Keele World Affairs Group

Keele World Affairs Group is celebrating its 30th anniversary series which starts at the end of September.

The Group, which operates under the auspices of the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy [SPIRE] at Keele University, is now the largest Adult Education forum in Europe.

Since its foundation by the legendary Owen Powell MBE, it has grown from a membership of less than 20 to a forum with 450 members most of whom regularly attend its Thursday evening meetings during the university terms.

Past speakers at Keele World Affairs include Lord Carlile, Baroness Jay, Lord Digby Jones, Sir Trevor McDonald, Frank Field, Bruce Kent, Moazzam Begg, several UK ambassadors, and numerous professors from the UK’s leading universities.

Each year, the group examines new themes covering UK political, social, and economic issues, developments in Europe, Asia, North America and elsewhere, and global issues such as the environment, security, and the impact of technology.

The 30th series begins under Owen’s chairmanship on Thursday 30th September at 7.30 p.m. in Keele’s Westminster Theatre. First in the programme is a return visit by Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University on the topic “Where has the new American century gone?” Professor Rogers is an expert on the changing causes of international conflict, terrorism, arms control and disarmament. Much of his work since 9/11 has focused on the western military response to political violence.

This year there will be 25 lectures including the problems of the NHS, Afghanistan, GM crops, our future in space, justice, asylum policy, China, Iran, the extreme Right in Europe, and the geopolitics of the Arctic. A thought-provoking mix! New members are cordially welcomed and details of how to join can be found at www.keele.ac.uk/newsevents/events/worldaffairsseries/

Politics After The Election

A couple of weeks ago Andrew Gamble visited Keele to speak about the general election results and what it means for mainstream politics.

He began by asking if he thought the result was as expected? One one count, it was. The spread betting turned out to be inaccurate but the exit poll many commentators sneered at on election night was spot on. The opinion polls were largely on the money too. What was entirely unexpected by the commentariat was the Tories’ decision to go for a coalition as opposed to a minority government. Gamble included himself in this group: he thought coalition was unlikely because they had only previously happened under the special circumstances of war. The 1918-22 coalition was really a Lloyd George premiership supported by the Tories, and similarly 1931 wasn’t a true coalition: it was basically a Tory government with Liberal and Labour ministers. Hence from the standpoint of British political history the present coalition is breaking new ground.

Coalition government offers certain advantages to both parties. For Cameron the alliance with the LibDems solves a number of problems. He can sideline the Tory right, drop manifesto commitments he didn’t really want (such as the pledge to cut inheritance tax), and with the LibDems in the treasury the political damage from his cuts programme doesn’t fall entirely on him. It has the further advantage of allowing Cameron to position himself as a modern, liberal Tory and dilute the hard euroscepticism and xenophobia still endemic in his party.

For Clegg the prize was getting LibDems in the cabinet for the first time since the war, ensuring his position in the annals of British politics. He can now set about dismantling its reputation as the party of perennial opposition and demonstrate the advantages of coalition politics – one that ensures the LibDems will be a contender in future elections. He will also preside over the implementation of LibDem policies, not least the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

There are a number of dangers that lie in wait that threaten to derail the coalition government. The first is the Tory right. Many Tories kept mum before and during the election for entirely pragmatic reasons. They had the disagreements and were displeased with the direction the Tory party were heading, but knew to keep a lid on things for electoral expediency. They wanted to see Labour form a progressive coalition with the LibDems and others because when it would (inevitably) fall apart the electorate would punish them by voting for the Tories in droves and return them with a healthy majority. For this scenario to be thwarted by their leader in favour of coalition has left them seething. If that wasn’t bad enough, the five cabinet posts and 20 ministerial positions reserved for the LibDems will have put some careerist noses seriously out of joint. But even more unforgivable has been Cameron’s compromises over key policy shibboleths, especially on tax
cutting. Who could have forseen a Tory government committed to raising the rate of capital gains tax? The move to an early reform of the Lords, the AV referendum concession, fixed terms, and the 55% no confidence threshold have poured more oil on the blazing back benches.

The second risk to the Tories are the consequences of the coalition succeeding and seeing out the full term. By moving the Tories more toward the liberal centre the LibDems could be partially absorbed but at the same time leave their right flank exposed. This presents the likes of UKIP and the BNP an opportunity as the Tories have traditionally mopped up the xenophobic hard right vote. With an opening of this political space some in the party might be tempted to jump ship to UKIP or a yet to be formed populist outfit, gradually whittling down the coalition’s majority.

The third is the risk the LibDems face. There has been little in the way of an organised rebellion in its ranks so far. Vince Cable might not look comfortable with his Tory mates, and Charles Kennedy has grumbled away in think pieces but it’s steady as she goes. However, seeing as the coalition will become unpopular very quickly how will the LibDems cope under the extra pressure and scrutiny? As we’ve seen these last couple of days, David Laws departure was very swift after his expenses scandal came to light. Could this be the shape of things to come? Another problem for the LibDems is that historically, previous associations with the Tories have led them being absorbed. The 1895-1912 Liberal Unionists and the 1931-68 National Liberal splits have met this fate – could Clegg lead the bulk of his party into a liberal Tory party, especially if the latter’s rebranding succeeds and presents more of a liberal face in the LibDem’s heartlands?

What about Labour? Gamble felt there was palpable relief in Labour’s ranks, especially after post-TV debate polling put Labour behind the LibDems. However that there wasn’t a total wipe out obscures the real dangers it faces. First, the number of seats gained do not reflect the slump in the vote – only the arithmetic of first past the post saved its bacon. Second with Cameron’s pledge to cut the number of MPs by 60, you can bet the boundary commission’s recommendations won’t fall too heavily on Tory seats. This will create more marginals and make it difficult for Labour to win outright in the future.

Another problem for Labour is the geographic concentration of its support – it remains disproportionately weak in England. For it to win back the marginals New Labour won in 1997 some serious thinking needs to be done. But that won’t be assisted by a leadership contest comprising of men all from a very similar background without much in the way of policy difference between them.

By way of a conclusion, Gamble noted a number of issues that will dominate the next five years. The first is the deficit. Associated with this will be a major defence review, which inevitably will downgrade Britain’s capacity to project its power (as well as invite rebellion on the part of Tory back benchers). The union will come under strain too. Between them the coalition won 36% of the Scottish vote, but given Cameron’s comments about the dependency the economies of the north, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the public sector, pushing through cuts there could be fuel for the nationalist fire.

The one thing Gamble didn’t mention was how much the ‘new politics’ is business as usual. He talked about the periods 1976-92 and 92-08 as Tory and Labour hegemonies, but these were times marked by consensus around the subordination of society to market imperatives. Regardless of what realignment the coalition brings about in Westminster (if any), policy wise the platforms of all three parties are determined to make the working class pay for the crisis by cutting public sector employment, services, welfare benefits, and raising national insurance and VAT. But working class people are not responsible for the crisis. Commentators who flag up easily available credit to explain the crash overlook the reckless business practices of the banks, practices that cannot be separated from the short termism of making billions for their share holders. This is not to forget the role governments have played in engineering regimes whereby business is cut free from any
social obligation, giving capital free reign to roam the planet for profitable opportunities.

The transformation of the banking crisis into a crisis of public finance will inevitably produce a wave of opposition up and down the country. The scenes from Greece could easily be repeated on British streets. But what remains unclear is how this will work its way through politics. Will a resurgence of the labour movement push Labour more to the left? Can dissatisfaction work to exacerbate political divisions in the LibDems and the Tories? Will small, marginal forces to Labour’s left and the Tories’ right benefit from the struggles and social dislocations to come?

Put pen to paper at the Keele University writing retreat

Budding writers of poetry and fiction are invited to take part in a week-long retreat run by four established authors and poets.

The writing retreat, which will take place from Sunday, July 25, to Friday, July 30, in the inspiring surroundings of Keele Hall at Keele University, will encourage writers to achieve their potential.

Poets Jacob Polley and James Sheard and authors Gwendoline Riley and Joe Stretch will lead workshops and mentor participants during the course, as well as reading from their own works. All have extensive experience of the teaching of creative writing, as well as being established writers in their fields.

James Sheard, who is a creative writing lecturer at Keele, said: “We welcome writers of all levels to this intensive writing school, although you will benefit most from the retreat if you have some writing which you wish to work on or improve – or a specific idea – before you come.”

Work produced during the writing retreat can also be converted into credits towards Keele’s MA in Creative Writing.

The retreat costs £525 inclusive of accommodation and meals. There will be a discount available for locally-based writers who do not require accommodation.

For information about booking, and general information about the Keele Writing Retreat, please contact Kath McKeown on k.c.mckeown@his.keele.ac.uk

For questions about how the writers work with you, or any concerns about the suitability of the course for you, please contact James Sheard on j.r.j.sheard@engl.keele.ac.uk

The retreat’s website can be found at http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/en/pgrad/mawriting/summerschool/index.htm

About the writers

Jacob Polley is the author of two collections of poetry – The Brink and Small Gods – and a novel – Talk of the Town, all published by Picador. Jacob was selected as one of the Next Generation of British poets in 2004. In 2002 he won an Eric Gregory Award and the Radio 4/Arts Council “ËœFirst Verse’ Award.

Gwendoline Riley is the author of three novels – Cold Water, Sick Notes and Joshua Spassky – and a collection of short stories. She has won the Betty Trask Award, the Somerset Maugham Prize and been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

Joe Stretch has published two novels with Vintage – Friction and Wildlife – and is working on his third. His stories have also appeared in a number of magazines and national newspapers. Joe is Lecturer in Creative Writing at Keele University, and also teaches the song lyric in the Music department.

James Sheard is published by Mews Press and Cape. His pamphlet Hotel Mastbosch was a PBS Choice in 2003, and his first full collection of poems – Scattering Eva – was shortlisted for a Forward Prize and the Dimplex Poetry Prize. His next collection – Dammtor – is due out in September 2010. He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at Keele.

Keele’s New Doctors Stay In The West Midlands

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Almost half of the 88 medical students who graduated this month from Keele University School of Medicine are to stay in the West Midlands.

All the new graduates are starting their medical careers in well-earned first jobs across the country, but 40 of them are staying within the West Midlands Deanery to work in hospitals in North Staffordshire, Stafford, Shrewsbury, Telford and Birmingham.
Professor Richard Hays, head of the School of Medicine, said: “We were all pleased to see so many successful medical students and their families here at Keele for the graduation ceremony. They’ve worked hard for five years and are graduating with a firm grounding in medicine, which puts them in a great position for taking on their Foundation training jobs. It’s great to see so many of them staying to work in the local area. We congratulate them all on their achievements and wish them long and successful medical careers.”