Major events as soft targets

By Dr Will Jennings, Politics & International Relations

The distressing scenes in Boston provide a stark reminder of the threats that are attached to the staging major sporting events. Despite growth in the scale of security measures for events such as the Olympics and World Cup, their open format make ‘absolute security’ an impossibility – despite the obsession of some academics with the industrial-military complex that surround them – as the physical perimeters of events and the large public spaces associated with them are too large to enclose or provide blanket coverage of manpower to police. In Olympic Risks (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), I reflected that “…ceremonial and sporting events such as the Olympic torch relay and the marathon can prove difficult to police due to their open format, making them soft targets for attacks or disruption.” Indeed, this sort of incident is not without precedent in the U.S. During the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, a pipe bomb attack on Centennial Park by a domestic terrorist left two dead and a 111 injured. It had been hosting an open concert as part of the programme of cultural events for the Olympic Games.

“The wide spread of events and people across multiple venues means that the general public is exposed to security threats outside the relative safety of security checks and perimeter fencing at the main venues.” (Olympic Risks, Palgrave Macmillan).

The vulnerability of these sorts of ‘soft targets’ contrasts a great deal with the focus on security in highly secured, and often militarized spaces, such as the Olympic Park or large stadiums – as in the recent London Olympics. Winter Olympics suffer in particular from security vulnerabilities due to their physical geography – consisting of outdoor winter sports, held in the natural environment and covering large areas of land – and are highly challenging to police and other security agencies. For example, at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics organizers opted for a surveillance and intelligence-led response to securing venues because of the impracticality of constructing perimeter fencing over mountainous terrain or using CCTV and other monitoring equipment that are unreliable in cold outdoor conditions.

With so little known about the attacks in Boston, it is important to be cautious in drawing any conclusions for future events – such as the upcoming London Marathon or Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, which inevitably will be a source of tension. There surely will be a growing realisation, however, that the hyperactive policing of the main sites of events such as the Olympic Games, is not a solution when faced with the near impossible job of securing ‘soft targets’. Large security presences do not solve the inherent vulnerability of these sorts of event to determined and callous attackers. While memories of the terror attack on the Olympic Village at Munich 1972 have left a lasting imprint on the strategies of major event organizers, the securing of soft targets is the great challenge for the 21st century, especially given the inevitable tension between the celebratory mood of those events and concerns over visible military or police presences on the streets in democratic societies.

Kamil Zwolski on North Korean crisis

By Kamil Zwolski, Politics & International Relations

I was asked on Friday by BBC Radio Solent to comment on the North Korean crisis. It is very difficult to make informed comments, given the degree of secrecy surrounding Pyongyang’s military and nuclear programme. What we can observe, however, is a geopolitical game involving North Korea on the one hand, the US, Japan and South Korea on the other hand, and China… well, China remains a bit of a question mark. In a short term, Beijing will probably want to appear a responsible member of the international community. In a longer term, however, China watches very closely the position and influence of the US and its allies in the Pacific area. It would be interesting to know whether John Kerry, during his first visit to China as a Secretary of State, will be successful in reassuring Beijing that its geopolitical position will not be in jeopardy even if Washington, Tokyo and Seoul step up their defence efforts.

Polling Observatory #23: The continued chill in Conservative Party support, a Lib Dem revival and the onward march of UKIP

By Rob Ford, Will Jennings and Mark Pickup. Cross-posted at

This is the twenty-third in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

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We last reported on the state of the parties in the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election. This month’s Polling Observatory update relates to poll data collected before the death of Baroness Thatcher. This is a momentous political event in British political history, whatever your view of the Iron Lady, but one that we would not expect to have any lasting consequences for voting intention. Instead, voters’ responses to Thatcher are likely to be a function of their present and past political leanings so her death is unlikely to change the political weather in quite the same way as she did when she was alive.

The estimates of vote intention for the month up to the start of April reflect many of the patterns that we have observed in the past quarter: with UKIP and the Liberal Democrats on the rise, while Labour have fallen back slightly from recent gains, and the shrinking of Conservative Party support continues to what must be worrying levels for its leadership and the parliamentary party.

Last month support for the Conservatives fell from 31.9% to 29.9%, and they have hit new depths this last month, with their support now standing at 28.9%. This is not far off some of the wretched poll ratings they achieved in opposition, under Hague and IDS, against another divisive political titan, Tony Blair. Labour has fallen back from its gains last month, from 41.2% to 39.3%, but retains a healthy lead which would see it swept to power with a sizable majority if the election were held now.

Both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP continue to make gains at the expense of the main parties. This month support for the Liberal Democrats has risen to 10.1% (from 9.1% in March), while UKIP has seen an even bigger rise in support from 9.3% to 11.2%. These parties are making gains against the larger parties for rather different reasons. The Liberals Democrats may be benefitting from a subtle shift in distance away from their Coalition partners, with more visible splits becoming apparent on a number of policy issues, while UKIP’s message continue to resonate with voters who are concerned about immigration and generally disaffected with the mainstream political elite.

Thatcher left many legacies, and now is arguably not the best time to debate them, but it is clear that the Conservative Party has never been quite the same since their act of matricide in November 1990. While they recovered briefly under John Major to win the 1992 general election, they have never achieved the same electoral dominance that Thatcher did. Thatcher was a brilliant rhetorician, but perhaps too many of those who followed her too easily lapped up the myths as well as the realities of her government and its policy achievements and electoral success. Whereas New Labour clearly learnt the lesson of the importance of party discipline and pragmatism from the 1980s, the post-Thatcher Conservative Party has become more ideological and less disciplined, as exemplified in the bizarre murmurings over the prospect of replacing David Cameron, the first Conservative leader in a decade to make them a competitive electoral force, even if he was not able to win a majority against a deeply unpopular incumbent. Competence and party unity remain the key criteria on which the Conservative Party will be judged by voters in 2015, areas in which Thatcher’s legacy is mixed, if one puts down the rose-tinted spectacles for a moment.

Republicanism and tax justice

By Professor David Owen, Head of Politics & International Relations

The republican commitment to the view that people can be at liberty only when they are secure – and equally secure – from the exercise of arbitrary power, has significant implications for the ‘domestic’ political economy of states. But it also bears on issues of what we may broadly call ‘transnational’ political economy. That is, that the decisions of actors beyond a democratic state may have important consequences for that state’s establishment, capability and even civic disposition.

For classical republicans, the root of popular sovereignty is not democratic rule but freedom from ‘alien’ rule. This is, indeed, how the republican concept of freedom emerged in ancient Greece – with the political prospect of rule by Persians motivating a focus on the value of being a free people who rule their own city. The most obvious threat here is being subject to the dominion of another people (direct imperial rule) but as republicanism widens its view of domination from the paradigmatic legal form of the master-slave relation, so ‘alien rule’ comes to encompass other possibilities such as political or economic dependency (indirect imperialism). Republicanism, then, is concerned to structure international relations between states – for example, bi- or multi- lateral rules governing trade – in ways that obstruct the formation of relations of domination between states. But, and this will be the focus of this article , it is also possible for a state to adopt policies that undermine the capacity and, even, disposition of other states to engage in republican self-government without exercising political or economic domination over the states in question. This feature of transnational political economy can be illustrated by the example of tax.

Tax as a topic is useful in another respect in that it runs across classical and commercial republicanism presented in Jessica Kimpell’s contribution to this series. While commercial republicans like Adam Smith may have shifted the locus of virtue in certain respects, they were still concerned with citizens exhibiting a commitment to the common good in the form of paying their taxes. Thus, Smith gave the first formulation of principles to guide taxation in The Wealth of Nations:

  1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. (EQUITY)
  2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person. (CERTAINTY)
  3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. (CONVENIENCE)
  4. Every tax ought to be contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state. (EFFICIENCY)

These remain important principles. For current purposes, however, they help to demonstrate the commercial republicans cannot fully avoid the concern with corruption – the privileging of private interests over the common good – that exercised the classical republican tradition. Republicans of all stripes are well aware that a civic commitment to the common good is a potentially fragile political achievement that requires buttressing through institutional and cultural practices.

