Archive for the 'Current affairs' Category

Making ourselves at home in an economy that has enough

authors together

by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams

As we enter 2019, there is one thing that all the commentators and punters seem to agree on: no one can really predict what will happen as the months unfold.

What form will Brexit take? Will Trump’s trade wars lead to hostility between nations or will he pull off a peace deal with North Korea? What will the gadget be that people flock to? Will 2019 be the year that plastic bags increase to 10p each in the UK and plastic straws become a thing of the past?

“So many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control.”

Against these multilayered uncertainties is the uncertainty that the majority of people have been dealing with for some time: so many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control. In boardrooms that decide your pay and hours. In algorithms that shape political decisions. In weather that is more extreme due to the pollution and emissions of the richest. In navigating social interactions charged with pressure to look a certain way, own certain things, or even to pose and pout in a certain way.

It is no wonder that more and more people are grasping for something different, whether it is apparently simple solutions offered at the ballot box or stepping outside the mainstream into alternative lifestyles.

This individual searching is mirrored in the economy writ large, which also needs to find a different direction. It needs a new project that recognises that the growth-oriented economy of the 20th century has delivered, but that now, many parts of the world are entering a period where growth is bringing a diminishing suite of benefits and often even increasing harm. The institutions and policies that once rendered growth positive (such as progressive taxation, collective provision of health services and education, or labour market arrangements that balanced power more equally between workers and the owners of capital) are being eroded. This is leaving the benefits of growth to be enjoyed by fewer and fewer people. Pursuit of ever more growth is often driving increasing problems that require yet more resources to fix.

“The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.”

The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.

It is time for such economies to recognise that they have arrived.

‘Arrival’ is about adequacy, being able to meet basic needs. It is primarily a material notion, a matter of having the resources to deliver a good life.

It confronts the ostensibly forbidden question of whether development has a destination.

Crucially, however, having enough resources collectively does not necessarily mean everyone individually has enough. Arrival does not imply that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need. Rather, it is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this.

“Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time.”

Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time. It is the cause of so many of the challenges and uncertainties that people, politicians, businesses and communities are wrestling with as 2019 unfolds.

Perhaps 2019 will be the year in which people recognise that growth has reached a point where a high standard of living could, theoretically, be universal.

Realising that possibility demands a new project – using resources in a smarter, fairer way, rather than wasting or hoarding them; focusing on the quality and distribution of economic activity and material resources. That is the task of ‘making ourselves at home’.

Once the delusion of growth as both an end in itself and the best of all possible means is discarded, discussion can then turn to what sort of economy we can create, to making better use of what has already been accumulated and, perhaps more than anything, ensuring it is fairly distributed.

Many aspects of this ‘grown up’ economy are already in existence – and indeed flourishing. From pro-social businesses to the ‘remakeries’ that are popping up in high streets. From policy makers creating incentives for the circular economy, to the city mayors using participatory budgeting.

Making ourselves at home is an economy in which there is scope for continuous improvement. Science and technology will advance. Human creativity and imagination are boundless. The economy will remain dynamic.

What changes is the ultimate goal. Making ourselves at home is an ethos of qualitative improvement that is a very different system-wide goal to the sometimes meaningless, sometimes harmful, and sometimes unnecessary, pursuit of more.

 

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Brexit won’t be over until it is over: reflecting on Theresa May’s strategy

janice-morphet

Janice Morphet

Following Theresa May’s survival of this week’s no confidence vote, Janice Morphet, author of Beyond Brexit?, reflects on May’s Brexit negotiating strategy over the last two and a half years.

“In 2016, after the referendum and Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May ended the selection process for a new Prime Minister as the only candidate. She seemed ideal for the task ahead, having earned a reputation for quiet efficiency at the Home Office, a sometimes difficult department which had kept out of the news during her long period as Home Secretary.

What was less clear was her approach to negotiations with the EU in the coming months. Over the period since, we have seen three distinct phases of these negotiations. In those first months, the Prime Minister took charge of shaping the negotiation agenda, with her political rather than civil service advisers. There were some issues of concern about the implications of Brexit for ‘just in time’ manufacturing and services, but these appeared to be bought off by Government assurances of no disturbance to the current methods of working, including an undisclosed letter to Nissan.

In this ‘Brexit means Brexit’ period, there was not much outward sign of the PM’s negotiating strategy – shared with either Cabinet or Parliament. She chose rather to be guided by her political advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who moved from the Home Office to No. 10 when she changed jobs, whilst her ambassador in Brussels resigned after his advice was ignored. Timothy persuaded the PM to adopt a package of red lines that would lead to a very restricted future deal for the UK with the EU. Although it was clear that, under WTO rules, the EU could not negotiate a future trading relationship with the UK until after Brexit had been implemented, just as the UK could also not conclude any trade deals in its own right until that point, the Prime Minster was adamant that she wanted to have commitments to a future trading relationship as part of the process of the UK’s departure. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier threw an olive branch to the UK, indicating that the preliminary discussions on the future UK EU relationship could commence once there had been sufficient progress on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Once she had a plan for the negotiation, despite several denials, the PM called a general election in June 2017. What was promoted as a snap election was conducted over the same period as others. It resulted in the loss of her Parliamentary majority. She also lost her political advisers, Timothy and Hill and these were replaced by her new civil service advisor, Olly Robbins, who has subsequently undertaken the negotiation directly on the Prime Minister’s behalf. She also made a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in order to provide her government with a working majority.

The election marked the beginning of the middle passage of the Brexit negotiations for the PM. Coming quickly afterwards, the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire exposed the impact of austerity policies and deregulation which were the hallmark of the coalition government in which May served.

This period extended to the Windrush scandal which demonstrated what the PM had been keeping quiet while she was managing the Home Office. Her obsession with migration over all other aspects of Brexit started to emerge in the third stage of Brexit, as her main sales strategy to the British people. This destroyed her reputation and, with Amber Rudd’s resignation, started the unwinding of the government.

“Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget.”

However, the middle passage also demonstrated another aspect of May’s negotiation style. Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget. In December 2017, the PM wanted to agree a position with the EU that substantial progress on the withdrawal agreement had been made so that she could proceed to discussions about future relationships. In all-night negotiations, she agreed the guarantee to maintain the commitments made to Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement 1998, subsequently known as the backstop. This meant that there would be no borders on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union and Single Market. Those around the PM were told that this political agreement was not binding. David Davis echoed this view on the Marr programme on the following Sunday, only to be met by Barnier’s riposte that the backstop was binding and would now be included in the final agreement as the UK did not understand the political commitments it had made.

So what about the third stage, where the previous promises the PM has made in the Brexit negotiations are coming back to haunt her? Many in her party have come to distrust her promises which appear to reflect the wishes of those she is speaking with, rather than any intention to keep them. Dominic Grieve found this when he was persuaded to withdraw from an opportunity to defeat the government only to have the promises made to him removed the following day. The humiliation of the Salzburg Council demonstrated her weak position to the UK and was a prelude to the final text of the Withdrawal Agreement as she gave way to pressure again and abandoned her commitments to members of her party and the DUP on the backstop. She also had to give way to Spain on future negotiations that affect Gibraltar. Her red lines have meant that much of what was promised has not been delivered and even the PM’s Chequers proposals, which caused more Government resignations, appear to be a better deal for the economy compared with what is available now.

“There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.”

Her Political Declaration on future relationships between the UK and the EU is vague and not politically binding. There appears to be no Parliamentary support for a ‘no deal’ position and trading on WTO terms only would put the UK in the WTO’s division four, the lowest. There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.

Further, can Brexit be resolved until some of the other outstanding questions are answered?

  • Who funded the DUP’s intervention in the referendum?
  • Is there a relationship between Leave.EU, Banks and Russian money? If so, would this result in the referendum being declared void?
  • What will emerge about Farage’s role in the Mueller investigations on the role of Russian influence in the US?
  • Is the Government fettered by promises made in the 2015 Parliament about the referendum as any Parliament cannot fetter a future Parliament and we have had a general election since then?
  • The People’s Vote has offered an opportunity to rally remain supporters but will it solve anything? What questions would be on the ballot paper and will 16 year olds and EU citizens be allowed to vote this time?
  • While Norway+/EFTA provides a means of coming to terms with remaining in the EU, this retains the four freedoms including freedom of movement but no participation in the CAP, Fisheries policy or in decision making.
  • The ECJ has determined that Article 50 can be with withdrawn until 29th March 2019 with no detriment to the UK’s opt-outs and rebates so what would trigger this course of action?
  • Can the terms of the UK’s position in Brexit be changed?
  • What will be the Conservative Party’s approach to maintaining power at all costs lead it to do both in the short term to avoid a general election and longer term to attract the millennial rather than grey vote?

Brexit won’t be over until it is over – whether now or in the years to come.

And a final question: how many more Conservative prime ministers will wrestle with this issue?”

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How to turn a children’s social services crisis into a catastrophe

Ray Jones

Ray Jones, author of In whose interest?

How to turn a crisis into a calamity and catastrophe?

Well, it is not that difficult as shown by the current state of children’s social services in England. But it does require commitment and continuity over time.

Here’s how to do it.

First, see the banker-created crisis of ten years ago as an opportunity. Blame Labour’s commitment to, and expenditure on, public services such as the NHS, schools and children’s social work for creating the crisis, ignoring that it was reckless and selfish behaviours within the financial private sector which took the UK and others to the economic cliff edge.

“When elected to government continue the script that what is required is a good and lengthy dose of austerity with cuts targeted at poor people and public services.”

Secondly, when elected to government continue the script that what is required is a good and lengthy dose of austerity with cuts targeted at poor people and public services. Keep this narrative going through a friendly media with programmes and news reports about shirkers and skivers and about failing public services and incompetent public servants.

Thirdly, create a self-fulfilling prophecy by cutting funding for public services year on year at a time when families are moving from deprivation to destitution amongst the slicing away of social security benefits so that it becomes harder and harder to provide help for children and families who have been left stranded and neglected by the state. Then ratchet-up the story-line that it is the private sector that is the solution to crumbling public services.

Fourthly, change the legislation so that even very personal services such as children’s social work and child protection can be contracted out to private companies who see this as an opportunity to make money. Their route to generating a profit is by cutting back and down-skilling the workforce, reducing terms and conditions of employment, and asset-stripping by selling off buildings and land. And if it all gets too hot, the international venture capitalists who have now come into this commercial market place of the children’s services ‘industry’ sell on their businesses or just walk away.

This is now the context for statutory children’s services and social work in England. Companies such as G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey and Mouchel have all attended meetings with the Department for Education to work on creating and opening up this market place, and the market analysts Laing Buisson have been commissioned by the government to advise on how to create a privatised market in children’s social services.

“Over 70% of children’s homes in England are owned privately and run to provide a profit.”

And it is already happening. Over 70% of children’s homes in England are owned privately and run to provide a profit. A third of foster care is now provided through for-profit foster care agencies. Almost 20% of children’s social workers working within local authorities are employed through private for-profit employment agencies. And international accountancy firms such as KPMG are now paid by government to shape the future of children’s social services.

Hundreds of millions of pounds every year are being taken as private profit out of the public funding allocated to children’s services, money which should instead be used to help and assist children and families in difficulty and to protect children when necessary.

So a crisis created by the bankers has been used as the context to sustain policies of politically-chosen austerity creating a calamity for public services and a catastrophe for children and families but also profit-opportunities for private companies. And the commitment of the government is to even more cuts in the funding for public services, even more draconian cuts in welfare benefits, and even more privatisation. Absolutely awful, and it is without shame or humanity from those who still use a crisis of 10 years ago to hurt and hinder children today.

 

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Documenting media bias and lies in Simon Wren-Lewis’ new book

2015-03-07 16.50.01 full

Simon Wren-Lewis

Simon Wren-Lewis, author of The Lies We Were Told, out today, talks about his anger at austerity and how this and other key events of recent times have been impacted by media bias and lies.

“Many of the key events of the last eight years have a common thread to them. In the case of austerity, the Eurozone crisis, the 2015 UK election, the Brexit vote in the UK and Trump’s election, the media played a critical role in making them happen. This involved ignoring expertise, ignoring facts that didn’t fit the chosen narrative of one side, or simple lies. None of these events are mistakes only in hindsight, but rather errors that were predicted at the time. Documenting that is an important part of this book.

It was for that reason that I tell the story through my blog posts at the time, with additional postscripts, preambles and introductions that enable each chapter to tell a complete story. There seemed no better way of showing how all of these policy or electoral errors were understood at the time and therefore could easily have been avoided.

“I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity.”

I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity, and the fact that the view of the majority of macroeconomists that it was a bad idea was largely ignored by the media. When the media did talk to economists, they tended to be from the financial sector. Financial sector economists are biased in two directions: they tend to be right wing and they tend to talk up the importance of a capricious financial market and their ability to know its ‘needs’. I used the term ‘mediamacro’ to describe how most of the media seemed happy to tell the story of the deficit as if the government was a household, which any first year undergraduate textbook explains is not true.

Many used the Eurozone crisis as an excuse for austerity, but I quickly discovered that the line most journalists took was missing the key reason for that crisis. Eurozone countries cannot create their own currency, and the institution that could act as an unlimited lender of last resort to individual governments, the European Central Bank, was refusing to do so. The crisis ended when the Eurozone changed this policy and became a lender of last resort to most countries. The exception was Greece, and I tell their more complex but shocking story in a few posts.

“Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.”

Before the UK’s 2015 election the Conservatives talked about a strong economy, and talked up rising employment levels. The media went along with this narrative. In reality the recovery from the recession had been the weakest for centuries, in good part because of the policy mistake of immediate austerity. Strong employment growth combined with weak output growth meant productivity was stagnant, which in turn helped create falling real wages. Yet for mediamacro the government’s deficit was a more important goal of policy than economic growth or real wage growth, and as a result the economy was the Conservatives strong card that led them to victory at the election. Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.

Defeat in 2015 led to Jeremy Corbyn being elected as leader of the Labour party. Although this took the commentariat by surprise, I argued it was the logical result of Labour’s weak or non-existent stand against austerity and a lot of what austerity required. When John McDonnell became shadow Chancellor, he invited me to be part of an Economic Advisory Council, and I explain how this led me to help create Labour’s fiscal rule, which is the first such rule that prevents austerity. I also explain why the Council came to an end.

“A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit.”

A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit. A few months before I wrote a post reproduced in the book which fairly accurately set out how the campaign would play out. Remain’s case was that leaving the EU would have serious economic consequences, and it was a very strong case, but I suggested the media would balance this case against nonsense from Leavers, and the electorate could convince themselves that the economics was not clear cut. The fact that free movement prevented controlling immigration from the EU was by contrast clear cut, but as the government had played up the negative aspects of immigration they could not credibly change course.

Alas the media’s failed to present near unanimous expert opinion in economics and elsewhere as knowledge, and instead it became just Remain’s opinion to be balanced by the other side. As a result the electorate, who craved information about the EU, did not get it from the broadcast media. In addition, those that read most of the daily papers by readership got propaganda pure and simple, and had been getting it for a year at least. I present strong evidence at how influential the media can be, and therefore argue that Brexit represented the triumph of the right wing press. I showed that the media were failing in similar ways in the US, and that therefore confidence that Trump would not get elected could be misplaced,

The book also has a chapter on the role of economists in influencing policy. Did the global financial crisis or the failures of macroeconomic forecasting discredit economics, and is macroeconomics influenced by ideology? I explain why the delegation of economic decisions can be partly about transparency, and why economics is most like medicine among the sciences.

“While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago.”

While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago. The final chapter in the book looks at what neoliberalism is, and why both austerity and using fear of immigration to gain votes despite austerity can be seen as neoliberal overreach, by which I mean taking deception of the electorate in order to pursue ideological goals to a dangerous extreme. Both austerity and anti-immigration feeling helped the cause of Brexit and helped elect Trump.

The Global Financial Crisis required a strong and quick recovery to avoid the dangers of populism. Austerity prevented a strong recovery, and it was undertaken as a cynical attempt to reduce the size of the state. The subsequent populist mood was directed towards the right by politicians and the media playing on racism and xenophobic fears. This was fertile ground for disasters like Brexit and Trump to happen. This suggests that even if we could go back to the world as it was before Brexit and Trump that is not enough to stop similar disasters happening again.

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Southgate offers solutions for local leadership

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

By Robin Hambleton

Originally published by Local Government Chronicle on 12 July 2018.

The disappointment of England losing the World Cup semi-final to Croatia last week does not undermine the fact that Gareth Southgate has raised the bar for international football management.

 

His calm and self-effacing manner, coupled with his inspirational leadership, has won admiration from football fans in many countries.

Here in England Southgate has become an enormously popular public figure. His influence already extends well beyond the world of sport, not least because of the rapid expansion of the hilarious Twitter movement ‘GarethSouthgateWould’, which provides hundreds of amusing suggestions on ‘What Gareth would do’ in all manner of situations.

Can we draw any lessons for local leadership from the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership and management?

Some will answer ‘no’. They will argue that managing a national football team is entirely different from exercising effective place-based leadership. For a start the overall objectives of leadership are far more straightforward in sports management. The metrics for measuring success are pretty clear – basically adhere to the rules of the game and win against opponents.

In contrast, local leaders are required to pursue multiple objectives and respond creatively to a wide range of expectations and pressures. The metrics for measuring performance are contested and power struggles between competing interests are endemic. Moreover, different interests will disagree over whether a given policy outcome is good, bad or indifferent.

“I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.”

Notwithstanding these important differences I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.

First, his leadership style is collaborative. Fabio Capello, England manager from 2008-2012, was, for sure, previously an exceptionally talented footballer and a successful club coach. But his leadership approach was very top-down. Indeed, he had a reputation as a disciplinarian and was criticised for not allowing his senior players to have tactical input. As England manager he was less than successful.

The leadership approach adopted by Gareth Southgate could hardly be more different. He is very strong on listening and on motivating the whole squad, coaches and staff.

For example, in interviews he almost invariably refers to the important contribution of players in the squad who have not appeared on the pitch, explaining that their solid commitment to work on the training ground enables whoever ends up playing for England to be better than they otherwise would have been.

Second, Southgate is emotionally intelligent. He understands that leadership is first and foremost about feelings, and he recognises that successful leaders need to make an emotional connection. His leadership approach has shown that if people are respected and feel valued they can perform at an unprecedented level.

“His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity.”

His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity. In interviews and discussion he demonstrates not only his advanced tactical knowledge of football but, just as important, he comes across as warm, light hearted and liberating.

It is possible that you could say the same about Sven-Goran Erikkson, England manager from 2002-2006. While the Swedish manager was always courteous and friendly, he was criticised for being unenthusiastic on the touchline. His deliberate ‘ice cool Sven’ body language backfired.

In contrast, Southgate knows when to damp down the feelings on the touchline. But he also knows that it is important for the manager to let it all out when the team does well. Southgate is certainly soft-spoken but he can also shout very loudly when the occasion demands.

Third, Southgate recognises that effective leaders do not simply focus on the leadership of their own organisation. In more than one interview he has noted how proud he is to be “part of a team that has a chance to affect things that are bigger than football”.

By his squad and team selections, as well as through his personal leadership style, Southgate is contributing to the national debate about what it means to be English in 2018. It would be misguided to believe that a successful multi-ethnic national football team can put an end to racism in any given society, but sport can play a role in shaping national feelings of identity. Southgate is very aware of this and believes that football can play a role in uniting people.

“My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. “

My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. This definition draws attention to how people feel, and it emphasises the collective construction of common purpose.

Many political and managerial leaders in local government now recognise the importance of the three ‘Southgate approach’ criteria. They are committed to collaboration; they are emotionally intelligent; and they are fully aware of the larger purposes guiding their leadership efforts.

My suggestion is that even the most accomplished place-based leaders can learn from studying how Gareth Southgate leads the English national football team.

 

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Feature Image by Антон Зайцев, soccer.ru (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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