Saturday, 18 November 2017

Political correlations within the Australian same-sex marriage referendum

On Tuesday, Australia voted in favour of same-sex marriage by a margin of 61.6% to 38.4%, which was celebrated not only by Australians but by progressive people around the world, even if they did not identify as LGBTIQA+.

However, as with a referendum on the same issue in Ireland in 2015, the divide between secular, urban communities and rural, more religious communities was very stark indeed. Several electorates with high proportions of residents born overseas also voted against, notably the division of Bruce, where over 50% of residents were born overseas, where nearly 50% were born in a non-English speaking country, and where over 50% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Bruce voted against same-sex marriage by a margin of 46.9% to 53.1%. It is not a safe electorate either-it is marginal (held by Labor)

Of the 17 electorates which voted against same-sex marriage in that survey, the majority were Labor-held, and often very safely so (Kennedy was held by Katter's Australian Party, and of those 17 only the electorates of Bennelong, Banks, Mitchell, Groom, and Maranoa elected Liberal MPs in 2016) , and the majority of them were not rural either. The division of Blaxland, which recorded the lowest proportion of voters in favour of same-sex marriage in that survey (26%), is an urban, working-class and solidly Labor electorate. Rural voters were overall less in favour but not significantly less so than urban voters, although affluent, secular, and professional urban voters were far more in favour than poorer urban voters. Of particular interest, former Australian PM Tony Abbott's safely Liberal electorate of Warringah voted in favour by a 3-1 margin despite Tony's strong opposition to it as a conservative Roman Catholic.

Is there a correlation between the Labor vote and support for same-sex marriage/Liberal-National vote and opposition to same-sex marriage?

The answer is no. However, there is a strong correlation between the Green vote and support for same-sex marriage. The 10 electorates with the highest level of support for The Greens at the last Australian election in 2016 all voted in support of same-sex marriage by margins well above the national average. These 10 electorates are Melbourne (the only lower house seat in Australia with a Green MP, namely Adam Bandt), Batman (once the safest Labor electorate in Australia),Wills, Higgins (the only Liberal electorate the Australian Greens came within striking distance of capturing on the two candidate preferred vote in 2016), Melbourne Ports (a 3-way marginal), Grayndler, Gellibrand, Richmond (Australia's closest answer to Britain's Stroud in that respect), Brisbane (the only one of these ten not in Victoria or New South Wales; Brisbane is the state capital of Queensland), and Kooyong. In the electorate of Melbourne, more than five voters out of six who responded to the survey supported same-sex marriage, matched only by the electorate of Sydney. All the electorates where support for same-sex marriage was 80% or greater had higher Green votes than average. Conversely, the 17 electorates which voted against same-sex marriage accounted for two of only nine lost deposits for the Greens in 2016 (in Australia, candidates for the lower house have to pay a $1000 deposit, which is returned if the 1st preferences exceed 4%), and in each case the Green vote was significantly below average. New South Wales has a "bible belt" which is usually Labor and also has strong support for the right-wing Christian Democrats.

A similar referendum in Ireland showed a stark urban/rural divide above anything else. Given that this factor was not present in this same-sex marriage referendum, what were the dividing lines?

Religious affiliation, first and foremost. Electorates with high proportions of Roman Catholics voted either against or only narrowly in favour, as did electorates with high proportions of Muslim voters (and of course, electorates with both of these factors, like Callow). Rural New South Wales has a very high church attendance, especially compared to secular Sydney. The more secular the electorate, the higher the for vote.

Prosperity was also a decisive factor in the Australian same-sex marriage referendum, although not to the extent religious affiliation or lack thereof was. The wealthier urban electorates, such as Wentworth and North Sydney (neither of which have ever been won by Labor in Australia) voted in favour by margins much higher than the national average. Working-class electorates were less supportive overall, irrespective of their ethnic make-up, as were many rural electorates with below-average median household incomes.

And finally on a different note...
 Speaking of Australian politics, Queensland will have its state election next week, and there are good chances to make a permanent crack in the two party system there.

Friday, 17 November 2017

My analysis of UK local by-elections from 16/11/17 and other thoughts

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

Chiltern DC, Penn & Coleshill: Conservative 697 (80.6%, -19.4%), Liberal Democrats 168 (19.4%). NB: Conservatives were unopposed in this ward in 2015.

Darlington UA, Mowden: Conservative 652 (60.9%, +6.6%), Labour 285 (26.6%, -10.4%), Liberal Democrats 111 (10.4%), Green 26 (2.1%, -6.6%).

Darlington UA, Red Hill & Lingfield: Labour 249 (44.8%, -1.9%), Conservative 230 (41.4%, +12.4%), Independent (Kevin Brack)* 46 (8.3%), Green 20 (3.6%, -8.9%), Liberal Democrats 11 (2.0%, -9.9%).

Eden DC, Penrith North: Liberal Democrats 422 (45.2%, +2.3%), Conservative 291 (31.2%,-0.8%), Labour 155 (16.6%, -8.5%), Green 65 (7.0%).
Fylde BC, Staining & Weeton: Conservative 401 (73.0%, +8.4%), Labour 111 (20.2%, -15.1%), Liberal Democrats 37 (6.7%).

Hartlepool UA, Victoria: Labour 479 (53.1%, +10.7%), UKIP 325 (36.0%, +12.7%), Conservative 98 (10.9%, -0.7%). All changes are since 2016.

South Holland DC, Whaplode & Holbeach St Johns: Conservative 541 (78.0%, +21.2%), Labour 153 (22.0%).

Waveney DC, Kirkley: Labour 374 (47.8%, +12.2%), Conservative 217 (27.7%, +7.2%), Liberal Democrats 84 (10.7%), UKIP 78 (10.0%, -9.7%), Green 30 (3.8%, -5.1%).

Waveney DC, St Margarets: Conservative 487 (41.7%, +11.8%), Labour 410 (35.1%, -1.3%), UKIP 119 (10.2%, -15.8%), Liberal Democrats 88 (7.5%), Green 65 (5.6%, -2.2%). Conservative gain from Labour.

West Lindsey DC, Sudbrooke: Conservative 391 (69.6%, +0.6%), Labour 171 (30.4%, +10.5%).

*Kevin Brack is a member of Anne-Marie Waters' "For Britain" party which has not been registered with the Electoral Commission at this time.

This is without a doubt one of the best by-election weeks the Conservatives have had in months, even if they only captured one seat from Labour. The Conservatives increased their vote sharply in the majority of this week's by-elections, to the point where they captured the marginal St Margarets ward from Labour and nearly captured the normally reliable Labour ward of Red Hill & Lingfield (predecessors are accounted for; Darlington underwent a re-warding for its 2015 elections). They almost certainly would have captured it had it not been revealed that their candidate, Jonathan Dulston, had last year been fined for being drunk and disorderly and for obstructing an officer (he was in fact a special constable!).  The Conservatives managed decisive victories in rural wards, and notably achieved an 11.8% swing against Labour in the by-election in Staining  Weeton despite the ward being located close to the site of a planned fracking operation. Fracking is detested by the vast majority of Lancashire residents, even those living miles from the planned drilling. Two years ago, an anti-fracking independent by the name of Mike Hill achieved 5,166 votes in the otherwise solidly Conservative Fylde constituency (known as South Fylde until 1983

UKIP performed surprisingly well this week, actually edging closer to Labour in Hartlepool, one of the few areas with any significant UKIP organisation remaining. Hartlepool recorded the second best UKIP result in June 2017 behind Thurrock, although UKIP still slipped to 3rd with only 11% of the vote. Labour's candidate did not live in the ward and this gave UKIP an unintentional advantage, as did the absence of Putting Hartlepool First from that by-election's ballot paper. UKIP's vote was left wading in Waveney, but not drowning as it is elsewhere. Like most ex-fishing coastal towns, Lowestoft, the actual town where both of the local by-elections in Waveney happened, is drifting from Labour to the Conservatives in the long term as I have explained earlier in this blog. The traditional working-class ward of St Margarets was never safely Labour, only reliably Labour, and the falling UKIP vote aided a Conservative victory. Kirkley once had a slate of Liberal Democrat councillors who lost to Labour back in 2011 when they faced their first coalition drubbing; the Liberal Democrats did not even stand in Kirkley ward in 2015 and even though they beat UKIP in this by-election it does not give them real hope for a revival. The Greens, meanwhile, have faced substantial squeezes and lost considerable ground in Darlington in particular (many of their good results came due to the absence of Liberal Democrat candidates in the wards in question, however), but they have some excellent opportunities for local by-election gains in the coming weeks. The majority of these local by-elections, unsurprisingly given how cold a November this has been, had turnouts below 20%.

