“This is not peace. It’s an armistice of twenty years.”
Those were the words of Ferdinand Foch is response to the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, and twenty years later, France and Germany were once again at war. After the results of the British general election this year, they words may not be relevant only to historians. With the Conservatives failing to win a majority in the British general election, instead having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to form a majority in the House of Commons, the question of Northern Ireland will soon bubble up again. The idea that the country/region/area called Northern Ireland is now at relative peace is predicated on the continuing existence of and adherence to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The problem? The two parties that initiated that agreement have been wiped out at Westminster, and have been replaced by two parties that would like to see it gone.
It’s been commonplace in recent weeks to say that the Conservative Party called a snap election because of their position in the polls, and they were trying to take advantage of Labour weakness. This is an easy tale to tell, and is particularly popular among Jeremy Corbyn’s true believers, for whom it adds to the image of the Conservative Party as ruthless, heartless, and so on.
The thing is, it doesn’t actually make much sense.
It was known in advance that this year would see three, possibly four major European elections. It was not expected that the upcoming British general election would be among them. After all, they went to the polls two years ago and delivered a majority Conservative government, and then again last year to decide whether or not to leave the European Union, the result of which forced the Conservatives to change their leader and cabinet. Theresa May, playing the role of ‘last man standing’, promised upon her election to the leadership by Conservative MPs that she would not go to the polls again. Overandover, she promised that she would not have another election, because Britain needed stability.
Then, in April, she called a snap poll, set for early June. Officially, it’s also for stability. Given that directly contradicts her stated reason for not going to an election, it seems more likely that it has to do with the investigation into Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 election, which may well have necessitated multiple by-elections. Losing those by-elections would have made a slim majority even slimmer, and make her government even more susceptible to backbenchers crossing the floor. So, here we are. (As an aside, it also seems likely the Conservatives really, really wanted to wait until the new electoral boundaries were put in the place next year before having an election, which reduces the Commons by 50 seats. Most of the seats being taken away are in Labour areas.)
The other day, Bill Shorten was on the television giving his budget reply speech in the Australian Parliament. It was on in the background, far too uninteresting to pay attention to, until something happened. I heard what sounded distinctly like clapping, about halfway through.
At first, I thought I was hearing things – perhaps it had started raining? – but, just in case, I turned towards the TV and watched, until I saw the hands of MPs move in a motion that looked just like clapping. This didn’t take very long, as Labor MPs and the gallery that was presumably filled with ALP staffers were eager to put their hands together as often as possible. As I saw this, my instinctive response was that I was seeing something terrible take place. My second response was one of wonder that a simple courtesy often used to indicate agreement should provoke such a negative reaction in me. I went back and checked the treasurer’s speech, and found clapping there too, but only after the speech. This is true of both speeches in previous years as well, though only very recently.
There has, as far as I can tell, never been applause during a budget reply speech, which makes it rather seem like the ALP decided that they needed a helpful audience to make Shorten’s speech seem strong, and the Speaker let it happen.
So, what was it about seeing this practice that raised my hackles?
Venezuela has been in a downward spiral since the death of socialist icon Hugo Chavez in 2013. During his presidency, Chavez was a whirlwind of activity, using the price of oil to fund socialist initiatives in his oil-rich but poor nation, nationalising whole industries in the process. His death came at just the wrong time, as in 2014 the price of oil plummeted, and the country plunged into crisis, with food and medicine shortages. Chavez may have been able to troubleshoot the country out of the crisis, but his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, is a much more stoic, stable character than his charismatic ‘father’ – and therefore not the kind of person to fix an economic and political crisis such as this. Maduro has instead spent his presidency attempting to retain his hold on power while the nation’s economic and social situation continues to fall, strengthening his own position as president wherever he can while the people he is meant to be serving struggle to have food on the table and stay healthy.
The latest manoeuvre in this depressing story comes from the Supreme Court, which decided to revoke the legislative power of Congress (which now has an opposition majority) and take it for themselves, making themselves a legislative and judicial body. Because the Court is full of Maduro appointees that belong to the ruling Socialist Party, this would mean that Maduro, the head of the executive, has control of all three arms of government. Maduro reversed the Court’s decision a day later, but the scale of the backlash suggests that people find something distinctly wrong with the mingling of the judicial branch of government mingling with the legislative branch of government.
What does the United Kingdom Independence Party stand for?
That is, on the surface, actually quite easy to answer: they want a United Kingdom that is independent of the European Union. Last year we learned via referendum that a majority of Britons want that too, and the British government – a Conservative Party government, not a UKIP one – is going through the process of extracting the country from the European super-state.
The problem for UKIP is that Britain leaving the EU removes their own raison d’être. The party seems to realise this, and has spent the last two years trying to build a purpose for the party beyond its foundation principle. UKIP made some big gains at the general election in 2015, coming second in 120 of the 650 constituencies, most of which were in Labour heartland in the north of England. This sounds impressive for a party that is, as far as British political parties go, quite young, particularly given it only really became a ‘serious’ party within in the last decade.
However, in most of these second-place performances, UKIP was in second by 10% or more. This is suggestive of a wider problem that the party faces at the moment, which is exemplified in their second place in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. This was a seat that Labour won in 2015 with 39.3% of the vote, and UKIP just pipped the Conservatives for second, with 22.7% against 22.5%. This council area voted the most heavily for Leave out of any in the entire United Kingdom, and many thought UKIP could win the seat, or at the very least run it mighty close.
Instead, despite UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall being their candidate, Labour won with 37.1%, UKIP came second with 24.7% and the Conservatives came third with 24.3%. The needle barely moved. Why?
If you understood precisely what they said, then you are either a liar or have a better command of political language than I do, for I could not make heads nor tails of what they were claiming.
The article begins by saying “Young people in Britain are more right-wing and authoritarian in their political views than previous generations”, which seems simple enough. This is followed by Thatcher being a “moral crusader” who “embedded conservative authoritarian values” which went unchallenged by the Blair government, resulting in “younger generations becoming increasingly economically and social liberal.”
Last time, we looked at the possible reasons why the experts got 2016 wrong. It is now worth looking at what place 2016 may end up having in world history.
One of the few people to correctly predict that Donald Trump would win the election was Allan Lichtman, a professor at The American University. He uses his own methodology for predicting elections, built in the style of earthquake prediction. The reason, he says, was that the language we use for significant political events is mostly geophysical in nature: tremors, earthquakes, landslides, eruptions, and the like. I even used this language in my last post. Lichtman believed he could turn this into a system that would predict the winner a presidential election based on how stable the political climate leading up to the election was. Lichtman is yet to get an election wrong since creating this system.
If we were to take a similar approach to world history, 2016 could be considered a significant political-geological event. According to another university professor, it could well be the year of this century’s ‘Great Event’. Nicholas Boyle, a Cambridge historian, wrote in 2010 that world events were all pointing to an earth-shattering moment happening within the next decade. As proof of his thesis, Boyle pointed to similar ‘Great Events’ occurring in the second decade of each of the past five centuries.
2016 was not a good year for political experts. To be fair, it’s not as though they had that many opportunities to get things wrong, but the opportunities they did have were highly significant: the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, and the United States voting for Donald Trump as their next president.
For the most part, the people telling us that it was not a good year for political punditry are the pundits themselves, who are also trying to explain how they were shocked so badly. These explanations have ranged from the sober to the shrill, and everything in between. But few, if any, of these really manage to fully explain why the people paid to tell us what will happen failed to correctly tell us what would happen.
I believe there are two fundamental reasons political punditry got 2016 wrong. …