Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Green lines for Brexit that we must have

'Don't mourn-organise!'-Joe Hill, Utah trade union leader.

It is happening-Theresa May formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the process by which Britain will officially cease to be a member of the European Union by 29 March 2019.  The negotiations therefore begin today. There is no point lamenting it; we must instead fight back to get the best deal out of Brexit.

I have said it before and I will say it again-everyone in the UK, no matter whom they are or where they live-must be given a voice in these negotiations. Brexit is not an excuse to turn Britain into a tax haven of any kind, especially when public opinion polls throughout the last two years have always been in favour of corporations, especially larger corporations and multinationals, being required to pay more tax and pay their fair share of tax. Nor is it an excuse for massive deregulation via the 'Great Repeal Bill' (see here for details: ) which if necessary must be subject to scrutiny and approval by Parliament at all times. It is neither reasonable nor justified to delegate any of these powers to the executive via so-called Henry VIII clauses.

These are the three fundamentally important things we must demand most during the completion of the Brexit negotiations:

1. Environmental protections. We are all dependent on our planet for our survival and our needs, simply based on the fact we are human beings. Damage to the environment also damages human health ultimately, air and water pollution being key examples.  Incidentally, leaving the EU can allow us to create stronger environmental initiatives than EU member states, as shown by Norway and Switzerland's plans last year.

2. Human rights protections. Universal human rights are essential in a modern society, and are not connected to any particular institution. We must maintain our membership of, and respect for, the European Convention on Human Rights; the only European nation not to be a member of it is Belarus. Not only do they allow us to maintain multiculturalism and respect for all people, but they also allow us to work together to solve common problems.

3. Workers' rights protections. Everyone deserves to be able to have enough to make a living and also make sure they are not overworked all the time and can live healthy lives.  . We must ultimately transition away from the current '9-to-5' model of work which is increasingly unsuitable in a world where more and more work can be completed online and where flexibility is increasingly required. Workers' rights, like holiday pay, sick pay, and pensions, must therefore be protected in this regard.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My analysis of by-election results from 23/3/17 and the City of London elections

Readers, the votes cast in this week's local by-elections this week were as follows:

Herefordshire UA, Leominster South: Green 318 (40.8%, +10.1%), It's Our County 143 (18.3%), Conservative 139 (17.8%, -8.7%), No Description 116 (14.9%), Liberal Democrats 64 (8.2%). Green gain from Conservative

West Somerset DC, Dunster & Timberscombe: Liberal Democrats 174 (49.7%), Conservative 115 (32.9%, -26.7%), Green 38 (10.9%, -29.6%), Labour 23 (6.6%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.

Blackburn with Darwen UA, Higher Croft**: Labour 445 (59.6%, -10.4%), UKIP 169 (22.6%), Conservative 133 (17.8%, -12.2%)

**This particular by-election result has been declared null and void, on the grounds that the victorious Labour candidate, Adam Holden, was actually disqualified from standing from election due to having paid employment with Growth Lancashire, which is owned by six authorities within Lancashire of which Blackburn with Darwen Council is one. He is therefore ineligible to stand for office under s.80(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 as long as he holds this position.

It is rather rare for there to be a second local by-election gain from the Green Party in only five weeks, but rural areas out in the West of England, and West Mercia (Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire) are proving fertile ground for Green politics, especially in places where Labour has never had any significant support (due to simply lacking the requisite voter base more than anything else) and where the Liberal Democrats are no longer in contention. A lack of endorsement from the It's Our County group (who made some pacts with the Green Party in the 2015 elections in Herefordshire) proved to be no hindrance to the Green Party, who have been well-organised and respected in Leominster for many years. The fact that the Conservatives finished third here is a sign of increasing resentment of the Conservatives in rural areas which many of them still treat as natural fiefdoms in the same way Labour view many inner-city areas as natural fiefdoms.

When the Liberal Democrats get organised in these areas, however, the task becomes much more difficult for the Green Party, as the Dunster & Timberscombe result showed. The Liberal Democrats came from nowhere, in what is their weakest area in Somerset (a county where the Liberal Democrats have traditionally had strong support overall), to manage a 38.2% swing from the Conservatives, which at the same time caused one of the heaviest hits to the Green Party's vote share in a local by-election. In reality this margin of victory was only by 59 votes, as the ward contains fewer than 2000 people. The Green Party were the only opponents to the Conservatives in these villages in 2015; this time the Liberal Democrats and Labour entered. In spite of this the Green Party still finished ahead of Labour, although this is generally par for the course almost anywhere in Somerset even when the Green Party do not win the seat in question.

In the midst of all this, the City of London Corporation, a sui generis authority which is the only remaining council in the UK to have a business franchise (which it has had for over 800 years), and the only remaining UK council to have aldermen (25, to be precise), held its full elections. Because businesses frequently nominate candidates in many of the wards without a significant resident population, large numbers of councillors being elected unopposed is generally a foregone conclusion. The City of London's council is traditionally non-partisan, but this City of London Corporation election resulted in a political group being elected for the very first time, since Labour managed to win 5 seats. This is partly due to the fact that the City of London absorbed a small area from Tower Hamlets approximately 20 years ago, which has made Labour a viable prospect in some areas of the City of London (Cripplegate and Portsoken in particular), where other political parties do not even field candidates there. Nevertheless, control remains in the hands of Independent councillors, who for the most part are determined to defend the City of London's ancient privileges and financial power.

We are now at this point only six weeks away from the next round of local elections in Britain (Scotland and Wales will be having council elections as well). In England, the main points of contention at present are how much the Conservatives can recover from 2013 when they lost many county council seats to UKIP, whether Labour declines in key battleground areas to the extent polls predict them to (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in particular), whether the Liberal Democrats can make any comeback in the South West after all, the impending disintegration of UKIP support in most counties, and whether the Greens can achieve their potential in rural areas whilst at the same time countering Labour's challenge in such cities as Cambridge, Norwich, and Oxford.

My revised proposals: Yorkshire & The Humber

I have been grappling with Yorkshire regarding the 2018 Boundary Review for days, given how strong the objections are to many of the Boundary Commission's initial proposals, and how many counter-proposals have been submitted. The ward sizes in West Yorkshire's metropolitan boroughs pose a serious problem in drawing up allowable and suitable constituencies; the target range is only 7,477 (71,030 to 78,507) yet many wards in Leeds on 2015 electorate numbers have electorates more than double that target range, and the wards of the other West Yorkshire metropolitan boroughs are very large, given that all of these councils hold elections by thirds and will continue to do so for a long time.

The strongest objections in particular concern moving Bradford wards into constituencies not centred on Bradford, moving Tong into any Leeds constituency given the poor connections of Tong ward, pairing Brighouse with Halifax even though there are no proper connections between those two towns, and merging Pudsey with western Leeds. I initially considered restoring the old constituencies of Skipton, Ripon, and Brighouse & Spenborough to deal with these problems and the uneven size and varying shape of the wards of the city of Leeds (since reviving Batley & Morley appears to work out nicely at first). However, I discovered this was not a practical solution, as reuniting all of the old Craven area (by taking Barnoldswick, Earby, and Sedbergh back from the North West, as well as taking in the Craven ward of Keighley) would not be in the best interests of surrounding constituencies, and residents of Brighouse have made it clear they wish to continue to be paired with Sowerby. There have been considerable objections to reviving Batley & Morley and recreating the 1918-1950 constituency of Spen Valley (which would have to take in Bradford wards; see above) and given that unnecessary change to existing constituencies should not occur, I concur with these objections and believe Batley & Spen should be kept intact.

The Pudsey situation can be resolved by taking the polling districts of Otley & Yeadon that comprise the town of Yeadon, which will more importantly bring it up to quota as well as reuniting the old districts. Pudsey has remained largely unchanged since 1950 and should retain its natural composition apart from the small change I have described above. Meanwhile, Leeds West merely needs to add a ward (same with Leeds East), and the area of Cookridge can remain together by expanding Leeds North West into the outer reaches of Bradford that were part of the pre-1983 Ripon constituency i.e. Ilkley and Wharfedale. The Headingley, Hyde Park and City areas can be combined (as they essentially have been in the most recent boundary review of Leeds City Council's wards) into a new version of Leeds Central, at the cost of reviving the awkward Morley & Leeds South constituency of 1983-1997 and creating splits in current wards (as opposed to future wards that will be used in Leeds from 2018 onwards).

It is also correct to state that Doncaster should not be split East and West, but rather North and Central as before, as Doncaster Central broadly covers Doncaster itself but Doncaster North covers outlying villages. In light of this, major modifications are needed to many of my South Yorkshire proposals, and many ward splits are needed to create coherent, acceptable constituencies, although my proposals for East Yorkshire can remain unaffected, and I believe that the BCE's proposals for North Yorkshire are sound enough, given that under this new plan it is not possible to avoid extending the current Selby & Ainsty constituency.

My revised proposals for Yorkshire & the Humber look like this:

Part 1 (West Yorkshire)

Part 2 (South Yorkshire)

Part 3 (North Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire)

Bradford West is abolished.
Barnsley East is abolished.
Sheffield Heeley is abolished.
Brigg & Goole is abolished.
Haltemprice & Howden is abolished.
Brighouse & Sowerby succeeds Calder Valley.
Bradford Central succeeds Bradford East.
Keighley & Bingley succeeds Keighley. Within Bingley ward it contains polling districts 2A, 2E, 2F, 2G, and 2J, making its actual electorate 75,370.
Shipley & Bradford North succeeds Shipley. Within Bingley ward it does not contain polling districts 2A, 2E, 2F, 2G or 2J, making its actual electorate 74,063.
Otley & Leeds North succeeds Leeds North West in practice. Within Otley & Yeadon ward it loses polling districts OYF-OYJ, making its real electorate 78,264 and the expanded Pudsey's real electorate 74,899.
Leeds Central actually succeeds Leeds North East in my revised proposals; the current Leeds Central constituency disappears.
Morley & Leeds South succeeds Morley & Outwood, recreating the 1983-1997 constituency of the same name. Within City & Hunslet ward it does not have polling districts CHA, CHC, CHD, or CHI (the area of which will be part of Little London & Woodhouse ward after local boundary changes in Leeds are affirmed for the 2018 elections onwards), making its actual electorate 76,438 and Leeds Central's new electorate 77,986.
My revised proposal of Colne Valley contains polling districts LD02, LD05 and LD06 of Lindley ward making its new electorate 71,232 and Huddersfield's new electorate 71,045.
Barnsley succeeds Barnsley Central.
Doncaster succeeds Doncaster Central. It loses polling district BA of Balby South ward to Don Valley, making its actual electorate
Elmsall Vale succeeds Doncaster North. Within Ackworth, North Elmsall & Upton ward it contains polling districts 01HH and 01HJ (comprising North Elmsall) making its actual electorate 72,734.
Pontefract succeeds Hemsworth in practice. Within Ackworth, North Elmsall & Upton ward it does not contain polling districts 01HH and 01HJ, making its actual electorate 76,884.
Normanton, Castleford & Outwood succeeds Normanton, Pontefract, & Castleford. Within Wakefield North it contains polling district 17WC, making its actual electorate 71,474 and Wakefield's actual electorate 73,919.
Brigg succeeds Cleethorpes in practice.
Grimsby & Cleethorpes succeeds Great Grimsby, keeping the town together by combining it with Cleethorpes, attached to it in the same way Hove is attached to Brighton.
My revised proposal of Sheffield Hallam contains polling district ZA of Walkley ward making its real electorate 71,153.
Penistone succeeds Penistone & Stocksbridge in practice.
Sheffield Gleadless succeeds Sheffield South East. It does not contain polling districts UE, UF, and UG from Richmond ward, making its actual electorate 72,194 and the new Sheffield Brightside's actual electorate 73,690
Sheffield Hillsborough succeeds Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough in practice. Within Walkley ward it contains polling districts ZE and ZJ, making its actual electorate 72,772. The redrawn Sheffield Central's electorate is therefore 77,282.
Batley & Spen, Dewsbury, Elmet & Rothwell, and Rother Valley are all unchanged.
Sheffield Brightside is a new seat.
Goole & Howden is a new seat.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

My revised proposals: Dorset

Within the second consultation on the 2018 Boundary Review, which ends in five days' time (so do not delay when commenting on the BCE's website!) here have been a considerable number of objections to the drawing of constituencies in the county of Dorset, especially the South East Dorset conurbation covering the authorities of Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch; with Ferndown from East Dorset also really part of the same conurbation now.

There have in particular been many arguments in favour of broadly keeping the two Bournemouth constituencies (apart from adding Branksome West to Bournemouth West to pair it with the Branksome East and Alderney wards of Poole already in the current constituency of Bournemouth West) intact, such as the locations of student accommodation, the justified argument that Kinson is an integral part of Bournemouth and not a suburb of it, and that Christchurch has strongly different needs from Bournemouth despite being part of the same conurbation as Bournemouth and Poole. All of these are justified and I have taken them into consideration within my revised proposals. Of the wards in the current Christchurch constituency, the St Leonards ward near Ringwood is not truly part of the conurbation and thus can be safely removed from this constituency, with the remainder wrapping around to take in the 'Poole North' part of the current Mid Dorset & Poole North, leaving simply Mid Dorset to absorb nearly half of the current North Dorset.

A resident near the constituency of South Dorset objected to the fact that South Dorset did not include the West Dorset ward of Chickerell & Chesil Bank, and believed that Weymouth & Portland BC should be extended to include it. Extending local council boundaries is of course outside the remit of this review, but his point about Chickerell having been effectively merged into Weymouth is still valid. Therefore, his wish can be satisfied by adding Chickerell & Chesil Bank ward to South Dorset, which also represents minimal change for South Dorset. West Dorset can compensate by taking in the Winterborne area of the current North Dorset constituency and Bere Regis from Mid Dorset & North Poole, which have good enough road links. My version of the proposed cross-county constituency of Warminster & Shaftesbury (and consequently all of the Wiltshire proposals entirely in Wiltshire) is unaffected by any of these changes.

My revised proposals for Dorset for the 2018 boundary review look like this:

North Dorset is abolished.
Mid Dorset succeeds Mid Dorset & North Poole.
Warminster & Shaftesbury succeeds South West Wiltshire as it does in the original proposals.
Bournemouth East is unchanged; however, West Dorset is not.

With only five days remaining until the second consultation ends, I will sadly not have time to publish on this blog revised proposals for every area of Britain, but will publish those where I feel deviation from the original proposals by the Boundary Commission, and also my own proposals from the first consultation, is most essential.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

On the French Presidential election of 2017 and my tribute to Martin McGuinness

The 11 candidates who have made it onto the first round ballot in the French Presidential election of 2017 are:

Nathalie Arthaud (Workers' Struggle/LO)
Francois Asselineau (Popular Republican Union/UPR)
Jacques Cheminade (Solidarity & Progress/S&P)

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (France Arise/DLF)
Francois Fillon (The Republicans/LR)
Benoit Hamon (Socialist Party/PS)
Jean Lasselle (Independent)
Marine Le Pen (Front National/FN)
Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!/EM)
Jean-Luc Melenchon (Unsubmissive France/FI)
Phillippe Potou (New Anticapitalist Party/NPA)

How well are they likely to perform, you ask?

It is already clear that whilst five candidates (M. Fillon, M. Hamon, Mme. Le Pen, M. Macron, et M. Melenchon) are polling above 10% and have consistently been doing so, only three of these 11 candidates have a realistic chance of becoming the next French President: economic liberal Francois Fillon, extreme, anti-immigrant, anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen, and new moderate Emmanuel Macron, since only those three are likely to make the second round (and of course, only two candidates can enter the second round, assuming no candidate in round one manages 50% of the vote).

I predict that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will make it to the second round. Even though Marine Le Pen is the most disliked of the known candidates, her hardline disgruntled nationalist and working-class base is staying with her and making sure she consistently polls 22-27% in opinion polls (which incidentally is not much better than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who managed 16.86% in 2002 but was heavily defeated in round two by Jacques Chirac), or her own performance as FN candidate in 2012, which was 17.9% and third place. The same cannot be said for Francois Fillon, who is being investigated for embezzlement and misuse of public funds over the Penelopegate scandal, where it has been revealed that his wife Penelope received a salary for being a parliamentary assistant even though she did not do any real work; many middle-class conservatives and traditional moderates are deserting him as a result. Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is now being favoured as the candidate to stop Le Pen in the next round, since even his novel, fresh ideas cannot push his opinion poll rating to greater than 26%, partly because of his relative youth (at 39 he is the youngest candidate in the race), his pro-Europeanism (unpopular particularly in the northern areas of France) and unfamiliarity with the En Marche movement amongst tribal voters (personal votes can only take one so far in the French Presidential election).

Benoit Hamon, the PS candidate being endorsed by EELV candidate Yannick Jadot (mostly for tactical reasons; Hamon is no more green than Jeremy Corbyn i.e. not very) is faring much better than Francois Hollande would have been had he decided to run again for President (which he did not) but unlike Corbyn he has to contend with a more hardline socialist rival, namely Jean-Luc Melenchon. Both are polling above 10% but crucially neither are hitting 20% at any time, meaning they have only an outside chance of making round two. The PS brand, more significantly has been severely damaged by the ineptitude of Francois Hollande and a failure of France to improve its fortunes under his tenure or that of Manuel Valls; unemployment still exceeds 10%.

Out of the other six candidates, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan has a small amount of support from Eurosceptics who will not support Le Pen's toxic, 'alt-right' and racist platform but who are tired of the EU's failure to achieve fundamental reform and who are against free trade agreements like CETA and the aborted TTIP. Jean Lassalle will likely only achieve 1-2% and this will mostly come from MoDem voters not willing to support Macron for one reason or another; Francois Bayrou initially planned to run but has now endorsed Macron (MoDem is the closest French equivalent to the Liberal Democrats). Nathalie Arthaud and Phillippe Potou are just dividing up the communist and hardline Marxist vote that is not already supporting Melenchon, and neither is likely to achieve more than 2-3%; the Judean People's Front/People's Front of Judea analogy is an international phenomenon for hardline socialists. Souverainiste Francois Assilineau, known mostly for conspiracy theories, will poll no better than Arthaud or Potou. However, I predict that Jacques Cheminade will be the one to finish last, as candidates of LaRouche movements (the French version is called Solidarity & Progress) across the world invariably do; the LaRouche movement is in political terms an incoherent, incomprehensible joke, even more so than the now defunct Natural Law movement.

On another note, former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness died earlier today, aged 66. Despite the controversy that hung over him his entire political career due to having had IRA membership (albeit only for some years), he will however be remembered for his crucial role in the peacemaking Good Friday agreement of 1998, and his decision to resign as Deputy First Minister over the Renewable Heat Initiative Scandal earlier this year.

Friday, 17 March 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 16/3/17

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

Blackpool UA, Warwick: Conservative 728 (54.8%, +17.5%), Labour 468 (35.2%, +6.3%), UKIP 75 (5.6%, -13.4%), Liberal Democrats 57 (4.3%, -2.8%).

Breckland DC, Saham Toney: Conservative 305 (48.1%, -2.7%), Liberal Democrats 105 (15.1%), Independent 104 (14.9%), UKIP 80 (11.5%, -20.1%), Labour 72 (10.3%).

Newcastle-upon-Tyne MBC, South Heaton: Labour 768 (46.8%, -11.8%) Green 444 (27.1%, +1.7%), Liberal Democrats 260 (15.9%, +11.5%), UKIP 88 (5.4%, -1.5%) Conservative 80 (4.9%, +0.2%). All changes are since May 2016.

South Ribble DC, Walton le Dale East: Conservative 359 (49.4%, -5.1%), Labour 262 (36.0%, -9.4%), Liberal Democrats 106 (14.6%).

There may only have been four British local by-elections this week, but together they can paint a good picture of what is happening politically within Britain between the five largest parties. In rural areas which are normally solidly Conservative, UKIP is fast ceasing to be a viable protest vote in any fashion and the Liberal Democrats, Greens, and Independents (depending on the rural area in question) are moving in. It was therefore unfortunate that the Green Party did not stand in the Saham Toney by-election, because there are many environmentally-inclined rural voters out there, as the Greens show in Stroud, Malvern Hills, Herefordshire etc. on a regular basis. Good news for the Green Party did come in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with their well-known candidate Andrew Gray managing to make headway against Labour even though he still did not win. The Liberal Democrats hit the Labour vote hard but also inadvertently obstructed the Greens in their efforts. Meanwhile, Labour are once again slipping back in key small-town marginal seats, as shown by them falling back in Walton le Dale East with the Lib Dems' intervention doing more damage to Labour than to the Conservatives (the proportion of vote share lost, as well as actual vote share decrease, must be accounted for). UKIP is also collapsing in coastal towns and cities where it has previously had surprisingly good results, usually to the benefit of the Conservatives more than Labour. This will prove in future a particularly critical factor not only in Blackpool, but also Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Southampton along the south coast; all three of those cities are marginal between Labour and the Conservatives.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

On the Dutch general election of 2017

The Dutch general election of 2017 finally concluded earlier today when the last of the Netherlands' 388 municipalities (which genuinely cover areas as local as possible and are not drawn for administrative convenience, unlike many principal authorities in England) finished counting the votes.

This map shows which party topped the poll by municipality (blue=VVD, dark green=CDA, light green=GL, red=SP, turquoise=PVV, light blue=CU, orange=SGP).

