Jeremy Hunt

By John Kelly, Professor of Industrial Relations, Department of Management, Birkbeck

As somebody who teaches negotiations at the London School of Economics (and whose elder daughter is a junior doctor) I have followed the junior doctors’ dispute very closely. What I have gradually discovered is that one of the key obstacles to the successful resolution of the dispute is that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has violated almost every basic principle of effective negotiation.

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This year’s G20 Leaders’ Summit in Antalya, Turkey, has produced arguably the broadest agenda of action yet of any G20 gathering. But do the G20’s widening ambitions build on a commensurate increase in capability? Not really.

The Brisbane Summit in 2014 had stuck to the group’s narrow macroeconomic policy origins, making an ambitious though unqualified target of growth acceleration its central promise (accomplish an additional 2 per cent G20 GDP increase by 2018 on top of what the IMF had projected in 2013). This was to be attained via familiar tools—coordinated monetary, financial, labour market, competition and trade policies. About the only novelty was the acknowledgment of the need for drastically higher public infrastructure investment.

The Antalya Summit took place in an overwhelming world political context. The desire to see some intergovernmental solidarity in the face of the ever escalating security and humanitarian crisis of our time did not leave much media appetite to dwell on divisions within the group. Yet the same focus on politics has also distracted attention away from the different economic message of Antalya.

While Antalya reaffirmed the Brisbane pledge of growth acceleration, it described differently what future prosperity should resemble and how it could be accomplished. Pulling more to the left, the Antalya Leaders’ Communiqué (already twice as long as the Brisbane one) called for the type of growth that is “inclusive, job-rich and benefits all segments of our societies”, citing the risk posed by “rising inequalities” to “social cohesion and the well-being of our citizens”. To that end it pledged to lower youth unemployment in G20 countries by 15% by 2025, emphasised for the first time the role of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in fostering inclusiveness, and called for closer cooperation between the G20 and the low income developing countries (LIDCs). The usual references to financial stability, reform of international financial institutions (mainly the IMF), corporate governance reform, multilateral trade deals and anti-corruption were of course present, but the doubled number of agreed documents now also included a statement of policy priorities on labour income share, a skills strategy, and an energy access action plan. This widened focus was the result of many months’ prior work that saw inaugural ministerial meetings in agriculture, energy and tourism as well as a joint meeting of finance and labour ministers (to further underline the inclusiveness dimension). Seen this way, Antalya has expressly called for a kinder, gentler capitalism (à la World Bank since the late 1990s), to be pursued via a sectorally and geographically integrated macro strategy. (Leaving, as well noted, the knotty topic of climate change to the UN conference to commence in Paris later this month.)

There is nothing wrong with this noble call—insofar as we understand that the G20 is merely a sounding board for a somewhat arbitrarily selected group of big countries and international organisations, without any material resource at its disposal to implement actual change. The problem with such an existence is that there is no dependable way of measuring effectiveness: Whatever proposals emerge from this gathering need to be acted upon by governments and international organisations, which, as it so happens, also set the agenda. The troubles of the day (global imbalances, eurozone crisis, the fallout from Syria, weak recovery) always make the cut, as do the sensibilities of the host country (Turkish presidency this year was a good example). Yet in the end the G20’s specific output is always an expression of desire for coordination, not the consequences of actual coordination observable in policy or institutional change. As a result compliance with the group’s yearly commitments varies widely across countries and policy domains.

Consider here the curiously modest progress made in the G20’s core agenda item—international financial regulation. The group was conceived in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, and its morphing into a high-profile leaders’ summit from a gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors was a direct response to the global financial crisis of 2007-08. However, eight years and ten summits on (two summits per year were held in 2009 and 2010), all the G20 has to show for in that department is the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) total-loss-absorbing-capacity (TLAC) standard for global systemically important banks to address the “too-big-to-fail” pathology, announced a week before Antalya. There is no way to know how the G20 contributed to that outcome; for all we know the FSB (or its predecessor the Financial Stability Forum as it was called before the 2009 G20 London Summit) might have ended up devising a similar measure. More important, this is a relatively small change that applies to only part of the sector. Insider reports suggest that since the crash international finance has been back to business as usual already; intense policy debate for the past eight years produced cosmetic changes at best. Even if we credit solely the G20 for all the progress made in the area of international financial regulation to date, the disappointing record of change in that realm inspires little confidence in the G20’s capabilities. If it has largely failed in its core mission, how could the G20 deliver an even more ambitious agenda?

The point is not that the G20 is useless. These summits have served the important function of providing a permanent high-level negotiating table that included some leading powers of the global South. Let us also not forget that change in the absence of total calamity could be a notoriously slow process, in the course of which different voices, such as in Antalya, may indeed have crucial long-term ideational effects. Even then, until such time as we observe material shifts on the ground, unorthodox calls as in Antalya must be treated with caution. Yet give us similar outcries about contemporary capitalism’s social ills in China 2016, Germany 2017 and India 2018 with the global policy ground unambiguously shifting towards attaining fairer resource distribution between as well as within national economies, and we shall get very excited.

Ali Guven is a lecturer in International Relations and International Political Economy at Birkbeck



Last Monday we found out what it’s really like to work for an MP courtesy of Rob Dale (@robandale),  when he spoke about his new book How to Be A Parliamentary Researcher.

  • Is it exciting?
  • Is it hard work?
  • Do you get to hear all sorts of information you shouldn’t?
  • Can you make a difference?
  • Is it more like the West Wing, House of Cards or In The Thick of It?

As Rob explains here researchers are the unsung heroes of Westminster ‘parliamentary researchers are required to support and guide their boss through these new pressures, whilst also helping them with the more traditional aspects of the role: speaking in the House of Commons, tabling questions, establishing campaigns, appearing in the media and attending many, many meetings. It is their responsibility to do much of the legwork so that their boss can focus on his or her main job; performing.’

In his talk he offered a whole range of advice from how to write the perfect CV (tailor it), how to get ahead (get campaigning) and how to do the best you can (make friends, get contacts, pay attention!).

To hear it all and our later discussion about Parliament with Rob, the Parly app creator Tony Grew and our own Susan McClaren listen in here

Ellen Meiksin Wood

Ellen Meiksin Wood

As I walked down Torrington Place towards the Birkbeck College campus in eager anticipation of a very special symposium, I was suddenly struck by the immediacy of the crowds surrounding the Bloomsbury campuses in preparation for that day’s student protest against the attack on the rights to education for all. The current Tory government’s fanatical pursuit of austerity politics – in which the dominant, de-politicised metaphor of the ‘household budget’ – is being challenged head-on by students, a frustrated and angry global citizenry, as well as the recent resurgence of left-wing politics within the Labour Party itself. And it is because of these diverse social forces that the empty rhetoric of austerity economics is being shifted back onto the terrain of political contestation. Continue reading

Credit: Policy Exchange (

The Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life welcomed author and journalist Polly Toynbee to the Keynes Library yesterday, where she appeared in conversation with Birkbeck Professorial Fellow in Politics Tony Wright.

The wide-ranging talk, which was followed by a Q&A with the audience,
mixed biographical detail with political insight, covering Toynbee’s education, early work experiences and the effort behind writing two columns a week. It also addressed the challenges facing the Labour party in upcoming votes in London and Scotland, and the pitfalls for the Yes campaign in the EU referendum.

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John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor and former Birkbeck student spoke to staff and students at an event organised by the politics department. He was questioned by Joni Lovenduski over gender representation and came out in support of legislative quotas for women and job shares, though he challenged the ‘19th century’ idea that the top Shadow Cabinet jobs such as Foreign secretary were still the most important. He acknowledged that the Parliamentary Labour party was not wholly in favour of its new leadership but promised that the party would remain a broad church and democratic, with space for dissent and different views. The new activists who had joined since September, he hoped, would radicalise the party.

In answering to Dermot Hodson’s questioning on political economy issues, he discusses the U-turn over George Osborne’s Fiscal Charter in terms of the time pressures of taking office and the urgency of repositioning Labour as the party of anti-austerity in spite of short-term costs to economic credibility. In answer to Hodson’s question about the EU referendum, McDonnell said that Labour would be entering the Brexit debate on its own terms, including through cooperation with other parties on the European left. When asked by Ben Worthy inspirational figures he name checked, unsurprisingly, the great 1940s Labour reformer Clement Attlee but, less expectedly, the artful balancer of the 1960s and 1970s Harold Wilson. He was less convinced when Alex Colas asked him for his most admired Conservative leader. He argued that, amid the political ‘insurgencies’ of Left and Right the rules of political leadership had now changed.

There were then searching crowd-sourced audience questions on a whole range of topics, from whether Labour could build a winning electoral coalition to dealing with rebels, press regulation and sacrificing principles for power. He argued that a winning coalition did exist among the majority of anti-conservative voters if the message was right, but felt the first round of elections in Scotland, London and local government in May 2016 may be tough. Party rebels [which McDonnell and Corbyn used to be] would face a barrage of ‘tea and sympathy’ and the public would be reached not through the main stream press but on the stump and through social media. He suggested more change was coming, supporting a PR elected House of Lords of the regions and initiatives around national savings bank and a series of gender based policy reviews.

John McDonnell was an MSc. student at Birkbeck between 1978 and 1981 under the great Bernard Crick, before entering politics and becoming Deputy Leader of the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone and standing for Parliament in 1997. Studying politics at Birkbeck had given him a rounded, deeper understanding of politics and, he said, a fear of essay deadlines.

To hear more listen to the podcast here


‘Fighting for a Place in Parliament: What is it like to work for an MP?’
An evening with Robert Dale
16 November 2015, 6pm
William Harvey Room, British Medical Association
Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP

Thousands of people apply to work in MPs’ parliamentary offices every year. Why? Because they want to operate at the centre of British politics and are drawn by the sense of power, history and importance of the House of Commons. They want hear words they’ve written read out in the chamber, or see them printed on newspaper front pages. Many want to make a difference to society. Some see the role as the first step to becoming an MP themselves, and others as the beginning of a successful career in lobbying or communications. Robert Dale – author of How to Be a Parliamentary Researcher – will explain all.

Join us on 16 November 2015 for a special event that will explore how to get a job working for an MP in Parliament, how to perform a role that is unique to each MP and, perhaps most importantly, how to survive the long hours, stress and emotional demands.

Admission is free but tickets must be reserved here: