Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Wearing a poppy has become virtually compulsory, but it's still problematic


Alan Ware


Wearing poppies has become far more controversial than in any period since this British initiative of remembrance began in 1921. For example, white poppies, first introduced by the Peace Union in 1933 as a non-militaristic alternative to red ones, have been increasingly criticised by the political right. In 2017 the British national football associations became engaged in a dispute with FIFA about the wearing of poppies on their countries’ football shirts. In 2018 someone was sacked for refusing to deliver poppies in their taxi. There have been many additional minor incidents.

Originally red poppy wearing was broadly consensual, with a large majority understanding it as an act of common humanity. The explicitly nationalistic, and hence militaristic, dimension was there, but recently it has come more to the forefront. It is a source of political division.

During the inter-war years, especially, European veterans’ organisations were usually associated with right wing politics, and in Britain, the United States and some other countries the poppy was quickly adopted by them. However, two key features of that era muted controversy over the red poppy.

Few who participated in the Great War were professional soldiers, and after 1916 nearly all recruits in the military were conscripts. The armies were also enormous. Thus, there was a direct impact of the military carnage on many families (my grandfathers and my three great uncles all served in that war, one of whom died in it). There was a shared communal sense of loss and remembrance that would be reproduced in the Second World War, and to a much lesser extent in Korea.

During my teenage years in the 1960s the wearing of poppies by the young declined, not so much from an overt anti-militarism but as the direct impact on families of the wars’ consequences waned. To someone of my generation the revival of poppy wearing in the last few decades seems curious. The proportion of the population serving in the armed services is small compared with decades ago, and modern military technology means that the proportion of their personnel exposed to real danger is tiny. A modern military is composed exclusively of professionals who have chosen it as a career.

Yet earlier quiet bereavements and burials have now given away to crowd-lined streets when coffins return to Britain, and the wearing of poppies is virtually compulsory for all appearing on non-entertainment programmes on television. Certainly, there is a strong argument for public recognition and remembrance of those, on behalf of the public, who choose to take on careers that may well involve injury and death. Many of those making that choice cannot possibly understand the trauma they are likely to experience – from both physical and mental injury. That they are paid to do their jobs does not mean that they must have understood what they could face.

In this context the problem posed by the poppy appeal is its exclusive focus on the military – rather than its being an activity shared with those, including firefighters and the police, who are also engaged in jobs for the public that might leave them severely “damaged”. Had it taken this form in recent decades, the emerging controversies about remembrance would have been stillborn.

To many, wearing poppies and public displays over the death of military personnel are just acts of a shared humanity; they are not acts of nationalistic celebration. And this, of course, was how poppies were widely understood originally. However, in a country that is now multicultural in its composition, the places in which British forces are engaged are often locales where some opposition and controversy will inevitably ensue (British forces are hardly likely to intervene in places like New Zealand).

Many of those angry about FIFA’s initial stance on poppies simply did not understand that, for some, commemorating the military dead alone would be interpreted by others as a celebration of Britain’s colonial past or participation in military action today regarded as oppressive. The intertwining of communal commemoration and nationalistic commitment, therefore, is not necessarily a good recipe for future social peace. 

Alan Ware is a fellow at Worcester College, Oxford University.

Image by Laura Goodsell.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Stop doing things to residents of poor neighbourhoods without asking what they need


Bert Provan


These days, few organisations can escape the clamour to assess the ‘Social Return on Investment’, or SROI, of proposed new projects. But how often are local people actually asked what they need from local investment, and how realistic are the aims of delivery?

The burden of delivery


The interest in social return is driven at international, national, and local levels, with OECD noting that “[s]ocial impact investment has become increasingly relevant in today’s economic setting as social challenges have mounted while public funds in many countries are under pressure”. This report emerged from the G8 Social Impact Investment Forum in June 2013, which also led to the setting up of a range of international task forces and groups.

Despite this globalised scope and interest, the responsibility of many assessments of social impact fall on small, local, community organisations. Public or charitable funding for small community based organisations may depend on a commitment to deliver benefits to local residents or the local environment – outcomes such as better health, job training, relief from overburdening debt, and responsive support for victims of domestic violence. Larger public and semi-public bodies, like Housing Associations, are also expected to deliver additional social value. All may also be required to monitor and ‘monetise’ their outcomes.

However, the mechanisms for doing this can be both challenging and challenged. Challenging because of the time and effort that may be needed to reliably track social outcomes. Challenged because of concerns about spurious quantification, scepticism about causal links claimed between positive outcomes and specific local action, and the sometimes incomplete or imprecise evidence and assumptions used.

Give the people what they want


Nevertheless, there is a growing body of good practice guidance and more rigorous standards and frameworks. Social Value UK, NESTA, and the UK government all have provided guidance the key principles of social return and those principles highlight the value of it. This value is less about claiming the quantified benefits and much more about strategic reflection on how to create additional social value – better outcomes for local residents and communities.

Three of the principles are crucial and closely aligned here – involving stakeholders, valuing the things that mater, and understanding what changes. My own work in this area has been mainly about neighbourhood regeneration and poverty reduction by registered social landlords (housing associations) and other community anchor organisations, so my analysis is based primarily on social return in these contexts.

Involving stakeholders recognises two crucial points. First, new or external organisations who decide to do things to residents of poor neighbourhoods without asking what they need (as many, regrettably, still fail to do) risk failing to address the actual local problems. Second, it risks ignoring the undoubted pool of local knowledge held by other support networks and long-standing organisations who have been working with residents for some time. So some traditional “solutions” for regeneration may miss the point. Providing an expensive new community hall may not address a real need for a cheap high-speed broadband local hub on a peripheral estate.

Valuing the things that matter take this a stage further, not least as it includes the need to understand both what matters for residents – for example helping their adolescent children get a good chance in life – but also exploring and understanding the best research and good practice on what works to deliver this goal.

A strategic approach


This comes together in the principle of understanding what changes, which in effect is developing a theory of change for activities aimed at delivering the final social value outcome benefits in the neighbourhood. A theory of change forces an organisation – like housing association or community anchors – to take a hard and strategic look at what they actually can and can’t do, and how they can influence, fund, or support other strategic partners to bring about change. Housing associations can’t operate as youth workers – but they can provide key infrastructure to enable a good youth service to be delivered, and use their influence to attract partners to invest.

So social return is not simply, or even mainly, a financial calculation. These calculations are invaluable in helping to prioritise options for driving change, not least as the values attached to outcomes often reflect extensive and robust evidence of impacts. But the key question is to identify the relative value amongst options, not the absolute monetary value produced by a model.

At the heart of social return is providing a strategic, systematic approach to thinking deeply about how additional social benefit can be realised by taking the time to talk to people about what they really need from local investment and being realistic about what and how that might be delivered.

Bert Provan is a Researcher and Knowledge Broker at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image by Markus Spiske.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

“It's like having had some sort of terrible disease, and having your neighbour injecting themselves with the virus”: Interview with Fintan O’Toole


Anya Pearson


In your theory of the mythology of Brexit, you suggest that “Britain has to imagine the greatest colonial power in modern history as if it was a colony”, with the EU as a great oppressor. Do you find this particularly galling given the fact that Ireland, as the first English colony, has found a new lease of life with a European identity and trade deals?


Yes, it’s a very strange psychological turn for history to take. It doesn't have any historical parallels. A political culture has imagined itself into being the victim of oppression.

Objectively you can despise the EU for all sorts out reasons, but it's not the Nazis. And yet the psychology of Brexit requires it to be so. You have to get yourself into a position whereby in order to be liberated, which is the basic story of Brexit, you have to have had a tyrannical power.

I don’t want to play up the Irish thing, but I don’t think any citizen of a society that has been colonised would ever want to go there. It's bad enough being colonised and trying to get over it without having to imagine yourself into all of the psychosis of colonisation. It's taken us a long time to get over it. It's like having had some sort of terrible disease, and having your neighbour injecting themselves with the virus.

Could you say a bit more about Ireland's relationship with the EU?


It's very interesting. When Ireland joined the EU in 1973 we had a referendum on entry. Almost nobody is left who is not in favour of being a EU member. And with good reason: membership of the EU validated Irish independence.

Now the Scots would rather be in Ireland's position. Ireland has diversified its economy, modernised its society, and it has a seat at the European table. In retrospect, it’s better to be an independent country.

You couldn't overstate the extent to which Ireland hopes to get over the postcolonial legacy by being an equal member of the European Union alongside Britain. Of course, this is also part of what made the peace process in Northern Ireland possible; it became possible for Irish and British governments to work together as equals.

So the Irish are on the opposite side of the fence to the Brexiteers; defining national identity within membership of the European Union.


Yes, and I'm not suggesting it's because we're wiser. It's just that we never thought we were the centre of the world. This is why you'll find 80-85 per cent support for the European Union in the Republic of Ireland.

I’m interested in hearing more about your distinction between simple myth and complex ordinariness, and its implication for political strategies. Towards the end of your talk, you castigated remainers for failing to develop their myth – a positive story of engagement with Europe. Arguably, their failure was to focus on complex ordinariness, particularly the economic. So my question is: is politics a matter of who presents the best myth; or, to put it another way, is there a place in politics for honest complex ordinariness?


Great question. Where we’re stuck, I suppose, is the fact that progressive, civilised aspects of contemporary life lie in the unheroic, the un-epic. Most of us are very good at getting on with the business of having very complex identities at all sorts of levels – in terms of our sexuality, our place in the world, our ethnicity, politics and national identity.

In some ways you could say our social brains have developed this capacity to a remarkable degree. But the problem is that a little bit of our brains is still drawn to the mythological. The epic is a nice place to go to escape something.

The challenge is: how can we tell a story about the complexity of the ordinary that actually has that sense of the epic? One example we have is the Belfast peace agreements. It is epic. It is historic. Hundreds of years of history went into its making. But at the same time, it also says it's okay not to have a single heroic narrative. Maybe the heroic thing we’re looking for is just an acceptance of ambiguity and complexity that we can live with.

I'll jump in with a related question. You’re a strong advocate for postcolonial concepts such as hybridity and fluidity, embracing the ambiguity and complexity of multiple identities that will not resolve but are dependent on contexts. But you do feel any identities are more immutable, such as socioeconomic class?


That's a good question. There's no question that we're back with a horrendous divide in society, where the division between the interests of the many versus the interests of the few is starkly evident. How have progressives not been able to get real political purchase on that evident divide?

Brexit, certainly in its own confused way, articulated the idea that national independence is something that can unite victims of globalisation in Sunderland with proponents of extreme globalisation at the heart of the Brexit project; the Jacob Rees-Moggs of this world.

The thing we know from history is that these nationalist appeals are bloody powerful. But you have to look at where fault lines are and attempt to come up with answers to those anxieties that are more progressive. We need an umbrella under which we can shelter ourselves; that's perfectly human and rational. But the umbrella could also be the welfare state, social security, a national project.

I wonder if English nationalism has really become as important as you seem to imply. There are several reasons for supposing that it isn’t. None of the major parties has articulated any form of English nationalism in its rhetoric or platform; the occasional calls for an English parliament in recent years have been almost universally ignored; there has been no major change in recent years in surveys seeking to measure the extent of English versus British identity; the strongest correlate of populist attitudes across Europe is agreement with the statement: “There are so many foreigners around here it doesn’t feel like home any more”. Could it be the case that you are mistaking (negative) English fears about immigration for a heightened (positive) sense of English nationalism?


I think all of these things are interrelated. I'm not suggesting that English nationalism descended in the abstract from the real nitty gritty of peoples' lives: what's happening in their towns, streets and work places matters a lot. Nationalism is always available and always there. The question is why people grab onto it at certain points.

I'm also not suggesting that English nationalism is a coherent identity. There's no question that the survey data shows from the twentieth century a huge shift towards a much more English identity in England and a withdrawal of trust in the idea that Westminster and Whitehall are there to serve English interests. No political party is articulating English nationalism. There is very clearly a feeling which is emerging, but it is not being given ways in which it can articulate itself and argue itself out. UKIP contains at its core English nationalism, but it doesn’t call itself that.

Englishness folded itself into Britishness and folded itself into the empire. But now it has to disentangle itself. It’s a sort of molten wax which could be shaped in all sorts of different ways. Brexit doesn’t actually address English nationalism. Essentially what nationalism usually ends up doing is it starts by defining itself against what it is not. It's easy if you're a colonial society, but if you're a colonial power, you end up turning on immigrants once Europe is gone.

Related to the idea that Britishness and Empire are inextricably linked, in his book After Empire (2004), Paul Gilroy reminds us that “incomers [to Britain] may be unwanted and feared precisely because they are unwitting bearers of the imperial and colonial past”. Could you comment on this?


It's striking, thinking about that book, that funnily enough there is a kind of relationship between anti-immigrant sentiment and the post imperial malaise.

'Postcolonial melancholia' is the term that Gilroy uses, which is beautiful, as well as accurate.


It's not actually about "Oh, the European Union is letting in all these immigrants". Because of course, the primary source of immigration was from colonies. But amongst the self-pitying narratives that took hold from the 1970s onwards the idea is that the EU is basically 'the Nazis by stealth' and therefore there's a kind of invasion fantasy which dovetails perfectly then with the idea that immigrants are themselves invaders. Not only did we lose the empire, but they won, they came to invade us, to take over our country.

Actually, I think that Powell is a much bigger figure in the history of Brexit than is acknowledged. Powell is the one who makes this connection quite explicitly. It's all a process of loss of self, loss of identity, loss of control. This is the genius of the phrase "take back control".

You warn of the historical erasure of the violence suffered in Northern Ireland before the Belfast Agreement, quoting the latest Future of England survey where 83 per cent of leave voters agree with ‘the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland is a price worth paying to take back control’. What message do you have for those respondents?


I don't think these people are evil or cruel. I try to be as calm about this as possible. But I do think that there is a shocking irresponsibility.

Northern Ireland is not an Irish problem. The border was created by an act of British parliament. They have been the governing power for the entire existence of Northern Ireland. So psychologically, you get yourself into this state whereby you think: "This is nothing to do with us, and if the Irish want to start killing each other again, well, that's their business". You need to think through the logic of that. It suggests that you really don't care about this union at all; the relationships of these islands which have been very carefully put back together again.

There is a responsibility to at least think about what you’re doing. And then if this is the way you want to go, well, then let's try to limit the damage in a way that doesn’t involve more people having to die for it.

You said that history is not a moment of national destiny, but an endless search for ways diverse peoples can share space. You say that the EU is some attempt to achieve this. But does deciding how space is shared – whether international, national or at local level – always need to be so centralised and top down?


The answer is no, it doesn’t need to be so centralised and top down. Let's be absolutely clear that the EU is a necessary project, but not sufficient in its current form. We have not successfully made the democratic connections with citizens and member states. The EU remains the best shot we have at figuring out a way to share space. However, you can't ultimately share space in conditions of gross inequality. You don’t share a space by living in a super-rich gated community when others are living in a slum.

The degree to which the EU is and was a social project, I think, is what's been lost. The EU was founded on a certain kind of terror. We know from the 1930s, from the second world war, the holocaust and Stalinism, that if you allow both inequality and insecurity to take hold, then liberal democracy cannot survive. We’re at that point; this is the challenge for the EU.

The EU would love to see the great English traditions of egalitarianism, of radicalism, of social progress, feeding back into the EU project. Maybe in some kind of dream world they will again – the sooner the better.


Anya Pearson is social media and events editor of the Political Quarterly, and co-editor of the Political Quarterly blog. 

Listen to Fintan O'Toole's lecture 'The Nightmare of History: Brexit, Ireland and the English Revolution' here:


Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Don't be fooled: UK industrial strategy has a long history of picking winners


James Silverwood and Richard Woodward 


Conventional wisdom asserts that industrial policy in the UK expired shortly after Margaret Thatcher’s arrival in 10 Downing Street. As our recent Political Quarterly article demonstrates however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite governments repeatedly declaring that the state shouldn’t ‘pick winners’ through selective interventions to promote favoured firms and sectors, Conservative, Labour, and Coalition administrations since 1979 have all done precisely that.

The industrial strategy of the May government, published as a white paper in November 2017, adopts a similarly Janus-faced stance. This document insists that “the role of government is not to pick favourites” but elsewhere pinpoints a series of industries, from automobiles to artificial intelligence, worthy of state support.

Further, the white paper is conveniently silent about financial services sector, the industry to which successive UK governments have backed the most generously.

The (long) history of picking winners


The practice of picking winners has a long lineage. The UK’s experiments with this policy began in the 17th-century, making it an early pioneer of industrial strategy.

Unlike other countries, which concentrated their efforts on civilian manufacturing, the UK’s industrial strategy since the seventeenth century has emphasised financial services and arms manufacturing. The genesis of state support for these sectors is located in an English financial revolution, itself the result of military defeats to the emerging naval and commercial power of the Netherlands between 1652 and 1674.

These setbacks culminated in the 1688 Glorious Revolution as English parliamentarians conspired in the successful invasion by William III whose economic reforms would underpin UK hegemony for the next 250 years.

Citizen investors in the state


The most important reform was the Bank of England’s creation in 1694. The key purpose of the Bank, the issuer of the world’s first government bonds, was to channel investment from citizens towards the state. In a forerunner of what Edgerton calls the warfare state, the innovation of public debt provided the financial means to rebuild military capacity. Investment into defence manufactures delivered battlefield superiority, especially in naval power, that would build the British empire.

Government patronage was also bestowed on the City of London. As David Kynaston’s magisterial history demonstrates, the City’s development into a global financial centre depended on the state’s systematic and sustained support. Simultaneously, the slave trade and expansion of commerce alongside the British empire facilitated the emergence and expansion of a number of ancillary services such as insurance.

Manufacturing gets a short shrift


The manufacturing sector meanwhile was largely excluded from this global financial network. Britain’s manufactures instead financed their economic activity through reinvesting profits, inherited wealth, and loans from family and friends.

The result was inadequate capital investment in the technological modernisation of industrial production putting UK manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage with scientifically superior American and German industrialists.

The promotion of financial services over civilian manufacturing contributed to the growing dominance of services in the UK economy. By the Victorian period the service industries of finance, distribution, transport and communication were the principal sources of UK economic growth.

20th century industrial strategy followed a similar pattern with military concerns providing significant stimulus for ‘picking winners’. The Treasury granted direct subsidies to support the development of new industries with the potential for future military application such as civil aviation.

The interwar period did see a growing willingness to countenance state support to civilian manufacturing, a trend that persisted after the second world war. Britain’s manufacturers enjoyed a post-war renaissance. However, by the mid-1960s, the revival began to dissipate. The growth of UK manufacturing output lagged behind international competitors and, from 1966, manufacturing’s contribution to employment began to fall.

Back to the future


The economic upheavals of the 1970s frequently credited with spurring radical change in UK industrial strategy. In reality, UK industrial policy went back to the future. Defence manufacturers and financial services have always attracted state support. This is vividly portrayed in the decision to mortgage the nation’s public finances to bail out the City of London, while continuing to allow the civilian manufacturing to wither in the face of global competition.

While Theresa May’s industrial strategy has novel features, including delivering a welcome focus on the role industrial strategy might play in improving productivity and solving the ‘grand challenges’ of the future, it stands within a much longer tradition than generally appreciated. Whatever else it may achieve, it is unlikely to dramatically alter the UK’s economic landscape.

James Silverwood is Lecturer in Emerging Markets at Coventry University.

Richard Woodward is Senior Lecturer in Emerging Markets at Coventry University.


Image by Ivan Bandura. 

Monday, 22 October 2018

Regional government isn't the answer to the UK's constitutional unsettlement


Michael Kenny


Bruce Ackerman takes the kind of fresh, wider‐angled approach to constitutional change which is increasingly needed as debates about the UK's territorial constitution become more salient and fraught in the context of Brexit.

The case he makes for constitutional reform sees in the British tradition a worthy example of a pluralised civic culture which allows citizens to identify strongly with different national communities and cultural traditions, while also subscribing to the idea of a shared citizenship with their fellows across the UK.

However, I query the remedies that he advances and, in particular, the attempt to address the problem of asymmetry through a system of regional government in England.

Is regionalism the answer?


Ackerman observes, astutely, that the current political predicament at Westminster – where no party holds a majority of seats in the Commons, and the governing party has to rely on the support of one of the ‘regional’ parties operating outside England – may well become the ‘new normal’.

There is a danger in such circumstances of ‘long periods of indecisiveness, punctuated by moments of angry protest from alienated English voters who, disgusted by ad hoc bargains with the regionalists, are tempted to vote for a demagogic leader who promises them “strong and decisive government”’, he suggests. In these conditions there is every chance that an increasingly divisive form of national competitiveness could pull the UK apart.

His suggestion to divide England into a number of distinct and self‐governing regions ‘standard regionalism’ he calls it – returns us to an age‐old remedy which has lost a good deal of credibility. While it may make sense in administrative terms to divide England up in this way, the boundaries used to demarcate these regions, however drawn, lack any basis in popular sentiment, history or identity. Parishes, counties and cities are all more firmly endowed in the English psyche.

Moreover, as regional devolution has waned in appeal, a different argument for symmetry –this time on national lines – has become more powerful. On this view the English nation deserves an equivalent model of devolution to that offered to other parts of the UK.

A good deal of polling – including that most recently conducted by YouGov for the BBC –finds a strong correlation between those who are more likely to identify as ‘English’, as opposed to ‘British’, and support for Brexit. And a body of research in recent years highlights the growing sense for many that England is becoming a political community in its own right.

But this national model of symmetry also faces considerable difficulties. Most obviously, England's preponderance, in both population and wealth, within the UK makes an English parliament, or new tier of government an enterprise that might end up capsizing the domestic union.

It may well turn out that neither of these versions of a symmetrical UK can be made to work within the cramped confines of its territorial constitution. It may also be that symmetry as a goal is over‐played or is at least better seen as a symptom, not a cause of current discontents.

The UK’s pattern of statecraft has, in broad, terms rested upon two key elements. One has been an astute awareness of the need to govern in such a way that neither the far‐flung territories beyond England's borders, nor the English ‘provinces’, ever came to feel unduly dominated or neglected by the centre. Another was the development of a party system that served to bind together the peoples of these countries, aggregating territorial and regional demands into a state‐wide political system. The problem now is that neither of these elements is securely in place. Brexit itself is merely adding to the strains which the erosion of the foundations of British statecraft has brought to the fore.

Further issues


An important, overlooked issue concerns the disparity which exists across the UK in terms of what might broadly be called ‘constitutional literacy’. In Scotland and Wales, and for different reasons Northern Ireland, questions of statehood, constitution, rights and national culture are endemic to political life, even if they are sometimes the source of considerable political dispute. In England, these issues are more marginal in character.

A constitutional convention should not be seen as an alternative to the dauntingly hard work of engaging parties and politicians in these issues. The danger is that any such convention is presented as a way of avoiding politics. Its findings would in fact have to be channelled into the political system, as with the Citizens’ Assembly in the Republic of Ireland in 2017. This was set up to prepare the way for the abortion referendum. Only when such a vehicle is plugged into the force‐fields of politics and governing institutions is it likely to gain meaning and credibility. 

Michael Kenny is Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge.

A longer version of this article was first published in the Political Quarterly journal. 

Image by Michael D. Beckwith. 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The first study about the Race Equality Charter reveals how to improve diversity in higher education


Kalwant Bhopal


The Race Equality Charter mark (REC) was introduced in 2014 to improve the representation and progression of minority ethnic staff and students in higher education institutions. The charter aims to provide a framework through which institutions are encouraged to identify and reflect on institutional and cultural barriers impacting upon staff and students. Member institutions develop initiatives and solutions for action, and can apply for a Bronze or Silver REC award, depending on their level of progress.

There are 48 REC members and in 2015, a total of 21 institutions applied for the award of which eight were awarded a bronze award. Since last year, this number increased to 10 award holders.

In order for higher education institutions to seriously consider how racism affects the experiences of staff and students, they need to show clear commitment and investment in the charter. However, until now very little is known about the charter’s impact. Our research, funded by the University and College Union, is the first of its kind to explore the impact of equality policy making in higher education institutions. We conducted a total of 45 interviews with individuals working in a range of institutions; those involved with the REC and those working in diversity and equality departments (with a specific focus on race) in higher education institutions.

We were particularly interested in identifying aspects of good practice on race equality in institutions awarded the charter; exploring views of member and non-member institutions towards the charter and race equality and contributing to the University and College Union policymaking on race equality and inclusion in higher education.

The key findings of our study include greater resources for the participation and investment form senior management when applying for the REC. All institutions were aware of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) attainment gap and the lived experiences of BME students and staff, as a result greater investment was needed from higher education institutions for this. Participants also highlighted the importance of the REC and its principles being linked to real institutional change, rather than it simply being a tick box exercise.

Our study suggests one way forward is for the charter to be linked directly to UK Research and Innovation funding. This is the main funding body in the UK and has a budget of £60 billion to fund research in higher education.

In addition to this, unconscious bias training should be included as mandatory for all senior staff in higher education institutions, as well as training on the awareness of white privilege. All institutions should have a senior member of staff (such as a pro-vice chancellor) whose main responsibility it is to ensure that race equality policy is implemented. They must be required to provide annual reviews which show how they have addressed the BME attainment gap, and the strategies they have used to improve it and the underrepresentation of BME staff.

Investing in the professional development of BME staff is important for addressing inequalities – as would providing greater support for BME staff on temporary short-term research-only contracts.

The most significant recommendations proposed by our report include changes in the REC application process. AdvanceHE was introduced in March 2018, and it brings together the work of the ECU, Leadership Foundation and the Higher Education Academy into one organisation to address issues of inclusion and equality. We suggest reassessing the requirements for applying for the REC and consider introducing a scale of application stages – from addressing REC in relation to staff; in relation to students; and finally addressing cultural and institutional change (resulting in an REC award). We also recommend AdvanceHE consider department/faculty REC awards in order that individual departments/faculties can claim ownership of the award.

Finally, higher education institutions must encourage safe approaches to developing conversations which address racism and white privilege. We are aware that what is primarily needed is a significant cultural and attitudinal shift. We need higher education institutions to change the way they view the contribution BME academics make, and to acknowledge and recognise institutional racism and structural disadvantages.

Our recommendations are a way forward, but they pose significant challenges in terms of implementation.

Kalwant Bhopal is Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham.

Image by Davide Cantelli. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Is South Korea as leftist as it gets?


Soon‐Mee Kwon and Ijin Hong


Considering its conservative past, South Korea is undergoing an unprecedented turn to the left, led by President Moon Jae‐in. Since priority was given to economic growth from the 1960s until the beginning of the 1990s, a close alliance between big business and government has characterised the country's labour market. Economic growth under the auspices of state‐led authoritarian industrialisation in South Korea has been accompanied by a deep‐rooted anti‐communism meant to serve as an ideological and military bulwark against the communist North Korea.

So how could this new inclination toward social democracy in policymaking have been possible? What is the social‐democratic character of these reforms and what are the constraints in implementing them?

South Korea underwent economic development and democratisation without the working class developing a common identity and a resolve to organise collectively. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 inflicted a devastating blow to the labour market and caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs. When liberal President Kim Dae‐jung took office in 1998, he immediately faced the necessity of opening up the hitherto highly protected labour market to flexibilisation and globalisation, a mandatory condition that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed on its bailout.

This resulted in growing inequality in a dualised labour market that left the trade unions in a marginal role, and citizens feeling bitter towards the neoliberal conditions attached to the bailout. Precarious working contracts are typically accompanied by lower wages and social protection, unsafe working conditions, limited access to work training, and poorer organisational representation for workers.

The candlelight protests


Following a rapid turn of events that led to the impeachment of conservative president Park Geun‐hye, left‐leaning President Moon Jae‐in seems determined to roll back this legacy of labour oppression with the strong support of trade unions and young voters.

This decision – the first of its kind in Korean history – was made possible by a public outcry about the state of affairs. The public expressed its desire for change through protests that took the form of candlelight vigils, which were held throughout winter 2016.

The newly elected government relied on young people in their teens and twenties, who were a remarkable presence at the candlelight protests, but had not appeared particularly interested in political matters up to that point. Moon also benefitted from strong support from labour organisations, another major player in the 2017 candlelight protests. Under the triple promises of promoting income‐led growth, tackling labour market inequalities and fostering a people‐centred economy, the Moon government committed itself to job creation and welfare expansionary policies.

The need for labour market reform was predicated on two structural weaknesses of the South Korean labour market: volatile employment, and the fact that South Korea's public social expenditure only amounts to 10 per cent of its GDP. Its rates of elderly poverty (47.7 per cent) and suicide are the highest and its public expenditure for active labour market policies the lowest among OECD countries. In the face of such an insufficient safety net, getting fired is naturally viewed as a matter of life and death.

Moon rising


The new administration has demonstrated its commitment to bringing about change with a raft of such measures, including: improving atypical work conditions; engineering a major increase of the minimum wage (+16.4 per cent) from 6,470 to 7,530 won; creating 35,000 jobs in the public sector (for firemen and police officers, for example); converting atypical contracts into regular ones for 110,000 workers in the public sector; and other policies.

As this administration concludes its first year of activity, however, several shortcomings remain. Relying on tax and spend policies and expansionary job creation do not directly address the structural problems of low productivity, low wages and dire working conditions. Could Moon be part of a familiar cycle of ‘high hopes and high disappointments’ that is typical of South Korean politics?

On the bright side, the Moon government is well positioned to venture into expansionary, Keynesian public job creation policies, since the country's public debt is still modest by international standards. South Korea's core debt stands at 40.4 per cent of the national GDP according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is half the average level of G20 countries. Moon also enjoyed considerable popular support (75 per cent) at the end of his first year in office, which was much higher than previous presidents.

But reform also faces several stumbling blocks at the structural level. The recent minimum wage hike represented a structural blow to a labour market dominated by SMEs, which make up 90 per cent of the total. The government has been squeezed between demands for higher wages by low‐income workers and protests against higher payroll costs by the self‐employed and SMEs. The conflict between regular and irregular workers is also emerging as a bitterly divisive factor in the public sector. In general, well‐meaning Keynesian inspired reform does not seem adequate for a weakening economy.

These developments in South Korea imply that there is still considerable cause for concern about the future of social democracy and the way it should adapt to the challenges of a globalised economy.

Soon-Mee Kwon is Professor at the Employment and Labor Training Institute, Gwangju-si (Kyeonggi-do), South Korea

Ijin Hong is Research Professor at the Institute for Welfare State Research, Seoul, South Korea 


Image by Shawn Ang

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Too many bodies


Deborah Mabbett


Recent years have not been good to independent committees and policy advisory bodies. Last December, the entire Social Mobility Commission, headed by Alan Milburn, resigned, citing a lack of political progress towards a fairer Britain. Andrew Adonis left the National Infrastructure Commission having accumulated multiple grievances with the government. The Office for Budget Responsibility has found itself the object of repeated sniping for its Brexit pessimism, as has the Governor of the Bank of England.

Despite this, the IPPR’s blockbuster report on Prosperity and Justice advocates the creation of yet more independent expert commissions and regulators. There should be more ‘social partnership’, exemplified, according to the report, by the Low Pay Commission. There should be an industrial strategy, overseen by an independent Industrial Strategy Committee. There should be a new regulator for corporate governance and an ‘Ofdigi’ to promote the digital commonwealth. The Bank of England should have an extended mandate; among other things it would work closely with a development bank, the National Investment Bank, which will have a politically independent management. Economic devolution should be promoted by new regional executives, overseen by regional councils indirectly elected by constituent local authorities. And, as a final flourish at the end of the report, there should be a National Economic Council.

Can bodies work?


It is worth going back to first principles to ask what these various bodies might be expected to achieve. A number of the bodies recommended in the IPPR report would have consultative and advisory functions. These are not to be sniffed at. For example, the Low Pay Commission has only ever had the power to make recommendations, but for governments seeking to avoid an argument, it was very attractive to accept recommendations backed unanimously by the Commissioners. Labour embraced the Commission because it steered a path between the Blairites and the union wing. But in 2015, when the Conservatives found themselves with an outright majority and no significant internal divisions over minimum wage policy, George Osborne took his own decision without waiting for the Commission. It was effective for as long as it would solve a decision-making problem for the government, and no longer.

Expert commissions have the role of finding proposals that are acceptable to the parties in the weak sense that they prefer the commission’s proposals to the alternatives. Those alternatives are either the status quo – stasis and non-decision – or decisions made in other ways. In the UK context, this generally means decisions by ministers, pushed through cabinet and Parliament. This latter option is often attractive and rarely blocked.

Ill-fated commissions


But blockage does besiege British governments in infrastructure decision-making, with Heathrow the most notorious example, as Steven Griggs and David Howarth have documented. The Davies Commission was meant to cut through the problems by making a recommendation that all parties would commit in advance to accept. But British political parties never tie their hands. By the time Davies reported, the Cameron government had an outright majority that it was not prepared to jeopardise by accepting Davies’ recommendations. Cameron ‘welcomed’ the report but indicated that it was ‘yet to decide’ its preferred scheme. It took a weak minority government to give up the possibility of political gain, accept cross-party support, and proceed with Heathrow expansion.

In 2013, Labour commissioned Sir John Armitt, now successor to Lord Adonis at the National Infrastructure Commission, to review the way that infrastructure decisions were planned and made. He recommended changes to decision-making procedures. The Commission would produce a ten-year package of infrastructure plans, which Parliament would vote on as a package, with limited powers of amendment and creating a restricted timetable for review. But ministers have no reason to accept such constraints. They can make decisions if they want to, obfuscate and postpone if they don’t. The chances that infrastructure recommendations will be as influential as those of the Low Pay Commission in its heyday are slight. There is too much at stake, especially when long-term plans are in the throes of turning into short-term realities.

In search of consensus and partnership


The fate of the advisory bodies proposed in the IPPR report is likely to be similar. Despite the current divisions in Cabinet and gridlock in government, there is little sign that ministers feel at all inclined to seek solutions from such bodies, at least not in economic areas where decisions have salient political consequences. Social partnership may be a lovely idea, but it has only taken root in countries where the political system presents governments with major barriers to making decisions, where coalitions of support have to be assembled. A National Economic Council could be valuable to a Chancellor who faced serious obstacles to implementing his programme, but this is rarely the case. The IPPR report castigates the ‘rabbit out of a hat’ policy-making of the Budget, but these rabbits usually run, and the Chancellor gets the credit.

Writing in the Financial Times, Jesse Norman criticised the IPPR Commission for paying attention to market failure but not government failure. This criticism is unfair. Recognition that the political system prevents the necessary decisions being taken permeates the report, which is why it repeatedly proposes new mechanisms for economic governance. But the report is evasive in its steadfast focus on the economic, averting its eyes from the awfulness of the country’s politics. Unfortunately, prosperity and justice need political revitalisation as well as economic ideas.

Deborah Mabbett is Professor of Public Policy at Birkbeck, University of London. 

This blog is adapted from Deborah Mabbett’s editorial commentary in The Political Quarterly journal. 

Image by Heidi Sandstrom

Monday, 8 October 2018

What kind of Brexit do voters actually want? We held a Citizens’ Assembly and asked them (clue: it's not a no-deal)


Alan Renwick, Sarah Allan, Will Jennings, Rebecca McKee, Meg Russell and Graham Smith


The Brexit vote told us that a majority of voters wanted to leave the EU, but it said little about their preferences for the form that Brexit should take. Public opinion surveys offer some insights, but often encourage respondents to provide simple answers to complex questions.

To gain insights into what kind of Brexit voters want, we held a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit in Autumn 2017. It brought together fifty randomly selected members of the public for two carefully structured weekends of listening, learning, reflecting and discussing. Assembly members considered what post‐Brexit arrangements the UK should pursue, focusing on trade and migration. The events gave them a chance to learn about the options, arguments and potential trade-offs and discuss them with a wide range of their peers.

The Citizens’ Assembly was modelled on previous citizens’ assemblies in Canada, the Netherlands, and Ireland, which led to referendums on electoral reform in two Canadian provinces and on same‐sex marriage and abortion in Ireland. Citizens’ assemblies embody a deliberative conception of democracy, where all perspectives are heard and considered carefully in light of evidence.

The intention was to feed into current government policy‐making. A narrow focus was essential to allow considered discussion within the time available.

Considered public opinion was hostile to a no deal Brexit


A crucial aspect of the future relationship between the UK and the EU will involve how we trade with each other. At the moment, that is largely determined by the rules of the Single Market.

Given a range of options on a Brexit trade deal, most Citizens’ Assembly members wanted the UK to pursue a bespoke arrangement with the EU rather than take either the off‐the‐peg option of continuing Single Market membership (should the EU allow it) or the option of no deal. This is striking. If in late 2018 or 2019, public opinion is similarly hostile to leaving the EU with no deal, it will be hard for any government to push such a Brexit through.

Figure 1

We asked Assembly members to rank different options primarily because it may be that the UK cannot get everything it wants. While the UK government’s Chequers plan proposes a bespoke trading relationship between the UK and the Single Market, whether any agreement on this basis will be acceptable either to remaining EU member states or to the UK parliament is far from clear. The voting in the Assembly also allows us to see members’ preferences if such a deal turns out to be unavailable. The graph below shows preferences if no bespoke trade deal at all can be done. If the choice comes down to one between Single Market membership and no deal, most members preferred the UK to stay in the Single Market.

Figure 2

Most people wanted to maintain free movement of labour, but reduce immigration

Migration between the UK and the EU is currently governed by the EU principle of free movement, which applies to people in employment or self‐employment, as well as to students and anyone who can sustain themselves financially. The Assembly considered five options for post‐Brexit policy.


Figure 3

Most members wanted the UK to maintain free movement of labour while using already available policy levers to reduce immigration numbers. This was despite the fact that we presented evidence indicating that the impact of exercising the available controls on total immigrant numbers would be small: likely in the low thousands.

Members were clearly concerned that policy‐makers should not focus just on the rules about who can or cannot stay in the UK. They also wanted the government to attend to domestic policies that might affect migration patterns – such as training for UK nationals – and to outcomes that are affected by migration such as the quality of public services. And some at least were open to delaying recent immigrants’ access to benefits, even if that might exclude some UK nationals too.

