On Wednesday 22 October the Department of Government welcomed Diane Abbot MP to the LSE to discuss the challenges London faces as ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’
You can read a shortened version of the speech or watch a video of the event below.
Oct 30 2014
On Wednesday 22 October the Department of Government welcomed Diane Abbot MP to the LSE to discuss the challenges London faces as ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’
You can read a shortened version of the speech or watch a video of the event below.
Jul 18 2014
The sun was shining as LSE undergraduate students gathered to celebrate the completion of their studies at the summer graduation ceremonies earlier this week.
The Government Department would like to especially congratulate six of our students who scooped prizes for outstanding achievement:
Congratulations to everyone celebrating their graduation this week. We hope you’ve enjoyed your time at the LSE, and wish you all the best in the future. Stay in touch – we’d love to hear about all the brilliant things you do next.
Jul 14 2014
Professor Eunan O’Halpin is the Bank of Ireland Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin, and is the director of the Centre of Contemporary Irish History. He is also a founding co-editor of the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy project , and is a member of the expert advisory group formed to advise the Irish government on the ‘decade of commemoration’ from 1912 to 1923. Before his appointment at TCD, O’Halpin was Professor of Government at Dublin City University.
In the interview Dr Kissane and Professor O’Halpin discuss the current economic crisis facing the Irish state, growth of Sinn Féin, the issue of ‘clientelism’ (even in the big cities), and the state of the state generally.
Jun 30 2014
This post was originally featured on the LSE Review of Books blog.
Green lifestyles and ethical consumption have become increasingly popular strategies in moving towards environmentally-friendly societies and combating global poverty. This book aims to scrutinize the emergent phenomenon of ‘eco-chic’: a combination of lifestyle politics, environmentalism, spirituality, beauty and health. Case studies cover Basque sheep cheese production and Ghanaian Afro-chic hairstyles to Asian tropical spa culture and Dutch fair-trade jewellery initiatives. For those interested in sustainable consumption, this book is an interesting look at the intersection of ethics, fashion, and power from a largely anthropological perspective, writes Kira Matus.
Green Consumption: The Global Rise of Eco-Chic. Bart Barendregt and Rivke Jaffe (eds.). Bloomsbury Academic. February 2014.
The role of the individual as a consumer is becoming an increasingly prominent aspect of discussions around sustainable development. The concept of ‘green consumption’ dates back to the 1970s, but the precipitous rise of corporations touting green agendas and products, along with increasing prominence placed on systems of certification and eco-labelling, have signalled a growing reliance on individual choices to enact environmental policy. In a world where market-based policies are ever more the norm, the day to day consumption of individuals thus becomes an inherently political act.
Green Consumption: The Global Rise of Eco-Chic is a volume that delves into what co-editors Bart Barendregt and Rivke Jaffe call ‘eco-chic’: ‘…a combination of lifestyle politics, environmentalism, spiritualism, beauty and health, combined with a call to return to simple living’ (p.1). The authors rightly note that this blurs the lines between ethical consumption, elite consumption and sustainable consumption. The challenge of disentangling these ill-defined and overlapping motivations for consumption is tackled by dividing the book into three parts, each with multiple case studies. The first, which is concerned with ‘From Production to Consumption’ investigates the way that concepts of eco-chic travel from the global North to South, and the divergent interests that emerge from the interactions of large, often global actors with local level efforts to improve sustainability. The second section, ‘Spacialities and Temporalities’ contains three cases that probe the ways in which eco-chic privileges narratives of the ‘local’ and nostalgic references to a slower, simpler past, through the marketing of ‘authentic’ and placed-based goods (champagne or beauty products from the Red Sea fall into this category, as do any goods which have a value or appeal contingent on their place of origin). The final section, ‘Bodies and Beauty’ examines the concept of eco-chic from the perspective of the developing world, with cases that highlight how global aesthetics are reflected back through traditional and local practices to form new and emerging eco-chic fashions.
