Saturday, 18 November 2017

Political correlations within the Australian same-sex marriage referendum

On Tuesday, Australia voted in favour of same-sex marriage by a margin of 61.6% to 38.4%, which was celebrated not only by Australians but by progressive people around the world, even if they did not identify as LGBTIQA+.

However, as with a referendum on the same issue in Ireland in 2015, the divide between secular, urban communities and rural, more religious communities was very stark indeed. Several electorates with high proportions of residents born overseas also voted against, notably the division of Bruce, where over 50% of residents were born overseas, where nearly 50% were born in a non-English speaking country, and where over 50% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Bruce voted against same-sex marriage by a margin of 46.9% to 53.1%. It is not a safe electorate either-it is marginal (held by Labor)

Of the 17 electorates which voted against same-sex marriage in that survey, the majority were Labor-held, and often very safely so (Kennedy was held by Katter's Australian Party, and of those 17 only the electorates of Bennelong, Banks, Mitchell, Groom, and Maranoa elected Liberal MPs in 2016) , and the majority of them were not rural either. The division of Blaxland, which recorded the lowest proportion of voters in favour of same-sex marriage in that survey (26%), is an urban, working-class and solidly Labor electorate. Rural voters were overall less in favour but not significantly less so than urban voters, although affluent, secular, and professional urban voters were far more in favour than poorer urban voters. Of particular interest, former Australian PM Tony Abbott's safely Liberal electorate of Warringah voted in favour by a 3-1 margin despite Tony's strong opposition to it as a conservative Roman Catholic.

Is there a correlation between the Labor vote and support for same-sex marriage/Liberal-National vote and opposition to same-sex marriage?

The answer is no. However, there is a strong correlation between the Green vote and support for same-sex marriage. The 10 electorates with the highest level of support for The Greens at the last Australian election in 2016 all voted in support of same-sex marriage by margins well above the national average. These 10 electorates are Melbourne (the only lower house seat in Australia with a Green MP, namely Adam Bandt), Batman (once the safest Labor electorate in Australia),Wills, Higgins (the only Liberal electorate the Australian Greens came within striking distance of capturing on the two candidate preferred vote in 2016), Melbourne Ports (a 3-way marginal), Grayndler, Gellibrand, Richmond (Australia's closest answer to Britain's Stroud in that respect), Brisbane (the only one of these ten not in Victoria or New South Wales; Brisbane is the state capital of Queensland), and Kooyong. In the electorate of Melbourne, more than five voters out of six who responded to the survey supported same-sex marriage, matched only by the electorate of Sydney. All the electorates where support for same-sex marriage was 80% or greater had higher Green votes than average. Conversely, the 17 electorates which voted against same-sex marriage accounted for two of only nine lost deposits for the Greens in 2016 (in Australia, candidates for the lower house have to pay a $1000 deposit, which is returned if the 1st preferences exceed 4%), and in each case the Green vote was significantly below average. New South Wales has a "bible belt" which is usually Labor and also has strong support for the right-wing Christian Democrats.

A similar referendum in Ireland showed a stark urban/rural divide above anything else. Given that this factor was not present in this same-sex marriage referendum, what were the dividing lines?

Religious affiliation, first and foremost. Electorates with high proportions of Roman Catholics voted either against or only narrowly in favour, as did electorates with high proportions of Muslim voters (and of course, electorates with both of these factors, like Callow). Rural New South Wales has a very high church attendance, especially compared to secular Sydney. The more secular the electorate, the higher the for vote.

Prosperity was also a decisive factor in the Australian same-sex marriage referendum, although not to the extent religious affiliation or lack thereof was. The wealthier urban electorates, such as Wentworth and North Sydney (neither of which have ever been won by Labor in Australia) voted in favour by margins much higher than the national average. Working-class electorates were less supportive overall, irrespective of their ethnic make-up, as were many rural electorates with below-average median household incomes.

And finally on a different note...
 Speaking of Australian politics, Queensland will have its state election next week, and there are good chances to make a permanent crack in the two party system there.

Friday, 17 November 2017

My analysis of UK local by-elections from 16/11/17 and other thoughts

Readers, the results of British local by-elections from this week were as follows:

Chiltern DC, Penn & Coleshill: Conservative 697 (80.6%, -19.4%), Liberal Democrats 168 (19.4%). NB: Conservatives were unopposed in this ward in 2015.

Darlington UA, Mowden: Conservative 652 (60.9%, +6.6%), Labour 285 (26.6%, -10.4%), Liberal Democrats 111 (10.4%), Green 26 (2.1%, -6.6%).

Darlington UA, Red Hill & Lingfield: Labour 249 (44.8%, -1.9%), Conservative 230 (41.4%, +12.4%), Independent (Kevin Brack)* 46 (8.3%), Green 20 (3.6%, -8.9%), Liberal Democrats 11 (2.0%, -9.9%).

Eden DC, Penrith North: Liberal Democrats 422 (45.2%, +2.3%), Conservative 291 (31.2%,-0.8%), Labour 155 (16.6%, -8.5%), Green 65 (7.0%).
Fylde BC, Staining & Weeton: Conservative 401 (73.0%, +8.4%), Labour 111 (20.2%, -15.1%), Liberal Democrats 37 (6.7%).

Hartlepool UA, Victoria: Labour 479 (53.1%, +10.7%), UKIP 325 (36.0%, +12.7%), Conservative 98 (10.9%, -0.7%). All changes are since 2016.

South Holland DC, Whaplode & Holbeach St Johns: Conservative 541 (78.0%, +21.2%), Labour 153 (22.0%).

Waveney DC, Kirkley: Labour 374 (47.8%, +12.2%), Conservative 217 (27.7%, +7.2%), Liberal Democrats 84 (10.7%), UKIP 78 (10.0%, -9.7%), Green 30 (3.8%, -5.1%).

Waveney DC, St Margarets: Conservative 487 (41.7%, +11.8%), Labour 410 (35.1%, -1.3%), UKIP 119 (10.2%, -15.8%), Liberal Democrats 88 (7.5%), Green 65 (5.6%, -2.2%). Conservative gain from Labour.

West Lindsey DC, Sudbrooke: Conservative 391 (69.6%, +0.6%), Labour 171 (30.4%, +10.5%).

*Kevin Brack is a member of Anne-Marie Waters' "For Britain" party which has not been registered with the Electoral Commission at this time.

This is without a doubt one of the best by-election weeks the Conservatives have had in months, even if they only captured one seat from Labour. The Conservatives increased their vote sharply in the majority of this week's by-elections, to the point where they captured the marginal St Margarets ward from Labour and nearly captured the normally reliable Labour ward of Red Hill & Lingfield (predecessors are accounted for; Darlington underwent a re-warding for its 2015 elections). They almost certainly would have captured it had it not been revealed that their candidate, Jonathan Dulston, had last year been fined for being drunk and disorderly and for obstructing an officer (he was in fact a special constable!).  The Conservatives managed decisive victories in rural wards, and notably achieved an 11.8% swing against Labour in the by-election in Staining  Weeton despite the ward being located close to the site of a planned fracking operation. Fracking is detested by the vast majority of Lancashire residents, even those living miles from the planned drilling. Two years ago, an anti-fracking independent by the name of Mike Hill achieved 5,166 votes in the otherwise solidly Conservative Fylde constituency (known as South Fylde until 1983

UKIP performed surprisingly well this week, actually edging closer to Labour in Hartlepool, one of the few areas with any significant UKIP organisation remaining. Hartlepool recorded the second best UKIP result in June 2017 behind Thurrock, although UKIP still slipped to 3rd with only 11% of the vote. Labour's candidate did not live in the ward and this gave UKIP an unintentional advantage, as did the absence of Putting Hartlepool First from that by-election's ballot paper. UKIP's vote was left wading in Waveney, but not drowning as it is elsewhere. Like most ex-fishing coastal towns, Lowestoft, the actual town where both of the local by-elections in Waveney happened, is drifting from Labour to the Conservatives in the long term as I have explained earlier in this blog. The traditional working-class ward of St Margarets was never safely Labour, only reliably Labour, and the falling UKIP vote aided a Conservative victory. Kirkley once had a slate of Liberal Democrat councillors who lost to Labour back in 2011 when they faced their first coalition drubbing; the Liberal Democrats did not even stand in Kirkley ward in 2015 and even though they beat UKIP in this by-election it does not give them real hope for a revival. The Greens, meanwhile, have faced substantial squeezes and lost considerable ground in Darlington in particular (many of their good results came due to the absence of Liberal Democrat candidates in the wards in question, however), but they have some excellent opportunities for local by-election gains in the coming weeks. The majority of these local by-elections, unsurprisingly given how cold a November this has been, had turnouts below 20%.

In environmental news, Sheffield Green Councillor Alison Teal was cleared by a magistrates' court of charges brought by Labour-dominated Sheffield City Council in relation to a protest against tree-felling ordered by said council. Sadly, today, Green county councillor Gina Dowding, along with 11 others including two independent councillors, was convicted of obstructing the highway in relation to a peaceful protest against planned shale gas operations in Lancashire, even though the environmental and health damage caused by those operations will be catastrophic in the long term and will ruin the lives of many residents. Shale gas is neither needed nor wanted in Lancashire, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter, and other countries are right to ban exploration for it. Renewable energy investment is needed instead.

Friday, 10 November 2017

My analysis of British local by-elections from 9/11/17

Readers, the results of British local by-elections from this week were as follows:

Camden LBC, Gospel Oak: Labour 1144 (57.5, +9.5%), Liberal Democrats 510 (25.7%, +19.2%), Conservative 303 (15.2%, -1.1%), English Democrats 31 (1.6%).

Fareham BC, Stubbington: Liberal Democrats 1185 (55.2%, +32.4%), Conservative 769 (35.8%, +6.1%), UKIP 117 (5.4%, -37.9%), Labour 76 (3.5%, -0.5%). Liberal Democrat gain from UKIP; all changes are since 2014.

Flintshire UA, Buckley Bistre West: Labour 398 (53.9%, +10.5%), Independent (Hutchinson) 110 (14.9%), Independent (Teire) 86 (11.7%), Liberal Democrats 85 (11.5%, -26.8%), Conservative 59 (8.0%).

High Peak DC, Limestone Peak: Conservative 261 (53.7%, +3.4%), Labour 133 (27.4%, +0.6%), Liberal Democrats 58 (11.9%), Green 34 (7.0%).
 Wandsworth LBC, Thamesfield: Conservative 1910 (48.9%, -1.1%), Labour 1101 (28.2%, +10.7%), Liberal Democrats 619 (15.9%, +6.3%), Green 275 (7.0%, -9.9%).

The absence of a Green candidate in Gospel Oak gave an indirect boost to the Liberal Democrats, who have made only a slight recovery in heavily pro-European Camden, and in a safe Labour ward which Labour have only lost once since the first election to Camden Borough Council in 1964 (even in 1968, Gospel Oak elected one Labour councillor out of two; 2006 was the first time in Camden Borough Council's history that Gospel Oak failed to elect any Labour councillors when it narrowly elected 3 Conservative councillors), and for many years beforehand on the now-defunct St Pancras council (one of three predecessors to Camden, the others being Hampstead and Holborn). Elsewhere in London, Labour managed a 5.9% swing in Thamesfield, one of the wealthiest areas of inner London, and certainly of Wandsworth. This was helped by the Liberal Democrats winning over many affluent, pro-Remain Conservative areas as they had done in June, which also placed a considerable squeeze on the Green Party who have previously done comparatively well in Thamesfield. Putney, the constituency in which Thamesfield ward sits, recorded the highest Lib Dem result in Wandsworth (and the largest increase) in the June general election, although it remained Conservative unlike Battersea which was won by Labour. It is the most affluent and gentrified part of Wandsworth and to some extent always has been.

UKIP's absence and collapse has often helped the Conservatives in by-elections, but not always or not enough as this week's by-elections show. A small swing of 1.4% from Labour to Conservative was managed in rural Limestone Peak, but in the coastal town of Fareham it was not enough to prevent a clear Liberal Democrat gain even though the resigning UKIP councillor had already joined the Conservatives by the time he resigned his council seat. This UKIP collapse, from 43.3% in 2014 to a mere 5.4% in 2017, is the biggest UKIP collapse so far in British local by-election history. These Liberal Democrat surges on the coast will be nonetheless limited in scope-the Liberal Democrat strength on the coast, locally and nationally has largely faded away and is unlikely to recover for the foreseeable future except in special cases like Eastbourne, which they recaptured from the Conservatives in June.

Meanwhile in Flintshire, the importance of personal votes could clearly not be underestimated; the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed due to their serving councillor, Neville Phillips, who has served in Flintshire (and one of its predecessor authorities, Alyn & Deeside) since 1973, not being the candidate in this by-election; the town of Buckley Bistre normally leans Labour unless another candidate's personal vote is strong enough, which is usually the case for at least two candidates who stand in the Buckley Bistre wards when Flintshire has its council elections. However, as usual in Wales, the Independent candidates performed reasonably well despite not coming close to winning.

From today, the "six month rule" applies to British local councils having elections in 2018, meaning that any council vacancies occurring after today will not be filled by by-elections but remain unfilled until May 2018. This rule will, for example, apply to all London borough councils and all councils holding elections by thirds and by halves.

Friday, 3 November 2017

My analysis of British by-elections from 02/11/17 and a tribute to Derek Robinson

Readers, the results of British local by-elections of 2 November 2017 were as follows:

Arun DC, Aldwick West: Liberal Democrats 719 (52.7%, +33.5%), Conservative 480 (35.2%, -13.3%), Labour 112 (8.2%), Green 54 (4.0%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Buckinghamshire CC, Beaconsfield: Conservative 1298 (81.3%, +11.1%), Liberal Democrats 299 (18.7%, +2.5%).
 Copeland DC, Egremont South: Labour 354 (52.4%, +12.4%), Conservative 321 (47.6%, +20.1%).

North Devon DC, Braunton East: Liberal Democrats 459 (37.1%, +3.0%), Green 387 (31.5%), Conservative 225 (18.2%, -17.5%), Labour 165 (13.3%, +6.3%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Sefton MBC, Duke's: Liberal Democrats 1680 (56.0%, +28.4%), Conservative 790 (26.3%, -9.4%), Labour 417 (13.9%, -2.3%), UKIP 69 (2.3%, -13.5%), Green 45 (1.5%, -3.1%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative; all changes are since 2015.

South Buckinghamshire DC, Beaconsfield North: Conservative 441 (, Liberal Democrats 136.

Note: The marker "all changes are since [X]" on a by-election result only applies to by-elections in councils which hold elections by thirds or by halves. It does not apply to councils which hold full council elections.

The Liberal Democrat capture of Duke's ward in Southport, part of Sefton MBC, was a foregone conclusion especially with former MP John Pugh (who retired earlier this year) as the (successful) candidate and with local Conservative organisation in Sefton being practically non-existent at times. However, their gains in Aldwick West, which has one of the highest proportions of retirees in Britain, and in Braunton East where the Green Party was campaigning heavily, were altogether more surprising.

The sexual harassment scandal in Westminster, which has recently led to the suspension pending further investigation of Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North since 1997) and possibly that of Charlie Elphicke (Conservative MP for Dover in 2010; however the exact nature of the serious allegations leading to his suspension has not yet been verified) has played a significant role in the Liberal Democrats' excellent performances against the Conservatives this week (barring ultra-Conservative Beaconsfield); no Liberal Democrat MPs have been accused in relation to this particular scandal so far. Green MP Caroline Lucas has called for consent lessons to be taught to all MPs, although a more substantial cultural change is what is really required to tackle this problem. This is reminiscent of the sharp swings from Conservative to Liberal in the 1964 general election in many middle-class areas (especially small-medium towns) following the Profumo scandal of 1963.

The Conservatives can at least be relieved at their good performance in Egremont, located in the Copeland constituency (one of only six Conservative gains made from Labour this June) and near the Sellafield nuclear plant, although this is trending Conservative anyway. The lack of an independent candidate here (they are a very common sight in rural Cumbrian elections) also helped the Conservatives' performance.

In other political news, controversial trade union stalwart Derek 'Red Robbo' Robinson, famous (or infamous) for his union activities in British Leyland particularly at the Austin factory in Longbridge, Birmingham, has died. He was also a Communist candidate for Birmingham Northfield four times in succession, from 1966 to October 1974, and he has beaten in both 1974 elections by an affiliate of the People Party and then an official People Party candidate, who both represented the first incarnation of the Green Party I know and love. Although his strike action, which he coordinated at all 42 BL plants, went to such great lengths he was famously sacked by British Leyland manager Michael Edwardes in 1979, it is clear that he genuinely stood up for car workers at British Leyland (unlike some more extreme Trotskyist agitators who just wanted attention and to cause trouble) who were let down by fundamental structural flaws, an incompetent and short-sighted management, and a government who failed to intervene when it was essential to do so. He was supposedly sacked to make sure British Leyland could move on with new models, but by then it was clear British Leyland was unviable (and likely never was viable in the first place) and it was broken up in 1986. Even after he slipped into relative obscurity, he was remembered (either fondly or with contempt) for many years afterwards until his death earlier this week.

In memory of Derek Robinson, born 1927, who departed this life on 31 October 2017, aged 90 years.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

On the Icelandic election of 2017-Left Foot Forward, But Not Very Far After All

The Icelandic parliamentary election of 2017 was widely predicted to bring in a record surge for the Left-Green Movement of Iceland, led by popular progressive Katrin Jakobsdottir.

It was not quite to be, however. The Left-Green Movement lost considerable momentum just when they needed it before the end of the campaign, partly due to attack advertisements from the ruling conservative Independence Party. The Left-Greens added only one seat to their total, bringing up them to 11, although even a one-seat improvement is very useful in Iceland as their Althing has only 63 members. Nevertheless, last minute tactics were not enough to prevent losses by IP, who lost 5 seats bringing them down to 16, although given that the snap election was caused by a scandal involving a letter involving the Prime Minister's father (Benedikt Sveinsson wrote a letter recommending that a convicted child rapist have their "honour restored": ) these losses are not as bad as initially expected. In fact they still topped the poll in every Icelandic constituency despite the best efforts of the Left-Green movement, even in the capital, Reykjavik (which has two constituencies, North and South; Reykjavik North is more radical and progressive in political terms). The Pirate Party, meanwhile, was the biggest loser amongst parties of the Icelandic "left", losing 4 of its seats and slipping from third place to sixth place nationally. The Social Democrats, who could potentially have slipped into oblivion and below the 5% threshold after their disastrous 2016 result, experienced a crucial revival with their seat total increasing to 7; they also came third behind only IP and LG. The Centre Party, a split from the agrarian and Eurosceptic Progressive Party (ironically similar Scandinavian political parties are called the Centre Party, with other Scandinavian Progressive Parties being completely different things), managed 10.9% of the vote and 7 seats, with a key focus on populism and regional issues, thus preventing the Progressive Party from making any recovery from its 11 seat loss of 2016.

Bright Future, whose withdrawal from the governing coalition caused the snap election, found themselves locked out of the new Althing. They lost 5/6ths of their support, dropping from 7.2% to a derisory 1.2%, losing all 4 of their seats in the process. Another junior partner, the Reform Party, did not fare nearly as badly, losing only 3 of their 7 seats, making them the joint-smallest party in the 2017 Althing. The new People's Party, formed by disability rights activist Inga Saeland, did slightly better in vote share terms (6.9%) but only achieved 4 seats. The only two other parties that contested this election were the communist People's Front of Iceland, who polled only 375 votes partly due to not standing in every Icelandic constituency, and Dawn, whose support dropped to a tiny trickle when they only fielded a list in the South constituency, which achieved just 101 votes.

It is clear that Bjarni can no longer remain Prime Minister of Iceland, not only due to parliamentary losses but also the after-effects of the scandal, which has led to the repeal of the 77 year old 'restored honour' concept, which allowed people in Iceland convicted of serious crimes (even murder!) to apply to have civil rights restored on the basis of three good character recommendations and the President's signature. Under current Icelandic law, anyone convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than four months in prison for it is barred from standing for election or practising medicine or law, amongst other restrictions, without going through such procedures.The concept is currently being reviewed by the Icelandic Ministry of Justice; attempts to restore the concept will face substantial opposition from victims' rights advocates especially with regard to sex offences.

The Centre Party now holds the balance of power between the two "left" and "right" blocs in the Althing and obtaining its confidence and supply will be crucial for both Bjarni and Katrin in their quest to retain their position as PM or newly acquire it; it is highly likely that Katrin will be successful in this regard, especially since the People's Party is more likely to support her.

Friday, 27 October 2017

My analysis of British local by-elections from 26/10/2017

Readers, the results of this week's local by-elections in Britain were as follows:

Charnwood BC, Loughborough Hastings (2 seats): Labour 676/648 (63.5%, +18.4%), Conservative 228 (21.9%,-0.8%), UKIP 95/79 (8.3%, -9.3%), Green 73/58 (6.3%, -8.3%).

Derbyshire Dales DC, Ashbourne South: Conservative 495 (46.2%, -6.4%), Liberal Democrats 334 (31.2%), Labour (22.6%, -2.5%).

Herefordshire UA, Kings Acre: Conservative 302 (38.5%), Independent 162 (20.6%), It's Our County 156 (19.9%, -30.2%), Liberal Democrats 90 (11.5%, -21.9%), Labour 75 (9.6%). Conservative gain from It's Our County (Herefordshire).

Kirklees MBC, Batley East: Labour 2640 (77.0%, +7.2%), Conservative 443 (12.9%, -1.0%), Local Independents Heavy Wool District 141 (4.1%), Liberal Democrats 136 (4.0%, -1.0%), Green 70 (2.0%, -1.0%).

Mid Sussex DC, East Grinstead Imberhorne: Conservative 540 (58.5%, -1.2%), Liberal Democrats 206 (22.3%), Labour 110 (11.9%, -9.1%), Independent 67 (7.3%).

Tameside MBC, Droylsden East: Labour 1064 (60.3%, +8.9%), Conservative 577 (32.7%, +23.6%), Liberal Democrats 63 (3.6%), Green 60 (3.4%, -2.5%).

NB: "Local Independents Heavy Wool District" is a localist party formed by Aleks Lukic, a former member of UKIP (he stood as an Independent in Batley & Spen in 2017, where he stood for UKIP in 2015).

The Conservative gain in Herefordshire was rather surprising, given the relative unpopularity of the Conservative administration in Herefordshire, whose majority is just 3 (it was 1 before the election; one seat is vacant and it has not been filled yet) and the comparative popularity of the localist It's Our County group. The Conservatives also did not field a candidate in that ward in 2015, which in rural counties like Herefordshire almost never happens.

The Liberal Democrats' candidature in two small town wards where they had not stood in 2015 made only a small impact on the Conservative vote, and in fact won over more Labour votes. The Greens did not stand in either ward (although there was a Green candidate in Ashbourne South in 2015) and there is a lot of Green potential in these rural towns, more so in East Grinstead as past results show; in retrospect Green candidates should have stood in both wards.

Meanwhile in the metropolitan boroughs, former UKIP candidate Aleks Lukic (also a teacher at the same grammar school the late Jo Cox MP went to) showed how weak his personal vote really is once again-after achieving just 2% in Batley & Spen in the last general election he only managed 4.1% in the Batley East by-election, just five votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats, even though his former party did not even stand. It predictably proved to be a remarkably easy hold for Labour, as did Droylsden East in Greater Manchester. UKIP's absence did allow for a very large boost to the Conservative vote, however, following a trend seen in many working-class metropolitan suburbs, especially those with a low BAME population.