Archive | June, 2007

>So I’m in the centre…. right?


Playing around with some possible aids for teaching two-dimensional political space and party systems next year, I come across Political Survery 2005. Originally intended as a resource to accompany the last UK general elections, this is one of several similar online self-diagnosis tests for assessing your political position on the traditional left-right, state vs. market scale on one hand and some version of the GAL-TAN scale measuring social liberalism/cosmopolitanism versus social authoritarianism/nationalism. As it has the best graphics and the fullest report and is UK, rather than US-oriented, I pencilled it in as visual aid for next year’s Comparative Politics course and had a go myself.

Despite some pretty powerful cross currents on both sets of questions, I had assumed I would come as mildly redistributive economically and moderately socially liberal on the other. But no, my results tell me that economically centrist, but in other respects some thing of a way out social liberal – in a select band of about 10 per cent of UK voters, more permissive and internationalist than about 80% of them. My views here apparently put squarely in the fold of Green party voters but, more unnervingly, my views on the economy are closest to those Tory supporters and readers of the Daily Star, a tabloid best known for breasts and bingo, and National Inquirer-style “Elvis Found Alive On Moon” stories, rather than its political coverage. On the other hand, according to the scattergram mapping me into a universe of YouGov respondents from a 2005 poll (see above), I am part of some outer spiral arm of the galaxy of Lib Dem and Labour supporters.

All very confusing. Perhaps I should just emigrate and join the Czech Green Party or some other eco-liberal party somewhere in Scandinavia?

But perhaps, this confusingness is the real point. With the exception of Tory voters of 2005, it is very hard to draw clear lines around the ideological territory inhabited by the voters of any party or, indeed, readers of any major newspaper. There also seems a lack of clear polarization on economic issues – my supposedly middle of the road economic views give me something in common with the majority of supporters of all parties from the Liberals to the far-right BNP.

British voter choice – including probably mine – is clearly refracted through a melange of issue salience, wrong self-placement, self interest, rational ignorance, cultural and party stereotyping, local factors and institutional incentives, which can render such spatial mapping pretty much just a parlour game.

>Sucked into a democratic black hole


Surfing the web after an exam board made bearable by biscuits and tangerines on the house, I come once again on Ivan Krastev on comes up with a typically barbed commentary about the ‘black hole’ of populist politics in CEE. The basic picture presented is less than original (and I suspect less than true) – populist bad guys like Robert Fico and the Kaczynski are stalking the region driving off decent liberals like himself from office and influence. I did, however, like the usual cynical-cum-ironic take with CEE seen as more akin to France, and perhaps more the France of the mid-19th than the early 21st century. True, there are differences

In France, pensioners are beneficiaries of the status quo, and so never protest; in central Europe, pensioners are the losers and so protest all the time. Moreover, in Paris almost everyone is frightened by the invasion of the fabled Polish plumber, while in Sofia or Warsaw the public is indifferent or at least less hostile to the invasion of the French banker.”

CEE liberals are, however, like their mid-19th century French counterparts in wishing to bypass and restrict the democratic influence of the market-hating masses through the introduction of limited suffrage. These days – in fact as J.S. Mill realized, even in those days – that couldn’t mean anything is crude as a property qualification, but a cut off based on education and a notion of citizenship based on ‘capacity’ (that favourite EU buzzword) rather than rights. Krastev then hits the bulleye, astutely noting that

“It is perverse but true – in this age of democracy, elites in Europe are secretly dreaming of a system that will deprive irresponsible voters from the power to violate the right of wisdom. At the same time most citizens are convinced that they have the right to vote but not the right to influence decision-making.
The outcome is politics where populists are becoming openly anti-liberal, and elites are becomingly secretly anti-democratic. What central Europe is lacking is genuine reformism: the kind that is responsive to the demands of the people without falling victim to populist primitivism. This gaping black hole in the national politics of the member-states, more than anything else, threatens the European project today.”

He is thinking of Bulgaria and CEE, as coursem – where as we know populism is vapid, anti-elite but is basically ‘centrist’ and moderate, not the Neanderthal force Krastev rather crudely outlines which , if not ‘genuinely reformist’ and hooked up with society in the way he enviages, seems able to deliver some of the goods some of the time. More irksomely still (although as good CEE modernizing liberal he doesn’t say it) his comments could, I suspect, also apply to established West European and North American democracies rather than just being part of some post-accession, post-communist malaise.

>A decent European election archive – Olé!

>And, of all, places I find an excellent detailed Euro-election archive on, of all places, the website of the regional government of Valencia in Spain. For the record WOW polled 127, 504 votes (2.14%) of the national (federal) Belgian poll, fairly narrowly missing out on an MEP.

>What’s making me go grey… ? Belgian Euro-election results, naturally


Yesterday, I spent a frustrating couple of hours online trying to track down details of the Belgian pensioners party of the early 1990s Waardig Ouder Worden (Growing Old With Dignity). Although a typical peripheral minor party WOW did apparently inially poll well enough to win one MEP in 1994 and had one deputy on Antwerp council, where it it was founded, and seems to have been divided over its relationship with Vlaams Blok in the city. I had assumed that WOW was connected with the break-up of the mainstream Flemish nationalist Volksunie movement, but in fact – perhaps more in keeping with the fringe nature of grey parties – it was a split from the Rossem protest/get-rich-quick party founded in 1991 by the picaresque Flemish businessman and writer, Jean-Pierre van Rossen. Rossem, it seems, stood for Radicale Omvormers and Sociale Strijders voor een Eerlijker Maatschappij which apparently translates as ‘Radical Reformists and Social Fighters for a Fairer society’.
As van Rossen – who like many fringe populist politicians once worked as a university lecturer – was associated with the dubious Moneytron investment system, the Rossem part seems to have been intended as a vehicle for him to gain parliamentary immunity and avoid prosecution. The party contested the November elections for the Belgian national (federal) parliament and gained a surprising 3.2% of the vote winning three seats in the lower house and one in the senate. Despite being arrested for fraud a few days before the elections, Rossem was eventually sworn in on 7 January 1992 but his antics shouting – for example shouting ‘Vive la république’ as King Albert II was being sworn in as monarch – contributed to the party collapsing in predictable infighting. WOW seems to have been one of the earliest and biggest splits from the party.
So far so interesting, but what really drove me made was the impossibility of finding on-line Belgian European election results for 1994. The Belgian Interior Ministry and parliaments website only have the two most recent results. Wikipedia (boo hiss) to which more serious sites like ElectionWorld have sadly migrated does not have them, nor do they seem to have been written up in Electoral Studies.

>The right in East Central Europe: enter a paper tiger


At last our co-authored research paper on centre-right parties in East Central Europe gets into the public domain as a working paper on the website Sussex European Institute. A while ago there was a fashion for titling serious bits of academic research with punning titles of films, pop songs and fairy tales. I wanted at one point to call my book on Czech right wing politics Blue Velvet before I realized that neither the name of the 1980s David Lynch film nor the much older song would register with many readers. This time we were in more restrained mood – and also stuck for much in the way of wordplay that suggest the theme of elite cohesion.