Nothing is obvious and nothing is clear

Ségolene Royal’s campaign is doomed. The total vote for the Left is polling (32 to 36 per cent) almost as low as it was in 1969, when the second round vote was between a Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, and a centrist/classical rightist, Alain Poher, with everyone to the left crashing at the first turn on a total of 31 per cent.

Ségolene Royal is on course to win. Her polls, ranging between 24 and 27 per cent, are as good as François Mitterand’s in 1981, when he got 25.8 per cent, not a mountain more than the Communist candidate, Georges Marchais, who had 15.3 per cent . And, since 1958, the left has always been in second place after the first round, even when Mitterand won the run-off. The French elections remain fascinating, even though many of the delightful possibilities have boiled off.
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The secular jihadi two-step

In a previous post, I argued that the extreme Right has rebranded itself as a “secular jihad” against “Eurabia” to appeal to the liberal hawk/”decent left” tendency. Where once the New York Times‘s op-ed pages wrung hands and wagged fingers against the rise of Haider and Le Pen as a renaissance of anti-semitism, now Melanie Phillips flirts with the Vlaams Belang as strugglers for Western civilisation.

Blogistan reports that the BNP is trying to make nice with the Jewish Chronicle over an article, ironically by Melanie Phillips, which accused them of being anti-Semitic and allies of Hezbollah. (One wonders exactly how.) Amusingly, she quotes the Communist Morning Star‘s pointing out that BNP leader Nick Griffin has both supported Israeli military action in Lebanon and crazy Eurabia propagandist Bat Ye’or as evidence that the Left is anti-Semitic and so is the BNP. The only logical route to this proposition is that “the Left criticise the BNP for being pro-Israel, therefore the left is anti-Semitic because all criticism of Israel, or even the Eurabia mythos, is anti-Semitic by definition” – something which a lot of JC readers would have been outraged by had it been made explicit.

The further leap, that the BNP is really anti-Semitic despite its explicit and noisy support for the Israeli hard right, is based on a statement by some BNP “theorist” that the party needs to stop being obsessed by Jews. At some point here, clearly, we have slipped the surly bonds of logic and sailed off into the pure air of propagandist ravings. This is an example of using a point in debate that means the exact opposite of what you wish to say. There is absolutely no doubt that the BNP *is* anti-Semitic, in that many if not most of its members are and much of its past history is. But it is very significant that its leadership and its “theorist” are trying to retarget its hatred onto Muslims.

Phillips’ mental model is founded on the assumption that a) the CPGB is representative of all leftwing opinion, a highly noticeable step, and b) not only is criticism of Israeli policy equivalent to Nazism, but this protection extends to the Eurabia meme, rather as “extended deterrence” was held to protect Western Europe as well as North America.

This kind of ideological acrobatics is usually a signal of a big realignment a-coming. It is reminiscent of the good communist who had to believe in the necessity of war against fascism up to the moment he or she learnt of the Nazi-Soviet pact, then of the essential non-dangerousness of Hitler, and then the exact opposite immediately on hearing the morning news on June 22, 1941. After all, precisely the people in Europe who believe in the Eurabia meme are…the BNP and Co. And if it is now the acid test of fascism, then Melanie Phillips can’t logically avoid lining up with Nick Griffin.

Slight update: I recall that a few years ago, the “Loyalists” in Northern Ireland were reported to have started adopting Israeli iconography, and the Republicans had begun to wave Palestinian flags in response. No doubt part of the reason is that the colours were roughly right for Glasgow Rangers, but still. The BNP, C18, NF and Co are known to have contacts with the “Loyalist” paramilitaries.

Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
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1..2..3..And They’re Off – The Left

On the other side of French politics, as I promised, the internal conflicts are if anything stronger. To start with the most important ones, the Socialist Party is about to do something quite rare in its history – have a contested primary election. The only other was that of 1995, when Lionel Jospin beat Henri Emmanuelli to succeed Francois Mitterand. Before that, the candidacy normally went to the party’s first secretary, who was usually Mitterand anyway. (Before 1971, when Mitterand set up the modern PS, the various splinter-groups from the old SFIO that made it up of course had their own arrangements.)

Since the disaster of 2002, though, this looks like it’s going to change, chiefly because there’s a strong external candidate. Ségoléne Royal, the head of the Poitou-Charentes regional government, has been campaigning vigorously all year with some success. The success can be measured, in fact, by the frequency with which she is being accused of “Blairism” by the rest of the possible candidates. This looks like being the content-free insult of the campaign, in fact, as could be seen with the PS official quoted by Libération who remarked that he didn’t want Royal to “come back from London and abolish the social security” – after all, everyone knows that the UK provides no social security whatsoever, right?

It would be more accurate to place Royal on the soft-left. (If anyone’s Blairite in this game, it’s Nicolas Sarkozy – this speech is a classic of early Blairite rhetoric circa 1997.) She is no more “neoliberal” than Lionel Jospin was in government, for example, or for that matter Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is closer to the Greens than some. She is given to vaguely conservative speaking, but it’s harder to discern where a concern for civisme, secularity and Republican values (in the French sense) stops and where a rather stern law-and-order politics begins in a French context.

However, it looks more and more as if the rest of the party is gearing up for an “anti-Blairism”, stop-Sego campaign. And policy doesn’t matter very much in this sense.
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The Accordion Strategy

And so it begins. Back in Italy, the Left has comprehensively disrupted the Right’s systems by folding Massimo D’Alema’s candidacy (German link) and producing a surprise candidate, the 81-year old Democratic Leftie Giorgio Napolitano. The effect has been to split the Right coalition, with ex-cause célébre Rocco Buttiglione annoucing that his neo-Christian Democrats will back Napolitano, the Northern League announcing they will oppose him, whilst Forza Italia and the ex-fascists hold their peace – perhaps for lack of a decision on what to do.

Fascinatingly, as yesterday blogged, part of the problem is managing the vote so the Democratic Left’s honour is maintained. Apparently, if it looks like Napolitano won’t make it, the Left will spoil their ballots rather than submit him to a defeat. However, the split on the Right raises another possibility: in the first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds supermajority is needed to elect a president, but if there is no agreement by then, in the fourth round only a simple majority, 504 votes, is needed. It might pay to keep the Left vote down for three rounds, then plunge for the 50%+1..

Update, 1700BST: The voting has begun. Unione candidates are apparently going to cast a blank ballot in the first round. Are they pursuing the AFOE strategy?

Berlusgone

Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.
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German Election: Pollwatch

Today’s Handelsblatt reports that a poll carried out for N24 TV shows the CDU stabilising in the polls after last week’s Schröder Surge. The CDU was on 42%, up 1.5%, with the FDP on 6%, down 0.5%, putting the Festival of Sternness Coalition on 48.5%. The SPD sank back one percentage point to 33.5%, with the Greens unchanged on 7% and the Left on 8%, also unchanged – putting the two camps exactly level and the Ampelkoalition on 46.5%. (Regarding the “traffic light option”, it’s worth remembering that the Left and the CDU-CSU are not exactly the material of a stable opposition, and a minority government could theoretically survive by playing them off against each other.)

Interestingly, an opportunity to test the validity of electoral spread betting has come up – the betting market Wahlstreet (ouch) has the SPD on 34% and the CDU just under 40%, with Greens on 8.5%, Left on 7.5% and FDP on 7.5%. This would put the Red-Red-Green buggered imagination option in the box seat with exactly 50%, the CDU/FDP on 47.5%…and the Ampelkoalition over the finishing line with an impressive 50%. (Amusingly, given that the margin of error for the polls is 2.5%, Wahlstreet quotes to the nearest two decimal places.) Over time, it seems that votes are drifting very gradually from the smaller to the bigger parties.

You might think this is of limited interest, seeing as Guido “He’s Not Dull – He’s a Statesman” Westerwelle told the nation in last night’s TV debate that the FDP would be in opposition if the CDU/FDP ticket didn’t make it (Link to the Austrian newspaper whose website uses frames). But, not so fast!
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