Sunday, 20 April 2014


The RMS Titanic sunk on 15 April carrying 2,224 people, 1,517 of whom died when the hull of the ship hit an iceberg and sunk in water that was minus two degrees celsius; a temperature at which a human body will perish in fifteen minutes or less.

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. It remains one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. The RMS Titanic, the largest ship afloat at the time it entered service, was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, and was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

The ship's passengers included some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe seeking a new life in North America. The first class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury, with an on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants and opulent cabins. A wireless telegraph was provided for the convenience of passengers as well as for operational use. Though Titanic had advanced safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors, there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all of those aboard due to outdated maritime safety regulations. Titanic only carried enough lifeboats for 1,178 people—slightly more than half of the number on board, and one-third her total capacity.

Titanic's passengers only numbered around 1,317 people, considerably under capacity as the ship could accommodate 2,566 passengers. Usually, a high prestige vessel like Titanic could expect to be fully booked on its maiden voyage. However, a national coal strike in the U.K. had caused considerable disruption to shipping schedules in the spring of 1912, causing many crossings to be cancelled. Many would-be passengers chose to postpone their travel plans until the strike was over. The strike had finished a few days before Titanic sailed; however, that was too late to have much of an effect. Titanic was able to sail on the scheduled date only because coal was transferred from other vessels which were tied up at Southampton, such as City of New York and Oceanic as well as coal Olympic had brought back from a previous voyage to New York and which had been stored at the White Star Dock. John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest person aboard Titanic.

On 14 April 1912, four days into the voyage the ship hit an iceberg at 11:40 pm ship's time. The collision caused Titanic's hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea; the ship gradually filled with water. Meanwhile, passengers and some crew members were evacuated in lifeboats, many of which were launched only partly loaded. A disproportionate number of men were left aboard because of a "women and children first" protocol followed by some of the officers loading the lifeboats. By 2:20 am, the ship had broken apart and foundered, with well over one thousand people still aboard. Just under two hours after Titanic sunk, filled with water, the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene of the sinking and rescued 705 people, taking them on to New York.

The disaster was greeted with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life and the regulatory and operational failures that had led to it. Public inquiries in Britain and the United States led to major improvements in maritime safety. One of their most important legacies was the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety today. Additionally, several new wireless regulations were passed around the world in an effort to learn from the many missteps in wireless communications—which could have saved many more passengers.

The wreck of Titanic remains on the seabed, split in two and gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet (3,784 m). Since her discovery in 1985, thousands of artefacts have been recovered and put on display at museums around the world. Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hillsborough Disaster

Memory: Hillsborough now has 96 white seats decorated with roses and messages for the victims
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.

The Hillsborough disaster was a human crush that occurred on 15 April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs, which resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others. The incident has since been blamed primarily on the police for letting too many people enter the stadium, and remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history, and one of the world's worst football disasters.

There was an influx of Liverpool supporters as a tunnel entrance was left unmanned by police, causing crushing, and some fans climbed over side fences or were lifted by fellow supporters onto the stand above to escape the crush. Moments after kick-off, a crush barrier broke, and fans began to fall on top of each other. The game was stopped after six minutes. To carry away the injured, supporters tore down advertising hoardings to use as stretchers, and emergency services were called to provide assistance. Of the 96 people who died, 14 were admitted to hospital. When the FA Chairman visited the Control Box to find out what had happened, Duckenfield, the constable in charge, falsely claimed that the supporters had "rushed" the gate.

The 1990 official inquiry into the disaster, the Taylor Report, concluded that "the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control." The findings of the report resulted in the elimination of standing terraces at all major football stadiums in England, Wales and Scotland.

On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, government minister Andy Burnham called for the police, ambulance and all other public agencies to release documents that had not been made available to Lord Justice Taylor in 1989. This action led to the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which in September 2012 concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible for the deaths, and that attempts had been made by the authorities to conceal what happened, including the alteration by police of 116 statements relating to the disaster. The facts in the report prompted immediate apologies from Prime Minister David Cameron; the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton; Football Association Chairman David Bernstein; and Kelvin MacKenzie, then-editor of The Sun, for their organisations' respective roles (The Sun had blamed fans for the crush, claiming they urinated and beat up 'hero officers').

In September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that up to 41 of the 96 fatalities might have been avoided had they received prompt medical treatment. The report revealed "multiple failures" by other emergency services and public bodies that contributed to the death toll. In response to the panel's report, the Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve MP, confirmed he would consider all the new evidence to evaluate whether the original inquest verdicts of accidental death could be overturned. On 19 December 2012, a new inquest was granted in the High Court, to the relief of the families and friends of those who died at Hillsborough.

Horrific: Liverpool fans in the Leppings Lane End crush tried to escape to the upper tier that fateful day

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Argument Over the EU

Recently, the issue of staying or leaving the EU has been debated and written about constantly in the news. It is likely that the main party's manifesto committments towards their attitude on the EU and issues such as immigration will help them win or lose the 2015 General Election. I am going to do a post on the Clegg v. Farage debates soon, but today I thought I write a timeline (in true historical fashion) on campaigns for EU referendums since we joined the EEC (as it was called then) in 1973.


On 1 January 1973 the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) under the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. Just a year later, Harold Wilson's (Labour) Party was split on whether or not to remain in the EEC, and his is election manifesto Wilson promised a referendum on the issue. On June 6 1975 67% of people voted to stay in the EU.


In Labour's 1983 election manifesto Michael Foot promised to begin negotiations to withdraw from the EU within the next term of Parliament, however Labour lost the election. 1983: In their election manifesto, Labour, under leader Michael Foot, pledge to begin negotiations to withdraw from the EU "within the lifetime" of the following Parliament. Labour lose the election. In 1989 Thatcher suggested that the UK would joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, however she resigned before any transition of currency was made. 


In 1992 European leaders signed the Maastricht Treaty, creating the modern day European Union. The UK signed, but refused to enter the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. In 1993 Tory rebels campaigned, and failed, for a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. Parliament approved the treaty but only after John Major was forced to call a vote of confidence in his government. Denmark and France were among countries who did hold a referendum on the Treaty. In 1996 billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith launches the Referendum Party to campaign for a public vote on the UK's membership of the EU, his party secured only 3% of the vote at the 1997 general election. In 1997 in their election manifesto Labour said, if it was voted for in a referendum, Britain would join the single currency. However in 1999 the euro was launched, and the UK opted out.


In 2004 Blair promised to a hold a referendum on the European Constitution Treaty but did not give a date for the poll. In the 2005 General Election, all three major parties promised to hold a referendum on whether to ratify the EU Constitution. In referendums in France and the Netherlands, the proposal was rejected. In 2006 the cross-party Better Off Out Group, seeking the UK's withdrawal from the EU, was launched. In 2007 the European Commission proposed a replacement treaty; the Lisbon Treaty. The Labour government claimed no referendum was needed over the Treaty, as it was a different document, amending not overwriting existing treaties. Conservative leader David Cameron gave a "cast-iron guarantee" to hold a referendum on any treaty emerging from the Lisbon process if he becomes prime minister.

In 2008 Clegg called for an "in-out" referendum on UK membership of the EU. MPs rejected a Conservative call for a referendum on whether the Lisbon Treaty should be ratified by 63 votes. 15 Labour MPs and 14 Lib Dems rebelled against their parties. In 2008 the UK ratified the Lisbon Treaty and the High Court rejected calls for a judicial review of the decision by Tory MP Bill Cash and businessman Stuart Wheeler, who claimed ratification without a referendum was illegal.

In 2009 Cameron was forced to admit he will not be able to fulfil his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because it has been ratified by all EU member states. But he says, if elected, no future substantial transfer of powers will take place without the approval of the British people. The UK Independence Party, which puts an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU at the heart of its programme, came in second in the European Parliament elections, with 16% of votes.


In the Lib Dem election manifesto, Clegg pledged to hold an "in-out" referendum the next time there is a "fundamental change" in the EU's treaty arrangements, and in May 2010 a new generation of more eurosceptic Conservative MPs were elected to Parliament. In Febuary 2011 Tory MP Peter Bone failed to secure an "in-out" referendum by amending government legislation proposing a referendum if big changes are made to EU treaties. In March of the same year the People's Pledge campaign for a referendum was launched and on 8 September a petition calling for a referendum on EU membership, signed by 100,000 people, was handed into Downing Street. On 12 September a meeting was held with over 100 Tory MPs to discuss how to reconfigure the UK's relationship with Europe in wake of the eurozone financial crisis.

On 17 October 2011 the backbench business committee agreed to hold a Commons debate on EU membership following a request by Tory MP David Nuttall. However on the 24th October the motion calling for a referendum on EU membership was defeated in the Commons by 483 votes to 111. However, 81 Tory MPs supported it and a further two actively abstained - making it by far the largest ever Conservative rebellion over Europe. In addition, 19 Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat defied their party leadership in urging a referendum.

On 22 January 2013 Cameron said that if the Conservatives win the next election they would seek to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give the British people the "simple choice" in 2017 between staying in the EU under those terms or leaving the EU. His speech came against a background of polls suggesting UKIP had 10% support. On 5 July 2013 a Conservative bill to make the party's pledge to hold an in/out referendum in 2017 law was passed by 304 votes to 0, however the Lords rejected it. On 31 January 2014 Cameron said the Conservatives will bring back the Private Member's Bill and would use a Parliament Act to force it into law, rather than seeing the Lords block it again.

26 Mar 2014: Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage clashed in the first of two live debates on whether the UK should be in the EU. Clegg said the Lib Dems are a 'party of in' when it comes to the EU, whilst Farage said he would hold an immediate in/out referendum. Miliband, on 12th March 2014, said Labour will not hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union unless there are proposals to transfer further powers from London to Brussels.

All of this shows that the issue of Europe is complicated and no one can completely on agree on what the best course of action is to take. I would advise keeping up to date with EU news in the papers and having a look at the 2015 party manifestos, so that if the Conservatives do win next year, you will be better prepared to vote (if old enough) in the 2017 referendum.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

William Wilberforce

I recently discovered that William Wilberforce used to live on my street, something I found pretty cool. William Wilberforce was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade

Wilberforce was a religious English member of parliament and social reformer who was very influential in the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself in the British empire. He was born on 24 August 1759 in Hull, the son of a wealthy merchant and studied at Cambridge University where he began a lasting friendship with the future prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. In 1780, Wilberforce became member of parliament for Hull, later representing Yorkshire. Wilberforce's Christianity led him to become interested in social reform, particularly the improvement of factory conditions in Britain.

The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson had an enormous influence on Wilberforce. He and others were campaigning for an end to the trade in which British ships were carrying black slaves from Africa, in terrible conditions, to the West Indies as goods to be bought and sold. Wilberforce was persuaded to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade and for 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament. The campaign was supported by many members of the Clapham Sect and other abolitionists who raised public awareness of their cause with pamphlets, books, rallies and petitions. In 1807, the slave trade was finally abolished, but this did not free those who were already slaves. It was not until 1833 that an act was passed giving freedom to all slaves in the British empire.

Wilberforce's other efforts to 'renew society' included the organisation of the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802. He worked with the reformer, Hannah More, in the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday. Its goal was to provide all children with regular education in reading, personal hygiene and religion. He was closely involved with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was also instrumental in encouraging Christian missionaries to go to India.

Wilberforce retired from politics in 1825 and died on 29 July 1833, shortly after the act to free slaves in the British empire passed through the House of Commons. He was buried near his friend Pitt in Westminster Abbey.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Corpus Christi College History Essay Competition// Empire by Niall Ferguson

Last week I was honoured to win first prize in the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, History Essay Competition 2014. The essay title was 'When Historians Write About the Past They Are Nearly Always Writing About the Present'. I decided to use the historiography of the British Empire and explore the different writings of it to prove my argument (that yes, whilst the title is correct, other factors such as political bias and gender influence a historian's writing more).

I read about Niall Ferguson's views to start with. In Empire, Niall Ferguson argued that the Britain's version of empire was more of a "good thing" than a bad, and was essentially an engine of modernity.

Ferguson looked at Britain's commerce and consumerism, its lust for sugar drawing it to the Caribbean, its taste for fine fabrics, spices and tea enticing it into India. He then looks at the role of voluntary and involuntary emigration, among blacks and whites, and at missionaries and reformers. Later in the book he deals with the hard working bureaucrats and patrician proconsuls.

By 1914 the European powers had became caught up and consumed by the same kinds of hi-tech violence they had previously launched against other continents. It was this crisis, Ferguson argues, and the emergence of other, newer empires, Japan, Germany, and the United States - rather than the actions and aspirations of colonial nationalists - that terminally undermined Britain's own brand of global supremacy.

Ferguson challenges the view that the empire only busied itself in racism, violence and exploitation. He draws attention, as others have done, to its episodes of idealism, creativity and administrative integrity, to its many examples of overlap and collaborations between different peoples, and above all to its historical context. He argued that Britain's global inroads would not have been a pure, unsullied world, but rather the emergence of other empires that might have been worse.

However Ferguson's ideas are complicated. For example, Britain's role in the slave trade in the 18th century makes the empire seem like an early holocaust. However, if we concentrate on how Royal Navy seamen sacrificed their time and lives hunting down other countries' slavers in the 19th century it seems as if the Empire was a force for good. Again, the fact that the British covered India with railroads is more evidence as the British as modernisers. However, the  abysmal levels of mass illiteracy in the subcontinent they left behind in 1947 makes them seem rather different.

Ferguson focused on the Victorians and their successors, exaggerating the degree to which British imperialism was distinctive and better - for example, he suggested that it was the Victorians who invented the notion that overseas initiatives should be for God not gain and claimed this would have astounded those French, Portuguese and Spanish Catholic Fathers who had earlier devoted far more care to the indigenous peoples of the Americas than many of their Anglo, Protestant competitors.

The most problematic issue raised but not resolved here, however, is the question of what criteria are to be invoked when assessing empire. Doubtless many of the Normans who invaded England in 1066 were decent people and they arguably made it a more efficient state, but the English themselves still referred for centuries to the "Norman yoke". By the same token, those who were once on the receiving end of British imperial invasions are less likely than us to view them in a positive light. Ferguson argues this is short-sighted because, whatever its faults, British empire fostered globalisation, overseas investment and free trade and - in the long run - this raised levels of prosperity all round. Possibly so: but individual human beings do not live by the free market alone and nor do they live in the long run. The immediate impact of British imperial free-trading was often the collapse of local indigenous industries which were in no position to compete, and a consequent destruction of livelihoods and communities.

This points to the tension at the heart of empire. Its exponents may seek (as many Britons genuinely did) to make the world a better place, but they also want to dominate. The Victorians wanted to spread the gospel of free trade, but they also wanted to continue being the premier workshop of the world. In much the same way, contemporary America wants (often with the best of intentions) the world to be wide open to its ideas, exports and technologies, but not if this means third-world nations developing weapons of mass destruction or the Europeans competing in space.

However it is impossible to think about the empire as a simple "good" or "bad" thing because it has many intrinsic paradoxes, and there is no simple answer. Ferguson also argued, which I found very interesting, that the United States should cease being in denial about its imperial status and face up to its global responsibilities.