Expert Breakfast Report for 20 March 2019: Prof Robert Patman, Dept of Politics

Prof. Patmans expertise in International Politics, among other things, is well known - and this talk was remarkable in that he gave an interview (recorded) on National Radio at the same time as talking to members of the College.

Prof Patman was asked to describe what he does and how he attained his current position. He teaches and researches international relations, one of the courses he teaches being on International Security, including the effect that globalisation has had on the international arena. “In many respects it has broadened our understanding of what is security, particularly with the rise of what we like to call ‘non-state actors’ - Al Qaeda and Isis, for example. - And also white supremacist organisations, which are very much in the news recently.” US foreign policy is another area of great interest to him, and he is Director of the Master of International Studies course, which has been highly successful with a very high graduate employment rate. [He did not mention a few other significant achievements, such as Honorary Professor of the NZ Defence Command and Staff College at Trentham. - Ed]

On the topic of how he arrived at this present position, Prof Patman was at pains to point out that it was not due to some ‘master plan’. In fact, from the age of 5 to 16 years, Robert’s ambition was to be a professional footballer - and he obviously got quite close to realising this, but had the news, devastating to him at the time, that he would not be signed on by the club he was with. This forcibly changed the direction of his life, with the pressing need to obtain some kind of job, and he applied himself to study rather more assiduously than before, obtaining 6 GCE ‘O’ levels.

What actually put him on the path to where he is now was the generosity of a lot of people along the way towards him, coupled with exposure to daily family discussions about international politics from an early age. For example, the Principal of the 6th form college where he studied for ordinary levels persuaded him in a rather shrewd way, to go for GCE Advanced level when Robert himself was set on a job as administrative assistant with Customs and Excise. Having performed particularly well in Advanced level exams, he actually went on to University, completed a degree, then on to a PhD, a series of incremental advances that were certainly not planned from early on.

Having encountered a number of what he describes as ‘eccentrics’ in academia, he decided that life was not for him, and took a job in ‘the City’ - which generally refers to the financial world in London - as a negotiator but found there were just as many eccentrics in the business world as in academia.

Deciding that the city job, while very interesting, would not suit him in the long run, he took a teaching job at the University of Surrey, and within a month, received an offer from Otago. “New Zealand was a revelation to me - I found it an incredibly friendly, welcoming society” in which he felt more comfortable than the society he was born in.

Opening up the session for questions at this point, Prof Patman gave a little more detail on the job he had in the ‘City’, commenting on suddenly having a substantial pay packet as a negotiator with the company Bairstow Eve selling property. He was also learning a lot, going in as the City had just become digitised, and was there when the October 1987 stock market crash occurred.

During his two years with that company, working mainly on commercial and residential properties, he began to have doubts about whether this was the direction he wanted to go, and then was involved in a very bad car accident “which nearly killed me.” During convalescence, he had a chance to review his position. Was this really what he wanted to do for the rest of his working life?

Once again, it was the interest of someone else that set him on a new path. His PhD thesis had been reviewed as a book manuscript by Professor Margot Light, who was impressed and decided to contact him, eventually phoning him at work. Asking him about his job in the property, she clearly felt it was a waste of his talents. Contacting him again sometime later - after his car accident - she asked if he had changed his mind about becoming an academic, and persuaded him to act as a discussant at a large conference in Harrogate. Approached afterwards by someone from the University of Surrey, he took on a fill-in post, and then moved to Otago to take up a lectureship.

Prof. Patman talked about several items of interest, all I can do here is mention them briefly:

  • The ‘best’ soccer with respect to sophistication and tactics is played in the German Bundesliga.
  • Politics is a very useful general degree, encouraging such skills as articulation, and analytical ability, opening up a wide range of career options - working in the public or private sectors, in the media, and so on. Politics can be combined usefully with other degree subjects and appeals to many employers who all-rounders rather narrow specialist.
  • On inflammatory remarks concerning the recent Christchurch incident by President Erdogan of Turkey, these seem to be an attempt to bolster Erdogan’s faltering vote in the forthcoming Turkish elections. The perpetrator of the Christchurch atrocity wanted his GoPro video of the dreadful event to stimulate a backlash from Muslims and copy-cat actions from white supremacists, and most media have been fairly responsible in not showing it (question mark against Facebook here). Not so Erdogan, who has cynically used an edited version in his campaign, while implying that the New Zealand Government and people were complicit in that despicable act by a non-New Zealander. White supremacists and extremist Muslims such as Islamic State (an organisation which appalls most Muslims) share a similar narrative - they both believe Muslims and non-Muslims cannot co-exist peacefully. The way they feed off each other in this respect is both cynical and very worrying.
  • On the Brexit fiasco, Robert noted that many of the Brexit leaders were in it for some personal financial gain, never mind the huge loss of jobs that would result among the electorate. For example, Nigel Farrage’s associate Crispin Odey made £222,000,000 on the night of the referendum. He did this by speculating on the £ that night, during which Farage conceded defeat at one point as the polls were closing, saying he thought they had lost the Referendum - (though sources say that private polls he had seen indicated otherwise). As Brexit seemed to have failed, the pound rallied significantly against the US dollar, but then plunged down on the news that the Brexiteers had in fact won. Odey - and several others - made a great deal of money as a result. The point here was to illustrate that populist leaders, despite their anti-establishment rhetoric, were not disinterested players in this process..

(As usual, there was more, but I have reached my limit of 1,000 words. Do try to attend these breakfasts to gain the full experience).

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Posted: Thursday March 21, 2019