Fairground Exhibition Closing Event – 11 Feb, 6-7.30pm

Waste Not Want Not

The Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury

Saturday 11 February, 6-7.30pm

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You are warmly invited to the closing event of Fairground – Waste Not Want Not, at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury.

As part of the fairground of art, politics and ideas, this experimental live art intervention explores the communities and ideas that are left at the margins of today’s economic exchange. It playfully challenges the representations of class and marginalisation in the contemporary moment, and subverts the nation’s desire for the consumption of poverty

Live artist Kelly Green has worked with the young people from Astor College in Dover and Valleys Kids, Wales, in experimentally deconstructing common ideas of class, the (un)deserving poor, and challenging society’s ideologies of “waste”.

This event is programmed by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) and Valleys Kids, Tate Exchange Associates.

About Valleys Kids

Valleys Kids is a Community Development Organisation based in the South Wales Valleys, at its heart it is about changing lives for the better, working with some of the most marginalised communities in Europe. See: http://valleyskids.org/

About Astor College, Dover

Astor College is a non-selective Academy School in Dover, with specific expertise in arts education. See: http://www.astor-college.co.uk/topic/about-us

The Saga continues – The UK Supreme Court Ruling on Article 50 and the Evolving Constitutional Crisis in the UK

By Paul Anderson and Soeren Keil

The wait is finally over. The Supreme Court ruled on 24 January 2017 that ‘by a majority of eight to three … [the] government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament to do so’. Theresa May and ‘Team Brexit’, unsurprisingly, expressed their dismay and disappointment in the decision. Despite much of the hype surrounding the legal implications of the decision (remember when The Daily Mail labelled the judges of the High Court as ‘enemies of the people’), one thing remains certain: the UK will withdraw from the European Union. What is not clear, however, is whether the Supreme Court’s decision will delay the triggering of Article 50, how much opposition will ensue in the immanent debates in Westminster and whether opposition parties will be able to dilute the ‘Hard Brexit’ position through a cascade of amendments. The decision indisputably has significant legal ramifications, but the effect of this landmark ruling on the UK’s constitutional edifice cannot be understated.

Meeting of the Joint Ministerial Comittee on 30 January 2017 | image via gov.uk
Meeting of the Joint Ministerial Comittee on 30 January 2017 | image via gov.uk

As well as ruling that Article 50 must be triggered by an Act of Parliament, the Supreme Court also dismissed the need for the British Government to seek the legal consent of the devolved legislatures. This is, of course, much to the chagrin of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments and will no doubt further strain the tenuous relationships between the British government and its devolved counterparts. The Brexit debate has firmly moved from the legal arena back to the political realm.

Although the Westminster Parliament is no longer alone in her own State, she remains the most powerful legislature in the UK. Despite the rolling programme of devolution in the late 1990s, the Westminster Parliament has not, in theory, relinquished any of its sovereign power. It has merely authorised the devolved legislatures to enact laws on a limited number of matters. As Enoch Powell infamously remarked, ‘power devolved is power retained’. The establishment of the Sewel Convention, however, ‘limits’ the possibility of Westminster interference in devolved affairs. The convention states that the UK parliament will not normally legislate on devolved matters or indeed on matters which affect the legal powers of the devolved parliaments without the consent of the legislature involved. The decision to withdraw from the EU has brought the issue of the Convention back into play. According to the Scottish Government, leaving the EU will explicitly affect devolved policies – such as agriculture. It is necessary, they argue, that the devolved legislatures be officially consulted – as the Sewel Convention attests – before the triggering of Article 50 takes place. Failure to do so, according to Nicola Sturgeon, ‘not only undermines the Sewel Convention’ but demonstrates that both the Convention itself as well as promises to embed it in Statute ‘were not worth the paper they were written on’.

While the Supreme Court’s decision rules out any legal obligation to consult the devolved legislatures on Brexit, the fact that the UK is a multinational state means that there is a political obligation to do so. Pursuing an agreed approach to the issue of Brexit, that is, one that has the support of the all devolved nations, is of crucial importance to impede the constitutional crises that look set to unfold should the British Government impose a Brexit strategy on the devolved administrations. This would be an unequivocally irresponsible and reckless move that could potentially embolden the claims of separatists in Scotland.

What is more, while the majority of MPs backed Theresa May’s “Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill” on the 1st of February 2017 (with a vote of 498 for and 114 against), the White Paper published the following day did not clarify many of the issues previously raised. While it highlights the UK’s aim to reach a positive agreement with the rest of the EU in the departure negotiations, it does not address fundamental questions about the UK’s internal structure. It does not elaborate on the position of the devolved nations in the negotiations and their involvement, and it does not give the option for any of the Home Nations to reach alternative agreements with the EU, an option also suggested by leading Scottish Nationalist Party officials. Although, as has been pointed out elsewhere, a special deal for Scotland is unlikely.

What this means is that while the Supreme Court has confirmed that the UK remains a Parliamentary Democracy (and Theresa May cannot rule by decree as is currently done by the President of the USA, who seems to have forgotten about the division of powers), the ruling did not contribute to overcoming or halting the emerging constitutional crisis. As we have argued previously, with Theresa May pushing for a “Hard Brexit” i.e. departure from the Single European Market, this will antagonise and push the Scottish leadership to seriously consider their chances in a second independence referendum. Should the effects of the Brexit vote and the negotiations begin to demonstrate negative economic, social and political consequences for the UK in general, and for Scotland in particular, then there is a good chance that the SNP and its allies might just win a second independence referendum. In which case Theresa May will be responsible not only for withdrawing the UK from the EU, but moreover, as the prime minister who destroyed the Union.

Public lecture: A post-liberal age? Brexit, Trump & the shape of Western politics


On Wednesday, 8 February, we are hosting Dr Adrian Pabst (University of Kent & Res Publica) as part of our politics open lecture series with a talk titled “A post-liberal age? Trump, Brexit & the shape of Western politics”.

The event is free of charge with no registration necessary and will take place in Room Og32 in Old Sessions House, North Holmes Road, CT11QU, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Making Politics Matter: Living Together – Water, Peace and Inter-Faith Cohesion in Wembley and the Jordan Valley

MPM_Living_together_seminar.jpgHow do you build inter-faith cohesion in your own community? How do you build inter-faith cohesion in divided communities? Come and hear peace campaigner and environmental activist Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith talk about these questions and his inter-faith work in North West London and the Jordan Valley.

Frank Dabba Smith is a Rabbi at Mosaic Liberal Synagogue in Harrow. He is on the International Advisory Committee of EcoPeace (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East) and on the Steering Group of the Brent Multi-faith Forum. He is a member of the Independent Advisory Group of the Wembley Metropolitan Police. Frank Dabba Smith is also an accomplished photographer and has had several international exhibitions. He is currently completing a PhD at UCL on Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar (the owner of Leica Cameras) during the Holocaust. His publications include My Secret Camera (Harcourt and Frances Lincoln, 2000) and Elsie’s War (Frances Lincoln, 2003).

Time: Thursday, 2 February 2017, 6pm (refreshments from 5:30)

Place: Lg16, CCCU, North Holmes Road, Canterbury

Questions to the Prime Minister at Liaison Committee: Alternative Prime Ministerial Scrutiny

On the last afternoon of the final parliamentary session before the Christmas recess, Theresa May could put it off no longer and appeared before the Liaison Committee. In this blog post Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University, utilises his new parliamentary academic fellowship to look at the Committee performance having watched the session from the Committee room.

Theresa May in front of the Liaison Commitee | image via parliamentlive.tv
Theresa May in front of Liaison Commitee | image via parliamentlive.tv

This was Theresa May’s first appearance before the Committee which comprises of select committee chairs. With combative Treasury chair, Andrew Tyrie, in charge, flanked by Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper ready to challenge on Brexit, and Sarah Wollaston and Meg Hillier waiting patiently to take her on over NHS funding, this was a new parliamentary test for the prime minister. Having put the appearance off until the last possible moment and after having given a statement in the House on the EU Council the day before, the prime minister clearly hoped this would be a low key Brexit interrogation.

The Liaison Committee sessions with the prime minister have now been in existence since 2002 and May is the fourth prime minister to appear. These committee sessions occur up to three times a year and are standalone sessions, generally with little continuity or cohesive committee strategy. Yet they are more streamlined than they used to be as our research has shown. The sessions are an important alternative forum in which MPs can probe the prime minister’s policy approach. As Ben Worthy has written, May was as taciturn as ever and rather inscrutable in front of the committee. Without helpful backbench interventions, she appeared exposed and at times diffident. The forum calls for a more conciliatory response from the prime minister, but she continued her dogged avoidance approach. So how did the committee do?

1. The chair matters

Andrew Tyrie proved to be a rather combative chair in his approach to the prime minister sessions when he took over after the May 2015 election. The two sessions with David Cameron were lively including some sparky exchanges. He carried on the more confrontational approach with May, repeatedly intervening to challenge her on the interpretation of Article 50. With Benn and Cooper seated either side of Tyrie, an axis of remainers led the dynamic in the committee. The sessions do not tend to facilitate supplementary questioning from other members, but Tyrie often does intervene. Tyrie showed his frustration with May’s avoidance and obfuscation, pressing May in particular after Benn’s questioning on timetabling and Cooper’s on student numbers.

2. Parliamentary process cannot be ignored

Much of the parliamentary activity, including 38 inquiries across both Houses at present, is symptomatic of the current phoney war evident before Article 50 is triggered and negotiations get underway. Yet in the meantime, direction from the prime minister is crucial in setting out the process and sequencing aspects. In Liaison Committee this is where pressure can be applied on how and when Parliament will be consulted. Hilary Benn pushed hard on this aspect: ‘Will Parliament scrutinize the deal?’ Will Parliament vote on the deal?’. May, though, was not helpful: ‘we are very clear we want Parliament to be able to have the opportunity to debate and discuss these issues’. Parliament can assert itself in a many ways to force a greater clarity and expose fault lines in the government’s approach to Brexit, utilise scrutiny tools to draw Parliament into the process.

3. Select committees may benefit from Labour’s troubles

This was the first Liaison Committee session with the Prime Minister for Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper. They bring ministerial experience and political nous to their new roles as committee chairs. As major political players, no longer encumbered by front bench roles, they were active participants, drawing attention to their own committee work, but also repeatedly taken on the prime minister. The exchanges between Cooper and May on immigration figures were direct and placed the prime minister in uncomfortable territory. They of course have history with Cooper having shadowed May when Home Secretary. Indeed, the exchanges demonstrated the value of the forum; MPs can pursue a line of inquiry repeatedly and the prime minister must engage in the dialogue without the comfort blanket provided in the chamber.

4. Watching the PM

The committee forum has a dynamic of its own and is a very different scrutiny tool from PMQs and statements to the House. May should be experienced having given evidence to the Home Affairs Committee many times, but the Liaison Committee has a wider brief and potentially a wider audience. Though the political sketch writers all left after the Brexit questions, they would have been able to see May under pressure and seemingly not well in charge of her brief.  According to reports, she had cancelled Cabinet that morning, presumably to prepare. May is regarded as a meticulous preparer, though this was not evident in the session. Aside from the misinterpretation of Article 50 exchange, she also seemed less well briefed on social care in the second half of the session. May has yet to produce an overarching policy plan, tested at election. She is defined by Brexit and consumed by both trying to avoid it publicly and managing it privately. The Liaison Committee forum exposes the PM to a degree of interrogation, not encountered elsewhere and while she may have given little away, she also did little to improve the connective tissue between the executive and the parliament.

Infrequent though these sessions with the PM may be, they do have the capacity to shine a light on senior committee chairs and the PM. The exchanges may appear less a collective endeavour and more of a series of one-to-one interrogations, but this is less evident now. Informal alliances between Tyrie, Cooper and Benn were hinted at and Sarah Wollaston and Meg Hillier suggested a degree of cross-party collaboration. If the committee sessions are there to question the PM on whole-of-government issues – where the PM has particular responsibility – there is no greater example than Brexit at present, a fact not lost on the committee members.

Questioning the Prime Minister: How Effective is the Liaison Committee? By Mark Bennister, Alix Kelso and Phil Larkin is available to download here [opens PDF].


Mark Bennister is Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. He has recently been appointed Academic Fellow at the House of Commons. He is on Twitter: @MarkBennister.

A previous version of this post appeared on the blog of the PSA Specialist Group on Parliaments and Legislatures on 18 January 2017.