Covid mismanagement – Who is responsible and can they be held accountable?

Infection and mortality rates have varied widely across the globe during the covid pandemic and fluctuated considerably over the past year within individual countries and continents.
It is clear that in most countries social and health inequalities have contributed very significantly to this variation, with covid disproportionately affecting the poor and underprivileged. There have also been other factors in play, with gross mismanagement and multiple policy failures in some countries leading to thousands of excess deaths. This has been particularly evident in certain countries, such as the US under Trump, Brazil, India and arguably the UK, where misplaced economic considerations or the hubris of their political leaders has been associated with the wilful neglect of scientific advice, delayed and mistimed lockdowns and thousands of premature deaths, both due to covid and also delays in treatment of non-covid disorders. This raises the question of political leaders’ accountability for their citizens avoidable deaths.

Kamran Abbasi MB ChB, FRCP is a doctor, journalist, broadcaster and executive editor of the British Medical Journal, and is also a visiting professor at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College. He has recently written about Covid mismanagement in the UK  as well as the wider international perspective and argues
that such public health malpractice could be classified as at the least criminal negligence, or at worst a crime against humanity. He will discuss this in his talk, as well as the possible avenues for redress; ranging from a public inquiry (already much delayed by the UK government), political solutions such as a change of leader (as in the US) or the possibility of a global system of governance such as the International Criminal Court including mismanagement of pandemics in its jurisdiction, given the consequences in individual countries have such a significant deadly impact on the whole world.

Following five years in hospital medicine, working in various medical specialties such as psychiatry and cardiology, Dr Abbasi moved into senior editorial roles at the British Medical Journal from 1997 to 2005. He is now back at The BMJ in a new role as executive editor for content, leading the journal’s strategic growth internationally, digitally, and in print. He has contributed to the expansion of international editions of the BMJ and argued that medicine cannot exist in a political void.

21st June 2021



The geopolitical & historical implications of the TPNW

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (TPNW), entered into force on 22 January 2021. As at 1st February 2021, there were 86 signatories and 52 states-parties, and these numbers continue to grow. It is the first comprehensive global nuclear weapons ban, initially supported in 2017 by 122 countries, that is 2/3 of the membership of the UN. The treaty prohibits signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.

The battle over the introduction of the TPNW raged in the UN for over three years. Accident, miscalculation or design faults were seen as the main threats to be addressed. All 9 nuclear powers boycotted the process and the US led the effort to block TPNW by sending out letters to all signatories to withdraw. Five of those countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey host nuclear weapons.  Japan and South Korea also boycotted the Treaty as naive and dangerous, asserting that it could increase the risk of nuclear use. Russia, US, UK and France remained united against it.  In contrast China tweeted, “we have always been advocating complete prohibition and we make a continuous efforts towards a nuclear weapon free world”. Details of UK opposition to TPNW.   False claims that TPNW is a threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) abound, whereas actually they are completely compatible.

TPNW challenges the entire logic of deterrence. At the present time we are in a state of extreme peril with the 1947 Doomsday Clock set at 100 seconds to midnight. This is the most dangerous period since the Cuban crisis of 1962 and tensions between the US and China and US and Russia are the worst in decades.

The talk explores the geopolitical and historical implications of the TPNW and also touches on the background to the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.   The fact that the overwhelming majority of states and popular opinion support the success of the Treaty  may persuade Global financial institutions, bound by international law, to establish themselves as responsible investors, and therefore increasingly hesitant of investing in these ‘controversial’ weapons now they have been delegitimised by the majority of nations.  Perhaps the TPNW marks the beginning of the end of the military hegemony of the nuclear-armed powers as nation after nation asserts its right to live in a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation by deliberate act or, far more likely, a miscalculation. 

Speaker Biography

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, is author of ‘Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists As Political Activists in 1930s’ America (University of Chicago Press), co-author with Akira Kimura of Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives (Horitsu Bunkasha, 2010), co-author with Yuki Tanaka of Genpatsu to hiroshima – genshiryoku heiwa riyo no shinso (Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power (Iwanami, 2011), and co-editor with James Gilbert of Rethinking Cold War Culture (Smithsonian Institution Press).  Full listing of books and articles.

He was active in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements and remains active in anti-war and nuclear abolition efforts.    In 1995, he founded American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. Every summer, since 1995, he has taken Institute students on a study-abroad class in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. 

In 2003, Kuznick organized a group of scholars, writers, artists, clergy, and activists to protest the Smithsonian’s celebratory display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex. As part of this effort, he cofounded the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy and the Nuclear Education Project with Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and professors Mark Selden and John Dower.

His current projects include a book on scientists and the Vietnam War and another that looks at how the evolving understanding that nuclear war could lead to annihilation of all life on the planet has shaped the behaviour and views of military strategists, policymakers, and the public. He and Oliver Stone co-authored the 10 part Showtime documentary film series and book, both titled The Untold History of the United States. He regularly provides commentary for all the major U.S. and international media and has begun his fourth three-year term as Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer.

29th April 2021


Myanmar: Why peace remains elusive

After decades of military rule, Myanmar’s 2010 General Election appeared to be a watershed moment and inspired hopes that Myanmar was embarking upon what the World Bank dubbed as a ‘triple transition’: from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in the country’s border areas. The election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015, following a landslide victory for her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party, led to renewed hopes that a peaceful resolution could be found to the country’s longstanding armed conflict. Yet, alongside Myanmar’s formal peace process, the country’s ethnically-diverse border areas have experienced some of the worst violence for more than twenty-five years, notably the devastating army-led attacks against the country’s Rohingya population and renewed fighting in the northeast of the country in Kachin State and northern Shan State. This talk explores why peacebuilding efforts continue to face huge challenges despite the country’s democratic transition and formal peace process. Focusing predominantly on northern Myanmar’s borderlands with China, this talk emphasises the need to situate the current peace process within a deeper understanding of the contested and unresolved processes of state-building and to understand how the current peace process is founded upon the troubled legacy of decades of military rule, exclusionary nationalism and highly unequal power structures.

Author biography:

Dr Patrick Meehan is a post-doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, and a Co-Investigator on a four research project entitled ‘Drugs and (dis)order: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war’. Funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), this project explores the political economy of drugs and war to peace transitions in borderland regions of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. His research explores the dynamics of violence, conflict and development, and engages specifically with the relationship between drugs and processes of statebuilding and peacebuilding, with a primary focus on Myanmar’s borderlands with China and Thailand. He has also conducted research for The UK Government (Stabilisation Unit), the World Bank, Conciliation Resources and Christian Aid. 

8th March 2021


Zoom Video – Climate Change: How can our political systems meet the challenge in the time of Covid?

As carbon emissions from fossil fuels rise inexorably from the world’s greatest industrial powers, it is clear that on our present course there is no hope of meeting the zero carbon emissions target that scientists say is essential to prevent catastrophe. Although huge strides have been made in the search for carbon free power, it has so far proved impossible to reduce dependence on fossil fuels generally and coal in particular. Worldwide, governments have failed to deliver coherent programmes that will deliver the economic and social changes  required for zero carbon emissions; political institutions and  political elites seem unable to meet the existential challenge that faces us. 
Jacqueline McGlade is Professor of Resilience and Sustainable Development in the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL and Professor of the Environment at Gresham College. A Marine Biologist and Environmental Informatics specialist she was Executive Director of the European Environment Agency from 2003 to 2013 and Chief Scientist and Director of the Science Division of the United Nations Environment Programme between 2014 and 2017. Over a long period she has worked at the interface of sustainable development, science, society and policy and her research on biodiversity, climate change, ecosystems, oceans and social dynamics has been of great importance. She will talk about the changes that will be necessary in political, economic and social systems to avoid climate catastrophe and how the current Covid pandemic may impact on bringing about these changes.

