Tag Archives: SNP

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

Brexit vote is England’s parallel to Scottish independence referendum

Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, hopes to win Thursday's referendum on the back of English nationalism. (Telegraph)
Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, hopes to win Thursday’s referendum on the back of English nationalism. (Telegraph)

Imagine yourself as a typical, middle-class voter in  Northumberland.United Kingdom Flag Iconengland_640

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.

Continue reading Brexit vote is England’s parallel to Scottish independence referendum

Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn't command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)
Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn’t command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)

Across the United Kingdom, voters will go to the polls Thursday for regional council elections nationwide and to elect regional governments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.United Kingdom Flag Iconwales

Most political attention has focused on London, where Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, seems set to win by a hearty margin, or more generally on England, where the rest of the Labour Party will be watching to gauge the effects of Jeremy Corbyn’s eight-month leadership.

In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is expected to win a landslide victory, with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives vying for a distant second place.

Above all, voters and politicians are already looking beyond Thursday’s regional and council votes to the European Union referendum on June 23, which could cause national, regional and global tremors.

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RELATED: Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

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But Wales is also voting to elect all 60 members of the National Assembly (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru). Voters choose members directly through constituencies, but vote a second time for a particular party that provides additional seats, on a regional basis, through proportional representation. Though the region has attracted far less attention than Scotland or even Northern Ireland of late, it still boasts 3.1 million residents of its own — a population that’s equal to about 60% of Scotland’s and just 5% of the overall UK population.

As Labour struggles throughout the rest of the country, polls show that the Welsh Labour Party is on track to win Thursday’s vote with ease, which will give Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister since December 2009, an easy path to reelection. The center-left Labour, which has historically taken a more nationalist approach to politics in Wales, has won every regional election since 1999, the first in the post-devolution era. Continue reading Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)
On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)

The next opposition leader of Scotland’s regional parliament just might be an openly gay Conservative woman.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

It sounds farfetched, but polls show that as the Scottish National Party (SNP) continues to lead by a wide margin with regional elections approaching on May 5, the Scottish Labour Party has sunk so low that Scottish Conservatives actually have a strong chance to place second — albeit a very far second behind the SNP and its popular leader, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

If the Tories do indeed pull off a victory in Scotland, it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Scottish Tories to rebrand themselves in Davidson’s image — and it would make Davidson, nearly overnight, a model figure in the modern Conservative Party.

Nothing’s certain.

The latest Survation/Daily Record poll conducted between April 15 and 20 gives the SNP a massive lead with 53% of the vote. Far behind in second place was Labour with 18%, but directly behind Labour? The Conservatives with 17%.

It’s virtually a law of post-Thatcher British politics that Scotland is a no-go zone for the Tories. In the 2015 general election, prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives won just one seat (out of 59) and 14.9% of the vote, its lowest-ever vote share. The last time the Conservatives won even 25% of the Scottish vote in a general election was 1992. Since the 1997 landslide that wiped out the Conservatives, the party has elected just two MPs and, since 2005, the only Tory MP has been David Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Since May 2015, Mundell has served as the secretary of state for Scotland.

It’s been even worse for the Scottish Tories in local elections — the region-wide Conservative vote was just 12.4% in 2011 and just 13.9% in 2007. In Scotland’s post-devolution history (it’s had a regional parliament only since 1999), the Conservatives have held no more than 18 seats (out of 129).

So it’s remarkable that, at this point, the Conservatives even have a shot at becoming the official opposition at Holyrood.

Much of the credit belongs to Davidson, who is not your typical Tory.  Continue reading Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

How Corbyn can use Brexit to reinvigorate his Labour leadership

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been slow to embrace the campaign to reject Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been slow to embrace the campaign to reject Brexit.

If, contrary to the United Kingdom’s new fixed parliament law, the British went to the ballot box tomorrow, most polls show that the result wouldn’t change much.United Kingdom Flag Icon

That is, a Conservative government with which Britons are less than enthusiastic.

Nearly eight months into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the opposition, center-left Labour Party, there’s no indication that the electorate has warmed to Corbyn’s hard-left policy views, nor any likelihood that Corbyn’s own critics on the back benches, populated with many of the figures who once wielded power in the ‘New Labour’ years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, trust him as their standard-bearer.

The nearly flawless campaign of the left-wing (though not always Corbynite) Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in London’s mayoral race, will give Corbyn at least one highlight in the coming May 5 regional elections. But Labour faces potential routs across England and, most damningly, failure to make any real progress against Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) apparently heading to a romp in Scottish parliamentary elections, with a nearly 30% lead over the Scottish Labour Party.

All of which will put even greater pressure on Corbyn’s leadership. Though Corbyn entered the Labour race with no hope of actually winning, there’s little that the party’s Blair/Brown/Miliband/Cooper wing (which dominates the parliamentary caucus, though not the Labour grassroots) can do unless or until Corbyn loses popularity among the Labour faithful that delivered him to the leadership last summer. It’s not an outcome that appears likely to happen anytime soon.

Nevertheless, even if Labour suffers an especially poor night on May 5, Corbyn has a tailor-made opportunity to save his leadership. In the process, Corbyn might also transform his image among  a British electorate that remains highly skeptical of ever giving Corbyn the keys to 10 Downing Street.

It all rides on how Corbyn wages the Labour campaign to remain within the European Union in the coming June 23 referendum. If he succeeds, politically and substantively, Corbyn could both silence critics in his own party and, for the first time, introduce himself as truly prime ministerial material.

Continue reading How Corbyn can use Brexit to reinvigorate his Labour leadership

How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

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Everyone knows that Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014.scotlandEuropean_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

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.

Continue reading How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe

howe

It was fitting, perhaps, that Geoffrey Howe, the Tory statesman, died the same weekend that prime minister David Cameron listed his four demands for reforming the European Union — a prelude to the expected 2017 referendum on British EU membership.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Howe died at age 88 after a heart attack on Saturday, ending one of the most accomplished lives of postwar British politics. Entering the House of Commons for the first time in 1964, Howe served as a trade minister under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath. But it was during Margaret Thatcher’s reign  that put him in a real position to shine — first as chancellor between 1979 and 1983, during some of the headiest days of the Thatcherite free-market revolution, and later as foreign secretary from 1983 to 1989, when he tackled the US invasion of Grenada, the denouement of the Cold War, the Libyan crisis and, of course, an increasingly adversarial relationship between Thatcher and the European Economic Community.

It was Howe’s resignation speech in 1990 as deputy prime minister, having been unceremoniously demoted by Thatcher from the foreign office, that led to her own downfall just 12 days later.

The speech today is worth watching, not for its drama (though it contained that in spades — Howe’s quiet and gentlemanly manner couldn’t have been more devastating in its effect) but for its warning on Europe, especially with the 2017 referendum looming.

At the time, Howe challenged both Thatcher’s style and substance on Europe. In particular, he took issue with her reluctance to admit the United Kingdom into the ‘currency snake’ that set the value of the UK pound within a narrow band. He also chided her attitude toward ruling out, in absolute terms, any British participation in a single currency: Continue reading Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe

Is Donald Trump the American version of Le Pen?

trumpdebate

Over the weekend, Le Figaro pondered whether Donald Trump, the tart-tongued real estate mogul, might be the U.S. version of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French far-right founder of the Front national (National Front) who’s also become notorious for controversial statements and for trampling ‘political correctness.’USflag

Le Pen, after all, edged out the leftist prime minister Lionel Jospin in the 2002 presidential election, establishing the Fifth Republic’s most lopsided runoff between the noxious Le Pen and the incumbent, center-right Jacques Chirac. Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, who is working to broader the FN’s appeal, is polling high in the 2017 presidential contest and may win one of the two final runoff spots.

There are significant differences between the Le Pen family and Trump. Le Pen pere frequently expressed his doubts about the Holocaust with a heavy dose of anti-Semitic populism — so far, Trump hasn’t started questioning the Holocaust or attacking Jewish Americans. But both Le Pen and his daughter developed a significant constituency of French voters by expressing outrage against the influx of immigrants into the country, a concern much closer to Trump’s heart (he announced his candidacy by attacking Mexicans, promising to build a wall along the southern US border and billing it to the Mexican government).

More recently, Marine Le Pen has broadened her attacks to include European institutions, including the eurozone, as an attack on the sovereignty of France. In her exclamations of “Oui, la France!” there’s more than an echo of Trump’s “Let’s make American great again” shtick.

But the support that Trump has amassed in the summer of 2015 isn’t so unlike the wave of populism that’s enveloped Europe (on both the right and the left). Though the US economic recovery has chiefly outpaced that of Europe’s, it’s not been an easy expansion. Sustained unemployment, tepid GDP growth and stagnant wages have left working-class and middle-class American voters less secure — just like working-class and middle-class European voters.

It’s no surprise that since 2010, several new voices of the populist right and the populist left have demonstrated their electoral muscle:

  • In Italy, comic and blogger Beppe Grillo obtained nearly a quarter of the vote in the 2013 elections, and polls show that he still commands upwards of 25% of the vote. Frank Bruni wrote in May in The New York Times that Trump shares much in common with Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who dominated Italian politics from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s and, like Trump, reveled in controversial pronouncements. But Berlusconi was primed for politics by Bettino Craxi, the Socialist prime minister in the 1980s who was ultimately forced into exile in Tunisia; it’s not like George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich developed Trump as a protégé.
  • In the United Kingdom, anti-establishment candidates running for the Scottish National Party (SNP) wiped out longstanding Labour and Liberal Democratic strongholds in Scotland and, in the current Labour Party leadership contest, the far-left Jeremy Corbyn, a firm anti-austerian who wants to renationalize British railways, leads many surveys against more moderate opponents.
  • In Greece, the far-left Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left) took power in January’s elections, and the equally far-left Podemos hopes to pull off a similar victory in Spain’s general election in December.

It’s not surprising that economic pain, angst about sovereignty, identity and migration and other doubts about ruling political elites are fueling the same kind of anti-establishment reaction in the United States, too, and it’s the same instinct that powered the ‘tea party’ movement of the early 2010s.

It’s too soon to tell what Trump’s lasting legacy will be on the 2016 presidential race. His poll numbers might soon collapse (or not). He could wipe out before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. He might win a few early contests before Republican elites step in (and they will) to deny him the presidential nomination. He’s still holding the door open to an independent third-party run in the general election.

But the real template for Trump isn’t necessarily Le Pen or Tsipras or Corbyn or Grillo or even Berlusconi, though they all draw support from the same anti-establishment, populist reservoir.

Instead, it’s a duo of neophyte businessmen who have taken on powerful (and experienced) political leaders over the past two years to upend the status quo. Though Andrej Kiska and Andrej Babiš aren’t necessarily household names, even in Europe, they represent more closely the kind of appeal that Trump — at his best, perhaps — could replicate to upend the Republican establishment.

If I were Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, I would be furiously studying each case to extrapolate lessons for Trump.

kiska

Kiska (pictured above) is a 52-year old businessman who spent much of his life as a entrepreneur in Slovakia, making his fortune in the installment payments and the credit business. Despite his failures to break into the US market, Kiska shifted to charitable works in 2006, founding Dobrý anjel (Good Angel), a charitable organization that provides funds for the seriously ill.

Running as an independent in the Slovakian presidential election in March 2014, Kiska defeated Slovakia’s sitting center-left prime minister Robert Fico. The Slovak presidency is effectively ceremonial, but Fico’s victory would have consolidated power between the ruling party and the presidency. Fico’s defeat dealt an otherwise popular figure a significant blow — and Kiska’s victory preserved a sense of constitutional balance between the executive and the parliamentary.

Going into the election, Fico was a well-liked prime minister and Slovakia’s economic record outpaced its closest neighbors; Kiska was a political newcomer. Fico’s party, Smer–sociálna demokracia, (Smer-SD, Direction-Social Democracy), still widely leads polls for next year’s general election, for example.

Unlike Trump, Kiska didn’t campaign on the macho, alpha-male persona of a successful businessman. But Kiska succeeded by planting doubts about Fico’s campaign and the fact that Kiska was personally untainted by political corruption and ties to Soviet-era politics. By all counts, he’s thrived in the presidential role since taking office last year. The lesson to Trump is that he can dial down the antics and still present a capable challenge to the GOP establishment. Though Trump may embellish the influence that his past donations might have procured, there’s no doubt he is right when he showcases the corrosive influence of money on politics in the post-Citizens United world.

babis

Babiš (pictured above) is also a Slovak-born businessman, but the 60-year old made his fortune in the Czech Republic. Like Kiska, he left business to form a political party, Akce nespokojených občanů (ANO, Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) in 2011.

In the 2013 Czech elections, ANO won nearly 20% of the vote, finishing a strong second to the Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party) in a highly fragmented result. Babiš, who developed Agrofert, an agricultural and food processing company, into one of the most successful companies in the country, later purchased a series of media companies before he turned to politics as one of the wealthiest men in the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, Babiš argued that he would govern the Czech Republic like a business.

More caustic than Kiska, and more sympathetic to neoliberal policies, Babiš attacked both Czech social democrats and conservatives as corrupt and dishonest, arguing for an end to immunity for political figures. In 2012 and 2013, despite his inexperience, he expertly filled a void for an electorate that had lost trust in the central European country’s ruling elite. In that regard, Trump’s rhetoric much more strongly resembles that of the pugilistic Babiš.

In the past four years alone, a center-right prime minister resigned after his chief of staff (with whom he had become romantically involved) was caught spying on the former prime minister’s wife. It’s also a country where a former Social Democratic prime minister won the presidency in early 2013 and immediately tried to outmuscle the Czech parliament in a constitutional power struggle. That gave Babiš the opportunity to present himself as the truth-telling man of action, despite fears that ‘Babišconi’ would become just another oligarchic leader and despite troubling accusations that he cooperated with the Czech internal police during the Soviet era as well as with the Soviet KGB.

Nevertheless, after the 2013 election, Babiš  set aside his differences with elites and brought ANO into the current government — he now serves as the country’s finance minister. Though the next Czech elections do not have to be held until 2017, ANO leads polls and there’s a good chance that Babiš could become the next prime minister.

The lesson here from Trump is that the righteous ‘pox-on-both-your houses’ anger of the outsider can be effective so long as it’s targeted on the tangible excesses and failures of the ruling class. But it’s not enough, as Trump has done, just to call yourself ‘smart’ and politicians ‘stupid.’ What made Babiš successful was presenting the devastating case for why Czech politics had become so broken.

 

The rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

unite

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. United Kingdom Flag Icon

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.

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RELATED: Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader

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

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So what gives? If Ed Miliband, according to so many political professionals, lost the May 2015 general election because he veered too far left, how in the world (so the logic goes) will Corbyn manage by taking Labour far into the retreat of its 1980s thumb-sucking comfort zone? Continue reading The rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

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.

Péladeau could be last shot for Québec independence movement

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It wasn’t a surprise that Pierre-Karl Péladeau won the leadership of the Parti québécois (PQ) last weekend.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

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.

Péladeau, accepting the party’s leadership with a vow to ‘make Québec a country,’ has a huge task ahead.

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RELATEDPéladeau continues march to PQ leadership

RELATED: Québec election results — four reasons why the PQ blew it

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After just 18 months in office, the province’s voters rejected the minority PQ-led government in April 2014, restoring to power the Parti libéral du Québec (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%.

All of which makes it baffling that Péladeau’s rise to the leadership has been so effortless. With the future of the struggling independence on the line, the party faithful never really forced Péladeau to fight for the leadership. It’s a lot of faith to place in such a political novice — and no one really knows whether he’ll turn out more like Lucien Bouchard or Michael Ignatieff.  Continue reading Péladeau could be last shot for Québec independence movement

What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

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Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders proudly claimed that American economic policy should look more like Scandinavia’s.United Kingdom Flag Icon

But for Republican presidential hopefuls, it might be more fruitful to turn their gaze slightly to the south of Scandinavia — to the United Kingdom, where Conservative prime minister David Cameron won an unexpectedly robust victory in last Thursday’s general election. Not only did Cameron stave off predictions of defeat by the center-left Labour Party, his Tories won an absolute (if small) majority in the House of Commons, increasing his caucus by 24 MPs. This, in turn, will allow Cameron to govern for the next five years without a coalition partner. That’s all well and good considering that the Liberal Democrats lost 48 of their 56 seats in Parliament.

It’s rare, in a parliamentary system, for a government to win reelection with even greater support, let alone after five years of budget cuts and economic contraction that transformed into GDP growth only in the last two years. Margaret Thatcher was the last prime minister to do so in 1983, and that followed her stupendous victory against Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982.

For U.S. conservatives, Cameron’s victory in winning the first Tory majority since 1992 should provide a road map for the kinds of policies that can pave the way to a GOP victory in 2016. Republicans know that they’ve won a popular vote majority just once since 1988, and demographic changes are making the Republican presidential coalition more elderly, white and rural in an increasingly young, multiracial and urban society.

Cameron benefitted from smart political strategy that painted Labour, fairly or unfairly, as untrustworthy stewards of the British economy. He also appealed to the fears of English voters in warning that a Labour government, propped up by votes from the pro-independence Scottish National Party, would amount to a “coalition of chaos” in Westminster. Cameron also benefitted from doubts among British voters about Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, who pulled Labour to the left of Tony Blair’s third-way “New Labour”centrism and who never seemed to fit the role of potential prime minister.

Nevertheless, there are at least three areas where Republicans could replicate Cameron’s agenda and, potentially, turn the tables on Democrats in 2016. Continue reading What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

What ‘New Labour’ can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

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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.United Kingdom Flag Icon

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.

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RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

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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

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.

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Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government

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It’s morning in the United Kingdom, and the BBC is projecting that the Conservative Party will win 325 seats — exactly half of the House of Commons, and an increase of 20 seats from the 305 seats that the Tories held in the prior parliament.United Kingdom Flag Icon

What’s clear is that prime minister David Cameron will keep his job, and all the talk of a hung parliament and weeks of coalition-building seems to have been wrong.

But what will Cameron face in the next five years?

Here are the seven things to watch, as the second Cameron government unfolds: Continue reading Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government