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May’s Prime Ministership will be forever defined by Brexit. It is now her fate, destiny and the task that will be her legacy: and it will send her to the top or the bottom of the Prime Minister rankings.

On 20th December, just before Christmas, we got perhaps the most information yet when the Prime Minister made her first appearance before the House of Commons Liaison Committee-read it here and see it here. Overall, the session seemed to veer between ambiguity, wait-and-see and vagueness with immigration the site of a very tense encounter with Yvette Cooper (see Q48-56). So what did we learn? There will be speech in January and a plan published at some point soon but what did the appearance itself tell us?

  1. May still thinks secrecy is the best policy

Despite all that has happened since July, the government will still seek to keep their plans, priorities and intentions secret, or at least preserve as much secrecy time as possible. May’s answers were studded with phrases such as ‘I look forward to going into more detail about those early in the New Year’ and ‘when we feel that it is appropriate to give any indications of those details, we will do so’ and the wonderfully uninformative ‘you will see what we publish when we publish it, if I may put it like that’ and ‘negotiations are negotiations’. May’s secrecy could be habit or style or, as commentators such as David Allen Green have argued, is less about concealing positions from the EU 27 and more about managing domestic expectations and papering over deep divisions within her Cabinet.

  1. May wants government in charge

Again, despite all that has happened (and what could happen next) May seemed determined to make sure government was in charge-parliament can discuss but not decide. She announced that ‘it is my intention to ensure that Parliament has ample opportunity to comment on and discuss the aspects of the arrangements that we are putting in place’. This exchange showed the limits of what Westminster would be allowed to do:

Chair: Is it your intention that Parliament should vote on a final deal once it has been negotiated? This was a question put to you earlier.

Mrs May: It was a question put to me earlier, and what I have said is that it is my intention that Parliament should have every opportunity to consider these matters. What I am also clear about is ensuring that we actually deliver on the vote of the British people, which was a vote to leave the European Union.

Chair: Okay. Again, was that a yes or a no?

Mrs May: I gave the answer I gave, Chairman.

  1. Is May making some wiggle room?

The discussion was studded with ambiguities. There was mention of ‘practical changes’, ‘practical aspects’, ‘there may very well be practical issues that have to be addressed’ or ‘it’s a matter of practicality that we need to discuss with the European Union’ and the classic ‘these are matters of detail that would need to be looked into’.

  1. Is May a master of the detail?

Perhaps the point that should cause most concern is that May is not fully in charge of the detail. Towards the end of the session the Chair corrected what appeared to be an erroneous interpretation of article 50 by the Prime Minister.

Chair: But you didn’t completely rule out completing the negotiations within the negotiating period but applying an implementation date at some point after 2019. That is specifically provided for in the treaty—that is article 50(3)—and that is what I am seeking clarity on.

Mrs May: Article 50(3) is not about an implementation phase. It is about an extension of the period of negotiation.

Q97 Chair: Well, I think that is a matter of interpretation. Let’s just read it out. “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement”, so that date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement can be after 2019. Indeed, it is generally understood to be capable of that interpretation by most people who have looked at it. That is why I have been asking you this question. I just want clarity about that question.

Mrs May: Sorry, Chairman; in that case, I misunderstood the question you were asking me earlier, because I thought you were asking me about the reference at the end to the European Council agreeing with the member state that the period be extended.

Q98 Chair: That’s the negotiating period.

Mrs May: That’s the negotiating period, yes.

Q99 Chair: You did give a very clear answer to that question. I am asking you a different question, Prime Minister.

Mrs May: I would expect us, as I hope I tried to answer in the first place, to be able to negotiate a deal within the two-year period that is set out.

Chair: We are all agreed on that.

Mrs May: But it may be the case that there are some practical aspects which require a period of implementation thereafter. That is what we will need, not just for us but for businesses on the continent and others, but that has to be part of the negotiation that is taking place.

Q100 Chair: I quite understand, and that is what you said earlier. Just to clarify, you may therefore seek to use the discretion provided by article 50(3) to negotiate an implementation date after the end of the completion of the negotiations, even if the negotiating period is within the two-year framework.

Mrs May: We will discuss whether we need an implementation phase. The point at which the treaties cease to apply may be a different issue from whether or not you have got an implementation phase.

Perhaps the confusion was due to nerves, poor briefing or misunderstanding. This is the most charitable interpretation, though even that is rather worrying given that the Liaison committee is nothing as to the sort of pressure she will face behind closed doors and in the glare of the media as Brexit gets under way.

The fact that the Prime Minister appeared to look again at article 50 in her folder, after having misunderstood it, could tell us of a deeper problem. Remember Theresa May was to be the ‘introverted master of detail’ whose forensic skills would see us through, yet she appeared not to know off by heart the 261 words that will dominate Britain’s future-and misinterpreted them and ducked when challenged. This may be a blip or could be the shape of things to come.

