There are few reasons these days to be optimistic. A hard Tory Brexit is going ahead almost unopposed by a useless Labour party. Our PM is fawning over the newly inaugurated Trump, who is turning out to be just as bad as we feared for issues as diverse as women’s right, foreign affairs and immigration. The press is under unprecedented attack; the truth now comes in real and alternative forms. Comparisons to the 1930s which once seemed overblown now look prescient, as Trump signs orders targeting Muslims and calls for a registry reminiscent of the Nuremburg Laws. It’s a dark and depressing outlook for the next few years. I see no reason to pretend that we are doing anything but going backwards; denying the problem only adds to it.
And yet, raise your eyes from the immediate future to the horizon of the next decade and there are perhaps some reasons to hope. While, undoubtedly, bad things are happening at an alarming rate, the old law of equal-but-opposite reactions seems to be holding firm. As Trump reinstated the global gag rule, which stops federal funding for any agency or NGO operating outside the US which so much as mentions abortion, millions upon millions of women and their allies marched against the inauguration of the man they call the “creeper-in-chief”. Madeleine Albright has declared herself ready to register as a Muslim in order to frustrate his bigoted efforts, and I’m willing to bet that thousands of Americans would follow her lead. As Stephen Bannon tells the media to “keep its mouth shut”, subscription money is pouring in to liberal publications like the New York Times for the first time in years; it may not be enough to save independent, fact-based journalism, but this is a sign that a large section of society is unwilling to give up its freedom of speech and its ability to hold government to account. As a horrifying combination of nationalism, authoritarianism and white supremacy attempts to squash the West’s liberal spirit, so that same spirit forms the backbone of the fight back.
Today is Holocaust memorial day, and quotes on the relevance of the event to current circumstances are flying around the liberal parts of the internet. One stands out as a reminder of how quickly those who claim to protect us can become our persecutors, and how a lack of solidarity can be everyone’s undoing:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We must make sure that we speak up and stand up for every wrong, not just the most egregious or the most personal. Not only does this prevent normalisation, it ensures that hate is always met by solidarity. As Trump, the Brexiteers and the online alt-righters try to divide, we must show a unity beyond what they could ever muster. I know we can do it: the women who came out across the world to stand with their American sisters and the marchers in DC raising awareness of global injustice are all the evidence we need of that. The key now is to make sure that 21st January 2017 does not become a unique event, but just the start of protest after protest that eventually and inevitably grind down the resolve of those who try to silence us.
It will be a long and arduous war of attrition, and we may not win many battles along the way. But as women throughout history have always shown, as long as we get up again, we are only down – never out.
It’s two weeks into 2017 and things are starting to come together. After a bumpy end to last year, I finally have full-time care sorted out (hurrah!) and some idea about where I am going with life. I am carving out a new existence back in London, at home for now but with plans to be a real adult in my own place sometime soon-ish. I have a couple of job interviews coming up and I am excited about the schemes I am applying for. I am feeling very 22.
Still, being unemployed and living with my parents is not ideal. So I need to make the next few months as fun and productive as possible – resisting the lure of doing nothing but completing job applications and watching Netflix. In a bid to force myself to do things, I am holding myself accountable by making myself accountable to you as well. Here’s a list of things I want to do before I get a job and move out – a last hurrah of growing up, if you like. Please, please make sure I do them.
- Read interesting books and keep learning. One of the few real joys of leaving full-time education after a long 17 years is being unshackled from reading lists. I can officially read what I want! This is very exciting. Recently I have enjoyed some good history and am looking to expand into the genres of memoir and philosophy; so much more enjoyable in their popular rather than academic forms.
- Cultivate a proper journalist’s Twitter profile. Share pieces that I like and connect with other writers. Write a quick message when a thought strikes me. Develop a following and a real presence.
- Learn some digital skills. I have signed up to CodeAcademy to get up to speed on HTML and CSS, the core components for building web pages. I started this a while ago and haven’t stuck with it but now that my days have more structure I am determined to do a little, often. The same is true of Photoshop. I know being able to use this programme will really help me in media jobs, so I have signed up to an online course. Once I have the basics down, I will move on to InDesign, the journalism staple.
- Write more. I say this all the time, but I really want to up my game here and stop feeling life a fraud when I call myself a writer. So here’s the deal: I am going to write twice a week. I am going to stop feeling like blogging doesn’t count or matter and I am going to stop telling myself the idea isn’t worth pursuing. I am going to stop finding excuses. So be prepared for some random blog posts and lots of rambling about what I’m up to.
- Pitch. Until I have a job, my only source of income will be freelancing, so I’d better do more of it. More importantly, I want to build up my portfolio, especially by writing different types of pieces for different publications. As much as I wish it were so, I probably can’t make a career out of 700-word comment pieces for the Guardian. The challenge here, of course, isn’t so much in the writing as it is in the having an idea in the first place. Hopefully the aforementioned reading will help, but I think it’s a bit like everything else: the more I do it the easier it’ll get. Watch this space.
- Write a long read. This is the biggest challenge on this list, but also the most exciting. Recently I have found myself buried in long reads – in the Guardian, New Yorker, Atlantic and more (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Atlantic piece, ‘My President was Black’ is a must-read) – and now I want to try this extraordinary kind of journalism for myself. I have been further inspired by the Longform podcast, which I listen to every night as I fall asleep, in which incredible writers discuss their stories and methods with other incredible writers. It’s journalist heaven but I am also extremely jealous of the exciting work they do. I want to jump on the longform bandwagon, especially as it’s a form which is actually thriving in the digital age. To this end, I have just read Storycraft: the Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Non-fiction by Jack Hart, which is absolutely r ammed with tips and examples, and now I am raring to go. For practical reasons, I am going to try my hand at some personal essays first before one day attempting some reported narrative. This is hard stuff and completely outside my writing comfort zone. Wish me luck.
- Learn French (a bit). This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I really didn’t like the way languages were taught at school (agh worksheets, my nemesis). So now I have left formal education it’s time to give this a decent go, especially as the lack of a second language feels like a glaring hole in my CV. I’m still working out how best to approach this (classes? books? online?) but by 2018 I hope to be nodding less and speaking more when I cross the Channel.
- Not have a nervous breakdown about global politics. The less said about this the better.
- Stop wasting time. I have accepted that procrastinating is just an essential part of my nature, just like wobbling and bitter sarcasm, so the aim is to make the procrastination worthwhile. This essentially translates to: get off Facebook, read a book.
Some of this is fairly ambitious, some of it I should have done years ago (French, I’m looking at you here). But having written this list, I can say that everything on it is achievable. Feel free to pester me about it; I’m just hoping a job comes along and lets me off the hook!
Donald Trump is to be the next President. The spirit of Brexit has crossed the Atlantic and taken on an even more calamitous manifestation. Liberals are reeling. Problems seem to be everywhere: rising inequality, isolation and disillusionment, a class of voters left behind by progress becoming distrustful of the notion of progress itself.
For a century and more, liberalism and democracy have been uncomfortable bedfellows; minority rights and constitutionalism pushing against the dangers and benefits of majoritarian rule. Yet together they have achieved remarkable change: the welfare state, women’s suffrage, civil rights, a semblance of multiculturalism. This worked because, somehow, enough people wanted these things for democratic pressure to force the state down a liberal path. Now the alliance has come apart at the seams, ripping apart the lazy assumption that progressive policies were inevitable if we just convinced enough people and waited it out.
We’re not getting through; rather we are re-convincing those who already agree with us. Belatedly we are coming to understand the problem – liberals are friends with liberals, and we end up living in a well-off, educated bubble in which we cannot fathom that anyone could think differently. We see now that there are many left to convince. But this realisation is prompting some to jump to a dangerous argument, that we should abandon some of our ideals – open borders is often the first offered up for sacrifice – in order to appeal to the supposed values of the working class.
We cannot fight reactionary politics by the over-reacting ourselves. As Hillary reminded her in her emotional concession speech (which I still can’t bear to watch in full in case it completely breaks my heart), now more than ever we need to be shining our ideals into the darkness; to be saying that there is such thing as right and wrong; that whatever happens, we should never stop fighting the good fight. There is work to be done to protect and advance the progress we have achieved so far, there is no time for hand-wringing and doubt.
Cities across America are witnessing the first major protests against the outcome of an election in modern times. There are enough people unwilling to accept bigotry to ensure that, if we don’t give up, we can begin to rid the current political climate of its poisonous discourse. We may be down, and I am the first to embrace despair for humanity, but we are not out. Raise your voices now, and things might just be ok.
Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. I wanted to write something about love and overcoming hard times, about ending the stigma and accepting differences. But I couldn’t. The past few days have been a period of recovery from what have been a very tough few weeks, and while I feel better now with each day, I am still physically and mentally drained. Yet I know that blogging has been my solace in much darker times than these and so I come back with hope of solace once more.
Just over three weeks ago, I started at the LSE. On Thursday, I left. I did something I have never done before: I gave up. I admitted defeat. Not because it was too hard, but simply because I was too miserable and life is too short for that. It is not worth going into details here about what happened. What is worth considering is what I learnt.
Most of all I learnt that the three-month break from academia I had over the summer needed to last somewhat longer. I am officially burnt out when it comes to essays and required reading. Right now, I’d be happy never to see either ever again, yet I also still love education and I sincerely hope that the allure comes back in time. I would quite like a Masters to my name, eventually. Unusually for me, I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for my studies, and I knew I’d never survive the rigours of the LSE without it. This just was not the right time.
Drive is important outside education too. Those of you who know me best know that life is not always easy, and yet I almost always cope. That’s because, fundamentally, I really wanted the things I was aiming for: getting into university, getting a good degree, interning. Without that longed-for goal I felt – to use the cliché – cast adrift, and most terrifyingly I could feel my confidence slipping away. I did not go anywhere alone the whole time I was at the LSE. I felt gut-wrenchingly sixteen again.
I never want to feel like that again and, thankfully, I am quickly returning to the self I found at Warwick. Nor do I ever want to feel, as I did at the LSE, like the girl in the wheelchair. It is so isolating, so scary and so hurtful to feel so different, to feel that you do not belong because of something you cannot change. Yet the experience made me thankful all over again for the people who alleviate that feeling and who, through their love and friendship, make me feel simply like Lucy.
To all of you who supported me this past month, I am so full of gratitude. Being wrenched from my normal support network made the whole thing so much harder, yet I was buoyed by how easily it translated across the miles between us and by how much understanding and kindness came my way. I may have been lonely but, thanks to you, I was never alone.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that there is almost always light in the darkness. Life is hard but you can choose to make it better, even if that choice is scary. I am somewhere I never wanted to be: back home and looking for work. And yet I am happy and I am surrounded by friends. I am myself again. The main lesson here then is that sometimes, the unexpected path is the best one to take. Who knew?
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and yet by my estimates it’s been about six years since I wrote about a book. Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, however, is simply too awe-inspiring not to talk about. I thought it’s billing as a ‘new history of the world’ was an exaggeration – but this epic tome spans centuries and continents with remarkable ease.
Admittedly, I did find it too dense in detail, and so long that it was hard to understand its message without consciously zooming out in my mind’s eye, yet no book has ever taught me so much about the world as it was and as it is now. Concentrating on the region between the Mediterranean and the Himalayas – the “spine of Asia” as Frankopan calls it – the book takes us from the birth of civilisation in Mesopotamia, through the Roman era, the empires of the Muslim dynasties, the Mongols and the Ottomans, to the European empires and their breakdown into the Middle East as we know it, right up to the origins of 9/11 and the war on terror.
In doing so, it introduces us to a new way of seeing a region so often thought of as chaotic, even backwards. Instead we see how the Middle East’s current problems are a result of its long-lasting importance to trade, empire, religion and geopolitics, which led to its endless manipulation by whichever Great Powers were in the ascendance. In the latter stages of the book we see just how much the current world powers, Western Europe and the US, are responsible for the bloodshed and turmoil which they now fear so greatly. Perhaps we knew this already, but the sheer scale of the mess and cross-purposes, of the short-termism and misunderstanding, is hard to comprehend without having it all laid out in front of you, as Frankopan so elegantly does.
I confess that these later chapters were a much easier read than anything predating 1600-or-so. This is probably in large part due to the fact that I am much more familiar with modern history. But I also felt that my understanding of the early history was impeded by a lack of maps (at least in my Kindle edition) which meant that at times I only had a vague inkling as to what was happening, being, as I assume most people are, unfamiliar with the borders, cities and geographies of the ancient and medieval Middle East. Indeed, this remains my main criticism of the book.
Nevertheless, it was refreshing and illuminating to read a true history of the world from a non-Western perspective. Frankopan breaks free of the canon of academia (and its awful written style) to tell another story. In a time when the Middle East continues to dominate headlines while being fundamentally misunderstood, this unlikely best-seller exposes the history of the region in all its complexity. It would be a very good thing if it found its way onto the bookshelves of diplomats and politicians the world over.
For me, too, the book has come at an opportune time; I am about to start a Masters in the Theory and History of International Relations, with a focus on the Middle East. This has always been my main area of interest, and yet until now I have never explored the region within academia. The Silk Roads, I am sure, has given me the best possible grounding for this next challenge.
Despite all the important things I have wanted to write about over these past few weeks, I haven’t been able to face blogging about the thing I most needed to write about: leaving Warwick. I have opened and closed this post many times, and never have I found the words. But today, my wonderful friend Tessa wrote a fantastic blog post which almost made me cry, but has also hopefully helped me to find those words. Deep breath, here goes.
I don’t want to exaggerate, but I went to Warwick a little bit broken. I’d always been lonely and scared of the future, and I thought that that would be how I would always feel. I was hopeful of improvement, but also scared of that hope – so many times it had proved to be misguided.
How wrong I was. Within a few weeks at the start of a heady freshers’ term, I had found a new family in my beloved flat 19. People were friendly and chatty in a way I had never experienced before – and no one seemed at all bothered by my disability. By the second term, I had met the friends on my course who, with wonderful hindsight, I now know will be friends for life. This week, we celebrated graduation together. I have rarely been so proud.
The last three years have truly been the best of my life. Between them the extended flat 19 crew, Warwick Labour and the PAIS Class of 2016 provided more love and laughter than I could have imagined possible. Whether nights at our terrible-yet-loved SU nights and pub, a quick coffee, pub crawls in Leamington, Kasbah in Coventry – even a trip to Ibiza – or just hanging out, they’ve made every new experience brilliant and every memory worth treasuring. In always including me, they’ve made me happy and confident – and changed my view of people, society and myself.
My course was great too; even when the readings were tough lectures were always interesting, and while I still can’t handle the intricacies of political theory I do know quite a bit about international relations and security. I think at LSE next year I may miss the non-pressurised nature of work at Warwick and the sharing the suffering of essays with friends. So many of the lecturers I have had were simply brilliant; extremely academic and yet extremely kind when I didn’t understand – which was often. Leaving such a wonderful place of learning is made better by exceeding my own expectations and getting a First.
There are too many people to thank, but a few must be mentioned by virtue of being extra special. To my friends, especially Becky, Becky and Denning, I cannot tell you how wonderful you are – thank you for everything. I cannot wait for more good times to come and to share the future with you. And of course to my girls, Fran, Fran, Hayley, Gisela and Em, I love you all so much. You have given me everything and I will never let you forget it.
With that, Warwick, and with love always, goodbye.
Exams are over. I have finished my degree. I am still in complete denial because I can’t believe I will never again get a book out the library or get lost in the social science building. It’s taken me a week of sleep and relaxation to process that in itself, and now somehow I have just three weeks to reconcile myself to the fact that I am leaving Warwick. I am trying not to think about it too much, because doing so is just too hard.
Eyes firmly on the horizon then. I realise that I haven’t written here about what I’m doing next. Provided all goes well and I bag myself a 2:1, I will be taking up an offer to do and MSc in the Theory and History of International Relations at the London School of Economics. Lots of people are telling me how exciting this is and how great it will be, but for now I am too caught up in the worry of finding new carers and having to make new friends and missing the Warwick gang like crazy to get too excited. Once the practicalities are sorted and I’ve got over the exam-induced academic fatigue, though, I will be able to look forward to it, and once I’m thrown in to the course I’m all but guaranteed to enjoy it. Or at least I hope so, anyway.
The good thing is that the course combines international relations, my favourite part of my undergraduate degree, with history, an interest I put on hold after school. The bad news is that LSE recently cancelled the module I was most looking forward to, on the Middle East, which means that despite years of waiting I will never get to properly study the region I am most fascinated by. Hopefully this summer I will be able to read about it in addition to actually preparing for the modules I will be taking. I am also counting on my best friend’s history essays to get me back up to speed with the discipline (thanks Soph!).
Before all that, though, I have a reading list of random interesting books to get through, including a selection of feminist work. I’m currently reading Germaine Greer’s latest, The Whole Woman, which I am agreeing and disagreeing with in equal measure. Perhaps when I have finished, it will provide a good topic for a post here.
I’m looking forward to writing more in the next few weeks in preparation for a week back at the Guardian in July. Most importantly. though, I am soon off to Ibiza to help the wonderful Fran celebrate her hen do. I’m very excited and am sure I will come back with stories to tell – although maybe not here!
So yes, I’m nervous about the future, but when you think about it, this is only the beginning.
It’s late at night and I’m in a pensive mood, so of course I’ve ended up here after a long time away. And as it’s Easter Sunday, I don’t have to feel any should-be-working guilt. In fact, I don’t have anything in particular to say. Perhaps that’s a dangerous way to start a blog post, we’ll see.
