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Topic: future

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.

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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.

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]

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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
[3] Pride, Tom. 2016, June. 18. ‘Photograph of Jo Cox murder suspect campaigning with far-right group Britain First’. Pride’s Purge. https://tompride.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/photograph-of-jo-cox-murder-suspect-campaigning-with-far-right-group-britain-first/
[4] Gardner, Tony. 2016, 21 Nov. ‘Images of inside home of man accused of killing Jo Cox shown to jury’. Yorkshire Evening Post. http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/crime/photos-images-of-inside-home-of-man-accused-of-killing-jo-cox-shown-to-jury-1-8249792
[5] Stone, Ian 2016, 17 June. ‘Jo Cox death: Alleged killer Tommy Mair ‘bought gun-making manual from far-right neo-Nazi group’’. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/alleged-killer-of-mp-jo-cox-bought-gun-making-manual-from-far-right-neo-nazi-group-a7086911.html
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Spring Budget 2017: T-levels, apprenticeships and industrial strategy

📥  Economy, education, future, labour market, policymaking

Dr Felicia Fai is Senior Lecturer in Business Economics and Director of Widening Participation and Outreach at the University of Bath's School of Management

In many ways, there were no real surprises in the Spring Budget, with many of the initiatives having been announced in the Autumn Statement, which focussed more specifically on science and industry. The point of greatest novelty (although still not a complete surprise) was the focus on the longer-term future pipeline of talent in the workforce and the need to raise productivity in the UK. There is some attempt on the government’s part to more comprehensively approach the issue of the future workforce, and to provide an alternative but equally prestigious and valuable route into education and careers to the standard ‘A-level + Bachelor’s degree’ route. The government will create the ‘T-level’ for 16-19 year-olds, in which formal training hours will be increased by 50% over existing options and include a minimum 3-month placement in industry to ensure school leavers are ‘workplace ready’. This is in addition to other vocational initiatives that the previous parliament established, such as the creation of 1,000 degree apprenticeships, plus implementation of the new apprenticeship levy that will commence in April 2017. Beyond the 16-19 T-levels, loans are to be made available on a similar basis to existing support for university degrees to study at the new institutes and technical colleges the government intends to create. Further, at the highest educational levels, there is £300m funding support for 1,000 PhDs across all STEM areas.

vocation

 

The announcement of T-levels and a commitment to apprenticeships is welcome. The UK has long suffered from having too few clear and well-recognised (by both applicants and employers) alternative routes into skilled and high-paid work except for university degrees – and it is clear to me, as a university lecturer, that a degree structure and the forms of learning and knowledge testing used as standard forms of engagement in degree-level programmes do not suit all learners; nor is it always the most appropriate way to develop skills. As a senior admissions tutor for undergraduate programmes, I consider applications from mature applicants in their early- to mid-20s who state that, whilst they have progressed in their careers since leaving school, they now realise their ability to advance in their careers further is blocked by not having a formally recognised degree. I do wonder whether the decision to attend HE is the right one for them.

Sometimes, people are not ready emotionally or intellectually to deal with university-level education at 18, so choose not to apply for entry straight after school. Coming in later would seem appropriate, and we welcome them as they are more likely to succeed now than they would have been had they tried to come earlier. Others may have avoided university because they recognised early on that they did not want to, or were not able to, think in the particular ways in which we require students to think in order to achieve good marks in academic institutions driven by a strong research culture. For example, a recurring weakness in exam performance is the failure of students to answer the specifics of the question set – as opposed to displaying the general breadth of their knowledge – and an ability to make connections between the content they experienced on one subject and the content in the subject the specific exam is testing. The latter is looked for more generally in coursework or dissertations, but is not always appropriate in examination settings. There have been times in my career when I have seen the promise of an individual in the workplace setting and known that they will be a truly amazing employee, manager or future leader precisely because of their ability to see the ‘bigger picture’; yet, in the classroom and in written coursework and exams, they do not reveal the academic skills and precision that would get them the marks which signal their potential. Being ‘book smart’ is different to ‘street smart’, but our current system of HE is highly skewed towards the former.

The T-levels will offer a more streamlined pathway, with focused routes into 15 different areas, and have the potential to offer a different and equally valued and prestigious route into a career; but will their potential be realised? Leaving specific content aside, one of the key problems is the low profile, poor advertising and opacity associated with alternative routes into a career. The most well-established path is GCSEs, A-levels then university degrees. Chancellor Philip Hammond noted in his speech that 13,000 vocational and technical qualifications exist. How many of these are well-recognised and valued by HE institutions and employers? How much advice can cash-strapped schools and colleges provide on these qualifications to individuals looking for a career path that does not involve attending university for a bachelor’s degree? Arguably among the most well-established and widely recognised vocational qualifications are HNDs, NVQs and BTECs; how will these fair with the introduction of the new T-levels? Will the T-levels be a complementary or alternative offering to these existing qualifications, and, again, how will under-funded schools and FE colleges cope in terms of resourcing them? Whilst the Chancellor is keen to maintain choice, in reality will this mean cutting back on the provision of existing vocational qualifications?

Even if there could be a smooth introduction for T-levels, there is the question of how they would lead to more training and qualifications. One can envisage that T-levels could lead either directly to an apprenticeship, or to a place on one of the new degree apprenticeships that should emerge in the next few years, much like A-levels are the most commonly accepted way of accessing bachelor degree programmes. However, again, the pathway of this route is not as smooth as the one into existing degrees.

Whilst the government proudly announces its claim about 1,000 new degree apprenticeships being formed, the system that alerts people to these opportunities is hard to find and tricky to navigate. The chances of a person finding the right degree apprenticeship for them is remote – at least without a significant personal investment of time and research effort trolling through university or employer websites. The UCAS website provides basic information about apprenticeships, questions to consider and how to apply. It also lists employers with current schemes and links through to the government’s apprenticeship website – but from there the application process proceeds on a case-by-case basis because applicants are considered to be applying for jobs. Degree apprenticeships should grow quickly in the next few years, given the compulsory levy, and assessing these entirely on a case-by case basis is likely to become increasingly bureaucratic and cumbersome for both the employer and the university partner – who both need to be satisfied the applicant meets their respective requirements. The T-levels, alongside the better-recognised and better-established vocational qualifications, could be used as publicly available entry criteria by the universities providing the degree apprenticeships on the UCAS website. The applications should be made through an expanded UCAS service so that one application could be sent to multiple degree apprenticeships. From there, universities could select applicants who meet their academic requirements in a first round of consideration, and then this subset could be forwarded for consideration by the employing organisational partner in a second stage of the selection process; together, these actors could make a decision as to the suitability of the applicant. This would streamline the process for applicants, universities and employers alike, reducing the opacity and confusion of a currently complex pathway between school, post-16-19, further education, higher education and beyond.

The announcement of T-levels is an interesting proposal, and a welcome one at that – but there needs to be deeper and more systemic policy-thinking about how its introduction and implementation, as well as that of the apprenticeship levy, will lead to a greater proportion of the future workforce having the requisite skills to raise UK productivity.

 

Expecting the unexpected: what resilience should mean to policymakers

📥  cities, future, sustainability

Dr Kemi Adeyeye is Senior Lecturer in Architecture in the University of Bath's Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering. This post draws on material first presented in a recent published paper.

Evidence, and perhaps the experience of seemingly perpetual rain on one’s face, suggests that the weather is one thing that is increasingly variable and difficult to predict. The impact of this goes beyond deciding whether to take an umbrella, or wear an extra layer of clothing, when you go out in the morning. Like other shocks, temperamental weather can and does affect various aspects of economic, environmental and social life. In an ideal world, both policy and the built environment would be developed with a level of inbuilt resilience (that is, the capacity to cope with and absorb shocks), a recognition of the need to adapt, change and reorganise, and measures to mitigate the impact of future shocks.

flooding

 

Indeed, most human and physical systems are designed to cope with ‘extremes’ – but often within the range of what is ‘expected’. ‘Unprecedented’ is now a common term used by politicians, the media and some experts to describe current weather events that are extreme, but not within the expected range of extremity. One unprecedented event soon supersedes the next, however, and the next one after that – so to what extent are these events really unprecedented? And to what extent can the impact and consequence of weather events such as flooding be considered a surprise? For scientific answers to these questions, I encourage the reader to review the work of my colleague Dr Thomas Kjeldsen. In this piece, however, I will spend some time considering the concept of anticipation, before concluding with what resilience should really mean to urban planners and policymakers.

Anticipating change

Studies show that, as human beings, we are ontologically programmed to engage in ideations that allow the anticipation of space, time, causality and subjective probability. This is referred to as our evolutionary potential[1] – i.e. our ability to promote preparedness and maximise the probability of proactive change through historical memory, knowledge, expertise and experience. Anticipation is innately formed through memory and experience rather than the unknown. To this end, we are prone to engage in mental time travel, reliving past experiences as the basis for imagining the future. However, we should also be aware of the fact that experiences are carried forward in time through memory (individual or collective), which means that such practices can affect welfare. That is, the effectiveness of memory and/or experience to engender actions and preparedness for resilience can vary depending on how we remember, with a consequent impact on the actual outcomes of shocks. The problem with relying too much on memory is that we soon forget – another useful evolutionary skill to help to cope with trauma.

Anticipation can be both forward- and backward-looking. Using the term ‘unprecedented’ suggests that the extent of our anticipation remains backward-looking, and this supports the prevalent reactionary approach to resilience – whereby capacity is only expanded after it has been overwhelmed by an extreme event. But we need both; forward-looking anticipation, particularly in the context of climate change, needs to be underpinned by past learning. Now, I am sure that scenario planning is taking place across the policy realms at present, building on our current tools and codes to explain and take action when the unexpected event happens. However, this approach does not always translate into dynamic planning for potential future uncertainties – when a comprehensive, flexible response may be required for the next unprecedented scenario.

Rising above the flood

Take flooding. There are some good social and economic reasons for current and future developments on or near water. There is also little choice in some instances. For example, most of the Netherlands lie several meters below sea level. As mentioned later, their planning and building developments have therefore advanced to effectively manage the associated risks. For others, flooding can be cyclical, but also sudden. This introduces general and specific issues to the equation to do with quality of life; economic, environmental and social vulnerability; security; physical, urban and building resilience; and so on.

These are factors that should not be ignored. The OECD forecasts that without effective change, the total global population exposed to flooding could triple to around 150 million by the 2070s due to continuous sea-level rise and increased storminess, subsidence, population growth and urbanisation. Further, asset exposure could grow dramatically, reaching US $35 trillion in the same period – roughly 9% of projected annual GDP. The NHS budget for instance is at present around 7% of UK GDP. Unlike the NHS, however, inaction on resilience is a bill that is best avoided. Exposure to risks does not necessarily translate into impact when resilience is “designed in” through coping and adaptive mechanisms.

So how can we design systems that are resilient and able to contend with unpredictable challenges, such as environmental change? Staying with the theme of flooding, we can learn from approaches that have worked at other times and in other places to better anticipate the future. We can learn not to be so set in our ways, but to dare to be flexible and embrace new ways of working. This is particularly important in the UK context, where our planning rules are entrenched in tradition and our design and building practices can be slow to evolve. Although innovative practices have started in some areas, changes remain piecemeal, and inconsistently applied across the country. Unlike global exemplars of building codes and standards, resilience requirements are still not explicit in the UK Building Regulations – so we are therefore missing out on a more consistent, widespread implementation, in addition to losing the opportunity to promote resilience alongside current sustainability standards, especially in housing developments.

Facing the future

Better integration of good governance, planning, infrastructure and architectural design would be a good first step towards closing the gap between where we are today and our future potential. On governance, there need to be visionary, non-ambiguous and tangible planning policies and regulatory requirements for resilience – particularly in the built environment. Formal building and planning policies, as they stand, could do more to promote forward-looking design and planning solutions, or to facilitate the development of resilience and adaptive capacity against natural events.

But new laws and regulations will not be enough. More should also be done to better equip individuals and communities for the task of planning and acting in their own best interests, or even actively participating in or influencing policy processes. It should also be possible to improve individual and collective anticipation by the positive utilisation of experiences of and effective responses to past climatic extremes – “memory”. Actions taken to improve agency by making better use of wider communication networks to provide access to information, raise awareness and improve action for resilience would also be a positive step.

Building resilience

Examples as old as the Indus Civilisation[3] and as contemporary as the Waterwijk in Ypenburg show that good governance and social measures are not enough on their own. Effective planning, good infrastructure and innovative architecture should be combined to reduce physical and social vulnerabilities. This underpins the argument for an integrated design approach to resilience (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Combined: Integrated resilience map showing applicability and impact [Read more]. The chart (after: Roberts 2013 ) presents combined case study findings along two axes, in four quadrants. The x-axis shows the contributions of important stakeholders including governance representatives; professionals such as architects, engineers and planners; and the people. The y-axis shows the physical outputs through planning, building and infrastructure solutions. The content of the map presents the physical and social solutions, highlighting impact (the size of the circles), and the range, based on the 6 applicability measures presented in the conceptual framework. In many instances the applicability measures overlap, and the map therefore shows the most relevant measure for the particular case.

Figure 1. Combined integrated resilience map showing applicability and impact
The chart (after: Roberts 2013 ) presents combined case study findings along two axes, in four quadrants. The x-axis shows the contributions of important stakeholders including governance representatives; professionals such as architects, engineers and planners; and the people. The y-axis shows the physical outputs through planning, building and infrastructure solutions. The content of the map presents the physical and social solutions, highlighting impact (the size of the circles), and the range, based on the 6 applicability measures presented in the conceptual framework. In many instances the applicability measures overlap, and the map therefore shows the most relevant measure for the particular case.

Policymakers and planners of the built environment who plan to adhere to such an approach should aim to achieve three major goals. Firstly, to deliver solutions that emphasise social place-making and capacity building – building communities whilst placing water at the forefront of communal consciousness, for example. Secondly, to implement resilient infrastructural solutions that are flexible but future-proof. Thirdly, to encourage solutions that are not all about hiding water in underground drainage networks, but rather integrate water into the social fabric of a community through planning, engineering and architectural design.

Collaborative working between policymakers and diverse stakeholders – including building professionals – is key to achieving this. Planners should work positively with architects and engineers to deliver the most effective solution possible within the individual context. Innovative architectural ideas and solutions should be encouraged and, further, the needs of the public should be fully integrated within the decision-making process. For this to happen, government departments will need to talk and work more effectively together at the national, regional and local levels. There also need to be better mechanisms to include knowledge agents and the public in solution-forming conversations; technologies such as smart web-tools, and innovative apps can help to facilitate this process.

 

[1] Read: Sahlins, M. D., and E. R. Service, editors. 1960. Evolution and culture. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
[2] Roberts, C. (2013), Planning for Adaptation and Resilience, In: McGregor, A., Roberts, C., & Cousins, F. (Eds.). Two degrees: The built environment and our changing climate. Routledge.
[3] Part 1 of Dr Sona Datta’s BBC documentary series on the Treasures of the Indus may still be available on BBC Iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030wckr/p030w89h

 

Timing it wrong: Benefits, Income Tests, Overpayments and Debts

📥  employment, future, policymaking, Welfare

Professor Peter Whiteford is a Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University and Professor Jane Millar is a member of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) Leadership Team, in addition to her role as Professor of Social Policy at the University of Bath.

Unexpected bills can be a challenge for any household. But for people who rely on social security payments, unexpected news of a significant debt – sometimes dating back years – can be bewildering to say the least. This is exactly what tens of thousands of Australians have experienced in recent months.

Since just before Christmas, Centrelink’s use of a new automated data-matching system has resulted in a significant increase in the number of current and former welfare recipients identified as having been overpaid and, thus, being in debt to the government. The data-matching system seems to have identified people with earned income higher than the amount reported when their benefits were calculated.

timing

 

Many of these people were alarmed when Centrelink contacted them about the assumed debt. Their stories have been recounted over the past two months in the mainstream media and social media. The controversy prompted the Shadow Human Services Minister Linda Burney to request an auditor-general’s investigation. After receiving more than one hundred complaints about problems with the debt-recovery process, independent MP Andrew Wilkie asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman to step in, and he has since launched an investigation. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee will also examine the new process.

This is by no means Australia’s first social security overpayment controversy. The last storm was sparked by the expansion and fine-tuning of family tax benefits in 2000. Under that new system, families were given the option of taking their payments as reductions in the income tax paid on their behalf by their employer. To ensure that this group was treated in the same way as those who received cash benefits from Centrelink, the government introduced an annual reconciliation process. Before the beginning of each financial year, families were asked to estimate what their income would be in the subsequent tax year; later, after they had filed their tax returns, an end-of-year reconciliation process would bring income and family benefits into line.

