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Democracy and Elections

‘The Brawl Begins’, an article about the 2016 primaries in The Economist provides the most overt manifestation of how a discourse of sports has permeated contemporary political reporting. Describing elections as a “jaw-dropping spectacle” or referring to the Iowa caucuses as the “opening round” in a political boxing match, a prime example of horse-race journalism, is particularly prevalent in presidential primary elections. This is due to the lengthening of the primary period and the truism that the “newsworthiness of what a candidate says about public policies is limited” because “once a candidate makes known his position on an issue, further statements concerning that issue decline in news value”.[1] In these elections, televised debates – which Craig Allen Smith compares to the Super Bowl, …

Five years after Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia ignited the Arab Spring. Yet while it inspired hope for democratic transition across the Middle East and North Africa, the region continues to be embroiled in civil war, terrorist networks, and crises of political legitimacy. In Syria and Bahrain, dictators used violence to thwart protests, leading to a prolonged civil war in Syria. In Yemen, despite the dictator’s negotiated transfer of power, rival sectarians are vying for power. In Tunisia and Egypt, dictators stepped down without much bloodshed. Lastly, in Libya, rebels overthrew the dictator with foreign military aid, but soon succumbed to factional warfare. This article will explore the interlude of democratic or semi-democratic politics in Tunisia, Egypt and …

The vote to leave the EU was an outcome which surprised most commentators, bookies, and even those who voted for the winning side. In the aftermath of the result, John Gray, a popular political theorist, wrote that ‘voters inflicted the biggest shock on the establishment since Churchill was ousted in 1945’. It is hard to think that he is wrong. The only social classes which predominately voted Remain were ABs (affluent and middle-class voters), whereas C1 C2 DE (lower middle-class and working-class) voters all delivered majorities for Leave. As I predicted on this blog in January and contrary to many commentators’ expectations, the referendum engaged more voters than recent general elections. It generated the highest turnout in a UK election …

Following the vote to leave the European Union, there has been a sudden upsurge in racist incidents in Britain. The wave of hate has taken many people by surprise, and has laid bare some of the tensions and divisions eating away at the heart of the United Kingdom. It has also called into question Britain’s claim to be a liberal and inclusive multicultural society, leading to considerable soul searching. A state that has often spoken out against identity politics and prejudice abroad is now facing up to the reality that these issues need to be addressed back home. Predictably and understandably, much of the recent commentary as focussed on the divisive referendum campaign and the fact that the UK voted …

A cornered government, a legislative short of legitimacy, a contaminated judiciary and polarised protesters put Brazilian institutional balance to the test. Immoral deals, Machiavellian manoeuvres and outright dishonesty. No wonder comparisons between Brazilian politics and the American TV show House of Cards are tempting and widespread. Even Netflix made the connection to promote the release of its fourth series in Brazil. This clever marketing initiative prompted Maurício Santoro, a political scientist, to joke on Twitter that “Netflix is the only institution enjoying the trust and esteem of Brazilians these days.” But Brazil’s plight is not fiction, and the quip accompanies a concerning realisation. For some time, even in the face of turmoil and economic meltdown, it was possible to believe …

As any country with a minimally functioning democracy, Brazil has an ambivalent relationship with its mass media. And as in all countries with a minimally functioning market economy, Brazilian mass media have been disrupted by personalised digital platforms. Understanding To two elements, and how they became entangled, is essential if we are to grasp the role of the media in the social turmoil that has engulfed Brazil in the past year or so. But in spite of their deep flaws, newspapers and broadcasters cannot be blamed for the toxic political environment that has taken over the country.

In October and November, two citizens’ assemblies will be taking place in Sheffield and Southampton. Organised by a coalition of academics and civil society organisations under the banner Democracy Matters, Assembly North and Assembly South represent significant interventions in contemporary British politics. First, the assemblies will be dealing with a fundamental constitutional question: how should we be governed? The main focus of the assemblies will be devolution and decentralisation of power to English regions. The Devolution Deals that are current government policy are piecemeal reforms. And as the term ‘Deal’ suggests, they are stitched together by local and national elites: citizens have had no say in how they should be governed. Following the much publicised Devolution Deal for Greater Manchester, …

The EU looks, walks and talks like an empire. After extending its borders into Central and Eastern Europe, the EU has just created its third protectorate in the Balkans. From now on Greece will effectively be run by the EU the way Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina already are. Empire is not a synonym of evil despite some bad historical connotations, especially from the colonial era. Power can be exercised in noble ways, and peripheries often prefer to be “conquered” than abandoned. However, the EU’s ambition to run dysfunctional countries by decree is doomed to fail and will represent yet another blow to the project of European integration. Formal involvement of the UN or the IMF in running the protectorates will not …