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

Monday, 17 September 2018

A surprisingly simple way to deal with corporate tax avoidance

David Sanders

Last month, the BBC reported that Amazon’s UK tax bill had fallen despite a significant increase in its profits to public outcry. Many people are infuriated by the fact that multinational corporations avoid paying taxes in countries where their turnover is considerable and where they make huge profits.

The main legal device that multinationals use to minimise their tax exposure is to locate their official, tax-declarable headquarters in a country with a low corporate tax rate. Here, they pay the legally required corporate taxes. They can thus make a legal case, recognised in international law, that they are paying an appropriate amount of tax in their chosen country of tax residence. Yet at the same time they contribute little or nothing to tax revenues in the countries where they make most of their profits.

By implication, they make a disproportionately small contribution to the economic and legal infrastructures in the countries where they operate. Amazon, Apple, Google and Starbucks are frequently cited as examples of companies that deploy this sort of strategy. There are doubtless many others.

Suggestions that ‘something ought to be done’ to make multinationals pay ‘fair’ amounts of corporate tax are typically met by the response that concerted international action would be necessary to curb multinationals’ ability to avoid paying tax. And, as we all know, achieving coordinated tax policies across national borders is extraordinarily difficult, especially in an era when economic nationalism appears to be reasserting itself.

I am not convinced that we need to rely on international agreements to force multinationals to contribute properly to tax revenues in the countries in which they operate.

One proposed solution is that multinationals that pay no corporate taxes in, say, the UK could be taxed on their UK sales – thus compensating the UK Exchequer for the lack of corporate taxes paid. The problem with this approach is that it can be argued to be discriminatory against multinational companies that are paying all the taxes that are legally required in the UK. It is argued in consequence that if a Tax on Sales – paid by the Seller – were to be introduced in the UK, then all companies, whether or not their tax headquarters are in the UK (and whether or not they are making profits), should be expected to pay it.

In order to avoid such accusations of discrimination, I propose a modified version of the Tax on Sales (paid-by-the-Seller) idea. If a multinational has its tax-declarable headquarters in a country with the same or a higher rate of corporation tax on profits than the UK, then its Tax on Sales levy would be zero. However, if its tax-declarable headquarters were located in a country where corporate taxes were lower than in the UK, then its UK sales would be subject to a Tax on Sales at a level that would bring its UK tax liability to a figure that represented the difference between two measurable figures:

(a) the corporation tax that would have been paid in the UK had the company been obliged to declare the profit on its UK operations in the UK; and

(b) the amount of corporation tax paid by the company on its UK operations in its tax-declared country.

UK corporate tax law could easily be configured to require all overseas tax-domiciled companies that operate in the UK to reveal both (a) and (b) on an annual basis. If companies failed to provide the appropriate information in a timely way, HMRC could be empowered to calculate (a) and (b) based on reported tax paid in the tax-declarable country and the company’s average turnover figures for the UK and globally.

It would be a simple matter to calculate the difference between them. Thus, for example, if a company that was tax-declarable in Ireland paid only 12.5 per cent tax to the Irish government on its corporate UK profits, given a UK corporate tax rate of 19 per cent, it would be expected to pay a UK Tax on Sales amount equivalent to 19-12.5=6.5 per cent of the profits on its UK operations. On a sliding scale, where the difference between (a) and (b) was large, a relatively high Tax on Sales rate would be applied; where small, the Tax on Sales rate would be relatively low.

The object in all cases would be to bring the total corporate tax burden on multinational companies that operate in the UK into line with UK-based companies that tax-declare in the UK; to level the corporate tax paying field. A minimum UK turnover or sales threshold could be employed to ensure that HMRC’s activities were concentrated on the most egregious cases.

The UK does not need to negotiate internationally to adopt such a policy. It could just do it. Other countries could do exactly the same if they thought it was sensible. All countries might then start to realise that the race to the bottom of reducing corporate tax rates is good for no-one, since it reduces the global funds available to governments for the renewal of economic and social infrastructure. It might also begin the process of eliminating the tax havens that criminals, tax-avoiders and tax-evaders have relied upon for so long to protect and extend their narrow sectional interests.

David Sanders is Emeritus Professor at the Department of Government, University of Essex. 

Image by Christian Wiediger.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Is France having a moment? Emmanuel Macron and the politics of disruption


Helen Drake



On 19 June 2018, at a joint press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron proclaimed that Europe, the EU and each of its member states had reached a moment of existential truth: unite or implode.

Europe probably is facing exceptional challenges, but political leaders routinely deploy the language of crisis to make their points. Crisis and drama sell in a political age of rapid-fire social media and emotional exchange, and the visuals of politics – particularly of summitry – raise expectations of momentous change.

The meaning of Macron (I)


For his part, President Macron’s position is specifically designed to accommodate personal power, and he has shown every intention of deploying this arsenal to the full.

A combination of good luck, timing and tactics won him the 2017 French presidency in an unprecedented manner, lending him an air of exceptionality. In power he is an iconoclast, ducking those who seek to pigeonhole him using customary labels of left, right, liberal, or other.

In the 2017 contest, Macron fought off the notorious populist, radical right politician Marine le Pen with his own brand of positive populism. Campaigning from the grassroots up, he side-stepped and wrong-footed traditional political parties. He picked policy issues that trend – gender equality, energy transition, artificial intelligence. Nothing is off his radar; nothing, it appears, is sacrosanct, although he is no outsider, nor stranger to French political culture.

It is hard enough to capture political leadership using the standard tools of academic analysis in normal times, let alone when a Macron (or a Trump) brings something novel to the spreadsheet. The human factor simply defies scientific rigour, however hard political scientists try to classify and categorise individual traits.

We shy away from the ‘great man’ theory of leadership, for obvious reasons, and ‘heroic’ leadership is rarely attainable in democratic systems where leaders are contained, and deliberately so, by institutional checks and balances. Any sensible approach to understanding leadership must avoid claims to read leaders’ minds, and set the personal against the institutional (the political system), the conjuctural (the immediate context and its challenges), and the structural (the wider environment).

However hard the task and however imperfect the results, analysing political leadership matters, if only to offer up something to temper popular expectations of individual leaders that are unrealistically high, and opinions that are correspondingly and predictably low when fast results fail to materialise (president Macron’s ratings, by the way, dipped sharply in the summer of 2018).

The idea of disruption


One notion that has found its way into daily conversations about politics in general and leaders in particular is that of disruption. Pascal Perrineau, veteran analyst of French party politics, entitled his edited volume on the 2017 French elections, no less, Le vote disruptif – the vote of disruption.

Earlier the same year, I compared and contrasted Macron’s election as French president with the UK’s 2016 vote by referendum to leave the EU as moments of political disruption. The comparison was inspired by a BBC Radio 4 trio of short conversations with disruptor and disruptee (those disrupted) alike in three of the UK’s infamously hidebound markets: property, banking and death. In each case (getting a mortgage and buying a property; opening and managing a bank account; planning a funeral, respectively) , the disruptor emphatically rejected business as usual. In each case, the disrupted (the mortgage brokers, the estate agents, the high-street banks, the funeral directors) had a choice of how to respond to the challenger. Sometimes, business turns out to be usual for a reason, and disruption could harm the customer; sometimes not, and technological innovation can only improve matters.

Disruption theory comes to us from the academic literatures of business management and merits a closer look if we are to use it to get a handle on political leadership. The theory distinguishes market incumbents from new entrants. Incumbents’ ability to correctly diagnose genuinely disruptive innovation is crucial to their survival: there are win-win scenarios, when markets expand. There are also unseemly crashes. New entrants’ chances of truly up-ending the status quo reside in the novelty of their business model: disruption is primarily process, not merely product (or service). Disruption has come to connote success in the business world, but it can just as equally fail: high risk is built into the very nature of disruption. Successful disruptors target the ‘overlooked’: the customers who the incumbents have, for one reason or other, neglected.

The meaning of Macron (II)


President Macron has not just divided attention: he has provoked remarkably bilious criticism that on occasions can come across as hatred or prejudice. Bile currently runs close to the surface in politics, and not just in France: we are living in sensitive times and the stakes, domestic and geopolitical alike, are uncomfortably high.

Emmanuel Macron’s election manifesto promised a Révolution. Perhaps the incumbents of French politics should have taken him at his word. He was a new entrant in the literal sense, forming his Obama-like political movement En Marche! only a year before the 2017 campaign, and to the surprise of the incumbent parties. He notably outplayed the other would-be disruptors of the French political scene, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine le Pen, in both cases partly by luck. France’s traditional, incumbent parties lay in tatters once the political typhoon of 2017 was spent, their resilience now depending on a correct diagnosis of the nature of the threat of this new entrant.

If Macron is to be a successful disruptor of French politics, then his constitutional reform will have to stick, his party La République en Marche (LREM) will have to cohere, his policies will need to bear fruit, and the ‘overlooked’ will need to consider themselves better served by the new kid, and commit their support.

Even where the levers are accessible to president Macron, the signs are not good, and own goals have already been scored in this first half of the 2017-2021 presidency. The parliamentary discussion of the constitutional reform bill was postponed while the French presidency scrambled to contain the Benalla affair. That scandal raised ethical questions about the conduct of the presidential inner circle, damaging Macron’s self-image as a president with integrity.

LREM is showing its cracks, including over the content of the proposed constitutional reform itself. Macron’s government has seen resignations and departures, and a reshuffle is imminent at the time of writing. Macron has been explicit that policy reform is a slow burn process, and that his eyes are fixed on a 10-year horizon, but today’s politics demands the instant fix, and his mandate is a short five years.

Macron has succeeded in passing certain labour law reforms but is struggling to shake off an image as elitist and friend of the rich. Those who felt overlooked by the system and who turned their backs on the established parties are not all Macron fans: far from it. He barely squeaked into the second round of the presidential election ahead of Mélenchon and le Pen, and his voters in the second round run-off are a disparate collection from across the generations and social classes, not a stable electoral base.

Not only incumbents but also disruptors can misread the ‘market’ – the political climate. Perhaps Macron is ahead of his time, or perhaps he is a fake disruptor in the first place, a one-man machine for the sort of hypermasculine occupation and projection of political power that is all too familiar to us. And perhaps the theory of disruption has no place in politics. Voters are not consumers, nations are not markets, and political parties are not businesses. Politics is a human endeavour at heart, and political leaders are flawed humans. These flawed humans must, in today’s democracies at least, operate alongside substantial organisational inertia.

A rival theory from the business world argues that successful disruption requires ‘architectural innovation’ – the remaking of the organisation itself. Contemporary France – the ‘organisation’ in question here - is a country with a very strong narrative of self, making the stakes of disruption particularly high. Perhaps an early lesson from the case of Macron is that in politics, disruption will fail, absent a Révolution.

Helen Drake is Director of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, Loughborough University London.


Image by Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay.