Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Long read | Brexit is an English problem

Brexit is driven less by contextual and conjunctural factors than by history and structure, writes Hudson Meadwell (McGill University). It is not the short-term dynamics of the referendum campaign or the machinations of pre- and post-referendum party politics, or the current state of public opinion that need to be accounted for in understanding Brexit, both as event and process in British and UK politics. Rather, we should start elsewhere by examining foundational features of twentieth-century British politics. Brexit is an English problem, yet the foundations of British politics expose all of the UK to the risks and uncertainties of England’s historical ambivalence toward, and more recently, its rejection of European integration. The national structure of Britain and the UK, and the political organisation and expression of that structure, are the keys to understanding Brexit.

There are three basic features of British politics that account for Brexit: English political dominance, a largely unwritten constitution (which does take into account relatively recent changes that have codified certain constitutional features) and party politics. The first feature is fundamental and shapes the other two.

Only Human by Martin Parr, National Portrait Gallery, London. Image by @RochDW

English Domination

England politically dominates all other nations in the UK. Its 2015 electorate was five times all others combined (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland). The House of Commons is English-dominated with almost five times the number of constituencies of other nations combined. To win a majority government, a party need only win roughly 60% of seats in England, even if all other seats in other nations are won by another or other parties.

There are no significant political counterweights to English political dominance. The ‘unwritten constitution’ does not correct for this dominance but simply expresses and reinforces it. Political powers and competences are not divided or shared territorially but are merely ‘de-concentrated’ or devolved. The recent histories of the Scottish and Welsh ‘parliaments’ support this observation, as does the history of Stormont, post-Home Rule (1920) through the formation of the Irish Free State up to the current operations of Stormont, post-Good Friday Agreement. All exist at the discretion of Westminster rather than constitutionally. England does not have its own national assembly as do Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh. Its domination of Parliament makes an English assembly redundant. Moreover, upper parliament – the House of Lords – is no counterweight to English political dominance. English dominance also organises the incentive structures of the two major parties. The Conservative party currently has roughly 3 English MPs for every 2 Labour English MPS and both Conservative and Labour MPs are dominated by English MPs: 292/313 and 211/246 respectively.

The referendum was predominantly an English question. It was forced by a party that was increasingly English-centric, and whose leaders were responding to challenges from factions inside their party and from UKIP and more recently the Brexit Party. UKIP and the Brexit Party are almost exclusively an English electoral phenomenon. Turnout for the referendum was highest in England as was, of course, support for leaving the EU. The referendum results show significant, unsurprising national differences. They also show the contemporary vacuity of British identity, which seems to have had historical resonance primarily as an imperial identity. As a post-imperial identity, however, ‘British’ has lost meaning and is now (if not always has been) code for English dominance. Northern Ireland is Irish and not British. Scotland is not British. ‘Britain’ has been reduced to England and Wales.

Brexit may hasten Irish unification and Scottish separation. These are the limits of English dominance. Brexit may spell the end of English dominance of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here is a thought experiment that perhaps helps to show the dilemma: Suppose at some point well prior to Brexit (but post British entry into the EEC/EU), England had negotiated changes to the political structures of Britain that recognized other nations in a written constitution that divided and shared power among them. Perhaps at the same time, the House of Lords would have been refashioned. Clearly, by definition, such changes would have diluted English dominance. England then could not as easily have dominated the political agenda, and an English-centric push to call a referendum on EU membership would likely not have emerged at all, all else equal. And it is hard to imagine, in my view, that such a call would have emerged from Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, if they were constitutionally empowered in some way to express voice on issues as vital as membership. Playing this out a little further, an omniscient planner with an interest in keeping English options open on the question of economic and political integration, so that his future degrees of freedom on this question are relatively unfettered, is not likely to want to give up English dominance. Why divide or share power if it would threaten these future degrees of freedom?

Hence, if England wants out of the EU in order to escape EU-domination, it is unlikely going to be able to continue to dominate the UK, or the UK it does dominate will not be the UK we know. The Irish and the Scots will leave or they will negotiate a constitutional agreement that shares and divides power and that dilutes English dominance.

Negotiation and Ratification

Post-referendum political dynamics have been organised around two processes: EU-UK negotiations and British ratification of negotiation results in the House of Commons. In turn, these processes have had two consequences: they reveal the superior bargaining position of the EU and they have added structure to the choice sets facing the British. English dominance plays a role in each of these consequences. Negotiations reveal the superior bargaining position of the EU. Some rough backward induction should reveal that the EU also had the superior bargaining position in the pre-referendum negotiations between Cameron and the EU. The UK did not enter the latter negotiations as a status-quo oriented party. Rather Cameron was publicly demanding changes to the UK-EU status quo. His private preference (both personal and his preferred position for the Conservative Party) may have been to maintain EU membership but his public posturing was revisionist.

The negotiations reveal the boundaries of the politically feasible for Britain. The relationship between bilateral British-EU negotiations and British ratification suggests that it is the EU that now has de facto agenda-setting power, not only in negotiations but in the ratification process in Parliament. That agenda-setting power has effectively forced the divisions in the Conservative party to be fully expressed and in so doing has fractured the last two governments. The negotiations thus ironically confirm the substance of the Yes vote: The EU constrains the UK Parliament.

Yet this is not accurately framed as a problem of the indivisibility of parliamentary ‘sovereignty’. Parliamentary sovereignty masks the hard fact of English political dominance and is marshalled in political rhetoric to protect that dominance. The EU is not challenging British parliamentary sovereignty; rather, the EU is a challenge to English political dominance. The price of having freely entered the EU via negotiations and a voluntary referendum is that Britain and its Parliament are now not free to leave via a referendum only. There is no legal right or practical option of unilateral withdrawal, once having joined. Once again though, this is not to suggest that British political ‘sovereignty’ has been violated either at point of entry or in the current negotiations. Rather, this is a question of whether contracts to which Britain is a corporate party are complete contracts or not. The notion that something called ‘sovereignty’ is threatened or has been violated is a political frame rather than a supportable argument. The post-referendum negotiations, however, do suggest that there is some symmetry in the exercise of EU power. The EU appears to be most powerful vis à vis individual members at the point of hypothetical entry (conditionality) and hypothetical exit. If this is true for Britain, it should hold, by virtue of monotonicity, for those members who are more fully integrated, eg. in the Euro-zone. All else equal, fuller integration should imply higher exit costs (both transaction and transition costs).

The EU will be able to force the hand of supporters of a no deal Brexit.  Negotiations did not break down. Rather, to this point in mid-June 2019, they have failed to be ratified by one of the parties. Johnson’s claim that Britain can leave without paying any transition costs related to benefits accrued from its access to EU programs, which have been priced and agreed to in the negotiations, and hold back payments to the EU until a better deal is reached is not a credible threat or bargaining position. The no deal option is not a no deal option at all. Instead, it merely implies a deal that is different than the current one agreed to in negotiations, namely one in which the EU agrees to lower the agreed costs of exit, holding everything else agreed to constant. In effect, what is implied in Johnson’s position is a trade-off in which there is (effectively) financial compensation provided to Britain, in the form of a lower bill, in exchange for British acceptance of other provisions. This is perverse. Indeed, in order to secure better terms with regard to access, mobility or borders, Britain should expect to pay more. It is the EU that has the superior bargaining position.

There will be a deal with the EU, there is not a no deal option. Then one question is whether Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU, without ratification, would increase its bargaining position vis à vis the EU so that British leadership could negotiate a better deal after withdrawal than the one currently on offer. If the answer to this question is positive, then it should be possible to show concretely how formal withdrawal provides more leverage. Does formal withdrawal make it more likely that the EU will agree to changes demanded by Britain? I don’t think so. Bargaining over the financial bill after withdrawal will only change the outcome if Britain can credibly commit to walking away altogether from paying its bill. But then, of course, it is left with nothing – no access of any kind to EU markets in essentially all commodities and services, zero mobility, a hard Irish border and no interim backstop. The EU will not improve the terms of its offer in order to induce Britain to pay some of its bills. And, in my view, the EU can more credibly threaten to pursue the charges owed it in the event that Britain reneges than Britain can threaten to renege.

The EU status quo without UK membership would look recognizably like the status quo ante when Britain was a member. The UK status quo, particularly in the event of a no deal exit but also under other scenarios, is not as easy to imagine, particularly in the short and medium term. The transition costs are far higher for Britain than for the EU. The national structure of Britain and the UK means that its territorial integrity will likely be challenged in the transition out of the EU, ultimately because its boundaries are maintained through English dominance. While others such as Wolfgang Streeck think the EU is a liberal empire organized around German hegemony and anticipate its failure, I don’t see a similar challenge to the integrity of the EU in the transition, in part because relations of national and territorial domination do not appear to be as important within the EU, compared to Britain, and because there is some meaningful power-sharing within it. Certainly, there has been far more coordination, coherence and unity on the EU side than the British side through the negotiating and ratification processes. These differences in transition costs would account for some of the bargaining advantage of the EU.

Negotiations and the public framing of the negotiations also have provided more structure to political choice, and the increase in structure reveals some aspects of the distribution of costs and benefits of alternatives within the EU-British multi-dimensional bargaining space. The referendum vote was structured as a binary choice between continued membership — the pre-referendum status quo negotiated by Cameron (call it SQNB) or exit, the negation of the status quo (Ø SQNB). Post-referendum, the structure and choice set are more elaborate: SQNB remains as a possible reference point, and its negation (Ø SQNB) is now elaborated as Hard Brexit (HB), Soft Brexit (SB), or No Deal Brexit (NDB). The post-referendum choice set then is {SQNB, HB, SB, NDB}. SB, HB, NDB vary according to access to markets, mobility and borders, primarily.

The current contest (circa mid-June 2019) for the Conservative party leadership shows the reality of this structure with candidates staking out positions, eg. Johnson as a NDB candidate, others are committing to a deal (versions of HB or SB) but not the deal offered by May. Through the negotiations that the referendum has initiated, information has been revealed about bargaining positions and the structure of political choice. Yet beyond these matters, in terms of more fundamental features of British politics, Brexit shows the enduring importance of English political dominance in Britain and the UK.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Hudson Meadwell is Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University.

[1] {Glossary: SB Soft Brexit, HB Hard Brexit, NDB No Deal Brexit, SQNB Status Quo No Brexit (the settlement negotiated by Cameron pre-referendum)}.

