In through the out door

Sarah Henderson returns to parliament via a Senate vacancy and a hotly contested preselection, as Coalition MPs blow bubbles on electoral “reform”.

Two brief news items to relate on Australian matters, as well as which we have the latest of Adrian Beaumont’s increasingly regular updates on the constitutional mess that is Brexit.

Sarah Henderson, who held the seat of Corangamite for the Liberals from 2013 until her defeat in May, will return to parliament today after winning preselection to fill Mitch Fifield’s Victorian Senate vacancy. This follows her 234-197 win in a party vote held on Saturday over Greg Mirabella, a Wangaratta farmer and the husband of former Indi MP Sophie Mirabella. After initial expectations that Henderson was all but assured of the spot, Mirabella’s campaign reportedly gathered steam in the lead-up to Saturday’s vote, resulting in a late flurry of public backing for Henderson from Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Jeff Kennett, Michael Kroger and Michael Sukkar.

Also, The Australian reports Queensland Liberal Senator James McGrath will push for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, of which he is the chair, to consider abolishing proportional representation in the Senate and replacing it with a system in which each state is broken down into six provinces, each returning a single member at each half-Senate election – very much like the systems that prevailed in the state upper houses of Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia in the bad old days before the advent of proportional representation.

Ostensibly motivated by a desire to better represent the regions, such a system would result in a Senate dominated as much as the House of Representatives by the major parties, at a time of ongoing erosion in public support for them. The Australian’s report further quotes Nationals Senator Perin Davey advocating the equally appalling idea of rural vote weighting for the House. The kindest thing that can be said about both proposals is that they are not going to happen, although the latter would at least give the High Court an opportunity to take a stand for democracy by striking it down.

Brexit minus seven weeks: the procrastinating parliament

A large share of blame for the Brexit shambles goes to parliament, which can only procrastinate. Also featured: the September 17 Israeli election. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Late on September 9, Parliament was prorogued until October 14, after Boris Johnson again fell well short of the two-thirds Commons majority needed for an early election. Earlier, the bill requiring Johnson to request a Brexit extension by October 19 received royal assent. An election cannot now be held until at least mid-November.

While a majority of the Commons opposes a no-deal Brexit, there is no majority for anything else. Theresa May’s deal was rejected three times by decisive to crushing margins. In late March and early April, several options were considered and all were defeated – even though Conservative MPs were given a free vote and the cabinet abstained.

Parliament’s only decision has been to delay the Brexit date, first from late March to late October, and now they want to delay until at least late January. The Commons could not even decide to hold an election.

Given this procrastination, you can see why polls suggest that voters are fed up with Parliament, and are more sympathetic to a no-deal Brexit than to further delay. Boris Johnson has exploited this sentiment.

The legislation passed by Parliament requires Johnson to seek a Brexit extension by October 19. If he does not request an extension, the courts would order him to. If he still defied Parliament, he would be held in contempt of court, and possibly jailed. However, I don’t think Johnson would stop being PM just because he was in jail. The only qualification to be PM is that you are an MP. Unless the sentence was 12 months or more, Johnson would not be immediately disqualified.

It appears that Johnson’s lawyers will attempt to find loopholes in the legislation, and appeal adverse court decisions. Courts can act far faster than normal when required, but Johnson will hope to get through the 12 days between October 19 and 31 without his actions being declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the highest UK court of appeal.

Prior to the passage of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act during the 2010-15 Parliament, a government defeated on crucial legislation could call an election – as Johnson tried to do. Almost all legislation concerns the general business of government, whereas this legislation seeks to compel just the PM to act against his wishes.

The Australian government cannot refuse to implement the Medevac legislation, as this legislation is carried out by civil servants. Any executive order directly contradicting legislation would be quickly struck out by the courts.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, it will be because Johnson forced Parliament to choose between no-deal and something more unpalatable, with no procrastination available. Examples are: no-deal vs PM Jeremy Corbyn, or no-deal vs no Brexit.

Polls released last weekend were mixed. The Conservative lead was 3-5 points in four polls, ten points in Opinium and 14 points in YouGov. A ComRes poll released Tuesday had the Conservative lead falling from four points to one. Having alienated Remain voters, Johnson must avoid disappointing Leave voters, so it seems unlikely he will either extend Brexit or revert to a deal similar to May’s.

On the economic fundamentals, the Conservatives should be winning. In the latest figures, UK unemployment was 3.8%, and real wage growth in the year to July was 1.9% excluding bonuses.

Israeli polls suggest another deadlocked Knesset

Right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have won his fourth successive term at the April 2019 election when right-wing and religious parties won a combined 65 of the 120 Knesset seats. But Yisrael Beiteinu demanded conscription be introduced for the ultra-Orthodox, which the religious parties opposed. Netanyahu was unable to form a government, and new elections were scheduled for September 17.

Polls suggest a similar outcome to March 2019. Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies have 56-58 combined Knesset seats. The left-leaning Blue & White and other parties who could support it have 53-55 seats. So Yisrael Beiteinu, which is not a left-wing party, may well decide if there can be a new government after the election.

All 120 Knesset seats are elected by national proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold. Netanyahu’s task will be easier if a far-right party clears the threshold. Polls close at 5am September 18 Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

Anthony Albanese’s personal ratings take a hit, but no change on the voting intention headline in the third poll since the great federal election miss.

As related by The Australian, the third Newspoll since the fall is unchanged on the second, conducted three weeks ago, in showing the Coalition with a two-party lead of 51-49. The primary votes are Coalition 43% (41.4% at the election), Labor 35% (33.4%), Greens 12% (10.4%) and One Nation 5% (3.1%, although they did not contest every seat at the election). All four are up a point compared with the previous poll, reflected in a four point drop in “others” to 5%. I’m struggling to identify the last time Newspoll had the Greens at 12% – certainly not at any point in the last term (UPDATE: It was in March 2016).

Scott Morrison is up a point on approval to 49%, after dropping three points last time, and his disapproval is up three to 39%, which is still three down on the first poll after the election. Anthony Albanese records a net negative rating for the first time, being down six on approval to 35% (after gaining two last time), and up six on disapproval to 40% (after dropping two last time). Morrison’s preferred prime minister lead is reportedly at 20%, compared with 18% last time, although the exact numbers are not yet provided (UPDATE: Morrison’s lead has increased from 48-30 to 48-28).

The poll comes with a glimmer of improved transparency, in that we are told exactly how many respondents came from its online survey (956) and automated phone poll (705) components. It was conducted from Thursday to Sunday.

Brexit minus eight weeks: is it election time?

What’s next in the Brexit gridlock, plus updates from Italy and the Democratic race in the US. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

To try to ensure Boris Johnson follows Parliament’s laws, it needs to be sitting in late October, and not be dissolved for an election.

On September 3, the Commons changed the order of business to allow legislation opposing a no-deal Brexit to be debated by 328 votes to 301. As a result, the 21 Conservative MPs who opposed the government were kicked out of the Conservative party and will not be able to stand as Conservative candidates at the next election.

On September 4, the legislation passed the Commons comfortably, and has gone to the House of Lords, where it will pass easily. Boris Johnson attempted to call an early election, but won far fewer votes than the two-thirds majority needed to dissolve parliament.

Once this legislation clears Parliament and receives royal assent (expected on Monday), the question is whether Labour should support an early election. No other party can give Johnson the two-thirds majority he needs. Although a simple majority could pass legislation setting the election date, that legislation would also have to go through the Lords before prorogation. According to The Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn is poised to reject Johnson’s October 15 election.

Once Parliament is dissolved, Johnson could call the election for November 1 – the day after Brexit – and refuse to implement Parliament’s legislation attempting to force him to request a Brexit extension. The right-wing British newspapers and a large share of the public would applaud Johnson if he blatantly broke the law in this way. This applause would be very different from most cases where politicians flagrantly break laws. Johnson said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than extend Brexit.

If Johnson honours the October 15 election, his message would be simple: Vote Conservative to stop all the Brexit talk after October 31. Corbyn would have a more complex message on Brexit that would probably not appeal. At the 2017 election, Brexit was a comparatively minor issue. Asked which would be worse in a poll, 43% selected Corbyn becoming PM, while 35% chose a no-deal Brexit.

On October 14, the Queen reopens Parliament. On October 17-18, there is a European Union summit – the last chance to make a deal before Brexit day. If Johnson does not make a deal with the EU, or request an extension, and Parliament is still sitting, it is likely he would face a successful no-confidence vote. If the Commons did not vote for confidence in a new government by October 31, Britain would crash out.

In this scenario, an election would take place several weeks after a no-deal Brexit. My view is that people will not turn against Brexit until they are personally inconvenienced. A no-deal Brexit is likely to cause significant inconvenience. An election held several weeks after a no-deal Brexit will probably result in a Labour landslide and PM Corbyn.

Another scenario is that the Commons elects Corbyn or someone else to be PM, request an extension and hold an election. Corbyn is unlikely to allow someone else to be PM so close to an election, and many Conservative rebel MPs would still prefer no-deal to Corbyn. If, despite these problems, Corbyn became PM before an election, he could enact some of his popular policies by executive order, and use these policies as an election platform. Labour would never have done so well in 2017 if Corbyn did not have popular policies.

Trump trails leading Democrats by record margins; far-right Salvini loses power in Italy

I wrote for The Conversation on September 5 that Donald Trump trails the leading Democrats in a Quinnipiac poll by far bigger margins than any previous incumbent president at this point – sourced from CNN analyst Harry Enten. Joe Biden still leads the Democratic primary despite one outlier poll.

In Italy, there was a coalition between the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. I wrote for my personal website on September 4 that League leader Matteo Salvini broke this coalition to force early elections, but the Five Stars allied with the centre-left Democrats to form a new government. Also covered: Israeli polls ahead of the September 17 election, and the far-right surges in two German state elections.

ANU post-election survey and Essential Research poll

Comprehensive new research suggests a telling shift from the “others” column to the Coalition through the campaign period, while Labor were either consistently overrated by pollsters or fell off a cliff at the end.

Some particularly interesting post-election research has emerged in the shape of a paper from Nicholas Biddle at the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods. This draws from the centre’s regular online panel surveys on social attitudes, which encompasses a question on voting intention for reasons unrelated to prediction of election results. The study compares results for 1692 respondents who completed both its pre- and post-election surveys, which were respectively conducted from April 8 to 26 (encompassing the start of the campaign on April 11) and June 3 to 17 (commencing a fortnight after the election). Respondents were excluded altogether if they were either ineligible to vote or failed to answer the voting intention question.

The results are, to a point, consistent with the possibility that pollsters were confounded by a last minute shift to the Coalition, particularly among those who had earlier been in the “others” column. The changes can be summarised as follows, keeping in mind that a “don’t know” response for the April survey was at 2.9%, and 6.5% in the June survey said they did not vote. Since the disparity leaves a net 3.6% of the total vote unaccounted for, the shifts identified below will err on the low side.

The Coalition vote increased an estimated 2.6% from the time of the April survey, suggesting the polls were right to be recording them at around 38% at that time, if not later. However, no movement at all was recorded in the Labor vote, suggesting they were always about four points short of the 37% most polls were crediting them with. The exception here was Ipsos, which had Labor at 33% or 34% in all four of the polls from the start of the year. The Greens fell very slightly, suggesting a poll rounding to whole numbers should have had them at 11% early in the campaign. Newspoll consistently had it at 9%, Ipsos at 13% or 14%, and Essential fluctuated between 9% and 12%.

The biggest move was the 5.9% drop in support for “others”, although a fair bit of this wound up in the “did not vote” column. Even so, it can conservatively be said that pollsters in April should have been rating “others” at around four points higher than their actual election result of 15%, when they were actually coming in only one point higher. This three point gap is reflected in the size of the overestimation of support for Labor.

The results also point to a remarkably high degree of churn — an estimated 28.5% did not stick with the voting intention expressed in April, albeit that a little more than a fifth of this subset did so by not voting at all. The sub-sample of vote changers is small, but it offers little to suggest voters shifted from Labor to the Coalition in particularly large numbers. The Coalition recorded the lowest rate of defection, although the difference with Labor was not statistically significant (I presume it’s normal for major party supporters to be more constant than minor). Conversely, 49.4% of those who left the “others” column went to the Coalition (which comes with a 9% margin of error), and most of the remainder did not vote.

The survey also features statistical analysis to determine the demographic characteristics of vote changers. These find that older voters were generally less likely to be vote changers, and that young vote changers tended not to do so in favour of the Coalition, presumably switching for the most part between Labor and the Greens. Also particularly unlikely to budge were Coalition voters who lived in areas of socio-economic advantage. Those at the other end of this scale, regardless of party support, were most volatile.

Also out this week was the regular fortnightly Essential Research survey, which is still yet to resume its voting intention series but will do so soon. A question on the anticipated impact of government policies over the next three years produces encouraging numbers for the government, with 41% positive and 23% negative. A question on racist sentiments finds 36% agreeing that Australia is a racist country, and 50% saying it is less racist than it was in the past. Breakdowns record no significant differences between those of migrant and non-migrant backgrounds, although the former may include too many of British origin for the results to be particularly revealing.

A question on political interest finds only 15% professing no interest in federal politics, with 53% saying they follow it closely or “enough to know what’s happening”. A big question though is whether polling has gone astray because too many such people are included in their samples. The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1075 respondents drawn from an online panel.

Brexit minus two months: prorogation edition

As the Conservatives move to a substantial lead in the polls, Boris Johnson controversially prorogues Parliament. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On August 28, Boris Johnson announced that Parliament would be prorogued (suspended) from about September 11 to October 14. Most of the period of prorogation occurs from September 13 to October 7, when Parliament would have been scheduled for a recess owing to the UK party conferences. William Bowe covered the legal aspects of prorogation.

The Commons returns from summer recess on September 3. With Labour agreeing to pursue legislation to force Johnson to request a Brexit extension if no deal can be reached, a no-confidence vote is unlikely. Any such legislation would need to pass both chambers of Parliament and receive royal assent before prorogation, or the process would need to re-start after the Queen’s address opening the new parliamentary session on October 14.

If a vote of no-confidence were called by the opposition leader, it would be debated and voted on the next sitting day. However, passing legislation against the government’s wishes requires overturning the government’s order of business, and the government could attempt to filibuster. Rebel Conservative MPs are still not prepared to support a no-confidence vote.

As I wrote previously, I do not think such legislation would be effective in binding Johnson. If the Commons wants to avoid crashing out, there are two viable solutions: a no-confidence vote in Johnson followed by confidence in someone who will request an extension, or revoking Brexit legislation altogether. It is unlikely the numbers exist for either of these solutions, and with Johnson seemingly prepared to do whatever it takes, the UK is likely to leave without a deal on October 31.

Polls show the Conservatives increasing their lead over Labour as hard Brexit parties (Conservatives and Brexit) have mid to high 40’s support combined. Three polls taken after prorogation had the Conservatives 7 to 11 points ahead of Labour. As those who don’t want a hard Brexit are split between pure Remain parties and Labour, the Conservatives would win an election on current polls. In a Survation poll (normally Labour supporters’ favourite pollster), prorogation was only opposed 40-39, and by 49-42, voters did not want to delay Brexit to improve the deal.  Johnson had a +6 net approval rating.

In April 2017, Labour was further behind than they are now, but Corbyn accepted Theresa May’s offer of a June 8 election, and Labour surged during the campaign to cause the current hung parliament. I think many people want Brexit to be resolved before the next election. Polls taken before Johnson became PM suggested danger for him in holding an election before Brexit had occurred. The high current ratings for hard Brexit parties may be because people want Johnson to get on with delivering Brexit, not a pre-Brexit election.

If there is no no-confidence vote by prorogation, any new election would occur well after the October 31 deadline, as Parliament needs to agree by a two-thirds majority to hold a new election called by the PM. I do not expect Johnson to achieve a deal with the European Union, as any feasible deal would be unacceptable to Johnson’s supporters, and so would any delay to Brexit.  If the UK economy crashes after a no-deal Brexit, that’s when I would expect the polls to turn decisively against Johnson and the Conservatives.

Bolsonaro’s victory was far bigger than Trump’s

There has been much condemnation of far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro over the Amazon forest fires. At the October 2018 presidential election, Bolsonaro won 46.0% in the first round, to 29.3% for his nearest rival, the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad.  Bolsonaro defeated Haddad with 55.1% in the runoff.

At the November 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump lost the national popular vote by 2.1% to Hillary Clinton, winning only due to the Electoral College.