LIVEBLOG: Mitt Romney's horse, Rafalca, goes horse-dancing

How will Rafalca fare? And what does it mean for the Republican candidate's Presidential hopes?

 

12:06
alexhern: Hello everyone, thanks for joining today for the inaugural horse-dancing liveblog.
 
12:07
alexhern: Obviously, we're all very excited to see how Rafalca Romney does. Could be some real clues to how the election will go down in November.
 
12:08
alexhern: 
Psephologists actually refer to this event colloquially as "the election in August".
 
 
12:09
alexhern: A couple of horse-dancing videos to get you pumped for the main event:
 
12:10
alexhern: Firstly, a lovely number from Ireland:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgWhg
 
12:12
alexhern: 
Sorry about the massive picture of Helen Lewis there. She submitted it in haste.
 
 
12:12
Comment From Helen L 
Aha, I see my attempt to include an avatar may not have worked so well there.
 
12:12
alexhern: Another video while we wait for Rafalca to take the stage: http://t.co/CX7SKY6J
 
12:12
Helen L: Here's a video of Stephen Colbert learning about dressage on the Colbert Report
 
12:12
Comment From adamawhite 
and the modern update of that classic Irish tune here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljPFZrRD3J8
 
12:14
alexhern: Some facts about Rafalca: She's 15, which is a tad old for the Olympics, and is a bay Oldenburg.
 
12:14
alexhern: She describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, although she is steadfastedly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
 
12:14
Helen L: And here, because politics is weird now, is Rafalca herself rebutting Stephen Colbert's mockery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-0ROz_qbA
 
12:15
alexhern: Despite being owned by Romney, Rafalca has kept the religion of her birthplace, Germany, and is a Catholic horse.
 
12:16
alexhern: Mitt Romney, of course, will not be attending the event. Although he told the press that he "doesn't even know when its happening", most commentators believe that he can't bring himself to watch a performance which could make or break his presidential run.
 
12:17
alexhern: Rafalca off to a good start there
 
12:17
Helen L: Rafalca has just executed a "very good halt"
 
12:18
Helen L: "Into the Piaf"?
 
12:18
alexhern: This horse is dancing exquisitly. Slightly bouncy, which is normal for conservative republicans.
 
12:18
Comment From Mikey Smith 
Is that horse wearing a baseball cap? Cruel.
 
12:18
alexhern: Yes, Mikey, it's an attempt to connect with blue-collar voters.
 
12:19
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
15 is ridiculously old for the Olympic Dressage. Is Rafalca a former racehorse perchance?
 
12:19
Comment From Caroline C 
Doesn't have enough 'lift' apparently. Such a shame...
 
12:19
Helen L: "This horse's hallmark is obedience and accuracy, as opposed to brilliance". Very much like Romney himself. #METAPHOR
 
12:19
alexhern: Mark, Rafalca is essentially being entered to boost her value as a breeding mare.
 
12:19
Comment From Guest 
Are you sure a horse takes its surname from its current owner? Curious political statement there Alex
 
12:19
Helen L: Rafalca is now doing what I believe is known in dressage as "the running man"
 
12:20
alexhern: Guest, if you ask @rafalcaromney herself, I'm sure she'll be able to explain.
 
12:20
alexhern: She breaks into a canter exactly as planned, but seems a bit unhappy at the prospect. Perhaps Romney is planning to pick a female VP?
 
12:21
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
But at 15 - is Rafalca not past her prime age as a breeding mare?
 
12:21
alexhern: 
Mark, Rafalca would like to remind you that Ronald Reagan was president well into his eighties, and that experience really counts in this field.
 
 
12:21
alexhern: This field being horse dancing.
 
12:21
Helen L: "Pirouette there was a little big, could have had a bit more sitting"
 
12:21
Comment From Caroline C 
She's doing funny little panty gallops now. What does this mean for the GOP's chances, Alex?
 
12:22
alexhern: Caroline, Ohio, a key swing state, really hates panty gallops. It doesn't look good.
 
12:22
Helen L: "Good extended Trot". NO ONE TELL RUSH LIMBAUGH
 
12:22
Helen L: BBC commentators don't seem to know if Ann Romney is there to watch, as expected
 
12:23
Helen L: AND IT'S OVER
 
12:23
alexhern: 
I genuninely can't tell if my feed is skipping or if Rafalca's passage has got off centre 
 
 
12:23
Helen L: The rider is 53, which is nice. Must be one of the oldest competitors in the Olympics.
 
12:23
alexhern: 53 points. Romney is in with a fighting chance in November.
 
12:23
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
USA USA USA
 
12:23
Helen L: The slow-motion replay makes the horse look like it's moonwalking
 
12:24
alexhern: Well, that was an astounding performance. Romney has certainly won the Dressage Independents round with his horse.
 
12:24
Helen L: 69.91 points
 
12:24
Helen L: 70.213 per cent now, just been raised
 
12:24
Helen L: Oh, a sighting of ann Romney there
 
12:24
alexhern: (Dressage Independents is a term that pollster Frank Lunz came up with, to describe wealthy voters with horses who nonetheless hate the Republicans almost as much as Democrats)
 
12:25
Helen L: "The world of the horse has people from all walks of life"
 
12:25
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
Useful list of number of horses by state. This'll be crucial come November. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Horse_population_state_by_state
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
A "Halt and rein back" there. Which is a maneuver that Mitt had to carry out on his press staff in London last week...
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Of course this is just the first day of the first dressage stage. And there are three dressage stages. SO it's not over for Rafalca yet
 
12:25
Comment From Caroline C 
What? A controversial recount?
 
12:25
alexhern: The Supreme Court will be unlikely to touch this one, after the negative publicity surrounding Bush v Gore.
 
12:25
Helen L: Does Rafalca have more or less chance of winning than Mitt himself?
 
12:26
alexhern: And that's the question, isn't it? We can but hope.
 
12:26
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
BBC Commentator: "The world of horses has people from so many different walks of life." Let's be clear, that's not REALLY true.... And I say that as someone who partially owns a horse...
 
12:26
alexhern: 
Mark Ferguson of LabourList there, leading light of the British socialist movement and equestrian.
 
 
12:27
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
12 US states have an official state horse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_horses
 
12:27
Comment From adamawhite 
Do you think Rafalca's 'foreign' name is likely to pull in the latino vote, or alienate the WASP block?
 
12:27
alexhern: Adam, this is a key concern of Mittens Romney. Unfortunately, as a family man, he can't just let her go.
 
12:28
alexhern: Anyway folks, that's all from us. This has certainly left us much to mull over. Based on his horse's competition, I'm pegging Romney as picking an African-American VP, but then flunking the second debate as matters turn to foreign policy. It's all signposted in the canter.
 
12:29
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Correction: Although I may be the partial owner of a very old and often injured dressage horse, I am no Equestrian. As I have never sat on a horse.
 
12:29
alexhern: 
Our apoligies to Mark.
Leida Collins-Strijk of Holland riding On Top at the FEI World Cup Dressage Qualifier in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty
Show Hide image

Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change