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October 29, 2019

People's Vote descends into Civil War

We are generally cautious about making political predictions. Some of the firmer calls we made have been that Brexit will happen, and that there will be no second referendum. Events might still turn against us. But at least yesterday's events moved towards both of our central Brexit expectations. 

The second referendum campaign - or the People's Vote as they euphemistically call themselves - had a very bad day. The infighting that has been going on under the surface erupted into the open amid a classic power struggle. The so-call People's Vote is a coalition of nine organisations with different aims. One of the PV's ringleaders is Roland Rudd, the brother of Amber Rudd, and one of the leaders pro-Remain campaigners in 2016. He is the head of Open Britain, one of the organisations behind the PV campaign. He fired two people over the weekend: the head of communications and the campaign director. But they refused to go, challenging Rudd's right to dismiss them. They are backed by Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's former enforcer. There was a staff walk-out yesterday as the whole thing descended into chaos.

So, what is this about?

The two men dismissed by Rudd wanted to keep the PV campaign on the straight and narrow by focusing on the second referendum. Others want the PV to become a vehicle to revoke Brexit by whichever means possible. The split in the PV campaign is the counterpart of what is happening on the opposition benches in the UK parliament. The LibDems no longer back a second referendum, and have switched their strategy to full-on support for Brexit revocation. Labour's official position is to hold a second referendum after it negotiates a customs union deal with the EU. 

We noted a comment on Twitter yesterday that the PV is not really about Brexit but about its supporters' grip on power. It is the crowd that used to run the country. When they started to win their big political battles in the mid-to-late 1990s, they thought they had defeated the Thatcherite right forever. To them Brexit came as a complete shock for which they were ill-prepared in 2016. We noted at the time that they never reflected on the deep causes of their defeat, and moved on seamlessly to the second referendum campaign.

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October 29, 2019

CDU at odds on dealing with extreme parties

A debate started yesterday that we have to start familiarising ourselves with as the German political systems fragments. The elections in Thuringia produced a result that made it impossible for the four centrist parties - CDU, SPD, Greens and FDP - to form a coalition among themselves. There is also no majority for a coalition between the Left Party, SPD and Greens, which governed previously. The CDU's position so far has been to rule out categorically any coalitions with what it considers to be the two extreme parties - the AfD and the Left Party. The SPD has done the same on the national level, but not at the regional level in eastern Germany. The CDU in Thuringia is now considering the only viable option for a stable government in Thuringia - a minority government led by the Left Party, supported by the SPD and the Greens, and the CDU. The CDU yesterday did not formally change its previous policy, but rejected a call by some members to re-iterate the policy formally. The CDU leader in Thuringia is now ready to enter into talks with the Left Party - which we regard as a sign that the taboos in German politics are finally about to break.

With six mainstream parties - CDU/CSU, SPD, Greens, FDP, Left Party and AfD - it will not always be possible or desirable for a centrist coalition to emerge. We have been warning against the Weimar Republic scenario. There the centre, including the SPD, was co-opted into austerity policy leaving discontented voters with no choice but than to support extremist parties on the right and the left. 

If the CDU opens up to supporting a minority government of the Left, it will eventually do the same with the AfD. We are not there yet. And definitely not in the state of Thuringia, where the AfD is at its most extreme. But the time will come when the only governments that are politically feasible will include coalitions with the AfD. The experience in the Netherlands and Austria has been that far-right parties do less well as junior government partners than as opposition leaders. The AfD is Germany's leading opposition party, even though the Greens are now consistently polling ahead of the AfD.

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