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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Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

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

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look back to the 1960s for some pointers.

For nearly a century, governments have tried to shape Britain’s industrial and commercial landscape. Yet, whilst they often wanted to raise industry’s efficiency and competitiveness, historically there was little consensus on how best to do it. And, whilst ‘industrial policy’ and ‘regional policy’ were often in evidence, the crafting of a broader ‘industrial strategy’ was a rarer event. 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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Donald Trump, the 2016 Election, and Historical Comparisons

Dr Julio Decker, Lecturer in North American History, University of Bristol

Dr Julio Decker, Lecturer in North American History, University of Bristol

In every American election cycle, superlatives abound. In 2016, they have been predominantly negative: the election is characterised as the worst or most depressing ever, but some have emphasised that the nation has recovered before after divisive campaigns. As a historian, I am acquainted with explaining the present through the past: we evaluate similarities, continuities and changes to explain the state of today’s world. But what can we actually learn from the past regarding the 2016 election?

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Putting Britain First: The Sino-UK ‘Golden Era’ with Theresa May Characteristics

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

“The golden era of British-Chinese relations will continue,” Prime Minister Theresa May stated September 2nd on her way to the G20 in Hangzhou, China. Will it however, be the 24 carat of the days of Cameron and Osborne? Or have delays linked to Hinkley Point irrevocably tarnished the gleam of relations?

If President Xi Jinping’s statement during the G20 Summit is any indication, he is willing to ‘show patience,’ giving Mrs. May time to frame and launch her vision of British foreign policy and economic relations.

As one who seems to keeps her cards close to her chest, the question is what shape will this come in?

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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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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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Engaging with the Policy-making and Scrutiny Process in Wales: How Does Research Get into the National Assembly for Wales?

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

In addition to our remit to support Welsh Government Ministers to identify their evidence needs and provide them with independent expert advice and analysis, the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) is trying to play a broader role in developing the ‘evidence ecosystem’ in Wales – the networks and channels through which evidence can inform policy and practice. We think that it’s important that Assembly Members who are involved in scrutinising policy and legislation also have access to authoritative independent policy experts.

The National Assembly for Wales is a democratically elected body with three main roles: representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account through policy scrutiny. In fulfilling these roles, the Assembly is a big consumer of research and is always looking to make links with independent sources of expertise. Specifically, the National Assembly for Wales Research Service provides impartial research and information to support Assembly Members and committees in fulfilling the scrutiny, legislative and representative functions of the Assembly. Providing an effective Research Service requires access to research from external organisations and individuals with knowledge and expertise in relevant subject areas. Continue reading

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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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