On Friday, I had an investigation published in The Guardian, detailing a four-year behind-the-scenes battle over whether to list a plaque to a white supremacist as a heritage asset. Listing the plaque – which is on the outside of a building owned by Oriel College, Oxford – would have made it almost impossible to be removed.
You can read the article here; meanwhile, here are the raw documents, all obtained through FOIs, that made this article possible:
Only weeks earlier, the college had emailed Oxford City Council asking to take it down, describing it as a “political tribute” to a man with “racist views”.
The Council replied to Oriel’s letter shortly after, saying that the college was free to take down the plaque at any time.
Historic England – the body that advises the government – was quickly thrown into chaos. Key members of the body, such as then-Director of Listing Roger Bowdler, believed the plaque should be listed. But they didn’t want a political controversy. At one stage, Bowdler wrote that he planned to take the advice of a colleague who “wisely wishes to accompany it with some pro-African listings”.
Historic England drafted advice that the plaque should be listed in 2016, but never submitted it. They ultimately submitted advice to the government in 2018 advising that the plaque not be listed – noting that “our handling has been the subject of recent FOI and media enquiries”. At this point, I had already submitted several FOIs to Historic England.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport only took a final decision on the case in February of this year – over four years since the listing application was submitted.
Meanwhile, returning to Oriel, current provost Neil Mendoza backed the listing of the plaque while in a previous job as a Commissioner of Historic England, according to a contemporaneous memorandum by Historic England’s Director of Listing. (Oriel disputes that this is Mendoza’s current position, but does not dispute the accuracy of the memorandum. It should also be noted that this was not an official minute of the meeting; this is because “the discussion wasn’t minuted“.)
Historic England released a statement in response to my article, which can be read here.
The government brings out its plan for a points-based immigration system, the Democratic Party holds yet another debate in its quest to find a nominee to take on Donald Trump, and we ask: is every billionaire a policy failure?
The Chinese are not – as was asserted in the podcast – believed to have infiltrated election infrastructure in the US. They are, however, engaged in an increasingly aggressive espionage operation against the US.
The past 10 years have seen the first coalition government in a generation; three referendums with profound constitutional consequences for the United Kingdom; the enduring effects of years of austerity budgets; and an unprecedented period of political gridlock over Brexit.
Now, a new analysis of Queen’s speeches from 2012 to 2019 provides a unique way of looking back at the decade as a whole and the issues that defined it.
The graphic below shows how the words chosen by the government in Queen’s speeches have changed as public concern shifted over the course of time.
2012: The Olympics, and a spirit of optimism.
My analysis starts in 2012 (for the simple reason that an accurate transcript of the Queen’s speech at the beginning of the 2011 parliamentary session isn’t easily available).
The coalition government at this point is near its height. Some reforms are underway, but many others are still in the pipeline. David Cameron is still enjoying the acclaim from the centrist press that greeted his first 100 days. The Olympics are on the horizon, and austerity has yet to bite.
The reforming zeal of the early coalition government can be seen in the words used in the 2012 and 2013 Queen’s speeches, shown graphically below. There is still a heavy emphasis on ‘new’ proposals and pieces of legislation, in contrast to later Queen’s speeches that would increasingly focus on the government ‘continuing’ to act on a pre-existing policy.
It’s less visible in the graphic, but the coming festivities are also reflected in some unusual words popping up in the Queen’s speech, such as ‘paralympic’ and ‘olympic’.
2014: An emphasis on Unionism
By around 2014, words such as ‘continuing’ begin to crop up more and more in Queen’s speeches, perhaps indicating that the coalition’s well of ideas was beginning to run dry. More tellingly, however, is a sudden spike in usage of the words ‘united’ and ‘kingdom’. The Scottish independence referendum would take place later that year; the government was already campaigning even as it opened the parliamentary session.
The 2014 referendum was, of course, won by the Unionists, but its narrow result continues to reverberate in today’s politics: many now argue that the Labour party will never again be able to achieve majority government due to the SNP’s dominance in Scottish politics.
2015: Austerity begins to bite hard
Around 2015, the word ‘health’ begins to appear more often in Queen’s speeches, tracking with increasing public concern that YouGov was detecting over the NHS as the government’s austerity budgets started to gravely impact service standards.
But the government also starts more and more to emphasise its tough-on-crime stance. With the rise of Islamic State and an upsurge in Islamic-inspired extremism, YouGov polls showed a spike in public concern over the threat from terrorist attacks. Perhaps as a result, 2014 and 2015 show an increased emphasis on ‘security’ in their Queen’s speeches.
The Queen’s speech of this session acknowledges the effects of austerity in other ways, as well (though many would argue that austerity’s legacy remains unaddressed in policy to this day). The speech makes nods towards the idea of a ‘one-nation’ approach, and emphasises things such as community and aspiration.
The Brexit Era
2016-2019 have seen a rebound in heavy use of ‘United’ and ‘Kingdom’ in Queen’s speeches, maybe reflecting a feeling of patriotic fervour that led the country to vote to leave the EU. The Queen’s speeches of this period also see an upswing in the words ‘European’ and ‘international’.
Conclusions from a decade of turmoil
What is perhaps most interesting about this way of looking at the decade is the things it omits. Same-sex marriage equality, one of the most radical social reforms in a generation, is nowhere featured on any of the charts. House of Lords reform is mentioned in several Queen’s speeches, and at one point threatened to tear the coalition government apart, yet the Lords aren’t mentioned enough to make up a significant proportion of any of the speeches in terms of word count.
In the Brexit era, the single issue of the day is only gestured at vaguely. Despite three interminable years of debating soft and hard Brexit, Canda+ or Norway-, none of this shows up in the analysis. Now that Boris Johnson has promised to ‘ban Brexit’ from government communications, presumably we will only see even less of it in Queen’s speeches to come.
Notes on my analysis
In my analysis, I excluded certain words due to their relative unimportance and relative frequency:
Any instances of the verb ‘to be’ (in any conjugation)
Any instances of the word ‘will’, since all Queen’s speeches are in the future tense.
The full text of the Queen’s speeches over the period analysed can be found here:
The frequency of each word in each speech was calculated using this site. This was then converted into spreadsheet format using OpenRefine, and then downloaded as a .csv file. Data for each Queen’s speech was combined into a master spreadsheet using VLOOKUP formulas in Excel. This was then imported into Flourish for the graphic at the top of the article.
Council estate residents in Highgate, northwest London, have expressed anger at Camden Council after a councillor alleged a construction company had been allowed to occupy the basement of the estate without consulting residents.
“In reality, it looks like they’re running a business,” complained Luke Mitchell, an artist who lives on the estate. “That space was meant to be storage for residents.
“There’s been no consultation. We don’t even know what they’re doing.”
GEM Environmental Building Services LTD initially started working out of the Whittington estate, off Raydon Street in northeast Camden, in April 2016. Their original work was part of Camden’s “Better Homes” initiative to improve heating in council estates across the borough.
However, after enquiries by Highgate councillor Sian Berry, Camden has now confirmed that the company has been given new contracts in the meantime, meaning the space will likely continue to be occupied until at least 2020-21. Moreover, GEM now states on their website that their ‘Camden office’ is located on the estate.
Paolo, another estate resident, who did not want to give his last name, also took issue with GEM’s rent-free occupation of the space. “It doesn’t seem very fair if they’re not paying for it,” he complained. “I haven’t seen any consultation.” Multiple residents who were interviewed said they were not even aware that the basement was occupied.
The latest controversy follows long-standingdisagreement between tenants and Camden over whether the original improvement works were value for money, or even necessary at all. Mitchell says he was forced to pay £12-14,000 for the new heating system in his one-bedroom flat.
Now, he says, traffic moving through GEM’s base in the estate means vans are frequently parking on double-yellow lines on weekday mornings. An analysis of parking-violation data, undertaken by this reporter, shows a slight uptick in recorded offences on the surrounding roads since 2016 (see below), though not a significant one when compared to previous years. Mitchell, however, is sceptical that many of these offences are even recorded since the vans quickly move on after unloading.
On being presented with questions regarding parking in and around the Whittington Estate, GEM declined to comment.