Going to university: how to start

This post was written by Professor Patrick Tissington, head of Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology. Here, Professor Tissington offers advice to new students beginning their courses all over the UK and beyond on how to get the most out of the university experience. this article first appeared on Prof Tissington’s blog on September 12 2016.  

And so it’s the time of year when thousands of students embark on the Great Adventure that university is. Having had the privilege of tutoring students through this transition for nearly twenty years, I wanted to share my experience to help with this important and exciting time. In this blog, I will cover how to approach the start of your university career. Further blogs will top you up as you go.

The points I am going to make are summarised as:

  • Join in
  • Balance
  • Find the right job
  • Begin with the end in mind

Join in

All the evidence points to students who do well, enjoy their time at university and get the most out of it are the ones who feel part of the university in a very personal way. These days all institutions have vast arrays of clubs and societies for their students which are usually supported financially. So there are so very many options for interests you can pursue outside of your studies and they will be far cheaper than you can find elsewhere. It might seem odd for me to start by telling you to look for things to do outside of lecture time, but it is with good reason. Look for the ones that seem most fun to you. If you played hockey at school, you might want to carry this on and make a bee-line for like-minded hockey folk. On the other hand, going to university is a chance to reinvent yourself and you could decide that you don’t want to be known as a hockey player any longer and want to try rock climbing, chess or ballroom dancing. Even if you aren’t sure, join several clubs and see which ones you want to carry on with. But make sure you do keep at least one going. It is your way to get to know people outside of your course and will broaden your experience. There could be opportunities to put it on your CV but that really shouldn’t be your driving force. University is a time to broaden your mind in all kinds of ways, so make the best of the very many opportunities available to you.

Oh, and yes I do realise that these days with the fees, you will have in mind always what you are going to do for a living when you graduate. But my experience is that those who have an open mind frequently find they gain far more benefit than those who just focus on building an interesting CV. Do make sure you are doing things that interest, challenge and entertain you. Perhaps do things that frighten you a bit!

As I said at the start, there is a hard headed rationale for this advice. If you are part of a club, you will feel more involved in the university. This means you are far more likely to do as well as you possibly can in your studies. And believe me, the experience of being at a university that you feel involved with is something that stays with you for life. Personally I spent time working for the student magazine when I was an undergraduate at the University of Westminster. This gave me free CDs, free entry to gigs and friendship with people across the university. I loved it! I also joined the mountaineering club but that didn’t actually suit me in the end. So don’t be afraid to drop something if it isn’t working out. But don’t be flakey. Pick one or two things that you are going to do and throw yourself into them.

Balance

The start of university is one of the very few times in life when you are able to just go up to someone and start talking to them. This can be intimidating to do at first but remember that despite appearances, pretty well everyone will be feeling the same way so dive in and meet people.

But don’t feel you have to go to EVERY party. I have seen time and time again students get carried away by freshers week and carry on partying for weeks and suddenly find it is exam time and they haven’t prepared. You must always remember the core reason of being at University – learning. And yes I did say learning and not getting a good degree. If you set out to learn everything you can about your subject, all the things about study, exams and getting a job will fall into place. So work on balanced approach. If you have been out socialising more nights than not, you need to take a long hard look at why you have gone to university. This will not be sustainable either financially, physically or in the end, educationally. So have the guts to say no to invitations sometimes.

 

Find the right job

My aim is to provide advice that will be relevant to all students who are starting at University this year. However, I work at Birkbeck, University of London where the majority of our students have been working for a while. So, some of the following might be less relevant to some of them.

I worked my way through university but at the time, this was rare. But for you, unless you are very lucky, it is inevitable. So think again about balance. Find a job that will give you what you need in terms of pay but also isn’t going to be so tedious or stressful it will affect your studies or your enjoyment of life. Of course you need to be realistic and you aren’t going to find a job that gives you flexible hours and pays you large amounts of money to do fun things. But also remember what your value to an employer might be. As an intelligent, resourceful person, you might find there are ways of building from a basic bar job into something more interesting and better paid. People I knew worked in betting shops and found great ways of increasing responsibility and being better paid. Others did out of hours admin. As for me, I ran a market stall, trained as a tour guide and was in the Army Reserve. I don’t recommend you follow my example exactly as these aren’t exactly normal things to do, but hopefully you get the point about being creative when it comes to earning money. Of course the ideal is to have a job which will help you when you leave. Woman stacking shelves in supermarketSupermarkets for example have very good management training programmes and will look very favourably on any shop floor experience you have had. Anything that needs you to deal with the public or manage staff will be really useful. Be creative in your ways of earning. I know one student who is paying her way by buying things from charity shops and selling them on eBay for a profit. She has backup plans having qualified as a life guard and experience as a barista so there are options available to her.

635919692215901891-1513674337_baristaBut the balance idea comes in again. I have seen people get so engaged in their part time job, it has encroached on their studies. This is a bad mistake. Scrimp and save so you have to work less to support yourself rather than taking extra shifts to buy clothes.

And a word of warning as there is also a life lesson to be learned. Things that look too good to be true usually are. That is, offers to make easy money are usually scams. You will need to work for your money. But it is all good experience. I firmly believe that no work experience is wasted so labouring on a building site, working in a call centre or shelf stacking all give real insights into the word of work as well as providing much needed money to support you as you study.

 Begin with the end in mind

And my final advice for this first blog is one that comes from Stephen Covey’s excellent “Seven habits of effective people”. Think long and hard about what you want to have achieved when you graduate. Be really really specific about it. What do you want to be thinking and feeling as you walk across the platform to receive your degree? Do you want to be sure that you have landed the graduate job? Do you want to have got the best marks in all subjects that you possibly could have? Do you want to be looking back on your time at university as a time of fun, learning and growth? Spend time writing this down. Visualise exactly what you want to feel on that day.

students1

Having done this, now plan backwards. How will you achieve these feelings? What do you need to have done in the final year to achieve this? What in the second year (or third too if you are studying for four years)? What in the first year? And so what do you need to do this first term? No really. What do you need to do this term? And by half way through the term? By the end of this month? So what do you need to do this week. Write it down. This is an absolute must. By writing things down we make them more formal and we are far more likely to actually do them.

So that’s it. The key to a successful university experience is balance. Don’t overdo the work but don’t under do it. Do have a social life but don’t over-do it.

I will be back in a few weeks with tips on how lectures are different from lessons. How to get the best out of your lecturers and many other things. But if you would like to get the full details about all my advice, then it’s in a book.9781446266496

I wrote it with a former student who, despite being the first person in his family EVER to go to university, he got a first AND had a great time. His motivation for writing the book was that if he could do well at university, everyone should learn from his experience so anyone could achieve. I too struggled to find out what I was supposed to do at university and only really stumbled across the way of succeeding just before my finals. We both want to help students get the best out of university. And not only from their studies.

Read this article on Professor Tissington's blog

Read this article on Professor Tissington’s blog

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All the World’s a Stage: Musings of a Globe Theatre intern

This post was contributed by Eva-Maria Lauenstein graduate MA Renaissance Studies student at Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities. As part of her programme, Eva-Maria carried out an internship with the education team at The Globe Theatre on London’s south bank. Here she describes the experience

Peter Maes after Heinrich Aldegrever, The Labours of Hercules, 1577, engraving, 94 × 67 mm, British Museum, London - Copy

Peter Maes after Heinrich Aldegrever, The Labours of Hercules, 1577, engraving, 94 × 67 mm, British Museum, London – Copy

The ‘Theatre of the World’, writes Frances Yates, ‘is the “Idea” of the Globe Theatre.’[i] Epitomised in its emblem of Hercules carrying the world on his shoulders, to this day the Globe typifies this view of the multivalence of theatre according to its motto, totus mundus agit histrionem; ‘All the world’s a stage’. This maxim doesn’t merely encapsulate the side of the theatre that visitors experience on a daily basis, but equally the vibrant atmosphere of the world behind the stage.

Working for five months with the education team at the Globe as a research intern has been illuminating, not least because of the moments of wonder passing the boxes and racks of props, and observing the electrifying enthusiasm of the actors as they pour in and out of rehearsals and performances. From writing synopses for almost forgotten plays for the Globe’s Read not Dead performances, to the challenge of unearthing how, precisely, a shepherd of the early modern period passed his day, the internship was a journey of fascinating discoveries that was a pleasure for a theatre lover, but also entailed many opportunities to gain a plethora of new research skills and methods.

 

Henry Singleton - Ariel on a Bat's Back - Google Art Project

Ariel on a Bat’s Back, c. 1819, oil on canvas, 1003 x 1257 mm, Tate Collection, Henry Singleton

Tackling Shakespeare’s more divisive plays

With artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s final season coming to an end, the winter season’s performances equally mirrored the end of an era by taking on some of Shakespeare’s last plays. The internship allowed me to be part of the encounter with plays that have often baffled and divided critics, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles, Cymbeline and The Tempest. Tracing the romantic air of the pastoral elements of The Winter’s Tale, I particularly enjoyed discovering the role of women in rural communities and how the utopian and romanticised image of the country maid of the stage compared to the harsh and difficult life of poorly regulated wage labour. Equally fascinating was the compilation of a research document on the way in which The Tempest’s Ariel was understood by contemporary viewers as a larger part of a community of the spirit world, delving deeply into the magic, the occult and the otherworldly.

A great way to hone research skills, the internship allows for experimentation with different sources, especially through its invaluable on-site archive and library. The variety of tasks meant that every week posed new challenges and the working to often tight deadlines a good way to pace and structure the work.

John Massey Wright's painting of The Winter’s Tale, c. 1810-1866, watercolour on paper, 19 x 16 cm, Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon

John Massey Wright, The Winter’s Tale, c. 1810-1866, watercolour on paper, 19 x 16 cm, Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon

While research into the nature of the plays dominated most of the work, there was equally ample opportunity to build on research skill sets by compiling press reviews and contributing to the collation of material for the website. While some tasks may have seemed daunting at first, the team was always friendly and helpful and fostered an environment of teamwork.

Finally, some of the most fun moments came with a much-needed refresher on the invigorating oddity that was part and parcel of early modern theatre. Assisting in the writing of a blog entry on The Winter’s Tale’s now notorious Exit Pursued by a Bear stage direction, I rediscovered the way in which Shakespeare, to this day, contains unexpected twists and turns that still manage to baffle, frighten and allow audiences to guffaw in an explosion of slapstick-induced comedy. Just so, this research internship has given me unexpected and insightful moments that will continue to inspire my research

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[i] As quoted in Kent T. Van den Berg, Playhouse and Cosmos: Shakespearean Theatre as Metaphor (London: Associated University Presses, 1985), p. 45.

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The Iraq War, Brexit and Imperial blowback

This post was contributed by Dr Nadine El-Enany, lecturer at Birkbeck’s School of Law. Here, Dr El-Enany shares her personal thoughts on the historical context of the EU referendum, and the British vote to leave. This post first appeared on Truthout on Wednesday 6 July 2016.

The Union Jack, the flag of the UK

Brexit is a disaster we can only understand in the context of Britain’s imperial exploits. A Bullingdon boy (Oxford frat boy) gamble has thrown Britain into the deepest political and economic crisis since the second world war and has made minority groups across the UK vulnerable to racist and xenophobic hatred and violence.

People of colour, in particular those in the global South, know all too well what it is to be at the receiving end of the British establishment’s divisive top-down interventions. Scapegoating migrants is a divisive tool favoured by successive governments, but the British establishment’s divide and rule tactic was honed much further afield in the course of its colonial exploits. Britain has a long history of invading, exploiting, enslaving and murdering vast numbers of people, crimes for which it has never been held accountable.

Brexit

While the British Empire may be a thing of the past, British imperialism is not. This month the Chilcot inquiry reported on the role of Tony Blair’s government in the 2003 invasion of Iraq which resulted in the death of nearly half a million Iraqis and the destabilization of the region, for which its inhabitants continue to pay the price. It is no coincidence that the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, amidst the Brexit chaos, launched a coup against their current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was set to call for Blair to be put on trial for warcrimes.

The referendum that resulted in a 52 percent vote in favour of Britain leaving the EU was initiated by the Conservative government. Shortly after the result was announced, it became clear that the leaders of the Brexit campaign had not wanted this result. Boris Johnson MP appeared ashen-faced at a press conference. He had neither expected nor wanted to win the referendum. He only wanted to be next in line for Number 10 Downing Street. David Cameron, who had led the Remain campaign, resigned as Prime Minister immediately. He had called the referendum in a bid to keep the Conservative Party together, without sparing a thought for the lives that would be destroyed if the bet did not pay off. His gamble backfired, as did Boris Johnson’s. Michael Gove MP, who had been Johnson’s right-hand man in the Leave campaign, betrayed him within days of the result, announcing he would be running for Prime Minister, thereby ending Johnson’s bid to lead the country.

This series of events has thrown the Conservative Party into disarray, the very outcome Cameron had wanted to avoid. Nigel Farage, who stoked up unprecendented levels of racist hate and deserves much of the credit for the Brexit win, resigned as leader of the UK Independence Party on Monday, saying he “wants his life back.”

As political leaders jump ship in the wake of the Brexit vote, reports have emerged of a Britain divided, of a traumatized population, grieving and suffering the onset of depression. There is talk of the need for reconciliation in a country where communities and families have been divided. Alongside this, there are expressions of anger and demands for the British establishment to be held accountable for the outcome of the referendum.

There is no doubt that the feelings of anger and loss in the wake of Brexit are real, but where is our collective sense of outrage in the face of the establishment’s divisive and destructive actions elsewhere? After all, the deregulatory reforms entailed in austerity policies imposed in EU countries with disastrous consequences, including cuts to vital welfare services, following the 2007 financial crisis, as Diamond Ashiagbor has argued, is “medicine first trialled on the global South since the 70s”. Ashiagbor notes “European states are experiencing this as a category error, in part because they have not been on the receiving end of such policies”, which are all too familiar in the global South.

Brexit is the fruit of empire

In the week following the announcement of the referendum results, two news items probably escaped most people’s attention. The UK Supreme Court delivered a ruling that further impedes the prospect of the Chagos Islanders returning to the home from which they were forcibly removed in 1971 by the colonial British government as part of a deal to allow the US to establish a military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

Also in the news last week were reports of 94-year-old Kenyan, Nelson Njao Munyaka, who testified in the High Court about killings he witnessed by British soldiers under 1950s British colonial rule. Munyaka is one of 40,000 Kenyans suing the British government over injuries and loss suffered in the course of its repression of the Mau Mau independence movement. Munyaka spoke of witnessing the shooting of his workmates, being made to carry their corpses and the flashbacks he suffers of the physical and verbal assaults he endured at the hands of British soldiers.

Brexit is not only nostalgia for empire — it is also the fruit of empire. Britain is reaping what it sowed. The legacies of British imperialism have never been addressed, including that of racism. British colonial rule saw the exploitation of peoples, their subjugation on the basis of race, a system that was maintained through the brutal and systematic violence of the colonial authorities.

The prevalence of structural and institutional racism in Britain today made it fertile ground for the effectiveness of the Brexit campaign’s racist and dehumanizing rhetoric of “taking back control” and reaching “breaking point.” This rhetoric is entirely divorced from an understanding of British colonial history, including the country’s recent imperial exploits, which have destabilized and exploited regions and set in motion the migration of today.

Islamophobia powered the Blair-Bush war machine, allowing the lie to be peddled that only the Arab world produces brutal despots, and that the lives of nearly half a million Iraqis are an acceptable price to pay for Britain to be the closest ally of the world’s superpower. Just as the political leaders who called the EU referendum along with those who led the Leave campaign did so with no plan in place for the aftermath, so did the Bush-Blair coalition embark on the 2003 invasion of Iraq with catastrophic consequences. Thirteen years on, Iraqis continue to feel viscerally the trauma of war and the pain of their divided society. Only this week, another suicide bombing in a busy market place took the lives of more than 200 people.

Read Dr Nadine El-Enany's original blog post at Truthout

Read Dr Nadine El-Enany’s original blog post at Truthout

The British establishment does not care to learn lessons from the past. Recall its thoughtless and entirely self-interested military intervention in Libya in 2011, which has left the country in a war-torn state of violence and chaos, a hot-bed for ISIS. But we can learn lessons — lessons that might help the left build solidarity and resist repression in more productive ways. We can begin by understanding Brexit instability and our feelings of loss and fear in the context of longstanding and far-reaching oppression elsewhere. As for privileged Remainers with power and influence, they are disingenuous not to accept a large slice of responsibility for the outcome of the EU referendum. From New Labour’s redefining of the Left as “extreme centre,” to Labour’s “austerity lite,” to their support for imperial wars and the mainstream media’s marginalization of left voices and people of color, and their denial of racism, they oiled the wheels of the Brexit battle bus. It is no use for the powerful liberal mainstream to cry crocodile tears now. They would do better to recognize their role in creating the conditions for the sort of racism that propelled the Brexit campaign to victory.

Note: This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck, University of London

(Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)

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The take-over: Prime Ministers without a popular mandate, 1916-2016

This post was contributed by Dr Benjamin Worthy, lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics.This post first appeared on the LSE blog on 12 July 2016.

There are more or less two routes to becoming Prime Minister. You can either win a General Election or win a party leadership election to become head of the largest party when a Prime Minister leaves. Having just achieved the second route, Theresa May has become our ‘takeover’ leader. Here, Ben Worthy discusses the history of this route to power, its successes and – more often than not – its failures.

The table below shows the takeover PMs for the last 100 years, with the previous position, whether they won or lost the election, time in office, how they left office and their ranking as Prime Minister according to Professor Kevin Theakston’s 2004 expert survey.

Takeover Prime Ministers 1916-2016

[1] Pre 1965 Conservative party leaders were ‘chosen’ rather than elected
[2] Not included here is Ramsay MacDonald. He took over as Prime Minister in 1931 in charge of a national coalition government but, rather confusingly and controversially, took over from himself as Labour Prime Minister in the previous administration. He was ranked 14 in the survey.

What are the patterns from history?

One notable point is that takeover has been a very common route to the top. Of the 19 Prime Ministers from Lloyd George to David Cameron 12 have been, in some form and at some point, takeover PMs (counting twice Stanley ‘double takeover’ Baldwin).

May’s exact route, however, is rather unusual. Much has been made of May’s experience as the longest-serving Home Secretary since Attlee’s James Chute Ede (thanks to Gavin Freeguard from the Institute for Government, for putting everyone right). Interestingly, none of the other takeover Prime Ministers ever came to Downing Street directly from the Home Office, though two of them, Churchill and Callaghan, had been Home Secretaries in the past.

In terms of exit, Prime Minister May appears to have even chances of leaving office by election or resignation. Over the 12 takeovers 6 have resigned and 6 were defeated. The premiership of takeovers are relatively brief-their average time in office is a rather small 3.3 years.

Incoming Prime Minister Theresa May stands poised at the lecturn to give a speech

Theresa May – unopposed for the top spot (image; DFID – UK Department for International Development CC BY 2.0)

The big question is how such Prime Ministers are judged to have performed. Using Kevin Theakston’s rankings and Peter Hennessy’s ‘taxonomy’ of performance most takeovers don’t do well, and are in the lower reaches of the ranking. Only two of them, Lloyd George and Churchill, are truly ‘top flight’ or ‘weather-making’ leaders, though Macmillan comes close.

More worrying for Prime Minister May, the bottom 5 of the rankings are all takeovers. The nether reaches of Theakston’s table are full of names such Anthony Eden or Neville Chamberlain, both ‘catastrophic failures’ in crisis partly of their own making, and ‘overwhelmed’ leaders like John Major, who was famously told he was in ‘office but not in power’ (Arthur Balfour, not included here, also replaced Robert Cecil, his uncle, in 1902-hence the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’).

Dr Ben Worthy

Dr Ben Worthy

As the Financial Times said a new prime minister — now comes the hard part. Brexit, a divided country and the breaking up of Britain are huge challenges for any leader. Being Prime Minister is about the personality of the holder and much has been made of May’s competence and clarity. However, May’s habits of mulling over details is rather Brown-esque while her tactic of blaming others when things go wrong (just about) worked in the Home Office but is unlikely to do so in Downing Street.

Moreover, May has a slender majority in the House of Commons of 12 MPs and is inheritor of a rebellious party that has rebelled most over Europe and fears UKIP. Other recent takeovers like Callaghan, Major and Brown who headed similarly divided parties and faced deep crises became what Roy Jenkin’s called ‘suffix’ Prime Ministers, acting as historical codas to an era. We shall soon see if May joins the ‘weather-makers’ or the greatness of her office finds her out.

Note: This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck, University of London

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Labour’s contradictions on European integration after the referendum

This post was contributed by Dr Dionyssis Dimitrakopoulos of Birkbeck’s Department of Politics where he directs the MSc programme in European Politics & Policy. Here, Dr Dimitrakopoulos  looks at what the recent month’s activities indicates about the Labour Party’s possible future. A version of this post was commissioned by the ESRC’s ‘The UK in a Changing EU’ programme, and published on its website.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

When Mark Rutte, the Liberal prime minister of the Netherlands, said that “England has collapsed”, he was not referring to England’s elimination from the European football championship by Iceland. What he meant was that the UK has collapsed, in his words, “politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically”.

Far from looking like a party of government in waiting, capable of offering an answer, the Labour party has become entangled in this systemic crisis and may end up splitting as a result. The party’s reaction to the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union demonstrates that the image of unity and pro-European conviction that could be detected before the referendum was little more than a façade.  The pro-European conviction is being shaken to the core and unity, if it ever existed, has evaporated.

Key facts indicate that it did not have to be like that.  Recent polling indicates that 81% of Labour party members are in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU.  Nearly two thirds of those who voted Labour in 2015 are estimated to have voted for the country to remain a member of the EU.  More than 90% of Labour’s MPs were active supporters of the Remain campaign and the leaders of virtually all trade unions and the TUC.  For a party that over the past year has been divided over a number of policies, these are indications of a remarkable degree of unity. In reality, though, things are quite different.  The behaviour of leading Labour politicians indicates that both the left and the right wing of the party find it very easy indeed to move away from their declared pro-EU stance.

Corbyn, and immigration

Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the referendum campaign was so lackluster and he was, arguably, so late in supporting the Remain camp (a stance that may be the result of his Bennite associations), that a couple of weeks before the referendum almost half of Labour’s voters said they did not know where the party stood on the referendum question.  The extraordinary degree of hostility from the media towards its leader (a hostility that brings to mind the mendacity of the British press against the EU that arguably had a decisive impact on the referendum’s outcome) can explain only part of this state of affairs.  Even if one ignores the multiple allegations that Corbyn and his collaborators actively sabotaged the party’s Remain campaign, the suspicion that Corbyn actually preferred Brexit was compounded by his spokesman’s statement that the result shows that Corbyn’s view is much closer to the views held by the British public.

Secondly, the extent of anti-EU sentiment in the party’s former heartlands in the North of England was such that just days before the referendum leading members of the party’s frontbench like its deputy leader Tom Watson and prominent backbenchers like Yvette Cooper argued in favour of restrictions in the free movement of people inside the EU.  Cooper in particular was so desperate in this attempt that she argued in favour of the abolition (in all but name) of the essence of Schengen area (i.e. one of the most significant achievements of the process of European integration) despite the fact that the UK is not part of it.  This was a belated and ultimately unsuccessful effort to appease the anti-immigrant (to put it mildly) feeling that was unleashed by the referendum.

It was reminiscent of the party’s 2015 general election pledge to reduce new EU migrants’ access to some benefits for two years: late, wide of the mark, out of line with the party’s pro-EU stance and ultimately unsuccessful. Crucially, these Labour politicians did not try to confront the public’s misconceptions and prejudices at a time when academic research shows the significant contribution that EU immigrants make to the exchequer, even before one considers the cultural and other forms of their contribution.  Nor did they say much about the fact that for decades non-EU immigration (for which the UK has sole responsibility) has been higher than immigration from the EU.

So, even if one (despite the evidence) believes that immigration in the UK is a problem, policy failed in the part that is under the control of the UK government.  Though changing public perceptions during the post-fact politics is anything but easy, these Labour politicians have failed the party and the country by allowing the fact-free, anti-EU and anti-immigration sentiment to settle.

The European Union flag

A major dilemma

To his credit Corbyn publicly rejected the notion that immigration is a problem.  Both he and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, were right to argue that parts of the country were feeling the negative impact of immigration as a result of decisions made in Whitehall, not Brussels.  Proof of this is the scrapping by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government in August 2010 of the fund that was meant to help ease the pressure on housing, hospitals and schools felt by these communities.

The huge row inside the Labour party after the referendum has focused much more on Corbyn than on the policies that the party ought to pursue in the future. In this context even some of Corbyn’s supporters (including amongst trade union members) have acknowledged that under his leadership Labour cannot make the electoral progress that it needs to make and offer the country a real alternative to the Conservative government.

At the same time, internal analysis of Labour’s performance in last May’s local elections shows that the party has increased its share of votes in areas where this progress would not affect the outcome of a general election.  As the authors of that analysis put it:

“The strategic problem is that only 14% of our gains were in areas we need in order to win general elections – while just under 50% of our losses were in those areas.”

This poses a major dilemma, the answer to which will determine the fate of the Labour party in the next decade or so.  Should it abandon its pro-Europeanism of which its support for immigration is a key indication and hope to attract some of the voters it has lost in its Welsh and northern English former heartlands or should it stick to facts and principles and try to change (rather than echo) the views of these voters some of whom harbour xenophobic opinions.  In other words, at the end of the day, it must decide whether it is a progressive, left-wing party or not.

Those amongst its most prominent MPs and officials who (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) prefer the former to the latter must be aware of the costs that this option will entail. Joining the anti-immigration bandwagon (instead of, for example, attacking austerity and beefing up labour standards) is no free lunch.

The millions of cosmopolitan, urban dwellers (including those who helped propel Sadiq Khan to victory in the 2016 London mayoral elections) who support Labour (and have boosted its membership since Corbyn’s victory) will abandon it if it becomes little more than ‘red UKIP’ while it is hard to see why other voters (who could be tempted by the anti-immigration line) will prefer the copy to the original.  After all, preliminary evidence shows that a) there is absolutely no correlation between wage growth and support for Brexit and b) culture and personality, rather than material circumstances, lie behind majority support for Brexit.

Note: This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck, University of London

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Three French words to explain the European Revolution and one word to leave that dream: Brexit

This post was contributed by Daniele D’Alvia, MPhil Law student in Birkbeck’s School of Law. Here, Daniele shares his personal thoughts on the Leave result of the UK EU referendum.

Avignon - Place de l'Horloge - Hotel de Ville - Liberte Egalite Fraternite

I am European. I am Italian. The day after Brexit on the 24th of June 2016 I started to attend a law course in Paris at the Sorbonne School of Law as part of my Ph.D. research in London. As soon as I entered the main building three words attracted my attention. They are the words of the French Revolution: liberté, égalité, and fraternité. They are the words that on the 23rd of June 2016 when the UK population decided to leave Europe I felt as forgotten in my soul and in my heart.

I teach seminars in European Union Law since I have started my Ph.D. at Birkbeck University of London and I have always been taught by my Italian law Professors that the principle of integration in Europe does not translate and never will constitute a conflict between sovereignties. The limitation and the sharing of competences between the EU sphere and the national sphere is not a limitation. By contrast, it is an opportunity for growth. Europe is not just an idea. It is not just a motivation to fight for ideals. Europe is a pure sentiment of cohesion of ideals and motivations.

I say this because I have lived the European integration in 2013 when I decided to leave my own country and I started to study an LL.M. in London. The UK was an extremely welcoming country and London made my mind vivid again. After only seven months I won a Ph.D. and I became a Ronnie Warrington Scholar. I started to teach European Union Law and I was appointed as the module convenor for Comparative Law at Birkbeck. I saw the opportunity for growth that was called Europe. I have lived that opportunity and it is beautiful.

The French Revolution: 3 words to explain the European Revolution  

Liberté, égalité, and fraternité these are the words that you can read on the front face of the building of the Sorbonne School of Law in Paris. In my view, these three simple words can clearly explain what Europe is about.

Firstly, liberté means freedom. During the French revolution freedom and the right to freedom was much more than a political idea of rebellion against the constituted power. Indeed, it was so important that it translates as the raison d’être of any other political and civil right that comes from a general conception of freedom. In the same fashion, the European Union has established four fundamental freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capitals and persons. These rights to freedom are the legal grounds for the establishment of any other civil or political rights within the Union (for instance, think to the right to non-discrimination not only as free movement of workers and security of the same job conditions, but specifically as free movement of goods in order to not discriminate against imported goods, or consumer protection).

Secondly, égalité means equality. It has a strong meaning, and it is the celebration of the humanity of law. In this light, the judge should be the bush de la loue, in other words he should speak for the law, not against the law. He has to interpret and apply the law for the ordinated coexistence of men. The law is above the judge. The European Union has always followed the same principle through the judicial review process of the European Court of Justice. Furthermore, think to the principle of supremacy of EU law over national legislation – can’t you see the glorification of law over domestic powers? It is a great harmonization of law for the first time, isn’t it? Again this is not a conflict between sovereignties. This is an opportunity for growth by virtue of the principle of integration.

Thirdly, fraternité is a motion to understand that all men are created equal. It is the French Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (1789). In Europe it is the European Convention of Human Rights (1950) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2007). It means that the natural law is above positive law. In other words, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union has been approved in order to recognise the existence of a series of fundamental human rights that exist and are legitimised before the Law.

Three words

In the end, three words that derive from the French Revolution are capable of explaining the European idea of Union. This is the real Revolution. To think of Europe by virtue of three words is a Revolution itself that can explain much more to the reader than any complex view of European Union law as a pure technical exercise. It is for the first time a unique instance of a universal conception of law.

Law academic Daniele D'Alvia props his elbow on a mantlepiece

Daniele D’Alvia

For this, although I have seen Brexit in 2016, I am still in love for Europe. In particular, the challenge I would like to pose here – or better, provoke (I am Italian for this, we love to provoke) – is the following: if three words can explain Europe and, therefore, show that in front of the famous complexity and technocracy of Europe there is only a real opportunity for growth and unification, what does the word ‘Brexit’ alone mean? Can the significance of one word explain the significance of a decision to leave and reject all the universal meanings that only Europe is capable of conveying, and even before Europe the French Revolution?

I don’t think so. The dream of an “ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe” of the Treaty of Rome was not just a dream but is becoming and will soon become a reality despite Brexit.

Note: This post represents the views of the authors and not those of Birkbeck, University of London

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Could Tony Blair and others face a war crimes trial?

This post was contributed by Professor Bill Bowring, of Birkbeck’s School of Law. Here, Professor Bowring looks into the outcome of the Chilcot Report, published this week, and whether former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the others found responsible for taking the UK into Iraq are still in the frame for a war crimes trial.

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister (1997-2007) (8228591861)

Could former Prime Minister face a war crimes trial in the aftermath of the Chilcot Report?

The Chilcot Report has now been published, and my colleague Dr Fred Cowell has already published an excellent Birkbeck blog analysing its main findings. The Report provides damning conclusions as to how the UK found itself at war, and as to the disastrous consequences. Chilcot’s team did not include lawyers, and his terms of reference did not permit findings as to the legality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, or as to liability in the courts, especially criminal liability.

In fact, the war was illegal, and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. That was the opinion of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, on 15 September 2004; of the late Lord Bingham in his magisterial text The Rule of Law; and of the Foreign Office’s own legal advisers, as Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned over the issue, has very recently repeated. She said “We ignored the rule of law – the result was Iraq.”

So the question remains: could Tony Blair and others face international prosecution?

On 5 July 2016 Geoffrey Robertson QC wrote in The Guardian “Putting Tony Blair in the dock is a fantasy”. He meant prosecution for the crime of aggression, for which the Nazi leaders were prosecuted in the 1945 Nuremberg trials. This is “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another State”. When the International Criminal Court was established in 1998, the Rome Statute, the international treaty which created it, included a crime of aggression. But this has not yet come into force and cannot do so before 2017. But Robertson, who was quite right about the crime of aggression, did not turn his attention to prosecution for war crimes.

According to The Daily Telegraph this was not possible either. On 2 July 2016 it published an article under the headline “Outrage as war crimes prosecutors say Tony Blair will not be investigated over Chilcot’s Iraq war report – but British soldiers could be”.

Two days later, on 4 July, the Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, elected in 2012, issued a strongly worded Statement, correcting the assertions made by the Daily Telegraph. She was obliged to remind her readers that her office is presently carrying out a “preliminary examination” into what happened in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. This was announced on 13 May 2014. It was the result of a complaint by a German NGO, ECCHR, and the Birmingham law firm, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) – which represented the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in 2003. The complaint concerns more than 60 allegations of war crimes – unlawful killing and systematic detainee abuse – by British troops in Iraq.

Bensouda stressed that the Chilcot Report will be taken into account by her, and stated: “Suggesting, therefore, that the ICC has ruled out investigating the former British Prime Minister for war crimes but may prosecute soldiers is a misrepresentation of the facts.”

She also emphasised that the Court can exercise jurisdiction only when a state is unable or unwilling to genuinely investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

She will therefore take into account the fact that on 22 January 2015 David Cameron ordered a “clampdown on ‘spurious’ legal claims” against members of the UK military for war crimes in Iraq. This came 13 days after the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) sent letters to around 280 British soldiers, informing them that they were under investigation.

The head of IHAT had previously stated that some soldiers could face criminal prosecution for war crimes. There have been no convictions. And a year later Cameron launched an assault on the lawyers taking the cases, calling for them to be disciplined.

Tony Blair and the others found responsible for taking the UK into Iraq, are, therefore, most certainly still in the frame.

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Chilcot Report: The consequences for International law

This post was contributed by Dr Frederick Cowell, lecturer in Law at Birkbeck. Here, Dr Cowell, offers an initial analysis of the report of the Iraq Inquiry from the perspective of its consequences for international law. Published today, the report follows a seven-year investigation into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War.

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The Report of The Iraq Inquiry (known as the Chilcot report) was released today. Unlike its predecessors, the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Report which examined individual elements of the build-up to the 2003 Iraq war; this had a much more wide ranging brief to examine all of the causes of the Iraq war. Its wide ranging focus meant that it took over seven years to complete but this is justified given the complex nature of the conflict and Chilcot is careful to put things into a historical context beginning with the UN response to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.

The report is fairly unequivocal in its criticism that the 2003 war was ill planned and had a highly problematic legal basis, with Sir John Chilcot saying in his press conference that “the circumstances under which the UK decided there was a legal basis for war were far from satisfactory”.

There are some serious questions to be asked about the nature of government and structures in the UK in particular the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) – the body in the Cabinet Office responsible for directing the national intelligence organisations and running intelligence in government. In the executive summary the report criticises the JIC for conveying “certainty” in their intelligence assessments “without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence” at hand. There is also some strong criticism of Tony Bair not least his commitment to stand by the then President of The United States, George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq.

This is a brief overview of the some of the key points of the report with respect to the consequences for international law.

  • The Illegality of the War

It is important to note that the report is not the judgment of a court and therefore does not give any rulings about whether or not the actions of the UK government were definitively illegal. It is also not possible as things currently stand to prosecute Tony Blair at the International Criminal Court for ordering the invasion of Iraq (I explain why here). Nevertheless the report makes it clear that the decision to invade Iraq was of highly suspect legality. Under the UN Charter military action is permitted to enforce the decisions of the UN Security Council. But this has to be explicitly authorised by the UN.

The report notes on page 27 of Volume 1 that the assumption that there is a “residual right for individual Members to enforce Security Council decisions” cannot be considered correct. After the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 the UN Security Council had authorised UN military action to liberate Kuwait and then in response to the worsening humanitarian situation in Iraq authorised military action to protect civilians (in the form of No-Fly zones).

UN Security Council Resolution 1441 of November 2002 demanded that weapons inspectors be readmitted into Iraq to begin an extensive uninterrupted programme of weapons inspection and warned that unless Iraq cooperated “fully in the implementation of, this resolution” it would constitute “a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations”. In this context the advice given to by the Attorney General to the Prime Minister on the 11th of March 2003 made it clear that Resolution 1441 was “capable of reviving” the authorisation of Resolution 678 which authorised action against Iraq in 1991. This as several scholars have argued was a very thin basis for legality and the report is highly critical about the fact that the different views were not put to the Cabinet in making this decision, in particular the conclusion that a Security Council resolution explicitly authorising military action was necessary.

The upshot of the Chilcot report in this area is likely to be a strong restatement of the principle that any military action without explicit Security Council authorisation is illegal. In Libya in 2011 this was obtained but resolutions on Syria have not explicitly authorised the use of force in relation to the ongoing military action in Syria, although there may be an alternate legal basis for such action. The report also concludes that Britain was wrong to conclude that in 2003 Saddam posed a threat to the UK, justifying the use of force under the principles of self-defence in international law. However, on page 66 of volume 1 it notes that in the mid-1990s the sanctions regime was preventing Saddam Hussein developing missiles with the capacity to launch weaponised biological agents, indicating that the sanctions regime on the county was at least partially effective.

  • Humanitarian Intervention

Since the mid-1990s in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide international lawyers and policy makers have debated the creation of a doctrine of military intervention into a state where crimes against humanity and Genocide are occurring. In 1999 NATO forces attacked Serbia to prevent attacks on Kosovans and although this lacked specific authorisation by the Security Council an international commission later concluded that the invasion was “illegal but legitimate”.

Professor Bill Bowring has criticised this conclusion noting that it paved the way for the legal advice that the Iraq war was illegal. In 2004 and 2005 a UN Commission looked at the creation of a legal doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, which by 2009 had emerged as a general set of principles rather than a definitive legal doctrine. The principle moral argument behind humanitarian intervention JL Holzgrefe argues is that it is act utilitarian – in that it justifies action on the basis of favourable outcomes – rather than rule utilitarian – which justifies acts on the basis of existing rules designed to aggregate general well-being. This was the point of Tony Blair’s 1999 Chicago speech which set out the basis of humanitarian intervention; war was dangerous but often less dangerous than letting a dictator commit human rights abuses.

The Chilcot report’s conclusions on the aftermath of the war and long term planning arguably undermine the claim that the Iraq war could be justified on humanitarian grounds. It notes in section 7 of the report that “the diplomatic options had not at that stage [when the war started] been exhausted” and criticises the way that the build up to the invasion was run to a strict military timetable rather than considering a political solution. Furthermore it details in some depth how the post-war planning did not include any real planning as to how the post-invasion situation in Iraq would be managed or what would be put in place to enable transition.

What is particularly damning in the light of subsequent developments in Iraq is the transcript of a JIC report in April 2003 which noted that “the local population had high hopes that the Coalition would rapidly improve their lives” but that resentment “could grow quickly if it is seen to be ineffective” (Vol 8 p. 474). The impact of this for the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is likely to be that much more attention is paid to the impact of military action in post-conflict societies in subsequent debates on the doctrine’s legality as that is the only way for the principle to be consistent with any form of legal or moral principle.

  • The Authority of the Security Council

The Security Council under the UN Charter is the supreme decision making body on matters relating to the interpretation of the Charter and the use of force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. As studies of international organisations have shown, the UN Security Council’s decisions and Resolutions have a reasonably high degree of compliance because the UN has a form of content independent legitimacy to it and it is believed as an institution. The Chilcot report is very critical of the British government for undermining the authority of the Security Council in the run up to the 2003 war. It notes that they were aware that if they tried to get a Resolution explicitly authorising the invasion of Iraq that it would be vetoed by other Security Council members.

Dr Frederick Cowell

Dr Frederick Cowell

It also notes that the diplomatic process was undermined to the extent that prior commitments to military action were “allowed to dictate the diplomatic timetable” (vol. 6 p.631). This undermined not only the authority of the UN but the weapons inspectors themselves who were not allowed to complete the function that had been entrusted to them. The UN Security Council is facing a series of unprecedented threats to its legitimacy due to ongoing issues in Syria and the Ukraine and the details of how the US and UK were able to subvert its by-pass its authority are likely to exacerbate this.

