Tag Archives: politics

Nothing new about Labour-unions relations being controversial

Professor Andrew Thorpe reviews the history of the relationship between Labour and the trade unions.

Ed Miliband’s proposals to reform Labour party funding have been big news this week.

Miliband is reacting to events in Falkirk, where the Unite union is alleged to have tried to fix the selection of the parliamentary candidate for the next general election. In a speech on Tuesday he outlined various proposals to reform the party-union link.

There is nothing new about Labour-union relations being controversial, especially where money is concerned. The Labour party was formed in 1900 as a federation of trade unions and socialist societies, but the crucial movers were the unions, who wanted the party as a defence against attempts to place legal restrictions on trade union activity. Since then, the unions collectively have always played a major role in the Labour party, because they represented a large part of the electorate that Labour saw it as its job to represent. But they were never the sum total, and they were never able simply to ‘dominate’. Indeed, ‘the unions’ are not a monolith and have always had varying interests and concerns.

In the 1990s the main unions tended to take the view that what was needed above all was a Labour government and they therefore confined themselves to very specific issues like statutory right to recognition, the national minimum wage, etc. This began to change once Labour came to power and as it became clearer that it was likely to stay there for some time, and as New Labour began to reform public services after 2001. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union, led by Bob Crow, left the party altogether in 2004.

Some New Labour people would have liked to end the union link but this was resisted ideologically and emotionally. It was also financially unthinkable once other sources of funding began to dry up after 2000.

It is always possible to talk about crises but actually the relationship has been reasonably amicable in recent years. Pictures of union domination are overdrawn. In terms of the selection of candidates, criticism of the behaviour of Unite has to be set against the parachuting in of celebrity candidates in other seats.

And in any case, what Unite and others have tried to do – enlist more union members as active members of the Labour party – is in itself a good thing for anyone who wants to see active political parties, representing a wide range of people, as an essential component of a lively democracy. A fundamental issue is the current historically low level of working-class people in parliament and more broadly the narrowing of the political class. While the Unite scheme may be open to criticism, it was at least trying to address this fundamental problem that our democracy currently faces.

Today Miliband faces a problem that has faced every leader from Ramsay MacDonald onwards – how to behave in relation to the unions. Unions are not always an easy ‘sell’ politically. They are easily portrayed as sectional, supportive of workplace inefficiency, and ‘left wing’. There are also many people in society who are opposed to their fundamental aim of enhancing the life chances of ‘ordinary’ working people. Therefore Labour leaders often run in fear of being ‘soft’ on unions, and this in turn can lead them into being trapped, or trapping themselves, into situations where they end up trying to take the unions on in order the get electoral credibility. This worked for Blair in 1995 when he abolished Labour’s commitment to nationalisation. It worked less well for Callaghan in the winter of 1978-79, or for Wilson ‘In Place of Strife’, his plans to reform union law, in 1969.

The danger for Miliband is that in trying to satisfy the anti-union agenda of his opponents he will lose control of the debate and also lose support within his party. The opportunity, perhaps, is that by being ‘tough’ he can win over new supporters. But those new supporters are unlikely to remain supporters for very long if this is all he has to offer. It is interesting that Lord Whitty has refused the invitation to oversee the changes – seeing them as ‘unworkable’. Whitty is no fool, having been the party’s general secretary at a time of considerable positive reform under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s.

It is also noteworthy that the man who has been portrayed as the victim of the planned reforms – Len McClusky of Unite – has himself refused to fall into a trap. Instead of fulfilling the media stereotype – and the hopes of some of Miliband’s advisors – by coming out against the reforms with all guns blazing, he has welcomed the prospect of real reform. Trade union leaders often are, and always have been, much cannier political operators than the stereotypes allow. It is one reason why more of their members need to be in parliament.

Labelling Failure -The Horsemeat Crisis and Needing to Know Our Food

PhD Researcher Rebecca Sandover discusses what food labelling tells us, and what it doesn’t.


Organic and local food products are valued for their ‘knowability’.

With the horsemeat scandal still unfolding, the central issue is do we know what we’re eating? The media narrative is one of distaste, disgust at eating hidden matter, complex food chains, uninformed moments of blame, as well as possible criminal actions. No matter what we think of eating horsemeat the central issue that is relevant in such an obscure, complicated market is that food labelling is central to our trust in the products we buy and consume. Without trust in the label, the food system as it is presently configured, fails.

