Nucleus of the Matter: the Quark editorial on the migrant crisis

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in” – Matthew 25:35

In 1914, we extended our arms to Belgians fleeing from war-ravaged countryside amidst the might of the imperial German army, tearing up fields and shelling villages for a stalemate. In the 1930s, we welcomed refugees fleeing from the authoritarian shackles of the National Socialists. In 2015, we walk away?

Read the comments under Telegraph articles, or pretty much anything which could possibly be related to immigration or asylum. It’s disgusting. People putting their selfish wants before these people’s needs.

It’s time. If you think it’s time to act, time to stop hiding from the legions of hostile inhospitability and racism, time to come and nail our colours to the mast of history, please sign this petition. You could be saving lives.

Our generation has emerged into the adult world as the vanguard of the future. Let’s not begin by denying other people theirs.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991

(Headline image comes from The Independent)

It’s a dog’s life

Since an increasing number of people complain about trust issues in politics, Quark decided to put back the loyalty and faithfulness.

Using a popular app, we face-swapped a few politicians and dogs bearing some resemblance – the results are…interesting. They’re ordered alphabetically by party – will it influence your vote on 7th May?

The Conservative and Unionist Party

David Cameron and a labrador

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Sajid Javid and a Yorkshire terrier

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Boris Johnson and a golden retriever

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Green Party

Caroline Lucas and a lhasa apso

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Labour Party

Ed Balls and a shih tzu

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Ed Miliband and a beagle

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Dennis Skinner and a dog of unknown breed

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Liberal Democrats

Danny Alexander and an Irish red setter

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Nick Clegg and a Jack Russell terrier

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Scottish National Party

Alex Salmond and a pug

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United Kingdom Independence Party

Nigel Farage and a whippet

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Precedent politics

“They being subservient would be revolutionaries so as to be equals, they being equals would be revolutionaries so as to be mighty” ~ Aristotle

A slightly unhinged social outcast paces the room, desperately trying to reconcile himself with his extensive debts, both financial and social. The progressive downfall of his aristocratic family removed one source of renown and income, whilst moral degeneracy, unwise connections, filicide led a great deal of improbability about external loans.

What Lucius Sergius Catilina did have was indignation. His loss of status in the social wolf pack of the Roman republic drew out a rebellious sentiment within him, and his base desire for power and importance drove his activity. By attracting a crowd of robbers, muggers, parrides, fraudsters, thugs and by indoctrinating his principles into teenage boys, Catilina slowly built up the imperium he so violently craved.

This was a time of economic and political instability in the republic, and out of this was to grow first the Caesarian dictatorship arising from the first triumvirate and then eventually the empire out of the second triumvirate.

There isn’t a great amount of detail from the ancient sources, perhaps because no coherent economic theory existed then, but it is clear that Rome’s economy was not very healthy, bringing about a decline in the standard of living et cetera.

Perhaps spurred on by this economic downturn, many contemporary politicians and social figures were disenchanted with the way the republic was run, with the aristocratic faction holding too much sway over decisions and poor provisions in place for the various social classes within the republic and affiliated states.

Catiline preyed upon this sentiment, drawing in titans of Roman society and politics into the folds of his ‘conspiracy’. Amongst these were Julius Caesar, the archetypical populist.

Sallust’s version of Catiline’s first speech to his gathered group, whilst made up, does indeed have Catilinian flavourings to it. He incites his audience to fury by pointing out the numerous homes of the wealthy compared to the debts of those present, the privileged positions held by the powerful compared to the social obscurity of those present, the harshness and hatred with which those present were regarded by the prominent. As a populist, he manipulated common contemporary fears and mixed them with his own base ambition and lust for power.

Catiline’s feminine, aristocratic name belies the violence deployed in his putsch, thrown when Cicero was consul and targeting him, at least according to Ciceronian sources. Rising in the senate, amidst great uncertainty as to the extent of Catilina’s popularity, Cicero famously made an impassioned and highly effective speech debasing this quasi-revolutionary, beginning with the daring attack, “How long, Catilina, will you abuse our patience?”, playing on the tense and drawn-out progression of the second Catilinian conspiracy.

This speech had a dramatic effect on Roman politics and historiography thereafter. Cicero was declared the saviour of the republic, and Catilina and his companions were forced out. All the accounts take their information from Cicero, most notably Sallust, himself a bit of a wrongdoer trying to worm his way back into social favour and eternal remembrance with his historical works.

This was also an important training period for Caesar, allowing him to refine his political acumen and giving him an invaluable experience to be retained in mind for his later political career, not least the estimation of Cicero’s capabilities.

One of the primary purposes of studying Latin is to study the precedents of modern-day life and to apply them, just as with history. The deeper context and understanding provided by linguistic study affords a more complete picture of the implications of the texts, such as Sallust’s bellum Catilinae (The War of Catiline).

The Catilinian conspiracy is important not only for its implications in classical politics, but in terms of a precedent for its successors. Many parallels can be drawn between the Catilinians and certain modern parties – see if you can draw them.

This article was composed in semi-Sallustian prose which works much better in Latin than in English.

Quark interviews…Nigel Farage

Quark: At what point did you personally become resolved that leaving the European Union was the best path for the UK – after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty or earlier?

NF: Let me be clear – I love Europe, it is a great place. I am married to a European, I’ve worked for European companies and I like European cultures. But I’ve always been wary of the European Project, and pretty early on I began to suspect it had gone far beyond a simple trading deal, which is what my parents’ generation thought we’d signed up for in the first place. The Maastricht Treaty was the final straw for me – it established European citizenship and laid down the agenda for the introduction of a European currency.

Quark: UKIP appear to be winning across quite a few voters from the left-wing – former Labour voters – as well as ex-Conservative supporters. Where does that leave you on the political spectrum?

NF: Well, the first and most important aim of UKIP is to return powers from Brussels to Westminster. National sovereignty is an issue that transcends the traditional left-right dynamic of politics, and so of course we are attracting support from across the political spectrum. Some of our greatest by-election results have been in northern Labour heartlands, which proves we aren’t just taking votes from the Conservative party.

Quark: What is your response to the criticism you receive? It has been said that UKIP is inherently racist, that you are not a party for the modern world and that you simply provide an easy alternative for disaffected voters rather than any serious political intention. How do you react to that?

NF: For years, the ‘old three’ parties have tried to create a narrative that UKIP is somehow extreme or xenophobic – and in the run up to the European Elections they did all they could to perpetuate this image. They found a small minority of our candidates who had said offensive or silly things on social media and got their friends in the media to present them as if they were representative of the views of UKIP as a whole. The fact is, we are a growing party, attracting an unprecedented number of new members and candidates – a very small number of inappropriate people have sadly slipped the net and so we are improving our vetting procedures. But on the whole, the British public have seen through the establishment  smear tactics and that’s why they voted for us in such huge numbers, that’s why we came first in these European Elections. The British public know that we are a party that embraces the modern world but has respect for our nation’s traditions, something the modern Conservative party seems to have forgotten.

Quark: In 2010, you received just under 1% of the vote in Scotland, where you hold no seats. UKIP are against Scottish independence. How difficult is it for London-centric parties to carry gravitas in this election, when some polls suggest that their arguments are merely turning more Scots to support Salmond in defiance?

NF: In the European Elections we recently got our first Scottish MEP elected and we got 10.4% of the vote – we think this is [a] foundation we can build on in the future. I believe Britain is better together and I hope that Scotland votes to remain part of the Union – a union that has benefitted us all for centuries. But I believe what Salmond is offering is a form of false independence; ‘freedom’ from being governed by politicians in Westminster but no referendum on Scotland’s membership of the EU. I hope in the near future that Scotland gets the chance to vote to continue to be part of the United Kingdom and also votes for independence from the European Union.

Quark: The deputy prime minister identified one of the 3 key priorities for the EU as action on climate change. In 2008 you were somewhat averse to HRH the Prince of Wales’ calls for the EU to be the engine of action in that respect. Was this more to do with your qualms about strengthening EU bonds or about the position of the monarchy in global politics?

NF: With all due  respect to HRH the Prince of Wales, climate change is a complex issue; with ‘true believers’ on both sides. One camp insists it is the major issue affecting mankind and the other says it is not happening at all. We in UKIP would like to see an impartial, neutral Royal Commission established to examine the entire issue of climate change and report back. Then we can formulate policy based on fact, not bias.

Quark: The UKIP manifesto includes a promise to develop more grammar schools and technical colleges. However today’s youth are ever more pressured to achieve the highest grades they can. Do you think that increasing the divide between academia and practical careers will help to alleviate this or simply worsen it?

NF: In recent years, I think the way we have demeaned in Britain the idea of people learning skills and trades is just stupid. UKIP would like to see young people offered more options – from trades, apprenticeships to higher learning with all being treated as equally valid.

Quark: A few weeks ago, you made an appearance on “Have I Got News For You”. How important is it for you, as a leader, to be able to be the focus of mockery and humour?

NF: I have always been able to take a joke, and I cannot stand to think that I could become one of these pofaced political drones we see so often on television. I firmly believe you can be a serious politician but still enjoy a laugh now and again, even if it is at your own expense.

 

These questions were sent on 12th May, thus accounting for a discrepancy in dates between them and the answers, and were answered 6th/7th June due to Mr Farage’s busy schedule.

Europe: The Final Countdown

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The scores are in, the stations have closed, and Europe has chosen.

Whilst mainstream parties overall have undergone a fairly significant decrease in their share of the vote, establishment-shocking parties, benefitting from the system of proportional representation, have made quite a gain.

In the UK, UKIP have lured discontented voters from not only their closest neighbours the Conservatives but also from the left (Labour) – the main opposition party who ought to have made the most gains, going on the premise that people tend to go mostly for the opposition in an attempt to flag up their concerns during mid-term elections. The Front National in France, who tried and failed to bind themselves to UKIP, have also come out of this with a pretty strong basis of support. In Greece, on the other hand, instead of an electoral contingent defecting to further right parties, ire at the EU’s fairly hefty austerity measures* have produced a win for SYRIZA (or Coalition of the Radical Left).

The BBC, and other UK news outlets, covered their front pages with this UKIP ‘earthquake’. This says more about the seismic waves than about the actual effects of having more UKIP seats in Strasbourg than of other parties; the widespread coverage largely is centered on shock more than anything else.

This shock is because, despite professional and social media campaigns to the contrary, UKIP has overcome all 3 main Westminster parties and have won a seat in SNP/Labour territory, Scotland.

So far, all I’ve said is obvious. It’s obvious that these results have shocked the Westminster establishment; they’ve shocked people who didn’t vote for them and thought nobody else would.

But actually, these results go deeper than Strasbourg. Deeper even than the soul-searching promised by the Liberal Democrats. These elections, the first for 100 years in which neither the Conservatives or Labour have won nationally, do not only show that a large proportion of voters are disenchanted with the 3-party grip on Westminster. They do not only show that the minor partner in a coalition stands to suffer damage. They show the danger of society dismissing a party or an ideal as a non-starter and failing to combat the political threat in sufficient time.

We vote in general elections via the first-past-the-post system, so I’m not talking about UKIP winning the general election – I may be wrong, but UKIP will probably come second in a lot of constituencies which under this system will gain them few seats. Yes, an increase, but not a huge one.

In September, Scotland decides. It decides whether it will cast off its 1709 bailout banker England, thus (according to George Osbourne, Mark Carney and most of the Westminster establishment) seeing an ostensible decrease to GDP and economy and severing a fraternity of nations which has stood since the Stuarts reigned, or whether it will preserve the union.

The problem is that most people south of the border (myself included) thought that the referendum on Scottish independence would end up with an easy win by No and an embarrassing defeat for the SNP (who have otherwise enacted some fairly good policies). But, just as many people discounted UKIP, there is a risk the same thing has happened with Yes.

Every time Westminster points out a fault with independence, polls (some commissioned by the SNP, some not) seem to suggest the Yes support increases. Whilst this seems to counter reason, if true, this suggests that the decline in support for the establishment is far more substantial than thought. Not only that, but the more ardent SNP supporters feel affronted by what they perceive as English interference in Scottish life in a mindset indelibly created predominantly through the devastation of the Highland Clearances – something which Yes feeds off, and No finds near-impossible to combat.

