Friday, 29 May 2015

On the recent Queen's Speech and other thoughts

Two days ago, the Queen's Speech was released (even though of course ministers write it, Queen Elizabeth II just reads it) and it was as dangerous as I expected it to be. So bad was it that the Queen purportedly scowled when there was mention of scrapping the Human Rights Act sometime in this parliament.

Here are five important reasons why the 2015 Queen's Speech is bad news for most people in Britain:

1. The proposed enormous budget cuts and decimation of social supports.

In the 2010-15 Parliament, councils were already hit so hard by austerity that by 2014, many councils already feared soon being unable to provide services required by statute, and many services were contracted out to large corporations notorious for failure or unethical practices (e.g. Capita, Serco, G4S). George Osborne announced another £12,000,000,000 of planned cuts, particularly to welfare and local government budgets that are already squeezed, and as expected he has no plans at all to introduce higher tax rates or clamp down on tax avoidance costing this country 10 times the amount of planned cuts. Worse still, if the right-to-buy, which should be entirely ended immediately, is extended to housing association homes, it will decimate the social housing stock even further and shut even more young people out of getting their home, rented or owned, and put long-term secure tenancies at risk.

2. The proposed ban on all legal highs-despite the social costs and waste of police resources such a ban would cause.

The propensity of legal highs, like those of substances already banned by law, is a health issue fundamentally-not a criminal justice issue. There should be regulation of the market of legal highs so that people can enjoy them but safely, but an outright ban would as per usual cause more problems than it solves. I believe that like the Misuse of Drugs Act, this is just another excuse to target some of the most vulnerable people in society and unfairly restrict people's personal freedom.

3. There will be yet more intrusion into the lives of innocent people and peaceful activists.

The 'snoopers' charter' and Extremism Bill will likely not be effective at combating terrorism or countering its root causes. They are just more excuses for Theresa May to abuse her power and make British society even more Orwellian than it was before. The main targets of these proposals will actually be peaceful critics of austerity and other harmful government policy, and vulnerable people.

4. 'English votes for English laws' and the effects it will have.

English votes for English laws will mean, in practice, the Conservatives riding roughshod over all areas of England, since they have only one MP in Scotland, and 12 in Wales, but 317 MPs in England out of a possible 533. Given that devolution plans in England will not be good (proposed city regions will not only not represent real devolution to local people but may also have harmful impacts on surrounding areas), this bill will have very serious consequences for the people of England if passed, given that Plaid Cymru and the SNP will aid Green MP Caroline Lucas once again in providing a real opposition to the Conservatives.

5. The excessive planned restrictions on our right to strike.

Very few MPs got support from more than 40% of the eligible electors in their constituencies, and only one (George Howarth in Knowsley) got 50% of all eligible electors in his constituency to vote for him. Yet they are planning to require that for strike action to be legal, strike turnouts must be at least 50%, with a further requirement of 40% of all eligible voters in the sector for 'key sectors' such as health and transport, which will make most strike action impossible in practice, even when it is reasonable. These restrictions are so bad they violate international law (and also the UN Convention on Human Rights).

I would also like to say that even though the EU's Trade Committee is no longer supportive of the insidious ISDS clause due to a compromise between two parts of the European neoliberal triad (the S&D, EPP, and ALDE groups), TTIP will still have very serious consequences for important environmental and health regulation if it is ever approved, so I ask you to continue opposing TTIP and doing your best to persuade your MEPs to scrap TTIP altogether, rather than accept even a watered-down version that will still be bad for us overall.


Monday, 25 May 2015

My thoughts on recent Spanish regional elections

Yesterday, most of the regions of Spain (except Andalusia, which had already held its regional election earlier, and Catalonia, whose early election will not be until September) held their elections.

The results, as predicted, represented heavy losses for the ruling People's Party (PP) and substantial losses for the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). Crucially, the People's Party has not been able to poll well enough to get a single-party majority in any region; such was the price PP paid over not only its deepening of the recession in Spain but also its draconian security law (which for example subjects people protesting outside the Cortes to fines as high as 500,000 Euros) As did happen in last year's European elections, Podemos made substantial gains-although not as spectacular as recent opinion polls were predicting, and they took a large number of votes from United Left (IU) who lost representation in several autonomous communities, largely due to them falling just below crucial electoral thresholds (sometimes 3%, sometimes 5%) which given the tightness of electoral contests this time around will in fact leave more voters unrepresented than usual. Meanwhile, the Citizens' Party also took substantial numbers of votes from more centrist PP voters in many places, but Vox universally failed in winning over enough hardline conservative voters. The centrist and liberal Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) failed to gain additional representation and in fact lost all the regional seats it was defending. This is probably because of Podemos and Ciudadanos attracting many undecided protest voters previously supportive of UPyD and because of UPyDs failure to oppose the crippling austerity conditions in Spain, where unemployment is still a very high 24% (more than twice that of neighbouring France, and over four times that of the UK).

Even in Castille-La Mancha, where a controversial alteration to that state's constitution reduced the number of seats to 33, making it very difficult indeed for non-mainstream parties to enter the autonomous parliament, Podemos won 3 seats, enough to deprive both the PP and PSOE of a single-party majority there. The major stories were the strong left-wing success in the capital, Madrid (where a Podemos-led coalition, Ahora Madrid, won 20 seats, only one less than the People's Party), Valencia, and most notably Barcelona. The victory of campaigner Ada Colau, who can now become mayor of Barcelona with the help of Republican Left of Catalonia and the Popular Unity Candidates list (who like Podemos also gained seats on the city council), was probably the most notable story of these elections, and I believe it will be another positive step for the people of Catalonia.

The PP have been heavily shaken by the results, and so has the PSOE, but the battle is not yet over for left-wing progressives and fans of participatory democracy in Spain, with the Spanish general election still months away and with Podemos not having reclaimed the poll lead it briefly held regularly from October 2014 to March 2015-having just newly entered those regional parliaments, Podemos needs to practice what it preaches, whether it has 'kingmaker' status or not, and keep moving onwards and upwards.


Sunday, 24 May 2015

By-elections, diversity and song

Yesterday was rather an interesting day, not just because of Eurovision 2015's final-it was also due to the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election over in Ireland (caused by the resignation of Fine Gael's Phil Hogan when he was appointed European Commissioner) and two referenda, one to approve same-sex marriage and one to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates.

The Carlow-Kilkenny by-election was won by Fianna Fail's Bobby Aylward, probably due to being able to receive useful transfers from Fine Gael, whose first preference vote share plummeted from 39.2% to just 20.6%, partly due to the intervention of Renua Ireland's Patrick McKee. These preference transfers were probably also advocated to keep Sinn Fein's Kathleen Funchion out-and it worked. Labour probably advocated similar tactical voting-their base in Carlow-Kilkenny is not that strong at all and their poll ratings are still very poor, hovering around 8%.

Renua Ireland, created by former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton, is in reality similar to the old Progressive Democrats in many ways, and like the PDs will probably not last very long. With thirteen candidates, it was rather a tight squeeze for progressive and left-wing candidates, although the Greens' Malcolm Noonan did achieve 5.3%, marking good signs of a Green recovery in Ireland, and Conor Mac Liam also achieved 3.3% (double his vote share of 2011) even though this time the far-left vote was split by People Before Profit, whose candidate, Adrienne Wallace, managed 3.6% of the first preference vote.

More important, though, was the referendum to approve same-sex marriage-and the people of Eire voted yes by a margin of 62% to 38%. However, one constituency, the rural Roscommon-South Leitrim, voted no to same sex-marriage, though narrowly. The Yes margin was much wider in the 'Greater Dublin' area; all the highest Yes voting constituencies in this referendum were in Dublin, where progressive political parties have done well for some time. Of the three provinces of Ireland entirely within Ireland, Leinster came out most in favour of same-sex marriage, Connaught the least in favour in spite of Fine Gael also speaking in favour of same-sex marriage (Connaught is Fine Gael's strongest base). Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan (in Ulster) also only narrowly voted in favour despite their strong support for Sinn Fein, who also advocated a Yes vote, possibly due to their rural and older voter base (the shy No vote).

This is an important step for equality, but the disparity in the Yes vote also shows a widening divide socially and economically within Ireland-the no vote was highest in areas with stronger support for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, or Sinn Fein, and in rural areas; the yes vote was highest in areas with good support for the Green Party or the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and in areas where the Labour Party of Ireland have traditionally polled better than average, generally in large towns or cities. A similar divide was shown in 2013 when an attempt to abolish the Irish Seanad (Senate) narrowly failed; rural areas were less favourable towards the Senate than urban areas.

Meanwhile, Eurovision 2015's final was going on, and despite some people worrying that Russia would win the Eurovision vote due to CIS countries being more favourable to Russia, it was Sweden who emerged the clear winner of Eurovision 2015. Amidst all this, Britain's entry, 'Still In Love With You' by Electro Velvet, scored only 5 points (1 from Malta, 1 from Ireland, 3 from San Marino, surprisingly enough), which is our worst Eurovision performance since 2003 (when our entry scored the dreaded nul points, which this time was achieved by the German and Austrian entries)

Politics has a notable influence in Eurovision voting (even though it should not) which is partly to explain for Britain's poor performance in Eurovision contests when it comes to the voting, and for Russia taking an early lead. However, I know the real reasons why our entry scored so low-the song's lyrics were not very imaginative and dated, the mix of styles was a bit mismatched and more American than European, and it was not well-composed. It is probably a good basis for a parody, though, on the upside.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Why STV is better than party-list PR if you want electoral reform that can throw the Conservatives out

Earlier today, the leaders of five major parties, specifically the Green Party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP handed in a petition containing nearly half a million signatures rightly calling for electoral reform to Downing Street.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservative and Labour leaders did not show up, due to the fact that the Conservatives and Labour still benefit from first past the post in Britain.

