Monday, 30 March 2015

It is time now-my thoughts on what could happen in this year's general election

Readers, Parliament officially dissolved today and election nominations have just opened (they close on 9th April, so all will be revealed on the afternoon of 10th April).

And due to the fact Britain is entering five party politics, a lot of seats could change hands and there could be more surprise results than ever before. Polls show it is still tight between the Conservatives and Labour, and due to polls differing (ComRes and Ashcroft polls put the Conservatives in the lead, YouGov puts Labour in the lead, and Populus' latest poll was a tie at 34% each), it is unknown what could emerge come May 2015.

As with 2010, there are so many candidates from all different backgrounds and bearing all different colours of rosette. I will in particular say that across the UK, the Green Parties of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland at this time of writing altogether plan to be contesting seven-eighths of all UK Parliamentary constituencies.

I also have some questions and thoughts on this general election.

1. How many seats will change hands altogether? I believe that in Scotland, most seats not held by the SNP will change hands to the SNP, or are likely to. And in England, because of the rise of the Greens and UKIP (depending on area), more seats have a chance to change hands than ever before; previously safe seats may find themselves not as safe as once thought. I believe that across the UK, as many as 150 parliamentary constituencies have a chance, or at least an outside chance, of changing hands this year.

2. How well will the Green Party perform? Even though polls suggest we will only hold Brighton Pavilion, I believe we can win Norwich South and Bristol West, and gain second place in other crucial seats, like Hackney North & Stoke Newington and York Central. There is so much potential for us out there, even in places we have never contested before.

3. Who outside the seven largest parties in Britain, whose leaders are taking part in ITV's debate this week, could get an election broadcast as well? As it stands, only the far-left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has enough PPCs to qualify (it has 131), and whether all these candidates will actually make it on the ballot papers is not yet confirmed (the same is true for every other PPC).

4. How many seats could the Liberal Democrats actually lose? There are many seats that they are likely to lose or are almost certain to lose, such as Manchester Withington and Brent Central. An in-campaign recovery, as did happen in 1979, is unlikely for them, but incumbency could mitigate their heavy vote share loss once again by meaning they hold on to more seats than expected. Their only realistic possibilities of gains in my opinion include Watford, Montgomeryshire, and Truro & Falmouth.

5. Could UKIP maintain its substantial poll ratings throughout the campaign? In light of recent events, it is likely their support will fade somewhat by the time 7th May comes around-there have been many embarrassing incidents and gaffes with UKIP PPCs over the past few months. However, it still appears likely that they will gain seats by sneaking through the net (often done in marginal seats under first past the post) in tight contests such as Thurrock and Great Grimsby.

6. Which MP, new or old, will poll the lowest winning percentage? I am not sure yet, but I believe there is a good chance that the current record (26%, set by Russell Johnston in Inverness, Nairn, and Lochaber in 1992) could be beaten this year. The MP who received the lowest winning percentage in 2010, Simon Wright (who won Norwich South with just 29.4% of the vote last time) could also set a record for worst performance by a sitting and properly selected MP, as he could fall to fifth place from first.

7. Could we end up with an early election after this one, in spite of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act? Yes, if neither Messrs Cameron or Miliband can form a workable minority government or coalition, in spite of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act meaning that two-thirds of MPs need to vote to dissolve Parliament early. At the moment, the aforementioned situation appears probable at least.

Please feel free to give your own answers to my seven questions above.

Alan.







Friday, 27 March 2015

My analysis of by-elections from yesterday (26/3/15) and other thoughts

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

Fife UA, Glenrothes West & Kinglassie (first preferences): SNP 2539 (55.3%, +12.8%), Labour 1643 (35.8%, -5.4%), Conservative 202 (4.4%, +1.4%), UKIP 146 (3.2%), Liberal Democrat 61 (1.3%, -0.3%). SNP gain from Labour; SNP elected at the first count.

Moray UA, Buckie (first preference votes): SNP 1485 (59.5%, +14.4%), Ind 696 (27.9%), Con 315 (12.6%, +5.5%). SNP gain from Independent; SNP elected at first count.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar UA, Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath: Ind W 437 (59.1%), SNP 302 (40.9%)

Vale of Glamorgan UA, Llantwit Major: Con 1016 (40.8%, +18.7%), Llantwit Major First 1004 (40.3%, -15.7%), Lab 378 (15.2%, +0.5%), Plaid Cymru 95 (3.8%, -3.5%). Conservative gain from Llantwit Major First.

West Lothian UA, Armadale & Blackridge (first preference votes): SNP 1620 (43.7%), Lab 1009 (27.0%), Ind MacK 756 (20.9%), Con 255 (6.8%), Green 90 (2.6%). SNP elected at fourth count.

This is the last set of local by-elections before Parliament dissolves on 30th March, at which point nominations for both local and general election candidates will open; nominations close on 9th April, four weeks before the polling day of 7th May. A few by-elections from authorities that are not having elections this year will take place in the meantime, but as none of them feature Green Party candidates I will not comment on those by-elections here.

Despite the strong surge in traditionally Labour areas for the SNP, the SNP only managed a 12.8% swing locally in Glenrothes West & Kinglassie, and nationally they need a 20.3% swing to win the Glenrothes parliamentary constituency this year. I believe this is because the SNP already had a very strong performance in Fife locally back in 2012, two years before their 2014 surge, and also many other areas of Scotland. Nevertheless, this week has clearly been one of their better weeks locally in by-election terms, which bodes well for Nicola Sturgeon et al as the 2015 general election campaign nears closer and closer. Back in the Vale of Glamorgan, however, Plaid Cymru was undoubtedly squeezed somewhat in a strong contest between the Conservatives and Llantwit Major First (which actually split from the Conservative group in Glamorgan some time ago), partly because the Vale of Glamorgan does not have much latent Plaid Cymru support.

I am also pleased to say that nationwide, the Green Parties of the UK (England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) will currently be fielding a record 562 candidates altogether across the UK's 650 seats, and many constituencies will have a Green candidate for the very first time in a general election (including in my home county of Hertfordshire the constituencies of Broxbourne, Stevenage, and South West Hertfordshire). Also, locally, the Green Party are expanding further than ever before and will be contesting many council areas that have never had the chance to vote Green before (or at least, have not had that chance for years), such as Oadby & Wigston and Broxbourne.

Alan.





Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My thoughts on how to improve and reshape local government in the UK

Readers, at the same time as our general election, so many local authorities are having their own elections. Some councils are having all-out elections (all council seats up for election) whereas some councils are still having elections by thirds (one-third of council seats up for election). I myself will be standing as a Green Party candidate locally, in my hometown of Ware, in East Hertfordshire. With more parties than ever before likely to contest these local elections in addition to seats at the general election (some constituencies, according to yournextmp.com, have 10 different PPCs already lined up and nominations have not opened yet!), the results will show once again the need to introduce proportional representation of some type into the UK's political system. The appearance of five-way marginal seats in Cornwall's elections of 2013 was just the first substantial crack in our broken system of local government.

I believe the following proposals should be implemented for British local government:

1. Elections by thirds should be scrapped, and all councils in the UK should have all-out elections once every four years. If a council only has one-third of its seats up for election each year, it becomes difficult for council control to change hands because the dominant party will have the most resources year by year, unless it is facing a meltdown locally or nationally (such as what happened with the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool, who in four years went from controlling the council to having just 3 seats), and opposition parties will be squeezed by having to use more resources year by year. Also, elections by thirds are more expensive and inefficient to administer overall, so for the sake of democracy and efficiency, all councils in the UK should have elections every four years for all their seats, and these should not coincide with parliamentary elections or regional assembly elections. (This is the case in most European nations)

2. Single Transferable Vote (STV) should replace First Past The Post as soon as possible, as it has done in Scotland. Votes are becoming ever more fragmented as more candidates contest council elections that are still held under FPTP, which allows parties to maintain dominance without a majority of votes and means that many council seats still go uncontested, particularly in rural areas such as Malvern. When Scotland adopted STV for local council elections from 2007, every seat was contested, and there has only been one uncontested by-election in Scotland since 2007 (albeit in the Eilean Siar area) whereas in the last eight years there have been many more uncontested by-elections in England and Wales. Additional Member System, whilst having a proportional element, will not adequately solve the problem of one-party dominance locally or nationally.

3. Local councils should have more power, including the power to raise rates again. Since the Local Government Act 1972, central government has exerted increasingly strict control over local government, and many local councils feel powerless. Local government functions which have ever been transferred to Whitehall should be given back as soon as possible, especially regarding local government finance.

4. Historic county boundaries should be restored, and abolished district councils should be reinstated. Unitary authorities are wholly inappropriate for rural counties like Shropshire and Wiltshire (and also the nation of Cornwall, still considered a county), and there was never a good and sensible reason for the abolition of such historic counties as Westmorland and Middlesex, or the vandalism of historic county lines (e.g. between Hampshire and Dorset when Christchurch and Bournemouth were moved from Hampshire to Dorset). Greater London should also be split back into Inner London and Middlesex, and London boroughs that were once part of Essex, Kent, or Surrey should be returned to those counties.

Please feel free to give your thoughts on these four proposals.

Regards, Alan.




Saturday, 21 March 2015

Predictions for Scottish seats-how tall will the garden of thistles grow?

With just 10 days to go until this Parliament dissolves, and with so many different predictions of what the political map of Scotland could look like, I believe that with more PPCs from different parties in place in Scottish constituencies, and with the SNP likely to replace the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in the UK (they almost did so in October 1974, with 11 SNP MPs compared to 13 Liberal MPs) it is time to make my seat-by-seat prediction in Scotland.

Aberdeen North: The SNP are in a good second place here, and Frank Doran is retiring as MP. Without a Green candidate standing, an SNP win is a foregone conclusion with the SNP's poll ratings over the last few months. Dead cert SNP gain.

Aberdeen South: The SNP's prospects here are considerably more limited than in Aberdeen North-and a large proportion of the Liberal Democrat vote is more likely to back Labour than the SNP in my opinion, as are any Conservative voters who switch sides. Likely Labour hold.

Airdrie & Shotts: Despite Pamela Nash's incumbency, the fact the seat's predecessors have shown strong SNP potential in the past, and the fact swings from Labour to the SNP will probably be at least 20% on average, mean that Neil Gray (SNP PPC) is likely to succeed where Kay Ulrich narrowly failed in 1994 (when Airdrie & Shotts was Monklands East). The SNP will have to fight for such large swings, however-the seats where large swings to the SNP are predicted will not just fall onto their lap. Likely SNP gain.

Angus: The SNP already represent this seat, so they will clearly hold it. The question is, how high can the SNP climb in the six Westminster seats they already have? Let us see-it could climb from just under 40% to 55% here, in my opinion. Dead cert SNP hold.

Argyll and Bute: This may look like a four-way marginal on paper, but the reality is that it will be a straight fight between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP due to Labour's poor local base, and the Conservatives not showing a recovery anywhere in Scotland. The SNP has always had latent strength in this area, and in the highlands they can win over many Liberal Democrat voters in addition to Labour voters, and will crash through easily in 2015 on current polling. Dead cert SNP gain.

Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock: Even though this Labour stronghold has never been particularly good for the SNP (especially in Ayr itself), the SNP looks set to win it from third place, as I do not believe Labour will able to convince enough Conservative voters to back them tactically in May 2015. Likely SNP gain.

Banff and Buchan: This time, Eilidh Whiteford, who ended up experiencing a 10.6% swing from the SNP to the Conservatives in 2010 when she replaced Alex Salmond (now contesting Gordon), will be safe and sound. Not much more to say apart from how low both the Labour and Lib Dem vote could plummet in this constituency. Dead cert SNP hold.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk: The Liberal Democrats are faring particularly badly in Scotland, and the Scottish Greens could win over vital votes. Also, John Lamont, Conservative MSP, is standing once again against Michael Moore, and a split ticket (both Labour and the SNP stand to win over some ex-Lib Dem voters, although neither of them can realistically win this seat themselves) could possibly lead to a tight Conservative gain. Probable Conservative gain.

Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: Viscount Thurso (aka John Sinclair, grandson of former Liberal Party leader Archibald Sinclair, who once represented this seat), has generally been a respected MP, and in rural areas like the Highlands of Scotland, personal votes matter more than average. However, with the SNP surge relatively strong in this area, the SNP's latent strength might finally push them through in May-it will be an interesting contest. Likely SNP gain.

Central Ayrshire: Another hitherto safe Labour seat that the SNP will gain if they push hard enough-not much more to say. Likely SNP gain.

Coatbridge, Chryston & Belshill: One of the safest Labour seats in the whole of Scotland. Even with good potential for the SNP here, they will have to mount a great effort to overturn Tom Clarke's 20,714 majority (especially with this seat's turnout being below average) despite a recent Ashcroft poll predicting a narrow SNP gain and the fact that in seats like these, the swing from Labour to SNP will be greater than average. Probable Labour hold.

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East: This is prime, working-class, strong Lab-SNP swing territory-at the moment, it is an almost bolt-on SNP gain. Dead cert SNP gain-if they push it.

Dumfries and Galloway: This is quite interesting, although the fact that former MP Peter Duncan is not trying to regain this seat (which contained Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, which he represented from 2001 to 2005 until it was abolished) weakens Conservative potential. The SNP stands well at the moment despite only achieving a poor third here in 2010-this is where utilising all those extra members will be crucial to success. Likely SNP gain.

Dumfriesshire, Clyesdale & Tweedale: The last remaining Conservative-held Westminster seat in Scotland, and David Mundell's majority is unsafe. This is not good base territory for the SNP, but because of their surge they have at least a slim chance of winning here from fourth place simply due to how well they are polling in Scotland overall. In addition, UKIP will experience a minor boost in Scotland, and that could fatally undercut the Conservative vote just enough-but what of the directions of the Lib Dem and Labour vote? 50/50 Conservative hold/SNP gain.

Dundee East: Sitting SNP MP Stewart Hosie will end up with a safe majority instead of a marginal majority over Labour now, and cement this into an SNP stronghold as the Labour vote here will surely collapse. Dead cert SNP hold.

Dundee West: The city of Dundee overall has been very supportive of the SNP in recent years, which is not only shown in their support for independence last year. Jim McGovern is standing again for Labour but he is doomed to lose at the moment. Dead cert SNP gain.

Dunfermline & West Fife: Without Willie Rennie (who won this seat in a 2006 by-election but lost it in 2010, albeit with a large swing against Labour compared to the result of 2005) trying again for the Liberal Democrats, the Lib Dem vote share will collapse heavily. Where will it go, however? I do not believe all of it will go to the SNP in May, although the SNP could snatch this seat nonetheless. 50/50 Labour hold/SNP gain.

East Dunbartonshire: This seat is marginal but the Liberal Democrats are pouring resources from their Scottish branch here because of (in their minds) the potential of Jo Swinson. Nevertheless, it looks pretty certain she will lose-the SNP have high chances but it is by no means certain that they will come out on top instead of Labour. Dead cert Lib Dem loss-either to Labour or the SNP.

East Kilbride, Strathkelvin, & Lesmahagow: With strong potential for the SNP having been exhibited in the past and present here, and with current swings from Labour to the SNP being so high, the SNP looks pretty certain to win this seat in May, particularly with no Green PPC this time around. Dead cert SNP gain.

East Lothian: The SNP only finished fourth in East Lothian in 2010, but it was a good fourth and I do not believe it will stop them gaining this seat (although tactical voting from unionist inclined Lib Dem voters just might) particularly with experienced candidate George Kenevan standing here. Likely SNP gain.

East Renfrewshire: This is the most unionist constituency in Scotland, and that will count for a lot when Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy defends his seat soon. The SNP are not entirely out of play even in such an affluent constituency, so it is not a home run for Mr Murphy just yet as his notoriety may mean that SNP voters here will be more likely to turn out to vote. Probable Labour hold.

Edinburgh East: Out of all the Edinburgh seats, this has the best SNP potential, but also the best Scottish Green potential in the whole of Scotland (alongside Glasgow North). Peter McColl is standing for the Scottish Greens, and his impressive track record (as a former Rector of Edinburgh University and the editor of the Bright Green blog) will ensure a good performance. With a strong performance from both the SNP and the Greens likely, Labour will almost certainly lose-but to whom? Dead cert Labour loss-either to the SNP or the Greens.

