Foreign Policy Under President Biden: A Return to the Status Quo?

By Pranoy Roy Choudhury | Monday 15th February 2021

After President Trump spent a long four years pursuing an isolationist “America First” foreign policy, President Biden will revert to interventionism. For Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor, a world led by America is a world where everyone is better off. And what is Sullivan’s idea of a world led by America? To answer that, we only need to look at America’s role in the Middle East during the Obama years, which saw regime change in Libya and the rise of radical terrorist outfits groups like ISIS, facilitated by American support of other terrorist groups, like Al-Qaeda. These policy decisions were at the behest of Sullivan, who was Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While Sullivan is a familiar face, foreign policy won’t be the same as under Obama. The Biden Presidency is likely to drive a tougher strategic policy against China, a shift from Obama’s Asian Pivot strategy, and also against Russia. After Trump, relations between Beijing and Washington are severely strained, and are likely to continue to be, with Biden’s Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issuing a hostile warning that the Biden Administration would “consistently and aggressively enforce American trade laws anytime foreign cheating posed a threat to American jobs”. Biden’s actions towards China could be heavily compromised if taken into account with the alleged dealings his son, Hunter Biden, engaged in with a Chinese tycoon and for which Hunter Biden is under investigation. These allegations may yield baseless claims about foreign policy motives, but this is for federal investigators to show. 

The so-called “special relationship” with Britain will also be different under Biden. Obama and Cameron allegedly enjoyed a bromance, but we shouldn’t expect a similar relationship to emerge between Biden and Johnson. While Johnson led the UK’s campaign to leave the European Union, Biden vocally opposed it. Biden and his team were also unimpressed with the UK’s threat to break the Northern Ireland Protocol. With the terms of the divorce between the UK and EU finally finalised, the Biden Administration will also have to decide how to respond accordingly. For decades, American companies have been using the UK as the base of business operations in Europe. Brexit will make this more challenging. To continue to facilitate American business in Europe, Biden will have to respond with an alternative. 

Biden expects to revive Obama’s nuclear deal in the Middle East, but again, it won’t be business as usual. Biden has committed to lifting sanctions only after Iran agrees to comply with the terms set out in the deal, and so far, Iran has proven to be stubborn. The Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States also mean that a two-state solution, pursued by Obama, is unlikely, as all three nations have agreed to a treaty that has virtually no Palestinian support. Biden has backed the Accords. 

Avril Haines’ appointment as Director of Intelligence means that America is likely to execute its foreign policy in an increasingly remote and emotionally detached way. When Haines was a legal adviser for Obama’s National Security Council, she played a significant role in the Administration’s controversial drone strike programme. Haines is in the driving seat in her new position, and we should expect to see a greater portion of American warfare conducted without the need to put boots on the ground. 

It’s concerning to contemplate greater use of these technologies because they absolve states from the horrors of war, for they do not have enough skin in the game and can cause chaos and destruction at their discretion. The greater use of drones, coupled with an interventionist foreign policy, could be a matter of worry for states that stand at an ideological impasse with the United States. America will also no longer have the emotional backlash of a public who see their soldiers come home in body bags to act as a form of check and balance.

Approaches towards China, Britain, and the Middle East indicate a change in substance from the Obama years, but the appointment of Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence also indicates a worrying shift in style.

UK Terrorism Threat Level Raised to “Severe”

By Grace Rollison | Wednesday 27th January 2021

A few months ago, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) increased the terrorist threat level from “substantial” to “severe”. An attack in the U.K. is now highly likely, but intelligence agencies lack specific knowledge of imminent threats. “Severe” is the fourth-highest threat level in the five-tier system: low, moderate, substantial, severe, and critical. Urging the public to be “alert but not alarmed”, Home Secretary Priti Patel has downplayed the threat to the country’s national security, but we should not consider this as merely a precautionary measure. 

The JTAC decided to raise the threat level in the wake of a wave of deadly terror attacks across Europe. However, the situation may even be more precarious than “severe”. Indeed, terrorists have successfully executed attacks in this country with the threat level judged lower than it is now. Despite the government’s call for calm, it is a possibility that terrorist intelligence will fly under the radar.

