Should I stay or should I go? Why the UK should stay out of the Crimea issue


Iván Farías, Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Political Science and International Studies argues why the UK should stay out of the Crimea issue.

The Republic of Crimea is said to be at the centre of a dispute between the Russian Federation and the international community. Such dispute arose when about two weeks ago, 96.7% of the voters participating a referendum held in the peninsula supported the accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia. As a result of the referendum, the Republic of Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine is now the (de facto) newest territory of the Russian Federation.

The result was not unexpected. With large numbers of Russian-speaking Crimeans and Crimea-based Russian passport holders boosting the ‘yes’ side, and about 38% of the Crimean population boycotting the referendum, the outcome was as predictable as rolling a loaded dice.

On this basis, some countries, namely the G7, have been very vocal about the alleged illegality of the referendum, its result and its implications. The United Kingdom has been no exception. Its political leaders have vociferously argued that the Crimean referendum should not be recognised. Simon Smith, the British Ambassador to Kyiv, recently stated that the referendum “should not be regarded as a legitimate expression of popular will on the part of the peninsula’s population”. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary William Hague contended that “Russia cannot simply trample over international law” and that Moscow’s move to annex Crimea went against the principles of territorial integrity and non-use of force. Finally, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that “it is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun”.

There seems to be something wrong in annexating a territory from a neighbouring country which is (was?) in the middle of a revolution. It seems to be something akin to stealing your neighbours’ possessions while their house is on fire. The argument is then that it is in everyone’s interest to protect the neighbourhood from individuals who take advantage of people at their most vulnerable. In this analogy, the United Kingdom is thus only contributing to protect the European neighbourhood and the world from bullies like Russia.

Yet, the United Kingdom is not the long-time champion of freedom and sef-determination that Smith, Hague and Cameron portray it to be. It took the United Kingdom six years to recognise the independence of Ireland, a country which it historically ruled with an iron-fist. Oppression, rather than freedom, describes more accurately what India endured under British rule. The British government did not hesitate to send its military forces on a 12,000-kilometre journey across the globe to ensure continued posession of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. For some reason, the referendum in Ukraine, biased in favour of ethnic Russians, is illegal and illegitimate but the referendum held in 2013 in the Falkland/Malvinas, among a population of transplanted British islanders, is not. And now that Scottish independence is on the table again, England, the UK’s most populous and economically powerful country, has not hesitated into using scare tactics to maintain Scotland in the Union. Behind all of these historical developments lies the same idea: for the United Kingdom, freedom and self-determination are not cherished ideals, but only concepts whose meaning can be adapted to suit the foreign (and domestic) policy objectives de jour.

The United Kingdom seems to be interested in boosting its moral credentials on the promotion of freedom and self-determination by taking part in this alleged dispute on Crimea. Staying out of the issue could actually better serve such purpose.

Originally published in Ivan’s blog  03/04/14



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Special CREES/POLSIS Seminar – The production of Migrants in Contemporary Capitalism

The special CREES/POLSIS Seminar on The Production of Migrants in Contemporary Capitalism presented the work of two young scholars:

Dr Nikolaos Xypolytas (University of Cyprus) and Dr Bahar Baser (University of Warwick)


This Special CREES/POLSIS Seminar focused on the migration process in the contemporary capitalist European societies. Dr Nikolaos Xypolytas‘ paper presented the findings of his most recent research on the process of migrant exclusion in the case of Ukrainian domestic workers in Greece. His sociological study looks at exclusion as a three-stage process that involves not only the host country but the country of origin as well. The process starts with the impoverishment of the workers in the country of origin, which results firstly, in the change of work orientations and secondly, in the actual migration process. The second stage involves the allocation of the labour force, following an ethnic and gendered division of labour in the host country. The third stage is centered on the concept of reproduction of work, where migrant domestic workers internalise the rules and regulations of their employment. The result of this process is the isolation of migrants and their entrapment in their low-status jobs. Dr Bahar Baser discussed the challanges she came across conducting her qualitative research on contenious issues in Turkish and Kurdish diasporas in the Netherlands and Germany. She argued that in any research that utilizes ethnographic research methods, it is crucial that the researcher is aware of their ‘subject position’ and how this position affects relationships betwen the researcher and the interviewee.  Since the outcome of the study and the knowledge that it produces are very much dependent on this positionality, it is important that the researcher informs the reader where he/she stands. The researcher is by no means ‘an objective observer’ , as their gender, class, religion, ethnicity, or age among other factors, may have an impact on the research process. Therefore, the researcher should be conscious of his/hers priviledged position and potential power relations with the groups that are under study and should adopt a ‘reflexive approach’ which refers to a self-reflection process during the selection of the subject, the fieldwork, as well as analysis of the data gathered.

The seminar was chaired by Dr Deema Kaneff who facilitate a very stimulating discussion between presenters and audiance. Everyone was encouraged to share their views and pose their questions in a very friendly and hospitable atmosphere. The event drew together staff members, postgraduate students and scholars from different universities.


The organizers, Polina Manolova and Veysel Erdemli would like to thank everyone for the expressed interest, attendance and stimulating discussion.

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Essential scrutiny or national embarrassment? Dr Stephen Bates, Lecturer in Political Science, responds to the Hansard Society’s report on Prime Minister’s Questions

bates-stephen There are a number of institutional reforms that could be introduced to bring about the kind of PMQs that Speaker Bercow has called for. These reforms, some of which have been stated and  occasionally restated in various Procedure Committee Reports over the years, include: extending  PMQs by quarter or half an hour each week; reducing the number of questions that the Leader of  the  Opposition is allowed to ask; institutionalising a set number of closed questions each week  (including for the Leader of the Opposition); increasing the toleration of ‘referred’ answers by the  Prime Minister by requiring the Prime Minister to read out (shorter versions of) departmental answers at the next session of PMQs; and ensuring that the Leader of the Opposition cannot ask his/her questions until after a set number of backbench questions have been asked.

However, there is another change that would improve parliamentary discourse and help hold the Prime Minister to greater account but that would be difficult to institutionalise formally. This change relates to how questions are posed. David Cameron is often criticised – as was Gordon Brown before him – possibly correctly, for not answering questions, yet he can only answer the questions that are put to him. If these include ad hominem attacks, it could be argued that he is not obliged to answer them; this at least gives him an excuse not to answer. To take but one recent example, an opposition backbencher asked on the 6thNovember 2013:

“The Prime Minister has just been boasting again about 1 million extra jobs. Can he therefore explain why in my constituency the number of people unemployed for more than two years has risen by 350% in the last year alone? It is now the worst figure in the country. Nine of the 10 worst constituencies on this measure are in the north-east, including all three Sunderland seats. Is that because they are the same old Tories, who do not care about the north-east?”

The last sentence of this question is unnecessary and detracts from the important issue raised. Questions posed at PMQs should be direct, forensic, uncomfortable and challenging for the Prime Minister; they do not need to be sarcastic or sometimes plain rude to achieve this end. A change of this sort – and also a change with regard the opposite problem of toadying questions posed by government backbenchers – can only be brought about by MPs and parties themselves. If they did so, this would increase scrutiny and accountability and would help address some of the issues raised by the recent Hansard report – but without killing PMQs as a spectacle.

This post was originally published on Democratic Audit 04/03/14

The Hansard Society’s recent report can be found here

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Body/ State in An Age of Austerity- Saturday 22nd February 2014

On Saturday 22nd February, the University of Birmingham’s Gender and Feminist Theory Research Group were delighted to co-sponsor and host the PSA Women in Politics Specialist Group ‘s bi-annual conference.

The conference was oriented around feminist scholarship that has sought to illuminate the ways in which states and bodies are intertwined both in general and in an age of austerity in particular. This research has taken a wide range of forms, from interrogation of the significance of the presence of sexed and raced bodies in political institutions, to the disciplining of bodily ‘deviance’, to the ways in which the state itself has been gendered as masculine. Recent work has also questioned the gendered dimensions of austerity politics, the state’s part in the commodification of bodies and body parts and the politics of the alteration and ‘enhancement’ of bodies (Cameron, Dickinson and Smith 2013)


(Picture courtesy of @PSAWomenPol)

The day-long conference had a rich and varied programme that united a wide range of specialisms including British Politics, History, IPE and Law and Society. Academics from around the country (and from much further climes); met together and shared papers, ideas and expertise in a productive and friendly environment. The panels were ‘Gender and the State’, ‘Gender and British Party Politics’ and ‘Gender, Sexuality and Identity’.


(Picture courtesy of @PSAWomenPol)

Many thanks to Fran Amery and Dr Laura Jenkins for their tremendous effort in organising what was a fantastic and enjoyable day!

For more information on the PSA Women in Politics Specialist Group, please visit their website , Twitter @PSAWomenPol or discussion threads #WOMENINPOLITICS

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Between discipline and dissent: revoking citizenship is dangerous whatever the crime

Attempts to render terror suspects stateless, represent a dangerous step towards revoking the citizenship of anyone who dissents, and highlight a shift in the meaning of citizenship from emancipation to conformity.

tonkiss (1) Stories emerged earlier this week about Home Secretary Theresa May’s plans to make terror  suspects stateless by revoking their UK citizenship. The Government is already able to revoke UK citizenship from those with a dual citizenship, however according to these reports options are being explored to overturn international human rights conventions in order to strip citizenship from those with only a UK passport – rendering them stateless.


Not really British

It is interesting that the powers are intended to remove citizenship from ‘terror suspects’ and not ‘convicted terrorists’, implying that judgments over whether or not suspects are involved in types of behaviour that are ‘seriously prejudicial to the UK’ could be made outside of a formal legal proceeding.

Furthermore, the UK legal system – while it does not allow convicted criminals to vote – does not strip citizenship from those criminals. Could this power be extended to others, or is there a working assumption here that all terror suspects are ‘not really British’, and therefore can have their citizenship removed at the discretion of the state?

Discipline or dissent?

This points to a wider shift in the meaning we attribute to citizenship today. Traditionally, citizenship has been defined as a set of civil, social and political rights, and as such was conceptualised as emancipatory: the right to vote, the provision of basic social rights, the right to be treated equally, and so forth.

However, increasingly that meaning is changing, and particularly this has been in relation to how citizenship is gained. As May has continually commented, citizenship is now understood as a ‘privilege’ not a right, and it is something that is ‘earned’ through ‘good character’, citizenship testing and pledging allegiance.

All of this implies the requirement to conform to the state in order to gain citizenship. The citizenship test itself has been revised to include more content on history and culture, something which – as I have argued elsewhere – implies a greater demand for conformity to a specific type of state-sanctioned British identity.

The idea that citizenship can be revoked is dangerous no matter what the alleged crime, because it implies the ability of the state not only to demand conformity in gaining citizenship, but also that the state can revoke that citizenship at any time if someone is judged to have dissented. This is not the ideal of citizenship that lies at the heart of liberal democracy.

Dr Katherine Tonkiss is a Research Fellow in the School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham. She is interested in migration, citizenship and post-nationalism – particularly in relation to policy-making in the UK and the EU. Her book, Migration and Identity in a Post-National World, has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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Obama’s Soft Power A Hard Sell After NSA Revelations


POLSIS Senior Lecturer Dr Adam Quinn examines U.S. soft power in light of the recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance activities.

For presidents, like sports team managers, the tough weeks tend to outnumber the jubilant. But even by the standards of an unforgiving job, Barack Obama could be forgiven for feeling unusually buffeted of late. Many of the blows have come on the domestic front, with the all-consuming stand off of the government shutdown segueing into frantic efforts to defend and repair the roll-out of Obamacare amid charges of fatal technological incompetence. But if he were tempted to seek solace in the autonomy of foreign policy – as modern presidents have been wont to do – there has been little consolatory triumph to be found.

In August and September, he was caught in a mighty tangle over Syria, threatening military strikes over its chemical weapons use before being hamstrung first by Britain’s refusal to join the charge and then by the reluctance of his own Congress. The legacy of that mess continues to work itself out in unpredictable ways, such as increasingly public tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia, hitherto one of its more solid allies. Though the eventual Russian-orchestrated deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons was a respectable one given the circumstances, the episode as a whole spoke of an America straining to translate its power into influence, or to maintain a united front among its friends.

