Sunday, 27 August 2017

A Fairer Voting System?

My previous post was some time ago and I ended by saying hat I'd be posting on the situation post-Brexit referendum.

This proved to be more difficult as time went on as the UK Government's position, and the position of the UK opposition, had no relationship with reality. Every statement could simply be met with a response along the lines of 'that isn't how it works'.

It has become increasingly clear that no one expected the UK to be a position where it was seeking to make a deal with the EU which would be self damaging but where none of our politicians would have the bravery to say 'Stop, this is wrong'.

So the Government blindly triggered Article 50 and then, with the clock running called an opportunistic and politically motivated General Election. The polls gave May a huge lead, one she was going to blow completely as she ran a non-campaign, meeting only party workers and eschewing the general public and television debates.

This gave Jeremy Corbyn, with  a series of large public rallies the chance to unite his party behind him and silence his critics in the Labour party.  It gave Theresa May the same, of course, but he succeeded where she failed.

As we all know now, Labour's campaign was a great success and they almost pulled off a surprise victory. Some pundits have even reckoned that had the election been a week later Corbyn would be PM by now.

From May's perspective the result was a shocking defeat as she lost her majority and had to make a deal with the DUP to stay in power.

This re-ignited my interest in voter engagement and voting systems. You can see from posts back in 2011 that I was unconvinced by the Alternative Vote system on which we had a referendum. AV is not PR, it is just a different way of electing one representative. To have PR, by any method, you need to have multi-member constituencies elected in such a way as each vote increases the likelihood of your favoured candidate being elected, and so fewer votes are wasted.

I therefore started examining different voting systems.

Voting Systems and Brexit


This was done with the backdrop of Brexit, with online Leave supporters merrily chanting the mantra that the EU was undemocratic. This is a claim which withstands no scrutiny, but Leavers are now a religious cult with Brexit their god, so reason, analysis and facts do not alter their views one iota. The result of this was of course an examination of the way Members of the European Parliament are elected, with emphasis for comparison with the Westminster, in the UK.

I have to declare some history on this subject.  Before the UK moved to electing MEPs regionally by the d'Hondt system in 1999 we used FPTP and did so by combining a geographical block of Westminster Constituencies together, and it was in a contest for one of these large single member constituencies that I had my first experience of being part of a successful election campaign. That was 1989.

So the idea I had was that, instead of each constituency electing one member, we combined a number together, kept the number of seats the same and used the d'Hondt system to allocate seats.

Why not use national voting figures?


One of the familiar arguments about PR is the old '10% of votes should equal 10% of seats' line. It's a strong argument but it ignores the regional variations of the UK, in particular the fact that none of the Northern Ireland parties stand anywhere else in the UK, that the main GB Parties, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems do not normally stand in Northern Ireland but have sister parties there who do, that the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru only stand in Scotland and Wales respectively, and that the England and Wales Green Party, the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party of Northern Ireland are all legally separate parties even if they share a general philosophy.

From this it is clear that treating the UK as a single homogenous entity would lead to false suppression of minority regional voices.

Another argument, and oddly, one that is used in support of FPTP, is that the link of MP to community through representation being determined by a geographical boundary strengthens representation and this would be lost if a MP simple represented their party and not their constituency. It's a fair point.

I therefore sought to find a way to keep this constituency link, and a multi-member constituency based on traditional boundaries appeared to be the most practical way to do this.

Cornwall


I decided to test the system by building theoretical multi-member constituencies based on County boundaries. An obvious place to start being Cornwall as it is in the South West corner of mainland Britain.

Cornwall has 6 Westminster constituencies and in the 2017 election all 6 returned Conservative MPs. Is it therefore safe to assume that a majority of the Cornwall voters voted Conservative? The figures show otherwise.

When combined the votes of the 6 Cornwall Constituencies are:-


  • Conservative - 152,428 (48%)
  • Labour - 83,968 (27%)
  • LibDem - 73,865 (23%)
  • Green - 3,218 (1%)
  • UKIP - 897 (0.3%)
  • Others - 323 (0.1%)

When the d'Hondt system is applied to these numbers instead of the Conservatives having 6 MPs they receive 3, Labour 2 and the LibDems 1.

This is not pure proportionality, but appeared to me to be a step in that direction. To ensure I wasn't being swayed by any anti-Conservative bias I thought it best to test the system again, but in a predominately Labour county. So the next area I looked at was South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire


In the 2017 General Election Labour won every one of the 14 seats in the South Yorkshire area, including for the first time ever, the Sheffield Hallam seat of one time LibDem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

So I again combined all the votes for, in this case 14 seats, and this was the result :-


  • Labour - 356,899 (57%)
  • Conservative - 186,515 (30%)
  • LibDems - 37,177 (6%)
  • UKIP - 29,228 (5%)
  • Green - 7,792 (1%)
  • Others - 9,312 (1%)


Again applying the d'Hondt system to these number Labour instead of having 14 MPs now have 9 and the Conservatives 5. This again appeared to be a more representative result.

I pressed on.

The National Result.


Once I had completed the calculations for each county and metropolitan area of the UK, which involved in some cases splitting large counties and metropolitan areas into smaller areas, combining London Boroughs, and in the case of Herefordshire and Worcestershire combining two counties together, the result was this :-


  • Conservatives - 294
  • Labour - 288
  • LibDems - 23
  • SNP - 25
  • PC - 2
  • UKIP - 0
  • Greens - 0
  • DUP - 7
  • SF - 6
  • UUP - 2
  • SDLP - 2
  • Alliance - 1


This seem to indicate I had found a more representative system than FPTP.  Three questions remained.

  1. Would the system be flexible enough to enable the electorate to vote out unpopular MPs or parties or were the large constituencies forming safe seats?
  2. Was it correct to assume that people would vote the same way using FPTP as they would using a more proportional system?
  3. Could a way be found to retain voters' say over the individual candidates elected rather than just numbers of seats allocated to each party?
Question one could be numerically tested.  As a result of the 2017 General Election being called early, it used the same constituency boundaries as the 2015 General Election and the 2010 General Election before than. This is unusual in UK politics as the Boundary Commission proposes changes to parliamentary boundaries quite frequently so as to reflect population movements.

Using the results of the 2010 and 2015 elections I repeated the exercise for the whole country using the same seats and the results were :

2010 - A good election for the LibDems

  • Conservative -   255
  • Labour - 212
  • LibDems - 150
  • SNP - 12
  • PC - 3
  • UKIP - 0
  • Greens - 0
  • DUP - 6
  • SF - 5
  • UUP - 3
  • SDLP - 3
  • Alliance - 1

2015 - A good election for UKIP and the SNP


  • Conservative - 267
  • Labour - 226
  • LibDems - 29
  • SNP - 34
  • PC - 3
  • UKIP - 72
  • Green - 1
  • DUP - 5
  • SF - 5
  • UUP - 3
  • SDLP - 3
  • Alliance - 2

This answered question 1.  The system was flexible enough to enable voters to take seats from one party and give them to another as a party's popularity waxed or waned.

So, do people vote the same way in every election, or do they use their votes in the most effective way given prevailing conditions. The simple answer is that people will vote differently if they think a different vote will deliver a preferred result. Tactical voting under FPTP is real and huge and it is skewing our democracy. In the 2017 election there was more information around about how to vote tactically than I can remember before. Sites like SwapMyVote enabled people to swap a wasted, normally locally third party vote with another voter in a different constituency so as to maximise voter effectiveness. Under the multi-member d'Hondt system this is unnecessary as every vote increases either the chance of a candidate of a voter's preferred party being elected or increases the number of MPs that party will receive.  There is no reason to vote tactically.  This should improve the performance of minority parties across the country.

The third question was how can voters determine the allocation of seats to candidates within a party. This can be done using the Open List System. How it works is this. Voters are given two ballot papers. On the first they are asked to cast one vote for the party or independent candidate of their choice.  These votes, once added up, would determine the allocation of seats to each party. The second ballot paper lists all the individual candidates standing by party and the voter is given the same number of votes as there are seats up for election. So in the examples given above voters in Cornwall would cast up to 6 votes whilst voters in South Yorkshire would cast up to 14 votes. Voters would be able to cast these voters across party lines. This would enable the MPs elected to truly represent the community and not just their party.

Conclusion 


I believe the use of an Open List System of multi-member constituencies using the d'Hondt method would deliver as more representative Parliament for the UK.

Please contribute you views and opinions below. I can also answer questions about your particular area if you ask them.


  ,

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Sleaford and North Hykeham By-Election

The Sleaford and North Hykeham By-Election

I ended my previous post the subject of which was the Richmond Park By Election with these words;

'Another thing that is untested is whether the reverse also applies, and whether Leave voters would also switch traditional party allegiances to support a Leave candidate. We may learn more about that from the Sleaford & North Hykeham By Election which shall be the subject of my next post.'

Background

In terms of the Remain/Leave paradigm Sleaford and North Hykeham is a different type of seat from Richmond Park. The area voted overwhelmingly Leave, and the outgoing MP Stephen Phillips was also a Leave supporter, and he was not standing again to seek re-election.  Phillips resigned for a reason that surprised many commentators in that he objected to what he saw as the Government's attempt to bypass the rule of law by appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court's ruling that the triggering of Article 50 be a matter for Parliament rather than the Executive alone.  He was also reported as saying that the Conservative Party had become UKIP-lite and he could no longer call himself a Conservative. Phillips was, and indeed is, a barrister, and it is a well known maxim that a lawyer in Parliament is a lawyer first and a Parliamentarian second.  It's a little surprising that none of his fellow lawyers have yet followed his path out of Parliament given the written assaults by the press on the independent judiciary the government have let pass without official objection.

Sleaford and North Hykeham is a safe Conservative constituency, returning only Conservatives MPs since its creation. The majority in 2015 was 24,000 with Labour in second place. UKIP had failed to make the sort of impact in this part of Lincolnshire they had managed in some others. Another regular feature in Lincolnshire politics is the presence of The Lincolnshire Independents, who hold seats on the county council and who came 4th in the constituency, ahead of UKIP in 2010.

Election Line-up

The Greens again decided not to stand in the By Election, but unlike in Richmond Park where they did so in the name of a Progressive Alliance, here they decided to back Sarah Stock, an Independent standing on a platform of defending Lincolnshire Health Services. They called on Labour to follow suit, without success.

This all meant that the public perception was that is was extremely unlikely that the seat would change hands, which again is different from Richmond Park where it was a distinct possibility from the off.

We can however examine the questions raised by the Richmond Park result and which I addressed in my earlier post, namely;

1. Are Conservative and Labour Remainers prepared to vote for a candidate from another party with a greater chance of success if that candidate is clearly for Remaining in the EU and says they will vote accordingly?