Thus, the members’ support for continuing free movement does not mean that most opposed a reduction in overall immigration numbers: most did want total immigration to fall. But they wanted this to be done in a targeted and fair way that would minimise harm to the UK economy.

Further thoughts


The evidence from the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is that most voters want a pragmatic Brexit: if the UK is leaving the EU, they want it to strike the best deal possible. They want politicians to be concerned, above all, with protecting the economy, public services, and living standards across all parts of the UK. Their optimal outcome is a bespoke deal between the UK and the EU, such as the UK government is currently pursuing. But if that proves unattainable, they would prefer the UK to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union than to leave the EU with no deal. They want to contain immigration while maintaining a substantial level of free movement.

These are the conclusions of a diverse sample of the UK electorate who engaged intensively and deeply with the issues over two weekends. They deserve to be taken seriously by policy‐makers.

Finally, the use of a Citizens’ Assembly to address the complexities of Brexit illustrates the valuable role that such deliberative exercises could play in UK democracy. They could be particularly helpful for unlocking progress on issues that are often felt to be ‘too difficult’ for politicians to handle. One such issue is the future funding of social care, so it is very welcome that two parliamentary committees established a Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care earlier this year.

Alan Renwick, Sarah Allan, Will Jennings, Rebecca McKee, Meg Russell and Graham Smith.

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

Image by Timon Studler.

Friday, 5 October 2018

'People will have to reconceptualise their ideas of gender': Why reform of the Gender Recognition Act could be life-changing


Vic Parsons



On April 4, 2005, the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – which allows people who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria to change their legal gender – came into force in the UK, having received royal assent in July the previous year. It was heralded as a “groundbreaking” and progressive move for transgender rights.

However, since it was introduced, fewer than 5,000 people have used the process to legally change their gender. Noting the low uptake – especially given the fact that there were more trans respondents than this to its National LGBT Survey last year – the government has launched a consultation on how to best reform the GRA to make it a better service for those who want to use it to change their legal gender and obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The consultation opened on July 3 and closes on October 19.

The Gender Recognition Act is inadequate


Common complaints levelled against the GRA process are that it is expensive, bureaucratic, time consuming and intrusive. The medical evidence that trans people are obliged to provide also puts a strain on the already stretched NHS. The panel who decide if the applicants’ legal gender can be changed never actually meet them.

Other problems include that trans people under the age of 18 are excluded from the process, a person’s spouse currently has the right to “veto” their change in legal gender, and non binary identities are not recognised. As Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, among other Scottish feminist organisations, succinctly put it in a statement: “The complexity, restrictions and expense of the current gender recognition process particularly discriminates against trans people who are disabled, migrant, minority ethnic, unemployed, homeless, experiencing domestic abuse, young or non binary.”

Getting a GRC means that trans people can change the gender on their birth certificate. While this may sound like a technical issue, Laura Russell, head of policy at Stonewall, explains: “Being able to get a Gender Recognition Certificate matters. It’s important trans people are able to be recognised in the eyes of the law. Not only does it help to protect people’s privacy, it means a lot to a trans person to know that the state believes who they are.”

Why reform would be life-changing


Reform of the GRA includes the possibility of legally recognising non binary people for the first time. In the UK government’s National LGBT Survey last year, 13 per cent of respondents were trans. More than half of these – 6.9 per cent – were non binary. While the current narrative around trans rights has tended to focus on trans women, and bathrooms, many non binary people feel our voices are not being heard and our rights not considered.

Reform would mean that non binary people could have their gender accurately reflected on ID documents, and would be offered the same protections under employment and discrimination legislation as those people, cis and trans, whose gender is binary. At the moment, the only options for gender in the UK are man or woman – on passports, marriage applications, pension papers, driving licenses, and so on. A person who is non binary is continuously reminded that, legally, their gender does not exist – and is forced to choose something that they are not.

Russell adds: “There is no need for it to be this way. That is why we are calling for the government's reform of the Gender Recognition Act to include legal recognition of non binary identities. This move would be life-changing for many trans people in Britain and a crucial step toward ensuring that the UK's gender recognition laws are in line with international best practice.

The UK has fallen behind other countries


In this respect, the UK has fallen behind other European countries, like Malta, Norway and Denmark, when it comes to gender recognition. Further afield, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan all have legal recognition of, and protections for, non binary people – countries that, in our Western-centric view of human rights, we may have imagined as being more traditionalist and less accepting. But that is not the case. Non binary and transgender identities were historically commonplace and celebrated in many countries around the world, before the arrival of the colonialist British enforced a rigid gender binary and criminalised homosexuality.

“Colonialism has definitely had an impact on global understands of gender, enforcing Western concepts onto other cultures,” Lee-Anne Lawrance, deputy chair for the LGBTIQA+ Greens, told me. “Recognition of non-binary people will mean that people in our culture will have to reconceptualise their ideas of gender.”

But they acknowledge that this shift in thinking, which will be accompanied by increasing visibility of non binary people and their experiences, can be hard for those directly affected by the changes.

“The larger visibility of non-binary people was definitely a key factor in my own realisations about my gender. It has enabled me to find myself and some comfort that I am not alone. The visibility has also meant that I've been able to find a community of people who understand me and support me, as well as a community that comes together to enact change.

“Of course, this visibility has brought with it a swell of anti-trans and anti-non-binary activism. I have definitely faced a lot of that in my political work. It is hard trying to get on with life when so many people are acting to specifically target you and your rights. Some of the personal impact is that I've seen lies and misinformation spread about me on social media, and people speculating about my private life, and so have my friends. However, I think this kind of explosivity is what happens before rights are won, and I am hopeful for the future.”

Breaking down the gender binary is positive for non binary individuals, as it allows us the freedom to live authentically. It is also positive from a feminist viewpoint, which has long fought against gender stereotyping. Sadly, not all people who consider themselves feminists would agree.

Dr Katharine Jenkins, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, says, “I think some of the hostility towards the idea of gender identity and towards legal recognition for trans people (including non binary people) comes from the idea that this shift necessarily means that we have to completely stop talking about the effects of sexism and about bodily differences connected to reproduction.”

“This simply isn’t true – recognising gender identity and supporting trans rights doesn’t mean that we have to stop talking about those other things. But I do think that we need to think more about how we do this, and probably come up with some new language, so that we can talk about the effects of sexism and about bodily difference, where these things are relevant, whilst respecting people’s gender identities.”

Legally recognising non binary people, Jenkins says, “would enable systematic, legally obligatory reviews of services to make sure that they offer equal provision for non binary people. This would be really important in terms of things like access to healthcare and provision of appropriate facilities, so I think it would make a very concrete difference to people’s lives, although I think it would still require a lot of sustained pressure and probably some legal cases.”

Of course, reform of the GRA is just that: reform of the current system. It is one potential way forward; my personal preference would be radical dismantlement of the current binary gender system and the building of a world where people are not categorised by gender.

But reform is what is on offer at present. This consultation could lead to the demedicalisation of the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, open it up to non binary people and legally recognise that not all people fit into the binary boxes of men and women. And that really could be groundbreaking.

Vic Parsons is a sub-editor at The Pool.

Image by Mercedes Mehling.


Thursday, 4 October 2018

As doctors, improving children’s mental health should be a national priority. Here is how to do it


Kailash Chand and Sandeep Ranote


With one in four adults now affected by mental illness, mental health problems are the largest single cause of disability in the UK. It is time for mental health to be our nation's priority, and where better to shine the spotlight than on our children?

Never before has the voice of young people been so important. Instead of being ‘seen and not heard’, they have become ‘visible with a voice’. Now we need to make sure that they are ‘partners that participate’.

One in 10 young people have a diagnosable mental health condition – that's roughly three young people in every classroom in England. But with the NHS chronically underfunded, only a quarter of these young people are able to access the treatment and care that they so vitally need. We know that 75 per cent of all adult mental illness begins before the age of 18 years, so early intervention is not only vital, but could prevent conditions from becoming chronic, long term and disabling into adulthood.

The government has a vision, but where are the resources?


Theresa May announced plans last year to transform the way mental illness is dealt with not in our hospitals but in classrooms, at work and in our communities. The initiative has been largely welcomed, although there is concern that this is yet another governmental policy that hinges on goodwill rather than identifiable resource.

As part of this announcement, a £300m mental health plan for schools was also launched. This included incentivising every school and college in England to have a senior lead for mental health, creating new mental health support teams to liaise between schools and the NHS, and piloting a maximum four-week waiting time for children’s mental health services in some areas. The ideas are laudable but not much progress in this incentive is visible.

May should be under no illusions: she can no longer rely on the overstretched goodwill of healthcare practitioners and teachers. The landscape is not changing quickly enough – it’s time resources followed the rhetoric, or her announcements are little more than motherhood and apple pie.

Ways forward


‘Future in Mind’ (2015) and supported by ‘The 5 year Forward View for Mental Health’ (2016), provides us with an excellent blueprint for possible ways forward. It suggests ways to reconnect a disconnected system and redesign our mental health and emotional wellbeing services for young people and families through local transformation plans (LTPs) across each clinical commissioning group area in the country.

Supported by additional government investment, we must shift away from a tiered model of care to one where the whole system can meet the needs of the whole person and the whole family. We need an emphasis on building resilient communities by utilising the assets within them and the milieu of young people to develop a truly integrated service.

Moving forward, we must encourage a culture of whole system contribution to the local transformation plans. Research demonstrates that better clinical engagement means improved service quality, safety and outcomes for young people. We continue to support the importance of shared decision making with our patients in treatment and we must now support shared decision making with our clinicians in developing and delivering care. This will place value in the clinical voice alongside the skills and knowledge of our commissioners, and the views of young people and families.

Manchester devolution and the mental health revolution


Greater Manchester pioneered the industrial revolution and we believe it could pioneer our mental health revolution. With a £134 million mental health investment proposal and 60 per cent of this to support children and young people, the Greater Manchester health and social care partnership has a unique opportunity to radically transform the way we deliver and develop children and young people's mental health services. This has already been demonstrated in its first year by the success of a young people's community eating disorder network of services working in partnership with the charity BEAT.

From a 2017 green paper, Greater Manchester have also delivered a pilot schools programme to train mental health leads, and mental health first aid training to teachers and youth champions. Through the power of social prescribing and mentorship, they deliver targeted group sessions around emotional health and wellbeing whilst also connecting specialist child and adolescent mental health teams to schools to offer advice and support. Although many have challenged the ambition of this green paper, it is still a positive step forward.

For the first time, we have the opportunity work together as a whole system to build a conurbation where our children do not just survive – they thrive. After all, they are one third of our population, but all of our future.

Kailash Chand is honorary vice president of the BMA, but writes in a personal capacity.

Sandeep Ranote is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Studies show voter ID could make elections more unequal


Jessica Garland 


In this year’s local elections, voters in five English council areas were asked to do something unfamiliar to voters in Britain. Something that appears fairly uncontentious on the face of it, but that could nonetheless have a significant impact on equality of access and electoral outcomes.

These councils were piloting a government proposal to introduce voter ID in polling stations. In two of the pilot areas, voters were required to bring photographic ID such as a passport or driving license.

Stricter forms of identification like driving licences and passports are costly and not inclusive (around 3.5 million citizens do not have photo ID and around 11 million do not have a passport or driving licence according to the Electoral Commission). Unlike other European countries, Britain does not currently have universal free ID. Putting a strict ID requirement before voting could therefore have a discriminatory effect.

Given the possible impact of voter ID requirements on democratic access, it is important to understand both why these measures are being introduced and the risks involved. Our new report analyses the voter ID pilots and wider issues of electoral integrity, looking at where the vulnerabilities in our system exist and what can be learnt from the pilots.

First it is important to be clear on the type of fraud voter ID is meant to fix. Voter ID is a measure aimed at personation fraud; the type of fraud where a person goes into a polling station pretending to be someone else. Though frequently conflated with other issues, voter ID in polling stations does not deal directly with issues around postal voting, double voting, or false registrations.

As it stands there is little evidence of personation fraud being a problem in British elections. In 2017 there was just one conviction for personation fraud and just 28 allegations. This, in a year with both a general election and local elections across England, Scotland and Wales (some 44.4 million votes cast).

What’s more, as the largest electoral integrity survey in the UK, run by Toby James and Alistair Clark, has recently shown, staff in polling stations are not themselves concerned about personation fraud. The most recent round of data from this survey finds that 99 per cent of respondents didn’t suspect that fraud had taken place in their polling station. More frequently raised concerns related to registration and access issues.

Our polling suggests that voters aren’t that worried either. Out of a range of potential electoral integrity issues, concerns about bias in the media, political donations and registration, rank far higher than securing people’s identity at the polling station. If the aim of this policy is to improve voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections, it might be wise to target policies elsewhere.

The limited evidence to support the need for this change in the way we vote is of particular concern given its potential consequences. As the pilots of voter ID have shown, a discriminatory effect hasn’t been ruled out. The Electoral Commission’s analysis of the pilots concluded that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters”.

This is unsurprising as the five council areas that agreed to trial voter ID were not representative of the full diversity of the UK. That the sample lacked a major city or inner-city area was certainly a problem for testing the expected effects of the policy.

But there are other issues with the pilots and what they are able to tell us about the effects of voter ID. Research analysing the pilots by Livia Testa and Susan Banducci at Exeter University finds amongst other things, higher party contact in the pilot areas. A factor that would be expected to increase the salience and knowledge of the elections amongst voters. Coupled with a significant advertising spend in the pilot areas, this casts doubt on whether recorded turnout in the pilot areas can say anything about the effect of this requirement on participation.

Legislation doesn’t allow for pilots to be held in general elections, so it is impossible to test the effect this could have if rolled out nationally. What we do know is that there were thirteen constituencies in last year’s general election won by majorities smaller than the number of voters unable to vote in the Bromley pilot alone. The potential for this policy to influence electoral outcomes is clear.

Knowing that elections are fair and secure is vitally important, as is ensuring that voters feel confident in the results. But questions remain both about the extent of personation fraud and the unintended consequences of targeting it in this way. The government is now seeking more councils to pilot these measures next year. It would surely be better to try to establish what the problem is first before heading further towards a solution.

Jessica Garland is Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society. 

Image by Elliott Stallion. 

Two things John Major and Theresa May have in common


Ben Wiliams


What does the government of John Major (1990-97) and that of Theresa May (since mid-2016) have in common? With the benefit of hindsight and the observation of contemporary events, we can make specific comparisons between them.

1. Lack of parliamentary majority


A fundamental weakness faced by both administrations is that neither enjoyed a significant parliamentary majority while being in office. Major’s narrow majority of 21, a personal mandate achieved against the odds in the 1992 general election, was gradually eroded by defections and by-election losses in subsequent years. The ultimate consequence of this was that by late 1996 Major led a minority government that struggled to practically function in terms of getting any of its legislation through Parliament.

In also seeking a personal mandate, Theresa May called the 2017 general election and gambled the small majority she’d inherited from David Cameron. She acted in the confident expectation that she would gain a strengthened hand for impending Brexit negotiations, yet the volatile and unexpected result saw her heading a minority government, within a much quicker timescale than Major did.

The fact that both the Major and May Conservative administrations have experienced such small to non-existent parliamentary majorities for the bulk of their premierships has adversely impacted both their capacity to pass legislation and also pursue their broader chosen political narrative.

Consequently, it has eventually led to a destabilising political situation whereby both leaders became reliant on minority parties within the Commons, (specifically those from Northern Ireland) in order to coherently govern, which also impacted negatively on that often troubled province’s own political stability and the UK’s wider constitutional settlement.

As a further side-effect of such a compromised political status, both leaders embraced a more consensual and less ‘presidential’ style of government compared with other premiers such as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and this has further contributed to a shared image of inherent weakness and an inability to deliver what both their party and the wider electorate have required.

2. European crises


A sense of ongoing crisis linked to European policy-making has created particularly visible parliamentary difficulties as well as Cabinet disunity for both Prime Ministers. For Major, such executive-level division had lingered since he succeeded Thatcher in 1990, with some Thatcherite loyalists remaining within his Cabinet for most of his rule. This indicated a degree of pragmatic executive-level management on his part, yet simmering tensions spilled explicitly into the public domain in mid-1993, when at the height of attempts to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, Major alluded to the media of several so-called Cabinet ‘bastards’, whose apparent disloyalty stemmed from their rigid Euroscepticism and ongoing associations with Thatcher.

The full extent of such intractable Cabinet divisions came to a dramatic crescendo in the summer of 1995, when Major challenged internal party critics to “put up or shut up”. In an unorthodox and risky move he promptly resigned as party leader, but remained as prime minister and successfully stood for re-election against the challenge of John Redwood. However, while Major ultimately remained as prime minister until 1997, he was undoubtedly politically damaged by this bruising process.

Theresa May has often experienced situations whereby similar acts of ‘brinkmanship’ have been a common occurrence between her and elements of her party. Her unexpected electoral setback of 2017 was partly influenced by both internal Conservative differences and wider public divisions relating to Brexit strategy and the nature of Britain’s appropriate departure from the EU.

However, the fundamental consequence was that it destroyed her previously high degree of authority over both her parliamentary party and also her Cabinet. By mid-2018, and in a similarly divisive situation that faced Major’s administration, her painstaking efforts to hold her finely balanced Cabinet of ‘Brexiteers’ and ‘Remainers’ together threatened to disintegrate at the height of prolonged Brexit diplomacy, and specifically relating to the Chequers Agreement. The high-profile sequential resignations of senior Cabinet Ministers David Davis and Boris Johnson in July 2018 publicly exposed Cabinet unrest on the issue, with both making damaging comments about her approach to this pivotal policy issue.

As with the Major era, this episode ultimately illustrated May’s declining degree of Cabinet control over such so-called ‘big beasts’, and in turn sowed unrest among her MPs, highlighting the ever-present danger to her position of potential alternative party leaders, but she survived in the short-term at least.

Nevertheless, the likelihood of a future leadership challenge remains a longer-term recurring possibility, and such a scenario grows increasingly likely if Brexit talks continue to flounder in the build-up to UK’s proposed EU departure date of March 2019.

Both Major and May have therefore been significantly hampered by a weak parliamentary position at a time of high political stakes. While each appeared to neutralise and manage internal opposition and rivals to varying degrees of success, their restricted capacity to control both the executive and the legislature has been principally shaped by their difficulties stemming from an unerring and destabilising European policy agenda. 

Ben Williams is a Tutor in Politics and Political Theory, University of Salford.

Friday, 21 September 2018

This summer has shaken up Welsh politics. Here's your guide to what's going on


Tomos Evans


The summer of 2018 has seen Welsh politics undergo multiple leadership elections at the same time. Four of the five parties represented in the National Assembly for Wales – Welsh Labour, Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, and UKIP Wales – have either undergone or will be holding leadership elections soon. Only the Welsh Liberal Democrats are likely to keep their current leader this year. These elections have come about for different reasons but the holding of four leadership contests at the same time is unprecedented in Welsh politics.

Welsh Labour


First, in April, the current first minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones announced he would be standing down this autumn following the death of former Welsh government minister Carl Sargeant in November 2017.

Throughout the summer a number of Labour assembly members put their names forward for the leadership, but as of yet only two have secured enough nominations to run. Mark Drakeford, the current cabinet secretary for finance in the Welsh government was first to secure enough nominations to run, followed by Vaughan Gething, the current cabinet secretary for Health and Social Services.

Eluned Morgan, Huw Irranca-Davies, and Alun Davies, all announced their intention to run, though this has now narrowed to just Eluned Morgan who still requires the support of one more Labour assembly member to get onto the ballot.

Both Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething are running campaigns in which they advocate change. Many Welsh Labour activists are keen that the leadership contest does not turn into yet another Corbynite vs non-Corbynite battle. Nevertheless, Mark Drakeford is widely seen as the ‘Corbyn candidate’; having been supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s election and subsequent leadership he is now backed by Welsh Labour Grassroots (Momentum in Wales).

Arguably, if Drakeford, the current favourite, does wins the leadership, and Leanne Wood retains leadership of Plaid Cymru, there will be greater opportunities for cross-party working between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour.

Welsh Labour has agreed to run its leadership via one-member-one-vote after a robust debate over whether the electoral college should be retained. The results of the election is expected to be announced in early December.

Plaid Cymru


Plaid Cymu’s constitution allows for a leadership contest every two years. Following much discussion within the party, Rhun ap Iorwerth and Adam Price announced their plan to challenge Leanne Wood for the leadership in in July.

The election campaign has seen many accusations about the perceived lack of successes the party has had during Leanne Wood’s leadership, as well as commentaries on which of the candidates would or would not work with the Welsh Conservatives.

The outcome of the election will be announced on 28 September. Generally, it appears that the race has narrowed into a contest between current leader Leanne Wood and challenger Adam Price – something which would no doubt be contested by the ap Iorwerth camp! Should Wood win, there is the potential for Plaid’s agenda to become more radical in challenging Welsh Labour from the left. Whereas a switch to Adam Price may well see the party become more centrist, with Price proposing a cut in income tax, for example.

Welsh Conservatives


At the beginning of September, Paul Davies won the election to succeed Andrew RT Davies as leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the National Assembly. RT Davies resigned at the end of June following criticism he had made of Airbus’ warnings of a no-deal Brexit and the feeling that he had lost support for his leadership from other elements of his party.

Near the top of the agenda for Paul Davies as he becomes the Party’s new leader in the Assembly is the push to secure more autonomy for the Welsh Conservative party from the UK party. Alongside this is the goal of solidifying himself as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, not solely the Welsh Conservative group in the assembly.

Nonetheless, Davies’ election does almost certainly move the Welsh Conservatives slightly further towards the centre ground of Welsh politics, and he has explicitly said that he is open to doing a deal with Plaid Cymru in the future.

UKIP Wales


UKIP Wales were the first party to announce their new leader – Gareth Bennett – whose positions on trans rights, the Welsh language, and devolution itself have seen him come in for much criticism from across the political spectrum. While already losing one AM, quite what Bennett’s leadership will do to both the party and the assembly is unclear but his anti-devolution statements have led to concern from many in both politics and the Welsh media.

After the dust settles


Generally, the changes in leadership will create new opportunities for parties to work together. The election of Gareth Bennett will most likely further isolate the UKIP group, whereas Paul Davies is certainly more to the centre than his predecessor. Assuming all signs are correct and Mark Drakeford is elected, Welsh Labour’s leader would be further to the left than current leader Carwyn Jones, which may well see the Welsh government’s policy agenda become more radical.

Quite where Plaid Cymru ends up really depends on who ends up winning the leadership. A Wood victory could see more red-green working but a victory for Price or ap Iorwerth could open the door to a closer relationship with the Welsh Conservatives. This summer has shaken up Welsh politics. Quite what politics in the Senedd will look like when the dust settles will not be known until early next year.

Tomos Evans is a PhD student at the University of Bath