Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Christian extremists, Trump and the politics of Armageddon

Abby Day



The protests, related violence and killings that were sparked by the American embassy move to Jerusalem is unlikely to shift hard-line Christian opinion about Israel. For some, it may even be a welcome sign of a divine plan to end most life on earth. A nuclear war that threatens to annihilate almost everyone is a horrifying thought – unless you’re one of the chosen few who will survive the event and reunite with family, friends and God in eternal paradise.

It's not just Islamist extremists who want to take their places in a perfect afterlife: many Christians share the same aspirations. Some may even see themselves as God’s soldiers, fulfilling a prophecy outlined in their sacred scripture, the Bible’s book of Revelations. Yet the impact of evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity on American politics in the age of Donald Trump has not received enough attention from political scientists.

Christian extremists might be largely ignored by UK or European readers who think they represent a fringe movement of unhinged fundamentalists. However, in America the story is very different.

Some political scientists recognise that fundamentalist Christians are a significant section of the population. One of the most salient characteristics of fundamentalist Christians, also known as ‘evangelicals’ is their belief that the Bible is the literal word of God, something that a Gallup poll showed a quarter of Americans believe. The poll did also suggest that this proportion is shrinking, but Dr Ryan Burge, from Eastern Illinois University, found the proportion to be stable in his analysis of the General Social Survey, a highly-respected monitor of public opinion which has asked questions about Bible belief since 1984. isHi

The apocalyptic war forecast to occur at Armageddon, or ‘end times’, is at the core of Christianity. Those who take it most seriously are ‘dispensational pre-millennials’ – people who believe that certain events need to happen before Jesus returns to earth to rule. Those beliefs are held by many American evangelical Christians – not a minority church, but the biggest denomination in America. And Donald Trump won 81 per cent of the white Evangelical vote.

The connection between Christian Zionists and Israel
Many fundamentalist Christians are Zionists who believe Jews must return to Israel to rule. There are an estimated 40 million fundamentalist Christian Zionists in the United States, and Professor Paul Rogers, Bradford University, has claimed about one third of Americas’s 100 million Evangelicals support Christian Zionism.

American academic Donald Wagner writes widely about Christian Zionists who, with neo-conservatives, support hard-line Israeli politics. He has also charted how many American Christians consider that securing Israel for the Jewish people represents fulfilment of God’s plan. Indeed, Pew Research Centre found that 69 per cent of white Evangelicals believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people, and 59 per cent believe that Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Second, they believe that a worldwide conflagration at Armageddon will occur as a final battle between God and Satan. When (not if) God’s side wins, the prophecy stated in the Biblical book of Revelations can be fulfilled: the return to earth of Jesus and the lifting up to heaven of believing Christians.

In the main passages (Revelations 6-8) depicting the end of the world, major events happen: religious deception, war, famine, disease, persecution of Christians, earthquakes and other disasters, and finally, overwhelming devastation of the earth’s vegetation, rivers, and oceans. The last stages include partial darkening of sun, moon and stars, culminating with the sound of trumpets in a final clash between violent armies.

This may not be bad news for everyone: as one Christian website put it: ‘The end times mark not the end of the world, but the end of an age—and the beginning of a far better one’.

Trump’s inner circle
Most worryingly, those Evangelicals who take the Bible seriously include Donald Trump’s top team, who meet weekly under the supervision of biblical literalist Ralph Drollinger. When Trump isn’t available in person he gets a full summary and tweets his support.

Drollinger holds extreme conservative views, including being a climate change denier, who thinks homosexuality is a sin and opposes women’s roles in teaching, public office or ‘leading’ their families. He also unequivocally supports the right of Jews to reclaim Israel, and admonishes those who take a less literal, more interpretivist approach.

Granted, the influence of the Drollinger-led group needs to be seen in perspective. There are many other policy advisors that speak to and influence the President (including NSC, Department of Defence, State Department, and the CIA), which may have a constraining impact. However, that Drollinger does have some level of influence is beyond question.

Interpreting the exact detail of what is being said in Revelations may be the obsession of conspiracy theorists, and not all Evangelicals agree that the end is nigh. However, Trump’s fulfilment of an election promise (helping him secure the Evangelical vote) to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s contested capital city, Jerusalem, was widely praised by both his Christian advisors and clergy. Political scientist Professor Elizabeth Oldmixon points out that Evangelicals ‘are likely to support settlements in the West Bank, Israeli territorial expansion on both sides of the Jordan River, and support for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’.

That tight connection between Biblical literalists and American foreign policy is one political scientists may want to take more seriously. Meanwhile, if you ever see Trump saying or showing that he’s blowing his own horn, my advice is to duck.

Abby Day is Professor of Race, Faith & Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Image by Gugganij. 

Monday, 21 May 2018

Dementia is forcing us to ask important questions about diversity and inclusiveness in our care system

Anya Ahmed and Chris Poyner


Dementia has been identified as the biggest health and social care challenge facing UK society, due to an ageing population. At the 2011 census, 16 per cent of the UK population were aged 65 and over and 14 per cent of which were aged 85 and over (the population group that is growing fastest).

As our understanding of the condition increases, so should our awareness of the different struggles faced by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people living with dementia, as well as issues surrounding visibility and social inclusion of people diagnosed with the condition.

BME people with dementia


Migration patterns from the 1950 and 1960s mean that the UK is now home to an ageing BME population and there are currently 25,000 people with dementia from BME communities in England and Wales. This figure is predicted to rise to 50,000 by 2026 and 172,000 by 2051.

However, there is little knowledge of the experiences of BME people with dementia, which in the UK includes people from a range of ethnic backgrounds. The National Dementia Strategy states that health and social care services should take account of BME dementia needs. However, service providers report challenges in including BME people, and there is evidence that people from BME backgrounds are currently being ‘failed’ by the system.

Additionally, among the UK’s BME population there are lower levels of awareness of dementia and high levels of stigma associated with the condition. And people from BME backgrounds are underrepresented in dementia services and access services later.

The knowledge gap


There remains very little knowledge and research on BME communities and dementia. It has been suggested that there is a need to gather more information and engage further with BME communities in, to fill gaps in knowledge about their service needs and successfully implement the National Dementia Strategy. However, our view is that if we listen to the least heard members of society and ensure that services are accessible and appropriate for them, then this improves the experience for everyone.

The Salford Institute for Dementia


The Salford Institute for Dementia (SID) was established in 2014. SIDs research focuses on the challenges faced by people living with dementia and their supporters and seeks to improve their lives in positive and meaningful ways.

A core theme of the institute is user involvement, which aims to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of people living with dementia in the various activities undertaken at SID. To ensure this, the Institute has a panel of ‘Dementia Associates’ that meet monthly at our purpose built, community driven Dementia Hub. Dementia associates work as ‘co-researchers’ on studies conducted by SID academics. This peer support group has the dual function of facilitating meaningful inclusion in research for people living with dementia, and directing the SID research agenda. This type of social citizenship provides opportunities for engagement in research, aiming to influence policy and practice.

At SID we are currently critically evaluating our user involvement and community peer support service programme. This includes our Dementia Associates Initiative, Music Café, and Gardening Club. Such services are currently under-researched and their impact on well-being and local dementia communities is unknown, so this information will increase our understanding of how we provide dementia specific services and how we access hard to reach demographics, such as those from BME groups.

Putting identity at the centre of improvements to services


To improve services and increase user involvement for people from all backgrounds, we need to focus on better flexibility, outreach services, awareness raising and the profiling of positive stories from people living with dementia themselves. Post-diagnostic support needs better funding, so that all those diagnosed are given support to access to service pathways, and are prevented from feeling isolated once the diagnosis has been given.

One method of implementing these objectives proposed was to incorporate 'positive-person identity work' into services, to challenge the loss of identity people have been found to feel as a result of their diagnosis. This would involve developing services that encourage new and positive forms of identity to be formed.

Well established examples include the work of the Scottish Dementia Working Group and the European Working Group of People with Dementia. These groups give people with dementia a public space to debate, discuss and critique the current discourse surrounding dementia in a wide range of forums, offering a level of control over the condition and a new identity as a ‘dementia rights campaigner’.

Through the public awareness work of groups such as the Scottish Dementia Working Group that are led by people with dementia themselves, the visibility and social inclusion of people living with dementia is increasing. This increase can only be a positive force in reducing the stigma around a diagnosis of dementia and encourage people with this diagnosis to become more involvement in their local communities.

The funding of more such services and groups, and the signposting of these groups at some point along the post-diagnosis pathway could have a wide influence on how people with dementia feel and are perceived, and therefore could lead to a plethora of positive well-being outcomes for people living with dementia.

Anya Ahmed is a Professor of Social Science and Head of Social Policy at the University of Salford. Anya is also the lead for the User Involvement and Service Improvement Research Theme at the Salford Institute for Dementia.

Chris Poyner is a Research Associate at the Salford Institute for Dementia and a PhD Candidate at the University of Stirling.
Image by Deji Okubadejo.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Become a politician: normal people need not apply

Peter Allen and David Cutts



People who run for political office are strange. That is, they are unlike most other people. The pertinent question from a democratic standpoint is whether this abnormality is bound up with a wider set of socioeconomic and characteristic differences between the politically ambitious and everybody else.

In other words, are the differences we can see of such a kind that we should we be worried about them?

Both popular and academic debate has expressed concern that the pool from which we elect our politicians contains sufficient diversity. Something we know little about in the British context is political ambition, a trait that is a necessary prerequisite to candidacy, but not a sufficient one in itself.

Data from the first systematic study of political ambition in Britain is drawn from an original online survey conducted by YouGov of just over 10,000 respondents in England, Scotland, and Wales and was collected in March and April 2017.

Overall, we found that an overwhelming majority of British people have never considered running for political office, with only 10 per cent responding that they had. Our data showed that a highly‐educated relatively young man from social grade ABC1 is more likely to be politically ambitious than any other kind of person. Other findings are summarised below.

The gender gap


There is a clear gender gap in political ambition, with British men more than twice as likely as British women to report having considered putting themselves forward as a candidate for political office, figures of 14 and 7 per cent, respectively.

Educational attainment


Turning to consider level of education, we find that individuals with high levels of education (primarily signalled by possession of a university degree) are roughly twice as likely as those with medium levels of education (generally completion of secondary education) to have considered running for political office, and over three times more likely than those with low levels of education (unfinished secondary education or lower).

The north–south divide


A key strand of the popular discussion around the British ‘political class’ focuses on its supposed London‐centrism or broader cosmopolitanism.

Our data permits some examination of this question. Respondents in the south of Britain, broadly defined to include the South West (12.2 per cent), South East (11.3 per cent), and London (11.1 per cent) being considerably more ambitious than respondents in the North East (7.9 per cent), North West (8.7 per cent), and Yorkshire and the Humber (9 per cent).

Political dynasties


A further element of the political class narrative described above, and also related to the notion that the political world is something of a closed shop, is the sense that political dynasties of parents, siblings, spouses, and children are disproportionately likely to produce candidates for office.

Our data showed that individuals whose parents were involved in political activities throughout their childhood express far greater interest in running for office than individuals whose parents were not involved at all.

The class divide


Social grade, a measure of occupational status often utilised in discussions of social class, also has a relationship with levels of political ambition. Individuals in higher social grades more likely to be ambitious than those in lower grades.

Slightly over 12 per cent of individuals from social grade ABC1 (including the upper, middle, and lower middle classes) reported having considered running for political office compared to just under 8 per cent of respondents classified in social grade C2DE (skilled working class, working class, and not working).

Ethnic minority groups


Owing to the relatively small sample size for various ethnic minority groups, we instead initially utilised a binary division between white (ethnic majority) and non‐white (ethnic minority) respondents. Although a crude distinction in many ways, the increased statistical power offered by this split would more easily permit the identification of an effect in either direction. 10.4 per cent of white respondents reported some political ambition compared to 9.9 per cent of non‐white respondents.

With the above caveat, alongside the roughly 10 per cent of white respondents expressing political ambitions of some kind, respondents of mixed ethnicity have slightly higher levels of ambition (around 13 per cent), while individuals with South Asian ethnic backgrounds have lower levels of ambition, with only 8 per cent considering putting themselves forward.

Levels of trust in politicians


Although public disaffection and disillusionment with politics, politicians, and political institutions is hardly new, we don't know precisely how it affects political ambition, although we err on the side of pessimism.

Generally, it seems that faith in politics and politicians is something of a prerequisite for expressing political ambition. Although this might sound like a truism, it should trouble those hoping for democratic outbursts in opposition to a seemingly perennially unpopular political class: from what we can tell, this is unlikely to occur.

We should not anticipate the collapse of our political institutions should political ambition become further concentrated in an even more limited group of citizens. This is unlikely. What we may expect, though, is an intensification of anti‐political feeling and a perceived growth in the distance separating those involved in political life from those who are not. For further discussion, including suggestions for what can be done, see our journal article.

Peter Allen is Reader in Comparative Politics at the University of Bath.

David Cutts is Professor of Political Science at the University of Birmingham.


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

Monday, 14 May 2018

Freeloading tax avoiders are harming democracy itself

Richard Woodward



Is the UK ungovernable? After Brexit and an inconclusive 2017 general election, widespread disaffection of many UK citizens with politics, politicians and political institutions is frequently traced to the failure of the UK's political machinery to deliver on promises or to meet their expectations.

In the last decade, examples of this failure have been legion: the failure to deliver robust, balanced or inclusive economic growth; the failure to eliminate the budget deficit; the failure to meet homebuilding targets; the failure to control immigration; the failure to remedy the tribulations plaguing the National Health Service; the failure to address chronic underinvestment in infrastructure; and the failure adequately to equip, prepare and protect services personnel in and for combat zones.

This ongoing political turbulence has prompted a reprise of debates from the 1970s when many concluded the country was ungovernable due to ‘overloading’ – a growing mismatch between the electorate's expectations and the government’s capacity to fulfil them.

However, these accounts overlooked another phenomenon besieging UK governance during this period. This phenomenon was freeloading: the withering of government capacity deriving from people enjoying the benefits of citizenship without altogether contributing to the cost.

In the interim, these problems have become endemic – not least because of the unspoken but discernible policy of successive governments to turn the UK into a tax haven.

The rise of tax havens


As a tax haven, the UK permits rich individuals and corporations to profit handsomely from the public goods paid for out of general taxation, whilst simultaneously supplying them with subterfuges that allow them to curtail their UK tax liabilities. Irrespective of citizen demands, tax avoidance and evasion deprives the UK government of the revenue necessary to discharge its responsibilities. By worsening inequality, tax avoidance and evasion have also damaged the UK's democratic institutions.

Hardly a week now passes without some fresh revelation of tax avoidance committed by a prominent corporation or celebrity. Amazon, Barclays, Boots, Caffè Nero, Facebook, Google, Ikea, Starbucks, and Vodafone are amongst dozens of firms that have attracted censure for paying minimal UK corporation tax, despite sustaining extensive business activity in the country.

Incongruously, some of the most notorious perpetrators of tax avoidance are also amongst the most prodigious consumers of public goods and recipients of government gratuity. The most egregious examples come from the banking sector. As the taxpayer was writing a blank cheque to bail out the financial system, it was revealed that the big four high street banks were operating a network of 1,649 tax haven subsidiaries.

High‐profile scandals involving prominent individuals and corporations, plus the failure to clamp down on them have reinforced the perception that the UK's political system is geared towards the rich and the powerful at the expense of the marginalised majority.

Growing inequality


What currently has the moniker of austerity is simply the compounding of a forty year‐long programme to square the freeloading circle by moderating spending and levying taxes that disproportionately distress the poorer segments of society. During this time, the UK went from being one of the most equal OECD countries to one of the most unequal.

To quote the Association of Revenue and Customs, the union representing senior HMRC staff, ‘the country cannot afford this madness. The government is acting like an unhinged Robin Hood—taking from the poor and giving to the rich’.

The impact on democracy


Soaring inequality has brought into sharp relief the well‐documented tension between the egalitarian tendencies of democracy and the wealth (and hence, power) concentrating propensities of capitalism. Assisted by the Bretton Woods settlement, the UK's post‐war governments were able to legitimise capitalism and stabilise democracy through widely shared increases in real incomes.

Conversely, the subsequent economic polarisation has bred a perception that the UK's democracy is mutating into a plutocracy where a self‐serving elite receives special treatment and wields outsize influence on the political system at the expense of the marginalised majority.

