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The UK election

generalelection-575738 Daily Express

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below]

Je suis dégoûté. Really disappointed, mainly as the outcome wasn’t expected. After the US midterms, the Israeli vote, and now this one, I don’t think I can take any more such unanticipated election results. What next? An AKP landslide in Turkey on June 7th, giving the president-sultan there his super-majority to rewrite the constitution as he sees fit? What an unpleasant thought. On the misfiring of the UK pre-election polls, Nate Silver, in his live blogging last night, opined (at 9:54 PM) that “the world may have a polling problem,” with accurate polling posing increasing challenges.

Also having a problem—and a big one—is the Labour party and, more generally, center-left/social democratic parties of government that have moved to the center over the past two decades. As political scientists Johannes Karreth and Jonathan Polk argued on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog two days ago—and with data to back it up—”Moving to the center can be costly for left-wing parties.” The era when embracing neoliberalism looked to be the right electoral strategy is now past.

On Labour’s debacle, journalist John Lanchester, in a post today on the LRB blog—in which he confesses that he did not see the result coming—writes

First-past-the-post is not especially fair, but it is supposed to deliver clear outcomes. In 2010, it didn’t. This time, against all expectations, it did. Lots more detail will come in over the next weeks as the data are analysed and the political scientists do their thing, but for me, a couple of things really stand out. If Labour had retained all of their 41 Scottish seats, the Tories would still be the majority government. So that must mean Labour got creamed in England, yes? Actually, no. Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. Labour could even claim that they won the English campaign, in the same sense that the British army could claim it won the Charge of the Light Brigade.

So what did happen in England? The Tories smashed it in the marginals. In the battleground constituencies Labour were down on their 2010 performance by 0.7 per cent. Labour’s overall improvement in England was driven by success on their own turf: 3.5 per cent increase in the North East, 6 per cent in the North West. Where there was a genuine contest with the Tories, the Tories did better. People sometimes say that election campaigns don’t matter, but that is manifestly not the case this time. The Tories out-campaigned Labour in the places where they needed to.

Writing in The Telegraph, blogger Tim Stanley, who was apparently a Labour person in the recent past, says “No tears for Ed Miliband, please. He was the reason Labour lost.”

On first-past-the-post vs. proportional representation, LSE political scientists Jack Blumenau and Simon Hix had a pre-election post in Monkey Cage asking “What would Britain look like under Proportional Representation?

That question today is neither here nor there but it nonetheless merits mention that, under straight PR—and with voters voting the way they did—the LD yesterday would have netted 50 seats (instead of 8), SNP 30 seats (and not 56), and UKIP a full 82 (as opposed to its measly one). The likely coalition outcome: the Tories with UKIP and the (very right-wing) Ulster Protestant DUP. Anyone still for PR?…

On the (trashy) British media coverage of the election campaign, which was flagrantly biased in favor of the Tories and against Labour, see journalist Peter Jukes’s piece, “The British press has lost it,” which has been the most read article on Politico.eu’s website today. The British press, as I wrote some four years ago, is terrible (and far worse than the American or French).

The main concern for me personally in this election—and the reason why I so wanted the Tories to lose—was David Cameron’s insane promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU, which, if it takes place—and it now will—will likely result in a vote for Brexit, the consequences of which will be calamitous for Europe—and for the UK as well, as a pro-EU Scotland will demand—and necessarily be granted—another referendum on independence, and which, this time, will succeed.

My idée reçue on this, however, may not be warranted. As Politico.eu’s Tunku Varadarajan argues, the decisive Tory victory now means that “Britain’s membership [in] the EU is safe

The Tories have seen off the UKIP threat in the short-to-medium term. Their backers in the City of London and in industry would rather die than endure the calamity of ‘Brexit,’ and Cameron knows this. Cameron’s silence on the subject of the EU during the election campaign made it plain that his promise of a referendum was tactical. A referendum there will be, of course, but it will be one in which only UKIP campaigns for an abrogation of EU membership. Cameron’s pro-EU price in Brussels will be a promise by the European Council to renegotiate some treaty terms. It is unlikely that Brussels will refuse. If the prospect of Brexit is unbearable in the City of London, it is equally unbearable in Brussels.

On Cameron’s demand to renegotiate EU treaty terms, I’ve been assuming that such will be met by the European Council with a fin de non recevoir, but again, maybe I’m mistaken. Bernard Guetta, in a commentary on France Inter this morning, thinks it likely that Brussels will end up making the necessary concessions to keep the UK in the EU (and which will thereby allow for the formal creation of a two-speed Europe, as dreamed for by France; listen here).

As for Scotland, numerous journalists and pundits are certain that independence—a hypothesis I am totally hostile to, as I explained here last September—is only a matter of time, e.g. Ben Judah’s Politico.eu report last weekend from the campaign trail, datelined Edinburgh, in which he asserted “Make no mistake: It’s ‘bye-bye Britain.’” With yesterday’s SNP sweep, the sentiment that Scotland will quit the UK has only been reinforced. I’m not convinced. The SNP may have won a big victory but the impressive 30 point increase in its popular vote score, to 50% north of the border, merely aligns it, more or less, with its score in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections—and its result in last September’s referendum. And while every last voter who favors Scottish independence voted SNP yesterday, a small number of the latter’s voters no doubt remain unionists at heart. So pro-independence sentiment is not (yet) in the majority.

In point of fact, Scotland can only gain independence if the UK prime minister allows the organization of a referendum, and there is no reason for Cameron (or his successor) to do this in the absence of a game changing situation, which can only be a Brexit victory in the UK-wide EU vote. Moreover, if such a referendum for Scotland is eventually held, the rules imposed by London may be different from those last time, e.g. stipulating a super-majority (say, 55%) or allowing all persons born in Scotland, but residing elsewhere in the UK, the right to vote in it. So Scottish independence is not a done deal.

Also, the fact that the SNP will have the third largest group of deputies in the House of Commons also changes the game. The SNP’s participation in Westminster will significantly implicate it in national politics and likely temper its demands for a referendum on independence, particularly if a new federal or confederal arrangement is negotiated with London (if Cameron is going to make demands on Brussels for the UK to stay in the EU, it stands to reason that he will concede to Edinburgh to keep Scotland in the UK). So at the end of the day, the SNP may ultimately transform itself into a regional federalist party, as the PQ has, in effect, become in Quebec and the Lega Nord in Italy.

One good analysis I’ve read today on the election is University of Georgia professor Cas Mudde’s “A disunited kingdom,” in OpenDemocracy. The lede: “While the Conservative victory is remarkable, it is a mere incident in the fundamental transformation of British politics that is being played out in at least four important chapters. British politics is dead.”

The most gratifying result from the election was certainly the defeat of the unspeakable George Galloway, in his Bradford West constituency, and to a Pakistani-origin female Labour candidate. That warms the heart.

UPDATE: Author Richard Seymour—who is solidly on the left—has a good post-election analysis on the Jacobin website, “The end of Labour.” The lede: “Yesterday’s British election was about the collapse of the Labour Party — and where we go from here.”

2nd UPDATE: Cambridge University political theorist David Runciman has some interesting “Notes on the election” on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: David Frum, the well-known conservative Canadian-American pundit—who is presently chairman of the UK think tank Policy Exchange—has a post-election commentary in The Atlantic worth linking to, in which he tells US Republicans “What [they] can learn from British Conservatives.” The lede: “Several of the world’s center-right parties have modernized in ways the GOP hasn’t.”

The conservative leaders Frum mentions are mainly in the Anglosphere: in addition to David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper and Australia’s Tony Abbott. Now these latter two I find particularly unpalatable but Frum’s point—that the GOP could learn from them—is well-taken. E.g.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. These conservatives do not abjectly defend the healthcare status quo; they attempt to open more space for competition and private initiative within the health sector. But they accept that universal health coverage in some form has joined old-age pensions and unemployment insurance in the armature of an advanced modern economy. In this, their American counterparts are the true outliers.

The difference between the American right and the rest may, I think, be summed up in one name: Ayn Rand. If her ideas have ever found a receptive audience elsewhere in the Anglosphere—or anywhere else in the world—I am not aware of it. As for the receptiveness to Ayn Rand in the US, this has ideological roots—e.g. in late 19th century Social Darwinism—but that’s a whole other discussion.

4th UPDATE: Peter Oborne, associate editor of The Spectator, has an opinion piece in Politico.eu on “The ruins of Labour,” in which he says that a return to Blairism is not the answer to Labour’s woes.

5th UPDATE: Peter Hall, the Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University—who’s very smart; I’ve read and used his academic writings over the decades—has a piece in WaPo’s Monkey Cage on how “English voters were influenced by the politics of fear.”

In this vein, the post-election commentary by The Nation’s London bureau chief D.D. Gutterplan also asserted that “Fear wins big in Britain.”

And also in Monkey Cage is an instructive piece by Kieran Healy, associate professor of sociology at Duke University, on “What the runners-up tell us about Britain’s election.” Reading this, it seems pretty clear that the UK needs electoral reform, to replace FPTP with STV or some variant of PR.

6th UPDATE: John Prescott—former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, and current Sunday Mirror columnist—argues that “Labour lost the election five years ago” and explains why. The reason: Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership failed to defend Labour’s past economic record.

7th UPDATE: Jim Messina, President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, who was an adviser to the Tories and David Cameron’s campaign, has a piece in Politico Magazine (May 17th) on “Why the GOP can’t get no satisfaction.” The lede: “My British experience—including advice from Mick Jagger—taught me that the Republican Party could end up like Ed Miliband.” N.B. Messina’s piece is about the British election, not the GOP or American politics.

8th UPDATE: Stanley Greenberg, the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and pollster for the Labour Party (as well as the Zionist Camp in Israel during the last campaign there), explicates, in Politico.eu (May 17th), the reasons for the Tory victory, in which it is asserted that “Right-wing wins come at too high a price.” The lede: “I watched overseas as Britain and Israel’s leaders did long-term harm to their countries.”

9th UPDATE: Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches economics at Oxford University, has a post on the election reblogged in Social Europe (May 18th), in which he puts Niall Ferguson and his “triumphalist Tory tosh” through the shredder.

10th UPDATE: Ross McKibbin, an emeritus research fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, has a lengthy piece in the June 4th issue of the LRB (posted online on May 21st) on “the Labour Party’s most recent demise.”

11th UPDATE: David Held, who teaches politics at Durham Univesity, has a column (May 22nd) in OpenDemocracy, in which he poses “10 questions for the Labour Party.”

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The austerity delusion

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While awaiting the results of the British election, here’s an essay one may read by Paul Krugman, published in The Guardian last week, “The austerity delusion: The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?” Hopefully the election will show that enough voters have stopped believing the lie, or at least no longer wish to go along with it.

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A Norwegian Tragedy

Adam Shatz has a first-rate review essay—as one would expect from him—in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, on two books on Anders Behring Breivik: A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya, by Aage Borchgrevink—a well-known Norwegian writer and literary critic; his book was first published in Norwegian in 2012—, and Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia, by Oslo-based social anthropologist Sindre Bangstad.

Borchgrevink’s book, which Adam says is “superb,” recounts the troubled parcours of Anders Breivik and the massacre he committed on July 22, 2011 (which I had a post on at the time, ironically speculating on the possible Tea Party GOP reaction to the bloodbath). Breivik, as it happens, had friends in Oslo’s Muslim immigrant community—the largest component of which is Pakistani—as an adolescent but gradually developed a virulent hatred of them, which Borchgrevink examines in detail. Before his trial Breivik was described as a paranoid schizophrenic but he rejected the notion and psychiatric examinations found no sign of it. He did hail from a dysfunctional family, however, and steeped himself in, as Adam puts it, the “virtual netherworld of ‘Eurabia’ literature,” which, intellectually speaking, set him on his murderous path.

