A response to the European and UK local elections by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press

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When I set up Policy Press it was because I was passionate about social issues.  I felt strongly that we needed to fight for a fairer society, one that looked after all its citizens regardless of their wealth and background; race, ethnicity or faith; gender, age or (dis)abilities; regardless of whether they lived in England or Ethiopia.

Our authors are the experts on how to achieve that goal, from understanding the challenges at a theoretical level through to how to implement policy and practice on the ground, and until today, I have been delighted to let them do the talking.  But following the recent results in the UK local and European elections I am moved to join the conversation and speak out.

This weekend we have seen again the rise of the extreme right in politics, both in the UK and across Europe.  This move appears to be a response to a range of factors – a belief that the European Union is inefficient and has too much control over nation state policies; a fear that immigration is a threat to jobs, security and culture; and an understandable anxiety for many as the global recession continues to take its toll.

It may be that the European Union as an institution is in need of reform, but we have to remember why we have a Union.  Initially a post-World War II settlement, it was a means for ensuring cooperation to avoid future conflict.  More recently it has been more about power and global influence in response to the rise of the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil – but the initial  collaborative intent must not be forgotten.

My fear is that, if we remain silent, then things we take for granted like the belief in equality and fairness will be lost and things we don’t think possible, will happen.  Our authors’ thoughtful writing has helped me to contemplate many of these issues and the three books below stand out for me.

ImageThe UK Government’s response to the global recession was an ‘Austerity’ drive, cutting back spending dramatically, especially to the welfare budget. This has hit those already in challenging circumstances in a devastating way.  Mary O’Hara, a journalist and Fulbright Scholar spent a year travelling the UK interviewing those facing hardship and those supporting them.  Her eloquent, insightful book Austerity Bites, published today, provides first hand testimony of what it is like to be struggling –  not to have enough to feed your family despite working your hardest in low paid, insecure jobs.

When we feel our security is challenged, one response is to fight back.  When we feel threatened we can look around for those that are different to blame.  Perhaps this points to why we are facing an increasing tide of anti-immigration rhetoric.  The headlines in some of the UK tabloid papers have been shocking: “We must stop the migrant invasion” Daily Express, “4,000 foreign murderers and rapists we can’t throw out” Daily Mail or “How Romanian criminals terrorise our streets” Daily Express.

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Malcolm Dean, previously Social Affairs Editor for the Guardian, looked at how the media influences and manipulates public opinion and the effect this has on politics and policy in his highly praised book Democracy under Attack.  It provides perhaps one possible answer to how and why we have seen the French National Front, the Dutch Freedom Party and the UK Independence Party (UKiP) gaining such traction in the recent elections.

Image Dimitris Ballas, of Sheffield University and Danny Dorling and Ben Hennig of Oxford University have created the first European Social Atlas and it  analyses social and political Europe in detail.  This beautifully produced book shows in clear graphic form that Europe is a blend of cultures, languages, traditions, landscapes and ideologies that are often not bound by state or regional borders.  The social atlas of Europe is “an insightful look at today’s Europe” (Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley) and will be published on 25 June. It shows Europe and the Europeans in an entirely new light and highlights why we should be, working together, not pulling apart.

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