Keir Exposure – Constructive Opposition a Year on?

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

22/04/2020.. London, United Kingdom. First virtual PMQs and Ministerial statement on Coronavirus, with First Secretary of State Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP and the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer MP. Picture by  Jessica Taylor © UK Parliament

“It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”, writes US Political Consultant Frank Luntz in Words that Work.

For Labour leader Keir Starmer,  people are not hearing much.

All political leaders have to deal with the circumstances of their time.  Some are gifted with a series of own goals by the other side – remember the sleaze stories about John Major’s Government?  Others find themselves overshadowed by major events – remember, or maybe you don’t, Michael Foot during the Falklands War?

Since taking over as Labour leader during the earlier days of the pandemic, Starmer has struggled to get that magic factor – “cut through”.  He may do all the things opposition leaders do, such as Prime Minister’s Questions, major speeches, policy announcements, party events. But even when these get attention, they fade quickly from our minds.

Part of Keir Starmer’s problem is the need to tread a difficult line.  At a time of crisis people generally want the government to do well.  Too much attack dog can rebound on the attacker; and he did begin by saying he would take a constructive approach.

But opposition leaders need to find points of difference.  For a party to be a government in waiting there has to be something making the wait worthwhile.

Early 2021 saw an outbreak of media stories driven by what was obviously briefing by disaffected senior individuals. We read of worries about Starmer’s team, about his approach, about his lack of achievement. This came ahead of, and may in fact have played a part in, a speech trailed as carrying elements of a new Beveridge report.  The contents of the speech however, did not live up to its billing.

And here is one of the problems. When there is lot of noise, you either need to make more noise to cut through or wait for a sudden pause for breath. You need to be nimble and to apply plenty of hype and you need to surprise. And if what happens is less than expected, cutting through in future is even harder.

Starmer is aware that he needs to choose his moments. His refusal to call for the resignation of Matt Hancock over NHS procurement transparency is a good example. He knows such a call would go unanswered and could look opportunistic, even though calling for Cabinet resignations used to be a reflex action by opposition leaders.

In late February, writing in the Times newspaper, Hugo Rifkind asked “What is the point of Sir Keir Starmer?”  Rifkind felt there was not enough actual opposing going on.  He may have a point, but if the efforts of figures such as Neil Kinnock have taught us anything, it is that opposition is a long game, and you may end up substituted before the win.

Paula Keaveney is programme leader for Politics at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 27th May 2020. Paula’s original blog piece can be found here.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

The Unmet Rights of Children in Care: the State of Affairs 12 months on

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

In April 2020 regulations in the United Kingdom (UK) relating to the protection and care of children who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers, were relaxed. This raised alarm bells about the increased risk of these children’s rights not being met. Twelve months on, what is current state of affairs for some of our most vulnerable children?  

The relaxing of duties associated with protecting children in care was implemented through the statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’. Following the introduction of these regulations Article 39,  a charity championing children’s rights, challenged the government on the removal and/or watering down of 65 specific safeguards for children in care in England.

This led, on 24th November 2020, to The Secretary of State for Education being found to have acted unlawfully in removing the safeguarding for children in care through these regulations, and that the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care should have been consulted thereon (Article 39). With reference to England’s 78,000 children in care, in the Concluding Comments at the Court of Appeal it was stated ‘the amendments as a whole were unquestionably substantial and wide-ranging and, when implemented, had the potential to have a significant impact on children in care’

While this is good news for children in care, there remains huge concerns about the lack of measures to ensure children in care are adequately protected.

In November 2020, the Children’s Commissioner reported that of the children in care in England, 6,570 are currently growing up in children’s homes, however, there are insufficient places in these homes to meet demand, stating that, ‘often these children end up in flats where they are overseen by teams of unknown agency staff while awaiting a more permanent place’ (p.3).

Such accommodation is classified as ‘unregulated’ meaning it is not monitored or inspected by any government regulator. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the situation for the ‘13,000 children ending up in unregulated homes at some point during the year’ (Children’s Commissioner, 2020, p. 11).

In response, on 19th February 2021 Parliament ruled that a ban on the placing children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will come into force in September 2021 (Department for Education). While positive, this ban will only help around 100 children in care at any one time as the majority on children placed in unregulated accommodation are aged 16 and 17 (Article 39, 2021). It will also be too late for those children who have been ‘locked down’ in private and unregulated accommodation.

Thus, the situation will remain whereby young people aged 16 and 17 in the care system can be placed in privately-run accommodation without receiving care, meaning that their right to care will remain unmet. As we move out the pandemic, there is an urgent need to review how we look after children and young people both to ensure that their right to care is met – but also that it cannot be removed or altered without due process.

Professor Carol Robinson is Professor of Children’s Rights within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 which can be found here and coincided with the Human Rights Council’s Annual Day on the Right of the Child, on Monday 1st March 2021.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

The 24th March 2021 will be the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.

Since then we have been on a roller-coaster, both personally and professionally, and witnessed unprecedented changes to our way of life. Some will be temporary – others will be permanent; but as we approach the anniversary, can we predict which will be which?

In April and May 2020 Edge Hill academics were inspired to write blog pieces exploring the immediate impact of lockdown as it related to their research interests. These pieces looked at a wide spectrum of geographical and demographic groups and explored many areas, from the arts, to autism, politics to prisons, and more. We converted this blog into an online publication and it now stands as both an historic and contemporary account of our immediate response to the pandemic.

Since then a lot has changed. We have gone from the switch to online teaching and the agony of cancelling long held plans (and the associated battle to get our money back), to staycations and Eat Out to Help Out. We have become gardeners, bakers and crafters. We have bounced around tiers, ate Christmas dinner alone, and become ‘experts’ on vaccines, R-numbers and learnt new acronyms; and we all wished we had bought shares in Zoom. Then as 2021 began with lockdown #3, we started to wonder if we will ever get our old lives back.

Yet the impact on some of our research communities has been more profound. Edge Hill has a proud tradition of engaging in excellent, applied research that has direct impact on communities; locally, nationally and internationally. So today we are launching the ISR Covid-19 Anniversary Blog to run throughout March and April 2021. This will explore the effects of the pandemic on our research communities over the past year, and make predictions as to its lasting impacts.

To that end have invited all of the original bloggers to submit an updated piece; asking what they got right, what they got wrong, and their longer-term predictions.

