Tag Archives: brexit

Electioneering versus Governing

The next UK General Election will be held on 8 June 2017 – just over 2 years since the last one despite the establishment of 5 year parliamentary terms under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The argument made by Prime Minister Theresa May was that this was,

“…the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead”.

Yet will this guarantee certainty? Well, one certainty seems to be the ever increasing popularity, by politicians, of elections and referendums. A quick search shows how many elections have been held across the UK since 2010 with a particular peak of elections and significant referendums since 2014.

Elections since 2010:
2010 UK General Election
2010 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 76 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and various Mayoral posts)
2011 UK Voting System Referendum
2011 Welsh Devolution Referendum
2011 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2011 English Local Elections (36 Metropolitan boroughs, 194 Second-tier district authorities, 49 unitary authorities and various mayoral post)
2012 Scottish Local Elections
2012 Welsh Local Elections
2012 English Local Elections (28 English local authorities, three mayoral elections including the London mayoralty)
2012 London Assembly Elections
2013 English Local Elections (27 non-metropolitan county councils, eight unitary authorities and 2 mayoral elections)
2014 European Parliament Election
2014 Scottish Independence Referendum
2014 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2014 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 district/borough councils, 20 unitary authorities and a number of mayoral elections)
2015 UK Parliament Election
2015 English Local Elections (36 metropolitan boroughs, 194 second-tier districts, 49 unitary authorities and 6 mayoral elections)
2016 English Local Elections (124 local councils and 4 mayoral elections)
2016 Scottish Parliament Election
2016 Welsh Parliament Election
2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Election
2016 London Assembly Election
2016 EU Referendum
2017 Scottish Local Elections
2017 Welsh Local Elections
2017 English Local Elections (27 county councils, 7 unitary authorities, 1 metropolitan borough, 8 mayoral elections)
2017 UK Parliament Election
NB: Also 31 by-elections between 2010-2017 and many community council elections.

It could be argued that this is a good thing. It shows the vibrancy of our democracy and the increasing voice of citizens in influencing government policy. However, it poses many significant challenges for those who work in public policy and administration: the cost of electoral administration; the opportunity cost of elections and the risk of voter fatigue.

Not only do elections involve a lot of political planning and campaigning but they also require significant administration including the training and management of polling staff and count staff. An election is not something that can easily happen on a whim. It requires a lot of planning, coordination and, importantly, investment.

A second issue with elections is that they divert attention away from the development of public policy and the delivery of public services. Since 2014 in particular there have been significant votes involving all UK Political Parties including the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, the 2015 UK General Election, the 2016 EU Referendum and now the 2017 General Election. There is a huge opportunity cost involved in these major election campaigns – whilst campaigning and voting takes place our political representative, public officials and public service professionals are subject to purdah rules and must divert their energies from public service delivery to the major operational challenges of an election.

The other significant cost of this is that it risks leading to voter fatigue and apathy. The immediate reaction from many to the UK General Election announcement was fairly muted. It isn’t currently clear how the public will respond to the announcement and what the resultant turnout will be. But what is clear is that at some point the votes must be counted – and the government(s) must govern.

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MPA Visit to Brussels 2017

Brussels is seen by many as the capital of Europe and the EU. It is the location of key EU institutions such as  of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council. It is also the location for committee meetings and some plenary sessions of the European Parliament albeit the primary home of the European Parliament is Strasbourg.

What is striking about Brussels is the extent to which it has been at the centre of European affairs, almost reluctantly so, for centuries. A rather unassuming plaque on Grand Place marks the spot where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked on The Communist Manifesto.

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Nearby is the house where Victor Hugo developed writings that would become his masterpiece, Les Miserables. Both Karl Marx and Victor Hugo had sought political refuge in Brussels. Other writers to have been inspired by Brussels include the Brontë sisters and our very own Sir Walter Scott. It is clear that Brussels has been a welcoming and tolerant place for centuries. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that it later became the de facto capital of Europe.

The primary purpose of our visit was to explore the European institutions and get a better sense of how the EU works and how this then affects public administration. A key highlight of the trip was our visit to the EU Parliament and the adjoining visitor centre – the Parliamentarium.

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The Parliamentarium provides an exceptional account of the development and workings of the EU institutions. The exhibition starts with some deeply moving accounts of Europe before the EU was established – plagued by war and poverty.

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These stark images were set alongside some key quotes setting out the vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and united Europe that latter became the European Union.

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Later parts of the exhibition set out how early agreements on integration of the Western European coal and steel industries later developed into the European Economic Community and eventually to the establishment of the European Union with free movement of people, a shared currency and free trade. Again the images portraying the expansion of the EU community were set alongside images of major world events such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall which influenced it’s development and expansion over time.

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The final part of the exhibition explained how the different parts of the EU work in practice. This allowed our MPA students to fully explore the nature of decision-making within the EU.

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Having completed our tour we congregated at the Parliamentarium cafe and were struck by the presence of several copies of the letter from UK Prime Minister Theresa May to European Council President Donald Tusk which invoked Article 50 just a few days before our trip.

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Exploring the city further during our visit it is clear that Brussels remains a tolerant and welcoming place. Today Brussels is the multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic capital of Europe. It has the second highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the world (62%). It remains hugely influential within Europe and indeed throughout the world. It will continue to do so without the UK being a member of the EU. Hopefully it will continue to be a tolerant and welcoming place – and perhaps parts, or the whole, of the UK will be welcomed back some day.

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I certainly think Brussels left it’s mark on our students. Visiting the EU institutions and seeing how they work has, I hope, raised their awareness and appreciation of the EU more than any book or academic journal article would. I only wish more students and more members of the public could benefit from this experience.

I now look forward to our new cohort of MPA students and hope that we may be welcomed back to Brussels next year. As for Scotland and the UK – it would seem like anyone’s guess as to what will happen next – but I look forward to finding out!

We are now accepting applications to start the MPA in September 2017. Find out more here:  http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Something positive

I’m just back from the Social Policy Association conference in Belfast. It was a great conference with lots of very engaging speakers discussing their latest research. Topics included:

  • Economic and domestic violence
  • Food poverty
  • Young people, precarity and security
  • Pension inequality
  • Taxation and austerity

 

There was also a special session organised on ‘the consequences of Brexit’.

 

Some of the highlights for me included a plenary session by Kathryn Edin discussing her new book – ‘$2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America‘ and a presentation by Lorenza Antonucci about her new book – ‘Student Lives in Crisis: Deepening inequality in times of austerity‘.

 

These are two great books that I would thoroughly recommend. I was going to write some more about both – but you can just buy the books. What’s more, I was trying to come up with something positive to write about following the conference. But, as you can probably guess from some of the topics listed above, this isn’t easy.

 

There is much to worry about. And I don’t want to diminish any of that in any way. Global recession, European disintegration, war, terrorism, rising inequality. Yes, it’s all there. But this is not the 1930’s. My dad was born in the 1930’s – and as I sit in a warm, well lit library drinking fresh Americano and type this blog on my notebook using the free Wi-Fi available I’m made all too aware of that. Yes, I do have a privileged position and others aren’t nearly so fortunate. But this still is not the 1930’s. There’s much to feel positive about despite all the worrying news.

 

And what can be done with worry anyway? I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I’m not a religious person but I think there is an important message in this – especially in difficult times such as these:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

So let’s focus on the things we can change, embrace the opportunities that we have to make change happen, and celebrate the fact that we all can make a difference. Happy Monday!

 

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The Emotional Impact of Brexit

Change is an emotional process. Any change whether personal, organisational or indeed constitutional is likely to feed into our hopes, dreams, anxieties or fears. The extent to which change can be an emotional process is particularly apparent when we are not in control of the change process. So it is for over 48% of the UK population including 62% of the Scottish population after the vote to leave the EU last Thursday.

 

The nature of the emotional impact of change has been characterised by Kübler-Ross in her Grief Cycle which was originally established to reflect the nature of the grieving process. There have been many versions of the original Grief Cycle created since. One such version is listed below for reference:

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/effard/grief-cycle-feedback-change-imposed/

 

Later research by many organisational behaviour and change management academics has linked this process to the emotional impact of organisational change. We can also see how, over the last few days, this Grief Cycle reflects many of the emotions that have been felt by the electorate and how this can help explain (admittedly to a small extent) the events that have happened since.

 

Denial:

This isn’t really happening. There can be another referendum (see here and here). Maybe Scotland can stop it from happening (see here). Maybe there should be another election which will stop it (see here).

 

Anger:

Why is this happening? It’s all the fault of old people. It’s all the fault of poor people. It’s all the fault of uneducated people. See here, here and here.

 

Bargaining:

Maybe I’ll emigrate to Canada / Australia / New Zealand / France. Maybe I’ll get an Irish passport (see here and here). Maybe we can delay it for two or three years (see here). If that’s what’s happening I’m going to resign (as with Prime Minister, Labour MP’s etc).

 

Depression:

There’s really nothing I can do.

 

Acceptance:

OK, it really is happening. There’s no point whining about it anymore – we’ve just got to get on with it.

 

Move on:

There may be opportunities here. Let’s work with others to make the most of things.

 

What next?

It is best not to make significant decisions immediately following and in response to any significant change event. Those who have remained fairly silent over the weekend have undoubtedly done the right thing in taking time to reflect and analyse the situation before making any major steps. It is important that the electorate and markets are given every possible reassurance and that they are supported through this emotional process. All the announcements so far from the UK Government have rightly been about stability and reassurance.

 

It is important to recognise that this is an emotional process. That’s not to say that all that has happened, and all that will happen, can be explained by the Grief Cycle. That would be far too simplistic. All I would argue is that it provides part of a wider picture of what is happening right now – and that it is an important part of the picture that should be recognised in moving forward.

 

What is needed now is strong but emotionally intelligent leadership. The transitions cannot be rushed. But the sooner that the electorate, and our elected representatives, accept the new reality and begin to move on the better.

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