Or rather they do not, area by area:

The Conservatives have 51 MPs out of 55 in the South West and 78 MPs out of 84 South East constituencies-but Labour has 51 MPs out of 75 in the North West and 26 MPs out of 29 in the North East. Also, of the 10 seats Labour gained from the Conservatives, 3 were in the North West and 4 were in Greater London. Meanwhile, the South West was the region where the Liberal Democrats lost the fewest deposits and probably retained the most support overall, but they no longer have any seats at all in that region. They still have two seats in the North West but they suffered some of their heaviest vote share drops outside Scotland in Manchester and Liverpool.

It is clear that proportional representation will actually benefit every party, by giving all areas a fairer choice and by ending the north-south political divide, and therefore it will improve democracy in general.

I however do not specifically support party-list PR in terms of PR systems. The reason is that the current list PR elections that occur in the UK (for European Parliament elections, for London Assembly elections, for Welsh Assembly elections, and for Scottish Parliament elections, the last three of which have single member constituencies as well) are held on a closed list (meaning that voters can only choose a list, not indicate preferences for particular candidates in a list over others) system, which places too much power in the hands of party leaders. This can make it more difficult to unseat particularly unpopular incumbent MPs than under FPTP in some cases. Secondly, list-PR systems make it difficult if not impossible for independent candidates to effectively stand for election. Thirdly, constituencies have to be large for PR to be effective, and the nature of Britain is not well-suited to list PR.

For this reason, I recommend Single Transferable Vote instead. It is more localised than list-PR, which will please electors still wanting the locality factor in their representatives. STV also discourages negative campaigning which has become entrenched in British politics, because of its fundamental reliance on preference votes. It also requires MPs to be more accountable to their constituents as well, and is more flexible for independents than list PR. Finally, STV is very useful for throwing unpopular governments out, as Fianna Fail found out to their cost in the Irish general election of 2011; Fine Gael and their Labour coalition partners will likely be hit heavily come the next Irish general election as well.

Despite the long counts STV will require, especially in light of how large British STV constituencies will need to be in order to be manageable, I believe it is a considerably better path than list PR in terms of real electoral reform and more importantly improving MPs' accountability to the people as a whole, as opposed to party whips.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Election analysis 2015: part 5 and what happened locally

Finally, what happened locally in the 2015 elections?

We Greens generally did well, increasing our number of councillors on authorities which had elections this year by 11 overall-to 87. However, despite our best efforts, we ended losing the plurality on Brighton & Hove council, and finishing third in seat numbers (we now have only 11 seats on Brighton and Hove, down from the 23 we won in 2011, partly due to some incumbents standing down), meaning that Labour and the Conservatives will likely go into formal coalition there, with serious consequences; we also sadly lost our only council seats in Stafford, Watford and King's Lynn & West Norfolk. We did however notably gain representation on the councils of Bath & North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Forest of Dean, Lewes, Mendip (covering Wells, Somerton and Frome), and Warwick, doubled our seat total in York, became the official opposition on Mid-Suffolk Council and South Hams Council, and regained representation in Cambridge; our by-election gains in Torridge and Herefordshire were also confirmed. Notably however, we gained 7 seats in Bristol, meaning we have replaced the Liberal Democrats as the third party on the council and we almost became the official opposition to the Labour-led administration. (We have 13 seats, the Conservatives 15 seats, with Labour having 30; the Lib Dems now have only 10 council seats remaining there)

The unfortunate thing about the local elections is how many councils the Conservatives gained control of-and the fact the Conservatives managed to win every seat on a few councils. They won all 50 seats in East Hertfordshire, where I was the Green Party candidate in Ware Trinity ward (I managed a creditable 297 votes). The only other council where the Conservatives won every seat was Mid Sussex; even Bracknell Forest and South Buckinghamshire have an opposition councillor. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats largely collapsed locally as well as parliamentarily, losing control of even Three Rivers and Watford where they had held control for years in spite of their woes nationally. Despite losing the parliamentary seats of Eastbourne and Eastleigh, they still control the councils there (Eastleigh does do elections by thirds but the Lib Dems nevertheless lost only two council seats). Labour meanwhile did not live up to their expectations locally either-they narrowly gained Cheshire West & Chester council but lost Amber Valley and crucially North Warwickshire. UKIP's poor local organisation meant they were not able to capitalise properly on Conservative dissatisfaction in many rural areas, but they did gain control of their first council-Thanet, unsurprisingly, and easily cost the Conservatives control of Tendring (where Clacton-on-sea is)

Local parties and independents did better locally than they did in the general election-Residents for Uttlesford (largest town is Saffron Walden) came from nowhere to become the official opposition on Uttlesford council, and the Lincolnshire Independents easily became the official opposition on North Kesteven council (covering Sleaford & North Hykeham), partly due to people in rural areas becoming increasingly dissatisfied with blue rosettes continuing to dominate rural districts; the Farnham Residents group also gained 3 seats in Waverley, preventing the Conservatives from getting a clean sweep. Conversely, the Independent coalition in Richmondshire lost it to the Conservatives, despite UKIP challenging the Conservatives there (the Conservative vote share in the Richmond constituency fell from 62% to 51%).

That concludes my analysis of the 2015 elections, local and parliamentary. Please feel free to comment.


Monday, 11 May 2015

Election analysis 2015: my thoughts part 4

Overall, this election was rather a shock-particularly due to the small Conservative majority. There are 10 important things that need to be concluded from this election:

1. First past the post has got to go!

This election more than ever has shown the dire need for electoral reform. The Conservatives achieved 51% of the seats on only 36.8% of the vote, Labour received 36% of the seats on 30.5% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats received only 1.2% of the seats despite still receiving 7.8% of the vote, and more importantly, UKIP and the Green Party achieved 12.6% and 3.8% of the vote each but with only one MP each elected because of FPTP. The SNP achieved 95% of Scottish seats with just 50% of the Scottish vote, as well.
On electoral reform, I believe Single Transferable Vote is far more suitable for Britain than party-list PR, especially given how important locality will be to many British people. STV also works much better for punishing bad governance, as Ireland has demonstrated.

2. Political parties must stop taking votes for granted, particularly in marginal seats.

Just because a seat looks so easy to gain on paper does not mean it is a certain gain in practice-as North Warwickshire and Thurrock's results showed; the Conservative majority in each increased over Labour. Many of the seats the Conservatives lost to Labour were quite prosperous as well, and they did not believe UKIP would be able to make enough of an impact-how wrong they were. On the other hand, my fellow Greens knew how hard we would need to work in Brighton Pavilion, and it paid dividends.

3. UKIP did make an impact in this election-for all the wrong reasons.

There had been warnings in the election that UKIP would impact the Labour vote just as it would impact the Conservative vote, and they were right. In the seats of England Labour lost to the Conservatives, or failed to gain when they could have done, UKIP did rather well, particularly in Wales. Labour's failure to offer working-class voters a properly alternative narrative to the Coalition's austerity was a major factor in it leaking votes to UKIP (although UKIP failed to take any Labour seats, not even Great Grimsby). In some safe seats which were not that prosperous, UKIP served as well as a protest vote when the Liberal Democrats' vote collapsed.

4. Newer MPs will have a greater influence than ever before.

Many of the MPs who retired either in 2010 or 2015 (238 in total) had served in Parliament often for at least 25 years or more, and the 2015 election also saw the defeat of Tom Clarke, Simon Hughes, Charles Kennedy, William McCrea, and Mike Hancock, who had been first elected in 1982, February 1983, June 1983, June 1983, and 1984 respectively, as well as the retirement of prominent long-standing figures like Sir George Young, Richard Shepherd, Jack Straw, Frank Dobson, Malcolm Rifkind, Francis Maude, Alan Beith, Malcolm Bruce, and many others. Of the current intake of MPs, 408 out of 650 (63%) are either newly elected or have only served one term so far.

Only a handful of MPs first elected in the 1970s are left; they are Ken Clarke (who will retire after this Parliament), Michael Meacher, Dennis Skinner, Gerald Kaufman, Alan Haslehurst, Peter Bottomley, Frank Field, and Barry Sheerman, with David Winnick being the last remaining MP first elected in the 1960s (he served Croydon South from 1966 to 1970 and has been MP for Walsall North since 1979). The longest serving MP in Greater London is now Jeremy Corbyn (with Simon Hughes defeated and Frank Dobson having retired).

Most of the Labour MPs unseated in 2010 who tried to get their seats back failed to return; only Rob Marris, Joan Ryan and Dawn Butler are back, and many who tried to win their seats back found that their vote share decreased rather than increased.

5. This general election set some interesting new records.

Alasdair McDonnell, narrowly re-elected MP for Belfast South, has now taken the dubious honour of lowest winning vote share ever recorded by an MP-he took just 24.5% of the vote. The DUP only won 22.2%, the Alliance Party received 17.5%, and former Lord Mayor of Belfast Martin O Muilleoir managed 13.9% on Sinn Fein's behalf.

Simon Wright became the first properly reselected incumbent MP in from a major party to fall from first place to fourth in a British constituency, in Norwich South. Stephen Williams suffered the worst vote share loss of a sitting MP in the UK, falling from 48.3% to just 19.1% in Bristol West. The Lib Dems also set the record for lowest ever vote share by a major party, with just 0.7% (318 votes) in Glasgow East.

Newly elected SNP MP Anne McLaughlin managed the largest swing ever recorded in Britain, by obtaining a 39.8% swing in her favour from Labour in Glasgow North East, which was hitherto Labour's safest constituency in Scotland.

Uxbridge & South Ruislip became the first constituency not held by a sitting Prime Minister to have 13 candidates. More constituencies than ever had 11 candidates or more. Bridgend and North Down became the first constituencies in Wales and Northern Ireland to have at least 10 candiates each.

And more importantly, this Parliament has its highest ever proportion of female MPs, with 29% being women, and its highest proportion of MPs from an ethnic minority background.

In this election, the highest number of votes came from re-elected Labour MP Stephen Timms, who polled 40,563 votes in East Ham (77.6%). The lowest was from independent candidate Nathan Handley in Witney, with just 12 votes (0.02%). And worryingly, some Conservative MPs, notably Theresa May in Maidenhead and Ranil Jayawendra in Hampshire North East, obtained majorities of greater than 50%, the first time since 1979 any Conservative MP has had such a high majority in any seat. On the other hand, the Conservatives lost their deposit in Liverpool Walton with only 4.7% there, the first lost Conservative deposit in an English constituency since 1979. Labour meanwhile obtained a majority of 72.3% in that same constituency over UKIP (Labour got 81.3%, UKIP just 9%).

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Election analysis 2015: part 3, my thoughts on what happened in Northern Ireland

Over to what happened in Northern Ireland, party-by-party:

Democratic Unionist Party:

The DUP, who were hoping to go into coalition with the Conservatives until they discovered the Conservatives had gained a majority, easily retained Belfast North (by persuading the UUP to back them), and snatched back Belfast East despite the best efforts of Naomi Long, also because the UUP and TUV did not stand. However, long time DUP MP William McCrea narrowly lost South Antrim to the UUP's Danny Kinahan, maybe due to the fact the UUP is not as extreme as the DUP in some respects. Given the small Conservative majority, will the DUP MPs end up supporting them when it comes to the vote in Parliament anyway?

Ulster Unionist Party:

The Ulster Unionists are back in town-they gained 2 seats, one from the DUP and Fermanagh & South Tyrone from Sinn Fein by just 530 votes, due to a unionist pact which almost worked in 2010. However, they failed to gain Newry & Armagh despite the DUP standing down in their favour, or the three-way marginal of Upper Bann, and they fell sharply in Belfast South; UKIP's presence in Northern Ireland also split their vote in some cases. The fact that the NI Conservatives are no longer backing them did not make much difference, though.

Alliance Party:

Their hopes turned to disappointment-Naomi Long lost Belfast East despite increasing her vote share, and even though all Alliance candidates increased their vote share and lost fewer deposits they were not in a position to gain any other seats (somewhat close in Belfast South, however, despite not having Anna Lo as their candidate this time). They have probably depressed the UUP vote in some cases, however.

Sinn Fein:

They tried, but the unionists were determined to stop them-and through pacts, the unionists managed to, by winning Fermanagh & South Tyrone from them and stopping them from winning the key marginal seat of Belfast North. The biggest swing against them was in their safest seat, Belfast West, where socialist campaigner Gerry Carroll finished second to Paul Maskey. They made little progress in other seats, either, especially Foyle and South Down (held by the SDLP).

Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP):

This election was a poor one for the SDLP all around. Even though they did not lose any seats, Alasdair McDonnell only narrowly held onto Belfast South with 24.5% of the vote-the very first time any MP in the UK has won a seat with less than 25% of the vote. In almost all seats in Northern Ireland, they performed worse than before, and ex-Fine Gael councillor Mary Muldoon polled the lowest ever vote for the SDLP in Belfast East-127 votes (0.3%).

Other parties:

UKIP did surprisingly well in Northern Ireland, retaining most of their deposits despite splitting the unionist vote. The Green Party of Northern Ireland had their best result ever, saving two deposits out of five-pity they did not stand in South Down or Strangford as they did in 2010, because they would have likely saved their deposit in South Down at least. The Northern Ireland Conservatives simply wasted their time and money, as they only saved their deposit in Strangford and polled as low as 34 votes in Belfast West (not very surprising). The TUV fell back considerably, and only saved their deposit in North Antrim (there was a swing from them to the DUP even in that instance). No independent candidate came close to saving their deposit, although Susan-Anne White, despite her notoriously extremist views, somehow managed as many as 166 votes in West Tyrone.

Election 2015 analysis: my thoughts part 2

Now for the second part of my election 2015 analysis: the fate of the minor parties.

Left Alliance (TUSC/Left Unity; some LU candidates stood as 'Left Unity-Trade Unionists and Socialists; 138 candidates):

Despite the wide spread of 'hard left' candidates, and Ed Miliband's failure to oppose austerity, this election was pretty disastrous for TUSC and Left Unity. Even though notable candidates performed better than in 2010, all 138 candidates from Left Unity and TUSC (who were effectively allies) lost their deposits. Their best results were from Dave Nellist (who polled 1769 votes in Coventry North West, very close to finishing above the Liberal Democrats and under 200 votes behind the Greens. He really should have tried to contest Coventry North East again), Jenny Sutton (who increased her vote in Tottenham from 1057 to 1324, in spite of the Green surge; the Greens finished a decent third in Tottenham this time), and from Glyn Robbins (who polled 949 votes, or 1.8%, in Bethnal Green & Bow). Many other candidates, however, polled less than 1% (e.g. Kingsley Abrams, a former Labour candidate and councillor, polled the grand sum of 142 votes in Bermondsey & Old Southwark), and several finished behind Monster Raving Loony Party candidates (e.g. in Gower and Gloucester).

