The Dark Side of The Moon

From Dr Sarah Lieberman. Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations.


On January 2nd 2019, China landed its rover and probe on the moon. But not just anywhere, they landed on the so-called ‘dark side of the moon’, i.e. the non-explored side, the side we on earth do not see, and most importantly, the side of the moon that the neither USA nor any other state has yet visited. Chang’e 4 is the second Chinese lunar mission to incorporate lander and rover technology, following the Chinese National Space Administration’s Chang’e 3 mission in December 2013, and coming after the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiter explorations in 2007 and 2008.

This makes China only the third country to land on the moon. Moon missions are notoriously difficult, expensive, time consuming and dangerous. Indeed, only the USA – through NASA’s Apollo missions – have landed human beings on the moon. In I976, the Soviet Union sent its last lunar probe, Luna 24, to the moon with a consignment of turtles and other simple biological specimens and returned with moon rock samples. During the 4 intervening decades between this and Chang’e, NASA lost its lunar expertise, its manned flight capacity and much funding while the Soviet Union changed its political system, lost territory and consigned space to the back burner for several years.

Both the USA and Russia have a continued interest in space; partners (alongside the European Space Agency) on the International Space Station, both also have functioning positioning, navigation and timing satellite constellations (GPS and Glonass respectively), and both have recognised in a timely fashion the strategic, economic, and social importance of satellite technology. However, following the space race and its ‘conclusion’ achieved by the USA’s Apollo missions, the popular notion of space exploration and space travel faded to sepia sci-fi comic status. The Cold War was ‘won’ by the USA, its liberal capitalist democratic ideals, as well as its ability to land men on the moon for the whole world to see.

When we measure power in politics and international relations we often discuss it in terms of four interlinked aspects: security; economy; production; and knowledge or ideas. By looking at the Chang’e missions in this way this we can surmise that China is seeking more than new moon rocks for its collection. Currently there is no military advantage conferred by landing on the moon, so we can therefore assume that this is not the aim. However, in terms of advertising economic power, production power, and the advancement of knowledge and technology, nothing quite says #winningatlife like landing on the moon. Moreover, security is nowadays about much more than tanks and aircraft carriers: it is about new technology, knowledge, and digital data. Although Chang’e has no stark military usage, the technology will not go to waste and the advances are likely to be dual usage.

However, perhaps the most important gain from such an expedition is the number of hearts and minds won over by the success. Power and prestige require the belief of the people, and although China has in recent years surpassed the USA’s overall economic standing, it has lagged behind in per capita GDP. Scientific and technological gains are always impressive, something that shows why space exploration is always popular. Nothing shows the power you wield quite like landing on the moon.

The Irish Border and Brexit

From Fennel Wellings – CEFEUS Undergraduate Research Assistant


The Good Friday Agreement signed in April 1998 has achieved ‘twenty years of relative peace’ as well as ‘enhanced prosperity’. Brexit has the potential to fracture this agreement unless a robust solution is put into place that avoids any disruption to the peace process. Below are three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic:


1. UK remains in the customs union

This would mean that the UK would have to accept the flow of goods, services and regulations set by the EU whist leaving it without a seat at the negotiating table. This would arguably be leaving the UK in a worse position than it is being a EU member state, as it would require the UK to accept rules and regulations that it had no part in negotiating. This is something that would be hard for the government to float politically and would be immediately shunned by Brexiteers, as it would put restrictions on UK trade.


2. The soft ‘invisible border’

This would oversee the creation of a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This model is something that Brexiteers believe is achievable but in reality appears fairly unworkable, and is something that the EU has already referred to as ‘magical thinking’. Even if this option were technologically viable to implement there would still need to be cameras at the border, which has caused the police to worry that ‘that kind of infrastructure would be attacked’. In May this year Karen Bradley the Northern Ireland Secretary ‘reiterated the government’s pledge to have no new cameras at the Irish border after Brexit’ stating that any new infrastructure would represent a security risk.

3. A united Ireland, a border in the Irish Sea

This would effectively separate Northern Ireland from the UK, placing their economy under EU rule. This is something that the DUP are set against, so it is unlikely that it is something that Theresa May is likely to pursue herself as she lacks ‘the votes in parliament to go against that party’s wishes’. This proposal has been set out in a draft agreement by the Commission and referred to as their ‘backstop’ plan that will become effective unless a better agreement is established. This does avoid a hard border effectively as well as providing protections against British goods sneaking over the border, but Theresa May has stated that she will not reside over the break up of the UK.


These three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic each present their own difficulties and barriers to being politically and logistically viable. It is also worth noting that the Good Friday agreement requires ‘the secretary of state to trigger a border poll if it appears likely that a majority in Northern Ireland would vote to join the Republic of Ireland’, in December 2017 polls found that in the event of being faced with a hard Brexit 48% would vote for a united Ireland and remain inside the EU, with 45% stating that they would prefer to remain as part of the UK and leave the EU. In the event of this becoming a reality the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP would have crumbled, leading to their parliamentary collapse.


The Chequers deal looks to have made some key policy shifts that would move the UK towards a Norway style arrangement, a deal that would cover ‘at least part of the EU single market’. The proposed model of a “free trade area for goods” that sees the continuation of ‘existing regulatory and customs arrangement for manufacturing and agricultural products’, is not inclusive of services, something that does set alarm bells ringing when considering services cover 80% of the UK’s economy. This stance has already been viewed by some negotiators in the EU as unworkable due to the difficulty the UK will have in detaching services from goods. In spite of this the UK still views this stance as the solution to the Irish border problem and is included in the white paper, the most recent development from the government concerning the UK’s exit from the EU.

The paper sets out the need for a ‘principled Brexit’, stating that the UK is committed to ‘protecting the peace process and avoiding a hard border, safeguarding the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK’. In order to maintain a frictionless border the white paper sets out details for a free trade area for goods in order to protect the peace process as well as avoiding any harm being caused to the internal market of the UK. The UK’s proposal of a free trade area for goods states that jobs and livelihoods and will also ensure that there is ‘no requirement in any scenario for new permits for transport services between Northern Ireland and Ireland’.

John McGrane the director general for the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has echoed the EU’s concern with plan for the border that was initially set out at Chequers, stating that a goods only Brexit deal would be unworkable and would be ‘resisted by business leaders’. McGrane held that the separating of goods and services would be impractical as ‘goods do not exist in isolation’, as well as stating that ‘a goods only deal would not remove the need for an Irish border’ as this does not solve the freedom of movement of people across the border that impacts ‘EU citizen employees, tourism and communities’. This is also something that the EU will not look upon favourably as it is inclusive of an element of ‘cherry picking’ from the four freedoms, something that the EU will want to safeguard whatever the outcome.

It therefore looks as though the question of the Irish border may rumble on for some more time, and if the proposed plans in the white paper are unworkable then the most likely outcome will be the ‘backstop’, the fall back plan proposed by the EU. The questions of the Irish border has most definitely presented itself as a barrier to the Conservative party seeking a hard Brexit and going forward will require the cabinet to address the matter devoid of ‘creative ambiguity’ and ‘magical thinking’. If the Conservative party are unable to achieve this they run the risk of presiding over the disintegration of not only their own party, but also the disintegration of the UK, whilst throwing the peace process into disarray as a possible consequence.


BBC. (2018). Bradley repeats ‘no new cameras’ on Irish border pledge. Available Last accessed 12th July 2018.

Barker, A. (2018). The Soft Brexit Chequers Deal: What it Means. Available: Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Green, D A. (2018). The Politics of Brexit Has caught up with Harsh Reality. Available: Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Henley, J. (2018). Brexit: What is the UK’s Backstop Proposal? Available: Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

HM Government. (2018). The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Available: Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

Leary, P. (2018). There are Three Ways out of the Irish Border Impasse. All are Closed to Theresa May. Available: Last accessed 12th July 2018.

O’Carroll, L. (2018). Soft Brexit Proposal Welcomed on Both Sides of Irish Border. Available: Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

Rankin, J. (2017). UK accused of ‘Magical Thinking’ over Brexit plan for Irish Border. Available at: Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

Exploring Parliament: New Publication by Dr Mark Bennister

a43792be25e33138c120cbf7a74be9d93b0d0edfDr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics has contributed to an important new textbook on the UK Parliament. The book is a unique collaboration between those who research parliament and officials who work there. The book has nearly 60 contributors and over thirty case studies to provide an extensive and topical exploration of parliament in the 21st century. Dr Bennister contributed the chapter on accountability with Dr Phil Larkin and the case study on the Liaison Committee which he is currently researching during his parliamentary academic fellowship. The book will be the new core textbook for the Parliamentary Studies module which Dr Bennister leads in the politics programme.

The book, published by Oxford University Press is available here

Rebels Leading London

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone
30 Apr 2012, London, England, UK — London Mayor Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone at the Times Cycling Hustings in Central London — Image by © Andrew Parsons/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Reader in Politics Mark Bennister together with Ben Worthy at Birkbeck College, University of London and CCCU Politics PhD student Max Stafford – who is conducting comparative research into mayors – have published a comparison of the mayoralties of the first two directly elected Mayors of London, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson in the journal British Politics.

The position of mayor offers a commanding electoral platform, but few direct powers to lead a city widely regarded as ‘ungovernable’ (Travers 2004). The two mayors had some obvious points of comparison: both were party rebels, mavericks and skilled media operators. Both also used publicity to make up for weak powers, but courted controversy and faced charges of corruption and cronyism. Utilising Hambleton and Sweeting (2004), this article compares their mayoralties in terms of vision, leadership style and policies. Livingstone had a powerful vision that translated into clear policy aims, while Johnson’s time as Mayor was more cautious, shaped by a desire for higher office. Livingstone built coalitions but proved divisive, whereas Johnson retained remarkable levels of popularity. Where Livingstone bought experience and skill, Johnson delegated. In policy terms, the two mayors found themselves pushed by their institutional powers towards transport and planning while struggling with deeper issues such as housing. Livingstone introduced the radical congestion charge and a series of symbolic policies. Johnson was far more modest, championing cycling, the 2012 Olympics and avoiding difficult decisions. The two used their office to negotiate, but also challenge, central government. Livingstone’s rebel mayoralty was a platform for personalised change, but Johnson’s one was for personal ambition. This is a timely article with Johnson once again indicating his personal ambition.

For advanced online access copies see


New House of Commons Briefing by CCCU academic Dr Mark Bennister

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Theresa May made her second appearance before the Liaison Committee, a year after her only other appearance. These sessions with the Prime Minister have occurred since 2002 and have now become an established part of the scrutiny mechanisms available to Parliament.

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University and one of only 5 Parliamentary Fellows in the House of Commons, has now produced a briefing with the House of Commons Library that sets out the background to the evidence sessions. You can read the full briefing by clicking here or on the cover page below.