The UK's ‘non‐domiciled’ residents are illustrative in this regard. ‘Non‐doms’ are UK residents whose permanent home or domicile is elsewhere. They are spared tax on foreign income unless it is remitted to the UK, free to enjoy their millions in exchange for a payment miniscule in comparison to prevailing income tax rates.

Most of the UK's 115,000 non‐doms are not intimately connected with politics. Amongst their ranks, however, are press barons and major donors to political parties. During the 2015 general election campaign, it was divulged that non‐doms had donated over £27 million to the three main political parties since the turn of the century.

Democratic governance requires that everyone has the opportunity for an equal say in collective decision making. This does not mean that everyone has equal sway, but the outcome ought to reflect the most persuasive argument around which people could be mobilised, rather than who has the most resources to set the political agenda.

The seriousness of this predicament was finally acknowledged in the aftermath of the global financial crisis whereupon a crackdown on tax avoidance was pledged as part of the strategy to taper the UK's yawning budget deficit. Like previous endeavours, however, the strength of the clampdown has been sapped by vested interests. The failures of this process are described in more detail in my article for the Political Quarterly journal.

Suffice to say that the supposed suppression of tax avoidance and evasion in the post‐crisis period has been little more than a façade behind which freeloaders can perpetuate their parasitic activities with almost complete immunity, with the standing of the UK's governing institutions damaged in the eyes of many citizens as a result.

Richard Woodward is Senior Lecturer in the School of Strategy and Leadership and Associate Member of the Centre for Financial and Corporate Integrity at Coventry University.

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

Image by Albo Borrero.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Don't be fooled by the Iraqi elections. They are far from a new beginning

Balsam Mustafa



On May 12, Iraqis vote in national elections, 15 years after the war that ended Saddam Hussein's regime, 13 years after the first post-Saddam nationwide vote, seven years, and almost four years after a devastating Islamic State (IS) offensive.

Some politicians and analysts are telling us that this ballot will be a turning point, that Iraqis will finally be on the path to political and economic stability. But is this really the belated "new beginning"?

National protests


The summer heatwave of 2015 accompanied by an abysmal supply of electricity sparked a series of protests in southern and central Iraqi cities. The protestors were ordinary people unaffiliated with any party who demanded reforms in the government and an end to endemic corruption.

The protests shook the political elites and could have been a turning point in the history of Iraq had it not been for the intervention of some powerful Islamic parties that hijacked the majority of the protests.

Only a few short-term and mediocre reform measures were taken by prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s government to absorb the anger of the protestors. The impeachment of some Iraqi officials by the parliament, including Khalid al Obeidi, minister of defence, a year later, was a selective measure by rival parties, rather than a real reform.

The semi-closure of IS’s file in Iraq with the announcement of the liberation of Iraqi lands did not end the problem of corruption. So far, there is no accountability for those responsible of the fall of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to IS. Beyond IS, this has become the norm in Iraq. No accountability, strong law, or fair judiciary exist in Iraqi institutions.

The same old faces, including those previously impeached, are frontrunners in this year’s parliamentary election. The rivalry among the running parties and their candidates reached its peak with the official launch of the electoral campaign mid- April. Every corner in the streets of Iraq was occupied with big billboards and posters of the candidates. Despite the crippled economy, the generosity of the campaigning activities has further exposed the corruption of these parties, raising questions about funding sources and their legitimacy.

Yet, due to the lack of transparency in the laws of The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), ironically formed of commissioners from the major Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish parties, candidates are enabled to conceal their funding sources without enacting any penalties on the violators. A partisan commission since its establishment, IHEC often faces fraud accusations by losing parties and also by voters.

A rigged system


The election in Iraq is, in fact, a deeply rigged system designed to reproduce the same political elites who have failed at all levels except when it comes to maintaining their power, positions, and self-interest.

Modifying the Sainte-Lague electoral method by raising its initial application of 1.0 to 1.7 has worked in favour of bigger parties. The voting system itself is made to consolidate the list or the bloc itself rather than individual candidates. The fragmentation of traditional major parties into different blocs does not mean anything when the majority of the candidates are the same faces re-cycled in a new list. The quota for women only adds to the problem when women are allocated seats regardless of their competence or elegibility. Of course, the participation of women in the political life is vital but this should be outside this quota system. Finally, smaller parties which include independent candidates who did not previously participate in the political process are are still hardly known to Iraqi people.

What adds insult to injury is the post-election alliances and bargains to form the government. The establishment of the Provisional Governing Council in 2005 left a lasting legacy of a quota system by which the prime minister has to be Shia, the president Kurd, and the parliament president Sunni. The choice of politicians to fulfil these position is always subject to regional and international intervention. This quota division is mirrored in all other positions in Iraqi institutions and offices, which are widely run by patronage and nepotism.

The growing disenchantment with this unfair electoral system, in particular, and with the political elites in general, has made many Iraqis reluctant to vote in May’s election. Hundreds, if not thousands of the displaced people, remain disenfranchised.

Although the majority of ordinary people in Iraq are dissatisfied with the corrupt elites, political parties still have circles of supporters who will vote for them along religious, sectarian, ethnic, or tribal grounds.

While resorting to ballot boxes will not yield a radical change, and neither would boycotting the election, for many, the latter is a protest act against the failure of the political process in Iraq. A low voter turnout with continuing demands to replace the electoral system can be a means to undermine the legitimacy of the election laws and the political elites.

Until then, the election in Iraq is evidence of a pseudo-democracy. For democracy itself cannot coexist with theocracy, tribes, and militias. It cannot exist in an environment where individual freedoms are not respected and embraced. It cannot exist when there are no strong civil society and institutions. After all, a house is built from its foundations and not the other way round. 

Balsam Mustafa is a doctoral researcher in Modern Languages (Translation) at the University of Birmingham.

Image by DVIDSHUB. 

Monday, 7 May 2018

Total prison reform will take political bravery, but it's our only option

Anita Dockley



It is often said that there are no votes in prisons. This, I think, is largely true. Crime and justice has not been a prominent issue during recent elections, but that does not mean that prisons are not political.

Overtly political decisions are made about how people are expected to behave, the rules that they should abide by and what happens when they don’t. Prison is now regarded as the central column of the criminal justice system and not the ultimate sanction available to courts. But surely prison should be a scarce resource?

Soaring incarceration rates in Britain


More than 25 years ago I started working in penal reform when the dark days of the Strangeways riots were seemingly behind us. There was muted optimism following the publication of the Woolf report heralding a more humane, decent and effective prison system.

But the optimism I felt at the time was short lived. The use of prison as a sanction has been on an upward trajectory since the beginning of the twentieth century, yet since the mid-1990s since it has more than doubled with 83,216 men, women and children in prison in mid-April 2018. We have more people in prison than any other state in Western Europe, with an incarceration rate twice as high as Germany.

In the early 1990s, the Home Secretary Michael Howard’s ‘prison works’ mantra was underpinned by Tony Blair, Labour’s shadow, whose rhetoric of ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ has become famous. This is the point at which prison numbers begin to steeply climb.

The political rhetoric and the concomitant use of prison has been shown to mirror public outcry over high profile crimes, not least the murder of James Bulger. I fear that though they cannot be ignored, such events have been co-opted by the political classes to steer the nation on a punitive path that may actually be counterproductive.

New criminal offences


Successive governments have relied on the criminal justice system to deal with a whole panoply of issues. Criminal justice legislation – and increased criminalisation – has until recently has been a regular feature of the parliamentary timetable.

In the Howard League’s evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s Inquiry into the Prison Population 2022 we suggest that between May 2010 and May 2014, 1076 new criminal offences were created in England and Wales, approximately two-thirds of which carry possible custodial penalties.

There has also been an increase in the creation of Acts of Parliament which are law-and-order related. According to our estimates, a mere 11 law-and-order Acts were passed between 1980 and 1989, with another 11 passed between 1990 and 1999. 31 such Acts were then passed between 2000 and 2009, and so far since 2010 there have been 26.

Longer sentences


However, by far the biggest impact is due to the fact that sentences have become longer. Over the past ten years, average sentence lengths, imposed by sentencers, have increased by 24 per cent across the board. For certain offence types the rise in sentence lengths is particularly notable. For example: over the past ten years, average prison sentences for fraud offences have increased by 54 per cent; average prison sentences for miscellaneous crimes against society have increased by 45 per cent; average prison sentences for criminal damage and arson have increased by 118 per cent; and average prison sentences for robbery increased by 51 per cent.

There is an over-representation of young men in from BAME backgrounds in prison, and a preponderance of poor health including high levels of mental health needs and addiction.

A further contributing factor is the use of recall (when an offender has been released on licence or parole and they breach a condition of their release). Since 1995 the number of people in prison due to recall has increased by approximately 4,000 per cent, from about 150 people on any given day in June 1995 to 6,186 people on 30 September 2017.

This statistic is indicative of the greater number of people who now spend a period on licence since the last government’s transforming rehabilitation reforms whereby short sentence prisoners are now liable to a period on licence. But this is only part of the picture as research has shown that recall occurs not because a person has reoffended, but following an administrative breach for instance being late for an appointment or any behaviour that worries an offender manager.

Should prison incapacitate or rehabilitate?


In these circumstances can we rely on prisons not just to incapacitate but to rehabilitate people? The evidence of the recent past makes this assumption at best questionable. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, characterised prisons as being as in crisis and chaotic - indeed in recent months he has condemned the leadership at Liverpool prison and nationally, for its “abject failure” to provide a safe, decent and purposeful regime. While at Nottingham prison he triggered, for the first time, the Urgent Notification Protocol because the prison was “fundamentally unsafe.”

The Prisons Inspectorate is just one voice in an ever-louder chorus from Independent Monitoring Boards, charities and academics about the state of prisons. Prisons are dirty and decrepit. And they are full. The most severely overcrowded are Leeds, Wandsworth and Durham prisons each holding around 50 per cent more prisoners than they should safely hold.

Recent research by the Howard League showers that the number of officers fell by as much as 40 per cent when the prison budgets shrank. This means that there are fewer staff to unlock doors, take prisoners to work, education, training or exercise - so they have nothing to do, little purposeful activity and so it is not surprising that tensions will rise.

And violence does appear endemic. Incidents of assault and self-injury are at their highest levels since current recording practices began in 1978. If there is no purposeful activity, prisoners may well look to other ways to make the time pass more quickly; it comes as no surprise that there is evidence of increasing drug use in prison.

The public is not being well served by prisons. A crude measure of effectiveness is reoffending rates with 44 per cent of adults being reconvicted within one year of release. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 59 per cent. The National Audit Office estimates that reoffending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion annually.

Reduce the number of people in prisons


We cannot build our way out of this mess. Building more jails only causes problems to grow; it does not solve them. The most sensible way to tackle the problem is to reduce the number of people in prison instead. Why is it that other western European democracies do not lock up as many of their citizens? I do not see their communities characterised by endemic crime. And it is not just in Europe, in the US some 35 states cut their prison rates between 2008 and 2016 and reduced their crime rates.

This does not mean that we condone crime. It means we need to think differently and find solutions elsewhere. In Scotland, for instance, the focus is on investment in community sentences. And some of the best solutions are to be found in welfare and social policies like Surestart schemes and public health approaches to knife violence.

If prison has such poor outcomes, surely it is time to take a different approach? The public – whatever that amorphous word means – want to feel safe, so there needs to be clear political leadership rather than the current Justice Secretary merry-go-round. 

We need the kind of political leadership that supports people to be active citizens, and diverts them away from the criminal justice system. Politicians need to be brave and look away from prison as the answer.

Anita Dockley is Research Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform 

Image by Ethem Pekin

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

How British arms exports facilitate humanitarian disaster in Yemen

Anna Stavrianakis



About once a decade, an arms trade scandal punctures public consciousness and generates debate about British foreign policy, the state of domestic democracy, and accountability for political decisions. Since 2015, arms sales to Saudi Arabia have generated controversy because of their role in creating humanitarian catastrophe in the war in Yemen: thousands dead and displaced, politically imposed famine through aerial and naval blockades, and now a cholera epidemic.

The UK is formally committed to international humanitarian law (IHL), common EU export rules and, most recently, a UN treaty regulating the international arms trade, all of which forbid exports where they are at risk of misuse in serious IHL violations.

So how is it that the UK government continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, despite these explicit commitments? ? And how is it that the High Court recently dismissed a case of judicial review, confirming that the government was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ that arms exports pose no clear risk to IHL in Yemen?

A flexible interpretation of risk, reliance on secret information, and deference of the Court to the executive are to blame.

Taking the government to court


In February 2017, activists took the government to court in a case of judicial review. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) argued that the UK government is breaking its own laws governing arms exports by continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war in Yemen.

CAAT's lawyers argued that the government has broken its legal obligation not to allow exports if there is a clear risk that weapons might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law.

But the judges concluded in July that the government was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ that the Saudi‐led coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians; and that Saudi Arabia respects and is committed to complying with IHL.The judges’ decision provides a stamp of approval to an arms export policy that has directly contributed to the deaths of thousands of civilians in Yemen.

No clear risk?


During the judicial review hearing, the government claimed that it had additional, ‘sensitive’ information beyond that provided by CAAT, that meant that the risk of misuse was not a ‘clear’ risk; that any excessive civilian harm was a mistake and was being addressed by the Saudi‐led coalition, thereby mitigating the risk; and that it did not need to explain why CAAT's argument was wrong. The High Court accepted the government's claims, and concluded that the government was rationally entitled to conclude that there was no clear risk – and thus, that there was no need to suspend or cancel arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Overall, the judicial review judgment ended up confirming the legality of a policy and process in which the UK government claims not to know whether violations of IHL are taking place; evidence of past misuse is not deemed to pose a clear risk that future exports might be misused; and evidence of systematic attacks on civilians are explained away as mistakes. Rather than acting to prevent harm, a risk‐based framework for assessing arms transfers ends up facilitating exports. The importance of judgement and flexibility – practices intrinsic to risk assessment – makes the limits of policy negotiable rather than absolute.

How exactly has an ostensibly preventive policy of risk been mobilised – not only to justify rather than restrict exports, but also to ensure that the threshold of clear risk is not seen to have been breached?

Secret information


Improvements in transparency after previous arms export scandals have been undermined by the government’s reliance on secret information, which cannot be disclosed openly in court for ostensible national security reasons.

The judges in the judicial review hearing did not dispute the veracity of the evidence provided by CAAT; they acknowledged that CAAT's evidence was suggestive of serious IHL violations. However, they concluded that the government has more and better information, and that the open source evidence provided by CAAT is ‘only part of the picture’.

Secret information completed the picture, to the point where the judges felt able to decide that the government is legally entitled to conclude that there is no clear risk that weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia might be used in serious violations of the laws of war.

Deference of the High Court to the executive


The reliance on secret information was indicative of a broader trend illustrated by the hearing – the deference of the High Court to the executive. The judges accepted the government QC's advice that primacy should be accorded to the executive as the primary decision maker. They agreed that arms export decisions are ‘matters of judgment and policy’ and thus ‘primarily matters for the executive’.

Moreover, it remains unclear what contestation, if any, there has been from within the civil service of approvals of arms exports to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen began. Yet, licensing decisions have speeded up rather than slowed down, which seems odd given the increasing scale of information about potential violations of IHL, and suggests that political direction has been issued.

Denigrating the campaigners


In court, the implicit denigration of campaigners’ empirical, thematic and legal expertise was accompanied by the explicit, and factually incorrect, sidelining of their evidence on the grounds that NGOs ‘often have not visited and conducted investigations in Yemen, and are necessarily reliant on second‐hand information’.

Many of the NGOs and investigators cited in the hearing actually do visit Yemen and other warzones, conduct fieldwork, and take great care to triangulate their sources. Misrepresentations such as this must be particularly galling for NGOs and researchers whose work on other issues is mobilised by the government when it seeks to criticise others.

The response from CAAT has been to appeal the judgment; it remains to be seen how higher courts will treat their claim, if it is permitted. And it remains to be seen how the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls will take up the baton of scrutinising government arms export policy with regard to Yemen, and how.

Anna Stavrianakis is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex.

This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.
Image by Richard Messenger. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The NHS doesn't require reform – it needs a revolution

Kailash Chand and Allyson Pollock



On the 4th July, the National Health Service will celebrate its 70th birthday and there will be much fanfare and celebration. The NHS has been described as one of the greatest social achievements of the 20th century with its promise to care for the British people from cradle to grave. But all is not well.

Intense financial pressure


The NHS was established as a publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable service but the systems and mechanisms which ensure health care for all are now being progressively dismantled and NHS funding is being reduced and diverted to private operators and their shareholders.

Despite a rising tax base – the population has increased by 2.5 million and is predicted to grow by 440,000 a year over the next ten years health care needs are not being met. This is because the government has taken a political decision to reduce NHS services so that those who can pay will pay and go privately.

The visible signs of reductions in funding and diversion of funds to private operators are the closures of hospitals, GP surgeries and community services and sales of NHS estate. NHS England has cancelled tens of ­thousands of hospital operations, much needed operations which in turn are creating the biggest backlog in the health service’s history. A&E services are in a near permanent state of crisis on a daily basis and on many days some hospitals report having no hospital beds available with bed occupancy levels over 100 per cent.

All the key indicators within the NHS worsened over the last few years, with waiting lists reaching 10-year highs. A shortage of doctors, nurses, beds and care packages for elderly patients means that black alerts, trolleys in corridors and dangerous safety levels for patients are at a peak. What was once confined to winter is now an all-year-round occurrence.

As financial and operational performances deteriorate any additional resources allocated to the NHS by the government are being used to bail out hospitals with large deficits and enormous annual PFI charges. Precious NHS resources are being squandered on management consultants, lawyers, accountancy firms, PFI contracts and commercial contracting. Commercial contracting creates waste and fragmentation of care and risks are passed from commissioner to provider to patient like a sinister game of pass the parcel.

Faced with large financial deficits NHS managers holed up in their offices and board rooms look at how they can use their new powers to generate private income – now that NHS foundation trust hospitals can generate up to half their income from private patients and other sources. At the same time Foundation Trusts are undertaking more privatisation and entering into joint ventures and creating companies to transfer staff.

Dismantling the NHS


The fear of the financial costs of ill health is rapidly returning. The principle of a universal healthcare system free at the point of use is broken. This government has ushered in a creeping reduction of universality, with the withdrawal of entitlements and demonisation of ill people, old people, immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees alongside the incremental rationing of care, for example Windrush migrants and introduction of health care migrant charges. For 70 years people were treated on the basis of need not screened for their eligibility.

The government’s new plans for health care, which are being rapidly introduced and without proper public debate or parliamentary scrutiny, turn on new models of care are drawn from the US – the most expensive and unfair system in the world.

These new models labelled and relabelled ACOs, STPs, ICS, ICPs, MCPs PACs have one endpoint – the Accountable Care Organisation. The government plans to drum up billions of pounds and award giant contracts for at least ten years to private for profit providers.

The government calls this integration. The reality is that commercial contracting will involve transferring statutory decision making for planning and resource allocation to non statutory bodies. In this way risks and costs of care are shifted to patients are shifted to patients.

The NHS is being fragmented, undermined and decimated. There are no countries that provide universal healthcare on this basis. The legal basis for shifting commissioning functions to non-statutory bodies is currently being challenged in the court and the hearing of the judicial review will be heard on 23rd and 24th May, funded by the public.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 removed the duty on the Secretary of State to provide universal health care throughout England and ushered in market competition. It dismantles the NHS. Only parliament can restore what parliament has taken away and this needs legislation.

Reinstating the NHS in England


This is why it so important to support the NHS Bill which will be tabled as a private members Bill on 11th July by Eleanor Smith MP.  This Bill reinstates the NHS. It will reintegrate services within contiguous geographic area based statutory health bodies making them publicly accountable to local people and to parliament. It will reinstate the duty on the Sec of State to provide universal health care throughout England. It will restore the principles of fairness for all which has been the hallmark of the NHS. It will restore needs-based planning for geographic populations. It will abolish marketisation and commercial contracting. It will abolish the internal market and Foundation Trusts and centralises PFI debts making them the responsibility of the Treasury.

The intergenerational unfairness which has made individuals responsible for long-term care must be remedied and means testing and privatization of care ended. Mechanisms for public accountability must be renewed.

We should restore the founding principles of the NHS through national terms and conditions of service for doctors and all NHS staff. Above all, we must allow professional standards to thrive since these are the basis of public and patient trust.

In its 70th anniversary year, what the NHS requires is not reform but revolution – a quiet, collective revolution that brought the NHS into being in the first place.

Kailash Chand is honorary vice president of the British Medical Association (BMA) and has worked as a GP since 1983.

Allyson Pollock is an academic, public health doctor, and leading authority on PFI. 
Image by Alex Proimos

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Enoch Powell has nothing to do with the Conservative Party I know today

Helen Grant MP

An invitation to comment on changes in Conservative Party attitudes to race and ethnicity, in the fifty years since Enoch Powell’s Birmingham speech, seems to suggest that Powell was the voice of the Tories at the time. The fact that his speech resulted in a unanimously supported summary dismissal from the shadow cabinet, however, strongly indicates that Powell’s lines on immigration were very much his own and not a mainstream view.

I had no contemporaneous knowledge of the ‘Rivers of Blood’ debacle, being a young girl aged seven, growing up in Carlisle some 200 miles to the north of Powell’s seat in Wolverhampton South West. Paradoxically I was, for a while, perhaps the only person with a darker skin living in that far northern city in the sixties. It was not a place where I recall there being any notion of societal take-over by masses of in-bound ‘people of colour’. That’s not to say I did not suffer racial abuse – I certainly did – but the perpetrators were school kids who picked on anyone who was a bit different.

It was not until 2004 that an urge to investigate party politics first emerged within me. I realised that my politics resonated with the Conservative ethos rather than Labour, albeit to the left of the Conservatives’ broad church. A ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’, aspiration, opportunity, social mobility, personal freedom, trusting people to take responsibility for themselves and their families.

It was upon David Cameron’s selection as leader in December 2005 that I was drawn to join the party, under the banner of Compassionate Conservatism, early in the following year. That was the first time I had personal experience of the party’s attitude toward people of colour. For the record I was embraced, encouraged and mentored by many. It is true to say that there were a few naysayers outside the party about my chances of progression, but I’ve learned to just ignore it and get on.

The make-up of the Conservative parliamentary party today speaks for itself in terms of progress in diversity and ethnicity. In 1968 there were no black or ethnic minority MPs and only four female members. I take some pride in recording my own part in our progress, forty years later in 2008, by becoming the first black female Conservative to be selected to defend a Conservative seat, then elected in 2010, promoted to Ministerial office in 2012 and appointed as a Vice Chairman of the party in 2018.

The party in government, under David Cameron, was building a head of steam on the diversity agenda and I was filled with hope for lasting change. The following year, however, we witnessed an immensely divisive referendum campaign. UKIP’s then leader Nigel Farage has openly admired Enoch Powell and his immigration policies for years, and just as Powell is credited with whipping up anti-immigration votes in support of the Tories in an election they expected to lose in 1970, so followed Farage in the referendum campaign.

Since the referendum, we have made progress on improving equality in our society. Upon Theresa May’s accession to No.10 in July 2016 she spoke of a plan for fairness for all, and social justice. There then followed a number of significant movements on the BAME landscape: in August 2016 Mrs May ordered an audit into Race Disparity in the Public Sector; in November 2016 the previously mentioned Parker report was published, followed by the McGregor-Smith report in February 2017 and the Lammy review in September 2017.

The wealth of evidence and recommendations we have amassed under a Conservative government, particularly since 2015, shows an immense shift in attitude from the state of things 50 years ago. Race, equality and diversity are now centre-stage policy areas and we have arrived at a critical juncture where we must deliver, to the whole nation, my party’s core messages of self-empowerment, enterprise and social mobility alongside compassion, fairness and social justice.

The Prime Minister has appointed a mixed race Deputy Chairman, a Vice Chairman of Nigerian blood in charge of candidates and two mixed-race Vice Chairmen (one of them being me) with a brief to engage with diverse, disadvantaged and disengaged communities. In government there are now junior Ministers with Pakistani, Mauritian and Iraqi heritage and of the 13 new politicians on the government payroll, eight were women and four were black or minority ethnic.

In my role as Party Vice Chairman for communities, jointly with Rehman Chishti MP, we have been given a free reign to engage. That is what we are now doing; spending time away from Westminster, in communities across the country, being visible, accessible and available; hearing about the complex and individual reasons behind the many torsions and tensions in modern British society.

Compared with 1968 the Conservative Party is in a completely different place. I have witnessed the beginnings of truly transformational change in my twelve years of Conservative activism, where diversity and ethnicity in the Conservative Party now have serious momentum. I will continue to play my part in promoting those agendas and I am proud to have been given the opportunity to do so.

Helen Grant MP is the Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

“Powell had crafted the speech for maximum effect”: How my father unwittingly helped ‘Rivers of Blood’ make media impact

Nicholas Jones


In the 1950s, Enoch Powell, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, and Clement Jones, a journalist on the Wolverhampton Express and Star, were both on a fast track to promotion. Powell became a cabinet minister, and my father became the editor of his local evening newspaper.

The Jones and the Powells were friends, but as the impact of the 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was felt throughout the nation, it also triggered a traumatic end of a close family friendship.
While the news cycle was far less frenetic in the 1960s, my father used to say that he in effect became Powell’s first spin doctor. A key strategy in the New Labour playbook of Peter Mandelson, and later Alastair Campbell, was the art of trailing in advance a speech or new policy in order to win the attention of the news media, precisely the kind of techniques that my father had been advising Powell to adopt.

Leading commentators and biographers have asserted that the MP had no prior inkling of the outcry, or racial tension, that would be provoked by his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Far from it, according to my father: Powell had crafted the speech for maximum effect, even predicting the furore that would follow.

Powell, like Farage and Trump before him, was an outsider, and in the late 1960s he tended to operate outside the constraints of the Conservative Party’s publicity machine, determined to continue pitching himself as a potential future party leader.

The essence of my father’s advice to Powell was that to create maximum impact he had to prepare the ground in advance, and that required an understanding of the tricks of the journalist’s trade.
On weekend visits home in the early 1960s, I was often intrigued to find my father and Powell talking animatedly for hours. My father was getting an unprecedented insight into Powell’s thinking as a cabinet minister, and later as member of the shadow cabinet; the MP, who lived a few streets away, was clearly eager to learn all he could about the mechanics of news management.

After an unsuccessful bid for the Tory leadership, he was dissatisfied with the way his speeches were being handled by the party machine, and my father was instructing him on the best way to short-circuit Conservative Central Office.

Father’s advice was that a Saturday afternoon was perhaps the most opportune moment to deliver a hard-hitting political speech. Inevitably there had to be a degree of subterfuge and manipulation. The trick was to deliver an embargoed copy of the speech the previous Thursday or Friday to a hand-picked group of political editors and leader writers on Sunday newspapers. They would see the Saturday afternoon embargo and would seize the chance to get a fresh story for their Sunday editions, safe in the knowledge that it had not been trailed or reported in advance by the daily papers.

Needless to say, Powell was meticulous in following my father’s advice. But during visits home in the late 1960s I began to detect signs of a slight uneasiness in the Powell-Jones friendship. Wolverhampton had absorbed a large influx of immigrants, mainly West Indians and Kenyan Asians, and there were increasing fears of racial tension in the town. Powell’s first public reference to these local anxieties was in a speech in Walsall in March 1968 in which he described the concern of a constituent whose daughter was the only white girl in her class at primary school. After both the Express and Star and the Birmingham Evening Mail failed to track down either the child or the class, my father challenged Powell about the story.

Three weeks later, during a subsequent visit to my parents’ home, he told them he was planning another speech at three o’clock that coming Saturday afternoon, to be given to West Midlands Conservatives in Birmingham. He would not go into detail, but made the following tantalising comment:

‘Look Clem, I’m not telling you what is in the speech. But you know how a rocket goes up into the air, explodes into lots of stars and then falls down to the ground. Well, this speech is going to go up like a rocket, and when it gets to the top, the stars are going to stay up.’

According to my father, Powell had followed faithfully his instructions. ‘I never knew, never for one moment dreamed, that was what he was going to say, but, of course, he was very astute. It was impeccably timed.’

Our two families had spent many happy days together on outings and picnics. But my mother was so shocked by the racist tone of the speech that she told my father that she did not want to see Powell ever again. ‘What we both found so offensive was the reference to a little old lady being the only white person in the street, having excrement pushed through her letterbox, being surrounded by grinning piccaninnies shouting abuse at her.’

The following week was a searing experience for my father as editor of the Express and Star. ‘From the Tuesday through to the end of the week, I had ten, fifteen to twenty bags full of readers’ letters; 95 per cent were pro-Enoch.’

Few provincial editors have had to face a stiffer test of their duty to provide balanced coverage. ‘In each edition, we gave over a couple of pages to them but we had to scrape, every day, to try to find a few balancing letters. ‘I had people ringing me at home, all sorts of hours, saying: “Oh, is that the bloody nigger lover?” Just like that. I had a couple of windows broken at home.’

My father’s principled stand came at a price. Powell began libel proceedings against the Sunday Times which had accused him of spouting ‘the fantasies of racial purity’ and a ‘gagging writ’ was extended to include the Express and Star.

Three months later – to my surprise – my father, at the age of 55, announced early retirement. It was only after Powell’s death in February 1998 (long after my mother’s death in 1991) that he finally talked freely, and I understood my parents’ anguish at the time.

I have no doubt that if Powell and my father were alive today, their discussions about the ever-changing interface between politicians and the news media would be as intense as they were fifty years ago.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Abortion law should be about women’s rights – not weaponised for Scottish independence

Jennifer Thomson



Abortion law is being politicised in the broader debate about devolution in Scotland, with serious implications for women’s rights.

In recent years, several decisions have been made regarding the devolution of abortion laws from central government at Westminster to the devolved regions of the United Kingdom.

Abortion is rarely a non‐controversial topic for political conversation. It has come to symbolise, in many western societies, “a much broader ideological struggle in which the meanings of the family, the state, motherhood and young women's sexuality are contested”. Debate around abortion has thus often become polarised between conservative and liberal thinking, most especially in North America.
As a result, the central concern in abortion—women, their lives, health and rights—is often obscured in broader political debate. But what is the discussion of abortion and Scotland here actually a discussion of?


The arguments made for this legislative move


In the UK framework, devolution has been uneven and ad hoc in the powers it has distributed amongst the regions. But in abortion law, there has historically been a long period of uniformity in the country as a whole.

For this article, I have considered two debates on the issue of Scotland and abortion at Westminster, alongside several questions on the issue put in the Scottish Parliament.

The issue of devolving abortion law to Scotland was raised in the Smith Commission's report of late 2014. Although the issue of abortion only received one brief paragraph in the report, it was subject to a heated discussion which resulted in eleventh‐hour renegotiating, with Labour insisting that the law remain at Westminster in order for their being able to support the report. As a result, the Commission did not advocate for abortion law to be immediately transferred to Scotland.

The following year, in July 2015, ‘pro‐life’ MPs tabled amendments to devolve jurisdiction over abortion to Scotland as part of the Scotland Bill. Two clauses were proposed regarding abortion, one by Liberal Democrat John Pugh, who has a long history of voting conservatively on abortion, and one by Conservative Sir Edward Leigh, who has a similar voting record of social conservatism on abortion and LGBT issues. SNP Members, now almost the sole political party representing Scotland in national government, distanced themselves from the amendments and the perceived forces behind them. However, Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, simultaneously argued against the proposers of the amendment, and for the devolution of the issue to Scotland.

In spite of this, the amendments failed, and there appeared no further push from central government to devolve abortion law to Scotland. The issue, it appeared, had been laid to rest.

By September 2015, however, reports came to light that abortion was indeed set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Three competing representations of the issue emerge in the course of the November debate and the question to the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament. For national government and the Conservative party, this is now presented as a natural move, part of the broader parcel of devolution. The Scottish Parliament is able to legislate on this, they argue, there is no specific constitutional reason why it should not be devolved, and, indeed, the Smith Commission recommended that powers should be transferred to Scotland.

For Labour, abortion is an issue of national importance, and one which should not be devolved as it requires uniform standards across the UK. For the SNP, whilst keen to stress that they had no desire to change the law around abortion, it was problematic that Labour think that Scotland was not responsible enough to have this issue devolved. The Scottish Government, the SNP argue, is more than capable of legislating on abortion. Competing representations of the issue thus abound in this debate, emanating from the different political parties' agendas.

Boader issues behind the abortion debate


Looking at the ideas and language helps to get beyond the surface level of the debate and to see the broader issues at play. For the SNP, this is an opportunity to highlight their progressive social attitudes; for Labour, a chance to reiterate the need for strong abortion provision across the UK; and for the Conservatives, a way to reinstate their commitment to devolution.

Abortion becomes a smoke screen that symbolises far more than merely reproductive or women's rights. Beyond a discussion of abortion, these debates become a proxy discussion about the Scottish Parliament, Labour's position on the constitutional question and, by extension, the question of Scottish independence itself.

Impact on women’s rights


These legislative changes have worrying connotations for women's rights. Firstly, creating a framework for potentially different laws within the country as a whole means that there is now a way by which women north and south of the border may see different policy frameworks in which they can access terminations. Secondly, women and their right to bodily autonomy should, from a feminist perspective, maintain precedence in debates on the issue of abortion.

With the devolved levels now carrying responsibility for a potentially controversial policy area, it is doubtful whether such a move is good for abortion laws, or women's rights.

Jennifer Thomson is a Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Bath. 

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

Image by mich11e

Monday, 16 April 2018

Can 'Yorkshireness' be politicised?

Arianna Giovannini



Devolution in the UK has long being defined as an unfinished business, not least due to uncertainties concerning England’s role and place within the process. Whilst some progress has been made since the election of a coalition government in 2010, devolution in England remains piecemeal and incomplete.

From 2014, a handful of ‘devolution deals’ have been agreed between the government and local authorities, privileging a back stage, contractual approach.

To date, the devo deals agenda can be described as a ‘ragbag’. Some deals have been successful (Greater Manchester); some fell apart (North East); and others have proved problematic (Sheffield City Region).

It’s turning into a ‘messy business’: devolution draws on a top-down approach but it lacks a clear framework; its roadmap is uncertain and it is developing in fits and starts; it does not cover all areas and each deal involves different powers, funding and responsibilities; it aims to enhance economic development and democracy but it creates new divides between deal haves and have-nots, whilst the public remains largely unaware of what’s happening.

So far, the process has resembled a top-down form of regionalisation around functional economic geographies, within which devolution is conceived as a central-local partnership to foster growth, with little space for any political and popular dimension. However, the story of devolution deals in Yorkshire suggests that, beyond economic growth, devolution could (and perhaps should) be also about people, place, community and belonging.

Squeezing out local agency


In 2015, local authorities across the region followed central government’s script and submitted two devo deal proposal drawing on existing city regions and combined authorities. Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (SCRCA) led the way and signed the first devo deal after Greater Manchester in October.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) proposal, however, never received support from central government. This difference can be explained by the way in which the deals were presented. The former was the result of direct, early negotiations with the Treasury, with little room for local agency – accepting most of the conditions stamped on the deal by the government. The latter included 27 ‘asks’ and sought to challenge to some extent Whitehall’s vision. Party politics played a part too.

As of 2016, SCRCA was the only area preparing to elect a metro mayor in May 2017 and get a devo deal, whilst the rest of the region was left in a limbo. So devolution in Yorkshire was ‘done’ and the message underpinning it was clear. The local authorities that were able to ‘get their act together’ and stick to the script would get a deal. The others would have to wait and see.

Undoing devolution


However, this process was soon ‘undone’. The first stumbling point was Derbyshire County Council call for a judicial review of Chesterfield’s decision to become a statutory member of SCRCA along with Bassetlaw. The High Court found the process was flawed and had to be re-run. Eventually, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw pulled out, remaining in the deal just as non-statutory partners. This meant that the initial membership of the CA changed, with implications for the powers, functions and funding attached to the agreement. It also led to delays in the election of the SCRCA metro-mayor, which are now to be held in May 2018.

This standstill allowed other constituent members to voice their concerns about the SCRCA deal. Doncaster and Barnsley entered discussions with other councils in Yorkshire over a ‘One Yorkshire’ proposal. They also held a ‘community poll’ to ask the local population whether they preferred the government-backed SCRCA deal or a Yorkshire-wide option, underlining their changed devolution allegiances.

Local enthusiasm for One Yorkshire


The undoing of the initial devo deal plans brought in new opportunities for ‘redoing devolution’. 18 out 20 local authorities across Yorkshire have joined forces and developed a Yorkshire-wide devo deal proposal.

This aims to set up a single mayoral combined authority for Yorkshire, “based on the widest possible geography, conditional on Government enabling all 20 Yorkshire Councils to join – if they so choose – by May 2020”. Interestingly, for the first time, the Secretary of State for Local Government Sajid Javid has not rejected the idea, claiming that the government would not stand in the way if there were evidence of support for a Yorkshire deal. Currently, Sheffield and Rotherham are not backing the proposal, as they continue to prioritise SCRCA deal.

However, the imminent metro mayors election could bring about changes in this respect. Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis has been selected as Labour’s candidate, and is likely to be the new SCRCA mayor. But Jarvis is on the One Yorkshire camp, and he is standing on a platform which aims to see SCRCA joining a Yorkshire deal by 2020.

The Labour Party has also agreed that Jarvis could continue to stand as an MP even if he was elected as metro-mayor. This would allow him to use his position in parliament to push for a Yorkshire-wide agreement.

From (city-)regionalisation to regionalism?


The path of devolution in Yorkshire is far from settled and remains surrounded by uncertainties. There are, nonetheless, some interesting points to note.

The fact that the government has not rejected a Yorkshire-wide plan but is willing to enter discussions with local authorities suggests that, despite the dominant top-down approach that has prevailed so far, something might be changing. In particular, the lack of a clear framework from the centre and the pressures generated by the current climate of austerity and the uncertainties of Brexit on local leaders have opened new spaces for strategic agency from the bottom up. ‘Cracks’ in the system of devolution have repeatedly emerged in the region, and the new SCRCA metro mayor could act as a ‘wedge’ to extend the purpose and ambitions of devolution in Yorkshire.

If accepted, a Yorkshire-wide deal would usher in a new system of devolved governance, challenging the current agenda. This would be based on a much wider (regional) scale than any of its counterparts and would, in turn, entail more powers, funding and policy capacity, stronger political leadership for the mayor, and much greater leverage both at the centre and across the region.

In essence, to update what I discussed in a Political Quarterly journal article, this could see a shift from the current top-down process of regionalisation around the city-region/combined authority scale, to a more organic form of regionalism with a greater degree of bottom-up agency.

Politicising ‘Yorkshireness’


The SCRCA deal has been undermined by its artificial geography, party political rivalries, the lack of an institutional architecture that maps onto local identities, and the absence of popular engagement.

The Yorkshire-wide deal proposal still sees economic development as a key goal. But it also draws on regional identity and its potential to promote the economy (e.g. exploiting the ‘Yorkshire brand’) and to build popular support across the region (mobilising and politicising ‘Yorkshireness’).

As such, local leaders supporting a Yorkshire-wide deal seem to have borrowed and reframed a narrative of regionalism that had so far been endorsed only by regionalist parties – recognising that people, place, community and democracy can play an important role in strengthening their case for devolution.

Thus, a new form of regionalism could emerge from the hashes of top-down regionalisation in Yorkshire. What remains to be seen is whether the government will be willing to open the way to this model of devolution.

Arianna Giovannini is Senior Lecturer in Local Politics at the Department of Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University, Leicester.

Image by Tim Green. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Bananas, groupthink, and why the EU could be (partly) to blame for Brexit

Jeremy Richardson


There is an emerging conventional wisdom that the Brexit vote resulted from specific domestic factors in Britain, such as divisions within the ruling Conservative party, the rise of UKIP, strong reaction to increased immigration, all set against the backdrop of globalisation and its adverse effects. The end result was a populist revolt.

British voters have traditionally been amongst the most eurosceptic within the twenty‐eight nations in the EU. Thus, it is easy to blame British voters and/or the British government under David Cameron for the Brexit outcome.

But what if the EU itself played a key role in the creation of the current crisis within the EU?

Why conventional wisdom could be wrong


Although the above factors were certainly very important, it seems unlikely that the immigration issue or, indeed, the effects of globalisation, are the sole causes of this erosion of support for European integration. If there is an EU crisis now, it has been a long time in the making and the main causes of it are probably to be found within the EU's own policy‐making institutions. The EU policy‐making state has run far ahead of what voters at the national level want.
European elites and the EU institutions which they developed (unwittingly) created the seismic conditions for an event such as the Brexit vote.

So, how did the increasing alienation from the EU come about?

The central paradox within the EU


There is a central paradox within the EU, namely that the European elite which runs the EU has introduced some very beneficial public policies, yet that elite has become increasingly out of touch with its peoples.

