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May’s Prime Ministership will be forever defined by Brexit. It is now her fate, destiny and the task that will be her legacy: and it will send her to the top or the bottom of the Prime Minister rankings.

On 20th December, just before Christmas, we got perhaps the most information yet when the Prime Minister made her first appearance before the House of Commons Liaison Committee-read it here and see it here. Overall, the session seemed to veer between ambiguity, wait-and-see and vagueness with immigration the site of a very tense encounter with Yvette Cooper (see Q48-56). So what did we learn? There will be speech in January and a plan published at some point soon but what did the appearance itself tell us?

  1. May still thinks secrecy is the best policy

Despite all that has happened since July, the government will still seek to keep their plans, priorities and intentions secret, or at least preserve as much secrecy time as possible. May’s answers were studded with phrases such as ‘I look forward to going into more detail about those early in the New Year’ and ‘when we feel that it is appropriate to give any indications of those details, we will do so’ and the wonderfully uninformative ‘you will see what we publish when we publish it, if I may put it like that’ and ‘negotiations are negotiations’. May’s secrecy could be habit or style or, as commentators such as David Allen Green have argued, is less about concealing positions from the EU 27 and more about managing domestic expectations and papering over deep divisions within her Cabinet.

  1. May wants government in charge

Again, despite all that has happened (and what could happen next) May seemed determined to make sure government was in charge-parliament can discuss but not decide. She announced that ‘it is my intention to ensure that Parliament has ample opportunity to comment on and discuss the aspects of the arrangements that we are putting in place’. This exchange showed the limits of what Westminster would be allowed to do:

Chair: Is it your intention that Parliament should vote on a final deal once it has been negotiated? This was a question put to you earlier.

Mrs May: It was a question put to me earlier, and what I have said is that it is my intention that Parliament should have every opportunity to consider these matters. What I am also clear about is ensuring that we actually deliver on the vote of the British people, which was a vote to leave the European Union.

Chair: Okay. Again, was that a yes or a no?

Mrs May: I gave the answer I gave, Chairman.

  1. Is May making some wiggle room?

The discussion was studded with ambiguities. There was mention of ‘practical changes’, ‘practical aspects’, ‘there may very well be practical issues that have to be addressed’ or ‘it’s a matter of practicality that we need to discuss with the European Union’ and the classic ‘these are matters of detail that would need to be looked into’.

  1. Is May a master of the detail?

Perhaps the point that should cause most concern is that May is not fully in charge of the detail. Towards the end of the session the Chair corrected what appeared to be an erroneous interpretation of article 50 by the Prime Minister.

Chair: But you didn’t completely rule out completing the negotiations within the negotiating period but applying an implementation date at some point after 2019. That is specifically provided for in the treaty—that is article 50(3)—and that is what I am seeking clarity on.

Mrs May: Article 50(3) is not about an implementation phase. It is about an extension of the period of negotiation.

Q97 Chair: Well, I think that is a matter of interpretation. Let’s just read it out. “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement”, so that date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement can be after 2019. Indeed, it is generally understood to be capable of that interpretation by most people who have looked at it. That is why I have been asking you this question. I just want clarity about that question.

Mrs May: Sorry, Chairman; in that case, I misunderstood the question you were asking me earlier, because I thought you were asking me about the reference at the end to the European Council agreeing with the member state that the period be extended.

Q98 Chair: That’s the negotiating period.

Mrs May: That’s the negotiating period, yes.

Q99 Chair: You did give a very clear answer to that question. I am asking you a different question, Prime Minister.

Mrs May: I would expect us, as I hope I tried to answer in the first place, to be able to negotiate a deal within the two-year period that is set out.

Chair: We are all agreed on that.

Mrs May: But it may be the case that there are some practical aspects which require a period of implementation thereafter. That is what we will need, not just for us but for businesses on the continent and others, but that has to be part of the negotiation that is taking place.

Q100 Chair: I quite understand, and that is what you said earlier. Just to clarify, you may therefore seek to use the discretion provided by article 50(3) to negotiate an implementation date after the end of the completion of the negotiations, even if the negotiating period is within the two-year framework.

Mrs May: We will discuss whether we need an implementation phase. The point at which the treaties cease to apply may be a different issue from whether or not you have got an implementation phase.

Perhaps the confusion was due to nerves, poor briefing or misunderstanding. This is the most charitable interpretation, though even that is rather worrying given that the Liaison committee is nothing as to the sort of pressure she will face behind closed doors and in the glare of the media as Brexit gets under way.

The fact that the Prime Minister appeared to look again at article 50 in her folder, after having misunderstood it, could tell us of a deeper problem. Remember Theresa May was to be the ‘introverted master of detail’ whose forensic skills would see us through, yet she appeared not to know off by heart the 261 words that will dominate Britain’s future-and misinterpreted them and ducked when challenged. This may be a blip or could be the shape of things to come.

