Archive | May, 2006

>Too civil a liberalism – Pithart on Čapek and Peroutka.

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I also read an interesting essay-ette by Petr Pithart on the interwar liberalism of Čapek and Peroutka. This argues, Pithart, was very much at odds with Masaryk’s view of politics as rooted in morality and his religious-based view of Czech history, despite these writers close alignment with Prague Castle. Their, error, Pithart claims was to see the (growth of) liberalism as ‘self-evident’ in a society, where it lacked cultural and social roots and where – given the unstable geo-political climate and the rise of totalitarian ideologies of the time – these would never be put down. They promoted an intellectual politics of ‘patient and prudent cultivation [of liberalism] in a country where history cuts a deep furrow’ (282)

M. Znoj, J. Havránek and M. Sekera (eds.), Český liberalismus: texty a osobnosti Prague: Torst, 1995, pp. 279-82.

>Dissident ideas and the fall of communism

>Read two interesting articles by Alan Renwick in the small hours, both looking at the role of dissident ideas in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The first makes the long overdue point that East European dissent was often not as ‘anti-political’ or as straightforwardly ‘anti-political’ as much of the literature on post-communist politics suggests, in attributing the failure of dissident-politician and popular disengagement to the legacy of dissent. The hallmarks of anti-politics are defined following Linz and Stepan as inter alia a stress on the ethical nation as actor; a denial of internal difference; a rejection of interests for ethics as the basis of politics; an absolutist moral rejection of compromise; a rejection of both the institutions of the communist state and the political sphere per se (any institutions).

Renwick identifies a number of sets of strategies: 1) ignoring the party state (intellectual anti-politics proper – rejection of the political sphere per se – and the creation of a parallel polis bypassing (but also ignoring) the regime; 2) engaging the party-state from outside to influence policy (defence of human rights, creation of free forums for debate; creation of pressure/interest group); and 3) entering (and colonizing or taking over) the state to effect political change (co-operation/cooptation; revolution (off the agenda for all but a radical Polish nationalist fringe by 1970s); and political opposition based on a presented counter-programme). This more subtle typology echoes the more historically grounded approach in Wielgohs and Pollacks’s Dissent and Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe, although Renwick achieves a degree of comparison absent in this edited collection.

Only the early stage of Czech dissent, he argues – on the whole rightly, although even in the early state it is far from the whole story – was truly anti-political. Polish and Hungarian dissent was, despite anti-political leanings, in various subtle ways merely anti-communist and used the strategies of pressure group, political opposition although Czech dissident later leapfrogged them to conceive of itself as a political opposition by 1988 inthe Democracy for All manifesto. Not quite ‘a conscious rejection of the Havelian approach of Charter 77’ (316), whose founding Charter was partly drafted by eminently political ex- reform communists)

The article is impressive, but rather oddly overlooks ideological divisions within dissent and, while impressive in drawing on both Polish and Hungarian languages sources, is much weaker on the Czech case. It also tends to rather brutally pigeonhole different thinkers ignoring their ambiguity, inconsistency and learning over time – Havel is not only the theorist of anti-politics, but also the drafter of Democracy for All… As President in 1990, he doesn’t like parties and doesn’t like the state or politics much either, but can hardly deny them and no longer does

Its distinction between strategies of ignoring the state and engaging the state also seems to muddy the waters between the political and anti-political slightly – the difference between types of strategy Renwick argues is that the former ‘proposed no mechanisms by which their activities might influence the state. Indeed they evinced no interest in such mechanisms: their overwhelming concern was with the condition of society’ (292). This seems a rather arbitrary distinction. It also suggests that in certain situations dissidents might ignore the party-state but maintain an intellectual commitment to politics in some form – this is the view of Benda’s famous, but not often read, ‘parallel polis’ essay, but a strategy forced by the realities of repression in Czechoslovakia.

Renwick’s second highly impressive article explores similar territory. It examines how the framing of dissident strategies for political change in Poland and Hungary in 1980s led to different outcomes in 1989 (semi-democratic elections in Poland; fully competitive elections in Hungary). The choice boiled down to demands for state pluralism (multi-party elections) or the legalization of independent social organization with a parcelling out pf political power (social corporatism). Both strategies had their supporters in the two case, but the dominant frame in Poland was that of social corporatism, in Hungary that of state pluralism. Renwick makes a convincing case that timing alone was not the key factor as the Hungarian opposition was demanding free elections in 1988, but is less convincing when arguing that the structure of the opposition was less important. The Hungarian opposition could hardly speak on behalf of a social organization that had never existed; the Poles could hardly ignore the Solidarity tradition. Ultimately, despite much excellent analysis the article gets bogged down in trying to find instances where it can be shown that ‘ideas mattered’ and structures/resources didn’t or didn’t explain all.

This proves very difficult and leads to a very particular focus on different responses to similar reformed communist election laws in 1985 (allowing more than one candidate), although even here purely strategic considerations of how likely the regime was to block independents seems an equally credible explanation. Renwick also develops a kind of path dependent argument stressing the unhappy experience of the Polish Znak movement’s token representation in parliament 1950s, which has no Hungarian parallel. Ultimately, we have only a rich subtle, theoretically grounded description of mechanisms… (again).

Ideational analysis is a bitch…

A Renwick (2006), ‘Anti-Political or Just Anti-Communist? Varieties of Dissidence in East-Central Europe and Their Implications for the Development of Political Society’, EEPS 20 (2), 286-318.

A Renwick (2006), ‘Why Hungary and Poland Differed in 1989: The Role of Medium Term Frames in Explaining the Outcomes of Democratic Transition’, Democratization 12 (1), 36-57.

>Polish students protest, Czech Greens self-destruct

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Don’t knock the French language press. Reading through an unwanted copy of Libération picked up in the Eurostar I see with some interest that in Poland there have been spontaneous protests of 2000-3000 high school and univerity students against the appointment of the League of Polish families leader Roman Gertych as Education Minister. Turning with trepidation given with my non-existent Polish to the online edition of Gazeta Wyborcza some guesswork and a Czech-Polish dictionary suggests a rather interesting social movement in the making http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/wyborcza/1,34513,3342116.html and with regional demonstrations planned at provinical universities. The big story for GW seems to be the use of internet and SMS to co-ordinate the protests, but this seems fairly well established as for example in the right-wing ‘civic circles’ movement organized by Fidesz (now narrowly defeated the left again despite its conservative-nationalist civic mobilzation).

No mention of events in Poland in the British press and more distrubingly not a word about the the killings in Antwerp, although the latter is picked up by Lidové noviny in Prague despite the ongoing Czech elections. Here, the centre-right’s prospects of forming a coherent administration with the Christian Democrats now depend on the Greens – this year’s surprise package – not making it into parliament. The Czech Greens themselves seem to be try to oblige by banging energetically on the self-destruct button a fortnight before polling. Czech media report a renewed bout of faction fighting in the party in the form of a open letter critizing the leadership’s neglect of the grassroots signed inter alia by veteran human rights activist, ex-Human Rights Ombudsman and one time revolutionary socialist Petr Uhl. Two Green party members thumping each other at a party meeting after ‘inappropriate comments’ (political in nature apparently) one made about the other’s spouse, who is running in the election. Perhaps it is just the right-wing press targetting the Greens, whose ‘indiscipline’ , ‘instability’ and lack of ‘legibility’ has been trumpeted across the political spectrum since their breakthrough in the opinion polls in February.

I can’t help feeling we won’t be seeing Central Europe’s first Green deputies for decade come 4 June…

>The Association of…. Actually Pretty Useful Tactics

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Like many lecturers I have a slightly jaundiced view of our union, the Association of University Teachers, but loyally pay the subs every month anyway. Like much political and social organization in modern ‘advanced democracies’, the AUT is driven by a small self-contained core of activists and officials, whose world of meetings and campaigns is rather detached from that of the large passive grassroots membership, who occasionally vote in elections, struggling (if they are anything like me) to choose between candidates with fairly indistinguishable positions and activist credentials. A kind kind of Stealth Democracy in miniature, if you will.

Occasionally, the AUTs politics generate some heat as with its much publicized (later reversed) boycott of Israeli universities, but this this sadly more akin to the politics of a student union – irrelevant, self-important and fractious – than anything that really engages me. Many people of my acquaintance see the AUT as part toothless but necessary watchdog, part expensive personal insurance policy. Others see little point but join or stay in out of a kind of residual social democratic sentiment that unions are useful organization and a feeling – that I share – they would not like to free-ride on others. A few, mainly of an slightly older generation are union stalwarts. A few (non- or ex-members) regard the organization with a degree of contempt. Fifteen quid a month is, after all, the price of an Italian meal, as one cynic noted to me.

She has a point. The decline in lecturers’ pay that the union rightly hammers home to us year on year is evidence not only of the slow hollowing out of higher education, but also the basic lack of bargaining power by lecturers and university staff. We are not train drivers – they are more concentrated, less diverse, more bound by workplace solidarity and better able to take disruptive action, and, of course, slightly better paid. My first experience of this, the AUT’s 2003 campaign of one day strikes and threatened assessment boycott, seemed to illustrate the lack of industrial muscle all too well- a damp squid, exaggeratedly militant in tone, poorly co-ordinated with other unions, and quickly stymied when members saw some cash on the table and voted to take the money. The sobriquet Association of Useless Tactics coined I think in the THES seemed sadly all too appropriate.

In 2006 the scenario is in some ways being re-run. Our employers do not seem to be sharing out the (admittedly rather limited amount of) cash from extra top fees as fairly as they might. AUT members voted for a one day strike and ‘action short of a strike’ – meaning a boycott of exams and coursework. Now the exam season is upon us and the assessment boycott is really happening. Except, of course, that it isn’t – at least not as far as I can see from my small corner of academia, where exam papers and dissertations are circulating fairly freely. This is of course in some ways to be expected. As last week’s THES estimated AUT membership is patchy, ranging from 80% at some institutions to 30% or less at others with significant variation across departments. Moreover some AUT members to my certain knowledge are not observing the boycott. Some say “ Well, we’ll have to mark it all eventually anyway”. Others (including me) are afraid of swinging pay deductions – Vice Chancellors are unsurprisingly starting to reach for the heavy caliber weaponry, as they said would.

Only now, however, do I start to see an unanticipated cleverness in the boycott tactic, which turns the weakness of lecturers as a group – the rather isolated, autonomous nature of their work – into a potential strength. Only a small critical mass of people, I realized, actually need observe the action for the complex examining, marking, and degree award process – tightly timetabled and administratively complicated at the best of times – to start to go off the rails. Few people will know who amongst their colleagues is taking ‘action short of a strike’ until black holes start to appear to marksheets in early June. The issue of the dispute is always raised in rather guarded terms and is something of taboo subject I sense. It may, I suspect, be difficult for the long bureaucratic chain of command typical of many university management structures to gain an accurate real time picture of how marking is (or is not) progressing

Rome never looks where she treads…

>Antwerp stocking fillers

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Some interesting new books mentioned at Antwerp ….

Stephen White, David Stansfield, and Paul Webb (eds.) Political Parties in Transitional Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2006

Susanne Jungerstam-Mulders, (ed) Post-Communist EU Member States: Parties and Party Systems, Ashgate, 2006

Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge University Press (forthcoming 2007)

Paul Webb, Paul Taggart, Paul Lewis, Aleks Szczerbiak and Charles Lees, Party Politics in Contemporary Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

I dare say I will get round to reading or reviewing them by about Christmas (in most cases)

>The far right in Antwerp

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I’ve just spent two days at an ESRC workshop on the extreme right held – with a certain unintended appropriateness – in Antwerp, electoral power base of the Flemish ultra-nationalist party Vlaams Belang (‘Flemish Interest’). Formerly – until an ineffective legal banning order – Vlaams Blok, VB pulled over 30% of the vote the city, which has a large number of residents of Moroccan, Turkish and African origin as well as sizeable Orthodox Jewish community and looks likely to do just as well again in local elections this October. As Antwerp’s largest party, it is kept of municipal office only by a grand coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and others backed by written cordon sanitaire agreement. Although I wasn’t aware of it, just how grimly toxic Antwerp’s community relations are after 15 years of Vlaams Belang as a major party were being brutally illustrated a couple of kilometres from where I was staying by the random racist murders of an Malian women and a two year old girl, whose nanny she was, and wounding of a Turkish woman (or a Belgian of Turkish descent?) sitting on a bench reading a book.

Not understanding any Dutch, I only later learned later from La Libre Belgique. that the shootings took place near the Old Town where I was staying, taking in the cathedrals, historic buildings, shops and ice cream when not sitting in a seminar room in Antwerp University’s fine new social sciences building. As a Walloon newspaper LLB showed a certain diffidence about commenting directly on Flemish racism, but its reporting was clear enough. The 18 year old gunman, who had bought a rifle and cartridges over the counter for 515 euros that same day, admitted the racist motivation of the killings. But for being shot and wounded himself by a policeman, hw would have killed more. He had just been expelled from agricultural secondary collegefor smoking in his dormitory. but came from a VB supporting family – his uncle was reportedly a party activist. VB leaders condemned the murder, disclaimed any respisnsibility for racist violence (at length) and questioned its racist motivation, noting that the little girl was white. The killer’s profile of quiet, unexceptional youth seems familiar from American and European high school masacres as does the fact that he reportedly expected the police to finish him off, suggesting a desire for suicide-by-cop. However, as the Flemish press (as reported in LLB) and Walloon academics interviewed in the same newspaper noted, the incident is part of a wider climate of exclusionary nationalism which is becoming more normal and publicly acceptable in Flanders and, to a lesser extent Wallonia (the Belgian Front National too has its bastions) – perhaps the most important (if intangible) influence of such parties.

As Cas Mudde astutely noted at the end of the some ‘extreme right’ characteristic such as nativism, opposition to immigration and populist anti-elitism have long been mainstreamed. Indeed, although we talk in terms of ‘immigration’ as an issue, most Western countries had already blocked primary immigration in the 1970s. The issue is more one of integration and mutli-culturalism than policing borders. As Anna Marie Smith’s excellent book on British New Right discourses of race and sexulaity notes, the notion of ‘immigrant’ has less to do with where people have travelled from/to and much to do with contructing political identities through exclusion and inclusion. This rather makes a nonsense of the notion of historicially derived party families with more or less similar ideologies – the divisions between far right, mainstream right and even in certain respects mainstream left are blurred and porous because of the extent of ideological development and convergence. The long ideological journey of New Labour is a case in point. This Mudde suggested meant that the rise of the far right is less a matter of its unique ideology, than its ability to take ownership of certain issues like ‘immigration’, which may at certain times become (be made?) salient for voters

The seminar’s more academic treatment of the far right and its progress (in some countries) noted that parties like VB are not pathological exceptions, whose success needs to be explained as an odd event, by focusing on the ‘demand side’ of social change, economic decline and identity crises, but an established part of the political landscape, which may in certain circumstance enter government, usually after traversing stages – ghettoization, marginalization, acceptance as ‘normal’ populist outsider etc. The cases discussed included not only – inevitably – VB, but also VB, Austria’s Freedom Party, the French Front National, the National Alliance in Italy and Hungary’s (declining) old fashionedly anti-Semitic far right, which for strategic reasons the mainstream right in Hungary might even need to partially sustain – as far as CEE is concerned the agrarian populists of Self-Defence and Catholic conservative League of Polish families have just made it to government office in Poland in coalition with more mainstream Catholic conservatives, this would have made a better talking point. A range of strategies for managing a rising populist radical right was revealed from the Austrian People’s party’s successful “co-opt and castrate” strategy, to cordons sanitaires of varying formality depending on local traditions and how well conventional parties can do without far-right support (quite well in France) to the very fluid Italian situation, where the post-fascist National Alliance seems to be ‘responsibilizing’ itself into a conventional conservative centre-right party – although not responsible enough to be accepted into the EPP. Meanwhile, Forza Italia – a party taht confounds east categorization if ever there was one, beyond noting the influence of business franchising models and the Berlusconi brand of charisma – is interestingly dividing up between liberals and Catholics. The issues to follow is perhaps not party competition but party co-operation and interdependence

>Partying at Sussex University

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Today I went to a impressive work-in-progress seminar on parties and the state at Sussex University, whose fresh air, landscaped campus and slightly more relaxed ambiance were a welcome break from UCL’s busier urban setting

The story about political parties was this. Political parties have are traditionally seen as products of social cleavages, vehicles for representing social interests and channels for citizen participation, whose relationship with the state is occasional and contingent – a way of thinking harking back to the Golden Age of the mass party, In fact, as has been widely pointed out in well rehearsed academic literature of 1980s and 1990s, the position is now largely reversed. Parties are now increasingly professionalized organisations in and of the state with n contingent and sporadic relationship with the grassroots mediated through the TV screen, rare forays into ‘knocking on doors’ and – every few years – a trip the ballot box. Parties are more akin to the gas company than the grassroots organisations with a presence in every community of yore. Party- state relationships, however, need analyzing systematically and comparatively to bring together the diverse literatures on party funding, corruption etc

The relationship can be seen in terms of dependency on the state for resources (state funding and benefits in kind like media access), state regulation of parties activities, both internal and external, through constitutional frameworks and legal regulation; and rent-seeking within the state through patronage (use of public appointments), clientelism (exchange of state resources with favoured constituencies by the party in exchange for political backing) and straightforward corruption (cash-for-favours). Patronage and clientelism are cheap and effective organization-building strategies in new democracies.

The picture that emerges globally is of a general trend to state dependency in Western and Eastern Europe. Despite stronger state legal regulation in the East and high public subsidies, there seemingly has little to with patronage and clientelism. Africa is an interesting story with no effective public funding and incumbent parties using rent-seeking to sustain themselves – the benefits of the party-state relationship are very unevenly distributed and tend to underpin or lock-in a pattern of dominant parties in office for decades until economic mismanagement and a head of social discontent blows them away (Kenya) – replacing them with a new opposition-based dominant party – or full blown authoritarian emergences (Zimbabwe).

The relationship between party-state relationship – specifically its rent-seeking dimension – and patterns of competition is fascinating. The ‘robust competition’ idea, for example, says alternation and two-bloc competition is a mechanism to clean out or limit rent-seeking. The other question uppermost in my mind is in many contexts there are weak (unstable, poorly institutionalized, weakly bounded, poorly co-ordinated) parties and weak state structures – are both not just vehicles for elite networks?

>The Tories Finking Aloud

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A brief exchange of emails with a colleague on the merits ofTimes columnist and ex-Tory research director, Danny Finkelstein. My colleague is a fan of his take on the Euston Manifesto (impressive, but a waste of time he says given the nature of the Left – its supporters should admit to themselves they are moving right – a predictable enough conclusion part of the lost Owenite column of the SDP that made it into John Major’s Conservative party in the mid-1990s. But I’m reminded of more interesting Finkelstein piece, that appeared a couple of months ago on the new Cameroonian Tories and their relationship with the changing communities of the East End http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,21129-2074736,00.html
now a fractured mix of ethnic minorities, a declining traditional white working class and new incoming cosmopolitan professionals. The latter says Finkelstein – – hold the balance of power (in London?) and should be the Tories real concern. “Conservatives will never be propelled to power by working-class voters resentful about their share of welfare resources.”

“Enter the BNP” I thought, reading it back in March and, of course, enter they have. Finkelstein’s concluding comment that “In the East End it was the Liberals who won the votes of the angry white working class” seems both misplaced, complacent and disingenuous given that the National Front were already outpolling the liberals in the 1970s until Mrs Thatcher’s authoritarian populism did for them electorally.

Of course, strategically from a Tory point of view, Finkelstein is probably right. The political backdraft of local pockets of ‘welfare chauvinist’ BNP voting, even the BNP part running the odd town hall, probably wouldn’t upset the Cameroonian big picture Indeed, it might even be helpful, acting kind of fire ship running into parts of the Old Labour vote – provided it didn’t growth into a wider populist challenge, seeping into the UKIP-land in the West of England and the Home counties… None of this is really new. The political science literature on far right populism has an endless set of typologies and diagrams of political space, much of which emphasizes precisely the electoral and political limitation of the ‘welfare chauvinist’ variant promoted by the BNP. What’s fascinating is the bluntness of strategic choices revealed in Finkelstein’s piece and the sense of political dice being rolled…

>Not Getting the Euston Line

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Having not strongly identified with the left for years without exactly ever embracing the right either, I finally read the much hyped Euston Manifesto – part written in an Irish theme pub I walk past on the way to work – with a mix of curiosity, indifference and detachment. Despite the hype over its supposedly ground breaking qualities and blogosphere origins, I was distinctly under whelmed. It is in essence a more long-winded, inchoate version of the familiar arguments of pro-Iraq war left-wing ‘anti-totalitarians’ such as David Aaronovitch, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen or Oliver Kamm topped off some more off-the-wall commitments to things like open source software.

Its basic point – that parts of the radical left are willing to make opportunistic alliances with conservative and authoritarian Islamists, backed by a lazy, knee-jerk hperbolic anti-Americanism – seems fairly obvious, but is no new departure – Ghadaffi’s Libya and Saddam’s own regime were hailed by parts of the far left in 1970s as exciting anti-imperialist experiments opening up new vistas for the revolutionary left (Ghadaffi also being later taken up the Third Positionists of the National Front during 1980s) – not to mention gallons of ink split on paens of praise to the IRA in the far left press right into the 1980s. John Callaghan’s The Far Left in British Politics covers it all – and has a few good jokes as well, which is more than the Euston Group can manage – so Respect and the broader trend it represents seem only the latest version of an old story of the marginality and opportunism of the radical left. So far so boring.

More fundamentally problematic though is the Manifesto’s Manichean notion of the need for a rearguard action to save democracy and the Enlightenment against a powerful new threat from ‘totalitarian-type movements’. There, of course, are many stripes of illiberal, semi-democratic, semi-authoritarian and populist movement, some savage, extreme and violent, but no real ‘totalitarianism’ against which the (only slightly sullied) white knights of democracy and the enlightenment now go into action. I guess this might arguably have been the case during the Cold War, when there were a small band of left-wing supporters for the US war effort in Vietnam – a way station for most to full fledged neo-conservatism, but an intellectually defensible position, I guess.

What the Manifesto proposes is also rather unremarkable – an alliance of socialists and democrats to fight for a liberal democratic minimum of human right and democracy. This seems to be a rehashed version of Eurocommunist (and earlier) notions of a Popular Front, this time turned against a ‘fascism’ or ‘authoritarian populism’ defined by radical Islam, Chomsky and George Galloway, rather than Hitler or Thatcher. This mirrors the neo-con construction of a continutation of the Cold War – radical Islam as a ‘New Bolshevism’ to use Margaret Thatcher. Despite some brief nods to economic inequalities in Western countries undermining the meaningful exercise of individual freedom orthe need for development and ‘democratic globalization’, there is little about structures of wealth and power in the Manifesto and its whole framing of politics seems as defined and obsessed by the ongoing Iraq experience as those who whose views it is targeting. Hardly, than a groundbreaking attempt to move on really

‘An opening to ideas and individuals on the right’ is a rather more interesting idea, although here we seem to be taking political realignment or radical centrism, rather than renewal of the left. The obvious problem here is that the Manifesto seems open to neo-con ideas of global democratic revolution from above – and, course some, progressive distinctly non-conservative figures like Václav Havel and Adam Michnik have signed up to this view- but not to those strains of the right that highlight the cultural and historical embeddedness and limitations of democratic (and indeed all) political institutions, and the contradictions between liberal freedoms and mass democracy.

Here, most of all, the Euston bloggers and drinkers seem to overlook the potentially rather sharp conflicts between the views of democratic and majorities and universal liberal human rights and freedoms of minorities, currently being vividly illustrated on the streets of Basra or Gaza with the election of Islamic religious parties. What do you do when the majority doesn’t want the full universal liberal rights that are ‘binding’ on all you? Undemocratically enforce them? This is the obvious answer arrived at by liberals from Mill to Hayek is yes. The obvious means being unelected, entrenched institutions and forms of colonialism. Writers like Mil made no bones about their penchant for liberal imperialism and suspicions of democracy (even in the UK)

Not alas the standard Euston group, who never address this and whose thinking seems so to say blogged down in the politics of the Iraq imbroglio viewed through a hallucinogenic Cold War construction of politics, which sees a new totalitarianism and new fellow travellers, when the realities seem messier, more confused and of course, given blog standard contributions like the Manifesto, not well thought through at all.

>”Mum’s Army” – the wave of the future?

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An interesting Guardian feature on the ‘Mum’s Army’ network of independent women candidates http://society.guardian.co.uk/localgovt/story/0,,1765784,00.html
opposing anti-social behaviour, organized – in a sign of the times? – by the women’s magazine Take a Break. Essentially a support network, in part virtual, in part more traditional clusters of activist links at local level, with similarities to the more well publicized Independents’ Network set up by Martin Bell and Richard Taylor MP. The Mums have no programmatic statement, organization or ‘party’ discipline but might– despite their homespun origins – to be a wave of the future, echoing comments a colleague of mine made that parties are no longer the ‘bounded systems’ they once were. Of course, as the experience of CEE civic movements shows, above the local level, in office and over time, such ‘party’ issues cannot be ducked. Parties are functional and exist in the form they do for a reason, despite sundry ‘challenges to party’ identified by journalists and political scientists over the last 30 years or so. But is local politics – despite its anaemic powers in the UK – a kind of hothouse for part organizational change and innovation, albeit with some very tender, exotic and short-lived specimens. In another life I would do a PhD on this.