slogans widely used by Conservative canvassers in the area contained racial slurs and racist sentiment. Similar slogans and abuse were hurled at the Labour candidate Patrick Gordan Walker as he left Smethwick town hall upon losing the vote.

The sentiments felt by the Smethwick population were perhaps not completely unfamiliar for the time. Similar ideas were echoed by Enoch Powell only 4 years later in his famous “Rivers of Blood” speech. What was outrageous about this campaign, though, was Griffiths’ near praise of the slogans used by his supporters. He failed to condemn the slogans outright, instead being quoted in the Times saying about the most hateful of the slogans used:

“I should think that is a manifestation of the popular feeling. I would not condemn anyone who said that. I would say that is how people see the situation in Smethwick. I fully understand the feelings of the people who say it. I would say it is exasperation, not fascism.”

This was a difficult stance to hold given that the leader of the British neo-Nazi movement, the National Socialist Movement (later the British Movement), Colin Jordan claimed that his organisation had created the slogan and begun the poster and sticker campaign.

Following the election result, a British branch of the Ku Klux Klan was formed. Their main activity was putting burning crosses through the letterboxes of ethnic minority residences. In 1964 there was also an attempt to enact policies of racial segregation. Houses on Marshall Street were only let out to white British residents and white residents successfully petitioned the Conservative council to buy vacant houses to prevent non-whites from purchasing them. This scheme was only prevented by the Labour housing minister, Richard Crossman, who refused to allow the council to borrow the money to carry out the policy.

This resulted in the veteran African American activist, Malcolm X visiting Smethwick on February 12th, 1965, only 9 days before he was shot dead in a ballroom in New York. He had been addressing the Council of African Organizations in London and, upon being disallowed entry into France he decided to visit Smethwick in solidarity with the black and ethnic minority community there. He compared the treatment of ethnic minorities there with the treatment of the Jews under Hitler, saying:

“I would not wait for the Fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens”

The backlash in Parliament would be just as fierce. The new PM Wilson called for the Conservative leader Sir Alec Douglas-Home to withdraw the whip from Griffiths, saying in the Commons:

“If Sir Alec does not take what I’m sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a Parliamentary leper.”

At this, 25 Conservative MPs walked out of the chamber in protest. They proposed a motion condemning Wilson’s insult towards Griffiths. Labour MPs struck back proposing a motion to condemn Wilson for insulting lepers.

Peter Griffiths, was, in fact, returned to oblivion at the next election in 1966, losing his seat to the actor Andrew Faulds, with an 11.8% swing to Labour. The Liberals didn’t put up a candidate in the constituency in order not to split the vote and allow the Conservatives to win. Faulds would hold the seat until 1974 when the constituency was abolished.

However, the 1964 election in Smethwick showed how in times of hardship, the traditional white working-class Labour electorate’s desire for change could make them more vulnerable to scare tactics and cause them to switch allegiances.

Oh Not ANOTHER Scandal!

By Ivan A

The Profumo Affair of 1963 is one of the most well-known political scandals in British history. Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, was accused of having an affair with British model, Christine Keeler who was also simultaneously having an affair with Soviet spy, Eugene Ivanov. Profumo was brought before the House of Commons in March of 1963 to testify on the nature of the relationship after being alleged to have committed espionage and leaking state secrets. Profumo denied all initial allegations, thus breaking the ministerial code of conduct, and was discovered 10 weeks later to have misled the house. 

Its particular significance? The public outcry and the height of sensationalist media hysteria was simply unprecedented, calling into question the credibility and competence of the party, with Harold Macmillan taking most of the backlash and ridicule from the newly created satirical show That Was The Week That Was (1962-1963) and the publication Private Eye. The affair eventually cut short Macmillan’s tenure as Prime Minister due to the unfavourable public response despite the Denning enquiry which found that the then-Secretary of State had in fact not breached national security. The Profumo Scandal alongside many other political scandals illustrates how a lack of faith in elected officials can be detrimental to any functioning democracy. 

As outlined by Edmund Burke in his trustee model of representation, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. For this model of representation to fully function, it is imperative that the electorate has considerable faith in their elected officials. In recent years, many sceptics have commented on a rising trend in current politics: an increasing democratic deficit. This can be defined as when democratic institutions or democratically elected officials fall short of the principles of democracy, inducing a loss of faith from voters. The 2017 Ipsos Veracity Index cites politicians as being the least trusted profession amongst the British public. Furthermore, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that in 2020, 51% of citizens (of OECD countries) claimed to mistrust their government officials, which at first glance may not seem immediately concerning. However, it is crucial to note that amid a World Health Organisation-declared pandemic, over half of UK (63% as of 2021) had little or no faith in their political leaders; whether it be due to a certain political advisor’s trip to Barnard Castle, directly contradicting No 10 Covid-19 isolation policy, or the Home Secretary being alleged to have spent £5,415.90 of taxpayers’ money in Primark and £77,269.40 on eyebrow appointments (ooh what a treat!) during a national crisis. 

In Trust and Democracy, Jeffrey Abrams makes the case that a continued culture of distrust can challenge the mandate and authority of the government and “cause citizens to reflexively respond to politics with distrust even when it is not justified”. In moments of extreme crisis when governments either need to legislate or roll out emergency policy, they will not be listened to. For instance, the Ebola epidemic of 2014, demonstrates just how vital it is for an electorate to have faith in their elected officials. Many Liberian citizens initially ignored the advice of the Liberian government which at the time was distrusted by citizens over corruption. The failure of the government to instil faith among the electorate was arguably one of the main reasons that led to the deaths of 11,310 people, despite the UN Security Council declaring the epidemic a “threat to peace and security”. 

Scandals and lies told by politicians can lead to the public becoming apathetic and result in lower turnout as they may feel like their voices hold little to no value in comparison to the individual will of politicians. Distrust of politicians can also lead to individual party membership being affected and lowering grassroots participation. For instance, reports of anti-Semitism in the Labour party during Corbyn’s leadership arguably played a vital role in why the party’s membership fell below 500,000.

Over recent years, there seems to be a growing culture of the public abandoning their political representatives in favour of taking political action directly into their own hands. For example, between 2011-2015, 150 electronic petitions gained at least 10,000 signatures warranting an official response from the government. This suggests that the electorate is straying away from relying on their elected officials to handle political matters, perhaps signalling the fall of Britain’s representative democracy.

So next time one finds oneself surreptitiously nibbling on a cheeky wedge of Gruyère in the blistering month of May concealed by the foliage of public office, or casually stocking up one’s tote bag with some boozy delights purchased at a certain Tesco Express in Westminster (oooh how industrious!), there might just be the tiniest chance that one might be putting the state of democracy, as we know it, in jeopardy.

The Road to the Sun – The Japanese interwar period

By Isadore H

A bright future was expected for Japan after the First World War: significant economic growth pushed forwards liberalisation and an opening to the outside world. Japanese modernism captured the spirit of Japan in these transitional years: bold, flowing and exciting. Yet, by 1938, Japan had descended towards a totalitarian military dictatorship ruled by the principles of Ludendorff’s ‘Total War’. 

The Taisho Period of the 1920s was governed by a constitutional democracy modelled after the successful British system, with strongly pacifist parties. Japanese society welcomed tourists from around the world; urban centres became hubs for the Asian world, leading to an inflow of liberal political ideas. ‘Chōkanzu’ (a graphic type of map) pointed out key sites in foreign languages that tourists would then converge on en-masse. Japanese cities were filled with nightclubs as the style of Japanese Modernism evolved. Japanese Modernism mirrored the great strides Japanese society was taking towards a more liberal country with a strong self-image. This society was one in which women were far more prominent than in the restrictive pre-war era, and to which people from around the world flocked to see the vibrant nature of the country.

The rapid change in Japanese culture in the 1930s did not come from the citizens of the nation, but rather from the army. The officer class of the army were born from the samurai cast of the 1800s that had fought so strongly against the modernisation brought from America by the Perry Expedition of the 1850s. Upon losing a civil war in the 1860s, the samurai were forced to accept the liberalisation of Japan against their will. Their defeat also signalled the end of the feudalistic age that they had depended upon for survival. As cities grew, they outstripped the countryside, becoming cultural and economic hubs. This dropped the previously decedent samurai class into poverty. The samurai blamed modernisation and the West for this aggressive change in fortune. These opinions were not widely shared, but they festered in the small circles as resentment grew. The samurai sent their children to military academies, believing it to be the only correct career path left; consequently, raising a generation of officers jaded by modernisation. Ideals of racial supremacy, military primacy and religious fervour spread amongst the cadets. The spread had no uniting ideology  instead there were factions: proponents of a Buddhist holy war and soldiers who believed that all of Asia should be united by Japan just to name a few. They were united solely by a hatred of the Tokyo government and of democracy. 