Secrecy jurisdictions (aka tax havens) may be characterised as jurisdictions that design regulations for use by people who do not reside within the jurisdiction in the full knowledge that these regulations undermine the capacity of other political authorities to regulate the conduct of their citizenry and support this process through the construction of a veil of secrecy. Essentially, secrecy jurisdictions threaten the republican civic achievement: first, by providing a mechanism through which some citizens can evade taxation and, second, by eroding public confidence in the equity and certainty of tax collection. Smith’s tax principles can be equally applied to corporations operating within the state in respect of the revenues that they raise in virtue of being able to trade in the state in question. If anything, secrecy jurisdictions disable the conditions of good corporate citizenship even more profoundly than they do in the case of natural persons. There is every reason, then, to think that Smith would applaud the Tax Justice Network’s stress on transparency:

“We want companies to be made more open about their financial affairs and to publish data on every country where they operate. We want the finances of wealthy individuals to be visible to their tax authorities, so they pay their fair share of tax. Markets work better, and companies are more accountable, in an environment of transparency. Secrecy hinders criminal investigation and fosters criminality and corruption such as insider trading, market rigging, tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement, bribery, the illicit funding of political parties – and much more. We want to expand the commonly accepted definitions of corruption so that they no longer focus only on narrow aspects of the problem such as bribery. We must bring tax, tax avoidance and tax evasion decisively into the corruption debate.”

Such an expansion is just what a republican outlook entails in terms of sustaining an orientation to the common good. This issue of tax and secrecy jurisdictions also matters to republicanism for another reason: the operation of tax havens has the effect of shifting the economic burdens of civic life from capital onto labour and supporting radical inequalities in wealth without the state being able effectively to regulate these economic dimensions of equality. This, in turn, further corrupts politics in the affected states not only by privileging those individuals and corporations with access to extra-territorially held resources but also by skewing the structure of economic relations. 

What should republicans do in the face of this issue? In general, a federation of republican states would outlaw secrecy jurisdictions (and seek to support small island economies that have become dependent on this practice in other ways) but, in the first instance, there are three more immediate steps that can be taken.

The first, which is already occurring with some success, is to put pressure on tax havens to cease their secrecy so that those who utilise them can be made visible to the relevant authorities.

The second is to enact a global Tobin tax on all financial transfers to secrecy jurisdictions.

The third is to adopt a general anti-avoidance measure of the kind formulated by Richard Murphy (and which was tabled in debate on the Finance Bill 2009 by John Pugh MP and Michael Meacher MP):

“1 If when determining the liability of a person to taxation, duty or similar charge due under statute in the UK it shall be established that a step or steps have been included in a transaction giving rise to that liability or to any claim for an allowance, deduction or relief, with such steps having been included for the sole or one of the main purposes of securing a reduction in that liability to taxation, duty or similar charge with no other material economic purpose for the inclusion of such a step being capable of demonstration by the taxpayer, then subject to the sole exception that the step or steps in question are specifically permitted under the term of any legislation promoted for the specific purpose of permitting such use, such step or steps shall be ignored when calculating the resulting liability to taxation, duty or similar charge.

2 In the interpretation of this provision a construction that would promote the purpose or object underlying the provision shall be preferred to a construction that would not promote that purpose or object.”

A republican outlook on political economy provides a clear and distinctive justification for adopting such measures. The tax justice movement often appeals to a basic norm of fairness in advocating tax reform. Republican political economy deepens this appeal by focusing attention on that fact that tax justice is integral to blocking sources of political and economic domination that disfigure and distort the conditions of civic life.

Youth Citizenship and Politics, Part 3: citizenship education, learning and research

By Rebecca Ridley, Postgraduate Research Student, Southampton Education School.

Citizenship Education remains but there is always a but…

The theme of Education for democracy at the workshop on March 15th was timely given the release of the new National Curriculum consultation draft earlier in the year. The Education Secretary Michael Gove had decided to keep citizenship education as a statutory (albeit slimmed-down) part of the National Curriculum. It was a ‘valuable subject’ he announced at the House of Commons on February 7th. But valuable for what reasons? Perhaps it is because the extra emphasis on community volunteering chimes well with the idea of the responsible and helpful Big Society citizen. Perhaps it is the new dimension on personal finance literacy that is fundamental to produce a next generation of financially self-reliant citizens who can ride out any economic storm. Or maybe it is because of the new emphasis on the ‘precious liberties’ that UK citizens enjoy so much.

This latter point was troublesome for the workshop panellists. Hugh Starkey was concerned with this stress on ‘precious liberties’ and the lack of emphasis on universal human rights. David Kerr raised the point that learning about the development and struggles for different kinds of rights and freedoms has not been included in the citizenship curriculum. Young people might therefore learn about rights and freedoms but they will not have to know how these were actively fought for (see the Citizenship Foundation’s National Curriculum implication for citizenship guide for more). He questioned the state of the evidence base for measuring the outcomes of citizenship education, particularly now Ofsted are no longer carrying out specific subject inspections and in the context of increasing free schools. He also queried how Gove’s overall strategy for a knowledge-based curriculum and its implications may affect citizenship learning, especially in terms of practice.

National Citizens Service: for your country, community, or for yourself?

Early this year Michael Gove’s asserted that youth policy is not a priority for central government. Despite this there have been two central initiatives targeted at young people. The first is the Youth Contract which aims to help the young unemployed find work through a variety of voluntary work experience placements and apprenticeships. The second is the National Citizens Service (NCS), a Big Society initiative and six week programme for 16 and 17-year-olds which involves a residential trip and a community-based social action project. With squinted eyes the NCS looks like an attractive learning opportunity for youth community engagement and bears much resemblance to the popular service learning initiatives in the USA. With open eyes, the picture looks a bit different.

Andrew Mycock presented a critical and thorough evaluation of NCS and the potential for fostering active citizenship through it. He questioned how the NCS links to other local authority programs and the citizenship education that young people receive through school. He argued – following claims by Conservative MP Nick Hurd that NCS is beneficial for the development of employment skills – that NCS is perhaps accentuating (too much) individual benefits. A NCS t-shirt with the text ‘I create my own future!’ was, he argued, likewise indicative of this. Andrew also pointed out that most of the participants were already active in their communities and that unfortunately there was a focus on the civil participation rather than political.

Research directions

So which direction should our research on citizenship learning take? David Kerr pointed to what he thought were some of the current issues and directions for citizenship education research in the UK. These included the impact of the recession on citizenship learning and practice, the approach schools were taking to citizenship education given the increasing number of free schools, and the citizenship learning experiences of young people through their transition years.

Helen Haste more broadly drew on both perspectives from the US and the UK.  She reminded us of the importance of context in terms of understanding young people’s political participation and pointed to the “Obama effect” in the US. She also called for a definition of civic engagement which realistically reflected what young people want to do and suggested that future research challenge the traditional left-right political scale, which she argued boxes issues into supposed and oversimplified ideologies. Drawing on the work of Soviet psychologist Vygotsky she introduced her triangular systemic model which encourages researchers to focus on the overlap between individual’s sense making, interpersonal dialogue, and social and cultural narratives.

The themes of the Holloway workshops inform my own research on youth active citizenship learning in the UK. One question I am keen to respond to is how austerity will impinge on this type of learning.  In the next few months I will be interviewing young people from across Southampton on their citizenship learning and how the shrinkage of their youth services has affected them. I am looking forward to hearing what they have to say.

Their campaign can be followed at: