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Who is Michael Gove?

Michael Gove will now stand for leader, upsetting Boris Johnson's hopes to become the next prime minister. (Getty)
Michael Gove will now stand for leader, upsetting Boris Johnson’s hopes to become the next prime minister. (Getty)

It was a standard assumption throughout the United Kingdom’s EU membership referendum that former London mayor Boris Johnson supported the ‘Leave’ side due in large part to his ambitions of succeeding David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and then as prime minister.United Kingdom Flag Icon

At one point, Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, in a debate over Brexit, argued that the only number that Johnson was interested in was the number 10 — as in 10 Downing Street. And that was from a rising star in Johnson’s own party.

When Johnson made his high-profile decision to join the Leave camp, he did so shortly after another top figure in Tory politics made the same decision — Michael Gove, previously a close Cameron confidante and justice secretary, but whose main mark on government had been four years of tumultuous (and often divisive) reforms as Britain’s education secretary.

Gove entered politics at Cameron’s request, and he was so close to the prime minister that he served as godfather to Cameron’s severely disabled son Ivan (who sadly died in 2009). It was a blow to Cameron when Gove declared his support for the Leave campaign, and the two’s once-solid friendship is reportedly strained.

After weeks of campaigning alongside Johnson and emerging on the winning side of the referendum debate, however, Gove’s declaration this morning of his own leadership contest has strained far more than a friendship, upending British politics in a week when every hour seems to bring a shocking new twist. Indeed, Gove’s leadership challenge and his ‘more in sadness than in anger’ conclusion that Johnson wasn’t up to the task of being prime minister will now define Gove’s political future. Just as Ed Miliband never fully escaped the cloak of treachery in pipping his own brother, the far more experienced former foreign minister David Miliband, for the Labour Party leadership, Gove’s eleventh-hour change of heart will dominate the narrative of the campaign ahead. Nigel Evans said that Gove had ‘stabbed Boris in the front,’ and even Johnson, in his remarks in withdrawing from the leadership race, paraphrased Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, subtly comparing Gove to Brutus, the friend-turned-assassin.

When a private email to Gove from Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, a columnist for the Daily Mail, was accidentally leaked to the press yesterday, it showed that Gove and his private circle held considerable doubts about a Johnson government. In closing out her email, Vine advised Gove to ‘be his stubborn best.’

It seems that Gove was far more stubborn than anyone believed possible when he made a late-night decision to stand for the leadership himself — Johnson found out along with the British press this morning as Gove announced his plans:

In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership. I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take.

Gove will be a formidable candidate. He comes to the Tory leadership race, presumably, with many (though not all) of the MPs who were prepared to support Johnson and Gove as something of a joint ticket (with the implication that Gove would serve as Johnson’s chancellor and a guarantor that a Johnson government wouldn’t go wobbly on Brexit).

But while Johnson may have indeed been a fair-weather convert to Brexit, no one should doubt Gove’s long-held euroscepticism. It comes, in part, from Gove’s own background, watching the fishing business that his father and grandfather built destroyed by European competition in the 1970s. If Johnson brought the personality and ‘star power’ to the Leave campaign, Gove brought with him the accumulated credibility of one of the Conservative Party’s brightest and most committed reformists. Though Johnson and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage perhaps won more headlines, Gove was also in the mix, making a credible case for Brexit, earning plaudits as the ‘brains’ of the Leave campaign.

After leaving Oxford, Gove entered the media world and quickly became one of the lights of the right-wing press. When he came to politics in 2005, winning election to parliament from the southeastern English constituency of Surrey Heath, he was part of Cameron’s original ‘Notting Hill’ set that included chancellor George Osborne, whose vigorous support for the Remain campaign eliminated his long-held wishes of succeeding Cameron as prime minister. On social policy, Gove has always been as progressive as Cameron or Osborne — he supported providing marriage equality for gays and lesbians in the 2013 landmark parliamentary vote, for example.

Upon the Conservative victory in the 2010 general election and Cameron’s governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Gove became secretary of state for education, and he used the position to upend the state of English education for the next four years. To this day, Gove is a figure of hatred and scorn among British teachers for the pace and extent of the policy reforms he initiated. As education secretary, he uncoupled schools from local authorities (giving them more freedom) while introducing all sorts of micromanaging revisions to the English curriculum (thereby taking away much of that freedom). He made it easier for researchers to access information about education and schools to determine which strategies are performing well.

Though Cameron, in part due to howls of protest from teachers, demoted him to chief whip in 2014, Gove was appointed secretary of state for justice in 2015, where he has had much less time to implement deep reforms. (He did, however, discontinue a court fee introduced by his predecessor Chris Grayling).

Gove will now make the case that only a Leave supporter — unlike his chief competitor, home secretary Theresa May — can credibly assume the premiership after the decision in last Thursday’s referendum. He will also argue that, unlike May, he alone is willing to hold firm in negotiations with the remaining 27 member-states of the European Union. As one of the leading voices of the Leave campaign, Gove will begin with significant support among the Tory eurosceptic backbenches. If he winds up as one of the final two contenders, he may find that his Leave support will be rewarded among those rank-and-file Tory members who will determine the winner of the runoff this summer. His starring role in the Leave campaign may have made him far more palatable to Tory rank-and-file who now see him less as an Oxbridge policy nerd and more of a crusader for their own (anti-EU) values.

But as Hugo Dixon noted earlier today, Gove is a something of a radical — more so than just a small-c conservative — and that separates him from Cameron, May and perhaps even Johnson. In light of the rapid pace of political developments, however, there’s no guarantee that Gove will even make it into the wider runoff. Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb has already amassed several high-profile endorsements and the support of nearly 20 MPs. If Gove helped put Johnson on the pile of so many would-be prime ministers who never quite made it out of the starting gate — Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke, David Miliband — no one should be surprised if Gove himself winds up behind May and Crabb in the parliamentary voting that will take place in the first two weeks of July. Unlike Johnson, May or Crabb, Gove has something of an awkward, even oddball, personality, and Gove himself has many times said that he lacks the talent to be prime minister.

Then again, after getting the best of one-time mentor Cameron and one-time ally Johnson, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gove thrive, either.

British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

After years of preparation, it's now up to voters to make their choice.
After years of preparation, it’s now up to voters to make their choice.

So it’s finally here.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls are now open across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where voters are deciding whether to either remain a member of the European Union or to leave the European Union. It’s home to the largest city in the European Union (London) and, with 64.9 million people, it’s the third-most populous state in the European Union, after Germany and France.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. — that means that here on the east coast of the United States, polls will be closing at 5 p.m. ET, with the first results to arrive shortly thereafter. No official exit polls are being conducted, but private hedge funds are believed to have commissioned exit polls and early financial indictors could tell us know traders believe the result will go. In any event, the final result is expected to be announced by ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning.

The United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath, after two failed attempts at membership, in each case vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle. Continue reading British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

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Voting in the contest to select the Labour Party’s new leader ended yesterday, and the winner will be announced tomorrow morning.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls and oddsmakers agree that the victor will be Labour’s far-left summer darling, Jeremy Corbyn, whose unlikely rise spawned a movement of activism for a more full-throated opposition to Conservative austerity policies.

Cooper probably will not win, it’s true.

The Corbynmania phenomenon is deep and resilient, and it’s clear that Corbyn’s understated charms, ideological consistency and his willingness to contrast sharply against the governing Conservative Party have brought thousands of enthusiastic voters to his cause — none less than Harry Potter himself (or at least Daniel Radcliffe).

But for all the real excitement that Corbyn’s leadership campaign has generated, Cooper is the only candidate who emerges from the leadership race looking like a potential prime minister, and unlike her opponents Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall, she will end the race with her reputation enhanced, especially after taking a bold stand last week on admitting more refugees to the United Kingdom.

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RELATED:  Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

RELATED: The rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

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Cooper’s chances for the leadership, though slim, aren’t non-existent. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote outright, Cooper will receive many of Kendall’s second-preference votes. If Cooper edges out Burnham for second place, which now seems likely, she could clip Corbyn to the leadership if Burnham’s supporters disproportionately give their second preferences to Cooper (and not to Corbyn).

Articulate and poised, Cooper was already a rising star as shadow home secretary, capably challenging Conservative home secretary Theresa May. An MP since the 1997 wave that brought Tony Blair and New Labour to power, she served as chief secretary to the treasury and as work and pensions secretary under former prime minister Gordon Brown. In particular, she won admiration across the political spectrum for her support of anti-stalking legislation and the creation of a new office for domestic violence. But Cooper spent much of the past five years overshadowed by her husband, the pugilistic shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who contested the leadership in 2010 and finished in third place (behind both Miliband brothers). When Balls unexpectedly lost his seat in the May 2015 general election, it was suddenly his wife whose leadership aspirations were on the fast track. Born in Scotland, 46-year-old Cooper has at least some claim to the case that she can win back supporters from the Scottish National Party (SNP), which now dominates Scottish politics.

When the leadership ballots were first mailed to Labour members, starting on August 10, there was a sense that Cooper still trailed Burnham. But in the final two weeks of the voting period, Cooper began to emerge as the chief alternative to Corbyn.  Continue reading Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

Corbyn versus Cameron: The future of PMQs in Great Britain?

For the first time since Corbynmania began earlier this summer, the Labour backbencher and leftist rebel — now favored to become the Labour Party’s next leader when all the votes in the leadership contest are counted on Saturday — directly challenged prime minister David Cameron in the House of Commons on Monday.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Ostensibly, it was just another question about the Conservative position on admitting more refugees from Syria and abroad (see video above).

But there’s some fascinating body language that could show us what the future of British parliamentary politics will look like — and very soon.

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RELATED: Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

RELATEDThe rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

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Corbyn, the MP from Islington North since 1983, has the distinction of bucking prior Labour leaders more than any other backbencher. But a surge of support for Corbyn, viewed by supporters as an earnest defender of British leftism, swelled the ranks of the Labour electorate. New members, presumably swept up by Corbyn’s charms, joined in the tens of thousands simply by paying a £3 membership fee. With the support of some of the country’s largest and most powerful unions, Corbyn quickly — and surprisingly — shot to the top of the pack against his three more moderate rivals.

Ironically, many of the 35 MPs who nominated Corbyn do not even support him; instead, they supported him to give Labour’s far left, previously an anemic force in party politics, a voice in the election.

There’s still a chance that shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who won plaudits last week for her strong stand on admitting more migrants to Great Britain, could win — and there’s a sense that she emerged only too late as the most ‘prime ministerial’ of the four candidates vying for the leadership. There’s still even a chance that the former frontrunner, shadow health minister Andy Burnham, could win. But oddsmakers are still betting on Corbyn to emerge victorious on Saturday. Voting opened on August 10, though many Labour voters have only recently received their ballots. Votes are tabulated on a preference basis — so if a voter’s first choice is eliminated after the first round of counting, the vote is transferred to the second choice and so on.

While Corbyn will almost certainly win the first round, there’s a chance that, as other candidates are eliminated, the anti-Corbyn vote will consolidate behind either Burnham or Cooper. The most moderate candidate, Liz Kendall, most associated with the policies of moderate former prime minister Tony Blair, is widely predicted to finish last.

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Nowhere will that political earthquake create more tremors than at Westminster, where few members of the parliamentary Labour Party support Corbyn (pictured above), who may struggle to enforce the kind of party discipline he has so often bucked. Virtually no one believes that Corbyn will survive as Labour leader until the next scheduled general election in 2020 — and that it is only a matter of time before more seasoned Labourites hatch a restoration. Many senior shadow cabinet members flatly refuse to serve in a Corbyn-led opposition. Blairites (and Brownites) on Labour’s moderate wing worry that Corbyn’s 1980s-style socialism will doom the party’s chances in the 2020 election or beyond, and fear Labour could split, as it did briefly in the 1980s under former leader Michael Foot. Continue reading Corbyn versus Cameron: The future of PMQs in Great Britain?

Two maps that explain the British election results

With Westminster still reeling from the extent of prime minister David Cameron’s victory in last Thursday’s general election, two maps are making the rounds on Twitter that show just how much has changed (or not) in British politics in 2015.United Kingdom Flag Icon

The first comes from Vaughan Roderick, a Welsh correspondent for the BBC, and it shows the legacy of Labour in what used to be the coal heartlands of Great Britain, underlining that Labour was unable to expand beyond its historical base there (and in London, which isn’t a former mining area):

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The second comes from Dods, and it shows the second-place winner in every constituency across Great Britain. It demonstrates just how strongly the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) performed across England, where it pushed Labour and the Liberal Democrats out of second place in the south and where it pushed the Tories out of second place in the north. If — and it’s a big if — UKIP can maintain its relevance through 2020, it certainly has a strong base upon which it can make progress, especially if it makes a splash in the 2017 referendum over European Union membership. The map also shows the path forward for the Liberal Democrats’ rebuilding process, which should begin in Cornwall and the southwest.

Secondplace

Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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The most notable thing about former British prime minister Tony Blair’s sudden reappearance in the United Kingdom’s domestic politics, with just under a month to go until a general election, is that no one particularly noticed his absence from domestic political matters.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Unlike former US president Bill Clinton, who has balanced his financial and philanthropic activities with lingering, widespread popularity on the American political scene, Blair’s popularity diminished after he left 10 Downing Street. Still well-regarded abroad, Blair has offered his consulting services to leaders from Albania to Kazakhstan, and he’s become a wealthy man in the process, a much more controversial proposition for a former British prime minister than a former US president. Blair suffers further by contrast to his successor, Gordon Brown, who quietly receded from public view when he lost the premiership in 2010, resurfacing only to promote a dense policy book or to campaign full-heartedly against Scottish independence. There’s a sense that Brown hasn’t ‘cashed out’ the way that Blair did.

Though current prime minister David Cameron has attempted to blame both Blair and Brown for wasteful government spending as a prelude to his own government’s budget cuts, it is Blair’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq that haunts his legacy. Blair only recently left his position as an envoy for the Middle East ‘quartet’ (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia), where his impact in the region has been negligible at best. Despite high hopes when he assumed the role shortly after leaving office, Blair is unlikely to lead any grand gestures in the Middle East.

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RELATED: Analyzing the British leaders’ debate

RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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Blair rode to victory in May 1997 on a landslide wave proclaiming the arrival of his center-oriented ‘New Labour.’ Though he capitalized then on a popular, youthful image, he is largely reviled in Great Britain today, as Sarah Ellison wrote in a scathing Vanity Fair profile earlier this year:

A man with aspirations to global leadership—even to global moral leadership—is now regarded by many of his countrymen as a shill for big corporations and deep-pocketed and dubious regimes. In terms of personal wealth, Blair is said to be worth an estimated £100 million ($150 million), a figure he denies. Today, Blair rarely makes public appearances in London. In 2010, he canceled a book party to celebrate the publication of his memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, to avoid the inevitable protests. Blair wasn’t invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Last January, a London waiter attempted a citizen’s arrest of Blair for alleged war crimes arising from the invasion of Iraq.

Last month, two Labour candidates actually refused to accept £1000 donations from Blair, who had pledged £106,000 to candidates in marginal seats.

When Blair surfaced in domestic politics at all, it was usually to snipe at his successor as Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, whose leadership campaign narrowly defeated his brother, David Miliband, the more Blairite alternative. As recently as January, Blair was obliquely warning Miliband to run to the center in advance of the May 7 general election, via an interview with The Economist: Continue reading Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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A poll late last week confirmed that, if survey trends hold, it will be very difficult for the Labour Party to form a new government without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) after the United Kingdom’s May 7 general elections.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Presumably, that makes Labour leader Ed Miliband’s declaration this week ruling out any coalition with the SNP somewhat awkward with the reality that the SNP may win between 40 and 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, many of which are currently held by Labour MPs and which for years were reliable seats on the Labour backbenches — so reliable, in fact, that none of those 59 constituencies changed parties between the 2005 and 2010 general elections.

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No longer.

With polls showing that Labour’s narrow lead against the governing Conservative Party has vanished, the SNP earthquake means that Labour is unlikely to form a government without at least some form of SNP support and, notably, Miliband didn’t rule out an informal arrangement whereby the SNP supports a Labour minority government. Nevertheless, just six months after Scottish voters narrowly rejected independence, they are now set to determine the balance of power throughout the entire United Kingdom.

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RELATED: Scottish referendum results — winners and losers

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Post-referendum, Scottish voters are now flocking to the SNP not only in regional politics (the SNP controls a majority government in the Scottish parliament) but in national politics as well. With the SNP winning nearly half of the Scottish vote and with a lead of around 20% against Labour, it could turn Scotland almost universally yellow (the SNP’s color), wiping out Labour’s Scottish heartland and depriving the Liberal Democrats of many of their 11 seats as well, nearly 20% of the LibDem MPs in total.

It’s not entirely surprising. Scottish voters are keen to hold Westminster accountable for promises of ‘devolution max,’ a set of promises made desperately by Labour and Conservative leaders alike in the last days of the referendum. When the ‘Yes’ campaign lost the referendum, Alex Salmond stepped down both as SNP leader and as Scotland’s first minister. Though he remains a relatively beloved figure in Scotland, his replacement, Nicola Sturgeon (pictured above) is even more popular, especially among young voters, evincing a more progressive edge than Salmond’s hard-edged leftism forged in the divisive politics of the 1970s. Continue reading Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

It’s too late for Labour to boot Ed Miliband as leader

Miliband beggarPhoto credit to Nigel Roddis/Getty Images.

Though it hasn’t been a great month for British prime minister David Cameron, November was quite possibly the worst month in the four-year tenure of Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was forced to endure a full-fledged crisis of confidence just six months before the next general election.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Miliband (pictured above) began the first half of the month batting away rumors that a backbencher uprising might topple him from the leadership just before the country prepares for the May 2015 general election. Miliband had already come under fire for a lackluster speech at Labour’s September party conference in which he didn’t mention the British budget deficit.

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RELATED: Miliband shifts Labour’s focus from austerity to health care

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Most reports urged Alan Johnson, the widely respected former home secretary, as a potential replacement, though Johnson declaimed all interest in leading the party, thereby depriving any plotters of the most necessary ingredient to a successful putsch — the quick installation of a universally well-regarded successor.

Labour struggling to retain working-class supporters

No sooner did the ‘dump Miliband’ story quell than Miliband was forced to sack Emily Thornberry, the shadow work and pensions secretary, for a photograph (see below) posted to Twitter that seemed to mock working-class English voters — it’s a peculiar quirk of the delicate nature of class that a photo of a white van parked in front of a house with two English flags waving would stir such controversy. But it’s arguably the most damaging moment for Labour vis-à-vis the British working class since April 2010, when then-prime minister Gordon Brown was overheard calling a Labour supporter a ‘bigoted woman.’

Emily Thornberry's Twitter image. 'Emily did not mean to cause offence,' another Labour MP said. 'Bu

Miliband was forced to reaffirm that Labour was founded as the party of ‘working people,’ even as Nigel Farage’s anti-Europe, populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now threatens to steal as many traditional supporters from Labour as from the Conservative Party.

UKIP won a November 20 by-election in Rochester and Strood, triggered by Conservative MP Mark Reckless’s decision to defect to the party — Reckless, as the newly minted UKIP candidate, easily defeated Tory challenger Kelly Tolhurst, leaving Labour far behind in third place with 16.8%. Reckless is the second Tory to defect to UKIP, joining Douglas Carswell — and quite possibly others in the months ahead.

Though you might think that’s more of a headache for Cameron than for Miliband, UKIP’s rise is just one reason why the November scare won’t be the last time between now and May that Miliband faces a surge of doubt within Labour ranks.

Continue reading It’s too late for Labour to boot Ed Miliband as leader

Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

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The results are in, and Scotland did not vote yesterday to become a sovereign, independent country.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Scottish residents — and all British citizens — will wake up today to find that, however narrowly, the United Kingdom will remain as united today as it was yesterday, from a formal standpoint.

With all 32 local councils reporting, the ‘Yes’ camp has won 1.618 million votes (44.7% of the vote) against 2.002 million votes (55.3% of the vote) in favor of remaining within the British union, capping a 19-month campaign that resulted in a staggering 84.6% turnout in Thursday’s vote.

Moreover, ‘Yes’ won four councils, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city:

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But the close call has shaken the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s vote will now dominate the political agenda in the final eight months before the entire country votes in a general election next May, for better or worse.

So who comes out of the referendum’s marathon campaign looking better? Who comes out of the campaign bruised? Here’s Suffragio‘s tally of the winners and losers, following what must be one of the most historic elections of the 2010s in one of the world’s oldest democracies.

The Winners

1. Scottish nationalism 

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The nationalists lost Thursday’s referendum. So why are they still ‘winners’ in a political sense? Continue reading Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

Gordon Brown: the not-so-secret weapon of the ‘No’ campaign

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Pity Gordon Brown, the long-suffering, long-plotting chancellor who assumed the British premiership only after Tony Blair’s three successive terms tested the British electorate’s patience on everything from Iraq to civil liberties.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

By the time Brown finally wrested the keys to No. 10 Downing Street from Blair, the ‘New Labour’ project was in serious political trouble, and Brown, lacking the easy charm of either his predecessor or then-opposition leader David Cameron, waged a doomed, if feisty, 2010 general election campaign.

Unlike Blair, Brown didn’t take a high-profile role on the speaker circuit or announce a global initiative to bring about Middle Eastern peace. He mostly just went back to Scotland, where he wrote a wonky tome on reforming the global financial system. Brown’s strong reputation today, more so abroad than at home, reflects his adroit handling of the 2008-09 financial crisis, when he prodded other European and US officials to follow his aggressive and proactive example.

