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British, French Elections Show Battle of Ideas Not Over Yet

Socialism and big government remain popular, particularly among young people.

A lot of people, including yours truly, have been getting election predictions wrong lately, and so it is time to eat some humble pie. In a previous column, I wrote that the French economic malaise was likely going to continue, because "If Macron does become president [of France], he will likely face a Parliament constituted of political parties that owe him zero loyalty. The French Parliament will be elected in June and the center-right Republicans, the National Front of Marine Le Pen, and an assortment of socialists and communists, are likely to be abundantly represented as well."

The future being difficult to predict, my take on the French election proved to be spectacularly wrong (I know now what Bill Kristol must feel like). President Macron's party, La République En Marche, appears to have won 32.3 percent of the vote in the first round of the French parliamentary elections. Alongside its centrist ally MoDem, Macron's group will have between 415 and 455 seats out of 577 in the lower house of Parliament once the second and final round of parliamentary elections is over next Sunday.

Reforming France's sclerotic economy remains, of course, a very difficult task. Once the public sector unions take to the streets, Macron will have to hold his nerve and not succumb to pressure in the way that Jacques Chirac did in 1995. So far, the signs are promising. Macron has appointed a center-right politician, Edouard Philippe, as his prime minister, thereby indicating a break with the socialist policies of the former President Francois Hollande. Macron's snub of the U.S. President Donald Trump and criticism of Russian propaganda during Vladimir Putin's visit of Paris has played well at home and Macron's popularity is sky high. Let's see if it continues once Macron's reform proposals are announced.

While France is on the verge of getting a stable government, across the English Channel, the British government got itself in a lot of trouble. Theresa May had called a snap election last Thursday to shore up her Conservative Party majority in the House of Commons. She lost seats instead. She may yet survive as Prime Minister by striking a quasi-coalition deal with a small Northern Irish Ulster Democratic Party (UDP). That said, the election complicates a number of matters.

First, the election came within a whisker of enabling an unreconstructed socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, to become prime minister. By promising to nationalize parts of the economy, and increase taxes and expenditure, Corbyn was thought unelectable. Thanks to a very poor campaign by the Conservatives, who opted to attack Corbyn's zany foreign policy ideas, rather than his nutty economic proposals, he is now a credible Leader of the Opposition and firmly in charge of Britain's second largest political party, Labour.

Second, the collapse of the Soviet empire notwithstanding, the battle of ideas is far from won. That is particularly true of the young, who remember neither the failures of British socialism in the 1970s nor the Cold War, and who turned out in massive numbers to support the Corynistas. According to one estimate, some two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds cast their ballots for Labour. The same poll found that 25- to 34-year-olds preferred the socialists by a margin of 36 percent.

No doubt, Corbyn's promise to forgive student debt played a role in shoring up Labour support among the young, but May did not help herself by moving to the political middle by explicitly distancing herself from Margaret Thatcher's free market policies. Instead of making the elections about the economy, the prime minister engaged in the contest of "who can promise more free goodies to the electorate." That's not a battle that the Tories can win.

Therein rests an important lesson for the United States. If the Democrats manage to replicate Corbyn's success among the young on this side of the Atlantic, the GOP can kiss their Congressional majorities goodbye in 2018. And let's not forget about the presidential contest in 2020. The United States, after all, has its own Jeremy Corby—a certain Vermont senator waiting to utilize the youth vote and bring the promise of socialism to America's shores.

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  • some guy||

    Therein rests an important lesson for the United States. If the Democrats manage to replicate Corbyn's success among the young on this side of the Atlantic, the GOP can kiss their Congressional majorities goodbye in 2018. And let's not forget about the presidential contest in 2020. The United States, after all, has its own Jeremy Corby—a certain Vermont senator waiting to utilize the youth vote and bring the promise of socialism to America's shores.

    If only those youth would remember how the Democratic party treated their preferred candidate last year. Oh, and don't forget that he still supported Clinton, basically saying "Thank you Ma'am, may I have another?" Also Sanders is old. Can he really generate the relating enthusiasm of a whipper-snapper like Macron? I have my doubts.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Don't write off Lizzie.

  • Robert||

    What if what they remember is, it's good to be the boss? So let's be the boss this time! Doesn't have to be Sanders, could be a non-pol like Trump.

  • damikesc||

    I love that all of these Euro countries find it awesome to ignore and "snub" the American President...but when he says that Article 5 of NATO isn't the most important thing in our existence, they freak out.

    Hey, pals, if you don't want to foot your own defense bill, then prepare to get on your knees and blow us. The US owes Europe less than nothing.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Clearly Trump says things that are all over the place. He also has some campaign promises and things he would like to address now that he is President. NATO paying their promised portion was one of those issues.

    The left continues to make comments or "snub" him as you say which shows they continue to underestimate him. Trump then brings up an issue that he is willing to fight for and have the USA push for and the left only knows how to freak out. NATO needs to pay their promised share and decide if the USA staying in NATO is worth having to cut their welfare programs to pay for NATO.

    The left knows that their socialist agendas are being dismantled, so they throw little tantrums.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I've recently heard from a Brit that the main reason Theresa May and the Tories fared so poorly in the last election was because of the idiotic manifesto they released ahead of the election. It was something like Gingrich's old "Contract with America", except the Conservatives' manifesto contained some things that came across as stupid and wacky--like legalizing for fox hunting and forcing private schools to either set up a free grammar school or be taxed like a corporation. May's manifesto included something her opponents were able to criticize as a "dementia tax", etc.

    In other words, May's good showing wasn't about anything Labour did anywhere near as much as it was about May shooting herself in the foot. For the Democrats to have the same kind of success in the U.S., Trump would need to release a list of policy priorities devoted to absurd things like teaching creationism in public schools and legalizing bullfighting.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "In other words, May's good [bad] showing . . . "

    You know what I meant!

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It was in many ways similar to the US election. An incumbent of sorts who was her own worst enemy, and an outsider with no rational ideas who was at least an outsider with different ideas.

    The two worst candidates possible, who could not have beat a rational candidate, but each side went full retard, and the result was a tossup (figuratively and literally).

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    In my fantasy government whose only real function is to define legal terms like "threat", people join associations for their government needs, all voluntarily by enforceable contracts. Most would join for unemployment and catastrophic health insurance, with reasonably strict requirements for stability and work record. But some would join more socialistic associations, signing over their income to the group for redistribution. Communes of a sort, regardless of physical proximity. All voluntary, changing membership at will, and some choosing no or multiple membership.

    And of course, some will go full marxian, living poorly because they will spend so much time proselytizing that work will be kept to the minimum necessary to survive.

    All have to obey the iron rule of finance; they have no coercive powers other than voluntary contracts. The worst will attract gullible suckers and fully exploit their moral weaknesses, but they will also provide fine examples for everybody else of what happens when they run out of other people's money.

    I imagine the two extremes -- marxian scammers and completely independent self-supported loners -- will steer most people into everything from insurance-only groups to mildly socialist charities, but they will all be individual choices, and switch a few times during their lives, whether for romance, jobs, or changing lifestyle.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Marian, one problem might be that you get anything from Bill Maher or Bill Kristol. Those two guys don't understand what is going on in politics at all.

  • JFree||

    rests an important lesson for the United States.

    Yeah there is an important lesson here. The French look like they've managed to eliminate about 70% of their incumbent critters in one election - with over 30% of the previous critters resigning and not even running again. And they kinda voted against extreme change. The Brits managed to change their government - on election terms created by that govt and completely favorable to it and accomplished in a bit over a month.

    Americans couldn't remotely accomplish either of those. We can 'vote for change' all we want - but have no chance of ever changing a damn thing.

  • ||

    Yep. We exchanged a "black communist Muslim from Kenya" with an "orange Russian genocidal fascist" and government doesn't miss a step.

    Rock the Vote!

  • Rebel Scum||

    If the Democrats manage to replicate Corbyn's success among the young on this side of the Atlantic, the GOP can kiss their Congressional majorities goodbye in 2018.

    I'll present my prediction that may be spectacularly wrong: I believe that if they keep up the "muh russia" hysteria and general Trump hysteria the D's won't gain shit, and may lose more seats.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    That is particularly true of the young, who remember neither the failures of British socialism in the 1970s nor the Cold War, and who turned out in massive numbers to support the Corynistas. According to one estimate, some two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds cast their ballots for Labour. The same poll found that 25- to 34-year-olds preferred the socialists by a margin of 36 percent.

    Libertarian moment!!!!!! The muhllenials are our FEWTURE!!

  • Robert||

    Sheesh, it seems like just yesterday that Labour had put socialism completely behind them.

  • NoVaNick||

    How much difference is there really between "pure" socialists like Corbyn, and "centrist" politicians like Macron, who take public money and give it to favored stakeholders who will promote the government's agenda? At least the socialists are honest about their intent.

  • tommhan||

    Well I guess people still and will always love the "free" stuff. The problems is this Corbyn guy promises everything but free rides to the moon. With the large welfare class in the UK how could anyone think they could afford to give more? Will the populace want a doubling of their taxes? They actually think the rich can take complete care of them.

  • Budbug||

    Every generation must learn the folly of Collectivism for itself, I suppose. The success of Individualism always leads to the complacency, temptation, and guilt that drives Collectivism. When Collectivism fails ultimately, as it always has, the new generation must again resort to Individualism for progress to resume.

    America was the first real step in social evolution with its checks and balances of power within its version of a Democratic Republic, a step which guaranteed individual rights, economic and legal, within a unified collective framework.

    It was hopefully a chance to break the cycle.

    But the seductive siren song of "something for nothing" that Collectivism sings is just too tempting to a generation fat and lazy and living off the successes of Individualism.

    Here we go again...

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