Tag: parliamentary elections

The (Final!) Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election: (Insert ‘well hung-parliament’ joke here.)

Well, the entire UK General election and transition came and went in less time than it took to do a US Presidential transition. While the ending was a little bumpy with the “hung parliament” result but a full, formal coalition government has been formed and it is no longer ‘anarchy in the UK’. (Bad pun, yes. Could I stop myself? No.) So today the UK has a new Prime Minister and a coalition government. What can we say in the last JFGTUKE post?

Cleggmania… not so much

This I stating the obvious now, but the surge in popularity for the LibDems did not work in their favour. Certainly they increased their share of the votes at the polls, but with the “first past the post”/winner take all system, this actually translated into less seats because LibDem support was spread across the country rather than concentrated in areas through which to take seats.

So it’s not hard to see why the LibDems are so desperate to change the UK electoral system – more of which can be read about here. But it has successfully put voting reform on the agenda. There is a big rally scheduled for Saturday and a referendum on the issue seems to have been promised by the Tories. But the predictability of this outcome lead to…

Voting Strategerie

Many of my friends and colleagues knew this would be the outcome for the LibDems of course – and that people would, in the end, vote for the party they thought would win (or in a way that they felt would best prevent the party they didn’t like from winning.) Still, I was shocked to see just how many of them did, in the end, vote with their heads and not with their hearts.

Coalition

So it’s a formal coalition. The Tories will be in charge, but there will be at least 5 LibDems in the Cabinet, including Nick Clegg as Deputy PM and Vince Cable doing something with banks. What I find interesting about all of the discussion surrounding forming the government is that the idea that the Tories could go it alone as a minority was not seen as a viable option. (This is the situation in Canada – the government has the most seats, but not an overall majority and is not in any formal coalition.)

The system here seemed to just want, or at least lean towards, a “strong and stable” majority government. Certainly, this is what everyone claimed that this was the markets’ preference. Of course, because of the cuts coming and the difficult times ahead, something more stable is maybe what is going to be needed. And in truth, I don’t think anyone wants an election in six months (well, maybe some Labour friends) and the discussion has indeed been framed in terms of “doing what’s right for the country”. Let’s see how it pans out….

Foreign/EU Policy

…because one of the things that I will be interested in seeing is how foreign policy is going to work. A Lib-Con coalition essentially combines the most Euro-philic and Euro-phobic parties. Conservatives look to the trans-Atlantic “special relationship”, Liberals don’t think it is that big of a deal; that it’s just one of many “special relationships”.

Like many parliamentary democracies, foreign policy is increasingly determined and driven by Number 10 and its priorities. So, if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that foreign and EU policy will probably be driven more by the Tories than the LibDems. (This already seems to be the case – there will be a cap on non-European immigration and LibDems seem to have conceded on replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent.)

My colleague, Al Miskimmon, (very cool on all things Europe and Security) suggested to me that aside from the Number 10 agenda, much will depend on who actually holds what posts in a coalition. Right now, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister are Tories, and it is likely that the Home Secretary will be a Tory as well. These are positions which, other than the Prime Minister, touch most on foreign and EU policies and there is no question that their ideology will have an impact.

However, personally, I can’t help but wonder if being in a coalition will actually temper any EU-skeptic policies that the Tories may have. The EU now impacts on all domestic legislation and it’s not something the UK could just up and leave easily. If Cameron struggles to appease his Euro-skeptic base, he may be able to place blame on his coalition allies. This would allow him to have a less radical policy towards the EU without being accused (or at least being able to excuse himself) of giving into Brussels.

Thatcher: They’re not over it

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but in the last days of the election I couldn’t believe how many references I saw to Thatcher, the 1980s, coalminers strikes, etc. Tories, whatever their colour, shape, size, gender, race – they’re all Thatcher in the eyes of many.

Is this “Tory Derangement Syndrome”? It’s hard for me to know what it was like – I was in Canada while Thatcher was in power and probably spent most of that time playing with My Little Ponies. However, Thatcher is either hero or villain, savior or sinner, the best of times or worst of times… etc. She is only talked about in terms of black or white, there is no in-between. The only thing I could possibly compare it to is the way people speak about Reagan – either saving or nearly destroying the country.

Political colours up front – I’m not a Tory. But to suggest that David Cameron is Margaret Thatcher just seems barmy to me (at least at this point.) Yes, he’s posh. Yes, he went to Eton. But he is no Margaret Thatcher. This is not the 1980s. So far, there is nothing in the Tory agenda which really suggests to me that is truly revolutionary in the same way as what her government was. My friends say that he wants to favour the rich with an inheritance tax cut – but really, that’s hardly what I would call a privatization revolution. (And apparently it was something that they gave up on in exchange for the Coalition government with the LibDems). Cameron, in his first speech outside of Number 10, made a point of saying how much he “believe[s] deeply in public service”.

The fact is that any government coming into power is going to face serious problems and is going to have to make major cuts in spending which will be deeply unpopular. I do not feel that these will necessarily be driven by Tory ideology, but rather just the necessity of the situation. So, in this sense, I can’t help but conclude that the vitriol aimed at the Tories is less for their policies than what they historically represent.

Final Thoughts

Watching the transition, I couldn’t help but feel strangely optimistic. I am very aware that this is not a universal feeling. As mentioned above, my Labour friends seem to be in genuine despair at the state of things. I have non-Labour friends who believe that we’ll have an election in six months (despite whatever agreement may have been reached between the LibDems and Tories). And, of course, the country is in a lot of trouble.

But the idea of a coalition government – where two parties will debate and negotiate ideas to confront the UK’s most pressing issues – seems to me to be something that maybe – just maybe – will work well. After the results came out, Paddy Ashdown observed “The country has spoken – but we don’t know what they’ve said.” But I think we do know – people did not want politics as usual. After a year of parliamentary expenses scandals, a recession, and general disillusionment with politics altogether, I think it’s fair to say that the British want something different. Will it happen? The Liberals may temper the policies of the Tories, and the Tories will be able to form the government that they have wanted for 13 years. Some people have described what will inevitably follow as ‘horse-trading’ but to me it just seems like politics.

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The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part II – The Second Great Debate

I’m planning on writing a larger post on the topic after the Second Election Debate tonight – particularly since it is going to be about UK Foreign policy (and, in theory, more or less related to the topics of this blog…)

In the mean time if you haven’t been paying attention, the election has basically exploded into interestingness in the last week. The First (ever) Leader’s Debate basically jump-started the election in a way that I (and I suspect most people) never anticipated. Tonight’s debate is now pretty much mandatory watching.

The short version is that the third party candidate, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg (the guy I wrote about last week and said no one expected to win except Howard Dean) has surged in the polls after an impressive performance. While I wouldn’t call him our “White, tea-drinking, private-school-educated Obama” yet, he has shaken up British politics in a BIG way and has possibly changed the electoral map of Britain in the meantime…. if he can stay on in the polls. If you don’t believe me about “Clegg-mania” (no really, that’s what they’re calling it) – check out the polling insanity – and the effect it could have on the seat distribution here.)

In the meantime, for those of you who have access (I assume they are showing it on BBC World – and apparently CSPAN 3 – how’s that for a prime tv slot!) I highly recommend the LSE’s Election Blog. Chris Brown has a good backgrounder on the Trident Nuclear system which is up for renewal – and sure to feature in tonights debate.

As for me, I’m loading up on my cheese and onion flavoured crisps and a few pints of Old Speckled Hen to hopefully watch the sparks fly tonight.

(Who am I kidding… it’s always rice cakes…)

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Darkness ahead

Next Sunday, Russians are expected to go to the polls and overwhelmingly endorse the candidates of the pro-Putin party, Edinaya Rossiya.* What I find surprising is the level to which the government feels it needs to engage in electoral hanky-panky: all signs suggest that Edinaya Rossiya would receive a comfortable majority, even without the blatant manipulation of the system. Kommersant reports that a recent poll shows that it is very likely that no party besides Edinaya Rossiya will clear the 7% threshold for Duma representation–in that case, a “loyal opposition” may actually need to be manufactured to preserve the pretense of a multiparty system. Is this a dictator’s fear that his popularity is merely illusory? Or is it based in a belief that greater legitimacy is derived from a manipulated landslide than a clean victory? It’s hard to tell from the outside.

