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Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Tim Farron has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new broad-based liberal, moderate and pro-Europe party across the United Kingdom. (Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures)

In calling a snap election for June 8, British prime minister Theresa May has done exactly what former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown didn’t do a decade ago — taking initiative to win a personal mandate and extend her party’s majority for up to five more years.

With Labour’s likely support tomorrow, May is set to win a two-thirds majority to hold an election, in spite of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that would otherwise set the next general election for 2020 — long after the two-year negotiations triggered last month by Article 50 to leave the European Union are set to end. May and the Conservatives now hope that voters will give her an emphatic endorsement for her approach to Brexit — and a much wider majority than the 17-seat margin the Conservatives currently enjoy in the House of Commons. Though some commentators believe a wide Tory victory would make a ‘hard Brexit’ more likely, a lot of sharp commentators believe that it could give May the cushion she needs to implement a much less radical ‘soft Brexit.’

In any event, it’s not unreasonable for May to seek a snap election while EU officials pull together their negotiating positions for later this summer — since the last vote in 2015, the country’s experienced the Brexit earthquake and a change in leadership among all three national parties.

It will also come as the Tories are riding high in the polls by a margin of around 20% against Labour, now in its second year of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left leadership. If the election were held today, every indication points to a historic defeat for Labour. It’s not only the polls, which are dismal enough. Corbyn has made so many enemies among the parliamentary Labour Party that many MPs will not stand for reelection (including former home secretary Alan Johnson, one of the few genuinely popular figures around who represent ‘New Labour’).

Corbyn’s electoral record, too, is weak. When Jamie Reed, a Corbyn critic and an MP since 2005, resigned, Conservative Trudy Harrison captured his Copeland constituency by a 5% margin against the Labour candidate in a February 23 by-election. Not only was it the first gain for a governing party in a by-election since 1982, it was a seat in Labour’s once-reliable northern heartland, held without interruption since 1935.

Without a major change (and it’s hard to see anything that could swing voters on Corbyn at this point), Labour is doomed. The next 51 days will likely bring iteration after iteration of Corbyn’s political obituary, with a crescendo of the infighting within Labour that has characterized his leadership.

It will be ugly.

Labour, with 229 seats, is already near the disastrous levels of its post-war low of 1983 (just 27.6% and 209 seats), and there’s reason to believe Corbyn could still sink further. No one would laugh at the suggestion Labour might lose another 100 seats in June. For Corbyn’s opponents within Labour, the only silver lining to a snap election is that a decisive defeat could end Corbyn’s leadership now (not in 2020), giving Labour an opportunity to rebuild under a more talented and inclusive leader.

Moreover, in the wake of a call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland (which would presumably seek to rejoin the European Union), Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon could well improve the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) position — the party now holds 54 of 57 seats in Scotland with the unionist opposition divided among the three national parties.

So where does this leave anti-Brexit voters who are uncomfortable casting a vote for May’s Tories?

The Liberal Democrats. Continue reading Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Charles Kennedy has died at age 55

charles kennedy

It’s a stunning thing to wake up to the news that Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the relatively young age of 55.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The Inverness-born Kennedy represented Ross, Skye and Lochaber since 1997, and who represented a similar constituency in northern Scotland from 1983, until the general election just over three weeks ago. The Scottish National Party (SNP) swept away all but three of Scotland’s constituencies, including Kennedy’s, a shock result that had more to do with the dynamics of Scottish nationalism in the post-referendum era, not Kennedy, who remained widely popular. His death will deprive the Liberal Democrats of someone who could have helped the party rebuild its presence in Scotland.

As LibDem leader between 1999 and 2006, Kennedy served as a key transition between the beloved Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg, the latter who led the party on an economically liberal turn in the 2010 elections and ultimately brought the Liberal Democrats into government.

In May, however, the Liberal Democrats were wiped out — in England and Scotland alike — after widespread disappointment among their voters. The Liberal Democratic caucus reduced from 57 members of parliament to just eight.

Notwithstanding the Cleggmania of 2010, the high-water mark for the party was actually the 2005 election, when Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats won 62 seats.

As leader, Kennedy was one of the few opposition voices to prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq. Despite grumblings from some Labour MPs, including the late former foreign minister Robin Cook, Blair’s decision to join the Iraq invasion won at least begrudging support from his own party and quiet acquiescence from the Conservative Party.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, while the Tories fumbled in the electoral wilderness, shifting leaders from William Hague to Iain Duncan Smith to Michael Howard in the mid-2000s, Kennedy was often the de facto leader of the opposition, and he was certainly the undisputed leader of the anti-war movement in 2003 and beyond.

