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>Twelve Not Very Angry People

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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sitting on a jury, an interesting but ultimately rather draining experience. The jury system is being as one of the few well established channels for mass participation in the British legal and political system, and a hallowed and traditional one at that. So it makes for an odd experience to roll up at a government building one morning as a member of the public and get the the usual friendly and slightly causal British bureaucratic processing, but not actually be in the usual passive role of service user, patient or customer, but as also to be someone integral to making a real decision.

The first stage sitting – the Jury Assembly area – has the feel of a hospital waiting room or the departure lounge in some small provincial airport, although unlike these situation no one is in any particular hurry to be called. When you and the rest of a fifteen person jury panel do get
called you then suddenly find yourself standing awkwardly in what seems to be television set: a courtroom, which seems oddly small, but otherwise straight out of Rumpole, Judge John Deed with judge, lawyers, clerks and prisoner all sitting in costume and read to go at the press of a button.

And without further ado (small matter of jurors swearing an oath to return a true verdict – in about half the cases, including mine this means affirming minus the bible) the trial kicks off with the prosecution’s opening statement. The sense of unreality gradually lifts, although it is
for the most part a little like looking in a play. You watch, you listen, you make notes, the court rises and you can go home or go downstairs and buy coffee and teacakes from the staff-and-jurors counter of little stall staffed by retired volunteers (proceeds go to charity – this week an
animal sanctuary).

For anyone who likes social science methodology, there is a lot get into the trail process: evidence, inference, causation and argument. Indeed, what academic could fail to admire – and enjoy anticipating – the barristers’ unfolding arguments, ultra-polished presentation skills and
carefully planted sound bites? There is an emerging human story. Over the several days of the trail witnesses take the stand and names or blank faces in the dock and public gallery slowly emerge into compelling cast of dramatis personae.

Then there is the bit everyone has not been looking forward to: deliberation. The defence case closes and we are sequestered in a Jury Retiring Room and have to reach a verdict. We are not allowed out, but can make tea and coffee and knock on the door for the jury baliff to bring
more milk. Friends who had done jury service warned me that this was the worse bit: “Be prepared to meet some very thick people”. But, in fact, I didn’t. Most of my fellow jurors were well educated and with, one possible exception, anything but thick. So the atmosphere was more Twelve Very Reasonable People than Twelve Angry Men. This didn’t make it any easier to
reach a verdict. I realised that, unlike in the movies, even a simply chain simple events involving a small number of people may never yield up all its secrets. In the end though, we did agree a verdict which seemed to fairly reflected the evidence – and thinking back over the complexities,
possibilities of the case I still think it does.

The local paper reported the end of the trial and our verdict the next day, rehashing the more sensational bits of the evidence and soap opera elements of the case.

>I can’t believe I just did that…

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I can’t believe I just did that…

Secluded in the polling booth, pencil poised over ballot papers for local and European elections, on impulse I voted for a despised minor party. I mean I should have known better. All that ‘British Jobs For British Workers’ stuff was obviously rubbish and, yes, the party’s leadership is a bit thuggish. But, you know how it is , mainstream media vilification does push some poeple into protest voting for fringe parties – and I was truly fed up with both the big parties locally.

For the first time in 21 years, I voted Labour.

>Leaflety surburbs

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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.

>From ECPR to A&E…

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It’s Monday morning. My head still feels bad and I feel terribly tired. I go the doctor, who decides I should go to hospital in Brighton to have my head scanned. It’s modern and clean. Everyone’s very professional and pleasant. In the course of the next four hours, I move through a series of assessments and examinations: accident and emergency nurse; junior doctor; Senior House Officer; and finally the Registrar. My headaches have subsided, but they decide I do indeed need a scan. Under Health Service targets, no one should spend more than four hours in Accident and Emergency, so they transfer me to another part of the hospital, the Medical Assessment Unit. This houses some pretty sick people with drips, oxygen masks and monitors , but also seems to serve as a kind of overflow for A&E. Two hours later I get my CT scan, It is instantly uploaded onto their system, they tell me, but I still need to wait another five hours before they can get a radiologist’s report about what it shows.
I pass the time reading the entire Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and listening various human dramas unfolding around me. A man with a Middle Eastern accent seems to be comforting a child, but is in fact talking to his Spanish boyfriend who speaks limited English and may have an appendicitis. An old lady says she has collapsed because of heart problems, but it turns out that her daily alcohol consumption is the real issue. Her son comes in. He is very pleasant sounding. and doesn’t seem surprised when told she will be referred to the Community Alcohol Team. Perhaps she know then already. She is discharged. Two policeman come in accompanying a man on a trolley. He is a prisoner serving a jail term and they are escorting him. They joke with him about whether the beds are better in hospital or in prison. In hospital he says, but the prison pillows are better. He dozes off and the policemen quietly start grumbling about the 4-5 hours they will be sitting around escorting him.

At last, a registrar appears. The scan shows no acute injuries, she says, so if I have no headache now I can go home when the senior registrar formally OKs it. I am to rest and come straight back if I have more headaches or am sick, however. She’s bleeped him, she says, but doesn’t know when he will get onto it. He could be in the middle of cutting someone up, she explains. Two hours later, I am officially discharged.

A burly security guard sees me off the premises. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning. I have been in the hospital exactly 12 hours.

>Lisbon diary: my conference from hell

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I have spent the last few days in Lisbon attending the European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions of Workshops. It wasn’t a good trip. On the whole, what can go wrong does go wrong. I take the airport shuttle to a stop near the main mosque and step out into a rainstorm. I had naively imagined there would be sunshine, so I have brought only a thin jacket. I quickly get soaked. I also get lost and spend half and hour so wandering around in the dark, rainswept streets. It’s an unprepossessing area with an odd mix of new hotels and apartment blocks and run down shops and bars. I catch a glimpse of Lisbon’s fllodlit central Mosque across the street. Finally, I realize I am heading in the wrong direction.

At last, I get to the hotel. Here they tell me I have been moved to another hotel, the impressively named VIP Grand, due to some mix-up by the agency running the conference arrangements. Ironically, I had walked passed the Grand in the pouring rain 20 minutes before. Duly transferred, I find myself in a nice hotel with a jarringly modern interiors : strange lighting, stark blacks, whites and strikes, plenty of mirrors and glass. Apparently, it was designed on Zen principles in a building that was once the headquarters of Portuguese TV and radio. I walk down a corridor, which is lit like something out of Star Wars, half expecting Darth Vader to come round the corner, and make it my 12th floor room. I go to take a shower and slam straight into a glass partition between bathroom and bedroom, mistaking it for an open doorway. My head gets an almighty bang. I bleed all over the place. It’s very late. I can’t face the thought of seeing a doctor.

By day 2 of the conference, however, I am having headaches and I’m starting to feel sick. Not a good combination. I end up sitting in the accident and emergency department of a private hospital. Here they check me out, relieve me of 100 euros and decide that I’ve caught flu and that my head is not a cause for concern. I feel pretty grotty for most of the rest of the conference, however, fortifying myself black tea and Portuguese bica expressos. Academically, things go rather better. The workshop on Generational Politics is animated and has a sensible balance between presentation and discussion – a good system of double discussants – and civilized regime of breaks.

Easyjet round off a difficult trip by laying on the return flight from hell. At the last minute, passengers are herd to different departure gate. A long queue stands for an hour gradually getting more restive. Portuguese passengers start laying into the local Easyjet staff. Finally, they tell us they have had to get a new crew or a new plane, but we can now board. Once on the plane, however, we learn that they need a ‘competent engineer’ to sign off some technical check and they can’t find one. We spend another hour sitting on on the plane. Children start screaming. My head is still aching. In the end, we take off 2 hours late. There is the usual cattle-truck-of-the-skies experience, this time of the added bonus of the smell of the toilets wafting through the cabin ventilation.

At Gatwick airport at midnight, there are no stopping trains, so I have to fork out £50 for a taxi home. Perhaps next time, they should just run the ECPR over Skype.

>Cloudy blue

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Kevin Degan-Krause’s Pozorblog highlights the joys of Wordle, a site which will artily mash will any text as a arty looking ‘word cloud’ and, as it homes in on key words, tell you straight out and direct what the book is really about. Fed into the site the text of my book The New Right in the New Europe comes out pretty much as you might expect, although my tendency to overuse the word ‘however’ is rather brutally exposed.

However, I think you can probably forgive me that…

>Bar to advancement

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I’m sitting in a hotel bar with colleagues, nervously watching the time so I don’t miss my train and talking about party patronage and academic specialization. Like so many studies of parties, the one we’re discussing tends to tell us less about the effects of parties and more about the problem of the very notion of the political party, in both advanced and transitional democracies much less the bounded formal organization of the political science classics than fluid elite network overlapping with other networks. We lament the fact that intellectually curious political scientists are, as often as not, punished in career terms for asking new questions and shifting to new areas: to gain reputation and stature, we agree, you need to keep mining the same seam even when it’s pretty much exhausted.

I am myself pretty much exhausted when I get to St Pancras and I narrowly miss my train.

>Memories Russian back

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I spend part of the weekend clearing boxes of old possessions, some dating from my student days, from my parents loft: amid the pots and pans and dusty electric kettles, I uncover two boxes of rather good quality Russian language classics dating from my time doing a French and Russian Studies degree at Leeds University. Sadly, I won’t have the time to (re-)read, they go onto E-bay. to find good homes. Any Russophone readers with a literary bent check them out here Oddly, beyond a copy of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and a Russian translation of Djilas’s Conversations With Stalin – which I remember reading on a train going to or from Kiev – there is nothing about much on politics. Pausing for a cup of tea, I dip into a novel by Chingiz Aitmatov, one of our second year set texts as I recall. Pleasingly, I can still more or less follow it.

>Imperialism and anti-imperialism in the small hours

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It’s early morning but I’m wide awake and I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to read. I finish off a couple of books I was reading, and almost got through, over the holiday. I always to try and read couple of non-academic books wholly unrelated to Eastern Europe, usually an impulse buy when I’m Christmas shopping or an impulse borrow from the local library. This year’s selections are a biography, Tim Jeal’s Stanley: the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, and Stefan Aust’s recently reissued book about The Baader-Meinhof Complex about the far left terrorism of the Red Army F(r)action in 1970s West Germany.
Henry Morton Stanley turned out to be neither the pillar of the British upper classes nor the go-getting America newspaperman I had variously imagined (although he played both roles) but someone born poor and illegitimate in provincial Wales. Abandoned in a workhouse for most his childhood, he made his way, emotionally withdrawn but very determined – through the

the expanding late Victorian world and ended up in the USA, where he reinvents himself as Henry M. Stanley (assumed names, but later backed by a concocted story of adoption by a wealthy cotton planter); had a series picaresque not to say bizarre series of adventures as trader, gold prospector, deserterfrom both sides in the US Civil War before finally making it at the age of 30 as journalist and heading off to Africa for he journalistic scoop of the century: ‘discovering’ missionary and explorer David Livingstone, whom his best selling book subsequently mythologizes as a saintly figure.

He then turned explorer himself making two epic journeys (in opposite directions) between Zanzibar and the mouth of the Congo, sorting out the true source of the Nile and opening up central Africa for European colonialism. His candour and exaggeration of his ruthlessness in his books, says Jeal, left him with a reputation for brutality, argues, was basically undeserved. Despite laying the some of the foundations of King Leopold’s Congo Free State, he can’t, says Jeal reckons, be held directly responsible for the atrocities of Belgian colonialism in Congo, which later transpired, but was guilty of some political misjudgements.

This thoroughly documented shades-of-grey interpretation and mildly revisionist agenda came across as basically plausibe, although left the question of how (and if) we should judge Stanley, – as well as much of the psychology that drove him – hanging in the air. Most interesting (if underplayed in the book) was the political and social context of the time that emerges: public and political attitudes to Africa is far from the gung-ho imperialist racism overlaid by a patina of religiosity that we perhaps imagined. Indeed, what is striking is how strong altruistic, humanitarian and liberal impulses seem to have be, albeit it mixed with Realpolitik and economic self-interest. Uncomfortably, recasting some of the politically incorrect language of the time, Stanley (in Jeal’s account, at least) and others emerge as a worrying modern figures concerned to deliver failed and/or underdeveloped states on the global periphery from local warlords, bringing them the benefits of development (‘civilization’), open and global markets and combating mass people trafficking (abolition of East African slave trade).

Anti-imperialism in West Europe, this time in the form of protest against and outrage about the Vietnam War and depredation of the Third World were also a driving force the story of the Baader-Meinhof group and the radical left in 1970s West Germany, as told in Aust’s reworked The Baader-Meinhof Complex, now, of course, a glossy and violent new film. Unlike Jeal’s biography which loses a bit of readability by dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, Aust’s book has fragmented episodic structure, making for a fast and compelling read . It’s easy to see why it was filmed as blockbusting political thriller-cum crime story-cum reconstruction of the 1970s.

Aust clearly knows his stuff, however, having been personally acquainted with some the leading dramais personnae and obsessively followed up the RAF story through the three decades worth of research and interviews with cops and terrorists alike. Without being too didactic, the book debunks much of the (self-)mythologization of and violent chic of the RAF as misguided but pure martyrs, showing them as a strong on verbiage, low on ideology and strategy, high on brutality (emotional and physical) and at key moments sustained by East European secret services and factions of the PLO.

There are gaps in Aust’s vividly but briefly sketched account of the West German radical and ultra-radical left of the 1960s and 1970s . However with forty years’ hindsight the sociological and ideological sources of the RAF seem clear enough: orthodox Leninist vanguardism, Maoist voluntarism; anarchist ‘propaganda of the deed’ and New Left notions of radical political engagement as a form of personal therapy; the moral ambiguity of incompletely de-Nazified West Germany and the German Social Democrats’ coming to terms with it (many RAF members were briefly members of the SPD youth); and the New Left project of students, lumpenproletariat and Third World as a substitute for the Western working class’s definitive failure to show up (again) for its appointed historical role of revolutionary vanguard.

The psychology and background key RAF personalities, however, remain as much of a cipher that of the compulsively driven Stanley and his fellow explorers/adventurers, although both seem to share a self-destructive urge and strangely toxic mix of overblown moral certainty and callous brutality. However, I couldn’t help the rather odd feeling that world of the Baader-Meinhof Complex was utlimately more distant and unfamiliar – perhaps the word I am looking for is irrelevant – than of that Stanley and late Victorian imperialism/globalization in the making.

>If I only had a brain…

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In the wake of a not too well received panto last year, this year he theatre Royal Brighton has the Wizard of Oz as its big festive show . For copyright reasons, they stick closely to the film script with only a few panto-ish touches supplied by producer (the Good Witch of the North looked suspiciously like a Good Fairy) and audience (the Wicked Witch of the East got roundly boo-ed on every appearance).
“You’ll be blown away” the poster said. Well, not quite. But it was a good time was had by all. My daughter and my niece knew the story and liked the songs, munchkins, flying monkeys, melting witches and other fairytale stuff. I liked it, of course, Wizard of Oz is actually a political allegory. A populist parable about the advance of financial and industrial capitalism in the late 19th/early 20th century US and a covert pre-Keynesian appeal for economic reflation by issuing currency backed by silver (as well as gold). As Hugh Rockoff of Rutgers University explains in The Journal of Political Economy (98: 739-60, 1990) Dorothy represents traditional rural American values, Toto the Teetotalers, an influential compoenent in the US Populist movement, the Scarecrow the farmers; the Tin Man the industrial workers; the Cowardly is Lion William Jennings Bryan the Populist Democratic and unsuccessful four time presidentiial candidate; the Munchkins are the citizens of the East Coast the Wicked Witch of the East is Democrat Grover Cleveland; the Wicked Witch of the West is Republican politician and later US President William McKinley; the Wizard Marcus Alonzo Hanna, chairman of the Republican Party; the Yellow Brick Road is the gold standard; Oz is, of course, the abbreviation for an ounce of gold (or anything else).

Others see the 1939 film, a Depression era musical concoction with multiple writers which drew on various of the many Wizard of Oz books written by L. Frank Baum earlier in the century, as a a satire on the New Deal and the technocratic Keynesian fixes it (the fraudulent Wizard adulated by the people being FDR, whose magic is less effective than good ol’ family and rural values that finally will Dorothy back to Kansas). And, of course, there are more recent parallels. Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s devasting reportage of the inadequacies and self-delusion of US occupation administrators cocooned in Iraq’s Green Zone, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, also has a WoOZ allusion (Is George W. the Scarecrow or the Wizard, though?).

For anyone interested, there’s an excellent overview of economic, political and religious allegories in the WoOZ by Quentin P. Taylor of Rogers State University, as well as a Wikipedia article on the same subject, and useful hub site with links to various critics’ essays here. And, if you’re really interested there’s also an academic book on the subject: Ranjit S. Dighe (ed.) The Historian’s Wizard of Oz — Reading L. Frank Baum’s Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory, (Praeger Publishers, 2002). Wow.

In truth, however I was most taken with bit of social satire at the end when the Wiz tells the Scarecrow not to too worry about his lack of brain:

“Why anybody can have a brain – a very mediocre commodity. ( … ) Back where I come from we have universities – seats of great learning – where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But – they have one thing you haven’t got – a diploma!’. “

He then awards the Scarecrow a Th.D., Dr. of Thinkology (Mind you, only an honorary one. – nothing too unethical here). Not sure if this is promoting wider participation in higher education drawing attention to the problem of degree inflation or just a good of populism anti-intellectual smack in the face. Still, I laughed anyway and was still smiling when forked out for some very overpriced magic wands on the way out…

Update: And, for anyone, who doesn’t like political and social allegory, there is a more or less politics-free radio essay on the Wizard of Oz, by Salman Rushdie for next week here on the BBC Radio 4 website.