From Trump to Brexit, power has leaked from cities to the countryside – Andy Beckett – The Guardian UK

From Trump to Brexit, power has leaked from cities to the countryside

the-guardianAndy Beckett – The Guardian UK

Cities may dominate our culture, but a backlash against liberal values and multiculturalism has been led by rural and small-town voters

As the most successful British and American cities have gentrified and repopulated in recent decades, reversing the inner-city decline of the 60s and 70s, it’s become a cliché to say how powerful they are: economically, culturally, politically. Many people think they’re too powerful. A revolt against urban liberalism and multiculturalism, and their supposed imposition on the rest of the population, was a big element of the Brexit and Donald Trump campaigns. 

Almost two-thirds of USA rural and small-town voters chose Trump, while a similar proportion in the cities chose Hillary Clinton. In the English countryside, 55% voted for Brexit, while cities as varied as Bristol, Glasgow, Cardiff, Liverpool and London voted even more decisively for remain. The stark and growing political division of the USA and the UK by population density has been one of the most striking, if under-reported, revelations of the great 2016 electoral reckoning.

Yet the USA election and the EU referendum have also shown that even the most confident, expansive cities are politically quite weak. Not simply because their preferred causes lost narrowly in both cases; but because patterns of urban life and both countries’ electoral systems are increasingly out of sync.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are currently more than a million non-British EU citizens living in London – almost an eighth of the city’s population. Much of the sense of present-day London as a teeming and important global city has come from this influx. Yet none of these converts to the capital, nor foreign residents from outside the EU, nor the more than a million foreigners estimated to be living in other British cities, can vote in British national elections or referendums, only in local ones (assuming they have bothered to register during a stay that may be brief). Their presence may have a huge economic and social impact, but it carries little political weight.

In the USA, the revival of many cities has also left them under-represented. Between 1950 and 2015, the proportion of urban Americans rose from 64% to 82%. But the ancient, creaky workings of the electoral college mean that the recent population booms in downtown Los Angeles and Brooklyn, for example, have simply concentrated liberal voters even further in urbanised states that were already easy Democratic wins. Clinton’s futile popular vote victory suggests that hipsters are not a decisive electoral demographic, or at least not yet.

The very thing that makes modern cities vibrant and culturally dominant – increasing population density, and the atmosphere and networks that result from it – has left them politically under-represented. Meanwhile, the scattered and thinned-out populations of many struggling rural and small town areas distribute their voters through the British and American electoral systems much more efficiently.

A large and growing proportion of city Britons are not registered to vote at all. David Cameron’s government was as good at bending the pliable British political system in his party’s favour as it was bad at attracting urban support. Starting in 2014, it rushed the introduction of individual electoral registration, requiring voters to register themselves rather than letting others do so on their behalf. In a 2015 report, 10 Million Missing Voters!, the Smith Institute found that “inner-city areas, especially those with young and/or student populations and high levels of privately rented property” were “most at risk” of shrinking electoral registers.

Exactly that has happened. This June, in the left-leaning London borough where I live, the Hackney Citizen newspaper reported that in some local wards the proportion of eligible residents registered to vote was less than 70%, a fifth below the already unimpressive national average. A fortnight later, for the EU referendum, the Hackney turnout was only 65% – again, well below the national average of 72%. Put another way, less than half of eligible local residents had voted in the EU referendum.

People living in cities are often transient, overcommitted, easily distracted. On the day of the referendum, psephologists expected a great urban voting surge for remain, especially in the evening, when liberal professionals got back from work. It never happened. In the pro-remain strongholds Manchester and Glasgow, the turnout was even worse, at under 60%.

In the UK and the USA now – and possibly France too, given the likelihood of an anti-metropolitan bidding war between François Fillon and Marine Le Pen – politics is dominated by voters who are less busy: country pensioners, unemployed or underemployed workers in ex-industrial areas. Instead of a city-style politics based on novelty and compromise – the approach of the Obama and Blair eras – Britain and American now have a politics that feels provincial, old-fashioned, almost millenarian, full of suspicion of outsiders and yearnings that somehow Brexit or a strongman president will make everything all right.

In the UK, the boundary changes to parliamentary constituencies will almost certainly marginalise cities further, as they will be based on the new electoral registration system. London, despite being in the middle of a population boom – much of it British – is expected to lose five of its 73 seats. The Conservatives insist that the rationale is to “reduce the cost of politics”, but it looks more like gerrymandering. Barely a third of London MPs are Tories.

What can liberal city-dwellers do about this? They can bother to vote. They can elect city leaders who make cosmopolitan urban values – what new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall cannily caricatures as “dinner party” thinking – appealing to rather than alienating voters elsewhere. Or they can wait for further urban population growth and the perpetual migration of city people and ideas to other places to shift the political balance.

Politics is never just about elections; it’s also about prevailing values and lifestyles, and who holds economic power. However triumphant and impregnable Trump, the Brexiteers and their anti-urban supporters seem now (and will their supremacy last once the consequences of their airy promises start materialising?), it is hard to imagine the big cities losing their enormous economic and cultural clout any time soon. The internet, for one thing, makes it impossible to keep urban ideas and behaviours corralled inside city walls.

In a democracy, electoral politics tends to adjust to social trends in the end. But the process can take a while. City liberals should hunker down: the city-haters rule for now.

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On December 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    According to the established rules of the game; Donald J Trump won the election.

    So this argument or question about ‘what do I think would have been happening if Hillary Rodham Clinton had won the election and Donald J Trump had 3-Million MORE votes?’ … is moot.

    For one thing, Donald Trump has made it easy to explain things in black and white. You see, the Electoral College was contrived at a time when black people could not vote. In fact, black people were only three-fifths of a person – just so white people could count their assets back then.

    In fairness to ‘we the people’ [of the USA], they have made some amendments to the constitution and now Black Lives Matter – but not so much as to change the outdated Electoral College. This system of election benefitted white, rural [country boo-boo] Republicans back then and it benefits mostly white, rural Republicans in 2016.

    This should be easy to understand as the city [urban] areas are populous, progressive and the economic centre of the electoral map. While the rural Counties are numerous, white and Republican.

    Clinton and the Democrats, in general, have always run competitively and won in populous and economically progressive urban areas; while Republicans and Donald Trump, in particular, have been winning in sparsely populated rural [white] areas.

    Although, Electoral College votes are based on the State vote; the activities, the organizing and the counting is done within the County. So here is the thing, not much has changed in the way the government has apportioned the Electoral College – for example:

    Loving County, Texas has a population of 95

    While Los Angeles County, California has a population of 10-million

    This should easily explain why Hillary Clinton lost the election, yet she has nearly 3-Million more votes than the winner. If you want to see how the Republicans would have reacted if the situation were reversed, check out North Carolina.

    In North Carolina, the Republican Governor just lost the election to a Democrat. So what does the outgoing Republican administration do: Change the rules and limit the authority of the next Governor.

    Democrats are too good for their own good!!

  • Clyde Duncan  On December 17, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Op-Ed Contributors | The New York Times
    Buck Up, Democrats, and Fight Like Republicans

    By Dahlia Lithwick and David S. Cohen

    On Monday, members of the Electoral College will vote in Donald J. Trump as president. Though he lost the election by nearly three million votes and almost daily generates headlines about new scandals, the Democratic Party is doing little to stop him.

    If you’ve been asking yourself “Where are the Democrats?” you’re not alone.

    Since the election, top Democrats have been almost absent on the national stage. Rather, they have been involved largely in internecine warfare about how much to work with Mr. Trump. The Hillary Clinton campaign, trying to encourage a peaceful transition, has gone almost completely dark, with her most notable appearances coming in selfies with strangers.

    Nobody deserves downtime more than Mrs. Clinton, but while she is decompressing, the country is moving toward its biggest electoral mistake in history.

    We have recently learned that President-elect Trump has ethical and business conflicts that seem to violate the Constitution; is skipping his national security briefings while dangerously departing from longstanding bipartisan foreign policy; has criticized union workers and protesters on his Twitter feed; and plans to staff much of his cabinet and high-level leadership with billionaires dedicated to eradicating the very programs they are tasked with overseeing.

    In the meantime, the most recent reports from the C.I.A. are that Russia interfered with the election.

    There’s no shortage of legal theories that could challenge Mr. Trump’s anointment, but they come from outsiders rather than the Democratic Party.

    Impassioned citizens have been pleading with electors to vote against Mr. Trump; law professors have argued that winner-take-all laws for electoral votes are unconstitutional; a small group, the Hamilton Electors, is attempting to free electors to vote their consciences; and a new theory has arisen that there is legal precedent for courts to give the election to Mrs. Clinton based on Russian interference.

    All of these efforts, along with the grass-roots protests, boycotts and petitions, have been happening without the Democratic Party. The most we’ve seen is a response to the C.I.A. revelations, but only with Republicans onboard to give Democrats bipartisan cover.

    Take the recount efforts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. While the Democratic Party relitigates grudges in the press, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate who received about 64 million fewer votes than Mrs. Clinton, has led the effort. The Democrats have grudgingly participated from the sidelines, but only because public perception forced them to.

    This effort has proved feeble, with a Pennsylvania judge denying the request because it was “later than last minute.”

    Contrast the Democrats’ do-nothingness to what we know the Republicans would have done. If Mr. Trump had lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote, an army of Republican lawyers would have descended on the courts and local election officials.

    The best of the Republican establishment would have been filing lawsuits and infusing every public statement with a clear pronouncement that Donald Trump was the real winner. And they would have started on the morning of Nov. 9, using the rhetoric of patriotism and courage.

    How can we be so certain? This is what happened in 2000. When Florida was still undecided after election night, the Republicans didn’t leave their fate in the hands of individuals or third-party candidates. No, they recruited former Secretary of State James A. Baker III to direct efforts on behalf of George W. Bush. They framed their project as protecting Mr. Bush’s victory rather than counting votes. They were clear, consistent and forceful, with the biggest names in Republican politics working the process.

    Moreover, they didn’t cop to the possibility that their theories might lose or look foolish in retrospect. Take the theory that ultimately succeeded in the Supreme Court.

    There was no precedent for the idea that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause required a uniform recount within a state. However, the Republicans pressed that theory and convinced a majority, even though the justices acknowledged that the argument was both unprecedented and not to be used again. It was a win for pure audacity.

    Fast forward to 2016, and the Democrats are doing nothing of the sort. Instead, they are leaving the fight to academics and local organizers who seem more horrified by a Trump presidency than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

    The Republicans in 2000 threw everything they could muster against the wall to see if it stuck, with no concern about potential blowback; the Democrats in 2016 are apparently too worried about being called sore losers.

    Instead of weathering the criticism that comes with fighting an uphill, yet historically important battle, the party is still trying to magic up a plan.

    As Monday’s Electoral College vote approaches, Democrats should be fighting tooth and nail. Instead, we are once again left with incontrovertible proof that win or lose, Republicans behave as if they won while Democrats behave as if they lost. What this portends for the next four years is truly terrifying.

  • Clyde Duncan  On December 18, 2016 at 3:09 am

    Donald Trump said the Electoral College was a “Disaster for Democracy”. Is it about to prove him right?

    If they do go their own way, they are known as ‘faithless electors’. But if enough of them decide to dump Trump it could cost him the presidency

    Erich McElroy | The Independent UK

    On Monday, 19 December 2016, across America, the real votes will be cast that will make Donald J Trump the next president of the United States of America.

    That is the day that each state’s electors meet to reflect the view of the people in their state. In most USA states, that means the winner takes all; in Michigan, where Trump won by only 10,700 votes, he takes all 16 electoral votes to the college.

    It may sound confusing, complicated or boring, but it is actually very exciting – if your idea of super-exciting is a 226-year-old document. Talk dirty to me, Alexander Hamilton.

    The President of the USA is just that, the president of a bunch of states, NOT directly a president of the people. It is the voters representing those states, known as the electors that make the person the president.

    This year, for only the fifth time in history, the popular vote has been trumped by the Electoral College because The Donald won more of the smaller states.

    Even though Hillary Clinton has almost 3 million more votes in the national tally, that doesn’t matter.

    The USA is a generally successful marriage of independent states. As is often the case in a marriage, it is at its best when no one gets exactly what they want.

    Clearly, it is not the perfect system, but it isn’t an accident. The founders wanted the Electoral College for a number of reasons. It was partly as a compromise between larger more populated states versus the smaller rural ones; back then, state identity was stronger, like it is in Europe now.

    In the EU, people are very clearly French first and then European. The founders also didn’t trust a direct popular vote. Partly because the founders were worried the people might be influenced by a foreign power.

    There are 538 electors, awarded proportionally, meeting throughout the USA on 19 December. But they don’t have to necessarily follow the way their state voted. They can, if they choose, vote with their conscience. They could decide to vote for anyone.

    If they do go their own way, they are known as faithless electors. But if enough of them decide to dump Trump it could cost him the presidency.

    Trump currently stands at 302 pledged votes. He can afford to lose only 36 and still be elected President.

    They could decide that, between Trump’s business conflicts, his failure to win the popular vote and the continuing revelations of potential interference by Moscow in the popular-vote result, they want to tell him he’s fired before he’s even hired.

    Trump’s keeping a close eye on the vote to make sure no electors try to defect.
    If Trump doesn’t get the votes, the final decision gets tossed to the House of Representatives – which right now is controlled by Trump’s party. But the Representatives are old-school Republicans who would probably much rather have a more traditional president.

    At that point who knows what could happen? It could be anyone. Just in case, probably best to stay by the phone.

    If the electors are looking for guidance, they can always remember the words of the President-elect himself: “The Electoral College is a disaster for a democracy.”

    If Trump does win, we might just get the disaster he warned us about.

    Erich McElroy is an American comedian and pundit based in the UK

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