Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to the German federal election of 2017

Next month, Germany goes to the polls for the Bundestag election, one of the most important in all Europe especially given the influence of Chancellor Dr Angela Dorothea Merkel, aka 'Mutti'.

The candidates in the Wahlkreis (single member constituencies) and the Landkreis (party lists) have now been finalised, and a total of 38 parties will be participating in this election. Including the CSU who are allied with the governing CDU, only 10 will be on the ballot in all states. They are in addition to the CDU/CSU the SPD (Social Democrats), Greens, FDP (Free Democrats), Die Linke (The Left), AfD (Alternative for Germany), Die PARTEI, MLPD (Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany), FREIE WAHLER (Free Voters) and BGE (Basic Income Party). Other parties featured in 10 or more of the lander include the NPD (National Democrats; Berlin is the only place where they are not on the ballot), PIRATEN (Pirate Party), ODP (Ecological Democrats), V-Partei (Vegetarians and Vegans Party), Tierschutzpartei (Animal Welfare Party), and DM (German Centre).

Current polls show that the shine has come off Martin Schulz, Chancellor-Candidate for the SPD, and that Angela Merkel is back on form by polling consistently 37-40%. The battle for third place is by far the most contested-the smaller parties likely to enter or remain in the Bundestag, who are Die Linke, the Greens, the FDP, and AfD, have been polling from 6-10% consistently for the last two months. Die Linke's position is strongest in practice as they are the only party other than the CDU and SPD who can realistically challenge for significant numbers of single member constituencies; they won 4 all on Berlin's east side (down from 16 in 2009 nonetheless). By contrast the Greens can only challenge in five of Germany's 299 SMCs at the moment (they hold one in Berlin, whose member, Hans-Christian Strobele, is retiring this year; the only other 4 they have a hope of winning are in central Berlin, central Stuttgart, and the city of Freiburg im Breisgau respectively) and the FDP and AfD are not in contention to win any direct mandates and will have to rely entirely on list seats.

So what is likely to happen?

Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia) and the capital of Berlin will be the ones to watch in terms of direct mandates as well as list votes; the size of most single member constituencies in Germany (electorates are around 200,000 per SMC) means the majority of them are safe and that even marginal SMCs will only go from CDU to SPD and back again election after election. The FDP is likely to return to the Bundestag after having lost all of its seats in 2013; their performance and that of the Greens will be deal-breakers in this election as the CDU find it easier in practice to work with the FDP than the SPD, and the SPD find it easiest to work with the Greens amongst potential junior coalition partners. The AfD's almost certain entry to the Bundestag will have a lesser impact since other German political parties are unwilling to work with them due to their racist and anti-immigrant tendencies; it will not be able to have the blockade power of the Sweden Democrats as its support is much lower in the West than in the East of Germany.

Angela Merkel will almost certainly be returned as Chancellor for a fourth term, but this German Bundestag election is no less worth watching than those before.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Why a proposed new centre party is doomed to fail/why the SDP was doomed to fail

There have been recent talks of pro-Remain MPs from both Labour and the Conservative Parties forming a new, anti-Brexit 'centre party', as seen in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/05/new-political-party-leave-voters-right among other media.

This is reminiscent of the breakway SDP, founded by the 'Gang of Four' (Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers) in 1981 and taking in 27 Labour MPs (and the Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler) in the process. Although it initially achieved surprisingly high success in by-elections and some local elections and, once allied to the Liberals, topped the opinion polls until the Falklands War, it overall only ended up splitting the Labour vote enough to grant the Conservatives treble-figure majorities twice (144 in 1983 and 102 in 1987) and after 1987 dwindled to the point where most of its members agreed a merger between the SDP and the Liberals to form the present-day Liberal Democrats. When three SDP MPs-David Owen, Rosie Barnes, and John Cartwright- tried to continue the SDP, they politically plummeted even faster than ever before to the point where the continuing SDP achieved less than half the votes of Screaming Lord Sutch in the Bootle by-election of 1990. Amazingly, an SDP still exists, but it is a politically minute outfit with no principal authority councillors and (at most) 40 members. Its six candidates in the 2017 general election achieved just 469 votes between them, and all of them finished bottom of the poll in the constituencies they stood in.

The SDP, like many similar and less well-known parties before it (the Social Democratic Alliance, which featured prominently in the 1981 Greater London Council election, and Dick Taverne's Democratic Labour whose two 1979 general election candidates, Frederick Stockdale and Cyril Nottingham, indirectly handed the seats of Lincoln and Brigg & Scunthorpe to the Conservatives) never had a realistic chance of survival in the long term. This is because it lacked core grassroots support, which any significant political party requires. All five of the largest parties in England had this feature to some extent or another, but the SDP never did being formed mainly of moderate Labour MPs rather than any significant number of grassroots activists. This also partly explains why the continuing SDP did not survive; without extensive media coverage or real support it faded away into irrelevance within only two years, inflated largely by David Owen's ego.

The proposed new centrist Anti-Brexit party has the same problems-it is currently mere speculation by the media and I have seen no desire from significant numbers of actual voters for such a party, especially when the Liberal Democrats and Green Party already exist. Even if it is formed, it will not be able to sustain itself for more than a few years because 'Bregretters' and those wanting a second EU referendum already have somewhere to turn. There is just no space for it in modern British politics, which is much more crowded than it was back in 1981.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The road to Downing Street now runs by the seaside

Labour's win of the recent by-election in Marine ward, Worthing, is not a surprise but merely part of a trend.

Seaside resorts, particularly on the south coast, have been getting considerably better for Labour during the last few years. Blackpool and Brighton started the trend in the 1980s when after the 1992 general election, Blackpool North, Blackpool South and Brighton Pavilion became marginal seats for the first time having always been safely Conservative before. Previously, such seaside towns could only possibly become marginal through the intervention of respected Liberal candidates (Ronnie Fearn in Southport, for example, and briefly Michael Pitts in Scarborough) with a strong personal vote, and that was only possible in smaller seaside towns.

To compare the general election trend in such places, let us take a look at the main results in Worthing West and Worthing East & Shoreham since their creation in 1997 (from Worthing and Shoreham):

Worthing West:

Year:   Conservative:  Labour:   Liberal Democrat:

1997    46.1%             16.2%        31.2%  

2001     47.5                21.2           26.5

2005     47.6                19.2           26.7

2010     51.7                11.8           27.9

2015     51.5                15.7            8.8

2017     55.4                33.2           5.5

Worthing East & Shoreham:

Year:     Conservative:  Labour:  Liberal Democrat:

1997       40.5               23.9           30.6

2001      43.2               29.0           22.9

2005      43.9              25.5            24.3

2010     48.5              16.7             25.5

2015     49.5              19.5             6.7

2017      48.9             39.3             4.7

The last time both seats were this marginal before 2017 was 1997, when Labour's landslide victory gave them 2 1/2 times as many seats as the defeated Conservatives (418 to 165); Labour are still 55 seats behind the Conservatives (262 to 317) and they are now the main competitors for those seats, not the Liberal Democrats. As I have said here: https://greensocialistalan.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/my-analysis-of-by-elections-from-3817.html this is being caused by Brightonians looking for more affordable housing and rents and a decline in the elderly populations of both towns. This extends to results at a local level as well: Labour made three gains in Adur (covering Shoreham-by-Sea) in 2016 and once UKIP's support collapses there next year, they stand to become the beneficiaries.
Bournemouth also experienced a similar phenomenon, with the Labour vote in both Bournemouth East and Bournemouth West rising to as high as 35.6% and 36.2% respectively, the highest Labour vote shares ever recorded in Bournemouth by far. And with the Liberal Democrats no longer competitive there either, the split opposition factor will become moot.

Scarborough, meanwhile, did not revert back to being the safe Conservative seat it once was even though Labour lost it in 2005 and not 2010; they actually reduced the Conservative majority in 2015 and it is back in Labour's firing line. Southport, which has never been a Labour seat, now has Labour in a competitive second place instead of the Liberal Democrats who had previously held it. Meanwhile back on the south coast, South Thanet, Dover, and Hastings & Rye have become competitive for Labour again and are key targets for them in the next general election. The Conservative majorities in both Southend seats (over Labour), meanwhile, are the lowest since the 1997 Labour landslide.

Some more prosperous seaside towns which are also increasingly home to commuters, like Gosport and Fareham, continue to resist this trend, as do the more prosperous ones which lack any significant young population, like Christchurch (the safest Conservative seat in the country). However, constituencies on the south coast of England will nonetheless be crucial to the outcome of the next general election, as will the Black Country, England's answer to the USA's 'rust belt'.

Friday, 4 August 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 3/8/17

Readers, the results from this week's local by-elections in the UK are as follows:

Charnwood DC, Loughborough Shelthorpe: Labour 595 (45.5%, +4.7%), Conservative 591 (45.2%, +2.7%), Liberal Democrats 93 (7.1%), UKIP 29 (2.2%).

King's Lynn & West Norfolk BC, St Margarets with St Nicholas: Conservative 253 (36.2%, -6.6%), Labour 210 (36.0%, -3.1%), Liberal Democrats 173 (24.7%), Green 63 (9.0%, -15.1%). Conservative gain from Labour.

Sevenoaks DC, Penshurst, Fordscombe, and Chiddingstone: Conservative 438 (58.8%, +5.5%), Liberal Democrats 253 (34.0%, +0.2%), Labour 54 (7.2%).

Swale BC, Milton Regis: Labour 573 (53.8%, +25.1%), Conservative 255 (23.9%, -9.8%), UKIP 151 (14.2%, -14.7%), Liberal Democrats 86 (8.1%, -0.5%). Labour gain from UKIP.

Thanet DC, Margate Central: Labour 454 (57.1%, +26.6%), Conservative 190 (24.1%, +3.4%), UKIP 52 (6.6%, -25.7%), Liberal Democrats 33 (4.2%), No Description (Dean McCastree) 24 (3.0%), Green 23 (2.9%, -7.4%), Independent 13 (1.6%). Labour gain from UKIP.

Worthing BC, Marine: Labour 1032 (47.4%, +27.8%), Conservative 846 (38.8%, -6.4%), Liberal Democrats 246 (11.3%, +1.1%), Green 55 (2.5%, -6.2%). Labour gain from Conservative.

Labour's gain of Marine ward in this week's by-election, despite the fact Labour has only ever elected one councillor in Worthing before and the fact Marine ward has up until now continuously elected Conservative councillors since 1973, was not as surprising as many believed. Labour have been steadily gaining ground in Worthing and Shoreham in the last five years due to an influx of younger professionals moving in; this is happening as nearby Brighton and Hove are increasingly unaffordable to live in for many of them. House prices in the affluent areas of Brighton are now comparable with parts of London. Meanwhile, older voters are not as willing as they used to be to retire by the coast in traditional coastal towns. This phenomenon is not limited to Worthing, Shoreham, Brighton, or Hove either; Labour results have never been better in otherwise very safely Conservative Bournemouth. In anticipation, Labour worked as hard as they could in the by-election with their general election candidate for Worthing West (in which this ward sits), Rebecca Cooper, becoming the victorious councillor.

This week's by-elections also show how the UKIP vote is no longer reliably turning back to the Conservatives, especially in the south of England, as has been previously expected. Labour's vote share increase in percentage terms was almost eight times that of the Conservatives' own increase in the Margate Central by-election, which UKIP lost heavily. The same happened with the Milton Regis by-election in Swale, where the Conservatives lost out heavily and where Labour managed a majority of nearly 30%.

Labour's night was not entirely positive, however, as they lost a seat in the competitive St Margaret's with St Nicholas ward of King's Lynn, which regularly changes hands between the Conservatives and Labour, and they only narrowly held the Loughborough Shelthorpe by-election. Labour is still struggling to regain the respect of more average voters.

UKIP is becoming increasingly irrelevant when Britain is unlikely to avert Brexit altogether, and often does not stand at all when it is not defending a seat or in any position to gain one. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are struggling outside their best areas; only St Margarets with St Nicholas ward produced a competitive result for the Green Party last time out of these by-elections and this was without a Lib Dem candidate present in 2015. One entered this time and absorbed a large proportion of the Green votes that would otherwise have gone to the Lib Dems. The Liberal Democrats have been rapidly losing their grip on southern coastal towns and cities; they were once somewhat in contention in Bournemouth and Worthing but not anymore; they have no seats on Bournemouth council, have been losing seats rapidly in Fareham, lost their deposit in the Gosport constituency in June as well as Worthing East & Shoreham, and in Shoreham itself (i.e. Adur council) they are being replaced by Labour as a key opposition to the usually dominant Conservatives. Eastbourne (considerably further away from Brighton & Hove than Worthing or Shoreham) is bucking the trend largely due to Stephen Lloyd's personal vote and much more resilient organisation as well as the genteel nature of the place aiding the Liberal Democrats more than Labour.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Analysis of by-election results from 27/7/17

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

North Dorset DC, Blandford Central: Conservative 310 (36.6%, +16.6%), Labour 307 (36.3%, +25.1%), Liberal Democrats 229 (27.1%, +0.1%). Conservative gain from Independent.

Manchester MBC, Fallowfield: Labour 861 (76.9%, +5.7%), Green 105 (9.4%, -5.7%), Liberal Democrats 82 (7.3%, +2.7%), Conservative 72 (6.4%, -0.8%).

West Lindsey DC, Scotter & Blyton: Conservative 694 (44.0%, +11.1%), Liberal Democrats 555 (35.1%, +11.2%), Labour 230 (14.6%, -1.7%), UKIP 100 (6.3%).

The most surprising of these results was Labour's near-miss in Blandford Central, within a district council where they have only ever elected one district councillor since North Dorset's creation in 1974. Normally this area is dominated by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but this, along with Labour finishing second in the constituency of North Dorset in 2017 (although it does include parts of East Dorset DC within its boundaries, notably Verwood), could be a sign of long-term change in Dorset's political dynamics. Disappointingly there was no Green candidate, even though the Green Party has shown their strong potential in rural Dorset as well as urban Dorset (and not just Weymouth either) in recent years.

The Fallowfield by-election, meanwhile, became notable because of its dreadful turnout of 9.36%, caused by the fact that it covers university halls of residence; Manchester's academic term ends in June and the consequent absence of students caused a direct swing from Green to Labour, in a ward where only the Greens are remotely competitive amongst opposition parties to Labour (who hold 95 out of 96 seats on Manchester City Council, the other being held by Lib Dem ex-MP John Leech). The Liberal Democrats' efforts in Scotter & Blyton are a sign of a revival of activity around Gainsborough, which has their only county councillor in Lincolnshire, and was one of only a handful of seats in the East Midlands where the Liberal Democrats increased their vote share at the last general election.

Friday, 21 July 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 20/7/17

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

Eden DC, Alston Moor: Labour 407 (55.8%), Conservative 258 (34.7%, -11.1%), Independent 57 (7.8%), Green 13 (1.8%). Labour gain from Liberal Democrats.

Knowsley MBC, St Michael's: Labour 716 (86.6%, +12.5%), Liberal Democrats 58 (7.0%), Green 53 (6.4%).

Merton LBC, St Helier: Labour 1508 (74.1%, +15.5%), Conservative 318 (15.7%, +1.4%), Liberal Democrats 98 (4.8%, -1.6%), Green 61 (3.0%), UKIP 50 (2.7%, -18.4%).

Rutland UA, Ketton: Conservative 459 (68.8%, +15.4%), Liberal Democrats 208 (31.2%, +2.5%).

Rutland UA, Whissendine: Independent (Arnold) 212 (54.1%), Conservative 102 (26.0%, -8.1%), Independent (Lammin) 46, Liberal Democrats 32 (8.2%, -57.7%). Independent gain from Liberal Democrats.

Shepway DC, New Romney: Conservative 566 (35.4%, +6.4%), Labour 523 (32.7%, +21.4%), Independent 431 (27.0%, +10.1%)*, Liberal Democrats 77 (4.8%, -4.0%).

Staffordshire Moorlands DC, Leek East: Labour 505 (45.0%, +24.7%), Conservative 325 (28.9%, +3.4%), Independent 219 (19.5%), Liberal Democrats 74 (6.6%, +0.2%). Labour gain from Conservative.

Stockton-On-Tees UA, Billingham North: Labour 719 (40.5%, +4.9%), Conservative 687 (38.7%, +19.4%), Independent 196 (11.0%), Liberal Democrats 95 (5.3%), North East Party 80 (4.5%).

Wealden DC, Chillingly & East Hoathly: Conservative 349 (53.4%, -11.2%), Labour 185 (28.5%, +9.4%), Liberal Democrats 120 (18.3%).

*The Independent was a former Conservative councillor for that ward who was deselected for the 2015 elections of Shepway District Council.

This week of local by-elections has been one of the best for Labour in years, and conversely one of the worst for the Liberal Democrats in a year. Labour's capture of Alston Moor ensures it regains representation on Eden Council, covering the most sparsely populated area in England (population density: 28 people per square kilometre, just 1/10th of Britain's overall population density), and its gain of Leek East which it did not even contest six years ago is a welcome surprise for them. They also came close to winning the rural village of New Romney in Shepway (read: Folkestone and Hythe), aided by a former Conservative councillor's strong performance, and managed a good second place in a ward covering two prosperous and remote villages in East Sussex, normally areas with some of the lowest Labour support in the UK. They also managed to narrowly hold the Billingham North by-election in spite of a Conservative surge aided by UKIP's absence (and that of the Billingham Independent Alliance for that matter), and benefit far more from UKIP's collapse in the St Helier by-election than the Conservatives, which is important given that St Helier mainly comprises post-WWII council estates which are very diverse demographically.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have fared universally poorly. They failed to defend their seat in Alston Moor (although this ward normally elects Independents anyway, like most villages in Eden) and spectacularly lost Whissendine by fielding an Oakham-based candidate against a stalwart of Whissendine Parish Council. The more rural the area, the more important locality becomes for a candidate, and the county of Rutland is one of the strongest exemplars of this law of British politics. Their other performances this week were no better, apart from a slight gain of ground in the Rutland village of Ketton.

It was not a good week for other parties either, the Green Party being the only party present in more than one of this week's by-elections, although none of the wards being contested was in realistic contention for the Green Party. However, Greens must maintain a wider and stronger presence in local by-elections as well as local elections; one of the most important things about green politics is its universality-it can stretch across all people, all cultures, and all social classes.