From Disaster Comes (Environmental) Opportunity

Professor Paul Aplin

COVID wasn’t born in a Chinese lab. That’s my view, probably yours too, whatever the latest conspiracy-theorists say. The genetic makeup of COVID-19 is 96% identical to one found in bats, and the COVID outbreak has been pinned down to a wet food market in Wuhan. Wet food markets trade wild animals, often illegally, and increasing contact between wild animals and humans creates the opportunity for a disease to jump species.

This has happened before, and it will happen again. In a recent radio documentary called ‘The Jump’, Chris van Tulleken describes how the HIV virus jumped from primate to human patient zero, when a starving WWI soldier butchered a chimpanzee in Congo, and then traces this event forward to the 1980s global AIDS crisis.

The term ‘illegal wildlife trade’ likely conjures up certain images in your mind, perhaps with elephants, rhinos and tigers looming large, though pangolins are the most illegally traded animal (around 100,000 annually), and more than one billion orchids are traded each year, a large proportion of which is illegal. A recent UN survey estimated the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $23B per year.

No wonder there is increasing contact between humans and wild animals. We don’t need a lab to propagate disease; the environment is doing it for us. And we’re doing it to the environment. Yes, wet food markets pave the way for viruses to jump, but far more significant here is habitat destruction for human development – logging, palm oil production, urbanisation, mining.

By reducing available habitat, wild animals are being pushed into human environments. How did bats come to be in a wet food market in Wuhan? Interestingly, Hollywood may have the answer! Have a look at the YouTube explainer for Matt Damon and Kate Winslet’s ‘Contagion’ blockbuster: . While bulldozers raze the forest, resident bats fly off to find a warm pig-barn to roost in, and when pork dishes are later served up in a Hong Kong restaurant…

COVID is a human disaster, born from human-environment interaction, but what are its effects on the environment? Well, some good news in respect of the illegal wildlife trade, at least initially. In South Africa, rhino poaching fell by a third from 2019 to 2020, largely because of lockdown restrictions and reduction of human mobility. Separately, you might have seen satellite images of vastly reduced air pollution soon after the first severe lockdown, because of massive cuts in road traffic. Clearly there are opportunities here.

This year, the UK hosts COP26, the UN’s major Climate Change event. In the US, major political change means sights are being re-set on the environment, but now in a good way. Globally, the youth climate movement is showing a genuine will to make change. And, COVID is giving us cause to reflect fundamentally on, well, everything: how we do things, can we change, can we make some things better? There exists, right now, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to influence the global environmental agenda – reset societal priorities, rethink individual actions and renew environmental relationships. Any individual can get involved in COP26. Remember the old adage, ‘think global, act local’. But do act.

Paul Aplin is Professor of Geography at Edge Hill University.

He recently gave a lecture on this topic at the Edge Hill Festival of Ideas. This can be viewed here.

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How do we Respond to Terror?

Travis D. Frain

Its been nearly five years since I joined Edge Hill University, studying for a BA in History with Politics. My time as a student was far from orthodox, as in March 2017 I was part of a group of politics students involved in the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge whilst on a university trip down to London.

A lot has changed since then; wanting to learn more about the events that had led to my involvement, I decided to enrol with Lancaster University on a Military History. The experience broadened my understand of  many issues, principally the need for better understanding of extremism, and for us to better support those affected by acts of terror.

Survivors of terrorism can require support across an array of areas. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Immediate medical, and ongoing physical and mental health treatment
  • Expert, legal and financial issues
  • Assistance with the media
  • Enquiries, inquests, and concurrent court action
  • Threats from conspiracy theorists or intimidation from extremists

Our pressure group Survivors Against Terror interviewed nearly 300 British victims of terrorism in 2018 with revelatory results.

76% identified mental health services as inadequate, 52% identified a lack of financial support, and 38% highlighted insufficient legal support.

Perhaps unsurprisingly 84% of interviewees identified family or friends, and 56% identified survivors of other terror attacks as their primary provider of support; only 5% identified the State.

I’m proud that Edge Hill University has taken the initiative on this by organising last week’s ‘Victims of Terrorism and State Responses’ Conference at which I was privileged to present. This is an example of how we can all begin to better understand these issues.

The requirement to better understand and respond to these needs is incumbent on us all, because as terror attacks, whilst rare, show little sign of diminishing; and so there will always be victims of terrorism.

By proactively investing in support before an attack occurs we can foster resilience within our communities against terrorism, and seek to prevent future attacks from occurring in the first place.

We can succeed in making the necessary changes and improving things for future victims.

Travis D. Frain, Survivors Against Terror Support Group.

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The Renewal of Medical Education in the Era of the COVID 19 Pandemic

Professor John Sandars

The COVID 19 pandemic has seen unprecedented disruption in how we all live, learn and work; medical education has been no exception. 

The global impact has fallen mainly on clinical training, especially for medical students and junior doctors.  Traditional opportunities for clinical training, including general practice and hospital, initially became impossible due to the high workload of teachers since they were responding to the enormous demands created by a surging wave of seriously ill patients. Training via the ‘laying on of hands’ also became problematic.

Despite these initial challenges however, new and innovative approaches have been developed and implemented.  Medical students are now actively engaged in patient consultations through phone and video-links. Operations can be live-streamed to medical students and junior doctors and followed up by an associated online discussion with the surgeons.  Consultations and practical clinical skills can be practiced using the latest virtual reality techniques using personal headsets and mobile device apps.  

Medical students have also provided a vital contribution to healthcare, especially for raising awareness about the prevention of COVID-19 infection in the community and supporting the increasing number of testing and vaccination schemes. Through these activities, medical students have gained wide variety of skills that will be of great value for both their future personal and professional lives.

There are also increasing concerns about a global divide in medical education during the present uncertain times, particularly as many medical schools with low resources are also in some of the poorest countries of the world with the highest number of COVID-19 infections and other health challenges.

