Archive for May, 2008

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Why is Puerto Rico important?

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

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Wikimedia Commons

    What role will Puerto Rico play in 2008 and in the future?

With respect to the electoral battle being waged by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, no-one could have imagined back in January that the Puerto Rico primary would be anything other than the chance for the people of this Caribbean island to feel involved in the process of selecting the Democratic nominee.

Whilst the nomination is substantially decided, the sheer size of the Puerto Rican electorate could still influence which candidate gets to claim a victory in the popular vote. To put Puerto Rico’s size in context, if it became a full State, its population of around 4m (between Kentucky and Oregon) would make it larger than 24 current states and the Federal District, and would apportion it approximately 8 Electoral College votes.

Puerto Ricans are able to vote in the General Election if they are resident in a US state, but the strange relationship between the island and the USA means that unincorporated territories and possessions do not have voting representation in either the US Congress or the Electoral College. The island describes itself in English as a ‘Commonwealth’ (a rather confusing translation of the Spanish ‘Estado Libre Asociado’ – literally ‘Associated Free State’) which is reliant on the US for certain areas of government (defense for example) and US Federal Law applies, although it has autonomy in many other areas, including a certain degree of fiscal autonomy. If forced to suggest a British equivalent, I think I would have to say the Isle of Man’s relationship with the United Kingdom would be the most appropriate comparison I could draw.

There have been historic ties between Puerto Rico and New York/New Jersey, given that these states have been the destinations for most Puerto Rican migrants to the US (immortalized by Leonard Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’). For that reason in particular, a Clinton victory by a significant margin is to be expected. A recent poll had Clinton leading 50% to 37%, and seems to accord with her support amongst Hispanic voters and Catholics nationally. Endorsements have gone in Clinton’s favour as well, likely to take 5 or 6 of the 8 Superdelegates, though the Governor has expressed his support for Barack Obama. He was originally the Obama campaign’s co-chair in Puerto Rico until corruption charges led to him being replaced by William Miranda Marin, the mayor of Caguas.

Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, based in the capital San Juan, is a real political character. He suffered the first ever Gubernatorial veto override in PR, as well as governmental shut-down when the Speaker refused to send him a bill to sign because they had ‘accidentally’ voted for the Governor’s preferred level of Sales Tax. The Puerto Rican Supreme Court had to order the Speaker to hand over the bill, and he threatened to refuse before relenting. The Governor, who was co-chair of PR’s Obama campaign, has now been embroiled in scandals about party finances and breaking federal election law (including the admission that he spent $40,000 of his party’s money on new suits, equivalent in value to approximately 100 of John Edwards’ haircuts).

As we rarely get a chance to discuss Puerto Rico, and with less at stake than many of the previous primary contests, I thought I would just offer a little bit of interesting information which might explain the climate in which this vote is taking place.

Puerto Rico’s status is the main political issue on the island. The three traditional parties represent the three main options for Puerto Rico’s future – the Popular Democratic Party (PDP, or PPD in Spanish) are a Social Democratic party nominally aligned to the Democrats, and believe in the continuation of the status quo: an unincorporated territory of the USA, though with ever greater autonomy. The Governor, who is the leader of the PDP, surprised many by talking about his aspiration that Puerto Rico should become ‘sovereign’ (a term usually used by advocates of Statehood) and he has sought to have Puerto Rico represented independently at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The New Progressive Party (NPP, or PNP in Spanish) campaigns for full Statehood and representation in the US Congress, and controls both the Puerto Rican legislature and currently send their leader, Luis Fortuno, to Washington DC as the non-voting At-Large delegate to the US House of Representatives. They are affiliated with both the US Democratic and Republican parties. The far-left Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) support full independence. The other registered party is the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PRPRP), who seem to express no clear view on constitutional status, and are best described as being similar to the Green Party. Recent referenda have seen about 40% support Statehood and less than 5% support full independence, with the remainder either supporting the continuation of the status quo or expressing that they are not sure.

The US party platforms from previous Presidential elections give us an indication of how the US government would respond to any expression for change in Puerto Rico. The Republican party has committed to accepting Puerto Rico as a full state when they decide to join by plebiscite, with a continuation of current status until that point. They would, I think we can infer, oppose Independence, and their platform re-iterates the authority of the US Congress to make the final determination. The Democratic platform changed a little between 2000 and 2004, with the Democrats’ previous position (under Al Gore) of supporting any result of a referendum being moderated to accepting only ‘realistic’ outcomes when John Kerry was the nominee.

Double Carpet and I were discussing the primary season today, and we got onto wondering why both parties allow Territories such as Puerto Rico to vote in their party primaries when those same territories have no vote in the Electoral College – unlike for example France where nearby DOM-TOM such as Guadeloupe and Martinique get to vote in the presidential election.

I think it must be partially in deference to the large numbers of Puerto Ricans who live in the US whom neither party wishes to antagonize. Secondly, both parties will be aware that Puerto Rico will likely one day choose to vote for full Statehood, and should that be accepted by Congress then Puerto Rico would become a valuable asset in the electoral college, worth more than half the other states in the Electoral College. Neither party would want to have the reputation for having ignored Puerto Rico when it was still a territory.

So if it gave Hillary Clinton a large enough majority in the Democratic primary tomorrow, there is a chance that Puerto Rico might still be decisive in determining which candidate wins the overall popular vote. Though this is very unlikely to have much of an impact on the identity of the eventual winner, it will maybe fuel debates about the legitimacy of the winner, and could affect internal party debates about the attractiveness of a National Presidential Primary for the Democratic Party. However, the real impact of this small island on US politics is likely yet to be felt. Should it attain Statehood, it could dramatically shift the balance of power between the parties vying for control of the United States government.

Morus



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Could Winchester be the Lib Dems’ Waterloo?

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

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    Would Clegg’s approach to Labour be the campaign issue?

The suggestions that Mark Oaten might quit his Winchester seat before the general election and create a by election creates big challenges for both Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

For the newly-energised Tories, flushed with confidence following Crewe and Nantwich, would fancy their chances in a seat that was lost to the Lib Dems by just two votes at the 1997 general election. Then the result was contested in the courts, a re-run was ordered, and Mark Oaten was returned with a majority of more than 21,000.

Today things have moved on with Cameron’s Conservatives being widely seen as the winners of the next general election and with their eyes on a whole raft of seats that were lost to the Lib Dems while they were perceived as “the nasty party”. A Winchester by election could be a massive test of the extent to which that is going to be possible.

    For the Conservative by election machine would surely make Nick Clegg’s ambivalence to Labour the key issue of the campaign. If you want to send a message to Gordon Brown, electors would be told, then there is only one way of doing it – elect a Tory again.

Clegg’s approach to the Lisbon treaty referendum and the scenes we saw in the Commons a few months ago would be played back again and again. His party would be portrayed as the agents of Gordon who are standing in the way of proper change.

Defending their 7,473 majority in these circumstances could be very tricky. For the hard fact is that the Lib Dem leadership has yet to articulate an approach to David Cameron that sounds convincing. The line that was coming from Nick Clegg earlier in the week is hardly compelling.

Clegg and others in the party should do everything they can to persuade Oaten to hang on until the general election. Whatever the former leadership contender is demanding he should be given it – he has Clegg over a barrel.

UPDATE – Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem MP for Winchester, has posted a response to this article and to your comments, refuting The Times claim that he has made a public statement about his future. I have confirmed the veracity of this comment with Mr Oaten via his Parliamentary e-mail address. Mr Oaten’s response can be found at post 257. – Morus

SECOND UPDATE
The Portsmouth News is carrying a report tonight under the heading – “MP says he will go before an election”. – Mike Smithson. So this gets more confusing.

Mike Smithson



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Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Friday, May 30th, 2008

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    Looking Forward to Next Year

In all likelihood, next year’s European Elections, and local government elections (mostly for the County Councils, and a few unitary and shadow authorities) will be held simultaneously. Year three of a Parliament is almost invariably the worst year for an incumbent government, in terms of secondary elections, and so Labour can expect to do slightly better next year than this (as they did in 1978, and as the Conservatives did in 1996).

Unfortunately for Labour, almost all the seats they will be defending will be ones they last won in 2005, on the same day as the general election, when they led by 3%. “Middle Englander” on Vote 2007 estimates that Labour will be defending 483 seats, of which 173 have majorities of 10% or less (with the Conservatives second in the large majority of cases). A further 162 have majorities of between 10% and 20%.

If this year’s results were to be repeated next year, Labour would be reduced to a handful of seats in English County Councils. Even if, as I expect, Labour do improve somewhat, they might well lose at least half the seats they’re defending. It is unlikely that they will retain control of a single County Council, either. There are a couple of authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, and Surrey, where in all likelihood, Labour will lose all its remaining seats. Others, such as Hertfordshire, Essex, and Kent, will see Labour representation reduced to low single figures.

At European Parliamentary level, it will be interesting to watch the fate of UKIP, who took 16% of the vote, and 12 seats, in 2004. UKIP have been wracked by leadership disputes since then, and have struggled to make an impact (although they did gain a handful of council seats this year). In all likelihood, their vote will fall sharply, although their relevance in European contests may well enable them to match the 8% vote share they won in 1999. This year’s London vote suggests that where the UKIP vote falls sharply, the main beneficiary is the Conservative Party, although the BNP can expect to benefit to a smaller extent.

If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by next year, then the number of Britain’s MEPs will fall from 78 to 72. That means that while the Conservatives may expect to pick up a handful of extra seats at UKIP’s expense, all other parties will struggle to make any gains. Both the Greens and the BNP will struggle to win seats, even if they push up their vote compared to 2004. Labour and the Liberal Democrats will probably see little change, compared to 2004.

Last night, there were four by-elections, all in Somerset. No seats changed hands.

Somerset County: Shepton Mallet Conservative 950, Lib Dem 783, Labour 271. This was a three-way marginal in 2005, but the collapse in the Labour vote seems, if anything, to have helped the Conservatives.

Mendip District, Street North Lib Dem 347, Conservative 297, Independent 81. This showed a big swing to the Conservatives, compared to 2007.

Mendip District, Shepton East Conservative 435, Lib Dem 307, Labour 122.

South Somerset District, Chard Crimchard Lib Dem 423, Conservative 320, BNP 154.



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The Steve McCabe view of Crewe & Nantwich

Friday, May 30th, 2008

An interesting piece here on Steve McCabe’s view of the Crewe & Nantwich by election. He was, of course, Labour’s campaign manager who came under a lot of flack.

He says “We set out to secure between 10,000-11,000 votes. Allowing for a turn out of around 35-40%, that was not unreasonable for a by-election. If there was no Liberal Democrat collapse, victory was possible, however unlikely.”

Alas turnout was nearly 58% and the Lib Dems saw a partial collapse in their vote.

There’s a direct link to McCabe’s Tribune article here.

Mike Smithson

Coming up on PB: Sean Fear – “Looking Forward to Next Year” at 5.30



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Do the 212 “at risk” Labour MPs want a new leader?

Friday, May 30th, 2008

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    What will YouGov do for Gord’s survival chances?

The above is what happens when you key in the C47-L23-LD18 general election vote shares from today’s Daily Telegraph YouGov poll into the Anthony Wells commons seat calculator.

If you do the same with the Martin Baxter calculator at Electoral Calculus you get even worse projections for Labour – CON 452: LAB 138: LD 32 seats. Martin’s website conveniently lists the outcome for every single seat in the country – something that a number of the threatened MPs might find themselves having a sneaky look at this morning.

Whether these are accurate projections for the general election who knows? Their central importance will be the impact they have on the mood of the parliamentary Labour party as MPs return to Westminster after what used to be called the Whitsun holiday.

Of course there are likely to be other surveys this weekend and it’s possible that the overall picture that they paint might not be so gloomy. But YouGov, which was severely attacked by the party in the run up to May 1st, saw its reputation being enhanced by its London Mayoral election performance.

Also in MPs minds will be the Crewe and Nantwich by election result showing the massive increase in Conservative votes – from 14,162 in 2005 to 20,539 last Thursday. Labour MPs at their most pessimistic might also recall that here the polls underestimated by a considerable degree the Tory gap over Labour.

I’ve never been any good at predicting what Labour MPs will do and will refrain from doing so again. But my bets at 6/1 and 5/1 a fortnight ago that Gordon will not survive the year look promising. You certainly can’t get those prices today.

Mike Smithson



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You Gov: Labour at all time low

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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Con 47 (+2), Lab 23 (-2) LD 18 (0)

Is the end now nigh for Gordon?

A poll by YouGov in the Telegraph shows that Labour support is at the lowest since polling began in 1943.

  • Brown’s personal popularity on a par with Major’s low
  • Labour’s lowest score under Foot was only 23.5
  • How much worse can things get for Brown?

    Double Carpet



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    “It’s the economy…..”

    Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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    Wikipedia

      A guest article from Cityunslicker

    Even as the rumours of an imminent challenge to our glorious Prime Minister fade, there is still a good chance of an election before May 2010 – no doubt Tory central office is preparing for this and, hidden from view, may even be preparing a manifesto. The mantra ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid’ is going to hold firm for the next year or two as the UK economic situation worsens, recession or no recession.

    But the real hard choice for the Conservatives is what to offer the electorate. The party faithful expect tax cuts and indeed with the burden of taxes at a historically high-level and growing public dissatisfaction with the Government spending splurge, they will think they have a point. However, remember 1979 and Margaret Thatcher, taxes had to go up in the first term – they did under the 1992/7 Tory government too. A ruined economy needs sorting by whoever is in power.

      The economic inheritance from Brown and Darling is likely to be a poisoned one. The official government PSBR is not too bad, but this is from a time of plenty. With tax income due to fall as profits disappear from banks and the services sector, this situation will get worse. The benefits claims will surely increase with higher unemployment. Stamp duty revenues will fall along with the slowing housing market. The huge PFI debt will also begin to weigh more heavily, as will over time the cost of gold-plated public sector pensions as more civil servants start to retire.

    Overall, if anything taxes may need to rise unless we have massive spending cuts. Can the Tories campaign on this platform – the truth is they have no other choice, but will they say it? Also what can Labour do in the face of the same problem, promise a Tory-lite or ignore economic sense and retreat to a socialist utopia? And even the Lib Dems need to come up with some ideas.

    How honest can politicians be, and how much would electoral dishonesty hamstring the next Government to the point at which it became a one-term wonder?

    The author runs the Capitalists@work site.

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    Thursday continuation thread

    Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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    Please continue today’s discussions here.

    A reader asks about the Warwick Agreement….

    On a related topic to this morning’s article, I’ve received an email from a PB reader:

    “I am interested about when the above agreement with the unions end, and when the new one starts – I believe the unions are going to give the Labour Government £8million.
    The question is of course, what they going to get for this money, is it money down the drain for them, when it is highly likely there could be a Conservative government in two years? Have any of your posters any inside info, I would love to have their thoughts.”

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    Double Carpet