Thursday, 27 May 2010

More on the (British) Labour leadership issue

John Rentoul in the Independent has written an interesting column considering how Labour should respond to a fairly novel and menacing threat - a progressive coalition of the Conservative and Liberal democrat parties that has, so far, confounded Labour's hopes by pursuing the sort of progressive good ideas that Labour neglected to investigate while it was in office. Of course, there is plenty of time for the both parties to revert to type and for the coalition to crack ... but that's a pretty uninspiring route for Labour to follow. Unfortunately, as Rentoul points out, it seems to be the one the party is opting for:
At the weekend I attended a Labour Party inquest. It was organised by the modernisers' faction, Progress. There were a lot of young people there, and some of them were most excited by the novelty of being in opposition. It wears off, you know. As someone who spent most of his formative political years attending leftish inquests into Labour defeats, I have to say that they are all the same and that they are mostly beside the point. A lot of people become animated about electoral reform or impatient to take the fight to the Tories (and in the present case, the addition of the Liberal Democrats to the government seems to have made no difference); while in between sessions all the talk is of nominations and shadow cabinet elections.

Furious denunciations were made of the coalition and all its works. The 55 per cent threshold for dissolving a fixed-term parliament was attacked as "gerrymandering". This overlooked the fact that, had Labour won the election, or if it had succeeded in stitching together a deal with the Liberal Democrats, it would have introduced fixed-term parliaments itself. In order to mean anything, a law setting a fixed term for parliament must have some mechanism to make it difficult for a party or parties with a bare majority to pre-empt the fixed date and seek a new election. Oh well. Similarly, the coalition is attacked for wanting to equalise the sizes of constituencies. Yes, that might help the Tories – much less than the Tories imagine, incidentally – but how can the opposition argue against the principle of reducing a bias in its favour?

Similar denunciations were made of colleagues seeking common ground with the enemy. Candidates for the leadership were condemned for blaming Labour's defeat on immigration and welfare dependency. Karen Buck MP, who defeated Joanne Cash to hold her seat and who is usually on the sensible wing of the party, said she did not want Labour to respond to defeat for the first time by "lurching to the right". But if the party is on the left of the centre, and most of the voters it needs to win are in the centre, lurching to the right might be a sensible response to defeat. (1)
Now, there is some sense in what Rentoul says, but I can't help feeling that he is politicking on the behalf of the Blairite candidates for the leadership. He's as guilty of the tribalism as the left-leaning members he castigates. Of course, he doesn't admit his tribalism is tribalism - it is presented as good, plain common sense.

I remember an anecdote comparing Bill Clinton to FDR. FDR, so the yarn went, would go out, meet people and convince them that his ideas were right. Clinton, on the other hand, would go out, meet people, and become convinced their ideas were right ... And how much more so Blair and New Labour. So - as you may have gathered, I disagree with his suggestion that Labour needs to continue moving right. For every vote it picks up there, it will lose one on the left. Far more sensible would be to come up with a vigorous set of centre-left ideas, go out and convince people they are good ideas that are worth voting for.

I also suspect that the electorate are more left than their voting suggests. In 1997, faced with a tired, corrupt administration tottering towards its quietus, they voted massively in favour of the bright, untried, centre-left alternative. In 2010, faced with a tired, corrupt administration tottering towards its quietus, they voted much less massively in favour of the bright, untried, centre-right alternative. Probably the deciding factor wasn't economic doctrine, but simply revulsion at the government's berserk authoritarianism - the seeming demented desire to inflict things upon people in the face of their opposition - that's the convincing people things are a good idea bit.

Finally, to make a troika of truculent tiffs, I also think Labour has to face up to Iraq. Yes, I know it was years ago and it is something Miliband the elder, Burnham and the Blairites would rather not talk about, but it is something that still rankles with a lot of party members and supporters, especially those of us who were proven right by events. A bit of mea culpa, humility and an explanation would be appreciated by those who were so blind to the evidence against war in 2003, rather than high-handed - that authoritarian streak showing through again - attempts to pretend it isn't worth talking about.

After all, if they can't account for such a colossal error of judgement over the most important foreign policy decision in decades, then how on Earth can they be trusted to lead the party?
1 - "A return to tribalism won't help Labour," by John Rentoul. Published in the Independent, 27th of May, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-rentoul/john-rentoul-a-return-to-tribalism-wont-help-labour-1983718.html)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Something nice to listen to

The divine Peggy Seeger, singing "I'm going to be an engineer," live in 2008. I have this (somewhere) on vinyl, and that version is older than I am. While Peggy probably won't appreciate having that brought to her attention, she sounds just as good now as she did then:

Monday, 24 May 2010

Israel offerred to sell apartheid South Africa nuclear weapons

In 1978, Graham Greene published a book called The Human Factor, which - if my memory serves me correctly - included a sub-plot about the sale of nuclear arms to apartheid South Africa. I think the idea originated from unsubstantiated rumours about efforts by Israel to conduct such a transaction.

Well, now they are are substantiated:
The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of "ambiguity" in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky's request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted. (1)
Now what is it they say about truth and fiction?

Beyond the hypocrisy of preaching about the dangers of Iran passing on nuclear arms and technology is the jaw dropping idea that Israel supplying the most blatantly racist and fascistic government since the fall of the Nazis with nuclear arms. I can't help but read this as showing that the Israeli government of the day - which means luminaries like Peres who are still in office - tacitly agreed with the sick ideas of the racist apartheid regime.

Any Israeli would surely agree that regime that offered support to the Nazis in World War Two and tried to supply them with secret weapons would have faced vilification and ostracism, especially if they continued to keep the people who brokered the deals in power. I can't see why a similar sanction shouldn't be applied to Israel, as long as it continues to honour the scum who masterminded this disgustingly cynical ploy.

A regime that defies the UN, attacks civilian populations within its borders, is suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction, and is willing to sell them to evil bastards. Bit of deja vu?
1 - "Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons," by Chris Mcgreal. Published in The Guardian, 23rd of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/23/israel-south-africa-nuclear-weapons)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Don't mention the war

To borrow from the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto, there is a spectre haunting those who seek to lead the British Labour party. Or - I prefer the imagery of Helen MacFarlane's original English translation - what is bothering them is not an austere spectre, but a "frightful hobgoblin." Spectre or hobgoblin, it likes to sneak up behind the various contenders and whisper, in the style of World War One recruitment posters, "What did you do in the war, daddy?"

The uncouth hobgoblin refers, of course, to the invasion of Iraq, which has been raised among the candidates for the Labour party leadership. This has resulted in various degrees of discomfort, squirming and self-righteousness.

Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have made an issue of the war. Neither was an MP at the time, so both were in the pleasant position of not having been forced to account for their support of it. Ed Balls - with uncharacteristic frankness - admits that he would have voted for it:
“I was in the room when a decision was taken that we would say it was that dastardly Frenchman, Jacques Chirac, who had scuppered it. It wasn’t really true, you know. I said to Gordon: 'I know why you’re doing this, but you’ll regret it’. France is a very important relationship for us.”

Although Mr Balls concedes that, had he been an MP at the time, he would have voted for the war on the basis of the facts provided, he now concedes that not only was the information wrong but the war unjustified.

“It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.” (1)
I think this is a pretty obvious attempt to pre-empt questions about Iraq. Balls is too closely associated with Gordon Brown to make any claim that he was always against it to hold up - the best he can manage is to admit that it was a mistake, But it's basically designed to make the whole nasty issue go away.

The Edward strain of Miliband has said pretty much the same, in a Guardian interview:
Ed Miliband was living in the US and was not yet an MP at the time. "I was pretty clear at the time that I thought there needs to be more due process here," he said.

"As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam's threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time. The basis for going to war was the threat that he posed.

"The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it." (2)
Perhaps I am being to subtle here, but I detect a difference in emphasis between Milband and Balls. Miliband wants to "Draw a line" under the issue, which means confronting it. My sense is that Balls wants to escape further probing on this unpleasant topic.

Like Balls, Ed Miliband also has the luxury of not having been an MP at the time. So perhaps Balls is eyeing up his rival and trying to anticipate what could still be a major dividing line between the 'mainstream' candidates - Ed Miliband, who didn't, David Miliband and Andy Burnham who did, and Ed balls who didn't, but is so closely associated with those that did that it makes little odds. Balls, obviously, wants to be on the same side of the dividing line as Ed Miliband, but his close association with Brown means can't get both feet over. He's left in this rather awkward position of saying it was a mistake and that he would have made it. I suppose he gets points for candour.

Everyone knows Iraq was a tremendous fuck up and a really bad idea. Acknowledging that is meant to draw a line under it for Balls and Ed Miliband and put some pressure on their rivals to do the same. It might not be very effective, as there are two leadership candidates who voted against the war - Dianne Abbott and John McDonell. Though I suppose as long as they appear to be outsiders, presenting yourself as they least tainted of the old crew might have serve purpose.

But that's assuming it remains a fight between the members of the old cabinet, and Abbott and McDonnell remain outsiders - which may not be the case. I remember a time when a certain David Cameron was a rank outsider, and Ken Clarke was expected to be conservative leader. Ditto a certain Barack Obama, and a horny chap called Clinton from Arkansas.

Meanwhile, David Miliband thinks that the whole Iraq invasion, false intelligence and violation of the UN's authority thing isn't really worth talking about:
But David Miliband, who, unlike his two rivals, was an MP in 2003 and voted for the invasion, said much of the controversy about the war had dissipated.

"While Iraq was a source of division in the past, it doesn't need to be a source of division in the future," he said as he arrived at the annual conference of the centre-left Progress group in London.

"Iraq was a big issue at the 2005 general election, but the vast majority of MPs and candidates I have spoken to this time say that while it was a big issue then it was much less of an issue in 2010.

"I said during the election campaign that I thought it was time to move on."

Asked whether his brother and Balls were using the war to "score points" within the Labour Party, he said: "I think that is something you would have to ask them about."

Miliband said he stood by his evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the war that if it have been known then that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, there would have been no invasion. (3)
So the greatest foreign policy blunder since Suez (at least) isn't that important and we should worry about why it happened or why Miliband was so shockingly wrong-headed as to support it. There is a fucking huge, Iraq shaped elephant in the room, covered in the blood of western soldiers and Iraqi civilians, but we really mustn't talk about it, because it is time to "move on."

Note the careful wording in the final paragraph - "if it had been known then that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction ..." As if that could ever have been definitively "known." Remember Donald Rumsfeld's assertion that lack of evidence was in its own way, evidence? (4) This is the same idea. The invasion was wrong, but the error was acceptable, because those making the error had not received to concrete proof of Iraqi innocence that would have fores-stalled military action. Wrong. The Iraqis had been co-operative and inspectors had found no evidence of active - or even dormant - WMD programmes. That should have been enough to stop any invasion, not any preposterous requirement that the Iraqis do the impossible by proving they are clean. There had been no proof to the contrary, so there should have been no invasion.

David Miliband is a mealy mouthed, self serving, slimy git. Like Tony "This might cost me my job" Blair (5), he seems to fail to grasp that there are more important things than his career. He must never, ever be leader of the Labour party. It would be a dismal re-run of Blairism, and - to borrow from Karl Marx again - the first time it was tragedy, the second time feeble farce (6).
1 - "Ed Balls interview: Iraq war was a mistake," by Mary Riddell and Andrew Porter. Published in the Telegraph, 21st of may, 2010. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7750935/Ed-Balls-interview-Iraq-war-was-a-mistake.html)
2 - "Ed Miliband: Labour's catastrophic loss of trust over Iraq," by Patrick Wintour and Allegra Stratton. Published in the Guardian, 21st of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/21/ed-miliband-labour-iraq-war)
3 - "David Miliband: Time to move on from Iraq," by David Batty and agencies. Published in the Guardian, 22nd of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/22/david-miliband-iraq-war-labour-leadership)
4 - Rumsfeld's words are quoted in "No evidence is evidence: Rumsfeld's paradigm shift," by Carol Norris. Published in Counterpunch, 19th of January, 2003. (http://www.counterpunch.org/norris01182003.html)
5 - In fairness to Tony Blair, he didn't actually say that, but he did say something to that effect, quoted in "Blair talks of the strains of war, his family's unstinting support and his relief in victory," by Andrew Sparrow. Published by the Telegraph, 19th of April, 2003. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1427955/Blair-talks-of-the-strains-of-war-his-familys-unstinting-support-and-his-relief-in-victory.html)
6 - "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, " by Karl Marx, 1852. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Stock markets plunge as Tories take control

Stock markets around the world plummeted overnight as people realized that David Cameron was prime minister (1).

Stockbrokers were seen hysterically writhing on the floor of exchanges around the globe, gnawing at their limbs and smearing themselves in their own excrement, as the full scale of the disaster became clear.

One senior analyst described the formation of a conservative dominated government in Britain as "The worst thing that could possibly happen to Britain, even worse than everyone in the country being beating to death with rotting fruit and their corpses desecrated with cheese. By Hitler."

The FTSE 100 actually went fully negative - a stage below zero never reached by any stock and previously thought to be impossible. Complete catastrophe was only avoided what George Osborne cunningly removed the '-' sign from in front of the number, creating the illusion that the market still actually existed in a meaningful way.

"We would have closed down the exchange," explained one broker, who had been trading during the Great Crash of 1927. "But we couldn't, because under the Tories it is impossible to do anything useful. Everyone just ran about screaming. I wet myself, far more thoroughly than I did in '27, and I had to gouge my own eyes out because I couldn't bear to see what was happening. things were so good, only a few days ago. Then they put Cameron in charge.'

The Dow Jones coped with the disaster by eliminating all references to Britain from the American language. It is now punishable by summary execution to make any reference, however indirect, to the existence of England, Britain, the FTSE or David Cameron.

"It is a real chance for us to start over," said Bradley T. Shotgun, an American policy adviser to President Obama. "Up until now, our language has been colonise, but this has given us a chance to wage a new war of independence and drive out all traces of colonial heritage from our language. We've even renamed the language itself. Instead of the English language, we call it the Amerish language. Oh, fuck, I said 'English,' shoot me now."

European leaders have shown a range of responses to the global crisis triggered by Mr Cameron's election. The president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy immediately resigned and were last seen trying to board planes to South America, in a variety of unconvincing disguises. The president of Greece immediately offered to extend financial aid to the stricken country, allegedly muttering, "The but for the grace of God go I ..."

The British Government in Exile, based in New Zealand, issued a press release calling for the people of Britain to rise up against the appalling mismanagement of the economy, before the country runs out of zeros to put on its discredited bank notes.
1 - "FTSE 100 hits seven-month low on European debt fears," by Julie Kollewe. Published in The Guardian, 21st of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/may/21/london-market-jitters-european-crisis). Do I really need to point out that everything other than the first seven words is complete fantasy, the product of my somewhat childish and sleep-deprived imagination? Probably, I do ...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

When I see a slave, I call it a slave ...

But in Texas, it seems that all this talk of slaves and slave rades and slavery and so on has been judged a bit too strong for school children.
Tempers are flaring in Texas over controversial proposed changes to the US state's public school curriculum.

The changes, put forward by the Board of Education's conservative members, include referring to the slave trade as the "Atlantic triangular trade".

Critics say the changes are ideological and distort history, but proponents argue they are correcting a long-standing liberal bias in education.

The conservatives are expected to prevail in Friday's final vote. (1)
"Atlantic triangular trade" - is this some weird new racial epithet? Can you refer to people of colour as 'triangles' at dinner parties without identifying yourself as an execrable racist? Or is it more street than that. Does it contrast with 'square' white people? Are Asians hexagonal?

Inverted political correctness is the new tool of the conservatives.

And yes, I'm quite away of the 'logic' behind the term 'triangular.' The ships went from Britain to Africa and then to America and then back to London. But that ships sailed these routes is not at all remarkable. Ships have always sailed in all sorts of directions and usually end up where they started. That the ships set out seeking slaves, transported slaves, and then carried the commodities produced by slaves back to Europe was.

Which is why we called it the slave trade.
1 - "Texas schoolbook fight heats up," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 19th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8693397.stm)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I was, of course, completely wrong - Cruddas rules himself out

It would appear Jon Cruddas has ruled himself out of the leadership race, if a piece he's written for the Guardian's Comment is free section is to be taken at face value:
I am determined to play a full role in the re-invigoration of a party that stands as the best hope for the people of this country. But to put it simply, that role of rebuilding and energising the party is a job that doesn't have a vacancy.

I would like to be involved in the debate about the future direction of the party and how we reconnect with our lost voters. But I cannot enter a leadership election just to contribute to a debate; to go into this must be on the basis of running to win and hand on heart I do not want to be leader of the Labour party or subsequently prime minister. These require certain qualities I do not possess. (1)
While that seems pretty definitive, I can't help but wonder if he's preparing a second piece, rather along these lines:
I had no intention of running, no desire to run, but I was told by so many people ... so many trusted people ... that I had to run, that I feel it would be wrong, even selfish of me, for me not to ignore the advice of all these good people. I said i don't want to be the leader of the Labour party, but if I am elected to this great office, I will do my very best to serve the needs of the party ...
I hope this is just a ploy, a tacit appeal for the hackneyed 'ground swell of support' of trite political parlance. After all, after the megalomania of Blair and brown, surely the last thing Labour needs is someone who actually wants to be leader? Or it could be a bid for the deputy leadership - or perhaps even a sign he's thinking of the London mayoralty.

But without Cruddas, there is no candidate I can see that won't just repeat the mistakes of the past. And none of the other candidates look at all electable.
1 - "Hand on heart, I do not want to be Labour leader," by Jon Cruddas. Published in the Guardian, 17th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/17/labour-leadership-jon-cruddas)

Monday, 17 May 2010

BRITISH Labour leadership election

I may be anticipating events, slightly, as he hasn't actually declared he's in the running for the spot Gordon Brown vacated, but I wouldn't bet against John Cruddas (1). He's got a lot of support in the party as a whole and he's not a Brownite or a Blairite. While he's a leftie, he's not a mad one - he isn't another Michael Foot. Crucially, he's not Ed balls, so if the left of the party is sane enough to realise what a disaster Balls would be, he should get their vote. On the downside, he did vote for the Iraq war but at least has had the decency to admit it was a blunder, rather than try to hedge with jabber about how Saddam Hussein was a bad man.

Just like we had Blair-Prescott as the right-left ticket to unite the party, I can see a left-right Cruddas-Miliband (either Ed or Dave) combination. Might be Cruddas on top, might be a Miliband, hard to tell. But I sense a bit of a rejection of Blairism is in the air. Not a bad thing, as long as it doesn't get too psychotic.

Cruddas also has the HUGE advantage of not having been a minister, and thus isn't tainted by Brownism and Blairism. He hasn't been on TV every night being hateful for most of the last decade. That's got to help.

The new leader will be chosen by the unions, the membership and the parliamentary party, 1/3 each. I suspect Cruddas will struggle to get support from the the parliamentary party, but should do well in with the unions and the general membership. Which encapsulates the problems the Labour party has experienced since dawn of Blairism, pretty nicely.

I suspect a Miliband will be the choice of the parliamentary party, but won't be strongly supported by the unions or the general membership. If that happens, and Miliband (either one) doesn't win, it's likely that the support of his self serving parliamentary cronies will turn his head and he'll get the idea he really should be leader - what does the party as a whole know, after all? - and proceed to undermine and campaign against whoever actually wins. Which will simply reinforce the contempt the current and ex-Labour party members feel for their elected representatives, and will mean membership falls even lower.

And if a Miliband wins outright, that trend towards disillusion and abandonment will accelerate. So, unless the parliamentary arm of the party sorts itself out and stops the sort of conniving behaviour we saw against Brown, we'll could be well f**k*d whatever happens.
1 - "Ed Miliband stands against brother David in fight for Labour leadership," by Polly Curtis and Matthew Taylor. Published in the Guardian, 16th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/16/ed-miliband-stands-against-david-miliband)

Friday, 14 May 2010

Undemocratic

The Conservative wing of Britain's coalition is proposing a reduction in the number of seats in parliament, from 650 to 585, a cut of 10% (1). This is serious electoral manipulation, must more anti-democratic that the silly but rather irrelevant move to require a 55% vote for parliament to dissolve itself (2). The latter has caused more excitement, as it seems new and sinister. but reducing the number of MPs is far more serious, and will have a deadening effect on democracy.

Fewer MPs representing bigger constituencies is inherently undemocratic, as it makes them less accountable and more remote. Very much not the sort of thing you want when you are trying to encourage people to re-engage with politics.

I don't like bigger constituencies on principle, and I'm very wary of any electoral tinkering that doesn't include the introduction of proportional representation. It's just one side or the other gerrymandering.

Fewer MPs representing bigger constituencies is inherently undemocratic, as it makes them less accountable and more remote. Very much not the sort of thing you want when you are trying to encourage people to re-engage with politics.

It makes the MPs less representative, and strengthens the hold of the main parties, as minority/independent voices will get obscured by the Labour-Tory bland. Unless, of course, it is accompanied by Single transferable Vote, which is based on large constituencies each electing multiple MPs.

If anything, I see large constituencies effectively countering the introduction of Alternative vote - because there will be so many '2nd choice Tories' or '2nd choice Labour' votes that it will be almost impossible for other candidates to get elected.

Reducing the number of MPs is going to entrench the Conservative-Labour duopoly. I suspect it will more than counter the effect of Alternative Vote. A very bad thing, and I can't believe the Lib Dems signed up for it. Talk about shooting themselves in the foot.

reducing the number of MPs is written into their coalition agreement, however:
The parties will bring forward a referendum bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the alternative vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. (3)
Looks like the Lib Dem turkeys will be voting for Christmas.
1 - "Conservatives plan cut in seats to reduce Labour advantage," by Patrick Wintour. Published in the Guardian, 13th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/13/conservatives-voting-system-fewer-seats)
2 - "The 55% trick: protecting you from democracy," by Vikram Dodd. Published in the Guardian, 13th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/may/13/55-per-cent-coalition-rule)
3 - "Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition deal: full text," authors unknown. Published by The Guardian, 12th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/12/lib-dem-tory-deal-coalition)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Couple more points about that BNP 'breakthrough'

The BNP - or at least Nick Griffin, who may no longer be in control of the party he supposedly heads - have been bragging about how the election was a breakthrough for them:
* Total votes cast 563,743. This compares with 192,746 votes secured by the BNP in 117 seats in 2005. The nearest comparison historically is with 1979, when the National Front fought the now easily broken record of 303 seats, from which it garnered a feeble 191,719 votes

* There were a record number of deposits saved. This would undoubtedly have been even higher were it not for us missing out on crossing this important threshold in a number of seats by the votes that were undoubtedly lost in each constituency thanks to the confusion and concern caused by the unforgiveable sabotage of our website. (1)

Well done, Little Nicky. Well done. You forgot to mention, however, that the tripling of the total vote was achieved through tripling the number of candidates fielded, from 119 in 2005, to 338 in 2010.

In 2005, the BNP won 192,850 votes (2), and in 2010, 563,743 (3) - with, of course, one seat still to go. A few passionate moments with a calculator reveals that in 2005, they won 1619.7 votes per candidate, and in 2010, won 1667.8 votes per candidate. Not much change really, for all the fuss and noise.

Not so much more people supporting the BNP, as BNP supporters getting someone to vote for. The truth, Little Nicky, is that you weren't building more votes, you were just failing in more constituencies.

As for Little Nicky's claim that the party saved more deposits than in 2005, that is even more nonsensical. Remember, they stood almost three times as many candidates than in 2005. Obviously, if you stand more candidates, you'll probably save more deposits. Equally, you could point out that they lost more than ever before.

Here's the maths, based on the BNP's own figures - in 2005, the BNP stood 119 candidates and saved 34 deposits. In 2010, they stood 338 candidates and saved 72 deposits (4). So in 205 they managed to save 29% of their deposits. In 2010, the rate was 21%. So, in fact, their performance was worse than in 2005.

And what is incredible, what is jaw-droppingly unbelievably insane is that the Electoral Administration Act, 2006 changed the rules between 2005 and 2010, reducing the percentage of votes a candidate needs to win back his or her deposit from 5% to 2%.

They MADE IT EASIER to save your deposit; and the BNP managed to save far fewer of them. What does that tell you? In about 80% of the constituencies where they stood, LESS THAT 2% of the voters cast their ballot for the BNP.

This is a breakthrough. Well, something certainly got broken. The BNP.
1 - "Britain Has Entered a New Political Era — Post Election Analysis by BNP Leader Nick Griffin," by BNP News. Posted on the BNP website, 10th of May, 2010. (http://bnp.org.uk/?q=news/britain-has-entered-new-political-era-%E2%80%94-post-election-analysis-bnp-leader-nick-griffin)
2 - "BNP sees increase in total votes," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 6th of May, 2005.(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/vote_2005/frontpage/4519347.stm)
3 - "2010 election results," cortesy of the BBC, as of 13th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/)
4 - "Back up and at them," posted by the BNP's national youth Officer. Published on Young BNP blog, 9th of May, 2010.(http://ybnp.blogspot.com/2010/05/back-up-and-at-them.html)

ConDemNation

I've been mostly a supporter of the Liberal Democrats for nigh on 20 years - ever since I learned about proportional representation in 5th Year Social Studies at school. The injustice of First Past The Post seemed to me so immediately self-evident that I've never quite believed that anyone who supported FPTP could be trusted on anything they said - if they wanted to maintain such an archaic monstrosity, how could they be trustworthy on any issue?

Obviously, most people didn't agree with me. Electoral reform has never been a *burning* issue in British politics, as it served the interests of Labour and the conservatives perfectly well. Even 18 years in opposition didn't cause the Labour party to reconsider its tacit support for FPTP - when they were returned to power with a thumping majority in 1997, they commissioned Roy Jenkins to look into reform, and then ignored his mild suggestion that Alternative Votes topped up from regional lists might be an improvement. The rejection was based on a tribal instinct - fear of letting the Lib Dems, the national parties and (shudder) the Tories into territory labour regarded as 'theirs' - urban Scotland, the North East of England, the English cities, most of Wales. Also, some felt it was very much 'their turn' after 18 years waiting, and it the monopoly on power that a 100 seat majority offered shouldn't be given up.

That majority meant Blair was in a position to ignore the dissenters - the so-called 'Hard Men' like John Reid, from glasgow, and David Blunkett from Sheffield. But he caved into them, a climb down that was pretty revealing about Mr Blair's character.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. If my head belonged to the Liberal democrats and the trainspotterish fun of comparing different PR systems and arguing which is best (I'm an STV man, always have been, always will be), my heart was essentially Labour. I wasn't quite willing to abandon them yet. After all, what was the alternative? The Tories under Hague/ the tories under Iain Duncan Smith? The Tories under Michael Howard?

Bearing in mind, under FPTP, there was no other real option. The Liberal democrats regularly pulled in 20% of the vote, but struggled to get more than 5% of the seats. Even under the leadership of Charles Kennedy, who astutely targeted marginals and cynically leveraged local issues, they still only managed to get about 10% of the votes - and that with Howard's unelectable Tory party, Blair's loathed administration and the Iraq war. the wind was at their backs, but they weren't moving very fast.

2010 was meant to be the breakthrough. the polls all pointed to a hung parliament and it was duly delivered. And what do the Lib dems do? Coalesce with the Tories, in a deal that explicitly does not include proportional representation, and allows the Tories to campaign even against switching to Alternative Vote. Its like seducing Halle Berry (who I have want almost as much as I want proportional representation) , only to find that she was a lady boy all along. Only more disappointing.

The possibility of a deal with Labour was shouted down by the same voices that rejected electoral reform back in 1998. The tribal faction would rather see labour in opposition for a term, in the hope of a quick return to power, than make a deal. They aren't interested in electoral reform or progressive politics, because, in the final analysis, it's just a class war for them - Labour versus the Tories. dealing with the Lib Dems strengthens them, but weakens labour, so they think.

Now they're in a lose-lose situation. If the coalition works, and the economy improves, another election will see either a further Con-Dem coalition or a Tory majority. The Lib Dems will be reluctant to engage with labour, because the same hostile voices will be arguing against coalition and reform. They won't go away, because they are just waiting their turn and dreaming of another decade or so in power, even if it means having to wait a decade - even if it means having to hand over the fate of the British people to the Tories for a decade. Surely, anyone can see that is a bad thing?

For the Lib Dems, I'm not convinced of the strategic value of the coalition with the Tories. I can see the plus side for the Lib Dems: they get ministerial experience; people can't say that the party is not fit for government or that coalitions don't work; Labour and the Conservatives will have to be more open about coalition plans BEFORE the next election, not after. And there is a modestly increased likelihood of a hung parliament happening again, under Alternative Vote, if that comes to pass.

But I think, strategically, that will be as far as it goes for the foreseeable future. If Alternative Vote is established, neither of the big parties will be willing to fool about with further electoral experiments. If the Lib Dems try to demand full proportional representation, they'll get told, impolitely, to piss off. They had their chance to sort it out in 2010, the matter is closed and neither Labour, nor the Conservatives will care to re-open it.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Further evidence that the End of Times is imminent

You know there is something profoundly rotten in the state of Britain when Boris Johnson is more attuned to mood of the people of of Britain than, well, almost privileged to sound off about it and be heard by more than a circle of bored drinking buddies in his favourite (smoke free) boozer.

For it fell to BoJo to find the words to describe what happened on Thursday night:
The electorate has managed to come up with an absolutely brilliant system for admonishing a rebuke to all three parties. (1)
Even a stopped clock tells the right time, twice a day.
1 - "The sun has set, has it not?," by Cole Moreton. Published in the Independent, 9th of May, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/cole-moreton-the-sun-has-set-has-it-not-1969393.html)

Why DC does not like PR, nor NC

We have to hope that Nick Clegg has read and apprehended the significance of the thoughts of Messrs Rawlings and Thrasher:
“Cameron came so near and yet so far,” write the directors of the elections centre at Plymouth University. “Just 16,000 extra votes for the Tories, distributed in the 19 constituencies in which the party came closest to winning, would have spared us a weekend of negotiation and speculation.”

The Tories failed to win majorities in about 30 Labour-held marginal constituencies they had expected to win, suggesting that in some seats the extra funds of Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire party donor, were less effective than hoped.
...

Another reason why Cameron failed to win outright victory was because the Lib Dem swing to the Tories was just 1%. (1)
If this is accurate, then it is essential the Tories are kept out of Downing Street. They have talked about 'political reform,' but what that means is just jigging the system to suit themselves - boundary changes and other finangling to ensure that next time - which would be at a time suited to Mr Cameron rather than Mr Clegg - the correct result is delivered.

Cameron isn't interested in meaningful electoral reform. All he's interested in is securing these 16,000 votes that went astray. You can't balme him for that - the system favours his party (and the other lot) and he'd have to be stupid to open it up to allow a third party into the equation in a meaningful way. From his point of view, it is the 2010 result that is wrong, not the system that delivered it.

If the Liberal Democrats coalesce with the Tories - or tacit support a minority Cameron government - the opportunity this electoral anomaly affords will slip away. Unless the Liberal Democrats engage in a party wide fire sale of principle and sense, a Conservative-Liberal Democrat arrangement seems unlikely. Cameron and the Tories will give the Liberal Democrats what they need, and Nick Clegg can not accept what the Tories can offer.

If they do manage to forge (in all its meanings) some sort of arrangement, then the Liberal Democrats will be a bit like a sad, drunken floosie who, having been shagged and dumped by labour in 1997, hooks up with the Conservatives in 2010, hoping this will humiliate her ex - only to be, again, shagged and dumped when her current beau tires of her.
1 - "Conservatives hung by just 16,000 votes," by David Smith. Published in The Times, 9th of May, 2010. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article7120733.ece)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

A song for Nick Griffin

It seems that it can't get much worse for Nick Griffin. not only is his party in turmoil, having been shattered by various scandals, exposes and defections, but his loudly hyped bid to win Barking ended up with him trailing in third (1).

Griffin's excuse? To whine about how Labour had flooded the electorate with immigrants. How many thousands would that be, Nick, to account for the massive vote against you? You got 6620 votes, labour got 24,628. You could half the Labour vote, and they'd still have got about double your total. And that's ignoring the 8,073 people who voted for the Tories. Were they mostly immigrant infiltrators, as well?

Even worse, the BNP were routed in the Barking & Dagenham council elections, losing all twelve of the seats they held (2). It's almost like the people of barking didn't appreciate being singled out as the place in England most likely to vote for a racist, Holocaust denying, Hitler loving slug-in-a-suit. Good on them.

Anyway, while Nick mulls over his future, and Andrew Brons sharpens the knife soon to be plunged into his back, here's a song to cheer him up, about recognising fascist scum for what they are (3):



And here's the words of Bill fishman, who was actually at Cable Street on the day Mosley's Blackshirts were stopped:
"I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism." (4)
And that's what happened in Barking - working class people, from all backgrounds, rejecting the cheap appeals of the racists. Hurrah for bigot free Barking!
1 - "Election 2010: Barking results," by the BBC. Viewed 8th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/constituency/a11.stm)
2 - "Griffin's future in doubt as BNP campaign implodes," by Cahal Milmo. Published in The Independent, 8th of May, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/griffins-future-in-doubt-as-bnp-campaign-implodes-1968206.html)
3 - "The Ghosts off cable Street," performed by the Men They Couldn't Hang. Posted on You tube by anarchy41, 2nd of March, 2007. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzKv5gjOzTA)
4 - "Day the East End said 'No pasaran' to Blackshirts," by Audrey Gillan. Published in The Guardian, 30th of September, 2006. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/sep/30/thefarright.past)

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election night

The exit poll suggests the Tories are going to be just short of a majority. Labour and Lib Dems won't be able to form a government themselves. But if the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru agree to confidence and supply agreements, then they could possibly do it (1).

The Conservatives would have 307 MPs, up 97 on 2005, against Labour's 255, a drop of 94, and the Lib Dems would get 59, down 4. Nationalists and others would have 29. That would mean hung parliament, with the Tories 19 short of a majority. The Lib Dem vote looks immediately anomalous. They've done well in the polls, and while First Past the Post makes everything muddy and unclear, you'd expect to see them do a bit better than they did in 2005.

I suspect the exit poll has exaggerated the Conservative vote. Perhaps not by much, but perhaps by enough to change the overall picture. If Labour and the Liberals take ten seats off the Tory total and it is completely different.

Tory front bencher Michael Gove already on Radio 4, talking up how this is a rejection of Labour. Special prize for the first to spot one of Cameron's Cossacks declaring a victory in the face of the facts.

The SNP and PC are usually under represented in elections - the SNP gets about 20% of the vote, and only about 10% of the seats, so they would support a Lib-Lab administration that promised to deliver proportional representation.

Houghton & Sunderland is about to declare. This is interesting as it will be an indication of how well the Labour vote is holding up in the north, which might be very different from the uniform swing indicated in opinion polls.

I'm keeping a keen eye on the contest in barking, where the BNP Nick griffin is standing. I pledged to eat 10 raw onions if he wins ...

9.54 - Houghton & Sunderland held by Labour's Bridget Phillipson - 19,137. That's a swing away from Labour of 8.4%, which is very worrying for Labour. That means their vote isn't holding up in the North. However, the Tories only got 5.2% of that, so it's STILL all up in the air (2).

BNP get 1961 votes ... which is actually slightly down on their 2005 'result.' Good work, Sunderland.

Eric Pickles on Radio 4 proclaiming victory by default, Labour 'Got to go' and so on. Do piss off. That's not in the rules.

10.15 - The Tories are really mining the "lost a hundred seats, crushing rejection, gotta go" seam, but they're notably not trumpeting how the public have endorsed David Cameron and the Conservatives - because they haven't been. A lot of propaganda.

10.18 - Exit poll amended slightly - Tories now on 305, Lib Dems pick up 2, taking them to 61. Labour still on 255, others on 29.

10.26 Washington & Sunderland West held by Sharon Hodgson for Labour, 19,615. Massive - 11% - swing to the Conservative. Beating the exit poll. Labour's vote in the North East seems to be collapsing. That said, it is a new seat, so the swing is notional. But still ominous.

10.40 - Sunderland Central held by Labour's Julie Elliot, with 19,495. votes. In the first two seats, the swing may have been wild - in the first case, Houghton & Sunderland South featured a strong independent candidate, and Washington & Sunderland South was a new seat, so swings were notional. Sunderland Central seems more in line with my initial prediction - the swing there, 4.8%, is lower than the national swing. Question is, will that be made up by a higher swing in the South?

11.16 - George Osbourne repeating the increasingly annoying meme about Labour being decisively rejected, skirting around the fact that his party hasn't been spectacularly endorsed. Labour seem to be heading towards 30% of the vote, better than expected, and an alliance with the Lib Dems would give Britain something it hasn't enjoyed in living memory - a government representing a plurality of the British people. And make no mistake, the electorates aren't stupid. The Lib Dem voters know that they are only ever going to get power through a coalition, and the Labour voters will accept - grudgingly - the necessity. So the story that the Tories are repeating by rote is just a lie.

12.30 - National swing down to 5%, as Scottish seats start to come in. Scotland hasn't shown much variation from 2005, so it may have a significant part to play. If anything, Labour are doing very slightly better than in 2005, sucking a modicum of support from the SNP, based on the five results in so far. One of these seats was Gordon Brown's, though, which may be skewing the figures slightly ...

Two things I'm not going to worry about too much tonight - people getting locked out of polling stations, and Northern Ireland, beyond noting the fall of Peter Robinson. The former, because it is a seperate matter, by definition people who don't get to vote aren't going to be affected the election. The latter, because Northern Irish politics is just too much of a headache, even for me.

12.53 - Tooting and Gedling, both key marginals that the Tories have to win, have stayed red. Hopes of a tory majority fading fast. But who knows? Ed Balls is in trouble, apparently. That's a good thing, to be honest. He's poison.

1.04 - it's great to hear Paddy Ashdown on the radio again. Talking utter sense as always. Don't be rushed, a Labour defeat does not imply a Tory win. And, at 69, he still sounds pretty hale. Maybe it isn't too late for him to be defence secretary?

1.16 - Halton, in the North West, stays red, with a swing from labour to the Tories of just 2.9%. The Tories aren't making any significant ground in the North. After the initial wibbles around Sunderland, the Labour vote seems to be less flighty than the national trend.

The national swing is down to 3.3%, but Labour constituencies tend to return results more quickly than Tory seats (central planning and socialism being more efficient), so that will change as results from larger Conservative constituencies come in.

Conservatives are making gains, but not convincingly. They're doing badly on their list of key marginals - though given how they've been rigorously targeted by various parties, there will be all sorts of odd results on that list. but the point is, they had to win them all, and if they have to rely on seats not on the list, then the job becomes an awful lot more difficult (3). Their target marginals aren't switching to them. They are taking seats from Labour, but not from any of the other parties. The Lib Dems might not be surging, but they seem to be fighting thr Tories to a standstill where it matters ... for Labour.

1.35 - I'm beginning to wonder if my original forecast might have been too generous to the Tories. As things are, they might be well short of being short by 40, as I calculated.

... And on top of that, the Tories are LOSING SEATS (Eastbourne)????

2.00 - David Cameron is re-elected, unsurprisingly. But that might be all he's got to be happy about tonight.

Cameron sounded very tentative in his speech. William hague sounds bloody cheerful. he might be contemplating a second shot at the leadership.

2.16 - About 1/3 of the way through. Still nothing either way. Labour have lost several seats, but haven't been fatally wounded. The Tory 'charge' doesn't seem to be reaching far enough. the Lib Dems are baffled. this might all change, however. The share of vote is matching the polls quite well - Conservatives on 33%, Labour on 28%. The Lib Dems are down on their polling, and the 'Others' are up. The Tories can look for more seats in the South coming in, which will boost their numbers substantially. Looking at the Tories' Top 100 target marginals, 28 have declared. The Tories have won 18 of them, a very low conversion rate. The national swing is just under 5%. The election is starting to smell like an effective defeat for David Cameron.For all the talk about Brown being rejected by the voters, Cameron has been rebuffed just as soundly. And, on a personal note,Nick Griffin has said (unofficially) that he's not going to win in Barking, so it looks like I might not be eating raw onions any time soon.

Over half way now. Tory majority still looking very unlikely, and the possibility of them breaking 300 seats seems to be receding. A lot of Liberal seats still to come in - 40 or so. And almost all of Scotland will be going to Labour, Lib Dem or SNP. And the swing is still only 5%.

3.43 - About 2/3 of the way there. Labour are starting to take some heavy hits. It's still anyone's guess where it is going to end up. The tories could still break 300, just. They might equally fall short of it. The Lib Dems will put on some seats, but look like their surge simply didn't translate into votes. Whether or not they bring in enough MPs to make a credible coalition is the big question that remains to be settled.

I'm obviously not as young as I was. I used to love British elections, because of their epic quality, but now I'm just tired and confused. And I'm not even having to stay up all night to keep track of what's happening.

3.54 - Ed Balls survives, which is something of a shame. Both Labour and Conservatives need about 80 seats, to reach their respective 'respectable' totals. There's about 250 still to go. 30 of them are likely to go Lib Dem. So there's 40 or 50 seats that I just have to shrug my shoulders and say, Dunno" over.

4.45 - What, is this still going on? 150 seats left. Tories need 50 to retain authority. Labour need 50 to maintain respectability. Who grabs most of the remaining 30 (assuming 20 go Lib Dem) will get to form the government, in the end. And a lot of these seats are the ones where there recounts, or where the count is going down to the last few votes.

4.51 - BRIGHTON PAVILION GOES GREEN!! First ever MP for the Greens. Brilliant.

Zac Goldsmith just won Richmond Park for the Tories. 29,000 people voted for him. Will he be the next leader of the Conservative party?

1 - "Election exit poll: Tories to be 19 short of majority," unattruted BBC article. 6th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/election_2010/8666128.stm)
2 - "21010 Election Result: Houghton & Sunderland South," published by the BBC, 6th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/constituency/c27.stm)

3 - "Election 2010: Conservative Key Seats," by the BBC, 7th of May, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/election2010/results/targets/p_con.stm)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The morning after the revolution

Some commentators have wisely decided not to waste any more time trying to predict the outcome of the election, and instead turned their attention to what might happen if - as seems likely - the Conservatives are the largest party in a hung parliament.

First of all, Matthew Norman examines the entrails of the Major administration to see what portends it offers:
I think I know, for example, that David Cameron has been rehearsing for Friday by studying John Major's re-election in 1995. Losing the votes of a third of his MPs against as flaky a challenger as John Redwood was a blatant catastrophe for Major. Yet the millisecond the result was announced, his loyalists invaded College Green in battle formation to celebrate a definitive triumph. An ovine political media followed, bleating this cobblers as fact, and that was that.

This, I reckon, is Cameron's non-majority strategy. If he wins most votes and seats, however short of the magic 325, he will send the Hagues and Goves, the Clarkes and Pickleses out, while everyone else is sucking their pencil in confusion, to declare that the Tories have a mandate to govern alone. In moments of absolute chaos, as with Bush v Gore in 2000, convention and psephology are trumped by effective public relations, and at that Mr Cameron is no fool. He understands that if he takes possession of it, and frames it as he wishes, he is nine tenths of the way through the door of No 10. But this is what I think I know I know, and the form book on hunches makes far from pretty reading. (1)
And, in the Guardian, Martin kettle contemplates much the same idea:
Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the Conservatives emerge on Friday as the largest party in votes and seats, with around 300 MPs. Assume, too, that Labour is second in both votes and seats with about 210 MPs. Then assume also that the Liberal Democrats come in third in votes and seats with around 110 MPs. Yes, I know all this is unlikely. Equally, though, it's by no means impossible.

Friday morning dawns with this result. So who gets to govern? Very clearly, Labour has had a terrible defeat. Its chances of remaining in office in such circumstances would rightly be poor. But suppose Labour, under Gordon Brown (we can forget the idea of an instant leadership coup), is quick to offer the Liberal Democrats a coalition government, with at least five Lib Dem members of the cabinet, and an offer to introduce the Alternative Vote Plus system, subject to referendum, before the next election. And suppose that Nick Clegg says, yes, I have to consult my party about an offer like that.

Note what is being suggested here – and also be clear what is not being suggested. All I am posing is the possibility that Labour, though defeated, tries to win time to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to stop the Conservatives taking office and that the Lib Dems agree to look at the option. I'm not saying the discussions would produce an agreement and I'm certainly not saying that it would be a good one. All I'm posing is the possibility that Labour might try and that the Lib Dems would be sufficiently interested to look at the offer. In effect, all I am suggesting is something quite modest, that Brown might remain in power over this weekend to see if the idea is a runner.

As I read my British political history (notably the aftermath of the 1923 election), as well as Sir Gus O'Donnell's recent guidelines, this would be an entirely proper response to such an election outcome. In a country that was used to coalitions and comfortable with the possibility, the discussion would certainly happen, even if it eventually got nowhere. Yet it is hard to believe that Brown and Clegg would be permitted even to explore it this time.

It is increasingly clear from David Cameron's interviews over the past few days that the Tories would not merely oppose such an effort (perfectly reasonably on one level) but that they might also, much more controversially, try to disrupt and overturn it. Cameron seems to be suggesting that in the circumstances imagined above, he would do two things: first, he would declare the Tories the winners and, second, he would encourage the view that Labour was trying to steal an election it had lost. You only have to imagine what Saturday morning's Sun, Mail and Express would look like to see how real a threat this would be.

Would either Labour or the Lib Dems have the nerve to go on trying to cut a deal with the Murdoch and Associated papers howling that they were trying to steal the election? The February 1974 precedent is not much help here, since Labour (which was in the position I am hypothesising for the Tories this time) did not actually claim victory or actually charge Ted Heath with attempting to defy the voters – and it certainly did not have many newspapers at its beck and call either. In 1974, Harold Wilson simply declared that Labour was ready to form a government if asked. If Cameron was to be guided by precedent, that's what he would do too. But he is now saying or implying a much more radical response than Wilson. (2)
All of which suggests, that, the death rattle of this election may be long, drawn out and unpleasant to hear.

Cameron has already indicated he won't be bound by convention, and respect the incumbent prime minister's right to attempt to form an administration in the first instance (3).

Obviously, Cameron can not force the Liberal Democrats not to hold discussions with Labour - but I suspect the upshot of the shrieking about 'betrayal,' 'stealing the election' and 'cheating the people' that the Mail, Sun and Express would engage in would mean any government formed by Labour and the Lib Dems would be doomed from the start. Even if the parties followed through on their discussions and came to an arrangement, they would immediately be so unpopular, and so continually attacked that they would be face complete annihilation at the next election - which would probably not be too far into the future, as the Lib Dems might opt to abandon their agreement to try to preserve their gains from this election.

Very nasty times ahead, I fear. The British right wants to get back in charge, and is willing to play very dirty to do it. The frightening thing is, it will all be done - very vocally - in the name of defending "The people's choice."

Like "The People's Princess," that's a lie, a myth being foisted on the public. If Cameron and the Conservatives can not scrape together a majority on there own, they are not "The people's choice."

And the irony is that the reason the right are so desperate to stop a Lib-Lab pact is that it will almost certainly deliver proportional representation - which will, in turn, mean the Conservative party will never enjoy the singular power to pursue interests of the party's backers - a group very different from the majority of people who vote conservative - want to see.
1 - "Soon, Gordon, the torment will be over," by Matthew Norman. Published in the Independent, 5th of May, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/matthew-norman/matthew-norman-soon-gordon-the-torment-will-be-over-1962311.html)
2 - "Could the Conservatives steal this election?," by Martin Kettle. Published in The Guardian, 5th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/05/tory-election-victory-florida)
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/05/when-going-gets-tough-tories-start.html

When the going gets tough, the Tories start whining

Faced with humiliating defeat, Gordon Brown seems to have discovered even more reserves of energy and enthusiasm (1).

Meanwhile, contemplating the possibility of not actually winning the election, Conservative leader David Cameron has indicated he might defy the convention that the prime minister (that is, still, Grdon Brown) is allowed first stab at forming a government (2).

This from the man who claims that a possible Lib-Lab coalition would be be economically dangerous, as the markets would not look kindly on uncertainty. Yet now he contemplates adding to that uncertainty by ignoring the rules and trying to muscle in on the coalition process.

So we've got a whiny Tory brat who - if he can't win under the current rules - will try to ignore then or re-write them on the fly. If, in other words, the voting system that Cameron says is the best because it allows the electorate to decisively kick governments out, fails to decisively kick the government out, he'll ignore that, and conveniently forget how he thought it was the best system and then not change the system if he manages to weasel his way into a position where he could do something about it?

If this is how he responds to an electoral setback, how on Earth will he react to a genuine crisis? Brown, for all his grumpiness, mealy mouthed Scottish hypocrisy, arrogance and total lack of charisma, seems to rise to the occasion when ever something other than his own political well being is at stake. Cameron, it seems, is the opposite, and his own political survival is his prime concern.

And some people want this prick to be prime minister? How odd.
1 - "Battered Gordon Brown finds his voice," by patrick Wintour. Published in the Guardian, 4th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/03/gordon-brown-plea-progressive-voters)
2 - "Conservative anger at rules that may let Labour cling to power after election," by Nicholas Watt. Published in the Guardian, 4th of May, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/03/conservative-anger-rules-labour-cling-power)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Calling the election

After playing around with the UK Polling Report swingometer (1) for a while, I foresee a hung parliament, with the Tories forming the largest party, but about 40 seats short of an absolute majority.

The national swing to the Conservatives is would be enough to give them an absolute majority, if it was reflected evenly across the country, but it won't be. Crucially, Scotland seems to be pretty much where it was in 2005 (2). Wales seems to show a bit more movement (3), but that's the volatile welsh temperament for you ...

What this means is that Labour will retain most of their Scottish and Welsh seats - where they are massively the majority party, albeit on a minority of the total vote - and this will give them the numbers to deny the Tories an overall majority.

It would be interesting to see polling across the regions in England as well. It seems likely that the North of England will mirror Scotland, and the swing to the conservatives will be lower than the national figure. So the Conservatives will comfortably win seats in the south, but struggle the further north you go. Whether their gains in the south will compensate for their rebuff in the north is anyone's guess. Mine is that it won't be.

So, on Friday, I predict we'll be looking at ...

Conservatives ... 284 seats
Labour ... 250
Liberal Democrats ... 83
Scottish National Party ... 8
Plaid Cymru ... 4
Others ... 21

Which leaves the Conservatives 42 seats short of a majority. Even allowing the Tories a 40% share of the English vote - well above anything they are polling - won't get them there.

Of Labour's 250 seats, 34 would be Scottish, and 23 Welsh. The 'Others' are not specified. I had ratcheted down the percentage given to 'Others' to what I thought was a realistic level - allowing the Greens to win in Brighton, and allowing for another couple of independents. I assume the remainder must represent the Ulster contingent. Obviously, Irish politics is deemed to Byzantine for outsiders to make any sort of predictions about it ...

My gut would be that, if the results on the day are around these numbers, the likelihood is a Lib-Lab pact. Gordon Brown hangs on as Prime Minister, Nick Clegg gets to be home or foreign secretary and Vince Cable gets a subordinate financial, with Alastair Darling retaining the chancellorship.

Interestingly, the long term impact would be to destroy Labour's control in Scotland. Opposition there is divided between the SNP and the Liberal democrats, and Labour have enjoyed the benefits of this disunity, returning more MPs than their share of the vote would suggest. Any deal with the Liberal Democrats would have electoral reform as a requirement, however, so in future the Liberal and National presence north of the border would be strengthened - and Scottish Tories would finally get a look in after 13 years of almost complete shut-out.

Interestingly, this is what my head is telling me. My gut says that on Friday morning, unfortunately, David Cameron will have a slender over all majority. Because life sucks, and then you elect a Tory ...
1 - UK Polling Report's advanced swingometer, as of 5th of May, 2010. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/advanced-swingometer-map)
2 - "More from Sunday's polls," by Anthony Wells. Posted on UK Polling Report, 2nd of May, 2010. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2668)
3 - "You Gov poll of Wales," by Anthony Wells. Posted on UK Polling Report, 4th of May, 2010. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2679)

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Times endorses the Tories

In a rather smug editorial, the Times has endorsed the Conservatives. As they are at pains to point out, this is not an inevitability, as the editorial states in the very first line ...
The Times has not endorsed the Conservative Party at a general election for 18 years. For far too much of that time, the Conservative Party turned inward and vacated the ground on which British electoral victory is won — a commitment to the prosperity and liberty fostered in a free-market economy and a sense of justice in an open and tolerant society. Tony Blair’s Labour Party took up the promise of modernity, through its commitment to enterprise and the courage to stand tall in the world. Sadly, over the past 13 years that promise has faded. We all know that Britain can do better: it is surely time to regain our optimism. (1)
ignore all the guff about promise of commitments, promises and the blah blah blah. The truth is simple and practical. The Times did not endorse the Conservatives in the last 18 years because the Conservatives were expected to lose. The Times, and Rupert Murdoch, does not like to be seen to back losers, and there is no point in backing losers, because losers have no influence.

(And, of course, if you dump an obvious loser, and they then lose, they will crawl on their bellies to win back your support.)

The Times has always been a Tory paper, but in has refused to endorse the party because it would hurt the paper's air of authority if it was backing a loser. But their refusal to endorse the Tories previously was just to avoid losing face, and influence.

Now there is a snivel of a chance of victory - of some sort - and the Times has probably been instructed to do its bit. It is a bit dicey, to be honest, and it smacks of desperation - they know that Cameron is their last best chance, and if he fails, what is left?

A Labour-Liberal dominated parliament will finally put through the electoral reforms that will ensure the Tories are incapable of wielding the sort of power that the archaic First Past the Post electoral system grants them. They'll never have the popular mandate to put through the sort of reforms that Conservative backers - as distinct from Conservative voters - want.

To be honest, I'm surprised that the Murdoch papers aren't playing this more cannily. I remember when the Scottish edition of The Sun decided to flip to the SNP, in an effort to bleed support from Labour in Scotland.

A pragmatic option would be for the Sun to endorse the Lib Dems, to try to drag a few more percentage points out of Labour and drive them into second place in terms of seats. If Labour lose enough, the Tories might end up with a majority, or sufficiently close to get support from other sources - which weakens the Lib Dem hand in any negotiations, come Friday the 7th.

I guess they must think the election is still there to be won outright, if they can exhort enough people to vote Tory. But I still suspect that The People aren't listening in sufficient numbers.

But I could be wrong.
1 - "Vote of Confidence," editorial published in The Times, 1st of may, 2010. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article7113404.ece)

BNP civil war - part IV

The BNP is in full on denial mode, following the publication in the Sunday Mirror of allegations of racism and hypocrisy, made by a former member, Simon Nicholson:
Ex-soldier Simon Nicholson joined the party in 2007, believing leader Griffin's claim that the party was no longer racist and would campaign on local issues.

He was even praised by Griffin when Simon came within 16 votes of overturning a 1,000-vote Labour majority on Cumbria County Council.

But after growing disillusioned with the party's racism, Simon agreed to work with the Sunday Mirror just before and during this General Election campaign. For nearly three months he kept a diary exposing the sickening racist extremism of BNP members and the true face of the party's far-right views.

Simon, 37, got right to the heart of the B N P 's election machine, At one rally in the North West, he watched as Griffin branded women in burkhas "big, black crows".

At a meeting in Cumbria, BNP National Organiser Clive Jefferson hit out at plans for a Muslim school in Burnley, labelling the scheme "a breeding programme".

Other BNP activists criticised mixed marriages and branded an area of London which has a large black community as "C**n City".

Simon also secretly filmed senior figures admitting how Griffin had taken advantage of the generous expenses system for Euro-MPs, bragging that "we play them at their own game". (1)
The BNP's response is quite hysterically funny, as it shows how rattled they are by this latest batch of allegations. I mean, the BNP racist and hypocritical ... how could this be?
The Labour-supporting Mirror rag, which pretends to be a newspaper, has resorted to paying people to lie about the British National Party for the sake of a made-up story, according to BNP national organiser Clive Jefferson.

Responding to a particularly pathetic smear story published in today’s edition of that newspaper, Mr Jefferson dismissed as “outlandish” and “pure lies” the vast majority of the claims made therein.

“The Mirror’s source was a person who had once stormed out of a BNP meeting and then left the party a few months ago,” Mr Jefferson said.

“He then came back a few weeks ago and said that he wanted to help us once again. Now it transpires that he had been paid £6,000 by the Mirror to manufacture a set of lies about the BNP which include things which I know for a fact were never said,” Mr Jefferson added.

“To make matters worse, he sent us a text message this morning from his mobile phone admitting that he had done it for money and asking for forgiveness.

“At least he was honest enough to say that he had made it up for money. It is sad that people can be persuaded to make these sorts of outrageous lies for the sake of money. The BNP will not, however, allow itself to be deflected by attacks of this nature.

“Quite frankly, if this is the worst they can throw at us — a pack of lies generated out of paid liars — then we have nothing to worry about,” Mr Jefferson concluded. (2)
This is grand stuff. If the BNP claim that he was a nobody is correct, it shouldn't be difficult to prove - did he stand for council (He did - Kells & Sandwith ward (3)), did he meet the people he claimed on the dates they claimed, and so on. But Jefferson is very vague on details and doesn't actually refute anything.

That's because it takes time to re-write history properly. Nicholson, like Mark Collett (4), will turn out never to have been important in the BNP, and eventually it may even be discovered he never even joined.

In fact, it will doubtless be revealed, in due course, that neither Collett, nor Nicholson, nor Marc Onion (5), nor Alby Walker (6), were ever so much as paid up members, ever attentded meetings or were ever seen in public with Nick Griffin. Anyone remembering differently will be 'reminded' of the correct truth by large men with very short hair and tattoos, and if they persist in remembering things that just didn't happen, they'll meet with unfortunate accidents, like running into fists in dark alleys, or falling onto knives.

Most unfortunate, but when you are so very stupid as to misremember basic facts like the fact that Collett, Nicholson and Walker were absolutely nothing to do with the BNP, then what can you expect?

Then, of course, will come the day - in about six months, I suspect - when Nick Griffin will be written out of BNP history in favour of Andrew Brons, and quite possibly Mark Collett.

Confusing, eh?
1 - "BNP 'star' Simon Nicholson quits..to expose racist party ," by Gary Anderson. Published in The Sunday Mirror, 2nd of may, 2010. (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/05/02/bnp-star-simon-nicholson-quits-to-expose-racist-party-115875-22227237/)
2 - "Labour Rag Pays Liar to Invent Smears on BNP," posted by BNP News on the BNP blog, 2nd of May, 2010. (http://bnp.org.uk/2010/05/labour-rag-pays-liar-to-invent-smears-on-bnp/)
3 - "Cumbria county council results round up," unattribuuted article published in the Times and Star, 10th of June, 2009. (http://timesandstar.co.uk/news/politics/cumbria-county-council-results-round-up-1.564433?referrerPath=news/politics)
4 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-was-of-course-completely-right-bnp.html
5 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/04/bnp-civil-war-part-iii.html
6 - "Former Stoke-on-Trent BNP man criticises party," unattributed BBC article, published 21st of March, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/staffordshire/8579023.stm)

Dustbowl terrorism

while the immediate assumption was that the Times Square car bomb was the work of Islamists, my suspicion is that it is more likely to have been planted by someone in the Timothy Mcveigh/Unabomber/survivalist-militia mould.

I think we might see a lot of incidents like this in the years to come - embittered people who have seen their lives fall apart in the credit crunch, lost their homes, farms, whatever, lash out at the government, the banks, big cities, whatever is convenient and sufficiently 'other' to project their self loathing and sense of failure on to.
1 - "Times Square Bomb Scare: Foreign Militants, or Homegrown Terror?" by Howard Chua-Eoan. Published by time, 2nd of May, 2010. (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1986469,00.html)

British pollsters predict

Interestingly, the predictions of the pollsters are different from what their polls are predicting. Bit of personal bias, or do they see something that isn't obvious from the figures?
Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos MORI: "It's a mug's game calling this election, with half the voters saying they may still change their minds."

11 April: Hung parliament with the Tories 25 seats short of a majority.
18 April: Conservative lead, from 20 short of a majority to a majority of 20 seats.
Now: Conservative lead, from 20 short of a majority to a majority of 20 seats.

Robert Salvoni, President, Harris Interactive: "Cameron is viewed as the strongest leader, but he only has a few days left to convince the electorate that he is in touch with the nation and that his policies are strong enough to deliver on the challenges ahead."

11 April: Conservatives win with 2-10 seat majority.
18 April: Conservatives win with 10 seat majority.
Now: Conservatives win with 10 seat majority.

Martin Boon, head of social & government research, ICM Research:"It's fairly apparent to all that the debates were a real game changer and the Lib Dem surge means it's fairly impossible to predict the share of the vote, never mind seats."

11 April: Conservatives win with 20 seat majority.
18 April: Conservatives win with 15 seat majority.
Now: Hung parliament with the Conservatives four or five seats short of a majority.

Andrew Cooper, founder and strategic director, Populus: "There is nothing that Gordon Brown can do to recover his position. They are rejecting him, his arguments and his government. Labour are likely to be not merely defeated, but purged."

11 April: Conservatives win with 10+ seat majority.
18 April: Conservatives win with 10+ seat majority.
Now: Conservatives win with an overall majority of 10+ seats.

Andrew Hawkins, executive chairman, ComRes: "Had Gordon Brown or David Cameron seen Michael Cockerell's excellent documentary 'How to win a TV debate' they would never have agreed to it."

11 April: Conservatives win with 32 seat majority.
18 April: Hung parliament with the Conservatives 11 seats short of a majority.
Now: Hung parliament with the Conservatives 11 seats short of a majority.

Andy Morris, research director, Vision Critical: "The first debate was the defining moment of the campaign. The Lib Dem surge that followed caused a redefinition of campaign tactics by all three parties."

11 April: Conservatives win with 40-50 seat majority.
18 April: Conservatives win with 30-40 seat majority.
Now: Hung parliament with the Conservatives between one and 10 seats short of a majority.

Johnny Heald, managing director, Opinion Research Business: "Labour's defence of their title never really got going ... and there must be slight questions over their strategy. The momentum appears to be with Cameron. "

11 April: Conservatives win with 40+ seat majority.
18 April: Conservatives win with 40+ seat majority.
Now: Conservatives win with a 20+ seat majority. (1)
If this is a reflection of what actually happens on polling day, then I am in despair. Not only because it will mean that the constitutional reforms that Britain needs will be deferred again, but because the British public will have elected the worst of all possible options.

Obviously, a Lib-Lab coalition (or a minority Labour government with confidence and supply support would have been the best option. A Labour or (don't snigger) Lib Dem majority would have been next best, followed by a Lib-Tory joint project. A Tory majority would have been the worst, and the pollsters seem to think this is what we will have, once Friday morning drags itself around.

I just can't imagine the Tories being anything other than awful. Look at how they have coped with the current enthusiasm for the Lib Dems - it has completely up-ended them. The Tories are hopeless. Since the first debate, they've been completely clueless. There campaign consists of "No More Gordon! Free Money! Um ... No More Gordon! Free Money!"

Can you imagine that shower of self wetting spineless wimps dealing with a crisis in the real world, rather than a hiccup in their friggin' campaign? "Terrorism in London? Well, at least we're not Gordon. Have some free money ..."

The Tories are promising tax cuts and, at the same time, deficit reduction, based on savings which can't really be taken very seriously, while at the same time promising services won't be affected. Hopeless. In fact, it's worse than that, it's completely delusional, the sort of crazed visionary stuff promised by the more out there religious sects. Ponzi would be embarrassed by the Osbourne theory of economic management. If David Cameron was Mohammed, he wouldn't be promising prospective martyrs seventy virgins on their entry to paradise, he'd be saying they didn't even need to worry about the nasty martyrdom bit first.

And the Tories want to start it now, while the economy is still scratching its head and wondering if it should just slump back into recession. Idiocy.
1 - "Tory lead widens to 10 points as Lib Dems slip," by Jane Merrick. Published in The Independent, 2nd of May, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-lead-widens-to-10-points-as-lib-dems-slip-1960371.html)

Sunday, 2 May 2010

British polls

UK Polling report gives a rolling average figure, based on all polls, of ...

Conservative ... 35%
Labour ... 27%
Lib Dem ... 28% (1)

It's worth noting that one of these polls, Angus Reid, seems to consistently record lower levels of support for Labour than the other polls, usually placing it below 25%. So it is likely that - assuming Angus Reid is less accurate than the other polls - that the Tories have enjoyed a slight surge, and Labour have managed to claw their way back to the same level as the Lib Dems. Which means of, course, that absolutely nothing is predictable, due to the incalculable sin First Past The Post. Labour's support is probably substantially higher in Scotland, whereas the Tories will be doing well if the gain even a couple of seats there. Ditto in Wales. But both these countries have strong national parties. And so on ... so on ... the best thing that you can about FPTP is it gives bloggers a lot of stuff to think about, and everyone can have fun poking about in the entrails and seeing what they want to see.

(For what it is worth, I'm feeling glum and now expect the Tories to form the largest party, though probably still short of a majority.)

Stepping back from the steaming, bloody entrails, to look at the whole bloodied corpse of the British body politic, it has to be said that this is insanity. Britain has suffered 13 years of atrocious governance, broken promises, lies, a needless war in Iraq, the expenses scandal, and Gordon Brown calling an old biddy a bigot, and the Tories are still barely keeping their heads above water in the popular vote, and are likely dismally screwed in terms of seats. How much do people hate them?

People have had had 13 years to find reasons to hate Labour, and Labour have been generous in doling out reasons. The Tories should be looking for a 1997 result, but as it stands, they are struggling to be the largest party, never mind a majority of any sort. the people must hate the Tories with a deep and abiding loathing, and I suspect it won't fade until the faces from the 90s - Howard, Redwood, Hague and so on - are gone.

I think the polls are showing a slight increase in Tory support is because 'Don't Knows' are becoming 'Knows.' In part, this is just what happens during elections as people make up their minds. And, asurdly, it might actually be that Duffygate has given the Tories a 1 or 2 point boost - even though it doesn't seem to have damaged Labour, who have clawed back a point or two on the Lib Dems who, in turn, are starting to subside a bit. If they lose any more support, it is going to be vital where it goes. A single point drop off in Lib Dem support that transfers to Labour might have a huge impact, costing the Lib Dems a few seats and netting Labour a whole load more. Or the Tories, of course, if it goes that way ...
1 - The rolling average figure, as per UK Polling report blog, as of the 2nd of May, 2010. (http://www.ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/)