This seemed like a rational system. People who had been underpaid could receive a lump sum to ensure their correct entitlement. People who had been overpaid would pay back the money that they weren’t entitled to keep. The reconciliation would correct any mistakes people made when they estimated their income for the year ahead (not necessarily an easy task to get right!) and make the system responsive to changes in income during the year.

But many families’ estimates at the start of the year proved to be poor guides to income received during the year. This happened in both directions – some estimates were too high, some too low – but most often real annual incomes were higher than predicted. The result was a very large increase in overpayments and, thus, in debts. Before the new system was introduced, just over 50,000 families had debts at the end of each year; in the first year of the new system, an estimated 670,000 families received overpayments. Overall, around one third of eligible families incurred an overpayment in the first two years of the new system.

This is how the system was designed to work. But for the families who found themselves owing sometimes large and usually unexpected debts, the experience created confusion, stress and anger. It also generated considerable controversy in parliament and the media. So, in July 2001, just before an important by-election, the Howard government announced a waiver of the first $1,000 of all overpayments, which reduced the number of families with debts to around 200,000. Further fine-tuning came in 2002, also aimed at reducing overpayments and debts. Then, in 2004, an annual lump sum was added to family tax benefit A with the aim of offsetting any overpayments.

***

At around this time, Britain was designing and introducing a new system of tax credits for people in work (the working tax credit) and for families with children (the child tax credit). The system had some features in common with the Australian approach, had some features in common with the Australian approach, including an end-of–year reconciliation. The British government was keen to avoid the sort of controversy that had blown up in Australia, so it included a mechanism for changing the level of tax credit not just at the end of the year but during the year as well.

The assessment for credits was initially made on the basis of gross family income in the previous tax year. If recipients reported changes in income and circumstances during the year, then the award was adjusted, and at the end of the year total credits and income were reconciled. But many changes in income and circumstances went unreported during the year and so, in practice, considerable adjustment was required. Over the first few years of the system, about 1.9 million cases of excessive credits occurred each year.

As in Australia, the system caused significant hardship and generated adverse media coverage and much concern. In 2005 and 2006, the British government introduced a number of changes designed to reduce overpayments, including a very substantial increase in the level of the annual income “disregard” from £2,500 to £25,000. This meant that family income could rise by up to £25,000 in the current award year before tax credits were reduced. The amount has since been brought back to the original £2,500, which will probably mean overpayments will start to rise again. Processes exist for recovering overpayments of tax credits and housing benefits, and these sometimes attract some media attention, most recently in relation to the use of private debt collectors.

***

Together with the current Centrelink controversy, the experience of these earlier cases offers four main lessons for social security policy.

First, getting payments “right” in any means-tested system is a complex process necessarily involving trade-offs between responsiveness and simplicity. If the aim is to precisely match income and benefit in real time, then there must be constant updating and checking of income and adjustments of benefits. But such a system would be very intrusive and administratively complex. So systems are designed to pay first and reconcile later, which makes overpayments almost inevitable.

Governments can minimise the impact by disregarding some overpayments, as both Australia and Britain have done in the past. But that is not part of the design of Australia’s latest program of debt recovery. People are being chased partly because the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Act 2016 toughened repayment compliance conditions for social welfare debts. New conditions include an interest charge on the debts of former social welfare recipients who are unwilling to enter repayment arrangements, extended Departure Prohibition Orders for people who are not in repayment arrangements for their social welfare debts, and the removal of the six-year limitation on debt recovery for all social welfare debt.

People ardently dislike systems that they don’t understand and feel are unfair, or that seem to create debts beyond their control. A very stringent approach to collecting overpayments can cause real hardship and generate controversy. It has even been suggested that there may be a punitive element to this, with Centrelink staff not encouraged or required to help people to correct errors.

Second, IT systems are not by themselves the cause of these problems. It is easy to blame the technology when things go wrong, and some problematic factors do indeed appear to be technological. The names of employers provided to the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink don’t always match, for example, and it appears that in some cases the same income is counted twice because the assessment process matches names rather than Australian Business Numbers.

More significantly, Centrelink’s formula can produce false estimates of debts when individuals are asked to confirm their annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office, because it simply divides the reported annual wage by twenty-six. That overly simplified calculation will only produce a useful figure if individuals receive exactly the same income each fortnight, which is often not the case, especially for casual workers, students and other people with intermittent work patterns.

But these problems are not necessarily the fault of the IT, which is only doing what it has been designed to do. More checking by humans would probably reduce errors, but outcomes that result from the design of the policy can’t be resolved by technical fixes.

Third, IT systems are not by themselves the solution either. It is possible that the earlier problems with overpayments of family tax benefits may recur very soon. In early February, the federal government introduced a new omnibus savings bill to parliament, combining and revising several previously blocked welfare measures into a single piece of legislation in order to save nearly $4 billion over the next four years, after allowing for increased spending on childcare and family tax benefits. By far the most significant of the projected savings in the bill – $4.7 billion over four years – results from phasing out the end-of-year supplements for family tax benefit recipients, which were introduced to solve the overpayment and debt problems referred to earlier.

So why would the government think that the overpayment of family payments and the subsequent debt problem will be resolved, as this saving seems to assume? The answer is not entirely clear, but seems to relate to the update of Centrelink’s computer system announced in 2015. “The new technology to underpin the welfare system will offer better data analytics, real-time data sharing between agencies, and faster, cheaper implementation of policy changes,” Marise Payne, then human services minister, said at the time. “This means customers who fail to update their details with us will be less likely to have to repay large debts, and those who wilfully act to defraud taxpayers will be caught much more quickly.”

Complementing the Centrelink update are proposed changes in reporting systems at the Australian Tax Office, particularly the introduction of a single-touch payroll system. Under the new system, when employers pay their staff, the employees’ salary or wages and PAYG withholding amounts will automatically be reported to the Tax Office, which can then share this data with Centrelink.

The government seems to be assuming that computer and system updates will provide a technological fix to the problem of family tax benefit overpayments – and thus deliver a saving of $4.7 billion over the next four years. But what if the new IT systems don’t work in the ways envisaged? The Australian Tax Office’s computer system has crashed a number of times over the past year. Indeed, in the very same week that the government introduced the new omnibus savings bill, newspaper reports of this “tech wreck” suggested that the Tax Office might not be able to guarantee this year’s lodgement of returns in time for the start of the new financial year. The reports also noted that the development of the single-touch payroll system would remain one of the Tax Office’s priorities for this year.

Finally, to reiterate our first point, these problems have arisen from policy choices and design. Britain is introducing a new system, Universal Credit, which will use real-time adjustments to track changes in earnings and seek to match awards to income on a monthly basis. How well this will work in practice remains to be seen. In both countries, trends towards more insecure and variable employment patterns – and hence irregular pay packets – will make balancing accuracy and timeliness in means-tested welfare benefits more difficult. The assumption of regular and unchanging income no longer holds, and this new reality requires a policy, not a technical, solution.

This piece originally appeared on INSIDE STORY.

 

The World in 2050 and Beyond: Part 3 - Science and Policy

📥  education, future, policymaking, research, technology

Lord Rees of Ludlow is Astronomer Royal at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, and founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. This blog post, the third in a three-part series, is based on a lecture he gave at the IPR on 9 February. Read the first part here, and the second part here.

Even in the 'concertina-ed' timeline that astronomers envisage – extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past – this century may be a defining era. The century when humans jump-start the transition to electronic (and potentially immortal) entities that eventually spread their influence far beyond the Earth, and far transcend our limitations. Or – to take a darker view – the century where our follies could foreclose this immense future potential.

Beaker

 

One lesson I’d draw from these existential threats is this. We fret unduly about small risks – air crashes, carcinogens in food, low radiation doses, etc. But we’re in denial about some newly emergent threats, which may seem improbable but whose consequences could be globally devastating. Some of these are environmental, others are the potential downsides of novel technologies.

So how can scientists concerned about these issues – or indeed about the social impact of any scientific advances – gain traction with policy-makers?

Some scientists, of course, have a formal advisory role to government. Back in World War II, Winston Churchill valued scientists' advice, but famously kept them "on tap, not on top". It is indeed the elected politicians who should make decisions. But scientific advisers should be prepared to challenge decision-makers, and help them navigate the uncertainties.

