Posts Tagged 'politics'

The subversion of democracy

henry-tam

Henry Tam

Bristol University Press talks to Henry Tam, a leading expert on the threats against democracy and what should be done to counter them.  In addition to his academic work as a political theorist, he was in charge of the Labour government’s policies for civil renewal and community empowerment in the 2000s.

Henry’s new book Whose Government Is It? is out today.

BUP: More and more we hear that leaving people to vote with little understanding of the key issues is a recipe for disasters. Brexit, Trump, the resurgence of the far right – how worried should we be?

HT: There is something rotten indeed with the state of our democracy.  Instead of ensuring people’s informed views and concerns are taken into account by those who govern on their behalf, democracy has been subverted by the use of private wealth and large-scale deception to skew political decisions.  If we allow it to continue, we will keep sliding ever closer towards arbitrary rule.

BUP: But isn’t it true that most people are not interested in politics and they don’t want to be involved with the business of government?

HT: People are not interested in petty party-political squabbles, but very few can be indifferent about how their lives are affected by what those with ruling power may or may not do.

For the last 50 years, around a third or more of adults in the UK and the US have not bothered to vote in elections, because they believed it would not make any difference. Among those who vote, an increasing number are unsure if they can trust politicians, while there is an alarming trend over the last decade with people supporting demagogues who want to impose solutions and do away with public accountability.  We have seen those siding with the radical right winning support in elections and referendums across Europe and America.  And they will use and abuse the power they get to advance their own agenda regardless of the harm it brings to others.

BUP: So what can be done?  Are we to stop people voting for certain groups or policies, and wouldn’t that be anti-democratic itself?

HT: Democracy is not the same as letting people do whatever they want. It is a system for enabling people to cooperate in reaching informed decisions about what should be done collectively for their common good. As long as we allow democracy to be stripped of its true meaning, we leave the door wide open for it to be subverted.

There are a number of actions that need to be taken urgently.  As I set out in my book, Time to Save Democracy, we must have a comprehensive set of reforms that will ensure the minimum conditions for the functioning of democracy are adequately met.  These cover the nine strategic areas of:

Shared Mission: To develop common objectives and cultivate solidarity;

Mutual Respect: To tackle the spread of discriminatory behaviour;

Coherent Membership: To clarify terms of citizenship and strengthen people’s sense of belonging;

Collaborative Learning: To raise understanding of what objective enquiry entails;

Critical Re-examination: To counter dogmatism and support open scrutiny of claims;

Responsible Communication: To stem the flow of misinformation and promote fact-based discussions;

Participatory Decision-Making: To enable people to shape the decisions that affect them in an informed manner;

Civic Parity: To curb widening inequalities and redistribute power and resources to create a level playing field for fair cooperation;

Public Accountability: To debunk the deregulation mantra and ensure people with power over others are held to account for their actions.

BUP: In the meantime, what can people do in the absence of your proposed reforms?

HT: As we press for these reforms, we should in parallel adopt arrangements and practices, which are known to facilitate cooperative working between state institutions and citizens, improve people’s quality of life, and raise satisfaction with public actions.

In my latest book, Whose Government is it?, I brought together a group of experts who have extensively examined, developed, and implemented participatory and empowerment processes to explain how to establish them in practice.  Their contributions to the book provide the reasons and guidance for developing the capacity for effective democratic engagement, and setting up the appropriate arrangements to sustain informed cooperation.

BUP: What do you say to people who insist that we cannot afford to spend precious time and resources on consulting the public when it is not only costly, but could land us with damaging decisions?

HT: The truth is that we can’t afford to let the gap between citizens and their government widen any further. Token consultation and corrupted participatory practices are of course worse than useless, but that’s precisely why we must focus on getting the necessary framework and suitable approaches in place.  Democracy has the greatest potential, if we work on it, to advance the common good, safeguard personal well-being, and improve efficiencies.  But neglected, its subversion will plunge countless citizens into insecurity and exploitation.

BUP 4811_WHOSE GOV IS IT 6.18_12.jpgWhose Government Is It? by Henry Tam is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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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 Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A democratic answer to neoliberalism and authoritarianism

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Bryn Jones

MikeODonnellJPG

Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell, editors of Alternatives to neoliberalism,  examine the problems of authoritarian nationalism and explain that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, and in more, not less democracy. The paperback of Alternatives to neoliberalism is out now.

When the hardback edition of our co-edited book was published in early 2017, it was the long, harsh aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession – encapsulated in the term ‘austerity’ – that we challenged and sought answers to.

Along with a growing number of progressive critics and politicians, we named the extreme free-market ideology of neoliberalism as the underlying cause of the economic and social disruption that still persists. Alternatives to neoliberalism offers a range of democratic and egalitarian alternatives from progressive academics and policy practitioners. Their answers apply now even more urgently and provide a concrete vision of a participative society in which power is exercised by citizens, routinely in the communities and institutions in which they engage, and through robust systems of accountability at regional and national levels.

In the last year the need to defend and extend democracy and social justice has become even more acute. The neoliberal theorist, Fredrick Hayek, was a proponent of ‘the free-market’ but tended towards political and social authoritarianism so that business could be executed with the minimum of inconvenience. One man’s freedom…

“Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism.”

However, the current resurgence of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, notably in the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia, and the Philippines, is not significantly the product of theoretical thinking – rather the opposite.  Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism. Thus, they impose austerity on the majority in order to pay off debts caused mainly by financial speculation. The cry ‘we are all in this together’ rings out and populist nationalism is offered as the antidote to ‘the peoples’ complaints.

In reality, political turbulence following economic chaos serves to obscure the real causes of crisis and misleads popular opinion. ‘Taking back control’ in terms of sustained democratic participation is a fair description of what is least likely to happen. Alternatives to neoliberalism seeks to make these processes transparent and to offer solutions.

“…populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’.”

Authoritarian nationalism typically couches the promise of restoring economic prosperity in terms of cultural inclusion and exclusion. These two aspects are rhetorically conflated as populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’, frequently recent migrants or more established but easily differentiated and scapegoated groups. This was the scenario in inter-war Germany and is currently being played out in numerous parts of the world, if for now in somewhat less brutal terms. Why ‘we’ behave in this way is not best explained in terms of the psychopathology of the few – although that has some traction – than in the exploitation of insecurity and want.

It need not be so. The message of our book is fundamentally optimistic. Sceptical of the sustained intentions of remote elites to deliver on electoral promises, we believe that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, in more, not less democracy.  However, we mean this not in terms of current populist bombast but in the extension of citizens’ engagement and rights.

Thomas Marshall’s classic book on citizenship published in 1950 chronicles the development of a trilogy citizen’s rights in Britain; civil (legal), political and social. We advocate a fourth phase in the accretion of citizen’s rights: the development and implementation of democratic participation and accountability from the bottom to the top of society. Already many community and voluntary organisations as well as more formal organisations such as trade unions and small businesses contribute to sustain their localities.

Anna Coote, a contributor to the book, argues for a ‘new social settlement’ that would channel capital and resources ‘upstream’ drawing on civic organisation and vitality, leaving to residents more control of expenditure and development be it, for instance, in social care, additional educational and leisure facilities, community enterprise, and the maintenance and protection of the environment.  A complementary policy presented in the book would require supermarkets to negotiate and contract for the provision of certain services such as sourcing a minimum quota of local produce and/or meeting enhanced environmental standards.

“Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.”

Building a more participative society will take organisation. Like any major change it has a political as well as a socio-economic dimension. It requires a redistribution of power. An increase in democratic participation in locally based institutions of, for instance, big business, education and in budget allocation will cumulatively have major regional and national implications. If sustained it will create a participative democratic society. Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.

After the virulently totalitarian inter-war bout of authoritarianism and the war required to defeat it, there was a widespread desire for social reform. That reform, Marshall’s third phase of citizens’ rights, has been pushed back and as a priority must be defended and re-established. But beyond necessity awaits the tantalising possibility of a society of meaningful participation and opportunity.

Jones_Alternatives to neoliberalism [FC]Alternatives to neoliberalism edited by Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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 Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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.

 

Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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 Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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

Understanding the rise of populism and addressing its challenges

etzioni, amatai

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni, author of Law and society in a populist age, examines the emergence of populism and suggests ways in which law-based approaches and political institutions can both understand and manage the challenges these movements present.

“Much attention has been paid, for good reason, to the rise of right-wing populism in many countries. Emerging notably in opposition to immigration, and Britain’s decision to leave the EU, this type of populism plays out as a direct political bond between a charismatic leader and the masses, which occurs outside established institutional channels.

Left-wing populism, on the other hand – seen in movements such as the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain – is often all too overlooked but must be taken into account.

To take an example from the US, when Bernie Sanders ran for nomination as its presidential candidate he was not a member of the Democratic Party and was about as critical of it as Trump was of the Republican Party. Both candidates were initially opposed by the establishment of the two parties they came to represent. Likewise, Macron won the French presidential election, against all candidates of established parties, and created his own party in the process.

Their success demonstrates that, although right-wing populism is not embraced by the majority of the public in most of the nations in which it is rising, if one adds those on the left who are deeply troubled by the existing political regime, the combined result is a large majority of citizens who are alienated and distrust major institutions of their countries. Unexpected alternatives become viable options.

“The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns.”

These emerging majorities have strong reasons to be disaffected. To dismiss their concerns as merely reflecting ignorance, prejudice, or credulity is both empirically wrong, and unhelpful in dealing with the crisis they pose to the legal order of liberal democracy. The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns. To go forward, we must look for paths toward the reintegration of these masses into a society based on the rule of law, even if some of the laws involved may have to be recast in the process.

Modernity is characterized by technological and economic developments that underpin the existing legal, ethical, and political institutions. As populist movements grow, these institutions lose their ability to ensure that these developments will be dedicated to pro-social rather than anti-social purposes.  Like Golem, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, society has lost control of these developments and is buffeted by them.  This institutional lag should be closed and society—drawing on its law-making, policy-setting institutions—can then guide the forces that have been unleashed, rather than be captured by them.

This is just one of the ways in which law-based, political institutions in many democratic societies are being challenged by populist movements, parties, and leaders. Changes such as this necessitate greater attention to the role society plays in forming and challenging laws—and to the role of the law in coping with these challenges. An agenda is needed for research and deliberations by those interested in these law-in-society considerations.

“In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy.”

Part of this agenda is to examine how the challenges posed by specific sources of alienation must be addressed. These include the privatization of force, the capture of the public domain by concentrations of private power, and ways in which obsolescent legitimacy can be replaced by newly-formed legitimacy.  In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy. Both of these developments require the kind of major societal change historically brought about only by social movements.

An agenda must acknowledge the tensions between those who seek ever more governmental powers to bolster national security and defense (as well as environmental protection and climate control), and those who believe that such concentrations of power undermine their rights.  The very concept of the common good is contested by libertarians and introduces a liberal communitarian conception of a balance between individual rights and social responsibilities.

Finally, relations are needed between the national communities and the attempts to build more encompassing, so-called supranational (or regional) communities. The most advanced of these is the European Union (EU). The fact that Britain chose to leave the EU is often cited as a key example of the rise and victory of populism. One can also see it as an example of multilateral overreach; of concentrating power in Brussels and violating national sovereignty—before most people transferred their loyalty to the nascent European community.

“This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.”

In one major arena after another, specific sources of alienation require deliberations on how the challenges they pose should be faced. According to Lawrence Friedman, one of the leading thinkers in the law and society field, we must look at “ways in which law is socially and historically constructed, how law both reflects and impacts culture, and how inequalities are reinforced through differential access to, and competence with, legal procedures and institutions.” This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.

Law and society in a populist age FCLaw and society in a populist age by Amitai Etzioni is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £15.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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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 Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

We need more experts participating in political debates: Continuing the legacy of Professor Carol Weiss

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Iris Stucki, the winner of the 2017 Carol Weiss Prize for outstanding early career research, discusses her winning article, ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’. The article is published in Evidence & Policy and is free to access for 3 months.

Arguments referring to evidence are rare in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns. I took 5030 media items and analysed how many of them made a reference to evidence. At less than 7% the result is sobering, and experts, the actors that make most use of evidence in their arguments, are also scarce.

 

Why is this result of deep concern?

The success of democracy depends on an informed public. To be able to make good decisions, voters need to receive information about evidence, in particular evaluation studies, showing whether a policy works or not. Of particular importance for Swiss voters in deciding about a policy is the campaign coverage by the mass media. Here, debates between actors with different interests take place and arguments from both proponents and opponents are conveyed. And here, political arguments could be substantiated by evidence.

“The success of democracy depends on an informed public.”

 

Political use of evidence

Political use of evidence takes place when evidence is used to legitimise a predetermined position. Political use of evidence has had negative connotations for a long time, because, research has often been intended for use in improving and adapting political measures, rather than being used in political arguments. However, the positive view of the political use of evidence recognises that evidence is open to interpretation. Against this background, the use of evaluation studies and other research to support political arguments is nothing to condemn. On the contrary, presenting different evidence-based perspectives enriches political debate. As early as 1979, Carol Weiss stated that research, to the extent that it supports the position of one group, “gives the advocates of that position confidence, reduces their uncertainties, and provides them an edge in the continuing debate”.

My analysis of the use of evidence in direct-democratic campaigns shows that evidence is almost exclusively used in a political way. The good news is that the Swiss media display proponents and opponents in their political use of evidence in a balanced way, that is, pro and con arguments are conveyed in a similar proportion. The bad news is that not all of the actors are given equal coverage. Journalists and politicians dominate the discourse, while experts, the actors most likely to ground their arguments in evidence, appear most rarely. One way to improve this situation would be for the media to integrate experts to a greater extent in their reporting. The simple solution, a fruitful collaboration between journalists and experts seems to be complicated in reality.

 

Knowledge-based journalism

In an ideal world of knowledge-based journalism, journalists serve as explainers of science and facilitators of evidence-based discussions while experts recognise that they have a role to play in educating the public in policy debates. However, such collaboration seems to be tough for experts especially, as they have to be convinced that they want to participate, to take position and to eventually let go of their knowledge. This is best illustrated by a statement in a discussion forum on the question why there are so few experts in political debates. One discussant said that experts have to abandon a part of their identity as scientists when intervening in the world of politics, and have to show idealist ambitions to engage in political debates.

“Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy.”

But perhaps this is the path to take. Ultimately, both journalists and experts are in pursuit of the same goal: an enlightened public to avoid the emergence of a post-truth democracy. Thus, I close with a call for more experts to participate in political communication. I draw, again, on Carol Weiss, who recognized 20 years ago, that experts have the capacity and the responsibility to actively present evidence in the public arena and explain its scope and relevance to citizens. I am convinced that when experts who are involved in the production of evidence collaborate with journalists and publicly share analysis that is relevant in the political world, they both contribute to making democracy more evidence-prone, and citizens more enlightened.

 

Iris Stucki is deputy head of the Federal Office for the Equality of People with Disabilities in Switzerland. She received her PhD in Public Administration in 2016 for her dissertation on the use of evidence in direct democracy. Her research interests cover evidence-based policy making and voting behaviour.

Her article ‘The use of evidence in public debates in the media: the case of Swiss direct-democratic campaigns in the health policy sector’, published in Evidence & Policy is free to access for 3 months.

 


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