In environmental news, Sheffield Green Councillor Alison Teal was cleared by a magistrates' court of charges brought by Labour-dominated Sheffield City Council in relation to a protest against tree-felling ordered by said council. Sadly, today, Green county councillor Gina Dowding, along with 11 others including two independent councillors, was convicted of obstructing the highway in relation to a peaceful protest against planned shale gas operations in Lancashire, even though the environmental and health damage caused by those operations will be catastrophic in the long term and will ruin the lives of many residents. Shale gas is neither needed nor wanted in Lancashire, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter, and other countries are right to ban exploration for it. Renewable energy investment is needed instead.

Friday, 10 November 2017

My analysis of British local by-elections from 9/11/17

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

Camden LBC, Gospel Oak: Labour 1144 (57.5, +9.5%), Liberal Democrats 510 (25.7%, +19.2%), Conservative 303 (15.2%, -1.1%), English Democrats 31 (1.6%).

Fareham BC, Stubbington: Liberal Democrats 1185 (55.2%, +32.4%), Conservative 769 (35.8%, +6.1%), UKIP 117 (5.4%, -37.9%), Labour 76 (3.5%, -0.5%). Liberal Democrat gain from UKIP; all changes are since 2014.

Flintshire UA, Buckley Bistre West: Labour 398 (53.9%, +10.5%), Independent (Hutchinson) 110 (14.9%), Independent (Teire) 86 (11.7%), Liberal Democrats 85 (11.5%, -26.8%), Conservative 59 (8.0%).

High Peak DC, Limestone Peak: Conservative 261 (53.7%, +3.4%), Labour 133 (27.4%, +0.6%), Liberal Democrats 58 (11.9%), Green 34 (7.0%).
 Wandsworth LBC, Thamesfield: Conservative 1910 (48.9%, -1.1%), Labour 1101 (28.2%, +10.7%), Liberal Democrats 619 (15.9%, +6.3%), Green 275 (7.0%, -9.9%).

The absence of a Green candidate in Gospel Oak gave an indirect boost to the Liberal Democrats, who have made only a slight recovery in heavily pro-European Camden, and in a safe Labour ward which Labour have only lost once since the first election to Camden Borough Council in 1964 (even in 1968, Gospel Oak elected one Labour councillor out of two; 2006 was the first time in Camden Borough Council's history that Gospel Oak failed to elect any Labour councillors when it narrowly elected 3 Conservative councillors), and for many years beforehand on the now-defunct St Pancras council (one of three predecessors to Camden, the others being Hampstead and Holborn). Elsewhere in London, Labour managed a 5.9% swing in Thamesfield, one of the wealthiest areas of inner London, and certainly of Wandsworth. This was helped by the Liberal Democrats winning over many affluent, pro-Remain Conservative areas as they had done in June, which also placed a considerable squeeze on the Green Party who have previously done comparatively well in Thamesfield. Putney, the constituency in which Thamesfield ward sits, recorded the highest Lib Dem result in Wandsworth (and the largest increase) in the June general election, although it remained Conservative unlike Battersea which was won by Labour. It is the most affluent and gentrified part of Wandsworth and to some extent always has been.

UKIP's absence and collapse has often helped the Conservatives in by-elections, but not always or not enough as this week's by-elections show. A small swing of 1.4% from Labour to Conservative was managed in rural Limestone Peak, but in the coastal town of Fareham it was not enough to prevent a clear Liberal Democrat gain even though the resigning UKIP councillor had already joined the Conservatives by the time he resigned his council seat. This UKIP collapse, from 43.3% in 2014 to a mere 5.4% in 2017, is the biggest UKIP collapse so far in British local by-election history. These Liberal Democrat surges on the coast will be nonetheless limited in scope-the Liberal Democrat strength on the coast, locally and nationally has largely faded away and is unlikely to recover for the foreseeable future except in special cases like Eastbourne, which they recaptured from the Conservatives in June.

Meanwhile in Flintshire, the importance of personal votes could clearly not be underestimated; the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed due to their serving councillor, Neville Phillips, who has served in Flintshire (and one of its predecessor authorities, Alyn & Deeside) since 1973, not being the candidate in this by-election; the town of Buckley Bistre normally leans Labour unless another candidate's personal vote is strong enough, which is usually the case for at least two candidates who stand in the Buckley Bistre wards when Flintshire has its council elections. However, as usual in Wales, the Independent candidates performed reasonably well despite not coming close to winning.

From today, the "six month rule" applies to British local councils having elections in 2018, meaning that any council vacancies occurring after today will not be filled by by-elections but remain unfilled until May 2018. This rule will, for example, apply to all London borough councils and all councils holding elections by thirds and by halves.

Friday, 3 November 2017

My analysis of British by-elections from 02/11/17 and a tribute to Derek Robinson

Readers, the results of British local by-elections of 2 November 2017 were as follows:

Arun DC, Aldwick West: Liberal Democrats 719 (52.7%, +33.5%), Conservative 480 (35.2%, -13.3%), Labour 112 (8.2%), Green 54 (4.0%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Buckinghamshire CC, Beaconsfield: Conservative 1298 (81.3%, +11.1%), Liberal Democrats 299 (18.7%, +2.5%).
 Copeland DC, Egremont South: Labour 354 (52.4%, +12.4%), Conservative 321 (47.6%, +20.1%).

North Devon DC, Braunton East: Liberal Democrats 459 (37.1%, +3.0%), Green 387 (31.5%), Conservative 225 (18.2%, -17.5%), Labour 165 (13.3%, +6.3%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Sefton MBC, Duke's: Liberal Democrats 1680 (56.0%, +28.4%), Conservative 790 (26.3%, -9.4%), Labour 417 (13.9%, -2.3%), UKIP 69 (2.3%, -13.5%), Green 45 (1.5%, -3.1%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative; all changes are since 2015.

South Buckinghamshire DC, Beaconsfield North: Conservative 441 (, Liberal Democrats 136.

Note: The marker "all changes are since [X]" on a by-election result only applies to by-elections in councils which hold elections by thirds or by halves. It does not apply to councils which hold full council elections.

The Liberal Democrat capture of Duke's ward in Southport, part of Sefton MBC, was a foregone conclusion especially with former MP John Pugh (who retired earlier this year) as the (successful) candidate and with local Conservative organisation in Sefton being practically non-existent at times. However, their gains in Aldwick West, which has one of the highest proportions of retirees in Britain, and in Braunton East where the Green Party was campaigning heavily, were altogether more surprising.

The sexual harassment scandal in Westminster, which has recently led to the suspension pending further investigation of Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North since 1997) and possibly that of Charlie Elphicke (Conservative MP for Dover in 2010; however the exact nature of the serious allegations leading to his suspension has not yet been verified) has played a significant role in the Liberal Democrats' excellent performances against the Conservatives this week (barring ultra-Conservative Beaconsfield); no Liberal Democrat MPs have been accused in relation to this particular scandal so far. Green MP Caroline Lucas has called for consent lessons to be taught to all MPs, although a more substantial cultural change is what is really required to tackle this problem. This is reminiscent of the sharp swings from Conservative to Liberal in the 1964 general election in many middle-class areas (especially small-medium towns) following the Profumo scandal of 1963.

The Conservatives can at least be relieved at their good performance in Egremont, located in the Copeland constituency (one of only six Conservative gains made from Labour this June) and near the Sellafield nuclear plant, although this is trending Conservative anyway. The lack of an independent candidate here (they are a very common sight in rural Cumbrian elections) also helped the Conservatives' performance.

