Women leaders and coronavirus: look beyond stereotypes to find the secret of their success

I am hosting this important article written by Kate Maclean,Professor of International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle and published by The Conversation

Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan and Angela Merkel of Germany have all been singled out for the way they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.

In stark contrast, male leaders in some of the worst performing countries – the UK, the US and Brazil – have adopted a leadership style of belligerent rhetoric. They’ve taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to “gaslighting” . Their tendency to follow this path perhaps isn’t surprising. After all, the “hyper-masculine” style – a maverick leader who establishes authoritative power by aggressively rejecting “feminine” traits like collaboration, empathy and respect for due process – proved a successful electoral strategy for these leaders.

There are many men of course who are not like that – just as there are women who don’t consider themselves particularly empathetic or collaborative. So, while it is wonderful to see women leaders and feminine leadership being praised so widely during the pandemic, emphasising the stereotypical characteristics of the leaders themselves may reinforce the gendered thinking that helps put macho populist leaders in power.

Breaking the mould To understand the success of these women leaders in handling COVID-19, the focus should be on the political culture and institutions which allowed women who adopt a “feminine” approach to leadership to come to power. More representative systems create styles of leadership which inherently involve compromise and collaboration rather than aggression and domination. This can create a political culture in which femininity and power are not in contradiction.

We can see the perpetuation of stereotypes in the way that women leaders have been praised for their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, beyond that, we can also see how these women are breaking the mould.

Ardern is only the second premier in the world to give birth while in office . She has placed empathy and care at the centre of her personal style of authority. This, in itself, is a breakthrough, but it is notable that when she exhibits the traits of strength, decisiveness and military command, which have also been prominent in her management of the crisis, these too are seen through a maternal lens. One religious leader accused her of implementing a “nanny state”, being an “overly controlling parent” and even BBC

Newsnight described her as “putting the entire nation on the naughty step”.

Merkel isn’t just successful because of her ‘mutti’ image. EPA

Tsai

Merkel is not a mother herself, but she is known in Germany as “mutti” – the “mummy” of the nation . Her route to power is a study in the discourses which frame the way women in politics are seen. Her mentor Helmut Kohl famously nicknamed her his “Mädchen” – his girl – and she demonstrates her economic credentials by evoking the thrifty schwäbische hausfrau (Swabian housewife). It has come to the fore in this pandemic, however, that she also has a PhD in quantum chemistry.

Tsai, who also has a PhD, has been praised for her swift action to protect citizens’ health during the pandemic. She has also sent humanitarian aid to other countries, including the US.

However, while similar action by Ardern was attributed to her compassion.

Arden

Tsai’s response is more consistent with her strong assertion of Taiwanese independence.

There were fears that if the virus spread, China would be able to take geopolitical advantage .

Checks and balances produce great leaders

These women are good leaders because they are highly skilled, qualified and experienced. Crucially, though, they have come through political systems in which their kind of skills can be valued, which are explicitly designed to keep strong-man populist leaders at bay. New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany all have multiple institutionalised checks and balances on executive power. They have strong local institutions of governance which favour local participation in politics, rather than a top-down approach.

These nations also have electoral and party-political systems which adopt elements of proportional representation. Such systems frequently give rise to coalition governments and hence necessitate collaborative leadership. To counter perception-biases in voter choice, electoral systems in these countries use party lists, where votes are cast for a party and positions are allocated proportionately to listed individuals. This is how Tsai, Merkel and Ardern were all first elected.

Of course, these systems are not perfect, but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both the dangers of systems that promote mavericks and the need for strong institutions to check their whims.

The pandemic has also placed in sharp relief the need to invest in care and social infrastructure – “feminine” areas of the economy that have been overlooked for too long. The experience of women leaders who have reinvented both political leadership and femininity and the institutional contexts which have allowed them to get to the top, can help reimagine inclusive political processes in the wake of the crisis.

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. His latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

Footnote

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The Dominic Cummings Story

Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson’s de facto chief-of-staff

Hollie Adams/Getty Images

 

I strongly recommend Emily Maitlis’s BBC2 Television Programme,

Taking Back Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. To some he is an evil genius, to others a master strategist. This film examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our politics over the last two decades, from Blair to Brexit and beyond. David Gauke and Rory Stuart, who opposed a hard Brexit and were thrown out of the party, take part. 

 

The film confirms my view that Brexit is an abuse of the UK’s democracy and that we have been taken for a ride. It was a great conspiracy. We were told lies such as the £350 million savings a week we’d make by leaving the EU; illegal money and misleading social networking were used in the campaign. Behind it all was Dominic Cummings. He had ready collaborators in the form of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, all of whom are clearly narcissists. Is Cummings’s power legitimate in a democracy? Is it in accord within the spirit of our unwritten constitution? One of my friends said to me, “He should be had up for treason”.

It can be argued that Dominic Cummings has the characteristics of a sociopath. Adolph Hitler was an extreme example, as psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer in his book Adolf Hitler described Hitler as a “neurotic psychopath.” Let us beware.

 

Brexit is the will of the British people is complete nonsense, as I have argued elsewhere. There were many discontents underlying the vote for Brexit, including the failure to enable the rebuilding of the economies of large areas of the UK, especially in our former industrial heartlands of the North.

 

I quote the BBC’s description of the programme: “For critics and supporters alike, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser – the man who is said to have masterminded Brexit – is an enigma. Dominic Cummings is perhaps the most powerful unelected political figure in Britain today, but what does he actually believe? What has shaped his approach to politics and the media? And what can his rise to power tell us about how politics has changed?

 

In this programme, Emily Maitlis examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our changing political landscape, stretching back over two decades.

 

With testimonies from some of his fiercest critics and closest political friends, Emily Maitlis sheds light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come.

The film charts his arrival in Downing Street as a senior adviser with significant and perhaps unprecedented power. Now, at the apex of the largest Conservative majority since 1987, Cummings aims to play a key role in reshaping the nation, our economy and government”.

 

See what the critics say: BBC 2’s new documentary on Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings promised to “shed light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come”. But some critics aren’t impressed: see Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. “The view from all sides seems to be that Cummings is awful. It’s just that some people think he’s brilliant, and so put up with him being awful.” Naturally, I would select the following comments, amongst others which are critical of the programme: “Dominic Cummings was a brooding puppet master. A new documentary shows nothing has changed.” Lebby Eyres said the documentary “seems to confirm what I’ve thought all along: it’s not really our Prime Minister Boris Johnson who’s in charge, but Dom”.

 

Meanwhile, we are involved in two crises, namely the climate catastrophe and Covid 19. We need to work closely with our fellow European neighbours and it is ironic that we are embarking on doing the opposite.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

If you find what you have read useful, please spread the word.

 

 

 

The Happy Blog

Yesterday, I accompanied my wife for a routine test at the local hospital. There was a poster display showing that people from 199 nations work together in the NHS. How wonderful! And all those we met were so caring and kind. I rejoice in the diversity of our nation. This makes me happy, as I shall describe further on.

 

One Team Many Nationalities - Copy

 

It is the same in our town – many people from other lands working in our supermarkets, providing restaurants or coffee places. I love this. They enrich our town. I love multi-cultural London too. It is amazing how kind so many Londoners are to a man like me of a certain age. If I am standing on the tube or train, they offer me a seat. Often I decline with a smile and say standing helps keep me fit.

 

Every time I walk down to the town, looking ahead of me with an open face and just a hint of a smile to come, I get smiles and “Hellos”. Smiles are good for us. I say to myself: “one thing at a time”. So when I am walking, I am walking, not looking down into an I-Phone but taking things in, whether people, many of whom, whatever their age, are beautiful, or the architecture or the natural beauty in the town. When I am walking, I also remember what my Alexander teacher told me – “open your lungs and walk tall with your head up looking forward”. I also remember what my physiotherapist said “squeeze your glutes”. That too helps me walk upright, rather than stooping as so many older people do. Stooping reduces your lung capacity.

 

Another thing keeps me happy: the Fitness Centre. I go twice a week. That is good for my wellbeing as well as my physical health. I meet many different and interesting people. Diversity is good. The Manager and I do a lot of laughing, seeing the funny side of life.  Every day I do something for my body: yoga class Monday evening. Royal Canadian Airforce Exercise Programme before lunch if I am not going to the Fitness Centre.

 

Being kind and friendly is good for wellbeing. I usually say to people in shops and cafes, “How are you today?” Or if they are young, “Is this a temporary job? What next?” In this way l get into conversation and learn a lot about people. I think people like talking with someone who shows interest. In effect it is part of being kind. We may discover that we have common interests, and we end up having a fruitful conversation. Sometimes they are interested in my current book and want to buy it. Many of my sales are done in this way or at conferences. It is a book about the biggest challenges faced by humanity and how we need to respond to avoid catastrophe. Because the book is short, concise and reasonably priced people buy it.

 

I spend some three hours at my computer before lunch, mainly researching, writing and sometimes campaigning. Unless I have decided to defer this and write, I’ll look at the flood of incoming e-mails, careful not to be distracted by Facebook, deciding which are important and need a response, and deleting the rest. If I am not careful, I’ll lose track of time. However, particularly if it is sunny, I’ll go into the garden for a nature cure. In the summer, when much of the gardening has been done, I’ll hike into the nearby fields and woods. However, I hate mud so rarely go hiking if it is wet. After lunch, I’ll often go to a café to read or check a draft.

 

I go to many meetings and conferences, mostly in London arranged by think tanks and NGOs. I find this enormously uplifting as it shows how many people are working to create a better world. Such people are far more racially diverse than used to be the case.

 

Our beautiful town is mostly a happy place. We have open spaces and trees, a little river and a canal. At times, the cafes are full of happy mums with babies or small children. The staff create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Many people, like me, work in the good environments of these cafes.

 

There are two markets a week and one farmers’ market a month, mostly organic. Going to the market on Saturdays is sociable occasion when we bump into friends and chat.

 

I realise we live in a highly privileged bubble. Everywhere should enjoy these features. Of course not everyone looks happy, and some are clearly depressed and or unwell. All human beings deserve to live in a good environment as a human right. In many areas they do. But in many areas they do not. Judging from the huge and expensive cars in our town, some people clearly have too much wealth. The UK is one of the most unequal amongst OECD countries. It is the responsibility of good government to put this right.

 

The reality is that living lightly on this planet is urgent. Otherwise we face catastrophe. This is not widely understood. Continuous economic growth is unsustainable. We are already consuming one and a half planets’ worth a year . And of course that is down to the wealthiest countries. We need governments with the courage to take on that challenge with vigour and urgency. Wellbeing is more important than economic growth measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) . Happiness and wellbeing trump material growth. The Gross National Happiness Index is worth looking at. We need to measure the progress of our economy by looking at the quality of and improvement in people’s lives. Also it has to be the wellbeingwellbeing of people in all nations.

 

One recent piece of good news is that a World Health Organisation expert said that there was a steep decline in newly-reported cases of COVID-19 due to actions taken by the Chinese government to contain the deadly coronavirus.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Universal Basic Services

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

UBS Cover - Copy (2)

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Trials of a Universal Basic Income are quite widespread. But the authors take things much further. The old argument that free markets and individual choice are the best way to solve pressing problems of poverty, inequality and environmental degradation has led us to catastrophe, and must be abandoned. They show that expanding the principle of collective universal service provision to everyday essentials like transport, childcare and housing is not only the best way of tackling many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world: it’s also efficient, practical and affordable. Anyone who cares about fighting for a fairer, greener and more democratic world should read this book.

This is a proposal whose time has come. The idea is that healthcare and education should be provided as universal public services to all who need them is widely accepted. But why leave it there? Why not expand it to more of life’s essentials? Anna Coote, Principal Fellow at NEF and Andrew Percy, co-director of the Social Prosperity Network at UCL, argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Recently I watched the BBC Panorama “Universal Credit: One Year On”  . For generations, governments have sought to simplify the benefits system. The latest attempt, Universal Credit, merging six benefits into one was supposed to make life better for claimants. But it is not working. It was heartrending to watch as one enthusiastic young woman on a zero hours contract became discouraged as she was given little work and struggled to make ends meet. Another young woman with a child struggled to pay for the essentials she and her cheerful little daughter needed and to pay off the loans she incurred in order to survive.

This would not happen if the principle of collective universal service provision were applied to everyday essentials of life such as housing and transport, combined with a reformed social security system that gave everyone a decent income. This is the best way to tackle many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world. It is equitable, efficient and sustainable – and it builds solidarity. For all these reasons and more, UBS offers a progressive, practical and affordable alternative to dependence on cash transfers, loans and market transactions.

 If implemented, Universal Basic Services (UBS) could bring enormous benefits to the whole nation, including those worst affected by Universal Credit argues the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). Instead of attempting to alleviate poverty through redistributive payments and minimum wages, the state should instead provide everyone with the services they need to feel secure in society. Their radical proposals include building 1.5 million new social homes to provide rent-free accommodation for those in most need.

The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) says UBI is expensive. Paying all UK citizens the current Jobseeker’s Allowance amount of £73.10 per week would cost almost £250bn per year – 13 per cent of the UK’s entire GDP. By contrast, widening the social safety net through more comprehensive services would cost around £42bn, which can be funded by lowering the personal income tax allowance from £11,800 to £4,300, according to the IGP’s analysis. 

Strengthening and extending universal services would also be a more effective way of tackling global poverty and improving wellbeing than a Universal Basic Income (UBI), according to a report by the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) .

 We look forward to a potentially better future with robotics and AI. Universal basic services could work better than basic income to combat ‘rise of the robots’, say experts. The team at UCL IGP says the state should make shelter, travel and IT services available to all, free at the point of use, rather than focusing on redistributing money. Could one billion humans be pushed into unemployment by robots and AI software? asks Christine Evans-Pughe .

Robotics and AI offer human beings wonderful possibilities. Arduous or boring jobs could be done, often more efficiently, by robots. These days, 3D printing and now 4D seem to be at the core of most new research ventures, whether it’s developing ways to print entire meals or recreating facial features to repair a patient’s face. Skylar Tibbits wants to up the ante; he’s hoping 4D printing will be the thing of the not-so-far future. Objects could be printed, but thanks to geometric code, could also later change shape and transform on their own.

The key point here is that humans could be released from arduous, unsafe or boring jobs and enabled to do what they do best and gives them most joy, such as engaging in work that requires creativity or the heart, without suffering a precarious or low standard of living.

The Labour Party adopted Universal Basic Services as one of three pillars in their economic platform in 2019.

There is no doubt now that keeping planetary warming within limits necessary for continued human habitation will require transformational change of an unprecedented scale and pace. Such radical change can only be delivered through collective action and UBS may have a key role to play in delivering the rapid and mass behavioural change needed. The Right to a Good Life, Labour 2019.

Irrespective of the merits of Universal Basic Services, chapter 5 is invaluable in describing best practice, in Europe and elsewhere, in housing, transport and information technology in fostering wellbeing and in recognising the importance of the internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Conclusion.

Canada and other countries are trialling UBI . The Greens in the UK are considering UBI.  Nordic countries are also doing so and now Ireland is considering UBI. It is to be hoped that these countries will follow the lead of the British Labour Party.

REVIEWS

“If the UK is so rich, why do so many of us feel so poor?  Coote and Percy argue that by rethinking what, how and why we provide collectively, we can ensure that the economy and society works for everybody.”
Jonathan Portes, Kings College London

 “In arguing for universal basic services Anna Coote and Andrew Percy call on us to think differently about both the scope and character of public services in rich countries. They do not want free services for everyone, all of the time, but they explain why the state must take responsibility for seeing that our essential needs are met without cost ever being a barrier. These proposals are ambitious but not utopian and sit squarely within the practical traditions of post-1945 democratic socialism and human rights.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society 

“What if there were a way to reduce inequality, promote social solidarity, improve levels of education and health, and create a better functioning democracy, all in the context of sustainability? Universal Basic Services. How does it compare with Universal Basic Income? Read the book. It is beautifully simple in its writing and elegant in argument.”
Michael Marmot, Director, UCL Institute of Health Equity 

 “Universal basic services speak to the necessity for everybody in a thriving society to have shared experiences and a common understanding of the resources needed for people to participate fully. We do not have that, after years of individualist policies and austerity; as a result our society is fracturing. This book speaks to the urgent need for everybody to have access to collective services that are sufficient to meet their needs.”
Diane Coyle, co-director, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge University

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my BlogImages for Blog which includes many other topics.

If you like what you have read and find it useful, please spread the word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson’s faded green vision.

I am hosting this article first published in the New European Thursday, February 13, 2020 with their permission.

The prime minister shows no signs that he is up to the challenge presented by climate change, says CATHERINE ROWETT.

Prof Rowlett 1

Catherine Rowett was a Green MEP for East of England from2019 to 2020.

Has Boris Johnson ever spoken an honest truth? I don’t mean an accidental one, uttered to deceive but failing in its intention, but a genuine avowal of his own honest opinion? It’s possible that one such truth may have inadvertently crossed his lips in the admission that he “doesn’t really get” climate change, as reported by Claire O’Neill after her abrupt sacking as head of the COP26 climate summit.

 

Her dismissive remarks might sound like a case of sour grapes, if it wasn’t for the wealth of supporting evidence suggesting the prime minister really doesn’t understand the task in front of him when it comes to environment. Right now, Johnson’s failure to grasp the climate emergency is possibly more scary than any of his other multitudinous lies that have harmed the UK politics since he opted to campaign for Brexit in 2016. Scary, because as we approach COP26, to be hosted in Glasgow in November, all the signs are that the prime minister is destined to fluff this great opportunity.

 

The conference should have been the moment for Britain to step up onto the world stage and lead the way forward from 2016’s Paris Agreement and the last session in Madrid: to reiterate and embed the lessons of science; secure international cooperation; speed up the process of setting and meeting ambitious targets; and get every country in the world on board, including reluctant ones like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Australia.

The only chance of a breakthrough is with preliminary diplomacy in these crucial parts of the globe. Sacking the conference co-ordinator with ten months to go does not inspire confidence or a sense of leadership. As the COP26 host, we need a prime minister who understands what a climate emergency is.

 

Johnson has been trying to burnish his credential this week, with the decision to proceed with HS2 and to invest £5 billion over five years to improve cycling and bus services, including 4,000 “zero-carbon” vehicles. Yes, this indicates that someone understands that the UK is at a standstill because of its woeful failure to invest properly in mass transit systems and reliable networks that outperform car travel. That’s good news indeed, but let’s just check whether the proposals provide real solutions, and if so, solutions to what exactly?

 

HS2 splits opinion between those who are thrilled and those who are appalled. The enthusiasts are those who think that what’s needed is to move more people around faster and with less crowding. The opponents see that the real challenge is to reduce the demand for fast travel and find zero carbon solutions.

 

HS2 is not a zero carbon means to anything, least of all to shifting people from cars into trains (for that we need plentiful short haul trains from people’s actual homes, to where they actually want to be, not via London, and not especially fast). Any ordinary train is faster, more reliable, and less hassle for the passenger, than running a car. It need not go at 225mph. Nor will HS2 reduce domestic flights. To do that, we should either abolish those altogether (after all, why not?) or price them properly.

 

For sure, there’s a vociferous technophile pro-HS2 lobby whose letters I expect to see here next week. They are prepared to destroy woods and chalk streams to secure their short ride in a fast machine. Their enthusiasm occasionally tries to dress itself in green, but HS2 will do nothing for the UK’s carbon emissions, except perhaps increase them.

 

What about the zero emissions buses? Beware the term “zero-emissions”. It probably hides something quite sinister, namely the misconception that hydrogen-powered vehicles have a zero-emissions energy source. Yes, there are no emissions from the vehicle itself – helpful if your problem is urban air quality – but hydrogen is not a source of energy. It’s an extremely inefficient way of storing energy, taking far more power to make than is obtained from using it, and it is only as clean as the energy used to produce and deliver it. And the £5 billion pledged in this area is only a fraction of the investment required.

 

What the UK really needs – to go alongside a transport revolution – is renewable energy and a commitment to reduce demand. Certainly shifting from cars to buses and trains helps. But we also need huge reductions in air travel, a freeze on airport expansion, insulation for buildings, an end to gas boilers.

 

We need subsidies, for renewables, not for gas or coal or oil or shale gas or any other new-fangled so-called low carbon systems. And, above all, a complete moratorium on new nuclear, which, like HS2, is a false diversion that pretends to be a solution.

New nuclear power is too slow, too expensive (currently twice the price of offshore wind but with a scheduled rise in price that looks set to make it perhaps 100 times more expensive, if not more, than real renewables) and has a huge carbon footprint in the construction.

 

Where then is the investment in very low cost local installations, in good sources of background energy such as tidal and wave power, in energy storage?

 

What a mess! How can we claim to be global leaders in the fight against climate change, with such a confused, sometimes contradictory strategy?

 

So no. This government, and its prime minister, does not get the climate thing. Not at all.

 

 Bruce Nixon author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog https://brucenixon.com/ which includes many other topics.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

 

A New Dawn for British Politics (Updated).

This is updated to include the massive Make Votes Matter Alliance that you may wish to join .

The UK is a wonderful country full of gifted people, cultural as sets, magnificent countryside and beautiful cities and towns. For the most part it is a multi-cultural society in which diversity thrives. Talented people come here to set up businesses or contribute to our rich cultural life and make it their home. We should be delighted that they do so; most of us are.

Reading Positive News confirms this picture of our nation.

 

Yet there is another side to it. We are a deeply divided nation: divided between extremely wealthy and poor; South East and North; Scotland and England. One of the richest countries in the world, we are also one of the most unequal. See Poverty in the UK: a guide to the facts and figures.  We are divided over Brexit too, at the time of the referendum, roughly 52% in favour; 48% against but differing considerably between different parts of the UK and generations . The young, whose futures will be most affected, strongly support Remain.

 

Our politics is broken. As A C Grayling says, “Parliament is now an expensive charade” . For many people, politics is a dirty word. They don’t want anything to do with it. It is nasty. One side against the other; accusations and criticism, followed by denial instead of listening and learning from each other with an open mind. Prime Minister’s question time is a prime example. Two people exchanging insults, to a background of braying supporters. Some MPs shout at each other. Could anything be more infantile? And what an example to the nation. The popular press, with its sensational headlines, behaves similarly rather than offering a sensible, informed conversation.

 

It is arguable that the bad behaviour in the House of Commons has contributed to both verbal and physical violence in the country as a whole – for example the murder of Jo Cox.

 

Of course this is only part of the picture. Very good work goes on. Parliamentary committees function extremely well. A large part of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords takes place in committees. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account. The Liaison Committee, as a cross-party committee, is very well placed to do this. The new government will face important challenges in the months ahead, deciding the next steps on Brexit before the deadline of 31 January 2020, as well as planning subsequent stages in negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.

 

People Power. In contrast to the state of our democracy, there are hundreds of wonderful, enlightened Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported by thousands, if not millions of people worldwide, working to create a better world and prevent our extinction. For example, the worldwide Extinction Rebellion  initiated by Greta Thunberg. The problem is that, with this exception, so many people are not aware of them. Instead of facilitating change, governments too often resist change.

 

Citizenship It is understandable that people have a distaste for politics. But perhaps it is more useful to talk about citizenship. We cannot have a good democracy without active citizens. Citizenship needs to be taught in schools from an early age. Democracy cannot function well unless people are engaged. But they will not engage unless they believe they have a voice. And that will not be the case if they are not represented because of the out-dated first past the post voting system.

 

Brexit is a prime example of a flawed approach. It was initiated, unwisely, by David Cameron, instead of working on the underlying causes of discontent. People were misled by untruths, simple slogans, big money and manipulation by social media. It was about gaining power, rather than putting the interests of the nation first. Remainers warned of the adverse consequences of leaving, but failed to make an inspiring case for remaining in the EU. We need to remember our history in creating European collaboration.

 

The referendum was not only inappropriate; it was flawed in design . It was explicitly advisory. And generally a two thirds majority is required.

And see my blog post .

 

We face two existential challenges: destruction of all life on the planet, as David Attenborough constantly warns us, and annihilation through nuclear war. Yet instead of working closely together with our European allies we are breaking apart.

 

Proportional Representation and Constitutional Reform. The situation we are in demonstrates the need for both proportional representation and constitutional reform.

 

Representation. Like many others, my views have never been represented by my MP. We joked good humouredly that we disagreed on most everything. Nor am I represented in the borough. Roughly half British citizens are unrepresented. This need not be so. Under proportional representation, parliament would better reflect citizen’s views. Under some forms of proportional representation such as the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) there could be six representatives in a constituency, thus reflecting the diversity of voters to a considerable extent.

 

The campaign for PR was begun 136 years ago by the Electoral Reform Society. Millions of people want their votes to matter – they believe that the share of seats a party gets should closely reflect the share of votes they get. Many organisations and public figures agree and support the movement for equal votes as you will see . Join the PR Alliance.

We need to get on the streets if necessary.

 

Constitutional Reform. The flaws in the referendum demonstrate the need for a written constitution that specifies how it must be done. However we also need a different way of doing politics. Instead of adversarial politics, with one side deciding the way forward, we need collaboration for change, as has so often been argued by Compass . We need tried and tested processes like Consensus Design. Others include Constitutional Conventions and Citizens Assemblies .

 

Devolution. Power needs to be devolved to the lowest effective level. It needs to be devolved from Westminster to the constituent countries of the UK and down to communities. The distinctive powers of Westminster need to be defined. People will only get involved if they believe they have power. Consulting people is not sufficient; in order to find the best solutions, people need to be fully involved in designing their futures. People are cynical about consultation: “They consult us and then do what they intended”. Citizens Assemblies provide a way of enabling people and reaching consensus. They need to be widely used from now on.

 

Today there is a dearth of great leadership in politics. I have just finished reading this inspiring book, Citizen Clem . Often referred to as Britain’s greatest peacetime leader, Clement Attlee came to power in 1945 when Europe had been devastated and Britain was exhausted and impoverished. During his tenure as Prime Minister he emphasised the importance of citizenship. After the war, there was widespread consensus about the kind of society citizens wanted.

 

It was a time of great leaders: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, George Marshall and more. In 1942, Sir William Beveridge had produced the Beveridge Report that amounted to a comprehensive manifesto for social reform, including social security, a National Health Service, a full employment policy and other advances. This is what Attlee’s government implemented including massive construction of affordable housing. He also played a major part in creating the Commonwealth.

 

So what are our prospects over the next five years of Boris Johnson’s Government? Regarding Brexit, Andrew Adonis’s advice is. “Boris Johnson now owns Brexit and has a parliamentary majority. See what he does and then react accordingly”.  In his article The Brexit Nightmare, A C Grayling sets out how a return to Europe can come about.

 

Here are some key organisations for you to join: The New Economics Foundation, Compass https://www.compassonline.org.uk/, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Up to Us, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Black Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

Positive News

The conventional media serves a valuable purpose, but gives a disproportionately negative picture of what is going on in our world. Stories in the popular press are particularly sensational and often politically biased. Of course we need to be informed about the challenges humanity faces. For example, the desperation of some 2 million people, many of them little children, caught in freezing temperatures in Idlib in a murderous war . But despite this horror, the reality is that humans do far more goodthan bad.

 

Positive News is a quarterly magazine that puts this distorted picture right. The hundredth issue of Positive News offers 100 People & Organisations Bringing Hope in 2020. Making hope the headline.

Posiive News


 

In this article I shall give you a taste of some of these stories. I hope it will give you good cheer. However if you want to read all of them in full you can subscribe to Positive News magazine and get 20% off with code HOPE2020.

 

Children march for their rights in Scotland. Scottish ministers have promised to enshrine children’s rights into law – kids marched to Holyrood to remind them of their pledge.

 

University teaches students how to be happy. The University of Bristol is offering a “science of happiness” course designed to teach students a set of science-based strategies for living a happier and more fulfilling life.

 

Part of a mosaic of peace: The schools bridging religious divides. The inclusive ethos of Northern Ireland’s integrated schools has been replicated in other divided lands such as the integrated Jewish-Arab schools in Israel.

 

New Zealand to consider climate in all policy decisions. Climate change will now be a standard part of cabinet’s decision making along with gender and human rights. Government has also made a commitment to plant 1bn trees by 2028 and tax farmers who fail to cut emissions. New offshore fossil fuel exploration has also been banned.

 

On a page of Good Figures, the Divest Parliament Pledge led by Caroline Lucas has been signed by MPs across the house including Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Conservative Members.

 

There is a section called HOPE.

Race to the Top: The trend towards better business. Scores of corporations are now committing to balancing profit with positive impact. Is it all “purpose wash” or a genuine turning point for business in society? B Corps is by no means a lone pioneer in changing business for the better. And worldwide, a notable minority of business leaders have long demonstrated their commitment to society and the environment through actions rather than words.

 

The first black mayor of a UK city, Marvin Rees, has a plan for Bristol. He is the mayor with an ambitious plan to tackle inequality. His One City Plan proposes a vision for Bristol in 2050 divided into six categories: connectivity, economy, environment, homes and communities and learning and skills, based on the UN’s sustainable development goals.

 

Wellbeing Economy Governments. What if the success of a country was measured by the happiness of its citizens as opposed to GDP? That’s the aim of Wellbeing Economy Governments currently comprising Scotland, New Zealand and Iceland. They argue that the goal of economic policy should be a nation’s collective wellbeing rather than its collective wealth.

 

ROTTERDAM: THE DUTCH CITY WITH A CIRCULAR VISION. In an abandoned Centre Parcs in Rotterdam, entrepreneurs are making innovative products out of rubbish, as the city strives to become a circular zero waste economy by 2050.

 

London Borough of Waltham Forest has some 13.7 miles of segregated cycle lanes and cycle training for 15,000 residents and has bagged the 2019 Ashden Award for clean air in towns and cities.

 

THREE PROJECTS CLEANING UP OCEAN PLASTIC on page 46. City to Sea, Ocean Cleanup Foundation- the largest clean-up in history, eXXpedition , “An all-female sailing crew is on a mission to find solutions to plastic pollution”.

 

FEEDBACK The campaign talking down the food system. A team of activists exposing slights of hand by the likes of M&S using food to pull a fast one on consumers through misleading labelling. Feedback’s campaign is called Total Bull .

 

New Year new resolutions. Simple is moving to 100% recycled plastic bottles made with renewable grid electricity. No colour, No perfume, No harsh chemicals.

 

Pedal Me: a ride-sharing start-up that puts its drivers – and the planet first. A ride sharing service based in London, it now has 42 bikes and 45 riders. It claims to be the fastest way to travel across London. Started by a central London borough planner who wanted to deliver people and goods without contributing to air pollution or climate change.

 

YOUTH VOICE Wales’ first Youth Parliament is campaigning to reduce plastic waste and improve mental health. “I’ve found out that it’s possible to be heard – that gives me confidence.” Their focus is on littering and plastic waste, mental health and wellbeing, as well as life skills in the school curriculum. Lewis, a member, says he is impressed by the level of respect the diverse members have shown each other. “It’s really refreshing in this day and age.”

 

SUBVERT the ADVERT Can an industry built on flogging us stuff ever be ethical? We meet people making “ad land” more responsible.

Less is More Welcome as such moves are, having policies in place to do no harm should constitute “basic housekeeping” for any reputable ad agency. So says Jonathan Trimble, chief executive of London based ad agency And Rising, which, like Good – Loop and Futerra, is registered under the ethical certification scheme B Corp. And Rising actively seeks to help promote brands with progressive product propositions.

 

Beautiful Minds Rather than simply accepting people with neurodiverse conditions like autism or dyslexia, what if we recognised their hidden talents? Four neurodiverse people explain how the way their brains work has been the key to their success.  

 

Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness which was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. His Blog and occasional newsletter, which you can sign up for on this site, are available to keep you up to date. Bruce gives talks in schools, colleges, universities, communities and at conferences.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Dawn for British Politics.

The UK is a wonderful country full of gifted people, cultural assets, magnificent countryside and beautiful cities and towns. For the most part it is a multi-cultural society in which diversity thrives. Talented people come here to set up businesses or contribute to our rich cultural life and make it their home. We should be delighted that they do so; most of us are.

Reading Positive News confirms this picture of our nation.

 

Yet there is another side to it. We are a deeply divided nation: divided between extremely wealthy and poor; South East and North; Scotland and England. One of the richest countries in the world, we are also one of the most unequal. See Poverty in the UK: a guide to the facts and figures. We are divided over Brexit too, at the time of the referendum, roughly 52% in favour; 48% against but differing considerably between different parts of the UK and generations. The young, whose futures will be most affected, strongly support Remain.

 

Our politics is broken. As A C Grayling says, “Parliament is now an expensive charade” . For many people, politics is a dirty word. They don’t want anything to do with it. It is nasty. One side against the other; accusations and criticism, followed by denial instead of listening and learning from each other with an open mind. Prime Minister’s question time is a prime example. Two people exchanging insults, to a background of braying supporters. Some MPs shout at each other. Could anything be more infantile? And what an example to the nation. The popular press, with its sensational headlines, behaves similarly rather than offering a sensible, informed conversation.

 

It is arguable that the bad behaviour in the House of Commons has contributed to both verbal and physical violence in the country as a whole – for example the murder of Jo Cox.

 

Of course this is only part of the picture. Very good work goes on. Parliamentary committees function extremely well. A large part of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords takes place in committees. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account. The Liaison Committee , as a cross-party committee, is very well placed to do this. The new government will face important challenges in the months ahead, deciding the next steps on Brexit before the deadline of 31 January 2020, as well as planning subsequent stages in negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.

 

People Power. In contrast to the state of our democracy, there are hundreds of wonderful, enlightened Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported by thousands, if not millions of people worldwide, working to create a better world and prevent our extinction. For example, the worldwide Extinction Rebellion initiated by Greta Thunberg. The problem is that, with this exception, so many people are not aware of them. Instead of facilitating change, governments too often resist change.

 

Citizenship It is understandable that people have a distaste for politics. But perhaps it is more useful to talk about citizenship. We cannot have a good democracy without active citizens. Citizenship needs to be taught in schools from an early age. Democracy cannot function well unless people are engaged. But they will not engage unless they believe they have a voice. And that will not be the case if they are not represented because of the out-dated first past the post voting system.

 

Brexit is a prime example of a flawed approach. It was initiated, unwisely, by David Cameron, instead of working on the underlying causes of discontent. People were misled by untruths, simple slogans, big money and manipulation by social media. It was about gaining power, rather than putting the interests of the nation first. Remainers warned of the adverse consequences of leaving, but failed to make an inspiring case for remaining in the EU. We need to remember our history in creating European collaboration.

 

The referendum was not only inappropriate; it was flawed in design . It was explicitly advisory. And generally a two thirds majority is required.

And see my blog post .

 

We face two existential challenges: destruction of all life on the planet, as David Attenborough constantly warns us, and annihilation through nuclear war. Yet instead of working closely together with our European allies we are breaking apart.

 

Representation. Like many others, my views have never been represented by my MP. We joked good humouredly that we disagreed on most everything. Nor am I represented in the borough. Roughly half British citizens are unrepresented. This need not be so. Under proportional representation, parliament would better reflect citizen’s views. Under some forms of proportional representation such as the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) , there could be six representatives in a constituency, thus reflecting the diversity of voters to a considerable extent.

 

Proportional Representation and Constitutional Reform. The situation we are in demonstrates the need for both proportional representation and constitutional reform.

The flaws in the referendum demonstrate the need for a written constitution that specifies how it must be done. However we also need a different way of doing politics. Instead of adversarial politics, with one side deciding the way forward, we need collaboration for change, as has so often been argued by Compass . We need tried and tested processes like Consensus Design. Others include Constitutional Conventions and Citizens Assemblies .

 

Devolution. Power needs to be devolved to the lowest effective level. It needs to be devolved from Westminster to the constituent countries of the UK and down to communities. The distinctive powers of Westminster need to be defined. People will only get involved if they believe they have power. Consulting people is not sufficient; in order to find the best solutions, people need to be fully involved in designing their futures. People are cynical about consultation: “They consult us and then do what they intended”. Citizens Assemblies provide a way of enabling people and reaching consensus. They need to be widely used from now on.

 

Today there is a dearth of great leadership in politics. I have just finished reading this inspiring book, Citizen Clem. Often referred to as Britain’s greatest peacetime leader, Clement Attlee came to power in 1945 when Europe had been devastated and Britain was exhausted and impoverished. During his tenure as Prime Minister he emphasised the importance of citizenship. After the war, there was widespread consensus about the kind of society citizens wanted.

 

It was a time of great leaders: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, George Marshall and more. In 1942, Sir William Beveridge had produced the Beveridge Report that amounted to a comprehensive manifesto for social reform, including social security, a National Health Service, a full employment policy and other advances. This is what Attlee’s government implemented including massive construction of affordable housing. He also played a major part in creating the Commonwealth.

 

So what are our prospects over the next five years of Boris Johnson’s Government? Regarding Brexit, Andrew Adonis’s advice is. “Boris Johnson now owns Brexit and has a parliamentary majority. See what he does and then react accordingly”. In his article The Brexit Nightmare, A C Grayling sets out how a return to Europe can come about.

 

Here are some key organisations for you to join: The New Economics Foundation, Compass https://www.compassonline.org.uk/, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Up to Us, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Black Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

 

To bring about Constitutional Reform we need a massive collaboration. The campaign for PR was begun 136 years ago by the Electoral Reform Society. We now need a massive popular campaign in which all these organisations collaborate together to bring it about at last. We need to get on the streets if necessary.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

Do not despair. There is Hope!                       

December 12th was the worst day for British democracy in living memory. Next day, those of us who had slept, woke up to discover that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a narcissistic, populist charlatan with a dubious personal life, had won an overwhelming majority of seats in the House of Commons. He had achieved this through illicit money and abuse of social media, lies and the clever advice of Dominic Cummins, his éminence grise. The campaign was dominated by billionaire donors, and saw unprecedented levels of misinformation – online and directly from politicians’ mouths. The Tory manifesto was carefully crafted to appear to address the major issues that have resulted from years of Austerity. But can Boris be trusted?

 

Brexit has eclipsed the existential issues: namely the climate emergency, the high degree of inequality and poverty in the UK and the need for an economy that works for everyone. We are a deeply divided nation. Many of us are angry and depressed, including me. But there is hope as, I shall elaborate in this post.

 

The UK is a wonderful country that people like to live in. It is full of talented, good creative people. However, it has been let down by the failings of its outdated democracy, in desperate need of reform.  And for forty years or so we have failed to rebuild our economy so that it works for everyone.

 

It is a triumph for the hard right. And a disaster for those of us who want a fair society in which everyone has the opportunity for a fulfilling life. We can expect further dire consequences for our economy. Labour’s manifesto was too ideological, offered too much and appeared unaffordable. Labour was disunited. Jeremy Corbyn, a good man, was not a credible Prime Minister; he failed to stamp out Anti-Semitism. The centre left failed to collaborate with other like-minded parties. Remain totally failed to make a strong, inspiring case for staying in the EU.

 

Had there been proportional representation, the outcome would have been very different. If Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and SNP had formed a progressive alliance, they would have held 326 seats compared with Tories and Brexit 298. Parties favouring another referendum gained 52% of votes but a minority of seats .

 

Researchers at the Electoral Reform Society modelled the General Election result under a form of proportional representation.  Under that system (d’Hondt list PR), the Tory share of seats instead of 57.8 seats would be closer to 45.6%, down 12 from the seats they received under First Past the Post. The SNP – who will also be over represented in the next Parliament because of the current voting system – could see their seat share move to 4.4% of seats under d’Hondt, closer to their actual 3.9% vote share. (The SNP back a move to a more proportional voting system). Other parties would have benefitted from a fairer system – Labour gaining 14 more seats, the Lib Dems 59 more, the Brexit Party 10 and the Greens 11 seats in all.

In Northern Ireland the DUP (-3) and Sinn Fein (-2) both Leave seats with the SDLP (+1) and Alliance (+2) parties both making gains.

 

Seats under d’Hondt Great Britain

% Votes Seats under FPTP % Seats under FPTP Seats under d’Hondt % Seats Difference in Seats
Labour 32.2% 202 32.0% 216 34.2% 14
Conservatives 43.6% 365 57.8% 288 45.6% -77
LibDems 11.5% 11 1.7% 70 11.1% 59
Brexit Party 2.0% 0 0.0% 10 1.6% 10
Greens 2.7% 1 0.2% 12 1.9% 11
SNP 3.9% 48 7.6% 28 4.4% -20
Plaid 0.5% 4 0.6% 4 0.6% 0
Others (includes speaker) 4% 1 0.2% 4 0.6% 3

 

What about young people whose future is most at stake? Here I am grateful to James Sloam and Matt Henn at the LSE for the chart below showing the deepening of the intergenerational divide following the 2019 general election

 

Intergenerational Support for Parties

Unlock Democracy say The Conservatives have won a huge majority on a minority of the vote. Johnson now has the power to reshape our political system to suit him and the interests he represents”.  This article is highly instructive.

 

However the good news is a further 14 women MPs were elected on December 12, bringing the number up to 220 female MPs. This means there are now 34 per cent women in the Commons – the highest proportion in Parliament to date – yet still seriously under-represented. Some women MPs or candidates have withdrawn because of abuse and threatened violence . Interestingly, Labour has the highest number of women MPs.

 

Things to say goodbye to according to Compassonline.  

Compass say: The problems are there for all to see: in the chaos over Brexit, in our inability to respond to the climate crisis and in an economic system that keeps failing. These are all symptoms of the same disorder: the way we make decisions isn’t working. Our democratic system is in urgent need of renewal. Right now:

  1. Power is too far away from people. ‍We need the power to make changes in our lives and our communities. But too often we don’t know who can help or who is responsible.
  2. Parliament and elections are stuck in the past. The structures and systems are in urgent need of an upgrade. And under the current system too many voters are simply ignored.
  3. No one knows what the rules of our democracy are. ‍They should be set down properly, so that everyone can understand and follow them.

At times of social and political change, we need our democracy to keep pace. Today, we are all connected to one another, but our democratic system lags far behind the technology and its promise of participation. To solve the challenges we face, we need to transform democracy to make it fit for the 21st Century and to create a political culture that invites people in, rather than puts them off. Parliament and politicians cannot get this done alone. We have to work together, showing how we can make decisions across divides and find solutions that work for everyone.

 

To do this, we need a special assembly of the people. ‍Learning from examples around the world, we need to bring together a group of citizens, the same way we select juries, and give them the best advice and the space to think through the challenges. Parliament must act on their recommendations. In the UK, this work has already begun: Thanks to our friends at the Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy, we have a plan for how to do this and a growing alliance of supporters.

 

Clearly we need a new written constitution including proportional representation – see my proposals Re-imagining politicsRe-imagining politics .

The New Economics Foundation, Compassonline, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Up to Us, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament,  Citizens Assembly Project,  Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

The campaign for PR was begun 136 years ago by the Electoral Reform Society !  We now need a massive popular campaign in which all these organisations collaborate to  bring it about at last.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to GreatnessIf you like what you read in my Blog, please spread the word.

 

Best wishes for an excellent 2020!

Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous

Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous

Meg Russell

Having just read this valuable article, I decided that I must host it for the benefit of my followers. As Meg Russell points out, corrosive populism can undermine democracy as we are seeing in other countries. Instead we need our politicians to rebuild public trust in politics and not undermine it. Responsible political leaders will put the national interest, not their own self-interest, first and foremost.

Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous by Professor Meg Russell Posted on November 5th by The Constitution Unit UCL

Tensions over Brexit have led some public figures to adopt a narrative of ‘parliament versus people’. Such comments can be seen in the words of Boris Johnson and his ministers, and risk becoming a frame for the general election period ahead. But, Meg Russell argues, this is the language of corrosive populism, designed to exploit dissatisfaction with the institutions of democracy – and points to a dangerous path. In troubled times, it is the job of responsible politicians to seek to rebuild, not drive down, public trust in politics.

In a general election campaign, language can get heated. But words matter in shaping people’s perceptions, and can alter the public mood. One worrying recent development is the move by some senior politicians and campaigners towards adopting a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ in narrating the UK’s Brexit drama. For months, it has been suggested that Boris Johnson wanted a general election based on that narrative, to boost his support as the man who can ‘get Brexit done’. Now that an election is happening, politicians and journalists should resist cloaking it in a ‘parliament versus people’ narrative. First because such language is dishonest, and more importantly because it could have dangerous long-term effects.

To be fair on Boris Johnson, he did not single-handedly create this framing of events – it could be argued that his predecessor kicked it off. Having been defeated twice on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons, Theresa May made an ill-tempered statement from Number 10 in which she sought to distance herself from parliament, pledging to the public that ‘I am on your side’. This language was widely criticised as potentially inflammatory. But its tone was mild compared to some recent statements. For example, after Johnston’s attempt to prorogue parliament for five weeks (in itself a divisive and troubling move) had been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox suggested to the House of Commons that ‘This parliament is a dead parliament… [that] has no moral right to sit’. On another occasion, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that, by acting to block a ‘no deal’ Brexit, ‘parliament sets itself against the people’.

Starting with the dishonesty, in calling for an election Johnson has argued that parliament gave him no choice. In an early campaign video, he stated that ‘after three and a half years it was perfectly obvious… that this parliament is not going to vote Brexit through. There are too many [MPs] who are basically opposed to Brexit, who want to frustrate it’. But there are two reasons why such claims are disingenuous.

First, MPs actually approved the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to implement Johnson’s Brexit deal. This meant that they agreed it in principle, and supported proceeding to detailed scrutiny. A large, complex bill of this kind – at 115 pages, and full of important detail with major consequences – would normally be scrutinised over weeks or months. For example Theresa May’s 62-page European Union (Withdrawal) Bill had 36 days parliamentary scrutiny in total, starting with 12 days in the Commons. While Johnson’s bill clearly needed to move quickly, external experts judged the three days of Commons scrutiny proposed by the government to be grossly inadequate. MPs’ rejection of the bill’s ‘programme motion’ was hence reasonable – and the government simply needed to offer additional time. Instead, Johnson moved straight to demanding an election (as he had done on two previous occasions in September). As former Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond told the Radio 4 Today programme, ‘the government is trying to create a narrative that parliament is blocking Brexit and therefore we need an election. But that is simply untrue’. Many Conservatives clearly agreed.

The second difficulty with Johnson’s statement is the implication that it is opposition MPs, or ‘remainer’ MPs that are responsible for the length of the Brexit delay. As is well known, Johnson himself and various ‘hard Brexit’ supporters on the Conservative benches voted repeatedly against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. This helped to scupper the original exit day of 29 March. As explored in a previous post on this blog, several of those people now sit in Johnson’s Cabinet. Theresa May battled to get MPs to support her deal over months, but Johnson withdrew his just three days after they were first presented to the Commons. As another former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Father of the House Ken Clarke, suggested: ‘following the ordinary principles of government, we would be well on our way to leaving in the middle of November’ had the bill not been dropped. Clarke, unlike Johnson, had voted for all Brexit deals put before the House of Commons.

So the ‘parliament versus people’ rhetoric can be seen as opportunistic, rather than driven by any clear imperative – it is designed to attract public support to Johnson’s position for electoral purposes. This is disreputable, and even sinister: again for two reasons.

A language of ‘the people against the elites’ is the hallmark of populism – a divisive approach, which seeks to sow the seeds of discontent with political decision-makers for electoral gain. The rise of populism around the world has been widely noted by academic and media commentators, with increasing concern. A populist approach is in essence antipolitical, making it difficult to reach the kinds of agreements that are necessary in complex societies. The diversity of views among ‘the people’ is glossed over, as are the challenges for politicians in meeting these complex demands. Instead, political actors and institutions are demonised, driving out compromise and mutual understanding.

As democratic theorist Nadia Urbinati has put it, ‘the trajectory of the populist leader starts with the attack against the political establishment… he has to go on humiliating the other state elites and institutions that obstruct his government, and attacking the checks and balances and independent institutions that limit his power’. Despite being written by a US political scientist, for publication in 2018, this seems to exactly describe Boris Johnson’s strategy. Urbinati tells us that ‘once elected, the leader feels authorized to act unilaterally and make decisions without meaningful institutional consultation’, which neatly predicts Johnson’s attempted five-week prorogation of parliament. Even the Supreme Court’s ruling that the prorogation was unlawful did nothing to temper the rhetoric of the Johnson administration, as shown by the comments from Geoffrey Cox above. Such approaches have clearly alarmed many Conservatives (and former Conservatives). As Rory Stewart has suggested, ‘If this great party stands for anything, it stands for respect for parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law… [Johnson] is tiptoeing on to a dangerous path. He is pitting… people against the parliament’.

A significant threat of populism is that it ultimately leads to the dismantling of democratic institutions, and of the proper checks and balances on executive power – as seen in regimes such as that of Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. In other words, populism can lead to very dark places indeed. The UK may yet be some distance from that. But an immediate concern is that a populist language of ‘people versus parliament’ can serve only to drive down trust in our core political institutions. The populist twist in the language of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who launched his election campaign with a rhetoric of ‘people versus elites’ is also worrying – as some commentators have noted. But has at least not yet aimed its fire at core bodies such as the courts or parliament.

The legislature lies at the heart of any democratic system. It is, fundamentally, not possible to be a democracy without a functioning legislature. And any such body, as a representative institution, needs the consent of the public to be able to do its job. In the UK system, parliament can be seen as even more central than that. As the Supreme Court judgment set out, most agree that the core principle of the UK constitution is that of parliamentary sovereignty. This means that parliament is the most senior institution in our system of government, sitting above both the executive and the courts. For the executive to pit itself against parliament in such a system, where it has no independent electoral mandate and gains its authority from parliament, is to put its own legitimacy at risk. Parliament may not be perfect, but public support for our entire system hence rests on acceptance of its authority.

A rising antipolitical sentiment, seen in many countries around the world, coupled with declining attachment to political parties, and key events such as the MPs’ expenses crisis, have already been coupled with low levels of trust in political institutions. For example, the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement has seen a steady increase in the number of respondents saying that the present system of governing Britain could be improved ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ – a figure which reached 72% in the 2019 Audit. The same survey found that 57% of respondents claimed the Brexit process had reduced their confidence in MPs. Another poll in September 2019 suggested that only 12% agreed that parliament ‘can be trusted to do the right thing for the country’ and just 10% that it ‘works well’.

Evidence such as this offers great temptations to populists, to exploit a negative public mood. But the proper reaction by responsible politicians is instead to work to maintain, and indeed enhance, trust in our political institutions. Johnson may hope to exploit the Hansard Society Audit’s most worrying headline finding – that 54% believe ‘Britain needs a strong leader willing to break the rules’. But that would be a disreputable and dangerous path. For the short-term gain of winning an election, further undermining of the long-term stability of British democratic institutions is far too great a price to pay.

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About the author

Professor Meg Russell is Director of the Constitution Unit, and a Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe studying ‘Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution’. She is also the co-author of Legislation at Westminster: Parliamentary Actors and Influence in the Making of British Law.

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I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness If you like what you read in my Blog, please spread the word.