President Obama recognised this. He opined that scientists' advice should be heeded "even when it is inconvenient – indeed, especially when it is inconvenient". He appointed John Holdren, from Harvard, as his science adviser, and a ‘dream team’ of others were given top posts, including the Nobel physicist Steve Chu. They had a predictably frustrating time, but John Holdren 'hung in there' for Obama’s full eight years. And of course we’re anxious about what will happen under the new regime!

Their British counterparts, from Solly Zuckerman to Mark Walport, have it slightly easier. The interface with government is smoother, the respect for evidence is stronger, and the rapport between scientists and legislators is certainly better.

For instance, dialogue with parliamentarians led, despite divergent ethical stances, to a generally-admired legal framework on embryos and stem cells – a contrast to what happened in the US. And the HFEA offers another fine precedent.

But we've had failures too: the GM crop debate was left too late – to a time when opinion was already polarised between eco-campaigners on the one side and commercial interests on the other.

There are habitual grumbles that it’s hard for advisors to gain sufficient traction. This isn’t surprising. For politicians, the focus is on the urgent and parochial – and getting re-elected. The issues that attract their attention are those that get headlined in the media, and fill their in-box.

So scientists might have more leverage on politicians indirectly – by campaigning, so that the public and the media amplify their voice, for example – rather than via more official and direct channels. They can engage by involvement with NGOs, via blogging and journalism, or through political activity. There’s scope for campaigners on all the issues I’ve mentioned, and indeed many others. For instance, the ‘genetic code’ pioneer John Sulston campaigns for affordable drugs for Africa.

And I think religious leaders have a role. I’m on the council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (which is itself an ecumenical body: its members represent all faiths or none). Max Perutz, for instance, was in a group of four who acted as emissaries of the Pope to promote arms control. And recently, my economist colleague Partha Dasgupta, along with Ram Ramanathan, a climate scientist – two lapsed Hindus! – achieved great leverage by laying the groundwork for the Papal encyclical on climate and environment.

There’s no gainsaying the Catholic Church’s global reach – nor its long-term perspective, nor its concern for the world’s poor. The Encyclical emphasised our responsibility to the developing world, and to future generations. In the lead-up to the Paris conference it had a substantial and timely influence on voters and leaders in Latin America, Africa and East Asia (even perhaps in the US Republican Party).

Science is a universal culture, spanning all nations and faiths. So scientists confront fewer impediments to straddling political divides. The Pugwash Conferences did this in the Cold War – and the governing board of Sesame, a physics project in Jordan, gets Israelis and Iranians around the same table today.

Of course, most of these challenges are global. Coping with potential shortages of food, water, resources – and the transition to low carbon energy – can’t be affected by each nation separately. Nor can threat reduction. For instance, whether or not a pandemic gets global grip may hinge on how quickly a Vietnamese poultry farmer can report any strange sickness. Indeed, a key issue is whether nations need to give up more sovereignty to new organisations along the lines of the IAEA, WHO, etc., And whether national academies, The World Academy of Sciences, and similar bodies should get more involved.

Universities are among the most international of our institutions, and they have a special role. Academics are privileged to have influence over successive generations of students. Indeed, younger people, who expect to survive most of the century, are more anxious about long-term issues, and more prepared to support ‘effective altruism’ and other causes.

Universities are highly international institutions. We should use their convening power to gather experts together to address the world's problems. That’s why some of us in Cambridge (with an international advisory group) have set up the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks, with a focus on the more extreme ‘low probability/high consequence’ threats that might confront us. They surely deserve expert analysis in order to assess which can be dismissed firmly as science fiction, and which should be on the ‘risk register’; to consider how to enhance resilience against the more credible ones; and to warn against technological developments that could run out of control. Even if we reduced these risks by only a tiny percentage, the stakes are so high that we’ll have earned our keep. A wise mantra is that ‘the unfamiliar is not the same as the improbable’.

I think scientists should all be prepared to divert some of their efforts towards public policy, and engage with individuals from government, business, and NGOs. There is in the US, incidentally, one distinctive format for such engagement that has no real parallel here. This is the JASON group. It was founded in the 1960s with support from the Pentagon. It involves top-rank academic scientists – in the early days they were mainly physicists, but the group now embraces other fields. They’re bankrolled by the Defense Department, but it’s a matter of principle that they choose their own new members. Some – Dick Garwin and Freeman Dyson, for instance – have been members since the 1960s. The JASONs spend about 6 weeks together in the summer, with other meetings during the year. It’s a serious commitment. The sociology and ‘chemistry’ of such a group hasn’t been fully replicated anywhere else. Perhaps we should try to do so in the UK, not for the military but in civilian areas – the remit of DEFRA, for instance, or the Department of Transport. The challenge is to assemble a group of really top-rank scientists who enjoy cross-disciplinary discourse and tossing ideas around. It won’t ‘take off’ unless they dedicate substantial time to it – and unless the group addresses the kind of problems that play to their strengths.

So to sum up, I think we can truly be techno-optimists. The innovations that will drive economic advance, information technology, biotech and nanotech, can boost the developing as well as the developed world – but there’s a depressing gap between what we could do and what actually happens. Will richer countries recognise that it's in their own interest for the developing world fully to share the benefits of globalisation? Can nations sustain effective but non-repressive governance in the face of threats from small groups with high-tech expertise? And – above all – can our institutions prioritise projects that are long-term in political perspectives, even if a mere instant in the history of our planet?

We’re all on this crowded world together. Our responsibility – to our children, to the poorest, and to our stewardship of life’s diversity – surely demands that we don’t leave a depleted and hazardous world. I give the last word to the eloquent biologist Peter Medawar:

“The bells that toll for mankind are [...] like the bells of Alpine cattle. They are attached to our own necks, and it must be our fault if they do not make a tuneful and melodious sound.”

 

For more information on Lord Rees' IPR lecture, please see our writeup here.

 

The World in 2050 and Beyond: Part 1 - The Ever-Heavier Footprint

📥  cities, energy, future, International relations

Lord Rees of Ludlow is Astronomer Royal at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, and founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. This blog post, the first in a three-part series, is based on a lecture he gave at the IPR on 9 February.

A few years ago, I met a well-known Indian tycoon. Knowing that I had the title of Astronomer Royal, he asked: ‘do you do the queen’s horoscopes?’ I responded, with a straight face: ‘If she wanted one, I’m the person she’d ask’. He then seemed eager to hear my predictions. I told him that stocks would fluctuate, there’d be new tensions in the Middle East, and so forth. He paid rapt attention to these ‘insights’. But I then came clean. I said I was just an astronomer – not an astrologer. He then lost all interest in my predictions. And rightly so; scientists are rotten forecasters – almost as bad as economists.

shutterstock_106497899 [Converted]

 

Nor do politicians and lawyers have a sure touch. One rather surprising futurologist was Lord Birkenhead, crony of Churchill and Lord Chancellor in the 1920s. He wrote a book entitled ‘The World in 2030’. He’d read Wells and Bernal – he envisaged babies incubated in flasks, flying cars and suchlike fantasies. In contrast, he foresaw social stagnation.

Here’s a quotation: “In 2030 women will still, by their wit and charms, inspire the most able men towards heights that they could never themselves achieve.”

I’m going to make forecasts, but – mindful of these precedents – very tentatively.

Astronomers think in billions of years. But even in that perspective this century is special. The Earth has existed for 45 million centuries – humans for a few thousand centuries. But this century is special: it’s the first when one species, ours, has the planet’s future in its hands. We’re deep in an era that’s called the Anthropocene. We could irreversibly degrade the biosphere, we could trigger the transition from biological to electronic intelligences, or misdirected technology – bio or cyber – could cause a catastrophic setback to civilisation.

Twelve years ago I wrote a book on this theme which I entitled Our Final Century? My publisher deleted the question-mark. The American publishers changed the title to 'Our Final Hour'. (Americans seek instant gratification – and the converse).

I didn’t think we’d wipe ourselves out. But I did think we’d be lucky to avoid devastating setbacks – and we’ve had one lucky escape already.

At any time in the Cold War era – when armament levels escalated beyond all reason – the superpowers could have stumbled towards armageddon through muddle and miscalculation.

Nuclear weapons are based on 20th century science. I’ll focus later in my argument on 21st century sciences – bio, cyber, and AI – which offer huge potential benefits, but also expose us to novel vulnerabilities

But before that let’s focus on the long-term threats that stem not from conscious decisions, bur from humanity’s ever-heavier collective ‘footprint’. Even with a cloudy crystal ball there are some things we can predict. For instance, it’s almost inevitable that by mid-century, the world will be more crowded.

