Whose Study Abroad is it Anyway? – Study Abroad Survival Tips.

Just call me the Bear Grylls of study abroad adventuring and survival.

Allow me to say this: studying abroad is a worthwhile, enriching experience. My time in America was truly wonderful; I left brimming with memories, new friends and experiences. As I stated in a recent blog post on the subject – my one year anniversary of departure – I simply have so many things to say about my year, and so many people to thank and so many reasons to be grateful. Should anyone reading this be contemplating a study abroad year, I cannot recommend it enough. It will challenge you, you will suffer homesickness and culture shock. But, you will have laughter, friends, love and memories galore throughout. You will return home not quite the same as you had left, with a full heart and new eyes. And what could be better than that?

Yet, to make the most out of your year and to ensure you stay safe (and obviously keep your family reassured) careful and thorough preparation and planning is essential. I also discovered this when studying abroad. And, even though at times I felt I was as prepared and organised as I could be, and confident in my belief that nothing could go wrong, surprises were always just around the corner.

Leaving home to study abroad is a wonderful opportunity. Make sure you are fully prepared!

Cue this post: Studying Abroad Survival Tips 101.

Yes, studying abroad is extremely fun and really changes you as a person. Yet, you would be amazed at the amount of planning and preparation involved, which is necessary to have as safe and enjoyable experience as possible. Even after the Orientation programme organised by the British Council, even after my own research and prep, even after the Orientation workshops for international students at my American host college put on by the International advisers – there were still many little things that took me by surprise.

My mantra? Always expect the unexpected.

After arriving home – and basically causing my parents to question their patience with the many “oh, did I tell you about the time when…” story introductions – I decided to write and record a podcast discussing my tips and advice for studying aboard.

It covers the all-important beginning prep, including visas, passports and flights through to college/campus life and everything in between. My main points are that you should research as much as possible, be prepared to throw yourself into the deep end at your host college, meet as many people as you can and always take care and stay safe.

The constant golden rule of studying abroad, irrespective of destination: Be aware of legal differences, your financial situation and ensure you budget for your time abroad.

In sum: always expect the unexpected, be prepared to have to learn on your feet and have fun!

You can listen to my podcast here; the transcript is provided below. For anyone who may be hard of hearing, who simply prefers reading or finds my accent disconcerting (alas, I am not the female equivalent of Danny O’Donoghue) you can opt to just read the transcript. I will not be offended, promise!

Packing yourself into a suitcase is not advised.
Packing yourself into a suitcase is not advised.

Podcast transcript: ‘Whose Study Abroad is it Anyway?’

“Hello, it’s Leah here. Welcome to the ‘Whose Study Abroad is it Anyway?’ podcast, where I will share with you my tips and advice regarding undertaking a study abroad experience. I myself found that whilst you can always prepare and plan, surprises tend to pop up when you least expect them. However, these unforeseen challenges can be easily tackled if you are prepared to face them – sometimes you can even prevent surprises from occurring through careful attention to detail whilst planning. On that note, let’s get started.

I’m going to walk you through a study abroad trip from the very beginning. For me, going to study in the USA meant I had many issues to sort out prior to even setting foot in the country and establishing myself at my host college. Legal issues and travel tips will now abound.

1. Visas, papers, passport: I cannot stress the importance of having all your legal documents sorted prior to departure. Some countries, such as America, will require you to have a student visa. Speak to your college’s international team about what they will issue you, and research it to see if it has any limitations. For example, student visas, whether a J1 or a F1 in America, tend to restrict foreign students from gaining paid employment off campus.

You may also need to travel with additional papers – in America, I had a ‘i90’ which basically confirmed I was a student at my host college. I had to present it as proof of identity and status whenever I was at an ‘US pre-clearance’ at Dublin Airport. I would also suggest you retain a copy of your acceptance letter from your host college and proof of payment of your legal documents, for example the visa. Always keep copies of the originals with you, and keep copies at home with your family.
PASSPORT. Never ever lose sight of your passport. If you have a visa attached to it, make sure both are kept clear of being defaced. Always keep track of the expiry date of both your passport and your visa. You don’t want to overstay your welcome and spark a diplomatic incident, right?

2. Insurance: buy insurance for any electronic belongings, such as laptops and phones you are bringing. If it would be the end of the world to lose it, then pay to have it covered.
If you are going abroad for an extensive period of time, health insurance is a must. Especially if you’re heading to America – you won’t find a NHS there! Research companies that specialise in student study abroad health insurance and find the quote that’s right for you. Print out copies of your policy, and again leave a copy with your family.

3. Money: budget for your experience, and make sure to save up before you go. Be aware of the currency you will need and the exchange rate – sometimes a day can make the difference between getting a bit more for your money or losing out. If studying abroad for more than a semester, consider setting up a bank account in your host country. I used US Bank when abroad, and my branch had experience with international students and were always helpful and approachable.
Always take care with money, especially when travelling or on nights out. Check your statements carefully each month and make sure you recognise what is listed. Inform your home bank that you will be living abroad, so they can update your contact details and keep an eye on your account for any suspicious activity. My home bank of First Trust managed to prevent a fraudster hacking into my account when I was in America because of this.

4. Packing: ah, nothing reminds you of your upcoming adventures like packing. A few words of advice: know the luggage restrictions for your airline, pack wisely for the seasons of your host country and remember that you can buy necessary items there. Also consider that you will undoubtedly want to bring things back home – I went away with one suitcase and came back with two. Make sure you have your name, contact details and destination address along with flight numbers written clearly on the suitcase tags.

5. Flights: always have copies of your itinerary, plane tickets and travel information on hand and leave copies at home. You can download apps to monitor your flights, check for weather warnings and so on. Also, always be safe when in airports. Keep ahold of your luggage, make sure you are checked in for all flights, and be prepared for immigration and border control screenings. This is especially true if travelling to America. Be prepared for a long-haul before you even settle down for a long-haul flight.

6. Time differences: be prepared for jet-lag and having to adapt to time-zone differences. Going to America last summer rendered me into a comatose state for around two weeks. Be sensible about getting a decent amount of sleep and taking care of yourself.

7. Contact information: have contact details for your international team at your host college and keep them updated when travelling to and around the country. Remember, they are there to support you, so if you are having problems settling in or have any questions, drop them a line.

And lastly:

8. Laws and regulations: be aware that there will be differences in the laws of your host country. For example, in America, the legal drinking age is 21, compared to 18 in many European countries. Adhere to the laws and regulations of your host country; ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse!

Well, you have sorted all of that out and are now in your host college. But what’s this? Why is everything different and strange? Roll on the tips for college life.

1. Safety first: you will find that you will be invited to a lot of parties and nights out. Always make sure you know where you are, and who you’re with. Never leave any drinks unattended, do not wander about in a strange place without company and check in with friends via text and messenger. Again, remember local laws and don’t feel pressured to try illicit substances to ‘fit in’. Know the numbers of the security team and your residential RA on campus if studying at a residential campus. If renting an apartment, save the number of your landlord/lady. Make sure you lock everything up at night, keep any keys on your person and never leave money lying around.

2. Socialise! Studying abroad isn’t just about academics. Put yourself out there and meet new people and make new friends. You can join clubs on campus with shared interests, or go crazy and sign up for a new hobby. People will want to get to know you as you will stand out from the crowd as a foreign student, so simply engage in conversations, smile and answer all those interested questions: you will have fun and make new friends in the process.

3. Prep work: read up on your host college, get to know the campus and buildings so you can find your way around and make a point to see your international and academic advisers. Plan your classes accordingly and make a schedule to help you get your assignments completed and find time for fun and socialising.

4. Confusion: oh well -teaching methods and assessment may be different than what you are used to. If you are having difficulty, speak to your professors, international advisers and you will be surprised at how accommodating and understanding they will be.

5. With a little help from my friends: cultural shock, classes, college life… it can be stressful. But remember: your new friends are there to support and help you. Whether with understanding a cultural difference, collective study sessions or even just to have coffee, and relax over Netflix together, your friends will get you through it.

6. Media maelstrom: stay on top of news and current affairs in both your host and home country. It not only helps you engage in conversation, make new friends and with your classes, but it gives you a heads up if there are travel warnings. When I was in America, there was an initial flurry of media panic over the presence of Ebola in Texas and travel restrictions were temporarily implemented across several states.

7. Cultural differences: social interactions, language, expressions, food, brands… Prepare for a whole new world. Your new friends and international advisers can help you out here.

8. Homesickness: this is inevitable. You will miss home, you will miss family and friends. But remember that you are undertaking the adventure of a lifetime. You want to make the most of it, and your family and friends will want you to be happy. Don’t huddle under the duvet in your room – go out and through yourself into student life. Go to student organisations, have lunch and coffee dates with friends, have a trip to the local cinema, have a tourist trip around a city… This will help combat homesickness, believe me. And always remember that thanks to the wonders of modern technology, your family and friends are a click away on Skype, FaceTime and Facebook. Consider apps such as Viber and WhatsApp too for free messaging and phone calls home – just make sure you are connected to the wifi beforehand!

9. Who you gonna call?: we are all a step away from having our smartphones surgically attached to our hands, but heads up: mobile companies love charging those wandering abroad. You could end up with a nasty shock when you receive your monthly statement from your mobile company. What I did in America was use my iPhone from home for everything but calls and texts home, using the social media apps to contact home. I invested in a basic mobile from AT&T to call and text my American folks, paying $25 a month for this. Alternatively, you can always buy a SIM card from a company in your host country for your own mobile – compare prices for the contract most suitable for you.

10. Soak up the life: consider an internship, volunteering, going for road trips and staying with your friends’ families if possible: you will get more than a glimpse of a new way of life in your host country through such adventures, and you make a lot of memories in doing so.


11. Relationships: the dating scene can be very different in your host country, with different customs and culture. Just always take care of yourself and stay safe. Ask your new friends about it; you would be amazed at the amount of times I had to ask my roomies in America about different things.

Well, hopefully all the above tips and advice can help you tackle surprises and challenges, but also get the best out of your study abroad experience.

To students preparing to travel: All the best, take care and enjoy! Thanks for listening, this is Leah signing off.

If you want to find out more about my year abroad and my American adventures, why not check out my website


Getting by with a little help from your Buddies.

Paraphrasing The Beatles aside, this is an exciting post for me to share with you all today, focusing as it does on the amazing International Buddy Scheme programme at my university of Queen’s University Belfast (hereafter QUB).

Queen’s University Belfast – céad míle fáilte to new students.

I am excited to share the news with you that I will be part of the student team working within this scheme, to help welcome and support our new international students this year.

The programme works on a basis of matching up: international and local QUB students are paired together, with the local QUB student acting as a ‘Buddy’ to welcome the international student and act as a point of support, reference and friendship. The scheme has been in operation for several years, and is truly a great way for students to meet each other, make new friends and have a lot of laughs and chats along the way of settling into a new university in a new country.

As a final year student myself, and one who has had a marvellous time at QUB and enjoyed utilising the wonderful resource that is the Student’s Union, I cannot wait to get started. I have worked as a Buddy per se before, but for first year Law students. This was in my second year, and my role required me to help my assigned students settle into university, adjusting the new routine that comes with a university as opposed to secondary school workload. I was also there to help with understanding of topics discussed across their classes within the modules they were studying, to maybe proofread coursework, dissect a case and get to grips with tutorials. I found it to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience, so I am very happy to have the opportunity to work as a Buddy again – but with our new international guests.

In addition, after studying abroad in the US last year, I know how it feels to be ‘an international student on campus’ and how difficult it initially feels to adjust to cultural differences, make new friends on a new campus and cope with homesickness. A friendly face and a sympathetic listener can work wonders and help you get the most out of studying abroad. After reading about the International Buddy Scheme, I knew that with my own experience behind me, I would love to be able to assist with helping new students.

I am looking forward to seeing the scheme commence, especially as I know it promises to be an exciting time for all involved. I think it is a privilege to work alongside other students to represent Queen’s, as I have had a wonderful time here. I cannot wait to get to know the new international students, to hear about their respective countries, to learn from them and to introduce them to student life on campus at QUB.

I just would like to aim for our new students to feel at home at Queen’s, make many friends and have a memorable start to their studies. I hope that we can provide a support network that will be friendly and warm as we welcome our new friends to QUB.

As discussed on the International Buddy Scheme’s page on the SU website, the first ‘Meet Up’ for both Buddies and international students alike will take place on Wednesday 16th September at 5pm in The Lounge (at the back of the SU).

So, I am going to take this opportunity to do a little promotional work: fellow QUB students, please do consider coming along and helping out. To our new guests and soon to be friends from abroad, please do pop along too! We cannot wait to meet you and to say a grand fáilte to you all.

Local students – if you are interested in the scheme and want to find out more information and/or register your participation, simply email the Student Officer for Equality & Diversity, Oisín Hassan by Monday the 14th September at 5PM.

I am looking forward to the first Meet Up of the International Buddy Scheme, and for all the good times to be had throughout the year!

Study USA: One Year (and many memories) On.

Newtownabbey Times SUSA without textIn the summer of 2014, I became a wildflower girl: leaving my home in Northern Ireland to study abroad in the USA for a year with a ‘Study USA’ scholarship from the British Council NI.

Coming to the realisation that last week (18th August) marked one full year since I embarked on my American study abroad adventure was a surreal, and rather startling one. Even looking at the Newtownabbey Times and seeing the write-up surrounding myself and two other Newtownabbey-based friends and seeing the date does not aid in this regard. (It does aid in the sense of making me cringe slightly at seeing myself in a photograph. Such is life, I fear.)

Newtownabbey Times segment: we three were page three girls, I kid you not.
Newtownabbey Times segment: we three were page three girls, I kid you not.

I could not believe it: was it really one year since I had packed my suitcase, gathered together the mounds of important documents and waved goodbye to my parents – my country – and travelled to my host college in Iowa? Was it a year since I arrived at Coe College, my home from home for the year? Chatting to my American friends online and discussing this important red letter date with them, I eventually accepted that not only was it a year since I arrived, it marked a day to recall a year of wonderful memories and friends and to smile at my good fortune.

On the 24th June of this summer, the British Council hosted their Pre-Departure workshop for the new intake of Study USA scholarship students, who were preparing to undertake their own adventures. I was there with other students from my cohort to talk to the students, answer questions and share my experiences. I can remember how excited I felt on behalf of the new students, and even how envious I was, for they would be only starting in their year-long adventure, whereas mine was at an end. It was a bittersweet moment, but I opted to focus on the sweet and realise that I had been thoroughly spoilt, and it was my role to encourage the new cohort, and inspire them to make the most of their year.

coe college tshirt
Coe College was my host college, not just in education, but also as a home.

To say that being selected to take part is quite an understatement. I had known of the programme since I was at secondary school, believing that it presented a wonderful opportunity to learn in a different educational environment, discover a new culture and meet new people. I suppose I had always been aware of the role that the USA had played in achieving the Good Friday Agreement and maintaining the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, so I desired to see the country which had helped my own through years of violence and tragedy. I eagerly awaited the day when I was eligible to apply – thus looking back, now that I was a successful applicant, I can confirm that my hopes for the programme were certainly realised.

So, what is this programme I keep waxing lyrical about, I hear you cry. Allow me to elaborate.

The ‘Study USA‘ scholarship provided by the British Council NI is a wonderful opportunity to experience life a new country and to study and grow in a new environment. The programme, which has its origins in the Peace Process and developed by the Inter-Church Committee on Northern Ireland, has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and continues to be supported by the American and Northern Irish governments. It enables penultimate year undergraduate students from any degree discipline to study Business at an American college in order to develop business, communication and leadership skills in a new environment for implementation back in Northern Ireland. This is how I, a law student, was able to study Business. I was certainly hurled into the deep end – at least, that is how I initially felt when I looked at an Accounting textbook thicker than my spine – but I truly did relish the challenge.

susa docs

Study USA enjoys a strong profile in the USA. The White House endorsed the work of the programme in promoting cross-community shared experience via a letter written by President Bill Clinton in March 1995 to the Reverend Henry Postel, a member of the Inter-Church Committee on Northern Ireland.

The programme was originally established as the Business Education Initiative, or the BEI in 1994 and quickly became successful as an innovative educational experience, providing a rich platform to exchange both culture and history from Northern Ireland and the US in and out of the classroom.

Mind you, it is not a year of partying to be fair. Students who are selected for the programme are expected to fulfil several criteria, in addition to becoming involved on campus, participate in student organisations and engage in voluntary and leadership activities. These include:

  • Achieving at least a 3.0 GPA in both semesters and cumulatively at the end of the year,
  • Studying 15 credits worth of Business and Finance classes per semester,
  • Performing an ambassadorial role by undertaking five presentations across the year relating to Northern Ireland, e.g. on history, culture, sports, politics etc. to be signed off by the student’s International Advisor at their college,
  • If possible, to acquire an internship whilst abroad,
  • Completing a Personal Development Portfolio (PDP) report of 2,000 words and multimedia component for the British Council NI about the experiences, challenges and skills encountered and acquired, and
  • Completing a Business project on a topic of the student’s choice for the student’s home university (a maximum of 5,000 words).

I am pleased to confirm that I satisfied all of the above criteria; I am now awaiting confirmation from my university and the British Council NI regarding the graduation from the programme.

Leaving behind my friends and family, my home, and my university studies for a year was daunting. I always knew that it would be. Yet, I also always knew that this was something I had to do.

susa photo

I felt compelled to apply for this historic programme for several reasons.  As previously mentioned, I had always appreciated the unique and historical relationship between the US and Northern Ireland. I knew I would be very privileged to not only represent my country but also glean an understanding of the diversity of American culture and society. (I would never have the athletic talent to represent my country at the Olympics, alas.) Furthermore, it would be extremely interesting to enhance my knowledge of American history and politics and to draw parallels with the political systems of the UK and NI. I longed to challenge myself in a new educational environment, that of liberal arts, and participating in new class debates and discussions, gleaning new points of view.

Academics aside, however, there was another reason. Understanding the historical background of the programme and its continuing relevance of issues still prevalent in NI, I wanted to witness first-hand the cultural integration and diversity of the US. I was curious to see how people from all walks of life and multiple backgrounds could come together under the banner of a shared American nationality and identity. I believed I would return home an enlightened person, having not only witnessed but also lived in a thriving and diverse community where students from a variety of backgrounds can study, live and grow together.  I desired to disseminate this knowledge and my experiences through acquired leadership and communication skills, thereby making a difference to my local community. The sincere motive of the programme I believed – and continue to believe – is that of inspiring young people to adopt the teamwork and leadership skills required to end discrimination and segregation in Northern Ireland. Knowing that we should strive to promote integration and sharing, caring communities, I knew that to live in such an integrated community whilst abroad in the US would be a wonderful experience which no doubt would inspire me to promote inclusivity and integration as the norm. A shared future is the hope for my country, one which promises to heal the still-painful wounds of a bitter past.

my new home

I will never forget Coe College, my time there or the friends I made. As I type this, the new academic year is just commencing there, and I do have to keep reminding myself that I will not be a part of it.

I was warmly welcomed and accepted into the college right from the beginning, by both staff and my fellow students alike. New students and hosted students are taught that from the moment they are introduced to their new campus, they are ‘kohawks’ and that ‘kohawks fly together’. A more thriving and close community I cannot imagine. Community is simply the heart and soul of Coe campus. From classes to the caf, from the library to the PUB, there was always something to do and a place to go to work, relax and socialise.  It was a friendly and caring environment, where you could greet and talk to your friends when walking to class, have a laugh over lunch at the caf, grab a coffee and a chat at the PUB and commiserate over piles of assignments with classmates in the library. There are multiple student organisations at Coe, offering the chance to meet other students who share the same interests and hobbies. As I wanted to become as immersed in student life as possible and really get the most out of my year abroad, I opted to join various organisations and groups. This allowed me to meet new people, form new friendships and have a great time being involved in exciting and engaging organisations. In addition to these student organisations, I also participated in volunteering, both on and off campus, which I enjoyed. As Coe had so kindly consented to host myself for the year, I felt it was only right to not only participate as fully as possible on campus, but also participate in voluntary leadership and service  events off campus within the local community. I wanted to give back to my adopted community, and it was a a rewarding, worthwhile experience to do so. My website gives more information on the organisations and volunteering exploits I was involved in. Suffice to say, it was a busy time – but oh how I do miss it.

A key element of my student life/campus life experiences at Coe was through my involvement with Greek Life and membership of Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII). I cannot express how much my sisters and fellow Greeks on campus came to mean to me, but I can say that through them I became involved on campus and with philanthropy, volunteering and leadership.

AOII bid letter
Legally Blonde. Seriously though, these ladies – my sisters – were amazing.

Typing this post is surprising difficult, simply because I know that my scholarship year was one of those cliche, but true, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Even now, I can close my eyes and envisage the campus, see the places where my friends and I hung out. Furthermore, whilst I certainly hope to the contrary, it may be that I may never see many of the friends I made there again. From my roomies, the wonderfully kind and friendly girls who accepted the international student, to my classmates and peers, to my fellow Europeans and internationals and my sorority sisters – I feel blessed to have met them, to learn more about them and call them my friends. Studying abroad does more than expand your horizons and broaden your mind. It opens your heart, and your eyes, as you see more than could have dreamt you would and meet fantastic people with stories and history. Saying goodbye was hard, especially knowing that I would not be returning the following semester. I miss, and will continue to miss, my friends. Yet courtesy of Mr Zuckerberg, and good old fashioned letter-writing, I know we will still remain in touch.

Even the law student/aspiring lawyer in me was extremely fortunate, for I was  able to intern at a downtown law firm close to Coe College, Viner Law Firm. Whilst I knew I would enjoy my time there and was excited to witness American practice and enhanced my knowledge and understanding of American law, I did not know how much my internship, the wonderful working environment or, most importantly, the brilliant team there would come to mean to me.  Leaving the office on my final day there, just a week prior to my flight home was definitely tough, but I took comfort in the fact that my internship and the people I came to know through it ensured my study abroad experience was extremely rewarding and fulfilling. My initial concern regarding my own doctrine of ‘separation of Law degree and Business studies’ as my scholarship seemingly required fortunately proved to be unfounded. This was confirmed when I was able to undertake an internship at Viner Law Firm. It would soon become a highlight of my week as I trekked downtown to my legal home.

My internship at Viner Law was certainly a highlight of my year. It was a brilliant working environment with a fab team.
My internship at Viner Law was certainly a highlight of my year. It was a brilliant working environment with a fab team.

I simply have so many things to say about my year, and so many people to thank and so many reasons to be grateful. Should anyone reading this be contemplating a study abroad year, I cannot recommend it enough. It will challenge you, you will suffer homesickness and culture shock. But, you will have laughter, friends, love and memories galore throughout. You will return home not quite the same as you had left, with a full heart and new eyes. And what could be better than that?

If you want to find out more about my year abroad and my American adventures, why not check out my website

News from the Pond: US news round-up.

In the news today…

lincoln visa photo

Hello, and welcome to a special US news round-up. Some interesting things have occurred in the US of A over the past week, so I thought it would be only right to dedicate a blog post to cover some of the headlines I have enjoyed reading this week. There is a distinctive Presidential 2016 flavour with the articles of choice.

Honourable Mention: You may have noticed that the above photograph is taken from an US Student Visa; this is in fact my very own, from my time spent studying abroad in Iowa last year. Tuesday of this week (18th of August) marked my one year anniversary;one year since I flew out from Dublin to commence my studies on my scholarship programme. A year already? I cannot believe it.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

  1. Clinton reneges on national interviews (via POLITICO)
    ~ Hillary Clinton has a famously tense relationship with the press, yet she was supposed to attempt to thaw this, by engaging with the press during her 2016 campaign. Well, this has not necessarily happened.

    Ms Clinton announced her intent to run for President nearly five months ago. However, as this article details, she has given just two nationally televised interviews since her announcement. One interview was in English, the other conducted in Spanish, yet this has been it. This comes despite promises from both her and her campaign that she intended to participate more with the press and conduct further interviews.This prompts questions over both her campaign focus and strategy, whilst resulting in casting her in a negative light – she appears aloof and resistant to scrutiny. It does not help matters that she seems to brush off reporters and use the excuse of a hectic schedule.

    In her first national interview, more than six weeks ago, Clinton said ‘Obviously I’ll be doing a lot more press.’ She said the lengthy wait to participate in an interview was due to her pledge to spent the first 90 days of her campaign ‘listening to American voters’. This 90 days listening spree concluded on the 12th July; 40 days later there has been only the Spanish interview.

    Clinton’s disapproval rating registered at around 50%  in a recent CNN/ORC poll, bringing it to more than double what it was in 2011. With the headache over her use of her personal server for her professional emails growing, a FBI investigation and a Committee hearing to attend, it is understandable why she may not wish to subject herself to tough questions. But she is not helping herself when the public perception of her hovers around ‘dishonest’, and a majority of Americans say they do not trust her.

    2. Clinton Campaign On Alert For Undercover Conservative Sting (via Time)
    ~ In the UK, Labour have been making headlines for their belief that the leadership contest will be infiltrated by supporters of rival parties, and for the party’s screening method of applicant voters. Now, such concerns have travelled over the Atlantic, with Clinton’s campaign team concerned about infiltration.

    Hillary Clinton’s campaign offices around the USA have been told to be on guard, after at least two women approached Iowa staff pretending to be Clinton supporters. This was an apparent effort to catch the campaign engaging in improper or illegal activity.

    The women’s techniques are similar to those of Project Veritas, the conservative group run by James O’Keefe, which specialises in undercover stings with the intent to embarrass liberal groups and politicians.

    In one of the incidents described by Clinton staff, a woman approached the campaign on the 19th August, stating both her parents had donated to Clinton the legal maximum of $2700 each and now wanted to funnel an additional donation through their daughter –  a clear violation of federal law.

    3. With the FBI Investigating Clinton’s Emails, Bernie Sanders Should Be Considered the Democratic Frontrunner (via The Huffington Post)
    ~ Touching on a point I made earlier regarding how the majority of Americans have an unfavourable view of Hillary Clinton – this apparently could work to the advantage of another Dem 2016 candidate – Bernie Sanders.

    Once viewed as a rebel, too controversial and unelectable, Bernie Sanders is gaining ground. A recent poll from New Hampshire places Sanders ahead of Clinton, and he continues to draw vast crowds to his speaking events. Without serious interest from mainstream media, and without billions in campaign funding from millionaire donors, the Sanders has been able to build grassroots support.

    As Sanders is regarded for his direct and forthright communication style, he will not have to buy costly adverts to convince voters that he is trustworthy.

    Clinton has long been regarded as the favourite to secure the Democratic nomination; Sanders only entered the fray to end the criticism facing the party that Clinton would run unopposed. However, with major polls showing Sanders challenging or defeating Clinton, this has raised the possibility of Clinton possibly losing a second run at the presidency.

    Oh, and Sanders happens to be the only Democrat gaining attention nationwide who is not linked to a FBI investigation.

    4. Ellen Page confronts Ted Cruz at Iowa State Fair (via USA Today Politics)
    ~ Actress Ellen Page confronted Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz on Friday at the Iowa State Fair over his stances on religious liberty.

    Throughout his campaign, Cruz has made religious liberty a theme at his speaking events. He has consistently mentioned he would stand up for the religious liberty of Americans –  including those who have had to close their businesses after backlash over their religious beliefs.

    Page, who is gay, approached Cruz and asked him about his views on the persecution gay and lesbian people face in other countries. Cruz did not appear to recognise Page, and replied that he believed there was no moral equivalency between instances in Jamaica with those in the Middle East, where ISIS militants have persecuted Christians.

    The actress is hosting a TV show for Vice Media titled Gaycation With Ellen Page, and according to her publicist, her confrontation with Cruz will be part of that series.

    ABC News filmed the exchange, which can be viewed here.

    5. Democratic Blues (via POLITICO)
    ~ POLITICO discusses how, even if Clinton should win the Democrat nomination and go on to win the White House, Obama’s legacy as President could result in his leaving the Democrats in the party’s worst state since the Great Depression.

    The article discusses how Obama and his party started strong following his landmark election in 2008. The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, however, both started and continued a backlash against the Democrats.

    ‘… the 2010 midterms, which saw the loss of 63 House and six Senate seats. It was disaster that came as no surprise to the White House, but also proved a signal of what was to come.

    The party’s record over the past six years has made clear that when Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017 the Democratic Party will have ceded vast sections of the country to Republicans, and will be left with a weak bench of high-level elected officials. It is, in fact, so bleak a record that even if the Democrats hold the White House and retake the Senate in 2016, the party’s wounds will remain deep and enduring, threatening the enactment of anything like a “progressive” agenda across much of the nation and eliminating nearly a decade’s worth of rising stars who might help strengthen the party in elections ahead.’

    The article also discusses the lack of depth regarding new, young potential leaders in the party and the dilemma in relation to aging party stalwarts. The Democrats two leading presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are 67 and 73 years old respectively.

    6. Jeb Bush struggles to emerge from his brother’s Iraq shadow (via The Telegraph)
    ~ Jeb Bush, aka he who seeks to become President Bush the Third, has an ongoing dilemma: should he defend his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, or distance himself instead?

    This comes as he was once again posed questions relating to Iraq at the Iowa State Fair. He was asked why he was using the same foreign policy advisers as his brother, Jeb Bush opted for a half defensive, half defeatist response.

    Whilst Jeb Bush is widely tipped to win the GOP’s nomination for 2016, this is not without problems. The former governor of Florida has greater experience than his fellow Republican rivals and also name recognition. And being a  member of the Bush dynasty comes with a wealthy donor base.

    Yet, he must repeatedly deal with the legacy of his brother’s policies in the Middle East, particularly the 2003 Iraq war – which most of the American public consider to be a mistake.

    7. Deez Nuts Has Started a Revolution (via National Journal)
    ~ Sometimes, news stories filter through that you cannot believe to be real. This is one of those stories, but it is genuine – American democracy and equality at play indeed.

    An Iowan teenager, Brady Olson filed to run for president on the 26th July. He opted to register with the Federal Election Commission under a pseudonym, Deez Nuts. What we may safely believe to be a jone campaign has actually resulted in an influx of other, say we say less serious, 2016 filings.

    Intriguingly – or rather, amusingly – Deez Nuts has support.  A recent Public Policy Polling poll showed Deez Nuts with 9 percent support in North Carolina.

    Over 60 new filings have been registered with the FEC, including a ‘Mr Tyrion Lannister’ and even ‘Frank Underwood’.

    8. Lawrence Lessig pondering 2016 bid because ‘the system is rigged’ (via POLITICO)
    ~ Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig says he is considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination because ‘the system is rigged’.

    He has stated his belief that lobbyists are among those able to exert their influence to a disproportionate degree, through channelling campaign donations.

    Lessig has said that he will run for president should his crowdfunded campaign raise $1 million by Labour Day, and if none of the Democratic candidates makes campaign finance reform a central issue of their campaign. He says that he would resign as President after his campaign finance reforms were passed and implemented.

    9. Three quotes that changed 2016 (via POLITICO)
    ~ To finish this post, I thought it would be good to reflect on three quotes uttered by aspiring Presidential candidates, and remember how words can come to define a candidate – and make or break a campaign. This is especially true in our 24 hour press coverage, social media and smartphone dominant modern world.

    Firstly, we have Clinton’s “like with a cloth or something?” comment. She retorted with the comment (which may come back to haunt her) to Fox News reporter Ed Henry, who had asked her if she had ‘wiped’ the server she had sent to the FBI. The feeling produced by such words is that Clinton fails to comprehend the seriousness of the situation she faces over her own ‘Emailgate’.

    Another comment (not mentioned in the article, but from my own external reading) uttered by Clinton which again simply adds fuel to the proverbial fire is ‘You may have seen that I recently launched a snapchat account. I love it. I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.’

    At a time when the FBI are investigating her emails and believe they have found classified material – after she denied ever sending or receiving classified information – Clinton should be taking this matter seriously, which is not done by dismissing the situation with light words. Such words make for great soundbites that can be repeated endlessly by the press throughout the campaign.

    Secondly, we have one Donald Trump and his apparent brain wave to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico into the US via the construction of a ‘great wall’, the full quote being: ‘We’ll have a great wall. We’ll call it the Great Wall of Trump. We’ll have a great wall and it will be — it’ll be actually — it can be a good-looking wall, as walls go, but we will have a really terrific wall and it will be done for the right price.’