Edinburgh North & Leith: Even though Lib Dem support has collapsed locally in Edinburgh, that is no guarantee of a Labour hold due to the rise the SNP will experience, even in such a pro-union city as this. The Scottish Greens also stand to do well, and this could possibly scupper the SNP's chances, as could Left Unity to a lesser extent. One to watch for May 2015. Probable Labour hold.

Edinburgh South: A month may be a long time in politics, but nothing much has changed since I last predicted this seat a month ago. Probable Labour hold.

Edinburgh South West: Were Alistair Darling still standing, his infamy among nationalists in Scotland for his key role in the 'Better Together' campaign last year would sound the alarm among Edinburgh's SNP branch and call high numbers of activists to the constituency. The fact he is not seeking re-election still means Labour is likely to lose due to the lack of incumbency. Likely SNP gain.

Edinburgh West: This is the most prosperous of Edinburgh's seats, although boundary changes in 2005 have made this more competitive than in previous years. It will also be quite tightly fought, particularly with Cameron Day standing again for Labour (he managed an 11.4% swing from the Lib Dems to Labour in 2010) although the Conservatives' best hope is to finish second in spite of speculation from other political commentators. There is only an outside chance of Mike Crockart holding on, but who will he lose it to? Likely Liberal Democrat loss-either to Labour or the SNP.

Falkirk: The scandal surrounding the Labour selection to replace Eric Joyce, and the SNP already being in a good second place, will combine for a surefire SNP gain in May-need I say more?. Dead cert SNP gain.

Glasgow Central: Glasgow, like Dundee, was one of the few areas that voted for independence last year-and the contest here is a straight fight between Labour and the SNP. In by-elections in Glasgow, the SNP have generally been able to draw on a lot of latent support from traditional Labour voters, and this time they will finally see it through. There is also a large student electorate here, and the size of Labour's majority (exacerbated by relatively dreadful turnout levels) means that it will not be a walk in the park for the SNP. Likely SNP gain.

Glasgow East: The easiest of the Glasgow seats for the SNP to win, and the weakest of all for the Con-Dems. The Lib Dems barely got their deposit returned in this constituency in 2010, and the Conservatives lost theirs in 2010, meaning that Labour has virtually nothing to draw on to stop an SNP win. Dead cert SNP gain.

Glasgow North: The Lib Dem vote will collapse here, and the Scottish Greens stand to obtain at least third place in May. I am not entirely certain how much of the Lib Dem vote will transfer to the SNP, the Greens, and Labour respectively, but I nonetheless believe Labour will lose Glasgow North. Likely SNP gain.

Glasgow North East: The safest Labour seat in Glasgow (and all of Scotland)-this may be a mountain too high for the SNP to climb, although if they push hard enough, they can narrowly gain it.  Likely Labour hold.

Glasgow North West: The SNP can gain this seat if they push hard enough-but will Lib Dem voters in any significant numbers end up backing Labour? Likely SNP gain.

Glasgow South: This appears on current polling to be an easy win for the SNP-and the Ashcroft poll was pretty conclusive in stating that. After Glasgow East, this is the easiest Glasgow seat for the SNP to win. Dead cert SNP gain.

Glasgow South West: Despite the huge majority (46%) commanded by Ian Davidson, this will be a relatively easy win for the SNP, particularly when the hard left is in a better position than in most constituencies to drag down the Labour vote. In addition, Chris Stephens (SNP's PPC) is a proven campaigner who nearly gained an otherwise unassailable Labour stronghold in the last Scottish Parliament elections. Likely SNP gain.

Glenrothes: Without Lindsay Roy standing again, and with the SNP's Peter Grant (who did well in the 2008 by-election here to shake this traditionally Labour stronghold) standing here, Labour's fate is sealed as the 20% swing the SNP will need to win will be no problem in this type of area. Dead cert SNP gain.

Gordon: Sir Malcolm Bruce, the only reason the Liberals/Liberal Democrats hold this seat in the first place, is stepping down after 32 years as an MP. More importantly, Alex Salmond himself is the SNP candidate here, and the SNP managed a good second place without him in 2010-at this point, his return to Parliament is practically assured. Dead cert SNP gain.

Inverclyde: Inverclyde as an area only narrowly voted in favour of continuing the union last year, and this will give a useful campaigning plank for the SNP to use against Labour. Even before the SNP experienced their great surge in 2014, they proved their potential in the 2011 by-election. Likely SNP gain.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch &Strathspey: This seat's predecessors have been particularly competitive in the past-former Lib Dem MP Russell Johnston still holds the record for lowest winning percentage in any seat at a general election (26%) which occurred here in 1992. Highland Council leader Drew Hendry is SNP's PPC here, and he will surely win against Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, who will be the highest-ranked casualty of this year's general election, particularly with the Greens nipping at the Lib Dem vote share. Dead cert SNP gain.

Kilmarnock and Loudoun: There are many constituencies like this which are straight Labour-SNP fights and have been held by Labour for decades, and this one will be very easy for the SNP by those standards. Dead cert SNP gain.

Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath: Former PM Gordon Brown, who has held this seat and predecessor seats in 1983, is retiring-however, the 50% majority Labour currently has might be too much for the SNP even when they are far ahead of Labour in Scottish opinion polls. Probable Labour hold.

Lanark & Hamilton East: Similar situation to Kilmarnock and Loudoun et al.-the ConDems' support is somewhat better but it is not likely to shift far enough to save Labour from an SNP win. Dead cert SNP gain.

Linlithgow and East Falkirk: The SNP only needs a 12% swing to win this from Labour, which should be no problem at all for them at the moment. Dead cert SNP gain.

Livingston: A similar story to the above-SNP in a good second place in a straight Lab-SNP contest and likely to win here given current opinion polls. Even a marginal rise for UKIP will just be another nail in Labour's coffin. Dead cert SNP gain.

Midlothian: Once again, the SNP are in a good second place, and the fact the Liberal Democrats have many more votes to lose than average will in reality not make enough of a difference to Labour, with David Hamilton standing down. Dead cert SNP gain.

Moray: The SNP already represent Moray and were pretty safe in 2010, and will be even safer in 2015. UKIP polled reasonably well (by Scottish standards) last time, and Moray may well be one of a handful of saved deposits for UKIP in Scotland, which will just make the SNP even safer by splitting the LibLabCon pro-union ticket. Dead cert SNP hold.

Motherwell & Wishaw: The SNP has an enormous Labour majority to overturn (16,806!) in order to win, but in constituencies like this they will find the task easier than average. If the hard left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stand a candidate again, they could play a decisive role in the final result despite their limited potential. Likely SNP gain.

Na h-Eileanan an lar: An easy hold for the SNP of course-how high will the SNP vote share climb, given that this is the smallest constituency in the UK? This could also post the worst Conservative result in May 2015, and probably the best Christian Party result in the UK due to the religiously conservative nature of the people of the Outer Hebrides' inhabitants. Dead cert SNP hold.

North Ayrshire & Arran: Katy Clark is the most left-wing Labour MP in Scotland, but her good record will not save her with the SNP close enough behind and Patricia Gibson standing again (she was the candidate who got the SNP into second place in 2010). Dead cert SNP gain.

North East Fife: Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell is standing down after 28 years as an MP, and the Lib Dem vote will surely collapse here (particularly in the university town of St Andrews where the Greens will make an advance amongst the student electorate) as it will in most of Scotland. Labour can win over some of the Lib Dem vote, but they themselves will be scorched by an SNP surge (even though this has historically been poor territory for the SNP) in turn, making an SNP victory almost certain this year. Dead cert SNP gain.

Ochil & South Perthshire: This is SNP target seat number one, needing only a 5% swing to the SNP. Tasmina Akhmed-Sheikh will almost certainly become the very first mixed-race SNP MP come May. Dead cert SNP gain.

Orkney & Shetland: The safest Liberal Democrat constituency by far, and it has been continuously held by them since 1950 (even when the Conservatives put up a candidate in the 1950s when they did not do so in other Liberal-held seats), and this will definitely continue in spite of all the Lib Dems' woes. On another note, increased potential for the SNP, and for UKIP to a lesser extent, means that this might possibly be the first constituency to record a lost deposit for both Conservative and Labour, which has never happened before in the history of British politics. Dead cert Liberal Democrat hold.

Paisley & Renfrewshire North: There is quite an interesting roster of PPCs lined up for this constituency this year, but the main point is that this is yet another Lab-SNP contest where the SNP have a strong advantage and will win if they try. Likely SNP gain.

Paisley & Renfrewshire South: Harder for the SNP to win than the aforementioned Paisley & Renfrewshire North, but the tactical voting potential is lower due to the weaker support for the coalition parties. Likely SNP gain.

Perth & North Perthshire: Pete Wishart will have no problems at all holding on this year, even if the Conservative vote is reasonably strong, as he can win over votes from Labour the same way other SNP candidates will. Dead cert SNP hold.

Ross, Skye & Lochaber: Some have said that Charles Kennedy, the only remaining SDP MP from 1983, and former leader of the Lib Dems, might suffer a shock loss this year-but his personal vote and experience means that this is unlikely in practice. However, this is a Highland constituency where the SNP have strong potential, so it will not be plain sailing for Mr Kennedy. Likely Liberal Democrat hold.

Rutherglen & Hamilton West: Very safe for Labour, and Tom Greatrex's criticism of ATOS and Work Capability Assessments will be to his credit at least a little. However,the SNP still stands to win this seat narrowly if they are lucky enough. Probable Labour hold.

Stirling: Anne McGuire, who won this from former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth in 1997, is standing down and the SNP has been polling well in Stirling recently. They should have no trouble leapfrogging from third place in May to win at the moment. Dead cert SNP gain.

West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine: Sir Robert Smith appears to be doomed as the Lib Dems are not faring well even in previously strong areas for them. The question is, without much of a Labour vote to squeeze, can the Conservatives still convince enough voters to prevent an SNP victory? Let us see. Dead cert Liberal Democrat loss-either to the Conservatives or the SNP.

West Dunbartonshire: Despite a strong majority for Labour's Gemma Doyle, West Dunbartonshire was in favour of independence last year, which will give a good morale boost for the SNP and almost ensure a win. Dead cert SNP gain, if narrowly.

You are probably wondering why I have not predicted so many certain SNP gains for 2015 across Scotland (I only predicted 21 'dead cert SNP gains', and 15 'likely SNP gains', giving the SNP a likely total of around 42 Westminster seats after May 2015). This is because of the Labour majorities in many of the seats the SNP want to gain, which will not just be handed to them on a plate-polling assumes the SNP will actually mount a decent campaign in those seats in 2015. They certainly have the members to do so, but they need to get them to turn out first. Also, the collapse of the Lib Dem vote makes the Conservatives competitive again in a few select rural constituencies where Labour have no hope of winning and never have done (although the SNP do have a chance except in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk).