30th November 2020

Medical face masks, the chaos of COVID-19, & the scramble for the Golden Fleece

A few months ago, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of medical face masks took an alarming toll. We heard from health staff that they didn’t have the protection they needed. The frightening experience by mid-March of the mystery of where was the PPE, or the right PPE for the NHS, including face masks, left the impression that “just in time” production was not coming close to serving public health needs.  On an almost daily basis for weeks we were told: ‘It is stockpiled. Distribution is difficult.’ Was there an ingredient that was hard to come by? Where was the stockpile?

In May 2020 in a blog entitled  The story of the Golden Fleece: A study in political economy, Nick Pearce retold the story of  ‘melt-blown’, an extruded synthetic fibre, which was nicknamed the ‘golden fleece’ because of the valuable protection it offers front-line medical staff and its high demand the world over.

This very versatile polymer started life during America’s Cold War, pioneered in military research for monitoring nuclear tests, before moving on to oil giant Exxon for use in industrial processes. Soviet scientists used melt-blown to connect elements for marshland drainage; meanwhile the machines used to make melt-blown fabrics were produced in corporate plants by leading edge manufacturers. Family-owned German companies came into the story and currently manufacture most of the world’s machines for producing medical and hygienic non-woven fabrics. As COVID-19 hit, European producers of melt-blown, such as Innovatec in Germany, could barely believe the amounts which Asian buyers were prepared to pay – with scope for fraudsters and criminal cartels to become involved in the desperate rush to obtain supplies. Melt-blown production reached China after sparking a frenzy of Yangzhong manufacturing companies, with the majority initially producing sub-standard products and being shut down by the Chinese authorities. There are now state-sanctioned enterprises in China that have built vast production lines for face mask manufacturing, aiming to become the world’s biggest producer. “Nothing matches the velocity and sheer scale of Chinese manufacturing” according to Nick Pearce, “ [and]…nothing traverses the global economy quite like the story of the golden fleece.”

Nick Pearce is the Director of The Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and Professor of Public Policy, based at Bath University. He has extensive experience in policy research and government policymaking and is an author and regular commentator on public policy. He was formerly Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), leading a team producing public policy research in the key areas of public services, economic reform, the welfare state, migration, energy and environment and politics and power. He was Head of the No10 Downing Street Policy Unit between 2008 and 2010, and has worked as special advisor in the Home Office, Cabinet Office and former Department for Education and Employment.

The Politics of Oil, Covid-19 & Climate Change: Opportunity or Threat?

Even before Covid 19 took full effect on the world economy, a ruthless oil price war involving Russia and Saudi Arabia had led to a sharp drop in the price of oil, and with the pandemic leading to a huge fall in demand, the price of oil has now dramatically collapsed. The consequences of this collapse are far reaching, not least in the US where the domestic shale industry is under severe pressure. However, it is by no means given that the current collapse of the oil industry will have a long-term beneficial effect on the reduction of carbon emissions and the development of alternative sustainable technologies. Paradoxically there is now likely to be huge political  pressure from large oil corporations to restrict the regulation of carbon emissions on the grounds that they hinder economic recovery. We face the very real danger of an emboldened and resurgent oil industry, positioned ever more centrally within our political and economic systems. Such an eventuality would be a disastrous outcome to this current pandemic.

Adam Hanieh is a political economist and a Reader in Development Studies at SOAS. His latest book is Money, Markets, and Monarchies: The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Political Economy of the Contemporary Middle East (Cambridge), which was awarded the 2019 British International Studies Association International Political Economy Group Book PrizeHis talk will look at the economic and geopolitical implications of the oil market crash and its potential impacts on the struggle to mitigate climate change.