2. Are LibDem voters prepared to do the same?

3. Are Leave voters prepared to do likewise in order to ensure a pro-Leave candidate wins?


The Conservatives and UKIP field Leave candidates. The labour candidate said he had voted Remain but was now in favour of accepting 'the majority verdict'. The Liberal Democrat was pro-Remain. Leavers therefore had three parties they could vote for, and remainers one.


Election Result.

Conservatives 17,570 53.5 -2.7
UKIP 4,426 13.5 -2.2
Liberal Democrats 3,606 11.0 +5.3
Labour 3,363 10.2 -7.1
Lincolnshire Independents 2,892 8.8 +3.1
Independents 462 1.4 +1.4


The Conservatives successfully held the seat but due to a low turnout their actual number of votes halved.

UKIP moved from third place in 2015 to second in the By Election, but their share of the vote fell.  This is significant because with the turnout dropping from 70% in 2015 to 37% accepted wisdom would decree that the most motivated would vote in higher numbers and with membership of the EU being such a prominent issue UKIP voters should have been easily motivated. In straight number terms the vote was less than half of what it had been in 2015.

Labour likewise dropped both in terms of votes cast and percentage share.  Their woes continue.

In contrast, the LibDems, the only overtly pro-Remain party in the contest, saw not only their share of the vote rise but their vote in actual numbers rise, despite the reduced turnout. They moved from fourth in 2015 to third place.


Conclusions

1. The LibDem vote was increased by Remain voters witching their usual party allegiance.
2. This was in part suppressed by the perceived safeness of the seat.
3. UKIP are failing to capitalise on their success in the referendum.
4. There is now a noticeable re-alignment of politics along Remain/Leave lines.
5. This alignment is more significant in seats where a Remainer victory is a real possibility.
6. Leavers have not yet had the need to organise themselves around a single candidate to oppose either a sitting Remainer or to defend a Remain challenge in a pro-Leave area.
7. LibDem voters have not yet had either a need nor an opportunity to witch their allegiance to support a Remain candidate.

The next post will try to assess exactly where we are now in relation to Brexit post-referendum.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Richmond Park By Election

The Richmond Park By Election.

My interest in Richmond Park? I'm local, just across the border on the wrong side of the tracks (for participation in the by election), in Kingston & Surbiton and I've worked in Richmond, and lived in and politically campaigned in some of the Kingston parts of the Richmond Park seat. My 5 children were also born in the constituency at Kingston hospital. I know the politics of the area beyond the numbers.

Richmond Park wasn't the first Parliamentary By Election since the referendum, but it was the first one in which the seat had changed hands in recent years.


Background

The Parliamentary Constituency of Richmond Park was created by the boundary changes that were implemented before the 1997 General Election. It comprised the whole of the previously existing constituency of Richmond & Barnes, which was the part of Richmond Borough south of the Thames, and the northern part of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. Richmond is the only London Borough that crosses the Thames. The constituency of Kingston-upon-Thames was abolished with its southern parts moving to the new constituency of Kingston & Surbiton and it's northern parts forming part of Richmond Park. The boundary between the two constituencies is best seen if you take a suburban loop train out of Waterloo and if you are facing direction of travel the part of your journey from before New Malden Station, through Norbiton, and Kingston until you reach the river takes you alone the boundary with Kingston & Surbiton on your left and Richmond Park on your right.

In the 1997 General Election both Constituencies were won by the Liberal Democrats when they won a string of seats in SW London stretching from Twickenham to Carshalton. The Conservatives re-took Richmond Park in 2010, and subsequently Kingston & Surbiton in 2015 when the LibDem vote collapsed.


Heathrow Airport Expansion

There have been plans to extend Heathrow Airport by building a third runway for at least the last 40 years.  It is supposed to be necessary to meet alleged demand for air travel. I remain unconvinced. The political significance is that all politicians with constituencies, or those who aspire to represent constituencies, that would be adversely affected have consistently opposed the building of the third runaway. It is possibly the only issue that unites John McDonnell, whose constituency of Hayes & Harlington includes Heathrow, Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith and, at one time at least, Theresa May.

In 2015 Goldsmith had promised his constituents that he would continue to oppose the third runway and that if the government's recommendation for increase air capacity, expected in 2016,  was to expand Heathrow, that he would resign as a Conservative MP and seek re-election as an Independent.

As the date for publication of the government's recommendation approached talk of Goldsmith's promise increased, and he again confirmed his intention to stick to his word.


The EU Referendum

In the meantime of course we had had the disastrous EU referendum and it was widely suspected that the divisions it had created with its 52-48 result had caused a re-alignment of political identities. The question to be answered was this; Do people view themselves politically as aligned to a specific party or do people see themselves primarily as Remainers or Leavers?

Richmond Park would provide an excellent testing ground as over 70% of Richmond Borough had voted for Remain in the EU Referendum, and yet Zac Goldsmith had argued in favour of Leave. In brief a majority in Richmond Park voted Conservative in 2015 and a majority in Richmond Park voted Remain in 2016. It can therefore be concluded that there is a large number of Conservative Remainers in Richmond Park. Would they vote for the Conservative candidate, albeit one calling himself Independent, or would they vote for a pro-Remain candidate?


Build-Up

As it became clearer that a parliamentary By Election was a serious possibility pro-EU campaigners started debating tactics for delivering a pro-Remain victory. I myself made contact with Vote for Europe to see if they could enlist the services of a prominent pro-Remain spokesperson to stand as an Independent. I also contacted the local Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green parties to see if any or preferably all of them would stand aside in favour of such a candidate as they had done in 1997 for Martin Bell in Tatton.

The envisaged scenario at this point was that Goldsmith would stand as an Independent with the Conservatives fielding an official candidate, UKIP would field a candidate and the three of them would scrap over the Leave vote while a single Remain candidate would sweep up the Remain vote and win. This was not to be.

For Labour and The Greens one question had to be answered; Was the proposed 'Remain' candidate opposed to Heathrow Expansion? The policy of both parties locally and for the Greens Nationally as well, was opposition to Heathrow Expansion and they couldn't back a candidate who was not anti-expansion.

The local LibDems replied referring the matter up to someone else and I never heard back from them.

Once the decision was announced that expansion of Heathrow by building a third runway was the preferred option for increasing air capacity, Goldsmith consulted with his local party and promptly resigned, triggering a by election.

It was then things took a strange serious of turns.  Firstly, the Conservatives announced they would not be fielding a candidate.  This had not happened since the Bristol South by election of 1963 which had a unique set of circumstances. Secondly UKIP announced they supported Goldsmith and gave him their backing. He probably didn't want their support, but this had the effect of consolidating the Leave vote behind one candidate. Thirdly, the Liberal Democrats announced they already had a prospective candidate in place, Sarah Olney, who lives in the constituency.

The announcement of the Liberal Democrat candidate put paid to all talk of a Unity Remain candidate and made it inevitable that Labour would also fight the by election.

The Richmond Park Labour Party came under pressure both locally and from some national figures within Labour not to stand a candidate.  They, however, commenced their selection procedure attracting interest from a number of ambitious would-be MPs. In the end they selected Christian Wolmar, a well known rail transport expert and author as the Labour candidate. I was aware of Wolmar's policy background in relation to transport issues without knowing he was a member of the Labour Party. For a by election with the potential to be centred around transport policy Wolmar was a sensible choice.

A number of Independents and other candidates also stood.

The Greens had been approached by a number of organisations like Progress about being part of a Progressive Alliance and the candidate from 2015, Andree Frieze, decided not to stand. The Progressive Alliance idea now has time to take shape in advance of the 2018 London Borough Elections. Frieze was supported in her decision by her party locally and nationally. Caroline Lucas, Green Party Leader came to a public meeting in Richmond which I attended in which she applauded Frieze's decision. Lucas later went on to personally endorse Sarah Olney, the LibDem candidate, which Frieze herself and her party did not do.


Campaign

For all Heathrow expansion provided the catalyst for the by election, and despite Goldsmith best efforts to make it about his opposition to it, in the end it was not a significant factor in the result for the simple reason that none of the main candidates were in favour of it; all were opposed. The by election became about two things, Goldsmith's record as an MP, and Brexit.

As a local MP Goldsmith had built up a degree of support but earlier in the year he had fought a divisive, racially charged and unsuccessful London Mayoral campaign which had dissipated much of the goodwill constituents felt towards him personally. The Liberal Democrats however seized on the issue of Brexit and used their long standing pro-EU position to their benefit. Christian Wolmar, the Labour candidate, also stated that if elected he would vote against the triggering of Article 50, the legal mechanism for starting the EU Exit procedure which went beyond his party's position at the time.

Despite standing as an 'Independent' Goldsmith was supported in his campaign by many Conservative MPs including Teresa Villiers, Tania Mathias and controvertially Jacob Ress-Mogg who is an outspoken supporter of Heathrow expansion.

The LibDems threw their national resources behind Olney's campaign with activists coming in from all over the country and on at least one occasion from their sister party in Denmark.  This prompted Goldsmith to complain that he was up against a national campaign and for Christian Wolmar to joke that he was surprised there were any trees left in Richmond Park due to the numbers of leaflets the LibDems were distributing.


Result

In the end the LibDems overturned Goldsmith 23,000 majority from just the year before to win by just under 2,000 votes on a 53% turnout. The Labour vote collapsed with Wolmar losing his deposit.


Conclusions

OK, that history may be interesting to political geeks like me but, what can we learn from it?

Firstly, the collapse of the Labour Vote was largely tactical. It needs to be seen in the context of a constituency where before 2015 Labour voters has loaned their votes to the Liberal Democrats.  In 2015 they called in that loan and voted from the heart in opposition to the LibDems forming a coalition Government with the Conservatives, so the 2015 Labour vote was more a true reflection of their support in the constituency.

Secondly, we can conclude that the political landscape is unrecognisable from before the referendum.  People are no longer as politically tribal as they once were. A significant number of people who voted Conservative in 2015 voted LibDem in 2016 on the issue of the UK's membership of the EU. They are prepared to quite clearly vote tactically if they believe it will be effective; and,

Thirdly, the key issue of the day is the UK's membership of the EU.

Remainers may have lost the advisory referendum but they are organising and don't consider the fight to be over, they were just caught with a sucker punch in the first round. Conservative and Labour Remainers are prepared to vote for a candidate from another party with a greater chance of success if that candidate is clearly for Remaining in the EU and says they will vote accordingly. There has not yet been an opportunity to test whether this applies to LibDem voters in a constituency where another party, Labour or Green or even Conservative, would be in a better position to take a seat from a Leaver candidate or from UKIP.

Another thing that is untested is whether the reverse also applies, and whether Leave voters would also switch traditional party allegiances to support a Leave candidate. We may learn more about that from the Sleaford & North Hykeham By Election which shall be the subject of my next post.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Brexit - Part One

The first in what may be a series of posts on Brexit.

So, well then, the EU referendum,  Brexit, what is there left to say about that clusterfuck?

First a confession.  I paid little attention to either of the campaigns at the time. European is part of my identity and I was never going to vote anything but Remain, and overestimated a significant proportion of my countrypersons whom I assumed thought along the same lines, or who would at least understand the benefits of free trade and free movement, even if that only manifested in French lager and Spanish holidays.

It's worth remembering the reason the UK had a referendum on membership of the EU in the first place. A Conservative government with a small majority was elected in 2015 on a committment given by then leader David Cameron on the hoof to hold such a referendum before the end of 2017. The reason for this was, he hoped, to staunch the flow of MPs, activists and voters the Conservative Party was haemorrhaging to the anti-EU UKIP. His plan, as far as I can envisage it was to kill the membership of EU debate by holding a referendum that would confirm the UK's place in the EU and remove UKIP's main argument.  It wouldn't have worked of course, even if the vote had resulting in a Remain majority those who want the UK to leave the EU would have continued to make their false claims and stupid arguments based on a malignant cocktail of nationalism, xenophobia and false nostalgia.

Cameron gambled and lost. He subsequently resigned, not only as PM and leader of his party, but later as an MP. He knew that leaving the EU would most likely destroy the UK's economy and possibly break up the country itself. He just couldn't do it, so he resigned, presuming that his party would elect one of triumphant Leavers to lead it.

What happened next was more farce than tragedy as one Leaver after another started resigning from any position that would enabled them to influence the UK''s progress to Brexit. Nigel Farage, who would never have had any influence anyway, resigned as leader of UKIP. Boris Johnson, the political gadfly former mayor of London announced he wasn't going to stand for the leadership of his party after failing to gain the support of his one time colleague Michael Gove.

Eventually after a process of falling on swords that Shakespeare couldn't have written with a straight face Theresa May emerged as the new Leader of ther Conservative Party and PM. May, who had been Home Secretary under Cameron for 6 years, with a history of political gaffs, had argued on the Remain side of the EU debate. So if Cameron had thought to leave the referendum mess to a Leaver to clear up his plans went unfulfilled.

May then underwent a private metamorphosis and emerged as an arch Brexiteer and pronouncer of meaningless sound bites. Brexit means Brexit we were told, and it would be a success. No one knows what that sentence means as there have never been any published success criteria for Brexit.  Presumably these will be written after the event to show that whatever we get was what we wanted. A bit like when the manager of a team that has just lost 5-0 explains to the incredulous interviewer that his team is making progress as the previous time the fixture was played they lost 6-0.

May then, and I honestly think this was a clever move, brought 3 prominent Leavers into her new Cabinet, creating 2 new posts in the process. These were the aforementioned Johnson, David Davis & Liam Fox, or to give him his full internet title, the Disgraced Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox. To the astonishmennt of all sentient beings in the galaxy she made Johnson Foreign Secretary, one of the top three positions in government and one requiring extraordinary skills of tact and diplomacy, which Johnson's record as a journalist, MP, TV panel show regular, London Mayor and MP again had shown no signs of him possessing. In fact with his polemic writings he has in the past insulted most of our closest trading partners and a good deal of the UK as well. 'What was she thinking' was a common response.

Davis & Fox were given the newly created posts of Brexit Secretary and Minister for Overseas Trade respectively. The latter post has a certain Gilbert & Sullivan quality to it as the UK is prevented from negotiating international trade deals while we remain a member of the EU. Quite what Fox does on a daily basis is a matter of some debate, but this Cerberus was passed the role of negotiating the UK's exit from the EU. That was late July, and since then............ a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

UKIP then elected a new leader, Diane James, an MEP, who was never legally appointed and subsequently resigned the position after 18 days. This left Farage, who had disappeared off to promote his brand of right-wing populism in the US as once again, for the 4th time, as UKIP's leader. The leadership election was re-run, but not before one UKIP MEP was hospitalised in France following an 'altercation' with a fellow UKIP MEP. The victim Stephen Wolfe had been tipped too take over as leader but instead, followed the well worn resignation path. Eventually Paul Nuttall was elected leader of UKIP, and as I write this is still post.

That cannot be said of Richmond Park MP, Zac Goldsmith, whose resignation the subsequent by election it caused I'll address in the next post.

To be continued

Monday, 9 May 2016

Why Are Labour Doing badly in Scotland?

I know I haven't posted on this blog in a while and most of the posts I have made have been updates to previously existing pages but after years of abstinence I've started using my Twitter account again, and I'm finding it very difficult to convey a nuanced argument in 140 characters so what I'm planning to do is to write a series of articles on here that I can link to when trying to explain a point online.

One of the most common debating points I keep coming across and have yet to read a proper analysis of, is the question of Labour's poor electoral performance in Scotland.

To remind anyone reading this in the future the Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2016 have just taken place and Labour have come third behind the SNP and the Tories. This article attempts to explain why and to offer a friendly if outsiders suggestion as to how the party can advance.

Suggested reasons I've seen presented include Structural Decline and bad feeling left over from the New Labour years.  I hope to show both of these hypotheses are wrong and to do so I start at the beginning, and in this context the beginning is the UK General Election of 2010.

The UK General Election of 2010

The Labour Party in Scotland went into the 2010 General election with over 50 of Scotland's MPs. In fact the 2010 Election was notable in Scotland in that no seats held by any party changed hands. The electorate held to their allegiances and most MPs across the board were returned with increased majorities.

So what happened to cause the SNP landslide at the Scottish Parliamentary Election in 2011?

Although the political ground in Scotland was firm in 2010, in England it had shifted significantly.  The love-in with Tony Blair's New Labour was over, destroyed by the financial crash of 2008, which saw the first major financial crisis of the Labour Years. Leaving the ground open for the Tory Party under their as yet untested Leader, David Cameron, to sow the seeds of doubt in Labour's financial accuity.

The result of this, and Gordon Brown's unpopularity in England, led to the outcome of the 2010 General Election being a Conservative-led coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

For Scotland, this was the worst possible outcome.  Scotland had voted Labour in overwhelming numbers and received a Conservative-led government.  The national consciousness went into a kind of mass internalised, but slow, panic. The previous Conservative governments under Thatcher and Major had been openly hostile to Scotland, shutting its heavy industry, stealing the benefits of its oil reserves to fund the bloated South East of England and attacking its ability to deliver public services.

It could be said that the Scottish nation went into a 'circle the wagons' attitude.  The main unspoken question in Scotland became 'Who can protect Scotland from the Tories?'.  Labour were in disarray, suffering the shock of being out of government for the first time in 13 years, and going through an internal re-organisation; they selected Ed Milliband as leader, an able but easily maligned former policy adviser from London with a seat in Darlington.  The Liberal Democrats, often seen as the alternative voices in politics and well represented in rural and Highland Scotland had finally jumped off the fence they had been straddling for decades and had put the hated and feared Tories into power, thus toxifying their brand for years to come. The would go on to lose every mainland seat they held in Scotland.

This left the door open for the SNP, led by the extremely capable Alex Salmond to fill the void.

The SNP's landslide in 2011 was in effect a defensive move by Scotland in reaction to the 2010 Election result.  The SNP were seen by more people in Scotland as capable of defending their country from the Conservative-led government in Westminster than anyone else at that time.

Labour still had them majority of Scottish MPs but they were seen as impotent given their numerical disadvantage in Westminster.

2011-2015


So the SNP are in government in Holyrood from 2011 with a surprising overall majority which made it inevitable that they would hold a referendum on their main constitutional policy, and reason for existence, the Independence of Scotland. To not have done so would have been a betrayal to their long term supporters and would have been seen as political cowardice by their opponents.  It can be argued that the SNP were bumped into a referendum earlier than they had planned, but either way Salmond choose 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn at which a smaller Scottish force routed a larger and better equipped English army, and secured the Scots ran their own country for the next 400 years, as the date for the referendum.

This gave all the political parties plenty of time set out their positions, form into 'Yes' and 'No' groupings, and for the issue to be widely debated by the Scottish population.

Labour had a number of options open to them but choose, mistakenly I believe, to stick with its traditional position supporting the Union. They could have allowed each member to determine their own choices and 'potentially had spokespeople on both sides of the debate, as they do currently on the issue of membership of the EU, but they rejected that position.  This meant Labour spokespeople were sharing the 'No' platform with the hated Tories and the now distrusted Liberal Democrats.  This fitted the SNP's narrative of 'they're all the same'.

In the end the Independence referendum resulted in a 'No' vote by 55% to 45%, but crucially for Labour the areas which delivered a 'Yes' vote weren't the rural SNP heartlands, but Dundee and the urban central belt areas of Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dumbartonshire. Traditonal Labour voters had been convinced of the veracity of the SNP's flagship policy and had seen it defeated by their own party working with their traditional enemy, the Conservatives.  The political ground had shifted under their feet and where before they had stood on solid Labour Ground they found themselves in secure SNP territory.

After the referendum the SNP continued in power at Holyrood, although Alex Salmond relinquished the leadership of the SNP in favour of his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. The overall opinion of most people in Scotland is that the SNP, as a government, hadn't done as badly as many feared, given their lack of experience, and the referendum debate had galvanised and politised the population to an unprecedented degree. The gamble of putting what had once been a one-issue party of protest into power appeared to have paid of. So come the 2015 UK General Election most of the SNP voters from 2011, who had mostly been Labour voters as late as 2010, stuck with the party and the result was another SNP landslide, leaving Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories with only one seat each in Scotland. The Labour brand remained tarnished through its association with the Conservatives during the Independence Referendum.

Alex Salmond had as I said handed over the reins at Holyrood to Nicola Sturgeon, and stood successfully as a candidate in the 2015 General Election, returning to Westminster where he had been an MP prior to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. One interesting aspect of the 2015 General Election was the degree to which it was dominated by Sturgeon, even though she wasn't even a candidate. Her stock grew during this period as much because of the attention given to her by her opponents as by her actions themselves.  Voices in England were heard lamenting the lack of a party like the SNP south of the border.

In 2015, however the climate was slightly different however in that, the polls had shown a Labour victory unlikely and the the Conservatives had played on the possibility of the SNP doing well, thus talking up their vote, as a way to show Labour weak and possibly needing the SNP to form a government.  The irony of the leader of a coalition government using the potential of a coalition government as a weapon of fear was not lost on everyone, but it worked and the 'threat' of an SNP influenced government delivered the tory majority in England that Cameron sought. It also probably played a part in delivering the SNP landslide which the Tory party in England would not have been too unhappy about, as it meant a reduced Labour presence in Westminster.  The SNP had masses of MPs, all but three of Scotland's MPs were now from the party, but they were as impotent as their Labour forebears had been. The political polarisation of the UK into Tory England and not-Tory Scotland was complete.

The Liberal Democrats were all but wiped out in the 2015 Election as the electorate punished them for supporting the tories.  A lot of the Lib Dem vote had been tactical, but with their decision to jump off the fence in 2010 Labour supporters in Tory/Lib Dem marginals saw no advantage in voting tactically for a party in league with the enemy and so voted Labour.  This enabled a number of Tory victories caused, not by a rise in Conservative support, but a drop of Lib Dem support.  For the first time ever, the Liberal Democrats were replaced as Westminster's third party by the SNP. 


The Scottish Parliamentary Election of 2016

And so we come to recent events, the Scottish Parliamentary Election of 2016.

Prior to this election, from a Labour perspective, a couple of key changes had taken place. The Labour Leadership in Scotland, decimated as it had been by the previous SNP landslide was now in the hands of Kezia Dugdale, a new, younger untarnished leader, and notably female.  The Labour Leadership in Westminster had fallen to Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran left winger; a move which a number of prominent right wingers distanced themselves from, and regarded as the first step towards Armageddon, and which left wingers regarded as a return to true Labour values after the Blairite years of New Labour.  Common wisdom would have said that Corbyn's brand of socialism would appeal to the Red Clydeside heartlands but less to the more affluent areas in Edinburgh, the Glasgow suburbs, and rural Scotland.

The Scottish Parliamentary Election also saw a new Tory leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, also a younger break with the past for her party. So for the first time all three major parties in Scotland were led by women.  The most interesting factor this brought was that it made no difference whatsoever as people in Scotland appear to be less concerned with a politician's gender and sexuality (two of three being open about being in same sex relationships, and as it matters so little I'm not even going to say which two) than their plans on how to run the country.

So we have the situation in which an incumbent SNP government in seen to have performed reasonably well, a Tory government is in place in Westminster, Labour having failed to prevent this and Liberal Democrats still largely in exile due to their previous act of treachery in putting the 2010 - 2015 government into power, and people are asked to vote for a new Scottish Parliament.

Those who had voted SNP in 2010 and 2015 see that their votes mostly had the defensive effect that wanted. The SNP government in Scotland had protected the country from the worst of the Tory excesses south of the border. The SNP had also, by steering a distinctly Scottish left of centre approach, appealed to Labour minded voters who may be tired of their party's electoral failures.  The SNP voters who they had picked up from the Tories during the Tories' worst years of decline were in part won back by Ruth Davidson's optimistic but realistic approach. She never claimed to be campaigning for power but to be an effective opposition, an argument that appeals to many who value democracy, thus conceding victory to the SNP from the start. The 'alternative left' vote was being swept up by the Scottish Green Party, who had been on the 'Yes' side during the Independence referendum and thus were not tarnished by association with other parties. The Scottish Left, ow is form of Rise had less impact than their forebears in Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Parties had done.

The Greens went on to pick up seats in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election, and it is to the issue of party structure I want to consider next as this is significant in understanding the rise of the Scottish Green Party..

Party Structures


Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are all structurally Unionist parties, that is they are each one party covering, either all the United Kingdom or covering England, Scotland and Wales and having a sister party in Northern Ireland, The Conservatives with the Ulster Unionist, Labour with the SDLP, the Lib Dems with the Alliance Party.

The Green Party is actually three separate parties, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Green Party of Northern Ireland and the Scottish Green Party.  Each of these parties manage their own affairs, elect their own leaders and while they share a common philosophy, determine their own policies.  This is why the Scottish Green Party was able to adopt a pro-Independence position without reference to the anyone in England.  Although Labour in Scotland brand themselves as 'Scottish Labour' they are in fact a regional part of a national organisation, Labour members in Scotland are members of The Labour Party, not Scottish Labour.

During the period of Conservative government pre-1997 the influence of the Scots in the Labour Party, which reflected their electoral strength at a time when Labour in England were in a minority, led to some resentment in England.  Conversely the decline of Labour in Scotland now has Labour seen there as being dominated by the party in England. Both of these perceptions result from Labour being one party on both sides of the border.

The Future

Labour in Scotland has to make a break with its past if it is to have any hope of re-gaining its traditional dominance in Scottish politics.  In some parts of the country it is seen as lazy, corrupt and arrogant, expecting support without earning it. Some candidates were in the past seen as lacking ability but got elected because of the colour of the rosette they wore.  Whether this is a fair analysis or not doesn't matter, it is the way a significant number of Labour people were viewed.  The clear out of the old leadership and their replacement with Kezia Dugdale should be seen in time as a step in the right direction and anyone who holds her responsible for the 2016 result simply isn't looking at the long term picture.

Labour in Scotland will continue to be tarnished with the Unionist and 'just like the Tories' labels unless Jeremy Corbyn's leadership provides a sufficiently distinct change of image bringing traditional working class socialism back to forefront in place of some of the perceived Westminster Bubble issues.

Labour in Scotland has be seen to be as Scottish as the SNP and do to this I would suggest that it forms its own, separate Scottish Labour Party.  This should not be seen as a rebellion against the party in England but should be negotiated with the party in England, and agreement made that any and all future Scottish Labour MPs in Westminster will take the Labour whip in an arrangement similar to that Labour currently holds with the SDLP.

This would enable the new Scottish Labour Party to decide for itself whether to take a position on Independence which would be different from that of the English party possibly giving each member and spokesperson the ability to speak either 'Yes' or 'No' in the inevitable forthcoming second referendum debate.  There has always been a streak of Nationalism in some Labour people in Scotland as a result of small nation syndrome, but with the party holding a firm Unionist position it has always been suppressed.  If this tendency was allowed to have its voice heard those voters who left because they felt Labour wasn't Scottish enough, could return.

There is a pro-Independence majority in Holyrood but without an absolute majority the SNP are unlikely to seek a second referendum unless pushed to do so by the Scottish Greens, as this would be seen to be a rejection of the democratic will of the people.  The second referendum is more likely to come after 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Election assuming the SNP make it an election commitment and retain control in Holyrood.  This gives all parties the time to re-evaluate and re-frame their policy on the issue. Labour should learn from the mistake of siding with the Tories and the Lib Dems in the first referendum debate and not repeat it. They should not come out as 100% in favour of Independence as this would alienate the Unionist majority but allow their elected representatives at all levels to hold and express a personal opinion as they are doing currently on the EU referendum.




Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead - Download it now.

This is just a quick post to urge support for the campaign to make Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead Number one is the UK charts this week. 

Here is a link to the FaceBook Group organising the campaign - https://www.facebook.com/groups/2807687628/ 


 In other countries when past leaders die their passing is met with riots, public waling, or the building of silly statues. In the UK we put silly songs in the charts. It is a uniquely British style of protest, something the subject of this protest never understood about the people she kicked around and abused for 11 years. 



Monday, 7 November 2011

Pro Cuts Directors still Paying themselves Very Well

I said in a recent post that I would try to find out just how much the Procuts 35 take as salary, sometimes from themselves.

Here are the figures.

Will Adderley, CEO, Dunelm Group - gets paid £350,000 p.a.
Robert Bensoussan, Chairman, L.K. Bennett
Andy Bond, Chairman, Asda - now with Republic Fashion Stores
Ian Cheshire, Chief Executive, Kingfisher - gets paid £1,972,100 p.a.
Gerald Corbett, Chairman, SSL International, moneysupermarket.com, Britvic - £215,000 from MoneySupermarket.com (2008) others to be confirmed
Peter Cullum, Executive Chairman, Towergate - gets paid £167,140 p.a.
Tej Dhillon, Chairman and CEO, Dhillon Group - n/k
Philip Dilley, Chairman, Arup - n/k
Charles Dunstone, Chairman, Carphone Warehouse Group, TalkTalk Telecom Group got £240,000 in fees as chairman of Carphone and £360,000 as chairman of TalkTalk
Warren East, CEO, ARM Holdings gets paid £1,436,097 p.a.
Gordon Frazer, Managing Director, Microsoft UK - n/k
Sir Christopher Gent, Non-Executive Chairman, GlaxoSmithKline - n/k
Ben Gordon, Chief Executive, Mothercare - has announced his intention step down on November 17th, was on an annual salary of £600,000, but picked up £5.2million including share incentive payments in the year to March 2011
Anthony Habgood, Chairman, Whitbread, Chairman, Reed Elsevier gets paid £500,000 p.a.
Aidan Heavey, Chief Executive, Tullow Oil gets paid £1,670,909 p.a.
Neil Johnson, Chairman, UMECO gets paid £240,000 p.a.
Nick Leslau, Chairman, Prestbury Group - no salary figures but recently paid £156M for St Katherine's Dock in London
Ian Livingston, CEO, BT Group gets paid £2.36M p.a.
Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO, MITIE Group- gets paid £1,229,000 p.a. most of this coming from public sector contracts, i,e, YOUR taxes
Rick Medlock, CFO, Inmarsat; Non-Executive Director lovefilms.com, The Betting Group - gets paid £597,000
John Nelson, Chairman, Hammerson gets paid £597,000 p.a.
Stefano Pessina, Executive Chairman, Alliance Boots - pays himself £693,000 p.a.
Nick Prest, Chairman, AVEVA - pays himself £85,000 p.a (2009)
Nick Robertson, CEO, ASOS - pays himself £341,706 p.a.
Sir Stuart Rose, Chairman, Marks & Spencer - no longer at M&S
Tim Steiner, CEO, Ocado - pays himself £646,000 which includes a bonus of £220,000, not bad for running a company that can't turn a profit and whose shares at close of play today (7/11/11) were worth 87.1p down from £2.50 in February.
Andrew Sukawaty, Chairman and CEO, Inmarsat gets paid £1,478,000 p.a.
Michael Turner, Executive Chairman, Fuller, Smith and Turner gets paid £590,000 p.a.
Moni Varma, Chairman, Veetee - n/k
Paul Walker, Chief Executive, Sage - Now left Sage
Paul Walsh, Chief Executive, Diageo gets pAID £3,183,000 p.a.
Robert Walters, CEO, Robert Walters - n/k
Joseph Wan, Chief Executive, Harvey Nichols - n/k
Bob Wigley, Chairman, Expansys, Stonehaven Associates, Yell Group
Simon Wolfson, Chief Executive, Next - gets paid £1,757,000 p.a.

Lowest confirmed annual pay of the Procuts 35 is £167,140 p.a. making all the people named above in the top 1% of the country for large pay packets.

The rest of us, to borrow a slogan from the Occupy protests, are the 99% and these people are not representative of us nor act in out interests. Please boycott their businesses. Don't fund your own oppression.

The source for most of these figures is businessweek.com and are from various dates within 2011 unless stated, others are gleamed from news stories. As you can see it's not possible with ease to discover what all these people earn. If you know of any other sources where I can check or double-check these figures I'd be glad to hear about them.