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In the first of our occasional series, I speak with Professor Rob Singh about his book After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order. Rob looks back at Obama’s foreign policy successes on climate change and his wider failure to forge a new liberal order or create a clear Obama doctrine. He then reflects on what comes next, discussing the possible shape of Trump’s foreign policy amid the fact that we know almost nothing about him. Will Trumpism be just ‘America first’ or a more assertive, interventionist approach? And how will Trump deal with the famous 3 am phone call when it comes?

Listen to the podcast here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/meet-the-author-rob-singh-obama-and-trump

Read more about Rob’s book here.

 

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Here is Birkbeck’s Rob Singh on whether Trump’s win is good for the UK…

Silver lining, orange cloud

Only in the way it’s good for a Death Row inmate to receive a comforting swab before the syringe administering the lethal injection. The silver lining on the orange cloud is that a UK-US trade deal is marginally more likely, if Trump isn’t impeached or imprisoned before 2018/19. But its value will be diminished by the global recession Trump’s protectionism could induce, the potential shattering of NATO and trans-atlanticism (fuelled by the Vladimir Putin “bromance” and Jean-Claude Juncker’s Euro army), and fatally catastrophic crisis management from North Korea to Iran. Still, select UK beneficiaries include comedians, cartoonists, Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, estate agents selling to American asylum seekers, manufacturers of red power ties and anti-depressants, whoever first hits pay-dirt with That’s Why The (First) Lady is a Trump, and the Queen—eagerly anticipating a State Banquet (taco salad, burgers, diet coke).’

Robert Singh is a professor of politics at Birkbeck

Originally published in prospect here

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There’s a simple reply to this question, but unfortunately given the blind panic that many people are in, they are providing much more dubious answers. Indeed, I would say that the right answer is pretty much incontrovertible. Donald Trump won the Presidential election on Tuesday not because he won the popular vote, but because he won in the electoral college.

Now, before I’m accused of being a simpleton, let me acknowledge that there are of course reasons why he won in the electoral college, not least of which is the fact that there is an electoral college. But if we want to explain why he won in the electoral college, then we need to turn to three key states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Of these three, Michigan and Pennsylvania have voted for the Democrat candidate in the last six Presidential elections, and Wisconsin in the last seven. Between them they carry 46 electoral votes, which, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, would now see her as President-elect. These three states are part of the ‘rust belt’ and contain significant numbers of white working-class voters, the majority of whom have tended to vote Democrat in the past.

Approximately 13.1 million people cast votes for the two major party candidates in these states. While Michigan is yet to formally declare, it looks like Trump has won there by a margin of around 12,000 votes. In Wisconsin he won by around 27,000 and in Pennsylvania by just over 68,000. That means that had Clinton either persuaded around 54,000 people to switch their votes from Trump to her or motivated 107,000 people who didn’t vote at all to vote for her, then she would now be on the way to the White House.

This is peanuts. We don’t really need exit polls to tell us that out of over the 13 million voters in MiPeWi, there were significantly more than 54,000 people who voted for Obama last time round who voted for Trump this time round. And the reason is because we know why these people voted for Trump, or why ex-Obama voters didn’t vote at all. Not because, after voting for a black President in the two previous elections, they have suddenly become Klan-loving, immigrant-hating racists, but for the reasons they have stated clearly. They are fearful not of Mexican and Chinese people, but of a future that looks even worse than the immediate past: stagnating living standards, increasing automation putting people out of work, decrepit and dead public spaces, and a political and economic elite that does not care about them.

Donald Trump is a hateful person, who may yet do some horrific things to America and the world. The people who voted for him are probably wrong to think that he will make their lives better. But for liberals and the left, the penny needs to drop. Large numbers of Trump supporters really are deplorables. But there are very considerable numbers of them, as there are of people who supported Brexit, who are not deplorable but rightly concerned about their and their children’s future. We need to listen to them, and we need to offer them something beyond the false fixes of walls and rigged ‘free’ trade deals that only further enrich the rich.

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Among multiple quandaries unanticipated by the Leave campaign, the Brexit vote has left the UK in a peculiar position regarding the US. British politicians reliably depicted London as a ‘bridge’ between Washington and Brussels. Now that we are sawing off the European end, it leaves the UK even more dependent on the US to project global power – just when American attentions appear to be becoming more insular. Obama noted in April that a Leave vote would place the UK ‘at the back of the queue’ for a new US trade deal. Although he subsequently revised his initial formulation, it confirmed the relationship’s fundamental asymmetry, one that most Americans regard with little sentimentality.

What, then, can London anticipate from a Trump or Clinton administration?

Some aspects will remain unchanged: intelligence sharing, diplomatic and defence cooperation, and direct investment. Admittedly, UK credibility was weakened by the Helmand and Basra campaigns, shifty accounting to maintain our 2 percent of GDP commitment to defence, the botched aftermath of the Libya intervention, the Syria parliamentary vote, and reductions in the size and readiness of UK forces (as one American hawk pithily put it to me, ‘how many more tanks are you going to have if you leave the EU?’).

But even if transatlantic asymmetry now extends to Bruce Springsteen being able to fill Wembley Stadium while the British Army cannot, our stationing troops in Estonia and exploring closer defence ties with Germany are seen positively in Washington as evidence of still attempting to ‘punch above our (feather-) weight.’ While the EU army remains nascent and the UK retains its UN Security Council seat, London retains modest leverage – especially given shared security threats from ISIS to Russia.

But there seems minimal prospect for a renaissance of the Thatcher-Reagan or Blair-Clinton/Bush ‘golden’ eras.

First, although Trump and Clinton both profess Anglophilia, their translation into policy appears doubtful. Exactly what a Trump administration would do is close to unfathomable. But the two most consistent aspects of his world-view – the US is exploited on trade and security guarantees by allies and adversaries – cannot bode well. Viewing NATO as ‘obsolete’, admiring Putin, untroubled by nuclear proliferation, and keen to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, Trump’s protectionist and isolationist nationalism would likely plunge the US and global economies into turmoil when the UK at minimum requires stability and growth. Trump’s politics of retrenchment and resentment would compromise UK national and economic security.

But a Clinton victory would be no cause for euphoria. Like Obama – and her husband – before her, to the extent that ‘Europe’ figures high in her attentions, Hillary will regard Berlin, not London, as her key interlocutor. While instinctively internationalist and more invested in personal diplomacy than Obama, she is also pragmatic and more at the great power realist than liberal idealist end of Democratic divisions on global affairs. She does not want to see the EU fail, will be attentive to EU preferences and, if forced to choose between Merkel and May, will likely punt on the former. Moreover, domestic priorities – about which Democrats care most – and rival international matters from reviving the Asia ‘pivot’ to Middle East crisis management will crowd out any urgency to assisting a ‘littler England’ (affection for David Miliband notwithstanding).

Second, the domestic politics of foreign policy remains toxic. The dysfunction of US politics will surely deepen. With Trump and Clinton the most disliked candidates in history, the next president will likely assume office as the most unpopular ever, half the nation seeing not an opponent, but an enemy. Assuming Trump’s epic loser status is confirmed, amid claims of a rigged election, partisan polarization will worsen and the president appear illegitimate to millions. With Republican Party obstructionism tempered only by civil war, a progressive left unwilling to cut Clinton the slack it offered Obama, and a Trumpite rump insistent on outright opposition, the coming gridlock promises to make the past few years appear ones of tranquil harmony.

Third, trade politics are inhospitable for new deals. As her recent leaked speeches attest, Clinton is an instinctive free trader and trade remains a rare issue where bipartisan cooperation is conceivable in 2017-18. But the cynical exigencies that caused her to move from championing the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the ‘gold standard’ for deals as Secretary of State to pledging her opposition as presidential candidate will not dissipate, regardless of who wins the House of Representatives and Senate.

To be clear, much as excitable obituaries of liberal internationalism seem premature, so we should not be too hasty about free trade’s demise. The recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs analysis, America in the Age of Uncertainty, found robust majority support. Moreover, Democrats express greater favourability than Republicans, with only core Trump supporters in opposition.

But Clinton needs organised labour, not least in the 2018 midterms, when 25 Senate Democrats will up for re-election (compared to the Republicans’ 8). Expending limited political capital to revive TPP, TTIP or push a UK-US deal is unlikely to attract either the Elizabeth Warren-type activist base or – for Republicans – the Trumpite ‘deplorables’ who participate in party primaries.

Finally, any trade deal requires Senate ratification, something – unlike the Iran nuclear deal – there is no way around. Even bilateral deals with relatively ‘unproblematic’ states such as South Korea have required years of laborious effort, often being signed by one administration before ratification under a successor.

An inveterate optimist (call him Liam Fox) might reasonably see a ‘small’ UK deal as a better bet than a ‘mega-deal.’ And there remains real empathy for the UK among Republican and, to a lesser degree, Democratic elites. But London lacks institutionalised leverage in Congress. In an increasingly transactional environment, the UK should be actively planning now for how to exert influence not only on the next administration but also in the House and Senate, and among contenders for the 2020 presidential demolition derby. But after decades of sending civil servants on EU training courses and abolishing even the one course dealing with the US, the British bureaucracy now lacks an institutional sense of how Washington works, even in the abstract.

In sum, Obama will likely be proven more right than wrong about the UK’s place in the queue. Even for those Brits who still prefer their cowboys more Clint Eastwood than Brokeback Mountain, America is not about to round up a posse to ride to the rescue of a distressed British damsel just yet.

Rob Singh is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Originally posted here

Pundits and pollsters sit stunned as Donald J. Trump gets set to enter the White House. For anyone in Britain, there is a sharp tang of déjà vu in the air: this feels like the Brexit vote all over again. Eric Kaufmann explains that, as with Brexit, there’s little evidence that the vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances.

For months, commentators have flocked to diagnose the ills that have supposedly propelled Trump’s support, from the Republican primaries until now. As in Britain, many have settled on a ‘left behind’ narrative – that it is the poor white working-class losers from globalization that have put Trump over the top. Only a few clairvoyants – Michael Lind, Jonathan Haidt – have seen through the stereotypes.

But, as in Britain, there’s precious little evidence this vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances. Let’s look at Trump voting among white Americans from a Birkbeck College/Policy Exchange/YouGov survey I commissioned in late August. Look at the horizontal axis running along the bottom of figure 1. In the graph I have controlled for age, education and gender, with errors clustered on states. The average white American support for Trump on a 0-10 scale in the survey is 4.29.

You can see the two Trump support lines are higher among those at the highest end of the income scale (4) than the lowest (1). This is not, however, statistically significant. What is significant is the gap between the red and blue lines. A full two points in Trump support around a mean of 4.29. This huge spread reflects the difference between two groups of people giving different answers to a highly innocuous question: ‘Is it more important for a child to be considerate or well-mannered?’ The answers sound almost identical, but social psychologists know that ‘considerate’ taps other-directed emotions while ‘well-mannered’ is about respect for authority.

People’s answer to this question matters for Trump support because it taps into a cultural worldview sometimes known as Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Rather than RWA, which is a loaded term, I would prefer to characterise this as the difference between those who prefer order and those who seek novelty. Social psychologist Karen Stenner presciently wrote that diversity and difference tends to alarm right-wing authoritarians, who seek order and stability. This, and not class, is what cuts the electoral pie in many western countries these days. Income and material circumstances, as a recent review of research on immigration attitudes suggests, is not especially important for understanding right-wing populism.

Figure 1.

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Now look at the same graph in figure 2 with exactly the same questions and controls, fielded on the same day, in Britain. The only difference is that we are substituting people’s reported Brexit vote for Trump support. This time the income slope runs the other way, with poorer White British respondents more likely to be Brexiteers than the wealthy. But income is, once again, not statistically significant. What counts is the same chasm between people who answered that it was important for children to be well-mannered or considerate. In the case of Brexit vote among White Britons, this represents a 25-point difference around a mean of 45.8 per cent (the survey undersamples Brexiteers but this does not affect this kind of analysis). When it comes to Brexit or Trump, think successful plumber, not starving artist or temporary lecturer.

Figure 2.

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Some might say that even though these populist voters aren’t poor, they really, actually, surely, naturally, are concerned about their economic welfare. Well, let’s take a look at the top concerns of Trump voters in figure 3. I’ve plotted the issues where there are the biggest differences between Trump supporters and detractors on the left-hand side. We can start with inequality. Is this REALLY the driving force behind the Trump vote – all that talk about unemployment, opioid addiction and suicide? Hardly. Nearly 40 per cent of those who gave Trump 0 out of 10 (blue bar) said inequality was the #1 issue facing America. Among folks rating the Donald 10 out of 10, only 4 per cent agreed. That’s a tenfold difference. Now look at immigration: top issue for 25 per cent of white Trump backers but hardly even registering among Trump detractors. Compared to immigration, even the gap between those concerned about terrorism, around 2:1, is not very striking.

Figure 3.

3For Brexit vote, shown in figure 4, the story is much the same, with a few wrinkles. The gap on immigration and inequality is enormous. The one difference is on ‘the economy in general,’ which Trump supporters worry about more than Brexiteers. This could be because in the graph above I am comparing extreme Trump backers with extreme detractors whereas the Brexit-Bremain numbers include all voters. Still, what jumps out is how much more important immigration is for populist voters than inequality.

Figure 4.

4Why is Trump, Brexit, Höfer, Le Pen and Wilders happening now? Immigration and ethnic change. This is unsettling that portion of the white electorate that prefers cultural order over change.

The US was about 90 percent white in 1960, is 63 percent white today and over half of American babies are now from ethnic minorities. Most white Americans already think they are in the minority, and many are beginning to vote in a more ethnopolitical way. The last time the share of foreign born in America reached current levels, immigration restrictionist sentiment was off the charts and the Ku Klux Klan had 6 million members – mainly in northern states concerned about Catholic immigration.

Ethnic change can happen nationally or locally, and it matters in both Britain and America. Figure 5, which includes a series of demographic and area controls, looks at the rate of Latino increase in a white American survey respondent’s ZIP code (average population around 30,000 in this data). The share of white Americans rating Trump 10 out of 10 rises from just over 25 percent in locales with no ethnic change to almost 70 percent in places with a 30-point increase in Latino population.

The town of Arcadia in Wisconsin – fittingly a state that has flipped to Trump – profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, shows what can happen. Thomas Vicino has chronicled the phenomenon in other towns, such as Farmer’s Branch, Texas or Carpentersville, Illinois. There are very few ZIP codes that have seen change on this scale, hence the small sample and wide error bars toward the right. Still, this confirms what virtually all the academic research shows: rapid ethnic change leads to an increase in anti-immigration sentiment and populism, even if this subsequently fades. The news also spreads and can shape the wider climate of public opinion, even in places untouched by immigration.

Figure 5.

5Now let’s look in figure 6 at Brexit, and how White British voters in wards with fast East European growth in the 2000s voted. With similar controls, it’s the same story: when we control for the level of minorities in a ward, local ethnic change is linked with a much higher rate of Brexit voting. From under 40 percent in places with no ethnic change to over 60 percent voting Brexit in the fastest changing areas. Think Boston in Lincolnshire, which had the strongest Brexit vote in the country and where the share of East Europeans jumped from essentially zero in 2001 to the highest in the country by 2011.

Figure 6.

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The Trump and Brexit votes are the opening shots which define a new political era in which the values divide between voters – especially among whites – is the main axis of politics. In a period of rapid ethnic change, this cleavage separates those who prefer cultural continuity and order from novelty-seekers open to diversity. Policymakers and pundits should face this instead of imagining that old remedies – schools, hospitals, jobs – will put the populist genie back in the bottle.

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 About the Author

_mg_4397Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is author of The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America: the decline of dominant ethnicity in the United States. His latest publication is a Demos report, freely available, entitled Changing Places: the White British response to ethnic change

Orginally posted here

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Edwin Bacon

Last week I had the privilege of talking to Birkbeck’s new undergraduate politics students. These guys are serious about politics. Serious enough to take on debt, move house, give up their evenings, and so on, to study politics. Serious enough to know what’s going on in the world. When I asked how many of them knew that there had been a parliamentary election in Russia a week or so ago, I would say that about a quarter raised their hands. When I asked how many of them knew who had won the election, more than half raised their hands. So, if even people who didn’t know there was an election, knew that Putin’s party had won it, what was the point of Russia’s parliamentary election?

Russia’s Electoral System

The Duma (lower house of parliament) has 450 seats. For this election, 225 deputies were  chosen under a party list system, with all parties getting over 5% of the nationwide party list vote receiving a corresponding proportion of the 225 seats. The other 225 seats were allocated in constituencies, under a first-past-the-post system. There is no connection between votes cast for the party list and votes cast for the constituency candidates.

Fourteen parties took part in the elections. The four listed in Table One gained sufficient votes to share 448 of the seats. The other two were won in constituencies by a couple of minor parties (‘Motherland’ and ‘Civic Platform’). For details of all the parties and the electoral process, see this pre-election briefing from the European Parliament.

Table One. Results of Russia’s Duma Election, 18 September 2016 (showing only those parties passing the 5% threshold for seats under the proportional representation half of the ballot).

Party PR share % PR seats Single Seats Total Seats % Total Seats
United Russia 54 140 203 343 76
CPRF 13 35 7 42 9
LDPR 13 34 5 39 9
A Just Russia 6 16 7 23 5

The unchanging state of Russia’s elections

Adam Przeworski wrote in 1991, the year that the Soviet Union collapsed, that ‘democracy is a system in which parties lose elections’. That’s a pretty good definition.

A couple of years after the Soviet collapse, I was an official election observer at Russia’s first post-Soviet general election. I was in the city of Kursk, in the bitter December cold, with a British MP. We were miffed to discover that we’d scarcely had time to file our report before the leader of the UK observer mission announced the elections ‘free and fair’. It was always clear that the findings of that observer mission would be positive, as there was widespread enthusiasm for the notion that Russia had joined the democratic camp of countries.

The surprise ‘winner’ in terms of the party-list popular vote in 1993 was the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his so-called ‘Liberal Democratic Party of Russia’  – though the presidential constitution and the mixed ‘party-list and constistuencies’ electoral system meant that he won only notoriety, not power, and his party came second behind the pro-presidential party in terms of numbers of seats. In third place came the Communist Party, just a few seats behind Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party. The Communist leader was Gennady Zyuganov.

What have these reminiscences of 1993 got to do with the Duma elections of 2016?

Simply this. If you had told me then that 23 years later the president’s party of power would still be coming first in elections with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Communist Party finishing almost neck and neck in second and third place, I would have concluded that Russian democracy had spent nearly a quarter of a century becoming moribund.

If you had further told me that 23 years later the seemingly ageless Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Gennady Zyuganov would still be leading their parties, I might have concluded that Russian democracy was not moribund, but dead.

Would I have been right?

There certainly is a sense in which little changes in the Duma elections.  In last month’s elections, the president’s party – United Russia – won. Just as in the previous two elections (2007 and 2011), only the same four parties gained any real presence in the parliament (United Russia, the Communist Party, the misnamed right-wing nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and the regime-friendly left-ish party ‘A Just Russia’). As usual, Chechnya voted 96% for the president’s party. As usual, United Russia drew up a list of candidates headed by ‘big names’ who had no intention of taking up their seats.

The ever-changing Russian electoral system

But let’s not say that nothing changes.  After all, Russia’s elections are in constant flux. Every election brings multiple rule-changes, new procedures, new refinements to make things run better. Or at least to makes things run in a regime-friendly way.

The term of office for the deputies elected in 1993 was two years. After that elections went to a four year cycle, the same as the presidential term. Until 2011 when parliamentary elections changed to every five years, and the presidential term to six years. So 2016’s parliamentary plebiscite was Russia’s first ‘mid-term’ election, with the next presidential vote due in 2018. Though the discrepancy in term lengths means that mid-terms will not continue to be the norm, as in another 20 years both presidential and parliamentary elections will take place together – if we make the unlikely assumption that the electoral rules will not be changed again in the meantime.

What else changed this time round? For the first time in the post-Soviet era, the elections were not held on a Sunday in December, but on a Sunday in September. Low turn-out has already led to the suggestion that next time round, parliament will be elected in April, on a weekday.

As for the electoral system itself, between 1993 and 2003 the 450 seats in the Duma were filled by a half single-mandate, half proportional combination. That changed in 2007 and 2011 to an entirely proportional, party-list vote in order ‘to strengthen Russia’s party system’, since independents won more than 100 seats in 2003.

Now, having established a stable group of ‘parliamentary parties’, the electoral system has reverted back to the previous 50:50 mix. This has had beneficial results for the ruling regime. United Russia won 60% of its seats from the single-mandate constituencies.

The revival of single-mandate constituencies also gives structure to the ruling ‘power vertical’, that is, the connections by which the Kremlin sees its authority carried across Russia’s vast territory.  None of the opposition parties has a concentration of support anywhere, as the few constituencies that they won are spread out. For example, there is one seat each in Moscow and St Petersburg for both the Communists and ‘A Just Russia’. The degree of local control in particular regions can also be seen by the clustering of continuing deputies. There are no new United Russia deputies at all in Tatarstan’s constituencies, ditto in Tversk, and almost all deputies in the Voronezh region remained in place.

Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) made mention of Voronezh when she talked about several examples of electoral malpractice that came to light. It is possible to spend a fascinating half hour or so watching such examples on Youtube, thanks to Russia’s practice of having live webcams in all polling booths and using transparent plastic ballot boxes. It is less possible, however, to be sure of the extent to which electoral fraud shaped the final results. Pamfilova bemoans the fact that the CEC headquarters cannot remove CEC regional heads, as this is in the remit of the governors.

 What do the numbers tell us?

Apart from the results themselves, the two stand-out numbers from the Duma election relate to turnout and turnover.

  • The 48% turnout represents the lowest in post-Soviet Russia’s national elections. Turnout was especially low in big cities, notably Moscow and St Petersburg. Such low turnout reflects well a lacklustre campaign, where few people doubted the identity of the eventual winners. If the result is so predictable, then why bother voting?
  • A remarkable 49% of the deputies elected to Russia’s Duma on 18 September are new to parliament. For half of all members of parliament to be new to the role means that there are plenty of fresh faces coming into Russian politics. The figure is higher still if we consider only the president’s party, United Russia, which has 204 new deputies, 60% of its cohort.

A notable trend in Russian politics over the past few months has been the renewal of the presidential cadre, with some well-known, long-standing associaties of President Putin moved out of their positions. In their place come younger people, who are more clearly protégées, rather then colleagues. Previous practice shows that the parliament serves as a talent pool for the president’s team. Even though far from all of the new United Russia deputies are young – their average age is 51 – there are still more than 80 new deputies in their 30s and 40s. These represent the coming generation of Russian politicians.

 So why bother?

Let us return to the question with which we started. If the campaign is lacklustre, the turnout low, and the result entirely predictable, what is the point of Russia’s parliamentary election?

First, from the point of view of the regime, elections serve as a legimating mechanism. I mean here legitimation in the political science sense, rather than in the vernacular sense that implies approving of the electoral process and its results as legitimate. All regimes, of whatever stripe, employ some mode of legitimation – be that popular vote, ideological justification, or ‘social contract’ based on the provision of economic goods or national security. Those who govern Russia have chosen democracy as their legitimation. Russia has a democratic constitution, and its rulers are scrupulous about sticking to its fundamental provisions, holding elections accordingly, and ensuring that these elections are multi-party in nature. One can criticise the way in which elections are managed in order to protect those in power – the regular rule changes, the blind eye turned to electoral manipulation, the media bias, the various forms of political control, the judicial means employed to restrict candidates, and so on – but from the regime’s point of view it is essential for reasons of legitimacy that elections are seen to be held. It is just that, contravening Adam Przeworski’s definition of democracy, United Russia does not lose elections.

If the purpose of the elections for the regime is clear, why do opposition parties play along? Surely they could threaten that unless the electoral playing field is levelled, they will refuse to play their part in legimating the ruling regime? Although such action is sometimes threatened when the regime is deemed to have committed particularly egregious electoral violations , the opposition parties do take part.

For those parties that get into parliament, there are obvious material rewards for the deputies and a comparatively exalted position within national political life for the parties themselves. But these parties, although capable of sharp criticism of the Putin regime at times, tend to work with it in parliament.  A revealing meeting of party leaders with President Putin, shortly after the election results were announced, had all present agreeing on the need for stability. Stability? What sort of opposition wants so little to change?

Zyuganov, the Communist leader, complained about there being too many parties in the election, and then lobbied Putin for positions for some of his party colleagues who failed to get elected. Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia asked that the chairmanship of a key parliamentary committee be given to someone from his party. That he was asking the president for something that is theoretically in the gift of the parliament is indicative of the control of the executive over the legislature, and the position of the regime in relation to the parliamentary opposition.

If the advantages of the elections for the regime and the parliamentary opposition are clear, what on earth is in it for those smaller parties that don’t even get into parliament, such as the liberal opposition parties Yabloko and PARNAS? Analysts of Russian affairs often argue that one of the main reasons for the non-systemic liberal opposition not making a breakthrough is their inability to unite their efforts. They bicker amongst themselves, taking votes from one another rather than from their ideological opponents. To make such a criticism is to misunderstand why these parties enter the elections. They’re not stupid. They don’t take part to win, because they know that they won’t. Their aims are different.

First, taking part in the elections gives them a voice. During an election campaign, these parties get air-time, criticise the ruling party, and can try to get their voices across – albeit that the rather lively TV debates can be so cacophonous as to drown out much of what is said.

Second, campaigning serves as a training ground for aspirant political figures dissatisfied with how Russia is ruled.

Third, and most significant, they take part in order to stay in the game. The legitimating mechanism of the Russian political system is democracy. At some point in the future – who knows when? – there will be a state of flux and the question of who next rules Russia will become urgent. The constitution and established political practice are clear, the people’s vote decides who rules. In some future time of change, the democratic institutional structure that is Russia’s political system will stop being more form than substance.

Those who remember the Soviet collapse recall the way in which de jure institutions and institutional rules quickly became de facto, and mattered enormously in enabling that process and shaping its progress. It is to prepare for such a day that parties take part now in elections that the ruling party does not lose.

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We should always be careful when an adjective like ‘great’ is attached to a piece of law in Britain. The Great Reform Act of 1832 wasn’t that great and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 wasn’t very glorious and wasn’t a revolution.

Theresa May’s proposed Great Repeal Act of 2017 could join these misnamed changes. Its essential purpose is to take, in one heave, all EU law and turn it into UK law the instant we finally Brexit. One commentator described it as a huge legal cut and paste job. However, even this underwhelming cut and paste could cause all sorts of political and constitutional problems as this blog explains. So here’s six questions that might determine how the ‘Great Repeal’ goes:

  1. Will the House of Commons oppose it? It’s unlikely the Great Repeal Bill will be rejected outright (though it could be). More likely is that MPs could disrupt its progress and use procedure and process to slow it, question it and possibly amend it. There are around 500 MPs who are pro-EU and 100-150 or so confirmed Brexiters. May can whip it through (see 2) but those numbers, to me, spell trouble.
  1. Will Conservative MPs rebel? May has a majority of just 16 and many of her backbenches are unhappy and could use the bill to let the Prime Minister know. The ghost of John Major and Maastricht still stalks the backbenches. Remember, it wasn’t that Major lost votes but the constant media speculation that eroded his authority.
  1. Will the House of Lords oppose it? Again, it’s unlikely they’ll oppose it outright. But the House of Lords is estimated to be around 5-1 in favour of EU membership, is packed full of lawyers and sees itself as the guardian of constitutional and civil rights. And, of course, no one controls the timetable. It’s also not clear where the Salisbury convention stands here-the referendum was in a manifesto but was the result?
  1. Who will scrutinise it? There’s all sorts of time stealing options available. The law will have to be published in draft, lengthening the whole process. There is also a convention that constitutional issues can be debated by the whole chamber of one or both Houses and are normally given plenty of time (Scottish and Welsh devolution in the 1990s both had entire days dedicated to them).
  1. Will the devolved assemblies agree? Legally there’s little they can do but protest despite the (largely formal) need for legislative consent. Politically there could be far more trouble. May’s apparent overriding of Scotland will play well to her core (English) support already the SNP are making it look like London bullying Edinburgh again. And the apparent shift to hard Brexit again raises the question of the Northern Ireland border.
  1. What will the Bill come to symbolise? If the Bill is just admin then it may pass relatively simply. But some laws come to be symbols of failure or incompetence and represent far greater issues: think of the Dangerous Dogs Act, the Hunting Act or Human Rights Act. As the main chance for Parliament to be involved in Brexit, the passage of the law could become, by default, the battleground for a three way fight between hard Brexiters, soft Brexiters and Remainers.

The danger for May is that this ‘Great Repeal’ will steal her government’s time, energy and focus. The last three Conservative Prime Ministers were all destroyed by a potent combination of EU membership and an unhappy party. Could May’s Bill help make it four?

brexit-twitter-imageEric Kaufmann

A new survey shows most Britons are not willing to pursue hard Brexit if it will cost them personally.

Thus far, the economic indicators post-Brexit don’t look bad. Consumer spending and investment are holding up well, despite a lower pound. But if the going gets tough, there is a two-thirds majority willing to accept current levels of EU migration to retain access to the single market.

The leading motivation for Leave voters was reducing immigration while Remain voters prioritised the economy. This hasn’t changed. According to my YouGov/Birkbeck/Policy Exchange survey data, two-thirds of British people want less immigration, including 47 percent of Remainers and over 91 percent of Leavers.

Hard Brexit is a good way to bring numbers down. However, some suggest that when Theresa May triggers Article 50, the EU will drive a hard bargain, inflicting pain on the British economy. With economists claiming entry to the single market is worth 4 percent of GDP by 2030, I asked how much the average Briton is willing to sacrifice to reduce European immigration in the event the doomsayers are right. The final deal between Britain and the EU over leaving will hinge on how much economic pain, in the form of reduced market access, Britain is prepared to absorb to restrict European immigration.

The survey, carried out by the polling firm YouGov, asked a sample of over 1500 people the following question: “Roughly 185,000 more people entered Britain last year from the EU than went the other way. Imagine there was a cost to reduce the inflow. How much would you be willing to pay to reduce the number of Europeans entering Britain?” The options ranged from “pay nothing” for no reduction to paying 5 percent of personal income to reduce numbers to zero. Each percent of income foregone reduced the influx by 35,000. The results are shown in figure 1.

 

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Figure 1.

Source: YouGov survey, August 20, 2016.

Among those surveyed, and excluding those who didn’t know, 62 percent said they were unwilling to pay anything to reduce numbers, and would accept current levels of European immigration.

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Figure 2.

Source: YouGov survey, August 20, 2016.

As figure 2 shows, even among those who said they voted to leave the European Union, 30 percent reported they would prefer the current inflow of 185,000 to paying any of their income to cut the inflow. In other words, there is a significant ‘soft’ component within the Leave vote.

On the other hand, there is a considerable core of Brexit voters willing to tighten their belts to reduce migration: over a third of Leave voters indicated they would contribute 5 percent of their income to cut European migration to zero. More than half of Brexiteers are willing to pay at least 3 percent of their income to reduce European net migration from the current 185,000 to under 80,000. The average person who voted Conservative in the 2015 General Election is willing to stump up 2.5 percent of their pay packet to reduce European immigration to half its current level.

This means that if the costs of Brexit mount in line with pessimistic predictions, most British people favour a deal that preserves market access even if this results in only limited reductions in European immigration. May’s Conservative voters will put up with more pain, but not if it costs more than 2 percent of GDP. This suggests a deal between Theresa May and her EU interlocutors based on significant market access in exchange for limited migration controls may be acceptable to the 45 percent of voters who currently back her party. It certainly will pass muster with a majority of the electorate.

If the economy continues to hold steady, the question is moot and hard Brexit remains a strong option. But if pain is on the way after Article 50, Middle Britain will be inclined to prefer soft over hard Brexit.

Originally on the LSE policy and politics blog here

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Last week academics from the Department of Politics at Birkbeck debated the future of Brexit Britain. On 23rd of June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union. But who exactly voted to go and what did they vote for? And will they get the ‘leave’ they want or a mushy compromise?

The panel debated what happens next now we are under a new government, with Britain’s second female Prime Minister. Theresa May faces, perhaps, the glass cliff to end all glass cliffs with a vast array of complex tasks from when to trigger article 50 (sooner, later or never?) to keeping the United Kingdom together and facing down the electoral challenge of UKIP.

Discussion ranged across the prospects for complex trade negotiations (for which there may be no negotiators), the possibility of an early General Election (unlikely), the potential effects on Scotland and Northern Ireland and the big question of why did Britain (or a majority of parts of Britain) vote to leave.

So if you want to find out if and when we’ll leave the EU, why there are ‘gargantuan turf wars’ breaking out across government and if we could ever Brijoin the EU listen here:

http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2016/07/brexit-what-now-for-the-uk-and-eu/

See also our Brexit Briefing here, our blog as well as this House of Commons Library note ‘Brexit: What happens Next?’

Panellists: Dr David Styan; Dr Dermot Hodson; Dr Jason Edwards; Professor Eric Kaufmann; Jessica Smith