The macro question of how Brexit will affect the national and international economy has no certain answer. But even if on the aggregate nothing changes, there are thousands of individual stories of tumult, not business as usual.
The spike in hate crimes following the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom is not surprising. It also shows how democratic structures can be used to propel intolerance. Psychologically, the 52%-48% vote for leaving the European Union is giving people the feeling that their actions are sanctioned and justified. This is an issue with majoritarianism- there are too many Remain voters for their camp to treat the referendum as the final say. But the majority requirement allows a radical policy shift despite many key parts of the country rejecting Leave- often by a larger margin than the overall vote.
Since the late-90s Labour administration, the UK has become an increasingly federal system. The devolved parliaments and self-government creates a serious legitimacy crisis. In concrete terms, I think a vote that fundamentally changes the domestic and foreign policy of the whole country should have to win a majority in each of the components of the UK- Wales, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Only the first two voted Leave; Scotland has the biggest gap of the four- Remain won by 24 points. To use an American example, a constitutional amendment (per Article V of the Constitution) requires 2/3 of the national legislature, followed by 3/4ths of the states to ratify. States are given equal weight in this case, so even though California has almost one hundred times the people of Wyoming, the interest of the latter matter just as much.
It says something that despite immense conflict and terrible austerity, Greece never left the Eurozone, let alone the EU. They saw the worst that the EU has to offer- its stern demand for failed economic models, and the great financial power it has on struggling member states. The United Kingdom had the privilege of high status, with major benefits of membership. Such perks are now becoming clear in their likely absence going forward. Leave could have been motivated by a good reason- austerity. Instead the campaign was more about those gosh-darned immigrants and their problems.
The bizarre thing is that the vote is actually a vote against austerity in disguise. The core of working-class areas voting Leave is a result of deindustrialization and unending Tory cuts to services and housing. The one force that has actually been in favor of real solutions is Jeremy Corbyn. His reward is a coup against his leadership- despite Labour voters supporting Remain more than the Conservative party that called for the vote. It’s a convenient excuse, and it remains to be seen whether short of ballot-stuffing the right wing can actually win a leadership election. That’s because grassroots activists and regular working people see in Corbyn what they actually want- not the bullshit about the UK’s standing in the EU.
Much like after the general election, I see nothing but meaningless word salad from the mainstream opposition. Any person with the slightest insight could see that Labour lost in 2015 just like it did this week- it failed to provide an alternative to austerity. It says something about neoliberalism (which even the IMF is now admitting doesn’t work as advertised), that a party based on working people didn’t think to talk about schools, housing, food, legal aid, investment, job training, etc. To the casual voter, Labour’s plans have devolved to a semantic difference while talking about everything the Conservatives want to talk about- debt, spending, and the deficit. The first rule of politics is offer voters something they want. That the party leader who wants to do that is voted out by his colleagues after a year is absurd. A genuine component of the SNP’s pitch for an independent Scotland is that an inept, corporate Labour is never going to defeat Tory rule. Their anti-austerity chops, though not amazing, are enough that they may very well get something the party wants- independence- by offering voters all the obvious things regular working people want.
And that’s a hell of a better strategy to win a referendum than whatever happened this week.
Here’s a somewhat different perspective on American electoral policies: what happened last month was not an election. It would be defined better as a referendum. In an election you vote for a candidate. In a referendum to accept or reject a person or issue.
The term election encompasses referendums (here are some definitions) and other forms of democratic election, but voter mentality is firmly against one party and thus for the other.
In a two-party system, all elections inherently boil down to either accepting or rejecting the incumbent party. A certain portion of voters are ideologically for one party or the other, but the swing demographic that decides power mostly votes on a core sense of frustration.
Why do midterm elections almost always go bad for the party which won the presidency two years prior? It can’t be a radical shift in policy, but rather a realization that election promises are more symbolic than anything else.
The greatest encapsulation of the see-saw elections of modern states like America comes from a Canadian progressive leader named Tommy Douglas. Douglas was the mind behind universal healthcare and was named by voters as the greatest Canadian of all time. The parable is called “Mouseland”.
November 4, 2014 is the latest in a line of mice choosing cats to hold power over them. That deep sense of anger, that most people are getting screwed over, comes from the government of cats. Some may be red, some may be blue, however the key issue is that they are cats- they will always do wrong because that’s what cats do to mice.
Two things are needed to begin the process towards a more authentic democracy:
1) Money must be removed from politics, and the system of lobbying based on sorta-bribes eliminated. A series of steps could help make politicians look more like their constituents- racially, culturally, and economically.
2) Multi-party democracy must come into existence. This relates to the first party in that big, money-laden political machines help suppress alternatives. Much of this stems from an electoral system that values entrenched interests. If there are several viable parties, elections becomes less of a referendum and more about ideas. Whatever issues the German system may have, their five main parties represent the spectrum from anti-capitalism to classical liberalism to Greens to social conservatives. In America a liberal have two options in most cases when they are frustrated- vote Republican or abstain.
Whatever form and function a democratic gains, it is clear that the people need something to vote for rather than vote against. For all votes against a certain person or policy is a vote rooted in fear. And as one of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms stated, in a good society there must be freedom from fear.
So there is a massive election going on throughout Europe for the European Parliament, with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom voting Thursday, and the bulk of the continent following on Saturday. The election dynamic is an interesting one – historically the Parliament has been without much authority and thus most elections have had very low turnout. Two dynamics are at play that makes this one a bit different. The first is that since the Treaty of Lisbon, EU bodies have been gaining more authority. Thus these elections are gaining some importance, at least in terms of party prestige.
The second is that in the past few years there has been a sharp increase in eurosceptic parties – a generic term for any party that opposes their country’s inclusion in the European Union. These parties are on balance, though not exclusively, conservative to far-right.
Projections indicate a rise for a coalition headed by the UK Independence Party (‘UKIP’, which is said as a word) and increasing seats for parties to the right of UKIP, like the National Front in France. The influence of these parties is also creeping into other groups. The UK Conservatives are being hounded towards a referendum on Britain in the EU, and the Greens support a referendum out of the necessity of getting it over with and focusing on other policy issues.
What I’ve posted up are the current local election results for councils in England, which were held the same day. EU results will not be posted until Sunday (after all the other countries have voted), so this is the data we have to look at now. It is interesting because British political news has been dominated by three questions:
1) Is UKIP racist? The answer to this, at least from my perspective, is “at the very least, unintentionally.”
2) How big will UKIP’s win be, and will they win the European Parliament elections in the UK?
3) Where is UKIP getting all this support from?
The second question is outstanding, though polling indicates it’s likely. The third we can start looking at thanks to this local election data.
I’m going to make a theory based on the simplest look at this current data, which has been developing since returns started coming in. An issue with this is that positive results are necessarily good results. One can still underperform. However, it seems UKIP is getting their increased support from Conservatives that are either upset with the current Cameron administration, angry at the European Union, or both. It seems to me that the switch between the Liberal Democrats and Labour may also be a simple swing – people that aren’t Conservatives (which to some is a lifestyle, or a cultural taboo) but are tired of the coalition government are switching to Labour. The big loser is the UK government, the big winner are parties in the opposition. It’s something that looks familiar to any American who’s seen enough midterm elections, though this has the dynamic of a new political force entering and taking support, rather than it falling back to the traditional opposition.
The EU vote will be interesting for me, since the Greens enjoyed a late poll surge and may hit 10%. Local elections are a bit more difficult (the EU is very environmentally-focused, so a Green vote makes sense), but I hope they pick up a bit of support. As an outsider it’s difficult to grasp all the subtleties – much of the UK election has been about immigration, and I’m not part of the American contingent that thinks immigration is bad or dangerous.
At some level elections are always interesting. No matter what political body they are for, they can tell people, locals or foreigners, something about the country in question. Here we see two shifts, one against the incumbent regime, and another against the larger union that the United Kingdom is a key part of. Combined they benefit two different forces, namely the establishment opposition and the anti-EU front.
A referendum in the Abyei region, which is along the border between Sudan and the recently separated South Sudan, is asking inhabitants which country they wish to be a part of. Being rich in oil, it has been a point of contention, and part of the conflict between the two countries that has existed on-and-off since the 2011 independence of South Sudan. It is roughly analogous to the oil-rich Kirkuk region of northern Iraq, which lies on the edge between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of the country.
Neither country endorses the referendum, and there is dispute within Abyei itself about whether this is a good idea. But the effort is going forth anyway. Caught between two warring states, there must be a great deal of anxiety and dread. By going forth, they are trying to push the decision on their own terms. As a prominent priest in the region states, “Abyei is tired of waiting.”