Monday, 23 October 2017

My analysis of the Japanese general election of 2017

In the Japanese general election of 2017, called less than 3 years after the previous election, change was relatively limited. Nevertheless, free and fair elections must be analysed.

The governing coalition of the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (neither liberal nor particularly democratic in practice) and the Komeito Party, the political arm of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement, did lose seats but only a total of 11 this election. It has a total of 313, which still represents over a 2/3 majority in the Japanese House of Representatives that elected 465 members this year. The LDP could actually govern by itself due to having 284 seats out of 465, but it will be continuing its coalition with Komeito nonetheless. Shinzo Abe, famous for "Abenomics" is still rather popular in Japan, and despite the formation of the Constitutional Democratic Party to replace the Democratic Party of Japan the opposition is still very fragmented.

In fact, the DPJ was not planning to contest the election by itself but rather largely on behalf of a new party called Kibo no To (Party of Hope) formed by Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, formerly of the LDP (she resigned from the LDP having defeated the official LDP nominee Hiroya Masuda in the 2016 Tokyo gubernatorial election). Yuriko rejected many of the DPJ candidates for Party of Hope candidacy and a large proportion of DPJ members were not supportive of Yuriko's economically conservative positions despite her being more socially liberal than Shinzo. This resulted in the formation of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, effectively a reconstruction of the DPJ, and this delayed its ability to mount an effective opposition against the LDP in this snap election.

As a result, the Constitutional Democratic Party, in alliance with the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan, won just 55 seats, with the JCP winning just 12, 9 down from 21, and the Social Democratic Party of Japan winning only 2 seats. Meanwhile, the Party of Hope won 50 seats but due to its political values and the fact it is not the official opposition, it will at best be a friendly critic of the LDP-Komeito coalition. The JCP had a considerable surge in 2014 on the issue of peace, since Shinzo had announced plans to revise Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (which famously renounces war permanently), which is becoming a more contentious issue with the North Korean missile threat still looming. Meanwhile, a new mainly Osaka-based semi-libertarian party, Nippon Ishin No Kai, allied to the Party of Hope, won just 11 seats, due to its relatively limited appeal outside its core areas. No other party won any seats in the Japanese House of Representatives this time.

The fact that Japan's mixed member proportional system is via parallel voting (i.e. the single member constituencies and multi-member list-PR constituencies are elected separately meaning FPTP representation is not taken into account to decide PR seat entitlement) gives a significantly unfair advantage to the LDP (even the main opposition is disadvantaged, as are of course smaller parties) when most MMP systems ensure that seat totals are actually weighted proportionally to votes, like the MMP system used in Germany. 5/8 of Japan's seats are SMCs, with only 3/8 of the seats actually being elected by list-PR vote, and due to largely unresolved malapportionment of seats, particularly rural seats, the LDP easily wins a majority of SMCs most of the time; it won 3/4 of the SMCs this year. Japan's MMP system needs a serious overhaul for it to be genuinely fair and proportional; the malapportionment needs to be well and truly fixed and subject to stringent regular checks to stop it re-occurring, there needs to be a better balance of SMCs to proportional seats, and the parallel voting element needs to be scrapped. The LDP has not won more than 50% of the actual votes cast even in the constituency block since 1963 and its vote share in the PR block is consistently well below 40%, yet it very frequently wins clear majorities in the Japanese House of Representatives. Even in pre-2011 Ireland where Fianna Fail was the dominant party, such levels of disproportionality did not occur even when the "Tullymander" backfired to Fianna Fail's advantage.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Czech election of 2017: sail, sail, sail towards liberalism

The Czech election of 2017 delivered a very dramatic result-just like the Czech election of 2013, one of the first I analysed.

ANO, the relatively new (de facto) pro-EU liberal-conservative party led by the second richest man in the Czech Republic, scored a decisive victory as was expected, winning 29.64% of the vote and topping the poll in every region of the Czech Republic, even Prague, the capital. Andrej Babis, formerly Deputy Prime Minister, is now set to become the next Czech PM although he must still be careful about his choice of coalition partners. ANO has been able to do this by presenting a "big tent" ideology similar to that promoted by Italy's Five Star Movement and by assembling a large protest vote, especially in rural areas formerly loyal to the Civic Democrats. The Civic Democrats surprisingly came second, but it was a distant second with only 11.32%, less than 4% more than what they managed in their 2013 drubbing when they lost almost 3/4 of their seats. They only managed to win 25 seats, less than 1/3 of ANO's final total of 78. ANO has effectively replaced the Civic Democrats in many quarters, although the ODS still won a few wealthy districts in Prague.

It was the Pirate Party that came a surprisingly good third with 22 seats, and it came close to beating ANO in Prague (and topped the poll in six of Prague's more radical districts). They managed 10.74%, beyond that predicted even by optimistic polls, and this is the second best performance in a national election by any Pirate Party ever, bettered only by Iceland last year. They won over a very large proportion of younger voters and topped the poll amongst voters aged under 25, although many older voters have yet to warm to them. This good result is crucial at a low point for the Pirate Party movement; their German section did particularly badly last month and is all but finished for now.

Fourth came Freedom and Direct Democracy, originally a split from Dawn of Direct Democracy after its leader Tomo Okamura fell out with the rest of his original party's leadership (Dawn of Direct Democracy decided not to even contest this election) with 10.6% and 22 seats, a clear testament to Tomo's personal charisma and of most right-wing Eurosceptics rallying behind it. By the standards of Eurosceptic right-wing parties, though, it is not a particularly remarkable performance and shows that the Czech Republic is turning away from right-wing populism at a time when it has become increasingly popular in many countries. The Communists, despite being in opposition, achieved their worst ever performance, dropping from 33 seats to just 15, and they are expected to decline further as their older voters die off with few young voters to replace them. The post-communist generation (born after the Velvet Revolution of 1989) have little time for the Communists of Bohemia and Moravia, especially in cities. Opinion polls by age released just before the election showed Communist support of 18% for voters aged over 65, but of just 1.5% for voters aged 18-24. The majority of Communist Party members in the Czech Republic are also aged over 60; leader Vojtech Filip is himself 62. Many old communist or otherwise far-left parties in Europe have similar problems to the KSCM. It was the governing Social Democrats who polled worse even that, however, as they fell from 1st to 6th place and dropped from 50 seats to just 15, worse even than the decline of the ODS in 2013. Normally it is the junior coalition partner who takes the biggest fall when the governing party fails, but ANO's more "mass movement" style structure and newfound popularity allowed it to absorb a large proportion of moderate Social Democratic (CSSD) voters. ANO's rise also almost caused the demise of TOP 09, who were predicted to lose all representation but survived in the end, albeit with their seat total reduced to just 7. The Christian Democrats also returned but lost 4 seats, and STAN (Mayors and Independents list) who were originally going to contest the election in coalition with KDU-CSL until KDU-CSL ended the pact, managed to win 6 seats, with a particularly strong performance in Central Bohemia, which surrounds Prague.

One unfortunate story in this election is that the Green Party lost more than half of its votes, dropping to 1.46% and they did not achieve 5% in any Czech district, not even in any of the districts of Prague (they did achieve 6.08% among expatriate voters, though), a far cry from their leader's prediction of 6-8% of the vote earlier this year. The Pirate Party's rise took the wind out of their sails and left them marooned; in all the districts where the Pirate Party topped the poll, the Green vote in said district was at least twice their national average. The Pirates appeal to largely the same base as the Greens: young, intelligent, urban, and well-educated middle-class voters of radical leanings of some type. With the Pirates now in the Czech Parliament, it will be a long time before the Greens regain representation there (they had 6 seats from 2006 to 2010, and their then leader, Martin Barzcik, was Environment Minister during that time). Even SVOBODNI (the Party of Free Citizens) managed a slightly better result despite a decline in Euroscepticism in the Czech Republic, A new Eurosceptic party, the Realists, did not even manage half of the Green vote, and the de facto neo-Nazi "Workers' Party of Social Justice" (DSSS) lost over 3/4 of even its low 2013 vote, dropping to 0.20%. Nevertheless, 15 other minor parties could not achieve even that total, which amounted to just 10,402 Czech votes. The wooden spoon this year went to the Czech National Front (just as bad as the DSSS) with 117 votes.

Theoretically, ANO and ODS can form a coalition by themselves, but ODS' association with the old Czech political establishment disliked by ANO voters means that such a coalition is not practicable in the current circumstances, except as a back-up option. Technically, the current ANO-CSSD-KDU-CSL coalition can continue (total seats: 103/200) but it is not certain that it will continue; the Christian Democrats are becoming increasingly wary of ANO as their former desire to form a pact with STAN showed.

This Czech election bucks the trend towards the populist right that has been seen to one extent or another in the last three years in many European countries. Eurosceptic and anti-EU parties have overall lost considerable support; officially Eurosceptic/anti-EU parties overall represent just 62 of the 200 seats in the new Czech Parliament, 16 less than that achieved by pro-European ANO alone. Undoubtedly this will be welcomed by younger and more progressive Central and Eastern Europeans, whose nations joined the EU much later than those in western and northern Europe (even accounting for those who joined after the fall of the Berlin Wall) and whose politicians have historically been more Eurosceptic overall.

Friday, 20 October 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 19/10/17 and other thoughts

Readers, the results of this week's local by-elections in Britain were as follows:

Epping Forest DC, Lower Sheering: Conservative 220 (80.1%), Liberal Democrats 52 (19.9%).

Gravesham BC, Meopham North: Conservative 721 (64.0%, +6.5%), Liberal Democrats 192 (17.0%), Labour 155 (13.8%, -4.8%), UKIP 59 (5.2%, -18.7%).

Hartlepool UA, Seaton: Putting Hartlepool First 474 (31.6%), Independent Little 425 (28.3%, +15.6%), Labour 275 (18.3%, -4.9%), Conservative 180 (12.0%, -0.9%), UKIP 148 (9.9%, -13.8%). Putting Hartlepool First gain from Independent.

Lincoln BC, Carholme: Labour 922 (63.4%, +4.5%), Conservative 368 (25.3%, +6.2%), Green 83 (5.7%, -6.8%), Liberal Democrats 82 (5.6%, -3.8%).

Nottingham UA, Basford: Labour 1409 (68.2%, +19.3%), Conservative 408 (19.7%, +2.5%), UKIP 119 (5.8%, -11.4%), Green 81 (3.9%, -9.6%), Liberal Democrats 49 (2.4%).
Nottingham UA, Bestwood: Labour 1280 (63.4%, +8.2%), UKIP 301 (14.9%, -7.1%), Conservative 297 (14.7%, -1.2%), Liberal Democrats 57 (2.8%), Green 50 (2.5%, -4.4%), Bus-Pass Elvis 34 (1.7%).

Nottingham UA, Bulwell Forest: Labour 1420 (54.4%, +9.1%), Conservative 966 (37.0%, +16.7%), UKIP 141 (5.4%, -14.5%), Green 52 (2.0%, -5.9%), Liberal Democrats 31 (1.2%, -3.2%).

Wigan MBC, Astley & Mosley Common: Labour 773 (46.0%, -5.3%), Conservative 604 (35.9%, +11.4%),UKIP 185 (11.0%, -13.2%), Liberal Democrats 73 (4.3%), Green 46 (2.7%).

NOTE: There was also a vacancy in Haseley Brook, South Oxfordshire, whose by-election would have taken place this week had there been more than one candidate; the Conservative candidate was elected unopposed.

Right in Nottingham where I live, the Green Party sadly achieved some particularly poor results which cannot be explained merely by Liberal Democrat intervention in wards they had not stood in before (the Liberal Democrats had stood in the ward of Bulwell Forest in 2015), although they beat the Liberal Democrats in two of the three local by-elections in Nottingham, all in the Nottingham North constituency; in fact the former councillor in Basford whose resignation caused that by-election, Alex Norris, is now Nottingham North's MP. The Greens slipped back in Carholme, Lincoln as well but not quite to the extent they did in all three wards of Nottingham which had by-elections this week.

The considerable pro-Conservative swing of 8.35% in Astley & Mosley Common is indicative of even when Labour lead in the polls, they are still losing hold of working-class voters in old mining and industrial towns; both Leigh and Makerfield showed swings from Labour to the Conservatives in June this year and Wigan only showed a 1.1% swing to Labour. Leigh and Wigan also recorded 2 of only 40 saved deposits for UKIP in June.

Local groups continue to grow in popularity in towns like Hartlepool, but they also face more competition, and from well-known independents as well. The marginality of the by-election in Seaton, representing the picturesque Seaton Carew seaside resort near Hartlepool, is testament to this.

This week, the Czech Republic will go to the polls, with Japan holding its election this Monday, and Iceland's snap election coming next Sunday. The results in each case are predicted to be very interesting, to say the least.

I give my thanks to all who came to the #metoo mural in Trafalgar Square today to end violence against women and general misogyny (e.g. street harassment), and those who gave support when they could not make it to London to make their mark on that mural.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Austrian parliamentary election of 2017: Osterreich wendet sich nach rechts

The Austrian parliamentary election of 2017 marked a sharp turn to the right in Austrian politics.

The main conservative party of Austria, the Austrian People's Party (OVP) which has governed almost always in a grand coalition with the social-democratic Social Democrats of Austria (SPO) except for an infamous period from 1999-2005 where the nationalist right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) were coalition partners, has topped the poll with a sharp increase in vote share from 23.7% to 31.2%, resulting in 15 extra seats. They managed this despite the setbacks they had been suffering in three of the last four years, especially when their presidential candidate finished a poor fourth in 2016. The SPO, meanwhile, only narrowly held onto second place after postal votes; before postal votes were counted (postal votes are always counted the day after all other votes due to quirks in Austrian electoral law) they were provisionally third behind the FPO (the OVP have only finished third once, in 1999 when they went into coalition with the FPO resulting in temporary sanctions from the EU, and the SPO have been first more often than not). The FPO managed as much as 26.0%, earning them an extra 11 seats for a total of 51, only one behind the SPO's total of 52. In the midst of this three-way squeeze the Austrian Liberals, NEOS, earned themselves an extra seat for a total of 10, and their support is expected to grow especially now that youthful OVP leader Sebastian Kurz, set to become the next Chancellor, prefers a coalition with FPO over another grand coalition with the SPO.

One of the biggest stories was the split of the Green vote by the Pilz list, led by long-standing representative Peter Pilz after he was deselected by the Austrian Greens convention. As a direct result, the Austrian Greens' vote fell to 3.8%, a result so bad they in fact lost every single one of their 24 seats; 2013 had been their best ever performance in an Austrian election. Peter, meanwhile, got his revenge by winning 8 seats and by beating his former colleagues rather handily, although overall he only managed 4.4% nevertheless. This is likely to cause a crisis in the Austrian Greens, who have already had to expel their youth section after protracted disputes. As I have said before, the gestalt theory applies to elections which is why a split in the Green vote turned many Greens away to the Social Democrats and resulted in the combined PILZ+GRUNE vote being only 8.2%, compared to the 12.4% the Austrian Greens won in 2013. The PILZ list won mostly on Peter's popularity, but it could also enshrine a permanent split in the Austrian green movement, just as the Green Liberals in Switzerland have done and to a minor extent the Ecological Democratic Party (ODP) in Germany.

The Austrian Young Greens, unsurprisingly, joined up with the Communist Party of Austria for this election, but their vote share actually fell slightly from 1.0% to 0.8%, falling behind protest party GILT! (My Vote Counts) who managed only 0.9%, well below even their modest expectations of ~2%; Die PARTEI only managed 1% in Germany so it seems there is just not enough room for satirical politics; also protest votes generally go to serious if extreme parties especially in rural areas. None of the other parties managed even 10,000 votes apiece, and the party who came bottom was the Men's Party of Austria, a men's rights activism group, who polled a derisory 220 votes (0.004%), which to cap it all was less than half of even their 2013 total of 490 votes, and they came bottom in 2013.

This lurch to the right in general along with rising support for the racist right mirrors trends that have been occurring in Central and Eastern Europe for the last four years, although it has resulted in a revival of liberal, pro-European conservatism which has also held back many traditional conservative parties in Central and Eastern Europe. As an example, the Czech Republic will likely demonstrate this when they go to the polls this week as ANO is set to become senior coalition partners with the formerly dominant ODS stuck in the doldrums.  
UPDATE: Small corrections made after an Austrian resident noted a few inaccuracies.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 12/10/17

Readers, the results of this week's UK local by-elections were as follows:

Aberdeenshire UA, Invernurie & District: Conservative 1672 (48.5%,+12.6%), SNP 1146 (33.3%, +5.7%), Liberal Democrats 295 (8.2%, -3.2%), Labour 276 (8.0%, +3.7%), Green 56 (1.9%). Conservative elected at stage 4.

Ashfield DC, Hucknall North: Ashfield Independent 1329 (51.1%, +40.3%), Labour 629 (24.2%, -5.8%), Conservative 532 (20.4%, -10.7%), UKIP 66 (2.5%, -17.4%), Liberal Democrats 46 (1.8%). Ashfield Independent gain from Conservative.

Sheffield MBC, Beighton: Labour 1640 (48.6%, +5.9%), Liberal Democrats 899 (26.6%, +21.2%), Conservative 552 (16.3%, -1.4%), UKIP 212 (6.3%, -20.0%), Green 74 (2.2%, -2.6%).

Tamworth BC, Boleshall: Labour 643 (53.4%, +3.9%), Conservative 561 (46.6%, +22.2%).

Three Rivers DC, Oxley Hall & Hayling: Liberal Democrats 672 (41.3%, +18.5%), Conservative 461 (28.3%, -8.4%), Labour 428 (26.3%, +4.4%), UKIP 35 (2.2%, -16.4%), Green 31 (1.9%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative; all changes are since 2015.

Wakefield MBC, Stanley & Outwood East: Labour 1353 (51.0%,+2.4%), Conservative 847 (31.9%, +7.3%), Liberal Democrats 165 (6.2%, +2.3%), Yorkshire Party 153 (5.8%), UKIP 136 (5.1%). All changes are since 2016.

Warrington UA, Chapelford & Old Hall: Labour 957 (54.7%, +9.5%), Conservative 353 (20.2%, +4.3%), Liberal Democrats 312 (17.8%, -1.4%), UKIP 86 (4.9%, -7.4%), Green 43 (2.5%, -5.1%).

Wyre DC, Rossall: Labour 610 (50.1%, +12.8%), Conservative 427 (35.1%, +5.7%), Independent 180 (14.8%).

All eight of these by-election results followed general trends seen in recent local by-elections in wards similar to these, with the exception of Beighton in Sheffield. This is due to the considerable unpopularity of Sheffield City Council over the unnecessary and disgraceful felling of trees, which caused a sharp swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats in a ward whose demographics are generally not supportive of the Liberal Democrats even in fruitful years. What is most interesting about these by-elections is that three of the eight were caused by the resignation of councillors who had become MPs: Ben Bradley (now Conservative MP for Mansfield, and in fact the very first from his party to represent the Mansfield constituency), Colin Clark (now MP for Gordon and surprise victor against Alex Salmond), and Faisal Rashid (now MP for Warrington South). Labour has done reasonably well despite nearly losing the Boleshall by-election in Tamworth, although as Tamworth has been trending inexorably towards the Conservatives (I have elaborated on this before) this is not a surprise. The Conservatives also increased their majority over the SNP in Aberdeenshire, but overall did not have a very productive night, especially when they finished third in a seat they had won in 2015 and nearly finished third in one of the many Three Rivers wards that is strictly Lib Dem vs. Conservative. Lib Dem fortunes have been mixed this week; the Lib Dems' capture of Oxhey Hall & Hayling was easy but they fell from second to third in Chapelford & Old Hall in Warrington, came last behind UKIP in Hucknall North, and slipped further backwards in Aberdeenshire. UKIP collapsed as per usual, but despite this UKIP candidates still beat Green Party candidates in every contest featuring both a UKIP and a Green candidate. The Yorkshire Party is gaining a steadily growing following in rural Yorkshire, shown by it beating UKIP and nearly beating the Liberal Democrats in Stanley & Outwood East, an increasingly popular commuter area for middle-class commuters to Leeds.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

My review of the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference

Hello everyone. I came back from the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference in Harrogate, one of the most contentious and therefore genuinely democratic conferences in my five years as a Green Party member. It was not the most-well attended conference I have seen so far, but it was very engaging nevertheless. It was also the first Green Party conference I have experienced so far to extend into Tuesday.

The five things I enjoyed about the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference were:

1. The acceptance of the crucial precautionary principle as policy; it is a vital tool in our technologically advanced world when protecting our environment and therefore ourselves.

2. The Green Party also made inspiring calls for the elimination of plastic waste and for gender-based hate crime to be recorded alongside other types of hate crime.

3. A holistic governance review was easily adopted, which is excellently in line with green politics and core green pillars.

4. Members' determination to fight the dirty, greedy disgrace that is fracking all across England, from Lancashire to Balcombe. Fracking is banned in Scotland and Wales (and of course many other countries and several US states); why not England?

5. I had the lovely and supportive company of Emma (who was our parliamentary candidate for Stockton North earlier this year) during the weekend, especially during the difficult moments I faced this conference. I also thank other Green Party members for their understanding and support likewise.

The things I did not like so much about the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference were:

1. Narrow failures to fully turn the tide against "Progressive Alliances" which have let the Green Party down severely and held back the cause of green politics. (The tide is turning but rather slowly.) 

2. A lot of committee slots were left unfilled, even though all Green Party committees are very important to the Green Party in their own way.

3. There was no live-streaming of this conference available, when there has been at several previous conferences.

I give my thanks to everyone who came along and took part.