Sunday, 19 October 2014

The right and its (many) literatures

Edward Ashbee considers the politics of 'the right' and its expressions through academic literature.

This is an extended abstract of my paper at the British Politics Group’s conference held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday August 27th. I am very grateful to Janet Laible for her comments and observations. 

Like almost academic disciplines, the study of politics has been subject to processes of fragmentation. Countless sub-fields have established themselves each with a small academic toehold, the occasional conference and a journal or two to its name. There are often substantial overlaps as researchers address issues that seem to be unexplored academic territory but are in reality very well-trodden paths for those working in other, parallel sub-fields.

Furthermore, different countries (and certainly different continents) have their own established traditions and frameworks. “Political studies” in the UK has long had a close relationship with contemporary history.”Political science” in the US has instead focused on the application and use of quantitative techniques so as to establish the nature of the relationships between different variables, (that “false scientism” as Bernard Crick bitterly dismissed it). In continental  Europe, there has been much more of an emphasis upon the application and exploration of particular theoretical frameworks. Papers (or for that matter student essays) that do not analyse events and development through theoretical perspectives would not be considered credible.

The  study of the contemporary right in the “Anglosphere”, principally Britain and the US, is certainly no exception to all of this. There are different approaches  in different countries and a range of sub-fields that directly or indirectly consider the development of the right over recent decades. There  is however little or no communication between them. Indeed, researchers are often oblivious to those working in those other sub-fields.

Within Britain, scholarly projects have drawn upon contemporary history and have for the most part been structured around surveys of party and government elites. In recent years, some projects have made use of data and employed quantitative techniques and this has begun to  tilt studies away from elites and towards mass politics. Nonetheless, the UK still remains a distant methodological laggard when set against research work in the US.

In the US the more extensive, indeed institutionalized, use of quantitative methodologies as well as the existence of legions of commentators occupying a swathe of territory somewhere between political science and journalism has led towards a focus upon broad political and demographic constituencies. Much recent literature has for example considered the processes of partisan realignment as white southerners and evangelicals increasingly embraced Republicanism.

These are not however the only literatures. During the early days of Mrs Thatcher’s governments, polemics around the changing character of bourgeois hegemony and the ways in which the authoritarian populism that defined Thatcherism had captured hearts and minds focused attention on ideational variables and drew accounts away from narrower definitions of the “political”.

The logic of “neoliberalism” and the ways, in its embedded forms, that it has reconfigured economic and political processes has also been subject to study over three decades. Michel Foucault’s 1978 – 1979 lectures which were published as The Birth of Biopolitics are invariably invoked. In more recent years, historical institutionalism has considered the limited character of reforms during the Thatcher and Reagan eras and the ways in which path dependence allowed much of the post-war social settlement to survive thereby frustrating the ambitions of the neoliberal right.

All these literatures capture the thinking, activity and logic of the contemporary right at a particular level. Each, in other words, can be regarded as a distinct but overlapping “order”. A comprehensive portrait of the right has to incorporate insights from all these “orders”.

So far, so good. Few would I suspect dissent. Systematic analysis has however to go beyond calls that we should all listen to each other. We need to think carefully about the types of “listening” processes and the forms of analytical accommodation between the different “orders” that are required.

At this point, there is a case for turning towards the study of American Political Development (APD), an important sub-field within US political science. In contrast with those who emphasize institutional and ideational fits or complementarities within and between different orders APD suggests that polities are invariably defined by profound and intense discomplementarities as different orders chafe and abrade against each other. The process is described in some APD literature as “intercurrence”. Efforts to ameliorate such chafing and abrasion require the creative efforts of actors.

In short, if the approaches associated with APD are adopted, the study of the right should indeed move onwards and outwards from the different sub-fields that it now inhabits but there is little to be gained from simply talking outside our customary comfort zones. We should instead focus our attention upon the processes of abrasion between the different orders that constitute contemporary conservative politics (as well as the impact of broader economic and social shifts). It is those tensions and stresses that shape the overall character of the right and bring forth the shifts and changes that we collectively seek to depict and understand. 

I discuss these themes more fully in my forthcoming book, The Right and the Recession, (Manchester University Press, 2015). 

Edward Ashbee is an associate professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He manages a blog here.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Preparing for Ambiguity in an Age of Austerity: the United Kingdom and the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review

Andrew M. Dorman discusses the age of austerity in the context of strategic defence.

After a decade of wars the then new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government assumed that the United Kingdom would not engage in any further conflicts before 2020 except in extremis. Their 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)[1] therefore planned new force constructs for the armed forces that would not be ready until 2020 and would provide capabilities approximately two-thirds what then existed. In some areas, notably aircraft carriers and maritime patrol aircraft, the government accepted that they would be without a capability for some time. The coalition also sought to regularise the United Kingdom’s haphazard history of defence reviews by making fixing them at the start of each parliamentary cycle. Their assumption being that in 2015 the review would be a relatively minor audit of the progress they had made towards the 2020 force structure.[2]

Almost as soon as the SDSR was published the armed forces found themselves committed to the Libyan adventure and more recently they have deployed to provide reassurance to the Baltic States and also begun air operations over Iraq against ISIL. The apparent predictability over the future use of force planned in 2010 has been replaced by ambiguity and Cameron’s third Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has spoken of operations against ISIL lasting several years.[3]

At the same time the austerity that led to the defence cuts announced in 2010 has not gone away. In 2010 George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised to eliminate the 11% current account deficit in five years. Four years on the deficit has been reduced by only 2/5s and the next Spending review looks likely to be as brutal as that in 2010. As The Economist has put it, this is a tax-free recovery for the United Kingdom.[4] With the Health, Education and International Development budgets apparently protected whoever becomes the next government, Social Security and Defence as the two largest unprotected budgets look particularly vulnerable. It does not look as though any political party will be prepared to make the case for maintaining or increasing the defence budget.

Exacerbating the situation has been a series of incremental announcements will restrict the options in the 2015 SDSR. Now the second aircraft carrier will be retained, although it still looks as though it will lack aircraft and a crew, reports are emerging that the United Kingdom will buy or lease a number of Boeing P8 maritime patrol aircraft, the rundown of the Tornado force will at least temporarily be halted and the army has announced the acquisition of the first tranche of vehicles to provide it with a medium weight force capability. Further complicating the problem will be the issue of Scotland. Although the referendum in September led to a ‘No’ vote the relative closeness of the vote, Scotland’s traditional animosity to basing the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent and the potential for a further vote in a decade or so raise the question of whether the facilities at Faslane and Coulport should be moved to England as part of the nuclear replacement programme.[5]

The 2015 SDSR planners therefore find themselves confronted both by increasing ambiguity in terms of the use of the armed forces and the expectation that the defence budget will be further cut in order to help balance the nation’s books. So what options are there? With armed forces that consist principally of people, equipment and the defence estate the cuts will either have to be focused on equipment programmes or a further large reduction to the armed forces. Selling off the defence estate is always problematic and is unlikely to deliver the scale of savings that are required. In which case given the pre-existing capability gaps it looks like it will be the personnel area that will bear the brunt of the cuts. It would therefore make sense for the army to rip up its Future Force 2020 structure and plan for a regular army not of 82,000 but somewhere nearer 50,000. Only by making such a cut and also finally addressing the top-heaviness of the armed forces will defence be able to start to live within its means and configure its forces for the ambiguity of the present and future.

Professor Andrew M Dorman is a Professor of International Security at Kings College London.

[3] Steven Swinford, ‘British air strikes against Isil in Iraq will go on for years, defence secretary says’, Telegraph online, 25 September 2014, accessed 3 October 2014.
[4] ‘The Tax free recovery’, The Economist, vol.412, no.8905, 20-26 September 2014, p.31.
[5] See Andrew M Dorman, ‘More than a storm in a tea cup - the defence and security implications of Scottish independence’, International Affairs, vol.90, no.3, May 2014, pp.679-96.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

European and International Views of the UK-EU Relationship

Almut Möller and Tim Oliver discuss the findings of their report, “The United Kingdom and the European Union: what would a Brexit mean for the EU and other states around the world?” 
The issue of Europe seems to be rarely out of the headlines in the UK. But recent events have meant Britain has itself rarely been out of the headlines in the rest of Europe and around the world. The possibility of a British exit – a Brexit – from the EU has received increased attention. That Scotland came as close as it did to withdrawing serves as a reminder that political that political arrangements that can seem fixed – including for hundreds of years – are open to change, something the EU should not think itself immune from.

Almost all debate about a Brexit is about what it would mean for Britain. Yet a Brexit would have big – but, with a few exceptions, largely unexplored – implications for the EU and Europe’s place in the world. For that reason, and in cooperation with the IP Journal, we commissioned a series of 26 national views from across Europe and around the world on what other states think of the current UK-EU relationship and the idea of a Brexit.

The message for Britain is hardly positive. One thing is clear: Europe comes first, Britain a firm second. It is this that would frame any approach by the rest of the EU should it have to negotiate a British withdrawal. The Brexit debate in the UK focuses almost entirely on what would be the best exit deal for the UK. As the report makes clear, for the rest of the EU any deal will first and foremost be about what is best for the rest of the EU.

A number of themes emerge from the 120 page report.

1. There are varying levels of understanding of Britain’s European debate and what is driving it. No state is actively planning for a Brexit. But some are aware this may become necessary, and sooner than perhaps once thought.

2. A Brexit would be an unprecedented and damaging experience for the EU, wider Europe and its partners around the world. It is the UK, however, that many feel would be the most damaged.

3. The UK is seen to be advancing agendas that are about the UK’s national interest, not that of Europe as a whole. Using the threat of a Brexit as leverage – or blackmail as some see it – only adds to the tensions.

4. Wider concerns about the future of the EU, especially the Eurozone, frame most thinking about Britain’s behavior. It is ongoing reform of the Eurozone that is the priority. British ideas about reform of the EU have to fit with this.

5. London is seen as a bystander and at times an additional hurdle. The rest of the EU has looked for leadership from Germany and some other core Eurozone countries.

6. Britain repeatedly misunderstands the initiatives of other states to reform the EU. States such as the Netherlands and Germany speak of better enforcement of subsidiarity, not London’s aims for repatriation. A multispeed EU is considered a possibility, but not – as the UK might hope – in a pick-and-choose fashion.

7. There is increasingly less appetite in Brussels for “third ways” like Switzerland. For other EU member states, London’s proposals, while sometimes tempting in the short-term, are not seen as sustainable in the longer run as they could leave the EU weak and divided.

8. The economic impact of losing the UK is not seen simply in terms of damage to trade but in the wider change that losing a strong proponent of liberal, free-market economics could have on the EU’s political economy. States outside Europe especially worry about the EU becoming more inward looking.

9. Some states have, however, noted a growing “mercantilist” attitude in British thinking. Declining economic links also mean some traditional allies no longer look to the UK as they once did. Some are clear they would seek to exploit the economic opportunities from Britain’s marginalisaiton. Britain should not expect the EU to agree to a withdrawal deal which allows it to undercut the EU.

10. The effect on Europe’s security also raises concerns. Europe would likely be led by Germany’s “culture of restraint”. Hopes for improvements to European defence cooperation would be further dented. This would further frustrate US hopes for improved defence cooperation, whether through the EU, NATO or together. A Brexit could also create opportunities for outside powers to play on European divisions.

11. Despite these economic and security concerns, the UK’s behavior leaves other states feeling exasperated at how London only seems to offer negative leadership. Britain seems determined to lead in attacking the EU’s core freedoms such as the free movement of people.

The likelihood of relations improving anytime soon seem quite limtied given the forthcoming UK general election will in all likelihood see the issue of Europe dealt with in a way that plays to Eurosceptic feelings. A further detrioration in public relations between the UK and the rest of the EU cannot therefore be ruled out. The fallout from the Scottish referndum also means Britain will be wrestling with domestic political debates, leaving little time to think more carefully about its place in a chaging Europe.

Both Britain and the rest of the EU need to trade carefully. A Britain on the sidelines could easily move closer to a vote to withdraw. The EU could also lose patience and end up excluding Britain by integrating in ways that leave it behind. 

Almut Möller heads the Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin. 

Dr Tim Oliver is a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations in Washington D.C.

“The United Kingdom and the European Union: what would a Brexit mean for the EU and other states around the world?” can be downloaded at

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Why being in government will cost the Tories in 2015. So far UKIP is picking up the spoils.

Jane Green and Will Jennings discuss the impact of being a governing party upon their electoral performance in 2015 in the context of the threat posed by UKIP.

It has been described as one of the most important unanswered questions in political science: why governments regularly and predictably lose popular support over their time in office. Such is the regularity of 'costs of governing' that it appears that governments are simply 'passive observers' of their diminishing support, leading to the suspicion that these trends may be almost wholly independent of the performance of a government in office.[1] The implication of costs of governing is stark: it seems to matter little what a government does in office, its decline in popular support is all but guaranteed. Here we consider the implications of costs of governing for the 2015 British general election and summarise our answer to the question of why governments experience these all-important governing costs. 

The Implications of Governing Costs for 2015

The Conservatives began their period of government without a majority. What this means, of course, is that the party has to increase its popular support between 2010 and 2015 (and how that is translated into seats) to have a chance of winning a majority in 2015. David Cameron has to buck the 'costs of governing' trend if he is to win back support before 2015.

That isn't looking likely. Vote intentions towards the Conservatives since June 2010 have followed the predictable pattern of governing costs that we identify in all countries for which regular polling data are available. The following two figures show (a) the decline in vote intention for the Conservatives since June 2010 (the average of all available polls for each month), and (b) the decline and curve that best fits the data for governing party support across 79 government lifecycles in 31 countries. The first figure plots vote intention for the Conservatives over the course of this parliament by month, the second plots vote intention over often much longer time periods by year.

(a) Conservative Party vote intention June 2010 - August 2014

(b) Governing party vote intention (79 governing periods, 31 countries)

The high level of support (or honeymoon) at the start of Conservative-Lib Dem government in 2010, and the loss of support thereafter, is consistent with the trend we find exhibited in the largest collection of cross-national over-time poll data it is currently possible to analyse.

UKIP are the beneficiaries

What is striking to us is that the only pattern in the last four years which doesn't entirely fit our conventional expectations is the following. Whereas we would usually expect the major party of opposition to be the beneficiary of declining trust and support for the government, it is UKIP rather than Labour that appears to be capitalising on the costs of governing for the Conservatives (the Liberal Democrats' support collapsed early in the parliament and has been flat lining around 10% or less since). The following figures display (c) vote intentions for Labour between June 2010 and August 2014, and (d) vote intentions to UKIP in the same period (again taking the average of all polls in both cases). We can see that although Labour received a boost to its support in the first 2-3 years of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition - a pattern we would have predicted - it has steadily lost that support since 2013. UKIP, by contrast, has witnessed a significant gain in popular support over the same period.

(c) Labour Party vote intention June 2010 - August 2014

(d) UKIP vote intention June 2010 - August 2014

A reading of recent British public opinion data may be interpreted simply that Conservative voters are moving over to UKIP due to UKIP's policy and rhetorical appeal, and latterly Labour voters too. But looking at these data in the context of cross-national and over-time trends in costs of governing suggest something more profound may be happening. The Conservative Party should have been expected to lose its support. That support could have gone to the Lib Dems, to Labour, to UKIP or to being undecided. It is a signal of the distrust in mainstream politics that the predictable costs of governing have resulted in rewards to UKIP. Labour would have been the beneficiaries under usual expectations but on the face of public opinion alone, the trends point to UKIP as the classic party of opposition. This is in a context whereby the Liberal Democrats cannot pick up those opposition party spoils. The anti-politics mood in Britain may be fundamentally shifting the winners and losers of some of the most important and conventional trends we are aware of in political science.

The Conservative Party may experience an uptick in support as we near the 2015 election. The tendency of some incumbent parties to experience an uptick can be seen in the modest U-shape curve in Figure (b) above. But any uptick to the Conservatives won't reverse the fundamental trends that we highlight above.

Explaining Costs of Governing

Costs of governing are surprisingly poorly understood, despite their prevalence and their profound implications. The reason for this has been an absence of data on public perceptions of party and government performance. Our recent paper for the annual conference of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group of the Political Studies Association sets out new explanations for the decline in governing party support using a unique data set we have collated on subjective performance evaluations of governing parties by British, American, Canadian, Australian and German voters. This draws on over 10,000 individual survey questions asked over as many as 65 years (a measure we call 'macro-competence'). For more information see

The first explanation for costs of governing concerns the initial honeymoon period; the high from which governing costs occur. We find that the early period of a new government is characterised by blame to the government's predecessor; an effect that lasts around one typical election cycle (of 4-5 years). This means that Gordon Brown's government will have been blamed for the first years of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, with that effect unlikely to persist into and beyond 2015. 
The second explanation concerns how blame accumulates to the incumbent government. As a government continues its period in office, blame begins to stick, and the effects of negative information stick more than positive information. As governments are seen as performing badly, we show that this has a significantly greater effect on vote intention than positive changes in perceived government performance or competence. This negative information accumulates over a government's time in office. Mistakes, policy disasters and scandals remain in the minds of voters long after politicians have moved on. In our paper we reveal that the addition of a new negative change in governing party competence, and another new negative change, each has a unique effect. The final innovative theoretical (and evidence-based) expectation is that there is a saturation point in the effect of competence evaluations. Negative competence effects begin to weaken after 'shocks' accumulate above a certain level, as voters make up their mind that a government cannot be trusted – and their attitudes become fixed in stone. In the case of the present Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, our analysis explains how information about bad performance has been weighed more heavily than information about good, and how this information accumulates until the electorate no longer has trust in the government to deliver on its objectives. This is consistent with the gradual decline in Conservative Party support displayed above between June 2010 and August 2014. It is also notable that the costs of governing have happened for the Conservatives very quickly in relation to the amount of time they have actually served in office. The early 'omni-shambles' and the unpopularity of austerity measures may well have contributed to this, as well as their relatively low starting point at from May 2010.

Jane Green is a professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester and Will Jennings is a Reader in Politics at the University of Southampton.

[1] Here we paraphrase the observations of Stimson (1976) in his analysis of declines in presidential approval.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

What’s so new about Osborne’s new British Economic Model?

James Silverwood discusses Osborne's economic strategy.

In June 2009 Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered a speech in
which he set forth the economic policy strategy of a forthcoming Conservative Government. Osborne argued that the “challenge of the alternative government is now to provide the clarity, leadership and direction the country needs. To show that we have learnt the lessons of the last decade, and that we offer the country a new British economic model”[1] with the immediate priority of that model being to restore Britain’s international credibility by dealing with Britain’s fiscal deficit. Osborne would later argue that the key macroeconomic policies to secure economic recovery and rebalance the economy were “the same policies that David Cameron and I have been arguing for since the beginning of this crisis – monetary activism [and] fiscal responsibility”[2]. These macroeconomic elements of the new British economic model were adopted in office by the incoming Coalition government after May 2010. The commitment to reducing the budget deficit was central to the Coalition Agreement with George Osborne, by now Chancellor of the Exchequer, originally targeting a balanced or surplus current budget by the end of Coalition’s term in office and for public sector net debt to begin to fall as a share of GDP by 2015-16[3] (both targets which have subsequently been extended).

But what is new about the new British economic model? The most succinct answer is nothing at all. Public expenditure reductions have been a common macroeconomic response of successive British governments to economic crises, and crises more generally such as war, since the age of Napoleon.  Even during the supposed Keynesian era of UK economic policy after the Second World War less weight was placed on fiscal policy as a stabilisation tool than on monetary policy. Indeed one academic has questioned the ‘Keynesianism’ of fiscal policy in the post-war era, suggesting that in fact, fiscal policy was largely contractionary due to persistently large current account surpluses[4].  Public expenditure reductions were deployed with much vigour during the crisis hit inter-war period as consecutive governments strove to achieve balanced budgets and national debt reduction. The British experience of fiscal policy in the 1930s mirrored that of the United States (US) where the adoption of New Deal policies often obfuscates that the US did not implement policies of fiscal stimulus[5].

More recently public expenditure reductions (and tax increases) were used by the first Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher (1979-83) most famously perhaps in the 1981 budget, and perhaps equally famously, causing consternation from 364 economists whom wrote a letter to the Times to object. Furthermore, subsequent revisions to the government’s original medium-term financial strategy (MTFS) targeted a balanced budget, which was subsequently achieved in 1988-89 and 1989-90 when budget surpluses of 1.3% and 0.2% of GDP were achieved in real terms.

Where then does this leave monetary activism? If by monetary activism we mean the policies of cheap money and quantitative easing (open market operation) adopted since 2008, we can again, say there is nothing new in these policies at all. The adoption of cheap money policies has its antecedent in the interwar period when interest-rates were reduced to 2% in the spring of 1932. Furthermore, research by several scholars indicates that the British interest-rate framework was far more ‘politicised’ and ‘managed’ during the classical Gold Standard (1870-1914) monetary regime than the supposed autonomous mechanism of adjustment of the system was meant to allow for. Open market operations meanwhile, have its historical antecedent in British monetary policy from 17th century monetary arrangements between London and Edinburgh. Open market operations were also integral to the ‘management’ of the Gold Standard and were institutionalised by the Exchange Equalisation Act in 1932 permitting intervention in foreign exchange markets (which was subsequently re-enacted in 1979 and continues to operate in the present). Quantitative easing (an open market operation), often labelled as an ‘unconventional’ monetary policy, operates as a quasi-debt management and credit policy and is an extension of similar operations undertaken by the Bank of England in the 1970s and 1980s. As one study of monetary policies by central banks after the Global Financial Crisis concluded that ‘the policy responses to the crisis are not really unconventional in their essence. It is the specific market segment chosen as the focus of central bank operations that is, for the most part, novel – at least by recent experience. Moreover, rather paradoxically, some of these policies would have been regarded as canonical in academic work on the transmission mechanism of monetary policy done in the 1960s-1970s, given its emphasis on changes in the composition of private sector balance sheets”[6]. Given the emphasis of fiscal responsibility and monetary activism in the macroeconomic approach of the interwar National government, I would argue that the macroeconomic approach of the Coalition government, far from instituting a new British economic model, rather illustrates the re-emergence of Chamberlainism (Neville Chamberlain, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1932-37).

The Coalition’s macroeconomic strategy therefore illustrates not a new approach to policy but consolidation back towards a macroeconomic orthodoxy with deep historical roots. Whilst this post has not been able to illustrate all aspects of that orthodoxy (for more information please see here and here), it is presented in the diagram below. There is nothing new about the new British economic model.

James Silverwood is a doctoral candidate at the University of Hull where he is researching the thinking underscoring British economics.

[1] Osborne, George (2009) A New British Economic Model, Mais Lecture, Cass Business School, London, 9th June 
[2] Osborne, George (2009) The Conservative Strategy for Economic Recovery, The Paths Back to Recovery Conference, London. 15th September 
[3] Osborne, George (2010) Financial Statement, House of Commons, 22nd June 
[4] Matthews, RCO (1968) ‘Why has Britain had Full Employment since the War?’, The Economic Journal, Vol. 78, No. 311 (September) 555 – 569. 
[5] Brown, Cary (1956) ‘Fiscal Policy in the Thirties: A reappraisal’, The American Economic Review, Vol. 46, No. 5 (December) 857 – 879. 
[6] Borio & Disyatat (2009) Unconventional Monetary Policies: An Appraisal, BIS Working Paper No. 292, November 2009