Socialists Miss Opportunity in Catalonia

Salvador Illa
Spanish health minister Salvador Illa listens to a debate in parliament in Madrid, October 28, 2020 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

With two weeks left before snap elections would automatically be called, Catalonia’s leading separatist party, the Republican Left, still doesn’t have support to form either a majority or a minority regional government.

The Republicans floated the possibility of a minority government after weeks of negotiations with the second independence party, Together for Catalonia (Junts), led nowhere. But even a minority government would need the backing of Junts to win more votes than the unionists, who have 53 out of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament.

The dispute centers on Junts‘ desire to push forward with Catalan independence from Spain whereas the Republicans want to give talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about more autonomy a chance. (Talks which have barely begun.) Junts is driving the negotiations to a head, because it thinks the Republicans have no alternative.

So if you’re a smart opposition party, you give them an alternative. Read more “Socialists Miss Opportunity in Catalonia”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Tracy Brabin Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) when he was leader between 2015 and 2020 and his supporters still refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude he can’t defeat the Conservatives?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration

Pablo Casado Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Spanish People’s Party leaders Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso campaign in the town of Majadahonda, north of Madrid, May 1 (PP)

Ben Hall writes in the Financial Times Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s election victory in Madrid could be a template for center-right parties elsewhere.

I doubt it. Factors unique to Spain contributed to Díaz Ayuso’s success. In other countries, conservatives will have to strike a different balance. Read more “Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration”

Catalan Republicans to Form Minority Government

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, Spain, December 14, 2020 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s leading independence party has announced plans to form a minority government almost three months of fruitless coalition talks.

Negotiations between Republican Left, led by Acting President Pere Aragonès, and formerly center-right Together for Catalonia (Junts), which now presents itself as a big tent, have stalled.

Time is running out for the separatists, who together have 74 out of 135 seats in the regional parliament. If a new president isn’t inaugurated by May 26, snap elections would automatically be called. Read more “Catalan Republicans to Form Minority Government”

Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections

Bristol, England
Aerial view of Bristol, England (Shutterstock)

Scotland’s will be the most closely watched election, but voters across the UK go to the polls on Thursday.

In addition to the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, all sixty seats in the Welsh Assembly, all 25 seats in the London Assembly, thirteen mayoralties and thousands of seats in 143 English councils are contested.

There is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool, which has voted Labour since the constituency was created in 1974.

Polls opened at 7 AM local time and will close at 10 PM. Due to coronavirus restrictions, many localities won’t start counting votes until Friday. Full results aren’t expected until the weekend.

Here are three things to watch: Read more “Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections”

National Implications of the Madrid Regional Election

Pablo Casado Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Spanish People’s Party leaders Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso celebrate their regional election victory in Madrid, May 4 (PP)

Isabel Díaz Ayuso triumphed in Madrid’s regional election on Wednesday. The conservative People’s Party (PP) leader vanquished her erstwhile coalition partners, the liberal-nationalist Citizens, and fell just four seats short of an absolute majority.

The expectation is that the far-right Vox (Voice), with thirteen seats, will give Díaz Ayus a second term.

The combined left won 58 out of 136 seats in the regional assembly. Read more “National Implications of the Madrid Regional Election”

The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Manu Bravo)

Scotland’s ruling National Party (SNP) has staked a second independence referendum on the outcome of Thursday’s election. If separatists defend their majority in the Scottish Parliament — in addition to the SNP, the Greens favor independence — they propose to hold another vote even over the objections of London.

Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against dissolving the United Kingdom in 2014. Nationalists argue Brexit has changed the calculation. 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in 2016. They were overruled by majorities in England and Wales. Polls found majorities in Scotland for leaving the UK and rejoining the EU through 2020 and early 2021. Unionists have recently closed the gap. But the SNP is still faraway in first place in election polls with up to 50 percent support.

There are many arguments for and against independence, and each one could be debated at length. I’ll summarize what I find to be the most persuasive ones. Read more “The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence”

Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid

Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso in Madrid, February 23 (Comunidad de Madrid)

Spanish conservatives hope the third time will be the charm.

In 2018, spooked by the return of the far right, they chose the reactionary Pablo Casado as their leader over the center-right Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Casado pulled the People’s Party to the right, arguing for a clampdown on Catalan nationalism, lower immigration and tighter abortion laws. Voters didn’t approve. The party fell from 33 to 17 percent support in the election and lost over half its seats in Congress.

In the next election, seven months later, Casado doubled down. He refused to attack far-right leader Santiago Abascal and proposed to criminalize Catalan separatism. The conservatives did better, going up to 21 percent, but they still failed to defeat the Socialists. Abascal’s Vox also increased its vote share, to 15 percent.

The lesson from other European countries is that center-right parties can never outbid the far right, which is always willing to go a step further. Moving to the right in order to shrink the distance between mainstream and far right isn’t a winning strategy either. It makes it easier for conservative voters to switch.

In Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso is nevertheless attempting the same strategy — and she might win. Read more “Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid”

Is Macron’s Law and Order Offensive Justified?

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Renaud Muselier, president of the Regions of France, in Paris, November 15, 2019 (Elysée/Kadidia Nimaga)

French president Emmanuel Macron has proposed to hire an additional 10,000 cops before his term expires in a year, tighten laws against online hate speech and revise laws on criminal responsibility that allowed the killer of an elderly Jewish woman to go free.

In an interview with the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, the liberal head of state warns that “everyday violence” is on the rise and vows to “push back delinquency everywhere.”

The law-and-order offensive has inevitably been framed abroad as Macron’s attempt to take the wind out of Marine Le Pen’s sails. This isn’t wrong per se; he is likely to face the far-right leader in next year’s presidential election. But it substitutes for an analysis of whether the measures are justified. Read more “Is Macron’s Law and Order Offensive Justified?”

Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte enters a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, July 21, 2020 (European Council)

Revelations that his outgoing government deliberately withheld information from parliament have made it even harder for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power since 2010, to form a new government in the Netherlands.

Cabinet minutes, normally kept secret for 25 years but released after they had leaked to RTL Nieuws, reveal that ministers agreed not to share all relevant documents in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to step down in January.

Between 2013 and 2019, some 26,000 parents were wrongly accused of benefit fraud. Many were financially ruined by demands to pay back tens of thousands of euros in child support.

Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a backbencher for the ruling Christian Democrats, had requested internal documents from the tax agency that would disclose when civil servants had first advised ministers of the mistakes.

Withholding information from parliament is a capital offensive in Dutch politics, but Omtzigt’s request was unusual. Ministers are politically responsible for their departments. Parliamentarians have long accepted that civil servants need to be able to make their recommendations in confidence.

Omtzigt argued for an exception. The minutes reveal Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, the Christian Democratic party leader, tried to “talk sense” into Omtzigt, who would not relent.

In the election in March, Omtzigt won a third of all votes for the Christian Democrats. His persistence in bringing the child benefits scandal to light has made him one of the most popular politicians in the country — but not necessarily in The Hague, where even some in his own party consider him a loose cannon. Read more “Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder”