UK 2017: May Loses the Unloseable Election

I’ve been rather quiet about the snap-election called in the United Kingdom that took place on June 8. This was for two reasons: (1) it was completely unnecessary and was a contradiction by Prime Minister Theresa May who had promised not to call an election, and (2) I was terrified, UK Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn was polling very poorly and under unwarranted media scrutiny. It looked like a disaster was on the cards.

The campaign was fascinating, the UK Conservative Party was able to squander a 20% lead in the polls to a 2.3% lead on voting day, while Corbyn led UK Labour to their best result since the early Blair years. It was the result those of us on the left had hoped for, but didn’t hope for too strongly given the past heartbreaks we’ve endured. There’s a few points that I would like to raise from the whole event

Labour’s messaging was superb, from the leaked manifesto which offered policies that appealed to marginalised Britons, to turning the “weak on security” meme back onto the Tories with their criticism of spending cuts to police and fire services. The Labour result was extraordinary, the vote share was now up to 40%, with 12.9 million votes, which eclipses Milliband’s result from the 2015 election.

Thus Corbyn’s position as Labour leader is now secure and there is no prospect of a leadership challenge, with the exception of the moronic Chris Leslie who had another go with the now discredited Blairite slogans. I was always a fan or Corbyn, like Bernie Sanders in the USA, he had the potential to redefine politics with his straight-talking decency. I was impressed by his substance over style manner and how he would relay questions from the public during PMQs. I can think of no better representatives for the people than Corbyn and those who follow his example.

It was amusing to see right-wingers give themselves whiplash by shifting the goalposts following Corbyn’s better than expected result. Firstly he was criticised because he would lead Labour to a humiliating defeat. When he does well enough to strip the Tories of their majority, he is criticised for not winning. Such analysis focuses on the 56 seat gap lead the Tories have while ignoring that this is a distortion caused by the FPP system. If the seats were allocated by PR, then the gap would only be 15 seats which doesn’t look like a great victory? It comes as no surprise that right-wingers choose to ignore FPP distortions as it benefits their party and demonstrates their contempt for democracy when it doesn’t go their way.

There’s another great irony in this result. One of the most common criticisms of MMP, the electoral system used in my home country of New Zealand is that minor parties hold undue influence when forming a coalition with a major party. This was predicted to bring economic ruin (which hasn’t happened) by failed finance ministers and corporate robber-barons. FPP was praised for producing strong governments with working majorities, even though it screwed the will of the people. MMP was derided for allowing the “tail to wag the dog”. And lo, here we have an FPP election that produces that exact result!

To hold on to power, the Tories look set to do a deal with the corrupt, wasteful retrogrades known as the Democratic Unionist Party. This leads to all kinds of problems in terms of the Northern Irish peace process and concessions that will be unpopular in the UK. May’s hold on the Tory leadership is also weakened, although nobody seems interested in replacing her. Time will tell whether this government can last, or if a new election will be held. So long as Labour doesn’t trigger it (parties causing unnecessary elections seems to be unpopular), they are well placed to win next time around, although post-election polling is still thin on the ground at the time of writing.

Most importantly, this is a huge defeat for vapid centrism, the prevailing line of thought in 21st century centre-left social democratic political parties the world over. Their obsession with the vague concept of electability has been demonstrated to be a falsehood. It’s no longer good enough to be “not as bad” as the lunatics occupying the political right-wing, now is the time to make a positive case for popular left policies in a way that involves the public. Now is the time for Jeremy Corbyn.

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Northern Ireland Assembly Election: Interesting Times Ahead

One of the areas of politics that I am most passionate about is the nature of governments. Particularly, I despise the concept of monarchy governments. Monarchy governments transfer power across generations along one family lineage. National leaders inherit their position by right of birth with no consideration of other factors. This has a few problems:

  • Administrative inefficiency. Monarchs appointed by birth may not have the expertise, interest or competence to govern society in the interest of all members of the populations.
  • Greed. Monarchs may not see it as their duty to govern in the interests of all of their subjects. Instead, they may focus on enriching themselves or their cronies.
  • God. Many monarchical systems justify themselves by claiming that the monarch is divinely appointed to rule. Given that there is no evidence to affirm the existence of any supernatural being, these claims are false.

Instead, countries should be republics where the law designates the process by which power is designated. Modern-day republics designate power according to some form of popular approval (e.g. elections), while monarchies are reduced to figurehead roles.

Being an ardent republican, I keep an eye on politics in Northern Ireland. Irish history in the 20th century was marked by conflict over the matter of British rule. Nationalists/Republicans felt that the island should be self-governed, while Loyalists/Unionists supported British rule. Republican sentiments were in part, driven by British colonial mismanagement and that the anti-Catholic values of the British monarchy.

The southern part of Ireland became a fully independent republic in 1949, while the north remained under British rule. In the north, Protestants/Unionists were favoured over the largely Catholic/Nationalist minority. During the second half of the 20th century, Northern Ireland was marred by conflict between Nationalist paramilitary groups and Unionist paramilitary groups, the latter backed by the British government.

The Troubles came to an end in 1998, following the Good Friday Agreement, where a power-sharing government between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein was established. This seems like an amazing feat to get such vicious opponents to come to the table and work together, there are some problems:

Recently, there have been some cracks forming in the NI government. First there was Brexit. The DUP supports Brexit (for some stupid reason), while the UUP, SF and the SLDP support Remain as integral to the peace process. The soft border with the Republic is an economic benefit to the North and it allows Nationalists to pretend that the island is effectively reunified.

Second there is the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI was a scheme which paid businesses to use renewable heating materials. This scheme was taken advantage of with stories of empty rooms being heated with biomass combustion. The RHI was implemented by First Minister Foster, who refused to accept responsibility for the failure. Deputy First Minister McGuinness resigned in protest. SF did not nominate a replacement, leading to a new assembly election.

That election took place over the weekend and it was interesting. The obstinate DUP were punished by effectively losing 5 seats, while SF gained 4, bringing them pretty much level in terms of seats and first-preference votes (total number of seats went from 108 to 90).

This result means that the DUP can no longer file “petitions of concern” by themselves. This opens a pathway for NI to enter the 21st century with the rest of the UK by passing same-sex marriage. The DUP can rely on the ultra-crazy TUV candidate to join them on any petition against SSM, but they will still be one vote short.

Remember how I said that the DUP were obstinate? Yeah, well it looks like Foster is going to stay on as leader of the DUP. Presumably this means she will stay on as First Minister. This is a headache for SF: do they negotiate a new government with the DUP which the DUP can then claim that McGuinness’ resignation was a political stunt after all? Or do they hold out with the risk that the UK government reintroduces direct rule?

First and Deputy First Minister are effectively co-First Ministers and each requires a majority of support from all members, Unionist members and Nationalist members. If the DUP wants Foster, then Foster will likely stay and this is probably the least worst option for SF. Even if a new government is negotiated, the power-sharing agreement could be in jeopardy again when the Brexit issue starts to really bite.

All in all, this result is good for republicans. SF and the SDLP come out of it stronger and looking more stately, while the DUP appears weakened and childish. There are also other issues at play here: SF is centre-left economically and socially liberal (except for abortion), while the DUP is a right-wing conservative party. I would have thought that SF could have drummed up support for republicanism by association with decent policies in other areas, but it seems that sectarianism in NI runs deep.

The problems facing NI before the election are still there. The distribution of power is still roughly the same. The best practical outcome for NI is for nothing to change. The trouble is that both sides want change in opposite directions. It will be interesting to see if another innovative solution is found to manage Brexit while keeping everyone happy, I sure as hell can’t see one.