In addition, we are inviting all University staff to submit a piece. What have been the impacts of the pandemic on your field of enquiry? Will these be permanent or temporary? What will happen next?

To accompany the Blog, on the evening of March 24th we have invited five of the original bloggers to present ‘Edge Talks’ on one of five overarching themes, specifically; ‘civil liberties on-loan’, ‘politics of pandemics’, ‘exaggerated inequalities’, ‘the passing of time’ and ‘wither the arts’. This will offer both a wider perspective on the pandemic but also the opportunity to converse with others about your pandemic experience, and those of your research communities.

We do hope that you will both contribute a piece, and join us on the evening of the 24th.

Prof Jo Crotty

Director: ISR

What to do next:

Submit a blog piece: all blog pieces must be approximately 500 words, pithy yet apolitical and submitted via All posts are moderated.

Join us on the evening of the anniversary talks: please click here to register


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Who chooses – finding candidates for public office

This May sees a huge set of elections.  It will be the biggest national test of party popularity since the General Election.  Postponed local and mayoral elections from last year combine with scheduled contests to give us a psephologist’s dream.

Yet a row in Liverpool over who will be on the ballot paper for Labour has thrown light one aspect of the election contest, and caused questions about who chooses and when.

The story so far:

The Liverpool Labour Party had selected Mayor Joe Anderson as its candidate for the elections taking place in May.  Victorious in 2012, and re-elected four years later, he was due to defend his position.  However the December arrests of Anderson and others for offences including bribery and the later extension of police bail meant it was untenable for him to remain as candidate.  This meant the Labour Party needed to find a new standard bearer and quickly.  Applicants were whittled down to an all women shortlist of three.  Campaigns began.  Then the process was “paused”,  and after more interviews the list was effectively cancelled and a search for new applicants began.

These events and the row have thrown a spotlight on the topic of candidate selection.

Where there are elections, there must be candidates.  Where there are high profile elections for important jobs, it matters who those candidates are.  And political parties, having suffered embarrassment in the past, are always keen to make sure that candidates are going to be right for the jobs. 

The usual combination for candidate selection is qualification criteria, followed by screening, shortlisting, and some sort of local or members’ choice which may then be followed by official endorsement. 

It is when elections are imminent that some of these steps are shortened or dispensed with.

But this in turn can create resentment.  The average party member gets little say on anything.  The main decision he or she will make is over selecting a future MP, or Mayor or Councillor.  Take that away and tempers may flare.

Add in to the mix the fact that a selection is also a statement of ideological direction, and it is easy to see why some activists resist “interference from on high”.

On one level the Liverpool Labour Party selection story is about local problems.  But it throws a spotlight more generally on how we select people for public office.  In a party system, the choice of standard bearer is generally made by small groups of people.  Even a large party membership will be a tiny proportion of the population.  And how representative are they?  May’s law (May’s law of curvilinear disparity to be precise) argues that activist members of a political party tend to be more extreme than both the average voter and the “party elite” – those at the top.  This can mean that those choosing are both small in number and not particularly representative of the general voting public.  This “reality deficit” has led some to argue that selections should be thrown open to the wider population, with a few experiments in so called “open primaries” by the Conservative party.

Yet it is surely the party members and activists who care the most.  And how easy is it for a candidate if the foot-soldiers are not keen?

The Liverpool row is nowhere near the first about how candidates are selected.  There is a balance to be sought between the right person for the party and the right person for the job.  There is a judgement to be made about who should decide.

As democracy has developed in the UK we have seen conflict and (some) resolution over voting rights, over access to the system and over party discipline vs free thinking.  Perhaps how parties control our choices is the next area for change.

Paula Keaveney is programme leader for Politics at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

How the Biden Administration Can Take on White Supremacy

By Heidi Beirich

Taking the stage on January 20 for his inaugural speech in front of the American Capitol that had just been stormed by hundreds of right-wing extremists, President Joe Biden specifically called out the problem of white supremacy and the need to confront it. He denounced the “racism, nativism, fear, demonization” that propelled the assault and said it was now time to confront “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, [and] domestic terrorism.”

Days later, it was announced that the director of national intelligence would work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to produce a comprehensive threat assessment of these movements. The White House also plans to strengthen the National Security Council’s (NSC) ability to counter domestic extremism by improving the flow of information among government agencies, supporting programs to prevent radicalization and looking at ways to disrupt domestic extremist networks.

These are all necessary steps and a very important start, especially given the prior administration’s encouragement of these dangerous groups and ideas. But to confront the challenge of white supremacy and other forms of extremism in the U.S. there are several issues that need to be confronted simultaneously.

As white supremacist extremism is now an international movement propelled by networks that transcend borders, the U.S. needs to work with allies affected by this menace. There is no other way to effectively counter a threat that knows no national borders. As a Brookings Institute report recently said, “By working with allies around the world, the United States can prevent the groups and cells from helping each other, as it does already with jihadi organizations. In addition, a global effort can reveal otherwise unknown individuals who have ties to extremists back at home.”

Of great importance is the need to confront extremism in the Armed Forces and in law enforcement. Nearly one-fifth of those arrested so far in the Capitol insurgency were either veterans or active-duty troops. Police from several jurisdictions were also found among the rioters. Several major terrorist plots in recent years involving dangerous neo-Nazi organizations including the Atomwaffen Division (atomic weapons in German) and The Base (the English translation for Al Qaeda) have involved arrests of active duty troops and veterans. Given the training they have had in weapons and bombs, the danger is obvious. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who committed the largest domestic terrorist attack before 9/11, had been a veteran steeped in white supremacist and militia ideas.

Hate crimes are another area needing attention. In the U.S., less than five percent of hate crimes are actually documented according to the Department of Justice. The FBI, which collects the data, annually reports around 6,000 cases, but the DOJ says the actual number is more like 250,000 hate crimes. Without accurate data, we are unable to actually understand and address this social problem, which is driven by hatred of various kinds.

Another major problem in growing extremism is the role of the social media companies. It’s clear that dangerous ideas like the increasingly antisemitic QAnon conspiracy and racist propaganda such as the “Great Replacement,” which argues that white people are being displaced by people of color in their home countries, could never have spread without the online space. It is time for the U.S. government to investigate curbing the role of technology companies in proliferating hatred and conspiracies.

