In the first viral meme of the 2017 general election campaign, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was photographed on a train loo.
The headlines write themselves.
‘Watch as Corbyn flushes Labour down the tube!’
The tragedy of the 2017 election is that an election that should be all about Brexit will instead become a referendum on Corbynism. By all rights, the campaign of the next five weeks should focus upon how the United Kingdom will leave the European Union (and the fallout effects for Scotland and Northern Ireland) — not on Corbyn’s socialist platform and the ongoing divisions within Labour or the rudderless leadership that Labour, generally, and Corbyn, in particular, have shown in the aftermath of last June’s Brexit referendum.
No doubt, those divisions and Labour’s weakening support are among the reasons it was so tempting for Conservative prime minister Theresa May to call an early election.
Labour is already precariously close to its 1983 position, when it won just 27.6% of the vote and 209 seats in the House of Commons. Under Ed Miliband in the May 2015 general election, Labour sunk to 30.4% of the vote and 232 seats. Labour now holds just 229 seats in the House of Commons.
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?
When pro-Leave campaigners argued that, by leaving the European Union, Great Britain could ‘take back control,’ one of the clear things over which Brexit proponents seem to want to take control was national borders.
Given that Great Britain itself is an island, that’s mostly a theoretical proposition, because you can’t step across the border into England, Scotland and Wales — their ‘borders’ are through their seaports and airports.
That’s not true in Northern Ireland, the only region in the United Kingdom that does share a land border with another European Union member-state. It’s also one of the most delicate tripwires for British prime minister Theresa May in her dutiful quest to invoke Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty next year and begin negotiations for a British EU withdrawal.
Scotland has garnered more headlines because Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has argued that Scots, who voted strongly for Remain, deserve a second independence referendum when the British government finally does leave the European Union. But if ‘Remain’ proponents are looking to the one part of the United Kingdom that could impossibly prevent Article 50’s invocation, they should look to Northern Ireland, where Brexit could unravel two decades of peace, and where Brexit is already causing some anxiety about the region’s future.
May, just days after replacing David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, visited Belfast earlier this week in a bid to reassure both unionists and republicans. But it’s not clear that May’s first journey to Northern Ireland, which preceded a meeting with Ireland’s leader a day later, was a success.
May boldly claimed that Brexit need not result in the return of a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But settling Northern Ireland’s Brexit border issue is virtually intractable for the May government — at least without alienating one of three crucial groups of people: first, the mostly Catholic republicans of Northern Ireland; second, the most Protestant unionists of Northern Ireland or finally, those Brexit supports across the entire country who voted ‘Leave’ in large part to close UK borders to further immigration.
Normally, when a politician — especially a president or a prime minister — resigns, he or she is met with effusive praise.
There’s the defeat. Then the stepping down. Then a deluge of pieces heralding the peaks as well as the valleys of the political career that’s just ended.
Not David Cameron, who stepped out of 10 Downing Street this morning to step down as British prime minister, a day after he narrowly lost a campaign to keep the United Kingdom inside the European Union. For Cameron, today’s political obituaries, so to speak, are absolutely brutal. The Independent called him the ‘worst prime minister in a hundred years.’
And that’s perhaps fair. He is, after all, the prime minister who managed to guide his country, accidentally, out of the European Union. His country (and, indeed all of Europe) now faces a period of massive uncertainty as a result.
The man who once hectored his party to stop ‘banging on about Europe’ has now been done in over Europe — just as the last two Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
He’ll leave behind a Scotland that wanted to stay inside the European Union by a margin of 62% to 38% and that will now have the moral and political capital to demand a fresh independence referendum to become an independent Scotland within the European Union. First minister Nicola Sturgeon, of course, knew this all along, and she wasted no time in making clear that a second vote is now her top priority.
He’ll also leave behind an awful mess as to the status of Northern Ireland, which also voted for Remain by a narrower margin. Its borders with the Republic of Ireland are now unclear, the republican Sinn Fein now wants a border poll on Irish unification and the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence might have to be amended.
