Elections 2018

Belgium went to the polls on Sunday for local and provincial elections. I don’t have a vote in the provincial elections but I do for the local ones and, after the polls closed, spent far too much time watching the results come in on the VRT Website.

I was impressed when Herstappe declared a result after only an hour and a half of counting a paper ballot. Not so impressed when I realised that the community has only 88 residents and 7 council seats. The Belgians do like their devolution.

Being a bit of a political nerd, I find watching the results fascinating, but trying to get a sense of the province (I am looking, almost entirely at the Flemish news and have pretty much no idea what has happened in the Francophone part of the country) from this sort of piecemeal information can be both challenging and misleading. This is compounded by the fact that party lists headed by an incumbent mayor have tended to do well.

With that disclaimer in place, it looks to me that Flanders has seen something of a shift to the margins with the Greens and far-right Vlaams Belang doing well, mainly at the expense of the Flemish Nationalist N-VA. Locally (for me), the N-VA took a lot of votes — and almost all of their seats — from the Vlqqms Belang and I had hoped that we could see the effective end of the far-right for good. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

Among the more mainstream parties, the socialists have done badly and the Christian Democrats remain the biggest party overall. The Liberals seem to have improved their position where they were already doing well and struggled where they didn’t have much of a presence to begin with, although Fabian Lefevere points out that, had these been national elections, OpenVLD would have been left with the balance of power.

The big question now is whether the cordon sanitaire will hold. This was an agreement among the Flemish parties 2004 to have nothing to do with Vlaams Blok. That party became Vlaams Belang in 2006 and, although a new agreement was never signed, no party has entered a coalition with Vlaams Belang in the 12 years of it’s existence.

Hopefully this situation will continue but, with the Vlaams Belang within negotiating distance of a coalition in several communities (most notably Ninove, where they won 40% of the vote under the list name Forza Ninove), we will have to wait and see.

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Quote of the day: The eleven percent

[I]t comes as a big surprise to almost nobody that a survey earlier this year found that 41 per cent of internet users entering personal information online tend to falsify their details. Wonderfully, only 30 per cent of respondents did so out of security concerns, which means another 11 per cent did so out of sheer unbridled mischief.

I love you, 11 per cent. You are my kind of people.

Alistair Dabbs

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Mail Order Monster

I love this trailer for Mail Order Monster.

After witnessing her mother’s death 3 years ago with her best friend PJ in the car, 12 year old Sam Pepper has never been able to move on. Her reclusive nature and nerd table membership leaves Sam an easy target for bullying. Trauma and puberty cause Sam and PJ to not only grow apart but become rivals.

PJ bullies Sam through ostracizing and humiliating her in front of their classmates. As Sam watches the school laugh at her through the slits of her locker, she realizes she’s had enough. Sam orders the parts to build a “Monster” from a comic book ad, and is finally able to give PJ a taste of her own medicine.

Finally, her life’s changing for the better. When her father, Roy, reveals he proposed to his girlfriend, Sydney Hart, Sam sees just how much her life’s about to change. Unable to face the state of her family, Sam relies on her monster to keep her from getting a new mom.

The Trailer

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Pandering to populists and the backfire effect

Politico has a feature on the rise of the Bavarian Greens. The bit that leapt out at me was this:

Green leaders say that voters appreciate the party’s clear stance on issues like migration, climate change and European integration.

As in other countries, the rise of a far-right party has pushed Germany’s national debate toward the right, with many parties adopting a harsher rhetoric, particularly on migration. The CSU, in particular, has moved sharply to the right.

The Greens, however, have stuck to their pro-immigration, pro-European position. As other parties became consumed by quarrels over asylum policy, with the CSU’s rightward shift bringing the government close to collapse, the Greens exuded a calm stability.

All too often, when the populists start shouting, the mainstream parties start shifting their positions in the hope of winning back populist voters. This approach can work in the short term but fails to recognise that populists are a minority and many of the votes they amass are protest votes rather than an indication of a fundamental shift in values.

By following the populists, therefore, the established parties will find themselves losing the more moderate, mainstream voters upon which their success depends. More insidiously, they also grant the populists’ agenda a much wider hearing than it deserves.

Populists are a shouty minority that seek to exploit real concerns to support an agenda that neither properly addresses those concerns nor reflects the underlying values of a community. These concerns should, obviusly, be addressed, but the simplistic and unworkable solutions that the populists propose should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

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Quote of the day: A charisma looking for an identity

I have a confession to make. Boris Johnson and I have a quite a bit in common. We attended the same Oxford College (Balliol). We studied the same subject (classics). We were presidents of the same debating society (the Oxford Union). However, a crucial difference is that I gave up being an undergraduate when I left university four decades ago.

Bobby McDonagh

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The Will of the People

Much is made by the Brexit bunch that the 2016 referendum represents the will of the people and must, therefore, be implemented. The same people, however, are shockingly averse to any effort to establish what the people actually want from Brexit. Now Charlene Rohr, David Howarth and Jonathan Grant have done the legwork.

But our study of what people value about the EU does tell us. And we find that their priorities map most squarely onto a Norway-style model for future relations with the EU.

People place a high value on having access to the EU markets for trade in goods and services. They like the option for the UK to be able to make its own trade deals. They also value that the UK is able to make its own laws, but not as much as access to the single market or the ability to make trade deals. They worry about freedom of movement, but mostly because of concerns about demand for public services. They strongly dislike the idea of having to get a visa to travel for their holidays.

I touched on the issue of access to public services some time ago. In short, every other EU country restricts access to benefits; the reason Britain doesn’t is that the Department of Work and Pensions IT systems are old, broken and not fit for purpose.

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Quote of the day: A longstanding and paradoxical defect in British political discourse

[A]lthough Brexit dominates our politics our knowledge of European polities is near-zero, and certainly not strong enough to form obvious reference points. It’s not just the right that is guilty here. So are leftists. Whenever free marketeers propose reforming the NHS, they immediately invoke images of dystopian American healthcare rather than, say, the Swiss or German systems.

Our ignorance of Europe takes countless very sensible questions off the agenda such as: why is the Finnish education system so good? What can Norway’s experience tell us about the case for a sovereign wealth fund? Why do the Netherlands and Germany have such low youth unemployment? How might we improve vocational education or support SMEs? How best can we design a welfare state that minimizes poverty without greatly diminishing work incentives? And so on.

Chris Dillow

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