The Republicans have taken control of the Senate. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Republicans win control of the Senate in the US mid-term elections: UK parallels?

Gridlock ahead.

In the US mid-term elections, the Republicans have won control of the Senate, meaning Barack Obama will be hamstrung for his final two years in power.

The Republicans framed their campaign as a vote on dissatisfaction with Obama, essentially approaching the vote as a referendum on his presidency.

The BBC's North America editor, Jon Sopel, says this terrible result for the Democrats is both down to Obama's "unpopularity" and also because "American people are fed up with all their politicians".

That last point sounds particularly familiar, as many UK voters switch their support to Ukip in what is thought of as, among other reasons, a vote of disillusionment with the Westminster establishment.

Also, like our local and European elections in May, and the by-elections that keep cropping up unexpected, providing voters with an opportunity to make a protest, the mid-terms similarly were used by voters to cast a judgement on - and a condemnation of - Obama's performance. This isn't so unusual for non-general/presidential elections, but the results are particularly striking when voters are disenchanted to such a great extent with the leading regime, both in the UK and the US.

Another parallel is key: immigration. A Republican speaking on the BBC's Today programme this morning insisted that if Obama took a decision to change the status of illegal immigrants already residing in the States, it would suggest the President doesn't want to compromise with the Republicans. Indeed, they have very different priorities on immigration, as highlighted by David Davenport, writing for Forbes:

The difficulty with immigration reform is that everyone wants to do what they find important first. Republicans want to strengthen border security first. Business leaders want to improve legal immigration for workers first. Liberals want to deal with children and others who are already here first. That’s where immigration reform is stuck—no one trusts the other parties to get to their issue unless theirs is first in line. 

And of course, as in the UK, these concerns being made into electoral battlegrounds distract from what should be the government's main priority: the economy.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496