CCCU Parliamentary Studies students in discussion with new MP Bambos Charalambous

On 16 November politics students in the final year Parliamentary Studies class at CCCU took part in a webinar with the new MP for Enfield, Bambos Charalambous. Topics included what it’s like to be a new MP in the Commons, the EU withdrawal bill, government procedural tactics and Labour party unity. The session was part of the programme’s commitment to engage with practitioners. This webinar was facilitated by Globalnet21.

Parliamentary Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University
Led by Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics, the Politics and IR Programme at CCCU runs ‘Parliamentary Studies’ in cooperation with the Houses of Parliament. CCCU was chosen in 2015 following a competitive process, as one of only seven universities across the UK to be awarded the chance to teach this course, which is the only Higher Education module formally approved by Parliament, and has the support of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lords Speaker and the management boards of both Houses.

You can find out more here: Parliamentary Studies at CCCU

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The case for Common European Defence

Our student John Smith argues that the EU could replace the United States as the world’s military superpower, but it must start to cooperate more closely in areas that were hitherto left to individual member states.

The ultimate aim of defence policy is to provide a country’s population with a feeling of security from external harm. There is an increasing need for a common defence of Europe, due to the effects of globalisation and rising global tensions. Integrationists have longed for this since their first attempt to create a single European Army in 1954, since it represents the pinnacle of political integration in which defence becomes a shared competence. Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for a single European Army, rather I am advocating for much closer cooperation on defence policy.

Photo via wikimedia commons – (c) Arno Mikkor

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UK-EU Brexit Negotiations: Explaining dark matter to a four-year-old

As one of its last activities in the 2014-17 cycle, the Jean Monnet Chair of Professor Amelia Hadfield ran a blog competition for full-time first year undergraduate students in politics. The post below is one of the eight winning undergraduate entries. First year BSc Politics student Thomas James reflects on the complexity of UK-EU Brexit negotiations.

The distribution of dark matter, galaxies, and hot gas in the core of the merging galaxy cluster Abell 520 | image via hubblesite.org

It’s often not until things happen, that their inevitability seems obvious. But the lack of progress and sluggish nature of the Brexit negotiations was something that was always very likely to happen. The sheer monumental nature of the task before those charged with finding a way to successfully concluding the discussions is mindboggling. Trade, security, free movement, single market, customs union… the list goes on and on… and on.

Each point taken individually is complex enough; as a collective it wouldn’t be unfair to compare it to trying to explain dark matter to a four-year-old.

On the British side, Theresa May leads an increasingly fractured cabinet with disagreements more the norm than the opposite. The public can hardly help but be a little perplexed by all this. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, green Brexit and even a red white and blue Brexit have been tabled as possibilities and it would seem that at present the government’s position is to pick one of them out of a hat, cross their fingers and hope for the best. It is safe to say that no one saw any of this coming. The Vote Leave team would go down to a hard-fought defeat and all would go on merrily as before. Except, leave won, we’re leaving the EU and no one has any idea what on earth is going on.

The EU, and indeed the wider world, must be wondering how we ever managed to defeat Napoleon, carve out one of the biggest empires in history, win two world wars and then be duped by a tweed-wearing man called Nigel into thinking that indeed all foreigners, especially the European variety (conveniently forgetting that we are indeed still European), are all very nasty people, best avoided and of the sort that we certainly don’t want over here.

To be fair, the EU does have Jean-Claude Junker so we don’t have a monopoly on the idiotic (I’m of course writing this in the wrong language for Jean-Claude because as we’re all aware English is dying out). But even with Jean-Claude at the helm of the commission, the EU’s position is exponentially clearer than that of Britain’s. Single market access means accepting free movement, there will be a divorce bill and no, trade talks can’t run simultaneously alongside the exit negotiations, period. Meanwhile on our side of the Channel, we have a Chancellor that thinks this is really all very foolish, a foreign secretary who just does and says whatever he wants and a Brexit Secretary who’s probably wondering what the hell he’s done and got himself involved in. And at the helm a Prime Minister who’s more akin to a stressed-out teacher trying to control an unruly class of teenagers in a dodgy inner-city comprehensive.

So, there’s a divided British cabinet, the other side is much better organised than our own, it’s all mind-bogglingly complex and it all needs to be wrapped up by March 2019. Fantastic!

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The Jean Monnet Chair Blog on Europe Competition:
Students could submit 500 word blog posts on any topic related to Europe – e.g. European democracy, European migration, European security, European identity, European economics or Brexit-EU relations – and winners were rewarded with a £250 book voucher for the CCCU Bookshop. The idea behind the competition was not only to support students financially in the first couple of weeks at CCCU, but also to encourage think about key issues that they will be studying over the course of their degree.

The full list of winners and their blog posts can be found here:  Jean Monnet Chair Blogs on Europe Competition

Labour Party Conference 2017: What does this mean for Labour’s year ahead?

Josh Andrew, 3rd year BSc Politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University, reports his impressions from the Labour party conference in Brighton.

This year’s Labour party’s annual conference was the biggest the party had ever held. Media coverage of policies and a plethora of other issues was widespread, from BBC reporter Laura Kuenssburg’s bodyguard to the restrictions on debating Brexit. In my observation, three aspects particularly stuck out and are worth discussing further.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the party’s annual conference in Brighton | image via @uklabour

First, while the majority of press coverage focussed on the party leadership only, it is worth looking at the party itself and its membership – particularly at the relationship between Jeremy Corbyn, his cabinet, and the rest of the party. Within most of the party, Corbyn is a cult hero – especially after the 2017 general election result, which turned from a Labour decimation to the Conservative party losing its majority, all in two months. The chants and buzz in the air whenever there is a mention or appearance from Corbyn only emphasised this and there was a real feeling that Labour could potentially form the next government. The enthusiasm spread to other key figures in his shadow cabinet, such as John McDonnell, whose speech gained media attention with the announcement of further investment for the north and transport, with a huge cheer for his reaffirmation of nationalisation, with the quote “we’re taking them back!” This created a presidential attitude within some parts of the party:

Corbyn now carries the party as an essential part of its electability, the complete opposite from before the 2017 election.

An equally striking aspect of conference was the media coverage, which focused not on policy but on two other issues: the alleged anti-Semitism within some areas of the party, and the restriction on debating Brexit.

The Brexit debate restriction was a controversial decision for many members and MPs (Clive for instance Lewis spoke passionately about this at a fringe event). Many members also spoke of their frustrations about this at conference. The curtailing of a full Brexit debate was important as it is one such a difficult policy issue for Labour as the main opposition party. However, the restriction was understandable, as most fringe events would develop into a debate on Brexit policy, which is a polarizing issue in the Labour party, especially on the single market and freedom of movement.

The issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour party raised its head again, with reports of holocaust denial being debated by a controversial author, and the party’s board for approving panels for fringe events being called into question. This put pressure on Corbyn to come out and speak on the issue, especially after Wes Streeting, a Labour party MP, spoke on the matter, claiming Corbyn was not an anti-Semite, but was involved in running an ‘ostrich style’ leadership on the issue. This brought a sad and contentious note to party conference, coinciding with the vote on changes to the party’s definition of anti-Semitism, in which many proposals from different CLP’s were rejected due to non-specific wording. Everything I have seen and heard at conference and in the news – from the opinions of MP’s, members and the change of definition – seems to have only reinforced the party’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism inside and outside of its membership.

Overall, in the year ahead Labour, Corbyn and his shadow cabinet need to be committed to being ready for government, and just as importantly, ready for another election. They appear willing to make required changes and send out the right messages to project a clear image of the Labour party, a party that has solved its own internal issues and is preparing to solve those of the UK.

The Strachification of Austrian politics: How an election campaign descended into blatant Islamophobia

Our BSc student Samuel Cairns analyses the Austrian election campaign and the impact of Freedom Party Leader H.C. Strache.

Freedom Party (FPÖ) election poster featuring its leader H.C. Strache (slogan reads “The Islamization must be stopped”).

This October will see three charismatic, outspoken and intelligent candidates go head to head in a race to become the next Austrian Chancellor. Of course, it would be inaccurate to suggest there are only three candidates running for Chancellor on October 15th, while there are in fact nine candidates representing nine different parities. Of those nine parties, there are only three whose leaders look likely to make a significant impact in the incoming election – Sebastian Kurz from the ÖVP (Austrian people’s party, centre-right), Christian Kern from the SPÖ (Social Democrats, centre-left) and Heinz-Christian Strache from the FPÖ (Freedom Party, far-right). These three parties dominate Austrian media and election campaigning. With tens of millions of Euros in campaign funds and donations in the bank, the ÖVP, SPÖ and FPÖ are able to completely dominate election campaigning, forcing the smaller parties into submission. This phenomenon could be witnessed over the course of the current election campaign with regard to the Greens, NEOS and Pilz, which all descended towards the 4% threshold as their supporters appear to migrate mainly to the ÖVP and SPÖ. In fact, the most recent opinion poll from OGM/Kurier puts the support of these three parties between the 4-5% range each. If this poll holds true on election day, then it would be a monumental 7 point drop for the Greens and a loss of 15 seats – a green catastrophe.

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