Friday, June 9, 2017

Michael Ellman on the UK Elections

Professor Michael Ellman, of Amsterdam University and an old colleague, co-author and friend, appears to have become our resident phsephologist. He promptly sent me his valuable comments on the UK elections, authorising me to publish them as a Guest Post on this Blog, which I am delighted to do at once. Here is Michael's assessment on the day after (DMN).

(1) Theresa May took a gamble and lost. She was misled by opinion polls that showed a huge lead for her party before the election was called and also by the fact that a majority of Labour MPs had no confidence in Corbyn.

(2) Nevertheless, the Conservatives can form a new government and carry on. The Conservatives will be the biggest party in the new House of Commons and have almost half the total number of MPs. Together with one of the Northern Ireland parties (the Democratic Unionists) the Conservatives will have a (small) majority and will be able to push their legislation through Parliament (provided that their own party remains united).

(3) May's own personal position has been seriously undermined and she will not be able to last five years as Prime Minister. Some other senior figures in the Conservative party (such as Boris Johnson) will seek to take over. Even for her to last 12 months will be very difficult.

(4) The Conservatives got 42% of the vote. That shows that there is a solid block of the population (private sector, professionals, business people, the elderly) who back them.

(5) The Labour party got 40% of the vote. Thuis shows that there is a solid block of the population (students, public sector employees such as teachers and nurses, tenants facing high rents, low-income groups, minority ethnic groups) that opposes austerity and cuts to the public sector. Allowing for the 3% gained by the SNP (Scotttish National Party) which has a similar economic outlook to the Labour party, this shows that slightly more people voted againt austerity than supported it.

(6) Jeremy Corbyn ran a very successful campaign. That shows that in the UK and USA a candidate to the Left of orthodox opinion, such as Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn can enthuse a large part of the population, especially the young. (Turnout rose a couple of percent compared with the last election.)

(7) The decline of the SNP in Scotland and the improved showing there of Unionist parties, notably the Conservatives, make the break-up of the UK less likely.

(8) As far as Brexit is concerned, about half the population (supporters of Labour, SNP and the Liberal Democrats) voted for parties that would prefer a so-called soft Brexit (e.g. membership of the European Economic Area à la Norway) to the complete break that Theresa May seems heading for.

We live in interesting times.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Michael Ellman: An Update on Dutch Elections

I received the following Update on Dutch elections from Professor Michael Ellman (Amsterdam University) and I am delighted to publish it as a guest post:

Dutch politics have vanished from the headlines after the party of Wilders failed to become the biggest in the lower house of Parliament. However, up till now it has proved impossible to form a new coalition government. 

After some weeks of negotiating, the first attempt to do so has collapsed on  the issue of migration. The right wing parties (Rutte & his Christian Democratic friends) wanted strict control over non-EU migration. The Green-Left party (which did well in the recent elections) was against this. However, I expect that one way or another a coalition will be cobbled together (the public does not want new elections and regards it as the obligation of the politicians to overcome the difficulties). 

Even if it proves impossible to form a coalition with a majority in Parliament, it is always possible to form a government with a large number of seats but still a minority (considering the divisions among the opposition parties) but this is generally considered undesirable since it makes it very difficult to pursue coherent and consistent policies (if the opposition parties unite they can defeat any government proposal they do not like). A coalition with a majority is obviously much more desirable and has a reasonable chance of being realised after further inter-party negotiations. 

Prolonged inter-party negotiations after elections are normal in the Netherlands. They result from a proportional representation system without a threshold (such as 5%) and which therefore enables any party with more than 0.67% of the votes to get a member into the 150 seat lower house. This has the advantage that it enables all shades of opinion to be represented (for example, there is an animal rights party, and two Calvinist parties, amongst others in the lower house) but makes forming a majority government difficult. The strong position of the Wilders party and the Socialist party (both regarded as unacceptable coalition partners by the mainstream) obviously makes coalition-forming more difficult than usual.