Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In the name of democracy?

Labour's former 'big beasts' are clamouring for a leadership contest, the media read this as being a Blairite coup to prevent their nemesis Gordon Brown sweeping away the old guard of Tony's cronies; but are there other readings?

How about that there was a negative reaction within the party and among voters when Michael Howard was given the Brutus role in the departure of Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. The idea of the potential next prime minister being imposed was greeted with hostility, so what about the actual PM? Perhaps some in the Labour hierarchy may be thinking not of themselves but of democracy, that a contest is needed and that we need to see what the potential candidates may have to offer.

However I would go further with my demands, let us not let Labour decide, after all this will just extend patronage within camps, but let the country decide. This is Labour's leader, true! But this is to be our leader, should we not decide if we are a democratic nation? Or would this be against all the reasoning behind Clarke et al demanding a contest?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What does citizenship mean?

Anyone wishing to come to the UK is to take part in a citizenship ceremony and may be asked to work in the community prior to their application for citizenship being granted. This is Gordon Brown's latest contribution to the immigration debate. But what does it mean to be a citizen?

There are the basics: paying taxes, obeying laws - fine! But the suggestions are that citizenship should go beyond this. It questions issues of culture: is there a 'UK' culture? Does it go beyond watching football and soap operas, binge drinking and eating curry? Should everyone speak English? What about devotees of Welsh and Gaelic then? Some talk of national identity, though Brown would use this more to attach Scottish nationalism. Then there is saluting the flag or the Queen. Suddenly all republicans on Labour backbenches are nervous?
A Telegraph article from 2005, written by Political Sociology Professor Anthony King, talks of feeling British, identifying with key symbols, images and elements of history. Others identify a vague idea of a 'British way of life' enshrined in the mythical constitution; another reason why any citizenship test is a dubious notion. So where does this leave us, how are would be citizens going to be tested on their conformity to Britain?
The answer seems that no-one is actually going to say. There is no 'pledge of allegiance' - yet! The other problem is that this becomes bundled up with terrorism. So is the test really about whether the immigrant is going to have loyalties to the Muslim faith, regardless of whether that is extreme or not? A bigger question is, how many of those of us who can claim to have British blood would pass the test? So what should be on this test? What does it really mean to be a citizen of a nation: feelings and reverence for symbols or an actual contribution to the nation. Many immigrants make the latter, but still feel supportive towards the sporting teams of their previous or ancestral home, surely this cannot mean they are un-British?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

If blogging is the answer...

Yes, you guessed it, ...what is the question. According to Captain Sensible, founder of the Blah Party, Councillor Stephen Tall, Lib-Dem blogger of the year, among others; blogging and the Internet more generally is the way that politicians can connect to their public. But is this really true?

Clearly some MPs can connect to some of the public via the web, Boris Johnson gains a lot of feedback on his blog, and Anne Widdecombe's Widdyweb seems to get a lot of hits; is this making a connection though. There are huge issues of access for many, there is also the question of involvement, or more simply how many of the public are really motivated to seek out their or any MP on the web. Yet the current culture is that every organisation or individual that seeks public attention and support (in whatever form) must be online. It is hyped as the nirvana of communication and image management, but is this true?

The real answer is that we don't yet know. Like any form of communication it works, for some individuals, among a section of the public, for certain purposes etc, etc. Measurement of effect is not impossible, but it is difficult; arguably there is potential for vote winning and connecting but it remains limited. What is surprising is that some MPs appear to have total faith in the idea of an online presence with almost religious zeal: so are the prophets? Or prats as Benjamin Wegg-Prosser was recently described? More importantly are resources being channelled into the web presence that are more effective elsewhere, this is the big question that perhaps many MPs have faced and their zealotry is partly an expression of trying to convince themselves. History, one day, will show us whether they were right or not!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The X Factor

Polls indicate that voters would prefer John Reid or indeed just someone else than Gordon Brown to be the next UK PM. While some could extrapolate from other popularity polls that David Cameron is the preferred long term choice, see the Guardian for an example, this may not be as clear cut as all that.

Dave Brown, a Lecturer in the School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology, commented at yesterday's conference that voters are seeking someone with the 'X Factor', a person with all the characteristics that we are looking for to solve the problems we as a nation are facing. This is probably someone we trust to handle the issues of importance but the connection would be as emotional and perceptual as it would be based upon their ability to present a coherent programme. Brown commented that the US may have that person in Barack Obama, he observes there is no such candidate in the UK.

I was initially dismissive, but perhaps Dave Brown has a point. Our politicians do not inspire us. Familiarity does not engender understanding or liking but contempt, and longevity leads to ennui. This presents all the parties with a problem, their top tier have been around quite a while yet fail to really connect with the voter's ideal party leaders - is there a solution?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Voters, Consumers, Or??

Been organising a conference/workshop on top of the usual so blogging has not been a priority over the last weeks. Conference over and things may be different!!

Said conference asked whether voters are thinking as consumers or being treated as consumers by the political parties and government. Discussions approached the question from several directions and, as is normal for academics, we still dont have a definitive answer!

But perhaps that is not just because academics have their own views and these will always counter the view of the last contributor, that is largely not the case. Perhaps though it is one of those questions that can be answered in a variety of ways depending on the perspective.

So here is one thought, we are voters and consumers and citizens, but only any one of them at our choosing. And actually there is huge overlap between our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours when wearing each of the hats because underneath each 'label' we are individuals. Some may consume politics for entertainment, others view government outputs using their knowledge from the consumer part of their life experiences, some do buy consumables as a global citizen etc, etc. Labels are great,but the boxes we construct for individuals may not actually fit them well; hence we struggle in understanding what it is that motivates voting.