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Society, Politics & Law

OpenLearn Live: 24th June 2016

Updated Friday 24th June 2016

Businesses, experts and academics react to the Leave vote. Plus, an election where nobody turned out to vote. Free learning from across the day.

OpenLearn Live brings free learning to life by connecting it to your world. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we wondered about the ethical lives of ethicists, asked how Britain became an island, and found our how Nietzsche did at school

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Referendum reaction: A short reading list III

To round off what's been a historic day, a final collection of items tracking reaction to the result.

What will the vote mean for your personal finances? The OU's Jonquil Lowe considers:

There is inevitably going to be a period of uncertainty and turmoil. As the referendum result emerged, the pound fell [External link]   10% against the US dollar on the foreign exchange markets and 7% against the Euro. If this persists, things the UK imports, such as oil (affecting domestic fuel prices and petrol), foreign cars, coffee, bananas and clothing, will cost more. Overall, then, the general price level may rise meaning that your income will not stretch quite so far.

If you’re holidaying abroad over the coming months and haven’t bought your currency yet, the weaker pound means you’ll also now pay more.

As a companion piece to reactions from UK academics, The Conversation has polled university figures from around the world:

The good news is that Australia might get a flood of applications from talented prospective citizens. The bad news is that Britain will be a diminished international force with limited capacity to play the sort of role some conservative commentators in this country fondly imagine. It is hardly a coincidence that those in Australia who want the country to become a republic have a renewed spring in their step as they consider political folly on an epic scale.

Pitchfork is alarmed at the prospects for the European music industry following Brexit, in a piece written before the result was declared:

If Britain leaves the EU, we could find ourselves excluded from having free movement across much of Europe’s mainland. That could have two expensive, complex implications for touring bands: individual visas to enter each EU country, and the introduction of the carnet, a document detailing every single piece of equipment on deck, to prevent the import or export of products without paying VAT. It costs between £1000—£2000 (approximately $1400—$2900), and lasts just 12 months.

“We’re talking total chaos, not to mention hours of time wasted, and a serious knock-on effect to the scheduling of back-to-back tour dates,” says Bryony October, who works in live sound and tour production management. And that is if bands can get the necessary visas in the first place: “If we end up with the situation where UK artists need a Schengen visa to perform in the EU, it will be hugely detrimental to developing artists as Schengen rules require proof of funds, either in the form of travelers checks, or bank history,” says booking agent Isla Angus. “If promoters also need to be visa sponsors they could be far less willing to take a risk on artists.”

The Independent's Samuel Stephens considers how the vote might impact the business of football in the UK:

Freedom of movement, a principle central to the European project, has allowed sportsmen and women to earn a living in the UK without the need for a complicated work permit process. 

Non-EU citizens, on the other hand, usually have to meet Home Office registration criteria. Football players in particular have to play a specific number of matches for their national sides in order to qualify for a move to the Premier League.

Anthony Martial, the £38m Manchester United striker, or N’Golo Kante, the midfield sensation at champions Leicester City, would almost certainly have been refused entry if not for EU-specific regulations.

Of course, the British government may decide to replicate these criteria in future and indeed expand its canvas beyond EU countries. If not, however, British clubs will be forced to pursue established internationals, increasing already astronomical transfer fees as European clubs take advantage of the situation.


Muscles and memory

For a small break in the politics, a quick look at a new piece of research which suggests that - perhaps - excercising your body may help keep your mind active. When you're working out, your muscles are creating a protein and, the team at the US Institute of Aging think that protein may help build new cells in your brain:

Experiments showed that blood levels of cathepsin B rose in mice that spent a lot of time on their exercise wheels. What’s more, as levels of the protein rose, the mice did better on a memory test in which they had to swim to a platform hidden just beneath the surface of a small pool.

The team also found evidence that, in mice, cathepsin B was causing the growth of new cells and connections in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is central to memory.

Similar experiments with humans (using treadmills rather than exercise wheels) appear to support the findings.

Read more about the research at KQED science

Try our free course exercise and mental health


Referendum reaction: A short reading list II

Earlier on we had some early responses from elsewhere in the HE sector to the referendum result - The Open University has now published an initial response from Vice Chancellor Peter Horrocks:

Such a convulsive national event will take the university and our own lives into unknown territory. I believe this is a time when universities, their capacity for thinking and their values will be required more than ever. At a time when many voters are expressing their anger at their economic and social lot, what this university stands for and what it can do for individuals and society is deeply needed.

“Our values are to be inclusive, innovative and responsive. By holding true to those values and calmly thinking our way through this unprecedented situation we can hold steady and play our part.

Writing on the OpenDemocracy website, Adam Ramsay suggests Scotland could remain in the EU as a "reverse Greenland":

The Danish Realm, you see, is made up of three countries: Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Of these only one, Denmark, is an EU member. The other two are part of Denmark, but not the EU. There is, therefore, a precedent for different countries within the same state to have varying relationships with the EU.

Of course, that situation is different. Denmark is by far the biggest part of its Union. Scotland (and Northern Ireland) staying without England and Wales would be unique in Europe. Representation at the Council of Ministers would presumably come from the Scottish Government (and perhaps the Northern Irish Executive). If the UK left the common market entirely, then it would be harder: Scotland couldn’t really be in both unions in that context.

Jeremy Gilbert - also at OpenDemocracy - is cheered that the result shows people do care about democracy:

The vote is not just a vote against austerity and it is not just a vote for xenophobia.

It is also a desperate vote against a situation in which the mechanisms of representative democracy have completely broken down. The policy agendas pursued by successive governments since the 1970s have not matched the express desires of voters, whether the issue was immigration or the privatisation of public services. The EU is an obvious and perfectly appropriate target for anger at this situation, being a classic example of a 'post-democratic' institution (as we saw when they imposed an agenda with no legitimacy on the people of Greece). It is no accident that the people of Scotland, where radical devolution has given them a much more potent sense of democratic accountability and collective autonomy, have voted a completely different way. `

The Economist worries, as you might expect, about the impact on the global economy:

The Bank of England said this morning: “We are well prepared for this.” It may cut its main interest rate from its present level, of 0.5%. It may even revive its quantitative-easing programme, buying bonds with freshly minted electronic money. A recession in Britain nevertheless seems likely. Corporate investment will be hurt by uncertainty about future access to both the single market and to other places where Britain has piggybacked on trade deals negotiated by the EU. In unsettled times, businesses defer whatever spending they can.

The same is true for consumers. The majority who voted to leave the EU may think that forecasts of recession in the event of a Brexit vote were a tactic to scare voters. If so, they are unlikely to curb their spending overnight. But as the bleak consequences for the economy become clearer, spending on big-ticket items is likely to slump. The collapsing pound will drive up inflation up, crimping real incomes. Some jobs will go. Hours worked and wage growth will fall. And Britain is big enough for a recession there to have a meaningful effect on Europe’s economy. As a rule of thumb, whatever the reduction in Britain’s GDP growth, Europe’s economy will suffer a drop of about half as much.

The EU has helped shape much of the UK's employment law over  the last four decades. HR Magazine's Bek Frith considers what Brexit means for employers - and employees:

It isn't yet clear what the decision means for EU nationals working in the UK, but managing director of Migrate UK Jonathan Beech warned that the referendum decision for the UK to leave the EU could see the introduction of costly policies for organisations that employ EU workers.

“Thousands of EU migrants, currently in UK company roles, will potentially have to exit in the future if they fail to qualify under the current Points Based System that we use for workers outside the EU,” he said.

"Unless there are transitional arrangements in place from the government, which is not clear at this stage, current EU workers in the UK will now need to fall under UK immigration rules and the UK's Points Based System. This system is geared towards attracting skilled migrants only, with migrants requiring a certain level of English language."

He added: "As with non-EU workers, hiring EU workers will now become a very selective process, depending on the technicality and seniority of the vacancy, the rate of pay and whether there are any settled UK workers available to fill the role."

One job vacancy on many people's minds is that of Leader Of The Conservative Party. In The Conversation, Phillip Catney weighs the chances of Boris Johnson filling Cameron's shoes:

With Number 10 now at stake, Johnson is pivoting. It’s a move familiar to US presidential candidates, who play to their party’s core support during primaries and then adopt a more conciliatory tone in the general election for the presidency.

In order to appeal to middle ground voters, politicians who harbour leadership ambitions need to demonstrate that they are not extreme or extremely silly. Johnson has become a celebrity on the back of his persona but now has to persuade the Conservative electoral college that he is a sensible choice for prime minister.

Johnson spoke of how “sad” he was that Cameron had decided to step down, praising him for delivering the first Conservative majority government Britain has seen for decades.

And if you were thinking you might reach for a bottle of something nice to cope with all this uncertainty, there's bad news from TheDrinksBusiness.com:

Jay Wright, CEO of Virgin Wines, has also predicted that the price of wine is “likely” to rise, stating this morning that the “EU won’t feel as strong without the UK”.

Both the WSTA and Scotch Whisky Association had also campaigned in support of remaining inside the European Union. Following a survey of the WSTA’s 300 members, 90% said they wanted to remain in the EU, with just 2% backing ‘Brexit’ and 8%, at that time, undecided.

The Scotch Whisky Association’ (SWA) David Frost meanwhile said that leaving the EU could put the industry’s £1 billion pounds worth of exports and the 40,000 jobs that it supports at risk, stating that British producers were likely to face bureaucratic barriers when trading with Europe if they left the union.

This morning, Frost reacted with determination stating that there were now “serious issues to resolve” but that “all must now get behind the government as it faces the challenges, and the opportunities, this decision brings”.

Similarly, Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, had raised concerns about a Brexit prior to this morning’s result, previously stating that it could stunt the growth of the UK’s burgeoning gin industry.

This morning Beale said the WSTA would do “everything it can to ensure that the UK’s wine and spirit industry has a powerful voice”, within the European and international market.


How do the Tories elect a new leader?

With David Cameron stepping into history before the autumn, the Conservative Party will now be arranging the election of a new leader (and, as the largest party, a new Prime Minister).

The procedure for this is as follows:

  • The 1922 Committee chair, Tom Brady, arranges the process and sets the timing
  • To be a candidate, a sitting Tory MP needs two other party MPs to nominate them
  • If only one MP comes forward, they are elected unopposed
  • If two come forward, there is a simple first-past-the-post vote taken by post amongst registered Tory members
  • If there are more than two candidates, MPs are invited to vote in a two-round system; the first round sees the least supported candidate knocked out while the second is a simple first-past-the-post race to select the two most popular candidates
  • These two names are then submitted to the wider party membership for a postal vote

David Cameron has stepped down through choice. But how do you get rid of a PM who just won't go quietly? Watch our short video Sacking Prime Ministers


Referendum reaction: A short reading list

Let's start, in case you've missed the news so far, with the facts of the story so far, from BBC News:

Prime Minister David Cameron is to step down by October after the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, he said he would attempt to "steady the ship" over the coming weeks and months but that "fresh leadership" was needed.

The PM had urged the country to vote Remain but was defeated by 52% to 48% despite London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backing staying in.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed it as the UK's "independence day".

The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results.

The full statement from David Cameron is available through the UK government website. An extract:

Across the world people have been watching the choice that Britain has made. I would reassure those markets and investors that Britain’s economy is fundamentally strong.

And I would also reassure Brits living in European countries, and European citizens living here, that there will be no immediate changes in your circumstances. There will be no initial change in the way our people can travel, in the way our goods can move or the way our services can be sold.

We must now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union. This will need to involve the full engagement of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments to ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced.

But above all this will require strong, determined and committed leadership.

I am very proud and very honoured to have been Prime Minister of this country for 6 years.

I believe we have made great steps, with more people in work than ever before in our history, with reforms to welfare and education, increasing people’s life chances, building a bigger and stronger society, keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world, and enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality.

But above all restoring Britain’s economic strength, and I am grateful to everyone who has helped to make that happen.

I have also always believed that we have to confront big decisions – not duck them.

That’s why we delivered the first coalition government in 70 years to bring our economy back from the brink. It’s why we delivered a fair, legal and decisive referendum in Scotland. And why I made the pledge to renegotiate Britain’s position in the European Union and hold a referendum on our membership, and have carried those things out.

I fought this campaign in the only way I know how – which is to say directly and passionately what I think and feel – head, heart and soul.

I held nothing back.

I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union, and I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone – not the future of any single politician, including myself.

But the British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path, and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.

I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination

The Conversation polled a number of academics for their instant reaction.

Andrew Scott Crines was scathing:

At this point, British Politics is a mess. But, at the end of the day, the people voted for this. They believed the arguments of the Brexiters. Now it is up to the Leavers to provide the answers to the problems they have created.

But Bill Durodie was more positive:

This is a triumph for British freedom and self-determination. The decision comes despite most predictions and the use of a politics of fear over more than 20 years on issues from health and the environment to child safety and international security.

The European Union as it was came into existence when the Cold War ended. Leaders the world over feared the uncertain consequences of the demise of the old politics of left and right. Avoiding risk rapidly became their new organising framework in a period devoid of other guiding principles. Their foremost – though rarely stated – fear was always that of their own people.

The University of Sheffield has issued a cautious statement:

"Naturally, a vote to leave the EU raises many important questions that require urgent answers - for universities, staff, students, prospective students, our research partners and other stakeholders. We will be working closely with other universities across the UK to seek answers to these questions as quickly and completely as possible.

"However, we should remember that leaving the EU will not happen overnight. The Lisbon Treaty foresees a two year negotiation process between the UK and other Member States, during which time the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union will be decided. For this reason there will not be any immediate material change to the immigration status of current and prospective EU students and staff or to the UK university sector’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.

The HE sector body Universities UK has also reacted:

Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK said:

'Leaving the EU will create significant challenges for universities. Although this is not an outcome that we wished or campaigned for, we respect the decision of the UK electorate. We should remember that leaving the EU will not happen overnight – there will be a gradual exit process with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy.

'Throughout the transition period our focus will be on securing support that allows our universities to continue to be global in their outlook, internationally networked and an attractive destination for talented people from across Europe. These features are central to ensuring that British universities continue to be the best in the world. 

'Our first priority will be to convince the UK Government to take steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities in the long term, and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds. They make a powerful contribution to university research and teaching and have a positive impact on the British economy and society. We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.


Referendum reaction: What happens now?

Yesterday, the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union. If you're wondering what happens next, Christopher Grey outlined some likely scenarios:

One possibility is direct single market access via European Economic Area (EEA) membership (the so-called Norway option) as advocated by, for example, the Tory eurosceptic Owen Paterson .

However, it doesn’t appear that this would deliver what many Brexiters say they want: not in terms of sovereignty (Norway has almost no control over the single market rules it must abide by); cost (Norway pays about the same per head)  ;immigration (there is still free movement of labour  in and out of the EEA) or the ability to negotiate third-party free-trade agreements, which it does via the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). 

A second scenario is single-market access via EFTA membership by multiple bilateral agreements (the so-called Swiss option), as sometimes argued by UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell . A Brexit on this model would have to negotiate multiple separate agreements (Switzerland has more than 120 which have developed over many years) over an unknown timescale with unknown outcomes.

As with Norway, Switzerland is in large part bound by EU law and regulation. So far as immigration is concerned, the EU Commission is in ongoing dispute with the Swiss approach to free movement of labour and it is simply inconceivable that a UK opt-out on free movement would be granted alongside EFTA membership any more than, as Brexiters rightly say, it could be re-negotiated within the framework of EU membership.

The third scenario is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, which is apparently the current UKIP position. It is absolutely crucial to understand that an FTA is not the same as single-market membership . In general, FTAs eliminate tariffs, whereas a single market eliminates non-tariff barriers to trade and harmonises regulation.

Read the full article What actually happens?


Between you, me and the ballot box: The zero turnout

As we make sense of the result from yesterday, we're rounding off a week which has looked at some curiousities from the democratic system around the world. In case you've missed any, so far we've featured:

We're rounding off the week with an election that had more pariticpants than voters.

Chaves County Courthouse, New Mexico Creative commons image Icon Kent Kanouse under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license Chaves County Court building

The idea of a zero turnout - nobody showing up to cast a vote - is one that stalks people who value democracy. Can you really have a system where people don't show up to vote?

It's not unusual for people to not turn up at specific voting stations - during 2012's  Police & Crime Commissioners election, one station in Newport, Gwent had no visitors at all. And invitations for expatriates to partake in elections in their home countries can sometimes fall flat - the booth in the Phillipines embassy in Chile saw a zero turnout for this year's Presidential election; the Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt lamented that more than one embassy saw nobody turn up to cast a ballot in the 2015 House of Representatives poll.

However, at least those elections all had some voters show up somewhere.

That wasn't the case when the small New Mexico town of Hagerman attempted to fill spaces on its school board last year. There were three slots available; there were three candidates. The rules, though, insisted that even unopposed candidates had to be accepted by the public, and so each had to ensure they received the support of at least one elector.

Nobody turned up to vote. (Some of the blame for this seems to be down to confusion over when and where to vote more than apathy.)

This left the municipality with a problem - the zero turnout meant that nobody could be declared to have won a seat, even though logically they didn't have to compete to win. 

The solution? Fortunately, there was a workaround - the candidates couldn't be deemed to have won a place, but the rules allowed appointees to be co-opted to the board in the event of vacant seats. So it was that the three candidates, having failed to win their searts through a democratic process, still got to take their roles thanks to the power of patronage. Which is what you might expect to have happened without the need for an election anyway...

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