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A long view on Brexit and social policy

experts_hantrais

by Linda Hantrais

If the UK were no longer in a position to promote or hamper EU social policy from the inside, would the EU be more likely to become a fully-fledged social union? And if the UK were no longer subjected to EU law, what might the implications be for UK social policy?

With Brexit shrouded in uncertainty and likely to remain so for an indeterminate length of time What Brexit means for EU and UK social policy, a new Policy Press Short by Linda Hantrais, out this month, adopts a long view to help readers understand how we got to where we are and how social policy might be reconfigured in the wake of the withdrawal negotiations.

By drawing on a range of disciplinary, conceptual and theoretical approaches, the book explores the complex interconnections between social policy formation, implementation and governance in the EU before, during and after the UK’s membership. The chapters examine the issues, debates and policy challenges facing the EU at different stages in its development, as national interests evolved and polarised under pressures from public and parliamentary opinion, fanned by a persistently hostile British press, and shaped by the personalities, beliefs, judgements and prejudices of politicians and their electorates across the EU.

By documenting how UK governments,  officials and social scientists – often simultaneously – promoted and hampered European social and employment policy, the book seeks to explain why Brexit is unlikely to facilitate close social integration within EU27, and why the impact of Brexit on UK social policy is unlikely to result in a reversal or the unravelling of many decades of social and employment legislation implemented by UK governments after being subjected to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

“from the outset, UK governments of whatever political persuasion were never wholly committed to European political and social union.”

The book argues that the seeds of euroscepticism were sown in the 1950s in the social domain before the French voted in a referendum on enlargement in 1972 to accept the candidacies of the UK, Denmark, Ireland and Norway for membership of the European Communities (EC). For the six founding member states, with their corporatist employment-related insurance-based regimes, the social dimension was already controversial and divisive. A recurring theme throughout the book is that, from the outset, UK governments of whatever political persuasion were never wholly committed to European political and social union. The UK was only ever half in and never completely relinquished control over its national social protection system. One of the reasons why successive UK governments supported widening (to 28 members states by 2016) rather than deepening of the EU was that they expected the greater diversity of social, economic and political systems to dilute the federalising ambitions of EU institutions, and to make the chances of the EU becoming a social superstate ever more unrealistic.

The UK’s confrontational approach to European social law-making became most salient during the Thatcher years. The price to pay for the completion of the Single European Act 1986, which the UK government had strongly promoted, and which was designed, drafted and implemented by Arthur Cockfield, the UK’s appointee to the Commission, was the extension of qualified majority voting for health and safety measures. While supporting the overall aim of raising regulatory standards in industry to prevent unfair competition, the UK government opposed further encroachment by European institutions in the social domain, and it fell to John Major to prevent the Social Chapter from becoming the social arm of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, considered by many observers as marking an irrevocable step along the path to Brexit.

By using its blocking powers and opt-outs to protect national sovereignty, the UK forfeited the opportunity to be present at the negotiating table, giving the European Commission a chance to test the widely held belief that the UK was a major force preventing social integration. The evidence was far from conclusive. Other national governments, most notably Denmark and Ireland, also had recourse to opt outs, and they voted in referendums against treaty reforms that they saw as a threat to national sovereignty.

The Labour government under Tony Blair opted into the Social Chapter in 1997, allowing it to become legally binding, and the UK came close to  losing the remnants of its sovereignty in the social domain, when (with Ireland  and Sweden) the government opened its borders to uncontrolled intra-European migration from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004. At the same time, heads of state and government agreed on regulation 883/2004 (implemented in 2010) on the regulatory coordination of social security rights, which laid down the principle of the exportability of benefits. This was one of the issues on which David Cameron was to seek, and obtain, concessions in 2016, but without being able to convince the eurosceptic UK electorate that the EU could be reformed from the inside.

“Due to its half-in half-out position, the UK was, however, less directly affected by the 2010 eurozone and 2015 refugee crises.”

By declining to join Economic and Monetary Union (with Denmark) and to sign up to Schengen (with Ireland), the UK had restrained its ability to influence EU social policy. Due to its half-in half-out position, the UK was, however, less directly affected by the 2010 eurozone and 2015 refugee crises. While UK governments were resisting EU-driven social legislation, officials and advisers to the European Commission were closely involved in formulating soft law alternatives in the social domain, most notably through the open method of coordination. They thereby helped to extend the reach of social policy beyond employment rights by assisting with the introduction of targets, benchmarking, the exchange of good practice and policy learning. In addition, Tony Blair’s government is credited with having ‘uploaded’ Labour’s flexibility and welfare-to-work policies to EU level.

So what does all this mean for EU and UK social policy post-Brexit?

Even as the UK was triggering article 50 in 2017, the European Commission was launching the European Pillar of Social Rights. As at other critical moments in the past, in the context of widespread austerity in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, eurozone and refugee crises and the rise of populist parties, EU institutions were seeking to demonstrate that they were concerned to promote social progress for their increasingly eurosceptic and disillusioned peoples. Brexit had provided a wake-up call for EU27. The Pillar’s provisions applied primarily to the eurozone countries. Recognising the importance of national preferences in the social domain, the Pillar left individual member states to advance at their own pace, an approach long advocated by the UK.

Whether the UK leaves or remains, and deal or no deal, from the undertakings provided in the Prime Minister’s speeches, the withdrawal bill, and statements by the CBI, TUC and European Parliament, it seems unlikely that social legislation on workers’ rights will be diluted for so long as the UK is trading with EU27. The settled status afforded to EU migrants and their families residing in the UK could allay fears, at least in the immediate future, regarding freedom of movement.

Given that the UK needed ten years to join a common market of only six member states, and that Greenland needed three years to negotiate its withdrawal, it could well be a decade or more before we can understand the full meaning of Brexit for EU and UK social policy.

 

Linda Hantrais is author of three editions of Social Policy in the European Union (3rd edn Palgrave, 2007); Family Policy Matters: European responses to family change (Policy Press, 2004); and International Comparative Research: theory, policy and practice (Palgrave 2009).

 

What Brexit means for EU and UK social policy [FC]What Brexit Means for EU and UK Social Policy by Linda Hantrais is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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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.

 

the economics of arrival_fcThe economics of arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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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?”

Beyond Brexit? by Janice Morphet is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £7.99.

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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.

The Lies We Were Told FCThe Lies We Were Told by Simon Wren-Lewis is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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