Take a look at our new Birkbeck Politics Brexit Briefing here. You can also listen to a special edition of our ‘Westminster Watch’ politics podcast here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/westminster-watch-episode-18
Take a look at our new Birkbeck Politics Brexit Briefing here. You can also listen to a special edition of our ‘Westminster Watch’ politics podcast here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/westminster-watch-episode-18
Credit: Number 10 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
David Cameron will not be Prime Minister by October, and is going even earlier than I predicted. So what does the past tell us about who might take over as Prime Minister, and how they might fare? Who, out of these runners and riders, will be next as First Lord of the Treasury?
There’s generally two ways you can become Prime Minister in the UK through (i) winning a General Election (ii) winning a party leadership election (or in the pre-1965 Conservative party being ‘chosen’) to become head of the largest party when a Prime Minister leaves-see this great infographic here.
Whoever sits in 10 Downing Street after David Cameron will be what I’m calling a ‘takeover’ leader, who takes over government by (ii) rather than (i). As the UK Cabinet Manual states:
Where a Prime Minister chooses to resign from his or her individual position at a time when his or her administration has an overall majority in the House of Commons, it is for the party or parties in government to identify who can be chosen as the successor (p.15).
Although often seen as ‘lame ducks’ or less legitimate, remember both Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, number 1 and number 2 respectively in the highest rated Prime Ministers of the 20th century, got to 10 Downing Street without winning an election.
Here’s a table looking at the last six Post-war ‘takeover’ Prime Ministers that sets out who they took over from, their previous position before Prime Minister, and – the all-important question – whether they went on to win the next election.
Takeover Prime Ministers 1955-2010
Interestingly, of the 12 Post-war Prime Ministers almost half were actually takeovers. So how did these takeovers do in the General Elections that followed? It seems there are exactly even chances of winning or losing, as 3 takeovers lost their elections and three won, though drilling down it can be close. John Major had a very narrow win in 1992 and Alec Douglas-Home a surprisingly narrow loss in 1964. What the table doesn’t show is the danger in stepping into Downing Street without an election, which explains why the other 50 % failed to win. Takeover is a risky business even in tranquil times, as this great paper shows.
In terms of who does the taking over now, a superficial look at the table offers good news for Theresa May and Michael Gove and bad news for Boris Johnson. All the takeovers Post-War were already holders of ‘great offices of state’. In fact, 3 were Chancellors and 3 were Foreign Secretaries. This makes sense as it is senior politicians who will have the resources, the reputation and, most importantly, the support in the party to win a leadership election.
The past is not, of course, always a good guide to the future, especially in a Brexit-ing Britain. To be Conservative leader you must make it through a particular bottleneck, as two potential leaders must emerge from the votes of the Conservative MPs for a run-off with the rest of the party. This morning it is very, very unlikely that the next leader will be the (probably) soon to be ex-Chancellor George Osborne. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond is, as far as we know, not interested.
The closest ‘great offices’ are Theresa May in the Home Office, whose chances have been talked up until yesterday, and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who has ruled himself out repeatedly (though so did his hero Lyndon Johnson, many times). However, Boris Johnson, who has no great office but was Mayor of London for eight years, will have a large amount of political capital and has powerfully bolstered his reputation. A Brexit Johnson versus a Eurosceptic May run-off looks likely.
Gauging how ‘successful’ the takeover leaders were is more tricky-the whole question of whether and how a Prime Minister ‘succeeds’ depends on how you measure it. Half of the leaders achieved the most basic aim of winning an election and a number of them not only won but also increased their majority. Beyond this, some are widely regarded as having failed amid crisis, splits and defeats, especially John Major and Gordon Brown. Not all takeovers are failures or lame ducks. Three of the leaders came number 4, 7 and 8 in the academic survey of the top ten Post-War Prime Ministers and Harold Macmillan in particular is widely regarded as a highly capable and astute Prime Minister.
Whoever takes over from Cameron will face deep problems. He or she will be in charge of a ruptured party, and a worrying in-tray of pressing problems. Being prime Minister of Brexit Britain will mean trying to hold together a divided country and Dis-united Kingdom, not to mention overseeing a hugely complex negotiation process. Whoever takes over will need a very healthy dose of fortune and skill to be a Macmillan rather than a Brown.
 There are other ways but it all gets a bit complicated and constitutional see p 15 of the Cabinet Manual 2.18-2.19. If a government falls and an opposition can muster up a majority then an opposition leader could become Prime Minister without an election (but would probably want to call a General Election soon after). The Cabinet Manual hedges its bets by saying ‘The Prime Minister will normally be the accepted leader of a political party that commands the majority of the House of Commons’.
The Leave campaign’s stunning upset has barely sunk in and already the pundits are flogging a familiar storyline. Those ‘left behind’ in the hard-luck provinces have punched privileged, corporate London in the nose.
The facts tell a different story: culture and personality, not material circumstances, separate Leave and Remain voters. This is not a class conflict so much as a values divide that cuts across lines of age, income, education and even party. A nice way to show this is to examine the relationship between so-called ‘authoritarianism’ questions such as whether children should obey or the death penalty is appropriate, and support for the EU. The British Election Study’s internet panel survey of 2015-16 asked a sample of over 24,000 individuals about their views on these matters and whether they would vote to leave the EU. The graph below, restricted to White British respondents, shows almost no statistically significant difference in EU vote intention between rich and poor. By contrast, the probability of voting Brexit rises from around 20 per cent for those most opposed to the death penalty to 70 per cent for those most in favour. Wealthy people who back capital punishment back Brexit. Poor folk who oppose the death penalty support Remain.
A similar pattern holds in the British Values Survey for the strongly worded question probing respondents’ desire to see those who commit sex crimes ‘publicly whipped, or worse.’ Political psychologists show a close relationship between feeling fearful of change, desiring certainty, and calling for harsh penalties for criminals and discipline for children. These are people who want a more stable, ordered world. By contrast, those who seek change and novelty are willing to embrace immigration and the EU.
Precisely the same relationship – based on values rather than class – characterises support for Donald Trump. “I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism,” wrote Matthew MacWilliams back in January.
This doesn’t mean age, education, class and gender don’t count. But they largely matter because they affect people’s level of authoritarianism. Genes, strict parenting and straitened circumstances contribute to people’s aversion to difference, which gets wired into their personality. For Karen Stenner, this makes authoritarians resistant to exhortations to embrace diversity. Younger, wealthier and better educated people, and women, are a bit less oriented toward order and intolerance. But education is not the reason. A recent study in Switzerland showed that liberal-minded kids select into university – their liberalism was apparent as early as age 13. University itself had no liberalising effect on attitudes.
As large-scale migration challenges the demographic sway of white majorities, the gap between whites who embrace change and those who resist it is emerging as the key political cleavage across the west. Compared to this cultural chasm, material differences between haves and have nots, managers and workers, are much less important. From Trump to Hofer, Le Pen to Farage, the authoritarian-libertarian axis is taking over politics.
Where does this leave Britain? The country has emerged from a bruising battle in which those fearing change lined up to Leave while folk comfortable with difference plumped for Remain. However, the two lines don’t perfectly overlap. Boris Johnson, Douglas Carswell and other Vote Leave leaders are libertarian or even globalist in instinct. As negotiations move forward, this freedom-oriented leadership will be inclined to cut deals with Europe on migration in order to secure Britain’s access to the European market. While this ‘soft Brexit’ pose will irritate the authoritarian majority among Leavers, Johnson’s credibility as the man who led Britain out gives him the latitude to make compromises. The history of right-wing populism from the southern US to Northern Ireland is one of populist leaders riding their base to power but rapidly moderating once in office. Expect a fuzzy divorce, not a clean break.
Erc Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College
Originally posted here
On 8th June Birkbeck Politics staff discussed the UK’s EU referendum, looking at what has happened so far and what may yet take place on the 23rd June.
The panel began by looking into why the UK was having a referendum, discussing the many hidden and not to hidden factors behind it. These stretched from Cameron’s gamble, that a referendum would cure the short term threat of UKIP and unhappiness in the Conservative party, to the long term distrust towards the European Union project in the UK, harking all the way back to Britain’s campaign of attempted sabotage of the project in the 1950s and reluctant joining in the 1970s.
Reflecting on the campaign so far, the panel spoke of how referenda are, by their nature, proxies for all sorts of other subjects. The EU referendum is actually about immigration, democracy and sovereignty. Despite their popular appeal, they can also be anti-democratic in focusing so narrowly on a single decision, and pursuing a seemingly simple answer to what are complicated issues.
There was also concern at the low level of debate and failure, on both sides, to engage with facts or global realities, from international trade to the modern mass movement of people (see the Treasury Committee report here that similarly complained of the ‘inconsistent, unqualified and, in some cases, misleading claims and counter-claims’ made by both sides).
The panel also reflected on how different views of the EU split different parts of England and the United Kingdom-creating what has been called a Disunited Kingdom of intentions and support. What would happen if Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain but England and Wales wished to leave? It could all get complicated and this paper speaks of some of the profound constitutional consequences. But do referenda’s ever solve an issue (think Scotland in 2014)? The panel thought it is unlikely to be the last EU referendum the UK has.
In terms of the voting itself, the polls so far show a knife edge result, resting on the margin of error. To find out what our panel think will happen on the 23rd June (and why José Mourinho’s views could prove decisive) listen to the podcast below.
To Find Out More
Having lost the economic argument, the Leave campaign is now trying to shift the debate towards immigration. This element of the EU referendum debate is as closely linked to the issue of sovereignty as is the management of the economy.
There are two arguments that the Leave side tend to emphasise in relation to immigration. The first relates to security. The most extreme version of this argument takes the form of the false claim that the UK cannot veto Turkey’s accession to the EU and – as a consequence – the arrival of millions of Turks on this island is virtually unavoidable. A less extreme version of the same argument relates to the impact of migration from other EU member states on public services at the local level, including schools, hospitals etc., and ignores the contribution that these people make to the exchequer (and beyond). More recently, however, another argument has been made. Aware of the deleterious nature of the association of Brexit with anti-immigration rhetoric, Brexit supporters have argued that
“Brexit refers only to an exit from the EU and there are no specific policies of any kind tied to Brexit. What happens afterwards and how the UK chooses to manage its affairs in the light of an exit is up to the British government, which is ultimately answerable to its electorate. […] [T]he fact remains that Brexit is compatible with both open and closed borders. Which it will be depends on decisions made by an elected government. […] [W]e should use an exit from the EU as an opportunity to have a proper debate for the first time about whether we want the UK to be open to migration or not, and then base our laws on the outcome of that.” (Chris Bickerton)
Leaving aside the fact that the debate on immigration has been going on for many years in the UK, their central point is one that all souverainistes like to make: through an exit from the EU, the British people will reassert their sovereignty and that is what matters above all other considerations. The precise way in which it will be handled is a separate issue. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
For all its major faults (including the unedifying image of government ministers who lie live on TV), the referendum-related debate has highlighted the fact that membership of the EU involves a whole array of trade-offs, including those that relate to immigration. But this is precisely what the souverainistes see as a problem since sovereignty is, for them, a zero-sum game. You either have it, or you do not.
So to achieve their main objective – Brexit – they appear to imply there will be no need for such trade-offs in the post-Brexit future. This is unrealistic to say the least, since – even if we ignore the cultural benefits of immigration – demographic conditions, the state of the economy, the domestic economy’s relationship with its main partner, i.e. the rest of the European Union, will still need to be managed.
They also conveniently ignore two points that are directly linked to each other and show that the balance of forces is likely to be conducive to a particular immigration policy if Brexit occurs. The first is the fact that historically this country is normally governed by the Conservative party, and the second relates to the domestic balance of power in the aftermath of Brexit.
The haste to dissociate Brexit from the toxicity of many Brexit supporters’ anti-immigration rhetoric is understandable for another reason: academic research shows that ‘the effects of demographic change fade over time, probably because local white residents become accustomed to minority residents, have positive contact with them, or come to perceive minorities as legitimately belonging in the area.’ In that sense, those – like Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform – who rightly claim that EU membership is a way to preserve the UK’s openness and increasingly cosmopolitan nature have the wind in their sails.
Dionyssis G Dimitrakopoulos is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London
This post was originally part of the BREXIT debate at LSE
Tonight Birkbeck hosts its own EU referendum debate
This post was contributed by Dr Barbara Zollner, lecturer in Middle East Politics, Department of Politics. Here Dr Zollner offers an insight into issues to be discussed at a public colloquium at Birkbeck (“Five years after the Arab Spring: The Implosion of Social Movements?”) on Friday 10 June. The colloquium is run by Birkbeck Institute for Social Research
‘There is no freedom when you are in fear’; so goes the title strip of the song Akher Okhneya (Last Song) by the Egyptian music-group Cairokee. The rap, which is shot on a deserted railway-line in Cairo, echoes the feelings of many young Egyptians. The mass-movement against authoritarianism in Middle Eastern countries, commonly known as the Arab Spring, gave hope to their call for political and personal freedom.
Thousands joined the protest, but subsequently many saw themselves excluded from democracy-building. Fewer continue to dream of revolution today. The view of these shabab (literally, young people, but usually refers to the Tahrir movement) is that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood ‘hijacked’ the prospect of political change. This led them to side with the Tamarrod movement against President Mursi, which in turn opened the door for al-Sisi’s military coup.
Now, five years after their Arab Spring, Egypt faces another authoritarian military regime under President al-Sisi that uses nationalist overtones to crush any social movement, any contentious politics, any dissent.
‘The beneficiary is the one who controls you, the one who’s making you passive, who’s dictating you where to go, the one who’s predominating you. They imprisoned you inside your mind, the bars are your fear. You are afraid to think free, because you are afraid they might catch you.’ Cairokee, Akher Oghniya
The future of democracy looks bleak
Egypt, although an obvious case, is not the only example that the hopes associated with the Arab Spring are crushed by new authoritarianism, civil war, ethnic and sectarian strife. All over the Middle East, whether in Gulf oil-monarchies, eastern-Mediterranean and north-African republics (with perhaps Tunisia as a remarkable exception) and even in constitutional monarchies, the future of democracy looks rather bleak.
Within this turmoil, social movements (SM) are severely restrained in their activities, yet they continue to shout HURIYYA – FREEDOM. It is these movements, that continue a struggle for political reform across the Middle East, that are the focal point for a one day colloquium at Birkbeck.
Despite considerable interest in the current regional crisis, there is surprisingly little systematic research on the responsibility of SMs in successful or indeed failed democratic transitions. The short period of the Arab Spring provides rich material to explore this theme. It allows us to analyse, compare and theorise on specific empirical cases, including Islamist and secular movements that depart from the mainstream focus.
Questions arise such as whether and, if so, to what extent, SMs are responsible for the failure of democratic transition in the Middle East. Moreover, what happened to SMs and SMOs five years after the Arab Spring? Did they simply implode or did they reconfigure their political activism, potentially even turning towards violence?
The one-day colloquium intends to explore these issues. It seeks to bring together Middle East experts with an interest in contentious politics to study how these relate to processes of fundamental political change such as democratic transition, civil war, the rise of extremist movements and counter-revolutions.
“5 years after the Arab Spring: The Implosion of Social Movements?” – a one day Colloquium, run by Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, will be held at Birkbeck on Friday 10 June.
Former Labour MP and Birkbeck Politics Professorial Fellow Tony Wright hosted a memorable evening with former Tory MP David Willetts on 11 February in the cozy confines of the Keynes Library. Willetts, known as ‘two brains’ for his intellectualism and (current) tally of ten authored books, served as Universities Minister in the Cameron government until 2015. He also served under Margaret Thatcher at her Policy Unit. Among his more influential works is his recent book on problems of intergenerational equity entitled The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give It Back.
There were few empty chairs as Wright and the audience questioned Willetts about the ideas that have animated his career: the meaning of Conservatism, the role of government, and policy issues from housing and apprenticeships to industrial policy and the living wage.
Wright set the tone by revisiting one of Willetts’ first books, Modern Conservatism, penned in 1992. A classic statement of 1980s Thatcherism, it extolled the virtues of the unfettered market and suggested the state had little role to play in a modern society. Pressed on this by Wright, Willetts admitted the book was a creature of its time, and that he had subsequently altered his views on inequality. Willetts related that his political consciousness was forged in the battles against the trade unions and nationalisation in the 1970s when governments felt they should be in the business of running everything including travel agencies and airlines while restricting individuals’ right to purchase foreign currency. We now accept a more liberalised world, but are confronted by new challenges, including excess and inequality. In the 1990s, he therefore took the neoclassical economists’ view that so long as the lot of the poor improved in absolute terms, relative inequality between top and bottom was a non-issue.
Since then, remarked Willetts, the work of Michael Marmot, and of evolutionary psychology, had brought home to him the damaging psychological effects of positional inequality, hence he agreed this needed to be curbed. Willetts, however, spoke for a Burkean, community-oriented check on the market rather than statism. Accordingly, he argued for a focus on inter-generational equity rather than radical redistribution. This meant improving access to higher education, housing and pensions for young people while removing the barriers to housing construction erected by NIMBYist Baby Boomers. Willetts was encouraged by the growing shift in public opinion in favour of housebuilding as well as governments’ increasing willingness to use the machinery of state to release land and build homes. He accepted the need for governments to tax the wealthy, and corporations, but stopped short of endorsing a hike in inheritance tax, suggesting that peoples’ desire to provide for the children’s future was a laudable aim. For him, the welfare state was important, but more as a collective insurance policy for the poor and infirm in which rights are balanced by obligations – a pool into which all who can are expected to contribute.
Questioned about the challenge of diversity to a solidaristic model of society, Willetts replied that his book, The Pinch, envisions a fragmented society renewing its obligations to future generations, thereby providing a common bond which an unite Britons across faultlines of ethnicity and religion. He also greatly championed university education, suggesting that apprenticeships were often tied to seasonal or sunset industries and hence the government would be hard-pressed to meet its 3 million target. He claimed that the view that universities taught impractical skills, or were a luxury good, were wrongheaded. A great deal of vocational training takes place at universities, so children should be encouraged to attend: he wanted to see an increasing share go to university. He added that his government’s tuition fee hike was progressive in this regard since there were no upfront fees and those who failed to earn above the threshold were not obligated to repay their loans.
Reflecting on how decisions are made in government, Willetts said that evidence, especially academic evidence, doesn’t easily filter down to decision makers. For instance, Willetts related that when he asked for 30 minutes of George Osborne’s time, he was told that he could catch him on the way to the lift. Willetts had to talk at Osborne as he went in, and received a response he used to make policy as the doors were closing.
For Willetts, the expenses scandal, while offering greater transparency, has led to a situation where allowable expenses have become so restricted that only the wealthy or those without normal family lives can afford not to take expenses. Serving coffee to constituents at a constituency surgery, for example, adds up, yet cannot be charged.
The enjoyable evening thus ended on a rare note of agreement between Wright and Willetts: that most politicians enter politics to serve and should be accorded more credit for this by the media and the public.
In the past year British politics has got (even more) interesting, uncertain and unpredictable. On Wednesday 17th February staff from the Birkbeck Politics Department Joni Lovenduski, Tony Wright, Rosie Campbell and Jason Edwards joined together to discuss the state and health of British democracy in 2016. Should we congratulate ourselves or be concerned?
The talk ranged from where Britain stood in the world league table of democracy (good but could do better) to the growth of inequality and the rise of populism, both good and bad. The audience questions then ranged across celebrity politics, the EU referendum, local government and the quality of the UK’s political debate and discussion.
If you want to hear more about all these issue, and find out what gardening tells us about politics and how John Redwood can change your life, listen to the podcast below.