A progressive new government takes shape in Germany. Olaf Scholz’s three-party talks conclude with a promising coalition deal.

By Jeremy Cliffe


Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives a bouquet of flowers from the man who will succeed her in office, Olaf Scholz. Photo by MARKUS SCHREIBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

A pragmatic, unflashy former mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz is not usually one for gestures. Yet there were bursts of symbolism in the announcement this afternoon (24 November) of a successful three-party coalition deal between his Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the conservative-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) that confirms that he will succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor, most probably in the week of 6 December.

The event took place in a converted warehouse at the Westhafen, a port area on Berlin’s industrial canal network still marked by cranes and train tracks, and now home to a trendy emerging art scene. The new government, went the message, is all about the future. It is known as the “traffic-light” coalition as the colours of the three parties are red, green and yellow. Scholz picked up on that, too, noting that a pioneering new traffic light was installed in 1924 in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz; a symbol of both innovation and reliability. Then there was the title of the coalition deal itself, “dare more progress”, an obvious nod to the slogan “dare more democracy” under which the SPD federal chancellor Willy Brandt ushered in a period of modernisation from 1969.

To be sure, it was a sober occasion. Scholz and the other speakers began their remarks by noting the alarming rise in Covid-19 cases in Germany and indicating the priority the new government would accord the battle to bring down numbers.

Yet there was still a feeling of possibility about the announcements, a sense that something new is coming to Germany. Monday (22 November) was the 16th anniversary of Merkel assuming the chancellorship. As I argued in my recent New Statesman cover feature, her time in power has provided stability and maturity, but has also been too reactive and too slow to embrace change. Plenty of younger voters do not remember a time before her. Now she is going and a new government is on its way, combining three parties that have never governed all together at federal level. The joint programme they have formulated contains many steps that will move the country forward.

Major commitments draw on the key manifesto pledges of all three parties. The SPD gets a €12 minimum wage, pensions stable at a minimum of 48 per cent of average wages and 400,000 new homes built a year. For the Greens, the end to coal power is brought forward from the current goal of 2038 to “ideally” (a qualification at which some in the party bridle) 2030, as well as the promise of 80 per cent of energy from renewables by 2030. The FDP gets the introduction of equity pensions, new tax incentives for businesses and a maintenance of the “debt brake”, which heavily limits deficit spending.

Perhaps the biggest topic of disagreement – between the SPD and Green emphasis on increased investment and the FDP’s fiscal hawkishness – is bridged through a combination of open-ended language and canny fiddles (removing certain green investments from the debt brake restrictions, for example, and expanding the use of off-balance-sheet investment bodies to finance public capital spending). That should allow a modest loosening of Germany’s budget strings when it comes to investment in decarbonisation, digital infrastructure and other such suitably future-wards causes. On fiscal policy in the wider euro zone, the coalition deal is relatively unspecific but agrees that doctrinaire rules such as those of the Stability and Growth Pact can be “developed further”. That a deal signed off by the flinty FDP includes such open-ended language puts it on the more positive end of the spectrum of realistic possibilities.

Another area of potential disagreement is foreign policy. The Greens are firm on human rights and democracy but also have pacifist traditions. The SPD has been known to put exports above values in its attitudes to autocracies such as Russia and China. The FDP mainstream is keenly Atlanticist. Yet here, too, compromises were found – helped, no doubt, by Scholz and the Green co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck being on the Atlanticist wings of their respective parties. The coalition deal supports Taiwan’s participation in international organisations – the first time that Taiwan has even been mentioned in a German coalition deal – and uses tough language on Russia, demanding an “immediate end” to its interference in Ukraine. Under the deal Germany seeks observer status to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which bothers some Nato allies), but it reaffirms German participation in nuclear sharing (which reassures them). All together it amounts to a mixed picture for allies but with more positives than negatives both for European partners such as France and for alliance partners such as the US.

Where fiscal and foreign policy involved compromises, liberalising social policies are an area of broad common ground between the three traffic-light parties. And it shows – it is there that the coalition deal is boldest and most transformative. For example, the incoming government intends to legalise cannabis, lower the voting age to 16, allow doctors to provide information about their abortion services (where now they cannot) and facilitate self-identification for trans people.

Most striking is the change to citizenship rules. Until the late 1990s, German-ness was still overwhelmingly treated as a matter of inheritance – of whether one had German ancestry or not. That has changed, but gradually. Now the traffic-light parties propose to make dual citizenship widely available, to increase integration programmes and to reduce greatly the time from arrival to naturalisation – in cases of particularly well-integrated migrants, to just three years. Germany’s rapid transformation from a country defined by an ethnic identity to one defined by constitutional identity (that is, one that can be acquired by adherence to values and institutions rather than family background) is remarkable and profoundly welcome. It also reflects Scholz’s own policies as mayor in Hamburg, where, as I wrote in my recent profile, he successfully combined openness to migration with a heavy emphasis on rapid integration and naturalisation.

Though ministerial roles are not formally part of the coalition deal, we also learned today which parties have obtained which seats in the incoming federal cabinet. Alongside the chancellery, Scholz’s SPD secures the ministries of the interior, defence, health, labour, international development and housing. The Greens get a mighty economy-climate ministry (under Habeck), the foreign ministry (under Baerbock), as well as the environment, family and agriculture ministries. The FDP secures the crucial finance ministry (which will go to Christian Lindner, the party’s leader) as well as the transport, education and justice ministries. How the three camps will interact and cooperate remains to be seen, but all professed a great commitment to collegiality and collective endeavour at the announcement.

Will the government deliver? Past performance is no guide to future results, of course, but independent analyses by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that Germany’s last two federal governments had both implemented some 80 per cent of their coalition deals by the end of their terms.

The traffic-light coalition takes power at a troubled time. Covid-19 is once again scything through central Europe. Wider challenges abound: Vladimir Putin’s revisionist Russia, fraught relations with China, an uncertain transatlantic relationship, fractures in the EU, a German industrial model in need of renewal amid rapid technological change, demographic decline, stubborn domestic social and cultural divisions.

Yet if the motley cluster of figures likely to join Scholz’s cabinet – spanning three parties and three ideological traditions, and ranging from the traditional left to the free-market right – together manage to deliver anything like 80 per cent of the coalition agreement published today while governing in the advertised spirit of modernity and progress, then they will put Germany in a very much better place to confront these challenges. Good luck to them.

Lowering the voting age: three lessons from the 1969 Representation of the People’s Act

Posted: 03 Nov 2021 01:00 AM PDT

In 1969, the UK became the first country to lower its age of franchise to 18.Tom LoughranAndy Mycockand Jon Tonge argue that lowering the voting age was not in response to popular mobilisation by the public or pressure groups, nor the outcome of significant political contestation. Rather, voting age reform was a consequence of the desire of political leaders to align the voting age with what society increasingly perceived as the new age of adulthood. Lowering the voting age was part of package of reforms which attempted to streamline the age at which young people were seen to become adults. 

The 1969 Representation of the People’s Act, which lowered the UK age of enfranchisement to 18, has received remarkably little attention in contemporary debates. Although the UK became the first democracy to lower the voting age to 18 and most of the rest of the world followed, advocates and opponents of ‘Votes at 16’ rarely reference the 1969 Act or discuss its impacts and legacies. This oversight is surprising as ‘Votes at 18’ was the last major extension of the UK franchise and is therefore an important element of the history of UK democracy from the 1832 Great Reform Act onwards.

