- IoI Forum
- Current Affairs Forum
- Venue: London
- Date: Ongoing
The IoI Current Affairs Forum (CAF) provides an opportunity for people to discuss what is behind the news headlines, with the intention of developing a deeper understanding of the world. More than just a talking shop, the CAF encourages an examination of the way that ideas can be taken forward in society, with discussions ranging from international affairs to lifestyle issues, from culture to the state of politics.
The CAF is run by a group of young professionals and students who wanted to create a lively and informal environment to interrogate contemporary social and political issues. The Forum meets regularly in Central London to investigate a specific issue in the news, and draws on the thoughts and experience of its members and occasional guest speakers.
England’s Riots: community, consumerism and the ‘sick’ society’
Thursday 1st September
Speaker: Professor Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence, Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture and Paranoid Parenting
Many explanations for the riots have been mooted, from the plausible to the opportunist. Labour politicians such as Harriet Harman have tried to explain the riots as a reaction against spending cuts, an increase in tuition fees and the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance. Conservatives have pointed to a lack of morality and family breakdown. While some commentators – as usual – blame rap music and video games, the new culprits demonised by pundits are social media and twitter storms. Some have rejected all 'sociological' explanations; Prime Minister David Cameron simply labelling it a ‘sickness’ in society. Do any of these explanations reflect reality?
What do these riots and the reactions to them - tell us about the state of community and solidarity today? Or can the riots be seen as a breakdown of social solidarity? If so, how does one understand the seemingly positive expressions of community that were in evidence when people joined the post-riot clean-up or spontaneously defended their neighbourhoods (like the Turkish shop-owners in Dalston or the Sikh community in Southall) or formed vigilante groups such as the Enfield Defence League?
- UK riots: This vigilantism is the very embodiment of 'big society', Zoe Williams, Guardian
- We must toughen up if we want tough policing, Camilla Cavendish, The Times (paywall)
- Disorder in world cities: comparing Britain and France, Sophie Body-Gendrot, Open Democracy
- The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom, Peter Oborne, Telegraph
- Rioting in England: was it just a bad dream?, Frank Furedi, spiked
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Grayling’s NCH: the vanguard of academic freedom, or an assault on public education?
Wednesday 22nd June
Speaker: Professor Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby; director, Academics For Academic Freedom; editor The McDonaldization of Higher Education
Professor A C Grayling's announcement of plans for a new private London-based institution, the New College of the Humanities, which plans to teach students the best of literature, culture and history for a fee of £18,000 a year has been mired in controversy.
Is the NCH, as some protesters have suggested, driven by greedy Judas-like academics, who have abandoned the struggle to preserve the humanities in publicly funded institutions? Is Grayling’s initiative at the vanguard of the Coalition government’s supposed 'privatisation agenda' for Higher Education?
Or, given the level of strings attached to state funding at universities and suffocating bureaucracy, are institutions such as the NCH badly needed in order to establish beacons of academic excellence, where scholars are free to pursue their intellectual passions?
Does the NCH represent a blow for academic freedom, or a worrying movement towards HE being the sole preserve of the rich?
- Grayling Cries Freedom, Frank Furedi, THE
- How dare you set up a new university!?, Brendan O’Neill, spiked
- Higher Education should be free – of state control, Angus Kennedy, spiked
- A C Grayling’s Private University is Odious, Terry Eagleton, Guardian
- New College Disaster and the challenge of A C Grayling, Anthony Barnett, Open Democracy
- My colleagues are wrong about the New College of the Humanities, A C Grayling, Guardian
The Killing of OBL - Wild West Justice, or Just Deserts?
Thursday 19th May
Speaker: Neil Davenport author and journalist; blogger at the Midnight Bell
President Obama’s announcement that ‘we got him’ when Osama bin Laden was shot by US SEALs was greeted with widespread surprise and celebration, with some prominent Western politicians reacting as if it was a major historical event on a par with the defeat of the Nazis at the end of WW2 that could finally bring ‘closure’ following the 9/11 attacks.
As the dust settles, however, many are now starting to say – typified by the Archbishop of Canterbury - that the approach to the killing of OBL made them ‘very uncomfortable’. Criticism of the invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty and shooting of bin Laden without trial has been condemned as ‘medieval’, ‘Wild West justice’ and reflective of the US’s appalling arrogance that it feels it can do what it likes and get away with it.
Did the US take the right approach following the capture of their Public Enemy Number One, or are critics right to feel uncomfortable? Rather than taking him out, would taking bin Laden to trial have been the sign of a more confident state with a stronger moral compass? Are the actions of America really that of a ‘Gung Ho’ imperialist power? What are the lessons to be learnt from the killing of bin Laden?
- Brendan O'Neill, This pity for bin Laden is just pacifist-nihilism, spiked
- Guy Rundle, Bin Laden was executed, that much is obvious, Crikey
- Henry Porter, Can we ever condone the notion of state-sponsored assassination?, Observer
- Hugo Rifkind, Why can’t we just kill people quietly?, Spectator
- Melanie Philips, This hand-wringing over Bin Laden is not just distasteful - it's potentially suicidal, Daily Mail
- Mona Eltahway, No dignity at Ground Zero, Guardian
From Baghdad to Benghazi: The Fall and Revival of Humanitarian Imperialism?
