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Under The Radar – 03 December

This week, we discuss:

  1. Starmer shuffles the deck and shows his hand

  2. Iran nuclear deal talks restart

  3. Watchdog calls for tuition fee refund over strikes

Starmer shuffles the deck and shows his hand

What Happened?

Keir Starmer reshuffled his shadow cabinet for the second time this year.

Yvette Cooper has returned for the first time since she resigned in 2015, picking up where she left off as Shadow Home Secretary. Meanwhile, David Lammy has replaced Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary, with the latter now shadowing Michael Gove in the “levelling-up” brief.

What does it mean?

These appointments indicate where Labour intend to fight the next election.

By installing Yvette Cooper as Shadow Home Secretary, Starmer is deploying a politician from the centre ground who is comfortable enough to talk tough on crime and has the experience to skewer Priti Patel’s dysfunctional Home Office.

Meanwhile, David Lammy is one of the few Labour MPs with some degree of cut through with the public – partly due to his successful LBC show – and holds appeal to liberal minded Conservatives who are uncomfortable with Boris Johnson’s right-wing approach to the culture wars.

Similarly, Lisa Nandy is one of Labour’s strongest media performers and is infamously known for her love of towns and local bus services; it makes sense to task her with scrutinising the government’s progress on “levelling-up” and crafting Labour’s vision for this crucial part of the electoral map.

Labour needs to gain ground on issues where they have long been perceived as weak. Instead of fighting elections on the NHS, where they are already trusted, defeating the Tory’s on their own turf – crime and the economy – is the only way they can win an election.   

Iran nuclear deal talks restart

What happened? Formal discussions will take place in Vienna on Monday to discuss the future of the Iran Nuclear Pact, known as JCPOA. Aside from Iran, Russia and China will be attendance, alongside Germany, France and Britain. The original deal was struck in 2015 to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. What does this mean?

Next week’s meeting of global superpowers brings together the usual mismatch of ideologies and agendas although a degree of unity between the parties here offers hope. All five countries negotiating with Iran want a full implementation of the deal, along with the current US sanctions to be lifted. The US will be notable in their absence from Vienna but rest assured that the Biden administration will be keeping a close eye on talks.

Whilst in power, President Trump pulled out from the Iran deal with Washington now seeking an immediate return. When the original pact was negotiated, the US and Israel sought to stop Iran from becoming a so-called “threshold” state. According to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who recently declared the Iranian nuclear program to be at “a watershed moment”, they are failing.

So, does the deal matter? Mark Fitzpatrick, veteran non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, argues that “the answer is certainly yes”, especially for the enhanced verification measures the agreement entails.

Fitzpatrick does, however, flag that due to Iran’s series of unrealistic demands, a return to JCPOA seems unrealistic. For such an unstable region in the Middle East, surely even a weak deal is better than no deal.

Watchdog calls for tuition fee refund over strike action

What happened?

The third wave of industrial action at universities is underway, prompting the student watchdog to call on universities to offer partial tuition fee refunds in compensation for the disruption. What does it mean?

Universities across the country are being hit with significant strike action this week with a three-day walkout at 58 institutions now underway. With staff striking over proposed pension cuts, and pay and working conditions, more than a million students in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and more than 100,000 enrolled with the Open University are likely to be impacted.

This is the latest in a series of strikes that have disrupted the higher education sector over recent years, with two-week long strikes occurring in 2018 and 2019. In March 2018, around a million students were estimated to have been affected by strike action – with that number ramping up as the strike action has continued.

Since then, calls for tuition fund rebates to compensate for disruption and loss of teaching have grown louder. In March 2018, a petition calling for tuition fees rebate amassed more than 126,000 signatures.

Nicola Dandridge, the head of the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, said that universities affected by the industrial action would need to make up for any disruption. She highlighted the fact that universities are subject to consumer protection laws too and would therefore have to put in place measures to make up for any disruption caused by industrial action.

This week’s must reads

  1. “How UK trade went woke” by Emilio Casalicchio for Politico

  2. “It’s smart to give Lisa Nandy the levelling-up brief. But what’s most needed is money” by Larry Elliot for The Guardian

  3. “Nationalism is bankrupt and has no answers” by William Hague for The Times

  4. “The end of Roe” by Mary Ziegler for The Atlantic

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