Today, he remains the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, a southern Scottish constituency in Fife. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that Brown is emerging as a key leader of the campaign against Scottish independence — to the surprise of many both north and south of the Tweed.

Continue reading Gordon Brown: the not-so-secret weapon of the ‘No’ campaign

Why the US needs to start thinking about a Scottish policy

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I write in The National Interest on Tuesday that as the pro-independence ‘Yes’ campaign narrows the gap with unionists in advance of the September 19 referendum, and it becomes more feasible that Scotland could become an independent, sovereign country, the United States needs to start thinking about a cohesive foreign policy regarding Scotland.scotlandUSflag

First minister Alex Salmond (pictured above in New York earlier this month) is leading the ‘Yes’ campaign, and he’s been a thorn in US-British relations for quite some time — both to US president George W. Bush (Salmond vehemently opposed the US invasion of Iraq) and to Barack Obama (Salmond’s government in 2009 released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, on health grounds).

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RELATED: Momentum shifts in favor of Scottish independence

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But if Scotland becomes an independent country, it will require a huge rethink for the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom, and the economic, diplomatic and security  consequences of what would presumably be a ‘special’ tripartite relationship among the United States, Scotland and the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

Though polls still show that the ‘No’ camp is leading, U.S. policymakers should be taking the possibility of an independent Scotland more seriously and, accordingly, preparing for the possible repercussions of a successful ‘Yes’ vote for U.S.-Scottish relations.

No third country has a greater stake in the outcome of the Scottish vote than the United States, which would have to reconfigure its ‘special relationship’ with what presumably would be the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,’ while formulating a wholly new relationship with an independent Scotland. It’s a relationship that the United States has never had to consider seriously, given that when Scotland and England merged with the Act of Union in 17o7, the original American colonies were still sixty-nine years away from declaring independence.

Do read the whole piece here

Photo credit to Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images.

Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

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Amid the fanfare that much of the United Kingdom would now enjoy full same-sex marriage rights following the success of Conservative UK prime minister David Cameron in enacting a successful vote earlier this week in Parliament, some LGBT activists are still waiting at the altar of public policy for their respective day of celebration.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotlandnorthernireland

Under the odd devolved system within the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it’s up to the separate Northern Ireland Assembly to effect its own laws on marriage.  Even within Great Britain, the Scottish parliament, likewise, has the sole power to enact legislation related to marriage rights.

So while nearly 90% of the residents of the country will now be able to enter into same-sex marriages, Scottish and the Northern Irish will have to wait a little longer — and in the case of Northern Ireland, it seems like the wait will be lengthy. Scotland, with 5.3 million people (8.4% of the total UK population), and which will vote on independence in a referendum in September 2014, is already taking steps toward passing legislation, though Northern Ireland, with 1.8 million people (2.9% of the UK population), has already considered and rejected same-sex marriage.

The reason for the disparity within the United Kingdom goes back to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

Under the broad devolution process that his ‘New Labour’ government initiated upon taking power in 1997, much of the power to regulate life in Scotland was devolved from Westminster to the new parliament that met for the first time in 1999 at Holyrood.  Although a parallel Welsh Assembly exists in Cardiff for Welsh affairs, the Welsh parliament lacks the same breadth of powers that the Scottish parliament enjoys, which is why the Welsh now have same-sex marriage rights. (Take heart, Daffyd!)

Northern Ireland has a similar arrangement, with its own devolved Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, though its powers were suspended from 2002 to 2007 when the Northern Ireland peace process fell apart, however briefly.

The disparate courses of English, Scottish and Northern Irish marriage rights are a case study in how devolution works in the United Kingdom today.

Scotland: Holyrood poised to pass an even stronger marriage equality bill in 2014

Scotland’s local government, led by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party, introduced a same-sex marriage bill late in June that is set to provide an even more liberal regime of marriage rights.  While the marriage bill passed earlier this week in London actually bans the Anglican Church of England from offering same-sex marriage ceremonies, the Scottish bill won’t have the same prohibitions on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is seen as somewhat more relaxed about gay marriage.  Like the English legislation, however, the Scottish bill offer protections to ministers on religious grounds who do not choose to officiate same-sex marriages.

Although there’s opposition to the bill within the governing SNP as well as the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservative Party has very little influence outside England and Scotland, generally speaking, is even more socially progressive than England, which means that the legislation is widely expect to pass in the Scottish Parliament early next year, with the first same-sex marriages in Scotland to take place in 2015.