I’ve looked at the “Eurabia” literature, which posits that Muslims/Arabs are taking over Europe—demographically and as part of a plot hatched by France and the EU—and that Islam will, at some point in the course of this century, become the majority religion on the continent and impose “dhimmi” status on non-Muslims. It’s conspiratorial junk. Preposterous trash. Bon pour la poubelle. The author most associated with this wacky idea is the British/Egyptian Jew Gisèle Littman (better known by her nom de plume Bat Ye’or), to which one may add the nutters and cranks Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, right-wing Danish intellectual Lars Hedegaard, gay American Oslo resident Bruce Bawer, and Canadian publicist Mark Steyn, entre autres. None of these illuminés, it may be said, possess the credentials—scholarly or otherwise—to be writing articles and books on the subject. But write on it they do, and their screeds have an audience in Norway, as Sindre Bangstad details in his book on Breivik and Islamophobia. Now I happen not to like the “Islamophobia” neologism, which lacks a precise definition and tends to conflate criticism of Islam as a religion—which, in a liberal, secular democracy, is an entirely legitimate exercise of free speech—, denunciation of radical Islamism—also entirely legitimate (and which large numbers of Muslims engage in themselves)—, and the stigmatizing of Muslims as individuals, whether or not they practice the religion—which is bigotry pure and simple. But whatever label one wants to attach to it, fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims pervades a portion of the Norwegian public, as it does elsewhere in Europe and North America. So while Anders Breivik was an outlier in his act of terrorism, he was not one in his beliefs.

One is reminded in reading Adam’s essay that Breivik received the maximum sentence in Norway for his crime—of murdering 77 people—, which is 21 years imprisonment. Now this sentence can be extended indefinitely—and presumably it will be—but still, it’s crazy that in Norway cold-blooded murderers—not to mention mass murdering terrorists—can theoretically be released from prison while in the prime of their adult lives.

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rtr3axns

This is the title of an important, must read analysis of the French economy by Simon Tilford, Deputy-Director of the Centre for European Reform in London—the leading think tank focusing specifically on the European Union—, posted September 24th on CER’s website. Tilford’s analysis thus begins

The French government’s announcement in early September that France would fail to bring its deficit below 3 per cent of GDP until 2017 was met with the usual mixture of frustration and resignation. Many eurozone policy-makers see France’s refusal to play by the fiscal rules and its inability to reform its economy as the biggest threat to the eurozone’s stability. The list of allegations is pretty comprehensive: a bloated state, a lack of competitiveness, intractable structural problems and a mulish refusal to reform or to acknowledge that globalisation has left France living on borrowed time.

Some of these criticisms have merit, but as a whole they form little more than a caricature. France has some supply-side problems: very high non-wage labour costs deter employment; and parts of the service sector urgently need an injection of competition. But these are secondary to those of its problems that stem from self-defeating austerity and chronically weak domestic demand elsewhere in the eurozone. Without change to the latter France could yet come to justify the ‘sick man of Europe’ tag so beloved of journalists.

Further down Tilford says

To recap, the French economy is in trouble. It has barely grown for the last two years and unemployment is stuck at near record levels. But France has performed pretty well in a eurozone context. It stacks up favourably not only compared with the currency union’s periphery but also with the likes of the Netherlands and Finland. France’s supply-side problems are no doubt significant, but do not justify its status as some kind of hopeless case. They are certainly not as serious as those faced by Italy, and arguably no worse overall than those of Germany and the UK, although they are in different areas. Nor will France’s economic prospects be improved by adhering to the European Commission’s calls for austerity, wage restraint and labour market reforms which, if heeded, would exacerbate unemployment.

And he concludes

The French government should certainly push ahead with structural reforms of its economy, but not necessarily those prescribed by the European Commission. When demand is very weak and firms do not need to hire workers, reducing social protection and wages increases unemployment rather than reducing it, and depresses consumption. However, France should reduce the burden of taxation from labour and transfer more of it to wealth, property and carbon consumption. And it should open up the country’s non-tradable services sector to greater competition. But even structural reforms of this kind will do little to increase economic growth without a change to fiscal policy, aggressive measures by the ECB to reflate the eurozone economy as a whole and concerted action by the German government to rebalance Germany’s economy.

France is not the ‘sick man of Europe’, but it is certainly ailing thanks to the medicine prescribed by Brussels and Berlin. The French government needs to step up its resistance. Indeed, perhaps the most serious charge that can be laid at France’s door is that it has meekly gone along with a eurozone policy doctrine that has done so much damage to the French economy rather than corralling opposition to it and forcing through a change in direction.

As an 1800 word article can’t cover all the bases, there were a few problems in the French economy Tilford didn’t mention, e.g. underinvestment by French enterprises in R&D (only 1.4% of GDP), a relative paucity of SMEs—which are a strength of the German economy and a source of innovation there—, and inefficiencies in the distribution system (i.e. superfluous layers of middlemen taking their cut, resulting in a price structure that is higher than it should be, and certainly more so than in Germany).  But Tilford’s Krugman-like analysis is very good and salutary nonetheless. Read the whole thing here.

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The Scottish referendum

Referendum on Scottish independence

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

I didn’t pay too much attention to it until the poll ten days ago that showed the ‘yes’ in the lead for the very first time. Now I have never set foot in Scotland—which is too bad for me, as I know for a fact that it is a beautiful and wonderful country—but am deeply concerned by the outcome of Thursday’s vote. Simply stated, I will categorically assert that a ‘yes’ victory would be a disaster: for Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world. I am totally, unalterably, 100% distressed by and hostile to this eventuality. Period.

First, for Scotland, the consequences for which I am not overly preoccupied but still. As Paul Krugman has informed us, an independent Scotland would be a very bad deal for the Scots. Krugman insists that the Scots would, macroeconomically speaking, seriously regret their decision were they to vote for independence. There would be buyers remorse galore. I won’t repeat Krugman’s argument here. Just read what The Man has to say.

Secondly, for the United Kingdom. Regardless of how one feels about successive British governments over the past three decades and their embrace of neoliberalism and deregulated finance capitalism, it would really be terrible if Scotland were amputated from the UK. Politically speaking, a UK minus Scotland would lurch to the right. The Tories plus the UKIP would dominate, with an eventual Labour party government—even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats—nigh impossible in the short and medium term. For this reason alone, no one on the left side of the political spectrum in England or Wales can possibly wish for Scottish independence. And geopolitically speaking, the UK would be greatly diminished, as Gideon Rachman and Bernard Guetta have asserted, and with a possible departure of Northern Ireland in the cards. A UK without Scotland would eventually be downgraded to the geopolitical rank of Italy. The Brits would no longer be geopolitical players, at least not to the extent that they are, and with their permanent seat on the UNSC increasingly tough to justify. This eventuality is not in the interests of the UK. Nor of the USA, Europe, or most of the rest of the world.

Thirdly, for Europe, and this is the really big deal. First, a UK minus Scotland—with its pro-Europe voters—would almost certainly opt to quit the European Union. This would be a body blow to the EU and entire European project, needless to say. An EU without the UK would be amputated in the same way as the UK without Scotland. The EU would be that much less of a player dans la cour des grands (USA, China, Japan, Russia). Secondly, Scottish independence would have a certain demonstration effect on Spain/Catalonia and Belgium/Flanders, culminating in the breakup of two more core European states. In addition to the uncertain economic consequences—which would certainly not be positive—a Europe further fragmented would hardly be able to go toe-to-toe with the US or Russia as an equal. The power of the EU in global trade negotiations or as a geopolitical actor would be diminished. The EU’s status as a relative geopolitical dwarf would be set in concrete. This eventuality, it goes without saying, is not in the interests of anyone in Europe. Thirdly, a UK exit from the EU and breakup of Spain would consecrate Germany as the uncontested hegemonic power on the continent. The Germans would certainly be fine with this but would other Europeans?

Fourthly, for the world. The centrifugal demonstration effect of the UK’s breakup would be felt in several corners of Asia that I need not mention. A Scottish breakaway would be geopolitically destabilizing and profoundly so—and the last thing the planet needs right now is more instability. It would be a geopolitical earthquake, as more than one has put it. And in diminishing the already diminutive geopolitical role of the European Union, the geopolitical power of the USA, Russia, and China would increase ever more. Now this would not displease these three Great Powers but would it be in the interests of the rest of the world? Je ne crois pas.

A final point, and which—for me at least—is fundamental. Scottish nationalism is nationalism, and I hate nationalism. Now nationalism can be a progressive and/or understandable force in nations under occupation or that suffer discrimination inside multinational states. E.g. pre-1962 Algerian nationalism was utterly justified, as were all nationalisms in colonies against colonial powers. But such does not pertain to the Scottish nation, which suffers no discrimination whatever in the multinational state of the United Kingdom. And what is the problem with multinational states, so long as each national group is equally treated and with its culture respected? As Niall Ferguson—whom I would normally not link to favorably—has argued, the Scots have had a good deal in their three centuries-long marriage with England. The marriage has been one of equals. Cf. Quebec, whose separatists have had half an argument in view of the history of linguistic discrimination in the province until the 1970s, or Belgian Flanders, whose separatists have a quarter of an argument on account of their past humiliations when the Francophones were dominant. And Catalans in Spain have a semblance of an argument given their shabby past treatment by the Spanish state. Now I am not sympathetic to any of these separatisms but at least they’re based on a concrete history of past grievance and by nations that speak a different language from the dominant or other nation they wish to divorce. In the Scottish case, though, there is is no justification whatever. Scottish separatism is, as one political science wag aptly put it on social media the other day, petty bourgeois nationalism. Scots cannot claim that they are disfavored qua Scots in the multinational, linguistically united United Kingdom, particularly in view of the devolution of 1999 (and the increased autonomy that is sure to be granted them in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum). Scottish separatism is pure egotism, as was, e.g., that of the government in Prague in 1993 when it cast out the poorer Slovakia. And the Scottish nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, is a two-bit rogue out for power, as Edinburgh political scientist Tom Gallagher reliably informs us. As for all the younger generation Scots who will be voting ‘aye’ on Thursday, they’ve simply bought into a stupid ass bullshit nationalist narrative and which has nothing whatever to do with their personal lives or life chances, which are every bit as good—or maybe not so good—inside the United Kingdom as they could possibly be in an independent Scotland. C’est affligeant.

Another final point. Author Emile Simpson writes of the injustice he feels as a Briton in helplessly watching as Scots set about dismantling the United Kingdom and without anyone in the UK outside of Scotland—including the hundreds of thousands of Scots who live south of the border—having anything to say about it. Now this is ultimately the fault of David Cameron, who stupidly agreed to the referendum and the terms under which it is being organized. But still, it is just crazy that the breakup of Great Britain should be decided by a simple majority in a single ballot by less than ten percent of its population.

For the record, I predict that the ‘no’ will carry the day, with 53% of the vote. Inshallah.

UPDATE: John Oliver has spot on—and very funny—commentary on the Scottish referendum. Watch here.

2nd UPDATE: The Democracy Now! website has a most interesting 23-minute debate, “Should Scotland vote for independence? Musician Billy Bragg vs. historian Sam Wetherell.” Both Bragg and Wetherell are on the left but are taking opposed positions in the referendum. I entirely agree with the smart and well-spoken Wetherell, needless to say. See also his article in Jacobin, “Exit Stage Right: The Case Against Scottish Independence.”

3rd UPDATE: Gordon Brown gave a great speech on the eve of the vote. Watch here.

4th UPDATE: Robert Reich’s Facebook status update four hours before the closing of the polls in Scotland is worth reading and meditating on

Nationhood doesn’t mean what it used to. Even if a majority of Scots decide to secede today, a separate Scotland will probably still use the same currency as England, remain part of the Eurozone (no visas or passports required to enter Scotland), and coordinate major policies with Parliament and Whitehall.

The only real beneficiaries will be large global corporations. They’ll have more bargaining leverage over a separate Scotland. Global corporations like separatism and “devolution” (a fancy term for pushing responsibility down to state, regional, or provincial governments) because both allow them to play governments against each other with ever bigger tax breaks, subsidies, and favorable regulations. In the United States, for example, states are in a frenzy of corporate gift-giving to attract and keep corporations and jobs.

If lefties have a response to this, I’d like to hear it.

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The World Cup – II

France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

The Algeria-Belgium game is underway as I write. One of the most nationalist countries in the world vs. a country that isn’t even a nation. As it happens, all but two players on the Algerian team play professionally outside Algeria and two-thirds are actually from France, i.e. they’re French-Algerian dual nationals (c’est-à-dire, des beurs). As for the Belgian team, four of today’s eleven starting players are of immigrant origin (Morocco, Mali, the Congo, Martinique). I would have expected more. Contrast this with the Swiss team that played Ecuador on Sunday: of the eleven starters and two substitutes, precisely ten are of immigrant origin: Diego Benaglio (Italy), Johan Djourou (Ivory Coast), Ricardo Rodríguez (Spain), Valon Behrami (Kosovo), Gökhan Inler (Turkey), Xherdan Shaqiri (Kosovo), Granit Xhaka (Kosovo), Josip Drmic (Croatia), Admir Mehmedi (Macedonia), Haris Seferovic (Bosnia). There are more Swiss players who ethnically hail from the ex-Yugoslavia than Suisses de souche! Haven’t yet seen anything on how they feel about that in la Suisse profonde.

Back to Belgium, University of Georgia prof Cas Mudde has a post on Monkey Cage (June 15th) asking “Can soccer unite the Belgians?” And on TNR’s fine World Cup blog, “Goal Posts” (June 16th), Cambridge University political scientist David Runciman explains “Why you should (and should not) be excited about Belgium’s new golden generation,” the Belgian team being, he argues, “[a] test for the unifying power of soccer.”

Update: Belgium beat Algeria. Logically.

I missed the first two days of the tournament, including the Netherlands-Spain game (I was some 35,000 feet above India, or maybe Af-Pak, while it was underway). Arriving back in Paris on Saturday, I learned to my incredulity that the majority of the group games are on pay TV only, on the Qatari network beIN Sports. F*cking Qatar. So I’ve missed a few games I wanted to see, notably last night’s Ghana-USA. But as a month sub for beIN is only €12, and which can be cancelled at any moment, I decided today to just do it, as there’s no way I’m going to miss Portugal-USA late Sunday night, entre autres.

All the France games are on TF1, of course. Les Bleus played well against Honduras (admittedly not among the stronger teams in the tournament). If Les Bleus beat the Swiss—who are good—on Friday, they’ll go to Round 16.

À suivre.

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Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

It was a disaster. A catastrophe. Worse than anyone expected—and certainly than I expected. I knew the FN would do very well, even come in first place ahead of the UMP and PS—as the polls predicted—, but not with 25% of the vote and a participation rate (43%) higher than in 2009. I am going to follow my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer and not do an instant analysis, though, like Art, I will offer a couple of instant comments (and, BTW, I entirely agree with his).

First, the FN’s score is nothing to sneeze at. For the frontistes to come in first place nationally and with a quarter of the vote—and even in a low participation election—is a very big deal. But this does not make the FN the nº1 party in the country. GMAB! On this, Olivier Duhamel and LCP’s Jean-Baptiste Daoulas are entirely right in relativizing the FN’s victory. The fact is, it was a high abstention election, with the FN’s national vote total (4.8 million) equaling that of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s in 2002 but falling well short of Marine LP’s in 2012 (6.4 million). When it comes to membership, number of elected officials—and their quality and competence—, financial resources, ability to turn out crowds at rallies, and you name it, the FN remains a dwarf; it does not rise to the ankle of the UMP and PS. The FN has exactly two deputies out of 577 in the National Assembly—and wouldn’t win too many more if élections anticipées were suddenly held, as MLP is demanding—and controls a grand total of eleven mairies out of 36,000+. And the FN remains totally isolated, as no institutional party of the right will ally with it. The result of the European election, which was a big setback for the UMP, will only cause to UMP to take a harder line against any dealings with the frontistes. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the UMP and FN will enter into some kind of common program as did the PS and PCF in the 1970s. And no party in France can win an election or exercise power without a coalition with other parties possessing distinct bases of support. The FN’s predicament here will not change in the coming years, this I promise.

Art Goldhammer is correct in saying that the FN is a fixture on the political landscape and will not likely be removed. But it is still very much a protest party. One hears and reads continually that the FN now has a structured base of support, which is true in some parts of the country—in the southeast and certain dying industrial towns in the north—but a lot of its support, I am convinced, is soft. E.g. in the bureau de vote in which I was an assesseur in Sunday’s election—which is the most relatively leftist in my very right-wing banlieue (meaning that the PS, Front de Gauche, and écolos together are normally in the 40-45% range)—the FN came in a close third with 17%, which is double its usual score (and in my own adjacent precinct, the FN won 14%). The FN is hardly present in my town. It hasn’t even run a list in municipal elections since 1995. In the 15 years I’ve been living here, I have never seen FN activists hand out leaflets in the marchés during election campaigns. Many of those who voted FN in my neighborhood yesterday were first-timers, expressing ras-le-bol. It’s been this way with the FN for three decades now, though just a little more nowadays.

Another point. European elections are particular; for many voters, it is a low stakes election and ideal for protest voting. And European elections do not prefigure the outcomes of the subsequent (higher stakes) presidential and/or legislative elections. E.g the 1994 European outcome—a calamitous score for the PS (14%) and excellent one for right-wing souverainistes and populists (Bernard Tapie)—was followed the next year by an unexpectedly respectable score for the PS presidential candidate and with the souverainistes sidelined. The 1999 election—in which right souverainistes humiliated Nicolas Sarkozy’s joint RPR-DL ticket (the core of the future UMP)—was followed by a decade of the UMP in power. And the PS biting the dust in 2009—with 16.5%, just a hair ahead of Europe Ecologie—in no way prefigured the 2012 presidential race. So yesterday’s outcome offers no hints for 2017.

Which is not to say that the PS can relativize what has just happened to it. François Hollande and the Socialists are in a deep hole and one has no idea how they can possibly dig themselves out of it. The election outcome was as decisive a rejection of Hollande’s austerity policies as one can get. So what are Hollande and Manuel Valls going to do? Stay the course, implement the pacte de responsiblité, and cut €50 billion in spending? If that happens, Valls will plummet in the polls, and with Hollande descending into maybe even the single digits. I personally know of no one at the present moment who will defend the Socialists—and I travel mainly in left-wing circles. Hell, I was an assesseur for the PS and didn’t vote for them (casting my ballot for Europe Ecologie). But if Hollande were to change course, where would he go and how? With France now diminished in Brussels and Strasbourg, will he really take on Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi? His situation really does seem hopeless.

Another thing. The Front de Gauche, at 6%, did not do well at all. And the extreme left (NPA, Lutte Ouvrière et al) has all but vanished. The French left is K.O., more so than at any time in memory. At least Europe Ecologie rose to the occasion, winning almost 9% and in the absence of Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

As for the configuration of the European parliament, we’ll know about that in a few days. À suivre.

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