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...
The last four days have been tumultuous in British politics. At the time of writing, we've seen 8 Labour MPs and 3 Conservatives leave their respective parties to form The Independent Group. Most of the analysis I have read so far has implied that it will be much more damaging to the Labour Party in the short and long term.
So far, this has been reflected in the early polls where the core Conservative vote seems to have remained in the high 30s, while Labour have dropped into the 20s. Based on this, any early snap election would result in the Conservatives regaining their majority and Labour suffering seat losses.
As things stand this probably is the case. I believe there are a lot more Labour MPs whose loyalty is wavering and if we see a mass exodus then it could take Labour years to repair. Their issue would then be that all the “moderate” MPs would be replaced by socialist or more left leaning candidates at the next election, whereas the constituency profile of Britain probably requires a broader offering of candidates to win a majority, or to even secure the most seats.
What has struck me so far though is how several of the seriously Corbyn-skeptic Labour MPs who have come out and said they will stay with the party, some examples being Stephen Kinnock, John Mann and Stella Creasy.
There is no doubt that there is a serious disconnect between the Labour leadership and its members on Brexit. Their policy has been vague though, in my opinion, not quite incoherent or contradictory. However, the fact is that isn’t what the majority of its members or voters want as a Brexit outcome. The next 6-9 months will be a very dangerous time for an election as they could lose a massive chunk of their 2017 support if it became a Brexit election.
However, I actually believe the Tories current level of polling stability is a little misleading. They have lost 3 strong, female MPs who were unpopular with a large part of the Conservative membership but who have relatively strong national profiles.
While the number of other potential defectors seems to be in the single digits at the moment, if the trend of dynamic, outspoken MPs continues (examples would include Justine Greening and Johnny Mercer) they will actually serious impact their “electoral brand”.
Simultaneously, the potential emergence of The Brexit Party (which has so far been absent from polling) could also take votes from the right, especially if Brexit is delayed.
What is true is that Brexit voters’ loyalty certainly seems to be to Brexit above all else and they will vote with the party that the believe best serves this purpose (in the last election we saw former UKIP voters move back to the Conservatives as they believed Theresa May would deliver for them.
Now that seems less likely, and if Nigel Farage gets seriously involved, they could start to lose %s in the polls to both The Brexit Party and potential even UKIP again , May may take an even harder line or look more favourably on a No Deal Brexit.
This would almost certainly result in further Conservative defections to The Independent Group. The question is are there really many sensible, slightly right of centre voters who would stop voting Conservatives in large numbers?
If so, Theresa May is doing almost everything possible to drive the very MPs that they would look favourably on as future leaders away. I believe this could ultimately do serious electoral damage to the Conservatives and while there may be a sensible way to avoid it by remaining in the Customs Union and possibly the Single Market, I don’t think Theresa May will take this approach.
So ultimately, I don’t believe Brexit will break the Conservatives like so many political analysts do, but it may be the catalyst for more centre right MPs and centrist voters to realise this isn’t the party that has the policies they want to vote for, and not only on Brexit…
The last forty eight hours have been equally captivating and frustrating for followers of British Politics. Captivating because those watching were constantly reminded that they were watching history being made. This was particularly true in the build up to the Meaningful Vote when the estimates for the margin of the defeat May would suffer were being projected. The frustration came in the gnawing feeling I had that, despite the drama, nothing would fundamentally change and we would have no decisive Brexit resolution.
The Meaningful Vote contributions from the Conservative's backbenches mainly contained watery calls to support the deal but, unsurprisingly, more confessions that it was impossible to get behind it given the backstop and other unpalatable elements. However, even after that, I still did not expect it to be such a large defeat and naively assumed many of Theresa May's own MPs would row back into line for the final vote.
On the Labour side , there were also a lot of contributions calling for a People's Vote . Yes, many did caveat this with "if we can't have a General Election" but most of these felt half hearted and tokenistic.
When the result was called, I genuinely leapt up with anticipation and thought "this is it, she's gone". For one moment, the sheer magnitude of the defeat seemed absolutely impossible to survive for this government.
However, Theresa May almost immediately quelled my excitement by confidently pre-empting the calls for a Confidence Vote and went even further by stating that the Tories would consider a motion from the smaller opposition parties if Labour chose not to pursue it. It was a smart move that cornered Corbyn though I am certain she already knew she had the support of the 10 DUP MPs at that stage.
So then we had the Confidence Motion debate. It was exactly as you'd expect. If we've learned one thing since the Brexit vote it's just how tribalistic British politics still is. This clearly has a lot to do with the first past the post electoral system but it's still incredible that the same party lines remain despite the political upheaval of the last two and a half years. Apart from a few former Labour Independents there was almost no dissent on either side (again some Labour MPs mentioned a People's Vote) and the debate slowly meandered to the finish line and the vote.
The result was in the ball park of what everyone was anticipating though it had the numerical perfection of highlighting just how reliant the Conservatives are on the DUP's 10 votes, without them Labour would have won by a single vote.
Theresa May did win tonight but overall the last 48 hours will probably prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for her. She has exhausted so much of her political capital and has massively limited her flexibilty in two ways. Firstly, and over a long period of time, by narrowing her options though "red lines" and stump speeches since the Brexit vote. More recently interventions against a No Deal from members of her now emboldened Cabinet shave further hemmed her in. This new found freedom comes as a result of the Conservatives having their own confidence vote in Theresa May in December.
She can now only offer her political opponents a Brexit deal that includes leaving the Single Market and Customs Union on March 29th. The parliamentary arithmetic and the sheer scale of her Meaningful Vote defeat now make it unlikely that of all these conditions will be met.
I personally think there isn't any chance of all of these things happening and getting through parliament. Unfortunately for May I equally believe her failure to achieve all three of these conditions could split her party and end her premiership.
I will soon write about what I think might happen next and focus on the other players in the tragedy that is Brexit but for today I think the Deputy Leader summed the last 48 hours up best when he said "most people...simply feel sorry" for the Prime Minister who has run out of ideas, carrots and stick by stubbornly putting her red lines on a pedestal above all else...
I reviewed my 2018 predictions here yesterday. I had a mixed bag in terms of success, but it really did give me some food for thought looking at the year ahead. It has been a year of some drama but on reflection, particularly in Ireland and Britain, it does feel like we’ve experienced a holding period. A major player in this has been Theresa May who has pushed every single major Brexit decision as far out as possible, the latest example was her delay of the Meaningful Vote to the week of January 14th. I think 2019 will be a year of events and drama with no road left for delay or obfuscation.
Beginning of a serious global economic downturn
2018 was still a good year for economic growth despite the growing uncertainty and pockets of geopolitical turmoil across the globe. The growth projections for 2019 are still mostly positive but these can quickly change direction. While I am not going as far as predicting the global economy contracts next year, I think by the end of the year it will be evident the current cycle has reached the end of its growth trajectory.
This should mean the financial markets face another tough year and could place further pressure on incumbent Western governments though I think this will become more of a factor in 2020.
Brexit to happen
I do not think Brexit will be reversed. Firstly, in my opinion, there is less than a 50% chance that there is a People’s Vote and even if there is the outcome is far from certain.
What I am now less reluctant to confidently predict is that Brexit takes place on March 31st, 2019, despite previously adding it to my Political Punts. It seems increasingly likely that there will need to be an extension to Article 50 to ensure a deal can be gotten over the line in Westminster. The issue with this is that so far, the EU have said this is only possible in the case of a General Election or a Second Referendum.
No British General Election
I don’t envisage a General Election in Britain next year. I can’t see the Tories losing a Confidence Vote and I also don’t believe Theresa May would be foolish enough to call another snap election, given her government’s atrocious performance in the run up to the last one. Yes, the Conservatives currently lead in at least half of the polls but as she will probably be leader until December 2019 (given she won the Conservative Leadership Confidence Vote) I don’t believe the party will want to contest another election.
Theresa May to be Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn still to be Leader of the Opposition on January 1st 2020
Since the last General Election in June 2017, British politics has been in an almost constant state of low intensity chaos. I do expect this to continue post Brexit but unlike many others I see many of the same figures involved at the end of year as are now.
This prediction flows from the previous one. Firstly, without a General Election it is less likely that there are party leader changes in general. Furthermore, Theresa May has just won a Conservative Leadership Confidence Vote. This does not mean it is impossible to dislodge her as a coordinated mass resignation by some of her senior cabinet members could also be deadly however as many of them are jockeying for next leader, it is less likely they will work together.
Finally, I think Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader as the majority of the membership still believe in his domestic policies and that he can win the next election. The biggest threat to his continued supremacy is a membership revolt over a Second Brexit Referendum or if Labour back the Conservatives Brexit deal. I think this will be avoided and that I’ll be making predictions about both May and Corbyn’s respective years ahead next December.
Irish General Election to take place
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have both recently agreed to extend the Confidence and Supply agreement to Summer 2020 so this is a contrarian position to take as the markets do not envisage a Dail election next year. However, I really think both parties are eyeing up the right time to force an election with the caveat that they will try and spin it to the being the fault of the other.
Fine Gael to win most seats, just…
Fine Gael have finished every single opinion poll in first place in 2018 as can be seen here. The economy is still buoyant and despite crises in both housing and health, there is still a feel-good factor in the Republic as the pain of the financial crisis recedes into a distant memory for many.
However, this a double-edged sword for Fine Gael as many of the Irish electorate still have Fianna Fail hardwired into their DNA. I got a shock when the last poll of 2018 only had 2% between the parties. I do not think Leo Varadkar is a good campaigner and if the gap is this low at the start of the campaign it could be a very fine margin of victory for Fine Gael.
Trump to still be President on Jan 1st 2020 even if impeached…
This is quite straightforward. I believe Donald Trump will still be President this time next year. I do not believe the Mueller investigation will uncover enough to force him to resign or lead to a criminal conviction. It is less clear whether he will be impeached by the now Democratic held Congress as they do not take control until January however I am confident the Senate will not vote by the 2/3 majority needed to remove him from office. An impeachment in itself would typically be enough to force a resignation but I don’t believe Donald Trump would be one to acquiesce to political norms.
No Northern Ireland Assembly
I am beginning to think the era of the Northern Ireland Assembly has passed. There are too many immovable barriers to getting it back in session. I also now think that the DUP sees its home at Westminster while Sinn Fein believes its future lies in Dublin. It is simply the next step in the ever-growing political polarization of Northern Ireland. Peace but division…
Arlene Foster to be replaced as DUP Leader
Arlene Foster has had a pretty miserable year between the ongoing RHI investigation leading to further embarrassment as well as the Conservative government backtracking on several commitments regarding the Irish backstop.
Ultimately, there will be a Brexit deal and it will probably have to involve some slight compromise from the DUP. I envisage Arlene Foster being the scapegoat for this and being replaced by one the 10 DUP MPs, with Nigel Dodds the most likely next leader.
Far-right gains to be disappointing in EU Parliamentary Elections
They may win a few more seats but it won’t be some massive breakthrough. With the exception perhaps of Italy, the EU countries where the far-right is strongest already did quite well in the last EU Parliamentary elections in 2014. I expect the media to whip up a frenzy beforehand and Matteo Salvini to get an awful lot of front-page interviews and Op-eds but when all the votes are counted the bigger surprise may be the success of the Greens and even the Left…
Social Democrats to win the Most Seats in Danish General Election
This is the first of my two predictions in national level EU elections next year. I predicted the Social Democrats to win the most seats in last September’s Swedish Election and called it successfully but it is still unclear whether I was also correct to predict their leader, Stefan Lofven, would be the next Prime Minister given the complicated coalition structure and ongoing negotiations.
This structure is also similar in Denmark so while the Social Democrats led in almost every poll in 2018, they may not lead the next government. However, I am confident they’ll win the most seats.
Socialist Party to win the Most Seats in Portuguese General Election
Ireland aside, the performance of the Portuguese economy has been one of the so-called post financial crash success stories. The Socialist Party is flying high in the polls and have drawn the attention of socialist leaders from around the UK with Jeremy Corbyn praising their governmental performance recently at the Congress of European Socialists in Lisbon in December.
The election is not until October though and their biggest risk is that an economic downturn has already started to impact the perception of the Portuguese electorate though as I mentioned at the start, I think the election will come too early for this to transpire.
That’s all from me on next year. I would love to hear any predictions you have in the comments section below. Thank for you reading throughout the year and I wish you all a healthy and happy 2019…
2018 has been a turbulent year with many political shocks. However, I think we may still look back at in in years to come as the calm before the storm. A year of political stagnation across most of the West, where poor leadership and decision-making was masked slightly by a still buoyant global economy, enjoying the final flourish of the recovery from the last financial crisis in 2008
While tomorrow I will make my predictions for 2019, this article will reflect on what I had written this time last year and how it held up. Having had a quick review already, my first thoughts are that I was a little vague in my predictions which makes it a little difficult to full assess how successful I was.
Some of them were quite thematic and general, as opposed to specific, quantifiable predictions. I will try and alter this slightly for next year but for now it’s time to assess how each prediction turned out.
Trump to continue his Erratic Foreign Policy but No War:
It seems very obvious now that there wouldn’t be a “war” in 2018 but this can also be a case of selective memory bias. In 2017, Trump was involved in some very public threats and spats with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. In September, at Trump’s first address to the United Nations, he threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. At this stage he had only been President for 9 months and we were still at the anything is possible phase. Since then, he has shocked the world by actually meeting Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June but most of 2018 his focus was on domestic issues including the US Midterm elections and the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation.
The Global Bull Market Run to Continue, Just About...:
Last year, I did caveat this with “just about”. However, nearly every global index has finished down in 2018 according to this excellent summary page from the Wall Street Journal so ultimately I got this wrong. I do think I was slightly correct in the sense that the ramifications of this haven’t filtered through to political discourse yet. I have a lot more thoughts on the global economic outlook, though I will save that for tomorrow’s predictions…
China to Continue its Steady, Low-Key Ascent to Global Hegemony:
This is an example of one of those predictions that are hard to quantify. Nothing has happened this year in China to contradict this assertion. Furthermore, continued stagnation by many of its closest Western rivals has also probably helped. It will be interesting to see if China can handle another economic downturn as aptly as they did in 2008, when their massive Chinese Economic Stimulus Plan not only helped to stabilize the Chinese economy but possibly helped to mitigate the global economic damage.
Tories to Survive and Brexit is Happening:
As of today, both aspects of this prediction are correct. The Conservatives will almost certainly finish 2018 still in government. They have had some challenging moments but ultimately, party loyalty and the threat of losing their seat in a snap election, helped keep Theresa May in power. Her prestige has been severely dented and since the Conservative’s annual conference we have started to see the potential next leaders jockey for position.
“Brexit is Happening” looks a lot less certain now than it did in the summer. There seems to be no clear parliamentary majority for any deal and the chances of a second referendum have certainly risen. I am going to carefully consider what I predict in 2019 though I genuinely believe anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s in British politics currently.
Fine Gael to increase seats lead over Fianna Fail in any Irish General Election:
There was no election in 2018 so I suppose this prediction has to be rendered null and void. However, Fine Gael has polled very strong throughout most of 2018 and I think it’s pretty evident they “would have” increased their seats lead over Fianna Fail in any Irish General Election. That said, the last poll of 2018 only gave Fine Gael a 2% lead over Fianna Fail so it will be interesting to see if they do continue to enjoy strong leads, particularly if Brexit turns out to be particularly damaging for the Irish economy.
The Irish Abortion Referendum Campaign to be Brutal:
It was brutal but there wasn’t quite the level of vitriol as I had envisaged here previously. It did not become our Trump or Brexit moment and the massive margin of victory for the Yes side has helped the country to heal quickly and move forward. It must be a sign of Ireland’s democratic and social maturity that the result has been respected by all sides. The Citizen’s Assembly process has rightly been given a lot of credit as it really helped the Irish electorate to understand the implications of their vote.
Iran to get even closer to Russia/China and avoid a Revolution:
The revolution was indeed avoided. The renewal of the sanctions against Iran will certainly lead to further future unrest. I am also concerned that either Benjamin Netanyahu or Donald Trump will try and use Iran as a distraction from their own domestic challenges in 2019. To be honest, I think I will need some further time to read up and decide if Iran did move closer to Russia and China in 2018 as it isn’t always evident in the media sources I mostly follow….
In summary, I think I did OK overall. Upon reviewing this I do get the further feel that 2018 was a bit of a “holding year”. When I write my 2019 predictions tomorrow, one major dilemma I will have to contend with is whether I believe this will be the same next year or whether we really are about to enter a period of even greater instability and chaos…
If the Pollsters are Correct, what will the impact be of the Democrats taking the House and the Republicans holding the Senate?
For almost all of 2018, the polls have consistently shown that the Democrats are on course to reclaim the House of Representatives but will not be able to take control of the Senate as they are mostly in a defensive position in the 35 out of the 100 seats that will be voted on.
I won’t really write a preview for this election as it is very complex with three different “types” of elections and a massive variation of electoral battles.
For detailed analysis on polling and predictions, I recommend 538, CrossTab and the Economist sites.
I am going to assume for now they are correct and that this is the result we are faced with on Wednesday morning.
I will be watching the results and come in and looking at reactions and quotes from the Democratic side. What will be the narrative be in the immediate aftermath of their House of Representatives victory?
Will it purely be about “stopping Trump” or will a theme emerge that the party agree on as to why they won and how they can win in 2020?
Will many new Democratic Congressmen come out in support of Nancy Pelosi or call for a new Leader in the House?
I don’t have any of the answers yet but will keep a close eye on events and articles in the days following the results.
I will then write a “fuller” preview of the direction and strategy the Democratic Party will go in for 2020. Furthermore, what this means for the potential candidates, of whom the bookies currently place Kamala Harris as favourite, closely followed by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders...
Of course, the pollsters were spectacularly wrong in 2016 and it is possible there will be a shock again and either the Democrats take the Senate or Republicans fend off the challenge in the House of representatives…
If President Trump manages to hold on to the House, it would be both a vindication of his policies and a crushing blow to the Democrats and the in party fall out could get very vicious.
Even without one of the two major shocks above, with over 500 individual races there will be plenty of upsets on the night and I will be watching all of it...
Brazilian’s go to the polls on Sunday in the second run-off against Fernando Haddad. He has a massive lead in this two-horse race and it seems almost impossible for Haddad to now catch him.
I punted on Fernando Haddad to win as I believed Jair Bolsonaro’s first round performance would be much lower (46%) and the gap between him and Fernando Haddad (29%) would be much closer.
I called it completely wrong and realised I don’t really know enough about Brazilian politics or Brazil to really contribute anything to the debate. Therefore, I won’t really write much here except express my sadness and concern for the direction Brazil is moving in.
It would be a massive political shock if Haddad wins and it could lead to civil unrest in Brazil. However, this seems very unlikely given all the recent polling.
I will follow next Monday though I really can’t see anything other then a Bolsonaro win now. The question is how much of what Bolsonaro has said up until today is bluster and bravado and how much of it does he intend to follow through on.
If the latter is the case, Brazil is in for a very, very challenging few years…
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Brexit in July but very little has changed. There have been numerous occasions where I thought; “this is it” regarding either a major breakthrough or the end of Theresa May’s premiership.
However, each the expectations of a Brexit breakthrough rose, they have quickly dissipated as further sources pour scorn on earlier reports. Equally, whenever the threats to Theresa May or the calls for her to stand aside reach fever pitch, a compromise is reached, or a belligerent political actor backs down.
On a Brexit deal, it does seem that there has been slight progress made since July though the Irish border remains a stumbling block. I’ve previously written about a buildup of ill-will and energy that will lead to a political earthquake and heads rolling. I still believe this may have to be the case as the compromises needed can not be reached without major climbdowns from either Theresa May, Leo Varadkar or Arlene Foster.
I It does appear the Irish border can be solved through a compromise that protects the all-island economy and avoids a hard border through a combination of transition extensions, full UK-wide participation in a customs union and the threats of an early British General Election…
At this stage in the negotiations, I finally believe Teresa May and Olly Robbins know the rough parameters of what a deal entails and where the Britain ends up post-Brexit. Despite May’s strong rhetoric, it is likely she privately acknowledges further East/West checks are necessary though I do believe her when she says she would never sign up to a full economic Irish Sea border.
Her challenges in securing this deal are obvious to most followers of British politics. She will either need the support of the great majority of the Conservative Party MPs and the ten votes of the Democratic Unionist Party or she will need considerable support from Labour MPs.
It will be almost impossible for her not to have some rebel hard Brexiteers if she continues down the current line of negotiations and ends up with a deal roughly along her “Chequers+” plan.
There are currently 50 MPs who are publicly part of a “Stand Up 4 Brexit” campaign that explicitly rejects Theresa May’s “Chequers+” plan. What is not clear is whether this simply a political lobbying group or if the majority will vote down a deal when the Meaningful Vote comes back to parliament.
It does look more likely that full customs participation will be included, and this has raised considerable dissent from with the cabinet and wider parliamentary party. Equally though, it does make it more likely that Labour MPs could support it, especially those who would like to further undermine the authority of Jeremy Corbyn. They would have legitimate reasons for doing so as while Labour have been very, very vague on their alternative Brexit plan, they have consistently said they want a customs union with the EU.
I want to predict that we are at the point where Theresa May shows decisive leadership and decision making and stands up to the brexiteers and the DUP and we get clarity of her direction and strategy. This then either leads to a deal or her toppling, hence the title of the article.
However, I think the uncertainty will continue for a few more weeks as the gargantuan, emotionless python that is the realities of Brexit continues to slowly crush and asphyxiate the demands for a Canada+ Deal or the threats of DUP bringing down the government.
I also can’t see Labour being having the unity to topple the government by voting down the deal and forcing an early general election. They are too divided and weak on Brexit.
Finally, to predictions, I do believe a deal will be reached by mid-December at the latest that will keep the Irish border open. I believe May will survive to somehow get it voted through parliament with some cross-party amendments that solidify the UK’s position in a customs union.
It is harder to predict when her premiership will end but I believe she will still be the UK Prime Minister on January 1st, 2019, at least. It will be in her interests to keep some negotiations necessary for January and February next year so that she can fend off any leadership bids until post Brexit date and hope the public thank her in the polls afterwards.
The question will be whether the DUP can spin this as a political win. So far, they have railed against every single mooted potential divergence between Norther Ireland and Britain. This is foolish and risky. They are still the biggest wild card in my predictions as they could force that early election that I don’t believe will happen. However, I think it is more likely the MPs will turn on Arlene Foster and replace her sooner rather than later as a symbolic aggressive backlash against their ultimate political impotence.
Of course, nothing has gone to plan for the UK so far in negotiations and Brexit predictions are a mug’s game. I just don’t think Labour or the Conservatives want a no deal Brexit or the next general election to be fought on Brexit either. Therefore, realpolitik will eventually dictate that a deal is done and chaos doesn’t ensue…
On Sunday, Brazilians go to the polls to vote for their next President. Brazil has been struggling economically for quite some time and there is a lot of anger, disillusionment and hunger for change on the streets.
I have been following the election build up quite closely in recent months. It is a very interesting campaign with a former great, angry new voices and relative unknowns trying to emerge as the future leader. However, the intricacies of the Brazilian politics will be left to others with more knowledge to write about and I will focus mostly on the polling and data aspects with reference to events where it is relevant.
The far right, populist candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has led every poll in 2018 that didn’t include Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula, the former President who is not allowed to run but who PT (his party) had hoped would be able to find a way around the Supreme Court ruling. He is the favourite ahead of Sunday’s election and is still slowly creeping upwards to reach 32% in two of the most recent polls.
His main rival appears to be Fernando Haddad of the PT party, who was initially meant to be Lula’s running mate but in the last two months has become the party’s official candidate. He is a former mayor of Sao Paulo.
When Lula officially withdrew from the race on September 12th, Haddad was languishing on around 10% in the polls in third place, also behind Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labour Party. Since then, he has climbed consistently in the polls and is now floating between 20% and 24%. This puts the gap at approximately 10%.
However, the crucial point is that if no candidate gets 50%+1 of the votes in the first round, there will be a second round run off on October 28th. While, Bolsonaro is slowly climbing, it is still highly unlikely that he will experience a large enough late surge to claim a majority.
The polls also conduct potential second round run-offs and these have been very close, either placing both candidates on the same percentage of giving a 1-2% lead to Bolsonaro.
It looks very likely that Bolsonaro will creep up a further point or two between now and voting on Sunday, while the same may be the case for Haddad.
I am quite confident that Bolsonaro will come first but will not win a majority, I am more concerned about Bolsonaro’s total and the gap between him and Haddad. As mentioned earlier, Haddad is still quote close in the second round run offs, but this can change very quickly if the Brazilian public perceive Bolsonaro to be the President in waiting.
Therefore, I think Haddad needs to finish within 10% points of Bolsonaro, while also keeping Bolsonaro’s total below 35%. In this scenario there would still be 40% of the electorate to fight for with Haddad needing to win two thirds of these to finish ahead.
I backed the incumbent but controversial Milos Zeman to win the Czech Presidential election in January earlier this year after he finished the first round on 38.6% to Jiri Drahos’ 26.6%. The next 4 candidates all supported Drahos but Zeman had enough of a lead to narrowly win the second round. The situation is slightly different here as Bolsonaro is not an incumbent and the other candidates will not all support Haddad but it is very difficult to win a second round run off if your opponent is close to 40% and you are 10% behind.
Another crucial factor will be who, if anyone, receives the endorsement of Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. He is currently polling at around 7-10%. His economic policies would be much closer to those of Bolsonaro’s but it may be hard to endorse the man given his long list of controversial statements.
So, in summary, I will be keeping an eye out on three things next Monday; Bolsonaro’s total %, his lead over Haddad and the comments of the other then eliminated candidates. I will write a follow up closer to the second round run off as well (provided there is one).
The New Boundaries are a stark Reminder that the path to a Unity Referendum probably passes through the Assembly...
The New Boundary Commission Report yesterday for Northern Ireland mostly made for bleak reading for nationalists.
Already, there has been some detailed analysis on each constituency and how it impacts the future composition of Northern Ireland's Westminster seats.
It almost certainly ensures that the Democratic Unionists will win the most seats in the next General Election, with the exception of a black swan event occurring that no one can forecast today.
I now think that most paths to a Unity Referendum will have to go through the Northern Ireland Assembly. There are several reasons for this.
The New Boundaries, if passed, will almost cetainly act as a nationalist vote suppressant. There will be almost no competitive seats outside of Belfast and the first past the post system (FPTP) renders many votes meaningless.
However, in this tempest of constitutional turmoil, every single election result will be judged on the basis of a referendum on Northern Ireland.
Currently, the only way to secure a Unity Referendum is for the NI Secretary of State to indicate that he/she believes a majority would vote for a United Ireland in the North as set out in the Good Friday Agreement below;
“the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”
The consensus around this definition seems to be that it would require nationalist parties to receive 50%+1 of the first preference votes in a Northern Assembly Election or 50%+1 of the total votes in a Westminster Election.
Unfortunately, and despite the current impasse over the Irish Language, it is hard to see how pro-Unity advocates will be able to get to 50%+1 without a Northern Ireland Assembly.
Recent polls have shown us that any future Unity Referendum will be decided by small nationalist and union voters, Alliance and Green Party voters and nonvoters at recent elections.
Naturally, it is illogical to assume that Alliance or Green party voters will switch to nationalist parties. However, the “small n” nationalist and the non-voters who would come from a nationalist background will need to be motivated and energized to vote.
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections in February 2017 proved to be a very strong result for nationalists and indicated for the first time that an energized nationalist electorate could over take the unionist vote.
There are a number of widely discussed impediments to getting the Assembly back up and running and both the DUP and Sinn Fein believe they have legitimate reasons for meaning their current stance. However, if Sinn Fein are serious about forcing a Unity Referendum they must realise that nearly ass paths to it pass through both votes for and votes in the Assembly…
Next Sunday, Swedes go to the polls of the first time since 2014. I see it as one of the most important elections in the European Union in 2018. The far-right Swedish Democrats have risen significantly since 2014 and may be able to derail, if not replace, the centre-left minority government led by Stefan Lofven and the Social Democrats.
It is impossible not to look at the election through the prism of immigration as it has been at the forefront of political discourse in Sweden since the Swedish government decided to loosen its immigration policy in 2014, in the face of a major refugee crisis.
Four years later and the impact of that decision is still sending shockwaves across European politics and Sweden in particular. Despite a buoyant economy (growth was 2.3% in 2017 and is set for 2.4% in 2018), there is a sense among a proportion of the electorate that Sweden has done too much and needs to pushback and further reform.
Crime rates have risen and many Swedish commentators have attributed this upsurge to immigrants. The data to back this up is very difficult to ascertain and there have been many accusations of “fake news” by both sides in relation to crime reporting.
This feeling and political train of thought has been seized upon by Jimmie Akesson and the Sweden Democrats. They have a enjoyed a prolific surge in popularity since the 2014 election, when they received 12.9% of the vote, today they are polling at approximately 20%.
The party combines elements of nativism and anti-immigration in their platform that is often disguised in “cute” Swedish outfits and a very innocent looking party logo.
The incumbent Prime Minister, Stefen Lofven also faces a significant challenge from the centre-right Moderate Party, led by Ulf Kristersson.
The Moderates had previously been in government from 2006 to 2014 as part of the Alliance for Sweden, which also contained the Centre, Liberal and Christian Democrats. In most polls today, this coalition is polling behind the potential centre-left coalition of the Social Democrats, Green and Left parties.
The Left Party is not currently part of the minority coalition but they have been polling at approximately 10% and have made it clear they would like to be part of the next government. Prior to 2010, the Left party were also part of the centre-left coalition though it is not yet clear if they will be included in talks after the election. It seems highly unlikely that the Social Democrats can choose to exclude them and remain in power.
However, both coalitions regularly fail to reach 40% in polls and at best can hope to lead a minority government. The current polling numbers look chaotic and as mentioned, it is very difficult to see a majority government if any hue without the Sweden Democrats being included.
One further point when looking at the polling numbers above is that parties need to gain at least 4% of the votes to be included in parliament. This could have a big impact on the two coalitions if any of the smaller parties slip below this threshold.
So far, the notion of working with the Seden Democrats has been rejected by all the major parties but there are voices in the Moderates who would prefer dialogue with Sweden Democrats than to simply accept a further premiership led by the Social Democrats.
On that note, I do predict the Social Democrats to be returned as the largest party, despite their challenges mentioned previously. They have consistently led in the polls, with only an occasional poll giving the Sweden Democrats the lead while the last poll that showed the Moderates returning the most seats was on the 21st June 2016.
Perhaps the best thing for Social Democrats would be if the Swedish Democrats actually finished with more seats than the Moderates. There is no way the Moderates could support a government led by Jimmie Akesson. A lead of more than 5% points for the Social Democrats over the Moderates may also increase public pressure on Ulf Kristersson to back, or at least accept, a Social Democrat led government.
However, even if the Social Democrats claim the most seats, there is little chance they will equal their 2014 performance of 31% and Stefan Lofven may come under intense pressure to resign if the Swedish Democrats and Moderates both vote down the left coalition.
The final week of campaigning will be crucial in Sweden as one or two % points away from the left to right or from the Moderates to the Sweden Democrats or vice versa may drastically change the final composition of the next Riksdag and the political arithmetic.
I will write a follow up review of the election on the Friday after, when results are known and the first political overtures have been made…
The last special election before the November 6th Congressional Election takes places tonight. I’ve covered a number of these special elections this year and while each has its own unique narrative and characteristics, the overall direction has been positive for the Democratic Party.
They have managed to win several Republican seats and some of these victories point towards them potentially re-taking the House in November.
The seat has been held by a Republican since 1983. According to The Crosstab, it leans fourteen points to the right of the nation and would be a major gain for the Democrats.
What must be very worrying for the Republican Party is that they currently hold 72 seats that are less Republican leaning than Ohio 12th.
The Democrats need to take 23 seats to reclaim the House, so a win today would illustrate just how possible this is with a strong turnout of their base.
The polls have it very close with a point advantage to either side in the last two polls while the betting markets also have it going down to the wire with the Republican candidate Troy Balderson the slight favourite.
The Democrats’ candidate, Danny O’Connor, is a moderate who will try and reclaim the middle political ground from the Republicans.
In his views, he is quite similar to Conor Lamb, who took the Pennsylvania 18th from a Republican in a March special election that I covered here.
He doesn’t support Nancy Peloisi as the Democratic Leader of the House and he is not been backed by (or endorsed) a specific 2020 Presidential hopeful.
If O’Connor can win today, and take another strong Republican seat running on a moderate, centrist ticket, I will be closely following what type of Presidential candidate he Is drawn towards.
A victory in November for the Democrats may contain a number of seat wins in the rust belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 2020, the Democrats will need to field a candidate that can potentially beat Trump in all three.
If O’ Connor wins today I am confident the Democrats will win in November and, for reasons I will elaborate on further later, I am very close to predicting the Democrats will go with a male candidate in 2020…
On Brexit, so much has happened in the last two weeks but very little has changed. Time has passed, and May has survived without really presenting a credible plan for the Irish border.
I had believed that a Customs Union amendment would be passed by the Tory rebels in the Trade and Customs Bills that would have, at worst, safeguarded against a Hard Brexit or even tied the United Kingdom to the Customs Union after March 2019.
This would have not fully alleviated the challenged that Brexit posed to Ireland, but it would have been concrete, tangible progress.
Instead the European Research Group Conservative MPs were able to add clauses that made it illegal for Northern Ireland to have a separate customs structure to that of Britain, as well as another clause that only allows the UK to collect VAT on behalf of EU nations if they do the same for the UK.
The former makes the Irish backstop, agreed in December and formalized in March, almost impossible to implement in the case of No Deal and ups the ante on the Irish government to concede further on what constitutes a hard border.
The latter makes Theresa May’s Facilitated Customs Arrangement, one of the central tenets of here Chequer’s Plan, very likely to be rejected by the European Commission.
It’s a very worrying state of affairs and the lack of certainty continues to damage all parties involved.
I always thought that a soft Brexit would ultimately prevail but would probably take Theresa May down with it.
The Irish government have lobbied hard within Brussels and have take a very firm stance. This has played well with the Irish electorate and has garnered the support of all the major political parties.
However, as it becomes less certain that a soft Brexit that retains the status quo at the Irish border will emerge, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein have begun to challenge Leo Varadkar’s affirmation that there will be no change.
Sinn Fein are a bit of a disadvantage here as their seven seats at Westminster could have been enough to swing some of the key votes mentioned above.
I believe Fianna Fail will now go on the offensive on Brexit and seek to criticize the Fine Gael position as naïve and out of touch with the political realities in Brussels and London.
There is still a small chance that a final agreement can be built from the basis of the Chequer’s proposal, though this is unlikely.
If the proposal does indeed collapse, the Irish government must hope that this becomes the moment the UK parliament finally asserts its will and decides that economics trumps party politics.
Otherwise, Leo Varadkar could fall from grace almost as fast has Theresa May has…
I am keeping a keen eye on the November US midterms. I wrote a few blog posts on the last few “by-elections” that took place to try and get an indication of where the American electorate are ahead of the voting on November 6th.
We are now into the Primaries phase where incumbents are often challenged by more than one candidate from their own party, ahead of facing off against their counterpart candidate in November.
Like in the UK first past the post electoral system, many races are very uncompetitive in the United States Congress. This can often lead to the primary contest being much more dramatic and exciting.
This was not meant to be the case in the 14th Congressional District in New York where the incumbent Joe Crowley was a 10 term Congressmen who had not even faced a challenger since 2004.
However, he faced a challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York native, of Puerto Rican descent and a self-confessed socialist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
She had previously volunteered for Bernie Sanders campaigns and is in the far left of the Democratic Party.
Nobody saw this win coming and, in the end, it was a convincing margin of victory 57.5% to 42.5%. She campaigned on a progressive platform with Medicare, gun control and the abolishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
The results so far have been too mixed so far to create a narrative of whether the Democratic campaign will have an establishment or more leftwing feel.
Ocasio-Cortez ran a great campaign and stayed close to the ground. Even her campaign video is inspiring for the more sentimental among us.
I’ll continue to post sporadically on the build up to the elections. It still seems quite likely that the Republicans will retain the Senate but that the Democrats are slight favourites to retake the House.
If this is the case, it is also crucial to observe what type of Democratic Congress emerges. Will it be one that wants to push the progressive side of the party and potentially support another Presidential bid by Bernie Sanders or will the establishment be emboldened and believe a more mainstream Democratic candidate will still be able to take on and defeat Donald Trump…
I haven’t written about Brexit in almost four months. It’s a frustrating topic that produces daily coverage but often little in terms of tangible progress or moments that truly move the Brexit needle.
There is a constant expectation of drama and a desire for decisive political moments but so often they fail to transpire.
That said, it is clear we have now reached a point where “fudging” becomes a lot less viable as an option for Theresa May and her government if she wants to avoid a No – Deal scenario.
She will face a crucial test this week when the Withdrawal Bill comes back to Westminster with 15 amendments from the Lords.
When these amendments were tabled a month ago, it looked like there was an appetite for inflicting defeats on the Government from some of the Tory rebels.
The chaos last week over the British proposal for the backstop agreement (which contained another round of David Davis will he /won’t he resign) has rattled many in the party as the consensus seems to be his resignation would have led to others and this could really have threatened the stability of the government.
This may convince the some of the Tory rebels that this isn’t the time or the appropriate forum for firing from both barrels.
Amber Rudd alluded to this in an article in the Telegraph yesterday where she wrote;
"a technical measure which is essential to getting Brexit right".
This leads me to believe that she won’t be supporting the amendments or rallying other moderates to the cause either.
It would be in line with so many other seminal Brexit moments so far where almost every analyst predicted major drama and the potential rolling of political heads but “fudge” won out…
However, even if the amendments aren’t passed tomorrow there could still be some massive blows to Theresa May and Brexit this month.
The Irish border has not been resolved at all and I stand by my analysis from the time of the December summit that a political earthquake was probably only delayed.
She will also have to face down an amendment to the Trade Bill that has come from her own party and now has the backing of the Labour Party.
It is hard to see how she avoids this defeat. The only question is whether it will return to parliament before the summer recess or even before the EU Summit at the end of the month.
There may also be challenges to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and further amendments tabled.
In summary Theresa and the Conservatives may overturn all 15 amendments this week but if she does it is likely more a tactical retreat from her political opponents (in both Labour and her own party) rather than a major political coup.
If she can’t overturn the 15 amendments then her position may become untenable very shortly thereafter as the challenges pile up and her authority diminishes.
Theresa May has successfully managed to balance the scales since losing her majority in last June’s election, but this June may turn out to be even more damaging to her premiership…
It was an incredible weekend in Ireland but one with very little drama. The race was run for the No side by about 11pm when the results of the RTE exit poll re-affirmed that of the Irish Poll and showed a clear majority had voted to Repeal the 8th Amendment from the Irish Constitution.
I boldly made three predictions for the 8th Amendment in April and repeated them last Friday week and now I must humbly accept I was wrong on all three counts.
Obviously, I underestimated the desire across the country for the 8th Amendment to be replaced but I also think I overestimated the division in the country and the negativity around supporting Repeal.
I thought turnout would be lower than in 2015 for Marriage Equality as I argued that;
“The Yes campaign for the Marriage Equality had a real “feel good” that allowed many to openly support the campaign even if it was not an issue that was high on their political priorities. So far, I do not see the same level of enthusiasm for the Yes campaign amongst the “non-aligned”.
By May 24th, the sheer numbers of women (and men) out on the streets campaigning for Repeal meant that more and more people were being engaged and the referendum almost became omnipotent in Irish life.
Even those who initially had wanted nothing to do with it were being asked daily what they felt and which way they were inclined to vote.
The personal stories shared on media and across social platforms also helped to normalize the debate and bring the issue much closer to home for many.
If the 8th Amendment had been an abstract law at the start of the campaign, by the end it was a much more tangible force that either hurt women or saved the lives of the unborn, depending on your final views.
Ultimately though, and despite the graphic posters, the Irish electorate related the 8th to women and the women and men of all ages, religions and political creeds mostly voted for change.
This uniformity of this belief by the end of the campaign meant that while the Yes % vote varied only Donegal actually voted No.
The #hometovote campaign also helped the Yes side and it was encouraging to see so many Irish citizens come home to Ireland to help change the laws. However, at the moment I believe this group can only be energized for referendums and will not play a role in shaping the next government.
There is no doubt the great weather also helped boost the turnout by a percentage point but given the scale of victory I don’t think even the most ardent No supporter could claim it had a decisive impact.
Most of the reviews and articles will focus on how Ireland is now finally transformed and has eradicated the last vestiges of the Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland’s political thinking. I will leave this point to more eloquent Irish (and international) writers.
What I finally want to look at is whether this result has changed the political landscape in Ireland.
It does seem highly likely that we will have an election before the end of 2019 and it may even come at some point in 2018. Have any parties or politicians benefited from their campaigning and the result.
Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris played major roles in the campaign and Harris’ appearance in one of the last televised debates was widely praised. Fine Gael currently have an unassailable lead in the polls and the result will only have strengthened this lead.
There may be a slight increase in female support for Sinn Fein away from Fianna Fail given the respective party positions on the 8th. Mary Lou McDonald played a very public role in the campaign and was a key figure on the Yes side.
However, the campaigning of Micheal Martin has bolstered his leadership over Fianna Fail. It was a brave decision to campaign against the party position taken at the last Ard Fheis and it would have ended his leadership if the campaign had failed.
The role of the Citizen’s Assembly has received a lot of attention as a means to bring more direct democracy and electorate led legislation.
It would be very interesting if a major party proposed using the Assembly for something like housing or healthcare. I do not know if this possible, but it would be very interesting to see if the Irish electorate is as far ahead of its politicians in other policies as it was on this initially.
Finally, the 8th Amendment campaign had a very all-island feel and approach with many women from the North canvassing here. In Dublin Castle Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill held up a sign “The North is Next”.
This could pose another challenge to Anglo-Irish relations as the British Government come under further pressure to legislate in Northern In the absence of an Assembly.
Unionists are skeptical of many of the movements for social progress in Northern Ireland after the alleged “Trojan horse” comments of Gerry Adams.
However, it will be a lot harder to ignore and dismiss these campaigns when they are soon led by women from leafy suburbs in Belfast and Dublin and bolstered by those returning home to campaign from the British mainland.
Ireland is changing but moving forward it looks set to increasingly change united island. Regardless of how hard or soft the final Brexit border is, the island of Ireland is united in its desire for progressive politics and policies…
Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by Iran, the US, the UK, China, Russia, France and Germany in July 2015, is a major setback to the Middle East and potentially even to global stability.
Trump had threatened to cancel the deal on numerous occasions in the past but refrained. He was previously either distracted by other events or felt that the timing was wrong.
I ultimately didn’t believe he would follow through with it as it is such a dangerous step. Trump and the United States do not enjoy the support of any of the other signatories in this decision.
The logic behind the decision is not at all clear as, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Iran has kept to its side of the deal and has passed every quarterly compliance test.
The two questions for me are what caused him to make this decision now and what potential impact it may have.
There have been several voices calling for the US to pull out of this deal. The writing was on the wall for deal when John Bolton was appointed Trump’s National Security Advisor in March. He has been a long-time critic of the Iranian regime and the deal and in a statement made hours after the announcement, he welcomed Trump’s decision;
“Well, I don’t really have much to add to the President’s speech. I think the decision is very clear. I think it’s a firm statement of American resolve to prevent not only Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but a ballistic missile delivery capability. It limits its continuing support of terrorism and its causing instability and turmoil in the Middle East.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has also shown in recent times that he has major influence with Trump and I initially thought the US decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem had been Netanyahu’s piece de resistance.
In hindsight Netanyahu’s “Iran Lied” presentation last Monday was an ominous sign that there were major discussions and lobbying going on behind the scenes but the presentation itself actually fell quite flat according to many observers and this allowed it to fly slightly under the political media’s radar.
There may be a case that domestic issues have also motivated Trump to try and create a major foreign policy news story. The Stormy Daniels scandal continues to rumble on and Trump’s approval ratings, while rising slightly in recent months, are still lingering around the 40% mark. This clearly irritates Trump who references them regularly.
Trump is now at risk at isolating the US in the Middle East. While all the other signatories have continued to back the deal, it is unlikely there will be much co-ordinated action between them to the exclusion of the United States, as tensions are still running high between the UK, France and Germany and Russia over the Salisbury attack and its political fallout.
In the Middle East itself, the move may embolden both Israel and Saudi Arabia (allies in all but name) , to act more aggressively against Iranian interests, including potential further strikes in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
The Iranian response will be interesting. While I believe they have legitimate reasons to be incensed, they need to be careful not to have any context for missile strikes on their nuclear bases as it does seem quite apparent that many in Trump’s inner circle (at the behest of Israel) would welcome military action on Iran.
While this is still less than likely, the chances of it have increased significantly after yesterday’s announcement. The worlds other leaders now need to take heed and ensure peace and pragmatism are the paths taken…
In the run up to the US Congressional elections in November I will be write a post every so often with an update on the situation and any thoughts I have on the direction the House and Senate are heading in.
I have punted on the Democrats reclaiming control of the Congress after the election. At the moment, the polls and bookies also see this happening, but I am not taking this as a definite as there have been many electoral shocks recently.
Today is the special election for the 8th Arizona Congressional District.
The background to this “by election” was caused by one of the most bizarre political scandals I have come across when the incumbent Republican Congressman, Trent Franks, asked two female members of his staff if they would bear his children. Franks resigned in early December after the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into his behaviour. His quotes below are almost unbelievable;
“I have recently learned that the ethics committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,”……“I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”……. “I want to make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
This election should be a straightforward win for the Republican candidate, Debbie Leisko, over her Democratic competitor, Hiral Tipirneni.
Donald Trump won this district by 21% in the 2016 Presidential Election and it should be a clear Republican Hold. However, the recent victory of Conor Lamb in the 18th District of Pennsylvania (which Trump won by 19%) has left many believing that many previously uncompetitive seats have become battlegrounds.
This is almost certainly not the case here. There are a number of inherent, structural advantages for the Republians here that mean a shock is a lot less likely (Republicans make up 41% of registered voters v Democrats 24% plus an older demography).
There have been major questions marks about three of the major polls released but I have included the numbers below for reference;
The margin of victory here is important though. For this to be a successful election for Republicans and a positive indicator for November they need to win by at least 15%.
For the Democrats a margin of less than 10% would be a major boost and could lead to a re-assessment of the political landscape ahead of November. A win here is almost impossible and would be a major shock despite some polling calling it quite close.
The result will not decide November but may be another piece of contextual evidence on the potential chance of the Democrats reclaiming the House of Congress…
The 8th will Probably be Repealed but it will be Closer than the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015...
The campaign is heating up. I last directly wrote about the 8th Amendment referendum in August 2017. Then I warned that it would be a very close race, especially if it was run on the basis that the 8th would be replaced with legislation that allowed abortion on demand for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.
That does seem to be the case now. It was the recommendation of the Citizen’s assembly and it seems difficult to envisage how it will not be the starting point for legislation if the 8th is indeed repealed. I warned then that the campaign may be our Brexit/Trump moment where there is a shock results that rails back against the assumption that Ireland has moved on and changed.
I do now believe it will pass on May 25th but see it being an extremely close race. There is a comfort to viewing this through the prism of the next logical step in Ireland continuing its path to becoming a truly progressive republic.
However, in many ways I think the comparisons to the Marriage Equality referendum are dangerous for the Repeal side and fail to distinguish the differences and intricacies of both the society that is being asked the question and the question itself.
The Yes campaign for the Marriage Equality had a real “feel good” that allowed many to openly support the campaign even if it was not an issue that was high on their political priorities.
So far, I do not see the same level of enthusiasm for the Yes campaign amongst the “non-aligned”.
The reason for this may be that so far, the No side have been more successful in framing the referendum around “abortion” than the Yes side have been in framing it around “bodily autonomy” and “freedom of choice”.
There are two factors that make the “No” side’s task easier here. The No side got its posters up earlier and many of the posters contain stark warnings about what they believe repealing the 8th means.
Furthermore, the wider phenomenon of a growing effectiveness of short, simplistic political messages in recent times, arguably fueled by the rise in social media platforms like Twitter, means the message of abortion is received and processed a lot easier than “bodily autonomy”.
That said, the Yes campaign is still ahead in every poll so far which is the clearest indicator that it will pass. The most recent poll from the Irish Times this week showed a slight drop in support for Yes at 47%, with No at 28%, “Undecided” at 20% and “Don’t Know” at 4%.
The results were also framed as Yes at 63% and No at 37% with others excluded. This is a much more dangerous way of analyzing the results for those who are in favour of Repeal as Irish voters in past referendums have shown a high aversion to change when there is uncertainty around what that change will be.
Finally, it’s time for some updated predictions based on where we stand today. There may be changes in the run up to the Referendum, but this is probably the final predictions I will make;
Yes to pass with a vote of 52% to 57% - a much smaller margin of victory than the 62% Yes received in the Marriage Equality referendum.
Turnout out to be lower than 55% for the reasons illustrated above
5+ Constituencies to Vote No versus only Roscommon in the Marriage Equality referendum.
I started to write an article last night on why the UK shouldn’t bomb Syria. I fell asleep before I had completed it and when I woke up this morning it was obsolete. The UK had crossed it’s Syrian Rubicon and another Middle Eastern country had been added to the list of UK targets of military action.
I will not pontificate on the legitimacy of the missile strikes last night by the US, UK and France. There is plenty of coverage and articles out there already doing so.
The thrust of this short piece is a hope that the hawks in all three governments are now satiated and that there will be no further escalation in violence or warfare. It is a hope that could be crushed as early as tonight if the three nations decide to embark on further sorties or if Syria’s key allies, Russia and Iran, decide to launch retaliatory strikes.
The former seems slightly more likely than the latter. Despite the bombastic rhetoric of the Russian government this week, it seems unlikely that would really escalate this to the next level by targeting “allied” sites or infrastructure.
It would be counterproductive and could ultimately dislodge Russian’s position of (albeit challenged) supremacy in Syria now.
It is a little too early to fully analyze what impact these strikes have had on Syria’s military capability, but it seems unlikely it will serious hinder their slow but steady path to ultimate victory they have pursued since Russia’s major interjection into the Syrian Civil War.
Approximately one year, Trump also launched missile strikes against the Syrian regime after another alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime on its own people. At the time Trump was quoted as saying;
“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,”
There was an initial fear then that the strikes would escalate into American troops on the ground and an overthrow of the Syrian regime. Essentially, back then the “Trump factor” was so unknown that this seemed a possibility despite all the obvious challenges and dangers.
However, when this did not occur, and Trump refrained from further action it appeared the window for the possibility of serious military intervention by the West had passed.
We are unfortunately again at a similar crossroads. The difference this time is that both the UK and France have entered on the side of the US. Apart from the obvious aims of preventing further chemical attacks on innocent civilians, both European nations may also have more nefarious motives for intervening.
Emmanuel Macron has been cozying up to the Saudi Royal family in recent times and it may be more than a coincidence that Macron’s strong actions have taken place less than a week since the Crown Prince visited Paris.
Theresa May has had a bump in her approval ratings in the last month since her strong reaction to the Skripal attack in Salisbury. She may identify this as a further opportunity to bolster her reputation as strong on foreign policy.
This is major gamble by May as only 22% of Britons supported cruise missile strikes against Syria in a poll they published on Thursday.
There will be parliamentary debate on Monday in the UK and hopefully both the opposition and members of her own Conservative party will speak up against further military action.
We are now in a dangerous lull where the first strikes have taken place, but we cannot know for certain that there will be no further action. In my view these initial strikes have been in vain and will produce very little on the ground without engagement with Russia and Iran.
Unfortunately, with the recent appointment of John R. Bolton as Trump’s National Security Advisor there is another hawk in his inner circle who is not afraid to advocate military action against Iran. Whether this would extend to direct action against Russia is unknown for now.
Over the next few days it will become a lot clearer whether this was another one-off strike/warning to the Syrian regime against the use of chemical weapons or we have reached a new level of tension and conflict between the US and its allies against the Syrian regime backed up by Russia and Iran.
The terrifying difference on this occasion would be that the conflict could potentially bit e solely between proxy forces on both sides but directly between military superpowers.
Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we see a de-escalation of threatening rhetoric and a return to dialogue in the coming days…
There is a very interesting election taking places in the US today that could have major ramifications for both the next mid term and presidential election cycles. It’s a by-election for a seat in Congress, specifically Pennsylvania's 18th congressional districts.
I’ll be honest I don’t normally focus this much on the US congressional elections (though I have punted on Democrats reclaiming the Congress in November here). This election though is really intriguing for several reasons.
It’s a district that should be a clear win for the Republican candidate. Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton here by nineteen percentage points in the presidential election. It also falls into the infamous Rust Belt, that area of the United States that is suffering from continued post-industrial decline.
If that wasn’t enough, Trump visited personally on Saturday to endorse the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, who himself is a major Trump proponent.
Despite these inherent advantages, the Democratic candidate Conor Lamb is slightly favourite after making gains in the polls in the last few weeks.
While only thirty-three, he has a strong pedigree as a former Marine and federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh.
He’s a right leaning Democrat who has already stated he does not support the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Peloisi.
In my view he has identified that Trump has pulled American politics, at least temporarily, into a new paradigm and to regain power in November in the House and then in the next Presidential race the Democrats need to attack the republicans in different ways.
He has stayed quiet on gun control and abortion, two areas that have often been championed by Democrats but that would not necessarily be popular in his district.
He has focused on jobs and combating the drug crisis, which is a major epidemic in many parts of the Rust Belt. The Democrats were seen by many here as out of touch with the working man and part of “the swamp” and he is doing his utmost to portray himself as fighting for the people.
The view among many political analysts has been that a win for Conor Lamb or even a narrow defeat would be a major boost for the Democrats and show that they are on course for major wins in November.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this but I would look at it from a different angle. If Lamb wins, I think it could be the start of a new approach to beating Trump in many political regions of the US.
The Democrats may decide that a jobs-focused candidate who is viewed as in touch with the working classes may be a better match up than a socially liberal, progressive candidate in 2020. If this does end up being the case, Trump’s legacy will live on past 2021, regardless of victory or defeat.
I wrote a preview of the Italian election a while back here that also looked at the overall state of the Italian economy. It didn’t make for pretty reading and I did reflect afterwards if I had been overly negative.
I predicted that Five Star Movement would win the most seats but would fail to get a majority. One interesting aspect of this election was that, unlike the Brexit or Trump votes, the results, though disheartening and alarming to many, didn’t come as a shock to many.
It was clear for at least 6 months that the Euro-skeptical parties were going to make major gains at the expense of the incumbent left-leaning Democratic Party. Furthermore, a hung parliament was also predicted by most polls.
What is less clear now is what follows. Italian politics is typically built on coalitions and in this campaign, there were three main groups; the centre-right coalition, the centre-left coalition and 5 Star Movement. As you can see from the results below, to form a functioning majority, this political landscape will need to be redrawn.
I won’t spend too long speculating on the internal political machinations now at play as there are plenty of Italian commentators who obviously understand the internal dynamics a lot more than I ever will.
I see three probable outcomes. A Matteo Salvini led centre right minority government, a Luigi di Maio 5 Star Movement in coalition with the League or the Democratic Party.
Of these, the least desirable from my perspective would be a Salvini government. He is strongly anti-immigration and has crossed the line with some language that is close to hate speech and racist on numerous occasion.
It’s important to note that Italy’s challenges and problems haven’t now started because of this election. This election has only brought these issues closer for the forefront of many in Europe, as elections do.
I will hold off further comment for now until we get some further indications of what the next government will be and will then write a more focused article on what this means, in terms of poly and impact.
However, I don’t buy into the simplistic narrative that every election in Europe is now “the centre” v “populism”. There are elements of this in Italy but while immigration has played a role, youth unemployment and disillusionment with the status quo have played a more prominent role.
Unfortunately for Italy, these issues now seem to be part of the status quo. The key policies proposed by the main parties will not help address these issues and I continue to seriously worry for the health of the Italian economy and society as whole , regardless of who next sits in the Palazzo Chigi…