How UKIP’s decline could provide a major boost for Theresa May

Ron Johnston, Professor of Geography, University of Bristol

The British prime minister Theresa May called a snap general election in the expectation that it will deliver her a substantially increased parliamentary majority. This in turn would give her the “strong and stable government” she hopes for as she enters the crucial Brexit negotiations.

So far, opinion polls suggest that the Conservatives have a large lead over Labour. But in order to attain the desired majority, they need to win a substantial number of seats from Labour. There were, however, fewer marginal seats following the 2015 general election than after any previous election since World War II – just 42, for example, where Labour won by a majority of less than ten percentage points over the Conservatives.

If the Conservatives were to win all of them, they would have 374 MPs in the new parliament compared to Labour’s 195 and a majority over all parties of 98.

So how winnable are those 42 seats? The likelihood of many Labour voters from 2015 switching to the Conservatives in 2017 is small, so the Conservatives will have to gain most of the extra votes from other sources. One likely source is those who last time voted for UKIP. Continue reading

How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make). Continue reading

Environments without Borders

Research Without Borders 8-12 May A week long series of events showcasing the work of postgraduate students. Free tickets: bristol.ac.uk/research-without-borders

Blog authors (and panel members): Laura De Vito is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Geographical Sciences.  Carlos Gracida Juarez is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Biological Sciences.  Alice Venn is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Social Sciences and Law.  Erik Mackie is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Geographical Sciences, working together with the British Antarctic Survey, and kept up a blog during his recent fieldwork in Antarctica.

The effects of climate change vary hugely across political borders, and have wide-ranging impacts on different communities and environments. Climate policy responses must recognize this global interconnectedness, and integrate international cooperation with effective local action. This is why global treaties such as the Paris Agreement are so important in the fight against climate change, but individual nations must also do their bit to achieve the objectives set out in the agreement. In Environments without Borders (part of Research Without Borders), a panel debate hosted by Bristol Doctoral College and the Cabot Institute on Wednesday 10th May, we will discuss some of these issues, using examples from our research on particular challenges facing our global ocean and water environments.

Continue reading

Advising in Austerity

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Professor Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol

Ben Crawford, Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

Research led by Prof Morag McDermont of University of Bristol Law School has explored the ways in which advice organisations such as Citizens Advice (CA) have become key actors in legal arenas, particularly for citizens who face the most disadvantage in upholding their rights. Findings from a four year study in partnership with Strathclyde University, highlight the importance of free-to-access advice in enabling people to tackle problems and engage with the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern their lives.

The advice sector, however, is under threat, as a new book Advising in Austerity: Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (edited by Samuel Kirwan and published by Policy Press ) demonstrates. The book, co-written by the research team and advisers in the field, highlights both the possibilities and the challenges for an advice sector that largely relies on volunteers to provide a vital interface between citizens and the everyday problems of debt, health, employment and much more.  Despite the skills and enthusiasm of the workforce, many services are caught between rising demand and large-scale funding cuts, as traditional sources of revenue from local authorities and legal aid are dramatically reduced. Across the network, reductions in core funding are forcing agencies to reduce or reconfigure services. In particular, the face-to-face, generalist advice model that provides a holistic assessment of client’s problems is under pressure as services are reduced in favour of telephone or online support. Continue reading

The Turkish referendum thwarts civil rights struggles – in Europe and in Turkey

Dr Bahar Baser, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (Coventry University) and Associate Fellow at the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA) at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Aleksandra Lewicki, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Free University of Berlin and a member of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

On Sunday, 16th April 2017, Turkish citizens are to decide in a referendum whether Turkey’s parliamentary republic will be turned into a presidential system. Representatives of the Turkish Government have been campaigning in favour of this constitutional reform in Turkey, and have also organized rallies in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. Although absentee voter turnout lingered at less than 10% in previous elections, the large diaspora vote can still have a detrimental impact on the results.

Some of the rallies in Europe were cancelled due to security concerns. President Erdoğan immediately associated these reactions with mounting Islamophobia across Europe. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of ‘Nazi methods’ and suggested that ‘the spirit of fascism’ was ‘running rampant in Europe’. His ‘Yes’ Campaign appeals to anti-European sentiments and nourishes the “Sevres Syndrome”, whereby Erdoğan and the AKP present themselves as the alternative to those who threaten Turkey’s citizens’ interests and rights.

Chancellor Merkel, who relies on a deal with Turkey to keep the number of refugees arriving in Germany at its current low, rebuked such crude comparisons rather mildly as ‘unjustifiable’ and condemned the instrumentation of the victims of the National Socialist Regime. As national elections are coming up in September 2017, German political parties are worried of losing their voters to the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which successfully mobilized Islamophobic sentiments in 2016. Therefore, although anti-Muslim attitudes are indeed gaining in influence in Germany, initiatives to address Islamophobia hardly feature on the current Government’s political agenda or the election campaign. Continue reading

29th March 2017 – a day of historical significance? How history is (mis)used to illustrate our ‘glorious’ present

Statue of Europe, Unity in Peace

Dr. Martin Hurcombe,
Reader, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

There are some who will no doubt greet the triggering of Article 50 on the 29th March 2017 as an occasion of historical significance. It may seem churlish to even state otherwise, but my sense is that this is not a date that will live long in the memory. It is simply the prelude to events of far greater importance, the scale of which few of us seriously claim to be able to gauge in all their potential complexity.

No doubt, though, politicians and journalists will once again be casting around for historic parallels, for popular aides-mémoires through which the public can grasp the event. They will struggle to find anything quite like this in living memory, so will have to delve deep into our nation’s bag of collective memories. I expect Boris Johnson’s paws will delve the deepest. Out will come toy spitfires, reminders of our island status and how we all pulled together (whoever we are now) in moments of national need.

War memories often act as handy markers of national identity. They are quintessential moments when the nation pulled together. It is therefore unsurprising that the Leave campaign so frequently returned to what Estelle Shirbon of Reuters dubbed ‘Britain’s World War Two fixation’.  The Blitz and Churchill (possibly one of the Conservative Party’s most ardent Europeans) were all trotted out, whilst the European Union was depicted by Johnson as Hitler’s victory from beyond the grave. Continue reading

Cheap goods at what cost? How the EU Road Package can address ‘unfair payments’ to truck drivers

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter Turnbull, profile photo

Professor Peter Turnbull, School of Economics, Finance & Management, University of Bristol

As you drive home at night, do you ever pause to think about the many trucks parked in lay-bys at the side of the road? You might be only a few miles from home, but the driver’s home could be thousands of miles away. Imagine if the truck door was the front door to your home, the truck cabin both your office and your bedroom. If this sounds far-fetched, then spare a thought for the thousands of East European truck drivers who work for weeks on end, sometimes months, in Western European countries, driving, eating and sleeping in their cab.

A survey of around 1,000 East European road haulage drivers published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in 2013 found that the majority (60%) spent between 3-12 weeks away from home, 80% cooked and ate their own food in the lorry, 95% took their breaks and rest periods (including the weekly rest of 45 hours) in their lorries (contrary to EU working time regulations), 60% were paid by driven kilometres (despite EU Regulation 561/2006, Art.10 forbidding payments per kilometre schemes that have a negative impact on road safety), approximately 80% of the interviewed drivers stated that fatigue was a problem but they would not report it as they were afraid lose their job. A more recent 2015 study of 225 Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian drivers working in Denmark found that the average time working and living in their lorry away from home was 7 weeks (88% slept in their lorry most nights), pay was just €1,100 to €1,900 per month (16% were paid on the basis of kilometres driven), drivers reported regular breaches of the rules on working time and 13% stated that their employer exerted pressure on them to break the rules on driving and resting times. Continue reading

Women’s rights gained under EU law must not be lost in Brexit

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Sue Cohen, Research Associate in Bristol Law School

Much of the debate in the UK, pre and post the referendum, has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Gender has been all but cleansed from the Brexit political and media discourse, with barely a mention of investment in women’s equality, the social infrastructure and the institutions that might guarantee progressive gains from gender mainstreaming.

The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights is a significant institution in this respect, and one we will lose upon Brexit. The Committee helps to process legislation on equal treatment adopted by EU institutions, invites transnational lobbying on women’s issues, and investigates particular issues and concerns that affect women.  It does this through commissioning research and reports that further gender mainstreaming in the funding programmes of the European Commission. (1)

Critically, the UK, has no comparable influential institution. The Women and Equalities Committee is a new select committee and its influence is not embedded in the decision-making structures and funding mechanisms across government. The Women’s Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government, whilst the influence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been eroded over time, with significant cuts in staff and funding and thus significant limitations on its ability to deliver strategic change. Continue reading

Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject. Continue reading

“A food dystopia: Is Britain sleepwalking into a crisis?”

Back to the future?

Terry Marsden is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, and Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Cardiff University.

Kevin Morgan is Professor of Government and Development, Cardiff University

The historical ability for the UK state to periodically create self-inflicted harm upon its own food system seems to be raising its head again as the country triggers Article 50 to remove itself from the European Union. We should remember that the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, opening up the UK to cheap food imports (based indeed on subsidised imperial preferences to its colonies), in exchange for colonial penetration of its financial and manufacturing interests and sectors, created the conditions for a long- running agricultural and rural depression in the UK, lasting well into the 1930s. That Imperial regime of ‘free trade’ created much harm to the British food system, its rural areas, and indeed shaped a dependent food diet based upon imports from colonies and other European nations (like Danish Bacon and Dutch eggs and pork). What is ironically labelled as the ‘full English’ breakfast up and down the land derives from the successful import penetration of its component parts from overseas. The decline in our food-based infrastructure was so bad that, by the onset of the 1st World War, Lloyd George had to go ‘cap in hand’ to the likes of Henry Ford to plead concessions on building his tractors on these shores in order to resolve food and rural labour shortages. Even by 1941 the national farm survey found the agricultural situation in a parlous state, even before the U-boat campaign further disrupted food supplies and led to a period of prolonged public food rationing until 1954. Continue reading