American suffrage activist

by Professor Sarah Childs

The celebrations and commemorations are well under way: there are numerous seminars, conferences and workshops; [1] #Votes100 is trending on Twitter; and many of us are donning the colours of the suffragettes (purple, white and green) or the suffragists (green, white and red), and proudly displaying button pins and necklaces.

The centenary of the Representation of the People Act is 6 February 2018. The Act granted the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification and gave the vote to all men over the age of 21.[2] Whilst we must wait until 2028 to celebrate women getting the vote on the same terms as men, it is definitely time to party – and drink our ‘Equaliteas.

Perhaps a lesser known fact is that November will mark the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, which gave women over 21 the right to stand for election as an MP. Again, we should celebrate (and who wouldn’t mind another party?), but here we will need to be more circumspect. If democracy demands women’s enfranchisement there remains more to be done in respect of ‘Seats for Women’. The same is true in terms of realising ‘Parliaments for Women’ and ‘Politics for Women’.

Seats for Women
The 2017 general election saw the highest number of women MPs elected to the UK House of Commons, 208. At 32% of all MPs, Westminster remains far from parity – and the 2% increase last year was paltry: 45% of all Labour MPs are women (119 of 262); the Conservatives saw fall-back, from 70 to 67, flat-lining at 21%. The Liberal Democrats have four women (33%) and the SNP 12 (34%). With political parties acting as the gatekeepers to Westminster, all must do more – political recruitment is best understood as a verb – and some should do more than others. Until then the champagne should be left on ice.

The most effective strategy to increase the numbers of women MPs is quotas. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but follow the evidence: quotas deliver women into political office. The success of Labour’s All Women Shortlists and the Republic of Ireland’s quotas demonstrates this. In the Irish case, as Fiona Buckley has shown, the percentage of women candidates increased by 90% and the number of TDs elected – 35 (22%) – represents a 40% increase on the previous election.

As one of the two main political parties in the UK, the Conservatives have repeatedly resisted the logic of quotas and chosen not to make use of the legislation that permits their use until 2030. In government, they have also rejected the quota recommendations of The Good Parliament Report and the 2016 Women and Equalities Committee Report on Women in Parliament. This isn’t good enough: the Conservatives saw a decline in their number of women MPs in 2017 and stood still in percentage terms. Political change – the upward trajectory of more women in Parliament – does not just happen. Quotas have to be put back on the table in 2018, and at the very least, the government should commence Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 so that the public can hold the parties to account vis-a-vis the selection of parliamentary candidates. Let’s see which MPs sign Bernard Jenkin’s Early Day Motion, and which MPs choose to ignore the most minimal of requirements, namely, candidate diversity data transparency.

Parliament for Women
No-one, following the exposure of sexual harassment at Westminster, can be under any illusion that parliament is a gender equal institution. The Good Parliament Report documented its diversity insensitivities and made 43 recommendations. The Commons Reference Group on Representation Inclusion, established and chaired by Mr Speaker, has been working since autumn 2016 on taking this agenda forward. Only last week the House agreed to the ‘Mother of the House’, Harriet Harman’s motion on baby leave. The Procedure Committee will now undertake an inquiry on how to best implement this. Securing leave for new parent MPs would be a belated, but nonetheless symbolic and substantive rule change that really would be something new to celebrate in 2018. ‘Anti’ mutterings have already been heard, and so attention must be given to the possibility of backlash.

Politics for Women
Our politics should address the concerns and views of women as well as men. Questions of who can act for women, and what acting for women means, are, however, contested in academic circles and amongst MPs. For some, good substantive representation (acting for women) means feminist substantive representation. For some, it means representation by women. But beware not to confuse women’s bodies with feminist minds; women do not come in one political hue; and men make representative claims ‘for women’. Political debate over ‘good substantive representation’ is to be welcomed. It helps identify what is in the interests of women, has the potential to re-gender parties’ political programmes and to deliver a better politics for all.

Politics should be something that ordinary women think about and do, ordinarily, as part of their everyday lives. Votes for women in 1918, and more so in 1928, redressed a basic political inequality. Redressing the gendered democratic deficits in respect of seats, political institutions and politics, should be the ‘deeds’ of 2018; nice ‘words’ by political parties and by the government will not suffice. Both should act, and it is not as if there isn’t a ‘shopping bag’ of reforms out there, ready to be picked up… and acted upon.

Notes

[1] http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/newsevents/events/calendar/what-difference-did-the-war-make/;
https://www.ria.ie/representation-gender-and-politics-past-and-presenthttp://www.historyandpolicy.org/events/event-listing/race-female-suffrage-and-parliamentary-representation-in-the-global-south.

[2] http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/case-study-the-right-to-vote/the-right-to-vote/birmingham-and-the-equal-franchise/1918-representation-of-the-people-act/

resignation

Donald Trump craves two things: to win, constantly, and, slightly less obviously, to be accepted. Wolff’s new book, and even a brief peruse of his twitter feed, shows us that for all his weird wants and wishes, it is these two things that drive him, and his failure to do either that drives him to distraction.

Wanting these things isn’t unusual. All presidents want to win and probably more than would admit want some form of affirmation. The problem for Trump is that the winning and acceptance simply isn’t happening. Instead, one year on from his inaugural speech that even George W. Bush thought was ‘some weird s##t’, Trump has become a loser. He is roundly mocked and abused by the press and establishment he wants to be adored by. The new book paints a vivid portrait of a lonely and strange figure, moaning at the state of the White House plumbing while shouting abuse at three TV screens, half-eaten cheeseburger in hand. Very, as it were, sad.

Trump clearly lacks the self-control, the emotional intelligence or, Wolff claims, the basic comprehension to do what needs to be done to win or be accepted. Like Nixon, Trump is consumed, so utterly consumed, by his rage and resentments at the elite who despise him that he only makes it worse. Wolff claims Trump is a ‘real life fictional character’, a ghost of a racist play acting demagogue, echoing JFK’s famous observation that Nixon ‘had to reinvent his personality everyday’. His habits also call to mind another JFK put down of Nixon: ‘no class’ (I’d encourage you to read the very wonderful ‘Nixon at the Movies’ by Mark Feeney).

Interestingly, ‘Fire and Fury’ claims Trump is obsessed not only by Obama but two other famous political figures: Lyndon Baines Johnson and John W. Dean. Johnson was, of course, the supreme doer of deals, the legislative maestro and the great civil rights reformer- everything Trump is not. One can only presume that the current racist in chief likes Johnson’s style rather than his politics. John W. Dean is even more interesting still. He was Nixon’s White House Counsel who, fearing he was to be made the Watergate scapegoat, co-operated and gave evidence to the investigating committee in a blaze of damning publicity. Why, I wonder, would Trump fixate upon someone with knowledge of something turning against him and going public?

The big question Wolff’s book raises is how will it all end? Even Bannon was unsure that Trump would make a full term. Commentators are plumbing for either the 25th amendment or impeachment.

The 25th amendment looks unlikely. It’s never been used and looks like some bizarre, terrible nuclear weapon of an open ended process: ‘no, you go tell Trump he’s mentally unfit for office and see how he reacts’. Some sort of mass Cabinet resignation, as with Zachary Taylor, could happen but, again, where would it get us?

Impeachment seems even less likely. No president has been successfully impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 survived their Senate votes and Nixon jumped in advance. How will it be triggered? Trump has publically supported Nazis (twice with his defence of the Charlottesville racists and Far Right retweeting) and admitted to sexual assault. It’s not clear what it is he needs to do, or indeed what is left to do, to get the Republicans to remove him. And if they ever summon up the courage, it takes time.

The Russia collusion would make a promising impeachment case, but it needs proof. Remember, Nixon was caught by his own recordings, not the allegations. Whatever collusion happened, it needs to have been written down or taped and, most of the time, I think no one’s that stupid (step forward Donald Trump Jr’s emails and Trump’s odd ‘recording’ tweet). That is unless, as Wolff claims, the Trump family fear the investigation turns up something else even uglier hiding in their accounts.

But there is a third option. What Wolff’s book also alleges is that Trump never intended, and didn’t want, to win in 2016. He now sits, in an odd reversal of King Lear, as someone granted huge power who never wanted it. Could he just give up? He clearly has a powerful dissonance capacity but somewhere, somehow, does he suspect he’s not winning? Do his raging tweets not hint that he knows things ain’t going well?

Three Presidents in living memory have given up. Truman decided not to run in 1952, though he could have. LBJ refused to accept the Democratic nomination in 1968. And Nixon resigned in 1974, of course, before he was removed. All of them faced plummeting popularity and poll numbers and so side stepped humiliation. Could Trump do the same? And what can be done to make him go?

First, we should continue to point out regularly that he is a loser. By any available metric he is an abject failure. His polling numbers are the worst since records began and worsening (even among his base). In legislative terms he is a loser-all he did was create a huge tax break that the public are against. Most presidents have six months, as Rupert Murdoch supposedly warned him, to do something. But Trump’s early nights and golf (see here) means no wall, an uncertain and globally despised Muslim ban and no Obamacare repeal. When he throws his support behind someone, such as alleged molester Roy Moore, they lose too. Trump’s coattails are actually banana skins.  The numbers look even worse if you compare them with Obama. His legislative agenda and polling numbers were impressive, the sort you’d expect from a winner (he’s even globally popular). Indeed, a majority of these voters wish he was on his third term.

Second, we should emphasise Trump’s unacceptability and continue to hammer away at it. He supports some of history’s biggest losers. He makes no secret of his regard for the Confederacy-and that crazy gang in the White House ‘jokingly’ referred to Trump’s Attorney General by his middle name Beauregard (a Confederate civil war general). In words and deeds, he trolls and targets minorities and the vulnerable. Trump has denied he is a racist, though I’m not sure exactly what his definition is. I take the old fashioned, classic approach of ‘does he say and do racist things?’ When the press must ask ‘are you a racist?’ repeatedly and both the UN and African Union describe you as a racist, I think we can be reasonably sure you are a racist.  And then there’s women and what he said and the (22) allegations. The idea that Trump has some form of provocative, clever strategy must, by now, be over. He says and does racist things, says and does fascist things because that’s what he is.

Will it work? It’s not clear. But is it not worth a try? The chance to push him out of office? Can we make him do the long, slow, painful walk to the waiting helicopter and the longer, inevitable trip to the dustbin of history? As either Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Pliny the Younger said ‘everything looks impossible until it’s done’.

Listen to the Westminster Watch predictions for politics 2018 here where we cover May’s fate, the EU and the special relationship.

It also includes a review of our guesses from 2017(listen here to the December 2016 podcast) and a series of polite disagreements as to what will or won’t happen. The podcast will help with many of your burning Yuletide questions such as:

  • Who or What is a ‘Post-Blairite Bridge’?
  • Where is the ‘Gordon Brown Zone’?
  •  Which of us coined the term ‘Trump-Made-Twitter-spat’?

 

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Students in a Birkbeck Politics undergraduate class, Parliamentary Studies, have given evidence to an inquiry by the Commons education select committee on value for money in higher education.

The evidence has been published on the House of Commons website.

The committee has invited written submissions on a range of issues in higher education, including graduate outcomes, social justice and teaching quality, and has also launched an online survey for current students.

Parliamentary Studies is an option module in the Department of Politics that aims to give students a better understanding of how legislatures work and their role within modern political systems.

Birkbeck is one of only a small number of universities able to teach the module, which is delivered by Birkbeck lecturers as well as parliamentary officials.

The Parliamentary Studies module is available as an option module to students on our BA Politics, BA Global Politics and International Relations and BA Politics, Philosophy and History programmes.

In 2017 the module is taught by Dr Ben Worthy and Professor Sarah Childs.

More information:

As the Exiting the European Union Committee (once more) debates the 58 Brexit Studies with David Davis, two Birkbeck Politics academics reflect on what the struggle between Westminster and the government tells us about power, Parliament and Brexit.

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Dr Dionyssis G. Dimitrakopoulos

Governing is (perhaps) not what it used to be but there are some things that have not changed much.  The possession and significance of privileged information is one of them.  Distributing and (more broadly) utilising sensitive information is part of the tools of government.  That is why one of the most significant concerns of parliaments in democracies is getting hold of this information.  Without it, there is no way they can hold government to account.  But even in the absence of this oversight, the credibility of a government’s position is at stake. Without credible information (indeed, without information that is known to be credible), how can a government formulate good public policy?  This was at the heart of the previous coalition government’s now forgotten review of the balance of competences between the UK and the EU. A key reason why it was barely mentioned after its conclusion was the fact that it did not fit the narrative that the Conservatives wanted to construct in relation to the UK’s membership of the EU. The credibility of government-held information is more important in the context of controversial negotiations like the one that the UK government is currently conducting with the European Union (first) in relation to the terms of the UK’s exit.  A large part of the controversy that surrounds the referendum is built on the systematic use of lies by supporters (including ministers) of the winning side.  Now that they must deliver on their promises, the fundamental weakness of their arguments is beginning to show.  This is demonstrated, for example, by the government’s acceptance of the EU’s preferred sequencing and the reported acceptance of the EU’s calculation of the UK’s legacy debts (usually and misleadingly referred to as ‘exit bill’), i.e. the expected costs to which the UK has agreed whilst still a member of the EU.

Until the earth-shattering news of Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry, the debate inside the UK on the ongoing Brexit negotiations was dominated by the thorny issue of Northern Ireland and the impact of Brexit on the British economy.  The British Parliament managed to extract from the government a commitment to share hitherto unpublished sectoral studies that assess Brexit’s likely impact on several sectors of the British economy.  The latest twist in this sorry and lengthy saga – which highlights, instead of concealing, as the UK’s Conservative government intended, the weakness of its negotiating position – saw the government effectively refuse to reveal this information to British parliamentarians.

This may come as a surprise to many but it is perfectly in keeping with both the country’s enduring constitutional settlement and the Conservative Party’s – especially its loudly Eurosceptic wing’s – duplicitous stance on the issue of parliamentary sovereignty.  Although Westminster is frequently referred to as ‘the mother of all parliaments’ one must be careful for the system is neither balanced, nor is it characterised by the centrality of Houses of Commons and Lords that its title suggests.  As early as 1867, Walter Bagehot was observing that ‘[i]n England a strong Cabinet can obtain the concurrence of the legislature in all acts which facilitate its administration; it is itself, so to say, the legislature’.  He noted that ‘[t]he efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and legislative powers’.  One of the ways in which this fusion is achieved is highlighted in RHS Crossman’s famous introduction to the 1963 edition of Bagehot’s classic book:

Once elected by the Commons the Prime Minister exerts power greater than those of any American President […] In this new middle class regime, in fact, the nation is run by a board of control headed by a powerful managing director’.

But even if one ignores the real and enduring balance of power between the British executive and legislature, it would be unreasonable to expect a UK government to bend to the will of parliament on matters European given the historical precedent.  As I have argued in detail in an article in the Journal of Common Market Studies, acting in a comparable context in the early 1990s again under a Conservative government with a slim majority in the House of Commons, an arrangement put in place in 1980 obliged the government of the day to (normally) refrain from giving its assent to EU legislative proposals as long as the parliamentary scrutiny of these proposals in Westminster had not been completed.  Crucially though, the government retained the right to decide that due to ‘special reasons’ – agreement at the level of the EU need not be withheld (House of Commons Debates, vol. 991, 30 October 1980, col. 843). It was – and is – up to the government of the day to make that decision and all they need to do is simply explain these reasons in Parliament.  In other words, one should not be surprised by the current government’s stance. It is consistent with the essence of the UK’s constitutional arrangement as well as the ruling party’s tradition, no matter what Conservative Eurosceptics said when they were not running the country.  If Brexit is about ‘taking back control’, why not share with our elected representatives these impact studies?

In reality, the current government’s real problem lies in either a) the really bad news that these studies would reveal to the British public or b) the weakness of way in which these studies were constructed.  Either way, the government’s dogged fight to conceal them is much more revealing than they want it to be.

Follow the author and Birkbeck’s Politics Department on Twitter: @DGDimitrakop @bbkpolitics

Waterloo Bridge Towards Palace of Westminster

In episode 38 of our politics podcast, Dr Dermot Hodson and Dr Ben Worthy reflect on some emerging data about the June 2017 General Election and on the instability in Ireland’s supply and confidence arrangements-listen in here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/westminster-watch-episode-38-elections-supplies-and-confidence-with-a-brexit-coda

You can read the paper we discuss (and, of course, draw your own conclusions) here:

Mellon, Jonathan and Evans, Geoffrey and Fieldhouse, Edward A. and Green, Jane and Prosser, Christopher, ‘Brexit or Corbyn? Campaign and Inter-Election Vote Switching in the 2017 UK General Election’ (November 17, 2017). Available to download at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3073203

Waterloo Bridge Towards Palace of Westminster

In episode 37 of our politics podcast, Dr Dermot Hodson and Dr Ben Worthy reflect on the power of the Prime Minister to hire and fire and the constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland. Just another week in UK politics-listen in here http://bit.ly/2ii3Cxp

You can read the paper on Prime Ministerial power by Allen and King that we mention here. You can also read some reflections on the border difficulties here and some scenarios for Northern Ireland here

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As part of a new series Birkbeck Politic’s own Ed Bacon has a new book on Russian Politics-see here

Is there more to Russian politics than Putin?

Inside Russian Politics is an intelligent, critical and engaging account of the realities of contemporary Russian politics.  It is distinctive in widening our view of Russia beyond the standard account of global power plays and resurgent authoritarian menace. Putin matters, but he is not Russia. Russian military adventurism has had a major effect on contemporary international affairs, but assessing its aims and projecting future intentions and impacts requires analysis within a context deeper than the stock ‘Cold War renewed’ story.

The holistic approach of this book facilitates our understanding of power politics in and beyond the Kremlin and of Russian policy on the international stage. Revealing the Russia beyond Moscow and the central figures around Putin, Edwin Bacon focuses on Russia’s political present, not to ignore the past but to move beyond cliché and misleading historical analogy to reveal the contemporary – and future – concerns of Russia’s current generation of politicians.

Find out more about Ed’s work on Russia here.

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(Image courtesy of Salon.com)

Is it a case of Jeremy thrives, Theresa survives? Birkbeck’s Ben Worthy and Dermot Hodson talk leadership and conference speeches on their latest Westminster Watch podcast here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/westminster-watch-episode-35. You can find out more about how Conservative leadership contests work here and read some analysis of May’s time as Prime Minister and why so many ‘serious’ prime Ministers fail here.

 

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(image from whatdotheyknow.com)

To celebrate International Right To Know Day, the Centre for British Politics and Public Life held a panel discussion on how Open Britain was. The UK has seen more than a decade of continuous openness reform, from Freedom of Information and Open Data and all sorts of information on gender pay gaps and experiments with election data. But where are we now?

Our panel of experts, Martin Rosenbaum (Journalist, BBC), Rosemary Agnew (Former Scottish Information Commissioner and now Scottish Public Services Ombudsman) and Professor Sarah Childs (Professor of Politics and Gender, Birkbeck College) debated how open the UK really is in 2017 and where we could go next.

If you want to know about the openness of Britain’s political candidates and  restaurant hygiene, why FOI is not always enough and how Brexit could take us backwards, listen to the podcast below.

Listen on Sound Cloud https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/how-open-is-britain-in-2017-and-where-next

For further reading