John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Vote

650 DIFFERENT ELECTIONS WILL DECIDE BREXIT

The UK General Election on 12 December will decide whether Brexit

  • goes ahead on the basis of Boris Johnson’s deal, 
  • is subject to a referendum or
  • is simply revoked.

But the result of the election will be affected by things that have little to do with Brexit.     The implications for taxpayers of Labour’s policies will be scrutinised. So will the personalities of the party leaders. The Conservative record will be a factor, as will their recent conversion to high spending.

In effect, the issue will be decided in 650 separate elections. Each constituency is different.

 A strong showing by a party, that has no chance of winning the seat itself, may siphon more votes away from one of the leading parties than it does from another, and this differential could tip the balance in favour of a party that would otherwise have lost the seat.

The UK electoral system forces voters to make tactical choices.

 If a voter wants to influence things, he/she may have to vote for a candidate, who has a good chance of winning and with whom they agree on some important issue, rather than for a candidate who may be closer to their views, but has no chance. 

Tactical voting is a very difficult exercise. Getting reliable information will be hard for voters to do. Disinformation and fake news will be factors.

The Conservatives are targeting Labour seats in constituencies that voted Leave in 2016, many in the Midlands and the North of England. But the Brexit Party will also target these same seats and the Brexit party does not have to defend a record in government, and is less associated with “austerity”.

The latest polls are very inconsistent.

 In the last ten days, 

A You Gov poll gave the Conservatives 37%, Labour 22%, Liberal Democrats 19% and the Brexit Party 12%

But an Opinium Poll gave the Conservatives 40%, Labour 24%, Lib Dems 15% and the Brexit Party 10 %.

These polls, taken before the election was called, suggest a Conservative majority government.

 But as the campaign goes on the Brexit issue will fade, and other issues may come to the fore, not least the slow performance of the UK economy in recent years.

My own experience is that polls, taken before an election is actually called, are not good predictors of the final result.

But a poll taken a week after the campaign has started is a much better indicator.

Other opinion polls suggest a deeply divided electorate. A poll done by Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities suggests a deeply polarised electorate.

Brexit appears to be a Conservative Party obsession, that is not shared by the supporters of other parties.

For Example, 82% of those who intend to vote Conservative say the unravelling of the peace process in Ireland would be a price worth paying to get Brexit done, whereas only 12% of Labour and 4% of Liberal Democrats are of that opinion. 

There is a similar difference between the parties on the risk that Brexit could lead to a referendum on Scottish independence. 

The gap between younger and older voters is also stark. 21% of those under 24 felt Brexit was worth risking the Irish peace process for, whereas 68% of those over 65 were prepared to take that risk. 

Older voters are more reckless, which goes against the conventional stereotype.

There is also a difference between the parties on how they perceive the likelihood of certain things actually happening.

Only 28% of Conservative voters believe Brexit is likely to lead to an unravelling of the Irish peace process, whereas 77% of Labour voters believe it is likely to do so. This suggests that people believe what they want to believe.

On the possibility of Brexit leading to a referendum on Scottish independence, 66% of English voters believe it will happen. There is only a modest difference between the parties in this. Very few actually want Scotland to leave the UK, but many are prepared to take that risk.

The great tragedy is that the British people, in a referendum during the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition, rejected the Alternative vote electoral system. This would have given it a more evenly representative parliament. It would have made coalition the norm. If so, there would have been no Brexit referendum.

A Fixed Term Parliament combined with a winner take all electoral system was bound to lead to a crisis.  A fixed term Parliament would have been workable if there was a more proportional system of election, but it is not workable in a political culture, like that of the UK, which rejects coalitions.

Irish people will have to sit and watch an important aspect of our future being decided under a flawed electoral system which favours polarisation and over simplification. 

MAKING THE EUROPEAN UNION MORE DEMOCRATIC………………………………………..

WE NEED AN ELECTION THAT IS TRULY EUROPEAN……….NOT JUST 27 NATIONAL ELECTIONS FOR EU JOBS

Why is there criticism of lack of democracy in the EU at this  time?
One of the criticisms of the policy guidelines, laid down by the European Commission and Council of Ministers for economic policy in the European Countries, is that the European Union lacks sufficient democratic legitimacy to be making recommendations on things like this. I believe this criticism is exaggerated, but has some underlying validity. 

The guidelines , of course, really do have to be followed, not primarily because they have been recommended by the EU, but simply because lenders in the commercial markets will not lend money otherwise.

Without an EU endorsement, markets nowadays will hesitate to lend to governments, who are consistently  spending more than they are raising in taxes, or who are maintaining economic structures that inhibit the economic growth. 
Economic growth is needed to raise tax revenues, and thereby to sustain better public services. But economic growth requires the removal of rigidities in the market for jobs and services that may prevent change.

Constant change is actually essential to economic growth. Change is often painful, and evokes anger. Because its advice often advocates painful change, the EU is being criticised…and also accused of being undemocratic. 
But the truth is that, even if the EU, and the euro, had never existed, European governments with budget deficits, ageing populations, and rigid economic structures, would be facing painful change at this time, anyway. Neither the EU, nor membership of the euro, obliged the governments in difficulty to adopt the policies that have led to their present difficulties.
That said, there is a need for more democracy in the EU, so that the public will be willing to assess the legitimacy its guidelines on their merits.

Democratic legitimacy exists when the voters feel that, if they are not satisfied with what their government is doing, they can peacefully remove it from office.

Europeans feel they can do that with their national government, and  with their city or local government. But they do not feel they can vote any part of the EU government out of office
That should change.

What should be done to make the European Union more democratic?

There should, in future, be three, rather than the present  two, sources of democratic legitimacy in the EU.

  1. The existing democratic mandate that member state governments,  who make EU policy in the Council of Ministers of the EU,  already enjoy from their parliaments and people
  2. The  existing democratic mandate  that the European Parliament  has from  the  national constituencies, in which it members are  elected.  I believe this could be improved if some MEPS were also elected from an EU wide constituency
  3. A new EU wide democratic mandate, that a directly elected President of the Commission would have to win from the entire unified electorate of the EU. The President should be elected using the alternative vote system of Proportional Representation, whereby  voters would indicate an order of preference among candidates, and the votes of candidates, with lower numbers of first preferences, would be redistributed  according to the second preferences, until one  remaining candidate had achieved 50%. In this electoral system the President of the Commission would have to be acceptable, on a preference basis, to a majority of the EU electorate .In contrast, if a “first past the post” electoral system was used, the EU could find itself with a President, who might come from the  biggest party, but who still  had the support of a minority of the electorate. That would be unstable.

This new third element would create a vehicle whereby Europeans, voting all over Europe on the same day, could vote into or out of office, an office holder who could attempt to change the trajectory of EU policy. That would greatly enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU. It would bring the EU closer to the people. It would bring the same degree of democracy to the EU, that Europeans expect at national and local level.

We must first create a truly European electorate, if we are to have the level of common identification with one another across national boundaries, which would be essential if there is to be public support for more federal integration. 

Elites in Brussels need to understand that electorates must first “think European” before they will happily pool more powers, especially on budgetary matters, They must trust one another, regardless of nationality.

For this reason I believe election of the President of the Commission, directly by the people of Europe themselves, is infinitely  preferable to an election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament.

A President of the Commission, who had been elected by the European Parliament, and who could be removed by the Parliament (as happened in the Santer case), and  who has no power to  dissolve Parliament in the event of a policy clash(as most national Prime Ministers can), would be too weak, and would lack the necessary independence. He or she would be subject to too much short term parliamentary pressure. We would be introducing, at European level, the sort of weak governance that caused such difficulty for the Third and Fourth French Republics.

I believe that a  separation of powers is an important safeguard in a Union as complex, and large, as the EU. 

The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people, rather than by the European Parliament, would preserve the separation of powers, on the basis of which the EU has operated successfully since its foundation. 
Some suggest that the EU could gain greater democratic legitimacy, if the 27 national parliaments became more involved in EU policy making. One suggestion is to set up a joint committee of MEPs and national parliamentarians, who could question EU Commissioners and the European Central Bank.

This might do some good, but  it would not close the gap between national electorates and the EU decision makers. National parliaments are national entities with national concerns. That is their . It is not a European role. In any event, national parliaments are themselves facing criticism for the performance of their national roles, and giving them a new set of European responsibilities will not necessarily reassure national electorates about Europe.

Furthermore, national parliaments, subject to party discipline,  will tend to follow the policy line of the national governments , and  thus are unlikely to add many new, or different, inputs from those put forward in the Council by national Ministers. 
election of the President of the Commission does raise a The direct question about the quasi judicial functions that the Commission performs, like Competition policy, enforcement of EU laws, and the   guardianship of the Treaties, which many believe should not be subject to electoral pressures .  A solution would be to hive off these quasi judicial responsibilities of the Commission to an independent body, with a level of independence similar to that now enjoyed by the ECB, which would not be subject to direct electoral pressures.

I  do not  favour merging the roles of the President of the Council, and that of President of the Commission, but only one of them(The President of the Commission) should be directly elected. This would establish a natural hierarchy between them, and avoid the embarrassment of sending two Presidents to the G8.

Ideally, I would favour a smaller Commission, but I do not see how it will come about in practical politics, because smaller countries will not agree to amend the EU Treaties to give up ”their” Commissioner. A solution may be to enhance substantially the role of the vice Presidents, and attribute some of the “surplus” Commissioners to the External Action service, to handle EU relations with particular parts or regions of the world. 

In addition to the EU electorate, acting as a single body, electing the President of the Commission,10% of MEPs should be elected from in a single constituency of all of the EU. 
The question of a single EU wide constituency for a proportion of the European Parliament was an issue that the Convention on the Future of Europe was asked to consider, but it did not do so.
I believe the EU will evolve a true common foreign policy only after it has evolved a common defence policy, and I believe that will happen, very gradually, and only because of financial necessity, not  because of political idealism.

But it will never be sustainable to have a common foreign and defence policy until we, as Europeans, feel we have common interests, and common understandings, among ourselves. 
That has not come about yet. I believe that it can be brought about only if we have elections that are truly European, rather than mere national elections, to European jobs.

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