Posts Tagged ‘Featured’

Residential mobility in the UK: how distance and local economic conditions drive residential choices

Monica Langella and Alan Manning find that high unemployment in an area induces people to move away, and has an even stronger effect on the attractiveness of that area to potential movers. They also find that younger and better-educated individuals are less sensitive to distance and tend to move further away than other groups.

Regional inequalities are strongly persistent in many countries and this can have both economic and political consequences: feeling ‘left behind’ by austerity policies may have had impact on recent electoral outcomes. One mechanism that could smooth out spatial economic differences is migration. For instance, moving to an area with better opportunities can increase the probability of having a job and improve one’s economic prospects. Then, areas with worse economic conditions should experience a decrease in population in favour of areas that start from a better economic situation. Looking at the UK case, data seem to confirm this. Neighbourhoods that had high unemployment in the 1980s tend to have bigger drops in population 40 years later, as Figure 1 shows.

In the same line though, one should also expect that areas would converge over time in terms of economic performance, but that is not what Figure 2 suggests. In the UK, as in many other countries, spatial economic differences are quite persistent.

Note: the models include controls for age distribution, marriage rates, student presence, and education rates.

If populations respond to economic shocks, why is persistence in economic conditions still so strong? Others have shown that, although in the UK migration dynamics do respond to local economic shocks, they are not able to keep up with the speed of economic adjustments. Building from there, we study the dynamics of residential mobility to understand what can explain the slow adjustment. We do so by looking at very detailed data that records moves between census area statistics (CAS) wards – these are areas of approximately 5,000 people, and there are more than 10,000 such wards – both at the aggregate level and at the individual level.

First, we look closely at the role of distance in explaining residential mobility. Most of residential mobility in the UK occurs within regions, as Figure 3 shows, so it is not surprising to find that the relationship between distance and mobility is very strong. For instance, estimating a distance cost function on a full ward-to-ward pair matrix of residential flows, we find that doubling the distance between two places makes the mobility drop by 73.5%.

Figure 3: Percentage of population who moved based on census data

Second, we study the impact of local unemployment on population inflows and outflows. We find that local unemployment negatively affects inflows and positively affects outflows, thus causing people to move away from areas of high unemployment and towards areas of lower unemployment. A 1% increase in unemployment in one area decreases the inflow from 1.5% to 4% in our instrumental variable models, while it increases outflow by about 1.6%.

Third, we use individual level data to study whether different groups of people have different reactions to economic conditions and whether their cost of distance is different. Understanding this is important because the view that migration tends to equalize economic opportunity is based on the idea that migration reduces competition for jobs in the areas left and increases it in the destination areas. Such a conclusion may not be justified if, for example, it was the best educated or the most ambitious who leave an area after a negative labour demand shock – this would alter the skill mix in a way that might worsen labour market prospects for those left behind. For example, recent work suggests that out-migration of young people is likely to have a negative effect on the settlement of new firms in the departure areas.

With this in mind, we look at heterogeneities both to distance and to economic opportunities, for inflows and outflows separately. We find that:

  • younger people and people with higher levels of education tend to move further away, while people in social housing, people who are working, and people with children tend to choose closer destinations;
  • married people are less likely to move to high unemployment areas, as are older people;
  • non-white people are relatively more likely to choose more high unemployment areas, as are those in social housing;
  • regarding outflows, women and people with children are less sensitive to the unemployment in the area, while for married people unemployment appears to matter more.

Overall, we spot some mechanisms that could explain why changes in population are not strong or fast enough to offset the persistence of economic shocks. Mobility is a local phenomenon. People who move do so within a few kilometres from the original location, so they are likely to remain under similar economic conditions. Even though they move locally, people tend to take into account local economic conditions, as unemployment causes both fewer people to move to a certain area and more people to move away from it. Moreover, different groups of people tend to have different dynamics of residential mobility, so it is difficult to assume that the people who leave and the ones that stay in the area are similar. This may have an impact on the potential that migration has in smoothing out special disparities.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ paper for the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance.

About the Authors

Monica Langella is Research Officer at the Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.



Alan Manning isProfessor of Economics at the LSE.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Book Review: Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic Perspective by Andrew Blick

In Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic PerspectiveAndrew Blick situates Brexit within the wider context of UK constitutional reform debates over the course of the past century. Blick’s unconventional approach to this topic is insightful, providing instructive historical context to contemporary discussions of Brexit that will be of particular value for scholars of constitutional affairs, writes Gary Wilson

Stretching the Constitution: The Brexit Shock in Historic Perspective. Andrew Blick. Hart. 2019.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The phenomenon of Brexit has generated a considerable body of literature, much of which either seeks to understand the reasons why the UK voted to leave the European Union or assess the likely consequences of departure from the EU. Stretching the Constitution by Andrew Blick, a constitutional scholar, is refreshing in that it employs a unique approach by seeking to place Brexit within the wider context of constitutional reform debates going back over the course of the past century. The author begins from the non-controversial suggestion that the scale of the impact of Brexit has been considerable. The outcome of the 2016 referendum on EU membership immediately led to the resignation of one Prime Minister, has effectively derailed and destroyed the premiership of his successor and has produced major divisions within the two largest political parties – and the cabinet itself – over how to proceed. In addition, Brexit has resulted in challenges to the ultimate status of the UK as a constitutional entity and exacerbated deep divisions in public opinion.

Blick’s approach to making some sense of Brexit is grounded in a consultation of documentary materials which address some of the key constitutional themes that have surfaced during the Brexit debate, either explicitly or implicitly, the result being that Brexit is not regarded as an issue on its own but rather as part of a wider constitutional discussion. Part One of the book makes reference to textual material drawn from the period of Brexit itself, while in Part Two Blick considers aspects of related constitutional debates through the prism of earlier reform proposals produced over the course of the past century. In selecting his materials, the author is clear that he has sought to avoid official governmental or party political materials in order to maintain some objectivity.

The two chapters which comprise the first part of the book have a wide-ranging remit. In the first chapter, Blick draws upon reports of parliamentary select committees to gauge the lessons learnt from the referendum experience, while also touching upon constitutional issues which have arisen since, such as the role of the Supreme Court within the Brexit process, underlined by its ruling in the Gina Miller case. Chapter Two takes a step back to consider the debates which preceded the referendum, focusing on Parliament’s consideration of the 2015 EU Referendum Act which sanctioned its taking place.

Image Credit: Parliament Square (Leonard Bentley CC BY SA 2.0)

The major part of the book’s flesh is, however, found in the historical retrospect which runs through Part Two. Within these seven chapters, the author identifies and illuminates varied perspectives found in a range of historical writings and touches upon constitutional themes and issues, the significance of which have resurfaced against the backdrop of Brexit. A key point which quickly becomes apparent from this overview is the extent to which constitutional reform proposals advanced several decades – and, in some instances, a century – ago often inadvertently anticipated contemporary constitutional reform debates or continue to be relevant to shaping their parameters.

Given the end objective of those who support the Brexit agenda, Blick appropriately begins by surveying earlier perspectives on the shape and function of multi-state organisations, drawing upon works by L.S. Woolf, Friedrich Hayek, William Jennings and William Beveridge, who had advanced proposals for organisations which bore some features of the modern EU. By contrast, a far more recent plan of Brexit supporters Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan is considered, which sets out a vision of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with other states.

The next two chapters address issues of democracy, focusing respectively on the referendum mechanism and representative democracy. The merits of using referendums within a representative democracy has been controversial in some quarters, although arguments for their use, similar to those advanced in support of the 2016 exercise, are found in earlier writings on the referendum mechanism. The shortcomings of the UK’s system of representative democracy have been highlighted both before and since the 2016 referendum. These must be seen within the context of debates over electoral reform and the redistribution of power within the UK. Again, earlier constitutional reform proposals can be employed to shed light upon some of these issues. Those surveyed within the book range from a 1911 proposal for the introduction of the single transferrable vote to unofficial Conservative proposals for House of Lords reform much earlier than those which the Labour government sought to effect in 1999. Earlier proposals for the decentralisation of power are also touched upon.

The following chapters are concerned with proposals for reform to Parliament, the territorial structure of the UK and the executive branch of government. The role of Parliament has been central to the Brexit process. While limitations in its operation have been illustrated by its inability to reach consensus on a form of leaving the EU acceptable to a majority of its members, concerns over its function are not new. The earlier reform proposals discussed by the author include the advancement of the case for the creation of sub-parliaments by Winston Churchill, amongst others.

To many minds, Brexit threatens the existence of the UK, while the 2016 referendum also gave rise to debates concerning the relative voice which its constituent parts might have within that process. The case for a federal UK is again revisited through the lens of earlier proposals. The varied reform suggestions pertaining to the executive range from those found in the writings of Arthur Ponsonby in respect of the scope for democratic control via the House of Commons, to foreign policy – particularly interesting in light of the extent to which the House has effectively curbed Government’s freedom of action in Brexit negotiations – to Harold Laski’s calls for reform of the civil service.

The final substantive chapter, titled ‘The Digital Constitution’, considers the relationship between digital technologies and democracy. While it is easy to see this as a modern challenge, with few lessons to be learnt from earlier writings, Blick manages to adduce works from HG Wells and others to bring historic perspectives to bear on this issue.

From his survey of earlier constitutional reform proposals, Blick reaches the conclusion that ‘historical analysis shows that the belief that democracy is in peril is far from new’. He questions the legitimacy of the Brexit process, acknowledging that it raised serious constitutional problems, while also noting that shortcomings within the UK’s system of democracy manifested during the Brexit debate have featured in past analysis. Some possible reforms are touched upon: for example, to the House of Lords as a second chamber capable of representing to the UK’s constituent parts and regions, and electoral reform to increase the democratic legitimacy of the UK’s political institutions. These are, however, couched within the context of earlier debates, which by its conclusion the book has clearly demonstrated are of great relevance to contemporary discussions surrounding constitutional reform.

This book is not perhaps one of the more conventional treatments of either Brexit or constitutional reform debates. That is, however, its main appeal. It is able to make an important contribution to the existing body of work within these fields precisely because it does not seek to replicate the usual approaches or discussions. The historical context provided to contemporary debates is insightful, but also very instructive in introducing the modern reader to materials of which they would in many instances have been ignorant or unaware. Anyone who purports to be a scholar of constitutional affairs should read Stretching the Constitution.

Note: This article is provided by our sister site, LSE Review of Books. It gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics.

Gary Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Law at Liverpool John Moores University. He specialises in collective security, the use of force and issues of secession and self-determination.

If we want a better civil society we need to get policy thinkers to focus more on it

A healthy charity sector is a crucial part of a good society, writes Dan Corry. He draws on the Charity Tax Commission’s latest report to explain why the sector deserves more study by academics, researchers, and policymakers.

Civil society is a very important part of what makes a good society and underpins a strong economy. Yet I am constantly amazed at how the policy community really tries to get under the skin of what is happening in the UK around this crucial part of our body politic.

I wrote about this a few years ago after four years on the ESRC Research Committee where I tried to get social scientists interested in wanting to understand what makes a strong civil society; how charities are evolving and what issues they face; what makes them successful; what hinders them; where they are located and what that means for communities. I’m not sure this made much headway: the money certainly never flowed towards these topics.

My latest confrontation with this lack of research on charities and civil society has come from spending some time as a member of the Charity Tax Commission. Charities receive various tax breaks as a consequence of their charitable status. They are exempt from taxes on much of their income and pay less in business rates. They can also claim part of the tax that would be paid by their donors for themselves (Gift Aid) and individuals making donations at the higher rate of tax can get tax reliefs on their donations. But there are also many rules around trying to prevent unfair competition with the private sector that make the system – especially on VAT – fiendishly complex. This is a nightmare, especially for small charities and community groups.

This set of tax breaks gives the charity sector a very valuable £5bn according to government statistics and we need to make sure that this use of precious tax revenues is configured in a way that achieves the maximum impact and the strongest possible civil society. That’s why I had been calling for a review of charity tax breaks for some time and eventually an independent Commission was established with Nick Montagu, a former head of the HMRC, as the chair and I was asked to be a member of it. The Commission’s report was published in July 2019.

Embedded in it are some proposals that could be enacted pretty fast – we have enough evidence to know they make sense. Key amongst these is the idea of making the top rate tax relief go to the charity, not back to the individual, unless the top rate payer specifically opts out. In addition, the report sets out some principles for judging the case for charity tax breaks in the future, which I hope will help debates in this area. They try to get to the very heart of why we might give charities tax breaks at all. In addition, the report sketches out some longer term directions for change, around VAT, business rates, and Gift Aid that could be very significant if the ideas do not get lost in the long grass.

But the experience overall was a bit depressing. First, there was complete lack of interesting thinking about how you might want to construct a structure for charity taxation that led to more social good, more equally spread.  This chimed badly with the feeling that a number of Commission members felt – that the current system of charity tax breaks was born in another era and does not address the needs and nature of the non-profit world. We held valuable sessions with a number of economists and policy types but there had been little thinking about these wider issues. Fair enough that where the system seems flawed – in terms of who gets what – economists would argue that the first best solution is to use grants to ameliorate them rather than to tweak or change tax breaks, but this seemed to me to not go far enough and was unlikely to happen in the real world. Our hope that some in and around the sector, including academics, would come up with bold new and better ways of supporting civil society that we could engage with, turned out to be naïve.

Second, there is a real dearth of data and evidence on the impact of charity tax both in the UK and other countries. Sure, there is some good academic work on the elasticity of giving (i.e. how much a tax break increases giving above the cost of the tax break itself), but very little on how the tax breaks (like VAT and business rates) influence the way charities organise themselves, the inefficiencies they may give rise to and so on. We need academics to dig into this area if we are to use resources well. Some of the problems here were to do with availability of data – and the HMRC’s reluctance to let people at it too much – and the Commission had some quite tough things to say about this. The radical proposals were stymied because we felt we did not have the evidence or data to help us understand the implications of such change: hence they became agendas for the future, not immediate proposals.

But even a bit of digging into the data can enable new agendas to emerge. For instance, the data report we published alongside the main report is some of the most crucial reading – with some of the striking things the data showed about where the tax breaks go. Surely some work trying to understand how charities are turning themselves upside down to minimize tax, in terms of charity structure (especially where there is some trading going on, or in joint research etc) is worth studying.

