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UCL Festival of Culture: The ethics of fighting ISIS: Should we do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism?

ucyow3c13 June 2016

pencil-iconWritten by Sam Stockdale (UCL Arts & Humanities)

microphoneYou would be hard pushed to find a positive thing to associate with ISIS, but the terrorist group certainly knows how to generate a lot of interest, as we saw at this year’s UCL Festival of Culture session ‘The ethics of fighting ISIS’. Attendees squeezed in next to each other without a seat to spare. It was clear from the start that this would not be a ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ session and the audience were faced with some ethical conundrums.

Should we torture?

After immersing the audience in a crash course in consequentialist ethics (through an example of killing one person in order to save five – do the ends justify the means?), Dr Jeff Howard (UCL Political Science) threw down the gauntlet immediately with the first in a series of challenging scenarios:

You have an Islamic State terrorist in custody who has gleefully admitted to planting a dirty bomb in central London with the prospect of killing hundreds of people within two hours. He of course is not admitting to where it is. Do you torture him?

The question immediately divided the room.

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The leaders and the led

ucyow3c9 December 2011

The European project that developed over the 65 years following the Second World War has delivered great benefits to Europe and the UK, but it also suffers from a severe democratic deficit and perceived illegitimacy.

This was the view that Ben Davies heard from Jack Straw MP – former Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor – at his inaugural lecture as Visiting Professor in Public Policy at UCL’s Department of Political Science.

Mr Straw, supported by a densely footnoted handout, ran us through an impressively detailed ‘brief history’ of the project to bring the countries of Europe closer together after 1945, focusing mainly on the Council of Europe – the organisation that still co-ordinates European legal standards – and the European Union.

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Sir Gus O’Donnell on the Cabinet Manual: “More than just a Janet & John guide to the Queen and stuff”

Lara J Carim2 March 2011

Patrick Graham, an intern at the UCL Constitution Unit, provides an overview of a presentation by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s most senior civil servant, about the proposed Cabinet Manual. The event, which was part of the Constitution Unit’s Public Seminar Series, took place on 24 February and was held at the Institute for Government.

Published by the Cabinet Office, a draft version of the Manual is currently being considered by three parliamentary Select Committees while a consultation period is scheduled to end on 8 March. Sir Gus explained that the Manual is intended to “help the public better understand how our democracy works” by making the inner workings of government more transparent. He emphasised, however, that it is not intended to be an exhaustive description of existing practices: rather, the Manual should act as a “high-level summary” of areas such as ministerial responsibility, devolution and hung parliaments.

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