In September, a group of seven terrorists killed two people outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The attack occurred alongside a high-profile trial involving 14 individuals accused of helping jihadists carry out the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks. French Interior Minister Gérald Moussa Darmanin said that the recent attack was “clearly an act of Islamist terrorism”. Just a month later, in October, Paris was targeted again. An 18-year-old man decapitated History teacher Samuel Paty outside his secondary school after showing a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo to his pupils. On 29th October, France was shocked by yet another Islamist attack, when Brahim Aouissaoiu knifed three people to death outside a church in Nice. In an audio message found on his phone, Aouissaoiu described France as a “country of unbelievers.” French officials have stepped up security at places of worship across the country. The French Interior Minister has warned that there would be more attacks, as he declared a war against “Islamist ideology”. 

Elsewhere in Europe, a man wearing a fake suicide bomb vest, and armed with an automatic rifle, a pistol, and a machete opened fire at the “Bermuda Triangle”, a popular area for nightlife in Vienna. The shooter, Kujtim Fejzulai, was well known to the authorities and was sent to prison two years ago for attempting to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State. 

The U.K. has responded to this recent spate of attacks with vigilance. The move to “severe” will mean a visible increase in policing in public and crowded spaces, as well as locations considered to be symbolic or iconic, which are desirable targets for terrorists. The threat level has been higher than “severe” on several occasions:  in 2006 following the discovery of a plot to blow up as many as ten planes flying from Britain to the U.S., in 2007 following the car attack on Glasgow Airport, in 2017 the day after the Manchester Arena suicide bombing, and in 2017 following the Parsons Green attack on the London Underground. 

However, is the U.K. being vigilant enough? The JTAC decided to lower the threat level from “severe” to “substantial” shortly before the 7th July 2005 bombings, a decision that continues to haunt the JTAC. Hopefully, this decision will not come back to haunt them.

The incident also sparked intense debate on the role of intelligence (and intelligence gaps) in counterterrorism and security, following reports which found that the 7/7 bombers came under surveillance, but not deemed a high enough priority to investigate thoroughly. Alongside this, the growing contemporary prevalence of so-called ‘lone wolf’ predominantly right-wing terrorism and the move from hierarchical to decentralised, cell-like terror networks also make detecting potential attacks increasingly difficult. 

The above discussion does raise questions about just how secure British security services can be in their assessment that there is no specific intelligence on a future attack. Indeed, intelligence collection is a highly complex process, facing issues surrounding resources, secrecy, and lack of international collaboration. However, it is crucial to acknowledge these limitations when analysing the current threat level to the U.K. and to not be overzealous in proclaiming our security, especially in the face of such severe threats.

The UK is lucky that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine works

By Alexander Hoffman | Thursday 26th November

In the past fortnight, we have seen a wave of significant developments in Coronavirus vaccines. Pfizer/BioNTech were the first to announce a vaccine with 90% efficacy, and Moderna followed shortly after, touting a vaccine with 95% efficacy. In the world of vaccines, these are the best efficacy rates for which one could hope. The Flu vaccine is just 40-60% effective, so this is excellent news, indeed.

However, for the UK, the announcement of the highly effective Moderna vaccine wasn’t exactly great news, as this is one of the vaccines that the UK government hadn’t pre-ordered. This mistake was probably due to a high price when considering its likelihood of efficacy, given its experimental nature.

The UK already purchased 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which uses the same experimental technique. It couldn’t afford the gamble. The EU, however, decided it could, and ordered hundreds of millions of doses of both vaccines, placing an order for 300 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and a last-minute order of 120 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.

After Moderna announced that its vaccine is highly effective, the UK managed to scramble together a last-minute deal to secure 5 million doses of the vaccine, but this was obviously at a higher cost than if it had participated in the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme.

The vaccines, while highly effective, have their drawbacks. Both vaccines are stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it difficult to administer them in standard healthcare settings. Meanwhile, Oxford/AstraZeneca announced this week that their vaccine is up to 90% effective and requires an average fridge temperature, allowing for the use of existing food and drink infrastructure as the spine of the vaccine distribution network

In this case, it appears that the UK didn’t lose out, as it has 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine on pre-order, allowing everyone in the country to be vaccinated sometime next year. It also has 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. However, had the UK not been so lucky, and the Oxford/AstraZeneca failed, it would have been kicking itself over its failure to acquire doses of a second effective vaccine.

