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”

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”

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”

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 files in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to resign 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”

Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise

Angela Merkel Annalena Baerbock
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Green party leader Annalena Baerbock in parliament in Berlin, January 16, 2020 (DPA)

Germany’s Greens have for the first time in two years overtaken the ruling Christian Democrats in the polls. Two surveys in the last week gave them 28 percent support for the election in September against 21 to 27 percent for the center-right.

Those polls are still outliers, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing across surveys for months.

I suspect two factors are at play: leadership and a desire for change. I’ll take those in turn before laying out the different ways in which the Greens could take power. Read more “Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise”

German Right Picks Unpopular Laschet to Succeed Merkel

Armin Laschet
Armin Laschet, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, attends an event in Hamm, Germany, September 19, 2020 (Dirk Vorderstraße)

Armin Laschet will lead Germany’s Christian Democrats into the September election. His rival, Markus Söder, bowed out after the executive committee of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the larger of the two “Union” parties, threw its weight behind Laschet in a late-night vote.

Following seven hours of debate about whether and how to vote, 31 of the committee’s 46 members backed Laschet in the early hours of Tuesday.

The alliance of the CDU, which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) does not have a formal procedure for electing its joint chancellor candidate. Read more “German Right Picks Unpopular Laschet to Succeed Merkel”

Don’t Panic About Macron’s Reelection (Yet)

Lars Løkke Rasmussen Emmanuel Macron
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is greeted by French president Emmanuel Macron outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, June 9, 2017 (Facebook)

One constant of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency has been Anglo-American handwringing about his popularity.

This started almost immediately after he defeated Marine Le Pen in 2017, when Macron’s support fell from 66 percent in the election to just over 50 percent in the opinion polls.

The Guardian called it a “precipitous decline in approval ratings.”

It was about to get worse. Read more “Don’t Panic About Macron’s Reelection (Yet)”

Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start

Markus Söder
Bavarian state prime minister Markus Söder delivers a news conference in Munich, Germany, March 9 (Bayerischen Staatsregierung)

Bavaria’s Christian Democrats have called for a poll of elected party officials to select the conservatives’ joint chancellor candidate for the election in September.

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, have thrown their weight behind Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But many conservatives across the country think they stand a better chance with Markus Söder of Bavaria, who leads the state’s Christian Social Union (CSU).

They’re right. Read more “Söder Can Give Germany’s Christian Democrats Fresh Start”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown his future into doubt.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”