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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.
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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.

Is Brexit the will of the people?

In this blog, by Professor Darren Schreiber, we look at the complications surrounding the results of the EU referendum.

Professor Schreiber is a senior lecturer in the Politics department
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In the UK, the “Queen-in-Parliament” is sovereign and as a core tenant of democracy we expect our sovereign governments to follow the will of the people expressed in majority rule.  It might seem obvious then that the recent vote for Brexit is the definitive expression of the public will.

While ancient Athens may have used direct democracy, where citizens vote on specific policies, most modern democracies rely on representative government because of suspicions about the tyranny of the majority and other concerns of good governance.

Facing a momentous question, around 10 per cent of the voters still were undecided in the week leading up to the Brexit referendum.  To anyone who studies public opinion, this is not at all surprising.  For a chunk of the electorate, their political attitudes are so changeable that they are the equivalent of mental coin flips.

This instability is not the result of some deep moral failing, but rather a consequence of a lack of practice.  Like learning to ride a bicycle, we are unstable in our political views when we do not have experience thinking about political issues.  As we become more informed and more practiced our views of the political world crystalize and even how our brains think about politics changes.

We might ideally want everyone to be politically informed about all issues, but in politics as in all other domains of our lives we rely on people who can develop practice.  Most of us have friends that we can ask for a basic opinion when issues arise with our plumbing, our cars, or even our health.  And, when those issues are serious, we consult plumbers, mechanics, and doctors.

In the political world, we elect leaders who both represent our political views and help inform us about the complicated issues we face.  They in turn consult with specialists who are knowledgeable about domains connected to the policies to be decided on.  The world is just too complex for any one person to be sufficiently informed about the myriad of complicated problems and their interconnections.  While Leave campaigner Michael Gove may have claimed “people in this country have had enough of experts,” there is just no other good option, even for politicians.

The complication with Brexit is that the UK has expressed its will in some incongruous ways.  In the elections for representatives to the European Parliament, the Brexit oriented party UKIP obtained more votes (26.6 per cent) and seats (32.8 per cent) than any of its competitors, but in the 2015 elections to the House of Commons they got just 12.7 per cent of the votes and only managed to win one of the seats (0.15 per cent).  Less than a quarter of all the Members of Parliament elected came out in favour of Leave.  So while 52 per cent of the electorate may have voted Leave in a non-binding referendum, they filled a Parliament with nearly three-quarters Remain supporters.

The Brexit vote reflects exactly the kind of conflicted and contradictory views that we often find in the general public.  Did this vote mean that the UK should make no deal with the European Union?  Remain connected to the single market?  Rescind the residency rights of EU citizens living in the UK?  Split into separate nations?  With Leave leaders conceding “there is no plan” it is apparent that the referendum was a Rorschach test, rather than a coherent vision.

Writing more detailed referenda or making them legally binding may help with some of the ambiguity, but creates complications of its own as the morass of direct democracy in California demonstrates.  The solution that nearly all modern democracies have converged upon is representatives deliberating in legislatures.  There is already movement afoot to ensure that Parliament is at the centre of any further Brexit discussion.  Prime Ministers, political parties, and Members of Parliament can do a far more nuanced job of discerning the public will and translating it into policy than a referendum ever could.  This is why modern states reject direct democracy and rely on leaders who practice politics daily.

 

Hooligans and terrorists: the lethal dual threat facing French police

With Wales and England meeting on the pitch this afternoon, 16 June 2016, fans have been urged to ‘behave responsibly’.

Mr Bill Tupman, an Honorary Research Fellow in the Politics department, looks at terrorism, hooliganism and the role of the French police.

This first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Bill Tupman, University of Exeter

As Russian, English, Slovakian and Welsh football fans converged on Lille, and warnings of further violence cast a shadow over Euro 2016, a police officer and his wife were murdered by a man claiming allegiance to Isis, in Magnanville, west of Paris.

French police with limited resources have to take decisions about prioritising anti-hooliganism measures or anti-terrorism measures. In the background, protests against Hollande’s labour law measures also demand a police response. With crowds ebbing and flowing, a sophisticated strategy is required to keep Euro 2016 spectators safe while preventing a lone wolf attacker or a terrorist cell sneaking under the radar and creating another Bataclan atrocity.

Knowing that the Abdeslam cell targeted a football match at the Stade de France simultaneously with the attack on the Bataclan concert, police managers will have been prioritising preventing suicide bombers from entering the stadia in which the Euro 2016 competition is being held, as well as “fan zones” which provide terrorists with other targets.

Paris tributes.
PA

So who does pose the greatest threat? The hooligans or the terrorists? The answer appears obvious. Terrorists kill more people than football hooligans, don’t they? But policing football grounds is a delicate business and can have political elements. The Hillsborough inquests have only just finished in the UK, ruling that 96 people died as a result of poor policing decisions in April 1989. These decisions were made by a police force that had become focused on crowd control rather than crowd safety during the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5 and led to a cover-up that has only now been exposed.

