Category Archives: Politics and International Relations

British Generals in Blair’s Wars – a guest post from Hew Strachan

This is a guest post from Hew Strachan, editor (with Jonathan Bailey and Richard Iron) of British Generals in Blair’s Wars


In 2003–4 I was one of a group of five Oxford academics who set up the Changing Character of War Programme, thanks to a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. We were determined that this would be an opportunity not just to conduct academic study but also to engage with practitioners, and to that end we were extremely fortunate to engage Major General Jonathan Bailey. He had not only been the British Army’s last Director General of Development and Doctrine but also—very unusually for a British general—possessed a Ph. D. The book would not have come into being without the Programme, the Trust and the General.

British Generals in Blairs WarsNobody then could foresee how the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan would dominate the next decade. Jonathan’s original focus lay on the Army’s most recent conflicts, those of the 1990s in the Gulf, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Sierra Leone. They form the opening chapters of the book and for somebody like me—who had been brought up in the Cold War—they carried a great deal of intrinsic interest precisely because they dealt with real wars and not with conflict understood simply as theory. But the real excitement was to follow. Soon we were in a fortnightly cycle of seminars during the Oxford terms, at which officers who had recently returned from operations gave us their thoughts and reflections.

Following the campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan vicariously, albeit in the comfort of All Souls College, Oxford, gave me an insight into the conduct of war which I had never imagined that I—as an academic—would ever be privileged to acquire. Of course, I was not experiencing the intensity of fighting or even of service in a theatre of war. I was safe, warm and well fed. But I gained a perspective different from those who were in the field, precisely because my involvement was not broken by the rotations into and out of theatre but continued week by week. I developed a real sense of development over time—of the ways in which the character of war does indeed change as one side adapts to the enemy, to its political masters and its allies, and to the terrain and the seasons. I learnt that ‘the changing character of war’ was not just a convenient phrase, but a reflection of a core truth.

For a historian, there was a further privilege. This was the first cut at a narrative, revealing details and depths untouched by the press. Much is now in the public domain, not least as a result of the evidence taken by the Chilcot enquiry. But the discussions by Tim Cross of the arrangements (or lack of them) for the post-war occupation of Iraq or by Andrew Stewart of coalition politics in MND South East were then both new and jaw-dropping.

Jonathan Bailey had intended that he would edit the results into a book, but his other commitments precluded that. We were lucky that Richard Iron, himself a key figure in the British Army in Iraq as well as another very thoughtful and reflective soldier, came to Oxford on a Defence Fellowship and could begin to collate and coordinate what Jonathan had accumulated. Richard rendered what had been intended for oral delivery into prose for the page, without losing immediacy or suppressing difference. I had never imagined that, for all my role as the host at the original seminars, I would find myself figuring so prominently, both as contributor and as co-editor. It has been a privilege. It is also one which I hope will benefit the British Army as it digests the lessons of its recent conflicts, waged by an unusually intelligent and articulate group of officers.


About the author: Sir Hew Strachan is Chichele Professor of the History of War, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and was Director of the Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War from its inception in 2004 until 2012. He is the author of several highly acclaimed books on military history, including European Armies and the Conduct of War (1983), The Politics of the British Army (1997), and The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (2001). He is a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the World War I Centenary Advisory Board. He has also written extensively on strategy, and is a member of the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel.

“We are all migrants” – the psychological wellbeing of migrants

9781472450326Brendan Kelly, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCD and author of Dignity, Mental Health and Human Rights: Coercion and the Law wrote an impassioned piece for the Irish Times earlier this week – where he discusses some of the results of his research with UCD into the mental health needs of migrants seeking mental health services in Dublin.

The full text of his article can be found here.

British Generals in Blair’s Wars – a guest post from Jonathan Bailey

This is a guest post from Jonathan Bailey, editor (with Richard Iron and Hew Strachan) of British Generals in Blair’s Wars


As the Cold War was ending, the British Army ‘discovered’ the Operational level of war, and officers at all levels were encouraged to study, think creatively and discuss their profession in a way that had perhaps not been seen, or even encouraged, for many years. I was associated with those efforts in various posts for 9 years between 1989 and 2005. I became convinced that an Army which thought about its profession was better placed to succeed than one which did not. I remembered Richard Holmes quoting a senior French general of the late 19th Century, “Any officer who publishes anything is guilty of an act of mutiny”. Students on the Higher Command and Staff Course (HCSC) smiled, knowing that today’s British Army was a very different institution.

From 2002 to 2005, when I left the Army, I was the Director General Development and Doctrine, responsible for generating much of the British Army’s doctrine and its lessons learned system. That said, I came to understand that my ability to do this was limited by the authority of the new Joint doctrine organization and the decision to conduct lessons learned from current campaigns, elsewhere. Nevertheless, I was in a good position to follow those operations and to debrief those who had commanded on them. This generation of commanders was precisely that which had first attended the HCSC, about a decade earlier, and it was fascinating to see how the structure of their understanding of their own experiences was coloured by that education.

On leaving the British Army, I retained an interest in the subject and proposed to Professor Hew Strachan that I might run a seminar series at All Souls College, Oxford, as part of his Changing Character of War Programme. The latter took a multi-disciplinary approach, encompassing International Relations, Ethics and Law. It seemed to me that it would be appropriate to match this with a study of the changing practice of war, as it was unfolding in two campaigns, through the eyes of those I knew well and who now bore command responsibilities for those operations. When the seminar series began, there was little expectation that these campaigns would last for a decade, or that the issues arising would be so profound and anguished.

I am heavily indebted to Hew for agreeing to support these seminars, all in keeping with his college’s mission to meld academia with public service. Hew’s credentials as the country’s leading authority on strategy and his enduring support to the MOD on a wide range of military matters made him the ideal person to exercise academic oversight over the seminars.

British Generals in Blairs WarsBrigadier Richard Iron and I had worked together for many years, and I know of nobody else whose knowledge and personality is so suited to the study of conflict in dangerous regions of the world, and who is so adept at identifying key factors and producing new and pragmatic doctrine. When he left the Army, he kindly agreed to join Hew and myself to turn the seminar papers into an edited book, fit for publication. In fact, Richard did all of the heavy-lifting, as well as writing a tremendous chapter on his own experiences in Iraq.

It was gratifying that so many reviews and other comment were positive, valuing this input of diverse primary source material. Some, however, seemed wide of the mark. One reviewer detected an underlying theme, and while chapters may be linked by subject, the contributions were written individually over 6 years with no author being permitted to review their piece with hindsight. Typically an officer, just home from his six- or twelve-month tour, would be pestered by me to speak, just when his thoughts were probably about getting away with his family on well-earned leave. Despite that, a number noted that the seminars had been very worthwhile personally, committing them to analyse what they had just experienced.

While the focus of this collection (and of the HCSC seminars) was on command in theatre, one reviewer noted the omission of material about senior command back in the UK. Happily a study of senior military command in the UK, in PJHQ and the MOD has been undertaken in a brilliant and original book, High Command, by my former colleague Christopher Elliott. His sympathetic yet penetrating study is one which I wish I had written.

A difficult issue at the time of publication was the MOD’s decision not to permit serving officers to contribute to it, even though the editors and publisher were ready to launch. This caused a major delay to publication and became an interesting topic for debate in its own right. Why did the MOD object to serving officers contributing? The right of the MOD to withhold permission for serving personnel to publish is well established, and it was quietly accepted, although it came as a cultural surprise. That said, one senior author, cut from the book, did urge ‘publish and be damned’. This was, after all, the generation educated to value independent thought and the value of professional military education.

The MOD’s decision seemed inconsistent: Security concerns were cited, but the contributors would be among the last people ever to compromise UK security; and that could not really have been the issue as the contributions to the book could be published immediately on the author’s retirement. One contribution had essentially been published some years earlier in a well-known defence journal, having been cleared by the MOD. Most of the material in the book had already been cleared incrementally by the MOD as serving officers prepared for their seminars. What seemed to have changed was the political direction, and it was noted that from about the time of publication officers found far greater restrictions imposed on their participation in Defence conferences.

One of the strengths of Britain’s Defence establishment is the plethora of think-tanks, institutes, and journals, based mainly in London. It became somewhat troubling that the contributions of expert practitioners should be so diminished in the public debate about Defence. Engaging the public in a sustained study of the military profession is an important element of military–civil relations in a democracy. There is a danger that a serious attempt to pursue professional study and education in the national interest can become caught up in an entirely different dynamic, that of immediate news management by the government of the day.

This has not always been the case, and there are many examples of broad-minded Secretaries of State who have taken a more indulgent and enlightened approach, in some cases because of their own genuine interest in military affairs. Happily, as Robin Day once observed, the reign of ministers is short lived.


About the author: Jonathan Bailey’s last appointment in the British Army before he retired in 2005 was Director General Development and Doctrine. He served in Northern Ireland, commanded Assembly Place ROMEO in Rhodesia in 1979-80; was Operations Officer 4th Field Regiment RA during the Falklands War; and in 1999 was KFOR’s Chief Liaison Officer to the Yugoslav General Staff and to the Kosovo Liberation Army. He has written several books and articles on defence and strategic themes. Since 2005 he has worked in the defence industry, and led the seminar series on Campaigning and Generalship, at the University of Oxford.

Neville Chamberlain: A Biography – a guest post from Robert Self

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

In this guest post, Professor Robert Self, author of Neville Chamberlain: A Biography and the editor of four volumes of the Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters reflects on the motivations and objectives behind his eight-year project on this much maligned and misunderstood politician and statesman.


Neville ChamberlainFrom a purely personal perspective, the appearance of my 573 page biography of Neville Chamberlain represented a very satisfying culmination of an eight-year project which began with the publication of four volumes of Neville Chamberlain’s diary letters to his sisters, Hilda and Ida, written weekly from 1915 until shortly before his death in November 1940.

The first of these volumes was published by Ashgate in 2000 with the fourth volume covering the crucial period of Chamberlain’s premiership appearing in 2005. The full-scale biography followed in 2006. My acquaintanceship with the Chamberlain family, however, stretches back to 1975 when my doctoral research first introduced me to the riches contained in the Chamberlain family archives held at Birmingham University Library.

Having produced an edited volume of Austen Chamberlain’s diary letters to his sisters in 1996, my mind turned to the far more ambitious idea of conducting a similar exercise with those of his younger and more famous half-brother. This was always going to be a far more formidable undertaking. Neville was an extremely diligent correspondent, sending lengthy epistles to his sisters at least once a week giving extremely detailed accounts of events and the individuals involved in them. As such, it represents an almost continuous record of British high politics untouched by later efforts to sanitise or correct the historical record with the wisdom of hindsight. Moreover, because this confidential correspondence mattered so much to Chamberlain, in the intimate personal – almost confessional – confines of these letters he was truly able to be himself, sharing his secrets, unburdening himself of his emotions and displaying his strengths and weaknesses of character, his assumptions, prejudices, values and inclinations while he indulged his self-confessed ‘epistolary garrulity’.

Notwithstanding the obviously immense value of this historical record, finding a publisher prepared to give the diary letters the treatment they deserved appeared likely to be a major problem. Certainly, by any standard, this represented a formidable publishing challenge given that there are almost 1200 letters containing nearly 2,000,000 words, spanning a quarter of a century during which Chamberlain stood at the very heart of British politics. Moreover, while possible to omit some of the routine trivia, alongside the valuable political content it was essential to retain enough of his observations concerning the antics of his children and his passion for birdwatching, botany, entomology, gardening, fishing and shooting to reveal that more human side of Chamberlain’s personality which he deliberately obscured beneath a sternly austere and ostensibly humourless demeanour. In the event, I was extraordinarily fortunate to find in Ashgate a publisher who more than fulfilled my highest expectations in terms of both understanding the nature of the task and in the remarkable quality of the volumes produced. Precisely the same can be said about Ashgate’s handling of the Neville Chamberlain biography itself. For all this support and encouragement I owe a particular and very substantial debt of gratitude to Tom Gray.

A variety of factors persuaded me that a full-scale biography was the obvious final stage in my Chamberlain project. First, while editing the diary letters I had conducted extensive research in over 150 collections of private papers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as exhaustive study in countless official files at The National Archive. As much interesting new material had to be discarded when writing the relatively brief introductory chapters to each volume, the answer seemed to be a full-scale biography. By basing the biography primarily on these contemporary records, I hoped to capture Chamberlain’s own authentic voice as he explains, justifies and rationalises unfolding events and his responses to them. Like Keith Feiling some 60 years earlier, the principal intention was not to excuse or condemn Chamberlain, but rather to ‘let N.C. speak for himself’ in order to understand more clearly why he acted as he did and what he hoped to achieve during a long and dedicated career of public service to his country.

The second motivating factor was essentially historiographical. Despite the fierce controversy which still surrounds Chamberlains reputation, Keith Feiling’s biography of Chamberlain was still regarded as the best and most complete account even though it had been published 60 years earlier and by the author’s own admission it was only of a ‘provisional character’ until other archival sources became available. Since its publication in 1946, there have been astonishingly few other attempts at a single volume biography and those which did appear added little to our understanding of this most enigmatic of politicians. The intention, therefore, was to produce the first comprehensive single volume account of the life, record and achievements of a 20th century politician and statesman of the first rank using all of the archival material available to scholars.

The final motivation was more personal in that I confess to a rankling sense of injustice at many of the less balanced verdicts on Chamberlain’s record – particularly from a vociferous post- or counter-revisionist school. The position adopted in the biography could be best described as that of a qualified ‘revisionist’. On one hand, Chamberlain is undoubtedly guilty of lamentable errors of judgement compounded at times by an unrelentingly fatuous optimism – particularly after March 1938. But on the other hand, there is equally little doubt that Chamberlain quite rightly grasped that Britain was trapped in a vulnerable and reactive position at the mercy of a complex inter-related web of strategic, military, economic, financial, industrial and electoral constraints over which he had little control in the short term. As a self-proclaimed ‘realist’, Chamberlain’s consistent response to this conundrum was thus to pursue what he called ‘the double policy’ of rearmament at a pace the economy could sustain combined with the quest for better relations with the dictators by redressing legitimate grievances. Or as he described his strategy to Lord Halifax on his return from Munich ‘we must hope for the best while preparing for the worst’.

In the event, Chamberlain’s loss of the premiership in May 1940 signalled the far greater loss of his credibility and reputation. As Churchill is once supposed to have quipped, ‘Poor Neville will come badly out of history. I know, I will write that history’. As David Dutton has demonstrated in his outstanding study of Chamberlain’s evolving reputation, this proved to be a remarkably shrewd prediction because for many years Churchill’s highly-coloured version of events held the field unchallenged and unchallengeable. This caricature of the 1930s painted in a compellingly simplistic monochrome of black and white, right or wrong, good versus evil, courage in ‘standing up to Hitler’ versus craven appeasement, still continues to hold sway in popular memory, in television dramas and (more depressingly) in historical texts even to this day.

As a result, Chamberlain remained a profoundly underrated, misjudged and misunderstood figure with his many achievements in the domestic sphere too easily overshadowed by the final three years of his life. Had he died in 1937 he would have gone down in history as a great peacetime minister – a radical but realistic social reformer, a supremely talented administrator and the driving force behind many of the National Governments under-estimated successes after 1931. Above all, in perhaps the most original contribution of this biography, a detailed analysis of Chamberlain’s period as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937 refutes much of the pervasive mythology surrounding this neglected and most woefully misunderstood period of his entire career. Contrary to the standard indictment, as Chancellor Chamberlain was not a passive mouthpiece for the blinkered views of his Treasury officials without the political will, imaginative vision or personal courage to do more than tinker impotently until the so-called ‘natural forces of recovery’ rescued Britain from the Great Depression. On the contrary, Chamberlain actively contributed to the development of innovative Treasury thinking to the extent that he can be regarded legitimately as the founder of a species of pre-Keynesian “managed economy” in Britain between the wars – particularly as the architect of a highly innovative brand of interventionist industrial and regional policy conceived as a fundamental solution to Britain’s long-term industrial problems.

For all the achievements, Chamberlain remains all too often the subject of vitriolic attack simply because perceptions of his long and varied career have been fundamentally blighted by the ultimate failure of his policy of appeasement during the last three years of his life. As he confessed to the Commons on the outbreak of war: ‘Everything I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins’. Unfortunately for Chamberlain, contemporaries and posterity have judged him accordingly. Yet the failure of appeasement is only one explanation for the personal venom so often injected into assessments of the man and his reputation. Ultimately, at the heart of the problem lies Chamberlain’s own quite deliberate attempt throughout his life to obscure the very existence of a deeper and more complex personality lurking behind the austerely forbidding persona. As Chamberlain’s PPS during the late 1930s, Alec Douglas-Home was absolutely correct when he later observed that his political master was ‘a rare complex person, half of him hidden from the world’. For all those excluded from the closed circle of family and a few real intimates, everything about the public face he presented to the world reinforced the impression that he was a man wholly devoid of instinctive warmth, sympathy and even humanity. As Harry Snell put it, his demeanour suggested that he had been ‘weaned on a pickle’. Or as a disgruntled Birmingham constituent is supposed once to have complained, ‘if you cut the bugger in half neither part would bleed’. Again, posterity has often uncritically followed where Chamberlain’s contemporaries led, by focusing far too much on the outwardly cold, smug and supposedly arrogant persona which, in Donald Watt’s view, makes it ‘extremely difficult to like Neville Chamberlain’.

Neville Chamberlain went to his grave in November 1940 absolutely confident that history would vindicate his policy and rehabilitate his reputation. Although this was by far the greatest miscalculation of his entire public career, my biography represents an attempt to at least partially redress the balance by explaining why he acted as he did and the limited range of policy options he confronted. In this respect, it is gratifying to note the biography was generally very well received by reviewers both at home and overseas. The European response is neatly encapsulated by Professor Antoine Capet of the University of Rouen in a lengthy review published in the French journal Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone:

Readers who are already familiar with the copious texts and notes which accompanied Robert Self’s superb edition of Neville Chamberlain’s Diaries will of course expect more than an exhaustive list of facts – and indeed what we have here is a magnificently argumentative interpretation … on top of a superbly authoritative chronicle of events in Chamberlain’s life.

Capet goes on to commend the ‘superb scholarly value’ of this study before concluding with the following verdict:

Since this cannot be the ‘definitive’ Biography, as there is no such notion, one wonders what may remain to be found by future biographers and one pities them. What makes it even more valuable and difficult to improve upon is that Robert Self gives extensive extracts from the Diary Letters which he has so competently edited. … The four volumes of Diary Letters and the Biography form a magnum opus which is likely to remain the state of the art on Neville Chamberlain for many years. Anybody interested in the inter-war years will find the book a capital addition to the existing literature … There is no doubt that this is scholarly academic writing at its best.

Given the generally far more hostile response to Neville Chamberlain in North America, it is encouraging to note that reaction has been equally positive across the Atlantic. Professor Larry Witherall is typical when he notes in the Journal of Modern History (2008, 80.3) that this ‘ exhaustively researched, immensely rich and layered assessment’ offers ‘a measured yet definitive assessment of this most misunderstood British figure’ and that, as such, it is ‘ an impressive and important study’.

The reception given to the biography and Diary Letters by specialist British scholars has been equally favourable. In his review of the Chamberlain biography in History ( June 2007), Professor Andrew Thorpe noted:

Chamberlain was always going to need a very good historian to be his biographer; but, in Robert Self, he has assuredly found one. It is not the least of Self’s achievements that he covers all areas of Chamberlain’s activities convincingly, with a very clear grasp of the secondary literature allied to unusually deep and thorough empirical research on a wide range of archival sources. … Thus, he appears to be as much at home when writing on, say, banking in Birmingham as he is on housing, economic policy or late 1930s diplomacy. The product is an authoritative book that is also highly readable. Self’s portrait of Chamberlain is sympathetic, but far from uncritical. … the context in which Chamberlain was operating is always noticed, and the book never falls into the trap of many political biographies, of facing the individual so much that it lacks wider perspective.

Thorpe thus concludes with the verdict that ‘this volume will rightly stand for many years as one of the very best biographies of a twentieth-century prime minister’. Or as Dr Jeremy Smith comments, Chamberlain’s faith that he would be vindicated by history ‘has at last been rewarded with the appearance of Dr Self’s monumental, and in some ways magnificent, biography… filling a remarkably long-standing lacuna in modern British political biography’. Parliamentary History 26.2, 2007).

While it is obviously pleasing to record that such positive comments were typical of the general response, whether any of this will prompt a more general reappraisal of Chamberlain’s overall reputation remains to be seen. It is at least encouraging to note that there has been some shift in professional opinion generally. In the most extensive academic poll designed to rank 20th Century British Prime Ministers in 2004 it was significant that while political scientists placed Chamberlain in 19th place out of 20, historians ranked him in 14th place. When we turn to the views of the layman and the writers of popular novels and TV dramas, however, there is less scope for optimism. Churchill’s prediction has been fully vindicated. ‘Poor Neville’ has come badly out of history – and, alas, I fear it is likely to remain that way.


Neville Chamberlain: A Biography was identified by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our publishing programme. To see the full list of titles chosen by our editors visit, History Editors’ Choices.

Ashgate Critical Development Studies series – a call for proposals

We are calling for proposals for a new series: Ashgate Critical Development Studies

The series editors are Henry Veltmeyer, Saint Mary’s University, Canada, Elisa van Waeyenberge, SOAS University of London, Paul Bowles, University of Northern British Columbia, Canada and Salvatore Babones, University of Sydney

The current multi-faceted global crisis cries out for a more critical, proactive approach to the study of international development.

The crisis comes at the end of three decades of uneven capitalist development and neoliberal globalization that have devastated the economies and societies, and the livelihoods and lives, of people across the world, especially in the developing societies of the Global South.

The challenge of providing the study of international development with a critical edge has become the project of a broad and increasingly global network of activist development scholars who are concerned and engaged in using their research to help effect transformative social change that might lead to a better world. This series will provide a forum and outlet for the publication of books in the broad interdisciplinary field of critical development studies – to generate new knowledge that can be used to promote transformative change and alternative development.

The editors of the series welcome the submission of original manuscripts that focus on issues of concern to the growing worldwide community of activist scholars in this field.

Critical Development Studies (CDS) encompasses a broad array of issues ranging from concerns about the sustainability of the environment and livelihoods, the political economy of social inequality and world capitalism, alternative models of local and community-based development, the landgrabbing and resource-grabbing dynamics of extractive capital, the class dynamics of political and economic power, and the political sociology of social change and social movements, to the dynamics of resistance and the contours of the contemporary class struggle, and the capitalism and imperialism of the 21st century.

For more information on how to submit a book proposal to the series, please contact Kirstin Howgate, at

Reflections on elections!

Posted by Sarah Stilwell, Senior Marketing Executive

Over the coming weeks you may find yourself musing over some of the UK’s electoral traditions: Why do we vote in schools? What is the social meaning of secret balloting? What is lost if we vote by mail or computers rather than on election day? What is the history and role of drinking and wagering in elections? How does the electoral cycle generate the theatre of election night and inaugurations?

Ritual and rhythm in electoral systemsGraeme Orr’s newly published book Ritual and Rhythm in Electoral Systems answers these, and many more questions, and reminds us that elections are key public events which, in a secular society, are the only real coming together of the social whole.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, this book captures the way we experience voting and elections – as a ritualised and recurring event – not only in the UK, but also in the US and Australia.

Graeme Orr is Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, Australia and is the International Editor of the Election Law Journal.

His book is published as part of Ashgate’s series: Election Law, Politics, and Theory

A selection of reviews of Ritual and Rhythm in Electoral Systems:

‘This is a masterly book – imaginative in conception, brilliantly executed, and above all beautifully written. Professor Orr is not only one of our best election lawyers, but also one of our most elegant and accessible legal writers. His original and skilful account of the “ritual and rhythms” of election day is both a work of great scholarship and a compelling read.’   Keith Ewing, author of The Cost of Democracy

‘Graeme Orr has produced a brilliant and compelling account of the role of ritual in elections. This book should be required reading for constitutional lawyers and electoral administrators who will come to understand that the act of voting is but one moment in a far bigger cultural drama.’   Stephen Coleman, author of How Voters Feel

‘In this important book, Graeme Orr goes a long way to helping us understand why elections matter so much. Beyond the mere casting and counting of votes, they consist of practices and processes that are imbued with deep meaning. This account of how the law provides a canvas upon which that meaning may be painted is masterful.’   Andrew Geddis, author of Election Law in New Zealand

‘Departing from the usual demographic-quantitative accounts, Graeme Orr offers an engaging, thoroughly researched interpretation of the tenor and cadence of the rituals of electoral politics, rituals redolent with intriguing symbolism and meaning.’   Ron Hirschbein, author of Voting Rites

‘In a radical departure from the usual writing about elections, Graeme Orr offers a fascinating sociology of elections, unmasking them as important rituals with deep social and affective significance. He persuades us that elections are not just about rules and numbers, winners and losers; they also operate on a social-systems level as indispensable occasions for political communion and the renewal of democratic community.’   Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide, Australia and author of Compulsory Voting: For and Against

‘Ritual and Rhythm in Electoral Systems brings an eye-catching “High Church” flourish, and a near sacerdotal intensity, to the complex field of comparative electoral law, canvassing its rites and elaborate ceremonies with an eye that is as much anthropological as it is theological. The result is a profound study in what might be called the “jurispathology” of everyday electoral life. Judiciously combining theory and practice, as well as doctrine and context, Orr’s elegantly written and meticulously researched book is sure to attract a wide readership in law, politics, and government.’    William MacNeil, Griffith University, Australia and author of Lex Populi

Contemporary African Politics

Posted by Michael Drapper, Marketing Executive

Today, as Nigeria goes to the polls for its fifth quadrennial general elections since the 1999 return to democracy, it is clear that the country, and Africa as a whole, is in a period of rapid change. Now, as in Nigeria, some two-thirds of countries on the continent have embarked on comprehensive democratic transitions, in diverse forms, with varying degrees of maturation. Crucially, there is broad recognition among African elites that participatory and democratic processes are standards or benchmarks for judging them, as shown by the establishment of the African Union, the New Partnership for African Development, and the African Peer Review Mechanism. The improved political climate reflects important economic and social changes as well. Since the mid-1990s, economic growth in the majority of African countries has been strong, surpassing 5% per year in fifteen countries on the continent. For a number of these, higher growth has been accompanied by diversification of their economies and exports.

Africans actors deserve the credit for much of the observable change. Western aid agencies, Chinese mining companies and UN peacekeepers have played their part, but the continent’s main driver of change appears to be its own people. Across the continent a palpable sense of hope abounds from rural to urban communities and across the generations. The ability of governments to play a mediatory role between global capitalism and the domestic, intra-state arena is being transformed, as states exhibit increasing capacities and resources as well as different levels of social and political motivation. While it is true that most African states are responding to the external pressures of the International Financial Institutions, their governments still bear responsibility for promoting an approach to development and on this they appear to be doing a little better, especially in economic management and striking peace deals.

Whether what we are witnessing is a third liberation of the continent – the first from colonialism, the second from autocratic indigenous rule, and now something far different – remains to be seen. Understanding the evolving reality is the central aim of Ashgate’s new Contemporary African Politics series. This series seeks original approaches to furthering our understanding of the ensuing changes in contemporary Africa. It will look at the full range and variety of African politics in the 21st century, covering the changing nature of African society, gender issues, security, economic prosperity and poverty, to the development of relations between African states, external organisations and between leaders and the people they would govern. The series aims to publish work by senior scholars as well as the best new researchers.

If you have a proposal you would like to submit for consideration, please email Rob Sorsby, Senior Commissioning Editor, at For more information on submitting a proposal, please visit

Ethnicity democracy and citizenship in africaReinventing development