Saturday, 17 November 2018

My analysis of local by-elections from 15/10/18 and why we need a People's Vote not a poor Brexit deal

Readers, the results from British local by-elections of this week were as follows:

Bassetlaw DC, East Retford West: Labour 441 (49.9%, +14.1%), Conservative 296 (33.5%, +4.2%), Liberal Democrats 146 (16.5%, +3.4%). [UKIP did not stand]

Kent CC, Canterbury North: Conservative 1355 (42.3%, -12.3%), Liberal Democrats 756 (23.6%, +7.1%), Labour 660 (20.6%, +4.1%), Green 157 (4.9%, -1.9%), Independent 155 (4.8%), UKIP 120 (3.7%, -1.9%).

Oxfordshire CC, Grove & Wantage: Liberal Democrats 1925 (47.9%, +2.4%), Conservative 1447 (36.0%, -0.9%), Labour 459 (11.4%, +2.7%), Green 185 (4.6%, -4.1%).

Stroud DC, Dursley: Labour 889 (50.5%, +15.2%), Conservative 704 (40.0%, +15.4%), Green 90 (5.1%, -9.8%), Liberal Democrats 79 (4.5%, -20.7%).

Bassetlaw has been trending towards the Conservatives recently, like many ex-mining districts in England, with the constituency of Bassetlaw turning up the lowest Labour majority since 1983 in last year's general election. However, in towns as opposed to villages, UKIP's absence is proving more helpful to Labour than to the Conservatives, as shown in this by-election.

The recent Brexit deal has pleased few people in Britain, with hardline Brexiteers preferring even a no deal Brexit to the draft deal, and with as much as 64% of the public now supporting a "People's Vote" on the deal in some polls. Despite this, the swing in Grove & Wantage was only 1.7%, partly due to it being reliably Liberal Democrat already and the pro-European strength already being high. The rural division of Canterbury North, which also includes the main campus of the University of Kent, was a different story and saw a 9.7% swing to the Liberal Democrats, which was nevertheless nowhere near enough to win the very safe Conservative division. The rise in the Labour vote can be attributed to the growing student body of Canterbury, one of the most left-wing amongst British university campuses.

The highly competitive ward of Dursley in Stroud saw substantial increases for both Labour and the Conservatives due to the Liberal Democrat vote splintering between them, which had been built up by the late Brian Marshall when he had been a Liberal Democrat councillor in Dursley. Stroud is one of the most green-minded districts in Britain (big G and small g) but Dursley's Green vote has never been on the same level as Stroud itself, and like the Liberal Democrats they were squeezed heavily by the Lab-Con competition.

Two days ago, the draft Brexit deal, which will be laid before Parliament soon, was released and it is a bad deal. It deprives British citizens of important freedom of movement rights within the EU, and it makes Britain still subject to some problematic EU laws without any useful trade-offs in return. What is instead needed is a People's Vote in Britain to give the British public a second chance to stay in the European Union, especially given the illegal overspending and lies used by the Leave side in the 2016 referendum and the damage it has caused to Britain as a whole.

Friday, 9 November 2018

My analysis of British local by-elections from 8/11/18

Readers, the results of British local by-elections this week were as follows:

Ealing LBC, Dormers Wells: Labour 1868 (72.1%, +1.6%), Conservative 429 (16.6%, +1.2%), Liberal Democrats 188 (7.3%, +3.6%), Green 106 (4.1%, -3.5%). [Polish Pride did not stand]

Harlow BC, Bush Fair: Labour 543 (45.0%, +0.0%), Conservative 460 (38.1%, -0.8%), UKIP 103 (8.5%, -2.5%), Harlow Alliance 63 (5.2%), Liberal Democrats 39 (3.2%, -1.8%). All changes are since May.

Harlow BC, Netteswell: Labour 497 (50.2%, -13.0%), Conservative 254 (25.6%,-0.7%), Harlow Alliance 99 (10.0%), UKIP 98 (9.9%, +3.6%), Liberal Democrats 43 (4.3%, +0.2%).All changes are since May.

Torridge DC, Holsworthy: Conservative 698 (56.4%, +15.7%), Independent (Allen) 314 (25.4%), Liberal Democrats 151 (12.2%, -6.6%),Labour 75 (6.1%). [UKIP and Greens did not stand]

Amongst these local by-elections, the performance of the Harlow Alliance is interesting for good reason. Harlow is a "New Town" and therefore has not had the advantage of a strong long-standing residents association as many historic towns in Britain have, especially those that have been absorbed into larger boroughs like the communities comprising the London Borough of Havering. Residents' Associations normally win over Conservative voters at local level first and foremost, but Harlow's population leans Labour locally so the Harlow Alliance won over mainly Labour voters instead and in marginal Bush Fair ward it prevented a Conservative advance; in fact there was a 0.4% swing to Labour. Over in Holsworthy in Devon, UKIP's absence proved more helpful to the Conservatives than the local Independent, despite the fact he had previously been a councillor for Holsworthy from 2003 to 2007.

US midterm elections of 2018: Republicans secure Senate but humiliated in House

The midterm elections of the United States of America produced a very interesting result-the Republicans, under President Donald Trump, secured control of the Senate with 3 gains, but lost control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.

Due to the lack of spending limits in US elections, and the restrictive ballot access laws, the majority of federal elections in the USA are between just the Democrats and the Republicans, although the Greens and Libertarians are gaining ground very slowly. The Senate elections resulted in independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders easily holding their seats, but surprisingly given the unpopularity of President Trump resulted in the Republicans gaining 3 Senate seats which were up for election this year. Mike Braun defeated Joe Donnelly in Indiana, in the key state of Missouri Josh Hawley defeated Claire McCaskill, and in North Dakota Kevin Cramer decisively defeated Heidi Heiklamp. The Democrats compensated this by gaining a senate seat in Nevada, where Jacky Rosen defeated Dean Heller, although they were unable to oust the more notorious Ted Cruz (for a time a frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary in 2016) in Texas. Amongst third party candidates, only Gary Johnson, who had been the Libertarian candidate for US President in 2016, managed to win more than 5% of the vote in any Senatorial contest this year; he won 15.4% in New Mexico.

Due to the smaller size of congressional districts, the House of Representatives results proved to be more surprising even though many are gerrymandered to suit the interests of dominant parties within a particular state. Unlike the UK, the USA has no federal boundary commission to stop this. Notable before the campaign was the fact that Republican House Leader Paul Ryan was retiring for family reasons, and his retirement was the most prominent amongst Congresspeople. Meanwhile, among Senators Orrin Hatch, who had been a Utah senator since 1976, was the most prominent retiree, and was notably succeeded by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Democrats gained 30 seats from the Republicans, enough to flip the House of Representatives into Democrat hands in a decisive blow to the Donald. Notable Republican losses include the 7th and 32nd districts of Texas, which cover wealthy parts of Texas' largest cities, Houston and Dallas respectively, and which were as much victims of demographic change as a backlash against the Trump presidency. However, such demographic change also helped the Republicans make their only two House gains this year, both in Minnesota (1st and 8th districts), an agricultural and mining state which forms part of the rust belt and which has been swinging substantially to the Republicans under Donald Trump. Nevertheless, even in Minnesota the Democrats won two house seats (the 2nd and 3rd districts). Also, the Republicans lost two House seats in Michigan despite that state being notable for having voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, despite it usually leaning Democrat at election time. Half of the Democrats' gains occurred when an incumbent retired, resigned to run for a different office, or lost renomination (the British equivalent is deselected), showing the importance of personal votes in marginal seats at federal level. Given the amount of money needed for such a campaign due to a lack of spending limits and most districts covering over 500,000 people, this is not surprising.

Although no parties other than the Democrats and Republicans gained any seats, many Green, Libertarian, and other candidates polled more than 5% in three-way contests as well as two-way contests where one of the two main parties was not standing. In two Californian districts, the Greens polled 22.1% and 25.8% running against only Democratic incumbents. Notable good third place performances include Eric Eliason in Utah with 11% of the vote in Utah's 1st, Thomas Rudbeck polling 6.8% as an Independent in Illinois' 1st, Christopher Manning for the Libertarian Party in New Mexico's 3rd with 5.4%, Kelly Standley for the Libertarian Party in Kansas' 2nd with 5.5%, Joe Crowley managed the best federal performance for the Working Class Party this year in New York's 14th with 6.6%, Marc Koller with 5.5% in Oregon's 3rd, and two Conservatives (New York's Conservatives arose as a split from the Republican Party in the 1960s) managed 5.4% and 5.5% in New York's 7th and 8th districts. Finally, Troy Ray polled 21.7% in Mississippi's 2nd, beating the Republican candidate in a solidly Democratic district.

Even though Republicans still control the US Senate, a Democrat capture of the House of Representatives in the USA marks a decisive turning point against the hard right presidency and administration of Donald Trump.

UPDATE: Kyrsten Sirema won the Arizona Senate election after precincts finished counting, and due to the length of time it takes to count ballots in US Senate and Congressional elections, it is still not fully known whether Rick Scott has won the Florida Senate election.


Saturday, 3 November 2018

On the Hessian state election of 2018

Six days ago (I apologise for the delay; it happened due to the amount of time needed for the report on the Brazilian elections and my postgraduate politics studies at Keele University), Hesse held its state election, which, if not to the extent of Bavaria (Bayern) two weeks ago, experienced a Green surge with the Greens finishing second, narrowly ahead of the Social Democrats (SPD).

The Greens managed to poll 19.8%, which whilst not quite as good as polls initially expected is the best ever Green result achieved in Hesse. They won a total of 29 seats, more than doubling their 2013 total, which included as many as five single member constituencies for the first time ever at Land level in Hesse; normally the size of the SMCs at state and federal level in Germany makes it very difficult for them to be won by parties other than the CDU and SPD. Just as in Bavaria, the CDU and SPD suffered substantial losses, with the CDU dropping to 40 seats and just 27% of the vote; even though they still finished first this is the worst ever CDU result in Hesse. The SPD, meanwhile, dropped to 29 seats and finished third for the first time ever in Hesse, securing just under 19.8% of the vote. Like in Bavaria, the governing parties were punished severely, and more importantly Angela Merkel has announced she will not be continuing as Chancellor of Germany after 2021 in light of this latest defeat.

The smaller parties benefitted from dissatisfaction with the current grand coaition government, with AfD entering the Hessian Landtag for the first time with 13.1% of the vote and 19 seats, notable since Hesse is not as socially conservative as Bavaria, although neither is it as prosperous despite Frankfurt am Main being a key banking city. The Free Democrats, who in 2013 only narrowly retained representation, increased their vote share to 7.5%, increasing their seat total to 11, and even in light of the Green surge, Die Linke increased their seat total to 9 with 6.3% of the vote. However, the Freie Wahler, lacking the support and organisation they have in Bavaria, only managed 3% of the vote and thus did not win any seats, with many of their potential voters going to AfD instead. All other parties polled 1% of the vote or less apiece, with the Animal Welfare Party (Tierschutzpartei) making no real impact on the Green vote.

This result also means that the Greens can oust the usually dominant CDU and therefore potentially elect a second Minister-President of a Landtag, since a traffic light coalition between them, the SPD, and the FDP would have just enough seats (69) to govern.

Friday, 2 November 2018

My analysis of British local by-elections of 1/11/18

Readers, the results of British local by-elections which took place yesterday (All Saints' Day) were as follows:

Kirklees MBC, Denby Dale: Labour 1834 (46.7%, +3.8%), Conservative 1689 (43.0%, -4.2%), Liberal Democrats 289 (7.4%, +4.6%), Green 116 (3.0%, -4.2%). Labour gain from Conservative; all changes are since this May.

Newham LBC, Boleyn: Labour 1725 (74.8%, +1.2%), Conservative 327 (14.2%, -0.5%), Green 172 (7.5%, -4.2%), Liberal Democrats 83 (3.6%).

South Gloucestershire UA, Dodington: Liberal Democrats 693 (49.3%, +8.6%), Conservative 554 (39.4%, +17.3%), Labour 158 (11.3%, -0.7%). [UKIP did not stand]

Labour's gain from the Conservatives in Denby Dale is a critical one, since Dewsbury is still a key marginal at general election time and Denby Dale is a small village that also has excellent links to metropolitan Yorkshire. Surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats and Greens swapped places from this May even though the ward is only marginal between the Conservatives and Labour. Also, Labour has a small majority on Kirklees council, having only obtained it six months ago, and any defection relating to factional disagreement or another reason could cost them effective control. Labour are at this time of writing still trailing the Conservatives in all opinion polls, even the Conservatives are more internally divided at the moment. The recent resignation of Tracey Crouch (Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford since 2010) from the position of Minister for Sport, Civil Society and Loneliness over unnecessary delays in introducing reduced limits on fixed betting odds terminals in betting shops is a case in point.

Whilst the Newham result was predictable, with a Liberal Democrat intervention being primarily responsible for the Green vote share decrease, an interesting point is that the by-election occurred shortly after it was revealed that serious errors had been made in the counts for several wards at Newham's last local elections this May, with the biggest errors being in Stratford & New Town ward. This did not however result in any results being overturned, and miscounting of the type that occurred (where maiden names were listed on the Statement of Persons Nominated but where candidates were sorted by their married name instead) would not have occurred in this by-election.

In Dodington, the Conservatives benefitted substantially from UKIP's absence, however at the same time the "general election boost" factor was not there to help them this time. Dodington, being a suburb of the prosperous Bristol commuter town of Yate, has been a strict Lib Dem-Conservative contest for many years so it is unsurprising Labour did not benefit from UKIP's loss; in fact Labour were squeezed by the Liberal Democrats in this very politically competitive area. All 16 Liberal Democrat seats on South Gloucestershire council are in the Thornbury & Yate constituency, and even when the Liberal Democrats administered the council most of their council seats were in what is now Thornbury & Yate (its predecessor, Northavon, which existed from 1983 to 2010, also covered some villages now in Filton & Bradley Stoke). Bristolian commuters are increasingly being priced out of Bristol (especially central Bristol) by gentrification, if not to the extent that Londoners have been over the past 20 years, and this keeps the Thornbuty & Yate area the way it is politically.

On the same day, Mike Eddy defected from Labour to the Green Party, giving them representation on Dover council for the very first time, more than compensating them for the lack of local by-elections this week that were winnable for the Greens.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Brazil, Brazil....the Brazilian elections of 2018

The recent Brazilian Presidential election, where the second round between hard-right populist Jair Bolsonaro from the Social Liberal Party (which in value terms is no longer social liberal at all, ever since Jair became its leader) and socialist Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad concluded two weeks after the Chamber of Deputies elections in Brazil, resulted in a decisive victory for Jair Bolsonaro, arguably Brazil's closest answer to Donald Trump.

Given the awful comments Jair Bolsonaro has made, his praising of torture and the infamous dictatorial era in Brazil, and his desire to raze the Amazon for development purposes, how did he do it?

1. He played the "anti-establishment" card when he was clearly anything but.

In the manner of Donald Trump in 2016, Jair Bolsonaro made hardline and controversial statements to make himself appear fresh compared to the Workers' Party (PT), perceived by some as corrupt and tired, especially after former President Luiz Inacio "Lula" de Silva, who was originally nominated by PT, was barred from standing because of a money laundering conviction for which he is currently serving a 9 1/2 year prison sentence. Lula was leading the presidential polls prior to being barred from standing by the Superior Electoral Court (of Brazil), and this gave Jair Bolsonaro the opportunity he needed.

Jair Bolsonaro's praising of the military regime of 1964 to 1985 made him stand out-for all the wrong reasons. He received his military training during the final years of that dictatorship, leaving with the rank of Captain, meaning he benefitted from the infamous regime. His support also mainly came from affluent southern states of Brazil, the big cities especially when he tapped into fears about rising gang crime in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and small-medium business owners. He took advantage of the fact that Brazilian voters wanted some form of change from the current government and president (Michel Terner's approval ratings had dropped to 7%), even at the risk of choosing a worse alternative, and the controversial statements he made to capture media attention, especially his advocacy of shooting on sight and relaxation of gun control, strikingly similar to the outlook of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte. This partly explains why turnout in the first round was as high as 79.7%, much higher than any recent US Presidential election, with turnout in the second round remaining high at 78.7%. By contrast, the US Presidential election of 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attracted a turnout of 55.7%, although this election had only one round of voting compared to Brazil's and France's two rounds of voting; the French presidential election of 2017's turnout was 74.6%.

2. The Workers' Party chose a poor candidate with a reputation for incompetence.

Fernando Haddad, who was selected after Lula was barred from running, was formerly Mayor of Sao Paulo and his administration faced major protests, especially regarding transport and resulted in him leaving office with approval ratings of 14%, the lowest ever for a Mayor of Sao Paulo. He was roundly defeated in his re-election attempt for Mayor, polling just 17%

Prior to Lula's conviction and subsequent barring from the presidential race, Jair Bolsonaro was struggling to poll above 25% throughout the preceding months despite almost consistently ranking second in said polls, meaning had Lula been allowed to stand it is almost certain Jair would have lost. By contrast, Fernando was polling less than 10% in opinion polls whilst Lula was still PT candidate and even after his selection as replacement for Lula he never polled above 25%. In the final month of the campaign, Jair Bolsonaro's popularity rose sharply to the point where victory was likely rather than only a remote possibility.

The traditional opposition parties also made serious mistakes in their presidential campaigns; the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB)'s Geraldo Alckmin focused on attacking the campaign of Jair Bolsonaro rather than calling for a real change from the PT administration, which alienated a large proportion of PSDB's voter base, as did its support for the now extremely unpopular Michel Terner. Geraldo polled a miserable 4.8%, finishing 4th behind Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labour Party who finished 3rd with 12.7%. This was the worst result in presidential history for the PSDB, which from 2002 to 2014 had always finished a good second and made the runoff, and it elected Fernando Cardoso as President of Brazil in 1994 and 1998 and without the need for a runoff. Ironically, the very same Geraldo Alckmin had achieved their best result in opposition (41.6%) just 12 years ago. Unsurprisingly given the reputation Michel Terner had acquired, his Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB)'s candidate, Henrique Merelles, fared disastrously, polling 1.2% and finishing 7th.

3. So many other parties were perceived as corrupt.

Corruption is a perennial problem in Brazilian politics, and in fact spans across the majority of Brazilian political parties, not merely PT as Jair Bolsonaro claimed. But because PT and other parties were in power, not the Social Liberal Party which Jair Bolsonaro was part of (and had taken over and transformed it into a national conservative party, causing many members to leave). The main opposition party, the Social Democracy Party, ranked as high as third in corruption complaints made against it amongst Brazilian political parties, with PT's former coalition partner, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), most associated with outgoing President Michel Terner, ranking first in this respect. In 2014, the Social Liberal Party only won 8 seats in the Brazilian Congress,compared to PT's 69, and PMDB's 64. This time, under Jair, it won as many as 52 and topped the poll overall in the congressional elections; however due to the way congressional seats are distributed in Brazil the PSL won 4 fewer seats than PT, which won 56 (a loss of 13 compared to 2014). The size of Brazil and its diverse population means that coalition governments have to contain at least four parties in practice. It was overall conservative and liberal parties that the spoils went to in the congressional elections, with the Republican Party (liberal conservative) gaining 9 seats, Democrats (similar to Christian Union of the Netherlands in outlook) gaining 8 seats, the New Party a classical liberal party) entered with 8 seats, and Avante (a centrist party) gained 5 seats. By contrast, not only did the Workers' Party lose 13 seats, but the PMDB lost 32 seats, nearly half of its 2014 total, and the Social Democracy Party lost 25 of its 54 seats. Parties which supported unpopular "establishment" candidates for President lost heavily,like the Brazilian Labour Party (really centrist and somewhat social democratic) and the Republican Party of the Social Order, lost out considerably in this election.

Surprisingly, the Green Party of Brazil lost 4 seats, leaving it with only 4, and it lost its only Senate seat, despite not supporting Michel Terner and having supported the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, although this did cost it many urban supporters. The Sustainability Movement of Brazil, however, made famous by Marina de Silva won its first seat and as many as 5 senate seats.

What next for Brazil?

Jair Bolsonaro's plans for the Amazon rainforest, as well as his opposition to reserved lands for indigenous people in Brazil, are already the most worrying things about him internationally given how vital this rainforest is not only to Brazil, but also the entire world in terms of preventing global warming and acting as a key carbon sink. Domestically, his support for gun rights will have serious consequences; banning firearms possession, especially that of handguns, as the UK has done is a much better approach to tackling urban crime.