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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.

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Devolution, austerity and community leadership in English Local Government

By Alison Gardner.

The ‘Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill’ published at the end of May 2015 provided the cornerstone for the new government’s flagship decentralisation agenda.  Yet as Professor Robin Hambleton has recently argued, rather than granting increased power to local government, the bill’s focus on a new layer of sub-regional, combined authorities will actually move power further away from local communities.  This problem has potential to be exacerbated by the erosion of local authorities’ ‘community leadership’ role, due to financial pressures associated with austerity.

During the early 1990s, academics and practitioners championed a role for English local government ‘not just to deliver certain services well but to steer a community to meet the full range of its needs’.  Although the idea of community leadership has deep historic roots, the 1990s saw a resurgence of interest in the contribution of local government to the strategic development and wellbeing of a locality, through its capacity to connect fragmented layers of governance in an increasingly fractured service delivery landscape.

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Labour should forget ‘Saint’ David Miliband – he fluffed his chance

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By Steven Fielding 

One of the many problems faced by Harold Wilson after he became Labour leader in 1963 was heading a team dominated by supporters of his immediate predecessor. Hugh Gaitskell had died suddenly, leaving his political friends understandably bereft.

Wilson was one of Gaitskell’s most prominent opponents and, as things went from bad to worse during his 1964-70 government, arch-Gaitskellites spent their evenings wishing Saint Hugh, the Man of Principle, was alive to save Labour from disaster. It was hard for Wilson to compete with a man whose qualities became ever more superhuman after his passing.

In the same way, Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party was dogged by the reputation of his brother David from the start. David was the candidate supported by most of the shadow cabinet when the two took each other on in the 2010 leadership race.

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Life under austerity shows why Syriza are fighting it so hard

by Jamie Jordan.

Greece has been a key talking point at the G7 summit of economic powers. The current impasse in negotiations between the Syriza-led government and the country’s creditors comes down to some significant differences in opinion over austerity. While Angela Merkel says time is running out for Greece to accept the reforms required for its bailout funds, Syriza continue to question conditions that require cuts to the country’s pensions, civil service and VAT reform.

Alexis Tsipras’s firm stance against austerity has led to the Greek government being labelled as intransigent throughout negotiations. The analogy that has become common is that Greece is a patient that refuses to take its medicine. But the irony of this is that the country’s healthcare system has borne the brunt of austerity measures – the extent of which has become evident to me while carrying out my PhD fieldwork, focusing on the restructuring taking place to Greece’s political economy and welfare state.

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The Future of the Left – Where next for Britain’s labour movement?

By Andreas Bieler

‘The Conservatives are not invincible – splits over the forthcoming EU referendum and their small majority in parliament are only two signs of their weakness. Together, the Left can stem the tide of austerity’, these were the words of the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. In front of a full lecture theatre with 300 people, she delivered the first Ken Coates memorial lecture, organised by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) and the local University and College Union (UCU) association. In this post, I will draw out some of her key points.

Labour’s defeat in the general elections

Frances O’Grady heavily contested the idea that Labour had lost the elections because its programme had been too far on the left. Any Labour party programme has to focus on constructing homes, ensuring jobs and safeguarding the NHS. If at all the elections had been lost because the party had conceded too much to austerity. Moreover, the Conservative tactics of scaremongering the public of a minority Labour government depending on SNP support had worked. While she was supportive of the SNP’s anti-austerity stance, however, Frances O’Grady pointed out that the politics of place, as pursued by the SNP in Scotland, is an inadequate response to austerity. Workers in England will always have more in common with workers in Scotland than with bankers in London.

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Gesture Politics

By Sue Pryce 

On June 9th 2015, the House of Lords will have its first opportunity to debate a new set of drugs laws. The Psychoactive Substances Bill, will introduce a ‘blanket’ ban on all legal highs. Legal highs, also referred to as New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) are legal concoctions of drugs that mimic illegal drugs. Vertex for example is a kind of synthetic cannabis. It is sold widely and cheaply, but in contrast to prohibited cannabis, it appears to be implicated in several health scares. Methedrone became the first of such substances to be banned (2010) after it became a ‘chart buster’ legal alternative to ecstasy in 2007. The media fuss it attracted and its eventual ban did little to curb the market, it simply went underground and on-line.

The government’s proposed ban can be little more than gesture politics – being seen to be doing something, anything, about the growing public fuss about the dangers of these substances. Yes they are dangerous, some more so than others and some more so than those drugs prohibited by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. But it is prohibition itself that drives the market for legal highs.

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The Surprise Election

By Philip Cowley.

In the early hours of 8 May, during his victory speech at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, David Cameron described the 2015 general election as one where ‘pundits got it wrong, the pollsters got it wrong, the commentators got it wrong’.

It was a fair complaint. A couple of months before, a collection of academic experts had met at the LSE to forecast the result of the election. No matter which model they used, or how they set about crunching the numbers, they all reached the same conclusion: no single party would win enough seats to command a majority in the House of Commons. A similar survey of over 500 academics, journalists, and pollsters in early March came up with the same finding. And the betting markets agreed. Just before the polls closed on 7 May, the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power had odds of 1/25 for a hung parliament, in which no party had an outright majority. A wager of £10 would have paid out just £10.40. Both Labour and the Conservative parties pretended they could win outright, but neither really believed it.

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Austerity and Resistance: Greece in the Eurozone crisis

By Andreas Bieler and Jamie Jordan.

Concerns over Greece’s ability to pay back its debt continue unabated, with one crisis meeting taking place in Brussels after another. While the media focuses on Greece’s ability to meet the conditions by the European Union, in this post we will have another look at some of the key underlying dynamics of the crisis.

It is often argued in the media that citizens of richer countries would now have to pay for the ‘profligacy’ of citizens from indebted countries. Cultural arguments of apparently ‘lazy Greek’ workers as the cause of the crisis are put forward despite the fact that Greek workers are amongst those who work the most hours in Europe (McDonald 2012). Rather than the result of Greeks living above their means, however, the crisis is a reflection of the highly uneven European political economy. While Germany and other countries of the European core have pursued a growth strategy based on exports, countries in the European periphery including Greece followed a strategy of demand-led growth often financed with loans from abroad. Nevertheless, it would be wrong simply to blame the Greeks for this situation. The super profits resulting from German export success needed new points of investment to generate more profits and state bonds of peripheral countries seemed to be the ideal investment opportunity with guaranteed profits, backed by sovereign states. In a way, Germany has recycled its profits in the form of lending to peripheral countries. In turn, these credits to the periphery were used to purchase more goods in the core ensuring a continuation of the German export success. Hence, the recurrent distinction between credit- and export-led economies is misleading. Firms in core countries would not have been able to pursue export-led growth strategies, if global aggregate demand had not been supported by the real estate and stock market bubbles that occurred in the periphery as a result of lending. German export success, in other words, depended on Greece’s increasing indebtedness.

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The UK electoral system now decisively favours the Conservatives

By Tim Smith.

In the wake of the largely unexpected Conservative election victory, it was said that pollsters and political scientists had a lot of explaining to do after so many incorrect forecasts.  However, this author correctly predicted that the Liberal Democrats would do worse than was assumed , and also that the electoral system might well favour the Conservatives for the first time since 1987 which also turned out to be the case.  In this blog piece I will explain what has happened and the consequences for the next election.

At this election the two-party bias (or skew) in the electoral system moved from a pro-Labour bias of 54 seats, to a pro-Conservative bias of 48 seats, meaning that if the two parties had won the same number of votes, the Conservatives would have won 48 more seats than Labour.  The table below shows the decomposition of factors that result in this bias.  These can be obtained algebraically using Brookes’ decomposition method, as adapted by Johnston, Rossiter and Pattie. For a full explanation of the factors please re-read this entry.

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The Opportunities of Sovereign Credit Ratings

By David Gill

Sovereign credit ratings play an important role in the global economy. The potential advantages of a strong rating are widely known: the ability to borrow more money, on better terms. And the downsides of a poor one—less credit, higher costs—are equally so. Yet the path to a top rating is less clear. Economists and political scientists have spent decades trying to understand how governments can secure better sovereign credit ratings, principally by focusing on a handful of economic indicators, such as a country’s GDP per capita, real GDP growth, default history, and the like. Such indicators, however, are incomplete guides on their own. The “big three” credit rating agencies—Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s Investors Service—rely on more than quantitative factors, which is why their conclusions about the same numbers sometimes differ.

Indeed, that fact, combined with some recent damaging downgrades, has led some experts to conclude that the ratings process is too subjective or ill-thought out and that political leaders should dismiss credit ratings agencies as a result. But adopting such an approach risks missing a valuable opportunity. Subjectivity, after all, is a two-way street, since it can work in a country’s favor as well as to its disadvantage. Governments that understand how ratings are made can take steps to hold or improve their position; those that don’t may end up more vulnerable. And with new rating agencies now emerging alongside the old guard, knowing the rules of the game matters more than ever.

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