Oxford college officials backed plans to protect Rhodes memorial

Oxford college officials backed plans to protect Rhodes memorial

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:


Oriel’s treasurer – one of the most senior members of the college’s governing body – lobbied in February 2016 for the plaque to be added to the heritage list.

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”.

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.

Read more on the plaque here.

For more information on the Rhodes Must Fall protests in Oxford – and the South African protests which inspired them – check out the timeline that I did for The Poor Print here.

The header image was obtained from Historic England via Environmental Information Regulations and is therefore now in the public domain.


It could be put off no longer: we finally talk about coronavirus (and other things…)

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on  Apple PodcastsStitcherAcastCastboxOvercastAnchorBreakerPocket CastsRadioPublicSpreakerBlubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

The UK is attempting a novel and controversial strategy to combat the coronavirus, putting behavioural science front and centre

The US has not been testing enough people, so nobody knows how big its outbreak is.

Andrew Cuomo has been criticised for using prison labour to produce hand sanitiser cheaply for residents of New York State

Italy’s economy is doing very badly.

But will we have a global recession? Nobody really knows.

One thing’s for sure: the stock market isn’t doing well.

And the global economy was already fragile due to Trump’s trade war.

There are various options to deal with the economic fallout. (Trump wants tax cuts.)

Coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on small businesses in Rome.

OPEC wanted to slash oil production, but Russia wasn’t having it.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched yet another crackdown against senior royals in a bid to consolidate power. Bin Salman has undertaken reforms in Saudi Arabia, but his leadership has been questioned after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Guyana elections are disputed as huge oil kitty awaits next President

Two men were sworn in as president of Afghanistan, simultaneously. (The political chaos comes only weeks after a preliminary peace deal was signed between the Taliban and the US and at the same time as coronavirus begins to spread through the country.)

Canada is pushing forward with the criminalisation of gay conversion therapy – here’s how. It’s still a common practice in many places around the world.

Lebanon has defaulted on its debts for the first time.

Shallow Dive #6: Refugees, Mali & Old Man Joe



Turkey is encouraging refugees to head to Greece and the EU aren’t happy. Meanwhile climate change is only going to make the problem worse, on a global scale. Also British troops are heading to Mali.

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on  Apple Podcasts, StitcherAcastCastboxOvercastAnchorBreakerPocket CastsRadioPublicSpreakerBlubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

Turkey turns a blind eye as refugees head for border.

The EU’s morality is facing a severe test when it comes to refugees. Greece aren’t helping.

It’s all part of a geopolitical balancing act regarding Turkey’s intervention in Syria, on the opposite side to Russia.

Turkey-US relations have been strained by the case of an evangelical pastor and Turkey’s buying of Russian weapons.

The EU and Turkey agreed a deal in 2016, but Turkey says the EU hasn’t held up its side.

Accession talks for Turkey to join the EU have been stalled for years.

The climate crisis will intensify the migrant crisis over the next few decades.

The US judiciary has ruled against the ‘Remain in Mexico’ strategy but allowed it continue, for now.

Here’s what it could mean for the 60,000 migrants in terrible conditions at the border.

British troops are back on the front line, fighting troops in Mali. Here’s what’s at stake.

France bypassed the national assembly to get through controversial pension reforms.

Australian news is changing forever.

Trump tells Colombia to keep using potentially carcinogenic herbicide to destroy coca plants.

Peace with the Taliban isn’t so peaceful.

Authoritarian uses crisis to punish vulnerable minority – in Hungary. 


Shallow Dive #5: India, NIMBYs, Bedbugs & Biden


India is struck with ethnic violence , France is overrun with bedbugs, and we ask: are local councils preventing action on climate change?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

32 people died in Delhi as mobs attacked majority-Muslim areas of the city, following protests around a new law discriminating against Muslims.

How the protests escalated.

The law reformed India’s refugee policy, long one of the world’s harshest.

The law is accused of delegitimising Muslim citizenship in India.

India has also suffered a spate of attacks against Muslims in the countryside.

WhatsApp has played a crucial role in spreading conspiracy theories that fuel the lynch mobs.

Kashmir, a majority-Muslim area of India, has been under lockdown for many months.

India has also been expanding a National Register of Citizens over the last few years.

Trump had a confusing visit to India. Here’s what they got out of it.

India is increasingly worried about China’s growing influence in the region.

South Sudan has a new government.

Thailand’s opposition party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. (It has a history.)

The Egyptian government is welcoming back Jews who were previously forced to flee.

Slovakia goes to the polls. A neofascist party is expected to surge.

Cameroon’s main opposition leader returned to the country for the first time since his imprisonment.

France has a bedbug problem.

Joe Biden had another gaffe.

