Far from the referendum having ‘settled the European issue for a generation’ this will leave it unsettled for a generation. A vote to leave always had that danger, but a practically workable and politically consensual soft Brexit would have minimised it. Instead, the government’s initial embrace of hard Brexit and the subsequent backtracks in the face of its predictable and predicted unworkability have created an intractable mess that dooms us to years of political bitterness and economic limbo.
Therefore, for all their bluster and bloviating, let’s just state clearly what the members of this small group are: they are a minority faction, holding a minority view, in a minority government.
We do not know what they want, they do not know themselves what they really want – that’s the problem.
— Dalia Grybauskaitė, president of Lithuania, on the UK Government’s negotiating strategy.
After Wednesday night’s inconclusive Brexit dinner, French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel walked back to their hotel together.
After a leisurely 25-minute stroll through Brussels’ old town, Macron received a text message from Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel: “Come and join us.”
A few minutes later Macron, Merkel, Bettel and Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel were sat round a convivial table on the city’s Grand-Place, beers in hand.
My favorite part of this story, though, comes from VRT, which notes that Visitors from Germany and the US struck up a conversation with the leaders. Inevitably, someone asked about Brexit, to which Angela Merkel replied:
It’s a beautiful evening, let’s not spoil it!
No doubt both have always been in some degree present – and it would be a soulless politics indeed that was purely technocratic. But it becomes extremely problematic when feeling and sentiment completely swamp rationality and evidence. That is not just because it creates unworkable policy but because it becomes self-re-enforcing: the more the policy fails, the greater the belief that with more faith it would work. It’s not just that it isn’t evidence-based or even that it is evidence-immune, it is that it thrives on evidence that contradicts it.
— Chris Grey on the collision between technocratic politics based upon rational argument and evidence, and faith-based politics based upon feeling and sentiment
Many countries together are greater than one. That was the argument for Europe all along and it is the reason why Brexit is failing; why it was always going to fail.
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 Vlaams 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.
Never has so much been lost by so many to satisfy so few.
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.
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.