Fifty years ago, world population was about 3 billion. It now exceeds 7 billion. But the growth is slowing. Indeed, the number of births per year, worldwide, peaked a few years ago and is going down. Nonetheless world population is forecast to rise to around 9 billion by 2050. That’s partly because most people in the developing world are young. They are yet to have children, and they will live longer. The age histogram in the developing world will become more like it is in Europe.

Experts predict continuing urbanisation – 70 percent of people in cities by 2050. Even by 2030 Lagos, São Paulo and Delhi will have populations above 30 million. To prevent megacities becoming turbulent dystopias will surely be a major challenge to governance.

Population growth seems currently under-discussed. That is maybe because doom-laden forecasts in the 1970s, by the Club of Rome, Paul Erlich and others, have proved off the mark. Up until now, food production has more than kept pace – famines stem from wars or maldistribution, not overall shortage. And it’s deemed by some a taboo subject – tainted by association with eugenics in the 1920s and 30s, with Indian policies under Indira Gandhi, and more recently with China's hard-line one-child policy.

Can 9 billion people be fed? My layman’s impression from reading the work of experts is that the answer’s yes. Improved agriculture – low-till, water-conserving, and perhaps involving GM crops – together with better engineering to reduce waste, improve irrigation, and so forth, could sustainably feed that number by mid-century. The buzz-phrase is ‘sustainable intensification’.

But there will need to be lifestyle changes. The world couldn't sustain even its present population if everyone lived like Americans do today– using as much energy per person and eating as much beef.

Population trends beyond 2050 are harder to predict. They will depend on what people now in their teens and 20s decide about the number and spacing of their children. Enhanced education and the empowerment of women – surely a benign priority in itself – could reduce fertility rates where they’re now highest. And the demographic transition hasn’t reached parts of India and Sub-Saharan Africa.

If families in Africa remain large, then according to the UN that continent’s population could double again by 2100 to 4 billion, thereby raising the global population to 11 billion. Nigeria alone would by then have as big a population as Europe and North America combined, and almost half of all the world’s children would be in Africa.

Optimists remind us that each extra mouth brings also two hands and a brain. Nonetheless, the higher the population becomes, the greater will be all pressures on resources – especially if the developing world narrows its gap with the developed world in its per capita consumption – and the harder it will be for Africa to escape the ‘poverty trap’. So we must surely hope that the global figure declines rather than rises after 2050.

Moreover, if humanity’s collective impact on nature pushes too hard against what Johan Rockstrom calls ‘planetary boundaries’, the resultant ‘ecological shock’ could irreversibly impoverish our biosphere. Extinction rates are rising; we’re destroying the book of life before we’ve read it. Biodiversity is a crucial component of human wellbeing. We're clearly harmed if fish stocks dwindle to extinction; there are plants in the rainforest whose gene pool might be useful to us. But for many environmentalists, preserving the richness of our biosphere has value in its own right, over and above what it means to us humans. To quote the great ecologist E O Wilson, ‘mass extinction is the sin that future generations will least forgive us for’.

The world’s getting more crowded. And there’s a second firm prediction: it will gradually get warmer. In contrast to population issues, climate change is certainly not under-discussed.

The famous Keeling curve shows how the concentration of CO2 in the air is rising, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. It’s still unclear how much the climatic effects of rising CO2 are amplified by associated changes in water vapour and clouds. The fifth IPCC report presents a spread of projections.

But despite the uncertainties there are two messages that most would agree on:

  1. Regional disruptions to weather patterns within the next 20-30 years will aggravate pressures on food and water, and engender migration.
  2. Under ‘business as usual’ scenarios we can’t rule out, later in the century, really catastrophic warming, and tipping pints triggering long-term trends like the melting of Greenland’s icecap.

But even those who accept both these statements have diverse views on the policy response. It’s important to realise that these divergences stem less from differences about the science than from differences in economics and ethics – in particular, in how much obligation we should feel towards future generations.

Economists who apply a standard discount rate (as, for instance, Bjorn Lomberg’s Copenhagen Consensus does) are in effect writing off what happens beyond 2050 – so unsurprisingly they downplay the priority of addressing climate change in comparison with shorter-term efforts to help the world’s poor.

But if you care about those who’ll live into the 22nd century and beyond, then, as economists like Stern and Weizman argue, you deem it worth paying an insurance premium now, to protect those generations against the worst-case scenarios.

So, even those who agree that there’s a significant risk of climate catastrophe a century hence will differ in how urgently they advocate action today. Their assessment will depend on expectations of future growth, and optimism about technological fixes. But, above all, it will depend on an ethical issue – in optimising people’s life-chances, should we discriminate on grounds of date of birth?

(As a parenthesis, I’d note that there’s one policy context where a discount rate of essentially zero is applied – radioactive waste disposal, where the depositories are required to prevent leakage for 10,000 years. This is somewhat ironic, when we can’t plan the rest of energy policy even 30 years ahead)

Consider this analogy. Suppose astronomers had tracked an asteroid, and calculated that it would hit the Earth in 2080, 65 years from now – not with certainty, but with (say) 10 per cent probability. Would we relax, saying that it’s a problem that can be set on one side for 50 years – people will then be richer, and it may turn out then that it’s going to miss the Earth anyway? I don’t think we would. There would surely be a consensus that we should start straight away and do our damnedest to find ways to deflect it, or mitigate its effects.

What will actually happen on the climate-policy front? The pledges made at the Paris conference are a positive step.

But even if they’re honoured, CO2 concentrations will rise steadily throughout the next 20 years. By then, we'll know with far more confidence – from a longer timebase of data, and from better modelling – just how strong the feedback from water vapour and clouds actually is. If the so-called ‘climate sensitivity’ is low, we’ll relax. But if it’s large, and climate consequently seems on an irreversible trajectory into dangerous territory, there may then be a pressure for 'panic measures'. This could involve a 'plan B' – being fatalistic about continuing dependence on fossil fuels, but combatting its effects by either a massive investment in carbon capture and storage, or else by geoengineering.

It’s feasible to inject enough aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the world’s climate – indeed, what is scary is that this might be within the resources of a single nation, or even a single corporation. There could be unintended side-effects; moreover, the warming would return with a vengeance if the countermeasures were ever discontinued – and other consequences of rising CO2 (especially the deleterious effects of ocean acidification) would be unchecked.

Geoengineering would be a political nightmare: not all nations would want to adjust the thermostat the same way. Very elaborate climatic modelling would be needed in order to calculate the regional impacts of an artificial intervention. (The only beneficiaries would be lawyers. They’d have a bonanza if nations could litigate over bad weather!).

I think it’s prudent to explore geoengineering techniques enough to clarify which options make sense, and perhaps damp down undue optimism about a technical 'quick fix' for our climate.

Many still hope that our civilisation can segue smoothly towards a low-carbon future. But politicians won't gain much resonance by advocating a bare-bones approach that entails unwelcome lifestyle changes – especially if the benefits are far away and decades into the future. But three measures that could mitigate climate change seem politically realistic.

First, all countries could improve energy-efficiency, insulate buildings better, and so forth—and thereby actually save money.

Second, we could target cuts to methane, black carbon and CFC emissions. These are subsidiary contributors to long-term warming. But unlike CO2, they cause local pollution too – in Chinese cities, for instance – so there’s a stronger incentive to reduce them.

But third, nations should expand R&D into all forms of low-carbon energy generation (renewables, 4th generation nuclear, fusion, and the rest), and into other technologies where parallel progress is crucial – especially storage (batteries, compressed air, pumped storage, flywheels, etc) and smart grids. That’s why an encouraging outcome of Paris was an initiative called ‘Mission Innovation’. It was launched by President Obama and the Indian Prime Minister Modi, and endorsed by the G7 nations, plus India, China and 11 other nations. It’s hoped they’ll pledge to double their publicly funded R&D into clean energy by 2020 and to coordinate efforts. There’s been a parallel pledge by Bill Gates and other private philanthropists.

This target is a modest one. Presently, only 2 per cent of publicly funded R&D is devoted to these challenges. Why shouldn’t the percentage be comparable to spending on medical or defence research?

The faster these ‘clean’ technologies advance, the sooner will their prices fall so they become affordable to developing countries – where more generating capacity will be needed, where the health of the poorest billions is jeopardised by smokey stoves burning wood or dung, and where there would otherwise be pressure to build coal-fired power stations.

It would be hard to think of a more inspiring challenge for young engineers than devising clean energy systems for the world.

All renewables have their niches – wind, tides, waves and hydro here in the UK, for instance. But an attractive scenario for Europe might be large-scale solar energy, coupled with a transcontinental DC smart grid network (north-south to transmit power from Spain or even Morocco to the less sunny north, and east-west to smooth over peak demand in different time-zones) with efficient storage as well.

Of course the unique difficulty of motivating CO2 reductions is that the impact of any action not only lies decades ahead, but is globally diffused. In contrast, for most politicians the immediate trumps the long term; the local trumps the global. So climate issues, which gained prominence during the Paris conference, will slip down the agenda again unless there’s continuing public concern.

For more information on Lord Rees' IPR lecture, please see our writeup here.

 

 

Datafication and democracy: Recalibrating digital information systems to address societal interests

📥  data science, future, open data

Dr Jonathan Gray is Prize Fellow at the IPR

Digital information systems have come to play a central role in how we organise and imagine collective life in the 21st Century. The limits of our world are demarcated by electronic equipment scanning the movements of the clouds and space debris above us and the oceanic currents deep below. Within this comparatively narrow band around the surface of the Earth where life is possible – which geologists call the ‘critical zone’ – ever more activity is registered, connected, facilitated and mediated by digital technologies, resulting in vast reserves of data. In addition to the familiar genres of enumerating people, resources, space and time which have been institutionalised for centuries (through official statistics or accounting practices, for example), the digital infrastructures and devices that surround us proliferate data as a result of their every interaction.

datacity

 

These processes of ‘datafication’ – or ways of seeing and engaging with the world by means of digital data – are not just limited to the neutral representation of phenomena: data can also actively participate in the shaping of the world around us. The very act of generating data can change behaviour, albeit in sometimes unexpected ways and with unintended consequences, as we see, for example, in the dynamics created by league tables and performance metrics, rankings, indexes and indicators. Economic sociologist Donald MacKenzie wrote that financial models are not just like cameras that depict behaviour within markets, they can also act as engines that change them.[1] The same is doubtless true of the quantitative appraisal of life in the workplace, in the classroom, in the home, or on the street.

Data not only refers or designates: it can also stage, guide and enact social life in different settings. Historians and sociologists of statistics argue that classificatory practices at public institutions have brought new social categories into existence. Today, computers and algorithms play a role in the grouping and ordering of society. Information brokers propose new ways of classifying society drawing on the automated analysis of large volumes of data from different sources – proposing consumer profiles such as ‘credit crunched: city families’, ‘ethnic second-city strugglers’ and ‘rural and barely making it’.[2] Such emerging forms of ‘data work’ can have huge social, political, economic, environmental and cultural consequences.

BEYOND COMMODIFICATION AND CONTROL

As with the machine age before us, the social repercussions of these processes of datafication can be more than the sum of their immediate material effects. The concerns of comparatively niche subcultures of past decades – of the gamers, gangs and cowboy hackers ‘jacking in’ to multicoloured cities of data depicted in cyberpunk fiction – have spilled out into the mainstream of collective imagination. Reflection on the broader societal implications of datafication has been fuelled by reports of mega-leaks, mass privacy scares, state-sponsored hacks, algorithmic inequality, ubiquitous automation, experimental human–computer interfaces, the silicon super-rich, the gold-dust of data, and the digital mediatisation of everyday life.

The aspirations of tech giants, politicians, policymakers and entrepreneurs find their dark counterparts in the ruminations of artists and activists, novelists and newspaper columnists, TV writers and film-makers. On the one hand, we find concerns about ubiquitous state surveillance and bureaucratic control, running through from the classics of Orwell’s 1984 and Zamyatin’s We to spy thrillers and science fiction films like Enemy of the State and Minority Report. On the other we have depictions of corporate domination and the commodification of all things depicted in works such as Charlie Brooker’s Channel 4 drama series Black Mirror, Dave Eggers’ acclaimed novel The Circle or Adam Curtis’s recent BBC documentary HyperNormalisation.

Beyond these data-driven dystopias of all-consuming marketisation and state control, can we imagine another role for data in collective life? How might it facilitate human flourishing, advance social progress and strengthen democratic political engagement, rather than stifling or undermining these aims? What kinds of rules, policies, politics, mechanisms and mobilisations might be required to support the creation and use of data in the service of other kinds of social, political and economic objectives?

BEYOND OPENNESS AND PRIVACY

The past few decades have seen the rise of two kinds of interventions around our digital information environments, leading to the creation of new rules, norms and practices in many countries around the world. The first is the push for transparency and openness – leading to everything from freedom of information laws to public reporting requirements, from official open data portals to unofficial leaks. Actors from Obama to Wikileaks often share a Promethean-style rhetorical frame: of liberating information that already exists within the public sector or private companies, so that it can be exploited as a kind of resource to enable different kinds of societal value – whether commercial exploitation, new kinds of services, journalism, activism or citizen engagement. The second type of intervention is the push for protecting personal privacy and securing information from either state surveillance or corporate commodification – through legal rules, technical fixes, resistance to platforms, or the creation of alternative systems that don’t collect, share or monetise user data.

While these are both vital considerations, any more substantive attempt to enlist processes of datafication into the service of social progress will have to look beyond this dual focus on openness and privacy. A more ambitious politics of data would have to move beyond programmes to make data public or keep data private through various attendant technical, policy and legal systems that facilitate or inhibit the flows of data in society. It would have to cultivate the political imagination and practical capacities to recalibrate digital information systems to be attuned to a broader set of societal interests – interests that may be quite different from the immediate concerns of technology companies, investors, ministers and managers. This would entail opening up spaces for democratic deliberation and social participation around the creation of data and around processes of datafication.

DEMOCRACY AND EXPERTISE

To be sure, democratic experimentation in this direction surfaces some hard questions. Not least regarding the relation between aspirations for democratic engagement and public participation on the one hand, and the expert scientific, technical, legal and economic knowledge that can be implicated in the making of data on the other. Where and how might we redraw lines between democratic political life and the technical details of expert knowledge production? Public institutions around the world are still reeling from and adjusting to the consequences of social mobilisations and populist insurgencies of varying stripes. We don’t have to look far to consider the difficulties, uncertainties and complexities that issue from mass movements of people who – as it has been alleged – ‘have had enough of experts’[3] or otherwise wish to challenge or augment received forms of knowledge about their issues.

Policymakers and public institutions argue that populist groups lack the expert knowledge and resources to effectively understand and institutionally advance their causes. Social movements and insurgent political groups counter that public institutions have been captured by forms of expertise that are premised on assumptions that they reject. The knowledge and resource requirements for participating in expert consultation processes can be prohibitively high. Standards and systems underpinning the production of data can depend on enormous amounts of social and political work. This raises questions not only about asymmetries of resources and capacities to participate in processes whereby data is made, but also about the production of expert knowledge upon which data depends. Large institutions and companies have not only money and personnel, but epistemological traditions of scientific and technical expertise on their side in order to create data that is attuned to their prerogatives.

These questions were raised in a series of encounters between the philosopher John Dewey and the journalist Walter Lippmann in the first part of the 20th century. They both sought to interrogate the composition of democratic political life in the US, and to theorise how democratic ideals could keep pace with increasingly complex settings and scenarios that required a high degree of specialised and technical knowledge (Lippmann emphasised the vast gulf between the ‘pictures in our heads’ and the ‘world outside’).[4] They both sought to affect a shift from thinking about ‘the public’ in the abstract (which Lippmann characterised as an ‘abstraction’ and a ‘mere phantom’), to looking at how particular ‘publics’ are organised around particular issues and concerns.[5]

Each proposed a different response to this situation. Dewey favoured mass educational programmes to cultivate the broader societal capacities (beyond ‘officials, administrators and directors of industry’) required for democratic ideals to keep up with advanced technological societies.[6] Lippmann focused on a re-evaluation of the role of expertise in democratic societies and the development and resourcing of commensurate institutional forms. However, they also shared a lot of common ground with respect to their analyses. The Lippmann–Dewey debates have played an important role in the social study of science and technology, thanks to an influential re-reading by sociologist Noortje Marres – who uses their work as inspiration for the study of ‘social-technical arrangements that facilitate public involvement’.[7] Their work can also inform reflection about processes of datafication in democratic societies.

DATA CONTROVERSIES AND DATA LITERACIES

How can we reimagine the politics of data beyond commodification and control, beyond openness and privacy? For a start we can look at how different actors have sought to contest and reshape different aspects of digital information systems beyond liberating data and safeguarding privacy. This entails looking at how the creation of data has itself ‘become an issue’ for different people and groups, and how they have attempted to change it. For example, environmental campaigners in Beijing or resident associations in Pennsylvania have questioned official processes of pollution and air quality data collection – from the sensitivity of monitoring equipment to where it is located – and have started collecting their own data. Anti-corruption, anti-poverty and tax justice campaigners have contested the scope, legal definitions and economic thresholds used in company reporting standards, undertaking work to reform official company registers and to design and build their own. Networks of journalists have developed public data infrastructures to track police killings and migrant deaths.

From climate change to economic reforms, gender equality to human rights, when we zoom in on how issues are rendered into data, we can find people hard at work – often in the background, behind the scenes in consultation processes or through targeted lobbying efforts – to shift boundaries, change thresholds, add or remove database fields, redirect instruments, standardise identifiers and expand monitoring practices. Just as the sociologist Bruno Latour suggests that researchers can ‘feed’ off scientific and technological controversies,[8] so we might study ‘data controversies’ in order to understand and theorise social and political interventions to reshape processes of datafication. This in turn can furnish us with new vocabularies of ‘data speak’ and new repertoires of ‘data work’ to ensure that different publics have the required literacies and capacities to align these processes with their interests.

How might we extend Dewey’s proposition of democratic education to include the capacities to understand and intervene around processes of datafication? On the one hand we might analyse data controversies and civil society interventions around the creation and collection of data in order to – as Max Weber puts it – make explicitly conscious the means that have demonstrated their value in practice.[9] On the other hand, public institutions and policymakers will need to think about participatory design processes and public engagement mechanisms to facilitate the assembly of publics who are able not only to make use of data as a resource, but who are also able to reshape the processes of its creation – as well as to reflect on the emerging forms of politics, genres of sociality and modes of experience that datafication gives rise to.

This article originally appeared in edition 23.3 of Juncture, IPPR's quarterly journal of politics and ideas.

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] MacKenzie D (2008) An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets, MIT Press.
[2] US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Office of Oversight and Investigations Majority Staff (2013) A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes: Staff Report For Chairman Rockefeller. https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/bd5dad8b-a9e8-4fe9-a2a7-b17f4798ee5a/D5E458CDB663175E9D73231DF42EC040.12.18.13-senate-commerce-committee-report-on-data-broker-industry.pdf.
[3] Quote from former justice secretary Michael Gove, talking to Faisal Islam on Sky News, 3 June 2016.
[4] Lippmann W (1998) Public Opinion, Transaction Publishers: 3–32.
[5] See Lippmann W (1993) The Phantom Public, Transaction Publishers: 67. See also Dewey J (1954) The Public and Its Problems, Swallow Press.
[6] Dewey D (1922) Review of “Public Opinion” by Walter Lippmann, New Republic, 3 May 1922: 286–288.
[7] Marres N (2005) No Issue, No Public: Democratic Deficits After the Displacement of Politics, doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. http://dare.uva.nl/document/17061.
[8] Latour B (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press: 21.
[9] Weber M (1949) Methodology of the Social Sciences, Free Press: 115.

 

How the left should respond to the steady march of nationalism

📥  Brexit, future, International relations, Trump

Published in The New Statesman, December 2017

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage.

“Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built,” remarked ­Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France’s Front National, after Donald Trump’s victory. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States has consolidated a global shift towards nationalism that has been under way since the 2008 financial crisis. The steady march of nationalist politics has swept up swaths of the world’s population: Russia and Turkey are governed by authoritarian, ethno-religious regimes; eastern Europe is criss-crossed by illiberal, nationalist governments; and western Europe is now home to virulent, far-right movements and large, electorally competitive political parties, such as the Front National and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party) in Austria, which have made their way into the democratic mainstream. Japan and India are governed by democratic, conservative nationalists, while in China an emergent strongman, Xi Jinping, has been newly designated as the “core” of the Communist Party leadership.

hero-nationalist-rise2

Until recently, the Anglosphere countries had largely bucked these trends. Centrist conservative dominance in England, Justin Trudeau’s victory in the 2015 Canadian general election and the likelihood that the Democrats would retain the White House promised to build a liberal firewall against the nationalist ascendancy. Brexit and Trump upended those assumptions. The nationalist virus has infected the body politic of Burkean Anglo-America.

A focus on populism – in policy, rhetoric and political style – obscures the asymmetry of this shift along the left/right axis. Contemporary nationalism is almost wholly conservative or authoritarian, and sometimes avowedly fascist. It is only civic or leftist in the case of political movements seeking liberation from existing nation states, as with Scottish or Catalan nationalism. Its ascendancy is therefore another marker of the electoral weakness of the contemporary centre left.

But it is also highly differentiated. In the UK, Theresa May’s government represents an attempt to reconcile post-Thatcherism with a soft economic nationalism and renewed social conservatism. Its bedrock is an older, security-conscious electorate that is sceptical of immigration and hostile to elites. This is a far cry from the nativist and fascist movements of the European mainland, which draw energy from youthful extremists as well as the post-industrial dispossessed, and which direct unstinting fire at migrant populations and the EU project.

European nationalism, in turn, cannot supply the conceptual frameworks with which to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s business-friendly Hindu identity politics in India, nor, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist, anti-Kurdish authoritarianism, which seeks to wrench Turkish nationalism out of its 20th-century secular, Kemalist frame. These have their own origins and trajectories. For its part, China maintains a political order that is highly ethnocentric, built around the dominant identity of the Han Chinese, and its leadership is increasingly centralised. But China is committed to the rule-bound, liberal global economic order on which its economic growth critically depends, and shows no interest in the military adventurism of its Russian neighbour.

This suggests that talk of a nationalist ­revolt against globalisation offers too simple an account of a complex picture. The new wave of nationalism has been incubated in the era of global integration, but it will not bring it to a close. Global supply chains, foreign direct investment, cross-border lending and the political institutions of managed trade all inhibit a reversion to autarky, imperial blocs or high tariff walls.

Global trade has fallen because of weak demand and the slowing of China’s growth, not protectionist sentiment, and although new multilateral deals with the Americans may now be off the cards, the cost of the US launching punitive tariff wars will be punishingly high. Trump’s election signifies an end to the signature trade agreements of the Obama era, and his narcissism and volatility introduce a deep uncertainty into global politics, particularly in the handling of relations with China, as the storm over Taiwan has shown. But regional trade blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European single market are unlikely to collapse, and the integration into the global economy of the huge working populations of Asia will continue, not unwind.

Still, such are the howls of protest from the rust belts of advanced economies, the surge of discontent among debt-laden, college-educated young people who have been locked in to low salaries and priced out of housing markets, and the political shocks administered by Trump and Ukip, that austerity in Europe and inequality in the US will come under renewed pressure. A “reactionary Keynesianism” of tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending and infrastructure credits will form the core of Trump’s economic strategy as he seeks to repay his base. He will be inaugurated at a time of rising wages, and as long as inflation is held in check, American workers will feel their pay cheques swell throughout his first term. In the UK, the rhetoric of delivering for the “just about managing” classes will outpace reality, but, like their Republican counterparts, the Conservatives will seek to lock down the electoral allegiances of working-class voters.

The eurozone is more uncertain. A victory for Marine Le Pen would be a cataclysmic defeat for European liberalism, but even if her Front National doesn’t manage to emulate Trump, the size of its popular support, the pressure of left-wing opponents of austerity in southern Europe, and the electoral threat posed by reactionaries in Germany may yet force Angela Merkel to abandon the self-defeating straitjacket of EU-wide austerity and weaken the mercantilism of the country’s export sectors. By dint of history and conviction, Germany’s leaders remain deeply committed to the European project; they will not let it disintegrate easily.

Some reshaping of the global security order is likely, in which tacit co-operation between the main military powers returns, retrospectively endorsing Vladimir Putin’s land-grabs and power plays in the Middle East. With the US, Japan and France pivoting towards more Russia-friendly postures, and Britain detached from European security diplomacy by Brexit, the stage is set for a new rapprochement with Putin. The EU is likely to expend more effort in defending the Paris climate-change agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal than in contesting Crimea or Aleppo, despite the fears of the Baltic states. China has already indicated that its priorities for dealing with a Trump presidency will be resisting protectionism and any backsliding on climate change.

The electoral success of nationalist and conservative authoritarian governments also masks the continued strength of liberalism’s social and economic redoubts. Cosmopolitan liberalism is not rootless: it is founded on large and growing university-educated, ethnically diverse urban populations. In recent electoral contests, this bloc has roughly matched those of the conservatives and nationalists. It has suffered narrow defeats, not decisive ones. It will now dig in to defend its social gains and to resist encroachments on civil rights and liberal constitutionalism. This resistance is already facing down authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, and will put up a fight against evangelical-inspired culture wars, environmental degradation and attacks on minority rights. The politics of constitutional patriotism, often restricted to a “kissing the typewriter” liberalism of procedural justice, will, for once, attract passion and anger.

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. It is unlikely to usher in a post-liberal order, let alone foreshadow the end of capitalism, though one cannot discount increased violence and repression of minority communities. The space for a broad alliance of liberal, centrist, social-democratic and green politics remains wide – but it will need to find a way of articulating working-class interests, economic as well as cultural, and to find a more expressive, emotional and compelling register for its politics.

The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage and political protest. The new times demand a progressive engagement with the politics of identity and belonging, as well as renewed radicalism on economic policy and social protection. “You have made yourself the trustee for those in every country who seek to mend the evils of our condition by reasoned experiment within the framework of the existing social system,” Keynes wrote to Roosevelt in December 1933. If the era of nationalists and authoritarians is to pass, this kind of leadership will be needed again.

 

 

Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer

📥  future, International relations, Trump, Uncategorised

Janine R. Wedel, a social anthropologist in the Schar School of Government and Policy at George Mason University and Global Policy Chair at the University of Bath, is the author of Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class (Pegasus, 2014), now out in paperback.

A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post (“Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer,” Oct. 27, 2016)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of pundits the world over have written about the various them­es that have come to life in the most extraordinary and alarming election year in modern history. But I daresay only a handful of thinkers can rightfully claim they examined these themes and warned about a coming revolt years ago. I am one of the few, a social anthropologist studying power and influence, first in Central and Eastern Europe before and after communism and, more recently, in the United States. I began addressing anti-establishment rage with Shadow Elite in 2009 and then further in 2014’s Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Freedom, Finances, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class, now out in paperback.

janine-wedel

 

The rhetoric this year has been disturbing to me, not just as a person who values civility in discourse, but also as a scholar. Complex topics I have studied for decades—elite power and influence, corruption, political rigging—have now been hijacked by a demagogue. There is thus a big risk of burying a sober and much-needed discussion of these important, complicated issues. I hope to address them here.

Let’s begin with the defining feature of the 2016 revolt: outsiderism. Increasingly, people identify themselves as outsiders, and look to leaders who claim to do the same. Digital technology, of course, enables these outsiders to mass together in ways never before possible. Wholesale alienation was in evidence long before 2016.

Two years ago, I wrote this in Unaccountable:

How is it that ordinary people have an instinctual grasp of the real nature of corruption and the inequality that often results, while many experts are still wedded to the idea that corruption happens somewhere out there? Witness the Occupy protests that began on Wall Street in 2011 and the Tea Party movement that helped grind the U.S. government to a halt in the fall of 2013. They may otherwise have little in common, but they share a resounding refrain: that the system is gamed by the powerful.

When I wrote those words, President-elect Donald Trump was just a middling, blustering reality television star and self-aggrandising real estate mogul. Senator Bernie Sanders was a distant third on the list of famous Vermonters, well behind Ben and Jerry, of ice cream fortune. More than two years later, I’ve heard these revolutionary figures and a parade of their supporters agree wholeheartedly that the system is rigged.

Since 2014, I have watched with distress, though not much surprise, as the arguments I made sprang to full flower in massive anti-establishment movements in the United States and Europe. My lack of surprise is because I come at this issue from a perspective and history few others have. I am an American who began her career as a young scholar overseas in the waning years of communism. On both sides of the Atlantic I have since been studying elites who wield power and influence, how they operate in new and insidious ways, and the seismic changes that spawned them. The result is that ordinary people now have little meaningful voice in making and shaping the policies that affect their lives and livelihoods. I have sought to redefine corruption as actions that violate the public trust, even if they are not technically illegal. Most, if not all, of this “new corruption,” as I call it, is fully legal, even if most of us would consider it unethical.

Over the past two years, the populist, anti-elite movements erupting around the world showed that regular people were starting to grasp at a primal level the contours of the new corruption, because indeed they were living with it. Now this is a stone-cold reality. The public knows full well that this new corruption is flourishing, though the culprits that are usually mentioned—money in politics, greedy banks, or the simple revolving door—tell a story that’s dangerously incomplete. Many elites, by contrast, have been blind-sided. The media, too, have been caught off guard by insurgencies from both right and left. So have most pundits and scholars.

That is because, to quote from Unaccountable:

…..more and more we feel like we’re excluded from a system we used to know how to negotiate but no longer quite do. Figuring things out is not as straightforward as in the past. We‘re subject to new ways of influencing and organizing influence that are not as obvious as they were just twenty-five—or even five—years ago... [W]e sense a division between outsiders and insiders and that the insiders are working on their own behalf, even as they purport to have us, the public, in mind. The rest of us are left on the outside, knocking to get in.

This rigged system does exist. The sense that something huge is amiss has driven millions of Americans to seek leaders they perceive as outside of the system—the most successful being Trump, Bernie Sanders, and a motley collection of third party candidates. In fact, as I argue, the new corruption of Hillary Clinton and many, many elite players of all stripes has paved the way for the likes of Trump and Sanders. Clinton’s byzantine family foundation is not merely a right-wing talking point. Serious concerns about the conflicts of interest embedded there should give pause to citizens of any political persuasion. And her use of a private email system while secretary of State exemplifies a classic characteristic of this Unaccountable era—boundary-pushing elites subverting the standard bureaucracy in self-interested ways that make transparency difficult, if not impossible. It is unfortunate that Trump has so sullied the discourse that these very real issues cannot be discussed dispassionately; rather, people, even family members, are coming to blows on social media. Sometimes this election season, we’re talking about actual blows. And now the President-elect seems to be blithely disinterested or uninformed about the very corruption he decried in speech after speech. Aside from blatantly violating norms and dismissing questions about his own vast conflicts-of-interest, he is surrounding himself with some of the very people who practice the more subtle but very insidious form of new corruption, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Trump, it is important to note, is not one of the elites I study who shape policy. He is actually useful in making the distinction about who I am talking about. Trump is a wealthy celebrity who until Election Day was not involved himself in any major way in Washington-style policy manipulation. (That in no way absolves him from his many other alleged abuses: of the tax code, of sound and fair business practices, of standards of civility, and of women.)

Trump is what happens when elites in the establishment game the system to their advantage, widening income inequalities, and crippling trust in civic institutions. These developments have left regular people disillusioned and looking for a savior in a demagogue like him.

Sanders, of course, never exhibited the alarming authoritarianism that Trump does, but his followers are equally anti-establishment and anti-elite. To Sanders’s supporters, Clinton represents the unholy alliance between Democrats and Wall Street, and the corruption of a political system awash in mystery money from corporations and even foreign governments. These followers have solid points to make, if not always pragmatic plans for fixing the enormous challenges they lay out.

Americans are not the only people experiencing an epidemic of outsiderism. Such disaffection from the establishment and resulting populist movements are by no means limited to the United States. I have witnessed them first-hand in Europe, where I spent the year from September 2015 through August 2016 conducting research and teaching in several cities across the continent, in part as a Fulbright scholar (my analysis here is entirely my own, not that of the Fulbright program.) In Germany, I saw the continued rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only in 2013. The AfD scored strongly, earning votes in the double digits in three German states during elections in spring 2016 and, in September 2016, even beating the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel in her home state. I watched German news coverage of France, where terror attacks have been feeding xenophobic support for Marine Le Pen and her far right-wing National Front party. In June, from Ukraine, I watched coverage of how voters in the United Kingdom shocked elites there and around the world by voting to Brexit the European Union. The far right (some would say fascist) did suffer a defeat in December in Austria’s presidential elections, where, for the first time since World War II, neither establishment party (Social Democrats and Austrian People’s) saw their candidate appear in the top spot.

Whether from the right or the left, these candidates and movements have one hugely salient attribute in common: They are profoundly and aggressively anti-elite, anti-establishment, and anti-system. They seek to abolish the system without any real or viable plan for replacing it.

The result is President-elect Trump, whose actions thus far to “drain the swamp” suggests only one thing: that he had no idea who the swamp-dwellers were in the first place.