In other political news, controversial trade union stalwart Derek 'Red Robbo' Robinson, famous (or infamous) for his union activities in British Leyland particularly at the Austin factory in Longbridge, Birmingham, has died. He was also a Communist candidate for Birmingham Northfield four times in succession, from 1966 to October 1974, and he has beaten in both 1974 elections by an affiliate of the People Party and then an official People Party candidate, who both represented the first incarnation of the Green Party I know and love. Although his strike action, which he coordinated at all 42 BL plants, went to such great lengths he was famously sacked by British Leyland manager Michael Edwardes in 1979, it is clear that he genuinely stood up for car workers at British Leyland (unlike some more extreme Trotskyist agitators who just wanted attention and to cause trouble) who were let down by fundamental structural flaws, an incompetent and short-sighted management, and a government who failed to intervene when it was essential to do so. He was supposedly sacked to make sure British Leyland could move on with new models, but by then it was clear British Leyland was unviable (and likely never was viable in the first place) and it was broken up in 1986. Even after he slipped into relative obscurity, he was remembered (either fondly or with contempt) for many years afterwards until his death earlier this week.

In memory of Derek Robinson, born 1927, who departed this life on 31 October 2017, aged 90 years.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

On the Icelandic election of 2017-Left Foot Forward, But Not Very Far After All

The Icelandic parliamentary election of 2017 was widely predicted to bring in a record surge for the Left-Green Movement of Iceland, led by popular progressive Katrin Jakobsdottir.

It was not quite to be, however. The Left-Green Movement lost considerable momentum just when they needed it before the end of the campaign, partly due to attack advertisements from the ruling conservative Independence Party. The Left-Greens added only one seat to their total, bringing up them to 11, although even a one-seat improvement is very useful in Iceland as their Althing has only 63 members. Nevertheless, last minute tactics were not enough to prevent losses by IP, who lost 5 seats bringing them down to 16, although given that the snap election was caused by a scandal involving a letter involving the Prime Minister's father (Benedikt Sveinsson wrote a letter recommending that a convicted child rapist have their "honour restored": ) these losses are not as bad as initially expected. In fact they still topped the poll in every Icelandic constituency despite the best efforts of the Left-Green movement, even in the capital, Reykjavik (which has two constituencies, North and South; Reykjavik North is more radical and progressive in political terms). The Pirate Party, meanwhile, was the biggest loser amongst parties of the Icelandic "left", losing 4 of its seats and slipping from third place to sixth place nationally. The Social Democrats, who could potentially have slipped into oblivion and below the 5% threshold after their disastrous 2016 result, experienced a crucial revival with their seat total increasing to 7; they also came third behind only IP and LG. The Centre Party, a split from the agrarian and Eurosceptic Progressive Party (ironically similar Scandinavian political parties are called the Centre Party, with other Scandinavian Progressive Parties being completely different things), managed 10.9% of the vote and 7 seats, with a key focus on populism and regional issues, thus preventing the Progressive Party from making any recovery from its 11 seat loss of 2016.

Bright Future, whose withdrawal from the governing coalition caused the snap election, found themselves locked out of the new Althing. They lost 5/6ths of their support, dropping from 7.2% to a derisory 1.2%, losing all 4 of their seats in the process. Another junior partner, the Reform Party, did not fare nearly as badly, losing only 3 of their 7 seats, making them the joint-smallest party in the 2017 Althing. The new People's Party, formed by disability rights activist Inga Saeland, did slightly better in vote share terms (6.9%) but only achieved 4 seats. The only two other parties that contested this election were the communist People's Front of Iceland, who polled only 375 votes partly due to not standing in every Icelandic constituency, and Dawn, whose support dropped to a tiny trickle when they only fielded a list in the South constituency, which achieved just 101 votes.

It is clear that Bjarni can no longer remain Prime Minister of Iceland, not only due to parliamentary losses but also the after-effects of the scandal, which has led to the repeal of the 77 year old 'restored honour' concept, which allowed people in Iceland convicted of serious crimes (even murder!) to apply to have civil rights restored on the basis of three good character recommendations and the President's signature. Under current Icelandic law, anyone convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than four months in prison for it is barred from standing for election or practising medicine or law, amongst other restrictions, without going through such procedures.The concept is currently being reviewed by the Icelandic Ministry of Justice; attempts to restore the concept will face substantial opposition from victims' rights advocates especially with regard to sex offences.

The Centre Party now holds the balance of power between the two "left" and "right" blocs in the Althing and obtaining its confidence and supply will be crucial for both Bjarni and Katrin in their quest to retain their position as PM or newly acquire it; it is highly likely that Katrin will be successful in this regard, especially since the People's Party is more likely to support her.

Friday, 27 October 2017

My analysis of British local by-elections from 26/10/2017

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

Charnwood BC, Loughborough Hastings (2 seats): Labour 676/648 (63.5%, +18.4%), Conservative 228 (21.9%,-0.8%), UKIP 95/79 (8.3%, -9.3%), Green 73/58 (6.3%, -8.3%).

Derbyshire Dales DC, Ashbourne South: Conservative 495 (46.2%, -6.4%), Liberal Democrats 334 (31.2%), Labour (22.6%, -2.5%).

Herefordshire UA, Kings Acre: Conservative 302 (38.5%), Independent 162 (20.6%), It's Our County 156 (19.9%, -30.2%), Liberal Democrats 90 (11.5%, -21.9%), Labour 75 (9.6%). Conservative gain from It's Our County (Herefordshire).

Kirklees MBC, Batley East: Labour 2640 (77.0%, +7.2%), Conservative 443 (12.9%, -1.0%), Local Independents Heavy Wool District 141 (4.1%), Liberal Democrats 136 (4.0%, -1.0%), Green 70 (2.0%, -1.0%).

Mid Sussex DC, East Grinstead Imberhorne: Conservative 540 (58.5%, -1.2%), Liberal Democrats 206 (22.3%), Labour 110 (11.9%, -9.1%), Independent 67 (7.3%).

Tameside MBC, Droylsden East: Labour 1064 (60.3%, +8.9%), Conservative 577 (32.7%, +23.6%), Liberal Democrats 63 (3.6%), Green 60 (3.4%, -2.5%).

NB: "Local Independents Heavy Wool District" is a localist party formed by Aleks Lukic, a former member of UKIP (he stood as an Independent in Batley & Spen in 2017, where he stood for UKIP in 2015).

The Conservative gain in Herefordshire was rather surprising, given the relative unpopularity of the Conservative administration in Herefordshire, whose majority is just 3 (it was 1 before the election; one seat is vacant and it has not been filled yet) and the comparative popularity of the localist It's Our County group. The Conservatives also did not field a candidate in that ward in 2015, which in rural counties like Herefordshire almost never happens.

The Liberal Democrats' candidature in two small town wards where they had not stood in 2015 made only a small impact on the Conservative vote, and in fact won over more Labour votes. The Greens did not stand in either ward (although there was a Green candidate in Ashbourne South in 2015) and there is a lot of Green potential in these rural towns, more so in East Grinstead as past results show; in retrospect Green candidates should have stood in both wards.

Meanwhile in the metropolitan boroughs, former UKIP candidate Aleks Lukic (also a teacher at the same grammar school the late Jo Cox MP went to) showed how weak his personal vote really is once again-after achieving just 2% in Batley & Spen in the last general election he only managed 4.1% in the Batley East by-election, just five votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats, even though his former party did not even stand. It predictably proved to be a remarkably easy hold for Labour, as did Droylsden East in Greater Manchester. UKIP's absence did allow for a very large boost to the Conservative vote, however, following a trend seen in many working-class metropolitan suburbs, especially those with a low BAME population.

Monday, 23 October 2017

My analysis of the Japanese general election of 2017

In the Japanese general election of 2017, called less than 3 years after the previous election, change was relatively limited. Nevertheless, free and fair elections must be analysed.

The governing coalition of the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (neither liberal nor particularly democratic in practice) and the Komeito Party, the political arm of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement, did lose seats but only a total of 11 this election. It has a total of 313, which still represents over a 2/3 majority in the Japanese House of Representatives that elected 465 members this year. The LDP could actually govern by itself due to having 284 seats out of 465, but it will be continuing its coalition with Komeito nonetheless. Shinzo Abe, famous for "Abenomics" is still rather popular in Japan, and despite the formation of the Constitutional Democratic Party to replace the Democratic Party of Japan the opposition is still very fragmented.

In fact, the DPJ was not planning to contest the election by itself but rather largely on behalf of a new party called Kibo no To (Party of Hope) formed by Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, formerly of the LDP (she resigned from the LDP having defeated the official LDP nominee Hiroya Masuda in the 2016 Tokyo gubernatorial election). Yuriko rejected many of the DPJ candidates for Party of Hope candidacy and a large proportion of DPJ members were not supportive of Yuriko's economically conservative positions despite her being more socially liberal than Shinzo. This resulted in the formation of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, effectively a reconstruction of the DPJ, and this delayed its ability to mount an effective opposition against the LDP in this snap election.

