The Power of Music to Change Lives?

Dr Anna Mariguddi

On Saturday 25th June 2022, the much anticipated (second) National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was published entitled; ‘The power of music to change lives’.

The (non-statutory) document represents political ideology (as does the Model Music Curriculum and Ofsted Research review series: music). Despite leaning towards traditional Western Art values, the NPME’s recognition of music as an ‘essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum for all pupils’ (NPME, p.2) as a pledge is welcome and one on which we should hold this, and future governments to account.

Earlier in the year, headlines were grabbed by the Incorporated Society for Musicians’ (ISM) education report that questioned whether music was a subject in peril. Moreover, it highlighted an uncertain time for music education and brought to attention many concerns about inequality and a lack of inclusivity and uneven support for activity.

Certainly, there is still a long way to go to ensure that school music is truly valued in policy and practice for all young people; which brings us back to the fundamental question about the purpose of music education, and who should decide.

Does music have the power to change lives? Or is it more to do with the meaning that music holds for us as human beings? What power does music have as an agent of change both individually and within our communities? Can young people change their own lives through music?

Music has certainly impacted on my own life – socially, emotionally, and academically  – even down to the small minute (but precious) moments when singing nursery rhymes in time with pushing my daughter on a swing.

Musical opportunity opened up to me aged eight, when my parents agreed to pay for me to rent a flute from our local music shop. But what if I hadn’t had parents willing and able to nurture my interest in music? Would a document like the NPME have sufficed instead? The optimist within me thinks that this is a possibility, but we will have to wait to find out how this plan plays out in practice – not just in select case studies, but for all young people across all schools.

Right now my Twitter feed is alive with activity linked to the hashtag #NPME2 – highlighting perceived good bits, potential areas for concern, and even spelling mistakes! You too can join that conversation!

Dr Anna Mariguddi is a Lecturer in Education, with a focus on music, at Edge Hill University.

So what Happens Now? Another Suitcase?

Paula Keaveney

The ambitious Conservative MP with leadership ambitions (and most do have these whatever they say) has to take a series of decisions quickly. Are they ready to fight a leadership contest? Can they get enough support to stand a chance? Is this the right time for them or are they best waiting for another chance?

Leadership contests come about in two ways. The first is the pre-announced contest giving potential entrants time to ponder. When Paddy Ashdown announced he would step down as Leader of the Liberal Democrats he established a timetable allowing thought. Some parties, such as the Green Party of England and Wales, also have regular scheduled contest slots.

The second however is the sudden contest, usually triggered by a resignation. This is an opportunity which appears and may not be at a time of anyone’s choosing; you either go for it or not. Boris Johnson himself understood this when he said, asked about if he would try to become leader, that this might be a question of whether “the ball comes loose from the scrum”.

So potential candidates in the Conservative Parliamentary Party have a very short time in which to make up their mind, to declare and to get nominations.

Of course for some the time is longer than it looks. Ambitious politicians often have part of their “campaign infrastructure” already sorted out. It might be a headquarters, it might be funding, it might be supporters ready to be named. Every candidate will need a website. Looking at who has bought which domain names can provide a clue.  In the pre-mobile days, Michael Portillo was seen to have had plenty of new telephone lines put into his putative HQ prior to any contest actually having been called. 

Before William Hague became leader, Conservative MPs were the only ones who had a say in the contest. The Hague reforms however broadened the electorate, with party members getting to vote. The MPs still have a crucial role – to nominate and then to take part in ballots to whittle the list of candidates down to a choice of two.  The last Conservative contest saw an initial group shrunk down to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

Party activists, the ones committed enough to deliver the leaflets, knock on doors and turn up at events, can be more ideologically extreme than those at the top of the party. May’s law (of curvilinear disparity) sees the “elite” party people and the ordinary member or voter as being reasonably near the centre as far as that party goes, but the active and committed members being more to the right (or left depending on the party). This is certainly given as one reason for the choice of Iain Duncan Smith as leader by the Conservatives in 2001.  May’s law may not hold in every case, but it is certainly true that the membership won’t have had to deal with the compromises often needed at the top of politics.

So who is in the frame?

The short answer is that we don’t yet know the full list. My advice would be to look out for op-eds in the Telegraph and articles on Conservative Home and to see who already has a leadership contest Twitter handle.

Whoever takes over as leader, and Prime Minister, inherits a huge basket of problems. Two potential by elections which are very loseable. A deposed leader who may make “noises off”. A cost of living crisis which is not that easy to solve, the wounds of internecine conflict to heal, and a party Party Conference speech in the Autumn.

So perhaps some of those ambitious MPs will think it too much of a poisoned chalice and sit this one out.

Paula Keaveney is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Edge Hill University.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Hannah Arendt: War as a Violation of the Human Condition

Dr Paul Bunyan

A monument on Freedom Hill in Kyiv 

War represents a violation of the human condition in so many ways. In what many consider to be her magnus opus The Human Condition, the philosophical and political theorist Hannah Arendt stresses the conditioned nature of humanity and contrasts this with totalitarian ideologies wherein all-powerful beings can control the processes of history and nature.

Arendt’s main concern in much of her writing was to argue for the importance of politics and insight from her existentialist and phenomenological perspective and method. In The Human Condition Arendt identifies three different components of or what she terms the vita activa (the active life) – labour, work and action.  

Labour refers to the human body and those biological and cyclical needs which must be addressed for human life to be sustained. Possibilities and potentialities for life and indeed politics become secondary when such basic needs are denied or violated. In war this basic human condition is accentuated and laid bare.

Work in contrast to labour refers to the fabrication of more permanent structures. Work provides shelter and safety from the unpredictable world of nature, providing a degree of stability, including the creation of public spaces where everyday life, including political action, become possible. In war where cities are reduced to rubble and landscapes to scorched earth, a sense of permanency, stability and hope for the future can be devastated.

The third and most important category of human activity for Arendt is action. As a German Jew, who escaped from Germany during the time of Hitler, the spectre of totalitarianism was central to Arendt’s philosophical and political outlook. Action or praxis relates to the human condition of plurality, the fact that humans are born equal but also as unique individuals.

For Arendt, the activity of politics provides the capacity for humans to exercise their freedom and realise distinctive potentialities and possibilities in the context of a public realm. At a time when anti-political sentiment has grown in the wake of, amongst other things, Trump, Putin, Brexit and Party-gate, Arendt reminds us of the importance of politics and that war as a manifestation of totalitarianism violates the human condition and the possibilities and potentialities of the vita activa.

Dr Paul Bunyan is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.


Image by Mickey Estes from Pixabay

The Right to Play: Are young children free to determine their own actions?

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

I recently saw an art exhibition with Mark Titchener that got me thinking about how far young children are free to determine their own actions.

Previously my research interests have been about how teachers observe playful learning (Albin-Clark, 2021, 2022) and develop critical awareness about children as holders of rights (Albin-Clark and Archer, 2021).

This year I have started to work with a colleague, the children’s rights scholar Professor Carol Robinson in the research network  Children’s Rights and Wellbeing.  After Covid-19 lockdowns, it is particularly urgent that children understand their rights to voice concerns when they have felt insecure (Robinson, 2021).

Teachers act as gatekeepers to children accessing their entitlement to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).  One article pertinent to teachers of young children is Article 31, ‘the right to play’. In play, children make decisions about who, what, where and how their experience takes place (Albin-Clark, 2022). 

I know that teachers value the opportunity to consider how play is related to teaching, so much so that a current student on my Master of Arts (MA) module ‘The power of playful pedagogies’, made me stop in my tracks. She named her recent submission: Why is play a forbidden word?

In schooling, teachers can feel tension between their own personal ethos and the prevailing policy environment. But, in this area the answer may be a simple one; that teachers can not only say the word ‘play’ but also protect pockets of time and space where they can let children play (Sahlberg and Doyle, 2019).

Also, teachers, students and researchers have a role in protecting children’s access to their right to play and have their voices heard (Robinson, Quennerstedt and Phillips, 2018).

Circling back to Mark Titchener’s provocation, it matters now more than ever that children, including young children, can determine their own actions. It seems to me that a rather brilliant way of children determining their own actions and expressing themselves within a learning environment is through play.

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at Edge Hill University.

Image by LaterJay Photography from Pixabay

Double Defeat: is this (finally) the end of Boris Johnson?

Paula Keaveney

In Devon you put the jam on last – scone, then cream, then a big dollop of strawberry.  So last week’s by-election win in Tiverton and Honiton was the jam on top for the Liberal Democrats.

The victory in what has been a safe Conservative seat since it was created will send shivers down the spine of Tory MPs in similarly “safe” southern or rural seats.

And coupled with a decisive Labour victory taking back the Yorkshire seat of Wakefield, there is no good news for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Parliamentary by-elections are strange things. Usually caused by death or resignation, parties can’t always choose their battlegrounds. This means there have to be two battles. Campaigns fight to win the contest, but they fight the war of expectations too. This means that a loss can sometimes look like good news.  Spinners work hard to paint a picture of what a “good result” for their side would be.

There is however no good news here for the Conservatives. In Wakefield, Labour recaptured the seat more comfortably than many predicted. The Liberal Democrat victory in Devon also outperformed even the optimistic comments of Ed Davey and his team. Honiton and Tiverton has been Conservative since its creation – until today!

So what does this mean for our politics?

First, the health warning. By-elections by their very nature are not normal. When we know the Government won’t change, we may vote differently. We may not actually vote at all – turnouts are generally lower. Protest votes and key issues are magnified as activists flood areas which may not normally see much of a campaign. By-elections can “send a message” in a way that the hundreds of contests in a General Election can’t. Governments tend to do badly at the ballot box in the middle of their term.

So, we can’t say that these seats will not change hands again.

But, and the but is huge this time, for the Conservatives the scale of these defeats is significant. Two very different seats with different voting bases. Evidence of tactical anti-Tory voting which has the power to remove incumbents. And rather than an isolated incident, Tiverton and Honiton follows on from losses in other “safe” areas.  There is nothing like the prospect of defeat to sharpen the minds of MPs who want to change their party.  Boris Johnson survived the recent Vote of No Confidence but that won’t stop those who want him gone. The often-picturesque river Axe flows through Devon. I wonder how many Conservative MPs are now sharpening theirs?

Paula Keaveney is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Edge Hill University.


The results (top two only shown):

Wakefield

  • Labour vote share 47.9 per cent
  • Conservative vote share 30 per cent

Labour Gain from Conservative

Tiverton and Honiton

  • Liberal Democrat vote share 52.9 per cent
  • Conservative vote share 38.6 per cent

Liberal Democrat Gain from Conservative

‘Bridges’ and ‘Phonics’, and How to Navigate Both

Dr Karen Boardman

As I respond to yet another message on social media about why I am suddenly ‘crossing bridges’ from early reading advocacy to the teaching of Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP), I am wondering why I feel the need to explain my position yet again.

Firstly, it is not either/or – it is both. I am a strong advocate for early reading for under-fives and passionate about children reading in whatever format – print, digital, imagery; there is no ambiguity here! I am a supporter of all proposals that encourage and enable children as ‘readers’ in the widest possible sense.

However, supporting SSP is not really a choice I have, given the DfE ‘Core Content Framework’ 2019 and Ofsted, ‘Initial Teacher Education (ITE) Inspection Framework and Handbook’ 2021, and ‘The Reading Framework: teaching the foundations of literacy’ (DfE, 2021) emphasise the prominence of SSP teaching to support reading.

Intrinsically, these documents outline longstanding government policy focus on teaching SSP as the prime approach to teaching reading in schools. Therefore, as a researcher and strong advocate for ensuring that our trainee teachers are well-prepared in their roles in schools, it is a fundamental aspect of my role. I must navigate and negotiate the complex field of SSP to support trainee teachers to ensure confidence and competence in teaching SSP in schools.

To that end, it is critical that I support all our students and especially trainee teachers who will be working in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings and primary schools. To engage, enthuse and embed them in the principles of early reading. It is equally important that I support trainee teachers with their understanding of the importance of teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) from Reception upwards in schools.

So we have put in place an exciting Systematic Synthetic Phonics Student Ambassador (SSPSA) initiative this year in the Faculty of Education. This encourages peer-to-peer support for trainee teachers teaching SSP. Our Student Ambassadors share ideas to support each other on social media platforms, Jam boards and in-person drop-in sessions.  This helps to make SSP less daunting for trainee teachers whilst learning from each other as a Faculty of Education SSP Phonics ‘community’. This is certainly tricky terrain.

Arising from this, we have produced an ‘SSP Iceberg’ infographic to demonstrate the competitivity of reading for trainee teachers.

I will continue to collaborate and cross those tricky ‘bridges’ to do everything I can to ensure that early reading and phonics has the prominence it deserves to encourage young children to read.

In addition, I will continue to emphasise that we also need to listen to our children and have their voices and choices heard within early reading policy and provision, in the same way that we work collaboratively with trainee teachers and our partnership schools to raise the profile of SSP. 

We hope that you find the ‘iceberg’ useful.

Karen Boardman is the Head of Department for Early Years Education in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. @KarenMBoardman @FoEPhonics

A Snail Carries its Bunker on its Back: Researching Nuclear Anxiety through Creative Writing

Dr Philippa Holloway

Creative Writing often embraces other disciplines. While academic research within this field focuses on research in Creative Writing (the theories and practices of creative expression), essentially writers must also research for their writing. They must learn about and consider psychology, geography, science, history, sociology, geology, ethnography, and philosophy as well as develop methodologies from other practitioners and arts. Creative Writing brings these disciplines together through narratives that question and explain.

I am, as a writer, curious and determined. I knew that if I wanted to write about nuclear anxiety, about complex responses, I needed to face my fears head-on. I booked a trip to Ukraine shortly after the Euro Maidan Revolution and headed alone to Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone to engage with the landscape and people.

While limited to a few days, it allowed me to experience the irradiated and varied landscapes, to hear first-hand of the legacy of nuclear accident, to capture the feel of the place. Most importantly, I was able to talk to some Samosely, the self-settlers who returned to their homes after evacuation, refusing to leave again, because their connection to home was stronger than their fears of radiation.

These themes – accident, human error, anxiety, hope, homesickness and determination to protect territory and self – are entangled and often intangible, and form the core of my novel. Yet it isn’t a story about me. Fiction is a medium that both condenses and expands simultaneously. Characters and situations can be stretched, pushed imaginatively to extremes, or beyond realism into speculation as a means of discovering clarity on certain issues. Much is discovered by asking ‘what if?’ over and over. Ideas, issues, themes and concerns are then compressed into a manageable, accessible and dynamic form, a narrative that engages the reader in the depths and nuances of the topic.

As a brief example of this expansion and compression from my own novel, I will focus here on the title of the book. It is a title that plays with the issues at hand: Half-lives are both a scientific concept, measuring radioactive decay, and a metaphor for times passing, things deteriorating, and change. Snails carry their bunkers on their backs, are able to shelter until danger passes. In the novel, these two ideas come together in the child’s interactions with his pet snails, which are marked out in the narrative as changing over time and responding to the deterioration of the situation around him. It’s representative. Distilled and yet stretched to encompass multiple interpretations.

Considering the complex nature and conflicting emotions ignited by nuclear power, especially now as the pressure to replace gas and oil becomes critical, storytelling is perhaps an ever more vital means of engaging with these issues.  Fiction allows room for questions to be asked and answered by both writer and reader, and while the words may be fixed on the page, each reading ignites new responses and engagements. This novel is therefore not the culmination of an investigation of anxiety, but part of a wider debate and collective exploration of the issues, a collaborative interrogation of our relationship with nuclear energy that will not end anytime soon, considering the half-life of the materials in question…

Dr Philippa Holloway is a writer and academic, teaching Creative Writing at Staffordshire University and former Graduate Teaching Assistant at Edge Hill University. Her debut novel, The Half-life of Snails, is out now with Parthian Books.

Watch Philippa read from her book via the ISR Playlist.

How to Keep Talking about Climate Change with Television?

Elke Weissmann

Many of us probably feel that this is a time of crisis: the cost-of-living, the invasion of Ukraine, and so much more. These crises are real and evident, and also clearly taking place now.

Disasters, catastrophes and crises need to be constructed as events to grab the headlines (see for example Bednarek and Caple, 2017), often with an element of surprise. As the surprise wears off, so does the interest in reporting on it. For stories such as the cost-of-living crisis and the invasion of Ukraine, this is a problem. But now imagine having to report on a crisis that scientist grew increasingly concerned about in the 1950s.

Those of us who follow the headlines know that we have to act now to avoid an even worse ‘climate breakdown’ to use the more recent terminology adopted by researchers. Unfortunately, reporters struggle with keeping the topic in the news due to new and emerging crises that appear more timely than climate change. In addition, ‘Upping the Ante’, that is using more alarmist language such as ‘climate crisis’, ‘climate emergency’ and indeed ‘climate breakdown’ does not seem to help news organisations as they create a perception of sensationalism in the readers and viewers, thus reducing the credibility of the news source (Feldman and Hart, 2021).

Television has therefore attempted to find different means of engaging audiences in the topic of climate change. Fans of David Attenborough documentaries know them to regularly bring up the topic, amongst others by drawing attention to declining habitats. Similarly, Monty Don on Gardeners’ World has emphasised both the effects of climate change (the wetness of winters, for example) and what we can do to work against it (avoid peat compost at all costs, amongst others). Other programmes are yet more didactic: Shop Well for the Planet, a BBC lifestyle programme to coincide with COP26 in 2021, ‘instructed’ families in how they can reduce their carbon footprints, giving audiences lots to emulate.

The question of how to communicate both the urgency of climate action and get more people involved in doing something is also at the heart of an Edge Hill research project collaboration with the University of Liverpool, Love Wavertree and funded by the British Academy. This investigates if local television is effective in communicating local climate action to a greater number of people.

So we are asking the public to help us: What TV programme has helped you to make sense of climate change and inspired you to act?

In order to honour your views and celebrate good practice we are giving this year’s Critical Award in Television to the programme that gets your vote.

To vote for the ‘Programme that engaged audiences with climate change‘, scan this QR code:

Or put 179-128-316 into the Vevox App

Visit the CATs webpage to vote in the other categories: Critical Award in Television

Happy Voting!

Dr Elke Weissmann is a Reader in Film and Television at Edge Hill University. Her research interests focus on television, in particular aspects of transnational and convergent television, and feminism.

Let them eat…?

Roger Spalding

Lee Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield and Eastwood has jumped into the cost-of-living crisis. He was quoted in the Daily Mirror (12/05/22) as saying: “We can make a meal for around 30p a day and this is cooking from scratch.” Leaving aside the practicalities raised by this claim like how many is this for and does this mean that the poor will only have one meal a day, what interests me about this claim is that it has a long historical pedigree.

In 1852 Charles Francatelli, one-time chef to Queen Victoria, published A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes. The object of this work was to enable the low-paid to enjoy cheap, but nutritious food – but how many of us would relish a dish of ‘Thick Milk’; warm milk thickened with flour eaten with a potato or bread, recommended for breakfast?

In the face of mass unemployment, and also greater knowledge about dietary requirements, the debate about the nutritional needs of the poor became particularly intense in the 1930s. Independent medical opinion, represented by figures like Dr John Boyd Orr, and the Medical Officer of Health for Stockton-on-Tees, George M’Gonigle, argued that the level of unemployment benefit was inadequate to provide sufficient nutrition. In response Sir Arthur Robinson, the permanent secretary to the Minister of Health, declared: ‘malnutrition is ignorance as much as insufficient income’.

In a similar vein, Hilton Young, Minister of Health, told the House of Commons in 1933 that there was ‘no available medical evidence of any general increase in physical impairment, sickness or mortality as a result of the economic depression or unemployment’. The following year the Adjutant-General of the British Army reported that 68% of potential recruits from the depressed industrial districts were below the required physical standard, 18% higher than the figure for other areas of Britain.

In what seems like a rather bizarre, and perhaps desperate, development, a Dr H Magee conducted a study of the diet of monks in what was described as ‘an austere monastery’. His 1934 report argued that it was perfectly possible to be fit and healthy on a diet that largely consisted of vegetables and wholemeal bread; missing the point that eating is about more than the intake of calories.

George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, a millionaire, he says, may be happy to breakfast on Ryvitas and orange juice, but the poor want something, warm, comforting, filling, and possibly bad for them. It would seem that in bad times the less well-off become very poor at being poor. In the 1930s Lady Nancy Astor, toured deprived areas, promoting thrift, budgeting and the production of cheap nutritious meals. In the course of a presentation on the virtues of fish-head soup, she was interrupted when one of the women there asked: ‘Who is eating the fish, when we are eating the fish-heads?’ That seems like a question for our time too.

Roger Spalding is Programme Leader for History at Edge Hill University.

What Does it Mean for Teachers to be True to Themselves? Can a Critical Creative Process Support our Articulations of Self?

Victoria Inyang-Talbot

As I prepare to share parts of my research at the International Symposium on Poetic Inquiry later this month in Cape Town, I cannot help but meditate on the question that has preoccupied me for a long time, and is key to my research project. The famous quote, ‘to thyself be true’, spoken by Polonius, King Claudius’ chief minister in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, exhorts us to understand much about ourselves, and at such self-knowledge, not to depart from its convictions.

Being true to oneself is, indeed, a noble aspiration. What else could one aspire to be but oneself?

For teachers, this exhortation is ambiguous, both in the literature and in practice. For to be autonomous, teachers need to cast away the yoke of managers, OFSTED inspectors, policy makers, local council interventions. To be professionally distant yet open to self-disclosure, is itself an oxymoron. To be genuine will mean at some point to tell the truth about the inadequacies of the education the students are being provided; at other times the opposite. This risks disillusioning them too early and that in no way would reflect the teacher’s commitment to them. So how does a teacher remain ‘authentic’?

To engage with the question of authenticity in teacher identity, and to provide an avenue for teachers themselves to respond to what makes up their authenticities, the Critical Authenticity Project invited teachers from all over the world to participate in poetry workshops.

Here teachers learnt poetic forms, and wrote about themselves. As a researcher, I was equally confronted with my own self how it plays into the wider social narrative on identity, and how this influences my role as a teacher.

As an example, when asked to write a list poem, one of the teachers submitted the following:

My Authentic Teacher Bag

I will put in my bag my beat-up guitar
Large puppets and stages and little toy cars
I will put in my bag some musical vids
To choreograph, block and entertain kids
I will put in my bag my biggest fake smile
To deal with tough parents who make me taste bile
My bag is made from the laughs of the youth
That wriggle and giggle, and show lots of teeth
I’ll dance and sing loud and bobble about, and trick them to learning then leave with a shout!

Poetry provided the teachers the space with which to be critically concerned about themselves, and to articulate their self-knowledge creatively.

I look forward to sharing some of their words at the conference this May and for those words to fly and take on shape, making those teachers visible in themselves.

Victoria Inyang-Talbot is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Cry God for Harry, England, and St. George?

Dr Roger Spalding

Image of St George killing the dragon
St George’s Hall Liverpool, window detail

Until relatively recently St George’s day, 23rd April passed by relatively unnoticed except for hardcore ‘patriots’ and Morris dancers. Yet recently there have been attempts to elevate this holiday to that of St Patrick’s day on 17th March.

Historically St George rather withered as the English did not need an emblematic saintly representative. For many their superiority was self-evident, sustained by a belief in their military prowess and the growth of Empire. This sense of imperial glory lived on well after the demise of the actual empire.

The nineteenth century historian, William Stubbs argued that Britain’s constitutional government derived from our Anglo-Saxon (that is English) ancestors. This racialised view of history also incorporated the United States, Americans being seen as essentially English but with strange accents. Clearly Freeman hoped for an America that would be a transatlantic (Anglo-Saxon) England.

The title of Winston Churchill’s four volume history of Britain, published in the 1950s, The History of the English Speaking Peoples exhibited many of these tropes: marginalising the Celtic British and incorporating the Anglo-Saxon settler populations from around the world in a Greater England. The English did not need strong national emblems because they believed they were as Sellars and Yeatman put it in their 1930 satirical work, 1066 and All That: a ‘Top Nation’.

With the demise of the last generation brought up under the Empire (my parents’ generation); the growth of nationalism in the Celtic nations; and a series of crises from Suez (1956) to Brexit, this triumphalist view of English/British identity has been eroded. The English it would seem do need a new sense of national identity, should St George be a part of that? Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, would seem to think so for he has issued a video wishing people a happy St George’s day.

What most people know about St George is that he was responsible for rescuing a maiden from the clutches of a dragon. The story has nothing to do with the real George, thought to have been a Roman soldier born in what is Turkey today. George’s tussle with the Dragon is really a product of medieval chivalry, the code of conduct which supposedly governed the lives of knights; this involved defending the weak (a category that included all women) and acting with honour.

The gulf between the ideal and the reality is well illustrated by the Morte d’Arthur a collection of stories about King Arthur, another paragon of chivalry. This was alleged written by Sir Thomas Mallory, a convicted criminal, during the 15th century War of the Rose; a conflict in which inconvenient individuals were disposed of in a less than chivalrous fashion: witness the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If the English do need a new sense of national identity, does it need to incorporate a mythical figure created by a brutal medieval nobility?

Roger Spalding is Programme Leader for History at Edge Hill University.

The War Against ‘Dis-information’: Romania Reacts to the Conflict in Ukraine

Dr Cristian Ciobanu & Dr Duncan Light

The war in Ukraine came as a big shock for Romanians who (like many Europeans) found the idea of a ‘traditional’ war involving tanks and bombs as unimaginable. In recent years, scepticism among Romanians about membership of the EU and NATO had been on the rise, but with the invasion of Ukraine the benefits of membership were suddenly obvious.  Opinion polls showed that the proportion of Romanians who felt their country was going in the right direction increased dramatically.  The Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (an ethnic Saxon from Transylvania) assured Romania that the country would not be drawn into the conflict and that no Romanian had any reason to be afraid.

A significant number of Ukrainians fled to Romania. Romanian society acted quickly and spontaneously with a common purpose (and a degree of organisation rarely seen before) to welcome and accommodate refugees. Romania was eager to demonstrate to the rest of the EU that it shared the commitment to welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms.  The Romanian media reported with some pride the favourable coverage of Romania’s efforts in the Western European press.

Yet a week or so of a united approach to Ukraine was followed by a gradual breaking down of consensus and the emergence of a (dis)information war.  Alternative narratives started to circulate on social media asking why Romanians were helping a country which had ‘stolen’ territory from them (during World War Two as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), and discriminated against Romanian minorities in Ukraine. Critics of Romania’s approach also asked why resources were being diverted away from domestic poverty towards helping refugees.

In the second week of the war social media posts started to appeal to a latent anti-Westernism that has long characterised the Romanian far-right. Hence, Putin was presented as a hero fighting for faith, traditional values, and his country against globalists, neo-Nazis and Western liberalism. Such messages were well received by supporters of nationalist parties in Romania, but dismissed by the majority of the population. Opinion polls now show that far-right parties (electorally insignificant since EU accession, but recently in the ascendent) are losing support.

The disinformation war then turned to stoking up panic. Romanians were advised to stock up on iodine pills because a nuclear attack was imminent. Consequently, every pharmacy in the country sold out of iodine pills. Romanians were (mis)informed that all men aged 18-35 would be conscripted creating consternation among some young people. Predictions of a doubling of petrol prices saw panic buying at the pumps with people using any receptacle (even litter bins) that could be used to carry petrol.

Romanian society is currently divided between realists (who recognise that Romania’s membership of the EU and NATO mean that a direct Russian attack on the country is very unlikely) and the impressionable who are prepared to believe whatever they hear on social media or the fringe mainstream media.  Of course, none of this is unique to Romania. What the war shows us is the power of social media to stir up disinformation, but also the continuity with the existing divisions in Romania (concerning vaccinations and restrictions on social gatherings) stoked during the Covid pandemic.

Dr Cristian Ciobanu is an expert in geo-political interpretation at the University of Bucharest in Romania, and Dr Duncan Light is an expert in Romanian geographies at Bournemouth University, UK.

Social Justice – Whose Responsibility?

Professor Amanda Fulford

There’s an awful lot of talk about social justice that seems to fill our newspapers, airwaves, and social media content. It has become a buzzword, and simultaneously lost its meaning.

Like many such concepts, it is slippery, and difficult to define. When we do try to talk about it, we often articulate it in very broad terms; fair or equal access to wealth, opportunities and privileges within society. As such, we tend to think of the responsibility for social justice as situated within government, and with large institutions responsible for public health, schooling, housing, transport, employment, access to food etc.

We also find it easier to talk about examples of social injustice. We can see how social injustice impacts on our friends, families, colleagues and communities, perhaps because of our proximity, and how we experience living together with others at local and personal levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought such injustices very close to home, as we were deeply connected in different ways with the inequities it triggered. And these injustices were profoundly social ones: our elderly relatives were physically prevented from any social contact with us as their care homes locked down, and carers and relatives were locked out. Some of our children struggled to access online education to connect with teachers and peers for lack of suitable technology. And those we loved died alone in hospital

Theories of justice abound, many of which can be traced to broader moral systems. For the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, justice could not be separated from the demands of utility (as expressed in the theory of utilitarianism: the right thing to do is what produces the most good).

In the American political philosopher John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, acting justly is based on decisions about fair distribution: justice is fairness. These theories, together with the social teachings have been influential in the shaping of social policy. However, in thinking about social justice – and where we consider the responsibility for it to lie – we might re-consider what makes justice ‘social’.

Etymologically, the concept of the ‘social’, from the 14th century, is rooted in the idea of being devoted to one’s home life. The emphasis is on the proximity of companionship – a closeness to home. Given this, there is a way that we can understand social justice as being less the responsibility of governments to put policies in place, and to deliver interventions to ‘level up’, and more about our relationships and daily encounters.

At the recent launch of Edge Hill University’s Education for Social Justice Research Network, colleagues came together to consider the place of the ‘social’ in social justice. We looked to understand what is at stake in this concept if we focus our attention towards ourselves, and our immediate relations with others. This has significant implications for thinking about social justice as both constitutive for, and characteristic of, the ways in which we individually conduct ourselves. Social justice is in many ways, self-reflexive; is my responsibility. It places a tremendous onus on us in relation to our actions, but also to our language and to the ways we are in relation to each other. It is in this sense both my obligation, and my gift.

Amanda Fulford is Professor of the Philosophy of Education at Edge Hill University, and co-chair of the Education for Social Justice research network.

Amplifying Diverse Voices via Hybrid Meetings

Dr Katy Goldstraw

We have only just learnt how to do online meetings, yet as intermittent Wi-Fi, wild offspring and performing pets morph into a return to ‘the office’ – new challenges are arising. Many of us are working ‘hybrid’ with some days at home and others in the office. Many Universities have returned to face to face teaching, others haven’t. Many businesses are still home based, and others aren’t. Community groups, who delivered much of the backbone of the Covid-19 response, are making tentative returns to the vibrant community action of ‘before.’

The world of online meetings has challenges, discussed in other ISR blogs; but its does allow the gathering of participants from across the globe, those that cannot travel can be involved, and the meeting can, if facilitated well, be an inclusive space.

So how do we make sure our meeting are inclusive, diverse and involving when some of us are in the room, and others are online?

First we need good quality tech. A decent meeting room with good audio, a large screen and good lighting are essential – as is someone who knows how to work it!

An ‘in person’ meeting facilitator and another ‘online’ meeting facilitator ensures that voices have equal opportunity to be heard.

Keeping an eye on online chat and ensuring that in person body language is responded to is an essential part of any good quality hybrid meeting.

Balancing the numbers of online and face to face helps, as does managing expectations in advance in terms of how the meeting will work.

So often the networking and informal conversations that take place in a tea break or the connections made in a shared anecdote are lost in a hybrid meeting, so making time to create informal hybrid interaction can help overcome this.

An informal fifteen minutes online while the face to face meeting members get refreshments can help create networking opportunities, as can ‘posting out’ participation packs to online meeting members so that they can share refreshments and any participatory activities within the face to face meeting.

Thinking about the room layout is important too – so often the online participants are beamed in on a big screen and the meeting faces and communicates with the big screen. If the Zoom participants are set up so they have a virtual place at the table, are facilitated by a dedicated online facilitator they can be an equal, not an overbearing part of the conversation. Ensuring that those attending have the correct digital access and data is essential as the digital divide is a continuing issue for many community groups.

When hybrid meetings work they hold the opportunity to include a greater diversity of voices. The opportunity to involve global voices without the climate or economic costs of travel is exciting. The opportunity to include those that cannot travel because of caring responsibilities or disability, is an imperative to ensure equality of voice within our conversations.  We have an opportunity here to build collaboration, if we do it well, hybrid meetings can be the future!

Dr Katy Goldstraw is Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University and Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group (EAG).

Please click this link to access the graphic commissioned by the ISR EAG to act as an aide memoir for hybrid meetings.

Image by visual facilitator, Jon Dorsett

‘A Whiff of Munich’?

Roger Spalding

Neville Chamberlain holds the paper signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich.

I often read in applicants’ personal statements that they wish to study History to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. This is sadly, something that rarely occurs; humanity appears to have an infinite capacity to repeat its mistakes.

Yet politicians and journalists frequently draw historical parallels with the past. The current Defence Secretary said, in relation to developments in Ukraine, ‘that there was a whiff of Munich in the air’. He was referring to the efforts of the British Prime Minister to avoid war in 1938 by ‘appeasing’ Hitler.

Neville Chamberlain’s efforts culminated in the Munich Conference at which the Czechs, were forced to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. The parallel with Ukraine breaks down because, as yet the West is not asking Ukraine to cede land to Russia; though they did fail to act when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014.

In 1938 the British were terrified of war. This was partly because of the memory of the of the First World War, and partly because of the development of the bomber.

Stanley Baldwin had told the Commons that ‘the Bomber will always get through’. Its targets would include women and children, and the only defence would be to kill even more of the enemy’s women and children. Shortly after, Beverley Nicholls published his anti-war tract, Cry Havoc. In one chilling passage he argued that it would be possible for an enemy, in a single raid, to drop enough poison gas to kill most of the population of Greater London.

In 1938 Mass Observation conducted a survey this revealed that a significant number of people were preparing to kill themselves should war break out. War, it was believed, would bring Armageddon from the skies, a view vividly portrayed in the 1936 film, Things to Come.

In 1940 Michael Foot wrote that post-1918 Germany was treated harshly when she was weak and democratic; but the reverse was true when she became strong under the Nazis, this was partly because Hitler was seen as a bulwark against Communism. This proved a short-term benefit leading to long-term pain.

Historians are not supposed to speculate, but here are a number of ‘ifs’ to consider: If Western politicians and banks had been less ready to accept and handle resources plundered from Russia; if the West had taken a stronger line when the Russian state murdered journalists; if the reaction to the poisoning of British residents had been more severe; if we had not allowed Britain to become a safe haven for Russian oligarchs; a message might have been sent that the West adheres to certain norms that it would not abandon.

Clear opposition to lesser transgressions might have helped to avoid this much larger and more serious transgression…. if we had learnt the lessons of History?

Roger Spalding is Programme Leader for History at Edge Hill University.

Turning Unimaginable Tragedy into Opportunity

Peace Centre Founder Wendy Parry OBE reflects on how the death of her son in the IRA bombing of Warrington Town Centre in 1993, led to her becoming a campaigner for peace and reconciliation.

The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre, Warrington

International Women’s Day 2022: Edge Hill University and the Institute for Social Responsibility present four women who had greatness ‘thrust upon them’, to become accidental campaigners, activists and politicians. Stemming from tragedy, abuse, or happenstance we look the impact these women have made, and what we can learn from them. In this blog piece we learn how Wendy Parry OBE turned tragedy into opportunity for peace and reconciliation.


Wendy Parry OBE

People may say that losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through, well take it from me, it’s true!

The day the Irish Republican Army (IRA) came to Warrington is etched in my mind in every little detail and it’s a day that changed our family life forever. 

On March 20th, 1993, our day started as any other Saturday. Our children were going off to meet their friends and then going into town to buy Mother’s Day cards which was the following day, Colin and I were going to Manchester to see my parents.  Little did we know that a very cold but lovely sunny spring morning would turn into a nightmare which felt like it would never end.    

We didn’t have the radio on when we drove home from my parents and only found out what had happened in Warrington town centre when we saw the neighbours discussing what they had heard on the news. We ran into the house and started ringing our children’s friends to see if Dominic, Tim, and Abbi were there. Dominic and Abbi were fine, but Tim was still in town and his friend’s grandmother told me that they had been caught up in the bombing and had been taken to Warrington hospital. We drove to the hospital and spent what seemed like hours trying to find Tim.

Tim Parry

Tim was stood next to the bin which exploded and took the full force of the bomb. We didn’t think he would survive the night, but he did, and the next 5 days on a life support machine. On the Wednesday morning, after more tests, the doctor told us there was no hope for Tim and we should think about turning off his support. The doctors’ words were hard to process but it was even harder to imagine turning off Tim’s support and losing him forever. On March 25th we all said our goodbyes and our happy family of 5 became 4.

Thankfully, we have never experienced anger, perhaps because we knew it would not help our family and it would never bring Tim back to us, so we spent the next 18 months trying to keep our family life as normal as we could for the sake of our other two children. The last thing we wanted was for their lives to be ruined by Tim’s death and for them to be distracted from their education by the incessant media attention that the bombing attracted.

It was 2 years after the bombing that we set up a charity in Tim’s name, and the other little boy who died on the day of the bombing, which we called The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation. Seven years after the bombing we opened a Peace Centre in Warrington, also named after the boys.

What makes people do the things they do is not always clear. In our case, I think it was just instinct; to do something in the boys’ names to ensure they would be remembered for something good, rather than something evil. However, I could never have imagined setting up a charity, or appearing on TV or meeting the Royal Family and senior Politicians; but doing all these things was the catalyst to keeping our son’s name alive.

We have always looked forward and tried to do things to make a brighter future by helping to make people’s lives better.  

All the Foundation’s work is based around conflict resolution.  Our portfolio of projects, resources, and services have three core components: prevention, resolution, and response.

In prevention we seek to stop violence before it starts, however when conflict does arise, we seek its resolution through dialogue and action without resorting to violence, but when violent conflict does occur, we are there to respond, and to help those affected to cope and recover. Our aim is to break the cycle of violence.

Despite all of this – I see my biggest achievement as keeping Tim‘s name alive. He could so easily have been just another statistic on the body count of those killed in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.

Many thousands of people have been helped by the Foundation’s work, and we are grateful that our efforts have been recognised.

My husband and I have both received an OBE and the prestigious Rotary International Award for ‘World Understanding and Peace’ in Japan in 2004.  Needless to say, these awards motivate us to go on and do more which eases the burning desire to have what we can’t have…our son back home.

I hope our legacy will be that we kept going no matter what was put in our way and no matter how many people thought we wouldn’t succeed.  I hope that when we are no long around, the Peace Centre will continue to carry Tim’s name and he will be remembered as the young boy who made a difference.  

Ukraine – What Next? Is Civil Society the Answer?

Sergej Ljubownikow

Over a week into Putin’s war in Ukraine, speculation on why, for what reason , remain high – but also to what end.

Putin appears to have a variety of conflicting, and spurious aims (some only beknownst to him) with this invasion; both with regards to Ukraine, and highly likely beyond.

Western response has been focused on weakening the Russian economy, and the sanctioning of key individuals and oligarchs (though if you have several billion, and lose a few, you probably still have enough for a good life, even in Russia). Yet for a while now, the West has had time and opportunity to take preventative action. Punishing Putin for his 2014 annexation of Crimea. Taking steps to stop Putin from ‘practising war’ in Syria. Going after ‘dirty money’ earlier – it has been swamping places like the UK or Cyprus for years. Yet none of this excuses the acts of an increasingly isolated and volatile dictator.

Moreover, Putin felt emboldened to invade Ukraine because it has become near impossible to remove him from power using democratic mechanisms. So is civil society the answer?

Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, research has illustrated that Russia civil society has struggled to gain traction, particularly at the national level. Some of this is down to path dependencies created in the early 1990s. During that time, resources (mainly funding and skills training) were provided by western donor agencies such as USAID or DFID. These resources were directed primarily at rights-based issues, specifically human, women’s, the environment, which at the time did not resonate with the broader public who were struggling with the impact of economic shock therapy, and its impact on living standards. As a result, public engagement with NGOs remained low.

When Putin came to power, he set out to rebuild the bureaucratic system after the ‘chaos’ of the Yeltsin years. Yet this ‘rebuild’ did not address some the fundamental failings that emerged from the ‘chaos’ such as the importance of individuals above bureaucratic process, the ambiguity of regulations, and (intentional) haphazard regulatory enforcement. Through a series of legistalive instruments, Putin also sought to limit the activity of NGOs. In order to survive, NGOs now need to maintain (close) ties to various state organs, often substituting for them in the provision of welfare and services. This clearly limits such groups’ ability to openly oppose to the state. There are also harsh penalties for those who do. See the recent closure of Human Rights organisation Memorial, for example.  

At regional levels, NGOs can work with and oppose (regional) state authorities, but this is unlikely to challenge the regime at the Federal level. Although these regional experiences might be seen as green shoots that could come together to form a wider movement; whether these can grow into a nationwide movement over Russia’s vast geography, is questionable. Indeed, such growth would need to be fast to challenge the regime and its inhuman war in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, there are promising signs of anti-war demonstrations across Russia, although accompanied by the associated police crackdown on dissent seen in the past. In the meantime, we all hope for an end to this war to prevent further human suffering, and our thoughts remain with all Ukrainians.

Dr Sergej Ljubownikow, an expert in the former Soviet Union, is Lecturer in Strategic Management at Sheffield University and an ISR Visiting Fellow.

Medals at all costs? Kamila Valieva discovered the ‘ice cold’ reality of failure

Anabel Timmins

The ISR interview recently conducted with Rachael Denhollander regarding sexual abuse at USA gymnastics (USAG) for International Women’s Day 2022 was recorded before the Winter Olympics. However, the scenes of a 15-year-old girl caught up in a doping scandal less than 10 years after Russia was found to have engaged in a scheme to ‘steal the Sochi’ Olympics, has resonance; both with the abuse experienced at USAG, and with recent geo-political events, where Russia clearly refuses to play by the rules. This blog entry by Annabel Timmins of LimeCulture sheds light.

Less than 10 years after Russia attempted to ‘steal’ the Sochi Olympics through systematic doping fraud, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who had failed a drugs test but had (inexplicitly) been allowed to compete, failed to win a medal. After being on the front page of every newspaper in the world, the pressure had clearly been too much, and she fell during her last performance.

The ice-cold scenes of her being berated by her coach, when she didn’t meet the exacting standards expected of her, was a tough watch. But what now? How has this changed what we do?  It is the path of least resistance to watch it unfold, feel uncomfortable, comment and move on.  We would be saddened but not surprised if a similar story unfolds in Paris in 2024, or down the road in a sports club in the next town on Saturday.

Can we justify our own inaction by considering Valieva’s conciliatory words to her coach: ‘You not only train, but also teach how to overcome yourself, which helps not only in sport but also in life’? I would argue not. 

To stand by and accept such treatment of athletes is to reinforce the acceptability of psychological abuse.  Collectively, we would be reinforcing the priority of performance over compassion, and the reach of this filters down from elite athletes through to grass roots participants. This is not an isolated incident taking place over 5,000 miles away or existing within the exclusive domain of authoritarian states. This is every day, in every sport.

The very definition of sport includes an element of competing. We are taught from a young age about winning and being the best. Social media oversharing children’s achievements, emphasising life’s medals is laying the groundwork for an unconscious tolerance for emotionally abusive training and coaching.

We watched the icy scene unfold thousands of miles away, in a setting unfamiliar to most of us, and allowed our everyday life to gradually wash away any sense of outrage. It is very simple to separate out what we have seen from what we do and who we are. We are professionals, parents, athletes, participants, volunteers. We are a collective army of resources and we could transform what can feel like watered down token values into something rock solid and impenetrable. We could put our collective outrage to good use by challenging what we see, modelling how we behave, expecting our shared values to be evidenced.