This treatment of the concept of ‘eco-chic’ has a great deal of potential, especially in its attempts to examine questions of consumption from a variety of different spatial perspectives. While there are several cases that focus on Europe and North America, there is a great deal of effort spent teasing out what eco-chic means in parts of the world where significant parts of the population are struggling with under-consumption, not over-consumption. That being said, nearly every narrative in this volume has at its core issues of inequality; be it the power inequalities between large global brands like Coca Cola and its local NGO partners, the inequality between wealthy Dutch consumers and the individuals using traditional, non-toxic methods to pan for gold to sell into their jewelry, or the inequality between those in Jamaica or south-east Asia who can afford to pay for luxury beauty treatments, and those who are still struggling to meet more basic needs. In all of the cases, eco-chic, as described in the volume, is a privileged, elite activity. And across the cases presented in the book, a picture emerges of a movement whose very attempts to reduce inequality through ethical consumption is one that is only made possible, and may in fact reinforce, the very inequality that consumers are attempting to overcome.
This problem of inequality and the limitations this places on a strategy that depends on individual choices as a route to sustainability is most clearly on display in the chapter by Kate Cairns, Kim de Laat, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann, ‘The Caring, Committed Eco-Mom: Consumption Ideals and Lived Realities of Toronto Mothers’. Their case study of ‘caring consumption’ and its relationship to ‘eco-consumption’ beautifully illustrate the power of the ideal of the Eco-Mom, whose choices are good for her children and the planet. But as their study shows, for most women, this ideal is far from the reality of their lives. Most women find that limitations of time, money, and information severely constrain their ability to live up to the image of the eco-consumer. Even in Toronto, in one of the most well-to-do cities in one of the highest-income nations in the world, for most women, a strategy of consistent eco-consumption remains firmly out of reach. Only the elite of an already relatively elite group can afford the investment in resources which consistent eco-consumption demands.
The implications of this study are important. The first is that this chapter, beyond any other in this volume, makes clear the underlying challenge to sustainability strategies that rely on the individual consumer as political actor and market driver. The ability to reflect these preferences into behaviour is limited – even for those from relatively privileged areas. In other words, if ethical consumption is difficult for highly motivated, well intentioned mothers in Toronto, how narrow is this niche, and is it scalable in any meaningful way? As is pointed out by several authors, a movement that relies on inequality, and in some cases, may even exacerbate it, has a serious internal contradiction to overcome if it is more than a passing fashion.
The ambiguity and blurred distinctions between different kinds of consumptions that make up eco-chic is well problematized, and often insightfully addressed by the case studies in the first two sections of this book. The weakest section is the third section, on ‘Bodies and Beauty.’ Here, the cases are on the one hand fascinating examinations of how global aesthetics are reworked through local traditions, practices and preferences. But these three chapters, unlike the others, are less willing to confront the issues of inequality, as well as the problems of fetishization of authenticity that were gamely acknowledged, if not challenged, in the earlier chapters. This section, while raising interesting issues around concepts of beauty and the self in ways that push back against global hegemonic ideals, fail to connect this in more depth to the real implications this has for sustainable consumption decisions generally, and eco-chic more broadly. As the closing section of the volume, it also sets up a rather dangerous dichotomy in the structure, where the eco-chic sensibilities and choices of largely wealthier individuals in the global North are depicted as superficial and striving for an authenticity that has largely disappeared from their culture, while those in the global South are fetishized as the real location of authentic culture and practice. This flirts with a kind of ‘orientalism’ that seems misplaced, distracting, and undermines rigorous scholarship around cultural aspects of sustainable consumption practices.
Overall, for those interested in sustainable consumption, this book is an interesting look at the intersection of ethics, fashion, and power from a largely anthropological perspective. For scholars of politics or of business who are contemplating the role that consumption has in sustainable development, it raises important points about the complexity that underlies consumption, and the role of culture and fashion, as well as competing values and priorities, that must be considered. It is also an important reminder that acts of political consumption on the part of individuals has limitations as a tool of policy. Eco-chic as a concept is well reflected by Chris Hudson in his chapter ‘Green is the New Green: The Eco-Aesthetics of Singapore’:“The paradox [of Singapore] is that it maintains an obvious commitment to a sustainable environment while at the same time continuing its dependency on consumption.” As this work makes clear, this is the dependency that none of the eco-chic cases in this volume have had any ability to alter.
Kira Matus is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Management in the Department of Government at the LSE. Her research focuses on the intersection of innovation, policy, and sustainable development, with a focus on sustainable production consumption systems, certification systems, and the interface of science and policy. She is the project co-director of the ‘Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development’ project at Harvard’s Sustainability Science Program. She has a PhD in public policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard (where she was a doctoral fellow in the Sustainability Science Program), an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT, and a BSc in Chemistry from Brown University. Read more reviews by Kira on LSE Review of Books.
Jun 23 2014
As well as working for British Government @ LSE in the Department of Government I am also studying for an MSc in Social Policy Research. On Monday 16 June I finished my first year and I have to say I am delighted. I was so tired towards the end and in the weeks leading up to my coursework and exam it seemed like I never had any time to myself.
It has been around seven years since I was last in education and it was a shock to my system. The initial lectures were so enjoyable, and being back in education itself felt great but doing an essay in the third week brought me back down to earth with a bump. Poor marks were a feature of every piece of formative work that I submitted, only the very final one got above a pass. It was only much later on that I began to get the hang of what was required. Having been told so many times the importance of structure, coherence and answering the question it eventually began to sink in. now I make a strict plan and stick to it when I’m doing essays of any kind. I have received a provisional merit for my summative work and I’m very disappointed so I have made progress.
The exam prep was tough. I am pleased that I kept fairly sensible hours when studying for something like the advised the pattern of 9-11, 12-2, 3-5 then relax. I didn’t fall into bad habits like staying up all night and got a decent amount of sleep. Although practice is key to doing well, I spent relatively little time answering past papers and more on trying to learn as much as possible about the subjects then making flash cards and getting people to test me on their contents. Having done both I was fairly confident going into the exam. My greatest fear was that topics I had studied wouldn’t come up in the exam. To some extent this happened but I hope that I did myself justice and can now relax and enjoy the world cup.
What were yours strategies for the exams and how well do you think that you did?
Jun 23 2014
This post originally appeared on the British Politics and Public Policy blog.
In late May 2014, the UK Treasury released a press release ahead of a major report UK minsters were issuing on the costs of setting up an independent Scottish state. Joel Suss, Managing Editor of British Politics and Policy blog, asks Patrick Dunleavy about the way in which the Treasury used his research findings to arrive at a figure of £2.7 billion, and about his Twitter intervention raising concerns about it, which caused a furore. How did this episode come about, and does it serve to illustrate the problems of mis-communication between civil servants and researchers?
What were the main problems with the press release from the Treasury on the reorganisation costs of an independent Scottish Government?
The UK government correctly said that in our 2010 LSE Public Policy Group report Making and Breaking Whitehall Departments, Anne White and I estimated that the cost of setting up a new medium-sized department at UK national level was then £15 million. This covers just the extra expenses of reorganisation itself, and not any possible enhanced effectiveness gains. It is (if you like) the transaction cost of change (like paying a solicitor to do your house conveyancing).
The Treasury then took this £15 million estimate and said that an independent Scotland government would need to create 180 new bodies. (I’m not clear how they got that number.) Next they multiplied £15 million by 180 to get £2.7 billion as the ‘set-up’ costs of an independent Scotland’s government.
This is a very crude series of steps to make. Alex Salmond has rightly pointed out that the Scottish government are not proposing to create 180 Whitehall-scale departments in Scotland. Whitehall departments are very big and expensive organizations, the Rolls Royce of administrative machines. The Secretaries of States, Ministers of State, junior Ministers and Permanent Secretaries all have large staffs and costly offices. Highly siloed Whitehall IT systems need to be altered and reconfigured in any reorganization. Offices need to be moved. Often staff contracts and pay levels from different departments have to be unified. And everything needs to be rebranded. These costs all add up. So our estimate was based on the size and function of an average Whitehall department reorganization.
Actually, many of the new bodies needed in Scotland could be very small. For example the UK Electoral Commission has an annual budget of £21 million for its work (covering a 61 million population). You certainly would not need to spend £15 million to create a Scottish Electoral Commission, covering only 5.5 million people.
How could the Scottish Government go about creating a new government structure and what do you think that would cost?
If you look at the Scottish Government website you can see that it doesn’t now have a highly siloed department structure like Whitehall. It currently uses the same kind of structure as the European Commission, where you have a set of more flexible ‘directorates’ with common IT and HR systems. This is a more modern and cost efficient way of running things than Whitehall’s legacy departments. So I could see that the Scottish government might want to retain that way of doing things for much of its work after independence. Even if it didn’t do so, across the OECD countries the average number of ministries is 14. So I certainly don’t see why Scotland would need any more top ministries than that.
Over and above the structures already in place in Edinburgh, an independent Scotland would clearly need four extra ministries. Two would be brand new: a ministry of defence, and a ministry of foreign affairs (together with embassies, which could be a bit expensive). Two more would involve reorganizing and adding to the work already done in Scotland on tax collection (by HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC)), which might form part of a new Ministry of Finance; and a welfare ministry, taking over what Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) already has in place in Scotland. When the Financial Times asked me to estimate the reorganization costs for enlarging the Scottish Executive directorates, plus these four additional ministries, that is where I guesstimated a number around £150-200 million.
The Treasury press release also estimated that an independent Scotland would face extra IT and administrative costs for tax collection of ‘as much as £562 million’ and for ‘a new benefit system … £400 million alone’. Were these included in your estimate? And do they look right to you?
Our original 2010 research only covered Whitehall reorganizations, not whole scale new policy systems, so these elements were not included in my guesstimate above. Again, I can’t really comment on the provenance of these large Treasury numbers, and so I don’t know how seriously to take them. Both the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs already have offices in and systems for Scotland, so you wouldn’t need whole new organisations on the ground.
Where costs could be substantial is in disentangling Scotland’s tax and welfare IT systems from those of the rest of the UK. Currently both HMRC and DWP have very complex ‘legacy’ IT systems, with a great many mainframe computers systems arranged in complex networks, and a lot of old-fashioned software code that is expensive to maintain and operate. It is conceivable that an independent Scotland would have to undertake a lot of work quickly to pull out the data that relate to Scotland only, and to get new IT systems in place. (By the way, the rest of the UK would essentially have to do the same work, e.g. identifying which people were Scottish and which rUK citizens. So some set up costs might be shared.)
However, if a new Scottish government was to spend sums as great as the Treasury brief suggests, it is also inconceivable that it would do so without trying to significantly improve the tax and welfare IT systems, so as to make both productivity gains and efficiency savings, and to create more effective systems. And in fact creating a new IT system for a small country like Scotland could be made much cheaper than current UK large legacy IT systems that are costly to run and maintain. For instance, I would estimate that the current Swedish tax system is about 15 years ahead of the UK in its use of digital tax collection. So although it might cost to create new tax and welfare systems at the start, I guess that if you were investing substantially in new IT you’d be looking at systems yielding long run cost savings over 10 or 20 years. Over time running cost savings could significantly off-set some of the up-front costs of a change. (To help think about this, let’s take an example. What would I do if someone suddenly took away my old Dell desktop and I had to replace it? When I go down to the shop, will I buy an exact clone of what I have already? Or will I use the spending opportunity to invest in a new much better PC?)
Are there other estimates for reorganising or creating new government bodies that might have been more suitable?
Well, there was a National Audit Office report published at the same time as ours (March 2010) that looked at the costs of UK level reorganisations below the Whitehall department level. Their analysis fits more closely to what Scotland would have to do on agencies and public bodies in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.
How would you overall evaluate the information that the Treasury has issued?
I think that UK ministers and the Treasury potentially have a point in arguing that the Scottish Government has not been very forthcoming, they might even say evasive, about clarifying some of the costs entailed in independence. But there is no point in putting into public circulation misinformation to try to counteract that. My objection is that the Treasury woefully misapplied our research estimates and that this did not need to have happened. If officials had rung me at any time (as e.g. any good journalist would) I’d have been very happy to brief them on our findings. and on the issues involved in producing good quality information here.
I’ve actually just published a book (with co-authors) on how academic work has an impact on policy-making. So this is an interesting little incident to add to the picture, illustrating the problems of mis-communication between civil servants and researchers. It shows how people in government need to be a bit more engaged with academia in an effective (and not exploiting) way. It also shows how policymakers need to consider now the power of social media, such as Twitter. I simply sent two tweets the afternoon I spotted the Treasury mistake [one of them shown below], which were then picked up, and today the story made the front page of the Financial Times.
— Patrick Dunleavy (@PJDunleavy) May 27, 2014
Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Homepage image credit: Tom Page
About the Interviewee
Jun 5 2014
On Thursday 22 May 2014, UK voters took to the polls for both the local and European elections. Professor Tony Travers and Professor Simon Hix were invited to join presenter Martin Rogers on the HotSeat to give their views on the election results.
Discussing the local elections, Tony Travers, made the points that:
Professor Simon Hix made the following remarks on the European elections:
May 28 2014
The European Parliament (EP) has become an increasingly important lobbying venue for business due to the recent enhancement of its regulatory powers. Existing research, however, disagrees on the extent to which the intensified business lobbying has resulted in increased business influence on EP policy outcomes. Some studies find a ‘business bias’ in the EP, while others still perceive it to be a forceful promoter of diffuse interests (such as consumer and environmental groups).
In a newly published article, Dr Maja Kluger Rasmussen examines the conditions under which business groups shape policy outcomes in the EP. The article uses a comparative qualitative case study design of four recent legislative dossiers, and draws on process-tracing of EU documents and lobbying letters, and 145 interviews.
Maja shows that business influence is a conditional concept that needs to be studied in its institutional and issue-specific context. Although business holds a privileged position in politics owing to superior resources, expertise and structural power, it far from dominates policy outcomes in the EP. This is because business is faced with countervailing forces which caps its influence – most notably, noisy politics, unsympathetic committees and rifts within the business sector itself. Business often finds itself battling not labour unions or NGOs, but itself. While the corporate world may, in some abstract sense, be regarded as representing a capitalist class interest, this notion is a platitude of little analytical and empirical value.
Dissent within the business sector serves as a brake on business influence – a brake that is most likely to be stepped on when faced with legislation harmonizing process standards. Process standard legislation is typically examined by periphery committees, attracts intense Member State lobbying and often creates fissures within the business community due to the diverse regulatory regimes across the EU, which works to the advantage of diffuse interests. Contrast this with proposals harmonizing product standards, which are normally examined by mainstream committees, usually, but not always, characterized by limited Member State lobbying and a more homogenous business sector.
Business groups tend to prevail at the expense of diffuse interests when European business federations are internally united, they lobby on highly technical issues (with limited member state lobbying) and mainstream committees examine proposals. When these stars are aligned, policy outcomes tend to favour the views of business. Although opposition from labour unions and NGOs may offset some of the influence exerted by business, these groups do not come close to the political armaments of business so long as dossiers are dealt with by mainstream committees and evince little interest from Member States.
