“A nation that respects freedom of speech and freedom of religion, or that is committed to human dignity, will nudge people by virtue of that very fact”. Cass Sunstein, author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about health, wealth and happiness.

UN Headquarters NYC. Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash.

Conversations about human rights tend to bring to mind legal structures and international treaties. Yet one thing that policymakers in this space will often have in mind is human behaviour. In many cases, the behaviour of individuals and groups in society need to change to make human rights a day to day reality. …


“Racist, colonial, anti-immigrant, xenophobic” — these are some of the things many of my progressives friends say about patriotism.

I have never seen patriotism as something problematic or right-wing. I’m proud to be British, and English, because we are a tolerant country which champions democratic rights, decency and the rule of law. Of course, many progressives do not see it that way, and my attempts at making the argument that patriotism can be progressive have tended to fall flat. That is why I was keen to speak to Professor John Denham for our podcast in April. Since leaving Parliament, John…


It is not just our social plans that have been on pause due to Covid-19. Much of normal politics has been too, including that of Brexit. But if the slow tick up of news reports on it is a guide, Brexit is slowly creeping up the agenda again. For the government that means the ongoing negotiations take on greater salience — but for opposing parties, it means making strategic choices.

Enter Ed Davey, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats. He has tabled a bill which, if passed, would force the government into a two-year extension of the Brexit transition period…


Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash.

Should I go to the supermarket never used to be such a difficult question. The government guidelines on social distancing allow it, but they also say to minimise the number of trips. Could I get by with what I have at home to save a trip outside, or is another trip acceptable given that, in general, food is deemed ‘essential’? What about a walk in the park with a friend? Certainly not allowed by the guidelines, but what if we keep two meters apart? Is that really worse than being forced to…


It’s far too early to imagine what the political fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic will be — but it is never too early to speculate. Here are four trends that we might see in the political debate when we reach the other side of this nightmare.

  1. Technocrat comeback or populist boon?

There is a glib line going around the commentariat at the moment that the pandemic will remind Western nations why we need experts as populist bluster won’t save lives in a face of a public health (or other) emergency. This view makes a big assumption — that the response…


Published in Civil Service World.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Witty have been thrown to the absolute forefront of public attention as the government deals with the spread of Covid-19. The “worst public health crisis in a generation’ as the prime minister put it.

I ran an event with Sir Patrick last year. Speaking about the role science plays in policy, he made the point that it is at its most important in emergencies. …


Austerity was supposed to be a mission with a definitive end. Or at least those of us who were part of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition-era believed as much. Following the 2008 crash and 2010 election the nation’s budget deficit and the plight of debt ridden countries around the world loomed large. In response the understanding between politicians and the people seemed to be one of necessary short-term pain to deal with the immediate problem summed up by Liam Byrn’s ill-judged note — “there’s no money left”.

I and many others envisaged that austerity would have a definitive end…


Today we got our first look at what the post Brexit immigration rules will look like with the release of a ‘policy statement’ on the new points based immigration system. The merits of this plan will be debated in detail over the coming weeks, in particular the possible impact on sectors of the economy as diverse as social care and retail. However on this issue the scrutiny of policy wonks and business people is less important than that of the public at large, so driven is the immigration debate by public opinion. …


Originally published in Independent Voices in December 2019.

Being the party of Remain, then Revoke, did not go as expected. Following the disastrous 2015 and 2017 general elections and the Brexit vote, this was the Lib Dems’ chance to finally build the core vote that they’ve lacked for so long.

Surely the most fervent Remain party stood to win many votes from “the 48%” and many seats around the country. It looked like it in the summer, reaching 24% in some polls and with the likes of Chuka Umunna making heady predictions of hundreds of seats. …


The lead up to this general election was a time for optimsim for Liberal Democrats. After years of polling consistently below 10 per cent, a sudden burst in support saw them take a slew of council and EU parliament seats, and poll as high as 24 per cent in June. That created big expectations at this December’s general election.

Yet the momentum has not carried into the campaign, with the party slipping down the opinion polls to around 14%. You could put this down to the old adage that smaller parties are always squeezed at election time. I think however…

Steve O'Neil

Commenting on policy and public affairs. @Steve0neil

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