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UK Defense and the 2015 Election

By Wyn Rees

Election fever is in the air and the party platforms are busily being debated. Amidst this febrile atmosphere, defence is coming under the spotlight. Although not an issue at the top of voters’ agendas it is a subject that attracts attention because of the heightened threat environment resulting from terrorism and events in the Middle East. What are the issues in defence that will figure in the General Election in May?

Like other government departments, the Ministry of Defence has experienced four years of austerity. The Conservatives conducted a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010 that inflicted painful cuts on all three Armed Services.  Based on the premise that a £37billion shortfall had emerged between defence commitments and resources, the Regular Army was cut from 102 000 to 82 000, the surface fleet was reduced in size and the Harrier and Nimrod aircraft were retired. The legacy from these decisions creates the context in which a future government will conduct an SDSR in 2015. There was an expectation that by the time of the 2015 Review the defence budget would be growing again but the persistence of the national debt renders this unlikely. Anything more than a slight increase in the defence equipment budget, to take account of major weapons programmes, looks overly optimistic. Continue reading

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The End of Cheap Labour in China?

By Andreas Bieler

China’s developmental strategy has been based on cheap labour, foreign direct investment (FDI) and the assembling of pre-fabricated parts for export to North American and European markets. This export-oriented growth strategy in low value added production sectors has, however, come under pressure as a result of the global economic crisis and a decline in global demand. In his presentation at Nottingham University on 17 February, jointly hosted by theSchool of Contemporary Chinese Studies and the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, Florian Butollo from Jena University in Germany investigated whether China’s attempts at industrial upgrading in response to the crisis have also resulted in ‘social upgrading’ for its workforce.

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Ukip’s 2020 strategy: topple Labour in the north

By Matthew Goodwin

Spend time with senior people in UKIP and it will not be long until you hear about the ‘2020 Strategy’. Buoyed by their recent success, Farage and his party are already talking openly about their plans for after May. And there is little disagreement about what they should be.

The 2020 Strategy is geared toward establishing Ukip as a permanent feature on the political landscape, transforming it from a short-term revolt into a long-term insurgency. It is anchored in an assumption that the party has already established ownership over its two core issues – immigration and Britain’s relationship with the EU.

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Armando Ianucci is a hypocrite for demanding Britons vote

By Steven Fielding

Armando Iannucci, the man who gave us The Thick of It and Veep, has just called on Britons to make sure they vote in the upcoming general election.

Iannucci points out, rightly, that politicians only notice those who vote. Yet, while arguing against Russell Brand’s claim that the British political system is so flawed it is only by non-voting that change will come, Iannucci suggests that it is perhaps only comedians like Brand who offer a “proper, mature engagement with democracy”. Britain’s political parties in contrast only come in for criticism. They engage in negatives, Iannucci claims, such that it is almost impossible to know for what they actually stand.

This is all a little rich from the man responsible for television situation comedies that on both sides of the Atlantic show politicians and their spin doctors to be lying, incompetent careerists. The current popular hostility to representative democracy is by no means all due to comedians’ jokes about politicians: office-holders have hardly done themselves many favours on that count. But the likes of Iannucci have played some role in framing the exaggeratedly negative way we see our leaders.

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Why the established parties are in trouble on immigration

By Matthew Goodwin

Which political party do voters back on immigration?

It is a question that has been asked during many election campaigns in the past and one that has influenced the strategies of the main parties. Ever since the 1960s, the most popular answer given by voters was the Conservative Party.

Historically, the centre right has held a strong advantage on this issue, being seen as the party that is most likely to deliver on what consistently around seven in ten voters want to see; a reduction in the level of immigration into the country. Despite concerns among some Tory ‘modernisers’ about possible reputational damage, the simple reality is that the Conservative Party has traditionally remained closest to public opinion on this issue and has been rewarded accordingly.

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Regulating European Party Politics: Causes and Consequences

By Fernando Casal Bértoa

The question of how political parties are, and ought to be, regulated, has assumed increased importance in recent years. The legitimacy crisis experienced by the parties themselves, and also their progressive codification in public law, including national constitutions or party finance laws, have raised important questions, ranging from the motivations inspiring specific regulations to their effect on the parties and the party systems, and the underlying conceptions of the role and place of political parties in modern democracies.

Interestingly enough, and notwithstanding the fact that, both in Europe and elsewhere, political parties have increasingly (see figure 1) been subject to regulations governing their external activities or determining the way in which their internal organisation may function, none of the abovementioned questions has received the necessary attention, neither from political scientists nor from constitutional lawyers. Indeed, the few works dealing with the subject are mostly descriptive and lack a comparative dimension.

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Is Modi’s Honeymoon Over? The 2015 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections and the Possibility of Change

By Wilfried Swenden

Since wresting power from the Congress led United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha elections (April-May 2014), Narendra Modi’s Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a trail of successive electoral victories. The party swept the state legislative assembly elections of Haryana and Jharkhand, became the lead coalition party in the government of Maharashtra and, following the November 2014 state assembly elections, may well become the junior partner in the government of Kashmir after it successfully captured two third of the seats in Jammu, the Hindu-dominated part of that state. Yet, with a massive electoral defeat in the February 2015 Delhi legislative assembly elections to the Aam Aadmi (common man) Party, the BJP electoral bandwagon finally appears to have run into trouble. Despite winning all 7 Lok Sabha seats from Delhi in 2014, the BJP is set to capture only 3 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly against 67 for the Aam Admi Party and none at all for Congress, India’s –not so Grand- Old Party- which governed Delhi uninterruptedly for fifteen years (1998-2013).

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Nigel’s army is advancing into Tory territory

By Matthew Goodwin

Nigel Farage arrived in the Labour-held seat of Rotherham yesterday, preparing to launch the most important campaign in his party’s 21-year history.

Ukip, which spent 20 years in the wilderness, is currently third in the national polls and widely expected to increase its tally of two MPs.

The party has neither the manpower nor money to match the established parties. But after two successful by-election campaigns in Clacton and Rochester & Strood it has learnt how to overcome first-past-the-post. Its success at the European elections last May has also inspired its plan for a short but loud general election campaign in about 30 seats, with a smaller number of “top targets” receiving much greater support.

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Corrupt politicians can only look on in horror as Mr Integrity takes Italian presidency

By Catherine Gegout

Italy has a new president in the form of Sergio Mattarella, a 73-year-old constitutional judge from Sicily. Mattarella was elected to the role in the wake of the retirement of Giorgio Napolitano, who had held the post for nearly a decade.

The president of Italy has limited powers: he or she guarantees that politics complies with the Italian constitution, but real political responsibility remains with the government. However, the election of Mattarella is important for both the centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi and his Democratic Party. Mattarella represents integrity, and has made no secret of his contempt for the kind of politics that has bolstered the interests of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over the years.

In securing the job for Mattarella, who is a former Christian Democrat, Renzi has humiliated his main rival Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister who is still leader of Forza Italia.

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Malheureusement, nous ne sommes pas tous Charlie 2: Rules of Engagement

by David Stevens and Kieron O’Hara

Last week in this blog, we argued that goods such as belonging and commitment were the chief drivers of extremist groups, alongside a rejection of mainstream thinking. In a book which appears next month, The Devil’s Long Tail, we claim that suppressing ideological messages in the hope of preventing radicalisation is simply not effective, as they are not the chief motivators of such people, and furthermore that the emergence of the web hasn’t changed this calculation.

Nevertheless, this kind of thinking pervades the anti-extremist drive. In the UK, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has just written to over 1,000 Islamic leaders to suggest that “There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country.” One assumes that a would-be jihadi might struggle to assent to this proposition – and if he or she heard it from an Imam at the local mosque, then he or she might well assume that this message was mere government propaganda.

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