May 21 2014
Date: 27 May 2014
Venue: Thai Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE
Dr Bill Kissane, Associate Professor in Politics, will be a panel member at a public lecture on Tunisia’s Constitutional Breakthrough. This event is jointly organised and promoted by the Conflict Research Group at the Government Department of the LSE, the Tunisian Embassy, and the Westminster Foundation of Democracy.
Panelists will discuss what the future holds for Tunisia as the country prepares for elections following parliament’s historic approval of the new constitution, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Tunisia’s transition to democracy.
The panel will be chaired by Dr. Katarina Dalacoura of the International Relations Department.
Those wishing to attend, please arrive early in order to find way to the Thai Theatre, in the New Academic Building at the LSE. The event will be followed by a reception.
May 16 2014
By Prof. Tony Travers
The decline in Britain’s ‘two-party’ political system is well-documented. In the 1951 general election, the total Conservative-plus-Labour vote was 97 per cent, yet in 2010 it had declined to 65 per cent. The Liberal Democrats (and their predecessor parties, the Liberals and Social Democrats) had, until the 2010 election, been the main beneficiaries of this decline. Other parties, notably the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, Respect and the BNP have also played a role in reducing the dominance of Labour and the Conservatives. The chart below shows these changes.
As voter pluralism has increased, there have been differential impacts from one part of the country to another. The Conservatives have seen their vote share decline significantly more than Labour in both Scotland and the urban North of England. Similarly, Labour has seen its vote share fall more than the Conservatives in the rural South. The next two charts compare vote shares between 1945 and 2010 in the North (North East & North West) and the South (South East, East & South West).
As a result of these voting changes, it has become harder for either the Conservatives or Labour to win a general election outright. The post-2010 Coalition was the result of the Conservatives’ failure to win a clear majority. Something similar may happen again in 2015, with either Labour or the Conservatives winning the largest number of seats, but possibly insufficient to form a majority government.
The decline of the Conservatives in the urban north and Scotland has coincided with the long period of de-industrialisation since the 1970s. As recently as 1978, the Tories were well represented on big city councils in the north of England. The table below shows the number of seats held by the major parties on four major northern city councils in 1978 and 2010 (both, within electoral cycles, relatively good years for the Conservatives).
The Liberal Democrats have been the main beneficiaries of the decline in Conservative fortunes in these major northern cities. They (and in some places others) have also supplanted Labour in a number of southern counties and districts. Again, both dates shown were reasonably good years for Labour.
As parties see their local government strength decline, there appears to be an impact on the capacity to win Parliamentary seats. Two examples are given below, one affecting the Conservatives in Liverpool and the other Labour in Eastleigh. In each case, and even allowing for some modest boundary changes, Con-Lab contests have become either Lab-Lib Dem or Con-Lib Dem contests: one of the ‘major’ parties has slipped from being first or second in terms of votes to third or fourth. This pattern is repeated in a significant number of places. Council seats won by each party at the start and finish of the period are also shown.
There are substantial areas of the country where the major, traditional, parties’ vote share has declined precipitously since the 1970s. Unless the major parties can re-establish themselves in these places and with lost voters (in all areas) they are less and less likely to be able to win an election outright and could, potentially, be overhauled by an insurgent party.
During the Liberal Democrats’ period in government since 2010, their ‘protest’ vote status has been much reduced. This decline begs the question of where Liberal Democrat votes will go if the party’s share declines permanently to below its pre-2010 level. Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see whether UKIP can win (1) protest; (2) former Conservative and (3) ‘working class’ Labour votes.
For the Conservatives and Labour, there remains a key challenge: how to re-connect with their ex-voters and in places where decline has occurred. Alternatively, it is possible Labour and the Conservatives will continue to suffer attrition and face the prospect of simply becoming one of a larger number of ‘major minority’ parties.