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Three ways Sports Direct can rebuild its reputation

Dr William Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies for the University of Exeter Business School takes a look at the three ways with which Sports Direct can rebuild its reputation.

This post first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

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Will Harvey, University of Exeter

Sports Direct has had a turbulent time of late. Investigations into the working conditions at the retailer’s warehouses led to criticisms from unions, MPs and its own law firm about its labour and governance practices.

Even an attempted PR move to change the company’s image – a Sports Direct “open day” for journalists and members of the public to look around its warehouses – ended in controversy after boss Mike Ashley pulled a wad of £50 notes out of his pocket during a security check.

In a bid to restore confidence in his company, Ashley appeared on prime time news in a rare television interview and agreed to an independent review of its working practices and corporate governance. Will this be enough for Sports Direct to put criticism behind it and move on?

Sports Direct is neither the first nor the last company to face a reputation crisis. To weather these storms, research would suggest three important actions, some of which the company have already put into action.

1. Proactively address critics

Proactively addressing the criticisms the company has had around its labour and governance practices is an important first step in rebuilding confidence. This shows that the company is serious about how it treats its employees and how it is organised.

There have been major shifts in how other organisations in the UK engage with and treat their labour and in how seriously they take the issue of corporate governance. Empowering employees in the workplace through involving them in strategic decisions and ensuring a diversity of skills and backgrounds on company boards are two recent trends.

The challenge for Sports Direct will be to show its staff, shareholders and the public that it takes both issues seriously – not as a knee-jerk reaction to external pressure, but because they are an important part of the company’s values. This takes time to achieve and should be more than a tick box exercise.

For Sports Direct, agreeing to an independent review, instead of using its own law firm, is a step in the right direction.

2. Top-down, bottom-up

Inevitably, when a company does seek to change its reputation, there is both resistance and scepticism from certain quarters within it. This is why such change must be both top-down and led in this case by Mike Ashley and Sports Direct’s chairman, Keith Hellawell. But it must also be bottom-up, with champions leading the change across the entire company.

Too often, attempts at change lead to major disconnections between leaders, managers and the rest of the workforce. This was a problem at food producer Beak and Johnston, which historically had a hierarchical approach to managing workers in the context of a tough working environment of meat processing. Over time, however, this multi-million dollar company has empowered workers to be accountable for line performances and provide input into company strategy, which has transformed the company’s culture and financial performance.

Sports Direct staff need to be brought on side.
Joe Giddens / PA Wire

A disconnect between leaders and workers not only creates tension internally among the workforce, it also raises questions externally among analysts, unions, journalists and others around the authenticity of the change process.

3. True values

Most organisations make grandiose claims about their values. However, when a company faces major questions about its reputation then those values come under greater scrutiny. What is particularly interesting about Sports Direct is that there is very little information on the company’s website about its values. Much more is said about its strategy, business model and operations.

Clearly, writing a set of values does not imply sound labour and governance practices, but their absence might suggest too great an emphasis on economic performance. Sports Direct should consider embedding a strong set of values which are meaningful to its members. To be clear, this should not be a window dressing exercise for its website, but an opportunity to much more closely engage with its core internal and external stakeholders such as employees, customers, investors, unions and regulators.

It won’t be easy, but Ashley’s presence this morning on BBC Breakfast is an important first step, as demonstrated by the boost in the company’s share price that followed it. But it must be about more than just PR soundbites. Other important steps include more directly engaging with key employees and shareholders who are concerned not only about the short-term turnaround, but also the company’s long-term reputation and survival.

Working on the above with a strong and committed board, senior management team and group of employee representatives will help to rebuild the company’s reputation from within. And this, over time, will be recognised externally.

The Conversation

Will Harvey, Director of Public Policy Research Cluster, Director of Research and Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Brexit: why uncertainty is bad for economies

Professor Kevin McMeeking, Associate Professor of Accounting in the University of Exeter Business School, takes a look at how the post-Brexit economy is faring.

This article first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

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Kevin McMeeking, University of Exeter

The predicted economic blow of a Brexit vote was core to the Remain campaign before Britain’s referendum on EU membership. Since the vote, the lack of an “Armageddon” has been held up as an example of these fears being overblown. In reality, it is likely to vary significantly across society, affecting people and businesses in different ways. In particular, there is the more nebulous, long-term effect of uncertainty to take into account.

For example, one immediate affect of the vote was a fall in pound sterling to the US dollar – from an average of US$1.42 in the six months prior to the referendum vote to the US$1.30 mark. The evidence of previous plunges in sterling, such as in the wake of Black Wednesday in 1992, suggest that net exporters of goods in the UK will benefit but net importers of goods will suffer.

GBP/USD exchange rate before and after Brexit.
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Any gains here, however, could be offset by the increased levels of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s relationship with the EU as a result of the vote. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has argued that political, economic, regulatory uncertainties will persist while the UK redefines its openness to the movement of goods, services, people and capital.

