Archive | February, 2010

>Tory story


Our piece on the European Conservatives and Reformers group in Political Quarterly gets the once over from one of the bloggers on Conservative Home. It is, alas, not a very insightful commentary as, as well confusing the Civic Democrats (ODS) with Poland’s Civic Platform in the initial posting and for good measure implying that ODS leader Miroslav Topolánek has just taken over as head of Poland’s other main party, Law and Justice, it spends most of its time on auto-pilot rebutting the charge sheet of media criticism of the ECR summarise dat the start of the article (which we don’t agree with).
I suppose that’s what comes from being in the trenches of the party political blogosphere churning out comment and criticism to keep whatever side you on supplied with ammunition and dutifully toe-ing the party line, or pussyfooting around i (in this case we are asked to belivethat the Tories’ East European allies are a market friendly proper centre-right, whereas similar parties not interested in the ECR embrace like Hungary’s Fidesz are evil populist baddies).

Like a lot of politics lecturers, I know, while it fascinates me, the the whole me good/you bad bullshit world of partisan politics also rather appals.

For the first time in very a long while, I almost feel glad to be an academic…

>Greying democracies


As Facebook and other contacts may know, I have research interest in interest-group politics and ageing societies in CEE, so it was a pleasure to review Achim Goerres’s recent book The Political Participation of Older People in Europe: The Greying of Our Democracies. (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2009). In the book, Goerres, who has been one of the pioneers in comparatively exploring the political consequences of population ageing in European democracies offers a characteristically empirically thoroughly comparative study of the political participation of older people in 21 European democracies, including the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia.

The book skilfully unpacks the notion of ‘old age’ into a series of age-related factors, which Georres argues fall into three broad categories: 1) life cycle effects such as the transition to retirement; 2) political generational effects linked to political socialization in youth; and 3) socio-economic cohort effects linked to (post-) modernization trends affecting successive (rising educational levels; and individual ageing effects such as the tendency to habituate to social norms with age. After presenting an ‘age-related model of political participation’ which basically integrates these factors into a modified resource perspective, the book considers older people’s electoral turnout; party choice; membership in parties and interest groups; and involvement in unconventional direct forms of participation.

Goerres relies mainly on number crunching quantitative techniques usually examining individual level survey data to gauge age-related effects which he them statistically interacts these findings with country-specific factors to account for further variation. The chapter on party choice, however, uses a paired country comparison of Germany UK), while quantitative findings on unconventional participation are supplemented by a chapter based on interviews with British pensioner activists protesting the impact of local property taxes.

The book’s findings are rich and complex, but the overall picture they present is one of a shifting complex of age-related factors shaping older people’s participation, sometimes working against one, sometimes important only in combination with country-specific factors, but always varying in significance according to the specific form of participation under review. Interesting general findings running through the book include the role played by life experience in substituting for formal education as an influence on participation and tendency of younger citizens to participate more in societies with higher proportions of pensioners or more strongly pro-senior public opinion. There’s not much on institutions and limited cross country comparison, but overall, it’s clearly written, thorough and original book offers a corrective to superficial notions that population ageing is turning Western democracies into gerontocracies subject to a growing monolithic ‘grey vote’ or a war of generations– see this week’s Economist on David Willets- and offers an excellent springboard for the development of the more sophisticated political science agenda on ‘greying democracies’ Goerres calls for.

>Traces of nuts may be detectable


The mildy controversial article Tim Bale, Aleks Szczerbiak and I wrote for Political Quarterly about the British Tories and their East European allies in the new European Conseravtives and Reformers Group (ECR) European Parliament has just appeared – interested readers based in universities with an institutional subscription to PQ might like to click through here. Otherwise, friends and colleagues, please feel free to drop me an email to ask for an electronic offprint.
The new ECR group, however, looks a bit more shaky than it might have done a few months ago, if the recent interview with Civic Democrat faction leader in the EP Miroslav Ouzký, who pulls no punches in telling Czech news magazine Respekt that the leaving the European People’s Party was a bad move, depriving his party of political clout and was the brainchild of arch-eurosceptic and one time Klaus protege, Jan Zahradil (now the Vice-Chair of ECR). The ECR’s dependence on small one MEP parties, Ouzký says – as we too argued in the article (seealso an East European oriented presentation I did on the subject last year fwith some figures) leaves it vulnerable to collapse.

My co-author, Tim Bale, is also author of new book on the British Tories, which he describes here in a podcast on the Bookhugger site. I had a small enabling role here, as it was recording in my office: a fact obvious by default for anyone who knows it in that Tim is seated in front of the only area not cluttered with untidy piles of books, papers and coffee cups: the space-age window-cum-porthole which sometimes leaves me feeling more like Major Tom than Dr Sean.

>Model pupils

>André Krouwel’s well received presentation at SSEES about party transformation – which drew on earlier doctoral research specializing on Otto Kitscheimer and the ‘ctach-all’ made a number of very valuable, and possibly long overdue points about the way political scientists have studied parties: there has been a profusion of party ‘models’ on offer, many saying essentially the same thing using different labels and usually (over)emphasisng one particular aspect of party change (ideology, organization, or whatever) depending on the most striking developments of the moment or the cases on which authors were most familiar.

While model-heavy much party scholarship, he pointedly suggested, was evidence-light: either the data was not there or was not easily accessible (historical party development; contemporary parties’ use of state resources) or it posed methodological headaches (problems of coding pary programmes and documentation; obtaining data on small parties grouped as ‘others’ in even official statistics.

A ruthless synthesis of the many (often redundant) models was therefore in order and clearly André offered us one breaking party development into several dimensions and – for practical purposes – superficially rather recognisable historical phases: more radical, however, was the implicit suggestion in his work that party scholars‘ model-making and model fitting obsessions have led them to think in the wrong terms: rather than studying parties and typees of party – more often than not trying to pin them down in terms of various ideal-typical models – they (we) should be studying and comparing different types of party transformation.

At one time, I thought this a weakness of East European party studies – the unusual historical circumstances of CEE tending to buckle models based on West European experiences – but now I wonder if it is a more general affliction. In party studies, it seems, the Emperor has no clothes – due to weak and patchy data – but he may have been claiming to be wearing the wrong kind of clothes in the first place. Refreshingly, as well Andrew offered us to no underlying Grand Narrative of party development: there are many transformations in many directions, depending on historical circumstances. Some parties, such as the Dutch Socialist for example – an East Europeanist might think of Hungary’s Fidesz as a parall, have atavistically re-invented mass membership and ancilliary organizations.