The case of motor vehicle safety is worth dwelling on as a typical example of this paradox. Motor vehicle safety is a very technical issue, yet is also very important for most citizens. Few would dispute the need for state regulation in this field. Moreover, few would dispute the need for some common international standards for motor vehicle safety, but even very technical legislation (such car regulation) is actually quite coercive in the sense that it is not optional.

After Brexit, most EU law will still be in place but will simply be called UK law. Indeed, it is difficult to envisage British vehicle manufacturers ignoring any future EU safety rules post‐Brexit if they hope to sell cars in the EU.

My argument is not that the EU has passed a lot of bad legislation. My argument is that the EU has constructed a huge superstructure of public policy via a process of Brussels based elite policy‐making which, in the end, has raced well ahead of what European peoples feel comfortable with.

The primary causes of the EU crisis


Task expansion, or the seemingly inexorable expansion of EU public policy by stealth, has lead to the emergence of an increasingly coercive EU.

The EU has acquired for itself the central function of a modern state, namely the power to decide (in considerable detail) a vast range public policies that affect the daily lives of its citizens. The EU has also acquired considerable powers of enforcement. All of the EU's institutions such as European Court of Justice and especially the European Commission have been very adept at task expansion. Similarly, the European Parliament, though of course containing avowed eurosceptics, has essentially been a pro‐integration legislature looking for work.

Finally, there is the role of interest groups in the process of Europeanisation. The close integration of interest groups into Commission deliberations might have had the perverse effect of distancing the Commission from broader public opinion. The Commission has been a very open bureaucracy, ever eager to facilitate interest group access, but interest groups do not equal ‘the public’ as was seen in the UK's referendum.

The so‐called ‘permissive consensus’ which allowed such a productive (and mostly benign) EU policy machine to develop has been greatly eroded.

The totality of the various intra‐EU trends over a very long period has resulted in the creation of a broadly based European elite in favour of a continuous process of integration (‘ever closer union’) – a kind of Brussels ‘groupthink’.

The shift in policy‐making power to Brussels created a vacuum at the national level which new anti‐EU parties have been able to fill.

Time to change?


The EU actually has no option but to do less (probably a lot less) if popular support for the Union is not to decline still further.

To be fair to the EU institutions, particularly the Commission, they some time ago began to recognise that it was time to ease off on the accelerator. But this recognition was much too late.

As one observer put it ‘the EU is good at writing rules: what it needs to do is strengthen the capacity to suspend, ignore, or replace rules that are obviously not working’. I doubt if anyone would seriously object to the EU's legislation on the safety of children in cars, but equally, not many people would support regulating the sale of misshaped bananas.

This issue was seen in the referendum as an example of Boris Johnson's hyperbole, but it was not a figment of his eurosceptic imagination. Regulation EU No1333/2011, issued on 10 December 2011 does, indeed, specify minimum requirements for marketing bananas. For example, bananas must be ‘free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers’.

Thus, there are two good reasons for believing that a different kind of EU might emerge in the coming years. First, it is patently clear to even the most ardent supporter of ‘ever closer union’ that such a policy is going to be an increasingly hard sell to European electorates. Secondly, the fact that voters are becoming mobilised over EU matters might even be a healthy sign.

However, if the EU's institutions were to make this (big) cultural shift, the irony would be that Britain need not have left the EU after all.

Jeremy Richardson is an Emeritus Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, and Adjunct Professor at the National Centre for Research on Europe, the University of Canterbury, NZ.

This article is an edited version of a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal. 

Image by Kevin O'Mara. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The takeover of GKN shows that the UK can’t build a sustainable industrial policy without reducing shareholder power

Prem Sikka



Does the UK have an industrial policy? Such a question is likely to become more acute as the UK seeks to forge new priorities to compete in the post-Brexit world. An answer can be teased out of the recent £8bn hostile takeover bid for GKN, UK’s third largest engineering conglomerate specialising in automotive and aerospace components, by Melrose, a UK-based private equity-like investment company.

Pressurised for quick returns


A key aspect of an effective industrial policy is to require companies to focus on the long-term development of skills, innovation, products and services. Government policies need to be geared towards nurturing such aspects. However, such assumptions are at odds with the UK’s shareholder-centric model of corporate governance which exerts pressures for quick returns.

The average duration shareholding in major companies has declined from around five years in the mid-1960s to around seven and a half months in 2007. At banks, it was around three months in 2008. Others suspect that the shareholding duration in large companies may well now have declined to around a month.

Whichever way you look at it, shareholders who pursue short-term gains function more like speculators than owners with long-term interest in companies. Institutional investors are part of the malaise. A parliamentary inquiry into the 2007-8 banking crash noted that institutional investors “were scarcely alert to the risks to their investments prior to the crash, but were mesmerised by the short-term returns ... ”.

The manufacturing industry requires long lead times and resources for research, development and skilling labour. It is hit hard by shareholder pressures for quick returns. A 2013 government-backed report on the future of manufacturing said:

“The existing corporate governance framework operating in the UK, which generally favours shareholders, acts negatively on innovation, with particularly unfavourable impact on manufacturing… the current legal framework in the UK is a deterrent to (manufacturing) firms’ undertaking complementary investments in knowledge-based technologies and firm-specific human capital, given that both generate returns over an extended period… there seems to be strong endorsement of the need to move towards less shareholder protection/liquid capital markets and more employee protection”.

No UK government has shown willingness to reform the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance. Such an environment emboldens speculators and makes it difficult for management to develop long-term strategies, even if they want to.

Melrose’s hostile takeover


The above provides the context for understanding the GKN takeover. In January 2018, its directors rejected a hostile bid by Melrose. But shareholders scenting large gains had to be appeased. In February 2018, GKN promised to sell parts of the business and cut costs/jobs to boost shareholder returns by £2.5bn over the next three years. The GKN pension trustees were not happy as the pension schemes had deficits of £1.5bn and Melrose had not promised to eliminate it. Melrose has a reputation for asset-stripping and cutting costs (read jobs) to boost shareholder returns. In the light of that, Airbus, a major GKN customer warned that it would be "practically impossible" to give new business to GKN if it was bought by Melrose.

Melrose’s persistence encouraged speculators to build a stake in the company and force the issue, with the full knowledge that the eventual takeover price will have to exceed the market price of shares and therefore they will make a killing. On 29 March 2018, contrary to the advice from GKN directors, shareholders exercising 52.43 per cent of the voting rights, which included institutional investors such as Aviva and Legal & General Investment Management, accepted the bid.

GKN has total assets of £8.9bn and its shareholders have provided about £2.6bn (or 29 per cent) to finance that. But they exercised 100 per cent of the controlling rights. Suppliers, customers and employees have a long-term interest in the success of GKN, but had no say in the takeover decision.

Tackling short-termism in industrial policy


The £8bn paid by Melrose to acquire control of GKN will go straight to the pockets of shareholders. None of it facilitates additional investment in the company. Shareholders secured a 40 per cent premium on what the shares were worth in January 2018. Melrose directors are expected to share £285m in bonuses from the deal. Accountants, lawyers and banks advising the warring camps are expected to collect over £240m in fees. Melrose will not eliminate the £1.5bn pension scheme deficit, but has promised to provide an additional £1bn over the next five years.

In principle, the government can counterbalance short-termism and veto the takeover, but has shown little sign of doing that. So what awaits GKN? If Melrose’s past practices are any guide, GKN will be loaded with debt to enable its new shareholders to extract higher returns. The need to service debt will reduce the resources for investment. Some parts of the GKN will be sold off and jobs will be lost to further reduce the UK’s pool of skilled labour. Melrose has indicated that it might hang on to GKN for five years, but that is insufficient for long-term planning, research and product innovation in the engineering sector.

The GKN story is another episode in short-termism that dominates the UK. Government can provide foundations for long-term industrial policy by ensuring that speculators cannot hijack companies. They can require investors to hold shares for a period of twelve months before they can vote. Stakeholders with a long-term interest in companies (such as employees, customers, etc.) should be empowered to vote on governance of corporations. Rather than a simple majority, company law should require the approval of 75 per cent of eligible stakeholders for major decisions, such as mergers and takeovers.

The above is not a panacea for the deep-seated problems of the UK industry, but nevertheless is a necessary step for focusing attention on the long term.

Prem Sikka is Professor of Accounting and Finance, University of Sheffield.

Image by Captain Roger Fenton.