Friday, 31 August 2018

The UN Human Rights Council’s “Draft Zero” still won’t prioritise human rights above the rights of corporations


Stéfanie Khoury and David Whyte




Next month, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider the first draft (“Draft Zero”) of a new treaty on the human rights responsibilities of corporations.

The treaty on the human rights responsibilities of corporations, rather clumsily titled ‘Legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises’ is the result of four years of debate, negotiation and bargaining.

While the tabling of the draft is a move that will be welcomed by NGOs and activists who are involved in protecting people and the environment against the abuse of corporate power, it has already been criticised for key shortcomings and omissions.

First, it has been criticised for not going far enough in prohibiting “reservations” that could allow signatory states to opt-out of certain provisions and thus weaken the overall effectiveness of the treaty. In article 15 of the treaty, it is asserted that “[r]eservations incompatible with the object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be permitted.” Article 15 presents a strange paradox: any reservations proposed by states will inevitably seek to weaken the treaty, and thus be incompatible. This is, after all, the sole purpose of reservations.

This is, of course, not a problem confined to this Draft Zero but is a general problem in international law relating to UN treaties. As human rights researcher, Louis Yanes points out, state reservations have undermined the core provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). A better approach would have been for Draft Zero to assert that no reservations would be admissible, a step that is possible under article 19(a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Second, Draft Zero places the onus exclusively on states to take the necessary action to make corporations accountable and to provide access to legal remedy for victims. But, as human right lawyer Carlos Lopez argues, Draft Zero pays little attention to the contradictions that arise in the context of public-private joint ventures. In a similar vein, how do we demand accountability in cases of collusion between state-supported paramilitary outfits and transnational corporations? How can we seek accountability in cases where corporate human rights violations occur and have been encouraged when state military forces are securing land and/or access natural resources.

Third, Draft Zero does not include a mechanism or system for monitoring and enforcing the treaty, meaning that the monitoring of the implementation of the treaty and respect of human rights falls within the ambit of the state. However, as the research on this subject repeatedly notes, states are often unwilling or unable to respond to corporate violations of human rights in any meaningful sense.

Elsewhere, we have provided empirical data that substantiates the argument that any treaty that sets out to address corporate violations of human rights will need a credible threat of meaningful enforcement to be effective. Evidence of the failure of the OECD’s NCP system shows that when enforcement mechanisms are lacking, corporations remain empowered to either ignore or deliberately undermine human rights standards set out in OECD Guidelines.

ndeed, the origins of Draft Zero lie in the obvious inadequacy of a system based on corporate voluntarism and the lack of effective regulatory mechanisms in John Ruggie’s Protect, Respect and Remedy framework and the Guiding Principles that he presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 and 2011, respectively. It was the widespread recognition of those inadequacies that led to the call by Ecuador and South Africa for a legally binding mechanism in 2014, a call supported by over 80 countries and 600 civil society groups. It was this demand that led directly to the process that produced Draft Zero.

And this leads us directly to a fourth criticism. Draft Zero does not take into account one of the major contradictions of human rights law: that corporations actively subvert human rights law to their own ends. Corporations regularly use human rights courts to pursue decisions that ultimately enhance the profitability of business rather than human dignity, freedom or equality. Article 13(7) of the treaty notes “that all existing and future trade and investment agreements shall be interpreted in a way that is least restrictive on their ability to respect and ensure their obligations … notwithstanding other conflicting rules of conflict resolution arising from customary international law or from existing trade and investment agreements” (emphasis added). This seems completely contradictory and reflects what we have already noted, that “the long-running debate in the UN system has always been as much about upholding the rights of corporations as it has been about upholding human rights”.

The HRC has faced significant challenges this summer including the withdrawal of the US in June. How this will impact the negotiation of Draft Zero remains to be seen. The US has historically opposed any legally binding mechanisms that address corporate accountability, and has continuously thrown its weight behind voluntary approaches and multi-stakeholder consultation processes.

What it comes down to is that the wording of Draft Zero, its shortcomings and omission indicate that the HRC is still not willing to flex its muscles and put human rights above the rights of corporations. What is becoming clear is that with or without the US weighing in, the core privileges, protections and special rights granted to TNCs and other businesses remain essentially intact.

Corporate Human Rights Violations by Stéfanie Khoury and David Whyte is published in paperback by Routledge.

Image by John T.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Review: Equal Power: And How You Can Make It Happen, by Jo Swinson

Charlotte Lydia Riley


This book starts from the perspective of Jo Swinson's own experiences as a young woman in the male dominated sphere of politics. The author, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MP and deputy leader of the party, writes of her growing realisation that her comments on gender inequality were not misinterpreted by the media because she had framed or expressed them badly, but because of the ‘endemic problem’ of gender inequality in British society; the very problem she was trying to articulate was limiting her ability to effect change.

The book is part memoir, of a sort, of her career in politics to date; part manifesto; and partly an ‘action plan’, as each chapter ends with a series of suggestions of actions that individuals can follow to make the world around them more equal.

The book has a number of strengths, including a sense of utility and purpose. The different chapters cover politics, childhood, bodies, parenting, work, culture, sport, violence and men, and mostly do a good job of exploring the key areas of British (and sometimes global) society that might offer particular challenges to women.

There are topics that are omitted – education, for example, as a distinct area from ‘Childhood’, might have been interesting; and ‘work’ might have been usefully partnered with a broader section on money. But no book can cover every idea and the topics that are addressed have been sensibly selected.

In addition, there is a meaningful and sensitive attempt to be intersectional, and a clear recognition that race, gender identity and religion will impact women's lives in overlapping ways. The material on trans rights, the black natural hair movement or the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in India in 2012, feels natural and authentic.

The book pays lip service to the idea that class also has an impact on women's lives – but there is less meaningful engagement with the ways in which class structures and the machinations of capitalism interact with and exacerbate gendered inequalities for some women. And the focus on women in the boardroom, in Parliament and in elite sports serves to further distance the message from working class women who face very different struggles.

Feminism necessarily entails engaging with patriarchy and trying to bring about gender equality therefore involves both a systemic approach to inequality and the recognition that structural gender oppression makes it difficult for individual women (or men) to resist gender inequality as individuals.

The most powerful chapters in the book focus on violence – which is a difficult and necessary read – and on sport and culture, because they engage clearly with the broader contexts in which these inequalities are experienced. The material on parenting and childhood and families is less powerful, not because it's not important – these topics are extremely important in the fight for gender equality, not least because they provide daily battlegrounds for many of these issues – but because the work on these topics doesn't deal explicitly enough with the structural issues around these things.

At the beginning of the book, the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act is highlighted and the history of the women's movement is briefly covered through the life story of Swinson's grandmother Gladys. More explicit engagement with this historical context would have been useful, to convey how Swinson sees this contemporary moment set against a longer history of women's activism.

Gender equality and feminist action is an evergreen issue, not a passing fad; but the book's release is undoubtedly timely in the wake of the ‘#MeToo’ revelations about sexual harassment and abuse across industries and cultures. There is some specific engagement with this issue in politics and the Liberal Democrats in particular – for example the party's inadequate handling of the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against Lord Rennard (the Liberal party Chief Executive 2003-09) and sexual harassment in politics more widely.

It would be interesting to think about how this book might differ if it had been written a year later. Would there be more engagement with the structures of patriarchy that ensure that behaviour like that of Rennard is both enabled and covered up?

Swinson avoided putting feminism on the front cover, which sadly probably makes sense from a commercial perspective. But if a book that aims to bring about gender equality cannot even explicitly refer to feminism in its title or blurb, what does this mean for a serious and political discussion of the issues faced by women today?

Solidarity without risk is meaningless. The book will doubtless be useful and stimulating for girls and women coming to these arguments for the first time, but it would have been good to see a deeper engagement with the intellectual and political arguments behind gender inequality in British society.

Charlotte Lydia Riley is Lecturer in Twentieth Century British History at the University of Southampton. 

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

Equal Power: And How You Can Make It Happen, by Jo Swinson is published by Atlantic Books. 383 pp. £16.99. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

New government proposals could still mean LGBT young people are left out of sex education

Keeley Abbott


Since its inception within UK schools, sex education has been a highly controversial subject. It has been typically influenced by a moral and political agenda relating to young people’s sexual behaviour, rather than seen as something that all young people are be entitled to. 

Sex education should provide comprehensive information about relationships, sex, sexuality and sexual health in a way that is positively inclusive of diversity and reflects young people’s experiences, but too often it has fallen short of the mark. 

