Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Waiting for Gordon?

Interesting comments by former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waikato and once a British Labour Mp Bryan Gould from the website of Austin Mitchell, the last of a long line of antipodean academics turned UK Labor politicians. Says Gould on the state of British Labour:
Left activists and supporters are at best bewildered and apathetic, at worst angry but impotent, at what has happened. There is a powerful sense of lost opportunity. The thoughtful realise that the opportunity presented by an overwhelming popular mandate for change, the intellectual bankruptcy and debilitating divisions of the Right, and a consequent period of virtually unchallenged power in government, is unlikely to be repeated. They know that, while the Tory party may still – under an unproven leader who has yet to demonstrate any substance – lose the next election, there is a palpable sense that the balance of political advantage is shifting. David Cameron is at least succeeding in drawing a line under the disintegration of the past fifteen years and signalling that a new Tory Party is ready to contest for power. The risk to Labour is compounded not only by the cumulative failures that attend the progress of any government but by the loss of trust and sense of disappointment on the part of its own natural supporters. As the Blair period draws to an end, and an unparalleled window of opportunity closes, an alleged government of the Left will not only have wasted a unique chance of promoting real change. They will have achieved the reverse of what many of its supporters expected. They will have presided over, even engineered, an entrenchment of power for the powerful. Gordon Brown may well find that his inheritance is worth little more than a mess of pottage.
What does Gordon say in an interview with Newsweek:
You don't sound like the socialist you are portrayed to be. I'm a free trader. I'm pro open markets. I'm anti-protectionism. I also think that the environmental challenge has got to be met over the next 10 years. We've undervalued energy and the environment. So when people say you represent a return to "Old Labour," are they wrong? Totally wrong. And the economy that I admire most is the American economy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

California Democrat primary

After George Bush Arnold Schwarzenegger is the American politician Australians have heard off. A recent poll has him level pegging with both of his potential Democrat rivals who go to a primary on June 6 before a general election in November. I might be inclined to agree with the comment of state Democratic party chair Art Torries:
For an incumbent governor to be tied with two men who the media say hasn't made a splash with the public is not good news for him...Even with all his moves to the moderate center with hopes of regaining voters who supported him in the special election, it isn't working for him.
The more liberal of the two Democrat candidates Phil Angelides (a property developer) has come from behind with the support of teacher unions to level-peg in the primary with eBay pioneer Steve Westley, but the bad blood and negative campigning in the primary may alienate voters and impact on the Democrat vote in a crucial Congressional by-election on the same day. Brad de Long agrees. The amount of money that both candidates have had to raise does show that primary elections are not necessarily an empowering process for ordinary voters. True this is a single ballot in a state of 36m. Fund sources from here:

Phil Angelides

Raised: $28.7 million. Spent: $26.2 million. Major donors: Phil Angelides, $1.5 million; California Democratic State Central Committee, $822,000; Peter Angelos, owner, Baltimore Orioles, $22,300; American Federation of Teachers, Washington, D.C., $22,300; Service Employees International Union District 1199, Columbus, Ohio, $22,300; SEIU Illinois Council, Chicago, $22,300; George Andros, Fresno developer, $22,300; Luke Ellis, Orinda attorney, $22,300; International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, Ontario, $22,300.

Californians for a Better Government (Independent expenditure committee for Angelides): Raised: $9.8 million. Spent: $7.49 million. Major donors: Angelo Tsakopoulous, Sacramento developer, $6.13 million; Eleni Tsakopoulous-Kounalakis, Sacramento developer: $2.57 million; California Association of Teachers, $1 million; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $100,000.

Steve Westly: Raised: $41.4 million. Spent: $38.4 million: Major donors: Steve Westly, $35.1 million; Lilli Rey, Hillsborough homemaker, $22,300; Steve Jurvetson, Los Altos venture capitalist, $22,300; California Department of Forestry Firefighters PAC, $22,300; Farmers Employees and Agents PAC, Mill Valley, $22,300; William Hambrecht, San Francisco venture capitalist, $22,300;

Bad history on Queensland

John Black, former Labor senator says:
"What you are seeing with the Howard demographic is a fundamental rewrite of federal political history...It is something like what [Franklin] Roosevelt did with Democrat votes in the southern states in the US. The really robust Coalition vote that Howard is getting in Queensland could translate into quite a significant long-term gain for the conservatives at the state level, in the same way that Roosevelt's strong support in the south won governorships for the Democrats in the southern states."
Dear me. The Democrats had an iron grip on the south, particularly at a state level, long before Roosevelt appeared on the scene. Roosevelt polled well in the south as you would expect any Democrat who won a presidential election during this period to do so, but the south had always been the strongest base of Democrat presidential support. if anything Roosevelt's attempt to change the Democrats into an urban liberal party endangered their southern support and the solid south cracked notably from 1948 onward. In Australia there is nothing unusual in Queensland voting different ways at the state and federal level. Since 1946 only twice in 1961 and 1990 has Queensland recorded a 2PP Labor majority at a federal election. Howard polls well in Queensland but you would expect any successful conservative federal leader to do so.

Michelle Grattan says:
It's hard to envisage how it would work in practice. They couldn't be one organisation at state level yet send two sets of representatives to Canberra. Would the Queenslanders sit separately, or be divided between the two parties? How would they fit into the formula for carving up the ministry between Liberals and Nationals?
Wrong again. It would be possible for a Liberal-National merger at the state level to send two sets of representatives to Canberra as federal MPs. MPs elected under the banner of the party could choose to caucus with either the Liberals or the Nationals. This is the case with the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory and was the case with previous Nationalist/UAP-Country mergers in Queensland and South Australia. Most MPs elected from a merged Queensland party would probably caucus with the Liberals I suspect. I have discussed the isssue of the National's identity here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Liberal-National fusion

The announced merger between the Liberals and nationals in Queensland seems to involve the formation of a merged party at state level with tis federal MPs having the option of whether to sit with the Liberals or Nationals in federal parliament. Is there any reason why an MP would choose to sit with the Nationals? Once current group of Queensland National MPs moves on I would predict that the federal Nationals would disappear in Queensland. Queensland conservative politics has been down this road before. The brief emergence of a Country Party in Queensland in the early 1920s was followed by a reunification of the conservatives as the Country Progressive National Party in 1925. Although the CPNP won the 1929 elections it was otherwise a failure, and in 1935-36 it split into the Country Party and the UAP before briefly merging again in the 1940s. During the mergers federal MPs sat with the party of their choice but most even then caucused with the Nationalists/UAP. In Maranoa, the only seat lost by Labor in its 1943 federal landslide, the fact that the non-Labor candidate disavowed the merger and represented an independent Country Party grouping may have assisted his surprise victory (see my paper on western Queensland politics here).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Howard and Harper

John Howard's speech to the Canadian parliament has inspired favourable coverage in the Murdoch press, even if Howard's government shows signs of the complacency that finally brought down the Canadian Liberals. John Murney asks if Howard's appearance will help Canadian PM Harper, it probably does some marginal good for a PM to appear with foreign leaders, except if they are George Bush. Perhaps the ALP should look to Harper and David Cameron in the UK for examples of how to unsettle a long-serving government in good economic times. Harper is in a minority government, in Australia we have recently had several minority state Labor governments all of which have been returned with thumping majorities at their second election after first terms of strenuous moderation. The Conservative vote is drifting up so Harper hopes to emulate the example of the ALP in the Australian states. Like the minority Labor governments in Australia Harper keeps a tight rein on caucus:
The Prime Minister's Office has warned Tory MPs not to comment on the marriage next month of two gay RCMP constables. The gag order went to all MPs but was aimed at "the small minority who might say something stupid," said one caucus member. It's just the latest in an effort by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to control and limit his new government's public message track. It follows Tory strategists' successful suppression during the election campaign of social conservatives whose opinions might have harmed the party at the polls.

What would a Democrat victory mean?

Back in February Charlie Cook suggested that it would be more advantageous for the Democrats to fall short of winning either the House or the Senate, as they can escape being implicated in theBush administration's failures and also that with the razor-thin majorities that are all they could hope for they would hardly control either House anyway. Noteworthy too that for all the talk of conservative disaffection with Bush this is an elite not a grassroots phenomenon, the Republicans are in trouble because they have lost support among moderates particularly women, although conservative abstentions could hurt them. How united are the Democrats and how solid would a narrow majority be? They do include Gene Taylor who voted for all four articles of impeachment against Clinton for example, although to give him some credit his district hasn't voted for a Democrat presidential candidate since 1956 and he has been outspoken about Katrina. Good discussion of Democrat factions by left-wing 'progressive' Democrats Chris Bowers, here, here and here, he identified three groups from left to right: the Progressive Caucus which claims 60 Democrat members and 1 independent, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) (Clintonites) which claims 40 members and the conservative 'Blue Dogs' with 37. With 202 Democrats this leaves 65 unaccounted for. The DLC members are much less unified in their voting than the others which suggests that the unaccounted 65 can be put in the centre with them. With the Blue Dogs however voting with the rest of the Democrats only 54% of the time on key bills it is clear that a House majority must be highly qualified. Bowers concludes:
Since the average Democrat supported the Democratic position 6.53 times of out a possible 8.00 (81.4%), and the average Republican supported the Democratic majority position 0.24 times out of a possible 8.00 (3.0%), by this measure the average Democratic Representative can be counted on for 6.29 more votes than the average Republican Representative. Considering the 361 vote deficit, in order for the Democratic position to reach majority status, it is thus necessary to replace 58 Republican Representatives with Democratic Representatives in order for the Democratic majority position to reach majority status within the chamber.
However even a one-seat House victory would make Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi Speaker and she is a former member of the Progressive Caucus (she resigned on becoming leader), although she has been accused of modifying her positions to appease more conservative Democrats.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Harmer in Wakehurst

Media excitement about the prospect of Wendy Harmer, stand-up comedian and former radio personality, running as an independent in the Sydney north shore electorate of Wakehurst at the next NSW state election. Manly to the south has been happy hunting ground for independents who have held the seat since 1991. I doubt her prospects however, Wakehurst, along with Manly was won by Labor in the 1978 'Wranslide' and was only narrowly lost in 1984, even in 1988 (a landslide Labor defeat) Labor managed over 40% in the seat. But for reasons I don't know but presumably reflect population shifts it has moved firmly into the Liberal camp since then with a 2PP vote of 61% in 2003, despite a state-wide Labor 2PP vote of 57.5% comparable to 1981 when Labor had about 58% in Wakehurst. I think that the 1984 Liberal victor lost preselection for 1991 but even this made no difference. I suspect it is a case of the disappearance of the Labor voting low income pockets that there used many of in more remote parts of the north shore. Perhaps symbolically the former 1978-84 Labor MP is now a local land valuer. The boundaries have also been pushed inland into the true blue Liberal leafy heights. In what is now a heartland Liberal seat Harmer would need to capitalise on local issues, but what are these, and what is to prevent the Liberals taking up these issues? Presumably Labor are encouraging her to run wouldn’t she be better employed as a Labor candidate elsewhere? These are the 2003 figures with the comparison from 1999 (from Psephos):

Rita Lee                  Unity          506  01.5

Peter Forrest Grn 3,220 09.8 (+03.2)

Tony Howells AD 417 01.3 (-05.2)

Vincent de Luca 3,942 12.0

Anthony Mavin 483 01.5

Brad Hazzard * Lib 15,398 46.8 (-01.6)

Mike Hubbard CDP 1,036 03.1

Chris Sharpe ALP 7,903 24.0 (-04.8)

Even if she finished ahead of Labor, probably not that difficult, a tight preference flow and a Liberal vote well under 50% would be required. Vincent de Luca was a former Liberal who campaigned against alleged corruption on the Liberal-dominated Warringah council, but the Council was subsequently dismissed so that issue is past. Note that even in a good year for Labor he seems to have taken much of his vote from Labor.

Friday, May 12, 2006

'New Communists' sucessfull

India: another sweeping win for the Left Front in West Bengal as many predicted earlier. Picture is of post-election celebrations from here. However the Left only led 47 to 44% over a divided opposition. The supervision of the election by the national electoral commission has undercut claims past Left victories were due to fraud. I am not sure however how patterns of nomination play out and it would be very difficult to determine a 2PP vote. There is a map here of the seats won. Also a left victory in Kerela. For some pictures from the Kerela campaign see here and here and here. Is the Bengal vote one for pragmatic Communism? One report sounds rather like current ALP state governments with populist premiers:
The other highlight of the victory is the boost it gives to the Chief Minister’s agenda for reforms. He was categorical today in saying that he would continue to pursue reforms and encourage industrial development. “I believe in the historical inevitability of socialism. But we need development. And in the present context we need to invite private capital because there is no alternative,” said Bhattacharjee. But he was equally firm in opposing hire-and-fire labour policies or any move to sell well-performing government undertakings... the Left victory in Bengal is as much a mandate for Bhattacharjee’s personal image and charisma as it is for his governance and policies. It’s evident in the fact that Bhattacharjee registered a record of sorts himself, winning his Jadavpur Assembly seat by over 58,000 votes. It’s a victory margin that no chief minister in Bengal ever recorded.
A more jaundiced comment:
But what is the secret of the Left Front's success in West Bengal? The answer is that the CPI-M's organisation at the grassroots is unparalleled in the country. Even in the remotest of villages, you will find a red flag and people who will talk of Tiananmen Square as a counter-revolutionary attempt by America. Talk to them about the lack of development and employment opportunities and they will chorus an answer drilled into them with the discipline of an army: 'The Centre does not give West Bengal funds.'

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Limits of populism?

Interesting article from the 3rd-wayish Progressive Policy Institute in the US on whether class-interest populism can provide an electoral base for the Democrats. It disagrees:
class-interest populists cling to an outdated concept of workers' interests -- a holdover from the New Deal-to-Great Society era, when a large blue-collar class was fighting for a fair share of the industrial economy's rewards. Today, most people work in offices or high-end service jobs and they believe their economic interests are more closely aligned with the companies they work for...[only] about 23 percent of the population can be categorized as having a direct personal interest in supporting the social safety net programs that most of the public strongly associates with the Democratic Party -- programs that help people living in poverty or just a few rungs above it. Democrats may protest the suggestion that they only stand for social safety net pro-grams for the poor; they may rightly argue that their whole social and economic platform is to the benefit of most Americans. But the hard truth is that most Americans simply don't perceive themselves to have class interests that strongly align them with one party or the other. That is, they don't believe that the direct, pocketbook benefits of either party's policies are so overwhelming as to outweigh all other political considerations.
The longer PDF of the entire article tries to estimate the (small) size of the social groups that would benefit by a populist agenda. On a first view it understates the size of the working class by equating higher credentials with higher class status. Still the paper is a type of analysis largely lacking in Australia, apart from the revolutionary left's attempts which I find even less convincing. I hope to work on this and suspect that the truth is in-between.
Update: Andrew Leigh has picked up on this article arguing that:
you can bet your bottom greenback the Dems are planning a median-voter strategy for the November elections. As UK Labour strategist Philip Gould once put it, a party whose policies are keeping its whole base happy is a party that’s heading to certain defeat.
Perhaps but then why are the Republicans playing to their base as argued in Off Center? Via Mark Schmitt a silly Republican argument for playing to the base.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Changing conservatives here and in US

Interesting article by Charlie Cook on the shifts in the Republican Party:
For years, the foundation of the Republican Party was built upon eight pillars of equal importance. Those pillars were (in no particular order): cutting taxes, reducing the size of government, balancing the budget and being fiscally responsible, creating a strong national defense, opposing communism, emphasizing free enterprise, getting tough on crime and emphasizing social issues. Over the last 20 years or so, however, the size and number of those pillars have been reduced so that today, the GOP foundation is teetering rather precariously on just two pillars: social conservatism and tax cutting. The inherent wobbliness of this foundation and the increasing tensions between the tax cutters and the social conservatives will shape the look of the Republican Party for the next decade.
What lessons might this hold for the Australian right? We can see a shift towards social conservatism as a rallying point. Amidst the hype around the Centre for Independent Studies' thirtieth anniversary few have picked up its increasing focus on the preservation of traditional gender roles. it is the policy of CIS notables, such as peter Saunders and Barry Maley, to reduce female paid workforce participation. Note also Sinclair Davidson aligned with the CIS who comes close to a supply side belief in the miraculous power of tax-cuts as an incentive. See also the musing of CIS guest Jim Wallace on moral decline. For an example of where we may end up, this NY Times piece on increasing conservative hostility to contraception in the US:
For the past 33 years — since, as they see it, the wanton era of the 1960's culminated in the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 — American social conservatives have been on an unyielding campaign against abortion. But recently, as the conservative tide has continued to swell, this campaign has taken on a broader scope. Its true beginning point may not be Roe but Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that had the effect of legalizing contraception. "We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion," says Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, an organization that has battled abortion for 27 years but that, like others, now has a larger mission. "The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set," she told me. "So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child. Therefore seeking an abortion is a natural outcome. We oppose all forms of contraception."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Winning the Senate?

Interesting article here on the American Senate battle. Author Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia notes:
When the American people decide to make a change, they do it. They don't care that the forecasters and the prognosticators say it isn't likely. They find a way to make the change happen, even if--on paper--there aren't enough competitive districts or states to produce a party turnover.
In the House this is what I have said already. Problem is that the Democrats are starting from behind after their loses in 2002 and 2004; it is a similar challenge that Victorian Labor had to overcome to win a Legislative Council majority in 2002. Inclined to agree with Sabato very difficult to win 6 extra seats out of the competetive Senate races.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Conservatives and citizenship

Much debate on Andrew Robb's call for potential citizens to pass a test of fidelity to Australian values. There a deeper agenda behind this. Up to now the Coalition has benefited by identification with Anglo Australia, but over coming decades the ethnic composition of Australia may change more quickly than previously. At some point we will reach a tipping point where an Anglocentric appeal is electorally counterproductive as non-Anglos are such a large group. This will be a problem for Australian conservatives. One strategy would be to minimise the number of non-Anglo voters, and making citizenship harder to get would be part of this (so would voluntary voting a longstanding Robb cause). Note that Robb is carefully talking about citizenship not immigration. British migrants are less likley to take out citizenship 56% in 1996 vs. 90% for Vietnamese. American conservatives are currently divided on immigration reform, between traditional anti-immigration campaigners and those who seek to recruit Hispanics to the Republic party (one of the few issues where the 'neo-conservatives' seem to have a distinctive position from traditional mainstream conservatives. Greg Sheridan's opposition to guest worker proposals is an Australian equivalent). Bush did make some progress among Hispanics in 2004, in particular among Protestants. There is some evidence now that an Anglocentric appeal to tougher controls on migration may cost Republicans votes, here and here. The American debate has brought out the wingnuts, see this on the Mexican reconquest.