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Greece is the word for the next few days

June 26th, 2015

It will be a case of this referendum dominating events for the eight days at least, and undoubtedly longer, it appears that Alexis Tsipras is trying to give their creditors a Grecian Burn, how will they respond?

The Guardian reported last week that

A recent opinion poll for the news website Newsit showed as many as 74% of Greeks back the euro – with fully 50% saying they would be prepared to accept “major concessions” by the country’s Syriza-led government if it would help break the deadlock with bailout lenders. “We have to stay in,” said Votskaris. “If we leave, things will only get far, far worse.”

I genuinely don’t know how this referendum, regardless of the result, will impact on the economy, or the politics in this country or our own EU referendum, it will all depend on the outcome of this Greek referendum, which is held just three days before George Osborne’s budget.

TSE




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Don Brind says Labour hopefuls know their party’s future isn’t in their hands

June 26th, 2015

It’s one of the toughest gigs in politics – going on after TV after a defeat to explain that, really,  your party had done quite well in the circumstances.

The man holding the Labour short straw on the BBC on Friday morning April 10th 1992 was a middle-rankingsShadow minister — one Tony Blair.  I came across the BBC archive on YouTube few days ago, which is the video above, I didn’t see it at the time having worked through the night reporting John Major’s shock victory.

It makes interesting viewing in the light of the Labour leadership election where Blair’s complex legacy is one of the key strands in the debate.

Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall has been cast as the heir to Blair and certainly enjoys the support of most identifiable Blairites in politics and the media. To have any chance of victory, though, she needs to reach beyond that comfort zone – and she has made some interesting additions to her team that show she understands that.

Blair is the model of a successful Labour leader having won three general elections. On the other side Labour support dipped by 4 million votes between 1997 and 2005. “They were his to lose,” is how one uber-Blairite responded to having that uncomfortable fact.

The 1992 post-match interview suggests that this is not a claim Blair himself would make. The night before Major had delivered a Tory victory with a record 14 million votes but Blair the shadow employment secretary was there to claim that Labour had made serious progress. He explained that Labour had had a mountain to claim after the Tory landslide in 1987. But under Neil Kinnock’s leadership they had slashed a Tory majority of 100 to 20.

He rightly praised Kinnock who had done much of the heavy lifting in reforming Labour policy and organisation – changes that were to reach fruition under Blair’s leadership in 1997.

As Labour seeks the path back to winning ways the Blair interview is a reminder that the road to power in 1997 was a long one and the creation of an electable party was not a one-man feat. It took place under four leaders – Kinnock, John Smith, Margaret Beckett and Blair himself and involved others who were to become the big beasts of the Labour governments including Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, David Blunket, Harriet Harman and John Reid

The task facing the wannabe Labour leaders is in many ways more complex than that facing Kinnock, Blair et al. Blair’scurrent  advice that the party needs to get back on to the centre ground is unhelpfully simplistic given that the party needs to compete with the SNP in Scotland and the Tories and Ukip in England on quite different political terrain.

Whatever the new leader does to make Labour more electable could count for little unless they get some – like the misfortune that struck the Tories on 16th September 1992 – an event seared into the memory of David Cameron.

He’s the tall young man in the back ground of the fuzzy archive pictures as the Chancellor Norman Lamont marches towards the camera to announce the Britain is leaving the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. For Lamont’s 25-year-old special adviser it was an early taste of the damage the issue of Europe is capable on the Tory party. Black Wednesday led to hikes in interest rates and taxes that prompted the kind of collapse in Government support which Oppositions usually need to win office.

Europe and the economy are likely to provide plenty of opportunities for voters to turn against the Tories – although the memories of his bit part in Black Wednesday is likely to make Cameron especially cautious.

But on it’s own a Cameron calamity would not  be enough to give the next Labour leader a realistic prospect of power in 2020. They also need a setback for Labour’s other tormentor in May Nicola Sturgeon. With support for the SNP apparently growing rather than slipping that looks like the stuff of dreams.

But for those in Labour ranks who hope and believe that the SNP’s radical pretensions can  undermined there’s encouragement from recent polling in Canada which shows that separatist tide can be reversed. A recent Federal poll puts Labour’s sister party the New Democratic Party level pegging with both the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Tory government could be ousted by an NDP-Liberal coalition when the election takes place in October.

The NDP became the official opposition in 2011, thanks in part to a collapse of the Bloc Québécois. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is highly regarded and his party recently took power in Alberta after 40 years of trying.

The separatist Bloc Québécois are polling in single figures. In 1993, as Brad MacKay of Edinburgh University recalls they achieved something similar to the SNP sweep in May. “The Bloc Québécois won more than half the vote in Quebec, and with 54 of Quebec’s 75 seats, sweeping almost all the French-speaking ridings (constituencies) in the province. They held a similar tally in 2004.  

In 2011 as the Tories took power and the NDP became the official opposition the BQ was “was knocked back to four seats, appearing to be a largely spent force in Québec politics.”

We can be pretty sure that won’t happen to the SNP any time soon but without a significant recovery in Scotland Labour’s hopes of power at Westminster look dim

Don Brind



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Guest Slot: Social media and shy rightwingers

June 26th, 2015

Dan Hannan Tweet

Tissue Price on the polling errors across Europe

The inquest into the polling disaster at the UK General Election continues. Matt Singh of NumberCruncherPolitics provided an excellent overview of the pollsters’ initial thoughts last week, ahead of the first meeting of the official BPC/MRS inquiry.

Some pollsters think faulty sampling was the principal cause of error, some blame turnout modelling, and one thinks a genuine late swing was the biggest single factor.

Dan Hodges channels Emile Zola in accusing the pollsters of herding, and Danny Finkelstein (£) thinks we’ll never know the true answer.

However Matt’s bet – and mine – is that Peter Kellner is right and that 2015 was a classic case of shy Tory syndrome. Peter chiefly attributes this to the Tories’ image, but I wonder whether his earlier explanation of “social satisficing” – not wanting to admit your views to a stranger for fear of being thought less of – might be nearer the mark, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of UK polls were online.

The reason for thinking this is that similar polling errors have occurred in other national elections this year. In Israel, Likud were predicted to gain 22 seats (of 120) and ended up with 30, and last week in Denmark the blue block were expected to win by 1 or 2% and actually won by 5% – with the populist DPP notably outperforming their eve-of-election polling by 3% (21% to 18%).

On more limited polling, the same pattern can be seen in Finland – with the Centre Party overestimated by about 3% at the expense of the populist True Finns and centre-right National Coalition Party; in Estonia, where the winning centre-right Reform Party were underestimated; in the Croatian presidential election, where the polls didn’t give the narrow winner Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović much of a chance (though interestingly the exit polls nailed it); and in Poland’s presidential election, where Andrzej Duda’s first round victory came as a total shock.

You could even make a case that Ireland’s marriage referendum fits the pattern, with the 62-38 victory for Yes contrasting with opinion polling expecting a 70-30 result.

The social media explanation

Is there a ready (and no doubt oversimplistic) explanation for why people all over Europe, in a variety of elections, might have been conditioned into suppressing their true intentions – even online? I think that perhaps social media – Twitter, and more importantly Facebook – has the answer.

Twitter has long been described as an echo chamber, and undoubtedly has a leftwing bias in terms of the sheer number of tweets. Dan Hannan’s tongue-in-cheek Venn diagram (at the head of this article) is to the point; the FT provided a more aesthetically pleasing proof of the same effect with some very nice network graphs.

However on Twitter you can choose who you follow and what you are exposed to. On Facebook you have to put up with your friends’ opinions. Now I am a fully paid-up PB Tory, with a social circle to match, but even I have some leftwing friends. And they didn’t shy away from signalling their virtue!

That’s anecdotal, but here is some data from the British Election Study posted by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University which confirms that left-wingers were much more likely to post content online during the election campaign:

Bes1

Bes 2

NB the wider reach of Facebook – it’s by far the more important social network for communicating with the electorate at large. Ofcom estimate that there are about 35m Facebook users in the UK and only 12m Twitter users.

My supposition is that it’s easier – as in, less risk of argument or confrontation – to post left-wing opinion online. Your intentions are assumed to be good and your motives pure, whereas right-wing opinion may often carry a whiff of self-interest in financial matters and might be supposed to be xenophobic or worse in other areas.

So, there’s my overarching theory to explain the multiple failures of polling across Europe this year: an online culture in which leftwing messages get disproportionately liked or retweeted into your timeline might have helped to bring about the emergence of shy Tories. What do you think?

Tissue Price



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Local By-Election Preview : June 25th 2015

June 25th, 2015

Market and West Deeping on South Kesteven (Deferred Election: One Conservative Defence and Two Independent Defences from 2011)
Result of council at last full election (2011): Conservatives 39, Independents 12, Labour 6, Liberal Democrats 1 (Conservative majority of 20)
Result of ward at last full election (2011) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives: 959, 766 (40%)
Independents: 847, 844, 533 (35%)
Green Party: 622, 330, 302 (26%)
Candidates duly nominated:
Conservative: Nick Neilson
Liberal Democrats: Adam Brookes
Independents: Ashley Baxter, Bob Broughton, David Shelton
United Kingdom Independence Party: William Learoyd, Robert O’Farrell, Roger Woodbridge

South Kesteven has always had a Conservative history but like the rest of rural Lincolnshire the Independents have always been a strong force. In 2003, there were twelve of them, in 2007 they increased to fifteen before falling back to twelve again in 2011.

However, in the local elections in the other parts of the county the Indepenents had a new opposition in the form of UKIP with a total of 33 district councillors being elected compared to just 18 Independents. There is already a UKIP councillor on South Kesteven so could UKIP take those two Independent seats or as we saw last week have UKIP peaked already?

Romsey on Cambridgeshire (Liberal Democrat defence)
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 32, Liberal Democrats 14, United Kingdom Independence Party 12, Labour 7, Independents 4 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Liberal Democrat 1,118 (48%), Labour 741 (32%), Green Party 138 (6%), Cambridge Socialists 118 (5%), United Kingdom Independence Party 118 (5%), Conservatives 103 (4%)
Candidates duly nominated: Debbie Aitchison (Green), Richard Jeffs (UKIP), Nichola Martin (Lib Dem), Zoe Moghadas (Lab), Raja Rahatul (Con)

Cambridgeshire can be a rather confusing county. Not only does it have two wards that sound the same (RAMSEY and ROMSEY) but because it’s the districts that deal with the elections not the county, you need to know what part of the county is up for election before making an assessment. For instance RAMSEY is in Huntingdonshire (Con / UKIP battleground) where as ROMSEY is in Cambridge (Lab / Lib Dem battleground) and so as a result you might think the Liberal Democrats are looking at this by-election and thinking “Oh dear, here we go again!”.

Yes, Labour did indeed gain Cambridge at the general election but only on an 8% swing from Lib Dem to Lab (2% lower than the national swing) but the Liberal Democrat vote only fell from 39% to 35% (thanks in part to the Conservative vote collapsing from 26% to 16%) in other words clear tactical voting by Conservatives to keep the Liberal Democrat in. Now, I realise that in Romsey with only 4% of the vote that probably won’t happen but could another party come to the Lib Dems aid or indeed could Labour voters think that this election is not worth coming out to vote for?

Harry Hayfield



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Guest slot: The boundaries of reason

June 25th, 2015

Antifrank looks at The boundaries of reason: the possible shape of the 2020 election

I previously looked back at the impact of demographic changes on party politics from 1992 to 2015.  That’s all well and good, but what changes can we expect for 2020?  To determine that we first need to consider what the new boundaries are likely to look like.

It might be thought that the future musings of the Boundary Commissions are imponderable, but we have quite a lot of clues to go on.  We should use them.

The terms of any boundary review are closely delimited in legislation.  The following will occur unless the law is changed or the proposed boundary changes are defeated in Parliament:

1) The election will be fought on 600 seats.

2) There will be two Isle of Wight constituencies, a constituency for Orkney & Shetlands and a constituency for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

3) The 600 seats will be allocated between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to a strict formula based on the number of registered voters as at the review date in each.

4) Except for the exceptions already noted, the seats will have a population of 95% to 105% of the average constituency size (there are size requirements that are relevant only in Scotland and Northern Ireland has special rules).

These are pretty prescriptive rules. There are already rumblings among Conservative MPs that the seat count should be kept at 650.  As we shall see, this may be in the interests of individual Conservative MPs but it is unlikely to be in the interests of the Conservative party as a whole.

The next thing to realise is that the Boundary Commissions have already started looking at this once (until their work was brought to a juddering halt by the Lib Dems ganging up on their coalition partners: as we shall see, this was absolutely correct from a narrow party interest).  So we already can see the general direction of travel.

For the moment I’m going to work on the basis of a 650 seat Parliament to explore what difference the boundary review might make.  While this is not what the law currently requires, it makes it easier to see what difference the impact of movements in registered voters might have.

Allocation of seats around the component parts of the UK

So, what should we expect?  The first thing to do is to determine the number of registered voters in each part of the UK.  This will be set at the end of this year, so we don’t have the precise figures, but the numbers from the general election should provide a fairly decent guide.  We have the electoral commission’s preliminary results:

This gives a national total of registered voters of 46,425,476.

I’ve separated these out into the component parts of the UK:

From these we can derive the following totals of registered voters:

Northern Ireland:1,236,683, Wales: 2,282,297, Scotland: 4,094,784, England: 38,811,712

When the seat allocation is eventually determined, it is done by a broadly proportionate approach.  Since we don’t have the relevant registered voter numbers yet, it is pointless doing anything more than a pro rata approach.  If the seat allocation stays at 650, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 17 seats, Wales to get roughly 32 seats, Scotland to get roughly 57 seats and England to get roughly 543 seats (with one seat up for grabs).  If the seat reduction to 600 seats takes effect, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 16 seats, Wales to get roughly 30 seats, Scotland to get 52 or 53 seats and England to get 501 or 502 seats.  This is almost exactly what the allocation would have been if the boundary review had gone ahead last time.  So much for all the fuss about the voter registration changes.

Either way, English MPs will become still more dominant in Parliament.  This can only be good news for the Conservatives, whose who dominate much of England and rely on it for almost all of their seats.

Allocation of seats within England

Just as important as how the seats are distributed in the UK is how the seats will be distributed in England.  The Boundary Commission for England is not legally obliged to follow the same approach when allocating seats between English regions, but in practice it intended to do so in the last Parliament and I expect it to do so again this time.

The English regions had registered voter totals at the general election as follows:

Eastern: 4,364,656, East Midlands: 3,350,769, London: 5,401,616, North East: 1,941,841, North West: 5,240,724, South East: 6,419,548, South West:4,076,494, West Midlands: 4,140,587, Yorkshire & the Humber: 3,875,477

This would result in the following seat allocations, based on England having 543 seats in a 650 seat Parliament (I have assumed a 650 seat Parliament for ease of comparability):

AF Table

*Plus two Isle of Wight constituencies

Again, this seems to benefit the Tories.  More seats are being added in their strongest areas while the seat count in the North West and the North East, two of their weaker areas, continues to decline.

Putting numbers on these changes

So, what would these movements mean in real seat numbers?  Unfortunately, we cannot simply apply a formula because much depends on how the boundaries are actually set.  Thinking about the detail of boundary commission reviews will need to be the subject for another post, but some general principles can be laid down now.

1) Boundary reviews are bad for incumbents.  The more extensive the boundary alterations, the less of an advantage incumbency gives.

2) Within an area, a seat reduction will increase the advantage of the party with the most support.  To give an extreme example, if Wales were reduced to one constituency, Labour would expect to take 100% of seats in the area.  Considered on a wider scale, it would obviously be to Labour’s detriment to have only one seat within Wales, but within Wales itself it would accentuate its political dominance.

3) With a seat reduction in an area, regional strength of trailing parties will outweigh general strength in the area.  For example, if Wales were reduced to four constituencies, Labour might reasonably hope to take all four constituencies.  But it would probably be most worried about losing a seat to Plaid Cymru because of its regional strength in north west Wales.  The fact that the Conservatives poll twice Plaid Cymru’s vote share across Wales as a whole would not affect this calculation.

4) An increase of seats in an area will naturally tend to produce more seats for the dominant party in the area, but the increased granularity may help another party gain an odd seat where a pocket of support has previously been swamped by the dominant party’s support in previously-attached areas (this is the inverse of the last two points).  For example, Peterborough is a Conservative-held marginal seat comprising a city with outlying areas attached.  Making the reasonable assumption that the city is more Labour-leaning than the outlying areas, I infer that if the seat count in the area were increased and the boundaries are confined more tightly around the town, Labour might hope to pick up a new seat in an area of Conservative dominance.  Incidentally, this will tend to work better for Labour than for the Conservatives, given the way in which Labour support tends to cluster in towns.

With these principles in mind, and without going through the detail of my thought process (which is more art than science in any case), my guess is that if the votes cast in May were cast on the boundaries of a new 650 seat Parliament that I have outlined above, the seat count would be something like:

Conservative: 335, Labour: 229, SNP: 55, Lib Dem: 8, Plaid Cymru: 3, UKIP: 1, Green: 1, Speaker: 1, Northern Irish parties: 17

So I imagine a hypothetical increase in the Conservative majority by ten or so, but it wouldn’t fundamentally alter the dynamics of the next election.  I feel that I have made midpoint assumptions in coming to these numbers.

The impact of switching to a 600 seat Parliament

But as the law stands, the boundary review will be conducted on the basis that we will get a 600 seat Parliament, and that will intensify some of the effects that I have just noted.  The new 600 seat Parliament would be comprised roughly as follows:

Scotland: 52, Wales: 30, Northern Ireland: 16, England: 502, – Eastern 56 – East Midlands 43 – London 70 – North East 25 – North West 68 – South East 83 (including two Isle of Wight constituencies) – South West 53 – West Midlands 54 – Yorkshire & The Humber 50

The seat reorganisation would be relatively minor in the Eastern, South East and South West regions, given the minor adjustments in seat counts, and these are as it happens all overwhelmingly Conservative areas.  They would, however, be very extensive in Wales, the North West and the North East: all Labour areas (Scotland also would be seriously affected).  Of the Conservative-leaning areas, only the West Midlands would see heavy reorganisation.

The consequence might well be that the bulk of Conservative incumbents could see their incumbency damaged in only minor ways, while Labour incumbents would be much more likely to see their incumbency seriously affected.

It gets worse for Labour.  Many of the constituencies with the lowest number of registered voters are in contiguous Labour-held areas.  On a shrinking seat count determined by numbers of registered voters, that is the worst permutation for a party, because there is much less scope to recoup lost seats in the area by taking seats of a rival party.  Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Liverpool are all stuffed full of constituencies with very low numbers of registered voters, all with large Labour majorities.  If the seat count in those areas is reduced, that will probably come straight off the top of the Labour seat total.

Meanwhile, the smaller parties all get hit still harder because of the consequences of reducing the seat count noted above.

My artist’s impression of how the results of the last election might have translated onto reasonably normal boundaries on the new basis is something like the following:

Conservatives: 316 Labour: 209 SNP: 50 Lib Dems: 5 Plaid Cymru: 2 UKIP: 1 (maybe) Greens: 0 Speaker: 1 Northern Ireland: 16

By this stage, the Conservative majority, now hypothetically 32, is starting to look very solid given the smaller size of the House.  Again, I don’t feel that I have particularly stepped out in one direction or another.

So if you want to see why the Opposition (and the Lib Dems in particular) might seek to block the boundary review, this is why.  Their task is hard enough, without the Conservatives being given a still greater head start.

Antifrank



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This morning’s must read

June 25th, 2015

The Guardian have a fascinating and detailed piece on the Lib Dem time in government, it is clear how much reneging on their pre-election tuition fees pledge damaged the Lib Dems and the events of May 2014 and the failed Oakeshott attempt to remove Clegg, Vince Cable’s reputation isn’t enhanced by this story.

Nick Clegg discussed resigning as Liberal Democrat leader in the wake of the party’s humiliating reverses in the European and local elections in May 2014, an investigation by the Guardian has revealed.

In a sign of the immense toll taken by four years in coalition, the former deputy prime minister experienced what his mentor and former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown described as the “darkest of the dark nights of the soul”. Clegg consulted several senior colleagues about whether he had become a barrier to the party’s message being heard and whether he should go.

Clegg made numerous phone calls to discuss his position a year before the general election in which his party was reduced from 56 seats to eight. He told one colleague: “If I believe – and I am very close to thinking it – I am the problem and not the solution, I have to stand to one side.”

One senior Lib Dem who spoke to Clegg at the time said: “I told him, ‘You don’t have that luxury – this is your burden now, you have to carry it through to the election. Whether you believe that or not, it’s tough-titty. You can’t now put this down until the election. You can do it after the election if you want, but you can’t do it now.’”

Clegg was talked out of quitting by Ashdown, as well as by his most likely successor, Tim Farron, and most of his closest advisers. They told him to stay in post and fight to defend the cause of liberalism at the general election.

Regarding the impact of the (inaccurate) national polling

It was clear that the Tories had struck gold with their warnings about a possible tie-up between Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP. Voters’ fears were exacerbated by the false impression in opinion polls that the election was a neck-and-neck race between Labour and the Tories. “Our vote was being seriously eroded by the Labour/Salmond thing,” Ashdown recalled. “There was a sort of hidden army of people who were so worried about Labour that they literally came out to vote for the first time.”

I suspect had the Lib Dems stuck with their pre-election tuition fees pledge and Clegg had resigned in May 2014, the outcome of the General Election (and future General Elections) might have been very different for the Lib Dems, that’s something that’s going to spark much discussion among we political observers for years to come. Instead on May the 7th the Lib Dems ended up playing the role of the Anastasia Steele to the electorate’s Christian Grey.

The Guardian article is available here

TSE



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Another reason to justify Zac’s status as favourite

June 24th, 2015

London calling for a third time for the architect of the Tory general election victory?

At the general election in London, relatively speaking, Labour did better, the Tories did worse than the rest of the country, which might indicate a slight resistance to Crosby’s methods. However given his past success in London with the current mayor, this should mitigate any worries.

With this news today, Zac Goldsmith now has another factor to justify his current status as favourite in the clash to be the next Mayor of London.

TSE



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Two new betting markets

June 24th, 2015

WithouSNP

Following on from Tissue Price’s piece yesterday, Ladbrokes have put a market on most seats without the SNP.

As he said yesterday,  If, when the market goes up, you see a price bigger than this on any of these I’d tentatively suggest that it might be value. Labour 4/7 Green 7/2 Conservatives 6/1

Meanwhile Paddy Power have a market on who will get the second highest number of first preferences in the Labour leadership election. The head says Yvette Cooper, the heart says Jeremy Corbyn, based mostly on the assertion of some close to his campaign who “believe he could win between 10 and 20 per cent of the votes” but they would say that wouldn’t they?

Paddy 2nd 1st prefs

TSE

UPDATE – Following Henry G Manson’s recent piece on the Labour  London mayoral contest, Len Duval has made a response, which has been included on the original piece.

Response from Mr Duval

If you read the Evening Standard article it is clear I didn’t give any impression that association with mosques or unions is bad thing as you imply. Labour candidates should be reaching out to all Londoners.

As the article says I was asked a question by the journalist and said only that everyone should stick to rules and that it would be damaging if candidates didn’t enter into the selection in spirit it was set up – to encourage as many individual Londoners as possible, from all backgrounds, to participate and have their say.

It seems you are looking for a row where there is none and that your real problem is that I am backing Tessa.