Such complex food networks act as a veil shrouding the origins of our food. The distance between us as consumers and the spaces of food production are not only widening, but are becoming blurred and obscure. After the UK food scares of the 1980s- BSE, Salmonella in eggs and 2001 -Food and Mouth disease, the local food sector has arisen as an alternative to agro-food industries. The central device of organic and local food products is their ‘knowability’. Underlined through quality assurance schemes such as Red Tractor, Freedom Foods, Organic Certification etc., food bought can be understood as meeting a benchmark of quality. Not only is this good for us as consumers, it is a lifeline for farmers producing wildlife and welfare-friendly products.

However, there is a major flaw in seeing these schemes as the solution to the current crisis. The crisis exists in cheap, value range supermarket food where the costs have been shaved acutely. Such products are shipped between countries in order to find the cheapest mode of supply and construction, resulting in the use of degraded meat fillers and additives. The gulf between these products and those made by small-scale artisanal producers is huge. This encompasses a gulf in construction, freshness and proximity between consumers and producers but most importantly in convenience, cost and the transparency of production processes. They are so different from the value range burgers as can be, by intention. However by being so different they remain on only a margin of shoppers’ consumer radar. Many consumers have got used to buying cheap products, taking the descriptions on the front of packets on face value. Many commentators over the last few weeks have expressed how obvious it is that how such products are described cannot match their material reality.

It is true that many of these organic and local food products that ooze with vitality, are affordable. But only if you are in the know…In order to buy fresh, local vegetables that are no more expensive than supermarkets’, the consumer either has to source a weekly farmers’ market, or search out for a reliable veg box scheme. Or if you’re really in the know, you might grow your own veg and chickens – what could be a more transparent process? However, all of these processes require effort, added time or knowing that these options exist. Here the difference between affordable, traceable veg and meat is significant when it comes to price. Veg can be sourced affordably, if you know where, whereas meat comes at a cost. Meat eating is seen as a sustainability issue and there are campaigns to reduce its consumption, with the argument that by buying less a consumer may be able to afford better quality. It’s a great argument, but comes back to requiring the consumer to make a commitment to altering food habits, or having the means to alter them.

Such commitment to organic and local food products is still presently marginal. According to public health researchers those living in inner city areas with the least income have poor diets partly due to the local supply of convenience shops that sell no fresh produce. For such consumers a supermarket would increase their chances of eating healthily. Another obstacle for all sectors of society to eating fresh produce, is cooking skills. Without the basic ability to turn unprocessed food into tasty meals as urged by celebrity chefs etc., diets are limited to the processed, ready meal variety. So it’s to be welcomed that cooking is finally back on the school curriculum thanks to the work of many campaigners .

This post is about exploring the complexities of not only agro-food industrial supply chains, but at a more intimate level, our personal relationships to food. We cannot urge a blanket solution to the present food crises as the obvious one of eating only accredited food ignores the issues of accessing it for a wide section of society. Commitment to local food is a starting place for those with the means of not only money, time and knowledge, but also the confidence to transform such produce into enjoyable meals.

Presently Industry and government responses to this crisis are to investigate the DNA of food products, revealing further causes for concern. A recent report has found the fraudulent labelling of fish products in America. Trust will be further eroded, revealing how far we’ve come from knowing the food we eat. The alternatives require us as consumers committing to getting to know our food better. This process can take many forms from phone apps scanning QR codes, to getting our hands dirty with the wonky veg we’ve grown ourselves. However, this is a complex, deeply rooted problem that not only requires us getting to know our food better, but also requires government regulation and concern for the matter of our food, not just it’s profits.

Bowyer, Caraher et al. 2009- Shopping for Food Lessons from a London Borough, British Food Journal 111 (4-5)
Little et al. 2009- Gender, Consumption and the Relocalisation of Food:
A Research Agenda Sociologia Ruralis 49:3
School Food Plan (2013) Cooking on the Curriculum (online available at) http://www.education.gov.uk/schoolfoodplan/news/a00221479/school-food-plan-cook-curric
Huffington Post (2013) Seafood Fraud study by Oceana (online available at) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/21/seafood-fraud-study-mislabeling_n_2733377.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=Green

Follow Rebecca Sandover on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SandySom

Prime Ministers and their Chancellors

As the Government’s Autumn budget statement makes headlines, the Downing Street website featured this blog by History Professor Richard Toye. In it he examines the importance of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The connection between Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer is probably the most important, and potentially the most problematic, of all ministerial relationships. Foreign Secretaries and Home Secretaries can be powerful figures, and yet they rarely have the capacity that a Chancellor does to define, or indeed to destabilise, a premiership. In the modern era, domestic economic management has generally been seen as the most important factor in determining electoral success. The Chancellor, charged with keeping the economy on track, therefore becomes a unique point of strength or weakness for a government and hence for the Prime Minister. If the relationship goes well and the economy thrives, the Prime Minister can feel fairly secure in 10 Downing Street. If it goes wrong – and economic problems will likely be a major factor in this – the consequences can rock a government to its foundations.

It was William Gladstone – four times Chancellor before he was four time Prime Minister – who developed the Exchequer into recognisably modern form. He did not envisage anything like today’s welfare state, being obsessed with ‘retrenchment’, the nineteenth-century term for cutting public expenditure. Rather, he saw the Treasury as a department that could be harnessed to great national purposes. He was not content merely to balance the books on a year-by-year basis but had a political programme and a vision of how to create prosperity, which put the Exchequer at the heart of domestic politics. ‘Finance is, as it were, the stomach of the country, from which all the other organs take their tone’, he commented in 1858.

Behind Gladstone’s efforts at cheese-paring lay a great populist agenda: the reduction of taxation on items consumed by the masses. In a celebrated controversy in 1860 this brought him into conflict with Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister. Gladstone wanted to abolish duties on paper, the last of the so-called ‘taxes on knowledge’ and a barrier to the production of cheap newspapers. But the very idea of a mass popular press struck many in the political establishment as potentially subversive, and Palmerston and many other ministers were opposed. Gladstone recorded in his diary that in one Cabinet meeting ‘Lord P spoke ¾ hour… [against] Paper Duties Bill!’ The legislation went ahead anyway and passed through the Commons, but Palmerston wrote to Queen Victoria that the House of Lords ‘would perform a good public service’ if it rejected the Bill. The Lords did in fact do so, and Lady Palmerston was ostentatiously pleased. It was Gladstone who had the last laugh, though. The following year he made abolition of the duties part of his Budget, thereby forcing his colleagues and the Lords to swallow it. It clearly helped that he was promoting a cause likely to have strong popular support.

But being the darling of the people is no guarantee of success when manoeuvring against a Prime Minister. Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston Churchill, learned this during his brief Chancellorship, to his permanent cost. A brilliantly witty speaker and the rabble-rousing delight of the Conservative grassroots, Lord Randolph turned himself into a force that the Tory leaders were unable to ignore. Appointed to the Treasury by Lord Salisbury while still in his thirties, he proved himself a mercurial colleague who was all-but impossible to work with. Salisbury noted drily that ‘the qualities for which he is most conspicuous have not usually kept men for any length of time at the head of affairs’.

This young meteor soon overplayed his hand, and at the end of 1886, after only a few months in office, he threatened resignation over what he saw as excessive spending on the armed forces. Salisbury called his bluff and accepted. Lord Randolph – who died early a few years later – never held office again.

Lord Randolph was ambitious, and though his own tactics backfired, plenty of his successors used the office of Chancellor to promote their own careers. Of Queen Victoria’s ten Prime Ministers, only Gladstone and Disraeli used the Chancellorship as a step upon the ladder. Of the twenty-one Prime Ministers since her death, ten served at the Treasury at some point before entering Number 10. By contrast, only five had served as Foreign Secretary, and two of these had also been Chancellor. So, when choosing Chancellors, twentieth-century Prime Ministers needed to watch their backs. On the other hand, it was no good simply appointing an unthreatening non-entity as Chancellor. In a more media conscious age, Chancellors needed to be heavyweights who could take the heat and demonstrate a bit of political showmanship.

David Lloyd George epitomised this new kind of Chancellor. He immediately ran afoul of Margot Asquith, the new Prime Minister’s wife, who suspected him of leaking a list of Cabinet appointments to the press. Asquith himself, though, was fairly relaxed about Lloyd George’s activities, even when his radical Liberal policies helped provoke a constitutional crisis. Lloyd George’s tax-raising ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909 marked a new kind of populism, based on public spending rather than retrenchment, and was a foundational moment in the birth of the welfare state. During the battle with the House of Lords that followed, Asquith sometimes distanced himself from his Chancellor’s wilder rhetorical excesses, but did little to actively rein him in. Although Lloyd George did eventually displace Asquith as Prime Minister during the First World War, the peacetime relationship between the two men was handled by both with considerable skill.

In the interwar years, Winston Churchill stands out as the most colourful Chancellor, serving a Prime Minister, Baldwin, who was even more laid-back than Asquith. Baldwin took little hand in what was arguably the biggest economic decision taken on his watch – the return to the gold standard in 1925 – leaving the question to Churchill and his advisers. Neville Chamberlain, Chancellor successively to MacDonald and Baldwin in the 1930s, came to feel that ‘I am more and more carrying this government on my back’.

Baldwin’s supposed laziness was to some extent a pose, but it also represented one of the final gasps of an older style of government in which the Prime Minister merely presided, and left detailed initiatives to his colleagues.

After 1945, the continued expansion of the state and the growing demands of the media required of Prime Ministers a more activist stance on economic policy. This was a time when the state was committed to a new goal, the maintenance of full employment, whilst Britain’s loss of great power status and relative economic decline generated a narrative of failure against which governments constantly struggled. In 1958, Harold Macmillan’s entire team of Treasury ministers resigned in protest at the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to implement spending cuts that the Chancellor, Peter Thorneycroft, thought necessary to battle inflation. The way in which Macmillan succeeded in shrugging this off as ‘little local difficulty’ became a legendary example of his ‘unflappability’. But when he sacked another Chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd, during the so-called the Night of the Long Knives, it was widely seen as a sign of panic in the face of political and economic bad news. Macmillan’s days in Downing Street were numbered.

In spite of the short-lived experiment of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) under Harold Wilson in the 1960s, the Treasury retained its primacy and power in Whitehall. Callaghan showed remarkable skill in keeping all his ministers on board during the International Monetary Fund crisis of 1976, but his successors generally moved away from collective Cabinet government to work bilaterally with the key players. For Thatcher, this technique was for a long time a source of strength, but it was not an infallible one, as demonstrated by the breakdown of her relationship with her second Chancellor, Nigel Lawson in 1989. When her personal economic adviser, Alan Walters, published a newspaper article that clashed with Lawson’s views, the Chancellor demanded she sack Walters. Thatcher refused; Lawson resigned; Walters then resigned as well; and by the end of the following year the Prime Minister herself had been forced from office. It was a sign that even a government committed to ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’ could not escape intense scrutiny both of its economic management and of the personal relationships of those responsible for it.

Above all, it proved once again that getting rid of a Chancellor is no panacea for a Prime Minister in trouble. The same was true for Major when he dislodged Norman Lamont in the aftermath of ‘Black Wednesday’. Paradoxically, Blair found himself powerless to move against Gordon Brown at a time when the economy seemed to be performing well, despite a problematic relationship between the two which Blair recalled as being like that of ‘some quarrelling, married couple’.

The broader lesson to be drawn from the history of Prime Ministers and their Chancellors over the past 150 years is that, although difficulties may arise in part because of failed personal chemistry, how these problems play out is affected by the economic environment, the nature of the state, and public expectations about the types of issues that governments are expected to solve. In addition, the rise of the mass media has increasingly meant that personal differences between Chancellors and Prime Ministers are played out in the full glare of publicity. If Gladstone had not insisted on abolishing the Paper Duties, it might all have been very different.

Further reading

  • Edmund Dell, The Chancellors: A History of the Chancellors of the Exchequer, 1945–90 (HarperCollins, London, 1997)
  • Roy Jenkins, The Chancellors (Macmillan, London, 1998)
  • Nigel Lawson, The View from No.11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (Bantam Press, London, 1992)
  • Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1000 Days at Number 11 (Atlantic Books, London, 2011)

Richard Toye is Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. His books include The Labour Party and the Planned Economy, 1931–1951 (2003), Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (2007), and Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made (2010). In 2007 he won the Times Higher Education Young Academic Author of the Year award. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the History & Policy editorial advisory group.

Egypt’s Revolution: A Year after Mubarak

by Dr Omar Ashour, Lecturer in the Politics of the Modern Arab World

456x277protest“The time of Mubarak wasn’t bad. At least there were tourists and I can get by” tells me a taxi driver. “But how about the police? Did they harass you under Mubarak?” I asked. “Oh, all the time…God bless the revolution!” The conversation summarizes the attitudes of millions of opinionated, but politically inactive Egyptians, the so-called “party of couch” (Hizb al-Kanaba). Many of whom bitterly complain about the current political and economic conditions, one year after removal of Hosni Mubarak. But when you remind them of his era, they never miss it.
Security crisis, bad economic conditions, and a state-owned media campaign blaming the revolutionaries, their marches and sit-ins for such problems, have seemed to undermine the popularity of the revolution. But the high turnout on the revolution’s anniversary showed otherwise. Hundreds of thousands marched to Tahrir and other squares across Egypt. Marching from the upper-middle class area of Mohandiseen, I saw tens of thousands chanting “down with military rule” and “revolution continues” all the way to Tahrir square, a two-hour walk. When they arrived there was no space for them to enter. The square was full.

Institutional versus Street Politics

But who dominates Egypt’s politics currently? Three entities emerge: street activists, the parliament, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Following the Post Said massacre, in which more than 70 football fans died, the parliament started proceedings to charge the Interior Minister with negligence. It is the first time in the Egyptian parliamentary history. Massive marches and street activists sitting-in in front of the Interior Ministry have emboldened the MPs to embark on these proceedings, and more importantly to ask for a thorough security sector reform and restructuring. Several draft laws and initiatives in that regard have been in progress.

Still, the slow pace of parliamentary proceedings, coupled with the (mis)management of the SCAF, did not meet the expectations of the revolutionaries. Tensions are on the rise between institutional and street politics; revolutionaries who were not elected can still mobilize tens of thousands. And in the absence of a unified leadership and organizational structures for the street activists, tensions are likely to be the rise.

The removal and the trial of Mubarak, his sons and chiefs of the repressive security apparatus have all came as direct results of Tahrir pressures. The same applies to the dates of the presidential elections. To expedite the transition, the SCAF brought the dates from 2013 to June 2012, following Mohamed Mahmoud street clashes and a massive sit-in in Tahrir. After massive marches to Tahrir on the anniversary of the revolution, the date was brought forward again, with the official nominations being on March 10, 2012.

Street politics has therefore proven effective, but quite dangerous. Egyptians paid the price in blood. The parliament, as the only elected institution, will need to address three salient issues on the eve of Mubarak’s removal. The first is the security sector reform and monitoring. The second is the proposed package given to the SCAF to abandon reserved domains of power (legal immunity, economic autonomy and veto in high politics). The third will be dealing with street activists and channelling their energy. Those three inter-related challenges will determine the success or failure of the Egypt’s democratic transition.

This piece first appeared on the Brookings Institution website.

What do Egypt’s Generals Want?

Dr Omar Ashour is Lecturer in the Politics of the Modern Arab World

Dr Omar Ashour is Lecturer in the Politics of the Modern Arab World

CAIRO – “Whatever the majority in the People’s Assembly, they are very welcome, because they won’t have the ability to impose anything that the people don’t want.” Thus declared General Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Al-Mulla’s message was that the Islamists’ victory in Egypt’s recent election gives them neither executive power nor control of the framing of a new constitution. But General Sami Anan, Chief of Staff and the SCAF’s deputy head, quickly countered that al-Mulla’s statement does not necessarily represent the official views of the Council.

So, one year after the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, who, exactly, will set Egypt’s political direction?

The electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing and the Salafi parties, which together won more than 70% of the parliamentary seats, will give them strong influence over the transitional period and in drafting the constitution. But they are not alone. Aside from the Islamists, two other powerful actors will have their say: the “Tahrirists” and the generals.

Tahrir Square-based activism has not only brought about social and political change, but also has served as the ultimate tool of pro-democracy pressure on Egypt’s military rulers. Indeed, while the army, the most powerful of the three actors, still officially controls the country, there is little confidence in the generals’ commitment to democracy. “The SCAF are either anti-democratic….or some of their advisers told them that democracy is not in their best interest,” says Hazem Abd al-Azim, a nominee in the first post-Mubarak government.

If the generals do not want democracy, nor do they want direct military rule à la Augusto Pinochet. So, what do they want? Ideally, they would like to combine the Algerian army’s current power and the Turkish army’s legitimacy. This implies a parliament with limited powers, a weak presidency subordinate to the army, and constitutional prerogatives that legitimate the army’s intervention in politics.

The minimum that they insist on is reflected in statements by Generals al-Mulla, Mamdouh Shahim, Ismail Etman, and others. That would mean a veto in high politics, independence for the army’s budget and vast economic empire, legal immunity from prosecution on charges stemming from corruption or repression, and constitutional prerogatives to guarantee these arrangements.

The new parliament and constitutional assembly will have to lead the negotiations with the SCAF. But, given that any successful democratic transition must include meaningful civilian control over the armed forces and the security apparatus, the SCAF’s minimum demands could render the process meaningless.

The veto in high politics would include any issues that touch on national security or sensitive foreign policy, most importantly the relationship with Israel. With an Islamist majority in the parliament promising to “revise” the peace agreement with Israel, tensions over foreign policy are likely to rise.

The independent military-commercial empire, which benefits from preferential customs and exchange rates, no taxation, land-confiscation rights, and an army of almost-free laborers (conscripted soldiers), is another thorny issue. With the Egyptian economy suffering, elected politicians might seek to improve conditions by moving against the military’s civilian assets – namely, by revising the preferential rates and imposing a form of taxation.

Immunity from prosecution is no less salient. “The Field-Marshal should be in jail now,” screamed the elected leftist MP, Abu Ezz al-Hariri, on the second day of the new parliamentary session. When Mahmoud Ghozlan, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, proposed immunity (known in Egypt as the “safe-exit” option), he faced a wave of harsh criticism.

Pressure from the United States has also influenced the SCAF’s decision-making. “The military establishment receives $1.3 billion from the US….They are very sensitive to US requests,” according to Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who lobbied the Obama administration to support the revolution in January 2011.

But most of the SCAF’s pro-democracy decisions have come as a result of massive pressure from Tahrir Square. This includes the removal of Mubarak, his trial (and that of other regime figures), and bringing forward the presidential election from 2013 to June 2012.

Two other factors are equally, if not more, influential: the status quo inherited from the Mubarak era and the army’s internal cohesion. With few exceptions, the SCAF’s members benefited significantly from Mubarak’s regime. They will attempt to preserve as much of it as possible.

“The sight of officers in uniform protesting in Tahrir Square and speaking on Al Jazeera really worries the Field Marshal,” a former officer told me. And one way to maintain internal cohesion is to create “demons” – a lesson learned from the “dirty wars” in Algeria in the 1990’s and Argentina in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

In particular, Coptic protesters are an easy target against which to rally soldiers and officers. Last October, amid an unnecessary escalation of sectarian violence, state-owned television featured a hospitalized Egyptian soldier screaming, “The Copts killed my colleague!” The systematic demonization of the Tahririst groups, and the violent escalation that followed in November and December, served the same purpose.

Despite everything, democratic Egypt is not a romantic fantasy. A year ago, Saad al-Ketatni, the Muslim Brotherhood leader, would never have dreamed of being Speaker of Parliament. The same applies to the leftists and liberals who now hold around 20% of the parliament’s seats.

If 2011 witnessed the miracle of Mubarak’s removal, a brave parliament’s institutional assertiveness, coupled with non-institutional Tahririst pressure, could force the generals to accept a transfer of power to civilian rule (with some reserved domains for the army establishment) in 2012. What is certain is that this year will not witness a return to the conditions of 2010. Egypt may become stuck in democratization’s slow lane, but there will be no U-turn. The hundreds of thousands who marched to Tahrir Square on the revolution’s anniversary will guarantee that.

Omar Ashour is a visiting scholar at the Brookings Doha Center and Director of Middle East Graduate Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. He is the author of The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

Food security research at Exeter, by Professor Michael Winter

michaelwinterblogFood security, the availability of food and how accessible it is to populations, is one of the biggest global issues facing research today. Once again the world’s eyes are being turned to Africa as the worst drought there in 60 years threatens 10 million people with famine, whilst at the same time England and Wales together throw away 3.6 million tonnes of “waste” food every year. At Exeter we’re in the early stages of strategising how we research food security. We already have real strength in four important areas: crop health, ecosystem services, food behaviours, and food animals.

Regarding crop health we are strong in Biosciences, particularly around pathogens with world leading research on diseases affecting bananas and rice diseases which affect productivity and yield. We’re also doing work on a soil fungus, trichoderma, which is shown to activate immunity to plant pathogens.

Ecosystem services is coming to the fore with the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Tremough. Professor Kevin Gaston, the inaugural director, is very much focused on the ecosystems services approach and the role of biodiversity, and we have some excellent work going on in Geography around soils and soil erosion. In the social sciences we’re looking at how we can best apply the ecosystems approach to decisions about how to use the land. In the South West, for example, I am looking at how best to adapt land-based systems to deliver economic benefits and sustainability targets.

In the area of food behaviours, Exeter has a long tradition of researching producers of food, agricultural producers in particular. But we also have a history of looking at the food chain and we have some very interesting research in Geography and in Psychology on issues of consumption and consumers. We also have work in Economics, led by Steve McCorriston, on price volatility, one of the big issues facing those concerned about food security.

The final area, food animals, attracts interest from geographers and biologists and wihtin the humanities. And in Psychology we have some fascinating work on dairy cows behaviour and the best way to manage behaviour for maximum welfare and productivity.

Food security research is inherently interdisciplinary, cutting across biosciences, economics, psychology, politics and other social sciences, and beyond. This is why I’m so excited by it – I’m a bit of an interdisciplinary junkie, you might say! As a social scientist I love working with natural scientists, and I think that’s really where the future is for the University, allying our tremendous strength in humanities and the social sciences with the natural science developments we’re making.

Posted by Professor Michael Winter (Co-Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research)

The progressive fallacy: Liberals and Labour in 20th and 21st century British politics

David Marquand wrote a book in the late 1980s called The Progressive Dilemma, in which he argued that there was an essential identity of interest between the British Liberal and Labour parties, and that the great tragedy of 20th century politics was that they’d been somehow artificially divided, particularly by the issues of trade unionism and socialism. He suggested that as unions became less relevant to politics, and as socialism appeared to move into the ‘historic’ category, so it ought to be possible for the two parties to come closer together once again. This he suggested was the ‘progressive dilemma’.

I’m interested in looking at this issue of the historical nature of the division between the Liberal and Labour parties, which is of course particularly relevant today in the context of the Liberal / Conservative coalition government. This has been presented by some people as some kind of great innovation, but in fact reflects a much longer-run strain of Liberalism which didn’t seek to be some kind of surrogate social democracy, but which was in fact much more centrist, even right-wing, in terms of political identity.

So the rather tired old debates about the rise of Labour and decline of the Liberal party around the turn of the 20th century, which seemed to resolve themselves into footnotes about whether Stockport was in fact in Cheshire or in Lancashire, are really not what I’m interested in looking at.

But I am interested in the politics of identity and the politics of possibility, and the ways in which people formed and developed their own different political commitments. This isn’t a criticism of Liberals as such, just a recognition that they need to be understood on their own terms as a broad church, and not as surrogate social democrats.

This leads me into a number of different avenues of research at the moment. One of those is a biography of one of the great early Labour leaders, Arthur Henderson (1863-1935), who was a Liberal until his early 40s, but who ended up as one of the founders and leaders of the party, cabinet minister in World War I, Home Secretary and later Foreign Secretary in the 1920s, and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1934.

It’s also led me into research on the development of Labour politics and its relationship with Methodism around the early part of the 20th century, and the ways in which Methodist identities could be moulded in either a Liberal or a Labour direction.

I’m also involved, with my colleague Professor Richard Toye in History, in editing the diaries of a Liberal MP, Cecil Harmsworth, who was a relative of Lord Rothermere, the founder of The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror.
Further down the road there might be further collaborative possibilities. We have a lot of expertise at Exeter in these areas and it might be an area where our growing links with Bristol might also come into play.

Ultimately this might all end up with a much broader and perhaps more popular study of the relationship between Liberal and Labour politics in the 20th and early 21st century Britain: showing that the Progressive Dilemma is in fact a Progressive Fallacy, and that there were and are significant differences and divergences between the Labour and Liberal parties.

Posted by Professor Andrew Thorpe, Associate Dean of Research and Knowledge Transfer (College of Humanities)