I have had the opportunity to research UKIP for many years now, having firstly worked on the party in the mid-1990s.

In that time, I have witnessed its rise from a small group of dedicated campaigners, working solely on the issue of  getting the UK out of the EU, through its electoral break-through in the European Parliament elections in 1999, into its current phase of increased media profile and talk becoming a consolidated part of the party political system. The headlines of recent weeks (“UKIP ‘are third force in British politics’“, “Ukip deserves to ‘be taken seriously‘”) would seem to point towards that being so.

However, my long memory was stirred by this talk: we have been here before. Talk of a sea-change was common in 2004, following UKIP’s success in coming second (with help from Kilroy-Silk) in the EP elections. Thus the Mail said that “the spectacular success of UKIP in knocking the Lib Dems into fourth place, leaving Labour and the Tories with less than 50 per cent of the vote between them, has (for now at least) rewritten the electoral map. We are witnessing a great surge of protest from a public that has had enough.”  The Daily Star wrote about UKIP as “a major political force”, with (then campaign leader) Nigel Farage “boasting” that “UKIP is now unstoppable.”

A quick peek at the Google Trends data for searches on ”UKIP” highlights the reality: within months, Kilroy-Silk had been ejected from the party, which entered into a period of in-fighting, ultimately resulting in a dispiriting performance in the 2005 general election. With the exceptions of the elections in 2009 (EP) and 2010 (UK), UKIP has not secured a structural position in either the media or party politics.

Even the recent media interest does not (yet) represent a change to this, given that much of it can be associated with a concentration of specific events (the PCC elections, the Rotherham fostering story and the three November by-elections). Indeed, as the second graph shows, there has already been a significant down-turn in searches on the party from the initial spike in late November.

In short, I would return to the hypothesis I set out some years ago on the tensions that UKIP has to confront. On the one hand has been successful in exploting its initial niche as an (EU) protest party. On the other, it now suffers from a number of internal difficulties in moving beyond this niche.

Firstly, it lacks an ideological basis. The party is held together by little more than its dislike of the EU. A read of the 2010 manifesto reveals a collection of populist measures, only made possible by assumed (huge) savings from leaving the EU. As Farage himself is often heard to say, UKIP is not just the Tories with a ‘proper’ European policy, but a much broader church. This makes it much harder to generate a coherent and comprehensive programme of government.

Secondly, it lacks depth of resources. Both money and personnel are in short supply for the party. Even with the recent influx of members in recent weeks, membership is roughly 20,000, or roughly 30 per Commons constituency (thanks to Tim Bale for that observation), hardly enough to support either an extensive campaigning strategy (even if it could be afforded): the Green’s 2010 strategy of pouring everything into one constituency isn’t viable. Likewise, the party leadership has been dominated by the considerable figure of Farage (it’s hard to see who else would warrant a piece of the kind the BBC produced this week); only Kilroy-Silk make a similar impact and that did not end well.

Indeed, this points to the third weakness. With its very democratic structure of governance, it is open to individuals seeking to maximise their power and influence. This was discussed by Adebi and Lundberg in a very useful analysis: essentially, the number of posts exceeds the number of moderate (in terms of party policy) individuals, making it easy for those with more radical agendas to gain influence. UKIP has had three major ruptures over personnel and policy since its foundation in 1993, each of which nearly killed it off: even today, the party suffers from defections (e.g. Nikki Sinclaire) by senior figures.

The media like a good headline, and Farage undoubtedly provides good copy, but to present UKIP as the ‘third party’ is a vast over-extrapolation, both of the party and of voters. Just as 2004 didn’t translate into 2005, and 20090 didn’t translate in 2010, so I would expect UKIP’s performance in the 2015 general election to remain a pale imitation of their 2014 European elections performance, even if the latter does leave UKIP as the best represented party in the EP.

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In recent months, Welsh actor Damian Lewis has shot to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic for his role in the proclaimed new TV drama, Homeland. This success has led Lewis to appear on British and American chat shows, and has even landed him with an invitation to dine with President Obama. Homeland, it transpires, is the president’s favourite TV programme. He has confessed to going into the Oval Office, on a Sunday afternoon, and pretending to work, only to watch the show’s latest episode.

