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February 06, 2018

Ciudadanos rising

As we have noted in the past, the quarterly polls by the Spanish sociological institute CIS serve as a useful bellwether of voting intentions because of their large sample sizes, and a broader accompanying sociological survey. The latest CIS poll is out, and it puts liberal party Ciudadanos at under 21% and in third place for the first time, ahead of Podemos with 19%, This confirms the trend seen in the rest of the polls, though it doesn't go as far as the three polls published in the month of January that put Ciudadanos in first place. The latest CIS poll is notable also for forecasting the lowest vote share for the ruling PP since the 2016 elections, though the party is still in first place with over 26% and a lead of about 3% ahead of the PSOE which is just over 23%. As for seats, CIS estimates that the PP would get just 105 in the 350-strong parliament, followed by the PSOE with 89, Ciudadanos with 71, and Podemos and allies with 59. Smaller regional and nationalist parties would have the remaining 24 seats together but, on these numbers, PP and Ciudadanos would have the slimmest of absolute majorities together. 

The consensus seems to be that Ciudadanos has benefitted from the Catalan separatist crisis of the last quarter of last year, and this is consistent with the dating of the start of Ciudadanos' latest rising trend. Unusually for Spain, the party has benefitted simultaneously in Catalonia (where it came first in the December snap regional election) and in the rest of the country. The Socialist party has been relatively flat since Pedro Sánchez became its leader last spring, which probably masks sizeable transfers of votes to it from Podemos, and away from it towards Ciudadanos. Ciudadanos is also taking a substantial amount of support away from the PP.

Ciudadanos' leader Albert Rivera consistently scores as the most respected political party leader, and the party is driving the public debate in Spain on a variety of topics. Apart from keeping the PP on its toes on Catalonia, Ciudadanos has also recently sparked a debate on the abolition of inheritance taxes. The PP is trying to compete with Ciudadanos by taking credit for the recent passing of a law improving the conditions for self-employed workers. The PP is also taking a tough stance against the drive by the opposition parties to get rid of permanent imprisonment for the most serious crimes. Ciudadanos, which also included the repeal of permanent imprisonment in their election platform, is now taking a more ambiguous position to court conservative voters. 

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February 06, 2018

Meet the rising star of Dutch populism

The Dutch will go to the polls for local elections in six weeks' time, a year after the last general election that lead to a debacle for the labour party PvdA and the first four-party coalition government in 40 years after over 200 days of negotiations. In this context, local elections can be a good test of the new political dynamics in the country. 

We note that the latest confrontation in the run-up to the local elections involves the left-liberal party D66 and the conservative eurosceptic party Forum for Democracy. Both parties stand to gain from their mutual spat. D66 is the only nominally left party in a governing coalition that has been dubbed "right and bible" as it includes the right-liberal VVD of PM Mark Rutte, the Christian Democratic CDA, and the smaller Christian Union. D66 may feel pressure to reinforce its progressive credentials, and it has gotten into a heated debate after deputy PM Kajsa Ollongren accused the Forum for Democracy of being racist. Now, Forum for Democracy (FvD) is a fringe party that only has two seats in the national parliament, so why is D66 picking on them? FvD is the brainchild of Thierry Baudet, who founded it as a think tank and spearheaded the drive for the ultimately successful consultative referendum in April 2016 against Dutch ratification of the EU/Ukraine association agreement. Baudet has now leveraged his success in the referendum into a party with growing membership and is increasingly in the limelight, more so than Geert Wilders, whose PVV party was shut out of coalition talks despite coming second and is now in internal strife in the run-up to the local elections.

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February 06, 2018

What to watch out for in British politics

We pity the plight of UK political commentators who love nothing more than secret backroom plots and backstabbing. There is a lot of that going on but, as we have observed, the plotting is mostly ineffective because Theresa May sits square in the middle of the Tory divisions. The threat of an imminent leadership contest seems to have passed.

But as Rachel Sylvester reminds us, another opportunity for the plotters may open up after the local elections on May 3, which will be heavily skewed towards the Metropolitan area of London and the big cities of the Midlands and the North. Sylvester says the Tories expect to be trounced in those elections - as a result of frustrations about Brexit. She quotes one MP predicting that the party will be completely wiped out in London and Birmingham, an event which will "probably precipitate something". The choice in words is cautious, but we cannot recall a situation in which a local election brought about a national leadership contest. Also consider that the Tories have been generally weak in the big cities in any case. And, even if there were a revolt, the fundamental issue would not go away. We do not see a leader willing to take on May, who is able to bridge the gap between the Tory Party's divided factions, in the final stages of the Brexit talks. The "dream team" of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg is clearly not of that category.

We cannot rule out a revolt in the month of May because politics is inherently unpredictable. A more likely scenario in our view remains a leadership challenge after the final ratification of the Article 50 agreement.

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