At the Heysel stadium in Belgium in May 1985, 39 people died and 600 were injured, as a result of what was perceived as a failure to segregate fans properly. In February 2012, at the Port Said stadium in Egypt, 74 people were killed and 700 injured in a riot. The El Ahly fans who were the victims were supporters of the Tahrir square protests, and conspiracy theorists accused the police of deliberately facilitating the attack on them. Both fans and police officers were tried and death sentences on 11 of the accused were confirmed in June 2015.

So football violence can, in fact, lead to death tolls as high as those caused by terrorist attacks. It can also have a political dimension. Violence between Russian and Ukranian fans in present circumstances, would not be a surprise. On the whole though, violence between supporters of the top club sides has a largely ritual element and is confined to confrontations between the hard core fans themselves.

It is supporters in the lower leagues who can be more indiscriminate, attacking bystanders and using weapons. These supporters are also more likely to turn up for national team games. More violence is likely away from home and for this reason, countries such as the Netherlands ban away supporters from matches where trouble is anticipated. But international competitions such as the European and World Cups are both away from home and give the supporters from lower leagues a chance to make a name for themselves.

Fighting violence

Violence between supporters is now more likely outside the stadium than inside. Private security and police are much more successful at keeping weaponry from getting in and this effect is doubled by counter-terrorist strategies and searches. The Marseille attack by Russian supporters on English supporters at the end of the match is an unusual event and may reflect the machismo of the Russians, shunning weaponry and relying on martial arts training.

Lille has experience of English supporters. Everton fans claim to have been attacked by local hooligans in October 2014, prior to a Europa Cup match. The story is now a familiar one. An attack on a bar by an organised group using chairs as weapons. Locals will play a part if violence does develop, engaging in traditional tactics of provocation, hoping to cause conflict between larger groups of fans from overseas and then intervention by the police. The banning of alcohol sales by shops and supermarkets is not going to change the tactic of attacking fans inside and outside bars.

Lille has previous.
PA

From a police viewpoint, terrorism and hooliganism are equally dangerous. The story in the media on day one is always: “Horror: people hurt and some die”. On day two, it is: “Police fail to prevent atrocity”. In translation: they knew it was going to happen and did nothing to prevent it. Some blame the media for sensationalising hooliganism. It has been suggested that Russian hooligan tactics follow Putin’s foreign policy approach of attacking and then retreating.

The Russians are counterclaiming that the UK press is trying to get the World Cup taken away from Russia in 2018. Meanwhile, the French police have to do their best to keep everyone safe. Fortunately, keeping surveillance on the crowds, bars, stadia and fan zones works as well against terrorists as it does against hooligans.

The Conversation

Bill Tupman, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Exeter

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

Let’s not get confused about this: Orlando was a queerphobic attack

Dr João Florêncio, Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture in the College of Humanities, reflects on the tragic queerphobic shootings in Orlando.

This  first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

 

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João Florêncio, University of Exeter

In the immediate aftermath of the worst mass-shooting in US history, debates in the media are already focusing on what to call the tragic event. Was it a queerphobic attack, yet another instance of Islamist terrorism targeting “the West” – or simply the case of a man who, in the words of his ex-wife, was “mentally unstable”?

Contributing to the heated debate, the father of the shooter told NBC News that his son was “enraged” after seeing two men kissing in front of his family a few months ago. The public discussion eventually escalated to spectacular proportions in the UK when Guardian journalist Owen Jones walked off the set of Sky News, outraged at what he saw as the unwillingness of Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer to accept it as a queerphobic attack.

Let us, however, call the tragic event for what it was: an attack on Orlando’s queer Latinx club night, Pulse. Regardless of the allegiances the shooter might have pledged, this was, without a shadow of a doubt, a queerphobic attack.

When the lives of a specific group of the population are targeted purely on the basis of their sexual, racial and/or gender identifications, we are talking about a hate crime. And hate crimes must not be co-opted into dominant logics of “us versus them”. This simply serves to feed dominant and dangerously simplistic views of a world that, in positing the “free” West against an “oppressive” Islam, conveniently overlook its political complexities and nuances.

Stigmatising mental health disorders

Other prejudices have surfaced: principally the issue of whether the shooter was mentally “unstable”, as his ex-wife suggested in an interview. Reproducing, without questioning, such a portrayal of the attacker as “a normal being that cared about family” only to then be found to be unstable and “bipolar” is problematic in several ways.

Reducing such a heinous crime to an issue of mental health stigmatises people all over the world who have been struggling with mental illness. Further to that, it also glances over the problems associated with standards of “normality” and the enduring regimes of oppression and segregation that a politics of the “normal” always requires, whether consciously or not.

But perhaps most importantly here, it also uses “mental illness” to cover up all the ways in which queer people have historically been disciplined and controlled by the heterosexual establishment and its definitions of what is “normal” and/or “acceptable”.

