Confessions of a Political Animal

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!

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November 25, 2008

European Left Watch: Austria – as you were

set to be Austria's social democratic Chancellor

Walter Faymann: set to be Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor

It has taken the best part of two months since Austria’s inconclusive Nationalrat elections, but the country at last seems on the verge of having a new government. ‘New’ is only a formally acurate description in this instance, however, as the party make-up of the coalition will be precisely the same as that which governed Austria (with very limited success) for the previous 18 months.

The two months since the elections at the end of September have been pretty tumultuous in Austrain politics. The election was called early following the breakdown of the grand coalition government of the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) and the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), with polls showing that very few Austrians wanted the continuation of this form of government, which had proved highly ineffective. Prior to the elections, the unpopular sitting SPÖ Chancellor announced he would not be remaining as party leader and Chancellor candidate, being replaced by Walter Faymann in both roles.

The elections themselves saw both major parties losing electoral support (results table in the last post) and the two populist, anti-immigration hard-right parties (the FPÖ and the BZÖ) gaining significantly, to a combined total of nearly 30% of the vote. This effectively left two options for (more…)

November 7, 2008

European Left Watch: Endgame in Slovenia

Borut Pahor, Slovenia's new Social Democrat Prime Minister

Borut Pahor, Slovenia's new Social Democrat Prime Minister

Just briefly posting to note the conclusion of that other election saga that has been gripping the world’s attention: Slovenia is about to have a new government. We reported back in September that the Slovenian Social Democrat partyhad narrowly emerged as the largest party in the Parliament following the general election, apparently ending the reign of the centre-right coalition led by Janez Jansa.

A mere seven weeks on from the results being declared, the negotiations for a new coalition have concluded, with a new government about to be formed by the expected coalition of the Social Democrats, two liberal parties (Zares and the Liberal Democrats) and the left-leaning Pensioner’s Party. The new coalition will hold 50 of the 90 seats in the National Assembly, providing a sizeable majority, and will be headed by Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor. Pahor will be confirmed as Prime Minister by the National Assembly tomorrow (yes – a parliament meeting on a Saturday apparently!).

Despite it being centre left-led, I wouldn’t expect anything too radical from the new government – (more…)

October 13, 2008

European Left Watch: Going Fourth in Lithuania

Outgoing (almost certainly) PM Gediminas Kirkilas

Outgoing (almost certainly) PM Gediminas Kirkilas

The results of the first round of Lithuania’s parliamentary election, held yesterday, make for unhappy reading for the centre-left. On first round vote shares, the nation’s Socialist International member Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija (Lithuanian Social Democratic Party), until now the senior partner in the nation’s governing coalition under Prime Minister Gediminias Kirkilas, looks set to sink to a deeply depressing fourth place, behind the main centre-right party Tėvynės sąjunga – Lietuvos krikscionys demokratai (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats).

In second and third place are two new parties which are being widely described as ‘populist’: the National Revival Party, formed by TV and pop personalities with 15.5% and the Order and Justice Party, founded by impeached former President Rolands Paksaswith 12.9%. Mr Paksas was formerly a member of the Homeland Union, prior to obtaining the dubious honour of being the first European head of state to be successfully impeached in 2004, for corrupt practices. He is currently forbidden from leaving Lithuania.

The other major left-leaning party, Darbo Partija (Labour Party), which was founded in 2003 and became the largest party in Parliament in 2004, looks set to fall to fifth place with around 9.2% of the vote. Labour had been in coalition with the Social Democrats until the election.

As is likely to be the case in every general election across the world for the next few years at least, the (more…)

September 29, 2008

European Left Watch: Still ahead in Austria, but will the SPO get to lead?

It’s Monday, so it must be the day after a European legislative election.

Austria went to the polls yesterday and, as the Animal (and the polls…) predicted, the social-democratic SPÖ emerged retaining its position as the largest party in the Nationalrat. The SPÖ’s leader, Walter Faymann, has claimed the right to the Chancellery. However, the big story of the night was the worrying surge of the hard-right at the expense of the two mainstream parties. The combined vote shares of the FPÖ and Jörg Haider’s BZÖ amounted to 29%, well in excess of the 25.6% achieved by the centre-right ÖVP, and only marginally short of the SPÖ’s 29.7%. This success appears to have been built on the back of a virulent campaign of anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric: the FPÖ’s neo-Nazi linked leader Heinz Strache went in for some particularly choice phrases, including describing burqa-wearing women as ‘female ninjas’.

As was widely expected, the elections, which were the result of the ÖVP walking out of their deadlocked grand coalition with the SPÖ appear to have done absolutely nothing to break the (more…)

September 26, 2008

European Left Watch: Is Austria’s decree nisi going to be denied?

Austria goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Nationalrat (National Council), almost two years to the day after it last did so. The 2006 elections produced electoral stalemate, with both main parties losing significant numbers of votes, but leaving the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) with a very narrow plurality of seats, regaining the position it had historically held until 2002. The results thankfully prevented a continuation of the coalition between the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) and the neo-fascist Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ) led by Jörg Haider. The inclusion of the far-right in government had led to a degree of international isolation, with diplomatic sanctions imposed against the country by the EU and Israel.

The only workable solution after the 2006 elections involved a return to the traditional SPÖ-ÖVP grand coalition, which had been a regular occurrence in post-war Austria. The government was led by SPÖ Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. On this occasion, however, the grand coalition has proved to be (more…)

September 22, 2008

European Left Watch: Breakthrough in Slovenia

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

In the early life of this blog, I promised to keep a watch on the electoral fortunes of Labour’s sister parties in Europe. And whilst it isn’t big (but is certainly beautiful), and the current incumbent of the White House isn’t quite sure about its identity, our first point of call is the republic of Slovenia, pop. 2.02 million and the richest of the former Yugoslav states.

Slovenia went to the polls yesterday in a parliamentary general election for the Drzavni zbor (National Assembly), with a turnout of 62.2%. Whilst the results are not yet official, at least in part due to the need to await overseas votes (these account for over 2.5% of the electorate and are expected by Wednesday), it seems highly likely that a coalition led by the Socialni demokrati(Social Democrats – in part a descendant of the Yugoslav Communist Party) will have narrowly defeated the incumbent centre-right coalition of Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The result is something of a surprise, as opinion polls as late as last week were giving a sizable lead to Jansa, despite corruption allegations, although the most recent polls suggested the race was tightening.

It now seems likely that Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor (currently an MEP) will become Prime Minister at the head of a three party coalition involving (more…)

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