RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013

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251 Geographies of the political party (1)
Affiliation Political Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) James Scott (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Jane Wills (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Chair(s) James Scott (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2013, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Skempton Building, Room 307
Session abstract While Low (2007) noted the rather strange neglect of the political party in geographical scholarship almost half a decade ago, research has been slow to develop. Indeed when considered at all, democracy and the political parties which function within democratic systems have had an almost ‘ghostly presence’ (Barnett and Low 2004: 1), restricted to providing the institutional backdrop for more serious analyses of neo-liberal governance or radical social movements. When political parties are brought into focus by geographers, it is has either been through an empirical lens (Johnston and Pattie 2008) or when positioned as liberal institutions active only in relationship with the state (Agnew 1996).

In other words, political parties have not been subjected to the type of analyses prompted by the social and cultural theory which permeates the geographic literature. This is despite the fact that political parties are born in particular places; that their relationships to the electorate, the state and other power-brokers exist in and across space; that they play an active role in local political life and its possibilities; that they are present in the mediation of democracy at all spatial scales; and that they bear particular traditions which shape the trajectory of the nation and international relations. This session is therefore designed to subject the geography of political parties to scrutiny.
Linked Sessions Geographies of the political party (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2013@rgs.org
Politics is ordinary
Clive Barnett (The Open University, UK)
The relative neglect of parties in the political imagination of critical human geography is a symptom of a broader closure around what shows up as properly political in this field. This neglect is a function of various epistemological prejudices, including: the conventions of ‘being political’ as a principle of academic criticism and vocation in this field; a preference for styles of analysis which seek to uncover, expose, give voice to the marginal, and are systematically wary of the obvious; an elective affinity with the romances of resistance; an empirical focus on social movement practices; a conceptually narrow account of the dynamics of governance and the state; preference for models of power in terms of centres and peripheries, top-down and bottom-up processes, grassroots, incorporation, which amounts to a conceptual spatialization of political virtue; a systematic suspicion of the role of practices of representation in political life.

This variety of empirical and theoretical commitments cashes-out in terms of the persistence search for ‘non-trivial’ accounts of politics and the political, ones which define their own significance by the distance they take from the most obvious and immediate understandings of politics available to us. The paper outlines an approach to thinking about politics ordinarily, and elaborates this in relation to three overlapping issues: the similarities between social movement practices and the operations of political parties; considerations of the dependency of vibrant social movement politics on contexts in which political parties are structurally weak; and the status of political parties in non-Western contexts of democratization.
Great Britain’s Political Parties: the Geography of the Grass Roots
Ron Johnston (University of Bristol, UK)
David Cutts (Bath University, UK)
Ed Fieldhouse (The University of Manchester, UK)
Justin Fisher (Brunel University, UK)
Charles Pattie (The University of Sheffield, UK)
Much has been written in recent years about the decline of British political parties, including their membership and their ability to mount substantial local campaigns at general elections. In part as a reflection of this situation there has been a growing centralisation in the organisation of those local campaigns, focused on the marginal constituencies where the elections are won and lost. To evaluate the contemporary situation, this paper draws on three data sources – candidates’ returns of expenditure at recent general elections; local party annual accounts; and surveys of candidates’ election agents – to provide an overall appreciation of the geography of party strength over the last decade.
The influence of political corruption on a modern economy: the case of Sydney and NSW Labor
Phillip O'Neill (University of Western Sydney, Australia)
Any geography of party-state relations and practice must necessarily incorporate consideration of the corruption of these relations and practices, and the impacts of this corruption both on the operations of the state and on life in general.

This paper seeks to build a better understanding of the nature and impacts of corruption in political parties through an examination of a long history of corruption events in the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. The NSW branch has always been central to the ways class politics has been performed in Australia. In particular tendencies to pragmatism, loyalties to the Church of Rome (and associated anti-communism), tribal social structures, and deep penetration of the state’s apparatus, have seen NSW Labor produce and enact power in ways dominated by select individuals and small groups while maintaining vastly loyal networks of supporters and activists across many of NSW’s key social realms especially the parliament, the law, unions, government agencies, the Catholic Church and its schools, and sport.

The paper argues that persistent political corporation in NSW is fostered by the peculiar nature of these party-state relations and networks; and that there is much evidence to show Australia's contemporary spatial economy – especially its Sydney-based, financialised, globalised components – cannot be explained without reference to the power assembled and enacted corruptly within NSW Labor.

Note: It should be understood that corruption here refers to improper practices (broadly defined) such that there is no intention to suggest that the NSW Labor Party or its members are or have been engaged in illegal activity, other than where illegal conduct has been publicly exposed or proven.
Community organising and the Labour Party on Kilburn High Road
James Scott (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
In the aftermath of the 2010 election many in the British labour movement began questioning how their political party would rebuild its membership, in numbers and capacity, and enable local parties to once again have a transformative impact on the lives of the people and communities they sought to represent. Searching for an answer has led sections of the Labour Party to experiment with the techniques and principles of community organising. This paper examines one such Labour-led experiment in Kilburn, North West London, and the community organising campaign against ‘Legal Loan Sharks’ in that area. Initial findings, based on participatory observations and interviews, suggest a set of nascent political formations centred on collaborative, reciprocal relationships between Labour activists and the Leaders of local civil society institutions. Such relationships are creating opportunities for new entanglements and negotiations between the local state and an organised and potentially more powerful civil society, challenging the perceived notions of citizenship of those involved and creating an expectation of heightened involvement and direction over the public policy development process. In light of this case study, and the broader ideological context of organisational reform within the Labour Party, the paper problematizes those theories of ‘the political’ within radical geography which tell a story of a post-political civic landscape occupied by vacant liberal political parties.