Monthly Archives: May 2019

Forget winter. Farage is coming

The day after the 2016 EU referendum, I warned that Remainers needed to get on board with Brexit in order to avoid a swell of far-right populism. Looking back, I feel like a Stark on Game of Thrones, saying “Winter is Coming” during a long, sunny summer.

Few, it seems, were listening.

It has been clear for some time that the UK is in the midst of the greatest political realignment since the 19th century. The Conservatives and Labour parties dominated the 20th century, but there is no guarantee they will survive the 21st. This weekend’s European election results indicate they may be in more trouble than we thought. I have never been more sorrowful to be proven right.

The Brexit Party won big, carrying a 10+ point lead over its nearest competitor, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives and Labour suffered their worst defeats in living memory, and ChangeUK – the new party founded by former Labour, and then Tory, Remainer MPs – didn’t even crack five per cent.

There is a silver lining for Remainers, in that if you combine the explicitly remain parties (LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Greens), they’re practically neck in neck with the combined total of the Brexit Party and the seemingly now-irrelevant UKIP. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a plurality of the electorate chose to vote for a party who is so adamant on leaving the EU that they put it in their name, led by Britain’s very own Littlefinger. If chaos is a ladder, as Lord Baelish once said, Nigel Farage is climbing it right to the top.

And therein lies the problem. Hearken back to the good ole days of 2015. After the General Election, one of the biggest questions in British politics was what would happen to Nigel Farage. UKIP did abysmally and it looked like his career was over. But like a reactionary Jon Snow, Nigel Farage rose from the political dead, and 2016 saw his life’s mission accomplished. It emboldened him, and today he can claim to be the most effective party leader in the UK.

The risk here isn’t Brexit. Not really. Despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, I supported the Remain campaign because I couldn’t stomach the people leading the Leave Campaign – a group of hard-right goons who, as was once said of Littlefinger and is certainly true of Farage, would see the country burn if they could be kings of the ashes. I saw the writings on the wall then, and I see them even more urgently now: hard-right populism is on the rise in the UK, and Brexit is the dragon on which it will arrive.

So while most in the Westminster bubble argued over who would sit on the Iron Throne, some of us were frantically trying to get people to pay attention to the threat from the North (of England). A rising sense of disenchantment with the political establishment was emboldening a dangerous new reactionary politics. And now, that threat has arrived. The only thing that kept UKIP from gaining more than one seat in 2015 was first-past-the-post, a system in which the candidate or party with the largest share of votes in a constituency wins that seat. The Conservatives and Labour were the bulwark against such a threat, the two-party system, to beat this metaphor to death, like the Wall keeping out the White Walkers.

But now those two great political parties look like they’re about to fall. They were both decimated this weekend. The Tories are now involved in their own Game of Thrones. The Labour leadership is more interested in appeasing its members than winning an election, leading it to be unable or unwilling to formulate a cohesive Brexit strategy.

All this while Farage and the nefarious policies he represents gain massive political inroads.

It is no longer worth discussing what happens if authoritarian populism becomes mainstream. It already has. So how to nip this in the bud? The answer is simple.

The UK must leave the European Union on 31 October, deal or no deal.

In another Westerosi turn of events, as Theresa May falls, her house words become clearer and more relevant than ever: Brexit means Brexit. It must, no matter the cost.

There are dire consequences to exiting the European Union without a deal, I know. And in some ways, it means Farage and the Brexit Party have won. After all, this is what they want – the UK to exit the EU and default to World Trade Organisation rules. There’s the issue of Northern Ireland and the border. There’s the issue of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK and the millions of British citizens living in the EU. Leaving these issues unresolved is the worst possible scenario, next to not leaving at all.

The alternative is just too grim. If Brexit doesn’t happen, and soon, it won’t just be the European Elections the Brexit Party wins. Every day the country remains in the EU is a day Prime Minister Nigel Farage becomes more likely. Think of what that would mean to the working classes, who would suffer under his economic policies, or to immigrants and people of colour, or to LGBT rights, the feminist movement, or trade unions. It would be devastating.

The only way to turn back the tide of authoritarianism is to give the people what they want and put this issue to bed once and for all. The only way to stop Farage from winning in Westminster is to let him win in Europe.The only way the country can move on from Brexit is to Brexit.

Not doing so is to risk everything. It is clear the British voters want the UK to leave the European Union. A second referendum was held, in a way, and Remain lost again. The choice was the squabbling of the past three years or to just get on with it and leave, and “just get on with it and leave” was so appealing that the country just voted for the Night King.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer. He writes about British politics and culture and has covered every British election since 2010. His work as appeared at The Independent, HuffPost UK, Salon, the Daily Dot, The GayUK Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives on the coast in North Carolina.

 

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Theresa May resigned. There must be a general election

After the 2015 election, I appeared on a political web show as an American journalist covering the British elections. When discussion turned to who would succeed David Cameron, I stated that “after a nuclear holocaust there would be cockroaches and Theresa May.” I wasn’t trying to compare the then-Home Secretary to a cockroach, but rather comment on her staying power. She is the longest serving Home Secretary in more than a century. She seemed an unstoppable force.

Then she became Prime Minister. Number 10—or perhaps more accurately, Brexit—proved the boot which finally crushed her political career. Theresa May has been an abysmal Prime Minister, losing the Tory majority in an ill-planned (for the Conservatives, anyway) 2017 general election and being utterly unable to unite a country deeply divided on Brexit. Indeed, her premiership will be remembered more for tinned soundbites (“Brexit means Brexit,” “strong and stable”) than any actual accomplishments.

Now, a bevvy of unsavoury characters (Boris Johnson, Andera Leadsom, etc) are poised to fight out a tumultuous Conservative leadership contest. The winner will ultimately lead the country out of the European Union. But they shouldn’t, at least, not simply by ascending to Number 10. They must have a mandate from the people, and that means the new Prime Minister must call a general election.

To be certain, technically, they don’t have to call an election. John Major didn’t go to the country until nearly two years after he succeeded Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown took nearly three years after he took over from Tony Blair. The next election doesn’t have to be held until 2022.

Certainly, there are sound arguments against calling an election. The country is already in tumult thanks to Brexit. A general election could add to the chaos, especially if the voters return a hung parliament (that is, no party has a clear majority). We more-or-less know what a Conservative Prime Minister will deliver (most likely, a no-deal Brexit), but simply by virtue of being in opposition, we know less what Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn might negotiate.

But here’s what we know. The next Tory leader will likely be an arch-Brexiteer. The Brexiteers campaigned on returning sovereignty to the British people. How, then, can they possibly justify a Prime Minister with no mandate from the people leading the country out of the European Union?

To be sure, there are plenty of constitutional arguments to make this point null and void. Technically, Prime Ministers aren’t directly elected (well, not by anyone but their constituents, who elect them as an MP). The Conservatives are still the largest party. The Westminster system is functioning as it ought to.

All of this is true, but it betrays a more basic fact. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, and those who campaigned to leave the EU did so in large part because of the “unelected” EU making decisions on behalf of the UK and that these decisions should be made by the British parliament, elected by the British people. How, then, can the most monumental peacetime decision be, if not made, than certainly executed by someone to whom the British people never had a chance to say aye?

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have already tweeted their support for a general election. The new Leader of the Conservative Party must follow suit. If Brexit is about democracy—both being restored and being honoured—they would be hypocrites not to.

Skylar’s First Impressions of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Watching the Sunday shows this morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t really commented on the 2020 election. That’s mostly because I think it’s stupid to talk about something that won’t happen until January 2020 in June 2019. I hate America’s perpetual election cycle.

But as I get back into political writing, it behoves me to get up-to-date with the coming election. So, in alphabetical order, here is my first impression of each candidate for the Democratic nomination:

  • Mike Bennett, Senator from Colorado – No name recognition. Who is he going to appeal to that someone better-known won’t? I can’t imagine him getting a lot of traction. Imagine he’ll drop out early
  • Joe Biden, former Vice President from Delaware – Seems to be the frontrunner right now, running as the “beat Trump” candidate. Name recognition, veep to a beloved president, blue collar appeal and a helluva politician. Plus, he really wants this. Like, you don’t know. Joe Biden has wanted to be president since he was an embryo. The one to beat.
  • Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey – he once saved a person from a fire. Turned Newark around. Pretty cool backstory. But he’s not the most progressive, and in a field where Biden is going to run as the moderate, how does he really distinguish himself? Could win big in South Carolina if Black voters turn on Kamala Harris for her record of incarcerations or don’t warm to Biden – but that last one is a big if
  • Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana – Running as a Washington outsider, which is a pretty smart strategy considering how many of these candidates are senators, congresspeople, or former members of the executive branch (or all three, in the case of Joe Biden). Could bring that salt-of-the-earth heartland vibe that resonates with voters in Iowa, and could do well as a fellow westerner in Nevada. But I don’t know much about his record. Still a longshot – though worth noting that governors historically do better winning the presidency than vice presidents or senators
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana – I’ve been a fan of Mayor Pete for years, and endorsed him from DNC chair in 2017. But is he ready to be president? Yes, he did wonders for unemployment in South Bend and helped save a dying city. He’s young (if elected, he’d be the first Millennial president, and the youngest full stop). He’s good looking. His husband—yes, husband—has a cracking social media game. Would be the first openly gay president (second gay president; RIP President Buchanan). Refreshingly, that could be a benefit and not a hindrance in a primary. In a general election, is America ready to vote for a gay president? I don’t know. And more pressingly, is being the mayor of a small city qualification enough for the Oval Office? And will Democrats go for a moderate like Pete when Biden’s in the race? He’s probably seen his moment in the sun already this cycle, but could be a dark horse worth watching
  • Julian Castro, former Secretary of HUD from Texas – the less exciting of the Castro brothers. I don’t have much to say here. Could surprise people in Nevada, but I don’t see him as a top-tier candidate
  • Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, New York – from what I understand, New York City hates him. Why wouldn’t America? He’s a progressive who I probably agree with more than anyone else as far as policy goes, but I just don’t see him as a serious contender
  • John Delaney, Congressman from Maryland – seriously, who? I know nothing about this man
  • Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii – Thank u, next
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York – I once said that if Kirsten Gillibrand ran for president I would quit my job and work on her campaign. I haven’t done that, and her campaign has failed to take off the way many thought it would. I’m not saying there’s a correlation here, but… in all seriousness, though, don’t underestimate Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s probably the fiercest proponent of women’s rights and really shined when #MeToo took off, especially in condemning Bill Clinton’s behaviour in the 1990s and before. That took guts. With abortion becoming the issue of the summer, expect her profile—and prospects—to rise
  • Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska – perineal candidate. Has about as much a chance as an Alaskan snowball’s chance in hell
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California – Kamala, more than anyone, deserves to debate Donald Trump. It would be amazing. She’d show him for the moron he is. But she hasn’t taken off the way I thought she would. That might be because voters are turned off by her record as Attorney General of California, where she was known for locking up low-level drug offenders. In the era of Black Lives Matter and prison abolitionism, that’s not a good look. Still, don’t count her out
  • John Hickenlooper, former Governor of Colorado – If Joe Biden wasn’t in the race, I’d say John Hickenlooper would be the one to watch. A plain-talking white man from middle America is usually a shoo-in for presidential nominations, but Hickenlooper is stuck in the shadow of Biden, and so similar to Bullock that they could split the same voters
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington – Running on the climate, Inslee could capture Millennial and Gen-Z voters, the oldest of whom will be able to vote for the first time in 2020. But is it enough? If he gets a high-profile endorsement (say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), he could see some wind in his sails. But that’s a big “if,” I think. Another western governor means he’s competing with Hickenlooper and Bullock
  • Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota – her announcement speech was the stuff of legend, given during a snowstorm in a brutal Minnesota winter, but it was overshadowed with accusations she bullies her staff. Leaving aside the sexist notion that women asserting authority are bullies (and not at all commenting on the accusations, as I’ve not researched them enough to know if that’s what’s at play here), Klobuchar just hasn’t distinguished herself in this field. It’s early days, but again, if voters want a moderate, Joe Biden seems to be their choice. Klobuchar could find herself running for veep.
  • Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar, Florida – lol who?
  • Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts – a decorated war hero (he’s an Iraq veteran), Seth Moulton is a young, telegenic candidate who could surprise us all. His service to his country and dashing good looks stand in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who risks looking like Nixon debating Kennedy, except without the Nixonian brain (if the Nixonian instincts for corruption). But does anyone know who Seth Moulton is? No, not outside political junkies and his constituents – and the latter is iffy given American apathy. Might not be his time, but watch his star rise
  • Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman from Texas – Oh Beto. We barely knew thee. Could surprise us, but I think he’s more likely to go back and fight a statewide Texas race sometime in the near future. I don’t think his political career is over, but I don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. Not this time.
  • Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio – Good Democrat, but I can’t think of anything that distinguishes him from the others in the field
  • Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont – Wish he’d go away. HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT. But he could win, and to my mind is the biggest threat to Biden. I’m closer to Sanders’ politics than Bidens’, but something about him irks me. I think it’s that HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT and won’t join the party unless we let him lead it. Still, voters like him and he has the wind in his sails from 2016 which could propel him to the nomination. (Watching a debate between him and Trump would be like nails on a chalkboard, though, both of them so gruff and brash)
  • Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California – Staple on MSNBC, but beyond that, not much of a national profile. One of the fiercest critics of Trump in the House, Swalwell could benefit if the House impeaches Trump, but considering Biden’s running on the “gotta-beat-Trump” platform, I don’t think that’ll be enough
  • Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts – Elizabeth Warren could beat Joe Biden. She’s got the background and expertise and record to take him on when it comes to financial regulation, consumer rights, and all the things progressives don’t like about Joe Biden. She’s extremely popular in the Democratic Party and has every chance of winning this nomination. Can she beat Trump? No idea. But she would certainly be a stark contrast – an intelligent, educated Harvard professor who campaigns for the little people against a dumb, ignorant con artist who didn’t pay his workers
  • Marianne Williamson, activist from California – Umm, do I know you?
  • Andrew Yang, entrepreneur from New York – Not really familiar with him. Know some of my friends are really excited about him. Concerningly, they’re kind of conservative or libertarian leaning, which leads me to think he’s not my ideal candidate. Cute though

 

What do you think of the 2020 field? Can anybody beat Biden? Will there be a dark horse who emerges in the debates? Or in the early primaries and caucuses? Is it too early to talk about any of this? Leave your comments below!