Friday, 14 July 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 13/7/17 and my tribute to Liu Xiabao

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

Middlesbrough UA, Ayresome: Labour 414 (59.7%, +14.3%), Conservative 252 (36.3%, +21.7%), Liberal Democrats 15 (2.2%), Green 13 (1.9%).

Middlesbrough UA, Park End & Breckfield: Independent 505 (56.9%, +3.2%), Labour 304 (34.0%, -3.6%), Conservative 59 (6.6%, -2.0%), Green 12 (1.4%), Liberal Democrats 10 (1.1%).

Moray UA, Elgin City North (1st preference votes): Conservative 923 (40.0%, +7.0%), SNP 895 (38.8%, +6.1%), Labour 365 (15.8%, +3.8%), Independent 124 (5.4%). Conservative gain from Independent at stage 3.

North Warwickshire DC, Coleshill South: Conservative 571 (60.1%, +14.2%), Labour 379 (39.9%, +5.3%).

South Oxfordshire DC, Didcot South: Labour 621 (43.2%, +12.7%), Conservative 528 (36.7%, +3.9%), Liberal Democrats 289 (20.1%, +3.4%).

South Oxfordshire DC, Didcot West: Conservative 429 (43.2%, +3.5%), Labour 393 (39.5%, +13.5%), Liberal Democrats 172 (17.3%, +0.8%).

Three Rivers DC, Chorleywood & Maple Cross: Liberal Democrats 1428 (63.7%, +4.6%), Conservative 597 (26.6%, -2.0%), Labour 162 (7.2%, +0.1%), UKIP 28 (1.2%, -4.0%), Green 27 (1.2%).

Across the board, two-horse races were the order of the day, and they say local by-election results often do not follow national trends. The squeeze in many contests was considerable, to the point where parties or independent candidates not competitive in a particular by-election often struggled to obtain more votes than the number of signatures required for a valid nomination (i.e. 10). It bodes well for Labour in the competitive and expanding town of Didcot, where substantial developments in the west of the town will demographically help them, and did help them achieve an 8.5% swing against the Conservatives in the Didcot West by-election, and an 8.3% swing in the Didcot South by-election. Elgin City's by-election marked the only gain (Conservative gain from Independent) this week, marked by a heavy squeeze of the former independent councillor's considerable personal vote by the SNP and the Conservatives.

Passionate human rights campaigner Liu Xiabao sadly died yesterday, aged 61, having spent nearly 25 years of his life in prison simply for standing up for freedom in China, one of the most repressive countries in the world. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his long peaceful struggle for human rights in China and his determination to end the authoritarian single-party rule that dominates China and has done since 1949. He at least got to spend his last few days free after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer the month before his death. For him, we must fight against increasing authoritarianism and oppression wherever it may be, because basic freedoms must be available to everyone, everywhere; without them we cannot be a decent human society.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Why the Green Party must never affiliate to Labour or ally with it

Earlier this week, Left Foot Forward made a suggestion that the Green Party should consider affiliating with Labour:

This is something that, for the sake of our environment, humanity's future, and genuinely progressive causes, must never happen.

Labour have no real respect for our environment or for co-operative politics. They were happy to take advantage of the failed 'Progressive Alliance' for their own gain, even in seats where victory was already assured, but were unwilling to ally when they could not win or where a different party had a better chance of winning the seat from the Conservatives (especially in the case of the Isle of Wight). They were also unwilling to put key environmentalist policies, or even electoral reform, on their manifesto or in their broadcasts. They are also still focused on a pro-growth policy, which cannot be sustained in the long-term as the planet's resources are not infinite (and many are not renewable), and that technological development can only go so far. Sustainability is an important watchword we must take note of, as is stability.

The Greens are not a socialist/social-democratic party and were not designed as one. Green politics and values have always been distinct from Labour's, due to their focus on environmental wisdom, peace, grassroots democracy, and indicators other than economic productivity. Happiness and health are also important to humanity, and other political parties simply do not accept these as primary indicators of human performance. The Green Party was founded to build a new ecologically sustainable and fair society, not modify one that is a fundamentally part of a failed system (which is Labour's aim).

My three words in response to the question 'Is it time for the Green Party to affiliate to Labour? within the article are: no, nay, never.

Friday, 30 June 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 29/10/16

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

Durham UA, Dawdon: Labour 693 (52.3%, +4.8%), Seaham Community 633 (47.7%, +13.4%).

Eastleigh BC, Hedge End Grange Park: Liberal Democrats 668 (56.5%, +15.5%), Conservative 316 (26.7%, -10.9%), Labour 144 (12.2%, +0.9%), Green 41 (3.5%), UKIP 14 (1.2%, -9.0%). All changes are since 2015.

Waltham Forest LBC, William Morris: Labour 1,923 (68.4%, +10.2%), Green 524 (18.6%, +1.0%), Conservative 365 (13.0%, +6.6%).

West Lancashire BC, Derby: Our West Lancashire 705 (42.4%, +28.5%), Labour 596 (35.8%, +0.4%), Conservative 362 (21.8%, -10.0%). Our West Lancashire gain from Labour; all changes are since 2015.

The trend towards increasing support for local groups, many of which lean towards moderate conservatism in practice, continues with the local group Our West Lancashire's win of the Derby by-election and with the Seaham Community group only missing out on winning Dawdon (the largest community of which is actually Seaham) by 60 votes. Although this trend was generally not reflected at the last general election except in the Ashfield constituency, it continues to grow due to dissatisfaction of partisan politics, and this is especially true in rural councils. Before the major changes affected by the Local Government Act 1972, a majority of rural district councils were nonpartisan and a majority parish councillors (in villages and hamlets) do not use a party label when standing for election. This can also be indirectly useful to the Green Party when they campaign in rural areas or small towns, as recent successes in such towns as Frome demonstrate.

The Waltham Forest result is attributable to the absence of Liberal Democrat, UKIP, and TUSC candidates which stood there in 2014 and shared 19.5% of the vote between them. Labour benefitted most but so did the Greens and Conservatives, although as this is a very safe Labour ward anyway the effects were not significant. Eastleigh's result was as expected, for the Liberal Democrats are strong throughout the majority of Eastleigh Borough, although the Greens beating UKIP in what is one of the weakest areas for the Green Party in South East England is notable nevertheless.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

On the Albanian Parliamentary election of 2017

The most recent parliamentary election in Albania, which took place three days ago, has just seen the first single-party majority for any Albanian government in

The Socialist Party of Albania, descended from the former Party of Labour in Albania (the dominant communist party from 1941 to 1991), managed to gain an outright majority, winning 74 seats. This is only the second single party majority in Albania in 16 years, and the Socialists won all but the two northernmost counties in Albania, which were won by the opposition Democratic Party of Albania. This sweep happened even though the Democratic Party only lost 7 of its 50 seats, making it still the clear opposition in Albanian politics.  Despite the existence of proportional representation by county, with a 3% threshold for single parties and a 5% threshold for alliances, Albanian politics is still almost entirely dominated by two parties, the Socialists and Democrats. The Socialist Movement for Integration, which split from the Albanian socialists in 2004, is in reality little different from the Socialists in terms of policy and direction.

In the last Albanian elections of 2013, alliances were led by each main opposition party, and the Socialist-led alliance won a total of 83 seats. These alliances were not repeated this year, but due to the requirement to focus on county performance as well as national performance, since this is how seats are allocated, the effects were not significant. The only other party to obtain a respectable performance in this election was the populist right Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, which is essentially an Albanian equivalent of such parties as Alternative For Germany and which fights for a solution to the 'Cham Issue'. This relates to Cham Albanians having been expelled from Greece at the end of World War II because many of their number collaborated with the Nazis during World War II; Greece considers the matter closed but many Albanians still want a solution. They achieved 4.8% of the vote and 3 seats, a decrease of just 1, showing that their core rural support is still holding.

The vast majority of other parties achieved less than 1% of the vote apiece, which can be considered pretty typical for Albanian politics, although the Social Democratic Party gained one seat. Libra, a liberal pro-European party, obtained a better national result (1.25%) than them but did not win any seats at all, which can be explained by poorer vote distribution and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama's own pro-EU stance; with a single party majority he will be able to push Albania's case for joining the EU further, but this will be a slow process. The Republicans and Christian Democrats lost the seats they held in the last Parliament.

Whether Albania joins the EU during the course of its next Parliament is still debatable, especially since several other Balkan countries, such as Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, are still not members of the EU, and Albania may end up feeling economically and socially isolated within the EU.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why the Conservative-DUP deal is so dangerous

It has been confirmed that Theresa May will stay as Prime Minister, thanks to a confidence and supply deal made by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to keep in power a Conservative minority government. Even then, there are only 10 DUP MPs and 317 Conservative MPs, so this deal is not stable by any means and has a majority of only 4 (working majority of 10 when 7 Sinn Fein MPs and Speaker are discounted).

So what exactly is the Democratic Unionist Party?

The DUP, originally called the Protestant Unionist Party, was founded by fundamentalist minister Rev. Ian Paisley Sr. (1926-2014) in 1969 on his belief that the Ulster Unionist Party was not anti-Catholic enough for his extremist tastes. He founded his own Free Presbyterian Church to further his aims, which ended up overtaking the Methodists as the third-largest denomination in Northern Ireland. He was the first such politician elected under this label, winning North Antrim in 1970; he was MP for North Antrim from 1970 to 2010, and was ennobled Baron Bannside for the last four years of his life. His son, Ian Paisley Jr, is the current MP for North Antrim.

The DUP stand out from the moderate UUP in their more extensive appeal to working-class Ulsterfolk, their extremely socially conservative views, their more fervent opposition to republicanism and Irish nationalism, and their anti-European stance. They also have indirect links to terrorist organisations like the Ulster Defence Association, which the UUP does not. They are fervently opposed to any support for or recognition of Irish language teaching anywhere in Northern Ireland, and are the only party of any significance in UK politics to have any support for the return of capital punishment.

The DUP have done their best, especially with the use of the 'petition of concern' power, to keep Northern Ireland as religiously conservative as possible, to the point where fundamental human rights are being violated. Unlike in Great Britain, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Northern Ireland and nor are abortions, except in cases where the mother's life is threatened. Sectarianism still pervades so strongly in Northern Ireland because of them, although younger people are turning away from the old Protestant-Catholic divides slowly but surely. The DUP most recently came to the fore during the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal, which forced an early Stormont Assembly election alongside calls for direct rule to be re-imposed, even though direct rule has not worked in the past.

Why is this pact bad news?

Before the snap election of 2017, Theresa May repeatedly stated her desire to repeal the Human Rights Act and potentially withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights; these important things are also opposed by the DUP especially regarding LGBTIQA+ rights. Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives' leader in the Scottish Parliament, has already publicly criticised Theresa May as a result, as have other moderates like Sarah Wollaston (MP for Totnes since 2010). Many nationalists have stated such a pact breaks the Good Friday Agreement (which the DUP have never supported) and could endanger the continuation of the vital Northern Ireland peace process.

More importantly, however, it allows the Conservatives to cling onto power they do not deserve, especially given their hardline mantra on Brexit (NB: only one county in Northern Ireland, Antrim, which is the DUP's best stronghold, voted for Brexit last year; the other five and also the city of Belfast voted Remain), and it will worsen their stance on social and human rights matters more than ever before.

Friday, 23 June 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 22 June 2017

Welcome to the first week of post-2017 general election in terms of local by-elections. The results for this week's were as follows:

East Cambridgeshire DC, Soham North: Conservative 423 (59.7%, -4.2%), Liberal Democrats 178 (25.1%, +4.1%), Labour 108 (15.2%, +0.1%). Conservative hold.

Powys UA, Yscir: Conservative 165 (29.8%), Independent Chris Davies 144 (26.0%), Plaid Cymru 101 (18.2%), Green 80 (14.4%), Independent Daniel Evans 62 (11.2%), Independent Steve Evans 2 (0.4%). Conservative win (Yscir had no nominations in 2017 which is why this by-election was held).

Sheffield MBC, Nether Edge & Sharrow: Labour 2641 (45.0%, +6.5%), Green 2509 (42.7%, +8.6%), Liberal Democrats 722 (12.3%, -2.3%). Labour hold; the Conservative candidate failed to hand in their nomination papers on time.

South Gloucestershire UA, Winterbourne: Conservative 873 (47.9%, +0.5%), Labour 615 (33.8%, +17.7%), Liberal Democrats 333 (18.3%, -0.1%). Conservative hold.

Stockton-On-Tees UA, Yarm: Conservative 1179 (50.8%, +3.7%), Independent 677 (29.1%), Labour 394 (17.0%, -3.7%), Liberal Democrats 73 (3.1%). Conservative hold.

These by-elections did not by any means follow the pattern shown at the 2017 general election a fortnight ago, partly due to limited media coverage and the sense of 'Corbyn vs. May' fading away. This allowed the Greens to reduce the Labour majority to 132 in the by-election in Nether Edge and Sharrow, where they already hold one of the seats. Nether Edge and Sharrow's natural Green vote is much stronger than similar wards elsewhere, meaning that the Greens remained competitive when they had lost so much support in cities such as Oxford and Norwich.

Had Yscir been part of a multi-member ward elected by STV (which would be the case if it was in Scotland and not Wales), it would certainly have received at least one nomination for 4 May 2017; its small size was a contributing factor given that most Welsh wards have to be much smaller than English equivalents given the poorer road and rail connections in rural Wales. This also means many councillors have to travel considerable distances for evening meetings making council work difficult in rural Wales (and also in Scotland even with STV instead of FPTP). The arguments for proportional representation of some type, especially at a local level, are practical as well as political.

It was otherwise a slow week, which is testament to the low swings in these by-elections. The sharp Labour surge in Winterbourne is partly due to the absence of UKIP from the ballot paper.