UK’s European Union elections minus one day

The Conservatives head for their lowest ever national vote share in European Union elections, as Boris Johnson firms as a strong contender to be the next Prime Minister. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Elections to the European Parliament in the various European Union countries will be held from May 23 to 26, on each country’s national election day. The UK uses Thursday for its elections, so its EU elections will be on May 23. There are a total of 751 seats in the EU Parliament, with 73 allotted to the UK. No results will be released until all countries have finished voting on May 26 (early morning May 27 Australian Eastern Standard Time).

For the EU elections, the UK is divided into 12 regions, with each region electing between three and ten members. The 12 regions are nine English regions, plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Except in Northern Ireland, members are elected by proportional representation at the regional level. But due to the limited number of seats per region, larger parties will earn a disproportionate share of the seats. Northern Ireland uses Australian-style Senate voting for its three seats.

Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party has surged to a clear lead in polling for the EU elections. Polling has the Brexit party in the low 30’s, Labour in the low 20’s, the Liberal Democrats between 12 and 17%, the Conservatives between 9 and 12% and the Greens between 6 and 11%.  While most polls have Labour in the 20’s, two YouGov polls gave Labour just 15%.  YouGov has been the worst poll for Labour for the last year. The Lib Dems and Greens gained after their success at the May 2 local elections.

If the Conservatives do as badly as polls suggest, it will be their worst ever vote share at a national election, and follow on from their loss of over 1,300 councillors at the local elections. Such an outcome will increase pressure on Theresa May to resign.

May will attempt to pass Brexit legislation through the Commons in the week beginning June 3, but this legislation’s prospects look bleak given Labour and hard Leaver opposition. Although May cannot face a no-confidence vote until December, this rule could be changed if she refuses to resign after losing yet another crucial vote. If May resigns or is forced out, Conservative MPs will winnow the candidates down to two, and those two will go to the hard Brexit-supporting membership. Boris Johnson would be a strong contender to be the next PM.

If Johnson becomes PM, he is likely to attempt to Leave the EU, deal or no deal. The Australian election was a massive setback for progress on global climate change – see this Conversation article for why. In my opinion, the only way left-wing parties will start consistently winning elections across the Western world is if there is a global economic disaster that is blamed on right-wing policies. A no-deal Brexit could be such an economic disaster.

UK local elections and Spanish election results

The Conservatives lose over 1,300 councillors in UK local elections, but Labour does poorly as well; while national left parties win the Spanish election, though not with a majority. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

UK local elections were held on May 2 in England and Northern Ireland.  With all 248 English councils that had elections declared, the Conservatives won 3,562 councillors (down 1,334), Labour won 2,023 (down 82), the Liberal Democrats 1,350 (up 703), the Greens 265 (up 194), the UK Independence Party (UKIP) 31 (down 145) and Independents won 1,045 councillors (up 606).  The Conservatives won majorities in 93 councils (down 44), Labour in 60 (down six), and the Lib Dems in 18 (up ten).  This was the biggest loss of councillors for the Conservatives since 1995.

This year’s council elections tended to be in Conservative-friendly territory, explaining why they easily won the most seats despite big losses.  The BBC’s projected national share (PNS) of votes adjusts council results to what would occur if the whole UK held council elections.  This year’s PNS was 28% Conservative (down 7% since 2018), 28% Labour (down 7%) and 19% Lib Dems (up 3%).  Arguably the Greens should have been included.  The last time most of these seats were contested was in 2015, the same day as the general election at which the Conservatives won a majority.  Changes from 2015 were Conservatives down 7%, Labour down 1% and Lib Dems up 8%.

The lost Conservative votes did not go to UKIP, which did terribly too.  UKIP has become associated with Islamophobia, which its former leader Nigel Farage avoided.  Conservatives who felt betrayed by their party’s handling of Brexit were not comfortable with voting for UKIP, but are likely to vote for Farage’s new Brexit party at the UK’s EU elections on May 23.  The latest EU election polls have the Brexit party either tied or leading Labour, with the Conservatives in the mid-teens.

With the Brexit party not running in the local elections, and with UKIP unviable, there was no hard Brexit alternative.  I believe the Lib Dems and Greens benefited from both sides of the Brexit divide.  Those who wanted a more pro-Remain position than Labour voted Lib Dem and Green on policy, while Leavers who were angry with the Conservatives voted Lib Dem or Green as a protest vote.

The dire results for the Conservatives will increase pressure on Theresa May to resign, and allow someone more committed to Brexit to take over.  But neither major party is doing well from the Brexit uncertainty.

