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.

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

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Snowmageddon could conceal border

One of the least discussed aspects of 'snowmageddon' is that it could obscure any border between the two parts of Ireland, hard or soft.

Meanwhile, the issue threatens to become the most intractable in already difficult Brexit negotiations. Here are some reflections on whether a soft border is possible without a customs union (the answer is no): Hard issues

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Are there any reds under my bed?

The Cold War was a long time ago. It means nothing to the 25 to 44 year olds who recorded the biggest swing to Labour in the last general election. They want to get on the housing ladder, not listen to tired old tales about incompetent Czech spies.

Even when I reflect on my times in a divided Berlin in the early 1980s, it seems like a different world, as indeed it was.

Jeremy Corbyn was right to pursue the Conservative MP for Mansfield for his defamatory tweet. His apology reads: “On 19 February 2018 I made a seriously defamatory statement on my Twitter account, ‘Ben Bradley MP (bbradleymp)’, about Jeremy Corbyn, alleging he sold British secrets to communist spies. I have since deleted the defamatory tweet. I have agreed to pay an undisclosed substantial sum of money to a charity of his choice, and I will also pay his legal costs."

“I fully accept that my statement was wholly untrue and false. I accept that I caused distress and upset to Jeremy Corbyn by my untrue and false allegations, suggesting he had betrayed his country by collaborating with foreign spies. I am very sorry for publishing this untrue and false statement and I have no hesitation in offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him.”

I am not politically aligned with Jeremy Corbyn, but I do think that he acts out of principle. Can we take politics out of the gutter and discuss his policies, albeit that some of them are ambiguous (although it looks as if we are about to get a more nuanced position on Brexit)?

Smears have no traction with the electorate and just tarnish the political process generally. It is a sign of desperation on the right.

Yesterday The Times run a story linking university strikes with a supposed communist-supporting badger cull activist and a former rail union activist. A picture of Lenin illustrated the story. No doubt he is orchestrating the whole affair from his tomb. This is supposed to be a responsible newspaper.

What we should be addressing in a serious way are the problems in housing, the NHS, family poverty etc.