He’ll leave behind an angry electorate in England, sharply divided by income, race, ethnicity and culture — if the divide between England Scotland looks insurmountable, so does the divide between London and the rest of England. Despite the warning signs, and the rise of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron failed to provide English voters with the devolution of regional power that voters enjoyed in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London.
Cameron showed, unlike Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, he was willing to accede to the wishes of Scottish nationalists and give them a say in their own self-determination. Given the corrosive nature of the eurosceptic populism within his own party and in UKIP, it wasn’t unreasonable that Cameron would force them to ‘put up or shut up’ with the first in-out vote on EU membership since 1975, when the European Union was just the European Economic Community.
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.
Imagine yourself as a typical, middle-class voter in Northumberland.
Two years ago, you watched as your Scottish brethren to the north held a vote to consider whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom.
When they narrowly voted against independence, you watched as prime minister David Cameron renewed not only the Conservative, but the Labour and Liberal Democratic promise to enact ‘devolution max‘ for Scotland. He also declared, within hours of the vote, that he would seek to prevent Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from voting on local English matters in Westminster, thereby correcting the long-discussed West Lothian question. (He managed mostly to annoy Scottish voters, pushing them in even greater numbers to the Scottish National Party and its talented leader, first minister Nicola Sturgeon). As the independence threat receded, however, Cameron failed to follow up on either the Scottish or the English side of the federalism issues that the referendum brought to the fore.
Now imagine that you feel like your fraught middle-class status is threatened — by the global financial crisis of 2008-09 or by the widening scope of inequality or even by the rising tide of immigrants to your community, making it even more difficult to compete for dignified and meaningful work.
Maybe you even decided to abandon the Tories or Labour in the 2015 general election, voting instead for the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as a way to send a message to Westminster about immigration or globalization. But with the first-past-the-post system, 12.7% of the vote for UKIP translated into just one seat among the 650-member House of Commons. Within England alone, UKIP won an even larger share of the vote (14.1%) than it did nationally. Again, you might have felt that your vote counted for little. Or nothing.
And so, as another referendum approaches this week on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, you might feel doubly disenfranchised. First, to the nameless bureaucrats in Brussels that you believe dictate too much in the way of the laws and policies that govern England. Secondly, within a national political system whose rules minimize third parties and whose leaders have devolved power to all of the regions except, of course, the region where nearly 84% of the population lives: England.
Leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign make it none too clear that, among their goals is this: Take. Back. Control. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the parts of the United Kingdom with the greatest amount of regional devolution — London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — largely support the ‘Remain’ side in the Brexit referendum, according to polls. If ‘Leave’ wins on June 23, there’s a very good chance that it will do so despite the firm opposition of non-English voters.
Everyone knows that Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014.
The ‘Yes’ campaign waged that fight fully knowing that, by 2017, there would be a broader UK-wide vote on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. Given that Scots are relatively (though not universally) more pro-European than English voters, growing British euroscepticism may have played an important role to nudge some Scots toward the ‘Yes’ camp.
With that Brexit referendum now set for June 23, it’s the Scottish referendum that looms over the coming vote in at least two ways that could make Brexit more likely.
The first amounts to pure game theory on the part of Scotland’s voters, who comprise around 8.4% of the total UK population.
Forget Scotland or Catalonia. Forget Wallonia and Flanders. Forget the Basque Country or Republika Srpska.
The hot separatist movement in 2016 might be in Corsica, the French-controlled island where Napoleon Bonaparte was born and which sits roughly 100 miles off France’s southeastern coast.
Corsica’s rising nationalist tide might this year outshine Catalonia, where a new regional government with a mandate to seek independence was sworn in last week, and Scotland, where the Scottish Nationalist Party hopes that local elections in May will boost its hold on the regional parliament and advance a fresh independence referendum.
For the first time, an explicitly nationalist coalition now controls Corsica’s regional government after it unexpectedly triumphed in December’s regional elections. That’s exactly one more region than the far-right Front national controls, despite the hype that Marine Le Pen and her allies could take power in up to six of France’s 13 newly consolidated ‘super-regions.’ A movement that has long been fragmented into myriad camps and ideologies, often violent, is now more united than ever and committed to political engagement.
Once rooted in political terrorism, Corsican nationalism has now turned to a more peaceful approach that appears to be attracting larger numbers of voters. Though the origins of Corsica’s unique regional flag, featuring a Moor’s head wearing a white bandanna, may be lost to the puzzles of history, it is nonetheless as much a symbol of the Corsican nation as the Scottish saltire.
Shortly after regional elections, when a wave of violence against immigrants (including an attack on a Muslim prayer room) threatened to mar the new nationalist government, its leaders united to decry the violence, blaming it on the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Front national. Though the incident raised tensions between Corsican nationalists and prime minister Manuel Valls, who clumsily reiterated state’s control over Corsica and sent France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve to the Corsican capital of Ajaccio, the unrest subsided soon after the new year.
Corsica’s new regional government will have two years to demonstrate that it can maintain its united nationalist front, provide capable governance and credibly advocate for greater Corsican autonomy. For the first time in years, Corsica’s status might even become an important issue in the upcoming 2017 presidential election.
Most importantly, if 2016 does become a breakout year for Corsican sovereignty, it will reinforce separatist trends not only in Scotland and Catalonia, but across Europe, catalyzing autonomy movements both familiar (e.g., Transnistria, Flanders and Kurdistan) and novel (Bavaria, Sardinia and Russian-majority parts of the Baltic States).
Corsica — a small island with a long history
Corsican sovereignty might not top the list of pressing European policy matters. But it’s an island with a long history, controlled by the Greeks, the Romans and many others from antiquity through the present day. For nearly 400 years from 1284, it was ruled by Genoa, the Italian city-state, until Corsican nationalists won independence in 1755.
Pasquale Paoli, who drove the Genoese from the island, established an Enlightenment-influenced government, with a written constitution, universal suffrage for men and women and parliamentary rule, and Paoli remains a Corsican hero despite the republic’s fall to France in 1769. France has controlled the island ever since, bringing it under the thumb of one of Europe’s most consistently centralized national governments. Compared to the United Kingdom, Germany or even Italy or Spain, the central government in Paris has long been reluctant to cede power to France’s regions, including one as idiosyncratic and sometimes turbulent as Corsica.
For Paoli’s descendants, the dream of an independent Corsica isn’t necessarily so farfetched. Poland, for example, lost its sovereignty for centuries — the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed in 1795, a short-lived Polish republic from 1918 to 1939 was soon overrun by Nazi Germany and a postwar Polish republic remained a Soviet satellite until 1989.
Corsica’s population of around 325,000 is about the same as Iceland and just a bit less than Malta. The island has its own indigenous language, Corsu, which is more closely related to the Tuscan dialect of Italian than to French and, indeed, Corsica lies far closer to the Italian mainland and the Italian island of Sardinia than to the French mainland. Only around two-thirds of Corsica’s population can speak Corsu, however, and the French language, universally spoken by all Corsicans, has long dominated official matters, education and public life. Continue reading Corsican nationalists could achieve breakthrough status in 2016→
Of the most important elections in 2015, it’s a safe bet to argue that three of them took place in Greece: the January parliamentary elections, one insane roller-coaster of a referendum in July and another snap parliamentary vote again in September.
So what is the world to do in 2016, when no one expects Greeks to return to the polls? (Though, Athens being Athens, it’s impossible to rule the possibility out.)
Fear not. The new year will bring with it a fresh schedule of exciting elections on all seven continents, including in the United States, which after a marathon pair of primary campaigns, will finally choose the country’s 45th president in November 2016.
But following American politics only begins to scratch the surface.
At least two world leaders in 2016 will put ballot questions to voters that could make or break their careers (and legacies).
New governments could emerge from elections in Taiwan, the Philippines, Morocco, Georgia, Peru, Jamaica, Ghana, Zambia and Australia.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy will either advance or flame out in his bid for a French political comeback in 2016.
Semi-autocratic leaders in Russia, Uganda, Congo and Vietnam will seek endorsements from their voters while hoping that the veneer of elections doesn’t unleash popular protest.
An opaque series of votes in Iran could determine the country’s future Supreme Leader.
A mayoral election in London (and regional elections outside England) could reshuffle British politics with an even more important vote on the horizon in 2017.
One very special election could change the international agenda of world peace and global security altogether.
For nearly two decades, the most dominant force in Québec politics was the Bloc québécois, a sidecar vehicle to the province-level Parti québéecois that has fought, more or less, for the French-speaking province’s independence for the better part of a half-century.
From 1993 until 2011, the BQ controlled nearly two-thirds of all of Québec’s ridings to the House of Commons. In the mid-1990s, with western and eastern conservatives split, and the Jean Chretién-era Liberal Party dominating national politics, the BQ held the second-highest number of seats in the House of Commons, making the sovereigntist caucus, technically speaking, the official opposition.
That all changed in the 2011 election, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) breakthrough made it the second-largest party in the House of Commons. It did so nationally by stealing votes from the Liberals, but it did so in Québec in particular by poaching votes from the Bloc, whose caucus shrank from 47 members to just four.
Moreover, as the BQ heads into October’s general election, its caucus has dwindled to just two seats, due to defections, and there’s a good chance that the party will be wiped out completely in 2015.
If it is, and the BQ époque firmly ends next month, it could send a chilling lesson to separatist movements throughout the developed world. Most especially, it’s a warning for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is riding so high today — the SNP controls a majority government in Scotland’s regional assembly and it won 56 out of the region’s 59 seats to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom’s May 2015 general election. But the lesson for the SNP (and other autonomist and separatist parties) may well be that there’s a limit to protest votes, especially if electorates believe that nationalist movements like the SNP or the Bloc can neither extract more concessions from national governments or take part in meaningful power-sharing at the national level.
The Bloc‘s collapse in the early 2010s might easily foretell the SNP’s collapse in the 2020s for exactly the same reasons.
The return three months ago of the Bloc‘s long-time former leader, Gilles Duceppe (pictured above), was supposed to restore the party’s fortunes. Instead, the 68-year-old Duceppe risks ending his political career with two humiliating defeats as the old and weary face of an independence movement that has little resonance with neither young and increasingly bilingual Quebeckers nor the deluge of immigrants to the province for whom neither French nor English is a first language. Some polls even show that Duceppe will lose a challenge to regain his own seat in the Montréal-based riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where voters preferred the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière in 2011.
Outliving its usefulness?
The BQ’s collapse at the national level holds important consequences for Canada’s federal politics. Without the Bloc‘s lock on one-sixth of the House of Commons, it becomes much easier to win a majority government. Even in the event of a hung parliament, though, assembling a majority coalition will still be easier for the three major parties, because none of the Conservatives, the Liberals or the NDP would risk forming a coalition with Québec MPs who want to leave Canada. More importantly, with the Bloc no longer holding so many ridings in Québec, Canada’s second-most populous province, it opened the way for the NDP’s rise in 2011. In retrospect, the NDP’s social democratic roots were always a natural fit for Québec’s chiefly left-of-center electorate. The NDP’s continued strength in Québec in the present campaign means that it is a serious contender to form the next government.
A candidacy that struggled to win enough parliamentary nominations to run, and a candidate personally ambivalent about running — unsure he was up to the campaign, let along up to the job.
A nomination supported by MPs who thought the far left should have a ‘voice’ in a campaign that, like in the past, would show just how anemic Labour’s far left is — and as weak as it would always be.
A surge that everyone, from former prime minister Tony Blair on down, believed would subside as the fevers of summer cooled and Labour’s electorate focused on a leader who might deliver the party to a victory.
A frontrunner who, despite a three-decade legacy of statements and positions that might otherwise doom another candidate, somehow swatted aside the taunts of Labour and Conservative enemies alike and, in his quiet, relentlessly focused and humorless manner, kept his attention on policy, not in responding to negative attacks or engendering gauzy feel-good connections via YouTube clips or on the rope line. What you see is what you get.
Today, Jeremy Corbyn becomes the duly-elected leader of the Labour Party, and he easily won with first preferences, far outpacing his nearest competition in shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.
Corbyn will also become a leader who now faces an outright mutiny from some of the party’s most important policy experts and rising stars. Despite his staggering win, which scrambles the very nature of postwar British politics, which created a revolution within Labour and which perhaps can begin a new epoch of British politics, the 66-year-old Corbyn must now wage a fight to consolidate his hold on the mechanisms of the party — from mollifying critics in the parliamentary caucus to reimaging the levers of policy review.
After a summer of Corbynmania, the late surge of shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, newly impassioned about economic policy and Syrian refugees, wasn’t enough to deny the leadership to an unlikely hero of the far left, a man who would make Tony Benn himself seem moderate and accommodating by contrast.
But as Corbyn takes the reins as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he should take to heart the hard-won lessons of those who held the office before him — stretching back to 1983, when Neil Kinnock first won the leadership.
The entire political and media elite in Great Britain are today descending on Jeremy Corbyn (pictured above), the surprise frontrunner in the race to become the Labour Party’s next leader.
Today, for example, The Guardian‘s veteran political sage Michael White disqualifies Corbyn as, in essence, a socks-and-sandals hippie who would fail spectacularly:
I know there are good ideas in there, too, and that his lack of spin, his candour (sort of) and informality (etc) make a refreshing change from the timid incrementalism of the post-Blair Labour world. But running a party, let alone a government dealing with other governments, is a disciplined business. It’s got to hang together, which is not easy, as the Cameron government often shows…. Labour activists, the ones who do the hard work, are usually more leftwing than Labour voters, let alone floating voters. After 13 years of uneasy compromises in office, they want a leader who believes what they believe. If the price of the comfort blanket is permanent opposition, well, some would accept that too. Shame on them.
There’s a lot of reason to believe that Labour’s top guns will pull out all the stops between now and September to prevent Corbyn’s once-improbable victory, from former prime minister Tony Blair and down through the ranks. Think about how Scottish independence so focused the energies of virtually the entire business and political class of Great Britain last September. If Corbyn still leads the pack by late August, you can imagine much fiercer attacks than anything Corbyn’s seen so far.
Nevertheless, Corbyn is still on the rise. After winning the endorsement of Labour’s largest union, Unite, he nabbed the support of Unison earlier this week, and he won the support of the Communication Workers Union today. For good measure, the CWU, in its endorsement, added that Corbyn was the effective antidote to the ‘Blairite virus.’ Ouch.
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.
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.
It wasn’t a surprise that Pierre-Karl Péladeau won the leadership of the Parti québécois (PQ) last weekend.
Péladeau, the former CEO of Quebecor, the province’s leading media corporation, took the leadership easily on the first ballot with 57.6% of the vote. He easily defeated Alexandre Cloutier, a young moderate who nevertheless placed second with 29.21% of the vote, and Martine Ouellet, a more traditional PQ leftist. But Péladeau’s victory was sealed earlier this year when the momentum of his campaign forced heavyweights like Jean-François Lisée and Bernard Drainville out of the running.
After just 18 months in office, the province’s voters rejected the minority PQ-led government in April 2014, restoring to power the Parti libéralduQuébec (PLQ) under the leadership of former health minister Philippe Couillard. It was a disastrous defeat for the PQ and for premier Pauline Marois, who lost her own riding in the provincial election. Péladeau, who thundered into the election campaign as a first-time candidate, quickly overshadowed Marois with talk of a fresh independence vote for the province, forcing Marois to spend weeks talking about hypothetical referenda, currency and border questions. Arguably, the PQ never subsequently regained a credible shot at winning the election.
Moreover, Péladeau has sometimes stumbled throughout the months-long campaign often designed as an exercise in rebuilding. He never fully repudiated the party’s disastrous (and many would say illiberal and racist) attempt to enact the charte de la laïcité (Charter of Rights and Values) that, among other things, would have banned government employees from wearing any religious symbols. In March, Péladeau said that ‘immigration and demography’ were to blame for the independence movement’s waning support. As a media tycoon who has pledged only now upon his election as PQ leader, to place his Quebecor stock in a blind trust, leftists throughout Québec remain wary of his leadership. His battles to defeat unions as a businessman are as legendary as his temper.
The latest Léger Marketing poll from April 11 shows the PLQ with a stead lead of 37% to just 28% for the PQ. François Legault’s center-right, sovereigntist Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) would win 21%, and the pro-independence, leftist Québec solidaire would win 10%.
I’m not running for the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015. But it seems like hugging Peter Mandelson — figuratively and nearly literally — on the eve of the leadership campaign is an odd step for Chuka Umunna (pictured above, left, with Mandelson), the shadow business secretary and the youngest of several members of the ‘next generation’ of Labour’s most impressive rising stars.
Though he hasn’t formally announced anything, Umunna is doing everything to signal that he will seek the Labour leadership, including an op-ed in The Guardian on Saturday that serves as a laundry list of Umunna’s priorities as Labour leader:
First, we spoke to our core voters but not to aspirational, middle-class ones. We talked about the bottom and top of society, about the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts, about mansions and non-doms. But we had too little to say to the majority of people in the middle… [and] we talked too little about those creating wealth and doing the right thing.
Ed Miliband’s resignation on Friday, in the wake of Labour’s most disappointing election result in a quarter-century, has opened the way not only for a robust leadership contest, but for a free-for-all of second-guessing about Miliband’s vision for Labour in the year leading up to last week’s election.
Liz Kendall, the 43-year-old shadow minister for care and older people, was the first to announce her candidacy for the leadership; shadow justice minister David Jarvis, a decorated veteran, said he would pass on the race. Others, including shadow health minister Andy Burnham, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow education secretary Tristam Hunt are likely to join Kendall and Umunna in the race. Former foreign secretary David Miliband, whose brother narrowly defeated him for the Labour leadership in 2010, is set to make remarks Monday about his future in New York, where he serves as the president of the International Rescue Committee. Should he decide to return to London to vie for the Labour leadership, it could upend the race — many Britons believe Labour chose the wrong Miliband brother five years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the loudest critics have been the architects of the ‘New Labour’ movement that propelled former prime minister Tony Blair to power in 1997, including Blair himself. They’re right to note that Blair is still the only Labour leader to win a majority since 1974, and there’s a strong argument that they are also correct that Miliband could have made a more compelling case to the British middle class, especially outside of London.
Before he got bogged down with British support for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Blair was widely popular throughout the United Kingdom, positioning Labour squarely in the center of British politics and consigning the Conservative Party to hopeless minority status for the better part of a decade.
But even if Blair and Mandelson are right that turning back the clock to the 1970s or 1992 can’t provide Labour the way forward in 2015, it’s equally true that Umunna and the other Labour leadership contenders can’t simply argue that it’s enough to turn the clock back to 1997.
What’s more, in a world where senior Labour figures grumble that figures like Burnham and Cooper are too tied to the Ed Miliband era to lead Labour credibly into the 2020 election, there are also risks for Umunna or other leadership contenders to be too closely tied to the New Labour figures of the 1990s. The last thing Labour wants to do is return to the backbiting paralysis that came from the sniping between Blair and his chancellor and eventual prime minister Gordon Brown. If there’s one thing Miliband managed successfully since 2010, it was to unite the disparate wings of a horribly divided party. It will be no use for the next leader to attempt to move Labour forward if it reopens the nasty cosmetic fights of the past. Continue reading What ‘New Labour’ can and cannot teach Labour in 2015→