Trump, Brexit and a crisis of participation in universities

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

A friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook to a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Blue Feed, Red Feed’, which allows readers to pick a topic – Hillary Clinton, say, or abortion – and see how the ‘other’ side of Facebook is talking about it. My friend wrote:

I and everyone I know (well, nearly everyone) finds Trump utterly disgusting, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For others worried that we all (mostly) agree with each other, this is a useful side-by-side comparison of liberal and conservative Facebook.

I looked at the split screen on the topic of ‘guns’ and saw posts I recognised on the ‘blue’ side condemning Republican measures to reduce checks on those buying firearms. The ‘red’ side, meanwhile, included a link to a Federalist Papers website article criticising ‘leftists who don’t like guns’.

The divides that were exposed by Trump and Brexit are complex. Yet, in both votes, two sides emerged that were incomprehensible to each other and they split, above all, along levels of education. Continue reading

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Post-truth politics: Why do facts no longer matter to so many people?

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Virtually unknown a few years ago, the terms “post-fact” and “post-truth” have exploded onto the media scene in 2016, with thousands of articles around the globe expressing concern over the absence of a shared body of facts and evidence in public and political debate. This concern is buttressed by evidence that the public is misinformed about a range of issues, from vaccinations to climate change and the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Politicians have always sought refuge in fantasy or subterfuge when confronted by uncomfortable facts. So why the sudden concern with the emergence of “post-truth” politics? Two factors can be identified that confirm that the landscape of public discourse has changed: first, the brazenness with which some politicians have unshackled themselves from the constraints of evidence and reality, and second, the public’s acquiescence with this flight into fantasy land. Continue reading

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Unequal political rights: the case for immigrant suffrage in the UK

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

The distribution of political rights in the UK undermines the assumption of equality that underpins democratic practice, writes Sean Fox. He makes the case for extending voting rights to all legal immigrants living in the UK – whose lives are affected by government decisions as much as those who, by virtue of their citizenship, get to have a say in elections.

The vote to leave the EU was fundamentally undemocratic. Theresa May’s clear determination to plough ahead with Brexit therefore compounds an act of injustice that reveals a basic flaw at the heart of Britain’s electoral system. If this seems a provocative opening salvo for a radical cosmopolitan polemic, you may be surprised by the current distribution of voting rights in the UK.

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The Bristol City Office – what’s it all about?

Tessa Coombes - PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Tessa Coombes – PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Bristol City Office, an idea that has been six years in the making. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It’s about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative. But why will this approach work when other attempts have failed and how is this different?

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‘Raining Women’ & Feminising Politics

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

At home: In Westminster, Theresa May – the UK’s second woman Prime Minister – and in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland’s first woman First Minister – opposed by the Tories’ Ruth Davidson, and Labour’s Kezia Dugdale.

Abroad: Angela Merkel, of course, and maybe soon President, Hilary Clinton.

The media seemingly don’t quite know what to do with ‘all’ these women in politics. Gender and politics scholars are finding themselves in great demand. There are, predictably, numerous articles in the newspapers about what the women are wearing, and how they do their hair.

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Life in the House of Commons Library

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, University of Bristol

As a PhD student I rarely get exposed to aspects of academic life such has grant writing, policy and management.  So when the opportunity came up to apply for a 3 month internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), I jumped at the chance.

POST, as it is known, is based at the heart of Westminster. It serves both Houses of Parliament in providing impartial advice to parliamentarians on science and technology policy issues; often in the form of briefing papers called POSTnotes. POST was formed by a group of MPs and Peers concerned at the lack of scientific evidence available to influence Parliamentary policy and in 2001 both Houses decided that POST should be established as a permanent bicameral institution.

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Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy.

This ignorance is a spectre precisely because it is invisible to us. You might, for example, not know how a microwave works. But you know you do not know that. Now imagine there are purple aliens growing yellow mushrooms on the other side of the moon. In this case you are unaware that you unaware of them.

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British politics is failing the Brexit test

Dr Hugh Pemberton Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

What have we learned in the days since Britain voted to leave the EU by a margin of 3.8 percentage points?

The UK has jettisoned its foreign policy of 55 years, the political class is paralysed, and the country is in dangerous economic waters. This is a political failure on a scale unprecedented in modern British history which calls into question fundamental features of our political system.

First, it is clear nobody has the slightest idea how Brexit (either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’) is to be accomplished. Those campaigning for a Leave vote had no plan for how it might be achieved in a way that would not impose lasting damage on the country by crimping exports to countries that represent 45% of our overseas trade. Astonishingly, no serious contingency planning had been done within Whitehall, which consequently, is having radically to reorientate itself and try to find people with the necessary skills.

Second, many of the dire predictions of ‘project truth’ were right. The pound is at a low not seen for 31 years – not a bad thing for exporters but a significant loss for international investors in our economy, and in our government’s debt, that may ultimately have consequences for their confidence in us. There are serious concerns that the widespread economic uncertainty is leading a downturn in business investment, not least in the all-important service and construction sectors, and to large scale cancellation of investment, creating the conditions for recession. Many large firms (e.g. HSBC) are already implementing plans to redeploy parts of their business and workforce to the Continent. As the Bank of England has warned, Brexit is ‘crystallising’ very serious economic risks as well as posing a major foreign policy challenge.

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The law and politics of withdrawal from the EU

On Thursday June 23, the people had their say. Over 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU. The outcome was clear, and should be respected.

Nevertheless, the future is shrouded in uncertainty. Months of campaigning failed to produce good answers to what have become urgent questions. The uncertainty relates both to the mechanism of withdrawal, and to the terms of any withdrawal agreement and future trade agreement with the EU.  As no Member State has ever withdrawn from the EU, there are no relevant precedents. This is uncharted territory; these are interesting times.

The law – Article 50 TEU

Article 50 TEU, introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, provides the mechanism for withdrawal from the EU.

It makes several things clear. A Member State may decide to withdraw ‘in accordance with its own constitutional arrangements’. In the UK, that decision is taken under prerogative powers by the Prime Minister of the day. Thus, it is for the Prime Minister to decide when to notify the European Council. The European Commission appears to have accepted over the weekend that it cannot (legally, at any rate) oblige the UK to trigger Article 50. The UK appears to be waiting until there is a new Prime Minister in place. There are suggestions that it might decide to wait until after the elections in France and Germany in 2017.

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Let’s Take Back Control – Or Should We?

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

During the referendum campaign on the UK’s membership of the European Union, arguments focusing on democracy have tended to be the preserve of those advocating for a Brexit. The rallying cry to “take back control” of “our” laws and borders, has become Vote Leave’s mantra.

There is some force behind this message. There is no doubt that EU membership entails costs, and by joining the EU, states agree to be bound by EU treaties. Both the treaties and EU legislation – typically adopted in the form of regulations or directives – are supreme over national law.

This hierarchy is applied by national courts, who, across Europe, have found creative ways of ensuring that they give full effect to EU law. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have consistently held that where UK law conflicts with provisions of the EU treaties, it cannot be applied – though the UK courts are at pains to emphasise the qualified nature of the primacy of EU law.

The EU treaties also give the EU legislature a broad competence to act. For example, the EU has created an internal market in Europe and has imposed a range of social and environmental standards on its member states.

In addition, the judicial arm of the EU – the European Court of Justice – has held that a number of national rules breach EU law. This has had a significant influence on the regulatory landscape in the member states, such as strengthening equal pay laws.

So there is no doubt that EU law creates constraints which affect the ability of the member states to control their laws – and that Brexit would indeed enable the UK to take back some control. But, when we examine the way in which these constraints are imposed and consider the alternatives, the leave campaign’s case begins to take on a different hue.

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