Archive | May, 2009

>Leaflety surburbs


I’ve been leafing throught the combined pile of Euro- and local election leaflets slowly building up on the windowsill. Perhaps on the back of early poliing, the Greens seem to be nervous about losing their one Euro MP in the South East of England, although the latest polling suggests a surge in their vote on the back of public disgust about mainstream parties’ MPs’ dubious expenses claims.

The leaflet of the pro-withdrawal from the EU UK Independence Party – now predicted to repeat their impressive 16% national poll share in 2004 and seemingly the second party in this part of the world – features Winston Churchill, as does a UKIP billboard outside the local hypermarket. Odd, as Churchill was an early advocate of European union. The far right British National Party goes for a similar leitmotif. Its leaflet has with a picture of a Spitfire and some stuff about a new Battle of Britain and a bloke dressed in a doctor’s white coat telling us that immigrants are wrecking the National Health Service. Again odd, as the NHS is more or less kept afloat with immigrant label and the BNP’s leaders all cut their political teeth of neo-Nazism and would probably have been locked up during the real Battle of Britain. This, of course, doesn’t matter a jot, as they they are tapping into something else: a Churchillianism’ that less historical fact is a distinct brand English/British nationalism that permeates the national culture – ably analysed by Anthony Barnett way back in the 1980s in Iron Britannia.

However, the BNP leaflet does have a certain political sophistication, recycling Gordon Brown’s ill considered ‘British jobs, for British workers’ tag and – in trying to project the party as a ‘normal’ party just like the others – going in for some classic ‘dog whistle’ politics. Everyone knows the the party is xenophobic and racist, so there’s absolutely no need to upset us by to mentioning it, is there?

This alas eludes the Liberal Democrat leaflet for the local elections which follows a mind numbing and predictable ‘pavement politics formula, which is almost a parody of itself: a dodgy bat chart claiming the Lib Dems are breathing down the necks of the Tories plus some photos of local Lib Dem candidates posing various parts of the town to convince us they have been campaigning on every conceivable issue and project in the community backed up by some scepticism-inspiring claims to have personally brought about every minor bit of tree planting and road resurfacing in the locality that has gone on in the last six months.

The local Tories deliver an almost identical leaflet the next day which is in colour and ever so slightly more convincing as they do actually run the council. Indeed, sensationally, I am canvassed by the local Tories the next day when putting out the recycling , having mistaken their balding clipboard-in-hand activist for a gas meter reader and not ducked into the house and returned to my exam marking quickly enough. I tell him I never vote Conservative. “That’s fine” he says amiably and ticks me off his list.

>Czech Republic: No fright on the right?


The Czech Civic Democrats’ euro-election slogan Řešení místo strašení (“Solutions Not Scaremonging”) – intended to counter the Social Democrats’ hardhitting negative campaigning and capitalise on the relatively good reception among Czechs of the Topolánek government’s prematurely cut short Presidency of the EU – is something of new departure for the party. From anti-communist and free market crusaders for whose election campaigns themselves featured a good deal of strašení about the left, the party is reborn into one of pragamatic and moderate doers who went down with the sinking ship representing the country, while left-wing wreckers and disloyal internal elements caused havoc.

If you take away the opposition-bashing hyperbole, there’s probably even an element of truth in this self-image and it is interesting to see how Topolánek et al have been quietly reinterpreting the role of history of their party and especially the role of Václav Klaus to reinforce this. Essentially, in the (early) 1990s – we are told – Klaus was pragmatic fixer who got things done, then at some unspecified point (but certainly by 2002) turned into an ideological monster and parted company with both ODS and his earlier self. Minister Jekyll and President Hyde, as it were. Hmmm…

Nevertheless, saying that you’re a hardworking moderate team of incumbents interested in the practical business of government has not always been the a winning formula in Czech politics. Anyone with a long enough memory may remember that in 1992 the ex-dissidents of the middle of the road Civic Movement (OH) tried precisely this tack – billboards of rowing boats and appeals to voters to all pull together, as I recall – and were, of course, duly slaughted in the elections by VK and the rising Civic Democratic Party.

Of course, today’s ODS is a far tougher, more formidable and professional outfit than OH whose disdain for party politics was probably their undoing, but parallel was not lost on Klaus himself, who hurled this as a term of abuse at Topolánek’s ODS for its alleged loss of right-wing ideological commitment and embrace of various figures associated with his predecessor Václav Havel and (rather more tenuously) the original OH.

>Credible deniability?


Lidové noviny reports the latest iconoclastic view to emerge from the entourage of Czech President Václav Klaus: The deputy head of the presidential chancellory Petr Hájek tells a seminar of the President’s CEP thinktank that the theory of evolution is ‘erroneous’ and that Intelligent Design should taught in Czech schools. Evolution is – yeah, you guessed it – suspected a left-wing ideology. Should you want to, you can read the whole thing here
I suppose we shoud acknowledge that CEP does tackle controversial themes that others in Czech politics avoid and occasionally comes up with sensible conclusions (on pro-natalist population policy, for example – VK was against) . And Hájek is admittedly something of a loose cannon, retained as Klaus himself has occasion suggested on occasional for his aggressive and (sometimes) brilliant camapigning (He is the man who thought up the ‘Head Up’ slogan that pulled Klaus’s Civic Democrats back from the electoral bring in 1998), but you do sometines wonder where the contrarianism of the Prague Castle will lead next. Herbal cures for AIDS? Holocaust denial?

>Czech Civic Democrats: Summer dreams, but not split down the seams…


Ladislav Mrklas of the Czech centre-right CEVRO thinktank offers an interesting, and to my mind very realistic, appraisal of the political prospects of the Civic Democratic party: factional tension has damped down prior to the euro-elections; the party may go off the idea of backing early parliamentary elections if it gets a whipping in June; if they do take place ex-PM and ODS leader Topolánek will have to step down if the party is badly beated resulting in ‘chaos’ and which his opponents (back by President Klaus) will try to fill; an extra joker in the pack is that there will beo big turnover in ODS parliamentary group is likely if and when there are national elections, as regional ODS bosses have candidate selection firmly under their control. Right-wing eurosceptic challengers are not serious force unless and until Václav Klaus endorses one of them, which might push them over the 5% barrier. Right-wing euroscepticism in ODS is not the party splitting issue is once was for the British Tories reckons Mrklas, as it is concentrated at elite level and at the grassroots with intermediate layers more inclined to pragmatism.

>They’ve passed the Lisbon Treary – and they’ve got a NERV


The centre-right Topolánek government, recently toppled in a vote of no confidence the Czech Republic, and now replaced by caretaker government of technocrats and worthies at least goes out a bright(ish) note, having managed to get the Lisbon Treaty ratified by the Czech Senate. In the end, an unexpectedly large minority of the Civic Democrat (ODS) senators (12) backed the Treaty, while 20 against and it passed with the required 2/3 majority with one vote to spare (supported by 54 of the 79 legislators present). This was good news for supporters of the Treaty, but probably bad news for ODS underlining the split in the party over European issues that seems to dividie it down the middle. One prominent ODS deputy has already quit the party in protest. And, of course, we’re not out of the Treary ratification woods yet. President Klaus seems likely to find all kinds of pretexts not to sign it, not least the fact that he doesn’t agree with it.
The vote also highlighted divisions in the Czech Communist Party (KSČM): two of whose three senators voted against, while one voted for. However, for them Lisbon is more of pragmatic call than the cause celebre it is on the right.
One of the parting acts of the Topolánek government was also to give a big publicity plug to its lesser known legacies to Czech politics: the National Anti-Crisis Plan (NPP) and the National Economic Council (NERV) of economic experts it set up February to deal with the impact of the global recession on the CR. In form NERV is one of plethora of technocratic-cum-representative government advisory bodies covering everything from Roma integration to EU policy and the ageing population, but clearly greater things are expected of it. Along with the new caretaker government, it should afford a bit of political cover for whatever consensus the major parties can scrap together on managaing the economic crisis.

The campaign itself is, however, rather feeble even by Czech public information standards with the usual billboard cast of typical social types (Worker, Pensioner, Self-Employed Person etc) and the bathetic slogan: ‘We’ve got a solution’ (Máme řešení). I suppose that might be more naturally rendered into English as ‘We’re dealing with it’- and in a break with tradition the overall-clad plumber or carpenter depicted is a woman- but even then… It also has rather odd echos of the 2006 Communist election campaign slogan – KSČM campaigning is also known for its sparkle and pazazz – ‘We’re got a different different solution’ (Máme jiné rešení). The National Anti-Crisis Plan also has a website, which goes under the more snappy if very paternalistic moniker, which I guess translates as something like