Designing a new UK-EU relationship and how it could be achieved

The Eurozone crisis has brought the EU’s division into two types of membership into relief, with the euro member states moving closer towards deeper fiscal and economic union, and the others, such as the UK, who remain in the single market with no wish to join the Eurozone, at risk of becoming ‘second class’ states. Damian ChalmersSimon Hix and Sara Hobolt write that there is now a growing separation between the governance of the single market and the euro area. They propose new reforms which would protect the interests of all EU and non-member states in decision making, give national parliaments a role in proposing and approving EU legislation, and reform the single market to give more sectoral flexibility. All of these proposed reforms, they argue, could be made without Treaty changes.

There are now two types of membership of the European Union.  The first is the Eurozone group of states, heading towards deeper fiscal and economic union – with tight constraints on national macro-economic and welfare policies and potentially new fiscal transfer instruments at some point.  The second is a group of countries who would like to remain in the single market and its associated policies but are unlikely to join the Euro. These two groups are not – to repeat the tired metaphor – two trains on the same track go at different “speeds”.  Instead, the two trains are on different tracks heading to different destinations. Continue reading

Democratic Audit Shorts: Parliament remains insufficiently responsive to the outside world

Taken from Section 2.4.6 of the 2012 Democratic Audit report- ‘Parliament’s relationship with the public and relevant interests’

Over this Audit period there have been some limited improvements in parliament’s relationship with the outside world. In particular, select committees now utilise online forums; and all written petitions sent to an MP who agrees to present them to parliament receive official replies from the government. The number of petitions presented to parliament each year fluctuates enormously, although there was a clear decline after the early 1990s (see Figure 2.4j). Continue reading

The Profumo affair 50 years on: The collapse of the old establishment has not brought enhanced democratic participation

Wyn Grant looks back at the Profumo affair and suggests that it represented the beginning of the end for the old ‘establishment’. In the place of ‘club government’, a more rule bound regulatory state was created. However this transformation has been arguably incomplete, with politicians still being drawn from a narrow range of occupations and not being representative of the population they are supposed to serve.

On a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery, a small exhibition on the Profumo affair was attracting more attention than any other exhibit in the free part of the gallery. Why is there so much fascination with this series of events fifty years on? The whiff of corruption and sleaze in high places that was so evident? The cast of characters such as Mandy Rice-Davies whose comment on Lord Astor denying sleeping with her [probably he didn’t] ‘He would, wouldn’t he?’ has become a catch phrase? The iconic and much reproduced photograph that was taken of Christine Keeler? The sexual dimension, some of which was greatly exaggerated in accounts provided at the time and since, not least in the report by Lord Denning? As a schoolboy, I went with friends to the local railway station to buy French papers to find out what was ‘really’ going on with such characters as the ‘man in the mask’, rumoured to be a Cabinet minister, but in truth a businessman. Continue reading

Democratic Audit Shorts: Big business still has too much influence over public policy

Taken from Section 2.6.4 of the 2012 Democratic Audit Report – Business influence on public policy’

A recent Democratic Audit study by David Beetham argues that corporate and financial interests have, since the 1980s, inserted themselves increasingly into government and its decision-making processes, over which they now exercise substantial influence (Beetham, 2011). As well as exercising indirect power on governments, Beetham identifies two broad categories of direct business influence over public policy, as follows: Continue reading

There should be greater public involvement in deciding what is a legitimate ‘nudge’

The coalition government has been at the forefront of using insights from behavioural research to craft more effective policies, ‘nudging’ citizens in other words. Rikki Dean argues that ‘nudges’, especially those that rely on deception or concealment, should be subject to a ‘participatory principle’. Only citizens themselves can legitimately rule on what is in their own interest, and therefore there should be greater exploration around how to involve the public in decisions about their use.

Since its creation the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), or ‘Nudge Unit’, has received a lot of attention. Fêted both in the media and by the Prime Minister for its innovative, primarily experimental, approach to policy-making, BIT recently ran into its first scandal when The Guardiannewspaper claimed its innovations to Jobcentre Plus procedures involved forcing job-seekers to undertake ‘bogus psychometric tests’ in order to boost their psychological resilience. The story raises some interesting questions about the ethical limits of libertarian paternalism. Is it acceptable for government to deceive us if it is for our own good? And, can we trust that a nudge is a helping hand and not a shove in the back? Continue reading

The constitutional mess that now undoubtedly exists demands urgent review and reform

Matthew Flinders finds that it is not that people don’t care about British politics and its constitutional arrangements but that they simply don’t understand where power lies or why.This has resulted from reforms having been implemented in a manner that is bereft of any underlying logic. There is an urgent need to look across the constitutional landscape in order to assess what exists and why, and to look to the future in terms of what we want the UK to look like in 10 or 20 years time.

Do we have a constitution? What is the British constitution? Does anyone actually care? At one level the answers to these questions are relatively simple and straightforward. ‘Yes’ — we do have a constitution but its constituent elements are scattered amongst a range of documents and within the tacit understandings of a number of parliamentary conventions; the British constitution is — through accident and design — a mess that has evolved in a muddled manner, betraying the existence of a latent form of ‘club government’; ‘No’, nobody cares because this is how it has always been and we don’t trust politicians and they’re all the same. Continue reading

Book Review: On Voter Competence

A half century of research shows that most citizens are shockingly uninformed about public affairs, liberal-conservative ideologies, and the issues of the day. This has led most scholars to condemn typical voters and to conclude that policy voting lies beyond their reach. On Voter Competence breaks sharply from this view, with author Paul Goren providing analysis of opinion data from the past six presidential elections. Lorna Walker writes that this book challenges some aspects of the negative view of American voters, it by no means exonerates them on the charge of incompetence.

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