 

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Here is Birkbeck’s Rob Singh on whether Trump’s win is good for the UK…

Silver lining, orange cloud

Only in the way it’s good for a Death Row inmate to receive a comforting swab before the syringe administering the lethal injection. The silver lining on the orange cloud is that a UK-US trade deal is marginally more likely, if Trump isn’t impeached or imprisoned before 2018/19. But its value will be diminished by the global recession Trump’s protectionism could induce, the potential shattering of NATO and trans-atlanticism (fuelled by the Vladimir Putin “bromance” and Jean-Claude Juncker’s Euro army), and fatally catastrophic crisis management from North Korea to Iran. Still, select UK beneficiaries include comedians, cartoonists, Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, estate agents selling to American asylum seekers, manufacturers of red power ties and anti-depressants, whoever first hits pay-dirt with That’s Why The (First) Lady is a Trump, and the Queen—eagerly anticipating a State Banquet (taco salad, burgers, diet coke).’

Robert Singh is a professor of politics at Birkbeck

Originally published in prospect here

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There’s a simple reply to this question, but unfortunately given the blind panic that many people are in, they are providing much more dubious answers. Indeed, I would say that the right answer is pretty much incontrovertible. Donald Trump won the Presidential election on Tuesday not because he won the popular vote, but because he won in the electoral college.

Now, before I’m accused of being a simpleton, let me acknowledge that there are of course reasons why he won in the electoral college, not least of which is the fact that there is an electoral college. But if we want to explain why he won in the electoral college, then we need to turn to three key states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Of these three, Michigan and Pennsylvania have voted for the Democrat candidate in the last six Presidential elections, and Wisconsin in the last seven. Between them they carry 46 electoral votes, which, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, would now see her as President-elect. These three states are part of the ‘rust belt’ and contain significant numbers of white working-class voters, the majority of whom have tended to vote Democrat in the past.

Approximately 13.1 million people cast votes for the two major party candidates in these states. While Michigan is yet to formally declare, it looks like Trump has won there by a margin of around 12,000 votes. In Wisconsin he won by around 27,000 and in Pennsylvania by just over 68,000. That means that had Clinton either persuaded around 54,000 people to switch their votes from Trump to her or motivated 107,000 people who didn’t vote at all to vote for her, then she would now be on the way to the White House.

This is peanuts. We don’t really need exit polls to tell us that out of over the 13 million voters in MiPeWi, there were significantly more than 54,000 people who voted for Obama last time round who voted for Trump this time round. And the reason is because we know why these people voted for Trump, or why ex-Obama voters didn’t vote at all. Not because, after voting for a black President in the two previous elections, they have suddenly become Klan-loving, immigrant-hating racists, but for the reasons they have stated clearly. They are fearful not of Mexican and Chinese people, but of a future that looks even worse than the immediate past: stagnating living standards, increasing automation putting people out of work, decrepit and dead public spaces, and a political and economic elite that does not care about them.

Donald Trump is a hateful person, who may yet do some horrific things to America and the world. The people who voted for him are probably wrong to think that he will make their lives better. But for liberals and the left, the penny needs to drop. Large numbers of Trump supporters really are deplorables. But there are very considerable numbers of them, as there are of people who supported Brexit, who are not deplorable but rightly concerned about their and their children’s future. We need to listen to them, and we need to offer them something beyond the false fixes of walls and rigged ‘free’ trade deals that only further enrich the rich.

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Among multiple quandaries unanticipated by the Leave campaign, the Brexit vote has left the UK in a peculiar position regarding the US. British politicians reliably depicted London as a ‘bridge’ between Washington and Brussels. Now that we are sawing off the European end, it leaves the UK even more dependent on the US to project global power – just when American attentions appear to be becoming more insular. Obama noted in April that a Leave vote would place the UK ‘at the back of the queue’ for a new US trade deal. Although he subsequently revised his initial formulation, it confirmed the relationship’s fundamental asymmetry, one that most Americans regard with little sentimentality.

What, then, can London anticipate from a Trump or Clinton administration?

Some aspects will remain unchanged: intelligence sharing, diplomatic and defence cooperation, and direct investment. Admittedly, UK credibility was weakened by the Helmand and Basra campaigns, shifty accounting to maintain our 2 percent of GDP commitment to defence, the botched aftermath of the Libya intervention, the Syria parliamentary vote, and reductions in the size and readiness of UK forces (as one American hawk pithily put it to me, ‘how many more tanks are you going to have if you leave the EU?’).

But even if transatlantic asymmetry now extends to Bruce Springsteen being able to fill Wembley Stadium while the British Army cannot, our stationing troops in Estonia and exploring closer defence ties with Germany are seen positively in Washington as evidence of still attempting to ‘punch above our (feather-) weight.’ While the EU army remains nascent and the UK retains its UN Security Council seat, London retains modest leverage – especially given shared security threats from ISIS to Russia.

But there seems minimal prospect for a renaissance of the Thatcher-Reagan or Blair-Clinton/Bush ‘golden’ eras.

First, although Trump and Clinton both profess Anglophilia, their translation into policy appears doubtful. Exactly what a Trump administration would do is close to unfathomable. But the two most consistent aspects of his world-view – the US is exploited on trade and security guarantees by allies and adversaries – cannot bode well. Viewing NATO as ‘obsolete’, admiring Putin, untroubled by nuclear proliferation, and keen to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, Trump’s protectionist and isolationist nationalism would likely plunge the US and global economies into turmoil when the UK at minimum requires stability and growth. Trump’s politics of retrenchment and resentment would compromise UK national and economic security.

But a Clinton victory would be no cause for euphoria. Like Obama – and her husband – before her, to the extent that ‘Europe’ figures high in her attentions, Hillary will regard Berlin, not London, as her key interlocutor. While instinctively internationalist and more invested in personal diplomacy than Obama, she is also pragmatic and more at the great power realist than liberal idealist end of Democratic divisions on global affairs. She does not want to see the EU fail, will be attentive to EU preferences and, if forced to choose between Merkel and May, will likely punt on the former. Moreover, domestic priorities – about which Democrats care most – and rival international matters from reviving the Asia ‘pivot’ to Middle East crisis management will crowd out any urgency to assisting a ‘littler England’ (affection for David Miliband notwithstanding).

Second, the domestic politics of foreign policy remains toxic. The dysfunction of US politics will surely deepen. With Trump and Clinton the most disliked candidates in history, the next president will likely assume office as the most unpopular ever, half the nation seeing not an opponent, but an enemy. Assuming Trump’s epic loser status is confirmed, amid claims of a rigged election, partisan polarization will worsen and the president appear illegitimate to millions. With Republican Party obstructionism tempered only by civil war, a progressive left unwilling to cut Clinton the slack it offered Obama, and a Trumpite rump insistent on outright opposition, the coming gridlock promises to make the past few years appear ones of tranquil harmony.

Third, trade politics are inhospitable for new deals. As her recent leaked speeches attest, Clinton is an instinctive free trader and trade remains a rare issue where bipartisan cooperation is conceivable in 2017-18. But the cynical exigencies that caused her to move from championing the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the ‘gold standard’ for deals as Secretary of State to pledging her opposition as presidential candidate will not dissipate, regardless of who wins the House of Representatives and Senate.

To be clear, much as excitable obituaries of liberal internationalism seem premature, so we should not be too hasty about free trade’s demise. The recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs analysis, America in the Age of Uncertainty, found robust majority support. Moreover, Democrats express greater favourability than Republicans, with only core Trump supporters in opposition.

But Clinton needs organised labour, not least in the 2018 midterms, when 25 Senate Democrats will up for re-election (compared to the Republicans’ 8). Expending limited political capital to revive TPP, TTIP or push a UK-US deal is unlikely to attract either the Elizabeth Warren-type activist base or – for Republicans – the Trumpite ‘deplorables’ who participate in party primaries.

Finally, any trade deal requires Senate ratification, something – unlike the Iran nuclear deal – there is no way around. Even bilateral deals with relatively ‘unproblematic’ states such as South Korea have required years of laborious effort, often being signed by one administration before ratification under a successor.

An inveterate optimist (call him Liam Fox) might reasonably see a ‘small’ UK deal as a better bet than a ‘mega-deal.’ And there remains real empathy for the UK among Republican and, to a lesser degree, Democratic elites. But London lacks institutionalised leverage in Congress. In an increasingly transactional environment, the UK should be actively planning now for how to exert influence not only on the next administration but also in the House and Senate, and among contenders for the 2020 presidential demolition derby. But after decades of sending civil servants on EU training courses and abolishing even the one course dealing with the US, the British bureaucracy now lacks an institutional sense of how Washington works, even in the abstract.

In sum, Obama will likely be proven more right than wrong about the UK’s place in the queue. Even for those Brits who still prefer their cowboys more Clint Eastwood than Brokeback Mountain, America is not about to round up a posse to ride to the rescue of a distressed British damsel just yet.

Rob Singh is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Originally posted here

Pundits and pollsters sit stunned as Donald J. Trump gets set to enter the White House. For anyone in Britain, there is a sharp tang of déjà vu in the air: this feels like the Brexit vote all over again. Eric Kaufmann explains that, as with Brexit, there’s little evidence that the vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances.

For months, commentators have flocked to diagnose the ills that have supposedly propelled Trump’s support, from the Republican primaries until now. As in Britain, many have settled on a ‘left behind’ narrative – that it is the poor white working-class losers from globalization that have put Trump over the top. Only a few clairvoyants – Michael Lind, Jonathan Haidt – have seen through the stereotypes.

But, as in Britain, there’s precious little evidence this vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances. Let’s look at Trump voting among white Americans from a Birkbeck College/Policy Exchange/YouGov survey I commissioned in late August. Look at the horizontal axis running along the bottom of figure 1. In the graph I have controlled for age, education and gender, with errors clustered on states. The average white American support for Trump on a 0-10 scale in the survey is 4.29.

You can see the two Trump support lines are higher among those at the highest end of the income scale (4) than the lowest (1). This is not, however, statistically significant. What is significant is the gap between the red and blue lines. A full two points in Trump support around a mean of 4.29. This huge spread reflects the difference between two groups of people giving different answers to a highly innocuous question: ‘Is it more important for a child to be considerate or well-mannered?’ The answers sound almost identical, but social psychologists know that ‘considerate’ taps other-directed emotions while ‘well-mannered’ is about respect for authority.

People’s answer to this question matters for Trump support because it taps into a cultural worldview sometimes known as Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Rather than RWA, which is a loaded term, I would prefer to characterise this as the difference between those who prefer order and those who seek novelty. Social psychologist Karen Stenner presciently wrote that diversity and difference tends to alarm right-wing authoritarians, who seek order and stability. This, and not class, is what cuts the electoral pie in many western countries these days. Income and material circumstances, as a recent review of research on immigration attitudes suggests, is not especially important for understanding right-wing populism.

Figure 1.

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Now look at the same graph in figure 2 with exactly the same questions and controls, fielded on the same day, in Britain. The only difference is that we are substituting people’s reported Brexit vote for Trump support. This time the income slope runs the other way, with poorer White British respondents more likely to be Brexiteers than the wealthy. But income is, once again, not statistically significant. What counts is the same chasm between people who answered that it was important for children to be well-mannered or considerate. In the case of Brexit vote among White Britons, this represents a 25-point difference around a mean of 45.8 per cent (the survey undersamples Brexiteers but this does not affect this kind of analysis). When it comes to Brexit or Trump, think successful plumber, not starving artist or temporary lecturer.

Figure 2.

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Some might say that even though these populist voters aren’t poor, they really, actually, surely, naturally, are concerned about their economic welfare. Well, let’s take a look at the top concerns of Trump voters in figure 3. I’ve plotted the issues where there are the biggest differences between Trump supporters and detractors on the left-hand side. We can start with inequality. Is this REALLY the driving force behind the Trump vote – all that talk about unemployment, opioid addiction and suicide? Hardly. Nearly 40 per cent of those who gave Trump 0 out of 10 (blue bar) said inequality was the #1 issue facing America. Among folks rating the Donald 10 out of 10, only 4 per cent agreed. That’s a tenfold difference. Now look at immigration: top issue for 25 per cent of white Trump backers but hardly even registering among Trump detractors. Compared to immigration, even the gap between those concerned about terrorism, around 2:1, is not very striking.

Figure 3.

3For Brexit vote, shown in figure 4, the story is much the same, with a few wrinkles. The gap on immigration and inequality is enormous. The one difference is on ‘the economy in general,’ which Trump supporters worry about more than Brexiteers. This could be because in the graph above I am comparing extreme Trump backers with extreme detractors whereas the Brexit-Bremain numbers include all voters. Still, what jumps out is how much more important immigration is for populist voters than inequality.

Figure 4.

4Why is Trump, Brexit, Höfer, Le Pen and Wilders happening now? Immigration and ethnic change. This is unsettling that portion of the white electorate that prefers cultural order over change.

The US was about 90 percent white in 1960, is 63 percent white today and over half of American babies are now from ethnic minorities. Most white Americans already think they are in the minority, and many are beginning to vote in a more ethnopolitical way. The last time the share of foreign born in America reached current levels, immigration restrictionist sentiment was off the charts and the Ku Klux Klan had 6 million members – mainly in northern states concerned about Catholic immigration.

Ethnic change can happen nationally or locally, and it matters in both Britain and America. Figure 5, which includes a series of demographic and area controls, looks at the rate of Latino increase in a white American survey respondent’s ZIP code (average population around 30,000 in this data). The share of white Americans rating Trump 10 out of 10 rises from just over 25 percent in locales with no ethnic change to almost 70 percent in places with a 30-point increase in Latino population.

The town of Arcadia in Wisconsin – fittingly a state that has flipped to Trump – profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, shows what can happen. Thomas Vicino has chronicled the phenomenon in other towns, such as Farmer’s Branch, Texas or Carpentersville, Illinois. There are very few ZIP codes that have seen change on this scale, hence the small sample and wide error bars toward the right. Still, this confirms what virtually all the academic research shows: rapid ethnic change leads to an increase in anti-immigration sentiment and populism, even if this subsequently fades. The news also spreads and can shape the wider climate of public opinion, even in places untouched by immigration.

Figure 5.

5Now let’s look in figure 6 at Brexit, and how White British voters in wards with fast East European growth in the 2000s voted. With similar controls, it’s the same story: when we control for the level of minorities in a ward, local ethnic change is linked with a much higher rate of Brexit voting. From under 40 percent in places with no ethnic change to over 60 percent voting Brexit in the fastest changing areas. Think Boston in Lincolnshire, which had the strongest Brexit vote in the country and where the share of East Europeans jumped from essentially zero in 2001 to the highest in the country by 2011.

Figure 6.

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The Trump and Brexit votes are the opening shots which define a new political era in which the values divide between voters – especially among whites – is the main axis of politics. In a period of rapid ethnic change, this cleavage separates those who prefer cultural continuity and order from novelty-seekers open to diversity. Policymakers and pundits should face this instead of imagining that old remedies – schools, hospitals, jobs – will put the populist genie back in the bottle.

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 About the Author

_mg_4397Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is author of The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America: the decline of dominant ethnicity in the United States. His latest publication is a Demos report, freely available, entitled Changing Places: the White British response to ethnic change

Orginally posted here

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We should always be careful when an adjective like ‘great’ is attached to a piece of law in Britain. The Great Reform Act of 1832 wasn’t that great and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 wasn’t very glorious and wasn’t a revolution.

Theresa May’s proposed Great Repeal Act of 2017 could join these misnamed changes. Its essential purpose is to take, in one heave, all EU law and turn it into UK law the instant we finally Brexit. One commentator described it as a huge legal cut and paste job. However, even this underwhelming cut and paste could cause all sorts of political and constitutional problems as this blog explains. So here’s six questions that might determine how the ‘Great Repeal’ goes:

  1. Will the House of Commons oppose it? It’s unlikely the Great Repeal Bill will be rejected outright (though it could be). More likely is that MPs could disrupt its progress and use procedure and process to slow it, question it and possibly amend it. There are around 500 MPs who are pro-EU and 100-150 or so confirmed Brexiters. May can whip it through (see 2) but those numbers, to me, spell trouble.
  1. Will Conservative MPs rebel? May has a majority of just 16 and many of her backbenches are unhappy and could use the bill to let the Prime Minister know. The ghost of John Major and Maastricht still stalks the backbenches. Remember, it wasn’t that Major lost votes but the constant media speculation that eroded his authority.
  1. Will the House of Lords oppose it? Again, it’s unlikely they’ll oppose it outright. But the House of Lords is estimated to be around 5-1 in favour of EU membership, is packed full of lawyers and sees itself as the guardian of constitutional and civil rights. And, of course, no one controls the timetable. It’s also not clear where the Salisbury convention stands here-the referendum was in a manifesto but was the result?
  1. Who will scrutinise it? There’s all sorts of time stealing options available. The law will have to be published in draft, lengthening the whole process. There is also a convention that constitutional issues can be debated by the whole chamber of one or both Houses and are normally given plenty of time (Scottish and Welsh devolution in the 1990s both had entire days dedicated to them).
  1. Will the devolved assemblies agree? Legally there’s little they can do but protest despite the (largely formal) need for legislative consent. Politically there could be far more trouble. May’s apparent overriding of Scotland will play well to her core (English) support already the SNP are making it look like London bullying Edinburgh again. And the apparent shift to hard Brexit again raises the question of the Northern Ireland border.
  1. What will the Bill come to symbolise? If the Bill is just admin then it may pass relatively simply. But some laws come to be symbols of failure or incompetence and represent far greater issues: think of the Dangerous Dogs Act, the Hunting Act or Human Rights Act. As the main chance for Parliament to be involved in Brexit, the passage of the law could become, by default, the battleground for a three way fight between hard Brexiters, soft Brexiters and Remainers.

The danger for May is that this ‘Great Repeal’ will steal her government’s time, energy and focus. The last three Conservative Prime Ministers were all destroyed by a potent combination of EU membership and an unhappy party. Could May’s Bill help make it four?

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Last week academics from the Department of Politics at Birkbeck debated the future of Brexit Britain. On 23rd of June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union. But who exactly voted to go and what did they vote for? And will they get the ‘leave’ they want or a mushy compromise?

The panel debated what happens next now we are under a new government, with Britain’s second female Prime Minister. Theresa May faces, perhaps, the glass cliff to end all glass cliffs with a vast array of complex tasks from when to trigger article 50 (sooner, later or never?) to keeping the United Kingdom together and facing down the electoral challenge of UKIP.

Discussion ranged across the prospects for complex trade negotiations (for which there may be no negotiators), the possibility of an early General Election (unlikely), the potential effects on Scotland and Northern Ireland and the big question of why did Britain (or a majority of parts of Britain) vote to leave.

So if you want to find out if and when we’ll leave the EU, why there are ‘gargantuan turf wars’ breaking out across government and if we could ever Brijoin the EU listen here:

http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2016/07/brexit-what-now-for-the-uk-and-eu/

See also our Brexit Briefing here, our blog as well as this House of Commons Library note ‘Brexit: What happens Next?’

Panellists: Dr David Styan; Dr Dermot Hodson; Dr Jason Edwards; Professor Eric Kaufmann; Jessica Smith

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 Events leading up to the recent referendum on EU membership help to show that our politics is poorly served by the ways in which we think about reason and rationality in relation to our central political institutions.

Our democracy and the media that reports on it both perform public reasoning functions on society’s behalf. Our politicians table motions, engage in parliamentary debates and participate in committee meetings in order to explore argument and evidence and reach political decisions on the nation’s behalf. This encourages reasoning by citizens themselves, who are caused to reflect on parliamentary debates and decisions in order to consider whether or not to re-elect their political representatives. And indeed, as we have seen, citizens are occasionally tasked with directly deciding on an issue via referenda. For its part, the media functions to facilitate citizens’ reasoning by describing and publicising these democratic reasoning processes, while of course also engaging in reasoning itself as it seeks to inform and assess our politics, advancing particular claims and arguments which not only reflect public discourse but also help shape it.

The contributions to public reasoning made by our democracy and our media are typically taken to play out in accordance with a particular understanding of rationalism – one which holds that reason proceeds via conflict and contestation. This familiar understanding of public reasoning holds that issues are framed such that debate may ensue between a small number of disagreeing groups, identifiable by their distinctive views, who each strive to ensure that their own stance will prevail over those of their opponents’. Our democracy can be seen to rest on an understanding of public reasoning that draws on an image of martial conflict, with opposing political ‘armies’ squaring-up to each other in the Houses of Parliament in order to engage in a form of intellectual battle whose victors are decided by votes among politicians who are whipped to follow their party line. Our expectations of the media reveal the same tendency to understand reasoning in terms of an image of contestation, with journalists taking care to provide ‘balanced’ reporting in which the views of opposing ‘sides’ of a debate are sought out and given air time and column inches in fair measure, lest allegations of bias be raised.

 

That we understand public reason in terms of contestation has certain implications for the ways in which our politics proceeds. Firstly, an understanding of reason as contestation demands that issues be fixed and framed to facilitate competitive debate. This has the effect of solidifying and simplifying complex and shifting circumstances such that stark positions can be taken and binary choices offered. Secondly, an understanding of reason as contestation requires that opposing sides be clearly delineated. This can have a divisive, polarising effect, crystalising and delimiting the range of possible positions and narrowing the terms on which debates can be engaged with, thus widening the gap between those with different points of view. And thirdly, an understanding of reason as contestation anticipates that discerning an ultimate and decisive victor is a simple matter of initiating a democratic process of decision making. This can effect the ways in which public reasoning processes unfold, as they are shaped to accommodate the expectation of imminent finality and to expedite its arrival.

All of this is readily apparent in relation to Brexit. The path to the stark binary choice offered in the referendum is an exemplar of the kind of narrowing and increasingly divisive public reasoning process outlined above. From a heterogeneous range of objections to various aspects of European integration emerged the catch-all term ‘Eurosceptic’, and, in consequence, its opposite: ‘Europhile’. The sides of the debate thus established, the media were set to invent countless ‘Euromyths’ and to amplify the voice of UKIP in the interests of ‘balance’. Calls for a decisive electoral test came with a mounting sense of urgency: why delay the inevitable, given that our view of reason-as-contestation anticipates such easy closure? We thus found ourselves urged to take our places, with degrees of discomfort, on ‘sides’ of a debate whose terms suited too few of its participants. Indeed, it has been widely noted that the ostensible terms of the debate seem not to have been those that were actually at issue for many voters. Immigration, nebulous notions of control and sovereignty, and revolt against a seemingly remote and technocratic politics all emerged as key motivations for ‘leave’ voters, whereas Number 10 had anticipated a debate about EU membership on narrow economic grounds. And what might Brexit mean? Although, apparently, “Brexit means Brexit”, a more enlightening definition of what we have voted for has yet to emerge: the referendum has conspicuously failed to provide an ultimate, decisive settlement on our relationship with Europe, raising many more questions than it answers. So it seems that not only does our understanding of reasoning-as-contestation distort our politics, but that it also fails to accurately capture the realities of public reasoning, in which issues are mutable and multivalent, rarely lending themselves to starkly opposing positions, with decisive closure remaining elusive.

This should come as no surprise. Academic work in the field of the social study of science has, for several decades now, favoured an alternative conception of rationalism. Rather than assuming contestation, ethnographically-based work by Bruno Latour and others encourages us to understand reasoning as a process more akin to that of coalition building, in which heterogeneous participants make and remake their own distinctive translations of a multivalent proposition, as opposed to seeking fixed relationships of identity with a likeminded ‘side’. This work offers a valuable repertoire of sensitivities, concepts and techniques that not only point the way to the production of more realistic accounts of public reasoning, but also speak directly to the idea that our conceptions of public reasoning shape our politics, being particularly concerned to explore how reasoning, and our understandings of it, go hand in hand with changes in the world in ways that are difficult to disentangle.

Has this work in the social study of science been successfully absorbed by academics engaged in the study of politics? Not yet. Presently, some of the most prominent theoretical perspectives on political reasoning remain those which emerged from an intensification of interest in its study during the 1990s. The much-cited work of Peter Hall, Peter Haas, and Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith attempts to repurpose Kuhnian and Lakatosian philosophy of science for the study of political rationalism, but as such work itself relies on an image of contestation, it unfortunately serves merely to perpetuate the commonplace understanding of reason outlined above. However, things are beginning to change. Recent books such as Jan-Peter Voß and Richard Freeman’s Knowing Governance point to exciting new directions for politics scholarship, and later this Summer the joint 4S and EASST social studies of science conference will feature no less than fourteen tracks which discuss political themes.

That academics studying politics are seeking-out new ways of thinking about reasoning not only makes a valuable contribution to the study of politics, but it may eventually even come to shape the ways in which our public reasoning proceeds.

Patrick Coupar is a Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London

 

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When Mark Rutte, the Liberal prime minister of the Netherlands, said that “England has collapsed”, he was not referring to England’s elimination from the European football championship by Iceland.  What he meant was that the UK has collapsed, in his words, “politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically”.  Far from looking like a party of government in waiting, capable of offering an answer, the Labour party has become entangled in this systemic crisis and may end up splitting as a result.  The party’s reaction to the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union demonstrates that the image of unity and pro-European conviction that could be detected before the referendum was little more than a façade.  The pro-European conviction is being shaken to the core and unity, if it ever existed, has evaporated.

Key facts indicate that it did not have to be like that.  Recent polling indicates that 81% of Labour party members are in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU.  nearly two thirds of those who voted Labour in 2015 are estimated to have voted for the country to remain a member of the EU.  More than 90% of Labour’s MPs were active supporters of the Remain campaign and the leaders of virtually all trade unions and the TUC.  For a party that over the past year has been divided over a number of policies, these are indications of a remarkable degree of unity. In reality, though, things are quite different.  The behaviour of leading Labour politicians indicates that both the left and the right wing of the party find it very easy indeed to move away from their declared pro-EU stance.

Jeremy Corbyn performance in the referendum campaign was so lackluster and he was, arguably, so late in supporting the Remain camp (a stance that may be the result of his Bennite associations), that a couple of weeks before the referendum almost half of Labour’s voters said they did not know where the party stood on the referendum question.  The extraordinary degree of hostility from the media towards its leader (a hostility that brings to mind the mendacity of the British press against the EU that arguably had a decisive impact on the referendum’s outcome) can explain only part of this state of affairs.  Even if one ignores the multiple allegations that Corbyn and his collaborators actively sabotaged the party’s Remain campaign, the suspicion that Corbyn actually preferred Brexit was compounded by his spokesman’s statement that the result shows that Corbyn’s view is much closer to the views held by the British public.

Secondly, the extent of anti-EU sentiment in the party’s former heartlands in the North of England was such that just days before the referendum leading members of the party’s frontbench like its deputy leader Tom Watson and prominent backbenchers like Yvette Cooper argued in favour of restrictions in the free movement of people inside the EU.  Cooper in particular was so desperate in this attempt that she argued in favour of the abolition (in all but name) of the essence of Schengen area (i.e. one of the most significant achievements of the process of European integration) despite the fact that the UK is not part of it.  This was a belated and ultimately unsuccessful effort to appease the anti-immigrant (to put it mildly) feeling that was unleashed by the referendum.  It was reminiscent of the party’s 2015 general election pledge to reduce new EU migrants’ access to some benefits for two years: late, wide of the mark, out of line with the party’s pro-EU stance and ultimately unsuccessful.  Crucially, these Labour politicians did not try to confront the public’s misconceptions and prejudices at a time when academic research shows the significant contribution that EU immigrants make to the exchequer, even before one considers the cultural and other forms of their contribution.  Nor did they say much about the fact that for decades non-EU immigration (for which the UK has sole responsibility) has been higher than immigration from the EU.  So, even if one (despite the evidence) believes that immigration in the UK is a problem, policy failed in the part that is under the control of the UK government.  Though changing public perceptions during the post-fact politics is anything but easy, these Labour politicians have failed the party and the country by allowing the fact-free, anti-EU and anti-immigration sentiment to settle.

To his credit Corbyn publicly rejected the notion that immigration is a problem.  Both he and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, were right to argue that parts of the country were feeling the negative impact of immigration as a result of decisions made in Whitehall, not Brussels.  Proof of this is the scrapping by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government in August 2010 of the fund that was meant to help ease the pressure on housing, hospitals and schools felt by these communities.

The huge row inside the Labour party after the referendum has focused much more on Corbyn than on the policies that the party ought to pursue in the future.  In this context even some of Corbyn’s supporters (including amongst trade union members) have acknowledged that under his leadership Labour cannot make the electoral progress that it needs to make and offer the country a real alternative to the Conservative government.  At the same time, internal analysis of Labour’s performance in last Amay’s local elections shows that the party has increased its share of votes in areas where this progress would not affect the outcome of a general election.  As the authors of that analysis put it,

“The strategic problem is that only 14% of our gains were in areas we need in order to win general elections – while just under 50% of our losses were in those areas.”

This poses a major dilemma, the answer to which will determine the fate of the Labour party in the next decade or so.  Should it abandon its pro-Europeanism of which its support for immigration is a key indication and hope to attract some of the voters it has lost in its Welsh and northern English former heartlands or should it stick to facts and principles and try to change (rather than echo) the views of these voters some of whom harbour xenophobic opinions.  In other words, at the end of the day, it must decide whether it is a progressive, left-wing party or not.

Those amongst its most prominent MPs and officials who (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) prefer the former to the latter must be aware of the costs that this option will entail.  Joining the anti-immigration bandwagon (instead of, for example, attacking austerity and beefing up labour standards) is no free lunch.  The millions of cosmopolitan, urban dwellers (including those who helped propel Sadiq Khan to victory in the 2016 London mayoral elections) who support Labour (and have boosted its membership since Corbyn’s victory) will abandon it if it becomes little more than ‘red UKIP’ while it is hard to see why other voters (who could be tempted by the anti-immigration line) will prefer the copy to the original.  After all, preliminary evidence shows that a) there is absolutely no correlation between wage growth and support for Brexit and b) culture and personality, rather than material circumstances, lie behind majority support for Brexit.

This was originally posted on http://ukandeu.ac.uk/labour-after-brexit/

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Britain’s choice to vote Leave, we are told, is a protest by those left behind by modernisation and globalisation. London versus the regions, poor versus rich. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brexit voters, like Trump supporters, are motivated by identity, not economics. Age, education, national identity and ethnicity are more important than income or occupation. But to get to the nub of the Leave-Remain divide, we need to go even deeper, to the level of attitudes and personality.

Strikingly, the visible differences between groups are less important than invisible differences between individuals. These don’t pit one group against another, they slice through groups, communities and even families. Our brains deal better with groups than personality differences because we latch onto the visible stuff. It’s easy to imagine a young student or London professional voting Remain; or a working-class man with a northern accent backing Leave.

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Open and Closed personalities are harder to conjure up: yet these invisible differences are the ones that count most – around two or three times as much as the group differences.

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A second problem is that many analyses are spatial. Don’t get me wrong: I love maps and differences between place are important, especially for first-past-the-post elections. However, some characteristics vary a lot over space and others don’t.

Figure 1 ranks Local Authorities and England and Wales by the average social grade of their White British residents. The lower the average class position of White British residents, the higher the vote for Brexit. In fact this working class index explains 58% of the variation in the Leave vote across districts. But, according to the 2015 British Election Study Internet Panel of over 24,000 respondents, class only explains 1-2% of the variation in Brexit voting intention among individuals. There may have been a slight shift over the past year, but this won’t have altered the results much.

Figure 1.

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Source: https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/ (census data); http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

Why the discrepancy? Social characteristics such as class, ethnicity or region are related to where people live, so they vary from place to place. Psychology and personality do vary over space a little because they are affected a bit by social characteristics like age. But they’re mainly shaped by birth order, genetics, life experiences and other influences which vary within, not across, districts.

Aggregate analysis distorts individual relationships even when there aren’t problems caused by the ecological fallacy. The sex ratio, for instance, is more or less the same from one place to another, so even if gender really mattered for the vote, maps hide this truth. On the other hand, maps can also exaggerate. If 1% of Cornwall votes for the Cornish nationalists then Cornwall would light up on a map of Cornish nationalist voting with a 100% correlation. But knowing that all Cornish nationalist voters live in Cornwall doesn’t tell us much about why people vote for Cornish nationalists.

As with region in the case of Cornish nationalism, class matters for the vote over space because it affects, or reflects, where we live. This tells us a lot about a little. Notice the range of district average class scores in figure 1 runs only from 1.8 to 2.4 whereas individuals’ class scores range from 1 (AB) to 4 (DE). The average difference from the mean between individuals is ten times as great as that between districts.

Let’s therefore look at individuals: what the survey data tell us about why people voted Brexit. Imagine you have a thousand British voters and must determine which way they voted. Figure 2 shows that if you guess, knowing nothing about them, you’ll get 50 percent right on average. Armed with information on region or their economic situation – income and social grade – your hit rate improves to about 54 percent, not much better than chance. In other words, the big stories about haves versus have-nots, or London versus the regions, are less important.

Age or education, which are tied more strongly to identity, get you over 60 percent. Ethnicity is important but tricky: minorities are much less likely to have voted Leave, but this tells us nothing about the White British majority so doesn’t improve our overall predictive power much.

Invisible attitudes are more powerful than group categories. If we know whether someone supports UKIP, Labour or some other party, we increase our score to over 70 percent. The same is true for a person’s immigration attitudes. Knowing whether someone thinks European unification has gone too far takes us close to 80 percent accuracy. But then, this is pretty much the same as asking about Brexit, minus a bit of risk appetite.

Figure 2.

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Source: British Election Study 2015 Internet Panel, waves 1-3

For me, what really stands out about figure 2 is the importance of support for the death penalty. Nobody has been out campaigning on this issue, yet it strongly correlates with Brexit voting intention. This speaks to a deeper personality dimension which social psychologists like Bob Altemeyer – unfortunately in my view – dub Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). A less judgmental way of thinking about RWA is order versus openness. The order-openness divide is emerging as the key political cleavage, overshadowing the left-right economic dimension. This was noticed as early as the mid-1970s by Daniel Bell, but has become more pronounced as the aging West’s ethnic transformation has accelerated. Figure 3 shows that 71 percent of those most in favour of the death penalty indicated in 2015 that they would vote to leave the EU. This falls to 20 percent among those most opposed to capital punishment. A similar picture results for other RWA questions such as the importance of disciplining children. RWA is only tangentially related to demographics. Education, class, income, gender and age play a role, but explain less than 10 percent of the variation in support for the death penalty.

Figure 3.

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Source: British Election Study 2015 Internet Panel, waves 1-3.

Karen Stenner, author of the Authoritarian Dynamic, argues that people are divided between those who dislike difference – signifying a disordered identity and environment – and those who embrace it. The former abhor both ethnic and moral diversity. Many see the world as a dangerous place and wish to protect themselves from it.

Pat Dade at Cultural Dynamics has produced a heat map of the kinds of values that correspond to strong Euroskepticism, and to each other. This is shown in figure 4. Disciplining children and whipping sex criminals (circled), keeping the nation safe, protecting social order and skepticism (‘few products live up to the claims of their advertisers…products don’t last as long as they used to’) correlate with Brexit sentiment. These attitude dimensions cluster within the third of the map known as the ‘Settlers’, for whom belonging, certainty, roots and safety are paramount. This segment is also disproportionately opposed to immigration in virtually every country Dade has sampled. By contrast, people oriented toward success and display (‘Prospectors’), or who prioritise expressive individualism and cultural equality (‘Pioneers’) voted Remain.

Figure 4.

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All told, the Brexit story is mainly about values, not economic inequality.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He may be found on twitter @epkaufm.