Like so many people, I am pleased with GroenLinks' record result, although unfortunately they could only finish in sixth place in the end, just behind the Socialist Party (SP), rather than the third place finish many Dutch polls anticipated and in spite of the increased attention their lijsttrekker (list topper, or leader), Jesse 'Jessiah' Klaver was getting in the run-up to the election. They managed 8.9% and 14 seats (and thus got 3 1/2 times their 2012 seat total, not quadruple as some online commentators misleadingly claimed before the counting had actually finished), which is their best ever total but still behind key rivals who they hoped to beat, like the Democrats66 (traditional liberals), and the Socialist Party (traditional socialist). Why did this happen?

The high level of competition between those aiming for the collapsing PvdA (Dutch Labour Party, social-democratic) vote, especially in university cities and the capital, Amsterdam, was a key cause, even though student voter turnout in some prestigious and specialist Dutch universities reached approximately 100%, or at least 90%. GroenLinks topped the poll in only two municipalities, which included Amsterdam (GL polled 19.6%) and the Netherlands' oldest city, Nijmegen (GL polled even better than in Amsterdam with 20.1%). D66, however (which strongly competes with GL for the liberal, free-thinking and cosmopolitan vote) beat them to pole position in the cities of Groningen, Utrecht, and Leiden (all host to prestigious universities as well; GL's best performance was in Utrecht with 20.2%). They did however win over many would be Socialist Party voters who saw GroenLinks as more progressive and more in tune with the young generation, even in more working-class Groningen municipalities like Oldlambt and Menterwolde, and also in northern Limburg. The rise of PvdD (the Dutch animal rights party), which managed 5 seats, also its best ever total, took some more moderate environmentally-minded voters; PvdD leader Marianne Thieme is a professed Seventh-Day Adventist which is a boon to environmentally-minded Christians outside the major cities (Jesse Klaver did once lead the Christian Federation of Trade Unions, CNV, but is nowhere near as evangelical in religious terms)

The junior coalition partners in the last government, PvdA, were undoubtedly the biggest losers in this election, and were set to be almost from the moment they joined forces with the liberal-conservative VVD ('Orange Book' liberals similar to Germany's FDP) in the previous government, which to its partial credit managed a full term without a snap election when none of the cabinets of 2002-12 did (including the first of Mark Rutte's cabinets and all of former PM Jan Peter Balkende's cabinets). PvdA failed to come first, or even second, in a single municipality and as a punishment for their collusion with the centre-right VVD, they dropped from 38 seats to a derisory 9, and seventh place to boot behind GroenLinks. Their vote collapsed most spectacularly in their working-class strongholds in the north and in the 'Randstad' metropolitan region, the less prosperous province of Limburg where the radical right Party for Freedom (PVV) made its strongest surges, especially at the southern tip close to the industrial Ruhr region of Germany, and in rural, more Christian areas they had an even worse time. Their collapse is as reminiscent of the Labour Party in Ireland last year (who fell from 37 seats to 7 in 2016), and effectively finishes them as a major force in the Dutch political scene. The governing VVD lost only 8 seats, now giving them 33, but still finished first despite only polling 21.2%, the second-lowest ever in the Netherlands for a party that topped the poll nationally (they also set the record for lowest ever 1st place finish in 2010, where they managed 20.5%).

Contrary to popular belief, the Netherlands did not get be-Wildered as some feared. Geert Wilders, despite having pushed PVV to first place in some polls, in the end only managed to increase PVV's vote share by 3%, which gave them only 20 seats, just 5 more than in 2012. This is not even PVV's best result, since in 2010 they managed 24 seats. Not only did Geert Wilders bungle his campaign a la Paul,Nuttall in Stoke on Trent Central, but also the increased speculation about whether PVV could obstruct attempts to form a new government (since no other political party in the Netherlands will form a coalition with them or help Geert Wilders become PM) mobilised the progressive and moderate opposition across the Dutch political spectrum more than ever before-the CDA and VVD in the villages and towns, and D66 and GL in the cosmopolitan cities. PVV's vote was also split by a new party, Forum for Democracy, which with its advocacy of direct democracy, an EU membership referendum and national conservative stance is giving the Dutch an equivalent of the Swiss People's Party (still very popular in Switzerland). FvD managed only 1.8% and 2 seats but this exceeded even their expectations, given that they were only formed last year.

Despite high hopes, D66 only managed fourth place, just 0.3% behind the Christian Democratic Appeal, the traditional moderates of Dutch politics, and equal in seat totals (both managed 19 seats). However, the CDA's performance is merely a recovery of unsatisfied VVD voters rather than a resurgence, and like Fianna Fail in Ireland, is unlikely ever to have the same dominance or impact in Dutch politics for the foreseeable future. Many of their older voters have turned to the pensioners' interests party, 50PLUS, which doubled its seat total to 4 this year.

The Socialist Party is experiencing a similar long-term problem to that of the CDA. Due to the fact that 13 parties will now be represented in the Dutch House of Representatives instead of 11, they lost 1 seat despite their vote share only dropping by 0.4%. They have managed to gain many middling and older PvdA voters in Groningen province (but not the city of Groningen itself where their better-educated base was hit hard by GroenLinks), but are fading fast in Limburg, for even in Gennep, Boxmeer and Bergen, the three municipalities in that province where they topped the poll, their vote share decreased not insignificantly. They are also failing to capture many younger voters, partly due to their Eurosceptic stance and more traditional left-wing economic stances, and are not seen as progressive or internationalist as GL. Even where the contests were only between VVD/CDA/PVV, the Socialists made no overall progress from PvdA's collapse, which almost universally in those areas went to GL or PVV depending on the relative prosperity of the area.

As predicted, the Christian Union (Orthodox Protestants) and the Reformed Political Party (SGP, hardline Calvinists) stayed static in terms of vote share and seat totals (5 and 3) but remained strong in the Dutch 'Bible belt'; even though the CDA's conservative platform is not specifically orientated towards one branch of Christianity over another, it is much more attractive to Catholic voters in practice. The newest party to enter the Dutch House of Representatives is Turkish and Moroccan minority interests' party DENK (Dutch for 'think' and Turkish for 'equality'), which gained 2.0% and the vote and 3 seats. There is no 'electoral threshold' in the Netherlands; a party only needs to win enough votes for 1 full seat (0.67% of the vote) to qualify for representation. The controversy over attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to influence the Netherlands, which resulted in all Dutch ambassadors to Turkey being expelled from that country in response, did not cause DENK the harm it could have done in spite of the international negative publicity it received, and (unverified) rumours that DENK is merely a 'front' for Erdogan.

Turnout was 80.4%, which is par for the course in Dutch politics; in spite of proportional representation and a wide spectrum of political parties the turnout/abstention rate remains largely the same election after election. This Dutch parliament is the most politically colourful ever, with 13 different parties being represented, and with at least 2 seats. In the only comparable example, that of 1982, 12 different parties achieved representation but 3 of them only achieved 1 seat apiece, and this was before the component parties of GroenLinks and the Christian Union had merged (the mergers happened in 1989 and 2000 respectively). This is also the first time a party dedicated to minority rights has been formally represented in the Netherlands, meaning the Dutch political spectrum is wider than ever, particularly with 1.5% of the votes cast going to parties that did not win any seats.

Cabinet formation will be interesting, to say the least. It has been rightly claimed that sticking to principles and values helped GL achieve their best ever result in this election. If this maxim is to remain true, however, then Jesse Klaver and GL should avoid joining any coalition headed by Mark Rutte (almost certain to remain Dutch Prime Minister) at all costs.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Things Britain should do to soften the Brexit blow

Earlier today, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill passed the final House of Lords stage, meaning it will soon achieve Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament in time for Prime Minister Theresa May to start Brexit negotiations at the end of this month.

Unfortunately, neither of the amendments suggested by the House of Lords will be included, as they were rejected 335-287 and 331-286 respectively, meaning the rights of EU citizens in the UK will be uncertain once Britain formally leaves the EU and Parliament will not be able to block the final deal.

However, during the negotiations, there is still time to make sure that Britain's exit from the EU will not be as socio-economically painful or damaging as some believe-and here is how:

1. Make sure Britain still has access to the Single Market-and can advocate reform of international trade. It is important we avoid having to sign up to World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs which will severely harm Britain's chances of investing in green innovation and protection of native food, and the same will happen in any proposed trade deal with the USA. Bilateral investments only work out well for multinational corporations anyway-not any of the nations entering them.

2. Keep environmental protections Britain has gained from EU membership, whilst at the same time extricating themselves from environmentally harmful drawbacks of EU membership. The European Union is not that green in reality-even though Britain's membership of it has improved somewhat its otherwise appalling environmental record (compared to other European nations), the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy have had harmful environmental impacts, especially on Britain. It will be important to make sure these do not stay in British law-but ensure other environmental protections do, so that they can be improved. Norway and Switzerland have already shown the wonders of environmentalist innovation outside the EU.

3. Guarantee the rights of EU citizens via the negotiations regardless. Although the 'Article 50 Bill' does not enshrine this, this can be enshrined by other legislation during the negotiation process, and given the contributions European citizens have made to Britain in so many ways, and the fact that their human rights are just universal as everyone else's, it should, especially when they were not given a vote in the EU membership referendum.

4. Ensure everyone's voice is heard at the negotiating table-not merely those of Cabinet ministers or European Commission representatives. The negotiations' final result will impact everyone in Britain, irrespective of characteristics or wealth, to one extent or another, and therefore must be inclusive of everyone in Britain. All negotiations must be subject to fair public scrutiny and give the public a chance to input so that any Brexit deal that emerges is as fair as possible.

5. Find a way to maintain freedom of movement for the British people. Freedom of movement is more than about being able to work within Europe, but also about ease of travelling abroad to Europe for leisure purposes or to visit family and friends on the continent. Thus, it needs to be preserved as much as possible even if Brexit happens.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

My analysis of the Western Australia state election of 2017

The first significant Antipodean election of the year, the state election in Western Australia, has just concluded.

The result proved to be a heavy blow for the Liberal/National Coalition (there is no real difference between these two parties in practice apart from the somewhat more pro-agrarian bias of the Nationals and the type of divisions the two parties represent in Australia at all levels), who have lost more than half of their 2013 seat total, going down from 38 seats to a total of just 18. Many of these seats were lost on swings of more than 10% from Liberal to Labor, normally a very difficult feat in Australian elections (and for that matter, British elections of regional and parliamentary level, but not Canadian elections) indeed barring special circumstances.

This ends the Premiership of the Liberals' Colin Barnett, who was first elected in 2008, and even before that he was no stranger to controversy (for example, he sponsored a bill to raise the age of consent for homosexuals from 16 to 18 back in 2004, and whilst premier he supported legislation that would have allowed the police to search and seize property without reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed ). It is frequently the case that the longer a government or coalition stays in office, the bigger the scale of defeat when it does happen (especially when modern democratic politics is more multi-party than ever), and this election proved to be no exception to this iron law of psephology. A primary reason for the Liberals' defeat to Labor was its increasingly hard line on social issues, as well as the controversial Roe 8 highway that would have decimated wetlands near Perth. Labor promised to cancel the Roe 8 project completely if they won.

No other party, nor any independent candidate, managed to win a Lower House seat in this Western Australian election. The WA Greens failed to come close to winning Fremantle (which they briefly held under Adele Carles after a 2009 by-election before she left the party; she stood as an Independent and ruined the Greens' chances of holding it in 2013); despite the fact Adele was not making another attempt at the division, the Greens' first preference vote actually decreased by 0.9% from 2013. It collapsed meanwhile in Kimberley, which they had turned into a 3-way marginal in 2013, partly because their 2013 candidate, Chris Maher, was not running this time and due to a tactical squeeze by Labor supporters. One Nation, the most right-wing and racist party in Australia, meanwhile, failed to come within striking distance in any division, and Pauline Hanson's preference deal with the Liberals cost them dearly, with two candidates opposed to the deal being disendorsed during the campaign. Of minor parties and independents, only the Australian Christians and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party achieved respectable results (>5%) in more than one division, and of the Independents, the only ones to achieve more than 5% of the vote were Robert Johnson, a former Liberal MLA who resigned from the Liberal Party last year and ran as an Independent this year in the Hillarys division which he had represented as a Liberal, Independent councillor Matt Whitfield in the new division of Baldivis (out of all the non-Liberal/National, non-Labor candidates, he came closest to winning a Western Australia Lower House seat this time) Independent councillor Dave Schumacher in Dawesville (he nearly doubled his 2013 first preference vote share there), Roe 8 development supporter Steve Portelli in the division of Cockburn, and pro-assisted dying candidate Alida Lancee in the division of Cottesloe, which remains the safest Liberal division in Western Australia's Lower House and is represented by Colin Barnett himself. The Flux Party and Micro Business Party, meanwhile, failed to make any real impact at all in spite of Flux's innovative ideas for (electronic and online) democracy and voting in particular. The Julie Matheson for WA list, nothing more than a vanity project for former Australian Greens candidate Julie Matheson, bombed; Julie herself achieved a derisory 0.65% of the 1st preference vote in the North Metropolitan Region for the Legislative Council.

Meanwhile in the Upper House, officially the Legislative Council, the Liberal/National coalition lost control, being reduced to 14 seats from 21, equal to that achieved by Labor. The Australian Liberal Democrats (a libertarian party in practice) won a seat there despite having little presence in the campaign. The Greens increased their LC total from 2 to 3, One Nation won 2 which was considerably below polling expectations, and the SFFP retained their 2 LC seats. The fact that Western Australia's Legislative Council is divided into regions with six seats each limited the potential for minor parties to enter, even though minor parties have been increasingly successful in gaining Upper House seats in Australia from low primary votes.

Friday, 10 March 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 9/3/17

The results of this week's local by-elections were as follows:

Broxbourne BC, Waltham Cross: Conservative 650 (41.0%, -3.5%), Labour 646 (40.8%, -14.8%), UKIP 200 (12.6%), Liberal Democrats 89 (5.6%). Conservative gain from Labour; all changes are since May 2016.

Derby UA, Derwent: Conservative 789 (37.1%, +28.1%), Labour 611 (28.7%, -2.4%), UKIP 537 (25.2%, -7.2%), Liberal Democrats 192 (9.0%, -15.4%). Conservative gain from UKIP; all changes are since May 2014.

East Hertfordshire DC, Hertford Castle: Conservative 593 (49.0%, +8.8%), Labour 207 (17.1%, -2.4%), Liberal Democrats 188 (15.5%), Green 157 (13.0%, -5.1%), UKIP 65 (5.4%).

Harrow LBC, Roxbourne: Labour 1,554 (62.8%, +13.8%), Conservative 533 (21.5%, -0.5%), Liberal Democrats 240 (9.7%, +0.7%), UKIP 148 (6.0%).

Rutland UA, Exton: Conservative 238 (59.5%, +6.5%), Liberal Democrats 123 (30.8%, +11.6%), UKIP 39 (9.8%, -5.0%).

Stratford-on-Avon DC, Red Horse: Conservative 476 (53.4%, -9.0%), Liberal Democrats 266 (29.8%, +20.3%), UKIP 92 (10.3%, -4.8%), Green 58 (6.5%).

West Oxfordshire DC, Hailey, Minster Lovell & Leafield: Liberal Democrats 567 (46.7%, +34.0%), Conservative 504 (41.5%, +3.8%), Labour 71 (5.8%, -4.5%), Green 38 (3.1%, -2.8%), UKIP 35 (2.9%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative; all changes are since May 2016.

I actively assisted in the Hertford Castle by-election and helped make sure it was called this early in the first place (for a local government by-election to be called, two electors in the principal authority must write to the acting returning officer first, who will then set a date; unlike in Ireland and Canada the UK has no time limits for by-elections from the date the vacancy occurs). The result can be explained by the fact that the victorious Conservative, Linda Radford, is currently Mayor of Hertford, the widow of a former Conservative councillor, and therefore well-known in Hertford; despite the fact that Hertford Castle is normally Conservative Mark Prisk (Conservative MP for Hertford & Stortford, in which this ward lies) went out to actively campaign, partly because the last time Hertford Castle had a by-election an Independent, Jim Thornton, won the seat from the Conservatives. He lost it in 2015, and the fact he did not stand in this by-election indirectly helped the Conservatives. Hertford has a surprisingly considerable amount of Green Party support for a commuter town and traditional county town, and the fact our vote share held up well in spite of the Liberal Democrats pushing us into fourth (when they did not even stand in this ward in 2015) reflects this and the hard work of our candidate, Tony Tarrega.

Meanwhile, Labour's loss of the Waltham Cross by-election, and in the only reliably Labour area of otherwise ultra-Conservative Broxbourne Borough Council (even in the 1990s it remained under majority Conservative control), is yet another example on how Labour is losing its grip on many of its more traditional voters (reflected in their loss of the Copeland constituency a fortnight ago), and the same applies for its failure (in addition to the unpopularity of Derby City Council at present) to recapture Derwent ward in Derby despite UKIP's woes. The announcement of an increase in NI contributions from the self-employed two days ago turned out to only have a minor effect on the by-election results. The Liberal Democrats' gain from the Conservatives in West Oxfordshire is partly down to the fact that a strong Independent challenge there in 2016 opened the floodgates for the Lib Dems to make their own challenge, especially given their strong performance in the Witney by-election last year (the constituency of Witney is coterminous with West Oxfordshire District Council), and even in the safer rural wards the Liberal Democrats are reasserting their challenge to the Conservatives again, particularly when Labour is often absent. Labour's only good result came in Harrow, where they were able to recover most of the vote that they had lost to the Independent Labour group (a splinter group of Labour councillors in Harrow) back in 2014; this Independent Labour group did not stand in the Roxbourne by-election.

UPDATE: I finally got news of the full Roxbourne result in Harrow, 20 minutes after I originally posted this.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

On the Spring 2017 budget

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond (Conservative MP for Runnymede & Weybridge) today announced the first quarterly budget of 2017. As with all previous Conservative budgets, it is only good for big business and bad for everyone else. Here are the five most glaring fundamental faults with it.

1. Its lack of respect for women and women's issues.

Today is also International Women's Day and it has been reported that the budget will commit £20 million to support the campaign against violence perpetrated on women and girls, £5 million to next year celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote in Britain, and £5 million to support people returning to work after a career break (e.g. mothers who took time off work to raise children; decent childcare is often unaffordable for many women in work). This is not enough by any standards, especially when the present government has been responsible for closing many women's refuges and cutting help to vital services that can help women in danger from domestic violence and abuse (without any promise of reopening those centres in said budget), and has failed to help fund affordable childcare for women wanting to return to work; Nordic countries have much better support of this type by comparison, as well as a more child-centred and child-friendly education system.

2. It will hurt small businesses and the self-employed whilst letting large corporations off the hook.

This budget features yet another decrease in corporation tax-it will go down from 20% to 19% this year and drop to 17% by 2020 when the current parliament ends. Meanwhile, contrary to a promise made by the Conservatives themselves before the last general election, self-employed people will see a rise in their national insurance contributions (along with the abolition of lower-rate Class 2 NI for small enterprises trying to grow), and the tax-free dividend for directors of small businesses will be sharply cut from £5,000 to £2,000. There will be further undue pressure on small-medium enterprises (SMEs) by being required to report quarterly from now on instead of annually, even though tax and profits are calculated annually for common sense reasons. If there is a substantial economic downturn after Brexit (and there likely will be), small businesses and the hundreds of thousands of sole traders (market sellers, independent contractors etc.) will prove to be a vital lifeline for Britain to get back on track, so it is larger corporations that have been squeezing them out that should be taxed more heavily. More money can be obtained by raising taxes on larger businesses anyway.

3. It fails to commit to tackling climate change or achieving environmental goals of any type.

In fact, by reclassifying solar panels on schools and other public buildings as a taxable asset and removing their exemption, at a time when energy costs are rising and public services of all kinds are under increasing financial pressure (factoring in the fact freezes on public pay rises and benefits will remain in force), it will harm efforts to move towards a greener economy. The same applies with further freezes on petrol and diesel duty even though all like all fossil fuels they are environmentally unsustainable, responsible for tens of thousands of air pollution-related deaths, and will not be viable much longer. Instead, industries heavily responsible for climate change (like the aviation industry) should be stripped of existing tax breaks and tax exemptions should be introduced for demonstrably green industries and for green energy generators (not just solar panels but also miniature wind turbines and offshore generators using hydroelectric energy).

4. It will seriously harm disabled people and people who have been suffering from psychological distress.

What the media has failed to mention, in spite of a DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) protest that took place in London yesterday (and which was widely attended), alongside this budget is that severe psychological distress will no longer qualify for the mobility component of PIP, and that other cuts and freezes within this budget will hurt disabled people and people with mental health problems disproportionately (the unemployment rate for disabled people is 50%).

5. Important benefits and public sector pay is being frozen even though the British economy is growing-not contracting.

Now that the British economy is growing, all benefits should be increasing in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) but they are being frozen yet again with the usual exemption of maternity pay, state pensions, and disability benefits (which have already been hit hard by the DWP). This is at a time when housing costs are rising, the benefit cap is coming into force which hurts families considerably (especially when one or both parents are out of work due to disability and single-parent families), and when family-based tax credits are decreasing or disappearing. The British economy is growing so none of this should be happening-it is projected to experience a growth rate of >1% over the next few years, even with the current uncertainty over Brexit. I consider it a great shame that within Europe, Britain is the only growing economy where ordinary people's pay and benefits are still decreasing and still going to decrease. Any concessions made in this budget are far from sufficient to counteract the further pain it will cause for ordinary people like myself.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

On the second 2018 Boundary Review consultation and revised proposals for North London

The second consultation over the 2018 Boundary Review, where comments can be viewed, reviewed, and replied to regarding the Boundary Commission's initial proposals, opened on Tuesday 28th February. It is important that you respond to this consultation and make sure that gerrymandering does not occur; note that if you disagree with an initial proposal you need to submit a counter-proposal that you believe is better, otherwise the Boundary Commission will just stick with its initial proposal for that area.

To view the comments that have already been submitted, and make further comments on this review, please visit the Boundary Commission's website via This consultation ends on 27 March 2017, so if you have something to say about this review and if your community is being moved to a new constituency, do not delay.

As expected, the Greater London area has so far had the most comments on the initial proposals, especially in North and Central London. There is a strong desire in favour of the Kensington & Chelsea proposed constituency (basically, the entire Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea in one seat) given the community ties and clear natural boundaries of this seat and the borough itself, a strong desire to save Enfield Southgate from being broken up and distributed among other constituencies, objections to Finchley being linked with Southgate due to poor transport links (the North Circular Road is the only usable one and it teems with traffic most of the time), controversy over whether Hampstead should remain linked with Kilburn or not (with many pointing out that the Finchley wards are not as well connected to Hampstead as they appear on a map!), that Belmont, Canons, and Stanmore wards need to remain in the same Harrow constituency irrespective of how Harrow's two constituencies are expanded, and that Wimbledon and Mitcham & Morden constituencies should not be split it any way.

My own personal proposals for Greater London already solve the last two problems by simply adding Roehampton to Wimbledon and adding the southernmost part of Tooting to Mitcham & Morden. The others are more difficult-because of the tight parameters this review must work with, for some community ties to be kept, others will inevitably end up being broken elsewhere. A careful balance must be struck when redrawing the boundaries. Due to the limits of where Westminster's constituencies can expand (both are more than 12,000 electors below the legal minimum in this review) it will be necessary to make substantial changes to most North London constituencies (South London is not affected by a local desire to keep Kensington & Chelsea together as one constituency).

After much consideration, I agree with the fact that: the Kensington & Chelsea constituency should be approved, that Enfield Southgate should be expanded rather than destroyed as a constituency, that Finchley & Golders Green should just be expanded also, that the Barnet-Enfield border should not be crossed, that whilst the electorates of surrounding constituencies make keeping Hampstead & Kilburn intact impracticable, it is possible to avoid combining Hampstead with Golders Green, and that if Tottenham is split between constituencies (as some have proposed  and as in fact was proposed in the aborted 2013 review) it is possible to minimise disruption to Islington's constituencies, Enfield's constituencies, and give Hackney's constituencies better linkage.

My revised proposals for North London, Central London, and West London therefore look like this:

The changes from my original proposals for East London, North London, Central London, and West London are as follows:

Holborn & St Pancras is abolished.
City of London & Westminster South succeeds Cities of London & Westminster.
Camden Town & Westminster North succeeds Westminster North, and is similar to the 'Camden Town & Regent's Park' proposal of the aborted 2013 review.
Hampstead & Highgate succeeds Hampstead & Kilburn and recreates the former constituency. Within Kentish Town ward it contains polling district JA (north of the London Underground line in the ward), making its actual electorate 76,500 and Camden Town & Westminster North's actual electorate 78,415.
Kensington & Chelsea succeeds Kensington.
Islington South & Holborn succeeds Islington South & Finsbury.
Ealing East & Shepherd's Bush succeeds Ealing Central & Acton in practice and is similar to the 1997-2010 constituency of Ealing Acton & Shepherd's Bush.
Greenford & Ealing West succeeds Ealing North. Within the Ealing Broadway ward it does not contain polling districts HAA, HBA, and HES (which are east of Southfield Road), making its actual electorate 77,819 and Ealing East & Shepherd Bush's actual electorate 75,698.
Uxbridge & Northolt succeeds Uxbridge & South Ruislip; it still contains South Ruislip but in the east of the new constituency, Northolt is a stronger focal point.
Harrow-on-the-Hill succeeds Harrow West.
Kenton & Stanmore succeeds Harrow East. Within the Harrow Weald ward it does not contain polling district EGB (southwest of Uxbridge Road) making its actual electorate 77,504 and Harrow-on-the-Hill's real electorate 78,050.
Hendon & Neaseden succeeds Hendon, taking in the northeastern part of the borough of Brent.
Edmonton & Tottenham Hale succeeds Edmonton and is similar to the constituency of the same name that was proposed in the aborted 2013 review.
Stamford Hill & South Tottenham succeeds Tottenham in practice. Within Bruce Grove ward it contains polling district BR1, making its actual electorate 71,294 and Edmonton & Tottenham Hale's actual electorate 71,530.
Hackney Central succeeds Hackney North & Stoke Newington in practice. This replicates the Hackney Central of the aborted 2013 review.
Bethnal Green & Shoreditch succeeds Hackney South & Shoreditch. This replicates the Bethnal Green & Shoreditch of the aborted 2013 review.
Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner is unchanged.
Chipping Barnet is unchanged.

(My initial proposed constituencies of Stepney & Isle of Dogs, West Ham, East Ham, Bow & Canning Town, Wembley, Willesden, Feltham & Hounslow*, Brentford & Chiswick*, Hayes & Harlington*, Islington North, and Hammersmith & Fulham* are not affected by these revised proposals. Enfield Southgate is merely expanded in these proposals, as are Enfield North and Finchley & Golders Green. *Recommended in initial proposals by Boundary Commission.)

Saturday, 4 March 2017

My analysis of the Northern Ireland Assembly election of 2017

The snap Northern Ireland Assembly election of 2017, which took place two days ago with the snap election having been called mainly over the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal, proved to be a major game-changer in many ways.

Far from falling further, turnout in the NI Assembly election increased by 10 percentage points, rising to the highest level since 1998, when the NI Assembly originally convened after previous devolution attempts had failed. The reduction from 108 seats to 90 (caused by each constituency electing 5 MLAs instead of 6), which will be further reduced to 85 if boundary changes are pushed through, led to a lot of interesting tussles especially in the more divided (between unionists and nationalists) constituencies such as Upper Bann and Belfast North.

The DUP and Arlene Foster were held responsible for the scandal and the need to call a snap election after the power-sharing agreement consequently broke down, and they were duly punished, falling to just 28 seats out of 90 (a loss of 5 on the notional 2016 result). Sinn Fein meanwhile managed to win 27 seats, only one behind the DUP even though Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister was not really less responsible than Arlene over the whole fiasco. This crucially meant that the DUP lost its right to table a 'petition of concern' motion by itself, which it has used so many times in the past to stop legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. (A 'petition of concern', if successfully raised by 30 Stormont members, raises the requirement for passing an Assembly motion from a simple majority of Stormont members irrespective of alignment to a majority of both unionist and nationalist members of Stormont, meaning that only truly cross-community motions could overcome it)

Despite high expectations from them given the circumstances of this election, the SDLP and UUP failed to make a real impact (and both lost key figures like Alex Attwood and Danny Kennedy in Belfast West and Newry & Armagh), especially as sectarian electors see them as outdated and rather weak; Mike Nesbitt resigned as UUP leader only yesterday. His attempt to rise above sectarianism by sometimes calling for 2nd preferences to the SDLP (mainly to stop Sinn Fein) has failed; sectarianism still has a hold on Northern Irish politics even though it is weakening every year. The SDLP managed 12 seats and the UUP 10-little change at all overall. Another blow to the SDLP was that Sinn Fein's 1st preference vote combined overtook them in Foyle for the very first time; Foyle, covering the city of Derry, has long been regarded as the SDLP's fortress in Northern Ireland. The SDLP's only consolation is that their election of Pat Catney gave the constituency of Lagan Valley a nationalist presence in the Assembly again. The Alliance Party has been gaining ground particularly in the last decade and achieved 9.1% of the first preference votes, their best result since 1982. However, they were ultimately unable to increase its seat total of 8 despite the fact it is one of the most 'transfer friendly' parties in Northern Ireland when it comes to Assembly results. Even in their weak spots, however (e.g. Belfast West), they are gaining traction from younger and middling generations and ethnic minority voters in particular.

I am very pleased that the Green Party of Northern Ireland managed to re-elect its 2 MLAs, Clare Bailey and Steven Agnew, especially since lowering the number of seats per constituency harms smaller parties like the Green Party; STV is only truly proportional if the number of seats in a constituency or area is high enough. (The fact that Dail constituencies in the Republic of Ireland, which use STV, cannot be larger than five seats harms proportionality in practice). Belfast South is the most competitive constituency in Northern Ireland politically, and reducing it to five seats for Assembly elections made it more of a squeeze and made gathering good transfers critical; Clare's seat was one of the last to declare. Meanwhile, the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Party retained its Assembly seat mainly on the back of Jim Allister's personal vote; its extremist, paleoconservative stance means that few voters who do not vote for it initially will give it usable transfers for later rounds. People Before Profit, meanwhile, lost considerable support among nationalist voters and one of their two sitting MLAs, Eamonn McCann, was unseated in Foyle after failing to get enough crucial transfers in the last round. Support for Brexit, which is unpopular amongst nationalist voters (the more nationalist constituencies voted solidly 'Remain' in the EU referendum within Northern Ireland, irrespective of wealth or social class), cost PBP dearly; even though Gerry Carroll was re-elected, his first preference votes dropped sharply and he finished fifth in Belfast West rather than topping the poll as he did last year. His running mate, Michael Collins, polled only 2,6% and was eliminated in round one in the same constituency. People Before Profit's forays into unionist constituencies (East Londonderry and South Antrim) earned them few friends even amongst the nationalist population there. The sole Independent, Claire Sugden (who designates herself as a unionist) was re-elected in East Londonderry. Notable also are the PUP (Progressive Unionist Party) failing to regain respect they once had among working-class unionist voters; in 1998, they elected 2 MLAs but now have none and no realistic prospects of obtaining any. Their best results were once again in Belfast (6.6% in East and 4.9% in North, which nonetheless represent improvements for them on last year's vote shares). UKIP's absence from even ballot papers (except in East Antrim, where their candidate, Noel Jordan, fared poorly) in this election is partly down to poor organisation as well as a lack of support for Brexit in Northern Ireland outside County Antrim. Amongst minor parties and Independents, only Jimmy Menagh and Melanie Kennedy achieved respectable results; Gerry Mullan and Jonathan Bell, who were deselected by the SDLP and suspended by the DUP respectively whilst MLAs, experienced the same fate as many defectors and deselected candidates, since they both polled less than 3% in their respective constituencies and were eliminated early. The wooden spoon award of this Assembly election went to the NI Conservatives' Roger Lomas, who polled only 27 first preference votes in West Tyrone, behind even extreme Christian fundamentalist Susan-Anne White (who managed 41, her worst total so far). Even in North Down the NI Conservatives have no real support and elsewhere are lucky if they do not finish last in the poll.

Since 55 seats out of 90 are held either by the DUP or Sinn Fein, the power-sharing agreement may end up continuing anyway, as neither the unionists nor the nationalists have a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is a real disappointment for many who had been expecting real change from this early election, and who are tired of religious sectarianism that has plagued Northern Ireland ever since it was split from (southern) Ireland in 1922, although the DUP's lack of an ability to make a petition of concern without help as I described earlier may pave the way for some reforms in the next five years in Northern Ireland.

Friday, 3 March 2017

My analysis of by-elections from 2/3/17 and a short piece on Manchester Gorton

The results of this week's local by-elections were as follows:

Christchurch DC, Mudeford & Friars Cliffe: Conservative 629 (46.8%, -7.2%), Independent 466 (34.8%), Labour 91 (6.8%, -9.9%), UKIP 85 (6.3%, -23.0%), Green 72 (5.4%).

Redcar & Cleveland UA, Hutton: Conservative 860 (57.4%, +2.9%), Liberal Democrats 326 (21.8%, +3.5%), Labour 183 (12.8%, -15.0%), UKIP 129 (8.6%).

Redcar & Cleveland UA, Newcomen: Liberal Democrats 426 (44.6%, +7.5%), Labour 259 (27.1%, -6.9%), UKIP 153 (16.0%, -4.0%), Independent Hannon 52 (5.4%), Independent Stones 36 (3.8%, -5.0%), Conservative 29 (3.0%).

Salford MBC, Kersal: Conservative 850 (42.0%, -1.4%), Labour 553 (27.3%, -21.5%), Independent Wineberg 354 (17.5%), UKIP 182 (9.0%, -2.0%), Green 48 (2.4%, -2.0%), Liberal Democrats 39 (1.9%). Conservative gain from Labour; all changes are since May 2016.

The Conservatives' gain of Kersal may sound like a surprise, but considering the actual situation in Salford it is not-the Independent candidate, Johnny Wineberg, stood on a platform on opposition to the stadium redevelopment that the solidly Labour Salford council recently rammed through, which has angered so many local people. Perceived anti-Semitism in Labour (Kersal has a large Jewish population) also hit Labour badly as well. Labour have been having a bad night in local by-election terms this week, with their vote share falling more than half in Hutton and in Mudeford & Friars Cliffe, to say nothing of another swing against them by the Liberal Democrats in Newcomen. UKIP's spectacular collapse in Mudeford & Friars Cliffe is attributable to Independent candidate Sheila Gray, as well as their crumbling organisation outside their strongest areas.

Sir Gerald Kaufman, Father of the House, died earlier this week aged 86, which has triggered a by-election in Manchester Gorton, which he had represented since 1983 (he represented Manchester Ardwick from 1970-83 before it was abolished). Manchester Gorton was one of only four seats where the Greens came second to Labour, and with the Green Party now clearly the main contenders with the Liberal Democrats having collapsed locally and nationally in the majority of the city of Manchester, this could give the Greens a parliamentary by-election breakthrough. With the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill coming close to Royal Assent, and with many environmental and human rights legislation under threat as a result, green politics needs to truly rise to the national fore.