A Tory Majority and a Progressive Win in Alberta
I’ve not blogged or tweeted terribly much about politics lately. Once in a while, I’ll share an article or tweet a rant. But my days of opining about it are behind me. The give and take of politics these days, especially as practiced in the United States, is getting cliché and ugly and not at all inspiring. With the exception of the phenomenal student government outcome at UF this year, little has changed for the better as we Americans seem to get crazier about our political teams. Obama gave me hope in 2008, and by 2015 I’ve changed. It is not the change he could believe in, I think, but one I have finally come to accept. That does not mean, however, that I would ever say no to working as a speechwriter or stop watching out for absurdity. It just means I have other things to focus on now.
Fortunately, my days as an observer of international politics are far from over. Last fall, I blogged a little bit about the Scottish independence poll. This week, two elections were worth watching, and they delivered on the promise of some fascinating results.
First, in Alberta, is the NDP, who snapped a 44-year winning streak for the Progressive Conservatives. The New Democrats were the progressive alternative to the center-right PCs and the far-right Wildrose Party. Two centrist parties, the Liberals and the Alberta Party, played small roles in the campaign.
After a year of declining oil prices and political games (he managed to get most of the Wildrose caucus to defect), Albert Premier Jim Prentice took a risk and tried to get a popular mandate for a controversial budget of spending cuts and tax hikes that alienated everybody. So in a campaign that was called early and marked by an uncharismatic style and a comedy of unforced errors, the people turned toward the likeable Rachel Notley and her New Democratic Party’s call for a change in leadership.
On election night, the PCs went from 70 to just 10 and the NDP went from 4 (all in Edmonton) to 53 (including most of the seats in right-leaning Calgary). Wildrose also benefited from the PC fall, going from 5 to 16. Ms. Notley will be the first non-PC Premier in Canada’s most right-wing of provinces since 1971. Of course, voters are less brand-loyal in Canada than they are in the States, and there are a variety of different political parties to choose from, so it would be folly to try to extrapolate any lessons for Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative majority in this fall’s national election.
The United Kingdom
More interesting, however, is the UK election. Polls were tied at 34% each for David Cameron’s Conservatives and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. The anti-immigration, anti-EU, tea-party-like UK Independence Party was expected to be in 3rd place for votes but finding it difficult to gain seats. The SNP, ever since the independence referendum last fall, was flying high and expecting to come in first in Scotland and maybe even win a landslide.
This leaves Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, my personal favorites. They were headed for a bad night and had been expecting it for 5 years. Since 2010, when they put the national interest first and opted to be a moderating influence for the Tories in a stable majority coalition than opt for a rainbow coalition that would surely collapse, their base voters had been waiting to get their revenge.
With the polls, everyone expected the two main parties to get around 270 seats, about 55 short of a majority. They also expected the SNP to get about 50 out of 59 seats in Scotland, the LibDems to get 25-30, and UKIP and Greens to struggle to do better than 1 or 2. With this math, Labour and SNP might be able to cobble together an anti-Tory majority, but might need the LibDems to cooperate. Move the needle a little to the right, and maybe the status quo (Conservatives and LibDems) could continue, perhaps with the help of smaller parties from Northern Ireland.
After all the votes were counted, the SNP won 56 seats, doing better than expected in seats. But they did not end up with the balance of power, as they thought they might.
The Tories, much like Likud in Israel talking about Arabs voting for their opponents, had ended their campaign with a nationalistic scream against a party of minorities (in this case, the SNP) being able to control the House of Commons. That gave them a “shy Tory” bounce on Election Day. The final tally put them on 36.9% to 30.4%. This last-minute 3% swing from Lab to Con was enough to produce 331 Tories to just 232 for Labour. 326 were needed for a majority. This left the LibDems out in the cold, as they fell from 57 seats to just 8, and virtually vanishing from their former heartland in the southwest of England.
So now David Cameron has a Tory-only majority for the first time since the 1992 election, leads the first governing party to expand its seat count since Thatcher in 1983, and has one of the highest contingent of Tory MPs from Wales in recent memory. Labour is left with virtual nothing of its former strongholds in Scotland and still searching for a way back in England. The LibDems are now back in the opposition and trying to find their radical-centrist voice again. And UKIP continues to snipe from the sidelines.
All of this on higher voter turnout than five years ago. So their opponents cannot even claim, as we did here in the States in the midterms last year, that the right-wing party won because no one showed up to vote. It leaves the UK in a very interesting place.