‘Gravy train?’ A first taste of life as an MEP

‘Gravy train?’ A first taste of life as an MEP

The author of the article is Claire Fox MEP

This article was first published in ‘The UK in a changing Europe’ and we republish with their kind permission.




At last, I’ve had my first taste of being an MEP: over in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday signing up with the administration and being briefed on and by the bureaucracy. Quite an experience. It was even more absurd than I expected.

When a rather obsessive pseudonymous troll published a series of photos of me eating on the Eurostar, I realised just how much my life had changed. “Brexit Party MEP has nose in trough of gravy train,” the shock-horror exposé was to show me travelling business class.

But if critics think business class travel is the extent of the gravy train, they haven’t been looking very hard. The EU’s financial excesses are grotesque.

It’s creepy enough that just by being elected seems to have given the green light for a stranger to intrude on my privacy to take secret photos, but it’s also bemusing that my secret paparazzi was travelling in the same carriage, at the same costs; presumably a fellow elected official or a EU bureaucrat?

While outraged #FBPE Remainers gloated that I was travelling at taxpayers’ expense, they might like to know it is the EU who recommends business class for expediency. It is paid for by them apparently because these tickets are easier to change if there are travel problems. It’s an exorbitant extravagance, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve never really focused on the financial costs of belonging to the EU: my main objection is its undemocratic nature. But I must confess, I’m shocked by the wanton waste lavished on MEPs. The above-mentioned voyeuristic troll tweeted, “my spy tells me she spent much of the journey looking mournfully out of the window as the French and Belgian countryside fled by.” Factually accurate.

I was reflecting on just how grubby I felt being embroiled in an organisation awash with money, perks, chauffeurs, bulging with endless incentives designed to suck you in. It felt potentially corrupting and you don’t have to be a supporter of Brexit to feel queasy about the EU’s obscene opulence.

Don’t get me wrong: on arrival, I was excited, if nervous, about being formally registered in my new role. As a democratically-elected MEP, I feel an enormous responsibility to the over half a million voters in the North West of England who chose three of us from the region to represent them.

Our mandate is to get us out of the EU, but it is also a broader task of popularising the importance of national and popular sovereignty and ensuring that the democratic vote is delivered.

And what an amazing setting to pursue such noble aims. The buildings are imposing: a vast campus with hairdressers, shops, tens of thousands of staff, researchers, endless committee rooms and auditoriums, top of the range technology, smoking booths (phew), bars, every conceivable amenity. A real city on the hill. As someone new to this official politics game, I confess I was wowed, impressed, a little thrilled to be so close to power. But then I checked myself…

Listening to briefings detailing descriptions of how the parliament works was sobering and I realized just how powerless MEPs really are. Any plans to make trouble ran into the practical reality of the way time is stitched up via the arcane Group system, allowing little possibility of speaking.

Incredibly, the EP isn’t even a talking shop: it actually blocks people from talking!

Facing the stark reality of joining a body that cannot initiate change, restricted to amending proposals, it feels more like a rubber stamp of legislation handed down from the unelected EU Commission on high. Enough to make a democrat’s heart sink. We do get to elect the next Commission president, but this seems small fry compared to having real democratic, mandated power.

I kept wondering how all the pro-EU MEPs could justify being mere insignificant cogs in a toothless technocratic wheel. Yet the paraphernalia and trappings, the payments and pay-offs are obviously an important prop in the grand illusion that your job matters. Surely no-one would throw such extravagant rewards at you unless you are crucial, right?

For example, according to recent Treasury figures, the annual cost of an MEP is three times the cost of an MP in the House of Commons. Indeed, most Remainer MEPs are easily flattered into believing they deserve every penny. But this is delusional. Wherever you stand on the Brexit divide, I think voters deserve a more honest critique of the ludicrous excesses on offer to MEPs.

Never mind the business-class travel, surely even Remain-and-Reform advocates might be keen to challenge whether every new MEP needs a free iPad, two offices in Brussels, one in Strasbourg, an office and staff budget for the UK.

It was jaw-dropping to hear administrative staff – who made us all feel incredibly welcome (despite the irony of us being a group committed to leaving the very institution they were initiating us into) – spell out what benefits are on offer.

We were issued with a mind-boggling 110-page booklet “on Members’ financial and social entitlements.” I had to get the finance staff to repeat exactly what the “daily subsistence” meant. Apparently, on top of a hefty salary, you are paid just to turn up to work. Actually, you automatically collect £300 plus if you sign in to the building, which MEPs do regardless of the fact that the Parliament is infrequently in session.

Then there is a general expenditure allowance paid as a lump sum into MEPs’ personal bank accounts on top of our salary, without having to provide any receipts or proof of expenditure. It’s a lavish anti-transparency measure only recently upheld by Eurocrats. The allowances – i.e. extras, bits and bobs – costs £35 million-a-year for 751 MEPs. Do the maths.

Unsurprisingly, the website for UK MEPs seldom mentions these perks. Rather, we read grandiose claims for the importance of the number of committees they sit on, the foreign delegations they join and boasts that “MEPs, as individuals and working in their political groups” are having “a real impact on the drafting and amendment of European legislation.” I suspect that the financial rewards reinforce the sense of one’s own inflated importance.

I officially start as an MEP when the parliament meets in Strasbourg on 2 July. I am still gob-smacked that every month the Brussels machine moves its 751 members and its (our!) 7,500 staff to France at an annual cost of €114 million. This is an obscene, modern-day Versailles. While I’m going to try and enjoy every moment of what I hope will be a short stay, I will be documenting its real inner workings.

If the EU insist on business class Eurostar, the very least I can do is repay them by writing a regular exposé of its excesses as I travel home. Watch this space.

The post ‘Gravy train?’ A first taste of life as an MEP appeared first on Independence Daily.

Feeling vulnerable and unwelcome: the impact of Brexit on EU nationals

Brexit has left EU nationals feeling vulnerable and sometimes unwelcome in the UK. Sara Benedi Lahuerta and Ingi Iusmen (University of Southampton) carried out research among Polish nationals in Southampton, who explained how an increasingly hostile climate has affected them.

Recent evidence shows that anti-immigration and xenophobic attitudes in the UK reached a peak during the Brexit referendum campaign and shortly after the Brexit vote. Racism and discriminatory incidents have become normalised as a result. The findings of our empirical project – using mixed methods and focusing on Polish nationals in Southampton – demonstrate that the referendum campaign and vote led to significant changes in the vulnerability of EU nationals in the UK.

southampton container terminal

Southampton Container Terminal. Photo: Nigel Brown via a CC BY 2.0 licence

We found not only changes in objective vulnerability (i.e. linked to external events such as hate incidents or discrimination explicitly based on the individual’s national origin), but also changes in subjective vulnerability (i.e. individuals’ feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity due to the worries about experiencing racially-motivated hate incidents or institutional discrimination). Our data illustrates the increase in the vulnerability experienced by Polish nationals after the referendum, compared to the period before it. While our analysis is based on the case study of the Polish community in Southampton, related research and data suggest that these experiences may be representative of a large proportion of EU nationals residing in the UK.

Discriminatory attitudes and incidents involving EU nationals were already apparent before the referendum. First, state policies permitting institutional discrimination created obstacles for EU nationals trying to exercise their free movement and social rights. For instance, Home Office migration policies in the 2000s differentiated between various groups of EU nationals according to their alleged desirability, with A2 nationals (Romanians and Bulgarians) subject to stricter migration controls. Second, media discourse blamed EU migrants for economic and social problems. For instance, it portrayed EU migrants as responsible for higher levels of crime, as a social and economic threat and the cause of unemployment and housing shortages, as a strain on social and public services, and as triggering a race to the bottom regarding low-skilled jobs. This rhetoric was embraced by both far-right parties such as UKIP and to a certain extent by mainstream parties. These factors legitimised an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality among Britons, and paved the way for discriminatory and hate crime incidents even before the referendum.

Our study shows that the referendum and its aftermath triggered heightened subjective vulnerability among Poles (and probably more widely among EU nationals) in at least four ways. First, the objective vulnerability experienced by Polish nationals increased, due to the surge in hate incidents. Our findings mirror the general post-Brexit trends that indicate a rise in hate-based and prejudice-driven incidents. Polish nationals in Southampton experienced verbal abuse, with frequent references to ‘going back to their country’, incidents in schools (where Polish children were bullied by their British classmates), smashing of Polish shop windows and name-calling.

Second, Polish nationals reported a heightened sense of being different, which contributed to fear and anxiety (subjective vulnerability) in anticipation of the mere possibility of being treated differently following the Brexit vote. For instance, Poles reported feeling much more self-conscious about things that would identify them as a migrant post-referendum. Some noted being uncomfortable about speaking Polish, having an accent or poor English, and even avoiding Polish shops and not engaging with the Polish community for fear of having the ‘migrant tag’ applied to them, even if they had never personally suffered any discrimination or hate incidents.

Third, Poles are increasingly feeling unwelcome. The migration-centred media and public discourse that dominated the referendum campaign means that many Poles perceive that the general atmosphere has changed, and that broader society has become more hostile towards them. Strong anti-migrant rhetoric in the referendum campaign and the understanding that the result somehow legitimised it left many Poles feeling collectively prejudiced and judged by the very fact of the Brexit result. Our survey participants explained:

‘After the referendum and the decision to leave the EU, I started to feel unwelcome and that I am worse than British people, because of my foreign origin’.

‘The most profound change [between 2014-15 and 2016-17] has been in the public discourse of the presence of Eastern Europeans in the UK which changed from positive to very negative; it did not affect me directly but made me feel less welcome. I also felt like I was being judged by the general public as if there was a suspicion I had done something wrong (topic of benefit abuse, drug abuse, inability to integrate, etc.)’

‘I think that other people’s attitude towards me has not changed but because of the new political and social atmosphere, the perception of being welcomed has changed.’

Finally, a key contributing factor to Poles’ subjective vulnerability is the uncertainty about their future legal status, including their right to reside in the UK and their entitlement to access social rights post-Brexit. This uncertainty led to a significant increase in the number of Polish nationals who considered returning to Poland shortly after the referendum.

Indeed, there has been little clarity regarding the documents and evidence required by EU nationals when applying for ‘settled status’ post-Brexit, and they have often encountered problems due to the ‘hostile environment’ characterising Home Office dealings with immigrants more generally. This uncertainty about administrative and legal status, along with the realisation that belonging is suddenly contingent, has contributed to the fear and anxiety (i.e. subjective vulnerability) experienced by EU nationals, including Poles.

Our evidence shows that the referendum has not only worsened the pre-existing ‘hostile environment’ experienced by EU nationals, but has also created a socio-political environment where Britons feel more entitled to express xenophobic views against EU nationals, leading the latter to feel unwelcome and to fear that their national origin, foreign names or accent may now start to be an aggravating problem in their dealings with UK institutions and in social interactions, both in the private and public sphere. Under the Equality Act 2010 (section 149) public authorities have a general equality duty to have due regard to the need to ‘eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation’ and ‘foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not’ (under the Act, ‘race’ is a protected characteristic, which includes national origin and nationality). However, they have so far done little to address the higher levels of xenophobic behaviours towards EU nationals, their heightened sense of vulnerability and the deep cleavage between ‘us’ (Britons) and ‘them’ (foreigners) that has been increasingly dividing the British society since the referendum. While some voluntary initiatives like the Existential Academy have provided psychological and emotional support to EU nationals, local and central authorities have so far done little to address this heightened sense of subjective vulnerability.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Sara Benedi Lahuerta is a Lecturer in Employment Law and Director of the Stefan Cross Centre for Women, Equality and Law at the University of Southampton.

Ingi Iusmen is a Lecturer in Governance and Policy within Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.

Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 2

Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 2

Part one of this post was published here yesterday.


The multimedia companies have all apparently decided that I live in some sort of multi-national, multi-cultural paradise where the standard household is led by an attractive woman doing her best to deal with her not very bright male partner and two often mixed race children. School children are brighter than either and spend their lives in their own rooms equipped with all sorts of multimedia equipment talking to their equally connected friends.

Banks apparently know more about my business or personal business and finances than I could possible work out and I’m so dumb that after years of their advertising I don’t know that I could claim back the money that they stole from me during their PPI scam.

Politically all the media is portraying and spouting the same opinions as fact,  I’m unsure where they get these facts from as it’s evident that most have never left the university media studies department or the sixth form debating society, or perhaps they read a digest of the national newspapers and take it from there. Now there’s a thought, broadcast media – are they following newsprint or gossip from their people on the inside to whom they always talk ‘privately?’ Well, OK, it must be true then!

Fake and trust are the new media buzzwords, BBC News runs a reality check on it’s website, BBC the organisation that is funded to the tune of billions of pounds of taxpayers money on a yearly basis, the BBC World Service, and Media Action, does that not make it part of the governments ‘soft power influence?’ that which in another age would have been called propaganda? In the modern world, apparently not. Not that the other ‘outlets’ appear to be are much different from the BBC, one actually gives reasons why you should trust their news, yes quite.

In the early 1930s when the BBC was a trusted news outlet and the 9-o-clock news was a national institution, one evening the news announcer said there is no news this evening, a little bit like now then 24/7 with talking heads reporting what exactly?

To be honest, I’m sceptical about what I see and read in the media (unless of course I agree with what’s being said).

Today of course the reality is somewhat different.  Mostly the arts and theatre publicly funded as they are take it upon themselves to push their anti-right wing, multi-cultural or left- wing credentials and they are not subtle about it either. Look at the anti-Thatcher bile that was and still is churned out, the pro E.U anti Brexit views churned out at every opportunity.

Earlier this year I went to see a well-known ‘artiste’ in a show that had been at a London venue,  The show, billed as an evening’s entertainment, was totally spoiled for me because in the first half an hour the entertainment include the celebrity’s views on President Trump (anti), views on ‘Hillary (pro), views on Brexit (anti) and so on. That is not what I paid for, I paid to be entertained.  Had I wanted to listen to political views the opportunities are there and are free.

But the theatre takes the biscuit.  As far back as Shakespeare the theatre was used by him and others as a backdrop for their political and other views, he and they of course were rather more subtle. Getting found out in those days would cause you more pain than a ‘twitter storm’.

You don’t get much more political than modern productions of Shakespeare.  Producers /directors appear to be besotted with multiculturalism, equality, diversity, and gender.  You may have thought that a play written by the Bard 400 years ago would be revered and the text mostly left alone.   As Ben Johnson said Shakespeare was a man for all time, and many of his plays have relevance to modern situations without the need to mess with the words, which, as I understand was recently demonstrated in a production of Anthony and Cleopatra where lines were cut from a male role being played by a woman, because ‘a woman could never have described another woman in such course sexist language’.

As Sir Stanley Wells recently said in a letter to The Times ….gender swapping is as old as theatre itself.  What matters is it should serve the play to which it is applied rather than as too often happens be self-consciously directed to social at the expense of artistic ends’…

We are constantly bombarded by the views of celebrities.  What makes the media think that the views of some actor, singer, dancer or footballer are worth anyone’s time listening to, and why should they have the arrogance to think that anyone outside of their bubble is in the slightest way interested.

My question is then, who or what is causing this explosion of left-wing views in the serious theatre? Or in the media broadcast or printed?  Is it something that is dictated by funding streams provided by the taxpayer, grants and advertising space contracts come to mind?

Is the taxpayer and/or shareholder licence fee payer or ticket buyer actually funding the means by which we are being manipulated by slick  advertising marketing and propaganda, using the media and arts that we pay for  as a tool to do so?

The post Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 2 appeared first on Independence Daily.

Right-wing populists threaten business interests in liberal democracies

Right-wing populism is transforming the relationship between business and politics in capitalist democracies. “F*ck business” – Boris Johnson’s remark makes bluntly clear that the era when business and big banks were said to run the world is over. With the advent of Brexit and Trump, interest in populism has surged, but relatively little is known about how businesses are navigating populist politics, writes Daniel Kinderman (University of Delaware).

Right-wing populists threaten business interests in several ways. Protectionism and new trade barriers increase costs and reduce market access for many firms; restrictions on immigration reduce the supply of both unskilled and skilled workers; and the policy agenda of the populist right is often shrouded in uncertainty, which makes planning and investments difficult and risky for business.

While it is difficult to get detailed information on the political views of individual members of the business elite, business associations offer a promising path forward. These associations represent a large concentration of firms, capital, employees, and political power, and they give business its main political voice in virtually all countries. It matters what business associations say and what positions they take. The consequences of business support for right-wing populists should not be underestimated. As the examples of Brexit and Trump have shown, business opposition does not condemn populists to defeat at the polls, but business opposition can make it harder for populists to exercise political power. What does business mobilization in response to right-wing populism look like?

Fearing that the European Parliament could be taken over and paralyzed by Eurosceptics, the EU-level business association BusinessEurope campaigned for the EU in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament elections. The French business association MEDEF played a leading role with its Merci l’Europe ! campaign, and Bernard Spitz, President of the French Insurance Federation FFA and of the European Committee at MEDEF, published a book with the same title to counter populist lies. Although this engagement did not prevent Marine Le Pen’s National Rally from getting the largest vote share in the French European Parliament elections, it is possible that these efforts helped boost voter turnout and prevented the populists from doing even better.

In Germany, the shock of Brexit and Trump was particularly deep, and it prompted one observer to ask: “Where are the top managers and entrepreneurs, the presidents of business associations and union leaders, who have strong arguments for globalization, openness and European integration? Why does hardly anyone fight for an order which forms the basis for the success of the German economy, as well as for the self-understanding of this country?” In early 2017, for the first time in their history, two German business associations overcame collective action problems and launched dedicated campaigns to defend democracy and the European and global market order against the populist right.

The machine-tool association VDMA launched #europeworks and the Business Association of Industrial Enterprises Baden WVIB in the South West of Germany launched the “Einigkeit.Recht.Freiheit.” campaign. Although these initiatives developed independently of each other, both seek to shift public opinion and mobilize employees and voters to oppose the AfD and support the EU, liberal democracy, and the European and global free market order.

In early 2017, the VDMA’s member companies demanded that the VDMA take a stand. Holger Kunze, the Director of the VDMA’s Europe office, exclaimed: “The danger that Europe will break apart is real! Brexit was the turning point or sea change, the moment when many people realized: Europe can’t be taken for granted anymore!” I queried whether a campaign like #europeworks would have been imaginable before, and Kunze replied: “absolutely not. The stress and level of suffering [Leidensdruck] was not so high back then. Now the problems had a different quality. We started deep into the abyss” (interview, 2017). “We must defend the EU against the new nationalism because it is dangerous for society and for prosperity,” stated Thilo Brodtmann, VDMA’s chief executive.

The VDMA’s strong support of the EU reflects the importance of European markets for the German machine tool industry. Both VDMA President Carl Martin Welcker and Norbert Basler, who the VDMA’s vice-president until recently, also stress the need to reduce inequality and bring those who feel ‘left behind’ back on board in order to take the wind out of the sails of populism. Basler stresses that education is the “most effective means to solve the problem in the long run” (interview, 2017) – which is precisely what some leading scholars recommend.

Just ten days after Trump’s election win, WVIB chairman Klaus Endress addressed his member companies in a speech he gave at the association’s annual general meeting. He stated that “The world has been in disorder for some time. This disorder comes – as everyone now acknowledges – from populists, their followers, and the social developments that enable populism.” As a result, he stated that “Europe is under pressure like never before” and that the “ideational foundations of the VWIB members’ economic success are in danger!” The gravity of the situation was clear: “Populism has nothing in common with our values. 2016 was bad. What will 2017, the year of the Bundestagswahl, bring?” Endress stressed the need to defend values of the Enlightenment, humanism, tolerance, and democracy.

This talk had great resonance and spurred the association into action. WVIB managing director Christoph Münzer recalls that in early 2017, “with the upcoming elections in the Netherlands and France, and with the AfD in Germany, it was a very open situation.” Endress recognized the urgency of the situation and said: “do something! let’s do something about this!” The result was the first political campaign in the history of the organization, one that sought to dissuade both members of the public and employees of WVIB companies from voting for the AfD in the run-up to the 2017 Bundestag election. “It was a huge effort for us” (interview, 2018). In Endress’s own words, “The politicians aren’t managing [die schaffen das nicht] – we’ve got to support them!” (interview, 2018).

My German business association interviewees stress the need to reform and democratise the EU in order to defend globalisation from globalisation backlash and the threat of resurgent nationalism. They also stress the plight of those who feel that they have been ‘left behind.’ At least on the face of it, segments of German business may be open to a new, more redistributive social compromise to preserve the open international economic order while preserving domestic stability – much as Ruggie described in his work on “embedded liberalism.” This resonates with recent scholarship which points to populism as a problem of “subjective social status” and provides an interesting contrast to the United States, where, as a recent book has shown, employer mobilization has often tended to be illiberal, coercive, and regressive. Economic self-interest is, of course, a powerful driver of business mobilization. I argue that the perception of vulnerability by small, export-dependent companies spurred these two German associations to engage in collective action. In contrast to large companies, these small firms do not have their own government relations people and lobbyists – they rely on associations bundle up and combine their voices.

Not in all countries do business associations respond as they did in the aforementioned French and German cases; business responses to the populist right vary across time and space. I hypothesize that business associations’ responses are shaped at least in part by the strategic context. The intensity of business opposition will be inversely related to populists’ prospects for gaining political power: where the populists are marginalized and have remote prospects for gaining political power, business associations will feel comfortable denouncing them. Quite the opposite is the case if right-wing populists have captured political power or are close to doing so. The greater the political power of the populist right, the more muted the business opposition. To draw on the metaphors Machiavelli used in The Prince, business associations will behave more like lions towards right-wing populists when the latter are politically marginalized. As right-wing populists’ political strength grows, business associations will behave more like foxes.

Overall, I expect that business associations that have the most to lose from a possible collapse of the liberal market order will be the most ardently engaged against the populist right. By contrast, in their recent book two prominent scholars argue that those benefitting from the knowledge economy support advanced capitalism and oppose populism. The empirical support for their claim is mixed. On one hand, the “Merci l’Europe” campaign was the personal idea of tech entrepreneur Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the newly elected president of MEDEF. On the other hand, the VDMA and WVIB campaigns can better be understood as attempts of the German export-oriented manufacturing sector to preserve the open international economic order upon which they depend.

In conclusion, the rise of the populist right has made the relationship between business and politics more complicated and conflictual than it was in the neoliberal era. One thing is sure: more research is needed on European business responses to the populist right.

This post represents the views of the author and not the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. 

Daniel P Kinderman is Director of European Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware.



Barry Manilow! I loved him when I was growing up! Oh Ok then… I was persuaded to go along by a friend… I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it but hey he was one of the greats so why not? And when he came on he looked good – still slim, a full head of hair and well dressed. And the voice was… still amazing. It always takes me aback a bit when I hear a top notch voice – many people can sing but not many have that special warmth and quality in their voices that the most successful singers of any genre or era have…

While we were waiting for him to come on I had started to think about the O2. It started life as the Millennium Dome of course. I remember all the constant debate and wrangling over how to mark the beginning of the third millennium of the modern world.  At the time I felt puzzled as to how we ended up with a great big dome….! It’s like they were almost relieved to have decided…. Last chance saloon… The debate seemed to go on forever, it seemed to me they were missing the point, it was probably really a time to look back at what the modern world had achieved and how we could improve our way of life….. less war, less poverty, that sort of thing, but we ended up with a great big dome! Perhaps a case of too many cooks…

Anyway, on 31st December 1999, the New Year’s Eve party at the dome was attended by 10,500 people as well as the PM and the Queen. I remember how everyone I knew spent half the year discussing how to celebrate that night – it was bound to be a let-down whatever we did! Personally I was glad when it was over…! The next day the Millennium Dome exhibition opened, but was shut down by the 31st December 2000 as it had huge financial problems and failed to cover expenses with visitors’ expenditure.…. Such is the apathy of the human race these days… or perhaps the lack of imagination of those charged with having ideas…

The Dome is the 8th largest usable building in the world and ended up being sold as a commercial venue – now of course being part of the O2. The exhibition was completely demolished, but the Dome survives. It has a tower for each month of the year or hour of the clock, and represents Greenwich meantime. The exterior is similar to the Dome of Discovery from the Festival of Britain in 1951. All quite nice, but it just didn’t capture the public’s imagination. Not surprising as it was originally started by John Major’s government and then taken over by Tony Blair who expanded the size, scope and funding hugely (Labour hasn’t changed). It was touted as a glittering ‘New Labour’ achievement but of course labelled by the Tories as ‘banal’. It was ever thus… The dome almost representing perfectly the constant tug of war in this country between Conservatives and Labour and resulting in a dreadful fiasco…. For which we pay the price, both financially and with the headache of dealing with the resulting debacle….

To me, the Millennium Dome also represents the hollowness of our society now – religion, especially Christianity, which the dome was meant to celebrate, being replaced by the cult of celebrity worship – and becoming an entertainment venue instead – almost biblical in its imagery.

So, here we were, waiting for Barry Manilow, a master of entertainment, with thousands waiting to worship him with their green glow sticks and raised arms, in what was once meant to be a monument to our entering the third millennium of Christianity…

But he was more than excellent. He sang beautifully – lots of his own stuff – Mandy, Could it be Magic, Bermuda Triangle, all the ones we remembered and other songs of the time too. He reminisced about his childhood in deep poverty in New York, but with a close and loving family, especially his Russian Jewish grandfather who encouraged him into music. He played the piano beautifully too, defying his 75 years of age, like so many now. Yes, he looks as if he has had the obligatory Botox, maybe surgery, bleached teeth and also yes, he has a huge fan following who worship him like a demigod, but he does at least have real talent, and that is the way of the world now. We worship at the altar of celebrity and good looks, not at the church or the temple. His is a true rags to riches story, fuelled by hard work and talent. I must admit his story touched my heart. And many of his fans form groups who meet up regularly – quite sweet really. Maybe not such a bad image for the new millennium after all…

He finished with one of his most famous songs, written at the peak of his career… ‘I write the songs that make the whole world sing, I write the songs – I write the songs…’. And as I sang and danced along with thousands of other people, I had to agree ‘Yes, Barry, you certainly do…’

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Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 1

Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 1

Many years ago, irritated by the constant left wing comments pouring out of the overpaid presenters and pundits on television where personal opinion is presented as fact and news is presented by one presenter talking to another, we gave up, turned it off and now get our news from a variety of sources.

The internet is a wonderful thing, with the caveat that some of the news outlets are just, shall we say, as unreliable as anything else.  To paraphrase Churchill, in our times, five minutes reading the outpourings of the average commenter is enough to put you off for life.  And so it was for me with social media, not for me the inane comments of celebrities, their followers, the misguided or frankly bizarre comments, or the amateur video presenters who think that their real place in life is on T.V or the movies.

No thanks – we turned it off, we don’t have social media accounts and anything we watch on any broadcast media is done selectively.

For years we had a daily and weekend broadsheet. Around the time of the Major government shambles the quality of reporting started to fall.  By the time of the first Blair ‘government’ the pro left journalists were in the ascendancy and we changed papers.  Our new choice was bearable for some years and then as happens the editor changed, the established writers either died or retired, the spelling, grammar and accuracy went out of the window and after reading pro-left drivel in what was, and is, supposedly a right of centre newspaper, I cancelled.

I tried two supposedly middle market (God knows what that means) papers.  Their views on Cameron and Clegg roughly followed mine but then, by the time of his resignation and the appointment of May, editorial flip flopped all over the place, ownership changed, editors changed and both appeared to me to written for the Friends or Blue Peter generation.  Again thanks but ‘no thanks’ – reading a WW2 Spitfire described a ‘jet’ did it for me. Both titles to me are now just full of media gossip and frankly read like ‘comics’.

The odd thing though, although I see the odd usually older person reading a mass circulation newspaper, news outlets have numerous returns each day so circulation must be declining.  However none have recently gone out of business, and local newspapers all seem to keep going (although many are owned by large companies) but with falling or low circulation.  I wonder how this makes financial sense?

Perhaps as the older readers die off, and as younger more independently-minded people find alternatives they will disappear.

We no longer watch commercial TV which appears to consist mostly of repeats of old programmes or reality programmes, the latter holds no interest for me as the people portrayed are either the types usually seen in a down-market talk show or pretentious types who think themselves important middle class of the sort you would find in a certain middle class emporium having parked the ‘Rangey’ or the BM across two parking bays on the car park.

Not that I have any problems or issues with either.  If that’s the way they see themselves, let them get on with it.

More and more people are complaining of BBC and SKY bias but still continue to pay for both and others, despite saying they don’t like the bias of news and documentaries as they see it and dislike the content, although I’ve heard on several occasions now the comment ‘never watch the news, only have them for the sport’.

But having said that, walking my dog before seven most mornings and in the winter, I’m struck by the flickering images in the windows of the houses I walk by.  Huge TVs with two talking heads in animated conversation pouring out words like some Orwellian program of the original ‘Big Brother’ but with a difference – we are all apparently watching them!

What I do have problems with though, is how the media plays to these people.  Presumably if they have any opinions at all on anything they are entitled to them, so do they need the marketing and advertising people to actually tell them how to live or what to think.  It would seem so.

Travelling around (quite a bit) as it happens, and having been in a job where it was necessary to be observant, I watch people and things, it’s an old habit and it dies hard as does listening to the odd snippets of conversation  that you hear in queue, lifts and cafe’s. Trust me, in today’s world this could save your life.  What I see and hear though bears no relation to what I’m bombarded with by the broadcast media and advertising.

What I see on a daily basis is predominantly an aging population wearing scruffy cheap chain store clothes, all looking much the same.  How often these days do you see a man with polished shoes, a woman with smart well-fitting clothes?  Not very often I’ll wager.

Yet the stores advertising show smiling slim young women with immaculate hair and makeup and lean tanned ultra-fit men, what I see in reality is a vast majority of overweight dowdy women in dull clothes and ill-fitting tight jeans and in bad weather ill-fitting hoodies or winter coats. Overweight middle-aged men predominate, wearing over their stomachs in many cases cheap T shirts with baggy jeans along with a baseball cap.  They have either just finished work on a building site or have popped into down having been working in the garden.

Both sexes – and let’s face it as far as clothing is concerned there is little difference – apart for some inexplicable reason many women young and not so young have taken to wearing tights with nothing else (akin to a male ballet dancer) and men of a certain age have taken to wearing shorts with socks and dirty trainers. Sunglasses are de rigueur even on dark winter days even when driving cars with darkened windows.


Part two of this post will be published here tomorrow.

The post Do we know or want what we are paying for? – Part 1 appeared first on Independence Daily.

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