How to Transcend Fear

By Katie Brown and Dr Benedict Wilkinson

In George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien, the thought police agent, argues that power is best asserted through fear and suffering. The Ingsoc, he explains, has created the ‘exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined’; it is a world which relies on ‘fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon’. ‘The old civilizations’, he concludes, ‘claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy’.

For O’Brien and his dystopian political agenda, fear and pain are the key weapons deployed to stifle change, ensure the continuation of the status quo and safeguard the continued survival of a shadowy, if powerful, political elite. In a recent lecture series, Professor Dominique Moïsi, picked up on this theme of fear as a tool of political control, moving from totalitarian regimes to the democratic West. While dictators have long sought to bolster their power by playing on the fears of insecurity of their populations, for Moïsi, this is precisely the strategy employed by populist parties, who, in the pursuit of power, simultaneously feed the fears of their citizens and promise to solve these fears. However, Moisi asserts, this is just one example of the myriad ways in which fear is at the heart of contemporary politics.

The same politics of fear are visible on the broader stage of international relations. For Moïsi, Asia is defined by the ‘culture of hope’, thanks to economic success and ever-increasing power; the Arab and Muslim worlds share the ‘culture of humiliation’; and ‘the West’, meaning the US and Europe, is united by ‘the culture of fear’.

Moïsi explains that the West is currently plagued by many different types of fear: fear of imminent danger from terrorism; fear of ‘the Other’, brought closer to home through immigration; anxiety about being left behind economically and politically, about loss of control over our own countries in an increasingly interconnected world, about global issues like climate change. In short, ‘fear, the dominant emotion of the West is above all a reaction to the events and feelings taking place elsewhere.

Moïsi concludes with a reflection on how to transcend fear, offering three main claims. Firstly, ‘transcending fear means accepting the inevitability of change’. Moïsi observes that while war has decreased, democracies have increased, and life expectancy has improved dramatically, we still concentrate on the destabilising nature of change. As such, in order to transcend fear, both an acceptance of the inevitability of change and increased education about the nature of change are essential. Moreover, as ‘ignorance is the best tool of intolerance’, Moïsi maintains that cultural knowledge, that is ‘the ability to grasp the cultures of others and to respect them’ is crucial. Consequently, ‘transcending fear means better leadership’. Moïsi argues that ‘leadership has gone wrong’ in the democratic world, and that our leaders must now realise the limits of their power.  He condemns ‘populist demagogy’ for encouraging and producing fear in order to win votes, and for offering scapegoats as ‘simple answers to complex questions’. Instead, he contends, we need ‘enlightened pedagogy’: that is, leaders have a responsibility to explain the complex world in such a way that does not allow for fear.

Ipsos MORI/King’s College debate on Scottish independence

By Christopher Mclean, Ipsos MORI Scotland

On 4 March 2014, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI ran a joint debate examining how public opinion is shifting in Scotland and the rest of the UK, as well as the wider implications of a yes or no vote.

“Our promise of a bare knuckle fight between Jim Murphy and Stewart Hosie has drawn the crowds” began Mandy Rhodes, editor of Holyrood Magazine and our chair for the evening, as she introduced our recent event on the Scottish independence referendum to an audience of around 200.

After the introductions had been made, Mark Diffley, Director at Ipsos MORI Scotland, began by providing an overview of historical and recent polling on support for independence, highlighting the challenge facing the ‘Yes’ camp by showing  that our polls had never found a majority in support for independence. However, despite support for a ‘Yes’ vote remaining stubbornly around a third of voters, Mark pointed that up to 45% of voters were still ‘up for grabs’, suggesting that the vote is far from a foregone conclusion.

He also presented some new data which had been released on the morning of the event, and which illustrated the close relationship among Scots’ voters between voting intention in the referendum and feelings of positivity and negativity about the impact of a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ victory in September. The data also showed that a large proportion of voters in England and Wales did not have strong feelings about the outcome of the referendum though, among those who do, there is a preference for Scotland remaining as part of the union.

Mark then handed over to Stewart Hosie, SNP MP for Dundee East, who set out to dispel what he described as the myths about Scotland and its economy. These included assertions that Scotland was a net contributor to the UK public purse, that the Scottish economy was not solely reliant on the oil and gas sector and that Scotland was not over-reliant on the public sector for employment. He ended by posing the question: ‘why would anyone not want independence?’

Jim Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire, attributed the high number of undecided voters to the expected turnout and the scale of the decision and that it was up to those campaigning for a ‘No’ vote to win the argument, not just the referendum, in order to lay the issue of independence to rest. He went on to say that winning the argument lay in convincing voters that Scotland enjoys the best of both worlds with a strong Scottish Parliament within the UK.

After the politicians were finished, Dr Andrew Blick discussed the constitutional implications of the referendum with particular focus on the turnout and the margin of victory. In his speech, Dr Blick posed some tantalising questions, such as; is it better to have a narrow victory on a high turnout or a decisive victory on a low turnout? In drawing comparisons with the 1975 EEC referendum, he asked whether referendums are ever the final say on an issue before pointing out that the pro-independence camp have an in-built long-term advantage in that they only have to win once.

Our final speaker was the Telegraph’s Sue Cameron who, after asserting her families credentials as advisors to Bonny Prince Charlie, argued that a ‘Yes’ vote would leave Whitehall in turmoil as the UK Government dealt with the subsequent negotiations that would take place. She also argued that a ‘No’ vote could potentially create more interesting and more painful upheaval for the UK as it comes to terms with the implications of further devolution.

Will the Centre Hold?

By Professor Anand Menon and Dr Benedict Wilkinson

The European Union, it seems, is never far from the headlines these days. Chancellor Merkel’s visit to the UK last week provoked another round of fevered speculation as to what concessions, if any, David Cameron might be able to extract from his European partners in his quest for a renegotiation of the UK’s EU settlement. Nigel Farage, for his part, observed caustically at UKIP’s Spring Conference that ‘fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union… is not obtainable. [It] is a con’. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have launched an unashamedly pro-European campaign for the forthcoming European Parliament elections, while the Labour Party seem happy to sit this one out, refusing to commit to a referendum on EU membership while criticising the Conservatives for their ‘euro obsession’.

What, then, will the election reveal about the state of UK public opinion on the EU?  Will UKIP benefit from its hostility to membership and cause a political earthquake by receiving the largest number of votes? Are the Conservatives set to finish third in a national election under universal suffrage for the first time? What, more broadly, will be the implications of the outcome?

Polls provide at least some answers to these questions. At a “Europe in Crisis” project event run by King’s Policy Institute last week, Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, argued that ‘if the elections were held tomorrow, UKIP would overtake the Conservatives’. UKIP, he pointed out, has improved its performance in successive European elections, moving from 4th in 1992, to 3rd with 16.1% of the vote in 2004, to 2nd with 16.5% of the vote in 2009. The numbers, he observed, speak for themselves.

As to why the mainstream parties are unable to challenge UKIP’s narrative, Kellner had a striking argument. The crisis itself is not the main driver for the relative success of UKIP style populism. Rather, ‘Marx,’ he declared, ‘was right.’ The development of capitalism in recent decades mirrored Marxist predictions from the mid nineteenth century. The neoliberal turn of the 1980s unleashed a process of freeing markets. As a direct result, we saw a reversal of trends from the post-war period, with rising inequality, job insecurity, and a larger share of GDP going towards profits than labour. The real driver of the kind of populism that UKIP represents, then, is growing alienation – the sense that ‘life is not what it used to be’.

However, the implications for the mainstream political parties are, perhaps, not as dire as they may seem. Levels of awareness about the EU and its institutions are extremely low in the UK. As David Cowling, a Visiting Senior Research fellow at King’s Policy Institute pointed out, ‘Europe’ really does not matter to the overwhelming majority of British voters when it comes to voting patterns in general elections. Yet the political parties place disproportionate emphasis on the issue. Hence the consistent refusal of the Conservative Party to elect its most popular (and one of its most Europhile) MPs – Ken Clarke – as leader.

A strong anti-EU line has not, however, benefitted a political party in any of the ten General Elections held since UK accession. The Labour party was committed to UK exit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 2001, the Conservatives campaigned under the slogan of ‘a countdown to save the pound,’ but slumped to their worst defeat of the twentieth century. Europe, quite simply, ‘does not float the boat of the British public’. In the MORI issues index, which involves the spontaneous selection of the most important issue facing Britain by those surveyed, the EU comes out top for only 2 per cent of respondents.

Although Europe will probably not be a major issue for the 2015 general election, the European Parliament elections will, nonetheless, represent an opportunity to kick the political establishment. The election will also, across Europe, represent an opportunity for voters to register their declining levels of trust in the EU itself. This is hardly surprising given the Union’s perceived lack of democratic legitimacy, the austerity measures associated with Brussels and, in the minds of many, responsibility for significant rises of (in particular, youth) unemployment.

Graph depicting levels of trust in the European Union

The fact that polls indicate decreasing levels of trust in EU institutions, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, as Catherine de Vries, Professor in European Politics at the University of Oxford, argued at the same event. James Madison, she pointed out, argued not only that citizens do not need to trust their representatives, but also that scepticism is a sign of a functioning, healthy political system. In the case of the EU, data suggests not only that lack of trust in the EU is increasing, but also that there has been a gradual decline in the number of people who respond ‘don’t know’ when asked if they trust the EU. This suggests that public attitudes are crystallising and that Europeans are becoming increasingly engaged with debates on the EU.

The picture is thus mixed. In the UK, whilst the EU itself still fails to provoke much in the way of popular interest, the elections represent an opportunity for the electorate to punish the political mainstream. Across the continent as a whole, whilst such motives will certainly not be absent, voters will also be registering their genuine unease at the actions of the EU and their impact.