Posts Tagged '#Brexit'

3 critical steps we need to take to save democracy

henry-tam

Henry Tam

Henry Tam, author of Time to save democracy: How to govern ourselves in the age of anti-politics, discusses the decline of democracy and the three critical steps that must be taken in order to save it.

“In the 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ending of the apartheid regime in South Africa, there was a time when democracy seemed to be in the ascendant. But the new millennium has not brought good tidings, more the reverse.

George W. Bush played his part with his ill-conceived wars to make people recoil from any talk of ‘spreading democracy to the world’. On both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Third Way’ attempts to blur the left-right divide managed to consolidate one thing – the indifference of a third or more among those eligible to vote to stay away from the polling booth whenever there’s an election on. And then came Brexit and Trump in 2016 to demonstrate how ready millions of people were prepared to cast their vote irrespective of what the clearest evidence and expert analyses might say, so long as they could vent their frustration and anger at a few easy targets.

“We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government.”

We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government. But when the mere form of electoral selection is mistaken for the substance of an equitable system of control by the people, our political health is in trouble. Any superficial framework for vote-casting can all too easily be exploited by charlatans with wealthy backers. To save democracy from terminal decline, we must take action in three critical areas.

First, democracy has to take roots in a polity with a broad sense of togetherness. Neoliberal individualism and divisive tribalism in their respective ways attack civic solidarity, and blind people from recognising the need to prioritise their common good. But social polarisation is not inevitable. Governments around the world have used engagement techniques, familiarisation activities, and reconciliation processes to bring people with diverse backgrounds together to develop shared understanding and joint objectives. Rejecting both the ‘anti-political correctness’ brigades who celebrate discrimination as their heritage, and the ‘rights-override-all’ warriors who refuse to accept that rights can ever be diminished by wrong-doing[1], the state should stand firm on guaranteeing respect for all who respect their fellow citizens, and stamp out invidious attempts to stigmatise ‘others’. Furthermore, we should not weaken civic cohesion by giving public subsidies to schools that inculcate beliefs in the supremacy of their own faith, but instead strengthen it through teaching democratic consensus-building and the importance of pursuing the public interest.

Secondly, the rule of law must be backed by a collective system for distinguishing truth from falsehood. For too long, concessions have been made to the relativist notion that all claims are as valid as each other, thus giving succour to demagogues, extremists, and corporate propagandists to pretend what they say are inherently beyond criticism. And when their version of ‘reality’ is contradicted by objective evidence, they invoke the freedom of speech to keep spreading their lies in the hope that they can fool enough people enough of the time to win power. But no country refrains from setting and enforcing legal limits on irresponsible communication. Even those who declare there must never be any restriction step back when what is communicated involves, for example, words and images that encourage the targeted audience to commit atrocities in the name of some deity, consume what is above the accepted safety level, or promote paedophilia. In addition to applying the law against irresponsible communication consistently and rigorously, especially in relation to those are prone to lie to expand their economic and political influences, schools must be given the duty and corresponding resources to teach to a high standard the skills for objective reasoning, debunking misdirection, and evidential examination.

“…we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making.”

Last but not least, we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making. The unscrupulous among the rich and powerful use their resources to back candidates and policy proposals that favour them at the expense of everyone else. And money matters. For example, between 2004 and 2012, in each of the five bi-annual contests in the US House of Representatives, over 80% of the candidates who spent more than their rivals won[2]. Spending on federal campaigns in 2012 alone was over $6.2 billion, with 68% of that money coming from just 0.26% of the population[3]. For many people, there is no point getting involved when the rich will ultimately have the last say. In the 2016 US presidential elections, 48% of those who had registered to vote did not actually cast a vote – that’s 95 million people who simply abstained.

Beyond restrictions on campaign donations and spending, other ways should be considered for reining in plutocratic influences. Many more public decisions should be delegated to deliberative forums structured to curtail opinion manipulation. A decent level of public service and basic income should be provided to protect people from being politically marginalised by socio-economic vulnerabilities. There should be better resourced and more transparent investigative agencies to hold both those holding and seeking political office to account for their actions. And to give all those who work in any organisation a real say over their pay differentials, more support should be given to the development of multi-stakeholder cooperatives that are far less likely to tolerate inequitable income gaps.

[1] Otherwise the ‘right to freedom’ would shield every criminal from punishment.

[2] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 11)

[3] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 2)

TTS_DEMOCRACY_FCTime to save democracy, by Henry Tam is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £15.99.

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If not a hard Brexit, then what?

janice-morphet

Janice Morphet

Now that a ‘hard’ Brexit seems less likely, Janice Morphet – author of Beyond Brexit? – looks at alternative options for the UK’s relationship with the EU.

“Following the apparent disruption of hard Brexit that has followed the General Election, it is now time to review the other options available to the UK.

It would have been better to review these before the referendum was called and to explain the options to more fully inform the electorate during the campaign. Even after the referendum result, a review of the options would have been helpful rather than the incoming Prime Minister opting for the hardest form of EU/UK relationship without appreciating the paradox that her social welfare agenda could best be achieved using EU values, programmes and policies.

However, better late than never. So what are the real options available rather than those frequently suggested by those politicians less familiar with the EU?

 

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

The most frequently discussed approaches are the potential for the UK to return as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This was set up in 1960 by the UK as an alternative free trade bloc to the EU when the UK realised that it had made a mistake in dismissing membership of the then Common Market. Its members are now Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. While EFTA works as a group on some issues, its members have different relationships with the EU. This might suit the UK, but Norway has already indicated that it may not take the UK back into EFTA membership. How do these relationships work individually?

Continue reading ‘If not a hard Brexit, then what?’

What now for Brexit?

atlas-authors

Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig

Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig – authors of The human atlas of Europe – look at the reasons behind Labour’s success and ask… what now for Brexit?

 

“On June 8th 2017 young people all across the UK turned out to vote for a new conception of politics and a more inclusive, nourishing vision of society (as New Internationalist journalist Chris Brazier put it).

The rise of Labour in the polls in the month before the election was three times greater than any rise ever seen for that party in a month before. The swing in the vote to Labour was greater than that measured at any general election other than the 1945 landslide election. To be fair to Jeremy Corbyn it was actually even greater than that, as that 1945 swing took ten years (from 1935) to occur. In contrast, Labour’s swing in 2017 emerged within just two years of the last election (held in 2015).

Despite the enormous success in the polls and the voting booths it was not enough for Labour to win. The party had started so far behind in 2015 that a completely unprecedented swing would have been needed for outright victory. Labour’s four week surge in the polls would have had to have been not just three times greater than it had ever been before, but five, six or seven times – depending on exactly where that swing had been geographically concentrated. An outright Labour victory in June 2017 was nigh-on impossible in the circumstances, not least of a split Labour party.

But what Labour achieved was enough to put the Conservatives into the demotion zone of now being a minority government.

 

“..greater solidarity is gaining in popularity over division.”

 

Continue reading ‘What now for Brexit?’

A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?

Bryn Jones and Michael O’Donnell, authors of Alternatives to neoliberalism, argue that a ‘hard Brexit’ under a Tory government would strengthen, not challenge, the neoliberal agenda.

Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones

Public sector retrenchment, deregulated markets and corporate takeovers of public and civil society spheres are contested topics in this election. Yet the protagonists do not directly acknowledge that these arise from the disruptive effects of the generation-long, neoliberal system.

Neoliberalism still underlies the current social unrest and political crisis; but its ideological hegemony is under threat. Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes: de-industrialisation, public sector austerity, worsened living standards, insecure and/or poorly paid employment.

“Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes.”

Continue reading ‘A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?’

Election focus: Avoiding Another Failed NHS Experiment

In the next post in our Election Focus series, David Hunter, author of The health debate, explains that the election must not become an excuse for shelving much needed health system transformation.

David Hunter

“A possible unwanted side effect of this most avoidable of unnecessary general elections, and the accompanying purdah into which everyone has slumped, is the impact on the NHS reforms initiated by the NHS Five Year Forward View published in 2014 and its update in the Next Steps delivery plan published last month.

One can only hope the NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, is correct when he asserts that ‘there is no version of reality’ in which his changes will not be needed and actively pursued. Even if he is proved right there could still be disruption if a new health secretary replaces the current post-holder, Jeremy Hunt.

Or if the all-consuming Brexit negotiations divert the government’s focus and slow down the pace of change as seems likely. Or if a new administration decides to replace Stevens. As the chief architect and champion of the changes, he is critical to their success, especially at such a delicate stage in their evolution and before they have been fully embedded.

New Care Models and Sustainability and Transformation Plans

The election comes at a pivotal time in regard to progress with the New Care Models (NCM) nested in the Vanguards initiative and the evolving Sustainability and Transformation Plans (or Programmes if you prefer) (STPs) agenda.

“…opens up the prospect of further stalemate and a failure once again to get to grips with long overdue changes to reshape the NHS for the new challenges it faces.”

In the case of STPs, Labour has stepped back from its rather foolish pledge announced in the leaked manifesto to impose an immediate moratorium on them if elected. But while the final manifesto now states that Labour will merely ‘halt and review’ STPs, the move still heralds a return to heavy-handed ministerial meddling from the centre.

As a way of running the NHS, it has rarely if ever been desirable or worked. Moreover, it opens up the prospect of further stalemate and risks failing once again to get to grips with long overdue changes to reshape the NHS for the urgent and complex challenges it faces.

What’s needed?

For the changes to succeed requires sensible resourcing and sustained commitment over a reasonable time period, both of which are already fragile under the current government. If re-elected with a larger majority it is unlikely much will change which could leave the changes in a precarious state, especially when coupled with the desperate pressures the NHS is already under both in terms of financing and staff recruitment.

So, while perhaps not putting the changes at risk in the way Labour’s proposals seem destined to do, a Conservative government with a fresh mandate need not axiomatically be good news for the NHS.

If the political outlook for the NHS changes presently being implemented looks potentially bleak or risky whoever wins, it will be incumbent on senior managers and clinicians, perhaps with the support of the Royal Colleges and others, including local government, to lead and drive the changes.

An opportunity

The Vanguards and STPs represent a chance of a lifetime opportunity to transform the NHS as it approaches its 70th birthday in July 2018. Too often in the past resistance to change has won out and the result has been an NHS which in many respects has become ossified and no longer fit for purpose given the changes in demography, lifestyles and the evidence of growing inequalities.

“Too often in the past resistance to change has won out.”

Successive inquiries and critiques of the NHS have pointed to the repeated failure to take prevention and public health seriously, to integrate health and social care, and to rebalance the health system away from costly, acute hospital care. The Vanguards initiative and STPs are confronting head-on all these deep-seated systemic problems that have persisted in the NHS for decades.

Drawing conclusions from the NCMs is premature and inconclusive. Generalising from very complex and different models and contexts is a hazardous business. But, putting these health warnings to one side, the early evidence emerging shows a passion, enthusiasm and high level of commitment to make the changes work. They are also felt to be the right way to go in terms of patient care.

Once the evidence from the local evaluations starts to appear later this year, there will almost certainly be a mix of likely successes and failures although it will take longer to assess how far the changes have actually impacted on health outcomes. It is also the case that, as the Public Accounts Committee concluded recently, STPs are a mixed bag and of variable quality. In most places, engaging local government and the public should have assumed a much higher priority at an earlier stage.

But when all is said and done, the unprecedented transformation journey on which the NHS has embarked has given permission to local areas to chart their own destinies within a national framework providing support and development know-how. It is not perfect and tendencies for old-style, command-and control behaviour to surface have to be resisted. Nor is the overall financial climate helpful or sustainable although, if one is honest, resource pressures have been an important stimulus for change.

If the changes underway can be maintained post-election and the NHS becomes a genuine health service rather than a sickness one, which it has been since its inception, then that must be the goal of all those who want the NHS to survive and should be embraced enthusiastically.

Warts and all, we should not squander this opportunity to transform the NHS so it can meet the 21st century challenges confronting it. Surely that has to be a 70th birthday present to remember.

 

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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: 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?’


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