This is not to claim that Mateen was not suffering from mental illness. Instead, what I believe is important to stress is that the boundaries between “normality” and “abnormality” are always defined in a social landscape that is always already political. And that, similarly, the power structures that allow an individual, regardless of their mental health state, to target and kill members of a social minority are the same power structures that have, for centuries, operated to classify, discipline, tame, control and, in some cases, even “heal” the bodies of those who identify with that minority.

Mourning queer lives

This leads me to my second and final point: whether the lives of those killed at Club Pulse should be mourned as queer lives or simply as “human” lives. Claiming, like many have been doing, that those were, first and foremost, “human” lives and only then accidentally queer, is yet another example of the complexities of LGBTQIA+ politics in the West.

We are living through a time when the transgender homicide rate has hit an historic high in the US, when more than 1,700 murders of transgendered individuals were reported around the world between 2008 and 2014, and when North Carolina passed a law banning people from using government-owned bathrooms that don’t match the gender they were assigned at birth.

Meanwhile, in Britain, we are still being denied free access to PrEP, a new treatment to prevent HIV infection. Let’s not forget that gay men are still rejected as blood donors and LGB youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide.

So it is telling that it only takes a brown, (supposedly) Islamist “terrorist” for queer lives to suddenly be worth mourning publicly as “human” lives. What this reveals is how the net worth of queer bodies changes depending on who or what threatens their existence, how queer lives are only grieved for when threatened by someone with an even less grievable life – in this case, a brown Muslim.

As philosopher Judith Butler has noted, “[the] differential distribution of public grieving is a political issue of enormous significance”.

It is for this reason that today – in the aftermath of the mass shooting – we must reiterate the queerness of our dead brothers and sisters and refuse to have their lives strategically turned into disembodied, undifferentiated and abstract “human” lives in the name of the “War on Terror”. Only when we do this will we be able to stress that the difference that made those bodies targets in Orlando is the same difference that makes queer people look over our shoulders and fear for our lives on an almost daily basis no matter where we are in the world.

The Conversation

João Florêncio, Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, University of Exeter

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

Greener in Europe? Four reasons the EU can’t be trusted on the environment

In this #EUReferendum blog, Professor Steffen Böhm addresses the ways in which the EU cannot be trusted on the environment.

Professor Böhm is Professor in organisation and sustainability in the University of Exeter Business School.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Steffen Böhm, University of Exeter

Those in favour of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union – although strangely not the UK government’s official campaign to remain in – are increasingly highlighting the contribution Brussels has made to protecting the natural environment.

There is some justification for this. During the 1970s and 80s Britain was famously disparaged as the “dirty man of Europe”, a polluting nation only persuaded and coerced into cleaning up its act by a succession of EU regulations. A recent report by the House of Commons environmental audit committee argued membership had been positive for the UK environment and noted that “none of the witnesses to our inquiry, even those who made criticisms, made an environmental case for leaving the European Union”.

I’m not here to argue for Brexit. But the EU’s green record is hardly unblemished. Indeed, in several key areas, European policies have slowed if not reversed the UK’s progress on environmental protection. And a major new EU-US trade agreement just around the corner could threaten much of what has been achieved.

1. Climate change

The UK’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is significantly more ambitious than that required under current European rules. The EU’s pledge at last year’s Paris conference was modest enough that Britain had already effectively promised to cut emissions “at twice the rate of the EU as a whole”.

Given the privileged access that big energy and fossil fuel companies had to the EU’s top climate policy decision makers in the run-up to the Paris gathering, we shouldn’t be surprised by the underwhelming commitment. Should the UK vote to remain, its generous contribution towards Europe’s emissions pledge merely takes the pressure off other member states, resulting in no net global benefit. It’s a point raised in the Commons report itself.

2. Biofuels are not green

The EU is a big supporter of biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol. The European Commission’s website describes these fuels – manufactured on an industrial scale in Europe from crops such as rape, sunflower, wheat and maize – as “a renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the transport sector, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the EU’s security of supply”. The EU has set a target that by 2020, 10 per cent of the transport fuel of every member comes from “renewable sources such as biofuels”.

Don’t try this at home. aastock / shutterstock

Burning crops rather than petrol sounds like a good idea. However, these biofuels don’t actually do much to reduce overall emissions, once you take into account the extra land turned over to crop cultivation and the greenhouse gases used in fertilisers.

In addition, much of the biofuel used in the EU is imported from poorer countries, contributing to land grabbing in Africa and other places. Some experts have called this a new kind of biofuel-colonialism.

3. Cars over clean air

The EU’s support for the automotive industry further tarnishes its green credentials. Although Europe is to be congratulated for introducing tough vehicle exhaust emissions limits over the years, the cosy relationship with manufacturers when it comes to enforcement is hardly laudable. For decades carmakers – with Europe’s tacit connivance – have benefited from loopholes in testing procedures allowing vehicles onto the road which emit substantially more “real world” CO2 emissions than the rigged test cycles suggest.

