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June 11, 2019

Politics and the new sense of urgency

Climate and migration, are these the new vote catchers in European politics? The European elections saw the rise of green parties in several member countries. They were boosted by a young electorate looking for more radical political action than the tepid changes proposed by their governments. Behind their political mobilisation is a desire for change and a fear of an apocalyptic end of civilisation if politics continues as usual. 

On the other side of the spectrum are those who have the desire to be protected. There is a fear of a migration overrun and a society incapable to respond. As one gilet jaune summed it up:

"Nothing holds anymore, all collapse: family, nation, borders, local industries, parties, certainties about what is true or false, and of course the planet."

These two fears of climate and migration seem to divide the electorate according to age and location. The young and dynamic voters in the cities are more concerned about climate while in the countryside people hold on to territory, nation and frontiers and are thus more concerned about migration. The first group is preoccupied with the global place for living, the second group defends their way of living, as Le Figaro puts it. Under this classification the Brexit party would be just the English version of the second group of voters, targeting the EU instead of immigrants. 

Where does this sit in the current political landscape? And what does this mean for elections? We already saw the rise of populists on the far right, making it into government in Italy, Poland and Hungary. Next we are likely to see green parties getting ready to to lead national governments too, most likely starting in Germany. By comparison traditional left and right wing parties seem too slow to respond.

Of course, circumstances are different from nation to nation and voting systems are different too. The French electoral system with its two rounds of voting naturally favours two big parties that can mobilise a majority behind them in the second round. Until Emmanuel Macron won in 2017, Socialists or Les Républicains were quasi assured to win the second round. Now that the two are faltering and lingering with only 8% or 6% in the polls respectively, the political landscape is shaken up too. It is divided between Macron's centre opposing Marine Le Pen's far-right RN and trying to swallow the rising green EELV. Neither RN nor EELV are likely to win a second round presidential elections and since the system does not easily allow coalitions, this desire for change is likely to come up in a different form. Unless the electoral system changes, expect more more protests like the gilets jaunes, warns Jean-Marc Vittori.

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June 11, 2019

Ten little monkeys jumping up and down - down mostly

We never cease to be amazed how the media cannot spot very obvious contradictions in Brexit discussion. Take for example the position of the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, one of the better-placed candidates for the Tory leadership. He is the one who compared the EU with the Soviet Union and who mixed up Slovakia and Slovenia, and yet he is somehow seen as a serious candidate.

His position on Brexit is the following: the UK must deliver Brexit before the next elections; parliament will vote against No deal, so this off the table; hence he wants to renegotiate the deal with the EU. Readers of Eurointelligence probably have no difficulty spotting the weakness of the argument. And, if you happen to live in Brussels, you will probably want to tear your hair out.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, falls into the same category, except that he has fleshed out his unicorn renegotiation with a little more detail. Hunt and Hancock are essentially pursuing the same strategy as Theresa May - keeping the UK in an endless Brexit remorse loop.

We can whittle down the 10 Tory contestants to two positions that are at least internally consistent. On the soft Brexit side, there is Rory Stewart who recognises that the existing deal is unchangeable and who wants to cut a deal with Labour. We think this might just work. It would probably split the Tory party one more time, but at least it would deliver Brexit, and keep the Tories broadly anchored in the centre of politics. 

The other position is that of Dominic Raab, who is ready to prorogue the House of Commons to achieve Brexit.

Boris Johnson seems to fall in the camp of Raab - except that no one is really sure about this. All he said is that he wants to deliver Brexit by end October, but hasn’t told us how. Johnson is still the favourite, but this is going to be a long campaign.  

Our impression is that Tory activists have a more acute understanding of the issue than many commentators. We noted a  discussion between three heads of Conservative local constituency associations last night in one of the minor BBC channels. What struck us is that they were able to see through the renegotiation fairy tale. They also hadn’t made up their mind yet. They all liked Johnson, but for different reasons. And they all considered other candidates as well. Our impression right now is that Johnson is ahead of them all, and that Raab and Gove would also be favoured. Support for Hunt is relatively strong among MPs, but not so strong among Tory members.

We agree with Andrew Lilico, who writes in the Daily Telegraph that whoever is chosen as party leader, and by extension as prime minister, will end up facing a general election. We disagree with his and other commentators’ inference that it would only take three or so Tory MPs to secure a majority in a no-confidence vote. For starters, a vote of no confidence would trigger immediate elections. Even if you find ten Tory MPs who might be willing to lose their seats on a matter of principle, you may find that there are opposition MPs who do not - including the five remaining in Change UK and the six who recently defected from that party. Also, if the sole purpose is to get Brexit over the line, a vote of no confidence is the most likely scenario in which a prime minister might be tempted to use prorogation. In that situation the question of proroguing vs not proroguing is one between facing the electorate not having delivered Brexit, and facing the electorate right after a no-deal Brexit. Each alternative has its own risks, but we think that not delivering Brexit is politically more risky. 

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