Quotulatiousness

June 19, 2014

Declined and spoiled ballots in the recent Ontario provincial election

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:08

A few Twitter updates from @308dotcom shows that the steady interest in my old post about declining your ballot was real:

June 13, 2014

Ontario embraces scandal, mismanagement and deficits

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Well, that happened. As Elizabeth said to me when I got up this morning, at least it means we see the back of Tim Hudak. Aside from that, not a lot of encouraging news from the polls. We have set our acceptable political standards to a much lower notch, and we clearly don’t think it’s a bad thing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on party purposes. Noted.

Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t win the election so much as Horwath and Hudak lost it. Horwath was cut off at the knees by her own party (and organized labour), while Hudak tried on a set of fiscal conservative policies for size … and they didn’t fit at all. Things must have been more desperate inside the Liberal war room earlier in the campaign, if they felt they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police and the media unions to both declare for Wynn (if any two organizations should stay out of politics, they’d be the ones). And yet, once the votes were counted, they clearly didn’t need to force those two organizations out of their traditional neutral stances after all.

And, to top off the sudden acceptance of a much lower standard of political conduct by the provincial government, we get to watch (and suffer financially) as the province introduces a mandatory pension scheme on the false basis that Ontarians aren’t saving enough of their own money for retirement. That’s going to be fun. I wonder what the job market is like in Alberta…

Paul Wells offers his take on the election:

Kathleen Wynne’s victory is historic, it is almost all hers, and its meaning is a little opaque, because there is a tension between her platform and her record that will be resolved only by her actions, now that she has the length of a majority mandate to show Ontarians what kind of premier she wants to be.

Historic: She is Ontario’s first elected woman premier. Almost all hers: People who make a living proclaiming their knowledge of strategy said she was crazy to put herself at the centre of her party’s messaging and communication to the extent she did. She voiced her own attack ads. To voters upset about the mess McGuinty left behind, she offered her person as sufficient guarantee that the past would stay past. It’s what Paul Martin attempted in 2002-2006, but Wynne offered none of Martin’s creepy intramural fratricide and never benefited from the fast-burning personal popularity that seemed, at first, to be Martin’s greatest asset until he ran out of it. The funny thing about a cult of personality is, sometimes it works better if you don’t have quite as much personality. Rule One in Bill Davis’s Ontario is, don’t get on people’s nerves.

But there are a lot of Conservatives in Ontario who have forgotten the province was ever Bill Davis’s. There are a lot of people who accreted around Mike Harris in 1990 like barnacles — the Little Shits, Frank magazine used to call them — and they’ve never really grown up. They were at Trinity College or Upper Canada College or Hillfield Strathallan or some other dreary Anglo-Saxon dumping ground in the early ’80s when Ronald Reagan came on TV and fired the air traffic controllers, and they’ve spent the rest of their lives looking for an excuse to play Ayn Rand Home Edition. It even worked in 1995, when Mike Harris came back from his 1990 drubbing and years of the worst recession, combined with the worst government, Ontario had seen in ages. Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” worked because by 1995, thanks to Bob Rae, common sense seemed revolutionary.

[...]

But back to Wynne. She ran on activist government, and celebrated victory by congratulating those who want to “build up Ontario.” But Ontario can’t afford the Ontario it’s got. Wynne’s own platform quietly acknowledges this. Hard public-sector wage freezes and a new program-review exercise won’t feel much like building up. If she abandons them for more spending, she simply postpones harder choices. She has proven herself a redoubtable politician; now she had better be a very good premier, because she’s put herself in a fix to get the mandate she just won.

But that’s a high-class problem, one she would not trade for the simpler life Hudak can now look forward to. (A word on the NDP’s Andrea Horwath: she is in trouble with some New Democrats for forcing this election and losing the bargaining power she had in a minority-government legislature. But the balance of power is not a comfortable place to be after a while, and Horwath was well into the zone where, every time she propped Wynne up, voters would wonder why. The NDP should cut her some slack.)

June 12, 2014

Wynne, Hudak, Horwath … or none of the above?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

I live in an unusual riding this election: my local MP died recently and my MPP is his widow. This may be why I have seen almost no activity in the riding by the NDP and Liberal candidates: there are a few signs in my part of the riding, but I have not been contacted by either party in person or by handbill/flyer/telephone. A canvasser for Christine Elliot showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. Aside from that, you might not think an election was happening.

In the neighbouring ridings, there seem to be more signs for all parties, but it’s the most low-key election I’ve seen in many years. Perhaps that’s because of the choices on offer. In the last couple of federal elections, the choices were the crooks (Papa Jean’s scandal-tainted Liberals, under whoever was left standing after the music stopped at the last leadership convention), the fascists (Obergruppenfuhrer Harper and his neo-nazi marching band and glee club), and the commies (the last crusade of Saint Jack, and the Quebec Children’s Crusade that followed). At least there were compelling stories there. The Ontario election, on the other hand, has much less interest for anyone who isn’t a political junkie.

The Liberals are still the crooks, but they boast the first lesbian premier (which still gives them a great deal of media credit, even if the actual voters aren’t as swayed by this as the journalists are). The NDP are riven by an open revolt on the part of the doctrinaire old guard, who loudly disagree with the rhetoric and tactics of their current leader and sound as if they’re determined that she loses. The Progressive Conservatives … well, here’s how Richard Anderson describes their leader:

Where was I? Oh yes I was talking about Timmy. He seems to be a swell guy. I think. A running joke shortly after the leadership convention was that if Tim Hudak were any more wooden he’d be liable to get Dutch Elm Disease. Which is terribly untrue and based on nothing but smears and innuendos. Termites are far more of a problem in Ontario than Dutch Elm Disease. During this most recent campaign he was able, albeit briefly, to display genuine emotion. He seemed kind of annoyed at Kathleen Wynne during the debate.

OK I’m lying. I didn’t see the debate. I’m a political junkie but Ontario politics these last few years has been a gruesome spectator sport. I can’t take it anymore. Please, please make them all stop.

[...]

Sorry. This post is about Tim. It’s about why Tiny Tim needs your support tomorrow to win the election, otherwise he won’t be able to get the operation he desperately needs to become a real boy. Sorry again. Mixing my Disney stories again. No wait wasn’t one of those stories Dickens? Ah heck, Disney did it better. Bless you Scrooge McDuck!

And that’s in a post recommending a vote for Tim and his merry band in the forward-backward party. Just imagine what he’d say if he was against Tim.

Me? I’ve already said I’m voting for the splitters this time around.

If you don’t know who to vote for, but still want to be counted you can decline your ballot. My 2011 post on how to decline your ballot has been racking up thousands of hits since the election was called (much more attention than it got in the previous election).

Main page and decline your ballot stats

I’ve no idea if there will actually be a significant number of refused ballots tonight, but it might be a minor news story in the aftermath.

Update I just got back from voting, and I picked up the mail from our “Super” mailbox on the way back. There were cards from both the NDP and Liberal candidates in with the usual mix of bills, real estate agent flyers, and local ads.

Repost: Ballot Box Irregularities

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:54

I first posted this article in 2004. I repost it every election:

Ballot Box Irregularities, Canadian Style

This article in Reason Hit and Run talks about the recent decision to allow partisan ballot-challengers to monitor the voting in Ohio. In Canada, these people are called “scrutineers” and they have a vital job.

No, I’m not kidding about the vital part. Each candidate has the right to appoint a scrutineer for every poll in the riding (usually only the Liberal, NDP, and Conservative parties can manage to field that much manpower). I was a scrutineer during a federal byelection in the mid-1980′s in a Toronto-area riding, but I had five polls to monitor (all were in the same school gymnasium). This was my first real experience of how dirty the political system can be.

The scrutineers have the right to challenge voters — although I don’t remember any challenges being issued at any of my polls — similar to the Ohio situation, I believe. They also have the right to be present during the vote count and to challenge the validity of individual ballots. Their job is to maximize the vote for their candidate and minimize the vote for their opponents.

Canadian ballots are pretty straightforward items: they are small, folded slips of paper with each candidate’s name listed alphabetically and a circle to indicate a vote for that candidate. A valid vote will have only one mark inside one of the circles (an X is the preferred mark). An invalid vote might have:

  • No markings at all (a blank ballot)
  • More than one circle marked (a spoiled ballot)
  • Some mark other than an X (this is where the scrutineers become important).

After the polls close, the poll clerk and the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) secure the unused ballots and then open the ballot box in the presence of any accredited scrutineers. The clerk and DRO then count all the ballots, indicating valid votes for candidates and invalid ballots. The scrutineers can challenge any ballot and it must be set aside and reconsidered after the rest of the ballots are counted.

A challenged ballot must be defended by one of the scrutineers or it is considered to be invalid and the vote is not counted. The clerk and DRO have the power to make the decision, but in practice a noisy scrutineer can usually bully the DRO into accepting all their challenges. I didn’t realize just how easy it was to screw with the system until I’d been a scrutineer and watched it happen over and over again.

This is the key reason why minor party candidates poll so badly in Canadian elections: they don’t have enough (or, in many cases, any) scrutineers to defend their votes. In my experience in that Toronto-area byelection, I personally saved nearly 4% of the total vote my candidate received (in the entire riding) by counter-challenging challenged ballots. We totalled just over 400 votes in the riding (in just about 100 polls) — 21 of them in my polls. I got 15 of those votes allowed, when they would otherwise have been disallowed by the DRO.

There was no legal reason to disallow those votes: they were clearly marked with an X and had no other marks on them; they were challenged because they were votes for a minor candidate. As it was, I had a heck of a time running from poll to poll in order to get my counter-challenges in (I probably missed a few votes by not being able to get back to a poll in time).

The Libertarians only had six or seven scrutineers, covering less than a third of the polls in this riding. If the challenge rate was typical in my poll, then instead of the 400-odd votes, we actually received nearly 2000 votes — but most of them were not counted.

Yes, even 2000 votes would not have swung the election, but 2000 people willing to vote for a “fringe” party would be a good argument against those “throwing away your vote” criticisms. Voters are weird creatures in some ways: they like to feel that their votes actually matter. Voting for someone who espouses views you like, then discovering that only a few others feel the same way will discourage most voters from voting that way again in future.

Another reason that minor party votes matter (that I neglected to mention in the original post) is that parties receive funding based on their vote totals in the previous election. Disallowing minor party votes also deprives those parties of the funding they would otherwise be entitled to next time around. For the bigger parties, this is trivial, but for minor parties, this may be critical to them being able to stay active — and visible to voters — between elections.

June 11, 2014

“None of the Above” wins Nevada Democratic primary

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:35

NBC News reports the breakthrough for perennial candidate in Nevada:

Elections have historically been defined by their winners and losers — but on Tuesday a primary in Nevada returned a disheartening result for all the candidates: nobody won.

Voters in the state’s Democratic primary for governor were so unimpressed by the eight men on offer that the most popular option on the ballot paper was “none of these candidates,” which received 30 percent of the vote, according to figures from The Associated Press.

Democrat activists in the state acknowledged earlier this year that they had failed to find a credible challenger to face incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, according to Politico. And it clearly showed at the polling stations, with more than 21,000 people turning out with the express purpose of saying “no thanks” to the sum total of their party’s would-be governors.

Unfortunately, Nevada state law doesn’t allow NOTA to be on the ballot for the general election:

If voters did in fact want an empty seat instead of a challenger to face Sandoval they will be disappointed: In second place behind “none of these candidates” was Robert Goodman, a man who has run twice before and this time received 25 percent of the vote. State law means he will be the Democratic candidate.

H/T to Popehat for the link.

June 10, 2014

The two Hillary Clintons

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

Charles Cooke on the political phenomenon that is (are?) Hilary Clinton:

It seems clear now that there are two Hillary Clintons. The first, who exists wholly in the abstract, is the one we have been waiting for. She is a Maker of History and a savior of women; an equal partner in the power couple that presided over the prosperity, cool, and competence of the 1990s; a world-beating secretary of state; a feminist who smashes glass ceilings and fights for all that is right and good. Millions of us are “Ready!” for her.

The other exists in the real world. This Hillary is a person who lacks concrete achievements; whose inevitability never quite translates into evitability; whose rhetoric always seems to turn up empty; who has an impressive capacity for saying things that hurt her and her interests; and, most distressingly of all, who becomes instantly less likeable the moment she opens her mouth.

It is the second Hillary that is currently making the news. Indeed, important as the Democratic party’s internecine war was to her loss, one has to start considering the possibility that what ultimately doomed Hillary Clinton in 2008 was that she is Hillary Clinton. The husband whose name she took has a political knack unmatched in our times — a capacity to spin straw into gold and to rise unscathed from the dirtiest of ashes. Hillary, alas, seems to have the opposite quality, possessing a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and to turn favorable moments into cudgels that might later be wielded against her. Responding in May to a question about suicide, Clinton voluntarily launched into an unwise disquisition about gun rights, including in her messy remarks the politically dangerous recommendation that the federal government should look to “rein in” the right to bear arms. This weekend, she made a similar error. Asked about her astronomical public-speaking fees, Clinton declined to give the honest answer — which is, “I have the opportunity to make a lot of money speaking; wouldn’t you take it?” — and instead went off on a peculiarly defensive tangent. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” Clinton explained to Diane Sawyer. “We had no money when we got there and we struggled,” she continued, “to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses.” Later, she repeated the claim, noting that the couple was in dire need of the cash to “get us houses.”

What a difference a plural makes.

Andrew Echevarria uses Tinder to connect with Trinity-Spadina voters

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:45

Liam asked if I’d covered the innovative voter reach-out campaign being conducted by Libertarian candidate Andrew Echevarria in the Trinity-Spadina riding:

Andrew Echevarria Libertarian Tinder postMuch like love, wooing voters sometimes requires dabbling in the art of seduction.

That’s how MPP hopeful Andrew Echevarria sees it. The Ontario Libertarian Party candidate for Trinity-Spadina is using Tinder to connect with young people in the downtown riding, hoping to score votes the same way others score dates.

“I catch their eye,” said Echevarria, who joined the online dating app recently. “Tinder is a great moment to catch someone when they’re just hanging out.”

Toronto Tinder users may recognize the dark-haired, well-suited Echevarria as they swipe left and right through the app’s GPS-enabled library of potential romances. He set his search limit to the scope of the riding and has already been inundated with love connections.

However, he keeps his intentions up front.

“Tired of dating the same old politicians who lie just to get your ballot? Hook up with Liberty!” he teases, listing his age as 24. Those interested can “swipe right to debate or learn more.”

About 50 people — 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women, Echevarria guesses — have swiped right.

While it might sound like a gimmick, the neuroscience grad from the University of Toronto said he genuinely believes Tinder is an effective way of enticing students and young professionals who are unfamiliar with libertarian politics, which he says are defined by “the protection of individual rights and freedoms.”

June 1, 2014

Getting on the ballot is a major struggle, if you’re not a Democrat or Republican

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

Doug Mataconis gives a few examples of how the two major US political parties have conspired to make it much harder for anyone to get on the ballot without being a nominee of the Democratic or Republican parties:

In theory, the purpose of nominating petitions is supposed to be to ensure some level of ballot integrity by requiring people who want to appear on the ballot for local, state, or national office to demonstrate some minimal level of support for their candidacy. In reality, what ballot access laws in many parts of the country have become are a means by which the two major parties in general, and incumbents specifically, restrict third parties and challengers from getting on the ballot, or at least making it more difficult for them to do so. The Michigan law at issue in this case, which requires Congressional candidates to get just 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Given the fact that the population of Conyers’ district is some 700,000 people, and that he got more than 200,000 votes in 2012, one imagines that it wouldn’t be too difficult for Conyers to meet that target. The situation is quite different, though, for independent and minor party candidates. According to Ballotpedia, an independent candidate for Congress must submit at least 3,000, and no more than 6,000, valid signatures of registered voters in order to get on the ballot, three times as many as a candidate from ether of the two major political parties. In other states, the ballot access requirements are even more restrictive. In Virginia for example, a candidate for statewide office must submit at least 10,000 valid signatures, including at least 400 from each of the state’s 11 Congressional Districts. Other states are even more stringent, although there are some standouts. New Jersey, for example seems to be one of the few states where petition requirements for independent and third party candidates are actually lower than those for major parties candidates, at least when it comes to Federal offices. In general, though, even a short perusal of the nominating petition laws of the states leaves when with the inescapable conclusion that they are generally designed to make it harder for candidates to get on the ballot than aimed toward any legitimate goal of “ballot integrity.”

Other restrictions in various states include all sorts of timewasting — and volunteer effort-wasting — requirements for third-party efforts that often don’t apply to incumbents or to the two major parties. Every political party depends on volunteers, and those volunteer hours are used up quickly (and not renewed) when they have to be spent on busywork, rather than activity that helps elect their candidate.

For example, in Ontario, where there’s currently an election underway, it takes only 25 signatures from voters in the constituency to get a nominee’s name on the ballot. If you’re running as a member of a recognized political party, you also need the party leader’s signature on your nomination form (example here [PDF]). That’s an easy enough hurdle that anyone should be able to clear it (yet every election, a few would-be candidates fail to achieve ballot status … and sometimes it’s a major party candidate).

To run as a candidate in a Canadian federal election requires 100 signatures from voters in the riding (but only 50 in lower-population ridings in remote areas of the country). The nomination paper includes several pages for the signatures [PDF]. For more detail on how the signatures are validated, there was an interesting case in the last federal election.

May 29, 2014

The “Pairs Perfectly” campaign

Filed under: Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:03

Just as the Ontario election writ was dropped, the small wineries of Ontario started pushing the Pairs Perfectly campaign, to move the province toward a more mature wine retailing model (like British Columbia’s). While I’d prefer a full privatization model (like Alberta’s), at least the move to allowing some private wine stores would be an improvement. Despite the quick work to launch the campaign, Michael Pinkus says it’s already being forgotten on the hustings:

Ontario is deep into an election campaign and the best thing done so far is a little initiative from the Wine Council called “Pairs Perfectly”. They’ve backed it with radio and television promos and in truth they make a lot of sense. Ontario is one of the only provinces not to have some sort of private system in place, either along with their provincial monopoly (a la British Columbia) or fully privatized (a la Alberta). This initiative seemed to be already formed and waiting in the wings: no sooner had an election been called than the “Pairs Perfectly” slogan was in my inbox (with its twitter handle @PairsPerfectly, hashtag #PairsPerfectly and website PairsPerfectly.com), articles were written to explain the notion, social media seemed abuzz from wineries to writers to the average-Joe, all were tweeting, re-tweeting, blogging, tumbling, gramming, hooting, hollering, casting, accosting and I initially thought, “Wow, the buzz is really out there, this just might have legs, or at least more legs that that ‘My Wine Shop’ that seemed to go nowhere.”

But 6 weeks is a long time in the political realm, just ask Rob Ford, so much can happen over the course of 6 weeks that can turn the tide on a well-thought-out, well-organized plan of attack. Instead of the Ontario booze media jumping whole hog onto the initiative and writing piece after piece after piece about the benefits of privatization to keep the idea in our collective consciousness, a new issue has come along to polarize: the VQA, which I have repeatedly said is a sham of a system, most notably because of its tasting panel. Now there’s a new horse to ride, a newer and shinier issue to get all worked up about. The VQA is easy pickings because it is so wrong, crushes creativity and stymies’ our winemakers making them think “will this pass VQA”. Every winery has come into conflict with it at least once in its existence and it needs an overhaul (radical? Maybe not, but definitely a big tweak).

[...]

I believe this: Ontario is a mess and is destined to remain that way long after this election season has been put to bed. We already know the Liberals position on privatization of any sort (over their dead body); the NDP seem in lockstep with the Liberals train of thought because it would disrupt union jobs. And the Conservatives, before the campaign the only party willing to talk privatization, have somehow gone mute about the whole issue – as if someone told them not to rock the boat; which makes them the wild card. But if history shows us anything it’s doubtful it’ll get past committee if it ever does come up.

And don’t even get me started on the asinine things happening on the beer side of the ledger. The Beer Store’s cockamamie campaign against corner stores carrying the product that they have a duopoly to sell (with the LCBO), is as misguided and ill-conceived as any I can think of. Does beer not also get sold in corner stores in other provinces? Are all those owners corrupt-minor-sellers? It seems to have galvanized the public against them; especially when people find out they aren’t government controlled; which a vast majority of the province was under the false notion it was. This also took focus away from the larger issue of an open and freer market for all in the alcohol industry (craft brewers, craft winemakers, etc.)

May 28, 2014

Ontario election 2014 – the local front

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

Click to download full-size PDF

Click to download full-size PDF

So far, the local candidates have been almost invisible here in Whitby-Oshawa. Last week, we had a canvasser show up for Progressive Conservative candidate Christine Elliot (the incumbent MPP), but that’s literally it. As far as I know, this is the complete list of registered candidates for the riding:

  • Christine Elliott, Progressive Conservative
  • Ryan Kelly, NDP
  • Ajay Krishnan, Liberal
  • Stacey Leadbetter, Green
  • Douglas Thom, Freedom Party

The Ontario Libertarian Party issued a press release the other day, boasting that they were “in a position to form a majority government”. Which sounds great, but all it really means is they’re finally running enough candidates that, should they all be elected, the OLP would have enough seats to form a majority. A subtle distinction, I’m sure you’d agree.

However, despite the massed ranks of OLP sacrificial lambs candidates, they don’t have one in Whitby-Oshawa. This means that instead of wasting my vote by voting Libertarian, I’ll waste my ballot on Douglas Thom of the Freedom Party (“Splitters!“).

CBC News has a profile of the riding here. For other Ontario ridings, you can look them up here.

Ontario NDP manifesto “reads like it was written at an Annex dinner party that went one bottle of red over the line”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:15

The NDP is having some internal ructions during the ongoing Ontario election campaign, as federal NDP supporters are critical of the provincial party’s approach (and leaking that discontent to the media). The Toronto Star‘s Tim Harper reports:

Tom Mulcair and Andrea Horwath will share a stage next week at the provincial party’s spring gala in Toronto.

Publicly, it will be smiles and camaraderie. Privately, some members of the federal leader’s Ontario caucus and his inner circle are looking at the Horwath campaign with anxiety.

While Mulcair has praised Horwath’s “positive, optimistic” vision, there are concerns here about the messaging in the provincial campaign, the decision to force a vote at this time and the landscape the federal party might be traversing in the politically-key southern Ontario ridings in next year’s federal vote.

There are those who believe Horwath brought down the Liberals a year too late and is now not pushing back strongly enough against a budget that is a political document that cannot be delivered. Others wonder why the campaign lacks any big, fresh ideas.

[...]

Specifically, federal New Democrats are watching an attempt by the party to tack toward the middle where the votes lie, while fighting off backbiting from within for allegedly giving up on progressive voters and the causes they hold dear.

Mulcair is expected to steer the party in the same direction next year.

He will go to the polls with the NDP’s best chance for power in its history, campaigning with a mix of “small ball” policies, packaged around expected bold policies on the environment and sustainable development. Federal NDP strategists dismiss the tag of “small ball.” They call issues such as bank fees, gas prices and fees for paper bills “consumer issues” and they believe they engage voters who don’t think of politics in old right-left terms.

They dismiss a critical letter to Horwath from self-described NDP stalwarts — a manifesto that reads like it was written at an Annex dinner party that went one bottle of red over the line — as an attempt to drag the party back to what one called the “Audrey McLaughlin” days, a reference to a campaign two decades ago when the party remained ideologically pure and lost official party status.

QotD: The voters

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

There is, so to say, good news and bad news for democratic European Unionists. The good news is that, for the first time, voter turnout actually increased from the previous election to the European Parliament. Just over 43 percent of the eligible bothered to vote, up 1/10th of 1 percent. The bad news is that so many of these voters selected parties devoted to the destruction of as much of the European Union as possible.

We are laughing, up here in the High Doganate. Or rather, no, we are not laughing, it is all a pose. Still, there is a glint of recognition, gleeful in its own way. The voters, especially in England and France — the pioneer “Nation States” from the later Middle Ages — appear to have been motivated by something akin to the feist that came over the municipal electorate in the Greater Parkdale Area, the last time we voted. That was when we chose the notorious drunkard and drug addict, Rob Ford, to be our mayor. As polls since have repeatedly confirmed, we knew what we were doing. We had a task for him. It was to destroy as much of the vast municipal bureaucracy as possible. Our instruction was: “Keep smashing everything you see until they take you away.” Finesse would not be required, and the licker and crack might be an advantage.

One may love “the people,” without being especially impressed by them. They are stupid, but as the stopped clock, there are moments when they are stupidly correct. These are very brief moments, but let us enjoy them while we can.

David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.

May 26, 2014

Is the bell tolling for the Liberal Democrats?

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:36

With the EU election results in, the “I told you so” and “Here’s what it really means” brigades are out in force, letting us know what the voters are really saying with their ballots. For example, Here’s Graeme Archer measuring up the Lib-Dems for an early grave:

Since “Europe” (elections about, scandals involving etc) this year is bound up temporally, and hence a little psychologically, with “Eurovision”, which is about as camp an entity as is possible to conceive; since we’re going to talk about the Liberal Democrats’ existential crisis, let’s set the mood music accordingly. Close your eyes and think of Shirley Bassey. Or better still click here and sing along, especially if your name is Nick Clegg, leader of a party which really does have nothing.

I’m not here to gloat, seriously. Anyone who stands for election is worth celebrating, because you don’t fight for something unless you’re prepared to lose. But, OK, I’m a tribal Tory too, so here’s a couple of things that amused me last night. The sight of arch-federalist Lib Dem Edward McMillan Scott, newly defeated, telling the BBC that he’d be back in some other new role, demonstrating perfectly the anti-democratic “hanger-onnery” that infuriates Eurosceptics about the institution (Matthew Woods, an old Hackney Tory mate, coined “hanger-onnery”, and it’s perfect). The other laugh is that the Lib Dem wipeout was secured in part by the wretched Proportional Representation system, whose algorithmic horrors they’re so keen to foist onto every other election. Be careful what you wish for, Fair Voters!

Seriously, though, this is the existential crisis which the Lib Dem construct has spent this parliament pretending it could avoid. Changing the leader won’t help. [...]

Now repeat the exercise from the perspective of a “Lib Dem”, which, after last night, isn’t so much a thought experiment as a glance at the newspapers. Remove every elected Lib Dem from the map: what are their voters left with?

Nothing. Utterly nothing. There is a historical tradition of political liberalism in Britain, but as any fule kno, most of it was absorbed by the Conservative Party at key points in the last century. None of that tradition lives on in the “Lib Dem” construct.

What of its emotional disposition, the mirror to my gloomy Toryism? Well: to judge from their record in power, the “Lib Dem” instinct is for greater state intervention, to alleviate the plight of the less well off. So: nothing you can’t get from Labour, then.

“We want to reduce tax [by increasing thresholds]!” Nick Clegg would say, as evidence of the intellectual strand his party represents. Um, so do the vast majority of Conservatives. Again, no need for a “Lib Dem” representative to secure that outcome.

My point is that those Lib Dems who prioritise liberalism — whether about reducing tax, or fighting ID cards and so on — must know in their hearts that they should vote Conservative. Those who prioritise social democracy, similarly, must know that they should vote Labour.

Triumph of the Euro-skeptic parties

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

The Irish Times looks at the Euro election results which have seen big gains for several Euro-skeptic parties:

Among the victors was Ms Le Pen’s National Front party which topped the poll in France with a quarter of the vote, bypassing the conservative UMP party, and leaving François Hollande’s Socialist Party in third place. The party is now in line for 24 seats in Strasbourg.

UKIP was expected to top the poll in Britain, with exit polls last night predicting the party could win 31 per cent of the vote. “Up until now European integration has always seemed inevitable … I think that inevitability will end tonight,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage said last night in a live video link to the European Parliament in Brussels, describing the decision to allow former Soviet countries into the European Union as one of Europe’s “great errors.”

Greece’s main opposition party Syriza topped the polls there, while the far-right Golden Dawn party came third with between 8 and 10 per cent of the vote.

In Germany, support for Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) an anti-EU party formed barely two years ago, reach 6.5 per cent, with the party in the running for six seats.

In Austria, the far-right Freedom party was expected to win 20 per cent of votes, up from 13 per cent in 2009.

However, some extreme anti-EU parties in smaller countries did not poll as well as expected, with the far-right Vlaams Belang in Belgium losing support.

Of course, not all Euro-skeptic parties are the same. UKIP is somewhat nativist and has a vocal anti-immigrant wing. Vlaams Belang has a larger and more vocal anti-immigrant component, while the Greek Golden Dawn are as close to modern day Fascists as you’ll find anywhere; not a party you want to be sharing newspaper space with.

May 24, 2014

A significant factor in UKIP success – all “right thinking” people loathe them

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

Before the recent elections, Brendan O’Neill explained why the serried ranks of anti-UKIP pundits, politicians, and the “great and the good” may well be helping UKIP rather than hurting them:

Try as I might, I cannot remember a time when Britain’s various elites were as united in fury as they are now over UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the run-up to this week’s Euro-elections, in which the Eurosceptic UKIP is expected to do well, leaders of every hue, from the true blue to the deep red, and hacks of every persuasion, from the right to the right-on, are as one on the issue of Farage. From Nick Clegg to the Twitterati that normally gets off on mocking Nick Clegg, from David Cameron to radical student leaders who normally hate David Cameron, fury with Farage has united all. It has brought together usually scrapping sections of the political and media classes into a centre-ground mush of contempt for UKIP. Not even Nick Griffin — who is a far nastier character than Farage — attracted such unstinting universal ire. What’s up with this Farage fury?

[...]

The real motor to the anti-Farage outlook, the fuel to this unprecedented fury of the elites, is a powerful feeling that he has connected with the public, or a significant section of it, in a way that mainstream politicians and observers have utterly failed to. The elites see in Farage their own inability to understand the populace or to speak to it in a language it understands. They see in his popularity — his oh-so-stubborn popularity, so notably undented by the daily furious outpourings of the anti-Farage elites — their own failure to swing public attitudes in what they consider to be the ‘right’ direction. That Farage’s popularity in the polls has remained pretty high even as our elites have been attacking him on a daily basis fills them not only with fury but with fear: their arguments seem not to have much traction outside the Westminster bubble, outside of medialand, where despite their best efforts the awkward, annoying little people still remain fairly favourable towards a loudmouth politician who isn’t PC and drinks beer. The fury behind the attacks on Farage is really a fury with the throng, with the masses, whose brains have clearly been made so mushy by UKIP propaganda that even the supposedly enlightened arguments and policies of their betters can now make no impact. It isn’t Farage they hate — it’s ordinary people, and more importantly their own palpable inability to make inroads into those people’s hearts or minds.

In short, the true momentum behind both UKIP’s rise in the polls and the rising temperatures it has provoked in pretty much every elite circle in Britain is not the charms or coherent ideologies of Farage himself. (In fact, many take great pleasure in pointing out that most UKIP supporters don’t know UKIP policy on any issue beyond immigration and the EU.) Rather, it is the political class’s alienation from the public, and its existential insecurities, that have propelled UKIP to the top of the political agenda. The aloofness of the old political machine, its growing distance from and contempt for the voters, its view of the public as a blob to be re-educated and made physically fit rather than as sentient beings to be politically engaged, is what has boosted public support for a party like UKIP that seems willing to speak to, and maybe even for, so-called ordinary people. And it is the out-of-touch political class’s subsequent panic at UKIP’s rise, its fear that the success of this party might spell doom for its safe, samey, middle-ground ilk, which leads it to aim its every ideological, political and media gun at Farage, having the unwitting effect of making him both more widely talked-about and possibly even more popular. It is the political class’s crisis of legitimacy and vision which both created and then inflamed the UKIP phenomenon.

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