Thursday 14th April
Lecturer in International Conflict at the University of Kent, Dr Phil Cunliffe, will introduce the discussion
The NATO bombing of Libya is the latest in a long series of Western interventions justified on 'humanitarian' grounds since the end of the Cold War. In contrast to other Arab countries that have witnessed uprisings this year, Libya's revolt has morphed into a civil war. WhileWestern powers took a more hands-off approach in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya they have involved themselves more directly. Why has the response to Libya been different?
The West's moral authority to intervene militarily in other countries' affairs appeared to have taken a serious blow since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Is the latest intervention in Libya an attempt to rehabilitate humanitarian intervention? What is the Western interest in intervening in Libya anyway? Is the intervention an assertion of imperial might, or should the intervention be welcomed if it helps the rebels' cause in their struggle to overthrow the Gaddafi dictatorship?
- Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Why Gaddafi has already lost, New York Times
- Simon Tisdall, Libyan rebels’ vision statement is a masterpiece of the genre, The Guardian
- Gilbert Achar, Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective, Z Communications.
Response from the Socialist Worker here
- Jon Lee Anderson, Who are the rebels?, The New Yorker
- Bruce Ackerman, Obama’s Unconstitutional War, Foreign Policy
- Arthur Goldhammer, De Gaulle, He Ain’t, Foreign Policy
- Sean Collins, Libya: how the West just made things worse, Spiked-Online
- Adam Curtis, Goodies and Baddies, BBC,
Who's being sold out? Cuts, Anti-Cuts and the Welfare State
Tuesday 15 March 2011, 6:45pm
Writer James Heartfield, author of Green Capitalism and The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained will introduce the discussion.
The Trades Union Congress-organised demonstration on 26 March is likely to be the first big union-led response to the cuts being undertaken by the Coalition. Many observers have long thought the unions to be irrelevant - are they now revitalised? Leading a popular revolt to protect “our” welfare state? Or is this a reflexive spasm of a dying movement? One last charge against the old Tory enemy?
Many accuse the Tories of setting about to dismantle the welfare state at just the moment when the poor and vulnerable in society – reliant on welfare provision, state education and benefits – arguably need it most. Should the welfare state not be a platform for increasing equality in a society that appears riven by rising inequality and declining social mobility?
In getting caught up in a reaction to impending cuts, could we be missing the opportunity to ask what kind of state provision of welfare we actually need? Is it true, as is assumed by anti-cuts protesters, that we wouldn’t be able to cope without the ‘safety net’ of state provision of welfare? Is it possible to imagine social alternatives that aren’t provided by the state?
The Egyptian Intifada: Why now, what next?
Thursday 17 February 2011, 6:45pm
We are pleased to announce that the next will discuss the ongoing events in Egypt.
Karl Sharro, architect, writer and blogger on Lebanese & Arabic politics, will introduce the discussion
The events in Egypt have come as a surprise to most, with even President Obama questioning US intelligence agencies’ failure to predict the uprisings in the Arab world. The drive behind the January 25 revolt is a genuinely popular democratic movement, but its outcome is still unclear. Who are the main players determining events – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, young protesters, workers, the elite? And how should we characterise what Twitter calls #Jan25 in the absence of obvious leadership of the movement?
The uprising seems also to put paid to the idea that democracy is exclusively Western, and not a universal aspiration. Yet the reaction from Western elites has been ambivalent at best: can Egyptians bring about a ‘stable democracy’? Fears about an Islamist takeover are voiced as much by Westerners as by President Mubarak. What do we make of calls from foreign ministries for an ‘orderly transition’, especially in light of Western powers’ history in the region? What does the revolt mean for the balance of power in the region, and for American hegemony?
Wikileaks - a wicked leak of state secrets?
Thursday 27 January 2011, 6:45pm
We are pleased to announce two speakers will be introducing the topic:
Dr Lee Jones, lecturer in international politics, Queen Mary, University of London and Angus Kennedy, head of external relations, Institute of Ideas; chair, IoI Economy Forum
The Wikileaks revelations have not just been in the news for the past months, they have been the news. Since the latest dump of information from the US diplomatic cables to select media organisations, Julian Assange has been the subject of harassment from state officials as well as glorification from his supporters. The consequent trading of conspiracy theories from both sides has not been particularly edifying. But beyond the character of Assange and the Wikileaks organisation, what is the meaning of the Wikileaks phenomenon? What has been the impact of the revelations on international affairs – and are they ‘revelatory’ at all? What degree of privacy should states have in pursuing their interests? Few would argue that more information is a bad thing per se, but what do we make of the demand for transparency and the free flow of information in all institutional affairs? Ultimately, what does the Wikileaks controversy reveal about the workings of power and how we view it today?
- Good Manners in the Age of Wikileaks, Slavoj Zizek, London Review of Books, 20 January 2011
- Just because they hunt witches doesn't mean we have to worship heroes, Kenan Malik, 18 December, Goteborgs Posten
- Wikileaks beyond Wikileaks, Saroj Giri, Mute, 16 December 2010
- Wikileaks: this isn’t journalism – it’s voyeurism, Frank Furedi, spiked, 30 November 2010
Chair: Alex Hochuli, PhD student, University of Kent; co-founder IoI Current Affairs Forum
Relegating spirits to Christmas past? The politics of alcohol and merriment
Wednesday 8 December 2010, 6:45pm
As Christmas festivities draw closer, numerous public information campaigns have been launched warning us to watch our alcohol intake, such as that by DrinkAware who encourage us to ‘make informed decisions about the effects of alcohol on [our] lives and lifestyles’. On TV and in the media and advertising campaigns, Christmas celebrations are often portrayed as occasions when too many drinks lead women into unprotected sex with strangers, men into fights and almost everybody attending an office party to embarrass themselves.
However despite attempts at raising awareness about the dangers of too much Xmas boozing and increasing numbers of experts, notably former government drugs czar Professor David Nutt, warning that alcohol causes more harm than some illegal drugs, many people seem to persist, with Britons exceeding their recommended daily drinking guidelines by over 50% last December. Are such campaigners merely Scrooges, trying to stop us indulging in harmless fun, or should we be taking a cold, sober look at the advice they give us?
Why do such awareness raising campaigns apparently fail to have the desired impact? Should the government try initiatives – such as minimum alcohol pricing - to reduce our intake; or should we be free to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ even to the point of excess? Is there a balance to be found between maintaining good health and our freedom to consume what we like?
Chair: Suzy Dean, freelance journalist, researcher and writer on democracy, multiculturalism and cities and co-founder, IoI Current Affairs Forum
(Bang) Up the Pope? Faith and secularism today
Thursday 23 September 2010, 6:45pm
Speaker: Kevin Rooney, politics teacher and commentator on education and religious issues
In conversation with: Suzy Dean, freelance journalist, researcher and writer on democracy, multiculturalism and cities; co-founder, IoI Current Affairs Forum
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK – the first papal visit for 28 years – has dominated the headlines ever since it was announced back in March. Much debate has kicked up about whether or not he should be allowed to visit, with campaigners such as Johann Hari making a case for performing a citizen’s arrest because of the child abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic church. Secular campaign group “Protest the Pope” also lists his crimes against humanity as including opposition to condom use and abortion, and apparent support for gender and faith-based discrimination in schools and workplaces worldwide.
At the same time Pastor Terry Jones provoked international controversy by threatening to burn the Quran on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, while copies of the Muslim holy book were torn up in New York and Washington, and burned in Tennessee and Kansas. There has been much argument over whether it is appropriate to build a mosque near Ground Zero with demonstrators in lower Manhattan holding banners with the slogans "No Mosque at Ground Zero", "The more Islam, the less freedom", "No Sharia" and "No Surrender". This comes shortly after the Belgian and French parliaments voted to ban the burqa, with similar legislation being debated across Europe.
How can we explain what looks like anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic sentiments? Are we more secular or simply more intolerant of religious belief? With expressions of religious belief seemingly on the rise across the West how should secularists respond? Are these protests meaningful expressions of political opposition to the “opiate of the masses” or simply childish reactions against perceived superstition and irrationalism?
- Mr Ratzinger’s Rap Sheet, Protest The Pope
- Catholics: it’s you this Pope has abused, Johann Hari, Independent, 9 September 2010
- Turning the Pope into the Antichrist for atheists, Brendan O’Neill, Spiked Online, 07 September 2010
- The Culture War over the Ground Zero mosque, Sean Collins, Spiked Online, 17 August 2010
- Should Britain ban the burqa too?, Observer, 18 July 2010
- The Backwardness of Catholic Bashing, Spiked-Online, 28 July 2010
- Sex and death lie at the poisoned heart of religion, Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 14 September 2010
Psycho killer: why has Raoul Moat become an antihero?
Thursday 22 July 2010, 6:45pm
Chair: Robin Walsh, writer on science and medicine.
Speaker: Austin Williams, director, Future Cities Project; author, The Enemies of Progress
Raoul Moat hit the headlines when he shot three people, killing one, and sparking one of the biggest manhunts of recent years. After evading capture for a week, he was eventually cornered and killed himself after being tazered by armed police. But Moat’s death only marked the beginning of a furore that has continued since. Unlike the response to the Cumbrian killings earlier this year, Moat’s crimes divided opinion – causing thousands to join facebook memorial groups to celebrate his actions and his evasion of the police. There has been an equally vehement backlash, with a Facebook tribute page being “voluntarily” removed after condemnation from David Cameron and demands for censorship of this sort of content.
Does the positive response to Moat’s crimes suggest that British society is as dysfunctional as some suggest? Or is the response more in line with what some have called “Dianafication” - a public wallowing in sentimentalism first seen at the time of the Princess of Wales' death? Or does it, as George Galloway suggests, represents "a cry from the heart from poor, white, working class, unemployed people who are drifting on to dangerous shores. They hate the government, they hate the police, they hate society and feel left behind"?
- Second Raoul Moat Facebook tribute page set up, BBC News 16 July 2010
- I set up the Moat Facebook tributes: the single mother behind twisted online shrine, Daily Mail 16 July 2010
- David Cameron is right about the Dianafication of Raoul Moat, Ed West, Daily Telegraph blogs 15 July 2010
- Why Raoul Moat isn’t extraordinary, Alice Miles, New Statesman, 15 July 2010
- Gunman Raoul Moat asked for psychiatric help, BBC News, 15 July 2010
- Who turned Raoul Moat into Rambo?, Mick Hume, Spiked Online 13 July 2010
- How on earth can a monster like Raoul Moat be hailed a hero?, Simon Heffer Daily Telegraph, 13 July 2010
Gaza Flotilla: is Israel now the world’s pariah state?