Thus, the army become more hostile towards Tokyo, acting out its own plans. Many of its officers were expansionists; believing that, after Korea in 1905, Japan was fated to conquer all of Southeast Asia. These officers set out to pursue Erich Ludendorff’s ‘Total War’, which became a key pillar of most of their ideologies. Ludendorff was a prominent German general in WWI, who dominated German politics after becoming Quartermaster-General of the General Staff. In interwar Germany he was a key political thinker and was behind much of the rise of the Nazi party which he supported openly. ‘Total War’ involves a state that serves the army, with mass mobilisation and the military success being the most important goals. 

On the 18th September 1931, a bomb explosion at the Mukden Railway in Manchuria sparked a Japanese occupation of Manchuria. The Japanese government ordered the army to halt the invasion and withdraw, but Tokyo no longer had control of the military, and so the invasion continued. The success of the operation led to a spike in popularity of the army within Japan as mass celebrations were carried out in the streets, and the Tokyo government teetered on the edge of collapse. Attempting to capitalise on the army’s popularity and the rampant nationalism within Japan, a few young officers stormed the Premier’s residence and murdered him on the 15th May 1932. The trial of the assassins turned into a show trial, a phony stage which they used to share their extremist views. Only with the support of the Emperor did Japanese democracy survive and even then it was deeply damaged, with violence towards pacifists mounting and the struggle between the two camps characterising the following years. In the aftermath a power-sharing agreement between the moderates and militarists was established, led by Siato Makoto the moderate Prime Minister with Araki Sadao as his ultranationalist counterpart.

On the 26th February 1936, a coup was attempted by young officers, emboldened by the success in Manchuria and wanting an end to the democratic, pacifist government in Tokyo. Storming the parliament, they attempted to take control of the government; however, an intense siege by loyalist troops saw the coup fail. Hideki Tōjō, head of the Japanese secret police, seized the initiative. He arrested all officers related to the coup and gained the trust of key Japanese figures. The coup also united the fractured militarist factions, and they slowly took power within the parliament. Tōjo, meanwhile, climbed the Japanese political system becoming Prime Minister in 1941. The National Mobilisation Law of 1938 finally ended any hopes of Japanese democracy as key industries, media and unions were nationalised and other austerity measures were introduced whilst an unlimited budget was given to the army. In 1940, the Japanese parliament voted to dissolve itself and to reform as the Imperial Rule Assistance Committee, and an autocratic military state was created. The state served the army as ‘Total War’ laid out and rejected all liberalisation and democracy.

With this, Japan’s brief flirtation with democracy and a liberal society had been drowned under militaristic fervour brought on through a manipulation of society by the army. Japan now embarked on a period of empire building in China and Southeast Asia; such expansionism brought them into direct conflict with the Allied powers and, as a result, Japan joined WW2 on the side of the Axis, sealing their fate.

Is Kagame’s style of governance in Rwanda justified?

Charlie W

In a time of increasing foreign attention and prosperity in Africa, Rwanda is seen by many as a symbol of such growth, and with the newly proposed British refugee plan being picked up in all parts of the media, the country has been put under the spotlight more than ever. Despite its complex and scarred history involving colonial rule and ethnic tensions, since the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has emerged with a rapidly growing economy, high female representation in government, and a far more organised, united, and modern society by almost every metric. They unequivocally represent a development that many a nation would envy across the globe, let alone in Africa. Since 2000, President Paul Kagame, leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and former Vice President during the civil war, has led this recovery. Whilst, of course, he takes a lot of credit for the growth of Rwanda, critics have argued that this growth has come at the cost of human rights and democratic integrity, both of which form the basis of a larger question of whether political fairness can or should ever be sacrificed in the pursuit of national growth.

First it is important to look at Rwanda with some historical context. It was under Belgian and German colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during which time the Hutu and Tutsi divide was accentuated. Those who farmed crops were ‘Hutus’, while ‘Tutsis’ tended livestock. In 1957, Rwanda gained independence with Gregoire Kayibanda – a Hutu – as President, forcing out many of the Tutsis. Fast forwarding many years amid continued tension between the two groups, in 1990 rebel Tutsi forces, mainly under the umbrella of the RPF, invaded from Uganda. A year later, a new multi-party constitution was introduced, in which Tutsi inclusion was further promoted. 

Nonetheless, in 1994, the plane of Hutu President Habyarimana and the Burundian President at the time was shot down by Tutsi rebels, subsequently inciting the extremist Hutu militia and members of the Rwandan military to attempt to massacre the Tutsi population. In just 100 days, around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. As the violence eventually subsided, large amounts of Hutus fled to Zaire (the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo) fearing uproar and revenge (SAHO, 2019) and in 2000 Paul Kagame, a member of the RPF, was promoted from Vice President to become the President of Rwanda. 

During his time in office, Kagame has seen his country average a GDP growth of 7.76% per year and he has promoted the cause of women in government, saying in 2015 that “any place that does not make gender equality a priority, is probably getting other important things wrong too.” Concurrent with this message, currently 64% of the seats in Rwanda’s lower house are held by women – the highest percentage in the world. Furthermore, the life expectancy of Rwandans has doubled in the past decade, and Kigali, the capital, is one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa. The number of Rwandans living below the international poverty line is also decreasing – from 2001 to 2017 it fell by over 20%.

However, whilst it is clearly hard to doubt the improvements that Rwanda has undergone, the question mark surrounding Kagame is how he has gone about ruling Rwanda politically. In a document attached to Rwanda’s government website, the country is advertised as a “multi-party democracy” and in its Parliament 24 seats are reserved for women, 2 for youth, and 1 for the disabled community – all chosen by electoral colleges. The other 53 of the 80 Lower House representatives are elected via proportional representation over a nationwide electoral district. On the surface, this seems to fit into a pretty modern and democratic mould. But despite this, Rwanda is placed 130th in The Economist’s 2020 Democracy Index and ranks 156th out of the 180 nations in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

This imbalance is a result of a few factors. Rather famously, one source of scepticism around Rwandan politics recently is the legislation that was passed which extends the amount of time President Kagame can spend in office. This was introduced after a referendum registering 98.3% voter approval in 2015. The motion changed both the term length of the President and the number of terms they can serve, and the technicalities of the amendment essentially mean that Kagame could remain President until 2034 – 40 years after his introduction as the de facto President in 1994. 

Another question mark around Kagame and his rule is the lack of acceptance of political opposition. Whilst Rwanda supposedly boasts a “multi-party system”, it was only in September 2018 that any opposition figure was elected to the Rwandan Parliament, when two candidates from the Democratic Green party won seats. Furthermore, in the 2017 election, when Diane Rwigara tried to run as an opposition candidate, she faced a 22-year sentence for “inciting insurrection” and “forgery” by criticising the President and her mother received a similar sentence after being found to have sent WhatsApp messages that were critical of the government. Although after a year in jail, the Rwandan supreme court eventually decided to drop the charges against Rwigara and her mother, the former was subsequently banned from running in the election after being accused of forging signatures. 

Through his suppression of political competition and criticism, and the extension of his time in office, Kagame has become somewhat politically untouchable. And although it seems clear that the balance of Rwanda’s politics is heavily loaded in the favour of Kagame and the RPF, this should be set against the improvements that the President has brought about – raising the question of whether they would have even been possible without such government control. Marie E Berry (Professor of International Studies at the University of Denver) takes the view that “In Rwanda, economic growth has been made possible by the strength of the state and the ruling party’s grip on power.” 

Furthermore, the moniker of the “Singapore of Africa” is one that Rwandans and Kagame in particular have welcomed and which hints at the fact that Kagame’s style of governance is not unheard of elsewhere. Singapore boasts a similar record of economic and social progress: 60 years ago, malnutrition, unemployment and ethnic tension were all common in the country, yet in Q4 of 2020 its unemployment rate was just 3.3% and its annual GDP growth between 1999 and 2007 was 6% – very similar to Rwanda’s. It is also ranked 2nd on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business Rankings” index and is considered “one of the most competitive economies in the world today”. Yet, on the flip side, Singapore ranks even lower than Rwanda on the World Press Freedom Index and, whilst it is not listed on the Economist’s Democracy Index as an autocracy (but rather as a “flawed democracy”), its political regime is open to similar critiques. But although it may not fit into the western mould, this model of governance might still be seen as positive in the eyes of its citizens, who may be willing to sacrifice democracy in the pursuit of other goals. 

Although 21st century Rwanda is a unique and fascinating story – one of undoubtable successes yet also clear political flaws – it provides an example of a wider political and societal movement. Whatever people think of the morals of Kagame’s style of governance, it cannot be said with any modicum of certainty whether or not the ends justify the means. Kagame himself, talking about his time in office, once said that “you can measure and understand where we have been and where we are now.” For nations such as Rwanda and Singapore, this type of strict governance is perhaps more efficient or even necessary in the pursuit of their desired socioeconomic growth. The vast majority of Rwandans have become materially better off under Kagame than ever before, and to whatever extent this is seen to be down to the President himself, the Rwanda of the 21st century is worlds away from the era of the genocide. On the other hand, to cite American writer Leo Zeilig, “the Rwandan Government has used its record on poverty reduction and economic growth to legitimise its authoritarian rule”. Even if the people of Rwanda are indeed content with such a political dynamic, the authority of the state and the lack of adequate democratic systems make it nearly impossible to gauge public opinion accurately, or indeed for Rwandans themselves to be aware of such realities. Thus, regardless of its economic achievements, such a blueprint for governance seems morally condemnable and can therefore not be justified.

Johnson and His Government are Damaging British Democracy

By Grey G

Consistently throughout his reign, Boris Johnson has ignored and undermined democracy. At the end of August 2019, through the use of his royal prerogative power, he advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament for five weeks in a blatant attempt to prevent MPs from fulfilling their constitutional functions. Parliament is usually adjourned at this time of year, although typically only for five days rather than five weeks. Despite the PM’s denial of the accusation, he was undeniably suspending Parliament in order to avoid scrutiny and accountability for his Brexit policy for which he couldn’t even claim to have a mandate; he had only won a Conservative Party leadership election to achieve his position. The prorogation was quickly taken to the Supreme Court and resulted in a unanimous decision by the justices that the prorogation was “unlawful, null and of no effect”. This attempt by Johnson to go beyond the powers of the executive is a clear example of him contradicting the democratic principles that a Prime Minister ought to stand for.  

A year later, one of his ministers openly admitted that the Government’s Internal Markets Bill would breach the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and thus be illegal under international law. This bill sought to give ministers the power to rewrite regulations on state aid and customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the UK, violating the Withdrawal Agreement’s terms. This greatly reduced the UK’s reputation as an upholder of international law and set a bad example that might encourage regimes to use it as an excuse to ignore independent courts. The bill also exempts some of the government’s powers from legal challenge. Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court, condemned it, saying “once you deprive people of the right to go to the court to challenge the government, you are in a dictatorship, you are in a tyranny”. 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides us with further evidence of Johnson and his government being anti-democratic. Although most measures within it have received broad support, such as extending the prison terms for sex offenders, certain aspects threaten our democratic rights – specifically our right to protest. The bill seeks to criminalise protests that are deemed by the authorities to cause “serious annoyance”; it will allow the police to place conditions on peaceful protests if they are deemed too “noisy” and if they “obstruct” the public. It will also widen the “controlled area” around Parliament. The right to protest almost inevitably infringes on the rights of others. For example, demonstrations against the Iraq war were noisy and obstructed the public, but under this legislation they would potentially have been banned, removing the ability for the public to show their opposition. If this bill becomes an Act of Parliament in its present form (it is still in the “ping-pong” stage), Johnson’s government will have successfully restricted one of our key democratic rights and thus damaged our democracy.

Time after time, Boris Johnson has protected and stood by his allies when they have broken the rules rather than hold them accountable. He continued to support Dominic Cummings when he broke lockdown rules, Robert Jenrick after he fast-tracked an ‘unlawful’ planning decision which saved a Conservative Party donor £45 million, and Priti Patel when she violated the ministerial code. However, the most significant threat to democracy came from his support for Owen Paterson, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Paterson had been found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant”. The Commons Select Committee on Standards then recommended that Paterson be suspended from the House of Commons. Boris Johnson then did not merely support Paterson but issued a three-line whip on Andrea Leadsom’s amendment which would delay Paterson’s suspension and replace the system that had found him guilty with a new one dominated by Conservatives. This incident further highlights the fact that instead of adhering to rules and protocols that hold the government accountable, Boris Johnson has a tendency to ignore them. 

This was made further evident during the Partygate scandal in which Johnson has once again shown no respect for both Parliament and rules. He has been fined for breaking the very Covid rules that he himself set and in doing so he has arguably misled Parliament. Historically, ministers have always resigned following a series of scandals. Johnson’s failure to do so and his party’s failure to remove him has thus set a bad precedent. If misleading Parliament, lying to the public and becoming the first sitting British Prime Minister to have been found to break the law, on top of other scandals, is not enough for a PM to resign then what is? What now will future Prime Ministers do when they find themselves in a position with most of the public calling for their resignation?

Johnson’s actions have even resulted in the UK edging closer towards a “flawed democracy” with the Economist Intelligence Unit giving Britain an overall score of 8.10 out of 10 in the 2021 Democracy Index as opposed to 8.54 the year before. It is clear that he seems to be ignoring the democratic principles of the country he serves. 

Red Scare

By Angus W-G

Communism. Anarchy. The very words send shivers down Western Society’s spine. You and your friends cower in fear at just the thought of these seemingly dystopian social models. But why? How? To what extent have these leftist ideologies been villainized? Is the belittlement of these beliefs problematic or should extremism simply be discouraged?

Other than far right Reddit users, a large portion of hatred felt towards these ideologies is arguably due to what is known as a “Red Scare.” A Red Scare is the promotion of widespread fear of a potential rise in communism, anarchy, or other leftist ideologies, often catalysed by a form of political propaganda. There have been two main examples of Red Scares, taking place in the 20th century, but arguably a new one has been emerging in recent years.

The first Scare has its origins in the hyper-nationalism of World War 1 in America as well as the Bolshevik Revolution. Communist revolution was perceived by the American authorities in the actions of trade unions, including protests such as the Seattle General Strike, and Boston Police Strike, and in the bombing campaigns directed by anarchist groups at political and business leaders. United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was perhaps the driving force behind the illegal searches and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists that occurred during this time. At its height in 1919-20, concerns over the effects the alleged spread of communism and anarchism in the American labour movement fuelled fear and overreaction in the US population.

McCarthyism was the chief characteristic of the second, potentially more extreme Scare, taking place after World War 2 in the late 1940s and 50s. Named after US senator Joseph McCarthy, it was marked by heightened political repression and persecution of left-wing individuals, and a campaign spreading fear of alleged communist and socialist influence of American institutions. The primary targets of McCarthyist persecution were academics, government employees and prominent figures in the entertainment industry. One of these was playwright Arthur Miller, and these events inspired his play “The Crucible”, about the crazed executions and imprisonment of “witches” during the Salem Witch Trials. Miller later wrote: “The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding images of common experiences in the fifties.” He was right: During the second Red Scare, suspicions were given credibility despite inconclusive and debatable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed leftist associations and beliefs was often exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of their livelihoods, friends, and family as a result, and some were outright imprisoned.

Now, the reason why these historic examples of hysteria about leftist ideologies are important is because we simply haven’t learnt from our mistake.  

The Committee on the Present Danger, a long-since defunct group that campaigned against the dangers of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s, has recently been revived with the help of Stephen K. Bannon (Donald Trump’s former chief strategist) to warn against the dangers of ‘communist’ China. Bannon claims that China’s and America’s economic system “are incompatible. One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose”. However, the Chinese government is decidedly not communist, and the growth that Bannon perceives as a national security threat is largely built on private enterprise. Arguably, Bannon is presenting the country as pursuing a communist model with the objective of scaring the US into responding aggressively to inhibit China’s political repression and expansionism (which is admittedly problematic). Scott Kennedy, an expert at the Centre of Strategic and International studies, raised the concern that “some people are going to say, because of this fear, any policy is justifiable”, as has been true of previous Red Scares.

During Jeremy Corbyn’s years as Labour leader, the press repeatedly accused him of being some manner of Marxist extremist, only a few votes away from sparking revolution. The rhetoric against him certainly resembled elements of a Red Scare: He was compared to Chairman Mao by the Sunday Times, because he owned a bicycle, and to Vladimir Lenin by the Sun since they have similar-ish hats. His policies were framed as ‘radical’ and ‘hard left’, with critics repeatedly calling him a Leninist, Trot, Marxist, and a straight up communist. A study held by the London School of Economics found that 74% of the reporting on Corbyn either distorted or omitted his views entirely. 

What’s unjust in these examples is not the negative opinions against China or Corbyn. It is the promotion of fear around leftist ideologies associated with them to influence the population into condemning them.

Whether communism or anarchy are the best ways forward in our society is a separate debate, but what is certainly true, is that the unthinking vilification of these ideologies is problematic. What leads democracy to thrive is ultimately the free flow of debate and compromise between any (and I mean any, including left and right, libertarian and authoritarian) beliefs. After all, the success of party politics relies on more radical as well as more centrist ideas combining to create a balance of opinions to which the average voter can relate, in the knowledge that, even if party policy doesn’t exactly represent their own views, at least a few people in their party do. Specifically censoring and denigrating certain ideologies only leads to imbalance and dissatisfaction with the public. So next time you see a Reddit post from a self-acclaimed Wolf of Wall Street with Donald Trump as their profile picture, ranting about the commies taking over, take a second, think about what you are reading, and maybe research the topic before spreading false, dangerous, and alarmist information about it.