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

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

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

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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Children with politically engaged parents are more likely to deviate from their parents’ political views in adulthood

How do the political attitudes of parents influence those of their children? As Elias Dinas notes, a common assumption is that children from more politically engaged families are more likely to retain their parents’ political views. Taking issue with this perspective, he finds evidence that while young people from politicised homes may be more likely to acquire an initial partisan orientation from their parents, they are also more likely to abandon that preference as they enter adulthood and experience politics for themselves.

How do we end up supporting a specific political party? Why do some people in the UK, for instance, call themselves Labour or Conservative supporters, whereas others fail to identify with any individual party at all? One of the most oft-cited explanations alludes to the role of parents. Through family socialisation, young individuals get to know about the `goodies’ and the `baddies’ of the political world. Accordingly, they form their partisan preferences before they develop a sophisticated understanding of politics. These attachments may not be strongly felt, but children rarely declare a party identification with the main rival of the party to which parents are loyal. Continue reading

We need more trust in political leaders and more community engagement alongside a measured dose of healthy scepticism

Matthew Flinders suggests that the idea that we should not be too trusting of leaders is simplistic. He argues that, though we should not set people or institutions up to the heights where they cannot do anything but fail, it would be quite wrong to suggest that individuals cannot make a positive difference, or to deny that some politicians have in fact delivered on their promises.  

Justin Welby recently used his first Easter sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury to warn of the dangers of investing too much faith in frail and fallible human leaders, be they politicians or priests. Blind belief in the power of any single individual to bring about true change in any sphere, he argued, was simplistic and wrong, and led inevitably to disillusionment and disappointment. Surely this was the point in the sermon when a member of his flock was duty-bound to heckle ‘But what about that bloke called Jesus!’ Unfortunately, good manners triumphed and the leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans was able to continue his sermon. ‘Put not your trust in new leaders, better systems, new organisations or regulatory reorganisation’ he told the congregation at Canterbury cathedral. ‘They may well be good and necessary, but will to some degree fail. Human sin means pinning hopes on individuals is always a mistake, and assuming that any organisation is able to have such good systems that human failure will be eliminated is naïve’. Continue reading

The decline in party membership across Europe means that political parties need to reconsider how they engage with the electorate

Is party membership still an important part of European political systems? Ingrid van Biezen outlines results from a study, co-authored with Peter Mair and Thomas Poguntke, of party membership rates in 27 European democracies. She notes that party membership levels vary significantly between European countries, with Austria and Cyprus containing the highest levels as a percentage of national electorates. Despite this variation numbers are declining in almost all of the countries studied, which may mean that parties have to reconsider the forms of organisation appropriate to politics in the 21st century.

This article was originally published on LSE’s EUROPP blog.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, political parties in European democracies have clearly lost the capacity to engage citizens in the way they once did. There is scarcely any other indicator relating to mass politics in Europe that reveals such a strong and consistent trend as that which we see with respect to the dramatic decline of party membership. Continue reading