Lack of media coverage is partly to blame, but also TUSC/Left Unity candidates did not actually do that much canvassing-public meetings are a good move, but more needs to be done in a serious election campaign. Also in Wales, some had to compete against Socialist Labour Party candidates who were in a much better place to win over left-wing voters.

English Democrats (32 candidates):

All English Democrats candidates performed poorly, partly due to UKIP absorbing large numbers of their voters. None came even close to retaining their deposit, TUSC candidates finished ahead of them in constituencies where both TUSC and English Democrats candidates stood (mostly), and some could not even achieve 100 votes apiece. In particular, their campaigns in Monmouth (the most English of the Welsh constituencies) and Berwick-upon-Tweed (the northernmost English constituency) were a complete waste of time and money. It is likely they will go into terminal decline in the next few years, as they have also lost all remaining council seats.

Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (28 candidates):

Sad and unfortunate proof that single-issue campaigning generally does not work in the UK-none of their candidates got even 1% of the vote apiece, even in areas with a strong Green vote (the Green Party has rightly been vocal about the need for decriminalisation of drugs)

Regional Parties (Yorkshire First, North East Party, Northern Party, Lincolnshire Independents etc.):

The increased vote for regional parties in light of devolution being on the 2015 agenda did not live up to expectations. Yorkshire First stood 14 candidates; none came close to saving their deposit and their leader, Richard Carter, polled just 234 votes in marginal Dewsbury. The North East Party sadly did little better in Easington, Redcar, Newcastle-upon-Tyne North, or Stockton North (although they beat the Greens in Easington and almost beat the Lib Dems there). The Lincolnshire Independents sadly could not make any headway, with only Marianne Overton saving her deposit as she did in 2010 in Sleaford & North Hykeham. Mebyon Kernow failed to save any deposits either, partly because of the fact the Green Party stood candidates in all six Cornish seats in 2015, as opposed to four in 2010.

Other left-wing parties (Respect, Socialist Labour, Scottish Socialist, Communist, Workers Revolutionary Party):

George Galloway being unseated in Bradford West by a large majority was a top story in this election-and with the dirty campaigning tricks he used as well as his record over the last 3 years, it can be said he got his just deserts. The other 3 Respect Party candidates, meanwhile, got nowhere at all; this combination of factors will likely lead to the demise of Respect by the end of this next Parliament. Socialist Labour only stood candidates in Wales this time-possibly due to relatively encouraging Welsh Assembly results in 2011. None of the eight Socialist Labour candidates retained their deposit; their best performance was in Torfaen (1.8%). Not only did the Scottish Socialist Party only stand four candidates, all performed very poorly, partly due to the SNP managing to win over left-wing voters to their cause. The Communist Party, despite standing 9 candidates,  3 more than in 2010, universally polled a derisory vote (just over 100 votes apiece), and the Workers Revolutionary Party also did worse; Mike Driver in Sheffield Central polled the worst ever WRP result by polling 33 votes.

Other minor parties:

This election has effectively finished off the far-right: the BNP's few remaning candidates polled an average of 208 votes each and usually finished bottom of the poll; NF and other far-right candidates did worse still; long time activist Richard Edmonds polled as low as 49 votes in Carshalton & Wallington. The Liberal Party fell backwards, even in Liverpool West Derby, despite hoping to capitalise on the heavy fall in Lib Dem votes. Most other minor parties struggled to get a few hundred votes for each of their candidates, although the National Health Action Party at least saved two deposits out of 13 via Dr Richard Taylor, former MP for Wyre Forest, and Dr Louise Irvine in South West Surrey.

Independent candidates:

Apart from Sylvia Hermon in North Down, no independent candidates secured election-although Claire Wright did very well to poll 24% in East Devon. Mike Hill in Fylde also performed strongly with 11.9%, and both independent candidates in Richmond, Yorkshire did rather well with 6.2% and 3.4% respectively. Captain Beany also achieved his best ever result in Aberavon, polling 1137 votes and finishing ahead of the Green Party there, and Arthur Pendragon polled his best ever result with 729 votes in Salisbury. Many other independent candidates, however, were not so lucky-and in Witney, Nathan Handley received the 2015 general election wooden spoon, by polling 12 votes in Witney. Ronnie Carroll, despite the fact he died during the election campaign, nevertheless received 117 votes in Hampstead & Kilburn, only second-to-last.

Next in my election analysis-the Northern Ireland constituencies.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Election 2015 analysis: my thoughts part 1

Early this morning, I was waiting in Hemel Hempstead's Sportspace, for a result that took nine hours to count, verify and finalise-even though the turnout turned out to be slightly worse than in 2010. In the end I polled 1,660 votes (3.34%), not enough to save my deposit-however in Hemel Hempstead, the Liberal Democrats also lost their deposit by dropping from 22.9% to just 4.8%.

I was visibly shocked, given opinion polls that had occurred in the last week, to see....the Conservatives scraping a majority in the House of Commons, as opposed to losing seats overall which I had predicted and hoped for. Even though it is only a small majority, David Cameron only has to bring the DUP to the table to retain power. To me, this is the biggest political shock since 1992, when a hung parliament was expected yet in reality the Conservatives retained power on a much reduced majority.

First of all, since I was a Green Party candidate, let us focus on how well we did:

Green Party (573 candidates across the UK):

Despite our best efforts, we could only obtain second place in Bristol West and third in Norwich South-possibly due to a Labour squeeze, our vote share actually dropped in Norwich South but we still pushed now ex-MP Simon Wright into fourth place. We eventually came only 5000 votes behind Labour in Bristol West, and pushed now ex-MP Stephen Williams into third place.

Also, in Wales and Northern Ireland, candidates saved their deposits for the very first time. Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey both passed the 5% threshold in North Down and Belfast South (more on that seat later in my analysis), and we saved three deposits in Wales: Chris von Ruhland, Daniel Thompson, and Ashley Wakeling saved their deposits in Cardiff Central, Ceredigion, and Swansea West respectively. Meanwhile in England, we frequently beat Liberal Democrat candidates, whose vote shares largely collapsed spectacularly (especially in seats once held by the Lib Dems), saved more deposits than ever before, and substantially increased our majority in Brighton Pavilion, from 1252 in 2010 to 7967 now.

We also finished second in Sheffield Central, Liverpool Riverside, and Manchester Gorton, and came very close to doing so in Hackney North & Stoke Newington. We also came third above the Liberal Democrats and UKIP in many more places than ever, such as Hackney South & Shoreditch, Holborn & St Pancras, and Camberwell & Peckham. Overall, the Greens managed 3.8% of the vote in the UK despite not standing a full slate.

Liberal Democrats:

The disaster story of this election-in fact their many losses played a key part in the Conservatives winning a majority in Parliament, for they gained as many as 27 Lib Dem seats. The only eight Liberal Democrat MPs remaining are Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Mark Williams, Alistair Carmichael, and Tom Brake (the sole one of these eight to have been an MP before 2001). It was in Scotland that the Lib Dems' collapse was most spectacular-they only retained Orkney and Shetland, not by a wide margin, and 48 Scottish Liberal Democrats candidates (i.e. all non-incumbents) lost their deposits, including the candidates in the seats of Edinburgh South and Glasgow North which the Lib Dems had threatened to win in the past. The loss of 49 seats out of 57, as well as 341 deposits, will be a political black eye from which the Lib Dems might never recover, especially with more political parties on the scene.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader, naturally-who will succeed him? I personally suspect it will be Tim Farron, as all the Orange Book West Country MPs, even David Laws, have all been defeated.

UKIP (standing across the UK except for two NI constituencies and 24 Scottish constituencies):

A mixed bag for them, mostly of disappointment. Only Douglas Carswell remains a UKIP MP, since Mark Reckless was defeated in Rochester & Strood by Kelly Tolhurst on her second attempt, and since Nigel Farage failed to win South Thanet by 2,800 votes. Whilst they have finished second and third in many constituencies of England and Wales, they failed to retain even one deposit in Scotland, and many UKIP candidates in Greater London lost their deposit as well and often finished fifth. Their vote share increase may have been instrumental in Labour failing to take some key marginal seats (or hold onto Southampton Itchen or Bolton West) but also helped Labour gain other seats from the Conservatives, such as Dewsbury and Wirral West. Their strong vote share overall does show, however, the need for electoral reform in the UK, as does increasing Green support.

Labour, SNP, PC, and the Conservatives:

Another big story was the huge loss of even the safest Labour seats in Scotland to the SNP. Only one Scottish seat, Edinburgh South, remained in Labour hands due to tactical voting by former Lib Dem supporters. Record swings of over 30% from Labour to the SNP were regularly recorded, which also meant that Mhairi Black, who won Paisley & Renfrewshire South for the SNP, became the youngest MP for 348 years, at age 20. The SNP also took all Scottish Lib Dem seats except Orkney and Shetland, and narrowly missed out on the sole Scottish Conservative seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. As a result of the squeeze, three Labour candidates lost their deposits. In total, the SNP won 56 seats, and interestingly achieved considerably lower swings in their favour in seats they already held as well as their top target of Ochil & South Perthshire. However, as the Conservatives have formed a majority government, the SNP's influence is more limited than it would have been in a hung parliament.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru usually made progress, especially in solid Labour seats like Rhondda (they achieved a 6% swing from Labour there), and Leanne Wood will surely be pleased that her party's three MPs also increased their majorities significantly. Despite their best efforts and anti-austerity message, they failed to win extra seats, falling just 225 votes short of winning Ynys Mon from Labour and only a few thousand votes short of winning Ceredigion from Mark Williams. It is clear a Plaid Cymru-Green Party pact would have been very useful, since such an alliance would surely have been just enough to win Ceredigion and challenge Labour in Cardiff Central (the only Welsh constituency where the Greens beat Plaid, although Plaid did save their deposit in Cardiff Central this time).