It’s true that Kennedy’s leadership ended when it became clear that he had a problem with alcohol. That he admitted it, sought treatment and remained a beloved elder statesman within the Liberal Democratic camp speaks to his strength — even Blair, in his memoirs, spoke of the pressure that drove him to problem drinking at Number 10.

Notwithstanding former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s comments, now being widely derided, suggesting Kennedy might have been a closet nationalist, the universal response across the country today is praise for a charismatic leader who took principled stands.

The party holds a leadership election on July 16, with the more leftist Tim Farron generally leading his opponent, the more centrist Norman Lamb. That the winner of the contest will try to restore the party’s fortunes without the talents of Charlie Kennedy, however, amounts to a tragic setback.

Will Bosnian protests be the final straw for the Dayton accords?

man-pointing-bosnia-tuzla-protest

The Dayton accords ended the conflict among Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, and established a nearly unworkable tripartite system of governance for the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina

Though the structure established by the Dayton accords was always meant to be temporary, the country is crumbling nearly 20 years later under the weight of corruption, a stagnant economy, massive unemployment and the ridiculous state of tripartite government at the national level, with another layer of governance within the two subunits that comprise the country the (confusingly named) Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to most of the country’s Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and the Republika Srpska, home to most of the country’s Serbs.  Within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, arguably more political power rests within 10 sub-sub-national cantons.  Moreover, the High Representative, an internationally appointed officer designated to oversee the Dayton process, now undermines whatever legitimacy the central and subnational governments have.

Protests provide some glimmer of hope that everyday Bosnians from all ethnic groups are ready to jettison the Dayton system for a more workable model of governance.  The protests began in Tuzla earlier this month over job losses resulting from the privatization of local businesses.  But the protests took on a national character after the protests turned violent, and they’ve now moved from Tuzla and other cities to Sarajevo, the capital.  Since the protests began, at least three of the canton-level prime ministers have resigned, including in Tuzla and in Sarajevo.  Though Bosniaks (and not Croats and Serbs) are mostly leading the protests, the problems they are highlighting are just as dire for the country’s other ethnic communities.  It’s not coincidence that the current protests are taking place simultaneous to the process of the first census in the country’s post-independence history, the results of which could fundamentally shift political reality in the county.  Preliminary results show that the population fell from 4.4 million in 1991 to 3.8 million today, a significant drop.  If the Croat population falls below 10%, for example, or if it’s dispersed much beyond Herzegovina and western Bosnia, it will undermine the political status of Croatians and the possibility of a third Croat-based entity.  If Serbs comprise even more of the Republika Srpska, for example, does it mean that its leadership will push for independence?

So if any country needs a restart, it’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Dayton Accords have perpetuated a system of patronage and corruption that’s effected in triplicate.

As Jasmin Mujanovic wrote last week for Al Jazeera, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces huge difficulties:

For nearly twenty years, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have suffered under the administration of a vicious cabal of political oligarchs who have used ethno-nationalist rhetoric to obscure the plunder of BiH’s public coffers. The official unemployment rate has remained frozen for years at around 40 percent, while the number is above  57 percent among youth. Shady privatisation schemes have dismantled what were once flourishing industries in Tuzla and Zenica, sold them off for parts, and left thousands of workers destitute, with many still owed thousands of dollars in back-pay. Pensions are miserly too; the sight of seniors digging through waste bins is a regular one in every part of the country, while the wages of BiH’s armies of bureaucrats and elected officials have only grown.

After the general elections in 2010, it took sixteen months for a state government to be formed, one which collapsed almost immediately thereafter. Since then, on the rare occasion that Parliamentary sessions have actually been held, the members of this body have mostly concerned themselves with calling for the ouster of their political opponents. Zivko Budimir, for instance, the president of the Federation entity, was arrested in April of last year on suspicions of corruption and bribery. He was released shortly thereafter for “lack of evidence” and has since returned to his post. As Sarajevo burnt on Friday, Budimir declared that he would resign if the people insisted – apparently refusing to look out his window as he spoke.

Since 2008, the country has struggled with low growth and contraction.  As of July 2013, the unemployment rate was 44.6%, and its GDP per capita fell behind every country in the region except Kosovo (including Albania, Serbia, and Macedonia).  ethnicity-based corruption and inefficiency plague state-owned enterprises, and when (or if) they’re privatized, it’s done in the most disruptive (and often corrupt) manner possible.  So it’s no wonder that everyday Bosnians are angry.

Two parties in the governing coalition have already called for snap elections, which were already scheduled for October of this year.

But the elections are a choreographed waltz — not unlike elections in the religion-based ‘confessional’ system of Lebanese politics —  predetermined to balance the Croat, Bosniak and Serb communities at every key level of government.  Each rung of the ladder, however, is an opportunity for corruption, inefficiency and bloat. Continue reading Will Bosnian protests be the final straw for the Dayton accords?