    ‘Right price’ – such a scheme would easily cost in excess of millions of dollars yet Trump simply dismissed such claims.

    Trump’s proposal for this tangible wall merely constructs a metaphorically one around himself and the GOP generally – with Hispanic voters. The Hispanic percentage of the electorate is set to increase by nearly 20% from 2012 to 2016. Trump’s stance on immigration comes across as racist and offensive, and the GOP cannot afford to alienate the Hispanic vote.

    Lastly, we again turn to Jeb Bush and his recent comments regarding so-called ‘anchor babies’. Bush, who is married to a Mexican-born lady and speaks fluent Spanish, knows well of the need to woo the Hispanic electorate, and hopes to position himself as their candidate, exploiting Trump’s brashness to his advantage.

    But, during the week he managed to sound both akin to Trump and the average Republican, ruining his hoped-for image: ‘If people are bringing — pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement…[We need] better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies’, as they’re described, coming into the country.’

    (Anyone else reminded of the ‘binders full of women’ quote made by Romney?)

    Jeb Bush is certainly in a better position compared to his Republican rivals with Hispanics, but a sound bite can define a campaign. This one is just at odds with his otherwise normal respectful and understanding tone. Whoops.

    Have a comment or two? Fire away in the section below, or why not send a tweet my way?

PolLaw Express: 21st August edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

  1. How Oscar Pistorius’s release from prison was blocked (via The Guardian)
    ~ There was confusion and outrage following the announcement that Pistorius was due to be released from prison, only for the confusion to be increased following a U-turn decision preventing his release.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was due to be released from prison and subjected to house arrest today. He has just finished serving 10 months of the five-year sentence he received last year for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. However, the country’s Justice minister, Michael Masutha, challenged this initial decision for early prison release and sent the case to the parole review board.

Confusion was added to the initial public outrage due to differing legal interpretation. Masutha, when sending the case to the parole review board, referred to the letter of the law: it says a prisoner “shall serve at least one sixth of his sentence before being considered” prior to parole. The Justice Minister said the parole board should only have begun considering parole on Friday, after Pistorius had completed a sixth of his sentence. However, the parole board had decided that Friday was the date on which Pistorius could be released into correctional supervision.

However, this article examines the case and queries whether there was a political influence behind the decision to prevent the early prison release of Pistorius, adding that ‘this is not the first time that we have seen high-level intervention in the Pistorius case.’

2. Iraq Inquiry: Lord Morris says PM could ‘pull plug’ on Chilcot report (via BBC News)
~ Well, whilst we are still Waiting for Chilcot, the former Attorney General for Tony Blair has stated that Prime Minister David Cameron may yet step in and ‘pull the plug’ on the inquiry into the Iraq war.

The independent inquiry was established in 2009, with a report due date set for 2011. Chairman Sir John Chilcot has previously written to Cameron, saying he is unable to set or estimate a timetable for publication.

Lord Morris, a former Attorney General, branded the inquiry committee a ‘disgrace’ for delaying its report, and Parliament could vote to force it to publish its report. However, another former Attorney General Dominic Grieve told the BBC he disagreed with Lord Morris calling for a parliamentary vote on the inquiry in order to speed up publication of the inquiry’s report.

The inquiry was commissioned then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to investigate the background to UK involvement in the Iraq War, which had commenced when Tony Blair was Prime Minister in 2003. To date, it has cost around £10 million.

A spokesman for the Chilcot inquiry delivered a statement to the BBC, saying:

 ‘Sir John and his colleagues understand the anguish of the families of those who lost their lives in the conflict…

‘A timetable for the completion of the report will be provided once the Maxwellisation process is complete.’

To paraphrase that which Vladimir and Estragon said in Waiting for Godot:
“Let’s go.”
“We can’t.”
“Why not?”
“We’re waiting for Chilcot.”

(Can you tell that it is one of my favourite plays?)

3. Are Labour MPs worried about Jeremy Corbyn? (via BBC News)
~ With Liz Kendall recently saying she would ‘join the resistance’ of Labour MPs who would attempt to thwart the more radical plans of Corbyn if he were to win, is there perhaps a growing number of Labour MPs and supporters concerned about the consquences of a Corbyn victory?

Corbyn may be aware of this murmurs. He has recently stated he would expect Labour MPs to support his plans if he wins, saying if his party’s MPs refused to back his policy agenda, he would utilise his grassroots supporters.

Yet some MPs believe the left-winger would find it almost impossible to command loyalty, considering his history of rebellion against successive Labour leaders. However, many MPs do not expect any immediate attempt to remove Mr Corbyn if he were to win the contest. It is thought that an attempted coup would be seen to be dismissing the democratic will of the party.

Shadow cabinet members Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt are already establishing a group called Labour for the Common Good to pursue alternative ideas and policies to those proposed by Corbyn.

(I also found this article from POLITICO EU to be intriguing. Asking how it has happened that Corbyn, who made the ballot at the last minute, is now on the verge of winning the leadership contest, the author states ‘it was a catalogue of accidents and mistakes.’)

4. From bailout to ballot box (via POLITICO EU)
~ A week is a long time in politics, but the past two days turned the week – and the country’s political scene – around in Greece.

On Thursday, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced his resignation, thus calling for a snap election.This comes just seven months after he took office, and brings concerns of uncertainty and political instability to a debt-stricken country. This shock resignation announcement from Tsipras had followed weeks of speculation over a plotted rebellion by far-left members of his Syriza party over the Greece’s third bailout.  The result? The Greek electorate are to take to the polls for the third time in 2015.

The election is most likely to be held on the 20th September. This article highlights a very interesting point – Syriza, when elected in January of this year, promised to reject bailout terms forced on Greece. The party will now have to run on a pro-bailout message, following the recent -and desperately needed – bailout oversaw by Tsipras.

‘…the stakes will be much lower than in January. Back then, the challenger, Tsipras, vowed to tear up Greece’s bailout agreement and promised Greek voters everything from blocking privatization and erasing a large part of the public debt to repealing unpopular taxes, preventing further pension cuts and delivering a major boost to social spending….

This time around, having broken all those promises, Tsipras’s Syriza… will run, albeit grudgingly, as a pro-bailout party.’

The article also highlights the price to be paid for the latest democratic action: potential new ministers have to be broken in, delaying negotiations on Greek debt. It may also lead to a worsening of the recession for this year.

5. Kevin McGuigan murder: Top PSNI officer confirms worse kept secret – members of the IRA carried out killing (via The Belfast Telegraph)
~ A story from my part of the world today, following on from the coverage around the recent murder of a prominent Belfast Republican. This is the news that confirms what we already knew – it was an IRA hit.

The murder of  Kevin McGuigan was apparently a joint enterprise, which involved current members of the IRA and Action Against Drugs. As details of the ongoing police assessment emerged yesterday, it appears to confirm that the murder was a reprisal killing, made in retaliation for the murder of a leader within the IRA, Jock Davison. Detectives however have ‘no intelligence or evidence’ to link McGuigan to the Davison killing.

A senior police source described the murder as being the result of ‘two factions coming together to assist each other in a common goal.’
That the IRA may be involved will have political repercussions here.
First Minister Peter Robinson warned that Sinn Fein simply could not remain in the Executive if the IRA was found to be involved. He further said that he would confer with other parties and the Secretary of State to discuss and initiate exclusion procedures should this prove to be the case.
The IRA ordered and publicly declared the end of its armed campaign a decade ago, having initially declared a ceasefire in 1997; that it still seemingly actively exists will prompt further questions – and political concerns.

It just goes to show that they apparently haven’t gone away, you know.

To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?

When in doubt, seek the Northern Irish out.

Well well well, what have we here? A crafted PR exercise in extending the proverbial hand of friendship across the Irish Sea from none other than Labour leadership hopeful, Andy Burnham.

Candidate Burnham (not to be confused with Citizen Corbyn) penned a little article for The Belfast Telegraph yesterday, presumably at the bequest of one of his PR/Communications advisers. He essentially states that out of the Labour leadership contenders, he is the one who cares about Northern Ireland, and he is the one who will ensure the people of Northern Ireland have a voice, and are listened to. (As well many other political soundbites.)

I want the people of Northern Ireland to make their voices heard in the Labour Party and if I am elected Leader, I’ll ensure that the Party is listening.

Ah. It is rather the lovely sentiment, Mr Burnham, I concede this. But here is the problem: do the people of Northern Ireland want the Labour Party – or indeed, any traditional English-centric political party – to be their voice at Westminster?

Before I dive into the points made in Burnham’s article – and of course, offer my thoughts on same – a little lesson in UK politics 2010-2015 will commence.

Cast your mind back to the 2010 General Election, if you can. Yes, it was a hung Parliament which gifted the UK with a Con-Lib coalition government (which, given the 2015 General Election results, the Lib Dems must wish they had never agreed to). Yet it was the local and regional results across the UK which were interesting.

In Scotland, English parties contested all 59 available Westminster seats. Labour gained two seats it had lost previously in by-elections, taking its total to 41 seats, cementing its position as the  dominant political party in Scotland. The Lib Dems retained its 11 seats, the SNP held six and the Conservatives just managed to retain their sole seat.

In Northern Ireland, the English parties in stark contrast were roundly rejected. I do not even have to hand the statistics for the respective local Labour and Liberal Democrat parties; I suspect that the Lib Dems were – and still are – virtually none existent here, whereas whilst the Irish Labour faction exists, it seemingly did not contest any seats. (If you have information to the contrary, please do inform me.)

The Conservatives, however, I do have polling stats on. It came to pass that there was an apparent ground-breaking deal struck between the NI Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists, under the snazzy Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (or UCU-NF; avoid the temptation to do a Spoonerism a la James Naughtie) which was continued from the 2009 European Parliament election bipartisanship deal. It had been hailed as a union of Unionists. It was supposed to demonstrate that the Conservative Party would be the party to speak for Northern Ireland in Westminster, and potentially in government. It was roundly rejected.

The UCU-NF did not make any gains – Lady Sylvia Hermon managed to retain her seat in North Down running as an Independent, consequently meaning that the UUP had no parliamentary representation for the first time in more than 100 years. The Ulster Unionist leader, Reg Empey was unsuccessful in his attempt at the seat for South Antrim. This, his party’s electoral performance and the unsuccessful election pact ultimately led to his resignation as leader. Thus after 2010, all the sitting MPs from Northern Ireland hailed from Northern Ireland, and were all members of Northern Irish parties.

Fast forward then to the recent 2015 General Election. Again, let us focus on Scotland and Northern Ireland, those proud ‘Celtic countries’, and compare their respective results from both 2010 and 2015.

What a difference five years can make.

In Scotland, the three main English parties again contested all 59 seats. However, it ended up as being quite the bloodbath for these parties, as Scottish nationalism triumphed.

Unlike the 2010 General Election, where no seats changed party, the SNP managed to win all but three seats in an unprecedented landslide. The party ultimately gained a total of fifty-six seats. and became the first party in sixty years to win 50% of the Scottish vote.

Since the 1960s, Scottish Labour had held the majority of Scottish Westminster seats, a feat continued in the 2010 General Election.  In 2015, the Labour actually went on to suffer its worst ever election defeat within Scotland, losing 40 of the 41 seats they were defending. Not only was Labour’s dominance lost and the party rendered virtually extinct, it lost several high-profile seats, including the seats of Scottish Labour Party leader Jim Murphy and then Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander.

The Lib Dems, who had retained eleven seats in 2010, lost ten of these in 2015. Again, high-profile politicians lost seats, with then Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and former leader Charles Kennedy succumbing to the SNP take-over.

The 2015 Election also saw the worst performance by the Conservative Party in Scotland, which received its lowest share of the vote since its creation in 1965. It did, however, manage to retain the one seat that it previously held in 2010.

It should be noted that the 2015 General Election in Scotland took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, in which 44.7% of the electorate backed independence, whilst 55.3% did not. The consequence of such was that nationalism gripped the country, which spilled over into the General Election – and the rejection of the main English parties.

In Northern Ireland – again, in stark contrast -it was a case of same old, same old.

The Lib Dems and Labour again did not contest any seats. The NI Conservatives contested the 2015 General Election as a separate party for the first time since 2005; they evidently had learnt their lesson from 2010 when they had previously entered into an electoral alliance with the UUP. The party stood in 16 constituencies (sans Belfast North and Fermanagh and South Tyrone) and polled just over 9,000 votes in total. If you are one for the every cloud, silver lining optimistic streak, the NI Conservatives did manage to retain their deposit in one seat – Strangford.

In sum, the ‘Celtic countries’ in 2015 roundly rejected the English parties, who had sought to utilise these countries’ seats in their search for Westminster dominance. It is telling that in the 2015 campaign, when it was thought there would be a repeat of the hung Parliament situation from 2010, the Northern Irish DUP were tipped to become kingmakers if the Conservative Party wished to stay in government. The threat of the SNP as kingmakers for the Labour Party was exploited by the Conservatives, much to the detriment of one Ed Miliband.

What should be noted is this: traditional English parties such as Labour and the Conservatives are struggling to remain relevant in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. They will no doubt seek to address this and determine what exactly it is switching the electorate off from their respective parties.

This is especially true in Northern Ireland. Say of it what you will, but our traditional politics is steeped in history. The electorate here vote along deep-rooted community and culture lines; English parties cannot possibly hope to compete, not really.

And on that note, we return to Andy Burnham’s recent letter in The Belfast Telegraph.

Given the assessment of English parties in Northern Ireland as evidenced by the previous analysis of recent voting outcomes in both 2010 and 2015, the conclusion one firstly draws is that Andy Burnham must be desperate in his bid to become Labour leader and see off the threat of Jeremy Corbyn if he seeks to woo Northern Irish voters.

Considering the Labour defeat suffered in Scotland, losing to the growing trend of nationalism and the desire for a local party to be the voice of the people (a threat Labour did not take seriously in the 2015 election; indeed it failed to even acknowledge the threat of the SNP to its Scottish dominance until it was too late), how on earth does Mr Burnham suppose to ignite grassroots passion for the Irish wing of the Labour party in Northern Ireland, a country which has continuously opted for local parties who understand local debates and politics over mainstream parties?

Perhaps Burnham is seeking to prove his credentials both as a politician and potential party leader by considering a UK-wide party strategy, attempting to acknowledge that the UK electorate is not merely confined to England. Maybe he feels this will assist in setting him apart from the rest of the Labour leadership candidates, by speaking directly as it were to the people of Northern Ireland – demonstrating that he will try to represent the entirety of Labour supporters across the entirety of the UK, a ‘one nation Labourite’ (as opposed to the infamous ‘One Nation Tory).

Maybe he feels that he can use this to cast his arch rival Corbyn in a negative light whilst also benefiting from being branded the man of the Northern Irish people. How so? I hear you ask. Allow me to explain.

Mr Corbyn has come under criticism in the mainland press following the unearthing of historic revelations of his apparent close ties with terrorist organisations/members such as Hamas, including statements which could be construed as his implied support of their actions – such as accepting donations from organisations closely linked to Hamas. He has come under fire particularly in my neck of the woods following press coverage of his actions from the mid-Eighties onwards.

Prior to the IRA ceasefire in Northern Ireland, Corbyn apparently worked to establish links between Labour and the Provisional IRA, including regularly hosting senior figures from their political wing in Parliament. He also called for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, and paid tribute to those IRA members who were killed during The Troubles. Whilst his supporters may defend his actions and label him as one ahead of his time, his opponents argue that he gave the IRA credence. By attempting to establish a relationship with the Provos, this may have led the IRA to believe that their campaign was working. Consequently, they argue, he and others on the Left may actually have assisted in prolonging the conflict.

Such criticism was increased following from Gerry Adams recent tweeting of a photograph which shows Corbyn sitting amongst prominent Sinn Fein members (and a past IRA commander too) having coffee in the atrium of Portcullis House in Westminster.

Perhaps by extending a hand of friendship to the people of Northern Ireland, Burnham hopes to continue the negative press coverage of Corbyn’s past. After all, it was not Burnham, but Corbyn who provoked outrage after inviting Adams and other Sinn Fein members to the Commons in the weeks after the Brighton bombing in 1984. It was not Burnham, but Corbyn who observed a minute’s silence in 1987 for eight IRA members who had been killed by the SAS in an ambush in Gibraltar.

The result is that in Northern Ireland, the highlighting of Corbyn’s past history and his association with the IRA has resulted in the ‘Anyone but Corbyn’ mantra travelling across the Irish Sea and taking root among the small Labour grassroots. (It is estimated that there are 1,000 members of the Labour Party in NI, but an unknown number of registered or affiliate supporters.) A relative of an IRA hunger striker has even stated her belief that he has ignored Unionists and is too close to Sinn Fein.

Thus, the reasoning behind Burnham’s article appears to be, if Corbyn is viewed as too close to extremists and distant to the Unionists, there is an opening for Burnham to be viewed as the  broad cross-community candidate, seeking to listen to both sides of the political divide.

Yet, for such an opportunity to be presented, I cannot help but feel that Burnham has failed to capitalise.

Let me go through some quotes and point out the flaws in the statements and the intentions behind them.

  1. ‘English heart, Irish blood’: Ah, yes. When attempting to woo the crowd, bring up a common connection. In this case, when an English candidate tries to expand his traditional English, mainstream party into new territory which has rejected said party in the past, prove you are one of them:

    I am proud of my family roots in the North of Ireland and, growing up in Liverpool, the strong connection between that city and Ireland was ever present.

A lovely sentiment. But, Burnham has inadvertently revealed his lack of understanding surrounding NI politics. You see, referring to NI as ‘the North’ demonstrates nationalist sympathies; you view NI as being occupied by Britain and are awaiting the reunification of Ireland. In one sentence, Burnham has failed to recognise the identity of Northern Ireland (many here are proud to be referred to as ‘Northern Irish), irritated the unionists (who would not necessarily support Labour anyway to be fair) and so seems to continue with the Labour line of supporting nationalists – no different to the accusations lobbed at Corbyn.  He displays nationalist sympathies; some nationalists may appreciate this but others will see him merely as pandering and lacking sincerity. Those nationalists who do appreciate the line will most likely never vote Labour anyway, preferring to stick with local political parties who understand the historic politics of NI.

2. ‘It’s the Tories’ fault, stupid’: austerity has been very much the policy of the Conservatives, starting from their transition to power in 2010 and continuing with Osborne’s latest budget. So what better way to help your leadership bid than by empathising with the people enduring austerity policies whilst attributing the blame for said suffering to the government?

For people in Northern Ireland, the prospect of another five years of Tory-imposed austerity must be extremely worrying. I believe that we can build a credible economic alternative to the Tories.

But here is the thing. The Conservative-led coalition government, whilst insisting that Stormont impose cuts in NI, actually assisted with bailouts needed to keep NI afloat and Stormont in business. (Literally. Stormont looked set to collapse prior to the emergency Stormont House Agreement.)

And, whilst Stormont is again at an impasse over welfare cuts, the people here view it as a local problem – that of Sinn Fein realising that is cannot be anti-austerity in the South and pro-austerity in the North, and therefore having to oppose the welfare cuts, even after accepting the Stormont House Agreement. Furthermore, if this ongoing battle fails to be solved at a local level, it is expected that the government will step in – the current Conservative government. It will not be welcomed or eagerly embraced, rather wearily accepted as necessary – but still accepted.

Also, someone from Labour trying to prove the party can provide a credible economic alternative? Let’s not even go there.

3. ‘Research? What research?’: before stating your policy intentions, it would be wise to see whether your policies fit with the locals’ desires.

I also believe in a truly comprehensive education system with opportunity for every child that isn’t determined by the postcode of the bed they are born in. The continued existence of selective education in Northern Ireland is opposed by the Labour Party in Northern Ireland and, as Leader, they will have my full support in campaigning against it.

Firstly, let me tell you the tale of academic selection and grammar schools in NI. By the time the Eleven plus was abolished (the final transfer test of that nature was in November 2008) a majority of parents in NI had spent time actively campaigning against its repeal. It did not help that its repeal was controversial and branded as sectarian politics, as the then Education Minister, Sinn Fein’s  Caitríona Ruane passed the new guidelines for post-primary progression as regulation rather than as legislation. This then avoided the need for the proposals to be passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly where cross-party support for the changes did not exist. Thus, the abolition of the Eleven Plus is viewed harshly most predominately by Unionists, so once again Burnham has placed himself in the nationalist camp.

In addition, academic selection is still retained by a majority of grammar schools in NI – a move which is still supported by a majority here. Grammar schools are regarded as an opportunity for those students from working-class backgrounds to advance through academic ability. Being from a working class background myself, and having sat the Eleven Plus in 2004, I was fortunate to attend a grammar school – a competitive environment which I enjoyed.

The traditional Labour insistence of comprehensive education and the abolition of grammar schools/academic selection is still controversial in England and Wales. The education system in NI is evidently working when the national examination results are compared; education should be the discretion of devolved governments, tailored to the individual countries.

Good luck with your campaigning should you win the leadership contest, Mr Burnham. I cannot see such a campaign going far.

4. ‘Your laws are wrong because they are not what we have’: NI has its own, shall we say, unique way of debating bills and implementing legislation. That is the very foundation of devolution – a local government with local politicians debate on local issues.

The whole area of sexual and gender rights in Northern Ireland needs to take a major step forward. I know Labour Party members are at the forefront of the campaigning in the province and again they have my support. I have been highly critical in Parliament of Jeremy Hunt for his refusal to support equality across the UK in respect of blood donation from gay men and, as Leader, I will use every opportunity to press the Tory Government on these fundamental issues of equality and rights.

I will state that I am fully against discrimination in any form, and yes, perhaps NI needs to reconsider certain laws.

But maybe even the militant pro-choice campaigner, or ‘gay blood donation ban’ repealer in NI would bristle at the patronising tone of Burnham. I will not speak on behalf of others on such issues, but I will say that as a man who does not reside in NI, whose party only boasts a small membership, he has not earned the right to evaluate NI alongside other countries of the UK. He is not the Labour leader yet.

Northern Ireland is small-‘c’ conservative. We are a traditional people here; change occurs over time and at the will of the majority. Interference from the mainland, from politicians who do not understand our history or politics will not help, but may even hinder on the development of certain issues.

On a more basic level – for a man who had previously mentioned his pride in his family roots in NI, he is rather quick to criticise and assume the moral high ground.

5. ‘The alternative’s alternative?’: before proclaiming what a unique and special snowflake you can be, actually ensure that you will be a unique and special snowflake.

If those members decide that at election time the people of Northern Ireland need a socialist, non-sectarian party to vote for, a party that can appeal to people of all classes and to people of all faiths or none, then we should not stand in their way.

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but there is a non-sectarian, mostly centre-left/centre party which seeks to appeal to all regardless of class, community background or religion. That would be the Alliance Party.

A new political party tried to launch itself as the alternative’s alternative; the much-lauded and hyped NI21. Non-sectarian, centre-ground and non-religion/class specific, it aimed to be the saviour for NI politics and ‘modernise’ Stormont. However, following the revelation that it would designate itself as ‘Unionist’ rather than ‘Other’ (like Alliance) as a party classification in the NI Assembly, and the public disagreements between co-founders amongst other negative publicity, the party essentially bombed both in local elections and at the European Parliament elections in 2014.

As I have continuously reiterated in this post, people here seemingly prefer to vote for local parties over mainstream UK parties. Furthermore, the Alliance party is simply too well established as the ‘Other’ party in NI politics.

A good effort from Mr Burnham, but with stiff competition from Alliance, no real call from the electorate for a new political party in NI to answer and continuous election results illustrating the local loyalty for local parties, I cannot see how Labour plans to build  a solid base here.

In sum, this article reads more as a reiteration to Labour supporters in the UK mainland of what Burnham stands for, rather than what he would actually do re NI should he win the leadership contest.

On one hand, I do somewhat appreciate the courtesy extended here via this letter by Burnham. It is a bold move, one which none of the other candidates have carried out. He is at least acknowledging that Northern Ireland does in fact exist, and has a presence at Westminster.

But on the other hand? Well, even the best of intentions (and I am too cynical to belief that this was not a PR stunt aimed for both sides of the Irish Sea) can be flawed. There are simply too many holes to pick in this letter for it to be truly effective. A lack of research in local issues, lack of knowledge re our complex political history and a rather condescending tone merely conjures to mind yet another English politician, trying and failing to understand that ‘wee country’ across the Irish Sea.

When in doubt, seek the Northern Irish out. But check that we wish to be sought out in the first place. We have seen this all before here, make sure you know what you are doing.

NB: I could, of course, have just devoted a significant period of time writing this post in the sense that Burnham may not even win, and will in fact lose to Corbyn. Ah, well. It is always enjoyable to write about politics – especially when mainstream UK politics and NI politics are suddenly entwined for the day.

PolLaw Express: 17th August edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

(We have quite the jam-packed day, so let’s get straight into it.)

Spotted, part one: This article from The New York Times, discussing whether ‘online journalism’ in an attempt to remain relevant, modern for so-called ‘target audiences’ and endure in a fast-paced market is actually sacrificing genuine and informative journalism for cheap ‘click bait’.

I follow a lot of newspapers on social media platforms, and I have found click bait to be an increasingly common trend. Some newspapers repost old articles from months ago in an attempt to appear on timelines, others post tweets deliberately written in ‘internet speak’ or exploiting old memes in a clear attempt to appear ultra modern for the average social media user.

Oh, please.

Click bait is boring, too obvious and rather pathetic – if you cannot clearly identity and target an audience with a well-researched and intelligent piece of journalism, then whisper it, but perhaps you should not be posting news pieces at all?

Spotted, part two: this article focusing on Facebook and its latest attempt of being everything to everyone.

This time, it has updated and revamped its ‘Notes’ section on a user’s page (that section is often left untouched, I know I for one never use(d)it) as it now seeks to attract bloggers et al to Facebook.

So, not only will people be continuing to post in detail about their nights out and their Starbucks coffee, but we can now be subjected to blog posts from our friends, too.

  1. Why most of the ‘Stop Corbyn’ schemes won’t work (via BBC News)
    ~ It’s that great conundrum, is it not? Tell people ‘don’t think of elephants’, so naturally they automatically think of elephants. The case in point right now is that there is a giant white-vest wearing elephant in the room, and senior Labour members do not know how best to deal with him as he comes ever closer to claiming the leadership crown. (Or military-style hat, seeing as the man himself would like to see the back of the monarchy in the UK.)

    This article discusses how many ‘stop Corbyn’ schemes – or to borrow the catchy Campbell slogan, ‘ABC – Anyone But Corbyn’ devised by those aiming to stop his victory will not work, whether it is through media criticism or circumnavigating contest regulations to exploit loopholes.

    Voters in the Labour leadership contest are given the chance to rank the standing candidates in order of preference. The first preferences are counted up, and the person with the fewest is eliminated from the contest – and the votes they received are given to whoever each person that voted for them rated as their second preference, and so on. If none of the candidates achieve 50% of the vote, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are given to whoever they put as their higher preference amongst the two remaining candidates.

    So based on current polling, it all comes down to attempting to predict whether those voting for Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper are more likely to put Corbyn as their next preference.

    The problem is, there is no decent publicly available evidence that either of them are.  There is also no arithmetic reason why non-Corbyn candidates withdrawing would prevent a Corbyn victory.

    The only way you can affect the number of votes Corbyn gets is by trying to second-guess the second preferences of people who vote for eliminated candidates. But, as the article demonstrates, there is still no obvious way to tactically out-vote Corbyn. Rather ironic for a candidate who only made the short-list at the last-minute, isn’t it?

    Spotted: this sarcastic gem of a line by article author Ed Brown:  ‘Crazy thought though it might be, you can happily vote for candidates on the basis of, y’know, how good you think they are.’

2. Labour  leadership contest: David Miliband backs Kendall (via BBC News)
~ His brother stole the leadership crown from under his nose, but now Miliband Senior seeks to influence another leadership contest by announcing his support for Liz Kendall.

NB. The irony. The Unions opted for Ed, to David’s expense. Given this, perhaps this is why David (a true Blairite) is supporting Kendall (another Blairite)? Corbyn has undoubtedly the majority of union support.

David Miliband wrote in The Guardian (once you translate the political theory and history lessons) of how a Corbyn victory would only succeed in taking the party ‘backwards’, and also warned that the ‘angry defiance’ of his campaign would lead only to electoral defeat.

He said he was backing Kendall  as leader, but she herself has acknowledged that she is trailing in the polls.

This comes as Andy Burnham said he would offer Corbyn a role in the party if he won the contest. He also said that only he could beat Corbyn and unite the party, whilst praising his opponent and saying he shared many of his views

But Yvette Cooper said Burnham should withdraw from the race if he was not prepared to oppose the left-winger.

3. UK inflation rate rises to 0.1% (via BBC News)
~ The UK’s inflation rate turned positive in July, with the Consumer Prices Index measure rising to 0.1% from June’s 0%.

According to the Office for National Statistics, this can be mainly attributed to a  smaller fall in the price of clothing. The Retail Prices Index measure of inflation was unchanged at 1%.

CPI has been almost flat for the past six months, having turned negative in April for the first time since 1960.

This follows on from the considerable speculation over when the Bank of England – which has a target inflation rate of 2% – might start to raise interest rates, triggered by comments made by the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. (You can read my blog post on this talk delivered by Mr Carney here.)

However, Mr Cameron has said it was ‘hard to envisage a rate rise this side of Christmas’.

This comes as a policy-maker from within the Bank of England has warned against waiting too long to actually raise interest rates, saying that this undermines the UK’s recovery.

Monetary Policy Committee member Ms Forbes said a rate hike took between one and two years to take full effect. As a result, rates would need to rise ‘well before’ inflation hit the Bank’s 2% target, she said.

4. BBC Trust chairwoman urges end to ‘political pressure’ (via BBC News)
~ The BBC/Government row has taken another turn.

The Chairwoman of the BBC Trust has stated her belief that politicians should stop pressurising the BBC and the public should have more of a say in its future.

Rona Fairhead, writing in The Indy, said that the BBC’s future must be ‘driven by evidence and fact, not by prejudice and not by vested interest’.

She also complains of MPs attempting to interfere in the broadcaster’s affairs.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said a debate is needed over whether the BBC should become more ‘precise’.

The corporation’s Royal Charter is up for renewal next year.

Ms Fairhead said the public wanted independent scrutiny and regulation of the BBC, but that they wanted this done by a separate body representing licence fee payers, not by politicians:

‘That independence has needed defending over decades, not just from governments but also from parliament, with a growing tendency in recent years for select committees to question BBC executives about detailed editorial decisions.’

5. Stormont research shows low income is top reason for food bank use (via BBC News)
~ Quite a sad story from my neck of the woods today.

Research from the Department for Social Development shows that people rely on foodbanks for reasons other than problems with benefits.

The Department’s research has found that 33% of people in Northern Ireland use them because they are on a low income. This is compared to the 18% who are waiting for social security payments.

Social development minister, Mervyn Storey has said: ‘It is a situation which none of us should be happy with’.

He went on to say that this is an issue which involves:

‘society – not just government – but collectively we need to take a strong look at why this is happening in Northern Ireland’.

6. Mark Regan: ‘There’s huge health inequality between Northern Ireland and England’ (via The Belfast Telegraph)
~ This is a Q and A article involving the CEO of South Belfast’s Kingsbridge Private Hospital and the development director of its parent company, the 3fivetwo Group.

There are some good comments and quotes in the article, but this is the one which stood out for me:

There is a serious inequality in terms of elective healthcare here in Northern Ireland versus that in England. However, we must remember how fortunate we are to have an NHS that offers life-saving emergency surgery immediately. When it comes to non-emergency or elective surgery – that is things such as hip replacements, spinal surgery, cataracts and so forth – we are way off the pace in terms of the time you wait.

Did you know that, in England, the target which is achieved in the most part is for you to have surgery within 18 weeks from the day the hospital gets your GP referral letter? In Northern Ireland, that same composite target is around 50 weeks, and we failed to meet any of the targets in the most recent Department of Health’s report in relation to waiting times.

When asked whether whether he believed that waiting times for inpatient and outpatient treatment have improved, Mr Regan commented:

No, absolutely not. In each of the last four quarterly reports from the Department of Health, the figures have been getting worse. There has been little or no change in the plan, and the NHS is not able to rapidly increase capacity the same way the private sector can. The problem is, the report will show numbers and graphs, not the faces of the hundreds of thousands who are affected by this. Real people.

To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?