Now the rolling scandal over National Security Agency surveillance, triggered by the mass leak of secrets by Edward Snowden, has entered another phase of intensity, this time centred on Europe. Revelations that the US tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, operated numerous “listening posts” on European soil, and sucked up vast quantities of communications data from millions of citizens across Europe have broken in the press. Public expressions of displeasure have been forthcoming, including a European Union statement. Taken together, these vignettes of public dissention will be enough to make many ask the question: is the US losing its influence even over its allies? Is this just a tricky moment for a particular president, or harbinger of a broader trend?

Global shift

First, the necessary caveats: enduring alliance relationships resemble long marriages, in that the mere presence of moments of strain, or even audible arguments, cannot be taken as evidence of imminent separation. Looking back over the longer-term history of America’s relations with its allies, episodes such as the Vietnam War, the “Euromissile” crisis of the 1980s, and the controversial interventions in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, demonstrate that sharp differences of opinion and conflicting priorities are no radical new state of affairs.

And however unhappy they may be with their recent treatment, it is not obvious that countries such as Germany, France or Saudi Arabia have anywhere to go if they did decide the time had come to tout for alternative alliance partners. It is not entirely clear how European annoyance might manifest in ways that have practical importance. It is true they have it in their power to threaten progress on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership process, but it is not clear that such an action would harm the US more than Europe itself. In short, even if they are disgruntled, necessity may ultimately prove a sufficient force to help them get over it.

The reason present friction between the US and its allies carries greater weight, however, is that it arises in the context of a global shift in power away from the US and its established allies and towards new powers. The prospect of “American decline” in terms of relative international power is the focus of a great deal of debate over both substance and semantics. But the central fact is that even the part of the US’s own intelligence apparatus charged with long-term foresight regards it as established that within 20 years the world will have transitioned from the “unipolar” American dominance of the first post-Cold War decades to a world in which multiple centres of power must coexist. The centre of economic gravity has already shifted markedly towards Asia during the last decade.

This certainly does not mean any single new power is about to rise to replace the US as a hegemonic force. Nor does it mean the US will be going anywhere: the scale of its existing advantages across a range of fronts – military, economic, institutional – is sufficiently great that it is assured a prominent place at the table of whatever order may come. What it does mean is that Americans must presently be engaged in thinking carefully about how best to leverage their advantages to retain the maximum possible influence into the future. If they cannot continue to be first among equals in managing the world order, they will wish at least to ensure that order is one that runs in line with their own established preferences.

Soft power

Many of those who are optimistic about the ability of the US to pull off this project of declining power without declining influence place emphasis on two things: the extent to which the US has soft power due to widespread admiration for its political and cultural values, and the extent to which it has locked in influence through the extent of its existing networks of friends and allies. Even if these advantages cannot arrest America’s decline on harder metrics, if played properly they can mitigate its consequences and secure an acceptable future. Shoring up support from like-minded countries such as those of Europe ought to be the low-hanging fruit of such an effort.

So the current problems do harm on both fronts. It will be difficult to maintain the allure of soft power if global opinion settles on the view that American political discord has rendered its democracy dysfunctional at home, or that its surveillance practices have given rein to the mores of a police state. And it will be harder to preserve American status through the force of its alliances if its politicians’ economic irresponsibility (for example, publicly contemplating a default on American national debt) or scandals over surveillance or drone strikes alienate their public or cause their leaders to question the extent to which they really are on the same side as the US.

Obama’s day-to-day foreign policy struggles should not be simplistically taken as signs of collapsing American influence. But if the long-term plan is to carefully manage relative decline so as to preserves maximum influence, episodes such as those his country has faced since August do nothing to boost the prospects of success.

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Electoral deadlock means no end to Republican extremism

After 16 days of anxiety, grandstanding and acrimonious finger-pointing, Dr Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer in International Relations discusses the legacy of the government lockdown for the Republican Party
Tough crowd. Gonna get tougher. White House

After 16 days of anxiety, grandstanding and acrimonious finger-pointing, the experiment in American democracy that was the government shutdown has been run, and for the Republicans, the results were devastating.

With the immediate crisis over, amid a prevailing mood of exhaustion and contempt for those who precipitated it, Republican minds now turn to question of long-term electoral fallout. Immediate polling has suggested that association with the shutdown debacle has the potential to do damage to Republican hopes of winning a Senate majority, and some have even argued that it may lead them to lose the House of Representatives.

How realistic is the prospect of a Republican electoral blowout in 2014 as a legacy of recent events? Well, if it does happen, or even if the House numbers swing substantially towards the Democrats, it will certainly be because of recent missteps. The polling makes clear that an incumbent’s association with the shutdown can nudge voters to vote against them, making the strategic play during the campaigns a no-brainer for Democrats. A Republican loss of the House was considered a pipe dream only a few weeks ago, so the very existence of the debate suggests the severity of the recent error.

The path of moderation

Two points should be borne in mind, however. The first is that election day is more than a year away, meaning that much depends on what happens between now and then. Given that they were unconvinced of its wisdom in the first place, and it has now ended in ignominy, it might seem a reasonable prediction that the (relatively) moderate leaders of the Republican caucus will refuse to countenance any re-run of recent brinkmanship when the next set of budget and debt deadlines arrive.

They are seasoned enough operators to know the difference between tough negotiating and self-immolation, even if not all of their colleagues are. During some of the arguments to come – on the role of government, “entitlement” (health and welfare) spending and taxation – the GOP may be able to retain greater party unity and win more favour with the median voter, so long as they steer clear of flirting with nuclear options.

A successful Republican regrouping may rely, however, on the radical right being more chastened than they appear to have been by recent events, and accepting the need to rein in their more outlandish instincts, as opposed to mounting a renewed assault on the moderates in their own party. If, on the other hand, the radicals choose to interpret this latest defeat as a stab in the back by their own side and become even less controllable by the party leadership, all bets are off. We may yet find out where the party’s rock bottom ultimately lies.

Lest we forget, even when staring down the barrel of the gun on Wednesday night, a majority of Republican members of the House – 144, or 62% – voted against the deal which ultimately won the day. The difficulty involved in steering the Republican house majority onto the path of moderation should not be underestimated.

Saved by the gerrymander

Bleak as that may sound for the party’s electoral prospects, it is important to remember a second point: there is a structural safety net limiting how far the party can fall, least in the short term. If the Republican goal is ultimately to reclaim national power, then the shutdown circus may well have done them grievous harm, since the electorates for marginal Senate seats have tended to punish extremist candidates in the general election. Those voters show all the signs of responding badly to the recent burst of radicalism.

In the House, however, where the drawing of constituency boundaries usually lies in the hands of partisan state legislatures, dislodging the Republicans in 2014 will be a far taller order. Because they won big in 2010, Republicans were able to lock in advantageous boundaries for themselves for the next decade. Combined with other factors, such as the increasing geographical clustering of like-minded voters and the tendency of Democrat voters to be concentrated in urban districts, this helps explain why Democrats failed to win a majority of seats in the house in 2012 even though they won 1.4 million more votes nationwide.

The number of uncompetitive seats that this creates also helps explain why Congressmen fear a primary challenge from their own extreme flank as punishment for compromise far more than a backlash from the general electorate for adhering to doctrinaire positions.

Plumbing the depths

The story is more complicated than gerrymandering alone, but it is evident that the problem is real. Current arrangements make it unduly difficult for Democrats to translate national victory with the voters into a House majority.

Unless the misjudgements of both leadership and radical fringe continue to mount such that the Republican party plumbs catastrophic new depths of unpopularity, it seems highly likely the party will remain entrenched in their majority position in the House, even as their Senate and presidential aspirations falter.

President Obama will no doubt seek to press his advantage to maximum effect in the weeks ahead, as any politician worth his salt should. But so long as the electoral system remains as dysfunctional as it presently is, and so many of the participants within it so averse to the very idea of compromise, divided government seems all-too likely to continue after 2014. Sadly, with that comes the sort of government-by-crisis that has embarrassed America and horrified the world over recent months

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