Liz Truss has gone, and we’ll be on to another Prime Minister (or maybe even Boris). At the moment, things seem utterly out of our hands. That is why it’s so important we understand what is going on, what historical trends are shaping it, and, even now, what opportunities exist.

Claire sat down with Academy of Ideas colleague Jacob Reynolds to do just that. At this moment, the key thing is to listen, read, think and argue. Please share our conversation with everyone you know who is angry, confused and demanding something better.

Ahead of the Battle of Ideas festival 2022 in London on 15 & 16 October, Jacob Reynolds talks to Phil Mullan and Rob Lyons about the turmoil in the financial markets this week and the longer-term problems for the UK economy.

For more about the festival, visit the Battle of Ideas festival website.

Recording of an Academy of Ideas debate on Tuesday 28 June 2022.

INTRODUCTION
Around the world, prices of a wide range of goods and commodities have been rising sharply for the past few months. In particular, the wholesale cost of energy has been rising fast as the world economy recovered from the pandemic restrictions. Petrol prices have risen by almost a third in the past 12 months. The UK domestic energy ‘price cap’, which hit a low of £1,042 in 2020, is expected to rise to £2,800 in October. Consumer price inflation has hit 9% and is likely to reach 10% by the end of the year. For those on lower incomes, who spend more of their income on food and energy, the impact is even greater.

There are multiple explanations for the rises: the post-pandemic recovery and problems with shipping have been widely cited. The war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia are hitting energy and food prices. Many economists also point to the rise in the money supply – thanks to ultra-low interest rates, quantitative easing and huge government spending programmes. Rises in production have not kept pace with rising demand, so prices have risen.

But the other side of the story is that wages are not keeping up with rising prices. As a result, most people are seeing real-terms cuts in their living standards. Governments and central bankers seem desperate to keep a lid on wage rises, desperate to avoid a ‘wage-price spiral’, but the effect is to make most people significantly poorer. Those on fixed incomes may be hardest hit of all.

What are the main reasons for the rise in living costs? What can be done to help reduce the impact? Should we be looking beyond short-term and temporary factors? Is this a crisis that has been coming for some time?

SPEAKERS
Robert Fig 
principal, Metals Risk Team, a commodity risk-management consultancy; previously worked at ArcelorMittal and London Metals Exchange

Phil Mullan
writer, lecturer and business manager; author, Beyond Confrontation: globalists, nationalists and their discontents

Hilary Salt
actuary; founder, First Actuarial

This is a recording of United we stand? Ukraine and the future of the West, which took place on 20 April 2022: academyofideas.org.uk/event/united-we-stand-ukraine-and-the-future-of-the-west/

 

At first glance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have led to an unexpected moment of unity among Western nations. After years of disagreements and talk of decline, Western countries responded to the invasion with tough sanctions and a unified front. Germany has announced a dramatic increase in military spending, Finland and Sweden are seriously exploring NATO membership, and even the Brexit tensions between the EU and UK have faded into the background.  In the words of Andrew Neil: ‘Now Britain stands tall, America is a reliable ally once more, the EU has found new purpose, NATO is more united than ever, and Germany has rediscovered its backbone.’ Commentators everywhere seem eager to christen this a triumph of ‘Western values’ – such as democracy or freedom – over backward, authoritarian values said to define Russia or China.

But beneath the surface, many note tensions and contradictions. Germany resists the toughest sanctions and many disagree on the possibility of an oil and gas embargo on Russia. Emmanuel Macron seems eager to maintain diplomatic ties with Putin. Poland and Hungary, despite welcoming millions of refugees, have been hit with tough EU penalties related to rule of law disputes. Spats have broken out in NATO, too, with the US scuppering Polish plans to send fighter jets to Ukraine. The US and EU remain split on how to deal with China. What’s more, the ‘united front’ seems dangerously unstable, with key leaders like Joe Biden making remarks such as ‘that man must go’ only to row back shortly after. On top of this, many question whether there is even such a thing as ‘Western values’, what they are, and who shares them.

Has Russia’s invasion led to a new moment of Western unity? Will it last? Are deeper geopolitical tensions likely to return, or are they perhaps already shaping the West’s response to Russia’s invasion? Does the West have the leadership, capability and agreement to tackle a serious escalation in the current war? What would a revived Western unity mean for the world, and does it herald the return of aspirations to be ‘the world’s policeman’? Has the invasion demonstrated that reports of the decline of the West were exaggerated, or will declinists be proved right in the end?

SPEAKERS:

Nick Busvine OBE
partner, Herminius Holdings Ltd; advisory board member and writer, Briefings for Britain; Sevenoaks town councillor; former diplomat, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Professor Bill Durodié
chair of risk and security in international relations, University of Bath

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; member of the House of Lords

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, First World War: Still No End in Sight

Humphrey Hawksley
journalist; former foreign correspondent, BBC; author, Man on Ice, Asian Waters and The Third World War; Asia specialist

This is a recording from the Scotland Salon - a panel discussion on the roots of the war in Ukraine and whether it offers any lessons for Scotland - held on Wednesday 13 April 2022: academyofideas.org.uk/event/solidarity-with-ukraine/

Scotland’s public debate on the war in Ukraine has been very low key. We have set up charity hubs for refugees, but we haven’t really engaged in a public discussion about the causes of the war or the right to national self-determination.

The possibility of nuclear war, Putin’s recklessness and the energy crisis have tended to dominate the way we discuss the issue. There has been very little time and space to discuss the national rights of the Ukrainians. This is surprising given that many Scots are interested in the question of national self-government and would vote – perhaps even fight – for Scottish independence. Scottish politicians have been chastised for making crass connections between the war and Scottish independence. While it’s clear that the two situations are not directly comparable, this seems like a very good time to discuss what we mean by freedom and democracy.

Whether you are for or against independence, surely it’s time we started to have serious discussions about the emerging world order. It has suddenly become painfully clear that the end of the Cold War did not mark the beginning of an era of permanent peace after all.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says the war demonstrates the need to end Scotland’s dependency on fossil fuels and it shows the importance of supranational institutions such as the EU and NATO. Is she right? How did we get here? In all the confusion, the ‘Vladimir Putin is a mad dictator’ explanation really isn’t a good enough answer.

This Scotland Salon event will provide an opportunity to discuss the causes of the war and solidarity. One thing is clear: international solidarity is not a devolved issue and we should develop a better understanding of the history that led to this war and the global tensions that are being fuelled by Russian expansion.

SPEAKERS

Eddie Barnes
campaign director. Our Scottish Future think-tank; former political editor, Scotsman; former political adviser to Ruth Davidson

James Heartfield
writer and lecturer on British history and politics; author of several books, including The Equal Opportunities Revolution and The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society

Jacob Reynolds
partnerships manager, Academy of Ideas; convenor, The Academy 2022: Old Roots of the New Disorder; writer, Spiked

Recording of the Academy of Ideas Economy Forum discussion on Monday 4 April 2022.

INTRODUCTION
There have been many obituaries to globalisation since the big financial crisis of 2008. The dislocations caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tough sanctions imposed upon Moscow have spawned another batch of them. Beneath this formulaic contemplation of “globalisation” versus “deglobalisation”, what sort of developments might unfold on the international economic front as a result of this conflict?

For the immediate future, it seems clear that the economic damage from the military and economic warfare will go way beyond Ukraine and Russia. The repercussions are already aggravating the existing prospects for a sluggish 2020s in many advanced economies. But what about the possible longer-term economic consequences for the world? What might it mean for international economic relations?

Could the war be a wake-up call for the Western nations to shake themselves from their economic torpor? If it ensues, would a new cold war rekindle the previous Western unity and cooperation that was so absent during the pandemic? Or have we entered a new age of autarky? Might we see further fragmentation into rival economic blocs? What could be the ramifications for the dollar-based financial system?

SPEAKER
Phil Mullan writer, lecturer and business manager; author, Beyond Confrontation: globalists, nationalists and their discontents

This is a recording from the Belfast Battle of Ideas, an event that took place in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on the 26 March 2022 in partnership with Imagine! Belfast Festival and the Academy of Ideas.

Misinformation: Ukraine, Big Tech and online censorship

As war rages in Ukraine, the limits of what we can say about such a major, epoch-defining event appear to be determined by a handful of Californian social-media giants. Facebook’s parent company, Meta has already announced the banning of Russian outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik from its platforms. Twitter has declared it will ‘label all posts containing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets’. It’s not just Silicon Valley getting in on the act. Telegram, a Dubai-based messaging app created by two brothers who left Russia under pressure from President Putin, has threatened ‘to shut down channels related to the war because of rampant misinformation’.

Meanwhile, the UK government has promised a ‘crackdown’ on university lecturers accused of spreading pro-Putin propaganda on social media. More broadly, press freedom has taken a bashing recently: during the pandemic, YouTube and other sites censored TalkRadio for alleged Covid ‘misinformation’, while a recent BBC Stephen Nolan podcast revealed the extent to which Ofcom, the official broadcast regulator, was willing to silence gender-critical views labelled ‘hate speech’.

With the government’s new Online Safety Bill empowering Ofcom to further regulate online companies such as Facebook and Instagram, how worried should we be about new restrictions on free speech? In the face of fears over the online world as a space of anonymity, falsehoods, harms and excess, is it time to accept that some controls are necessary? Or should we defend the web as a space for the free flow of information and views as it was once envisaged?

SPEAKERS:
- James Harkin, Director, Centre for Investigative Journalism; former Director, Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA); author, Cyburbia
- Jenny Holland, Irish-American freelance writer; formerly at New York Times and Conde Nast; substack newsletter, Saving Culture (from itself)
- Ryan Christopher, Director, Alliance Defending Freedom; co-founder, Humanum Institute

CHAIR: Alastair Donald, co-convenor Battle of Ideas festival; convenor, Living Freedom school

This is a recording from the Belfast Battle of Ideas, an event that took place in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on the 26 March 2022 in partnership with Imagine! Belfast Festival and the Academy of Ideas.

Snowflakes Or Revolutionaries? Free Speech On Campus

From decolonising the curriculum to gender-identity codes of conduct, free-speech controversies are a frequent feature of campus life. But while students are often lampooned as ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘snowflakes’, many believe that these students should be viewed as a radical generation of changemakers, whether championing LGBT rights or promoting racial equality. With the UK government’s new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill aiming to ensure that universities are ‘bastions of free thought and intellectual debate’, some say student concerns are being ignored and their social-justice priorities undermined. How should students view free speech? Is there a risk of creating an ‘anything goes’ campus culture that prolongs the toxic culture wars? Do such state diktats on free speech offend against the very spirit of freedom they seek to protect? How can students and universities create an atmosphere of open, critical enquiry that benefits all?

SPEAKERS:
- Suzanne Whitten, lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast; author, A Republican Theory of Free Speech: Critical Civility
- Ryan Hoey, politics graduate; former events officer, The Literific, Queen’s University Belfast
- Inaya Folarin Iman, GB News journalist; founder, The Equiano Project

CHAIR: Ella Whelan, co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; journalist; author, What Women Want

This is a recording from the Belfast Battle of Ideas, an event that took place in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on the 26 March 2022 in partnership with Imagine! Belfast Festival and the Academy of Ideas.

Can Culture Survive The Culture Wars?

Culture-wars divisions increasingly frame how we judge artistic works. Statues of slave traders have been ripped from pedestals, accusations of ‘transphobia’ result in the work of artists such as Jess de Wahls being removed from galleries, while books by controversial figures such as Norman Mailer and Woody Allen are pulled from the schedules by the new cultural arbiters in publishing. Musician Nick Cave has spoken for many when he said that cancel culture has an ‘asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society’. But others ask what is wrong with assessing works in line with contemporary moral or cultural mores. Given art seeks subjective emotional responses as well as objective judgement, should we really have to contend with abusers such as R Kelly or Marilyn Manson on our airwaves, Jimmy Carr’s Holocaust joke on streaming platforms or statues of colonial supremacists in our cities – especially when, for many, they are an emotionally harmful reminder of past oppression? Are culture-war rebels right to believe that banishing controversial works will help put us on the right side of history? Or, in the name of artistic freedom, should we resist the policing of art and artists?

SPEAKERS:
- Rosemary Jenkinson, short story writer, playwright and ACNI Major Artist
- Phil Harrison, writer; author, The First Day; filmmaker, Even Gods
- Olivia Hartley, publisher, The Critic

CHAIR: Ella Whelan, co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; journalist; author, What Women Want

This event was held on 17 March 2022 hosted by the Academy of Ideas and the Free Speech Union: academyofideas.org.uk/event/free-speech-a-global-history-from-socrates-to-social-media/ 

Free speech is often hailed as the ‘first freedom’ and the bedrock of democracy. Free exchange of ideas underlies all intellectual achievement and has enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide. But free speech is also a challenging and even contentious principle that today is often considered to be under threat.

In his new book, Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media, Jacob Mchangama traces the fluctuating history of this idea, arguing that it is not enough to have free speech legally enshrined – it has to be culturally accepted too. While the desire to restrict speech has been a constant, what are the threats from free-speech sceptics that we should worry about most today and how have they come to be? At a time when ideas, language and even history itself are the target of contentious interventions to restrict the free exchange of ideas, what can a wide-ranging historical perspective on free speech offer us in the contemporary battle to speak freely and challenge orthodoxies?

LECTURER: Jacob Mchangama
lawyer, human rights advocate and former external lecturer in human rights at the University of Copenhagen. He is the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. His writings have appeared in a wide range of international outlets including The Economist, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Politico, The Wall Street Journal Europe, El Pais, France24, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera. This book builds on his podcast ‘Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech’, which has reached an audience of over 220,000 unique listeners in more than 120 countries across the world.

PANELISTS:

Dr Joanna Williams
director of Cieo; author, Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity

Toby Young
general secretary, Free Speech Union

CHAIR: Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas. The discussion will be followed by a wine reception, hosted by Basic Books.

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