Amidst rising public sexual health concerns and a series of unsupportive and restrictive policies, sex education has emerged firmly within a biological and health model. It predominantly focuses on emphasising the dangers of sex and therefore avoidance of early heterosexual activity, unwanted pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Illnesses.

LGBT students left out of sex education

Consequently, sex education tends to be narrowly focused on heterosexual activity (and health), where sex is defined as intercourse between a man and a woman in relation to reproduction.

Most provision is not currently inclusive to all young people and most specifically, those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT). These pupils are prevented from receiving information that reflects their experiences or needs based on teachers’ assumptions that the majority of their pupils are heterosexual and that LGBT pupils are isolated cases.

Where LGBT sexuality has featured in provision or teachers’ claims of inclusive content, this is often problematic. In these instances, LGBT content is typically delivered as an ‘add on’ to the main provision, or is addressed negatively through discussions around HIV. This works to pathologize LGBT pupils within their classroom and fails to provide LGBT students with necessary sex education, preventing the development of sexual competence and safe sex practices.

New Statutory Relationship and Sex Education (RSE)


Recently, the Department for Education finally unveiled their proposal to make Relationships Education (primary) and Relationships and Sex Education (secondary) statutory by 2020. In line with these new commitments, the government has issued new guidance containing information on RSE content under these new regulations.

This has been much anticipated after nearly 20 years without any revision to the RSE guidance first issued in 2000. Most notably, it is hoped that it will rectify the well-documented issues surrounding the variable and limited quality of RSE based on a lack of statutory status.

Despite this revision being the most comprehensive guidance to date, it is has received similar criticism as the existing guidance. It is plagued by ambiguity and fails to provide clarity on the practical delivery of RSE for teachers. For example, the guidance only presents a loose outline regarding what topics and content schools should cover. Under a current four month period of consultation (between July-November 2018), it is expected to receive a significant amount of feedback from a wide range of interested parties from (e.g. teachers, religious bodies, young people and interested organisations) who want to see more clarity in terms of delivery and support.

What are the implications for LGBT students?


While the proposed guidance clearly states that young people should learn and about sexuality in ‘inclusive ways’ and recommends that schools take an integrated approach to embedding LGBT content, it also contains loopholes that serve to undermine this.

For example, it stipulates that schools should ensure that teaching is ‘sensitive and age appropriate’, whilst also emphasising the school’s freedom to determine how teachers address LGBT content. This can be problematic for a number of reasons. Teachers have been found to conflate LGBT pupils’ sexual identity with their RSE needs, for example, they tend to see these pupils as needing information based solely on the concerns they are perceived to have about their sexual identity. This problematizes LGBT sexuality as it implicitly assumes that LGBT pupils experience their sexual identity negatively. In specifying that teaching should be sensitive (presumably trying to prevent more negative discussions), it may encourage some cautious and/or unsupported teachers, to limit their discussions.

More problematically, it may also allow more unwilling teachers and those who oppose LGBT sexuality and same-sex practices to curtail provision, based on a rhetoric of sensitivity and/or age appropriateness.

Indeed, many teachers often see LGBT pupils as needing alternative and more specialised information outside of “standard” SRE based on the aforementioned assumptions. Given that there is a lack of understanding around what constitutes real inclusivity, this guidance needs to less ambiguous on what this means in practice. If not, many teachers may believe that they are being inclusive, whilst actually excluding their pupils.

Retaining the right for parents to withdraw their child from RSE also undermines many of the central policy commitments of the new guidance (e.g. protecting young people’s psychological and physical welfare). As such, despite its new statutory status and what appears to be a desire for a more inclusive approach to sex education, many teachers may struggle circumvent the potential barriers that pupils identifying as LGBT often face in this context.

While not the intention, this is often the result of cautious and ambiguous policy. The government is trying to balance the diverging needs of various interest groups (e.g. parents, school governors and religious groups) in an attempt proactively appease the inevitable opposition. Conversely, this may undermine many of the central policy moves advocated in the current guidance, which arguably also occurred with previous UK SRE policy making.

Keeley Abbott is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University. 

Image by Rawpixel.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Why Britain needs a written constitution ­– and can't wait for parliament to write one

Bruce Ackerman



Everybody is immersed in Brexit-talk right now. But detach yourself momentarily from the current debate to confront the constitutional challenges Britain will face once it reasserts its political independence from the European Union.

I am more concerned with presenting the fundamental questions rather than providing definitive answers. But it’s clear that parliament should enact a statute creating a specially elected Constitutional Convention to confront the post-Brexit dilemmas facing Britain, and hammer out a written constitution for submission to the voters at a popular referendum.

The threat to the Enlightenment State


For a variety of historical reasons, the United Kingdom has muddled its way into in a curious arrangement in which significant forms of home rule are extended to the five million people living in Scotland, the three million living in Wales, and the two million living in Ireland, but no home rule is granted to the 52 million people living in England. At the same time, the degree of home rule enjoyed by the three regions differs very significantly.

The House of Commons can change the qualitative terms of federation whenever it wants to, which has lead the three minorities to organise regional political parties to defend or expand their autonomy.

Over the next decades, the dynamic of asymmetric federalism may well make May-type governments, dependent on these parties for majorities, far more common. This will cause indecisiveness, as well as angry protest from alienated English voters.

Over the past three centuries, most Britons have come to think of themselves as citizens of something I call an Enlightenment State – where they are free to live out a rich variety of religious and cultural lives without endangering their status as equal members of the British nation.

Britain isn't turning Nazi anytime soon, but its Enlightenment ideals could well be eroded by warring mono-culturalisms generated by the political dynamics of asymmetric federalism.

Symmetric federalism


I begin with a proposal that is radical by British standards, but utterly conventional everywhere else in the world. Consider the possibility of transforming Britain's asymmetric federalism into a fully symmetric one.

As in Australia or South Africa, Germany or the United States, why not divide the entire country into an appropriate number of self-governing provinces, giving each the same powers of local self-rule, and limit Westminster supremacy to issues of truly national concern.

The dominant interests and cultures prevailing in metropolitan London are radically different, say, from those prevailing in the north west of England. Putting these different regions into separate provinces would give each region's inhabitants the precious opportunity to express their cultural differences in a meaningful politics that transcends the limited concerns of local councils.

Apart from the opportunities for regional self-government, standard federalism would help pre-empt the dangers of cultural nationalism we have identified.

But let's put symmetry aside for a moment and assume that one or another version of the status quo will prevail in post-Brexit Britain. What other steps might be taken to pre-empt the dangers of weak national government, and increasing ethno-nationalism, generated by the current set-up?

A constitutional convention


There is only one way for Britain to take charge of its constitutional future – and that's by taking the issue away from parliament and electing a special Constitutional Convention to present a proposal for approval by the British people at a special referendum. Special steps should also be taken to assure an informed decision by the voters on the key issues.

This is because the way to pre-empt the danger of mutual alienation is by reassuring all sides that the terms of regional self-government are deeply entrenched in existing constitutional arrangements. Under this arrangement, groups would not need to engage in aggressive political organisation to protect their rights to home rule.

Elections to the Convention should not be conducted in the standard single-member district, winner-takes-all fashion. Instead, political parties and other citizens’ groups should be asked to present a slate of candidates to the nation as a whole. The top candidates on each slate will gain election in direct proportion to the slate's share of the popular vote.

The top candidates from different slates will be obliged to take competing views seriously as they try to hammer out a sensible solution. Once the Convention acts, its proposal should be submitted for approval at a referendum, but only after special steps are taken to encourage an informed decision by the electorate.

Given the misinformation campaigns provoked by the last referendum, it is time for Britain to try something new: create a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, at which voters would be invited to gather at neighbourhood community centres to discuss the Convention's initiative. A host of social science experiments establish that a day's deliberation greatly improves public understanding, enhancing the democratic authority of a Yes vote at the referendum.

There is reason for optimism here. While Britain has lots of problems, it also has a great tradition of problem-solving.

If Britain never goes down the Convention path, the ultimate outcome may well be far worse — with the dynamics of asymmetric federalism generating a persistent pattern of weak coalition government at Westminster, punctuated by competing cultural nationalisms that may ultimately destroy the hard-won ideals of multi-cultural Enlightenment citizenship expressed by the British tradition.

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University. 
This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by David Dibert. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Brexit for our time? What Neville Chamberlain and Theresa May have in common

Ben Worthy



One MP said of Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech: “we needed Winston Churchill. Instead, he gave us a modern-day version of Neville Chamberlain”. But could this complaint fit Theresa May better?

