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 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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Continue reading “Brexit minus two weeks (again)”

Brexit minus eight days (possibly)

Commons Speaker John Bercow blocks a third vote on Teresa May’s deal, but there is a workaround – if the votes exits. 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 March 18, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow announced that he would not allow a third vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal without substantial changes, citing a rule dating back to 1604 that says that the Commons cannot re-consider something in its current session once it has been decided.  A session is normally one year, but the current session is two years, expiring in June 2019.

While Bercow’s intervention was dramatic, there is a fairly simple workaround.  A “paving motion” could be used to state that the Commons wants another vote on the deal.  If there were a majority for the paving motion, there would be another vote on the deal.  May’s problem is not Bercow, it is that she does not have a majority for her deal.  May would have hoped that the Democratic Unionist Party and hard Conservative Leavers would fall in line under the threat of a long extension to Brexit, but this has not occurred in sufficient numbers to change the result of the 149-vote loss at the March 12 division on May’s deal.

On March 21-22, the European leaders’ summit will be held.  It had been suggested that May would ask for a short extension, conditional on passing her deal by mid-April, when the UK will need to commit to holding European parliamentary elections from May 23-26.  If May cannot pass her deal by mid-April, a long extension would be required.

Instead of asking for a long delay, on March 20 May asked for a delay only until June 30, regardless of whether her deal is passed.  The UK would not participate in the EU elections, so it would cease to be an EU member when the new EU parliament first sits on July 1.  However, European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU would only back a short delay if May’s deal passes – a delay needs the unanimous support of all 27 EU nations.

Late on March 20 UK time, May gave a speech in which she said that the public should blame MPs, not her, for any Brexit delay.  May has been under pressure from hard Leave Conservative MPs.  But by blaming MPs, she makes it more likely that her deal will be rejected again if put to a vote next week.  In summary, the events of March 20 make a no-deal Brexit more likely at 11pm March 29 UK time (10am March 30 Australian Eastern Daylight Time).

I think a long Brexit extension would be seen as a far greater betrayal of Leave voters than other options such as a softer Brexit with a customs union.  For the last two years, people have been told that March 29 is the day the UK leaves the EU. Many Leave voters will not care very much about the type of Brexit, but they will care a great deal about honouring the March 29 exit date.  If the UK took part in European elections, there would be no guarantee of any Brexit.

On March 14, the Commons passed a motion that would extend Brexit.  A Survation poll taken March 15 gave Labour a four-point lead over the Conservatives, the first Labour lead in any UK poll since January 30.  Two YouGov polls for different clients, both conducted March 14-15, had the Conservatives ahead by two to four points; however, the Conservative vote in both polls was down five since the last YouGov poll in early March.  I believe Labour dropped in the polls as they became perceived as an anti-Brexit party.  The Conservatives would be likely to suffer greater damage than Labour from such a perception as Leave voters make up a far larger part of their vote.

An overlooked reason for why the Conservative vote has held up well despite Brexit chaos is the economy.  On March 19, the November to January jobs report was released.  It showed that 76.1% of those aged 16 to 64 had a job, a record high.  The unemployment rate was just 3.9% (lowest since 1975), and inflation-adjusted weekly wages grew 1.4% over the year to January.  As long as these great jobs figures continue, the Conservatives have a good chance to win the next election despite Brexit.  A big question is whether the economy tanks if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit minus two weeks (perhaps)

Theresa May loses another vote on her deal heavily, but threatens hard Leavers with a long Brexit delay if they don’t pass her deal. 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 March 12, Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected in parliament for the second time, 391 votes to 242.  While the margin fell from the record 230-vote defeat on January 15, it was still a big loss.  Conservative MPs voted for the deal by 235-75, a much better result for May than the 196-118 Conservative split in January.  But just three Labour MPs voted for the deal, and The Independent Group, Scottish Nationalist Party and Liberal Democrats MPs were solidly against, as were the ten Democratic Unionist Party MPs who usually support the government.

Conservative MPs were offered a free vote on March 13 on a motion that would rule out a no-deal Brexit on March 29, but noted that, without a deal passing by March 29, no-deal would happen.  An amendment that would rule out no-deal in any circumstance was passed by a narrow 312-308 margin, with nine Conservatives and six Labour MPs rebelling against their party’s official position.

As the main motion had been amended, Conservative MPs were whipped against a motion on which they had been promised a free vote.  The motion passed easily by 321 to 278, with 17 Conservative rebels and many abstentions including ministers.  Despite these deliberate abstentions, ministers were allowed to remain in Cabinet.  Note that this motion does not rule out a no-deal Brexit.  Unless legislation is amended, the UK is still scheduled to Leave on March 29, with or without a deal.

After the defeats, May said that if a deal was passed, she would seek a short technical extension to enable parliament to pass necessary legislation connected to the deal.  If a deal is not passed, May would request a far longer extension that would require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections from May 23-26.  In this way, May is threatening hard Leavers within her party: back her deal, or Brexit will be delayed indefinitely.

But even if most hard Leavers buckle, a few Conservatives want a softer Brexit or to Remain, and May will have given Labour MPs no additional incentive to vote for her deal, as they will believe that there will be a long delay after a “No” vote.  To win many more Labour MPs, May needs to create a situation in which it is “my deal or no-deal”.

To extend Brexit, the UK requires the unanimous consent of all 27 EU nations.  While some countries would object to a short extension as it creates another cliff edge soon, I believe they will be happy with a long extension that kicks the can a long way.  If the UK participates in EU elections, there could easily be a re-extension.  However, hard Leavers are lobbying right-wing governments in Poland, Italy and Hungary to scupper any extension request.  If a country were to veto the extension, there is one way for the UK to avoid a no-deal: by taking the radical step of revoking the Brexit legislation, and Remaining within the EU.  The European Court of Justice ruled in December that the UK could do this unilaterally.

On March 14, an amendment that would have led to a second referendum was defeated by 334 votes to 85.  Labour officially abstained, and this abstention was supported by the People’s Vote campaign as they do not want a second referendum vote until it is that or no-deal.  25 Labour MPs voted in favour despite the official position, and 18 voted against.  No current Conservative MP voted in favour.

An amendment that would have enabled parliament to take control of the Brexit process was defeated by just two votes, 314 to 312.  15 Conservative and six Labour MPs rebelled.  The main motion that sought an extension to Brexit passed by 413 to 202.  Conservative MPs were offered a free vote on this motion, and split against it by 188-112.

Next week, there is likely to be another vote on May’s deal by March 20, and May will be hoping she can win enough extra support from the DUP, hard Leavers and a few Labour MPs to pass it.  If May’s deal passes, she will seek a short extension at the European leaders’ summit on March 21-22.  Otherwise, a long extension will likely be required.  Should such a long extension be granted, the Commons could still baulk at passing legislation for a long extension in the final week before Brexit on March 29.

Labour has continued to slide in the polls, with most of its lost support going straight to the Conservatives, not to the Lib Dems or Greens.  I believe the perception that Labour is now an anti-Brexit party is hurting it; most voters just want to get on with Brexit, not delay it.