Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Cartoon pig as soft power

Not all soft power comes from planned political action.

https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-china-blog-46954179
She's unlikely to feature on many lists of the all-time top British cultural icons.

But Peppa Pig - the UK-made children's cartoon character - is right up there with the best of them, at least in China.

With the series racking up 18 billion online views since its launch here seven years ago, the story of Peppa and her unfeasibly English middle class family is, arguably, doing more for Brand Britain than the Beatles, Manchester United and any of the culinary delights - for which the UK is rightly so renowned - put together…

It is then no surprise that, when a Peppa-shaped opportunity came knocking, the British powers that be seized the moment.

After watching an episode in which the precocious piglet and her friends visit the Queen in Buckingham Palace - and encourage her to join them jumping in muddy puddles - two Chinese twins posted a video message online, addressed to none other than Her Royal Majesty.

They too, like Peppa, wanted to visit her in her palace, they said.

And it worked.

Well, sort of.

The British ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward, posted her own video message in reply.
Ambassador Woodward with Me Ni and Me Ai
"Hello Mi Ni and Mi Ai," she said. "I'm the British ambassador, so I'm the Queen's representative in China.

"I'd like you to come and visit me in my house in Beijing," she went on, "and we can perhaps have tea and scones in a British style."

The post has been viewed more than nine million times in China - a multiple of 10 times more views than anything else Dame Barbara has posted in her entire four years as ambassador.

And so it was that two slightly bewildered five-year-olds found their way to her residence and munched on scones and chocolate cake, and sat colouring in pictures of Peppa Pig, in front of the assembled media.

The whole experience may not have been quite the same as the real deal, but they have also been promised a trip to the UK where they will, at least, get to see Buckingham Palace.

And the British embassy has launched a competition along with Youku - the online channel with the Chinese rights to Peppa Pig - the young winners of which will also join the twins for the trip…

A new Peppa Pig movie - made especially for the Chinese market - is due to be launched this coming Chinese New Year.

It is a collaboration between China's Alibaba Pictures and Canada's Entertainment One; although still made in the UK, Peppa Pig is now owned by the Canadian company.

The viral trailer for the film - which artfully grafts the story of Peppa onto seasonal themes of Chinese family and belonging - has received more than 300 million hits to date…

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Monday, January 21, 2019

UK: Speaker of the House

Don't let the terminology confuse you. The House of Commons has a speaker too.

‘Order! Order!’: Parliament Speaker Is Brexit’s Surprise Star and Villain
In the wretched purgatory that was Westminster last week, there was precisely one person who seemed to be having fun.

From the silk-canopied speaker’s chair of the House of Commons, John Bercow looked out over Britain’s squabbling Parliament and brayed, “Order! Order!” in that undrownoutable voice, something like an air-raid siren with postnasal drip…

The outside world rarely takes much notice of the speaker of the House of Commons, a nonpartisan and typically low-profile figure who presides over parliamentary debates. But Britain’s last-minute paralysis over exiting the European Union, or Brexit, has made Mr. Bercow into a kind of celebrity.

With less than 10 weeks left before the country is set to leave the bloc, he has broken precedent by wresting some control over the Brexit decision-making from Prime Minister Theresa May…
The speaker heading toward Commons
It is an extraordinary moment for Mr. Bercow, the 56-year-old son of a cabdriver from North London. An outsider sometimes mocked for his short stature (he is 5 foot 6½), he propelled himself through the Oxbridge-educated upper reaches of British society by sheer determination and is viewed, variously, as a sharp-elbowed bully and a champion of the rights of Parliament…

Even in the hyper-loquacious environment of British politics, Mr. Bercow stands out for his love of ornate language and withering insult.

“He could never say, ‘It’s great to see you’ ”; instead he would say, ‘It gives me inestimable pleasure to meet you for the finest condiments created by Mrs. Twinings,’ ” a colleague told Mr. Friedman, his biographer…

Mr. Bercow has made a career out of annoying his conservative colleagues. Some are still seething over his decision not to wear the traditional speaker’s regalia, including wig and knee-breeches, which he said created “a barrier between Parliament and the public.” …

But nothing has approached the fury that followed his decision to allow lawmakers to amend a business motion — effectively curbing the government’s powers….

Crispin Blunt, a lawmaker from the conservative Tory party, protested that Mr. Bercow could no longer claim to be a neutral arbiter on the issue of Brexit and should step down…

Ian Dunt, a political commentator who opposes Brexit, said the government has sidelined Parliament throughout the process, claiming that the referendum had provided the executive with a more direct form of sovereignty…

He compared this moment to 1642, when King Charles strode into the House of Commons and demanded that five lawmakers be arrested for treason. The speaker at the time, William Lenthall, refused his orders, telling the king in a famous speech that he acted solely on behalf of the House of Commons…

His precociousness and small stature did not ingratiate him to schoolyard bullies. Mr. Friedman said they threw him into a pond, laughing and saying, “Bercow can be in there with the other amphibians.” In university, “we’d quote Monty Python and he’d quote” the 19th-century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Andrew Crosbie, a fellow Tory activist, told Mr. Friedman.

He found his tribe in politics, a profession where his verbosity was an asset…

The events of the last week have won him praise from unusual quarters. The Times of London, calling him “hardly a sympathetic individual,” wrote approvingly of his actions, saying the government’s treatment of Parliament “has appeared drawn from the 17th century, frequently invoking the will of the people, much as the early Stuarts used to assert the divine right of kings.”…

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Friday, January 18, 2019

As promised, a new police force for Mexico

A new police force made up of soldiers. Will it be better at respecting citizens' rights than the army?

Mexico's crime-fighting national guard wins lower house approval
Mexican legislators have overwhelmingly voted for the creation of a new 60,000-member national guard, a proposal embraced by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a crucial tool in the fight against organised crimes.

The proposal was approved on Wednesday by about three-quarters of the lower house of Congress, 362 votes in favour and 119 against, with changes to Mexico's constitution requiring a two-thirds vote in both the chambers.

Obrador's MORENA party teamed up with smaller leftist allies and legislators from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to ensure the house's approval…

In the first phase, the national guard will be composed of some 60,000 members transferred from the existing military and federal police forces, but it was not clear when it might include new hires…

The proposal must still be approved by the Senate, and then a simple majority of state legislatures, but both are seen as likely because of the political strength of MORENA and its allies across Mexico.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Who are those "old boys?"

This opinion piece was written by Pankaj Mishra, an Indian essayist and novelist. What does it tell you about political socialization, the class system, and political culture in the UK?

The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class: With Brexit, the chumocrats who drew borders from India to Ireland are getting a taste of their own medicine.
Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

Such a pattern of egotistic and destructive behavior by the British elite flabbergasts many people today. But it was already manifest seven decades ago during Britain’s rash exit from India…

Louis Mountbatten [the last British governor general of India]… was a representative member of a small group of upper- and middle-class British men from which the imperial masters of Asia and Africa were recruited. Abysmally equipped for their immense responsibilities, they were nevertheless allowed by Britain’s brute imperial power to blunder through the world…

Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

Such a pattern of egotistic and destructive behavior by the British elite flabbergasts many people today. But it was already manifest seven decades ago during Britain’s rash exit from India…

Even a columnist for The Economist, an organ of the British elite, now professes dismay over “Oxford chums” who coast through life on “bluff rather than expertise.” “Britain,” the magazine belatedly lamented last month, “is governed by a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise.” In Brexit, the British “chumocracy,” the column declared, “has finally met its Waterloo.”…

Ireland, England’s first colony, have proved to be the biggest stumbling block for the English Brexiteers chasing imperial virility. Moreover, Britain itself faces the prospect of partition if Brexit, a primarily English demand, is achieved and Scottish nationalists renew their call for independence…

Humiliations in neo-imperialist ventures abroad, followed by the rolling calamity of Brexit at home, have cruelly exposed the bluff of what Hannah Arendt called the “quixotic fools of imperialism.” As partition comes home, threatening bloodshed in Ireland and secession in Scotland, and an unimaginable chaos of no-deal Brexit looms, ordinary British people stand to suffer from the untreatable exit wounds once inflicted by Britain’s bumbling chumocrats on millions of Asians and Africans. More ugly historical ironies may yet waylay Britain on its treacherous road to Brexit. But it is safe to say that a long-cossetted British ruling class has finally come to the end of itself as it was.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Preparing for a Nigerian election

A million temporary jobs to run an election.

INEC To Deploy One Million Ad Hoc Staff
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says not more than one million ad hoc staff will be deployed for the coming elections.
Organizing election workers

This was disclosed by Malam Mohammed Haruna, the Commissioner for North-Central, in Ilorin, on Monday…

According to Haruna, the ad-hoc staff would be sourced from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), federal tertiary institutions and Ministries Departments and Agencies.

“1, 886 candidates would contest the 109 senatorial districts in the country and 4,634 candidates contesting for the 306 House of Representatives seats. 14,643 candidates would contest for 991 posts in the various State Houses of Assembly," he said.

He confirmed that governorship elections would hold in 29 states, excluding Kogi, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States.

The commission urged all eligible voters who are yet to pick up their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to do so before the deadline, February 8, as there would be no extension.

Haruna also urged all residents to embrace peace before, during and after the elections exercise.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

The Jargon of British politics

Although British politicians and journalists talk about many of the same things American politicians and journalists do, the language the Brits use is often unfamiliar to Americans. Can you make sense of these?

Labour backs cross-party amendment to block no-deal Brexit
Let's start with the article's title. What's a "cross-party amendment"?

In the US, you would probably hear that kind of thing referred to as "bipartisan." (But that language might be misleading if you have more than two active parties in the legislature as the British do.)


"Labour is to support a backbench amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper that could severely restrict the government’s taxation powers unless a no-deal Brexit is taken off the table.

"The Labour frontbench is likely to whip its MPs to back the cross-party amendment, significantly increasing its chances of success in the Commons. Around a dozen Tory MPs have also signalled their intention to back the amendment…"

Ms Cooper's amendment has been "tabled." In American Robert's Rules of Orders, if you table something, it is set aside "on the table," and won't be considered unless the legislature votes to take it up (off the table). In the UK, a tabled amendment is one that has been introduced needs to be voted up or down.


And, what's the Labour "frontbench?" It's the party leaders who sit on the front bench in the House of Commons. The government "frontbench" sits on the opposite side alongside the Prime Minister (or her surrogate). The people occupying those front bench seats are often referred to as "front benchers". And the rest of the party members sit on the back benches and are referred to as "back benchers." The front benchers are the powerful people in Commons.


And what happens if Labour's frontbench whips its MPs to back the cross-party amendment?

Be assured there will be no physical violence. After all Commons is designed to discourage violence. The white lines between the government and opposition benches, which MPs are not supposed to cross, are far apart enough to discourage sword fighting.

Every day, the leadership of the parties distributes an agenda for
An agenda with two three-line whips
events in Commons. The agenda includes expected votes and instructions on how a good party member will vote.

Some votes are "free votes" meaning that party members can vote as they wish (or as they think their constituency wishes). Some votes on the agenda will be underlined by a single line. That's a single line whip. The party has taken a position, but it's not a really big deal if a member wishes to vote against the party.

A two-line whip is an instruction to attend Commons for the vote and to follow party policy unless given permission to abstain or vote contrary to the party's position.

If the vote on the agenda is underlined three times, it's a "three-line whip" and a big deal. An MP is expected to attend and to vote to support party policy. A violation of three-party whip is likely to lead to serious consequences. (Remember that nearly a third of the MPs hold party or legislative jobs handed out by party leaders.)

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Can you have an elections with virtually no voters?

An election requires voters, so election officials cast votes

Two voters showed up to a county election in China. So officials decided to cast the ballots themselves
On county election day at a village in central China, officials were faced with an awkward problem: almost no one showed up to vote.

So in a bid to at least give the appearance of an election, four officials in Beiping village decided to take matters into their own hands – by filling out the ballot papers themselves.

Their election fraud has been uncovered in an investigation by the ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog in Henan province, its official newspaper reported on Thursday.

In China, county-level members of the People’s Congress are among the only positions of public office directly elected by ordinary voters. But even those elections are tightly controlled and are often, if not always, won by candidates nominated or endorsed by the authorities. The national legislature is elected by members of the provincial bodies, who in turn are elected by those at the prefecture level.

After the 2017 election in Mianchi county, Beiping villagers reported the case to the local Discipline Inspection and Supervision Commission, since most of them had not voted. The county graft-buster then launched an investigation.

Four officials – including Huang Yuqing, who won the poll in Beiping – were found to have filled out more than 800 ballots on voting day, according to the Discipline Inspection and Supervision Daily report.

In fact, only two of the 663 villagers in Beiping were found to have actually voted in the election.

In addition, the investigation found that the Beiping officials had failed to notify most of the villagers of the election and did not hand out ballot papers, according to the report…

[V]illage head Yang Liyu… admitted to filling out ballots himself after he was shown evidence of the vote-rigging.

Yang told investigators that after only two villagers came to vote, the four cadres decided to cast the votes themselves instead of going door-to-door with the ballot papers…

Three of the officials – election winner Huang Yuqing, along with Huang Ziwei and Huang Quanqun – were given internal disciplinary punishments. Yang, the village head, was expelled from the party…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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