In her two short years in office, the historical comparisons chart May’s rise and fall. Her premiership began with comparisons to Margaret Thatcher, encapsulated in the Daily Mail’s ‘Steel of the New Iron Lady’ cartoon. After June 2017 commentators turned to the troubled premierships of John Major, Gordon Brown and James Callaghan. But what if historians are looking in the wrong place? Does the Neville Chamberlain tag tells us more about May than Johnson?

Chamberlain’s name is, of course, synonymous with failure and weakness. He was a champion of appeasement who embarked in 1937 on a “special and personal mission to come to friendly terms with the dictators of Italy and Germany”. The threats of the 1930s were, of course, far graver than May’s, and he is one of the few prime ministers whose difficulties make Brexit look simple. He faced war with two fascist dictators (with the USSR lurking behind).

Though it’s a comparison no prime minister would want to hear, at first glance certain May-Chamberlain parallels are intriguing. Both leaders had a business background, experience in local government and served as Conservative party chairs. Both were ‘takeover’ leaders, following on from Stanley Baldwin and David Cameron, who were themselves rather too relaxed and stumbled when they put their ‘party before their country’.

The two leaders made their name as domestic politicians who styled themselves as radical reformers. Chamberlain was a highly successful and innovative Secretary of State for Health (twice), helping lay the foundations of Labour’s later Welfare State. May was the second longest serving Home Secretary since the 1940s, pushing domestic violence reform (while dog whistling over immigrants). Critics felt both had too little or narrow experience of foreign affairs. Churchill described Chamberlain as ‘a Birmingham town councillor who looks at our national affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe’ while Attlee spoke of his ear being permanently tuned to ‘Midland Regional’. May too was seen as having limited interaction with the EU as Home Secretary, from which she drew all the wrong lessons, with her eyes permanently fixed on the UK side of a Border agency desk.

Once in Downing Street, Chamberlain and May went from huge success to deep failure. The two leaders sought to navigating huge, complex issues involving Britain’s status as European and global power, its influence and future relations. Both lost a powerful Foreign Secretary and rival to resignation (though Boris should note it took Anthony Eden 17 years to get to Downing Street) and had to appoint, eventually, sworn enemies to their Cabinet (Churchill and Gove).

May gambled away her authority on a general election in June 2017 when her slogans of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘strong and stable leadership’ gave way to ‘weak and wobbly’. Chamberlain gambled his on a series of meetings with Hitler. After his visit Munich, he was cheered into the night from Downing Street by happy crowds until he opened the window and famously, fatally, declared ‘Peace for our time’. Their popularity may have been rather exaggerated: Chamberlain went to great lengths to manipulate the press while Murdoch has “astounding access to Downing Street”.

Their personalities too seem similar. Both were diligent and hard-working with a “narrow sharp edged efficiency”. They were also aloof, secretive, and obstinate and given to narrow thinking, with an unwillingness to back down: happy, in Churchill’s phrase, ‘to strive continually in the teeth of facts’. Their lack of charisma was hidden behind symbolic props, in Chamberlain’s case an umbrella (see this great article) and in May’s her kitten heels.

It was over pieces of paper that the two leaders came unstuck. Chamberlain’s famous Munich Agreement, a piece of paper hastily signed by himself and Hitler, was supposed to secure European peace (see Chamberlain’s Cabinet report and the agreement here and his notes of his first meeting with Hitler here). May’s first document was her article 50 letter, sent at the cost of £985.50 according to this FOI response, which was, it now seems, despatched too early. Her December 2017 ‘backstop’ agreement, requiring a late-night flight that Chamberlain pioneered, was the second, which seems to have fallen apart in months. All eyes are now on what the third piece of paper, a UK-EU agreement, might say.

The verdict of history has been passed on Chamberlain, partly because Churchill wrote it. It now awaits May. She can only hope that she won’t have to repeat Chamberlain’s remarkable admission of failure in September 1939: ‘Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins’.

Ben Worthy is Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. 

Image by the Imperial War Museum. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

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

Barbara Norman



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

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

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

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

A rallying cry for a National Urban Policy


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

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

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

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

Implementing the sustainable development agenda


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

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

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

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

A shared vision


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

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

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

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

Image by Brianna Santellan.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Our audit of parliamentary candidates reveals the surprising cost of selection

Rosie Campbell, Jennifer Hudson and Wolfgang Rüdig



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

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

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

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

Conservative selections


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

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

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

Labour selections


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

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

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

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

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


The cost of seeking selection


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

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

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

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

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

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

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