Chapter 1 examines how the Liberal Democrats’ political and electoral strategy worked in sync to tackle the entrenched structural obstacles of the party and electoral system head on. It details how the Liberal Democrats provided a viable alternative by abandoning their equidistance stance and simultaneously adopting high-profile policy positions and competent leadership, which allowed them to profit when their rivals floundered. With the removal of the equidistance shackles, we show how agency mattered. Policy distinctiveness on salient issues was presented through the personalised lens of the leader enhancing his popularity. Yet, the Liberal Democrats were not in complete control of their own destiny. Despite successfully presenting themselves as credible they were inextricably reliant on exploiting opponents’ policy mistakes in order to weaken established voter attachments to the two main parties. The chapter also examines how the party successfully translated votes into seats through an electoral strategy that built credibility through intensive grassroots activism, precise targeting and tailored messaging. Through an examination of the ‘Rennard strategy’ we examine how building a local platform and one-off parliamentary by-elections were integral to establishing electoral credibility and achieving success at Westminster. The chapter also explores how the party adapted its electoral strategy to target Labour during the 2000s and build new coalitions of support. Lastly, it assesses the post-Rennard era and how the electoral strategy evolved in the run-up to the 2010 general election.
Chapter 7 examines why the Liberal Democrats have struggled to rebuild and break through since 2015, a period of significant political turbulence, shocks and upheaval, which presented further obstacles but also electoral opportunities. The chapter addresses a number of themes, including longstanding structural issues that had bedevilled the party since its establishment, but which were exacerbated by its electoral collapse in 2015. It assesses how the coalition legacy and the weaponising of austerity weakened the Liberal Democrats’ recovery. The chapter also explores the salience of Brexit after 2016 and why this failed to be the political lifeline the party hoped for. It delves into competing explanations and assesses whether the failure to monopolise the Remain vote reflected embedded structural conditions or if the blame lay with the Liberal Democrats’own strategic miscalculations and misjudgements. The final theme explored is agency and whether the frailties and failings of Farron and Swinson proved pivotal in undermining any prospect of electoral growth. To address these themes the chapter is divided into two sections: profiling and evaluating the Liberal Democrats’ electoral performance in 2017 and then in 2019. Through this lens the chapter reveals why the Liberal Democrats found it so difficult to rebuild and were particularly vulnerable to fast-changing events and political shocks.
The diversity, compartmentalisation and assertion of youth in Amman (Jordan)
Although Amman is the young capital of a new country, is it a city for young people? Despite its reputation as a dull town, the city has gradually turned into an increasingly attractive hub. Today, it is characterised by a configuration that is dual, with working-class neighbourhoods to the east and affluent neighbourhoods to the west, and ‘multipolar zed’, with each neighbourhood having its own commercial, business and recreational spaces. Over half of its population is under twenty years old. Leisure activities have gradually expanded, offering among other things more venues for outings and entertainment spread out in a rather random way in the upscale western part of the conurbation. Consumerism exploded as shopping malls modelled on those in the Gulf states were developed in the western part of the city. A notable exception to the development of consumer-leisure venues in increasingly outlying neighbourhoods is a central residential area from the 1940s and 1950s, which has been renovated into a friendly and attractive space: the eastern part of Jabal Amman Hill, known as ‘Rainbow Street’. The area is often presented as Amman’s ‘bohemian’ spot due to its exhibition venues for local artists, a cinema, restaurants and ‘trendy’ cafes. In short, it is a special place to observe the different young people who live in Amman but do not necessarily meet.
From the refugee camps that stud Palestine to the new districts of Ramallah, the default capital of the Palestinian authority, clubs exist to teach dabke dancing to young people and spread it among them. At shows, the term used is ‘dance troupe’, but few of these have the means to project their fame and style beyond the local space. And even the best-known clubs are, in very large part, run by volunteers as charitable associations. It is these ‘troupes’ and their young dancers of both sexes that we shall examine here, mainly in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Given that, in other parts of the world, the younger generations are said to be indifferent to ‘tradition’, how are we to explain the success of dabke among young Palestinians? What does this dance represent for young adults of the 2010s and what meanings do they ascribe to it? To discuss this question, we have chosen to concern ourselves here with the dabke that is taught, choreographed and performed in shows, not with the more spontaneous form mainly danced at weddings.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in the spring of 2011 brought to the foreground some social actors who had hardly been known until then by either the general public or the Western media: young musicians of the alternative scene (hip-hop, rock or fusion). These young artists were not born with the movements of 2011. Most of them emerged in the mid-2000s, more or less from the underground, depending on the country and the context. This new craze raises the difficult and ambiguous question of where this alternative music fits in the societies concerned. The fashions of the moment, the different media and above all the Internet make these artists seem like social phenomena, probably over-hyped by the media compared with their real impact. But no one can deny that these young musicians, along with many other artists or ordinary citizens, are also voices of social change. The profiles of Moroccan rockers, particularly those in the urban region stretching from Casablanca to Rabat, and their relationship with other alternative musical trends (hip-hop, fusion) are good examples to help us understand the capacities for mobilisation and self-expression of these new musical movements. They also show how difficult it is for them to put down lasting roots given their fragility, even their weakness, in the face of powerful networks of social and political control. To outline the complexity and ambivalence of this underground movement, it will help if we briefly trace the history of rock in Casablanca.
Ninety million videos were being viewed every day on YouTube in Saudi Arabia in the early 2010s: the absence of cinemas (up until 2018) partly explained the record figure which placed this country of just under thirty million inhabitants in third place worldwide in terms of audience on this online video platform – behind the United States and Brazil with about 300 and 200 million inhabitants respectively. This figure is a good indicator of the importance of the transformations brought about by the meteoric development of the Arab Internet. A little more than a decade after the authorities opened it to the public, just around the turn of the millennium, nearly one in two Saudis watched videos on YouTube on a daily basis, and four out of five logged into the site at least once a week. For almost all Saudis, online video viewing had thus become a daily ritual for the youngest age groups that make up the overwhelming majority of social media users (70 per cent of their users in the Arab world are aged between fifteen and thirty). Such a growing demand naturally generated an expanding supply for the local public.
The Egyptian Church stripped bare by its children?
The contemporary renewal of taranim (singular: tarnima) and the production of videos inspired by these songs are a product of the development of a Coptic ‘mass culture’ in contemporary Egypt. Regarded by most Copts as the current expression of a centuries-old culture, taranim give concrete expression to the sense of belonging of the community. But these songs – and the videos that have been associated with them for around a decade – intersect with, or are stimulating, a diversity of social, religious and cultural practices that deviate at times from the code of behaviour prescribed by the Church. Combined with the attraction that charismatic currents and the ‘born again’ Christians have exerted over Christian youth in Egypt over the last twenty years or so, taranim in renewed form show Coptic dissatisfaction with clerical dogmatism. They also bring into play a vision of the individual and faith opposing that of the Mother Church.