Jul 22 2016

From Brexit to Trump: Why mobilising anger in a constructive way is now one of the key challenges in modern politics

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By Sonja Avlijaš

Following Brexit, anger is palpable and omnipresent. Scrolling through Twitter as I write this, I find countless examples of anger on social media: Brexit was a cry of anger and frustration, anger of those left behind by globalisation, working-class anger, nationalist anger, Europeans in the UK are angry, anger at the European Parliament, anger produces unusual alliances…

Those disillusioned because of the Leave vote are angry too. Their anger is leading them to question and delegitimise the democratic process: This should have been a qualified majority vote; the UK cannot leave if some of its regions are against it; the over 65 year-olds and the uneducated got us into this predicament; it is not legal to base a political campaign on lies.

In short, anger matters. Our elites have been in denial on the role that the human experience and the emotions associated with it play in the political process. Technocrats and economists have been calmly trying to fix the euro while Greece has been facing a humanitarian catastrophe. The Silicon Valley techies are looking to end human mortality and build life on Mars, while the Bay area is facing a severe crisis of homelessness.

This twisted ambition to perfect the future human experience shows great intolerance towards accepting humanity as it is today, in all its imperfections. This imperfection is reflected in our mortality and our inability to predict the future or control uncertainty and a whole spectrum of good and bad emotions that arise from that predicament. Walter Weisskopf argued in the 1950s that neoclassical economics has the same psychological effect as valium – it is meant to soothe the human anxiety that stems from our inability to topple uncertainty by telling us that the world can be controlled and predictable. I would dare to extend the same diagnosis to the ongoing hi-tech revolution.

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Jul 12 2016

The battle lines have been etched

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By Max Hänska

Latent tensions became manifest with the result of the Brexit referendum, etching the battle line that will define the struggles ahead. Those who have embraced and built their lives around our liberal-cosmopolitan global order, and found opportunity in open markets, are now pitted against those who see themselves as excluded, maligned, and disenfranchised by this order, and those who plainly think their identity should matter more than it does. While the former have adapted, and exploited the opportunities globalisation has offered, the latter have risen to rebel against it.

To be fair, you cannot blame the rebels. Blue-collar workers have seen their opportunities eroded as manufacturing jobs scatter along global supply-chains, and migrant labour gladly accept lower pay, diminishing real incomes. What was once a land of opportunity, now looks like a sea gnarled with truncated hopes. Add economic malaise, the diminution public services, and a political system unable to even acknowledge domestic deprivation, and an ascendant melange of resurgent nationalism and protectionism catalyse potent political forces. They are joined by others who have done well out of globalisation, but resent the declining cache of an identity in which they have invested so much pride. With visceral passions the chorus asks why their community (whatever that may mean) is not put first.  Why should ‘we’ not matter more than ‘others’? What kind of country is it that is under obligation to treat foreigners on par with citizens, that allows continued immigration while natives are ever more dispossessed?  Why should ‘we’ support an international order that cares little about where you are from? What is left of identity if we don’t privilege our own?

But there are of course also vocal beneficiaries of the order that the referendum calls into question. Those who have made their fortune because (not in spite) of an open, liberal international order. Who have not merely adapted to this order, but for whom cosmopolitan internationalism is the very mortar that binds their economic and personal lives. The two sides will not be reconciled. The arch of their politics point in opposite directions. The next decades will determine which will prevail, and which will be assimilated or subjugated.

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Jul 7 2016

‘We want our country back’ – stop sneering, start listening

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By Michael Skey

The post-mortem is now well under way and the general consensus seems to be that those who voted leave were gullible fools led astray by a combination of a partisan press and slick political operators selling a particularly potent brand of snake oil, one part false promises, two parts undiluted bigotry. Notwithstanding the quality of the overall political debate around Brexit (it was awful on both sides), such a view might make Remainers feel better about themselves but offers little in making sense of what actually happened last Thursday and why.

In the lead up to the vote, there were very few who actually got what this was about. John Harris of the Guardian was one of them because he actually bothered to tour the country and talk to people in unglamorous places like Nuneaton (66% Leave), Barking (62% Leave) and Hartlepool (70% Leave). On Wednesday he wrote:

Even those who understand that something seismic is afoot among predominantly working-class voters are still too keen on the idea that they are gullible enough to be led over a cliff by people with whom they would actually disagree, if only they knew the facts. But most people are not really being “led” by anyone. In my experience, Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove et al are viewed by most people with as much cynicism as the people fronting the remain campaign.

What is now happening … in the UK underlines a tangle of other stuff – to do with culture, belonging and community – that is going to require a completely different level of response.

I think Harris is right on all counts but it’s his nod to ‘culture, belonging and community’ that I want to briefly focus on here. For while the disconnect between ‘ordinary’ people, notably those in the former industrial heartlands that Labour used to consider it’s own, and politicians has been extensively discussed, this ‘tangle of other stuff’ has been somewhat neglected, often reduced to accusations of racism and xenophobia. Now, of course, this isn’t to condone physical or verbal attacks on the basis of skin colour, religion, accent or language but unless we understand what people are telling us about their own lives we aren’t going to get very far in changing things for the better.

The point that needs to be made is that those voting leave were not only railing against an elite that they considered to be distant and disinterested but also, in the process, reaffirming their commitment to the nation and a national order of things. For many on the Remain side, nationalism continues to be seen as a poisonous ideology largely associated with far-right politicians and football hooligans. Likewise, the European project is seen by them as an antidote to such expressions of bigotry and violence. The problem with such a view is that in simply reducing nationalism to extremism, we risk overlooking why nations continue to matter to so many people, including a good number of those who voted Leave.  Simply put, national frameworks continue to offer a point of anchorage – a sense of identity, continuity, community, place and belonging – in an increasingly complex and threatening world. Similarly, for those who see themselves at the heart of national culture and territory, the nation provides a sense of status (I belong here) and power (I should be able to say what goes on here) where other forms (notably for men) have been increasingly eroded e.g. work, class, locality.

The sociologist Jonathan Hearn has written that ‘national identities, like all identities, are rendered salient when they seem to address personal issues of power over one’s own life”. At the moment, people in Britain, but in England in particular, are feeling a loss of control and a sense of anxiety that is palpable. In response to this they are drawing on a form of identity/community that, at least, gives them a way of making their own lives meaningful. We don’t have to like the fact that sometimes this leads to outbursts against migrants or boorish behaviour in the streets of Marseilles. And, to repeat, trying to make sense of such behaviour doesn’t mean condoning it.

But if we are really serious about trying to offer new political solutions and ways of imagining and being in the world, it means first trying to engage with people and not simply sneering at them when they happen to make choices we don’t agree with. It also means getting a bunch of better narratives about who we are and where we’re going than the current lot have been peddling for the last two decades. In Britain this not only means making the political system more responsive (ditching FPTP and moving towards genuine devolution for the regions and cities) but offering a narrative of (national) community that is forward looking and acknowledges Britain’s current place in the world rather than continually banging on about the past. Britain is a small island in Europe. It once had an empire and its men and women (including those in the Commonwealth) made an important contribution to the overthrow of fascism in the 20th century. Now, it punches above its weight when it comes to culture and science, but the world has moved on, whether it comes to military power, economic output or (whisper it) football.

Like the howls of rage from across the Atlantic, the slogan ‘we want our country back’ is only too easy to dismiss if you’re sitting (relatively) comfortably in a sleek office or coffee shop in London, Paris or Oslo. Unfortunately, the ‘stuff to do with culture, belonging and community’ is far too important to be left to the likes of Farage, Johnson and Trump.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog nor of the London School of Economics. 


Dr. Michael Skey is a Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University. His monograph entitled ‘National Belonging and Everyday Life’ (published in 2011 by Palgrave) was joint winner of the 2012 BSA/Phillip Abrams Memorial Prize.


Related articles on LSE Euro Crisis in the Press:

British and Democracy

The UK is Reaping What the British Media Have Been Sowing for a Long Time

Will the Real Project Fear Please Stand Up? 

Defenestrations: (Un)Framing the EU Referendum Debate, Part I

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Jul 4 2016

On Brexit & Control

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By Tom Gaisford

The EU referendum result was not a triumph for democracy, so much as a symptom of large-scale manipulation. For all the discord and unrest it has unleashed, it may at least serve to enhance global awareness of how mind-control works.

The truth of what happened was that a minority group of politicians garnered support by offering us a rare opportunity to reclaim control of the nation from all those purportedly holding us back. Yet, the politicians’ offer was based on misinformation, designed primarily, it seems, to satisfy their personal ambitions and/or to control the nation themselves.wooden-mannequin-791720_1920

The strategy was no doubt to embolden nostalgic nationalists along with the generally disaffected, by professing to endorse their sovereignty, thereby overriding their willingness to engage critically with their liberators’ bogus prospectus. The message was music to the ears of many. Yet – as betrayed by the absence of any genuine plan – that is all it was.

The referendum vote was as unsafe as it was unrepresentative -­ it deserves as little respect as the architects who contrived it. “Regrexit” is testament to this. Yet, so too is the blind fervour of those who continue to cling to the untruths they invested in, while the country crashes around them.

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Jun 29 2016

Brexit and Democracy

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By Mary Kaldor

320px-PalaceOfWestminsterAtNightThe vote to leave Europe seems to have set off a spate of events spinning in different and dangerous directions. The two main political parties are falling apart. Scottish politicians are already a tabling a second referendum on the independence of Scotland. Sinn Fein politicians are talking about a referendum on a united Ireland. European leaders are calling for haste in separating Britain from the rest of Europe – a haste that will not insulate them from what has happened in Britain and indeed may have the opposite consequences from what they intended.

To me, it feels like the disintegration of Yugoslavia or the events that led to the First World War, where every wrong step contributed to the next wrong step. No-one can assume that these processes of disentanglement will be amicable or smooth. Already hate crime is on the rise in Britain.

The general consensus is that this was a ‘democratic moment’ and that we have to respect a democratic decision. But what does that mean? Certainly it was a populist moment. But surely democracy is about reasoned debate and constitutionalism. This was a failure of our institutions and our unwritten constitution. The vote was called not in response to popular demand but in response to internal differences within the Tory party. The ‘rules’ were ‘agreed’ by the Tory majority in the House of Commons. Commonwealth citizens were allowed to vote but not European citizens resident in Britain who are allowed to vote in local elections and European parliamentary elections. People over the age of 16 were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum  but not in the EU referendum. And who decided on a simple majority? In most countries with a written constitution, changes of this magnitude require a much bigger majority as well as the agreement of all major regions. Continue reading

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Jun 25 2016

The UK is Reaping What the British Media Have Been Sowing for a Long Time

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By Maria Kyriakidou 

The result of the EU referendum and the now imminent Brexit have been met with shock and disbelief both globally and in the UK. Despite indications by the polls there was still hope that reason would prevail over inwardness, hate and anger. At the same time, however, the result seems to be the sad but natural culmination of a campaign period marked by viciousness, lies and fear-mongering, which has divided the country and unleashed dark powers of nationalistic superiority, racism and xenophobia that would have been hard to deal with, even if the result of the referendum had been different, and the British public had decided to stay within the Union. Emotions have been running high in the last months, and the UK media contributed significantly to this. But their toxic role in the referendum has to be seen beyond this specific historical moment.

anti-immigration-right-wing-press-daily-mailThe Brexit vote is not a vote of protest against the undemocratic, bureaucratic and neoliberal EU, as Lexit supporters would like to believe. It is predominantly a blow against immigration, refugees and transnational solidarity inspired by fear, resentment, nationalism and a historical sense of superiority. These anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and nationalistic feelings have been fomented by decades of racist and xenophobic media coverage, especially in the tabloid and right-wing press. What the referendum did was further legitimise these sentiments by offering them a platform of public expression within the VoteLeave campaign. Once unleashed beyond the domain of the tabloids, such discourses will have a grave impact on the social fabric of society.

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Jun 21 2016

Beachfront Gone Bust: Spain’s Second Home Economy on the Rocks

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by Sam Holleran & Max Holleran

Beachfront Gone Bust. 06.22.16 from Sam Holler on Vimeo.

In the early 1950s, Mayor Pedro Zaragoza woke at dawn and left Benidorm, the sleepy-coastal village he governed, to make the 300 mile trip to Madrid by Vespa. The Mayor had an audience with General Francisco Franco—the authoritarian leader who would rule Spain for 35 years (until his death in 1975). Mayor Zaragoza, a devoted Franquista, had a peculiar request for the leader—he wanted permission for bathers on the Town’s beaches to wear a new, French-designed bathing suit. The garment, which exposed a woman’s midriff, was controversial in the deeply Catholic country. The prohibition of the swimwear had led fun-and-sun seeking tourists away from Spain to the more-permissive French Riviera. Hoping to win-back tourists, Zaragoza asked Franco to make Benidorm a special exemption. Franco approved, and the bikini-ban was lifted. The rest is history.

Routemaster_RM2156_in_Benidorm,_Spain_(1)In the years since, Benidorm has risen to towering heights and become a byword for low-cost beachfront tourism. Sun-worshippers flock there in the millions from the soggy polders of Northern Europe, a peach schnapps-infused cocktail bears the name “Sex in Benidorm,” and numerous stag and hen weekend deals direct people there for “the chance to drink themselves stupid” and partake in “Sexy Stripper banquets” (lest they get hungry and have to leave the club). The debouched image is just one quadrant of the City’s tourist economy. Lots of visitors are pensioners (not that this precludes them from the activities above) who rent motorized scooters and enjoy beachfront chair yoga. Many Northern Europeans—dead set on never again donning a down jacket—settle in the region permanently.

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Jun 16 2016

Capitalism Today: The Austrian Presidential Election and the State of the Right and the Left in Europe

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By Christian Fuchs

Europe Today – Capitalism Today

Europe is in a crisis. Capitalism’s contradictions resulted in a new world economic crisis that exploded in 2008. Governments have bailed out banks and have protected the rich and transnational corporations, while the mass of people has faced hyper-neoliberalism and austerity. The Troika of the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank have under German conduct abandoned Europe’s weakest link Greece by refusing a debt haircut, prolonging the country’s socio-economic crisis without an end in sight, and casting doubt on the existence of solidarity in Europe. Wars and crises have resulted in refugees fleeing their home countries. Europe has failed to respond in a co-ordinated manner. Countries have blamed each other and answered with erecting borders, quotas, and fostering racism and nationalism. On the one side, new progressive movements and parties have emerged. But on the other side, a stronger tendency has been the political manifestation of nationalism, racism, authoritarianism, separatism, right-wing extremism, elements of fascism, spirals of violence, and ideological fundamentalisms. The world system’s violent political mood could be the prelude to the next world war.

The Contemporary Far-Right’s Cell Form: The FPÖ in Austria

In recent years, the far-right has been strengthened in many parts of the world. The strong performance of the Freedom Party (FPÖ)’s candidate Norbert Hofer in the 2016 Austrian presidential election is one of the most recent examples. Is it just an accident that it is Austria, where 2.22 million voters cast their ballot in the second round for the far-right so that its candidate achieved 49.3% of the vote? Could such a political agreement to the far-right have also taken place in another European country because of the ongoing crisis? norbert hofer

In 1986, Kurt Waldheim, member of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) during the Second World War, became Austria’s President. In 1999, Jörg Haider’s leadership of the FPÖ culminated in the party achieving 26.91% in the Austrian general election. The FPÖ became the junior partner in a coalition government led by the Conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). After the FPÖ’s split into two parties and Jörg Haider’s death in 2008, Heinz Christian Strache became the new leading figure of Austria’s far-right. According to polls, 34% of the voters would cast their ballot for the FPÖ if there were general elections in Austria today. The FPÖ would become the strongest party. These examples show that Hofer’s result in the Presidential election is not an exception. Why has the far-right especially in Austria been so strong? There are several dimensions. Continue reading

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Jun 14 2016

“We Are the Green Ones”: How News on Climate Change Make ‘Us’ European

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By Leif Hemming Pedersen and Magnus Boye Bjerregaard  

Frontpage_illustrationAs research on European integration ever so often seems to point out, the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. The challenge lies in the distance between lawmakers and citizens, between the EU-elite and the national publics, and between the very national identities of the European people. When searching for a bridge over these distances we just as often end up in a “chicken and egg” type of problem – do we need a common European public to mend the fractures in the European democracy, or do we need a fully democratic union before a common public can arise?
No matter how we view this challenge it seems increasingly clear that the utopian dream of one European people with one common identity united in one common public discussion will not present itself any day soon.
So, in academia, we have set out to look for the EU. We search in the everyday discussions of each national public and first and foremost we search carefully for the EU in the national media. And as we search, the more EU we find in terms of topics, actors and communicative exchange across borders the happier we get. However, the EU we get a glimpse of once in awhile is often not the EU of community, cohesion, and common identity. More often than not, we find an EU that keeps its distance to the citizens, or worse, an EU, which is seen as an external force seeking to usurp the national democracy one directive at a time. This description will be recognized in media across nations such as the UK, Greece, Hungary and Denmark.

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Jun 9 2016

Will The Real Project Fear Please Stand Up?

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By Henry Radice

This is the second in a series of pre-referendum opinion pieces, Defenestrations: (Un)Framing the EU Referendum Debate. The first one addressed the issue of the referendum itself, and attracted a powerful rejoinder from Roberto Orsi.

Iain_Duncan-Smith_OfficialOne of the earliest and most frequently employed tropes of Leave campaigners, when challenged with the myriad possible downsides of Brexit, is to deploy the accusation of scaremongering, of engaging in ‘project fear’. The term, which gained currency during the Scottish independence referendum, has a problematic, arguably dangerous role in contemporary British political discourse. It normalises practices of negative campaigning (disguised by populist indignation), contributes to the infantilisation of political discourse and to an anti-meritocratic anti-intellectualism, and fuels anti-political sentiment in the name of pseudo-democracy.

First, the project fear accusation frames the opponent as practicing negative campaigning, which understandably has a bad reputation for using devices such as dog whistles or ad hominem attacks. The power of blanket accusations of scaremongering, though, is that they carefully deploy the playbook of negative campaigning in accusing the opponent of the very same, painting them in a ghoulish light while positioning the accuser as the plucky defender of common sense against a predatory elite. They infantilise political discourse precisely by deliberately blurring the distinction between sober, well-grounded concerns, and lurid speculation. Continue reading

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