Tag: united kingdom

What was behind the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student

Like everyone else, I’m still trying to catch up after the Thanksgiving holiday. So I have a quick, kind of speculative post this week.

It looks like the distressing saga of Matthew Hedges has finally been resolved. As I wrote about before, Hedges is a grad student in the UK who traveled to the UAE to conduct field work. After interviewing several subjects about UAE security policies, he was arrested and charged with espionage. He was recently been sentenced to life in prison, although the UAE just pardoned him.

There is a lot to figure out with this case–what it means for scholars working on the Persian Gulf, whether universities should still have relationships with the UAE, and (most crucially) how to secure Hedges’ release. But one angle I’ve been thinking about, and which I don’t think has been explained properly, is why did the UAE do this? Why did they detain a UK citizen, risking international criticism and condemnation?

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In Exile at Home: Impressions from Europe

Copyright Warner Brothers

Copyright Warner Brothers

I have been able to avoid this fate for almost 12 years now, but they finally got me. Being a citizen of Germany, I have been studying in the U.S. on student visas for the last decade and even though it has always been a bureaucratic nightmare, associated with significant financial costs, I usually managed to obtain the necessary documents to enter the United States. Until this summer, when the application for my work visa got delayed for reasons that I don’t need to get into here. Long story short, I had to leave the U.S. for three months, organize someone to sublet my apartment on very short notice, find an alternative source of income, new health insurance, cancel my attendance at APSA, etc. I had promised my daughter, who is staying with her mom in Ohio, that we would take at least two road trips during the summer (she wanted to go to New York City. “Why?” I asked. “Lady Liberty” she answered). Canceled. But hey, things could be worse. So, I decided to make the best of it and travel through Europe with Lise Herman, a Ph.D. candidate at LSE. In the next couple of posts I will report from our journey, tell you a bit about the mood in Europe, and touch some of the issues that the people, and especially the younger generation, are concerned or not concerned about. Continue reading

So you want to move to the United Kingdom…

british_punk_duck_by_oriana_x_myst-d3d7wehIts 2013, the U.S. government was recently shut down for almost two weeks. The National Science Foundation will only fund grants if you can help the U.S. build operational transformers or drones that can make targeted killing choices.  The movement to replace full time faculty with part time adjuncts has sapped the open jobs on the market leading to the common Facebook refrain – “worst job market ever.”  Political theory is openly despised in most departments.  Without significant skills in R, there is little hope to make an impact in quantitative research.  Welcome to the Political Science Thunderdome, two candidates enter and one leaves.  There are no rules, only anarchy (and not the Realist type).  Now may be the time to look into other options and opportunities.

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Does the Arab Spring show how strategic narratives work?

Nobody has come close to explaining how strategic narratives work in international relations, despite the term being banded about. Monroe Price wrote a great article in the Huffington Post yesterday that moves the debate forward. As I have already writtenstrategic narratives are state-led projections of a sequence of events and identities, a tool through which political leaders try to give meaning to past, present and future in a way that justifies what they want to do. Getting others at home or abroad to accept or align with your narrative is a way to influence their behaviour. But like soft power, we have not yet demonstrated how strategic narratives work. We are documenting how great powers project narratives about the direction of the international system and their identities within that. We see the investments in public diplomacy and norm-promotion. We have not yet demonstrated that these projections have altered the behaviour of other states or publics. Does the Arab Spring show these narratives at work?

Many leaders in the West and protestors taking part in the Arab Spring promoted a narrative about the spread of freedom, often conflating this with the hope and vigour of youth and emancipatory potential of social media. Of course this narrative may be bogus, as Jean-Marie Guéhenno argues in yesterday’s New York Times. However, the key point Price makes is that narratives set expectations, regardless of their veracity. Narratives defined what NOME leaders were expected to do: step aside! We can see the power of narratives by seeing what happens to those who defy them. Mubarak and Saif Gaddafi both gave speeches where they were expected to align with the narrative. The narrative set the context and expectation for how they should behave. But they did the opposite of what was expected. Price writes:

From a perspective of “strategic narratives,” Mubarak and young Gaddafi were speaking as players in an episode, set by key actors, international and domestic, who had the expectation that their wishes as to the playing out of the drama would be fulfilled. Their speeches did not match the sufficiently accepted script, in the case of Mubarak, or the incomplete outlines of one, as in the case of young Gaddafi.
Who has successfully promoted an overarching narrative? Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy? Where did the ‘Arab Spring’ narrative come from? How does an overarching narrative play out in each country? What room does it leave for individual governments and public to create their own destinies? In the next year, building up to a debate at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in San Diego in April, we will be exploring this. 
Cross posted from: http://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/ 

Standing Up for Multiculturalism? or “Where I find myself agreeing with the Prime Minister of Canada and that the dirt won’t come off.”

I am very, very ethnic.

For those of you who weren’t following Canadian politics this week (I’m assuming that’s 98% of the Duck audience) the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC or “Tories”) took a lot of flack this week for calling up supporters and asking them to wear “ethnic” costumes. This is, of course, to make the Tories look more diverse and possibly have another colour of hair in their audience than white. The flack, in my opinion, is well deserved – minorities are not well staged photo-ops. They are, however, a group that all political parties have tried to reach out to.

Liberals have traditionally had much success in the Greater Toronto Area, and other major urban zones by promoting immigration (or at least seeming to) such as policies which reuniting families when one member has come over. But, at the same time this has caused a certain amount of concern and resentment among Canadians (I’m referring especially to Anglo-Canadians, Franco-Quebeckers in a moment) who see “ethnic” communities being established that do not integrate, want to change Canada or, at worst, support illiberal policies and groups.


In particular, there is a certain Tory electoral base who resent multiculturalism and feel that immigrants should become “Canadian” (whatever that might be.) In Quebec, this is even more so – and the government has put a lot of resources into not only trying to attract highly-skilled immigrants, but then also offer them French lessons, courses on liberal values, etc. The dark sides of this, at least in my opinion, were the farce that was the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (on the accommodation of minorities) in 2007-8 and the bill to ban the niqab. (One can tolerate a niqab without approving of it. It’s not that hard!)

I would not consider myself an expert on multiculturalism – although I have blogged about it before. The UK (where I live) is in the throes of a debate over the concept, with the Prime Minister coming out strongly against it – but not actually articulating an alternative policy, other than an undefined “muscular liberalism”. (Hey look – someone made a blog about it! Although it seems to be a pretty white crowd? ) The concept seems to be unpopular in the UK because many seem to see multiculturalism as the reason why the UK has Islamic extremism, ghettos, violence, etc. Multiculturalism is that which has, in British eyes, allowed communities to insulate themselves as opposed to integrate themselves.

As such, British governments under Blair, Brown and now Cameron seem to want to assert “British values” but they have never been able to agree as to what those are – at least since I’ve been in the country, and that’s going on ten years.

My concern is that I think many misunderstand the potential of the concept and I think the UK denigrates the concept at its own risk. For me, multiculturalism is not about “living and let living” without question. That’s a ridiculous kind of pluralism. Rather, I’ve always seen it as an exchange of tradition and culture – with emphasis on the exchange. Insulation is not multiculturalism.

So colour me very surprised when I read a column by Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star who, reflecting on the recent leader’s debate in Canada, praises the Prime Minister’s take on multiculturalism in the debate and, dare I say it, his defence of the concept. (It’s worth quoting Siddiqi’s take on the debate at length).[Quick Canadian politics primer – Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister and Gilles Duceppe is the leader of the nationalist/separatist Bloq Quebecois who have taken a pro bi-lingual/bi-cultural and anti—multicultural stance in the party platforms]

Harper, speaking last in that exchange, eschewed personal sentimentality and got straight to the heart of the matter:

“We favour multiculturalism.

“What Canadians need to understand about multiculturalism is that people who make the hard decision to … come here, they first and foremost want to belong to this country … They also at the same time will change our country.

“And we show through multiculturalism our willingness to accommodate their differences, so they are more comfortable.

“That’s why we’re so successful integrating people as a country. I think we’re probably the most successful country in the world in that regard.”

He went to defend the record levels of immigration under his watch.

“We are the first government to maintain a vigorous and strong and open-door immigration policy during a recession, because we’re focused on the long-term interest of Canada and the Canadian economy.”

Other exchanges followed. In his third turn at the topic, Harper challenged Duceppe more directly:

“Let me just also question what you keep saying, that somehow multiculturalism is incompatible with being a Quebecer.

“You know, there’s lots of people in this country who speak English who don’t come from an English or a British background.

“One can retain their culture and their cultural identity and still integrate into the mainstream language of the community, which is French in Quebec, and English in most of the rest of the country. That’s what we do and that’s why we support these policies.”

Duceppe said: “But we don’t want to create ghettoes …”

Harper shot back that “Canada is not creating ghettoes. It is the most successful integration policy in the world. It has helped Canadians retain their culture while being part of the broader community. That’s what we are so proud of. I know the Bloc Québécois wants to break up the country, and you don’t think new Canadians are going to support that objective.”

Harper may not have been very poetic in all this but he got the gist of it just right, thusly:

High immigration is essential to our economy. The assumption that multiculturalism undermines integration is false. Keeping one’s culture and identity is not an impediment to integration. Immigrants want to integrate and do. Yet they also change Canada. This is the most successful model of integration in the world.

And now I find myself actually supporting something the Prime Minster said. Just when I thought the Canadian election debates could not have gotten any more annoying.

I don’t think the Tories have it right on immigration. I also think they have been pandering to the ethnic vote, and it’s clear that they somehow believe that people in “ethnic” dress are going to help them win elections. Additionally, as Siddiqui points out, Harper is a politician who is “forever courting his right-of-centre constituency, a base that routinely maligns multiculturalism and grumbles about high levels of immigration.”

But I do find this at least somewhat encouraging. And maybe I will be stupid enough to take him at his word on this issue. Let’s see if the Tories stick to it – a dubious proposition.

Why we need to debate foreign policy in elections: Lessons from the UK 2010 General Election

FYI: I am blogging on Canada-related issues at the Cana-blog. It basically satiates my desire to engage with Canadian issues without boring Duck readers to death about our various neuroses from North of the 49th Parallel. Do check it out though, eh?

Last year I blogged about the UK General Election as a “Johnny Foreigner”. I thought it would be a very dull affair, but it ended up being pretty interesting with the first televised election debates, “Cleggmania” and the subsequent coalition discussions. What didn’t the election have? Foreign policy.

In fact the only foreign policy-related items that really featured at all were brief disagreements over relations with Europe (more about the transfer of Westminster powers), climate change and a really, really dispiriting debate on immigration (especially if you are said Johnny Foreigner).

Depressing immigration debates aside, this makes sense. The UK was hit hard by the recession and the debate was largely about the economy. Foreign policy, seldom a popular topic in elections anyway, was even less important. It’s the kind of thing that won’t help you win an election – only lose one.

Lo and behold, it’s 2011 and Canada finds itself in a national election. And what’s not on the agenda? Foreign policy. Why? The economy. And healthcare (which always ranks as important in Canadian elections).

Foreign policy has not and will not play a large role – even if Canada is in Afghanistan and helping to lead the NATO mission in Libya. (Although, to be fair, Carl Meyer at Embassy Magazine has a good article on the ways that foreign policy may feature in the election.) In this sense, there is a certain amount in common with the UK 2010 General Election – at least in terms of the downplaying of foreign policy issues to domestic ones.

But is this something that us IR-wonks should learn to live with? Is there anything we can learn from the UK experience?

In short: yes. After the UK foreign-policy-free election, the coalition has made major and significant policy decisions which affect foreign relations. Some of the significant ones include:

There was no debate on any of these issues. For Afghanistan, all that the leaders spoke of was their trips there and meeting the troops. It could not be said that there was a major debate about the scale, scope and vision of the mission. So should there have been a debate on the UK’s foreign policy priorities and its role in the world? And why wasn’t there one?

There are a number of factors which may have prevented a foreign policy debate.

First, quite frankly, it may have been something that the political parties just didn’t want to confront. It’s not an easy question and, as argued above, it was simply not a priority for them or the voters. Additionally politicians may want to avoid saying anything inflammatory about allies or policies during the election which may come back to haunt them later.

Second, in the parliamentary system, where cabinet ministers sit in the legislature (and owe their position more to patronage and party balancing than expertise), there were not necessarily any obvious foreign policy spokespersons. Certainly there were politicians with interest (such as Rory Stewart). But while positions are fluid and unclear, it’s not obvious that there were any obvious persons to debate the issue.

Third, foreign policy events are unpredictable. While some things are constant – NATO, the EU, relations with the United States – no one could have possibly predicted the uprisings in the Middle East or the fact that NATO would be bombing Libya as some kind of R2P operation. So, for example, while Bush and Condoleezza Rice wrote about not using the 82nd Airborne for nation building in 2000, he ended up spending most of his presidency doing just that. Events may distort or even dictate policies – and this is why they are not carefully outlined (other than broad, vague ideas at best) in elections.

Finally, foreign policy is just something that politicians feel that international affairs are best debated in Parliament rather than on the campaign trail. (Although the debates may sometimes be lacking as well.)

But there is a lesson here for Canada (and other democracies) that tend to not debate foreign policy in elections: governments are going to have to deal with foreign events, and without some kind of guidance, or debate or understanding of what our interests are and what our priorities should be, then there can be major surprises later on.

Even if it must take place in terms of vague generalities, a foreign policy debate is worth having. It is worth knowing where political parties stand on R2P, development, the United Nations (and UN Security Council) international organizations, etc. Broader ideas and goals should be outlined even if, inevitably, events cause change and reversal later on. While I do not anticipate huge cuts to Canadian defence spending nor a major change on our alliance policies, it would be nice to know what the Conservative (UK and Canadian) line on “the Responsibility to Protect” is – since we seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

EDIT: James Joyner has a great post on the US take on this at Outside the Beltway.

Wikileaks, the Daily Telegraph and the ‘Special Relationship’

In his Introduction to the recent New York Times collection of materials on Wikileaks, Open Secrets Bill Keller comments on the way in which the newspapers involved shaped the leaks in accordance with their own agendas. Thus, the Guardian gave extensive coverage to leaked US army accounts of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, reflecting their scepticism about the war; the NYT, on the other hand, took the view that they had already given front page coverage to all the major incidents and so gave this matter much less emphasis. There is no doubt that the Guardian’s perspective was much more in line with that of Julian Assange – but that hasn’t prevented a major fall-out between Wikileaks and the Guardian over the latter’s book and its portrayal of Assange and so now, rather incongruously, the Daily Telegraph, the voice of the Conservative Party in the UK, has become the major recipient of new Wikileaks material. It is interesting to see what they have made of it, where their emphasis lies.
The short answer seems to be that they are interested in highlighting the extent to which Anglo-American relations have soured in recent years. This partly comes through in the material on Libya and the release of al-Mehgrahi in 2009, which admittedly could be seen as serving a Conservative agenda given that it was the last  Labour Government that behaved disingenuously, but goes wider than that.  For example, we have also been told how the US spied on the Foreign Office and gave British nuclear secrets to the Russians. This is all pretty much on a par with telling us about the religious affiliation of the Pope but the emphasis given by the Telegraph suggests that for this newspaper at least  the ‘Special Relationship’ is no longer very special and they are happy to advertise this fact.

What makes this of wider interest is that it fits with other straws in the wind. Consider, for example, the obvious lack of any personal chemistry between President Obama and David Cameron. This isn’t particularly surprising – they have very little in common apart from the possession of first class intellects – but what is rather surprising is that the government doesn’t seem to be concerned by this state of affairs.  Tony Blair clearly regarded establishing a personal relationship with whoever is elected US President as part of the job-description of the British Prime Minister, and most of his predecessors would have agreed, but not Mr Cameron. There is a fascinating contrast here between the PM’s attitude and that of France’s President Sarkozy who has gone out of his way to ingratiate himself with the US President, a role-reversal which has left French public opinion bemused and a little irritated. 
Nor is this simply a matter of personal chemistry.  Foreign Secretary William Hague’s briefings on his current tour of the Middle East have been very critical of Israeli belligerence in a way that opens up a  more substantial gap between British and American policy on the region than has been apparent for a long time. The contrast with Tony Blair’s position on Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, where Blair was alone among European leaders in refusing to call for an early cease fire, is striking.
It may be that we are witnessing a real moment of change in Britain’s foreign policy.  We should be clear that this doesn’t amount to a re-orientation towards a European as opposed to an Atlantic identity; even though Cameron has better personal relations with both Sarkozy and Angela Merkel than he has with Obama – and it’s difficult to think of any time since 1945 when something similar could be said of a British PM – there is no intention to change in a fundamental way the semi-detached attitude towards Europe characteristic of British governments. Nor will we cease to be loyal allies of the US in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Rather, I think it is a case of a genuine reassessment of Britain’s power in the world and a willingness to abandon at least some of the illusions of grandeur that for so long have survived the end of empire and the loss of real great-power status. David Cameron may actually be the first British leader to have a genuinely post-imperial attitude towards the world, someone who is comfortable to be the Prime Minister of an middle-power and who doesn’t need to have his or his country’s self-esteem boosted by American approval.  In a rather confused, half-assed way, the recent Defence Review reflected this position; it was confused because clearly the Defence Secretary is unreconstructed, but the effective scrapping over time of the new aircraft carriers, and the delay in replacing Trident can, I think, be seen in this light.

But what of the Tory Party?  This is where the Telegraph’s handling of Wikileaks is interesting.  It clearly suggests a scepticism about Britain’s relations with the US, but does it indicate acceptance of a new, lesser but more realistic, understanding of Britain’s place in the world?  We will find out over the next few years.

“State” Multiculturalism

This is England?

I woke up this morning to discover that apparently “state multiculturalism” has failed. According to Prime Minister David Cameron:

…when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared. And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology. Now for sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see – and what we see in so many European countries – is a process of radicalisation.

In this speech, given in Germany, Cameron claimed that the West needs to “wake-up to what is happening to our countries” and basically realize that our tolerance of other people’s cultures is responsible for the terrorist threat, 7/7, etc.

And as if to perfectly echo the point, the rather fascist self-styled English Defense League – a full blown anti-Islam group that wants to ban mosques, people that are not white, etc had a large rally in Luton today.

Fabulous.

It seems ridiculous that I have to make the point that I DON’T think the PM is an EDL member, etc. etc. And I’m sure he felt the timing of his speech was unfortunate – but this does serve to highlight some points I’ve been unscientifically thinking about for a while.

After having lived in the UK for nearly 10 years (including some poorer neighbourhoods and in council estates), it doesn’t seem to me that the UK has ever given multiculturalism a chance. And having read the Prime Minister’s speech, it doesn’t actually seem that he knows what multiculturalism is.

In the UK, and in the speech, “multiculturalism” seems to be “let’s let those people go and live in that ghetto over there”. It’s never been about integration – just a kind of reluctant (or “hands-off”) tolerance. But this is not really multiculturalism – at least I think as it has been practiced elsewhere or even as it could be.
Multiculturalism – to me – would suggest an exchange: keeping the practicses of ones’ culture alive within the context of a liberal, pluralist society. And yes, we can make demands on someone to respect certain liberal civil values. I’m not sure it was ever really about allowing people to stand up and defend their hatred of homosexuality, women’s rights and the like. Suggesting that this is multiculturalism seems to me to be an unfortunate co-opting or gross misunderstanding of the term. It seems to be the hated “multiculturalism” of the right (the kind that wants to ban Spanish in America) that the PM has bought into rather than what it could stand for.

Additionally, it doesn’t so much seem to me to be the case that it is a policy of multiculturalism that drives people to live in ghettos – but the fact they are poor. According to a report released last year by UK think tank Demos, Muslim people in the UK are more likely to be unemployed and to suffer discrimination:

Occupationally, Muslims are the most disadvantaged faith group in the Western European labour market. Muslims on average experience higher unemployment rates compared to national averages, and more often than not, their occupations are not compatible with their levels and fields of education. In respect of housing and poverty, there is marked clustering of communities that has resulted in the ghettoisation’ of some areas, leading to social tensions.

