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Joe Biden’s first, major Foreign Policy challenge

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Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As President Joe Biden walked to the press podium with the President of South Korea last week (20th May), he seemed pleased. Perhaps it was his foreign policy pivoting towards Asia, or a sense of relief after this week’s ceasefire in Gaza. As Biden administration has been focusing on fighting the pandemic, economic recovery, and keeping a watchful eye on the racial tension in the country, the Gaza conflict caught the administration unprepared for a bloody conflict abroad that has farfetched implications from east to west. The Biden administration was not ready for the eruption of violence in Middle East so early and so quickly.

President Biden launched his foreign policy with a relatively quiet approach, focusing on trading allies and adversaries. After a long four years of largely a theatrical foreign policy of Donald Trump, Biden’s slow and cautious approach was not a surprise.

The four years of the Trump Administration lacked concrete and stable American footing on world matters. While Trump was tangling himself in his praise laden tweets for Putin, or stepping foot into North Korea for a photo op, or dancing with swords with Arab monarchs, it did not leave much for Biden to work with. Trump struggled to establish a common sense of reliance in NATO, his impulsive likes and dislikes, and strong criticism intensified his desire to be a great world leader. He needed any treaty anywhere in the world. Due to strong pro-Israel sentiment in the Republican Party, he chose Israel and Palestine to be his Foreign Policy legacy. 

Starting his campaign, Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, sending a strong message of unconditional support to Israel. In his last two years, he picked none other, but his own son-in-law, Jerry Kushner, of Jewish faith to solve the world’s most complex, most deep rooted and bloodiest conflict. The Trump Peace Plan written by Jerry Kushner, was unveiled in the White House with pomp and pride alongside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (without any representation from Palestine). The Trump Peace Plan gave too much to Israel and too little to Palestine and was rejected by Palestinians and West Bank settlers. The plan allowed Israel to make inroads into Palestinian Territories after four years while making any benefits to Palestine conditional. The Trump Middle East foreign policy targeted the geographical boundary of the Israel-Palestine region, without any weightage to broader regional issues including Shiatte and Suni sects, IS, as well as the influence of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the political landscape of the region.

While the Trump plan was loud and invasive, it was not too far from US standing on Israel Palestine issue. America has openly or covertly supported Israel and has supported countries and factions united in their anti-Iran actions, regardless of their undemocratic rules. 

Joe Biden started his presidential term with business as usual for the Middle East. His earlier approach of keeping a quiet stance on anything that was outside the pandemic and economic partnerships worked quite well, but soon led to a vague outlook of his Presidency. The decision to roll-out military forces was far too quick that seemed more as an economic decision than a conflict resolution, very much in line with the Trump policy. 

The reactions to these soft and economy driven decisions created a sudden unanticipated void in Afghanistan and Middle East. Within the first week of the troop withdrawal announcement, insurgents carried out multiple attacks in Afghanistan including one at a girls’ school, signaling a strong reemergence. However, the US news media did not cover these bombings as to question Biden’s policy. 

Are Israeli attacks on Palestine also attacks of opportunity for US? While Hamas has been active in Palestine for as long as the conflict, the timing of these largely unprovoked attacks raises too many questions. As the number of fatalities and damage increased, the pressure on Biden to take action also increased. The Democratic party is not the same party of 2000, where anti-Muslim sentiment and post 9/11 patriotism gained some approval for George Bush’s attack on Iraq. The party’s far left progressive faction is more vocal and influential today. Bernie Sanders with young members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are publicly denouncing Israeli autocracies. Younger Americans, a key voting block for Democrats, took to Twitter in strong opposition to Israeli attacks. These younger and progressive minded Americans are informed and have come out to protest on the streets after witnessing the loss of civilian life and property.  

The White House, in firefighting mode, publicly admitted that several intensive calls are being made to Israel to resolve the conflict immediately. Biden and Netanyahu and their aides had multiple conversations; but the nature and outcomes were not made public. The bottom-line message given to the public was that US is strongly engaged in actions to stop the war. Whether Israel caved in to these calls or had accomplished its targets led to an apparent ceasefire this week.

Going forward, Biden will have to take an open and clear stance on where he stands with Palestinian occupation and what actions, if any, would allow retaliation measures from Israel. Senator Sanders and his close Progressive allies in the party are questioning close-to-$4 billion in military aid given to Israel which was used for increasing Israeli footprint and an attempted genocide of Palestinians. The party is demanding humanitarian aid for Gaza after these recent air-raids.

The Biden administration in its first two years is tasked with building a foreign policy that is focused on rebuilding the trust of Palestinians, normalising Palestine-Arab states’ relationships and maintaining trust of Israel. The pressure of being accountable to his own party with growing Progressive elements and handling a foreign policy outside of religious and financial controls is not an easy task for Biden.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

How has the United States’ position on the use of force changed?

Probably one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the United States was the invasion of Iraq in 2003

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Throughout history, attitudes of the great powers have been changing on the legality of the use of force. Great powers such as the United States rejected International law at various moments. International law is defined as the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. But both the Clinton and Bush presidencies in the 1990s and 2000s also used international law to justify military interventions and implement liberal imperialist foreign policies. However, unlike Clinton and Bush, Trump followed his predecessor Obama by wanting to take a step back from protracted wars around the globe and becoming less interventionist. Then Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo claimed that America had always been a “liberating force, not an occupying power” but the time of “self-inflicted shame” was now over. So how did America come to this point? Has America’s need to maintain its hegemony become less attractive and more expensive? Or has this been a change based entirely on a shift in morality and mindset?

US intervention during the Reagan era

It’s clear that even from the Reagan era of the 1980s, the aims of successive US administrations were to overthrow democratically established governments and to impose aggressive policies and actions in order to protect its own interests. For example, the International Court of Justice found that from 1981 to 1984, the US undertook an “act of aggression” by providing funds for military and paramilitary activities by the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. However, the US justified its actions and the sanctions it imposed on the Nicaraguans as a “collective self-defence because of Nicaragua’s indirect aggression against El Salvador”. Geopolitically too, the US claimed its use of force was to preserve political stability in Central America and to combat the threat of communism by the Sandinista government. These arguments were widely rejected by international lawyers and human rights organisations. For example, former Professor of Law, Pete S Michaels, examining the legality of US intervention in Nicaragua, commented that the Neutrality Act and the Boland Amendment both suggested that the United States intervention in Nicaragua was illegal. But America was also protecting its financial and business interests. Various US companies had still had either businesses based in Nicaragua such as United Fruit, Monsanto and over 30 other US businesses or held significant interests in Nicaraguan firms for example 50% interest in the Gemina flour mill, 75% interest in B.C.I. Chemicals and a 30% interest in the Polycasa plastics company

Probably one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the United States was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Along with Britain and other countries, the US declared that Iraq posed the “greatest security threat” – being a rogue state with connections to terrorist organisations such Al-Qaeda; and that Saddam Hussein was harbouring weapons of mass destruction which he wouldn’t think twice about using against the West as he had used them against his own people. However, under the guise of helping the Iraqi people and spreading democracy, the US was actually found to have breached the UN Charter by going headlong into an illegal war. In contrast to the 1991 Gulf War which was seen as a “morally defensible war” with the support of the UN Security Council to remove an invading power, the Iraq war this time around had very little to do with WMDs and human rights but was entirely “motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power”

Obama and his approach

Fast forward to 2011 where there appeared to be a change in tactics. President Bashir Al Assad of Syria was accused of brutal crackdowns of civilian protests, including using chemical weapons against his own citizens. However President Obama had been elected at a time when the global financial crises had had a huge impact. Thus, his administration adopted a more “geopolitical realism” approach – trying to avoid being mired in a yet another expensive and endless conflict in the Middle East. Obama admitted himself that Syria was of no vital strategic importance to the US – ironically serving to also acknowledge that past foreign interventions were undertaken primarily to protect US interests rather than the humanitarian reasons professed at the time. 

But at the same time, did America still have a duty to uphold its “policeman of the world” status by acting decisively when a sovereign nation appeared to be killing its own citizens? As it is, when the US had evidence that Assad was “preparing to use chemical weapons” and that this was a major threat to national security, Obama clarified that US intervention would not be “open ended” and that there be “no [American] boots on the ground”. But was this too little, too late? Did Obama’s reluctance to use force early on and possibly reduce or even avoid the humanitarian crisis and chaos that followed, put a question mark over those policy decisions? It is possible that the protection of millions of defenceless Syrians against the horrors of civil war, might have been enough justification for forceful American intervention in the beginning, in this case. 

Is the present time different? 

The election of Trump meanwhile ushered in an era of “America first” further favouring a non-interventionist style. Trump made it clear that the US would be employing a completely counter position to previous administrations. It would not now be interfering in other countries’ affairs but would be putting the “interests of the American people and American security above all else”. Thus, the United States should pursue its interests and would not be constrained and controlled by international law. Moreover, in the case of Syria, Trump made a decisive statement at the National Security Council meeting that he did not want to stay in Syria for a lengthy period. This itself revealed that his approach was different to the normal US rhetoric. Prior to his presidency Trump opposed attacking Syria and his tweets were always focussed on forgetting about Syria and instead prioritising America, its people, jobs, healthcare system etc. However, as President in 2018 he justified the US military to conduct precision missile strikes against the Syrian government as a response to a reported chemical attack on its own citizens by the Assad regime. Thus, legality of the use of force was on humanitarian grounds. The US put forward a legal argument that the use of chemical weapons, both in Iraq and Syria, was a threat to world security, peace and stability. But this is problematic as it’s hard to claim when and how force should be used and also the war in Syria has turned out to be a devastated site of proxy wars between great powers. This ‘shared power’ makes it very difficult for any one party to declare war. 

And so to today and Biden’s “foreign policy for the middle class”. Biden promises to take a much more multilateral approach in order to “defend the liberal international order”. So does that mean normal service will now resume and Uncle Sam will retake its position in policing the world? From the so-called threats of Cold War communism and terrorism through to self-proclaimed protection of democracy and human rights, America has used a gamut of reasons to justify foreign interventions and wars. But it seems there has been a definite shift in the last 40 years to reduce its observable presence on the world stage but not necessarily its influence. The US still appears to be intent on protecting its hegemony and its own interests as it always has been and will likely continue to bend the rules when it suits – regardless of cost to other nations. In the meantime, we just have to watch and wait.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Trouble in the GOP after Trump’s Presidency

Graduate student interested in world politics, social issues, science, and the environment.

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Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Months after the end of the Trump administration, division and discrimination continue to ravage politics in the United States. Perhaps the most troubled political entity is the Republican party, whose opinion on Donald Trump, the state of the party today, and its future has become divided. Trump, who garnered near unanimous Republican support following the 2016 election, has now become a point of contention primarily due to his false claims regarding wide-spread election fraud during the 2020 presidential campaign, as well as his support for the insurrectionists during the January 6th Capitol siege. Nevertheless, 59% of Republicans still want Trump to remain active in the party, while 54% want him to be the presidential nominee for the 2024 elections. 

Most Republicans remain loyal to Trump. In fact, 53% still believe Trump is the true president; however, some party members have openly rebuked them for their refusal to accept Biden’s victory in the recent election and the  continued support for Trump in spite of his false claims. Seven Republican senators voted against the party’s recommendation to convict Trump during his second impeachment. Furthermore, 35 House Republicans voted in favour of a commission investigating the Capitol siege. This move contradicts Republican leaders who wish to underplay the violence at the siege and prevent further investigation due to fears it may demonise the party and Trump, which can sway  the 2022 midterm elections in the democrats’ favour.

Despite this, Republicans who criticise Trump find the party against them. For example, former Republican nominee Mitt Romney has received immense backlash because of his outspoken criticisms of Trump. More recently, House Republican Liz Cheney became a target for senior Republicans after she targeted Trump and the party itself on the House floor. Cheney condemned Trump’s claims of a stolen election and his role in the Capitol siege. Slamming the GOP for their support for Trump’s false claims, Cheney stated, “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

This resulted in the Senior Republicans voting Cheney out of the House shortly after citing a need for unity in the party. Unsurprisingly, Cheney was replaced with Elise Stefanik who is well known for her unfailing support for the former president.  Despite his loss, support for Trump remains a pillar of the Republican identity, whereby any criticism of him is met with hostility and immediate action, demonstrating the stronghold Trump continues to have on the GOP. 

Cheney’s forced departure has left a trail of bitterness in the party as over 100 prominent Republicans recently signed a letter addressed to the GOP in response. In it, they threaten to split into a new party if current trends persist. These Republicans want the GOP to release itself from Trump’s influence feeling that the “party has divorced itself from truth and reason” and no longer “supports free minds, free markets, and free people.” 

As the party currently stands, it is clear that Trump will remain a key player in the future of the GOP. The majority remain Trump loyalists and hold power over the party’s current activities and future directions. While voters have expressed animosity towards the two-party system, the US remains one. It is unlikely that a third, smaller party would be able to immediately infiltrate a political system that has existed for centuries. In the immediate future, only a shift in voter behaviour can devalue Trump as an asset for the party. 

Social media was accredited by many to play a significant role in Trump’s election in 2016. Analysis of Trump’s tweets leading up to election demonstrate that he was able to use Twitter to reach his target audience efficiently and persistently. Trump used “informal, direct, and provoking communication style” to improve his identity as a political outsider and “construct and reinforce the concept of a homogeneous people and a homeland threatened by the dangerous other.” Communication through social media was Trump’s biggest strength; however, following his social media ban, he may no longer be able to maintain his influence over voters. Trump was de-platformed after being permanently banned from popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook following the Capitol siege. His blog, which he started in retaliation to the ban, has seen little traffic; he is no longer able to reach the masses and is receiving considerably less media attention. It is possible that without Twitter, Trump may not be able to rile up voters even if he is selected as the Republican nominee for 2024.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Graduate student interested in world politics, social issues, science and the environment.

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Politics

Anti-Muslim sentiment ‘remains a problem’ in the Conservative party, independent inquiry concludes

The United Kingdom prides itself on supporting the values of mutual respect, tolerance, democracy and social cohesion.

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GOV.UK, OGL 3, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2018, Boris Johnson, who was then-Former Foreign Secretary, wrote a column for The Telegraph in which he compared Muslim women who wear the burqa (Islamic veil) to “letterboxes and bank robbers.” He faced widespread criticism for his choice of words at the time and was even accused of expressing Islamophobic views. A year after this, in 2019, when the contest for the Conservative Party Leadership was ongoing, Mr Johnson, alongside the other candidates, agreed to an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party. 

This inquiry was led by Professor Swaran Singh and the report was published in May this year. The report found that high-profile cases such as the remarks made during Lord Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign and comments made by Boris Johnson regarding women’s burqa in his 2018 column gave the impression that the party and its leadership “are insensitive to Muslim communities.” It states:

“Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party. This is damaging to the party and alienates a significant section of society.”

Professor Singh analysed 1,418 complaints relating to 727 individual incidents recorded at the Conservatives Campaign Headquarters database. 68% of the overall complaints recorded in the CCHQ’s database were related to anti-Muslim discrimination. 74% of these complaints relate to social media activity. The report finds that “an overwhelming majority of valid complaints lodged with the CCHQ Complaints Team – by which we mean evidenced complaints that concerned party members – were upheld and resulted in a sanction.”

Furthermore, many of those who were interviewed by the inquiry committee agreed that “Islamist extremism should not be conflated with Islam, and that concerns about Islamism should not prevent the party from significantly improving its community outreach efforts among Muslim communities.”

Professor Singh’s report makes recommendations for the Conservative party to follow and implement in order to reduce and minimise discrimination and Islamophobia within the party at all levels. The co-party chair of the Conservative party, Amanda Milling apologised “to anyone who has been hurt by discriminatory behaviour of others or [felt] failed by our system.” She also confirmed that the party accepts all the recommendations made by the report and that it will publish a plan to implement them in six weeks’ time.

The report also includes a statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson who also assured the inquiry committee that its recommendations would be implemented, and that racism and discrimination had no place in the Conservatives party and the government. At the same time, he was also given the opportunity by the inquiry committee to apologise for the comments he made in his column in 2018. On this, the Prime Minister said

“I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely. I am obviously sorry for any offence taken. Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not.”

Following the report’s publication, one female member of a Muslim Community reflected on the long-term impact of the comments made by Mr Johnson back in 2018. She said: 

“Having someone with such influence make comments and then justify them would always intensify stigma against women. If someone in the government can justify name calling and making fun of Muslim women of course it opens it up as a free pass for all others who may have had similar feelings or views. His comments were almost like a green light to express hatred because suddenly you could justify your view no matter how disrespectful it might be because it aligned with a member of Parliament.”

Iffat Mirza, who is another member of a Muslim Community based in the UK, said that even though she did not “feel any sort of tension about the comments” as her “circles are very accepting and like-minded” she still felt disappointed by certain reactions on social media:

“I was disappointed to see how many people took to social media to double down on Mr Johnson’s words, and gaslight Muslim women into believing that they were being over-sensitive. I was also disappointed to see people suggesting that a burqa wearing woman cannot be truly British.”

When asked whether the Prime Minister’s apology and the party’s acceptance of the report and its recommendations offers her any hope and assurance, she said: 

“When he should have apologised, he didn’t. Now the Conservative party claims that it will act on the report’s recommendations but in essence, if we look at the general attitudes of the party and the government towards the minorities, it is very appalling. There is simply no equality so the comments by the Prime Minister or by the party are not assuring.”

Muslims make up to about 4 per cent of the overall population of the United Kingdom. When we look at the data recorded in Home Office’s Hate Crime Statistics for the years 2019-2020, it confirms that 50% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in the UK were against Muslims. As a result, Professor Singh’s conclusion in his report that Islamophobia is still a problem in the Conservative party, which also happens to be  governing the country at the moment, adds to the worries and fears of the Muslim community in Britain. 

The United Kingdom prides itself on supporting the values of mutual respect, tolerance, democracy and social cohesion. Up and down the country, children from young age of all backgrounds are taught to live up to these values and make them part of their life. Yet the odds that want to divide this country continue to thrive on the values of hate, division and discrimination. One way or another, the words and actions of our leaders impact our way of thinking and if they act in a certain way, then it is only natural for some of the general public to think that it is also acceptable for them to do the same. This has rarely proved fruitful as we clearly saw a sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes following the comments made by Boris Johnson in 2018. Therefore, the leaders and their governments have a duty to protect and guarantee the freedom and respect of all citizens. Their words and their actions carry weight, and they have a huge potential to influence. So wherever and whenever this is neglected, it risks divisions in society. But even more so, it risks marginalising and isolating minority communities who deserve to thrive side by side with the majority of the population.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.

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Health

Dominic Cummings explosive revelations on UK handling of pandemic

Dominic Cummings’ description of the inept response of the government sheds light on a complete lack of preparedness or planning.

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10 Downing Street, OGL 3, via Wikimedia Commons

Dominic Cummings could be remembered for many things. One stand-out moment is his personal response to getting a positive Covid-19 test in April last year. Immediately putting his family in a car and driving, against all lockdown rules, from London to his second home in Durham was a shocking move. His premise being that his young child could have support from other family members should he and his wife become seriously ill. Both he and Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls for his resignation following this blatant breach of rules. Both public opinion and to some extent public willingness to follow lockdown rules took a turn for the worse. 

Cummings had, in recent years, gained a reputation for being the Prime Minister’s chief advisor and strategist on Brexit, insisting the government had to move forward and “get Brexit done”. In the turbulent months that followed in 2020, a major political crisis that surprised many was the acrimonious departure of this Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister in November amid accusations that Cummings had briefed against the Prime Minister.