Given my predictions, this is how the Westminster map of Scotland could end up looking like after 7 May 2015:

SNP seats: 27-53 (+21 to +47)
Labour seats: 4-27 (-37 to -14)
Lib Dem seats: 2-4 (-9 to -7)
Conservative seats: 0-3 (-1 to +2)
Green seats: 0-1 (+0 to +1)

The SNP does indeed look set to overtake the Lib Dems as the third largest party in the House of Commons after polling day-apart from greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, what will it mean for us if they end up holding the balance of power in a hung parliament?

Alan.




Wednesday, 18 March 2015

My analysis of the Israeli legislative election of 2015

Readers, despite many opinion polls pointing to a defeat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party defied media expectations and retained top position in the Israeli Knesset. Perhaps his warning to loyal voters about the advances made by Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union (a coalition between the Israeli Labor Party and Hatumah) and the fact that exit polls showed those two parties neck and neck rang true enough to rally around right-wing voters.

Likud actually managed to gain 12 seats, bringing their total to 30-most of these gains, however, came at the expense of parties more right-wing than Likud. In particular, the Jewish Homeland (a more extreme counterpart to Likud in many ways) lost 4 of its 12 seats (there are only 120 seats in the Knesset, so this is worth noting), and Likud's one time allies, Yisrael Beitenu, lost 7 of their 13 seats; tactical voting by their voters, to keep Mr Netanyahu in power, was likely a factor in their loss. Ultra-orthodox parties also lost out, with Shas and United Torah Judaism both losing seats-possibly this is a sign of social progress in Israel, or were some ultra-orthodox voters rallying around Likud? Yachad, a splinter party from Shas, meanwhile failed to gain any seats, but it would have had the election threshold not been raised from 2% to 3.25% during the 19th Knesset.

The left did perform well in Israel, thankfully, even if not as well as they expected-the Joint List (a coalition of Hadash, Israel's hardline socialist party, and three Arab-interest parties, partly created because of the increased threshold for Knesset representation) managed a good third in the polls, with 14 Knesset seats between the four parties, largely due to increased turnout amongst Arab voters and more Israeli citizens warming towards a two-state solution. Palestine is increasingly being recognised as a separate state to Israel (135 nations out of 193 recognise it, although most Western European nations, the United States, and Canada still fail to acknowledge its independence) , and it deserves full independence and full nationhood. However, Meretz lost two of its six seats-Hadash, which is more left-wing than Meretz (which is more left-wing than Labor) won over some of their more hardline voters, and both Meretz and the Joint List support a two state solution for Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, the Israeli Green Party came well below the 3.25% threshold, with only 0.08% of the vote-Meretz supports green politics to some extent, however, so I believe the Israeli Green Party can form a joint list with Meretz in future.

Sadly for progressive people in Israel, it appears clear that Mr Netanyahu will secure another term as Prime Minister, even if the right overall lost out in that election-Shas will likely support Likud and any parties it can gather to form a coalition.

Please feel free to give your thoughts on my analysis.

Alan.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The importance of a living wage-and how it will help everyone

Readers, surveys carried out by The Independent recently showed that not a single known high street chain in the UK has signed up to a living wage pledge, and nor are those companies paying all of their staff a living wage (£9.15 per hour in London, £7.85 per hour elsewhere). However, smaller retailers are paying living wages, highlighting the importance of small, local companies and cooperatives in Britain's economic future, as opposed to large, parasitic, overbearing corporations and chain stores.

Increasing living costs coupled with stagnating wages mean that year by year, thousands more workers end up struggling to meet basic needs because their wages are not high enough to reliably cover rent, energy, household, food, and transport bills. This also means they are unable to contribute effectively to local economies, meaning that when wages stagnate and when living costs rise, local jobs are put at risk.

How does a living wage benefit everyone, from workers to leaders, whether rich or poor?

1. A living wage (as opposed to a minimum wage) will mean that everyone who earns it has enough to survive and meet basic needs without any trouble. Not only will people earning a living wage be able to provide more for their family and friends, they will also be less stressed and thus more productive and positive in their daily lives. It will also mean weekly working hours can be reduced, which in turn can reduce unemployment whilst still meaning we can be productive nationally.

2. A living wage would benefit local businesses, which will protect local industries because more people are then able to buy locally and support their towns and cities. This will in turn reduce transport costs, reduce the need for imported food and drink, strengthen community spirit, and thus help us transition to a more sustainable economy more easily.

3. A living wage would mean that the national bill for tax credits and housing benefit would be substantially reduced (if not eliminated altogether), meaning that those in need could get better help, and it will also increase tax revenue, meaning that we will all benefit, as long as resources are distributed fairly.

4. A living wage can be achieved if a fair wage gap is introduced and enforced, and if employers stop taking pay rises they do not need when they are already earning enough-and without costing any jobs (it will in fact increase employment levels in the long term).

Alan.




Thursday, 12 March 2015

Possible outcomes following May 2015 and their potential consequences (in my opinion)

Readers, we are now just eight weeks away from the polling day for this year's general election.

I believe more candidates than ever will be contesting (although out of the minor parties, only TUSC appears likely to get its own election broadcast)-and I am pleased to say there are now more than 500 Green PPCs standing across the whole of the UK at this time of writing :)

Even though political parties' support is not wavering that much in polls, this election will still be the most difficult to predict in terms of overall national outcome. And whilst the media talks of realistically possible coalitions and outcomes arising from this general election, the possible consequences are not often discussed thoroughly.

Realistically possible outcomes from the 2015 general election:

Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition continues (unlikely): Sitting Liberal Democrat MPs have tended to be very good at using their personal vote to retain incumbency when trends are not in their favour (or at least ensure they do not lose heavily) and the increase in vote share for both UKIP and the Greens (depending on constituency) could cause some slated Conservative losses to be Conservative holds in reality. If the Con-Dem coalition somehow continues after May 2015, Britain will just get worse and worse, especially for ordinary people.

