Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Britain’s ‘hold-your-nose’ election

LONDON — Luckily for Boris Johnson, the other guy looks even worse.

Despite consistently leading the polls, Conservative candidates and campaigners have found little love for the Tory leader while knocking on doors in some key battlegrounds ahead of the U.K.’s December election.

It would be an “understatement” to suggest Johnson is not going down well on the doorstep, one Tory candidate in a London seat said. “I think a lot of people are questioning whether they can trust him, there is also an element of, ‘Has he always told us the truth?’ There are some people who think his private life is something we should look at.”

But two weeks from polling day, even some Labour candidates privately believe the prime minister could win his long-desired majority. Johnson won’t be nudged over the line by a wave of mega fans, however, even according to some of his own party, but rather by voters who held their noses, judging Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn even less palatable.

The latest Ipsos Mori political monitor from November found 44 percent of voters “like” Boris Johnson, compared with 23 percent who “like” Corbyn. Corbyn’s likability ratings were the worst Ipsos MORI has seen for a leader of either of the two main parties since 2007.

The first-past-the-post system “forces people into making choices that they don’t like,” according to Chris Hanretty, a consultant at polling company Survation.

The divisive personalities of the current leaders of Britain’s main parties have brought to the surface long-running concerns about the U.K.’s electoral system, with some questioning whether it is time to rethink how democracy works in the country. The dilemma for voters is exaggerated too by Brexit, with the 2016 EU referendum splitting both the main parties along unfamiliar lines.

The U.K.’s first-past-the-post electoral system — in which voters choose one candidate in their constituency and the candidate with the most votes wins, disregarding all other votes — has left some fearing their ballot paper will be wasted in a winner-takes-all contest.

The system means an increasing number of voters could vote tactically and opt for their least-worst candidate among the two leading parties — in most cases the Conservatives or Labour — rather than risk voting for a smaller party whose policies they may actually support but whose candidates are unlikely to win seats. Voters who want their preferred Brexit outcome to take priority, for example, could end up backing a candidate whom they otherwise dislike.

The first-past-the-post system “forces people into making choices that they don’t like,” according to Chris Hanretty, a consultant at polling company Survation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn finds himself with even weaker likability ratings than Johnson | Darren Staples/Getty Images

There have long been calls for reform, and the 2019 election has heightened warnings the system could be “threatening democracy.”

“It needs a bit of courage from somebody to say that democracy is suffering, it is not legitimate,” said Willie Sullivan, senior director of the Electoral Reform Society, a pressure group pushing for a new voting system.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, who has set up a tactical voting website for voters who support remaining in the EU in this election, said it is “unfair” that a party could win 6 million votes and not be represented in parliament. “It is a mismatch between the polling booths and parliament,” she added.

Polls suggest about a third of voters now cast their vote based on a tactical choice, and Miller’s research suggests that figure is even higher, at 45 percent, among Remainers.

Better the devil you know

In pro-EU London, where Johnson’s stewardship of the Brexit referendum campaign has seen him go from popular two-term mayor to bogeyman, is a case in point.

The Tory candidate from London believes his seat may only be saved by voters facing even more unpopular alternatives. While many of his long-standing supporters seriously toyed with the idea of voting for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, they appear to have reconsidered, the candidate said.

“People understand tactical voting, they understand it is only going to be a Labour government that can stop Boris” — Labour candidate

Voters are questioning the impact Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson would be able to have — given it is almost impossible for her to win an outright majority — and are also uncomfortable with her policy to cancel Brexit and disregard the EU referendum result. “A lot of people think it is an anti-democratic thing to do,” the candidate said.

“A lot of them are pretty cross [with Boris Johnson] but at the same time, they are really very concerned about Mr. Corbyn. The [Conservative] vote is hardening up, but it has not been easy,” he said.

Elsewhere, antipathy toward Corbyn in the north of England — home of former Labour strongholds where the Tories need to make gains if they are to win a majority in parliament — is even more stark according to Robert Hayward, a polling expert and Conservative peer.

“It is fair to say that the white, working class dislike of Jeremy Corbyn is far stronger than anything I have experienced in the south. It is a completely different general election. [There is] no love of Boris but that almost doesn’t matter,” he said following a visit to the region last week.

“The anti-Jeremy Corbyn experience would indicate that the betting markets might just be right in pointing to serious Labour losses in the old mining and industrial areas,” he added.

But in Conservative Campaign Headquarters, strategists insist their candidate is popular. “People are positive about Boris, the whole message of get Brexit done has been going down well,” one official said.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson attend a debate in Cardiff on November 29, 2019 | Pool photo by Hannah McKay/Getty Images

Relying on tactics

If Corbyn is to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority, it will be at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, and because of tactical voting, according to one Labour candidate.

“People understand tactical voting, they understand it is only going to be a Labour government that can stop Boris,” he said.

The candidate admits he faces an uphill struggle, but hopes Corbyn’s performance in the televised debates could help people hold their nose in the other direction and vote Labour.

“We have had a lot of people who are saying ‘Look I want to vote for you, but I don’t know if I can,’ he said. “They have seen Corbyn [in the debates], and that he isn’t as bad they thought. I have to admit he didn’t lose his temper, seem short-tempered and angry.”

When directly asked about his personal ratings at a press conference this week, Corbyn insisted the election is about more than his leadership. “It’s about what our manifesto says, it’s about what all of our 637 Labour candidates are saying across the country,” he added.

“People don’t trust in politicians and if we don’t do something about it then our democracy is under threat” — Willie Sullivan, senior director of the Electoral Reform Society

Gina Miller is optimistic that pro-Remain voters will not ultimately hold their noses for the Conservatives, but for pro-Remain candidates, including from the Labour Party.

“None of the data we have shows that [the Conservatives] are going to get a landslide, or that people are going to hold their nose. [The Conservatives] are on a downward trajectory,” she said. This year’s election is following the pattern of Theresa May’s disastrous 2017 election when there was a big squeeze on the Tory vote in the last week of the campaign, depriving May of a majority, she thinks.

“The deficits of the first-past-the-post system can only be addressed through tactical voting. We don’t have time to change the system so therefore voters have to change their behavior,” she said.

“[Tactical voting] has been on the rise since the decline of these big two party blocks in British society and politics,” according to the Electoral Reform Society’s Sullivan. “As other parties have emerged you see people thinking they might want to vote for somebody else, or something different, but in an election are being forced to choose one or the other just because that is the way the electoral system works.”

Sullivan said more and more people are “gaming the system.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

“There is more and more consciousness of the symptoms [of the failed U.K. political system], but people are probably not entirely connecting it to the cause yet, because it is not obvious and a straight line.”

With the Tories and Labour both being rewarded by the system, Sullivan questions if reform will come anytime soon.

“People don’t trust in politicians and if we don’t do something about it then our democracy is under threat. You need to be big enough to say this is not just about party advantage, it is about saving democracy,” he added.

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A third of UK voters will cast ballots tactically: poll

LONDON — Almost a third of voters will mark their ballots tactically at the U.K. general election, a new poll suggests.

A survey for the Electoral Reform Society by polling firm BMG found 30 percent of the public said they would be “voting for the best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike” in the U.K.’s December 12 election.

That is up from 24 percent last week and around 22 percent nearer the start of the campaign. In the latest poll, seen by POLITICO, 51 percent said they would vote for “the candidate/party I most prefer, regardless of how likely they are to win,” and 19 percent said they did not know.

Pro-EU campaigners have set up numerous websites that claim to advise the public how to cast their vote if they want to stop Brexit — some of which offer contradictory advice.

The ERS, which argues the U.K. should abandon its first-past-the-post electoral system in favor of a more proportional system, said the poll findings “should sound alarm bells for our democracy.”

“Given the number of contradictory tactical voting recommendations out there, this election is looking like a lottery under Westminster’s broken voting system — one where we all lose,” said Darren Hughes, chief executive at the ERS. “It’s time for a voting system where you don’t have to second guess other voters but where seats match votes and these invidious decisions become a thing of the past.”

Other polls, however, which do not ask outright whether voters are planning to cast their ballots tactically, find around 10 percent of voters list it as a reason for backing their preferred party, which suggests asking the question directly could inflate support for the tactic.

Last month, Joe Twyman, director for polling firm Deltapoll, said the tactical voting sites “have the potential to make a small impact in a small number of constituencies.” He added: “In such a complicated multidimensional campaign, as we’re seeing at the moment, that small impact in a small number of seats could have an important role.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Sinn Féin: US intervention was a ‘game-changer’ in Brexit negotiations

DERRY/LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland — The intervention of U.S. politicians like House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a “game-changer” in Brexit negotiations, the president of pan-Irish party Sinn Féin said today.

Launching the party’s election manifesto in Londonderry, known by the nationalist community as Derry, Mary Lou McDonald defended the party’s decision not to take up its seats in Westminster.

She insisted political representation is also having a voice on Capitol Hill in Washington, in Brussels, and the Dáil (Irish parliament) in Dublin.

“Westminster is the place where the British state figures out its position on Brexit. Irish interests do not feature in that conversation,” McDonald said. Sinn Féin is active in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Irish interests had been defended through the Irish government and the EU27, who sit on the other side of the negotiating table, she said, insisting they have “allies like never before across the EU27 and beyond.”

“The biggest game-changer actually in the whole Brexit conversation didn’t happen on this island or our neighboring island, it happened in the United States, it happened when Nancy Pelosi said: ‘Listen up, folks, there’s no trade deal if you mess with Ireland or if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined,” she said.

The anti-Brexit party also said in its manifesto it stands ready to form a “credible executive” in Northern Ireland.

The devolved executive and assembly in Belfast collapsed in January 2017 owing to ongoing disagreements between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. All attempts to restore power-sharing have since failed.

UK Lib Dems struggle to convince on canceling Brexit

LONDON — They may be flying the flag for the EU in the U.K.’s upcoming election, but the Liberal Democrat promise to cancel Brexit isn’t landing as well as they hoped — even with continental Europeans who have recently become Brits.

Roughly 130,000 EU nationals have secured U.K. passports since the 2016 Brexit referendum and will now be able to vote in the December 12 election. While they are unlikely to sway the overall result since they are spread across the country, many are passionate about expressing their view at the ballot box.

With leader Jo Swinson pledging to cancel Brexit outright, the Liberal Democrats might have hoped to position themselves as the clear pro-Remain option — and as such the natural home of EU citizens who have settled in the U.K.

But concern over disregarding the result of the referendum, the party’s broader ideology and competition from other pro-EU parties has meant they are not the only choice for these new Brits.

“It was a massive democratic process that was put in place, you cannot just cancel it,” said Nando Sigona, chair of international migration at the University of Birmingham, who moved from Italy to the U.K. 18 years ago and got his British passport in August. “I accept the need for another referendum, rather than just cancel. This is why I feel more close to the Labour position.”

“The only reason why the Liberal Democrats switched to the hard revoke position [on Brexit] was because they thought Labour was going to go for a referendum with Remain” — Joe Twyman, director of Deltapoll

Canceling Brexit “would have long-term consequences on the democratic process and the structure of the country, which has already been very much shaken by what’s happened in the last few years,” he added.

Sigona’s academic research has focused on the attitudes of EU nationals in Brexit Britain. He said many others are also looking elsewhere at the coming election. The Scottish government’s welcoming message towards Europeans and its aversion to Brexit, for example, has made many feel at home and they are willing to thank the Scottish National Party at the ballot box, he said.

“From our research, there was quite a strong alignment of the people that we spoke to with the SNP,” he said. “Some people said ‘now I feel Scottish as well’ and ‘I feel allowed to be Scottish and German, or Scottish and Dutch’ and they said, ‘you know, in England this is never possible’ … In a sense the English identity is not available for foreigners.”

Joe Twyman, director of the polling company Deltapoll, said the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit policy appears not to be resonating in the wider campaign as well as the party had hoped.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

“The only reason why the Liberal Democrats switched to the hard revoke position [on Brexit] was because they thought Labour was going to go for a referendum with Remain, and steal their positioning on that,” he said.

Twyman added that, so far, the party has failed to dominate with its strong pro-EU position. “Since the European elections, [the party’s] position has dropped off in the polls, suggesting it is not just about Brexit for people now,” he said.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake rejected the idea that their position was undemocratic.

“If we receive a democratic mandate through a general election and the biggest swing in parliamentary history to stop Brexit, then that is what we will do,” he said. “Otherwise, we will continue to advocate for a People’s Vote, with an option to Remain [in the EU]. The more Liberal Democrat MPs elected to parliament, the more chance we have of stopping Brexit.”

Tactical votes

For other new Brits, however, a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a tactical option.

Monique Hawkins, a software developer from the Netherlands who has lived almost continuously in the U.K. since 1984, said she prefers Labour’s Brexit policy because she feels “very strongly” that the U.K. should not leave the EU without a confirmatory referendum. But she will back the Liberal Democrats, because of a mix of tactical voting and agreement with the party’s broader values.

Some younger voters still remember the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise over university tuition fees while they were part of the coalition government led by David Cameron.

In her constituency, Esher and Walton in South East England, the current MP is Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Labour ranked second in the 2017 election with 19.7 percent of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 17.3 percent. But this time, Raab risks losing his seat to the Liberal Democrats, according to recent polls.

Hawkins defended Swinson’s stance on Brexit, saying it was a “tactical” choice. “She was never going to be the prime minister and have the largest party. So I think they can say that in order to be a clear opposition to [the Conservative slogan of] ‘get Brexit done.’ The whole fight is very dirty,” she said.

“And the Labour position is actually very sensible, like, ‘let’s have a deal, which better reflects a compromise and then put that to a referendum.’ I actually agree with that position more, but it’s not very sellable in a sound bite.”

Blaming Nick Clegg

Of course, many of these new Brits are motivated by other issues, particularly immigration, public services and the environment.

Katia Widlak, a Unison trade union worker who moved from France to the U.K. in 1999 and became a British citizen last year, said she is willing to accept Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguity over Brexit. Choosing a party that treats immigrants “in a decent way” is the main issue for her.

“The Tories are always talking about cutting the numbers, the points system, attracting ‘the brightest and the best,’” she said. “For me, a political party has to deliver more than just a single base issue. It’s a broader picture. It’s about your values as well.”

Some younger voters still remember the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise over university tuition fees while they were part of the coalition government led by David Cameron. Swinson has apologized for this decision, but the issue continues to rankle with many.

“There’s a big divide in the country, there’s a big uncertainty as to what is going to happen”  — David Arvidsson-Shukur, doctor in physics

“I’m never going to vote for the Lib Dems,” said David Arvidsson-Shukur, a doctor in physics at the University of Cambridge. Originally Swedish, Arvidsson-Shukur moved to Durham in 2010 and became a British citizen in the summer of 2018.

“I came to the U.K. just after [former Lib Dem leader] Nick Clegg said they would never increase tuition fees and then they increased them whilst I was a student here. The picture I have of the Lib Dems is that they are not a very serious party.”

Arvidsson-Shukur, who is voting Labour, does not believe this election will radically change how Brexit is delivered, so he is prioritizing other issues when deciding his vote, including parties’ support for education, research and innovation, and the fight against climate change and inequality.

“The political landscape now is mainly negative,” he said. “There’s a big divide in the country, there’s a big uncertainty as to what is going to happen. It seems like it is an important vote, so maybe [I feel] more cautious than excited.”

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