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August 01, 2019

Polls look good for Johnson, but raise difficult dilemmas

It is now becoming increasingly clear that Boris Johnson’s premiership constitutes the first big shift in British politics since the Brexit referendum. A few weeks ago the polls had four parties - Tories, Labour, LibDems, and Brexit Party - roughly at equal place. The latest YouGov poll has the Tories with an absolute majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons, on a vote share of 32% followed by Labour's 22%. What has shifted is that Johnson has deflated the Brexit Party. But be careful. The Brexit Party is a binary phenomenon. If Johnson delivers Brexit, Nigel Farage will disappear. If not, Johnson will. Johnson's current support is an upfront credit, based on the expectation that he will deliver Brexit. 

We noted a tweeter thread by Christopher Hope (@ChristopherHope) from the Daily Telegraph this morning, who reflected on the rumoured budget date - the week starting October 7. He sees a good chance that the budget might fail - an event that would invariably trigger a general election. So, why risk a budget defeat three weeks before Brexit, he asks. 

His answer is that Johnson wants to capitalise on his support, but without having to call elections himself. In the ensuing campaign, the Tories would fight on a Brexit delivery platform against a more confused Labour Party. Hope is wondering whether Cummings' plan is to collapse the government before Brexit on purpose.

We don’t think this plan is as clever as it sounds. If the government were to collapse before 31 October, elections would probably have to be held after October 31. We did the math on a September 4 confidence vote - and it only just works out to a possible election date of October 24. If an election is held after October 31, the government has two choices: ask for a mini-extension until after the election date, or deliver Brexit during the period when the parliament is dissolved - in the weeks before the election. Both strategies are risky. 

In the first scenario, Johnson would face the electorate shortly after having been forced to extend Brexit again. He would not have delivered on the goal. And if he extends only until after the day after the election, he would have to campaign on the basis a no-deal Brexit.

In the second scenario, he could claim to have delivered Brexit, but would face the risk of an election occurring at the worst possible time in the chaotic time right after a no-deal Brexit. There may even be civil unrest during that period. 

The political reality behind the polling numbers is that Johnson will need to deliver Brexit before the elections - something that may prove impossible. In that case, we would expect the polling numbers for the Tories and the Brexit Party go up and down like a yoyo. 

So what alternatives does Johnson have? One is to continue to build up no-deal expectations in August, and then to announce a break-through in negotiations with the EU in September, secure a majority in the Parliament for a deal, and hold elections afterwards.

The other strategy is to go for no deal and deliver it by force - by using all legal methods to ensure that the deadline sticks.

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August 01, 2019

A German death that has become political

Germans politics and the German media have real difficulty dealing with crimes committed by immigrants. The gut-level reflex in many media organisations is simply not to report them at all. But this strategy carries its own risks. The AfD this week managed to get itself back into the news after the horrific murder of an eight-year old boy in Frankfurt’s train station. The crime was committed by a man who emigrated from Eritrea to Switzerland. He was on the run from Switzerland.

The circumstances behind the murder raise important political issues for the Schengen area, which includes Switzerland. The Swiss authorities had issued an arrest warrant for the suspect for an unrelated incident. But the German police were not informed. The political issue is that immigration policy is national and so is policing, yet the Schengen area allows uncontrolled free movement. Switzerland is part of Schengen, but not part of EU-level police co-ordination, including the European arrest warrant. We have argued before that this is not a sustainable combination - as this case clearly demonstrates.

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August 01, 2019

A French death that has become political

The drowning of a young music fan is turning into a political affair in France. The tragic death raises questions of excessive police force. 

Last month Steve Maia Caniço disappeared after attending a techno music party on the banks of the Loire river. The police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd, causing some to fall into the river. Caniço did not know how to swim, and his body was found this week in the Loire. 

Steve's death sparked anger about police brutality after months of gilets jaunes protests that also caused the death of two innocent bystanders. Steve's death was confirmed this week and turned quickly into a political affair.

Édouard Philippe said this tragedy affects everyone and that the circumstances remain unclear. A first internal police report did not find any link between the police operations and Steve's disappearance. Philippe announced that he had requested a higher-level governmental investigation to understand how the event had been organised by local and state authorities. His government will be under pressure to show that they are proactive and not trying to hide anything.

The prosecutor in Nantes opened up a judiciary investigation on manslaughter to be led by two magistrate judges with broad investigative powers. An autopsy will be the first step of a long investigation to shed light on the circumstances of Steve's death.  

There is a wider social movement too, under the hashtag #JusticeforSteve. In different cities people came together to remember him, the innocent hero of the story.

Some opposition politicians used the momentum to call for a parliamentary inquiry and accused the government of failing to fully acknowledge instances of police brutality or even just mistakes. After the Benalla affair and the handling of the gilets jaunes protests, the government has every reason to see this case as having the potential to turn into a political crisis. 

This tragic incident could well set the scene for September when political life resumes to Paris with another round of protests.

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