It is therefore essential that the initial creativity and innovation to medical education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Moreover, medical schools will need to continue sharing their expertise and innovations, particularly between schools with higher and lower resources.  Without practical help to implement some of the innovations, such as consultations by video or clinical training using virtual reality, future graduating medical students may not have the clinical knowledge and skills to ensure that they are adequately trained to work as junior doctors.

Rapidly conducting research and evaluation of the implementation of innovations, along with rapid dissemination, will also be essential to ensure that the important lessons learned can inform transfer and further refinement in other contexts, without a major time delay.  This is a challenge for current publishing opportunities, such as peer-reviewed journals. New free open access opportunities for widely disseminating research and evaluation related to medical education innovations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will need to be developed.

Renewal of medical education has, and will continue to be a global challenge, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to act to ensure that we have a skilled future global workforce of doctors.

Prof John Sandars is Professor of Medical Education at Edge Hill University.

He recently gave an Edge Talk on this topic at the Edge Hill Festival of Ideas. This can be viewed here.

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Keir Relief?

Paula Keaveney

©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor


After a massive build up and an election night involving a partial re-count, we have a result. Can Keir Starmer breathe again?

The Labour victory in the Batley and Spen by-election (winning by 323), a close result after a tense and at time acrimonious contest, is qualified good news for Labour leader Keir Starmer.  Losing the Labour seat, after the loss in Hartlepool and the poor performance in Chesham and Amersham, would have exacerbated the attacks on his leadership.  But those disappointed by Starmer will still point to a loss in vote share in a seat which, in previous years, would have been in the “easy hold” category.

Politics is often a game of expectation management and perception.  A set of figures can be read several ways, and spinners and commentators know that it is often the “first take” which runs the story.  And there is a lot to choose from.  There is share of the vote – for Labour this time it was 35 per cent.  There is change in share from previous contests.  And there is performance against expectations.

While this result may pause some of the anti-Starmer briefing and speculation within the party, it is clear that some see the narrowness of the result as being akin to a loss.  Most of us are asleep at the time morning results are declared.  But you can tell who has an agenda by the speed as well as the contents of what is said.  “This is Labour’s lowest-ever share of the vote in Batley and Spen. In 2019 they won 43%” is how one left wing anti Starmer website put it minutes after the declaration.

Most early commentators describe the result as providing breathing space for Starmer.  If winning is what matters, he has won.  And he can now have a happy photo opportunity in Yorkshire with the victor, Kim Leadbeater.  It is also clear that the spoiler campaign run by former MP George Galloway has not achieved its stated aim of causing a Labour loss.

But it is simply too early to say that attacks on Starmer won’t continue (albeit in a more behind-the-scenes way).  Labour activists will be cheered by their ability to defend a seat under considerable attack.  But questions will be asked.  Good campaigning is essential when margins are close.  But should the margin have ever got that close? And Labour face potential difficulties in future.  There are two MPs, elected in 2019 for Labour, with trials coming up this year, either of which could end up leading to a by-election.

Starmer however does have some advantages.  The political calendar in the UK means the Parliamentary recess is not that far off.  Autumn sees party conferences which, whether online or in person, give party leaders a chance to re-set, re- launch and re-enthuse.

But while Sir Keir ponders what the result means, the Conservative party needs to pause for thought too.  It used to be rare for sitting Prime Ministers to campaign in by-elections.  Boris Johnson however made a point of paying visits to West Yorkshire for this one.  And the Conservatives failed to manage expectations properly.  The narrative of “another hole in the red wall” was allowed to take hold and run in most media. 

The question remains as to whether by-elections are significant and how we should decipher the results.  I have written about this elsewhere on this site, but real political junkies love by-elections – so bring them on.

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

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Does the Award for Best Television Programme go to What We Value Most?

Elke Weissmann

It’s award season: the BAFTAs have just been celebrated at the beginning of June, and in America, the Emmys will be handed out in September. Did your favourite programmes win? No? Some of them? You are not sure?

Your potential lack of knowledge is not all that surprising. This is the industry celebrating itself and letting us in via the ceremony. But what that means is that there might be a bit of a disconnect between what we as audiences value about television and what the industry celebrates for itself.

The BAFTAs, for example, largely celebrate television as if it were film: awards go to writing, best performance (in different genres), supporting actors, and then best programme in genre categories – as if they didn’t know what to do with all the rest of television. I don’t know about you, but it’s the rest of television plus drama that I love so much: it’s its variety, and the fact that there are some incredibly clever people who manage to bring them together so I can just watch one programme and see what’s on next.

But there are other things about television that we can and that we do value: for example, you might watch lifestyle programming so that you learn about interior design trends, or The Repair Shop (BBC, since 2017) for its heart-rendering stories of loved possessions and family loved and lost, or Love Island (ITV, since 2015) for how ordinary young adults connect with each other, but really care more about their families. Value, in other words, lies in many places in television, and often the things that we value have more to do with our everyday lives than the glamour and glitz that awards based around filmic categories suggest.

The problem with awarding television as if it were film is that it does what so much of television’s history has done: it undervalues television as a medium. Television scholarship has spent a lot of time and effort on trying to critique the basic value systems with which it has been judged. Television has been denigrated because it is a medium connected to the domestic sphere and is hence often perceived as feminine. It has been looked down upon as a mass medium because the ‘masses’ are usually conceptualised as working class. Thus, the value systems with which we judge television as a medium, but also much of its genres, are those of a middle-class patriarchy. At the same time, the people who make the biggest decisions in television are precisely white, middle-class and male, and have therefore often looked down on the medium itself. A particularly notorious figure in that regard was William Haley, director general of the BBC between 1944 and 1952, who made his preference for radio very clear.

While television scholarship has been brilliant at critiquing the implicit biases of much of the value judgements made about television, it hasn’t yet been able to really offer alternatives. The Television Studies Research Group at Edge Hill University, in collaboration with Critical Studies in Television, the Production Guild, the Institute for Social Responsibility and Love Wavertree now want to do something about this: they are introducing the CATs: the Critical Awards in Television which will celebrate television in the way that we think matters. And I don’t know about you, but this year, I really valued that it kept going. So this year, we are celebrating television that gave us comfort during Covid, that dealt well with the new health and safety guidelines, that came up with ingenious writing or production design so that it could be made, and that our students made despite the pandemic.

And we invite you – the public – to nominate your favourite programmes. To find out more, and to nominate the programme you think did best in those categories, please visit the CATs website.

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film in the Department of Creative Arts at Edge Hill University. Her research is focused on television, transnational relations, and gender and the media.

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4 years on from the Manchester Arena Attack

Figen Murray

On 22 May 2017, my life changed forever. My son, Martyn, was 29 years old at the time and looking forward to seeing Ariana Grande in concert at the Manchester Arena.

Soon after 10.30pm that night we heard the news that an explosion had taken place at the Manchester Arena.  Martyn was among the 22 lives that would never return home that night due to a terrorist attack.

The news of his death shook our family to the core. He was such a pillar in our lives and his kindness and generosity had touched so many people. I can never fully process why the attackers would want to take away the precious life of my son along with those of all the other victims.

The inquiry into the bombing is now underway.

Last year I came face to face with the bomber’s brother as he was sentenced to 55 years in prison at the Old Bailey.

I am now in the final stages of completing my masters in counterterrorism, and the consultation for Martyn’s Law is moving ahead. This new proposed legislation I hope will keep even more people safe at public venues.

Martyn’s Law would apply to any place or space to which the public have access. For small venues this may require just minimal measures to be changed or added, e.g. a better back entrance lock or identifying a safe exit route for customers and staff in the event of an attack. Bigger venues with a greater footfall will require a more holistic approach. Martyn’s Law aims to be proportionate and would consists of 5 requirements for publicly accessible locations:

  • Staff to be given free online training
  • Vulnerability assessments should be conducted inside and outside the venue
  • Mitigation of the risks identified during vulnerability assessments should be undertaken
  • A counter-terrorism action plan should be put in place
  • Local authorities should be required to plan for the threat of terrorism

The consultation ends 2nd July 2021 when it will be evaluated by the government in terms of both qualitative and quantitative analysis.   This will take some time and hopefully will proceed to the next stage before becoming a reality to keep us all much safer in the future.

Of course we must always remember that the decision by an individual to engage in a terrorist act caused this atrocity – but we can always look for ways to make it more difficult for those who make the decision to act in this way.

Figen Murray is a peace campaigner and speaker at tomorrow’s Victims of Terrorism Conference, hosted by Edge Hill University. Click here for more information and to register.

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Who Compensates Victims of Terror? The Northern Ireland Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme

Professor Emeritus Clive Walker QC (Hon), Christiane Rabenstein

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998 over 3,000 people died.

It is also estimated that more than 40,000 people suffered both physical and psychological injuries, and many of those still live with permanent disablement.

Yet, relatively few instances of loss have been compensated by tort law, and so most victims of terrorism must have recourse to programmes of state aid and compensation.

While the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was relatively silent about ‘legacy victims’, in subsequent years, various remedies have been proposed and either discarded or applied. Some have been grand in conception, but the most workable have been adapted from a myriad of mundane pre-existing processes, including criminal process, inquiries, and inquests.

In that light, the latest attempt to afford justice to victims of terrorism is the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme introduced under the Victims’ Payments Regulations 2020, which involves a new scheme, not of the ‘grand’ category but also not pre-existing, for the payment of pensions to persons severely injured in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The Regulations which came into force in January 2020 set out the entitlement to victims’ payments, the amount and determination of such payments and establish the Victims’ Payments Board which will be responsible for determining who is entitled to payments in respect of an injury caused by a Troubles-related incident. After a number of delays, the Scheme is expected to open for applications from 31st August 2021. 

Unlikely to reach the giddy heights of the billions of dollars paid to the 9/11 victims, it might at least provide those who are still living, with some recompense. We discuss this scheme and its potential outcomes at the upcoming Victims of Terrorism Conference, hosted by Edge Hill University on 2nd July 2021. Click here for more information and to register.

Professor Clive Walker is Emeritus Professor of Law at University of Leeds.

Christiane Rabenstein is a Legal Adviser at PNLD, the Police National Legal Database, and co-author of Blackstone’s Counter-Terrorism Handbook

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Appropriate Response: Who are the Victims in a Terrorist Attack?

Terry O’Hara

Three questions:

  1. Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime?
  2. What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism?
  3. Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different to that for other crime?

Founded by Colin and Wendy Parry, the parents of 12-year-old Tim, who was killed, along with 3-year-old Johnathan Ball, in IRA bomb attack on Warrington Town Centre in 1993, Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, seeks answers to these questions.

Over the years, the Peace Foundation has become a leading international Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution organisation and has provided support for victims and survivors of terrorism. So what have we learned?

Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime? From speaking to many people, I do not think anyone who has been directly or indirectly impacted by terrorism would say that their experience was especially ‘worse’ than that of a victim of any other violent crime, but it is different in many ways. Each victim’s experience (and this is true any crime) is unique but victims of terrorism face additional challenges. For example, they may find themselves in the midst of a global conflict they had no previous part of. A media storm blows up around them that takes no heed of their wellbeing, privacy, or other needs. Their names may be brought up to further political causes they may not agree with and so on.

What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism? When an act of terrorism is carried out, generally speaking, the victims were not the focus. Society at large, a way of life, all of ‘us’ – were the target. Individual victims become almost incidental, and emerge as footnotes in their own story. This adds to the feeling of being out of control of events and overwhelmed by the tragedy. Fortunately, despite the current threat levels, terrorism in GB is rare and the chances of any of us being affected by terrorism are vanishingly small, but this compounds the feeling of isolation and that nobody understands what they have been through.

Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different? One argument is that, as society at large, was the target, the state has an additional responsibility to the victims and survivors. This is a national, not a local issue. If someone visiting Sunderland from Somerset, Strabane, Stornoway, or Swansea, was injured in a terrorist attack, which local authority or Police and Crime Commissioner should be responsible for the aftercare? In short, the answer is a combination of local and national services. People need quality and timely support that meets their needs and is delivered locally but nationally coordinated and funded in a sustainable way that recognises the need for continuity and recognises the long-term needs of victims and survivors of terrorism.

We will discuss these and related issues at the Victims of Terrorism and State Responses online conference on Friday July 2nd where we will look at how the criminal justice system accommodates and assists the victims of terrorism. To join us and for more information about this event on Friday please visit the event webpage.

Terry O’Hara, manages the ‘Survivors Assistance Network’ (SAN) at the Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation in Warrington.

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When Documentary Filmmaking Meets Academia – Screening ‘The Atom: A Love Affair’ at ISR

Vicki Lesley

As those who attended the recent ISR online screening of my film The Atom: A Love Affair heard in the lively discussion that followed, making this documentary has been an epic undertaking for me.

When I set out to investigate the renewed push for nuclear power back in the late 00’s, I had no idea that the social and political history of this contested energy source would end up consuming more than a decade of my professional life.

The journey was a long one partly for practical reasons – raising the finance for an independent film is notoriously difficult and I was still working my main job in TV, as well as having two babies along the way.

But there were unexpected benefits too, chief amongst them the freedom I had to follow whichever research paths interested me the most, without pressure from a broadcaster to produce a stereotypically combative film focusing on the same old ‘hot button’ issues (safety, waste, climate change etc). I wanted to do something different, exploring the deeper forces motivating all those involved in nuclear power, on whatever ‘side,’ from the geopolitical to the emotional.

I had little money, but I did have time. I was also fortunate to be invited to a series of meetings and workshops for an AHRC-funded project at Birkbeck College on ‘Material Cultures of Energy’ and a follow up project from the Science Museum where I met Edge Hill University’s Dr Phillipa Holloway, leading to the ISR screening.

The interaction with academia has been one of the real pleasures of making this film.  

Although the film is aimed at a general audience, I’ve been deeply gratified by the response from the academic community so far – the post-screening discussions after university screenings have without exception been extremely stimulating, as those attending have been able to draw out connections between the stories and characters in the film and their own work.

I also have a vast resource of unreleased interview footage – I interviewed about 50 different contributors for an average of 2 hours each so the material that made it into the final cut of The Atom: A Love Affair is really only the tip of the iceberg. I wonder if this material might be of use to any researchers out there – maybe even someone reading this blog? It would certainly be a wonderful coming full circle if at the end of the film’s long journey, and I might be able to make my own small contribution to the academic record in some way.

The Atom: A Love Affair, directed by Vicki Lesley, is available to stream at vimeo.com/ondemand/theatomaloveaffair You can contact Vicki directly at vicki@tennerfilms.com or find out more about the film via her website at https://theatomfilm.com

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Not from Keith: What can Posthuman theory and an old Easter card do?

Opening up Conversations about Performativity, Playfulness and Creativity in the Early Years of Primary School.

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

I’ve inherited a bag filled with my primary school books and creations. One thing catches my attention, a faded card with an adult drawn chick shape decorated with scrunched up tissue paper. Inside, a young hand has written ‘from Keith’ that my younger self has scribbled out and, in its place, written my own name. I wonder about the missed events from the last year, and the gaps in the bags that go quietly into lofts.

Anyone with involvement in teaching young children in schools will have a memory of all the reasons why cards get mixed up.  Sometimes card marking can feel like a production line, set up from an adult made template, pre-prepared materials in a row, an alphabetical list being ticked off at speed as sticky creations are laid out to dry. It is easy to mix things up in the lively reality of a classroom.  

Yet the scribble tells stories of the discourses that swill around education. It talks of teachers under pressure in performative cultures where making cards and more playful pedagogies can get sidelined. It hints at the precarious nature of subjects that are not literacy and mathematics. It raises questions about how confident teachers feel in allowing children to lead their own learning with the related pressure to send home such things to families. Looking back at the scribbled-out name, I wonder if the card had been a more individual creation myself and Keith would not have got mixed up.

Recently my research enquiries consider the inter-relationships between children and the things they use in the classroom.  Although the reading can take time to make sense of, I have found the thinking a refreshing alternative to the educational policy climate of England that can privilege individual outcomes. I have found that post-human theorists like Barad open the door for viewing education within a more complex frame of interdependency between humans, matter and materials .

So going back to my ancient Easter card; through the lens of Karen Barad’s theories I can see the entanglements between the material and the discursive.  All those influences, questions, forms of analysis and enquiries begin to bubble up. I’m planning to use examples like the card mix-up and great scandal of scrunched-up tissue paper in my module teaching for our new Masters programme. In the Early Years pathway, I have a shiny new module called ‘The Power of Playful Pedagogies’. Using real artefacts like this can open lively debates and rich jumping off points for thinking, research and writing.

Reflecting on the last year, perhaps we can think about the ownership of children’s creations to save those moments when the dusty bag comes down from the loft. So now I bet you are wondering…does Keith’s mum have a card with my name scribbled out?

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in the Early Years Department, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

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Poll Position

Paula Keaveney

When I worked for the BBC in Lancashire I remember one local election night when control of the council rested on the result of just one ward in Skelmersdale.  It was an anxious wait for the party leaders and showed how knife-edge some elections can be.

We could see a lot more of the knife-edge after today’s vote – the largest electoral contest since the 2019 general election. Delays to last year’s scheduled elections means that we now have election for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd, London Assembly, Mayoral, Police and Crime Commissioner, local council elections, and a Westminster by-election in Hartlepool.

The rapids of today –  polling day –  will be followed by a gentler stream however, as Covid-19 precautions means counts will take longer than usual. We all recall the days late night vamping on CNN as they counted the Presidential election votes in the USA last autumn.  So there will be no deluge of results for us to pore over tomorrow morning.

Despite this, most, if not all parties will be able to point to success somewhere.  This means spinners will be busy trying to frame their party’s success as the most meaningful.

So, where should we look, and what might these results mean?

In Hartlepool Labour is defending but polls show a significant Tory challenge.  While we might associate the town with Labour – Peter Mandelson having been one of its MPs – it is not rock solid. The Borough Council has seen losses to independents and others in recent years.  If the Tories win here it will be seen – by them at least – as vindication of their Covid-19 strategy and a welcome distraction from ‘apartment-gate’.

Scotland will be framed as a test of support for, or opposition to, independence. Can Alex Salmond’s new Alba party make a difference?

In the Welsh Senedd, the Labour administration retained control after the last election by forming a coalition with the lone Liberal Democrat.  The numbers in Wales are very tight and made more unpredictable with 16- and 17-year olds being able to vote for the first time. Labour losses would certainly open the door to different Coalition possibilities. If Labour were to be shut out of an arising coalition, this would be the first time since devolution that they were not in control of the Senedd.

When we come to Mayors, Sadiq Khan looks so far ahead in London that it must be a case of “nothing to see here”.  Elsewhere things become more interesting.  In the West Midlands, Conservative Andy Street is defending a narrow win last time. The Conservatives will be keen to hang on, but will face a tough challenge from Labour MP, Liam Byrne. 

And in Liverpool we will be able to see just how much a scandal affects an election.  Back in December the Labour Elected Mayor was arrested and, with others, was accused of bribery and witness intimidation. Since then there has been a damning report into the Council, with indications of corrupt practice.  Labour’s Mayoral Candidate this time is necessarily new, but long serving Councillors are also seeking re-election.  The opposition parties have gone into this contest with gusto. An independent candidate for the top job has also entered the list – and this might be the only chance for a Lib Dem victory with their candidate, veteran councillor Richard Kemp. 

And that Lancashire knife edge?  To win a majority, a party needs 43 seats.  The Conservatives currently hold 44, and so Lancashire could be worth watching again.

Let’s see what today, and the following day(s), bring.

Paula Keaveney is Programme Leader for Politics at Edge Hill University.

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Covid-19 Anniversary Blog Wrap Up – Is there hope for the ‘roaring 20s’?

Covid Anniversary Blog

It is my sincere hope that this will be the only time that the ISR blog marks the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. Certainly things do look positive – at least here at home.

The UK has been riding high in the vaccine charts since January and the anticipated full capacity crowd at the indoor world snooker championships this weekend, indicates that we may well be on course for a resumption of our ‘normal lives’.

Of course the big question now is ‘what is normal?’

The anniversary blog and the associated ‘Anniversary Edge Talks’ suggests that we can all expect at least some aspect of our lives to be permanently altered – in both good ways and bad.

Over the last two months, the blog has highlighted a number of things.

First, that lockdown, although intended to make us ‘safe’… it is also inherently unsafe.

The last year has exposed digital poverty and its cascading impact on educational attainment for those already in deprivation.

The impact on the economy, particularly the arts, hospitality and tourism is likely permanently to reshape these sectors.

The pandemic has also created a ‘gender gap’ and increased reported incidences of domestic abuse.

Our civil liberties have also been curtailed in a way that would have been unimaginable 50+ weeks ago. Fake news, and the lack of constructive opposition on the handling of the pandemic have also left many of us feeling frustrated.

Add in the sense of ‘history repeating’, and we have felt out of control; without a voice.

Yet the blog also illustrates that the altering of practices to adapt to lockdown has had some silver linings. Third sector groups, churches and businesses have all had to innovate to stay alive, in many cases with surprising and positive results. Many of us have learned to ‘switch off’ and take up new hobbies and interests, ‘discovered’ TV’s golden age and got active!

We have also seen that the world doesn’t stop because of a pandemic, as illustrated by the escalation of hostilities in the former Soviet Union and the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal. Covid-19 clearly is no respecter of global events.

Thus as we move into the recovery phase, the blog will continue to reflect on the long-term impact of the pandemic, both positive and negative, economically and socially.

Alongside the blog will resume the showcasing of research and knowledge exchange outcomes from Edge Hill academics and partners, and comment on current events.

So for now, we are signing off what I hope will be the final Covid-19 ISR blog, with a big thanks to all our contributors and readers.

Here’s hoping for the belated start of the ‘roaring 20s’!

Prof Jo Crotty is Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility and a Professor of Management at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 1st March 2021 by Jo which can be found here.

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The problem is often the solution: The future of video-based learning

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, in March 2020, we saw a global adoption of an online video-based learning approach in the higher education sector as a strategy to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection and to prevent person-to-person transmission around university campuses.

Since then, we’ve found ourselves switching between online and blended learning to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on students’ higher education experience. However, most educators still retain the use of video-based learning to support in-person instruction and more importantly, to offer greater flexibility to students who are forced to stay at home on medical grounds.

Many have postulated that video-based learning is here to stay in this new era of learning. It is not easy to turn back to the traditional face-to-face teaching model when both educators and learners have been provided a glimpse of the future and experienced the convenience and the flexibility of video-based learning.

Video-based education supports the context of ubiquitous learning, allowing students to learn at anytime and anywhere. This means that students can take fuller control over their learning journey, with the options to review, rewind, and revisit any part of the video whenever needed. This is in fact, a tangible benefit to students who have additional childcare responsibilities or family duties.

Nevertheless, even with the flexibility that video-learning can offer, many are concerned about the lack of guidance and interaction between instructors and students in a virtual video-based learning environment. There is often an underlying assumption that a face-to-face lecture is more superior to online video-based learning due to the fact of having teacher-student direct interaction, which may be scarce or even not present with remote video-learning. Without the physical presence of an instructor, video-based learning requires much more self-discipline and self-motivation from students to stay away from distractions while learning and to seek support when needed.

But, the problem is often the solution. In the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in video-based research with a strong emphasis to improve student engagement and learning experience. Pedagogical strategies that have been found effective in the past, such as peer coaching have been brought back and incorporated into video-based lessons to encourage knowledge exchange and to influence students’ motivation in learning. Different video styles and presentation platforms have been explored and compared to develop best practices in video-based learning that not only produced videos which motivate students to watch again, but also raise learning outcomes. The option to follow up a video with a brief online assessment may also provide educators more opportunities to gauge students’ level of performance and offer individualised feedback, which we know is a powerful key.

Video-based learning should not be seen as a quick-fix for COVID-19. While we observe an important transformation to remote learning at the dawn of a new learning era, perhaps listening to what students are saying about their experiences and documenting what is working and what is not will help us to find creative solutions in addressing and improving the learning experience in the future.

Angel Tan is a PhD Student in the Department of Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 27th May 2020 by Angel which can be found here.

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‘Follow the Science’: Is it time to reaffirm the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Last April I wrote a short piece for ISR discussing my views on what appeared to be systemic post hoc errors in statistical and reporting practices on COVID-19 mortality. I also suggested that proportionality should be an important principle helping the Government to strike the right balance between respect for civil liberties and the legitimate aims for the protection of public health.

Over the last year it seems that ‘proportionality’ and critical thinking have been marginalized. Yes there have been heated debates from all sides. Yet, the debates on ‘risk’ have often framed within intense moralising discourse where counter-narrative views, no matter how well-founded or evidenced, are often couched within political arguments of left and right. Yet scientific and/or normative views are not independent ‘facts’; they operate within contexts. Nor are they neutral, although often presented as such; cue the Government’s mantra: ‘following the science’. Science is framed and influenced by human beings with biases, agendas, and differences in ways of seeing the world.

Even the WHO has acknowledged that high mortality areas in the world attract more attention in the media. Those who have recorded fewer deaths and infections, and the reasons therein have received comparably less airtime. Subtle, nuanced and insightful research tends to get side-lined within the sea of talking heads and the incessant flow of 24-hour news and sensationalist soundbites. And Abbasi (2020), executive editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a charged and critical piece highlighting the problems with science ‘being suppressed for political and financial gain’.

Sociologist Professor Robert Dingwall (2021) has recently suggested, ‘science and policy are supposed to be driven by rationality and evidence, not personal anxieties’. Whatever mess we have gotten ourselves into, applied hope in the endless possibilities of human reason should be a central strategy for any remedy to our current societal predicament. Consequently, what is much needed is a reaffirmation of the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness.

It is only by ‘educating for good questioning’ that we can begin to cultivate intellectual virtues like inquisitiveness. This is no trivial thing. Education is the living heart of a thriving democracy and, if we value our wonderful British way of life, we should do our best to preserve, nurture and advance it.

Eri Mountbatten-O’Malley is a Fellow of the Centre for Welfare Reform and senior lecturer in education policy at Bath Spa University. He is a former GTA at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th April 2020 by Eri which can be found here.

Twitter@EriMOMalley

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Are there really any Positives from the Pandemic?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I suggested that COVID-19 might help us become more empathetic towards the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups and recognise the opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and sustainable world.

Many people – including several authors of this blog – have seen the pandemic as an opportunity or a lesson for the transition to an alternate world.

Take for example the environmental crisis. During lockdowns, we have witnessed some unexpected positive pictures: wild animals roaming in cities, clear waters in Venice’s canals! Our interest in the environment has also increased. The global number of online searches for “bird sounds”, “identify trees”, and “growing plants” have increased by a factor of two.

Other views, however, are more sceptical. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek doubts that the  epidemic will make us any wiser.  And Bruno Latour puts forward the hypothesis that “the pandemic prepares, induces, and incites us to prepare for climate change”. Both Žižek and Latour recognise that drastic changes are required to transition to an alternate world.

There is an autistic person with impressive achievements in climate-change activism. Starting from school strikes, Greta Thunberg has made a substantial impact on public awareness of the catastrophic threat of climate change.

However, there is also significant controversy around Greta as a public figure. Being young, female, and autistic, Greta Thunberg brings together several characteristics that tap into implicit biases about who should have an active role in public life and who should, and should not, be listened to.

For Greta “Being different is a gift… It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike for instance.”

It is, perhaps, because of her autism that Greta extends her activism to the pandemic crisis. A few days ago, Greta urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries bought up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.

With regards to lessons learnt from the pandemic, Greta seems to align with Žižek and Latour.  “COVID-19’s impact on the world is first and foremost a tragedy,”. “The pandemic has no advantage or positive aspects … We shouldn’t be speaking of lessons that can be learned from it, because lessons sound like something positive, in a way.”

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 15th May 2020 by Themis which can be found here. @CogNeuroThemis

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Civil Liberties ‘on loan’: Covid-19 and beyond, do the police need more powers?

Covid Anniversary Blog

The UK Government used the emergency powers through the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 to bring in the Coronavirus Act 2020. Similar trends were witnessed worldwide. The legislation has allowed police to restrict movement, prohibit events, detain people, enforce lockdowns and quarantine restrictions.

In the UK, more than 68,000 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for contraventions of the above have been issued for activity include illegal raves, parties and protests, businesses not enforcing face-covering regulations, or not adhering to the table service only rules.

Such restrictions on all aspects of our lives have had a huge impact on individual right to liberty and freedom of movement. However, there are serious questions how far the governments can go before it reaches the outer limit of the law.

Some have sought to protest this curtailment of liberty. For example, in Oakenshaw, near Bradford in England, one hair salon owner, Sinead Quinn, regularly defied the anti-lockdown rules and kept opening her salon, pasting a copy of the Magna Carta on her saloon door in defence of her decision to keep trading. She is facing Court appearances over unpaid fines amounting to £17,000.

Civil liberty and human rights have also seen an assault due to the increasing use of ‘surveillance technology’. Drones have been traditionally associated with police to catch or chase criminals and law breakers. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an entirely new role for drones to enforce lockdowns, manage crowds or even disinfect public spaces.

Countries such as South Korea have been applauded for the use of drone technology to contain infection in crowded public places. But the issue raises serious concerns around privacy and consent. Drones can be linked to a CCTV network that are equipped with facial recognition  technology which can be used to identify individuals and shared with the government by drone manufacturers.

The use of such drones has already been challenged in courts in France and the United States on the grounds that such use can be prejudicial to human and legal rights. A serious debate is needed to objectively assess any cost-benefit of using such technologies including a robust review of any attendant ethical issues.

The right to peaceful protest was severely tested recently a peaceful vigil organised in Clapham Common in South London on March 13th for Sarah Everard, who was abducted and murdered by a serving police officer, which turned into violence. It is suggested that the change of tactics by the police to enforce lockdown rules and social distancing measures contributed to the chaotic scenes.

The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill introduced in Parliament has already undergone its Second Reading in March 2021. It has been described as a “trojan horse” on account of controversial plans to give further discretion and powers to the police to intervene and shut down protests.

The right to peaceful and lawful protest is an essential feature of any democracy and needs to be protected at all costs. Right now, our civil liberties are ‘on loan’. Eventually we would like them back!

Paresh Wankhade is Professor of Leadership and Management, and Director of Research in the Business School at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 28th April 2020 by Paresh which can be found here.

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Surviving the Pandemic: How to Trade out of Trouble

Covid Anniversary Blog

The Sewing Rooms is a social enterprise that uses sewing skills to improve the resilience, health and employability of some of our community’s most vulnerable people.

At the end of 2019, we were celebrating our move to new premises and the many opportunities for expansion that came along with having a larger space in which to work.

To help fund our lease and the hire of several additional employees, we had taken out a social investment loan and were just hitting our stride, having won several national manufacturing contracts, when COVID-19 appeared on the horizon.

Watching in horror as the virus got closer and closer to home, which for us is Skelmersdale, in Lancashire, we were filled with uncertainty, fear and sadness. What was going to happen to our newly refurbished manufacturing department? What about our entire business? What about the community we serve?

By mid-March 2020, we were staring into the abyss. Our entire commercial manufacturing business had screeched to a halt. We had no income. With everyone’s lives on pause for an indefinite period of time, we had to make the painful decision to furlough our employees.

Reacting to the emergency helped keep the panic from overwhelming us. As always, social impact remained the purpose of our business. As soon as we heard of the shortage of PPE for healthcare workers, we knew what we had to do.

In just one month, we galvanised 60 volunteers, secured a grant from the Big Lottery and started making masks. We were able to support volunteers working in their homes by giving sewing machines to people that didn’t have one and organising a steady stream of drop offs and pick-ups of packages of fabric, completed masks and any essentials we felt our volunteers might need.

All the while we were making masks, my mind was racing. How could we ethically and sustainably trade out of this emergency? When we made branded masks for Peel Ports, I saw the opportunity.

With commissions for masks from organisations including Wyre Council, West Lancashire Council, All About Food, One Manchester and Age Concern, we were able to bring our furloughed staff back to work on 1st May. Thank goodness for our huge new work space! We turned each office into an individual work station, allowing each staff member to work on a single sewing machine and in necessary isolation. To date, we have made 70,000 masks, donating 35,000 of those to key workers and the most vulnerable.

Start-ups often use the word nimble to describe their development process. I think it better describes the social enterprise way of working. We constantly adapt to changing community and business needs and often at speed. I think that is part of the reason for our success in pivoting our business so quickly yet still sustainably.

Now, as the number of people who have been vaccinated rises, we’re very tentatively starting to think about what parts of our pre-pandemic business to restart. We have our work cut out for us – both figuratively and factually – but we survived! Now it’s time to look to the future.

Paula Gamester, co-founder of The Sewing Rooms CIC. Watch Paula speak about the journey that brought her to social entrepreneurialism and the insights she developed along the way.

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Covid-19, Brexit and a ‘Gust of Wind’: The Perfect Storm for Global Supply Chains

Covid Anniversary Blog

Almost a year ago I wrote a piece for the ISR Covid-19 blog on what might happen to business models due to the pandemic. Part of my focus then was about the role of global supply chains, and particularly how disruptions in those supply chains can have a detrimental impact on a business. I thought about this again when I saw the news footage of the Ever Given, carrying 18300 shipping containers, ‘stuck’ in the Suez Canal.

On the morning of March 23rd strong winds buffeted this massive cargo ship leading it to collide with the canal banks and getting stuck.

Whilst I know at an abstract level about the vast flow of shipping containers across the world, until this point I had no idea the sheer scale of traffic down this 120-mile corridor connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

An article from BBC News sums up the importance of this canal which transits approximately 50 ships and 12% of global trade daily. 369 ships were parked in a traffic jam behind the Ever Given stopping approximately $9.6bn worth of daily trade, or $400m and 3.3 million tonnes of cargo an hour. These numbers are vast and show the scale of movement of goods around the world and the vulnerabilities of key pinch points.

Anxious owners of the cargo on board (and stuck in the traffic jam around it) had to wait 6 days before it was freed. But the story doesn’t stop there. The long terms impact on the supply chain are expected to last for months.

But behind this global disruption were also the individual stories illustrating the impact on small firms. These include Jack Griffiths who is still waiting for their shipment of Snuggy Dressing gown/blankets.

The delay is also causing cashflow issues and the looming possibility of the seizure of cargo to pay the Ever Given ‘bill’. The Suez Canal Authority is also claiming $916 million in compensation.

The Ever Given saga also serves to remind us again how the global pandemic as well as more localised issues such delays at ports attributed to Brexit, and the on-going protests about the movement of goods in Northern Ireland. This leaves small businesses in particular, vulnerable to further disruption in supply, associated risks to their cashflow and added costs of sourcing replacements and/or failing to meet their contractual obligations.

The blockage of the Suez wasn’t really on most small businesses radar – a bit like a global pandemic! All business need to understand their supply chain, how vulnerable they might be even to ‘once in a lifetime’ events and what alternatives might exist. Supply chain resilience should now be on every business’s agenda.

Diane Holt is Professor of Entrepreneurship at Leeds University Business School. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 7th May 2020 by Diane which can be found here.

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Photograph: In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is pulled by one of the Suez Canal tugboats, in the Suez Canal, Egypt, on Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo credit: Suez Canal Authority via AP.

Normalising ‘special’: Covid, online learning and those with special educational needs

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, I was wondering how some educational practices could be changed in category from ‘special’ to ‘normal’ as a result of socially distanced practices, and what that might mean for our relationship with normality.

Online access to education had previously been campaigned for by disabled students with limited success, and where it was provided it was a ‘special’ accommodation. In response to Coronavirus, online access had become a ‘normal’ practice. The change in status of such accommodations, based upon evolving social practices, removes the illusion that barriers to access are the unavoidable and unfortunate consequences of an individual’s special educational needs or disability (SEND).

Instead, in mobilising our resources to make the world accessible to the majority, it appears many of the barriers that previously, and still exist are socially constructed, reflecting the social model of disability.

But, what has happened in the case of children with SEND accessing learning in the pandemic?

For some, school closures and online access have been a source of intense difficulty. Evidence provided to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND shows that aspects such as differentiation and communication were forgotten for many during home learning activities. Supports were reduced or removed, and in some cases children’s hours of schooling reduced. The report explains that many stakeholders felt that learning for children with SEND was an ‘afterthought’, both during and after the school closures.

For other children, the evidence provided suggests that home learning provided relief from an environment that they never quite felt comfortable in. Shepherd and colleagues’ analysis of the perceptions of parents and carers shows that the lack of requirement for uniform, opportunities for developing independence, reduction of stress, and the flexibility brought about by online access were seen as positive outcomes. My own child reports the benefits of lockdown learning for him in this order: “No shoes, no uniform, no people, no sitting still or upright.”

It appears, then, that despite the rapidly changing categorisation of accommodations such as online access, the categories of ‘normal’ and ‘special’ in accommodations remained salient.

What fits into those categories has changed and changed again. The move to online access enabled some children with SEND to thrive whilst others were significantly disadvantaged. Perhaps, where accommodations are considered surplus or additional (‘special’), it can be easier to deprioritise them during times of threat and rapid change.

It might be useful to suggest that universal design learning could be a key factor in preventing children with SEND from being left behind or forgotten in times of rapid social change. In this context, all accommodations are normal. Where we always consider all potential pupils in our planning, instead of applying supports as extra/other, we promote inclusive learning environments that recognise and value human variation.

As Shepherd and colleagues suggest, what we have learned in the last year suggests that there is a post-pandemic potential for much greater flexibility and responsivity in education.

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th May 2020 by Michelle which can be found here.

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Relax… World War Three is NOT Imminent – at least not yet

Covid Anniversary Blog

What with COVID, the death of the Duke of Edinburg and a football furore, you could be forgiven for not noticing the recent build-up of 80,000 Russian troops on the Russian-Ukraine border. Unsurprisingly, this has raised alarm within the international community, as an armed conflict between these two nations would have serious and inevitable implications.

Technically, Ukraine and Russia have been engaged in a conflict since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist forces in Ukraine’s coal and gas rich eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively the Donbas. This reflects the ethnic and cultural split that emerged from attempts to Russify the Soviet Union through the settlement of ethnic Russians within its 15 republics. In Ukraine, such Russification was enacted in the East where labour was needed to extract natural resources. Consequently, today Ukraine is split between the Russian-speaking so-called ‘red’ areas to the east and the ethnically Ukrainian ‘orange’ areas to the West.

At face-value such a troop build-up looks like Russia is preparing to formalise its incursion into the Donbas by forcibly annexing it. Yet this is unlikely to happen for the following reasons:

  1. In recent months a number of factors have led President Putin to reassert his ‘strong man’ image. He no longer has a friendly ally in the White House. In recent days we have seen the imposition of US sanctions against Russia in response to confirmed Russian interference in the 2020 US Presidential election. At the same time Ukrainian President Zelensky and Turkish President Erdogan held their own summit that condemned Russian aggression, creating (the appearance at least) of a Black Sea axis against the Russian Federation. Amassing troops is a way to counter both this axis, and a more hostile United States.
  2. Russia will hold elections for the State Duma (parliament) in September. While Putin needs a show of force to maintain his image, he does not need another war. The cost of such an incursion would be very damaging to the Russian economy still in the throes of COVID. Moreover, despite being the first country in the world to bring a COVID vaccine to market, domestic take up has been very low. He also faces public unrest in response to the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny. Putin does not need to be fighting a war on multiple fronts as voters go to the polls.
  3. Ukrainian President Zelensky also does not need a war. He was elected president in 2019 on a promise to end the conflict in the Donbas which has created more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons, most of whom are women and children. Escalating this would not be in his interest.

Thus it is unlikely that we are on the cusp of an armed conflict in the Caucuses. Recent troop build-up is much more about domestic agendas than it is about foreign ambition. So we don’t need to hold our collective breath – at least not yet.

Jo Crotty is Professor of Management and Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University.

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