As a result, the Constitutional Democratic Party, in alliance with the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan, won just 55 seats, with the JCP winning just 12, 9 down from 21, and the Social Democratic Party of Japan winning only 2 seats. Meanwhile, the Party of Hope won 50 seats but due to its political values and the fact it is not the official opposition, it will at best be a friendly critic of the LDP-Komeito coalition. The JCP had a considerable surge in 2014 on the issue of peace, since Shinzo had announced plans to revise Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (which famously renounces war permanently), which is becoming a more contentious issue with the North Korean missile threat still looming. Meanwhile, a new mainly Osaka-based semi-libertarian party, Nippon Ishin No Kai, allied to the Party of Hope, won just 11 seats, due to its relatively limited appeal outside its core areas. No other party won any seats in the Japanese House of Representatives this time.

The fact that Japan's mixed member proportional system is via parallel voting (i.e. the single member constituencies and multi-member list-PR constituencies are elected separately meaning FPTP representation is not taken into account to decide PR seat entitlement) gives a significantly unfair advantage to the LDP (even the main opposition is disadvantaged, as are of course smaller parties) when most MMP systems ensure that seat totals are actually weighted proportionally to votes, like the MMP system used in Germany. 5/8 of Japan's seats are SMCs, with only 3/8 of the seats actually being elected by list-PR vote, and due to largely unresolved malapportionment of seats, particularly rural seats, the LDP easily wins a majority of SMCs most of the time; it won 3/4 of the SMCs this year. Japan's MMP system needs a serious overhaul for it to be genuinely fair and proportional; the malapportionment needs to be well and truly fixed and subject to stringent regular checks to stop it re-occurring, there needs to be a better balance of SMCs to proportional seats, and the parallel voting element needs to be scrapped. The LDP has not won more than 50% of the actual votes cast even in the constituency block since 1963 and its vote share in the PR block is consistently well below 40%, yet it very frequently wins clear majorities in the Japanese House of Representatives. Even in pre-2011 Ireland where Fianna Fail was the dominant party, such levels of disproportionality did not occur even when the "Tullymander" backfired to Fianna Fail's advantage.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Czech election of 2017: sail, sail, sail towards liberalism

The Czech election of 2017 delivered a very dramatic result-just like the Czech election of 2013, one of the first I analysed.

ANO, the relatively new (de facto) pro-EU liberal-conservative party led by the second richest man in the Czech Republic, scored a decisive victory as was expected, winning 29.64% of the vote and topping the poll in every region of the Czech Republic, even Prague, the capital. Andrej Babis, formerly Deputy Prime Minister, is now set to become the next Czech PM although he must still be careful about his choice of coalition partners. ANO has been able to do this by presenting a "big tent" ideology similar to that promoted by Italy's Five Star Movement and by assembling a large protest vote, especially in rural areas formerly loyal to the Civic Democrats. The Civic Democrats surprisingly came second, but it was a distant second with only 11.32%, less than 4% more than what they managed in their 2013 drubbing when they lost almost 3/4 of their seats. They only managed to win 25 seats, less than 1/3 of ANO's final total of 78. ANO has effectively replaced the Civic Democrats in many quarters, although the ODS still won a few wealthy districts in Prague.

It was the Pirate Party that came a surprisingly good third with 22 seats, and it came close to beating ANO in Prague (and topped the poll in six of Prague's more radical districts). They managed 10.74%, beyond that predicted even by optimistic polls, and this is the second best performance in a national election by any Pirate Party ever, bettered only by Iceland last year. They won over a very large proportion of younger voters and topped the poll amongst voters aged under 25, although many older voters have yet to warm to them. This good result is crucial at a low point for the Pirate Party movement; their German section did particularly badly last month and is all but finished for now.

Fourth came Freedom and Direct Democracy, originally a split from Dawn of Direct Democracy after its leader Tomo Okamura fell out with the rest of his original party's leadership (Dawn of Direct Democracy decided not to even contest this election) with 10.6% and 22 seats, a clear testament to Tomo's personal charisma and of most right-wing Eurosceptics rallying behind it. By the standards of Eurosceptic right-wing parties, though, it is not a particularly remarkable performance and shows that the Czech Republic is turning away from right-wing populism at a time when it has become increasingly popular in many countries. The Communists, despite being in opposition, achieved their worst ever performance, dropping from 33 seats to just 15, and they are expected to decline further as their older voters die off with few young voters to replace them. The post-communist generation (born after the Velvet Revolution of 1989) have little time for the Communists of Bohemia and Moravia, especially in cities. Opinion polls by age released just before the election showed Communist support of 18% for voters aged over 65, but of just 1.5% for voters aged 18-24. The majority of Communist Party members in the Czech Republic are also aged over 60; leader Vojtech Filip is himself 62. Many old communist or otherwise far-left parties in Europe have similar problems to the KSCM. It was the governing Social Democrats who polled worse even that, however, as they fell from 1st to 6th place and dropped from 50 seats to just 15, worse even than the decline of the ODS in 2013. Normally it is the junior coalition partner who takes the biggest fall when the governing party fails, but ANO's more "mass movement" style structure and newfound popularity allowed it to absorb a large proportion of moderate Social Democratic (CSSD) voters. ANO's rise also almost caused the demise of TOP 09, who were predicted to lose all representation but survived in the end, albeit with their seat total reduced to just 7. The Christian Democrats also returned but lost 4 seats, and STAN (Mayors and Independents list) who were originally going to contest the election in coalition with KDU-CSL until KDU-CSL ended the pact, managed to win 6 seats, with a particularly strong performance in Central Bohemia, which surrounds Prague.

One unfortunate story in this election is that the Green Party lost more than half of its votes, dropping to 1.46% and they did not achieve 5% in any Czech district, not even in any of the districts of Prague (they did achieve 6.08% among expatriate voters, though), a far cry from their leader's prediction of 6-8% of the vote earlier this year. The Pirate Party's rise took the wind out of their sails and left them marooned; in all the districts where the Pirate Party topped the poll, the Green vote in said district was at least twice their national average. The Pirates appeal to largely the same base as the Greens: young, intelligent, urban, and well-educated middle-class voters of radical leanings of some type. With the Pirates now in the Czech Parliament, it will be a long time before the Greens regain representation there (they had 6 seats from 2006 to 2010, and their then leader, Martin Barzcik, was Environment Minister during that time). Even SVOBODNI (the Party of Free Citizens) managed a slightly better result despite a decline in Euroscepticism in the Czech Republic, A new Eurosceptic party, the Realists, did not even manage half of the Green vote, and the de facto neo-Nazi "Workers' Party of Social Justice" (DSSS) lost over 3/4 of even its low 2013 vote, dropping to 0.20%. Nevertheless, 15 other minor parties could not achieve even that total, which amounted to just 10,402 Czech votes. The wooden spoon this year went to the Czech National Front (just as bad as the DSSS) with 117 votes.

Theoretically, ANO and ODS can form a coalition by themselves, but ODS' association with the old Czech political establishment disliked by ANO voters means that such a coalition is not practicable in the current circumstances, except as a back-up option. Technically, the current ANO-CSSD-KDU-CSL coalition can continue (total seats: 103/200) but it is not certain that it will continue; the Christian Democrats are becoming increasingly wary of ANO as their former desire to form a pact with STAN showed.

This Czech election bucks the trend towards the populist right that has been seen to one extent or another in the last three years in many European countries. Eurosceptic and anti-EU parties have overall lost considerable support; officially Eurosceptic/anti-EU parties overall represent just 62 of the 200 seats in the new Czech Parliament, 16 less than that achieved by pro-European ANO alone. Undoubtedly this will be welcomed by younger and more progressive Central and Eastern Europeans, whose nations joined the EU much later than those in western and northern Europe (even accounting for those who joined after the fall of the Berlin Wall) and whose politicians have historically been more Eurosceptic overall.

Friday, 20 October 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 19/10/17 and other thoughts

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

Epping Forest DC, Lower Sheering: Conservative 220 (80.1%), Liberal Democrats 52 (19.9%).

Gravesham BC, Meopham North: Conservative 721 (64.0%, +6.5%), Liberal Democrats 192 (17.0%), Labour 155 (13.8%, -4.8%), UKIP 59 (5.2%, -18.7%).

Hartlepool UA, Seaton: Putting Hartlepool First 474 (31.6%), Independent Little 425 (28.3%, +15.6%), Labour 275 (18.3%, -4.9%), Conservative 180 (12.0%, -0.9%), UKIP 148 (9.9%, -13.8%). Putting Hartlepool First gain from Independent.

Lincoln BC, Carholme: Labour 922 (63.4%, +4.5%), Conservative 368 (25.3%, +6.2%), Green 83 (5.7%, -6.8%), Liberal Democrats 82 (5.6%, -3.8%).

Nottingham UA, Basford: Labour 1409 (68.2%, +19.3%), Conservative 408 (19.7%, +2.5%), UKIP 119 (5.8%, -11.4%), Green 81 (3.9%, -9.6%), Liberal Democrats 49 (2.4%).
Nottingham UA, Bestwood: Labour 1280 (63.4%, +8.2%), UKIP 301 (14.9%, -7.1%), Conservative 297 (14.7%, -1.2%), Liberal Democrats 57 (2.8%), Green 50 (2.5%, -4.4%), Bus-Pass Elvis 34 (1.7%).

Nottingham UA, Bulwell Forest: Labour 1420 (54.4%, +9.1%), Conservative 966 (37.0%, +16.7%), UKIP 141 (5.4%, -14.5%), Green 52 (2.0%, -5.9%), Liberal Democrats 31 (1.2%, -3.2%).

Wigan MBC, Astley & Mosley Common: Labour 773 (46.0%, -5.3%), Conservative 604 (35.9%, +11.4%),UKIP 185 (11.0%, -13.2%), Liberal Democrats 73 (4.3%), Green 46 (2.7%).

NOTE: There was also a vacancy in Haseley Brook, South Oxfordshire, whose by-election would have taken place this week had there been more than one candidate; the Conservative candidate was elected unopposed.

Right in Nottingham where I live, the Green Party sadly achieved some particularly poor results which cannot be explained merely by Liberal Democrat intervention in wards they had not stood in before (the Liberal Democrats had stood in the ward of Bulwell Forest in 2015), although they beat the Liberal Democrats in two of the three local by-elections in Nottingham, all in the Nottingham North constituency; in fact the former councillor in Basford whose resignation caused that by-election, Alex Norris, is now Nottingham North's MP. The Greens slipped back in Carholme, Lincoln as well but not quite to the extent they did in all three wards of Nottingham which had by-elections this week.

The considerable pro-Conservative swing of 8.35% in Astley & Mosley Common is indicative of even when Labour lead in the polls, they are still losing hold of working-class voters in old mining and industrial towns; both Leigh and Makerfield showed swings from Labour to the Conservatives in June this year and Wigan only showed a 1.1% swing to Labour. Leigh and Wigan also recorded 2 of only 40 saved deposits for UKIP in June.

Local groups continue to grow in popularity in towns like Hartlepool, but they also face more competition, and from well-known independents as well. The marginality of the by-election in Seaton, representing the picturesque Seaton Carew seaside resort near Hartlepool, is testament to this.

This week, the Czech Republic will go to the polls, with Japan holding its election this Monday, and Iceland's snap election coming next Sunday. The results in each case are predicted to be very interesting, to say the least.

I give my thanks to all who came to the #metoo mural in Trafalgar Square today to end violence against women and general misogyny (e.g. street harassment), and those who gave support when they could not make it to London to make their mark on that mural.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Austrian parliamentary election of 2017: Osterreich wendet sich nach rechts

The Austrian parliamentary election of 2017 marked a sharp turn to the right in Austrian politics.

The main conservative party of Austria, the Austrian People's Party (OVP) which has governed almost always in a grand coalition with the social-democratic Social Democrats of Austria (SPO) except for an infamous period from 1999-2005 where the nationalist right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) were coalition partners, has topped the poll with a sharp increase in vote share from 23.7% to 31.2%, resulting in 15 extra seats. They managed this despite the setbacks they had been suffering in three of the last four years, especially when their presidential candidate finished a poor fourth in 2016. The SPO, meanwhile, only narrowly held onto second place after postal votes; before postal votes were counted (postal votes are always counted the day after all other votes due to quirks in Austrian electoral law) they were provisionally third behind the FPO (the OVP have only finished third once, in 1999 when they went into coalition with the FPO resulting in temporary sanctions from the EU, and the SPO have been first more often than not). The FPO managed as much as 26.0%, earning them an extra 11 seats for a total of 51, only one behind the SPO's total of 52. In the midst of this three-way squeeze the Austrian Liberals, NEOS, earned themselves an extra seat for a total of 10, and their support is expected to grow especially now that youthful OVP leader Sebastian Kurz, set to become the next Chancellor, prefers a coalition with FPO over another grand coalition with the SPO.

One of the biggest stories was the split of the Green vote by the Pilz list, led by long-standing representative Peter Pilz after he was deselected by the Austrian Greens convention. As a direct result, the Austrian Greens' vote fell to 3.8%, a result so bad they in fact lost every single one of their 24 seats; 2013 had been their best ever performance in an Austrian election. Peter, meanwhile, got his revenge by winning 8 seats and by beating his former colleagues rather handily, although overall he only managed 4.4% nevertheless. This is likely to cause a crisis in the Austrian Greens, who have already had to expel their youth section after protracted disputes. As I have said before, the gestalt theory applies to elections which is why a split in the Green vote turned many Greens away to the Social Democrats and resulted in the combined PILZ+GRUNE vote being only 8.2%, compared to the 12.4% the Austrian Greens won in 2013. The PILZ list won mostly on Peter's popularity, but it could also enshrine a permanent split in the Austrian green movement, just as the Green Liberals in Switzerland have done and to a minor extent the Ecological Democratic Party (ODP) in Germany.

The Austrian Young Greens, unsurprisingly, joined up with the Communist Party of Austria for this election, but their vote share actually fell slightly from 1.0% to 0.8%, falling behind protest party GILT! (My Vote Counts) who managed only 0.9%, well below even their modest expectations of ~2%; Die PARTEI only managed 1% in Germany so it seems there is just not enough room for satirical politics; also protest votes generally go to serious if extreme parties especially in rural areas. None of the other parties managed even 10,000 votes apiece, and the party who came bottom was the Men's Party of Austria, a men's rights activism group, who polled a derisory 220 votes (0.004%), which to cap it all was less than half of even their 2013 total of 490 votes, and they came bottom in 2013.

This lurch to the right in general along with rising support for the racist right mirrors trends that have been occurring in Central and Eastern Europe for the last four years, although it has resulted in a revival of liberal, pro-European conservatism which has also held back many traditional conservative parties in Central and Eastern Europe. As an example, the Czech Republic will likely demonstrate this when they go to the polls this week as ANO is set to become senior coalition partners with the formerly dominant ODS stuck in the doldrums.  
UPDATE: Small corrections made after an Austrian resident noted a few inaccuracies.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 12/10/17

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

Aberdeenshire UA, Invernurie & District: Conservative 1672 (48.5%,+12.6%), SNP 1146 (33.3%, +5.7%), Liberal Democrats 295 (8.2%, -3.2%), Labour 276 (8.0%, +3.7%), Green 56 (1.9%). Conservative elected at stage 4.

Ashfield DC, Hucknall North: Ashfield Independent 1329 (51.1%, +40.3%), Labour 629 (24.2%, -5.8%), Conservative 532 (20.4%, -10.7%), UKIP 66 (2.5%, -17.4%), Liberal Democrats 46 (1.8%). Ashfield Independent gain from Conservative.

Sheffield MBC, Beighton: Labour 1640 (48.6%, +5.9%), Liberal Democrats 899 (26.6%, +21.2%), Conservative 552 (16.3%, -1.4%), UKIP 212 (6.3%, -20.0%), Green 74 (2.2%, -2.6%).

Tamworth BC, Boleshall: Labour 643 (53.4%, +3.9%), Conservative 561 (46.6%, +22.2%).

Three Rivers DC, Oxley Hall & Hayling: Liberal Democrats 672 (41.3%, +18.5%), Conservative 461 (28.3%, -8.4%), Labour 428 (26.3%, +4.4%), UKIP 35 (2.2%, -16.4%), Green 31 (1.9%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative; all changes are since 2015.