During the Volkswagen emissions scandal documents emerged revealing how leading member states including the UK had just months previously lobbied the commission to carry over these dodgy rules into new test procedures coming in to force in 2017. If VW hadn’t happened, those loopholes may still have been in place.

4. TTIP trades protection for economic growth

But perhaps the greatest potential blot in the EU’s green copybook is its impending monster trade deal with the US. A series of bilateral trade negotiations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aims to boost the economies of the EU and the US by removing or reducing barriers to trade and foreign investment.

The political establishment and large businesses across Europe largely support TTIP, but critics distrust the secretive process by which it is being hammered out. They’re even more concerned that the deal will negatively affect small businesses and water down a swathe of hard-won social, safety, democratic – and, yes, environmental – protections in the name of economic growth.

Greenpeace protests outside TTIP negotiations in Brussels, February 2016. Olivier Hoslet / EPA

Sometimes, as with diesel emissions, US environment standards exceed those of the EU. But it’s not the norm. With more than 60 per cent of all processed foods in the US containing genetically-modified organisms, American negotiators will be pushing hard to overturn the EU’s current ban on GM food imports, not to mention Europe’s strict pesticide rules and its favouring of the precautionary principle when it comes to assessing potentially toxic chemical substances, as enshrined in the EU’s REACH regulations

A confidential draft of a “sustainable development chapter” of the TTIP negotiations, leaked in late 2015, contained vaguely phrased and non-binding commitments. This is merely paying lip service to the environment.

The EU does have much to be proud of when it comes to environmental and social idealism – and it certainly talks a good talk – but recent history tells us that when the chips are down economic imperatives and big, polluting, businesses take precedence. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when the EU’s precursor organisation was founded in 1951, the environment wasn’t even mentioned. In those days it was known as the European Coal and Steel Community. What could be greener than that?

The Conversation

Steffen Böhm, Professor in Organisation & Sustainability, University of Exeter

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

What a Brexit would mean for Europe’s television channels

Professor Alison Harcourt is Professor of Public Policy, in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies. Her research specialism is regulatory change in communications markets. 

In this blog, Professor Harcourt looks at the way in which a Brexit might impact television channels.

This post first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

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Alison Harcourt, University of Exeter

The UK is an attractive base for broadcasting channels targeting other European countries. The domestic market is large, creative skills sets are high, and there is good availability of post-production facilities and satellite uplinks for broadcasters.

Yet, without Europe’s single market, these channels would not be able to operate across Europe. The European Union’s television regulation has consolidated the UK as a major hub for television services. A UK exit from the EU could pose problems for cross-border broadcasters who are based in Britain.

European television regulation began back in the 1980s when signals began to cross borders. Back in 1989, the European Community agreed on the Television Without Frontiers (TWF) Directive under its single market programme. This EU law was strongly supported by the UK under the Thatcher government. It enabled channels to broadcast to other European countries without being subject to local licensing rules. For example, Disney broadcasts to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria with licenses from the UK regulator, OFCOM.

The UK as a springboard

Many companies relocated or set up headquarters in the UK because the directive enabled them to take advantage of a British base and, at the same time, broadcast abroad. Sky relocated to the UK from Luxembourg in 1990. In 2003, the company launched Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland in 2009. Today, Sky broadcasts to the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Austria with over 20m customers across Europe and employs 25,000 people in the UK and Ireland. It feeds the downstream sector in content production and hardware supply: the company Pace, which operates out of Salts Mill in Bradford, provides set-top boxes for Sky across Europe.

Sky’s move was followed by the establishment of other companies in the UK in the 1990s including a number of large operators with multi-channel packages such as AMC networks, Disney, Discovery, Turner, Viacom and Viasat. The Modern Times Group (MTG) currently broadcasts 60 channels in 36 countries from the UK. It is the largest commercial operator broadcasting in Scandinavia and the Baltics, and has broadcasting operations in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia and the Ukraine.

Former domestic providers such as the BBC and ITV now broadcast and provide programming across Europe. Today, the UK is a base for 1,523 out of 5,141 television channels operating in the EU, 65% of which target other EU countries. Many companies operate channels in different languages simultaneously such as AXN Europe (Sony), Disney, Discovery, National Geographic, Turner (Boomerang, Cartoon Network, TCN, TNT) and Viasat (Modern Times Group). Recent increases in the number of pan-European channels can be seen in entertainment, culture, child, sport and high definition services.

In 2010, Europe’s television directive was updated with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive to include other services, such as video-on-demand and catch-up services over digital terrestrial television, cable, satellite, internet protocol television channels or online. By 2014, 515 of the 2,563 such services on offer in Europe were operating out of the UK representing a 20% share of the market.

Controls on advertising

European broadcast rules mainly focus on advertising. Films, news and children’s programmes are limited to advertising breaks every 30 minutes and no advertising is permitted during religious services. Advertising is limited to 20% of programming time per clock hour and to not more than 12 minutes. European rules also permit teleshopping and product placement in films which used to be banned in the UK.

