Student-led Refugee Organisation in Leeds

This guest post was written by one of our undergraduate students, Tim Spinks:

At the beginning of last semester, Aden ‘Garad’ Mohammed and I (both students in PIR) decided to set up a charity to assist refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds. We wanted to improve the support network available to displaced communities, whilst simultaneously breaking down the social barriers that exist between them. With Aden himself coming from a refugee background, we realised that many of the problems displaced peoples face in their day-to-day lives are often overlooked, and with a little drive and determination the support network available to them could be improved. The charity we created is called Action Interactive International and our mission statement is to “Bring dignity to the displaced and the disempowered through inclusivity, interaction and the inspiration of hope”.

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Since forming the organisation, Aden and I have been in regular meetings with local community and charity figureheads, developing an extensive network and receiving lots of advice and support along the way. For our first event ‘Football 4 All’ which was held last month, we wanted to bring different migrant and host communities together through the medium of sports. We held a 5 a side football tournament and cultural event in Harehills, that was designed to promote unity in the community, showcase Sub-Saharan culture and allow people to show off their skills on the pitch!

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Through our network, we were able to get teams from the Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean communities, whilst one of our volunteers called Darcy managed to get a team from the University of Leeds – it was an amazing mix of people. Some friends from the international society and I cooked huge amounts of vegetable Biryani, jollof rice, plantain and roasted jerk sweet potato and butternut squash; whilst Aden made lots of samosas. No one went hungry. We also had a sound system there that was playing East African and Swahili music throughout the tournament, with the Somalis teaching everyone their signature dance – the Dhaanto – in between games. Some of our friends from an NGO called ‘No Going Back’ organised a clothes giveaway for the event, whilst a publication called ‘Without Borders’ gave away free magazines containing lots of useful information to help migrants who have just arrived in Leeds. There was also a camera crew there capturing all the action.

 

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The tournament was a fantastic success and we had around 60 people turn up, with a solid team of volunteers too. Everyone enjoyed the event and the football tournament got really intense towards the closing stages, with the Somali A team fending off a spirited Sudanese comeback in the final to win 4-2.
 
Aden and I would like to thank everyone who helped us organise ‘Football 4 All’, particularly Ryan Frankland from the SU, and all the players and spectators who made the day so memorable. We are looking forward to putting on similar events in the future. In the meantime, we will be working with various groups from the university and the wider community, to build projects and initiatives that can further support refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds. Over the next two years mine and Aden’s goal is to help make Leeds Beckett an official ‘University of Sanctuary’, with the long term dream of making Action Interactive International a transnational organisation based in East Africa.
 
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Annual Politics Lecture: A Better Politics by Danny Dorling

Posted by Paul Wetherly, Reader in Politics at Leeds Beckett University

It was a pleasure to welcome Professor Danny Dorling to the University to deliver this year’s Annual Politics Lecture on A Better Politics, the subject of his most recent and highly acclaimed book. Danny presented the lecture to a large and very appreciative audience in the Rose Bowl.

In the book, Danny sets out a conception of a better politics as ‘one that will enable future generations to be happier’, based on evidence of what matters most in affecting people’s happiness. He argues that ‘there are many policies that we could adopt if we really want to be collectively happier and healthier. We could have a government that makes our lives happier, if we win the argument for it.’

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In the lecture, from the wealth of analysis in the book Danny distilled the key finding that poor health is the most important factor in determining happiness. In other words the experience ill-health – your own or that of people who are close to you – and deaths of people who are close are the most important things that happen to people that adversely affect their happiness. Therefore among the many policies that could be adopted to enable us to be collectively happier, especially important are those concerning health and social care.

This insight about the importance of health was used in the lecture to help to understand the vote for Brexit and the election of Trump. Danny argued that health indicators at county level (obesity, diabetes, heavy drinking, physical exercise and life expectancy) provided the best correlation with the change in the Republican margin over the Democrats in the US election. Similarly, the antecedents of Brexit can be found in ‘the rapid decline in living standards after 2010, failing health and rapidly rising mortality due to austerity’. Basically, people voted Leave on the basis of their experience of things getting worse, and this deterioration is captured in measures of poor health and mortality.

These events were largely unpredicted, and Danny cautioned against making forecasts or predictions of political events given the inherent uncertainties. Nevertheless, looking ahead to the Presidential election in France, he said that he is ‘hopeful’ that this will not produce a victory for the Front National (with the likely consequence of a vote on ‘Frexit’) basically because France is different from the UK and US – specifically, it is less unequal and has better public services. Among a wealth of data charting the harmful consequences of inequality for societies, Danny showed a correlation between inequality (measured by the take of the top 1%) and voting for far Right parties.

Inequality is a political choice, and it is possible to make political choices that reduce inequality and increase happiness. Danny put forward a set of policy priorities and choices that could take us in this direction: taxing and spending on public services at a ‘normal European level’, reform of the housing market to protect tenants, working towards a universal basic income, abolishing benefit sanctions, student loans, electoral reform (PR), and reducing the income and wealth of the top 1%.

Looking ahead, but without making predictions, Danny remains optimistic. Things have got better in the past (eg after Suez) and when you are the most unequal country in Europe things can only get better.

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The Annual Politics Lecture is organised by the Politics & International Relations Group, School of Social Sciences

A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happier (London Publishing Partnership, 2016) by Danny Dorling is available to download here or, of course, in paperback in bookshops.

Danny Dorling is Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography and Fellow of St Peter’s College, University of Oxford. He was previously a professor of Geography at the University of Sheffield. He has also worked in Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds and New Zealand, went to university in Newcastle upon Tyne, and to school in Oxford. In 2015 he was a commissioner of the London Fairness Commission, which reported in 2016. Danny’s many books (some co-authored) include Injustice: Why Social Inequality Still Persists (Policy Press, 2015), Inequality and the 1% (Verso, 2014), The Social Atlas of Europe (with D. Ballas and B. D. Hennig; Policy Press, 2014), All That Is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster (Allen Lane, 2015), Population 10 Billion (Constable, 2013), So You Think You Know About Britain? (Constable, 2011), The Visualization of Social Spatial Structure (Wiley, 2012), Geography (with C. Lee; Profile, 2016) and People and Places: A 21st-Century Atlas of the UK (with B. Thomas; Policy Press, 2016).

 

From Putney to ICANN: Going global with the struggle for democracy

This guest blog post is by Dr Paul White, Lecturer in International Relations in the Politics and International Relations Group at Leeds Beckett University

In the first of the research seminar series for this academic year, I introduced a paper entitled “From Putney to ICANN: Going global with the struggle for democracy”. This paper makes the case that the struggle for democracy against powerful vested interests, which in previous centuries found expression at the nation-state level, can today be extended into the emerging political sphere of public-private global governance institutions.

In exploring this argument, I focused on the case study example presented by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  ICANN is a global public-private organisation that oversees, at top level, the Internet’s core IP addressing and domain name systems. ICANN is of considerable interest in discussions around the democratisation of global governance institutions because, in the past, it has experimented with a unique electoral system that allowed a proportion of its Board of Directors to be elected by the global Internet-using public. This electoral mechanism was scrapped in 2002, with the Board citing concerns over “…the fairness, representativeness, validity and affordability of global online elections among an easily captureable pool of self-selected and largely unverifiable voters” (ICANN 2002). However, the public voice theoretically remains a part of ICANN’s multistakeholder model. There are a number of channels for public input into ICANN, including a public comments facility as well as the ICANN At-Large organisation, which claims to represent Internet users through a structure of Regional At-Large Organisations underpinning an At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which provides policy advice to the Board.

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The veracity of the claim that ICANN policymaking involves meaningful public input was a key theme explored by my PhD research, upon which this paper is based. The PhD project used a predominantly qualitative methodology, which included an in-depth empirical study of ICANN and its policymaking processes in action. This research suggested that, in practice, public input has little or no real influence on ICANN policy decisions. My study of three key ICANN policy areas (new gTLDs, Internationalised Domain Names and the Uniform Domain Name Disputes Resolution policy) revealed little evidence of any significant incorporation of public input into the policymaking process. This conclusion was reached after study of all public comments submitted on these policy areas, and comparison of the views expressed by public commentators to the final policy outcomes. Minutes of meetings of the relevant  policymaking committees were also studied, and some members of those committees were interviewed. Again, these investigations revealed little evidence that public comments had any significant impact on policy discussions and decisions. The ALAC also does not appear to have played a very significant role in any of these policy areas, and the ALAC was in fact heavily critical of many of the decisions made regarding New gTLDs policy (ICANN 2010).

Given this situation, I argued that a revival of ICANN’s electoral mechanism was desirable, since it would give the global Internet-using public a voice that could not be ignored. The other option for enhanced representation of the public interest might be to give governments a strengthened oversight role, either by strengthening the powers of ICANN’s existing Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) or by transferring ICANN’s functions to the ITU. However, I argued that such a move would not produce meaningful accountability to the public, for several reasons. First, some of the governments represented in the GAC and / or ITU are not themselves democratically elected. Second, even where they represent democratic states, the governmental delegates to these bodies are civil servants. Though they may be in theory accountable to elected bodies, they are themselves unelected appointees. For example, the UK GAC member is an employee of the Foreign Office, which is accountable to the Foreign Secretary, who is accountable to the elected House of Commons. In such a case, I argued, the chain of accountability between official and electorate is too long to be meaningful.

The paper compared the situation in ICANN today to the situation at national level in pre-democratic England, and particularly to the arguments raised at the famous Putney Debates of 1647, regarding the future of England’s constitutional arrangements following the Civil War. At Putney, the argument for popular sovereignty was summed up by the Leveller spokesman Thomas Rainsborough, who argued that legitimate government ought to be by the consent of the governed, and that “…that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under” (Woodhouse 1951: 11). The counter-argument, expressed by army leader Henry Ireton, reflected the dominant elite viewpoint of the time, which was that a voice in the government of the realm should be restricted to those who had a ‘permanent fixed interest’ in the kingdom (Woodhouse 1951: 112).This principle was reflected in the electoral franchise of the time, which was based on a property qualification. Parallels can readily be drawn between Ireton’s version of republican government, and ICANN’s present multistakeholder model. While ICANN retains some gestures towards public participation, the reality is of a policymaking process dominated by powerful stakeholders in the industry. Effectively, this amounts to a ‘property qualification’ for meaningful participation. Yet Rainsborough’s principle that legitimate government should be accountable to the governed is arguably just as applicable to global Internet governance today, as it was at the national level in seventeenth-century England. The principle has become accepted (at least in the West) as the basis for all legitimate government. As decisionmaking moves away from the national and towards the global level, I argued, the same principle should continue to apply.

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I went on to argue that the issues explored in this case study have implications far beyond the single case of ICANN.  The legitimacy questions highlighted here reflect broader questions of a democratic or accountability deficit at the global level. Such questions have become increasingly pertinent as a consequence of globalisation and the emergence of new types of political and economic organisation distinct from the traditional ‘inter-national’ model, including private or mixed public-private forms of policymaking authority. This has been a cause for concern among numerous scholars, given that such organisations tend to lack mechanisms to ensure democratic accountability, transparency and representation (Lipschutz and Fogel 2007: 124; Matthews 1997: 165; Cutler 2007: 24).  The principle expressed by Rainsborough at Putney – that decisionmakers should be accountable to those affected by their decisions – is all too often absent with regards to this emerging global public policy sphere.

With the reintroduction of an electoral system for Directors, ICANN could be the proving-ground for the feasibility of democratisation of global governance institutions. It could provide a powerful demonstration effect which could open the way for democratic reform of many other organisations across a range of issue-areas.  There would, of course, be a need to address the issues identified in the previous experiment, in order to ensure that any revived Board elections would be reasonably fair, free from fraud or capture, and returned Directors that could be said to be meaningfully representative of the global public. It is my view, however, that these issues are largely surmountable, and that even if the resulting system were not perfect, it would be much more legitimate than the present ICANN model. Given the very real public policy authority wielded by ICANN, this would be highly desirable for its own sake, and could be even more valuable in terms of the example it would set for other public-private global governance institutions.

From a wider perspective, the ICANN case serves as a demonstration that the ancient struggle between democratic principles and vested interests, which can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, and which was expressed in the seventeenth century Putney Debates, is continuing today at the global level. Those who are prepared to take up this challenge would, in a very real sense, be the latter-day successors to the spirit of the Levellers and their representatives at Putney.

References

Cutler, A. C. (2007). Private international regimes and interfirm cooperation. In: The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance. Edited by R. B. Hall and T. J. Biersteker. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 24-41

ICANN (2002). Minutes of Regular Meeting of the Board, 14th March 2002. Retrieved 20 November 2016, from  www.icann.org/minutes/minutes-14mar02.htm

ICANN (2010). ‘ALAC Statement on Draft Final Guidebook ‘Comment posted to ICANN public comments forum on Draft Applicant Guidebook v.5. 8 December 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2011, from http://forum.icann.org/lists/5gtld-guide/msg00038.html

Lipschutz, R. D. and C. Fogel (2007). Regulation for the rest of us? Global civil society and the privatization of transnational regulation. In: The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance. Edited by R. B. Hall and T. J. Biersteker. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 115-139

Mathews, J. T. (1997). “Power Shift.” Foreign Affairs 76(1): 50-66

Woodhouse, A.S.P. (1951). Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.