Confessions of a Political Animal

January 13, 2010

European Leftwatch: The year to come

Ivo Josipović, the new Social Democrat president of Croatia

With 2010 now well underway, and with one election under it’s belt already, it is high time for a quick look ahead at the prospects for the Socialist International‘s member parties over the course of the next 12 months (an overview of what European Leftwatch is about can be found here).

2009 was a pretty mixed bag for the democratic socialist and social democratic parties of Europe, who for a variety of reasons have failed in many cases to reap any significant rewards from the continuing crisis of laissez-faire capitalism. The biggest story was, of course, the disastrous showing for the SPD in Germany, ending the grand coalition and ushering in (an already rather tarnished looking) right-wing coalition. The centre left was also heavily defeated in Bulgaria and Macedonia and failed to break out of opposition in Albania. Positives included victories in Greece and Iceland at the expense of incumbent centre-right governments (although both new leftist governments may well be seeing their victories as poisoned chalices by now) and the Partido Socialista’s re-election in Portugal.

With the centre left firmly out of power for the foreseeable future in France, Germany and Italy, that leaves only Britain and Spain of the major EU powers in Socialist International hands (and if you want to add Poland to the list of major powers, that shows no signs of shifting left any time soon). I don’t think the vast majority of readers of this blog are going to need reminding of the prospects for the British social democrats during 201o; basically, it seems highly unlikely that 2010 is going to be a vintage year for the European left. Below, we take a quick skim over national elections that either will or are likely to be held during the course of the next twelve months, starting with a calendar of those with fixed dates, then moving on to those with flexible term lengths. (more…)

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October 5, 2009

European Left Watch: Gaining Greece

President of the Socialist International, George Papandreou Jnr, into the office of Prime Minister on his third attempt.

Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens
Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens

Whilst most of Europe’s attention was focused on voting in a small country at one end of the EU over the weekend, at the opposite end of the continent another country, Greece, was electing a new government. And, whilst barely compensating for the loss of any left influence in the governance of one of Europe’s economic powerhouses last week, the result will help to ensure the retention of a reasonable sized left-leaning bloc on the Council of Ministers. It has also catapulted the 

Greece has been governed by the centre-right Néa Dēmokratía(New Democracy – ND) and Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis since 2004, following an eleven year period under Panellinio Sosialistikó Kínima (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK). Since the early 1980s, PASOK has very much been the default party of government – helped by its birth in the struggle against the dictatorship of the Generals – with brief intervening periods of ND rule. Yesterday’s results suggest that this may not be about to change.

The five year government of Karamanlis has been a relatively unhappy period for Greece, beginning with a failure to capitalise on the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics, a poor government responseto the series of devastating summer fires, through to the violent rioting of last December. Despite being elected on a promise to clean up Greek politics, entrenched issues of corruption, graft and cronyism seem, if anything, to have got worse during the lifetime of Karamanlis’ government. On top of this have come the inevitable effects of the global recession: 2009 is expected to be the first year of negative economic growth for decades and government debt is touching 100% of GDP. (more…)

September 28, 2009

European Left Watch: Germany & Portugal

BundestagOne weekend, two elections. And two rather differing stories for the European centre left.

Germany: After what was, by all accounts, a dull campaign, Germany went to the polls for elections to the Bundestag on Sunday. This could perhaps be described as a two headline election. The first was already written well before this week: the centre-right CDU‘s Angela Merkel would win a second term in office as Chancellor. The second part was more interesting: who would she be governing with? Merkel and the CDU made no secret throughout the campaign (and well before) that it wanted to end the grand coalition with the centre-left SPD it was reluctantly forced into following the tight 2005 election. The CDU’s choice of partner was quite clear – the economically liberal FDP (who for some reason always get described in the British media as ‘pro-business’, as if the CDU and SPD weren’t), the longstanding king-makers of post-war German politics.

The SPD, going into the election trailing heavily in the polls under the grand coalition Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier was less clear about its preferred outcome, guessing perhaps that beggars weren’t in the best of positions to be choosers. Having, foolishly to my mind, ruled out a coalition government with Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke party – which the opinion polls briefly suggested could take power as part of an SPD-Green-Linke coalition, they appeared to go through the campaign seeing a forced continuation of the grand coalition as their only hope of retaining power. At no point did it look like the SPD and their Schröder-era coaliton partners in the Greens would by themselves be able to command a majority.

Fan or not of his heavily reformist brand of social democrat politics, it has become increasingly clear that the SPD is still suffering from being deprived of two term chancellor Gerhard Schröder. On two occasions he bought the SPD back from seeming certain defeat: to a narrow victory in 2002 and to a defeat so narrow in 2005 that it gave some of his colleagues four more years in ministerial Mercedes. Equally, it is clear that Merkel (or someone else in CDU high command) drove a great bargain in demanding that Schröder should play no part in the CDU-SPD government. (more…)

July 14, 2009

European Left Watch: Bulgaria, Albania…and Henin-Beaumont

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

What Harold Macmillan would describe as ‘events, dear boy, events’ have prevented me from catching up on two European parliamentary elections held in the past couple of weeks. One was disastrous for the European centre left, the other mildly encouraging.

Bulgaria went to the polls on 5th July to elect its 240-seat National Assembly, with 87% of the seats being awarded nationally through a new proportional system. The remaining seats are elected through plurality rule.

Until the elections, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) headed a coalition government with the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev. In common with many avowedly centre-left governments in the former Soviet bloc, the actual programme of the coalition took a decidedly rightwards slant, including the introduction of a 10% flat tax rate. Throughout its four-year term of office, Stanishev’s government was mired in allegations of corruption and entered the election very much on the back foot, trailing the centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria(GERB) grouping – itself founded as recently as 2006 and led by Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov. (more…)

June 10, 2009

Party like it’s 2008 – sort of.

London Boroughs Euro Labour

Note: I have published my data sheet for the London European election results with borough-by-borough breakdowns here. I am missing the exact breakdown of independent candidate votes in Hillingdon and the results for the City of London (unless the latter are included in a neighbouring borough). If anyone has access to these, please could they leave me a note? Thanks! UPDATE: data now complete thanks to Nick in comments.

If the patterns emerging on the map above (apologies for the atrocious reproduction quality) look slightly familiar, it’s probably because, like me, you spent some time last year poring over maps like this or thiswhich showed clearly the inner/outer London divide in voting in the Mayoral elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that last week’s European elections produced similar results – voting patterns aren’t likely to change that much in 13 months – but they are evidence of the re-emerging political disconnect between the ‘two Londons’. The dominance of New Labour did much to smooth over that disconnect. It may be the case that its death throes are widening the gap further than ever before.

There’s no getting around the fact that the European Election results were very, very bad for Labour, but as Dave Hill has pointed out, what was calamitous in the rest of the country was merely dismal in London. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped 7% nationally compared to 2004, it fell by only half of that in the London region; the Tory increase was smaller even than the limited national figure (+0.6% in London, compared to +1% nationally), whilst UKIP, surging into second place across Britain registered a 1.9% vote decrease in London, narrowly falling into fifth place behind the Greens. (more…)

June 3, 2009

Public Service Announcement

euTomorrow, as you know, is European election day (and, for some, local election day). I’d be surprised if any of the select and very welcome audience of this blog was in any doubt as to the importance of casting their vote. Democratic expression is always important, but the stakes could not be higher tomorrow.

A low turnout tommorrow massively increases the chances that London, along with other areas of the country, will be represented in the European Parliament by a member of the racist BNP. There can be little doubt as to the risk that winning seats in Brussels could be the thin end of a very nasty wedge for this vile party: the cash and legitimacy they would receive as MEPs could place them on a similar trajectory to that followed by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s equally unpleasant Front National, which became a major player in French politics on the back of European seats.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a member of the Labour Party, but I’m not blind to the fact that we are not currently flavour of the month. This is a shame, as the top two candidates on Labour’s London list, incumbent MEPs Claude Moraes and Mary Honeyball have proved to be superb representatives, fighting for worker’s rights, improved overseas aid, equalities and EU expansion. I would strongly urge a vote for them. However, I know that many people will not feel able to do so – and I don’t think it is in any way disloyal for me to say that in a preferential voting system that the strong record of the Green’s London MEP, Jean Lambert would mean that her party would feature high on my list.

But what is important is that voters inclined towards any stripe of party other than the BNP turn out tomorrow – and I am hoping that such a description covers pretty much the entire audience of this blog. The indefatigable Labour MP Bob Marshall Andrews was once caught on TV telling a constituent that he considered him a racist and he didn’t want his vote. Well, if you are considering voting BNP, then you are pandering to racism and I don’t want your readership. Instead, head over here for a superb set of examples of just how ludicrous and unpleasant the BNP are when they obtain power.

Tomorrow – vote for who you like, but please vote to stop the BNP.

PS – hat-tip to Dave Cole for alerting me to the interesting EUProfiler.eu website. I’m not entirely convinced by its analysis of the positioning of UK parties (say what you like, the Tories are not to the left of Labour on a socio-economic scale – two years ago, maybe, but not any more), but the ability of the site to compare your ideological position to that of practically every party in the EU – as well as rather randomly Turkey, Switzerland and Croatia – is fascinating. As I’ve always thought, I need to move to France so I can start voting for the Parti Socialiste – but it was news to me that the Luxembourg Greens will meet my needs just as well!

April 27, 2009

European Left Watch: Mini-states head left

Althing, Reykjavik

Althing, Reykjavik

April 27th 2009 represents a bright new dawn for the European Parliamentary left. With the global financial crisis throwing traditional right-leaning governments into disarray, over the weekend left-of-centre parties romped to victory in no fewer than two European nations. With a combined population a little more than that of the London Borough of Croydon.

Iceland has, since January of this year, has been governed by its first ever centre-left government, in the form of a caretaker administration of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left-Green Movement(Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) led by the Social Democrat’s Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who as well as being her country’s first left-leaning Prime Minister, is also thought to be the world’s first openly gay head of government. Following Sunday’s elections, this pairing of parties is now in a position to form a fully-fledged four year administration, having taken 34 of the 63 seats in the Althing, and 51.5% of the vote. The caretaker administration, laking a parliamentary majority, had required the support of smaller Progressive and Liberal Parties, with which Sigurðardóttir can now dispense – indeed, the Liberal Party has now lost all parliamentary representation. (more…)

April 23, 2009

Brain drain or brain dead?

darlingSo now we know. You only have to wait twelve years into a Labour government before you get a sensible top rate of tax. Much celebration ensued yesterday at the Town Hall when we realised that our beloved Chief Executive would be…erm…required to contribute generously to the economic recovery.

And why these sour grapes from a certain Mr Boris Johnson Esq? According to the BBC’s budget calculator, a hard-working 44 year old married man with 4 children under 16, earning £137,759 a year, plus £250,000 of self-employment income, will be £455.32 better off, thanks to the Chancellor’s largesse.

But to be serious, whilst the introduction of the 50% tax band is welcome, it is as Polly Toynbee rightly says, too late. Whilst I thought Cameron’s budget response to be a rather empty exercise in rhetorical grandstanding, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Animal last attended a university debating club, one of his attacks ought to stick, although not really as Cameron meant it. Criticising the level of the budget deficit and the PBR, he rehearsed the old line about Labour ‘not fixing the roof while the sun was shining’. (more…)

March 25, 2009

European Left Watch: Macedonian Misery

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

The first European national elections of 2009 took place over the weekend, with Macedonia going to the polls on Sunday in the first round of its Presidential elections, choosing a replacement to outgoing incumbent Branko Crvenkovski. Crvenkovski, who had been Macedonia’s first post-independence Prime Minister before becoming President (in 2004), is from the Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija (SDSM), Macedonia’s Socialist International member party.

Following on from the SDSM losing parliamentary power in a general election of June 2008, it appears that the party’s run of bad form has continued, with the party’s nominee, Ljubomir Frčkoski trailing in a poor second, with 19.81% of the vote,  to the centre-right Gjorgje Ivanov’s (of the wonderfully named Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) 33.95%. (more…)

December 3, 2008

European Left Watch: Neck and neck in Romania

the world's largest administrative building

The Romanian Parliament: the world's largest administrative building

What will almost certainly be the EU’s last legislative election of 2008 took place on Sunday in Romania (the first since accession to the EU), with the results finally being announced late yesterday. Not that the results shed much light on the likely make-up of the country’s next government.

Romania is pretty unique in having a bicameral parliament where both houses (The Senate and The Chamber of Deputies) are elected on the same day in their entirety, using exactly the same electoral system. The system in use, closed list proportional representation should, in theory, produce a highly proportional outcome, although it has not on this instance prevented the party that came narrowly second in terms of vote share from coming narrowly first in terms of seats.

Over the past four years Romania has experienced relatively turbulent politics, following an inconclusive outcome from the 2004 elections. Following these elections, a broadly centre-right coalition government was formed of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Liberal Party(PDL), the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) and the Conservative Party (PC). To form a narrow parliamentary majority, the modestly named ‘Justice and Truth Alliance’ government, (more…)

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