An Article a Day: 5 June 2017

by Maha Rafi Atal

​As the UK heads into Thursday’s general election, here’s what we’ve been reading at ITLR headquarters:

1. Britain’s tabloid press has always played a major role in its politics, but this is especially true of the relationship with Europe. Press criticism of the European Union in general and in particular of migration from EU countries substantially kept the issue of Europe alive over the four decades from the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community to the Brexit vote last year. Since then, the press push for a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ has helped to frame the debate running into Thursday’s vote, with the Prime Minister’s commitment to take ‘no deal’ over a ‘bad deal’ one of her more popular positions. In the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan reviews a new history of the Daily Mail as the paper that ‘divided and conquered Britain.’ It’s worth a read, especially for the moment where O’Hagan compares Mail editor Paul Dacre to characters out of a Trollope novel, though a warning that there’s some salty language along the way.

2. In the New Statesman, Christopher Caldwell has a long essay on the work of French geographer and sociologist Christophe Guilluy. Guilluy studies housing, and has become particularly fascinated by the intersections of race and class in the public housing complexes of French cities. He argues that France is become an ‘American’ society, by which he mean that it is becoming more unequal, more capitalist, and more ethnically diverse. The central, and controversial, claim in Guilluy’s work is that these two developments are linked, that ethnic diversity brought about by migration from France’s former colonies in North Africa, and its impact on the labour market and public services, has been a driving force in the country’s shift to a more unequal society. France is now divided geographically between affluent centres well-connected to the global economy, and peripheries that are left behind. Caldwell is a conservative editor at the right-leaning American magazine Weekly Standard, while Guilluy first came to fame as a writer for the far-left French magazine Liberation, and the essay is a window into growing disquiet at the impact of globalisation that cuts across traditional partisan lines, not only in France but across the developed West. Indeed, here at In The Long Run, Matt Mahmoudi recently noted that the famed Danish welfare state ‘works’ in part because Denmark is overwhelmingly white, and that the country’s minority populations are often excluded from the institutions that make Denmark ‘the happiest place on earth.’

3. Nine months after Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was removed for office over allegations of corruption, the scandal surrounding bribes and money laundering in the state-owned oil company Petrobras threatens to take down her success Michael Temer and several senior officials in his government. Increasingly, Rousseff looks to have taken the fall for a much wider and deeper network of bribery. Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash, as the case is popularly known in Brazil, raises fundamental questions about the strength and future of Brazil’s democracy. In The Guardian, Jonathan Watts offers a detailed history of the case and its implications that is particularly notable for highlighting the tremendous power of oil interests in Brazilian politics, and the way that Petrobras’ role in the economic boom that placed Brazil on the global geopolitical map led it to successfully capture the Brazilian elite:

Petrobras was no ordinary company. As well as having the highest market valuation (and the largest debts) of any corporation in Latin America, it was a flagship for an emerging economy that was trying to tap the biggest oil discovery of the 21st century – huge new oil fields in deep waters off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Petrobras accounted for more than an eighth of all investments in Brazil, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction firms, shipyards and refineries, and forming business ties with international suppliers including Rolls-Royce and Samsung Heavy Industries. Petrobras was also at the centre of Brazil’s politics. During the 2003-2010 presidency of the Workers’ Party leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), executive posts in Petrobras were offered to Lula’s political allies, to help build support in Congress. Petrobras’s commercial and strategic importance was such that the US National Security Agency made it a target for surveillance. As the Car Wash investigation was to prove, if you could unravel the secrets of this company, you would unravel the secrets of the state.

4. Perhaps surprisingly given the looming Brexit negotiations, this UK election is being fought almost exclusively on ‘kitchen table’ issues of public services like education, health and social care, and the taxes that pay for them. Over at Information is Beautiful, David McCandless and Stephanie Smith have a fascinating graphical representation of the UK government’s sources of revenue and how it gets spent. The chart labels revenue as ‘incomes’ and spending as ‘outcomes,’ a reminder that ultimately what matters to most voters is whether they approve of the programmes being funded, and the impact they have, rather than just the sums being spent.

5. As a blog based at a university, we’d be remiss if we ignored the role of young voters in this election. Much of the chatter about young voters has up to know focused on students, and whether the timing of vote around exams and the start of summer holidays will affect turnout. Over at BuzzFeed, however, James Ball and Tom Phillips looked at what young voters actually want from this election, and tuition fees - the major ‘student’ issue - isn’t near the top, coming behind both the NHS and the availability of apprenticeships as a priority. That is a reminder that it’s dangerous to conflate ‘young people’ with ‘students’ when university students represent a small and privileged subset of voters under 25.

Happy election week!

About the Author

Maha Rafi Atal

Maha Rafi Atal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Senior Editor of In The Long Run.