So what about the argument that Valiera’s coach gets results at the highest level? For every Eteri Tutberidze there is a coach who sees the child before the athlete. US gymnast Simone Biles was rightly applauded for stepping back from elite competition when she recognised it was not right for her to continue. We have a part to play in creating a culture where such fundamental acts of self-preservation are not seen as brave and requiring extreme self-confidence. Such acts should be accepted as a fundamental right of all athletes at any level.

We can support this to happen by not accepting abusive coaching methods, living out our values, dusting off and promoting policies that reinforce human rights. We need to teach children the acceptance of not always achieving and not lose the joy of taking part. Be outraged by what you saw and use that to make changes.

Annabel Timmins is Safeguarding in Sport Manager at LimeCulture, the UK’s leading sexual violence training and consultancy organisation.

Photo by Thomas Laukat from Pexels

Crossing the Dnieper: The UK political response to Ukraine

Paula Keaveney

“I have never forgotten the sheer courage and determination of pro-democracy activists whom I met on the streets of Lviv in 1989 as they risked their lives to throw off the shackles and chains of the Soviet Union.” (Lord Alton, HL Deb 25 February 2022)

The last few days have seen debates in both the Commons and the Lords. But looking at the cast list, it is hard to argue that the Commons is the important Chamber. The roll call of those speaking in the “other place”, the Lords on 25th Feb, included a former Secretary General of NATO, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, and a former National Security Adviser.

Yet for all the good advice in debates, for all the calls to do more, Parliament’s power is limited.  Parliament can “send messages”, it can “speak for the nation”, but it can’t end the war and it can’t broker treaties. 

It is this contrast between strongly held policy views and relative powerlessness that makes these debates, and the party-political process around them, so fascinating.

What we see tested in the fog of a war debate, is leadership.  What we see tested in the reactions of party members and supporters is unity.

Johnson has had to curb his usual instinct to grandstand and deploy jokes. Starmer has had to crack down hard on some unhelpful internal comments on NATO; and Blackford, the SNP leader in the Commons, potentially walks a tightrope.

Let’s start with Blackford. The SNP used to be opposed to membership of NATO.  That opposition was overcome in a close conference vote in 2012 with some members leaving as a result.  There are voices on the independence side today arguing for a rethink. The SNP’s partners in Holyrood, the Scottish Green Party, are outspokenly anti-NATO.

Starmer has generally supported the government line, but has had to face down members of his own party on the issue, most recently getting MPs to remove their signatures from a Stop the War Statement and suspending the Young Labour Twitter feed.

And Johnson?  Is he conveying the sort of confidence needed for an international crisis – a crisis which after all might mean large scale refugee movements, a shortage of basic commodities, and a growth in tension along many borders?

It is a very odd situation indeed when relief from the media focus on wine and crisps and trivia quizzes comes in the form of an international crisis; but such is politics. The next few weeks will tell us whether the PM is a calm helmsman or a storm-tossed sailor.

As former NATO General Secretary, Lord Robertson told the Lords “…there is an old saying: in Russia, everything changes in 20 years and nothing changes in 200 years. It maybe gets to the heart of the recent crisis, when the unthinkable has become the inevitable”

It is wrestling with that “inevitable” that will tax our leaders.

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

Why Ukraine? Why Now?

Professor Jo Crotty

In the last 24 hours I have received a number of messages asking ‘Why Ukraine?; and why now?’

Although media commentary has focused on Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, and Russia’s unwillingness to acquiesce to NATO forces on its border; the answer is more complex.

First, since the end of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, Ukraine has leant both toward Europe and reasserting its own identity, independent of Moscow. This has included allowing visa-free travel for all EU citizens, and aligning many of its governance structures to EU membership. When former President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a free trade agreement with the EU in 2013, Ukrainian citizens took to the streets in what became known as the Maidan or Revolution of Dignity. These protests led both to the removal of Yanukovych, but also a separatist uprising in the Donbass area of Eastern Ukraine (see below). This was not the first time the Ukrainian people had taken to the streets to remove their leader. They had done so before in 2004 during what has become known as the Orange Revolution. When exit polling revealed that the outgoing president’s candidate had stolen the election; people took to the streets to remove him. This kind of popular mobilisation, coupled with a lack of influence over Ukraine – in contrast to that of Belarus – poses a (perceived) threat to Putin’s Russia.

Second, the Soviets continued the Tsar’s policy of ‘Russification’ through which ethnic Russians were resettled across the Union. Russian was also the official first language – hence Ukrainian’s now asserting the Ukrainian spelling of their capital Kyiv, rather than the Russian Kiev. As a result, there is now is a large population of ethnic Russians living in parts of Ukraine, including the Donbass region on the eastern border with Russia. This region is rich in coal and other resources and was part of the reason why Hitler decided to go south east, rather than take Moscow, during World War II (with its attendant consequences). Following the Maidan, rebels in this region started a conflict with the purpose of ceding from Ukraine. This conflict has been going on since 2014 and has resulted in 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) (UNHCR) fleeing the region. This is the largest number of IDPs in European soil since the conflict in the former Yugoslavia; yet it has gone almost completely unreported. Support for the rebels’ desiring to cede from Ukraine, has been the pre-text on which Putin could start amassing troops.

Third, Putin has problems at home. Despite being the first country in the world to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine, Russia still only have 48% of its adult population fully vaccinated. This has been attributed to a wide-spread lack of trust in the Russian state – a state that has largely removed any recourse at the ballot box to dispatch an ineffective government. So a war with Ukraine has two advantages for Putin, a distraction from problems at home, and a way to reassert his ‘strong leader’ image after 20 years in power. It also prevents the types of popular protests that have removed two Ukrainian presidents, from spilling over the border.

Finally, Putin also he knows that the West are going to do very little to stop him. So far NATO has ruled out sending troops. Economic measures such as removing Russia from the SWIFT banking system, would leave them unable to trade in US dollars, but would likely be as harmful to Western economies, and such actions do not have an immediate impact. The West also did nothing when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014; inaction that has echoes of appeasement in the face of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. Sadly it is now the Ukrainian people who will pay the price. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Professor Jo Crotty is Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University and an expert in the former Soviet Union.

If you would like to contribute your own piece, reflecting your own research and/or constituencies as they relate to current events in Ukraine, please submit them via [email protected]