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…
In the end the week wasn’t quite as dramatic as I had predicted here. Further details did emerge from all sides but there were no major fallouts or political backlash, aside from a few belligerent comments from the DUP.
It was a badly kept secret that Jeremy Corbyn would announce last Monday that Labour’s official Brexit policy would now be to seek “a customs union” with the EU. He also stated that the UK would remain in the single market during any transitional period before exiting it.
The speech received a mixed reception with many remain-supporters claiming it didn’t go far enough. Equally, some pro-Brexit Labour MPs were unhappy with Frank Field claiming a customs union would be “ratting” on leave voters.
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the speeches, I’m not sure how impactful Corbyn’s intervention was. It has opened some clear divide on policy between Labour and the Tories but for it to be meaningful, Corbyn needs to cultivate some cross-party support to win any major votes against the government.
Fortunately for Corbyn, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna have already tabled Clause 5 in the Trade Bill, that will lead to a vote in parliament. Many analysts quickly jumped on Corbyn’s change in policy as the potential vote that could bring down the government.
May’s speech on Friday was well received by many as containing more detail. Personally, I didn’t see that. I did learn that it’s now highly unlikely that May will request a customs union, along with the responsibilities that come with it.
Her speech does seem to have appeased the Brexiteers. Jacob Rees Mogg, who leads the anti-EU European Research Group that contains enough MPs to force a Conservative leadership contest, gave it his qualified approval, writing in the Telegraph;
“There are inevitably a few small points that will concern Leave campaigners but we must all recognise that everyone will have to give up something to get a deal, so now is not the time to nitpick.”
I think May has done enough to fend off an attack from this faction of her MPs. If she holds firm on her red lines, she may not accomplish much but it is one less flank she must defend against.
The EU has so far shown very little appetite to compromise on its negotiating stance. The protocol it released on Wednesday, was very close to what was concluded in December, much to the consternation of those who thought that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The next big challenge for May will come from the remainers. Any meaningful votes in parliament that pushed for a customs union, single market access in exchange for certain Brexit sacrifices could seriously hurt the government.
I do not see Brexit being reversed at this hour but it may end up being quite a light version. This will not be the case if the final agreement is concluded under Theresa May as she has firmly come down on the side of the brexiteers. The strength of the Brexiteer position is that they can maximise the power of their limited numbers by a clarity of purpose.
There is a broad church of pre-EU supporting MPs that would form the majority in the Conservative Party. Unfortunately for them, they have not found a consensus that they can use a rallying cry. In the future political historians would struggle to identify the zeitgeist of the post Brexit referendum vote period.
However, if, for example, the Anna Soubry bill ends up being this rallying cause it could easily win a vote in parliament. Theresa May must now quickly work to convince those within her own party that voting alongside Jeremy Corbyn and Labour for a customs union agreement would seriously undermine the government. I expect to see lots of “red” scaremongering (though done a little more subtly than the Czech spy smear).
Whether this will be enough to convince her own MPs that the UK’s best interests is now outside a customs union but with a bespoke trade deal remains to be seen.
My views on where we are heading have not changed significantly after the last week’s events. I see the UK exiting the EU with a deal that falls short of most expectations on both sides of the EU argument.
Unfortunately, I do not see it causing a general election in the next twelve months, as when push comes to shove the Tories will probably put power over the nation’s interest. I think Theresa May will not last until the summer of 2019 as Prime Minister but my view on whether her exit date is 2018 or 2019 varies almost by the week.
The next few weeks will focus on trade talks and the Irish question, both of which I’ve left aside for today and will come back to shortly. I will be writing quite frequently on Brexit over the next two months, as trade talks are soon going to reach their crescendo..
The next five days will go a long way in determining how Brexit eventually plays out for the British people. It is a week that will be dominated by two speeches from Jeremy Corbyn on Monday and Theresa May on Friday, as well as by the release of the EU protocol of the December agreement that concluded Phase One of the talks.
This is only the very high-level summary of events and there are also other key players and actions that could influence the week. However, I am focusing on these three critical dynamics as they may also determine the future of Theresa May as Prime Minister.
May is currently under pressure from both flanks of her party, as well as from the Labour opposition who have returned to polling ahead of the Conservatives, after a short recent blip…
Until recently most of the pressure came from the pro-Brexit side of the party with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox all pushing May to pursue a “hard” Brexit which they believed would allow Britain to sign mutually beneficial free trade agreements around the globe.
Of late, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory backbencher, who heads up the European Research Group, has become the most vocal advocate of this from of Brexit through some savvy media appearances and his bi-weekly blog on Conservative Home, aptly named the Moggcast.
While this group have been focused and efficient in their lobbying, they simply don’t have the MP numbers to lead the party (there were 62 MP signatures on a recent letter addressed to the Prime Minister) but could force a leadership contest for the Tories (48 MP letters required).
More worrying for Theresa May is the recent re-invigorated onslaught from the pro-EU side of her party under the likes of Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Soubry’s proposed new clause 5 in the Trade Bill is potentially very damaging to May’s authority as it is a motion for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU, if not the customs union.
This clause was also signed by Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP who has been very vocal on Brexit. Any customs union agreement with the EU will severely impede on Britain’s ability to conclude free trade deals with third party nations.
This brings me to the first of the two speeches this week. Jeremy Corbyn announced last week that he would make a speech, laying out his party’s vision for Brexit. In recent times, Corbyn has remained quite coy on what Labour’s official policy for Brexit is. It has exposed Corbyn to quite a lot of flak, particularly from its young and London based voters, who typically voted Remain.
The rumours coming out of the party are that Corbyn will call for a customs union with the EU. This will potentially give Soubry’s clause the numbers to pass in Westminster, inflicting a heavy defeat on May and a major victory for those seeking a soft Brexit. Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, two potential future leaders of the party, have both hinted that this will be part of Corbyn’s speech.
It has rarely been that straightforward with anything Brexit-related though. While many Labour supporters voted Leave, backing a customs union would be popular with the majority of his party and could finally differentiate Labour’s strategy from that of the Conservatives, who have continually ruled out a post-Brexit customs Union.
However, Corbyn has been unconvincing in his defence of the European Union and his previous track record of votes in relation to Europe is far from emphatically pro-EU. His style is also not one of bombastic, engaging speeches that capture the imagination and I am quite worried that today may be a damp squib that hands the initiative back to Theresa May on Friday.
May supposedly had a very successful Brexit subcommittee cabinet meeting at Chequers last Thursday where she managed to keep both factions happy and onside. Very little of what was agreed was leaked to the press and we may have to wait until her Friday speech for the detail. It may be that May has come up with a plan that keeps the party united and has found a way around the Irish border issue, one of the major sticking points an almost any proposed plan thus far.
This issue is a about to get a lot more complex on Wednesday when the College of 27 EU Commissioners sign off on a draft legal text of the December Phase 1 agreement. Tony Connolly, from Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE, is reporting here that it will only include the reference to avoid the hard border on the island of Ireland (paragraph 49) and not paragraph 50 which made reference no border down the Irish Sea. This was inserted after pushback from the DUP, who prop up the British government.
If this is the case, then May will be severely limited by this agreement. It will be very interesting to note if any of her Friday demands explicitly contradict the agreement or if May will simply acquiesce to the EU’s rules of negotiation.
Simple acceptance could be fatal for May’s premiership if Corbyn has offered a compelling alternative and the EU have effectively ruled out most of her “fudge” options that have kept party together.
It promises to be a very exciting week of drama, political brinkmanship and intrigue. I am now going to sit back and watch it all unfold…
Last Thursday, Israeli police announced they had recommended the Attorney General that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.
Then on Sunday, numerous Israeli media outlets linked him to a case where seven Israelis have been arrested for allegedly helping the Bezeq Group, a communications group, in exchange for favourable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife.
Over the weekend Netanyahu was in Munich, speaking at the same security event as Theresa May. He gave a bellicose speech where he threatened that Israel would take action directly against Iran if any of its redlines were crossed;
“And we will act, if necessary, not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”
The speech was incredibly aggressive and what made it even more noteworthy was the he directed these threats at the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Zarif, who was in the audience.
However, the pièce de résistance came when he displayed a piece of the drone that Israel shot down which he claimed came from Iran (see title pictures).
In the nine years Netanyahu has spent as Israeli Prime Minister in this current run (he was also Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999) he has been one of the most pugnacious leaders in the democratic world, both in words and deeds.
He has led two military campaigns in this time against the Palestinians, Operation Pillar Defence in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Despite the defensive titles, these claimed over 2,250 Palestinian lives, a large proportion of which were civilians.
He has also continually focused on Iran and has threatened pre-emptive strikes on multiple occasions. He also famously displayed a diagram with a bomb during a speech in 2012 (see title pictures again) saying Iran were 90% there to getting a nuclear weapon. Thankfully, his calls for a strike were ignored by most leaders who went on to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.
Since the election of Donald Trump, Netanyahu has displayed considerable influence over the US President. He pulled off a major diplomatic coup by convincing the US to relocate its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and he has improved relations with Saudi Arabia in a bid to further isolate Iran.
I won’t speculate on what would come next for Israel and the Middle East if he is forced to resign, though hopefully a more sensible leader will emerge. It would be hard to imagine a more belligerent Israeli Prime Minister taking the mantle from Netanyahu but it is possible. Fortunately, they will almost certainly not have the same influence over the US President and this may lead to a more nuanced Middle East policy from the United States…
I was genuinely annoyed yesterday with the decision of the Democratic Unionist Party to end the talks on reforming a Northern Ireland Assembly and their decision to request the British Government to restore Direct Rule in Northern Ireland. I thought it was worth trying to look at this solely from the perspective of the DUP and not from where I stand as a liberal and Irish nationalist.
It had seemed since last Friday that a deal was very close and that a compromise over a standalone Irish Language Act had been agreed (three Acts; Irish, Ulster-Scots and Culture under an umbrella Act).
However, plenty of unionist politicians and political commentators came out quite vehemently against this and the consensus is that this may have spooked Foster and her party leaders.
I think there may be more to it than this. A new Northern Ireland Assembly deal required compromise from both sides. It did involve potential acquiescence by the DUP on an Irish Language Act and also potentially on Marriage Equality.
Why does the DUP need to compromise though? They have the balance of power at Westminster with their ten seats so when they call for Direct Rule they will have an influence on the governing of Northern Ireland.
It is actually even more emphatic than this when we look closer at the 2017 General Election results. The DUP took ten of eighteen seats and with Sinn Fein abstaining from Westminster it leaves only one non-DUP MP from Northern Ireland, Lady Hermon in North Down.
I would be slightly concerned though if I was Arlene Foster. It now appears as if the ten MPs are the future of the party, particularly in the continued absence of an Assembly.
The RHI scandal still looms over the head of Foster (this was the original reason for the Assembly collapsing in the first place) and if the Inquiry leads a damning conclusion, she may even be quietly removed with a number of potential leaders from the MP pool.
Without an Assembly there will be no Irish Language Act or Marriage Equality Act in Northern Ireland, why would the Tories risk either when they need the support of the DUP.
Karen Bradley, the relatively new Northern Ireland secretary recently compared the issue of Marriage Equality to broadband, deeming both devolved issues;
“It will be a matter for the elected politicians in Northern Ireland to make a decision about equal marriage,” ... “That’s not for me to impose, in the same way it’s not for me to impose the way that super-fast broadband is rolled out across the country.”
If the DUP cross the Rubicon and decide that the Northern Ireland Assembly is no longer needed (for now they have just suggested that a return won’t be happening in the short to midterm) they will leave nationalists without any representation in a local or British parliament.
There is very little possibility of Sinn Fein taking their seats at Westminster, even if their continued absence hurts their constituents. Equally, Sinn Fein are in such a position of dominance over their main nationalist rival, the SDLP, that there isn’t much possibility of SDLP getting any seats at the next Westminster election.
The Good Friday Agreement does call for the Republic of Ireland to have a role in overseeing the implementation of the agreement but it is hard to see how this could become joint authority or joint governance.
Unless the Irish government makes some concrete form of joint rule a red line for approving the UK’s Brexit Deal (which is highly unlikely) than it leaves nationalists almost completely out in the cold. The Irish government will most likely focus on the border and even this will require a lot of work and compromise with the British government, leaving little leverage for pushing for a more direct role in managing NI affairs.
This is probably not the consensus view of the next few years and there is every chance that a deal will still be agreed at some point in 2018.
There is every chance that this could lead to a massive backlash against the DUP in the next Westminster election as many citizens place the blame on the lack of progress, economic or social, in the state.
Alternatively, many potential voters may be so disillusioned by the time the next election rolls around that the opposition parties may not be able to rally a large turnout. A low turnout would almost certainly favour the DUP.
In my view, this success of the DUP’s decision to effectively shut down Stormont for the foreseeable future will be determined by when the next UK General election is called. If it is as late as 2022 (as the bookies currently believe) then they are effectively the only voice in Northern Ireland politics with actual power. The latest date for the next election is May 2022, that’s a staggering fifty one months of dominance.
However, if the UK govt falls in the short to midterm, which may be possible given the internal Tory turmoil, the DUP may lose some seats and not hold the Westminster majority after the election.
I haven’t touched upon Brexit or demographics in this article (I covered it here quite recently) as this has been extensively covered and wanted to try and understand the DUP’s mentality and decision making.
They are often lampooned by the media and their strategic direction and intelligence questioned but when I took a cold, analytical look at where both major parties stand, the DUP seem to be in a much stronger position without Stormont…
Labour have recently encountered a slight setback in British General Election polling, suffering their first three consecutive poll defeats since the General Election in June 2017.
It has encouraged calls for Jeremy Corbyn to come out stronger against a “Hard Brexit” and to make a greater case for the United Kingdom to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
In recent weeks Chuka Umunna, the young Labour MP from London, has been one of the most vocal proponents of the United Kingdom remaining in both.
His appearance on the Andrew Marr show last weekend was quite impressive, even if the image of him speaking in solidarity with Conservative MP Anna Soubry, an ardent pro-remain MP, would be difficult to accept for many Labour supporters.
Umunna has been quite astute in trying to rally the pro-remain Labour supporters without directly criticising Corbyn. Instead, he said he could not envision Corbyn using party whip to vote for a Hard Brexit;
“I cannot conceive of circumstances where Labour MPs are marshalled to go through the lobby and vote against us staying in the customs union and the single market with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove,”
“I cannot see Jeremy saying to Labour MPs, “we’re going through the lobby with those guys” and damaging the interests of our constituents.”
Personally, I don’t think it’s a definite negative that Corbyn isn’t taking the lead on Brexit. There is a significant element of his party who voted Leave and with so many things uncertain and fluid in the UK-EU negotiations, there will be plenty of time to lay out position ahead of a “meaningful” vote in the Commons on a final deal.
The challenge for Corbyn is to ensure his policies and plans for Healthcare, Education etc get enough airtime and continued publicity in the current environment where many in the British media are focused almost exclusively on Brexit and the internecine internal Tory disputes.
I thought that this dispute would be more damaging to Conservative poll support. However, I am beginning to theink the continued publicity and coverage of both sides may be helping the Tories in the short term.
For now, until there is a clear Brexit policy by the Conservative party, every potential voter in the Tory universe who has accepted that Brexit cannot be wholly reversed can still envisage a successful outcome to the talks.
Until the Conservatives policy becomes clear and Labour know where they stand I don’t think the polls should overly concern Labour HQ.
Corbyn and his team should continue to lay out their vision for government while making contingency plans for Labour’s position in the various potential scenarios that arise from the talks…
After four months, the German parties involved in negotiations have reached an agreement to conclude a new coalition, pending a vote from the members of the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, the key point to take from this agreement is how much Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats/Bavarian sister party (CDU/CSU) had to concede to get it over the line.
To appease the previously sceptical Martin Schulz and his Social Democrats, she has given his party the Foreign and Finance portfolios, plus some others. The former are two major coups for his party.
Schulz is expected to step down as leader of the party and take the role of Foreign Minister. He has been a major advocate of a more federal Europe and has even tweeted his desire for a “United States of Europe” by 2025.
Merkel is not expected to finish the next term and may even retire if the approximately 460,000 SPD members vote down the coalition in early March.
Even if it passes, she will not be able to lead and execute on her decisions in the same capacity as she has previously done. Her leadership has been characterised by a progressive approach to the many issues facing Europe and Germany over the last decade but in a timely and non-radical manner.
Merkel will have to balance all factions’ ambitions in this coalition as well as defending against the Alternative for Germany attacks from the opposition benches, who went from no seats in 2013 to the current third largest party.
Their populist, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are resonating with more voters since the decision of Merkel to allow up to a million immigrants into Germany since the Syrian Civil War.
Contrast this with Emmanuel Macron, who has four more years until the next Presidential election and has a majority of 350 seats of a total of 577 in the National Assembly.
He has so far been able to reform the previously impregnable French Labour laws , has political momentum and the French economy had its strongest performance in 2017 in six years, growing 1.9%.
There are challenges for Macron ahead. Things can change quickly in French politics and major protests may still erupt over the labour reforms or other legislative changes.
“It’s the economy stupid” – I’ve heard this quote dozens of times over the years in political parlance. I had attributed it incorrectly to Ronald Reagan and not James Carville, part of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign team.
The central tenet of this claim was that the electorate vote with their pockets. Their perception of the economy has a major bearing on the way they vote. Incumbents can point to a strong economy, while candidates will offer an alternative solution that they believe will improve the economy.
This is not an American phenomenon and can often be the case in any election across the globe. What is a little different with President Trump is that he has repeatedly boasted about how much the stock market has risen in his time as president as opposed to the overall performance of the economy.
At Davos in January, he spuriously claimed that the stock market had increased 50% since he was elected and that it would have dropped 50% if Hillary Clinton had been elected. This was met with a mixture of gasps and derision from the audience. The market has undoubtedly increased under his tenure but this is a continuation of an exceptionally long bull run (I won’t delve into the details here as this run has been covered extensively).
However, what we have seen over the past few days is that the stock market is a volatile beast that can’t be controlled or tamed. On Monday, the Dow Jones dropped 1,175 points (4.6%) which was its largest fall in absolute terms ever.
There are numerous theories as to this occurred, ranging from the beginning of a major correction to profit taking by savvy investors.
Regardless of whether it heralds the beginning of something major or not, Trump should heed the warning it offers. The economy consists of a lot more than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
If Trump stakes his presidential performance to a simple and crude metric measure like this he could swiftly find himself out of touch with an electorate that had become frustrated with the lack of tangible economic progress felt under earlier part of the same bull run under Barack Obama.
To be fair to Trump, he has also focused on job creation as well, although according to some economists that may soon suffer from supply constraints. Equally, his tax reforms have been met with a lot of cynicism from the Democrats who see them as tax cuts for the rich while not offering enough benefits across the spectrum of the labour force.
It’s a long way until the next US presidential election. The current bull run would have to break a lot more records for it to still be going by the time campaign season swings around.
Trump speaks a lot about fake news and how his positions and events are misconstrued. In many ways this has been successful to an extent. However, he will find it a lot more difficult to dismiss a plummet in share prices or a major market correction as simply not true.
By not diversifying his offering and thinking in greater terms than an equity index, Trump may lose the election before the first ballot in the Democratic presidential nominee campaign is even cast.