29th June 2020



ZOOM VIDEO CONFERENCE- Homelessness: its social and economic causes and effects

Despite increased policy attention, and the implementation of strategies to halt it, homelessness is on the rise in most European states and remains at stubbornly high levels across developed nations. Its adverse effects on mental and physical health, crime levels, substance abuse, and general wellbeing are profound, and it is urgently necessary to devise means that will bring it to an end. Professor Nicholas Pleace is a globally recognised authority on homelessness, he is Director of the Centre for Housing Policy, the University of York Research Champion for Justice and Equality and holds a Chair in Social Policy at York. His work centres on comparative research, particularly across Europe and the Anglophone countries, and on transdisciplinary research that encompasses inequalities in health, life chances/opportunity and area effects in urban space with a particular focus on housing precarity and homelessness. He has led research for numerous international governmental and non-governmental organisations, and is a member of the European Observatory on homelessness, and of the Women’s Homelessness in Europe Network.  He is also on the Editorial Boards of the European Journal of Homelessness and the International Journal of Housing Policy, and has written very widely on the subject of homelessness, one of his most recent publications being Ending Homelessness? The Contrasting Experiences of Ireland, Denmark and Finland (2020). Guardian article

16th March 2020

The Science of Motivation and its role in changing our lives

What convictions and desires form our choices, and motivate us to take action, personal, professional and political? What incentives, arguments or punishments might cause our decisions and behaviour to change? And where does the role of morality and identity lie in the process of motivating others to alter their views and judgements? These are crucial questions in a world in which we are subject to an overwhelming stream of information and persuasion, and where there is little time for reflection about how we should respond. Robert West is Professor of Health Psychology at University College London and an Associate of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change. He is Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Addiction, and has published more than 800 scholarly works including books on behaviour change and addiction. His most recent book Energise: the Secrets of Motivation, was published last year, and was written in collaboration with his son Jamie West, a writer and musician.

17th February 2020

Voices of Resistance in the Gig Economy

One of the huge changes in today’s employment structure is the rapidly growing number of workers engaged in casual and precarious work within the so-called ‘gig economy’, a term applied increasingly in differentiated circumstances worldwide but also specifically to those who depend for their pay on insecure working arrangements which provide no benefits or protection: no holiday, sick pay, parental leave, pension rights or guarantee of job security. Millions of workers, from pizza deliverers and call centre operators to those engaged in limited forms of self-employment in traditional companies or outsourced public services find themselves without unions or other organisations to protect them from routine exploitation, the pressure of loss of work, or the proliferation of surveillance and control. But battles and strategies to unionise, organise and resist both physical and mental isolation and the ever-looming threat of work degradation in a global economy has grown and developed. Jamie Woodcock, is a senior lecturer at the Open University, where his research has focused on digital labour, the gig economy, and resistance, and he is currently involved in the Fairwork Foundation, a project about online labour platforms. He worked undercover in a call centre to gather insights into the everyday experiences of call centre workers, and this experience informed his book Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, published in 2016.   His latest book, The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction  provides an overview of the whole issue, and outlines four strategies that can produce a fairer platform economy that works for everyone.  Other publications: Marx at the Arcade is out with Haymarket. Working the Phones is available to download for free. All Jamie’s publications are available to read online

3rd February 2020

The Pharmaceutical Industry: Private wealth or public health? with Dr Panos Kanavos

While the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the world, over 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines. Although much pharmaceutical Research and Development (R&D) in part is publicly funded, companies habitually claim very high development costs as an excuse for the often exorbitant and, for the poor, unaffordable prices of drugs. Generic versions of these vital medicines can be made available, but when a new medication is created, it is understood to be protected by ‘intellectual property’ and can be patented for 20 years. 

Additionally, the practice of ‘evergreening’ is often used to extend these patents by repeatedly making minute modifications to the product concerned. Governments attempting to override them are met by huge resistance from the corporations concerned, while other governments are often supportive of their actions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, new drug approvals have increased significantly over the past few years, which is great news, but most of the new drugs are available at prohibitive prices and require health care systems to resort to extensive negotiations to ensure affordability. 

Dr Panos Kanavos will discuss this situation with us. He is Associate Professor in International Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy at the London School of Economics, and Programme Director of the Medical Technology Research Group, which administers the Programme on Pharmaceutical issues. An economist by training, his teaching role currently includes Health Care Financing and Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy.

20th January 2020