Lowering the voting age in 1969 provides important evidence which should – but has not yet – informed the votes at 16 debate across the UK, even in Scotland and Wales where the voting age has been revised for non-Westminster elections. Our article published in Contemporary British History, based on research from the Leverhulme Trust ‘Lowering the Voting Age in the UK’ project we recently completed, highlights three relevant lessons that can be drawn for the current UK voting age debate regarding both the process and enactment of the policy.

The first lesson from 1969 highlights the importance of the voting age being integrated into broader debates around young people’s civic rights and citizenship status. Reform of the voting age in 1969 was an alignment of age-related rights which saw the official age of majority lowered to 18. This meant that acquiring the vote was framed as part of a broader discussion about youth transitions to adulthood. In contrast, the contemporary votes at 16 debate is curiously detached from the broader context in which young people become citizens and the role that they play within democratic society. Advocates of the change often present voting age reform as a policy goal rather than as part of a broader approach to making the political system more responsive to young people’s voices and needs. Conversely, most opponents of votes at 16 tend to frame the issue as a binary debate regarding where ‘adulthood’ should begin, ignoring the more nuanced views emerging from our research showing most 16–17-year-olds want the right to vote on their own terms, not because they see voting as an ‘adult’ act. The debate around the 1969 act shows that it is possible to move beyond the narrow terms of this debate to encompass a more holistic approach to young people’s citizenship.

The less polarised political context surrounding the 1969 reform puts into sharp relief the divisions between votes at 16 advocates and opponents, providing this way the context for a second lesson. Contrary to received wisdom, there is little evidence that partisan advantage was a key motivator for Harold Wilson’s Labour government in lowering the voting age to 18. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives considered age to be an important electoral divide and there was a consensus (although little actual evidence) among politicians and the media that from the late 1950s onwards that the ‘youth vote’ skewed slightly towards the Conservatives. It was not until the 1970s that Conservatives became concerned about declining support among younger voters. Conservative opposition to the measure in both parliament and the media was therefore mild and based on classic small ‘c’ conservative concerns around constitutional precedent rather than accusations of an electoral ‘stitch-up’. This contrasts with the more partisan environment in which the debate is taking place, where age has become the largest demographic division in electoral politics. Developments in Scotland and Wales, where votes at 16 advocates were able to gain support for reform from across the political spectrum, show the importance of working towards a consensual approach. This noted, recent debates at Westminstersuggest a more divisive and counterproductive American-style scenario whereby votes at 16 has become part of de-facto political battleground about electoral reform.

The 1969 Act provides a third lesson about the need to establish a comprehensive policy and evaluation framework to ensure the long-term successful implementation of voting age reform. Whilst successful overall in terms of political and public acceptance, an important negative aspect of votes at 18 – large-scale abstention amongst 18–24-year-olds – quickly materialised and steadily increased. In 1970, the first UK election to enfranchise 18–21-year-olds, 65% of 18–24-year-olds voted. This was 7% lower than the overall turnout level, a disparity which increased to 9% in October 1974 and further grew of successive general elections until reaching a peak of 23% in 2001. The causes were multiple and significant. The passage of the 1969 Act did not identify the need for civic or political education to socialise young people with the skills and knowledge required to vote. It also failed to transform the supply side of political culture by making political parties and authorities more responsive to young people’s views, thus incentivising them to engage with the political process. Evidence from Scotland and Wales suggests that this critical final lesson has only been partially learned by policymakers, with the introduction of votes at 16 also not adequately planned or resourced, and turnout of 16-17-year-olds thus far proving consistently lower than average turnouts. It is noteworthy that one common feature of voting age reform in the late 1960s and the introduction of votes at 16 is the absence of longitudinal evaluation of its impacts on youth democratic engagement and participation.

Ultimately, the three lessons of the 1969 Act we identified highlight a missed opportunity for policymakers across the UK and internationally to undertake policy learning. We believe it demonstrates that voting age reform can be successful as a catalyst for young people’s political engagement but not if it is seen as a panacea in itself. It is vital that voting age reform is part of a more holistic approach to young people’s citizenship and engagement with the political system. Should the UK voting age be lowered in the near future, it is critical that the lessons from 1969 should be learnt to ensure its success.


About the Authors

Thomas Loughran is Lecturer in Comparative Elections at the University of Liverpool.

Andrew Mycock is Reader in Politics School Director of External Engagement at the University of Huddersfield.

Jonathan Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool

LSE Blog

Low tax v levelling up: the Tories’ policy tensions will not go away

Thatcherites hate the ‘big state’, but economic realities are forcing the party into messy compromises

Published: 15:14 Sunday, 31 October 2021 Follow Larry Elliott

The days of the big state are back. Plans announced by Rishi Sunak last week mean public spending as a share of the economy is on course to reach levels not seen since the Thatcherite revolution was about to begin in the late 1970s. The Iron Lady’s disciples are having kittens at the prospect.

It’s worth saying that the economy has changed substantially over the past four decades, with manufacturing accounting for a much smaller share of national output and the service sector growing in importance. Since the 1980s, the UK has run a large and persistent trade deficit in goods, only partly offset by a surplus in services.

Manufacturing’s relative decline has meant the economy has produced fewer greenhouse gases but this doesn’t give the whole picture, because Britain has outsourced its carbon emissions to other parts of the world. Factories and coalmines have closed in the UK but have opened in China.Advertisement

The bigger British cities have been able to reinvent themselves as centres for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, but towns on the edges of conurbations have not been so fortunate. There has been a shift in the nation’s economic geography that has allowed some places to prosper while leaving others a long way behind.

The notion of levelling up is not new. Governments have been aware of regional imbalances for decades and have tried a variety of methods to regenerate communities where the staple industry – be it coal, shipbuilding, cotton or steel – has been in decline. In the first decade of the 21st century, Labour governments recycled tax revenues from a booming City into regional aid, but when the financial crash arrived the money taps were turned off by David Cameron and George Osborne.

That has left the current generation of Conservatives with a problem. Deep unhappiness in parts of Britain that felt forgotten contributed to the vote for Brexit and to the loss of Labour’s “red wall”, but now those who backed Boris Johnson – first in the 2016 referendum and again in the 2019 general election – expect the government to deliver.

Doing so requires Johnson and his ministers to repudiate much of what happened in the 2010s. Last week’s budget, which announced real-terms increases in funding for every Whitehall department, was an example of that.

Sunak said extra money for education would allow per pupil spending to return to 2010 levels by 2024, coming close to saying Osborne’s cuts were not a great idea. Likewise, the spending on early years provision tacitly admitted that getting rid of Labour’s Sure Start programme was a mistake.

But as Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, pointed out, the increase in education spending between now and 2024 will be 2% a year on average, against 4% a year for health. Over the 15 years from 2010 to 2024 the comparison is even more stark: education spending up by 3% when adjusted for inflation, and health spending up by more than 40%.Advertisement

“For the chancellor to have felt it appropriate to draw attention to the fact that per pupil spending in schools will have returned to 2010 levels by 2024 is perhaps a statement of a remarkable lack of priority afforded to the education system since 2010,” Johnson said. “A decade and a half with no growth in spending despite, albeit insipid, economic growth is unprecedented. Spending per student in further education and sixth-form colleges will remain well below 2010 levels. This is not a set of priorities which looks consistent with a long-term growth strategy. Or indeed levelling up.”

In truth, the Conservatives under Boris Johnson have become something of a hybrid: a big-state party in favour of active industrial strategy with a low-tax, market-driven party tacked on. It is a messy compromise, and one that makes life a lot easier for those less conflicted about their support for a more interventionist economic approach.

A pamphlet due to be published this week by the campaign group Rebuild Britain, calling for measures to build up the manufacturing sector, illustrates the point. Unsurprisingly for a body that emerged from the Trade Unionists Against the EU group, it sees Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat, but its argument that a more successful economy requires a stronger industrial base would be supported not just by leavers but many remainers as well.

Policy recommendations include a more competitive pound, a buy-British procurement strategy, higher investment in skills and technical training, an increase in state aid with a strong regional bias, and an expansion of public ownership starting with steel.

It would be easier for ministers to dismiss all this as a return to the “bad old days of the 70s” if much of the Rebuild Britain agenda were not already part of the current policy mix. The fall in the value of sterling since 2016 has made UK exports cheaper; the chancellor has admitted the UK lags behind other countries when it comes to skills; the prime minister announced in the summer new state-aid laws to replace EU rules on taxpayer-funded bailouts and business support; and the railways are back under state control.

Sunak is clearly uneasy with all this and wants a different direction of travel. But the tax cuts in the budget were modest in comparison to the spending increases and the tax rises announced earlier this year. The impact of the chancellor’s pet project – freeports – will be minuscule in comparison to an enhanced role for the state prompted by demography, climate change, the pandemic and past policy failures.Advertisement

Rebuild Britain is not the first pressure group to sense the way the wind is blowing. It is unlikely to be the last

Now it’s official: Brexit will damage the economy long into the future

Jonathan Portes
The Covid threat to GDP is waning, but don’t expect the pain wrought by leaving the EU to subside any time soon
Jonathan Portes is professor of economics and public policy at King’s College.
Published: 18:45 Thursday, 28 October 2021

We’re used to hearing apocalyptic descriptions of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy: “the largest fall in economic output since 1709”, was the Office for National Statistics’ verdict eight months ago.
Yet the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its report on Wednesday’s budget, estimates that the long-term impact of Brexit will be more than twice as great as Covid. It thinks that Brexit will reduce UK productivity, and hence GDP per capita, by 4%, while the impact of Covid on GDP will only be 2%, with a slightly smaller impact on GDP per capita.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The fall in output in 2020 was both inevitable and desirable – it was not, in economic terms, that different from an extended holiday. Just like a holiday, we chose to shut down large parts of the economy. The difference was that it was by necessity – to save lives – rather than by choice, but the consequences aren’t that different. The economy shrank, and by a lot.
Brexit worse for the UK economy than Covid pandemic, OBR says
Holidays don’t reduce the productive capacity of the economy. If a factory shuts down for a month, the machines are still there when it reopens. Similarly, when workers return, they still know how to do their jobs. The virus does not destroy factories, roads, buildings or software and, while its human toll has been dreadful, the impact on the size or composition of the working-age population will be relatively small in macroeconomic terms.

So the worry was not the huge short-term fall in GDP. It was that temporary closures would do permanent damage to the economy. The biggest risk was that, as in the 1980s, we allowed mass unemployment to become entrenched, or viable businesses to go bust.
But, thanks to the furlough scheme and other business support measures, we seem to have avoided that risk in the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, US GDP – boosted by Joe Biden’s stimulus package – has already exceeded its pre-crisis level. The UK is not that far behind, albeit still well below the pre-crisis trend.
Indeed, the most obvious short-term economic problem in most advanced economies are now supply bottlenecks and labour market mismatches as economies reopen, leading to rising wages and shortages of some goods. But while this will – as the OBR also says – reduce both growth and, via inflation, real wages, it will mostly be temporary.
The OBR isn’t entirely sanguine – it still thinks Covid will permanently push some people out of the labour force, through early retirement or potentially long Covid, and that there will be some lasting hit to productivity. But things could have been a lot worse.
By contrast, Brexit is, by its nature, a long-term issue. Just as it took decades for the UK to see the full benefits of EU membership, we’ll still be discussing the economic impacts of Brexit long after I’ve retired.

The direction of those impacts isn’t controversial. The principle that increasing barriers to trade and labour mobility between two large trading partners will reduce trade and migration, and that this will, in general, reduce economic welfare on both sides – but especially for the smaller partner – isn’t really at issue. While there was no shortage of politicians who argued that, somehow, new trade barriers would not make much difference, or that trade with our closest and largest single trading partner could easily be substituted with trade with the rest of the world, no credible economic analysis endorsed such claims.
Nor is the OBR’s 4% estimate of the impact on the UK economy that different from that of independent economists – we at UK in a Changing Europe put it at just under 6%.
But crucially, both those (and other) estimates predated Brexit. So the news here is that the OBR has taken a hard look at the evidence to date on the actual impact of Brexit. Its conclusion, briefly, is: “so far, so bad”. That is, the UK’s trade performance this year is consistent with its original estimates that UK exports and imports would both fall by 15%.
Indeed, in some respects, the data so far looks even worse than that – UK exports have already fallen by approximately this much compared to pre-pandemic levels, while advanced economies as a whole have seen trade grow. And, again in common with external analysts, the OBR sees no evidence that trade deals with third countries, or any of the other putative economic benefits of Brexit, will offset this in any meaningful way.
No model includes everything. The OBR’s is no exception. It hasn’t accounted for the damage done to education during the pandemic, especially for poorer kids. Here, the government’s failure to fund a serious catch-up programme could leave permanent scars – both economic and social. And, on the other side, a more liberal migration system towards non-European migrants could, in principle, offset some of the damage of Brexit.
But so far, it looks as if, from an economic perspective, Covid is for Christmas, while Brexit is for life.

Jonathan Portes is professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London


Politicians talk about net zero – but not the sacrifices we must make to get there

John Harris
Too few leaders will arrive at Cop26 bearing any mandate for serious climate action, because hardly any have tried to get one

To be facetious about it, they only have 12 days to save the Earth. As politicians and officials from 197 countries begin just under a fortnight’s work at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, you can sense a strange mixture of feelings: expectation, cynicism, fatalism, anger and fragile hope.
It will be easy to lose track of what is at stake and who is who – although anyone feeling confused should recall the report issued in August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its bracing conclusion: that huge environmental changes triggered by global heating are now everywhere, and avoiding a future that will be completely catastrophic demands “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in carbon emissions. The point is simple enough. But one familiar factor may well weaken the resolve of the key people at Cop26: the fact that too few politicians will arrive in Scotland bearing any mandate for serious climate action, because almost none of them have tried to get one.
Two crucial political problems define the contrast between what is required and what those in power have so far chosen to deliver. One centres on the populism and power cults that actively get in the way of climate action – something evident in both the records of strongmen like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, and where our ecological emergency sits in the cultural and generational conflicts that are now bubbling up all over the world.

In the UK, the latest manifestation of the populist right’s belligerent scepticism is the suggestion that we might rerun the Brexit referendum in the form of a vote on whether or not to pursue the goal of net zero carbon emissions. You also see it in those seemingly daily video clips of some or other sub-Alan Partridge TV or radio host arguing with someone from Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain, a ritual which feels like a new national sport.
The other impediment to action is more insidious. On both the centre-left and centre-right, there is superficial recognition of the hard yards required to do something about the climate emergency but, so far, an aversion to thinking about the huge changes to everyday life that will be necessary. “We can build back greener without so much as a hair shirt in sight,” says Boris Johnson.
Keir Starmer may not have uttered anything so crass, but he too seems to believe in a modest utopia of a new green economy, insulated homes, increased funding for science, and the day somehow being saved by British derring-do. “Climate change is about jobs,” he insists, which is partly true. But, like Johnson, he doesn’t mention revolutionising what we eat and why and how we travel, or – God forbid – the continuing fetishisation of economic growth.
Might that be an inevitable feature of democracy? Perhaps. But in the UK, the first focus of blame should be the two-party Westminster model of politics kept in business by our stupid electoral system, and the way that it sustains political philosophies that ought to have been left behind in the 20th century.
On the right, notwithstanding Johnson’s swerve into the politics of big spending and economic interventionism, Toryism remains beholden to the market, and dead against the idea of the common good shaping the lifestyles of anyone who is halfway affluent (the poor, of course, are fair game). Its contorted priorities are illustrated by the fact that the government’s current leading lights managed to take us out of the European Union at a huge cost to national income and the country’s economic future. But they cannot muster anything like the same enthusiasm for risking some stability and prosperity in the interests of saving the planet.
And Labour? Here is a radical thought: given his beleaguered position and the urgency of the crisis, Starmer could conceivably go for broke, and predicate his leadership on the climate emergency, finally bringing its scale and urgency somewhere close to the heart of politics. The thought, unfortunately, would not even occur, because of what the Labour party is. Its origins lie in a world of coalmines and smokestacks. Like its sister social-democratic parties in Europe, whatever reinventions Labour has undergone since, it has a deep, sentimental attachment to an idea of the good life centred on work and the factory, and raising people’s living standards so that they can consume with the same enthusiasm as everyone else. At the most basic level, it shares the Tory idea that growth is the sine qua non of economic policy.

During the Corbyn years, some of this stuff was undoubtedly shaken up, although there were also signs of a conservatism that still runs across all wings of the party. In 2015, as he ran for the leadership, Jeremy Corbyn endorsed reopening mines in south Wales. Four years later, as Labour decisively embraced a so-called Green New Deal in preparation for the 2019 election, some of the big unions – who represent gas, oil, and aviation workers – insisted on 2030 being a target for “significant progress” rather than a non-negotiable net zero deadline.
It is worth remembering the view of the then leader of the GMB union, Tim Roache: the latter stance, he raged, would mean “within a decade people’s petrol cars being confiscated. This will mean families can only take one flight every five years. Net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is utterly unachievable.”
So, which way out? As a means of at least trying to reorientate our politics, a lot more people are going to have to vote for the Green party – and, to maintain the sense of last-ditch urgency that Extinction Rebellion have brought to things, the case for what some people call extra-parliamentary activity feels beyond argument. Without wanting to sound overly pessimistic, the most likely outcome of all the negotiations and diplomatic theatre in Glasgow will push even more people in that direction, and their protests will bring on the usual sneers and priggishness, not least from Westminster politicians. But as ever, the people involved will have a simple answer: that if politics endlessly fails, the streets may be all you have left.


John Harris is a Guardian columnist

Brexit will only be judged a watershed if it leads to major new directions in the constitution, political economy, or external stance of the stat

Britain’s oscillation between engagement and non-engagement with the rest of Europe is likely to remain a fundamental part of British politics, writes Andrew Gamble. But whether Brexit marks a major watershed remains to be seen. 

How will Brexit come to be judged? Five years on from the referendum, it is still unclear whether this striking manifestation of popular sovereignty will come to be seen as a major watershed in British politics or not. As with all revolutions, the rupture which is proclaimed at the time often masks much deeper continuities in policy which soon reassert themselves. I explore these questions and other aspects of British politics in a collection of my essays on British politics published over the last forty years. After Brexit was chosen as the title essay because it reflects on the historical contexts which have shaped the British political economy and its external relationships in the decades of European engagement and non-engagement since the Second World War. The European issue has been central in British politics in the last forty-seven years, since Britain first entered the European Community in 1973. But it reaches back before that, to Churchill’s identification of Europe as one of three circles of key external relationships in which Britain was involved (the other two were the Empire and the United States), to Britain’s refusal to become involved in the first steps towards European collaboration after 1945, followed by the two failed attempts to join the Common Market in the 1960s.

When Edward Heath finally secured entry in 1973, he intended Europe to provide a new national purpose and to give Britain a new role in the world, following the withdrawal from Empire. It was regarded as a watershed moment in Britain’s post-war development and a decisive recalibration of Churchill’s three circles, giving top priority (for the first time) to the European circle. In the same way, the decision to withdraw from Europe after the 2016 referendum has the potential to be a major watershed which some of the leaders of the Leave campaign are hoping will recalibrate the three circles again by giving priority to the United States and the wider Anglosphere. If this could be achieved, it might reshape British politics in many different areas – its political economy, its role in the world, its party system and its constitution.

Britain was often a reluctant member of the European Union. But both supporters and opponents of the European turn in British policy assumed that membership was permanent and unlikely to be reversed, despite the presence of a strong and vocal anti-European minority. Europe was always an issue of low importance for most British citizens, but it was a vital matter for parts of the political class as the virulence of the civil war in the Conservative Party attested. Both main parties were divided about the merits of integrating with the rest of Europe and the priority to be given to Britain’s relationship with Europe over its relationship with the United States.

The increasing Europeanisation of Britain’s laws, institutions, policy-making processes and of its regulatory regime over four decades intersected with other domestic issues and debates. These included the response to the relative decline and poor performance of the economy, the character of Britain’s hybrid Anglo-liberal model of capitalism, the reshaping of the post-war Keynesian welfare state, the rise and fall of Thatcherism, the transformation of both the Conservative and Labour parties, the relationship between Britain and the United States, the new regulatory state, and the changing  constitutional order, with the devolution of power to assemblies and parliaments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

For all the passions Brexit has aroused, it will only be judged a watershed by historians if it leads to major new directions in the constitution, political economy or external stance of the British state. The most likely form a constitutional watershed arising from Brexit might take is the breakup of the United Kingdom. Brexit has further destabilised the Union, increasing secessionist pressure in Scotland, raising the possibility of Irish reunification, enhancing support for Welsh independence, and accelerating the emergence of a new politicised Englishness. The new disunited Kingdom has been on full display during the pandemic.

A second possibility is that Brexit may mark a watershed in Britain’s political economy. Will it be seen as leading to a decisive turn from the economic principles which have shaped British economic policy since the Thatcher Government in the 1980s? There is talk of a more active role for the state, in part spurred by the Conservative agenda of levelling up to retain its new support in former Labour areas, in part by the demonstration of what an active state can achieve during the COVID-19 emergency. But to make these changes of direction, there would need to be political commitment to a fundamental broadening and deepening of the tax base and some major institutional changes in the way policy is delivered; at present, there are few signs of either.

A third possibility is that Brexit marks Britain’s relaunch as ‘Global Britain’. The initial flurry of symbolic gestures and rhetoric may be a poor guide to the pragmatic choices British governments actually make over the next ten years. One scenario sees Britain inexorably edging back towards closer involvement with the EU and adopting the kind of associate status Jacques Delors once urged the UK to consider. That is because the realistic possibilities for ‘Global Britain’ outside the EU orbit altogether are not great. Promotion of deeper links with the Anglosphere finds little support within the Anglosphere nations themselves. Britain will remain a strong supporter of the western alliance and the leadership role of the United States, but this was Britain’s position before Brexit. Britain was always a reluctant and at times an awkward partner for Europe, but the relationship was also an indispensable one for both sides. That has not changed. The British have won greater freedom of action in some areas by giving up the power to shape and influence the general direction of European policy, much of which Britain will still be obliged to comply with.

Since Britain cannot just cut its links with Europe, the relationship threatens to be one dominated by friction and resentment. But this again is hardly a change from what existed before Brexit. Britain’s European odyssey shows no signs of ending any time soon, because although Britain is now after Brexit, it will never be after Europe. Britain’s oscillation between engagement and non-engagement with the rest of Europe is likely to remain a fundamental part of British politics.

Note: the above summarises aspects of the author’s new book, After Brexit and Other Essays (Bristol University Press, 2021).

About the AuthorAndrew Gamble is Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge.


The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes major proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales.

David Mead writes that its introduction is an attempt to divert attention away from serious threats – such as climate change and racialised policing – and onto those who try to raise awareness.

‘By giving the police the discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time’. David Lammy’s closing speech at the end of the Second Reading debate of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill gets to the nub of the issue – a potentially massive increase in the power of the state to regulate protest and activism. The Bill, despite some of the hyperbole, does not remove the right to protest; it is drafted very carefully to avoid such a charge, but it does render it far more precarious, and far more in the gift of the police. If we hadn’t before, events at the Sarah Everard vigil on the night of 13 March should make us question the wisdom of this Bill very, very closely.

I will not engage with the question of the Bill’s scope and effect (see instead hereand here). What I want to focus on is the parliamentary passage of the Bill, specifically the side-lining of scrutiny. There are three related issues I want to touch on: the provision of information to the public and MPs about the Bill; the speed of passage; and the need for the legislation (and, more importantly, what MPs see as the need).

The Bill had its First Reading on 9 March, and two days were set aside for the Second Reading later that month. Not only is this a 307-page, 176-clause Bill, but at least for the public order sections, there was no White or Green paper, no draft Bill. There had before been some floating of the need to make inroads though nothing officially was said before March. In late November, Netpol – the network for police monitoring – posted about plans for a ‘major crackdown on protest in 2021’, in light of talks it had had with HMICFRS. The plans were said to include equalising the power to impose conditions as between marches and assemblies; lessening of the trigger from serious to significant disruption to the life of the community; and plans to introduce stop-and-search powers to prevent such disruption. The Bill certainly covers the first, to some extent it touches on the second, but does not include the third. The provisions in the Bill that allow for conditions on noisy protests – if the noise level is such as likely to cause some serious unease, alarm or distress – is new, as is the planned power to regulate one-person protests, the power to prohibit obstructions of entry/exit into the Palace of Westminster, and plans to put common law nuisance onto a statutory footing – though the latter dates back to a Law Commission report in 2015.

Of course, the mood music has been playing for a while – most of the past 18 months have featured regular, albeit sporadic calls for action and castigation of activists, going back to evidence given by Met Commander Adrian Usher to the JCHR in April 2019, where he argued for the police to have powers to deal with unlawful protests, in total contradistinction to ECHR case law. More recently, they go back to claims made about Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, most especially the pulling down of statues and the blocking of the distribution of several Murdoch press titles in September 2020. The Home Secretary responded by labelling ‘so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals’ while some Black Lives Matter protesters became ‘hooligans and thugs’.

It was clear, then, that the tide was turning, perhaps had done so. That does not explain the Bill that has just landed, accompanied by a 161-page HMICFRS report vindicating the government’s approach. Neither does it explain the absence in the Bill of a power allowing the police to impose conditions centrally, so avoiding the restrictions of the High Court decision in the Jenny Jones judicial review. There, it was held the Met had acted unlawfully when a senior officer had imposed conditions on several cross-London Extinction Rebellion ‘pop up’ protests, since the legislation, properly interpreted, required that to be done separately at each scene.

The Bill then is something of an enigma: to what is it supposed to be a response? We soon see an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle when we consider the views expressed by Conservative backbenchers during the debate. Several (not all – see the thoughtful interventions of StephenHammond and Fiona Bruce) managed to convince themselves into holding two irreconcilable positions: that the Bill was proposing things not actually in it, and yet was needed to cater for things that were already covered. For instance, Gareth Johnson said that ‘the Bill seeks to balance those competing rights. It will allow protests, vigils, demonstrations and marches, but not the blocking of bridges or stopping traffic and bringing cities to a standstill. Protests, yes; causing serious disruption to others, no.’ Then, TimLoughton warned that ‘Labour Members may try to claim that they have objections to the new public demonstration conditions proposed for preventing serious disruption to the life of the community’. Finally, Richard Drax was reassured that ‘the Home Secretary indicated in her speech that these new powers are aimed at preventing protesters from stopping people going to work or closing a city like London for days on end’.

Serious disruption to the life of the community has been the trigger for imposing conditions for 35 years, since the relevant Public Order Act 1986. There is nothing in the Bill that adds to the armoury here, yet none of those three MPs addressed the real challenge to peaceful protest, what I term an existential threat: conditions based on likely noise levels. They may simply be repeating a Whip-derived line – that the Bill does not affect the right to protest. But that is nonsense. Any increase in police power has that capacity and potential. Whether it is ever used, whether we think it should ever be used, are entirely different and valuable normative questions. But to deny that this Bill changes anything at all is false. This is compounded with the realisation that, in fact, the Bill does not deal with Extinction Rebellion protests. It does not alter the Jenny Jones decision. Neither does it deal with protests by putting common law nuisance onto a statutory footing. While it is true that since Rimmington a charge cannot be laid if there is a statutory alternative, that is the very point: either there is already an offence in an Act – charge someone with that – or if there is not, the common law provides the charge. This Bill does not change that.

We see the Bill, then, in its proper light: a lightning rod, diverting proper attention away from the imminent threat of climate change and onto those who exhort for a different way of life to tackle it, away from those subjected to racialised policing and onto those who tear down statues. The Bill is the epitome of much wider contemporary political discourse, one that allows government to cast us as good or bad, activists and citizens, reinforcing tensions and division at the expense of collective social solidarity, and for that reason alone we should oppose it.


About the Author

David Mead is Professor of UK Human Rights at the University of East Anglia. He has worked with Amnesty, Greenpeace and Liberty on protest issues, been involved with practitioners in cases up to and including the Supreme Court, and been consulted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on both Peaceful Assembly and on Use of Force. Most recently, his evidence has been relied on by the JCHR in its report on protest under COVID-19. He is a member of Netpol’s Lawyers’ Group. He is the author of The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era.

LSE blog

Budget 2021: a missed opportunity to make permanent the £20 increase to Universal Credit

Posted: 03 Mar 2021 09:50 AM PST

Ruth PatrickKayleigh GarthwaiteGeoff PageMaddy Power, and Katie Pybus comment on the government’s decision to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by six months only. They argue that the increase should be a permanent one, as part of a broader commitment to reforming the social security system.

We’ve learned a lot over the past 12 months of the pandemic. About ourselves, our children, our local areas, but also, inevitably, about our politicians and government. We’ve learned that our government is sometimes willing to make bold policy decisions, such as the recent announcement of the extension of furlough into the autumn. As part of the 2021 Budget, Rishi Sunak promised that he would ‘do everything it takes’ to protect ‘lives and livelihoods’. His government’s budgetary measures simply did not live up to these words.

The decision Sunak announced to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by justsix months is testament to this. Not only has the government missed the opportunity to properly invest in social security into the longer term, but they have also failed to extend the support provided through the £20 Universal Credit uplift to an estimated 2.5 million legacy benefit recipients. They have further failed by not acting to make those subject to the Benefit Cap eligible for support through the £20 uplift.

These failures on the budget are part of a broader narrative emanating from this government on ‘welfare’, which continues to rely on divisions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ populations, and shows an unwillingness to retire old (and arguably ineffective) policy tools, such as welfare conditionality. Both Sunak and Johnson have also shown an unwillingness to think more ambitiously and structurally about the social security system. They have been unprepared to delivery long overdue reform to address issues tied to adequacy and eligibility to social security support, whilst they have also failed to address the design limitations with Universal Credit, which negatively impact on the experiences of existing claimants, and the millions of households who have claimed as a direct result of the pandemic.

Through the Nuffield Foundation funded COVID Realities research programme, we are working in partnership with over 100 parents and carers living on a low-income, who are documenting their everyday experiences in online diaries and by responding to weekly video questions. The parents are also meeting up together in virtual discussion groups. In these monthly meetings, parents work with us to develop recommendations for change, recommendations which are rooted in their own experiences, that are all too often of insecurity, of poverty, and of a social security system that is failing them.

After the budget, some of the parents we have been working with gave their reactions to the decision on Universal Credit. Dorothy, a single parent to two children, one of whom is disabled, told us:

I am a bit relieved that they have extended the £20 UC payment, but I’m disappointed it is only for six months because I don’t think the pandemic is going to go away within six months. The cost of living went up so much from the pandemic and from having children at home. In my eyes, the pandemic is no way near over and the £20 just did not go far enough.

Aurora, a widowed single parent, spoke for many who do not receive the £20 uplift at all:

We as the poorest members of society cannot understand why we’ve been overlooked yet again. Why have we been ignored? We have already bared the brunt of austerity and continue to do so. That extra £20 would’ve been going towards feeding us or ensuring we were able to meet the increased costs the pandemic has inflicted on our lives. But we don’t receive it at all because our benefits are capped. I’m just thankful to Covid realities for giving us a voice when no one cared.

The Universal Credit decision extends and perhaps makes permanent the insecurity and anxiety that social security claimants face. Now, Universal Credit claimants must wait till the autumn to find out what will become of their £20 a week, which for many is the difference between keeping their heads above water, and finding it simply impossible to get through the week. Winter explained what this feels like and the difference the £20 currently makes to her family:

The proposed change [removing the £20 uplift] is the difference between paying our bills and not being able to pay some of them. And if [a] one off expenses crop up (like new shoes for kids etc) then you can’t cover it. Amy changes to benefits are very stressful.

From our work with parents and carers, we know how this financial insecurity intersects with, and is compounded by, the insecurity that we all face because of the conditions that the pandemic creates. We also know that the £20 uplift is not a panacea, and it is not enough: families with children urgently need help with the costs of their children, and to address the stubbornly high levels of child poverty. Lexie, who receives the £20 uplift explained:

The £20 is the bare minimum of help to be honest. I know that sounds ungrateful but £20 doesn’t cover much these days. By the end of the month, we are still choosing between eating and heating. We have always aimed to do better by our children than what we had but it’s almost impossible. No one in today’s day and age should be choosing between eating and heating.

As analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit represents the first significant real increase in benefit levels in the last half century for families without children. However, and this is especially important, while a sizeable and significant increase, it has made ‘barely a dent’ in the decline in the real value of the social security safety net (excluding housing) for childless families as a faction of earnings levels, which has fallen almost continually for the last 50 years. The picture for families with children, the focus of our COVID Realities work, is more complicated; but there is a broader message that the £20 uplift is only a partial and limited corrective for decades of decline in the real value of social security, which hastened under the 2010-2019 Conservative-led governments, especially due to the freezing of benefit levels. Against this context, it was especially important to make the £20 increase a permanent one as part of a broader commitment to the social security system in the UK.

We have seen the possibility in their pandemic response for the government to be bold, to spend money, and to intervene to protect livelihoods. But there has been a failure to do this on social security, and this failure needs to be writ large in all the analysis of this budget, in the weeks and months ahead. It is a failure of ambition and a failure to do what our society so urgently needs.


Note: The project on which the above draws has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

About the Authors

Ruth Patrick is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of York.

Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Birmingham.

Geoff Page is Research Associate at the University of York.

Maddy Power is a Research Fellow at the University of York.

Katie Pybus is a Research Fellow at the University of York.


En Allemagne l’extrême droite refait surface

Depuis la fusillade raciste de Hanau, il y a un an, qui a fait neuf morts, et avec la multiplication des attaques, le pays a pris conscience des dangers du discours identitaire et de la menace terroriste, trop longtemps sous-estimée par les forces de l’ordre.

PAR STÉPHANE ROLAND INTÉRIM À BERLIN. Libération vendredi 19 février.

Hamza Kurtovic avait 22 ans. Il venait de finir sa formation de magasinier et s’apprêtait à démarrer son premier job à Hanau, une ville située à 20 kilomètres à l’est de la capitale financière allemande, Francfort-sur-le-Main. Ce mercredi 19 février 2020, il attend quelques amis à l’Arena Bar, situé sur la place Kurt-Schumacher. Mais il a la malchance de croiser sur son chemin Tobias Rathjen, qui vient d’exécuter cinq personnes quelques minutes auparavant dans un bar à chicha du centre-ville. Le terroriste lui tire dessus à bout portant. Hamza ne saura jamais pourquoi.

«Pour moi, la violence d’extrême droite, c’était loin. Je n’imaginais pas que cela puisse concerner un jour ma famille,témoigne sa sœur, Ajla Kurtovic, qui a appris la mort de son frère le lendemain de l’attentat. Tout à coup, on a été rattrapés par la réalité.»

Ce jour-là, c’est toute l’Allemagne qui est rattrapée par la réalité. L’attentat raciste de Hanau, qui fait neuf morts et au moins cinq blessés, traumatise le pays. «Ce fut une césure pour le vivre-ensemble et la cohésion sociale», a rappelé il y a quelques jours la chancelière allemande, Angela Merkel, devant les députés de l’Assemblée fédérale (Bundestag).

A l’époque, les Allemands prennent conscience que la violence d’extrême droite n’est plus seulement une affaire de «cas isolés» ou de «déséquilibrés», mais une menace pour une société qui compte aujourd’hui plus de 20 % de citoyens issus de l’immigration. «Pour la première fois, les responsables politiques qualifient cette attaque de “raciste”», remarque Matthias Quent, sociologue et directeur de l’Institut pour la démocratie et la société civile à Iéna (Thuringe). La violence d’extrême droite ne s’est pas seulement manifestée à Hanau. Ce sont 23 080 actes racistes, antisémites ou «dirigés contre le système démocratique» qui ont eu lieu en 2020 – un nouveau record depuis 2001. Selon les chiffres du gouvernement, 109 personnes ont été tuées depuis 1990 par l’extrême droite pour des raisons racistes ou antisémites. Selon les organisations non gouvernementales, ce bilan dépasse les 200 morts.

Balle dans la tête

Hanau est aussi le troisième attentat d’extrême droite en moins d’un an. Le 2 juin 2019, Walter Lübcke, élu proréfugiés du district de Cassel (Hesse), est exécuté d’une balle dans la tête dans son jardin. C’est la première fois dans l’histoire de la République fédérale qu’un représentant de l’Etat est assassiné par l’extrême droite. En septembre, la synagogue de Halle (Saxe-Anhalt) est attaquée par un néonazi le jour de la fête juive de Yom Kippour. Les fidèles auront la vie sauve grâce à la porte d’entrée qui refuse de céder aux tirs du terroriste.

«L’attentat de la synagogue était prévisible, insiste Marc Grünbaum, membre du Conseil de la communauté juive de Francfort. La société allemande a fermé les yeux trop longtemps. Ce qu’il y a de nouveau, c’est que la menace est devenue visible.»Horst Seehofer, le ministre fédéral de l’Intérieur, le reconnaîtra lui-même, et pour la première fois, quelques jours après l’attentat de Hanau : «Le plus grand danger pour l’Etat de droit et la démocratie allemande, c’est l’extrême droite.»

Cette menace a toujours existé. Mais elle n’avait encore jamais été nommée comme telle. Cette haine «ronge notre société depuis longtemps», insiste le leader écologiste Robert Habeck, rappelant qu’en 1980, un néonazi avait fait exploser une bombe à la porte d’entrée de la fête de la bière de Munich, faisant 13 morts et plus de 200 blessés.

L’émergence de l’AfD (Alternative pour l’Allemagne), première force d’opposition au Bundestag depuis 2017, a permis de libérer la parole raciste. Créé en 2013 par des eurosceptiques favorables au retour du Deutschemark, le mouvement est passé sous l’influence de l’aile nationale identitaire (völkisch), beaucoup plus radicale que le Rassemblement national (RN) en France ou le FPÖ autrichien. Pour Angela Merkel, l’AfD souffle sur les braises avec ses discours de haine. «Les paroles favorisent le passage à l’acte», dénonce la chancelière. «Mais l’AfD ne doit pas être considérée comme l’explication du problème. Elle a seulement rendu acceptable un discours d’extrême droite qui était considéré autrefois comme trop radical», insiste Nauel Franziska Semaan, experte dans la lutte contre le terrorisme à la Fondation Konrad-Adenauer.

Les Allemands prennent surtout conscience de l’aveuglement de leurs forces de sécurité. «Les auteurs d’attentat ont souvent été présentés comme des déséquilibrés ou des cas isolés, contrairement aux islamistes», fait remarquer Matthias Quent. En effet, la police criminelle allemande (BKA) n’a fiché qu’une centaine d’extrémistes de droite représentant un «danger pour la sécurité de l’Etat», alors qu’ils sont plus de 700 chez les islamistes. Plus de 1 200 extrémistes de droite fichés bénéficient encore aujourd’hui d’un port d’arme. L’auteur de l’attentat de Hanau détenait lui aussi un permis alors qu’il était fiché et qu’il avait effectué un séjour en hôpital psychiatrique.

Réseau «Hannibal»

L’influence de l’extrême droite au sein même des forces de sécurité est une grande source d’inquiétude. «Nous savons depuis longtemps que la police a un problème d’extrémisme», estime Tobias Singelnstein, spécialiste de la violence policière à l’université de la Ruhr à Bochum. Depuis un an, les procédures disciplinaires se multiplient contre les agents défendant des positions racistes sur des forums néonazis.

Plusieurs scandales ont également ébranlé la confiance des Allemands dans leur armée (Bundeswehr), notamment après la découverte du réseau «Hannibal», un forum entre néonazis et membres issus des forces de sécurité (policiers, militaires, membres des renseignements généraux, etc.). Le procès qui se tient actuellement à Leipzig (Saxe) contre un ancien soldat de l’unité d’élites KSK, accusé d’avoir caché des armes dans son jardin, marque la volonté des autorités de «tuer le mal dans l’œuf».

Jamais le ministère de l’Intérieur n’avait interdit autant de groupuscules néonazis que l’an passé : Combat 18, Nordadler («aigle nordique»), ou encore Sturmbrigade 44 («brigade d’assaut 44»). Pour ne citer que quelques exemples… Et 1 milliard d’euros ont été débloqués pour lutter contre l’extrême droite, avec notamment la création de 600 postes de «surveillants» au sein de la BKA afin de contrôler l’influence des néonazis dans l’armée et dans les administrations. «Les responsables politiques et les forces de sécurité ont tiré les leçons des attentats», estime Matthias Quent.

Dans les milieux culturels, on se félicite de cette réaction bien tardive des autorités. «Nous avons mis en place depuis longtemps des formations spécifiques pour les directions de théâtre afin de les aider à trouver une stratégie contre la menace d’extrême droite, explique Marc Grandmontagne, directeur de la Fédération des théâtres et des orchestres allemands (Deutscher Bühnenverein). L’atmosphère est devenue agressive depuis l’arrivée de l’AfD dont les élus sont présents dans les Parlements.»

Pour discréditer le travail des artistes, les membres de l’AfD remettent en question le financement des institutions culturelles. Ils harcèlent l’administration en déposant des requêtes sur tout. Ils réclament la nationalité des comédiens dans les théâtres publics. Leurs militants interrompent des représentations théâtrales en distribuant des tracts hostiles ou en huant dans les salles. «Ils ont fait une pause avec la crise sanitaire. Mais ils reviendront»,prévient Marc Grandmontagne.

«Élan de solidarité»

Quant à la société civile, elle ne veut pas rester muette face à la flambée de violence. «L’élan de solidarité a été exceptionnel après l’attaque de la synagogue», témoigne Max Privorozki, président de la communauté juive de Halle. «C’est une grande différence avec 1938 [année de la “nuit de Cristal”, ndlr], où les habitants applaudissaient devant les synagogues en feu. Cette fois, les gens sont venus nous soutenir et manifester leur opposition à la violence», constate-t-il. «Il y a eu un élan de solidarité exceptionnel qui nous a montré que la cohésion sociale était encore très forte», ajoute Ajla Kurtovic, à Hanau, dont la famille est originaire de Bosnie-Herzégovine. «La démocratie allemande a su montrer qu’elle était en état de se défendre», confirme Marc Grünbaum, de la communauté juive de Francfort.

Marina Weisband reste même optimiste. Cette Germano-Ukrainienne de confession juive a été la première représentante de la troisième génération de l’après-Shoah à prononcer un discours à l’Assemblée fédérale, le 27 janvier (date de la libération du camp d’Auschwitz), à l’occasion de la Journée nationale dédiée à la mémoire des victimes du nazisme. L’ancienne figure du Parti pirate se félicite de voir que «la société allemande et les forces de sécurité ont pris la menace au sérieux». «Un jour viendra où les policiers n’auront plus besoin de surveiller les synagogues jour et nuit en Allemagne, prédit-elle. Mais je ne vois pas encore ce jour arriver. La société continue actuellement de glisser vers la droite.»


Short on detail but not on ambition: four problems with the new NHS white paper

Short on detail but not on ambition: four problems with the new NHS white paper

Bob Hudson writes that, on the face of it, the new NHS white paper’s recoiling from the primacy of competition and markets warrants a warm welcome. Yet reactions have been underwhelming because there is remarkably little detail on how this ambitious mission is going to work.

White Paper titles are rarely short on ambition; those concerned with the NHS never so. In 2010 there was ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS’ and now its successor is provisionally entitled ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care’. The 2010 White paper failed notably to live up to its billing – indeed the new White Paper constitutes a direct assault upon it – but will this new version fare any better?

It would be harsh to fault it on ambition and good intentions, certainly few people will be unfavourably disposed towards innovation and integration. The market system is to be dismantled and collaboration is to take precedence over competition, though there is no proposal to make the NHS the preferred provider of NHS services. In its place there will be new NHS ‘provider collaboratives’ operating at scale and overseen by strategic commissioning groups that will replace the current multitude of local clinical commissioning groups.

These new ‘Integrated Care Systems’ (ICS) will aim to join up the NHS, primary care, local government and the voluntary sector in order to promote system-working at ‘place’ level, probably a local government footprint. Moreover, there will be a ‘duty to collaborate’ placed upon these local partners. New legislation will establish ICSs as statutory bodies and although a consultation on legislative options only closed in January, the die is cast. Several parts of England already have non-statutory ICSs in situ and the intention is that all of England will be covered by the new arrangements.

On the face of it, this recoiling from the primacy of competition and markets along with a rehabilitation of the role of the state might seem to warrant a warm welcome. Yet reactions have been underwhelming. The explanation for this lies in the detail, or lack of it, on how this ambitious mission is going to work. Four particular problems are evident.

Rewriting national-local balance

The 2010 White Paper, in its pursuit of ‘liberation’, provided a degree of independence to NHS Foundation Trusts, and established NHS England as an independent body. Now, these powers (and more) are reverting to the Secretary of State for Health who will also be in charge of every ICS, as well as acquiring new powers to take over public health functions from local government and transfer functions to and from specified arms-length bodies. Quite how the balance is to be struck between allowing local partners to act flexibly ‘in place’ and this arrogation of control to the centre is unclear and unsettling.

Failing to learn from experience 

The White Paper takes a traditional view within central government that organisational restructuring can solve problems. This flies in the face of evidence that past attempts to do so have underestimated the associated costs and disruption. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act abolished strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, created clinical commissioning groups and NHS England, and cost an estimated £3 billion. Now, it’s all change again despite having little to show for the previous exercise.

There is a similar failure to learn from experience with the legislative ‘duty to collaborate’ between the NHS and local government. There have been decades of such ‘mandated collaboration’ imperatives with little to show for the endeavours. The reasons for these failures – differences in funding, accountability, staffing and incentives – are well known but the White Paper has no suggestions for addressing them. Similarly, all other parts of the UK have already adopted their own versions of the ICS model and have messages to share that could warn of pitfalls for England, but the White Paper content suggests little interest in comparative policy learning.

Lack of transparency, accountability, and engagement 

Placing ICSs on a legislative footing should offer some clarity on accountability, but bringing organisations together into joint decision-making forums always renders them remote from public gaze. The White Paper offers few clues on how clarity will be brought into the new arrangements. It remains unclear what powers an ICS would have over an NHS Foundation Trust and even less so in relation to local authorities holding their own line of democratic accountability. Provider collaboratives between NHS providers might make sense but there is no word about how the relationship with providers of social care (almost entirely independent companies) or the voluntary sector will fit in to any arrangements. Indeed, it is not even clear what is meant by the key organising concepts of ‘place’ and ‘integrated care’. Even murkier is where patients, users, carers and the public fit into this grand scheme – something with which the NHS has always been notoriously weak.

Lack of understanding of social care 

Given the recognition of ‘care’ in the White Paper title and the emphasis on ‘integrated care’ throughout, there is remarkably little recognition or understanding of the sector. There are some minor proposals that are helpful, notably giving the Care Quality Commission new powers to assess the commissioning of social care, collecting new data on those who fund their own care and new obligations on assessment after hospital discharge, but these are small beer. Notwithstanding the award of a seat round the ICS table for local government, there is little to dispel the fear that social care is simply perceived as a handmaiden to the priorities of the NHS, especially the reduction of hospital costs. Not only will the local government voice be relatively weak, but the powers given to the Secretary of State could see councils losing control of their social care and public health services to the priorities of the ICSs. In such circumstances, it would no longer be clear what the purpose of democratic local government might be. Meanwhile the long-promised root and branch reform of social care has been yet again kicked into the long grass.

What needs to be addressed going forward

Given the political reality that the government will press ahead with the changes, there needs to be some attention paid to these dilemmas. First of all, the hidden wiring (if it exists) need to be brought into view. It is these practicalities that can make the difference between a successful shared endeavour and an acrimonious shouting match.

Secondly, all of the parties need to have collaborative capacity – the ability to enter into, develop, and sustain robust partnership working. NHS partners might have this but local government and the voluntary sector have been pared back to survival mode. Joint working has no qualities of spontaneous growth or self-perpetuation; it needs perpetual attention and support.

Thirdly, explicit measures need to be put in place to ensure ICSs have some accountability to those who use services and to the wider public. The most influential discourse in adult social care right now is around co-production – developing more equal partnershipsbetween people who use services, carers and professionals – but this seems like a foreign land to the White Paper. Some way has to be found to invest in building the voice of users, patients, carers and citizens into these new arrangements. And finally, given the enormity and complexity of the exercise, there needs to be a smart and accessible policy support function, possibly along the lines that were developed for the Care Act 2014.

Finally, the government needs to snap out of the idea that a policy lever can be pulled in Whitehall and things will magically happen across the length and breadth of the country. Shared endeavours work best when there is a negotiated relationship between all of the local stakeholders based upon a high level of trust and mutual respect. This alchemy is built locally from the bottom-up, not by edict from the top-down. The policy landscape is littered with the corpses of failed top-down experiments; this organisational re-set of the NHS is at serious risk of adding to the number.


About the Author

Bob Hudson is a Visiting Professor in Public Policy in the Centre for Health Services Studies at the University of Kent