Posts Tagged 'politics'

American Tianxia: The Chinese term for American power

Salvatore Babones discusses the position and power of America in global politics and economics in this adapted preface of his new book, American tianxia: Chinese money, American power and the end of history

Salvatore Babones

The Chinese word tianxia (pronounced tyen-shah) means “all under heaven.”

As China has come to play a major role in global affairs, Chinese scholars have resurrected this classical Confucian term to describe the kind of international system they would like to see: harmonious, ethical, relational, and (it literally goes without saying) centered on China. The classical Chinese tianxia was an East Asian world-system focused on one central state (China) to which all other peoples looked for legitimation and leadership.

Today’s millennial world-system is similarly focused on the United States. Chinese scholars have the right concept for today’s world, but they’ve applied it to the wrong country.

The size of the US economy and its location at the center of the world-system has led to a merging of US and global systems of distinction: in almost every field, success in the world means success in the US, and vice versa. This is most true in business, where global value chains are overwhelmingly dominated by US companies, but it is true in most other fields as well.

Continue reading ‘American Tianxia: The Chinese term for American power’

Three key lessons from Labour’s campaign – and how the party needs to change

Originally posted by Democratic Audit UK  12/06/2017

Patrick Diamond

Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics and increased Labour’s share of the vote in the General Election. But the party is some way from being able to command a parliamentary majority, says Patrick Diamond. Labour has articulated a vision of society which appeals to many young people and ‘left behind’ voters. Now the party needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness which has afflicted it for decades – and reach out to people in English constituencies who have no tribal loyalty to Labour.

Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. Only six weeks ago many commentators, most Labour MPs, party members and even Jeremy Corbyn’s allies feared he would be humiliated at the ballot box.

‘Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again’

It didn’t happen. Labour fought an insurgent campaign in which Corbyn deftly exploited his status as the underdog; the Labour party appears to have excited young people as well as so-called ‘left behind’ voters in ways not seen for decades. Criticisms of Corbyn’s leadership style focused on his inept approach to internal party management and estrangement from his own parliamentary party; where Corbyn exceeded expectations was his ability to fashion a distinctive, eye-catching political agenda that captured the imagination of the electorate, and distanced the Labour party from its potentially ‘toxic’ legacy (one of the historian Stuart Ball’s key criteria for effective opposition party leadership).

Of course, it has not been plain sailing for Corbyn’s Labour. Arguably, the leader’s greatest vulnerability has been his reluctance to acknowledge the place of other traditions in the Labour party beyond his own heterodox brand of socialism. Corbyn’s weakest moments during the campaign were his defensiveness over the nuclear deterrent, as well as controversy over his previous reluctance to condemn IRA terrorism. There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto, for all that its ideological clarity inspired the faithful. Still, there can be little doubt that the campaign Corbyn fought marks a decisive shift in the politics of the Labour party to which all sections of the party will now be obliged to respond.

So what strategic lessons can, and should, we glean from the Corbyn leadership project in the wake of the general election result?

The first lesson is that Corbyn’s politics evidently appeal to many younger voters, as well as the social groups that have increasingly abstained from voting in the UK since the late 1980s. The dynamic here was that Corbyn projected ‘hope’ because his programme was not constrained by conventional electoral calculation; Labour’s prospectus offered a different vision of society after nearly a decade of spending cuts, tax rises, and missed deficit reduction targets. Corbyn’s views on policy articulated a rare combination of clarity and conviction. The Labour leader offers an innovative politics of participation which is about doing things ‘with’ people rather than ‘to’ them, sweeping away anachronistic institutions and inherited privilege; if carried forward this might be the platform for a resurgence of British social democracy.

The challenge ahead for Corbyn’s project will be to construct the electoral alliance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ that is required to win greater numbers of marginal seats, enter government, and deliver policies like progressive redistribution and public investment. Another general election appears likely to be called relatively soon. A Labour victory will mean winning in English constituencies like Reading West or Thurrock that Labour was unable to carry last Thursday.