Left-wing parties win Spanish election

At the Spanish election held on April 28, the left-wing Socialists won 123 of the 350 seats (up 38 since the 2016 election) and the further left Podemos 42 seats (down 29).  The conservative People’s Party (PP) had a disaster, winning just 66 seats (down 69), the right-leaning Citizens won 57 seats (up 25) and the far-right Vox entered Parliament with 24 seats.  Overall, national left-wing parties won 165 seats (up nine) and national right-wing parties won 147 seats (down 20).  Mostly left-wing regionalist parties won the remaining 38 seats.  It is the Socialists’ first victory since 2007.  It appears that the Socialists will try to govern as a minority.

In my previous article, I mentioned that Spain’s system rewards the bigger parties more than straight proportional representation.  The combined vote share for the Socialists and Podemos was 43.0%, actually down 0.8%.  However, the Socialists, with 28.7% of votes, won 35.1% of seats.  The combined share for the PP, Citizens and Vox was 42.8% (down 2.9%), but because the PP crashed 15.9% to fall to 16.7% – its worst result since the first election it contested in 1989 – the right vote was more fragmented than the left.  Turnout was 75.8%, up 9.3% since 2016.

The Senate uses first past the post by province, with the 47 mainland provinces having four senators each.  The Socialists won 123 of the 208 elected seats (up 81), the PP 54 (down 73) and the Citizens four (up four).  Podemos lost its 11 seats and Vox did not win a seat.  With regional appointees, the Socialists have 141 of the 266 total seats – a majority of the Senate on just 28.7% of votes!  Isn’t first past the post a wonderful system? (sarcasm)

UK local elections minus six days; Spanish election minus two days

The Conservatives are likely to have a dismal performance at the UK local elections, while the left could win in Spain. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Local elections in the UK will be held on May 2, with polls closing at 7am May 3 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).  A total of 8,346 councillors in 248 English councils will be up for election.  The Conservatives will be defending 5,521 seats and 163 councils where they have a majority, Labour will defend 2,278 seats and 74 councils, the Liberal Democrats 658 seats and four councils and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will defend 176 seats.  Council elections will also be held in Northern Ireland.

The last time most of these seats were contested, the local elections were held concurrently with the 2015 general election, at which the Conservatives won a surprise majority.  The most important measure is not the seats won or lost, but the BBC’s projected national vote share; that is, what the vote share would be had council elections been held throughout the UK.  In 2015, this projection was 35% Conservatives, 29% Labour, 13% UKIP and 11% Lib Dems.  At the last council elections in 2018, the projection was 35% Conservatives, 35% Labour and 16% Lib Dems.

Current Westminster polls have the Conservatives plunging into the mid-20’s with Labour leading with about 30%.  Conservative support has gone mainly to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party, which has about 14%.  The feeling of betrayal over the long Brexit delay is damaging the Conservatives with Leave voters.  If this dire polling is reflected next week, the Conservatives will lose a large number of councillors.

There is a perverse incentive for Conservative activists and members to campaign against the Conservatives both at these council elections, and then at the European elections three weeks later.  If the Conservatives do very badly at both elections, Theresa May would be under great pressure to resign.  However, she cannot be forced out until December, having survived a challenge last December.

If a leadership vacancy were to occur, Conservative MPs winnow the candidates down to two, and those two go to the membership.  As the membership is very pro-hard Brexit, a hard Leaver would be likely to become Conservative leader and PM, and that PM would probably attempt to deliver Brexit – deal or no deal.

Left-wing parties could win Spanish election

 The Spanish election will be held on April 28, with polls closing at 4am April 29 AEST.  The 350 lower house seats are elected by proportional representation with a 3% threshold at the provincial level.  The 50 provinces receive at least two seats each, with further seats allotted based on population.  This system produces larger shares of seats than votes for the biggest parties; at the 2011 election, the conservative People’s Party (PP) won 186 of the 350 seats on 44.6% of votes.  In the Senate, 208 of the 266 will be elected by first past the post; 47 provinces have four seats each.

At the June 2016 election, the PP won 33.0% of votes. the left-wing Socialists 22.6%, the further left Podemos 21.6% and the right-leaning Citizens 13.1%.  The PP formed a minority government, but it was brought down in June 2018 on a no-confidence vote.  The Socialists were unable to pass a budget in February, leading to the election.  The far-right VOX has risen since the last election, now receiving around 10% support in most polls.

Before the campaign began, a coalition between the PP, Citizens and VOX appeared the most likely outcome.  However, the Socialists have gained during the campaign.  Current polling gives the Socialists about 28%, the PP 20%, the Citizens 15%, Podemos 13% and VOX 12%.  While these averages still give the right a 47-41 lead over the left, Spain’s system favours big parties, and the right vote is more split.  Left-wing separatist parties in Catalona and Basque could assist the Socialists in forming a government.  Senate projections have the Socialists winning a clear majority.  Polls are banned after April 23.

No Brexit in near future; Israeli election results

Brexit delayed until October 31, with a review to be held in June. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election in Israel. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On April 8, Parliament approved a bill that forced Theresa May to request a Brexit extension, after it had passed the Commons by just one vote on April 3.  On April 9, Theresa May’s proposed extension to June 30 was accepted by 420 votes to 110, though just 131 of the 313 Conservative MPs voted in favour, with the rest either abstaining or voting against.

On April 10, an emergency European leaders’ summit was held.  The 27 European leaders, not including the UK, agreed to delay Brexit until October 31, with a June compliance review, and this extension was accepted by Theresa May.  If the UK passes legislation to enable Brexit, they can get out earlier.  In practice, such an early exit is unlikely, as Labour has little incentive to cooperate with the Conservatives in reaching a deal, and Theresa May’s Brexit deal has no chance of passing the Commons without support from at least 20 Labour MPs (it got five Labour MPs the last time).

Without an early exit, the UK will hold European elections on May 23; these elections will be held in Europe from May 23-26, but Thursday is the UK’s election day.  Local government elections have been scheduled for May 2 for a long time, so the UK will be holding two major elections in three weeks.  Recent polls have had the Conservatives slumping, and these polls were taken before today’s developments.

While the Commons was happier with a long-ish Brexit delay than any other option to resolve Brexit, the public will not be happy with Brexit debate continuing on and on!  A YouGov poll recently gave respondents three options for what should be done by April 12: no-deal Brexit, Remaining or an extension.  No-deal had 40% support, Remain 36% and an extension just 11%.  Most Remain voters will settle for the long-ish extension, but, as I wrote earlier, Leave voters will feel more betrayed than they would had a soft Brexit been agreed, after been told for the last two years that Brexit would occur on March 29.

In December, May won a confidence vote among Conservative MPs by 200 votes to 117.  Under Conservative rules, she has a year’s grace, and cannot be challenged again until this December.  If May will not voluntarily resign, the one way for hard Leavers to remove her would be to join Jeremy Corbyn in voting no-confidence in their own government.  After a successful no-confidence vote, the Commons has 14 days to vote confidence in a new government; if it does not, a new election is required.  The major risk for hard Leavers from this course is that, with the Conservatives bitterly divided, a new election could well lead to PM Corbyn – the ultimate nightmare for the hard right.

If there is a vacancy in the Conservative leadership, MPs winnow the candidates down to two, and the membership decides between those two candidates.  A January poll found that 57% of Conservative members wanted a no-deal Brexit, just 23% backed May’s deal and 15% Remain.  A leadership election would likely result in a hard right MP winning.

Netanyahu wins Israeli election

At the Israeli election held on April 9, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won 35 of the 120 Knesset seats (up five since 2015) and the left-leaning Blue & White 35 (up 24).  Explicitly religious and nationalist parties won 26 seats, giving Netanyahu a narrow path to a parliamentary majority even without the centrist Kulanu (four seats), which was part of the last government.  Israeli Labor used to be the dominant party, but fell to just six seats (down 13).  Including Kulanu, the right won 65 of the 120 seats.  This will be Netanyahu’s fourth consecutive term.

Jerusalem/England’s green and pleasant land

Latest Brexit despatch from Adrian Beaumont, also featuring a look at the imminent election in Israel.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On April 1, four indicative votes were held that would have softened Brexit, and all four failed again.  Conservative MPs were given a free vote with the Cabinet abstaining.  A customs union lost by 276-273 (271-265 on March 27), a confirmatory referendum on a Brexit deal lost by 292-280 (295-268 previously), a Norway-style Brexit lost by 282-261 (283-189 previously), and revoking Article 50 to prevent no-deal lost by 292-191 (293-184 previously).

The Commons has 650 members.  Owing to non-voting members, about 320 is needed for a majority.  Commentator Stephen Bush says that none of the options received anywhere near 320 votes.  Had the Cabinet voted and Conservative MPs been whipped, these options would have lost by more.  There was some bickering between soft Leave and second referendum supporters, but in the four motions the most Conservatives to vote Yes was 36 on the customs union.  The most responsibility for the failure of these motions lies with the Conservatives.

On April 2, much to the disgust of hard Leavers, Theresa May said she would attempt to negotiate a Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn.  Any deal that is acceptable to Labour would be softer than May’s original deal, and would probably require a confirmatory referendum.  Even if May sincerely wants to negotiate with Corbyn, it is unlikely they can come to an agreement in the time remaining.  May proposed extending the Brexit deadline to May 22 from its current April 12, but this has little appeal to the European Union without a commitment to hold EU elections from May 23-26.

There will be an emergency EU leaders’ summit on April 10, two days before the current Brexit deadline.  Unless May agrees to participate in EU elections, it is unlikely a further extension will be granted.  It is possible that May wants this outcome, and that her move to negotiate is only intended to drain time that could be used to prevent no-deal.  May does not want a no-deal Brexit, but she wants her deal passed.  If the EU rejects her extension request, there would be just two days with only three plausible options: no-deal, revoke Brexit or May’s deal.  If revocation failed again, many Labour MPs would face a difficult decision.

On April 3, a bill to require May to ask for a long extension if her deal is not approved by April 12 passed the Commons by just one vote – 313 to 312.  As this is legislation, it must also pass the Lords.  The bill does not require May to hold EU elections, and any extension must be approved by the Commons.  A motion for more indicative votes on April 8 was exactly tied 310 votes each, and the Speaker broke it in favour of the government on the basis of precedent.  It was the first Commons tie since 1993.

On April 4, a by-election occurred in the Labour-held seat of Newport West.  Labour won it with 39.6% (down 12.7% since 2017), followed by the Conservatives at 31.3% (down 8.0%), the UK Independence Party at 8.6% (up 6.1%), and four pro-Remain parties had a total of 17.2% (up 11.5%).  With both major parties losing votes to more pro-Remain and pro-Leave parties, it will be even more difficult for May and Corbyn to come to a Brexit agreement.

Netanyahu likely to be re-elected at Israeli election

The Israeli election will be held on April 9, with polls closing at 5am April 10 Australian Eastern Standard Time.  All 120 Knesset seats are elected by proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold.  Right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been PM since March 2009, will be attempting to win his fourth successive election.

As no party will come close to a majority, it is better to look at overall right-wing vs non-right wing parties’ support.  Recent polls give the overall right between 62 and 67 of the 120 Knesset seats.  The strongest parties are Netanyahu’s Likud, with 26 to 31 seats, and the left-leaning Blue & White, with 27 to 32 seats.  Even though Blue & White is about tied with Likud, Likud has more potential allies, and it is thus likely that Netanyahu is re-elected.

Brexit minus two weeks (again)

Brexit delayed until at least April 12, as Theresa May’s deal is defeated again by a reduced margin. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On March 21, a European leaders’ summit was held. Leaders of the 27 EU nations, not including the UK, agreed to delay the date of Brexit until April 12 (originally March 29). If Theresa May’s deal passes the House of Commons, Brexit would be delayed until May 22 to allow necessary legislation to pass.  European parliament elections will be held from May 23-26. If the UK were to participate in these elections, a longer extension could be given, but the UK must inform the European Commission of its intent to participate by April 12, hence the new deadline.  On March 27, the Commons passed this Brexit extension by 441 votes to 105.

On March 25, the Commons passed an amendment that allowed parliament, rather than the government, to control the agenda, and set indicative Brexit votes.  This amendment passed by 329 votes to 302, with 30 Conservative MPs rebelling, though eight Labour MPs also rebelled.  However, an amendment that would have attempted to prevent a no-deal Brexit failed by 314 votes to 311.  On March 27, a motion for more indicative votes on April 1 passed by 331 votes to 287.

All of the March 27 indicative votes were lost, but two came close to passing.  Conservative MPs were given a free vote with Cabinet members told to abstain, while Labour MPs were whipped on most votes.  A customs union proposal came closest, losing by 272 votes to 264, with abstentions from pro-Remain parties.  An amendment that would require a confirmatory referendum on any deal failed by 295 votes to 268, with 27 Labour MPs rebelling.  Another soft Brexit option failed by 283 votes to 188, a motion in favour of no-deal failed by 400 votes to 160, with Conservatives favouring no-deal by 157-94.  An amendment that would revoke Brexit to avoid no-deal failed by 293 votes to 184, with Labour MPs favouring revocation by 111-22.

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