The British syndrome: an abdication of responsibility

My book, Mammon’s Kingdom, was born of incredulity. The global financial and economic crisis of 2008 was the second most devastating in the long history of capitalism. Only the crisis that began with the Wall Street crash of 1929 and culminated in the Great Depression of the 1930s did more damage to output, employment and welfare.

And, just as the crisis of the 1930s made nonsense of the economic orthodoxy of the previous half century, the crisis of 2008 and its aftermath tore gaping holes in the intellectual system that had underpinned the assumptions of central bankers, ratings agencies, business schools and professional economists for a generation, and had shaped the policies of international economic institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund.

On a deeper level, the crisis exploded the dogmas spawned by that system: that government intervention in the economy does more harm than good, that markets should therefore be left to regulate themselves, that rewards reflect productivity, that, since ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, the forces that make the super-rich richer also benefit the poor, that the information available to buyers and sellers in the market place is symmetrical, that the choices made by unfettered economic agents are rational and that the booms and busts which had been capitalism’s most obvious hallmark for centuries were no more.

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How the international community failed Libya

The international community has failed Libya. While this may come across as a harsh verdict to the many organizations, governments and individuals, sometimes well-meaning, who since 2011 have been flocking in and out of the country in an attempt to secure its transition to state-hood, it is the case that many of those transactions remained confined to the surface of Libya’s socio-political transition. One still remembers the high hopes of 2011. Libya, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, was well-positioned to launch a new era unlike its neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia, who had mounting economic and structural challenges to address. In Egypt, between 2004 and 2010, there were more than 3,000 labor actions, between protests and strikes, mobilized against a baggage of old anti-democratic and intricately corrupt state structures in what came to be called the “deep state”.[i] Libya was deemed to have none of that “depth”. But did it? Is it true that Libya, with no known institutional history, possessed none of the complexities of its neighbors? This article will reflect on some of the aspects of that invisible complexity.

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Where next for the Liberal Democrats?

Labour’s predicament is difficult, but it is the Liberal Democrats who face an existential crisis. What then should the Lib Dems do next? The overriding priority must be to restore trust in the party.

The general election results marked a damaging setback for Labour and a brutal defeat for the Liberal Democrats. In 2010, patterns of tactical voting which had built up over twenty years helped both parties retain enough marginals to deny David Cameron a majority. This time round, the firewalldisintegrated. Labour made a net gain of just two from the Conservatives, whilst the Liberal Democrats collapsed in suburban England and their south-western heartlands as the centre-left vote fragmented and centre-right voters moved over to the Tories. The SNP landslide in Scotland completed the rout.

It was difficult for both parties to fight against the ‘fear factor’ whipped up by the press and the huge amount of direct mail which the Conservatives poured into target seats, but there were also significant self-inflicted wounds. Not only did the Liberal Democrats alienate left-leaning voters by entering the coalition, but its leaders did as much as David Cameron and George Osborne to brand Labour as spendthrift and irresponsible – Nick Clegg by playing up the comparison between the UK and Greece, David Laws by brandishing the now-notorious note from Liam Byrne. By crediting the Tories with a ‘head’ and Labour with a ‘heart’, the party’s election campaign stoked fears of Labour and helped drive swing voters to the Conservatives. Worse, Nick Clegg’s insistence that a hung parliament was inevitable – in line with the pundits and the published polls – fostered complacency on the left and exacerbated tactical unwind.

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The future of human rights in the UK

Adam Wagner (One Crown Row Ltd and founder of RightsInfo.org) gave a very timely seminar on Tuesday May 12 for the Oxford Human Rights Hub and the Oxford Martin School Human Rights for Future Generations Programme on the future of human rights in the UK under the new the Conservative majority government. The seminar asked two crucial questions: what will they do? And what can human rights activists do?

What Will They Do?

The Conservative Manifesto argues that the Human Rights Act, 1998 (HRA) should be scrapped and replaced with a British Bill of Rights based on “common sense,” but that is still consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, besides addressing some of the recent controversies in the UK human rights landscape such as deporting suspected terrorists and prisoner voting, the Conservative Manifesto does not provide much detail on what specifically a British Bill of Rights will contain and how it will differ from the HRA.

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The 2025 Communicator: The Future of Digital Communications and Humanitarian Response

With communication a central element in humanitarian crises and humanitarian response, the next decade will see communicators change their approach in light of the increased significance of digital communications in such situations.

Digital trends include real-time mapping and analysis using social media, crowd sourcing and data mining, the use of mobile phones to disseminate information, online campaigns bringing publics and affected populations closer together, digital platforms for cash transfers and new digital tools for assessment work, as well as monitoring and evaluation. These changes have brought new actors not traditionally associated with humanitarian situations onto the scene: technologists, data analysts, social innovators, private sector businesses and financial intermediaries, among others.Yet to understand the full significance of these trends, we must dig deeper. There is a fundamental change underway in the underlying drivers of humanitarian crisis and of humanitarian response that will become a reality in 2025 if we consider that an essential condition that defines a ‘humanitarian situation’ is a communications crisis. This holds on two critical levels.

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Numbers that matter: Party leader satisfaction ratings and election outcomes

Satisfaction with party leaders of the two main parties would have predicted the outcome of the last nine UK general elections, including the most recent. This measure is worth looking at in more detail as voting intention polls led many forecasters astray in 2015.

Lord Ashcroft’s post-election poll (pdf here) showed the ‘three main reasons for voting’ for each political party in the 2015 UK general election. The biggest difference between parties was the number of people who voted on the basis that ‘the Party Leader would make the best Prime Minister.’ David Cameron, at 71%, far outstripped all his opponents, with Ed Miliband (the next most popular) coming in at 39%. On no other question did the Conservatives have such a large lead.

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Predisposed Tabula Rasa

Studies of human behavior and psychology have received extensive attention in public policy. Economists, social theorists and philosophers have long analyzed the incentives of human actions, decision making, rationality, motivation, and other cognitive processes. More recently, the study of happiness furthered the debate in public policy, as many governments brought up the necessity for new measures of social progress. The discussion was bolstered when the UN passed a critical resolution in July 2011 inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people as a tool to help guide public policies. It was also hoped that discussions about happiness would serve to refine the wider debate about the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030 and the standards for measuring and understanding well-being. The World Happiness Report, a recent initiative, attempts to analyze and rate happiness as an indicator to track social progress.

These recent initiatives serve as reminders that sound public policies must evolve in strong connection with an understanding of human psychology, emotions and the sources of happiness and satisfaction. Nevertheless, there are further invaluable insights from neuroscience that have remained less explored. Contemporary neuroscientific research and an understanding of the predispositions of our neurochemistry challenge classical thought on human nature and inform us of fundamental elements that must accompany good governance.

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Politics of restriction in the Euro-Mediterranean area: Lampedusa and beyond.

In line with the growing socio-economic and political significance of immigration, Europe has seen a wide range of policy measures aiming at either halting migrants from reaching Europe or deterring them from settling in their preferred countries of destination (Gibney 2004).

One of the implications of these policy efforts has been to turn the Mediterranean into a highly militarised zone. Yet the collapse of the political structures of several North African countries in the early 2011 was a huge blow for bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms. In particular, immigrant arrivals to Europe through Lampedusa, an Italian island and one of the closest points from the African mainland, triggered a range of public and political discussions.

It is important to reflect upon the symbolic power that immigration possesses in European domestic politics. The social construction of immigration as a threat have shaped the national and EU-level responses to the arrivals of immigrant and asylum-seekers in the western Mediterranean. Most public and political worries were about irregular migration, a major challenge to the very idea of state borders.

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