IPR Blog

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

Dr Emma Carmel on: Game of Diplomacy anyone? Which country do you want to play?

📥  EU membership, EU migrants, migration

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social and Policy Sciences

Donald Tusk’s decision to play ‘let’s diss the migrants’ is misplaced. It might have garnered him the goodwill he needs from central and eastern European member states to broker a deal (another one) on migration in the European Council and to justify deportations to Turkey.  But it will not solve the migration problem currently faced by the EU. Europe will be needing another deal on migration soon.

Dissing migrants is an easy card to play. After all, marking out ‘good’ migrants from ‘bad’ migrants is a political strategy of first resort for most states around the world. But using it to justify EU policies of exclusion in the case of the ongoing exodus of people from Middle East, it is particularly egregious, if entirely predictable. The EU is now deporting migrants from specific national states, trying to re-export migration management to its neighbours, and using Greece as an extended refugee camp. This is a case of old and inadequate policy tools being used in new and disturbing ways.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning European Union and its member states have ratified the UN Convention on Refugees. This ratification requires applications for refugee status to be assessed on their merits. In fact, the EU, despite wishing to parade its virtues as a beacon of human rights and international legal norms through the Dublin Convention and its list of ‘safe third countries’, has long pursued a strategy of politically designating ‘friendly’ countries as not able to produce refugees (people at risk of persecution). Categorizing whole nationalities as ‘economic’ migrants, as a political expedient to facilitate returns from Greece to Turkey, lends this policy strategy a naked ruthlessness. Declaring that only a set number of refugee applicants can enter per day, contravenes the requirements for assessment of applications for refuge and leads to untenable living conditions for migrants stuck in borderlands in Southeastern Europe unwilling to move ‘back’ having come so far, and unable to move ‘forward’. These living conditions also contravene a whole host of international norms and human ‘rights’ (sleeping out in the open, lack of hygiene facilities, haphazard access to food). So, general and a priori categorization of who is a refugee is a well-worn policy tool for the EU, but its brutal application at its internal and external borders is new.

In addition, the EU has for many years tried to export its ‘migration management’ – including deportations – to ‘friendly’ countries, especially to those on the southern coast of the Mediterranean.  The aim has been to effectively push back the borders of the EU to ‘beyond the sea’ - to near neighbours such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya (at one stage). In a crude political approach of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ this policy of ‘migration partnerships’  asserted responsibility for migration to the EU being one of exit from its near neighbours, as if such migration was unconnected to the interlocking of trade, agriculture, foreign and security policy which hold EU member states in tense and unequal relationship with its North African and Mediterranean neighbours. In the migration partnerships, money, policing resources, and co-ordination strategies are developed between the EU and its neighbours to prevent people from the poorer regions of the world from visibly encountering the borders of Europe. So, the attempt to recruit Turkey in a partnership for migration management reflects old strategies, but on a new scale. It involves a commitment of financial and political resources of a massively extended degree to a neighbouring country considerably more powerful than has been the case before.

And what of Greece? The EU leaders have made a move which makes explicit the assumption that Greece can be made a vassal state of the EU. The massive pressures of its Eurozone-governance enforced austerity and massive economic and social collapse have now been combined with the closure of EU member state borders, and the sanctioning by some EU members (both implicitly and explicitly) of the closure of other Southeastern states’ borders.

This is where the likely failings of the recent EU measures will be exposed. As everyone knows, the exodus will continue this year. Yet if borders are closed, Greece is effectively consigned to becoming a holding area for all the migrants continuing to arrive and seek settlement in the EU. As we know from other refugee camps– from Jordan, Lebanon, and sub-saharan Africa, - such camps frequently become zones of ‘permanent temporariness’ and receptions centres and camps the size of towns develop. A new holding zone of the economically and socially vulnerable is to be created in the EU, rather than outside it.

But geography matters in the European politics of migration and population. Cutting off Greece through re-bordering, and only supplying conditional monies, directly circumventing its formal state for the purposes of pursuing the interests of other EU member states can be read like a modernized version of a very old policy strategy.  But it is not a policy which has happy outcomes, least of all for the people directly involved. Mr Tusk might do well to consider this when justifying the latest proposals as being about separating ‘good’ from ‘bad’ mgirants.

In the 1980s board game, Diplomacy, different historical scenarios were set up (Napoleonic wars, world war 1, world war 2). Players opted to ‘be’ different countries, with the overall aim of controlling the map of Europe by working out alliances and wars in these scenarios.  In the classic 19th century scenario of this game, Germany always ended up allying with Turkey, Austro-Hungarians commanded the Balkans to keep Turkey at bay and Britain and France tried limited independent alliances to get control of the Med while keeping Russia quiet. Every game ended in tears, with even close friendships tested beyond their limit.

Game of Diplomacy anyone? Which country do you want to play?

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social and Policy Sciences


On Ministers and Mandarins

📥  Brexit, Civil service, Euroscepticism

The accountability of senior civil servants, and how far they should be independent of politicians or responsible to them, has been a recurrent theme of recent British political history. During the Blair years, retired mandarins muttered darkly of sofa government and presidential politicisation; later, rumbling tensions between Coalition government ministers and senior civil servants broke out into the open over reforms to the appointment and accountability of Whitehall’s top brass. MPs, most notably Margaret Hodge, flexed the muscles of newly strengthened Select Committees to press for greater accountability of senior civil servants to Parliament.

There has been relative peace on these issues since the 2015 general election. But the calm has been abruptly broken by the eruption of eurosceptic fury at Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood’s guidance to civil servants working for Brexit ministers that they must not provide advice and support that could be used to campaign against the government’s agreed position.  Eurosceptic ministers denounced this as an “unconstitutional act”; UKIP’s Douglas Carswell even called for Heywood to be sacked after the referendum. It is a classic process story, designed to steal headlines, and it is no surprise that Vote Leave has led with it - there is little love lost between its key protagonist, Dominic Cummings, and the Cabinet Secretary.

In House of Commons questions to the Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock, eurosceptic MPs took various tacks at proving that constitutional impropriety had taken place. Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, argued that ministers are responsible and accountable for their departments, appointed by the Crown, and by implication that civil servants must always serve their departmental minister, even where he or she departs from the collectively agreed position of the government. This was a reference to the Carltona principle - so-called after a 1943 court judgment - that officials are nothing but the creature of their ministers, and must act on their authority. If the Crown appoints a minister, his or her authority holds sway over a department and cannot be countermanded by instructions from the Cabinet Secretary.

Liam Fox tried a different angle: surely ministers could not be held to account by democratically elected MPs if those ministers did not have full knowledge on an issue? Bill Cash tried arguing that the Cabinet Secretary’s guidance was incompatible with the legislation governing the referendum itself. David Davis MP even asked on what authority the Cabinet Secretary was acting: if it wasn’t Parliament, was it Royal Prerogative?

Hancock had little trouble batting all this off.  His case was simple. The government of the day has a policy, and civil servants have to support it, even if their departmental ministers are provided with dispensation to disagree with it personally, from the backbenches or in public. True, the famous Armstrong memorandum  – named after Sir Robert Armstrong, the Head of the Home Civil Service who penned it in 1985 - states that, “The duty of the individual civil servant is first and foremost to the Minister of the Crown who is in charge of the Department in which he or she is serving.” But that sentence is preceded by another which says clearly that: “The Civil Service serves the Government of the day as a whole, that is to say Her Majesty's Ministers collectively, and the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil Service.” This is the core of the Civil Service Code, given statutory backing in the 2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. When the government has an agreed position, civil servants must support it.

In the absence of a Written Constitution, it is precedents, scattered pieces of legislation and various court judgements that form the rulebook. They are to open to interpretation and dispute, and never more so than when sovereignty is at stake (and as the row over the nomination of a US Supreme Court judge to replace the late Antonin Scalia demonstrates, politics cannot be wholly excised from these processes, even where the constitution is written down). In this case, there is the added complication of obvious grey areas – what happens, for example, when a Brexit minister needs advice for conducting European Union business that clearly pertains to the agreement the Prime Minister has reached with the UK’s partners?

Still, much of this is simple sound and fury. Civil servants are often drawn into the firing line. It goes with the territory. The Treasury Permanent Secretary became embroiled in a bitter row over his neutrality during the Scottish independence referendum, and for better reasons than those for which Sir Jeremy Heywood is being criticised (in this case, the UK government has a policy; then it was supposed to be a sovereign matter for the Scottish people alone). Contemporary eurosceptics view the mandarinate with the same hostility that Tony Benn did in 1975, as an establishment antagonist, whether because it is pro-EU or pro-capitalist, or both.

Yet even after the row over Heywood’s guidance subsides, and becomes a matter of the historical record rather than the UK’s future status, the issue of the relationship between senior civil servants and Ministers is unlikely to go away. Just last week, the National Audit Office was criticising Permanent Secretaries for being too responsive to the political demands of ministers, and insufficiently attentive to their duties as accounting officers – the very reverse of the charge being labelled this week.

Sensible reforms enacted in the last Parliament (many of which were based on a report commissioned from myself and others at the Institute for Public Policy Research), such as allowing the Prime Minister to choose between a list of candidates for a Permanent Secretary appointment, have enabled incremental improvements to be made. But in an era of distrust of established power, and with demands for accountability multiplying in tandem with expectations of government, it is likely that the senior civil service will continue to come under scrutiny. The relationship between ministers and mandarins, and the public they serve, will evolve; it won't simply to settle down.

Professor David Nutt on: ‘Psychoactive Substances Bill - Flawed Rationale and Huge Potential for Increase in Harms’

📥  drug policy, future, policymaking

Professor David Nutt is a professor of neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London, chair of DrugScience.co.uk, and author of Drugs - Without the Hot Air. On Thursday 25 February he delivered the IPR Public lecture ‘Time to Put Science at the Heart of UK Drug and Alcohol Policy’ and here he blogs about the topic. 

The Psychoactive Substances Act, given Royal Assent on 28 January 2016, has no intellectual basis and is arguably the worst piece of legislation in living memory. The ban on the sale of all substances that are "psychoactive" is supposedly designed to reduce the harms from so-called legal highs. Protagonists for this Bill, particularly the Centre for Social Justice, made the claim that deaths from legal highs increased rapidly to a peak of 97 in 2013. They have continued to disseminate this number despite knowing it to be false as demonstrated by King and Nutt in the Lancet in 2014. Most of the drugs in the 97 total are illegal, which raises the interesting question as to why anyone would think that banning more drugs would reduce use and harms? In fact this ban may do the opposite and increase harms as it will drive use underground to the black market.

The best estimates we have of deaths from legal highs in 2014 from UK experts such as John Ramsey is about five. Most deaths from recreational drug use (excluding alcohol that kills 22,000 per year) come from long-illegal substances such as heroin and other opiates (around 1,200) cocaine (around 200) and amphetamines (around 60). So why the hysteria around legal highs, particularly drugs such as nitrous oxide than in its 200 year history hasn't killed anyone? One reason for this seems to relate to the rise of the "head shop" in many town centres. These are viewed like sex shops as lowering the tone of localities and increasing public disorder (though never to the extent seen with premises selling alcohol). Another aspect is the opportunistic vilification of youth culture by the right-wing media who have labelled nitrous oxide as "hippy crack", even though everyone knows it is very much less harmful than crack cocaine and no self-respecting hippy would be seen using it!

I would argue that the rise of head shops has in fact contributed to this low number of deaths from legal highs. The head shop owners usually test out their products on themselves and only sell those that they know to be enjoyable and safe. Some legal highs such as methiopropamine (aka pink panther/bubbles/sparkle) have been sold for many years by head shops. Estimates suggest as many as one million doses a month are consumed in the UK with no known deaths directly attributable. Like all shopkeepers, head shop owners want customers to return rather than end up in the mortuary. Moreover if they are leading to public disorder then local authorities have already demonstrated these shops can be shut down under trading standards regulations.

