Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Why voter ID laws are a waste of time and taxpayers' money

It was recently announced that voter identity checks, where voters must present a valid form of identification (e.g. passport, driving licence) will be trialled in five council areas at the next local elections in England. The five areas for this trial are Watford, Bromley, Gosport, Woking, and Slough; only one of these areas (Slough) has a substantial proportion of Asian voters, the ethnic group where postal vote fraud has been repeatedly cited to be most prevalent, as infamously seen in Birmingham and Bradford.

The reality is that ID checks are in fact a waste of time, taxpayers' money and effort for three important reasons:

1. They will not be effective in preventing electoral fraud. Impersonation of voters can already be stopped by checking polling cards (as only one is issued per voter per address) as each voter comes through the polling station. ID checks cannot reliably prevent cases of 'double voting' by students registered at a university address and a home address, since registered voter databases are localised and not centralised and different polling clerks from different councils have no regular communication with each other; electronic voting is needed to prevent this particular problem. The most common type of electoral fraud is of course done by postal voting, which polling station ID checks cannot prevent as postal votes must be sent in long before polling day. In any case, ID has to be presented before a postal vote is given to fill in in the first place.

2. They will just be a burden for everyone-voters, staff and administrators alike. Checks are reasonably rigorous at polling stations regarding voting anyway-and registering to vote (online and offline) requires some proof anyway, usually a National Insurance number. Requiring polling staff to perform extra checks when there are already sufficient checks in place makes no sense, and requiring voters to always bring ID when they can just bring their polling card for certainty is not particularly fair or justified.

3. Voter ID laws have already shown to be ineffective-they just disenfranchise poorer communities. Similar experiments in the USA have only disenfranchised some vulnerable and poorer voters who are less likely than average to hold a passport, driving licence, or other form of official identification. They have done nothing to curb more sophisticated methods of voter fraud nor have they made elections better in any way.

These trials should be aborted, and regulations on postal voting should instead be reviewed and revised-most electoral fraud occurs outside the polling station.

Friday, 15 September 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 14/09/17

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

Mid Devon DC, Westexe: Conservative 279 (36.4%, +11.2%), Independent (Gerard Luxton) 179 (23.4%, +7.6%), Labour 164 (21.4%, +11.5%), Liberal Democrats 144 (18.8%). Conservative gain from UKIP.

Trafford MBC, Bucklow St Martin's: Labour 1050 (64.7%, +26.3%), Conservative 456 (28.1%, +11.0%), UKIP 65 (4.0%, -9.3%), Green 33 (2.0%, -2.5%), Liberal Democrats 18 (1.1%, -1.8%).

West Dorset DC, Lyme Regis & Charmouth:  Independent 622 (52.3%), Conservative 396 (33.3%, -14.0%), Labour 171 (14.4%). Independent gain from Conservative.

In many metropolitan areas, the two-party squeeze continues anew, even where only one of the two can actually win (Labour in the case of Bucklow St Martin's, a safe Labour ward in the only Conservative-controlled northern metropolitan borough). There is actually more competition in the rural areas and small towns, especially when independents of varying ability and renown show up.

Westexe, the western ward of the town of Tiverton, has a history of frequently electing Independent and latterly UKIP councillors; Independent Gerald Luxton only lost his seat by 11 votes in 2015 due to the general election happening on the same day, which boosted the Conservative vote as a result of general election votes boosting the generally poor local election turnout. Turnout in local elections generally ranges from 50-60% of general election turnout in the same area-wards with particularly low turnout in local elections also have well below average turnout in general elections, and the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, which has the highest local election turnout in London, also has the highest general election turnout in London overall. On the back of his local following, Mr Luxton had high hopes of regaining his seat but did not come close to the victorious Conservative. In next-door Lyme Regis & Charmouth, on Dorset's western border with Devon, Cheryl Reynolds had much better luck by easily winning a seat in which she was already a town councillor (in the Lyme Regis part of the ward).

