Four things to watch in 2017

To start the year, we want to examine four big issues that preoccupied public policy in 2016, giving you the most insightful perspectives from the think tanks. We’ll go on to suggest where the action might be in the new year.

1. Can we seal the deal on Brexit?

The wide mandate claimed by the government in enacting the “will of the people” through Brexit comes with risks. Missteps will have drastic political consequences, and delays are proving to be just as damaging. Downing Street is already being criticised for cautious micromanagement, and in the absence of a clear plan set out from the centre “trying to divine the Government’s position from the personal musings of individual ministers is creating unhelpful uncertainty” (Institute for Government).

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Drone

Is the drone war coming home?

On July 1st, President Obama signed an executive order intended to reduce civilian casualties in US military operations outside the theatre of war. It specifically mandated that the US Government “reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, take appropriate steps when such casualties occur, and draw lessons from our operations to further enhance the protection of civilians”. It also demanded in exquisite legalese the release of data on the number of strikes undertaken by the U.S. Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities and the resulting death toll.

There are significant limitations to this data. They are, as Open Briefing point out, broad estimates. They only cover strikes conducted under the Obama Administration, including Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Former drone pilots argue that “there is no standard methodology for counting the dead.” Significantly, the ‘best practice’ approach to avoiding civilian casualties mandated in the Executive Order is unlikely to work if there is no contextual data available on the strikes, much less a methodology for counting casualties.

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Michael Gove

On being an expert when the British people won’t be told

In ‘The Economics of Happiness’, the Swiss professor Bruno S Frey argues that over 600 referenda have contributed to the happiness of his fellow citizens. The Swiss can trigger an optional referendum if 50,000 people or eight of its 26 cantons have petitioned to do so within 100 days. A mandatory vote can be triggered by ‘popular initiative’: 100,000 valid signatures within 18 months. If the government is at issue with the the initiative, it can table a counterproposal – which is most often preferred by voters to the original proposal. What, specifically, has the “statistically significant, robust and sizeable effect on happiness”, measured by Frey? “The institutionalised right of individual political participation.”

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New Year 2015

The big think tank review of 2015

In 2015, we worried about

Pressure on A&E. Yes, this was as much a concern last New Year’s Eve as it was in 2015. Here are four ideas on how to deal with the issue Institute for Economic Affairs

Who benefits from innovation. In a landmark essay, Geoff Mulgan admits that there is little evidence that innovation provides genuine social benefits Nesta

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Austerity

The big issue … austerity gets local

After weeks of drama in Paris with global consequences, the last week has seen a shift to more prosaic issues. Now that there has been some time to digest the latest Spending Review, think tanks have been pondering what this means for various aspects of local services.

NLGN looks at the overall policy implications of further austerity and sees the “weakening, if not demise of the very old idea that redistribution from richer areas to their poorer counterparts can solve regional social and economic problems”. At the same time, the piece wonders whether the size of the cake will grow enough to compensate for the fact that people’s shares are getting more measly.

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COP21

The big issue … a fair COP21 in Paris

Tomorrow, ministers attending the COP21 UN climate talks in Paris will discuss a 48-page statement of purpose – which leaves much to be decided in subsequent talks.

There are some peculiarities about the nature of the discussion, argues Andrew Simms at PRIME economics. Emissions agreements based on temperature rises should be understood as agreements on the degree of acceptable risk nations can stomach from climate change. Communities around the world have different exposure to climate risk – and they may take more dramatic action into their own hands.

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Charlie Hebdo

The big issue…Paris

In the UK, the response to the Paris Attacks has already turned into an argument over police funding, with a senior police officer telling Theresa May that the expected cuts in the Chancellor’s Spending Review will ‘reduce very significantly’ the UK’s ability to respond to a Paris-style attack. SMF Chief Economist Nida Broughton lays out George Osborne’s options, concluding that he may be able to avoid the appearance of compromising security by changing the definition of ‘defence’.

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George Osborne

Think tanks on… the Comprehensive Spending Review

George Osborne is due to publish the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on 25th November, where he will set out how the public sector will have to deliver the £20 billion further savings required to eliminate Britain’s deficit by 2019/2020.

So, what does it all mean? The Institute for Government argues that the hard work remains to be done, taking a look at implications for DfT, DEFRA, DCLG and the Treasury – all of whom will have their budgets cut by 30% up to 2020. More broadly, IfG casts doubt on the government’s intention to deliver ‘more with less’, although it certainly agrees that there will be much less to manage with.

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