Pictures in Unexpected Places

Last week I and many other students received notice that The Lawns, that leafy undergraduate hamlet in the large village of Cottingham, would cease to offer accommodation in the next academic year. At some point I ought probably to make a post discussing this issue in more detail, but for now what piques my interest is the article which appeared in The Tab three days ago. The third photograph is of the balcony on the upper floor of the Lawns Centre, which I took in October 2017, about a month after moving into Ferens Hall, and subsequently uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. This got me wondering where else my images may have turned up.

Snooping around, I found this blog post by Beyond Nuclear International, which laments the recent death of Paul Flynn MP. Nearly two years ago I attempted to make a Wikipedia article listing all current members of the House of Commons in order of seniority. I eventually abandoned the project when I discovered that such a page existed already. Unlike the article just referenced, mine would have included the free-licence portraits of those members which had recently been published. The late Mr Flynn was not included in the new gallery, nor did there appear to be any other photographs of him that were available under the terms necessary for Wikipedia. After searching fruitlessly for a few days, I decided to fill the empty table cell with a cartoon image which I constructed using the shape tools on Libre Office. The fabricated portrait was never used on any real articles, so I rather expected it to languish in permanent obscurity. The use of my crude caricature on BNI’s sombre blog post is especially perplexing given that the page already features two photographs of the departed, the first a publicity shot courtesy of the CND and the second a screencap of parliamentary footage dubiously credited to Flickr-ite Ninian Reid.

Curiously there are to be found at least two photographs for which I am credited even though I did not take them: an editorial in The Oxford Student and a newsletter by the Shropshire Patients Group. In both cases the images were screenshots from short educational films which were released on the UK Parliament YouTube Channel in late 2012. In these cases it seems most likely that the creators of these articles found me listed on the file pages as the user who uploaded the images, and mistook that to mean that I had been the one who took those photographs in the first place. One dreads to consider what this says about the reading comprehension skills of the people of the people who produce these websites, and can only hope that the rest of their content is more carefully considered!

From the Axis of Evil to Trumpland

A mere five days after hearing a lecture on Brexit, I went to hear about the other half of the present day’s news obsession – Donald Trump.

The university’s alumni association runs a programme called “Inspired in Hull”, whereby former students who have risen to prominence are called back to give their life stories before their successors. So far I have attended five of these events, though unfortunately I never got around to logging them here. They were Democracy & Theatre by playwright James Graham (8th February), From Hull to Hogwarts by illustrator Olivia Lomenech Gill (9th March), From Hull to the Cosmos by philanthropist Dill Faulkes (3rd May), Breaking open the Boardroom with businesswoman Denise Wilson, and most recently this one by journalist Paul Danahar.

Paul began his story with an anecdote from 15 years ago in central Baghdad, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein when he had to flag down an approaching American tank with nothing but a dirty hotel tablecloth. He said that he had witnessed many key historical events, including wars, revolutions and natural disasters. After being kidnapped, deported and fired upon several times, he decided that life might be quieter if he left his role in the Middle East and took up the role in Washington D. C. instead. But then, in his words “Donald Trump came down an escalator… it’s been quite busy since then.”.

Mr Danahar matriculated at this university in 1985, studying physics. He was the first of his family to go to university and arrived with a narrow view of the world and his career path. He joined the university newspaper over the objections of the English students who ran it and eventually went to work for BBC Radio Humberside. He described his path from Hull to Leeds to London, through India, South Africa, Beijing and Jerusalem before finally winding up where he wanted to be.

Paul described his work as the study of how decisions (and equally non-decisions) made in Washington would affect the rest of the world. He travelled through Afghanistan during the late 1990s and was in place to see the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Lately he has seen how decades of carefully lain international agreements can be casually destroyed by the upload of a few words online.

The rise of social media changed the nature of political journalism, especially the Arab Spring in 2011. Dictatorship, said Paul, relies on state control of the media – the party line and the face of the dear leader must be plastered on every public surface. The internet changed this, allowing young revolutionaries to organise a decentralised campaign. The establishment’s traditional strategy of capturing or bribing the leaders failed, because there were none. This could, however, prove to be the downfall of the revolution at a later stage, for there was no clear authority figure to succeed the ousted tyrants. The opposition “thrived on the adrenaline of revolt, but quickly got bored of the tediousness of government.” This loss of passion on behalf of the masses allowed their tormentors to return, consolidate their power, and snuff out those who had once threatened them.

Our alumnus lamented that it was easy to be passionate about politics while at university – when one has the time and the inclination to imagine a better world – but that the best and brightest among his audience would probably go elsewhere in search of more fulfilling lives. In his view, the statesmen of recent decades were neither best nor brightest, and rather than conspiracy or corruption most of the problems in the world today were caused by mere incompetence.

Paul then gave a somewhat ominous warning to his young attendees that they should not lose their voice upon graduation, assume someone else will fix everything, convince themselves that voting does not matter, or put blind faith in those who sought power on their behalf. “Shouting into the echo chamber of Twitter might feel good, but unless you use social media to organise – not rant – you will find that others use it to war.” He noted that in recent years fascists and other authoritarians around the world had gotten to grips with the internet and were using it to destabilise civilisation.

To contrast, Danahar spoke about his visit to the technologically-retarded North Korea. The capital of Pyongyang had bus queues into the hundreds and public buildings unheated through the depths of winter. As a foreign guest he was accompanied everywhere by two minders – they would monitor him as well as each other. China was a little different: there were unmarked policemen with umbrellas who would obstruct the view of news cameras. In Iraq the reporters could sometimes incapacitate their minders with a heavy meal, but in North Korea this was not possible. They will, however, do anything for whiskey. Paul briefly managed to interact with some civilian locals during a bowling tournament, but this was swiftly interrupted by a power cut.

Our inspired guest went on to recall his time in Jerusalem as Chairman of the Middle East Foreign Press Association. There the media were regularly harassed by the public and by political campaign groups. Death threats and abusive comments were commonplace. In particular, Mr Danahar highlighted the different ways in which domestic and international press covered conflicts in that region – the former would show graphic violence in all its gruesome glory whereas the latter would focus on dry statistics. This difference in coverage led to a divergence of Eastern and Western perspectives, so that the former think of the latter as detached and uncaring. He also said that there was a “blame game” around the reporting of these statistics (fights over “children died” versus “children were killed”, for example) with pressure groups hoping to harass the media into silence.

China went to the other extreme: In Paul’s experience, you only knew you had displeased the government when the already slow bureaucracy ground to a complete standstill and one could get no work done. If anything it was a delight to hear locals criticise your coverage, because that at least was proof that somebody could see it. Foreign press is heavily censored in China, and officials will even give out transcripts of interviews with inconvenient segments excised. He was keen to stress how hard it was to comprehend that country’s culture, even if you had some contacts and knowledge of the language.

It was at this point our guest moved to the United States. He claimed many of us forget that, although their tongue is the same as ours and we consume a lot of their media, America is still a very foreign country – a fact exemplified by the accession of Donald John Trump. Danahar told us that journalism in D.C. was “like trying to drink from a fire hose” in that reporters struggle to focus on matters of true importance when bombarded by the daily torrent of scandals and controversies which emanate from the White House. Many of this administration’s high level appointments have gone to hugely unsuitable people, and there is no unified voice from the executive – the president and his underlings will regularly produce antonymous assertions in their statements and briefings to the press, the public and each other.

We were treated to a case study regarding the United Nations General Assembly: Trump arrived late, then spent his speech inflating his own ego, then flatly denied the mockery he received from his foreign counterparts, insisting they laughed with him rather than at him. The pernicious part of this fiasco was that while most of the world had the true version of events reported, Trump’s domestic supporters knew only his take. Through their social media routines they filtered out the more critical evaluations. The president is able to communicate directly to his rural voter base without interference by the traditional channels, meaning that his supporters have no alternative worldview supplied to them. As a result, they believe Trump to be trustworthy and dismiss reports of his incompetence as enemy propaganda. Despite what most professional commentators would say, the president’s supporters believe him to be staying true to his campaign promises. They are correct with regard to tax cuts, immigration control, and shedding of environmental promises. They deny, or remain unaware of, the many areas on which he lied or failed.

That said, our guest did not hold America’s traditional news organisations in high regard either Most of them have become firmly entrenched as agents of either the government (Fox) or the resistance (CNN). Their motivation for this is financial rather than moral, for their ratings – and consequently revenue – have shot up in the last few years as Americans have turned on each other. How one communicates with the White House has also changed. Whereas professional observers would once have spent hours speculating over Barack Obama’s inner thoughts, nowadays the general public can know Donald Trump’s convictions before his own cabinet do. Danahar singled out the particularly tragi-comical example of the Honourable Rex Tillerson, formerly Secretary of State: He did not use Twitter himself, so had an aide print out his leader’s bulletins for him to read. One of these was the announcement of his own dismissal. Paul brought up the abnormally high frequency of leaks from high office. He put it down to the lack of any unifying creed between Trump’s officials. Many of them had accepted his invitations purely for personal gain, having previously languished in political obscurity. Once in office they dedicated much time and effort to lashing out at their colleagues in a battle for predominance and presidential favour. Another source of informational incontinence is what Trump calls the “deep state”. These are lower level officials who are firmly opposed to his policies and deliberately sabotage his every move, hoping to save the United States from its own president. Danahar notes that many on the left, despite their democratic principles, seem to favour this approach: They despise the current president so much that they would permit his removal by coup.

Paul’s friends in the media have accepted that this daily torrent of outrage and scandal will not subside while the current presidency lasts. To answer the inevitable question, he predicted that Trump could indeed secure a second term of office. The support among the president’s base has endured, and he has been seen to deliver on many of his campaign promises. Paul also predicted that the Democrats would still be in denial by 2020, and would pick a candidate who might have won last time around – such as Bernie Sanders – rather than one for the present.

To round up his speech, Mr Danahar turned to how he had indeed been inspired by the university, city and people of Kingston-Upon-Hull. He told his student audience that though the best years of our lives remained ahead, this time would be the most transformational. University would shape us for decades in the future.

There then followed the question and answer session. Again, I got the very last one and again the answer was a little off-point: In the last few years many newspapers, broadcasts and comments thereon, both in Britain and abroad, have alluded to a decline in the standards of political discourse and behaviour. This is not solely about Trump – it also relates to our withdrawal from the European Union, the rise of the Islamic State and the emergence of far right figures many formerly stable nations. I have found many people despairing at the rapid decline of democracy and discourse. Frequently their are remarks to the effect that “reality has ended” or that we have entered a new political dark age. One particularly illustrative example is The Thick of It. The series was still airing as late as October 2012 and was at the time considered the peak of cynical satire, with its unfiltered profanity and its dark, desperate atmosphere. By 2016, Armando Iannucci was already saying that it could never be renewed – real life has moved beyond parody. I wanted to know precisely when, in Paul’s mind, the cut-off point had been. When did he consider politics to have last been “normal”?

My question triggered much nervous chuckling from the audience and the speaker asked sarcastically how much time he had available. He pointed to the late George Bush senior’s presidency as a time when one had opponents rather than enemies, a fact which changed during the Clinton years thanks to the work of Newt Gingrich. He was not the first to make this observations. He said that the office has never recovered from the damage of the Lewinsky scandal, even with the impeccable behaviour of Barack Obama. He said the bar nowadays is much lower than it had been in the past – where once Howard Dean had ruined his bid with one inappropriate shriek, now Trump could brag about groping women and still wind up successful (he’s not the first to make this comparison either). Paul predicted that this change in standards could lead to more people of great wealth from outside the mainstream parties to run for office on their own steam, with better but poorer candidates being forced out as a result. In particular, he said that someone like Ross Perot might have a decent chance of victory if he ran again today, for the political environment has changed to favour him.

Finally, the event drew to a close. Paul was given another round of applause and handed the traditional goody bag of university merchandise. The audience withdrew from the lecture theatre to navigate home through the darkness which had fallen outside. This is the penultimate teaching week, so the semester is winding down. I am sure that there will be a further series of Inspired in Hull lectures in the new year, but that is a story for another post.

EXTERNAL LINKS

What Brexit Tells Us About The British

I think I left the oven on.

The Institute of Applied Ethics is a subdivision of the School of Histories, Languages and Cultural Research. Tonight it put on a talk by Professor Danny Dorling of St Peter’s College, Oxford. He came to show us his statistical research into the demography of the EU referendum two years ago and the history of Britain’s political consciousness. He also plugged his upcoming book Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire, written in collaboration with Professor Sally Tomlinson. The event started late, as there had been an unexpectedly large audience signing up and so the venue had been changed at late notice.

The director of the institute, Professor James Connelly, introduced Dorling as a forefront thinker on the left. From this alone one could probably guess the general theme of the presentation and indeed Dorling himself gave a similar “warning” by starting with a slideshow of graphics used in his book – many of them relating to the British Empire and immigration.

Dorling attempted to counter some of the conventional wisdom which has emerged during the last few years concerning the circumstances of Britain’s withdrawal. In particular he drew our attention to a common assertion that people in deprived areas were more likely to vote Leave and those in wealthy areas to vote Remain. He said that, under statistical analysis, the correlation between deprivation and Euroscepticism was only 3%, whereas an 80% correlation could be found for obesity (not because Leave voters themselves were necessarily overweight, but because Remain-voting districts had higher concentrations of disproportionately slim foreigners). Dorling speculated as to why the referendum result had been misrepresented this way, and ultimately  suggested that the affluent leave-voting districts in the home counties included the parents of prominent television and newspaper journalists who – being based in cosmopolitan, Remain-voting London – decided to pin the referendum outcome on supposed northern backwaters instead.

The speaker also asserted that widespread Eurosceptic sentiment in Britain was a fairly recent phenomenon whipped up by certain self-interested media outlets. He displayed some very complicated graphs to show that the European Union had been a fairly low priority on most voters’ minds for most of the last decade.

For the bulk of his speech, Dorling emphasised the difference in political culture between the United Kingdom and the rest of the member states. He stated that, contrary to perceptions of fascism engulfing the continent, it was actually Britain which most supported the far right. Sensing that the audience’s doubt of his bold assertion, he explained that the Conservative MEPs had, in late 2009, broken away from the European People’s Party group to form the European Conservatives & Reformists group, which lay to the political right. In the 2014 election UKIP, which was in the group Europe of Freedom & Democracy, won 26.6% of the British vote and returned 24 members. The Conservatives won 23.1% and 19 members. The British National Party, the English Democrats and Britain First also contested the election, failing to win any seats but collectively garnering about 2% of the vote. From this Professor Dorling concluded that Britain, uniquely among members states, had given the majority of its votes and seats to far right parties. This analysis has some obvious shortcomings – it relies on defining “Far Right” in the most technical and elementary sense rather than the way most observers would understand it – but it does go to show that the political atmosphere in this country is very different to that in those it neighbours.

The rest of the talk followed much of the path that one would expect a presentation by a left-wing Europhile to take: Dorling expounded on the unusual level of economic inequality in Britain and suggested that the Leave vote was built on the public’s misdirected anger at social immobility. He noted that the protest vote against immigration was highest in areas with very few immigrants, implying that many Brexiters’ perceptions were based on racist hearsay rather than real experience.He also speculated on the role of education decades back, with references to old textbooks which explained Britain’s history in a manner politically correct for the pre-war era but less than palatable now, suggesting that older voters still harboured under delusions of imperial entitlement. As expected, our speaker took a swipe at private schools and elite universities, saying that they were designed to churn out an empire-ruling establishment. He disparaged the interview system for Oxford and Cambridge on the grounds that they allowed the personal biases of the interviewers to override a candidate’s objective merits. He even postulated that well-qualified applicants were turned down for being too fat.

Surely I wasn’t declined on that basis?

The talk wound up with a question and answer session. An audience member asked Professor Dorling to predict the next few years in British politics. Dorling suggested that Theresa May would step down before the next general election, with the plausible excuse of failing health, and hand the leadership to someone untainted by the departure process. He also hoped that Jeremy Corbyn would suffer a convenient stroke at some point and be replaced by a younger female (he didn’t much care which) who would then go on to head up a coalition with the Scottish National Party.

The microphone came my way for the final question. I asked if the professor thought that the much-decried London-centrism of Britain’s media and journalism had contributed to widescale misperceptions of the country’s demography. He didn’t quite answer my main query, but said it was a tragedy that the Guardian had left Manchester, and recommended that the capital be relocated somewhere near the Birmingham intersection of High Speed 2 so that the existing architecture could be opened up for tourism – an industry which he predicted to boom in the coming years as foreigners took advantage of the inevitable falling of the Pound Sterling.

FURTHER READING

Human Rights – Where Are We Going

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Yesterday, as I walked out of the lecture theatre where Mr Bond had given his Polymath talk, I noticed a monochrome A4 poster pinned to a notice board on the opposite wall which bore the face of The Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC MP, the former Attorney General for England & Wales. I was startled to see that his present was scheduled to occur less than 24 hours after the one which I had just left.

This evening, as the sweltering heat of the afternoon had begun to subside, I arrived at the Esk building. Being a mathematics student, I lacked much in the way of prior experience with that part of the campus and for some minutes I thought I might be lost. I was reassured that I had reached the correct venue by the appearance of a wine table just outside the lecture theatre flanked by several men in dark suits (among them Professor Norton). I shambled in believing myself to be late, but in fact our right honourable and learned guest was himself delayed by almost thirty minutes due to faulty railway signals between London and Doncaster.

Though Mr Grieve was invited and advertised primarily for his legal experience, he chose on this occasion to speak in his capacity as a politician. His speech covered the ups and downs of the relationship between the British political scene and the concept of Human Rights.

In recent years the Conservative Party has pushed to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights, mainly with the intention of disentangling British courts from those in Strasbourg. Theresa May has even been known to say that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights is more important than leaving the European Union. Grieve confessed that he would struggle to maintain an impartial stance on this issue, his own career as Attorney General having ended because of it.

The ECHR was promoted in the immediate post-war years by Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe (later known as Lord Kilmuir). In 1951 the United Kingdom became the first country to ratify the convention. Controversy came and went over the years, with tensions notably emerging under New Labour who, Grieves said, made much of the promotion of Human Rights legislation but did little to confer any national character upon it.

In the latter half of the noughties, the Conservative Party began planning for major changes to our human rights legislation. Michael Howard in particular was hostile to the Human Rights Act, and David Cameron leaned in that direction for – leading towards the 2010 general election – he was trying to form an alliance with News International, who did not much care for the expansion of privacy law. Grieve, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, produced reform proposals in late 2009.

In the next section of his speech, our guest explained how, despite their partisans’ decade of obsession, Conservative governments have struggled to make any noteworthy progress in separating British courts from those on the continent. The First Cameron Ministry (sometimes known as ConDem) made considerable noise, but no action could actually be taken without the cooperation of the Liberal Democrats, who – being ardent Europhiles – naturally refused to give any.

It became very quickly apparent through the speech that Mr Grieve considered the British Bill of Rights to be an exercise in pointlessness. He noted that only 16% of polled voters showed any interest in repealing the HRA and said that the government was struggling against the reality of the convention’s benefits, apparently oblivious to the destructive influence of the UK’s non-adherence – such as Russia’s using Britain’s attitude as justification for its own non-implementation – or to the positives when we do confirm – such as the improvements in Jordanian law following the Abu Qatada case.

Our guest closed  his presentation by criticizing some of his Conservative colleagues for pursuing a mythologized view of parliamentary supremacy which bore little if any resemblance to constitutional reality.

Due to the delayed start, many attendants had already filed out before the question & answer session could proceed.  The organizers were keen to wrap up the event swiftly so that the promise of wine could be fulfilled.

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This is probably not the kind of party that most students have on campus.

As a non-drinker, and having given up my dinnertime to attend this, I was more than a little disappointed at the absence of the usual buffet nibbles. Even so, this was a small price for making Dominic Grieve the twelfth name on my notables list.

FURTHER READING

 

Election Debate at St Mary’s College

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Ten days before the general election, I attended a debate at St Mary’s College between four parliamentary candidates: Victoria Atkins (Conservative, Louth & Horncastle); Claire Thomas (Liberal Democrat, Kingston upon Hull West & Hessle); Diana Johnson (Labour, Kingston upon Hull North) and Mike Hookem MEP (United Kingdom Independence, Great Grimsby).  It was not my first experience to the latter two and neither was it my first experience with Look North, as I previously presented a segment as part of BBC School Report in 2011.

Peter Levy appeared to host the event. Before filming began he led a practice debate on the issue of whether or not The Great British Bake-Off would survive its transition to Channel 4. The general consensus was that it would struggle.

The debate proper began, with the usual topics – the National Health Service, social care and immigration.

Victoria Atkins insisted the NHS was critical and said her party were spending an extra £8bn over the next parliament. Levy wondered how these spending pledges were compatible with caps on VAT and Income Tax. Atkins said they were a low tax party which would create a strong enough economy. Claire Thomas said the Liberal Democrats would increase income tax by 1% in order to pay for the difference. Diana Johnson suggested increases in corporation tax on big businesses, prompting an audience member to ask how that would be defined. Hookem suggested diverting £9bn from the Foreign Aid budget. He highlighted the amounts currently sent to China and North Korea. He then had a heated exchange with another audience member who claimed Paul Nuttal had spoken in favour of privatising the service. Hookem assured us that privatisation was not and had never been UKIP’s policy. When asked about the recruitment of general practitioners, Atkins pointed to the £20k “Golden Hello” given to new GPs in the area by Lincolnshire County Council.

The discussion neatly transitioned to social care. Hookem said new legislation should be brought in to integrate care with the health service. Atkins took some flack for her party’s manifesto difficulties. She praised her leader for having the gall to tackle what she described as a great challenge. She was then criticised for her earlier comments on low tax, which a questioner said meant poor public services.

The next question was from a student, a Conservative supporter disappointed with his party’s rhetoric, who asked if the Manchester attack would lead to more stringent background checks for migrants from problem countries. Johnson said she believed all markets should be regulated including that for immigration. Hookem suggested an Australian-style system and highlighted his time among the Calais “jungle” speaking with British lorry-drivers who feared for their lives. He said we needed immigrants with useful skills but that we had enough low-pay low-skill workers already. Atkins insisted there was no “silver bullet” to solve the problem. Theresa May’s record as Home Secretary was noted for her failure to restrict movement in line with Conservative election pledges. Claire Thomas rejected the assumption that immigration caused terrorism. Atkins reminded us that the Manchester murderer was born in Britain – though Hookem remarked that he had recently gone for training in Syria. The panellists were then asked who would stay or go after Brexit. Hookem was clear that all legal immigrants from before the referendum could stay. Johnson said that to guarantee their rights would send a good message in negotiations.

Victoria Atkins said that the way to get the best deal in European negotiations was to have Theresa May as prime minister. She highlighted Jeremy Corbyn’s weaknesses in controlling his party – many, including Johnson, had resigned from his frontbench after the referendum. Thomas and Johnson dismissed any suggestion of May as a strong leader, instead calling her a weak and wobbly character who had gone back on manifesto pledges. Hookem invoked his experience on European committees to say that “they don’t want us to leave” and that parliament should have swiftly repealed the European Communities Act 1972. His rant was curtailed, however, as the debate had run out of time.

After the debate had ended there was some milling around to talk to the candidates off the record. I persuaded Hookem to pose for a photograph to use on his Wikipedia page. Sadly the low light and movement of several people in the background meant the picture was rather a blurry mess. I got a candid shot of Atkins which likewise suffered.

 

Meeting Philip Norton FRSA

A modern library - a bald man stands before a crowd of adolescents.

Our visitor before his crowd.

So far in my time at Wilberforce College I have met two Labour MPs (Diana Johnson and Alan Johnson), one UKIP MEP (Mike Hookem) and an archbishop (Dr John Sentamu). Today the college welcomed Professor Philip Norton, who was both the first Lord Temporal and the first Conservative.

When told at a council meeting two weeks ago of his pending visit I imagined it would be a round-table discussion in the conference room similar to that with Mrs Johnson. Instead his lordship’s appearance bore more in common with that of Sentamu eight months prior, as a hoard of student delegations from various classes (I recall Sociology and Law being singled out) filled out the library to watch his presentation. Whereas for the archbishop’s visit I had been at the edge of the front row, on this occasion I was almost directly in front of our guest, and indeed may have caught some of his saliva at various points in the speech.

His lordship began by asking us all “What Is Politics?” and taking shows of hands from the audience on various contentious political issues. There were majorities in favour of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and EVEL. Prison suffrage was rather less popular. That done, Norton moved on to explain the role of Parliament in making laws and regulating Her Majesty’s Government. He told us of the work done by the House of Lords in reviewing legislation at great length and in fine detail which the Commons would not have had the capability to manage. He also talked of the value brought to the chamber by the ennoblement of certain surgeons and medical professionals (he brought up The Lord Winston as an example he hoped we would recognize*) and recounted the tale of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology debate in 2007, during which The Lord Brennan collapsed shortly after giving his speech. Norton said that this was the best time and place to do so, as there were numerous leading medical professionals (including the minister leading the debate, The Lord Darzi of Denham) able to rush to his aid.

Once the formal presentation had concluded, Professor Norton held a brief question and answer session. One of my ex-classmates from the history department asked if it was a source of frustration to know that a measure not to his liking was going to pass through parliament. The peer replied that it was a natural part of a parliamentary career, but it at least was not as bad as in the Commons where a member not of the majority party is practically powerless in terms of major legislation. I then asked if, in light of the recent High Court ruling, he believed there was a strong chance of his noble friends and colleagues ultimately blocking Britain’s exit from the European Union. He replied that although the house would certainly subject the decision to a heavy level of scrutiny and criticism, there was little chance of them blocking the move outright. The professor went so far as to suggest that the House of Commons might even resort to the use of the Parliament Acts to ensure that the result of the referendum was implemented.

A bald man in a suit with a poppy and lanyard smiles while crossing his arms.

The Right Honourable Philip Norton, Baron Norton of Louth, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

As the meeting drew to a close and students filed out of the library, I convinced his lordship to pose for a photograph, so that his Wikipedia page could have a profile picture – which it and many others currently lack due to the difficulty of finding public domain images. Now that I have obtained such an image, I can ensure that today’s meeting will have some significance in Norton’s public image.

*I had previously seen Professor Winston at GCSE Science Live in January 2013, but I hesitate to claim I met him given that the enormous lecture hall allowed a substantial chasm between his podium and my upper-gallery seat.

A Brief History of By-elections

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David Cameron, formerly the right honourable member for Witney

This morning the proceedings in the chamber of the House of Commons began with the following exchange:

The Right Honourable John Bercow (Speaker of the House and member for Buckingham): Order, order, Dame Rosie Winterton.

The Right Honourable Dame Rosie Winterton (Opposition Chief Whip and member for Doncaster Central): I beg to move that Mr Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a new writ for the electing of a member to serve in this present parliament for the borough constituency of Batley & Spen, in the room of Helen Joanne Cox, deceased.

John Bercow: The question is that I do issue my warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a member to serve in this present parliament for the constituency of Batley & Spen, in the room of Helen Joanne Cox, deceased. As many as are of that opinion will say “Aye”.

Honourable members: Aye!

John Bercow: …of the contrary “No”.

Honourable members: –

John Bercow: The ayes have it, the ayes have it. Order, order, Mr Gavin Williamson.

The Right Honourable Gavin Williamson (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and member for South Staffordshire): I beg to move that Mr Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a member to serve in this present parliament for the county constituency of Witney, in the room of the Right Honourable David William Donald Cameron, who since his election has been appointed to the office of Steward & Bailiff of Her Majesty’s manor of Northstead in the county of York.

John Bercow: Thank you. The question is that I do issue my warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a member to serve in this present parliament for the county constituency of Witney, in the room of the Right Honourable David William Donald Cameron, who since his election has been appointed to the office of Steward & Bailiff of Her Majesty’s manor of Northstead in the county of York. As many as are of that opinion will say “Aye”.

Honourable members: Aye!

John Bercow: …of the contrary “No”.

Honourable members: –

John Bercow: I think the ayes have it, the ayes have it.

The above prose records “moving the writ” – the first component of a parliamentary by-election. The House of Commons is elected at large once every few years following the dissolution of its predecessor, with all six hundred and fifty constituencies being contested simultaneously. On occasion, however, an individual seat will be vacated during the course of a parliament, requiring the electoral process to be repeated in that constituency alone so that a new member can represent that constituency in the same legislature (rather than waiting for the whole new parliament to arrive). Sometimes there will be more than one vacancy overlapping, so multiple by-elections will be held simultaneously.

Since the general election of 2015 there have so far been five by-elections (not counting the two just initiated). The first was in Oldham West & Royton, following the death of Michael Meacher. Alongside “Super Thursday” in May there were two more – Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough (for Harry Harpham, who had died in January) and Ogmore (for Huw Irranca-Davies who had resigned to contest the same seat for the National Assembly). That same day saw London elect as its mayor The Right Honourable Sadiq Khan, who promptly vacated the constituency of Tooting. All of these elections were Labour holds.

The most recent pair, however, have a different story. On the day of the Tooting by-election (16th June) there was a shooting attack against Jo Cox MP. She died a few hours later. Campaigning for the EU referendum seven days later was briefly suspended and parliament recalled from its short recess to pay tributes. The timing was unfortunate not just because of its proximity to the referendum but also because of its proximity to the summer recess. By-elections take approximately four weeks between the moving of the writ and the polling day, but for a deceased member the writ is delayed until after the funeral. In Jo Cox’s case this meant there was no time left before the summer and so the election will wind up happening more than four months after the vacancy opened.

Witney is a different story. Its vacancy opened on 12 September when the aforementioned Mr Cameron received his aforementioned appointment. In a bizarre case of the patron becoming the client, he was given the job after writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whom he had so recently employed at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, alongside that of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern, is an office of profit under the crown. They are mere sinecures (the manor house collapsed in the 1600s and the hundreds were taken over by other officials still earlier) which have since the mid-eighteenth century been used for the sole purpose of allowing a member of the commons to step down.

In the old kingdom of England the role of parliamentarian was a rather taxing one – pay was only nominal and attendance at Westminster deprived many of life in their constituencies. Many were elected reluctantly or even against their will. It was in this situation that a resolution was passed in 1624 banning members from resigning their seats. Decades later, though, a loophole was created by the Act of Settlement. Being desirous of reducing the influence that royal patronage held over the legislature, parliament enacted an early form of separation of powers – any MP who was appointed to an office of profit under the crown (this term then included ministerial posts) would be disqualified from his seat, but a person was allowed to be elected to the house without vacating such a position which they held already. This began a very long tradition whereby a newly-appointed minister would begin his tenure by immediately fighting a by-election to renew their mandate. As time went on and ministers of the crown became more numerous such elections became a severe nuisance with each cabinet reshuffle demanding multiple writs and a general election which resulted in a change of government would then see the new set of ministers have to contest their constituencies for a second time in rapid succession.

Changes were enacted in 1867 for the shuffling of existing ministers to be exempted. In the First World War there were acts to temporarily suspend the procedure and finally in 1926 the concept was abolished altogether. Sinecures such as the Chiltern Hundreds were the exception, surviving purely as a means of allowing a member to quit in the course of a parliament. To “take the Chiltern Hundreds” is a long-standing euphemism for resignation.

FURTHER READING

Wikipedia:

Resignation from the British House of Commons

The Act of Settlement

Ministerial by-election

Recent By-Elections

Chiltern Hundreds

Manor of Northstead

Parliament:

By-elections

Timetables

 

Encyclopedic Knowledge

The main selling point of Wikipedia is its open nature. Unlike other on-line information sources, Jimmy Wales’s gift to the world can be edited by anyone and everyone reading it. Further, where most forums or newspaper articles would request at least a name and an email address before permitting outsider contributions to be made, if not a full account established, Wikipedia allows strangers to interact with the site’s content with negligible effort or commitment. That being said, a great many regular users do sign up, as I did in February 2014. Since then I have made well over a thousand edits to various pages. The vast majority of these have been minor, often inconsequential details, but then that is how most Wikipedia edits go. Thousands of contributors make thousands of piecemeal amendments (linking one page to another, adding a picture, extending a paragraph by half a sentence, etc) which over time allow enormous and elaborate articles to grow. There are few pages which any individual can truly call their own work, for each is the product of less an elephant than an army of ants.

Theoretically any editor can write anything on any page. In practice, however, editors who attempt to cover all the information in the world will quickly find their efforts obliterated by another with superior local knowledge. In a community so vast, the generalist stands no chance. It is more prudent, therefore, to specialise in the extreme and carve out a niche, however minuscule, where one can reign supreme. In my case this was the correction and maintenance of the honorifics of British politicians.

While my primary interest would ordinarily have been the natural sciences, I knew that I would struggle to hold my own on any scientific topic compared to those with far greater qualification on the matter. I went instead for a relatively simple yet frequently error-laden topic where the corrections were simple to grasp and unlikely to be challenged.

By and large my edits were to pages rarely perused – such as colourising the illustration for John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland or establishing a new info-box for George Henry Roberts. Occasionally, though, I have moved to more populous wards, whose greater interest and attention can sometimes generate controversy and conflict. Margaret Thatcher, for instance, is hotly contested – not only for her divisive political legacy, but also the mere issue of whether she should be styled as “The Lady” or “The Baroness”. If edits to the biographies of the dead were contentious, those of the living are a minefield. In particular those involved in unfolding events tend to undergo short but dense periods of extremely heavy editing over seemingly minor but often quite important issues.

Since I took up this hobby, Britain has undergone two changes of government. The first was caused by a parliamentary general election whose date was advertised as 7th May, but whose origins were several weeks earlier: When a parliament of the United Kingdom has run its course it must dissolve, to be replaced by the product of the ensuing votes. In the past the dates of dissolution and election would be a closely guarded secret until its announcement by the prime minister, but the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 removed this prerogative so that the expiration date of the fifty-fifth parliament was known in advance to be Sunday 30th March 2015. As midnight approached on Saturday 29th I was poised to strike, for dissolution means that the House of Commons no longer exists and thus the people formerly described as MPs are no longer entitled to that status. Their post-nominals must therefore be deleted and suggestions of incumbency rectified. On the first day of official campaigning I enacted this for the pages of more than a hundred politicians. On election night, of course, I had to begin putting them back again.

After a British general election it is traditional for the outgoing government to publish a list of Dissolution Honours. I created a page in waiting but no list appeared, and when I tried to add the names of new peers appointed immediately to the new parliament (Maude of Horsham, Altmann, Keen of Elie, Dunlop) they were swiftly struck down. Finally I gave up and, assuming that there was to be no list at all, requested that the useless page be deleted. When the list finally did appear I was on holiday with no access to the internet, so that the process was started again and almost completed without me. All that remained was to move the pages of lesser known recipients to less ambiguous addresses (such as Donald Foster (politician) to Don Foster, Baron Foster of Bath).

Later in the same year Canada had its own federal election. Though the Canadian parliamentary system is in many ways a carbon copy of our own, the events there elapsed rather differently – the Conservative Party was defeated and Stephen Harper announced he would step down as prime minister. Immediately (indeed, before the election had even concluded), the page of his victorious rival Justin Trudeau MP (Liberal, Papineau) had been edited to credit him as “Prime Minister of Canada”. He was unfit to be thus accredited, however, for his appointment to said office had not yet happened. Whereas British elections – excepting those which produce hung parliaments, of course – typically conclude with the leaders of the defeated parties vacating their posts before all of the seats have even declared, it remains in Canada conventional for several days to elapse before the resignation of a defeated incumbent actually takes effect. So it was last year that despite polling day having been 15th October, Trudeau the Younger did not come to power until 4th November. This, naturally, was too slow for the notoriously impatient citizens of the internet, so his info-box had instead oscillated between such unsupportable adornments as “Prime Minister-elect”, “Prime Minister-designate” and “Prime Minister (presumptive)” throughout the interlude until finally the undifferentiated appellation became reality.

Come 2016, the elections arrived for the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Again, I raced through page after page deleting MSP, AM and MLA from every info-box I could find. I also edited the pages of the legislatures themselves to set the memberships to zero and change the party balance pictures to show empty chambers. Again, these all had to be restored for the re-elected once the results had been announced. In simultaneous occurrence was the London mayoral election, in which a smaller group of candidates battled to replace Boris Johnson MP as Britain’s most popularly-mandated statesman. Elections of this type use the Supplementary Vote, a kind of cut-price Alternative Vote system in which all but the top two candidates would be eliminated after the first round. In this case it was obvious well in advance that said candidates would be Zac Goldsmith MP (Conservative) and Sadiq Khan MP (Labour). Given that London is more populous than Scotland, and that the mayoral race has the entire city as one enormous constituency, it is perhaps unsurprising that the counting process took over twenty-four hours. The editors naturally got twitchy. As soon as newspapers began reporting that Khan was “ahead” or “set to win” there came a series of edits and reverts as various users jostled to be the first to add the “Mayor of London” category. Again there were some “Mayor-elect” attempts also, regardless of the fact that the right honourable member for Tooting had not yet been formally (or even informally) declared the winner.

As long and as complicated as “Super Thursday” might have been it could never have been Britain’s primary political event in 2016. That distinction is the property of the referendum on 23rd June, in which some seventeen million voters decided that the United Kingdom should no longer be a member of the European Union. In spite of earlier insistence that he would remain regardless (and strong requests from ministerial colleagues on both sides to do so) David Cameron told the nation that fresh leadership was required and thus he would step down at some point in the autumn. His “term_end” was at once set to October 2016 before being swiftly reverted. Again there was a dispute between the semantics of announcing that one intends to resign, resigning, and ceasing to be incumbent.

There was no time to quibble over the status of the government, though, as events were unfolding rather more rapidly in the opposition. News emerged shortly after the referendum that Labour MPs (namely the Right Honourable Dame Margaret Hodge) had called for a motion of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn, following his alleged poor performance in the campaign. These sentiments were relayed to him personally by his shadow foreign secretary Hillary Benn, whom Corbyn promptly dismissed from his frontbench team. Mr Benn was swiftly followed by a steady trickle of other shadow ministers who resigned in protest, citing similar dissatisfactions with Corbyn’s leadership. Naturally I went to edit their respective pages to note their departures, only to realise that many of their offices had never been listed in the first place. When a person is appointed to be a minister of the crown – in particular a secretary of state – then there will be official correspondence including certain legal documents which explicitly say which job they have and when they got it. For junior ministers there is less available evidence (their appointments are not mentioned in Orders in Council) and though there is some documentation of their offices (such as Hansard, or official correspondence, or the government’s website) there can often be inconsistencies between references (sometimes they are just a minister of parliamentary undersecretary of state, name of department, others they have a more specific title) and often there are subtle changes in the exact portfolio whenever such a position changes hands. Marking out a clear line of succession for certain junior posts is therefore rather difficult. It is not helped by the fact that junior ministers are, by nature, given less media attention and so there are fewer sources to hand. Moving over to the opposition team, the shadow cabinet are usually fairly well documented, but it should be remembered that theirs are courtesy titles in the gift of the leader of the opposition. While mostly they correspond to the titles of those on the treasury bench, there are some (such as Michael Howard’s Shadow Secretary of State for the Family or Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Minister for Young People & Voter Registration) which do not, which heralds yet more confusion. Such was the state of affairs throughout the last week of June when, in the words of some otherwise-forgettable Twitter commentator “People whom I’ve never heard of are resigning from positions I didn’t know existed.” Eventually Mr Corbyn announced his new team, which was filled with people even more obscure. Richard Burgon MP, for example, became Shadow Lord Chancellor at the age of thirty-five, having only been elected to the House of Commons thirteen months prior. He, and many others in what surely must now be Labour’s C or even D team, had a biography shorter than that of Larry the Cat.

Eventually the “coup” subsided when there was nobody left to resign, and Corbyn still did not step down as leader. Over on the Conservative side, by contrast, the leadership election moved all too quickly. The first ballot saw Theresa May win the support of exactly half of the Conservative MPs, with Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox dropping out. The second ballot eliminated Michael Gove, which left the final battle between May and Andrea Leadsom. For the briefest of moments it appeared that an intense fight was about to erupt as Leadsom cast doubts on the barren May’s ability to govern as a non-mother. Then, suddenly, it was all over – on Monday 11th July the minister of state was seen announcing her withdrawal from the contest. The whole political landscape changed as Theresa May was left as the only candidate in the severely truncated race. Yet again the editors were quick to proclaim the new premier, as if First Lord of the Treasury were an actual barony whose abeyance had recently been terminated. Shortly after Leadsom’s surrender a meeting of the 1922 Committee was convened and May was officially declared Leader of the Conservative Party. Cameron, now even more of a lame duck than before, brought forward his resignation to Wednesday 13th July. The next two days saw an excruciating struggle to keep the relevant pages up (or rather down) to date against myriad attempts to publish the handover prematurely. After Cameron’s speech before the black door, the cameras hovered around Buckingham Palace waiting for the former prime minister to emerge and the incoming one to arrive. Finally – and after an awkward photograph of the home secretary shaking Her Majesty’s hand, Mrs May returned to Downing Street to announce that she had indeed accepted a request to form a government. Finally the moderators gave way and the edit could legitimately be made.

The relief was to be short-lived, for the new prime minister hurriedly enacted a cabinet reshuffle, sifting out the Notting Hill set in favour of her own allies. There were some short spells of confusion, such as when it appeared that Jeremy Hunt had been relieved of the Department of Health, only to find that he would remain in place (word had it that May had wanted Theresa Villiers to replace him, but then Villiers resigned and there were no other candidates available). Whereas the reshuffle was for the most part routine (if rather large), there were some notable differences with the establishment of three new departments of state (Exiting the European Union; International Trade and Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and the dissolution of two old ones (Energy & Climate Change and Business, Innovation & Skills). Many of her predecessors were criticised for rearranging departments too often, but Cameron was unusually passive in this regard – his one noticeable change was to have the department for children, schools & families renamed the Department for Education. Collectively the editors cocked up the transition where the business portfolio was concerned, as the new BEIS had a separate page created, thus preventing the old one from being moved until the erroneous creation had been deleted. Finally it was assumed that Greg Clark would be President of the Board of Trade, as all his predecessors had been. Instead, it transpired that this sinecure would actually belong to the Secretary of State for International Trade (The Right Honourable Liam Fox MP). Amusingly we discovered that government officials had made the same error themselves, with Clark being appointed president for four days until Fox succeeded him.

Now, at the end of August, the British political line-up appears to have reached a moment of relative stability. No doubt there will be further resignations, appointments and re-elections in the foreseeable future, and no doubt there will be confusion over who has what, but I or others like me will always be around to ensure that, if nothing else, their post-nominals will be accurate.

A Date for the Calendar

Left: Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP (a white-haired man in a grey suit); Middle: Paul Brand (short blonde hair, black suit, pale yellow/green tie); Right: Mike Hookem MEP (spectacles, short brown hair, grey suit with blue shirt and yellow/black stripy tie).

Paul Brand of Independent Television introduces the pundits.

Britain’s relationship with the European Union has been highly controversial since before it even began. Forty-one years ago after the original referendum on whether to stay in the European Economic Community, the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” has been put to the people, to be answered on 23rd June. This has been the biggest talking point in British politics generally, and it has also been a recurring issue at Wilberforce College.

For a long time we knew relatively little about the debate. We knew that ITV Calendar would be covering it and that students were invited to ask questions, but we had no certain knowledge of the politicians in attendance. At various points we thought we might have David Davis, Karl Turner, Diana Johnson or Graham Stuart. Then we heard that we would have Alan Johnson and a UKIP MEP (we never knew which one). A few days before the debate we even heard that Johnson had “wobbled” and might pull out. The afternoon before the debate, as the atrium was evacuated and closed off to begin the conversion to a makeshift television studio, we still were none the wiser. On the morning of Friday 13th I was finally told that we had “Mike from UKIP” and subsequently I deduced that this was Mike Hookem, member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire & the Humber.

It was at 2pm that students were finally allowed into the atrium, and there we were introduced to Paul Brand, who was hosting the installment. We had all been provided with a pair of laminated cards: the first bore a black question mark, while the second was a choice between the Union Flag and the EU’s circle of stars. Several takes were expended before Brand managed not to say “Union Jack”. We were asked to hold up the image which represented our position before and after the debate. Eventually (around 3pm) we had our panellists arrive. The seating arrangement was unusual – we thought that Johnson and Hookem would be on the floor seating opposite the students on the steps, but instead they were positioned in our midst, with some other students filling up the additional seats. Nobody could quite understand this decision.

A crowd of adolescents on stepped seating. They hold up cards with Union Flags, EU Flags or Question Marks.

The students show their voting intentions.

The politicians began by making introductory speeches on the merits of staying or leaving. Johnson made the emotional appeal to the European project, saying that the Union had been a safeguard against war on the continent. He questioned the use of the Union flag for the Leave vote, saying that Brexit was not the patriotic British option. Hookem dismissed the romanticism of “Remainians” and warned the students about TTIP. We noticed that he was relying quite a lot on his iPad.

I was the first to ask a question, which was whether Brexit would revive Hull’s fishing industry. I seem to always end up on that topic when appearing on television. Other questions followed on immigration (naturally), terrorism, commerce and the obligatory quip that “You can’t go back to the British Empire.”. Throughout the debate it became clear that the two contestants were not evenly matched – Johnson had spent many years on the front line of politics including a period in the cabinet, whereas Hookem was a fairly obscure figure whose career in the European Parliament did not even stretch two years. He was rather obviously out of his depth during much of the debate and struggled to maintain a smooth flow of words when giving answers – whereas Johnson had spent decades polishing his speeches, Hookem often communicated in short, fragmented sentences.

The debate ended with a reprise of the flag display. By this point, Johnson had clearly proven the more effective debater as there had been a clear swing from Leave to Remain among the students in attendance. Six days later, the college launched its own referendum on-line, with the result that 63% of respondents preferred to remain. The result of the actual referendum (including for the Hull area) are likely to be much different.

Meeting Diana Johnson MP

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Diana Johnson, Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull North 2005-present.

As we move into the month of May 2016, we are nearly at the anniversary of the most recent general election. Four days from now, there will be a smorgasbord of other elections taking place: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Police & Crime Commissioners, the Mayor of London and some 125 local councils. Additionally there will be two by-elections to the House of Commons – one in Ogmore, the other in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. Not long afterwards, of course, there will also be a UK-wide referendum on our membership of the European Union.

While many of these elections are relatively low-key affairs (certainly, it will be on Holyrood that media attention is focused), there is to me a special significance to the Police & Crime Commissioners because they represent the first occasion on which I am eligible to vote. There are four candidates standing and, whereas the original elections back in 2012 were notable for the large number of independent candidates (who actually won 12 positions compared to Labour’s 13 and the Conservatives’ 16), in my Humberside area this time there are only four, and they represent what are now established as England’s four main parties: Matthew Grove (Conservative and Unionist), Denis Healy (Liberal Democrat), Keith Hunter (Labour) and Michael Whitehead (United Kingdom Independence). The system used is the supplementary vote, which means I will be voting for as many candidates as I am turning down.

On the last Friday of April, I took part in a meeting with the honourable lady the member for Kingston upon Hull North. The subject of discussion was the upcoming EU referendum. A point which came up notably in the session was eligibility for voting – our delegation contained two students from outside the United Kingdom (but inside the European Union) who were not entitled to vote in the referendum. Several others were also barred for failure to attain the age of eighteen years. There had been much clamouring for the voting age to be lowered to sixteen, as had been done for the Scotland referendum, but these were thrice rejected by the House of Commons. Our guest was quite openly displeased about this fact, and stressed that it was vital for those of us who could vote to do so, lest our generation’s voice be politically ignored – she noted that pensioners had done quite well out of recent budgets because they tend to have the highest voting turnouts.

The honourable lady was quite insistent upon her party’s unity with regards to this issue: she explained that whereas in the previous referendum (She repeatedly said 1974, and none of us thought it pertinent to say it was actually 1975.) the Conservatives had been uniformly in favour of membership of the European Community and Labour divided, in this present era the situation had been reversed and that it was now the Conservatives who were thus fractured. I might have detected more than a grain of salt in this sentiment given that her current leader (The Right Honourable Jeremy Bernard Corbyn MP) was adamantly Euroskeptic for most of his life, and has only very recently (and rather meekly) proclaimed his support for our continued membership. There are, too, a handful of Labour officeholders campaigning to leave (Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer, Kelvin Hopkins and Roger Godsiff). Perhaps her position in the Shadow Foreign Office compels our visitor to gloss over this issue in public.

Returning to the area of youth engagement in politics, Mrs Johnson talked about the popularity of the President of the United States (His Excellency Barack Hussein Obama) – “He’s just so cool!” – and lamented, in her view that neither his charisma nor that of the Prime Minister of Canada (The Right Honourable Justin Pierre Trudeau MP PC), could be matched by our own statesmen, explicitly giving unfavourable status to Boris Johnson MP and Nigel Farage MEP. The point she was keen to make was that most elections – especially the EU referendum – affected the young more than the old (as they would not live to see out its full effects).

One memorable moment came when the honourable lady went around the table asking each of us our intention with regards to future studies and careers. Several people mentioned biology (which struck the elders in the room as unusual) and several others law (which did not, especially given the explanation that the college did not offer politics & government or economics). I said my pursuit was chemistry, which caused Mrs Johnson to remark that I could be the next Margaret Thatcher – though she moved quickly to eliminate any inferred suggestion of thinking me a Conservative.

At this point, perhaps far too late into this post, explain what was actually discussed about the European Union – that being the topic around which the meeting was centered. Ironically it is this component of the visit of which I have the least clarity in recollection. The points which stick out the most are that the EU has guaranteed decades of peace between European countries unseen before its development, that international cooperation is increasingly necessary for dealing with global threats and that the uncertainty of Britain’s existence following a Brexit would be dangerous to the economy. She did, though, confess to an agreement with the statement that few in Britain truly love the EU.

It remains to be seen if the fear of uncertainty or the gratitude for peace will ultimately prevail as the leading motive for remaining in the European Union. Indeed, that the Remain campaign should be victorious with either strategy cannot yet be confirmed. Most polling for this referendum has shown the balance shifting daily, such that a decisive victory for either camp seems improbable if not impossible. Already, many are stirring rumours of a second plebiscite to follow should the first attempt fail to yield the result they desire. Certainly, the United Kingdom’s constitutional identity is likely to be the subject of great debate for a long time to come.