Monday, 22 August 2016

Beyond ‘secret deals’: rethinking devolution in England

John Tomaney

As the guard changes in Westminster and a new government seeks to differentiate itself from its predecessor, it is timely to review the state of the devolution debate. The Cameron/Osborne approach to devolution had a number of distinctive features. Chief among these was its fixation with the directly elected metro-mayor as the answer to urban governance problem. In the government’s diagnosis this model of governance addresses weaknesses in fragmented systems, improves democratic accountability and brings city-regions together round common economic development strategies. The government claimed,

The experience of London and other major international cities suggests that a directly elected mayor can cut through difficulties [of urban governance]. The government has therefore been clear that devolution of significant powers will rest on cities agreeing to rationalise governance and put in place a mayor to inspire confidence.[i]

John Tomaney
But there is limited evidence to support these claims about the impact of directly elected mayors on local economic growth and the improvement of local services. Many of the assertions made in the English debate rest on more or less persuasive anecdotes drawn principally from the US experience and the limited experience in London. Strong US mayors, with access to locally tax raised taxes, are seen as leading the renaissance of US cities.[ii] For instance, the economic resurgence of New York City is often attributed to the pro-business policies of ‘strong mayors’ such as Michael Bloomberg. Rather less attention, however, is devoted to counterfactuals. We might look at the case of Detroit, where ‘strong mayors’ have presided over a vicious circle of economic decline and municipal bankruptcy. A high degree of local self-finance, far from ensuring resilience, was arguably a causal factor in the precipitous decline of Detroit. The mayoral system is in crisis there.  In 2013, the sixty-fifth mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison after being convicted of a variety of corruption charges. The city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and the State of Michigan appointed an emergency manager to assume control of the council. Strong mayors can lead to hubris and overreach and be the antithesis of models of policy-making based on deliberation and increased accountability and scrutiny. Mayors have managed both the rapid recent growth of New York City and the catastrophic decline of Detroit. Isolating the influence of mayors among the many other factors at work in these cases is very difficult.

One thing that can be said with certainty is that the mayors have not presided over an era of democratic renewal. On the contrary, the US mayoral system has been associated with declining levels of electoral participation in the big cities. At the time that Robert F Wagner Jnr was elected as mayor of New York City in 1953, voter turnout was over 90 per cent. By the time Bill de Blasio was elected 109th mayor in 2013, voter turnout was less than 30 per cent. Similar rates of decline in voter turnout can be seen in cities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago.[iii]

These declines in voter turnouts have occurred, moreover, in cities that are endowed with much more extensive local media than is the case in northern English cities. A key feature of the US mayoral model concerns how it facilitates close relationships between local political and business elites in ways which typically lack transparency and scrutiny and which underpin models of economic development that favour urban property interests. It is this aspect of the US model that seems to have had a particular influence in UK policy debates. For instance, at the 2015 Conservative party conference in Manchester, George Osborne proposed that where elected mayors had been created, they would have the power to add a (capped) infrastructure levy on business rates. There is considerable uncertainty about how both the devolution of business rates and the infrastructure levy would work in practice, but the government is clear that a levy can only be raised if a majority of ‘business members’ of the boards of Local Enterprise Partnerships agree. In effect, resources will only be allowed to be spent on infrastructure projects that are approved by a handful of ‘business leaders’. It might fairly be asked why the interests of a small number of appointed businesspeople should trump the mandate of an elected mayor. It might even be argued that this development represents a partial return of the franchise property qualification which was abolished by the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

The new devolution arrangements are not the product of wide public debate in the areas to be affected by them, but instead are the outcomes of ‘secret deals’ (‘City Deals’, ‘Devolution Deals’, etc.) between political and business elites at the national and local levels, exemplified in the case of Manchester.[iv] In essence, these deals are assembled locally from a menu of policies approved by HM Treasury. It stretches the imagination to see this approach as leading to meaningful democratic renewal. On the contrary, the model of devolution currently on offer is one designed to advance a narrowly defined set of business interests with very little democratic scrutiny. Arguably, it is this approach to politics that was rejected in the Brexit referendum.

Underpinning the new policy is a theory of economic development that fosters interurban competition and economic concentration, tolerates and indeed even celebrates high levels of socio-economic inequality, is comfortable with some groups and places being losers, and locks in enduring austerity, most especially in the places that have borne the brunt of public expenditure cuts to date. Innovation and entrepreneurialism in economic development is tolerated only within a highly restricted range of parameters. It is a form of devolution in which ‘business’ exercises a direct and indirect veto over the preferences of citizens. The emerging settlement is akin to the model of ‘post-democracy’, as elaborated by Colin Crouch, whereby formal mechanisms of accountability exist, but their practical role is increasingly limited and embodies the interest of a small elite.[v]

In a country as centralised as the UK, the case for devolution is strong in principle. But as the Cameron/Osborne era is put to rest, this might be an appropriate moment to the reconsider the narrow model that has been on offer to date.

You can read the full article here

John Tomaney is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at UCL. A longer version of this article is published by Political Quarterly. It is based on work supported by the award of the Sir Ernest Simon Visiting Professorship at Manchester Business School for 2015/6.

[i]               HM Treasury (2015) Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation. Cm 9098. (Accessed June 30 2015).
[ii]               B. Barber (2013) If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. New Haven: Yale University Press.
[iii]              M. Maciag, ‘Voter turnout plummeting in local elections’, Governing, October 2014, (accessed June 30
[iv]              S. Jenkins, ‘The secret negotiations to restore Manchester to greatness’, The Guardian, 12 February 2015, (accessed 30 June2016); see also J. Tomaney and A. McCarthy, ‘The Manchester model’, Town and Country Planning, vol. 84, no. 5, 2015, pp. 233–6.
[v]              C. Crouch (2004) Post-democracy. Cambridge: Policy Press.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Why Donald Trump was Nominated by the Republicans

Alan Ware

Alan Ware
Donald Trump’s selection by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate is one of the most controversial nominations in American electoral history. In living memory only the National Convention’s choice of Barry Goldwater in 1964 might conceivably rival it at the presidential level. Trump’s style, involving personal attacks on fellow candidates, not only alienated most of the Republican political elite but also exposed fissures in American society that all candidates are usually keen to ignore or attempt to discuss in banal terms. How could someone like Trump have ever become the nominee of a major party? The answer lies partly in the peculiarities of the Presidential candidate selection process and partly in fundamental developments affecting the Republican Party and the voting public at large. At the beginning of this century pre-primary televised debates between the candidates were introduced. They start months before the primaries, and they can de-stabilize the nomination process when there is not a clear front-runner. With many candidates seeking the nomination, and relatively few policy differences between them, a candidate has to achieve between only 20–25% of support in post-debate opinion polls to become the front runner when the primaries themselves begin. Trump achieved “momentum” in this way by making himself as distinct as possible – being outspoken and outrageous in his views and overtly rude to the others. This was a political style derived from behaviour on reality TV shows. From an initial narrow base of support Trump could build a winning campaign because he could portray himself “as the candidate to beat”.

All his rivals for the nomination believed for far too long that Trump could never be selected and therefore the last remaining alternative to Trump would inevitably become the nominee. For them the key to being selected was to remain in the race as long as their candidacy remained credible. This misjudgement meant that during the early stages of the primary campaign Trump benefitted from the persistence of a multi-candidate field. He could remain the leading candidate even though his supporters were then still only a minority of Republican voters. The longer that all but one other candidate remained in the race, the easier it was for Trump eventually to convert that minority base into a majority of Convention delegates.

Peculiarities of the candidate selection process helped Trump, but they probably would not have been enough by themselves. He was also able to exploit the fragility of the Republican Party’s electoral coalition. Until the 1970s its coalition was not as diverse as the Democrats’, and hence was usually more cohesive. It was the Democratic Party that tended to have major splits which periodically undermined its prospects in presidential elections. The re-introduction of moral issues and values into partisan politics – the Equal Rights amendment, abortion, and so on – transformed this. It was now the Republicans that had greater difficulty in keeping their broad coalition together. This becomes evident when looking at differences in the party’s success in presidential elections compared and in congressional elections. During the last 24 years the Party has controlled the White House for only one third of that period, whilst controlling both Houses of Congress for about two thirds of it. Winning the Presidency calls for unity in the national party, whereas seats in Congress can be won with idiosyncratic local strategies.

The context in which American politics is conducted has also changed massively, and this has made managing their electorates more difficult for both parties. The Democrats had to contend with vocal minority support for Bernie Sanders. Trump is just the current face of the Republican problem. Since the Republic’s birth, politics has been conducted against a background of long-term increases in the well-being of a majority of Americans. The “American Dream” remained plausible because most people could expect to be better off over their lifetimes than their parents. Economic depression – especially in the early 1890s and in the 1930s – destabilized politics, but normal politics could then resume within about a decade. Since the 1970s the real incomes of many Americans have not increased at all, even though there have been no depressions on the scale of those earlier. The benefits deriving from economic growth during the last four decades have been enjoyed primarily by the well-off. This chronic undermining of the “American Dream” is one of the factors contributing to anger among many sections of the voting population, anger that they direct towards political elites – among others. Unless there is a major redistribution of income and wealth in the future, and there is no evidence that this is occurring, then the political instability associated with the Trump candidacy might not be an isolated incident for the Republicans.

Donald Trump
Trump’s astonishing success in becoming the Republicans’ presidential candidate was partly caused by the dynamics of the contemporary nominating process which, under certain conditions, enable candidates with relatively low levels of initial support to triumph. But long term political and social changes also helped him. Over the past 40 years the Republican party has become a more diverse electoral coalition, and, when trying to capture the presidency, is now more difficult to manage than the Democrats’ coalition. In addition, during the same period anger among many people about the failing American economic dream has made politics more unstable for both Democrats and Republicans. In 2015–16 it was the Republican Party that was less able to control these emerging political forces.

You can read the full article 'Donald Trump's Hi-jacking of the Republican Party in Historical Perspective'  here.