Conservative majority (very unlikely): The Conservatives only need 20 more seats to gain the majority they failed to reach in 2010, and they are likely to gain some Liberal Democrat seats (and possibly even the odd Labour seat or two). With UKIP still taking large numbers of ex-Conservative voters, however, an outright Conservative majority, which has not been achieved since 1992, is a very unlikely scenario. The consequences of it would be a neoconservative austerity regime so bad it could in my opinion be on par with that of Spain under Mariano Rajoy, and what Greece endured under Antonis Samaras (before he and New Democracy were ousted in 2015).

Labour majority (unlikely): Were Ed Miliband and Labour trying to actually distance themselves from the Con-Dems, this would be a more likely outcome. However, his failure to oppose austerity or reverse key callous mistakes by the Con-Dems (e.g. trebling of tuition fees, closing of the Independent Living Fund), and the lasting consequences of Labour's collusion with the Con-Dems in the 'Better Together' campaign in Scotland some months earlier, means that an outright majority is unlikely even if Labour wins the most seats. In any case, a Labour government will just continue the Con-Dems' austerity, albeit a bit more softly, and therefore get an even greater collapse than the Con-Dems.

Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition (very unlikely): The MPs within the Liberal Democrats could potentially switch sides after May 2015, as their German counterparts, the FDP, did in 1982 (albeit the other way around, from supporting the SPD to supporting the CDU). However, given that the social liberals (as opposed to the Orange Bookers, a group including such MPs as David Laws and Vince Cable) amongst Lib Dem MPs are more likely to lose their seats this year, this will only happen if Labour do not win a majority and do not get confidence and supply from the SNP, and if the Lib Dems can save incumbents' seats when their vote share is collapsing left, right and centre. Such a coalition would be no better for the people of Britain than the current Con-Dem coalition has been during its tenure.

Labour-SNP deal (unlikely): Given that the SNP will not make any deals with the Conservatives, and the fact they could be in a kingmaker position after the next election when they are predicted to win so many seats off Labour in Scotland, this might be possible. However, many newly elected SNP MPs will be reluctant to support Labour due to Labour's support for unionism and lack of opposition to the neoliberal orthodoxy, even if they could use their leverage to obtain more powers for the Scottish Parliament and for local government in Scotland. Such an agreement, however, will in my opinion, probably have the least bad consequences of the post-election outcomes I am listing here.

Grand Coalition (very unlikely): If the Liberal Democrats lose enough seats, if the Conservatives lose enough seats to Labour but not too many, and if Labour do indeed lose massively in Scotland, the distant possibility of a grand coalition between Conservative and Labour (a similar coalition exists in Germany between the CDU and SPD) is still there. However, as Labour would practically be committing political suicide by engaging in such a coalition (as would the Conservatives, if not to the same extent), it would likely only be a last resort by the LibLabCons to avoid having to call another election.

Second election in 2015 is called (possible): In spite of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act mandating five-year parliaments unless 2/3 of MPs vote to dissolve Parliament early, a repeat of the 1974 situation is a likely outcome if neither the SNP nor the Liberal Democrats have enough seats apiece to stabilise a coalition. As with October 1974 following on from February 1974, it could see the Conservatives and Labour desperately trying to squeeze votes from other parties (especially UKIP and the Green Party) to achieve a majority, and voter turnout in such a situation will likely be worse even than in June 2001 (national turnout then was 59.4%, the lowest since World War One).

Given the tightness of opinion polls from all major sources (YouGov, Ashcroft, ComRes, Ipsos Mori and Survation), all I can predict at the moment nationally is that there will be a hung parliament once again after the May 2015 general election, even if I can predict the outcomes of individual constituencies. But I nevertheless believe it is important we are forewarned of the potential consequences of possible coalitions/other situations. If only the Green Party had some chance of springing to government from having just one MP (I do like a nice surprise, even if it is a very optimistic one)...

Alan.









Tuesday, 10 March 2015

My opinions on the Spring 2015 Green Party conference

Readers, over the weekend I attended Green Party conference at the ACC building in Liverpool, the most attended Green Party conference in British history, with 1,300 people attending (although not all attended all four days of the conference, which I always do)

I met many new activists at that conference, particularly in my local party and also those who had not been to a conference in some years for one reason or another. Natalie, Shahrar and Amelia were also right on the ball in terms of speeches, and the diversity of fringes proved useful as well.

The five things I liked most about this conference were:

1. The Green Party passed a motion allowing joint candidacies, which will be brilliant in future elections and will make a revival of Green-Plaid and Green-Mebyon Kernow pacts possible.

2. Helping the Green Party raise awareness about autism and autism-related issues, as I do in my everyday life.

3. The venue's easy to navigate layout-although I personally found it easier because I had visited it last year.

4. My poetry went down well in the Open Mic Night even though I had made some of the lines up as I read it ;)

5. The strong debates over contentious motions, particularly on health.

The five things I did not like so much about my conference experience:

1. The substantial delays in motion progress, partly due to new members not always understanding the process;pre-conference guidance is particularly important after a recent membership surge.

2. I could not find decent and affordable accommodation near the venue, and the hostel I stayed at was not suitable due to its distance from the venue. It would have been nice if I could have stayed with a local member, as I did the last two conferences.

3. Due to financial issues, I had to catch an early train home, and therefore missed crucial parts of the final session yesterday.

4. My colleagues from East Hertfordshire did not stay at conference for the full duration.

5. Quite a few nice people I wanted to see (who I saw at the Birmingham conference in September 2014), like my friends Lucy, Julia, and the two Duckworths (Will and Vicky) did not show up when I hoped they would.

With Parliament officially dissolving in just three weeks' time from now, and with nearly 500 Green Party candidates across England and Wales in place (or about to be in place) for the upcoming election, I thank everyone who took part in this conference, and I strongly believe that we Greens can win more than one parliamentary seat in this election.

Alan.

Friday, 6 March 2015

My analysis of local by-election results from 5/3/15

Readers, the results for the four local by-elections from 5 March 2015, all of which featured Green Party candidates, were as follows:

Brent LBC, Kenton:  Conservative 1097 (51.4%, -1.6%), Labour 839 (39.3%, +6.8%), Green 121 (5.7%, -4.8%), Liberal Democrat 79 (3.7%, -1.3%).

Camden LBC, St Pancras and Somers Town: Lab 1481 (72.8%), Con 243 (12.0%), Green 213 (10.5%), Lib Dem 96 (4.7%)

Croydon LBC, Selhurst: Lab 1517 (71.5%), Con 246 (11.6%), Green 148 (7.0%), UKIP 147 (7.0%), Lib Dem 65 (2.9%).

Essex CC, Bocking: Con 1071 (34.3%), Lab 974 (31.2%), UKIP 855 (27.4%), Green 165 (5.3%), Independent S 58 (1.8%)

I believe tactical voting in Kenton, one of the more safely Conservative areas of Brent (and part of the constituency of Brent North, which was once safely Conservative until the Blairite landslide of 1997) may explain the swing away from the Green Party to Labour, although the lack of a UKIP candidate meant the Conservatives held without much trouble. As for St Pancras and Somers Town, the strong Green vote in 2010 was emphasised by Natalie Bennett's candidature (at the same time as being Green Party parliamentary candidate for Holborn & St Pancras) and her personal vote in that area; this may explain our relatively disappointing performance in that by-election. I am however pleased with the fact that we beat UKIP to third place in Croydon, a London borough not as unfriendly to UKIP (going by recent election results there) as many other London boroughs.

The close Bocking by-election result may be a prediction of things to come later this year-the rise of UKIP will likely fade somewhat come general election time except in areas where UKIP are targeting resources, and Braintree is not one of them.

As I am off to Green Party conference very soon at this time of writing, I only have time to give a somewhat short analysis this time.

Alan.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

My thoughts on the recent budget of Brighton and Hove Council

Readers, earlier this week, the Green administration Brighton and Hove Council, the only council to have a Green Party administration (albeit a minority administration, a serious issue when the Labour and Conservative groups collude to obstruct our best efforts to represent Brighton and Hove residents), agreed with some Labour councillors to a budget which would involve cuts, in spite of Brighton and Hove Green Party members voting to ask their councillors not to vote for any type of cuts budget.

I would like to say I am very pleased for the six Green councillors who were right to vote against a cuts budget first time around-why did only four of them rebel against the budget second time around when it is important to maintain an anti-austerity stance both locally and nationally?

One issue is that the Local Government Act 1988 makes it difficult for local councils to resist central government control-this should be repealed so that local government is less reliant on Whitehall and can set its own rates again. There should be real localism and grassroots local devolution, not Eric Pickles' brand of 'localism' which has seen budget cuts for mainly Labour-dominated councils and budget increases for mainly Conservative-dominated councils.

The second issue is that any rise in council tax will hurt both poor people and rich people, since many exemptions from council tax are no longer available as a result of the Con-Dems' austerity measures. The current system of council tax is also regressive, as richer people end up paying a lower proportion of their income towards it than most people in reality-therefore, a rise of 6%, which the Green councillors wanted, whilst indeed useful for saving vital council services in the midst of austerity, would have caused much pain for some people already struggling to meet basic needs. However, a council tax freeze which was proposed by the Conservative group would have seen important services closed or cut drastically enough to be largely ineffective. At least this tax rise of 1.99%, which was the rise finally agreed to, should save children's centres within Brighton, an area that has large numbers of young families.

The third issue is that crucially we Greens only have a minority administration in Brighton and Hove, and not a majority, which is why our useful proposal to axe paid political advisers (which are not essential to the running of councils or provision of council services anyway) was sadly vetoed by Labour-Conservative collusion, which shows we are trying our best at representing local residents in difficult times, when so much local government spending is at the mercy of central government and when there has never been a Green Party administration on a local council before anywhere in the UK.






Monday, 2 March 2015

My analysis of the 2015 Estonian parliamentary election

Yesterday, Estonia held its 2015 parliamentary election-and it was nothing but bad news for progressive parties in Estonia.

I hoped the Estonian Greens would return to the Rikikogu after losing their seats in 2011, but in fact their vote share fell drastically-from 3.8% to 0.9%. I wonder how this happened, given that in opinion polls there they had been polling 2-4%. The Estonian United Left Party performed even worse, finishing bottom of the poll with 0.1%. In the context of left-wing parties advancing strongly in many other European nations, Estonia has seen the exact opposite, with two new right-wing parties entering the Rikikogu: the Free Party and the Conservative People's Party, with 8 and 7 seats respectively.

The recent expansion of Estonia's economy, as well as the fact it has not been as badly affected by the Great Recession as some other European nations, may well be the main reason why the Estonian Greens/Estonian United Left polled so poorly in this election. A lack of representation of any properly progressive parties in Estonia's Rikikogu could have serious long-term consequences though, particularly with the threat of TTIP looming ever closer to EU citizens.

Alan.