Israel – Emirates Peace Deal: To Me, To You, To UAE, to You

by George Wright

Earlier this month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a historic peace agreement: Israel will put aside plans to annex disputed territory in the West Bank in return for Emirati recognition of the Jewish state. Other prominent Arab countries will probably follow suit, with Bahrain and Oman also reportedly keen to normalise their relations with Israel. However, this deal is not only the result of a sudden recognition of the similarities between the two nations but also a realisation of the mutual threat of Iran. 

Iran has pursued an aggressive foreign policy, which has posed a continued threat to Sunni and Jewish populations within the Levant and Arabian Peninsula, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution: Whether it’s financing and controlling Hezbollah, which has used the Lebanese government as its puppet for decades, or mobilising the Al Quds force, headed by General Soleimani, which has carried out untold massacres across Iraq. The long-standing feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has evolved into proxy struggles in Yemen and Iraq, is threatening to go nuclear despite American-led sanctions to prevent this. More and more countries in the Middle East are beginning to realise and recognise the age-old maxim: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

Opponents of the deal have taken the predictable line: that this deal has betrayed the Palestinians, who have been ‘sold out’ by the Emirates and other Arab leaders. This criticism is levelled by Qatari broadcaster, Al Jazeera, which has evolved in the last 20 years to be little more than a propaganda platform for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Iran. As Turkey and Qatar begin to bend to the will of political Islam, with moves such as the recent decision to revert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, they have started to align themselves more and more with Iran, against the rest of the region. Following the announcement of the peace deal, Turkey is now threatening to sever its ties with UAE.

The UAE has long been a melting pot for the peoples and faiths of the world. Respect for religious freedom is one of the Arab state’s most important principles. As political Islam continues to threaten the leadership of the Gulf States, the UAE has come to realise that they suddenly have mutual allies in Israel, which has long been resisting political Islam, since the Iranian-backed Hamas gained control of Gaza in 2007.

Recent political turmoil in Lebanon, culminating in the Beirut explosion, has left its people desperate for new governance. The Hezbollah-controlled government has lost its grip on power after the entire government resigned this month. As a country of strategic importance in the feud between Israel and Iran, given its proximity to Israel, there will be intense competition to influence its new government. Iran will be keen to keep Lebanon onside to continue attacks against Israel and maintain support for Hamas. Israel will be eager to gain influence so that it can improve its national security. 

What this deal reveals is that despite the heated history between Israel and the Arab States, a more critical threat has emerged in the form of Iran. 

The threat of Iranian expansionism and destruction continues to grow as Hezbollah and Al Quds exert pressure on governments in Beirut and Baghdad and operate militias in the countryside of the Levant. Iran is just a short trip across the Gulf from the Emirates. It has already seized its islands of Abu Masa and The Tunbs, a dispute not easily forgotten by Emirati leadership. Finding allies in the region to counter Iranian expansionism is vital to Emirati and Israeli interests.

The Israeli-Emirati peace deal marks a new chapter in the politics of the Middle East. One with both high risk, but also high reward. How easily will other Arab states recognise Israel and work to contain Iran? 

The Murder of George Floyd

*This article has been written by a white student and is offering their perspective on what other white people, as well as themselves, can do to recognise their privilege, and work to undo systemic, institutionalized racism in our society. ‘ I know I will never understand, but I will always stand’.

On Monday 25th May, another Black man, George Floyd, was murdered by a white policeman in America. The policeman, Derek Chauvin, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minuets, and forty five seconds. Two other policemen held Floyd down, and another ‘controlled’ the crowd. All  while Floyd shouted ‘I can’t breathe’, until he lost consciousness and died.

 As a white woman, I cannot fathom the feelings of Black people both in America and across the world, the privilege of having white skin will never allow me to understand the fear of Black people going about their everyday lives.

This however, does not mean white people should be silent. We have benefitted from a system which has discriminated against people of colour for centuries. Since Britain began colonising nations, to the first shipment of slaves of which profits built cities such as Newcastle and Bristol, racism has been institutionalized within Britain and America, to ensure white people benefitted from being white.

A saying which is very commonplace for understanding white privilege explains that white privilege accepts that you may have faced hardships, however these were not due to the colour of your skin. It is thus our duty to undo centuries of systemic oppression. It is our duty to teach about colonization in schools, it is our duty to be uncomfortable. It is our duty to be called out for appropriating certain parts of Black culture that we deem ‘acceptable’.

It is not the responsibility of Black people to fight for their equality. As white people, it is our responsibility to address the system we created, we benefit from and to educate ourselves and fight for a system free of injustice. Before the heroics start, and the ‘likes’ pour in, white people should understand that we should not be seen as ‘fighters’ or ‘the good ones’ for standing up against racism, for we would should never have been benefitting from a corrupt system in the first place.

We should have been outraged since Emmett Till was sentenced to death on false accusations with a biased trial that only cared about white opinion. We should still be outraged over the murder of Michael Brown, being shot six times was no accident by the white police. We should still be outraged when Eric Garner also screamed ‘I can’t breathe’. His words should never have found home in another dying black mans last breaths.

American history, since its colonization, was built on status differentiation and white supremacy. It is not the ‘land of the free’ until Native Americans have what’s left of their land and ancestral sites back. It is not the ‘land of the free’ until Native American land is not torn apart for pipelines, their culture not appropriated globally at Halloween, and their genocide not swept over like that of the Aborigines in Australia.

 It is not the ‘land of the free’ until every school teaches about America’s role in the slave trade, slavery in America and the repression of the rights of Black people to this day. It is not the ‘land of the free’ until there is collective action from a white population whose ignorance towards issues of race and injustice is as astounding as Britain’s denial to face its colonial and imperialist history.

It is not the ‘land of the free’ until the rate of black male arrests is unbiased.

African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites. As of 2001, one of every three black boys born in that year could expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as could one of every six Latinos—compared to one of every seventeen white boys. In 2016, Black Americans comprised 27% of all individuals arrested in the United States—double their share of the total population. Black youth accounted for 15% of all U.S. children yet made up 35% of juvenile arrests in that year.  It must be stressed that the rise  of mass incarceration begins with disproportionate levels of police contact with African Americans.

It is imperative white people take accountability for their role in allowing the continuation of institutionalized, systemic racism that perpetrates the ideology that discrimination is a ‘Black peoples problem’. It is instead necessary that we change ourselves and our institutions.

 It was a white officer that murdered George Floyd.

It was white officers who did not stop him.

It is a white settler society that now rules an already occupied indigenous land, it is a white settler society built off the backs of slaves, the genocide of Native Americans, and the compliance to live in a society where Black people are continuously murdered by white people. There should have been protests every day for the fact Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. There should have been protests every day that police killed 1,099 people in 2019, and that Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population .  Another Black person should not have had to die to recognise what has been happening in America, and Britain, for centuries.

It is, and always has been imperative to address racism in all its forms, and Britain is certainly not exempt from this task. We, the white people, must be outraged that everyday by being compliant, we are killing Black people and people of colour. We must confront uncomfortable truths about who we are, and how our western, liberal societies came to be.

This rage should not die out. It is long overdue that we address one of, if not the, most deep rooted injustices in our society. As Desmond Tutu famously said: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor’.

George Floyd should not have died that day. It is as simple and as complex as that.

 May the injustice being faced by Black people and people of colour be finally, properly addressed. Our complacency, our sympathy is not beneficial. We must stand as allies, we must deconstruct the basis of our society, until it no longer forces the life out of Black people and people of colour.

