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Why mayors will rule the world

City leaders are leading the response to big global economic and political challenges – national leaders should take notice. 

In 2013, the late political theorist Benjamin Barber argued that city leaders would soon be at the forefront of addressing the big global economic and political issues we face, and providing democratic accountability in an increasingly globalised world.

Four years on, that vision is becoming a reality – with mayors on both sides of the Atlantic playing an increasingly important role in addressing the issues that matter most to people across both the UK and US.

That was brought home at the inaugural metro mayors’ summit held in London last month (organised by Centre for Cities in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities). It brought together England’s new metro mayors (elected in May this year) with counterpart cities across the US.

As mayors of places nearly 5,000 miles apart, and coming from different political backgrounds, it was eye-opening for us to see how much we – and the other UK and US mayors – had in common in terms of the challenges we face and our ambitions for our cities.

Most significantly, it was clear from our discussions that it is mayors who are leading the charge in tackling the big global issues that affect our citizens, as well as local issues. Our cities are where the “rubber hits the road” in terms of the key political and economic concerns of our age – from ensuring more people can benefit from economic growth, to giving people and communities everywhere a greater say in the democratic process.

Take, for the example, the need to address the concerns of the “left behind” people and places, who had a pivotal influence in both the vote for Brexit and the last US presidential election. It is mayors, not national leaders, who are best placed to connect citizens to political decision-making, and to bridge the gap that has too often existed between the two. After all, mayors are the most visible politicians on a day-to-day basis to people in cities across the UK and US. We are rooted in our communities, and offer a critical means for people to raise the concerns or issues they want to raise.

Importantly, it is also mayors who have led the way in offering leadership for cities in times of crisis and need. That was notable in the UK following the Manchester and Borough Market terrorist attacks and in the US after the Charleston church shooting. In each of those terrible incidents, city mayors provided leadership and accountability which at times was missing from national leaders.

Moreover, at a time when national politics in both the UK and US are increasingly polarised along party political lines, we are showing national politicians how to put pragmatism above partisanship in order to deliver for the people and places they also represent. In particular, mayors across the globe are increasingly coming together to make the most of our collective influence.

In the US, it’s long been said that there are three political parties – Republicans, Democrats and mayors. As such, city leaders have worked together on a number of bipartisan initiatives – for example, to tackle climate change – showing a capacity to move beyond party divides which has too often been lacking among Washington representatives.

A similar trend is starting to emerge in the UK, where city region mayors – both Conservative and Labour – have come together to push the Government for more influence and powers within our areas. This underlines the value of mayors working together with their peers in other cities and other countries to make the most of shared experiences and collective political clout.

But it is crucial now that mayors on both sides of the Atlantic have the powers and scope they need to continue to deliver for their places. In the UK, the biggest problem is that mayors do not have the level of powers we need to make the biggest possible difference in driving economic growth, and increasing opportunities for all citizens.

In the Liverpool City Region, for example, alongside tackling our skills shortage, the biggest priority is to accelerate economic growth and make the most of our outstanding natural, human and economic assets. To do that in the long-term will require significant autonomy when it comes to tax-and-spending powers and other key policy areas – powers which UK mayors are currently denied.

In the US, mayors are much more powerful – but the focus should be on protecting our influence in the face of potential mission creep from state and federal authorities. In Texas, for example, we have recently seen state authorities attempt to impose a ban on cities from legislating on issues ranging from planning permission to regulation of plastic grocery bags and ride-sharing car companies. This trend needs to be challenged if US mayors are to continue to deliver for our residents in the way that they both expect and deserve. 

On both sides of the Atlantic, mayors are uniquely placed to represent the interests of their areas to national governments who cannot ever be as attuned to the needs of local people. By working together, we can provide genuine democratic accountability while effectively delivering for our local areas.


Steve Rotheram is metro mayor of Liverpool city region. Betsy Price is mayor of Fort Worth, Texas.


This content has been paid for and coordinated by the Centre for Cities. 

Mayors Steve Rotheram and Betsy Price were not paid for their contributions.

Centre for Cities has been collaborating with the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric on a series analysing data and crunching the numbers on British cities. Read more here

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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.