¦ What You Can Get Away With

Bill Drummond: the five lessons I learned from Ken Campbell – Some memories of the 70s and the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool’s production of Illuminatus!
No sign yet of a solution to the shambles within the Tory ranks – Peter Oborne questions why the Tory equivalent of the Bennites are given such leeway by the party.
Freedom of speech and the right to protest – James Graham on how the latest ‘you’re oppressing my right to be an arsehole!’ kerfuffle is actually freedom of speech in action.
Alternate Universe What Ifs? – Parts of XKCD responses from other universes.
Britain First: More then the mere sum of the parts left over by the BNP and EDL – Some interesting information on the background and methods of the newest incarnation of the far right.

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wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegAs I’m sure my regular readers have noticed, I’m currently a student in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. The University and the Department have recently been honoured with the appointment of the first Regius Professorship of Political Science which has been granted to David Sanders, who has lectured in the department since 1975 and been one of the most important figures in British political science in that time.

Last night, he delivered his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor: “The Reluctant Europeans: Britain and the EU, 1973-2015″ I naturally went along to hear it, and there were lots of interesting points made. The University were filming the lecture and the discussion that followed, so I would expect it to be available in full on their site soon. Until that is available, I did get pictures of many of the slides that illustrated and expanded his points, which you can see here.

The main thrust of the lecture was looking at how Britain has always been a more reluctant member of the EU than other countries and trying to explain why that is so. Support for the EU is lower amongst both the general population and the political elite in the UK than it is in the other member states, and Sanders believes that there are seven main reasons for this. He calls these seven stories that we tell ourselves, and they are:

  • Our historic conception of British foreign policy sees Britain as a world power, not just a European one, and we don’t want to be constrained by Europe.
  • A perceived economic disadvantage, where the rest of Europe does better out of free trade than we do
  • A sense of constitutional disempowerment – Europe as the remote and uncontrollable behemoth – coupled with a story of ‘we never signed up for this’
  • A widespread belief that the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court were imposted on us by the EU, and that the decisions made there go against the authoritarian instincts of many Britons
  • The issues and perceived problems caused by immigration, and by mainstream politicians ceding discussion of immigration to the extremes for many years
  • Beliefs about the relative transparency and efficiency of the British state compared to Europe, and beliefs that Britain implements rules more rigorously than other EU states
  • Inconsistent messages from mainstream parties, reflecting their internal divisions over Europe, have led to no consistent pro-European message to lead public opinion
  • There’s more information on each of those points, including some YouGov polling on questions relating to them, on the slides Professor Sanders used during the lecture.

    I’m not going to go into too much more detail as I’ll likely miss out important points as I wasn’t taking notes, and the whole lecture should be available soon for you to see, I hope. However, he did conclude the lecture with a discussion of points that both those pro- and anti-Europe should take note of in advance of any referendum that may occur. There are issues that both sides haven’t addressed that could be crucial in any campaign – for those in favour, they’re mostly centred around the list above, but for those against, there is strong evidence that the financial benefits of being in the EU are much bigger than the costs, and that the most enthusiastic supporters of Europe are the young, particularly those with friends and family living or working elsewhere in the EU. Support and opposition to EU membership in the UK is affected by external factors which cut across all demographic groups, and the prospect of success in any referendum could be strongly affected by any shocks that might occur in the run up to it.

    After the lecture, there was a very interesting panel discussion, chaired by Essex graduate John Bercow MP, and featuring Professor Anthony King, Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Dame Helen Wallace and David Sanders. Again, a lack of notes prevents me from covering it in detail, but Anthony King made a very interesting point about how the key difference between any future EU referendum and the 1975 one would be that the popular attitude towards the political class has fundamentally changed since then. In 1975, the party leaders’ endorsement of a Yes vote helped to secure the victory, but it’s unlikely it would have the same effect now as it did then, especially having seen what happened in the Scottish referendum. There was also some discussion of what might happen in the effect of strong regional and national differences in a referendum, especially the scenario where Scotland and Wales vote to stay in the EU but are outvoted by England.

    All in all, it was a very interesting evening, and definitely worth watching if and when the University make it available.

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    Bernie Ecclestone’s fixation with TV is Formula 1’s undoing – Duncan Stephen explains why F1 is failing to adapt to the modern world.
    6 point guide to spotting a potential defector – Dr Alan Wyburn-Powell’s research has found six characteristics present in MPs who switch parties.
    Oil at 80 dollars – Jim Bliss puts forward the theory that lower oil prices are Saudi Arabia’s way of launching economic war with Iran.
    An Open Letter to Ched Evans about your ‘Supporters’ -Brilliant stuff on how a young woman’s life is being ruined again by idiots claiming to be looking for justice.
    All Dressed Up For Mars And Nowhere To Go – Why the supposed Mars One colonization mission seems unlikely to ever get off the Earth.

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    Victory in Europe – What Cameron and Osborne actually negotiated and agreed over the UK’s contribution to the EU.
    Leadership in question – Good piece by Chris Dillow on how the search for strong leaders is a search for a false god. The one thing rarer than talent is the ability to spot talent.”
    A Few Questions About the Culture: An Interview with Iain Banks – What it says on the title, really: talking in depth with Iain Banks about how the idea of the Culture developed in his work.
    How to waste a staggering £15bn – David Boyle has some interesting facts about transport policy.
    Dark vistas – A rather bleak, but possibly accurate, look forward to the next election and the Parliament that follows it from Lewis Baston.

    And for your bonus video this time, if you haven’t seen Too Many Cooks yet, you’re possibly still sane.

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    Labour annual conference 2014Four thoughts come to mind:

    Can you trust any ‘new leader’ polling?
    So, we now have polling that shows that having Johnson, Umunna or Burnham would give Labour a bigger lead in the polls right now. Anthony Wells often counsels against putting too much faith in any ‘how would you vote if..’ polls, and I think that is the case here. Voters may well take a ‘grass is always greener’ approach to any suggestion of change, but no one has any idea just how people will react should the Labour leadership change. When people have no idea how someone will actually perform as leader, it’s not a good idea to rely too much on their judgements of how they will vote in a hypothetical scenario.

    That said, I do wonder if changing the party leader could have an interesting effect of poll shares by changing the likelihood of party supporters to vote. That’s a question that I’m not sure is ever asked in the hypotheticals, but for me could be a key factor. I’ve said before that I think a lot of UKIP’s success is down to the fact that they can motivate their base to vote better than the other parties, and I wonder if a new leader would motivate Labour voters more – the lesson of Heywood and Middleton is that Labour do seem to have a motivation problem.

    Where can Labour get votes from?
    Anthony Wells’ excellent diagrams of vote shifts reveal the problems all the main parties are having in holding on to voters in an extremely volatile political environment. The question they pose, though, is where are Labour going to win the voters they need from? They’ve shed votes to Greens, nationalists and UKIP, and it’s hard to see the strategy that can draw voters back from all three of those. Is drawing a small percentage of voters back from the SNP (with the possible benefit of protecting all those Scottish seats) a viable strategy? Or does the party need to be looking at how they draw more voters back from the non-voters, and hope gains from there can dwarf any losses?

    Young cardinals, old popes
    Alan Johnson is the perfect king over the water because he hasn’t been assembling a faction around him ready to take the leadership, and so all the Shadow Cabinet members who have can step aside in his favour, ready to go for it the next time. (I suspect their scenario imagines Johnson as a one-term PM, with the real leadership contest in 2019/20) However, is it necessarily in the interest of the more established contenders like Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham to take a pass this time? Putting their ambitions on hold for five years would give the next generation (Umunna, Reeves, Creasy et al) plenty of time to stand out and shine, and give Prime Minister Johnson a real influence through Cabinet appointments and the rest in who gets to follow him.

    What if?
    We’re in a very strange time for British politics, one that’s certainly unlike anything else I’ve seen in my lifetime, where all of the established parties are under threat. In this position, Labour ditching Miliband would have inevitable knock-on effects in the other parties. If he goes, that’s just the beginning of the story: suppose a new leader does open up a poll lead for Labour, while UKIP win the Rochester by-election. That seems likely to trigger more Tory defections and/or more calls for Cameron to quit. Given the volatility of the polls, and the variability in shares across the pollsters, it’s entirely possible in that scenario for us to see a poll (however rogue) that puts UKIP in second place and the Tories in third. Could Cameron survive then, and what would be the effect of the Tories trying to replace a sitting Prime Minister a few months before an election when one of the leading candidates to replace him doesn’t have a seat in Parliament.

    We live in interesting political times. I look forward to when the historians of the 2030s get to tell us just what was going on, because I’m not sure we’ve got much of an idea right now.

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    The personal tax statement George Osborne doesn’t want you to see – Some accurate data on where the British Government actually spends its money.
    Norman Baker, political journalism, and hinterlands – “We expect politicians to be “real” and then lay into them when they are. That doesn’t seem terribly healthy to me.”
    The ‘Devo Manc’ proposals represent centralisation on steroids – Is it time to coin ‘Osbornification’ to describe the centralisation by stealth they represent?
    What commercial aircraft will look like in 2050 – Some interesting speculation on the prospect of electric planes. Those of you with a more technical bent than me may well have a different view on their likelihood.
    Five minutes with Robert O. Keohane – Very interesting LSE interview with one of the world’s leading theorists of international relations about the difference between liberal constitutionalism and democracy at the transnational level.

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    I noted a couple of weeks ago that Have I Got News For You had made a little bit of history a fortnight ago with its first ever episode with more women onscreen than men. I don’t know if we’ll have to wait seventeen more years until all the guests are female again, but this series does appear to be on course to set a new record for women guests.

    At the moment, this series has featured 18 guests, of which nine were women. There are four more shows after this, and if each of them has a female guest (in accordance with BBC policy), there’ll be at least 13 out of the 30 in total. That’ll be 43% of the total, the highest HIGNFY has ever managed for a series. (The current record is the first ever series, where 37.5% of the guests were women) If just one of those women guests is the host, there’ll have been an equal number of male and female hosts in this series. This series’ four women hosts already matches the highest number achieved by series 42 in 2011.

    With just a couple of other female guests this series, they could finally reach a 50-50 balance of woman and men this series, and maybe that’ll be the shape of things to come. Of course, they could attempt to redress the historic imbalance of male to female guests, and the current rate of 19 shows a year with three guests on each, it’d only take them around 15 years to get there.

    (As ever, the spreadsheet is here if you want to see the figures for yourself)

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