Tuesday, 26 July 2016

University Challenge's Woman Problem

Once again, University Challenge is in the news due to online abuse of a woman participant, this time due to people thinking that the contestant's exact gender history was in any way relevant to her barnstorming performance. Despite the article trying to make out that similar things happen to guy contestants, it's clear that it overwhelmingly affects women and girls (Daily Mail link, sorry).

So why do I care?

Well, I was on University Challenge three years ago as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed fresher.

It's obvious which I am, isn't it? And that's why we should be applauding Sophie Rudd and her team from Warwick for being one of the few teams I've ever seen with two guys and two girls on it. Despite the fact that the programme team freely admit that teams with more women on them will be more likely to make it to the televised rounds, it's incredibly difficult to select teams with anything approaching gender equality. In the two years I selected the teams, despite a whole lot of positive discrimination, out of a total of ten team members (four and a reserve in each case) there was only one woman. Women just don't try out for University Challenge in anywhere near the numbers that men do.

There are no doubt some structural societal reasons why this is the case (little girls are less encouraged to be fact-collecters than boys, the way we look at little girls who answer questions in class as know-it-alls, and so on) but I can't help but think that a worry about being abused online holds some women back from applying.

It's definitely something I worried about. By the end of the match our score wasn't very much higher than in picture above, taken before the start. I was only just about holding back the tears and was praying to any deity that would listen that the camera wouldn't focus on me - not out of a fear of looking bad to my friends and family, but from worries that a certain part of the Twittersphere would pounce on me. Not only that, but there was one woman on the team we played, and in the televised broadcast the way the program was edited seemed to encourage comparison of the two of us. As it happened, when I got the guts to Google my name a few days after the show aired, there had been nothing.

It would be remiss of me to ignore in this post that much of the abuse of Rudd focussed on her supposed trans identity. I have no idea if she is trans, which is why I haven't focussed on that myself. It's also am issue I feel very unqualified to talk about but I'm doing my best. One thing's for sure, though: the particularly hatefully misogynist part of the internet seems to latch onto trans women even more so than cis women. What's more, some people who would normally not seem especially misogynistic seem to think that it's perfectly acceptable for them to cast aspersions about trans women. I've heard otherwise pretty enlightened people talking crap about Caitlyn Jenner. It's the responsibility of all of us to shut down that kind of talk when we see or hear it.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Far-right Parties and Globalisation

Time was, when someone referred to a 'far out party' they meant one with pineapple and cheese on sticks. Now, it's more about far-right racist parties, which many of us have been concerned about in recent months and years, and most especially in the last few weeks. I wrote this essay for a unit called 'In Search of Europe' and I thought it was worth sharing. It should be noted that, since it was written, the Austrian ÖVP very nearly won the presidential election (which turned out to be so close that it's being re-run), and of course 51.9% of voters in the UK voted to leave the EU. Hm.

To what extent have opposition to the EU and to globalisation replaced immigration as the core agendas of far-right parties in contemporary Europe? Discuss with reference to at least two countries.

It can seem that the core agendas of far-right parties in contemporary Europe now revolve more around opposition to the European Union (EU) and to globalisation than around immigration. This essay will argue, however, that these new targets of opposition are simply a new form of the extreme right’s long-standing xenophobia and anti-modernization position. In order to do this, the main focus will be on far-right parties in Austria and Switzerland, with reference also made to developments on the Eurosceptic right wing in Germany and the United Kingdom. The essay will start by explaining the choices of case studies before setting out the definitions of the terms of the discussion. The heritage of the far-right parties of contemporary will then be examined, and then the case studies of Austria and Switzerland discussed. Those cases will be compared to Germany and the UK, where instead of the far-right parties themselves moving, they have been replaced by parties espousing Euroscepticism and anti-globalisation.

The main case studies, Austria and Switzerland, were chosen primarily because their of their similarities: both countries have majority German speaking populations, some history of political neutrality, and extreme right parties have become junior coalition partners in both governments, able to have direct influence on policy-making (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 111). Reference will be made too to developments in the third German-speaking country, Germany (the three countries together are referred to as the DACH-countries), where the AfD have capitalised on the fact that real extreme rightism is unconscionable due to German history (Ignazi 2003:2 in Hainsworth, 2008). Despite their seeming similarities, there are large differences between the political landscapes in Switzerland and Austria, which affect how their far-right parties campaign. One clear difference is in membership of supranational bodies: while Austria has been a member of the EU since 1995, Switzerland’s integration with Western Europe goes only so far as participation in the Schengen Treaty; opposition to supranationalism in Switzerland tends to focus on the EU at least partly because it is the one organisation of which the country is not yet a part (Church, 2004).

Before going into those case studies, however, the terms used will be defined: many are contentious. Especially polemic is the term ‘far-right parties’: this term will be used over ‘extreme right’ or ‘radical right’, both of which appear in the literature and are relatively interchangeable, in deference to the essay question set.  The definition of an far-right right party used will be that identified by Mudde and refined by Hainsworth, that a far-right party is one which demonstrates most or all of the following five features: nationalism, xenophobia, racism, anti-democratic sentiment, and support for a strong state (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 68) (Mudde, 1996). Extreme right parties are known as such because they ‘occupy the right-most position of the political spectrum’ (Ignazi, 2003, p. 2); far-right parties may not occupy this point but are likely to be at the right-most possibly electorally successful point on the spectrum. It is, however, important to recognise that a one-size-fits-all definition of the extreme right is impossible to pinpoint, due to its ‘conceptual fuzziness’ (Griffin, 2006): the extreme right has been called a ‘heterogeneous political family, a common ideological matrix’ (Ivaldi, 2004, pp. 24-26) (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 68). What far-right parties tend not to be, however, are single-issue Eurosceptic parties: Euroscepticism can dominate them, however, as well as existing within factions of mainstream parties (Taggart, 1998). Many parties on the far right are populist, appealing directly ‘to the crudest hopes and fears of the masses’ (Heywood, 2015, p. 170). The term ‘right-wing populist’ will be used when referring to those parties which are less extreme than the typical ‘far-right’ parties: the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany), for example.

The three issue areas laid out in the question are opposition to the EU, globalisation, and immigration. It is impossible properly to separate the EU from immigration and from globalisation as an issue area, however: all are interlinked. Opposition to the EU is relatively new in its current form: the European Community was conceived initially as an organisation for just six relatively similar states: the wider and deeper integration through time, culminating in the new concept of the European Union with the treaty of Maastricht, provided far more potential for opposition (Wittlinger, 2010) (Pinder & Usherwood, 2013). Heywood writes that there are three types of globalisation: economic, cultural, and political (Heywood, 2015, p. 83). Opposition to the EU can therefore be seen as opposition to cultural and political globalisation, a fear of a ‘flattening out’ of cultural differences between nations and of individual nation-state government becoming an anachronism. The French Radical Right describe this as ‘Euromondialisme’, portraying European integration as a step towards the inevitable ‘perceived perils’ of globalisation (Lecoeur, 2007) (Usherwood & Startin, 2013, p. 5). That is, both globalisation and European integration are seen as significant challenges to the nation-state and national identity (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 81). Globalisation can also be seen as economic modernization, making an anti-globalisation policy essentially an anti-modernization policy (Oesch, 2008, p. 351). Global markets effectively have greater control than governments, especially those of small states (Maclean & Szarka, 2008). Far-right parties’ Euroscepticism also stems from the populism employed by many: the top-down nature of European integration is contrasted especially with the bottom-up democracy of referendums in much of Europe (Volksbegehren in Austria and Abstimmungen in Switzerland, for example) (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 82) (Pelinka, 2004) (Church, 2004). Far-right parties have been drawing links between the EU and immigration (perceived to be negative) for many years (Green-Pedersen & Krogstrup, 2008); the 2015 refugee crisis brought this into sharper focus as some politicians proposed closing individual countries’ borders to compensate for insufficient control at the Union’s external borders (Binyon, 2015). Although parties of the far right may not focus explicitly on immigration today, however, they continue to use immigration as a funnel through which to form policies on other topics, such as welfare, housing, education, and, especially, security (Hainsworth, 2008).

Many Western European far-right parties can be seen as having grown out of early 20th century fascism; that ideology’s complete defeat in 1945, however, has meant that alternative methods of expressing the same intolerance have had to develop (Griffin, 2006, p. 50).  Extreme right parties, keen to avoid comparison to pre-war far-right parties, have focussed on new concepts to oppose (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 13). For example, opposition to immigration from within the EU (and the Euroscepticism deriving from this) is against other white Europeans, thereby avoiding the classical, or biological, racism of the past (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 79). This can be seen especially clearly since the ‘big bang’ enlargement of the EU in 2004, when many member states with traditions and cultures relatively different to those of Western Europe joined the Union (Demossier, 2007, p. 54). What is important, however, is that the parties of the far-right are still based around xenophobia, the opposition to an ‘other’, their ‘signature issue’: this can be seen especially clearly in their traditional anti-immigration positions (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 68) (Norris, 2005, p. 132). In Jean-Marie Le Pen’s successful showing in the French presidential election of 2002, immigration was ranked as only the fifth most common issue on which he won votes: security, tax cuts, traditional values, and corruption were all named by more voters, reflecting the Front National’s strategy of playing down the more controversial parts of its discourse (Mayer, 2002) (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 76). As extreme right parties entered their third wave in 1980, it was clear that they had reached something of a ceiling in support: to broaden their appeal they have attempted to ‘wean’ voters from the mainstream right wing parties (Mudde, 2000) (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 26). The particular group of voters they have targeted are those described as ‘modernisation losers’, those voters ‘who have lost out in the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a services-based economy’ (Givens, 1964, p. 7). These individuals tend to be clustered in the working class; they are simultaneously the group most disenfranchised by mainstream parties (leading to a certain anomie) and also the group most affected by globalisation (that is, their jobs are the most vulnerable to export) (Oesch, 2008) (Hainsworth, 2008). Far-right parties have therefore targeted these voters as a means to expand their support bases; that is, they observe the demand-side factors and tailor their policies to win votes.

The first country case study in this essay is Austria. Contemporary Euroscepticism there has a relatively short history: Austria has, after all only been a member of the EU since 1995 (Pelinka, 2004). During the Cold War period, Austria was politically neutral due to its geopolitical location: this neutrality extended past staying out of military cooperation into avoiding West European economic integration (ibid.). Many Austrians viewed membership ‘hard’ supranational organisations (those which aimed at political union) as incompatible with neutrality, which itself was held by many as the key to avoiding Western-style militarisation (ibid.). In the accession referendum of 1994, 66.6% voted in favour of joining the European community; the highest support came from those over the age of 70, suggesting that generational change would inevitably reduce levels of Euro-optimism (ibid., p214). The Green party was also Eurosceptic at that time, but both the party and its voters have moved to Euro-optimism since (ibid.). This has left the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria) as the lone significant Eurosceptic party in the Austrian political landscape. In the time before Haider’s 1986 rise to leadership, the FPÖ’s key policies were more concerned with German nationalism and economic liberalism than with immigration (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 72). Unlike parties in longer-standing EU member states, the FPÖ did not have to start by explaining why it did not support EU membership: its scepticism stemmed logically from its other policies (Taggart, 1998, p. 369). Under the leadership of Jörg Haider, the FPÖ’s populism was said to have elements of direct continuity with ‘an unbroken Nazi tradition’; Haider spoke on multiple occasions with high praise of Waffen-SS war veterans (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 15). During this period, opposition to immigration, refugees, and asylum seekers was the main prong of the party’s programme, although its defining feature has been referred to as strong soft Euroscepticism (ibid., p.72) (Taggart & Szczerbiak, 2012). After the stresses of participation in government (when it is no longer possible for a party to position itself as anti-Establishment), the FPÖ split in April 2005, leading to a fragmentation and weakening of the far right in Austrian electoral politics. During the period of the FPÖ’s participation in government, the substance of its Euroscepticism was slightly dampened, although not its rhetoric (Taggart & Szczerbiak, 2012). This weakening seemed to be fairly durable until Norbert Hofer, the FPÖ’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election, came top in the first round of voting on 24 April (Oltermann, 2016). Commentators have warned of sanctions from the rest of the EU should Hofer be elected, just as were imposed during the FPÖ’s time in a governing coalition with the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party) (Mason, 2016) (Pelinka, 2004). Euroscepticism in Austria today is concentrated among the less well educated: the FPÖ speaks for ‘modernisation losers’ who see European integration as threatening (Pelinka, 2004, p. 218). For this reason, it tried to block the 2004 EU enlargement process (Pelinka, 2004). It should be noted that Austria has borders with four of the ten then-candidate states, meaning that claims about inevitable job losses should enlargement go ahead were perhaps more believable than they would have been further west. In order to appeal to its target voters, the FPÖ has moved away from its previous pan-German nationalism towards a more Austrian, Eurosceptic nationalism (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 81). It cannot, however, be accused of being a single-issue party. In the 1999 legislative elections, which led to the FPÖ becoming coalition partners with the ÖVP, its main vote-winning issue was not its Euroscepticism but rather its opposition to scandal and corruption (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 89) (Ivaldi, 2004, p. 68). In Austria, therefore, opposition to modernisation in general and the EU in particular has largely replaced anti-immigration campaigning as the core agenda of the ÖVP.

The far-right in Switzerland has in recent years defied the norms of Swiss politics. In the 2003 election, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP; English names will be used due to Swiss multilingualism) upset the former ‘magic formula’ of distribution of seats in the Federal Council: two seats each to the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP), and Social Democratic Party (SP), and one seat to the SVP (Church, 2004). In the 2003-elected Federal Council, there were instead two SVP seats and only one for the CVP; this seat distribution holds again since the 2015 election (Mombelli, 2015). The Swiss anti-European consensus, however, goes far further back: it has its roots in the prized freedom from the law of ‘foreign judges’, back to the 13th Century (Church, 2004). Until the 1980s the consensus was that Switzerland’s neutrality meant that it could have tight economic ties to the rest of Western Europe, but that it should avoid ‘entangling political organisations’ (ibid.). As time went on, Switzerland’s neutrality and direct democracy were credited with the Sonderfall Schweiz, Switzerland’s unparalleled stability and economic prosperity in the second half of the 20th Century: Swiss citizens were understandably reluctant to give those up (ibid.). Far-right parties’ economic programmes in general tend towards ‘1980s-style neo-liberalism’ and the SVO’s is no different (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 69). The Eurosceptic consensus in Switzerland is so strong, in fact, that the country was described by Hans Mehr MP in March 2001 as divided between ‘Euro-turbos,’ ‘Eurosceptics,’ and ‘Euro-gegners’ (EU-opponents): Euroscepticism is seen as the middle or default position (Church, 2004, p. 270). Beyond the general climate of Euroscepticism, however, growth in support for the far-right SVP can be partially explained by the ‘crisis of representation’: Swiss election turnout levels reached a historic low point of 42.24% in 1995 and have since recovered only up to 48.5% in 2015 (Statistik Schweiz, 2016). Strict naturalisation laws, meanwhile, mean that only a small proportion of the population is actually eligible to vote, making that turnout figure fall even further (the laws also artificially increase the number of ‘immigrants’ in statistics) (Bewes, 2012) (Skenderovic, 2007).  The Swiss electoral system itself also facilitates far-right parties’ success: referendums are important events for voter mobilisation (Skenderovic, 2007). Given that there exists a consensus against Europeanisation, the SVP cannot differentiate itself from the other parties on that issue alone. It and other far-right parties in Switzerland have focussed on immigration since the 1960s: first campaigning against labour immigrants and then against refugees and asylum seekers, always ensuring that those issues have remained on the federal political agenda (Skenderovic, 2007). This campaign was summarised with the term Überfremdung (over-foreignization), which implied that the Swiss national identity would be lost in favour of foreign cultures (Skenderovic, 2007). The fragmented Swiss far-right eventually united as the Zürich branch of the SVP, and later the party as a whole, moved to the far right under the leadership of Christoph Blocher (Skenderovic, 2009). This defied the norms of Swiss politics, where loosely devolved party structures are more usual. The division today seems to fall along the urban/rural divide, where rural voters are more likely to support the SVP due to being more inward-looking and, as a result, xenophobic (Church, 2004, p. 286). The SVP overall still has anti-immigration as its core agenda: it often chooses to focus on globalisation and European integration, however, in order to expand its core electorate.

