A dramatic week in Europe that illustrated to me how potentially unstable the European Union is despite the bright economic outlook.
The political deadlock that followed Italy’s election in March has finally ended. Five Star Movement and Lega have agreed to a coalition that has already captured Europe’s attention.
While neither leader will become Prime Minister, that honour goes to Giuseppe Conte a previously little-known member of the Bureau of Administrative Justice, the self-governing body of administrative magistrates.
The new government will have to overcome a number of challenges and it isn’t clear that the two parties will be able to work together.
Historically, recent Italian coalitions have had such a short lifespan that both sides probably realise they will have to go to the Italian electorate again in the not so distant future.
For that reason, I almost see this as a public perception battle as well as a functioning government. Both leaders will have public perception at the back of their minds as they make major decisions.
I will be closely watching who appears to be gaining the advantage between Luigi Di Maoi and Matteo Salvini as the winner of that battle may be the next “true” Italian Prime Minister…
Mariano Rajoy was forced to step down on Friday after a motion of no confidence was passed by the Spanish Chamber of Deputies.
Despite heading the largest party (the People’s Party have 134 out of 350 seats), Rajoy was undone by a large coalition of the left and regional parties.
Rajoy’s time had undoubtedly come. He had overseen the brutal crackdown in Catalonia and his party was also embroiled in the “Gurtel affair”. Last week, a People’s Party secretary was jailed for 33 years for fraud and money laundering.
However, the fragmented state of Spanish politics means that the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party under the new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will struggle to rule (they currently only have 84 seats).
The current government only has two years left to run before elections are necessary but I am very skeptical it will last that long.
The Citizen’s Party is currently leading in the polls (see below) and I can see them doing everything possible to agitate for an early election. They gained a lot of exposure when they won the most seats in the most recent Catalan elections in December.
I believe they may do the same in any Spanish elections and end the short reign of this new socialist-led Spanish government.
My time was spent following the last week of campaigning in the 8th Amendment referendum as well as voting and the results. My thoughts on that here. Normal service on the Weekly Review to resume next week ...
A week that started with a brutal massacre of Palestinian protestors and ended with most Irish minds focused on Friday's 8th Amendment Referendum...
Gaza and Jerusalem
In last week's review I focused on the impact that Donald Trump's foreign policy was having on global events. There, the focus was mostly on the Iran deal and his potential meeting with Kim Jong Un. There was quite a lot of speculation on how both those scenarios could develop and the causes behind Trump's erratic foreign policy.
Unfortunately, Monday was a bleak and tragic example of the impact Donald Trump's foreign policy can have. While many in Washington and Israel celebrated the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, sixty Palestinian protestors were killed in Gaza as protests to commemorate seventy years since the Nakba reached their culmination.
The Israeli Defence Force must have been given explicit instructions that the use of lethal force was acceptable (given the number of deaths, maybe even encouraged).
Trump has unequivocally backed Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government in recent months I genuinely believe Israel would not have allowed such a brutal massacre of protestors under any other US regime.
There was almost no chance of the United States publicly criticizing Israel's response or not vetoing any United Nation diplomatic actions against them.
I believe Europe must take the lead in any future peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Ireland could play a crucial given our history of conflict and reconciliation. However before talks can genuinely resume, Israel needs to be shown that it doesn't have carte blanche to act with impunity against Palestine.
The week in Irish politics was dominated by a number of 8th Amendment Referendum debates across television and radio. The most controversial was the Claire Byrne debate on RTE. It was criticised for allowing the audience to cheer and boo and play a major role in the debate.
I watched it and I have to say that some of this criticism seems more linked to the fact that the No side had the better outing with Maria Steen the best performer on the night.
Mary Lou McDonald was good for the Yes but arguments for Yes contain a number of different strands that don't themselves to the formation of a clear, coherent argument.
Two polls released this week do show Yes with a strong lead but I am still convinced it will be a very tight affair as I put forward in my predictions a few weeks ago. In both polls Yes had 56% though I see a lot more potential downside to this figure with minimal potential uplift.
I'll be writing up a full review of the referendum next weekend as results come in. I still expect Yes to get over the line but a No vote wouldn't shock me based on the number of undecided voters in both of the polls.
There was also a potentially seismic political parties poll released the Sunday Times that put Sinn Fein on 24% , ahead of Fianna Fail on 23%. For now I am treating this as an outlier as the other poll released gave Fianna Fail a 9% lead over Sinn Fein. However, if Sinn Fein's performance as the second largest party is repeated in many more polls over the coming months I think Micheal Martin's leadership will come under more direct sustained pressure...
Donald Trump took centre stage in a week of high drama that confirmed to me he is the master of his own destiny when it comes to foreign policy, though he is easily influenced.
Donald Trump’s foreign policy dominated last week with major decisions that ran directly in the face of recent conventional wisdom in American foreign policy.
His decision to withdraw American from the JcPOA (my thoughts here) combined with the announcement later in the week that his tête-à-tête with Kim Jong-Un is set for Singapore on June 12th.
These decisions show that while Trump is influenced by those around him, he ultimately believes he can do what he wants and pays little heed to foreign policy precedent.
In the run up to the November midterms this gung-ho approach may allow him to close the expected gap between the number of seats the Democrats return and may even allow the Republicans to retain the house…
Another week with a lot of Brexit headlines but little tangible progress to go with it. It’s a disconcerting situation that continues to drag on with little visibility on how the situation will resolve itself.
Unfortunately, May’s leadership reminds me of a caterpillar that has been attacked and infected by a parasitic wasp. She still appears to be in control, but her decision making is driven by a select number of pro-Brexit MPs.
Fortunately for May, and unlike the poor caterpillars, she could yet play a decisive role in the final Brexit negotiations. However, to do so she would need to show real leadership and innovation and possibly find allies across the chamber.
Tony O’Brien finally resigned last week after the pressure built and Sinn Fein had tabled a Motion of No Confidence that Fianna Fail announced they would support.
It looks like the scandal may rumble on for a while yet, and the devastation it has caused to Irish women and their families will last lifetimes, but the chances of it taking down the government or even the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, seem low unless some new evidence or communications emerge.
May 6th; Good Local Elections for Theresa May but the Conservatives should be cautious and another Irish Health Scandal…
The Local Elections last week didn’t produce a very clear narrative and all parties are scrambling for their own spin. The general consensus seems to be that Labour mis-managed expectations and the Conservatives did the opposite, therefore when results weren’t as clear cut it looked more like a success for the Tories. I’ve included the key results below;
I don’t see it exactly like that. It’s clear former UKIP voters will mostly vote Conservatives over Labour or Liberal Democrats as the UKIP vote and party collapses. However, we have already seen a cycle of tis impact in the General Election in 2017.
At the moment, Labour and the Conservatives are very close in the polls albeit with the Tories currently enjoying a slight lead.
The votes on the major amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill could have much more serious impacts on the British electoral landscape and could lead to major fissures in Labour, the Conservatives, the Conservatives-DUP supply and confidence deal as well as Scottish politics.
Until we can get a clearer indication of the dates and numbers for each side on those votes, I’m holding off on many articles on British politics for now.
Unfortunately, there is another scandal in the Irish Health Service as many women were given the all clear for cervical cancer checks where this wasn’t actually the case.
The Health Service Executive Director Tony O’Brien is coming under massive pressure to resign immediately, even tough he only has four months left on his contract.
Sinn Fein have tabled a motion of no confidence in him for the coming week, but it may be not pass if Fianna Fail abstain.
This is a horrible, tragic scandal but the political fallout for the main parties may not be significant as it does appear as if the government were blindsided. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that Fianna Fail currently have the appetite for an election, regardless of the upcoming referendum.
One final note this week on Irish politics is that a Sunday Independent poll gave 57% to 43% (excluding undecided voters) support repealing the Eighth Amendment.
With undecided voters the results are much closer with 45% in favour, 34% against, with a considerable 18pc undecided and 4pc who did not express an opinion.
This will be a very interesting few weeks with nothing yet decided…
The main story this week has to be about the historic meeting between North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In. However, there were plenty of other stories that caught my eye and Amber Rudd’s resignation just about creeps into last week though its implications will be significant for weeks to come…
This was very, very unexpected until quite recently. It was only late last November when Donald Trump was calling Kim Jong Un “little rocket man” and threatening mass destruction on North Korea and its regime.
For there to be a major warming of relations between all sides since can only be evidence that the old protocols do not apply under President Trump. We have seen plenty of policy turnarounds, both domestically and internationally, under Trump and it now seems clear almost anything is possible with Trump at the helm.
Whilst this may have negative implications in the future and in other political arenas, there is no doubt recent developments are incredibly positive on the Korean Peninsula. There is now a genuine belief among most parties that an official peace treaty can be signed by both sides that formally ends the Korean War.
Kim Jong Un has even spoken of his desire for a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula, though that still seems quite ambitious to me in the short to medium term.
However, this is overall a very positive story and I’ll let Kim Jong Un end it with some quite eloquent words from the Summit;
"We bade farewell to the frozen relationship between North and South Korea, which was a nightmare, and we announced the beginning of a warm spring to the world."
The Windrush scandal rumbled on all week for Amber Rudd with her position becoming more and more untenable. It all culminated on Sunday with the Guardian publishing evidence that she had known about deportation targets.
Yvette Cooper gave her a torrid time of it in the Home Affairs Select Committee last Wednesday and she apparently misled both that Committee and Parliament by denying she knew about the targets.
She seems an intelligent and amenable politician to me but she really messed up here. What we don’t know is what orders Theresa May gave her as events progressed as May has quite a lot of culpability over Windrush.
It will be interesting to see who is appointed the next Home Secretary later today. Furthermore’ will Labour continue to go after Theresa May on this or they will now focus on the last few days of campaigning before the local elections on Thursday…
A week of bickering between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail over spending promises ahead of the next budget. A number of polls came out this week which are always interesting to those who follow closely, however I think they are quite meaningless until the 8th Amendment referendum is concluded. Once that takes place, the gloves will be off between all the parties and an election could then be called at any point..
On the 8th Amendment Referendum, the Repeal side continue to have a strong lead but a poll on Saturday from the Irish Daily Mail put Repeal support at only 46% when “Don’t Know”s and “Wont Vote”s are included.
This is potentially dangerous territory for Repealers and I continue to stick with my recent predictions on a low turnout and close final vote here.
Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Washington DC was notable for the high affinity the American and French leaders old for each and his strong words on the environment;
“What is the meaning of our life if our decision, our conscious decision, is to reduce the opportunities for our children and grandchildren?
By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it: there is no Planet B.
On this issue it may happen we have a disagreement between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families. But that is, for me, a short-term disagreement. In the long run, we will have to face the same realities. We are citizens of the same planet.
We have to face it. Beyond some short-term disagreements, we have to work together.
With business leaders and local communities, in order to make our planet great again, and create new jobs and new opportunities, while safeguarding our Earth. And I am sure one day, the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement. And I am sure we can work together to fulfil with you the ambitions of the Global Compact on the environment.”
And on Iran which will be crucial in the coming months as Trump has threatened on numerous occasions to tear up the JCPOA. From Macron’s words it is clear he belives this would be a foolish thing to do;
“There is an existing framework – called the JCPOA - to control the nuclear activity of Iran. We signed it at the initiative of the United States. We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that. But it is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns, very important concerns. This is true. But we should not abandon it without having something substantial, more substantial, instead. That is my position. That is why France will not leave the JCPOA, because we signed it.
Your President and your country will have to take, in the current days and weeks, their responsibilities regarding this issue.”
The main story for me this week was the debacle from the Windrush scandal and how damaging it is the reputations of Theresa May and Amber Rudd, both of whom may still be in trouble in the coming weeks…
I struggled to see how the antisemitism scandal in Labour that has captured many headline in recent weeks was the responsibility of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Leadership. This is not to say there isn’t a problem, simply that while the effect was evident to most people, it wasn’t as obvious what the cause was.
The Corbyn critics, in my view, clutched at numerous straws that mostly revolved around Facebook groups etc that Corbyn was a “member” of that contained anti-Semitic content or material.
Contrast that with the Windrush scandal that erupted over the last week. The Home Office, initially under Theresa May and now under Amber Rudd, directed policies that included the destruction of landing papers for British citizens and their children.
David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, gave a powerful speech early in the week where he did not hold back in his criticism of Theresa May, Amber Rudd and the overall approach of the Conservative Party to immigration and home affairs;
“It is her (Amber Rudd) department that has deported them. She should know the number. Can she tell the House how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country?”…“Can she tell the House how many have been denied health under the National Health Service? How many have denied pensions? How many have lost their jobs?”… “Let us call it how it is. If you lay down with dogs you get fleas. That is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country. Can she apologise properly?”
Unfortunately, there has been very little clarity or positive outcomes to come out of this so far. Theresa May did manage to regain her footing slightly at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, when she got the better of Jeremy Corbyn, mostly using an ambiguous untruth concerning when the decision to destroy the landing papers took place.
I think there will be further fallout from this. It’s a scandal that has angered people across the political spectrum as there is no other way of assessing it other than a gross injustice against a large number of ordinary British citizens, simply because they weren’t born in the United Kingdom.
Given everything Theresa May has endured so far and come out the other side of, I don’t think this will bring her or the Government down. I do not hold the same confidence in Amber Rudd’s job security. If the public uproar and press coverage continues next week, we may well be analyzing the impacts of her dismissal as Home Secretary…
I wrote my latest thoughts and predictions on the 8th Amendment Referendum on Friday here and won’t revisit it now.
The other major story in Ireland this week involved the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten. The Irish Times revealed on Wednesday that he “gave advance warning to a public affairs consultant acting for Independent News and Media about the prospects for a takeover bid that INM was pursuing.”
This has a horrible whiff of cronyism to it that verges on outright corruption. The fact that he hasn’t been dismissed has been attributed to the fear of disrupting the 8th Amendment Referendum. In the words of Mary Lou MacDonald;
"That means that in our calculations as people who are responsible and sensible, we take that into consideration. Denis Naughten is not off the hook. There always comes a day of reckoning,".
Personally, I don’t believe Fianna Fail have the appetite or confidence to threaten the Confidence and Supply agreement over Denis Naughten like they did with Frances Fitzgerald late last year.
The large majority of polls in 2018 have given Fine Gael strong leads over Fianna Fail and this would not be easily changed in an election campaign. For that reason, as well as the referendum, he looks quite likely to survive another cronyism story involving the current Irish government.
The news headlines were dominated in the latter part of the week by the missiles strikes on the Syrian regime by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. I've already commented on that here. I will cover that topic in the next Weekly Review when I can assess the fallout in Westminster and potentially even in the US Congress.
The 8th Amendment referendum campaign is gaining momentum on both sides. The odds have almost continually tightened since I punted on No in January at 15/2. At this stage I am leaning towards it passing albeit by a tight margin. I won't elaborate further now as I plan to do an extensive preview in the near future.
Jim Daly, the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, caused a small furore within Fine Gael when he claimed he had no ideological objection to a future coalition with Sinn Fein;
“I have no ideological objection to Sinn Féin being part of a government,"....... "I just think, on a policy platform, it would be very difficult to agree a programme for government between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin"......"But, look, politics is the art of doing – and who knows?”
However, these comments were quickly rebuked by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar;
“The Government will not go in with Sinn Féin under any circumstances. It's not a consideration. It's not a desire, it's not a circumstance being considered,”
I can not see this happening after the next election. If current trends continue, it is conceivable that Fine Gael will be much closer to a majority than they are presently. A coalition would be damaging to both parties while they are politically incompatible currently. I have long thought a Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein coalition is feasible if the numbers add up but at the moment I don't think that potential coalition would have 50%+1 of the Dail seats.
Setting aside the Syria strikes it was a quiet week with some jockeying for publicity over the Brexit vote. This seems to be a lost cause at this stage. There will be major votes in the future in parliament on the final Brexit deal and these may have a serious impact on the UK's future economic and political trajectory.
However to continually campaign for another Brexit referendum seems unhelpful and will distract from domestic issues that need to be addressed as well as complications that still exist in the UK/EU negotiations over the final arrangement after the UK leaves.
With the Irish and British parliaments on Easter recess it was a quieter week than the previous few but a few things still caught my eye...
The anti-Semitism scandal in the Labour party continues to rumble on. I personally think it's quite contrived and has been used to continually hammer Jeremy Corbyn.
While there have certainly been anti-Semitic posts and statements by members of the party, it seems almost incredible that the attack has focused almost solely on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Overall, March has been a bad month for Labour and the Tories have led in six of the eight polls in the month.
The only consolation for Corbyn is that little has changed fundamentally and that it is hardtop envisage this charge continuing to land for another four weeks, when the local election take place across the UK with a heavy concentration in London.
These results should provide Corbyn with a boost and again bring Theresa May under pressure.
Unfortunately, the main story of the last week was over a rape trial in Belfast where the four defendants were acquitted. Their celebrity status meant that every statement and testimony was analysed closely.
It was a very depressing trial to follow and the fact that rape trials in the UK are currently not behind closed doors didn't help. The level of outage it provoked across the whole island will hopefully lead to change in the future in the North's rape trials.
The shooting last Friday in Gaza of hundreds of unarmed protestors was an international disgrace. I have very little doubt that some of the protestors were actively seeking to antagonize the Israeli soldiers and potentially to escalate the conflict.
That said, the response from the Israeli side was horrifying and needs to be condemned by the United Nations and all the major nations. Unfortunately, the silence since Friday has been deafening and I don't expect this to change. There is meant to be another protest on each of the next few Fridays. Hopefully there isn't a repeat of last weeks massacre....
Hectic week where my attention was mostly focused on British politics. I am consciously avoiding the Cambridge Analytica scandal as I simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to comment on it. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing less articles and elaborating more here due to professional constraints…
A good week for the Conservative Party and Theresa May. David Davis and the government finally agreed to the Brexit transition deal with the European Union. While there have been further concessions on the British side, there wasn’t anything that could have served a as a rallying cry for the dissenters in the more extreme sides of the Leave and Remain factions of the party.
There was some major consternation over the acceptance by the UK government that fishing quotas will continue to be set by the EU during the transition period. There were grumblings of mutiny from the Sottish Tories led by Douglas Ross and supported by Ruth Davidson. However, May called the would be rebels into 10 Downing Street and she seems to have weathered that storm for now.
The end date for the transition period of December 31st, 2020 will provide businesses with just about enough certainty now to get their ducks in a row for the short to medium term as the UK will remain in the Single Market and Customs Union during this period.
I have written a few times now about how nothing has been agreed on the Irish Border and that we were heading towards a political earthquake that would probably lead to Theresa May losing her job. I have to say I am not so sure if this is the case now. May seems to have gotten most of her MPs a little more onside and while there is still a good chance she’ll lose some votes in parliament I don’t now see a heave taking place this year.
That said, the UK local elections on May 3rd may still be a major blow to the Tories and Theresa May’s leadership with Labour set to make major gains based on the consensus of most election gurus.
The chances of this happening though have slightly decreased over the last two weeks with Jeremy Corbyn taking flak from a number of flanks. There have been rows over his statement on the Salisbury attack, a fallout over an anti-Semitic mural and most recently his sacking of Owen Smith as shadow secretary for Northern Ireland.
From what I can deduce Owen Smith can have little complaint over his dismissal after penning an article in the Guardian that went against the Labour policy. Smith lost out to Corbyn in the last leadership contest in the summer of 2016. The relationship between the two has been uneasy since but the timing couldn’t be worse for Corbyn who is now beginning to see his party consistently poll behind the Tories (they’ve been behind in 5 of the 7 polls in March so far).
I will certainly come back to polling and the potential successes and failures of the main parties between now and May 3rd but I am a lot less confident that we will see any major changes in the British political landscape in the short term…
The two main stories in the US this week were the appointment of John Bolton as Trump’s new national security advisor and the March for Our Lives pro-gun control marches across the US and further afield yesterday.
John Bolton seems to be a particularly hawkish security advisor that will raise some eyebrows when some of his previous statements on North Korea and Iran are analysed;
“We have a very limited amount of time left before NorthKorea gains deliverable nuclear weapons. We’ve got to look at the very unattractive choice of using military force to deny them that capability,”
“The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”
On the March for Our Lives rallies it’s hard to assess what impact, if any, they will have now and at the US Congressional and Senate elections in November. Gun control is still such a divisive issue that, like Brexit in the UK, is not simply split evenly along party lines.
A very bad result for Fianna Fail (25% -4%) in today’s Sunday Business Post poll has thrown me slightly on how to read the last week in Irish politics. I was going to write about how Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael (33% +1%) are still looking a little sheepish over the Strategic Communications Unit but it seems the electorate don’t care about it as much as Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein (16% +2%) do. Fine Gael have hit at least 32% in almost every poll since November and Fianna Fail, under Michael Martin, currently look bereft of ideas about how to close that gap…