How Republican control could be entrenched for years

A Democratic "annihilation bordering on political genocide".

"The economy's bad, the president's party is being blamed, and Republicans are mad as hell." That, says University of New Hampshire polling expert Andrew Smith, is the reason the GOP scored quite so big this year. And even in a state like New Hampshire, which had seemed to be moving firmly to the left, an unexpected Republican clean sweep means big public spending cuts -- and promises to cut taxes as well.

In a host of states across the country, it's all about austerity: tackling state deficits and sweeping back a host of Democrat-inspired public programmes. Today, Republicans are in firm control of key battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In some cases, the switch in power was, the Washington Post says, "truly dramatic", like Texas, where one pundit has called the scale of the Democratic defeat "an annihilation bordering on political genocide".

And the pattern of Republican control is set to be entrenched for years to come. That's because they will now control the redrawing of congressional boundaries for the next ten years. Using today's sophisticated polling data, that means they can divide districts up extremely accurately, to best ensure a more solid Republican majority, while driving Democratic representation down.

The party also has the chance to show how they would act if they were in charge of the White House -- chiefly, how they'd tackle the economy.

In Florida, new Governor Rick Scott has pledged immediate tax cuts worth more than $2bn -- and in the long term he wants to axe the corporate income tax altogether. He's also vowed steep cuts in state spending, including pension savings, and a 5 per cent cut in Florida's public sector work force. Unions are already warning there could be trouble if cuts in areas like schools and healthcare are deemed to go "too far".

Indiana's new Republican leaders say they're determined to "live within their means", and have proposed slashing unemployment benefits. One cost-cutting idea in Pennsylvania involves selling off hundreds of state owned liquor stores, saving a couple of billion dollars, but axeing several thousand jobs in the process.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has suggested abandoning the state-funded Medicaid scheme and creating their own insurance programme for the poor. And Maine, which hasn't seen a Republican controlled administration for 60 years, is considering scaling back social security payments to focus on the "truly needy" -- while the state's own universal health care scheme is in for the chop.

It's not just austerity measures though -- the Republicans have won so big that in some cases they're putting conservative social legislation back on the agenda. The new governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, could approve new limits on abortions proposed by the GOP-dominated state legislature. Stricter controls on immigration could now be introduced in New Mexico, while versions of Arizona's controversial immigration law may be on the cards across the south. South Carolina's incoming Governor Nikki Haley, couldn't be clearer: "I will tell you that if the Arizona style immigration reform comes to my desk, I will absolutely sign it.", she told a local paper.

So the battle lines are drawn. Now the GOP has a chance to show if they can really cut taxes, cut spending, and balance deficts -- for real, this time, not just as a campaign pledge. And all this, without cutting jobs and services so far, that they alienate those independent voters who swung their way in such overwhelming numbers.

The latest polls do indicate a mixed message for the Republicans. There's a desire for change, but not much appetite for other measures, like rolling back heathcare reforms, or social security -- especially among independents. So, from the economy to abortion rights, how the Republican-controlled state legislatures handle their new-found power will prove to be crtitical -- and is likely to determine the party's national fortunes, not just in 2012, but for years to come.

Felicity Spector is chief writer and US politics expert for Channel 4 News.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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