Mramoeba, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Today (6th May), millions of Britons have voted in the largest set of elections outside of a General election campaign. As a result of last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, the elections for the Scottish, Welsh, and London assemblies as well as various mayoralties around the country were postponed to today, coinciding with various council elections in England. Therefore, elections have taking place everywhere in the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland. What therefore is the importance of these elections and what do we need to look out for as the results come in?
Scottish Parliament Elections
The Scottish Parliament makes decisions for the people of Scotland on a range of devolved matters such as health, education and taxation. The body has 129 seats with 65 needed for a majority, with AMS (alternative member system) that is used to elect Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Under this system, people have one vote for their local constituency representative (with the candidate taking the most votes winning the seat), and another vote for a party, which will help allocate seats to other parties, especially those who did not win the constituency vote share.
Here, the SNP have been in power since 2007, and polls suggest that they are heading for a fourth term in office. Labour have also shown some signs of resurgence under their new leader, Anas Sarwar. Though Labour are unlikely to win, a strong showing for Labour could be a positive stepping stone for them in becoming a more competitive force in Scottish politics.
The major dividing line in Scotland is that of independence. The SNP and Greens favour independence and are arguing for another referendum within the next parliamentary term. The Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats however oppose this. Whether the SNP, or pro-independence parties gain a majority here or not will certainly dictate the Scottish political landscape for the next five years.
Welsh Assembly (Senedd) Elections
Like Scotland, the Welsh Parliament (Senedd) also makes decisions for devolved matters pertaining to Wales. In Wales there are 60 seats in the Senedd with 31 needed for a majority. These elections use the same AMS voting system as Scotland.
Labour have been in power in Wales ever since the Welsh Assembly was created, and it is incredibly likely that this will continue to be the case. In particular, Labour are hoping that their positive performance in controlling Covid-19 in Wales, as well as having the highest vaccination rates in the UK, will be a boost for their performance in this election. However, how much better or worse Labour does here compared to last time will be crucial. If Labour outperform expectations then it is likely they could be heading for a majority. However if they underperform, then it is likely that they will need to work with the nationalist (Plaid Cymru) party who hope for Welsh independence. Thus, results here as in Scotland may also play a part in shaping Wales’ future constitutional role in the union, albeit to a lesser extent.
Metro Mayors and the Mayor of London
The newly elected ‘Metro Mayors’ – were first elected across many regions in 2017, including the West Midlands, Manchester and Tees Valley. The Mayor of London, however is a position which has been up for election since 2000, coinciding with elections for the Greater London Authority (the devolved representative body for Londoners). These positions will be crucial for localised decision making on areas such as housing and transport.
These mayors are elected through supplementary vote. Under this system, the voter votes for a first choice and a second choice. Firstly, all first choices are counted. If no candidate receives over 50% of the vote then all other candidates are eliminated and second preferences are counted in order to determine a winner.
In London it is likely that Sadiq Khan will be re-elected, even if he does not initially win on first preferences, and a strong showing for Labour here could push Labour to gain one seat and thus propel them into a majority position within the London Assembly. Likewise, Labour will be hoping to hold other mayoralties such as Manchester where Andy Burnham hopes to be returned for a second time. In the West of England and the West Midlands Labour will hope to pull through in regions where they only marginally lost in the previous round of elections, often coming within 2% of the Tories once second preferences have been considered. Though some of these mayoralties may be considered ‘safe’ for a particular party, the vote share here will determine which party seems to have the momentum going into future elections and the next General election.
Other elections will include those of local councils and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. However a real test for Labour will be the Hartlepool by-election, in particular in determining the degree to which Labour’s support is evaporating in northern ‘Red Wall’ seats. Here, Labour won in the 2019 election, clinging on as a result of the vote splitting between the Tories and the Brexit Party. However if the Tories can unite that former Brexit Party vote share (as recent opinion polling has indicated) then they will be set to gain the seat for the first time in its history which will certainly be a major blow for Labour.
When will the results come through?
There will be no exit poll for these elections so the showings for different parties will be considered as the results come through. A few local council election results as well as the result for the Hartlepool by-election will come through during the night and in the early hours of Friday. However, the bulk of results will be counted during Friday in the afternoon, as well as in subsequent days as a result of Covid-19 restrictions slowing down counting.
Climate scientist condemns “political sabre-rattling” over nuclear weapons
Better leadership could thwart the risk of nuclear war, Dr Stuart Parkinson from an independent organisation: ‘Scientists for Global Responsibility’ tells us.
Concerns are mounting that the world could see a nuclear war erupt. As the war in Ukraine intensifies, Chinese President Ji Xinping warned Russia’s President Vladimir Putin not to resort to nuclear weapons, as he urged the international community to take steps to prevent a “nuclear crisis.”
A study conducted by Rutgers University warned a nuclear war could lead to global famine, starving five billion people in its wake. Analyst News spoke to climate scientist, Dr Stuart Parkinson SGR – from an independent organisation: ‘Scientists for Global Responsibility’ – to understand its tangible risks and how the world could thwart it.
What does the study say?
Commenting on the purpose of the study, Dr Parkinson tells us: “This latest study backs up the findings of numerous previous studies published since 2007 which have used the latest climate models to understand the potentially catastrophic environmental impacts of regional and global nuclear wars. These studies build upon early research in this field – carried out in the late 1980s – which first alerted the world to the threat of nuclear winter and helped end the Cold War.”
It used the latest climate models to understand the potentially catastrophic environmental impacts of regional and global nuclear wars.
But on how the spread of highly radioactive material could affect humans, he goes on to say:
“The quality of life in these circumstances would be reduced substantially leading to poor air quality in bombed-out regions. Electromagnetic pulses from nuclear explosions would fry electronic equipment within a few kilometres of each bomb site which would impact phones, internet, medical equipment, cars etc and would cease to work in those areas. The ozone layer protecting the Earth’s surface from damaging ultraviolet radiation would also be severely damaged allowing for ecosystems to collapse. In short, we would be looking at the potential collapse of human civilization.”
In May, the UN warned the world was at the brink of total societal collapse if urgent action was not taken to de-escalate the risk of natural disasters. Human activities, it stated, were interfering with planetary boundaries. These are systems that allow for the safe operation and development of the human race over generations.
What nuclear war looks like from space based on data from peer-reviewed science papers. A Nature Food paper today suggests that over 98% would starve to death in the US, Europe, China & Russia. pic.twitter.com/J0dtegXen4— Future of Life Institute (@FLIxrisk) August 15, 2022
Future of Life organisation provides much-needed hope in ensuring that such a life-destructing event does not occur again. The organisation’s concerns lay in making sure that advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biotechnology along with nuclear weapons do not have detrimental effects on the world.
With influence across the United Nations, and European Union as well as other organisations in the United States including federal agencies, Congress, security agencies, and think tanks, Future of Life has supported the creation of policies that minimise the risk advanced technologies may pose to human life. The non-profit, independent organisation also provides grants for and conducts ethical research around AI.
A report from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute earlier this year found that increasing tensions between Russia and Ukraine have put countries on high alert. The worldwide arsenal of nuclear weapons since the cold war, it warned, is expected to drastically rise in the next few years.
Weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said he thinks not much is being done by the British government to prevent the escalation of a nuclear war. We asked Dr Parkinson what Britain and the West can do to prevent its escalation.
“The first step could be to end the political sabre-rattling about nuclear weapons and the institution of ‘no first use’ policies,” he said, citing a pledge by nuclear powers to formally refrain from the use of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
He further said that countries should take nuclear weapons off the short notice ‘launch on warning’ status as well as remove US nuclear weapons from European soil.
He added that the US and Russia could extend the START treaty to cover a longer time period, as well as to make deeper warhead cuts with more nations following suit. They could also engage with the NPT, which stands for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, disarmament commitments in a serious manner along with Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) negotiations.
But whether such treaties have been respected in recent times is a point in question. Amid the advancement of Russian troops into Ukraine, unprecedented attacks on civilian nuclear facilities like the Zaporizhzhia power station, have reinforced the need for stronger international agreements in the event of a nuclear war. On whether such treaties have been effective in limiting the threat of such a war breaking out, Dr Parkinson stated:
“Currently, there are only 9 nuclear weapons states which are markedly less than the number predicted to be when the NPT was agreed. So it has significantly limited the threat. But nations are failing to implement Article 6 on disarmament and hence there is a need for the TPNW.” – The NPT stands for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
According to him, some of the legal instruments and frameworks that could be used to limit the threat include reinstating the treaties which have been abandoned or curtailed which include INF, ABM, and the Open Skies Treaty. Additional legal instruments which could be agreed upon include a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and the TPNW must be fully implemented to remove the threat of nuclear war.
Which countries would see the worst if a nuclear war were to occur?
He said that at first the nations which were hit by nuclear weapons would be hit severely and then their neighbours and finally the other most vulnerable nations around the world will also be able to feel the impact.
Last month, President Joe Biden pledged that the US “prepared to use all elements of its national power” to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But what could the US itself do?
Dr Parkinson told us he thinks the country “should return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and fully implement the agreement as this would greatly reduce the risks of nuclear programmes in Iran”.
The JCPOA, dubbed Iran nuclear deal, was an agreement signed between Iran and some world powers, including the US. The aim of the accord was to ward off a revival of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which could have seen potential conflict between it and its regional opponents.
The agreement was called off under the Trump administration but there have been indications from Biden to revive it whilst ensuring the security of Israel. This month, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian called on the US to show “goodwill and genuine resolve” in talks to bring back the agreement.
Is it realistic to think countries would pay heed?
The UN Secretary-General called for countries with nuclear weapons to commit to “no-first-use” of them, but how likely is it that nations will listen?
“It’s a reasonable ask, but national leaders are not hearing it at the moment. We need more mass protests in support of nuclear de-escalation/ disarmament,” said Dr Parkinson.
Given the current political climate, “it was very difficult” that we could see a world free of nuclear weapons, stated Dr Parkinson. But changes in leadership could bring much-needed “rapid political change.” He pointed to Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s to illustrate how a change in those at the top could “profoundly change the debate.”
Mysterious Chinese police in foreign countries raise concern
Foreign police presence is not unheard of, but a recent report about Chinese Police in Australia is concerning for some. This is not the first time China has been accused of setting-up illegal police forces in foreign countries with an ambiguous agenda. Investigations by a Spanish-based human rights group, Safeguard Defenders, have found stations in Dublin, Madrid, USA and the Netherlands.
These stations or ‘contact points’ claim to help Chinese immigrants with diplomatic services like passport, visa lodgment and other legal matters. Whilst the Chinese Embassy has not made any comments on the issue, it is widely speculated that the police’s aim is to encourage Chinese migrants to return home for a number of reasons including punishments and feuds. This is hugely concerning for the well-being of foreign Chinese residents and the law of the countries they are based in. The ambiguity surrounding the motives and expansion of Chinese police could have safety implications and rupture the political relationships between nations. Chinese police seem to be specifically targeting fugitives and have resorted to dubious measures to achieve their goal. This includes harassment and surveillance of Chinese nationals in New York City. It is this fear that troubles human rights groups and has garnered their attention.
In Australia, there have been calls to make the process transparent and legal. Owing to Australia’s deeply entrenched trading and political alliances with China, perhaps the hope to find a harmonious and legal path to operate foreign police in the country is not far-fetched. From previous investigations in the Netherlands, China has been urged to adopt diplomatic measures and should it need to pursue fugitives it should seek the cooperation of hosts and respect their regulations. In Australia, the Chinese contact point is linked to the Wenzhou region but upon investigation no clear links were found. Chinese investigations could potentially be used to track dissidents or individuals involved in corruption and political crimes, but no official statement has been issued by the Chinese Embassy to confirm or contradict this conjecture. However, Chinese state media defend their ‘110 Overseas’ system as a means for protecting their citizens abroad. But it still leaves considerable doubt about the elusive nature of these contact points.
The non-governmental organisation, Safeguard Defenders has noted the forced return of at least 8 Chinese-Australian residents to China. Australia’s inability to note and keep track of similar cases has elicited concerns from minorities and ethnic groups who may become the next targets of these operations. This has increased pressure on the government to instil measures that can rightfully protect their citizens whilst also appeasing the requirements of other countries.
7 Key points from Putin’s annexation speech
At a ceremony in the Grand Kremlin Palace’s St George Hall, Russian President Vladimir Putin, signed the treaties to annex the Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions, claiming that millions of people have, “made their unequivocal choice” to join Russia and “have become our citizens, forever.”
His subsequent speech revealed deep distrust of the west, its culture and hegemony. Invading Ukraine wasn’t about territory alone, it was about a clash of cultures and civilisations, and standing up to a West which was bent upon “enslaving” the world. Here are 7 key points from the speech which will give you an insight into the mind of the Russian premier.
1. Regret over the collapse of the Soviet Union
When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, those in power didn’t ask, “ordinary citizens what they wanted, and people suddenly found themselves cut off from their homeland”, Putin complained. “This tore apart and dismembered our national community and triggered a national catastrophe.”
He said that decision, “destroyed our great country” and while recreating it isn’t his ambition he claims, there is a determination by millions linked by “culture, religion, tradition, and language”, who consider themselves part of Russia and want to “return to their true historical homeland.”
Russian is widely spoken in Eastern parts of Ukraine including the newly annexed areas and is the most common language. People there tend to view Russia and its past in a more positive light. But in 2018 the Ukrainian government made it compulsory to use Ukrainian in all media, schools and public spaces, whilst previously – since 2012 Russianwas permitted to be a regional language in regions where at least 10% of the population spoke it. However, while Putin claimed the majority of people in Eastern Ukraine voted to join Russia, in the referendum which the West described as a “sham”, polls from previous years show that a very low number of people wanted to join Russia. International observers were present at the referendum but there are concerns that they were biased towards Russia. As with anything during such conflicts, nothing is clear.
2. Anger over Western policies
President Putin blamed the West for their continuing hostility towards Russia. He said, “the West continued and continues looking for another chance to strike a blow at us, to weaken and break up Russia, which they have always dreamed about, to divide our state and set our peoples against each other, and to condemn them to poverty and extinction. They cannot rest easy knowing that there is such a great country with this huge territory in the world, with its natural wealth, resources and people who cannot and will not do someone else’s bidding.”
President Putin emphasised that the West wants to control every other country. He said, “in certain countries, the ruling elites voluntarily agree to do this, voluntarily agree to become vassals; others are bribed or intimidated. And if this does not work, they destroy entire states, leaving behind humanitarian disasters, devastation, ruins, millions of wrecked and mangled human lives, terrorist enclaves, social disaster zones, protectorates, colonies and semi-colonies. They don’t care. All they care about is their own benefit.”
3. Russian nationalism
President Putin considers the four regions annexed as part of Russia, taken by force, by Ukraine in 2014. People of these regions were Russian and have decided to remain with Russia and their choice must be respected.
President Putin made it clear that this is not just a plea to uphold justice and respect the choice of people of the regions, rather, “we will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have, and we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our people. This is the great liberating mission of our nation.” Not only defence, Russia will rebuild infrastructure of new regions.
A question that must be in every Russian mind is that there has been a significant loss of lives of Russian soldiers, was it worth it? President Putin acknowledged the sacrifice of soldiers and paid respect with a minute of silence. He, also explained the reason for who he considers the enemy of Russia.
4. Western hegemony seen as a threat
President Putin presented the West as the real enemy of Russia. Expansion of NATO is seen as a threat which the West has been deceitfully dealing with Russia and the world.
“The West is ready to cross every line to preserve the neo-colonial system which allows it to live off the world, to plunder it thanks to the domination of the dollar and technology, to collect an actual tribute from humanity, to extract its primary source of unearned prosperity, the rent paid to the hegemon.”
President Putin said that the domination of the United States is unjustly enforced on the world for currency or technology. Like if any country wants to trade in currency other than US dollars or develop a technology like China developed 5G communication equipment before the US, then unjust sanctions on trade or technology are placed.
There is no free competition of trade and technology in the world, according to President Putin, he said that the West shows aggression towards independent states. “It is critically important for them to force all countries to surrender their sovereignty to the United States.”
5. Crimes of the West
President Putin mentioned the crimes of the West and said that the Western elites are blaming Russia whereas the West is responsible for many crimes like, “the worldwide slave trade, the genocide of Indian tribes in America, the plunder of India and Africa, the wars of England and France against China, as a result of which it was forced to open its ports to the opium trade. What they did was get entire nations hooked on drugs and purposefully exterminated entire ethnic groups for the sake of grabbing land and resources, hunting people like animals”. He added “this is contrary to human nature, truth, freedom and justice”.
Crimes of the US include using nuclear weapons twice on Japanese cities. Being the only country that used nuclear weapons, they created a precedent. President Putin also mentioned the destruction during WWII as crimes of the West.
6. “Satanism”, morality & traditional values
President Putin called the attitude of the West towards the world against standard human morality and traditional values, rather it is “religion in reverse, pure Satanism”.
He quoted Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And said that the poisonous fruits of actions of the West can be observed in Russia and other countries including the countries in the West.
Addressing all citizens of Russia, Putin asked, “do we want to have here, in our country, in Russia, “parent number one, parent number two and parent number three (they have completely lost it!) instead of mother and father? Do we want our schools to impose on our children, from their earliest days in school, perversions that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want to drum into their heads the ideas that certain other genders exist along with women and men and to offer them gender reassignment surgery? Is that what we want for our country and our children? This is all unacceptable to us. We have a different future of our own.”
7. Fighting for Russian survival
Putin quoted the words of Ivan Ilyin calling him a true patriot “If I consider Russia my Motherland, that means that I love as a Russian, contemplate and think, sing and speak as a Russian; that I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. Its spirit is my spirit; its destiny is my destiny; its suffering is my grief; and its prosperity is my joy.”
Mentioning the thousand years of Russian statehood, he said “today, we are making this choice; the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and the residents of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have made this choice. They made the choice to be with their people, to be with their Motherland, to share in its destiny, and to be victorious together with it. The truth is with us, and behind us is Russia!”
Similarities between Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II made history countless times during her exceptional reign. One significant record was when she became the first British monarch to reach sixty-five years on the throne. Queen Victoria’s had been the longest-reigning monarch before that.
Both these female monarchs shared numerous similarities, from their successful love stories to their unconventional paths to the crown.
A love match
Victoria was only sixteen when she fell for her first cousin, Prince Albert of Germany, who was known to be determined and clever. From the age of thirteen, Elizabeth was infatuated with her cousin, Prince Philip of Greece, and Denmark.
Both Queens married successful foreign husbands who proved to be loyal supporters and dedicated fathers.
Victoria and Albert had nine children, five of whom were girls and four boys. Before Albert’s early death in 1861 at 42, paintings were portrayed of the Royal Family which showed the virtuous couple surrounded by their angelic children.
Elizabeth and Philip had a 73 years old marriage and have four children, eight grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.
Devoted to their job and the loss of their consorts
Queen Victoria’s reign of sixty-three years and seven months defined the British period of the Victorian era. Victoria was an active and present monarch, though her husband’s passing left her in a period of secluded mourning. Going forward, she only wore black which earned her the nickname, ‘the Widow of Windsor’.
Queen Elizabeth was committed to her reign of seventy years and 214 days, fulfilled her duties, and carried out hundreds of public engagements each year. She remained married to Prince Philip until the Duke passed in 2021, at the age of ninety-nine. They took their roles seriously.
Queen by chance
King Edward, Elizabeth’s uncle had abdicated therefore placing the crown on her father’s head and also her own. Victoria’s father, Prince Edward – Duke of Kent – was fourth in line to the throne after his elder brothers, but since none of them had any children, his daughter was left to inherit the throne.
Justice in their rulings
Many countries don’t have rulers that uphold the true values of justice but both Queens were known for being just. Most importantly, they did not allow religious persecutions. In 1858 Victoria announced in a royal court that people of the country were allowed to practice their religion and would not be discriminated against on the basis of it.
Similarly, under Queen Elizabeth, the UK has become a multicultural country unlike any other European country. Imam Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said that the Queen had a “dignified relationship” with Muslims.
Evaded many assassination attempts
A grim similarity, but Victoria had seven known assassination attempts throughout her reign as the Queen. Some of the attempts were more ambitious than others but she never had any direct contact with the assass, except for Robert Pate who walked up to the Queen in 1850 and hit her head with his cane resulting in long term bruising.
Similarly, Elizabeth had five known assassination attempts, that she escaped by herself. Two of the attempts were made while she was sleeping in her own bed and she managed to stall the assassins long enough for help to arrive.
Their love for animals
Victoria was known for her love of animals especially horses and dogs and Elizabeth also followed the same path when it comes to adoring horses and dogs. They were both passionate about breeding horses and knew how to ride them.
Especially, Elizabeth who evaded an assassination attempt by riding her horse skillfully. Queen Elizabeth also left behind at least four of her beloved dogs out of which two were corgis.
The British Monarchy: a force for good or bad?
“To you, living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the county,” a 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth, sat beside her younger sister Margaret, attempting to rally an American nation, from her own home in the English countryside of Windsor.
It was 1940, and Britain, engaged in war against the formidable Nazis, desperately needed allies. On the insistence of her Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the future sovereign delicately conveyed her empathy to those with whom she shared little more than age. 70 years later, Queen Elizabeth II would address her own troubled nation as it entered another battle, this time against an invincible and evasive force. But for the ears of a disillusioned public, the sound of empathy would seem little more than a performative gesture, rehearsed and read out in a room adorned with treasures from distant lands.
At her passing, where tributes poured in from world leaders, honouring the unfaltering service of Britain’s longest reigning, a fresh wave of anti-monarchist criticism took over, calling for the demise of an institution whose imperialist legacy shunned wondrous townships, and resourceful fields into perpetual penury. But as Britain and the Commonwealth experience a new era, the question is whether there remains a place for this tradition. A controversial Twitter thread by Africa Archives shortly after the announcement of her death, suggests not.
The thread, about the Great Star of Africa, tells its readers this “largest clear-cut diamond” which “was mined in South Africa back in 1905” was “stolen” and renamed ‘Cullinan I’ after the mine’s chairman, Thomas Cullen by the British. Given to them, “as a symbol of friendship and peace, yet it was during colonialism”, it tells of theft. The allegation triggered replies disputing it and criticising its insensitivity.
Whilst its accuracy is not certain, historians believe the jewel was bought by the Transvaal government in 1907, during the British rule in South Africa, and given to the then-monarch, King Edward II.
But the wash of reproval the late monarch received at her death, is aptly analysed by Matthew Smith, a history professor at University College London:
“I think when people voice those views, they’re not thinking specifically about Queen Elizabeth. They’re thinking about the British monarchy as an institution and the relationship of the monarchy to systems of oppression […] And that’s a system that exists beyond the person of Queen Elizabeth.”Mathew Smith, UCL
Her moral character
She embodied morals that set her apart from the history to which she remained bound till her death. An example is seen when, at an event marking her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, she spoke of the “proud track record” of religious groups in “helping those in the greatest need”. She played her part in safeguarding religious freedom, stating at the same event that the role of “the established Church” was “not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in the country”. And she did, in practice.
Writing a few days after the news of her passing, social science researcher, Dr Rakib Ehsan recounts the many times she exemplified true leadership: “She was the first British monarch ever to enter a mosque when she visited the Islamic Centre in Scunthorpe.” And that act of thoughtfulness she extended further: “It was in the same year, on her first visit to a Hindu temple in Britain, that the Queen removed her shoes as a sign of respect.”
Her regard for religious tolerance was not unique to her. Queen Victoria, another long-reigning monarch, displayed similar concern when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British Government passed the India Act, shifting administrative authority from the East India Company, to herself. The proclamation sought to open the doors to greater protections for Indians by declaring them: British citizens. It sought an end to racial and religious discrimination, so, “all shall alike enjoy the equal impartial protection of the Law”.
Although where it did protect those it regarded as subordinate, the monarchy, under the same Queen Victoria, had its own faults. Taking the example of the Great Irish Famine of 1847, when she forced the Turk Sultan Abdulmejid to lower his country’s aid donations beneath her own, it implies greed and ego on her part. In the same way, Queen Elizabeth II’s own record is not unmarred. Last year, The Guardian revealed that the monarch had used her consent procedure by vetting 67 laws, given to her by the Scottish government, which said it would leave the Commonwealth if it became an independent state. The revelations, criticised as anti-democratic, allowed her to be exempted from laws that could have affected her Balmoral estate. As the new King, King Charles III ascended the throne, he too garnered criticism, when it transpired that, through a ‘sovereign to sovereign’ inheritance act passed in 1993, he did not have to pay a 40% levy on the income passed down to him.
Monarchies vs Republics
But ridding an old establishment isn’t an elixir to the vice of exceptionalism, which marks the criticism against it. In the USA, where the Treaty of Paris ended the monarchy in 1783, data released by the government reported that more than 326, 000 Americans experienced homelessness on a single night in the 2021. A 2018 study looking at monarchies against republics in 137 countries found that property rights were better protected in the former. It also found that monarchies delivered better economic performance. Instead of “assuming that monarchies are backward”, the study’s lead, Mauro Guillen concluded, is to, “reduce the number of years that politicians sustain power” before they become “abusive”.
As more and more countries break away from the Commonwealth, and assume total government, projecting political despair on this old tradition, which still holds widespread support, takes away from the acts of humanity she displayed in her lifetime. For her critics, the monarchy is performative. But for her part, she played it well.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi blames Prime Minister Modi For The Hate Crimes In India
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi blames PM Modi for rise in hate crimes in India.
Rahul Gandhi, member of the Indian National Congress, lambasted Prime Minister Modi at a rally at the Ramlila Ground in the capital New Delhi. Speaking to a large crowd of his supporters before setting off on a long march across the country next week, opposition leader Gandhi accused Modi of pursuing big business at the expense of smaller industries, poor farmers and workers and for creating a 2-tier society – where the rich get richer and the poor are unable to escape poverty. He also raised concerns about increased hate crimes being driven by an atmosphere of fear and division created by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) policy of Hindu-Muslim polarisation, where the main objective seems to be to push a Hindu nationalist ideology.
Gandhi claimed the prices of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and essential food items like wheat, have shot up 40-175 percent since Modi came to power 8 years ago. And rising food and energy prices have pushed inflation to an 8-year high. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, unemployment rose to nearly 8.5 percent, with the third largest economy in Asia suffering from several waves of covid outbreaks and nearly half a billion working age Indians worryingly no longer interested in working.
Narendra Modi has overseen a very definite shift to the right since his success in 2014 with the BJP which is strongly affiliated with the fascist-inspired Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In 2019 for instance, the passing of the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill paved the way for legitimization of anti-Muslim sentiment and “explicitly and blatantly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law” contrary to the original secular Indian constitution. The impact of Hindutva supremacist policies against left-leaning, socialist and pluralist supporters have begun to be felt in all sections of Indian society including education and universities, police, the media and the judiciary. Violent attacks and lynchings against all minorities including Christians have risen particularly in states ruled by the BJP. And BJP politicians openly engage in hate speech, being responsible for 297 out of 348 incidents since 2014, increasing by a huge 160% in just three and a half months.
These divisive and extreme ideas have even reached UK towns and cities. A recent Hindutva gathering was held in Leicester – an area with a large multi-ethnic population. Speakers attempted to stir up hatred against the Pakistani community by announcing a boycott of their restaurants. And the recent Indian cricket win over Pakistan in the Asia Cup at the end of August, also led to violence between the two sets of fans, with racist anti-Pakistani videos being shared on social media.
Despite Gandhi’s promise to “defeat the ideology of the BJP and the RSS”, Modi – almost Trump-like – still remains vastly popular. A recent poll showed 53% of those surveyed want him to remain PM in 2024 with just 9% supporting Gandhi, signalling either the nation’s approval of extremist and racist policies or its disapproval of the Congress party’s establishment agenda. Since losing heavily in 2014 to the BJP, Congress and in particular Gandhi has “demonstrated a total lack of connection with the public and has not a shred of credibility left” according to Baijayant Jay Panda, a national vice-president of the BJP. Congress will need to ensure that the 5-month long, end-to-end Unite India March through all 12 states, appeals to the masses’ desire for unity and an end to the division “on the basis of religion, caste and language that is being promoted by the ruling party”, Otherwise India could be heading for a distorted vision of its original secularist and pluralist dream where some Indian citizens are more equal than others, purely based on religious identity.
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