Wakefield MBC, Stanley & Outwood East: Labour 1353 (51.0%,+2.4%), Conservative 847 (31.9%, +7.3%), Liberal Democrats 165 (6.2%, +2.3%), Yorkshire Party 153 (5.8%), UKIP 136 (5.1%). All changes are since 2016.

Warrington UA, Chapelford & Old Hall: Labour 957 (54.7%, +9.5%), Conservative 353 (20.2%, +4.3%), Liberal Democrats 312 (17.8%, -1.4%), UKIP 86 (4.9%, -7.4%), Green 43 (2.5%, -5.1%).

Wyre DC, Rossall: Labour 610 (50.1%, +12.8%), Conservative 427 (35.1%, +5.7%), Independent 180 (14.8%).

All eight of these by-election results followed general trends seen in recent local by-elections in wards similar to these, with the exception of Beighton in Sheffield. This is due to the considerable unpopularity of Sheffield City Council over the unnecessary and disgraceful felling of trees, which caused a sharp swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats in a ward whose demographics are generally not supportive of the Liberal Democrats even in fruitful years. What is most interesting about these by-elections is that three of the eight were caused by the resignation of councillors who had become MPs: Ben Bradley (now Conservative MP for Mansfield, and in fact the very first from his party to represent the Mansfield constituency), Colin Clark (now MP for Gordon and surprise victor against Alex Salmond), and Faisal Rashid (now MP for Warrington South). Labour has done reasonably well despite nearly losing the Boleshall by-election in Tamworth, although as Tamworth has been trending inexorably towards the Conservatives (I have elaborated on this before) this is not a surprise. The Conservatives also increased their majority over the SNP in Aberdeenshire, but overall did not have a very productive night, especially when they finished third in a seat they had won in 2015 and nearly finished third in one of the many Three Rivers wards that is strictly Lib Dem vs. Conservative. Lib Dem fortunes have been mixed this week; the Lib Dems' capture of Oxhey Hall & Hayling was easy but they fell from second to third in Chapelford & Old Hall in Warrington, came last behind UKIP in Hucknall North, and slipped further backwards in Aberdeenshire. UKIP collapsed as per usual, but despite this UKIP candidates still beat Green Party candidates in every contest featuring both a UKIP and a Green candidate. The Yorkshire Party is gaining a steadily growing following in rural Yorkshire, shown by it beating UKIP and nearly beating the Liberal Democrats in Stanley & Outwood East, an increasingly popular commuter area for middle-class commuters to Leeds.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

My review of the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference

Hello everyone. I came back from the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference in Harrogate, one of the most contentious and therefore genuinely democratic conferences in my five years as a Green Party member. It was not the most-well attended conference I have seen so far, but it was very engaging nevertheless. It was also the first Green Party conference I have experienced so far to extend into Tuesday.

The five things I enjoyed about the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference were:

1. The acceptance of the crucial precautionary principle as policy; it is a vital tool in our technologically advanced world when protecting our environment and therefore ourselves.

2. The Green Party also made inspiring calls for the elimination of plastic waste and for gender-based hate crime to be recorded alongside other types of hate crime.

3. A holistic governance review was easily adopted, which is excellently in line with green politics and core green pillars.

4. Members' determination to fight the dirty, greedy disgrace that is fracking all across England, from Lancashire to Balcombe. Fracking is banned in Scotland and Wales (and of course many other countries and several US states); why not England?

5. I had the lovely and supportive company of Emma (who was our parliamentary candidate for Stockton North earlier this year) during the weekend, especially during the difficult moments I faced this conference. I also thank other Green Party members for their understanding and support likewise.

The things I did not like so much about the Autumn 2017 Green Party conference were:

1. Narrow failures to fully turn the tide against "Progressive Alliances" which have let the Green Party down severely and held back the cause of green politics. (The tide is turning but rather slowly.) 

2. A lot of committee slots were left unfilled, even though all Green Party committees are very important to the Green Party in their own way.

3. There was no live-streaming of this conference available, when there has been at several previous conferences.

I give my thanks to everyone who came along and took part.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Analysis of local by-elections from 6/10/17

The results of the eight local by-elections in Britain of this week were as follows:

Adur DC, Mash Barn: Labour 490 (49.3%, +29.7%), Conservative 384 (38.6%, +16.1%), Liberal Democrats 89 (9.0%, -6.6%), Green 31 (3.1%). Labour gain from UKIP; all changes are since 2016.

Cheshire East UA, Crewe East: Labour 1174 (60.7%, +15.2%), Conservative 542 (28.0%, +6.4%), UKIP 158 (8.2%, -14.0%), Green 59 (3.1%, -7.6%).

Hertsmere BC, Borehamwood Kenilworth: Labour 383 (37.8%, -8.5%), Conservative 341 (33.7%, -20.0%), Liberal Democrats 144 (14.2%), Independent 91 (9.0%), UKIP 54 (5.3%). Labour gain from Conservative.

Hinckley & Bosworth DC, Burbage Sketchley & Stretton: Conservative 822 (39.0%, -3.8%), Liberal Democrats 785 (37.3%, +8.1%), Labour 321 (15.2%, +2.2%), UKIP 120 (5.7%, -9.2%), Independent 57 (2.7%).

Redcar & Cleveland UA, St Germain's: Liberal Democrats 661 (38.4%, +9.0%), Labour 368 (21.4%, +1.0%), Independent Lambert 261 (15.2%), Independent Jeffries 225 (13.1%), Conservative 174 (10.1%, -3.2%), Green 31 (1.8%, -9.3%).

Salford MBC, Claremont: Labour 718 (46.5%, -1.5%), Conservative 447 (29.0%, +10.8%), Independent 171 (11.1%), Liberal Democrats 162 (10.5%), Green 46 (3.0%, -6.1%). All changes are since 2016.

South Buckinghamshire DC, Burnham Rent Rise & Taplow: Conservative 699 (65.9%, +27.0%), Labour 166 (15.6%, -1.3%), Liberal Democrats 136 (12.8%), Green 60 (5.7%, -8.5%).

Warwick DC, Stoneleigh & Cubbington: Conservative 502 (52.6%, +12.0%), Labour 311 (32.6%, +16.9%), Liberal Democrats 113 (11.8%), Green 29 (3.0%, -7.9%).

Labour's victory along the once solidly Conservative south coast of West Sussex is not surprising given a recent local by-election victory in nearby Worthing, although Mash Barn ward has never elected a Labour councillor before. The disappearance of UKIP did boost the Conservative vote but not enough for them to recapture the seat, especially with the Liberal Democrat vote going towards Labour. Conversely, that same Liberal Democrat vote proved to be a decisive factor in Labour's by-election win in Borehamwood, a town which on first impressions should be vulnerable to Theresa May's style of Conservatism. This proved to be far from the case, especially after Theresa May's now notorious conference speech earlier this week. The Conservatives made up for this elsewhere by achieving a 6.15% swing against Labour in Salford, by absorbing crucial votes in local by-elections in South Buckinghamshire and Warwick, and by narrowly defending a vulnerable rural ward against the Liberal Democrats, who at the same time increased their majority in a marginal ward against Labour in Redcar & Cleveland; the good performance of Independents inadvertently harmed Labour's attempts to capture it. The Greens continue to struggle in wards which they are not in a position to win, and two-party squeezes are getting tighter and tighter even if they are not between Conservative and Labour.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Analysis of by-elections from 28/9/17-and five top reasons why green politicians should never join Labour

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

Barnsley MBC, Kingstone: Labour 740 (57.5%, -2.4%), Liberal Democrats 247 (19.2%), Conservative 113 (8.8%, -3.5%), Green 87 (6.8%, -4.1%), BNP 75 (5.8%, -5.2%), Demos Direct Initiative 25 (1.9%). All changes are since 2016.

Breckland DC, Thetford Priory: Labour 503 (57.7%, +29.5%), Conservative 257 (29.5%, -4.4%), UKIP 112 (12.8%, -24.3%). Labour gain from Conservative.

Durham UA, Trindon & Thornley: Labour 1150 (65.4%, +15.2%), Independent 351 (20.0%), Liberal Democrats 117 (6.7%, -3.7%) Conservative 112 (6.4%, -12.8%), Green 29 (1.6%).

East Staffordshire DC, Stretton: Conservative 762 (47.2%, +2.1%), Save Our Stretton 455 (28.2%), Labour 311 (19.2%, -0.4%), UKIP 52 (3.2%, -24.4%), Liberal Democrats 36(2.2%).

Harlow BC, Toddbrook: Labour 702 (52.2%, +1.7%), Conservative 486 (36.1%, +11.2%), UKIP 98 (7.3%, -17.4%), Green 41 (3.0%), Liberal Democrats 19 (1.4%). All changes are since 2016.

Harrogate BC, Washurn: Conservative 363 (74.5%, -0.4%), Labour 61 (12.5%, -0.9%), Green 44 (9.0%), Yorkshire Party 19 (3.9%). All changes are since 2016.

Highland UA, Tain & Easter Ross: Independent (Rhind) 1266 (49.4%, +33.0%), SNP 612 (23.9%, +0.0%), Liberal Democrats 372 (14.5%, -5.0%), Conservative 233 (9.1%, -6.9%), Independent (Holdsworth) 68 (2.7%), Libertarian 13 (0.5%). Independent gain from Liberal Democrats.

 Lancaster BC, Halton with Aughton: Labour 247 (27.4%, +18.0%), Green 245 (27.2%, -0.9%), Conservative 236 (26.2%, +2.0%), Liberal Democrats 174 (19.3%). Labour gain from Independent.

Northampton BC, Eastfield: Labour 493 (50.5%, +13.5%), Conservative 288 (29.5%, -4.1%), Liberal Democrats 195 (20.0%, -16.7%).

Northampton BC, Nene Valley: Conservative 803 (52.5%, +11.7%), Labour 343 (22.4%, +7.6%), Liberal Democrats 293 (19.2%, +9.3%), Green 91 (5.9%).

St Edmundsbury DC, Chedburgh: Conservative 372 (65.8%), Labour 128 (22.7%), Liberal Democrats 65 (11.5%).

St Edmundsbury DC, Hundon: Conservative 357 (80.4%, +17.2%), Liberal Democrats 86 (19.4%).

Apart from a slight dent in their vote in Barnsley, Labour is back on track just after the end of their latest conference-especially with their two-vote victory in Halton with Aughton in Lancaster over the Green Party; the Conservatives were a mere 11 votes behind Labour and even the last-placed Liberal Democrats finished just 8.1% behind the victorious Labour candidate. Close four-way races are getting rarer and rarer in by-elections, even in highly competitive places like Lancaster, and with this latest victory Lancaster returns to overall control by Labour. Labour's capture of a seat in Thetford, Norfolk, is also an important gain, especially with Labour's mantra currently not going down particularly well in small market downs. Thetford sits in South West Norfolk, where in 2017 a Labour recovery due to UKIP's collapse was cancelled out by an equally strong Conservative surge, leaving the seat to remain as solidly Conservative as usual.

St Edmundsbury as a district has a habit of frequently returning at least a few Conservative councillors unopposed, especially in outlying villages in which both of its by-elections took place. Chedburgh (fka Chevington) and Hundon have had unopposed elections more often than not since the creation of St Edmundsbury council in 1974, and the Chedburgh by-election was the first contest in that council ward in 14 years. Both by-elections resulted in strong Conservative wins, unsurprisingly, but at least there was democracy in action. Rural areas are notorious for returning considerable numbers of guaranteed wins at election time-especially for Conservative candidates. Localism is strongest in these areas, as proved by an excellent performance by a Save Our Stretton candidate in East Staffordshire, which was however not enough to win the by-election, and an excellent capture by an Independent in the Highlands, the largest and most sparsely populated area of Great Britain. The other by-elections delivered rather predictable results which follow normal area patterns and general trends already seen in British local by-elections of late.

Recently, a left-leaning youthful Green by the name of Josiah Mortimer, who is editor of Left Foot Forward, publicly announced his defection to Labour, despite Labour's mantra and fundamental politics being incompatible with green politics on so many levels, especially regarding environmentalism and economics. Here are five reasons why green politicians of should never join Labour:

1. Labour's core mantra economically is incompatible with green politics. Labour economics, even under Jeremy Corbyn, is still based on unsustainable and environmentally destructive, and fails to factor in indicators not related to GNP/GDP. Green politics takes into account human emotional needs as well as economic performance, and the fact the economy is already big enough for everyone to have a fair share.

2. The Labour Party is undemocratic and top-down compared to the Green Party's democratic and grassroots ethos. Real democracy exists in the Green Party-members have a genuine voice in policy and direction and more freedom. This is not the case in Labour; Labour leaders set policy in practice and Labour members have very limited freedom in practice. In fact, Labour members have been stripped of voting rights, and even expelled, simply for posting one or two Tweets in support of the Green Party.

3. Labour is just talking greenwash-they have not become greener! Labour's continuing support of Trident, for example, is a key example proving that Jeremy Corbyn is just stealing green ideas to make Labour more credible to environmentalists. Green politics is more than about environmentalism and sustainability, though-it is about peace, grassroots democracy, and respect for the rights of both humans and animals alike.

4. Labour is too tied up with the trade unions, some of whom have interests detrimental to the environment. The Green Party, not being attached to trade unions in any fundamental way, is freer to decide the best way forwards to protect our planet and future generations.

5. Labour is not committed to fundamental reforms needed in British democracy. Labour does not support Proportional Representation or taking the big money out of British politics-the Green Party supports both of these initiatives.

Monday, 25 September 2017

German federal election 2017: Alternative Mein Lederhosen!

The German Bundestag election of 2017 has just produced the most multi-party Bundestag since 1949. Not only did AfD enter the Bundestag and finish third in the polls, but the FDP (Free Democratic Party) returned as well, meaning that there are now six different parties represented in the Bundestag.

In a similar way to UKIP, Alternative for Germany (AfD) hit both SPD (Social Democrat) and CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union) votes, especially in working-class areas, Bavaria, and Saxony (they did well in the other eastern states as well, of course). In fact, AfD did well enough to pick up 3 single-member seats (direktmandaten) in Saxony which even if they had not passed the 5% threshold would have qualified them for list seats as well. In Germany, a party that wins 3 constituency seats can win list seats even if they did not pass the 5% threshold (this hurt Die Linke particularly badly in 2002, since they fell below 5% and only won two direct mandates); AfD in any event achieved 12.6%, enough for as many as 94 seats, one more than the FDP won in 2009.

The effect of AfD's vote was to cause surprise SPD gains from the CDU despite the SPD's vote falling to 20.5%, the worst in its long history. CDU's vote fell sharply to 26.8%, its worst result ever, with a consequent loss of 65 seats even accounting for the large number of overhang seats needed in the next Bundestag to make sure all eligible parties are fairly represented; 709 seats are needed in total, making this Bundestag the largest ever. The CDU's Bavarian partners, the CSU, achieved their worst ever result but nevertheless retained every single direct mandate in Bavaria itself, whose particularly independent-minded character lent itself rather well to the AfD despite its prosperity.

Things were not boding well for the Greens in the run-up to this election, especially with the retirement of Hans-Christian Strobele, their only direct mandate representative. Some believed they had become too mainstream and had lost their way in terms of green politics. They managed to however increase their vote share to 9.0%, and Canan Bayran retained their sole direct mandate of Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg/Prenzlauer Berg Ost, although with a margin of only 1.6% against Die Linke (The Left). Despite their good governance of Baden-Wurttenberg, however, they narrowly failed to win either Stuttgart I  (Stuttgart West-Central) or Freiburg (am Breisgau) from the CDU, the losing margin being 2.3% in each case. However, the Greens have nevertheless won themselves 4 extra seats for a total of 67, so they have performed very well in the circumstances, although a few states showed a small Green vote share decrease nevertheless.

Die Linke did reasonably well, given how hard AfD hit their core vote in the east (in fact, the AfD topped the list vote poll in Saxony, ironically the only state where Die Linke gained a direct mandate from the CDU, having retained all four in Berlin), although they only recaptured one of the direct mandates they had lost in 2013, namely Leipzig II (Leipzig South in practice). In the others they did not regain their vote fell quite sharply; in fact their vote share decreased in all the eastern states and they finished no better than third in any of these. They made only small increases in the western states, even in the capital, Berlin. Like many similar parties in Europe, their older core vote is dying off and their protest vote is being taken away by newcomers, AfD in Die Linke's case. Their gain of five seats for a total of 69 is therefore a good result for them, even if they slipped from third to fifth in terms of vote share.

As expected, the FDP returned having been ousted completely in 2013; their vote share is more evenly distributed than the other major parties in Germany which is why they have not been able to win any direct mandates since 1990, or even come close. They usually struggle to finish second on the list vote even in the wealthiest direct mandates. They won 80 seats in total, although they are undoubtedly disappointed to have come fourth instead of third. The FDP also need to be wary, since the SPD under Martin Schulz have announced they will not continue the grand coalition with Angela Merkel that ran from 2005-2009 and again from 2013-2017, and they are the only party represented in the Bundestag solely by list seats.

All other parties did badly in this election, with the NPD losing 2/3 of its vote, which was taken mostly by AfD, and the Pirate Party's vote splintered in different directions. They were both overtaken by the satirical Die PARTEI, which notably finished ahead of both the FDP and the Pirate Party in the Greens' sole constituency seat; Die PARTEI managed 1% of the vote overall, and only 10,130 votes behind the Free Voters (FREIE WAHLER, collections of residents' associations in Germany), who polled the best out of the parties which did not qualify for Bundestag representation. The Animal Welfare Party only managed 0.8% of the vote federally, but this was more than the aggregate totals of the NPD and PIRATEN vote (Tierschutzpartei managed 373,278 votes; the total NPD and PIRATEN vote equalled only 350,572). The Basic Income Party (BGE) only achieved 0.2% of the vote despite running in all German Lander, which was at least better than the hopeless and diehard communist Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) which also ran in every Lander but achieved less than 0.1% of the vote. The Party of Reason achieved the wooden spoon managing only 532 votes, partly because it only ran a list in Bavaria. The best performance by an independent candidate, meanwhile, was by former CSU MP Konrad Dippel in Weiden, Bavaria; he achieved 9.3% and finished third in the constituency vote in Weiden

Coalition building now becomes more difficult than ever in Germany at a federal level. The SPD is not willing to work with the CDU again, especially with the consequences it brought, and no other party will work with the AfD. The FDP will not agree to a Jamaica coalition for now either, meaning that Martin Schulz could theoretically succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor by gathering the FDP, Linke, and Greens into a four-way coalition. Due to Die Linke's dislike of the 'soft' SPD, though, and the FDP's insuperable ideological difference to that of Die Linke, this would be impracticable.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

New Zealand general election of 2017: Jacinda's jubilance

After some wavering uncertainties, the latest New Zealand general election has not dealt the blow to the Nationals that progressives were helping for, even though Labour under Jacinda Ardem did indeed make a significant surge.

The National vote dropped by 2.0% to 46%, but this resulted in only a loss of 3 seats; despite also losing the electorate of Christchurch Central to Labour they captured Hutt South from Labour and recovered Northland from NZ First's maverick leader, Winston Peters, who had captured it in a 2015 by-election. Labour also captured Ohariu from United Future (in fact, the United Future candidate who replaced the retiring Peter Dunne, Bale Nadakultavukl, polled only 212 votes and finished second-last) and the sole Maori Party held electorate, Waiariki. These particular electorates were the only 5 of the 60 to change hands. Labour's vote increased to 35.8%, giving them as many as 45 seats (an increase of 13), their best result since 2008 and an important recovery given how they had been stuck in the doldrums for several years following Phil Goff's disastrous performance in 2011. Many crucial marginal National electorates like Auckland Central did not fall to Labour, however.

The seriousness of the scandal surrounding former Green Party of Aotearoa leader Metiria Turei's revelations of past wrongdoings, followed by the subsequent resignation of two Green list MPs, cost the Greens dearly; they lost half their seats and in a few opinion polls prior to the election they were polling less than 5%. In the end they polled 5.8%, which is actually a better result than they had managed in 2005, and kept 7 seats. The two-party squeeze between National and Labour also hit New Zealand First despite them keeping out of trouble; their vote share dropped to 7.5%, they lost 3 of their seats leaving them with 9, and Winston Peters is out of the New Zealand Parliament once again. The only other party to win any seats in New Zealand was ACT, and only because Bill English gave an endorsement to David Seymour, ACT's sole remaining MP (he represents the electorate of Epsom). ACT suffered a further loss in vote share by dropping from 0.7% to 0.5%.

The Opportunities Party, meanwhile, missed it by miles, polling just 2.21%, not even half the 5% threshold necessary for automatic representation (in New Zealand, parties can secure list seats with at least one electorate seat even if they did not poll 5% of the vote nationally). The extent of the two-party squeeze meant that no other minor party polled even half a percent, and every minor party which had contested the 2014 election lost in vote share terms. The collapse of the Conservative Party of New Zealand from nearly 4% to a pathetic 0.24% is the most noteworthy example; it had lost all credibility and influence following Colin Craig's departure. United Future, having lost its last influential figure to retirement, dropped to 0.07% and it is likely to dissolve within a year. The component parts of the failed Mana-Internet alliance polled a derisory 0.13% and 0.02% respectively, and Hone Harawira did not come close to recapturing the seat he had lost in 2014. The two newest parties to the race, the People's Party and the Outdoors Party, made no impact polling just 0.08% and 0.06% respectively.

In the 21 years New Zealand has had mixed-member proportional representation, this is the most two-party parliament New Zealand has seen. Between them, the Nationals and Labour now control 103 seats out of 120 (86%), although James Shaw and whoever succeeds Winston Peters as NZ First's parliamentary party leader will remain kingmakers in the next parliament. NZ First's traditionally more protectionist stance economically may potentially allow Jacinda Ardem to succeed Bill English as Prime Minister of New Zealand, but only if the Greens join such a coalition, which will not be a stable one by any means.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Analysis of by-elections from 21/09/17 and tribute to William Gladstone Stewart

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

Chesterfield BC, Holmebrook: Liberal Democrats 510 (50.0%,+22.1%), Labour 435 (42.6%, -8.8%), Conservative 62 (6.1%, -7.4%), Chesterfield Independent 14 (1.4%). Liberal Democrat gain from Labour.

Oadby & Wigston BC, Oadby Uplands: Liberal Democrats 435 (39.0%, +3.3%), Labour 384 (34.5%, +1.1%), Conservative 295 (26.5%, -4.4%). Liberal Democrat gain from Labour.

Waveney DC, Oulton Broad: Conservative 527 (50.2%, +11.5%), Labour 357 (34.0%, +4.8%), UKIP 112 (10.7%, -12.8%), Liberal Democrats 54 (5.1%).

Another quiet week for local by-elections, but a very good one for the Liberal Democrats, and a bad one for Labour on all fronts. The Liberal Democrats controlled Chesterfield Borough Council from 2003 to 2011, but after their crushing 2011 defeat they were knocked back further by Labour. Given that they only narrowly saved their deposit in the Chesterfield constituency earlier this year (their vote share dropped to just 5.4%), this by-election victory could not have come for them at a more necessary time. Their victory in Oadby Uplands is rather more surprising despite the fact that Oadby & Wigston Borough Council has been under Liberal Democrat control since 1991 (in fact, as many as three-quarters of the council seats on that council are represented by Liberal Democrats), because the strong ethnic diversity of the ward should have increased the chances of Labour holding what was their only seat in Oadby & Wigston. However, the Lib Dems were able to squeeze the Conservative vote enough to stop Labour in their tracks, and Labour contests few of the seats in Oadby & Wigston at election time anyway.

Although many traditional seaside resort towns are trending inexorably towards Labour, in old fishing ports like Lowestoft and Grimsby the reverse is occurring. The Waveney constituency, of which the town of Lowestoft comprises the majority (and Lowestoft was the name of the constituency until 1983), was the only strictly Conservative-Labour contest where the Labour vote actually fell in 2017, by 0.9%, resulting in Peter Aldous securing a 17.5% majority for the Conservatives in a seat that is not normally safe. This trend was repeated once again in Oulton Broad with the Conservative vote share increasing by more than twice as much as the Labour vote share, despite several previous contests in that ward having been rather close.

The original host of popular game show Fifteen To One (now hosted by Sandi Toksvig), William G(ladstone) Stewart, has died at the age of 82 (84 according to some accounts). As a child, I remember his professional, no-nonsense presenting of television's toughest quiz show, which nevertheless featured so many different contestants from all walks of life and experience (and it still does thanks to its revival in 2014). He also helped produce and direct some British sitcoms such as Love Thy Neighbour and Bless This House, and carried over his uber-professional style from there. He was a great credit to high-quality British television overall, and will be missed by many.

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.