Animal Politicum

'Politicum animal est homo, politicum, id est sociale et communicativum.' Saint Thomas, Com. in Ethic. Nicom. i. 7, 1097

Riding immigration to Westminster

I saw this at work today, and just had to write about it: while 12% of Britons indicated intention to vote for the UKIP according to the latest YouGov voting intention polls (a significant rise compared to 2010’s actual 3.1% and late 2012’s projected 8%), double that amount seem to consider the party the most trustworthy “to deal with the issue of immigration” (compared to Conservatives’ 19%, Labour’s 12% and the Lib Dems’ 5%).

While it is too early to draw any concrete conclusions, said figures are indicative of the existing influence of UKIP on the current British political agenda, which is highly likely to increase even more – along with its projected votes. One need not look far for signs. Earlier this month, Labour addressed immigration in a party political broadcast for the first time in their institutional history, admitting being “wrong in the past” about the issue. The governing coalition’s recent decision to scrap and re-structure the UK Border Agency was called by home affairs commentators a “sign of politicians spooked by UKIP”.

The UKIP wastes no time in capitalising on policy shifts caused, in part, by its increasingly important role in British politics. Mere hours after David Cameron’s EU referendum speech, Nigel Farage was calling the referendum debate “UKIP’s biggest victory to date“, boasting that the party was “more relevant than ever”. Similarly, Farage called the PM’s late March 2013 immigration speech “a clear echo of UKIP’s policy”, arguing that the real aim of government policy ideas on the issue of migration is “to counter the threat of UKIP”.

It’s safe to argue that, judging from the results of these recent YouGov polls, the threat is all too real.

One has to wonder, though; were those respondents really aware of the party’s hardline stance on immigration and asylum (their aim to reintroduce the ‘Primary Purpose Rule’ is an illustrative example),  or simply making an emotional, protest choice loosely based on known party line? I am inclined toward the second, but lack any data to back this up.

However, the more I look at latest developments in British politics, the more I am convinced I am watching a re-run of  post-2009 Greece. Ruling right wing party of country in recession loses votes from its right flank on issues such as immigration, adopts increasingly hardline stance, ultimately fails to avert disgruntled voters from veering towards previously insignificant right wing party. At the same time, previously insignificant right wing party influences government agenda, capitalises on ruling party’s increasingly hardline stance on issues such as immigration claiming at the same time it is nowhere near enough, attracts disgruntled voters, becomes key player.

A further similarity is that UKIP’s support comes from “workers towards the bottom end of the pay scale, struggling to get by with increased living costs, while a difficult business climate and redundancy continue to threaten”; an expanding audience under current circumstances. Herein, I believe, lies the true reason behind the current focus on immigration, and UKIP’s recent successes. As recession bites deeper into the economy, and traditional political forces fail to get things right, disappointed voters are looking for culprits and change agents. Inevitably, immigrants “taking British jobs” fit that first category perfectly. The UKIP is trying hard to fit the second and it looks like it’s succeeding.

Thankfully, in the case of the UK, no protest votes have gone to neo-Nazi nationalists or junta nostalgists.

That being said, watch this space. The UKIP, after all, has a right flank as well.


Books I have read #002: Storia della Camorra & Gomorrah [Greek editions]


Two of my fondest memories from last Christmas in Greece were these two books on Camorra, Napoli’s local brand of mafiosi.

Storia della Camorra (Η Ιστορία της Καμόρα) is an immensely interesting and well-researched history book by Naples native journalist/ writer Vittorio Paliotti. Chock-full of historical documents, anecdotal stories and the most minute detail on Camorra practice and ritual, Storia della Camorra is so well-written it reads like a charm from the beginning to the end. It is one of those few books that will delight both history and literature buffs equally.

The cherry on top is that the Greek translation of Storia della Camorra uses old Greek street lingo, which gives the book an eerily authentic feel.

As there is no English translation of this wonderful book, interested English speakers will have to brush up on their Greek- or Italian- to experience it.

My only gripe with the book was that it dedicated too little space to what the Camorra has been up to since its revival in the 1970s. Good thing I had bought Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah in the meantime.

Gomorrah (Γόμορρα – Ταξίδι στην οικονομική αυτοκρατορία και στο όνειρο για κυριαρχία της Καμόρρα) is the book that sent its author, Roberto Saviano, into hiding and police protection after death threats by Camorra godfathers, understandably angry at the book’s content – for this book has a lot to be angry about if you are a Camorra godfather.assets_LARGE_t_1581_1360100_type11389

Saviano, combining fact, personal experience and  prose, delivers a scathing indictment of a book: he deconstructs Camorra’s modern operational structure, sheds light on its links with the Italian economy and society, names and shames major Camorra figures and most importantly, highlights the implications of Camorra’s operations for Naples, Italy and the wider European area. This, I believe, is the biggest contribution of his book to the debate on organised crime in Italy and Europe: illustrating how the activity of organisations like Camorra can extend far beyond its local context and affect everyone from Neapolitan drug addicts to Chinese labourers – and even a number of Saviano’s Northern European readers. In today’s globalised world, Saviano tells us, there is no such thing as localised crime. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

English speakers who haven’t checked it out yet need to head over to PanMacmillan to get their selves a copy; Greek speakers had better invest in the Patakis edition, an excellent job both in terms of translation and book binding.

Books I have read #001: Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq

James R. Arnold’s Jungle of Snakes is essentially a compilation of case studies of famous counterinsurgency (COIN) battles, meant to “provide readers with a historical foundation so that informed citizens can assess how the [“Long War”] fight is going”. Arnold accomplishes the task and identifies patterns of victory and defeat by examining two successful (the Philippines after 1898 and Malaya 1948–1960) and two failed military campaigns (Algeria 1954–1962 and Vietnam).

Jungle of Snakes cover

Analysis of said conflicts leads Arnold to interesting insights with regard to COIN operations, such as the importance of providing security to local populations, knowledge of local language and culture, and long-standing commitment and reforms “tackling the roots of insurgency”.

Having read – and enjoyed – Arnold’s work, I can’t help but think that Jungle of Snakes could have been so much more with a bit more focus and a lot more content. Yet this is what I would have wanted from this book. Arnold wanted to write something digestible that serves as a well-written introduction to both counterinsurgency conflict and the specific campaigns- and in this aspect, he succeeded resoundingly.