One strange consequence of ‘the refugee crisis’  now in full flow in Europe has been the spotlight put on the nature of the Hungarian regime, and the views of Prime Minister Orban on what Europe’s about:
Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity…..Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. Before making such a determination, the Council shall hear the Member State in question and may address recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure. The Council shall regularly verify that the grounds on which such a determination was made continue to apply.
2. The European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the European Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 after inviting the Member State in question to submit its observations.
3. Where a determination under paragraph 2 has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council. In doing so, the Council shall take into account the possible consequences of such a suspension on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons.
The obligations of the Member State in question under the Treaties shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.
4. The Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide subsequently to vary or revoke measures taken under paragraph 3 in response to changes in the situation which led to their being imposed.
5. The voting arrangements applying to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council for the purposes of this Article are laid down in Article 354 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
For myself, I cannot think of a more appropriate time for members of the European Parliament to stand up for the founding values of the Union, and seek to invoke the parliamentary and treaty procedures set down for just this kind of development. It’s what the parliament’s supposed to do.
It might therefore be something readers want to submit to their MEP for consideration, especially with a view to a resolution going first through the S&D grouping . I wouldn’t bother with the UKIP ones, mind.
 Not actually THE refugee crisis, but one of them. Rohingya refugess fleeing by boat from the pre-genocidal actions of the Burmese military regime also constitute a refugee crisis, as do the 660,000 Eritrean refugees who have fled over the border into Ethiopia (a small percentage of whom have sought to get to Europe via Sudan and Libya)
 That’s not to say the S&D don’t have issues to resolve in their own ranks. Try SMER in Slovakia.
There’s something deeply disturbing about section 1 of the new Education & Adoption Bill, according to which the Secretary of State will get to turn a maintained school into an academy if she considers it to be “coasting”.
What’s disturbing is not that this is really just a quick way to turn schools into academies, even though there’s no evidence that this is a good way to improve schools. That just evidence-free policy of the type we’ve come to expect.
It’s not that there is no inkling as to what “coasting” might actually mean and how it might be measured. That’s now just standard centralisation and of decision-making as developed under Gove (though with the twist that it will be the new Regional Schools Commissioner expected to do the centre’s dirty work).
It’s not even that there is really just no evidence that piling more and more inspectorial pressure on school can squeeze out anything further in the way of improvement.
What’s really disturbing is the subtle shift, from a focus not doing well enough to a focus on schools not giving a sufficient external display of effort.
This, it seems to me, may reflect a move beyond the managerialism of New Labour and its continuation into early New Conservatism, in which outcomes mattered and how you achieved them didn’t, towards a more authoritarian style, in which outcomes matter less than the level of grovelling to those higher up the food chain.
With Ofsted – in the vanguard of this new authoritarianism within education – it’s been there for a while; I remember, the last time I was subjected to Ofsted, being asked to provide an example of where governors had overturned an executive decision, as though a display of hierarchical power was a good thing in itself, and conversely governance by consensus and dialogue must be weak in some way.
Now that display of compliance is being written into law, though, perhaps we should really start to worry about the state of our democracy.
With Labour a) likely to be in a better position than the Tories to form a government after May 7th; and b) ruling out any kind of binding deal with the SNP or the Libdems, and insteaf looking to govern on an informal supply & confidence basis, the very real prospect of extreme constitutional silliness hoves into view.
This is nothing to do with who gets first dibs on trying to form a government, on which we can be pretty clear, or on Scottish Independence. It is to do with the unintended consequences of the hurriedly pass Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, and specifically Section 2 of the Act, which covers the two ways early elections can come about.
The first way is simple enough. A two thirds majority votes for an early election, and it happens.
The second way is this (simplifying the order of the paras. slightly for ease of reading):
An early parliamentary general election is also to take place if—
(a) the House of Commons passes a motion in the form: “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”
(b) the period of 14 days after the day on which that motion is passed ends without the House passing a motion in the form: “That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
It doesn’t take a parliamentary rocket scientist to foresee what will happen. The SNP, under pressure to get deals done and be shown to be delivering for Scotland, can hold Labour’s feet in the fire by agreeing with the Tories that the motion at a) should be proposed to the House, and then watching the 14 days tick away. We move quickly into a world of brinkmanship, with Labour and the SNP (or alternatively the LibDems) trying not to be the one to blink first.
Is past-midnight poker the best model for government? I suspect not. As and when this starts to happen, remember who brought us the Fixed Term Parliament Act in the first place.
Luftur Rahman is now, in law, the ex-Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the Electoral Commission (sitting as judge) having found him guilty of electoral fraud.
The detail of the verdict need not concern us here. Nor, indeed. need the ethnicity of the ex-Mayor or his allegiances. A focus on such matters tends to obscure the more fundamental issue: that investing executive power in a single person, whilst not ensuring robust systems of scrutiny and, where need be, recall, is to expose democracy to the risk of corruption .
While Boris Johnson, for example, may not be criminally guilty, it is reasonable to point out that his 7 years in power have not been without a whiff about “semi corruption” and contempt for (toothless) scrutiny and patronage.
The obvious solution to Tower Hamlets’ democratic legitimacy woes, and those of other areas where mayorality hasn’t turned out so well, is to take it all as an interesting but failed experiment, and return promptly to the form of local government which has, by and large, served us pretty well for a century or so.
Unfortunately, this isn’t very easy, at least at at first sight. Under the Coalition’s 2011 Localism Act, a referendum to reverse the decision of a referendum on governance arrangements can only take place 10 years after the original referendum . In the case of Tower Hamlets, the referendum which brought mayoral politics to the borough only took place in October 2010, further to a petition organised (manipulated?) by Respect and the Islamic Forum for Europe (this under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2000). By this route, the borough could only return to sensible local government in 2020.
Fortunately, yet another piece of legislation – this time Labour’s  Sustainable Community Act (2007), which allows councils to see devolution of central government powers to local government where such powers “assist councils in promoting the sustainability of local communities” . In my view, a proposal from current councillors, in advance of a new mayoral election, for the devolution of power to allow the council simply to return to the leader-cabinet model, with its now normal scrutiny functionsn – or even to return to the older committee system (as has happened in Fylde) – could be justified on the basis of community sustainability, given the division and hatred brought about through the mayoral model. Conversely, it might be argued that a further mayoral election (or continuation of that system) is a recipe for further division and animosity, whoever wins, given the accusations likely to keep on flying.
If I were a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets, that’s what I’d be investigating right now, not least because this route to a settling down period might even find favour with non-Labour councillors. I can also envisage a new DCLG Secretary of State welcoming such a proposal, on the basis that it swiftly undoes the harm brought by the divisive Respect/IFE cabal, as well as smacking of strong and decisive government.
 There is not time for a full exploration of the link between concentrated executive power and corruption here, but it’s worth noting how initial, valid concerns about such corruption were set to one side by New Labour as they grabbed hold of the idea of importing the mayoral system from the US, as part of their evidence-free faith in managerialism.
Indicative of this, one of New Labour’s earlier intellectual supporters, Gerry Stoker, acknowledged in a 1992 paper “The fact that an elected executive mayor implies a great concentration of power in a single individual rather than dispersal among many, raises the potential for perhaps more serious instances of corruption.” By the time of his 2004 book Transforming Local Governance, however, he was persuaded enough of the merits of the mayoral system to set such concerns to one side, even while acknowledging that ” an effective mix of checks and balances is a considerable institutional design challenge”, and that it is “not clear that the regulations that followed the Local Government Act 2000 met that challenge” (p.140). In other words, managerialism had won the intellectual day.
 A useful 2014 Parliamentary Briefing (pdf) explains the changes (p.5):
The Localism Act 2011 permitted a referendum to be held on abolishing an elected mayor, subject to time limits; and for a referendum to be held on establishing a leader and cabinet, or on using the committee system. Four authorities have held referendums on whether to retain their mayoral system. Electors in Doncaster (3 May 2012) and Middlesbrough (26 September 2013) voted to retain their elected mayor, whilst those in Hartlepool (15 Nov 2012) voted to replace it with the committee system, and those in Stoke-on-Trent (23 Oct 2008) voted to replace it with a leader and cabinet system.
Authorities which have changed their governance arrangements as a result of a referendum can only make a further change following a further referendum. Where a local authority has held a referendum on its governance arrangements, a further referendum may not be held for ten years (five years in Wales).
 To the Coalition’s credit, their amendments to the Act took the legislation from one which was based on application rounds to one which allows local authorities (and since 2013 Parish & Town Councils) to submit proposals to DCLG at any time.
 The link here is to guidance on the Act and its amendments, because the level of amendment means it is misleading to link to the original act and confusing to link simply to amending legislation.
Today Ed Miliband has made a key promise:
We have to end the epidemic of zero hours contracts.
So today I can announce that in our first year of government after the election, Labour will pass a law that says:
If you are working regular hours, you will get a regular contract.
A legal right that will apply to all workers after 12 weeks.
This sounds great, except that it does very little to end the exploitation of people on zero hour contracts.
You see, the people most exploited by zero hour contracting are not those on regular hours, but those on irregular hours.
Ensuring that people already working regular hours get a contract that reflects that fact may be nice enough, and clarity on contractual terms is welcome (though it may come at the cost of inflexibility which is bad for employees too). ACAS, for example, finds that most of its helpline calls related to zero hour contracting are about lack of clarity/understanding, and that many problems e.g. around holiday pay calculations are less to do with overt exploitation than poor communication.
But those most exploited under zero hour contracting are those who are called into work at short notice and must be ready to go into work, meaning that they can’t work elsewhere, and must have care arrangements in place. As it stands – and of course we haven’t seen any legislation wording – the number of people on irregular hours may actually increase, as less scrupulous employers seek loopholes around does and what doesn’t constitute regular hours. Even at best, today’s commitment from Miliband don’t seem to do anything to protect people on irregular hours.
As I’ve said previously, zero hour contracts are not of themselves exploitative, and many employers (including me) have used them for years while retaining perfectly good relations with employees; indeed, at my place I’d say they even enhance relationships, because staff can and do shift their hours by informal ‘just get on with it’ agreement. Rather, it is the way they are used by certain employers that is exploitative, and the best way to tackle that is not by legislation, but by increasing worker bargaining power through unionisation (though tackling the employer incentive to employ people part-time in order to avoid national insurance contributions would also help).
I fear that Labour, by moving down the legislation route in an understandable pre-election bid to look tough on labour market injustice, may not only be creating for a rod for its own back when it comes to implementation. It may also be doing a long-term disservice to low-paid workers by acting as what the Economist has called (in relation to minimum wage legislation) a “proxy union”.
What I mean by this is that, while the introduction of minimum wage a) did not create unemployment (as claimed by the right); b) may have pushed other non-minimum wages up (pdf), it also removed at one fell swoop a key raison d’etre of trade unions, arguably contributing to decline in membership.* In turn, this has arguably fed into less active trade union representation in the workplace, and greater worker vulnerability in the face of those employers who are deliberately exploitative around contractual terms (I’m differentiating here from exploitation as an essential feature of capitalism).
Would Sports Direct have introduced its zero hour contracting in the first place if there had been stronger workplace representation?
As we look forward to another round of legislative protection from a new Labour-led government, we should be careful what we wished for.
* Until 1985, the British trade union movement opposed (pdf, section 2.3) the introduction of a statutory minimum wage. What remains under-researched is whether they were right to do so.
While creating the links for my previous post, I came upon this quite unpleasant post from right-wing blogger Tim Worstall, in which he introduces the concept of “underage totty”.
Underage totty in Worstall’s world is, as far as I can establish, a female who is a child in law and therefore with a right to legal protection from sexual predators, but who by dint of some pro-active display of her sexuality, can be seen not to be in need of that protection. Or something. From what he goes on to say about how 14, 15 and 16 year olds should be treated under law, Worstall seems to be suggesting that a physical capacity to act or appear in a sexual or sexualised manner should be the main indicator of when a young person should be regarded as an adult in law, when it comes to sexual consent.
Now Worstall’s ignorance of or wanton disregard for how wealth, power and gender status* come together to create the concept of “totty” in the first place need not detain us too long – he revels in his non-PC status and a bit of online trolling of a possible victim of serious sexual abuse is presumably all part of the act – but his post does give cause for reflection over what age should be the age to which young people still need protection under the law (we will leave aside here Worstall’s apparent confusion between the age of consent and protection from harm).
In fact, while Worstall seems to suggest that the age of protection should be lowered on the basis that young women can appear physically older, actual research suggests public and legal policy might be better going the other way, and creating protective mechanisms for young people for longer. If we look at brain, as opposed to breast, formation, longitudinal tracking of adolescents and young people’s brains indicates that the parts of the brain associated with judgment, especially in “hot” circumstances, continues well into a young person’s third decade:
Most research to date has captured information in conditions of “cold cognition” (e.g., low arousal, no peers, and hypothetical situations). Like impulse control and sensation seeking, hot and cold cognition are subserved by different neuronal circuits and have different developmental courses . Thus, adolescent maturity of judgment and its putative biological determinants are difficult to disentangle from socioemotional context.
I don’t, of course expect pointing to actual research about how young people develop, and how public policy might need to change in the light of newish data, will do much to change the views of Worstall and the similarly-minded on what’s permissible if you’re a rich, white bloke. But, as someone who remains unapologetically and old-fashionedly PC about the rights of both women and children, I do feel bound to point it out.