Why is Clinton so unpopular?

I can see why Donald Trump is so unpopular. He’s rude, abnoxious, vulgar and many other dreadful things besides. But as someone observing from the other side of the Atlantic, I never could get my head a round why Hillary Clinton is such an unpopular candidate for president.

She currently has the lowest favourability ratings of any person to run for president in modern history, only surpassed by Donald Trump. But to a casual osbserver she is a centre of the road Democrat, maybe not the most charismatic person in the world, but she has heaps of experience and policy knowledge. You’d think would be just what the doctor ordered for the presidency.

In order to understand this wierd phenomenon, I think it helps to start with one basic question. What does Clinton  do for fun? We know that Obama enjoys a game of basketball, we know that Bush likes his golf and we have a little too good an idea what Trump does for fun.

But when it comes to Clinton people don’t know. They may have a sneaking suspicion that what she does in her spare time is to pour over policy papers and read brieing notes. I imagine they’re not actually too far wrong on that score.

They also suspect that the rest of her time is taken up in champagne receptions schmoozing with the elites and taking massive donations. In other words, being a typical politican.

In this year of political outsiders (see Sanders and Trump), however, it’s not too surprising that a quintisessential politican might have a hard time. Clinton has been in the game for a very long time, something that makes her superbly well-qualified to be president. It also means that a lot of the resentment that has built up against Washington and political elites can be projected onto her.

People talk about the email scandal and Clinton Foundation as big problems for her, but they are just symptoms of a broader ‘credibility problem’ that she has. She might have been careless when it came to the email server, but she did nothing criminal. She may have schmoozed closely to bring in money for the Clinton Foundation. But again, that’s what politics is like. It’s just rather unpleasant when we see the dirty laundry aired through some of the leaked emails.

Clinton has done nothing wrong beyond being a politican in an anti-politican year. Had the Republicans had a candidate able to exploit Clinton’s actual weaknesses, rather than fictionalised version of them, they would have had a good chance in this election. As it is, however, it looks as though the politican will win out. Just.


Why First Past the Post caused Brexit

For anyone who is young, idealistic and cheerful, I would not recommend visiting Britain at the moment. There is a pall of gloom in the air, mainly because a misguided political gamble by a handful of elites in the Tory party has lurched our economy off a cliff. Those who grabbed the steering wheel have no idea how to avoid the crunch and those relegated to the backseat are wringing their hands and praying that we get another referendum on whether we have a soft landing.

In a previous post, I laid out how we got into this rather unfortunate situation, but now taking another self-righteous stride backwards, and, taking what one might call the long view, I would suggest that the real cause of our troubles is a seemingly innocuous element of our constitution, namely our electoral system.

The UK has First Past the Post. I go into this profoundly bizarre system elsewhere, but the long and short of it is that one party can get 35% of the vote and receive 65% of the seats in parliament, while another party gets 12% of the vote and only receives one solitary MP.

Proponents of the FPTP argue that one of the benefits is that it prevents extreme parties being represented in parliament. For example, UKIP, a thoroughly undesirable bunch of xenophobes and Little Engladers, are a party we don’t want sitting on those blush seats. So the Conservatives argued that a system of proportional representation would lead to UKIP getting 60-80 seats in parliament. Cue moral outrage from decent middle class folk.

It might seem very sensible to exclude a party with thoroughly unethical and bigoted ideas. The only problem is that at the last election 4 million people voted for them, and in return for 4 million votes they received exactly one MP. This lead to a perfectly understandable groundswell of resentment and frustration with the British political system among UKIP’s electorate. Those that were then ostracised and excluded mobilised and collectively thumbed their nose at the political establishment that had ignored them for so long. The Brexit vote was to a large extent a scream of frustration from people who feel they have not been listened to.

Brexit was caused by FPTP the post in a direct way, because Cameron was scared of Labour coming through the middle in some constituencies, he promised people that the only way of getting a referendum was a vote for him. But it was also caused by FPTP in this indirect way because a majoritarian system ignores large parts of the population and that resentment will come out sooner or later.

Good old Blightly, we have an electoral system that manages to keep out parties from government that want to hamper out economy by restricting immigration, want to endorse little Englandism by forcing companies to declare foreign workers, want to cripple social mobility by introducing grammar schools. Good job we’re able to keep a party like that out of power with FPTP…

The problems of the Labour Party

The Labour Party in the UK is facing an existential threat. They have lost Scotland to the SNP, they are in danger of losing the North to UKIP and they have only a few seats left in the south outside of London. The party has been taken over by the far left and their leader seems unable to attract support outside his core base of lefty enthusiasts.

To many the crisis facing the Labour Party could be changed if only they got a new leader; someone who at least could appear prime ministerial. That was the idea behind the leadership challenge this summer. More of the same left-wing policies, but with an electable leader.

I don’t think the problems of the Labour Party would be much different with an electable leader. They are facing a much larger, philosophical problem. There have been two elements of the Labour Party for a long time and now the incompatibility between them is becoming increasingly apparent.

On the one hand there’s the metropolitan, liberal group who have done well out of the globalisation. The sorts of people who have the time and disposable income to buy lattes and think hard (but do alarmingly little) about social justice. They are relaxed about immigration and are not terribly interested in their identity as British or English, they are far too cosmopolitan for that sort of thing.

On the other hand, there is Labour’s heartland vote. The bedrock of loyal working people who followed the party through many tough years, but who have done far less well out of globalisation. They have been struggling for a while and are resentful of the fact that politics doesn’t seem to work for them. They are sceptical about immigration, worried that it suppresses wages and concerned by a lack of loyalty to Britishness and Englishness.

The fundamental philosophical problem for Labour goes far beyond who the leader is, it is rather that these two groups have too little in common for it to make sense that they are in the same party. It’s just very hard to see how to bridge the gaps between these two voter groups. Labour’s problems are made worse by the fact that their leader is unelectable, but I’m afraid to say that their problems run much deeper than just that.

The Populists (Fremskrittspartiet)

The Populist had a very nasty shock when they entered government three years ago. Before coming into power, they had been promising more welfare, less taxes, more workers in healthcare, and unlimited use of Norway’s oil reserves. And, alarmingly enough, their leader became Minister of Finance.

Luckily some dull, stolid chaps at the Treasury sat her down and carefully explained that her policies were unworkable. Now their leader seems to be leading an exhausting double-life of keeping the maniacs in her party’s grassroots under control and appearing to be a responsible member of government.

Unfortunately, the recent refugee crisis has led to a knee jerk reaction meaning the Populists have been able to force through some bans on being humanitarian and showing compassion. The Conservatives and Labour Party, in fear of being accused of having a backbone, are on board with this agenda, leaving the smaller parties powerless to do more than ‘tut tut’ in the background.

The Conservatives (Høyre)

The Conservative Party’s base is poshies living around Oslo who don’t want too much change from one election to next, but maybe want to pay a little less tax on daddy’s yacht and the family’s second second home.

They’re not very conservative from a UK perspective (or any perspective really) and manage to temper monetary self-interest with a sensible social justice focus. In fact, the Conservatives and the Labour Party have become increasingly similar, and like many other countries the two largest parties only really exist in opposition to each other. The policy differences aren’t that big, but they have to pretend they are in order to create a little excitement around election time.

Their leader, the current Prime Minister of Norway, is agonisingly competent; it’s hard to imagine her lying awake at night worrying about the next big debate. She knows exactly what to say and how to spin it for the government. Listening to her paper over the cracks between sensible conservatives and nutty populists in her administration is impressive.

The Liberals (Venstre)

Being green was supposed to be the Liberals big thing. Now, however, there’s an actual party called the Greens, who haven’t jumped into coalition with the least environmentally friendly party on the market.

Supporting the Conservative-Populist government, the Liberals are having a hard time selling themselves as progressive and of any use in Norwegian politics. They have taken a tumble in the polls and are dangerously close to the 4% threshold one year out from the election.  A leaked memo from their party headquarters read: “Existentialist crisis: Rethink meaning of it all!”

The Christians (Kristelig Folkeparti)

The Christians have prided themselves on being twenty years behind the prevailing debate in Norway. Be it abortion or gay marriage, on all sensible, progressive ideas the Christians have dragged their feet and tried to prevent Norway moving out of the 19th century. Fortunately they have been unsuccessful, and have, with some aptness, been dubbed “the party of lost causes.”

Being fair to the Christians they are caught in an awkward position between being resolutely reactionary to please their solid, ageing and shrinking base, and moving with the times on social issues. There are encouraging signs that the party elite is of a modern progressive bent. For example, their leader attended Gay Pride Oslo shortly after the Orlando shootings, and has expressed sympathy with Syrian refugees.

Reactionary and deeply moralising, but with a fundamentally humanitarian bent that any sloth can appreciate, the Christians are an odd mix.