Insurgency politics is all the rage

Both in the UK and across Europe the angry reaction to the years of austerity has produced new political forces both on the right and left, insurgency politics in the form of populist movements that threaten the old cosy status quo of established political parties. As such they are disturbing the traditional ways of doing things and threatening to upset the electoral applecart in several countries in 2015. In Britain, there is the rise of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) which now has 2 MP’s as a result of defections from the Conservative Party, and it currently is showing around 15% support in the polls. UKIP campaigns on a ticket of leaving the EU and restricting immigration. It topped the poll in the last Euro-elections in 2014, a particularly bad year for the two main parties. It has been performing … Read more

A UK political system in crisis

Today UK politics is confronted by the challenge of the breakdown of the two-party system and is struggling to come up with behaviours to deal with the new reality. A UK political system predicated on the First Past The Post electoral system and the long-term historical dominance by two main nationwide parties is arguably ill-equipped to respond to a multi-party situation, made more complex by a trend towards nationalist parties in some of the component “nations” of the UK. It was said that Britain “does not love coalitions”, and yet it might be said that that is exactly what she is going to have to do. A hung Parliament again As opinion polls are currently showing us, it is very unlikely that one party will be able to form a government after the May 2015 general election. As in 2010 … Read more

Was Mrs Thatcher a great leader or a divisive ideologue?

So was Mrs Thatcher a great leader or did she do more harm than good? Was Mrs Thatcher a great leader? The passing of great leaders tends to produce a flood of retrospective comment on the qualities of the leader, their achievements and their legacy, and those who see them as their current inspiration can move quickly to deify them. The death of Lady Thatcher yesterday is one such event, although opinion is divided as to whether she would deserve the term “great”. Thus there is no actual state funeral, as was accorded to Churchill for example. After all it is history that awards the term and it can be a fickle judge. Lady Thatcher, or as we all knew here in the UK, Mrs Thatcher or “Maggie”, inspired both love and hate, both amongst her opponents and her admirers … Read more

Political parties in the UK now operate on a narrow political base and are vulnerable to challenge

A very important underlying trend in UK, European and US politics has been the increasing isolation of a “political class” or elite from the mass of voters. It shows itself in a wide variety of features, but from the perspective of our main political parties it is a potentially dangerous trend in times of upheaval or change such as the current Great Recession, as it opens up the ground for challenges from populist and more extreme parties with widespread support. The risk this trend runs is of a mass political vacuum which others might fill. Mass-based parties Arguably the model of 20th Century democratic politics was the mass-based party, agreed on a set of ideological principles or enough to form a coalition of interests and beliefs. In the UK, we had a Conservative party that had emerged out of its … Read more

The politics of scarcity in a time of rapid change can be toxic

Today the politics of scarcity sees a major change in social policy The observer of political trends might be curious about the mega-whammy apparently happening from today, the changes to “welfare entitlement” being introduced in the UK. On 1 April a whole raft of changes are occuring, that will probably have a major impact on the bottom percentile of the population, while in the same week the top rate of income tax comes down from 50% to 45%. The contrast is stark, and deliberate. It might be even more curious a phenomenon when we put this into the context of the renewed focus on the troubles of the Eurozone and the continuing signs of the deep and growing recession in the South as Cyprus joins the “PIGS” countries subject to the dictates of Northern-led austerity. Both in the UK and … Read more

The price of a free press can be uneasy choices

As the last-minute late night deal between political leaders and Hacked Off sinks in amongst publishers and people consider whether to sign up to the yet-to-be-finalised regime of press regulation, people have been pointing out the crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the proposal. The use of legislation to support the device of the Royal Charter to set up regulation seems to make no distinction between the various roles that the press perform, and in particular its essential role as watchdog on the political process seems to have escaped those that advocate state-backed regulation. The press as watchdog in politics The media have for long been the UK equivalent of the US “Fourth branch of government“, one of our “checks and balances” within our unwritten constitution. Two recent examples come to mind, both likely to be relevant to … Read more

Press regulation and unintended consequence of a new UK constitution?

As the dust settles a little from the crisis over press regulation, Britain’s journalists have been contemplating the implications of the system devised between the leaders of the major parties in the small hours of 18 March. There has also been a steady stream of concerned criticism from overseas. The enormity of what has been agreed is beginning to sink in and, just maybe, bringing forward some major unintended consequences. What started as a largely celebrity-led protest at media intrusion into private lives through such things as mobile phone hacking, as vocally expressed by the pressure group Hacked Off, has transformed itself into the issue of political control of the media. Regulation is intended to make sure that the unacceptable intrusion “can never happened again”, in the words of my MP today. It is curious that somehow the use of … Read more

How do we balance freedom of expression with press intrusion?

The current state of confusion over press regulation here in the UK presents me with a very useful opportunity to start this blog – the attempts by politicians to come up with a model of regulation that meets the assumed need for reform and also satisfies the various scruples about freedom of expression. One could choose to start a blog at any time but what is so good about this one is that it once again presents us with that most enduring of political dilemmas, the relationships between rights and responsibilities, between freedom and constraint and between the individual and the state. Freedom of expression has long been assumed to be a corner-stone of British democracy and the key right of the individual. One classic definition is that of John Stuart Mill who wrote in On Liberty (1859), “However, positive … Read more

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