There is likely to be a lot more to be said about the Chilcot report, which is nearly 2 million words long, and this only a preliminary assessment of the consequences for international law.

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Who will succeed David Cameron? A brief history of takeover Prime Ministers

This post was contributed by Dr Benjamin Worthy, lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics.

Following David Cameron’s announcement that he will resign following the EU referendum, Dr Worthy assesses the experiences of Prime Ministers who have taken over mid-term, and considers what can be taken from this as we look forward to the upcoming Tory leadership battle.

this post first appeared on Democratic Audit on Friday 24 June.

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Credit: Number 10 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

David Cameron will not be Prime Minister by October, and is going even earlier than I predicted. So what does the past tell us about who might take over as Prime Minister, and how they might fare? Who, out of these runners and riders, will be next as First Lord of the Treasury?

There’s generally two ways you can become Prime Minister in the UK through (i) winning a General Election (ii) winning a party leadership election (or in the pre-1965 Conservative party being ‘chosen’) to become head of the largest party when a Prime Minister leaves-see this great infographic here.[1]

Whoever sits in 10 Downing Street after David Cameron will be what I’m calling a ‘takeover’ leader, who takes over government by (ii) rather than (i). As the UK Cabinet Manual states:

Where a Prime Minister chooses to resign from his or her individual position at a time when his or her administration has an overall majority in the House of Commons, it is for the party or parties in government to identify who can be chosen as the successor (p.15).

Although often seen as ‘lame ducks’ or less legitimate, remember both Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, number 1 and number 2 respectively in the highest rated Prime Ministers of the 20th century, got to 10 Downing Street without winning an election.

Here’s a table looking at the last six Post-war ‘takeover’ Prime Ministers that sets out who they took over from, their previous position before Prime Minister, and – the all-important question – whether they went on to win the next election.

Takeover Prime Ministers 1955-2010

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Interestingly, of the 12 Post-war Prime Ministers almost half were actually takeovers. So how did these takeovers do in the General Elections that followed? It seems there are exactly even chances of winning or losing, as 3 takeovers lost their elections and three won, though drilling down it can be close. John Major had a very narrow win in 1992 and Alec Douglas-Home a surprisingly narrow loss in 1964. What the table doesn’t show is the danger in stepping into Downing Street without an election, which explains why the other 50 % failed to win. Takeover is a risky business even in tranquil times, as this great paper shows.

In terms of who does the taking over now, a superficial look at the table offers good news for Theresa May and Michael Gove and bad news for Boris Johnson. All the takeovers Post-War were already holders of ‘great offices of state’. In fact, 3 were Chancellors and 3 were Foreign Secretaries. This makes sense as it is senior politicians who will have the resources, the reputation and, most importantly, the support in the party to win a leadership election.

The past is not, of course, always a good guide to the future, especially in a Brexit-ing Britain. To be Conservative leader you must make it through a particular bottleneck, as two potential leaders must emerge from the votes of the Conservative MPs for a run-off with the rest of the party. This morning it is very, very unlikely that the next leader will be the (probably) soon to be ex-Chancellor George Osborne. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond is, as far as we know, not interested.

The closest ‘great offices’ are Theresa May in the Home Office, whose chances have been talked up until yesterday, and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who has ruled himself out repeatedly (though so did his hero Lyndon Johnson, many times). However, Boris Johnson, who has no great office but was Mayor of London for eight years, will have a large amount of political capital and has powerfully bolstered his reputation. A Brexit Johnson versus a Eurosceptic May run-off looks likely.

Gauging how ‘successful’ the takeover leaders were is more tricky-the whole question of whether and how a Prime Minister ‘succeeds’ depends on how you measure it. Half of the leaders achieved the most basic aim of winning an election and a number of them not only won but also increased their majority. Beyond this, some are widely regarded as having failed amid crisis, splits and defeats, especially John Major and Gordon Brown. Not all takeovers are failures or lame ducks. Three of the leaders came number 4, 7 and 8 in the academic survey of the top ten Post-War Prime Ministers and Harold Macmillan in particular is widely regarded as a highly capable and astute Prime Minister.

Whoever takes over from Cameron will face deep problems. He or she will be in charge of a ruptured party, and a worrying in-tray of pressing problems. Being prime Minister of Brexit Britain will mean trying to hold together a divided country and Dis-united Kingdom, not to mention overseeing a hugely complex negotiation process. Whoever takes over will need a very healthy dose of fortune and skill to be a Macmillan rather than a Brown.

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[1] There are other ways but it all gets a bit complicated and constitutional see p 15 ofthe Cabinet Manual 2.18-2.19. If a government falls and an opposition can muster up a majority then an opposition leader could become Prime Minister without an election (but would probably want to call a General Election soon after). The Cabinet Manual hedges its bets by saying ‘The Prime Minister will normally be the accepted leader of a political party that commands the majority of the House of Commons’.

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Note: This post represents the views of the authors and not those of Birkbeck, University of London

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Women in STEM campaign 2016

Today (23 June) sees the launch of the Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) campaign 2016, supported by a wide range of partners including Department for Women and Equalities and The Equality Challenge Unit and led by MediaPlanet.

To mark the start of the campaign, Birkbeck spoke to women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) departments across the College to find out more about what excites them about working in their research fields, how they came to follow a career in STEM and who inspires them.

The Departments of Biological Sciences and Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck have been awarded Athena Swan Bronze awards. Athena Swan awards are given by the Equality Challenge Unit in recognition of commitment to advancing the careers of women in STEM subjects. Other departments and the College are working towards further awards.

Read more content from #BBKWomeninSTEM

BBK article: This year’s BBK magazine featured a profile of Rosalind Franklin, the “dark lady of DNA” #WomeninSTEM16

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Inspired by science: women in science share their stories
What can we learn from the Apollo samples? Dr Louise Alexander

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