Wednesday, 8 August 2018

If the future is urban, we need a sustainable shared vision for our planet

Barbara Norman

Our future is urban. The scale of urban growth is massive from any perspective, with the global population growing from seven billion to nearly ten billion by 2050, with the increase mainly in Africa, India and China. Managing the twenty-first-century urban future is on the minds of leaders from the global institutions to local leaders and planners.

The seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted September 2015, are essential in managing this growth sensitively and fairly. The United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF) gathered in New York City this July to assess progress in implementing the goals. The theme this year is "transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies" focussing the goals concerning water, energy, sustainable cities, consumption and production, biodiversity, and implementation.

“Cities are the spaces where all SDGs can be integrated to provide holistic solutions to the challenges of poverty, exclusion, climate change and risks” said Ms Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN Habitat.

We need an integrated approach to urban policy by governments and stakeholders including national governments, a stance adopted by the UN New Urban Agenda in Quito 2016.

A rallying cry for a National Urban Policy

In the context of future urban growth expectations, National Urban Policy (NUP) is experiencing a renaissance.

NUP’s function is to improve the liveability and sustainability of urban settlements large and small. The combined recent report on the Global State of National Urban Policy stresses the critical role of national urban policy in implementing global agreements on sustainable development and climate change. The conclusions call for a great commitment to national urban policy.

In fact, calls for a national urban policy or strategy are coming from many different quarters – business, public institutions, social policy leaders, scientists and environmentalists. Recent examples include the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade representing leading businesses calling for a national urban strategy for Canada (Canadian Board of Trade). In Australia, the Labor Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Anthony Albanese stresses the need for a meaningful partnership between the national government and growing cities (Albanese 2018).

Reinforcing this is the combined call from UN Habitat and UN Agencies including WHO, UNESCO, and UNISDR who highlight the importance of partnerships and well-designed national urban policies.

Implementing the sustainable development agenda

Implementing national urban policy cannot be tackled in isolation. It requires coordination between levels of government. In my view, it should also be nested within a broader national sustainable development framework to ensure that it is connected to related government actions – health, education, defence, and communications.

A number of countries have experimented with institutional arrangements that report on progress on implementing national urban polices and more broadly a sustainability agenda to ensure transparency and accountability in progress towards a more sustainable future over the short and longer terms.

The United Kingdom established a Sustainable Development Commission that lasted 10 years (2001 – 2011). Its role was ‘to act as a catalyst for change across government by consistently demonstrating how the principles of sustainable development can be used to help find lasting solutions‘, with four key roles – advisory, capacity building, advocacy and scrutiny.

More recently, Wales established the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales to encourage longer term thinking to provide for the well being of the future generations. It is a unique Act that integrates seven well-being goals including prosperity, resilience, health, equality, cohesion, culture and global responsibility.

A shared vision

The development of more sustainable cities is more than smart cities in that cities are part of larger systems – environmental, social and economic.

In my recent book, Sustainable Pathways for our cities and regions, I recommend seven pathways for implementing a more sustainable future (i) Planning within planetary boundaries, (ii) Long-term vision with targets, (iii) Adaptive integrated planning, (iv) National sustainable development strategies, (v) Net zero carbon precincts, (vi) Innovative platforms for collaboration and evaluation and (vii) Green growth (PLANNING).

That is a shared vision on sustainable development implemented by all levels in partnership with transparency and accountability – a foundation for a more sustainable urban future for all.

Professor Barbara Norman is Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures (CURF), University of Canberra, Australia. 

Image by Brianna Santellan.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Our audit of parliamentary candidates reveals the surprising cost of selection

Rosie Campbell, Jennifer Hudson and Wolfgang Rüdig

Who represents us, how they got there, and their attitudes and beliefs are the underpinnings of our political system.

In our surveys of all parliamentary candidates who stood in the 2015 and 2017 British general elections we attempt to answer these questions and to set them in international and temporal context. The Representative Audit of Britain continues a times-series of data collected on parliamentary candidates in Britain since 1992, as well as linking to cross-national data by including items from the comparative candidate study (CCS).

The 2015 and 2017 elections were very different beasts. The 2015 election fell as expected per the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act so the parties had time to plan their selection processes and follow their usual procedures. In contrast, the 2017 general election was announced by the prime minister Theresa May with just over seven weeks until polling day.

Hence in 2017 the parties were given precious little time to select candidates and to get campaigning. The Conservatives and Labour parties adapted their rules considerably to meet the challenge.

Conservative selections

The Conservative Party set special rules shortcutting the usual selection procedure. New candidates were screened through emergency parliamentary assessment boards over a five-day period; comprising of a 45-minute interview with a senior party officer, with a pass or fail decision made on the day.

Incumbent Conservative MPs wishing to stand again had to secure a majority of their local association’s executive council or a majority of the local association’s members. Associations were usually offered a choice of three candidates at a general meeting of the local party.

In seats that were neither retirements nor targets, a candidate was selected by the chairman of the party and the chairman of the National Conservative Convention, after consultation with officers from the local party.

Labour selections

The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) officers agreed that any sitting MP would automatically be endorsed by the NEC and other selections would be made using the ‘exceptional selections procedure’.

The selections were undertaken in two tranches, the first for retirement seats and the second for seats not held by Labour. Candidates submitted an application form and CV. Longlisted candidates for retirement seats were interviewed by three NEC members. For non-held seats candidates were required to write to declare the seats they were applying to. Interviews were not conducted and no local selection hustings were held.

For each English European Parliament region (Wales and Scotland ran their own processes) the party formed a panel consisting of two NEC members and a member of the regional board. A meeting or conference call was conducted for each regional panel. Candidates who stood in 2015 were considered first and the process was the same for all non-held seats.

The extent of the difference between 2015 and 2017 described above is clearly evident in the responses to our survey question about selection process presented in table one. Thus, we have an interesting point of comparison between 2015 and 2017 to exploit in our research.

Table 1. Candidate selection procedures in 2015 and 2017 (%) 
Question: ‘In order to select the candidates to represent the party in the 2015/2017 general election, did your constituency carry out a postal or online ballot of members/hold a meeting of party members to vote on nominations?’ N = 1356 (2015) and 1035 (2017)

The cost of seeking selection

One key area that our survey has highlighted is the cost of seeking selection. Campaign expenses are regulated and regularly discussed in the media but the issue of the costs of getting selected in the first place has been given much less attention.

A small number of respondents to the 2015 survey reported over £50,000 in selection expenses which seemed unrealistically high, but in our interviews with candidates it became clear that this was a reasonable figure for highly desirable seats once forgone earnings, travel costs and rentals were included.

Drawing on data for the 2015 general election (the 2017 data is still being collated), Table 2 shows that the costs of standing are not insignificant with an average spend across all candidates who had selection expenses of £1,966. Average costs for candidates who had selection expenses range from £970 for Plaid Cymru candidates, to £3,903 for Conservative candidates, but there is significant variation in selection expenses for candidates in the same parties. More generally, with the exception of UKIP, a majority of candidates think the costs of entering politics is too high (Table 3).

Our research into selection costs highlights the financial barriers to participation in politics that, in our view, have been given too little public scrutiny and are likely to limit the opportunities for a diverse range of citizens to be selected to stand in many winnable seats. 

Table 2. Selection expenses of candidates in 2015 general election (excluding candidates who reported no selection expenses)
Question: ‘How much have you spent (approximately) on selection expenses for the 2015 general election?’ N = 772 (2015)

Table 3. (Monetary) costs of entering politics in Britain (%)
Question: ‘Do you think the (monetary) cost of entering politics is too high, about right, or too low? N = 1554 (2015) and 1148 (2017)
Our survey includes items matched with the Comparative Candidate Survey, The British Election Study, The Party Members Survey and the Party Agent Survey and the data will be available from the UK data archive in 2019. For more information about other topics covered in our survey (including the harassment of election candidates and candidate’ backgrounds) and our publications please see our report. 

Jennifer Hudson is Professor of Political Behaviour at University College London.
Rosie Campbell is a Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London.
Wolfgang Rüdig is Reader in Politics at the University of Strathclyde.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Review: What's Left Now? The History and Future of Social Democracy, by Andrew Hindmoor

Patrick Diamond

Andrew Hindmoor's monograph on the future prospects for British social democracy is one of the most important to have been written on the left for some years. 

Hindmoor is an academic who refuses to indulge in comforting intonations about the evils of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, particularly Hindmoor's assessment of the post-1997 Labour governments. But anyone with an interest in progressive politics should engage seriously with the arguments in What's Left Now?

Hindmoor begins by taking issue with the orthodox left's interpretation of history. He contends that the British left, despite its claim to temperamental optimism, ‘holds to a remorselessly bleak and miserabilist view’. 

The sense of gloom and negativity is deeply ingrained. It has long been the case that intellectuals on the left and the right of the Labour party were pessimistic about the long-term prospects of the Labour movement. Both wings of the party were grappling with the same existential question: why was it that in the era of full franchise mass democracy, Labour was not more successful in winning elections, remaining in government, and carrying out a radical socialist programme?

Left intellectuals like Ralph Miliband, the author of Parliamentary Socialism, argued that Labour failed to command the allegiance of the working class. It was a labour party, not a socialist party. Labour's electoral performance was weak as working class voters grew increasingly disillusioned. Wilson in the 1960s and Blair after 1997 lost the support of the party's core social constituency. Labour was then roundly defeated. 

Miliband claimed the party would never succeed as a conformist, insular, middle-of-the-road movement. On the Labour right, David Marquand insisted the Labour party was enfeebled because it was labour, saddled with old-fashioned institutions such as the trade unions that inhibited the party from winning the allegiance of a broad alliance of voters. 

Throughout the post-war years, it was feared that class dealignment and structural change were eroding Labour's electoral support. The advent of Thatcherism thus confirmed what many on the left most feared. The tide of history was moving inexorably against socialism, transforming Britain into a selfish and individualistic society prone to perpetual Conservative rule.

Britain is not a poster child for neo-liberalism

What's Left Now? directly confronts this pessimistic view of history. Hindmoor advances two central propositions. Firstly, Labour governments make a positive difference, enacting vital social reforms that generally make Britain a more progressive country. Secondly, he argues that Britain in the last three decades has certainly not become ‘a poster-child for neo-liberalism’.

Not everyone will agree with Hindmoor's account of Labour's years in power after 1997. He finds the Left's attack on the Blair governments bewildering and maintains: ‘It is unfortunate that New Labour's legacy—which includes significant public expenditure increases, the introduction of tax credits, a minimum wage, devolution, and freedom of information—has been reduced to its foreign policy failures and the 2007-8 financial crisis.’ 

What's Left Now? is especially critical of the contention that New Labour was beholden to neo-liberalism, offering Thatcherism with a human face. That said, Hindmoor is not oblivious to the failings of the Blair–Brown administrations. He accepts that the military invasion of Iraq may well have been a monumental foreign policy error.

The book is especially strong on the origins of the British housing crisis, and the link between housing and rising inequality. The richest spend proportionately less of their income on housing, but live in far nicer houses and neighbourhoods than the poor. Hindmoor persuasively demonstrates that the disaster of UK housing policy is not that government has pulled back and spending has been slashed since the 1970s. As fewer houses were built, the state spent more on subsidising the housing costs of low income families in private rented accommodation. Local authorities across England after 1997 failed to construct more affordable homes for ‘social rent’. New Labour was slow to acknowledge the severity of the housing crisis, and its encouragement of a more unequal society.

Yet What's Left Now? emphasises that British society has not moved unequivocally in a rightward direction since 1979, nor has it been irrevocably shaped by neo-liberalism. All sorts of paradoxes and contradictions have emerged. For example, Thatcherism certainly drove a wave of middle class prosperity in the 1980s which made Britain more than ever a country of ‘two nations’. 

The long-term consequence, however, wasn't that more affluent citizens simply retreated into enclaves of ‘private affluence’. These voters became even more concerned about ‘public squalor’ and the state of public services, particularly health and education. During the 1980s and early 1990s, public support for higher spending rose dramatically. This paved the way for an extended period of New Labour hegemony after 1997.

Beyond austerity

If the British left does have a strategic vulnerability that undermines Labour's ability to win elections and enact a transformative programme, it lies in the sphere of economics. Hindmoor acknowledges the seismic impact of the 2008 crisis. The financial crash undermined Labour's economic credibility because the party was in power when the crisis struck. The fiscal aftershock that came after meant there was no money left for additional public spending; in these circumstances, what was the Left now for? After 2010, the Labour party sought to oppose ‘Tory austerity’; but what was Labour's alternative?

Labour's 2017 election manifesto was heralded as a vote winner for the party, the most radical programme since 1945. But aside from calls for a more active state, greater public investment and nationalisation of the major utilities, there is little sign that as yet Labour has been able to map out a coherent economic strategy. 

A Labour administration led by Jeremy Corbyn would face the same problem that all Labour governments have confronted. It would seek to rein in the excesses of British capitalism but the British state would still be structurally dependent on a capitalist economy. Not surprisingly, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has recently adopted more conciliatory rhetoric towards the City of London. 

On the UK's relationship with the European Union after Brexit, the Labour party is closer to corporate business interests than the May government, signalling its support for a modified customs union, and potentially ongoing membership of the European single market.

To be sure, Corbyn's party has aspirations to dramatically expand the role of the state. But would the next Labour government really be in a position to alter the underlying forces and dynamics of the British economy that have led to plummeting productivity, major regional imbalances, and soaring inequality over the last thirty years? 

Too busy railing against the bogeyman of neo‐liberalism, Hindmoor's book is a reminder that unless the left is prepared to develop serious, intellectually coherent ideas, its chances of success in transforming the economic and political landscape of Britain are likely to be extremely limited.

Patrick Diamond is Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. 

This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

What's Left Now? The History and Future of Social Democracy, by Andrew Hindmoor is published by Oxford University Press. 285 pp. £20.00.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Victims should be participants in justice, not spectators

Natacha Harding

Victims have traditionally had, at best, a spectator role in the criminal justice system. But the public significance of the victim has shifted over successive governments.

This article focuses on two forms of political interaction – expert led policy development, and public inquiries. In carrying out inquiries, successive governments have, perhaps inadvertently, tended to replicate the ‘hierarchy of victimisation’ that is witnessed in frontline criminal justice activities. This has the result of affording victims only a spectator role when policy and legislative changes are being developed in their name.

By contrast, the actions taken in developing expert and practitioner‐led policy around victim experience have proved to be more ‘successful’ in generating lasting change.

In responding to victims’ needs, there is an ongoing conflict between political words and actions, and, particularly in the case of inquiries, the emerging role of victim resistance and anger.

Expert led policy development

Victim‐focused policy changes since 2010 have been aimed at improving the situation for specific vulnerable groups—such as those who have experienced domestic abuse, (cyber)stalking, and non‐consensual pornography—as well as attempting to improve the general experience for victims.

Although they signify incremental small steps in change, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, as well as domestic abuse policy, and developments in restorative justice demonstrate that the interaction between experts and practitioners with political bodies has the ability to produce policy and legislation that could make a genuine difference to the experiences of victims in the form of new offences and changes in practice guidance.

While this approach allows little opportunity for victims to participate, key players in the victim support community—including practitioners—work to ensure that they represent the ‘victim voice’ as authentically as possible.

Public inquiries

Political, public facing, inquiries have long been utilised by governments to show that ‘something is being done’ in the aftermath of a high profile tragic incident. The drawing together of large groups of individuals affected by a shared experience—such as a single tragedy—to understand how to improve practice in the future or attempt to answer questions of ‘what went wrong’. The public inquiry potentially allows a greater level of participation in the policy process, since anyone who falls within the terms of reference can make representations.

However, while certainly a positive approach to participatory democracy, the competing nature of different groups’ needs alongside the temporary nature of such bodies makes the public inquiry a challenging climate in which to achieve long lasting change.

Grenfell Tower inquiry

A key example is the inquiry following the extensive fire in Grenfell Tower on the night of 14 June 2017. The sense that the tragedy and the subsequent loss of life could have been avoided quickly became the dominant media narrative. There were growing calls for ‘something to be done’.

Victim/resident outrage dominated the media narrative and loud calls for action were made. The swift coming together of the local authority, victims, residents, charitable organisations and private businesses undoubtedly helped to spur the government into action. A public inquiry was announced by Theresa May on 29 June 2017, which had its first hearing on 14 September 2017. It will explore the issues leading up to the fire, including why residents’ concerns over safety were not addressed, as well as the response of the emergency services and government in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

At this stage, it is not possible to be certain as to what the outcomes of the inquiry may be. However, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has generated a backlash from those affected before any real progress has been made or any outcomes suggested, thus reflecting the potentially conflicted and fragmented nature of public inquiry‐based policy development.

Although an important part of state apparatus, it is unlikely that a public, wide‐scale, inquiry will lead to outcomes that will satisfy all involved. Concerns notwithstanding, ‘the inquiry’ undoubtedly allows governments to demonstrate—in a high‐profile, public manner—that ‘action’ is being taken.

Spectator or participant?

Neither expert‐led policy development nor the public inquiry is a ‘perfect’ approach. The first offers breadth of experience but has the potential to leave those most directly affected on the margins of the policies made in their name. The second offers ‘participation’ but alongside the risk of no tangible outcomes due to the fragmentary, multi‐perspective, sometimes conflicting wants and needs of victims. Whilst the inquiries discussed in this article have yet to produce a final outcome, they have sought to include the ‘victim voice’ as much as possible.

Genuine participation by victims undoubtedly adds depth to any government consultation, while expert and practitioner input in public inquiries provides breadth of experience. Offering victims a chance to move from spectator to participant in this process will improve the potential for impactful policy to be created in their name.

Natacha Harding is Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Winchester. 

This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by ChiralJon. 

Monday, 23 July 2018

How the right undermined the state (and how the left let it happen)

Eliane Glaser

When Steve Bannon, then President Trump’s chief strategist, announced as one of his key goals ‘the deconstruction of the administrative state’, many liberals were appalled. What was less clear, however, was what the administrative state really was, and why it should be defended. Who would say they are in favour of such a dull, faceless concept?

In this article, I’ll be arguing that while the right attacks the state, the left has abandoned it without really thinking its position through; and this pincer movement impacts negatively on us all.

The ‘S’ word

Over the last four decades, the right has led a concerted campaign to denounce, undermine and dismantle the state. Claiming that austerity was unavoidable, rather than ideological, David Cameron and George Osborne committed to push the state down to 36 per cent of GDP or less (in Denmark it is 50 per cent). Liam Fox disparaged ‘pen-pushers’ in the civil service; Michael Gove labelled education officials ‘the blob’. On both sides of the Atlantic, ‘the state’ became synonymous with ‘the big state’. ‘Reform’ became code for shrinking it.

Yet while the left, for its part, has loudly condemned cuts to schools and hospitals, it invariably stops short of making a case for the state as a structural entity. As Polly Toynbee notes in her recent book Dismembered, one of the few current explicit endorsements of the state, we on the left mumble ‘the s-word’ in an embarrassed undertone, barely able to even mention this obsolete relic of the twentieth century.

Even with the recent collapse of outsourcing giants Serco and Capita, it seems that the only acceptable way to articulate the value of the state is to express our love for the NHS.

So why has the state become so unpopular, even among its traditional advocates? One explanation lies in our view of the 1945 welfare settlement. Many influential voices on both the radical and mainstream left claim that the post-war state was paternalistic, top-down, and bureaucratic, embodying a one-size-fits-all approach.

The downsides to thinking differently

We must ‘think differently about the state’, argues a report by Labour MPs Liz Kendall and Steve Reed entitled ‘Let it Go: Power to the People in Public Services’: services are ‘predicated, inappropriately, on a kind of parent–child relationship’. In her new book Radical Help, the social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam calls for an overhaul of the twentieth century state, and the use of digital platforms to empower people to form enabling relationships. Localism, autonomy and co-production are the buzzwords of the day.

But although it’s become unfashionable to admit it, are we not vulnerable human beings often in need of ‘top-down’ help – when we are young, ill, old, and many stages in between? The disintegration of jobs for life into the gig economy makes us less, not more, empowered. And the drive towards grassroots autonomy is at risk of playing into the hands of the right-wing small-state agenda.

As for the claim that the post-war state was bureaucratic, the anthropologist David Graeber has challenged the association between the public sector and bureaucracy, arguing that it’s more prevalent in our bloated corporations. Services are often delivered more efficiently at scale. Bureaucracies are less human than community organisations, but making impartial and impersonal decisions can be a virtue. Some services, like social security and health treatment, are pretty generic.

A state of disrepair

I’m not sure that people really want to take responsibility for their care – don’t we actually just want to leave it to professionals with the knowledge and expertise to make sure we get what we need? Do we really want social services, health, education and so on to be ‘democratised’, or just organised and distributed reasonably and equitably? The problem with state provision is surely not that it’s authoritarian or impersonal, but that it’s privatised, dysfunctional and corrupt.

Progressives seem unable to distinguish between the state’s inherent values and flaws, and the recent pressures exerted upon it by funding cuts and marketisation; between its essential architecture, and its state of disrepair. When people declare that we can’t go back to the post-’45 settlement, it’s not clear if they mean it was an incongruous blip, a luxury we can no longer afford, or something we wouldn’t go back to even if we had the resources.

The neglect of these structural considerations goes hand in hand with a broader problem currently affecting our political culture and discourse: there is a reluctance, on all political sides, to think on a macro, institutional scale – a general anti-political climate that is damaging both our democracy and our society.

Reimagining the modern state

So what should the modern state look like, and what should it do? In order to attempt to answer these questions, we need to have a concerted debate about which aspects of the welfare state are worth preserving, and which need to be remade. And we need to assess what is genuinely new about our era and that would require the state to be reimagined. Why is the state presumed now to have ‘had its day’: is it really because it is no longer relevant to the new times in which we live, or is it because the right has simply succeeded in persuading the public that it needs to be ‘modernised’?

Currently, we only seem willing or able to have large-scale discussions about the polity in relation to new technology and automation. But technology tends to alienate and atomise rather than bring people together. 

The much-vaunted blockchain is only really an arcane verification tool, rather than an alternative system of service provision. There is currently a lot of excitement around a universal basic income as the solution to a post-work future, but a UBI cannot build, maintain and run schools and hospitals; and it would presumably need to be distributed by the state – dots rarely joined by its proponents.

A more productive framework for reinventing the state may be the idea of care. Most people do not want to be cared for by robots in their old age. Most care work is poorly paid, or not paid at all. As traditional jobs dwindle, and the population ages, can we begin to see ‘care’ as the foundation of a renewed state – and indeed a renewed politics – which is human, generous, and reconnects public with private?

It’s time to design and advocate for a vision of the state that contains elements of old and new, and in a language that appeals to a jaded public. Yes, we must recognise the importance of subsidiarity and the need for services to speak in a human language and engage with individuals in their diverse contexts. But we must also remember that the state enshrines the invaluable principle of the common good.

The state is designed to protect us all – whatever our status – against poverty, illness, and corporate exploitation. It is currently being prevented from performing that role, and as a result, the principle of the common good is curdling into nationalism. The solution is not less state, but more.

Eliane Glaser is a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University, an associate research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and a BBC radio producer. She is the author of Anti-Politics: On the Demonization of Ideology, Authority and the State (Repeater, 2018).

Image by Andrew Newill.