This morning Dominic Cummings has been answering a series of questions about the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic to the Commons Health and Social Care and Technology Committees. Although the statistics of over 127,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic tell a story in themselves, the revelations made by Dominic Cummings today have been explosive to say the least.

No Plan B

Dominic Cummings’ description of the inept response of the government sheds light on a complete lack of preparedness or planning. He claimed that from July 2019 onwards, he was able to attend meetings and discuss pandemic plans and a risk register which considered threats such as the risk of bio-terrorism. In his opinion these plans fell far short of what was required.

He also claimed that between January to mid-March, the government’s only plan, as advised by the Government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), was to get through the pandemic by achieving ‘herd immunity’. This plan gave a realistic estimate of 400,000 deaths in the UK. He also claimed the modelling being used from January until around April showed that the ‘peak’ of the pandemic would be reached in June. This gave those in government a false sense that there was plenty of time to make decisions. 

By mid-March however, the realisation dawned that although the economic and other effects of having a lockdown were serious, (the Prime Minister’s biggest concern being the damage to the economy), not having a lockdown was worse. It was believed by SAGE and the government that a lockdown would only temporarily suppress Covid-19 and that an even bigger peak would result later on in the winter. 

Plan B was suggested in March by experts (including the Cabinet Secretary Mark Warner and others) that flattening the curve in anyway would prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. By this time Covid-19 had spread much more than expected and only by the end of April did the NHS use its expert resources to produce real time data showing hospital admissions and deaths. One of the biggest mistakes made early on by the government, according to Cummings, was the decision to stop testing the population. Had the government adopted a South Korean style response, with border closures, mass testing, isolation of individuals and families with Covid-19 and face coverings, the picture could have been much better.

Accusations against the Department of Health

Dominic Cummings has not spared his words when speaking about the Health Secretary. He claimed that the Health Secretary repeatedly lied to the public and government and should have been sacked. 

Government in Chaos

The most startling revelation for many is Dominic Cummings’ claimed that the main reason for delay in going into lockdown in March was the fact that the government had no plan. This situation was exacerbated by the Prime Minister himself becoming seriously ill with Covid. Cummings has also blasted a system in which he has saidIt’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there (Number 10), just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn…There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two.”

Media Briefings

Cummings has been questioned about whether he gave the media unauthorised briefings. His response was that once in government he gave very few briefings to the press but did give some of around one hour a week, in particular, to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC. 

The Select Committee will resume its questioning of Dominic Cummings after lunch. 

Afternoon Update:

Durham Visit during Lockdown
Mr Cummings has stated that this afternoon that the real reason for his trip to Durham in April was that he and his family had received death threats for which reason they left London.
Prime Minister’s Questions
During PMQs today, the Prime Minister has categorically denied that the said that he would rather see bodies pile up than have a third lockdown as alleged by Mr Cummings this morning.
Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman responds
“At all times the Prime Minister and the Health and Care Secretary have been working closely to protect public health during the pandemic, that’s been the case throughout and continues to be so.”4

References

  1. https://www.wiltshiretimes.co.uk/news/national/uk-today/19330399.downing-street-issues-matt-hancock-statement-amid-dominic-cummings-claims/

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Shakoor Ahmed has worked in a number of roles in Education and is a qualified Teacher, Coach and Mentor..

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Politics

When apologies are not enough: Martin Bashir, the BBC and Diana

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John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It was unforgettable. The fairy-tale romance and wedding of Prince Charles and the then-Lady Diana. The long-awaited engagement, the ring, the excitement. At least from the viewpoint of young girls such as myself at the time. We saw the beautiful princess in the puffed sleeve ivory wedding dress with the never-ending train. The pomp, the circumstance, the romance of it all.

I can also remember the realms of books and photographs taken of our then new princess. Particularly, as a young teenager, one of the delightful and entrancing photo books remains indelibly imprinted on my mind. Placed on the school library table, it adorned and framed not just the table, but in some way our newly forming identities. Somehow embellishing our Britishness and offering us the image of a Royal family to look up to. 

Fast forwarding to 1995 and the BBC Panorama interview with Princess Diana herself, it is hard to reimagine or describe the impact of the interview on the nation and its relationship with the Royal family. The romantic illusion of the royal Prince and Princess living happily ever after, held by so many, came crashing down. The situation and vulnerability of Princess Diana became concerning for anyone with a heart. Her suffering and the illness of bulimia took centre stage in many of our minds. This was apart from the issues of loyalty, respect, love and kindness in the marriage, or lack of the aforementioned.

I also remember exactly where I was and with whom when I heard the shocking news of Princess Diana’s tragic car crash. In Paris, far away from her children and other family, surrounded by callous photographers and yet so isolated in her final minutes; so alone. 

To find out, so many years later, that the Panorama interview was taken after Martin Bashir provided false bank statements to Princess Diana’s brother, in order to gain trust and favour, is a cruel and unforgivable revelation. 

It was obvious, even to the most casual of bystanders to the life of this lady, that she was frail and vulnerable in so many ways by the time of that interview. 

It is horrifying to realise that a journalist such as Martin Bashir and a respected media outlet such as the BBC, would allow themselves to take advantage of her fears and paranoia. In fact, the false bank statements and other manipulated information provided the evidence she needed to increase her suspicions that the whole of the royal establishment were somehow banded together against her.

Both the BBC and Martin Bashir, who left the BBC last week, have apologised. The question is, can apologies be enough? The repercussions of the interview may include having some link to the tragic death of Princess Diana, as Earl Spencer, her brother has alluded. Undoubtedly, the consequences have not ended there. Two young boys lost their mother and their relationship with their father must have become conflicted. The far reaching ripple effects can be seen in the departure of Prince Harry with his wife Meghan, for the US shores. The pressures of unfair press coverage was cited as a reason.

Both Prince William and Prince Harry have united to condemn the lack of responsibility shown by the BBC and the press in general. Prince William has stated;

“It is welcome that the BBC accepts Lord Dyson’s findings in full – which are extremely concerning – that BBC employees:

– lied and used fake documents to obtain the interview with my mother;

– made lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on her fears and fuelled paranoia;

– displayed woeful incompetence when investigating complaints and concerns about the programme; and

– were evasive in their reporting to the media and covered up what they knew from their internal investigation.”

He goes on to say, “She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.

“It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again.

“It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others.

“This settled narrative now needs to be addressed by the BBC and anyone else who has written or intends to write about these eventsThese failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down too.

The comments by the Duke of Sussex are no less clear.

“…what deeply concerns me is that practices like these – and even worse – are still widespread today”.

“Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network, or one publication…Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Shakoor Ahmed has worked in a number of roles in Education and is a qualified Teacher, Coach and Mentor..

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Politics

Should President Biden pack the Supreme Court?

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Democrats recently proposed the Judiciary Act, setting out a plan to increase the number of judges from nine to 15 in the US Supreme Court. In an era of hyper-partisanship – several factors complicate its chances of passing. 

What is court-packing?

Before defining the term ‘court packing’ it is useful to look at the role of the Supreme Court. The Court receives around 8,000 cases each year, from which under a hundred cases are given a judgment. These judges will have differing views e.g. conservative or liberal and so this will impact their decision. Therefore, when presidents choose their nominee, they will choose someone who agrees with their views. Court-packing is when a president may put into place justices who are sympathetic to their views, and so are likely to support them. 

Checks and balances- maintaining an independent judiciary?

In the US, there are three branches of government: the Legislature (makes the law), the Executive (carries out laws) and the Judiciary (interprets laws). All branches must be separate so that each branch can check and balance the power of the other branches. This system is designed to prevent any branch from becoming too powerful. For example, Judicial Independence means that judges can rule fairly, to decide if any law is unconstitutional.

The current Supreme Court has nine justices. Their role involves hearing the cases and giving their judgements. To appoint a justice, there first needs to be a vacancy, which can open up due to a death, resignation or impeachment. Then the president and the White House Officials draw up a list of potential nominations. Those on the nomination list then have full FBI checks and may have an interview with the president. The president then makes a final decision as to who to nominate and then the nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

This Committee will hold hearings where they question the nominee and then vote on whether they wish to continue. The American Bar Association will also make a report on the nominee, after which this goes to the whole of the Senate, and there is a vote held to pass the nominations. It requires more than 50% of the vote to get the nominee appointed. A candidate that receives a majority vote can become a Supreme Court Justice. 

 In the current Supreme Court, there is a 6-3 conservative majority, which means that as President Biden does not have a large majority in either chamber of Congress, it will be difficult for him to fulfil his promises. Thus court-packing may help.

What are the roles of the conservative and liberal judges?

Justices can be categorised into two main groups: conservative (usually appointed by a Republican president) and liberals (usually appointed by a Democrat President). Conservatives usually are strict constructionists, taking the literal meaning of the Constitution. They tend to be pro-life and against abortion, as well as supporting the view that power should reside in Federal Government, more so than in state legislatures. Liberals, on the other hand, take a ‘loose constructionist view’, tend to be pro-choice and believe that the Federal Government should have more power over states.

Judiciary Act of 2021

Recently, in April the Judiciary Act was introduced, which sets out a plan to increase the number of judges from nine to 15. This would be the first move to change the number of justices, since 1869. 

Jerrold Nadler, current Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, remarked: “There is nothing new about changing the size of the Supreme Court. The Constitution leaves the number of justices to the discretion of Congress, and Congress has changed that number seven times already throughout our history. Our founders understood that, as the country and the judicial system evolved, the Court would need to evolve with it.” This view suggests that this change should be constitutional. 

On the other side of the argument, we have seen the Senate Judiciary Committee historically demonstrate its objection to court-packing, “this amounts to nothing more than the declaration that when the Court stands in the way of a legislative enactment, the Congress may reverse the ruling by enlarging the Court. When such a principle is adopted, our constitutional system is overthrown!” It went on to conclude that, “it is a measure which should be so emphatically rejected that its parallel will never again be presented to the free representatives of the free people of America.” 

This was said regarding Franklin D Roosevelt’s (FDR) attempt to pack the Supreme Court, which was unsuccessful. The Court had been rejecting many of FDR’s policies, he had a large majority in Congress, and he wished to also have a majority in the Court. There was a lot of outrage at this idea, as it would have given one branch control over the other branches; clearly unconstitutional. 

Looking at the example of FDR, President Biden has a much slimmer chance of getting such legislation passed in Congress. This is first because, the slim majority gained by President Biden from the 2020 Election, is vastly different to the landslide won by Roosevelt in 1936. Secondly, court-packing is still not popular with the people. This has been seen in polls such as the Mason and Dixon polls, which show that 65% were opposed to the idea with only 31% supporting it. Most of the support for the court-packing comes from the Democrats, and so in a highly polarised America, this will prove to be very controversial. 

How will 15 Justices work?

Bloomberg Law explains the proposal: “we need a court of 15 justices, with the justices sitting in three panels of five judges on any normal case. In very important cases, the court could vote to sit all 15 justices together …. This would allow the court to take many more cases and address some of the urgent issues that it currently neglects … The assignment of justices to the panels of five must be random, not at the choice of the chief justice”. This would be done so that the Chief Justice is not able to put Judges who support his views on certain cases. 

It further goes on to say, “a Supreme Court panel system with random assignment will help overcome another problem: ideological extremism.” It suggests that “no judge likes to be overturned by their peers, and so the panel system will encourage the justices to moderate themselves.”

The Supreme Court has been an important pillar in American politics since it was set up. It has been influential with cases such as Obergefell v Hodges 2015, or Citizens United v FEC 2010, and more recently, Bostock v Clayton County 2020. It has protected civil rights with landmark cases such as Brown v Board of Education 1954, whereby justices ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. There are many people on both sides of the debate. However, realistically, there is a very small chance that such legislation will get passed. Both Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, as well as the centrist swing voter, Joe Manchin, have made clear they will not do anything to do with the court-packing. The chances of such legislation getting through are very slim. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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