Thursday, January 26, 2006

Official: North is South

Came across this yesterday in the LSE events list:

"When an Inuit leader attending international climate negotiations saw campaigners dressed as polar bears to highlight the effects of global warming, she demanded to know what right they had to speak on her behalf. Today developing countries are putting innovative proposals on the table that represent a sea change in climate change politics. Are Southern activists the new pioneers who can unblock the current impasse on climate change negotiations or do campaigners from the North still dominate?"

Worth going along to this event next Thursday just to ask the panel who the North and South is withy regard to the Artic. Also, surely the use of the term 'sea change' was unfortunate? Seems to me that's what the negotiations are all about preventing!
A break from the cynicism...

Well done to Simon Hughes for admitting his homosexuality. Society has changed sufficiently that no-one should really care whether or not a politician is gay or what he or she does in their private lives.

Unlike some twit whose blog I read this morning, claiming that the country's not ready for a gay prime minister and on that basis he won't be supporting him. It's people like him who 100 years ago didn't think women should have the vote, let alone the top job.
Justice, Al Capone-style

In a delicious irony Pinochet's daughter, Lucia, is apparently seeking asylum from 'political persecution' in the US.

Of course, this 'political persecution' has nothing to do with human rights abuses, torture, disappearances. No nothing like that. No, she, like the rest of the Pinochet family, is being investigated for tax evasion.

Excuse me if I don't shed a tear.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reflections on the Lib Dem race

So now we're down to three. Like most people, I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard Mark Oaten had not only stepped down from the leadership campaign, but also the home affairs brief.

Not sure there's really anything to say.

But of the three remaining, it's going to be a tough call decising who should be the next leader. Simon Hughes got the activists' support and charisma (admittedly in person rather than on TV), while Chris Huhne is an unknown force and Menzies Campbell poses serious questions. Like, for example, his alleged role in the rumours surrounding Kennedy before and after Christmas and the party's keenness to get the election over and done (which would presumably favour the early runners and before the others have built up momentum). The fact that David Steel was pushing for a 'coronation' on the same day that Ashdown came out in favour of Campbell suggests to me that the establishment want to take control.

At this rate, the caricature that Polly Toynbee drew of the Lib Dems at a LSE meeting last night is going to become more evident. She portrayed the party as less concerned with social justice and lifting people out of poverty than with gaining middle class votes (e.g. tuition fees). She made reference to the Orange Book tendencyt - as if that's the mainstream of party thinking.

Already you can see her type sharpening their pens to portray Lib Dems as little better than the Tories.
Before the firing squad

On Monday it was my turn to face the music. There's something slightly uncomfortable sitting in front of a class of about 25. all of whom have read your paper and are about to tear it to shreds.

Yes, it was my day in front of the Government Department's first year seminar.

Actually, it wasn't as bad as I expected. No-on took great issue with the main thrust of my argument, of the relative differences between moderate and radical branches of the Left, and 'open' and 'closed' notions of each. That was reassuring. Instead I was hauled out on questions of methodology, structure of the chapter and (from the one or two Latin Americanists in the room) concerns about labels. For example, should I have hsed the term 'Latin America' when much of what I was describing was really Southern Cone? Why had I excluded the Sandinistas from this discussion about the Left?

One or two people asked me about where education policy and reform sat in my thesis - it didn't seem to appear in my research questions. And I was asked why I wasn't considering textual analysis of textbooks or curricula. Short answer: because Left and Right tend to use the same language of 'building citizenship' and 'instilling knowledge'. It's what they think about these ideas that I want to get to.

And so an hour ended rather more quickly than I expected. Off to see my supervisor next Monday to go over the post-mortum.

Besides my session, Philippa Walker presented her work on 'Caring Justice': a political theory piece which seeks to combine a theory of justice within an ethical framework (I think). I'm afraid I'm rather hazy and uncomprehensing about much political theory, so I don't think I could do Philippa justice by trying to summarise her arguments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Spare any change?

As if it's not enough that I'm working two days a week and trying to get my paper ready to present next Monday, I've also got to think about applying for new jobs and seeking funding for my studies. So far I've applied for several (less well-paid) jobs when my current position finishes at the end of February, while last night I completed a full day in front of the computer screen by sitting down to fill out my application form for the Wingate scholarship (closing date, 1 February). Along with it came the emails to supervisors and past teachers, asking if they'd mind acting as a referee.

It never ends, does it?
Paper presentations update

So a quick update on some of the papers presented this term so far over the last week.

Last Thursday Daniel Lin presented a paper on Chinese legal culture, which appears to be part of a project relating to differences between Chinese and Japanese perspectives on law and how this relates to their political cultures. Always a tricky subject to get onto, I think, with culture. Often it seems that people use the term as a catch-all explanation to define exceptionalism of a particular polity or society. With Daniel's paper I struggled to make sense of what he was trying to say; after refuting various authors, he settled for a popular conception of law, with the Chinese state minded to bend to society. After making some brief references to the state's tacit acceptance of public protest against the US and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, he then cited various Tang dynasty examples of private cases.

I wasn't entirely sure where he was going with that divergence. And as for his principle - that the state 'bends to societal demands' - isn't hat something that can be found in other societies other than China's? Similarly, I questioned the assumption that the Chinese state is that responsive; Tiananmen Square springs to mind. Similarly, these social protests were partly orchestrated by the government, so to what extent could they be deemed independent.

This Monday we had two more first year students under the spotlight: Matthew Bolton and Sarah Harrison. Matthew kicked off with a look at humanitarian intervention and the changing perceptions of conflict, particularly since Vietnam. Some of the political theorists were keen to take him up on ideas of war (not something I would want to go down), while others wanted to define what 'humanitarian intervention' meant in his paper - not that this seemed to be the primary purpose of it.

Sarah, meanwhile, is examining the electoral success of the extreme right in six European countries. This immediately prompted concerns about whether this was too large a project - something that I hadn't considered. Personally, I was more interested to know how she defined left-right themes (i.e. can immigration or Europe be placed on this political spectrum?) and whether she felt that success could only be defined in electoral terms? After all, extreme right parties do not need parliamentary representation, or indeed be in government, to infuence the policy debate. Finally, I noticed in her (well-written) plan of action that in the three countries where the extreme right had entered government or was a prominent player (Austria, Italy and France), it had seen a subsequent decline in its vote share. What did this suggest about the long term viability of such parties?

Next week it's my turn. And yes, I'm already dreading it!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The students are now in charge...

Term began again on Monday and this time it's the turn of the students to present their own work. Since the first year PhD seminar has taken this shape, it's only those of us on the MPhil/PhD programme in the Government department that have to attend. Consequently there's noticeably fewer students there, since the MRes people have departed.

First up were Andre Alves and Andrzej Bolesta with their work on welfare state classification and Chinese authoritarian development respectively. Both were grilled for an hour each. Andre's piece dealt with the identification of the normative aspects of egalitarian and libertarian perspectives on welfare states. This will form the basis of some classification of different OECD welfare states along an egalitarian-libertarian spectrum and the impact of such states on labour markets. My observation on his piece was to note that no pure model seemed to exist at either end; scholarly writing seemed to combine elements of each perspective. Consequently, these differences were a matter of degree.

Andrej's working chapter proved to be contentious for some in the seminar. He's interested in economic development in China specifically and what this says about development more generally. He's keen to contrast the shift from socialist development to free market democracy in Eastern Europe with China's post-socialist economic change without soncurrent political liberalisation. This, he believes, makes a case for Chinese 'exceptionalism', not least because the authoritarianism is 'rational'. I questioned that, not least because bureaucratic authoritarianism in Latin America could similarly be described as technical and less personalist than previous forms (see O'Donnell, O'Donnell and Schmitter and Roquie for this). Subsequently I suggested to him that he might want to consider Cuba's current development path as well: not only has it liberalised sections of its economy (creating 'free zones' rather like China during the 1980s), but it has also done this without ceding political power.

But it was the implicit argument in Andrej's piece that caused come consternation: namely that authoritarianism may appear to be more effective at delivering consistent and effective development than democracy. A number of people took exception to that.

Still, it seems the term has been set for some quite interesting work and presentations to come.
Such hypocrisy

Interesting how Charles Kennedy was slated by sections of the media and his party for being an alcoholic. In particular were those who said that seeking help for only two months did not mean that he had faced up to his problems and instead it was just the start.

So what exactly am I to make of Kate Moss? Front page of one of the newspapers this morning is an image from her first photo shoot since her return from a clinic for her drug habits. Can it really be that her exposure and recovery has all happened since the end of September? If drugs are like alcohol, how exactly is she 'rehabilitated'? Has she faced up to her problems, or was it all a show so she could get back to work?

Not that I rerally care - good luck to them both I say. But it does make me wonder what the point of all this exposure is.
Was I dreaming this?

In my half sleep this morning I heard on the radio that scientists are claiming those just waking up have less capacity for concentration than if they're drunk or been up for 24 hours. Apparently the grogginess can last for up to two hours after waking up.

I can just see the newspaper headline: 'Sleep is bad for you: official'.

Sometimes I wonder what the point of it all is...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Who's in?

So he's bowed to the inevitable and gone. Well, it never looked likely that Kennedy would be able to continue as leader, even if he had got the members' endorsement. Look at Iain Duncan Smith's experience for that.

Of course having a party affiliation means that when you attend a social gathering everyone asks you for your opinion on it. And judging by the Fox and Grapes crows in Wimbledon yesterday, the sympathy is with Kennedy. Although interestingly all the MPs (and Ashdown) are lining up behind Ming Campbell. It's starting to look like a coronation - something I doubt the membership will wear.

For the sake of a contest - and the opportunity to grumble about more than one candidate - we need another to enter the race.

So what are you waiting for Andrew? Now's the time!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Will no one speak up?

Just looking at the Lib Dem website, I see there's been absolutely nothing posted since Thursday. What's going on? Could it be that the press office doesn't know what to say?

After all, I'm curious to know how the party's responding officially to media reports that nearly half the Parliamentary party have no support in Kennedy. Presumably there's civil war within Cowley Street and in this instance the first casulaties are the NCOs - in this instance the press officers.

Odd that the press office - which likes to be both at the centre and in control of any Lib Dem pronouncement - has gone silent at the very moment it's most needed. Not just that, but from my seat it looks like it's been sidelined, as the media go direct to MPs themselves rather than through the supposedly correct and formal channels.

After the fallout from the leadership crisis is done it might be worth looking at how the media operation is managed inside the party.
No substance at all?

Wow, they're all breaking cover now, aren't they? To think, just a month ago it was all rumour and innuendo - now you can't switch on the radio or the TV without finding at least five Lib Dem MPs desperate to comment on the CK crisis.

And that included that old showboater, Andrew George MP. My one or two readers will recall his unsuccessful attempt to get the fisheries minister to recall Parliament to discuss the quotas two days before Christmas 2004.

I'm sure that Andrew would argue that it was high-minded principle at stake and had nothing to do with getting good copy. Rather like his comments in the Standard yesterday.

Unless there's something else afoot. Might it be that Andrew's aiming to buck the trend of those who plunge the knife in never reaping the benefits? Could it be that we're seeing the first of the leadership aspirants lining himself up for this own campaign? I think we should be told.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The bevvied leading the bland

One last Lib Dem-related item - and then I promise to shut up.

God knows why I still continue to receive briefings from the youth section of the party (I'm turning 30 in less than a month - surely that makes me middle-aged to these people?!), but I do despair of it. Their latest statement on Kennedy is worthy of the Politbureau:

Liberal Democrat Youth and Students notes Charles Kennedy's dignified
statement today, and the constitutional process that he has now put
into place.

It will be a relief for many members to see an end to whispering and
plotting, and to take this opportunity to reflect on how we as a party
face the future.

We welcome the fact that, since there must be a leadership election,
it is open to all members to vote in. This shows a level of respect
for the party membership and for democracy that other parties have
consistently failed to exhibit.

We wish Charles well for his continued recovery, and await
developments with interest.

It seems the idealists and radicals of the party have disappeared, to be replaced by the careerists and hacks. And that is more depressing than the current leader's difficulties; the future doesn't seem too bright with lines like that, does it?
The world turned upside down...

Nine years ago, when I first took a course on Latin American politics the neo-liberal order was in full swing and characters like Menem and Fujimori were running the show. A decade later and all the talks about the rise of the Left and indigenous rights.

I thought that was the appeal of studying that region's politics rather than British politics.

That was until yesterday.

Not only does Charles Kennedy finally 'fess up to a drink problem, but my local MP, George Galloway, is set to become Big Bruvver in the BB house! What next?

Is it any surprise about Kennedy? The rumblings have been there for years, but it has always been hushed up. Remember the problems about his 'illness' at conference? Yet that's not the aspect that's so stunning. No, it's the sheer unwillingness by sections of the party to follow through with this hatchet job, even after leaving Kennedy bloodied. How else to descibe a ballot paper with just CK's name on it? It's exactly like the referendum questions put to the Chileans under Pinochet in 1980 and 1988 - not exactly an advertisement for liberal democracy is it?

As for Gorgeous George, at least his entry into the Big Brother House will mean that he can't do any damage to Tower Hamlets while he's in there. But I reckon the people who will miss him the most will be the Brick Lane curry house owners - if he goes the distance they'll be losing quite a bit of custom.

Although I'm willing to wager that he won't be in there for long.

Rather like Kennedy in fact.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Other leadership crises...

And while (little) British attention is paid to Latin America, here in London the news is all about Ariel Sharon and Charles Kennedy. Not that you could ever imagine either sharing a stage together.

Kennedy is really starting to look like damaged goods. But what's even more depressing is the incompetence or unwillingness of the Lib Dems to wield the knife. If this is stabbing in the back it's not looking very effective. The party could definitely do with watching the Tories more closely.

As for Sharon, it's indeed a simal state of affairs when someone like him is seen as necessary to the peace process. Yes, I've heard all about 'better the devil you know', but let's not forget that only a few years ago the notion that this man could become prime minister was seen as disastrous. yet here we now are, wondering who will take over and what the future holds.

And before we get all misty-eyed with the idea that perhaps there's a better chance for peace, let's look at the rabble rousing by Sharon's Likud successor, Bibi Netanyahu and the increasing intransigence and bullishness on both Israeli and Palestinian sides.

Not looking too good, is it?
Political noise set to ratchet up a gear

It's becoming quite an eventful year in Latin American politics, and it's barely a week old. Peru has made an extradition request to Chile for ex-president Fujimori, while also recalling their ambassador from Venezuela, after Chavez declared his support for candidate Humala (like Chavez, an indigenous and ex-military leader). All of which sounds like political point scoring.

Let's not forget the presidential election scheduled in Chile for the Sunday after next, along with the various other countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and Colombia, which are all holding similar elections.

This all suggests much more political gaming over the next 12 months.
Out of the blocks

Happy New Year to all! Yes, I've been incommunicado the past week, but was it worth it! It's great to have a break and kick back, although now it's time to cut the carb intake and begin the workouts again. And I see others are at it too - I've never seen so many joggers pounding around the Clapham Common as I did last night - when it was near freezing!

It's the first day back at the LSE - at least for me. I've already spent two days at my paid job and now the job hunt for when I finally leave it starts in earnest. At some point this afternoon I'll need to start putting together the collective ramblings that I scribbled over the Christmas break into some coherent form; on 23 January I'll be presenting a first draft to colleagues at the PhD seminar. So it's time to get cracking, since it has to be sent around to everyone two weeks today.

Still, at least one finished item has made it's way into a presentable format: my piece on Chilean local government is finally up here.