Author Archives: Guy Burton

The new Israeli proposal

Recently I’ve been interviewing Israeli and Palestinian scholars and activists about the prospects of alternative voices in the peace process: namely the BRICS countries and whether they might make a difference.

The general impression seems to be no. Last year’s failed talks by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the re-election of an intransigent Netanyahu government have meant little change. Although the BRICS countries (and the EU) have called for a different, more multilateral response, this is unlikely to happen. Much of this is down to BRICS’ self-promotion and separation of political rhetoric from their prioritisation of economic relations with Israel’s hi-tech and – especially in the case of India – arms industry.

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Opinion: Lib Dems and the politics of protest

February 15th 2003 - Iraq war demo in LondonThe other week I asked whether the Lib Dems were a party of government or a party of protest.  Many welcome comments were made, including a good one pointing out that a political party can be both: that to reach government it needs to be a vehicle of protest, to identify what’s wrong so that it can offer change.

As I thought about that point, I read Ben Marguiles’ blog on Liberal/Lib Dem electoral performance in relation to other parties.  Whether Lib Dems like it or not, his observations highlight the contingent relationship between the party and the politics of protest.

Marguiles observes that previous analysis shows that when the party system is polarised – i.e. the two main parties diverge from the centre, the Liberals and their successors have done well.  This was the case between 1945 and 2010 when Britain had a two-and-a-half party system.  But where the political party system as a whole is polarised, the Lib Dems suffer.  Marguiles puts this down to the rise of other political parties, like the Greens, SNP and UKIP, which all drew votes away from both the centre and both Labour and the Tories.  The result?  The Lib Dems saw their share of the vote drop.  Marguiles does add a rider to this; that the party’s in government may also have made it vulnerable, but that may be due to insufficient data analysis having been done on that specific topic.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 48 Comments

Opinion: What sort of leadership do the Lib Dems need?

Attention for many Lib Dems is now turning to the leadership election: the relative merits of the two candidates, their personal histories and political preferences.  This reflects the traditional approach to leadership: what is it that makes an individual a ‘great’ man or woman?

Particularly useful for understanding how leaders act is the dichotomy between ‘transformative’ and ‘transactional’ leadership.  Transformational leaders tend to be seen as ‘active’: not only do they have a clear vision, but they also innovate by undertaking political change. In many ways they challenge their followers by acting independently of them; Paddy Ashdown’s abandonment of equidistance in 1992 may have been just such a case. Transactional leadership may be ‘passive’ but this doesn’t mean that it is means standing still. It can be incremental, building steadily on previous changes. Charles Kennedy’s leadership was probably an example of this.

However, leadership doesn’t operate in a vacuum. In political science we pay attention to the wider context or environment that leaders have to work within.  These may be close, like the leader’s ‘followers’ (party membership), or they may be more distant, such as the political order (constitution, composition of government, etc) and wider social and economic forces underpinning it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 27 Comments

Opinion: The role of the Lib Dems as a party of protest

Where do we go from here?  Beyond the talk of electoral strategy and tactics, methods of campaigning and targeting, we need to look at what the purpose of the party.

Several people on these pages have reported that the party was clobbered by Tory scare tactics directed at a Labour-SNP coalition.  If so, there’s only so much we can do about that, the actions of others.  But we can have control over what the party is, what it stands for and what it should do in the future.

One is that image counts.  Despite the electoral maths and rhetoric about the economic crisis in 2010, the party wasn’t a natural partner for the Tories.  This caused us real problems when the party broke its pledge not to raise tuition fees.  No amount of spin could overcome that.  In future we need to honour our promises, however costly they are.

Another is the character of the party.  Its rising vote share since 1988 has been based less on a core vote and more on being a party of protest.  Even as the party abandoned equidistance after 1992 it attracted votes from those suspicious of New Labour and the Tories and wary of extremism of all kinds.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 50 Comments

Opinion: Pressing Israel

Six months ago Israel was engaged in action which Nick Clegg described as ‘deliberately disproportionate’, killing over 2000 Palestinians – many of them women and children – and the lives of 70 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

During the war Nick said that nothing would be solved without talking.  And now’s a good time to remind Israel’s PM Benyamin Netanyahu about that, especially given events since then.

Like Britain, Israel will have elections, in March.  The parties are trying to outdo each other on security.  Recently the right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable.”  With views like that, the likelihood of negotiations being restarted – let alone a peace deal being achieved – is extremely remote.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 18 Comments

Opinion: Pressing Clegg on an arms embargo to Israel

In the wake of Baroness Warsi’s resignation Nick Clegg has reportedly said that he will be pushing for an embargo on arms sales to Israel. I hope this actually happens rather than what I suspect will more likely be a more diluted ‘review’. Without a robust response, and without outside pressure being put on it, it’s likely that Israel will continue to act disproportionately in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza. If the government goes for a review, then it will have no more effect than a modest ticking off.

Doubtless there will be Liberal Democrats who will apportion blame jointly to both sides. They will criticise an embargo and claim that Israel has the right to defend itself from the missiles being fired from the territory. They will no doubt claim that civilian deaths is an unfortunate side effect associated with that action.

On the Palestinian side they will condemn Hamas for using civilians as human shields, by firing missiles next to schools, hospitals and residences. They will demand that Hamas stop the rocket fire and, along with the rest of the Palestinian population, adopt a policy of non-violence instead. The assumption is that being ‘reasonable’ will encourage Israel to act similarly.

Let’s put this into context then.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 8 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 16th Oct - 7:52pm
    Should there be a confirmatory referendum of party members? (since OMOV).
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 16th Oct - 7:46pm
    Whatever happens, there'll be no end to conflict and division for years to come. What are the options? 1) We remain in the EU. Leavers...
  • User AvatarGraham Martin-Royle 16th Oct - 5:58pm
    If anyone wants to introduce compulsory photo id then they must be willing to issue it free of charge. There also needs to be a...
  • User AvatarSteve Trevethan 16th Oct - 5:49pm
    Has H.M.G., or any other body, produced indicative figures of the number of citizens likely to be obstructed from voting?
  • User AvatarDilettante Eye 16th Oct - 5:48pm
    expats “..according to the Brexit Secretary, Boris Johnson ‘will ask EU for extension’ if no Brexit deal by Saturday…” That’s not quite accurate. What he...
  • User AvatarMark Seaman 16th Oct - 5:45pm
    I agree with Malcolm. The current voting system is all too vulnerable to fraud, and with the high number of repeated non-voters, there is a...