Wednesday, 12 December 2018

It's uncertain what happens after a no confidence vote

A very timely review of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and the issue of confidence motions: Public Administration Committee

Should a vote of no confidence in the Government be passed, it is unclear what would happen next: 'The Act provides no guidance on what occurs during the 14-day period following an Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 no confidence motion being passed. As the Clerk of the House told us, what occurs during this period is a matter politics, and not of procedure. Evidence to this inquiry and the Cabinet Manual set out that the Prime Minister would be expected to continue in office unless someone else could command the confidence of the House.'

'If someone else could command the confidence of the House, the Prime Minster would be expected to resign. Not doing so would risk drawing the Sovereign into the political process, something the Cabinet Manual is very clear it intends to avoid. At any point during this period, a motion of confidence in Her Majesty’s Government under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 could be put down and that that would prevent the election. After 14 days a general election would automatically follow.'

Monday, 3 December 2018

Difficult issues surrounding a second referendum

Alan Renwick and Meg Russell take a long, cool look at some of the difficult issues that surround a second referendum: Key questions

They reckon that it would take at least 22 weeks to hold a referendum which would require an Article 50 extension. There are tricky issues in relation to next May's European Parliament elections.

Probably the most difficult issue is how a referendum question should be structured. They state, 'There is no perfect system that would allow all voters to express their preferences and guarantees an unambiguous result.'

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Labour's minority government ploy

John McDonnell has suggested that Labour could form a minority government if Theresa May's Brexit deal is rejected by the House of Commons, as seems likely. Labour would first have to defeat the Government in a vote of confidence. This would require the support of the Democratic Unionists. That seems unlikely to me, if it meant ushering in even a minority Labour Government. They would be more likely to abstain.

However, let's suppose that Labour did win. The Queen would then send for Mr Corbyn and he would have 14 days to form a minority government. Labour has already held talks with the Scottish Nationalists, although they disagree over freedom of movement. Caroline Lucas would presumably support Labour, as would Plaid Cymru. The Liberal Democrats would certainly demand a second referendum, something that Mr Corbyn does not want. If the Labour Government was defeated on a vote of confidence, there would then be a general election which is what Labour says it wants anyway.

It's an interesting scenario, but an unlikely one. What is possibly being underestimated is the 'Norway for now' option advocated by Nick Boles gaining more traction.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Jumping the Gun

You have to laugh at last night's Evening Standard front page. All the posturing by ERG Brexiteers has ended up with them looking foolish. Tactically the moment to challenge Theresa May would be when she loses (as seems very likely) her Commons vote on her plan. Mind you, her popularity is going up with the public and she is giving some attention to technological solutions to the border issue.

Captain Mainwaring is a rather ambiguous figure: pompous and with poor judgment, but also heroic in a low key way and in that sense an embodiment of the much vaunted 'Dunkirk spirit.'

It is certainly no help when one country is negotiating against 27 and a tactically astute Commission. The idea that a prime minister committed to Brexit could somehow face down the EU is a fallacy in my view.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Nothing will satisfy the DUP

Nothing that Theresa May can offer the DUP will satisfy, reckons Northern Ireland specialist Jon Tonge: Even turning up on bended knee with another billion pounds won't do it

So that leaves three outcomes: trying to get a better deal from Brussels; a general election; or a second referendum. (One might add a fourth: a Brexiteer Conservative PM who goes for a 'Dunkirk spirit' no deal).

The DUP has not really done anything to enhance sympathy for Northern Ireland in England as they appear to be intransigent and backward looking. No doubt they would say they are protecting the interests of their constituents who continue to return them with (in most cases) big majorities. However, more vision might protect their interests better in the longer run.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A very political budget

'Fiscal Phil's' budget was very political and the main target was the benches behind him (I don't buy into the argument that it signals an early general election, the Conservatives aren't going to risk that again). He has enhanced his reputation with the benches behind him and given Mrs May some more breathing space.

It could all still go pear shaped if there is no Brexit agreement, but I still think it is more likely than not that there will be a fudge that will scrape through the Commons, leaving all the difficult issues to be negotiated during the transition period/implementation phase.

