The home secretary, Priti Patel, spoke this week at the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales in Manchester. ‘Nobody does a harder job or a better one than the police,’ she said. ‘And no one does more, in my view, to make our country great. And nobody gives greater public service.’ The opening section of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which received royal assent last month, enshrines a new ‘police covenant’. Introducing the idea in February 2020, Patel said: ‘Too many officers are paying the price for their astonishing devotion to public duty … This covenant is a pledge to do more to recognise the service and sacrifice of our police and to deliver the urgent practical support they need.’
According to Aristotle, we cannot understand something unless we understand what causes it, but ‘cause’ for Aristotle was a complex, multi-layered concept. In the case of the present war between Ukraine and Russia, Aristotle would have described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the efficient cause – the immediate precipitant – but would have argued that a fuller understanding must include the material history of Europe; the form given to that history by the Second World War and its long aftermath, which left the US in effective control of the continent; and the overall or final direction of history at stake in the conflict. I want to focus here on the form given to the conflict by America’s preponderant role in European politics.
In Hogarth’s An Election Entertainment, depicting the 1754 Oxfordshire by-election, a placard lies on the floor: ‘Give us our Eleven Days’. The slogan refers to the adoption of the Calendar (New Style) Act, which caused eleven days in September 1752 to be removed from the calendar. The idea that there were actual riots over the erasure bobs up like a historical beachball no matter how often it is punctured. It’s all too easy to imagine people taking to the streets in outrage at the bureaucratic theft of time. UK universities were invited to begin their submissions to REF2021 in February 2020.
The results of REF2021, the latest iteration of the Research Excellence Framework assessing the quality of research at UK universities, were published last week. My institution, UCL, is boasting that it came second, above Cambridge and beaten only by Oxford. Cambridge is boasting that it came third, but behind Imperial and the Institute of Cancer Research; institutions that shouldn’t quite count, it implies, since neither covers the full range of academic endeavour. Imperial, however, is clear that it has been shown to be the UK’s top university. The same claim is made by Oxford.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran al-Jazeera journalist, was a fixture on Palestinian and Arab TV screens for more than two decades. Intrepid, sympathetic, intelligent and trustworthy, she had reported on developments in the occupied territories since the late 1990s. She was shot dead by the Israeli military in the early morning of 11 May. There was shock, grief and outrage throughout Palestine and the Middle East. Israel has killed more than forty-five journalists since 2000, but the case of Abu Akleh has taken the practice to an entirely new level.
On trains, futile reminders to ‘keep your belongings with you at all times’ and totalitarianism-lite security announcements are repeated at a nonsensical, intolerable frequency. In supermarkets, the faux friendliness of self-checkouts compounds the irritation of forgetting once again that the bagging area is on the left. Being misinformed that ‘your call is important to us’ is increasingly superseded by the even more infuriating chatbots.
On 13 May last year, people in Glasgow turned out to surround a Home Office van in the middle of a morning immigration raid at a house in Pollokshields. As a member of Glasgow No Evictions Network, living on a nearby street, I was one of the many people involved, from the string of initial WhatsApp messages and the early chaos as people blocked the van, through the eight hours of stalemate between police and gathering numbers of protesters, to the tears and elation when the van doors finally opened and the two men inside were released. Almost exactly a year later, a similar mobilisation last week outside a restaurant being raided in Nicolson Square, Edinburgh came to a similar (if less protracted) end.