Yes, the far-right lost in Austria, but it was hardly a good result for political moderates.

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer (right) was defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen (left) in Austria's Presidential Election.
Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer (right) was defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen (left) in Austria’s Presidential Election.

Yesterday was the conclusion of the re-running of the Austrian Presidential run-off between Independent candidate (and former Green Party leader) Alexander Van der Bellen, and Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party.

The run-off was originally held in May and the result was extremely close with Van der Bellen winning by just 0.7 percent. But then, in June, the result was annulled after allegations of voting irregularities. Yesterday was the re-run, with opinion polls prior to polling day suggesting that the result would be similarly close, with the far-right Hofer narrowly leading in much of the polling. This led to Nigel Farage boldly predicting that Hofer would be the next populist right-winger to win a major election.

However, ultimately this was wrong, with Van der Bellen winning, and by a considerably wider margin than his win in the original election in May. Although all of the votes are yet to be counted, projections suggest that Van der Bellen has won by roughly 53 percent to 46 percent, and Hofer has conceded defeat.

Many moderates were quick to rejoice, heralding the result as a ray of light in a year which has seen a vote for Brexit in the EU Referendum, the election of Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, the defeat of Matteo Renzi in Italy, and the continued rise of Marine Le Pen in France. However, this analysis glosses over the results somewhat.

Hofer is a genuine far-right politician. He has stated that Islam has ‘no place in Austria’, and has regularly referred to Islam and immigration as being an existential threat to Austrian identity. Hofer has also been strongly criticised by some for wearing the blue cornflower, which is an old Nazi symbol, which is often used to represent ideas of pan-Germanism. In addition, Hofer has long been a gun enthusiast, and has described carrying a gun as a ‘natural consequence’ of immigration. Despite pitching himself as a moderate outside member of the Freedom Party, Hofer has in fact worked his way up through the party’s ranks for many years, and was a close advisor to previous leaders who were even more overtly extreme.

Although Hofer lost, he received 46 percent of the vote. In 2000, Jean-Marie Le Pen (father of Marine) received 18 percent of the vote in the French Presidential Election, and this was considered to be as popular as the far-right could get in Europe. However, now a far-right candidate has managed 46% of the vote, with Hofer’s share much, much higher in the countryside and the smaller towns — in much the same way as Donald Trump’s was during the US Presidential Election, although Hofer makes Trump look like a moderate.

Hofer’s loss is certainly pleasing for moderates in some regard. A Hofer win would have embolden far-right candidates throughout over European countries. The likes of Geert Wilders and the Dutch Party of Freedom, Matteo Salvini and the Italian Northern League, Frauke Petry and the Alternative for Germany, and Marine Le Pen and the National Front. Hofer’s loss will hopefully have stunted the momentum of these parties.

However, the fact that a far-right party managed to poll 46 percent in a European Presidential election should not be ignored. It should serve to further highlight to deep disconnect that many voters in Europe (and around the world) feel with the political establishment, and the establishment should be working overtime in order to correct this, before it’s too late.

Who will take control of the Senate?

us-senate.jpg
Inside the U.S. Senate

With the ongoing race for the Presidency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump taking most of the headlines, the equally interesting race for control of the US Senate often gets passed over.

Prior to this month’s elections (where thirty-four Senators face re-election) the Republicans held 54 Senate seats, with 44 held by the Democrats, and two held by independents (although both of these independents caucus with the Democrats).

Assuming Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency (which I expect she will), the Democrats need a net gain of four seats to win a majority in the Senate. This gain of four seats would make it a 50–50 split in the Senate. However, the Vice-President gets the deciding vote in the event of ties. Therefore if Clinton is President, the deciding vote will go to Tim Kaine, meaning an effective majority for the Democrats. This means, however, that if Donald Trump manages to win the Presidency, the Democrats need five seats in order to win the Senate.

Where can the Democrats comfortably win seats?

Illinois:

In Illinois it looks as though Republican incumbent Mark Kirk is pretty much dead and buried against challenger, Democratic Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth. Illinois is solidly Democrat and so it was always going to be tough ask for Kirk to retain his seat despite his status as a moderate. As it stands though, this looks like an almost guaranteed Democratic gain.

Wisconsin:

In Wisconsin, Democrat former Senator Russ Feingold is running to unseat Republican incumbent Ron Johnson. Wisconsin hasn’t elected a Republican into the Senate in a Presidential year since Reagan’s Presidential victory in 1980. With Wisconsin looking a solid State for Hillary Clinton, this is unlikely to change this time around. Therefore, this look another almost certain Democratic gain.

Other Races to Watch.

Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) v. Pat Toomey (R).

Here, incumbent Republican Pat Toomey takes on former White House adviser Katie McGinty. Throughout the election, Toomey has tiptoed around the issue of Donald Trump, and has still not said whether he supports his party’s nominee for President. Already, this has become the most expensive race in US Senate history, with money pouring into the State from Democrats in an attempt to unseat Toomey. At the moment, polls suggest it is working, with McGinty 2.0 percent ahead in the RCP average, and on course to take the seat.

Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) v. Joe Heck (R)

In this race for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s seat, things have been very close all the way through, with the poll lead flitting between the two candidates. Currently, Cortez Masto holds a lead of just 0.4 percent according the RCP average. However, current data from Nevada suggests that the Democrat Get Out the Vote operation has been extremely successful in terms of early voting for the Presidency, and you would expect it to be similarly successful here. Therefore, it seems likely that Cortez Masto will retain the seat for the Democrats.

Florida: Patrick Murphy (D) v Marco Rubio (R)

Originally, it looked as though Murphy might have a decent chance of winning this seat for the Republicans, especially when Rubio wasn’t going to seek re-election (as he originally announced). However, when Rubio acquiesced to the demands of others in the GOP, and announced that he was running for re-election, things changed. Murphy struggled debating against Rubio, and has also been struggling for cash, which is vitally important in expensive Florida. This has helped to propel Rubio into the lead, and it is looking increasingly as though he will retain his seat.

Missouri: Jason Kander (D) v Roy Blunt (R)

No one expected that virtual unknown Kander would stand much of a chance against seasoned Senator Roy Blunt, but after shooting to prominence recently with a campaign video which showed him assembling a rifle blindfolded, Kander has risen in the polls. The current averages put Blunt just 1.3 percent ahead, with Kander ahead in some polls. This one will come down to the wire, but a strong Democratic turnout on the day should take the seat for Kander.

Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) v Todd Young (R)

Evan Bayh made his comeback this year, attempting to win back the Senate seat which he gave up in 2011. For weeks, he looked like an absolute shoo in to win back his seat, however recently the Republicans have spent big on criticising his ties to lobbyists and the minimal time he actually spends in Indiana. All this has meant that Young actually leads in the polls going into election day, although in reality it is a virtual dead heat. Bayh could certainly take back his seat given strong Democratic turnout on election day, but it is by no means guaranteed.

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) v Kelly Ayotte (R)

In New Hampshire, Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan faces off against incumbent GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is considered a moderate and has said that she will not be voting for Donald Trump. At the moment it looks as though Ayotte has crept ahead, but who knows what will happen on election day.

Who will take control?

With the Democrats pretty much guaranteed two gains (in Illinois and Wisconsin) they only need to win two of the toss-ups to take control on the Senate. This is, of course, assuming the that Hillary Clinton prevails in the main event. In Pennsylvania and Nevada, they look poised to do just that. It would be no surprise to see McGinty and Cortez Masto elected to the Senate, especially given that it looks likely that their States will go for Clinton in the Presidential election. In addition, who knows whether the Democrats can sneak another of the toss-ups on the day.

In any case, it looks as though, at worst for the Democrats, the Senate will be a 50–50 split. This means that whoever wins the Presidency will have control of the Senate. It look increasingly like the President will be Hillary Clinton, meaning that the Democrats will take back control of the Senate, after losing control in the 2014 midterms.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of Momentum.

If you have been keeping up with UK politics over the last year, then it’s likely that you are familiar with the organisation Momentum. It is a left-wing organisation which was founded in October 2015 in order to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Given that the organisation was set up in support of Corbyn (someone who is completely unelectable and therefore has no chance of becoming Prime Minister), the temptation is to simply dismiss the organisation as a bunch of left-wing fantasists who will have no real influence on UK politics in the years to come. However, this would be an error.

Momentum’s membership now stands at 17,000. In isolation this may not seem like much but, it is growing rapidly. In June, the membership was just 4,000; and it looks set to increase exponentially in the coming months.

This is a group which was formed by people passionate about changing the current political system. At the time, they saw Corbyn as the person to do this. These people are willing to put in hours and hours of time in order to achieve this change, and they will keep campaigning until they do.

Whether the next general election is in 2020, or earlier than that, Corbyn won’t be elected, we can say that for certain. However, the huge support that he has built up within his party is not insignificant. Momentum has an membership of 17,000, whilst the Labour Party is the largest political party in Europe with a membership of half a million. Corbyn’s failure to be elected should give many of the membership of Momentum and the wider party a reality check of sorts (particularly given how big the scale of his defeat could be). This could allow the moderate wing of the party to be successful in putting forward a candidate who is electable as Prime Minister, and is perhaps the reason for the party’s moderates choosing to remain in the party following Corbyn’s reelection, despite rumours to the contrary several months earlier.

Although some of the membership will leave and join the likes of the Green Party and the Socialist Workers Party, the expectation would be that the vast majority will stay — given their support of Corbyn’s brand of left-wing politics it is hardly likely that they will go off and support one of the other main parties.

This mass membership can then be galvanised into supporting a moderate candidate who is leading the party.

Remember that by this time, the Conservatives will have won the last three general elections. It is very rare for parties to win more consecutive elections than this. The Conservatives did it in the 1980s and early 90s with Thatcher and then Major, but it is rare. Many at the Conservative Party conference this week have been suggesting that a Conservative government until 2035 is a certainty. However, it is a fact of political life that all governments become unpopular, and this one isn’t especially popular now. Therefore, to suggest that power until 2035 is certain, seems optimistic to say the least. In short, whilst the next election is a probably foregone conclusion, the one after that is an opportunity for one of the opposition parties to make a mark.

If the membership of Momentum can be harnessed by the moderate (read: electable) wing of the Labour Party, then there is little doubt that it can have a huge impact. The only problem with Momentum is that in Corbyn, they are backing the wrong horse, a candidate who is completely unelectable. Once they get the reality check of a severe electoral loss, then the moderate wing would hope for a swing towards an electable candidate. If this happens, Momentum will be an organisation with a huge amount of power.

What next for moderate Labour MPs?

With the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party we have reached a crucial juncture in the future of UK politics. One way or another, it is hard not to foresee a significant restructuring of the political landscape in the UK.

Corbyn and others of a similar ideological ilk have spent the duration of this leadership campaign tightening their grip upon the Labour Party, and look set to move the party’s policy platform even further leftwards. Given that Corbyn & Co were already on a different planet ideologically to much of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), it is hard to see how normal service can possibly be resumed following the conclusion of the leadership campaign.

There has always been the potential, bubbling under the surface, for serious conflict between the different factions of the Labour Party. But the fissures which have opened up during the first year of Corbyn’s leadership now look as though they cannot be fixed. Anyone who witnessed the back and forth between John McDonnell and Alastair Campbell on Question Time last week (which allegedly almost ended with a punch-up!) can testify to this. These two individuals illustrate just how diametrically opposed the different parts of the Labour Party are, and it is difficult to see how this will be salvageable as Corbyn continues to lead the party.

So where do the moderates go from here?

There will be many who argue that they should simply stay on and serve their party, whether that means accepting a role in Corbyn’s new Shadow Cabinet or remaining on the back benches. However, it is hard to see how this can be sustainable. Rumour has it that Corbyn and his team are preparing to deselect any MPs who don’t pledge allegiance to Corbyn. Given that many of these moderates differ so greatly from Corbyn in terms of ideology, it is hard to see how they would be able to bring themselves to do this. Contrary to popular opinion, not all politicians have the Andy Burnham-esque quality of being able to completely disregard their principles for the purposes of retaining a high-flying career.

Given that these MPs won’t pledge allegiance to Corbyn, by remaining part of the Labour Party they would effectively be putting themselves out to pasture until being deselected and replaced with a fervent Corbynite prior to the next general election. This could be as soon as next May, or as far away as 2020, but there is little doubt that it is coming. Therefore, if moderate Labour MPs want to stay and fight for what they believe in, then they have little choice but to leave their party.

To many of them, this may seem like a huge jump, which carries huge inherent risks. Most MPs (of any party) feel intrinsically connected to the parties which they represent, and so leaving can feel somewhat like voluntarily cutting off a limb. But, in this case, there is little choice but to take the risk. Corbyn’s ideology has permeated the party to such an extent that there is little or no chance of it returning to its previous state in the next twenty to thirty years. For many of the current crop of moderate Labour MPs, their careers will be over by then. So if they want to have a chance to actively influence political debate in this country, then they have no choice but to leave.

The bigger question, even bigger than ‘should they leave?’, is where would they go?

Realistically, there are three options here.

One, Labour MPs could leave their party but continue to serve their constituents as independent MPs. However, independents often struggle to exert influence in the House of Commons, and rarely win elections. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Labour moderates would be able to find success in this way.

Secondly, Labour MPs could split and form a brand new party. Depending on how many MPs choose to leave, their is a chance that the Speaker of the House of Commons would declare this new party to be the official opposition. There have also been indications that several key Labour Party donors such as Lord Sainsbury and Assem Allam would be willing to fund a new party comprised of moderate Labour MPs. However, even with this funding, any new party would lack the infrastructure and name recognition enjoyed by the existing Labour Party. As a result, they would likely struggle to make any sort of electoral inroads in Labour heartlands. Therefore, this idea could also be a non-starter, although having said this, in our currently fractured political climate there is definitely an opening for a new party.

Thirdly, Labour MPs could leave their party and join the Liberal Democrats. Leader Tim Farron has invited moderates from both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to join the Lib Dems. Given that the Lib Dems have just eight MPs, this would also effectively be the formation of a new party. In order to make a success of such a plan, it may be the case that a name change is required, in order to move away from a Liberal Democrat brand which was rendered rather toxic by their time spent in government. Overall, this option would likely be the most successful. It would provide the benefits of starting afresh with a new party, whilst also being able to benefit from the existing infrastructure provided by the Lib Dem party machine.

However, it may prove unpalatable to both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to share a party. Years of bloody by-election battles between the two parties promoted a general feeling of antipathy, which may be hard to overcome. In addition, with their current roster of just eight MPs, there are many Liberal Democrats who feel that defections from Labour could represent a take-over rather than a merger, which isn’t something they would be overly keen on. But, both groups recognise the need to be electable, and so surely some sort of accommodation could be reached.

Ultimately, it is difficult to see how the Labour Party will be able to reunite after Jeremy Corbyn’s reelection as party leader. The political viewpoints of the so-called Blairites are so diametrically opposed to the views of Corbyn and the wider party membership, that continuing in the same party seems unlikely. These moderates aren’t going to be able to bring themselves to sign up for some of Corbyn’s more outlandish policies (nuclear submarines without the warheads anyone?), and so it hard to see how the conflict will be resolved without a split.