29th March 2017 – a day of historical significance? How history is (mis)used to illustrate our ‘glorious’ present

Statue of Europe, Unity in Peace

Dr. Martin Hurcombe,
Reader, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

There are some who will no doubt greet the triggering of Article 50 on the 29th March 2017 as an occasion of historical significance. It may seem churlish to even state otherwise, but my sense is that this is not a date that will live long in the memory. It is simply the prelude to events of far greater importance, the scale of which few of us seriously claim to be able to gauge in all their potential complexity.

No doubt, though, politicians and journalists will once again be casting around for historic parallels, for popular aides-mémoires through which the public can grasp the event. They will struggle to find anything quite like this in living memory, so will have to delve deep into our nation’s bag of collective memories. I expect Boris Johnson’s paws will delve the deepest. Out will come toy spitfires, reminders of our island status and how we all pulled together (whoever we are now) in moments of national need.

War memories often act as handy markers of national identity. They are quintessential moments when the nation pulled together. It is therefore unsurprising that the Leave campaign so frequently returned to what Estelle Shirbon of Reuters dubbed ‘Britain’s World War Two fixation’.  The Blitz and Churchill (possibly one of the Conservative Party’s most ardent Europeans) were all trotted out, whilst the European Union was depicted by Johnson as Hitler’s victory from beyond the grave. Continue reading

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Cheap goods at what cost? How the EU Road Package can address ‘unfair payments’ to truck drivers

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter Turnbull, profile photo

Professor Peter Turnbull, School of Economics, Finance & Management, University of Bristol

As you drive home at night, do you ever pause to think about the many trucks parked in lay-bys at the side of the road? You might be only a few miles from home, but the driver’s home could be thousands of miles away. Imagine if the truck door was the front door to your home, the truck cabin both your office and your bedroom. If this sounds far-fetched, then spare a thought for the thousands of East European truck drivers who work for weeks on end, sometimes months, in Western European countries, driving, eating and sleeping in their cab.

A survey of around 1,000 East European road haulage drivers published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in 2013 found that the majority (60%) spent between 3-12 weeks away from home, 80% cooked and ate their own food in the lorry, 95% took their breaks and rest periods (including the weekly rest of 45 hours) in their lorries (contrary to EU working time regulations), 60% were paid by driven kilometres (despite EU Regulation 561/2006, Art.10 forbidding payments per kilometre schemes that have a negative impact on road safety), approximately 80% of the interviewed drivers stated that fatigue was a problem but they would not report it as they were afraid lose their job. A more recent 2015 study of 225 Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian drivers working in Denmark found that the average time working and living in their lorry away from home was 7 weeks (88% slept in their lorry most nights), pay was just €1,100 to €1,900 per month (16% were paid on the basis of kilometres driven), drivers reported regular breaches of the rules on working time and 13% stated that their employer exerted pressure on them to break the rules on driving and resting times. Continue reading

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Women’s rights gained under EU law must not be lost in Brexit

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Sue Cohen, Research Associate in Bristol Law School

Much of the debate in the UK, pre and post the referendum, has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Gender has been all but cleansed from the Brexit political and media discourse, with barely a mention of investment in women’s equality, the social infrastructure and the institutions that might guarantee progressive gains from gender mainstreaming.

The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights is a significant institution in this respect, and one we will lose upon Brexit. The Committee helps to process legislation on equal treatment adopted by EU institutions, invites transnational lobbying on women’s issues, and investigates particular issues and concerns that affect women.  It does this through commissioning research and reports that further gender mainstreaming in the funding programmes of the European Commission. (1)

Critically, the UK, has no comparable influential institution. The Women and Equalities Committee is a new select committee and its influence is not embedded in the decision-making structures and funding mechanisms across government. The Women’s Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government, whilst the influence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been eroded over time, with significant cuts in staff and funding and thus significant limitations on its ability to deliver strategic change. Continue reading

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Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject. Continue reading

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“A food dystopia: Is Britain sleepwalking into a crisis?”

Back to the future?

Terry Marsden is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, and Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Cardiff University.

Kevin Morgan is Professor of Government and Development, Cardiff University

The historical ability for the UK state to periodically create self-inflicted harm upon its own food system seems to be raising its head again as the country triggers Article 50 to remove itself from the European Union. We should remember that the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, opening up the UK to cheap food imports (based indeed on subsidised imperial preferences to its colonies), in exchange for colonial penetration of its financial and manufacturing interests and sectors, created the conditions for a long- running agricultural and rural depression in the UK, lasting well into the 1930s. That Imperial regime of ‘free trade’ created much harm to the British food system, its rural areas, and indeed shaped a dependent food diet based upon imports from colonies and other European nations (like Danish Bacon and Dutch eggs and pork). What is ironically labelled as the ‘full English’ breakfast up and down the land derives from the successful import penetration of its component parts from overseas. The decline in our food-based infrastructure was so bad that, by the onset of the 1st World War, Lloyd George had to go ‘cap in hand’ to the likes of Henry Ford to plead concessions on building his tractors on these shores in order to resolve food and rural labour shortages. Even by 1941 the national farm survey found the agricultural situation in a parlous state, even before the U-boat campaign further disrupted food supplies and led to a period of prolonged public food rationing until 1954. Continue reading

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Time to be realistic about human rights?

Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

The case of Phil Shiner, struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary panel for the attempted procurement by financial inducements of spurious abuse claims against the British army in Iraq, sadly illustrates that the ‘post-truth’ era has penetrated even the noble cause of human rights (‘Review of Iraq war cases after lawyer struck off’, Guardian, 3 February 2017).

While this episode is, of course, a grotesque aberration, myth, misinformation, misrepresentation, and intellectual tunnel vision, coupled with excessive and unsustainable demands, are, nevertheless, increasingly prevalent in the contemporary movement, and not confined to its opponents as many might suppose. This not only devalues the currency, it also stokes the scepticism towards human rights currently sweeping western states and societies. Continue reading

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Trump, Brexit and a crisis of participation in universities

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

A friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook to a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Blue Feed, Red Feed’, which allows readers to pick a topic – Hillary Clinton, say, or abortion – and see how the ‘other’ side of Facebook is talking about it. My friend wrote:

I and everyone I know (well, nearly everyone) finds Trump utterly disgusting, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For others worried that we all (mostly) agree with each other, this is a useful side-by-side comparison of liberal and conservative Facebook.

I looked at the split screen on the topic of ‘guns’ and saw posts I recognised on the ‘blue’ side condemning Republican measures to reduce checks on those buying firearms. The ‘red’ side, meanwhile, included a link to a Federalist Papers website article criticising ‘leftists who don’t like guns’.

The divides that were exposed by Trump and Brexit are complex. Yet, in both votes, two sides emerged that were incomprehensible to each other and they split, above all, along levels of education. Continue reading

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We’ve created a new vibration-proof ‘metamaterial’ that could save premature babies’ lives

 

Fabrizio Scarpa, Professor of Smart Materials & Structures, University of Bristol

Andy Alderson
Professor of Smart Materials and Structures, Sheffield Hallam University

There are 16,000 transfers of premature babies to medical facilities each year in the UK alone. The babies are often transported over large distances from rural to city locations over significant periods of time, in some cases two hours or more. The ambulances, helicopters or aircraft used are miniaturised intensive care units, containing all the equipment required to keep the baby alive.

But mechanical vibrations and noise from the equipment and transfer vehicle can provide significant, even life-threatening stress to the most vulnerable and delicate human lives. As we discovered when speaking to clinicians, transfers are sometimes aborted as a result of the stress that develops in the baby. These vehicles need materials and structures to reduce the noise and vibrations to tolerable levels. Continue reading

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Independent verification of the UK’s greenhouse gas report: holding the Government to account

PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

Dan Say, PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

In the early hours of October 15th, negotiators from over 170 countries finalised a legally binding accord, designed to counter the effects of climate change by way of phasing down emissions of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These gases, introduced to replace the ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs for which the original Montreal Protocol was drafted, are typically used as coolants in air-conditioning systems. Unfortunately, like their predecessors, they are potent greenhouse gases, whose climate forcing effect per molecule is often many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.  Continue reading

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If all the evidence points to a Mediterranean diet… Why do UK Dietary Guidelines insist on a low-fat diet?

Dr Angeliki Papadaki, Lecturer in Nutrition, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

Dr Angeliki Papadaki, Lecturer in Nutrition, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

I come from Crete. I grew up in a house where everything revolved around the kitchen. Most of my childhood memories involve my mother preparing meals from scratch, using olive oil. Meals were accompanied with vegetables and we had a legume soup (like lentils, beans, chickpeas) twice a week. All of them were a pleasure to eat; they just needed olive oil and a slice of bread to scoop up the juices to receive a cook’s highest reward: empty plates.

I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years and I still can’t enjoy vegetables or salad unless I prepare them myself. They are boiled and boring, with uninspiring dressings, and no tomato sauce or sautéing with olive oil and onions to give them some flavour. It’s no wonder that 70% of adults in the UK do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and that on average they consume 14g of legumes a day (half the amount consumed in the traditional diet of Crete).

Continue reading

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