IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Posts By: James Harle

Skills and global value chains: a story of winners and losers

📥  Economy, education, employment

Professor Hugh Lauder is Professor of Education and Political Economy at the University of Bath

Two weeks ago, the OECD launched the newest instalment in its biennial Skills Outlook series, which focusses on the impact of skills and education on economies and employment in OECD countries.

OECD Skills Outlook 2017: Skills and Global Value Chains broke new ground for the OECD in that it reported the relationship of skills to the global economy. This is the first time that the organisation has extended its analysis of skills to the global economy: in the past, it has focussed on national competitiveness through education and skills, but here the focus was on the role of skills in the development of global value chains.

OECD1

 

There were two key messages to the report: firstly, that a skilled workforce enables countries to compete for work in global value chains and, secondly, that there would be winners and losers in that competition – workers who are less skilled, in particular, are likely to remain excluded from the global economy.

Policy challenges

There are a number of problems that national governments have to confront when thinking of policies that relate to global value chains. The primary problem is that, in many sectors, global value chains are footloose: transnational companies will always shift their supply chains to wherever they can find a cost advantage – and where technology can be substituted for workers, however skilled, technology appears to win. Two good examples of this come from the manufacturing and service sectors, respectively. First, much of East Asian manufacturing is based on low-skilled assembly work – but with the advent of smart factories, workers are no longer needed; they can be replaced by robots. The announcement by Adidas that it will establish such a smart factory in Germany is a straw in the wind, and will raise fundamental problems for the strategies of developing countries. An example from the service sector concerns the discovery work that was once undertaken in London and New York by young lawyers, who were paid high salaries. That work was subsequently offshored to lawyers in developing countries where it could be done at a fraction of the price the same work would cost in Western capitals. Now, that work is undertaken by the use of algorithms.

As Phil Brown, David Ashton and I argued in our book The Global Auction, employers do not wish to pay for brain power and skill if they do not have to; it is too expensive. The error here is to believe that we live in a knowledge economy, when it is actually knowledge capitalism that drives the strategies of cost reduction.

This is not to reject the importance of education and skills, which we should avoid doing for two reasons. Firstly, without skilled workers, small and medium enterprises that may become corporations in the future will not be able to enter the market. In emphasising skills, therefore, we need to build industrial policies within countries that enable fledgling enterprises to flourish. Skills may also be needed as an insurance policy, however, a form of resilience when transnational companies decamp from one country to another in the search for cost advantage, or when new forms of technology make firms unviable. Costa Rica developed a skilled workforce to attract Intel, for example, and for a while the strategy worked – but then Intel exited to Vietnam, where labour was cheaper. In Finland new technology from Microsoft made the Nokia phone redundant, with resultant job losses – although the company is now seeking a comeback. In both cases, the host countries were hit hard. What we don’t know is whether having skilled workforces will enable these economies to be resilient in recovering from these meteorite-like shocks.

A timely report

The OECD’s new report has involved considerable cooperation between Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills, and Andy Wyckoff, Director of Science, Technology and Innovation – as well as their respective teams. The extension of skills analysis to global value chains is a major breakthrough for the OECD and for the international research and policy community.

The report was launched at an event in London with support from the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), and included a panel discussion in which I participated, alongside Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation, Toni Fazaeli of the Institute for Learning and both Wyckoff and Schleicher. It was a productive discussion, and touched on many of the points raised above.

But there were some important concerns that weren’t discussed explicitly at the launch, although their shadows loomed large over the debate. The political implications of the role of global value chains are a crucial consideration, particularly in the context of Brexit and the rise of nationalist parties across the Western world. It is not only the attempts of transnational companies to cut costs that pose a threat to policymakers: economic nationalism can do the same, and a hard Brexit may see the breakup of global value chains in motor manufacturing as well as in services.

In this respect, the OECD report could not be more timely. To undertake research of such complexity required an organisation with the resources of the OECD and this report is, therefore, to be welcomed.

You can read more about the launch event in the IPR's coverage here, and the OECD report can be downloaded here.

 

Things Fall Apart: From Empire to Brexit Britain

  

📥  EU Referendum, future, racism, The far right, Trump

Dr Nadine El-Enany is Senior Lecturer in Law in Birkbeck University of London's School of Law.

In her novel Beloved, through its examination of America’s violent and brutal history of chattel slavery, Toni Morrison warns against the forgetting of painful pasts.[1] If a society is to ‘come to terms with its own raced history’, painful memories must be ‘“re-membered”… [or] they will haunt the social imagination and disrupt the present’.[2] Catherine Hall, writing almost 20 years ago, warned European societies against discarding ‘uncomfortable memories of colonialism’, and emphasised the ‘need to do some “memory work” on the legacy of Empire’.[3] Britain’s drastic manoeuvre away from the EU is intricately connected to its imperial history, one that it has long refused to confront and acknowledge for the brutal legacy that it is. Britain’s unaddressed and unredressed colonial past haunted the recent EU referendum and prophesied its outcome.

fallapart

 

Recent policy soundings suggest that the British government wishes to strengthen economic ties with Commonwealth countries in lieu of its fast-deteriorating relationship with its European neighbours.[4] This is an ironic turn of events considering the historical context of Britain’s entry into the EU in 1973. Its membership followed decades of post-war decline and ensuing indecisiveness about whether to jettison its economic dependence on ailing Commonwealth markets, and with it any prospect of a lasting imperial role for Britain, in favour of joining the European Economic Community (EEC). Britain’s imperial nostalgia has long fed its extreme discomfort at its place as, formally, an equal alongside other EU Member States, rather than first among equals, as was its pride of place in the Commonwealth.[5] The decision to join the EEC coincided with the closure of Britain’s borders to people from its former colonies. The explicit target of these controls was people racialised as non-white.6[6] Post-war immigration control was intricately connected to the ebb and flow of Britain's imperial ambitions and attachments. The British Nationality Act 1948 had rolled out British citizenship to encapsulate Britons together with all nationals of independent Commonwealth countries and those of British colonies – a status which included a right to enter and remain in Britain.[7] This granting of British citizenship to Commonwealth citizens was principally an attempt to hold together what remained of the British Empire. British politicians accepted migration of non-white people from the New Commonwealth countries into Britain as a trade-off, an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of maintaining the relationship between Britain and the Old (white) Dominions. Although the British Nationality Act prompted the establishment of some employment recruitment schemes targeted at New Commonwealth migrants, it is significant that post-war labour shortages were primarily addressed through the facilitation of (white) European labour.[8]

The principal beneficiaries of the British Empire’s system of citizenship were Britons, who could move and settle throughout the Commonwealth pursuant to sponsored emigration facilitated through agreements with Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada.[9] Despite the legislators’ lack of enthusiasm for non-white immigration from the colonies, the 1948 Act’s provisions had the effect of facilitating the arrival of around 500,000 people racialised as non-white in Britain. These arrivals and those who followed were not only exercising rights granted to them under the law, but were also escaping economic hardship and an absence of employment opportunities,[10] along with other dispossessive effects of slavery and colonialism.[11] Post-war arrivals from Jamaica, for example, were leaving a country profoundly marked by both the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. By the time Britain colonised Jamaica in the seventeenth century, the country’s ‘indigenous peoples had already been wiped out by the Spanish, and [it] was populated mainly by enslaved Africans and white settlers’.[12]

It was not until 1962 that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act brought all Commonwealth citizens formally under immigration control. The exceptions were the (majority white) citizens who had been born in Britain or Ireland, or who held a British or Irish passport issued by either one of these governments.[13] The Act was designed to restrict the entry of non-white people. In the late 1960s, Britain saw an increasing number of East-African Asians enter the country, many of whom possessed a British passport issued by Kenyan authorities. This movement followed the introduction of policies discriminating against Asians in Kenya by President Kenyatta. The 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act further narrowed the exceptions to control. Rights of entry were limited to Commonwealth citizens born in Britain, or with at least one parent or grandparent born or naturalised in Britain. That the effect of the 1968 Act was to discriminate on racial grounds exposes the hypocrisy and conceit in the British government’s position. The Act ‘created “second-class citizens” who did not have immediate right of entry into Britain even though the only passports they had were British’.[14] The British not only bore much of the responsibility for the divisions in Kenyan society pursuant to their colonial exploits,[15] but also the presence of Asians in Kenya. Although Asians had lived in East Africa for centuries, the majority arrived as labourers and traders following the expansion of the British Empire over the area.[16] In general, the Act had wide cross-party support, despite its severe consequences for Asians whose lives and futures depended on escaping persecution in Kenya.[17]

As Britain closed its doors to non-white Commonwealth migrants, it turned towards Europe in search of opportunities for economic growth – first applying to join the EEC in 1961, and ultimately becoming a member on 1 January 1973. However, Britain maintained its distance from the EU political project, in particular as far as migration control was concerned. Its obsession with its island status and the perceived advantages this brings in relation to security and border control has long plagued its relationship with the EU. While Britain grudgingly accepted the principle of free movement of EU citizens, it insisted on maintaining control of its borders wherever it could. Britain never joined Schengen, and not only continues to exercise border controls in relation to EU nationals, but also has a flexible opt-out from EU law on immigration and asylum – which it has consistently exercised to opt into restrictive measures that further strengthen its capacity to exclude, and out of those aimed at enhancing protection standards.[18] In view of this, Britain’s decision to depart from the EU primarily over the question of immigration and border control demands scrutiny. The Leave campaign argued that exiting the EU would allow Britain to ‘take back control of its borders’ and would ‘make Britain great again’. The referendum debate was eclipsed by the topic of migration, and not exclusively that of European citizens. The epitome of the Leave campaign’s scaremongering about migration was perhaps the moment Nigel Farage unveiled a poster depicting non-white refugees crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015 along with the slogan ‘Breaking Point’.[19]

The terms on which the EU referendum debate took place are symptomatic of a Britain struggling to conceive of its place in the world post-Empire. Present in the discourse of some of those arguing for a Leave vote was a tendency to romanticise the days of the British Empire, a time when Britannia ruled the waves and was defined by her racial and cultural superiority. Brexit is not only an expression of nostalgia for empire,[20] it is also the fruit of empire.[21] The legacies of British imperialism have never been addressed, including that of racism.[22] British colonial rule saw the exploitation of peoples, and their subjugation on the basis of race; it was a system that was maintained through the brutal and systematic violence of colonial authorities. Imperial nostalgia is sometimes combined with ‘a reluctance to see contemporary British racism as a product of imperial and colonial power’.[23] The prevalence of structural and institutional racism in Britain today made it fertile ground for the effectiveness of the Brexit campaign’s racist and dehumanising rhetoric of “taking back control” and reaching “breaking point”. The Brexit and Trump victories have resulted in the legitimisation of racism and white supremacy to an unprecedented degree. A week prior to the referendum, pro-immigration Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a man who shouted ‘Britain first’ as he killed her, and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as ‘Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain’.[24] Since the referendum, racist hate crime has increased by 16% across Britain, and peaked at a 58% rise in the week following the vote.[25] Weeks after the referendum, Arkadiusz Jóźwik was beaten to death in Essex, having reportedly been attacked for speaking Polish in the street.[26]

Britain’s impending departure from the EU now sees it turning once again to the Commonwealth. It is no coincidence that Nigel Farage expressed a preference for migrants from India and Australia as compared with East Europeans, and has advocated stronger ties with the Commonwealth.[27] Theresa May, in her speech on the government’s plans for Brexit, referred to the Commonwealth as being indicative of Britain’s ‘unique and proud global relationships’, and declared it was ‘time for Britain to get out into the world and rediscover its role as a great, global, trading nation.’[28] It is telling that the Old Dominions [Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada] ‘were Britain abroad, what was called – in the jingoistic heyday of imperialism – “greater Britain”’.[29] Economic policy is being oriented towards a revival of Commonwealth ties, in a manner that patently ignores the brutal reality of the British Empire.[30] This ignorance was aptly captured in MP and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox's statement last year in the run up to the referendum that ‘The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history’.[31]  Paul Gilroy has observed that the tendency to romanticise colonial times – ‘this embarrassing sentiment’ – manifests itself today in ‘an unhealthy and destructive post-imperial hungering for renewed greatness’.[32] The hankering after the halcyon days of empire was expressed in a tabloid headline following the referendum: ‘Now Let’s Make Britain Great Again’.[33] This slogan, taken from Trump’s presidential election campaign, has since become popular among those who backed Brexit.[34]

The rhetoric of ‘making Britain great again’ is entirely divorced from an understanding of British colonial history – including the country’s recent imperial exploits, which have destabilised and exploited various regions and set in motion the migration of today. In the absence of an acknowledgement of the racism, violence and brutality of British colonialism, and its ongoing dispossessing effects, imperial nostalgia can fester and work in harmful ways. Paul Gilroy notes that ‘[t]he appeal of being great again was central to Mrs Thatcher’s premiership, particularly after her South Atlantic triumph, but it did not vanish with her. It has endured and mutated and emerged again as one significant element that propelled a largely reluctant country to war against Iraq in 2003’.[35] The ‘desire’ for ‘renewed greatness’ thus ‘feeds Britain’s vicarious investments in US preeminence’,[36] the calamitous result of which was the violent and premature deaths of nearly half a million Iraqis.[37] Britain’s commitment to its close relationship with the US has gained new vigour in the wake of the vote to leave the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May, wary of the notion that Britain might have set itself adrift through its vote to leave the EU, isolating itself from centres of global power, is working to ensure that post-Brexit Britain is firmly aligned with the new Trump administration.[38] Britain’s rose-tinted view of its imperial history, and its refusal to recall and confront the reality of the British Empire and its legacy of racism, haunted the EU referendum, foretelling its outcome and casting Britain into an uncertain and dangerous future.[39]

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.

 

References

[1] Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987 [original date], Vintage, London, 2007).
[2] Catherine Hall, ‘Histories, Empires and the Post-Colonial Moment’ in I. Chambers and L. Curti (eds.), The Postcolonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons (Routledge, London-New York, 2002), 66.
[3] Catherine Hall, ibid.
[4] Ben Chapman, ‘Liam Fox’s 'Empire 2.0' meeting is backed by corporate interests and will ‘fleece’ Africa, say campaigners’ (The Independent, Thursday 9 March 2017). Available at www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/liam-fox-empire-trade-meeting-africa-corporate-interests-claims-a7619326.html (Last visited 16 March 2017).
[5] Nadine El-Enany, (B)ordering Britain: the Migrant, the Refugee and the State (Hart Publishing, forthcoming 2018).
[6] See Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000); Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1997).
[7] Lord Goldsmith QC, Citizenship Review, ‘Citizenship: Our Common Bond’ (2008), 15.
[8] See R. Miles and D. Kay, Refugees or Migrant Workers? European Volunteer Workers in Britain 1946-1951 (London: 1992).
[9] Randall Hansen, ‘The Politics of Citizenship in 1940s Britain: The British Nationality Act’ Twentieth Century British History Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 1999), 76.
[10] Caryl Phillips, ‘The Pioneers: Fifty Years of Caribbean Migration to Britain’, in A New World Order (New York: Vintage, 2001), 264.
[11] A. Payne, ‘The Rodney Riots in Jamaica: The Background and Significance of the Events of October 1968’ The Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics Vol 21(2) 1983; T.A. Simone Patrice Wint, ‘“Once you Go You Know”: Tourism, Colonial Nostalgia and National Lies in Jamaica’ (Report to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin, 2012), 6. Available at https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2012-05-5846/WINT-MASTERS-REPORT.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[12] Catherine Hall, note 2 above, 67-68.
[13] Lord Goldsmith QC, note 7 above, 15.
[14] Yumiko Hamai, ‘“Imperial Burden” or “Jews of Africa”?: An Analysis of Political and Media Discourse in the Ugandan Asian Crisis (1972)’ Twentieth Century British History Vol. 22, No. 3, (2011), 418
[15] Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic politics in Nigeria (Enugu, Nigeria, 1978), ch. 1.
[16] Randall Hansen, ‘The Kenyan Asians, British Politics, and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968’ The Historical Journal 42, 3 (1999), 814.
[17] Randall Hansen, ‘The Kenyan Asians, British Politics, and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968’, ibid., 810.
[18] See N. El-Enany, ‘EU migration and asylum law under the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’ in A. Arnull and D. Chalmers, The Oxford Handbook of European Union Law (OUP, 2015); N. El-Enany, 'The Perils of Differentiated Integration in the Field of Asylum' in A. Ott and B. De Witte (eds.) Between Flexibility and Disintegration: The Trajectory of Differentiation in EU Law (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017)
[19] Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason, ‘Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police’ (Guardian, 16 June 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[20] Nadine El-Enany, ‘Brexit as Nostalgia for Empire’ (Critical Legal Thinking, 19 June 2016) Available at http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/06/19/brexit-nostalgia-empire/ (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[21] Nadine El-Enany, ‘The Iraq War, Brexit and Imperial Blowback’ (Truthout, 6 July 2016) Available at www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36703-the-iraq-war-brexit-and-imperial-blowback (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[22] Catherine Hall, ‘The racist ideas of slave owners are still with us today’ (Guardian, 26 September 2016) www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/26/racist-ideas-slavery-slave-owners-hate-crime-brexit-vote (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[23] Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture (Routledge, London and New York, 2004), 103.
[24] Robert Booth, Vikram Dodd, Kevin Rawlinson and Nicola Slawson, ‘Jo Cox murder suspect tells court his name is “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”’ (Guardian, 18 June 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/18/thomas-mair-charged-with-of-mp-jo-cox (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[25] Alan Travis, ‘Lasting rise in hate crime after EU referendum, figures show’ (Guardian, 7 September 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/07/hate-surged-after-eu-referendum-police-figures-show (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[26] Louie Smith, ‘He was killed for speaking Polish: Brother’s claim as man murdered in UK street in suspected race-hate attack’ (Mirror, 30 August 2016) Available at www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/he-killed-speaking-polish-brothers-8738218 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[27] Rowena Mason, ‘Nigel Farage: Indian and Australian immigrants better than eastern Europeans’ (Guardian, 22 April 2015) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/22/nigel-farage-immigrants-india-australia-better-than-eastern-europeans (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[28] The RT Hon Theresa May MP, ‘The government's negotiating objectives for exiting the EU: PM speech’ (17 January 2017 Lancester House, London) Available at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[29] Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000), 17-18.
[30] See Adam Ramsey, ‘For Britain to solve its economic problems, it needs to stop lying to itself about its past’ (Open Democracy, 9 March 2017) Available at www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/trade-empire-2-0-and-the-lies-we-tell-ourselves/ (Last visited 17 March 2017).
[31] Liam Fox, (Twitter, 4 March 2016) Available at https://twitter.com/LiamFoxMP/status/705674061016387584 (Last visited 17 March 2017).
[32] Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture (Routledge, London and New York, 2004), 331.
[33] Jeff Farrell, ‘Now let’s make Britain great again’ (Daily Star, 25 June 2016) Available at www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-star/20160625/283132838125934 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[34] Georgia Diebelius, ‘UKIP’s youth wing sold “Make Britain Great Again Hats” for price of £9.11’ (Metro, 10 November 2016) Available at http://metro.co.uk/2016/11/10/ukips-youth-wing-sold-make-britain-great-again-hats-for-price-of-9-11-6250052/ (Last visited 10 November 2017).
[35] Paul Gilroy, note 32 above, 103-104.
[36] Paul Gilroy, ibid., 103.
[37] Amy Hagopian, Abraham D Flaxman, Tim K. Takaro, Sahar A. Esa Al Shatari, Julie Rajaratnam, Stan Becker, Alison Levin-Rector, Lindsay Galway, Berq J. Hadi Al-Yasseri, William M. Weiss, Christoper J. Murray, Gilbert Burnham, ‘Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003-2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study’ PLOS Medicine 15 October 2013 Available at http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001533#abstract1 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[38] Heather Stewart and David Smith, ‘Theresa May and Donald Trump bond over love for Thatcher and Reagan’ (Guardian, 29 January 2017) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/29/theresa-may-donald-trump-bond-love-thatcher-reagan (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[39] Nadine El-Enany, (B)ordering Britain: the Migrant, the Refugee and the State, see note 5 above.

Trump’s First 100 Days Have Triggered Political Activism in Corporate America

📥  employment, Trump, US Presidential Elections

Professor Andrew Crane is Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at the University of Bath.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

corporate protest

 

Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As The New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levi Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions banning refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high-profile companies and their leaders, such as Sergey Brin at Google, actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, The Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

bi-graphicshow companies reacted to trump

 

So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a newfound willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

This post first appeared on the Bath Business and Society blog.

 

The Great Repeal Bill and Devolution: Thin End of the Wedge?

📥  devolution

Tomos Evans is a postgraduate research student in the University of Bath's Department for Politics, Languages and International Studies. His research concerns defence as a devolved policy concern in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s constitution has changed dramatically since it entered what was then the European Community in 1973 – and a big part of this change has been due to devolution and the creation of legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Given that the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales were all established within the last 20 years (and therefore also within the framework of EU law), it is not surprising that Brexit presents numerous challenges to the functioning of devolution within the UK.

wedge

 

Discussion of the impact a ‘leave’ vote would have on devolution was almost non-existent in the debate over EU membership. It is incorrect to assume that powers currently held in Brussels will revert to Westminster; the picture is more complex than that. Akin to the soundbite ‘Brexit means Brexit’, when it comes to Brexit and devolution, the debate has not progressed much further than ‘Brexit means more powers for the Scottish Parliament/National Assembly for Wales/Northern Ireland Assembly’ (delete as appropriate).

A silent guarantor

Since the referendum, political issues – Scottish independence and the nature of the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border – have been high on the agenda and up for discussion. What has been lacking, however, is a comprehensive look at the legal and constitutional implications of Brexit for the devolved nations; indeed, issues around powers returning to the UK from Brussels and the impact of EU law falling away on the devolution settlements have still not been evaluated at length.

On the face of it, extracting the UK from the EU would not impact greatly on devolution because the EU in itself is not a devolved issue. The problem here, however, is that the devolution settlements are all premised on the idea of EU membership; the devolved legislatures are legally barred from passing any legislation which contravenes EU law. EU membership therefore provided for a general restriction on the powers of the devolved administration and legislatures, and leaving the EU will not only leave a gap in the UK’s statute book but also the constitutions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. By virtue of the UK's membership, the EU has acted as a silent guarantor to the devolution settlements by either enabling or restricting the devolved administrations.

Alongside the idea of the EU acting as a silent guarantor, the devolved administrations are responsible for a range of policy areas – agriculture, fisheries, environment, and transport to name a few – which fall within overarching EU policy areas. When the UK leaves the EU, responsibility for these areas should logically transfer to Holyrood, Cardiff Bay, and Stormont, not Westminster – but this isn’t necessarily what the UK Government has in mind. In fact, current proposals for managing these constitutional challenges risk riding roughshod over established conventions and principles when the EU ceases to be a silent guarantor to the devolution settlements.

The Great Repeal Bill White Paper

It is within this context that, on 30 March, the government set out its strategy to ‘ensure a functioning statute book’ following the UK’s departure from the EU. The Great Repeal Bill White Paper plots out the government’s plan to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, transposing existing EU law into domestic UK law and granting ministers the power to amend legislation to remove references to EU law. The White Paper is not overly complex for such a mammoth task, but it does provide a useful insight into the government’s thinking, fleshing out the policy for managing the challenges and changes previously mentioned. Chapter four deals exclusively with devolution issues.

Chapter four of the White Paper, consisting of six paragraphs, is not particularly comprehensive considering that it deals with issues fundamental to the UK constitution. Although it makes important and legitimate points around maintaining the integrity of the UK’s single market, the proposals raise more questions than they answer and should be of concern to devolutionists. There are four key issues that present major questions for the future of the devolved powers.

First, the repeated use of the term ‘common frameworks’ implies that the UK Government currently sees the devolved administrations as mere implementers of EU policy. This is the opposite of what the devolved administrations believe: that the powers are theirs, and thus the UK Government has no right to unilaterally remove them. Casting the devolved administrations as implementers of a broader policy regime is a way of undermining the position that the powers are theirs but operationalised on an EU-wide level.

Second, the paper includes a proposal to replicate EU ‘frameworks’ in UK law, which risks undermining devolution and raises more questions than it answers. Will the new UK frameworks simply replicate the current EU ones and enable the devolved administration to maintain the current flexibility they have, or will they be more restrictive? Will they provide for a sweeping restriction on the devolution settlements? This is a matter for another more comprehensive piece of legislation, but clarity is needed from the outset. The discussion of common frameworks – although they will be needed – seems to be taking place in the shadow of the Supreme Court's Article 50 ‘Parliament is Sovereign’ judgement.

Third, the White Paper claims that the Brexit process presents an ‘opportunity to determine the level best placed to take decisions on these issues’, which can be read in two ways. Not only could it mean additional powers being devolved, but it also opens the door to powers being removed from the devolved administrations. Are the UK Government gearing up to ‘tidy’ some of the statutes and remove powers in other areas? For the sake of the integrity of the UK’s internal market, new restrictions will be required, but consent must be sought to comply with established conventions.

Finally, there is no discussion around legislative consent motions in this paper. By convention, the UK Parliament does not legislate on devolved matters without the agreement of the devolved legislature. That principle also applies to amending the powers of the devolved institution. Admittedly, Parliament is sovereign and retains the right to legislate on anything, but unilaterally amending the devolution statutes would be damaging for political reasons. Such amendments have occurred in the past – in Wales an exception to the Assembly’s powers was broadened without the consent of the Assembly in 2014 – but unilaterally adding broad blanket reservations to the devolution statutes without consent due to Brexit could damage relations between the governments of the UK. It might also be a boon for nationalists and further imperil the union.

Legislate now, discuss later

The UK Government’s approach to Brexit and devolution as presented in the White Paper seems heavy handed. This is not to say that powers that revert to Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast should be used to undermine the UK’s single market – it is vital that common UK frameworks are developed. Nevertheless, the government’s proposals are not consistent with equality and partnership; current proposals suggest a ‘legislate now, discuss later’ approach. Unilaterally removing powers from the devolved administrations for the sake of UK-wide frameworks is not a sensible or sustainable way of managing the Brexit process.

Discussions over common frameworks may be happening now behind the scenes, but the tone of the White Paper implies otherwise. The current proposals, with their emphasis on hastily establishing temporary legislation that can be revised later, will make it difficult for the devolved administrations to make their voices heard. The Joint Ministerial Council (JMC), which functions as a forum to manage relations and disputes between the devolved administrations and UK Government, has already been criticised over its usefulness in the Brexit process so far – Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government Mark Drakeford claimed that “St Fagans Community Council… would be better organised than most JMC meetings have been” – but it is the only existing intra-UK vehicle which could facilitate talks over common frameworks. It is somewhat ironic that the JMC will likely have to end up mimicking the EU’s Council of Ministers to manage relations and some cross-UK policies.

The White Paper risks being the thin end of the wedge. The paper does not take any account of established convention and practice. It is extremely light on the detail when it comes to devolution, which may be one of the more complex issues to deal with as part of the Brexit process. It is important to remember that devolution is the settled will of the people of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; unilaterally overhauling the devolution settlements and riding roughshod over established conventions is not the meaning of ‘taking back control’.

 

New Nationalism and Old Ideologies

  

📥  Political ideologies, racism, The far right

Dr Sivamohan Valluvan is Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester.

No event in recent British political history has generated the level of despondency, exhilaration and chaotic scramble that has accompanied the result of the 2016 European Referendum. Brexit, in the course of engendering a historically unique standard of socio-political uncertainty and constitutional intrigue, tore apart the two-party compact that had defined much of 20th century politics. Put differently, the allure of nationalist assertion in the form of exiting Europe seemed to cross and confound the distinctions of class, geography and ideology that had underpinned so much of recent British, and – truth be told – Western European politics writ large.[1]

march

 

Brexit represents, however, only one – albeit spectacular – milestone. Indeed, the issues constitutive of new nationalism, and the demagoguery intrinsic to it, only seem to be intensifying in the wake of the referendum result. These iconic issues include: the purported ‘refugee crisis’ and immigration concerns more generally; the War on Terror and cognate anxieties regarding British Muslims; the diffuse disenchantment with even just a nominal commitment to multiculturalism; alongside the outpouring of nativist concern regarding the plight of a disenfranchised ‘white working class’.

Whilst this expansive nationalist present is at last acquiring the analytic regard that it had long been denied,[2] insufficient attention is being given to the actual ideological content of new nationalism. Most critical analysis tends instead towards an account of the socio-economic and/or party political circumstances that have allegedly provoked the nationalist reaction.[3] An emphasis on the economic and the institutional is certainly necessary – but equally important is the need for sustained scrutiny of the multiple and conflicting ideological traditions that new nationalism comprises of. Any such undertaking consequently allows us to repudiate some of the complacencies currently prevalent about what nationalism is vis-à-vis its ideological composition.

Namely, populist-nationalism is not just a base appeal to fear and hatred lacking in any broader conceptual loading. On the contrary, various ideological repertoires definitive of political contestation across the 20th century all assume an integral role in anchoring the nationalist wave. Recognising this expansive ideological map accordingly prevents the convenient attribution of the current malaise to an allegedly vulgar but largely contained rump of racism. Instead, any attempt to resist nationalism must first involve properly addressing its sophisticated affinity to multiple ideological forms, some of which we mistakenly consider to be inured from such trends. I will accordingly gesture here, in an admittedly synoptic manner, at how various political traditions have all become susceptible to the capture of contemporary nationalism. These repertoires include: classical ‘values liberalism’; a resurgent anti-market left communitarianism; neoliberal individualism and the particular racial pathologisation of poverty that sits within its moral economy; some nominally feminist rhetorics regarding sexual freedoms and liberation; strands even of bucolic environmentalism; and, of course, a more familiar conservative nostalgia for the putative unity, stability and public morality of pre-war, colonial whiteness.

Muscular Liberalism and Civic Nationalism

A significant trend in academic and political discourse over the last two decades contended that a national community need not be demarcated by its ethnic origins but by its civic, liberal principles – what was alternatingly called the ‘post-ethnic’ nation, civic nationalism and, elsewhere, ‘Constitutional Patriotism’. It might be said that this line of speculation did open certain interesting progressive possibilities regarding visualisations of the democratic polity, visualisations that look beyond the origin myths of blood and soil. It is, however, also apparent that an aggressively white nativism has been very successful in publically capturing this liberal assertion – an appropriation that is particularly likely given the broader legacy of Orientalist civilisationism that sits within most public affirmations of liberal distinctiveness. Put less obliquely, it becomes apparent that many ideas of liberal virtue become ethnically coded during the course of everyday populist demagoguery. An early anecdotal primer of this capture was evident in then Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a ‘Muscular Liberalism’ whilst championing his case for integration.

It is instructive to consider here the regularity with which many ethnic minorities are popularly presented as lacking the cultural disposition to assume these prized liberal virtues, virtues foregrounded as constitutive of the national self. The opportunist recourse to certain ostensibly feminist themes regarding sexuality and gender becomes a uniquely important site of analysis here in terms of scoping the full, sophisticated reach of an ethnically aggressive civic nationalism – an incorporation that is particularly pronounced amidst the public demagoguery aimed at European Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiment, so central to the contemporary nationalist sensibility, is routinely channelled through reference to how Muslim culture is said to be antithetical to a liberal value base. What consequently materialises here is a kind of self-satisfied and racially marked liberal civilisationism that does so much work in terms of how new nationalism attains its popular validity, particularly regarding its attractiveness to certain middle-class constituencies.

Melancholic Conservatism

Popularly seen as the direct antonym of the liberal position, a prosaic conservatism is perhaps the domain most commonly associated with new nationalist desires. We witness today a set of conservative nostalgias – a pastoral and imperial nostalgia, or what Paul Gilroy famously identified as ‘Postcolonial Melancholia’. These nostalgias are seen, for instance, in the rehabilitation of monarchy through recurring spectacles of weddings and reproduction; in the revival of Edwardian and inter-war period drama; in the disproportionate success of the Help for Heroes charity, insofar as it has become a key staging ground for the much broader symbolic valorisation of the soldier and military, both past and present; and, also, in the all-too-explicable popularity of rustic Countryfile and other cultural phenomena that invoke a similarly provincial ideal. All these instances speak to a conservative cultural nostalgia and the thinly veiled imperial mythology that accompanies it. It is a nostalgic formation that remembers a homely greatness and the genteel whiteness redolent of that greatness.

However, what is often elided or misunderstood in existing analyses of conservative nostalgia is that much of this commentary and cultural output does actually pivot on a certain critique of unbridled free-market capitalism, a critique that is often expressed via a conservationist, pastoral, Christianist, and/or culturally elitist mould. It therefore becomes necessary to disentangle this particular formulation of nationalist desire from neoliberalism, a project that it is often but wrongly bundled together with in commonplace critiques of contemporary politics. Maintaining this distinction allows us to tie another constituency and tradition, so significant as it is, to the broader flurry of voices that animate the nationalist cry.

Neoliberal Will

When seen accordingly on its own terms, the primary concern of the neoliberal right posits that a market-society ideal is hampered by cultures of welfare dependency and inadequate individual responsibility. This neoliberal position individualises outcomes of success and failure, muting in turn issues of structure and access to resources. But, again, important questions arise regarding the imperative of this neoliberal frame to also racially code conceptions of failure, dependency and national crisis. It is important to remember here that neoliberalism is not only an economic or legislative programme, but also fundamentally a cultural and moral programme. So whilst it is, on one level, quite obviously about the retreat of the redistributive and interventionist state (except for its security arm) in favour of the market and its internal mechanisms, it is also a cultural category that foregrounds particular values and motifs. This includes the modelling of the ideal individual as aspirational, responsible, and self-reliant.

And the symbolic mediation of these ideals does draw heavily upon established racial representational frames in asserting who is not the ideal neoliberal subject. Consider, for instance, images of the black ‘welfare queen’, the lazy, deceitful immigrant leaching on the largesse of the welfare state, or the Muslim and her unproductive proclivity for matters of family, religion, and custom. These are what we might call the racial subjects of the neoliberal. Indeed, even when some working-class white figures are brought into the fold of a general capitalist shaming, they are often judged by their proximity to the pathologies of blackness. An obvious but nonetheless indicative instance was when the ubiquitous David Starkey claimed in the wake of the 2011 riots that the ‘whites have become black’; or simply consider the racial implications of the term ‘white trash’, or consider why the term ‘chav’ is seen as the preserve of poor white people – signalling a reaffirmation of whiteness, when properly realised, as a marker of neoliberal success. Amidst the expansive resonances of these popular terminologies, it becomes possible to note that a neoliberal moral framework provokes its own distinct set of nationalist anxieties and constitutive outsider figures.

Neoliberalism’s prizing of urban consumerism, and the remaking of cities and its inner core as havens of ‘experience shopping’, also brings about a series of racial anxieties whereby certain bodies, languages and tastes become antithetical to the ideal consumer space. These bodies become repulsive and disruptive to pleasurable consumption, adding in turn another layer to how everyday neoliberal rationales induce a particular anxiety about the outsider, the new migrant, and the urban poor more broadly. Put bluntly, if Roma people show up on your carefully curated consumer street, it poses an acute challenge to neoliberal consumer aesthetics.

Left Communitarianism and the Left Behind

Amidst the historically defining advance of the above neoliberal orthodoxy, an influential counter in 1990s public commentary was the communitarian position – a left-driven critique of the increased normalisation of the market society, globalisation, and its attendant individualism. It was accordingly argued that an altruistic society which might operate beyond the terms of solipsist self-reliance and provide solidaristic reference points for its polity requires a common community bond. Considerable emphasis was placed here on the thick emotional ties of community[4] as necessary for a defence of a redistributive welfare state ideal.

It is clear however that this communitarian critique of global capitalism’s excesses enjoys a close proximity to more avowedly nativist political discourses. For instance, there is increased talk of how a defence of the welfare state is only possible if an idea of unitary ethnic community is rejuvenated. The emergence of the tendency called Blue Labour, a communitarian school within the pre-Corbyn Labour Party, and also the general ubiquity of David Goodhart’s writing and political influence speak to this recuperated ideal of ethnic homogeneity. Goodhart’s important ‘Too Diverse?’ article in Prospect ought to be considered a particularly formative moment for a whole spate of subsequent left-leaning nationalist commentary.

It is my broader contention here that the initially progressive understanding of community, as a critique of market individualism, has been reduced in prominent public analysis to a concern with majoritarian ethno-national community. It is particularly telling here that the already well-established, putatively far-right parties across Scandinavia[5] exhibit a very assertive but racially coded defence of the welfare state, workers’ rights and collective solidarity, a defence that is presented as a central plank of their nationalist aspirations.

This nationalist frame has obtained particular ubiquity in the UK in the wake of the Brexit referendum, whereby much public analysis has centred on what is increasingly referred to as the ‘left behind’ – this being a conception that speaks to a particular concern for some notion of the white working class. Whilst many anti-racist critics rightly consider this to be a highly disingenuous appeal to class (see Bhambra and Goodfellow for two such exemplary pieces), it is nonetheless an invocation that is central to leftist renditions of nationalism. Put more specifically, the left behind refers to a working class, defined exclusively as white, that is understood as being uniquely marginalised and looks, accordingly, to legitimate certain anti-immigration and anti-minority attitudes that are popularly attributed to this constituency. An extensive matrix of populist left-wing idioms – anti-establishment, anti-metropolitan elite and anti-globalisation – are in turn folded into a much broader, symbolically aggressive nationalist attachment to particular understandings of authentic white working-class consciousness. Herein, in unpacking the left rationales that have become susceptible to contemporary nationalist articulation, particular critical attentiveness must be given to how this ‘left behind’ framing of the white working class manifests, and the racial ideological work it is accordingly called upon to perform.

Conclusion

Resisting the inclination to attribute a unitary, generally rightist character to this new nationalism, it is important to appreciate how its heightened appeal hinges crucially on the convergence of multiple political repertoires. There are of course a variety of other factors equally important to situating the consolidation of nationalism’s electoral power: economic factors pertaining to austerity governance and the precarity of post-industrial labour; media factors regarding shifts in cycles of news circulation and the role of digital platforms in particular; as well as the broader political evacuation by the left of a counter-narrative to neoliberalism’s recent monopoly on our very conceptions of what is even considered politically possible.

It is the case, however, that new nationalism is also an affirmative system of making sense that roots itself across a multitude of well-established political traditions. Amidst this acknowledgment, where nationalism is itself a way of actively thinking about one’s social and political surroundings, it becomes vital that critics apprehend the different conceptual traditions informing the nationalist rationality; a new nationalist cacophony that is righteously liberal, mournfully conservative, belligerently neoliberal, and solidaristically leftist, all at once – and necessarily so. A critique of nationalism is therefore, when properly realised, also a critique of how these respective traditions as currently construed are either complicit in the demonisation of various outsider figures and/or remain hapless at sponsoring robustly anti-racist narratives.

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs. Much of this article’s argument constitutes the point of departure for a book that Dr Sivamohan Valluvan is currently working on, provisionally titled The New Nationalism and to be published in 2018 by Manchester University Press.

 

Footnotes

[1] It should be acknowledged that a strongman authoritarian nationalism has already been consolidated in other regional contexts, the most conspicuous being Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey and also, perhaps in a less spectacular sense, Abe in Japan. These contexts are not, however, germane to my argument as regarding the particular ideological configurations prevalent in Europe.
[2] It seems salutary to note here that for a long time, outside of the increasingly siloed field of race and racism, it was a considerable struggle to get questions of the nationalist wave onto the sociological or political agenda. The reasons for this omission as far as academia is concerned are legion – including the above reduction of race and racism attentiveness to merely another discrete academic specialism; the counter-productive fixation with an unimaginatively construed notion of ‘impact’; as well as a byzantine preoccupation with methodological trivialities, increasingly set up as a social science end in itself.
[3] Valluvan has written elsewhere about how we might want to situate the economic within the broader rise of new nationalism, a context that is certainly integral to any comprehensive explanatory account of populist-nationalism but must not be attributed an exhaustive causality.
[4] Affirmative bonds of community that are contrasted to the ‘thin abstract altruism’ of liberal humanism and/or cosmopolitanism. I borrow this phrasing from a short piece on the cosmopolitanism contra communitarianism debate by Gyan Prakash.
[5] The Scandinavian context has increasingly become an accurate portent for later political developments in the UK. Not only are the tropes favoured by British populist-nationalists already well-rehearsed over a longer duration by prominent Nordic outfits, but it was Scandinavia (not least Sweden) that first trialled many of the key manoeuvres definitive of a whole range of recent political developments: for instance, the nominal ‘greening’ of the centre-right as well as their rebranding as the ‘worker’s party’; the outsourcing and deregulation of public provisioning in healthcare and education (e.g. Free Schools); alongside the 1990s embrace of neoliberal maxims by formally Social Democratic parties. For a lively recent account of Sweden’s unique place in the political imagination, see Gavan Titley’s ‘Swedens of the Mind’.

 

How Not to do Devolution: Wales and the Problem of Legislative Competence

📥  devolution, Wales

Dr David Moon is Lecturer in Politics and Tomos Evans is a postgraduate research student in the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath.

There is agreement that the reserved powers model – on which Scotland and Northern Ireland operate – is a better way of devolving power than the conferred powers model used by Wales. But the Wales Act 2017, which will move Wales to a reserved powers model, will still not solve many of the problems that the National Assembly for Wales faces.

Devolution in the UK is still in its teenage years and while both Scotland and Northern Ireland have experienced little change in the structures underpinning their devolution settlements, Wales’ settlement is about to undergo its third major change since 1998, thanks to the Wales Act 2017.

devolution

 

The story of Welsh constitution-building has been an example of how the process should not be done: for every step forward, it has seemed as if two were taken back. The new Act does not mark an end to this story; in March 2017, Richard Rawlings – who serves on the Welsh advisory committee of the Law Commission – claimed that the Wales Act 2017 “carries the seeds of its own destruction”. Understanding why this is the case and the lessons that others can learn from the Welsh example, it is important to focus upon the question of legislative competence; the different ways of devolving powers; and the torturous route taken to our current situation.

After a wafer-thin majority in favour of establishing a ‘Welsh Assembly’ in the 1997 referendum, the first National Assembly for Wales met on 12 May 1999. The National Assembly’s structures and powers were, at this point, reminiscent of a county council, not a parliament, being unable to pass primary legislation or raise any taxes. Marking the first major reform of the system, the Government of Wales Act 2006 provided the National Assembly with the means to pass ‘Measures’ – essentially Acts, but by a different name. This ability to pass Measures was closely guarded by Westminster, with the Assembly only able to gain Measure-making powers via an Act of Parliament or a ‘Legislative Competence Order’ (LCO), and with the 20 areas devolved to the Assembly being incrementally populated with ‘matters’ over which Measures could be passed.

This LCO system for legislating, which was in place between 2007 and 2011, has been rightly criticised as cumbersome, opaque, and bureaucratic. Yet, putting those issues to one side, the constitutional cleverness of the system yielded certain positives that only really became clear in retrospect, with the apparent step forward taken through the shift in 2011 to a system with direct, primary law-making powers for the Assembly.

The positives of the LCO system, outlined below, were directly related to the conferred powers model upon which Wales’ devolution settlement was founded. A conferred powers model of devolution provides a list of things you can do; in contrast, reserved powers models, like Scotland and Northern Ireland’s, provides a list of things you cannot do.

Since 2011, still operating within the constraints of a particular list of specific subjects upon which it could legislate, Wales’ settlement regularly falls victim to what might be labelled the ‘grey spots of GoWA’, the ‘silent subjects’, or to use the terminology of the UK’s Changing Union Partnership, ‘areas in limbo’. These are policy areas where there is a lack of clarity over who has power over certain broadly defined subject areas. The lack of clarity in the Welsh devolution settlement has created problems when formulating policy and legislating.

Two Acts of the Assembly – including the first ever – have been referred to the Supreme Court by the UK Government as they believed them to be outside of the Assembly’s competence. The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill ended up in the Supreme Court because of a major disagreement stemming from the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in 2013. The case is a prime example of the ‘grey spots of GoWA’: The Supreme Court held that the legislation was within the competence because ‘agricultural wages’ was not explicitly outside of the Assembly’s powers.

The most recent example of the lack of clarity affecting governing in Wales is around the UK Government’s Trade Union Act 2016. As the Bill made its way through the Westminster Parliament, the Welsh Government contested that some of its provisions should not extend to devolved public services and vowed to bring forward its own legislation to disapply those provisions in Wales at the earliest opportunity. In January 2017, the Welsh Government introduced the Trade Union (Wales) Bill to the National Assembly to repeal certain provisions of the Trade Union Act 2016 as they apply in Wales. The UK Government argues that trade union law is non-devolved and so it is highly likely that a third piece of Welsh legislation will end up in the Supreme Court via a UK Government referral.

Faced with this situation, it is with hindsight that the positives provided by the LCO system’s convoluted processes have become visible, through its otherwise overarching flaws:

(i) it provided clarity over legislative competence;

(ii) there was a presumption in favour of increasing the powers of the Assembly;

(iii) inter-governmental disagreements were dealt with at the beginning of the policy or law making process.

What the system did, in a conferred powers model, was provide the clarity which has been lacking and created problems since 2011 – avoiding subsequent trips to the Supreme Court.

The lack of clarity in the current system has been widely acknowledged by academics, civil society, and policymakers alike. But rather than return to the inherently flawed LCO system, there has been general agreement on the need to move from a conferred to a reserved powers model of devolution. The result is that the Wales Act 2017 will overhaul the Welsh devolution settlement and put it on the same foundations as Scotland and Northern Ireland – a reserved powers model. This reform was recommended by the Silk Commission in 2014 as a way of reducing the chronic uncertainties in Wales’ devolution settlement.

In its previous form the draft Wales Bill manged to make a fudge of the move to a reserved powers model: although it would have introduced more clarity, it would have created more hoops for the National Assembly to jump through to legislate, thus making it even more complex than the current system. As Robert Thomas’ comprehensive briefing on the matter highlights, the proposals solved one problem but created another, potentially worse one. One step forward, had become two steps back.

Revised and reformed, the reserved powers model that the Wales Act 2017 institutes is a superior way of devolving power, but it does not provide complete clarity or eliminate the scope for disagreement entirely. The reserved powers model is the best way to devolve power, but as the draft Wales Bill proves, the model in itself is no panacea.

Resultantly, although the Wales Act 2017 is supposed to provide a “strong and lasting” devolution settlement, it has only settled the conferred versus reserved powers model debate. Discussions over whether powers should sit in Cardiff or London – especially over policing and the judiciary – will continue. So it is that, as in 1998, 2007, and 2011, the 2017 Act creates as much as it conquers problems; Wales, once again, continues to provide a prime example to policymakers of what not to do.

This post, which was originally published on LSE's British Politics and Policy blog, draws upon arguments outlined in greater depth in the authors’ recent article “Welsh devolution and the problem of legislative competence”, published in British Politics.

 

Brexit and Trump: On Racism, the Far Right and Violence

  

📥  EU Referendum, future, racism, The far right, Trump

Dr Aaron Winter is Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of East London.

When Labour MP for Batley and Spen Jo Cox was murdered by Thomas Mair in Birstall, West Yorkshire on 16 June 2016, I thought it could be seen as a symbolic culmination of all the hateful, polarised, scapegoating rhetoric of the EU referendum, and a watershed moment when a nation and electorate divided, and particularly the Leave or ‘Brexit’ campaigns, reflected on themselves. The context of the killing, and the fact that Mair allegedly shouted ‘Britain first, this is for Britain, Britain will always come first’[1] as he confronted, stabbed and shot Cox – a Remain campaigner and champion of refugees – seemed to confirm the link to the Referendum, and particularly Brexit rhetoric. The use of ‘Britain First’ led the far-right group of the same name to deny links,[2] yet an image of Mair campaigning for the organisation soon emerged.[3] He was also found to have a range of white supremacist and neo-Nazi materials in his home,[4] and is alleged to have purchased material from the US-based white nationalist group National Alliance.[5] This is an organisation that was led by the late William Pierce, who wrote TheTurner Diaries, a novel which influenced the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The book has returned to the spotlight in the wake of the Trump campaign and revival of the far right in the US. This revival has been linked to wider right-wing populism, racialised nationalism, mobilisation of white (allegedly working-class) anger, normalisation of racism and xenophobia, and convergence of the mainstream and far right in the country, which were also features of Brexit in the UK. Trump would link the two, calling Brexit ‘great’ and attributing it to the British people’s desire for their own identity and opposition to refugees.[6] Farage would also make the link from an inauguration party in Washington DC, stating ‘Trump becoming President of the USA is Brexit plus plus plus’.[7] They also both thought Farage would make a good ambassador to the US.[8]

guns

 

Yet little or nothing was reflected on or changed following the murder of Jo Cox. As is often the case, the link to the far right was used to confirm political, ideological and discursive preconceptions and fulfil corresponding functions. When far-right violence occurs, many are quick to paint a picture of an individual (or fringe movement) that has stepped outside the boundaries of reasonable, rational democratic discourse and practice to espouse extremist views and use violence, and who is thus definitely not linked to any particular campaign, political party or popular sentiment. Often the perpetrator is described as a mentally unstable loner, as Mair was by UKIP and Leave.EU leader Nigel Farage (‘one man with serious mental health issues’[9]); Spiked!’s Brendan O’Neill (‘warped killer’[10]); The Daily Mail (‘loner’ seeking counselling[11]); and others. This depoliticises the actor and act, distancing them from the far right and mainstream, as well as from wider social-political forces and structures. Yet, Mair had far-right beliefs and identified as a ‘political activist’.[12] He was deemed mentally competent for the trial, where he articulated his political views, and was convicted and sentenced on 23 November 2016 to a whole-life term. Even though the political superseded the psychological, however, the focus was on Mair’s individual beliefs, as opposed to his links to a movement, organisation or social group. This individualisation and exceptionalism, whether through mental illness or its political parallel the ‘lone wolf’, also deracialises the actor and act, allowing those like him to not have to identify, nor provide a collective alibi and even apologise – as Muslims are asked to do after a terrorist attack. As Mair’s act was committed in the name of Britain – in the context of a campaign where Muslims have been targeted as refugees for an alleged failure to integrate and, ironically, as extremists and terrorists – and he had an association with Britain First, the racist double standard is obvious. In an unironic and confused example of the double standard, when Britain First distanced themselves from the Mair shooting (as if they think collective guilt by association with terrorism is a bad thing) leader Paul Golding actually linked his statement, but not the group, to the wider Brexit campaign and context: ‘Was he referring to an organisation? Was he referring to a slogan? Was he just shouting out in the middle of an EU debate: 'Putting Britain first'? You know, I've heard this almost every day’.[13] Unlike in Britain, neither Trump nor his supporters thought it important to strongly deny links or distance his campaign when he received endorsements from Rocky Suhayda of the American Nazi Party, Don Black of Stormfront, ‘alt right’ figurehead Richard Spencer and former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke,[14] as well as gateway figures from Breitbart such as Steve Bannon (now Trump’s chief strategist) and Milo Yiannopoulos. Trump’s response to the Duke endorsement was: ‘I don't know – did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists’.[15]

In Britain, the response from some Brexiter commentators was not only to disavow Mair, but also those making links. One example of this was Polly Toynbee, who argued that ‘this campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics’.[16] Daniel Trilling similarly contended that ‘Far-right politics cannot be as easily cordoned off from the mainstream as people would like to believe. Fascists attach themselves to popular causes and drag the debate in their direction. Populists and parties of the centre take note and then try to appeal to voters susceptible to the far right’s messages by taking xenophobic positions of their own’.[17] In response to such arguments, Brendan O’Neill argued that ‘The spirit of democracy was dealt two blows yesterday.’ The first, he said, ‘came from a warped killer, Thomas Mair’ – and the second was ‘from ghouls in the media and political classes’, who ‘swiftly blamed the murder on the Brexit lobby’ and ‘marshalled Cox’s death to the cause of sanitising political speech and insisting that certain views no longer be openly expressed’.[18]

This argument seems to at once displace hate, and justify its expression. In fact, the argument that free speech and thus democracy are being repressed echoes those arguments that say that it was political correctness and the repression of free speech about immigration that led to Brexit. Moreover, in some circles it seems free speech is defined by hate speech. Five days prior to the vote, Spiked! claimed that ‘Hate Speech is Free Speech’,[19] and post-referendum O’Neill asserted that ‘hate speech must be free speech’.[20] I would argue that the tone of the campaign, far-right violence, and links between them can also be seen in the context of the wider normalisation of racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and racialised nationalism in ‘mainstream’ politics, media and public discourse that fed into the referendum and has been intensified by it. What we have seen is the mainstreaming of the extreme, informing an emboldening and radicalisation of the mainstream, and further emboldening and radicalisation of the far right. Britain has produced an American-style paramilitary far right – and someone, even if only inspired by it, has taken a life. Just prior to the murder, Britain First ran a paramilitary survival training camp in Wales,[21] and a day after the murder, they issued a threat against London Mayor Sadiq Khan (whom Jobling lost to) and ‘all Muslim elected officials’.[22] So they were not overly concerned with the stigma of violence.

While Farage tweeted his condolences for Cox, there was no hint of the apology, condemnation or disassociation that is expected of Muslims following a terror attack. Farage probably cannot see the racial or national identities he and his targeted constituency share with Mair in negative terms, does not consider the consequences of his own fear and hate mongering, and appears to consider far-right groups either a potential support base or representative of one. He definitely appealed to fascism and fascists; his Leave.EU campaign targeted the far right on social media,[23] and he posed with English Defence League members under a pro-Brexit banner and tweeted the image.[24] For a campaign poster, Leave.EU used a Nazi-esque image of refugees crossing from Croatia to Slovenia in 2015 with a banner reading ‘Breaking Point: the EU has failed us all’.[25] In a May 2016 BBC interview, Farage said: ‘It’s legitimate to say that if people feel they’ve lost control completely, and we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the EU, and if people feel voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step’.[26] Returning to the opposition painted earlier between the individual extremist who commits violence and reasonable, rational democratic discourse and practice, what is clear here is that not only is the line blurred, but a democratic election or referendum is presented as a way of preventing or just delaying violence – which will occur should democracy not find in favour of one side. Farage would later claim that Brexit victory was achieved ‘without a single bullet being fired’.[27] There was no mention of Jo Cox. Yet violence is not the only harm; the campaign harmed the targets and social relations. This scapegoating and dehumanisation of refugees and others has also already costs lives, as supporting refugees fleeing danger has become seen as an electoral liability and opposition to refugees a necessity or currency. Labour even sold control immigration mugs to raise money in the 2015 election,[28] and now has a leader who supports Brexit.[29]

Despite some openness to immigration and multiculturalism in the early years of New Labour, since 7/7 the Labour Party has attempted to appeal to increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and voters being targeted by the BNP and later UKIP. The country has become less welcoming, inclusive, egalitarian and progressive, and it isn’t only immigrants and refugees – Tory austerity policies have demonstrated that the poor and vulnerable in general are unworthy and disposable. Yet we were told during the campaign that even that is the fault of the EU, immigrants and refugees. Racism, xenophobia and scapegoating, as well as a ‘divide and rule’ approach (as if austerity only affected working-class whites), have become acceptable and normalised. Toynbee highlights ‘how recklessly the decades of careful work and anti-racist laws to make those sentiments unacceptable have been overturned’.[30] It is a retreat back to the small-island nationalism, racism and post-colonial melancholia of Powellism for some, and nostalgia for the age of Empire itself for others – as evidenced by appeals to commonwealth relations, trade and immigration and Liam Fox’s call for ‘Empire 2.0’.[31] For Toynbee, writing prior to Cox’s murder, ‘this is the sound of Britain breaking. Here ends our “moderate, tolerant” self-image’.[32] But it is not all about the ‘self’ (the liberal-left version of ‘the people’ that excludes foreigners). The referendum debate has focused largely on the ‘self’. It is something that many of us, our friends, colleagues and family members who are not from here, who are racialised, or who are otherwise excluded, are forced to listen to and endure from politicians, media and public as they speak to each other (including about us, in terms of borders, ‘Britishness’ and tolerance). The message throughout, from Brexiters specifically, has been that democracy does not include us, except as a barrier to self-realisation, and we are no longer welcome here; our fate is theirs to decide, and it matters no more than a power struggle on the right (and left).

On the eve of the vote I worried that, if we stayed, the immigrants, refugees and Muslims scapegoated already would find themselves in the firing line – and if we left, those thinking that these groups are to blame for all the problems (including Tory-led austerity, cuts to public services and unemployment – or neoliberalism in general) would be disappointed, and blame the scapegoats that had already been established. We didn’t have to wait that long; people were emboldened, their hate legitimised. In the wake of the Leave vote of 52% to 48% (with 72% turnout) on 23 June 2016,[33] we have seen a rise in hate crimes against not only Europeans, but Muslims and other racial and ethnic minorities. According to Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, in the 38 days following the referendum there were more than 2,300 recorded race-hate offences in London, compared with 1,400 in the 38 days before. He connected this increase to the referendum campaign and vote.[34] According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, hate crime increased 49% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the month after the referendum compared with same month the previous year.[35] These figures were used in the Institute of Race Relations report Racial Violence and the Brexit State by Jon Burnett, which examined the role of the campaign and media in whipping up hate and even showed that racist language used during attacks echoed or repeated government rhetoric and policies.[36] In the US, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported a spike in hate-based harassment and attacks against various groups post-election. Between 9 November, the day after the presidential election, and 14 November, they collected 437 reports of hate incidents[37] – and this rose to 1,094 by mid-December.[38] The SPLC linked the rise in such incidents to Trump’s campaign and victory, and noted graffiti on targets reading ‘Make America White Again’ and ‘Vote Trump’.[39]

There seems to be growing evidence of a link between the racism the campaigns legitimised and normalised, the emboldening of racists, and violence. This cannot be dismissed, as Mair was, with the assertion that it comes from an individual or far-right extremist, but was dismissed nonetheless; the response from some Brexiters has been threefold.

Firstly, deny and denigrate: The Daily Mail reported the same statistics, but rejected them because they claim that Britain is tolerant (citing Sadiq Khan’s election), and hate crime is a ‘cynical industry' where ‘dishonesty and hysteria reign’[40] – while Brenden O’Neill referred to it as ‘hate crime hysteria’, arguing that it is based on ‘officialdom’s active trawling for such crimes … To the explicitly political end of demonising the choice made by voters in the referendum’.[41]

Secondly, sophistry and selective time travel: if you claim these attacks are post-Brexit, it means you deny hate existed previously – as  Spiked!’s Luke Gittos argued in ‘Britain has not become racist overnight’.[42] In The Spectator, Joanna Williams claimed – as if exposing a lie – that ‘the EU referendum hadn’t even happened before it was linked to an increase in hate crime’.[43] Yet, scapegoating and hate were factors in pressure for the referendum in the first place, and racists have become emboldened to express it more freely and intimately. You would think Gittos was highlighting pre-existing and ongoing structural and institutional racism. For years Spiked! has been arguing that anti-racism is not needed like it was in the 1980s, ignoring all forms of racism unless it wears a swastika. As O’Neill argued in The Spectator: ‘there is a great disparity between the handwringing over hate crime and what Britain is actually like. The open racism even I can remember in the 1980s has all but vanished … The likes of the BNP and EDL have withered due to lack of interest’.[44] Farage denied any responsibility for hate crime and argued without a hint of irony: ‘I destroyed the British National Party – we had a far-right party in this country who genuinely were anti-Jew, anti-Black, all of those things, and I came along, and said to their voters, if you're holding your nose and voting for this party as a protest, don't. Come and vote for me – I'm not against anybody, I just want us to start putting British people first, and I, almost single-handedly, destroyed the far right in British politics’.[45] In 2014, BNP leader Nick Griffin stated ‘I will hold nose & vote UKIP because it will help break up the Westminster system & hold Cameron's feet to referendum fire’.[46] Neither Farage nor O’Neill seem to recognise that Brexit was aided by the far right – including UKIP, and the normalisation and mainstreaming of their ideas – as well as playing a role in the resurgence of such groups. In addition to an increase in hate incidents and attacks, the UK also saw far-right terror threats and arrests double in 2016.[47] In the US, the SPLC has reported a rise in hate groups, which they attribute to Trump’s campaign and victory.[48]

Thirdly, racialise the working class and reverse the racism: Gittos claimed that ‘the onset of panic has revealed how the very publications and commentators who once claimed to stand up for the working class in fact view working-class people as a violent, racist horde’.[49] It seems that every time someone claims racism or the far right is on the rise (and/or evokes them when criticising Brexit), commentators assume that it is the working class being accused, that the working class is white, that a racist and xenophobic campaign speaks to them (because they have been ‘left behind’ by capitalism, repressed by anti-racism and political correctness and/or abandoned by establishment parties and democracy), attribute the success of such campaigns to them, and then attack others for allegedly making the links they constructed. This argument or narrative follows from, accepts the terms of, or even draws upon the racialised and populist construction of the working class as white and the rightful inhabitants of the nation (if not embodiment of the nation) and, like it, under siege by foreigners and the forces of political correctness, perpetuated and mobilised by Leave.EU and UKIP (as the BNP had before them) and tied to the wider racialised nationalism that underpinned much Brexit racism. We see this narrative in criminologist Steve Hall’s analysis of how UKIP and the wider far right have made inroads into the working class, where Labour and the left used to be. He argues that UKIP ‘publically dismissed the political correctness that the liberal middle class uses to censor the working class’ and ‘echoes the working class fear that immigrants are taking their jobs and undercutting their wages’. He goes on to say ‘the “anti-fascist” left hurls abuse at them in the street, and the liberal press hasn’t stopped calling them racists, misogynists, homophobes and knuckle-dragging Neanderthals for three decades. Some of the commentary after Brexit was positively eugenicist—calling for the white working class to be bred out’.[50] In terms of Brexit specifically, O’Neill claims that the bigotry is from the elites against the demos[51] and argues that ‘Brexit Voters are not thick, not racist: just poor’, and that ‘Britain’s poor and workless have risen up’.[52] He fails, like others, to consider the racial and political heterogeneity of the working class, poor and workless, or the class heterogeneity of Brexiters. According to research by Danny Dorling, 52% of people who voted Leave lived in the southern half of England, and 59% were middle class, while the proportion of Leave voters in the lowest two social classes was 24%.[53] The argument about a populist working class insurgency represented not only Brexit but UKIP is also challenged by the latter’s electoral loss to Labour in the solidly 70% ‘Leave’ Stoke-on-Trent in the February 2017 byelection[54] (followed by losing their only MP, when Douglas Carswell left the party the next month, but kept the Clacton seat he had held previously as a Tory before defecting to UKIP)[55]. In the US, it has been shown that Clinton actually lost more ‘white working class’ votes on Obama than Trump gained on Romney in 2012.[56] Milo Yiannopoulos claimed that ‘Liberals have lots of theories for why working class whites abandoned them. The most obvious of which is their old standby, “they are racist”’.[57] Yet, Trump got the majority of white professional males with a college education and over 40% of white professional females with a college education,[58] which points to race over class as a factor. Moreover, while Trump won the electoral college, he lost the popular vote 46.4% to 48.5%,[59] and the voter turnout was only 55.4% with Trump at 26.3%.[60]

In addition to hate-crimes, in post-referendum Britain the government has been embracing or rewarding such politics with measures that resemble or signal fascism – including the proposal that employers hand over lists of foreigners[61] and child refugees be subjected to medical tests.[62] In the US, it is a border wall,[63] deportations,[64] and an attempted Muslim travel ban.[65] There is also the ever-increasing list of those not considered ‘people’ based on a Brexit and Trump-only democracy test. The Daily Mail ran the headline: ‘Whingeing. Contemptuous. Unpatriotic. Damn the Bremoaners and their plot to subvert the will of the British people’.[66] Following the ruling that brought the triggering of Article 50 to that sovereign and democratic body Parliament, The Daily Mail’s headline was ‘Enemies of the People’ and The Sun’s ‘Loaded foreign elite defy will of British people’. The ruling followed a court case pursued by Gina Miller who was, as Rod Liddle noted in The Sunday Times, ‘not born in Britain’ but ‘British Guyana’, adding ‘although I suppose as “leavers” this is something we should gloss over in case we get called racist’.[67] In the US, Trump labelled the media the ‘enemy of the people’ for criticising his administration.[68] In post-referendum Britain and Trump-era America, the category of ‘people’ is being narrowed further: not foreigners, Muslims, those deemed not British or American enough, those who did not vote for Brexit or Trump, critics, the media nor the judiciary.

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs. This piece is based on an earlier article by Dr Aaron Winter, published June 2016 on Open Democracy.

References

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[2] Bartlett, Evan. 2016, 17 June. ‘Britain First is angry the entire group is being tarnished by one man, fail to see the irony’. Indy100. https://www.indy100.com/article/britain-first-is-angry-the-entire-group-is-being-tarnished-by-one-man-fail-to-see-the-irony--bylAyAGqI4Z
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[45] Wells, David. 2016, 12 Aug. ‘Nigel Farage: I am not responsible for post-Brexit race hate’. Plymouth Herald. http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/nigel-farage-i-am-not-responsible-for-post-brexit-race-hate/story-29614100-detail/story.html
[46] Stone, Jon. 2014, 30 Nov. ‘Nick Griffin voting UKIP: Former BNP leader backs Nigel Farage’. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/former-bnp-leader-nick-griffin-says-he-ll-vote-ukip-9893376.html
[47] Farmer. Ben. 2017, 9 Mar. ‘Far-Right and neo-Nazi terror arrests double’. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/09/far-right-neo-nazi-terror-arrests-double/
[48] Hatewatch Staff. 2017, 15 Feb. ‘Hate groups increase for second consecutive year as Trump electrifies radical right’. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2017/02/15/hate-groups-increase-second-consecutive-year-trump-electrifies-radical-right
[49] Gittos, Luke, 2016, 28 June.
[50] Beck, Chris. 2017, Mar. ‘How the U.K. Left Lost the Working Class: An interview with British professor Steve Hall. Splice Today. http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/how-the-u-k-left-lost-the-working-class
[51] O’Neill, Brendan. 2016, 29 June. ‘Brexit: this was a vote against bigotry, not for it’. Spiked!. http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/brexit-this-was-a-vote-against-bigotry-not-for-it/18514#.WN9iGYWcGhc
[52] O’Neill, Brendan. 2016, 2 July. ‘Brexit Voters are not thing, not racist: just poor’. The Spectator. http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/07/brexit-voters-are-not-thick-not-racist-just-poor/
[53] Dorling, Danny. 2016. ‘Brexit: The decision of a divided country’. http://www.dannydorling.org/?p=5568
[54] Maquire, Patrick. 2017, 12 Feb. ‘Ukip ‘too disorganised’ to cash in on Brexit anger in Stoke election’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/12/ukip-stoke-on-trent-central-byelection-paul-nuttall
[55] Helm, Toby. 2017, 26 Mar. ‘Douglas Carswell quits Ukip to sit as an independent: ‘the work is done and we won’’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/26/carswell-ukip-mp-farage-independent
[56] Kilibarda, Konstantin and Roithmayr, Daria. 2016, 1 Dec. ‘The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt’. Slate. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/the_myth_of_the_rust_belt_revolt.html
[57] http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2017/01/26/full-text-milo-democrats-lost-white-working-class/
[58] Henley, Jon. 2016, 9 Nov. ‘White and wealthy voters gave victory to Donald Trump, exit polls show’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/09/white-voters-victory-donald-trump-exit-polls
[59] CNN. 2016, Nov. ‘Election Results: President’. CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/election/results/president
[60] Wallace, Gregory. 2016, 11 and 30 Nov. ‘Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016’. CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/11/politics/popular-vote-turnout-2016/
[61] Ford, Richard Ford, Elliott, Francis and Wright, Oliver. 2016, 5 Oct. ‘Firms must list foreign workers’. The Sunday Times. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/firms-must-list-foreign-workers-gw20ndp5x
[62] Weaver, Matthew. 2016, 19 Oct. ‘Give child refugees dental tests to verify age, says David Davies’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/19/child-refugees-dental-tests-verify-age-david-davies
[63] Smith, David. 2017, 25 Jan. ‘Trump signs order to begin Mexico border wall in immigration crackdown’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/25/donald-trump-sign-mexico-border-executive-order
[64] Democracy Now. 2017, 13 Feb. ‘ICE Arrests 600 in Nationwide Raids After Trump Order Expands Criminalization of Immigrants’. Democracy Now. https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/13/ice_arrests_600_in_nationwide_raids
[65] Shear, Michael D. and Cooperjan, Helene. 2017, 27 Jan. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/politics/trump-syrian-refugees.html?_r=1
[66] Daily Mail Comment. 2016, 12 Oct. ‘DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Whingeing. Contemptuous. Unpatriotic. Damn the Bremoaners and their plot to subvert the will of the British people’. The Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3833496/DAILY-MAIL-COMMENT-Whingeing-Contemptuous-Unpatriotic-Damn-Bremoaners-plot-subvert-British-people.html#ixzz4d4o8lSnj
[67] Liddle, Rod. 2016, 6 Nov. The Sunday Times.
[68] Daniel, Zoe. 2017. 27 Feb. ‘Donald Trump escalates conflict with media: ‘They are the enemy of the people’’. ABC. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-27/donald-trump-escalates-conflict-with-media/8306262

 

Opposing Europe in a Time of Crisis: The Mainstreaming of Euroscepticism and the Rise of the Radical Right

  

📥  EU Referendum, racism, The far right

Dr Nicholas Startin is Senior Lecturer in French and European Politics and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath 

One of the most contentious and debated changes in the field of European politics in recent years has been the ongoing electoral rise of Radical Right parties (RRPs). This development has been pervasive across EU member states and beyond, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the Benelux countries to the post-communist nations (Startin & Brack 2016). The Radical Right has made electoral progress in national, local and European electoral contexts as parties such as the French Front National, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary have had varying impacts and influences within their respective party systems. The 2014 European elections produced an increase in support for RRPs with, according to Mudde (2014), 52 members elected. In 2015 the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) transnational group was formed in the European Parliament with French Front National and Dutch Party for Freedom leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders the main protagonists in this development. On the back of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as United States President, never has there been such intense global media speculation regarding the growing influence of the Radical Right. With elections taking place in 2017 in the Netherlands, France and Germany, all eyes were on Wilders (although his Party for Freedom did not do as well as most polls projected) and are now on Le Pen – as in both countries their campaigns have placed the political establishment under enormous strain.

euclock

 

Minkenberg and Perrineau (2007:30) characterise RRPs as ‘a collection of nationalist, authoritarian, xenophobic, and extremist parties that are defined by the common characteristic of populist ultranationalism.’ Zaslove (2004) pinpoints that such parties are opposed to open immigration policies and globalisation, draw attention to the distance of traditional parties from the concerns of the people, tend to focus their energies on local and regional politics, and are often led by charismatic leaders. One area where there is some agreement is on the issue of immigration. Fennema (2004) argues that ‘the only programmatic issue all Radical Right Parties have in common is their resentment against immigrants and against the immigration policies of their government.’ This observation certainly rings true, as in most cases anti-immigration sentiment is both a core part of the DNA of such parties and often their raison d’être. Hainsworth (2008:70) develops this point by asserting that ‘immigration control serves as a matrix – or a funnel - through which many other policies run, such as education, law-and-order, welfare matters, housing, public expenditure, culture and economic policy (not least in the domain of unemployment)’.

What Hainsworth’s observation overlooks, however, is how the issue of European integration, and more specifically opposition to it, has become an increasingly central policy plank for many RRPs – not merely as a funnel which links back to immigration, but as a signature issue within its own right. Interestingly, though, such parties have not historically shared a coherent, collective position on: first, whether the EU should actually exist; and, second, if so, in what direction it should proceed in terms of both policy and institutional structure (Startin 2010). Added to the apparent divergences in policy and rhetoric on the issue of European integration between RRPs, some parties have radically changed their direction of travel in terms of their outlook towards the EU, moving in a noticeably more Eurosceptic direction. In France, for instance, the 1980s was a decade where the FN’s political elites saw the country’s destiny as one firmly embedded within the European Community structure. Contrast this with Marine Le Pen’s 2017 Presidential manifesto, which calls for an exit from the Euro and points towards a referendum and a potential Frexit.

On the surface, RRPs’ changing discourse towards a ‘hard’ Eurosceptic position can be portrayed as a logical process in terms of their ideological profile. Hainsworth (2007:82) underlines this point, stating that ‘European integration serves to undermine constructs and values, such as the nation state, national identity, state sovereignty, deeply embedded roots and national belonging.’ However, such an explanation does not adequately explain the transition of parties like the Front National towards a hard brand of Euroscepticism. Unlike their anti-immigration stance, opposition to the EU is something they have largely adopted rather than it being the rationale for their existence. This evolution towards a high-salience, ‘hard’ Eurosceptic position on ‘Europe’ by established RRPs like the Front National is in contrast to the UK Independence party (UKIP) – where opposition to the EU is their ideological DNA and their raison d’être.

In reality, RRPs such as the Front National have increasingly used opposition to the EU as a strategic and tactical lever to help them move beyond their traditional anti-immigrant/single-issue labelling. This was clearly illustrated by Marine Le Pen’s more or less sole focus on opposition to both the EU  and to globalisation, as opposed to anti-migrant and anti-islam rhetoric, in her closing remarks of the first Presidential election TV debate on TF1 on March 20. Such a strategy enables them to gain legitimisation, a crucial factor in terms of widening their electoral success and equally importantly ensuring their durability within their domestic party systems (see Eatwell 2003: 68). Put in the simplest terms, being ‘Eurosceptic’ and anti-globalisation is far less contentious than being ‘anti-migrant’! Thus, as Euroscepticism becomes more mainstreamed, so do RRPs – which helps them to become more embedded within their domestic party systems. As such, opposition to the EU (and to globalisation) should be viewed as a central ‘supply-side’ component in the drive for the so-called ‘sanitisation’, ‘detoxification’ or ‘dédiabolisation’ of their parties.

Influenced by tactical and strategic considerations, so-called ‘reconstructed’ RRPs like the Front National and the Austrian Freedom Party have very deliberately differentiated themselves from the largely pro-EU consensus of mainstream political elites. They have profited from the ‘Political Opportunity Structure’ created by an increasingly hostile citizenry to the European integration process and by a European political elite slow to respond to dissenting voices. This point was well illustrated by Marine Le Pen in 2007 when, as the campaign manager for her father’s ill-fated 2007 Presidential election campaign, she was quick to point out in postelection TV analysis that Sarkozy and his centre-right Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) party had copied the Front National’s position on immigration (albeit in a watered-down form). For Le Pen, the main line of demarcation in terms of policy discourse separating the Front National from both of the mainstream French parties (the UMP and the PS) was its clear and unambiguous opposition to the European Union and its distrust of economic and cultural globalisation (Startin 2008:5).

In effect, RRPs have been very effective in seizing upon opportunities presented by watershed moments in the European integration process such as the Maastricht Treaty, the 2004 enlargement, the 2008 economic crisis and, more recently, the refugee crisis. Ironically, as Euroscepticism has become increasingly mainstreamed (see Brack & Startin 2015), adopting an anti-EU stance has enabled RRPs to become increasingly normalised and to place cumulative pressure, in terms of votes and influence, on the mainstream political establishment. Opposition to the negative consequences of globalisation has been crucial to this process, even though – as Mudde (2007:196) points out – RRPs are not normally associated with the so-called anti-globalisation movement. RRPs such as the Front National increasingly portray the EU as an ‘agent’ of globalisation rather than a ‘counterbalance’ to some of its perceived negative cultural and economic consequences. In short, the EU is pitched as a ‘stepping-stone’ which enhances all the negativities of globalisation, rather than as a barrier designed to cushion the nation state. Lecoeur (2007: 137) focuses on the term Euromondialisme deployed by the Front National to ‘emphasise the clear link between global capitalism and European integration.’ Such a stance allows the Front National to focus their opposition to the EU on three core arguments: firstly, the socioeconomic argument centred around the economic crisis, the perceived failings of the Euro and the neo-liberal model in general; secondly, the traditional pro-sovereignty argument built on the basis of préférence communautaire and préférence nationaliste; and finally, the increasingly salient security argument questioning the Freedom of Movement and linking it directly to Schengen and the refugee crisis in Calais.

The sharpening of opposition to economic globalisation on the Radical Right has, to all intents and purposes, buried Kitschelt’s (1995) much-cited notion of a ‘winning formula’ – which explains both the rise and the durability of RRPs by reference to their combination of a free-market economic policy with an authoritarian and ethnocentric political discourse. It is no coincidence that the move to a more protectionist economic discourse has coincided with a general decline of social democratic parties on the left. The perception that in the face of economic globalisation RRP parties have become the sole protectors of ‘the white working-class’ has taken on increased resonance in political discourse in many European countries in recent years – despite a resurgence of the Radical Left in some countries. The image of the EU as a ‘stepping stone’ towards, rather than a protector from, the negativities of globalisation has become both a powerful and an attractive argument for many EU citizens who feel disconnected from both the EU and their domestic political elites.

With the Dutch general election and the French presidential and legislative elections taking place in the first half of 2017, never has the salience of (and the uncertainty surrounding) the EU been as high. On the back of the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory, and with a European citizenry increasingly questioning the raison d’être of the EU, it is difficult to predict with any certainty to what extent RRPs will influence the European political agenda both in terms of representation and policy discourse in the next few years. What is clear is that future EU enlargement is off the political agenda, and that the Freedom of Movement of people and the Schengen agreement, very much the signature oppositional issues of RRPs, will continue to come under increased scrutiny. RRPs will continue to use their opposition to the EU and to globalisation as a central component of their overall electoral strategies. Such a tactic is likely to lead to RRPs winning more votes rather than less in national, European and local contests over the next few years. Only time will tell whether these developments will enable them to become more entrenched in the corridors of power.

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs. A longer version the post will also be published in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism, edited by Benjamin Leruth, Nicholas Startin and Simon Usherwood.

 

References 

Brack, N. & Startin, N. (2015) ‘Introduction: Euroscepticism, from the margins to the mainstream’, International Political Science Review 36(3), pp. 239-249.

Eatwell, R. (2003) “Ten Theories of the Extreme Right.” In Right-Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Peter Merkl and Leonard Weinberg, London: Frank Cass, pp.47-33.

Fennema (2004) ‘Populist Parties of the Right’, in Rydgren, J. (ed.) Movements of Exclusion: Radical Right-Wing Populism in the Western World, Nova Science, pp.1-24.

Hainsworth. P. (2008). The Extreme Right in Western Europe. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kitschelt, H. (1995) The Radical Right in Western Europe, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Lecoeur, E. (ed.) (2007) Dictionnaire de l’extrême droite, Paris : Larousse.

Minkenberg, M. & Perrineau, P. (2007) ‘The Radical Right in the European Elections 2004’, International Political Science Review, 28(1), pp. 29–55.

Mudde, C. (2007). Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, C. (2014) ‘The far right in the 2014 European elections: Of earthquakes, cartels and designer fascists’ Washington Post [online]

Startin, N. (2008) From low-key ambivalence to qualified opposition: The French Front National and the European Union’, Political Studies Association Annual Conference Paper, Swansea University.

Startin, N. (2010) ‘Where to for the Radical Right? The Rise and Fall of transnational Cooperation?’ Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 11(4): 429-449.

Startin, N. (2015) ‘Tapping into a populist discourse: The Front National, ‘Europe’ and the Rassemblement Bleu Marine’, Political Studies Association Annual Conference Paper, Sheffield (April)

Startin, N. & Brack, N. (2016) ‘To cooperate or not to cooperate? The European Radical Right and pan European cooperation’, in Fitzgibbon, J., Leruth, B. & Startin, N. Euroscepticism as a Transnational and Pan-European phenomenon: The emergence of a new sphere of opposition, Routledge: London, pp.28-45.

Zaslove, A. (2004) ‘The Dark Side of European Politics: Unmasking the Radical Right’, European Integration, 26(1), pp. 61–81.

 

Brexit Likely to Increase Modern Slavery in the UK

📥  Brexit, International relations, labour market

Professor Andrew Crane is Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at the University of Bath.

Theresa May’s historic signing of Article 50 looks set to be her lasting legacy as Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it is also likely to derail her other signature policy on modern slavery. Our research suggests Brexit could increase modern slavery in the UK.

The signing of Article 50 marks the point of no return for the UK’s exit from the European Union. Although she inherited the Brexit decision, Theresa May’s political legacy will stand and fall on how successfully she manages to steer the country through the turmoil.

manacles

 

Without a doubt, Article 50 will bring untold changes to the political, economic and cultural landscape of the country. One change that will certainly be high on May’s radar is its effect on modern slavery in the UK.

Modern slavery has been May’s signature policy since she was Home Secretary. She introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015 prior to becoming PM, and has since continued to champion the cause. In announcing a ramping up of Government efforts to improve enforcement last year, she identified modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time” and heralded the UK as leading the way in defeating it.

While the Act is far from perfect, it has certainly focused increased attention and resources on modern slavery. Prosecution levels also appear to be improving. This was most recently illustrated by the sentencing of the Markowski brothers to six years in prison for trafficking and then exploiting 18 people from Poland, who they brought to the UK to work in a Sports Direct warehouse.

The problem is that, despite the advances gradually being made in addressing modern slavery in the UK, the signing of Article 50 is likely to worsen the problem. As May is probably acutely aware (but is so far not saying), Brexit may well undermine the progress she has made to date. It is a case of two steps forward, one step back.

According to research I conducted with an international team of colleagues looking at forced labour in the UK (initially funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), four main problems are evident.

1.      Brexit will increase the demand for modern slavery

The Brexit vote has already created uncertainty among the legions of poorly paid but legal migrant workers from Eastern Europe that are employed in the UK’s low-wage economy. Signing Article 50 may ultimately help stem the flow of workers into the country as intended. But who is going to replace them? Domestic workers will fill some of the gaps but companies are unlikely to be willing to improve wages and conditions to attract them in sufficient numbers. So there will be greater opportunities for unscrupulous middlemen to traffic in workers from overseas or prey on vulnerable UK citizens to force them into exploitative situations. Forced labour flourishes where local, low-skilled labour is in short supply.

2.      Brexit will facilitate exploitation

Modern slavery often occurs when workers do not fully understand their legal rights and status. Our research uncovered various examples of migrant workers being exploited because those exploiting them misled them into the belief that they were working illegally. Perpetrators would also wait for or deliberately engineer changes in workers’ immigration status in order to exploit them. The point is that Brexit will create a period of increased uncertainty around legal status that will be a significant boon to exploiters.

3.      Brexit will increase the supply of modern slavery

Modern slavery occurs when people are vulnerable, either because of legal status, poverty, mental health, or drug and alcohol problems. In our research, the most common victims were those from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria who, at the time, were able to enter the country but were unable to work legally. This vulnerability was exploited by perpetrators who were able to coerce them into working in highly exploitative situations. The more the UK puts up barriers to people entering the country legally, the higher the risk of traffickers bringing them in illegally and pushing them into debt. Once workers are in debt, perpetrators are adept at escalating their indebtedness and creating situations of debt bondage.

4.      Brexit will turn victims into criminals

Our research found that many victims of forced labour in the UK were prosecuted under immigration offences rather than being identified as victims. The Modern Slavery Act has improved this situation but as the UK moves towards Brexit, the chances of this happening will increase because policing around immigration status is likely to intensify far more than around modern slavery.

May claims that under her leadership, “Britain will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery”. But the bottom line is that by triggering Brexit, May will be left trying to solve a problem that she is helping to create.

This post first appeared on the Bath Business and Society blog.

 

The Resurgence of Mainstream Racism and the Need for Nuance in Democratic Turmoil

  

📥  racism, The far right

Dr Aurélien Mondon is Senior Lecturer in French and Comparative Politics at the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

Misdiagnosing the Democratic Crisis 

With the French elections just around the corner, and with current polling suggesting the Front National is set to become a leading party in France, the stakes have never seemed so high. While the Front National is used to making headlines come election time, its strong position this year seems somewhat reinforced by the electoral events which shook the UK and US last year. Indeed, the Brexit vote and Trump’s election have sent a strong signal that nationalist and even racist politics are now part of the mainstream, and no longer an insurmountable handicap in electoral jousts. In fact, an uneasy sense of resignation seems to have enthralled the mainstream elite discourse: the people have turned reactionary and all that can be done is limit the damage.

Hand

 

Yet only a year ago, few would have guessed the way events would unfurl. Had they had to guess, most commentators, pundits and experts would have forecast that the UK would have voted to remain in the European Union and Hillary Clinton would have defeated Donald Trump. At that stage, predicting the results of the French presidential election seemed fairly straightforward: Hollande’s dismal record and approval rating would make it impossible for him – or any other likely socialist contender, such as Manuel Valls – to appeal to enough of their disenchanted base to reach the second round. The Parti Socialiste’s failure would clear the path for Marine Le Pen to do to the centre left what her father did to Lionel Jospin in 2002, and reach the second round. She would eventually lose to Alain Juppé, whose more consensual approach would serve as a shield against the far right – as Jacques Chirac had in the past. All in all, it would be business as usual. Bremain, Clinton and the French Républicains would triumph over the rise of far right racist politics, and life would go on for another political term, allowing the far right to polish its discourse and increasingly normalise its ideas as political distrust and disillusionment remain unaddressed.

But, things did not go to plan. Under the right circumstances, a campaign based on lies and racist stereotypes succeeded, reinforced by an alternative whose only argument was also based on fear and the pursuit of an unsatisfactory status quo. The US presidential election highlighted widespread political dissatisfaction across the west, as a candidate prone to racist and sexist outbursts, clownesque at the best of times, and whose own party banded against him, went on to beat the politician par excellence.

With an emboldened far right – and the media and experts lamenting the results and blaming parts of the electorate for their vote – key lessons have been mostly ignored. Brexit has for the most part been publicised as a plebiscite for the politics promoted by UKIP, thus justifying Theresa May’s choice to send the country down a hard Brexit line with a strong stance on immigration. This of course neglected the many reasons behind the vote, from the left-wing Lexit, to the more neo-liberal justification put forward by some Conservative pro-Brexit campaigners. More importantly, whether it be Brexit or the US presidential election, mainstream media coverage has allowed caricatural elitist politicians like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump to pass themselves off as the voice of the people, claiming they speak for a conveniently ‘silent majority’. Here again, a more careful analysis would highlight that, while their campaigns did indeed gather enough votes to win these particular electoral jousts, their politics are by no means majoritarian, with Brexit receiving ‘only’ 37% of the registered vote (split between all the Brexit factions) and Trump a mere 25% of the eligible voting population. Worse still, Farage’s UKIP only received 8.5% of the registered vote in the 2015 General Election, and yet was allowed a prominent voice in the debate. Of course, abstention and other forms of political discontentment were ignored in much of the mainstream discourse, as voting has become internalised as the only valid way to express democratic concerns (Mondon 2017).

Immigration as a Key Issue: Following, Appeasing, Manipulating or Creating Public Opinion? 

As a result of this partial understanding, the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory have often been carelessly linked in the mainstream discourse to a growing anti-immigrant sentiment. Some commentators and politicians have welcomed that censorship on the issue has finally been broken, while most appear to have accepted the return of xenophobic and nationalist sentiment as popular and democratic demands. In the UK, such a reaction has even crossed traditional boundaries, with prominent figures in the Labour Party toeing a similar line to the Conservatives.

Yet accepting anti-immigration measures as a democratic demand emerging from the ‘demos’ itself is overly simplistic, and ignores the fundamental power relationships at play in our public discourse. Indeed, it would be naïve to think that people’s perceptions of their society beyond their immediate community are not mediated by the views expressed around them (and in particular within elite discourse). To put it simply, while those controlling the public discourse may not tell you what to think, they can certainly influence what you will think about (McCombs and Shaw 1972). It is thus not surprising to discover that the mainstream media has played a key part, consciously or unconsciously, in the mainstreaming of what Ruth Wodak called ‘the Haiderization of Europe’ (Wodak 2013, see also Khosravinik 2009, Mral, Khosravinik, and Wodak 2013). The negative and skewed media coverage of political campaigns and their disproportionate focus on immigration is reflected in the way people (mis)perceive their broader community and the issues these imagined and fantasised communities face. As demonstrated by the Ipsos Mori survey The perils of perception in 2015, it is common for respondents to overestimate the number of migrants and Muslims in their country (Ipsos Mori 2015), two categories of the population which occupy a disproportionate and stigmatised place in our media and political discourse (Kundnani 2014, Hajjat and Mohammed 2013). However, well-recorded misperceptions do not in themselves convincingly argue whether public opinion is predisposed to anti-immigrant sentiment leading elite discourse to respond to the matter, or whether this skewed understanding of society is created by elite public discourse through agenda-setting.

Some clarity emerges using a simple, and by no means exhaustive, experiment conducted taking two questions from the Eurobarometer survey. The first requires respondents to provide what they think are ‘the two most important issues facing (their country) at the moment’. As Table one suggests, immigration does indeed seem like a genuine concern across the EU, and in the UK in particular where it is noted as the most important issue.

Table one

Table one: Question: What do you think are the two most important issues facing (YOUR COUNTRY) at the moment? (Top five EU answers with immigration and terrorism). (Source: Eurobarometer, Spring 2015. Source: Eurobarometer, Spring 2015).

However, a different picture emerges when respondents are asked what they think affects them personally. When European citizens consider their daily struggle, immigration and terrorism remain low on ‘the most important issues’ they face ‘personally’ (despite the poll taking place after the January Paris attacks). ‘The most important issues’ the French, British and Europeans are facing are those which have seemed conspicuously absent in the public debate about the future of the EU, or addressed through the immigration lens (see Table two).

Table 2

Table two: Question: And personally, what are the two most important issues you are facing at the moment? (Top five European answers with immigration and terrorism). (Source: Eurobarometer, Spring 2015).

Perhaps most striking here is that respondents felt immigration to be an issue when asked about their countries, but not about their own daily lives and struggles. It should not come as a surprise that respondents have a better grasp of their daily lives. They experience them first-hand and their concerns appear to be practical, although not necessarily unbiased: cost of living; health; social security etc. Their neighbour is not perceived as an immigrant, but as someone who takes the bus, is employed or unemployed, goes to university, and struggles in similar ways. However, when asked about their country, it is much harder to grasp first-hand what the concerns are or should be, and the appreciation of such concerns becomes necessarily mediated. This mediated knowledge of politics acquired through the media, relatives or any other social interaction means that people’s construction of the national (and international) political context must rely on sources with various ideologically-loaded agendas.

It must be noted that the results from the Eurobarometer discussed above are not taken as ‘real’ representations of public opinion, either at a personal or national level – as Pierre Bourdieu once argued, ‘there is no such thing as public opinion’ (Bourdieu 1973). Yet they point to a dissonance in what public opinion seems to desire when it is confronted with immigration. Instead of those issues more likely to be reported by the media being a pressing issue for respondents as could rightly be drawn from the question about the national context, the question about the self provides a counterpoint, which, while not evidence of immigration not being an issue in itself, shows that a different narrative is just as credible according to the same survey data. While providing an answer is outside the purview of this article, the aim here is to demonstrate that an obvious question is absent from our reporting: are ‘we’ worried about immigration, or do ‘we’ think immigration is an issue because it is so prominent in our public discourse?

Moving Towards the Acknowledgment of Systemic Failures 

This is not to say that we should not take the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and its expression in xenophobic and racist acts seriously. Nor should we downplay the rise of the far right and the politics associated with it. The electoral surge of such parties and the mainstreaming of their discourse have dramatic and very real consequences for the lives of many and for the functioning of democracy. However, what this article argues is that the rise of the ‘populist alternative’ has not taken place in a vacuum, but has been used as a synecdoche for the much deeper crisis. Polls have suggested that a vast majority of Europeans no longer trust their representatives, be they embodied in the national parliament, government or political parties (including the so-called populists). Since 2004, the Eurobarometer (European Commission 2015) has recorded only one instance out of twenty where the trust in either parliament or government reached an approval rate of more than 40 % across Europe. Strikingly, this was in September 2007, before the GFC hit Europe. Since September 2009, the level of trust has fallen below 33% and as low as 24% in the Autumn 2013 survey. Trust in political parties is even lower, with only one instance in which levels reached more than 20% (22% in April 2006). In France in the November 2014 survey, 90% of respondents declared their lack of trust (80% in the UK in the same survey). This lack of trust in parties and institutions has demonstrated a schism between the demos and the cratos, and yet has only been addressed within the hegemonic understanding of democracy.

Therefore, the main argument put forward here is that mainstream narratives used to explain the rise of the so-called populist right offer at best an incomplete version of the complexity behind the state of contemporary politics. Ignoring abstention and focusing on partial and mediated attitudes to pressing issues has led to a fundamentally skewed understanding of the democratic landscape. In our post-democracies, discontentment takes many shapes and the resurgence of so-called populist parties is but one of the symptoms.

These findings would suggest, therefore, a different approach to policy if we are to counter the rise of nationalism and racism. This would first require a move away from short-term panics and quick fixes such as the borrowing of far-right discourse to deal immediate but ultimately counterproductive blows – Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign (Mondon 2013), for example, or David Cameron’s promise of a referendum on the EU. Instead, more radical recommendations should be made to tackle such issues in the long term:

Short-term

  • Conduct careful and nuanced analysis of the political campaigns and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where the far right is set to be a prominent actor.
  • Shift the focus of discussion towards political dissatisfaction, and stress consistently the limited appeal of far right parties so far. Note that this should not downplay the very real impact these movements have on politics and policy, but should act as a word of caution to politicians and their mandates.
  • Engage in a thorough analysis of the impact of political and media coverage of so-called right-wing populism and the potential hype it generates.
  • If hyping is confirmed, explore ways to counteract the phenomenon and engage in alternative modes of enquiry and dissemination of information.

Mid-term

  • Re-engage with the growing sections of the population who have demonstrated little to no interest in either alternative offered so far (‘business as usual’ or the ‘populist right’) in an open manner, beyond commonly understood political boundaries and horizons.
  • Understand the current hegemonic status and challenge its contingent borders to make the possibility of more progressive and radical politics a reality.

Long-term 

  • Explore systemic issues pertinent to the current level of dissatisfaction.

Obviously, these policy suggestions would require a thorough transformation in the way ‘progressives’ approach politics, even though they are rather modest. It would first of all necessitate a more radical approach, not just to politics, but to the way we think about political possibilities. If anything, the success of the far right in imposing its agenda and normalising ideas which were long considered to be unthinkable politically should demonstrate that political norms remain contingent and the mainstream something malleable.

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.

 

Bibliography: 

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1973. "L'opinion publique n'existe pas." Temps Moderne no. 318.

European Commission. 2015. Eurobarometer. Brussels: European Commission.

Glynos, Jason, and Aurelien Mondon. 2016. "The political logic of populist hype: The case of right wing populism’s ‘meteoric rise’ and its relation to the status quo." Populismus working paper series no. 4.

Hajjat, Abdellali, and Marwan Mohammed. 2013. Islamophobie. Comment les élites françaises construisent le "problème musulman". Paris: La Découverte.

Ipsos Mori. 2015. Perils of Perception. Ipsos Mori.

Khosravinik, Majid. 2009. "The representation of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in British newspapers during the Balkan conflict (1999) and the British general election (2005)." Discourse & Society no. 20 (4):477-498.

Kundnani, Arun. 2014. The Muslims are coming: Islamophobia, Extremism and the domestic war on terror. London: Verso.

McCombs, Maxwell, and Donald Shaw. 1972. "The agenda-setting function of mass media." Public Opinion Quarterly no. 36 (2):176-187.

Mondon, Aurelien. 2013. "Nicolas Sarkozy's Legitimisation of the Front National: Background and Perspectives." Patterns of Prejudice no. 47 (1):22-40.

Mondon, Aurelien. Forthcoming 2017. ‘Limiting democratic horizons to a nationalist reaction: populism, the radical right and the working class’, Javnost.

Mral, Brigitte, Majid Khosravinik, and Ruth Wodak, eds. 2013. Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Wodak, Ruth. 2013. "'Anything goes!' - the Haiderization of Europe." In Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse, edited by Brigitte Mral, Majid Khosravinik and Ruth Wodak. London: Bloomsbury Academic.