Whatever the cause, the Russian state has thrown its considerable resources behind Edinaya Rossiya. Riot police break up the pathetically small opposition demonstrations and arrest the participants for creating “public disturbances”. Opposition parties find it next-to-impossible to register their candidates. One of the primary opposition parties, the Union of Right Forces, had millions of copies of their campaign literature seized around the country on pathetically flimsy justifications. The government announced that it would restrict the number of OSCE election observers to 70 (compared to over 400 in the last Duma elections), then dragged their feet for so long on issuing visas to the observers that the OSCE simply cancelled the mission. In recent weeks, there have been “spontaneous” demonstrations around Russia by an organization calling itself “Za Putina” (For Putin), which is apparently dominated by Edinaya Rossiya members.

The rhetoric of the campaign is also notable for its strong flavor of Russian nationalism, the theme of the restoration of Russian greatness, and a focus on the person of Vladimir Putin that borders on a personality cult, with Putin cast as a father-figure reminiscent of the Little Father Tsar or Papa Joe Stalin. Edinaya Rossiya has adopted the slogan “Putin’s Plan is Russia’s Victory,” though few Russian voters admit to having any concrete idea as to what Putin’s mysterious plan might actually be. At campaign rallies, Putin has claimed that opposition groups are treacherous and unpatriotic–receiving their marching order from “foreign powers” who want Russia to be “a weak and feeble state”. Today, he accused the United States of meddling in the Russian election by pressuring the OSCE to drop plans for election-monitoring (those same monitors who couldn’t get their visas) in order to delegitimize the election.

I have never believed that Vladimir Putin was a committed democrat. I have long taken the view that he has authoritarian tendencies that have steered Russia in a non-democratic direction. Never before, though, have I felt so pessimistic about Russia’s political future. With this election, it is quite possible that we will see the consolidation of true authoritarianism in Russia. The rhetoric of confrontation with the West is rising, and US officials seem completely at a loss as to how to effectively reduce tensions. Sixteen years ago, we breathed a sigh of relief when the Soviet Union collapsed, ending the Cold War, and then turned our attention elsewhere. We’ve hardly turned it back since, and it shows.

* Edinaya Rossiya is usually translated as United Russia; I noticed the other day, though, that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty translates it as Unified Russia, which I like because it carries a slightly different nuance that better reflects the orientation of the party. “United” in English has the connotation of joining and coming together, but this is represented by altogether different words in Russian (soedinyonniy is used for “United States”, while “obedinyonniy” is used for “United Nations”). Ediniy, on the other hand, has alternate meanings of “indivisible” and “common” (as in “shared”).

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I just can’t seem to get enough of you

I was planning to blog on the Ukrainian elections today (exit polls show a very slim lead for Yulia Timoshenko’s party, but both sides claim victory), but, well, things get in the way.

Like these headlines:

Putin eyes prime minister’s job
Putin Says He Will Run For Parliament

United Russia (Edinaya Rossiya)–the Kremlin-approved dominant political party in Russia–kicked off its election campaign this morning with a party conference. It was widely announced that Putin would attend this meeting, which is not unusual–he has attended past United Russia conferences, though he is not technically a member. The surprise, though, was his announcement that he would top the party list; as a result, he would be entitled to a seat in the Duma (though he may not actually to claim his seat as long as he is a sitting president). He also said that the possibility of becoming prime minister is a “realistic idea” that he has already been thinking about.

I can’t say as I’m shocked to learn that Vladimir Vladimirovich has a plan to keep hold of the center of power in Russia. Although he’s constitutionally limited to two consecutive terms, he’s wildly popular in Russia, and few really expected him to leave political life. The current scenario favored by Kremlin watchers is that Zubkov will run for president, while Putin will take the prime minister’s seat. However, technically, the
prime minister’s powers are significantly less than the president’s. Would Putin be content to play second fiddle? Does he trust Zubkov enough to be mere puppet, even though he would hold the legal reins of power?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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