‘There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto’

The second lesson of the Corbyn leadership project is that Labour needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness that has plagued the party since the late 1980s. Corbyn says he now wants an open debate about policy; he ought to be taken at taken at his word. In the past, some modernisers behaved as if the best approach to making Labour a party of government was to give the entire PLP and party membership an intellectual lobotomy. This risked denuding the Labour party of the capacity to think and revitalise itself. The ascendency of Thatcherism convinced many that Britain had become an inherently conservative country, and that the Left could only win by accepting the basic parameters of the Thatcher settlement. In this election under Corbyn, Labour made its most audacious attempt since 1945 to shift the centre ground of politics towards the Left.

The Corbyn leadership project’s third lesson is that when effectively presented, measures that are widely perceived to be traditionally ‘left-wing’ are still popular with mainstream voters. Among the most important issues raised in the Labour manifesto was the question of public ownership in a post-industrial economy geared towards the production of information and knowledge. For the last 30 years, the assumption in the Labour party has been that whether ownership is public or private no longer matters. It was thought that utilities and public services delivered through the private sector could still be regulated effectively in the public interest. Nationalisation in the 1990s was rejected by Labour because it was believed to be too costly to bring major public utilities like water, gas or rail back into public ownership. Yet it is clear that since 1997, public opinion has become more hostile towards private ownership of the utilities, especially rail. Previous assumptions ought to be interrogated: many privatised industries in the UK are natural monopolies; the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s have been detrimental both to consumer welfare and economic efficiency.

None of this ignores the fact that Labour is still some way from winning a parliamentary majority at a general election. The party has made significant progress since 2015; but to defeat the Conservatives Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain. It is not enough merely to rouse already committed supporters: the party has to be capable of reaching out to ‘non-Labour Britain’ where there is little tribal affiliation with the Labour party. It is clear from the election campaign and the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London that national security is likely to remain a major issue in British politics. Offering voters social justice without addressing their basic concerns about physical insecurity in a world of borderless crime and terrorist threats is a recipe for future defeat. To help the most vulnerable and marginalised in Britain, Labour has to be a party of power rather than a pressure group of social protest.

‘To defeat the Conservatives, Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain’

Corbyn has spectacularly demolished Theresa May’s hopes of securing a decisive Tory majority. The ‘moderates’ in the Labour party will have made a grave error if they dismiss Corbyn’s approach to strategy and policy as outdated and destined to end in failure. Yet it remains doubtful as to whether as things stand Corbyn has an electoral or governing project that can end the latest phase of Conservative hegemony in British politics. That is the next crucial task of revitalisation for the British centre-left.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote

Lisa McKenzie

Lisa Mckenzie

by Lisa Mckenzie, author of Getting By; Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.

“I didn’t vote in this election, which for me was the right choice, and a choice that is seldom given debate to within the national media.

My reasons were this: our political system asks us to vote for members of parliament to represent us in Westminster. I didn’t want any of the people on my ballot paper to represent me.

I also don’t think the system of parliamentary political party politics is truly democratic. It serves the greater good, it compromises what individuals believe in order to serve a middle, a mainstream, and a mediocre. It always has to sacrifice something, and someone, and the sacrifice is usually those with least power. I cannot endorse that.

“…the sacrifice is usually those with least power.”

The Labour Party have annoyed me for a long time (forever actually) but especially over the last two years.

I have been involved in many grass-roots organisations and campaigns and I know how difficult it is to keep people’s confidence up when they are having all kinds of institutional power thrown at them from all spectrums of political ideology.

However over the last two years this situation has become much worse, with the internal fighting of the Labour party. Many Labour supporters as well as politicians have taken sides and instead of being an opposition to the Government that has caused so much misery to the poorest people in the UK, they have opposed each other.

Continue reading ‘Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote’

Do racial divides in the US explain support for Trump?

 

headshot-korgen

Kathleen Odell Korgen

We need to prove that government can work for all Americans, despite racial and ideological divides. Kathleen Odell Korgen, editor of Race policy and multiracial Americans, looks at why we must listen to Trump supporters. 

“As the news of sexual harassment charges… emerged last week, many conservatives blasted the accusations as anonymous sniping against [the] Republican contender and blamed the ‘liberal media’.” Washington Post

“Many white conservatives continue to embrace [him] — even in the face of recent sexual harassment allegations — while black voters steer clear.” NPR.org

These quotes may sound familiar but they are not about Donald Trump. They refer to Herman Cain, the wealthy businessman who, at one point in the 2012 election, was the leading candidate in the Republican party’s presidential primary.

Cain, a Black man, was attractive to many White voters because of the combination of his own race and his views on poor Black people. As Jack E. White put it in 2011, “Cain tells [conservative White voters] what they want to hear about blacks, and in turn, they embrace him and say, ‘See? That proves we’re not racist'”.
Continue reading ‘Do racial divides in the US explain support for Trump?’

#MakingItHappen – International Women’s Day 2015

To celebrate International Women’s Day, which takes place this year on Sunday 8th March, we asked author of Women of Power: Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Torild Skard, to share her reflections on where we are today in terms of political gender equality and the necessary conditions to enable women to take crucial leadership roles within politics. 

Torild Skard

Torild Skard

For more than a century women have spoken out, marched and demonstrated for equality and rights on International Women’s Day. And there has been progress, though it has been uneven and slow. Whilst the gender gap globally has been nearly closed in areas such as health and education, it continues to remain wide open in economic participation and even more so in political empowerment.

In 2014/15 only 22 per cent of the members of parliament and 17 per cent of the government ministers worldwide were women. Not more than 9 per cent of the nation states had a woman as head of state or government. This is a record high, but still very far from gender balance, even from the benchmark of 30 per cent women.

Gender equality roadmap

The UN theme for international Women’s Day 2015 is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”. Governments and activists around the world will commemorate the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic gender equality roadmap signed by 189 governments with the necessary strategic objectives and actions for achieving women’s rights.

The endorsement of the world’s governments of the Beijing Platform for Action in addition to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is decisive, but they then have to ‘walk the talk’. And follow up effectively.

Looking at steps that have been taken in the direction of equality – such as the increase in the number of women presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the past 50 years – can provide useful lessons to help us (and, perhaps more importantly, the politicians and policy makers) understand what conditions are necessary to achieve the goals they have agreed to.

“How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?”

Sirimavo_Ratwatte_Dias_Bandaranayaka_(1916-2000)_(Hon.Sirimavo_Bandaranaike_with_Hon.Lalith_Athulathmudali_Crop)

Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (1916-2000), the modern world’s first female head of Government, Copyright: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne

In 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister in what was then Ceylon, it caused international concern. How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?

Half a century later the woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received the Peace Prize from an impressed Nobel Committee for her contribution to “ensuring peace, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women”.

Attitudes evidently have changed – a bit. But all over the world national political institutions are still dominated by men. How did women manage to rise to the top, and what happened when they got to power?

HE_Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf_(6011337236)

HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Credit: Wiki Creative Commons

During the half century after 1960 about 40 per cent of industrial countries have had one or more women as heads of state or government, while this has been the case for only 20 per cent of developing countries. High living standards improving people’s health, education and income may contribute to broader participation in politics.

In fact, most of the women presidents and prime ministers during this period were very well educated. Many had long professional careers before they became political leaders and achieved very high positions. To be able to get to the top, more women top leaders had such positions than their male predecessors.

Industrial countries have also often been democratic. And the great majority of women presidents and prime ministers around the world obtained their positions in countries that were characterized as “democracies”.

But the type of democratic system makes a difference. For example: of the women national leaders most rose to the top in countries with both a president and a prime minister. There were two top positions and a woman obtained one of them as part of a “top leader pair”. Very few women acquired the top position where there was only an executive president or an executive prime minister.

If a democratic system is necessary to increase women’s representation in the national political leadership, it does not follow that this is sufficient.

“An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power”

 

After World War II, Western industrial countries mostly had liberal democracies with political rights for women. But women were usually not mobilized and welcomed in established political institutions. An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power.

The women presidents and prime ministers did not become top leaders primarily because they were women, but because they felt they should lead the nation. Some also acted in the same way as their male colleagues, fighting on their terms, without being particularly engaged in ‘women’s issues’.

But many women top leaders tried to compromise, looking after both men’s and women’s interests. And a certain number challenged the male domination and explicitly promoted women friendly or feminist policies. In most cases, it made a difference that a woman rose to the top instead of a man, but the difference was often limited.

Dynamic women’s movement

To empower women then, woman-friendly democratization processes have to be actively implemented. A dynamic women’s movement is needed as a driving force and men with power must take their responsibility for reform of institutions and policies.

This means, among others things, that the political culture, the political parties and the media must ensure that women can promote their interests on equal terms with men. Parliament and government must become more representative, for example by changing the electoral system and adopting measures such as quotas to increase the recruitment of women. And “good governance” must entail emphasis on participation, protection of human rights and promotion of social justice and equality.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The grass roots are withering and the money is drying up – what future for local parties in general election campaigns?

 Charles Pattie_for blog

By Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie, authors of Money and electoral politics: Local Parties and Funding in General Elections.

With the 2015 general election campaign now under way, political parties will again be focusing on funding of their campaigns. As in previous elections, candidates will need two resources to sustain their general election campaigns – people and money. Each is in increasingly short supply. As a result, the nature of constituency campaigning has changed very substantially in recent decades, and is likely to do so even more in the future.

People are needed to manage the constituency campaign and to promote the candidate’s/party’s cause across the local electorate: as the average constituency has some 70,000 voters, this means reaching a large number of people. In the past, most candidates could rely on activists drawn from their party’s local members, but as their numbers have declined the available pool has been reduced. Some candidates have replaced them by supporters – non-members who are nevertheless willing to promote the party’s cause – and by volunteers from nearby constituencies where there is an excess of supply relative to demand.

Money is needed to sustain the campaign organisation – its office and equipment, plus staffing – but in particular to meet the costs of posters and leaflets. Research has clearly shown that the more intensive the local campaign, as indicated by the amount that the candidate spends on those items, the better the performance: those who spend more tend to get more votes, and their opponents get less.

This relationship is clearly demonstrated in our book published by Policy Press – Money and Electoral Politics: Local Parties and Funding in General Elections. In it we found that the more marginal the seat, the more that candidates spend either defending what they hold or seeking to unseat the incumbent. But over the last two decades, even in those targeted places, the amount spent has declined – especially, but not only, by Labour candidates. It is becoming increasingly difficult for local parties and their candidates to raise funds – and central party organisations rarely transfer money to their local branches as contributions to their costs (although the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have done so for targeted seats in the pre-campaign periods).

In the four months preceding a general election, candidates can spend up to £40,000 on their campaigns– but in 2010 very few reported spending anything like that amount. The reason why is very clear from our analyses of constituency party accounts. All local parties with either an income or an expenditure of more than £25,000 in any year must lodge copies of their accounts with the Electoral Commission – which publishes them. In only just over half of the British constituencies (359) did the local Conservative party return its accounts to the Commission: even in a general election year, the Conservatives lacked a local organisation turning over more than £25,000 in over 40 per cent of all constituencies. But they were much better placed than their two main opponents: for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats there was an organisation turning over that amount in only 80 constituencies each – only 13 per cent of all seats.

Local parties derive their income from three main sources – donations, appeals, and fund-raising events. In 2010, those local Conservative parties that submitted accounts to the Electoral Commission raised over £3million in each of those categories – some £11million in total. The 80 local Labour parties whose accounts are available for scrutiny raised only just over £2million, the majority from donations, and local Liberal Democrats were in a similar situation – they raised £2.7million in donations, out of a total income of some £3.8million.

All donations to local parties above £1,000 must be reported to the Electoral Commission, irrespective of their total income. In 2010, the Conservatives reported 1,131 separate donations, totalling just under £5million. Labour local parties reported many more – 2,273 totalling £3 million: the Liberal Democrats received only 666 donations, totalling just under £2million.

So the Conservatives attracted more money, in larger chunks. And they got it from different sources than their opponents: one-third from companies, compared to just 8 per cent for local Labour parties, who got most of their donations (some 45 per cent) from trades unions. Some 70 per cent of the Liberal Democrats’ income came from individuals: Labour parties got 25 per cent of their money from this source and the Conservatives some 60 per cent.

As the money has dried up and the membership grass roots have withered, so local campaigns have become centralised – and increasingly focused on target seats. For the seats that they either hope to win, or fear losing, the parties conduct extensive telephone polling, produce leaflets for the candidates there, and send customised letters and other canvassing materials to potential supporters. Voters elsewhere are largely ignored and their candidates have to rely on what they can raise and mobilise locally.

This trend will be extended in 2015. The parties have already identified their target seats and placed control of the campaigns there in the hands of centrally-appointed staff. Voters in those constituencies (fewer than 150 out of the total of 650) will experience lots of canvassing activity – see lots of posters, get lots of leaflets, and be contacted by letter, e-mail, phone, twitter and whatever on several occasions: their votes count. That will not be the case in most of the other seats, however; candidates there may send them a single leaflet but otherwise they may be overwhelmed by the deafening silence of the local campaign; nobody will knock on their doors on election day to make sure they vote.

Might this all change if there is cross-party consensus that party funding should be reformed? Two main features of any such reform package have been discussed – and then rejected by at least one party: a cap on the total amount spent on campaigns (other than local); and a limit on the maximum size of any donations. Some hope that if such a package were introduced then local campaigning might be revived, with benefits for local democracy. But there is no incentive for the parties to campaign intensively in most constituencies: only the marginal seats matter.

And so in many parts of the country, the money available to candidates through their local parties will continue to dry up, the number of activists and supporters prepared to give their time to canvass electors will continue to decline, and local democracy will go on withering away. The trends and patterns identified in Money and Electoral Politics: Local Parties and Funding in General Elections can only breed pessimism regarding Britain’s democratic future.

Policy & Politics: Why do windows of opportunity close?

Quite apart from its practical importance, policy is an endlessly fascinating subject of study. A core theme in the analysis of policy is stability and change. Why do we witness extended periods of stability followed by episodes of change or periods of rapid change? In his 1984 book Agendas, alternatives and public policies, John Kingdon proposed a model based upon multiple streams. The alignment of the problem, policy and politics streams opens a window of opportunity for change. This model has been widely applied, including recently to US health care reform by Kingdon himself in the 2010 revised edition of his book (Kingdon, J.W. (2010) Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Updated Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care), Longman).

An illuminating application of the model is offered by Annesley, Gains and Rummery in their recent paper analysing New Labour’s legacy on engendering politics and policy. The election of New Labour in 1997 appeared to open a window of opportunity for significant progress in the engendering of both politics and policy – and the authors are careful to maintain the distinction between the two. For reasons of both electoral calculation and values the New Labour government recognised gender as a significant policy issue. Annesley et al argue that New Labour’s attempts to engender politics could claim significant success. However, they examine two specific policy areas – change to leave for new parents and action to close the gender pay gap – and argue that the achievements in engendering policy were considerably more limited. They identify three broad reasons why policy change was modest, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap. All three speak to issues of great interest in the contemporary analysis of policy more generally. The first reason is the way the policy problem was framed: the focus was narrowed to the issue of women’s labour market participation and poverty, rather than the broader gender division of paid and unpaid labour. The second reason was the extent and speed with which the institutions of governance adapted to a new agenda. Effectively they couldn’t keep up. The third reason is the extent to which it is possible to pursue policies that run against the presumptions of broader (neo)liberal and pro-business economic policy. And the move to recession in 2008 dissipated what limited momentum there was behind the push to level upward on pay or introduce more flexible maternity and paternity leave: economic imperatives – and reducing the burden on business – take precedence.

The concept of the window of opportunity has given good service in the analysis of policy change. This case study of New Labour’s attempts to engender politics and policy provides a valuable additional dimension to our understanding of precisely how propitious the circumstances need to be before significant change can occur.

Annesley, C., Gains, F. and Rummery, K. (2010) Engendering politics and policy: the legacy of New Labour, Policy & Politics, vol 38, no 3, 389-406.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics


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