Sunday, April 30, 2017

It's on!

Theresa May announcing the general election - Getty Images
On a move that even shocked members of her cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May has called a general election in the United Kingdom that will be held on June 8. Since becoming prime minister after the resignation of David Cameron and the Brexit vote, May has told the country that she is guaranteeing a departure from the European Union.

Since then, things haven't been always going smoothly. This is partly the result of the 2015 general election. The Conservative Party managed to win a surprising majority, but it was still very narrow. The Conservatives only lead by four seats in the House of Commons. You need 326 members to hold a majority. Here's the numbers as of now:

Conservative Party (Theresa May) - 330
Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn) - 229
Scottish Nationalists (Nicola Sturgeon) - 56
Liberal Democrats (Tim Farron) - 8
DUP (Arlene Foster) - 8
Sinn Fein (Gerry Adams) - 4
Party of Wales (Leanne Wood) - 3
SDLP (Colum Eastwood) - 3
UUP (Mike Nesbitt) - 2
Green Party (Caroline Lucas) - 1
UKIP (Paul Nuttall) - 1

The reasons she called a general election are obvious. Theresa May is widely popular and the Conservatives now hold double-digit leads over Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. If she continues to lead in the double-digits, then she could enter the House of Commons after June 8 with a massive Conservative majority of over 100 seats. It's a gamble, but in my view only an idiot wouldn't call an early general election with soaring poll numbers.

Since her announcement, it is true that the Conservative Party's lead has reduced slightly, but this is not too significant at the moment. The latest poll from YouGov/Sunday Times poll has them up by a margin of 13 percent, with 44 percent of the vote to Labour's 31 percent. Another poll from ICM/Sun on Sunday indicates the Conservatives with a 19 percent lead over Labour (47 percent to 28 percent).

Though these margins are smaller than before she made the election announcement (she often led by margins of 20 percent or more), her party still performs better than Tony Blair's Labour Party in 1997, which won by a margin of 12.5 percent. She also runs better than Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives in the 1983 general election, which won by a margin of 14.8 percent.

In many ways, this election looks a lot like 1983. A popular female prime minister who leads the Conservative Party is going up against an elderly leftist leading Labour. This election might just end up being a reenactment.

Labour itself is going to find it difficult to climb back up and control Westminster. This is partly because of the Scottish Nationalists. Currently, the Conservatives are set to make gains in Scotland rather than Labour. The Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, are unlikely to win the most seats in the northern region of the United Kingdom, but they are expected to make a breakthrough that has not been achieved since all their seats were lost in 1997.

With Labour no longer appealing in Scotland, it will be difficult to make any gains. Then there's what's happening with UKIP, which looks like it will lose about half their supporters to the Conservatives. This is because May is guaranteeing the country Brexit. It makes more sense to back the party in power, even if UKIP was instrumental in pushing Britain towards leaving the European Union.

The Liberal Democrats might make gains from their massacre in 2015 and they have decided to position themselves as the only anti-Brexit party. This could peel votes on the left away from Labour, another thorn in the side of Corbyn's campaign.

Lastly, the Labour Party's own supporters aren't even that loyal. This is largely because of Corbyn's weak leadership and his left-wing ideology. By moving away from the center, many moderates (people who strongly supported the party under Blair) are not willing to support Corbyn. Simultaneously, polling data has found that working class voters are abandoning the party in droves for the Conservatives in addition to their support among middle class voters.

May's decision to hold a snap general election is a gamble, but it is a very good gamble. With her poll numbers high, it looks like she will sail easily into Downing Street. Yes, she has some faults. She is very repetitive (sort of brings up memories of Marco Rubio) and might not hold the line on taxes, but has very easy opponents. It looks good for the Conservatives, with the election just over a month away.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Macron will likely win in France

Emmanuel Macron - Getty Images
Though the first round seemed to be tightening towards the end, front-runners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have advanced. The results are as follows:

Emmanuel Macron (On the Move) - 24.01%
Marine Le Pen (National Front) - 21.30%
Francois Fillon (Republicans) - 20.01%
Jean-Luc Melenchon (Unbowed France) - 19.58%
Benoit Hamon (Socialist Party) - 6.36%

It's a historic moment for the French. Neither of the two major parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, made it to the second round. In the case of Benoit Hamon, his problem was the immense baggage that came with being a member of the incumbent party. Francois Hollande's leadership has been weak, the economy is still in the tank, and the Socialist Party has suffered from constant scandals. I hope Bernie Sanders supporters watched what happened in France over the last five years. This is what you get when you elect democratic socialists.

As for my favorite of the five major candidates, Francois Fillon dropped the ball on what should have been an easy race. His problem was that he conducted himself badly in government by giving his wife and children fictitious jobs with fat salaries. Though he did receive a sort of small, last-minute momentum from people who wanted free market reforms and a powerful military (an Ifop-Fiducial poll at the beginning of April showed him at 17%, but just before voting he had climbed to 19.5%), it was not enough. France will have to wait longer to get its Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.

The French left, dissatisfied with Hamon, decided that going from socialism to communism would make things better (hint: it wouldn't). They quickly rallied to Jean-Luc Melenchon in April. This was mainly because of his rhetorical skills. In truth, his use of holographic imagery to campaign in multiple place at once makes him the most innovative campaigner in recent history. However, you cannot win on charisma alone. That's why he fell short.

That leaves the French with the establishment's choice versus the populist insurgent. Macron was a member of the Socialist Party and part of Hollande's government as an economy minister. Many in the party did not like his centrism, so he pushed out of his office. This led him to create his own political movement called On the Move (En Marche! in French, notice that the name uses his initials).

Macron is still on the left and his reforms, though business-friendly, are nothing compared to what Fillon wanted. Then there's the refugee crisis. He has said that France is just going to have to live with the rise of terrorist attacks occurring in the country. This is a defeatist's strategy to handling the problem. Taking vast numbers of people was seen as humanitarian and was intended to help grow the labor force, but it is important to realize that these are refugees who had no intention of moving to France before ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. There are things in French culture (and western culture in general) that are simply not compatible with Arab culture. This is why so many voters are angry in France.

I do not think Marine Le Pen will win the presidential election. Unlike the election in my country, in which both candidates were generally within the margin of error, Macron's lead is huge. I could be wrong, but I just can't see a massive double-digit dip within less than two weeks. The only problems Macron seems to have is the threat of Russian hackers (which the French have prepared for) and his relationship with his old wife who he met when she was a teacher in his school.

In terms of policy, I think from a refugee standpoint Macron could be negative for France, since he's too status quo, but many of the French people can't see themselves taking as far a right turn as voting for Le Pen. Macron is also good for the United States, by wanting to say in NATO (though like Trump, I imagine the NATO skeptic Le Pen might changed her views after elected). As of now, I think Macron is in good shape to win.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Tight, Somewhat Unpredictable French Election

The top French candidates at a debate - Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images
European politics continue to be chaotic. Angela Merkel is now seriously in trouble, according to recent polls. Theresa May has decided to call a general election in the United Kingdom. The French election, however, is first. There has been nothing more unpredictable and unprecedented than this race. Each week brings something new.

For most of the race, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have been leading to go into the second. With the first round on Sunday, it is expected that both candidates will make it and go head-to-head in the second, where polling initially shows Macron prevailing. The problem for both candidates is that Macron's support is quite soft while Le Pen is prone to gaffes. There are also two major threats to the front-runners who have not gone away.

Francois Fillon, the Republican nominee, simply isn't going away. The former prime minister has had to deal with scandals, but he has a solid fifth of the French electorate backing him. This coalition of Catholic traditionalists and the people in business community is very formidable. He also seems to have some sort of momentum as the first round gets closer. It might not be enough to get him into the next round, but it is enough to keep the free market reformist in the game. What matters for Fillon is how many voters he can convince at the last minute before voting.

What has happened in the French left is even more shocking. The incumbent Socialist Party is so unpopular that their candidate, former Minister of National Education Benoit Hamon, is polling under 10 percent. The French left is moving further way from the center and rally behind communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, a member of the European Parliament. Melenchon is the exact opposite of the Thatcherite Fillon. He has proposed a possible withdrawal from the European Union, a departure from NATO, a 100 billion euro economic stimulus plan, nationalization of many sectors, and an (Good Lord) 100 percent income tax on people making 360,000 euros a year.

Melenchon has been a very good debater. Two debates have taken place and he has stood out in both of them. This has propelled him into a virtual tie with Fillon. Another factor in Melenchon's rise is just how innovative his campaign has been. He has used projection screens to give speeches at multiple locations.

As for now, Macron and Le Pen look like safe bets to enter the second round, but their leads are shrinking as Fillon and Melenchon make gains. With the race starting to get tight, there is a rising uncertainty about what to expect the night of the first round.

It really comes down to where the French they're going on the economy and the refugee crisis. Marine Le Pen is very popular because of her "France for the French" campaign rhetoric. She represents major change in French politics. Macron is basically representing the establishment even if he left the Socialist Party to form his own movement.