With London experiencing its first heat wave in recent memory, members of the Department of Politics at Birkbeck write about their favourite summer fiction with a political theme. Recommendations range from Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup to Don DeLillo’s Mao II. Continue reading

By: Troy

It would appear absurd and self-defeating to remove a sitting Prime Minister less than 3 months before a general election and return a leader who had himself been removed from office only 3 years previously. After all divided parties do not win elections. The Rudd-Gillard soap opera may be a personal battle for supremacy of a dysfunctional Australian Labor party, but its roots lie in systematic and elite driven party politics. The simple answer as to why the Australian Labor party ousted Gillard last month and Rudd in 2010 is that they could and they had previous. Since 1945, there have been several challenges to sitting Prime Ministers in the party room and numerous examples of party leadership churn out of office in both main parties. Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton was challenged shortly after winning the 1969 election and again in 1971 when famously a tied vote saw him casting the deciding vote against himself. Andrew Peacock failed to unseat Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in 1981. Under Labor, Bob Hawke managed to see off Paul Keating’s first party room challenge in 1991 but after a destabilising 6 month backbench campaign from Keating, lost the premiership. Rudd’s comeback is not so unusual. As Pat Weller observed the vanquished in Australian politics are reluctant to leave the stage. Challengers regroup and fight again as Keating did in 1991, but also leaders can hang around to fight to regain the crown as John Howard did successfully and Peacock unsuccessfully in the Liberal party. Continue reading

I have spent a good deal of time recently writing the third edition of my textbook Contemporary Russia. The temptation with a second, third, (presumably fourth or even – heaven forfend – fifth) edition is to simply update rather than re-write. Succumbing to that temptation would not only short-change the reader a little, but it wouldn’t do justice to the subject. Continue reading

Modern societies are infinitely complex entities. But every now and then singular events furnish a surprising, if ephemeral, sense of clarity. Turkey’s recent Gezi Park crisis is one fitting example. What began as an innocuous sit-in against the proposed development of a small green space adjoining Istanbul’s main Taksim Square quickly escalated into a prolonged nation-wide uprising, courtesy of gross government miscalculation to try and quash the protestors with disproportionate force. The result: two weeks of clashes that left in its wake five dead, thousands injured, and an ever deeper schism between PM Erdoğan’s conservative rule and the secular segments of Turkish society. In the process the country’s image as a calm harbour in a turbulent region has been heavily tarnished, the exact economic and political costs of which remain to be priced. For information on the events and some interesting commentary, see here, here and here. What clarity can we glean from these events? Mainly, that the recent policy path of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) is no longer sustainable, as I argue in four broad points below. It is high time the AKP come to terms with plain realities on the ground and retool its priorities. Continue reading

Politicians’ speeches are often peppered with the word ‘responsibility’. Take this speech by David Cameron in 2010. After telling us that responsibility ‘is central to my beliefs, my politics, the change I want to bring to this country’, he states that it ‘is the value that elevates a collection of human beings to a civilisation – and building this responsible society is the avowed mission of the modern Conservative Party.’ Shortly afterwards he claims that responsibility ‘is not a value that simply exists in the ether, or can be injected there by government – it is a value that can only find life and expression in the decisions and actions of individuals’. Continue reading

Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist in the Cabinet Office under Tony Blair and leading immigration advocate, recently penned a critical review of David Goodhart’s The British Dream – a book which takes aim at Blair’s generous immigration intake. Knowing both men personally, as well as their views, I cannot but come away with an impression that the two have very different notions of national identity. Both have American-Jewish family background, but Portes’ Englishness tends toward the multicultural whereas Goodhart’s is anchored in a political nationalism rooted in historic traditions. The divide seems incommensurable, but maybe it’s not: rather than a one-size-fits-all national identity imposed from above, what if British national identity could emerge from below? Continue reading

The G8 summit in Lough Erne last month produced precious few policy commitments, but it served once again as a fascinating focal point for transnational advocacy networks. Among the more innovative contributions in this regard was agit8, a campaign by ONE to encourage the leaders of eight of the world’s largest economies and the European Union (EU) to end extreme poverty by 2030. ONE is an advocacy group founded by U2 lead singer Bono in 2004 that seeks to raise consciousness among policy-making elites about extreme poverty and preventable diseases rather than funds from the general public. In keeping with this mission, agit8 steered clear of the traditional charity single trope by inviting well-known musicians to contribute their favourite protest songs to an online campaign designed to draw attention to the decisions taken by G8 leaders in Lough Erne. Among the protest songs chosen here were standards such as the Clash’s London Calling, Bob Dylan’s Masters of War and the Specials AKA’s Free Nelson Mandela. Bono’s own contribution to this catalogue, a new acoustic version of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, was a curious one. Continue reading

It may be a year and half since Occupy London was evicted from their site at St Paul’s cathedral but the movement continues in its efforts to rethink the existing social and political order in the light of the global financial crisis.  In retrospect, one of the more interesting aspects of the St Paul’s protest was the Occupy London’s economics working group’s engagement with the work of F.A. Hayek (Occupy London, 2012).  This engagement has attracted much critical attention, focusing on the appropriateness or otherwise of the claim that the structure of the movement bears certain similarities to Hayek’s conception of social order (Hayek, 1960; 1982).  Not only am I largely sympathetic to the views and demands of Occupy, but I also admire the attempt of its intellectual wing to subvert liberal capitalism from within, by appropriating the ideas of its most relentless defender.  But I’m not at all convinced that Hayek’s conception of spontaneous order and of the distribution of knowledge in society lends itself well for this purpose. Continue reading

What do our politicians read? The preferred reading options of our leading politicians don’t tell us too much about what they think or want to do. David Cameron’s favourite book is the anti-war memoir of poet Robert Graves Goodbye to All That-though he gave the slightly less highbrow (but presumably more useful) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as his desert island discs choice. Ed Milband offered up the more current On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (and his favourite invention was the internet). Nick Clegg gave a rather wide ranging list which included Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr and Two Concepts of Liberty by Isaiah Berlin. Nigel Farage’s favourite book is The Thirty Nine Steps, John Buchanan’s classic story of thwarted foreign plots, and, perhaps less predictably, his favourite European country is Italy. There’s more US politicians favourite reads here. So what could I recommend for them to read over the summer? Continue reading