So many deeply sad things have happened around the world since I last wrote here and no political debates or rousing sentiments, no matter their real importance, can heal the wounds. They will and must sting forever. And while I am so lucky and personally happy, surrounded as I am with love and laughter and opportunities at every turn, I have lost my once-cherished belief in the inexorable march of progress. While I still remain hopeful of better times, I see that one step forward will inevitably be matched by several backwards, and that there are no simple solutions (writing a dissertation on the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan has definitely seen to that). In fact, I sometimes wonder if there are any solutions at all. But I haven’t stopped trying to find them, if only as an intellectual challenge. And really, I don’t think the world has stopped trying either. Maybe hope and despair are just two sides of the same coin.
On a more personal note. As I reach the end of my undergraduate studies at my beloved Warwick (yelp!), I have been thinking a lot about who I am and that’s always tied up with the questions I have about disability: how does it affect who I am? How will it influence my life from here on in? What needs to be done to make disabled people’s lives better and how do we do it? Is it my responsibility to do something or should I just live life as if it didn’t matter to me? I still don’t have the answers.
Studying politics has taught me one thing above all else: everything is socially constructed. And so I am forced to ask new questions. What does it mean to be disabled? How can I be proud of my social identity while still challenging it? How do we break down barriers of difference and fear? How, how, how. And university has taught me that nothing operates in a vacuum, so we need to look at disability and everything it intersects with: race, class, and most importantly for me, sexuality and gender. I’ve had an article on the latter bubbling around in my head for months now, but I can’t quite tease it out and haven’t had much luck pitching it either. I am determined to get it done somehow though and it is on my post-exam to do list. Once in a while something comes along which feels necessary, as if it has to – is demanding – to be written, and as a writer I think I’d be pretty stupid to let it pass. And this, my god, needs to be said.
I definitely don’t have the answers to this bigger questions. But I have come to one conclusion: talking about these things is doing something about them. Speaking about disability in seminars this term has been so incredibly rewarding, as I have been greeted with support, understanding and, most importantly, an eagerness to understand and know more, even from academics. Recounting these conversations to my mum, she labelled me a ‘one woman campaigner’. But I’m not really, nor will I ever be. Instead, I will keep doing what I’m doing and see if I ever find some answers. And in the meantime, I will keep being honest about what it means to be me. In the end, that’s as much as any of us can or have to do. Look, there’s that quiet hope again.
As ever, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything apart from course notes. Again, I’ve slipped back into university – lectures, reading, friends, not enough sleep – and out of writing. I don’t know why it’s so much harder here; I don’t know why all the ideas I had in the summer have disappeared like a well running dry. If this is what I do, who I am (and I firmly believe that it is), shouldn’t it come a little easier?
In a New York Times’ op-ed this week, Hector Tobar, a journalism professor, writes of his students’ resilience in the face of the looming question: “who’d be a journalist?” With everyone seemingly keen to question the wisdom of entering a industry that is ‘dying’, from friends to family to the voice in my head, it would be easy to say “not me” and turn the other way. It would be easy to take that job in the civil service, policy analysis or think tanks. It would be easy to do something that would pay the bills. But it would be impossible not to look back and regret.
Because whenever anyone asks, I point to the reporters showing us the world’s forgotten people; I link to the columnists questioning an unjust world; the people telling their hard and uplifting stories, all in the form of newsprint. I open up the New Yorker and find an exquisite sentence, a unique viewpoint in the Guardian. Everywhere in journalism I see people being brave, speaking truth to power, asking the questions no one is answering. How could I not want to do that?
People misunderstand journalism as simply relaying events and opining on them like a public school debater. Some merely think of the gutter press and write it off as immoral. But that’s the bad journalism, the stuff just written for page views and sales, and that’s fine, because it props up the profound stuff. I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that words are power, power that can do so much good. That’s why people write, that’s why people stare down the barrel of long hours and low pay and ‘we’re not hiring’ emails. Because of a passion for story telling and a determination to be heard. I may never go on a protest or find an answer to any of the world’s problems, but I will always – always – stand up and be counted.
But despite such fierce belief, and no matter how much talent or effort you summon, writing is hard. Writing is painful. It is so full of self-doubt that sometimes it’s easier to just get on with all the things that don’t require you to look inside yourself quite so much. Strings of letters cannot be but an imperfect rendering of the idea they flow from. And it happens so very slowly, each decision considered and reconsidered. It cannot be done in a hurry, and yet time must be made. Writers are known to be neurotic and it is easy to see why. Writing is as much about guilt and fear as freedom and hope. But get it right, and what a sense of satisfaction. What a relief.
When people come to understand the effort, conviction and bloody-mindedness required to be a journalist or a writer, they are wont to say that they “don’t know why you do it”. I try to explain the passion and the inability to imagine yourself doing anything else. Still, they say, why not choose something else, why take the risk of endless disappointment? “Yes,” I say, “it’s hard; you have to really want it. And I really want it.”
I’m going back up to Warwick next Saturday for my final year, which has come around way too quickly. As I desperately try, and fail, to cross things off my to-do list, I am struck by how long it has been since I posted here. I admit I don’t really have an excuse for my lack of blogging; I have been busy, busier than in all past summers combined, but really I would have had plenty of time to blog if I had made the effort. I didn’t. This post is likely to become a long and rambling attempt to make this up (mainly to myself) but I hope it is interesting for you too.
On the bright side, it is not as if I have been lazy. I’ve visited the Edinburgh Fringe and Crete (both hugely enjoyable) and been to Birmingham a few times. I’ve recruited new carers, caught up with family and countless friends, researched masters programmes and done nowhere near enough preparation for my dissertation. At least I now know that I will probably look at the problems of democracy promotion in post-conflict settings, most likely Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Rwanda, but this will probably change and become more refined as I read around the subject. Right now I will just be happy if I manage to write 10,000 words on anything.
The masters research has paid off a little. Although questions still remain over accessibility, I am pretty sure that I will be applying to the LSE, UCL and King’s College London to study international relations. While I do not want to and can’t move back in with my parents, it is time to come home to the city, especially with my career beginning to take off (read on for more!). I miss its unique sense of being simultaneously at the middle and on the edge; a great tumult of humanity, which for me holds so much possibility. For now, my heart lies in the small patch of land outside Coventry that is Warwick’s campus, but London is where I need to be. And so I find myself trying to write personal statements good enough to give me the remote possibility of getting into such prestigious universities and it’s not proving to be easy. Wish me luck.
Best of all this summer, I have been writing. I didn’t quite fulfil my goal of pitching to loads of publications, partly because of business, partly because of fear of the unknown and partly because I have yet to crack the skill of having multiple unique ideas at any given time. But I have officially earned the title ‘freelance journalist’ having continued to write for the Guardian since my internship there. For the first time in my five years of writing, I am even making money from my words. Perhaps you can understand why I have been concentrating on freelance work over blogging. Anyway, I couldn’t be happier. I was quoted in the Week too so I seem to be doing alright.
And what of the summer’s politics? It was dominated by two stories; Jeremy Corbyn’s improbable victory in the Labour leadership election and the heart-breaking refugee crisis. When it comes to the former, I am simply disappointed. I think the media furore around Corbyn’s supposed radicalism missed some deeply concerning social conservatism buried in his economic leftism and, unable to command loyalty within his own front bench of supporters, let alone the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party, it seems unlikely that Corbyn will be an effective opposition to a Tory government in desperate need of restraining. The rhetoric of a ‘new politics’ is all very well, but Corbyn’s version is both a return to the 1970s and a free pass for Osborne. Hardly progressive, and an even deeper shame in light of the progressive, positive centre-left vision set out by Yvette Cooper, the only candidate to inspire a modicum of excitement in me.
But if Labour have driven me to shake my head in bewilderment, Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has left me both angry and deeply sad. There is too much to say here, bemoaning the lack of solidarity between the EU’s member states, politicians’ inability to act with moral conviction, and the complete failure to tackle the desperate situation in Syria. But the biggest issue is politicians’ and the public’s refusal to recognise the reality of the situation: that refugees fleeing the bloodiest war since WWII should be exempt from the politics of migration and instead should be treated with the basic human compassion Europe was built to express. If a mother is frightened enough to put her children aboard an unseaworthy raft, who are we to question her motives? In all things, if you wouldn’t swap places with someone, don’t judge them. It really is that simple.
As I head off for the start of a daunting and exciting new year, answers for these desperate people do not appear any closer than they did at the beginning of the summer. I can only hope that future generations of politics students are not taught that refugee crisis of the summer of 2015 did not presage the crumbling of the European principles of solidarity and free movement, or of the EU itself. They should be defended with everything we have. I hope to be able to make that argument as I write more and more over the coming year.