Not only has this disenchantment or want of a protest vote led to a UKIP victory and a seismic shock for Westminster, but it could also lead to a fissure in our country which is almost irreparable. The latest poll indicates Yes at 34%, No at 46% and undecided at 20% – a victory for No – but even the conductors admit the uncertainty of those results.

I’m British, neither English nor Scottish nor Welsh nor Irish**, and the logic of splitting up all my loyalties, history and heritage is non-existent. Coupled with the economic disadvantages and loss of connection as regards trade, entertainment and culture, I am concerned that the inclination to turn away from traditional parties is going to cost our island nation in a way scarcely anticipated.

With the referendum in September, these European elections signal the final countdown. Let’s hope the results thereof stir Westminster into even greater action to campaign more fiercely for No. It is no longer safe just to assume the failure of a radical change on the basis of its dramatic nature or obvious faults.

*(which were only designed to lift them from their national economic crisis so is it really fair to complain when the end goal is so important?)

**(even though Northern Ireland technically don’t count as Britain but there isn’t really an adjectival form of ‘United Kingdom’)

Quark interviews…Nick Clegg

From L-R: Nick Clegg, Daniz Mobayen, Juliet Armstrong, Lucinda Armstrong

Quark: We know you speak a lot of languages – how useful do you find them, and do you think that in the UK they should be a more important feature of education, like English is in other European countries?

NC: I think languages are hugely important, because they just give you a window, not just onto a language, but onto a culture, onto a different way of looking at the world…and so, I think languages broaden your horizons in a way that very few other things do. Being able to speak to someone else from a different culture, different place, different continent in their language just gives you an insight into how other people see the world, and I think that’s very important, because as a general rule it’s crucial in life not just to see things as you want to see them, but how the world looks from the point of view of other people. You know, some languages are, bluntly, more useful than others: I was brought up with Dutch – my mother’s Dutch – so I was brought up as bilingual, speaking Dutch and English. I still speak Dutch to my mum. I can’t pretend Dutch is the most useful language because they all speak English better than most of us. Obviously German, French, Spanish, Chinese…these are great languages. But I think almost any language is worth learning, and I’m very pleased that one of the things we’ve been able to change while I’ve been in government is to change the rules as far as language teaching’s concerned in primary schools, get kids from an early age encouraged to learn languages. And of course, the danger is that we can afford to be lazy about languages, because they all want to speak English – English is the most useful, the global language bar none. But I don’t think we should allow that luxury to be a sort of alibi not to learn languages.

Quark: Quite right. Closely related to languages is Europe. What would you say the 3 main priorities for the EU are in perhaps the next few years?

NC: Jobs, quite simply. I think to create jobs in an open economy such as ours at a time of globalisation, unless you’re part of what is the world’s largest economy…so jobs is the first one by a long way. 2 other ones I’d probably identify are the environment – the European Union is a sort of leading force in international negotiations on climate change. Climate change by definition is one of those issues you can’t deal with on your own – you have to work with others, so I think it’s a very good thing that the European Union works together to try and raise the game generally in terms of reducing carbon emissions. And thirdly I’d say safety. I literally think there’s safety in numbers, strength in numbers. That has a very concrete meaning. A lot of criminals cross borders; crime is now an international business. You need to be able to work with others, in the EU and elsewhere, to cross borders as well. So jobs, environment, safety.

Quark: So how do you foresee the role of the EU evolving within the next decade?

NC: Well, I was asked about this on television the other day…I think the heart of it will be quite similar. The heart of it is economic, is the growth and the jobs you get by just creating them in a marketplace of 500m shoppers. But I think a lot of other things will change. I hope there’ll be less unnecessary bureaucracy, having got rid of unnecessary red tape…I was talking to a Lib Dem MEP in the area yesterday, and it’s just ludicrous, the migration of MEPs every month from Brussels to Strasbourg costing £150m every year – of course you should get rid of things like that. I just hope it’ll be a bit leaner, a bit cleaner and more transparent. But I think the basic idea behind it, which is to create collective prosperity through creating this big marketplace where 500m people can buy anything we produce here in Sheffield – I think that will remain the heart of it.

Quark: Leading onto that, what do you think are the 3 main arguments for the UK staying in the EU?

NC: Probably the same as what I said earlier, actually – jobs, protecting the environment and safety – but of those, I think jobs…I just don’t see how in a footloose fancy freedom…we’ve got this great debate going on at the moment about Pfizer takes over AstraZeneca – that is just one of the realities of modern globalisation. We’ve got this huge commercial interest – we’re able to, at the push of a button, transfer huge amounts of money from one hemisphere to the next. The idea that somehow, in the face of that modern, globalised reality, we just retreat and cower in a corner and hope that things will sort themselves out – I really do think it’s a dangerous fantasy.

Quark: So what’s your opinion of EU-wide legislation, for example the new reforms to data protection? Do you think it simply over-complicates existing legislation of individual member states?

NC: Oh yes. Some laws aren’t necessary, are disproportionate or are not well-crafted. But, by the way, that happens nationally as well as at an EU-level. And sometimes, it’s painstakingly and mind-numbingly long and laborious, the way some of these decisions are made. I remember when I was working in the European Union – it took 15 years to decide a chocolate directive. Literally a decade and a half to decide the definition of chocolate. So you know, of course…anything…I tear my hair out in Whitehall, quite often, certainly in Westminster – of course there needs to be a reform, of course some decisions are taken which aren’t too smart or should be revised. But I don’t think you solve that by quitting it, that’s the thing: you don’t reform anything by just walking away from it.

Quark: How important would you say a European alliance is now, with the rise of the Asiatic powers? Today, Vladimir Putin has been making public speeches in Moscow and in the Crimea…

NC: Russia’s a very good example. In the long run, Putin needs Europe more than Europe needs Putin. I say in the long run, because in the short run he sells all the gas, particularly to Germany and Italy. I think what will happen in response to this crisis is that the EU will quietly work up strategies to create greater independence from Russian oil and gas, because I think the lesson has been learned in the past 7 weeks that we can’t rely on such a volatile and erratic partner such as Vladimir Putin. And that will damage Russia, and of course Europe is an economic superpower compared to Russia. It’s very important that we speak with one voice, and use that economic clout to make clear that Russia’s behaviour is totally out of order. I think in the long run, Russia will have to mend fences with the EU. There’s no future for Russia, as an economy so heavily dependent on a huge global economy like the EU, there’s no future for Russia without the European Union.

Quark: One bone of contention between Russia and the West at the moment is that they’re habouring Edward Snowden. How do you think we can balance, effectively, national security and the human right to privacy?

NC: [chuckles] I think that’s one of the great debates and challenges of our time. It’s one of the…it’s a sort of classic, can I put it like this, liberal dilemma; how do you protect civil rights, civil liberties and so on when you’re also having to deal with unbelievably sophisticated threats in which the online world is as much a threat to our safety as it is an opportunity. I think the only way you really can square the circle between privacy and security is to add a very healthy dose of accountability, to make sure the intelligence agencies operating on our behalf operate obviously within the law – as they do – and also are constantly scrutinised, so that their activities are only proportionate to the threats they’re trying to deal with. When things go wrong I think we can get uneasy is when there are proposals to scoop up great harvests of data, even from people who are innocent of any wrongdoing. So that’s why I vetoed this idea within government to block what was known as a ‘snooper’s charter’, which basically would have locked any website that you visit, in a year from the first forward slash, and I just thought that was a disproportionate response, storing everyone who is innocent’s internet traffic. That’s the balance we need to strike, and there a number of ways I think we can improve the transparency and scrutiny within which intelligence agencies work, and the proportionality with which information is retained for anti-terrorism and crime-busting purposes.

Quark: Part of the EU data protection reform includes the right to be forgotten. For youth, that means that if somebody gets drunk and puts it on Facebook, Facebook has the responsibility to remove those images. Isn’t it better to educate them not to do that in the first place?

NC: Yes, of course. I think there is an issue…my generation – I’m 47…oh gosh…if I thought everything I’d ever got up to as a youngster was on Facebook I doubt I’d ever have got into politics. No, it’s a serious point, this. I think there’s a level of confessional transparency through social media now which has never happened before. All young people do things about which they’re later embarrassed, or regret, and I think it’s important to remember that what you do one day can be a source of great regret later on.

Quark: To what extent do you think the rise of UKIP in the public eye has been facilitated by the failings of the EU to address everyday British problems?

NC: My own view is that it actually goes slightly deeper than that. Of course there are plenty of things you could say which could be changed about the European Union, which need to be reformed. My own view, having listened to lots of people who are inclined to support UKIP, is that it goes a bit deeper and wider than that. I think there’s quite a widespread sense of fear and insecurity and anxiety after the catastrophe of what happened in the economy in 2008 – people are worried about buying a house, paying their bills, finding a job…and so, as night follows day, I think what happens if you have lots of people who are fearful, you have populists providing very simple answers. And I think UKIP’s not alone – there are sort of Farage-types in every single European democracy at the moment, exactly the same debate going on. I was in – I think you’ll understand this with your German actually – I was in Austria the other day, and there are great big posters of 2 eerie-looking sort of Farage-lookalike politicians, campaigning for the Freedom Party, which a UKIP-style party there. Their tagline was “Wir verstehen Eure Wut” – “We understand your fury” – so you’ve got this kind of phenomenon between populism and feeding people’s fear. And also I think for some people appealing to a sense that some voters, not exclusively but often older voters, might uncomfortable with some of the things in modern life, you know, they might not like same-sex marriage or the fact that thankfully more women are now in work rather than just stay at home. They don’t like what’s on the internet, they don’t like what’s on telly, they don’t like what people wear – there’s a sort of hankering for a past that maybe no longer exists, but the past nevertheless is a very strong impulse. I think that’s what UKIP’s appealing to, and that’s the reason I decided to have these debates with Nigel Farage. I’m being told constantly that I came off the worse in those debates, but I nonetheless was keen to do so and would do so again because I say you can’t win an argument unless you’re prepared to have an argument. You can’t change those deep-seated issues in a few hours’ debate, but you can start to try and challenge them, because before you know it, if we don’t challenge them, we’ll be out of the European Union and will have turned the clock back. It would be a very bad thing.

Quark: So how do you go about capturing those disaffected of the UKIP vote? I [Juliet Armstrong] was recently in the north-east, in a very Labour-centric area, but it was fairly astounding, the number of people who used to vote for the left-wing but now vote for the right-wing. Since the Liberal Democrats are really in the middle, how can you go about capturing that vote?

NC: I think anything that breeds despair and a sense of hopelessness about the modern world is a gift to populists. If you sort of feel that things are happening to you and you’ve got no control over it, if you’re fearful about the future, if you despair about modern Britain, and of course someone like Nigel Farage comes along and says, “Well it’s all the immigrants’ fault”, it sounds terribly seductive – “Oh yes, all our problems can be blamed on somebody else.” You have to show that you’ve got solutions to those problems, and that’s why I try, myself, not to argue about this personality or that personality, and certainly not to do what Labour’s now doing – slagging a whole load of people off, myself included – but to say “Look” – to sort of spell out in coherent terms – “If you want to address those fears and that anxiety, if you want to keep streets safe, if you want to make sure there’s a safe environment for our kids, if you want to create more jobs, if you want to put money in people’s pockets so they can pay their bills, there is no short-cut but to keep our economy strong and open and not to pull the drawbridge up.” If someone has a better idea, please stick it on a postcard. I can’t think of a better way than trying to explain that turning your back on the modern world is not an answer to those fears.

Quark: Talking about the general election – if you had the chance again, say this was 2010 again, would you enter the coalition, knowing you’d have to make so many policy compromises?

NC: Yes. Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. The longer time goes on, the more I feel vindicated for that decision, rather than the reverse. Memories are quite short sometimes – I think people sometimes forget what it was like in 2010. There were riots on the streets of Athens, Alastair Darling was flying to an emergency finance minister’s meeting on the Sunday, people like me were being telephoned saying, “If you don’t have a government on Monday the bond markets will go crazy; interest rates will go up, unemployment rates will go up…”. There was a real sense that we were on a precipice economically. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we, obviously at some considerable short-term cost, that we stepped up to the plate to try and provide a remedy to the really deep-seated economic crisis that ensued after the crash in 2008. And then, of course, we were put under huge pressure to buckle and change course – do you remember? The endless “PLAN B, PLAN B!” and all the rest of it…the fact we not only entered into coalition but then stuck to a plan to try and create a sense of stability for the economy…and now in the city we’re in now, in Sheffield, we have lower numbers of employment than ever before, lower numbers of NEETs  – young people not in employment, education or training, larger numbers of people in apprenticeships than any other northern city. That really makes me really proud, because one of that would have happened if we hadn’t stuck to our guns…but yes, no-one needs to remind me that there are some people who are unhappy about that. There were some agonising decisions, controversial and unpopular decisions made notably on higher education. But do you think I will look back on it and think, “Well, at least I tried to do the best thing for the country as a whole” – yes I do.

Quark: What image of the Liberal Democrats do you want to produce for 2015? Not to compare you to him, but Lenin summed up the Bolsheviks in 1917 as “Peace, bread and land”. If you could make a similarly catchy slogan, what would you say it was?

NC: [laughs] We’re open, we’re fair and we’re green. I think openness is really important at a time when so many populists now want to close the gate, lock the door and pull up the drawbridge. Fairness is essential as we put the economy on a surer footing, and that’s why everything from better pensions, fairer taxes and more apprenticeships have been so important to me. And green because I think it remains one of those huge huge generational challenges that we can’t just hide away from.

Quark: If we look back at the Liberal Democrats’ time in government, there have been a few scandals, with Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and The Telegraph, Lord Rennard as well – how difficult is it for you, as a leader, to draw people together, to try to negate negative press attention and to try and focus on politics rather than the actual scandals?

NC: It’s a very difficult job. The nature of modern politics…it’s a rough business. Particularly – not saying this in a self-pitying way, but the Lib Dems don’t have any vested interest in the press – there’s no-one there to stand up for us. We’ve got lots of people, left and right, constantly wanting to do us down, so you have to cope with a constant barrage of incoming fire. Some of it might be fair – a lot of it, frankly, is not – but you just have to try to deal with them as they come. But whatever the press might throw at me, I will always defend their right to throw stuff. I think it’s essential in a liberal, open society that the press can be as rude and as challenging and as aggressive as they wish to people in power, because that’s one of the checks and balances we have in our democracy.

Quark: Our final question: what’s your opinion of programmes like “Have I Got News For You”?

NC: I don’t watch…I used to watch it a bit. I used to like it. I just don’t watch that much television any more…no I think it’s a good programme. Why? You mean in terms of what they say about me and stuff?

Quark: We just wondered what your opinion was of it generally: how they analyse the news, when they have guests. Farage was on it the other day – they don’t hold back even when they’re on it – John Prescott for example…

NC: I heard about that, didn’t see it. I think one of the great things which sets us apart from any other country is that we use humour in a much more iconoclastic way than they do in other countries. I think, in other countries, politics is such a…humourless business. When you go into politics, you have to have a thick skin, and you also have to be able to laugh at yourself, otherwise you’d just go spare. I think “Have I Got News For You” is the latest in a long line of that very, very fine and very, very British tradition of satire and mockery of people in public life. Long may it continue.

In-tin-Peran-dence?

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Today, something sizeable is changing in British politics and it isn’t Boris Johnson’s hairstyle. Today, the UK officially has a new native ethnic minority: the Cornish Celts. Despite 2,200 complaints registered about Cornish mumblings this past week*, there is a distinctly more positive sound regarding this latest development.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury responsible for announcing the legal protection of the Cornish today in Bodmin, is the MP for Inverness, Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey, a region also notable for breeding separatist sentiment. Happily I am well acquainted with both Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands, having spent roughly 3.84% of my life so far in each place.

These two regions are fairly similar. Both have had a rather illustrious history of anti-governmental feeling, which today translates into lobbying for independence/devolution/further recognition. In 1497, thousands of Cornishmen put the security of the Tudor dynasty in doubt as they “swarmed through southern England”** in a rebellion initiated by “swingeing taxation and and corrupt officialdom”. The pretender Perkin Warbeck (masquerading as the younger of the Princes in the Tower) landed in Cornwall, following the gruesome executions of the rebellion’s leaders subsequent to their defeat at Blackheath outside London, and preyed upon the airs of revolt to summon thousands more Cornishmen to his standard and snatch the rosy complexion from England. Unfortunately for him, Henry (VII) was this time far better prepared and inflicted a massive defeat at Taunton with his “vastly superior forces”. During the English Civil War, Cornwall was a firm royalist support base. Throughout much of documented history, the Cornish Celts have resented centralised governmental influences since a certain faction believe themselves to be different.

The Highlands of Scotland underwent huge deprivation during the 18th century as a result of their support of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 Jacobite uprising (in addition to a less well-known one led by his father 30 years before). Despite comprehensive victories on the path to London, they were defeated (comprehensively) upon their retreat at Culloden, which lies in Alexander’s constituency. Even today there is no little pride in this involvement, a romanticised view owing in no small part to Sir Walter Scott. The banning of tartan, bagpipes and any demonstrations akin to Jacobite/Highlander pride, twinned with the Highland Clearances***, have not, it is fair to say, aided amiability between Westminster and the Highlands through time. Again, there exists a certain faction who believe themselves to be different.

Ever since the Act of Union in 1707, with the monarchies of England and Scotland having been united in 1603 (and Ireland and Wales already taken under the English regal fold prior to that), Westminster has endeavoured to unite the United Kingdom. Inevitably, certain factions will always feel that they are unheard and that they are being compromised. For the Highlands, with Scottish devolution in 1999, there has to some extent been a lessening of that pressure. But, since “Devo-Max” is off the cards, September will tell us whether or not a centralised London government bears the confidence of the people it represents and governs. For Cornwall, recognition as not being English now clearly marks them out as different. The Scots, Welsh and Irish – the most prominent native ethnic minorities – all have devolved parliaments and governments; after years of persistent lobbying and petitioning headed by Cornish MP Dan Rogerson, will this be the first stone towards devolution?

The Cornish are predominantly a Celtic race, and the language is strikingly similar to both Welsh and (less so) to Scots and Irish Gaelic. These races sometimes believe them to be the true Brits – after all, the original “British” were Celts, and their descendants are now largely believed to be the Welsh and Cornish, driven into the corners of the island by invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes. If these minorities, with their roots in the soil of ancient Britannia****, have gained recognition or devolution, will the English get a devolved parliament? Certain factions favour this, too. Perhaps this symbolic move by the coalition also signifies their respect for difference and diversity within one union of peoples, a move to dissuade the Scots from voting with Salmond in September.

So, exactly what does this mean for now? It means that the government will actively strive to protect the Cornish from racial discrimination, whilst making extra room for Cornish views during legislative discussions and promoting Cornish pride. Maybe St Piran’s Day (5th March) will be more widely celebrated, the pasty tax abolished and the legend of King Arthur revitalised. And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a new parliament in Falmouth.

As I opine, we ought to stick together. As David Cameron often says, diversity enriches our union, and to break it up for every faction who desires a better deal for themselves would be like getting a divorce because one person wants Crunchy Nut and the other Special K. There is room to buy both; there will always be room, provided we respect each other’s opinions and include them in valid and open discussion, which the new status of minority will help to ensure.

The Scottish independence referendum will take place on 18th September 2014.

*Jamaica Inn

**Thomas Penn, Winter King

***during which sheep were considered more valuable than the native Scots, forcing mass emigration to the US and Canada since the land was requisitioned by English landlords

****from a linguistic point-of-view, it’s also intriguing that “Britannia”/”Britain” and “Brittany”/”Bretagne” are so similar, given that genealogists believe the Cornish to be ethnically the same as Bretons