A market for lemons

That uncertainty is bad for business is a well-established theory in economics. In a seminal paper, Nobel-prize winner George Akerlof created a scenario where buyers couldn’t distinguish between high quality cars and low quality cars (which he called “lemons”) in a second-hand market. Buyers would only pay a fixed price that averages the value of the high quality and the “lemons”. Sellers (with the information advantage) responded by removing good quality cars from the market, only selling “lemons”. This resulted in exchanges that could benefit buyers and sellers being lost and an inefficient market. This information asymmetry, Akerlof showed, also led to a degradation of the quality of goods traded.

Significant resources are invested to mitigate against this information problem in businesses. Companies offer guarantees, warranties and refunds to consumers. Consumers and companies review services before buying them. Annual reports are long and detailed. Company management liaise extensively with interested parties such as analysts and institutional investors. Firms also invest large amounts in derivatives to try to reduce uncertainty and manage their risks. But the government will be hard pressed to use similar strategies.

If British suppliers pass on increased costs that are a likely result of Brexit uncertainty to consumers then UK sales are likely to fall. This is bad news for an economy that is already struggling to boost spending. Early evidence suggests that petrol prices have risen, travel company bookings have fallen and the housing market has slowed. Less visible effects might follow such as a delay to investments from overseas or the removal of services like “roam-like-at-home” rules on phone calls and texts in the EU.

Mark Carney: no lemon.
Twocoms / Shutterstock.com

The Bank of England’s response has been to cut interest rates to 0.25% – the first cut since 2009 – and to also expand its quantitative easing programme to try to get people spending. The effects of this will take time – and there is, as yet, no guarantee that they will work – but this does not leave the Bank of England with many more fiscal cards left to play.

Lessons from Canada

To assess the actual economic impact of Brexit uncertainty, Canada offers some lessons and the sovereignty movement in Quebec (which almost won a referendum in 1995). Uncertainty here prompted a rise in ten-year bond rates and an adverse reaction from stock markets. Undiversified low-growth firms, with transactions focused in the local markets were the worst affected.

Independence from Canada would be costly for Quebec in three main ways – increased levels of debt, increased tariffs and financial transfers. Brexit might benefit the UK by reducing the costs of regulation and reduced payments into the EU, but it is inconceivable that the UK can enjoy the same trading relationship with its European partners without paying for the privilege – as Norway and Switzerland do.

Uncertainty also affects individuals. If they choose to leave for more stable futures, this could impact the broader economy. This would be particularly damaging for niche high-tech markets and government organisations, companies or industries that rely heavily on EU immigrants for large numbers of employees such as the NHS. A brain drain would leave a skills gap that British employees cannot service leading to a decline in trade. UK universities are concerned that they might see a significant decline in tuition fee income and the loss of academic talent in the short to medium-term.

The overall economic effects will take time to materialise and likely vary across the country. The businesses (and people) that are the least diversified; with little or no access to alternative income streams are likely to be the most at risk during these uncertain times.

Kevin McMeeking, Associate Professor of Accounting, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is Katla crying wolf? Icelandic volcano’s rumblings don’t mean airspace chaos is imminent

Physical Geography lecturer, Dr Kate Smith reflects on the 2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and the recent rumblings of its close neighbour Katla.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Kate Smith, University of Exeter

There have been rumblings in Iceland recently.

But given its position in the North Atlantic, this is perhaps no surprise. The location makes the country a notorious volcanic hot spot, regularly hit by seismic activity.

Two recent earthquakes in August 2016 have now led to international reports of imminent eruption risk of Katla volcano. They both occurred within the 9km by 14km central crater – or “caldera” – of the volcano in southern Iceland, and were the two largest earthquakes at the volcano since 1977.

So how worried should we be? Will there be a repeat of the chaos in the skies after an ash cloud drifted over Europe in 2010 caused by an eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla’s close neighbour?

In historic terms, we’ve certainly been waiting for an explosive eruption of Katla, one of Iceland´s most active volcanoes, for quite some time. Lying beneath an icecap up to 700 metres thick, over the last 1,100 years explosive eruptions large enough to melt through the ice have occurred on average every 50 years. The last such eruption was in 1918, and the current pause of 98 years is the longest on record.

Katla in 1918.
wikicommons

In the past earthquakes were felt two to 10 hours before Katla erupted through the ice. Since June, earthquake activity in the caldera has been elevated. The large earthquakes on August 29 marked the peak of this seismicity, followed by a series of more than 100 smaller events, finishing early on August 30.

Meanwhile, the rivers that drain from the ice-capped volcano have been smelling of rotten eggs. This smell comes from hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a volcanic gas found in fluids within the caldera beneath the ice. Unusually high H2S levels near Múlakvísl river have prompted official advice to avoid the immediate area. Changes in levels of volcanic gases around volcanoes and enhanced seismic activity can be signs of increased movement of magma and a future volcanic eruption.

So does all of this physical evidence point to an imminent eruption? Well, probably not. This activity is not actually unusual. Since the 1950s, periods of enhanced seismicity and increased gas pollution have not been followed by explosive eruptions, and there is no sign of swelling of the volcano or harmonic tremor (continuous rhythmic earthquakes) suggesting magma movement.

Earthquake activity at Katla also regularly increases in summer and autumn. As the summer progresses, more glacial ice melts, and small floods can occur. These larger volumes of melt water also increase pore pressure in the crustal rocks and can trigger earthquakes. Changes to water flow can also alter how much geothermal fluid is in the rivers, hence the smell.

Land of fire and ice.
Chmee2/Valtameri, CC BY

In winter the melting reduces and water exists only in small pockets at the base of the ice, which reduces pore pressure in the crust and reduces seismic activity.

After effects

However, volcanoes can change rapidly and in unexpected ways. We can’t say for sure that Katla will not erupt in the near future. A 98-year repose period is long, and twice before eruptions of Katla have followed Eyjafjallajökull in the 1820s and in 1612.

So what would happen if Katla did erupt? Eruptions from this volcano over the last 120,000 years have been varied, but the most likely eruption would be from the central caldera. A very small eruption wouldn’t melt through the ice, but a larger one could melt through explosively. Explosive Katla eruptions typically involve ash clouds and large floods (jökulhlaups) of meltwater, ice and sediment that flow across the surrounding lowlands. Lava is not usually seen since most eruptions are subglacial.

A small explosive eruption from Katla is the most common eruption type and would last from days to a couple of weeks, produce a plume up to 14km high, ash fall in Iceland and a large flood, but would be unlikely to affect anywhere outside of Iceland.

A larger-scale event could last weeks or even months. In this case the plume would be up to 25km in height and could impact air quality and air travel in the UK and Europe within two days if the wind blows ash in that direction. Iceland could expect heavy ashfall, with implications for travel, agriculture and air quality, and a large flood. Such floods can have peak discharges (water flow rates) greater than the Amazon, and cause major landscape change and local tsunamis.

If there is an eruption, both Iceland and the UK should be well prepared. Evacuation plans exist for local communities and information is available in several languages. The UK Meteorological Office monitors ash in the atmosphere and is able to predict what areas could be affected.

Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud of 2010.
PA

When I began studying Katla in 1999 I was told she could erupt any time. This remains true today and with every day that passes, we get closer to an eruption. But I wouldn’t bet on it happening right now.

Icelandic and international scientists work hard to investigate Katla´s past and carry out 24-hour monitoring with sophisticated equipment to understand its present and future. We study volcanic ash, rocks, jökulhlaup deposits, river levels and gas emissions on the ground. Earthquakes and GPS records are analysed remotely and we use satellites and overflights to examine the ground and ice surfaces from the air. An eruption may not be imminent – but it is exciting that we can detect and interpret these clues to assess Katla’s next move.

The Conversation

Kate Smith, Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Teen obesity caused by going into ‘power-saving mode’

As new research on the subject of teen obesity hits the headlinesProfessor Terry Wilkin – Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism in University of Exeter Medical School – looks at the evolutionary trait of ‘power-saving’ which may be trapping them.

This post first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

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Terry Wilkin, University of Exeter

It is possible that modern teenagers are trapped by a trait which evolved thousands of years ago to help them through puberty, but which now leaves them vulnerable to obesity.

Adolescents need an extra 20-30% energy every day to fuel the growth and changes in body composition that characterise the six years or so of pubertal development. Energy comes from calories in the food they eat, but how could hunter-gatherers guarantee the extra calories they needed as adolescents when their food supply was limited?

We believe they may have unearthed a strategy that worked well for our ancestors, but which does quite the opposite now.

In our research, we have been monitoring a group of children as they progress through childhood from five to 16 years of age (the EarlyBird study). We found, as expected, that more energy was burnt as children got bigger. However, after the age of ten, the calories they burnt unexpectedly fell, despite the fact that they were growing faster than ever. The amount of calories burnt by age 15 was around 25% lower in both boys and girls. Only at 16 years of age, when the growth spurt was over, did the energy spend begin to increase again.

The study has three important qualities: it is longitudinal (which means that it measures the same group of children throughout), its age spread is very narrow (which means that age-related changes can be more accurately identified), and few people dropped out of the study (important statistically).

In a publication last year, we described two distinct waves of weight gain; one occurring sometime between birth and five years of age, and the other in adolescence. The early wave affected only some children – the offspring of obese parents – while the later wave in adolescence involved children generally.

Poor parental eating habits passed on to their children seemed a likely explanation for early obesity, but we had no good explanation for the later wave of obesity, until now.

Mystery solved?

Energy balance can be thought of as a bank account. Calories are deposited, and calories are spent. Body size (the balance in the account) depends on the difference between the two. So, although the explanation we offer is entirely speculative, and we will never really know because we don’t have the data on our ancestors, the researchers proposed that a downward shift of energy expenditure into “power-saving mode” might help to conserve the calories needed for the growth spurt in puberty.

The energy burnt over 24 hours has two components: voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary component is physical activity, which is easy to understand. What people understand less readily is that the involuntary component is by far the bigger one. Involuntary energy expenditure (so-called resting energy expenditure) is used just to keep alive; to keep the blood temperature at 36.8°C, fuel the brain to think and enable the organs to function.

Involuntary energy expenditure accounts for around 75% of the total calories burnt in a day, which explains why physical activity has a limited impact on obesity. A fall of 25% in resting energy expenditure makes a big hole in the calories burnt each day.

Why does all this matter, and why does it occur? It matters because it makes obesity more difficult to avoid if teenagers are trapped by a long period of low-calorie burn. We don’t know for sure why it occurs, but could speculate that it may be a throw-back to earlier evolutionary times, when calories were scarce but adolescents still needed 25-30% more calories a day to fuel growth and bodily changes.

Not as easy as buying a burger.
Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock.com

How did hunter-gatherers assure the supply of extra calories needed to reach maturity? It is possible that their bodies adapted by switching down its calorie expenditure, so as to divert the calories to the energy needed to grow. Obesity is a recent problem, and the adaptation now works adversely in a world where calories are cheap and readily available in a highly palatable mix of sugary drinks and calorie-dense foods.

The worst outcome is that adolescents and their families take these findings to mean that they can do nothing about teenage obesity. The best is that a new explanation for teenage obesity leads to better understanding, and an avoidance of the foods that are the cause.The Conversation

Terry Wilkin, Professor, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It will take more than giving people a share in shale gas profits to sway public opinion on fracking

Associate Research Fellow, Joseph Dutton, looks at the US’s shale gas production, what lies behind the industry’s boom in the US, and what can give the UK’s shale industry the boost that it needs.

James is part of the Energy Policy Group.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Joseph Dutton, University of Exeter

Britain is due to receive its first delivery of shale gas imported from the US, which will arrive at Grangemouth petrochemical plant in Scotland next month. That the UK is importing a tanker-full of shale gas from the US despite sitting on substantial resources of its own reveals just how far advanced the US shale gas industry is over that in the UK.

While the US was once predicted to be the world’s largest importer of natural gas, instead by 2015 it had delivered record gas exports due to its booming shale gas industry. The use of gas for generating electricity also recently reached record levels. On the other hand, there is no commercial shale gas production in the UK and only a handful of wells have been drilled. In May, the first application approval in five years was given to Third Energy, to begin exploration in the village of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. In Scotland, despite interest from a number of companies, development was halted by a 2015 moratorium.

Shale gas as percentage of US natural gas production. Plazak/US EIA, CC BY-SA

According to surveys undertaken by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in April, public support for fracking stood at only 19 per cent, while 31 per cent were explicitly opposed. In an effort to win over the public and speed up the development process, the government launched a consultation on its proposals to distribute payments from the production of shale gas to the communities affected by the drilling and under which the gas lies.

This would be dealt with through a Shale Wealth Fund, which would distribute 10 per cent of all shale gas tax revenues to local communities. Initially there would be a maximum payout of £10m to each community associated with a shale drilling site over the period of 25 years – payments the government believes could add up to £1 billion over the fund’s lifetime. Crucially, the government proposed that payments could be made to households directly, rather than as benefits to communities through payments made to local authorities, for example.

This latest proposal builds on a community benefit charter that was drawn up by industry trade body UK Oil and Gas in 2013. This committed companies to community payments of £100,000 per drilling site during exploration, and one per cent of revenues during production. But, unlike the government’s proposals, this would entail payments to communities as a whole, not to individual households.

Playing with incentives

Part of what lies behind the US shale gas boom is that landowners there own the rights to minerals or oil below their land, so providing a financial incentive for them to allow oil and gas companies to get to work. In the UK, mineral rights belong to the Crown: the Shale Wealth Fund is essentially an attempt to create a financial incentive for those affected to look more positively towards drilling near their homes or land, and to provide a more tangible benefit than just greater employment, economic activity and tax revenues.

But would paying off householders actually give the industry the boost it needs? Some have reacted angrily to the proposals. Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the south-east, described them as “immoral and tantamount to bribery” – a view echoed by other Green MEPs. A subsequent poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth found that 33 per cent of people would support fracking if households were paid, while 43 per cent

 

 

 

would still oppose fracking regardless of payments – fewer than in the April survey, but still substantial opposition.

Certainly, direct payments are a more progressive and ambitious step than the industry’s 2013 charter. But the government’s consultation document noted that in reality such payments would be “relatively small per-household”.

In fact, regardless of the estimates the government provides, the ultimate value of the fund and therefore the payments it would distribute is wholly dependent on the tax regime in place when production begins, and the revenue a company derives from a shale gas site once costs are taken into account. Until actual gas production begins, it’s impossible to estimate how much tax the operating company will pay – or even if the shale industry would be a success in the UK at all.

As the price of oil and gas has plummeted in the last two years, the economic case for developing potentially expensive shale gas deposits has weakened. More exploration drilling is needed to determine how much gas can be produced and at what cost. But more than this, public support remains the largest hurdle to the shale sector, and in the absence of a social licence to operate – essentially, public support to do so – the promise of payments to communities will do little to get it up and running.

The Conversation

Joseph Dutton, Research Fellow, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Blair really went to war

Dr Owen Thomas, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations for the College of Social Sciences and International Studies, looks at Tony Blair’s motivation for war in 2003 and whether it meets he conditions set out in, Blair’s own Doctrine of the International Community.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

Owen D. Thomas, University of Exeter

As Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry findings are published, we should resist what’s become the easy refrain: “Blair Lied. Thousands Died.”

If we actually want to learn from what happened, we should recognise that Tony Blair has been remarkably consistent in his view that the removal of the regime was necessary, whether or not Saddam Hussein actually possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Blair, it seems, genuinely believes that the war was in our best interests because it may have prevented an unlikely (but not impossible) catastrophe. This way of thinking has not gone away.

