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Showing posts from 2014

Do We Love Our MPs?

Apparently not, is the conclusion from a recent British Election Study survey which Philip Cowley uses for a fascinating piece of analysis.  I'd recommend any politics student to make a regular point of visiting the Nottingham University Politics department blog (Ballots and Bullets) on which Cowley and his colleagues post for just this sort of interesting, slightly off the beaten path form of analysis.

I won't repeat all of Cowley's points here - you can after all go and read it yourself - but suffice it to note that MPs individually don't seem to score that much more highly in the public's esteem than MPs as a whole, who as we know are generally (and yes, unfairly) despised.  There is also a small crumb of comfort for the Lib Dems in the survey, suggesting that Lib Dem MPs are both more familiar in terms of name recognition n their seats, and that they score slightly higher positive ratings individually than MPs from other parties.  Those of us who believe the L…

Obama has no intention of letting Republicans write his political legacy

President Obama shouldn't by rights be entering 2015 with much political joy in his heart. He may still have two full years as chief executive to run, but the set-back of the mid-term Republican gains, which saw that party gain control of the Senate and keep control of the House of Representatives, meant that his chances of any satisfactory legislation in the remainder of his presidency are precisely zilch.

If anything, though, the Republican win seems to have fired the president up to make sure he finishes his final term on a high.  He clearly has no intention of letting the Republicans dictate his political legacy and, as this New Republic article suggests, he may also be seeking to ensure that any Democratic successor - most people think Hillary Clinton at the moment -  has something to fight for and preserve in 2016.

Obama made an impact when, not long after his party's mid-term defeat, he went on the offensive over deferring deportation of illegal immigrants, using the e…

The Decline of Military Force?

Global Politics students discussing the future of war and military force could do worse than visit this article by BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

Global Politics and Conservative Traitors

A quick round-up of some useful reading for students, not to mention the interested reader.

On Global Politics (A2 students):

Andrew Bacevich in the Spectator wonders about the usefulness of an American army that no longer wins wars.

In another edition of the Spectator the same author reviews an interesting new book on America's foreign policy in its post-Iraq era; has the age of unipolarity ended?

Gideon Rachman, meanwhile, in the Financial Times sees an alarming nuclear shadow behind Russia's new bellicosity (you need to register to read this).

UK Politics and the Conservative Problem:

Peter Oborne has been trenchant in his criticism of UKIP fifth columnists within the Conservative PArty, originally in this article, and then on the eve of the Rochester by-election in this one where he memorably describes the new UKIP MP Mark Reckless as "brutish" and "low-grade", a man whose leaving of the Conseravtive Party undoubtedly made it a better place.  But Oborne&…

Obama Shows How You Do Leadership

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President Obama has issued an instructive lesson to any weak-minded British politicians who might be minded to try and follow the UKIP line on immigration in order to appease the voters.  Don't.

After having received a drubbing - or at any rate watching his party receive one - in the mid-term elections, you might expect the president, faced with a Congress now wholly controlled by his opponents, to lie low.  Not a bit of it.  Believing in the justice - even morality - of his cause, President Obama has shown how you do leadership.  You stay fighting for your principles, and you do so in a way no-one can possibly misinterpret you.

The immigration issue is as toxic in America as it is over here, but at least in America they have a leader willing to tack against the simple bigotry of hating immigrants.  That is not so clear in the UK.  Where Obama has used his executive power to protect some 4 million "illegal" immigrants, the Conservatives' most recent pronouncements s…

The Evolution of 'Soft Power'

We've got to discussing 'soft' and 'hard' power in our A2 Global politics lessons, and I must confess that the concept of 'soft power' having much traction seemed to be away with the fairies.  Challenged to name a successful instance of where soft power had a significant impact, I fell back upon the example of western culture having influenced - in some degree - the people power which brought down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.  There are others I know, but they are undoubtedly disparate and similarly highly contentious.

Just to be clear, soft power is that power which is essentially persuasive; it stands in contrast to the exercise of hard power via military or economic means.  Now, if I were to look at how the use of hard power might be graduating from military to economic dimensions in a more successful way, as for instance with regards to Russia and the Ukraine, I might be getting somewhere.  But soft power?  Come on.  Is American culture or western mat…

Obama - Still the Best Bet

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--> If the 2010 mid-term election results delivered a “shellacking” to President Obama, the 2014 ones probably go beyond the reach of the standard dictionary of slang.Barack Obama now governs – as Bill Clinton did before him – without his party controlling either the senate or the House.Worse, the Republicans who are now in charge have a clear agenda to overturn and stop any reform that featured on the Obama agenda.And if politics was polarised under the Clinton-Gingrich axis, it is far more polarised now, with McConnell and Boehner unable to control their reddest, most reactionary members, even if they wanted to.
There’s a danger with election results such as these that they warp our view of the man in charge.After all, as we’ve been so regularly told, these were a verdict on the president himself.The election was as much about Obama as anything.Well, if it was, only about a third of the electorate took part.And as for Obama being the focus, he was focused through a lens …

MP Resigns Seat and Gets Elected Again For Same Seat

#456985786 / gettyimages.com In some respects that really is it.  Clacton has re-elected its old MP to continue being its MP.  Douglas Carswell had always been an active and energetic constituency MP with a high profile, and the recent by-election has proved it.  He is also too well versed in constitutional and parliamentary lore not to be aware that voters essentially are meant to select the man and not the party.  There was in fact no real reason for him to resign at all, but then where would have been the splash, and the fun, in that?

Of course the UKIP factor is important, but it would be foolish to deny the impact that Carswell the ex-MP, candidate, and new MP, had on the by-election in Clacton.  He himself acknowledged that the result in Labour Heywood and Middleton represented a much more significant achievement for UKIP - though not, it should be added, one that actually brought them a seat. Again.  It will be interesting to see if the less well-entrenched  Mark Reckless can p…

How bad was the Labour Conference?

Maybe not quite as bad as the commentators have suggested.  Certainly, it was no political lighting storm, but then we've just had one of those in the form of the Scottish referendum, and it was rather bad luck for Labour that their conference should come by just as the majority of the British public have had their annual politics fix.  Most people - including the 'ordinary people' name checked by Ed Miliband in his widely panned conference speech - simply aren't engaged with politics.  The chance of creating or rejecting a new nation seems to get them out, but a bog standard party conference isn't going to do the trick, so it would be unfair to be too condemning towards Labour on that front.

Nevertheless, this is an Opposition party that could form the next government heading towards another close election battle, so it is a failure on their part that they didn't even seem able to energise their own supporters. The most admired speech was from an elderly Worl…

Has Scotland shown us how to reinvigorate democray?

There hasn't been wanting commentators and ordinary joes to tell us that the extraordinary turnout in the Scottish referendum has shown us the way to a better, more invigorated democratic system.

Janet Street Porter, one of the more emotional of these, says in her paean of praise to the Scottish people that "You showed us what commitment and passion are all about and given the rest of the UK a wake-up call."  Mind you, Janet also noted how wonderful it was that "people who don’t agree can accept a result and move forward together", suggesting she hasn't been watching events in Glasgow too closely.

The reality, though, is that this is an exceptional rather than indicative democratic event.  Rarely will people get to vote on the very nature of their country, or to bring a new country into existence, so it is hardly surprising that the interest and turnout should have been high.  Scotland has hardly been a shining example of democratic activism in any of its o…

After 'No', What?

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First detailed reaction to the No vote in Scotland comes from the Spectator's team of Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth.  Their article here is a thorough examination of the campaign, and the problems it now poses.  "This morning, the United Kingdom wakes up to one of the biggest constitutional messes in its history" they begin, and who could argue with that?

Key points:

- The referendum has failed to settle the issue of devolution, as it was supposed to, because David Cameron changed the terms of engagement at the last minute
- The Egnlish Question is now writ large on the political agenda, with most Tory MPs determined to pursue it (and, incidentally, furious with Cameron for his ill considered 'Vow')
- Ed Balls is angry at Miliband's commitment to this 'Vow' too as it hamstrings Labour's ability to pass a budget for England
- Today's mess is the consequence of the original, and disastrous, New Labour devolution settlement
- All the main Westm…

David Cameron's Leadership Flaws

As we await the results of the Scottish referendum - and with the No vote sounding more confident than they have done for the past fortnight - reflections are obviously turning towards the post-vote fall-out.  There has been a widespread belief that David Cameron would not have survived a Yes vote.  The question is whether he can survive a No vote.  His credibility is at an all time low with his backbenchers, who believe he has ill-advisedly offered the Scots too much on the devolution front in his panicky attempts to ensure the Union stays together. 

Gaby Hinsliff, in the Guardian, has provided a very effective analysis of the Cameron leadership and its flaws.  One prescient passage notes this:

It’s become a bit of a cliche to accuse the prime minister of treating government like it’s an undergraduate essay crisis, with everything tackled at 10 minutes to midnight in a caffeine-fuelled blur. Cameron is neither so dim nor so thoughtless as he’s sometimes painted, and nor is he the…

A Yes Vote for Scotland is the best possible result for Scotland; and England too.

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I want Scotland to vote Yes tomorrow.Not just by a small margin, but by an utterly convincing majority.Had you asked me a few weeks ago I would have been far less convinced of this; might even have been a little agnostic on the issue.But the events of the past couple of weeks have convinced me that Scotland needs to vote Yes, not just for her sake, but for England’s too.
I have watched all three Westminster party leaders be panicked by opinion polls into making rash and self-serving promises that will simply serve to send the Union into meltdown.Promises which they may not even be able to deliver on.Promises on behalf of other nations – England, Wales and Northern Ireland – which they have barely deigned to consult.
I have watched three Westminster party leaders scurry up to Scotland in the last couple of weeks of a campaign that has lasted for some eighteen months to deliver from their southern redoubt a plea for Scotland to vote No that has no basis at a…

The Leaders of Chaos

The calamitous descent of the Westminster party leaders into ignominy over the Scottish referendum is now complete.  Panicked by opinion polls, lacking any confidence in the Union as it stands, failing to provide leadership of any sort and exhibiting an extraordinary level of short-term political cowardice, the Cameron-Miliband-Clegg bandwagon has finally hit the buffers with the issuing of an unprecedented 'Vow' to the Scottish people.  What makes it even more ironic is that the vow in question has been largely crafted by the much-maligned previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.  Yes, so bereft of ideas and political clout is David Cameron that he has simply allowed Brown's agenda to prevail.

The "Vow" essentially promises everything short of outright independence.  Alex Salmond wins whatever the vote on Thursday.  The inequitable Barnett formula for funding Scotland's excessive public spending regime is to continue.  The Scottish parliament is to gain yet m…

Rallying for Scotland - in England

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--> The “Let’s Stay Together” rally in Trafalgar Square this evening was a decent, worthy and ultimately pointless affair.It took a while to get going.By 6pm, the advertised start time, the square was definitely less than crowded, perhaps indicative of the shrug that many English people seem to be giving about the referendum.Eventually, around 6.30, things started happening, and the crowd had certainly got larger.It was a perfectly nice crowd, with lots of very upper middle-class accents from English people who are probably a bit concerned about their Scottish holiday homes ending up in a foreign land.
Television historian Dan Snow kicked proceedings off with a litany of great Scots achievements; everything from Nelson to victory in the Battle of Britain.Listening to his paean of praise I began to wonder whether the English could claim credit for anything good.The United Kingdom, unbeknown to most of us in the southern kingdom, has been almost completely crafted, created an…

The Union on Our Minds

What a difference one short week is making.  Alarmed by the advantage of the 'yes' vote in polls at the end of the last week, the English have finally been showing an interest in the northern country of their joint kingdom, while the Scots too have been on the receiving end of an at-last invigorated 'No' campaign.

The most recent polls are too close to call in real electoral terms, but the fact that the 'No' vote is coming back may add some crumbs of comfort to those north and south of the Tweed who would prefer to see the Union maintained.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, a Highland Scot now working and living in London, has put a perceptive and useful post up on the Spectator's blog.  Analysing the return of the 'No' vote, he also comments quite personally on his own perspective as a UK Scot living and then working in radically different parts of the kingdom where he can nonetheless feel equally at home.  It is all his country after all.  I feel a…

Should we really be bribing the Scots to stay in the UK?

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George Osborne doesn’t strike me as a particularly emotive or soft-headed politician, but even he – in fact, especially he – was falling over himself today to promise the Scots whatever they wanted short of full devolution if they voted no in eleven days time.
The realisation that Scotland might just vote to leave the Union – and thus effectively bring it to an end – seems to have concentrated a large number of English political minds, all bent on seeking to persuade the Scots to stay at almost any price.
But should the English really be working so hard to keep Scotland?
If Scotland were to decide for independence, we might perhaps expect the following consequences:
1.The removal of the estimated £3,150 per head subsidy that the rest of the UK currently pays to Scotland
2.The removal of the 41 Labour MPs who can vote on English matters such as health, education and transport, but have no say on those issues in their own Scottish constituencies
3.The stemm…

Scottish Tremors Finally Hit England

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Alex Salmond has a few things in common with his English nationalist counterpart Nigel Farage.They both admire Vladimir Putin, for example, and despise what they call the ‘Westminster elite”.They both appear to be electorally very shrewd politicians, but if Salmond has his way in a couple of weeks time he will make the title of Farage’s insurrectionist party look a little redundant.For of the United Kingdom there will be no more.
This debate has failed to properly permeate English consciousness, perhaps one indication that the Scots may not be wrong when they claim that England exudes a general stand-offishness towards its northern neighbour.This weekend, however, appears to have changed that.A poll from Yougov shows the ‘Yes’ campaigners (i.e. ‘Yes’ to an independent Scotland, for those whose failure to follow the referendum includes ignorance of the question being asked!) ahead of the ‘No’s” for the first time in the campaign.Given the substantial lead t…

Losing a Free Thinking Conservative

#454286734 / gettyimages.com Douglas Carswell's announcement that he has defected from the Conservatives to join UKIP is a matter of no small moment for the Tory party.  First, Carswell - currently the MP for Clacton - has, entirely consistently with the principles he has always proclaimed in speeches and writings, chosen to resign his seat and re-fight it as a UKIP candidate.  Given his effectiveness as a local MP, and the prominence of his announcement, there must be a high chance that he will win it back under his new colours.  I would have thought he is likely to retain it through a general election as well, firmly embedding him as UKIP's first MP.  Headache number one for the Tories.

Second, this is bad news for David Cameron on two fronts.  The first front is the reaction of his own party.  If the Conservatives cannot accommodate an MP of the calibre of Mr Carswell on the grounds of its European approach, it might be reasonable to conclude that it may have trouble with t…

Ice, Ice....

There was a point last night on my facebook pages where if I pressed refresh every few minutes, I would be greeted with a slew of new, yet very similar, video clips.People in various states of undress stood, talked, and were then doused in water.Yes, the Ice Bucket Challenge hit its viral high as pretty well everyone got in on the act.Now before I go any further, and land myself in hot water rather than shower under charitable streams of ice cold water, I should acknowledge that the friends I watched – or whose video selfies I rapidly skimmed through – are pleasant, charitably minded, humane individuals who undeniably want to do something more than simply mind their own business.And all credit to them for that.But did it, over the past few days, really have to be in the uniform style of a single, unvarying challenge for one clever charity?

There is an obvious danger in pricking the bubble of mass charitable giving that one comes across too readily as some sort of grinch who wants to…

Cameron's non-interventionist policy against IS is a potential disaster

By Chris Schofield

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Barack Obama recently ordered the fourth round of air strikes against the Islamic State, which began last week in a frantic attempt to prevent the predicted genocide of 40,000 Yazidis and other minorities. These refugees had fled in desperation to the arid slopes of Mount Sinjar, fearing extermination at the hands of extremist fighters carrying the haunting black flag of ISIL. Also high on the President’s agenda was the protection of vulnerable US intelligence personnel and other military assets currently stationed in northern Iraq.

The targeted strikes by the US Navy came too late, however, to prevent the mass slaughter of over 500 Yazidis, with horrific accounts emerging of women and children being buried alive by ISIL militants and a further 300 Yazidi women reportedly kidnapped into slavery. This is in addition to the barbarous actions of ISIL militants across Iraq and Syria in the past weeks during their sweeping territor…