Another interesting thing about PM Cameron’s speech is what he means by “state” multiculturalism? As opposed to what other kind of multiculturalism? Non-state multiculrualism? He never says.
Is there an alternative? The Labour Party and Gordon Brown used to speak of spreading “British Values”. But I’m not even certain that the British know what Britsh values are. While one can look back and find reference to notions of the “liberties of all Englishmen”, they’re very undefined. (Particularly since the UK never really got around to writing them down). And this is a very legalistic notion of what “values” are. And besides ethnic and religious differences, are British values the same in the south of the country as the north? Or in the other ‘nations’ like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (where some Christian MPs regularly denigrate homosexuals). So Cameron is speaking about a “common identity”. But really, there just doesn’t seem to be any sense that the government has anything else to put in place.

So if he wasn’t advocating an alternative, what’s this about then? There has been some suggestion in the media that Cameron’s speech is to prepare the UK for some changes to come following a review of the “Prevent” strategy – the UK’s anti-extremism/radicalisation policy which is under review (mostly because it seems to have cost a lot of money and achieved little results).

But it would seem to me that multiculturalism, however imperfect, would seem to offer a platform to combat inequality and mistrust and to promote integration. You know, some of the things you’d want to do to combat extremism. And I think it would be easier than promoting a “shared national identity” – especially considering there are nationalist/separatist movements in Scotland and Wales.

I think it can be easily said that no sensible person would advocate funding organizations that fundamentally contradicted liberal values. And I don’t think that we should accept racism, sexism, anti-semitism or any other bad-ism from whatever the source. But I don’t think that the government should claim that accepting these things is the result of multiculturalism when I think there are many other factors to point at. It’s not about tolerating the intolerable.

Without articulating an alternative, or perhaps even suggesting a different take on multiculturalism, the PM risks having this message of challenging intolerance and extremism mixed with that of the EDL. (Certainly they must see this as some kind of propaganda coup?) And that’s not doing anyone any favours.

The Anglo-French Treaty and the BBC World Service: Hard Power irrelevance and a threat to the Soft Power of the UK and the West.

On Tuesday of this week, amid much pomp and fanfare (and a certain amount of suppressed hilarity) an Anglo-French Treaty was signed, providing for 50 years (no, really, 50 years) of defence co-operation. I’ve posted on this at the LSE blog here and haven’t much to add – basically there is less to this than meets the eye.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, a little noticed policy poses a genuine threat to one of the major sources of British ‘soft’ power, the BBC World Service.  As part of a wider deal on the funding of the BBC, funding for the Service is to be shifted from a grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the BBC itself.  A Good Thing you might think, escaping from political control to the independent BBC? If so you would be very, very wrong. This is a disaster in the making.
Although obliged to fund it, the FCO exercises no control over the World Service which has operated in practice as a body independent of both the Government and the BBC.  Now it will become part of the latter. Many foreigners think of the BBC as the source of quality news and documentaries, and boring ‘heritage’ costume dramas (sorry, that was editorialising). This is true, but it is also true that the BBC is a ruthlessly competitive organisation, continually searching for ratings success and seeking to sell its programmes abroad. The loss-making elements of the BBC are continually under pressure; domestic loss makers, such as the serious music and culture channel Radio 3, have a certain amount of protection because they have a vociferous and articulate middle-class audience who give the BBC a bad time whenever cuts are threatened.  In spite of the assurances on continued funding that have been given, I doubt very much whether the World Service – and especially its foreign language broadcasts – will, in practice, have the same kind of protection.  They cost money and their audience doesn’t have a vote or much of a voice in Britain.
It is significant that virtually no British politician has expressed concern at the fate of the World Service – but Hillary Clinton has.  She, and the State Department in general, are well aware that the BBC World Service is an important asset not simply for Britain but for the West in general; when Barack Obama wanted to talk directly to the Iranian  people he used the BBC’s Farsi service because of its loyal audience in Iran, based on the reputation for integrity it has earned over the years with the Iranian people. Let’s hope it is still there in five years time.

Remembering Professor Fred Halliday

In April of this year I noted the death of Professor Fred Halliday – a noted scholar of nationalism, the Middle East and International Relations generally. He was something of a giant in British IR and I know his work was well known throughout the Middle East as well. I was fortunate enough to be in one of his last MSc International Relations courses at the London School of Economics in 2001-2.

There are a number of things being done to commemorate Professor Halliday and his work. For London readers, there will be an event at the LSE on 3 November (tickets required). Additionally, Alejandro Colás and George Lawson have written an article in Millennium Journal of International Relations (made freely available by SAGE) reflecting on his work which may be of interest to blog readers.

Taking it Personally

Earlier this year, all eyes were focused on Iceland in a very negative way for the second time in 18 months. First their banks collapsed in 2008 which caused many in Europe who had savings accounts there to take a rather substantial financial hit. For example, in the UK local councils were estimated to be at risk for up to £840 million in cash. And secondly, as is pretty well known, the Icelandic ash cloud basically paralysed Europe for the better part of April. (There’s the whole “whaling” thing too – but that’s relatively long-standing.)

The Icelanders, for their part, couldn’t do much. While their government may have been able to do something about the first problem, there wasn’t much they could do about the second: a fact not lost on the Eurovision this year. But still, people directed their anger at the island nation, who single-handedly destroyed weddings, reunions, holidays and possibly Swindon Council’s ability to pick up its recycling.

Making the international personal ain’t exactly a new thing. I know many Americans who wanted to keep a low profile in Europe during the George W. Bush years lest they become the object of a drunken rage on Iraq. Similarly, Israelis, regardless of their political persuasion, get blamed for the policies of their government. Germans of my generation still face WWII jokes – particularly around World Cup time.

But the way the British media has been going on about the criticism of BP, you’d think that Obama had basically taken a giant dump on a portrait of Elizabeth II. The rhetoric, they suggest, is anti-British. Americans and Obama are personally blaming this green and pleasant land for causing the worst oil spill in history.

I’m kind of surprised that this is the case. While there is always much worry about British brands and how the UK is perceived in the world, no one in my mind has ever really gone out of its way to slap the Union Jack on BP (whose name is formally “BP” and no longer “British Petroleum”). Certainly the case isn’t helped that possibly the worst spokesperson in history speaks with a posh British accent – the same posh British accent that every politically correct villain has today in a Hollywood movie (well, maybe other than a Texas accent.)

But the Brits, stiff upper lips and all, are proving to be a sensitive lot. As if Obama could not get mad at a British person without the whole country taking it personally.

But there may be other motivations at stake. Pension funds (probably including mine) heavily invest in BP. Policies which force the country to dole out billions of dollars over the next decade or so could seriously going to hurt a lot of those with retirement plans…

But other than my pension contribution, this raises an interesting question – when is it right to play the international blame game? Does blaming a corporation automatically imply blaming its host country? Does the criticism of BP imply a latent American hostility to Britain? Or should the UK just make itself a pot of tea and calm down again?

After all, regardless of who is to blame, the Gulf is still a mess, BP is in it for billions and Hollywood’s inclination to cast individuals who can put on a good Oxbridge accent as villains, is seemingly well justified.

UK Torture Inquiry: Our BFD?


The coalition government here in the UK has announced that there will be an inquiry into torture and rendition alleged to have been carried out since 9/11. This was a major item platform for the LibDems and some Tories, the latter group while conservative, committed to a deep sense of eroding “British values”.

It’s early days, and we do not know what such a commission would look like, but if this Guardian article is correct, individuals will be named and shamed:

The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain’s role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country’s recent history.
It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.

This is – to put it in Biden terms – a BFD.

Some early thoughts:

First, there is no doubt some of the motivation here is for the other two parties to really stick it to Labour. But to be honest, it’s nothing that they haven’t brought onto themselves if the Inquiry does find that then-senior Labour MPs/Cabinet ministers knew they were acting illegally.

So, provided the allegations can be substantiated (I’m guessing at least some will), the bigger question will be if these individuals justified, in any way, of making the decisions they did, under the circumstances. (The Michael Walzer/Dirty Hands approach). Human Rights lobby groups are probably going to give a definite “no” to this but it will be interesting to see what an inquiry will say.

Any individual named by a commission would have a very difficult time traveling around the rest of the Western world, particularly Europe, for a very long time. While the commission would not in and of itself be a trial (it seems to be framed as an accountability mechanism more or less) it could lead to formal charges elsewhere. The UK is, after all, party to the ICC.

Finally, for relatively obvious reasons, I can’t see this happening in the US. Yet it seems clear that the decisions of US decision makers, and their impact on UK decision makers, is going to come to light. Like the Iraq Inquiry, a UK commission will effectively be putting US policy on trial.

However, I can’t see something like this happening in other countries like Canada either – where there is a good chance that senior government ministers in both political parties made decisions that contravened the CAT or their own domestic laws. Although, to be fair, the Canadian government at least held a commission as to why a citizen was permitted to be rendered to Egypt for torture and the Canadian government officially apologized. No official was ever held accountable.

Stay tuned…

The (Final!) Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election: (Insert ‘well hung-parliament’ joke here.)

Well, the entire UK General election and transition came and went in less time than it took to do a US Presidential transition. While the ending was a little bumpy with the “hung parliament” result but a full, formal coalition government has been formed and it is no longer ‘anarchy in the UK’. (Bad pun, yes. Could I stop myself? No.) So today the UK has a new Prime Minister and a coalition government. What can we say in the last JFGTUKE post?

Cleggmania… not so much

This I stating the obvious now, but the surge in popularity for the LibDems did not work in their favour. Certainly they increased their share of the votes at the polls, but with the “first past the post”/winner take all system, this actually translated into less seats because LibDem support was spread across the country rather than concentrated in areas through which to take seats.

So it’s not hard to see why the LibDems are so desperate to change the UK electoral system – more of which can be read about here. But it has successfully put voting reform on the agenda. There is a big rally scheduled for Saturday and a referendum on the issue seems to have been promised by the Tories. But the predictability of this outcome lead to…

Voting Strategerie

Many of my friends and colleagues knew this would be the outcome for the LibDems of course – and that people would, in the end, vote for the party they thought would win (or in a way that they felt would best prevent the party they didn’t like from winning.) Still, I was shocked to see just how many of them did, in the end, vote with their heads and not with their hearts.

Coalition

So it’s a formal coalition. The Tories will be in charge, but there will be at least 5 LibDems in the Cabinet, including Nick Clegg as Deputy PM and Vince Cable doing something with banks. What I find interesting about all of the discussion surrounding forming the government is that the idea that the Tories could go it alone as a minority was not seen as a viable option. (This is the situation in Canada – the government has the most seats, but not an overall majority and is not in any formal coalition.)

The system here seemed to just want, or at least lean towards, a “strong and stable” majority government. Certainly, this is what everyone claimed that this was the markets’ preference. Of course, because of the cuts coming and the difficult times ahead, something more stable is maybe what is going to be needed. And in truth, I don’t think anyone wants an election in six months (well, maybe some Labour friends) and the discussion has indeed been framed in terms of “doing what’s right for the country”. Let’s see how it pans out….

Foreign/EU Policy

…because one of the things that I will be interested in seeing is how foreign policy is going to work. A Lib-Con coalition essentially combines the most Euro-philic and Euro-phobic parties. Conservatives look to the trans-Atlantic “special relationship”, Liberals don’t think it is that big of a deal; that it’s just one of many “special relationships”.

Like many parliamentary democracies, foreign policy is increasingly determined and driven by Number 10 and its priorities. So, if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that foreign and EU policy will probably be driven more by the Tories than the LibDems. (This already seems to be the case – there will be a cap on non-European immigration and LibDems seem to have conceded on replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent.)

My colleague, Al Miskimmon, (very cool on all things Europe and Security) suggested to me that aside from the Number 10 agenda, much will depend on who actually holds what posts in a coalition. Right now, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister are Tories, and it is likely that the Home Secretary will be a Tory as well. These are positions which, other than the Prime Minister, touch most on foreign and EU policies and there is no question that their ideology will have an impact.

However, personally, I can’t help but wonder if being in a coalition will actually temper any EU-skeptic policies that the Tories may have. The EU now impacts on all domestic legislation and it’s not something the UK could just up and leave easily. If Cameron struggles to appease his Euro-skeptic base, he may be able to place blame on his coalition allies. This would allow him to have a less radical policy towards the EU without being accused (or at least being able to excuse himself) of giving into Brussels.

Thatcher: They’re not over it

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but in the last days of the election I couldn’t believe how many references I saw to Thatcher, the 1980s, coalminers strikes, etc. Tories, whatever their colour, shape, size, gender, race – they’re all Thatcher in the eyes of many.

Is this “Tory Derangement Syndrome”? It’s hard for me to know what it was like – I was in Canada while Thatcher was in power and probably spent most of that time playing with My Little Ponies. However, Thatcher is either hero or villain, savior or sinner, the best of times or worst of times… etc. She is only talked about in terms of black or white, there is no in-between. The only thing I could possibly compare it to is the way people speak about Reagan – either saving or nearly destroying the country.

Political colours up front – I’m not a Tory. But to suggest that David Cameron is Margaret Thatcher just seems barmy to me (at least at this point.) Yes, he’s posh. Yes, he went to Eton. But he is no Margaret Thatcher. This is not the 1980s. So far, there is nothing in the Tory agenda which really suggests to me that is truly revolutionary in the same way as what her government was. My friends say that he wants to favour the rich with an inheritance tax cut – but really, that’s hardly what I would call a privatization revolution. (And apparently it was something that they gave up on in exchange for the Coalition government with the LibDems). Cameron, in his first speech outside of Number 10, made a point of saying how much he “believe[s] deeply in public service”.

The fact is that any government coming into power is going to face serious problems and is going to have to make major cuts in spending which will be deeply unpopular. I do not feel that these will necessarily be driven by Tory ideology, but rather just the necessity of the situation. So, in this sense, I can’t help but conclude that the vitriol aimed at the Tories is less for their policies than what they historically represent.

Final Thoughts

Watching the transition, I couldn’t help but feel strangely optimistic. I am very aware that this is not a universal feeling. As mentioned above, my Labour friends seem to be in genuine despair at the state of things. I have non-Labour friends who believe that we’ll have an election in six months (despite whatever agreement may have been reached between the LibDems and Tories). And, of course, the country is in a lot of trouble.

But the idea of a coalition government – where two parties will debate and negotiate ideas to confront the UK’s most pressing issues – seems to me to be something that maybe – just maybe – will work well. After the results came out, Paddy Ashdown observed “The country has spoken – but we don’t know what they’ve said.” But I think we do know – people did not want politics as usual. After a year of parliamentary expenses scandals, a recession, and general disillusionment with politics altogether, I think it’s fair to say that the British want something different. Will it happen? The Liberals may temper the policies of the Tories, and the Tories will be able to form the government that they have wanted for 13 years. Some people have described what will inevitably follow as ‘horse-trading’ but to me it just seems like politics.

The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part III – Cursing old ladies edition


I’ve been getting surprisingly decent feedback on these posts. Some of my colleagues at work (who know more about democracy and elections than I do) have said that they felt that they were not entirely wrong or embarrassing so I’ve decided to stick with it until it’s all over next week – and then get back to blowy-uppy-thingies after 6 May.

So what did we see and/or learn in the last leader’s debate on foreign policy last week?

My first observation was that it was stupid to try and find a pub in central London that was showing the debate. In the struggle between a Liverpool football/soccer game and politics, the former was bound to win. So I had to listen to the first 30 minutes on the radio while I scrambled home!

Interestingly enough, despite having listened to the first half of the debate on the radio and the second half on the TV, I did not feel that there was a real difference in how I perceived the debate. I kind of had the impression that they were all doing about equally well. The only major difference that I noticed was that Gordon Brown actually looked a bit better than he did in the first debate. It was the best hair style I’d seen on him in years.

Going into the debate I figured that each of the three leaders had a mission:

Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) – keep it up
David Cameron (Conservatives) – ramp it up
Gordon Brown (Labour) – don’t look undead

I think, by and large, they all performed these tasks – and the polls seem to confirm this. Cameron has slightly increased his lead, Clegg has held on and Labour… we’ll they’re kind of hanging out (or were until Brown decided to say some really silly things with a live microphone on him as discussed below…)

But the difference from the first debate is that there was no clear winner. When I asked my flatmate who won, she replied that she thought it was Sky News. I think she might be right.

So Brown looked less uncomfortable but still a bit rehearsed. (Also – no one in the Labour Party should ever let him smile. Ever. It’s just not a good look for him.) Clegg had a slightly more difficult task because the LibDems are perceived to be weaker on foreign policy. They oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent (and nuclear energy in general), they are the party that is by far the closest to the European Union and possibly the least friendly to the US. Still, in this heated exchange, I think he held his ground – and did rather well. Cameron seemed to have some of the confidence that everyone expected him to have in the first debate. I think he did much better (though I came to this conclusion after two glasses of Merlot.)

But ultimately I was disappointed because I thought the foreign policy questions were pretty disappointing and in a lot of cases the answers were worse. All of the international questions really came down to domestic issues. Climate change? Insulate your house! (Although Clegg did charge Brown with failing, or being sidelined at Copenhagen… unfairly, I think.) Afghanistan? (Let’s all thank the troops! And we’ve all visited!) A visit from the Pope? (Diplomacy good! Gays good! Touching children bad! But we can all chat!)

Robin Nibblet of Chatham House was pretty critical in his assessment, noting that there were no questions on China. Inderjeet Parmar of TransAtlantia that there was nothing on the Iraq War, UK complicity in the torture of terror suspects, or any kind of troop withdrawal as well. Yet, as David Aaronovitch notes, there was a second question on immigration (which, to be fair, has become pretty much the second major issue of the campaign over the economy). The LSE’s Election Blog reaction is here.

Still, despite my disappointment with the “foreign policy” aspect of the debate, I found myself enjoying the program. Actually, so far I have liked the debates MUCH better than the US ones. They are more dynamic and interesting. I think that so far they can be described as a huge success for generating interest in the election and (with the exception of foreign policy – as discussed above) there have been some pretty good discussions on policy.

They took our jeeeerrrrbs!

The part that I’m finding most painful is the section on immigration. From my perspective as an migrant worker (of sorts) myself, the debate on immigration has been kind of offensive. We’re over-crowding Britain. We’re taking people’s jobs. (British jobs for British workers!) And even then, I am not subject to a lot of harassment that people from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia get – but only because I speak with an “exotic” Canadian accent and I’ve spent a few extra years in school.

But after nearly a month of this I’m wondering if the UK can have a sensible discussion on immigration that isn’t trying to play in the hands of some of the more fringe parties? Yes, controls are a good thing – a crucial thing, actually. But the debate seems less about what we should do about the situation the UK is in and more about numbers, jobs, council flats, etc. Have Labour’s policies actually reduced immigration? Let’s fight about numbers and statistics! Maybe this is just what is foremost on people’s minds and the politicians feel that this is what they need to respond. I’m certainly not going to pretend this is an easy issue – but I can’t help but feel the current state of the debate (literally) is a race to the bottom.

Still, if I was in one of the above categories of immigrants, I would probably be feeling a whole lot worse about all of this. Or at least a bit more vulnerable. Eastern Europeans can’t be feeling particularly welcome right now. But I guess this is the same debate that is being held in other countries, like the United States, where immigration seems to be just as toxic of an issue (although no one has started a vigilante group here yet.)

JFGTTUKE highlights this week:

1. Clegg-mania continued – kinda: Clegg is widely seen as surviving a major test with the second debate and as having potentially changed the political landscape of the UK. Labour is now considered to be in third place (if only just) or barely hanging on to second – something that was truly unconceivable three weeks ago.

2. ‘Hung’ out to dry?: The impact of this goes beyond pushing labour into third place, of course. Virtually all of the politico-media driven hype has been on the impact of a hung-parliament. Will it drive the UK economy into a Greek-like collapse? Will it mean years of paralysis and backdoor deals that will undermine the parliamentary process? Will a hung parliament kick your grandma and eat your baby?
The answer of course, is – who knows. (I’m thinking a definite “no” on the baby-eating.) But there is no question that the Conservatives have been doing whatever they can to frighten the daylights out of the electorate? But will it succeed?
Some of my political friends, (not Tories – though I wouldn’t care if they were) are saying that the spectre of a hung parliament is having an impact on how they will vote. One indicated that because he felt that because the percentage of the popular vote might now have an impact on what happens in the possible post-election negotiations, that he would now vote Labour (despite being in a LibDem safe seat) so that they may have more bargaining power.
Now this individual is politically informed (though not active) so I have to wonder exactly how many other people are feeling this way? Will Clegg-mania survive in the polling booth? Or will people resort to their old loyalties (or the two dominant parties) at the last minute. I suspect Gordon Brown is hoping that this will be the case.

3. Brown Toast? Gordon Brown was caught saying some things about an elderlywoman – a lifelong Labour Party member at that – that were far from flattering. She was asking questions about the economy and immigration (of course) – Brown pretended to make nice, but then, when he thought no one was listening called the woman “bigoted”. (And if you need something to crush your soul, look at the expression of disappointment on the woman’s face when she finds out about it.) I’m sure politicians probably feel this way a lot and say things like this behind closed doors all of the time. However, Brown got caught in a big and bad way. Will it affect voters? There is a lot of media speculation about this today. Certainly it has not helped the perception that he might be a bully, or that he is bad with the general public.

4. Foreign press coverage: I’ve noticed quite a few stories on the election in the foreign press – New York Times, Washington Post, etc. (Check out Karla Adam’s piece on political betting if you want to know the other creative ways people speculate about the election at the bookie.)

However, I’ve also noticed in the last few days that this story has been pushed aside to a certain extent by and large in favour of the speculation about the Euro and the future of Greece, Spain and Portugal.

So is there interest in the US? Are they following it at all? Always impressed that C-SPAN 3 is covering the debate (is that like the ESPN 82 of the political world?) I was impressed that Sky News had Dan Rather deliver his opinion afterwards – although I didn’t find his comments particularly insightful.

Finally *phew* – what can we expect in tonight’s final debate in Birmingham?

Well the debate is on the economy. I would imagine that Brown (while trying to say how much he admires grandmothers who have concerns about immigration in the North of England) will be defending his economic record and how well he managed a “global” crisis. There is a perception that this will be his strong suit. The other two parties will be going after this – saying that years of Labour mismanagement resulted in the UK facing a recession in a much weaker position than it otherwise might have been. They will all talk about how they will cut out waste, preserve the fragile recovery and why the other parties will basically destroy the economic foundation of the nation.

But the UK economy is in a terrible position (although, admittedly, relatively good in terms of, say, that it’s not Mediterranean or needing IMF assistance). Whoever comes in is going to have to wield a terrible axe. I think much of the discussion will be on what the best approach to do this is – Conservatives will attack Labour’s “tax on jobs” (raising the National Insurance – Social Security in the US) and Labour will say that the Conservatives will plunge the nation back into recession. Both will attack the LibDems, who will in turn say that they were warning about an impending financial crisis years before it happened.

I suspect other major issues to be unemployment – particularly youth unemloyment and NEETS (youth Not in Education, Employment, or Training), the Euro and European economy, and (why not) the impact of immigration on the economy.

As for me, the plan for rice cakes last time succumbed to pizza and wine. Now I’m trying to think what suitable economic debate food stuff will be? Probably a tin of beans. Suggestions welcomed, of course.

Professor Fred Halliday


I was alerted this morning to the death of Professor Fred Halliday. Halliday, who specialized in the Middle East and was very much a legend around the London School of Economics. I was fortunate enough to be in one of the last classes of MSc students who sat through his IR theory lectures. These classes were a very strange tour de force – mixed with anecdotes of Professor Halliday’s meeting foreign leaders, intellectuals and peppered with outbursts in Arabic, Persian and other assorted languages. Unsurprisingly, the lectures were always packed.

The Guardian has a very nice obituary as does Open Democracy. There is no question that he was one of the most important intellectuals in International Relations in the UK. While I didn’t know him exceptionally well personally, I know that I owe a lot to him in terms of the way I think about international relations theory. Every encounter I had with him was very pleasant. (He was very tolerant – enthusiastic even – of my question regarding whether or not there were Arab comic books over a pint one evening at Goodenough College.)
I know there will be a lot of heavy-hearts around the LSE today – not to mention UK academia at large, as well as the many, many students Professor Halliday had over the years.

EDIT: The LSE tribute is here and they link to Professor Halliday’s last lecture at the LSE here.

The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part II – The Second Great Debate

I’m planning on writing a larger post on the topic after the Second Election Debate tonight – particularly since it is going to be about UK Foreign policy (and, in theory, more or less related to the topics of this blog…)

In the mean time if you haven’t been paying attention, the election has basically exploded into interestingness in the last week. The First (ever) Leader’s Debate basically jump-started the election in a way that I (and I suspect most people) never anticipated. Tonight’s debate is now pretty much mandatory watching.

The short version is that the third party candidate, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg (the guy I wrote about last week and said no one expected to win except Howard Dean) has surged in the polls after an impressive performance. While I wouldn’t call him our “White, tea-drinking, private-school-educated Obama” yet, he has shaken up British politics in a BIG way and has possibly changed the electoral map of Britain in the meantime…. if he can stay on in the polls. If you don’t believe me about “Clegg-mania” (no really, that’s what they’re calling it) – check out the polling insanity – and the effect it could have on the seat distribution here.)

In the meantime, for those of you who have access (I assume they are showing it on BBC World – and apparently CSPAN 3 – how’s that for a prime tv slot!) I highly recommend the LSE’s Election Blog. Chris Brown has a good backgrounder on the Trident Nuclear system which is up for renewal – and sure to feature in tonights debate.

As for me, I’m loading up on my cheese and onion flavoured crisps and a few pints of Old Speckled Hen to hopefully watch the sparks fly tonight.

(Who am I kidding… it’s always rice cakes…)

The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election (in where I demonstrate a very poor knowledge of UK politics.)

So, in Duck ex-pat news it was announced that a general election (a big national election) will be held on 6 May 2010 this week in the UK. At stake are 13 years of Labour rule, debate as to how the economic “recovery” should be protected.
Yet, despite the relative importance of the election, coming as it is during a time of insecurity, I have to say that it feels like basically no one is inspired by it. Politicians here have been hit by a year of expenses scandals (when it turned out that MPs were claiming everything from the installation of duck houses, to bath plugs and the occasional pornographic movie). It’s not really a surprise they did so, of course – MPs are paid quite poorly compared to their counterparts in Europe. But it was the fact that they seemed to bend and manipulate the rules so blatantly which have upset many people. The ongoing scandal has resulted in four MPs actually facing criminal charges.
In addition, house prices have fallen, no one can get mortgages, the government spent billions on the bailout and dramatic spending cuts are needed. Unemployment is still high, we just lost Cadburys to the Yanks (seriously – this was a huge issue) and I just think that people feel battered by the recession and dread of the knowledge of the kind of austerity years that are ahead. Where the US election in 2008 seemed (at least to me) about better days ahead, this election seems to be more about choosing between the rope, knife, pistol (and two separatist-inspired choices – let’s just use the deadly poisoned leek and kilt of terror…. ) Actually, you have a few more scary choices as well (like the BNP – who I’m not going to link to because I don’t even want to Google their name.)
So I thought that I would provide my poorly constructed guide to the UK Election this week where I thought that I would try to at least highlight some issues that other “Johnny Foreigners” may find interesting. Please consider this my comparative politics post for the year.

1.It might be a “hung parliament”


The mandatory joke here, of course, is that if it is a “hung parliament” – with whom do we start?

Right now this seems to be a huge deal for a number of reasons. First, it could give the Liberal Democrats (the third party who hasn’t been in power since the First World War) a lot of leverage as both Labour and the Tories fight to bring them into alliance or onside. For the LibDems, this could be really great (they finally get power) or really bad (internal civil war as to which side to support). For their part, the LibDems won’t say who they will support – and stick to the line that they are actually trying to win (although no one really thinks they can – except Howard Dean).

Second, there is a sense that because of the harsh measures needed for the recession, the fact that there would be a “hung parliament” seems to be unstable and would be sending the wrong message to world markets. There is only so much stock I put in this argument. Canada has had a “hung parliament” for years and they have done alright (although in full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of the current party in power).

2.There is no UK foreign policy.


I don’t think I’ve even heard “foreign policy” mentioned since the election was called. Rather it’s all about taxes, tax breaks, cutting taxes, etc. (Oh, and of course, who will best protect the National Health Service, or NHS). Let there be no mistake, this is a very naval-gazing election (other than the scary UK Independence Party – UKIP – banging on about leaving the EU and being not-so-secretly racist). Considering the nation is fighting in a war and continues to lose troops on a near daily basis, it’s rather shocking that I don’t think I’ve even heard the word “Afghanistan” out of any of the leader’s mouths.

I wonder if this is because that there is a general consensus on the issue – or if no one really has any bright ideas?

Either way, for this election at least, the UK is less interested in its role in the world than domestic change/continuity. If you are looking for the foreign policy issues, I would suggest checking out this web page from Chatham House and scrolling through a few of their events. For now, it’s the economy, stupid (or as I like to think of it here, “By Jove! It’s the Economy, Chaps!”

3.“Step outside, posh boy”


Rightly or wrongly, growing up in Canada, I tended to view it as a rather classless country – or at least a relatively egalitarian one. Now I know this isn’t true, but I come from a blue collar family where my parents worked hard and improved their lives (stop me when I start to sound like pre-scandal John Edwards). But class IS an issue here (or at least perceived to be one) and it was something I didn’t understand it until I came to the UK. There seems to be a definite underclass here that just doesn’t seem to benefit from anything. To be honest, if you are a poor, white, working class male, you’re probably super not doing well.

On the other hand, if you do come from wealth it may be a serious liability – if you are a politician. Labour has constantly gone after Tory leader David Cameron’s wealthy upbringing (he went to Eaton, member of super-posh Oxford society, etc) as seen in this mock-campaign poster done by the Guardian which became so popular they made a t-shirt out of it.


Can you be too posh to be politically privileged? I find this so interesting because I really think it would be relatively a non-issue in North America. (Although I think it was, to a certain extent for McCain.) So long as you are seen as having the right values, you’re probably okay. And the cost of running a campaign in the US is so astronomical that I don’t see HOW you could possibly be a politician without money – or at least be of a certain socio-economic class. Anyway, it will be interesting to see to what extent Labour continues to go down this route.

4.Everybody is on the internet. Nobody seems to know what to do with it.


I think this is important because the internet played such a HUGE role in the Obama campaign. Immediately afterwards in the UK there were summits and meetings on what the lessons where with regards to how that technology, particularly for fundraising, could be used.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the parties really learned any of the lessons – or more correctly, how to apply the lessons to the UK context. Instead, I think everyone realized they need to be on the internet, YouTube, twitter, facebook, email, etc., but they just didn’t figure out how to link it to anything meaningful. Instead we get David Cameron’s wife on “SamCam” and the first casualty of the campaign – a 24 year old Labour candidate who thought that calling senior citizens “coffin dodgers” was a good idea (not to mention the Tourette-inspired names he called other candidates.)

So what we’re left with is a gigantic effort and amount of information put on the internet that seems to have no purpose and completely failing to engage the general public. This Financial Times piece concludes that while the internet may have an effect, this effect is likely to be accidental (ie: some politician screwing up on his iPhone – or just see the above paragraph) and that, at least in the UK, the public is still using mostly traditional sources like newspapers – even if it is on-line:

Studies in the past few weeks from the Hansard Society, the political researcher, and Ovum, a technology consultancy, both disputed that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter would form a meaningful battleground to rival TV or the humble doorstep.


The other interesting conclusion of the piece is that while political parties may not have yet best figured out how to use the internet, they cannot afford to ignore it either. Ergo, they are having to spend millions of pounds on something that they just can’t seem to figure out. (Although they do point out that Labour’s less centralized approach has resulted in success through sites that have mocked the Tories ad campaign online.

So there you have it – four issues coming out of the battle for Britain’s political future.
I confess that I too find myself among the politically uninspired – yet I wonder if I should consider myself fortunate. What a contrast with Thailand and Kyrgystan this week where most people would probably see this ennui as some kind of insane luxury. Or Afghanistan where it’s a struggle to just have the leader not fire the entire election review board.

For those of you who wish to follow further, here are some websites that you may find useful:
Useful websites:

1. BBC 2010 Election Page: A pretty comprehensive source on the election with polls, highlighted issues, candidate bios, etc. I’m not a huge fan of Nick Robinson, but he’s good and has his own blog on the site here.
2. Political Betting: “Britain’s most read political blog and the best online resource for betting on politics”. No really.
3. UK Poling Report: A poll of polls and useful polling analysis for those of you who can’t just get enough hot poll action.
4. YouGov: Polling/research company in the UK
5.Guido Fawkes: This one is kind of muck-raking, but occasionally fun.
6.Finally, I would suggest following my friend Nick Anstead’s twitter. – he wrote his PhD on the internet in the 2008 US election and has done some work on the issue in the UK. He always has great links and he’s my usual source when I have questions about all things political and British.

Anyone else have a site they could recommend? Anything with laughter at this point would probably be super welcomed.

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