In what’s been called “a drastic reimagining of state powers” by Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty (a human rights charity), the Government’s planned coronavirus bill is too broad and is ripe for abuse.
In Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, broad emergency powers are granted by the legislature – eventually leading to the formation of the Galactic Empire. Whilst Boris Johnson is unlikely to take the title of Emperor, it’s worth remembering that granting broad emergency powers should not be taken lightly.
The planned legislation will be time-limited for two years. It should be shorter – the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which deals with emergencies such as war and terrorism, has emergency regulations expire after 30 days, unless renewed by Parliament; when the peak of the virus is expected to hit between late May and late June of this year, it is unclear why Government should not have to apply for an extension to these unprecedented powers, and why they would still need them as far away as 2022; Parliament can always renew powers if they are needed for longer.
According to the BBC, it is likely that there will not even be a vote on the powers, instead they will be nodded through by Parliament. This means the bill will not be properly scrutinised by our elected representatives.
Giving law enforcement powers to detain and isolate people in a pandemic may sound good in theory, but there need to be clearly defined safeguards against abuse. How these safeguards can be robust to protect our civil liberties is questionable considering the lack of proper scrutiny. Martha Spurrier is right in saying that we “must not allow the hollowing out of human rights to become the go-to for the Government when it’s in a crisis.”
Only one doctor will be required to sign death certificates, and the need for inquests to be held with a jury will be removed.
Furthermore, only one doctor will be needed to detain people under mental health laws, rather than the two currently required.
Additionally, local councils will be able to lower care standards so they can “prioritise” between residents in need, “even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full”.
Also, ministers will be able to reduce teacher ratios, slash school meal standards, and reduce standards for children with special needs.
In addition, the government will have the ability “to restrict or prohibit events and gatherings during the pandemic in any place, vehicle, train, vessel or aircraft, any movable structure and any offshore installation and, where necessary, to close premises”.
These changes set a dangerous precedent where oversight is thrown out of the window and standards are lowered with no proper scrutiny of the changes; lowering care standards carries the additional risk of putting vulnerable people in danger in a time where they may need additional attention.
In a crisis, it is more important than ever to make sure sweeping changes to our democracy and our society are not made under the guise of public safety.
Struggling to keep to your New Years’ resolutions in to February? This spiritual successor to Wii Fit beats it in fun and intensity.
It’s no secret that, for many people, Christmas, and the winter period, isn’t just a time for giving – it’s time to pack on the pounds. The amount of food I consumed over the festive period was probably enough for two of me, so when I saw Nintendo’s new “Ring Fit Adventure”, I knew I should give it a go.
A spiritual and long-awaited successor to Nintendo’s Wii
Fit series, Ring Fit Adventure is a fitness role-playing game (RPG),
combining turn-based battles against fitness-themed monsters (think frog-looking
dumbbells and stingray-style yoga mats), and trying to beat the main boss
‘Dragaux’, an evil dragon whose goal appears to be… bodybuilding?
Ring Fit’s story is light but engaging. In the
beginning of the game’s ‘Adventure’ mode, you are fooled in to freeing the evil
Dragaux from the confines of your voice-acted soon-to-be-partner, Ring –
imaginatively named after, and bearing striking resemblance to, the game’s
real-life plastic pilates ring (or, Ring-Con, as the game calls it).
Unlike Wii Fit’s Yoga and Muscle exercises, set in a
clinically white environment with yoga and muscle exercises led by an equally clinically
white instructor, which were overshadowed by its much more colourful but
arguably less intensive balance exercises, Ring Fit integrates yoga, muscle,
and aerobic exercises in to its dynamic story mode, making every Squat, Plank,
or Ring Pull in to an attack against a comedically designed monster, rather
than another boring exercise.
The exercises are tough – but Ring Fit checks that
you’re not over-exerting itself, advising you that you can adjust the
difficulty level every time you start the ‘Adventure’ mode and reminding you to
stay hydrated and to take breaks often throughout the story.
Those who have played RPGs with turn-based battles before
will be immediately familiar with the battle system used in Ring Fit –
something that may be to Nintendo’s strength, helping to get gamers to exercise
more. But this is far from a hardcore RPG – the game explains and introduces
concepts as it progresses, rather than all at once, to avoid overwhelming even
more casual players.
Whilst I grew to find the voice acting encouragement of
“Fantastic”, “Awesome”, etc. motivating, some may find it grating – the good
news is that the settings of the game include separate volume controls for the
Music, Sound Effects, and Voice – meaning the voice acting can be switched off.
Those who are worried about the noise of jogging on the spot in the story will
also be pleased to find out the game has a ‘Silent Mode’, allowing you to squat,
rather than jog, to progress. I would have preferred if there were an option to
mute all sound effects except for ones related to timing your exercises (I’m a
big fan of the in-game music, my flatmates sitting on the sofa not so much),
but I can deal with the sound of coins jingling over my own music if I must.
One of Ring Fit Adventure’s biggest strengths, its appeal to gamers, could also be one of its biggest weaknesses – the game introduces and explains ‘Smoothies’ (a way restore health and legally enhance your performance) and clothing items which boost your Attack and Defence fairly early in the story. Not having enough ‘Smoothies’ led to me losing the battle with the boss in the third level, despite not making any mistakes in the actual exercise. This may put off some players, but you still level up when you lose, and losing just means you will have to come back to fight again, meaning more exercise – hardly a disadvantage.
The innovative use of the Joy-Cons in this game show the
power of the Switch’s unique design – the infrared camera at the bottom of the
right Joy-Con becomes the game’s heart rate sensor, and the small size and
attachability allow the right Joy-Con to sense movements and strength with the
eponymous ‘ring’, whilst left Joy-Con to be attached to the leg with a leg
strap, even if it does have a tendency to slip down a bit sometimes.
Overall, the game has been a great way to encourage me to exercise more this year, and I can’t see myself putting it down any time soon – from what I’ve heard, there’s still plenty more levels, and therefore squats, to go before I get anywhere near to finishing the main story. The ability to create or follow routines of exercises outside of the adventure mode further adds to the game’s replayability. Like any form of exercise, it’s unlikely to impact you immensely unless you can also make wider lifestyle choices as well (time to cut down on the chocolate bars), but Ring Fit Adventure has certainly gone a long way to encourage me to start – I can’t see that I would have been doing forty-plus squats in my living room before I got it.
8.6/10. An excellent game, Ring Fit Adventure is let down slightly by early level grinding and slightly repetitive boss fights and levels, but shines through with its variety of exercises, minigames, monster designs, and the fact that it makes exercise fun!
16:02. A Facebook message asking me to “guarantee to not leak
details” and telling me that I will be taken “to the location”. No, this
isn’t an episode of 24, this is what happens when a student-organized
husting is cancelled at the last minute by administrators at UWE.
Derya Khalilpour, president of the UWE Debating Society,
pulls up in his car at the agreed meeting spot just outside of Frenchay Campus,
and signals to me to get in. As we start to drive, I meet treasurer of the
society, James Pearson, who chuckles when I ask to where we are driving — I
still don’t know where we are going. I’m told we’re going to a hotel in the
centre, but I’ll have to wait until later until I find out the exact location.
If you think that this sounds clandestine in nature, you’d be right;
as I would later find out, I would make up just a sixth of those in
attendance, including Carl Benjamin as the sole speaker, and his
As we drive to the centre, I ask Khalilpour about how it got
to this point. He tells me that the proper procedures were followed for
inviting external speakers to the university campus, with plans submitted to
the Students’ Union prior to the deadline of fourteen days in advance, and
everything was approved up until three days before the event. As the university
did not have the contact details of the society, Khalilpour was informed of the
cancellation around the same time as the public statement went live.
Having predicted something like this would happen, Khalilpour knew
now was the time to go rogue. As we’re driving in the car, Pearson is
frantically editing a logo for the new page he is setting up to stream
the event, it’s the UWE Debating Society’s logo, but with the colours
inverted and the word “NOT” superimposed: the disgruntlement towards the
university is palpable.
Khalilpour tells me that the UWE Debating Society is an
“incredibly diverse society, politically”, and that many don’t know what
people’s politics are.
I ask Khalilpour what he thinks of Green party candidate Carla
Denyer’s call to boycott the original hustings: “[she] should respect us
as a debating society to uphold platforming. If she believes the
propagation of the views that [Benjamin] holds would be detrimental to
society then she, by dropping out, has given him a larger platform — now
we are also exclusively platforming Carl [Benjamin].”
After some trouble navigating Bristol’s new Temple Gate and
the associated roadworks, we arrive at the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel. Eight
chairs have been laid out for the event, enough for seven speakers and the
chair, but everyone knows only Benjamin will be in attendance.
Benjamin arrives at 18:42 with his assistant in tow. They
set up their own camera separate to that of the “Not UWE Debating Society” to
film the event.
Benjamin introduces himself, stating that UKIP are “the only
Brexit party that are an actual party”, and that the manifesto “hit[s] all the
major notes, subjects that my activism does revolve around”, he explains his
disagreement with the manifesto’s pledge to reinvigorate the coal industry,
proposing increased use of nuclear power, and concludes his introduction with a
speech concerning Article 13 and internet liberties, probably the only two
points that even I can agree with.
Views on Islam
What came next was much more sinister.
Benjamin said he thinks that there is too much
“pussy-footing around” in European Parliament, and that an MEP should use the
“minute or so on the floor to raise issues that are not being talked about in
the direct way that need to be spoken about”.
Benjamin then launched in to a seven-and-a-half minute tirade
on his views of Islam, including the supposed high prevalence of “abaya”, a
traditionally Muslim dress, commenting that he thinks it’s “the wrong message
to send that this is the kind of Islam we want in Britain”. When asked how to
stem the proliferation of Islamic terrorism, he stated that the “British state
is going to have to choose a form of Islam that it finds socially compatible
with the country”, with certain types “prohibited from being taught in mosques”.
When questioned as to how this was compatible with Benjamin’s own descriptions
of himself as a “free speech activist” and “civil libertarian”, he was quick to
deflect, saying that he would still wish to allow this in private reading, just
not in mosques.
Benjamin then praised the oppressive state of Saudi Arabia,
where women only recently gained the ability to legally drive, saying that “in
every mosque in Saudi Arabia, they have cameras to monitor the Imams themselves
to make sure they’re not teaching anything that would be considered
revolutionary, if it’s good enough for Saudi Arabia then […] I think that could
only benefit everyone”. Despite attempts by Khalilpour to steer the discussion
back on track, Benjamin was quick to return to discussion on Islam, referring
to the “indigenous population” of the UK at one point in his answer.
At one point, Benjamin stated that the Liberal Democrats had
been subverted by socialists and associated the party’s notion of equality to
communism; despite this, I asked him afterwards, were he a Remainer, which
party he would be a member of, he said the Liberal Democrats, presumably due to
his perception of himself as a liberal.
Benjamin continued the interview criticizing censorship
online, saying “I think censorship radicalizes people” seemingly unable to see
the irony between his criticism of the erasure of freedom of speech and freedom
of expression and his calls to ban certain types of religious teaching and
After calling LGBT rights a “political issue”, Benjamin was
asked if there was anything that social justice movements had achieved that he
agreed with, to which he responded “what have they achieved? Well, they’ve
achieved a great deal of censorship”. Benjamin is clearly unable to identify
with the plight of anyone beyond himself: due to the suspension of his Twitter
account, he believes that he is subject to censorship. If Benjamin had been
able to come up with an answer, he may have mentioned same-sex marriage, legalized
in 2014, surely a milestone contribution to Benjamin’s earlier assertion that
there is “no difference between the rights of a gay man and a straight man in
Asked whether “students engaging politically is a positive
thing”, Benjamin said he thought “students should get on with their studies”,
after an incredulous look by Khalilpour, Benjamin redoubled saying “I’m
serious, you don’t need to be involved in politics, you don’t know what you’re
talking about, you’re like twenty-one years old, I’m thirty-nine and I still
don’t know what I’m talking about.” “You’ve been fed half a narrative from your
Marxist professor and you’ve been given a bunch of false information that’s led
you to believe everything you disagree with is fascism, and you just don’t
know, just get on with your studies”.
Well, at least Benjamin got one thing right: he doesn’t know
what he’s talking about. Of course, when turn out is lower, right-leaning
parties succeed at a higher rate, so as young people are one of the groups that
turns out to vote in the lowest numbers, of course he would be appear more than
happy to see them disenfranchised.
I queried Benjamin on his views about the recent
story where a man covered his face and received a £90 fine, and whether he
thought that the man had a right to cover his face. His response: “of course he
did”, when I asked why he would restrict the rights of a Muslim woman to cover
her face with a burqa, and its impact on civil liberties he seemed unfazed,
saying that it was not a contradiction, and that we already restrict what
people can wear in certain places, and that “we do have to compromise in
certain regards”, saying that a ban “doesn’t have to be restricted to any one
religion”, and that it could be restricted to certain places.
The “Not UWE Debating Society”, as an independent group of
students, could not use society funds could for any of the re-organized event,
so it looked like they would be out-of-pocket. After the event was over, with
questioning complete, Benjamin became aware of this, and offered to cover the
cost of the hotel room booking. From my point of view this seemed to be an
offer to a group of students out of kindness, rather than a conflict of
interest; this would not have been necessary had the original husting gone
ahead as planned.
My final thoughts
Benjamin seemed more concerned with opinions relating to
Islam and censorship online than on his party’s Brexit strategy, but this is to
be expected considering that a recent YouGov/The Times poll puts UKIP at 3%,
below even that of Change UK (5%). Clearly Brexit is not helping them remain
relevant, so why not try something else? His assertions that students should
not be involved in politics, that LGBT rights are a political issue, and his
inability to find a single good achievement of the social justice movement show
that Benjamin is either unable or unwilling to see outside of his bubble,
despite criticizing others for the same. There are many legitimate reasons for
leaving the European Union, even if I may disagree with it, but it received
little attention from Benjamin in the entire hour he was given to talk with no
Had the original husting gone ahead, Benjamin would have had
to contend with the opposing candidates, but due to the withdrawal of support by
UWE, he had nothing but a chairman and a woefully inexperienced student
journalist in myself to contend with. This constitutes a failure by the university.
Luckily, if the polling is correct, Benjamin’s views, like UKIP, will one day be dead in the water.
It is here that I’d like to urge people to vote in the
upcoming European Parliament elections in order to help keep people like
Benjamin from gaining office. With a more proportional voting system than
General Elections, your vote really does make a difference, and tactical voting
is not as necessary.
The Green Party’s Carla Denyer refused request for comment.