Homeland’s central plot pivots around the main character, Sergeant Nicholas Brody, played by Lewis. Having spent 8 years captive in Iraq, the central question the show asks is whether or not Brody has been ‘turned’, away from his beloved America, to instead support the cause of terrorism.

Ably supported by an excellent cast and, in particular, a series of outstanding performances from Claire Danes, Lewis convincingly portrays the tensions of a man wrestling with conflicting identities and allegiances.

Homeland breaks down the familiar identity markers of Good Americans and Evil terrorists, as we are repeatedly left to contemplate Brody’s aims and motivations.

By continually prompting the viewer to ask the question, ‘whose side is Brody on?’, Homeland is able to highlight some of the problems with being able to ask that question in the first place.

Homeland then is part critique and part reinforcement of the logic of the War on Terror. The show’s appeal lies in its ability to confuse and conflate the two sides of the conflict, but ultimately reinforces the idea that, as George W. Bush said back in 2001, “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

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Dr Malte Kaeding

After the media was dominated for a perceived eternity by the US elections campaign or the endless Eurozone Crisis, in mid-November attention briefly went a bit further east where the Chinese Communist party (CCP) has completed its once-a-decade leadership transition, revealing the 25 members of the Politburo and the seven members of its Standing Committee.
In March 2013 Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will formally take over power from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, Xi as CCP General Secretary and President and Li as Premier. The media has tried hard to provide us with some information about who the new leaders are and a lot of scholars and pundits have analysed the possible impact of the leadership change on the rest of the world.
It is likely that China will become a more assertive regional power as its current belligerent maritime behaviour vis-à-vis Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines already suggests. On the wider international arena there is already its tough stance in the Libyan and Syrian crisis. It will not get any easier dealing with a ‘peacefully rising’ China. More state-owned enterprises and state investment funds going on spending sprees in Europe, including the political consequences, are also to be expected. Hence, will China rule the Western world, similar to fears of a Japanese overtake in late 1980s (just watch Blade Runner)? Maybe these fears are too extreme (yet), but it is crucial to stay alert, especially also in academia.
There has been a lot of speculation about political ‘reform’ in China. The argument is that the CCP has to react and that the people become more demanding – especially when the country faces problems such as growing inequality, slowing growth, ineffective allocation of resources, rampant corruption and a destroyed environment, to name just some of them.
To put it directly, it’s not going to happen! Observers have rightly highlighted the absence of anyone who could be remotely considered a ‘reformer’ in the new Standing Committee. Also we have to remember who and how one gets into the top leadership. Xi and Li and the other members of the new Standing Committee are chosen because they somehow represent the carefully balanced interests of various rivalling party factions and cliques. Moreover the outgoing leadership will not want to install anyone who might hurt their legacy. In such system not those with the greatest charisma or best ideas succeed, but those who could not endanger anyone and who are best connected. This is not the wise and benevolent leadership as some naïve Western observers believe; it is the result of a system which breeds conformity and mediocrity.
We shall also not forget that there has been absolutely no progress on the political front over the past decade. Indeed the situation is worse than under Jiang Zemin and this despite the great hopes that were connected with Premier Wen Jiabao ten years ago. He was the aide of disgraced Premier Zhao Ziyang and joined him when Zhao spoke to the demonstrators on the Tiananmen Square in 1989. Days later Zhao was ousted and tanks moved into the square. Wen talked a lot about democracy, preferably to the foreign press, but no actions followed. No wonder he is referred to as ‘the best actor’ among some Chinese. If even the allegedly most liberal politician of his generation did nothing for political reform, what is there to expect from the generation of ‘princelings’ – children of famous party leaders who led a privileged life and were groomed to become the ruling elite?
It is very difficult to envision that political reform is on the agenda and indeed it might never be. Yet, we shall not forget that it is the CCP ruling, a mafia-like regime that, like any communist party, will do everything to stay in power and if this means pretending to embrace some form of democracy it might even do this. However one look at Hong Kong and you will see what this version of ‘democracy’ means…
Dr Keading has studied and taught in the Greater China region for six years and is member of the Hong Kong Transition Project, the EU-China Network and an Associate Fellow with the European Center of Contemporary Taiwan Studies. You can’t follow him on Twitter…

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Mark Olssen and John Turner

One question that is still to be asked regarding the series of rebellions and protests in the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring concerns the possible parallels that can be discerned with those great liberal revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

At a first look certain similarities seem obvious. The rebellions of the Arab Spring, manifesting themselves across the Arab world in countries as different as Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain and Syria, have been a demand expressed for both liberty and rights more generally. Perhaps, what has been most common across all these countries has been a demand for certain specific freedoms which have been essentially economic and political. On the one hand they have been a call for economic entitlements to a decent living and viable future; on the other, and related to this, a questioning of the role of the state with concern to its legitimacy. Peoples in these Arab nations have, for really the first time in any major vocal way, come to question the state according to its justification for rule as well as for the ancillary privileges it confers on certain elite groups who have historically participated in rule, monopolized access to the power institutions whereby rule is conducted, and seen it as their largely undefined right to be able to continue to rule. For common to all of these Arab states has been a new demand that their states extend rights more generally to the population, and institute democratic mechanisms of accountability, transparency and representation to all, as well as justify their legitimacy in terms of such criteria.

No more obvious example is the case of Egypt which saw the end of the 30 year rule of Hosni Mubarak and his replacement, eventually, with a democratically elected legislative led by the Freedom and Justice Party and President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The same is true, despite the differences in the forms of state formation and civil society of these countries, with Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria. What has taken place and continues still, have been protests concerning the rights of individuals as citizens concerning democratic representation, as well as economic and political entitlement and inclusion more generally; demands that each individual, race and religious grouping, should have a fair and equal right to participation and assured rights of future continuance, based on transparent and generally accepted ideas of legitimacy, which motivate at this historical juncture such demands.

A further parallel between the rebellions of the Arab Spring and the seventeenth century revolutions consists in a reconfiguration of the dualities in the relation between representation and divine power. Just as Locke argued against Robert Filmer and the doctrine of the divine right of kings to open up and extend a space for popular representation and political obligation grounded in the individual, so too, a singular commonality of the Arab Spring has been a protest by the citizenry on behalf of securing a greater accountability of rulers to the demos in a refashioning of the basis of political legitimacy, away from justifications in terms of caste, tribe, family or religion. Such protests were not against religion per se, but rather for a re-spatialisation or re-positioning of the religious in relation to the secular whereby both the manner and rationale for governance will be rendered newly accountable to the people as citizens in what must now be seen as the emergence of a new, albeit early, form of social contract. Influenced and inspired by the messages emanating from new forms of electronic and digital technology which communicate comparative models of global governance experience and rights, Arab peoples have begun the slow demand for secured rights against oppression, or, indeed, as is just as likely, from being simply ignored, as well as new demands of justification by rulers for the rule they maintain and the basis by which they adhere to power.

Affinities with the earlier liberal revolutions and movements of change should be carefully qualified, however. Although these new demands can be represented as an expression of liberal rights and freedoms, they are of a narrower scope than those theorized by Locke and which came to prevail in the West, through the revolutions of 1688, 1776, and 1789. The qualified questioning of the legitimacy of Arab states over rights and democracy constitutes only a limited expansion of the secular to incorporate specific entitlements. It certainly constitutes a demand that states are responsive to the wishes of citizens generally, but in a very qualified way. Such protests also clearly articulate a demand that the state represents the citizenry and justifies the conditions in which it continues rule. Implicit within such demands, further, there is clearly a call for an expansion of the secular and a re-alignment of the legitimate role of religion resulting in the incorporation of a more formal clarification and institutionalization of the rights of each within the society overall. These result in a more limited demand for rights than was historically expressed in the West. Rather than the wide libertarian conception of individual rights, conceived by Locke as a natural right, giving each individual sovereignty over their own bodies and minds, with clear autonomous rights of saying and doing more or less anything they liked, constrained only by a conception of law that was negatively defined in relation to a laissez-faire state, the conception being demanded by the Arab world is more limited, and must be tailored to the more communitarian context that dominates their lives. Religion is one core dimension of this context. Tribal and community relations which are inextricably tied up with economic activity and local political structures, constitute others. This is why in the Arab world the indigenous uprisings have to a large extent been misinterpreted by a Western media who too readily have been willing to confuse what is being articulated with those ideas of liberty that we have in the West. Only by a more nuanced analysis can we differentiate and reconcile the demands for liberty being called for with the equal continued relevance within the Arab world of conceptions of Western decadence, which still hold sway.
By correctly understanding the call for freedoms and state accountability as a limited demand to increase individual rights of citizenship within a limited sphere we can more easily make sense of episodes such as the Dutch cartoons uproar, or more recently, of the shooting of the US Ambassador to Libya, as a response to religious outrage over perceived slurs to Mohammad. Although positive political and economic rights are being demanded, the rebellions must be seen as a qualified re-alignment of the relation of the secular in relation to religion. What are not being granted are rights of open expression in relation to sacred values or texts. In the Arab world, the type of liberty being called for excludes such hurts. As a further corollary of course, the parallel rise of violence concurrent with the demand for rights testifies to the absence of any institutionalized principle or mechanism which has agreed recognition or acceptance for the management or processing of such discontents. That rights should be more precisely defined is perhaps the lesson here that the West should contemplate. Simply defined freedom to act within the law raises the question as to what sort of law and on what basis it should be understood. Needless hurt to other peoples’ religious views in acts of gross insensitivity by proclamations through the public media must surely be seen as akin to gross violations of legitimate privacy, whether via phone hacking or with the assistance of a powerful telephoto lens. In this sense, we could say that the new demands of the Arab world should not be read as a blanket demand for liberty which tolerates either cultural or social insensitivity or hurt and that violence will be a likely result of such reckless irresponsibility. The liberty and rights sought can thus be seen to constitute a necessary realignment of the secular and the religious at a particular historical juncture without eradicating the demands for respect, responsibility, caution, and care.
Within this context we can understand also what perhaps may emerge in respect to democracy. If our analysis is correct, then calls for greater democracy are of a potentially different sort to those models that have been implemented in the West. What is being called for is more limited mechanisms of transparency and legitimacy concerning political representation and state power, and individual rights and freedoms must be interpreted in this light. Freedom in this sense should not be seen as countenancing individual rights to openly trade in insulting or insensitive religious criticisms. In this sense there is a clear distinction between the type of freedom being called for in the Arab protests and the way freedom is understood in the West. Individual rights should not be confused with collective cultural or religious rights. What is clearly needed here is the development in the West of more nuanced rules and theory which can distinguish these different types of freedom. Should freedom of individuals allow open rights for anyone to promote grossly insensitive and abusive discourse against other peoples’ religious or cultural lifestyles? Should such matters be left to individual legal remedy through such institutions as libel actions through the courts and be beyond the intervention of states? For Barack Obama to simply shrug, and say ‘that is not how our legal system works’ as a way of acknowledging the impotence of the state with respect to the release in the US of an abhorrent and insensitive film slurring Islamic beliefs may no longer be sufficient! Or can a meaningful conception of liberty with suitably restricted focus on socioeconomic, cultural and political rights be developed which can also prohibit individuals or groups from insensitive and socially irresponsible and provocative commentary likely to inflame protests and engender global discord? In other words, can we justify individual or sub-group restrictions over such things as criticizing religion, being publicly insensitive to other groups’ religious or cultural codes, or enforcing community architectural norms against libertarian economic ‘ínvaders’ from the West who expect to be able to transgress age-old community norms concerning such treasured values and codes? Seen in this light, it may be that what transpires in the Arab Spring, a protest now spreading throughout the Islamic world, is an attempt to balance the values of liberty with community responsibility in a way altogether different to what we in the West have historically understood that dividing line to be.
There are many other misunderstandings associated with the vagueness and generality of the concept of democracy. It is certainly far from clear that any simple, liberal-capitalist, Western, view of democracy can be straightforwardly exported to other parts of the world. Much clarification is indeed called for. Even in Western political theory, democracy is far from being a straightforward doctrine without ambiguities. There is always a potential problem with a conception of democracy as ‘rule by the people,’ lest, as has frequently happened, the majority in a society should act in illiberal or grossly unjustified ways. It is in addressing this type of problem that the philosopher Ronald Dworkin, in his recent book, Justice for Hedgehogs (2011, pp. 384 – 388), rejects majoritarianism as the basis for democratic decision-making, preferring what he calls a ‘partnership’ model of democracy. On this basis, he is willing to support practices, such as judicial review, which do not have ‘majority support’ or which are not subject to ‘electoral validation.’ The argument against majority decision-making is simply that majorities are not always right. He imagines a majority supporting a policy of ‘sticking pins into babies for fun’ as an obvious example of his objection in principle to majority rule. Expressed more philosophically, he means they sometimes depart from what is for him the essential normative principle upon which democracy is based: “the equal concern and respect that the community together, as the custodian of coercive power, has for each of its members” (p. 390). Yet the ‘partnership model’ that Dworkin prefers to the majoritarian model seems poorly defined at the level of practicalities to ensure such an outcome of equal respect. For Dworkin, “the partnership conception of democracy…holds that self-government means government not by the majority of people exercizing authority over everyone but by the people as a whole acting as partners” (p. 384). As Dworkin expands:
This must inevitably be a partnership that divides over policy, of course, since unanimity is rare in political communities of any size. But it can be a partnership nevertheless if the members accept that in politics they must act with equal respect and concern for all other partners (p. 384)
This explanation obscures what must be seen as a nagging doubt that Dworkin’s ‘partnership’ is one between majorities of ordinary people and established policy elites. This means that the conception of legitimacy, as embodying the principle of equal concern and respect, is what is central to the partnership conception, and that majorities’ decisions are only acceptable if they accord with such specialist groups made up predominantly, for Dworkin, of lawyers and judges. Some people might think that this is a bit like having the wealthy and powerful keep an eye on things! Specifically, says Dworkin, it means respect for the rule of law, and that the law be “consistent with [a] good-faith understanding of what every citizen’s dignity requires” (p. 384). While one would like to agree with Professor Dworkin that some principle or mechanism must be introduced in order to safeguard against possible abuses of majoritarian rule, the extent to which his ‘partnership’ conceals the ever-present possibility of rule by elites, with strange echoes of Plato’s class of guardian rulers, supposedly imbued with democratic values of respect and equality, leaves a great deal to be desired.
Arab communities and non-Western societies generally, would likely be suspicious of Dworkin’s so-called ‘partnership’ model as yet another version of Western hegemony seeking to discipline the Middle East according to Western standards, in what may well be claimed is a new form of imperialism. It would be better, we think, to accept that majoritarian democracy is itself a limited discourse which well may permit abuses, and to seek to forge consensus between West and East at a purely ethical or normative level of adherence to a global public good. While this would require a robust global discussion as to which elements and values were to be included and excluded, it is not judges who should constitute the partners with majorities, but rather globally constituted committees made up of ordinary citizens of the world, operating through already established structures such as the United Nations. Such a global public good based on what best continues life for all, at an abstract enough level to accommodate different cultural groups’ aspirations, comprising such elements as health, parrhèsia, or liberty of thought and action, legal access to institutions of support and guidance, respect for other values and principles, tolerance towards difference, education and training, and so on. The Arab Spring shows a new consensus on these values now emerging in a global world more interconnected than ever before under the impetus of new technologies of communication and publicity. Although the crucial issues and values will be mediated both culturally and historically in very different ways, hopefully they permit enough convergence to enable globally constituted panels to express judgments upon the practical workings of democracy if and when it errs. Rather than a partnership between different status and employment groups from different levels of society, as Dworkin suggests, what rather is required are overlapping networks representing the diversity of the world’s citizens organized variously in a plurality of cross-checking constituencies (ccc) and structures (ccs). What is needed to consolidate the expectations and stirrings of the Arab world then is the participation of refereeing bodies that can be seen to represent a genuine national non-partisanship in the opinions rendered.

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What a relief to see that someone is finally taking up the gauntlet for what is being done to Higher Education in the UK. The Telegraph today published an article by its Education Editor, Graeme Paton, reporting on senior academics and peers’ arguments that HE reforms have resulted in ‘gross distortions’ in education. They cite the removal of funding for arts and humanities subjects, the promotion of the student as ‘consumer’ and the academic as ‘producer’. Education is therefore no longer about intellectual and critical development but about earning potential. I could not agree more and it’s a trend that is frighteningly hard to resist. It is the perception that there is nothing we can do to withstand the tide that means morale is failing amongst academics.

What the article does not cover is the effect of league tables. But before I get to that, there’s something I need to acknowledge. No-one can deny that the reforms are designed to address something that needs addressing. We are in the midst of economic crisis and we do need to make cuts. Universities have not always been good at connecting with the ‘real world’ and a certain amount of connection is right and proper. Some students are driven by the need to get good employment after university and universities need to be mindful of that. As for league tables, the student experience is important and students need to be seen as a vital part of the life of a department and university, not an inconvenience that distracts from the world of research.

But.

Higher Education is no different to any other area of our lives: it needs to be underpinned by adherence to an articulated set of principles and values. Looking around me and thinking about conversations I have had with people at a range of universities across the country, I’m not sure what those values are in HE anymore, unless they’re about the commodification of education.  What we will increasingly struggle to adhere to are the following: instilling in students reason to value education for its own sake, to help them internalise the idea that knowledge makes us wiser and stronger, better equipped to meet the many and varied challenges we face everywhere;  helping students to become self-sufficient and to be independent learners (sure, we all need someone to support us and guide us but there have to be clear limits to what is done in that regard); building flexibility into the treatment of students, who after all, are individuals who learn at different rates, in different ways and to different effects.

So why do we struggle? Part of it is the bureaucracy identified by the academics and peers in Paton’s article. Too often, the process, rather than the outcome the process is supposed to support, is the focus of attention. The funding issue, well, there’s nothing I can add there, it’s blindingly obvious – or perhaps not – what the middle to long term consequences will be of a decision to say the humanities and social sciences don’t matter. Let’s just say that I sooooo look forward to discussions on something like the impact of Alzheimers when those discussions are informed by medical researchers but not sociologists or political scientists.

But it’s the effect of league tables that most concerns me. My first cause for concern comes from the fact that we have already been taught the lessons of tables and targets in primary and secondary education. We know they resulted in teaching to the assessment rather than, well, just teaching and had a very negative effect on the quality of learning. I’m always telling my students, however, that knowledge is not the same as understanding. We know the lessons but we have evidently not learned the lessons of our failures in primary and secondary education. Apparently, setting targets for student recruitment, retention, student progression, number of ‘good’ degrees awarded etc in HE, none of these will have the same negative impact. As academics we will, of course, still be able to give good principled and impartial advice about where to study, what to study and whether to stick with it. We won’t design assessments that allow more and more students to excel rather than testing their learning in a rigorous fashion. We won’t reduce the amount of work they have to do in order to help them achieve better results. And our conversations about pedagogy will, of course, be all about what students need and not what students want, with full regard for the fact that we’re the experts, not the students.

I am not saying that we are at this unsavoury place yet but that is why we have to talk about it now, before we get there. The degree of incline on the slope of principles can be almost indiscernible. We could be halfway down before we know it. I have no intention of being part of the generation that killed HE in the UK. But that’s just the point, none of us intends that should happen, it just does – unless we are vigilant.

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Four more years.  That was the news to which the world awoke on Wednesday morning, as incumbent President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

 

In 2008, when hope and change fuelled a sense of urgency and optimism, Obama won almost 53% of the popular vote.  This time, in 2012, Romney managed to convince between 2 and 3 out of every 100 voters to change their minds and cast their ballots for the GOP instead.  Ultimately, this was too few.  To win, Romney would have needed to persuade between 3 and 4 of every 100 Americans to change their vote.

 

For the past few weeks the media has spoken repeatedly about the closeness of the election and the narrowing of the polls.  This was only ever true in some, limited respects.  While Obama’s lead certainly declined following his calamitous first debate performance, he always retained the edge in the all-important state-by-state polls.

 

Thankfully, for the sake of clarity and democracy, it looks as if Obama will win the national vote once again in 2012, albeit by a much-reduced margin.  Even if he had lost the popular vote, however, the geographical distribution of his support, coupled with the nature of the Electoral College system, have long meant that his re-election campaign looked fairly formidable.

 

On Election Day, the pollsters and Political Scientists were largely proven correct.  In the key swing states, where much of the 2-billion-dollar-election was fought, Obama held onto the majority of states he had carried in 2008.  Only North Carolina and Indiana evaded him, as the Democrats took crucial battleground states such as Virginia and Colorado.  Even Florida, going against more pessimistic polling predictions, broke for the incumbent president, albeit by the narrowest of margins.

 

As Election Day and election night unfolded, all eyes were on that most swingy of swing states, Ohio.  Proclaimed as a bellwether, gaining Ohio’s 18 Electoral College votes has long been crucial to winning presidential elections.  And after months of campaigning by politicians, union leaders and celebrities, the Buckeye State ultimately came down on the side of Obama.  Focusing in on the importance of Ohio can help to give us some clues as to how Obama won the election.

 

First, the election was overwhelmingly about the economy.  But the economy did not seal the election for either candidate.  A poor overall economic performance, like that of the last four years, should normally be expected to result in the challenger winning.  But sustained economic growth, like that of the last few months, would usually see the incumbent returned to power.  Recent jobs figures, for example, have been seized upon and given ballast to both campaigns.   Second, specific domestic policy successes helped Obama.  In Ohio, for instance, the bailout of the American auto industry was viewed very favourably.  Third, the Democratic ground campaign was extremely effective.  Turnout was high, which helped Obama, as Democratic campaigners effectively mobilised voters, who they feared might stay at home through disillusionment.  This was achieved through established networks of volunteers going door-to-door, sophisticated niche marketing, and an unparalleled social media campaign.

 

There are also three other, more general, factors that helped Obama to win re-election.  First, Romney has not been an effective candidate.  Partly due to his own errors and personality – he has been seen to be gaffe-prone and aloof – and partly due to the nature of Republican Party and nomination process, Romney struggled for much of his candidacy.  Second, foreign policy is a traditional area of strength for Republican candidates.  This time, the Democratic president held a strong hand on international affairs.  Having presided over the killing of Osama bin Laden, President Obama had an effective shield to protect himself from potential attacks on his foreign policy record.  Third, this election’s ‘October Surprise’ came in the form of Superstorm Sandy, which battered the East Coast of the United States a week before Election Day.  Returning to the White House to manage the crisis enabled Obama to appear presidential and rise above the inglorious fray of campaigning in those crucial few days before votes were cast.  It was in this period that Obama regained some momentum in the polls, which ultimately enabled him to win states such as Virginia, Ohio and even, it appears, Florida.

 

The result then may look close at, a predicted, 50% versus 48.5%.  But victory in key states means Obama has won with, an expected, 332 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 206.

 

Dr Jack Holland

Lecturer in International Relations

University of Surrey

[email protected]

 

Written 8am (GMT) Wednesday 6th November 2012

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So, it appears that Mitt Romney isn’t a robot after all. Who’d have thought it? Engaging, lively, still a little sneer-prone and not all that likeable, the Mittster took the fight to an oddly quiet Obama. Looking tired, POTUS remained resolutely within himself, declining easy pitches he could have smashed out of the park with sure-fire home run answers that have served his ad campaigns so well. Some reports suggest the dampened performance was deliberate and grounded in the cold hard reality of polling data. Others have suggested a tired president simply mirrors a tired presidency. Pundits can’t even agree on whether or not any of this matters, although a humorous media scramble is evident in the rush to suggest that debates are rarely decisive given Romney won this but is likely to lose on November 6th.

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Ciaran Gillespie is a PhD Candidate in the School of Politics

Recent reports that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has successfully shot down a Syrian Air Force jet have perhaps come as a surprise to many as this is no small feat for an irregular band of fighters. The jet was a Mig-23BN Soviet-produced aircraft of the type that had just days before been used to bomb militant positions in the east of Allepo, killing and injuring dozens of civilians in the process.  The successful downing of such a potentially destructive tool in the Assad regime’s arsenal is perhaps symbolic of the struggle of the rebels in the conflict, illustrating the vast gulf in material war making capabilities between the two sides. While Syria’s MIG jets are a hangover from its support from the Soviet Union during the Cold War (Gaddafi had approximately 50 of these jets as well), Assad’s position has continued to be bolstered by Russian military aid. As Hilary Clinton stated recently: ‘They have from time to time said that we shouldn’t worry, everything they’re shipping is unrelated to [Syrian] actions internally. That’s patently untrue and we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically’. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to such criticism by admitting that indeed weapons had been sent but assured concerned parties that they could not be used against the population, echoing similar, rather baffling denials made by the US as it shipped weapons to Mubarak during the Egyptian uprising and likewise from the UK when shipping arms to Bahrain.

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Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” published in The Atlantic earlier this year has gone viral. It has generated wide reaching debate in policy and academic circles. This is clearly a heartfelt piece. Slaughter provides a candid overview of the struggles and internal conflict she felt as a working mother.

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Available on the  e_IR website

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