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POLITICS in PUBS Newcastle

Do you know your left from your right; your City Region from your City Deal; your EU from your EEC? Do you want to know more about local, national, European and world politics, from theory and ideology to practice and influence? Do you want to hear from those you vote for about what you're voting for? And do you want it all in a friendly, relaxed place with plenty of people to discuss and disagree with? Then Politics in Pubs is for you.


In light of Labour's election victory, has woke won?
An evening with author and commentator Joanna Williams
7pm, Tuesday 17th September 2024

Has the challenge to woke the agenda come to an end with the new Labour government? What does this mean for the majority of people who don't buy into this worldview?

Towards the end of the Conservative Party's time in government, it began to seem as if the woke initiatives that had come to dominate our public institutions were finally being challenged. A ban on gender-inclusive conversion therapy had been ruled out, universities had a new legal duty to protect free speech and schools had been told not to teach young children that people can change gender. Civil servants had even been ordered not to wear rainbow lanyards in the workplace.

Now, just weeks into a new Labour government, much has changed. Keir Starmer declares the culture wars to be over while appointing cabinet ministers who are unable to define 'woman'. Civil servants and sections of the media appear delighted at the prospect of a government that, at long last, shares their values.

Does a Labour government mean that woke has won after all? How has this happened? Is it possible to challenge this pernicious, anti-democratic, elite worldview and place the common sense of the majority at the heart of our political system?

Join us in Newcastle for an evening with Joanna Williams, political commentator, education editor at Spiked and author of several books including How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement That Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason.

The venue will be announced nearer the time. It will be within a few minutes' walk from Newcastle's Central Station. Drinks can be purchased from the bar.

This event is jointly organised by POLITICS in PUBS Newcastle and Newcastle New Culture Forum Locals.

Click Here to book for this free event


Previous Discussions


7pm, Tuesday 16th July 2024
Could proportional representation be a catalyst for greater political engagement?
Introduction by Paula Watson
Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

Have we failed to treasure democracy? With turnout at elections dwindling, and a growing divide between the public and the those who seek to lead us, what solutions do we need?

"In a democratic government the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all." - Ernest Naville

On the 5th of May 2011, the UK held a referendum to change our majoritarian First Past The Post (FPTP) system to one of Alternate Votes (AV). The move was defeated, with 67.9% of votes cast against the change.

Advocates of FPTP hold this up to suggest that there is no demand for PR within the UK voting public, but AV is not a system of proportional representation. Would a different offer have received a different response and is it possible that the political turmoil of the last decade has changed minds? And if the solution is Proportional Representation (PR), in the interests of democracy, is a referendum required to implement it?

PR could give small parties a chance to build, but could it also be an opportunity for extremism?

Given the concerns many have over changing our system, perhaps local government elections would be a better place to start.

POLITICS in PUBS Newcastle picked through the carcass of the 2024 election and asked if First Past the Post should be consigned to the past.


Tuesday 11th June 2024
Planet on fire? The politics of climate change
Introduction by Dr Alistair Ford, Lecturer in Geospatial Data Analytics and Policy Academy Fellow at Newcastle University
Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

Are we facing the end of the world as we know it? What impact do the politics of climate change have on democratic accountability?

According to a recent poll of climate scientists, our planet is likely to experience global heating of at least 2.5C above pre-industrial levels this century. Many of the scientists envisage a 'semi-dystopian' future with famines, conflicts, and mass migration, driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms. Of those polled, 80% of the scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresee at least a 2.5C rise in temperature.

However, the IPCC itself has come under fire from some. While the IPCC has long had critics, their number is growing and includes new members who were once advocates. Critics argue that while some stages of the review process are robust, there is a subsequent re-write by a small group of 'Lead Authors' that is not open and rigorous, nor does it take in a wide variety of views. In summary, it suffers from a lack of transparency, oversight, and a robust peer review strategy.

Given that the public are being asked to make drastic changes to their lives, on the basis of IPCC reports, how can we verify its claims? Moreover, what does the research and report process tell us about democratic accountability more widely?

One outspoken critic is American atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen, who was previously an IPCC contributor. He argues, 'we have developed all sorts of fear of prospect scenarios - of flooding, of plague, of increased storminess when the physics says we should see less.' Do Lindzen's comments reflect a sense of fatalism within the environmental movement? Or is he a lone voice speaking against the overwhelming scientific consensus?

Some scientists have hit back, describing Lindzen as a contrarian playing to an audience of people who want to deny climate change. They argue that the science is settled. But is science ever settled? And why are those who question prevailing opinion branded as heretics or 'Climate Change Deniers'? Shouldn't all views be open to debate rather than denounced? Or is the 'Climate Emergency' so great, we must build upon the body of evidence that tells us real change is necessary and urgent? Even if the science is settled, is there more than one way to tackle the effects of climate change than a politics of limits?

Click here for notes from meeting


Tuesday 14th May 2024 at 7:00pm
Is Western civilisation under attack?
Introduction by Mo Lovatt
Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

What is civilisation? Can we define what is distinctly "western"? Is Western civilisation under attack and should it be defended?

From the culture wars at home, to the increasingly fraught international situation, many people see our current problems as being "civilisational" in scope, viewing Western civilisation as either under attack or crumbling from within.

But what is civilisation? Can we define what is distinctly "western"? And, if it is under attack, by whom and why? Finally, we will ask whether we can, or even ought to, defend what is under attack and how?

There will be a short introduction from Dr Mo Lovatt after which there will be plenty of time for discussion over a drink or two.

Suggested background material:

  • Western civilisation is being destroyed from within by forces we can't control, Allister Heath, The Telegraph
  • Relax, Western values are not under threat, just Western dominance, Alex Lo, South China Post
  • Against Decolonisation: Campus Culture Wars and the Decline of the West (book) by Doug Stokes
  • Civilisation, Kenneth Clark, watch the whole series on YouTube


    Tuesday 9th April 2024
    Britain's trade problem and why it matters
    Introduction by William Clouston, leader of the Social Democratic Party
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    The UK now imports vastly more than we export. What are the social and economic consequences and how can we tackle them?

    William explained the roots of our present economic crisis, namely, the UK's huge trade problem. Each year we buy vastly more than we sell and, consequently, we accumulate debt. Yet our persistent negative balance of trade is rarely discussed in political discourse and most of our elected representatives seem ignorant of the basic economics of international trade (imports can be paid for in three ways - by exporting goods, by selling assets we already have or buy issuing debt). Running multi-billion pound trade deficits has filled our homes with imported goods and trinketry but it has beggared the country. It has gutted our manufacturing, shifted production overseas and obliterated the industrial wage which used to be the foundation of family life. The social consequences have been grave. As the factories closed, the drug dealers moved in. To cure the problem, we need a meaningful trade and industrial policy. We need to end our indifference to what is made where and by whom and to who owns what. As the pandemic showed, successful states will increasingly prioritise domestic production and national resilience in food and energy over utopian dreams of global free trade.

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 12th March 2024
    Education or indoctrination - what is happening in UK schools?
    Introduction by Lily Osborne
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    From climate change to critical race theory and identity politics, the UK education has become increasingly politicised in recent years. Do current practices of promoting particular ideas while silencing others undermine education altogether? Is there anything we can do about it?

    Teaching politics in schools is part of a well-rounded liberal education, but increasingly we hear about the politicisation of education, with teachers acting as activists, promoting only one set of political ideals. Some have gone further, calling this indoctrination, not education.

    At the same time, we hear of political debate being closed down in the classroom. Trigger warnings and safe spaces are commonplace in schools and universities with many young people worrying that their freedom to explore concepts and topics is under threat.

    On the 12th of March, PiPs Newcastle member Lily Osborne will bring the topic of indoctrination in schools to Politics in Pubs. She will be talking about the increasing tendency among teachers to close down certain viewpoints, particularly those from a right-leaning perspective. Lily will also talk about the extreme push for students to be actively involved in LGBT issues, the "grooming" of students - particularly young girls - into involvement with the trans community, and the push towards espousing Critical Race Theory as fact, unintentionally raising racial tension amongst students. She will argue all of this leads to an environment where debate and free-thinking are stifled and the challenges that growing children ordinarily face are ignored.

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 13th February 2024
    Regional devolution: Greater democracy or more bureaucracy?

    On 2nd May voters in the North East will go to the polls to elect a Mayor as part of a £1.4bn devolution deal. Will this mean more power to the people and better local investment? Or just an extra layer of government bureaucracy?

    Guest speaker: Conservative mayoral candidate, Guy Renner-Thompson.
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    The North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) will hold devolved powers over transport, skills, planning and regeneration, as well as economic development. The mayor will represent almost two million people, reaching across the region from Northumberland, through Tyne and Wear, down to County Durham. Is this "a huge opportunity for the whole region to grow and thrive", as Mr Renner-Thompson says?

    Advocates argue that devolution strengthens our democracy, allowing regions to focus on their own priorities and gives people meaningful opportunities to get involved in politics at the local level. They suggest that regional and national inequalities will be partially alleviated by fiscal transfers from central government to regional authorities, and that devolution is the answer to the failure of centralisation which will lead to an increase in democratic accountability.

    Critics argue the trend towards regionalism simply reflects the exhaustion of national government. Devoid of big ideas and solutions to our nation's problems, central government is more than happy to outsource its responsibilities to regional administrations. Moreover, they say, devolution will further erode the sovereignty of parliament, and that our two decades' experience of extending devolution (in Scotland and Wales) has led to Britain becoming more unequal and more divided than ever before. Rather than increasing accountability, it creates a gap between the levels of administration, making it more difficult for people to hold their politicians to account.

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 9th January 2024
    Reasons to be Cheerful?
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    Politics in Pubs Newcastle started the new year with a challenge ... is it all doom and gloom, or could we think of some reasons to be cheerful?

    There seems to be plenty of cause for pessimism in the UK today: An increasingly authoritarian state seeks to restrict our mobility and leisure activities, bureaucratising every area of life and even death; We can't trust the media to be impartial or even truthful, and we are exposed to psychological manipulation from myriad sources on a daily basis; Our new King meddles in politics, exacerbating social division and undermining democracy; Free speech is under attack on many fronts, not least from our police and justice system. Our broken political system makes it hard for new parties to break through and deliver positive change.

    PiPs Newcastle met for an open discussion on events of the past year and a look ahead to 2024. What has given us cause for hope and which new topics should we discuss at future meetings?

    There is one thing we were all be thankful for - at least it isn't 2020 and we were free to get together for a good debate!

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 12th December 2023
    Free Speech and Non-Crime Hate Incidents
    Introduction by Dr Kyri Kotsoglou

    Is being offensive an offence? PiPs Newcastle met in December to discuss the legality of a peculiar but unexplored phenomenon in policing known as non-crime hate incidents (NCHIs).

    Some see NCHIs as a preventative measure to help curtail escalation to more serious crimes; others see them as a waste of valuable resources. More than 120,000 such incidents were recorded by UK police forces between 2014 and 2019. Even the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has had a non-crime hate incident recorded against her - simply for giving a speech about foreign workers at the Tory Party conference.

    NCHIs have recently become an area of tension between the College of Policing and defenders of free speech. Former police officer Harry Miller had a non-crime hate incident recorded against him for social media posts containing 'gender critical' views, but later won a legal challenge when the Court of Appeal ruled that the guidance had been wrongly used and had a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.

    The debate will be introduced by Dr Kyri Kotsoglou, Associate Professor at Northumbria Law School. Kyri will outline the development of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance 2014, which authorised the unscrutinised recording of NCHIs, and explore how this has been implemented. The guidance defines a hate incident as "any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice". Kyri will discuss the implications of perception-based recording and argue that by uncritically recording a complaint on its own terms, police forces allow the complainant not only to report what happened (in his or her opinion), but also to dictate the meaning of important legal terms. Perception-based recording is turning the mere expression of thoughts into an incalculable risk, because citizens cannot foresee the consequences which a given action might entail.

    The impact of NCHIs on free speech is therefore not due to the actions of maverick police officers, but the procedural and evidential architecture of the 2014 guidance, which dictates that any expression of opinion must be recorded as a NCHI if it is perceived as hateful. To increase transparency and support decision-making by police officers, a Code of Practice on recording NCHIs was published in June this year. It aims to establish a proportionate and common-sense approach to dealing with reports of non-crime hate incidents - but is it fit for purpose?

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 14th November 2023
    Does the UK need Reform?
    Introduction by Steve Alder

    We have a broken country, built by broken politicians, supported by a broken establishment and formed using a broken political system. The first step to recovery is the realisation that you have a problem!

    PiPs Newcastle met to discuss Reform UK's plans and policies to make Britain great. The introductory talk was given local Reform candidate, Steve Alder, who outlined several critical problems to which Reform UK offers fully costed solutions.

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 10th October 2023
    Nudge Policy - a force for positive change or a threat to freedom?
    Introduction by Paula Watson

    Psychological manipulation - or 'nudging' - to influence behaviour is not new. We expect to be nudged by advertisers and retailers, and we expect parents to nudge their children. But how did nudge weave its way into the heart of government? And can such tactics ever be justified?

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 19th September 2023
    Can we trust the news media?
    Introduction by Phil Miles
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    A 2023 Statista survey found that just 33% of British adults trust news media most of the time. In the US it was a similarly woeful story (32%).

    What is going on? Is it simply an issue of media bias, or is it worse than that? Might some news outlets even have made the ominous transition from misinformation (getting it wrong by accident) to disinformation (getting it wrong on purpose)?

    To what extent has political activism infiltrated our newsrooms?
    Who fact checks the fact checkers?
    And if modern journalism really has gone awry, how do we get it back on track?

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 15th August 2023
    The Right To Die: The Ultimate Civil Right?
    Introduction by Kevin Yuill
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    In May 2021, Baroness Meacher introduced to the House of Lords a Private Member's bill intended to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life. The bill required two independent doctors and a High Court judge to be satisfied that the individual making a request is over 18, terminally ill with six months or less to live and fully mentally competent before they would be granted life-ending medication that could be taken at a time and place of their choosing.

    Despite such legislation being defeated every time it has arisen in Parliament, it is likely to be introduced again in the future.  Moreover, a bill is currently being considered in both the Irish and Scottish Parliaments. If the UK were to pass such a law, it would be joining a clutch of US and Australian states, Canada, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain and New Zealand in allowing assisted death. Many see this as the 'ultimate civil right'.

    Others, including Professor Kevin Yuill, maintain that the focus, especially for medical professionals, should always be to preserve life, which is sacred. They question why there's now a greater acceptance of assisted suicide in liberal societies who tend to view the death penalty as wrong and otherwise defend the sanctity of life.

    So, does assisted suicide relieve suffering and give people ultimate control over their own life and death? Or is the acceptance of the premeditated killing of a human being by the state always wrong?

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 11th July 2023
    Risking it all: the freedom to gamble
    Introduction by Jon Bryan
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    Jon Bryan tweets and writes about gambling and poker at @JonBryanPoker. He will provide an introduction to the discussion based on his Letter on Liberty which is available to read/download here: Risking it all: the freedom to gamble.

    Click here for notes from meeting


    Tuesday 6th June 2023
    From Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to 15-minute cities -
    A war on the car?

    Introduction by Dave O'Toole
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    All of a sudden, and as if from nowhere, anti-car measures are springing up all over the UK. Almost three years ago Greater Manchester Council created the world's largest Clean Air Zone at 500 sq miles. It takes in large swathes of rural areas. Since then, almost 100 councils are planning or have implemented similar schemes. Whether they are LEZs, ULEZs, CAZs, LTNs, 20-minute cities, 15-minute neighbourhoods or ZEZs, they all charge or fine drivers. In addition, the Welsh Government has plans to implement a blank 20 mph speed limit. Most of the schemes are justified on the basis that they are being implemented to combat air pollution. Yet, despite this, all of the schemes have vocal opposition. Locally, in Jesmond, there are regular protests by residents.

    So, are these measures making our neighbourhoods and cities safer and less polluted? Or are they an undemocratic imposition on residents? Where do these schemes come from and why the sudden attack on car driving? Newcastle Politics in Pubs will do a deep dive into these questions with an introduction from Dave O'Toole.

    Click here for notes from meeting

    Dave O'Toole is a former IT systems analyst and FE college lecturer and now retired from UCU where he worked as an organiser. He has worked extensively with The Great Debate a community organisation that has organised over 160 events on a wide range of subjects in Newcastle since 1998. Dave has a keen interest in the politics of the environmental movement and writes on the politics of climate alarmism. He blogs at Dave O'Toole and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidJOToole


    Tuesday 9th May 2023
    Is the Monarchy Becoming Too Political?
    Introduction by Paula Lightfoot
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    "I'm not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. The idea somehow that I'm going to go on in exactly the same way, is complete nonsense."

    Interviewed on his 70th birthday in 2018, Prince Charles emphatically rejected the suggestion that he would continue to 'meddle' in politics if he succeeded to the throne. Now crowned King of the United Kingdom and head of the Commonwealth, is Charles III keeping that promise?

    And if not, does it matter? If we care about free speech, shouldn't everyone have the right to air their opinion? Or does a monarch who is not politically neutral pose a threat to democracy?

    Will speaking out on social and cultural issues help the Royal Family to remain relevant to a new generation? Or, given the increasingly polarised nature of society, could this undermine their stated goal of acting as a focus for national identity, unity and pride?

    Whether you are a staunch royalist, ardent republican or somewhere in between, come along and join our discussion over a drink - we would love to hear your views.


    Tuesday 14th March 2023
    Following the Politics, Not the Science
    The first Newcastle POLITICS in PUBS meeting
    Introduction by Martin Evison
    Chair: Caspar Hewett, Director, The Great Debate

    In March 2020, the arrival of Covid in Britain was accompanied by the birth of a new government mantra: 'follow the science'. The phrase was used to justify why the UK pivoted abruptly from existing pandemic guidelines, underpinned by scientific and ethical principles, to unprecedented 'lockdowns' - involving travel bans, stay at home orders, mandatory business closures, and vindictive suppression of scepticism and rational and viable alternative strategies.

    What caused the UK to become a 'lockdown autocracy' with one of the worst pandemic outcomes in the world - and were we really following the science? Our guest speaker, Martin Evison, will present his own conclusions on whether it was politics, rather than science, which allowed human rights law and the ethics and principles of evidence-based public health to be disregarded by those in charge of the UK Government's response to Covid. Introduction and group discussion - free speech allowed!

    If you find this interesting, consider joining The Great Debate facebook group or visit The Great Debate facebook page.
    Follow us on Twitter: @greatdebateuk

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