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Month: March 2015

Nick Clegg a hero? Watch this TV drama and you may think so

By Steven Fielding

James Graham is that precious thing: a dramatist who takes politics seriously. Unlike his peers he does not use politics as the excuse for cheap jokes that exploit Britons’ ill-informed cynicism about those we elect to govern in our name.

His 2012 play This House looked at how Labour and Conservative whips were forced to work together during the minority Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s. It was a great success – at least with National Theatre audiences, an overwhelmingly middle class and mature group.

As in This House, so in his first television drama, Coalition, broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday March 28. Here Graham shows how essentially decent men (and a woman) struggle with an almost impossible situation to make representative democracy work. In the case of Coalition he focuses on the five frenetic days between the 2010 election result and the formation of Britain’s first post-war coalition government, the beginning of what was sold as a new kind of politics.

Pathé does elections: The 1920’s

By Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley 

In the face of an instantaneous, 24-hour, multi-platform media it is possible to forget that once upon a time we had to wait for our news. Before Twitter and Facebook, before even television, there was the cinema newsreel.

One of the most famous of the companies producing these films was Pathé. Originally set up in France in 1896, Pathé were soon capturing on film slices of everyday Victorian life as well as very public occasions such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations or the funeral of William Gladstone. By 1908 Pathé had developed the concept of the newsreel, with the first British one produced in 1909. Inevitably the rise of television eventually did for the cinema newsreel – Pathé put out its last edition of Pathé News in early-1970 – but in the intervening period they had captured many iconic moments and reported stories both big and small. Among these were the General Elections of the era, and in the lead up to this year’s election we look back at some of the Pathé footage connected to them.

An inside perspective on Channel 4’s Coalition

By Sean Kemp

Coalition, Channel 4’s dramatisation of events during the post-election negotiations in 2010 was probably never going to satisfy me. As an adviser to Nick Clegg at the time I had a ringside seat for some of the programme’s key moments: watching Paddy Ashdown’s speech to a gathering of Lib Dem parliamentarians, or waiting anxiously during another agonising call to Gordon Brown. At other times, like the negotiation meetings themselves or the Rose Garden press conference, I was just an anxious spectator watching the TV and waiting for my colleagues to come back and tell me how it went.

The programme could never truly reveal what that time felt like for those who found themselves in some way caught up in it. The sensation of watching history unfold alongside the selfish, anxious thrill of knowing the future of you and your friends could be utterly transformed by the result is not something the show could, or was even trying to, capture.

Who won and who lost The Battle for Downing Street?

By Steven Fielding

In one corner, the old school pro, whose reputation precedes them and who can do no more than repeat their long-established, hammy, act. In the other, a plucky outsider many ridicule for being amateurish and simply not up to the job.

But enough of Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley, who hosted The Battle for Number 10 last night.

The first television encounter of this election was defined by what it was not. It was not a debate – David Cameron and Ed Miliband instead traded questions with Paxman and a docile studio audience. It was not a game-changer – too few will have watched it for that. And it did not, much, apparently, alter the perceptions of those viewers who did tune into Channel 4 or Sky.

The Bercow Coup

By Philip Cowley

The news that the Government is to table a last minute amendment to the procedure for the re-election of the Speaker has enlivened the dog days of the parliament. The current procedure for the defenestration of an incumbent Speaker requires MPs to do so publicly; the proposed change will introduce a secret ballot.  There are good summaries of the issue from the BBC (here) and the Commons library (here).

When discussing today’s vote, it is worth distinguishing between the principle (should there be a secret ballot or not?), the method (why is it being done now, and in this way?), and the motivation (why do it?). Much of the discussion thus far has tended to mix these three up, depending on the outcome a particular individual desires (which tends to depend on whether they like the Speaker, John Bercow, or not).

Political Studies: The number one choice for British academics

In the wealth of commentary that followed upon the release of the results of the REF exercise just before Christmas 2014, not much attention was devoted to the places in which British academics working in politics and international relations felt that their very best work had appeared.  But a recent posting on Chris Hanretty’s blog shows that more work submitted to the latest REF appeared in Political Studies than in any other journal, at home or abroad.   In the event, 109 items submitted to the research exercise were published in Political Studies, the lead journal of the Political Studies Association, with the nearest other contender (with 97 items), being the Review of International Studies, flagship journal of the PSA’s sister organization, the British International Studies Association.   Along with the 71 articles drawn from the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, this means that nearly three hundred articles submitted to the REF exercise had appeared in journals published by the two professional associations of academics in politics and international relations working in the UK.

The Greek government, EU policy constraints, and the tension between responsiveness and responsibility

By Kyriaki Nanou

In January 2015, after failure to agree on the nomination of a president, national elections were held in Greece – a country at the eye of the storm of the Eurozone crisis. The main opponents were New Democracy, the main party in the governing coalition arguing in favour of the necessity of the memorandum agreements and the continuation of the reforms as part of the external support package; and, on the other side, SYRIZA, arguing that there is a different way for Greece to exit the crisis – involving renegotiation of the the terms of the bailout agreements and not undertaking all of the reform measures. Together with its governing partners, New Democracy stressed ‘responsibility’ and argued that Greece had no other way out of this crisis but to implement all of the austerity measures, which it argued had already improved the state of the economy, and to satisfy external creditors and EU partners. Their campaign was focused on a rightist agenda underlying the dangers of deviating from the implementation of the painful reforms, which had the potential of upsetting the creditors, stopping the transfer of further payments and leading to a potential ‘Grexit’ from the euro. On the other hand, SYRIZA emphasised ‘responsiveness’ and argued that politicians should listen to the needs and concerns of Greek people, who were disillusioned with austerity politics. It had a leftist agenda that aimed to provide hope to the Greek electorate by promising measures that would ease the burden of austerity – by either not implementing planned reforms or by changing or reversing some of the reforms implemented by the previous government.

Disaster, Development and Urban Risk: a comment on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

Written by Pauline Eadie.

The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) was held in Sendai, Japan from 14-18 March 2015. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) organized the conference. The objective of the conference was to facilitate a post-2015 framework for disaster relief. The result of the WCDRR was the non-binding Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR). ‘Post-2015’ is now embedded in the lexicon of development practitioners as a signifier of the post Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era.  2015 also heralds the end of the ten-year Hyogo Framework for Action: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disaster (HFA). The HFA listed five priorities for Action that involved scaling up institutional and cultural awareness of safety, risk and resilience ‘at all levels’. A key theme was preparedness, including early warning.

China’s principle of intervention

By Miwa Hirono

Until the turn of the century, China’s response towards international conflicts had been based on the principle of non-intervention affirmed at the Bandung Conference in 1955. However, since the beginning of the 2000s, it seems China has begun to take mixed approaches to dealing with various international conflicts, ranging from a very flexible interpretation of the principle of non-intervention and participation in ‘intrusive’ international policy in relation to conflict states; to its tactic of abstention at the UN Security Council (UNSC); and even to very firmly abiding by the principle of non-intervention in the occasional exercise of its  power of  veto.

Sexing up Cornwall: but there’s more to Poldark than good looks

By Steven Fielding

The BBC has revived Poldark, last seen on British screens in 1977. It clearly hopes that the story of an impoverished gentleman returning from the American revolutionary wars to find his Cornish family seat in ruins, the county in turmoil and his true love about to marry another will again beguile audiences.

The original Poldark came, much like today, amidst a tsunami of historical dramas. A strong element of Poldark’s appeal was visual, as is the case with most period dramas. The Cornish landscapes, costumes and interiors gave audiences a strong sense of time and place. The series also benefited from the brooding presence of Ross Poldark, in tight breeches, boots and flowing shirts, a role that made Robin Ellis widely known as “the sexiest man on the telly”.