Archive | June, 2006

>Far Pavilion? Helping the Greens win in Brighton (almost)

> The 22% won by the Green Party in the Brighton Pavilion constituency in the 2005 general election was – leaving aside independents, Scots and Welsh Nats and the case of George Galloway– the highest vote for a minor party for many years and seems an interesting example of a once very minor party start breaking through despite the vast obstacles of First-Past-the-Post.

Having discovered 80Soft’s excellent UK election simulation game of the 2005 election, Prime Minister Forever (good value at £8.00) I decided to give the World Cup a miss, help out and see if I could win it for them. PMF is a game that – having worked out the rules – needs to be played for long periods away the computer with pencil and pad, as putting together a coherent strategy, tweaking party programme – inspired by the Czechs I tend make them more realistic and less radical – balancing out the cash, building up activities and timing momentum to peak around election day requires a lot of forethought.

For the UK Greens, in the game as in life one thing is a no brainer. Although a getting certain national vote is important – the game sets a target of 3% of the national poll, which very difficult with only 200 candidates – Brighton Pavilion is the obvious and overwhelming target. It has the highest Green vote and at under 40% Labour and Tory votes are relatively low and there lowish Lib Dem vote, that could be squeezed. All this suggests the Greens could come through the middle in a three way marginal. Other high-ish Green votes of around 10%are unviable as appear in safe Tory or Labour seats (Lewisham)

Even with such narrow priorities, the Greens have problems. Lack of cash is a real problem. This dictates very limited activity (fund raising, barn storming and issue preparation) early on with more intense campaigning only in the final 2-3 weeks. My best efforts to get perennial Brighton Pavilion candidate Keith Taylor to Westminster involved a campaign spent mainly needling the Lib Dems – managing to get an endorsement from Liberty snatched from the Lib Dens through intensive lobbying and luckily finding some dirt onCharlie Kennedy and leaking it to the media the week before polling. I then tried to get the Labour vote down at the last minute, having saved enough in the campaign kitty for 2-3 days’s attack advertising across the South East right at the end of the campaign before the New Labour spin machine could get into action. There is also such a thing as too much early targeting as both Labour and Tories tend to target Brighton Pavilion with bigger and better resources.

The result? Sitting MP’s Dave Lepper’s vote took a dive, but the Green vote only climbed to 26% and the seat went Tory bya wafer thin majority with both major parties effectively tied on 28%. Disappointingly, the Lib Dem vote, which had reduced to 6% bounced right up to 12%. Dodgy canvass returns perhaps?

Interestingly, the wider results of the elections I’ve fought highlight the difficulty of Tories winning, having ranged from hung parliaments with large Liberal gains (winning up to 72 seats) to Labour winning workable majorities with the party on around 350 seats, as in the real thing. The Tories do tend to stand still, with 250 MPs being their maximum – what David Cameron wouldn’t give for that.

The underlying lesson seems to be the sheet difficulty of the Greens winning the required 35-40% needed to win in First-Past-the-Post contests above local level, despite their very skilled targeting of parliamentary seats through local elections – running city-wide slates to present themselves as fourth party – and good use of pavement politics. I suppose it the Liberals could do, so can the Greens but that does imply a timescale of about 40 years and the Liberals always retained a small parliamentary presence.

Thinking of the Greens and (small ‘l’) liberals I can’t help wondering that both are in fact always destined to be minority forces. Both have a difficult to sell message and tend to have a social support base confined to small educated sub-groups. Lord Acton’s comment that the sincere friends of freedom are rare and that its ‘triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own’ comes to mind.

Very much the same seems true of sincere friends of the planet. Who one wonders are the ‘auxiliaries’ that the Greens can team up with? In the Czech Republic, centrist liberals although the Greens in turn are the auxiliaries of pro-market neo-liberals of ODS, about the bltiz the Czech Republic with environmentally VAT rises. In Britain, traditionally the socialist left seems a pole of attraction for many Greens – at least to judge from a quick google of discussions about the Greens and Brighton Pavilion.

Lord A. does, of course, go on to counsel that ‘such association, always dangerous have sometimes been disastrous’, but I that’s politics, I guess

>Nutter chance? The EPP and the Tories’ East European allies

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Slightly to my surprise I got on to Radio 4’s Any Answers phone-in today. My point: the Tories’ East European allies in the new European Parliamentary group David Cameron wants to create after leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) – the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS) and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), though no one mentioned them on the programme – are not ‘nutters’ as most of the panel (bar William Hague) seemed to think. In fact in terms of the patchwork that makes up the European centre-right, both are reasonably mainstream, although that may say more about the West European centre-right than anything else…

The Czech ODS hardly needs introduction and Poland’s PiS, although indeed deeply socially conservative, seem rougly comparable to the Bavarian CSU or pockets of the Italian and Spanish Catholic right in the depths in its illiberalism. Not a million miles away from the British Tories’ Cornerstone group with its Flag, Family and Faith enthusiasms, in fact….

Overall, the discussion let Hague of the hook in pursuing the ‘nutters’ theme (he got out of it with a good joke), diverting attention from some of the weakness of the Tory decentralized-Europe-of-markets-and- nations vision -no to mention the fact that Tory-led liberal-conservative eurosceptics – even awkwardly reinforced by Poland’s PiS – may make up respectably mainstream small EP group – but are a minor voice in wider European politics fighting a rearguard action reliant on unruly electorates, referendums and the short-term vested interests of national governments in retaining power than their own little battalions.

The chances of the new group actually emerging, however, seem rather thin. Notwithstanding the well publicised resistance of some Tory MEPs to leaving the EPP, ODS leader Miroslav Topolánek is lukewarm and is reportedly energetically trying to rein in ODS EP leader Jan Zahradil, the archest of arch-eurosceptics and moving spirit of the new fraction, which he would quite possibly chair. Topolánek has, moreover, accidentally (on purpose?) managed to alienate Law and Justice by describing its recently concluded coalition with ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR) and the agrarian-populist, europhobe Self-Defence party of Andrzej Lepper as ‘populist’ and then – horror – saying he felt closer to the mildly eurosceptical Civic Platform (OP) of Jan Rokita, the main opposition party (LN 6 June) (Rokita was, say the Czech press, shocked by the quantity and vehemence of anti-EU propaganda he saw when he last visited ODS headquarters, so the admiration is not quite mutual(LN 8 June))

There seems to be something of a power struggle going on between Zahradil – a contender for the ODS leadership beaten (narrowly) Topolánek in 2002 – and the more pragmatic group around Topolánek, who are focused on domestic coalition building with the Europhile Christian Democrats and Greens and much less inclined generally to play Sancho Panza to Václav Klaus’s Don Quixote as far as grand visions of a neo-liberal Europe of Nations are concerned

LPR and Self-Defence, it should be said, might indeed qualify as nutty. Luckily no one asked me about this on the radio…

>Russian oil – time to be a Green neo-con?

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An interesting article by the ever provocative Bulgarian liberal Ivan Krastev in OpenDemocracy.net (‘The energy route to Russia democracy’ (13 June 2006) http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/democracy_energy_3637.jsp)
reflecting on the geo-political consequences of a turn to sustainable carbon-neutral energy in the West (if it ever happens).

After exploring the familiar Oil and Democracy argument – natural resources are a curse that reduce the democratic leverage of the international community; dependence of the state on a broad tax base – and its need to be representative of and accommodating to social demands –weakens civil society; and provides loads of cash for well armed security forces and client networks – he then suggested that the momentum of Coloured Revolutions in the FSU has run its course. “If you want to see Russia free and democratic,” says Krastev “stop signing anti-Putin petitions and voting for hardline anti-communists This will change nothing. What you should do is to turn down the lights when you leave your apartment, sell your American car and start using public transport. The fight for democracy today is a fight against the tyrannical price of oil”.

As the Bush administration has partly grasped, reduced dependence on oil will also change the geo-politics of the Middle East, rather more effectively than the tools of the Project for a New American Century, plunging the region into strategic obscurity, although its physically centrality might still carry some weight. Unfortunately, such Greening is a long game. Hard to sell politically to Western electorates on security or moral grounds, so the short-term response – as Krastev notes – is for the West to cosy up to Putin and other semi (and not so semi-) authoritarians in the FSU on the grounds that they are an alternative, easier to do business – and more politically stable? – with than the Saudis, Iranians or whichever Iraqis come out on top of the pile when the US finally withdraws form Iraq, ultimately leaving the locals to fight things out.

Still it seems – intellectually at least – one can be a Green neo-con of sorts. And as recent reports in Time and Slate make clear real neo-cons – and, to a lesser extent, Greens – are already working on security and political strategies to make it a more tangible reality….

>Post-match analysis for the Civic Demorats – time to bring on a Czech Cameron?

> Czech politios seem to have taken time off fixing the country’s deadlocked post-election situation to watch the football, most –surprisingly accurately –predicting yesterday’s convincing win over the USA.

Looking back and trying to get the election result into some kind of perspective it is clearly a very pyrrhic victory for the right, whose huge lead simply evaporated over the previous 12 months. The equivalent of winning 5-4 after leading 5-1 at half time and then not qualifying on goal difference, I guess, due to some dogged defending, aggressive play including a few professional fouls and some simple but effective long balls down the left-wing by the opposition during the second half….

Paroubek – rather like Klaus – is the kind of politician I sneakingly, actually not so sneakingly, admire regardless of ideology: a political streetfighter, who simply does not give up and wins through because, it. Although a new face in Czech national politics when he became Minister of Local Development, seasoned watchers of Czech politics will remember that he was in fact General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party in 1990-2, when it was a small extra parliamentary party led by elderly exiles. At this time – as I remember from reading through the minutes of the party’s executive meetings a couple of years later in the party’s archive when researching a PhD – the party was seeking to be ‘state-forming’ and co-operate with the (neo-)liberal Right because it read Czech politics through a nostalgic haze, which saw the all-embracing five party coalitions of Interwar Czechoslovakia as a model

As a footnote, I should add the archive was bizarrely in the care of one of the Czech Republic’s leading anarchists, Petr Wohlmuth, who proved – even by Czech standards a thoroughly unco-operative and incompetent archivist. Hopefully they have since given him the boot.

When Miloš Zeman took over as leader in 1993, correctly understanding that populist and adversarial politics focusing on the failures and iniquities of transformation were what were called for, Paroubek too got the boot and disappeared into Prague local politics Technically a commune like any other the Czech capital’s municipal politics involve big (and often dirty money), it was a shrewd move for national politicians seeking to hibernate for a bit. Paroubek gained a degree of political rehabilitation in 1998 when the advent of the power sharing Opposition Agreement deal signed with the Civic Democrats suggested that left-right co-operation wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Paroubek himself seems to have worked out that sniping at Zeman in the company of a diminishing band of displaced exiles from low circulation magazines like Trend was also not such a good one.

And then in due course, he gets his chance to enter national politics and is in the right place at the right time to emerge as a caretaker leader when Stanislav Gross – also a Social Democratic ‘veteran’, having also joined the party early in 1990 – spectacularly self-destructed in early 2005.

As the election has showed he learned some of the populist lessons of the Zeman period well. This kind of politics may stink. Kieran Williams aptly described Zeman’s bestselling but rambling and vituperative memoirs as a ‘foul fart of book’ and his populist style – like that of other Czech politician – is similarly flatuant and malodorous. But it does work, at least when defensive spoiling tactics are needed. The Czech right – like its Hungarian counterpart faces more strategic dilemmas – essentially how to capture the 5% of social and economically liberal, well educated urban voters – what ODS people call ‘Prague café society’ (pražská kavárna) who simply will not vote for the Civic Democrats, but prefer small liberal parties – this time the eco-liberal Czech Greens – stressing human rights and governance issues as well as market reform. It would seem a Czech Cameron is called for, although we may be some way from that yet. If he can soften some of his edges socially liberal, punk rock loving ODS European Parliament leader Jan Zahradili is probably the most likely candidate

>Moravian rhapsody – but not for the Czech Christian Democrats

> “We’re proud to be Moravian, because ODS didn’t win here and the People’s Party got the most votes in the whole Czech Republic” says my mother-in-law in a text message, having dutifully gone out to buy the election specials of every Czech newspaper for me

Unfortunately, this gloss hides the fact that ODS didn’t win in a single region in Moravia because of the strength of Social Democrats in the more easterly of the two principal historic lands in the Czech Republic. The People’s Party a.k.a the Christian Democrats,– the great survivors of Czech politics, who look like being again office in the right-wing/Green minority government being negotiated apparently rather smoothly this lunchtime – polled no more than 13.02%, which secured them third place in the Zlín region. Zlín, the former company town of Bat´a the Shoe King, is a liberal, secular and heavily ODS supporting, but the surrounding rural hinterland f towards the Slovak border – where my wife’s family hail from, of course- is the People’s Party heartland . A look at the big picture of the country, however, shows the Christian Democrats for minor party they really are, revealing a stark right/left Bohemian/Moravian between Civic and Social Democrats with the left only doing well in only a single region in Bohemia – the deprived Liberec area in the North-West .

Perhaps because of environmental problems, it was in Liberec that the Greens polled their best vote 9.58% (followed by Prague as one might expect – 9.51%). It is a region where the Greens have a strong organization and have polled well in the past. This is bad for news for Green leader Martin Bursík, whose willingness to do deals with the right– has antagonized and puzzled some in his party, including the left-wing Liberec Greens, at his throat in the closing stages of the election. It is remarkable how quickly the Czech media and indeed the Greens themselves have come to think of themselves as eco-liberals, who are basically in the right-wing camp. .

Still lack of any majority means that Czech right-wing flat tax plans are for the moment shelved so Bursík may just about keep his mutinous party under control for a little while longer…<fo

>Czech elections – a tighter result than expected

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It seems I wasn’t so wrong after all – as the Czech election results came in this course of the afternoon – and about 98% of votes have now been counted – in it became clear that the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) have polled rather less well than forecast – they should have around 35% – and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) rather better (about 32.5%). These are historic high scores for both parties, but crucially the relatively narrow margin deprives the Civic Democrats of the possibility of forming a more or less coherent two-party coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). They will have to bring in the Greens and – as the allocation of seats is still less than clear given the 14 regional constituencies – even this putative Blue-Green-Black coalition might lack a majority. Together the Social Democrats and Communists (KSČM) may jointly have a majority and even if the Communists hardline politics and nostalgia for the bad old days rules them out as a potential coalition partner, they be able to block legislation such as flat tax… The deadlocked Czech party system we know and love is back – how long will it be before the big parties start once again toying which the idea of bringing in a more majoritarian electoral system.

Basically, the Czech right has just scored one of the most unconvincing convincing victories of all time…

>Czech exit polls: crushing right-wing victory predicted

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The usual SC&C exit poll has just appeared and, of course, I am – basically – wrong. It predicts

Civic Democrats 38% (91 seats)
Social Democrats 30% (65 seats)
Communists 12% (22 seats)
Christian Democrats 8% (13 seats)
Greens 7% (9 seats)

Turnout 65%

A sensationally good result for the Civic Democrats who seem likely to poll the highest level of support for any party since 1989 – with the obvious exception of Civic Forum in 1990 – and a personal triumph for Topolánek, even if I suspect their eventual support may be a bit lower (there is a 2% marginal of error). A good result for the Social Democrats – enough in to win many earlier elections– so we will be seeing more of Jiří Paroubek, I think….

Communist support is likely to be higher in reality – say to 15% – as voters don’t like admitting to supporting them in exit polls, but the Comunists seem to have lost out the more populist and aggressive style of the Social Democrats and from the relatively high turnout as 65% much higher than the 50-55% predicted by pollsters (and me). Confirms the old truth than contested elections drive up turnout. The good weather and the novelty of US-style head-to-head TV debates between Paroubek and Topolánek may also have helped polling experts say on Czech radio.

The Christian Democrats are happy, although despite continuing in government on the basis of their loyal core electorate in rural Catholic regions, their support is static – indeed stagnant – and they will be a weak junior partner in office, probably losing the Foreign Ministry to someone like arch-ODS eurosceptic Jan Zahradil, unless internal rivalries in ODS block him. The Greens, after all that has happened, can be relieved to be in parliament, but with a projected 9 MPs they will be a very force in opposition.

My mistake was essentially in underestimating the mobilizing effect of the campaign on uncommitted voters and also the extent to which they would incline to ODS… My sense of the three smaller parties was more accurate.

A bad result for minor (non-parliamentary) parties – only the List of Independent Candidates – European Democrats (SNK-ED), who are forecast to get 2% necessary to trigger the lowest level of state funding (100 crowns per vote). They miss out on the more generous allowance for parties getting 3-5%, however (6 million crowns bloc grant).

The interesting thing is how this translates into seats. A right-wing Civic Democrat-Christian Democrat coalition with a clear majority seems on the cards, but I think they may still need the Greens. In case ODS will dominate the coalition and some form of flat(ish) tax. Indeed, it seems Czech voters may be voting programmatically, attracted by the the party’s neo-liberal tax package and its promise of change (and cash).

Liberal Czechia defeats Social Czechia to turn around Aleks Szczerbiak’s take on last year’s Polish elections…

>Kompromat- Czech style and a guess at the election results…

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In about 30 minutes polls will close and exit polls appear in the Czech elections. Czech politics is usually rather boring, but this has been campaign, descending into an aggressive, angry and hyperbolic mutual accusations of corruption and criminality by the two main parties the centre-right Civic Democrats and the incumbent Social Democrats,.

The theme was first alluded to in typical maladroit style by ODS leader Topolánek in his first TV debate with Prime Minister PAroubek, but really only got going when extracts were of police surveillance recordings of conversations between Miroslav Topolánek and an aide were leaked to the Czech media. The recordings had been made in as part of investigations into allegations that ODS leaders had attempted to bribe a deputy from the disintegrating Freedom Union, Zdeněk Kořistka, in defecting. The investigation was later dropped due to lack of evidence and the leaked recordings contained little new information, merely confirming that an approach for political support had been made to Kořistka. (LN 26 May)

Further accusations were then dramatically aired in testimony given to a parliamentary committee by the director of the police’s Organized Crime Detection Unit, Jan Kubice. who claimed that organized crime had penetrated Czech public administration and accused the Ministry of the Interior’s Inspectorate of Police of interfering in investigations at the behest of Prime Minister Paroubek and Interior Minister Bublan (LN 29 May 2006, P26 and 29 May 2006). The accusations centred mainly on three cases where tendering processing for licenses or privatization projects were allegedly rigged in exchange for kickbacks, the most notable of which was the ‘Bio-Alcohol Affair’ and the probable contract killing of ‘businessman’ František Mrazák in connection with these (although the police are investigating three other lines of enquiry connected with ‘ordinary’ organized crime).

The accusations provoked a furious reaction from who issued a statement claiming that ODS was using sympathetic elements in the police to blacken political opponents and accusing Topolánek’s and the Civic Democrats ‘political gangsterism’ and ‘putschist inclinations’. Topolánek responded with a similarly over-the-top statement which claimed that the Social Democrat-led government had become enmeshed with organized crime and that the Czech Republic, he claimed, was facing the gravest threat to its democracy and security since November 1989 (LN 31 May 2006). Media and politicians have been polarized along partisan lines in their reactions and reporting to the accusations and it has been even more difficult than usual to make any sense of the byzantine, shady underbelly of Czech politics and business. Overall – although we are far from Hungarian levels of polarization – it is a reminder of the weakness and politicization of the Czech state and media. Kompromat Czech-style.

As I have been following the campaign with more than usual anorak-ish interest, however, I’m going to venture a prediction (read: guess) of the result….

Civic Democrats 29% 68 seats
Social Democrats 27% 64 seats
Communists 16% 38 seats
Christian Democrats 7% 16 seats
Greens 6% 14 seats

Turnout 52%

Coalition outcome Civic Democrats-Christian Democrat-Green coalition with Greens parliamentary group rapidly splitting to produce the usual minority government we know and love. Increased Communist influence.

This will, I dare, now guarantee a completely different result….