Northern Ireland: gay marriage as a football between Protestant and Catholic communities

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly considered a same-sex marriage bill, but it was defeated in April by a vote of 53 to 42 — a similar motion was defeated in October 2012 by a similar margin. Since 2005, LGBT individuals have been able to enter into civil partnerships (with most, though not all, of the rights of marriage enjoyed by opposite-sex partners) throughout the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

When Scotland passes its gay marriage bill next year, however, it will leave Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without marriage equality.

Not surprisingly, given that Northern Ireland was partitioned out of the Republic of Ireland in 1921 largely on religious lines, and Protestant-Catholic violence has plagued Northern Ireland for much of the decades since, Northern Ireland is the most religious part of the United Kingdom.  A 2007 poll showed that while only 14% of the English and 18% of Scots were weekly churchgoers, fully 45% of the Northern Irish attended church weekly.

Unlike Scotland, where the mainstream UK political parties, such as the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, aim to compete with the Scottish Nationalists (with varying degrees of success), Northern Irish politics are entirely different, based instead on the largely Protestant ‘unionist’ community and the largely Catholic ‘nationalist’ community.  Around 41% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic, while around 41.5% of Northern Ireland is Protestant (mostly the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church of Ireland).

That helps explain why the opposition to gay marriage in Northern Ireland remains so strong, and it doesn’t help that the issue falls along the same lines as the entrenched unionist and nationalist divisions.  Given that it’s unlikely either community will come to dominate Northern Irish politics and the Assembly anytime soon, it means that proponents of same-sex marriage will have to convince at least some unionists to join forces with largely supportive nationalist parties to pass a marriage bill — and that may prove a difficult task for a five-way power-sharing government in Belfast that has enough difficulties even without gay marriage.  Continue reading Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Despite by-election result, UKIP is still a bunch of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’

After placing second in a by-election in Rotherham last Thursday, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has vaunted to the center of British politics, with newsmakers wondering whether UKIP will, after two decades, finally emerge as a real force in British politics.

The by-election, which resulted after Denis MacShane, a Labour MP, resigned due to the ongoing expenses scandal (MacShane had submitted 19 invoices for reimbursement for non-covered expenses), should have been a non-event. One Labour MP was replaced by another Labour MP, Sarah Champion, who won over 46% of the vote, which was actually an improvement on Labour’s performance in the 2010 election, when MacShane won just 44.6%.

So why has the sleepy little constituency in South Yorkshire been treated like a political earthquake?

With 21.8% of the vote, UKIP’s second-place finish was its best-ever result in an election for the House of Commons.

UKIP was founded by Conservative Party rebels in 1993 in opposition to the Maastricht treaty (the European Union treaty that established the single currency).  Its primary characteristic as a party is its eurosceptic nature, but its ‘pro-British’ posture means that it has adopted harsher anti-immigration and anti-Muslim stances than any of the three major UK parties, notwithstanding a robust strain of euroscepticism within the governing Conservatives under prime minister David Cameron.

Cameron famously referred to UKIP as a bunch of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ in 2006 shortly after winning the Conservative leadership.  It was probably not far from the truth in 2006, and it’s probably not far from the truth today.  Despite the hand-wringing across England, UKIP is not necessarily any stronger or weaker than it already was before last week’s by-election — and winning about one-fifth of the total vote is hardly dominant. Part of its ‘success’ comes from controversy surrounding the local Labour-dominated council removing three children from foster parents, apparently on the basis that the foster parents were UKIP members.

Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader (pictured above) declared after the by-election that UKIP is ascendant:

“We have established ourselves now as the third force in British politics. We have beaten the Lib Dems in all forms of elections over the course of this year. We are clearly and consistently now above the Lib Dems in the opinion polls.

“There is an upward trend. And I think the UKIP message is resonating with voters and not just Tory voters. There are plenty of voters, particularly in the north of England, coming to us from Labour and the Lib Dems.”

Farage, who’s known less for statecraft than for his stunts at the European Parliament (he’s been an MEP since 1999), would certainly like to think so.

But despite clear signs that UKIP would indeed make gains if the 2014 European elections and the 2015 general election were held today, UKIP is unlikely to become a truly powerful force in UK politics anytime soon.

Here are five reasons why. Continue reading Despite by-election result, UKIP is still a bunch of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’

Scots to vote on independence in 2014 as Salmond and Cameron seal referendum pact

They’ve certainly screwed their courage to the sticking place now.

UK prime minister David Cameron has agreed with Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond on the terms of a referendum, to be held in Scotland in autumn 2014, as to whether Scotland should seek independence or remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With a newly elected sovereigntist government in the French-speaking province of Québec in Canada, and with the separatist-minded Basque Country set for regional elections this Sunday and the even more separatist-minded Catalunya going to regional polls next month, regional autonomy seems to be mounting somewhat of a comeback on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under today’s ‘Edinburgh agreement’ between Salmond and Cameron, Scottish voters will have the opportunity to vote for independence, ending 305 years as a single nation united with England after the 1707 Act of Union.

The agreement marks a tactical victory for both Salmond and Cameron.  Salmond, who had hoped to put off the referendum indefinitely and perhaps beyond the next scheduled general election in 2015, will nonetheless get a delay for nearly two years to make his case for independence, and 16- and 17-year olds will be permitted to vote as well (so 14-year-old Scots, start following Suffragio now).

For his part, Cameron will have succeeded in getting a straight up-and-down vote on the independence question, not a multiple-question referendum on greater autonomy for Scotland, which polls show would be much more likely to succeed than full independence.

Salmond, who is Scotland’s ‘first minister’ — the leader of the regional Scottish government — and whose Scottish National Party in 2011 secured the largest mandate of any regional Scottish election since the 1998 devolution established the Scottish parliament, will lead the campaign for the ‘yes’ vote.

Cameron, the Tory prime minister who won just one seat and a grand total of 16.7% in the 2010 general election in Scotland (finishing last among the four major parties), will lead the campaign for the ‘no’ vote, but he will certainly be joined by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose party serves in the United Kingdom’s governing coalition with the Tories. Since the days of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who tried to use Scotland in 1989 as a testing ground for the much-derided ‘poll tax’ that was set to apply nationwide in 1990, Scotland has greeted the Tories with antipathy.  So it’s not without some legitimacy that Miliband has argued that only Labour can keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

As Alex Massie writes for The Spectator, in calling the entire ‘phony war’ leading up to today’s event  a queer process (and quite rightly), he notes that Cameron himself, quite a fish out of water in Scotland, may lose the general election currently scheduled for May 2015:

David Cameron slinks in to Scotland almost as though he were the leader of a foreign country already. You would not think he’s merely visiting territory for which he presently holds some responsibility. The optics – as the media handlers say – will favour Mr Salmond today. Why, there will even be signing and swapping of papers further bolstering the impression this is a meeting of equals….

The difficulty is that it is not yet clear what a No vote actually means. It will not necessarily settle the matter, not least since the Prime Minister is on record as being open to “more powers” for Holyrood after the referendum.

That, however, is a discussion upon which he may have little influence. The next Westminster election must be held just six months or so after Scotland’s referendum. David Cameron may – just may – not win that election. Which means that at some point we will need to know what Ed Miliband thinks about Scotland too. What a happy thought that is!

On the surface, then, Salmond seems well placed in the next 24 months to turn around polling data that shows, on a straight ‘union vs. independence’ referendum, Scots support union (as of an Oct. 8 TNS-MRNB poll) by a 53% margin, to just 28% in favor of breaking from the United Kingdom.

Scotland, under Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s devolution policy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, achieved its own parliament after a successful 1997 referendum, and the Scottish parliament came into being in 1998.  The parliament, informally known as Holyrood, the name of the Edinburgh neighborhood in which it is located, is a 129-member unicameral legislature, essentially shares legislation power with the UK parliament in Westminster.

Cameron’s victory in the ‘Edinburgh agreement’ was to limit the options to strictly independence or remaining in the union, rather than allowing for a ‘devomax’ option — maximum devolution that would provide the Scottish parliament even more powers currently reserved for Westminster.  Indeed, Cameron seemed to dangle the possibility of further devolution earlier Tuesday in his remarks on the agreement:

Mr Cameron said: “All those who want to see not only the status quo but further devolution from the United Kingdom to Scotland must vote to stay within the United Kingdom.  Then it’ll be for all the parties to decide what proposals to put forward, but I’ve always taken the view we have to answer this prior question first. We have to answer the question: does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom? If the answer is Yes we do want to stay in the United Kingdom, then obviously further devolution is possible.”

In some senses, though, the limitation to a simple yes-or-no vote raises the stakes — Scots will be bloody well certain to demand guarantees from the parties supporting the ‘No’ vote that additional devolution will result from a successful ‘No’ vote in 2014.   Continue reading Scots to vote on independence in 2014 as Salmond and Cameron seal referendum pact