A student view on the GE2017 result: Canterbury and Whitstable constituency, thank you.

One week after the 2017 UK General Election, our student Liz Bailey offers a commentary on the result in Canterbury and Whitstable from a student’s perspective

Credits: Adam Scotti (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The UK’s First-Past-The-Post system has always made politics seem like a losing battle in Canterbury. This seat is a Conservative safe seat of over 160 years, with the 2015 election producing a 10,000 vote majority to ex-MP and arch-conservative Sir Julian Brazier. From the start of the snap election it seemed like business as usual for non-Conservative voters, put up a fair fight but have a graceful defeat to the Tories. However, this was no ordinary general election. This time it was personal.

Students from all over Canterbury have always had the ability to oust Brazier, but have never had a big enough push to do so. Students would vote in home constituencies or not vote at all. The EU referendum was the first spark in this almighty fire that has led to Brazier’s fall from grace. Young people turned out in record numbers to show their support for the EU nationwide but were brushed aside when the results came out. The Conservatives continued to undermine young people, increasing tuition fees and slashing funds for things we all hold dear like the NHS. Brazier, in particular, being so pro hard Brexit, homophobic and generally an outdated relic began to creep into Canterbury residents’ crosshairs.

Polls had suggested that Canterbury could be a swing seat, but it was too good to be true, right? Never trust the polls, they were wrong about the last election and the referendum. It’s a safe seat, they’re the unsinkable ships that harbour thousands of loyal Tories. But like the RMS Titanic this safe seat had an iceberg. Rosie Duffield. A new Labour candidate who is passionately dedicated to local issues like the Kent & Canterbury Hospital. A fresh-faced, young and energetic politician who rallied support with the young, the old and everyone in-between.

Election day gave way for an uneasy feeling, hope. Hope that just maybe the residents of Canterbury and Whitstable had come together in order to elect a real representative of this constituency. Someone who will listen to people, young and old, rich and poor. Someone who is with the times and supports everyone regardless of sexuality, religion or race. Someone who understands the residents of Canterbury and who will truly and to the best of their ability fight for this city. Nationwide Labour stole seats left and right, and although Labour didn’t win this election (in terms of getting 326 seats) they certainly did not lose it either.

May called this election in the hope that young people would remain complacent in politics. She, without a second thought, disregarded the importance of young people. The Conservatives lost and hope has won. Any result except a Tory landslide would have been a victory for me, but I could have never anticipated the result in Canterbury. I always thought of safe seats as a large dominating force and I was right. What I was wrong about was the ability of progressive people to come together to form an even bigger force and decimate a 10,000 vote majority. For this reason, I thank you, to all of those who voted Labour (either by preference or tactically). I thank those who dedicated hours to campaigning. I thank the young people who said enough is enough. I thank Rosie Duffield for being an amazing candidate. I thank Canterbury and Whitstable constituency for breaking the mould. But above all, I thank Theresa May, who without her disregard for progressive people she would have never called this election. Without her complacency we would have never have had the push we needed to oust Brazier, or see the true impact that we can have on politics.

Liz Bailey is second year undergraduate student in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. She currently works as communication manager for the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) and as a research assistant for the politics team at CCCU.
She tweets @LizzieBailey96

INDYREF2: A bold but unsurprising move from Nicola Sturgeon

The gauntlet is down.

To the surprise of many Nicola Sturgeon announced today that she will seek a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. She is set to ask the Scottish Parliament for permission to do so next, yet given that there is a majority of pro-independence MSPs (the SNP and the Greens), this part should be pretty straightforward. The first hurdle will come from the UK Government which will have to approve the Scottish first minister’s request for a section 30 order transferring temporary powers to Holyrood to hold a referendum. Legally, Prime Minister Theresa May could refuse to grant legal permission to hold a referendum, but I think this looks unlikely. Jeremy Corbyn has also confirmed that the Labour Party would not block such a request.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon | photo via firstminister.gov.scot

What is likely, however, is that the Prime Minister will play hard ball on the issue, particularly over timing. In the previous independence referendum, the then First Minister Alex Salmond, was given considerable freedom to choose a referendum date. However, this time around negotiations will not be so simple. There will be further deliberations on the question(s), the franchise (will 16-17 year olds be allowed to vote as was the case in 2014?), and the timing. It may well be that Theresa May’s agreement to another referendum will hinge on the last issue, given under condition that that it is not held until Brexit negotiations are over. The issue now is not whether there will be another referendum, but when.

Calling the referendum is, as I have argued previously, potentially the most important decision of Nicola Sturgeon’s premiership. She made it clear this morning that calling for a referendum is a result of the British government’s refusal to move ‘even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement’. With speculation that Article 50 will be triggered in the coming days, the Scottish First Minister’s pre-emptive strike may make the British Government think again on some of its negotiating positions. I find it unlikely, however, that Scotland will be given a special deal in the Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May has hitherto avoided saying whether she will grant or block the Scottish government’s request. It is a given that she will campaign for a ‘No’ to independence vote. Nevertheless, Brexit indisputably has introduced a new and challenging dynamic to the independence debate that both sides will need to contend with in a future referendum campaign. For the unionists, Sturgeon’s bold move today will be seen as reckless and opportunist, an attempt to further complicate the Brexit negotiations and strengthen the case for independence. This is exemplified by Theresa May’s official spokesperson noting that ‘another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time’. For pro-independence supporters, however, independence is painted as an alternative to the potential economic uncertainty of Brexit. The Scottish voters, they argue, must have a choice: Hard Brexit Britain or an Independent Scotland.

It seems the future of Scotland is destined to be outside one (if not both) of the unions of which it is currently a member. Support for independence has not dramatically risen since either the 2014 independence referendum or the 2016 Brexit referendum and while it is currently around the 50%, it has yet to remain steady above this threshold. It remains to be seen how the impending Brexit negotiations will influence the independence issue, but a hard Brexit or indeed the prospect of no deal at the end of the negotiations have merely fuelled and emboldened SNP demands for another referendum. It is a bold move for Sturgeon. She will either go down in history as the first minister who presided over the independence of Scotland, or the leader who got it spectacularly wrong.

Let the games begin!

Paul Anderson is a PhD researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main research focuses on territorial autonomy and secessionist movements in western plurinational democracies.

An extended version of this blog post appeared on the LSE EUROPP Blog on 14 March 2017.

PhD Scholarship opportunities in Politics & IR at Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University welcomes applications for generous full-time PhD scholarships available for UK/EU and international applicants. Scholarships include a stipend of £13,000 p.a. and a tuition fee waiver for three years. Applications are invited across a range of subjects and themes including Politics & International Relations (section ‘Social and Applied Sciences’).

Application closing date: 18 April 2017

Registration date: 1 October 2017

To apply, email your potential supervisor and visit CCCU’s “How to apply” pages.

PhD supervision in Politics & International Relations

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Politics and International Relations at CCCU offers PhD supervision by experienced and research-active staff across a wide range of areas. Check out our staff and their research interests below:

  • Dr Andre Barrinha: International Relations Theories, Security Studies, European Security, Turkish Foreign Policy, Portuguese Foreign Policy, Technology and the changing character of security
  • Dr David Bates: Contemporary and radical political thought, Marxism, Hardt and Negri, Occupy, Arts and Politics, New Social Movements
  • Dr Mark Bennister: Political leadership (any aspect), British politics, Australian politics, party politics, parliamentary study, executive politics, political oratory and rhetoric
  • Dr Laura Cashman: Migration, minority politics, Critical Race Theory, Romani integration in the Czech Republic, Romaphobia and populism in the EU, experiences of migrants to the UK
  • Dr Amelia Hadfield: Common Security and Defence Policy, Energy Governance, EU Neighbourhood & Development policy, EU foreign policy, International and diplomatic history.
  • Dr Soeren Keil: Territorial autonomy, conflict resolution, post-conflict societies, Western Balkans, federalism, Myanmar, Syria, Federalism
  • Dr Sarah Lieberman: EU environmental policies and governance, the politics of space, Institutions, History of EU integration, decision-making and policies.

To apply, email your potential supervisor and visit CCCU’s “How to apply” pages.

External funding available

alternative-guide-to-postgrad-funding

In addition to our own scholarships, we offer assistance in finding alternative, external funding opportunities. Please email alternativefundingguide@canterbury.ac.uk to log in if you are a prospective CCCU student and gain access to The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding. Use this free database to find funding opportunities and access guidance and tools to help you prepare a winning grant application. Link: https://www.postgraduate-funding.com/gateway

The Italian constitutional referendum: What happened, what happens next

By Francesco Violi, PhD student in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost his bet on the 4th December referendum. Italians overwhelmingly rejected the proposals for constitutional reform that he and the Minister for Constitutional Reforms, Ms. Maria Elena Boschi, proposed. The final outcome shows 41% in favour and 59% against; the turnout of 65.5% was higher than the previous European Elections (57.22%) and the last abrogative referendum on oil drilling (31.2%).

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Renzi’s proposal essentially had two main points:

  1. A partial recentralization of powers by intervening on the fifth title (Titolo V) of the Constitution to limit its devolutionary character and completely reshape the role and the composition of the senate. Most importantly, the latter proposal involved a reduction in members of Senate from 315 to 100. The new Senate would have been composed of 74 senators, who would be indirectly elected by regional assemblies in accordance with the population of each region (from 14 senators for Lombardy, the most populated, to 2 senators for the smallest ones). Additionally, each region would have to appoint a mayor as an additional senator. The President of the Republic could also appoint 5 long-term senators. Former Presidents of the Republic would still be lifelong senators by default.
  2. A drastic change of the bicameral form of the Italian Republic (sometimes called perfect bicameralism, bicameralismo perfetto, or balanced bicameralism bicameralismo paritario). In this framework, Italy would have left the current system for a new one, based on the prevalence of the Chamber of deputies (camera), and the establishment of some new law-making procedures. The role of the Senate would have been limited to a representation of regions, with an effective law-making power only on local issues and European Union policies. Italy would thus have had an upper chamber elected by the regions to deal with regional issues, not two similar branches with the same duties.

Mr. Renzi made a few mistakes during the campaign. First of all, the Prime Minister jeopardized his alliance with Mr. Berlusconi (the so-called Pact of the Nazareno, named after the address of the headquarter of the Democratic Party, currently in Via del Nazareno in Rome). Thus, the latter still able to play some political influence in the parliament and among centre-right voters. Secondly, after the disengagement with Berlusconi, Renzi failed to engage with the left wing of the Democratic Party and his most fervent internal competitors. Thirdly, the constitutional reform was simultaneously linked to the new, runoff based, electoral law: the Italicum.  The system is considered by most of its critics as dangerous, since it is a proportional voting system law with strong majoritarian elements. The latter concedes a consistent majority of 55% of seats in the Chamber of Deputies to the party which achieves at least 40% in the first round, and a majority of 53% to the winner of the runoff, independently from the result. Therefore, the Chamber and the Senate have now two different electoral systems. As the Senate was due to play a secondary role and be elected through indirect elections, Renzi intentionally did not foresee a coherent electoral system for the Senate in case of rejection of the constitutional reform.

Renzi’s fatal error, however, was to link the outcome of the constitutional reform to his political career. This move backlashed and actually turned the referendum from being a vote on the constitutional reform to a vote on his government’s performance. Thus, most of supporters of “No”-campaign took this referendum as an opportunity to dismiss Mr. Renzi.

These elements made the referendum more similar to a by-election, and in a lesser sense, a to rejection of the new electoral system. This system is still very likely to be changed by the Parliament regardless, because the Italicum system was planned for only one of the two chambers. Otherwise, will be amended by the Constitutional Court, which is due to rule on it in the next few months.

What happens next

Despite his original intention to leave his post in a [David] Cameron-esque style, Italian constitutional procedures are significantly different from British ones. President Mattarella insisted Renzi resign only after the approval of the Budget law (which needs to be approved by both branches of parliament according to Constitutional Article 81). In any case, Renzi is not going to leave the political arena. Indeed, Renzi is now pushing for a snap general election. If President Mattarella refuses to immediately dissolve the parliament, Renzi would probably support a short-term, transitional government, which would most likely be led by his Minister for Economy and Finance, Mr. Pier Carlo Padoan, or Minister for Cultural Heritage, Mr. Dario Franceschini. In that case, Renzi would probably use that time to take a drastic action against the internal opposition in his party and trigger a snap congress and snap party primaries. The new constitutional proposal received 13,432,208 ballots “Yes” votes, thus boosting the belief that Renzi could work on these numbers to win the next elections. He could also try to attract voters who did not support his proposal, which would then deny the 5 Star Movement a victory in the next election. This route is not automatic, but it is undeniable that Mr. Renzi still has a meaningful support among the public – his current approval rating are considerably higher than any of his political competitors. Nonetheless, the 5 Star Movement is showing a good performance in opinion polls and has very high chances to win the election in case the Italicum runoff system is not abolished.

Otherwise, new proposals for constitutional change are not likely to be discussed for the next few years. Rather, it is very likely that after this rejection no new proposal for changing the balanced bicameral architecture will be advanced. The balanced bicameral system will for the time being remain a national, constitutional specificity, just like the UK House of Lords.

A vote on EU membership?

Many journalist and political representatives interpreted this referendum as a vote against the EU or Euro membership. Yet despite most of Italians having a very poor opinion of EU institutions’ performance during these years, this vote was not about the EU. During the referendum campaign, the EU always remained a very marginal topic. Although Renzi received some formal and lukewarm endorsements from other European and EU leaders and senior representatives, the EU institutions never stepped into the debate. While many Italians consider the Euro as one of the causes of the bad economic performance in the last decade, the ongoing banking crisis in Italy makes calls for leaving the single currency even less desirable. Populist leaders such as Mr. Matteo Salvini (leader of the right-wing and europhobic Northern League) and Mr. Beppe Grillo (political leader of the 5 Star Movement) will try to use the outcome of this referendum to increase their electoral fortunes. Nevertheless, the Italian Constitution remains one of the most supportive in terms of further European integration (Article 11). Furthermore, it does not currently allow for referenda on international treaties and monetary issues. Additionally, the current constitutional architecture was designed after the end of fascism and WWII to thwart any authoritarian tendencies. From this point of view, it is very difficult to draw parallels to Brexit and Donald Trump’s election.

Acceleration and decay: Trumpism and the reluctant passing of the Neoliberal world order

Lewis Bloodworth, a third year student of Politics and Global Governance at Canterbury Christ Church University provides an interesting take on the implications of Donald Trump’s victory.

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For many, the election of Donald Trump seemed unthinkable, even impossible; his style of politics completely against the grain of what was deemed acceptable behaviour and discourse, and yet he won. His victory built on a foundation of bigotry wrapped in the guise of honesty, the humble words of a reputable business man simply telling it as it is.

Trump is a by-product of a world made increasingly artificial, simulated and digital; his style politics thriving in a world of hyper consumerism, where reality seems like such a distant entity, always observed but never felt. If anything Trump embodies the ultimate postmodern president, a man who blurs the line between fact and fiction, treats his very name as a commodity; the man of the people, a multi-billionaire.  At a time like this, Karl Marx’s observation that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” remains as prescient as ever.

Continue reading “Acceleration and decay: Trumpism and the reluctant passing of the Neoliberal world order”