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Category archive for: Politics

Canada’s new prime minister: who is Justin Trudeau, and how did he win?

Written by Steve Hewitt.

After a hard-fought election, Canada’s Liberal party has won a decisive parliamentary majority, and Canada will soon have an unfamiliar prime minister with a familiar last name. But 43-year-old Justin Trudeau’s rise to the top of Canadian politics was far from certain, even despite his remarkable political pedigree.

His father, the late Pierre Trudeau, dominated Canadian politics between 1968 and 1984, winning four elections and – uniquely for a Canadian politician – building a substantial reputation outside of his home country. Though lionised at the time of his death in 2000 (two of his honorary pallbearers were Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter) he was a controversial and divisive figure in Canada. Loved by many, he was equally loathed throughout his federal political career by numerous voters, particularly across Western Canada and among Quebecois separatists and nationalists.

While the elder Trudeau’s career was unquestionably a success, he still never managed to get higher than 46% of the popular vote. He left his Liberal Party in disarray when he retired, and although the party has won elections since, it has never truly recovered. Continue reading Canada’s new prime minister: who is Justin Trudeau, and how did he win?

The battle to lead the Brexit campaign

Written by Simon Usherwood.

The rules are clear. Only one group can lead the official campaign on either side of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. And while that isn’t proving a problem for the side that wants to stay in, the process of picking a leader for the exit camp is proving deeply political and highly fraught.

On the “remain in” side, the approach has been to have quiet, behind-the-scenes discussions. From these talks, a group will emerge to lead the campaign. One might argue that the general lack of mobilisation in the remain camp has made this easier, as there’s relatively little competition.

On the “leave” side, there are now two credible contenders to lead the campaign and the competition between them is tense. One is a group formerly known as The Know and now rebranded as

The other is an as-yet-unnamed group led by Matthew Elliott, founder of campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and Dominic Cummmings, a special adviser in the coalition government. Continue reading The battle to lead the Brexit campaign

The 2015 Labour leadership election: How Jeremy Corbyn won

Written by Andrew Denham and Peter Dorey.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader of the Labour Party has stunned observers and practitioners of British politics. Conventional wisdom has it that rank outsiders do not become leaders of ‘mainstream’ British parties. Candidates with, say, a long history of rebellion against their own party, no practical experience of government or party management, and supported by very few of their parliamentary colleagues, are seldom seen as ‘leadership material’.

Instead, as Leonard Stark argues in his excellent book Choosing a Leader (1996), the winning candidates in British party leadership elections have usually been those considered best-equipped to meet three criteria: unity (the ability to maintain or restore party unity); electability (the ability to win a General Election) and competence (the ability to implement successful policies, and so lead a successful administration). Of the six Labour leaders elected between 1963 and 1994, Stark argues, two (Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock) were elected mainly on the basis of the first criterion of restoring party unity. The other four (Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, John Smith and Tony Blair) were chosen on the basis of all three criteria – as was Gordon Brown, the only candidate for the succession when Blair resigned in 2007. Continue reading The 2015 Labour leadership election: How Jeremy Corbyn won

Alternatives to privatising public services

Written by Andreas Bieler.

‘What we are for is equally important as what we are against’, declared Dexter Whitfield in his presentation ‘Capitalist dynamics reconfiguring the state: alternatives to privatising public services’ to a packed audience at Nottingham University on Wednesday, 16 September. Hence, when contesting privatisation of public services, it is not enough simply to resist these processes. It is also necessary to put forward concrete alternatives of how to organise and deliver these services differently from within the public sector. In this post, I will summarise some of the key points of the presentation, which was jointly organised by the Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation, the local University and College Union association and the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice. Continue reading Alternatives to privatising public services

The Policy Impact of Economic Development: Clientelism and Political Budget Cycles

Written by Francesco Stolfi

Political Budget Cycles (PBCs), namely the manipulation of taxation or government spending close to elections, are an enduring topic in the study of economic policy-making. The literature explains PBCs based on the fact that politicians are better informed than most voters and thus can use the manipulation of fiscal variables to essentially fool the public into thinking they are more efficient than they actually are. In a recent article in the Journal of European Public Policy, Mark Hallerberg and I propose a quite different explanation, one that does not depend on voters being naïve. Rather, we argue that a source of variation in the extent of PBCs is, via the effect of clientelism, the level of economic development.

Continue reading The Policy Impact of Economic Development: Clientelism and Political Budget Cycles

Tim Farron wins Liberal Democrat leadership contest

By Andrew Denham and Matthew Francis

How do you rebuild a political party after an electoral calamity? That was the question facing the Liberal Democrats when deciding who should replace Nick Clegg as their leader.

Now the party has chosen Tim Farron to replace Clegg – a decision that could help bring back a spirit of optimism in a party battered by five years of government with the Conservatives.

After being reduced from 57 MPs in 2010 to just eight in 2015 – numbers reminiscent of the Liberal Party of the 1950s – the Lib Dems now face a difficult path back to political significance, let alone power.

Continue reading Tim Farron wins Liberal Democrat leadership contest

Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Reflections on the Iraq War

By Andreas Bieler.

How can we understand the dynamics underlying the Iraq war in 2003? My latest article with Adam David Morton, entitled ‘Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Spaces of New Imperialism and the Iraq War’ is now published in the journal Historical Materialism and attempts to address this question.

In our analysis, we argue that the Iraq war did not simply reflect the unitary decision by the U.S. state to assert its interests in the global political economy, nor was it the result of co-operation by a group of allied capitalist countries to secure access to oil in the Middle East. Equally, we reject the notion that the use of military force reflected the interests of an emerging transnational state. Following on from our International Studies Quarterly article and in contrast to the above positions, our main focus is to assert the philosophy of internal relations as the hallmark of historical materialism. Thus, transnational capital is not understood as externally related to states, engaged in competition over authority in the global economy. Instead our focus shifts to class struggles over the extent to which the interests of transnational capital have become internalised or not within concrete forms of state and here in particular the U.S. form of state.

Continue reading Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Reflections on the Iraq War

The Heirs of Tyndale

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

In the last week we have witnessed the incredible dignity of the families and congregation of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina as they mourn nine members of their bible study group killed in a horrific terrorist attack by a lone racist young gunman on 17 June 2015.

Just two days before there had been the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, a crucial document in the history of civil freedoms. When the terrorist killed the Charleston bible study members, he also attacked one of the most important historically won civil freedoms – that of spiritual freedom.

The spiritual freedom represented in the Charleston bible study group may be traced back half a millennium to pioneering bible translators such as William Tyndale. Tyndale’s 1525 translation of the bible enfranchised people spiritually, and is as significant for the history of civil freedoms as the Magna Carta, although less well known.

Tyndale’s decision to translate the bible was a courageous assertion of religious independence against the authority of the church and the monarchy, because translation of the bible was a capital offence in the religious hierarchical societies of sixteenth century Europe. In order to carry his law-breaking work, Tyndale sought out Martin Luther in Wittenberg who had translated the bible into German.  In 1525 his translation of the New Testament was printed, but accusations of heresy forced him into hiding. Continue reading The Heirs of Tyndale

General Election 2015: Voters wrong, but still revealing

By Philip Cowley.

As part of the preparation for The British General Election of 2015, I have been playing around with the latest wave of the British Election Study data, which is from the short campaign.

There is a question about whether a party had a ‘real chance’ of being in government or not, ‘either forming a government by itself or as part of a coalition’. The question isn’t brilliantly worded – it rules out other ways in which parties might be involved in government, such as confidence and supply agreements – but for all its flaws, responses to the question are still revealing.

The question asked about parties that had ‘no real chance’ of being in government. The figure for both Labour and Conservative was 3%. Almost everyone could see they had a chance. For the Lib Dems, it was 18%. Most people thought they had a chance.

Continue reading General Election 2015: Voters wrong, but still revealing

The Many Faces of Social Media: Challenging the Social Media Democracy Nexus

By Ignas Kalpokas

The conventional narrative about social media and political change tends to be a rather simplistic one: a relatively strong causal relationship between the use of modern communication technologies and democratic change is presumed. Although on some occasions this causation (or, at least, correlation) might hold, there is a different side to social media as well: one of facilitator to non-democratic regimes or instigator of violence. In fact, social media do not have intrinsic qualities of their own but are, instead, dependent on offline conditions. Having established that, the post then moves to the application of social media for influence operations as part of hybrid warfare.

To begin with, social media are usually said to have added a new tool to the social movement repertoire. The new media allow them to access and share information that is not available on mainstream media either because of economic or political pressure or because it simply relates to an issue that is not (yet) high enough on the agenda. Moreover, social media enable instant sharing of new and grievances and, coupled with smartphones, tablets, and other devices capable of capturing and instantly uploading images, allow the development of a new type of activist – an engaged ‘citizen journalist’ who is usually more effective in timing, access, and the immediacy of the cause than any representative of conventional media can be. These developments by themselves help democratise the public sphere and change the way in which citizens relate to it: instead of being passive users, they now become crucial influencers. Social media also have the potential of shifting the balance of power: instead of vertical public communication dominated by heavyweight political and media actors (which, not uncommonly, are one and the same), they can create multidirectional flows of communication.

Continue reading The Many Faces of Social Media: Challenging the Social Media Democracy Nexus