Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital

A shorter version of this blog was originally published by Prospect magazine.

Matt Flinders

When is a wobble not a wobble?

This might not seem the most obvious question to be asking in the context of the current General Election campaign but that’s exactly what makes it so important. Could it be that Theresa May’s recent backtracking on the costs of social care was nothing of the kind? Instead part of a more subtle game of preparing the public for tough choices that will inevitably have to be taken? Have we just witnessed the political equivalent of a footballer’s fake dive?

Partisan politics aside, there is little doubt that Theresa May is an incredibly astute politician.

She plays the game well and to some extent she has re-written the rulebook. The game of politics is rarely as simple as kicking the ball or scoring goals; more concerned with playing other players off against each other, often within your team, and knowing exactly when to go for the legs instead of the ball. The simple point I am making is that Theresa May has climbed to the summit of the British political system as if it really were a weekend wander with Philip.

“[The manifesto] highlighted the existence of major and increasing inter-generational inequalities…”

I’m clearly exaggerating to make my point and ‘the commentator’s curse’ may now ensure Theresa May’s immediate collapse under a double-pincer tackle from behind (where are Boris and Gove this week?) but my point is that there was something odd about the Conservative Manifesto launch and the subsequent brouhaha over social care costs. This was a strong and bold manifesto, it explicitly re-positioned the Conservative Party towards a more traditional model of conservatism and – critically – it highlighted the existence of major and increasing inter-generational inequalities that will at some point have to be addressed.

This was no ‘back of a fag packet’ hastily scribbled treatise but a thoughtful manifesto for social change that bore the clear imprint of one of the most impressive brains ever to have worked within No.10 – Nick Timothy. Could it really therefore have been that no one saw the backlash about social care costs coming? Was this really a manifesto written in a rush and therefore in need of later refinement?

I don’t believe it. There was something far more fundamental and strategic going on. Theresa May was effectively cashing-in a little political capital in order to make a point. The current system is unsustainable. Previous governments have consistently protected the position of older generations for the simple reason that they are the social cohort overwhelmingly most likely to actually vote. This is not fair. The reason young people tend not to vote is because they feel that the political system does not work in their interests (which is largely true because they don’t vote). Therefore British politics is trapped in a self-sustaining cycle of cynicism that risks simply increasing levels of inter-generational inequality while also preventing the introduction of policies to address certain embedded structural disparities.

In this context the Conservative manifesto’s position on social care and universal benefits was not under-cooked or ill-prepared – it was a calculated decision to soften-up large sections of the public and forewarn them that the current situation is untenable.

It takes a brave politician to adopt a strategy that will undoubtedly be unpopular with a core section of their traditional electorate but the simple fact is that Mrs May can not only afford to be brave but there is an argument that she actually needs to deflate the dominant position of the Conservative Party – to cash in a little popularity in order to make the public aware of the need to take tough choices later on.

“This was a calculated move, a slight tug of the string, to take just a little wind out of the sales of the Tory kite…”

The idea that a strong politician might actually want to cultivate just a touch, a dash, of unpopularity might seem completely bizarre but there are risks for a government, particularly in the British context of being too strong, too dominant. Like a kite flying high the stronger the wind the more impressive sight but so too are the risks of a sudden implosion, a panel torn or a once taught string suddenly snapped. Too large a majority risks having large numbers of MPs wandering the corridors of Westminster bemoaning the fact that their phone never rang; the offer of a ministerial position never made. Angry, embarrassed and over-looked these backbenchers tend to congregate, scheme and plan….(why do Boris and Gove keep springing to mind?)

I could well be wrong but my sense is that this was no wobble. President May is too bright to make such a basic error of judgement. This was a calculated move, a slight tug of the string, to take just a little wind out of the sales of the Tory kite, to cash in just a little political capital in order to manage the politics of public expectations about the future.

Matthew Flinders is Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield. He can get the word brouhaha into almost any sentence and his latest book – What Kind of Democracy Is This? – is published by Policy Press next month.

 

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Election focus: The General Election and Brexit – diversion, divisions and tactics

In the next piece in our election focus series, Janice Morphet looks at the impact of the general Election’s delay to Brexit negotiations, questions that aren’t being answered, how each party are approaching Brexit in their campaigns and the significance of tactical voting.

Janice Morphet

As the General Election campaign moves on, it appears to be characterised more by pauses than progression.

We now have the EU ready to start negotiating in a serious manner while foghorn diplomacy is all they meet across the channel. Since the Prime Minister took office, there has been a wasted period when the electorate has been lulled into assuming that these negotiations will be easy while the EU has been consistent about its position and the issues.

The EU finds it hard to deal with shocks but thrives on process. Once it could appoint its negotiators and set out its red lines it became stronger and more confident and this would have occurred whoever it faced in number 10.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: The General Election and Brexit – diversion, divisions and tactics’

Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect

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Ruth Patrick

In this blog post, part of our Election Focus series, Ruth Patrick offers suggestions for what should be included in party manifestos on welfare reform, based on the six years of research into individuals’ experiences of social security and welfare reform in her book, For whose benefit?

Too often General Election campaigns seem – yet another – opportunity for politicians to talk ‘tough’ on ‘welfare’ as they compete to be seen as the party who will finally rid Britain of its supposed problem of ‘welfare dependency’. 2010 featured billboards with David Cameron finger pointing as he pledged: ‘let’s cut benefits for those who refuse work’.

In the run up to the 2015 election, Rachel Reeves, then shadowing the Department for Work and Pensions brief, was quoted saying: “we are not the party of people on benefits” disowning millions of potential voters.

And now another election. With the dominance of Brexit, as yet we have not heard much on ‘welfare’ and it may well be crowded out by policy debates in other areas. Corbyn’s Labour can be expected to offer up a more egalitarian social security agenda but the scope for this to gain traction and support from the public may be limited.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect’

Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?

simon-winlow

Simon Winlow

In the second of our blog pieces focusing on the fast-approaching General Election, Simon Winlow, co-author of The rise of the right asks how it can be that, against a background of social, financial and environmental catastrophe, a political party dedicated to the neoliberalism seem set to secure a large majority. How can the Left get the people on side again?

There’s a terrible air of nihilism, cynicism and acceptance about the upcoming election. The Conservatives have made huge gains in the local council elections, and UKIP and Labour have lost quite badly. Of course, the general election could be very different. More people will vote, and the local issues that can sway council elections tend to be forgotten as the big issues of the day take precedence.

Theresa May has clearly timed the election to take advantage of disarray in the Labour Party, and in the hope carrying a large mandate into the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Pollsters are predicting a landslide for the Tory party, with UKIP disappearing as an electoral force and Labour continuing its slide toward oblivion.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?’

Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions

In the run up to the General Election we will be bringing you insightful pieces from our authors on policy-relevant subjects, including housing, health, welfare and, underpinning it all, increasing social inequality.

Let’s look beneath the distraction of Brexit and Labour’s disarray and examine the issues we really need to be thinking about as we put our cross in the box on the 8th June.

DB pic

Duncan Bowie

In this piece, Duncan Bowie, author of Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis looks at what housing policies may be included in the party manifestos and explains the radical solutions we need.

“The focus on Brexit and the negotiations on withdrawal from the European Union has meant that housing has not, at least as yet, become the key issue in the election campaign that perhaps would have been expected had the referendum not taken place.

Debates so far have focused far too much on the contrast between Theresa May’s advocacy of ‘strong and stable leadership’ and whether or not the Labour Party leader is fit to be Prime Minister or the divided Labour Party is ‘fit to govern’. There has been little focus on policy issues, though (at the time of writing), the main party manifestos have not been published.

The political parties, including the Conservatives, were all caught on the hop by the election announcement and consequently the drafting of the various electoral offers have been somewhat of a rushed process. Even a matter of weeks before the election was called, Labour housing spokespersons were reluctant to make any policy statements policy on the basis that it would be premature to give commitments before 2020, even though housing was bound to be a key issue in the local and city region Mayor elections, which were scheduled. Labour was even hesitant to commit to repealing the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, despite the fact they had opposed it in parliament.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions’

Tax reform and a Corbyn-led government will save our local services

Peter Latham, author of Who stole the town hall?, argues that the Spring Budget highlighted the Conservative Party’s allegiance to the City of London, not the small businesses, entrepreneurs and self-employed they profess to support.

He says that, to resist Tory-driven austerity policies and save our public services, we need a resurgence of social democracy and a reformed tax system.

“The Chancellor’s decision not to increase self-employed national insurance contributions (NIC) by £2bn, in a U-turn following the Spring Budget on 8th March, showed that the Tory government is ‘imprisoned by a minority of its backbenchers and by the Daily Mail’ according to The Guardian, 16 March 2017.

Moreover, as Aditya Chakrabortty noted, the government’s policies ‘hit the just-about-managing harder than the rich’. For example, the 2016 red book lists reductions to taxes on big businesses worth £18bn over the next five years.

Conversely, Jeremy Corbyn’s devastating assault on the Chancellor’s provision of just £2bn over three years to cover the crisis in social care – just a third of what the Local Government Association calculates is necessary – was slated by the mainstream media for not mentioning the Tory manifesto: even though he attacked the decision to raise the NIC rate.

Many Tory MPs fight shy of acknowledging their party’s first priority to the City of London, preferring to pass themselves off as the voice of small businesses, entrepreneurs and the self-employed. Increasing Class 4 NICs for the self-employed stuck in their craw, leading many party members to inform Philip Hammond and Theresa May that they would not support it.

Continue reading ‘Tax reform and a Corbyn-led government will save our local services’

Article 50: where we are now

Janice Morphet, author of Beyond Brexit, looks at what the future holds for the U.K. after the triggering of Article 50 and the formal beginning of the Brexit process. 

Janice Morphet

As the UK government faces its two-year roller coaster ride of negotiation, following the Prime Minister’s triggering of Article 50, many pressure points have already been revealed while some remain as haunting unknowns.

The first challenge that has emerged is how ill prepared the UK government finds itself. While the letter triggering Article 50 and the subsequent White Paper on the Great Reform Bill are full of words addressing internal political party agendas, any pretence of maintaining a united view across the UK has been abandoned.

No legal basis for devolution

Although stating in the White Paper that everything would remain the same until dismantled and changed through Parliamentary procedure, this is completely undermined in the chapter on devolution which confirmed the re-centralisation of returned powers on agriculture, environment and some transport issues.

Subsidiarity is based on principles laid down in the Treaty on European Union and there are no guarantees that it will survive Brexit as a principle of the UK state. Following Brexit all devolution within the UK, including to cities in England, will transfer to the whim of each five-year Westminster Parliament and cannot be agreed in perpetuity.

Continue reading ‘Article 50: where we are now’


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