Can School Strikes change government inaction on climate change?

Extinction Rebellion may be getting more headlines but another grassroots movement is challenging government and global inaction on climate change. The School Strike for Climate also known as Fridays for Future, Youth for Climate and Youth Strike for Climate is a growing movement of schoolchildren who go ‘on strike’ from school in protest against climate change.

They usually hold colourful demonstrations highlighting the impact that inaction over climate will have and ‘die ins’ when they pretend to be dead reflecting they argue the future of the human race without a radical change in our lifestyles including big reductions in fossil fuel usage.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg was the inspiration for the movement refusing to attend high school until the Swedish general election in September 2018 due to heat waves and forest fires across Sweden. Thunberg protested outside the Riksdag the Swedish Parliament claiming that she would return every Friday until Sweden ratified the Paris climate change agreement.

Inspired by this at the 2018 climate change conference in Katowice, climate strikes took place in 270 cities around the world in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland and the UK. During the course of 2019, the protests have continued and spread to every continent except Antarctica which of course has no schools.

In the UK activists have received support from 224 academics giving their full support to the movement while they also received support from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Brighton Pavilion Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. However perhaps predictably Theresa May said that the protests “increases teachers’ workload” and “wastes lesson time”.

British activists have formed the UK Student Climate Network a student-run climate activist group have been arguing for the voting age to be reduced to 16 reflecting the frustration some teenagers feel in not just having their views ignored but also that previous generations have failed to address the challenge of climate change. They also argue that the government should reform the education system so it teaches young people about the climate change emergency and that it should warn the public about the dangerous climate situation we face.

These demands are perhaps different perhaps even less militant than their adult counterparts in Extinction Rebellion, who are proposing very radical carbon emissions targets and the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly to discuss the climate crisis. However, despite some differences in strategy Extinction Rebellion are strong supporters of the school climate strike movement.

Cyrus Jarvis a UK Student Climate Network activist argued that reaching one of the key goals of the school climate change movement zero carbon emissions by 2025 or 2030 will be difficult.

He said: “ We’ll have to cut production of oil and gas bringing in renewables. We will have to bring in an aviation tax and packaging would have to be cut.  There would have to be a lot of legislation brought in to make sure that we are bringing our carbon emissions to the lowest possible level. We would also need to bring in a green new deal.”

Jarvis explained that he was inspired by the school climate protests across the world to get involved and outlined the ambitious plans for the global school climate change movement:

“ After seeing other countries going on strike and seeing thousands and thousands of people taking part in countries like Switzerland, Belgium and Australia we thought are futures are being destroyed right now and we have to do something about it.

“ The strikes are going to continue globally and then in September we’re going to strike on the 20th and seven days later there will be a general strike and we will strike again with everyone else globally. There are unions who are pledging to strike already and hopefully it will be big.”

However, with politicians particularly from the Conservative Party so adept at ignoring the views of young people can the strikes be effective? Arguably they along with the high profile activities of Extinction Rebellion have already had an impact as Parliament has become the first in the world to declare a ‘climate change emergency’. Politically the Green Party has achieved its best ever results in May in the local and European elections. These strikes have shifted the debate dramatically and achieved a level of education for the public via the media. While this is no legislative progress it is the first steps in solving the problem.

Arguably public opinion on climate change is shifting in favour of action and political support is emerging as well. This was something that was demonstrated during Greta Thunberg’s recent visit to the UK when she met not just Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas but also Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and the Westminster leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru Ian Blackford and Liz Saville Roberts. Even Climate secretary Michael Gove and Energy minister gave their support. However, as climate activists argue time is running out and it may not be enough.

The ghosts of Britain’s dirty war in Northern Ireland

2018 was a year when a number of stories about unfinished business from the so-called ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland as the civil war that engulfed the British run territory from 1969 to 1998, often spilling over into the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, are called.

Perhaps the most prominent of these stories frequently mentioned in the downmarket tabloids was the possibility of British soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Banner’ as the military operation was called being charged with crimes committed during the conflict. However, the specific accusations were unclear and as some commentators have noted families in Northern Ireland need closure. Furthermore, accusations of bias against ex British military forces should be tempered by the fact that the Police Service of Northern Ireland are currently investigating hundreds of killings perpetrated by republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

2018 was also the year when there was finally a development in the controversial death of Sinn Fein activist Aidan McAnespie in 1988. McAnespie was born into a Catholic family in County Tyrone close to the inter Irish border and was subjected to sectarian taunts from the local majority Protestant population. After leaving school, he got a job in County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland and was subjected to regular intensive searches from the security forces when going across the border. This intensified as McAnespie became an election worker for Sinn Fein when his sister decided to stand as a candidate for that party in the Tyrone County Council elections. According to the McAnespie family Aidan received death threats from the British Army.

McAnespie was a keen Gaelic Footballer and was travelling to a match when he was fatally wounded at British Army border checkpoint. According to the British Army he was hit by a weapon that accidentally discharged by a solider with wet hands. Although An Garda Síochána(the police force of the Republic of Ireland) investigated the case their report has never been published. At the time the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (predecessor of the PSNI) concluded that the death was an accident. Although a British soldier from the Grenaider Guards was charged with manslaughter charges were dropped before the trial with the solider being fined for negligent discharge of his weapon before being given a medical discharge in 1990. According to McAnespie’s family, this was all part of a cover-up by the British government.

However, things gradually began to change with a 2008 PSNI investigation concluding that the chances of the soldier’s account of events being true as “so remote as to be virtually disregarded”.  This was followed by a statement of regret from the then Northern Ireland secretary of state Shaun Woodward and in 2016 the Public Prosecution service launched a review into the decision not to proceed with manslaughter charges. Last June it was eventually decided to prosecute David Holden the solider in question.

Another historical legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland that came to the fore in September following an explosive Channel 4 documentary and an ongoing inquest was the 1971 Ballymurphy Massacre often referred to as ‘Belfast’s Bloody Sunday’. As part of ‘operation Demetrius’ a counter-terrorism operation conducted in Belfast in August 1971 which involved the mass arrest of 342 people supposedly involved with the Provisional Irish Republican Army the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment entered the predominantly nationalist area of Ballymurphy in West Belfast.

Entering the area with orders to detain PIRA members or sympathisers the soldiers claim that they were shot at by republicans and returned fire. What happened over the next three days is disputed but on Monday 9th August six civilians were killed including 19 year old Francis Quinn who was helping an injured man Robert Clarke , Fr Hugh Mullan who was killed when giving the last rites to Clarke  , Daniel Taggert who was shot 14 times,Joseph Murphy  and 50 year Joan Connolly who was killed while protesting about the internment operation. On the 10th August 28 year old Edward Doherty was shot followed by four more civilians on the 11th August including John Laverty, 20 who was shot in the back , Joseph Corr , 43 who was shot multiple times ,Joseph Murphy who allegedly died after being beaten up in custody and Englishman Paddy McCarthy, 44 who got into a confrontation with a group of soldiers and died of a heart amidst allegations that he was subjected to a mock execution.

At the time the British Army claimed that those who had been killed were linked with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. This version of events was put forward but Mike Jackson then a captain in the Parachute Regiment who later rose to be a General and then head of the British Armed Forces. Jackson who at the time was acting as a press officer for the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment claimed his troops came under fire from 20 PIRA gunmen a claim strongly denied by the families of the victims. There was also controversy about the military tactics used by Brigadier (now Sir) Frank Kitson who was in charge of the operation and moulded the Army’s counter terrorism operations in Northern Ireland on the British response to colonial counter insurgencies in Malaya and Kenya which involved the brutal suppression of any dissent.

For many years the massacre was largely ignored in contrast to the more infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’ which occurred in Derry in January 1972 (where Mike Jackson , Frank Kitson and the Parachute Regiment were also involved). However in 2016 the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan recommended an inquest into the killings. However despite attempts by Northern Irish First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster to block funding for the inquiry this was declared unlawful and the inquiry started in September 2018.

Another recent development is the dispute around the Loughinisland massacre and the 2017 film about the incident ‘ No stone unturned’. In June 1994 the Loyalist Paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) ( who have historic links with Theresa May’s current  confidence and supply partner the Democratic Unionist Party) attacked O’Toole’s pub in the small County Down village of Loughisland while regulars were watching the world cup finals match between The Republic of Ireland and Italy. Six men were killed in the pub including 87-year-old Barney Green one of the oldest victims of the troubles. Shortly after the attack, the UVF claimed responsibility claiming a Republican meeting was being held at the pub and that it was revenge for an attack they had suffered at the hands of the Marxist Republican Paramilitary group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

Following the massacre, an abandoned getaway car was discovered and six men were arrested as possible suspects only to be released shortly afterwards due to lack of evidence. However, for many years there were allegations of a cover-up when it was discovered that the car and key evidence had been destroyed by the RUC. In fact, the police investigation has been subject to two Police Ombudsman’s reports in 2011 and 2016 with the first report highlighting severe deficiencies about the investigation but it was the second report that was more damming.

In this report, it was concluded that the rifle used in the attack was smuggled into Northern Ireland by Loyalist Paramilitaries in 1988 something that the RUC ignored in order to not compromise informers and one of the suspects allegedly involved in the 1994 attack was an informer. It was also claimed that the security forces in the area were ‘compromised’ due to their sympathises for Loyalist Paramilitaries including the UVF.  In fact UVF members had relatives who worked in the local RUC station as well as the RUC itself. Perhaps most disturbingly of all allegedly the suspects were given a ‘tip-off’ that they might be arrested.

Oscar winning director Alex Gibney released his film about the massacre ‘ No stone unturned’ in November 2017 which names one of the suspects as a soldier in the British Army as well as reiterating the claim about the involvement of an informer and UVF supporters at the local RUC station.  There is also another claim in the film that Special Branch had prior knowledge of the attack and were ready to arrest the UVF unit. However the informer in the UVF unit told Special Branch that the operation was off, therefore, leading to the cancellation of the arrests, however, the attack went ahead regardless.

However, the most chilling recent event was the arrest in August 2018 of two Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffey who were investigating the massacre by the PSNI. Birney and McCaffey were questioned for 14 hours supposedly on the pretext of an investigation about the theft of confidential documents related to the massacre. However was this an attempt to frighten journalists from investigating the facts of who was behind the attack in 1994. With the Journalists on police bail the BBC refusing to show the film IT does appear that the British state has something to hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vocal critic of the EU, Yanis Varoufakis to stand in 2019 European Elections

Former Greek finance minister, Greek MP, economist and academic Yanis Varoufakis announced recently that he is standing in next year’s European elections in Germany. Varoufakis, is well known for his battles with the European Commission and European Central Bank as well as then German Finance Minister Wolfang Schaeuble over the bailout loan to Greece has potentially stirred things up by standing in Germany itself given the scars of the old battles of 2015.

It is of course slightly unusual for EU citizens outside their own member state but there have been precedents such as the late James Goldsmith, (father of current  Richmond Tory MP, Zac) leader of the Referendum party (who campaigned for an EU referendum at the 1997 general election)  who was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 standing in France.

Varoufakis turned his back on a career in academia in order to be elected as a Syriza MP in January 2015 and following the left wing coalition’s electoral victory following years of austerity was appointed finance minister by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Once in government Varoufakis and his colleagues sought to renegotiate Greece’s debt and end austerity measures but were faced with strong opposition from the Troika (IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank,) who insisted on maintaining the strict conditions of the Greek  bailout,  which necessitated brutal austerity measures.

This cumulated in a ‘bailout referendum’ in July 2015 where 61% of Greek voters rejected a new Troika bailout. However shortly afterwards Tsprisas decided to give in and accept the demands of the bailout something that precipitated

Varoufakis’ resigned from the government. Shortly afterwards he decided not to stand in the subsequent snap general election which Syriza won .

Since his resignation Varoufakis has become a strident critic of the European Union and in February 2016 he launched the pan –European DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025). Supported by a host of celebrities such as Noam Chomsky, Antonio Negri,  Slavoj Zizek, Julian Assange and the former Labour MP Stuart Holland it aims to create a European Union that is ‘full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils“. Indeed DiEM25 use the slogan ‘The EU will democratise or it will disintegrate’ with 2025 being set as the key date when reform needs to take place.

In their manifesto Diem25 have a litany of complaints about the contemporary EU including the large bureaucracy, extensive power of lobbyists , austerity policies that the EU forces national governments to implement as well as the close relationship the EU has with bankers and media moguls.

Although they do accept that the EU has been ‘ an exceptional achievement’  it is now threatened by Nationalism, racism and extremism. Indeed the manifesto laments that the EU ‘could have been the proverbial Beacon on the Hill, showing the world how peace and solidarity may be snatched from the jaws of centuries-long conflict and bigotry’.

Diem 25 argue that the EU is also too hierarchical with a opaque decision making process. In the words of the manifesto ‘Its purpose is to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, finance, working conditions and environment ‘.

Diem25 have argued that in order for the EU to democratise key meetings of various bodies such as the EU Council should be live streamed and the minutes of meetings of the European Central Bank should be published. They also advocate  that documents related to crucial negotiations (e.g Brexit, TTIP) should be publicly available and a register should be created for lobbyists.

While it has discussed becoming a fully fledged political party DiEM25 appears happy to be an umbrella organisation and grassroots movements there have also been discussions about forming the first pan European political party to fight for reform in the EU. However more realistically in the short term leading up to next year’s European elections along with Varoufakis’ candidacy Diem25 has also agree cooperation with particular political parties who have embraced their agenda such as The Alternative in Denmark and Ramzem in Poland.

Varoufaukis is going to be running in Germany with the support of the German Democracy in Europe and has talked about the need for a ‘European Spring’ to counter not just to counter austerity across Europe but also the far right which in Germany is manifested itself in the form of the AFD(Alternative for Germany).

Additionally he has argued that the EU needs to pay more attention to the environment through a ‘green new deal’ and that Diem25 will campaign to clamp down on tax havens. There is also speculation that Varoufakis may be tempted with a return to Greek politics when elections which are due next year in Greece are called.

However in our tumultuous era of European politics it remains to be seen if Varoufakis and Diem 25 can have an impact in a populist age where ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ Euroscepticism appears to be in vogue.

The Rise of the German Greens- The left can learn from their success

While most of the headlines in German politics have recently been made by the decision of Chancellor Angela Merkel not to seek re-election in 2021 and the continued rise of the far right AFD (Alternative for Germany) the increased popularity of the German Greens has almost gone unnoticed, at least in the UK.

At the Bavarian State election last month the narrative was about the heavy losses suffered by the CSU(the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Bavaria) along with the 22 seats gained by the AFD. However, it was the German Green Party that stormed into second place gaining a 9% swing, higher than that of any of the other parties except for the AFD whilst also gaining 20 seats.

It was a similar story at the State election Hesse on October 28th where Merkel’s CDU lost 7 seats, on a -11.3% swing while the Greens replaced the SPD( Social Democrats) as the second largest party (in terms of seats) with a swing of 8.7% gaining 16 seats. So why are the Greens doing so well and who exactly are they?

In fact the current German Green Party is a 1993 merger of two separate parties with different traditions (not unlike the Liberal Democrats in the UK) the original West German Green Party Die Grünen and Alliance 90 a group of non-Communist parties in the former East German who formed part of the democratic opposition in the Volkskammer the East German Parliament. Therefore in many ways the Greens are the epitome of a united German political party in contrast to the CDU and SDP who are more associated with West Germany and Die Linke(the left) who have are the successor the Socialist Unity Party that governed the GDR.

Following the merger with Alliance 90 that was largely motivated by a desire to meet the 5% threshold for Parliamentary representation in the post-unification Bundestag[1], it was in the Red-Green coalition with the SDP where the Greens made an impact.  Indeed following the 1998 Federal election despite a slight fall in their percentage of the vote won 47 seats. Although the Greens had three cabinet ministers in the coalition headed by SPD Chancellor Gerthart Schroder there was almost instant discord over German participant in the 1998 war in Kosovo (the first postwar deployment of German troops abroad).  

Indeed the Greens developed a reputation for principled competence in government and at the 2002 Federal election they increased their representation to 55 seats and in 2005 they only had small losses by the heavy losses suffered by the SPD forced them out of government with CDU leader Angela Merkel becoming Chancellor.

However, after several years in the doldrums they are back not just in terms of the recent election results but the Greens also have a strong record in local government more generally. Currently the Greens are in government in the following State Parliaments Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia. They are also in opposition in Bavaria, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony , North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony. In some of these Landers (as the German states are known), they are in government with their traditional allies the SPD, and even Die Linke but in others they have formed coalitions with the CDU and the free market FDP.

So, why are the Greens doing so well at the moment? One argument is that the Greens are no longer the party of pacifist hippies but now well- educated urban professionals in other words at least for a certain section of the population they have gone mainstream.

According to research by the London School of Economics, the SPD has been in long-term decline struggling to reconcile their traditional working class support base and young metropolitan liberal pro-European voters who are increasingly gravitating towards the Greens. Arguably the Greens have also become home for moderate centrist supporters of the CDU and CSU dismayed by those parties move to the right. Internally the Greens have been dominated by power-sharing arrangements between the left wing base and centrist pragmatists known as ‘realos’. According to this argument, it is the ‘realos’ who are currently in the ascendency, therefore, helping the parties’ electoral prospects.

However another analysis is that the Greens are doing well as they offer a clear coherent alternative to the far right AFD with a pro-European, tolerant approach to migration along with an acceptance of the challenges of climate change. It isn’t only in Germany where the Greens are doing well in elections. In  Belgium the Greens polled over 30% while in Luxembourg they increased their tally of MPs by 50%.

Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that the Greens have benefited from the implosion of the SPD since 2005 following a pattern of struggling Social Democratic parties that has affected much of Europe in recent years. As in the UK and USA commentators have also argued that the key contemporary political juxtaposition is no longer the left-right divide but rather open or closed. Clearly, the Greens with their pro-immigration and pro-European stance are ‘open’ compared to the ‘closed’ nature of the AFD.

It remains to be seen of course if the Greens can maintain their success in the increasingly unstable German political scene with the centre-left collapsing, far right growing and Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship coming to an increasingly disorderly end.

Price’s election as Plaid Cymru Leader marks radical change in party’s direction

On Friday 28th September Adam Price was elected the new leader of Plaid Cymru replacing the defeated incumbent Leanne Wood who had been leader since 2012. It was a landslide win for Price who took 64% of the vote with fellow challenger Rhun ap Iorwerth taking 36% in the second round of voting with incumbent being eliminate in the first round of voting on 22%. Under the constitution of Plaid Cymru leadership elections are permitted every two years but the incumbent leader usually goes unchallenged. So what made Plaid members, politicians and cadres unceremoniously dump their leader?

Leanne Wood was an unlikely party leader when she was elected in 2012 not only was she the party’s first female leader but was also the first to be a learner of Welsh rather than already being fluent in the language in a party that is strongly identified as a bastion of Welsh speakers. Although Wood had been a councillor between 1994 and 1999 as well as an AM for South Central Wales ( as well as standing as a Parliamentary candidate in 1997 and 2001 as well as assistant to Jill Evans MEP)and subsequently Rhondda since 2003 she was seen as something of an outsider with her Socialist, Green , Feminist and Republican views. In fact prior to her election Wood was best known for being ejected from the Welsh Assembly in 2004 for referring to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’. In 2012 she was supported by new leader Adam Price and elected on a platform of ‘real independence, genuinely working to end war, inequality and discrimination’. So what went wrong?

Some commentators have argued that very much like Jeremy Corbyn when elected Labour leader  Leanne Wood was very inexperienced when she became Plaid leader in 2012. In fact, when Plaid was part of the Welsh government from 2007 to 2011 in coalition with Labour Wood wasn’t appointed to a government position. There were also many criticisms of her speeches and interview techniques while during the 2015 general election party leader debates despite a devastating repudiation of Nigel Farage which increased her popularity she was largely overshadowed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. In fact during the general election itself, Plaid (already only the third largest party in the Welsh Assembly) failed to gain any Parliamentary seats and drifted in fourth place in Wales in terms of the Westminster share of the vote behind UKIP. There was a slight improvement at the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections with Plaid making one gain (Wood’s own seat in Rhondda) and subsequently helping Labour who had lost their majority stay in power.  Plaid also supported remain during the EU referendum so the leave vote nationally as well as in Wales itself was a blow to Plaid’s policy of Independence within the EU.

However at the 2017 general election Wood and Plaid were unable to make much of an impact with their vote share declining by 1.7% compared to a 12%  increase in the Labour vote. Plaid also failed to take their target seat of Ynys Môn although they did gain Ceredigion from the Liberal Democrats taking their Westminster representation to four seats. Leanne Wood was widely considered to have performed ineffectively during the leadership debates. Indeed it was rumoured that if Plaid hadn’t won Ceredigon Wood would have resigned after the election. Wood was also critised for not putting herself forward as a Parliamentary candidate. It does appear however that Plaid were hit by the ‘Corbyn bounce’ that shifted many voters towards Labour a nationwide trend not limited to Wales.

Wood has stated that she would resign as leader if she failed to become First Minister following the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections but discontent started to ferment in the ranks. In June 2017 three AMs  Llyr Huws Gruffydd, Sian Gwenllian and Elin Jones encouraged a leadership challenge. At same time Elfyn Llwyd former Plaid MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd from 1992 to 2015 argued that Plaid Cymru had been standing still for a number of years and ‘maybe it’s time to change the team’. Wood maintained that she would fight any leadership battle filling her candidacy first to be followed by Rhun ap Iorwerth and Adam Price in July.

It was felt that while Wood was ideologically on the left ruling out any deals with the Conservatives following the 2021 former BBC Cymru Journalist Iorwerth was in favour of closer links with the Tories. Price, in contrast, favours a kind of ‘equidistance” in other words arguing that Plaid should position itself equally between Labour and the Conservatives. Price has also discussed the possibility of renaming Plaid ‘The New Wales Party’ as well as setting out a timeline for Welsh independence, buoyed by new polls of increased support for Welsh Independence.

Price is an interesting figure the son of a miner from Carmarthen he graduated in European Community Studies in 1991 followed by a period working as a research associate at Cardiff University’s Department of City and Regional Planning. In 1992 he was an unsuccessful Plaid Parliamentary candidate in Gower before being elected to Westminster for  Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in 2001. In Westminster Price was known as a vocal opponent of the Iraq war including an attempt to impeach Tony Blair for the Iraq war in 2004 and was ejected from Parliament in 2005 for claiming that Blair had ‘misled’ Parliament over Iraq. Price was also very critical of the war in Afghanistan and BBC coverage of Welsh affairs. In 2010 he stood down spending some time in the United, working for a charity and presenting a Welsh language series about the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike. Price is also a member of the LGBT community making him along with Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson one of the first party leaders from that community.

Adam Price’s election appears to signal a move away from the Socialism of Leanne Wood’s tenure back to a more pure avocation of traditional Welsh nationalism. Wood, particularly in her earlier years positioned Plaid to the left of Labour hoping to gather support from those on the Labour, left disillusioned by New Labour and the eccentric Miliband interregnum. However following the election of Jeremy Corbyn this strategy has increasingly felt defunct. It is easy to forget that for many years following its foundation in 1925 Plaid was a socially conservative force for traditional rural Welsh nationalism not a hotbed of international Socialism.  Furthermore he appears to be pushing a more assertive independence stance away from Labour (he has ruled out a coalition with Labour in 2021)  stronger opposition to Brexit with some arguing that his election will lead to the end of ‘left unity’ in Wales as Plaid appears to its traditional constituency of ‘the provincial lawyer, accountant and estate agent and landowner’.

Price has gone as far as to say that such is the danger of Brexit for Wales that  Welsh Independence should be ‘on the table’  in a more assertive pro-Independence stance than was common under Leanne Wood’s tenure. Price also went on to argue that if the UK leaves the Single Market and there is a ‘hard’ inter Irish border this would enhance the case for Irish unity and Scottish Independence therefore perhaps producing a domino effect that leads to Welsh Independence. This clearly puts Plaid at odds with the Conservatives and Labour both in Wales and nationality who insist that the result of the referendum must be respected not to mention UKIP until recently a significant force in Wales. Indeed Price at the recent Plaid autumn conference seemed to be trying to attract Labour voters stating that ‘ the cupboard is bare’ and that ‘Labour represent the Politics of the past’     while at the same time unveiling policies designed to appeal to Labour voters such as a railway line from Swansea to Bangor and a ‘comprehensive child package’ as well as praising the NHS. However Price also many many traditional historical Welsh nationalist references including the use of the longbow by Welsh armies at the battle of Crug Maw perhaps an attempt to try and attract more socially Conservative Tory and Liberal Democrat voters in rural Wales where both parties have traditionally done well. Winning over Ukip voters in Wales to the extent to which they remain a cohesive bloc of voters may be more challenging especially given Price’s assertive anti-Brexit and pro-Independence stance which will alienate most UKIP supporters. However Plaid will hope that some of UKIP’s more working-class supporters will be attracted by some of Price’s Labour like policies particularly if the focus is more on the Welsh Assembly rather than Westminster.

Therefore Price’s election as Plaid Cymru leader may lead to a significant change in Welsh politics. Arguably Price is on an Obama style mission to make Plaid a potential governing party in the Welsh Assembly or at least a significant junior partner despite the talk of no coalitions. This obviously leads to the prospect of wither Price would be willing to work with the Conservatives to form a coalition in the Welsh Assembly?  Given that in the forthcoming Welsh Labour leadership election pro-Corbyn candidate Mark Drakeford is likely to be elected Welsh Labour leader and First Minister it is surely possible that Price’s version of Plaid a distinctive proud Welsh nationalist party rather than a more avowed leftist party for disillusioned Labour voters as it was under Wood will become more powerful in the Welsh Assembly. Perhaps he will even lead a distinctive anti-Labour bloc along with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Adam Price is more likely to make headlines with the London based media and may well have changed Welsh Politics.

Who are the Welsh Labour Leadership contenders?

Following the resignation of Carwyn Jones in April at the Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno, the race has been on to succeed the man who has led Welsh Labour since 2009. We profile the 3 front runners.

The election to succeed Jones is key not only for the future of Wales but also the long-running party civil war. Wales currently remains the only place the left of the party, Corbyn’s faction, are not in control.

Leadership contenders for the top job in Welsh Labour require 20% of AMs to nominate them with the votes of party members and affiliates carrying equal weight. As reported on TPN it was decided at a special conference on the 15th September that the election will be conducted on the basis of one member one vote in line with the national Labour Party as opposed to an Electoral College system. While the Unite Union supported OMOV other unions such as GMB, Unison, Usdaw and the CWU supported the retention of the Electoral College system. According to the rules set out by Welsh Labour  the contest is due to be concluded in December.

The Favourite: Mark Drakeford

Mark Drakeford, seen above, is the left wing pro-Corbyn candidate backed by Momentum and is undoubtedly the front-runner. Describing himself as a ‘pragmatist’ and socialist, Drakeford the AM for Cardiff West was the first candidate to declare his candidacy on the 24th of April shortly after Carwyn Jones’ resignation indicating perhaps that he was anticipating a leadership challenge.  

Drakeford who has been Cabinet Secretary for Finance since 2016 as well as working as an AM since 2011 was originally brought up in Carmarthenshire in West Wales before moving to Cardiff in the 1980s. In fact, Drakeford has always been interested in Politics something he attributes to the politicised Carmarthenshire environment he grew up in the 1960s. Drakeford also has experience of local politics as a Labour councillor on South Glamorgan Council from 1985 to 1993 specialising in education with a particular focus on Welsh Language education.

Outside of Politics Drakeford also had spells working as a Probation Officer Youth Justice Worker and Barnado’s Project leader in west Cardiff.  He has also worked as a university lecturer before moving to work in the Welsh Assembly.

Tellingly Drakeford has received nominations from 17 of the 29 AMs including Jack Sargent the son of Carl Sergant who won his late father’s seat in a subsequent by-election. In addition to this, he also has endorsements from the leaders of Swansea and Rhondda Councils as well as former AMs Brian Gibbons and Edwina Hart. It would appear particularly as he can command the support of 58% of AMs and the OMOV voting system that Drakeford is the favourite. He is the most left wing of the candidates and the only candidate to support Corbyn during the Labour leadership election in 2015.

Vaughan Gething: Main challenger

Vaughan Gething AM for Cardiff South and Penarth appears to be Drakeford’s main challenger. Gething who is a rare ethnic minority figure in Welsh politics was born in Zambia, his mother is Zambian and his father Welsh. A qualified solicitor, Gething became the first Black President of his National Union of Students in Wales.

Gething also has experience as a Councillor from 2004 to 2008 representing the Bluetown Ward in Cardiff and was then elected as an AM in 2011.  He is Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services.

Gething, a member of the GMB Union as well as a member of the Co-op Party has been endorsed by Owen Smith, indicating a more centrist position than Drakeford and had the election been fought under the old rules with Union bloc votes then Gething could have been the favourite given his strong Union links. However under OMOV it appears Gething will have an uphill struggle.

Gething will hope to win votes on his anti-Brexit stance.

Eluend Morgan: The outsider

Eluend Morgan is the third and final contender. Morgan is the only female candidate. She has a degree in European Studies from the University of Hull. After graduating Morgan worked as a researcher for STC, Agenda TV and the BBC.

In 1994 Morgan was elected as an MEP for Mid and West Wales at the time she was the youngest MEP to take up her seat. She was the budget control spokesperson for the Socialist group in the European Parliament until 2009, as well as acting as the Labour spokesperson on Energy, Industry and Science. Morgan was awarded a life peerage in 2010, becoming Baroness Morgan of Ely and was elected as AM for Mid and West Wales in 2016. Since 2017 she has been minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning. Morgan was actively involved in the ‘Yes’ campaign during the 1997 Welsh Assembly referendum.

As she only received 5 AM nominations out of 29 or 17% Morgan may be considered an outsider for the leadership. However her campaign received a boost on the 18th of September when previous leadership contenders Huw Irranca-Davies and Alun Davies withdrew from the race in order to support her.

How do they differ on policy?

Mark Drakeford has recently announced that he would back a 2nd referendum to stay in the EU if a No deal scenario were to occur, currently both his leadership rivals also back a 2nd referendum but even on the event of a deal. In a recent article he writes passionately about the benefits of trade unions and how re-introducing worker rights through more secure employment contracts are at the forefront of his plans in Welsh Labour. Promising to use the power of the purse, to force companies that have government contracts to introduce fair and proper terms of employment.

Vaughan Gething, also has an anti-austerity tone and recognises that change is needed in Wales. He has put building houses and increasing social mobility at the forefront of his campaign, and although he realises that Labour must do more than simply oppose Tory policy, he doesn’t actually offer much in the way of new ideas to achieve such goals.

 

The vote will take place in November, with the result being announced in early December. With Mark Drakeford in pole position, this is something that UK Labour will be watching very carefully, because he may be the final piece of the Corbyn puzzle. They will be aware though, that leadership contests often spring surprises.

How would British Politics differ under Proportional Representation?

Elections in the UK have an uncanny ability to produce bizarre results. In 1951 under First Past the Post (FPTP), for example, the Conservatives won the election with more seats than Labour despite the fact that Labour won more votes in the election. In February 1974,  Labour won 301 seats to 297 for the Conservatives despite the fact that the Conservatives won more votes. But it was perhaps the 2015 general election which resulted in the most disproportionate results. Staggeringly, UKIP secured only one seat in Clacton despite receiving 3.8 Million votes and the Green Party received 1.1 million votes but were only able to retain Caroline Lucas’ Brighton Pavilion seat. So, although UKIP and the Greens attracted almost 5 million votes between them, they were only rewarded with two seats.

The principal issue with our archaic voting system is that it rewards parties that have a high concentration of voters in certain areas. For example, in 2015, the Scottish National Party received 1.4 million votes but won 56 seats. This was in sharp contrast with UKIP and the Greens and largely down to the fact that SNP supporters tended to be focused in concentrated geographical areas. Another way of looking at this is in terms of the raw data from the popular vote in 2015. Whilst UKIP were in third place overall, it was actually the SNP who was officially the third largest party. The fact is, First Past the Post leaves the majority of voters disenfranchised- unless they live in a swing seat their vote is unlikely to count a great deal. Indeed, the Conservative Party was able to form a majority government based with only 36% of the popular vote. As is the case with the vast majority of post-war British governments, they formed with only minority support despite opposition from the majority of voters.

First Past the Post arguably exacerbates the inherent tribalism of British politics. Where realistically only the Conservatives and Labour have the chance to govern, smaller parties are barred from the system. Therefore minority views can be safely ignored. Another key factor is that FPTP accentuates internal party divisions as dissenting MPs know they are highly unlikely to be elected if they stand as Independents or for a minor party (there are exceptions, of course, Enoch Powell was elected as an Ulster Unionist MP; George Galloway for Respect and more recently Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless for UKIP). Under a proportional system, however, the Conservative Party, rather than being ravaged by divisions over the European Union, would have split into two separate pro and anti-European parties. This would be the case for the Labour Party who, under PR, would have to hold together the range of different factions or risk splitting into different parties- something that under FPTP, would be tantamount to electoral suicide.

If Proportional Representation were introduced, how would British politics differ today?

In all likelihood, it would end any prospect of a single party government exercising a minority rule. Indeed, overall majorities are rarely achieved under PR. Parties such as the Conservatives, SNP and to some extent Labour who have geographically concentrated levels of support would undoubtedly lose seats. Not only would smaller parties such as the Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens perform better, but more people would vote for them. No longer would voting for these parties constitute a wasted vote. This would particularly be the case if Britain adopted the Single Transferable Vote System which allows for multi-member constituencies for the potential for MPs from several different parties to be elected.

As studies clearly show, the number of seats actually won by the different parties is vastly disproportionate to the percentage of the national vote. While under FPTP the Conservatives were able to ‘squeak home’ to win their first majority since 1992 (arguably due to a combination of the Lib Dem collapse and Labour collapse in Scotland), under PR they would be well short of a majority on 242 seats. Labour would also win fewer seats (down from 231 to 199) while the Scottish Nationalists would also win fewer seats (31 rather than the 56 under FPTP), although they would still remain the largest party in Scotland.

Under PR the Lib Dems (who despite a disastrous result still polled a million more votes than the SNP) would have won 51 seats making them a much more relevant electoral force than they currently are. However, it is UKIP that would have benefited the most winning 82 seats with the Greens rocketing up to 24.

What sort of government may have emerged under PR in 2015?

With the Conservatives well short of the magic 326 seats needed to form a government, it may have been that David Cameron would have needed to look elsewhere and perhaps form a coalition with UKIP which would have left him with 324 seats just two short of a majority that could be bolstered with support from the Democratic Unionist Party (who with their concentrated Protestant support wouldn’t benefit from PR winning fewer seats), or the Ulster Unionist Party  who would probably win enough votes to secure a couple of seats. If this were the case, Cameron would still have been forced to hold an EU referendum except that the likes of Nigel Farage, Arlene Foster and Ian Paisley Junior would have been the ministerial colleagues to back the Leave campaign.

Arguably with government support, there would have been an even bigger Leave victory. Ed Miliband probably would have still resigned as Labour leader but whether an ‘outsider’ like Corbyn would have still been elected leader is hard to predict. Who knows, perhaps under PR, Corbyn and the Labour left would have joined the Greens years ago or a Labour leader would have emerged keen to make alliances with the Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP keen to turn a regressive alliance into a progressive majority.

Interestingly, there has also been an analysis of how the results of the 2017 general election would have differed under PR. Whilst the Conservatives would still be the largest party they would have won 276 seats rather than 317 under FPTP while Labour would be down one from 262 to 261. It would be good news for the Lib Dems who would have four times as many seats, while UKIP, despite a decline in support, would have 12 seats with the Greens on 11. There would also be a decline for the SNP who would have secured around 20 seats rather than the 35 they won under FPTP. In a similar vein, the DUP would only have won 6 seats rather than the current 10.

It is tempting to speculate what governing coalition would have emerged from last year’s election under PR. Firstly the Conservatives could have retained power with a coalition with UKIP and the Lib Dems. However, this would seem rather improbable given the disastrous experience of the Lib Dems in coalition with the Conservatives from 2010 and the vast divisions over Brexit. Even with the support of the DUP and UUP, it is likely that Theresa May would have been unable to continue governing. As for Jeremy Corbyn – like Theresa May – he would have only been able to govern with Lib Dem support which again would have been difficult given the differences between the two over Brexit.  Even if the Brexit divisions could be overcome, a joint Labour-Lib Dem coalition would only amass around 309 seats so support from other minor parties. Could Corbyn hold this ‘progressive coalition ‘together? If so it would be a fascinating experiment that provides an opportunity to radically change the nature of British Politics.

Are we likely to see such change in the future where all votes rather than just a minority count and large sections of the electorate are ignored? Does the political will exist now or in the near future? Only time will tell.

 

Who will stand in 2020 for the Democrats?

Although we are still some way off the 2018 midterm elections let alone the 2020 US Presidential election Donald Trump has already stated his intention to run for a second term and the Trump 2020 is up and running. However, as of yet, we have heard very little about who is likely to stand against Trump for the Democrats (presuming that he isn’t successfully challenged by the Republican Party itself).

In fact, it may surprise many even seasoned followers of American politics that there are already several confirmed Democrat candidates. These include John Delaney a former businessman who represents Maryland in the House of Representatives conspiracy theorist Jeff Boss, renewable energy researcher Harry Braun businessman, Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, former football coach Robby Wells and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. However, all of these candidates are effectively lightweights who have little chance of gaining the nomination.

The most popular man to challenge Trump on the left of the part is Bernie Sanders. The senator from Vermont who does not represent the Democrats in the Senate but did run for the Democratic nomination last time has yet to confirm whether he is running but is definitely the choice of the left of the Democratic Party. There has been constant debate and tension between the left and right of the Democratic Party about which ideological strategy is best to defeat Trump a left-wing candidate either Sanders himself or somebody similar or a more moderate Clintonian candidate. This debate has only intensified in recent weeks with the shock defeat of incumbent establishment Democratic New York senator Joe Crowley at the hands of Socialist Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in the recent New York Primary. Since the 2016 Presidential election supporters of Bernie Sanders (sometimes rather disparagingly referred to as ‘Bernie Bros’) claimed that not only had Sanders been cheated out of the nomination by the Democratic National Convention but that he would have been elected President as he would have captured the key working class vote in ‘Rustbelt’ states that pivoted to Trump. Clinton supporters naturally say that he wouldn’t have won as his ideas were unworkable, Trump and GOP would have destroyed him through their propaganda and he was unable to capture the African American vote that propelled Barack Obama to the White House. Potentially a Sanders campaign in 2020 would excite many progressives with a recent Zogby poll indicates that he was the second favourite of the Democrats asked. However, the man himself has yet to indicate if he will stand and given the fact that he will be 79 at the time of the 2020 election.

Barack Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden is also a possible contender with some pundits labelling him the front runner and a candidate that is popular with the Democrats base as well as a candidate that might appeal to the white working class voters that the Democrats surely need to win back in order to win in 2020. Biden not only has top level experience as Vice President but was a Senator for Delaware from 1973 to 2009 along with experience of the Democratic Party machine from Carter to Obama.

Prior to his Vice Presidency Biden had experience on the Senate Foreign Relations, International Narcotics and Senate Judiciary Committees. As well as winning in 2008 and 2012 on a successful ticket with Obama Biden he also infamously attempted to run in the Democratic Primaries for President in 1988. However, despite being initially considered a frontrunner Biden eventually had to drop out of the race after it was discovered that one of his speeches was plagiarised from Neil Kinnock then leader of the British Labour Party. It should also be noted in the 1988 race Biden was hoping to be the youngest President since JFK but in 2020 he will be 78.

However according to Bill Pugliano writing in Politico magazine  notes there are possible downsides to a Biden candidacy. Pugliano argues that Biden has an overtly familiar manner with Women which may not go down well with the Feminist base of the party in the ‘Me too’ era. There is also the controversial bankruptcy bill he promoted for years sometime heavily favoured by credit card companies in order to make it more difficult to escape debts through bankruptcy. Biden defended himself by claiming that he was attempting to protect the large number of jobs in Delaware based in financial services but it may not go down well with Progressives. Biden could also be attacked from within his own party based upon his support for a 1994 law under the Clinton administration that critics say led to mass ’incarceration’ as well as his support for the Iraq war.

Elizabeth Warren is often mentioned by pundits a potential unifying figure who could unite both the left and pro-Clinton factions of the Democratic Party. Warren originally from Oklahoma has been senator for Massachusetts since 2013 and previously taught Law at a number of Universities across the United States. Although Warren was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016 playing down suggestions that she would stand herself (supposedly she was considered as a Vice Presidential running mate before Tim Kaine was ultimately chosen) she has a number of policy positions that may appeal to the left of the party. For example, Warren supports increasing the minimum wage; small tax rises in order to fund infrastructure development and supports moves to allow workers to organise for better wages. Warren opposed the Obama  inspired Trans Pacific Partnership as well as the ongoing US involvement in Afghanistan while supported LGBT rights, renewable energy , abortion rights and the rights of the so called ‘Dreamers’(undocumented migrants) to obtain US Citizenship. Warren also favours a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more rigorous background checks on those buying assault weapons and has spoken for the concern for the debt facing University graduates.

According to CNN Warren has stated that she isn’t running for President. It is also true to say that along with Clinton and Nancy Pelosi Warren is the one of the most famous current female Democratic politicians. Indeed as Brendan Gallagher argues Warren has developed a ‘rock star’ reputation for her frequent stacks on Trump and Wall Street. However there are also doubts regarding the Viability of Warren’s potential candidacy. For example her opposition to banks and big business has attracted criticisms on the right of the Democratic Party and could make a Presidential run difficult as of course big business fund so many campaigns. There have also been concerns about how Warren would play in ‘rustbelt’ swing states and that her ‘in your face style ‘may be off putting to very Blue Collar white men that the Democrats need to win back.

Cory Booker an African American Senator from New Jersey ( as well as formerly Mayor) since 2013 is another potential candidate. Booker won a Rhodes scholarship to study at the University of Oxford before embarking on a legal career in an echo of Obama’s background. In 1998 he won a seat on Newark Municipal Council and subsequently went on a 10 day hunger strike in order to draw attention to the issues surrounding drug dealing. Booker also spent 8 years living in a low income district Brick Towers prior to its demolition. Since his election to the Senate in 2013 Booker has been involved in Committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Environment and Public Works and Foreign Relations. Politically Booker has been described as a liberal, moderate and neoliberal as well as being critised by progressives for supporting Charter Schools (similar to Academies in the UK) along with enterprise Zones. Unusually for a Democrat, Booker supports gun rights and favours overturning the Roe V Wade(1973) legal ruling which permitted abortion in the United States. However he also has a number of traditionally Liberal positions such as support for LGBT rights, minimum wage and gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Recently Booker has been traveling across the United States  including States were the Democrats have struggled in recent years such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida promoting talk of a Presidential run. Generally, he is considered a powerful and dynamic public speaker who may be able to energise to large number of African American voters a key part of the Democratic coalition that Hillary Clinton and arguably Bernie Sanders failed to mobilise in 2016. Booker has stated that he will wait for the mid-term elections before deciding to run but his stance on guns and women mean his chance of winning the Democratic nomination would be practically zero against any serious candidate.

Kamala Harris who only became a California Senator last year has also spoken as a possible Democrat hopeful to fight Trump in 2020. Harris who comes from an Indian-Chinese background studied Political Science and Economics at Howard University in Washington DC before becoming a Lawyer in her native California eventually becoming District Attorney. Since being elected in 2017 Harris has sat on the Budget Committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Intelligence and Judiciary. Politicially Harris is seen as a liberal being pro-Abortion and LGBT rights as well as support for gun control and critically single payer healthcare system. Some have argued that Harris could give the Democrats the radical edge they will need to topple Trump while Harris herself has said that she hasn’t ‘ruled out’ a Presidential bid.