Ever since the inquiry began in 2009, Sir John Chilcot has said: “The inquiry is not a court of law and nobody is on trial. ” This provoked plenty of consternation, despite Sir John’s promise that the committee will “not shy away” from frank criticism.

One of the questions that we can expect the inquiry to resolve is whether the public was deceived about the factual basis for war. Were lies told? Was there an environment in Number 10 whereby public deception was seen as a necessary evil?

Important as these concerns are (and Piers Robinson has written about these questions here), they are secondary to another mystery: why did Blair sincerely believe that war was necessary in the first place, and that it was necessary to persuade a requisite amount of parliamentarians and the public to support intervention?

The story of Britain’s decision to go to war is about not just bad apples, but bad barrels. In other words, to understand what happened in 2002-3, we need to focus not just on what people did, but also why they did it.

The politics of catastrophe

Way back in April 1999, Blair gave a speech in Chicago called The Doctrine of the International Community, in which he set out five conditions under which it would be legitimate to intervene militarily.

The first condition for intervention would be: “Are we sure of our case?” Are we sure, in other words, that intervention will ultimately do more good than harm? War kills innocent people, and it is only the least-worst option when it saves more lives than it destroys.

That speech was given in the context of the Kosovo conflict, but the ideas also underpinned Blair’s rationalisation of the Iraq war. As the scholar Jason Ralph has argued, Blair sincerely believes that the war, which was presented as an act of collective security, was a continuation of the internationalist doctrine he laid out.

So did the Iraq War meet the conditions that Blair himself set out in 1999 – and specifically, was there a good reason to think that war would do more good than harm?

A true believer in Basra. EPA/Peter MacDiarmid

Blair certainly seems to think so. And to understand why, we only need to look at what he said to the inquiry in 2010.

The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk changed … it is absolutely essential to realise this: if September 11 hadn’t happened, our assessment of the risk of allowing Saddam any possibility of him reconstituting his programmes would not have been the same … The point about [9/11] was that over 3,000 people had been killed on the streets of New York, an absolutely horrific event, but this is what really changed my perception of risk, the calculus of risk for me: if those people, inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have.

This is what some call the politics of catastrophe, a concern with the unknown and unanticipated. We now think about the future as a place where it is more certain that terrible things will happen, but we are uncertain about exactly what will happen, when it will happen and where.

Blair’s belief in the need and urgency for war was underpinned by three assumptions: that Iraq was at least capable of, and interested in, producing WMD; that Iraq was obstructing and deceiving the existing inspections and sanctions regime; and that if Iraq did produce WMD, these weapons could be acquired by terrorist organisations, who could use them to mount devastating attacks.

Blair’s assumptions effectively short-circuited the calculus of benefit versus harm. The number of soldiers and civilians who may lose their lives in a war can, plausibly, be calculated. But, for Blair, the number of lives that could be lost in a single terrorist attack was incalculable. While a future terrorist attack using WMD was unlikely, it could kill an unprecedented number of people.

How to think about security

It is because of this kind of thinking that Blair still believes that going to war was the right thing to do. As he said when giving evidence in 2010:

It’s a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take? The reason why it is so important … is because, today, we are going to be faced with exactly the same types of decisions.

Here Blair is quite right: we are facing the same decisions today. Should drones kill suspected terrorists pre-emptively because of what they may do in the future? Should we surveil individuals that exhibit radical views for the same reason?

This worldview transcends the intentions of individual decision-makers and the machinations of “bad apples”. It has become endemic in Western governments and societies; it persists on an unconscious level, and it cannot be pinned on “Teflon Tony” alone.

To grapple with it, we need to have a serious discussion about the meaning and value of security, and how we weigh the costs of war (let’s remember that there have been as many as 250,000 violent deaths since the invasion). We need a clear way of deciding what constitutes an urgent threat, and what constitutes an appropriate response.

Kindred spirits. EPA/Claudio Onorati

At least one member of the Chilcot committee will know all about Blair’s “Doctrine of the International Community”. On April 16 1999, now-Chilcot committee member Sir Lawrence Freedman sent a fax to Number 10 with some ideas for the Chicago speech – and it was he who suggested the five conditions.

Freedman recently published an essay titled with a very pertinent question: Can there be a liberal military strategy? The final lines may be telling. Freedman argues that:

It is best to acknowledge that force invariably carries … risks and that they cannot necessarily be avoided … at the very least it requires paying much more attention to the interaction between the military and political strands of strategy when deciding upon the use of military force and explaining its purpose to the public.

Perhaps this is the one of the most valuable lessons we can learn. Whether or not Blair and other senior figures within government actually misled the British public, and whether they did so deliberately or not, they genuinely believed in the need for action based on a particular political strategy of security. That strategy is what we now need to evaluate.

The Conversation

Owen D. Thomas, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

German rape law finally accepts that no means no – but is a statute enough?

Dr Sarah Cooper reflects on what her teenage self would have thought of Germany’s recent legislation change, in the rape laws.

Dr Cooper is a lecturer in College of Social Science and International Studies’ Politics department.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

Sarah Cooper, University of Exeter

In July 2016, Germany changed its legislation on rape to clarify that “no means no”. That’s right … in July 2016. Until now, by virtue of Section 177 of the German Criminal Code, a guilty verdict in cases of sexual assault demanded, shockingly, signs of physical defence.

Such laws, unsurprisingly, have long had a pernicious effect on the experience of victims. To characterise the recent changes as timely is a ridiculous understatement.

Whether or not it is accompanied by a physical struggle, fighting back, or screaming at the top of one’s lungs, the use of the term “no” signifies a lack of consent to sexual activity. To disregard this simple word amounts to rape, plain and simple. The need to assert this statement in 2016 should be redundant or, at the very least, tiresomely obvious. But such a conversation was commonplace in Germany just a few short weeks ago, when a change to the country’s legal system finally introduced the “no means no” statute.

So what will the response be across Germany – from the criminal law and justice systems, and from German society itself? As a former law student, now a public policy academic, and always an engaged citizen, the congratulatory response in my mind towards this legal “breakthrough” soon shifted towards a scathing critique, accompanied by a strong air of cynicism.

As an undergraduate bogged down by heavy statute books, my adolescent self would have welcomed Germany’s recent changes to the black letter of the law. Former miscarriages of justice would undoubtedly have enraged my idealistic young mind, such as the recent shocking case of model and television personality Gina-Lisa Lohfink, who was fined after a court ruled she had falsely accused two men of rape. This was despite a video surfacing in which she can be heard saying the word “no” several times, and the decision has been appealed.

But is this new statute enough to rectify such ills? Should we have faith that the change in law will have any real impact on German society?

Ushered in with other changes catalysed by the Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve 2015, when around 500 women filed complaints of sexual assault, it appears that the legal shift was motivated more by exceptional events than a gentle evolution of the law in line with global trends.

An unforeseen shock to the political system can lead to serious, and often hasty, change. Of crucial importance to its success is a cultural and social environment which welcomes the new approach. And it is here that the red flags appear.

German media response. Shutterstock

The United Nations has long promoted an appropriate standard for sexual assault legislation, yet Germany has continually ignored its demands for the removal of physical resistance as a necessary element of a guilty verdict. It is frightening to consider what the state of play might be once the level of public empathy for the events in Cologne dissipates. How strictly and enthusiastically will bureaucrats implement this law? Can German victims really now look forward to a paragon of criminal justice?

Victims turned away

In England and Wales in 2014, a damning HMIC report revealed that those claiming to have been sexually assaulted were less likely to be believed by the police than any other potential victim of alternative crimes. One explanation for this, according to criminology research, is a continued consideration of clothing worn, intoxication levels and previous sexual history when assessing the validity of the claim. These amount to a host of “rape myths” that are as prevalent across the police force as they are wider society.

If the institutional barriers to proving sexual assault proliferate across the UK, in which a requirement for bodily defence has long been disregarded, how can this be so easily removed in Germany? Running alongside my own academic analysis, therefore, is a strong air of cynicism from a concerned member of the public.

Certainly, in a global society in which flippant jokes are just one example of a flourishing rape culture, the need for a shift in perception appears vital for the protection of victims. That Germany’s statute book now boasts this standard is unequivocally a hopeful first step. But it must be acknowledged that the justice system may yet remain ingrained with an understanding that a lack of consent is demonstrated through physically fighting back. Although the publicly appetising “no means no” tag line garners much attention, a far more complicated culture looks set to constrain the impact of those vital words which have finally been voiced in parliament.

The Conversation

Sarah Cooper, Lecturer in Politics, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turkey crisis: how will oil and gas supplies be affected?

The recent attempted military coup in Turkey has had far reaching consequences for the country.

In this blog, Associate Research Fellow James Dutton looks at the coup’s potential impact on our oil and gas supplies.

James is based in Geography’s Energy Policy Group.

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Joseph Dutton, University of Exeter

The Turkish military’s attempted coup to topple president Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t last long. The government restored control the following day and soon declared a three-month state of emergency, with more than 60,000 people since arrested or placed under investigation.

This isn’t just Turkey’s problem. The country’s pivotal position in the transport of oil and gas gives it huge geopolitical significance. Straddling Europe and the Middle East and providing export routes from Central Asia to the rest of the world, Turkey is an important and growing energy transit hub.

Shipping in the Bosphorus straits between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea was halted in the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup because of security concerns, though it was soon reopened. Although oil and gas flows were broadly unaffected by the coup, the prospect of prolonged instability raises the spectre of disruption to their transit.

Two major oil pipelines pass through Turkey to the Ceyhan terminal on its Mediterranean coastline. One begins in Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, before passing through Georgia. The other delivers oil from Kirkuk in northern Iraq and has been affected by fighting with Islamic State and Kurdish insurgents, and disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdish government. When fully operational the two piplines have a combined capacity of 2.7m barrels per day, which is more than three times greater than the UK’s daily production.

The country’s location at the mouth of the Black Sea means it plays an equally key role in the seaborne oil trade. Around 3 per cent of the world’s oil and petroleum products pass through the Bosphorus from Russia, Ukraine and central Asia.

