Saturday, 18 June 2016

Culture as Politics: Electoral Chaos and the Crisis of the Traditional Spanish Left

Duncan Wheeler

Duncan Wheeler
There will be a general election in Spain on 26 June, after six months of political uncertainty. Mariano Rajoy and his right-of-centre Partido Popular/Popular Party (PP) received more votes than any other political party at the last election held on 20 December 2015, but were significantly short of an absolute majority. A coalition with Ciudadanos,the most market-driven of the recent political start-ups,would not have provided a majority, and none of the other major political parties were willing to play ball with a leader who has behaved in a self-interested, corrupt and authoritarian manner since his election in 2011.

The Partido Socialista Obrero Español/Spanish Socialist Workers'Party (PSOE),under the leadership of Pedro Sánchez had the opportunity to form their own coalition, but negotiations were far from straightforward. Significantly more voters opted for the PSOE than Podemos, the new party to translate most effectively into political currency the discontent and energy of the ‘15-M movement’, a shorthand for Spain's anti-austerity movement(s) that references the occupation of major squares throughout Spain by the so-called ‘indignants’ or ‘indignados’ in May 2011. Podemos probably had more to gain from seeking a new election than they did from forming a government with the PSOE, one of the two parties who have alternated in power since 1982.

The writings on and by the new political parties frequently speak of ‘a second Transition’, a challenge to the ‘regime of 1978’, in reference to the Constitution that consecrated the Transition from dictatorship to a liberal monarchical democracy following the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, and the investiture of his chosen successor, King Juan Carlos, as head of state. Podemos has mobilised support through socio-cultural resources at a time when the PSOE no longer galvanises the electorate either emotionally or culturally. The popular perception of the PSOE in government is far from glowing: the presidency of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004–11)—nicknamed Bambi for his doe-eyed naivety—is frequently blamed for failing to provide sufficient buffering against the oncoming economic recession, while the legacy of Felipe González's tenure (1982–96) is increasingly tarnished by revisionist accounts of Spain's ostensibly model Transition. This is the context in which I travelled to Madrid to conduct an interview on 21 January 2016 with Alfonso Guerra,the longest-serving MP (1977–2015) of the post-Franco dictatorship, who was instrumental in the drafting of the Constitution, and has come to represent the radical cultural face of the PSOE.

He and Felipe González established a loyal power-base as young men in their native Seville, a city of great fortunes located in Andalusia, one of the poorest areas of Europe. The future President's sphere of influence was among the workers, while Guerra's demographic consisted primarily of students and intellectuals who gathered at the Antonio Machado bookshop. Following Franco's death, the PSOE were not major players: the principal opposition to the dictatorship had been provided by the Communist Party. This proved to be advantageous, for they did not instil the same fear of either a return to the Spanish Civil War (1936–9) or a radical redistribution of wealth, while the absence of a venerated old guard allowed Guerra and González to be fast-tracked through the party ranks.
Guerra subscribed to the widespread belief among progressive intellectuals and artists of the Transition that culture was a privileged tool for democratisation. Over the course of our conversation, he claimed to regret having not followed a cultural as opposed to a political career. Irrespective of whether we accept this claim as genuine, it is clear that neither he nor the modern-day PSOE would have been so successful politically if it were not for his engagement with culture in a myriad of guises. Guerra coordinated all of the PSOE's election campaigns from 1977 to 1993, which proved influential in a number of Latin American countries and pre-dated New Labour's cocktail of progressive change and pop-cultural cringe by over a decade.

When I mentioned the increasingly vocal opponents to conventional narratives surrounding Spain's Transition, Guerra simply dismissed them as ignorant, unaware of what the country was like in the late 1970s, failing to take into account the limited room for manoeuvre. Compromises, in his view, had to be made across the political spectrum in order to secure some semblance of consensus. To illustrate his general point, he spoke of Guernica: it was first displayed in the Prado in the late 1970s, at a time when the artistic director of Madrid's major museum was a priest, and members of the Guardia Civil were called upon to defend Picasso's masterpiece from vandalism.

Pablo Iglesias rejects this narrative, and is equally if not more adept at marshalling culture as a means for political advancement. Podemos self-consciously position themselves not only in opposition to specific individuals and political parties, but also question the very foundations by which the major players in Spanish politics secured and retained their parliamentary power. Among the many unknowns thrown up by last December's election results is whether posterity will remember figures such as Guerra and González as the architects or the saboteurs of a bona fide democracy, examples of what (not) to do as a troubled nation looks ahead to an uncertain future.

Duncan Wheeler’s full account of his interview with Alfonso Guerra will be published in Political Quarterly (issue 87 3) and is online here now.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Beyond Anti-politics

David Marsh, Emma Vines and Max Halupka

Emma Vines
Anti-politics has increasingly preoccupied political scientists, with many seeking to explain falling electoral participation and the growing gap between citizens and government. Yet the term ‘anti-politics’ presupposes that the actions of citizens are non-political. This is grossly misleading. We need only look at the rise of populist, anti-establishment parties across Europe – or, most prominently, the rise of Trump in America – to see that disenchantment with conventional politics is anything but non-political. Instead, as we argue in a new article in Political Quarterly, it represents anger and alienation rather than apathy, and a shift in political participation and the way people ‘do politics’.

This demands a radical reconsideration of ‘the political’. Perhaps the old dichotomy between process and arena definitions has reached its use-by-date, or at the very least needs a fundamental rethink to better link the two with contemporary forms of political participation. Process politics, whereby politics is present in all situations involving power relations and not simply in the formal governmental sphere, is increasingly seen as vital when striving to understand current methods of participation. Formal politics and processes such as voting – the arena side of the equation – thus no longer adequately capture the diversity of participation we now see. Citizens today increasingly act according to engagement, rather than duty, norms. They are interested in politics that matter to them, not politics as practiced in alien and distant parliaments. It must be acknowledged, however, that this itself presents its own particular problems. In the first instance, although there is nothing wrong with politics in this form – indeed it is to be encouraged – politics must be aggregated upwards to remain inclusive and representative of the whole citizenry. The age of arena politics is far from over. Instead, it must be recognised that many process forms of politics, in particular, though not exclusively, online activity, should not be considered anti-politics or apathy, but, rather, genuine political engagement.

Ignoring, or denigrating contemporary political actions is dangerous and unfair, particularly to the group most often labelled as apathetic and disengaged – the young. Here, an example is ‘clicktivism’. Not only is it frequently pejoratively labelled ‘slacktivism’ – missing the point entirely – but also, it is often placed under the umbrella of anti-politics. Perhaps this is in part the resistance of political analysts to recognise and accept changing forms of political participation, particularly among the young. To do so, however, is to ignore a growing and increasingly important form of politics which can bridge both the process and arena definitions of politics, with groups such as Anonymous and 38 Degrees using clicktivism to directly influence policy. The internet presents an important and immediate means of sharing information – although it is not without its own problems. Further, looking at the role it has played in various revolutions and protests, such as in Turkey, we see the significance of such action. Citizens no longer need wait for the morning paper or party meeting to learn of, or organise, political activity. Most importantly, given the nature of the protests, it seems impossible to disparage the sharing of information over the internet as non-political.

Rather than so quickly condemning new forms of participation as ‘anti-politics’, therefore, they must be accepted and embraced by the political class. What is needed is a recoupling of government with citizens. Accepting new forms of political participation is one important step towards this; however, what is also required is a bridging of the supply-side and demand-side forms of politics. Government may be increasingly out-of-touch with their citizens, but this is, arguably, in part because of the demands of modern governance – something citizens are frequently unsympathetic towards. Governments cannot have all the answers, particularly in a time when wicked problems abound. Pretending they can hides this fact from citizens; although citizens should, in turn, perhaps be more understanding of the challenges facing political actors. Recognising this would perhaps begin to undo some of the mistrust and disillusionment citizens now have towards politics and politicians.

Constitutional reform and attempts to bring citizens back into formal politics may be a further avenue to the recoupling of citizens with political authorities; however, more is needed. This may include, not only recognition of new forms of political participation, but also a revival of, and revolution in, traditional politics. In Britain, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader had the potential to do this. With the Labour Party increasingly out of touch under Blair and Brown and centrist politicians increasingly mistrusted, Corbyn presented a breath of fresh air. His Party, however, has failed to get behind him, with party dissent frequently on display and potentially fatally undermining his leadership. This, despite the fact that, immediately after Corbyn’s selection, party membership increased. Corbyn evidently reached sections of the populace; yet this was seemingly unimportant for his Party. It is perhaps little wonder then that citizens are disillusioned with traditional, centrist politicians. In this case, a potential avenue to the recoupling of citizens and political actors was blocked before it had a chance to take effect.

Redressing disillusionment with politics will not happen over night. It is, however, a project worth
undertaking. The health of democracy is undoubtedly in question; and yet, it is not in terminal decline as often argued. Instead, it is fundamentally changing. Perhaps it will not be until a new, younger generation of politicians enter parliament that new forms of participation will become more prominent, not least internet communication. However, given the importance of addressing this problem, it would be best if the current breed of politicians recognised that contemporary politics is changing. Citizens are not disengaged, but simply engaging in different ways. Perhaps a small, yet important, means of recognising this is to drop the term ‘anti-politics’ and recognise that such engagement is anything but non-political. Rather than a re-engagement with politics, therefore, what is instead needed is a recoupling of citizens with political authorities through the bridging of process and arena politics.

You can read the full article ‘Two Cheers for Richards and Smith: Beyond Anti-Politics?’ here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Bifurcation of Politics: Two Englands and a Divided World

Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker

Will Jennings
Gerry Stoker
In England, America, Europe and democracies elsewhere, a bifurcation of politics is transforming the essence of contemporary politics. This fracturing of politics is being driven by pressures created in the changing global economy which means that many countries are experiencing internally uneven economic trajectories. Citizens are increasingly divided between those living in cosmopolitan areas of growth and those residing in backwater areas of decline. Divergent trajectories of economic experience and social location are driving the political choices made by citizens in two, substantially opposite directions.

There is scattered evidence to indicate what is happening from a range of recent political events.

• In Austria, a coalition of centrist cosmopolitans from the left and the right enabled the independent Green candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, to narrowly defeat Norbert Hofer of the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria. It was in the successful cities that the Green message hit home and it was in the backwater areas that fears of immigration had grip.
• In the U.S., Donald Trump has tapped into a vein of political anger and nativism to win the Republican nomination, while for the Democrats Bernie Sanders has stubbornly challenged Hilary Clinton with a populist message from the left. Trump’s base is among the blue collar disaffected men and his challenge to win the Presidency will be to go beyond that base.
• In London, Sadiq Khan won a convincing victory over Zac Goldsmith in the Mayoral election, while Labour performed anaemically in local elections elsewhere – with its performance well short of what might normally be expected of an opposition at this point in the electoral cycle. London liked the cosmopolitan political message promoted by Khan. That message did not work as well for Labour elsewhere.

So what is going on? Our recent study, published in The Political Quarterly, provides some important clues. We identify two Englands. In cosmopolitan areas we find an England that is global in outlook, liberal and more plural in its sense of identity, while in provincial backwaters we find an England that is inward looking, relatively illiberal, negative about the EU and immigration, nostalgic and more English in its identity. We see a parallel dynamic occurring in other democracies.

Our study for the first time provides the detailed evidence needed to map and characterise the bifurcation of politics. It develops profiles of the theoretical trajectories of ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘backwater’ destinations — based on Jeremy Cliffe’s characterisation of Clacton and Cambridge as exemplars of these trends. Cosmopolitan settings tend to be growing, prosperous and diverse parts of cities. Backwaters tend to be aging coastal towns with a history of light rather than heavy industry, sometimes characterised by the decaying vestiges of Victorian seaside resorts. The study uses survey data from the 2015 British Election Study (BES), as well as from the 1997 BES, to compare whether and how the differences between parliamentary constituencies fitting the cosmopolitan and backwater profiles have narrowed or widened over time.

The core findings are:

  • In 2015 we find that the population of backwater areas is significantly more negative about immigration and Europe—and significantly more negative than the average voter, too. Cosmopolitan citizens on average are more socially liberal and more open to change, immigration and global demands. Citizens in backwater areas are more socially conservative, and also more likely to identify as English or at least as equally English and British.
  • There is a growing divide between the two Englands. When we compare attitudes in these locations with equivalent measures from 1997, the gap in attitudes on immigration has increased. In 1997, backwater areas did not disproportionately favour leaving the EU; today they exhibit strong Euroscepticism. These findings point to a fundamental shift in the politics of these areas.
  • On equalities for minorities there has been a significant polarisation of attitudes. In 1997, respondents in backwater settings were marginally less likely than cosmopolitans to agree that equal opportunities for ethnic minorities had gone too far. By 2015, there was a large gap between the two populations in the other direction.
  • We also see a growing divide in expressions of identity in these areas. In general there has been a shift towards Englishness as distinct from Britishness, with the percentage of respondents saying that they are English, not British, rising from 7 per cent to 13 per cent. Cosmopolitans are substantially less likely to identify as English, and the gap with backwater locations has risen slightly over the past two decades.

These dynamics are having, and will continue to have, substantial repercussions for the politics of England, and — it follows — the UK. The results of the 2015 general election suggest that the Conservatives are currently more able to appeal to these diverging constituencies. They have a strong foothold in both cosmopolitan and backwater areas (receiving 34 per cent of the vote in the former), and notably outperform Labour in attracting votes in backwater constituencies by a ratio of more than 3:1. In contrast, Labour is marginally ahead in cosmopolitan areas. Our findings are consistent with the framing of those who see a key dilemma for the Labour Party is that it is losing socially conservative voters to Ukip and others while consolidating support among more educated and wealthier metropolitan liberals.

Bifurcation influences politics now, and as it intensifies in its effects it will, we think, define politics in the future. In the short run these divisions will play a crucial role in the outcome of the EU referendum on June 23rd and its aftermath, as these divergent locales come to terms with Britain’s future. The same divisions will play a big part in the American presidential election in 2016. They will also find further reflection in the surges of right-wing and left-wing populism that are sweeping through Europe. Neither cosmopolitan or backwater citizens are big fans of mainstream politics — another key finding of our detailed study — so the challenge for democratic politics is to find a way of responding to and delivering for the diverse experiences and challenges of these two types of area. Democracy’s uneasy relationship with market-oriented capitalism has a new twist. The most successful politics will be one that can appeal to both the winners and losers of capitalism’s latest creative and destructive wave.

You can read the full article 'The Bifurcation of Politics: Two Englands' here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Losing perspective: Brexit and the EU’s freedom of movement

Daniel Schade and Eiko Thielemann

Daniel Schade
Eiko Thielemann
In recent years, migration has been at the core of debates in Europe. While most governments have been concerned about the management of an unprecedented influx of refugees and its impact on the functioning of the European Union, the discussion in Britain has remained largely separate. Here, the EU’s freedom of movement rights have come to be a crucial issue in the context of the country’s upcoming Brexit referendum.

With the ‘leave’ side on the back-foot on many of the wider economic issues, the BREXIT campaign has increasingly focused on the argument that the EU’s freedom of movement rules do not allow the country to control its own borders, leaving its doors open to migrants from the rest of the continent.

The increasingly shrill tones of political campaigners, highlighted by recent claims that staying in could increase the UK’s population by more than 5 million by 2030, have meant that much of the context within which the EU’s freedom of movement needs to be discussed has been lost. Rather than basing their vote on informed choices, voters thus risk being left without the necessary broader perspective on the costs and benefits of intra-EU migration.

In our full article in the Political Quarterly, we discuss the most relevant causes of immigration to the UK. Ultimately, we argue that it is the attractiveness of Britain’s labour market, rather than its current migration policy, that makes people move to Britain.

Under the EU’s free movement of people rules, Britain’s borders today are relatively open for EU citizens and about 3 million EU citizens are currently living and working in the UK. Other EU countries like Germany have also attracted large numbers of EU citizens in recent years.

As the recent negotiations between the UK government and the other EU member states have made clear, a fundamental change to the EU’s free movement rules is not on the cards. The ‘leave’ side therefore argues that the UK should leave the European Union in order to shut down immigration into the UK. However, such an argument is fundamentally flawed. Despite the fact that the EU imposes few constraints on the UK government when it comes to regulating access for non-EU citizens, significant numbers of them still arrive in the UK every year, and it would be hard to imagine a situation in which the country would attempt to fully close its borders. This is due to the fact that Britain, much like the United States or Australia which UK politicians like to use as a benchmark, depends on foreign migrants to fill certain labour market needs, be they skilled or unskilled. The UK’s open economic model which is often referred to as an example for the rest of the continent in its outward looking nature and dynamism, cannot close itself off without losing its defining features and reasons for its success.

It is the attractiveness of the country that makes it a popular destination for migrants. In academic terms this can be explained by so called pull factors, such as a country’s size, the economy’s demand for labour, the language spoken or the ease with which one is able to integrate into the UK labour market. Even if Britain were to pass significantly harsher immigration laws, its attractiveness for migrants would thus largely persist.

In parallel to these pull factors, the arrival of EU citizens from the remainder of the continent has been fuelled by a number of strong ‘push factors’. Since the economic crisis job prospects in countries like Spain or Greece have been particularly grim. While there may be jobs available in Eastern European countries, the wage levels there have led many Eastern Europeans to look for gainful employment elsewhere as well. Taken together, these push and pull factors can explain a large part of migration flows to the UK.

Any kind of imagined change to the UK’s migration policy would be limited by the gravitational forces of both push and pull factors that have contributed to current migration patterns to the UK. This is irrespective of a Brexit scenario or the ‘emergency break’ on EU migrants’ access to the UK’s welfare system. While the latter would at least address some public concerns as to a risk of ‘welfare tourism’, the former would raise a significant number of other issues.

The EU’s freedom of movement rules of course are not a one-way street. There are about 1.4 million Britons who currently make use of their right to work, reside or retire to the rest of the EU. If Britain left the EU, their status, just like that of EU citizens in the UK, would become uncertain.

Viewing the issue of immigration to the UK solely in the context of the upcoming Brexit referendum risks obfuscating its broader link to the kind of country that Britain is. If the UK wanted to address concerns about migrants by seeking to curb future immigration, then politicians face limited (and arguably rather unattractive) options. They can either radically change Britain’s economic model or alternatively, as one of the participant’s at the LSE’s recent hearing on free movement put it: ‘wreck your economy and throw it into recession.’

You can read the full article 'Buying into Myths: Free Movement of People and Immigration' here.