For a slightly different perspective on the issue of far-right parties’ policy evolution, cases where priority change has led to a change in the party landscape will be discussed. In recent years in both the United Kingdom and Germany, single-issue Eurosceptic parties have largely replaced and exceeded the previous success of far-right parties. In the UK, the British National Party (BNP) began to fall out of favour in the wake of its attempts to exploit the 7/7 bombings of London in 2005; leader Nick Griffin and another party activist faced prosecution for the crime of incitement to racial hatred (Hainsworth, 2008, p. 59). This followed an attempted modernisation of the BNP in a bid for it to duplicate the success of its mainland European counterparts and to move away from the traditional association of the British far right with violence (Hainsworth, 2008). The BNP had been unable to capitalise on weakening partisan attachments to gain electoral success, but did perhaps lay the ground for the later success of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which is less extreme and can therefore be categorised as right-wing populist rather than far-right (Norris, 2005) (Hainsworth, 2008). UKIP is a single-issue pro-sovereignty party which has had limited electoral success due to the UK’s majoritarian electoral system, but which has been legitimised through the mainstream right Conservative party ‘clothes stealing’, taking its arguments and policies, culminating in June 2016’s referendum on EU membership (Hainsworth, 2008). Likewise, in Germany, the single-issue Eurosceptic, neoconservative, right-wing populist, AfD party has had dramatic successes in the Landtag (state parliament) elections of March 2016 (Steppat, 2016). Previous far-right parties, such as the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, National Demokratic Party of Germany), Republikaner (REP) and Deutsche Volksunion (German People’s Union) have vanished over time without making it into the Bundestag: the NPD is under observation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), restricting its activities (Veen, et al., 1993) (Hainsworth, 2008) (Eatwell, 1995). This is despite the REP designing their programme especially in order to evade explicit comparison to Nazism and proscription (Kagedan, 1997). In contrast to these far-right parties, which explicitly focussed on campaigning against immigration to Germany, the AfD instead concentrates on Euroscepticism, mentioning globalisation only significantly in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Opposing TTIP has been an important vote-winning issue for AfD: it has attracted many disillusioned former Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) voters (Münchau, 2016).  Although neither UKIP nor the AfD are far-right parties, they are now at the ‘right-most’ mainstream positions of their respective political systems and have become mainstream through legitimising Euroscepticism as an issue, therefore making them a second dimension of this essay topic. That is, the previous far-right parties did not move their policy focus towards Euroscepticism and globalisation, but rather were replaced by parties with those agendas.

Overall, it is clear that resistance to European integration and to globalisation now form important parts of the core agendas of far-right parties in Western Europe. What is not the case, however, is that immigration has disappeared as in issue. Instead, the xenophobia and anti-modernisation which lay at the root of the parties’ opposition to immigration has found a new outlet in opposing European integration and globalisation, issues which are after all relatively new in their current state.


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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Non-Fiction Summer Reading

What better summer reading is there than narrative non-fiction that transports you to another place or time? Even if you're curled up on your own sofa or stretched out in your hometown's park, these books can feel like a journey.

This is a month-by-month account (with each month generally linking to some aspect of Danish life) of Russell's first year living in Denmark, thanks to her husband having been offered a job at Lego in Billund (dream job right there for a lot of kids, I think!). For anyone wanting to do a little more self-care or thinking of emigrating (and doing so while they're still an EU citizen...) this is a book I highly recommend. There are lessons from it that you can take even without moving to Denmark: look after yourself, stay active, and don't spend all your waking hours in the office.

(PS: Judging by some of the books coming out in September, Hygge will be a huge trend this Autumn/ Winter, so get ahead while you can!)

It's an Olympic year and I'm an Olympic nut so of course I was going to recommend an Olympic book. The catch - I'm not actually that into sports books. If I'm recommending one, then, you can be pretty sure it's worth reading and enjoyable - and this is! It follows the men who made up the US's rowing eight for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, most of them from pretty humble backgrounds. I learnt a lot more about a sport that I'd previously only had vague knowledge of, and it was super inspiring. I would recommend this to any other Olympic nuts! With Rio a few hours behind the UK, there'll be time for reading every morning before the television coverage starts...

Another tale of bravery and guts, this is the can't-quite-believe it story of a mission that, if it were in a novel, everyone would call so ridiculous as to be unpublishable. The British Government wanted to mislead Hitler's forces to believe that they would attack from a different direction than that which was actually planned... so they wrote fake plans into a letter, which was left with a fake dead soldier on a Spanish beach. Yep. This book reads like a thrilling spy novel and you won't be able to put it down. Perfect for travel days and especially when stuck on a delayed flight or in an airport...


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