The Conservatives not only gained many Lib Dem seats, even supposedly safe ones like Yeovil and Twickenham, but also these key marginal seats from Labour (generally very narrowly indeed!): Telford, Bolton West, Derby North, Southampton Itchen, Plymouth Moor View, Morley & Outwood, Gower, and surprisingly the Vale of Clwyd. They also held onto many marginal seats which they should have lost, partly because in some of them Labour had selected previously defeated MPs such as Mike O'Brien, a rather unwise decision that shows they had just taken those seats for granted. Labour did however capture within Greater London Ealing Central & Acton, Brentford & Isleworth, Enfield North & Ilford North and avoided losing any of their Greater London seats to the Conservatives. They also gained Dewsbury (which had no UKIP candidate in 2010), Wirral West, City of Chester, Hove, Lancaster & Fleetwood, and Wolverhampton South West, but surprisingly not North Warwickshire, Stockton South, or Sherwood. It is clear that Ed Miliband's failure to provide any realistic opposition to the Conservatives' austerity mantra is the reason for Labour's very poor performance-who will take over now that he has resigned, however?

In any case, it is clear in my opinion that the Greens are now consistently providing the alternative narrative to the neoliberal consensus still gripping our country-our strong showing in so many places is just the beginning.


Update: Edited to include analysis of Plaid Cymru-sorry if I accidentally missed it out.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

My analysis of recent Canadian state elections

While the British general election campaign has been going on (voters will go to the polls tomorrow), two provinces of Canada had assembly elections earlier this week: Prince Edward Island and Alberta.

In Prince Edward Island, the Liberal Party of Canada fell from 51.4% to 40.8%, yet because of first past the post they only lost two seats and easily maintained their majority. The Progressive Conservatives actually gained 5 seats despite losing vote share; my presumption is that the NDP's vote share rise split the Liberal vote,as it did in the last Canadian House of Commons election. Even though Prince Edward Island's Green Party did not field a full slate of candidates (there was no Green Party candidate in three of the ridings), it increased its vote share to 10.8% and gained one seat, meaning it is now represented in three provincial assemblies of Canada (the others are British Columbia and New Brunswick)

The Alberta general election which happened yesterday will be a defining moment for this reason: the Conservatives were finally defeated-and heavily as well, after 44 years of power in Alberta and 11 successive victories. The defeat of the Conservatives by the New Democratic Party, Canada's closest equivalent to the UK's Labour Party, was even more devastating than their own ousting of the Social Credit Party in 1971. Not only did the Conservatives fall to third place, but they managed to fall from 70 seats to just 10, despite finishing second overall in terms of vote share, with 27.8%. Although the Wildrose Party dropped from 34% to 24%, they actually won 16 extra seats (or rather managed to recover seats they had lost through defection in the previous Alberta legislature; there was a huge defection from the Wildrose Party to the Alberta Conservatives last year). Such was the scale of the NDP's victory, led by Rachel Notley, that not only did they gain a majority from having only won 4 seats in 2012 (and just 2 in 2009), they also won every single riding in Edmonton (the largest city in Alberta), but also half of all seats in Calgary, which for the past few decades had been assumed to be a rock-solid bastion of Canadian Conservatism (current Canadian PM Stephen Harper represents a Calgary riding, Calgary South-West, which will be abolished for the federal Canadian election that takes place later this year due to the redistribution that has taken place). Whether this breakthrough will have an impact federally remains to be seen, because so many federal ridings in Alberta are rock-solid Conservative, especially in rural areas (which provincially were captured or recaptured by the Wildrose Party for the most part). Meanwhile the Liberals were almost wiped out, and I am sure that only because of David Swann's leader status and his personal vote were they able to maintain representation in the Alberta legislature at all. The Green Party of Alberta unfortunately did not gain any seats, partly due to the fact it only fielded candidates in 24 ridings (it supported two of the Liberal candidates, in Edmonton Central and Red Deer North, for reasons unknown)

I believe the fact that many ridings of Alberta had only three candidates made it easier for the NDP and the Wildroses, both of whom benefitted from the heavy vote share loss suffered by the Conservatives. Incidentally, outgoing Premier Jim Prentice, who replaced Alison Redford (Alberta's first ever female Premier; Rachel Notley will be the second, and the first ever from an opposition party) in 2014, has already resigned from his riding and his leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, such was the scale of the defeat he has just experienced.

It is not just in the UK that first past the post needs to be scrapped-it clearly needs to be scrapped in Canada as well, and everywhere else in the world. The FPTP system has repeatedly shown itself, especially in recent years, to be an unfit electoral system in any democratic nation.