Blog from Annual Lecture: Will Self on the End of Champagne Socialism

Tessa Coombes, University of Bristol

@policytessa

The Policy and Politics Annual Lecture this year was delivered by Will Self. The theme of the lecture was ‘the end of champagne socialism’ and was presented as a mixture of personal reflections, concerns and challenges, all seeking to highlight the mess that Will believes politics has seemingly descended into right now.

The lecture was at times depressing, confusing and uncomfortable, whilst at the same time managing to be amusing, engaging and thought provoking. Will has a style of delivery that captures the imagination whilst challenging the mind, often leaving the audience unsure and uncertain about their own thoughts, but also in no doubt about the central message he is trying to convey. That message was about how things have changed, about how there’s been a shift in the way people view politics and politicians, and about how we are now seeing change for change’s sake without any real concept of the consequences.

Will described 2016 as a momentous year in Britain and the world, where a significant proportion of the electorate woke up to the fact that no one knows what is going on, even our leaders don’t know what is going on, and for once enough people woke up to this fact and voted for change. The common theme of 2016 seemed to be that people just wanted things to change. They didn’t know what would happen as a result of that change, but they wanted change, a dangerous attitude to take to political events according to Will. In his words, what we are now seeing is ‘the rise of the idiots and the government of the stupid’.

He then went on to explain this desire for change as a break from the usual left-right dichotomy, exemplified by Brexit where the usual left versus right arguments couldn’t be applied. There were pro leave and remain campaigners on both sides of the political divide, the politics-as-usual approach no longer applied to the debate as the dualism deeply ingrained in British politics since the 1970s seemed to be unraveling.

On Corbyn, Will was conflicted. Whilst sharing many of the same beliefs as Corbyn he described how for some reason he was unable to feel pleased about his election as leader of the Labour Party. He went on to explain this using a series of examples about how Corbyn had failed to stick to his principles and wasn’t saying many of the things he should have on becoming leader. He appeared to feel let down by the failure of the new leadership to display honesty about what being a socialist party really means, about what a redistributive party would actually do, what they would change and what the impact of this would be. The disillusionment he clearly feels was apparent to all as he described the endless dilemma for politicians needing to ‘square the circle’ to retain votes meaning they generally lack any real ability to be honest about what they are trying to achieve.

He launched a scathing attack on the Labour Party and the British Left, who for over 40 years have sat back and done little whilst income disparities have grown consistently across the UK. He described them as sitting in their own bubble failing to acknowledge the changes that are needed. He was pretty damning about Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, about their role in changing the very foundations of the Labour Party during what he calls the Blair Witch Project, the New Labour movement, that moved Labour away from its traditional support whilst at the same time re-creating a new breed of champagne socialists. This he describes as unsustainable, and a nonsense that will never work based as it is on the wealthy middle class socialists’ idea that everyone should be raised to the same level and that redistribution will mean personal betterment and improvement, rather than a reduction in their own personal wealth. He pointed out that there was little evidence of the kind of large-scale voluntarism that would be needed to bring about a socialist society. For example, who among the audience would be willing to curtail their annual spending to live within median average income levels, redistributing any surplus to others earning less than us?

Will seemed to reflect the experience of many in the audience when he challenged us about our own feelings, when he described how those on the left are currently unhappy with things, but that we had done little to actually change anything over the last 20 years as income disparities have increased. As he put it, we knew the poor were getting poorer, we knew inclusiveness was largely cosmetic but we didn’t do much about it and now we are really upset, but still don’t do much about it.

He went on to explain the impact of this on young people and how we need to speak to young people about the state of the world today. He explained that we should think long and hard about what we say to the younger generation and made the point that we live in a time of democratic crisis, where older people have capital and younger people don’t’. He then asked the question about how this affects our politics when our homes make more money in a year than we do and how do we square that circle with young people.

Will’s final comments focused on the hollowness of political rhetoric and how collective action can no longer work as there is no socialist dawn waiting for us and no wheel to put our shoulder against. His description of a new socialism based not on collective action but on autonomy and individualism is a difficult one to grasp. It relies on individuals making changes – for example giving directly to the homeless, picking up litter in our communities – and taking action in an arena where there is more quietism, compassion and thought. In his words, we don’t need to organize to help people, we need to show more compassion and just do something.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also like to read Making the case for the welfare state by Peter Taylor-Gooby.

Free article collection for the Policy & Politics Annual Lecture: Will Self on The End of Champagne Socialism

On 7 March Will Self delivers the 22nd Policy & Politics Annual Lecture about the end of champagne socialism.

He will examine developments in thinking about socialism over the past half-century – what the rise of Corbyn tells us about British attitudes towards socialism (and by extension capitalism), and what the changes have been in how we conceive – and repurpose – the links between the personal and the political in times of accelerated change.

To mark the occasion we are making a collection of articles that resonate with the theme of the lecture free to access until the end of March: Continue reading Free article collection for the Policy & Politics Annual Lecture: Will Self on The End of Champagne Socialism

Is universal health coverage possible without strong public presence in its provision?

volkan-yilmaz-jpgVolkan Yilmaz, Assistant Professor of Social Policy at Boğaziçi University, Turkey

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, a United Nations (UN) initiative covering a broad range of development issues, all members of the UN set an ambitious and greatly welcomed target to be achieved in healthcare policy by 2030: achieving universal health coverage. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines universal health coverage as a set of policies ensuring everyone in need of healthcare services and medications receive a quality service yet without facing financial hardship. This notion of universal health coverage leaves no room for denying services and medications to people in need.

However, as is often the case, the devil is in the detail. As far as indicators for monitoring progress towards universal health coverage are concerned, it turns out that this is a broken promise. Two indicators are in use: the share of population that can access ‘essential’ healthcare services and the share of population that spends a large amount of its income on healthcare. The second indicator is estimated on the basis of households having to spend a disproportionate amount of their total income on health, measured as 25 per cent or more of their total household expenditure.

The first indicator in particular seriously limits the scope of universal health coverage by leaving out healthcare services that are not defined as essential. For example, while cervical cancer screening is listed among essential services, cervical cancer treatment is not. The second indicator may help by putting an upper limit on the proportion of total household expenditure to be spent on non-essential health services, but it may still fail to capture how many people don’t seek medical help for these services.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of World Health Organization, clearly suggests that free markets do not work in health care. Chan’s emphasis is on the financing component. Specifically, if public funding of healthcare is weak, achieving universal health coverage is generally not possible. Therefore, she identifies increasing public expenditure on healthcare as the only way towards universal health coverage, which will result in less reliance on out-of-pocket payments.

But healthcare systems have two major components that are of importance in achieving universal health coverage: financing and provision. To achieve universal health coverage, while public funding of healthcare is key, exclusive focus on the financing component in ensuring universal health coverage might be misleading. I believe the significant role that the public sector can play in healthcare provision – and has already been playing in some countries – has been long overlooked. Failing to pay enough attention to the role of the public sector in healthcare provision can pose two obstacles in monitoring progress towards universal health coverage.

First, this focus may blind us to how the dominant role of private sector or privatisation trends in healthcare provision restrict access to healthcare services that are deemed non-essential. On the one hand, exclusive focus on essential health services may be interpreted as rationing, which is indeed necessary for all public policies due to budget constraints. On the other hand, the restrictive definition of essential health services may go beyond rationing especially for middle income and upper middle income countries with historically strong public provision systems. This restriction of the scope of universal health coverage to essential services may take the form of people’s aversion to seek medical help due to financial hardship and/or increasing expenditures on health as a proportion of total household incomes. In this regard, the proposed strategy of WHO to achieve universal health coverage may be implicitly granting approval to the privatisation of non-essential health services in countries with strong public actors in provision.

