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OpenLearn Live: 29th June 2016

Updated Wednesday, 29th June 2016

The journalist who investigated his party's popularity and promptly closed it down, and a Brexit round-up. Free learning from across the day.

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Brexit: A short reading & viewing list

(A sequel to the previous collection)

A lot of the future direction of Brexit hangs on when Article 50 is invoked. What is this all-important Article 50? The Guardian has produced a quick bluffers' guide:


Could the UK be bounced into leaving faster than the government wishes? The Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford's well-known University of Oxford sought legal opinion. It seems clear only Her Majesty's Government can set the process running:

The referendum established clearly that majority of the electorate wish the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The outcome of the referendum is of great democratic and political significance but, in giving effect to this outcome, it is important to note that it has no formal, legal status in relation to Article 50. The Referendum Act 2015 concerns the mechanics of a referendum and does not displace the ordinary position in United Kingdom law, namely that international acts such as entering, revoking or amending the terms of an international agreement are matters to be determined by the elected government. It follows that the referendum result is not sufficient to amount, in law, to notice under Article 50.

The giving of notice under Article 50 is a matter for the United Kingdom government, and can only be done by an unequivocal formal act of notification to the Council of Ministers. 

How far was the Brexit vote part of a robot uprising? The Oxford (them again) Computational Propaganda project had been exploring tweets using #brexit in the run-up to the vote last Thursday. The Washington Post has looked at the findings:

They found that, of the almost 314,000 accounts that tweeted about the vote, pro or con, in the week of June 5 to 12, 15 percent were heavily or entirely automated. While pro-E.U. tweets saw a higher rate of automation than pro-Brexit tweets did, the two most prolific accounts on both sides of the debate are believed to be entirely automated.

Did anyone actually base her Brexit vote off the RTs of some Twitter hashtag drone? And did the surge of robotic signatures prompt more people to sign the referendum-redo petition? We don’t know the answers to either of those questions.

Still, these revelations come at a time when political influence bots are becoming both more sophisticated and more prevalent, raising questions about how they could impact things like, say, the approaching presidential election in the United States.

(It's worth mentioning that the 'higher rate' of pro-EU tweets could be down to the choice of hashtags the researchers tracked. You can read the team's preliminary findings online.)

The University of Bath's Charlie Lees looks at the future for the Labour Party following the post-referendum resignations of most of the Shadow Cabinet. Writing before last night's no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn, he suggests the party is heading for a shattering:

If Corbyn is removed there is a chance that the Labour party might eventually recover as an electoral force, although it will have to find a political narrative that can regain lost ground from its competitors. To have any chance of beating Corbyn, however, MPs will have to unite around a single candidate rather than split the anti-Corbyn vote, as happened last year. Someone from the party’s soft left such as Angela Eagle or Owen Smith would fit the bill.

If, as is quite likely, Corbyn or someone else from Labour’s hard left emerges as the winner then the Labour Party as we know it will be broken. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, as the tectonic plates of electoral support shift.

With things moving so quickly, it's easy to forget there was a vote which sent us into a spin less than seven days ago. What do we know about what persuaded people to vote one way or another? Kings College hosts a unit UK and EU, who have been tracking Britons' attitudes towards the EU for a while now. Dr Craig Berry offers his perspective on the role austerity played in why the UK opted to go:

austerity allowed europhobes within the Conservative Party to seize the initiative. It validated their main gripe against the EU – that is, that it represents a meddlesome, continental-style approach to governing the market economy.

But for all the fantastical talk of “taking back control,” the victory for the Leave campaign has empowered those opposed to the very idea that citizens may act collectively and democratically via the state to shape the economy.

Many working-class voters trusted them because their trust in the ideals of government have been eroded by decades of being told that government cannot help them – an attitude which the Remain campaign did not challenge. People were not voting against immigration, so much as they were voting against the idea that government can do anything about it.

Brexit is an amplified, hubristic version of austerity, insofar as it further weakens the role and idea of government. For many on the left, this is understandably the cause of much despair.

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It's my party: Peter R De Vries

This week, as we're living through an interesting period for leadership, we're focusing on some people who led political parties for brief periods. Yesterday, we heard how Theordore Roosevelt set up a whole new party in the middle of a GOP primary. Today, we're going to look at someone for whom a political party was a less obvious endeavour.

Peter R De Vries Creative commons image Icon Beeld en Geluid Wiki under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license Peter R De Vries

This is Peter R De Vries, a Dutch investigative journalist. If you've spent any time in the Netherlands in the last couple of decades, you'll be wondering why we'd need to tell you that, as Peter is quite a big deal. He's not a 'chasing down the street behind a dodgy builder yelling "why did you do it"?' type of investigative journalist; he takes on higher-profile cases - kidnappings, police corruption and even having a go at solving the assasination of John F Kennedy. (The CIA, he concluded, did it.)

In 2005, though, he decided to turn his attention to politics. He created a party - The Justice, Decisiveness and Progress Party. In Dutch, this is Partij voor Rechtvaardigheid, Daadkracht en Vooruitgang, which means that his party shared his initials. As you'd expect with a man of his background, part of the motivation was to play a part in cleaning up politics in the nation; but there was, as reported, more to the party than that:

The party will make an announcement at a later date about its election policies.

However, it was reported by newspaper 'De Telegraaf' on Friday that the PRDV plans to implement a social services work obligation to ensure that youths build up work experience and learn to contribute to society.

The party is also devising a plan to drastically reduce traffic jams.

Alas, the opportunity to improve traffic flows down the Gordelweg in Rotterdam never came. In December 2015, an opinion poll was commissioned to discover if the electorate thought it worth his while continuing with the party. De Vries set a target of 41%; only 31.4% indicated they considered the party a positive boon to the Dutch political scence, and so the PRDV folded without having fought a single parliamentary seat.

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