This law was supposedly based on the Irish one which did close head shops but sadly led to an increase in deaths, as predicted when a market is driven underground or into the internet so all semblance of quality control is lost. Also dealers of illegal drugs have a strong incentive to sell highly addictive high profit ones such as heroin and cocaine rather than the safer and less-addictive legal high type of stimulants.

The Act is therefore unnecessary and the penalties disproportionate to the real harms of legal highs. It also impedes medical and neuroscience research. By banning safe legal highs it moves the law from one that reduces harm to one that tries to control moral behaviour. I would argue this is the worst assault on personal freedom since the 1559 Supremacy Act decreed that the practice of Catholic beliefs was illegal. It should not have been allowed to come into law.

Follow Professor David Nutt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ProfDavidNutt

Listen to Professor Nutt's lecture as a Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/uniofbath/time-to-put-science-at-the-heart-of-uk-drug-and-alcohol-policy

With record employment rates, why is working life not more visible?

📥  employment, labour market, living wage

This week official statistics showed that, at 74.1%, the employment rate is at its highest since comparable records began in 1971. Nearly 23 million Britons work full time, and 8.43 million part time. In total, we work in excess of 1 billion hours a week.

When labour market statistics are published, they are widely reported. There are often accompanied by lively and important debates on such issues as income inequality, the gender pay gap or Britain’s productivity problem. But the world of work, and in particular the experience of working life, is far less visible in our public discourse and popular culture. Despite record employment levels, the daily working lives of millions of people do not loom large in our national consciousness. Why is this?

In the 1970s, newspapers had industrial correspondents. When workers went on strike, it made the national news. Trade union leaders were major national figures. Mass production generated communities of work which were geographical (places of work) and social (lived relations between people), as well as economic. Employment, and the claims to recognition, status and respect made by working people, were a central part of public life. It was a very male world, of course – certainly in terms of its structures of power and how it was represented. But it was nonetheless part of a shared social imaginary.

Deindustrialisation and technological restructuring, the decline of trade unions, and the rise of service sectors and their attendant consumption cultures, changed all this. Industrial correspondents disappeared. Workers no longer gathered for a show of hands outside plants to vote on industrial action. Strikes declined. Cultural capital increasingly marked out social class differences.  Invisible, female work – caring for the elderly and childminding – grew, and shopping centres took over from coal mines as paradigmatic workplaces. The experience of work featured less and less in public discourse (indeed, one of the reasons why the junior doctors’ strike has been such a big news story in recent weeks is precisely because the public sector still has unionised employees grouped together at large, highly visible places of work like hospitals).

Today, stories about work are often treated simply as “business” stories in the media. CEOs are interviewed but not their employees. Union leaders are treated as political actors, not representatives of employee interests. Popular culture focuses on identities constructed outside of work: sexual relationships, leisure, consumption and celebrity. Documentary programmes about working class people are more likely to take the unemployed, living on “Benefits Street”, as their subjects, than those in work.  Politically committed journalists still write important investigative books on the miseries of working life at the bottom end of the labour market, and popular sociologies of work have appeared in recent years. But 21st century Britain has yet to produce a Studs Terkel or George Orwell.

The most important new movement to challenge this marginalisation of working people’s lives in recent years has been the London Citizens and Citizens UK Living Wage campaign. Rooted in community organising, it turns statistics on low wages into human stories, utilising imaginative campaigning techniques to give dignity and voice to low paid workers. It has its counterparts in the citywide struggles for $15 minimum wages and “alt union” collective action that have sprung up in the USA.  These contest the “Trumpenproletariat” representation of working people as pitchfork populists.

Intellectual resources are at hand too. Though industrial relations has declined as a discipline in academia, the sociology of work flourishes in various new guises, as does the study of work organisation, labour practices and the utilisation of new technologies. In the last twenty years, significant intellectual studies of the changing nature of work have been written by the likes of Richard Sennett and the late Ulrich Beck.

Importantly, political theorists are also giving renewed attention to the world of work and employment. The concept of alienation – discredited for years by the backlash against humanist essentialism – has been revived by the German philosopher, Rahel Jaeggi, working in the Critical Theory tradition.  Her major work on alienation provides new conceptual tools for the critique of meaningless, isolation and humiliation experienced in contemporary forms of social existence, to which employment is often central.  From a different theoretical tradition, the US political philosopher Elizabeth Anderson draws on the resources of civic republication theories of liberty to critique the arbitrary power invested in the owners and managers of firms, and the relations of subordination and domination to which they can give rise – providing grounds for challenging both libertarian and liberal egalitarian account of employment relations.

Empirical studies of the labour market, and of the distribution of income and wealth, historical or analytical, remain vital to understanding contemporary capitalist economies. But the experiential dimensions of work, and how these can be conceptualised, deserve much greater attention in our media, political discourses and public culture. Millions of us might notice.


Emily Rempel on : The machines are all around us: An introduction to the UK Government’s Public Dialogue on Data Ethics


📥  big data, data science, open data, policymaking

Data science is being hailed as the latest frontier in evidence-informed policy making. It’s the shiny new crayon for nearly every level of government from local councils to national policymakers. There is a near universal embrace of data’s potential to improve our day-to-day lives. This has led to calls for more open data, massive reviews on data sharing and the introduction of initiatives like the European Union Open Data Portal. Taglines like ‘opening up government’ from data.gov.uk are widespread. But alongside optimism for the potential social good of data science, there are genuine concerns about the privacy of personal data, transparency of data usage, and the democratic accountability of public agencies collecting, storing and using data. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to shadow the organizers of the UK Government’s Public Dialogue on Data Ethics. The dialogue will include four sets of workshops designed to assess public attitudes on the ethical line between privacy and useful data science in policy.

