Politics Departments on Twitter: @sotonpolitics at #19

Our counterparts on Nottingham University’s ‘Ballots & Bullets’ blog have compiled a list of politics departments in the U.K. who are on Twitter. Our departmental Twitter account is a respectable 19th, currently with 348 followers. The Politics|Upside|Down blog and our @sotonpolitics Twitter account (plus the related @C2G2 and @publicpolicyUoS accounts) have been active for less than a year and we will be building on our social media presence in the year ahead.

PAIR research: Kamil Zwolski on Somali piracy

In a recent article published in Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Dr Kamil Zwolski of Politics & International Relations and Dr Christian Kaunert of the University of Dundee explore the role of the European Union in addressing maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa.

They note that an internal security problem of Somalia—state failure from internal conflict resulting in increased piracy—has increasingly become an external security problem for the European Union (EU). Their article contributes to analysing the role of the EU as a security actor in countering piracy off the Horn of Africa, by examining three different dimensions of the EU response to this problem: (a) the immediate EU response (the EU military mission EUNAVFOR Atalanta); (b) the medium-term EU response (the Critical Maritime Routes (CMR) programme launched by the European Commission); and (c) the long-term EU response (development and security assistance). The article concludes that the EU has been very active in addressing piracy through its naval task-force to protect maritime transport in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, as well as its efforts to enhance regional counter-piracy capacities and thematic and geographical financial instruments. The EU thus has taken up the fight against ‘Captain Hook’.

The UK, Language and Eurovision – or why do we do so badly now?

This Friday (semi-finals) and Saturday (finals) see the return of the light entertainment highlight of the year that is the Eurovision Song Contest. Having been socialised into this event from a very young age, I find myself vaguely cheered by the selection this year of Bonnie Tyler as the UK entry since it is, in general, easier to enjoy the activity of poking fun at all the other entries if the UK has one that is not utterly appalling. But is the reason that the UK, a country which had garnered more points that any other over the history of the event with 5 winning entrants (second to Ireland’s 7) and a staggering 15 second place finishes, has not had a winner since 1997 (Katerina and the Waves ‘Shine a Light’) or a second place since 1998 (Imaani ‘Where are You?’) simply that our entries are so much worse than they used to be? Since 1999, with the honorable exceptions of Jessica Garlick in 2002 (3rd with ‘Come Back’) and Jade Ewen in 2009 (5th with ‘It’s my time’), we have not appeared in the top ten and have come last on three occasions (2003, 2008, 2010), a indignity avoided by the aged Hump in 2012 by only a single place. What has changed?

The big shift is that 1999 marked the dropping of ‘national’ restrictions on the language in which the song is performed. This isn’t the first period in which there have been no restrictions on language choice for vocal performance, this was also true for the first nine years of the competition (1956-65) until a Swedish entry was sung in English caused national language restrictions to be introduced before they were dropped briefly, and arguably luckily for ABBA (judge for yourself here), in the mid-70s (1974-76) and then re-introduced until 1999. It is worth comparing these periods:

  • 1956-65 saw no English language winner with French being the dominant language with six winners from three countries (Switzerland, France and Luxembourg),
  • 1974-77 saw three straight years of English language winners (Sweden, Netherlands, UK)
  • 1999-2012 has seen 13 of 14 winning songs sung in English, the only full exception being the Serbian winner in 2007, although some have mixed mixed English and national languages (most prominently Ukraine in 2004).

It is plausible that the decision of the Swedish entry in 1965 to sing in English reflected the transnationalisation of commercial popular music in the early 1960s symbolized by the rise of the Beatles and which established an English language hegemony in ‘transnational’ popular music. Britain was identified with good ‘pop’ music across the terrain of the European Broadcasting Union and its active members who make up the Eurovision participants – and this combined with the introduction of language restrictions gave the UK, together with Ireland, a significant competitive advantage. If we drop 1974 and 1975 in which the winners were sung in English by performers from countries where English is not an official language, then the period 1966-1998 saw the UK and/or Ireland win 10 of 30 competitions and come second in 12. It is notable in this context that the post-1999 period has also seen the collapse of the Irish performance, after their dominance of the 1990s, with 6th place in 2000 as their best performance.

So how do we do better in Eurovision? Simple – re-introduce national language rules.

To be or not to be in the EU: Is that the question?

By Matt Ryan, Teaching Fellow in Politics & International Relations

Earlier this week I chaired a table discussion on bottom-up democracy at a world café event organised by European Alternatives at Europe House in London entitled ‘To be or not to be in the EU: Is that the question?’. The event brought researchers and civil society activists together with members of the general public to generate ideas for a more democratic Europe. The summary of ideas will be discussed at a transnational meeting of citizens in Venice and the ideas will be incorporated into a citizen’s manifesto to try and influence those running for the EP in 2014.

The focus of discussion at my table was on designing institutions for collective decision-making across Europe in a way that allows meaningful participation of ordinary citizens. Participants were very much of the view that the EU is a de facto elitist organisation. Opportunities for voice of ordinary citizens are in reality minimal. Participants consistently expressed the view that those in the greatest need are rarely those who are consulted in EU decision-making. There is very little media presence for innovations in democracy despite its prevalence at a local level. They are rarely mentioned by politicians at the European level. There is no reason why local innovation cannot co-exist with and buttress institutions that actively create deep participation at a transnational level. Finally, but relatedly, it was felt that the EU is very centralised. It rarely dips its toes into its rural or urban backwaters – even these consultations always take place in London, and never in places that are not tourist destinations.

Proposals from participants for citizen’s manifesto:

  1. When the EU considers public participation it needs to actively seeks out and provide the foundations for less established minorities to participate and voice their stories and fresh ideas on an equal footing. The EU should clearly show an interest in incentivising these groups using everything from asking them to paying them. It is felt that this would give them the respect, compensation and autonomy necessary to participate in politics.
  2. When groups participate in decision-making it is imperative that they are given information and allowed the experience of deliberating with fellow EU citizens from different walks of life. The EU should more actively create these spaces throughout the public sphere.
  3. Relatedly, the EU should mirror the ERASMUS programme but expand it to fund European mobility for exchanges of persons in all types of employment. It was felt that ERASMUS has been the single most successful policy in fostering a pan-European transnational identity. Citizens often end up living happily and becoming connected to cities they would otherwise never have heard of. However it is restricted to those in Higher Education (a group already politically engaged). Perhaps the EU could start by funding an exchange programme for government workers (not one that sends them all to Brussels but all over Europe).
  4. The European Union should legislate such that multinational corporations who employ workers across European borders must have a democratic structure in order to enjoy the economic benefits of European markets. This means that workers across countries must have power over significant decisions made by these companies, engendering transnational workplace democracy.
  5. MEPs should be a lot more vocal and active in promoting and giving voice to ideas like electoral reform, decisions made by citizen’s assemblies of stratified random samples of the European population, citizen’s initiatives and opportunities for citizen’s to have a say on capital infrastructure projects built with EU money. If they claim they are already doing some of the things we are asking for then could they show us and promote them please!
  6. The EU needs to be active in building civil society as a countervailing power particularly in newer member states where corruption is still a barrier to effective democracy. They could do this by funding an exchange programme for community organisers.

Are these the kinds of discussions we should be having about Europe? I certainly think they provide a for a more fruitful and creative discourse on alternatives to politics in Europe!

Polling Observatory #24: Blue revival, purple advance

Cross-posted at @NottsPolitics.

Nott 29-04-13 low res cropped

This is the twenty-fourth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

It seems that, even in death, Margaret Thatcher retains the power to move the British voter. We now have a full month of polling data gathered after Baroness Thatcher’s death, and our new estimate shows the first significant Conservative rebound in many months, with Cameron’s Tories up 1.4% at 30.3%. It is impossible at this stage to say whether this is a temporary blip, perhaps relating to the largely positive media coverage of the Thatcher funeral, or the start of a more lasting move. But at this stage, with the economy in dire straits, the backbenchers restive, and heavy local election losses anticipated on Friday, Cameron and his team will take any good news they can get

The Conservatives will be doubly cheered to see that Labour have declined steeply for the second month running, down 0.9% to38.4%. Labour are now down almost four points from their peak, and approaching their lowest scores since Ed Miliband took over as leader. They retain a healthy 8% lead over the Conservatives, but the recent softening in numbers must be a concern, particularly as it comes during a period without any significant positive economic news to bolster the government. Miliband will be hoping for a strong local election performance to boost morale and quieten critics. He will be helped in this regard by his predecessor’s appalling performance in 2009 – on the night when Hazel Blears and James Purnell launched their abortive putsch against him, Gordon Brown led Labour to their worst local election slump in decades. Even a modest rebound in support should be sufficient to capture hundreds of council seats, and enable Ed Miliband to declare steady recovery.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage will also be scouring the local election returns closely. He has already delivered one significant organisational victory for his party, fielding a record slate of candidates for Thursday’s polling, surpassing the struggling Lib Dems. He can now truly claim to lead a party with national reach, though as yet one without even local power. Farage will hope for major gains in the deep blue county councils elected on Thursday, but to achieve this he must overcome a foe more formidable than the political establishment he rails against: Britain’s first past the post electoral system. UKIP support is very evenly spread geographically which, as the Lib Dems know very well, makes converting votes into seats and power extremely difficult. While his party scored another record rating with the Polling Observatory this month, up 0.3% to 11.5%, Farage’s candidates may find themselves with little to show for this on Friday evening if UKIP candidates surge to second place across the nation. Only a disciplined and coordinated targeting and mobilisation effort is likely to change this script. As yet, we simply do not know if UKIP possess this kind of organisational capacity. Thursday’s poll therefore provides us with a key indicator about UKIP’s ability to move from soaking up protest to wielding real influence.

The Lib Dems will be hoping to avoid another local election bloodbath, having endured two already since joining the Coalition. Their poll ratings provide little cause for solace, slipping back to 9.1%but they will hope that deep local roots and the predominance of competition with the Conservatives rather than Labour will help them hold on in many seats on Thursday night. Nigel Farage may even help them by cutting into the vote of their national partners and local rivals, the Conservatives.

It seems highly likely that, however the results pan out on the night, Nigel Farage will be the big story this weekend. UKIP continue to chalk up record poll numbers for a fourth party challenger, and are almost certain to win at least some council seats, while also providing a challenge to the established parties over a wider range of territory than ever seen before. The momentum looks set to continue: UKIP fascinates media pundits and party apparatchiks in equal measure. Farage himself is a talented performer who can always be relied upon to deliver good copy, so the media look certain to keep him in the spotlight so long as his polling remains strong.

There are those who think UKIP will melt in the media spotlight, undone by their candidates’ eccentricities or the contradictions in their policy ideas. This misunderstands the nature of UKIP supporters, who are less interested in finding a reasonable, responsible government than in delivering a kick to the shins of a political class they deem unreasonable and irresponsible. There is always a section of the electorate which is fed up with the incumbent, hostile to the principle opposition, and eager for any outlet for their frustration. In stagnant, struggling austerity Britain, this sentiment is more widespread than ever, and, thanks to the Coalition, UKIP have this vote all to themselves. Add to this continued public hostility to immigration, socially conservative voters who, like Lord Tebbit, no longer consider the Conservatives a friendly home, and Nigel Farage’s personal charisma, and you have a recipe which looks set to deliver the goods for some time to come, particularly in UKIP’s big home fixture: 2014′s European Parliament elections. So get used to the mustard trousers, the tweed jackets and the pints of bitter: we will be seeing plenty more of them during this Parliament.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup