Brexit, Portugal and elsewhere

With a Brexit deal unlikely, will there be an extension or a no-deal Brexit? Also: the left scores a rare victory in Portugal. 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 October 2, Boris Johnson submitted a proposed Brexit deal to the European Union, but that proposal was dismissed. The EU summit on October 17-18 is the last chance to do a deal before the October 31 Brexit date.

A deal is now unlikely, and it is probable that the proposed deal was designed so Johnson could blame the EU when rejected. As I wrote in mid-September, Johnson would be attacked by Nigel Farage for a genuine attempt at a deal, and such a deal would be unlikely to pass the Commons, which three times easily rejected Theresa May’s deal.

If Brexit is to happen by October 31, Johnson will probably need to attempt a no-deal Brexit. The question is whether he can defy the legislation parliament passed in early September requiring a Brexit extension request by October 19 if there is not a deal (the Benn Act). On October 4, government documents to a Scottish court said Johnson would obey the Benn Act, but Johnson tweeted shortly after: “New deal or no deal – but no delay #LeaveOct31”.

The government may believe there is a loophole in the Benn Act that will allow Johnson to obey the letter of the law, but break its spirit. Johnson has called this legislation the “Surrender Act”, and it would be bad for him politically if he was perceived as meekly surrendering to the “Surrender Act”. He needs to be seen as being dragged kicking and screaming to an extension if he cannot avoid it.

Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will vote for an election once an extension is in place. Four polls taken in the last week gave the Conservatives leads of between five and 15 points.

Ex-Conservative MP Dominic Grieve suggested that, if Johnson failed to implement the Benn Act, the Queen would sack him. In my opinion, the responsibility to discipline Johnson for disobeying parliament’s laws is not the Queen’s, but the parliament’s. If the Commons is dissatisfied with Johnson, the Commons can vote no-confidence in him, and then vote confidence in a new PM. There is no agreement among Johnson’s opponents on who that new PM should be, but that is parliament’s problem, not the Queen’s.

Parliament was prorogued on Tuesday until the Queen’s speech on October 14; a short prorogation was permitted by the Supreme Court. Parliament has done nothing notable in the two weeks since it was recalled.

Left wins in Portugal 

I previously previewed the October 6 Portuguese election and other elections. Portugal uses proportional representation at the regional level, which assists bigger parties. With four seats from outside Portugal to be attributed, the Socialists won 106 of the 230 seats (up 21 since the October 2015 election), the conservative parties 82 (down 22), the Left Bloc 19 (steady), the Communists and Greens (CDU) 12 (down five), an animal welfare party four (up three) and there are three others. Popular votes were 36.7% Socialists (up 4.3%), 32.2% conservatives (down 6.4%), 8.7% Left Bloc (down 0.5%), 6.5% CDU (down 1.8%) and 3.3% Animals (up 1.9%).

The Socialists will be able to govern with the support of either the Left Bloc or the CDU; in the previous parliament they needed both parties. With this decisive victory for the left, Portugal bucked the trend to the right in much of the democratic world.

Election updates in Austria, Poland, Canada and the US 

  • Final results of the September 29 Austrian election gave the conservative ÖVP 71 of the 182 seats (up nine since October 2017), the centre-left SPÖ 40 (down 12), the far-right FPÖ 31 (down 20), the Greens 26 (up 26) and the liberal NEOS 15 (up five).
  • The Law and Justice party is still likely to win the October 13 Polish election with a majority.
  • For the October 21 Canadian election, the Liberals have 34.3% in the CBC Poll Tracker, the Conservatives 33.8%, the NDP 14.5%, the Greens 8.9% and the Quebec Bloc 5.5% – this is the first Liberal lead since February. Seat expectations are Liberals 153 of 338, Conservatives 139, Bloc 21, NDP 20 and Greens four.
  • Donald Trump’s net approval is -12.2% with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, down 1.8% since last week’s article. I will have a Conversation article by Thursday on impeachment polling.

Brexit, Austria and elsewhere

Polls conducted after Boris Johnson’s court defeat show the Conservatives maintaining the edge in Britain, as the centre-right recovers power in Austria. 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 September 24, the UK Supreme Court – the highest UK court – ruled the prorogation of parliament was illegal. The Commons resumed sitting the next day. Had parliament still been prorogued, the Commons would not have sat until October 14.

I previously thought Boris Johnson could defy parliament and refuse an extension, but this path seems increasingly difficult given hostility from both parliament and the courts.  On the other hand, the crux of Johnson’s public appeal is his promise to deliver Brexit by October 31 “come what may”.

If he fails, Leave voters are likely to be terribly disillusioned, and Conservative support will drop. ComRes polling shows this, and a Survation poll found no-deal favoured over a Brexit extension by 49% to 43% if a deal could not be reached. The five polls taken since the Supreme Court decision are between a tie and a 12-point Conservative lead.

The surest way for the Commons to prevent no-deal is to vote no-confidence in Johnson, then confidence in someone else. There are suggestions a vote could occur this week, but, as I wrote in August, this is unlikely to work. A Brexit deal appears unlikely, and would have to pass the Commons.  The European Union summit will be on October 17-18, and the legislation requires Johnson to extend Brexit by October 19 if no deal is reached.

I believe Labour’s policy of not explicitly backing Remain is correct, although it is complicated by Britain’s stupid first-past-the-post system, where votes lost on one flank do not return. In this September 26 Conversation article mainly about US politics, I theorised that the Brexit referendum result, Trump’s victory and the Australian Coalition’s triumph are partly explained by the perception that opponents were too close to “inner city elites”. By having a pro-Brexit position (contrary to elite opinion) at the June 2017 election, UK Labour performed far better than expected.

Right-wing parties win Austrian election, but can they work together?

Two weeks ago, I previewed the September 29 Austrian election and three other upcoming elections.  Austria uses proportional representation with a 4% threshold.  The conservative ÖVP won 73 of the 182 seats (up 11 since October 2017), the centre-left SPÖ 41  (down 11), the far-right FPÖ 32 (down 19), the Greens 23 (re-entering parliament after a disastrous split) and the liberal NEOS 14 (up four).  It was a record vote share for the Greens and NEOS, but worst for the SPÖ.  These figures do not include left-leaning declaration votes.

To form a majority, the ÖVP will need one of the FPÖ, SPÖ or Greens to join in a coalition.  A single-member system would have produced an ÖVP landslide.

Election updates: Israel, Portugal, Poland, Canada and the US

This section gives Israeli government (non)formation updates, and poll updates for the other four countries.  Information is current at Monday afternoon.

Final September 17 Israeli election results gave the left-leaning Blue & White (B&W) 33 of 120 Knesset seats, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud 32, the Arab Joint List 13, other right and religious parties 23, other left parties 11 and Yisrael Beiteinu 8.  Three from the Joint List did not support B&W leader Benny Gantz, so Netanyahu had a 55-54 lead, and was given the first chance to form government by the Israeli president on September 25.  With talks stalled, Netanyahu may return this mandate this week.

Right-wing parties have gained ground for the October 6 Portuguese election, but are still far behind the combined vote for left-wing parties.

The economically left-wing, but socially conservative and anti-immigrant Law and Justice party is still likely to win a second successive majority at the October 13 Polish election.

For the October 21 Canadian election, the CBC Poll Tracker gives the Conservatives a 34.0% to 33.6% lead over the Liberals, with 13.7% NDP, 10.4% Greens and 4.8% Quebec Bloc.  The Liberals lead on seats with 162 of 338, to 139 Conservative, 16 NDP, 16 Bloc and four Greens.  There was little impact from Justin Trudeau’s “brownface” scandal.

Trump’s net approval is -10.4% with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, a small drop from -9.9% in my Conversation article.  There have not been many polls taken since the Ukraine revelations.  Trump’s approval had increased due to the economy.

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.