And the House of Lords trundles on

In an election held this month, Raymond Benedict Bartholomew Michael Asquith, third earl of Oxford and Asquith was elected to take up the seat in the House of Lords vacated by the death of Robert Alexander Hold Methuen, the seventh baron Methuen. The ballot was conducted using AV (the Alternative Vote), but Lord Oxford received 155 votes of the 283 votes (55%), so preferences were not taken into account. (The proxime accessit, Lord Napier and Ettrick, received only 35 votes, and seven of the fifteen candidates received only one vote or none at all.) Turnout was 36%. All members of the House of Lords (currently 776) were eligible to vote. The new member will sit with the Liberal Democrat peers, as did his predecessor.

This unusual process is a result of a compromise reached when the House of Lords was reformed in 1998 and 1999. The Labour Party manifesto in 1997 had proposed to remove all of the hereditary peers from the house, but in a departure from the Salisbury-Addison convention the Lords objected and prevailed, forcing the government to retain 92 of them. (McLean 2009: 234) (In reality, only ninety were retained. The other two hereditaries are held ex officio by great officers of state: the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, who are peers.) Lord Cranborne, who as Conservative leader of the Lords engineered this bargain, failed to tell his leader William Hague about it and was sacked when Hague learned of it independently.

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Alternative liberal solutions to economic inequality

The social problem of the future we considered to be, how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour.

– J.S. Mill, Autobiography, 1873, speaking of himself and the philosopher Harriet Taylor.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century argues that, absent corrective action, we can look forward to a rise in capital’s share of national income and a corresponding depression of the share of labour. This might not be so significant were capital evenly distributed so that all could share in its higher returns. But Piketty shows that the distribution of capital is extremely unequal and likely to grow more so. At the same time, he argues, the share of wealth that is inherited looks set to increase. Together these trends threaten to produce a society in which a relatively small section of the population comes to claim a larger share of national income through its (increasingly) concentrated ownership of (increasingly) inherited wealth.

How might we prevent this from happening?

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Matteo Renzi’s PD eight months later: where now for the Italian left?

Leading the Italian left has never been an easy task. After the collapse of democratic centralism (i.e. the Leninist practice which obliged the membership to uphold any leader’s decision following an internal discussion), leadership has soon become the Achilles’ heels of the Italian former communists. Party secretaries have been weakened by the rising power of internal factions, used as scape-goats after electoral defeats and blamed for both lack of charisma (Pierluigi Bersani) and excessive protagonism (Massimo D’Alema and especially Matteo Renzi himself).

Moreover, the presidential leadership style of its eternal enemy, Silvio Berlusconi, made the Italian PD (Democratic Party) rather unenthusiastic toward the trends of personalisation and presidentialisation spreading all over Europe. It is not by chance that the Berlusconian model always comes up when discussing Renzi’s personality and politics. Internal opponents and critical observers denounce Renzi’s simplified language and slogans, as well as his post-ideological appeal and charismatic governance. He is even often described as the son of Berlusconi, in the same way that Tony Blair was once called the son of Thatcher.

Albeit controversial, Renzi’s personalized approach seems to have played a key-role in his rise to power. Studies conducted among the delegates at the 2013 Party Conference show that the party’s majority backed him in virtue of his personal characteristics and leadership skills rather than political message. Moreover, whereas the 2012 delegates expected the at-that-time-leader Bersani to promote a process of identity reconstruction and grassroots’ institutionalization, the 2013 Conference asked Renzi for concrete strategies to win the next General Elections (Martocchia Diodati 2014).

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The floating label of ‘the migrant’

“Hang on they are not tourists”, a UK citizen said to his wife with wide eyes and an expression on his face suggesting this realisation was a big surprise. “They could even be ‘migrants’…couldn’t they?”

This is a question — in this case one I heard in an interview — that has always been complex, but is becoming even more so, in the UK and elsewhere. Time has changed legal and regulatory circumstances, and the demographic of people who come to Britain have also changed.

These changes have generated new migrant categories, typologies and tiers but also new stigmas, phobias and labels.

Who is a migrant? Alas, there is no clear legal or administrative definition of ‘migrant’. A 1953 United Nations recommendation referred to the definition of “permanent immigrants” as non-residents (both nationals and aliens) arriving with the intention to remain for a period exceeding a year and of “permanent emigrants” as residents (nationals and aliens) intending to remain abroad for a period exceeding one year (United Nations, 1953).

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Why the Fixed-term Parliaments Act should not be repealed

The Coalition introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in 2011. Now some Conservative MPs want to repeal the Act. But Fixed Term Parliaments are good for UK democracy and the Act should stay.

When the current coalition government introduced the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, the case appeared compelling:

“The Government believes that fixed-term Parliaments will have a positive impact on our country’s political system; providing stability, discouraging short-termism, and preventing the manipulation of election dates for political advantage.” [Government response to the report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill”, 2011, Introduction]

Now Tory MPs have changed their minds. This week a group of Tory backbenchers have been mounting a campaign to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Their aim has been to prepare the ground for a backbench debate on Thursday in which MPs will hold a symbolic vote on returning to the old days when Prime Ministers had full discretion to call elections as they saw fit.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is one of the few surviving elements of the Coalition’s ambitious programme of constitutional reform, which – had it been fully implemented – would have altered the UK’s majoritarian vision of democracy and elections extensively. The reforms were designed to change the nature of electoral representation (the referendum on the alternative vote), alter the composition of both Houses of Parliament (boundary review and House of Lords reform), and to reduce the power of the Prime Minister to time elections. In the event, internal coalition disagreements scuppered most of the reforms.

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Austerity and Euroscepticism: The End of EU Development Cooperation?

The financial crisis and its aftermath have brought to light the crisis of European integration, more precisely the crisis and potential demise of a certain approach to integration pursued since the early 1950s. The demise of an allegedly inevitable ‘ever closer Union’ pursued primarily in a technocratic way predates the turmoil which started in late 2008. The escalating struggle between European institutions and member states, buttressed by the rise of popular distrust, seems to emerge as one of the biggest challenges to European integration.

dev aidIn development cooperation, an area of ‘shared’ competences between the EU institutions and the member states, it has remained unexplored how economic recession, the sovereign debt crisis, austerity, the struggle in the eurozone and increasing Euroscepticism have affected the relationship between the EU and its member states.

EU aid has undeniably been affected. Significant cuts to bilateral aid budgets due to the consolidation of public finances have reduced member states’ willingness to pool further resources and competences in Brussels. Instead, member states have shown an increasing tendency to operate on their own or in like-minded groups, and focus on inward-looking aid policiesdriven by national interests and priorities.

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Immigration controls and their effects on citizenship

UKIP’s recent by election victory proves it: the public are extremely worried about immigration and its impacts on labour markets and communities. The pressure is increasing on politicians of all parties to ‘do something’ about immigration.

But this is nothing new. A quick look at immigration laws in the last decade suggests that there has been no shortage of efforts to do something. The most recent Immigration Act 2014 is the fourth major Act in ten years, and the eighth since 1996. During its nine years in office, Labour created eighty-four new immigration offences (Aliverti 2012). These laws have had significant consequences for non-citizens, consequences that have been the subject of interest across a wide range of social science disciplines.

Often forgotten, though, are the consequences for citizens and the idea of citizenship. Our blog series on migration and citizenship hopes to address this omission.

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