Tuesday, 24 July 2018

By-elections in the Lords

An interesting piece by Sir David Beamish, a former Lords clerk, on the anomaly of by-elections for hereditary peers to be voting members of the House of Lords: Hereditary peers

Attempts to get rid of the by-elections and let the hereditary peers gradually die away have been blocked by members of the Lords putting forward amendments so that the bills run out of time. Of course, attempts at Lords reform by successive governments have also failed.

I may have unwittingly played a small part in setting up this system. In the late 1990s I was teaching a course with Lord Skidelsky who was then a Conservative front bencher. He asked me if I knew anything about the old system of Scottish representative (elected) peers and I recommended a book on the subject.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Mick Moran

I was wondering how to pay tribute to Mick Moran, emeritus professor of the Department of Government at Manchester University. A fellow of the British Academy, he was one of the leading British political economists of his generation.

I first got to know Mick when he was teaching at Manchester Polytechnic and I was external examiner.

I am reproducing here a tribute by Ben Rosamond who knew him better than I did:

'It's the autumn of 1984. I'm sitting in a large lecture theatre at the University of Manchester awaiting the latest instalment of Government 1. A slightly dishevelled man in a leather jacket shuffles in stage right and proceeds to talk about the Conservative Party. It is the first time we have seen him in this first term. It proves to be the stand-out lecture of the whole course, performed apparently without notes and featuring several very funny lines, including a masterpiece of self-deprecation that references David Bowie.

Two years later, I'm assigned to the lecturer's seminar group for the final year compulsory course 'Contemporary Political Analysis'. There are eight or nine of us in the group. We fit easily into his office, which is lined with thousands of books, filed - I note approvingly - alphabetically by author. In the first session he tells us that this is the first time he has taught this class and that he will be learning with us. As if. I learn more in those sessions than in any other single class. We are guided through the classics. We read them all - Dahl, Lukes, Moore, Skocpol, Winch, Popper, Kuhn. And he is a gentle, constructive guide.

There's no grandstanding, no-mini lectures, simply gentle questions that probe us to think more deeply, to make connections and to become more confident users of our newly acquired conceptual vocabulary. He is teaching us to be political scientists - the best kind of political scientists: open-minded, inquisitive, interested in how theory helps us to grasp political problems, never afraid of learning new tricks and reading new work that emanates from outside of our comfort zones. He's teaching us to be like him.

Mick Moran passed away yesterday. He is one of 2-3 teachers and mentors who inspired me to do what I do today. Aside from being a truly marvellous teacher, Mick was one of the UK's best scholars of politics. He was a political economist, rooted in the comparative tradition who never stopped being insightful and essential. His late interventions on post-crisis UK and Brexit, including his late tour de force 'The End of British Politics?', should top the reading list of anyone who wants to make sense of the current sorry state of affairs.

And he was a truly lovely bloke - the nicest academic you will ever meet.'

I would add that he wrote a superb textbook on British politics which I know was enjoyed by people who were not academics, whilst his work on the regulatory state was of considerable importance for me.

One quote from him that I used to head up a personal web page: 'Our sense of identity is formed by our own complicated life histories, and our understanding of those life histories'

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Lobbying: the Dark Side of Politics

My book with this title will be out shortly with Manchester University Press will be about soon. Meanwhile, you can read a sample chapter and more about the book here: Sample chapter

The book's main focus is on the UK and EU and it is intended to serve as an introduction to the topic. The importance of the way in which issues are framed is discussed through a number of case studies. There is still a need for more effective regulation of lobbying.

For the next few weeks the book can be bought for £5 from the Manchester University Press website: Special offer

Friday, 16 March 2018

Rules of origin

Frictionless trade isn't just about removing tariff barriers. There are all sorts of complications, not least rules of origin. Read why they may mean more bureaucracy after Brexit, not less: The Brexit problem you did not know about

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Are there really green shoots?

Philip Hammond adopted an upbeat note in his spring statement yesterday, but is the news really that good? What concerned me is that the forecast growth rate is around the 1.5 per cent level when historically I would have expected 2 to 2.5 per cent in the UK. We do not know what the Brexit settlement will be and how it will impact on the economy and there are wild variations in the forecasts of the GDP effects, but I would expect growth to be lower than otherwise would have been the case.

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies tweeted, 'Growth standards dreadful compared with what we thought in March 2016, dreadful by historical standards and dreadful compared with most of the rest of the world.'

The Chancellor is going to have find more money for health and social care in the autumn budget. Local authorities have experienced a 49 per cent cut in real terms and an increasing number are in a situation where they are going to only be able to provide statutory services. However, the forecast reduction in the budget deficit is less than some analysts had been anticipating.

The Treasury dislikes hypothecated taxes, but is there a case for an increase in income tax to be devoted to health and social care? As someone who already pays a five figure sum in income tax each year, I would accept that.

Ten years after the financial crisis people have seen their standard of living stagnate or decline and public services under pressure. Ultimately, as Bagheot pointed out in The Economist this week, this undermines trust in democracy.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Theresa May's rhetoric

Dr Andrew Scott Crines, an expert in rhetoric and oratory, provides a novel perspective on the speech by Theresa May last Friday: The rhetorical gamble

He concludes: 'Put simply, there is no longer the luxury of emotional self-indulgences as the realities of Brexit must now increasingly be faced. We are leaving the EU, single market, and customs union – but the strategy of the government, based on May’s speech, will be ensure that post-Brexit the UK continues to enjoy as much unfettered access to the European markets as possible whilst continuing to co-operate on a range of other areas such as crime and terrorism.'

Is such a strategy acceptable to the EU remains very much an open question. One thing is clear: the EU does not want the UK to be better off as a result of leaving.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

This is why we need experts

I am very grateful to the doctors and nurses at Warwick Hospital (and the ambulance crew who arrived in three minutes) who intervened effectively to save my life when I contracted sepsis recently. After three weeks in hospital, and a spell in intensive care, I am now being treated at home each day by the hospital's dedicated SWAT team.

Michael Gove insists that what he particularly had in mind when he castigated experts were economists and political scientists, and I am doubly guilty as I work on the cusp of both subjects, having been tolerated over the years by the distinguished economists with whom I taught such as Nick Crafts, Mark Harrison, Ben Lockwood and Professor Lord Skidelsky.

On Radio 5 this morning I heard Professor Jon Tonge discussing Britain, Brexit and Ireland. There are few people who know more about Ireland, and I was delighted that he agreed to contribute two essays on the subject to Political Quarterly. He is a martyr to the cause, sitting through the conventions of various political parties. What he provided was a forensic and balanced analysis with one (to me) new idea. Jon is a former chair of the Political Studies Association and he shows why we need well-informed political scientists.

I wasn't able to take notes (it may be possible to track the clip down) but here are some highlights as I heard them:

  • Theresa May's did clarify some issues. In particular, it was a wake up call for those who think that Brexit will be costless for the economy. (In my view the main function of the speech was to keep the two wings of the Conservative Party on board and singing from a similar hymn sheet and in this it succeeded. This was needed after Jeremy Corbyn's intervention).
  • Jon was (in my view) rather sceptical about the technological solutions that are being advanced as a light/smart border. We are still very short on detail about how they would work and time is running out.
  • Jon put forward the ingenious idea of making the common travel area between Britain and Ireland a common trade area. This was a new idea to me, but it certainly deserves further discussion.

I have worked on agriculture and food in Ireland since the 1990s and I would emphasise that the economy of the island of Ireland is highly integrated as far as these key industries are concerned.

The EU reaction to the May speech

Inevitably there were charges of 'cakeism' and the speech certainly lacked detail on some key points, deliberately so. The EU thinks that all they can offer is a Canada style free trade agreement. I think that a bespoke customs arrangement could be possible.

I think that the EU was too dismissive of the idea of the UK being an associate member of some specialised agencies. Take the chemicals agency which the prime minister mentioned. I have worked on the chemicals industry since the 1980s and have some unpublished material on the REACH agreement. It is in the interests of producers, consumers and the environment to have common standards for chemicals across Europe. Just because non-member states have not had associate membership in the past does not mean that they could not in the future (there are a lot more agencies than the three mentioned). The UK would, of course, have to pay a subscription.

I have a message for Guy Verhofstadt: stop talking like a political weight machine and try and engage constructively in the negotiations: Gives it large

Michael Heseltine has slammed the speech as 'platitudes and generalisations', but he is an incorrigible and Dominic Grieve gave a much more favourable response on Sky: Hezza