It's been a tumultuous start to the year for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with the Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Manderbilt, announcing on Thursday that he intends to indict him on a number of corruption-related charges.
On top of that, his party Likud has fallen behind the new Blue and White left of centre party led by former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, Benny Gantz. For any more mere mortal politician, either of these would be very ominous ahead of the next General Election on April 9th.
However, Netanyahu is no ordinary politician. Despised politically by many (including this author) for his machiavellian tactics and seemingly genuine contempt for the plight of the Palestinian people, there are still very few analysts or followers of politics who really question his political acumen.
He has been the Prime Minister since 2009 (he previously also served from 1996 to 1999) and in that time has achieved numerous goals that at one point or other looked almost impossible. From his perspective the chief among them include completely stalling two-state negotiations through intermittent wars, military crises and clever delays, reversing the United States's involvement in the Iran de-nuclearisation deal and convincing the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
He has achieved many of those goals by promoting himself as a safe pair of hands who knows how to forge alliances around the world with like minded leaders. These key allies include Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and, most recently, the new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
However , even with all those achievements, this time might be different. While Netanhayu has displayed an almost magical hold over Israeli elections and an understanding of the Israeli electorate unmatched by any of his domestic rivals, he now also has to contend with the independent judiciary in the run-up to the election.
I last wrote about Netanyahu's struggles with corruption accusations over a year ago and even then it looked like he may be forced to resign. However he has held steadfast. He must now be hoping he can command a mandate form the Israeli electorate on April 9th and beat any charges that come his way.
If he can make it to July as premier, he will become Israel's longest serving Prime Minister. Given everything he is up against, it is looking increasingly unlikely. That said, there is no probably no politician in world politics better equipped to succeed...
This is the first in a new series of articles I'm going to run in the race to become the Democratic 2020 Presidential candidate. I will rank the top seven candidates in order of implied probability from Betfair Exchange. Implied probability gives the % chance of an event occurring based on the odds. I prefer using the exchange as it is more fluid and reflects changes more accurately.
I will try to write a new article quite regularly (but at least thirty days apart) and I will highlight how the candidates have moved both positionally and from a probability perspective. To keep it exciting I'll write from least to most likely to become the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate. Despite the fact that more than 10 candidates have already announced, with another ten or so actively exploring, I will keep it at the top seven so I can focus more on each one. Naturally, the candidates with the highest percentage will dominate the majority of the post. When the race gets close to the finale, the number of candidates will have whittled down to a handful but for now it is a massively open and competitive field.
7: Elizabeth Warren (5%):
Warren announced her campaign on February 9th. She was one of the first Democratic heavyweights to do it and it was expected she would rapidly become one of the favourites, competing with Bernie Sanders on the progressive side of the party. However, it simply hasn't happened for Warren so far. She doesn't seem to have the charisma on the campaign trail and if she doesn't gain some momentum soon, this once very promising campaign is set to fail before it ever really began.
6: Sherrod Brown (5.1%)
The sixty-six year old Ohio Senator was one of Bernie Sanders' strongest allies in the Senate but ultimately endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. He is seen as a potential unity candidate but hasn't announced if he will run yet. He is currently finishing his "Dignity of Work" tour which has seen him visit many of the most important early primary and caucus states.
5: Amy Klobuchar (5.9%)
The Minnesota Senator announced she would run a day after Elizabeth Warren on February 10th. She is seen as a tough, no-nonsense candidate who could garner the support of the Democratic Party elites while being competitive in "purple" states like her own Minnesota. There have been accusations of bullying from former members of her staff which may haunt her moving forward.
4: Beto O'Rourke (14.7%)
At the moment we have a "Big Four" in terms of probability. Beto is one of the rising stars of the party. Up until a few weeks ago he was the favourite but his delay in announcing his bid has been seen by some as indecision after a meteoric rise in profile following a very close defeat to Ted Cruz for a Texas Senate seat in the November midterms. If he does announce and gathers some momentum, he could easily become the front-runner.
3: Joe Biden (16.1%)
The two-time Democratic Vice President is loved by many on the Democratic side and even now before he has announced if he will run or not, leads almost every poll with approximately 25% to 35% of the votes. Though he is another candidate who could become the front-runner with a well-executed announcement, there is a still a significant chance he'll decide it isn't for him...
2: Bernie Sanders (16.7%)
To many, Bernie Sanders should have been the candidate to take on, and beat, Donald Trump in 2016. However, that campaign, and the grassroots success it had has undoubtedly pulled the party to the Left. The question is now whether Bernie Sanders is still the candidate that best represents democratic socialism in the United States in 2019 and 2020. His campaign has started well with large crowds and very impressive fundraising but it still remains to be seen whether his chance of being President of the United States has passed.
1: Kamala Harris (21.7%)
The front-runner. A Senator from California, she also served as the state's Attorney General from 2011 to 2017. She has almost everything going for her. A woman of mixed background, she embodies the diversity that many in the party want to see come to the fore, in direct contrast to candidates like Biden and Sanders. She was also very impressive in the Senate Hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The key questions that remain are can she compete on the campaign trail and is she progressive enough for the Democratic Party in 2020?
Notable Others: Cory Booker(4.8%) is very unlucky to miss out though having announced on Feb 1st, he will need to get moving up the chart soon. Tulsi Gabbard (4.2%) is an interesting candidate from Hawaii and who is very anti-war but I will be very surprised if she ever really becomes a key candidate in this race.
I haven't written about Irish politics for quite some time as I have had less time to write overall and the antics in Britain have kept me enticed. Unfortunately, following British politics these days is a little bit like watching the 2000s TV show Lost; it is hard to take your eyes off but you never seem to get anywhere from watching it.
I've spent some time looking at the polls and recent events in Ireland and I still believe Fine Gael is in the driving seat to win the most seats at the next election and could even come quite close to an absolute majority if a few things go their way.
There is no doubt that the Confidence and Supply Agreement has been much more beneficial to Fine Gael than Fianna Fail. The contrasting fortunes of Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin since the last election on Friday 26th February, 2016 are striking given Fianna Fail came within 1.2% and 6 seats of equalling Fine Gael's performance.
In hindsight, I've come to believe Fianna Fail gave way too much in exchange for very little. While the formation of the government did take quite some time and the public was getting itchy for progress, they effectively allowed Fine Gael to take complete control with no real opposition in a period of sustained economic growth. Not only that but with Brexit, Fine Gael were able to really boost their support by being seen to stand firm in their desire to prevent a hard border and protect Irish interests.
From this perspective, very few could have predicted when Fianna Fail and Fine Gael made their agreement on April 29th, 2016 just how potent a role Irish nationalism would play in the following three years. Even more difficult to predict would have been that Fine Gael would be the party to benefit the most form this dynamic.
The visuals of Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and even one of Ireland's least nationalist parliamentarians, Neale Richmond, firmly holding the line on the backstop and Brexit, in general, have been very powerful.
I started with this background because it's very difficult to asses the parties' relative strength today without looking at the wider context. While housing and health are both major issues of concern for the Irish electorate, the economy and Brexit seem to be playing a more active role in formulating Irish voters' opinions.
Firstly, the health care system has been a perennial problem for Irish governments and while public anger sparks up intermittently (the Children's Hospital overspend/ Simon Harris Confidence Vote being a recent example), I think to many it is simply something that can't be "fixed".
On a different note, the housing crisis is more of a double-edged sword. The rapid rise in purchasing and rental costs has caused serious hardship for many but (and this is less spoken about) the sharp rise in property prices has benefited many people, who are now either seeing their pre-Crisis properties return to the black or are simply enjoying the bump in the assets on their balance sheets.
There are risks for Fine Gael. A major climb-down on the backstop between now and March 29th or the unmitigated disaster of a No Deal Brexit could really damage though a No Deal Brexit now seems much less likely than an Extension to Article 50.
At some point in the mid-term, the Irish economy will slow down as this sustained period of economic growth can not continue forever. However, even then it is difficult to see why or how Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein will capitalize.
Fianna Fail has tacitly approved every legislative action Fine Gael has taken since the Confidence & Supply Agreement commenced. They really are not in a position to criticise. While they have re-grown their core base, I believe in an election campaign the undecideds will see through their allusion of being an opposition party.
At the same time, I don't believe Sinn Fein have truly done enough to convince the electorate (outside of their 15-20% core support) that they are ready to lead.
I personally would like to see Sinn Fein lead a centre-left coalition and break the hegemony of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail but over the last 18 months they have simply shouted too much while failing to deliver eye-catching, transformative policies like what we are seeing from Labour in Britain or Bernie Sanders and even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the United States.
Fine Gael have, rightly or wrongly, positioned Sinn Fein as a party of protest and complainers. Unfortunately for Mary Lou McDonald, the label is beginning to stick. I do believe Sinn Fein can mount a more concerted challenge to Fine Gael than Michell Martin's Fianna Fail currently can but this will not be the case if we see an election in 2019. Sinn Fein will need longer to deliver these policies through a groundbreaking manifesto as there have been rapid changes in the Left in the kast 18 months; nationalisation, wealth taxes, company ownership and battling climate change are now very much part of the conversation.
For all of these reasons, I find it very, very difficult to envisage an Irish General Election in 2019, where Fine Gael do not win the most seats. The real question is whether Fine Gael will be able to orchestrate an election. Obviously, if local and European elections go badly for them in May, then my thesis is wrong and they may be happy to see out the new Confidence & Supply extension until summer 2020.
However, if I am correct and Fine Gael do win quite comfortably, I expect them to up the ante with the aim of forcing an Autumn election, without being deemed by the Irish public as being the party who forced it. A difficult but feasible task, particularly as a number of Micheal Martin's colleagues are becoming less and less comfortable with the Confidence & Supply agreement, as recent remarks by John McGuiness and Marc McSharry have shown.
In summary, my view that Fine Gael will win the Most Seats in the next election hasn't changed, I also believe there is a very good chance we'll see a 2019 election and finally the main opposition parties have to do more to differentiate themselves on policy, not just on soundbites...
The snap Spanish general election called on February 15th by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez came about after the Catalan parties his minority government relied on rejected his budget.
It was always going to be difficult for Sanchez, who has been in the job for less than a year, to pass his budget. Deep tensions still exist in Spain and the Catalan Question has most certainly not been resolved. Unfortunately for Sanchez, the trial of the Catalan leaders, accused of rebellion and misuse of public funds, began at almost the same time as budged negotiations came to a head.
I last wrote about Catalonia and Spanish politics in late 2017 and early 2018. This was at the time of the Independence referendum and the subsequent crackdown by Madrid at the behest of the former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.
Rajoy was forced to resign on June 1st, 2018 when he lost a Vote to No Confidence, called by Pedro Sanchez, following the sentencing of a former People's Party treasurer for 33 years for money laundering, among other crimes.
The law in Spain dictates that the leader of the party who successfully pass a Motion of No Confidence must form the next Government. Incredibly, that led to Pedro Sanchez becoming the Prime Minister despite his Socialist Party having less than a quarter of the total Congress seats.
Since then, the Socialist Party have polled consistently somewhere between 22% and 28%. In fact, they have placed first in over the last 20 polls stretching back since the election as called. While it is not inconceivable that they will not win the most seats on April 28th, they certainly look set to do so today.
I think it's fair to say they have benefited from a buoyant economy as Spain had a great second half of 2018 with economic growth set to hit 2.2% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020. There is a finally a sense of the "the good times are back" for many in Spain though this can rapidly change if Europe heads towards a recession.
The Socialist Party have benefited from a splintering of the right of centre vote. The Citizen's Party have taken quite a lot of former People's Party voters who became disillusioned with the corruption while the Vox Party, a more right-wing party, are now regularly polling at over 10%.
I will definitely start following the election campaign more closely as we reach the crescendo. I do believe that the Socialists will win most seats but forming a government will prove very difficult. We may end up seeing a coalition of the right, though it remains to be seen whether the People's Party or the Citizens would replicate their Andalusian coalition in a national election...