Written by Sarah Tennent


Black Lives Matter UK Fund-

The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust-

The Minnesota Freedom Fund-

Justice for Belly Mujinga-

Justice for Breonna Taylor-

Petition to suspend UK export of tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields to USA-

Petition for the UK government to condemn President Trump’s response to BLM protests-

Petition for British schools to implement teaching British children about Black history-

Reading List to educate yourself-

Nikesh Shukla – The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America

Layla Saad – Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Akala – Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

Ibram X. Kendi – How To Be an Antiracist

Wesley Lowery – They Can’t Kill Us All: The Story of Black Lives Matter

Support Black owned businesses, find them here-

TfL’s Bailout and London’s regional powers conflict

Coronavirus has up-ended and changed our society in ways that we may not yet be fully coming to terms with. The economy has been required to largely shut down, companies furloughing workers left and right and institutions of government up and down the country have been thrown into severe crisis management mode. In local government, councils up and down in the country have been rallying around protecting their most essential services and completely rethinking how they engage with residents and take decisions in an era of social distancing. In the local authority where I am a councillor, Sutton in South West London, our officers and contractors have responded to the challenges all of this poses extremely well; adapting to work from home requirements incredibly quickly.

But these working from home arrangements have had a major impact on the economy, arguably no more so than for public transport. Mainline rail companies have, according to some, been de facto nationalised; their franchise contracts temporarily suspended. Transport for London (TfL) has also fully complied with national guidelines (such as they were at the time), strongly urging commuters to stay at home and not travel. Furthermore, making all urgently needed travel on buses effectively free by removing the need to ‘touch in’ when boarding to limit the potential for infection. These extreme measures have, however, had an almost unbelievably massive impact on TfL’s finances, explored in extreme detail in an excellent article from London Reconnections, causing TfL to lose upwards of £150 million a week in lost fare income. In recent weeks, this lost income has seen TfL sounding the alarm over it’s long-term viability necessitating urgent action from Government, as the only body able to refinance TfL to this degree, to ensure that services could operate to allow key workers to continue doing their essential work.

While these warnings from TfL have now been heeded, and Government has provided TfL with the much needed cash to continue operating, the move has kicked off a major political bunfight across the capital and beyond. This fighting centres on some of the specific arrangements the Government is requiring TfL make, and indeed the necessity of the deal at all. For instance, Conservative politicians including their Mayoral candidate for the rescheduled 2021 election have launched fierce attacks against the Mayor claiming the deal is the result of wasteful spending by the Labour Mayor of London. While Lib Dem Mayoral candidate, Siobhan Benita has joined local campaigners in attacking the Silvertown Tunnel initiative, in general left-of-centre parties including the Lib Dems and the Greens have joined Labour in defending the necessity of the deal to keep essential services running. Political battle lines are now inevitably being drawn, around these fault-lines amid concern that Government is slowly undermining and encroaching on London’s regional government.

This entire debate- which will no doubt rage on right up to election day in 2021- does however provide an extremely interesting parallel to a major political fight between London’s previous regional government- the Greater London Council (GLC)- found itself in with the boroughs in the 1980s. Throughout the 1980s, Conservative politicians nationally and locally challenged the then-Labour controlled GLC over changes to fares policies. This challenge would eventually boil over into widespread discussion within Conservative circles about the continued feasibility of regional government in London; culminating in the GLC’s abolition in 1986. While the decision to challenge these transport policies did not outright lead to the GLC’s abolition, it certainly did set in train a discursive snowball.

Are we seeing a similar trend now? A conservative administration nationally, with a large majority fiercely attacking a divisive Labour administration in City Hall while Conservative members show increasingly hostile attitudes to the devolution of power, away from Westminster?

While we might not necessarily be seeing history repeat itself- at this stage it would be unwise to make a pronouncement either way- we can say with some certainty that history is rhyming right about now.

Written by Jake Short

Golden Apple Award Winners

Following from two weeks of nominations and voting, students have come together to recognise the lecturer and student who has gone above and beyond for PIR at Royal Holloway!

Politics and International Relations Society are pleased to announce the lecturer PIR students recognised who had gone above and beyond their role, enriched student learning and inspired students- DR Michelle Bentley!

Dr Bentley is Reader in International Relations and portraitsDirector of the Royal Holloway Centre of International Security (RHISC).

Her research has been published in prominent journals, including Security Studies, Review of International Studies, and International Affairs. She has written two sole-authored books: one analysing WMD and the strategic use of concepts, and a second entitled Syria and the Chemical Weapons Taboo: Exploiting the Forbidden, looking at US foreign policy on the Syrian crisis. She has also published two edited volumes on the Obama administration and continuity in US foreign policy. She is currently writing her next book on the biological weapons taboo.

Dr Bentley was awarded the 2017 POLITICS Learning and Teaching Prize for her research on higher education.

Politics and International Relations Society also wished to allow students to award a PIR member who they recognised as being a dedicated member to the society. We are pleased to announce George Finch was voted by his peers as a truly valuable member to the society and committee!


George is a third year PIR student, in his second year being selected as a Delegate for our prestigious LIMUN conference where his dedication, work ethic and skills were recognised in his election as LIMUN Head Delegate, a role he took on with Britney Troung, their delegates achieving outstanding results at this years conference. Thank you to your committment to LIMUN and PIR Society, and we wish you the best for life after graduation!

A new kind of Journalism

The 20th Century marked a watershed where people began to recognise the changing nature and environment of the media. Mass media, broadcast news, and the professionalisation of journalism, were buzzwords for the media then, just as they are now.

The revolution of news on screen and radio, broadened the political minds of many, in a midst of newly found easy access to the political world, away from print news.

Media outlets slowly began to ease their political alignments shifting between the advocacy for parties, and the supply of unbiased views, in attempt to provide ‘neutral’ perspectives.

With this increased ‘professionalisation’, we saw a new kind of journalism developing.

Without compulsory training, or specific knowledge sets, journalism ‘isn’t the ideal liberal profession’, in comparison to careers such as law or medicine. However pride is, and should be placed, on a journalists’ ability to ‘impact society’ and ‘serve the public interest’. It is this new autonomy that has founded journalisms professionalisation.

So, with these developments, if we reflect again, they bring the question of whether we are seeing another ‘new kind of journalism’ in amongst this global pandemic we are facing today.

Common articles around Coronavirus have recently, and necessarily so, surrounded recent case figures, medical advice being offered, or recent demands for enquiries into countries levels of ‘preparedness’ for such a pandemic.

There are some positives in amongst this, including a new-found appreciation for keyworkers and national spirits of ‘togetherness’. There are also lots of negatives that can come from, and are found within situations such as these – those sadly lost, government performance, and public urges to panic-buy toilet roll or baking goods.

Yet this news is being bought to us in a different way, and more importantly, is the only news that is being presented to us, and has been for the last three months.

There has seemed to be a lack of attention to what we are being shown in the media. Countries have seen ‘normal’ life come to a halt, confined to life of self-isolation and lockdown, and the media has followed suit.

The media has become isolated in its news of Coronavirus, suggesting the possibility and also some truth to how global news has taken a back seat. Or that there is no global news to report – which seems harder to believe.

Furthermore, there is a sense journalists’ questions have also become constrained during what has become, the daily press conference ritual. Time and time again we see some journalists asking the same questions, most notably ‘when will lockdown end?’.

This could reflect national frustrations, or to rightly hold governments accountable, or is this because, there is not much else they can ask?

This is a new kind of journalism.

Journalism before has seen constraint from state intervention and technological drawbacks, and to some extent, still sees this on varying levels. Today, as World Wars once consumed media attention, our battle against Coronavirus takes their place.

It is up to ourselves to decide whether this ‘new’ in our new kind of journalism, be taken for the logistics of how press conferences are now being held. Or that more than ever, more media channels are receiving more airtime attention, or even how questions are being asked in these conferences, are becoming limited.

Nonetheless, these all suggest a new kind of journalism, in a time that demands the attention of one subject only, one that is continuously at the forefront of all our minds.

Written by Courtney Bridges


Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini, ‘Comparing Media Systems: three models of media and politics’, (2004), p.13, 16.



COVID-19, Politics and the English Language

Described to me by one academic as “a reaction to the age of political bullsh—”, George Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language, should be any writers’ gold standard. I personally think that Orwell’s Six Rules should be hung from a wall in the office of every journalist, editor and academic; not to mention, every business consultant and political assistant.

  1. ‘Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’

Alas my wishes will never materialise. But in our current health, economic and political crisis, our ability to transmit ideas has never been more important. Unfortunately, it is Rule 5 that has been trampled on in the government response and has provoked frustrations over clarity.

As I write, I am hands over keyboard, ready for the next COVID-19 briefing, and poised to look out for the customary, rehearsed one liners, deliberate ambiguity and (what Orwell deemed to be) ‘pretentious diction’.

And that confirms that Orwell is as relevant in 1946 as in 2020.

Orwell’s notion that modern prose and speech is moving ‘away from concreteness’ continues to stare us (the laypeople) in the face. Matt Hancock has apparently “upgraded the guidance” on social interaction, with his method of finding this upgrade being “the right thing”. Meanwhile, he has “high degree of confidence” in the supply of oxygen, when asked how he was to improve oxygen supply across the country. Far from the jargon-free utopia that Orwell and I would dream of, these dressed up phrases diminish the clarity necessary in a time of crisis through being a product of ‘slovenliness and vagueness’. Offering little in the way of coherent answers, these jargon-laden answers are the very source of confusion between Government and its examiners.

To cap it all off, in an affront to meaningful words, Hancock described law as an “emphatic requirement” of his own, and called for “perseverance in the face of great challenges”. Where Orwell criticises the use of such meaningless words as an attempt at deception, in 2020, deception has clearly been replaced with deliberate ambiguity. Indeed, there exists a small difference. The former, an attempt to hide or distort the truth. The latter, a coping mechanism of sorts. An attempt at changing the lens on the camera, rather than changing the object being photographed.

Yet regardless of this distinction, one of Orwell’s metaphors comes to mind. Here is Orwell in full flow:

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”

Exemplified by Matt Hancock today, our modern prose is full of bad habits. It is often unclear, sometimes intentionally complex and jargon-laden. Never have we needed clarity, simplicity and easy language more than our present circumstance of taking daily directions from central government. In the age of 24/7 news and mass scrutiny of government, I am confident that it will pay dividends for the first brave person/poor soul, to write and speak with honesty and clarity. I do not pretend for one second that this will be popular, easy or even possible, yet it is something, that in a time of crisis we should aim for.

Churchill, speaking before Orwell’s publication, convinces me of the effectiveness that comes with clear language. “We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”. In this – the most recognisable section of any speech given by Churchill – Churchill uses no jargon-laden words, no ‘long words where a short one will do’ and just one word from a classical derivation. Whilst no politician in our modern era competes for Churchill’s oratory skill, a language following Orwell’s Six Rules is most certainly one that maximises the coherence of the interaction between subjects and their leaders.

I am in no doubt that throughout the course of writing this, I have broken Orwell’s Six Rules multiple times. But surely in the name of good governance at a time of crisis our leaders must turn away from this new ‘age of political bullsh—’.

Written by Joshua Castle 


George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (London: Penguin, 2013) p.19.

Ibid. p.8

Matt Hancock, Coronavirus Press Conference, BBC: 05/04/2020

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, p.1


No other way. Biden needs the Left to stop Trump.

Just less than a month ago, on March 17, two things were starting to get clear in the United States. The first of them was the sudden realization of the Trump administration regarding the coronavirus outbreak and its seriousness. By March 17, all 50 states had been hit with more than 100 dead and 6000 infected nationwide, as the BBC reported. Yet, it took all of this to happen for the leader of the nation to shift his rhetoric from “totally under control” to “I’ve felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic”. As of today, according to the Worldometer that tracks all the coronavirus cases worldwide, the situation in the United States looks grim and terrifying. More than 300,000 cases have been confirmed, with the US becoming the world’s most affected country, heavily surpassing both Spain and Italy. And, as if that was not enough, the President warned everyone that the upcoming weeks are going to be the “toughest”, and that the worst is yet to come. biden srticle 1

Graph source: Worldometer, last updated: April 05, 2020, 10:48 GMT

All of this, undeniably, leads to a simple conclusion. The United States, and the world, is in a desperate need for steady and strong leadership. And interestingly enough, this has to do with the second event that occurred on that same March 17 Tuesday last month. It was then when it was reported that Joe Biden, who definitely had a poor start in the Democratic primary battle, will win all of the three major states(Florida, Illinois, Arizona) that were at stake that night. What is more, it turned out to be a comfortable, even “easy”, according to The New York Times, victory for the former Vice President. After that night, the math was showing that that Biden had managed to secure a total of 1,217 delegates against 914 for his major opponent Senator Bernie Sanders. And while it was, and still is true, that a majority of 1,991 pledged delegates must be won in order to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, the numbers are a good indicator to illustrate that Bernie Sanders, who unquestionably embodies the Left in America, will most probably not succeed in his march to the White House.

Source: Associated Press, last updated: 3 April 2020, 00:51:26

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More disappointing, however, will surely be the prospect that the Left idea might not succeed. Just as it was the case in 2016, the Democratic establishment turned out to be an extremely formidable enemy. This time it showed it when practically all of the centrist, moderate candidates united behind the Biden candidacy in order to turn an election that, otherwise, they would have probably lost against the Sanders base if not united behind one candidate. Endorsement after endorsement helped Joe Biden get a desperately needed boost, especially after an abysmal showing in the first caucuses and primaries. Furthermore, openly promising to pick a woman for the VP spot and securing endorsements from people like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a perceived Sanders ally, only solidified Biden’s lead. Not to mention the fact that Elizabeth Warren, another person who the logic dictated would endorse the most progressive candidate, Sanders, apparent refusal to do so, felt not only like a shocker, but more like a betrayal to the progressive base. All of this, combined with the increasing media pressure for Sanders to end his presidential campaign, has led the Senator’s team to “assess” his campaign and the potential path forward.

Of course, it is impossible not to spot the little irony behind this situation. Especially now, that the Sanders campaign is all focused on fighting and leading the charge against the coronavirus. And now that, as it was brilliantly put by New Yorker writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, it is the reality that has endorsed Sanders. In other words, saying that the Senator’s main policy proposals, such as Medicare for All, are more than critically needed in the current unprecedented crisis the US, and the whole world, is facing. And even though ideas like Medicare for All and tightening the enormous wealth inequality gap that currently exists in the US, seem more than reasonable, and despite Sanders still having mathematical chances of winning the nomination, the opposition he is facing will only get even more vicious from now on.

Here, however, arises the biggest problems for the Democratic establishment. Even if it finally manages to somehow stop Sanders, it will still, again ironically, need the full support of his base in order to accomplish its main objective – beating Trump in November. And it will not be unreasonable to express that the Sanders’ base has little to do with the Biden base when it comes to policy, main causes, and overall ideology and understanding of how politics should be done. Biden might represent the status quo, and the way that the Democratic Party currently operates and wants to operate, but it is Sanders who represents the future. And this future about much more than a single ideolog or a single election. It is a future In which everybody should have the same rights to healthcare, a living wage, affordable housing, and decent life. A future in which billions would be spent on education, healthcare and progress, and not on foreign policy blunders. A future in which politicians would represent and fight for the ordinary people, not for the corporations, the banks, and the ultrawealthy.

And although this is yet to happen in the future, Biden will surely need to compromise with himself now and implement some of Bernie Sanders’ policy ideas and vision. There is no other way Biden can deserve the support of the Left that he really needs to take on Trump. It is not too farfetched to think that Democrats do not want to repeat the 2016 mistakes. Then, rhetoric of the ‘unity’, ‘vote blue no matter what’ type, would not suffice. Not in today’s world of politics. Actions would have to be taken, and Biden would definitely have to do something in order to appeal to the Sanders voters. Otherwise, it will be virtually impossible for him to take on Trump and win. After all, you cannot win if you do not energize such large chunks of the electorate like the young people, the outsider voters and the voters who are anti-establishment. All of whom are Sanders supporters.

Without a doubt, a glimpse at Biden’s record through the years shows that this is very unlikely to happen. The fact of the matter is, that Biden has never been a progressive champion and has not fought on most of the same fronts that Sanders has. And thus, it is understandable that people will be sceptical about such a future prospect. However, given the extreme situation in the world now, and the need for powerful leadership more than ever, compromises will have to be made if Biden wants to win. If not trough direct policy promises, at least, as the progressive political commentators Kyle Kulinski has noted, through offering the VP spot to someone like Senator Nina Turner, a main Sanders surrogate and an honest fighter for progressive change. Someone who will appeal to the Left and will pursue the main ideals of the field.

One thing is certain. A Biden win in November heavily involves the Left. In one way or another. Otherwise, Democrats should prepare for something worse than 2016 in 2020.

Written by Zafir Zafirov