Kirsten Gillbrand who has been a New York Senator since 2009 succeeding Hillary Clinton when she was appointed Secretary of State by Barack Obama. Gillbrand attended a Private Girls school before attending Dartmouth University majoring in Asian Studies which involved studying in Beijing and Taiwan. Following this, she pursued a legal career in Manhattan before working on Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign in 2000 developing a close relationship with Clinton who encouraged her to stand for election and win firstly to the House of Representatives and then as her successor when Clinton was invited into Obama’s administration. In contrast to many of the other contenders but perhaps unsurprising given her links to Hillary Clinton Gillbrand is linked to the Conservative Blue Dog faction of the Democratic Party although she has moved leftwards in recent years leading to accusations of ‘flip flopping’. For example, she has backed Abortion and LGBT rights as well as favouring a single payer healthcare system and has moved in favour of gun control.

Clearly, the mid-term elections preoccupy most Democrats at the moment but once they are over expect the race to win the nomination to begin as the party seeks to overturn the bruising trauma of defeat in 2016 and seek the first candidate to unseat a sitting President since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Who exactly are Italy’s new government?

Italy has emerged from yet another political crisis following the general election in March with a new government, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. The big winners were the two populist parties; League from the right, a recently re-branded version of the Northern League who since the early 1990s have dominated right-wing Italian populist politics along with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and the enigmatic Five-Star Movement (FSM) which combines a Eurosceptic approach with elements of populist leftism. Following intense negotiations over two months and the initial repudiation of Eurosceptic Paolo Savona as Minister of Economy and Finance by the Italian President Sergio Mattarella, a compromise was found and a new government formed in an unlikely populist coalition.

The history behind the coalition members

Firstly, it is important to understand that the newly re-branded League entered the election as part of a centre-right electoral coalition with Forza Italia along with other Conservative parties such as Brothers of Italy, Us with Italy and Union of the Centre, the ideological heir of the Christian Democratic party that dominated Italian politics from the 1940s until the corruption scandals of the early 1990s. They are led by Matteo Salvini who is now Deputy Prime Minister and a former MEP from Milan who also has experience of local politics on Milan council from 1993 to 2012. Salvini, known by League supporters as the ‘Captain’, was formerly a socialist in his youth before joining the Young Pandians, the youth wing of the then Northern League.

In 2013, Salvini became Northern League leader when he trounced Umberto Bossi (now in prison for corruption) in the same way Nigel Farage altered the political landscape with UKIP and the populist right in the UK. Since his election, Salvini has emphasised the party’s Euroscepticism and anti-immigration stance. Despite mixed results in local elections, the Northern League did well in the 2014 European elections.

Historically the Northern League (as the name suggests) has been a regional party which not only advocated a nationalist, Eurosceptic approach, but also acted as a separatist party arguing that the wealthy north should not fund the feckless backward south and urges if not full independence for the north, then substantial autonomy and the establishment of a federal Italian state. In this respect, there are clear similarities to the neo-Thatcherite elements of UKIP as well as the right-wing aspects of Catalan nationalism bemoaning the financially wasteful Spanish state. Indeed, the League has even developed a name for their ideal northern state, ‘Padania’, and claim themselves to be Padanian nationalists.

The Northern League emerged out of other regional parties in the 1980s such as Lega Lombarda and Allenza Nord who combined together for the purposes of the 1989 European elections before eventually amalgamating into one party in 1991. However, even after the Northern League was formed regional sections of the party remained as a form of local or sub party structure (for example Lega Nord Piemont and Lega Veneta).  In the early 1990s Italian politics was engulfed in corruption scandals (something that is shown in the excellent Italian political drama 1992) that embroiled the Christian Democrats and Socialists giving credence to the League slogan “Roma ladrona” (Rome big thief) as the party made headway in local elections- winning the Milan mayoralty in 1993 as well as having 56 deputies and 26 senators elected at the 1992 general election. Indeed, the League fought the 1994 election in alliance with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and held some government ministries in the short-lived 1994 Berlusconi led government.

Following this the League became increasingly pragmatic, supporting centre-left administrations across Italy when necessary and performed well at the 1996 general election before claiming that they wanted the succession of Northern Italy; something that was reinforced by a bizarre ceremony when then leader Umberto Bossi took some water from the River Po which he poured into the sea near Venice two days later as a symbolic birth of the new nation of Padania. Subsequently, the League was a key Berlusconi ally following his re-election in 2001 and again from 2008 to 2011 holding a number of key ministries such as Labour, Justice and agriculture amongst others. Following the Berlusconi’s premiership, the League went into decline and factional infighting prior to Salvini’s leadership.

In contrast, the Five Star Movement is much newer having only been formed in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web strategist a movement that has taken Italian politics by storm and has been described as populist, anti-establishment, environmentalist, anti-globalist and Eurosceptic. Unlike the League which is a more traditional right-wing party, FSM doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into the left/right paradigm with some accusations that it is right wing due to its anti-immigration stance yet also promoting policies usually advocated by leftists such as a citizens income and environmentalism. However, members themselves argue that the FSM is just that, a movement rather than a political party. This is reflected in the strong grassroots participation which has included members forming policy through online member led votes. Indeed, the Five Stars that give the movement its name and logo include the key issues for members: public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to internet access and environmentalism.

Although the Five Star Movement itself started in 2009 the origins go back to 2005 when Beppe Grillo arranged meetings for supporters of proposals in his online manifesto to meet up face to face meetings calling themselves ‘The 40 friends of Beppe Grillo’. These meetings evolved into discussions on a wide variety of topics such as technology and innovation, press communication, ethical consumerism and currency study. These gatherings expanded to national meetings in Piacenza, Turing and Sorrento led by Grillo, followed by the establishment of a national civic list of potential electoral candidates.

Grillo took things one step further in 2007 with the establishment of his ‘V’ days in 2007, with the V standing for Vaffanculo (F off). These were events that included public mobilisation and the collection of signatures in order to create laws through popular initiatives while the provocative name had references to the D-Day landings as well as the film V for Vendetta linked to the idea of political renewal. Grillo marched on, arguing for the need for a ‘clean parliament’ while also advocating for more direct democracy through referendums.

In October 2009 the FSM was born and impressive results were achieved in local elections during 2010, 2011 and 2012 with the highlight being the FSM capturing the Mayoralty of Parma. In the run-up to the 2013 general election Five Star candidates were chosen through an online primary, and, in the election itself, the FSM achieved 25% of the vote in elections to the Chamber of Deputies and 23% for the Senate. This meant 108 deputies and 54 Five Star senators were elected with Five Star the biggest party in Liguria and also in much of the south including Abruzzo, Marche, Liguria, Sicily and Sardinia, a pattern that would be repeated in the 2018 general election. However, at this stage the FSM was unable to go into government, not just because of the antipathy towards it from the then incumbent centre-left Democratic Party, but also due to its refusal to form alliances with other parties, something that was becoming essential to govern in modern Italian politics with its eccentric PR/First Past the Post hybrid electoral system.

In the 2014 European elections, Five Star achieved 21% of the vote, second place at a national level which resulted in the election of 17 MEPs. However, as a new, almost post-Ideological protest movement, the FSM lacked any European affiliation and the horse-trading regarding European Parliament affiliation began. Shortly after the election the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), a Europhile bloc that includes the Liberal Democrats in its ranks and is currently led by anti-Brexit ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt rejected the FSM as a member citing there Euroscepticism and populism. Negotiations began with the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) headed by Nigel Farage. In an online referendum, Five Star members voted to join the EFD in preference to remaining unaffiliated or joining the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group which includes the British Conservative Party.

In terms of ideology, the FSM is unusual in European politics due to its belief in direct democracy, seeing it as an evolution of representative democracy and arguing that citizens need more direct power to ensure governments are not dominated by corporate interests. Five Star also claims that a form of ‘collective intelligence’ is now possible through the internet and chooses its Italian and European election candidates online as well as the Five Star candidate for the Italian Presidency. Furthermore, legislative proposals are decided for Five Star members as was the decision to develop a partnership with UKIP and support for the abolition of a law against immigrants, something which went against the views of the leadership.

Five Star is very emphatic that ‘politics is not a career’ and any of its representatives must consider their role as a form of temporary service which they refer to as ‘zero cost politics’ and may include the reduction of salaries of some of its elected politicians. For example, in 2012 the Sicilian branch of Five Star used the money deducted from the salaries of their representatives to help small and medium-sized businesses. Five Star is also very clear that members with a criminal record can’t run for office, something that has prevented founder Beppe Grillo from running as he has a conviction for manslaughter following a car crash.

Five Star members through an online referendum and Grillo himself also back same-sex marriage and have backed a form of basic income which would amount to around 780 per person, dependent on some minimum number of hours worked every week. Perhaps more controversially the FSM has expressed some anti-immigrant rhetoric with Grillo claiming that illegal immigrants should be expelled and the Dublin regulations which allow asylum seekers to settle in the first safe country (which in the case of refugees from North Africa is usually Italy), while Luigi Di Maio has called for ‘an immediate stop to the sea-taxi service’ from North Africa and Italy.

Interesting times lay ahead for the new Italian government who face many challenges. With factors such as a sluggish economy, tricky relations with Brussels and an immigration crisis, it is unsurprising that many are predicting the unlikely coalition to be short-lived. Even so, as the most right-wing government since the fascist era, it could certainly reshape Italian politics.

Who Will Be The Next Green Leader?

Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, announced on Wednesday 30th May that she is to step down as the co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, a position she has held with Jonathan Bartley since 2016. It was only in 2007 that the Greens accepted the idea of a leader in place of two Principal Speakers who were to be gender balanced, something that was embedded through a referendum. Lucas, who was only the party’s second ever councillor, on Oxfordshire County Council from 1993 to 1997, was also one of the Greens’ first MEPs (South East England) when elected in 1999. She had also been Principal Female Speaker from 2003-2006 and 2007-2008 and was elected the first Green leader in 2008 on 92% of the vote. In 2010 Caroline Lucas was elected to be the very first Green Party MP in British political history in Brighton Pavilion before deciding to relinquish the leadership in 2012 “in order to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.” Lucas re-emerged as co-Leader of the Greens from 2012 to 2016 after an interregnum when they were led by Australian journalist Natalie Bennett.

Therefore, now that Caroline Lucas has resigned as Green co-Leader (perhaps this time for good) who are the expected contenders?

The obvious front-runner is Jonathan Bartley who has proved to be an effective co-Leader with Lucas since 2016 and was recently elected a councillor in Lambeth for the St Leonard’s ward during the local elections. Bartley has an interesting and perhaps unusual background for a Green politician. He is a direct descendant of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, his uncle was a Spitfire pilot and his father a Normandy veteran. Yet even more surprisingly, Bartley used to be a Conservative having worked as a parliamentary researcher for a number of years, including being part of John Major’s campaign team in the 1995 Conservative leadership election against John Redwood. Bartley then joined the Greens, standing for the London Assembly as well as in multiple general elections. Prior to becoming Green co-Leader Bartley was perhaps best known for heckling David Cameron over access for disabled children into mainstream education during the 2010 General Election.

Shahrar Ali was Green Deputy-Leader from 2014-2016 (leaders and deputy leaders are elected on a bi-annual basis) may be another figure who is interested. Ali has degrees (BA,MA and PHD) from the University of London in Biochemical Engineering and Philosophy, and started his career working at the European Parliament before moving into academia, teaching at Anglia Ruskin, Birbeck, City Lit, Herefordshire, and with the Worker’s Education Association. Ali has written books on why to vote Green and stood as a parliamentary candidate in Brent East and Central as well as standing in the European elections in 2014. If Ali stood and was elected he would be the first major British party leader from an ethnic minority background.

Amelia Womack, the current Deputy-Leader, is a further contender and, at 33, could be the first ‘Millennial ‘ political leader. Thus, Womack could attract socially progressive younger voters who have drifted to Corbyn’s Labour or the Liberal Democrats amongst a bout of anti-Brexit pique. Womack was brought up in Newport, South Wales and attended a local comprehensive school. She studied Environmental Biology at the University of Liverpool and an MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. She has been a Green member since 2000 and has stood in local elections in Lambeth as well as standing as a parliamentary candidate in Camberwell and Peckham in 2015 and stood in Cardiff Central as the Green candidate during the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections.

Sian Berry, the current Leader of the Green Party in the London Assembly, is likely to be another serious female contender. Berry, who is also a Councillor in Camden in the Highgate ward, was raised in Cheltenham before being educated at Pates Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford. Following this, she worked for pharmaceutical companies and as a copywriter before becoming politically active in her late 20s. Berry has led campaigns for low carbon, non–nuclear energy and against 4×4 vehicles as well as standing for Hampstead and Highgate in 2005. In addition, Berry stood as the Green Party candidate in the 2008 (where there was an informal second preference alliance with Ken Livingstone) and 2016 London Mayoral elections (where she beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place). At the time of writing Berry has announced that she will be standing as co-Leader with Jonathan Bartley.

What of the three Green MEPs who will soon, much to their chagrin, be out of a job and looking for a new role? Firstly, there is Keith Taylor, who was defeated by Caroline Lucas in the selection for the Green candidate for Brighton Pavilion in 2010 having stood as the candidate in 2005, and replaced Lucas as MEP for South East England in 2010. Taylor was also a Green councillor in Brighton from 1999-2010 and is from a working class background in Essex which would present a different public face and potentially attract a different voting demographic. As the Times has stated Taylor “defies the stereotype of Green politicians as earnest or bookish academics.”Keith Taylor also has experience in local government whilst leading a number of committees, as well as leading the Green group as a whole and was principal male speaker from 2004-2006.

Molly Scott Cato is currently MEP for South West England. Cato was educated at Bath School for Girls before doing PPE at Oxford which was followed by an MSC in Advanced Research Methods with the Open University and a PHD at Aberystwyth University. Initially she worked in publishing with Oxford University Press before going into academia lecturing at Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Roehampton. She has also written a number of books on green economics, localism and anti-capitalism. Cato has been a parliamentary candidate on a number of occasions including in Pembrokeshire in 1997 and 2005 as well as in Bristol West (once a serious Green target) in 2015 and 2017.

Whoever is elected leader faces a tough challenge thanks to Labour moving left under Corbyn and the first past the post system which penalises small parties, at the same time, the Greens failure to appeal to largely rural Tory voters as a viable alternative has limited their influence. However, the recent local elections showed the Greens to have their best ever set of results, which gives them hope and something to build on.