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>Howard Dean for President? A virtual shoo-in

Howard Dean in the White House? In your dreams… but also in the latest session of that political anorak’s equivalent to computer solitaire, President Forever.

And a surprisingly easy victory over George W Bush it proved too. The more liberal Dean starts at a disadvantage compared to Kerry (running as Vice President in this scenario), but still has to target and win essentially the same states. This I duly did with a mix of advertising – moving away from the war onto domestic policy themes, which had more impact in battleground states – and building up a party machine in key states, which I guess the real Dean did in an innovative way via the internet – the dynamics of which are interestingly analyzed by inter-alia by Michael Goldfarb in the Power of Small Things.

In the fantasy election of 2004, Dean won key industrial states in the East and mid-West and the West Coast and nabbed a couple of Southern states, where Bush was weakening (Arizona, New Mexico) to come in with a comfortable if not huge majority of electoral college votes with state-by-state voting pretty polarized and few close results.

Perhaps it is not that unrealistic. Bush appears to have won in 2004 by mobilizing his base, rather than reaching out to the uncommitted, so could the Democrats have done the same?. Even allowing for the gaffes like the I Have a Scream speech, Dean does not seem to rank as a worse or less charismatic performer than Bush or the wooden Kerry. So the moderate instincts of Democratic primary voters seeking a military man/veteran capable of winning the centre ground might not have been well placed. On the other hand, Bush started out as a ‘war-time’ incumbent with a greater level of support than any Democratic challenger, so this may not have been a very viable strategy for the Democrats

>My life as Ross Perot

> And keeping up the populist theme, I missed the football once again to play Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign in the ever popular election simulation game President Forever. I had assumed that Perot was a rather way out populist but as the game and a little research make clear, the eccentric Texan billionaire had a moderately conservative – economically and socially liberal (pro-choice, anti-deficit) programme, which also favoured targeted federal spending increases on education and regeneration. He was economically nationalist –

indeed isolationist – favouring a restrictive stance on immigration, protection of domestic industry and an avoidance of foreign entanglement in Bosnia and Somail – and , of course, in favour of populist (perhaps in a US context I should write Populist) measures such as party funding reform, electronic town hall meetings etc. Nothing that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Demos pamphlet, it seems….

Using Perot’s financial clout and a bit of background knowledge gleaned from the excellent US Election Atlas site – I focused on a few states, hoping to win a few electoral college votes (which the real Perot never managed) and complicate the election of either George H W or Bill Clinton by denying either a majority in the electoral college – then I think it goes to the US Senate.

In the end, I managed win seven states (top left image), those where the real Perot polled best in 1992, Maine, Alaska and five states in the North West. I missed out on Montana and Kansas, but won 30 electoral colleague votes. I didn’t, however, manage to better the 19% of the national vote that the real Ross P got.Meanwhile a fairly even contest the two frontrunners turned into a Bush landslide, although both main protagonists ignored the Big Mo of my Perot campaign, which t focused resources on building up a campaign machine deploying by a big advertising budget in its populist heartland. American Election Atlas (map to the right) interestingly shows that these same states (Alaska and Maine excepted) were also the core of support for Populist Party in 1892.

A subsequent game (bottom left image) saw Perot achieve even greater success, taking 10 states, 21% of the national vote and 74 Electoral College votes. Here, in exaggerated the result echoed the real outcome in 1992. The big loser this time was George HW Bush, who with a mere 34% of the national poll was crushed by Clinton (some eight points ahead) taking only 134 Electoral College votes. Perot’s big prize this time was Texas, Bush’s home state, which the Perot campaign turned to late on in having secured commanding leads in the ‘populist states of the North West and won by 1% with 36% of the vote.

I think Ross P might with good luck and great tactics perhaps also have a chance at Florida and California, suggesting he could take a maximum of perhaps 170 Electoral College votes. Still way off the 270 needed to get to the White House.Still, I was very proud of myself, although true afficionandos on the game’s web forum claim Perot can actually win…

>Unpeeling the Orange Revolution

> Stayed up late to watch an excellent BBC4 documentary Inside the Orange Revolution about Ukraine’s 2004 transition from semi-authoritarianism. Like the best BBC documentaries it achieved a good balance between compelling TV, insider interviews and personal stories. It was also analytical enough to capture some subtleties and complexities– the legitimate interests and concerns of the industrial Russian-speaking Blue camp; the circulation of some not quite so new elites in the Orange movement; the extremism of the some ultra-nationalist element in West Ukraine living off the interwar/war time Ukrainian Insurgent Army tradition, who formed part of the Orange coalition (co-opted and kept in check by its more liberal, pro-Western leaders).

What struck me is how Velvet Revolutions have now become a strategy for toppling semi-authoritarian regimes centring on that classic flashpoint of illiberal democracy: rigged elections. The ingredients seem to be: broad coalitions and political moderation; large peaceful festive crowds; international media attention; pressure on security sector and previously tame judicial structures; ‘branding’ of the movement through symbols and a label; and good funding and careful preparation – the Orange catering operation, tent city in Kiev’s Independence Square put up by specially recruited former camp site employees

What was striking is how the Revolution was ‘staged’ not in the sense that some left-wing (and occasionally right-wing) critics have argued: that it was an externally directed Trojan Horse for capitalism and US interests, but in the sense of being a familiar situation, strategized for by all sides, rather than the spontaneous, improvised leap in the dark of Czechoslovakia in 1989. There is now even a computer game simulating peaceful transition to democracy A Force More Powerful

Doubtless President Putin has learned a few lessons even if, like me, he has not had time to download the game …

>Reporting for doo-ty (and losing of course) – I am John Kerry

> Gave the Holland-Argentina gamea miss to try out 80Soft’s US election simulator President Forever – thrown in for a mere £3.00 to with the British version of the game PM Forever. P4E is an altogether grander affair– huge campaign budget of $74 million and a Vice-Presidential candidate to barnstorm and fund raise.

Despite not knowing my Arkansas from my elbow as far as swing states are concerned – apart from the few big states I was ashamed to realise I hardly knew one from another on the map- I fought a tough and negative campaign. I made some fairly ghastly mistakes, of course– campaigning too hard early on then fading badly in California (luckily the Golden State quickly came good); underspending on advertising, leaving $16 million still in the kitty on election day; and finally driving Kerry to exhaustion and then reeling desperately to spin bad news when the Senator had to two days R&R in the final week.

In the end, however, did give I George W a run for his money. In fact did better than the real Kerry. As with Al Gore in 2000 I actually outpolled Dubya, but lost by 30 electoral college votes after losing Florida (27 votes) by 0.5% which would have delivereda narrow Democrat win. Ironically, Florida was one of the few states whose importance (or location) I actually was aware of. Repeated barnstorming and targeted ads on Bush couldn’t get me beyond level pegging in the Sunshine Sun. Perhaps a close look at the demographics or might have helped, or maybe brother Jeb had a hand.

In the end, I was rather unnervedjust how geographically limited the Democrat vote is even when they almost win,. Even allowing for population density basically New England, the Eastern seaboard and the West Coast. Hair raising too justhow high the stakes are given the small number of electoral units (50) – and still smaller number of large and/or swing states .The UK election is a more localised battle over 650 UK constituencies. Readers in Des Moines will be pleased to know that as Kerry I won Iowa,.

>Prickly customer

> At the World Cup the Czechs have been checked – and in the end comprehensively outplayed – by Ghana. So much for the computer programme that predicted the Czechs would win the tournament. Strange how in the World Cup globalization has proved the great equalizer, sucking in players from across the globe – and beyond the old Iron Curtain – to European leagues making a much more even competition of the Weltmeisterschaft.

Meanwhile, in the back garden finally weeding out the overgrown herbaceous borders has revealed, of all things, a buried pottery hedgehog. He is now on display and named Tomáš. Quite why the previous owner of the house – a retired official at Mid-Sussex District Council – would bury a pottery hedgehog this I can’t imagine. Suburban white witchcraft to keep down his council tax down perhaps?

>CER – palliative care for EU foreign policy

> Another interesting briefing from the Centre for European Reform.

Charles Grant and Mark Leonard ‘How to strengthen EU foreign policy, CER, 30 May 2006

A cogent diagnosis of the woes of EU foreign policy (lack of a common strategy or effecrive forum for reaching one – CFSP is essentially reactive and often takes form of crisis management; member states’ lack of ownership of the policy that does exist and EU foreign policy institutions that try to implement it; failure to co-ordinate policy areas; over rigorousness of financial controls on aid and democracy promotion budgets – this might being a smile to a eurosceptic’s face) focusing on lacking well co-ordinated and clear institutional mechanism to implement it (split between EU Presidency, High Representative and Commissioner for External Affairs troika; inefficiency of rotating Presidency; poor co-ordination and turf wars between Council and Commission).

The ‘solution’ sans EU Constitution – the nubs of the problem the paper addresses – and its proposed streamlining reforms according to the paper to a byzantine set of ad hoc, informal arrangement aimed at better co-ordination: more space for discussion/strategic big thinking, and ad hoc streamling through the use Commission or High Rep as an unofficial Foreign Minister in external, creation of more ‘contact groups’. I note with interest reference to Polish-Lithuania contact group on Ukraine and the suggestion that EU spending on European Initiatve on Democracy and Human Rights managed by the Commission should be diverted into a new European agency (another one!) modelled on the US NED or German Stiftungen.

>Too big a tent

> British politics usually bore the pants off me. I am unfortunately just the kind of lazy, not-really-engaged, not-really-informed member of ‘informed public’ described in the previous entry. Perhaps I might flatter myself with Pippa Norris’s label of ‘engaged non-partisan’, but that would be pushing it. My political interests are of course skewed towards the theoretical and the East Central European. The days when I read the British politics pages in the paper or sat up all night for the election results are long over.

However, for a mixture of family and other reasons one thing made me sit up and tune in a bit this week. I was depressed to see the government’s Education Bill finally bulldozed through the Commons by a coalition of New Labour and ‘New Tory’ votes. I worry about both the bill itself content and the way was passed.

First, as grand reform it seems back-of-envelope stuff that should alarm even the most dyed in the wool pragmatist. Quite how allowing the country’s secondary publicly funded school’s to transform themselves into quasi-private trusts with educational input from the likes of Tesco and assorted fundamentalist Christians, nobody knows. Its whole rationale as a measure empowering the excluded rests on the dubious assumption that it will empower the educationally excluded via some quasi-market mechanism (‘choice’) raising efficiency and quality (‘standards’).

The Bill is also the latest act on the war on local government initiative by Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s dressed up as a decentralizing measure (the ‘new localism’). To me the logic of the reform seems a bizarre mixture of populism (‘parent power’ ) and technocracy (‘empowering headteachers’), which cuts even limited democratic accountability that local council control offered down into the weaker, more fragmented and more manipulable structures of school governing bodies – not all of whose members will be fully elected. It also means probable destruction of even half special needs provision and services such educational psychology, which the rump Local Education Authorities left by the bill will struggle to hold together in the face of autonomous secondary school trusts, let alone enforce. Not only will the socio-economically and educationally less well resourced be pushed aside by the sharp elbows of the middle classes, but children with special needs will also go to the wall.

This particular legacy of Tony Blair, like that other great piece of top-down ‘reform’ the PM helped initiate – the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq – is likely to be bitter and chaotic – with added bonus that as taxpayers and citizens, if not cash-rich enough opt into real private education, will only bankroll a fragmented mess, but having to education our children in and through it too

Interestingly, the bill’s passing also seems to highlight the emergence of a submerged Grand Coalition running through the Blairite ‘left’, the Cameroonian ‘right’ and – although the liberals disciplinedly voted against it en bloc – the pro-market Orange Book ‘centre’, who will surely assert themselves as Ming Campbell proves the worthy failure that anyone with a sense of modern media politics could have predicted.

I picked up a copy of the Daily Telegraph in the children’s soft play area of the local leisure centre where I spent the morning today and noted that the latest poll (Cameron up, Blair down) also shows 14% support for minor parties – the Greens, BNP and UKIP, divided roughly evenly between each – although the BNP are apparently down from a 7% level recorded around the time local elections, when local breakthroughs generated national publicity – one of the far right’s greatest assets is the almost sexual fascination for both journalists and academics alike

To some extent this pattern seems to re-run of the cycle of British politics the late 1960s/1970s when tepid managerialist politics generated electoral gains for (then) marginal parties the Liberals, National Front, Scottish Nationalist and to a much lesser extent the far-left (whose noses were buried in industrial disputes, new social movements and revolutionary fantasies.

The difference this time seems to be that there is no Thatcherite free-market right waiting in the wings to offer a neat radical ‘solution’ to our problems packaged in a coherent all encompassing narrative. Indeed, the ‘solution’ is now the new mainstream, whose logic is slowly being extended to – viz the Education Bill – and whose ‘achievements’ (deregulated economy, privatized utilities etc) are being managed and tweaked by the country’s main political forces, now, as suggested, occupying different wings of a David Beckham-sized Big Tent.

Bivouac-ed outside are few small groups of Flag, Faith and Family moral conservatives, Social Democrats who remember the pre-Blair Labour Party, Europhobe Little Englanders, Greens, hard left socialists, politically engaged Muslims and assorted independents. This submerged ‘party system’ – which may if a deadlocked election and hung parliament in 2009-10 yields electoral reform – may quickly emerge from the family 2 ½ party system we now have is in its own way more depressing that the dire new secondary education system waiting to come to life.

>No need to know

The FT weekend magazine, picked up on the train last week and read as a break from work today, is a surprisingly intelligent read. John Lloyd (‘Need to know basis’, FTmagazine 20-21 May 2006, 10) reviews an inaugural lecture by City University Professor of Journalism Adrian Monckton on ‘Does the Public Does Deserve the News’

A free press giving extensive, accurate objective current affairs coverage Lloyd reflects is an effective and meaningful watchdog only in grimly semi-authoritarian ‘illiberal democracies’. In advanced democracies, any hard fought journalistic reporting of the truth – and let’s for the moment avoid the whole post-modern shtik about the world as fragmented, historically contingent set of shifting discursively constructed ‘truth regimes’ – neither morally transforms nor act as an agent of reform, as academically inclined journalists have long liked to think – except on occasion when a striking image cuts through the ether and makes the citizenry sit up on its sofas.

Otherwise, say Monckton, the democratic public, even the well educated public– as per the Stealth Democracy argument– does not systematically engage with politics but tunes in and tunes out as according to whether when it sees its interests affected or not (usually not). As Monckton argues, the public knows that electoral competition and a 24/7 current news media badgering politicians will keep the political class in check even if the public can’t bothered to follow the news or engage in the political process most of the time. As Monkton argues the ‘informed public’ is thus just another civic minded myth always somewhere over the rainbow, over the Atlantic or secreted away somewhere in the past.

In reality, the media spurred on a mixture of market forces and the illusions of thinking hacks that they are social critics or- like a milder, better paid version of East European dissent- tellers of truth to power descends into a mixture of infotainment, brute Fox TV style polemicmould or the carefully crafted nuggets of propaganda posing as news that we are familiar with in the UK.

But surely this can come as news only to a superior class hack like John Lloyd…

>The Association of…. Actually Pretty Useful Tactics


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

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)