On The Elections In France, Iran And Britain

Published: Mon 8 Jul 2024 02:47 PM
As Werewolf predicted a week ago, it was premature to call Emmanuel Macron’s snap election call “a bitter failure” and “a humiliating defeat” purely on the basis of the first round results. In fact, it is the far-right that has suffered a crushing defeat. It has come in third in the decisive second round, despite hysterical prior media calls that the far right might win an absolute majority in France’s 577 seat National Assembly. The final outcome has been a victory for the left wing coalition, but also for Macron, the left’s unlikely second round ally.
None of the three major blocs – the left, Macron’s centrist bloc, the far right – will have anything remotely like the 289 seats required for an absolute majority. In line with convention, President Macron’s Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal has already tendered his resignation and a new PM will have to be chosen (by July 18) from among the biggest bloc, which will almost certainly be the left coalition. Within that coalition, the radical LFI faction leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has previously ruled himself out as a candidate for PM, while also insisting that the LFI programme is not negotiable, and must be implemented in full.
The reality though of a hung Parliament – where no bloc acting alone has a majority that’s able to pass legislation - will make negotiated compromises a daily necessity if any new administration is to survive the inevitable “no confidence” motions.
For Macron, there are glimmerings of hope. Within the left coalition, the second round has seen the moderate Socialist Party (PS) projected to double its presence (from 31 to 60-64 MPs). Even so the radical (LFI grouping will remain bigger, at between 73 and 80 MPs. One possible road ahead is that Macron’s centrists, plus the PS, plus the Greens and plus the moderate right wing of the mainstream conservative Les Republicains party might be able to cobble together a working majority and pass a skeletal legislative programme.
These difficult realities will kick in once today’s genuine joy has subsided that the greater evil (a hard right absolute majority) has been soundly defeated.Iran goes moderate (again)
Talking of deeply polarised societies, the Iranian people have now – for the third time in the past 25 years - elected a moderate reformer as their President. Unfortunately, all of these reformers have had to operate within the hard line parameters set by the ageing Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and his advisers, while also juggling other forces within both the religious establishment and the military, both of which hold major stakes in Iran’s economy.
The previous reformat Presidents were Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021). Both were hamstrung by the ruling military/religious power centres. The newly elected President Mehdi Pezeshkian will face the same problems in meeting the aspirations of an electorate that has seen had its aspirations get smothered by the hardliners. Even so, it is still worth looking at this table published in the Tehran Times, that set out the competing agendas of Pezeshkian and his hardline opponent.
Asa Rouhani did, Pezeshkian has advocated for the inherent right to protest, for greater rights and respect for women, and for positive political and economic engagement with the West. While calling for an opening up of the economy, he resisted the privatisation of essential public services: “For example, I believe that the field of health and treatment cannot be left to the market…”
Moreover: “I am strongly opposed to the ‘morality police’ because this is a humiliation for women.” The low turnout is elections, he added “is partly due to... the marginalisation of women and ethnic groups. They feel that if their rights are ignored and their demands are rejected, why should they participate?” Finally, on the right to protest:
“Protesting is a fundamental right and doesn’t require permission. If protests are allowed, why would people act irrationally and create unrest? We need to listen to students and intellectuals, instead of accusing and expelling them.”
To some extent of course, all of these sentiments can be seen as giving a figleaf of humane legitimacy to a deeply unpopular tyranny. Yet they also reflect what many Iranians do strongly believe. Iran is not a monolithic evil. It is an embattled, sharply divided society in which the decrepit, murderously corrupt regime are the enemy, not the Iranian people. Ordinary Iranians want and deserve better.Making Britain Great Again
A columnist at the Spectator called Keir Starmer’s victory a “Potenkin landslide”, and for once, he was right : Labour’s huge victory margin was the byproduct of the collapse of the Conservative vote across Britain to Reform and to the Liberal Democrats, and also of the self-destruction of the SNP vote in Scotland. Both trends were amplified by the injustices of the archaic First Past the Post political system.
The details were amazing. Not even the prospect of a revenge vote against the Tory government inspired people to cast their ballots. Instead, 14 years of Tory misrule and a lacklustre Labour leader combined to deliver the lowest voter turnout since...1923, by some estimates. Thanks to the injustices of the FPP system, Labour won only only a third (34%) of the vote, but won nearly two thirds (64%) of the seats. Labour’s share of the vote under Starner was far less than the resounding 40% share won by Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.
The FPP anomalies kept on coming. Nigel Farage’s Reform party won 14% of the vote but won only four seats i.e. a measly one per cent of the total number of seats being contested. In stark contrast, the Liberal Democrats won a lower percentage of the vote than Reform – only 12% of the vote – but won a whopping 71 seats, or 11% of the total up for grabs. The Greens won 7% of the vote ( half of the Reform tally) but won a similar number of seats. For any New Zealander grown accustomed to MMP, these outcomes are truly, unacceptably bizarre.
So.... while Starmer has a huge majority, he and the Labour Party have not won anything like the public mandate that the “landslide majority” headlines would suggest. This has consequences. Tory misrule has left Britain’s social services in ruin, but Starmer has boxed himself in – just like Labour did in New Zealand – by promising the markers that he will not to raise taxes in order to generate the revenue to fund the repair job he faces.
As a result, Labour is likely to have a very short political honeymoon.
Footnote One: Reform did cannibalise the Tory vote to the extent that Nigel Farage’s party came second in 93 of the seats won by Labour. Even so, subsequent polling had as many as one third of Reform voters claiming that they would still not have voted Conservative, even if Reform hadn’t been an option. Meaning: the radical right are not merely ordinary Tories having a bad day.
Footnote Two: The other spectacular aspect of the UK election was the number of electorates won by independents running against Labour’s weak policy on Gaza. Some of the defeated Labour candidates (eg Kate Hollern in Blackburn) became victims of the Labour head office determination not to come out in support of a ceasefire in Gaza, or to criticise Israel for its war crimes. This timidity was extraordinary, given how Britain’s colonial legacy had ensured the subjugation of the Palestinians in the first place. Surely, this rim history provided a powerful rationale for any British, allegedly left-of-centre party to take a principled stand in denouncing Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Yet because of Starmer’s determination to rid UK Labour of any traces of its radical recent past, Labour’s inner circle actually de-selected any Labour candidates who had publicly supported Palestinian rights. Generally, voters in some electorates punished Labour for its politically cynical approach to the Gaza genocide. (George Galloway however, lost the seat he had recently won in a by-election when running on a pro-Palestine platform. )
All up, if you count the success by Jeremy Corbyn in comfortably retaining his Islington North seat (by running there as an independent) as many as five pro-Gaza independents were elected. All have agreed to work together to keep the Gaza issue in front of the government, and the public.Starmer’s playlist
Reportedly, Keir Starmer is a big fan of the Smiths and of the Leeds band, the Wedding Present. (As a student at Leeds University, Starmer studied music with Norman Cook, later to become Fatboy Slim.) As Starmer once told the Financial Times, this following track – an exercise in self-pity and jealousy called “My Favourite Dress” – was his favourite Wedding Present song:

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