What is data science?

Data science is the combination and application of data in new ways. This data is generally ‘big data’. It ranges from public information like Tweets and Facebook likes to personal data like credit card purchases and A&E records. Data is truly all around us and nearly every activity that can be recorded, is recorded. There are 7 billion people on earth and probably at minimum a dozen daily bits of data from each of these people. This has led to unimaginably large data sets that can be leveraged to inform policy. One innovative example is the combination of GP and mortality records with Facebook “likes” to monitor community health in data-poor regions of Florida (Gittelman, Lange, Crawford, Okoro, Lieb, Dhingra & Trimarchi, 2015). This, however, is a relatively simple example of the potential of ‘big data’.

Data Science is pushing the boundaries of the public-technology interface. Tech like automated decision making and machine learning potentially removes the role of a human actor in evaluating policy options. For example, these technologies could combine data on the frequency of cold & flu tablet purchases, GP visits related to cold symptoms, the pattern of sick days and Facebook comments related to feeling ill to create a live purchasing system for flu jabs. This could potentially result in a more accurate prediction of flu trends. Data science has the potential to reconfigure human interactions, social and technological.  Although the machines aren’t taking over yet, data science, heavily pushed by corporates and policy analysts, will likely make some existing technologies and the jobs that go with them obsolete, just as it will create new ones. At its core, data science is about taking the data we already have and using it to understand our world better. For government that means creating more useful and potentially successful policy solutions.

So what’s this dialogue about?

At the moment data science is used to create more complex, faster and potentially more accurate evidence for policy (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/open-policy-making-toolkit-data-science). While no one is going to support having slower and less accurate data, a larger public and democratic conversation about data in policy is warranted. Initiatives like Care.Data resulted in substantial public controversy over government data usage (Triggle, 2014). Data is not just numbers and statistics held in a supercomputer; it is a reflection and representation of the public. Therefore it should be subject to public consultation and democratic accountability, and compliant with human rights and data protection laws. Most academics, corporations and government bodies are now attempting to wade through what this means in practice. It includes new data ethics, reworked privacy laws, new forms of consent and better public engagement. Those first and last concerns are the focus of the Public Dialogue on Data Ethics.

The dialogue will involve four two-day workshops with groups of demographically diverse participants across England. The key objective is to evaluate how the public forms opinions about data projects. Alongside the workshops, an online survey will use conjoint analysis to piece together the underlying factors that contribute to the public’s views on data-driven policy. For example, is a project that combines health and consumer supermarket data acceptable if it targets people for health promotion initiatives? What if the same project evaluates eligibility for social services? Officials from the Office for National Statistics to the Ministry of Justice have contributed hypothetical case studies on data usage. This it is hoped will stimulate discussion on data in the context of real-world policy. The ultimate goal is to use the participants’ views to shape guidelines on data ethics for policymakers, as well as providing insights in to the current state of public knowledge on data-driven policy.

The dialogue and survey are a form of upstream public consultation and knowledge translation that has typified discourse on biotechnology and nanotechnology in the past decade. A key goal is to anticipate where forms of public controversy could emerge. Alongside this idea of data science acceptability, there are elements of deliberative democratic processes in the workshop. The plan to redevelop the current data ethics guidelines potentially frames the dialogue process as substantive. Under a substantive model, public engagement is used to improve governance and technology rather than just increasing public acceptance (Rowe & Frewe, 2005). For a true substantive process, there needs to be the intention for change to result from the consultation. The public’s opinions, or at least the opinions of those involved in the workshop, must be considered in the ethical guidelines. Whether the dialogue can balance the difficult goal of being both deliberative and consultative, remains to be seen.

Data science may be the poster child for government innovation but its use must be publicly legitimate – if for no other reason than the public both creates the data and is the proposed beneficiary of its use. The question isn’t how do we get more people to agree to data science but rather how can we improve data science by engaging our fellow citizens in it?

This blog post is the first of 3 parts. Look back here for a link to part 2 when available.

More about the dialogue:




Rowe, G., Frewer, L. J., & Frewer, L. J. (2015). All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions A Typology of Public Engagement Mechanisms, 30(2), 251–290. http://doi.org/10.1177/0162243904271724

Gittelman, S., Lange, V., Gotway Crawford, C. A., Okoro, C. A., Lieb, E., Dhingra, S. S., & Trimarchi, E. (2015). A New Source of Data for Public Health Surveillance : Facebook Likes, 17(4), 1–12. http://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.3970

Triggle, N. (2014). Care.data: How did it go so wrong? BBC News. Retrieved from www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26259101


Emily Rempel is an interdisciplinary PhD student in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Policy Research who is exploring the role of public engagement and data science in UK policy making. She is working with the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service on the Public Dialogue on Data Science Ethics.


At a low ebb or in terminal decline? The future of social democracy

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📥  Uncategorised


I wrote this short blog for The Staggers this week on the future of the left, with particular reference to European social democracy:

"There are plenty of grounds for pessimism about the left’s prospects and they are well rehearsed.  Across Europe, social democrats are out of power and when they do manage to enter government, it is under the skirts of dominant centre-right parties or at the helm of fragile coalitions. Ageing western societies have become more conservative, immigration has driven a cultural wedge into the cross-class coalitions that once undergirded centre-left voting blocs, and austerity has ushered in a politics of security, not reform. Only those who have borne the brunt of the financial crisis and its aftermath, like the unemployed youth and evicted homeowners of Southern Europe, have swung decisively to the left, joined by relatively protected but angry older middle class liberals of Northern Europe. Even in Latin America, where the left swept the board at the turn of the century, politics is shifting to the right. Bright spots, such as municipal experimentalism in Spanish cities, or energetic liberalism in Canada and Italy, illuminate the gloom. But mostly, darkness is visible.

Is this condition terminal? Inequality, stagnant living standards and the turbulence of global capitalism generate profound political discontent. They give oxygen to progressive protest movements as well as populist reactionaries, as the convulsions in US politics show. But only a facile determinism reads off political progress from economic crisis. There is nothing to guarantee that revulsion at political and economic elites will give birth to a new egalitarianism. The left needs a clearer headed view of the political terrain that it will face in the 2020s.

Demographic change is a given. Advanced democracies like Britain will get older and the weight of older voters in elections will increase, not diminish. The gap in turnout rates between young and old is unlikely to close, tilting politics even further towards the cultural concerns and economic interests of the over fifties. Leadership credentials and economic competence matter for these voters more than abstract appeals to equality. But a generation of young people will also enter middle age in the 2020s having endured the worst of the age of austerity, with lower wages, stymied home ownership aspirations and stunted career progression to show for it. So just as 20th century catch-all parties built cross-class electoral alliances, successful political movements in the coming decades will need to secure inter-generational voting blocs. Stitching these together will foreground the politics of family and focus policy attention on transfers of wealth and opportunity across multiple generations.

Ageing will also ratchet up fiscal pressures on the state, as costs mount for the NHS, care of the elderly and pensions. But Britain’s tax base has been weakened by low productivity, corporate tax avoidance and expensive personal allowance giveaways. In the 2020s, this crunch will loom large over fiscal policy and force hard choices over priorities. Just as in the 1990s, we can expect public disquiet at the run-down of investment in public services to mount, but this time there won’t be the same spending headroom to respond to it. The political debate currently underway in Scotland about raising income tax is therefore a harbinger of the future for the rest of the UK.

Fiscal constraints will also force the left to take seriously the agenda of economic reform opened up under the ungainly title of “pre-distribution”. Without an account of how to generate and share prosperity more equitably within the market economy, social democracy is purposeless. But it will need a far more robust and plausible political strategy for achieving these ambitions than anything that has been on offer hitherto. Technological change will not usher in a new economy of its own accord, and without the solid base of an organised working class to ground its politics, the left needs to be open to a wide set of alliances with businesses, big and small. Combining economic radicalism with credibility and popular appeal, particularly to voters who still blame it for the financial crisis, is the hardest challenge the left faces, but there is no getting away from it.

On a note of optimism, the left is currently strong in cities, from which it can build out. Diversity is a strength in major urban centres, not a weakness, and powerful city leaders endow progressive politics with governing authority. Cities are the places where new social movements are most active and much of the energy of contemporary politics can be found, even if elections are fought on wider terrain. The task is to combine a propensity to decentralise and devolve with clear national political direction. The same holds with party reform: the mass political parties of the 20th century are dead, but networks can’t fight elections, so combining openness and democratic engagement, with discipline and national purpose, is vital."




After Brexit: The Eurosceptic vision of an Anglosphere Future

📥  Anglosphere, Brexit, Euroscepticism

Now that the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has published the proposed reforms to the relationship between the UK and the EU, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has endorsed them as the basis for the UK’s continued membership of the union, the starting gun has effectively been fired in the referendum campaign. A central challenge for Eurosceptic supporters of Brexit is how to articulate a prosperous, optimistic future for the UK outside the EU. Conversely, supporters of staying-in need to show why Britain is stronger inside the union, and why leaving it would be risky. Much of this hangs on bread-and-butter questions about jobs and living standards, and the extent to which the Prime Minister’s reform package addresses public concerns about immigration and democratic control over EU institutions. But bigger questions about Britain’s identity and place in the world loom large too.

In the last couple of decades, eurosceptics have developed the idea that Britain’s future lies with a group of “Anglosphere” countries, not with a union of European states. At the core of this Anglosphere are the “five eyes” countries (so-called because of intelligence cooperation) of the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Each, it is argued, share a common history, language and political culture: liberal, protestant, free market, democratic and English-speaking. Sometimes the net is cast wider, to encompass Commonwealth countries and former British colonies, such as India, Singapore and Hong Kong. But the emotional and political heart of the project resides in the five eyes nations.

As this lineage suggests, the roots of the Anglosphere concept lie in 19th century imperialist discourses, and more specifically in the idea of an Imperial Federation, which gained ground in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the British Empire came under pressure from rising nationalist and anti-colonialist forces. Federation, with an Imperial Parliament governing foreign, defence and trade policy, seemed an ideal solution for keeping dominions and colonies happily inside the empire. The First World War put paid to this ambition but the idea lived on in the concept of the Commonwealth.

As Professor Michael Kenny and I set out in an essay for the New Statesman, the Anglosphere returned as a central concept in eurosceptic thinking in the 1980s, when Europhilia started to wane in the Conservative Party and Thatcherism was its ascendancy. On the right of the Conservative Party, we argued:

“…American ideas were a major influence, especially following the emergence of a powerful set of foundations, think tanks and intellectuals in the UK that propounded arguments and ideas that were associated with the fledgling “New Right”. In this climate, the Anglosphere came back to life as an alternative ambition, advanced by a powerful alliance of global media moguls (Conrad Black, in particular), outspoken politicians, well-known commentators and intellectual outriders, who all shared an insurgent ideological agenda and a strong sense of disgruntlement with the direction and character of mainstream conservatism.

In his major work Reflections on a Ravaged Century, the historian Robert Conquest argued that the political arrangements of the west were all increasingly deficient, the EU included. The answer was “a more fruitful unity” between the Anglosphere nations. And, in a speech to the English-Speaking Union in New York in 1999, Margaret Thatcher endorsed Conquest’s vision, noting how such an alliance would “redefine the political landscape”. What appealed most was the prospect of the UK finding an alliance founded upon deep, shared values, the antithesis of the position it faced in Europe.”

