Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Quick Guide to Understand the UK's General Elections

On June the 8th, Brits will vote for the third time since 2015. They firstly gave a majority (though limited) to David Cameron; a year after they disavowed Cameron's gamble of remaining in the EU and activated Brexit; and tomorrow they are to decide who will negotiate Brexit and what policies they will introduce once their country is completely independent (sure?) from the continent.

In the first two ballots, the polls proved wrong and didn't advance the final outcome. In order to be prepared for any possibility, I will hereafter point to the two main likely results. This way, you'll seem more informed while discussing the event with your peers.

May gets a large majority

This is what Theresa May expected when calling for the snap election. Polls, at the beginning of the campaign, predicted a huge majority for the Conservative Party. If the Tories get anywhere around 350 to 450 MPs (out of 650 MPs in total), May would have achieved her goal. 

Although this is still the most likely picture after the elections, it seems less likely than two months ago.

A success like this, that seemed very likely only two months ago, apparently has faded away during the campaign. Even though, if the right-wing party wins such a majority, one should look at several factors that are likely to favor them:
  • The vanishing of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) as a medium-size party (they took 12,7% of the vote in 2015) and the massive transfusion of votes to the Conservatives. Once the UK is out of the EU, and Nigel Farage, the popular leader of UKIP left the frontline, this party has lost most of the reasons to be supported. Many UKIP voters, who came either from the Tories or from Labour, are expected to swing to the Conservatives in order to secure a hard Brexit.
Many voters might think that after kicking the UK out of the EU, there's no point in voting UKIP.
  • Jeremy Corbyn high unpopularity could be one of the decisive factors of the night. Even though he is supposed to have improved the ratings during the campaign, two years of high unpopularity as the opposition leader might be lethal for him. The big difference between May's approval ratings and Corbyn's was one of the main factors that encouraged the Prime Minister to take the gamble.
  • The Liberal Democrats dug their own grave when they took a stance against Brexit. They are the only party to claim a second referendum on Brexit and have campaigned on a pro-European platform. This centrist party that usually receives votes from the disillusioned with Labor and the Tories, this time might not get any vote given that most of the country has accepted Brexit and only want to move on. Even though with a different result, this seems one of the few certainties of the night.

May fails and gets a small majority or a hung parliament

Even though it'll be different if the final outcome is a small majority (at around 320-340 MPs) or a hung parliament (when no party has a majority), both results may mean a blow to Theresa May's career. Fighting against very favorable polls supposes putting the stakes very high. If May can't give a big win for the Tories, her post as the leader of the party might be questioned. It goes without saying that a hung parliament might mean the immediate end of her career.

A good result for Jeremy Corbyn might mean the third surprise in a row in British politics.

If on Friday's afternoon, the outcome looks anywhere near this scenario, we may look at these factors to understand:
  • Jeremy Corbyn would have beaten his low popularity and has been able to position the economy and the social care model as the main topics of this election. Corbyn has been very successful in projecting an image of a kind and reasonable person during his appearances in the media. However, fighting against two years of media's hounding is not easy. Moreover, he has centered Labour's manifesto on coming back to pure social democratic policies that secure social care and stop austerity. The results will tell if Brits wanted to change their economic model or not.
It's still to be seen whether young voters cast their vote or not.

  • Young voters massively turned out, and they did so for Labour. As the Brexit result showed a big generational breach, polls suggest that this time there might be again a big generational divide. Young voters are far more likely to vote for Labour; the elderly are far more likely to vote for the Tories. Instead of a social class divide, on Friday we might be looking at a generational divide. However, like with Brexit, young voters are also more likely to stay at home and not cast their vote. That's why a high turnout of youth might mean a good result for Corbyn's Labour Party.

How is terror going to impact?

Unfortunately, two terror attacks (Manchester and London Bridge) tarnished the campaign and forced its suspension twice. We don't know yet what the impact if any, such terror attacks might have on the final results.

On the one hand, one might expect this kind of attacks favoring the Tories given that they project the image of a tougher party against crime. However, on the other hand, Labour has directly accused May because she cut the budget of the police during the last seven years. It's still to be seen what argument is most accepted between the electorate, and if terrorism plays a big role when casting the vote or not.

Even though uncertainties are huge, I hope this quick guide helps you to understand the big causes of the result.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Arrogance and Temerity in N.10 of Downing Street

When Theresa May called an early election on June the 8th, the Tory leader utilised the upcoming Brexit negotiations as the excuse. In theory, the Brits should decide who they want to be the negotiator with the European Union and give her (or him) hands-free to reach agreements without parliamentary restrictions. However, several factors signalled at a completely different reason for calling a general election this month.

"Let's give me the power and crush these socialist friends of Corbyn."

Firstly, May has had so far no problems in parliament with Brexit related legislation. Since the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, pledged not to disturb in Brexit-related issues, the likely doubts about this topic dissipated. Moreover, we shall remember that there was a conservative majority in the House of Commons, not suspect of being remainers. Therefore, calling an election to secure a pro-Brexit majority made no sense since there was no real opposition to this process in parliament.

Secondly, we only have to look at the numbers of the different polls published in April to grasp a quite different, and worldly, reason to call this election. At the time May decided the ballots, the Conservative Party was leading in all the polls by a margin that goes between 15 and 20 points over the Labour Party. This, in a first-past-the-post system as the British, would mean an outstanding overall majority for the Tories. With these numbers, one could easily imagine lots of MPs, advisors and even the PM being tempted to call the election. Who could resist such temptation?

May has taken a central role in the Tory campaign, leaving Brexit or the local candidates few room.

Besides, when the Tories launched their campaign, they confirm this suspicion. The Conservative Party chose to campaign in a presidential style, giving Theresa May the whole protagonist role. Brexit didn't appear anywhere in the headlines. This is the key that signals the real intention behind the snap election. Given that the opposition leader, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, was trailing far behind May in all polls, a presidential profile signalled the real intention: crushing the Labour Party in parliament and assuring a huge Tory majority for five more years. Corbyn was supposed to be the main weakness of Labour, and the Tories were up to use it.

This is how conservative media and the Tory party has portraited Corbyn since he was elected Labour's leader.

However, calling an election to secure a huge majority and take advantage of the polling figures doesn't always work. There are plenty of examples of governments that wanted to take profit of favourable opinion polls but they found no success in the ballot. For example, Catalonia 2012 and Quebec 2014 or the UK in 1923 and in 1974.

Today, there are only five days to go and everything could happen.

In following articles, I'll analyse the surprising campaign.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

3 takeaways from the French presidential debate

1. Marine Le Pen fully adopted Trump-style of debating

The far-right leader continuously interrupted, mocked and insulted her opponent. In that sense, Le Pen adopted a Donald Trump's bully style that tried to discredit the rival, not with ideas and arguments, but merely disrespecting. The Front National's candidate also wanted to draw a clear (and real) line between Emmanuel Macron and the current socialist government. Macron, however, did not stay shy and was not intimidated by his rival's attitude. Yesterday night we saw a socio-liberal candidate that responded to Le Pen's attacks and even stroke back. Actually, it was Macron who told her some of the strongest accusations: "you are indecent", "French people deserve more (than you)" and "you will bring the country to a civil war". In the end, Le Pen's attacks and Macron's responses might have strengthened Macron's image as a statesman.

Though the sour tone of the debate, there were moments of strange smiling and looks between them.

2. Le Pen's racism is back in town

Since Marine's took over Front National, she has always worked on the decriminalisation of her party. The FN's results in the last round of elections clearly point at her succeeding at it. However, Marine's proposals to fight terrorism and criminality showed that the racist ideas are still there. Le Pen proposed closing borders, immediately extraditing foreign criminals and those with French and another nationality. She also intends to close many mosques, organisations and parties suspicious of feeding radical Islamism. All these ideas are not new, actually, they are the same old ideas that have always characterised the far-right party. That is precisely the news. For those on the left that were flirting with the idea of supporting an anti-establishment candidate such like her, suddenly remembered that racism is still there.

3. Macron did not need to explain its plan for Europe

Emmanuel Macron's plan for Europe was barely unveiled because what centred the debate was Le Pen's plan of abandoning the European Union and the Euro. Given that the far-right leader mishandled her plan for recovering French sovereignty, Macron only had to point at the evident weaknesses of the plan. Marine tried to explain that the Euro was the banker's currency and she intended to reinstate the people's currency (i.e., the Franc), but using both currencies at the same time. Moreover, she was not even clear about how these double currency system was going to work. Macron, who is an expert in economy, profited it by pointing at the evident weaknesses of Le Pen's plan and avoiding to explain its plan for Europe. What a pity! It did not let us know what are the ideas of the likely Elisée's tenant.

4 (extra track). Both completely ignored the journalists

I have rarely felt more pity for moderators than I did yesterday. The candidates very often talk at the same time and did not even listen to the moderators that tried to order the debate. Poor them. The TV spectacle was great, even though it was not centred on ideas and arguments. Trump style.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Why is former Catalan president being tried?

The short answer is: because president Mas promoted a mock and non-binding referendum on the independence of Catalonia in 2014 against the Constitutional Court sentence.
Rigau, Mas and Ortega went to court sorrounded by pro-independence supporters that encouraged them.
However, this explanation might not be sufficient for those that don't follow Catalan and Spanish politics. I'll try to explain the main things to understand the situation:

What happened on the 9th of November, 2014?

That day was the chosen by the Catalan Parliament to hold a legal referendum on the independence of Catalonia. However, given that the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended it, this referendum never took place.
People knew they were not voting in an official referendum. It was just a protest day.
Instead, the Catalan government promoted a 'participatory process' where volunteers opened polling stations and counted the ballots. President Mas always warned the result wasn't going to have a legal effect. More than 2.3 million people participated (or voted), out of about 5 million people that were allowed to vote. 80% of ballots supported independence. Of course, this process didn't have any legal effect. Catalonia is still part of Spain.

If it didn't have any legal effect, what's the problem?

The matter at stake is the following. the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the real referendum and warned the Catalan government of making any movement about it. After the 9th of November, the general prosecutor of Catalonia didn't find any crime in this 'participatory process'. However, the Spanish general prosecutor (who's the boss of the Catalan one), forced the Catalan prosecutor to report president Mas, vice-president Ortega, secretary of Education Rigau and secretary of Government Homs.
That night, both president and vice-president presented the results.
Independence won overwhelmingly because pro-Spanish voter didn't cast their ballots. 
We should also mention here that the Spanish general prosecutor directly depends on the Spanish minister of Justice. And, moreover, this general prosecutor resigned a month after forcing the Catalan to report the government, because he was uneasy with that. So, we could say that is the Spanish government who reported the Catalan government and provoke the trial. 

But, why is calling a non-binding vote illegal?

According to the Spanish government, and to the parliamentary majority, the Spanish constitution doesn't allow a vote on independence. They say that the Spanish people, as a whole, is the only one entitled to make such decisions. It's like saying that the whole UK should have voted on the Scottish independence referendum.

On the other hand, nationalist and leftist parties defend that the Spanish constitution does allow the vote on independence only in Catalonia. However, they are still a minority in the Spanish parliament (about 100 MPs out of 350).

And you, have you understood anything? What do you think?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

5 ways to identify a populist

Presumably, politics in 2017 will be mainly marked, at least in the West, by populism. Whether it's right-wing (hi Trump, Farage, Wilders and Le Pen), left-wing (we can talk about Chávez, Fernández de Kirchner and, perhaps, Pablo Iglesias) or difficult to define (classification specifically created for our favourite clown: Grillo), populists all over Europe and America share some strategies that are worth knowing.
The Euro-populists are coming

Given that it's difficult to agree on a deffinition of 'populism', this is just a quick guide to identify populists that will definitely make the headlines this year:

1. People against the anti-people

This is what gives the name to their rethorical strategy. A populist always differenciates 'the people' from 'the anti-people'. The anti-people is always blamed for the disfunctions of society, usually corruption and poverty. The foes of the people vary in every country, and usually includes both internal and external evils.

The favourite internal foe is the elite or establishment, that is blamed for ignoring the people for very long time. This elite may be political or economic. It's also very useful creating a tag to refer to this group of people. That's the case of casta in the Spanish politics.
Wilders has a clear pick when deciding who's his external foe: ISLAM.
When it comes to external foes, usual suspects are Islam (Le Pen and Wilders are experts on it) and some international institutions. Here you can choose between the EU, IMF, World Bank..., or you could even blame another country, like the US or Russia (indeed, they're always the bad guys in films).

Last but not least, a good populist will always emphasise the honesty and good qualities of the people, because all the bad things come from the anti-people.

2. Easy solutions to difficult problems

Given that all things that don't work in a society are caused by the establishment and some evil foreigners, politics and economy would easily improve if we remove these guys from power. Moreover, every problem present in society has to have an easy solution that fixes it. Why analysing the fluxes and causes of immigration to the US when you can build a wall at the border with Mexico?
Some other examples are the will of European populists to leave the EU to solve all the problems of their countries. The euro (€) is bad as hell, and the EU is even worse. Let's get rid of them and we'll be back to paradise.

3. Hate or disrespectful speech

If you have already a populist in your mind, you'll probably understand this third point. When it comes to point at the anti-people, a populist usually isn't respectful. Why should they be respectful to those that are hurting their country and their beloved people so much?
Who cares if refugees are fleeing from war when you can win some votes?
Ok, not all populists are as rude as Donald Trump. He's, by far, the rudest example. But a populist doesn't care if he offends other people. A populist pursues the division between the people and the bad guys. If a bit of hate speech (towards muslims or bureaucrats) deepens the division, that rises the impact of a populist discourse and may rise their electoral success.

4. Personalism

A populist doesn't rely on a party. The party is basically transformed into a platform to support the leader. A populist leader takes all the importance, and all the other's job is to flatter the leader. Do you know anyone in French Front National a part from Le Pen? Did Republican Party had any importance in Trump's campaign? Why is Chávez still so important in Venezuelan politics after his death?
Marine Le Pen has even changed the name of her political platform into Rassamblement Bleu Marine.
Given that a populist gives easy solutions to difficult problems, any solution that the leader proposes is good. Actually he doesn't have to think carefully about the proposals. He only has to justify that this goes against the anti-people and everything will be solved.

5. The people is in charge, not me

Finally, when populists get the power, they always claim to be there only as the reprensentation of the people. The people is who now runs the country, and the populist leader's job is to interpret the people's will.

This especial connection between the leader and the people makes a populist keen on direct democracy to run the country. The Italian Beppe Grillo might be the highest example of this, although not the only one.

And you, would you add any other characteristic of populism?