Shallow Dive #4: Immigration Talking Points



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?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

UCU university strikes.

The government has unveiled its new plans for post-Brexit immigration.

The Economist’s analysis of the effects of the new plans.

The plan will be “points-based” but will be tougher than Australia’s.

There are probably fewer people looking for a job than the government is claiming.

Average wages (adjusted for inflation) have only just returned to the level they were at pre-2008.

Wage growth is still stagnant even so many years after the financial crash.

The Brexit vote was highest in areas where immigration was low.

The government has long struggled to cut migration levels – and that has little to do with our EU membership.

The SNP, rather than the Labour Party, has been the most vocal political opponent of the government’s new policy.

reckless decision on the coronavirus in Cambodia?

proposed pipeline in Canada has sparked major protests.

A Reuters investigation into Venezuelan special police.

The New York Times’s investigation on child sexual-abuse material online, part 1.

The New York Times’s investigation on child sexual-abuse material online , part 2.

Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos on what can be done to combat the problem of child sexual-abuse material online, interviewed on the Lawfare podcast.

The Albanian president urges an uprising.

The Democratic debate was fiery.

Shallow Dive #3: Justice, Badgers, and the BBC


The rule of law is under attack everywhere, it seems, but Ecuador. Plus Donald Trump’s many questions about badgers, and we ask: should the licence fee be scrapped?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

Sajid Javid is out, after a cabinet reshuffle that was more dramatic than many expected.

The Roger Stone fiasco.

Roger Stone’s role in the Mueller investigation, explained.

Roger Stone threatened to kidnap Randy Credico’s dog.

Plans to reform judicial review in the UK.

Poland’s ominous plans to undermine the independence of their judiciary.

Ecuador’s president is undoing the damage done to the courts by the previous one.

report from the WWF argues that climate change will be devastating to our global economy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sacks his chief of staff.

massive data breach in Israel.

Armed soldiers enter El Salvador’s parliament.

Matteo Salvini to stand trial over kidnapping charges.

Snow in Baghdad, for the first time in ten years.

The government is considering scrapping the licence fee.

Donald Trump had a lot of questions to do with badgers.

Shallow Dive #2: Chaos in Iowa, and the case for regulating Facebook


The Iowa Caucuses descended into chaos, Russian police have been convicted of busting their own drug den, and we ask: should the government step in to save Facebook from itself?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further reading

The Iowa caucuses were utter chaos.

Doing well in Iowa is important, but only if you can get media attention out of it.

Pete Buttigieg: who he is.

Buttigieg controversially fired South Bend’s first African-American police chief.

Buttigieg’s town-regeneration project has also come under criticism from minority communities in South Bend.

Partly as a result, Buttigeg has a major problem with nonwhite voters.

Buttigieg started off with a fairly left-wing campaign, but has pivoted to the centre recently, leading to accusations of opportunism from leftists.

Bernie Sanders: who he is.

Sanders’s healthcare proposals are maybe half as left-wing as what the UK currently has.

Romney voted to convict Trump.

Nancy Pelosi tore up a copy of Trump’s speech.

State election fiasco in Germany.

Land grab in Vietnam.

Iraqi protests shaken up.

Irish elections.

Chile protests.

murder mystery in Lesotho.

Iceland says you can’t name your child after the devil, apparently.

Russian police convicted of busting their own drug den.

Shallow Dive #1: Huawei, & the case for open borders


The government decides to allow Huawei into the UK’s 5G infrastructure, a rare sighting of a Bolivian glass frog, and we ask: are open borders the way to go?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.


Further Reading

Johnson’s controversial decision to allow Huawei in.

The Huawei move is unpopular with his own party.

British foreign policy, caught in an awkward place between the US and China.

Context to US concerns over Huawei.

Huawei: a security issue? Or a trade issue?

5G technology, explained.

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.

5G technology might ruin our weather forecasts.

Peru’s opposition leader arrested.

Netanyahu indicted.

Ex-King Albert of Belgium forced to take a DNA test.

job going at the Tate.

rare sighting of a Bolivian glass frog.

A decade (nearly) of British political history, as told through Queen’s speeches

It’s been quite a decade.

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.

wordcloud queen's speech 2012
Word cloud for the 2012 Queen’s speech, under the coalition government.

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.

wordcloud queen's speech 2014
‘Continue’ appears more in the 2014 Queen’s speech than ‘legislation’ does – but usage of the words ‘united’ and ‘kingdom’, tellingly, also spike.

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’.

wordcloud Queen's speech 2017

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 pronouns
  • Any prepositions
  • 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.

Word clouds were generated using this site here.

Highgate residents furious at construction company moving into their basement

Highgate residents furious at construction company moving into their basement

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-standing disagreement 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.

camden parking graphic