Random thoughts

Replacing Trident: some lessons of history for Labour

The Labour Party is presently considering its future policy on the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system. If anyone is interested, I have submitted my thoughts on this to the party’s International Policy Commission. In that submission I explore the history of Labour Party policy on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament since the Attlee government, I conclude, with some regret but also with a hefty dose of political realism, that renewal of the deterrent (though not necessarily via a replacement submarine launched ballistic missile system) makes political, economic, and strategic sense for Labour and for the country. You can find the full submission here (pdf).

Embed from Getty Images: Trident Rocket, test launch at Cape Canaveral, 1 Jan 1980

Fully funded PhD studentship to research modern British history

Are you interested in undertaking PhD research in the field of modern British history and, particularly, in the modern history of philanthropy in Britain? If so you may be interested in a studentship at the University of Bristol to write a modern history of the Society of Merchant Venturers, a Bristol institution dating back to 1552 that is akin to a City of London livery company. The SMV is an important charitable presence in the city of Bristol and the proposed project will research its development as an institution since the mid-1970s, in the process intersecting with a period during which there was a national shift from provision of key services by government to charitable provision.

This  doctoral scholarship is for £14,075 p.a. (rising in years two and three in line with AHRC rates, subject to satisfactory academic progression and the building of a productive working relationship with the funder), full tuition fee support (£4,052 for 15/16) plus up to £500 p.a. for research expenses commencing in January 2016 (though the start date can be subject to negotiation). The deadline for applications is 9 a.m. on 19 Oct.

/… Further details


When in a hole, stop digging

Nobody watching the news last night (2 Sept 2015) and seeing the conjunction of a drowned Syrian toddler being carried tenderly from the sea and Mr Cameron robustly holding the line on migration can have failed to see that Britain’s current policy on migration has run out of road.

This repudiation of refugees is shameful. It leaves us looking callous and self-interested. It is also utterly self-defeating in that we are poisoning the well of cooperation amongst key European countries on which are depending for the renegotiation of our relations with the EU.

The Prime Minister’s key problem is that in 2009 he rashly committed himself to a target for net migration, Wise heads noted at the time that this was a profoundly mistaken promise because it is a number over which the UK government has incomplete influence, was at odds with other policy priorities, and would inevitably box him in once he was elected.

Once in government, Cameron duly found that:

  • We cannot prevent inward migration of other EU citizens without leaving the EU.
  • Net migration includes the return of British citizens living abroad, whom we presumably have no intention of repudiating.
  • It encompasses overseas students, whom BIS is eager to encourage to come and study here, not least because they contribute so much to the funding of our universities; and
  • It includes skilled workers necessary to our future economic performance.
  • Finally, net migration includes refugees, leaving us in the unenviable position of doing as little as possible to help those fleeing Syria (a country, let us not forget, that we and the Americans helped destabilise via the inadequate post-conflict planning of the Iraq War).

Two tried and tested political history lessons come to mind:

  • Don’t commit the classic political mistake of setting a target for a measure over which you have no control.
  • When in a hole stop digging.

The Prime Minister, and the Conservative Party, urgently need to come to terms with the present refugee crisis (and here the postwar resettlement in the UK of people from the Continent displaced by war and the influx of 90,000 other European nationals under the European Voluntary Worker programmes of the late-1940s might provide useful models).

More generally, Mr Cameron needs to change the national conversation on migration if he is to break out of the box in which he has imprisoned himself. Sometimes leaders really do have to lead, not follow.

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