Second, this disregard for the ownership of providers in healthcare leaves out the possible impact of private sector dominance on provision in healthcare financing. Not all market designs foster competition and lead to lower prices for services. Not all countries have strong public regulatory capacity to protect patients from possible abusive practices of private providers. Finally, not all political actors in power are willing and strong enough to block private providers’ demand for higher out-of-pocket payments and/or switch to private health insurance based financing models. Concerning these, WHO’s strategy falls short of addressing these concerns which may well affect the prospect or viability of universal health coverage in different countries.

My forthcoming book entitled The Politics of Healthcare in Turkey demonstrates that despite significant achievements towards universal health coverage in Turkey in the last decade, a country that Dr Chan also lists among best performers, striking the right balance between public sector and private sector in healthcare provision remains a challenge for Turkey. Passive privatisation in healthcare provision and the political dynamics it has generated, cast doubt on viability of universal health coverage.

Setting a target for all countries is not easy, especially given the vast differences among them and the presence of strong global interest groups against reforms towards universal health coverage. But these challenges should not lead us to settle for a narrowly defined version of universal health coverage as a global policy direction for all countries. I suggest therefore that the lack of focus on the provision component of healthcare systems in the global health policy debate must be re-thought, especially if we want to reclaim the proper meaning of universal health coverage.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also like to read When collaborative governance scales up: lessons from global public health about compound collaboration by Chris Ansell.

India’s Emerging Social Policy Paradigm: Productive, Protective or What? 

stefan-kuhner-and-keerty-nakray

Stephan Kühner and Keerty Nakray

The last two decades have been marked by a renewed focus on pro-poor social policies in India under the two Centre/Left Congress/United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments (2004-2009, 2009-2014). These social policies included a plethora of education programs (such as Madhyamik Shiksha Yojana (National Middle School/ Secondary School Scheme), health insurance programs (such as Rashtriya’s Swasthya Bima Yojana, (RSBY) along with several conditional cash transfer schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana (Protection of Motherhood Scheme, JSY); and rural poverty alleviation programs (such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) etc.

In our recent article published in the Journal of Asian Public Policy, we analyse if these programs really mark a genuine shift towards pro-poor universal social policies and if the actions of the UPA actually delivered on its well-promoted rhetoric of pushing India towards a high skills based knowledge economy.  Our analysis also re-examined the existing research on extending welfare regime theories to developing counties. For example, Wood and Gough (2006) classified India as an informal-insecure regime as large numbers of citizens largely depend on precarious employment and informal family and kinship networks for welfare. Similarly, Kühner (2015) pointed out that much of the social expenditure is disproportionately directed towards to social protection programs such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Our analysis indicates that the majority of these social programmes do not signify a genuine move towards greater inclusivity or categorical entitlements. Benefit levels remain generally low and eligibility criteria too rigid to facilitate an extension of social protection coverage. India’s social policies essentially remain residual, even minimalist, in character. Recent social policy initiatives largely appear in fragments with few connections with each other or any clearly defined strategy linking them to the economic goals of the country.

Our research makes a contribution to welfare state modeling which in recent decades has gone beyond focusing solely on advanced capitalist countries in the rich European and OECD countries. The emergence of East Asian welfare states and more recent developments in middle income countries such as Brazil and China has led to a diversification of the literature. India has not been dealt systematically in this research.  We have attempted to extend and diversify welfare regime theory based on an interdisciplinary review of India’s emerging social policies during the two recent Centre/Left Congress/United Progressive Alliance governments (2004-2009, 2009-2014).

We hope that the announcement of many new social protection schemes by the ambitious Modi government elected in 2014 may force us to change our assessment of the emerging social policy landscape in India. For instance, the World Bank’s Global Findex indicates a considerable improvement in access to formal bank accounts (from 35 per cent in 2013 to 53 percent in 2014) as a consequence of the Jan Dhan Yojana (Prime Minister’s People Money Scheme) program, which was launched in 2014.

If equally successful, the Modi government’s ambitious ‘Skill India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives, which aim to train 500 million Indians and create 100 million new manufacturing jobs by 2022 may well force us to reconsider the Indian political economy altogether. It remains to be seen whether further extensions of the emerging Indian middle class – currently standing somewhere between 100-300 million depending on the exact measure used – together with an ever-increasing presence of civil society organizations will trigger not only more domestic demand for manufacturing products and more formal employment, but will also create a new politics of social policy that will manage to move India beyond its current dependency mode.

Dr. Stefan Kühner, is an Assistant Professor at Ling nan University, Hong Kong. Email: stefankuehner@ln.edu.hk  Twitter: @stefankuehner

Dr. Keerty Nakray, is an Associate Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Women, Law and Social Change, at O.P. Jindal Global University, India. Email: knakray@jgu.edu.in; Twitter @socialpolicyind

If you enjoyed this blog post you may also like to read Gender budgeting and public policy: the challenges to operationalising gender justice in India by Keerty Nakray.

“I Will Fight for What I Deserve”: Political Struggles for Welfare Rights

esiston-and-humpage

Daniel Edmiston, University of Oxford and Louise Humpage, University of Auckland

An extended version of this post was originally published  on 1 February 2017 in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at  http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.

Across advanced capitalist economies, welfare withdrawal and reform are undermining the rights, identity and belonging of low-income social citizens. Amidst this upheaval, welfare claimants are engaged in diverse political struggles for and against social citizenship. What risks and opportunities does this present for the future direction of welfare politics? To answer this question, our recent Policy & Politics article explores how welfare claimants negotiate the institutions and ideals driving successive rounds of welfare reform over time.

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Source: Michael Candelori, https://www.flickr.com/photos/bymikey/18993988515/ (CC BY SA 2.0)

The uneven effects of welfare austerity contradict the notion that ‘we are all in this together’. The promise of shared sacrifice and frugality has failed to materialize across the developed world with the rich and the poor pulling further apart from one another since the global financial crisis. Increasingly restrictive welfare provision has been driven by penalizing and disciplinary reforms targeted at those most reliant on low-income social security and assistance. Continue reading “I Will Fight for What I Deserve”: Political Struggles for Welfare Rights

Understanding Trump: Modes of Deliberate Disproportionate Policy Response

moshe-maorMoshe Maor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Since the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, there has been increasing interest in the concept of disproportionate policy response and its two component concepts ─ policy over- and underreaction. This policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits that are derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. So far, however, little scholarly attention has been devoted to this type of policy response and to its two anchor concepts. This is because of the impression that disproportionate policies are not carefully thought out; are not carefully implemented; are based on strategic misperceptions, and are bound to fail. The few studies that address this topic have concluded that this policy response is unintentional, occurring when policymakers engage in mistakes of omission or commission in the diagnosis and the prescription stages of decision-making. Continue reading Understanding Trump: Modes of Deliberate Disproportionate Policy Response

Borderlands of the private home: Uncertain social times and our growing fortress mentality

rowland-atkinson

By Rowland Atkinson

Can we speculate that there is a relationship between the massive changes in policy and political life since the financial crisis of more or less ten years ago and the look and feel of the streets and homes in our towns and cities? It was not long after the crisis began that I made a journey by car through the semi-rural areas bordering Manchester and Chester and was surprised at the number of homes with new, large and electronic gates. Why would we find these kinds of features in leafy areas with presumably low crime rates? Why indeed would we expect to find now well over a thousand gated communities in a country like the UK that has traditionally not only enjoyed a relatively low crime rate but also a history of more or less open streetscapes and a celebration of public footpaths and byways? We know that the reasons for these changes are complex and lie in a mix of factors that include a search for badges of social standing as well as a fear of crime. Yet the reality in many streets today is of a proliferation not of large gated communities but the rise of what Sarah Blandy and I recently called domestic fortresses. In many neighbourhoods it is possible to see shuttered and gated large homes side-by-side with those with little or no such visible protection. What explains these variations and what does it mean, if anything at all, for questions of policy today? Continue reading Borderlands of the private home: Uncertain social times and our growing fortress mentality