It is also important for the government to invest in communities most impacted by hate. For too long, resources for issues like hate crimes have not found their way into marginalized communities. By building their resilience, we can also help to fight white supremacy and extremism.

For more on GPAHE’s suggested policies to curb white supremacy and extremism, see our policy brief.

Dr Heidi Beirich is a co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) which has a mission to strengthen and educate a diverse global community committed to exposing and countering racism, bigotry and prejudice; and to promote the human rights values that support flourishing, inclusive societies and democracies.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Brett Davis


We’re midway through Veganuary, the annual challenge to those who typically consume animal products to spend a month going vegan. Reports suggest half a million people in the UK have made the pledge to eat only plant-based food as part of the initiative this year, and the number of participants has risen rapidly since the initiative was inaugurated in 2014. The organisers of Veganuary also work with food producers and supermarkets to get more plant-based food on the shelves, making taking part easier for everyone. Begun in the UK, Veganuary is now grabbing attention around the world, and genuinely might indicate a shift in how humans understand their relationships with food.

After all, time and again evidence shows the environmental problems resulting from current levels and methods of meat production. Reducing meat intake is the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact upon the Earth given the amount of land used, and emissions produced, in meat and dairy production. In 2019 a report commissioned by the United Nations showed that other efforts undertaken with the goal of reducing environmental damage – for example, reducing car use – are largely pointless unless accompanied by “drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets”.

I became vegan about 6 years; I’d been vegetarian for about 5 years before that. In that time I’ve seen such activity become significantly more mainstream. Interestingly, debates about how humans treat animals also seem to have become more common, and this appears to me to be part of a generational shift. When discussing the topic with undergraduate students, for example, the idea that thinking about the treatment of animals seems quite normal, and part of wider concerns about social and environmental ethics and justice; yet I find if the conversation comes up with people who are older – such as my own age – the discussion is often categorised as fringe or faddish.

Here’s my experience of becoming vegetarian, and then vegan. The former I found required much more of a shift in terms of thinking about what to cook and how to shop, because I was raised – like many – to understand meat as the central part of a meal around which everything was placed. Once I’d got over that assumption – and discovered the amazing opportunities for trying new Indian, Mexican and Thai that I’d been missing out on before – going vegan was not that big a step.

For me, it is this hurdle of rethinking what you’re used to that often functions as the biggest barrier for those considering removing animal products from their diet. In that sense, Veganuary is a useful initiative, encouraging everyone to give it a go and find out that it’s not that hard – the Veganuary website itself has a vast resource of delicious recipes. There is still a week left – so why not give it a go?

Brett Mills is Visiting Professor of Media at Edge Hill University, UK, and Honorary Professor of Media and Culture at the University of East Anglia, UK. He is the author and co-author of five books, including Animals on Television: The Cultural Making of the Non-Human (Palgrave 2017).


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska from Pexels

Is Socially Distanced Social Responsibility Possible?

Social responsibility is part of Bluecoat’s core purpose. We have survived many challenges and the basis of our resilience has always been a deep sense of responsibility to our civic role.

We are a working arts centre with a community of artists, creative businesses, a public garden, galleries and performance spaces.

We engage offsite with communities, care homes and historic buildings.

And all our projects orbit around our building as a kind of ‘mothership’, a tangible, material space in the city centre.

So when the world locked down, how could we continue? How could we socially distance projects where connection, relationship building, and communication were key?

The challenges were considerable but not unsurmountable – here’s how we tackled some of them.

Blue Room

For more than ten years Blue Room has helped adults with learning disabilities develop their artistic practice. When lockdown hit, our weekly face to face sessions had to stop. But it was vital we kept connection with members – so we developed ‘Blue Room @ Home’.  

Taking Blue Room online meant Blue Zoom sessions, home deliveries of materials and worksheets, WhatsApp groups and monthly welfare calls. We also secured funding for devices and connectivity (Wi-Fi hubs and data) to engage with digitally excluded members.

Digital exclusion is a major issue in learning disabled communities, so welcoming an average of 16 members to each Zoom session was a big success!

Where the Arts Belong

The Centre for Collaborative Innovation on Dementia at Liverpool John Moores University told us that our partnership with Belong villages on dementia and the arts, Where the Arts Belong ‘helped to arrest decline and perhaps stabilise the quality of life of recipients of the intervention’. So we had to keep the programme live through lockdown.

So Instead we trained care staff to deliver small arts sessions as part of their daily contact with residents. It was an intensive process, but the staff are really embracing the challenge of arts facilitation; as you can see from the clip below:


Developing ideas, connecting with peers and testing work is a huge part of artist development and we’ve done everything we can to keep our onsite studios open in a safe way.

Before Covid, we were looking to create a new artist development scheme in partnership with Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. The challenges we’ve seen artists face over the past 12 months has brought into even sharper focus, the need for the scheme.

With a specific focus on mid-career contemporary artists, PIVOT will provide bursaries and a programme that supports their practice.

During lockdown we had to take applications, conversations and exchange online but have continued to mentor and support the first five PIVOT artists.

Bluecoat @ home

When our doors have been closed we’ve been committed to keeping open opportunities to engage with the arts.  Weekly newsletters have connected audiences with new digital artwork, music playlists, and film premieres. We’ve also produced weekly activities for children and families to inspire creativity and help with learning at home.

It’s been a difficult year to lead an organisation where social responsibility is part of who we are, but it’s been difficult to do. But we’ve found new ways to connect and continued to reach the communities where our impact is felt the most. Post pandemic this will be more important than ever. Bluecoat will have an important role in supporting Liverpool to tackle the many different costs of the virus and the arts in navigating the challenging months and years ahead.  

Mary Cloake is the CEO of Liverpool Bluecoat and a member of the ISR External Advisory Board.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Arthur John Picton

Socially Distanced Social Responsibility: Engaging Young People Today

Over recent years organisations have increasingly tried to engage with the digital world, but who would have thought that a global pandemic would be the thing to turn our practice upside-down?

To the world, and its young people, 2020 was a year of change and instability; rules changed seemingly minute by minute. Life as we knew it was altered, and nobody knew how long for.

In an era of disrupted education, social distancing and lockdowns, it is imperative that young people are supported to have a meaningful voice; but practice needs to be change.

Forays into video conferencing tools and an often-sporadic social media presence are no longer enough. Some were asserting that everything we previously knew about youth engagement was about to be turned on its head. Or was it?

At its core, engaging young people over the internet is not dissimilar to engaging young people in person. You wouldn’t jump straight into doing work with a group having only met them 5 minutes ago, so why do this over a video call?

In a digital world, icebreakers and games may need to be adapted, but this doesn’t make them any less important. I’m sure many adults relate to the feeling of being “Zoomed-out”; young people are not any more immune!

In a similar vein, I’d like to think that we would never hold an event on the top floor of a building with no lift access – so why would we hold a digital event when our attendees may not have a device capable of hosting video-conferencing software or have a reliable internet connection?

Yet the issues that young people have in the forefront of their minds has changed as a result of the pandemic. The Make Your Mark 2020 results are a particularly interesting read.

Make Your Mark allows young people aged 11-18 in the UK to vote on issues that are important to them, and 2020’s results speak loud and clear. A fear of domestic violence was prominent, as was concern about homelessness, and many feel scared about their future employment or educational opportunities. After a year of feeling like their lives were in some ways out of their control, we owe it to young people to champion their voices in everything that we do moving forward.

Young people as a whole are not any less enthusiastic about engagement, but we need to continue to adapt our practice to fit our ever-changing world and the unique challenges it throws at us.

In many ways, the pandemic has given us the digital wake-up call we needed. Now we need to ensure that we do not leave people behind, for to engage with young people in a socially distanced and socially responsible way we need to consider the needs of all.

Milo Dwyer works with Youthfocus NW, and was a contributor to the recent ISR webinar on How to Do Socially Distanced Social Responsibility.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Social Distant Socially Responsible: One Church’s Experience

In light of the current, and preceding lockdowns, ‘church’ at St Gabriel’s, Huyton, has been very different.

Transferring worship services online has allowed our congregation to interact, but the ceasing of public worship has decimated church finances and fees. We cannot let out of our facilities which impacts our ability to reach out to the wider community, and reduces our resources. It also posed a threat to our fellowship’s cohesion and the work we do in the community, including meal services and other community support programmes.

Nonetheless, as a team we responded quickly, ably led by the Vicar, Canon Mal Rogers. We immediately set up telephone contact systems so that our members could be contacted by other members on a regular basis; which was particularly important for those who could not use social media or had the IT to communicate, or join events. We also held fun nights and quizzes and other online meetings and suggested screenings to encourage and entertain those who might feel isolated and in need of nurturing and encouragement.

During the brief lull in infections, we did manage to open the church for a maximum of 30 people for Sunday services. This came with a booking system, PPE, track and trace and social distancing. Singing or social contact was not allowed; but we did manage Communion Services with bread (wafers) only.

With funerals we adopted a new approach, allowing families to choose music to be played at the graveside, and in church. It is fair to say this had some ‘interesting’ outcomes, but by and large, sensitive and moving moments were created from mobile speakers, portable sound systems and even the funeral car CD player on one occasion!

We were also deeply concerned to continue our social outreach with the Apples Trust Nursery supporting local families in need and the One Knowsley initiative. Through Knowsley Kitchen we have continued delivering regular food to families throughout the pandemic, including Christmas Dinners and lunches for children.

As a Church we are also committed to help rebuild after Covid-19 and have applied for grants for the Huyton Deanery area from the Big Lottery and other charitable trusts. We are looking forward to being a strong player in the restoration of services and facilities; new initiatives to help our people rebuild the community. We trust we can start again, and do it better than before!

Rev John Davis is an ISR Visiting Fellow, and Assistant Priest at St Gabriel’s Huyton.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

How do you do Socially Distant Social Responsibility?

Overcoming digital divides, building social connections and acting in a socially responsible way in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t easy. Last week (13/01/21) ISR hosted a webinar to discuss this challenge.

The date of the webinar coincided with the launch of the JRF UK poverty report and the JRF Destitution Report which both detailed the impact of digital exclusion during the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities, with those already experiencing digital poverty excluded from what was an almost exclusively digital policy response to the outbreak. It was in the context of increasing poverty, digital exclusion and communities struggling with the impact of the new 2021 Lockdown, that we hosted the webinar.

We welcomed guest speakers; Mary Cloake from the Bluecoat Gallery, Stuart Dunne and Milo Dwyer from Youth Focus and Rev John Davis, ISR Visiting Fellow and assistant priest at St Gabriel’s, Huyton.  The speakers shared how they sought to overcome the digital divide and maintain meaningful connections with their communities.

In giving an overview of their work, Stuart and Milo connected the right to online participation with human rights. Ensuring that people have the devices and data to participate fully was key to doing socially distant social responsibility. They also spoke about the challenges of making new online connections, finding it easier to ensure that ensuring that existing contacts were supported. This observation was endorsed by many of the webinar participants, and remains a huge challenge.

John focussed on how to nourish communities in a digital and socially distant space. Maintaining links via practical food and volunteer support, using ‘old fashioned approaches’ like the telephone, letters, and socially distant visits had been fundamental to this. John’s experience shows that there are other ways to respond that just using digital media. We are perhaps at risk of forgetting this!

Finally, Mary shared some of the opportunities for empowerment that had emerged from Lockdown. The Bluecoat lead on ‘where the arts belong, a project that works in care homes with people living with dementia. As project workers could no longer visit the care homes to offer activities, they instead trained the care home staff on how to engage with the residents artistically. The project is now delivered by care home staff, ensuring its longevity and positive impact on residents.

All of the speakers, and webinar participants through the ‘chat’, expressed both challenges and unexpected benefits arising from the need to rethink how we do ‘social responsibility’. Some online approaches can have a wider reach, technology permitting; but there were limitations, particularly in building those deeper connections and initiating contacts.

Rethinking accessibility to include digital equality, nourishing communities with multi layered communication approaches, and empowering individuals to develop new skills, can build a robust, caring and person-centred methodology for socially distant social responsibility, are all part of the solution, but we are keen to discover more!  

So, from this initial webinar further conversations will be organised by the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University with a view to gathering a set of creative resources that share challenges, solutions and best practice on how to do socially distant social responsibility.

We do hope that you will take part – so look out for forthcoming events.

Dr Katy Goldstraw is the Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group and Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care at Staffordshire University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Image by smartboy10 on Istock

Sorry seems to be…

On his or her way out of office, a UK Prime Minister will often send a small group of allies to the House of Lords.

On his way out of office, a US President will let a bigger group out of jail!

The ability to issue a pardon for a federal crime is one of the features of US Politics which can seem odd or illogical.  Why is it that this person can, despite legal cases which have lasted years, get rid of a sentence with a stroke of a pen?

Yet the power to pardon, and pardon for a wide range of crimes, is one which Presidents don’t hesitate to use.

The power isn’t new.  Appearing in Article II Section 2 of the Constitution, it provides considerable latitude to a President who wants to use it.  (Governors also have this power for State crimes, varying considerably in their willingness to use it)

The reason pardoning season often comes round just before an exit is that the President is running out of time and so needs to get all the papers signed at once.  It is also often in a President’s interest to delay action.  After all loyalty, or silence, are more likely from someone hoping for a reward.

Perhaps the most controversial pardon, albeit not one of those in the final days of a Presidency, was that by Gerald Ford of Richard Nixon.  But more modern controversies have included the sheer size of Bill Clinton’s list in the last day of his final term – a list which included some of those caught up in the earlier Whitewater scandal.

It is possible to pardon categories of individuals, as Jimmy Carter did when pardoning those who had dodged the Vietnam draft

And the President can also commute a sentence, as Obama did at the end of his term of office for whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

It is possible to pardon someone who has not yet been convicted.  This prevents the legal process continuing.  It is completely a “get out of jail free” card though.  No President can pardon someone for offences not yet carried out.

For those who have suffered injustice, these Presidential powers can be a way of righting wrongs.  And we know that campaign organisations sometimes lobby for action on individual cases.  It is possible then for an individual President, through these decisions, to send a clear message about certain types of justice.

And as this is often a final action, a pardon list forms a part of Presidential legacy in a way which can overshadow other aspects.

So Donald Trump can use his last-minute decisions to right wrongs, to make a clear statement or to reward supporters.  We’ll know very soon.

PS: For those who want to understand more about this odd feature of US Politics I recommend the Brookings Institution.

Paula Keaveney is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Edge Hill University and leads a module on US Politics.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Shealah Craighead

‘Catholicism at a Crossroads’: Technology in Times of Crisis in Modern Ireland

Since the mid-90s secularisation in Ireland has been discernible, with sharp declines in mass attendance, vocations, regular family prayer and Catholic sacramental engagement. This period dovetails with allegations of sexual abuse amongst the clergy, and the mistreatment of unmarried mothers (Fallen Women) in religious-run institutions (Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes). It also coincided with increased urbanization arising from the ‘Celtic Tiger’ (1995-2008).

Technological Adoption, Disconnection and Belonging

Today, regular mass attendance is low among children, youth and middle-aged persons. However, pre-Covid funeral attendance was generally high, partially due to close-knit rural relationships. Churches responded to the Covid crisis by increased technological adoption including ‘mass on demand’ and live ceremonies. This opens churches up to new, international audiences, who increasingly desire flexible engagement through hand-held technologies. However, a revenue crisis prevails due to falling church donations and mental health issues are growing among the general population. Clergy who regularly say mass without congregations also report feelings of disconnection from their communities.

The expansion of online provision offers scope for people who desire some emotional connections. However, when Covid ends in the longer term this could exacerbate decreases in regular mass-going, thereby deepening secularisation and sporadic engagement. Restrictions on mass attendance and prayer meetings in private houses impact markedly on rural, elderly dwellers that frequently rely on these events for friendships and social contact.

A More (Technologically) Engaged Church: Flexibility, New Routines and Communication

After the pandemic, the church is likely to be more technologically responsive than any time in its history. However, how it communicates with parishioners and the social legitimacy accorded to its message is also likely to be influenced by other events, including the church’s response to survivors of Mother and Baby Homes and similar institutions. As we write this commentary, international news is dominated by coverage of the Irish state’s apology to survivors of these institutions and the percentage the church will pay to victims in future redress schemes. The schism between several sectors of the Irish population and the church is indeed, deep and the church’s response and how it communicates (virtually and face-to-face) is now more important than ever for its survival.

It is also likely that some congregations who attended face-to-face services pre-Covid will continue to use internet technologies to access ceremonies, moving away from face-to-face engagement, partially due to new routines and flexibility. However, the findings of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation are likely to influence church attendance (both online and face-to-face) for some time to come.

Of course, Covid-19 might also bolster attendance, at least to some degree. As the crisis lingers, people’s desires for belonging and connection grow stronger and the spaces that individuals engage with after Covid are likely to be more diverse than in pre-Covid times. However, other long-term implications for the church with regards to revenue-generation, mental health and the sustainability of church-based family support services that are largely reliant on public donations, are yet to be realised.

The impact of Covid-19 on secularisation, emotional wellbeing of parishioners and clergy, communication and the social legitimacy of the Church post-Covid, it likely to be transformative. How and in what ways, remains to be seen.

Dr Joan Cronin is Course Co-ordinator and part-time Lecturer at the Centre of Continuing Adult Education, University College, Cork, Ireland.

Dr Lisa Moran is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Image by Queven from Pixabay

‘A Nosy Interest in the Human Condition’: Michael Apted’s Up Series

The 7 Up cohort at the age of 21. ITV archive

The death of filmmaker Michael Apted on 7 January 2021 prompted an outpouring of praise for his long career in film and television production. He directed well-regarded feature films such as Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Nell (1994). But it is for his work on the pioneering television documentary Seven Up and its sequels that he will largely be remembered.

The Up Series beganas a one-off programme for Granada Television’s World in Action series in 1964. Inspired by the maxim ‘give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man’; the documentary aimed to show how class influences childhood experience and expectations.

7 Up presented a series of interviews with seven-year-olds from different social backgrounds about their lives, opinions and aspirations. Memorable lines include John’s precocious claim to be an avid reader of the Financial Times, and Neil’s determination to forge a career as an astronaut.

The 23-year-old Apted worked as a researcher on the programme, partly responsible for sourcing its participants. But it was his decision to revisit the same children seven years later for the follow up programme Seven Plus Seven which would instigate the development of the series into the television institution it would become.

Apted returned to the same participants every seven years. He used his documentary camera to create short biographical profiles of ordinary lives.

In his interviews, Apted did not flinch from broaching very personal topics, despite in some cases his contributors’ obvious embarrassment. To his great credit, nor did he choose to edit out of the documentary an uncomfortable moment in 49 Up in which Jackie berates him for asking her and her fellow working-class women ‘insulting’ and ‘mundane’ questions. The inclusion of this scene demonstrates self-awareness of his role in constructing, in the very public forum of television, an interpretation of their lives.

It is evident in the series that, over time, Apted developed a close relationship with his contributors. In 63 Up for example, Apted asks Nick about grieving for his father. He responds: “You know me, Michael, I’m sure I haven’t dealt with it fully”. Apted is a proxy for the audience, who have also come to know something of Nick’s personality over their repeated encounters with him.

7 Up has been compared by academics to the sociological practice of the longitudinal study, which gathers data on individuals over long periods of time. When Apted was interviewed for Ethnography journal in 2009, he resisted the idea of being a sociologist, claiming he has only a ‘kind of nosy interest in the human condition’. This ‘nosy interest’ has enabled him to produce compelling portraits of ordinary people and the course of their lives.

It will be interesting to see whether ITV is able to produce 70 Up, which is due in 2024. It could provide fitting tribute to Apted and draw the project to a satisfying close. But it will not be the same without him shaping the project and being present just off-camera, asking nosy questions and creating art from the answers.

Hannah Andrews is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Film and Television at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Two Cheers for American Democracy

The recent scenes of mob rule in Washington DC have sent shockwaves around the globe, and have been met by statements of disbelief and disapproval from world leaders. The condemnation of the insurrectionists by leading Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, and the subsequent congressional confirmation of Joe Biden’s election as president, have provided a welcome, and necessary, reaffirmation of constitutional propriety.

At the same time, the occupation of the capitol building notwithstanding, more than half of the Republicans in the House of Representatives and eight Republican senators still voted to block Biden’s election. Subversion of the democratic process is also nothing new in the American political tradition.

From the 1870s through to the 1960s African Americans in the southern states were systematically denied the right to vote. Not by racist white mobs, but by state laws linking voter registration to poll taxes, literacy tests and ‘good understanding’ clauses.  As late as the 1950s and 1960s African Americans in Mississippi were asked questions like ‘How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap’ to demonstrate they were fit to register to vote.

Such injustices were finally ended by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which introduced strict federal government oversight of the qualifications states could impose for voter registration. The results were dramatic. In Mississippi black voter turnout rose from just 5 per cent in 1964 to 59 per cent by 1969.

In Shelby County v Holder (2013) the conservative dominated United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that the Voting Rights Act was a historical anachronism, and that the safeguards it put in place no longer needed to be enforced. Within 24 hours of the decision Alabama, Mississippi and Texas introduced strict voter ID requirements that have since been adopted by more than thirty other states.

Such measures are justified as necessary to prevent voter fraud. In practice they have resulted in widespread voter suppression in ethnic minority communities. 25 per cent of African Americans do not possess government issued photo ID cards compared to only 8 per cent of white Americans. Voter restriction was further reinforced by other measures, including the redrawing of electoral districts to minimize the impact of non-white voters, and closing polling centres in African American communities. Regular purging of the electoral roles led to the de-registration of voters on minor technicalities or because they hadn’t voted in recent elections.

In the 2016 presidential election national voter turnout fell to 56 per cent compared to 64 per cent in 2008 and 60 per cent in 2012. In 2017 African American and Latino voters were three to four times as likely to report facing racial discrimination as white Americans during the electoral process.

But hope remains. In 2020 the polarising nature of the Trump administration energised not just his own supporters but those who opposed him. National voter turnout rose to 67 per cent, comparable to that in the 2019 UK general election. The COVID pandemic also encouraged voters to take advantage of opportunities provided by states for early voting and postal voting. Measures that, needless to say, President Trump firmly opposed. The result – two Democratic Senators in Georgia. What will happen next?

Kevern Verney is Professor of History and Associate Dean Research for the Faculty of Arts and Science at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by adamkaz on

The Pandemic X Brexit: A World with Hard Borders?

As we see the imposition of hard borders within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the first time since the Acts of Union in 1707, the cosmopolitan dream of a world without borders appears to be slipping away.

The European Union, once an organization eager to push for the dismantling of borders and promote the free movement of people, goods and services, is also beginning to appear lukewarm on this concept. Brexit and the Northern Ireland border could have been the cause of this unravelling, but they are not. The pandemic seems to have been more successful, with its ability to make visible national borders, impose quarantines and reassert the nation-state as the main management and administration unit.

But herein lies the problem. The economic consequences of imposed immobility can only be mitigated by consumption, which seems to be the only way to keep once thriving economies away from the brink of disaster. Governments, notably the UK, has kept encouraging us to shop, buy from local businesses, eat take-aways. Which also means that rather than allowing customers to face empty shelves and ring cash registers empty, many EU countries (and the UK) have been temporarily relaxing their pandemic transborder mobility rules for labourers willing to travel to pick up fresh produce in the fields, or stack boxes in distribution centres.

In Germany, the likely demise of the asparagus in the absence of Romanian pickers became a national issue. Last April, Cluj Airport in North West Romania displayed chaotic scenes as 2,000 asparagus and strawberry pickers boarded chartered planes bound for Germany in one day only. In May, Martin Hofstätter, a private entrepreneur from Northern Italy, also rented private jets to bring Romanian workers for his vineyards. The UK followed.

Throughout the autumn and in the run-up to Christmas, packing and distribution warehouses along the M6 corridor continued their aggressive recruitment campaigns, with Romanian warehouse operatives arriving in droves, without being tested or even offered quarantine advice. As discussions in Facebook groups attest, this type of work is still recruiting, despite other industries collapsing.

As we now enter into another UK lockdown and with further restrictions imposed throughout Europe, the case of preferential mobility during the pandemic raises certain issues.

On an optimistic note, it makes the plight of casual labourers visible. These once tolerated subjects of negative media campaigns and poor European cousins, have now become valued key workers. It has taken a massive crisis and a huge personal risk, but it has happened.

An alternative interpretation could be that the EU (and the UK) are continuing their duplicitous policies regarding desirable versus undesirable migrants, those who are welcome to avail themselves of mobility rights, and those who are kept away; exploited or deported when necessary.

Of course, this can also be considered a form of neocolonialism, with the possible complicity of the colonized. Why did the Romanian government allow workers to travel to countries with higher infection rates to solve someone else’s labour shortages?

Whichever interpretation you prefer, the cosmopolitan dream of equal recognition, fruitful cultural exchange and free movement for all is still slipping away.

Dr Remus Gabriel Anghel is Senior Researcher at the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu is ISR Research Fellow and Reader in Communication, Edge Hill University, UK.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by MicroStockHub on

COVID Creativity: new possibilities or a fresh challenge?

When Arts Council England launched its 10-year strategy in January, no-one could have guessed what was just around the corner.

‘Let’s Create’ is a strategy full of hope; about opening up opportunities, developing shared experiences and recognising the creative potential in each of us.

COVID-19 has challenged us all, on a professional and personal level. Cultural institutions have been in a state of flux: open, shut, welcoming, hibernating.  At times it’s been a battle just to exist and sustain, never mind create and engage.

Now, there is a vaccine on the horizon, and with that comes the hope of everyday life resuming. So what effect will the pandemic have had on the vision set out in Let’s Create?

At its core Let’s Create is a holistic strategy. It is based on the principle that the best way to build a creative and cultural country is to do it with, rather than for, its people.

As the pandemic unfolded and the UK went into lockdown, personal artistic endeavour did flourish for many. Whether it was brought on by the gift of free time, a search for meaning, or a need to come together. We saw zoom choirs, painted rainbows, and stories and songs from young and old. Culture and creativity gave hope, an escape, and a lens through which to try and understand a rapidly changing world.

Research and experience have long shown that creative activity can reduce loneliness, help physical and mental wellbeing, and build community.

So will the pandemic have stirred a lasting interest in the arts? Or will society shuffle back into the usual ebb and flow and consign ‘COVID creativity’ to a historical footnote?

Time will tell, but there are undoubted opportunities for arts organisations to engage with new audiences and new artists, maintaining the momentum of this popular rediscovery of personal creative practice.  Let’s Create could play a significant role here.

Of course creativity and the arts don’t exist in a vacuum, and as we emerge from the pandemic it will be against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, struggling towns and cities, and increased unemployment. As is too often the case, in a crisis it is the disadvantaged and vulnerable who suffer the most, and this will amplify the challenges we face in reaching all those with whom we seek to engage.

As Let’s Create outlines, the cultural sector will only ever be as strong as the talent on which it is built. Even before COVID many creative practitioners and cultural workers, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, D/deaf or disabled people, and those from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, struggled to sustain financially viable careers. We must hope this pool of talent we benefited so much from pre-pandemic, will still be in a position to collaborate with us when the dust has settled. We must do all we can to support them.

As we look to the future there is much to reflect on and learn. At Bluecoat we have long been committed to opening up possibilities for visitors, audiences, artists and practitioners of all kinds. Our vision for the next ten years is to shift our focus and invite the public into the artistic process. The post-pandemic climate will undoubtedly deliver challenges, but we’ll be looking to harness the wave of personal creativity and translate that into new audiences that are active and engaged.

MARY CLOAKE is CEO of the Bluecoat Liverpool and a member of the ISR External Advisory Board.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

World Children’s Day: why we need to raise awareness about children’s rights

Each year the 20th November marks World Children’s Day in recognition of, and to promote, children’s rights.

This date is significant because on the 20th November in 1959, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and, on the same date in 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The Declaration on the Rights of the Child set out 10 principles aimed specifically at protecting children from violence and discrimination as well as their rights to life, good health and education. The UNCRC expands on these principles and includes 54 articles aimed at protecting children’s civil, political, social economic and cultural rights. The Convention applies to all children from birth to 18 years and has been ratified by all countries across the world apart from the USA, making it one of the most widely adopted international treaties of all time. The Convention was ratified by the UK government in 1991.

World Children’s Day is an opportunity for those working with and on behalf of children to organise activities and events aimed at celebrating children’s rights, and to raise awareness of rights that apply specifically to children. It is also a day when governments, teachers and other professionals and organisations across the world draw attention to situations where children’s rights are not being met.     

Although many children live have happy and fulfilled childhoods, countless children do not. For millions of children across the world their rights are not acknowledged or met. Unicef  report that approximately one in three children across the globe – that equates to roughly 663 million children -live in households that lack necessities such as basic nutrition or clean water and, furthermore, an estimated 385 million children live in extreme poverty.  They also report that even in the world’s richest countries, one in seven children live in poverty and one in four children in the European Union are at risk of falling into poverty.

The United Kingdom (UK) is not exempt from these worrying statistics. Data from The Children’s Society reveals that four million children in the UK live in poverty and, even more concerning, they predict that this figure is set to reach five million this year – this equates to an average of nine children in a classroom of 30 who are predicted to be living in poverty. 

These figures reflect some of the difficulties facing children across the world in relatively wealthy, as well as less wealthy, nations. However, they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to children’s rights not being met. As well as issues of poverty, many children across the world also face challenging issues including violence, neglect, child labour, child prostitution, human trafficking and lack of food, shelter, health care and education.

The examples are a stark reminder of the urgent need to take action to improve the lives and experiences of millions of children to ensure children’s rights are acknowledged, understood and realised.

Carol Robinson is a Professor of Children’s Rights in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

EHU Staff: Don’t know how to write a blog but interested in learning how? …take a look at this short training video

At the Heart of Gold: Rethinking Athlete Welfare

According to experts at a recent public event supported by the Institute for Social Responsibility (ISR), sports organisations need to rethink how they approach athlete welfare, to ensure they are meeting their legal and moral obligations, and to provide a healthy and safe environment.

Abuse and maltreatment in sport have featured heavily in national and international headlines in recent years. Against this backdrop, Dr Melanie Lang, assistant director of The Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS), hosted a successful public event on understanding and developing athlete welfare on 9th November 2020. The event was timed to celebrate Dr Lang’s latest book, The Routledge Handbook of Athlete Welfare.

The free online event was attended by athletes, academics, and safeguarding and welfare in sport policymakers and professionals from organisations including national governing bodies of sport, the Ann Craft Trust, and the International Centre for Ethics in Sport in Belgium. Delegates were drawn from the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Sweden, and Spain.

The event featured presentations from four speakers and was opened by Professor Jo Crotty, Director of the ISR. In the first presentation, Dr Lang called for more resources to be directed towards non-sexual forms of abuse in sport. Highlighting research indicating that emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of abuse in sport, yet the least likely to be reported, Dr Lang argued that sports organisations must do more to raise awareness of and act on this form of abuse. Dr Lang provided examples of how athletes can be empowered to speak out about abuse and what sports organisations can do to better respond to under-recognised forms of abuse.

In the second presentation, Dr Geoff Kohe from the University of Kent and CPSS member, and Edge Hill University senior lecturer Dr Laura Purdy discussed care ethics in sport. They highlighted how a particular narrow conceptualisation of care has become normalised in sport, arguing this restricts understandings of welfare. Drs Kohe and Purdy advocated for a broader understanding of athlete welfare and more nuanced conceptualisations of care that are more responsive to athlete needs.

Finally, Professor Hayley Fitzgerald of Leeds Beckett University and the University of Worcester discussed the welfare of disabled people in sport. Professor Fitzgerald noted that research focusing on safeguarding in sport in relation to disability is rare, and that what little is known has tended to come from studies that investigated welfare issues in the general sport population rather than specifically exploring the experiences of disabled participants. Professor Fitzgerald argued that an embedded approach is needed whereby issues of disability are infused within generic safeguarding approaches rather than disabled athletes being treated as a separate category of concern.

The event concluded with a lively discussion between delegates and panellists on a range of welfare issues affecting athletes and other sport stakeholders.

To learn more about the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport, its members and their work in safeguarding and welfare in sport, please visit the CPSS website.

Dr Melanie Lang is Assistant Director for the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS), and Senior Lecturer Child Protection in Sport at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Image by Michal Navrat from Pixabay

EHU Staff: Don’t know how to write a blog but interested in learning how? …take a look at this short training video

Biden, Trump and the Lessons of the Past

In recent weeks media commentators have dubbed the 2020 U.S. election ‘historic’. It’s understandable.

The campaign was fought in the midst of a global pandemic. By election day over 9.5 million Americans had contracted COVID-19 and more than 235,000 had died.

The contrasting responses of the candidates towards the epidemic, and their competing visions of the future, reflected deep, troubling, divisions in American society. The enmity between the two sides led to a voter turnout of more than 150 million. Win or lose, both candidates look set to receive more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history, surpassing the record of 69.4 million set by Barack Obama in 2008.

The high turnout and closely contested nature of the race means the outcome has remains in doubt. Given pending legal challenges it could be weeks, if not months, before the result is known.

It is an election unlike any other, and yet there are historical precedents for all the current circumstances.

Bitter rivalries are rooted in the American political tradition. In a 1796 letter to George Washington, the radical political thinker Tom Paine denounced the nation’s hallowed founder as ‘treacherous in private friendship and a hypocrite in public life’. The ‘world will be puzzled to decide, whether you are an apostate, or an imposter. Whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any’.  

Contested elections are also nothing new. In 1824 Andrew Jackson won 11 states with 41.4 per cent of the popular vote to 7 states and 30.9 per cent for John Quincy Adams. Unfortunately for Jackson he failed to secure a majority in the electoral college. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution the outcome of the election was decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote. Viewed by some as a dangerous demagogue, Jackson lost 13 – 7.

Albeit impressive, the projected 67 per cent turnout of eligible voters in 2020 is eclipsed by the 81.2 per cent turnout of 1860. In that contest the United States was even more divided than it is today. The election of Abraham Lincoln plunged the nation into civil war.

There is even a precedent for a pandemic election. The 1920 campaign coincided with the final months of a global flu epidemic. Between 1918 and 1920 more than 100 million Americans were infected, including outgoing president Woodrow Wilson. Some 675,000 Americans died from the contagion.

It’s a sobering thought that whoever wins the 2020 election, if it takes place, the large crowds attending their inauguration on 20 January has all the potential to turn the day into a super-spreader COVID event. Notwithstanding Trump’s claims to the contrary, there is no guarantee that prior illness with the virus provides lasting immunity against re-infection. Given this he and Biden might do well to reflect on the fate of William Henry Harrison. Sworn in as President in March 1841, on a cold, wet, day in Washington DC, the 68-year old unwisely gave a two-hour inauguration address. Within days he developed a bad cold that turned into pneumonia and died a month after taking office.

Kevern Verney is Associate Dean Research and Professor in American History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Edge Hill University.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

And the winner is…

We may not know yet who will win the Presidential Election but, as Edge Hill programme leader for Politics Paula Keaveney, argues, some people have “won” already.

I am constantly amazed by the speed with which US commentators switch from the results of an election to the question of who will run next.  Sometimes there are just a few months.  Sometimes we don’t even get to the inauguration before the talking starts.

And this year there are likely to be more politicians than ever pondering what this month’s results mean for them and their ambitions.

If Trump wins, he can only serve one more term. There is a legal limit.  And if Biden wins, his suggestion of a single term Presidency becomes very relevant.

This means that, more than ever, the focus will switch almost immediately to what comes next.

Ambitious Republicans will be working out whether distancing from Trump or appearing to hug Trump close will help their prospects.

But it is within Democratic hearts that hope, and ambition is likely to beat most strongly.

The general wisdom is that it is better to be a challenger than follow an incumbent.  But electoral trends in the US have shown a strong incumbency factor when the party is in its first term.  In other words, it is easier for that party to win another four years.  Reasons for this vary but it is argued that voters tend to pin blame on previous administrations for the first few years.  A Biden Presidency then could run into economic difficulties but avoid economic blame.  This in turn means that being selected as the Democratic candidate to follow a President Biden is a very attractive prospect.

So, although we don’t have a winner yet, we do have winners.  These are individuals well positioned to make a run to become the next nominee.

Top of this list must be Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.  Harris has achieved that key political combination of ability and luck.  The Senator from California’s run for the nomination ended early.  But timing is all.  And her selection by Biden has propelled her to national prominence in a way her primary rivals can only envy.  If Biden wins, and sticks to his one term idea, she will be front runner for the nomination.  If he loses, her profile and campaigning must give her the edge (as long as no blame for the loss attaches itself to her) Kamala Harris then is my winner of the night.

My runner up, another Democrat, is former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  Mayor Pete did well initially in the primaries but then stopped campaigning and endorsed Biden.  His media appearances as a Biden surrogate in recent weeks, including taking the fight to the usually hostile Fox News, have positioned him well for another run.

Politics never sleeps in the US.  It is always worth watching out for who is on manoeuvres.

Paula Keaveney is a senior lecturer in Politics.  US Politics is one of the subjects covered on Edge Hill University’s Politics degrees.


Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash