Tuesday, 19 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 15 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Norsk valg 2017: Sa Mange Skuffelser

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 8 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 1 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to the Czech general election of 2017

In seven weeks' time, the Czech Republic aka Czechia will be holding its next legislative election.

The most notable feature is that ANO (derived from the Czech word for 'yes') has been a great success by the standards of the often fragmented Czech parliament; Czech politics is truly multiparty. Many countries with proportional representation by contrast have two particularly dominant parties, usually representing moderate conservatives and social democrats; other parties can generally only hope to be junior coalition partners. This was originally the case in the Czech Republic with the ODS and CSSD almost always taking over half the seats between them, but not anymore. ANO's leader, Andrej Babis, who is also the second richest man in the Czech Republic, is set to become Prime Minister having been Deputy Prime Minister in the currently Social Democrat-led government. The Social Democrats themselves have not been well-received despite being the leading coalition partner; they are polling a distant second and currently stand to receive only 10-15% of the vote. However, given that despite achieving poll position they only managed 20.5% of the vote in 2013, this is reasonably acceptable especially compared to the collapse the Civic Democrats (ODS) suffered in 2013.

ODS, having lost many of its moderate voters to ANO, is making a limited recovery at best, generally polling no better than 11% and no better than fourth; its main base and membership are in long-term decline and it is unlikely ever to recover its former glory. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KCSM) faces similar long-term problems because its older, ex-industrial voter base is fading and it is not obtaining significant support from younger and more modern, well-educated voters. Its most recent local election results in the Czech Republic have been its worst ever and they have been happening even with the Social Democrats' relatively low popularity, not too dissimilar to the Socialist Party's problems in the Netherlands.

The competition is getting tighter for smaller parties in the Czech Republic; ODS' former coalition partners, TOP 09, are losing support to ANO as well, more so due to TOP 09 and ANO having more similar platforms compared to ODS and ANO (ODS is more Eurosceptic).
USVIT (Dawn of Direct Democracy) is set to be wiped out with its former leader, Tomo Okamura, having formed Freedom of Direct Democracy. SPD is much more popular than USVIT but its position is by no means safe. The Green Party (ZELENI) is not making any improvement on its 2013 result (3.2% and no seats, since 5% is the threshold for representation in the Czech Republic) and is in fact falling behind the Pirate Party, who competes for a not-too-dissimilar voter base. If the Pirate Party manages to enter the Assembly, it will spark a recovery for the Pirate Party movement, which has been suffering major setbacks worldwide, with the Pirate Party of Germany having lost all Landtag seats and all real credibility, and with the Icelandic Pirate Party only having come third in 2016 despite frequently topping the opinion polls there just months beforehand. The Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) went into an ill-timed alliance with the Mayors and Independents list (STAN) which damaged the standing of both parties, especially since the threshold for coalitions is 10% as opposed to 5% for individual parties; similar laws apply in many other Central and Eastern European countries. This alliance has now ended and KDU-CSL is set to stay in the Assembly, but STAN is not predicted to come close. No other Czech Party has a realistic chance of crossing the threshold, with the Party of Free Citizens (SVOBODNI) and the Realists (a split from ANO; despite this origin their political platform is actually more like SVOBDNI's), both of whom can be described as 'loosely nationalist libertarian-right', unlikely to achieve more than 2% of the vote apiece.

ANO could win as many as 90 seats this October, unprecedented in the Czech Republic's history even if it is not enough for an outright majority; it will however allow them to have a wider choice of coalition partners since ANO and the Social Democrats have not been cooperating particularly well lately. On the other hand, if ANO does not quite live up to those high expectations, it will likely be forced to continue its current coalition except with it as the leading partner instead of the Social Democrats.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to the Austrian election of 2017

2017 is becoming one of the most interesting years for European politics, and the upcoming Austrian legislative election is certainly no exception.

There has been a lot of turmoil amongst Austria's main politics parties lately. The Austrian Greens (GRUNE) have first suffered the resignation of Eva Glawischnig, who in 2013 led them to their best ever performance (24 seats), the expulsion of their youth movement (the Young Greens, the most left-wing section) who have now teamed up with the Communist Party of Austria (KPO), and the decision of one of their longest-serving and best-known MPs, Peter Pilz, to set up his own list after delegates decline to renew his spot on the party list. The populist right Freedom Party of Austria has experienced yet another split, with Karl Schnell forming the Free Austria List (FLO) and taking 4 FPO MPs with him, although this has not done much to damage FPO's standing.

The SPO (Social Democrats of Austria) and OVP (Austrian People's Party), not very different from each other at all in practice and almost perpetually in grand coalition with each other in Austrian governments, have together seen a useful turnaround in fortunes since the 2016 Austrian Presidential election in particular, when both parties finished fourth and fifth in that race. The decision by Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz, a popular moderate conservative, to lead the OVP led to a large boost in their ratings; just before Herr Kurz took control of the OVP reins they were in third place and polling only 22% on average, which was boosted to pole position in opinion polls and they are currently polling 33% on average. The SPO after some recent difficulties are doing their best to keep ahead of the FPO. Meanwhile, Peter Pilz' list has caused a huge split in the Green vote to the point where both lists are polling around 6% apiece, which will cause long-term damage to the green movement in Austria due to the impression that it is divided and riddled with infighting. Gestalt theory is very important in politics; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (usually). Meanwhile,  the decision of Irmgard Griss, who polled an impressive 19% in the last Austrian Presidential election, to join NEOS' list (NEOS is Austria's main social liberal party) even though she is not a member of NEOS has had no overall effect on its popularity. The other parties on the ballot in all Austrian states in this election are Weise (The Whites), a direct democracy party whose entry has gone by largely unnoticed; direct democracy is still not taking off as an international movement, and GILT (My Vote Counts!) which can be loosely described as a cross between Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement and Die PARTEI. It is attracting reasonable support but is very unlikely to pass the crucial 4% threshold.

Getting a political party on the ballots for Austrian elections requires 2,600 valid signatures (or if contesting only in certain states anywhere from 100 to 500 signatures depending on the state). This number may seem small and easy given that there are as many as 6.4 million electors in Austria and that Austria is a geographically small country, but in practice obtaining 2,600 signatures in a matter of weeks requires considerable organisation, effort, and dedication to a cause, which not many individuals or aspiring new parties have. This is a considerable deterrent to frivolous candidates, far more so than monetary deposits of any kind. Also, the full political spectrum is well-covered in Austria, which is why only 10 parties are on the ballot across all Austria, with a further six only contesting in a few individual states: Socialist Left in Vienna and Upper Austria, Christian Poverty Party in Vienna, EU Exit Party in Vienna, and in Voralberg, the Men's Party, New Movement for the Future, and Christian Party of Austria. The liberal-right Team Stronach will not be running again, as its founder Frank Stronach, now 85 years of age, has withdrawn all funding and will retire from politics altogether. The OVP is in a good position to absorb their votes, having already absorbed some ex-Team Stronach MPs.

The nominal threshold for representation is 4% nationally, but parties can also enter the National Council by winning a seat in one of the 39 sub-constituencies (very difficult in practice), an important factor given how widely support for each major Austrian party varies. For example, in 2013, NEOS, which achieved 4.96% of the Austrian vote nationally, managed 13.1% in the Alpine state of Voralberg, which also gave the best Green result of 17.4% that year, but only 2.8% in Burgenland, the SPO's strongest state and also home to large Croatian and Hungarian minorities (it is the worst state for the Austrian Greens, and also the FPO as a result of that factor). The only Austrian state where the Communists have state representation, Styria, was also in 2013 the only state where the FPO finished first.

There are fewer parties contesting Austria's National Council election this year than in 2013, but the impact of each one will be greater.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to the New Zealand election of 2017

Having arrived back from my Bank Holiday weekend holiday in Skegness, Lincolnshire, I am glad to have this rest to bring you my guide to the New Zealand general election of 2017.

Sixteen parties in total have been approved for candidacy in this election, which are: National, Labour, Green, NZ First, ACT (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers), United Future, Maori, Mana (more left-wing version of the Maori Party), Internet (not in an alliance with Mana this year), Conservative, Legalise Cannabis, Ban 1080 (1080 is a type of anti-possum poison known to have detrimental environmental effects), Democrats, and three new entrants in the form of The Opportunities Party, Outdoors, and the People's Party (a minority rights party). 23 MPs of the current 121 are retiring, most notably including former PM John Key, former Green leader Metiria Turei after admission of past benefit fraud (fellow Green MPs David Clendon and Kennedy Graham also announced their retirement as a result) former Labour leader David Cunliffe, newcomer Todd Barclay after a clandestine recording scandal, and United Future's only MP, Peter Dunne, also one of the longest serving MPs in New Zealand (he has been an MP since 1984, much longer than most).

The election of Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader in New Zealand, combined with woes for the New Zealand Greens, has worked wonders for Labour who were making little progress previously. Labour are now on course to stop Bill English from being re-elected as Prime Minister, but NZ First and the Greens' performances will once again become critical, as will the outside chance of the Opportunities Party crossing the 5% threshold. With only 120 seats available in the New Zealand Parliament (excluding overhang seats), even two or three seats become critical. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Conservative Party has lost any real credibility since the departure of Colin Craig and no longer presents a threat to the Nationals, and the People's Party is not likely to do any real damage to Labour. United Future is set to be wiped out as a consequence of Peter Dunne's retirement (he has survived due to tactical voting by National voters, with United Future never polling more than even 1% now) and ACT, with similarly poor ratings, will only survive if David Seymour is re-elected, and his majority in the electorate of Epsom is not that safe.

New Zealand's MMP system is one that works very effectively-and is one Britain needs to adopt fast to achieve real stability.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to the Norwegian election of 2017

The next Norwegian general election is just three weeks away-and an interesting one it will be as well.

The parties participating in this election include (from 2013): the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Progress Party (actually a Norwegian equivalent of UKIP), the Centre Party, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, the Socialist Left Party, the Green Party, the Red Party (Marxist), the Christians, the Pensioners Party, the Pirate Party, Democrats in Norway, Alliance, Health Party, Feminist Initiative, the Communist Party, and the Capitalist Party.

At present, Prime Minister Erna Solberg from the Conservatives (Hoyre) is set to lose power, especially due to a dip in fortunes in the Progress Party, whose leader, Siv Jensen, is the Norwegian Minister of Finance. Meanwhile, the Labour leader in Norway, Jonas Gahr Stare, is not polling any better than Labour did in 2013 and the performance of other parties (especially those hovering around the 4% threshold for levelling seats) will be crucial to whether Jonas takes over as Norwegian Prime Minister or whether Erna remains in that position.

The Greens and the Reds have seen the best rise in their fortunes ever, with some polls predicting at least one of them (and possibly both) will pass the levelling threshold and establish a real presence in the Storting. The Red Party, the most left-wing of the more significant political parties in Norway, is likely to obtain at least one seat, and the Greens will at the very least retain their seat in Oslo. 150 of the 169 Norwegian seats are allocated by county, with the capital, Oslo, receiving the largest allocation with 19 and Akershus, a Norwegian equivalent of outer London, receiving the second largest allocation with 17. It appears likely that the Greens and Reds will therefore get at least one seat in each of those counties even if they do not quite hit 4% or more. The smallest counties, including Finnmark, a Norwegian equivalent of the Highlands (except for its arctic climate) send just 4 MPs to the Storting by comparison. There are also 19 levelling seats for parties who achieve at least 4% of the vote across Norway.

The rural Centre Party is doing particularly well, but the same cannot be said for the fate of the Liberals or the Socialist Left, both of which could potentially drop below the 4% threshold necessary to gain levelling seats, which will have a sharp impact on both of the two largest parties in Norway and the formation of the next government.

The outcome is by no means certain, and even the small number of seats obtained by the Greens and the Red Party could make all the difference in the end.

Friday, 18 August 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 17/8/17 and my tribute to Sir Bruce Forsyth

Readers, this week's local by-election results were as follows:

Aylesbury DC, Riverside: Conservative 301 (34.7%, +4.6%), Liberal Democrats 286 (32.9%, +16.1%), Labour 210 (24.2%, +4.5%), UKIP 48 (5.5%, -27.9%), Green 23 (2.3%).

Aylesbury DC, Southcourt: Liberal Democrats 456 (37.3%, +9.5%), Conservative 386 (31.5%, +7.3%), Labour 270 (22.1%, +0.6%), Green 58 (4.7%, -0.5%), UKIP 55 (4.4%, -16.8%).

Forest Heath DC, St Mary's: Conservative 338 (50.1%, +5.0%), Labour 276 (40.9%, +12.4%), Green 60 (8.9%).

Peterborough UA, Park: Labour 1713 (49.6%, +9.8%), Conservative 1375 (39.8%, +2.2%), UKIP 176 (5.1%, -4.0%), Liberal Democrats 109 (3.2%, -1.1%), Green 83 (2.4%, -6.9%).

Each of these elections was a tight contest, which ironically explains why none of them changed hands this week, although Riverside was a near-miss for the Liberal Democrats who are experiencing a local revival in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire's county town. Surprisingly given that the holiday month of August generally produces the second lowest local by-election turnouts (only December's are lower overall), the Park by-election recorded a turnout of as high as 49.93%, partly due to the crucial nature of the by-election; had the Conservatives won they would have regained their overall majority on Peterborough Council. In the event the seat was held by Labour with an increased majority, and right in the middle of a constituency they gained against the odds earlier this year. (The Peterborough constituency is really Peterborough North, since the southern suburbs of the city of Peterborough are part of the North West Cambridgeshire constituency, which does not contain any part of traditional Cambridgeshire and is really Peterborough South & North Huntingdonshire. ) Naturally, all other parties got squeezed in that particular by-election, especially the Greens. The good Green performance in St Mary's in Forest Heath is partly down to the absence of a Liberal Democrat candidate, as the Green Party had never contested that ward of Forest Heath before. UKIP crashed out as usual, although they nevertheless helped the Conservatives hold Aylesbury Riverside and Forest Heath St Mary's (where they did not actually stand).

In other news, in addition to the 14 people killed in the recent Barcelona terrorist attack, it is time to pay tribute to game show host Sir Bruce Forsyth, who died today at the age of 89 having been seriously unwell for some time. He will be remembered not only for Strictly Come Dancing, but also such other game shows gone by as Play Your Cards Right, which in life is exactly what he did, mostly. He was also famously knighted after an early day motion by MPs in 2011. I therefore bid him a fond farewell.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

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

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

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

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

So what is likely to happen?

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

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

Thursday, 10 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The road to Downing Street now runs by the seaside

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

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

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

Worthing West:

Year:   Conservative:  Labour:   Liberal Democrat:

1997    46.1%             16.2%        31.2%  

2001     47.5                21.2           26.5

2005     47.6                19.2           26.7

2010     51.7                11.8           27.9

2015     51.5                15.7            8.8

2017     55.4                33.2           5.5

Worthing East & Shoreham:

Year:     Conservative:  Labour:  Liberal Democrat:

1997       40.5               23.9           30.6

2001      43.2               29.0           22.9

2005      43.9              25.5            24.3

2010     48.5              16.7             25.5

2015     49.5              19.5             6.7

2017      48.9             39.3             4.7

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

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

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

Friday, 4 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Why 68 is too late

Earlier this week, David Gauke (Conservative MP for South West Hertfordshire), the current Work & Pensions Secretary, announced that the move to raise the state pension age to 68 would take place 7 years earlier than planned, in 2037 rather than 2044. Those born after 1970 have already seen the age of which they can claim their state pension rise from 65 to 67.

A two or three-year change in the eligibility age is significant, unfair and dangerous-and here is why:

1. Many people already stop being able to work before the age of 65, let alone 67 or 68. This is especially true for police officers and firefighters, as well as members of all the various armed forces, whose jobs are very physically demanding to the point where they generally must retire from those jobs (and possibly from other work as well) before they even reach 60. Even those in well-paid academic or white-collar occupations such as university lecturers and senior executives, will eventually not be able to continue working any longer because aging itself brings physical and mental stresses to some degree, regardless of earnings and consequently higher security and stability.

2. Work just is not there for older people. It is very difficult for unemployed people over the age of 55 to find new work, even with the Equality Act 2010 in place. Even though many have the experience, many are also unwell or have acquired disability or chronic illness as they age, especially if their occupation was particularly stressful. Also, older people are less likely to have extensive experience with newer technologies required to perform many new tasks; computerisation and automation not only make jobs redundant but also increase the level of skill and technical knowledge needed to perform other jobs. In any case, forcing people to work longer also makes it harder for younger people to enter the job market and increases unemployment overall.

3. Poorer people will not be able to enjoy their retirement-and even those who can will it find it shortened sharply: The poorest inner-city areas in Britain (especially those in London and Glasgow) have average life expectancies well below the current retirement age of 65, even for those who are not unemployed. The average life expectancy in the UK is at present 78 years for a man and 83 years for a woman, so losing three years of retirement is considerably detrimental, especially when working for three extra years will also cut life expectancy.

4. People should not be forced to work until they drop. It is also wrong to keep forcing people to work longer and longer, especially when new advances make it unnecessary and when it is often not possible in any case. The raising of the retirement age is yet another measure that hits honest people like you and I hardest, and it will not affect the wealthy who can retire early anyway.

Friday, 14 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

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

Earlier this week, Left Foot Forward made a suggestion that the Green Party should consider affiliating with Labour: https://leftfootforward.org/2017/07/is-it-time-for-the-green-party-to-affiliate-to-labour/

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

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

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

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

Friday, 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

On the Albanian Parliamentary election of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why the Conservative-DUP deal is so dangerous

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

So what exactly is the Democratic Unionist Party?

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

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

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

Why is this pact bad news?

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

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