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Posts tagged with: Labour

Two levels of compromise, and the current dysfunction of British party politics

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 20.11.51I’ve lost track of the number of times people have defended the British First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system with the argument that because the system generally produces a clear winner (a majority for one party), the system hence avoids the need for the complicated coalition negotiations and trade-offs necessary in systems where coalition governments are the norm.

This is correct as far as it goes, but it is only half the picture. A consequence of FPTP is that the major parties of centre left (Labour) and centre right (Conservative) are themselves coalitions of more points of view than their equivalent parties in other European countries. The compromise to make the UK governable is hence within the political parties, rather than in coalition negotiations after an election.

This in turn makes parties in systems where coalitions are the norm (Germany for example) narrower from an ideological point of view, and inclined to look both ways – towards the left and the right (unless of course your party is of the extreme left or extreme right), rather than the UK tendency that is always to look for the electoral middle ground. This in turn, in non-FPTP countries, contributes to the feeling that membership of a political party might actually mean something to the party members, and may help to explain Britain’s extraordinarily low party political membership (when compared to other EU countries).

Add onto this the additional complication of British politics, namely a coalition government for the first time since 1945, and British politics currently has a double whammy – a grubby compromise within each of the parties, and a grubby compromise between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

So much for FPTP being a good thing for British politics, eh?


How a Labour victory in 2015 makes the UK leaving the EU more likely

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.44.20Two separate conversations in Brussels this week, both with Brits, but with people of very different political persuasions, led me to the odd conclusion summed up by the title of this blog entry – Britain leaving the EU is more likely if Labour wins the UK general election in 2015 than if the Tories win it. Here’s why.

What happens if, against the odds, the Tories win a majority in 2015? This will have been achieved with a nominally pro-EU leader (either Cameron or a successor, but even a successor would be bound by the coalition until 2015), and to have managed to succeed in 2015 will return optimism to a more moderate view of Conservatism. The party will have committed to an In-Out EU referendum in 2017, will make some minor renegotiations with Brussels, and the referendum result will keep Britain in. Most of the Labour Party, in any case weak due to an election defeat, will also be arguing to keep Britain in, with a coalition of lefty unions and UKIP arguing the case for out.

What about Labour? The danger here starts perhaps 6 months before the 2015 election. While Ed Miliband has an anti-referendum position now, if the polls remain reasonably close prior to the 2015 election, will Labour really resist calling for such a vote and matching the Conservatives? In the end Labour wants a return to power, and while the party is nominally pro-EU, most of the party just doesn’t care much about the European Union. Win an election, or stick to a position on an EU referendum is no contest – the former wins.

Then what happens? If the Tories lose the 2015 election then they will replace their leader (if it’s still Cameron until 2015), or if it is someone else and that person survives the response will be to move towards UKIP – look at what has happened since the Eastleigh by election. At best the Tories in opposition would be split on the EU issue, at worst they could even end up with the leadership being in favour of the UK leaving the EU.

Labour in government will be lumbered with an EU referendum it did not really want, and will not fight it with gusto. If the party was worried enough about the polls prior to 2015 to call such a referendum, it is not going to be in a strong position in government from 2015 onwards. Furthermore, referendums fought early in a parliamentary term tend to be more likely to go the way the governing party wants. The longer the wait, the more likely a perverse result.

To put it another way: a weak Labour government facing a referendum in 2017 or 2018, with the Tories being more hardline on EU matters than they are now would be the worst possible combination of circumstances to ensure the UK stays in the EU.

Now of course all of this must still be considered unlikely. No party might win an overal majority, and might have to work with the nominally more pro-EU Lib Dems. Labour might hold its nerve and not demand a referendum, or it might campaign with gusto on the issue. A compelling pro-EU campaign might keep the UK in the EU in any case. But a Labour victory in 2015, with a commitment to hold a referendum made before the election, increases the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU through carelessness.


Another Labour MP has a go at the EU, and once more it’s disappointing

I suppose if you run Liberal Conspiracy you’re grateful for pieces from MPs and have to accept them. Today – via this tweet from Sunny Hundal – I read “We need to re-assess our approach to Europe” by Helen Goodman MP. This follows on from Douglas Alexander’s effort to re-assess Labour’s EU policy that didn’t impress me. Goodman’s effort is probably even worse.

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“The national interest” – the next term to reject in the EU framing fight

“It’s in Britain’s national interest to be in the EU” – it pains me how often we hear that phrase (or words that that effect) in speeches made by UK politicians about the EU. Yet we very seldom question its use.

The need to start to question it, for me at least, has been given new urgency by Douglas Alexander’s EU speech earlier this week (full text here) that mentions ‘national’ 9 times, and ‘democratic’ only once*. Alexander uses phrases like “those of us who see Britain’s national interest as best served within the European Union”.

But what does that actually mean? What is the national interest?

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Some reflections on coalition building (in light of UK and Finnish experience)

Something has been nagging at me since the True Finns’ election success on Sunday. I think it’s because I am struggling to answer this question: why must True Finns be brought into a governing coalition?

This question was brought into focus in a Twitter discussion with Mia Välimäki:
[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/mialeenasofia/status/60055951830556672"]

The essential gist is: True Finns ‘won’, the others (particularly the Centre Party) ‘lost’, and because Finland has a tradition of broad based coalitions the True Finns should of course be brought into the government. I’ll call this the winners criterion.

This is not too dissimilar to the debate last year in the UK – Labour ‘lost’, the Tories had ‘won’, and a Lab-Lib coalition would look like a government of losers, hence it was perceived to be a non-starter.

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How elected representatives could use the web to add context (an example for Claude Moraes MEP)

I saw this tweet earlier from Brian Duggan who works for EPLP in their London office:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/TheBrianDuggan/status/55944123059941376"]

I followed the link to the letters page of The Guardian, and this is what I get:

Your report on the conviction of John Sweeney should be essential reading for some of my colleagues in the European parliament who have consistently argued against the very programme that brought this murderer to justice (Report, 4 April). Last year the Guardian reported that the UK requested Eurojust’s help in more cases than any other EU country. Yet time and again, the Conservatives and Ukip in Brussels have refused to support the organisation, a body set up to help the police work more effectively with their colleagues in other EU countries. Perhaps they don’t see the link between abstract agreements in Brussels and the reality of fighting crime.

Claude Moraes MEP

Labour’s European spokesperson on justice and home affairs

The link on the Guardian site leads here, not exactly informative about the processes behind the case. So how about Moraes’s website? That has just a copy-paste of the letter. His briefings page contains no information about Eurojust or this issue more widely. The link to his Twitter account from his website is broken.

So what do I learn from all of this? Well it shows my MEP is at least active – he’s writing to the newspapers. But I don’t actually learn anything. How are the Tories and UKIP blocking Eurojust? Does Labour, the EPLP, PES or S&D group have a proper policy? How should Europe-wide judicial cooperation work? Not a clue.

Now I can understand why a letter to a newspaper has to be short, but surely the website or Twitter account of a politician should be just the place to add that extra context?


Miliband explains all the problems of the European left – now time for solutions

David Miliband set out his concerns about the predicament of the European left in a speech at LSE this evening. The full text of his speech is available at Labourlist here, and Next Left has a little post from earlier here.

As you would expect from the elder Miliband, the speech is full of references to thinkers in Labour’s past and a compassionate understanding of some of Europe’s main centre left parties. The headline fact is that at no time since World War I has the left not been in power in the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, and Miliband sums up the predicament this way:

Left parties are losing elections more comprehensively than ever before. They are losing from government and from opposition; they are losing in majoritarian systems and PR systems; just for good measure they are losing whatever position the party had on the Iraq war; and they are fragmenting at just the time the right is uniting.

It’s from this point on that it’s possible to examine Miliband’s words, and also try to propose some first hints of ways forward.

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