Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Nine key tips for the campaign to keep Britain in the EU

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📥  Public Policy, The Conversation

Donald Lancaster, a new teaching fellow in our School of Management, has held a successful international career in advertising working with some of the world's biggest brands. Here he blogs with some dos and don'ts for the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

There is still no date for the UK’s EU referendum and the deadline of 2017 may seem a long way off, but the “In” campaign is starting late and on the back foot for several reasons. Most Britons are naturally Eurosceptic and many are also seriously ill-informed about the benefits of EU membership. The subject is, in reality, too big, too complex and too far-reaching for most to comprehend.

In addition, the “In” campaign is navigating its way through uncharted waters. The last referendum on the subject was in 1975 and was held under almost entirely different circumstances. Plus, the issues at stake remain unclear, as the prime minister has yet to unveil the reforms against which this referendum will be set. The result is that the “In” campaign has less than a full tool-box with which to campaign.

Meanwhile, the “Out” campaign, although divided, has some charismatic spokespeople and titillates by selling the exciting prospects of change, increased sovereign control, and regained stature on the world stage. It is able to inflate the electorate’s sense of British pride.

So Sir Stuart Rose (pictured above), chairman of online grocer Ocado, former CEO of Marks and Spencer and head of the “In” campaign, has his work cut out. Here are some dos and don'ts for him and his team.



Northern Irish Politics and the DUP – from Protest to Power

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📥  Public Policy, Society

Dr Sophie Whiting, lecturer in our Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, recently won the prestigious Political Studies Association of Ireland Brian Farrell Book Prize for the Best Book published in Political Science for her co-authored book ‘The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power’. Here she blogs on the key messages from the book and its relevance for contemporary politics in Northern Ireland.

Dr Whiting with Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson at the book launch.

Dr Whiting with Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP Leader, Peter Robinson, at the book launch.

From Protest to Power, published last year by Oxford University Press, is the result of a two-year Leverhulme Trust research project on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. Drawing upon unprecedented access to a party historically suspicious of outsiders, the book offers a unique insight in to an organisation traditionally viewed as a party of opposition grounded in Protestant religious principles.

For more than forty years following the party’s formation in 1971, the DUP was led by the fundamentalist Protestant preacher, the Reverend Ian Paisley, who opposed all compromises with Irish Catholic Nationalists and Republicans in his stout defence of Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. Having campaigned vehemently against the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, it amazed many, including party members, that by 2006 the party had agreed to enter a power-sharing arrangement with its historic enemy, Sinn Féin.



Magna Carta 800 years on

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📥  Society

Professor Bill Durodié, Chair of International Relations and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies delivered this speech at the Bath Civic Celebration on Sunday 25 October 2015.


What matters most about Magna Carta is not the document itself but the ideas it generated – it is not so much the letter of the law but the spirit that matters. As Winston Churchill once noted Magna Carta became; ‘the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dreamed’.

It may serve to remind some of us here, in various positions of authority today, that it is not simply what we do in the present that really matters as its legacy. And for ideas and actions to stand the test of time they need to capture – not just the spirit of the times – but the aspirations of the future. That’s a tall order for us all to follow but – history is still young – and there is still plenty of time and history ahead of us.

Much of Magna Carta of course is specific to its time – its 63 clauses can come across, in parts, as impenetrable, obscure and even just trivial. But buried among the list of grievances presented by the 25 Barons to King John were not just clauses about fish weirs or standard measures for ale. Clause 39 remains extant to this day to the effect that;

‘No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his peers/equals, or by the law of the land’.


Giving our children equal opportunities

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📥  Public Policy, Society

A generation of children are growing up with a starker divergence in opportunities than ever before: a trend that will take its toll on every aspect of their adult life.

Bath’s Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy and Institute for Policy Research (IPR), together with the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, hosted Professor Robert Putnam, Harvard professor of public policy and author of the acclaimed Bowling Alone and recently published Our Kids, along with a high-profile panel of academics, business leaders and policy-makers, to discuss what can be done.

End of the American Dream

Putnam described how equality of opportunity among American children has been eroded over three generations. Today, for those born to mothers with only a High School education the future looks increasingly bleak. America, as Putnam describes it, is “pulling apart” along class lines – it is increasingly divided by class, by education, and by marital status. The American Dream, founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all, is rapidly breaking down, across an array of outcomes covering economic circumstances (earnings and incomes), relationships (stable marriages) and health (obesity).

As Putnam explained, today in the US, set against the core value of equality of opportunity, we know that it’s parents’ income, not ability, that’s critical in determining whether their children will get a college degree.

College-educated parents are increasingly investing in their children, and the gap between them and those with lower educated parents has grown rapidly. The last 30 years have seen increased differences by class in the amount of time parents invest in children, the number of enrichment activities they take part in, the likelihood of having a family dinner together (important to Putnam ’s ‘cultural capital’). The opportunities presented to children of working class parents have rapidly fallen behind those of the middle classes.

Why have children’s opportunities been polarised?

The collapse of the economy for the working class is in part responsible, but so too is the fraying of family bonds. Seventy per cent of children with parents of high school education or lower live in lone parent families. And the evidence, according to Putnam, tells us that children in lone parent families fare less well than those who grow up with both parents – it is quite simply easier to raise a child with two parents. Economic and family instability are intrinsically intertwined.

But there are wider social changes at play that matter too. The societal bonds that have in the past protected all our children are now unravelling.  Children are no longer seen as the responsibility of all, but more narrowly their parents.  This individualisation of responsibility has implications for all as the provision of public investments for children – whether in play parks or swimming pools – has shrunk. This has dramatic implications for the opportunities of children from lower social classes and the numbers taking part in extracurricular activities has withered. Community is in decline - church attendance is falling and social trust is being eroded.

What lessons are there for the UK?

The growing gulf for children in the US is divided by parent’s educational attainment, but in the UK there are grounds to be less pessimistic. Higher education continues to expand, and, while average earnings have fared poorly since 2007, in the last year real pay has begun to grown again.  The compelling US narrative, of a world where the classes are pulling apart, has less resonance for the UK.

However, although the UK economy is beginning to grow, analysis by Gavin Kelly (Chief Executive of the Resolution Trust) shows that there are problems ahead – earnings mobility remains low, the low paid increasingly remain so for long periods of time, and the earnings of young people are falling behind. In-work poverty also looks set to increase as the number of people working very short hours is set to grow, while incentives to work shrink.

When should public policy intervene?

The case for greater intervention in the early years, Putnam argues, is overstated. Instead he puts the case for public policy interventions to tackle problems at different stages of the lifecycle, with individuals showing remarkable capacity to adapt and learn throughout their lifetime. Former Minister, David Willetts (now Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation) argued at our recent event that limited public finances means that policy should focus on problems once they become obvious. Interventions in early childhood, before problems emerge, may be a costly means of intervention.

Social mobility is a political problem, says Putnam, and he is optimistic that it is something that it is not beyond the wit of policy makers to fix. His suggestions for reform are wide-ranging, from interventions in the labour markets and criminal justice system; to policies to intervene in the early years to support families and to invest in public education.  Finding a solution will require determination from policy makers.

While Putnam believes there are grounds for optimism what remains certain is that the issues of social mobility will remain firmly on the policy agenda over the next decade across the trans-Atlantic divide.

Professor Putnam, David Willetts, Gavin Kelly, Sacha Romanovitch (CEO of Grant Thornton) Dr Liz Washbrook and Professor Alissa Goodman took part in Child Poverty and Social Mobility: Lessons for Research and Policy which took place in Westminster, London on Thursday 8 October. See the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy for information on forthcoming seminars.


Volkswagen in crisis: how to salvage their reputation?

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📥  Society, Uncategorized

Volkswagen board members meet today to decide on action as the ramifications of the emissions scandal unfurl. For one of the world's best known and trusted brands it surely won't be an easy road to recovery. To restore its trustworthiness VolksWagen has two tasks: to deal with the immediate crisis and to address the underlying problems within the organisation that have led to the crisis.

The need for sincerity

In terms of the immediate crisis, research on breaches of trust with other institutions tells us that the best course of action for CEOS is to apologise, in person, in front of people rather than a Twitter feed, express profound regret and order an immediate investigation.

This action of apology needs to be in person and in front of key audiences, customers, employees, environmental groups etc. The reason for it needing to be in person is because that is how people gauge the sincerity of the CEO or director. People gauge trustworthiness partly by actions and decisions of leaders but also their behaviour. Pithy statements down a Twitter feed are not enough right now.

Exits may be swift

The investigation of the immediate crisis has to be conducted by some independent third party who has not been implicated by the crisis. They could be internal or external but the process of the investigation needs to be open and transparent. Due to this need for independence and transparency, it may be impossible to keep key managers implicated in the deceit within the organisation. We may see swift exits.

In the medium term, and depending upon the outcome of the immediate investigation, in order to restore trust companies usually have to address one or some of the following factors: their ability or competence to fulfil their mission, be that car manufacturing or managing airlines or whatever; their basic levels of benevolence towards their communities, employees, customers, societies - are they entirely self seeking or are they bothered about the impact of their activities upon others; and, of course ,the basic integrity or morality of the company. What unspoken values underpin their decision making?

The heart of the problem

In Volkswagen's case their competence as a car manufacturer is not in doubt. What is in doubt is their integrity, their transparency and honesty: their moral compass as well as their sense of responsibility towards the environment, their customers and society as a whole. These issues can only be addressed by looking deeply into the way they take decisions, the way they choose their leaders and the way they measure and reward those leaders for the decisions they take. It's the underlying culture that causes these crises and that will take years to address.

Professor Veronica Hope Hailey is Dean of the School of Management


From ‘JesWeCan’ to ‘JeezTheyDid’: where next for the Jeremy Corbyn insurgency?

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📥  Election 2015, Public Policy

Jeremy Corbyn’s historic victory today on the first round of voting with nearly 60 per cent of the vote has been anticipated for weeks and does not come as a surprise. But for political commentators it still has the capacity to shock. It is no longer a question of ‘JesWeCan’. It is now ‘JeezThey Did’.

For the victory of Corbyn represents a rejection of the electoral logic and strategic calculus that has driven Labour Party policy for the last 25 years.

Back in the 1990s, Labour strategy was straightforward. The UK’s First – Past -The - Post (FPTP) electoral system piled up safe seats in Scotland, Wales and the North of England for Labour, and in the affluent South of England for the  Conservatives. General Elections were won in the centre, where the two parties fought over the marginal seats that would propel them to victory.

Now, with Scotland firmly in the SNP camp, and the party under pressure from all directions elsewhere, the way forward is not so clear. We still have FPTP but the clarity is gone.

Reuniting the party

What is clear is that Corbyn and his team will have their work cut out to reunite the party after a bruising contest and to forge a policy platform and style of politics that will not only command the support of his MPs (most of whom did not support him and many of whom think he will be a disaster) but also overcome the scepticism of the electorate. He and his team will have to do this whilst trying not to alienate the more idealistic of his supporters, who will be looking closely for the first signs of betrayal.

In terms of policy, Corbyn will inevitably have to compromise in the short term. The Labour left is committed to scrapping Trident, withdrawal from NATO and also from the European Union, whilst most MPs and voters do not support these positions. It is no surprise, therefore, that Corbyn has already stepped back from these proposals to some extent. Other policy commitments, such as bringing the railways back into public ownership, raising the top rate of income tax, and creating a national infrastructure bank to boost economic growth, are more popular with voters and I would expect these policies to move centre stage. Whatever the policies, however, Labour’s opponents in parliament and the media will seek to portray the party as dangerously extreme and divided.

A new style of politics

The question of division leads us to the next question: what style of politics will Corbyn and his team pursue? Three questions need to be answered.

First, will Corbyn surround himself – as he has done throughout his career to date – with people who share his views  or will he seek to construct a big tent and welcome talents from across the Labour family? The answer to this will have massive implications for party unity and for its future electability.

Second, and almost as important, how will Corbyn choose to approach the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions? Will he immerse himself in the ritual and attempt to better David Cameron week-by-week or will he treat it with the contempt that many of his supporters think it deserves and concentrate on building his case in the country rather than playing the discredited old parliamentary games?

Finally, and most intriguingly, how will his new Deputy Tom Watson play his hand? Watson is a party insider and – many would argue – a bit of a political thug. He has the power to either make Corbyn’s task harder than it needs to be or to bring the party machine behind him in the name of unity. And if, in a few years time, it is clear that Corbyn is leading Labour to disaster, I wonder what role Watson will play as Corbyn’s opponents try to remember where they buried the political hatchets?

Professor Charlie Lees is from the University's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies. 

The Results

  • Leader: 554,272 votes eligible; 422,664 actual votes; 207 votes spoiled.
  • Round 1: Andy Burnham 80,462 (19 per cent); Yyvette Cooper 71,928 (17 per cent); Jeremy Corbyn 251,417 (59.5 per cent); Liz Kendall 18,857 (4.5 per cent). Jeremy Corbyn wins on the first round.
  • Deputy Leader:  554,272 votes eligible; 408,470 actual votes; 374 votes spoiled.
  • Round 1: Ben Bradshaw 39,080 (9.6 per cent); Stella Creasey 78,1000 (19.1 per cent); Angela Eagle 66,013 (16.2 per cent); Caroline Flint 64,425 (15.8 per cent); Tom Watson 160,852 (39.4 per cent). Ben Bradshaw eliminated.
  • Round 2: Stella Creasey 86,555 (21.4 per cent); Angela Eagle 72,517 (17.9 per cent); Caroline Flint 74,581 (18.4 per cent); Tom Watson 170,589 (42 per cent). Angela Eagle eliminated.
  • Round 3: Stella Creasey 103,746 (26 per cent); Caroline Flint 89,538 (22.8 per cent); Tom Watson 198, 962 (50.7 per cent). Tom Watson elected.


The international legal questions raised by drone strike on British citizens

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

The revelation that the British government killed two of its own citizens in Syria using a drone has major legal implications – not only for British people but for the country as a whole.

Questions have been asked about whether prime minister David Cameron had the right to take action in Syria without parliamentary approval back home but there are other issues at stake here – including the UK’s international standing.

Both the US and the UK have used armed drones to target their enemies, but the UK has quite often made a point of distancing itself from the US by asserting that it uses these weapons within a clear legal framework, guided by British and international law.


Does the government's justification for the drone strike in Syria really stack up in legal terms?


EU leaders are proposing to fix a sticking-plaster on a policy which instead requires radical structural reform

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📥  Public Policy

Migration expert Dr Emma Carmel from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences gives her reactions to the refugee crisis playing out across Europe.

Dr Carmel comments on the current refugee crisis across the EU.

Dr Carmel comments on the current refugee crisis across the EU.

The ‘refugee crisis’ currently faced by the EU has been a long time coming. The current situation in east and south-east Europe reveals the longstanding weaknesses and inadequacies of the EU’s asylum and migration systems.

The Dublin system is clearly broken, yet, in response, EU leaders are proposing to fix a sticking-plaster on a policy which instead requires radical structural reform.

What’s been put on the table as a response appears unlikely to resolve current and future challenges faced by Europe.

The situation we see today was predictable and it will not go away unless we see a co-ordinated EU response with a long-term plan.

Read more from Dr Carmel via The Conversation UK:


Rio 2016: with one year to go, how has Lula’s legacy fared?

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

Dr Bryan Clift is from our Department for Health. This piece was originally written for The Conversation UK.

In August 2016, the Games of the 31st Olympiad will officially open in the Estadio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For the host nation, Rio 2016 is the culmination of a range of political, economic, social, and cultural ambitions.

The foremost advocate of Rio 2016 – former populist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – said of the games during the bid process: “For others it is just another games. For us it will be an unparalleled opportunity.” But whether da Silva’s populist legacy is enough to see the games through to success is open to question.


With 365 days to go until the start of the Rio Olympics will populist former President Lula da Silva legacy be enough to ensure it's a success?



It's not all about aliens – listening project may unveil other secrets of the universe

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project got a $100 million boost this week from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. While this may seem like a lot of money to spend on a nearly impossible task, many astronomers welcome the investment. The cash will go some way to help save some observatories from closure and allow astronomers to continue to use the facilities for astrophysics research alongside SETI.



The “Breakthrough Listen” initiative, announced on July 20 at the Royal Society in London, will pay for giant radio telescopes at Green Bank in West Virginia, USA and the Parkes Observatory in Australia to scan the skies for signs of alien communications. The Lick Observatory’s optical telescope in San Jose, California will also join the search with the goal of scanning one million stars in our Milky Way galaxy along with a hundred other nearby galaxies. In the UK, the giant Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank is also involved in SETI programmes.

The funding, to be allocated over a decade, will pay for thousands of hours per year on these facilities compared to the tens of hours usually available to SETI scientists competing with other astronomical programmes. Frank Drake, one of the pioneers of modern SETI and a member of the Breakthrough Listen team, has described previous support for SETI research as patchy. The total worldwide support in recent years has been only about $500,000 from private gifts.