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Why the people, not Theresa May, must have the final say on Brexit

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, also known as the Great Repeal Bill, intends to mainly not only legally withdraw Britain from the EU but also bring existing EU legislation into the British statute books.

However, there is a major flaw with this bill-"Henry VIII" clauses that allow government ministers, and especially Theresa May herself, to use secondary legislation to change and delete those laws without any parliamentary oversight. This, alongside a proposed bill of would-be Prime Minister Andrea Leadsom which would allow the governing party to dominate select committees even without said governing party having an overall majority (the current case in the UK, of course), constitutes a major power grab that could see critical rights lost through Brexit, especially those of EU citizens living in Britain, and even those rights not strictly connected with EU membership. They intend to do more than just bring EU law into British law. This bill also exposes the need for Britain to have a written, formal constitution which can guarantee basic rights and freedoms through successive parliaments like other European countries.

Even many of those still committed to Brexit do not want a 'hard Brexit' but rather the same relationship with the EU Norway and Switzerland have, and want freedom of movement to be maintained in some form. Many of those who once supported Brexit no longer do so having seen the disastrous effects it will have on Britain socio-economically, and having realised what they were really voting for. In any case, since the people not Parliament voted for Brexit, they should make the final decision on what exactly happens. Brexit is not an excuse to bypass democracy, especially when it came about through a referendum in which every British citizen-not just their MPs-could vote. If that means a second referendum must take place, then so it must be.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Norsk valg 2017: Sa Mange Skuffelser

The Norwegian general election of 2017 took place yesterday, and resulted in heaved sighs of relief by some, and humiliating disappointment by many. The title of my post means in Norwegian 'Norwegian election 2017: so many disappointments'.

It was particularly disappointing for the Norwegian Green Party (MDG) who were frequently predicted to exceed the 4% threshold in this election having made a critical breakthrough in 2013 when they obtained their best ever result by far and secured themselves a seat in Parliament. Their vote in fact only increased slightly, from 2.8% to 3.2%, which meant they only kept their solitary seat in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Even in Oslo, though, they were beaten by the Red Party (Rodt) who won their first seat in the Storting, although they were also disappointed by their 2.4% vote share, especially when Labour (Arbeit)'s campaign had come unstuck to the point where they were sometimes finishing behind the Conservatives (Hoyre) in opinion polls. More so, several counties in Norway actually recorded a slight decrease in the Green vote, and none showed a Green increase above 1%.

All the governing parties of the right bloc, to which Prime Minister Erna Solberg (Hoyre) belongs, made some minor losses but nowhere near as many as the left bloc hoped. Hoyre only lost 3 seats, Progress 2, the Christian Democrats 2, and the Liberals just 1 seat, having come close to elimination from the Storting during the campaign. The Christian Democrats and the Liberals managed 4.3% and 4.2% respectively, just enough to retain those crucial levelling seats (in Norway, seats are allocated by county; the 19 levelling seats are there to ensure as much as possible that parties whose vote share exceeds 4% can achieve fair representation, as none of the Norwegian constituencies have more than 17 seats apiece and many have as few as 4 MPs). The decline in the Christian Democrats vote reflects as much the increasing secularisation of Scandinavian society as much as it does any backlash against the right bloc; it is a long term decline that could see them eliminated next time, and was also responsible for the minor Christian Party losing a considerable number of the few votes it had. By contrast, Labour's poor campaign and Jonas Gahr Store's poor debating resulted in them losing 6 seats, twice as many as the Conservatives lost even though neither Erna Solberg or Progress leader Siv Jensen are particularly popular.

The Socialist Left managed a recovery at Labour's expense, going from 7 seats to 11 and regaining stable footing in the Storting having come close to wipeout in 2013. It was the Centre Party, however, that shone during the election, increasing its seat total by 9 and making a large comeback in the northern counties far away from Oslo's gleaming lights. This has partly happened due to its move towards a more social-democratic base, which is not easy to find in rural areas anywhere, and also with protectionism becoming more of an issue in Norway. The right bloc have also alienated many more socially conservative, rural voters (Hoyre's base is mainly urban middle class; some districts of Oslo regularly give a Hoyre vote of 40% or more even in bad times, whereas a lot of rural counties usually give Hoyre votes of less than 20% ) that the Centre Party can win over.

The right bloc consists of the Conservatives, Progress, Christian Democrats and Liberals and the left bloc by comparison consists of Labour, Centre, and Socialist Left. The Greens are outside both blocs and rightly so, and the Reds have only just entered Parliament. Their only MP, Red leader Bjornar Moxnes, is not favourable towards Jonas Gahr Store either. Even though the Christian Democrats have chosen to return to opposition, it is likely that Erna Solberg will remain Prime Minister as even without KrF's support the right bloc has more seats than the left bloc (81 vs. 78; 79 if the Reds wish to join the left bloc).

Friday, 8 September 2017

My analaysis of by-elections from 07/09/17

Readers, the results of the 14 (yes, 14) local by-elections this week were as follows:

Babergh DC, Sudbury South:  Labour 336 (42.7%, +16.3%), Conservative 335 (42.6%, +5.3%), Liberal Democrats 116 (14.7%, +1.6%). Labour gain from Conservative.

Cannock Chase DC, Hednesford Green Heath: Labour 359 (43.9%, +11.1%), Conservative 301 (36.8%, -3.7%), Green 86 (10.5%, +7.4%), Chase Independent 42 (5.1%, -0.2%), UKIP 29 (3.5%, -14.7%). Labour gain from Conservative. All changes are since 2015.

Cannock Chase DC, Hednesford South: Green 513 (48.3%, +42.1%), Conservative 311 (29.3%, -11.9%), Labour 190 (17.9%, -13.2%), UKIP 48 (4.5%, -16.9%). Green gain from Conservative. All changes are since 2015.

Colchester BC, Shrub End: Conservative 681 (38.6%, +19.4%), Labour 572 (32.4%, +20.5%), Liberal Democrats 373 (21.4%, -13.9%), Independent 54 (3.1%, -9.7%), UKIP 52 (2.9%, -10.9%), Green 34 (1.9%, -5.6%). Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat.

Croydon LBC, South Norwood: Labour 1671 (59.0%, +7.9%) Conservative 475 (16.8%, -3.4%) Liberal Democrats 388 (13.7%, +6.7%), Green 218 (7.7%, -3.7%), UKIP 78 (2.8%, -7.9%).

East Cambridgeshire DC, Ely South: Liberal Democrats 527 (39.9%, +13.2%), Conservative 411 (31.1%, -19.7%), Labour 384 (29.0%, +6.5%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Glasgow UA, Cardonald (1st preference votes): Labour 2614 (48.6%, +10.1%), SNP 1972 (36.7%, -7.5%), Conservative 552 (10.3%, -1.7%), Green 147 (2.7%, +0.2%), Liberal Democrats 80 (1.5%), Libertarian 12 (0.2%). Labour elected at stage 4.

Herefordshire UA, Golden Valley South: Independent Jinman 462 (42.7%), Conservative 254 (23.5%, -42.3%), Independent 152 (14.1%), Green 109 (10.1%, -7.1%), Labour 104 (9.6%). Independent gain from Conservative.

Lancaster BC, Skerton West: Labour 512 (61.5%, +24.5%), Conservative 288 (34.6%, +8.7%), Liberal Democrats 33 (4.0%).

Lewes DC, Ouse Valley & Ringmer: Green 835 (38.7%, +22.3%), Conservative 660 (30.6%, +1.6%), Liberal Democrats 457 (21.2%, -8.0%), Labour 167 (7.7%, -4.4%), UKIP 38 (1.8%, -11.5%). Green gain from Conservative.

North Lanarkshire UA, Fortissat (1st preference votes): Labour 1420 (38.6%, +2.0%), Scottish Unionist 838 (23.3, +12.2%) SNP 761 (20.6%, -8.4%), Conservative 424 (11.5%, -1.8%), Independent 184 (5.0%, -5.1%),Green 24 (0.7%), UKIP 18 (0.5%). Labour elected at stage 7; Labour gain from Conservative.

Peterborough UA, Eye, Thorney & Newborough: Conservative 1018 (52.3%, +17.4%) Labour 555 (28.5%, +17.2%), UKIP 279 (14.3%, -7.5%), Green 61 (3.1%, -6.4%), Liberal Democrats 35 (1.8%).

Staffordshire CC, Hednesford & Rawnsley: Conservative 1484 (32.5%, -3.5%), Labour 1454 (31.9%, +4.2%), Green 1316 (28.9%, +3.8%), UKIP 175 (3.8%, -3.9%), Liberal Democrats 67 (1.5%), Chase Independent 65 (1.4%, -2.1%).

Suffolk CC, St Johns: Labour 1247 (62.9%, +5.3%), Conservative 483 (24.4%, -7.3%), Liberal Democrats 200 (10.1%, +5.1%), Green 52 (2.6%, -3.1%).

This week has been one of the best for the Green Party, who secured a second councillor on Cannock Chase District Council (not known for its environmentalist leanings; the strongest Green vote in Staffordshire at the last two general elections was in the cathedral city of Lichfield, an affluent and near-impenetrable Conservative fortress), and a fourth councillor in Lewes, once a strong Liberal Democrat bastion; however they narrowly missed on electing their very first county councillor in Staffordshire. Labour's gain in Cannock Chase at the same time (they also came close in the county council by-election) helped strengthen their weak majority and it represents a key turning of the tide in a county that has seen overall some of the most substantial pro-Conservative swings in the last seven years. Of Staffordshire's 12 constituencies, only 3 (Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke-on-Trent North, and Stoke-on-Trent Central) have Labour MPs and the Conservatives are close behind in these three. From 1997-2010, Labour held 9 of Staffordshire's 12 constituencies, but their 5 losses in 2010 (Staffordshire Moorlands, Stafford, Cannock Chase, Tamworth, and Burton) were usually on particularly high Labour-to-Conservative swings, particularly Cannock Chase which saw a 14% swing from Labour to Conservative, the second highest in the country that year (the highest, 14.4%, was in Hemel Hempstead, the site of my very first parliamentary contest in 2015). The former bellwether seat of Tamworth, once famous for making the much-maligned Reliant Robin, saw a Conservative vote of 61% in 2017 having achieved a 9.5% pro-Conservative swing in 2010 and a further 5.4% pro-Conservative swing in 2015. The old mining seat of Cannock Chase where these by-elections took place has itself a Conservative majority as high as 8.391. Hard work and personal campaigning pay off for anyone particularly at council level, but especially the Greens, as the newest Green councillors, Stuart Crabtree and Johnny Denis, showed last night. Their performance in Hednesford South also had a knock-on effect in nearby Hednesford Green Heath, where they achieved a respectable third. This is a frequent psephological phenomenon of 'surprise gains' in towns or cities where a particular party has obtained strong local support; four years after David Owen's win for the SDP in Plymouth Devonport the SDP-Liberal Alliance achieved a close second in Plymouth Sutton and Plymouth Drake (Conservative margins over the Alliance reduced to approximately 8% in each case at a time when the Alliance was losing votes nationally). The Greens also experienced this when they won Brighton Pavilion in 2010, since two of their other five saved deposits that last year were also in Brighton & Hove, specifically Brighton Kemptown (5.5%) and Hove (5.2%). Labour also had an excellent night, winning a council seat in otherwise safely Conservative Sudbury by one vote, coming a close second in Shrub End, Colchester, increasing their majority significantly in every seat they were defending this week, and easily fending off SNP challenges. It is looking better and better for Labour, even if their lead in voting intention polls is never higher than 5% over the Conservatives.

The Conservatives had a generally poor night with 5 losses-but they did manage to capture Shrub End in Colchester from the Liberal Democrats, who are a spent force in that town, unlikely to recover in the near future-in fact the Liberal Democrats finished a poor third in the Shrub End by-election and also in the Ouse Valley & Ringmer by-election. The Liberal Democrats cancelled this out with their spectacular gain in Ely South, which is not even the nicer historical part of that city but mostly consisting of newer housing built to accommodate Cambridgeshire's rapidly growing (sub)urban and commuter population. UKIP was never expected to do well at all-although its result in Peterborough is one of the best it has achieved in a long time in local by-elections and worthy of mention.

Three months on from their heavy seat losses in the last general election, the SNP are still struggling to find their feet and slipped back in both the local Scottish by-elections, coming nowhere near winning either. After a nice recess, there will be lots more interesting by-elections to come in Britain-and keep an eye out across the globe, as I mentioned earlier.

Friday, 1 September 2017

My analysis of this week's by-elections (week ending 01/09/17)

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

Scarborough BC, Mulgrave: Conservative 395 (46.5%, +12.2%), Labour 299 (35.2%, +18.4%), Independent Armsby 118 (13.9%, -3.4%), Yorkshire Party 37 (4.4%).

North Somerset UA, Weston-Super-Mare North Worle: Labour 589 (36.4%, +21.4%), Conservative 525 (32.4%, +6.1%), Liberal Democrats 265 (16.4%, +3.7%), Independent 132 (8.2%), UKIP 108 (6.7%, -15.2%). Labour gain from Conservative.

As I mentioned earlier in the blog post 'The road to Downing Street now runs by the seaside': https://greensocialistalan.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/the-road-to-downing-street-now-runs-by.html, the coast is now a key proving ground for Labour and the Conservatives, and both this week's by-elections were in seaside resorts that were once solidly Conservative territory. Weston-Super-Mare managed 73 years of Conservative representation with 1992 being the only time before 1997 when the Conservative position was threatened, and Scarborough (& Whitby) managed 79 years of continuous Conservative representation from 1918 to 1997 with the Conservative majority always being greater than 10% during this time. In 2015, following the Liberal Democrats' collapse in Weston-Super-Mare and Labour making only limited progress in Scarborough & Whitby, it appeared both would revert to being safe Conservative seats once more. This illusion was sharply torn earlier this year, when Labour came within remotely viable distance of Weston-Super-Mare at long last and turned Scarborough & Whitby back into a marginal seat.

Labour performed very well in these key areas, by sharply reducing the Conservative majority in the Mulgrave by-election despite UKIP's absence helping the Conservatives (the Yorkshire Party made no real impact on the result), and by capturing the North Worle ward of Weston-Super-Mare (consisting mainly of newer housing built to accommodate the town's expanding population) which had previously been held by a local organisation called North Somerset First, who the late councillor Derek Mead led before his death caused this by-election. Given that North Worle has never been Labour-held and consists mainly of commuters to the city of Bristol, this is an excellent result for them and a clear example of the importance of re-selecting good candidates.

North Somerset First has since deregistered, and its absence should have naturally been helpful to the Conservatives since most of these local groups tend to lean towards small 'c' conservatism. This however proved not to be the case and it reflects the level of distrust in the Conservative Party at present, and especially Theresa May's agenda. Nor did North Somerset First's absence do much to help any of the other three candidates; the Liberal Democrats' recovery was limited in a ward they once held comfortably. The local picture matters less in wards consisting primarily of commuters whose main activities are outside the ward or with highly transient populations (especially students) compared to the national picture.