27 May 2019

Revolution at the ballot box

Over the last few days an election was held in Britain -- not for the country's actual government but for its allotted seats in the European Union parliament (elections were held in the other EU member countries as well).  Vote-counting is mostly done, and here is the percentage of the popular vote won by each party:

This is a political earthquake.  Labour and the Conservatives are the two traditional major parties, like our Democrats and Republicans, and the Conservative party is in power in the actual British government right now.  The Liberal Democrats are the long-standing third party, which usually gets a substantial share of the vote but much less than the big two.  The Brexit party is a single-issue party formed just a few weeks ago, which has barely had time to get organized, yet it won far more votes than the big two combined.  Add in the votes for UKIP (UK Independence Party, an older anti-EU party which I didn't realize was still around), and about 35% of the vote went to single-issue pro-Brexit forces which the mainstream media in Britain have relentlessly tried to marginalize and ridicule.  And the voters massively repudiated the political establishment, especially the party in power.

Perhaps the results aren't surprising.  It is almost three years since the original referendum in which the people voted to leave the EU (by a margin, please note, of four percentage points, twice as large in percentage terms as the margin by which Hillary won the popular vote here against Trump), and the country still does not have an agreed-upon plan or schedule for getting out.  I'm not really surprised that Prime Minister Teresa May and the Conservatives have bungled Brexit, because they never really supported it.  In Britain, as in other EU member states, both major parties have always been solidly pro-EU -- which is why people have to resort to voting for fringe figures like Nigel Farage, or more dangerous people in some other countries, to make their voices heard.  May was following the policy the voters decreed out of a sense of duty, not because she really believed in it.  The message now from the voters to the government is clear -- stop fiddle-faddling around and do what we damn well told you to do three years ago, or we'll replace you with someone who will, even if they're a bit nuts.

In the wake of her repeated failures to work out a viable exit plan, May announced her resignation last Friday.  The British system has no equivalent of our Vice President -- if a Prime Minister resigns in mid-term, the party in power chooses a new leader, who then becomes Prime Minister.  This will take some time, but the leading contender is Boris Johnson, the charismatic former mayor of London who, unlike most of his party, really does support Brexit and gets the message of this election.  (I've seen some American bloggers compare Johnson to Trump based on, as far as I can see, nothing but a slight physical resemblance; his actual record is that of a moderate conservative.  It's usually wrong-headed to try and understand the politics of another country via American analogies.)  If so, he's likely to take a far tougher line negotiating with the EU than May did.

In the three years since the referendum, the situation has not fundamentally changed.  The EU is still as corrupt and anti-democratic as ever, and still poses a threat to democracy throughout Europe by arrogating more and more power to itself and away from the genuinely democratic national governments -- I've been posting about this for years.  The Brexit-bashers still never address the real issues and show no sign of understanding the situation.  The imperative for the UK is simply to get out of the EU regardless of the details, to restore its independence and preserve its democracy, even if there is some short-term economic price (or even a high price) to be paid.  If we Americans were under the thumb of an organization as bullying and oligarchical as the EU, we would get out of it whatever the cost.

The EU's stance during the negotiations has been as hard-line as one would expect from the vindictive and bullying character of the people who run it, but faced with a tougher leader like Johnson, they will have an incentive to negotiate properly.  Britain is a huge export market for the main EU countries, and it could find replacement suppliers for what it imports much more easily than the EU could find new markets.  It's the main provider of financial services, and there's no credible alternative on the mainland.  The British navy and strategic nuclear forces will be vital to any credible pan-European deterrent against Russia in the future, as the US under Trump becomes a less reliable protector.  The EU oligarchy does not have the upper hand here, and frankly I hope Johnson makes them squeal like pigs.  They need to pay for the horrors their Republican-style austerity policies inflicted on southern Europe for years, if nothing else.

Frankly the British political establishment, too, has earned its "horsewhipping by the British people".  For decades now both major parties have ignored the public's concerns about issues like immigration and the EU -- they just bulldozed ahead with a consensus politics in favor of those things, and called people names if they objected.  In this they were abetted by the mainstream media, some of which still seems to be in deep denial about the new reality their own malfeasance has helped to create.

The situation has been similar in other European countries, with similar results in this election.  In France, for example, Marine Le Pen's National Front party won 23.3% of the vote to the ruling party's 22.4%.  In Italy the main nationalist party won 34.3%, while its coalition partner, Five Star, won 17% -- together, an absolute majority.  (Green parties also made major gains against mainstream parties, reflecting Europe's high level of awareness of the threat of global warming.)

One cannot assume, of course, that elections for actual national governments would produce the same results -- the EU elections are a chance to send a message without the risk of elevating fringe figures to actual national leadership (similarly, the EU election of 2014, in which UKIP won 26.6%, probably helped force the referendum two years later).  For most of these people are unfit for that role.  Farage holds rather crackpot views on several issues unrelated to Brexit, and France's National Front has a history of anti-Semitism.  Were it not for such factors, the nationalists would probably have won even bigger shares of the vote.  The British people don't want Farage to be Prime Minister.  They want the major parties to stop ignoring and insulting their concerns and carry out the popular will in a responsible manner, as representative government is supposed to do.  But their patience isn't inexhaustible.  Making Johnson Prime Minister and getting Brexit done, deal or no deal, is probably the political establishment's last chance.  If they go back to business as usual after this, they're doomed.

UpdateThey have assholes over there who are just as bad as our Trumpanzees (the light blue rosette on the man's shirt indicates he's a campaigner for the Brexit party).


Blogger Ami said...

I did some reading the other day about Brexit. It hasn't been something that's been important to me, but I realized I didn't know much about it. There's a lot of information out there, some shrill and divisive, some factual.

"The Brexit party is a single-issue party formed just a few weeks ago, which has barely had time to get organized, yet it won far more votes than the big two combined. "

That's amazing. I wonder if there's a lesson in there somewhere for our politicians. And if there is, are they listening?

27 May, 2019 12:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ami: Well, having taken the time to read up on it puts you way ahead of most Americans. Most of the Brexit-bashers I've seen writing about it (or commenting here) obviously don't know much and seem to be reacting to herd-think and the dishonest tendency of the media to refer to all anti-EU parties as "far right" (some are, some aren't).

The Brexit party did so well because it answered a deeply-felt need for a lot of frustrated people. And of course its easier to organize a new party in a small country than in a big one. But if somebody here did organize a new single-issue party and within weeks it was polling with more support than the Democrats and Republicans put together, you can bet everybody would start paying attention to whatever their single issue was.

27 May, 2019 14:18  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Well, Cheeto apparently also answered a deeply felt need for a lot of people and also seemed to come out of nowhere and was ill organized. The single issue for Cheeto is racism. What’s the Brexit party single issue then? EU’s corruption and power grabbing?


28 May, 2019 03:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

The post answers that question. Their single issue is Brexit -- restoring independence.

It's not so unusual for a single candidate to rise from obscurity and win after several months. For an entire party to win over 30% just a few weeks after being founded is unprecedented as far as I know.

28 May, 2019 06:29  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

To me it's interesting what happens politically in Europe, I see them as sort of related to us, although, as much as I viewed and read on this over there, I still get confused on political parties to this day. I'm too limited in thinking of our left right and how our politics worx too. But over several years been looking at it over there, because of all the signs of neoliberalism playing a bigger role in EU countries. But Thanx for the read ... I was catching up on this earlier from the link below ....


28 May, 2019 16:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: It can be difficult to follow. The political spectrum over there is different -- for one thing, their right wing isn't dominated by religious nuts like ours is. And a lot of the news coverage we get here is really misleading.

It was encouraging that the Greens did so well all over Europe, including in Britain. They too took big bites out of the mainstream parties' vote share. It reflects the fact that Europeans are generally pretty science-savvy, and very conscious of the threat of global warming.

28 May, 2019 18:54  
Anonymous NickM said...

A few points from this side of the pond... May's Tories got hammered as much for the utter chaos of the last three years as a deep desire or Brexit - a matter over which the country is very deeply split. Much the same can be said about Labour. Nobody here believes they have a coherent policy on the EU. So what has happened is people have abandoned them for the largest (and most sensible) parties which do have a coherent policy on the EU. Brexit for leavers and either the LibDems or Greens for remainers. Add up the LibDem + Green vote and you'll see how split we are.

What we have seen is very much a protest vote plus-ultra over this one, spectacularly important, issue which both Conservative and Labour clearly have no idea how to proceed on. The massive uptick for the Greens is interesting. I suspect very strongly this was because of their clear pro-EU stance much more than greater environmental concerns. Many of those votes would have gone to the LibDems but for the fact that they are still a tainted brand from their recent coalition with Dave Cameron's Tories. Having said that it does indicate that the Greens can no longer be considered a single-issue fringe. If Caroline Lucas and chums play their cards right the Greens could well become a major force in English & Welsh (not British the SNP have Scotland sewn up and Northern Ireland is a totally different ballgame) politics in much the same way the Greens are in Germany.

29 May, 2019 03:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: Well, it would really serve the major parties right to lose their dominance after the way they've bungled this issue (and immigration). It's hard to see the Brexit party replacing the Conservatives as the major party on the right, though -- I get the sense that they're basically a protest vote party and not perceived as able to actually govern. Maybe Johnson can bring the Conservatives back from the brink -- if they actually deliver Brexit.

As British blogger Neil Bamforth says here, the only way to overcome the polarization of Britain over Brexit is for Brexit to actually happen. Then and only then, after the inevitable initial turbulence has passed, it will finally be possible to see objectively which side was right about it. As he says, if it turns out Brexit really is a disaster and a consensus forms to that effect, the UK could even rejoin the EU. Needless to say, I don't expect that to happen.

29 May, 2019 18:16  
Anonymous NickM said...

There is no way the Brexit party even sees itself as a permanent fixture. It is there for one reason and a large part of their appesl is that clarity of purpose. A clarity on the biggest issue in the UK right now that TweedleLab and TweedleCon demonstrably lack.

I voted remain largely because I forsaw this mess. Not the details like the Irish Border but just that getting out of the EU was gonna be very difficult on anything like reasonable terms and if i'm 100% honest it's all I've ever known. More positively the UK isn't by any means the only EU country that feels the organisation has well over-reached itself and that means radical change was coming.

I think you're right that we're just gonna have to swallow the Brexit pill and see if it makes us sick.

30 May, 2019 01:26  
Blogger Jono said...

Thanks for the education.

30 May, 2019 17:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: The pill should cure the disease of subjugation to the EU, at least.

Jono: That's (part of) what I'm here for.....

30 May, 2019 19:39  

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