Turkey’s pipelines link Europe with Central Asia, Russia and the Middle East. US Energy Information Agency

Turkey is also an important transit state for the EU’s natural gas imports. The Blue Stream pipeline, which runs underneath the Black Sea from Russia, carried 14.7 billion m³ of gas in 2013 – equivalent to 9 per cent of the total Russian gas supplies to Europe that year. Blue Stream was built in the early 2000s in response to growing disruption of gas flows through Ukraine and Belarus. The recent conflict in Ukraine highlights how Turkey’s importance has grown in recent years.

Further into the future, the planned Southern Gas Corridor development would see gas from fields in Azerbaijan flowing through Turkey to the EU by 2018, while the planned Turkish Stream pipeline across the Black Sea would also circumvent Ukraine.

This refinery in Izmit, near Istanbul, processes crude oil delivered by tanker. ARTEM ARTEMENKO / shutterstock

Turkey’s key location for energy supplies and regional affairs means the EU has always considered it a strategic partner. The country’s accession process for membership started back in 2005. And this same strategic importance may be useful even today – some have suggested Europe’s timid response to Erdogan and his crackdown after the attempted coup is because of Turkey’s crucial role in supplying the EU with energy. Although European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Turkey was “not in a position to become a member” following the coup, the ongoing migrant crisis and concerns over energy supplies mean it will be difficult for the EU to take too strict a position.

As the EU seeks to become less dependent on Russian gas it will need to develop supplies from Central Asia through Turkey’s Southern Corridor, while also increasing its supply from global Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) markets. At the same time, Russia will continue to reroute its gas exports away from Ukraine, instead increasing flows through Turkey and through the expanded Nordstream pipeline in Germany.

It is therefore highly unlikely that the strategic nature of EU-Turkey relations will change in the foreseeable future, even if Erdogan’s government places further restrictions on society. But, given further civil unrest or terrorism could increase political instability and threaten Turkey’s energy sector, Europe is right to be worried.

The Conversation

Joseph Dutton, Research Fellow, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hinkley Point C delay: how to exploit this attack of common sense in energy policy

Dr Bridget Woodman,director MSc energy policy and a member of the Energy Policy Group  writes about the 11th hour U turn on the fate of Hinkley Point C.

This post originally appeared in The Conversation Conversation logo

Bridget Woodman, University of Exeter

These are extraordinary times for energy policy in the UK. After years of resigned acceptance that the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station would be built no matter how much of a basketcase it was, the government has surprised everyone by calling a halt to the process until the autumn.

The proposed Hinkley Point C would have two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs), providing around 3GW of electricity or about seven per cent of the UK’s total usage. The construction would be paid for by French energy firm EDF and Chinese nuclear companies, but the expense of building it would be underpinned by long-term supply contracts with the UK government, as well as a series of other financial undertakings designed to reduce the financial risks for the developers.

Few people argue that Hinkley Point C makes sense. The project’s budget has grown from original estimates of £16 billion to £24.5 billion today. Even this might be an underestimate given the experience of cost overruns similar reactors under construction in Finland, France and China.

The long-term supply contracts – known as Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – are designed to guarantee a set income of £92.50 per MegaWatt hour of output, regardless of the actual price of electricity in the market. Since the contracts were agreed, the wholesale price of electricity has fallen, meaning that the estimated subsidy for the lifetime of the project has risen from £6.1 billion to £29.7 billion, a huge burden for UK electricity consumers.

France gets most of its energy from nuclear plants – managed by EDF. hal pand / shutterstock

And the CfD subsidy is complemented by a suite of other UK taxpayer subsidies and guarantees designed to mitigate investment risks for the French and Chinese investors and to guarantee costs for dealing with nuclear waste or paying compensation for nuclear accidents.

Putting all of these subsidies in place has required the UK government to essentially redesign the electricity market over the past few years in an effort to create a situation where investment in a new plant looked attractive. Pretty much every major policy design has been geared towards creating a perfect environment for Hinkley Point C. That’s why it’s such a surprise to see the government has now stepped back – a bit – from the brink.

The get-out clauses?

The contracts to put many of the subsidy structures are not yet signed – that was meant to happen today, as part of the official approval process – so the government could still pull out. Obviously that wouldn’t please the French and Chinese, but risking their short-term displeasure could avoid locking the UK into the extortionate project for decades to come. Once the contracts are signed the legal and financial ramifications are so high that the project will go ahead, whatever the evidence against it.

The UK has form on this, notably the THORP nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield, which began operation despite the case for it collapsing on every front. But without those contracts in place the project can still falter at the last hurdle.

The controversial Sellafield is due to close in 2018. Ashley Coates, CC BY-SA

So why the delay? There is all sorts of speculation going round: the new Theresa May administration is not ideologically linked to new nuclear plants in the way that Cameron’s administration was – and therefore has had an attack of common sense about the costs of the project. The government also has security concerns over allowing significant Chinese investment in the UK electricity system – in a post-Brexit world the government is worried about the level of overseas ownership of UK electricity assets – most are owned by European rather than British companies. Then there was the less than ringing endorsement of the EDF board (which reportedly voted only 10-7 in favour of going ahead, following a couple of high-profile resignations) which has rung alarm bells in both the UK and French governments.