Thursday 17 June 2010, 6:45pm
Speaker: Mick Hume, editor-at-large, spiked; writer for The Times
Chair: Dave Bowden, Institute of Ideas; co-founder, Current Affairs Forum
The shooting of nine Turkish peace activists during a search of the ship Mavi Marmara by Israel Defence Force commandos on 31st May has once again turned the eyes of the world on to Israel. International political institutions and radical activists alike have condemned Israel as a ‘pariah state’ for its latest outrage in an ongoing conflict with Gaza. Some have even called for NATO to intervene, since the incident occurred in international waters. Meanwhile the Gaza flotilla has been praised for putting pressure on Israel to end its ‘medieval’ blockade, with Middle East envoy Tony Blair joining talks to ease the restrictions on humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip.
Defenders of Israel have countered that its blockade is necessary to protect its borders, and have controversially attacked the peace activists’ actions as representing an unjustified political interference into its affairs. Others observe that there has been a marked shift in Israel’s position on the world stage in recent years, and that its increasingly aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East is a reflection of its isolation, rather than its dominance.
Is Israel playing the victim to excuse its atrocities, or is it justified in resisting foreign interference in its sovereign affairs? Does the West have a responsibility to intervene to restrain its historic ally in the Middle East, or will more outside involvement only worsen the situation? Are actions such as the flotilla a straightforward neutral humanitarian intervention or a politically-loaded provocation? What lies behind the global interest in the ongoing horrors of a small and troubled region?
- Q&A: Israeli deadly raid on aid flotilla BBC News 14 June 2010
- Gaza blockade to be eased within days declares Tony Blair Independent 14 June 2010
- The Flotilla Wars: one stunt begets another Nathalie Rothschild spiked 10 June 2010
- What the Israel-bashers learned from Bush Brendan O’Neill spiked 07 June 2010
- Gaza flotilla assault: what really happened aboard the Mavi Marmara? Stephanie Gutmann Telegraph.co.uk 01 June 2010
- Gaza: from blockade to bloodshed Guardian 01 June 2010
“A Greek tragedy? Bailouts, unrest and the future of the eurozone”
7pm Tuesday May 18th
Speakers: Geoff Kidder, membership and events director, Institute of Ideas and Rob Lyons, deputy editor, spiked.
Chair: Patrick Hayes, IoI Current Affairs Forum
Dave loves Nick and Nick loves Dave. But while attention has focused on which form of government will manage the deficit, developments abroad will arguably do more to shape the UK's fortunes in the short term than who sits where in the ‘historic’ coalition. Whilst the recent agreement to reluctantly put together a 750bn-euro package of funds by European governments and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has calmed fears of imminent financial collapse in the eurozone, many believe that this bailout had simply off-set the problem. Greece - often dubbed the ‘weakest link in the eurozone’ - is facing violent civil unrest, a public deficit of 13.6% and debts of €300bn, all predicted to increase significantly. And a collapse in Greece could potentially be the ‘first domino’ that will bring the other PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain), and potentially the whole of the EU, crashing down.
In order to meet debt repayments, Greek leaders are forcing citizens to swallow the ‘bitter pill’ of extreme austerity measures - including major cuts in public sector welfare and services and sharp cuts to wages and pensions – alongside implementing reforms to modernise the economy and improve productivity. The Greek people, it seems, don’t want to take the cuts in living standards lying down and the announcement of a general strike next Wednesday is the latest in the series of protests that are hitting the economy hard and making investors nervous.
Who is to blame for the crisis? What needs to be done to deal with the root causes of the financial crisis in Europe? Should the Greek people recognise that they are ‘all in it together’, accept austerity measures in the name of the National Interest and long-term stability of their economy? Have they been enjoying the EU ‘gravy train’ for too long and now need to stop smashing their plates in protest, instead facing up to some harsh realities? Or, indeed, would it be better if Greece defaulted on loan repayments, declared bankruptcy and withdrew from the eurozone completely? Are these problems peculiar to Greece and the ‘Club Med’ or could the UK catch the ‘Greek disease’? If so, what would need to be done to prevent it? Is another global economic crisis on the cards?
- The Greek crisis and the blame game, Daniel Ben-Ami, spiked, 6 May 2010
- Greece: the default option, Editorial, Guardian, 3 May 2010
- Eurozone bail-out coverage in the FT, Various, May 2010
- Governments up the stakes in their fight with markets, Martin Wolf, FT, 12 May 2010
- Q&A: Can Europe’s 750bn euro bailout package work?, Various, BBC, 11 May 2010
- EU Bailout is built on a lie, Bruno Waterfield, 09 May 2010
- Huge National debts could push Euro Zone into bankruptcy , Editorial, Der Spiegel, 06 May 2010
- The creation of a new Greek myth, Guy Rundle, spiked, 17 February 2010
- Depicting Europe, Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, 20 September 2007
Tuesday 20 April
**CAF Election Special**
"I agree with Nick..." The historic televised leaders’ debates have finally started and whilst there seems to be a tremor of excitement over Nick Clegg's style and Gordon Brown's smile, what remains lacking is any radical vision from the three main parties about how society should be taken forward. We face the prospect of the first UK hung parliament since 1974, and yet, rather than spurring the parties into drawing significant ideological dividing lines between themselves, this climate has arguably produced a drive for consensus and co-operation like never before. As a result the opinion polls fluctuate wildly, as nobody seems capable of capturing the political imagination of the British people.
Should we still care about the election, or should politics be left to the experts? Should we respond to the economic crises by accepting a limit to our political horizons, or should we argue that the big ideas of Politics are still worth fighting for? Is the election a real opportunity to have a stake in the way society is governed, or does it mean nothing more than putting a cross in a box?
Speaker: Claire Fox, director, IoI
Tuesday 23 February
The Equality Bill: whither feminism?
Harriet Harman has come under fire this month from religious, business and civil liberties figures for proposals to strengthen the Government's Equality Bill. With plans to support women-only shortlists and proportional representation of women on TV she's hailed as a 'hardline feminist' by supporters and detractors alike. But whilst such policies actually encourage top-down discrimination on grounds of gender, flying in the face of feminist demands for gender-blindness, why do they have appeal in encouraging the fawned over 'gender equality'? Whilst it's right to criticize Government plans for more hyperregulation of everyday life, is it true that women are oppressed or unequal in some way today, or not?
Indeed, as small-c conservatism becomes mainstream, concern over 'ladettes', the demise of the family or pole-dancing as a sport is on the rise. A return to traditional female roles of mother and wife (the 'yummy mummy' or WAG) seems affected in response. Debates about the veil seem to suggest it's simply a matter of what women can wear, rather than a broader contest of ideas. Whilst some feminists argue the legacy of 1968 is for women to choose for themselves, others hold today's 'over-sexualised' culture encourages women to seek solace in their sense of difference from men. Is this really a debate about equality, or something else? What should be the aspiration and expectation of 21st century women? How effective was 1960s feminism, how should we make sense of its contested legacy and what sort of female role models should we defend, if any?
Introduction by Sarah Boyes (assistant editor, Culture Wars; CAF Committee)
Tuesday 19 January 2010
Free speech war? Wootton Basset and pantomime protest
The recent attempted ‘Pantsman’ bombing combined with Islam4UK’s planned coffin protest at repatriation parades for dead British soldiers at Wootton Basset has refocused attention on terrorism, Islamism and civil liberties. After Gordon Brown branded it “disgusting and offensive” leader Anjem Choudary dropped the planned protest, but regardless Home Secretary Alan Johnson stated this week that Islam4UK (also known as al-Muhajiroun) will be banned under anti-terror laws.
The controversy follows recent clashes between anti-war protestors and the English Defence League, leading to police clamp-downs and warnings of a return of 1930s fascism. Meanwhile five protestors in Luton were convicted of abusive behaviour after calling British soldiers “Murderers, baby-killers and rapists.” Are the presence of such groups a disturbing warning of anarchy to come, or just disaffected youth kicking up against illiberal government policing of protest? Do protestors of both sides deserve their free speech, or does it show that the line has to be drawn somewhere to maintain the peace?
With Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama having reaffirmed US military presence in Afghanistan, and the UK government continuing to commit troops despite mounting casualties and growing public discontent, what form should contemporary anti-war protest take?
Speaker: Dolan Cummings, associate fellow, IoI
Sunday 12 December
From Copenhagen to eternity: making history or cheating the future?
With the controversy around ‘Climategate’ still provoking heated debate, and with new revelations from the leaked ‘Danish text’ suggesting that rich nations are trying to exert undue influence, the long-awaited Copenhagen summit looks on the verge of collapse. With ardent environmentalists such as James Hansen stating that no good will come of the conference, and more focus being placed on the carbon footprints of those attending than their policies, where does the future hold for global development? With man-made global warming sceptics and fanatics alike now rethinking their attitude to The Science, how do we confront future problems relating to a changing climate? Is progress now a matter of adapting to our environment?
Speaker: Austin Williams, director, Future Cities Project; author, The Enemies of Progress
Climate research chief Phil Jones stands down pending inquiry into leaked emails
Alok Jha, Guardian, 1 December
We don’t need another conspiracy theory
Frank Furedi, spiked, 24 November
Why Copenhagen must be the end of the beginning
Martin Wolf, FT, 1 December
Global warming measures will cost ‘twice as much as predicted’
Ben Webster, The Times, 2 December
Q&A: The Copenhagen climate summit
BBC News, 4 December
Turn the clock back to 1875? No thanks
Rob Lyons, spiked, 10 December
Thursday 17 November
Hard Nutt to crack: do we want an evidence-based drugs policy?
When David Nutt was sacked as the government’s chief drugs tsar for questioning its policies on drug classification, it seemed like another case of expertise being sacrificed by cowardly politicians. Alan Johnson’s decision to remove Nutt for ‘campaigning against government policy’ led two other advisers to resign in protest, and nearly caused a mass rebellion of scientists. For some, Nutt has been punished for merely confirming what many already suspect: that illegal drugs are not as harmful as their legal counterparts such as alcohol and nicotine, and that drug policy is underpinned by moral concerns and tabloid appeal rather than scientific evidence.
Some commentators argue, however, that in a democracy it's politicians who are elected to made decisions and not their scientific advisors. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with politicians basing judgement on morality. Meanwhile, Nutt's supporters point out the government is only happy to use scientific evidence when it suits them.
What lies behind the rise of evidence-based policy-making? Is it a more mature, scientific and reasoned approach to important questions, which transcends petty party politics and personal opinion? Or does this represent a dangerous retreat from politics as a contest of ideas and an attempt by politicians to outsource responsibility? And what would a progressive 21st century drugs policy look like?
Speaker: Tony Gilland, science & society director, Institute of Ideas
This ‘revolt of the experts’ is revolting
Brendan O’Neill spiked 2 November 2009
Drugs: Prejudice and political weakness have rejected scientific facts
Observer 1 November 2009
Don’t forget: cannabis comes from ruthless, violent men
Tom Whipple The Times 31 October 2009
LSD less dangerous than alcohol, says government’s drugs adviser
The Times 29 October 2009
For the public good, set the science free
Tom Addiscott Manifesto Club 2009
Thursday 1 October
Cut the crap – do we need to cut public spending?
It’s party conference season and all parties now seem to agree that the state must balance its books: Cameron has been calling for an ‘age of austerity’, Brown admitted to the TUC that cuts are now ‘inevitable’ and Clegg tried to trump them both by saying we need ‘savage’ cuts… before later retracting. The recession has left a yawning gap in public finances but there is actually little consensus on what and how deep the ‘cuts’ should be.
What are the factors driving the demand for cuts, and is there really no choice in the matter? Is there any difference between ‘gleeful’ Tory cuts and ‘responsible’ Labour ones? What will be the impact of reductions in public spending when, for example, 75% of employment in Newcastle is in the public sector? There is a reluctance to see frontline services affected but at the same time there is little idea of how the state might spend in order to start the recovery. What should the state be doing in the recession? And why, in contrast to previous periods of downturn, has the social response been so muted?
Speaker: Rob Lyons, deputy editor, spiked
State Capitalism in Britain
James Heartfield, MetaMute, 24 June 2009
Slash public-sector non-jobs, not power plants, roads and rail links
Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph, 21 September 2009
Where your money goes: the definitive atlas of UK government spending (pdf)
Guardian, 13 September 2009
David Cameron warns of 'new age of austerity'
Deborah Summers, Guardian, 26 April 2009
The cuts ‘debate’, dumb, dumber and dumberer
Rob Killick, UK after the recession blog, 22 September 2009
Sunday 13 September
"Take them away" - children and families in 'Broken Britain'
Following the case of the two Edlington brothers who have admitted viciously attacking and torturing boys of nine and 11, the issue of child protection is once again in the spotlight. In a recent interview Martin Narey, Chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's urged 'brave action' from social workers, suggesting that society should be prepared to intervene in families where children are 'at risk' far earlier than is currently the case, and indeed insist on enforced adoption if necessary. Whilst critics argue for restraint, others suggest that the failure of 'the system' to catch cases such as the Edlington Brothers and Baby P suggest that a more radical approach is needed. As politicians and pundits suggest myriad new procedures to prevent future tragedies, is society in danger of becoming over-obsessed with child safety, when in truth such terrible events are rare? When is the right time, if any, for the state to intervene in family life? And what might be the dangers of sanctioning the kind of measures that are currently being proposed?
Speaker: Dave Clements (writer on social policy; co-editor, The Future of Community)
Blaming the public for social works' problems
Ken McLaughlin, spiked, 7 September 2009
Take more babies away from bad parents, says Barnardo's chief
Tracy McVeigh, Guardian, 6 September 2009
Forcing vile parents to have their babies adopted will stop this evil
Minette Marin, The Times, 6 September 2009
Thursday 20 August
Special holiday CAF: Film + discussion
The next CAF will be an informal event, with a trip to see new French/Swiss film Home, followed by an informal discussion of the contemporary themes it touches upon:
A family’s peaceful existence is threatened when a busy highway is opened only meters away from their isolated house. Refusing to move, Marthe (Isabelle Huppert), Michel (Gourmet) and their three children find innovative ways to adapt to their new environment. They continue their happy-go-lucky routine despite the daily stress of hundreds of noisy speeding cars. An impressive road movie in reverse that contains echoes of Godard’s Week End in its critique of a consumerist society. Home is a delightfully off-beat work, with impressive performances, and a distinguished visual sensibility (courtesy of DOP Agnès Godard) that matches the visual intensity of Edward Hopper with the surreal wit of David Lynch.
The film has been described by critics as a ‘contemporary eco-fable’ and ‘an allegory about the dehumanising effects of modernity’, and by its director Ursula Meier as ‘a road movie in which nobody goes anywhere.’ A trailer for Home can be seen at Times Online.
We will attend the 18:30 screening at the Renoir Cinema (Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AW) before moving on to a nearby pub where CAF committee member Dave Bowden will chair a discussion.
Tickets for Home are £10 (£8) and are available by calling 0871 703 3991 or book online here.
Thursday 16 July
Special CAF on Anti-Consumerism
One narrative of the recession claims that over-consumption, particularly in the US and UK, is to blame: we've all been living beyond our means and the recession is our come-uppance. But critiques of consumerism long pre-date the crash, with influential accounts from across the political spectrum placing moral, social, economic and environmental problems at the door of 'rampant consumerism'. On 7 July, a similar critique emerged from a more traditional source. The Pope's first encyclical on social issues called for an 'ethical dimension' to capitalism and urged society to undertake a 'serious review of its lifestyle, which in many parts of the world is prone to hedonism and consumerism...' - an argument which finds accord with constituencies far beyond that of religious moralists.
This forum, CAF members will attend 'All Consuming', a debate on consumerism being held at the RSA (18.00 - 19.15), before adjourning to The Lemon Tree pub to discuss the issues brought up by the event and attitudes towards consumerism more broadly (19.30 - 20.30). We will also be joined by one of the speakers, the financial journalist Daniel Ben-Ami.
Tickets to the RSA event are free, but we urge you to reserve your place ASAP to avoid disappointment. Even if you are not able to make the RSA event, please do come to the pub for the discussion afterwards.
All Consuming @ The RSA: http://is.gd/1qRA6
The Lemon Tree is only a couple of blocks away from the RSA, just across The Strand. 4 Bedfordbury, London, WC2N 4BP
Aping the super-rich
Neal Lawson, Guardian Comment is free, 20 June 2008
Cynical capitalism, cynical anti-capitalism
Dolan Cummings, Culture Wars, 4 March 2008
Is consumerism really dead?
David Aaronovitch, The Times, 24 January 2009
Sunday 31 May
The expenses scandal: The people's revenge or the death of democracy?
As more and more MPs are exposed for having used the House of Commons expenses system to buy everything from plasma TVs to horse manure, the argument put forward by journalists and various officials is that the Commons has been too free to set its own agenda. A significant degree of public outrage has followed in the wake of the Telegraph's exposures. The response from senior figures in Parliament has been to apologise and emphasise the need for reform. But does 'reform' mean more democracy or more power for unelected elements such as the police, quangos and the monarchy? What does the scandal tell us about the state of Britain's public institutions and the character of the elite? And what can explain the force of the popular response?
Speaker: Brendan O'Neill (editor, spiked-online.com)
Sunday 5 April
After the G20: What next?
In the week preceding the meeting of the G20 in London – at which world leaders will gather to try to resolve the global recession – thousands are gathering to protest on the streets. Concerns range from climate change to job insecurity and from war to third world poverty. How should we understand these multifarious groups and demands, especially in the context of what is turning out to be the greatest economic crisis for generations? The recession demands a serious response, be it from within the corridors of power or from without, but much debate seems to revolve around the extent to which we should ‘blame the bankers’. Are piecemeal economic reforms of the system adequate? Can the G20 resolve their differences and agree on a plan for economic recovery? How should we interpret the recession and popular responses to it? What are the biggest obstacles to progress today – the politicians, the financial elite, the protesters?
Introduction by Ravi Bali (IoI Emerging Economies Forum)
An invitation to riot
Brendan O'Neill, Thought Leader, 30 March 2008
It's an emergency: get your act together
Anatole Kaletsky, The Times, 12 March 2009
Seeds of its own destruction
Martin Wolf, FT, 8 March 2009
The credit crunch and the SAD economy
Phil Mullan, spiked, 3 November 2008
Special Event - Sunday 15 March
Return of the IRA?
Following the killing of two British soldiers by the Real IRA and the shooting dead of a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland by the Continuity IRA, there is much talk of ‘The Troubles’ returning to Northern Ireland. The loudest condemnation of these attacks has come from Sinn Fein, and former leaders of the Provisional IRA. Martin McGuinness, the current Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland and Gerry Adams, fellow member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and President of Sinn Fein, have urged Irish republicans to aid the police in their investigations.
The transformation of the Provisional Irish Republican movement from anti-state insurgency to partners in government has been one of the most remarkable political conversion acts of recent times. This special Current Affairs Forum will analyse the Irish Peace Process and discuss whether recent events in Northern Ireland indicate a rupture in this process, or its logical continuation.
- Ireland is Britain's oldest colony. Irish republicanism is the oldest national liberation movement in the world. Are the recent attacks by 'dissident' republicans evidence of a new stage in the anti-imperialist struggle for a united Ireland or its final death knell?
- The current Sinn Fein leadership, in the guise of Adams and McGuiness, disavow self-interest and any mention of the movement's former commitment to achieving political goals. Instead, the party has embraced the language of 'conflict resolution' and 'parity of esteem'. What has caused this shift in ambition?
Introduction by Kirk Leech (freelance journalist and researcher; former National Organiser for the Irish Freedom Movement); Chair - Suzy Dean (CAF committee)
Splintered republican dissident groups are hard to penetrate
Gerry Moriarty, Irish Times, 11 March 2009
A delayed appetite for the facts
Kirk Leech, Guardian Comment is free, 21 October 2008
From insurgency to identity
Kevin Rooney, spiked review of books, July 2008
How the British left betrayed Ireland's 1968
Michael Fitzpatrick, spiked review of books, April 2008
Time has run out for an armed IRA
Anthony McIntyre, Guardian.co.uk, 20 October 2002
Sunday 8 March
Is there more to freedom than 'civil liberties'?
Thousands are gathering across the UK to attend the Convention on Modern Liberty, an important event discussing the state of freedom and civil liberties today. Concerns range from the introduction of laws such as the “Information Sharing” Clause 152 in the Coroners and Justice Bill, to the imminent introduction of ID cards and the pragmatic misuse of anti-terror legislation.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw argues that the idea there is a groundswell of concern is not supported by communication with his constituents. Many people, he says, will welcome the “freedom to live without fear in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect”. Indeed some say restrictions on our liberties should go even further: ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone has recently argued that “luxuries” such as flying and even eating meat should now be rationed in order to secure our planet from global warming.
- Is Britain “sleepwalking into a surveillance state”, or are our freedoms protected by the Human Rights Act?
- Is the concern about the erosion of our liberties limited to a vocal minority of society, with the majority recognising this to be necessary?
- Is the reason civil liberties are being curbed just because of the war on terror?
- In the light of the Convention on Modern Liberty, how should we campaign in defence of freedom in the 21st Century?
Introduction by Josie Appleton (Manifesto Club); chair - Patrick Hayes (CAF committee)
Our record isn't perfect. But talk of a police state is daft
Jack Straw, Guardian, 27 February 2009
Yesterday saw the birth of a great movement for liberty
Henry Porter, Guardian, 1 March 2009
Joni Mitchell was right, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
Suzanne Moore, Daily Mail, 2 March 2009
The Manifesto Club: History is still young
Josie Appleton, spiked, 2 May 2006
Our liberties need more than a bill of rights
Marcel Berlins, Guardian, 2 March 2009
After the convention, what next for liberty?
Tim Black, spiked, 2 March 2009
Can we save the planet and keep our freedoms?
Ken Livingstone et al, British Library - Podcast, 14 January 2009
Sunday 8 February
The fight over flight: what's the problem with travel?
Recent months have seen demonstrations by anti-flying groups opposed to the building of a third runway at Heathrow. After expansion was given the go-ahead on 15 January, further protests have been planned. Meanwhile, the rhetoric against cheap flights has been stepped up, with environmental groups attacking flying as an ‘unnecessary luxury’ that will seriously damage the planet. Despite this, government, industry and some unions have argued that further expansion is an economic necessity. But so far, few have made a case for better transport as a means to travel more freely – surely a good in its own right?
- What’s behind the moralisation of flying – is it mere snobbery?
- Should addressing climate change take precedence over faster, cheaper, better transport?
- Is ‘trains not planes’ a rational solution to the problem?
- Why is there so much resistance to development when there is widespread disgruntlement over the state of the UK’s transport infrastructure?
Introduction by Pete Smith (Director of Tourism, School of Management & Social Sciences, St Mary's University College); Chair - Alex Hochuli (CAF Committee member)
Bring on the third runway – it’s a gift to the green movement
Andrew Gilligan, Evening Standard, 15 January 2009
A runway for jobs? It’s time aviation’s bluff was called
Simon Jenkins, Guardian, 14 January 2009
Ecotourism: holier-than-thou holidays
Peter Smith, spiked review of books, Issue 4 (August 2007)
Transport innovation: slowing to a standstill
James Woudhuysen, spiked, 31 October 2006
The menace of cheap travel
Mark Khazar, Battles in Print, 1 October 2006
The Social Consequences of Hypermobility
John Adams, RSA lecture, 21 November 2001
George Monbiot, Monbiot.com, 29 July 1999
Sunday 11 January
Are we all Hamas now? The siege of Gaza and the Israel-Palestine conflict
Following the failure of Hamas to renew a truce with Israel on 19 December, hostilities have escalated to the point of an Israeli Defence Forces bombing and ground offensive. Open gun battles in Gaza have worsened an already dire humanitarian situation brought on by the blockade of the Strip. Shimon Peres claims to be ‘teaching Hamas a lesson’; but what is the wider meaning of this offensive, especially in light of the 2005 pull-out of Gaza and impact of the summer 2006 Lebanon war?
- Is this just another, albeit particularly bloody, flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians or does this mark a new phase in the conflict and what are the prospects for resolution?
- What are Hamas’ aims and what explains their popularity – in Gaza and beyond?
- Is Israel motivated by a Zionist, expansionist ideology or by narrower security concerns?
- What hope is there for a two-, one-, or no-state solution?
- What does the ‘taking sides’ in the conflict over here reveal about imperialism and anti-imperialism today?
Introduction by Karl Sharro (architect, writer and commentator on Middle East politics); Chair - Alex Hochuli (CAF Committee member)
War in Gaza: extensive coverage
'Gaza is more than a simplistic morality tale'
Mick Hume, The Times, 29 December
How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe
Avi Shlaim, Guardian, 07 January
Several articles: bitterlemons.org
Several articles: openDemocracy
Battle of Ideas 2008 debate
Sunday 7 December
Police state or policing the state?
The arrest of Tory shadow immigration minister Damian Green last week has sparked a ferocious debate. Whilst many claim that the police's 'Stalinist' tactics are a step too far, others maintain that MPs shouldn't be above the law. This scandal comes in the wake of several years of what many see as an increasingly authoritarian shift of power towards the state.
- Is Green's arrest the latest step along the road to a police state, or a storm in a teacup?
- Should MPs have special privileges, or should they live by the same rules as the rest of us?
- Have the police got too big for their boots?
- What has happened to the political class' old parliamentary 'rules of the game'?
- What does this issue mean for all of our liberties?
Introduction by Robin Walsh (editorial assitant at a medical publisher and CAF committee member); Chair - Alex Hochuli (CAF Committee member)
Readings: Academy of Ideas Ltd, Signet House, 49-51 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JP.
Q&A: Damian Green arrested
BBC News, 1 December 2008
Tel +44 (0)20 7269 9220 Fax (0)20 7269 9235 academy@InstituteOfIdeas.com
Academy of Ideas Ltd, Signet House, 49-51 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JP.