Posts Tagged ‘political theory’

I don’t really know what I’m doing here“.

Irrespective of how much money he was on, it was a bit much to make Roy Hodgson conduct a press conference the day after he’d resigned as England manager. What was all that about? His legitimacy evaporated when his exciting young players failed to beat (or even compete against) Iceland. He forfeited the authority due to him by virtue of his office when he read out his resignation statement at a press conference after the final whistle. And yet the very next day he was seemingly required to face the press once more in his capacity as…well, no one was quite sure.

It was a strange coda to a curious chapter in England’s footballing history, and very much in keeping with one of the weirder weeks in England’s and the UK’s political history. After all, the day after Hodgson briefed the press as a resigned England manager, David Cameron took Prime Minister’s Questions as a resigned PM across the dispatch box from a very much not resigned Leader of the Opposition whose parliamentary party had just rejected him 172-40 in a vote of no confidence and whose Shadow Cabinet had pretty much all quit in protest at his leadership.

It seems to me that the concept of mandate is central to the current power struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties. In this post I want to explore the different types of mandate being claimed by the various actors in our contemporary drama and suggest some possible ways forward for Labour and for the UK in its relationship with the EU. Executive summary: some people are going to have to grow up.



The first rule of Question Time is “don’t watch Question Time”. The second rule of Question Time is “don’t go on Twitter during Question Time”. Despite observing these rules assiduously I couldn’t help but hear about the key moment of this week’s EU referendum special. Seemingly channeling Michael Gove’s recent claim that the people of Britain “have had enough of experts“, a member of the Question Time audience attacked the Prime Minister for “relying on experts” to make his case for remaining in the European Union.

Imagine! Those dastardly experts with their insidious expertise – who would want to listen to them?

But perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. For a start, the audience member was actually making a quite different point to the one assumed by his appalled Twitter critics. If you click on the link above and take the time to listen to him he is actually arguing that the Prime Minister’s choice of expert – in this case the Governor of the Bank of England – has been proven wrong in the past. The man was engaging in critical thinking about the provenance of knowledge. No wonder he went down so badly on social media.

More broadly, I think the Leave campaign’s perceived rejection of expertise illuminates a key tension in our ideas about democracy. In this post I want to explore the idea of common sense, and consider its relationship to the EU referendum.


The immediate aftermath of a tragedy is rarely characterised by nuanced, thoughtful discussion. Of course not; people feel angry, hurt, confused and disgusted, and those emotions are difficult to cut through. And so, naturally, the chilling Charlie Hebdo massacre has prompted a number of decent, horrified commentators to write from the heart about the political-cultural context of the murders.

I want to disentangle some of the assumptions that have informed much of the public discussion so far. The horror of the killings is so overwhelming that some important distinctions are in danger of being neglected. In what follows I will try to make some sense of the complex interplay of multiculturalism, liberalism, and the public and private spheres in debates about contemporary Islam.


You might have seen these recent headlines in the populist right-wing press:



(Not the stuff about Ronnie Biggs or the “no-cleavage cleavage”; the human rights stuff).

The Tory Party, egged on by the UK Independence Party, plans to repeal the Human Rights Act if returned to power in 2015. And as those headlines show, sections of the press have lauded the proposal.

Among those of us who feel fairly sure that human rights are not mad, there is an appetite to understand where such seemingly wild views come from.

In this post I will explain the intellectual roots of conservative hostility to human rights. This involves heading back in time to the French Revolution, which is before some of the people at this year’s Tory Party Conference were even born. (more…)