Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I do hereby declare...

It won't come as any surprise that last week I managed not to be elected as councillor for Spitalfields and Banglatown. I polled 354 votes - not so bad given the lack of campaigning I was able to do and the three winners' totals of between 850-900 or so.

It's a relief it's over though. Not just because it means I have Saturdays free again! Last Thursday I went down to the count at Canary Wharf, but at 5.30am gave up to go home as it was taking forever. In fact the first I heard of my result was from an eagle-eyed friend of mine, who saw it on the Respect website before it went on Tower Hamlets's and texted me!
The cheque's in the mail?

Managed to get my request in for conference funding last week. Now we wait and see. Meanwhile I'm still waiting to hear whether I'll get any money to help cover transport costs to Brazil this summer...
Debating social democracy

The Latin American research seminar is also up and running again as well. Last week I presented my chapter on differences within and between Left and Right in Latin America and its implications for education policy. I had an audience of around 6, which was heartening, although I had to explain my way through the project and the way I intended to do it. Not everyone had read the paper, but at least it was a good exercise in preparing and defending myself. I now have my annual review interview scheduled for 31 May, so this was an excellent time to think about potential questions and pitfalls that I might face later in the month.

Yesterday it was Francisco Panizza to present. His article, on the Frente Amplio's first year in government in Uruguay, was the topic for discussion. Again, I don't presume there were many who read the paper, so he spoke for half an hour before taking questions. Francisco had mentioned that the manifesto that the FA was elected on was rather vague in targets, giving Danilo Astori (the economy minister) free reign to develop it in a third way direction (rather than towards the more neo-liberal and radical end of the FA spectrum). What I didn't really understand was why his approach was not challenged by the other currents within the coalition. Furthermore, I was curious to know whether there was any drive to a set of 'hird generation' reforms in public services (as is happening in the UK) and after the 'second generation' market reforms. Francisco said no, the unions were in the way.

One other interesting comments from the discussion was Sara Motta's view that the 'moulding' of the present system in Uruguay was less social democratic than neo-liberal, since there didn't seem to be any corresponding efforts to make Uruguay's political system more democratic and citizen-inclusive. It was a fair point, since to what extent does the third way really engage the grassroots compared to other, more participatory versions of social democracy (this seems to be my oen insight into the subject, e.g. the PT or Evo Morales). Sara, of course, has just been studying the grassroots in Venezuela, so is naturally quite excited about what she sees as a 'juncture' in history there.
First year round-ups

It's been awhile, so time for a roundup of the various research projects being undertaken by first year Government Department students. Two weeks' worth to be getting on with, so here goes!

Last week Eva-Maria Asari presented her ideas on multiculturalism in Canada and Estonia. She wants to examine how minorities are treated and the way they relate to state policies. Questions were asked about the usefulness of comparing these two coutnries, which Eva-Maria explained by saying that Canada had been at the forefront of developing multicultural citizenship. But there are still some issues to be resolved, including the fact that unlike Russian speakers in Estonia, the French in Canada form a majority in Quebec as well as a minority in the rest of the country. Would she take into account that fact? I asked. In addition, to what extent has Estonia's government introduced a more 'liberal' notion of citizenship as a result of external pressures (e.g. EU, OECD, Canada) compared to the Canadians' own 1960s-70s internal drive for reform? Would that affect the substance of the policies?

This week Miika Tervonen explained that he was looking at the way the Roma in Finland had been historically marginalised between the late 19th and mid-20th century. As a visiting student, he's in the advantageous position of not having to do an annual review at the end of this month. However, we were able to get into a discussion about the nature of Roma identity and the reasons behind it - namely that the Roma have always been seen as a problem group, even though many of them can be labelled as Finnish. He also talked about them in social terms rather than cultural/national ones - they speak Finnish and are notable for their mobility. Some questions were made about the Swedish minostiry in Finland and the way in which they are not marginalised.

Finally Umit Sonmez showed his work on electricity and gas liberalisation and regulation in Britain and Turkey. For Umit the interesting thing is that effective liberalisation did not take place until after the independent regulatory bodies were put in place. In both countries' cases that was in the last ten years, despite a 15-20 year difference in the pace of liberalisation reform. I asked whether there were substantial differences between different governments (e.g. Tory and Labour here, secular and Islamist in Turkey) in approaching these themes and the extent to which the regulatory agencies (which became 'culpable' for the process at one remove from government) was either a reflection of government interests or captured by the private sector (probably less the latter since the natural tendency was to create a monopoly).