France Rejects EU Constitution

This is bad news for neo-cons. They might have to start liking France now:Unhappy French voters on Sunday derailed plans to further political and economic integration in Europe, decisively rejecting the proposed European constitution and thumbing their noses at the country's governing elite, which had pleaded for approval of the measure.

The turnout was heavy and the margin of defeat was wide, with about 57 percent rejecting the constitution and about 43 percent voting for it. Opposition leaders harnessed widespread disenchantment over a variety of issues, including the unpopularity of President Jacques Chirac, the weak French economy and fears that the country would lose its clout to a strengthened European central government.

The French defeat throws into confusion -- for now -- the campaign to fashion a constitution for Europe, since each of the 25 nations that belongs to the European Union must approve the charter before it can take effect.

I'm not exactly high on the EU myself, which in its latest incarnation seems to smack of using the new Central and Eastern European countries as cheap labor for the Western nations. However, weakening international institutions is a primary goal of the neo-conservative movement, as it is generally believed that the less power such institutions have, the more the nations of the world are required to rely upon America. Thus, France just did the neo-cons a big favor.

More from the article:

Leaders of the European Union held out hope that they could salvage the constitutional campaign. They noted that nine countries had already given their assent and insisted that other members be allowed their say. If France remains the lone holdout, backers of the constitution suggested that another referendum could be held and French voters could be cajoled into approving the document.

But the constitution could run into even more trouble as soon as Wednesday, when voters in the Netherlands are scheduled to hold a non-binding referendum. Opinion polls show that a majority of Dutch voters are inclined to vote no. If the Dutch join the French in opposition, analysts said the constitution might have to be scrapped or renegotiated.

Wednesday will certainly be interesting.

The Lib Dems electoral gains

Markos and I stayed up till 4 am his time in London chatting on IM as the UK returns came in, and today (works good on no sleep apparently) he wrote a steller wrap on what the Liberal Democrats gained in this election, interviewing Dean's first Presidential campaign manager, Rick Ridder, who is a consultant for the Lib Dems:When the dust settled, the Lib Dems had gained four points from 2001, and won 11 additional seats: lower than hoped, but it still gave them plenty to be excited about.

"The real number is that the Lib Dems moved into second place in over 160 constituencies, which is 50 more than they had in 2001, so they've moved up increasingly as the alternative party," Mr Ridder said.

...Ridder said three factors helped propel Lib Dem gains: first, the "character issues related to Tony Blair". That was why the Lib Dems (and the Tories, for a while), seized on allegations last weekend that Mr Blair had considered war with Iraq before having any rationale for the action. It was the issue of trust. Second, they focused heavily on education issues, particularly the raising of university fees. This allowed the Lib Dems to make substantial gains in university constituencies. "This bodes extremely well for the party's future. Once you vote for a party, it's one of the social activities you repeat," Ridder said. "Once you get people locked in, it makes a huge difference."

And only third does the war come up. "The war was an issue, but those people came in way before the election period," Ridder added. "I don't think you can discount it, but the education piece provided the lift."

The Liberal Democrats will have a tough time of balancing the liberal and libertarian impulses that have fostered their gains, as Ben P pointed out below in his wrap, but the LD's certainly have gained the footing in this election to become a national party.

British Election Results - First Thoughts

Some quick thoughts I have had while chatting over on the main threads at DKos, which I think I will try to summarize quickly, keeping in line with my coverage of the run-up to this election.

First off, Labour. I think it is a rebuke of Blair rather than Labour. Certainly not Gordon Brown, who actually gained votes (although, in part, this was a result of boundary changes in Scotland). But more than a rebuke of Blair the man, I think this was definetly a blow to the New Labour "project" as a significant, coherent intellectual and ideological movement. Brits are brutally pragmatic people, and are very much sick of Blair's grandstanding, moralism, spinning, and personal megalomania, which are all a part of his and his acolytes' True Believer sense of themselves - all of which culminates in the public's general rejection of the Iraq War, although this sense of revulsion is about more than just the Iraq War. I sense that Blair has realized he has been rebuked too - his body language was very telling, as was watching him listen to Reg Keys (a man whose son died in Iraq and who garnered 10% of the vote against Blair in his Sedgefield constituency) give his concession speech. To give an analogy, Blair is like the chastened college student who realized he partied too much all semester after receiving a report card that brought him Cs rather than his usual As.  BUT: strangely, at the same time,  this result is also finally confirmation or (at least tacit  acknowledgement) that Labour is now the natural party of government. People are just comfortable with them and the material things they provide - even if they are disgusted by the hubris and arrogance of the New Labour<sup>TM</sup&gt project - because a weaker party would have lost this election.

Now to the Tories. Although they made decent gains in terms of seats and their folks were acting pleased on TV, I think they will ultimately be disappointed with this result. They are the minority party, who are stuck at about 33%, and basically only advanced because Labour voters defected to the Lib Dems, minor parties, or sat at home. In other words, they gained by standing still. There can be no doubt that they are no longer the "natural party of government," as they were during the 20th century. They have to attract more younger voters, because right now they are far too old and unfashionable a party (and strangely benefitted from this in this election because their core voter, because old voters are loyal voters, turned out, when a lot of Labour support sat on their hands). They still have not figured out to compete on electoral landscape with a Labour Party that is no longer socialist. Some bright spots that might augur well for the future, though:  a black Tory (first ever) was actually elected (in Windsor - ultra safe constituency where the Queen's castle is). And some young woman (name is skipping my mind) was elected in Putney (one of the better Tory wins of the night) who looks  to my eyes - saw her being interviewed after her victory - to have a real future.

On the surface, it looks as though the Lib Dems did quite well. And indeed, they won over 4% more of the vote than they did in 2001 and benefitted greatly in some parts of the country from a general disgust (mentioned above) with elements of Labour. On further reflection, though, I think the Lib Dems gains could be ephemeral. They are trapped between on the one hand their rural constituencies where the main challenger is the Tories and many urban middle class liberal areas, where the main challengers are Labour - which is a strange, unwieldy coalition that does not augur well as a basis for a future breakthroughs. In other words, they can't be a center-left social democratic party and a center-right libertarian party simultaneously. Then again, maybe they can. But it would take some pretty ingenious leadership to pull this feat off. And while I think Charlie Kennedy is a better leader than many in the media think, he's not that good. Ultimately, if Labour dumps Blair and gets down to earth and back to basics with the public, I think some of the LibDems election gains this cycle could be washed away.

Ultimately, what this election was was a rejection of "Blairism" as an ideological project. People want essentially what New Labour provides in material terms, but without all the grandstanding, moralism, and Blair's megalomania - all the thinks of which the Iraq War came in some ways to perfectly exemplify. Strangely, as the above might suggest, it is hard to see any real winners from this election. If I had to pick one, it would be Gordon Brown and the not-Blair forces in the Labour Party.

"[Update]" To sum up, people like New Labour *policies* - what they don't like is the New Labour *project*. See the following I cribbed from a British site I frequent:

First of all congratulations to the opinion pollsters who got it right and to those here who did. My thoughts are that Blunkett said that normal politics has been resumed. In a sense this is a victory for Labour and a defeat for “the project". Labours challenge now will be to keep the awkward squad on board without upsetting middle England (places like Broxtowe, Bedford). “The project” was an attempt to turn Labour into a centre right party and depended on the left wing core vote having nowhere else to go. The project has failed because the core left do now have somewhere else to go - the Liberal Democrats. A few more votes in the right places and I think that Labour would have had a majority no better than Majors in 1992. However, upon reflection I think it is probably a good thing for the tories that Labour have the majority they do. Labour will still struggle at times - there are apparently at least 40 Labour MPs who want nothing to do with “New” Labour and all its works, but if Labour only had a 25 majority I suspect that Blair would have rapidly been replaced by Brown who would have called an election in Autumn 2005 and increased his majority up to about 90-100. This would have devastated the tories for a generation. As it is Gordon will probably be able to handle the awkward squad far better than blair and with a majority of 60ish the electorate would take a dim view of any attempt to call an early election. What will affect 2009/10. Three things. Tories have about 40 young fresh entrants who I am sure we will see a lot of. Gordon Brown while undoubtably talentated does not posess Blairs silver tounge and the main one The Economy Stupid. If the economy falters, Labour will face a devastating Pincer attack from the Libdems and Tories and could face a worse result than 1983, despite the tories gaining a small majority or no overall majority. If that happens I don’t see the liberals going into coalition with Labour and going down with the sinking ship - they will be aiming to replace Labour and restore their historic position in British politics.

In Britain, Labour Looks Poised for Victory

Hard as it may be to believe, with only two days before the general election, polling data in the UK currently makes it look as though Labour will cruise to another huge victory. The last six polls point to a comfortable, eight-point Labour lead:
      Labour   Tory    Liberal	 Other	 Date
NOP	40	30	  21	   9	 4/24
Pop	40	31	  21	   8	 4/26
Com	39	31	  23	   6	 4/28
ICM	39	31	  22	   8	 4/29
Mori	39	29	  22	  10	 5/01
YGuv	36	33	  24	   7	 5/01
Mean	39	31	  22	   8
2001	41	32	  18	   9
Overall, this points to a small Liberal Democrat gain at the expense of both Labour and the Tories. If the two oldest polls are removed, the situation improves slightly more for the Liberals, as they rise to 23 and Labour falls to 38. With only the two most recent polls, it becomes Labour 37.5, Tory 31, Liberal Democrat 23, and Other 8.5. Personally, as the result of the Incumbent Rule, which probably translates into the UK, I would expect Labour's numbers to drop another point or two by Election Day, with the Tories and Liberals each picking up one point each.

Realistically, the worst-case scenario for Labour is probably something like 34%, to 33% for the Tories, to 24% for the Liberal Democrats to 9% for other parties. Even in this scenario, Labour maintains a comfortable majority of at least 40 seats. It now seems almost certain that Blair will win a third term.

Update: I have found a page, updated yesterday, that discusses if there is any possibility Labour will not form a majority government. Here is the conclusion:

Pushing the boundaries of the possible, we could ask what would be the effect of both large-scale pollster error and anti-Labour tactical voting. This would be a very worst-case scenario for Labour and an extreme best-case scenario for the Conservatives.... Even in this extreme case, Labour still has a slender majority of 16 seats in parliament. It would appear the election is over. The only question now is the margin.

British Election Update, Part V: Predictions (and the crisis of the Conservative Party)

This will probably be the last in my pre-May 5 (i.e. election day) posts. (I imagine I will post something the evening of polling day - I imagine C-Span will provide live coverage). Anyway, as such, I feel that I will put my money where my mouth is and make some fairly specific predictions, followed up by some analysis.

Firstly, Labour is going to win this election quite comfortably. Their majority will be diminished, but they are still  going to be returned with an overall majority approaching 100 (they currently have a majority of 139). I think we're looking at Labour returning somewhere between 370 and 380 MPs (down from 416, but still a formidable majority)

Secondly, the Conservative Party is going to be in for a fairly disappointing night. They will improve on their 1997 and 2001 performance, but not by much. I think they are  going to elect somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 to 195 MPs, only a slight improvement on their current 166 MPs. Over at Political Betting, a slightly Tory-leaning, but still perhaps the best "inside baseball" website covering British politics I can find, a number of the Conservative partisans have been trying to spin the polling data and betting lines to the best of their ability, but it seems clear to me that their spinning has gotten a little less frantic this weekend, with the realization that the Conservative Party is going to suffer its third substantial defeat in a row. Michael Howard's campaign has been more competent than the last two Tory campaigns, and has a done a good job mobilizing the Tory faithful: however, it has also done a good job of reminiding non-Tory Britons why they don't vote for  the Conservative Party. (perhaps a lesson for those who think a hardcore "fire up the base" strategy is the way to go for liberals. Note: polarization and drawing "clear differences" only works if you are in the majority). The results will further confirm that the Conservative Party is in a crisis not dissimilar to that experienced by the Labour Party during the 1980s. What's more, this election will show that the Conservative Party has not yet figured out the degree to which their party even has a problem, that they are no longer "the natural party of government". (see also Kos's surprisingly insightful Guardian article that compares the Conservative Party's problems to those of  the Democrats. (actually, I think the Conservative Party's difficulties are considerably more dire).

Finally (apologizies to Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party), the Liberal Democrats are going to come out of this election with a sense of accomplishment. I think they are going to improve considerably - percentage-wise - on their 2001 showing, receiving in the neighborhood of 23% of the national vote (compared to the 18.8% they received in 2001). Somewhat unfortunately for the Lib Dems, however, this will translate into only about 65 to 70 MPs, as the electoral system is biased against the Lib Dems for complicated structural and psychological reasons. However, 65 to 70 MPs will be a significant improvement on their current 51, and will represent the party's best ever showing.

So to sum up, before moving on to some deeper analysis, my predictions are as follows:

Labour - 36.5-37.5%, 370 to 380 MPs
Conservatives - 32.5%-33.5% 185 to 195 MPs
Liberal Dems - 22.5%-23.5% 65 to 70 MPs

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