The real reason behind the decision may emerge over the next few weeks as the government mulls over the pros and cons of the project. That will be fascinating. Equally fascinating, though, will be the debate that must take place at the same time about what an alternative might look like. What might the UK energy landscape look like without the project that has shaped it for so many years?

Energy policy is often seen as a bit of a backwater – little tweaks to existing approaches tend to be preferred to massive shifts in strategy. The latest decision has the potential to change that. Without Hinkley Point C, the potential to have a real and considered debate about the future shape of the electricity system has loomed into view. Now is the time to start considering the sorts of options being considered widely around the world, with measures to encourage more flexible, smaller-scale, renewable systems incorporating demand-side measures and new technologies such as storage. A system that is the absolute antithesis of what Hinkley Point C represents. Suddenly UK energy policy has become very exciting indeed.

The Conversation

Bridget Woodman, Course Director, MSc Energy Policy, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The messy history of British party politics

Professor Richard Toye and Dr Richard Jobson from College of Humanities’s Department of History;in this blog, they take a look at the splits and divisions which have plagued both the Conservative and the Labour parties.

This post first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

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Richard Toye, University of Exeter and Richard Jobson, University of Exeter

Brexit has triggered an unprecedented scenario in British politics. Never before has a sitting prime minister been forced to resign because of a referendum defeat. Never before has a governing party in apparent meltdown been faced by an official opposition whose situation, if anything, seems worse.

But the two main parties have faced perilous and damaging situations before, and have a history of drawing back from the brink.

In the case of the Tories, the most profound crisis occurred in 1846, when the party split over the repeal of the Corn Laws instigated by its leader Sir Robert Peel. For more than 20 years, the party was kept out of office, save for brief intervals, until at last it saw an electoral revival under Benjamin Disraeli at the general election of 1874.

In 1903, the Conservatives again divided into Free Trade and protectionist camps. This time, there was no major exodus of MPs – although Winston Churchill, who joined the Liberals, was a notable exception. The electoral consequences were nonetheless calamitous, with a landslide defeat in 1906. In spite of a partial recovery four years later, there was no clear prospect of the Tories returning to office. It took a world war to bring about the eventual Conservative recovery – and, despite winning a huge victory at the polls in 1918, it was not until 1922 that the Tories had the confidence to rid themselves of their coalition partners, the Lloyd George Liberals.

That process itself provoked another split, but because it was driven by
personality rather than ideology the healing process was fairly quick and the party dominated for the remainder of the interwar years.

The recent divisions under John Major in the 1990s had more direct similarities to today’s situation. The atmosphere within the Tory party was wholly toxic and became a major factor in New Labour’s 1997 triumph. But it did not create a constitutional impasse of the kind that Britain now seems to face.

On his bike. Shutterstock

The divisions in the party over the EU today are ideological, so are potentially very damaging. On the other hand, there has been no formal split in the party – and if it can hold together it may live to fight another day.

The opposition position

For Labour, the first obvious historical point of comparison is the Ramsay MacDonald “betrayal” of 1931. On that occasion, a minority Labour government split over the question of cuts to unemployment benefit. MacDonald continued as prime minister of a cross-party “National Government” and then defeated his former Labour allies at the general election that followed.

It was a catastrophe for Labour. Yet although the party was reduced to around 50 seats in the Commons, it was still the largest organised body of opposition to the government of the day. Labour’s continued strength in working-class areas also made it almost inevitable that it would at some stage be called upon to form a government (although this would not occur until the very special circumstances of the post-war election in 1945).

The other key comparison is the split of 1981, when some MPs broke away to form the Social Democratic Party.

Labour in opposition today faces a much more confused situation, having lost votes to UKIP and also the SNP. And the MPs who have rebelled against Corbyn’s leadership clearly represent a majority within the parliamentary party, whereas the MPs who were expelled and went on to form the National Labour Organisation in 1931 and those who left to form the SDP in 1981 were in the minority.

Labour’s current problems are likely to be amplified by future disagreements over the rules governing the party’s leadership contests. After the adoption of the 2014 Collins Review it is not entirely clear whether an incumbent leader needs to meet the same nomination threshold as any challenger.

Gathering momentum.
PA

Significant changes in the nature of the party’s membership and its registered supporters make the outcome of any future leadership contest hard to predict. However, in the absence of a leader who can unify the party and make a broad-based electoral appeal, it is possible that the consequences for Labour will be worse than either of the previous splits, especially if there is a general election before the end of the year.

It seems that neither party is well placed to turn the current crisis into an opportunity, even though the Conservatives still have the advantage of a majority in the House of Commons.

However, the problems that both parties face should be seen as symbolic of a broader political crisis. On the one hand, this crisis reflects the fact that the electorate is seriously divided, albeit not on straightforward class lines. On the other hand, it reflects the fact that voters in both Leave and Remain camps lack faith in the capacity of politicians to deliver positive change or even to tell the truth. The vote for Brexit was a product of these divisions and of this crisis of trust, and it also looks set to be exacerbated by them.

The Conversation

Richard Toye, Professor of Modern History, University of Exeter and Richard Jobson, Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.