The UK also applies British rules to programming on top of EU regulation. For example, in the UK, there are strict rules on watersheds for children – meaning violent content can’t be shown before 9pm and alcohol advertising cannot be shown to audiences under the age of 18.

Don’t tempt the kids. urbanbuzz / Shutterstock.com

The UK also bans product placement of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, escort services or weapons. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar and medicines and baby milk are also not permitted in product placement. For example, an advert for McDonald’s would not be shown on a UK-based channel showing children’s cartoons.

Change on the horizon

The television directive is expected to be revised within the next two years. If the UK does vote to leave the EU, negotiations are likely to take two years, so the revision of the directive might possibly be decided during the UK presidency of the Council of the EU in 2017.

But the revisions might not be favourable to UK interests. For example, some European states want to introduce exemptions for channels broadcasting “hate speech”. This could be interpreted differently by member states particularly in central and eastern Europe which have historically had stricter interpretations than the UK. There could also be a change in location of regulation based upon editorial control which could affect operators such as MTG or AMC networks which take editorial decisions on programming in other European states.

Another exemption proposed by the Nordic states could introduce local licensing for children’s programming. UK based channels aimed at children could lose their UK licenses as a result which could make the UK less attractive as a base for companies’ operation. Another suggested change could introduce local licensing for children’s programming, making the UK less attractive as a base.

A UK vote to leave the EU might have negative effects on investment and capital flight with the departure of some broadcasters to other EU countries. At the same time, it could shift the forum for Europe-wide agreement on certain aspects of broadcasting policy, perhaps returning them to the Council of Europe, which used to be a key forum for agreement for common rules prior to 1989.


This article is co-published with the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

The Conversation

Alison Harcourt, Professor of politics, University of Exeter

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

Why mortgage rates will rise with Brexit

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As we near the EU referendum, Professor Alan Gregory – Professor of Corporate Finance at the University of Exeter Business School explains why a vote to leave the European Union may result in our mortgage rates rising.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

Alan Gregory, University of Exeter

How Brexit would affect house prices and homeowners is one of the big questions in the build up to the UK’s EU referendum vote. George Osborne has said that mortgage rates will rise if there’s an Out vote. Meanwhile, the Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, is currently reviewing the possibility of an emergency interest rate cut in the event of a Brexit vote. The two outcomes would seem to be contradictory, but this is a feasible outcome if Britain votes to leave the EU.

As with most issues affecting the economy, there are several factors at play. First off, there is an important difference between long and short run rates. One of the Bank of England’s main concerns is controlling inflation – something it does by manipulating interest rates. But interest rates do not exist in a vacuum. Exchange rates, inflation and interest rates are all related to one another. There is also the UK’s balance of payments problem, which could be of vital importance.

The UK’s current account deficit was at an all-time record £96.2 billion last year, equivalent to 5.8 per cent of the country’s total economic output for the year. That is one big chunk of the economy. Strangely, this in itself isn’t a problem as, provided capital can move freely, inward investment in the UK can plug the gap. That inward investment could be foreign firms investing directly in UK businesses or foreign investors buying UK government debt (known as gilts) if they are long term.

Unfortunately, this inward investment can very easily go into reverse. Most obviously, foreign investors can stop investing in new factories, and can move their production lines abroad. For example, the new Chinese owners of Sunseeker, a top-end powerboat manufacturer, have warned of precisely that danger. Similarly, foreign investors may choose not to buy UK government debt.

Substantial shock

All this matters greatly because, with the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s future, foreign investors are seeing investment in Britain as very risky. Investors do not like uncertainty, which abounds at the prospect of Brexit – particularly regarding what kind of trade deal the UK will manage to negotiate with the EU, and how long this will take. There is also likely to be a substantial fall in the value of the pound in the event of Brexit, making it less attractive to investors to make any UK investments in the run-up to the vote.

It is a given in finance that high risks demand high returns. Thus, in order to prevent an exodus of capital from the UK, foreign investors would need to be offered increased returns. This translates into higher borrowing costs for the UK government, and higher costs of capital for UK businesses. And if UK firms have to provide higher returns to banks and shareholders, that means investments in business assets look less appealing. The result would be less growth and fewer jobs being created.

The other immediate problem the UK would face in the event of a Brexit vote stems directly from the projected fall in the value of sterling. The consensus forecasts are that the exchange rate would fall from its current value of around £1 for €1.27 to something more like parity with the euro. The latest forecast from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research think tank is of a 20 per cent fall in the value of sterling. Prior to opinion polls suggesting that exit from the EU was a distinct possibility, the level of the pound was around £1 to €1.40. All this adds up to a sharp increase in the cost of imported goods, including oil, industrial raw materials, clothing and food.

Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Bank of England, CC BY-NC-ND

Bringing all this together, Britain will face a substantial short-term economic shock if it votes to leave the EU. There is simply no credible argument that says otherwise, though there are arguments about the scale of the effect and the long-term consequences for the economy.

To mitigate against this shock, the governor of the Bank of England would naturally want to cut interest rates in an attempt to stimulate the economy, although with rates at rock-bottom there is little room for manoeuvre. The bank will be concerned about the potential inflationary impact of the fall in the pound. It must balance economic growth (which would normally suggest lower interest rates were needed) with inflation risk (which would normally trigger an increase in rates). Then there is the concern that foreign investors will demand higher returns on UK government debt.

Meanwhile, lower short term interest rates will hurt bank profits. The only way banks can recover these profits is by lending at higher rates, while offering lower rates to savers. The sad irony is therefore that neither savers nor borrowers would gain from Brexit.

A world of higher short term borrowing costs, higher long term borrowing costs and lower savings returns looks an all too plausible outcome. At the same time, investment in jobs is choked off, economic growth declines, and inflation starts to raise its head again. All combined with a worsening balance of payments position and a sterling crisis.

We have, of course, been here before – in the bad old days of the 1970s – so we know that this really can happen in the UK. The ultimate irony is that if polling data is to be believed, it seems to be the older voters, having lived through all that, that are the ones keenest to go back to it.

The Conversation

Alan Gregory, Professor of Corporate Finance, University of Exeter

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

Future of religious education under threat from drive to make all schools academies

What impact might converting schools into academies have on religious education? Dr Rob Freathy, Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research and Deputy Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College, unpicks the Department for Education’s white paper to look at the risk of alienating faith groups

 This post first appeared on The Conversation Conversation logo

Rob Freathy, University of Exeter and Stephen G. Parker, University of Worcester

Religious education is no stranger to controversy. Determining which religions should be studied, and how and why, is often a fraught process, particularly where the teaching of certain religious beliefs over others is concerned, or if children are being indoctrinated into a particular faith.

Despite the importance of making sure young people today have a good level of religious literacy, the recent Department for Education white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, makes no reference to religious education (RE). But its proposal that every school in England should become an academy by 2022 has important ramifications for the subject.

Since 1944, local education authorities (LEAs) have been required to produce agreed syllabuses for RE in state-maintained schools without a religious affiliation. These are agreed unanimously by representatives of different religious persuasions, alongside teacher associations and the LEA. Since 1988, LEAs have also been required to establish Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACRE) to advise the local authority on matters connected with RE.

But academies and free schools, whether with a religious affiliation or not, do not currently have to follow an LEA-agreed syllabus for RE. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many such schools are continuing to do so, even though there is no statutory requirement. It is possible, however, for other schools to exploit the available freedom and develop their own syllabuses. In such cases, we would not know what aims, methods and content for RE each school is selecting for its lessons. This presents a risk.

The white paper calls for the establishment of a clearly defined role for local government in education more generally, but says nothing about RE. This is a glaring omission.

Still at the centre of British life?
John D F/www.flickr.com, CC BY

Religious powerbroking

For more than 150 years, the position of religion in publicly-funded schools has been a matter of profound controversy – so much so that a dual system of church and state schools emerged. When the 1902 Education Act created LEAs and gave them responsibility for funding church schools through local rates, it met with opposition from non-conformists and secularists. This was vociferous enough to dissuade the government from attempting significant educational reform for the next 40 years.

Later, in the period between the two world wars, when LEAs sought to establish secondary schools, they met with opposition from Anglicans who were worried about the RE that secondary school pupils would receive. In certain areas of the country, the support of Anglicans was obtained once they had been given the opportunity – alongside non-conformists, teachers and local councillors – to determine the RE syllabus provided in LEA primary and secondary schools. So locally agreed syllabuses emerged as a political means of managing religious sectarianism to enable educational reform to occur.

This was never more appreciated than in World War II, when the population became galvanised around a vision of social, educational and spiritual progress. It was in this context – in fear of communism, fascism and Nazism abroad – that daily collective worship and weekly RE lessons were made statutory in LEA schools in the 1944 Education Act.

A lot has changed since that act was passed. England has experienced religious pluralisation and a de-Christianisation of society. At the same time, there has been a centralisation of educational policy, devolution of powers to schools and the establishment of non-Christian faith schools.

But there have also been continuities in the form of the established Church and political rhetoric around “Christian Britain”. Nor has religious controversy disappeared, especially around the powder keg of religion in schools – as the allegations over extremist teaching at schools in Birmingham in the Trojan Horse affair illustrated. So it is still vital that politicians negotiate religious differences with caution and careful consideration.

Risk of alienating faith groups

If agreed syllabuses and SACRE are now to be replaced by a new statutory structure for determining the RE curriculum, then those responsible for planning these new arrangements will have to show the same political nous and fervour as the architects of the 1944 Education Act. If no such statutory structures are put in place – to provide checks and balances for the RE curriculum – then there is a risk that individual schools might ignite religious controversy in the way they teach the subject.

Even if religious groups no longer continue to have a statutory voice in determining the RE curriculum, it is probably wise to develop a new local or national mechanism. Through this, religious and other communities with a vested interest in the subject could enter into dialogue with those with responsibility for determining the subject’s aims, methods and content.

The alternative is to disenfranchise and marginalise faith communities, creating less mutual understanding and more disagreement.

The Conversation

Rob Freathy, Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research and Deputy Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College, University of Exeter and Stephen G. Parker, Professor of the History of Religion and Education, University of Worcester

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

ISIS Terror Strategy in Europe

Dr Omar Ashour is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, at the University of Exeter

This post first appeared on the Middle East Institute webpage.

The ‘Islamic State’ Rocked Crusader Europe Again. Hundreds of Deaths and Injuries as a Result of Martyrdom Operations in Brussels,” read the headline of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Arabic-language newsletter al-Naba’ on March 21, 2016. There were not much details about the terrorist bombings, but they certainly follow a pattern established since early 2015. “Do not look for specific targets. Kill anybody,” said Boubaker Hakim, an ISIS commander of French-Tunisian origins, in an interview initially published in March 2015 by ISIS’ French-language magazine Dar al-Islam.

Before 2015, the geo-strategy of ISIS primarily focused on capturing territory in the Middle East, cleansing and controlling it, and then proto state-building within it according to its ideological vision. Then, ISIS would expand into closer territory by attacking nearby enemies, who ranged from al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and Syrian revolutionary forces to the Assad regime and the Iraqi government. This focus started to gradually change from the summer of 2014, specifically after U.S. airstrikes began in August of that year.

ISIS affiliates and sympathisers have conducted no less than 30 alleged plots and terrorist attacks against Western citizens and interests since October 2014. This is compared to only two alleged plots and one attack before that date: the London “Mumbai” alleged plot, which was cleared by a U.K. court, in October 2013; the French Riviera alleged plot in February 2014; and the Brussels Jewish museum attack in May 2014. Although the latter attack was committed by a militant who was trained in ISIS camps, the ISIS connection in most of these attacks/plots was declared support of the organisation and not a directive form a high-level ISIS commander.

That has changed. In the last three issues of Dabiq, the focus was on inciting attacks in the West, compared to earlier issues which focused on legitimating ISIS rule, de-legitimising rivals and enemies (including al-Qaeda and the Taliban) and calling on Muslims to migrate to ISIS-controlled territory.

For example, the 11th (August 2015) and 12th (November 2015) issues of Dabiq bore the respective headlines, “From the Battles of Al-Ahzab to the War of Coalitions” and “Just Terror.” The former was comparing the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in 2014-2015 to a tribal coalition formed by pagan Arab tribes and Jewish clans against the Prophet Muhammad in 627. The latter was justifying the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

Striking the West

Today, the ISIS leadership sees benefits in directly striking the West. The leadership has multiple aims, which includes deterring the West from attacking the territories it controls, avenging the over 20,000 deaths in its ranks and the destruction of facilities that resulted from coalition airstrikes, furthering the alienation of Western Muslims, and hence capitalising on that via recruitment and mobilisation. The ability to launch terror attacks in the West, despite being under heavy bombardment, displays a strength of ISIS that also serves the latter purpose.

However, that terror strategy is not new. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations have deployed similar objectives and tactics before. Not only were they unsuccessful, but also, in some cases, such attacks marked the beginnings of their ends. They ranged from far-right, neo-fascist non-state actors like the Italian New Order in the early 1960s to repressive regimes such as those of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qaddafi. The latter’s terror campaign included bombing nightclubs in Berlin (1986) and blowing up civilian airplanes over Scotland (1988).

But some differences exist in the case of ISIS, most importantly the dedicated capacity to mass-murder, the sustainability of that capacity and the de-centralisation of the terror campaigns. In terms of capacity and sustainability, roughly 6,000 European foreign fighters have left the E.U. to join the Syrian armed conflict. Of those, about 600 French citizens are believed to be fighting for ISIS out an overall of 1,700 Frenchman believed to have left to fight. Belgium has the highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria per capita, compared to any Western nation. They are estimated to be over 500 (181 has returned to Europe by one estimate).

Within these sets, the exact number of ISIS trained-and-returned European fighters is still unknown. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ISIS ringleader who co-masterminded the Paris attacks, claimed the he was back in Europe among 90 ISIS trained terrorists. Back in the ISIS strongholds, the organization allegedly trained 400 to 600 fighters for “external operations.” In late 2015, those were given more complex and prolonged training in urban guerilla warfare, manufacturing of improvised explosive devices, surveillance, countering security measures, and forgery. Thus, the terror capacity is well-founded. The sustainability of terrorist operations in different locations is also key for ISIS’ strategy, in order to drain Europe both financially and psychologically. So far, Turkey was hit the hardest followed by France. But the list of hard-hit countries can certainly expand, and ISIS will no doubt seek to spread its terror throughout the continent

Europe needs to maintain unity among its democracies and develop a common security strategy to deal with the security challenges posed by ISIS. Disunity and fragmentation does not only serve ISIS’ publicly declared and celebrated objective of “weakening European cohesion” and fostering “tensions between France and Belgium over intelligence failures,” but it also undermines both societal resilience to terrorism and strategic security cooperation.

Don’t rush to blame Molenbeek for harbouring Paris attacker

This blog post, by Honorary Research Fellow Bill Tupman explains why we shouldn’t be too quick to blame the district of Molenbeek for the delay in  finding, and arresting Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam.

This article first appeared in The Conversation.

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Bill Tupman, University of Exeter

After 120 days on the run, Salah Abdeslam, accused of being part of the group that carried out the brutal attacks in Paris in November 2015, has finally been arrested.

He was found in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, where he lived and worked before the attacks. Despite countless police raids in recent months, Abdeslam managed to evade capture in his own neighbourhood.

In November 2015, he is suspected of being part of three well-organised groups of jihadists which attacked Paris, including bars, the Bataclan concert hall and the area around the Stade de France. They killed 130 people and most of the attackers also died.

Islamic State claimed a further attack in the 18th Arondissement which didn’t happen. It is not yet clear if this was to be carried out by Abdeslam.

He claims that he was going to blow himself up in the Stade de France, but changed his mind. One final attacker, Mohamed Abrini, remains on the run.

Hiding in plain sight

Salah Abdeslam’s brother, Brahim, was one of the Paris attackers who blew himself up near a café on Boulevard Voltaire. Acquaintances claim that both drank alcohol and sold drugs, were not known as regular attenders at the mosque, and had a background in petty crime.

Salah Abdeslam.
EPA/French Ministry of the Interior

Newspapers and anonymous “officials” have branded Molenbeek with a number of alarmist epithets. It’s a “terror capital”, a “jihadi breeding ground” and so on. It is a district of 100,000 people, with high rates of unemployment, especially among its young, multi-ethnic locals. It is home to a transient population.

Criminologists of the 1930s Chicago School would recognise Molenbeek immediately. This is a place where community institutions are dislocated, and where the unemployed can choose between drug addiction and a criminal career. The normal choice of rackets – drug dealing, confidence trickstering, prostitution, burglary and violence – have been joined by a new greasy pole: jihadism.

It is not Islam that is the problem in Molenbeek, but unemployment and poverty. It is difficult to police because young people move flats all the time and civil society is patchy. There are few genuine community leaders with whom these young people can work when they need support.

In such a district, it is not really surprising that it has taken so long to find Abdeslam. Partners for the police are hard to find. It’s not hard to imagine why his associates would have decided to shelter him rather than report him.

The more important question is how the whole network managed to evade detection before the attack. How much was this down to the sophistication of their methods and how much was it the result of police failures and open borders?

Highly organised operation

There was a large network behind the Paris attacks, not just the five-participant cell that was characteristic of terrorism in the 1960s and 70s. The New York Times, which has obtained a report by the French police, claims 18 people are in custody in six countries suspected of helping the attackers. This is in addition to the nine who are already dead.

Police in Molenbeek.
EPA/Laurent Dubrule

They were well trained and able to carry out a co-ordinated attack in a number of different places, using both explosives and firearms, taking hostages and effectively confusing and hampering the police response. In the months leading up to the attack, they were able to slip in and out of Europe undetected, crossing both internal and external borders.

No email traces or evidence of online chats have been discovered. The attackers used phones once, then discarded them. In the Bataclan, they used hostages’ phones. They had clearly learnt from police investigations into previous attacks, again suggesting training and discipline.

According to the New York Times, a woman held hostage in the Bataclan saw one of the terrorists switch on a laptop, and that what appeared on the screen looked like gibberish – potentially meaning he was using encryption software.

There are legal and cultural problems with sharing information between security services, both within countries and across borders. There are problems transliterating Arabic names in different systems. There are problems sorting the wheat from the chaff in the intelligence.

It is always possible to recognise relevant intelligence with hindsight, but there are not enough resources to put all suspects under surveillance. It is also probable that individuals with petty criminal backgrounds have not been considered as dangerous as those with hardline ideological commitments.

Consequences for Europeans

The French prosecutor appears suspicious of the testimony Abdeslam has initially given to the Belgian police, given that he appears to have driven some of the attackers to the Stade de France.

It may be that both he and others were intended to survive and continue plans for further attacks, although events suggest improvisation played a part as well as planning. If so, it will be even more vital to discover how his communication systems operated.

There will be increased border checks, including at Schengen internal borders. There will be increased surveillance. There will be increased demands for access to the phone and email records of all citizens. There will be increased roll-out of CCTV across Europe.

But the lesson to learn from all this is that terrorists, just like criminals, change their modus operandi in response to changes by the security forces. The rest of us get inconvenienced, not the terrorists. The need is to keep the public onside – and not to further alienate marginal communities like Molenbeek.

The Conversation

Bill Tupman, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Exeter

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