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December 05, 2017

On the Labour Party's shift to the left

Rachel Sylvester offers some insights into the unprecedented extent of the Labour Party's shift to the left. Momentum, the group of Labour activists supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and which managed to mobilise support for his two leadership elections, is now on the verge of capturing its first local council in the north-London borough of Haringey. Moderate MPs face possible deselection because of Momentum's surge in strength all over the country. She quoted Peter Mandelson as saying that the impact of Momentum was much greater than that of the Militant Tendency, a trotskyist group which dominated the party's internal discussions in the 1980s. Sylvester notes that the left-wing takeover of the party proceeds with ruthless efficiency, and will drive many moderate MPs out of politics, or into a new party that might eventually exploit the gaping hole at the centre of British politics.

As the centre of gravity in the Labour Party is moving to the Left, and that of the Tory Party to the right, the big question for British politics is whether a new party could manages to exploit the big vacuum at the political centre. We believe that this will happen eventually - also because of Brexit - but it will not happen in time to prevent Brexit. While Corbyn is populist and unprincipled on Brexit itself, we see no real chances that he will be willing, or able, to undo it. But a Corbyn victory at the next election would almost certain galvanise a political counter-movement that could unite moderate Labour and Tory MPs in a new political party. Buy the history of the 1980s would suggest caution. With Labour on the left and the Tories on the right a new party did emerge, the SDP, one that initially enjoyed a lot of support. But that political experiment ultimately failed to achieve the goals it set out - which was to end the two-party political system. Brexit is a bigger dimension, so it might succeed this time, but we should not treat this as a foregone conclusion. The far more likely scenario is that Brexit happens, and the Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next prime minister, and that the Tories either re-group, or split.

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December 05, 2017

Catalan separatists forecast to lose elections

Spain's sociological institute CIS released its Catalan regional election poll yesterday. It is well-known that vote projections are heavily dependent on assumptions ranging from demographic stratification to participation, but the CIS polls are generally considered bellwether polls because they have larger sample sizes than privately commissioned polls, and voter intention is embedded in a wider sociological survey. The question everyone is asking themselves is whether anything will change after the snap elections on December 21, called by Mariano Rajoy using exceptional powers to rein in the Catalan region government from straying outside the Spanish Constitution. The CIS answer is yes: separatists will fail to win the election in both votes and seats, and unionist liberal party Ciutadans is the most-voted party and is within the margin of error of the poll of winning by seats as well. This would be a sea change. 

The poll predicts that the vote share of the parties supporting the regional government dismissed by Rajoy (the republican left of Catalonia ERC, dismissed premier Carles Puigdemont's JxC, and the radical left CUP) would drop from 47.8% to 44%. In seats, they would drop from 72 (a majority in the 135-seat regional parliament) to 66-67, just short of a majority. The lack of proportionality is due to the fact that there are four provinces and Barcelona has an overwhelming share of the vote, and is underrepresented in seats. As the separatist parties are framing the election as yet another plebiscite on independence, this would be a definite loss. Stay tuned for an intensification of the narrative that the elections are not free and fair due to the intervention by Rajoy's government, to prepare the ground for election-day arguments that the defeat is meaningless.

The poll also predicts a dead heat for first place between ERC and Ciutadans. ERC is at 20.8% and 32 seats, while Ciutadans is at 22.5% and 31-32 seats. Ciutadans would win by votes but not by seats again due to the effect of the province of Barcelona. The unionist camp also includes PSC, the Catalan sister party of the PSOE, at 16% and 21 seats; and PP at 5.8% and 7 seats. They would get 44.3% together, beating the separatist camp but clearly within the margin of error. What is going on here is that the separatist camp was already fully mobilised, with participation rates close to 90%. But, prior to the events of September/October, the unionist camp was not mobilised. This is party because the idea that independence would actually be declared was not considered serious. But the unionists have been emboldened, and those who do not want independence will come out to vote at a higher rate than usual. Polls that ask about participation rates find well over 80% of voters way they will definitely vote. In the case of CIS it's 84% but we have seen as high as 87%. In the end, this may translate into participation rates around 80%, sufficient to ensure that the approximately 36% separatist voters are not nearly a majority.

The Podemos-aligned Comuns (Commons) holds the balance with 8.6% and 9 seats. They are not a separatist party officially though many in the unionist camp suspect their leaders of being closet separatists. But they do oppose the application by Rajoy of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to intervene the regional government. What this means is that we're looking at a truly hung parliament, where it will be hard to put together a majority. There is a left majority of 73 seats composed of ERC, PSC, Comuns and CUP. There is an anti-155 majority of ERC, JxC, Comuns and CUP. And there is a non-separatist majority of Ciutadans, PSC, Comuns and PP. But none of these four-party alliances are stable.

Polls that put Ciutadans on the brink of winning in both seats and votes may have one effect, and that is to draw tactical vote from PSC and PP outside the province of Barcelona, to try and ensure that Ciutadans clearly wins the election.

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