Brexit, Israeli election results and upcoming elections

Latest Brexit developments, stalemate in Israel and previews of elections in Austria, Portugal, Poland and Canada. 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.

Boris Johnson said he wants a deal with the European Union, but has also said that if there is not a deal, he will ignore parliament’s legislation, and break free of the EU like “the Incredible Hulk”. Courts in Northern Ireland and England upheld parliament’s prorogation, but a Scottish court rejected it. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by next week. Polls in the last week gave the Conservatives nine-point or better leads, except for ComRes (just a one-point Conservative lead).

The key question is whether Johnson is serious about coming to a feasible deal with the EU, or is he pretending so he can blame the EU and parliament once talks collapse? A feasible deal would be attacked by Nigel Farage and hard Leave Conservative MPs, and be unlikely to pass parliament, which three times easily rejected Theresa May’s deal.

The remainder of this article will be a recap of the Israeli election, then previews of elections in Austria (September 29), Portugal (October 6), Poland (October 13) and Canada (October 21). Except for Canada, all these countries use proportional representation.

Neither side wins Israeli election 

The 120 Knesset members were elected by proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold. At the September 17 election, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won 31 seats, one behind the left-leaning Blue & White. With potential allies, Netanyahu had 55 seats, to 56 for the opposition.

Yisrael Beiteinu (YB), with nine seats, is the kingmaker. Netanyahu failed to form a government after the April 2019 election because YB advocated introducing conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, which religious parties opposed. YB’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, said prior to the election that he would only join a Likud and Blue & White government. Neither the left nor the right can claim victory in this election.

Austria (September 29) 

Austria uses proportional representation with a 4% threshold. At the October 2017 election, the conservative ÖVP and far-right FPÖ formed government, having won a clear majority of seats. In May, this government collapsed after the FPÖ leader was accused of collusion with a Russian oligarch, and new elections were scheduled.

Polls have the ÖVP leading with 35.5%, followed by the centre-left SPÖ at 21.6%, the FPÖ at 19.8%, the Greens at 10.9% and the liberal NEOS at 8.5%. The ÖVP would prefer to govern with NEOS, but it is unlikely that these parties will have enough seats. The alternatives are another ÖVP/FPÖ government, or a grand coalition, which had governed prior to the 2017 election.

Portugal (October 6)

Portugal uses proportional representation at the regional level; bigger parties win a greater share of seats than their national votes imply. After the October 2015 election, the Socialists formed a minority government supported by the Left Bloc, Communists and Greens.

There has been a trend towards right-wing and far-right parties internationally, but Portugal is the exception. The Socialists have 39.6% in the polls, the combined vote for conservative parties is just 24.5% and other left-wing parties have a combined 24.1%. The only question, given the bonus for big parties, is whether the Socialists win a majority in their own right.

Poland (October 13)

Poland uses proportional representation in multi-member constituencies with a 5% national threshold for single parties and 8% for coalitions. At the October 2015 election, the Law and Justice (PiS) party won a majority on just 37.6%, as the centre-left coalition fell below the 8% threshold and was wiped out. While socially conservative and anti-immigrant, PiS is economically left-wing.

Polls for this election give PiS 45% of the vote, followed by a coalition of right and left-wing parties on 27% and a centre-left coalition on 13%. It is likely that PiS will win another majority, but the centre-left should return to parliament.

Canada (October 21)

Canada uses first-past-the-post. At the May 2011 election, the Conservatives won a majority on just 39.6% as left-wing parties split virtually all the remaining vote. Prior to the October 2015 election, which the centre-left Liberals won with a majority, current PM Justin Trudeau promised to reform the electoral system, but disappointingly he wimped out.

I will use CBC analyst Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker. This currently gives the Conservatives 34.4%, the Liberals 34.1%, the left-wing NDP 13.8%, the Greens 9.5% and the Quebec Bloc 4.4%. Although the two major parties are tied in vote share, the Liberals are expected to win 167 of the 338 seats, the Conservatives 139, NDP 16, Quebec Bloc 12 and Greens four.

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.

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.

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.

Sovereign risk

Britain’s political crisis intensifies as Boris Johnson persuades the Queen to cut short looming sittings of parliament, severely limiting its options in heading off a no deal Brexit.

From an Australian perspective, the latest events in British politics are particularly interesting for what they reveal about the Westminster system, and the role played within it by the monarch or vice-regal equivalent. Thanks the learning experience of 1975, Australians are somewhat better educated on such matters than the British, who had gone a happily long time without the monarch being drawn into constitutional controversy.

That arguably changed on Tuesday with the Queen’s acquiescence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request for a prorogation of parliament, which now looks like it will sit for only three days when it resumes on Tuesday week. A new session will commence on October 14, just three days before Johnson’s last chance of striking a new deal with the European Union, and just over a fortnight before the deadline that will trigger a no deal Brexit in the absence of such a deal.

Prorogation can be constitutionally tricky territory, as it involves an exercise of power by the executive over the legislature to which it is supposed to be responsible. As such, the potential exists for a Prime Minister who is losing their grip on power to shirk that responsibility by requesting a prorogation, and a corresponding duty by the sovereign to deny a request should that be the case.

However, the natural tendency is for the sovereign to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt where there is any ambiguity. One example was in Canada in late 2008 and early 2009, when Stephen Harper’s minority government appeared headed for defeat amid the whirlwinds of the global financial crisis. Harper sought and received from the Governor-General a seven week suspension over new year, giving him time to reach a deal that kept his government in office.

The present circumstance might also be considered a case in point in that Johnson has not sought to cancel parliamentary sittings altogether, leaving parliament the opportunity to assert itself through a motion of no confidence. That could lead to a no deal Brexit being averted through an affirmative vote of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn — a difficult bridge for Conservative remainers to cross, notwithstanding Corbyn’s position that he will seek only to extend the Brexit deadline and govern in caretaker mode pending an election.

However, Australian constitutional scholar Anne Twomey writes that this would be extremely difficult to achieve in the time available, given the required procedural steps. Twomey’s conclusion is that the prorogation may have effectively thwarted any move by opponents to head off no deal in parliament. However, it has also been widely reported that the Conservative leadership has been wargaming a “people versus politicians” campaign for an election initiated in response to a parliamentary defeat that Johnson may in fact be hoping to provoke.

Johnson’s stated hope is to carry his government through the attenuated parliamentary sittings, defy skeptics by striking a new Brexit deal that will somehow prove acceptable both to parliament and a meeting of the EU council that will be held on October 17. An orderly exit could then ensue on October 31, followed by an election. The difficulty here is that any deal acceptable to the EU will surely be deemed a betrayal by Brexit hardliners, such that the electoral arithmetic will be complicated by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Brexit latest: will parliament thwart no deal?

Ahead of its resumption on September 3, a look at the methods Britain’s parliament could use to thwart a no-deal Brexit on October 31. 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.

In the Westminster system, the government usually controls the lower house of parliament, so bills passed contrary to the government’s wishes are relatively rare.  If the UK Parliament were to pass a bill requiring Boris Johnson to seek a Brexit extension beyond the current October 31 deadline, he has two options to defy Parliament.  It is the PM, not Parliament, that needs to make the extension request to the European Union leaders.

First, Johnson could advise the Queen to refuse royal assent.  As Anne Twomey wrote in January, such a move would put the Queen in an invidious position: she would need to make a political choice between accepting the advice of ministers, or the advice of Parliament.  The Queen would be likely to accept Parliament’s advice and give royal assent, as a government that advised to refuse assent would be an admission it had lost confidence.

A second option for Johnson would be to simply ignore any legislation passed contrary to the government’s wishes.  Parliament can legislate, but it is the government that implements and enforces that legislation with its civil servants, police and courts.  Civil servants are highly unlikely to defy Parliament en masse, but legislation requiring Johnson to seek an extension would attempt to only bind him, and I do not believe there is any way Parliament can force Johnson to comply – except by sacking him and appointing someone more friendly to Parliament as PM.

If there is a no-confidence vote in Johnson, he would remain caretaker PM until an ensuing election unless the Commons voted for confidence in a new government within 14 days after the initial no-confidence vote.  As I said in my previous article, such an election could be held on or after October 31, by which time a no-deal Brexit would have occurred.

To thwart a no-deal Brexit, the Commons must express confidence in a new government before the 14 days have elapsed.  If Johnson tried to hang on after someone else had won the confidence of the Commons, I believe the Queen would sack him.  The problem for opponents of a no-deal Brexit is that there is currently no viable alternative government.

Jeremy Corbyn has proposed that everyone who wants to stop a no-deal support a temporary Corbyn government that would extend Brexit and call a general election.  His main problem is that, while there are some Conservative MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit, they won’t vote for a socialist PM even to prevent that outcome.

As commentator Stephen Bush argued, it would be politically self-destructive for Corbyn to allow someone else to become PM, as doing so would validate his critics’ contention that he is unfit to be PM.  Some far-left Labour MPs might resist backing a non-Corbyn PM even if Corbyn were to stand aside.

A third way for Parliament to thwart no-deal is to revoke the Article 50 legislation.  Assuming such a revocation received royal assent, Brexit would be cancelled.  On April 1, a Commons amendment to revoke was defeated by 292 votes to 191.  While there is a Commons majority against no-deal, I believe that if the choice was no-deal or no Brexit, no-deal would win.

In summary, a Brexit extension is most likely to pass Parliament, but unlikely to be effective in binding Johnson.  An alternative government is not currently viable, and nor is repealing Brexit.  If Johnson sticks to his guns, Britain is likely headed over the cliff-edge.

In this discussion, I have ignored the House of Lords.  The Lords is far more pro-Remain than the Commons, so any legislation to pass the Commons that moves towards Remain is likely to easily pass the Lords.

A final hope for no-deal opponents is that Johnson is bluffing, and will propose something similar to Theresa May’s rejected deal at the 11th hour.  Johnson has ranted against May’s deal since he resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018.  He won the Conservative leadership on a promise to get Britain out by October 31, and appointed a hard Leave cabinet.  I do not think he is bluffing.

Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres

I wrote for The Conversation on August 14 that Joe Biden continues to lead the US Democratic primaries.  Trump’s ratings have fallen slightly since the August 3-4 gun massacres.  There has been little movement in Trump’s ratings since that article; his net approval is currently -11.1% with polls of registered or likely voters in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate.