DevoMix: localism and the devolution debate

Considering a wide range of media reports and commentaries on the UK’s ongoing devolution debate – do the solutions politicians seem to be offering genuinely address the issues as seen by local people?

In recent weeks, the media has been awash with articles and reports about proposed new ways of governing different parts of the UK. Clearly, the Scottish referendum has awoken a sleeping giant – something that our national political class should ignore at its peril. Because devolution goes to the heart of the localism debate, we’ve put together a representative cross-section of what’s out there.

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Citizen enforcers? Implementing immigration controls through devolution and allegation

In recent years there has been an increasingly systematic integration of immigration controls into a range of institutions. The ability to access healthcare, social housing, benefits and legal aid, to seek employment, open a bank account, obtain a driving license, and rent a property have each been tied to immigration status. This linkage is mediated by more than a binary between legality and illegality. The regulation of mobility through legal frameworks at the European and international level, as well as the domestic, has generated a range of rights – to reside, of abode, to work, to rent – that are shaped by the interaction of multiple statuses – “EEA national”, “asylum seeker”, “habitual resident”, “jobseeker”, “worker”, “self-sufficient person”.

The rights and entitlements of citizens, as well as migrants, are curtailed and impacted by immigration controls. A citizen cannot claim means-tested benefits without proving habitual residence, they cannot marry a non-EEA national without verifying the partnership’s legitimacy in the eyes of the state, and they cannot bring this spouse into the UK without earning over a minimum income threshold. More broadly, citizens cannot avoid immigration controls without first proving that they are not subject to them.

It is important to understand and reflect upon the consequences of these controls. However, it is also important to think about where the responsibility for their implementation lies. As immigration controls are integrated in an increasingly systematic way into the workplace, university, school, hospital, jobcentre, letting agency, registry office and bank they are pushed away from the centralised state and into the community. This entails both a diversification and a shift in the actors compelled to put them into practice on the ground. Last week’s European Court of Justice decision on the Dano v Jobcentre Leipzig case brings this into focus. For the individual who cannot be subject to formal immigration controls but who can be excluded from social benefits if economically inactive, immigration enforcement responsibilities fall not to the immigration officer but to the frontline public service worker.

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How the death penalty is slowly weakening its grip on Africa

There is an observable trend towards the abolition of the death penalty in Africa. More than two thirds of African states have now either abolished the practice or have long-standing moratoria on its use. As of October 2014, seventeen African states have abolished the death penalty by enacting national legislation. A further twenty-five State Parties have not carried out an execution for ten years. Only twelve states retain the death penalty and have recently used it, with the majority of executions occurring in Somalia or Sudan.

This trajectory parallels an interpretation of international human rights law as progressively abolitionist. Although the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) made a provision for countries that had not already abolished the death penalty, it established stringent conditions under which it could continue. In those countries where it remains, international safeguards aim to ensure legality and fair trial, principles of equality and consistency, and minimum standards of protection for vulnerable groups, as well as entailing imposition only for the most serious crimes. Concurrently, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is working to attach an Optional Protocol to the African Charter for abolition.

Despite these promising trends, it is important not to overlook the shadow that the death penalty still casts. Where it remains, the death penalty can be imposed for offenses that do not meet the international legal threshold of “most serious crimes”. The case of Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to death for apostasy in Sudan, brought this issue to global headlines earlier this year. Similarly, the extensive remit of military tribunals in Somalia remains a concern.

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Citizenship and identity: The new Britons in an age of resurgent Englishness

In the 1990s, commentators across the political spectrum observed the rise of civic British national identity in the UK. Both the Major and Blair governments promoted “active citizenship” and rolled out polices such as Citizenship Ceremonies for the naturalised and citizenship education in schools – with the civic republican philosopher Bernard Crick a significant influence over many of these reforms. From a very different angle, the Britpop moment and “cool Britannia” brand made the Union Jack fashionable. A confident multiculturalism and relaxed, mongrel Britishness was part of the zeitgeist.

From the vantage point of 2014, that moment seems very distant. In the last decade, we have seen instead a resurgence of the infra-national identities of the UK’s constituent countries: the renaissance of Scottishness in Scotland, the rise of Welshness in Wales, and – much less reflected upon – the return of Englishness in England.

The return of the English

The 2011 Census included a national identity question. It showed that, in England, Englishness is the predominant national identity, expressed by two thirds of the population (with 58% choosing only English identity), while just 29% identify with Britishness (19% choosing only British identity).

For many, this kind of Englishness is probably expressed activities such as cheering on (or moaning at) English sporting teams. But we have also seen its political mobilisation: in resentment at Scottish power in Westminster, in the sinister street theatre of the English Defence League and its offshoots, and in the rise of UKIP.

It is important, however, to note the geographical and generational dynamics of this resurgent Englishness.

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Ed Miliband’s Labour and ideology. Did New Labour change the party forever?

In 2010, Ed Miliband inherited a party troubled by tensions and confusion. After three electoral victories and 13 years in office, New Labour had lost its appeal due to the legacy of the Iraq war, a series of burning scandals and endless backbenchers’ rebellions. Blair had resigned in 2007, replaced by his eternal rival Gordon Brown, with many of those within Labour seeing him as more traditionally left-wing and able to rescue the party from its decline. Yet, the 2008 financial crisis had promptly interrupted Brown’s brief honeymoon with the electorate and Labour had lost the 2010 General Elections, leading to a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government. Ed Miliband, a young Brownite, then won a bitter leadership contest, in which the main adversary was his brother David, one of Blair’s closest advisors. Ed obtained the support of most of the Unions and of many social-democrats who had at some point started to despise the Blairite model, examples being Roy Hattersley and Neil and Gladys Kinnock. He did so by differentiating himself from the previous leadership, declaring that New Labour was over and running a quite leftist campaign.

Four years later, many question what the current leadership actually stands for and whether Labour has witnessed an authentic ideological revision. On the one hand, Miliband launched the new slogan ‘One Nation Labour’, inspired from a famous Disraeli’s speech, which has been praised as an attempt to revitalise socialism in the context of the current economic crisis, as well as criticized for flirting with rightward doctrines such as compassionate conservatism. On the other hand, he has often declared his preference for an open and pluralist model of leadership and defended the value of a lively internal debate. Therefore, despite describing himself as ‘a European social-democrat who takes inequality very seriously’, Miliband has witnessed and even promoted the rise of a number of ideological sensibilities.

Party factions, think-tanks and research institutes defending sometimes very different positions, such as Progress, Compass, Tribune or Briefing, all contributed to this lively debate.

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Violence and the State in Central Africa logo

Why is important to understand the impact and responses required for sexual violence and torture survivors in conflict and post-conflict countries in Africa?

Since 1998 I have been carrying out applied research with colleagues and African organisations with survivors of sexual violence and torture. This research argues that sexual violence perpetrated in conflict and post-conflict settings causes devastating effects to individuals as well as whole communities. It results in extensive damage to survivors’ psychological, reproductive and gynaecological health. Ongoing research reveals that more women and girl-children survive conflicts than are killed; yet with tremendous wounds to their bodies and minds; assaults on their dignity, their feelings of self-worth and their future. In contrast, there are rarely consequences for the perpetrators. Applied research carried out in Uganda, Liberia and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with colleagues and African organisations, argues that sexual violence is not solely a war crime and although extremely prevalent during conflicts, my research argues it has contaminated the post-conflict domestic sphere with high levels of community-perpetrated domestic violence and rape, particularly against young girls.

Survivors’ shame and stigma is exacerbated by severe social rejection, particularly for women and girls who become pregnant from rape, former abductees and those with AIDS and HIV infection. Many resultant physical and mental health problems are not treatable by the grossly over-stretched and under-resourced health care systems. Capacity building within primary health care and justice services needs to address psychological trauma, increase resilience and recovery through support groups, trauma counselling and improvement to mental health policies. It is vitally important that service providers (who have also often experienced human rights abuses) are assisted to develop peer support and supervision groups and receive culturally sensitive training in supporting traumatised survivors and their children born from rape. In conjunction with greater protection for their work, and regular salaries this would assist to prevent ‘burn out’.

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Tilling the fields where forced labour grows

Unless you are following the story closely, you may not have noticed the worryingly slow progress of the “Modern Slavery” bill through parliament. It faces its third reading in early November, and so far there is no outright opposition. Of course no one is going to speak up for modern slavery. It is a dreadful thing, and no parliamentarian would defend it for a moment.

Instead, the delays have come from wrangling over wording, caused by the politics over immigration. The problem is that Home Secretary Theresa May describes the crime as “human beings used as commodities for the personal gain of others” (Hansard, 8 July 2014 col. 166), provoking the question of how this form of exploitation differs from other “everyday” exploitation faced by many (if not most) workers.

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EU Commission hearings at the European Parliament

n October 2014, candidates for the new European Commission were put through their paces at public hearings of the parliamentary committees responsible for the portfolio to which they have been assigned at the European Parliament in Brussels. This process represents an important opportunity for citizens to examine the proposed Commissioners (Commissioners-designate) before they take office, and shows the Parliament, the only directly elected European institution, increasing in legitimacy and relevance.

The Commission, the powerful executive arm of the European Union (EU) is composed of one representative from each of the EU’s 28 Member States, and is responsible for upholding the Union’s treaties, for proposing legislation and implementing decisions, and for the day-to-day running of the EU institutions. This includes participating in the design and enforcement of bailout agreements for crisis-stricken member states, wide-ranging economic surveillance of national budgets, and the allocation of billions of euros in funding each year.

The job of assembling a team of Commissioners that strikes an acceptable balance between the size and location of each Member State, as well as the nationality, gender, political affiliations, and attributes of individual candidates, falls to President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, a Luxembourgish Christian Democrat. Juncker spent the months since the European elections in May 2014 negotiating with national governments, political parties, and candidates until in September the Brussels rumour-mill ground to a halt with the announcement of the proposed Juncker Commission.

Juncker’s team are not yet able to seek refuge on the thirteenth floor of the Berlaymont, the Commission’s headquarters in Brussels, as the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC, Article 214(2)) provides for Commissioners-designate to be approved by Parliament before taking office. Members of Parliament (MEPs), scrutinise the credentials of Commissioners-designate via a series of 3-hour public-hearings, where candidates are grilled on their qualifications, knowledge of their proposed portfolios, inter-personal and communication skills and indeed, their political and personal lives.

Commissioners-designate are nominated by national governments, and once in office, little scope exists to allow for their removal. These hearings therefore provide an important opportunity for democratic oversight and transparency on behalf of European citizens.

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