Charity tax simply has not kept up with the modern word. Not just digital, but the growth of charities trying to get government contracts, being half social enterprises, mixing grants and contracts, having social investment, wanting to collaborate on research etc. It has not kept up with the way we think about civil society and its role.

The whole panorama of civil society, the charity sector and philanthropy deserves more study and more policy thinking. Let’s hope our report has sowed a few seeds in policy and academic minds.

About the Author

Dan Corry is Chief Executive of charity sector think tank and consultancy NPC. He has had a varied career in public policy and economics, including as Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit and Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister on the Economy from 2007 to 2010.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

A national unity government led by backbenchers to block no-deal Brexit is a dangerous idea

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction and would only serve to sharpen divisions, writes Lea Ypi.

The metaphor of the body politic can be an attractive one to think about political community, especially when the body is on the verge of collapse and you have a name for the disease: Brexit. The UK has been branded ‘the sick man of Europe‘ and needs a good cure before it is too late. What better suggestion than the idea of a national unity government, united only by the noble purpose of extending article 50 to avert a no-deal?

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction. First, there is a contradiction in its appeal to the nation. A government of national unity identifies the whole nation with the part opposed to a no-deal Brexit. It not only ignores the will of the other part of the nation, inclined to leave the EU, and indeed leave by October 31st, but denies its claim to be part of the nation, even in name.

Second, there is a contradiction in the promise of unity. A national unity government would sharpen divisions, not only in the nation as a whole but in its parts.  A cross-party government formed and dissolved with the sole purpose of fixing Brexit by extending article 50 (assuming a further extension is any kind of fix) can avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of its very consequential decisions. By its temporary nature, by its concentration of executive discretion, by its absence of a wider programmatic commitment, it lacks the democratic credentials to chart a process of future reconciliation. It prevents citizens from linking their grievances on Brexit to wider political issues, and to engage with the deeper question of what kind of society they all want to share.

Not only does the solution sharpen divisions in the nation, it sharpens them in its political parties.  In parliamentary democracies, these are the primary agents that help citizens distinguish their political views, the principles they subscribe to, and the selection of policies that reflect their commitments. A government of national unity is the work of all but the responsibility of none. Such is the hope of course, yet British history has not been kind to pioneers of national unity. Lloyd George, the artifice of a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives in 1916, was the last Prime Minister the Liberals ever had. In 1931, Ramsay Macdonald’s decision to form a government of national unity with Tories led to his expulsion from the party, and to Labour being wiped out of power until 1945. 1945 was of course the year that marked the end of yet another government of national unity, and with it the eclipse of the prime minister that championed it – that same prime minister about whom Boris Johnson has written a biography and of whom he admires the statesmanship.

These were extreme circumstances. Only in the phantasies of the most ardent Leavers can Brexit be compared to a World War. Nor can it be compared to the Great Depression, though some Remainers have tried. Still, the fact that parties are systematically punished for their participation in governments of national unity is not the result of unfortunate historical accident. It is the logical expression of a very basic democratic tension, one where in consequential political moments, politicians that owe their power to the people they represent, turn crucial political decisions into matters for professionals. The price of cross-party unity is the depoliticization of those very political problems that move people to associate with parties in the first place, their classification as accidents that must be averted rather than as products of human will.

This leads to the third contradiction in the idea of a Brexit-stopping national unity government: the government part of the formulation. A government is an agent that uses executive power to make decisions in the name of the people. Its actions are supposed to be rooted in an organic web of democratic processes and institutions that enable the people’s will to be articulated in an intelligible way. This is why parties have conference debates and decisions, leadership campaigns, electoral manifestos. This is why they are chosen to represent citizens, and how they are held accountable for their performance in government, and in opposition. This is why popular sovereignty is the soul of the body politic.

A government of national unity led by backbenchers rather than the current Leader of the Opposition would not only suspend party democracy in the present, it would destroy confidence in it for the future. Just like the denial of authority to the seventeen million or so citizens who voted Brexit, the denial of dignity to the half-million Labour members represented by Corbyn reveals the enduring inability of pro-Remain elites to comprehend, let alone relate to, opinions they oppose. Both are treated as some kind of disease from which we will be cured, provided the right treatment is found. Both display the same thoughtlessness vis-a-vis the process that led to these decisions, and the likely consequences of further ignoring their rationale. This is the way not to solve Brexit but to dig the sick man’s grave.


Note: the above was first published in The Independent.

About the Author

Lea Ypi (@lea_ypi) is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of The Meaning of Partisanship.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

The insecurity of a new no-deal Brexit Prime Minister

The economic consequences of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal have received significant attention, but a no-deal Brexit would also have important security implications. Helena Farrand Carrapico, Jocelyn Mawdsley and Richard G. Whitman explain what leaving the EU without a deal might mean for the UK’s internal and external security, as well as the country’s future security relationship with the EU.

The Conservative leadership race seems to be increasing the likelihood of a no deal Brexit. Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have made clear they are willing to contemplate a no deal Brexit on 31 October if a revised agreement cannot be reached with the EU on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. And the EU’s member states have made clear that they are unwilling to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with Theresa May’s Government.

The likely impacts of a no deal Brexit on the EU-UK economic relationship have been given significant attention with hair raising accounts of the probable effects on trade, borders, travel and UK manufacturing and services. However, the effects on the security interrelationship between the EU and the UK have been given much less prominence. Currently, as a member state, the UK is connected to the other EU member states through a variety of cooperation arrangements for internal security (on borders, policing and criminal justice) and external security (managing security threats from outside Europe and which include cooperation on conflict management and defence). A no deal Brexit means that this cooperation would be thrown into uncertainty.

Internal security

A no deal Brexit would have considerable impact on the UK’s internal security, in particular on police and judicial authorities’ capacity to address issues such as organised crime and terrorism, and on the UK’s role as a leading country in the area of security, including its ability to propose new instruments and shape EU decisions so as to align them with its national interests. In fact, one could even go as far as to say that a no deal Brexit constitutes a substantial threat to UK security given the current critical and unprecedented levels of organised crime activities, as well as the continued severe level of international and domestic terrorism.

Against a background of wide-ranging police cuts (namely the loss of 44,000 police officer jobs since 2010) and the accumulation of austerity effects, the rapidly growing levels of insecurity are having a clear impact on the everyday safety of the UK population, with serious and organised crime currently endangering more lives than any other national security threat. Given that these problems are transnational in nature, the key to addressing them lies on intelligence and information exchange, rather than on the reinforcement of borders as has been occasionally expressed.

The UK currently has access to a large number of EU instruments, databases and agencies that allow it to have direct access to crucial information, to exchange best practices and to coordinate strategies and operations with other EU member states. The most important instruments include, for instance, the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the European Criminal Record System, Europol and Eurojust, whose access is part of a carefully designed relationship that the UK has negotiated with the EU since the early 90s and which has allowed it to adopt a selective participation in the area of internal security.

Within this model, the UK has been able to take part in instruments that are aligned with its national interests, at the same time as it has been allowed to opt out from others it considers less useful (for a complete list of UK opt-ins and opt-outs from this area, please visit the UK Governments’ dedicated website). As the UK progressed through the negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, its future security negotiation position also became clearer: it wishes to find alternatives to EU instruments that are capable of maintaining the same level of cooperation, in particular regarding data-driven law enforcement, practical assistance to operations, and multilateral cooperation through agencies.

A no deal scenario creates considerable uncertainty regarding the future UK-EU relationship as it implies a sudden loss of access to data and EU instruments, an abrupt interruption in cooperation, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a decrease in the levels of trust between the two sides.

Defence and security

As far as external security and defence consequences go, the immediate consequences of a no deal Brexit are less serious than the internal security ones. This is because the UK has already retreated from an active role in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in preparation for Brexit, for example handing over the operational command of Operation Atalanta (that deals with the piracy threat in the Horn of Africa) and leaving the roster of EU Battlegroups (standby military forces that the EU keeps available for conflict management). Most military operational activity now is either bilateral with other member states or through NATO.

Helicopter refuelling at sea as part of Operation Atalanta, Credit: European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

However, anticipating Brexit the other EU member states have set an ambitious agenda for EU defence policy and with the UK having little say in its objectives. There are now well-advanced plans to develop more shared military research and development, defence industry collaboration and common defence procurement. All of these are for the purpose of giving the EU a greater military capability to act independently of other countries such as the U.S.

The foreign and trade policy consequences of a no deal Brexit have significant knock-on consequences for defence too. As far as trade policy is concerned, a no deal Brexit will have negative consequences for British manufacturing, including the space, aerospace and defence industries. Delays and additional costs to exports may endanger British firms’ participation in major international supply chains. This coupled with a significant gap between UK defence policy commitments and budgetary allocations makes the UK a less desirable and reliable partner for future multinational procurement projects as the FCAS developments have shown.

Indeed, the recklessness of a no deal Brexit, after three years of political turmoil, would send a bad signal to the UK’s partners about its reliability in security and defence matters. Already there seems to have been a cooling off of UK-French defence cooperation because of French concerns about UK reliability both in operational participation and defence industry cooperation.

Brussels re-set

A no deal Brexit has broader foreign and security policy consequences for the UK’s relationship with the EU. The UK’s internal security relationship with the EU’s member states would be thrown into significant uncertainly and with dislocating effects for the policing, information sharing and judicial cooperation relationships that are currently in place.

Even without a no deal Brexit EU member states have already created a blueprint for further security and defence integration that do not anticipate a significant role for the UK as a non-member state. The agenda for close and special partnership, provided for under the current Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, would be in tatters. And the UK would be seen as unreliable partner unable and unwilling to deliver on security and defence cooperation.

A new EU leadership coming into office and coinciding with an October no deal Brexit may have no lived experience of the extensive contribution that the UK made to existing EU security and defence policies and capabilities. Their formative impression of the UK could be as a security challenge to be managed rather than an indispensable partner for security cooperation.

This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics. It first appeared on our sister site EUROPP – European Politics and Policy.

Helena Farrand Carrapico is an Associate Professor in Criminology and International Relations at Northumbria University. She is on Twitter @hcarrapico

Jocelyn Mawdsley is a Senior Lecturer in European Politics at Newcastle University. She is on Twitter @JocelynMawdsley

Richard G. Whitman is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. He is on Twitter @RGWhitman

Brexit and parliamentary legitimation: beyond constitutional minutiae

David Judge writes that, while much of the discussion around Brexit and Parliament is about procedure and conventions, it should also be about the bigger picture: what does Brexit tell us about the fundamental principles of the UK’s parliamentary state and representative democracy?

Politicians and the punditocracy have become consumed with the minutiae of parliamentary procedure and constitutional conventions – of the use of standing orders, the provisions of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act in relation to a no-confidence vote and its consequences, and the potential spill-over embroilment of the judiciary and the monarchy – as the ‘do or die’ Brexit strategy of Boris Johnson’s government appears to replicate the on-board conditions of a nose-diving plane. Assuming, however, that whatever happens after 31 October 2019, the UK ‘plane’ will land somewhere, then perhaps what we need to be thinking about right now is not only how we respond to the immediate emergency but how we understand what’s happening in light of the fundamental principles of the UK’s parliamentary state and representative democracy’.

Parliamentary democracy: the official version

The UK is a parliamentary state. Officially it is designated as ‘a parliamentary democracy’. This official ‘standard account’ sees the UK as a variant of representative democracy; and deems state decision-makers to be both representative of and responsible to ‘the people’ through the process of elections. More specifically, in this UK variant, parliament is identified as the state’s primary representative institution and is deemed to exercise legal sovereignty.

Threaded through this account are assumptions about legitimacy, authorisation, accountability and control. These are not merely normative assumptions, as historically the UK parliament has fused the principle of consent with that of representation and has served to legitimate government and its activities. It is this idea of the parliamentary legitimation of government that has been of historic importance, and is now crucial to understanding what is happening with Brexit.

Basic principles of parliamentary democracy

As a representative institution, parliament is embedded in a process of making present the interests and views of citizens who are not physically present at the point of decision. Representative democracy does not assume a homogeneous ‘demos/people’, or a pre-given ‘general will’, instead it assumes permanent contestation and the representation of diverse social interests and opinions. As a process of adjudicating amongst, and reconciling, conflicting claims parliamentary democracy assumes the articulation of some common interest; and provides, through electoral processes and representative institutions, a capacity for communal judgement of that articulation. It is a dialectic process of authorisation and accountability.

Ultimately, therefore, there is a ‘democratic bargain’ at the heart of parliamentary democracy that seeks to fashion, out of this diversity and contestation, ‘winners who are willing to ensure that losers are not too unhappy and for losers, in exchange, to extend their consent to the winners’ right to rule’.

Legitimation frame of Westminster

There is no disputing that the historic practice of parliamentary democracy in the UK has privileged the imperatives of government and executive independence over the doctrine of ministerial accountability and responsibility to parliament. As a result, the normative logic of the doctrine has effectively been inverted, with parliament having to seek, through successive reform initiatives, to ‘reinvert’ – or more idealistically still to ‘revert’ – to a more favourable balance between executive and legislature in order to lever greater executive accountability and responsibility.

Yet, in these attempts, parliament has been confronted by an ‘executive mentality’ wherein governments are predisposed to undervalue the requirements and culture of transparency and parliamentary control when formulating and implementing their policies. Nonetheless, the very same governments have defined, shaped and legitimised their behaviour in terms of parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary representation. This ideational frame posits a parliamentary-centric vision to justify an executive-centric mode of decision-making. And, so, embeds within the UK state an elemental ‘democratic incongruity’.

Notions of legitimacy: input, throughput, and output

At its simplest, legitimate power can be conceived as ‘power that is rightful’. A distinction has long been made between political legitimacy derived from participatory inputs (primarily conceived in the UK in terms of democratic elections and electoral representation) and performance-related outputs (often conceived in terms of the efficacy of state decision-makers in producing policies to promote socio-economic well-being and maintain the stability and territorial integrity of the state itself; or, in the case of the Johnson government simply getting Brexit ‘done’).

Yet, what happens in the space between political input and policy output is also of vital significance in any state, and constitutes a third dimension of legitimacy This is what Vivien Schmidt identifies as ‘throughput legitimacy’. Her basic contention is that ‘the quality of the governance processes, and not only the effectiveness of the outcomes and the participation of the citizenry, is an important criterion for the evaluation of a polity’s overall democratic legitimacy’.

This process-oriented focus is of direct relevance to the understanding of the significance of the UK parliament. Simply stated, parliament provides for the (macro, system-wide) institutionalisation of ‘throughput’ legitimation. In fact, Schmidt’s notion is epitomised in the institutionalised processes of deliberation, scrutiny, contestability, and accountability – with their associated elaborate procedures, rituals and symbols – which are embedded in Westminster’s contributions to state decision-making processes. While all modern UK governments, pre-2016, might have sought the practical circumvention of these processes, nonetheless, they all acknowledged their normative centrality to the legitimation of their actions.

So, what should we be thinking about?

It might be politically expedient in the short term for a government to seek to avoid scrutiny, or to try to side-step the ‘the trial of discussion’ in parliament, for example, by proroguing parliament, or controlling the parliamentary time-table to ‘run out the clock’ before 31 October. Ultimately, in the longer term, such tactics may well come back to haunt such a government, by undermining the very ‘throughput’ legitimation claims upon which its authority is based.

Any government that claims that parliament is seeking to ‘block’ Brexit, to frustrate the will of ‘the people’ as expressed in the 2016 referendum, and is, therefore, unrepresentative of ‘the people’, is challenging a fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy. The assertion of a mythical single, unified collectivity of ‘the people’ runs counter to the essence of parliamentary democracy. In such a system MPs represent the ‘political nation’ (however constituted in any political period) and its many differences and divisions; and, in the specific case of Brexit, parliament registers the Richter magnitude of the post-referendum fault-lines now fragmenting families, constituencies, political parties and nations in the UK.

The countenancing of an election strategy based upon ‘parliament versus the people’ is neither smart electoral politics nor a smart governing strategy for a government that will still be subject to the basic logic of parliamentary legitimation of executive actions. Should such a strategy be pursued, however, it might prompt those who recognise a ‘present and serious danger’ to parliamentary democracy to explain, far more actively, what parliament ‘is’ and ‘does’ (and why it is often difficult for parliamentarians themselves to defend the institution of parliament).


About the Author

David Judge is Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Strathclyde.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Understanding Boris Johnson’s ‘retropian’ appeal to Conservatives

paul david beaumontThe election of Boris Johnson once again highlights the salience of nostalgia to the Brexit debate. This is more than a throwaway attack line, writes Paul David Beaumont (Norwegian University of Life Sciences). Drawing upon social psychology can provide the theoretical basis for why and how Johnson’s “retrotopian” rhetoric appeals to old, wealthy, and nationalist Brexiteers.

The election of Boris Johnson by the Conservative party membership should – but won’t – put to bed the popular hypothesis that Brexit was chiefly a rebellion by the ‘left-behind’ against the establishment. In this account, a combination of unchecked EU immigration and a decade of austerity had left great swathes of the working class, especially those in the North, in dire economic straits and angry at the establishment. The Brexit referendum was a welcome opportunity to take revenge. As a result, the last three years have seen  intrepid reporters voxpopping Wearsiders, with the subtext that these are the turkeys that voted for Christmas.

Yet the ‘left behinder’ thesis is at best partial. Indeed, one will not find many ‘left-behinders’ among the Tory party membership who selected Britain’s new Prime Minister. Johnson stood on the promise to Brexit, come what may. Indeed, the Tory membership offers a snapshot into the relatively wealthy, older, middle-England voter that seldom features on BBC news, yet also voted in high numbers to leave the EU.

The election of Boris Johnson also offers a timely excuse to revisit an article I wrote back in 2017: Brexit Retrotopia, and the Perils of Post-Colonial Delusions. As the title implies, it offers a plausible explanation for some of the reasons why this group voted Leave, and a why they are now doubling down on no-deal Brexit. The work sought to complement a number of quantitative studies that highlight how national identity and values are at least as important in driving Brexit as economic factors. However, I suggested that we needed to unpack the identity ‘variable’. After all, it is not a given that nationalists are Eurosceptic, and Britain has no monopoly on nationalism. Moreover, the EU is similarly bureaucratic, inefficient, and rule-imposing for other members, which begs the question of why Britain –  rather than say, Italy – chose to exit. (To be clear, I am not arguing that voting leave is irrational; there are plenty of good reasons to dislike the EU. Rather, it is an argument for why Euroscepticism has been especially strong in Britain.) Given this, a full explanation of how identity mattered to Brexit requires analysis of the quality of British nationalism: What is it about Britain’s identity narrative that made Brexit appeal to nationalists?

Drawing on social psychology, and a touch of Zygmunt Bauman, my article sought to add empirical and theoretic ballast to the now frequent refrain that nostalgia for Britain’s past informs Brexiteers’ plans for Britain’s future. Indeed, while Brexit baffles economists, social psychologists will not have been surprised to see Brexiteers risk diminished economic wellbeing for seemingly intangible identity reasons. Social identity theory (SIT) suggests that individuals are often willing to forgo economic gain in order to improve their social group’s status, enable positive comparisons with outgroups and thus generate pride and self-esteem. It should be immediately clear how provisionally SIT may relate to Brexit: voting Leave could be understood as a radical strategy for making their national social group more positively distinct from Europe. Yet as intuitively appealing as it appears, there is a snag with the standard SIT model’s applicability to Brexit. It is unclear why nationalists would consider Britain to compare poorly with other EU members in terms of what Brexiteers themselves considered important: ‘sovereignty‘. Britain enjoys bespoke treatment within the EU, unrivalled by other members: it has more opt-outs than any other member, and receives a rebate of approximately 66% of its annual net contribution. Britain, if anything, had privileged status in the EU.

While the standard SIT model founders, introducing a temporal dimension can help illuminate what underpins Brexiteers’ status concerns. An offshoot of the Social Comparison Theory that SIT is based upon, Temporal Comparison Theory (TCT), suggests that individuals do not just compare themselves to their peers but also to their former self’s status: people seek to maintain a coherent narrative of the self that shows self-improvement over time. When one struggles to make favourable comparisons with the past self, it can prompt low self-esteem in the same way that unfavourable comparisons to peers can. Scaling up this argument, Joshua Freedman has argued that China’s status dissatisfaction and subsequent status-seeking activities demands an understanding of how its identity narrative requires China to remedy its “century of humiliation”, and regain its former glory.

It should be clear by now that TCT is well placed to shed light on Brexit. If we assume that individuals often rest their self-esteem upon temporal comparisons with their social group’s former self, then what does this illuminate about Brexit? In short, my article suggested that two key features of Britain’s identity narrative make it particularly susceptible to Eurosceptic arguments. Because Britain’s mainstream national identity narrative relies upon glorifying its former empire (and lamenting its loss) together with fetishising the second world war, devolving power to the EU undermines nationalists’ sense of progression and self-esteem. To a country that once boasted (and still learns) how “the sun never set” on its empire, the EU’s practices of compromise compare poorly. Cooperation is easily presented as subordination.

Indeed, Britain’s present EU relationship – regardless of how much economically better off it may be than before, regardless of how much ‘more’ sovereignty it retains vis-à-vis its fellow members – seemingly turned Britain into a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker. Perhaps most ignominiously, from this perspective, Britain can be presented as having ceded power to the very countries it fought off in the second world war. All this enables Eurosceptic leaders to present a narrative of decline that calls for an urgent halt via Brexit. Indeed, Brexit embodies a vision that Zygmunt Bauman might have diagnosed as retrotopian: a nostalgic vision for the future based upon a lost but undead past. As such, the nature of the UK’s self-narrative – constantly reproduced via popular culture and the media — can thus help explain why arguments pertaining to “sovereignty” resonate so powerfully in the Brexit debate among older, wealthier, and more nationalistic Englishmen, who have certainly not been left behind.

While my article only provided provisional evidence supporting the plausibility of the thesis, two years on the argument appears to be holding up well. A growing body of research has fleshed out and nuanced the nostalgic underpinnings of Brexit and its post-colonial overtones. Meanwhile, second world war references continue to pepper Brexiteer discourse: scarcely a week goes by without a Brexiteer calling for Brits to reawaken the ‘spirit of Dunkirk’, rather than worry about the damage done by a no-deal Brexit. Perhaps most pertinently, Britain’s new PM Boris Johnson has risen to power on the back of almost cartoonish retrotopian appeal. Indeed, campaigning for Brexit, Johnson exhorted voters “to take the chains off the giant, unshackled Britannia and let the lion roar again!”, while his first speech as prime minister concluded with the call for Britain to “recover our natural and historic role”. As Edoardo Campanella put it in Foreign Policy, Johnson is “the ‘quintessentially nostalgic leader’.

It is certainly understandable that Johnson, and any state leader, wants their citizens to feel pride in their history. Indeed, glorifying the past can help solidify national cohesion; after all, if a nation is just a series of stories we tell about ourselves, why not make those stories good ones? The danger is when hubris based upon the past meets with the hard realities of the present. Little of what Johnson has said so far suggests he recognises the challenges that lie ahead either in renegotiating with the EU or in leaving without a deal. Indeed, Johnson’s claims that Brexit merely requires more ‘energy‘ and positive thinking resemble those of a self-help guru rather than a prime minister. It may well be exactly what Brexiteers would like to hear, but I doubt it will change either the EU’s calculus or soften the effects of a no-deal Brexit.

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

Paul David Beaumont is currently finalising his PhD dissertation, The Grammar of International Status Competition, at the Department of International Environmental and Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. He tweets @BeaumontPaul​.

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