Tag Archives: sturgeon

Northern Ireland struggles to form government after close vote

Arlene Foster’s year as first minister ended calamitously with the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, the fall of her government and early elections. (Facebook)

It was  first set of regional elections in the United Kingdom since Brexit. 

But the impending conundrum of Brexit’s impact on Northern Ireland — the future of vital EU subsidy funds and the reintroduction of a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that had become all but invisible within the European Union — wasn’t the only issue on the minds of Northern Irish voters when they went to the polls last Thursday.

The snap election followed a corruption scandal implicating first minister Arlene Foster — leader of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — that caused then-deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to resign from the power-sharing executive, forcing new elections, just 10 months after the prior 2016 elections.

* * * * *

RELATED: Why Northern Ireland is the most serious
obstacle to Article 50’s invocation

* * * * *

Politics in Northern Ireland runs along long-defined sectarian lines. Most of the region’s Protestant voters support either of the two main unionist parties — the socially conservative and pro-Brexit DUP or the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which backed the ‘Remain’ side in last June’s Brexit referendum. Most of the region’s Catholic voters support either of the two republican parties — the more leftist Sinn Féin or the more moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), both of which are fiercely anti-Brexit. An increasing minority of voters, however, support the non-sectarian, centrist and liberal Alliance Party.

Since the late 1990s, when the Blair government introduced devolution and a regional parliament at Stormont, and when the DUP and Sinn Féin displaced the UUP and the SDLP, respectively, as the leading unionist and republican parties, the DUP has always won first place in regional elections. That nearly changed last Thursday, as Sinn Féin came within just 1,168 votes of overtaking the DUP as the most popular party.

It leaves the DUP with just one more seat than Sinn Féin and below the crucial number of 30 that it needs to veto policies. Without 30 seats, the DUP will no longer be able to block marriage equality (Northern Ireland lags as the only UK region that hasn’t permitted same-sex marriage) or an Irish language bill that would give Gaelic equal status with English in public institutions. It was high-handed for Foster — and Peter Robinson before her — to block the popular will on both of those issues over the last decade. That, in turn, is not helping the DUP in its bid to negotiate a new power-sharing deal with Sinn Féin.

More consequentially, it leaves unionists with a clear minority for the first time since devolution — just 40 seats in the 90-seat parliament (the number of deputies dropped from 108 members for the 2017 election). Most crucially of all, the election result creates a new equilibrium for the post-election talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which are now one week into a three-week deadline to form a new power-sharing executive, as guided by the British government’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire. Continue reading Northern Ireland struggles to form government after close vote

In defense of David Cameron

Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)
Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)

Normally, when a politician — especially a president or a prime minister — resigns, he or she is met with effusive praise.United Kingdom Flag Icon

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 brutalThe 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.

On every measure, Cameron leaves behind a country more broken and more polarized than the one he inherited from Gordon Brown in May 2010. Continue reading In defense of David Cameron

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.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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 Justin Trudeau became the world’s first Millennial leader

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gets up close and personal with two panda cubs at the Toronto Zoo. (Facebook)
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gets up close and personal with two panda cubs at the Toronto Zoo. (Facebook)

Technically speaking, Justin Trudeau belongs to Generation X.Canada Flag Icon

But you’d be excused for mistaking him for a Millennial because Trudeau is, in essence, the world’s first Millennial leader.

Even his political enemies realize this. Preston Manning, who founded the Reform Party in 1987 (it eventually became the Western anchor of today’s Conservative Party), mocked the new Liberal prime minister and his state visit to Washington, D.C. last week:

In many respects he epitomizes the “it’s all about me” generation and its self-expression and promotion via social media. So let’s like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter – and while we’re at it, why not a selfie?

What the 73-year-old Manning, who once led his party to such a failure that it won fewer seats in the House of Commons than the pro-independence Bloc Québécois, doesn’t realize is that social media fluency in the politics of the 2010s is currency. It’s a feature, not a bug. (Just ask Donald Trump, who might single-handedly be reinvigorating Twitter as a medium for political communication).

While Trudeau, at 44, might be too old to be a Millennial as a technical matter, he certainly mastered the political vocabulary of young voters. Twenty years ago, younger Canadian voters might have viewed the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair as the kind of prudent, centrist leader that would make a superb prime minister. Not in 2015, when young voters swarmed to Trudeau in record numbers, to the dismay of both the NDP and Conservatives.

In 2014, a year after Trudeau assumed the leadership of the Liberal Party, he was already leading 18-to-29-year-olds by a larger margin than any other age group. Polls in the immediate aftermath of last October’s Liberal landslide showed that young voters supported Trudeau at higher proportions than other age groups.  Continue reading How Justin Trudeau became the world’s first Millennial leader

How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

scotland

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

Péladeau could be last shot for Québec independence movement

peladeau

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.

* * * * *

RELATEDPéladeau continues march to PQ leadership

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

* * * * *

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 ‘New Labour’ can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

mandelsonumunna

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.

* * * * *

RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

* * * * *

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

How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

sturgeon

Imagine it is May 2016, and Scottish voters are going to the polls to select the members of its regional parliament at Holyrood.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

You’re Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and you’re asking voters to deliver a third consecutive term to the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the pro-independence, social democratic party that’s controlled Scottish government since 2007.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

Which scenario would you prefer? Continue reading How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

The lessons of failed Confederate foreign policy

richmond

I write tomorrow for The National Interest that the Confederate States of America lost the American Civil War, 150 years ago this month, in large part because its leaders failed horribly at the diplomatic level to secure allies abroad that would recognize the CSA or even provide the Confederacy with material support:USflag

Though Union forces compelled the surrender of the Confederate army in April 1865, the Confederacy forfeited, by mistake and misfortune, the one potential asset that could have turned the tide much sooner: international recognition from an initially sympathetic Europe. In that regard, the Confederacy lost the war in London and Paris as much as it lost it in Gettysburg and Appomattox.

In particular, the CSA got off to a slow start and, with no Benjamin Franklins or Thomas Jeffersons on its bench, it cycled through three secretaries of state in its first 13 months. Confederate president Jefferson Davis also erred in assuming that European merchants were so dependent on southern cotton that Great Britain and France would assist the Confederacy in its infancy — another fatal assumption.

Though few may necessarily lament the Confederacy’s demise on its sesquicentennial, its failure can still teach us important lessons about the wise conduct of foreign policy today. International diplomacy and outreach made the difference for countries like South Sudan and East Timor; conversely, lack of imagination has hampered countries like Kosovo in its early years, and has otherwise set back Palestinian statehood hopes.

You could imagine that the Tibetan independence movement would be way stronger today in the Dalai Lama hadn’t abandoned the effort in the 1970s. You could also easily imagine that Newfoundland would be an independent country today if the energetic Joey Smallwood hadn’t so strongly boosted confederation with Canada.

Catalan regional president Artur Mas, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the soon-to-be-leader of the Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau, should take note.

Read it all here.

Would David Miliband be doing better than Ed?

david

Earlier this month, former British foreign secretary David Miliband penned a letter to the editor for The New York Times.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It had nothing to do with the United Kingdom’s general election on May 7, but instead implored the international community to place greater emphasis on the humanitarian and poverty crises in  Afghanistan’s post-occupation rebuilding efforts.

Back in December 2010, however, Miliband had hoped that he would be hitting his stride this month to bring the Labour Party back to power. Instead, he’s the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a New-York based NGO, after narrowly losing the Labour leadership to his brother, Ed Miliband.

There were many reasons for David Miliband’s loss: the skepticism of labour unions and the party’s leftists that he would perpetuate the centrist tone of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ platform; the resentment that he never stepped up between 2007 and 2010 to challenge then-prime minister Gordon Brown for the leadership, which  may have helped the party to avoid losing power; and the desire to turn the page from the Blair-Brown civil war that increasingly consumed Labour in its third term of government.

