In Defence of the War Poets

Katherine Edwards

Should the First World War be seen principally as a European and world catastrophe or as a British triumph? As we mark the centenary of the Great War, the debate on its commemoration has intensified, with the Education Secretary recently lambasting senior academics for their lack of patriotism.  Attacks on the influence of Blackadder are fast becoming just as much a cliché of the ‘revisionist’ school as the clichés the revisionists claim to be dispelling.  And where Blackadder is mentioned we can be sure the war poets – and Wilfred Owen in particular – will be the target of the next sneer. Hew Strachan is intent on demonstrating that ‘there was something more between 1914 and 1918 than futility and poems’.   Michael Morpurgo came under fire in the Moral Maze for citing Wilfred Owen.  More recently John Blake painted a scornful picture of teachers ‘sonorously intoning’ Owen’s poetry, placing much of the blame for what he considers to be the ‘myths’ taught about World War One on the excessive influence of Owen and Sassoon, who he claims, are misleadingly ‘sold as the authentic voice of the front-line soldier’. Read more of this post

Has the Nobel Prize Committee Ignored the European Elephant in the Room?

Dave Scotford 

Image © Horia Varlan

The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after they were credited with six decades of work in advancing peace and stability across the region. While announcing the decision, the Norwegian prize jury praised the union’s “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights.”

Senior leaders within the EU are overjoyed with the decision and avid supporters of the union are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, said the award recognized the EU’s work as “the biggest peacemaker in history,” and Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso said that it was “a tremendous honour.”

Though there’s a problem. To speak frankly, to suggest the last sixty years across Europe have been decades of peace and harmony is simply wrong. Did the awarding committee forget about the violent breaking up of the former Yugoslavia or about the decades of violence which threatened to bring Northern Ireland to its knees? How about the stand off between Greece and Turkey on the island of Cyprus or the vast social unrest which marches through European capitals in the modern day?

Even if the committee acknowledged these conflicts, surely they understood that it was not the EU who played any major role in bringing, or attempting to bring, them back under control. Since the creation of NATO in 1945, it is they who have been tasked with keeping the peace when trouble has flared. We should also remember NATO was built up under the control of American generals in response to the Cold War, and not the EU.

The advancement of human rights is based solely on the European Convention of Human Rights which was first introduced in 1950, 43 years before the EU was founded. Strictly speaking, the EU has only been in existence since 1993 and its predecessor, the European Economic Community was set up twelve years after the end of World War II as a trading organisation.  Read more of this post

The Strange Death of Liberal Europe

John Curran

Image © BrotherMagneto

The Greek electorate have spoken and, borrowing a phrase from former US President Clinton, it is not clear what they have said. Although we have a decision, can it be described as a mandate? New Democracy winning by a mere 3% ahead of anti austerity socialist party Syriza, the majority party automatically gaining fifty extra seats thus placing them in the driving seat of a coalition government.

 As in the UK after the 2010 election, conservative politicians in open necked shirts make electoral agreements with minority parties with phoney liberal credentials. The political horse-trading in Athens was conducted in the Greek language but the narrative is one shaped by London, Berlin, and Brussels.

There has always been a liberal dilemma at the core of the European project. This is evident in the decision making process which is undemocratic and dominated by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. However, since 1979 the Parliament has grown in authority via the ballot box and the Single European Act. Despite this there is a problem in the governance of the EU, a quandary now thought key to understanding the crisis.  A predictable debate has begun with calls to abandon the EU project or establish a Federalist system.

The unprecedented interference from external influences in the Greek election is a worrying intrusion into the democratic workings of a sovereign state, justified by the ‘memorandum of understanding’ made on the cusp of the first Greek election this year. A document that binds future administrations to adhere to cuts of billions of Euros.

The interference in the Greek election are numerous, springing from comments made by European leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany and George Osborne in the UK. Larry Elliott in the Guardian on 16 of June reported on comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker:

If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.

Read more of this post

The European Project is a Progressive Cause

Andrew Noakes, Chair of the Young European Movement London

Image © David Kellam

Hostility towards European integration is often associated with conservatism, but a surprising number of progressive voters would also like to see Britain leave the European Union. A Guardian/ICM poll in October of last year revealed that 38 percent of Labour and 44 percent of Liberal Democrat voters support EU withdrawal.

Progressives who, like myself, are enthusiastic about the European project must stop taking support from the left for granted. We must make an active effort to persuade social democrats and liberals to re-invest their faith in European integration as an engine for progress in Europe and beyond.

Of course, there will always be critics on the left who see the European project as a capitalist conspiracy, committed to extinguishing our progressive aspirations. But this is an old-fashioned smear and should be exposed as such. Read more of this post

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