What was important was what was not in the budget: no changes to tax allowances on pensions, which cost a lot of money, but would hit Conservative stalwarts hard. Not only were the income tax allowances not frozen, they will be brought forward. Higher rate taxpayers will gain most, but you don't have to be in a top job or earning huge sums to be one of those. Domestic air duty was frozen, as was the duty on beer, cider and spirits, but not wine, drawing a shout of 'Oh no!' from behind the Chancellor.

Public spending is to increase, but not just yet. One billion pounds is going to defence which will please Conservative backbenchers. The £400m for schools will mean £10,000 for the typical primary school and will not help to save a single teaching assistant. It was also delivered with a patronising reference to 'little extras' which has not gone down well with the teaching profession. It should be paid for by the new digital services tax if it manages to raise £400m.

Getting multinationals to pay their fair share of tax has always been a challenge, but even more so now they are not moving goods around in many cases. What is required is international cooperation to deal with tax havens, but that is looking less rather than more likely.

The difficult decisions about where to increase public expenditure and how to pay for it will be deferred until the comprehensive spending review post Brexit. That makes sense, but it doesn't help local authorities teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or the stretched police and prison services. The £700m extra for social care, although welcome, addresses only part of the problem that local government faces.

The corny jokes by the Chancellor diverted attention from the seriousness of the situation: something, but not enough, has been done about Universal Credit which is being used to cut entitlements, particularly it would seem for the disabled and single parents. But there were no apparent gaffes and the antics of feisty Liz Truss provided another amusing diversion.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Why Mrs May and the Conservatives are survivors

For the Conservatives being in power, or at least in office, is the number one priority. An excellent article on why Mrs May and the Conservatives are survivors: Dead woman walking?

If I had a pound for every time I have heard or read that Mrs May was a dead woman walking or would be facing a leadership challenge by the end of the week, I could afford a weekend away in Lynton.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tech giants are the new lobbying kings

When I gave a presentation on lobbying in Brussels in 2017 I was interested that a number of the professional lobbyists presents complained about the excessive influence of the hi tech giants, notably Facebook, Google and Amazon. You might say this is a case of pot calling kettle back.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of concern about the near monopoly status of Google and about Amazon's employment practices and the way in which Facebook has been used in elections. They certainly have financial clout: Google spent more than $18m in Washington DC last year.

Now it looks as if they are stepping up their activities in the UK where the regulatory framework for lobbying is generally regarded to be inadequate. A report in The Times on Tuesday pointed to recruitment adverts which suggest they are seeking to boost their lobbying staff.

At the moment it is estimated that the three companies have 50 staff working on lobbying. This, of course, follows the appointment of Sir Nick Clegg as Facebook's head of global affairs and communication, although his main lobbying focus will be the EU where he still has some clout, unlike the UK where he is a busted flush.

Responsibilities for the advertised jobs include 'working with' (i.e., influencing) policy makers and setting agendas 'inside and outside government' (no doubt using social media).

The issue of regulating lobbyists is dealt with in my short book on the topic for Manchester University Press: Lobbying

I have to admit that it's cheaper on Amazon in both the Kindle and paperback versions with a number of used copies in very good condition available!

Monday, 22 October 2018

Jobs for the (mostly) boys after politics

Sir Nick Clegg taking a leading role at Facebook has attracted some predictable venom on social media. I have no one view or the other about Nick Clegg: I have never met him. I think William Hague was right when he said that going into coalition with the Conservatives finished off the Liberal Democrats. That's unfortunate if it is the case as they are a useful balancing flywheel in British politics.

What interests me is the more general phenomenon, the fact that for leading politicians (or even not so leading ones), a career in politics, even a relatively short one, leads to a good job afterwards. Has this become the real objective?

In all fairness it should be pointed out that politicians are dropping out at a much younger age these days. It's no longer the case that all they have time to do is to write their autobiography before they pop their clogs. Harold Macmillan prolonged the process by producing a multiple volume autobiography, but then he did have a stake in a publishers.

Actually, Dave Cameron seems to be having a fairly relaxed time in his shepherd's hut, but he was always one for chilling out. He is also heading a fund to improve transport links between China and its trading partners.

If I had a garden like that, I would want to spend time enjoying it

William Hague is actually also chilling out a lot of the time in his lovely home in Wales with its superb garden and fantastic recently completed library. However, he does write for the Daily Telegraph and is consultant to a couple of companies. I wonder if Ffion will ever go into politics?

Sir Danny Alexander is vice-president of the Asian Infrastructure Bank. But the prize really has to go to George Osborne who has something like seven jobs, admittedly some of them very part-time.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The budget dilemma

The Institute of Fiscal Studies Green Budget has been a big feature on the airwaves this morning. Understandably so, because it is authoritative and non-partisan and Spreadsheet Phil will be delivering his verdict in less than two weeks: Green Budget

I expect a holding budget with the big public expenditure decisions being delayed until next year. That is only reasonable with so much uncertainty surrounding Brexit. If we crash out, we may need a mild fiscal stimulus.

The fundamental problem is, as always, the public demand for American taxes and Scandinavian public services. Actually, the gap between UK and US taxes as a percentage of GDP has narrowed, although, of course, the US spends more on defence. We have surrendered our previous mid-Atlantic position. There is a lot of grumbling about the highest tax take since the 1940s, but tax as a percentage of GDP is still well below levels in most other European countries.

However, the challenge for Phil is to find ways of increasing taxes without upsetting voters (fuel duty levy) or Conservative voters and backbenchers (national insurance charges for pensioners, reducing tax allowances on pensions). As the IFS makes clear, just to pay the NHS bill and stop all other cuts will require significant tax increases. There are many who think that local government, the police, prisons and some aspects of education need more money.

The prime minister proclaims that austerity has ended, but when Phil reasonably points out that this will mean rowing back on some manifesto promises on tax, he gets slapped down.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Why I read the court circular

The marriage of HRH Princess Eugenie to tequila 'brand ambassador' Jack Brooksbank today provides an opportunity to reflect on the whole issue of 'minor royals' or 'hangers on' as they are often called. It is a bit of a mystery why the Princess Royal's children do not have titles when those of the Duke of York do.

Brian has indicated that when he becomes king he will slim the family down. The extended royal family actually need a minibus to get to the Queen's commemorative service at St. Paul's. Sightings of the likes of Lady Amelia Windsor are confined to the Queen's annual Christmas lunch at Buck House. Indeed, she was not invited to the wedding and the arrival of a baby for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will relegate her from 38th to 39th in the line of succession.

I am an avid reader of the court circular. It is a disappointment when nothing appears in August or just a notification of Divine Service at Craithie Church.

Recently I have learnt that the Earl and Countess of Wessex have been visiting Estonia. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think. What is now largely forgotten is that when Estonia became independent there were quite a few people who thought it should have a monarchy. Where do you get a monarch from? A younger son in an established royal family. Step forward (or not) HRH Prince Edward.

I recently learnt that under the guise of pitch@palace the Duke of York visited Hungary and consorted with various members of this unsavoury regime including the prime minister.

However, one of the most interesting examples of a minor royal is the Duke of Gloucester, the Queen's cousin. It is no secret that his father liked the occasional drink and the company of women. His son is a model of propriety. He was set on a career as an architect until his rakish elder brother (Prince William) was killed piloting a plane and he was called into the Firm to provide additional cover.

On an average day the Duke will perform as many as five or six engagements, including a reception or a dinner. Engaging with people in this way would drive me crazy. The other week he was carrying out engagements in Worcestershire, including unveiling a new statue of Stanley Baldwin. The glamour.

A mysterious entry said that at lunchtime he visited the town centre of Bewdley, but no engagements were specified. So did he pop into Subway for sandwich? Did he check out the charity shops? Or did he pop into Tesco Extra to get something for the microwave that evening?

Incidentally, the Duke and his Danish wife are having to downgrade to a smaller condo in Kensington Palace to make way for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Finally, it should be noted that HRH Princess Eugenie is the only member of the family to have studied politics in her degree. She cannot match the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg who met studying in Geneva and are proud of their status as constitutional monarchs and political scientists.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Take a chance on me

Theresa May's theme tune yesterday really should have been 'Take a Chance on Me', although I know that 'Dancing Queen' is one of her favourite tracks. In any event, she didn't meet her Waterloo at the Conservative conference yesterday. Groan, but I couldn't get these jokes into my television appearances yesterday.

It was a well crafted speech and effective because it sounded authentic. (Well done, Keelan Carr - he has been very low profile before now - but other such as Gavin Barwell helped). She returned to some of the 'One Nation' narratives she talked about when she became prime minister.

Of course, rhetoric is one thing, reality is another. She talked of an end to austerity, but where is the money coming from? Fuel duty was frozen again. I appreciate that that is an unpopular tax and that oil prices are rising, but the cost could be £800m in one year.

Spreadsheet Phil looks unlikely to risk the farm at the end of October with Brexit looming. Indeed, according to the FT this morning, the Treasury is already concerned about spending pledges made at the conference. The NHS will get some extra money, but what about cash strapped local councils that have to provide social care? Their failure to do more than the legal minimum impacts the NHS.

The speech was, of course, significant for what was not said. There was no mention of the C-word. The strategy appears to be to stand up to the EU in the hope that they will cave in. 'I am standing up for Britain', 'we must keep our nerve' etc. But any hope of a compromise on Northern Ireland has been undermined by the Democratic Unionists going into 'no surrender' mode.

If she can get a deal, Conservative backbenchers would need to think carefully about voting it down. Some Labour MPs would probably support the Government. However, the risk of crashing out remains real and preparations are still inadequate.

I think the proposed festival is a gimmick. I remember the 1951 one which was fun at the time because of the Battersea funfair and it was a sign that the end of wartime austerity might be in sight. Churchill thought it was an advert for socialism, and I suppose in a way it was.

BTW, as an article in The Times pointed out yesterday, time is running out if a second referendum is to be held before March given the relevant legislation and the role of the Electoral Commission.

If legislation was introduced when Parliament convenes next week, the earliest date on which a referendum could be held would be March 28th: How long would it take

Friday, 28 September 2018

Curtice responds to Morgan letter

Nicky Morgan, as chair of the Commons Treasury Committee, sent a severe letter to John Curtice as president of the British Polling Council: Curtis [sic]

I understand that he has given a robust response on the Today programme, but I haven't been able to trace a clip yet.

Friday, 21 September 2018

The recall election that didn't happen

Recall elections were a feature of Californian politics when I taught that, but they are new to British politics. The attempt to hold one in Northern Ireland is here examined by Jon Tonge who explains why Ian Paisley had a narrow escape: Preposterous secrecy

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Robert Skidelsky's new book

Yesterday I attended an 'in conversation' event in which Robert Skidelksy (Lord Skidelsky of Tilton) presented his latest book, Money and Government: a Challenge to Mainstream Economics. Of course, challenges to mainstream economics have been circulating ever since the financial crisis and there have been new developments in economics such as behavioural economics which draws on the insights of psychology.

In the book, Lord Skidelsky says that he has been chiefly influenced by the insights of Keynes. His biography of him is well known and it was interesting to see Bill Clinton congratulate him when he came to Warwick University to give his last speech as US President. However, Skidelsky also says that he has been influenced by the insights of Polanyi who is certainly 'dans le vent.'

Someone asked me afterwards if I agreed with what he said and I replied, 'Up to a point.' There is no doubt that serious errors were made in the run up to the financial crash in 2008 by both policy-makers and academics. It is also evident that more needs to be done to improve global regulatory supervision of the financial sector, but the willingness for international cooperation is declining, particularly from the United States. What remained of the post-war economic world order is being dismantled.

I think that he was correct in saying that cheap credit became a replacement for the old social contract. Whilst he is critical of the 'fine tuning' Keynesianism of the 1950s and 1960s, he thinks that the collapse of Keynesianism was more the product of a particular conjuncture than systemic. Its collapse may have been hastened by particular events, but from my perspective, neo-corporatism as a political project was flawed (at least in the UK) and could not sustain the weight placed upon it.

He also got in a good dig at The Economist which always proclaims its current line with confidence while insisting that it has been consistent in its faith in liberalism for 175 years. In fact, as he illustrated, the line it takes is inconsistent.

The Conservatives had managed to give austerity a compelling political narrative in 2009. However, the problem was one of private not public debt. He favoured higher levels of public investment, possibly involving a National Investment Bank as advocated by Keynes. In response to a question, he said that there was no magic number for the public debt/GDP ratio, particularly in terms of its effect on growth, although he did mention a figure of 90 per cent.

What would concern me is the proportion of public expenditure devoted to debt servicing, although I can see the case for public expenditure in infrastructure when interest rates are low. However, in my view too many 'grand projets' (Crossrail, HST2) inevitably run over their time and money budgets and fail to deliver a sufficient rate of return.

When I asked him whether there would be another crisis, and, if so, what was the important thing we could do to prevent it, he reasonably enough said that we could not predict the timing or nature of a future crisis, although there could be a series of smaller ones. Earlier he had said that breaking up global banks was unfinished business.

He was more critical of the role of an independent central bank than I would be, although I accept that there has been too much emphasis on the inflation objective. He thinks that interest rates should be decided by politicians and if people don't like what they do, they can throw them out at the next election. This is a rather crude form of control as many factors affect voting decisions.

He argued that politicians were not as bad as many people said, it was essentially an American-based narrative that they were corrupt. I don't think they are corrupt, but they can be influenced by short-term electoral considerations or simply gaining advantage over colleagues. As Alan Watkins, sadly no longer with us, said: 'Politics is a rough old trade.' The evidence on the political budget cycle is mixed to say the least, but that does not mean that the temptation to manipulate economic variables is absent.

He argued that central bankers are accountable to no one, but I think that the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons has subjected the Bank of England to close scrutiny.

It was a polished performance by someone who is widely read, as I know from teaching with him. The political weather is shifting in his direction. I suppose that my fundamental disagreement would be that I think government failure is a more systemic problem than he allows.

Nevertheless, if anything, global political arrangements to curb the excesses of globalisation are slipping away. In particular, what has recently been called 'Moneyland', an unregulated offshore economy continues to go largely unchallenged, allowing global companies to arrange their tax affairs to their advantage. I always saw one of the main benefits of the EU as being its ability to offer some resistance to the worst effects of globalisation, but its political effectiveness and legitimacy is being challenged by populist movements that offer simple solutions to the challenges that people face in their lives.

If you want to watch the event, you can do so here: Institute for Government

What does it mean to be a 'political economist'?

Over the years at Warwick I had the privilege of teaching with many distinguished economists, among them Nick Crafts, Mark Harrison and Ben Lockwood. I also taught with Professor Lord Skidelsky and I attended an 'in conversation' event involving him in London yesterday to celebrate the publication of his latest book. I have a signed copy, but I am yet to read it.

The economists I have taught with over the years have always been polite about political science, but I suspect they were rather sceptical about it. I did once give a presentation at the Agricultural Economics Society (of which I am a member) on what political science had done for the study of agricultural economics which at least historically has been a policy oriented branch of the discipline. One distinguished agricultural economist got up and said 'Nothing!' and one had to admire his honesty (the paper has subsequently been published).

One of my economics colleagues was generous enough to say that I thought that I was literate in economics in the sense that I understood the terminology and had a basic grasp of theory. I would admit that I probably learnt more from them than they did from me.

When I started doing work with life scientists, the impression I got was that at least some of them thought that political science had something new to offer, primarily in terms of how issues are 'framed'. For example, in our work on cattle diseases, they could see how the myth of the 'rogue badger', a deviant badger that was supposedly terrorising the countryside, had influenced policy.

I was able to ask the first question at Lord Skidelsky's presentation yesterday, and he was gracious enough to acknowledge my book on 'the politics of economic policy'. In fact there were three books. The first was written with Shiv Nath which I think was the one that Robert read and he said to me at the time that he wondered how we had managed to write a book together as it was evident that we disagreed so much.

I then wrote a short book on 'The Politics of Economic Policy' which was reliant on a ruthless intellectual pillage of the work of Nick Crafts. Finally, I wrote a book on 'Economic Policy in Britain' which was my attempt at a more mature reflection on the subject matter. It has been overtaken by events such as the crash and Brexit, but still sells some copies and hopefully still has some insights to offer.'

I try to make some claim to be a 'political economist', most recently in some work I have been doing on football (Nick Crafts has actually written about the turf). In essence what I think I am doing is examining the interaction between the market and the state within the context of globalisation, although that has been encountering increasing resistance with the resurgence of nationalism as in 'America First'.

But what theoretical perspective can be deployed to assist this task? Robert Skidelsky would still advance the claims of Keynes, although his reflections on political matters in the General Theory were largely confined to an admittedly interesting appendix. Keynes wrote very extensively, e.g., on football and the shortcomings of Ramsgate (the editor of the Charlton fanzine lives in Ramsgate so I often draw his attention to what Keynes had to say). However, it is possible to read what you want into Keynes and we have been reliant on those who chosen to interpret him, in very different ways over time since his untimely death. This has allowed commentators to present themselves as Keynes's representative on Earth.

Another claim is for Marxist economics. Although I am no Marxist, there are some valuable insights to be derived. I think that crisis is endemic to capitalism, but it can also have valuable purgative effects, admittedly at great cost to individuals (which is where effective government comes in).

There is then public choice which I taught about with Ben Lockwood. This has become indelibly associated with neo-liberalism, but that was really the Virginia School. Ben and I took the view (as did Patrick Dunleavy) that it could be deployed as a neutral toolkit that enabled you to ask some challenging questions. Colin Hay sees it as highly politicised and having a harmful effect.

One would also have to acknowledge the work of Polanyi, which at the very least has been marketed very well in recent years, but also contains some important insights about different types of capital. Last but not least, I would mention the work of Elinor Ostrom which won her a share of a Nobel prize in economics, a rare accolade for a political scientist (Herbert Simon, whose work influenced me, was another example). I think that Ostrom's work is flawed, particularly methodologically, but in an interesting way that allows us to look at problems in a fresh light.

Where this ends up is with an eclecticism that is both a strength and a weakness of political science. One area in which I have attempted to work is the development of a political theory of a firm which I explore with David Coen and Graham Wilson in our Oxford Handbook of Business and Government. I have to admit we didn't get very far beyond sketching out the challenge.

So perhaps what I have been doing is examining the politics of economic policy, although that is something that needs to be done. I will write subsequently about what Robert Skidelksy had to say.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

An authorised biography of the Queen?

I think that the late Ben Pimlott's biography of the Queen is a masterly piece of work. He was a very talented biographer, I also very much enjoyed his biography of Dalton whom as he once told me was 'an odd old cove.'

The biography has been criticised for too political an emphasis, but that is its attraction to me.

Why I am mentioning it now? There is a full page obituary in The Times today about Lady Elizabeth Cavendish who was the lover of John Betjeman and a close companion of Princess Margaret (Craig Brown's biography of her is a hoot). It says that Lady Elizabeth was given royal approval to talk to Pimlott.

This confirms my view is that it was a semi-authorised biography. Anther indication is that Pimlott and his partner were invited to stay at Windsor Castle after the biography appeared. In accordance with the Queen's usual discretion, the biography was not mentioned and you cannot initiate a subject with Her Majesty (ok, a friend of mind did and was subsequently made a Dame Commander, but that is a story that can't be told).

The book was published in 1998 and I think it was encouraged by New Labour to give them a perspective on the monarchy.

I was also interested to read in The Times that the Queen by her own admission to one of their players is an Arsenal fan like her mother.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Tripping the light fantastic

A while back I was at the theatre in London and Vince Cable come into the row in front. The reaction to him showed that he was personally well liked, at any rate by a London theatre audience. I felt quite sorry for him when a Liberal Democrat bore (of whom there are many) droned on at him in the interval.

He can certainly trip the light fantastic and his ballroom dancing contrasts with May's robotic style. His personal style may be that of a 'tetchy rationalist' as Matthew Parris observed yesterday, but that probably goes down well with some voters.

But is he a good leader of a political party? No. Otherwise the Lib Dems would not be flatlining in the polls when the political weather should be quite good for them. He says he is going to stand down, which he should at 75 (don't give me Churchill), but clearly it's going to be a long goodbye.

Trying to learn from Canadian experience, but in fact turning it into something from the Daft Ideas Department, he is now advocating bringing in a leader from outside Parliament. The favoured candidate, Gina Miller, has sensibly said no way.

The Lib Dems have never had a woman as leader, and have been predominantly masculine in terms of their MPs. However, they now have two women in Parliament who could do the job: my marginal preference would be for Jo Swinson.

William Haugue (not talking about the Lib Dems) at his lovely home in Wales

However, there are more fundamental dilemmas. William Hague said that the good thing about the Coalition Government was that it would finish off the Liberal Democrats and it probably did tarnish their brand beyond repair.

Now many pin their hopes on a Social Democratic Party Mark II. There has been media speculation for months, but whether the advocates will ever come into the daylight remains to be seen.

The Social Democrats failed in part because they were a rump of the Labour Party, notably failing to attract moderate Conservatives (other than the worthy Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler). They did, however, damage Labour in the 1983 election which became 'a race for second place' and this should concern Labour now.

However, the Centre Party will not succeed. The main constraint is the first past the post system. UKIP failed to turn their votes into more than one general election seat (in one of the most barking areas of the country). When voters were offered a modest alternative in a referendum, they voted it down.

The advocates of a Centre party say that most voters identify themselves as 'centrists'. But I think this is because voters don't like to identify themselves as 'extremists', even if their views are on either end of the political spectrum.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

My best guess on Brexit

I can't make a prediction, there are just too many variables and uncertainties, but here is my best guess.

The UK has a governing party that has been negotiating with itself, but also a split opposition party with unclear policies. There is no sure majority in the Commons for any path to Brexit. A second referendum would shift the decision from a deadlocked Parliament to a deadlocked people, and what would the question be?

It is in the interests of both the UK and the EU to come to some sort of agreement. There have been some signs of a softening of the Commission position. At some point the member states are going to have to get more involved, in particular France and Germany, but they have different positions: France hopes to poach UK jobs and business and German domestic politics are fragile.

Northern Ireland is the most difficult issue. The original EU proposal in March would have given EU courts and regulators near unimpeded jurisdiction over the province. The EU is now considering limiting powers of EU authorities to make checks on UK territory and giving the ECJ only indirect authority. However, the Democratic Unionists are capable of vetoing any solution that outsiders might consider reasonable.

A no deal exit has been talked up. Some of this is people playing political games to suit their own ends. There is also an element of brinkmanship as the case in many negotiations A no deal exit is certainly possible, but I don’t think it is the most likely outcome.

An eleventh hour fudged compromise is more likely. EU decision-making characterised by last minute deals. This would leave many issues unresolved that would have to be addressed during the transition or implementation period. But during that period economic relationships would continue much as before.

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

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.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The night of the blunt knives

It has been variously characterised as the night of the blunt knives or the night of the long plastic knives, but Theresa May's reshuffle was another presentational disaster, emphasising once again the limits of her authority.

The problems started with Chris Grayling being named as party chairman (he apparently was in the frame) only for this to be corrected some time later. Jeremy Hunt was then able to resist being moved from Health and ended up with an expanded portfolio. An attempt to shift Justine Greening to Work and Pensions ended up with her leaving the government.

If anything demonstrates the limits of Mrs May's authority, it is the grinning visage of Andrea Leadsom on Twitter this morning celebrating her continuation in office as Leader of the House. Her departure was widely anticipated, but although Mrs May is said to have a low opinion of her, she remained in place.

Apparently Downing Street cat Larry has been rebranded as Minister for Rodent Control. One thing is clear: Mrs May isn't in control. But this does not mean she is in any real danger, as there is no clear successor.

Not surprisingly, George Osborne's Evening Standard is critical, praising her for the hat trick of the worst manifesto, the worst conference speech and the worst reshuffle: Prime minister's essential weakness

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A victim of the liberal establishment?

Toby Young's friends like to characterise him as a victim of the liberal establishment, but this article makes a well-argued case against his appointment: Office for Students

The appointment could be construed as deliberately provocative.

Boris Johnson has come out in support of Young denouncing the 'ridiculous outcry' and praising his 'caustic wit'.

However, Conservatives are divided on the issue. Margot James, the minister for small business, has commented: 'It is a mistake for him to belittle sexist comments by labelling them as "politically incorrect", a term frequently used to dismiss unacceptable comments about, and behaviour towards, women.'

The Evening Standard, edited by George Osborne (admittedly no friend of the May Government) commented that Mr Young 'appears to have an obsession with commenting on the anatomy of women in the public eye.'