After his narrow loss, David never joined his brother’s shadow cabinet and, in April 2013, he left his seat in the British House of Commons to take on the IRC leadership position.

Meanwhile, back in Westminster, Ed Miliband has been Labour Party leader for nearly five years — now much longer than Brown, who had coveted the leadership from his fateful decision in 1994 to support Blair instead of challenging him. From afar, brother David is fully supportive, and there’s a feeling that he left politics altogether out of sense that his lingering presence loomed darkly over Ed Miliband’s leadership.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

It’s been one of the best weeks yet for Ed Miliband. For the first time, British bookies believe that it’s more likely that Miliband will emerge as prime minister after the election, not the incumbent, David Cameron. A teenage girl caused a viral sensation on Twitter when she proudly proclaimed her #milifandom for the prime ministerial hopeful. Though Miliband’s Labour never reclaimed the 10-point advantage that it enjoyed at the nadir of the current Conservative-led government’s tenure, it narrowly leads most seat predictions in a race where no one party seems capable of achieving a majority. But there are still two weeks to go, and it’s worth remembering the #Cleggmania that swept Great Britain during the prior 2010 campaign. There’s a lot of time left for the electorate to shift in either direction.

British politics is full of what-if prime ministers. John Profumo. Denis Healey. Michael Heseltine. Neil Kinnock. John Smith. Kenneth Clarke. Michael Portillo. But none of them resonate quite like David Miliband, whose own younger brother outmaneuvered him to the leadership crown that he almost certainly expected would fall to him.

With the Liberal Democrats subdued after joining Cameron in government for the past five years, it seems unlikely that anyone will command the 326-majority in the House of Commons without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), which is forecast to win almost all of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear, nonetheless, that she’ll back a broad left-wing government under Miliband and under no circumstances a renewed Tory mandate.

In two weeks’ time, unless the campaign drastically changes, Ed Miliband will be the newest resident of 10 Downing Street. It would be to his credit to coax his older brother back into politics to finish the work he began as foreign minister — it’s not difficult or unprecedented to arrange a by-election in a safe constituency.

Yet there’s still a nagging feeling about Ed Miliband’s leadership. Forget that, so many years ago, it was David Miliband who narrowly won more votes than Ed among the parliamentary Labour caucus and among party voters (Ed narrowly defeated David with stronger support among unions and interest groups that comprised the third group of voters in the tripartite electorate in 2010’s contest). Notwithstanding what the bookies say, Cameron still gets higher marks than Miliband in personal approval ratings, though that gap has narrowed throughout the race. The sudden #milifandom moment aside, Miliband remains in the eyes of many British voters a geeky technocrat with none of the showmanship of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown’s  sense of history nor John Major’s happy-warrior statesmanship.

He may become prime minister after May 7, but not because of a groundswell of support among the British electorate for an Ed Miliband premiership. It’s too soon to tell if a Labour minority government propped up by the SNP will prove a poisoned chalice. Throughout the campaign, it’s been Sturgeon, not Miliband, savaging the budget cuts of the Tory/Lib Dem government of the past five years. Miliband, instead, curiously focused his campaign’s efforts on more funding for the National Health Service  — it’s not an entirely original basis for a center-left platform. After all, the NHS survived the market-happy years of the Thatcher government, and it will survive the ever-so-gentle austerity of a second Cameron term.

But it’s tantalizing to wonder whether David Miliband, had he defeated his brother for the leadership in 2010, would have pushed Labour into striking distance of a majority government. Certainly, even today, he has more gravitas and charisma than anyone else on Labour’s front benches. That includes his brother, but it also includes other potential leaders, including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, the pugnacious Brownite shadow chancellor Ed Balls (Cooper’s husband) and health secretary Andy Burnham.

If there’s a turn in the polls, and Cameron ekes out reelection, David Miliband would stand a good shot of winning the leadership against Balls, Cooper, Burnham or just about anyone in Labour today.

Even if Brits are starting to warm to geeky younger brother Ed as a potential prime minister, it’s taken more than four years for him to get to this point. A year ago, the British press was savaging him for not knowing how to eat a proper bacon sandwich, and as recently as last autumn, Labour sources were musing openly about replacing him as leader.

David Miliband would have instantly become prime-minister-in-waiting from the first day of his leadership, and he would have done so with the warm-hearted support of Blair and the only living generation of Labour officials who have held power, officials who have only begrudgingly supported Ed Miliband. It’s not outrageous to believe that David Miliband would have been such a compelling opposition leader that he could have pressured the Cameron-led government into a no-confidence vote, toppling the coalition before the end of its five-year term.

You can’t prove a negative, of course, so we’ll never know. But it’s not difficult to imagine that the #milifandom would have started earlier with much more fanfare had the other brother won.

Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

johnmajor

If it was surprising to see former prime minister Tony Blair two weeks ago back in the spotlight of British politics, it was even more surprising Tuesday to see his predecessor, Conservative prime minister John Major, stealing the show with just over two weeks to go until the United Kingdom’s general election.United Kingdom Flag Icon

His remarks, a calculated warning about the potential rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is now forecast to win nearly all of Scotland’s 59 seats to the House of Commons, show just how worried the Conservatives are about a potential coalition between the center-left Labour Party and the SNP.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

With Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon apparently impervious to attack from Tories or from Labour in Scotland, Major delivered a rare speech on Tuesday warning that a Labour-SNP government would be a ‘clear and present danger’ to British unity, echoing in softer tones the warnings of prime minister David Cameron a few days ago, who declared a potential Labour-SNP alliance a ‘coalition of chaos.’

In typical Major style, there were few histrionics in his speech, but the only living former Conservative prime minister made it clear just how seriously the Tories are taking the joint Labour-SNP threat by warning that the SNP would ‘blackmail’ a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, pushing for small victories that will secure the SNP’s popularity prior to regional Scottish elections in 2016, en route to demands for another referendum on independence:

It is to drive a wedge between Scotland and – especially – England.  They will manufacture grievance to make it more likely any future Referendum would deliver a majority for independence.  They will ask for the impossible and create merry hell if it is denied.  The nightmare of a broken United Kingdom has not gone away.  The separation debate is not over.  The SNP is determined to prise apart the United Kingdom.

With just two weeks until British voters choose their next government, there’s no sign that either the Conservatives or Labour can win a majority to govern alone. Even with the support of the Liberal Democrats, neither party is projected to win the 326 seats they will need to form a majority. With Sturgeon’s surging SNP set to win nearly all of the 59 seats in Scotland, that’s made her the potential kingmaker for the next British government.

Unlike Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who has made it clear that he could partner with either major party, Sturgeon has made it clear that she will not support a Tory government at Westminster. With little support to lose in Scotland itself, Major’s return indicates that the Conservative strategy for the next two weeks will be to scare English voters into supporting Tories with the threat of a Scottish-controlled parliament. Continue reading Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top

hillary

Part of the undeniable appeal of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign is her push to become the first woman to lead the United States, enhanced by the fact that she aims to succeed the first African-American president.USflag

But, if elected, Clinton will be far from the only powerful woman on the world stage.

If she wins the November 2016 presidential race, she’ll join a list of world leaders that includes German president Angela Merkel, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

What’s more, there’s never been a better moment for women leading their countries. Assuming that Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 and serves two terms, it’s not inconceivable that she’d lead the United States at a time of ‘peak’ female leadership. But nowhere is that more true than in Europe. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that each of the six largest member-states of the European Union could have women in charge during a potential Clinton administration.

Here’s who they are — and how they might rise to power. Continue reading Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top