Madrid Jan 31, 2015

Spanish result shows Europe’s move away from status quo parties

It has been a huge year for elections, the outcome of Greece’s Syriza party in January caused an international storm in the mainstream media with headlines dominated by the country and its economic situation. Results in Britain, Portugal and the regional result in France shed some light on the political space in Europe.

On Sunday Spain took to the polls to decide who would govern the country and the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy and the outcome shows a divided country.

The Spanish People’s Party (PP) gained the largest share of the vote last week, winning with 28.7% of the vote and taking 123 seats. While the party’s leader Mariano Rajoy is now in charge of the country whether he can actually bring through his arty’s policies remains to be seen.

The reason for that is PP actually only gained a few percent more than the country’s socialist party PSOE and 8% more than anti-austerity Podemos. Podemos and PSOE together now have 159 seats, a shockingly high number considering Podemos was formed less than 20 months ago by Pablo Iglesias.

While centre right PP is now technically in control, the Spanish elections show how weak the status quo parties are becoming in at least parts of Europe. While right-leaning governments form the majority of EU parliaments, citizens across Europe seem to be engaging with the alternative parties be them socialists or far-right.

Podemos’ success is slightly more notable than Syriza in Greece as the economic environment isn’t quite as bad despite still having 20% youth unemployment. The fast rise of Podemos could also signal a better chance for Jeremy Corbyn in Britain than some believe in the UK.

While a lot can happen in four years, its possible that Podemos can be part of a coalition after being formed in less than half the time to Britain’s next national visit to the polls.

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France's far-right has seen a boost in votes, but the situation is unique.

Paris attacks may reveal France’s move to the right

France is currently in the middle of regional elections with the far-right party Front National proving successful in the first round.

Front National is set to elect the granddaughter of the party’s figurehead Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur while her aunt and party leader Marine Le Pen holds onto Nord-Pas-De-Calais.

The party, which came first in last year’s European Elections, won the opening round and placed first in six of the 13 mainland French regions. 

This outcome could be interpreted as a reaction to the recent terrorist attack in Paris which killed 130 people.

Tensions have been running high in France since the incident on November 13 with nearly 2,000 police raids across the country along with restrictions such as a curfew placed in Paris.

Front National already performed well in the 2014 European elections signalling that the country was already moving towards the anti-immigration party much like rise of UKIP in Britain.

However these regional elections suggest that the Paris incident has more than doubled support for Front National after it only secured 11% of the vote in 2010.

While you can argue that there is a shift away from mainstream parties, particularly towards the far-right in Europe, France’s case is unique in that it is seeing the country’s main far-right party increase vote share so dramatically.

The most clear reason behind this large increase seems to be that France is at the centre of many international issues. The ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, two major terrorist attack this year and continued Syrian airstrikes by the French Air Force puts France in the middle of major political issues.

UPDATE 15/12/15: Front National have failed to win in the regional elections despite a strong lead in six of the 13 regions during round one of voting last week. It appears the party lost-out after those opposed decided to tactically vote in order to keep the party out of power.

Is the result a sign of things to come?

Oldham West win is great for Labour but to be taken with a pinch of salt

Yesterday’s Oldham West by-election has been much built up in the mainstream media after early suggestions that UKIP might be able to steal the Labour safe seat.

However this morning the headlines revealed that not only has Labour held onto its seat in Oldham but the party has managed to increase its majority from just over a thousand to 10,722.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared alongside the new MP, Jim McMahon this morning to address the media about their successful result.

Corbyn praised the outcome for demonstrating how strong the Labour party has become and as an act of defiance by constituents against the Tory’s and their austerity cuts. He also said that the result shows how ‘broad’ the party is.

While some will be quick to say this is a sign of Labours strength and perhaps an indication of how a Corbyn lead Labour could perform in the next General Election, the result shouldn’t be over-examined.

Oldham West is a safe seat for Labour having held onto it since Blair’s victory in 1997 and while the party’s share of the vote has increased, fewer people voters overall mean the results are questionable.

Jeremy Corbyn remains in the media headlines each day and while the party is sure to spin this as a positive it seems still too little an example for how Corbyn might perform across the country generally.

Corbyn received a huge mandate of nearly 60% in the leadership ballots but with reports of some former-Labour residents in the Oldham area speaking negatively about the new party leader the result should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A by-election naturally will often receive a lower turnout so the Labour win could show some good signs for Corbyn in 2020 but alone is not enough to judge the wider political space.

The stunt, however you feel about it, won't affect Labour

The ‘Red Book’ stunt in today’s spending review won’t affect Labour

The headlines today will be dominated by George Osbourne’s spending review which has U-turned on some key Tory policies including cuts to Tax Credits and the police.

But what has also caught huge attention in the spending review is not George Osbourne and his economic policies but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell use of ‘Mao’s little red book’.

McDonnell quoted the book from China’s former leader in his response to Osbourne’s statement in Parliament.

The result was media storm with countless tweets from political journalists and various articles claiming that the stunt has backfired. However it is hard to imagine that this will actually affect Labour beyond Tory spin and further dissatisfaction from the ‘Tory-lite’/Blarite/call it what you like Labour voters.

Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t become leader because a performance in parliament. Social media was the critical aspect in making Corbyn elected as Labour leader with thousands becoming encouraged to pay the few pounds that would allow them to vote on the leadership ballots.

For Corbyn and his shadow cabinet to remotely have a chance at being elected in 2020 it will require the need for much more than a typical political campaign. It will have to tap into new formats, Snapchat etc. to spread to message to people who don’t even know the political system or who is in power.

Corbyn and his team will need to present a message that the public want to vote for, for the people that don’t think of politics in a left/right viewpoint but just want things to be better and to have more opportunities.

These people most likely won’t have read Mao’s book nor care what is written in it.

Following Paris, defense spending is at the front of many people's minds

Corbyn responds to Cameron’s defence review

David Cameron has today detailed the review into Britain’s defence revealing that Trident costs are set to spiral by £6bn.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded by critising the Conservatives plans to cuts to the Police force. The upcoming cuts are set to reduce London’s police force by 5,000.

The Guardian journalist had some thoughts on Labour's new leader.

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow on Corbyn

This week I spoke to the Guardian’s political live-blogger Andrew Sparrow about his thoughts on Corbyn’s election. The journalist gave some interesting thoughts on the matter which fall in line with some others in the political landscape.

Speaking about what kind of shift is going on in Europe, Andrew had this to say: “There is sort of a shift away from the mainstream but it is not necessarily moving to the left, I think the right-wing insurgency parties are doing generally better across Europe than the left.”

This is interesting considering the elections in Greece and ousting of the centre-right government in Portugal in favour of a left-leaning coalition. Andrew continued: “Circumstances in Greece are pretty unusual and unlike what we’ve had here, in Finland, Austria all the right-wing anti-immigration parties are doing pretty well.”

On the subject of Jeremy Corbyn himself, Andrew reiterated what UKIP’s Martin Houlden told me this week, that Corbyn’s election will be terrible for the Greens. Andrew said: “I think its going to create problems for the Green’s, there is already some evidence that tens of thousands of their voters voted for Corbyn in the Labour election, Labour has a leader that can ask the PM six questions a week and gets a lot more coverage.”

Catch more from my interview with Andrew in the full feature this January.