Coronavirus Curriculum Planning 2020-1

This is essentially me thinking aloud about the four post-grad modules I am scheduled to teach next academic year. Two weeks ago I said that if I was still here in the autumn – and I am planning to be:

Whatever happens, if I am here in the autumn, I will I know be teaching the social, political and economic consequences of coronavirus on at least two postgrad courses I lead.

In fact, I now think I will be teaching it on all four modules. All my teaching, aside from guest lectures, is in the October-January period, so I need to start some outline preparation. Here goes as I brain-dump some initial course thinking in a public value business school.

Government from the Inside – From the Minister’s Viewpoint (PLT435)

You can find a link to the module overview here. It is essentially an overview of the Ministerial life, from appointment to leaving office. It looks amongst other things at Appointment and the first 100 days, Ministers in Cabinet, as departmental leaders, in the Chamber and Committee, working with and against the Opposition, Ministers and the Media, pressure groups and ministers, evidence for ministerial policy-making, leaving ministerial office. It covers UK and devolved ministerial life.I am planning a book for Palgrave Macmillan based on the course which I have now taught for the last three years.

Students are assessed through an end-of-term essay. These are on topics they choose and are always interesting. Last year one student elected to look at Norman Fowler and the Aids Crisis, which has some parallels with today’s crisis. If I took a coronavirus lens I guess I would look through the course at how the virus has disrupted the marking of Boris Johnson’s 100 days in office; how COBR (A) has worked in co-ordination, including with the devolved administrations, how scrutiny of evidence has developed in Parliamentary committees, how pressure group and media criticism has influenced ministerial policy, and the role of daily press briefings in crises, the collation of evidence in an emerging crisis and the building of ministerial discursive capacity, Opposition input in the crisis, and maybe some futurism about ministerial reputations in the crisis and their likely scorecards after leaving office.

I am already collating materials, from press reports to parliamentary inquiries and government documents, which includes much of the advice that went to SAGE. (To be fair to the UK government, a lot of material has been published in respect of the evidence base and their assumptions). There is also a considerable amount of material on managing crises in the interviews with former ministers on the Institute for Government’s Ministers Reflect series. No question then that coronavirus will feature on this module.

International Business Management (BST448)

This is one of the core modules on Cardiff Business School’s MSc. in International Management. I have been teaching this module for the last two years and it has had a significant ‘tech’ focus, which has enabled the exploration of themes around globalisation, based on my recent research. In postgrad terms it’s a large module with about 140 students, a very high proportion of them from China. Who knows how or if this will change next year? The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked all kinds of writing about the future of globalisation, networks, re-localisation, etc. The COVID-19 outbreak also lends itself to a straightforward introduction for management students to PESTLE analysis.

There are significant opportunities here obviously to look comparatively at governmental and political responses, business impacts in different sectors, the role of technology in surveillance of the disease (and obviously surveillance more generally), and how the disease may affect international business development, including global value chains. It may allow students to bring their own country by country observations to the forefront.

Think I will definitely be teaching COVID-19 and its impact on the the global economy this course, but it may require some re-writing.

Leading Policy and Delivery (BST652)

I was involved in co-developing our new part-time MSc in Public Leadership . This autumn I will be teaching the module about leading policy into delivery over three sessions. I guess that COVID-19 will become one of the cases that we will interrogate as it will be directly relevant to everyone’s immediate experience. Our students come from a variety of public service backgrounds.

Unlike the ministerial module above, the focus will be more about the impact on public service delivery. So I can see us covering its impact on the relationship between the making of policy and its implementation on the ground; thefeedback loops between frontline delivery and policy-making; collaboration between services,  both devolved and non-devolved; integration of third sector in delivery; what this means for target-setting, capacity- building, resilience planning, governance.

Much of this would have been discussed on the module in any case. But there is quite a lot to plan for here. And I think the agenda will expand as time goes by.

Strategic Planning and Innovation (BST680).

This year we began teaching a postgraduate Diploma in Healthcare  Planning in Wales. I am one of two academics teaching on the Strategic Planning and Innovation module. To a degree, our emphasis, as the NHS Wales Deputy Chief Executive, Simon Dean, said at Cardiff Business School in 2019, is that what matters most is the planning, not the plan. Though this was devised before the COVID-19 outbreak, we already had considered planning for unexpected emergencies and crises and ways in which governments did this in a variety of spheres, from terrorist outbreaks to a no-deal Brexit. COVID-19 forces consideration of previous planning exercises for pandemics.

This module from my perspective probably needs some adjustment but less overall than the others, as the key themes are there in outline, but need drawing out with reference to the current crisis, and the evidence materials published by the UK Government already mentioned above are directly relevant.

That was a brain-dump on behalf of my course planning. Now I need to allocate time for teaching preparation for each of these modules.

 

Coronavirus and vanity capitalism

On 9 June 1972, the Board of Trustees of Stanford University appointed the Welsh cultural critic Raymond Williams as Visiting Professor of Political Science for the winter quarter 1972-3 at a salary of $7000. During his time at Stanford, Williams and his wife Joy carried out the research which led to his book Television: Technology and Cultural Form (TTCF). In the Raymond Williams archive at Swansea University you can find notes on new technological developments in cable and computing, including a television programme on KQED, the ‘community-supported non-commercial public television station for the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California’.  First a teacher walks a Palo Alto school class through a computer lesson, then there’s an item with a Stanford professor explaining how computers can be used to study reading strengths and that one central computer could support all schools in the area in the future.

Williams, whose work is a resource for contemporary internet scholars like Zizi Papacharissi and Thomas Streeter, later wrote:

San Francisco is a beautiful city, probably the most genuinely and actively cosmopolitan in the world. In its Bay Area there are two world-ranking universities and half a dozen others.

But he later noted the contradictions, the imbalance of resources between public and private institutions, and the poverty:

there, in wealthy California – on its own, the ninth-richest state in the world – you only have to travel on public transport to see the real poverty, not only of so many Blacks and Chicanos and some Chinese, but of poor whites, living hard.

Almost forty years later, Alice Marwick, who spent nine months carrying out ethnographic research in Silicon Valley from 2008-2009, wrote in her book Status Update that ‘Silicon Valley culture depends on undocumented labor to build microchips, clean offices, and mow the lawns of technology workers relocated from Bangalore, Shanghai, Dublin and Des Moines.’

Of 1970s California, Williams notes ‘among the jets and the military electronics there is an extraordinary, almost tactile privatisation.’ The final injunction he was given is worth stating:

This is the moment to recall what an intelligent Californian said as we were leaving….: “Don’t let them californicate the world”.

Some may remember that in 1996 Channel Four broadcast a play by Denis Potter, Cold Lazarus, in which, in the year 2368, a team of scientists driven on by a media mogul seek to revive the mind of a 20th-century writer who had died in 1994. 24th century Britain is run by US corporations, and experience is largely virtual. The writer’s head is being held in a cryonics laboratory owned by a pharmaceuticals plutocrat. The plan to broadcast the writer’s memories on television, generating substantial incomes for the media company, is ultimately prevented by an activist for a resistance movement opposed to technocratic control of society, who has found that the writer’s mind is seeking to communicate his desire to die finally and forever.

Potter’s dystopia seemed a trifle fantastic in 1996. But today perhaps the endgame of neoliberalism has been reached with the assertion that death can be prevented and life extended – for those who can afford it. Calico, the California Life Company, a product of Google Ventures, seeks to identify how to prolong life. Other start-ups exist with the same objective with investors including Big Tech billionaires. Silicon Valley’s imaginaries extend not only to life-preservation but to sea-steading – floating ocean cities with ‘political autonomy’, in other words outside the boundaries of normal government. Activities formerly undertaken by nation-states such as space exploration are now the purview of a privileged few billionaires such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos – Big Tech, Small State. Their intellectual leader, Peter Thiel, was interviewed by Carole Cadwalladr for the Observer in 2014. He confirmed his desire to challenge the boundaries of mortality, adapting the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas by saying ‘we should not go gently into that good night’.

Today we read reports of private jets ferrying multi-millionaires around the world to avoid crowded airport terminals and private doctors ensuring their clients have home ICUsin case of emergency.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs often like to suggest they are imbued with the spirit of sixties Californian counterculture. The counterculture was a very male-orientated affair. In her powerful, well-researched book Emily Chang calls the culture of Silicon Valley: Brotopia, or the boys’ club of Silicon Valley. Early Facebook staff member Kate Losse called her book on the foundational years of Facebook, The Boy Kings. She recounts her memory of a company memo being sent round which said that all women members of staff should come to work on Zuckerberg’s birthday wearing t-shirts with his face on the front.

Silicon Valley’s Brotopian libertarianism has given us vanity capitalism. Feminist critiques of Silicon Valley point out that libertarianism is an ideology aimed precisely at privileged young men with no understanding of the ways in which the unpaid labour of women in raising children and holding together families has underpinned their opportunity.

Vanity capitalism embraces all of the counterculture’s narcissism and self-indulgence. There is little room for the state and the public sector. This was the age of John Perry Barlow’s infamous cyber-libertarian declaration:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

Facebook is the paradigm of vanity capitalism, exhibited in its status as a company controlled by its founder, its driving rhetoric of permissionless innovation and the hacker culture, and its technocratic approach to solving global problems.

Vanity capitalism privileges the founder’s monopoly control. This is a particular feature of the digital economy today, but increasingly the establishment of effective monopolies in particular sectors has also become a demand of leading venture capitalists, notably two who sit on Facebook’s board, Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen. Thiel wrote in 2014

Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can’t…. Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits.

 As founder, Zuckerberg retained strict control over the company through a series of ‘voting agreements’ outlined in the IPO filing. Facebook went public, but its founder retained control in an arrangement not uncommon in certain classes of tech stocks. Marc Andreessen argued it protects companies from the machinations of hedge funds and short-sellers, saying ‘it is unsafe to go public today without a dual-class share structure‘.

Control structures were further amended in 2016 to allow Zuckerberg to retain control even after transferring stock to the philanthropic foundation which he runs with his wife Priscilla Chan.  In a statement at the time, Facebook’s General Counsel accepted:

This is not a traditional governance model, but Facebook was not built to be a traditional company. The board believes that a founder-led approach has been and continues to be in the best interests of Facebook, its stockholders, and the community.

In 2017, when Zuckerberg was undertaking a tour of the United States that many people thought presaged a 2020 run for the Presidency, it became known that Facebook’s statutes had been changed to allow him to retain control even if he were serving in government office.

In setting Facebook, Zuckerberg didn’t need permission – from anyone. Silicon Valley’s discourse of permissionless innovation, a phrase coined by Google’s chief internet evangelist Vincent Cerf, has been adopted by right-wing think-tanks as a counter to the ‘precautionary principle’ underpinning so much of environmental and health policy. Avoiding the need to ask permission, on the Ayn Rand basis of ‘who will stop me?’ has become a doctrine for some in Silicon Valley.

 In his open letter in Facebook’s SEC filing for its IPO, Zuckerberg said Facebook’s approach was ‘the Hacker Way’ – striving always for continuous improvement ‘learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once.’ He reiterated:

We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.

All staff had to go through a ‘Bootcamp’ where they learned these principles, even if they were not coders.

Losse says Zuckerberg believed that the best engineers would only join a company where engineers were clearly in the ascendancy. To address the rising cost of housing in the Valley, engineers were offered a subsidy – only after protests was this extended to other staff. Vanity capitalism privileges engineers as logical problem-solvers. Zuckerberg frequently frames challenges – countering terrorism, for example – as an engineering challenge to be solved by AI. This ‘technological determinism’ of course reinforces the mystique and technical superiority of Silicon Valley and its young engineers. Technical language and knowhow has always been used to allow elite dominance of certain new evolving sectors.

This underpins not only Facebook but its founder’s philanthropic approach:

Our mission is to find new ways to leverage technology, community-driven solutions, and collaboration to accelerate progress in Science, Education, and within our Justice & Opportunity work.

Philanthropy, indeed, is the epitome of vanity capitalism.

Technological determinism also underpins Facebook’s attempts to provide basic internet services in under-served countries around the world – the internet.org partnership and the Free Basics platform:

Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative with the goal of bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the portion of the world that doesn‘t have them….The more we connect, the better it gets. (my italics)

The ambitions of vanity capitalism are boundless, though sometimes there is caution in revealing what these companies do. Mark Zuckerberg was asked about Peter Thiel’s Palantir, started with funding from the CIA’s venture capital fund when he gave evidence to the Senate: might they be described as Stanford Analytica? Surprisingly, during his evidence, Zuckerberg said ‘I’m not really that familiar with what Palantir does.’

Vanity capitalism was called out by President Obama, somewhat belatedly, towards the end of his term in 2016. ‘Government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs’ he said at a technology futures conference, ‘because, by definition, democracy is messy….and part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.’ But that was before personal vanity became a presidential characteristic.

Can these Silicon Values survive? Interestingly, one Silicon Valley venture capitalist started to question the underlying model. His name? Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice-president for Growth at Facebook. He said ‘user acquisition and growth has become such an entrenched part of the Silicon Valley zeitgeist.’ He recalls that his Facebook team made user acquisition a science. But now he fears that the venture capital industry is bidding up costs and creating ‘a dangerous, high-stakes Ponzi scheme’.

In April 2019, the ride-sharing company Uber filed for its IPO, warning that it might never make a profit. Less than a year later its CEO was calling for federal aid for its drivers while denying it was requesting  a Coronavirus bailout. Truly, under Silicon Valley leadership, vanity capitalism is completely californicated.

 This is an extract from my book Facebook, the Media, and Democracy, published by Routledge, where you will find notes to the sources quoted, with updated links related to the Coronavirus.

Waiting for Godot

As people assemble their recommended Corona-lit – the latest being King Lear, which some argue Shakespeare wrote in lockdown from the plague – I’d like to make a pitch for Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

For those of us not yet suffering from the virus, but watching its exponential growth in the UK, the flouting of government advice on social distancing, and the example of Italy which exists in a Covid-19 timezone 15 days ahead of us, as Thomas Jones writes in the LRB, all we can do is wait, acting on the best advice, for the storm that is coming.  Beckett called his play a tragi-comedy. The tramps go on waiting for that is all that they can do. (There is, of course, an element of hope in their continual waiting). Today all we can do is wait, observe the advice, treat each day as it comes.

Waiting for Godot has lots of funny lines – but back in 1987 I saw a production at the National Theatre in London  with John Alderton, Alec McCowen and Colin Welland that seemed to be playing it as Laurel and Hardy. As Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian at the time,’you surely need to feel that the vaudevillian exchanges are a way of staving off the terror, the silence, the apprehension that life may ultimately be devoid of significance.’

As I wrote ten days ago, as a lifetime asthmatic with ropey lungs I’ve been apprehensive about Covid-19 for weeks. I said then:

We are living with uncertainty, in a way that few of my generation and those younger have ever experienced. Indeed maybe only those with experience of living through the war have anything similar to compare it with.

It wasn’t until I read Jo Baker’s Beckett novel A Country Road, a Tree, that I thought much about how Beckett’s wartime experiences as a member of the Resistance, on the run in France for long periods, had shaped the writing of Godot. (Beckett’s experiences of crossing France initially to escape the occupation of Paris, ‘bearded, filthy and broke’ are described in Deirdre Bair’s biography. His time in Roussillon, in the Vaucluse, is referenced in Godot).

Uncertainty defined Beckett’s wartime experience. In the UK, Brexit uncertainty has been displaced by the much deeper and more existential uncertainty of COVID-19, even for those of us who were passionate and unrepentant Remainers. Uncertainty is bad for our mental health. But that’s our current state.

 

Coronavirus – Living well is the best revenge

As a 62 year-old asthmatic with ropey lungs I have been apprehensive about Coronavirus for some weeks, and the news from Italy over the last week or so intensified my worries.

Today, one conference at which I was to give a paper in April (Political Studies Association in Edinburgh) has been cancelled. Last week their expressed view was that they were going ahead. Cardiff University has now taken the decision on the other one where I was due to give a paper out of my hands – PUPOL in The Hague at Leiden University –, saying ‘all work-related travel outside the UK should be postponed until further notice unless it is essential.’ I suspect PUPOL would have been cancelled anyway.

We are waiting on the UK government’s decisions over closures and further social distancing. Obviously Ireland made its decision to close schools etc today. Yesterday, Denmark, where our son lives, took that decision.

My 90 year old mother has been in and out of hospital over the last four weeks, so that has been my main concern as I have been visiting her in hospital, and when she was out last week there were a series of medical and care calls to undertake, before she went back in on Sunday.

My mother’s care and the need to visit her in hospital means that I cannot do what Colin Talbot has done and self-isolate, or ‘cocoon’ as Colin prefers, but from what I know of Colin’s medical conditions they are much more serious than mine. But I have been giving active consideration to that, given the way COVID-19 targets the lungs. We haven’t been stockpiling toilet rolls but our cupboards and freezer have the necessary basics to avoid shopping if we had to. Today I noticed local shop-keepers wearing plastic gloves and using sanitiser after customers touched card machines and counters, and who can blame them.

We also have childcare responsibilities with our grand-children – days spent with them are a bonus to life.

I am currently due to give a lecture on Monday to 2-300 students as a guest lecturer on another course, but there is no reason why the materials couldn’t be delivered on-line, and that is the same case with a guest lecture the following week to a smaller number.

The charity I chair, the Cardiff City Community Foundation, has its annual Foundation year events over the weekend starting tomorrow, as we celebrate how Our Club Changes Lives. We have been reviewing all our activities – and our risks – over the last week in the context of the advice from Public Health Wales.

This is a year in which we were lucky enough to have a concentrated period of holidays in May and June – a wedding in Spain, an educational visit to Sicily, and then the Euros in Rome for which we are fortunate enough to have tickets. How many of these will now go ahead is anyone’s guess. UEFA is meeting to discuss whether the Euros are postponed for a year apparently.

Whatever happens, if I am here in the autumn, I will I know be teaching the social, political and economic consequences of coronavirus on at least two postgrad courses I lead.

If I am here in the autumn. I plan to be, but the truth is no-one knows what outcomes will be. I am sick of hearing about people who have died being described as elderly or having ‘underlying health conditions’. Every coronavirus death is a tragedy. No-one should be dehumanised and no death simply excused away as due to the individual being ‘elderly’ or having ‘underlying health conditions’. I have underlying health conditions. So do millions.

We are living with uncertainty, in a way that few of my generation and those younger have ever experienced. Indeed maybe only those with experience of living through the war have anything similar to compare it with.

I think the advice from the UK government will now change to a more intensified set of social distancing recommendations every few days. I have confidence in the scientists, but I am keeping an eye on what is being said in Italy in particular.

The declared number of cases is not the true number of cases, as the scientists said today. 500+ cases officially in the UK, but more like 5-10,000 in the population as a whole, and they are no longer going to be testing cases in the community, but keeping testing for those in hospital already.

They are, without saying it, planning for the worst, and unlike with swine flu and avian flu, where preparations were made for the worst case, we have practical evidence in Europe of what that worst case looks like.

Why I’ve rejoined Labour

IMG_3810I rejoined the Labour Party yesterday, explicitly to vote in the leadership election for a candidate who can take Labour away from the cult, address the issue of anti-semitism, and reconnect the party with the wider public.

As I explained in May, I left Labour over the two issues of anti-semitism and Brexit. My membership lapsed in March. My decision to vote Green in the European elections was explicitly prompted by the Labour NEC decision on Brexit.

As I explained in my podcast with Martin Shipton yesterday, in the December General Election, I voted for my local Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who had a strong anti-Brexit position, having voted, like all other Cardiff Labour MPs, against the introduction of Article 50 in 2017. I donated to a couple of local Labour campaigns too. The Western Mail article based on the podcast outlines some of my criticism of UK Labour leadership since 2010, beginning with the failures to stop the Con-Lib coalition pinning the 2008 financial crash on Labour and to stand up for the 1997-2010 record.

I am rejoining now because the leadership campaign so far suggests that there is a chance of returning the Labour Party to sensible but radical leadership.

This is not to say that whoever is elected, Labour doesn’t face significant challenges. And the challenges facing Wales and the UK as a whole are deep and will be accentuated by the lived reality of Brexit. Rebuilding won’t happen overnight. And the outcomes, in the face of the new Conservative activist unionism, are uncertain.

New Statesman article

The New Statesman has published this article from me on the Tories’ new ‘activist unionism’. Below I republish it with links.

 There is a new orthodoxy on the left – the notion that Brexit will inevitably mean the break-up of the Union. Scotland will secede. Northern Ireland will vote to reunite with Ireland.  These things are indeed possible. But equally possible is that we end up in a post-Brexit creaking UK able still to cling together through a new state overhaul driven from the centre.

Some attention has been given post-election to the Conservative plans for a constitutional commission. But less focus has been given to the significant plans being put together for a re-servicing of the Union. The Policy Exchange think-tank has called for ‘a Grand Strategy to modernise the United Kingdom.’ This is an activist Unionism of a kind only glimpsed before.

Since the 1970s, there have been two significant modernisations of the UK state. The first, the neoliberal Thatcherite agenda based on a hollowing out of the central state, with new central agencies, restrictions on local government’s freedom of manoeuvre, privatisation and deregulation. The second, the New Labour modernisation of 1997-2010, including devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, the Good Friday Agreement, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information and the Supreme Court, with centrally-driven targets for service delivery in England. We are now on the cusp of a third modernisation, outlined in the Conservative manifesto, reinforced in the background notes to the December Queen’s Speech, and fleshed out in a series of policy papers.

Some of this pre-dates the Johnson government. The Dunlop Review of UK Union Capability was established under Theresa May with the objective ‘as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union….to consider how through its institutional arrangements it meets the challenge of strengthening and sustaining the Union in the future’ . But the Conservative Manifesto and Queen’s Speech make it clear that this is now part of a strategic programme.

The Conservative Party has usually had a strong focus on the possible uses of state power, even when deregulating and privatising. Alastair Campbell’s second volume of diaries record an observation of the late Alan Clark that Conservatives were fascinated with him and the Blair project because they recognised a real enthusiasm for power and its uses. The Conservatives now have at the helm someone who understands the uses of state power. Dominic Cummings has, says Rachel Wolf, one of the authors of the Conservative manifesto, been thinking about the UK state for twenty years. Cumminsology, as Alain de Botton called it recently in the New Statesman, involves a focus on the need for a more efficient and modernised state machinery: and a profound fury at the inefficiencies of existing state procedures (which many who have served in governments will share).

Cummings, and his former boss Michael Gove, are often under-estimated by some on the left who prefer caricature to analysis. As I wrote about Gove in 2014, ‘he is a deeply serious, and deeply ideological politician, whose objective is shifting the political agenda strategically’. Ditto Cummings. He is, as Tony Blair’s former political secretary John McTernan wrote in July, ‘a man with a plan’.

The Conservative state modernisation agenda is extensive. If the range of Policy Exchange papers on the Constitution, the Judiciary and Whitehall is accurate, its possibilities range from limiting the powers of the Supreme Court – possibly even re-branding it as simply an Upper Court of Appeal, to remove the sense that it is a constitutional court – to an infrastructure modernisation programme for the UK, a re-casting of central institutions to oversee the Union, with the engagement of devolved authorities such as Mayors within England to address the UK/English delivery confusion, to a series of Whitehall reforms (some of which are pretty uncontroversial) and the creation of a UK form of the American defence-linked research agency DARPA, one of Dominic Cummings’ long-held ambitions .

Some of the approach to an activist unionism has already been rolled out in Wales, where the Wales Office has essentially been re-branded as the UK Government in Wales, central government funded initiatives such as the City Deal have been used to build stronger relationships directly between the UK Government and Welsh institutions including local authorities. A ‘Western powerhouse’ model, bringing together Cardiff, Newport and Bristol, was launched to undermine Welsh Government economic plans. Welsh appointments to bodies under the control of the UK government have been politicised, as Policy Exchange suggests should happen across the UK. In the General Election, the Conservatives even promised to deliver the M4 Relief Road, without the power to do so. The Queens Speech promises a cross-border Marches deal, and many other actions.

This activist unionism may not be enough. The latest state modernisation programme may well do nothing fundamental to resolve the post-Brexit challenges of the UK. It may simply leave us with the latest modernised version of what Tom Nairn three decades ago called Ukania. But no-one should assume that the break-up of the UK is inevitable, or that Gove-Cummings haven’t thought about these things. They have, and their previous experience in respect of English schools shows that they understand the uses of state power and are capable of fast and far-reaching action.