The idea of the Anglosphere as an alternative to the European Union gained ground amongst conservatives in their New Labour wildnerness years, when transatlantic dialogue and trips down under kept their hopes of ideological revival alive. It was given further oxygen by the neo-conservative coalition of the willing stitched together for the invasion of Iraq, which seemed to demonstrate the Anglosphere’s potency as an geo-political organizing ideal, in contrast to mainstream hostility to the war in Europe. By the time of the 2010 election, the Anglosphere had become common currency in conservative circles, name checked by leading centre-right thinkers like David Willetts, as well as eurosceptic luminaries, such as Dan Hannan MEP, who devoted a book and numerous blogs to the subject.

As Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sought to strengthen ties between the Anglosphere countries, despite the indifference shown by the Obama Presidency to the idea. After leaving the cabinet, the leading eurosceptic Owen Patterson gave a lengthy speech in the US on the subject of an Anglospheric global alliance for free trade and security; he could expect a sympathetic hearing in Republican circles, if not the White House. And in its 2015 election Manifesto, UKIP praised the Anglosphere as a “global community” of which the UK was a key part.

These geo-political claims are met with derision in centrist political circles. For international relations realists, the idea of an Anglosphere barely merits a straight face, let alone serious consideration. And it is unquestionable that the US and Canada, let alone India, would view a geo-political alliance of English-speaking as an alternative to existing global structures as fanciful; indeed, they question why the UK should be entertaining leaving the EU at all.

But the Anglosphere’s potency is ideological, not geo-political. It functions as an imaginary horizon for a eurosceptic worldview of Britain after Brexit, uniting the UK with a global trading future as well as a sceptered isle past. It registers nostalgia, but also energy: Britain would be liberated to march on the world stage again, freed from sclerotic, conformist Europe and reanimated by the animal spirits that once gave it an empire. Thus it defends the eurosceptic flank where it is most vulnerable – rebutting the charge that it wants to take Britain back to the 1950s by delving even deeper into our island story and casting it forward into the 21st century.

This should give pro-Europeans pause for thought. The “Remain” campaign is currently premised largely on the risks of Brexit (or “Project Fear” as it is known to its detractors). It needs an optimistic account of Britain’s future in the world - one which passes through the European Union, not past it.  Yet globalization currently has a bad press, and in the face of insecurity and inequality, a New Labour formula of “globalization plus good schools” doesn’t cut much ice with working class voters. Developing its own version of Britain’s identity and role in the world, beyond the fact of EU membership alone, is therefore a pressing task.


Marley Morris on the EU renegotiation: finding a deal on free movement

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📥  David Cameron, EU membership, EU migrants, EU renegotiation, migration

By Marley Morris, Research Fellow, the Institute for Public Policy Research

Rumours abound over the Prime Minister’s renegotiation over the UK’s EU membership with his European counterparts. With the aim clearly to wrap things up by the European Council summit next month, the pressure is on to find a solution to Cameron’s most troublesome renegotiation demand: restricting tax credits and child benefit for EU migrants for their first four years in the UK. Other EU countries say it’s discriminatory; the Prime Minister says it’s essential for Britain to remain in the EU. (Indeed more than four fifths of the public support the change.)

While much has been written on a potential deal in the press, the daily injection of contradictory and ambiguous briefings paint an increasingly confused picture. So what are the real options available to the government and what are their prospects of success? There appear to be (at least) five main ways out of the current impasse currently being discussed.

·       The residency test

Some have suggested that, in order to avoid directly discriminating against EU migrants, the UK could introduce a four-year residency test for accessing benefits for all newcomers, UK and EU nationals alike. The problem here is that, while it may not be directly discriminatory, it is still likely to be considered indirectly discriminatory by the European Court of Justice, as EU migrants are far more likely to be affected than UK nationals.

It has been proposed that the UK could extend the ban on in-work benefits to all 18-22 year olds too, in order to avoid the discrimination charge. Judging by the headlines so far on such an arrangement, it is likely this would be politically toxic. Reports have suggested that an alternative means could be found to compensate 18-22 year olds that wouldn’t apply to EU migrants, perhaps through a voucher for college fees or some other form of “social payment” before they enter the workforce (presumably described in such a way as to justify categorisation as a “social assistance” benefit, which under EU law would be more easy to deny to EU migrants). Yet this too has its problems. Apart from the somewhat absurdly bureaucratic consequences of such a move, it would likely still be considered discriminatory if young EU workers were openly barred from the new system – or even if they were indirectly disadvantaged.

·       Redefining ‘workers’

On the other hand, this week there has been talk of a German proposal to restrict benefits for EU migrants by redefining what counts as a worker under EU law. Currently according to the European Court of Justice’s case law, EU nationals who undertake “genuine and effective” and not “marginal and ancillary” work have a right to reside as a worker and so full access to in-work benefits on a par with UK nationals. It seems that this proposal would remove worker status from anyone who earns under £7000 a year (or 20 hours a week on the minimum wage) On the face of it this might seem an ingenious solution to the standoff: the UK’s EU partners won’t tolerate any discrimination against workers in particular, so a change to how workers are defined removes their primary concern.

But there are two problems here. First, as the German proposal is only to remove worker status (and therefore in-work benefits) to anyone earning less than £7000 a year, everyone else will still be classified as a worker. So most EU migrants will not be affected by the change. Second, it is quite possible that such a reform would require treaty change, given that the European Court of Justice could argue that it takes its interpretation of who counts as a worker and who doesn’t from the treaties themselves. Treaty change is harder to secure than an amendment to secondary legislation, as it requires ratification by all 28 member states.

·       The labour mobility package

At the same time, there has been much talk in the press about European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen’s labour mobility package, which was meant to be published last year but has been delayed due to the UK’s renegotiation efforts. While the full details of the proposals are not yet published, some papers have argued that they will at least deliver part of the Prime Minister’s four year demand.

But this seems farfetched: from Thyssen’s recent public speeches, most of the proposals appear to be minor changes to the 2004 social security coordination regulation. For instance, Thyssen has raised the possibility of setting a time limit on how long an EU national must work in a member state before accessing contributory unemployment benefits there. This is meant to address a particular issue in the current system of coordination: EU nationals who have worked in one member state for many years, who find work in another member state, and who subsequently lose their job can then claim contributory unemployment benefits in their current member state on the basis of their previous contributions elsewhere, even if they have only paid into the current member state’s system for a matter of weeks. Thyssen has therefore hinted that someone should work in an EU member state for a certain time period (potentially one month or three months) before they can claim contributory unemployment benefits in that member state if they lose their job. For countries with highly contributory systems like Germany and the Nordic countries – who pay out a certain percentage of your former salary – such a change would be quite significant, but for the UK – where contribution-based JSA is paid at the same rate as income-based JSA – it is not. Thyssen has also suggested changes to the rules on exportability of contributory unemployment benefits, but this will for the most part not have a large impact on the UK.

Thyssen’s package of reforms is therefore unlikely to be anything close to the kind of change the Prime Minister needs (and in any case, even if Thyssen does propose something suitable it would still need to be passed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament). The one exception is on the Prime Minister’s arguments on access to child benefit in cases where a child lives in a different member state to the parent – here Thyssen has hinted that reform is coming.

·       The emergency brake

Another suggestion has pointed in a very different direction: rather than reforming the benefit rules for EU migrants, the EU could agree a deal to allow an emergency brake for free movement of people. Actual controls on people entering the country would be impractical; instead the brake would presumably consist of limits on access to the UK’s labour market. When it was originally discussed in 2014 it was widely deemed unfeasible. But now it is back on the table it might be a suitable political alternative to the four year rule and may be easier to negotiate than the Prime Minister’s current plans (though still will likely require treaty change). But the devil is in the detail: how in practice would an emergency brake work?

As the EU legal professor Steve Peers notes, there is an ‘emergency brake’ option in the arrangements for the seven year period of transitional controls after accession of new member states that perhaps serves as a model for a broader emergency brake. Here the brake can only be pulled when a country ‘undergoes or foresees disturbances on its labour market which could seriously threaten the standard of living or level of employment in a given region or occupation’. But such a decision has to be approved by the European Commission and can be overturned by the European Council, so the UK would not be able to pull such a brake at will.

Moreover, it is hard to know what an objective measure of determining a situation serious enough to justify an emergency break would look like. Could an emergency brake be pulled because levels of migration are simply too high? If that’s the case then this would amount to a quota system, which would presumably be unacceptable to the rest of the EU. Could it be pulled if there is evidence of high unemployment, of a burden on the welfare system, or of pressures on public services? The problem is that the evidence for such challenges is either limited or hard to compare across member states.

So a deal here might be possible – but the challenge for the Prime Minister will be to get a balance between an emergency brake that does not unduly restrict free movement – which would clearly not be countenanced by other member states – yet which is meaningful enough to convince the British public.

·       Benefits for unemployed EU migrants

Finally, as IPPR has suggested, there is political and legal scope for action on benefits for unemployed EU nationals, rather than those who are in work. Here the rules are very different and there are signs from recent European Court of Justice judgements that there is scope for tightening them further. Certainly other EU member states seem more comfortable with a deal of this sort, and a few proposals have been touted, particularly with respect to the rules that allow EU migrants to retain their worker status after losing their job and so continue to get access to the benefit system on a par with UK nationals. IPPR has suggested removing the retention of worker status until EU migrants have worked in the UK for three years; more modestly, in Germany there have been recent suggestions of a similar restriction for six months.

None of these proposals are perfect – all face their own legal and political difficulties. Perhaps the most convincing and achievable are the emergency brake (depending of course on the details) and the benefit limits for unemployed EU migrants – because they both are capable of gaining support in the UK and avoid the toxic accusation of discrimination between EU workers. Yet here the Prime Minister may be accused of backing down on a manifesto promise to restrict in-work benefits. Surely some kind of compromise will be found – but it’s still far from clear whether it will be enough for the Prime Minister to declare his renegotiation a success.

Marley Morris is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research



New Canada, New Labour: Trudeau takes a lesson in Blairite government

📥  Canada, New Labour, Trudeau

As the Labour Party wrestles over whether to honour or disown its New Labour past, Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has been busy assembling the architecture of a Blairite central government.

Trudeau’s youth, good looks and self-declared “sunny ways” all evoke the Tony Blair of 1997. Both were swept to power on the back of popular discontent with a tired, shrunken conservative government, and each embodied widely held aspirations for a new, open and optimistic national spirit.

But the parallels don’t end there. Trudeau is consciously borrowing from the structures of the delivery state that Tony Blair developed in his second term as Prime Minister, most often associated with Sir Michael Barber and his No10 Delivery Unit.  Barber joined Trudeau and his Cabinet for a retreat earlier this week held to hammer out priorities for the new Liberal government, advising the assembled ministers on how to deliver their core objectives. (With the oil price still falling, and China’s debt bubble unwinding, the global economic slowdown was top of their agenda. The Liberal government was elected to inject a deficit-financed infrastructure investment stimulus into the economy, and it needs to deliver on that in its first Budget).

Trudeau has appointed his own Barber figure, Matthew Mendelsohn, to be the Canadian government’s first deputy secretary for “results and delivery”.  Mendelsohn is one of a stable of top Trudeau advisers who worked for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration, which pioneered the take up of Barber’ delivery approach in Canada. Political links, shared institutional history and a common language often facilitate policy transfer within the so-called “Anglosphere” countries, and in this case, the pivotal figure was Trudeau’s new Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, who travelled to the UK in the early 2000s to study the Blair government’s delivery unit and took the lessons back to Ontario.

Institutional and political differences limit the scope for straightforward R & D – “Rob and Duplicate” – in governance practices across countries. Canada is a federal country, with powerful provincial and territorial governments, unlike centralised England (for the most part, Barber’s writ did not run in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since each has devolved government responsible for its public services). The Prime Minister cannot simply pull a delivery lever in Ottawa and expect the Canadian provincial premiers to do his bidding. Trudeau is also committed to restoring some semblance of Cabinet government to Canada, after the government-by-closed-clique administration of the Stephen Harper years. His advisers know they need to empower, and engage carefully, with Cabinet ministers, which will require modifications to the delivery and implementation structure pioneered by Barber and Blair. On forming his government, Trudeau lifted the technique of Ministerial appointment mandates – letters to new Ministers setting out their key objectives - straight from the Blair delivery textbook. But the letters were in two halves: one setting out how a Minister should govern with openness, democratic engagement and accountability, in pointed contrast to the Harper government; and the second, a list of delivery goals drawn from the lengthy Liberal manifesto. How Canada’s ministers spatch these technocratic and democratic modes together will be an interesting object lesson in modern federal government.

Does Trudeau’s delivery agenda signal fresh vitality for new public management (NPM)? Elsewhere in the world, the high water mark of NPM appears to have passed, challenged from below by democratic forces, such as insurgent political parties and powerful city leaders exercising their own mandates; by the emergence of identity issues, such as immigration, which cannot be dealt with as “delivery” challenges;  by the explosion of data, which can be used to spread power out of central government as much as to underpin centralised public sector management; and by new relational approaches to public sector reform, which draw on the insights of complexity theory and the twin democratic and realist turns in political theory.

On the centre-left, in particular, advocates of relational egalitarianism stress the need for active, democratic equality, in which policy ambitions are shaped in everyday struggles and then embodied in the institutions and practices of a country, not handed down from above and measured on a civil servant’s spreadsheet. Contrast the public support for the NHS and the National Minimum Wage which the lack of popular commitment to say, the Labour government’s child poverty target, and you have this argument crystallised.

Trudeau must also contend with the demoralisation of the civil service under his predecessor. Harper consistently marginalised his Ottawan public servants, to the point of ritual humiliation. There was a palpable sense of relief amongst the official class when Trudeau won. They will expect a restoration of Canadian public service traditions, and to be trusted with formulating policy advice as well as the administrative implementation of the Liberals’ plans.

For all these reasons, Trudeau’s version of the delivery state may end up looking very different to Blair’s. But the central political insight – that progressive governments have to gain the public’s trust, not just to defend, but to consistently improve public services  – animates Trudeau’s government as much as it did Blair’s. Whether Trudeau can govern effectively beyond his honeymoon period and, as importantly, leave a progressive legacy, will be the test of his Ottawan experiment in delivery.






“Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”

📥  Bowie, future, policymaking

“Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”, was the slogan David Bowie coined to promote Heroes, the second instalment of his great Berlin album trilogy. It neatly captures one of his most important talents: to intuit the future and draw it forward into the popular culture of the present. Sometimes he would simply grasp the importance of a trend, as when he understood that the arrival of the internet would transform the economics of the music industry and the relationship between artists and audiences. But more often it was his artistry in self-reinvention that opened up new modes of cultural expression or brought shooting up to the surface deeper social trends. When he famously threw his arms round Mick Ronson’s shoulders on Top of the Pops, he was doing more than advertising his bisexuality. He was helping catalyse the liberation in the politics of sexual identity that would unfold in the 1970s.

Most of the commentary on Bowie’s life has been romantic in nature; that is, it has attributed his remarkable oeuvre to a singular, creative genius. But like most artists, his talents were nurtured in collaboration with others and born of particular historical circumstances. The flowering of social liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s was the product of the success of post-war Keynesianism. Full employment allowed young men and women to travel up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to new forms of self-expression. Their talents were nurtured by expanded opportunities to learn and study. If they fell to earth, the welfare state safety net was there to catch them. The fruits of their creativity couldn’t be streamed to a mobile device, but nor were they simply commodified for a global marketplace.

Yet for all that, the creative ability to intuit, anticipate and lay claim to the future is hard to institutionalise. Since the Cold War, governments have modelled scenarios of the future, gaming wars and scoping geo-political risks. The tools of this trade are now familiar to most multinationals. Climate change has brought sophisticated modelling and probability theory into the heart of environmental policymaking, and thence into international agreements, like last year’s Paris treaty, and domestic legislation, such as the ground breaking 2008 Climate Change Act in the UK, which set out a clear target and framework for climate policymaking to 2050. But orientation towards the long term future is still rare in much public policymaking; political and economic cycles militate against it.

Some politicians think hard about the long-term, and cast backwards and forwards across the past and future to think about intergenerational obligations. A notable example is the former universities’ minister, David Willetts, whose Burkean mindset lends itself to sharp thinking about how the old and wealthy are laying claim to resources that the young cannot enjoy. Other politicians manage to embody the future. When politics has ossified and decayed, the political leader who promises change can carry the promise of tomorrow. Wilson, Thatcher and Blair all once had the “future in their bones”, as Eric Hobsbawm put it. Thatcher used the crisis of post-war Keynesianism to embark on a radical transformation of Britain’s political economy, but a deep crisis is not always accompanied by profound change. The Great Recession of 2008 has ushered in a politics of security, not reform.

Only perhaps in the USA has the political terrain started to shift towards a new settlement in recent years, as this long read in the Atlantic claims. But President Obama, in his final State of the Union address, was still in the business of staking out an agenda for future reforms. Though he can claim a legacy of achievement, it was the future he sought to own for his party, even as he bows out of office.

Some countries create institutional forums for thinking about the future. Finland’s Parliamentary Committee on the Future is a thoughtful example. Better still, Finland increasingly combines incremental experimentalism with long range thinking; the sort of public policymaking Geoff Mulgan had in mind when praising the philosopher Roberto Unger here.  Universities are well equipped to perform these tasks, of course. Bowie’s long-time collaborator Brian Eno, even helped form a foundation dedicated to long-term, slow thinking - the Long Now.

Ultimately, however, it is only when we write the obituary of an artist, movement, party or institution that we know whether it helped bring the future into being. And that is one reason, of course, why we can be confident in the tributes paid to David Bowie this week.