Sunday, 30 April 2017

My tribute to Polly Samuel (aka Donna Williams)

Whilst I was busy concentrating on general election predictions and analyses in Britain, thousands of miles away in Australia, one of the best known autism advocates of our time, Polly Samuel (aka Donna Williams) passed away on 22 April.

Donna Williams, born Donna Keene in Melbourne, most famously wrote books about her experiences as an autistic person in Australia, entitled 'Nobody Nowhere', 'Somebody Somewhere', 'Like Colour to the Blind: Soul Searching and Soul Finding', and many other non-fiction books on autism. I was inspired by many of her stories, particularly those from before my time since it is only in the decade I was born (the 1990s) that there has been proper recognition of the rights and needs of autistic people.

Artist Jeanette Purkis, also an autistic author, has particularly thanked her for bringing positive change into the darkest moments of her life, and it is from her I first heard the news of Polly/Donna's untimely passing.

Farewell, Polly/Donna. Even though I never met you or interacted with you, I can assure you as a fellow autistic rights activist over in the UK that your work will always have a place in my cerebrum (the amygdala, to be precise), as well as my heart (metaphorically, of course).

In memory of Polly Samuel, aka Donna Williams (nee Keene) born 10 October 1963, who departed this life on 22 April 2017, aged 53 years.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

2017 general election-my predictions on the Greens' 5 best chances

Those of you who read my blog and are members, or supporters, of the Green Party may have noticed that the five best chances for the Green Party are: to hold Brighton Pavilion, and to win Bristol West, Sheffield Central, the Isle of Wight, and Bath. The five women standing for this seats are incumbent MP Caroline Lucas, Molly-Scott Cato MEP, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Vix Lowthion, and Eleanor Field.

Within those five seats, the Liberal Democrats are standing down in Brighton Pavilion:, Andrew Turner has resigned his position as Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight: , and green-leaning Liberal Democrat Jay Risbridger pulled out of Bath, to be replaced by Manda Rigby on the Liberal Democrats' side.

Brighton Pavilion: Unlike in 2015, Labour is not pulling out the stops to unseat Caroline Lucas, and in any case, Caroline increased her majority in 2015 from 1,232 to 7,969. With the Greens having retained most of their councillors in the Brighton Pavilion constituency in 2015 (despite losing 12 out of 23) and Caroline's hard work, her majority could reach over 10,000 this time. The only interesting thing that could happen here is Labour falling into third place for the first time since 1983. Dead cert Green hold.

Bristol West: Molly Scott-Cato has a higher national profile than Darren Hall, whose result put Bristol West into a list of future Green seats in the first place; the Green Party also leads the way in terms of representation in Bristol West's wards. As I mentioned earlier, she is likely to win but must not take it for granted nevertheless. Likely Green gain.

Sheffield Central. The Green Party's progress in Sheffield has not been as spectacular as that in Bristol, although since Natalie Bennett led the Green Party during its surges that helped it rise to prominence, and has been preparing for this snap general election, the Greens are in a better position than in 2015. One major obstacle in Natalie's way is the sheer size of the Labour majority-17,309 in a seat traditionally recording considerably lower turnouts than average, or 39.2%, and this is compounded by Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum able to appeal more in cosmopolitan Labour seats than average Labour seats. However, given that the nearly 20% swing needed for the Greens here was beaten in Bristol West in 2015, Natalie still has a chance in spite of the above. Likely Labour hold.

Isle of Wight. With UKIP no longer in contention, the Green Party will at least achieve second place, as they are the best-organised opposition to the long-standing Conservatives on the Isle of Wight. The fact Andrew Turner is now retiring may actually benefit the Conservatives, for it was his ineptitude and inability to organise properly that led to such a poor Conservative performance in 2015, but Vix Lowthion has done an excellent job of bringing a green voice to the Isle of Wight. Personal votes will be key to this battle. 50/50 Conservative hold/Green gain.

Bath. Eleanor Field was prepared for this snap general election as she was selected two months ago, and the Green Party has been working harder than ever in Bath, one of the most competitive small cities in the UK politically. See my earlier blog posts for everything else on my prediction of this seat. Likely Liberal Democrat gain/possible Green gain.

Five similar seats that the Green Party can gain later, if not at this election, and need to achieve a strong second place this year to win in the near future, include Oxford East, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Hackney South & Shoreditch, Manchester Gorton, and Liverpool Riverside.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

2017 general election: Which long-held Labour seats could fall?

General election polling can be inconsistent in terms of numbers, however, Labour is still performing poorly overall and is in particular losing its grip on older and more rural voters even in places traditionally inclined towards Labour. With the mines and old industry gone, demographic change is happening fast and many former mining towns are becoming commuter territory to major cities.

Before this snap general election was announced, Labour's loss of Copeland in a by-election to the Conservatives gave hints that other long-held Labour seats could fall (Copeland fka Whitehaven had been held by Labour since 1935 before said by-election):
With the gap between the Conservatives and Labour wider than ever, and with UKIP voters likely to turn towards the Conservatives especially in those types of constituencies (common factors include high proportion of people of socio-economic classes C2, D, and E; lower than average annual salaries, unemployment above average, once host to an industry that has since disappeared from the area, and overall lower levels of educational attainment).

With this in mind, here are my predictions for 15 marginal/semi-marginal seats which Labour have held continuously (excluding by-elections and defections e.g. Lab-SDP and accounting for closest predecessor seats) since at least 1945 (and often earlier than that), and which have similar characteristics with each other making them unfavourable for Labour at present:

Newcastle-under-Lyme. Its Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, was one of only 13 to vote against dissolving Parliament early, and for good reason. Even though Labour has held this seat continuously since 1919, it is looking more vulnerable than ever due to the demographic changes that have taken place and dissatisfaction with Labour in Staffordshire as a whole. The Conservatives have been consolidating their support in Newcastle-under-Lyme and it has been shifting away from Labour for some time as the potteries have declined. Dead cert Conservative gain.

North East Derbyshire. Held by Labour since 1935, it is fast becoming commuter territory for people working in Sheffield as the ex-miner demographic fades away, particularly in the town of Dronfield. The current Labour majority in this seat is as low as in 1983 and with local elections being strictly between the Conservatives and Labour in practice, and the area becoming more prosperous, a Conservative victory will be rather easy. Dead cert Conservative gain.

Walsall North. Walsall North has, apart from a notable by-election in 1976, continuously evaded the Conservatives even though sometimes the Labour majority has been reduced to less than 5% (it was in 2010, but there was actually a 1.2% pro-Labour swing in 2015). The considerable UKIP vote is more likely to favour the Conservatives than Labour and even a mild recovery from the Liberal Democrats will finally unseat David Winnick, who has been Labour MP for this seat since 1979 (and also Labour MP for Croydon South 1966-70; note that the pre-1974 version of Croydon South is closer to the current Croydon Central). On current polling the result will be a foregone conclusion. Dead cert Conservative gain.

Wrexham. In Wales, Clwyd is the area fast changing from Labour to Conservative, and this will be first shown in next week's council elections in all likelihood. The Conservatives have been close in Wrexham before (missing it by just 424 votes in 1983) and Wrexham has been prospering in the modern era relatively well by Welsh standards. Labour is performing particularly badly in Wales, even compared to its traditional heartlands in the Midlands, and if the polls are remotely accurate, this seat will fall. Dead cert Conservative gain.

Wakefield. Wakefield, like Wrexham, was narrowly missed by the Conservatives in their 1983 landslide (by 360 votes) and is coming closer within their reach despite a pro-Labour swing of 1.3% last time. The Conservatives have been holding up well in the city of Wakefield itself despite UKIP's intervention and a relatively high Brexit vote will give them an easy win. Dead cert Conservative gain.

Copeland. Copeland is of course actually held by a Conservative MP now having been won by Trudy Harrison in the by-election of 23 February, and this happened due to the perceived anti-nuclear stance of Jeremy Corbyn. Little has changed since although as by-elections generally produce larger swings than in general elections, and Labour may recover in the coming weeks, Trudy is not assured of holding on in the by-election although it appears likely as much of rural Copeland has been trending away from Labour for some time. Likely Conservative by-election hold (general election gain).

Stoke-on-Trent South. Labour is still rather unpopular in Stoke-on-Trent even though they are no longer in control of the council, as memories still linger. Much of the pottery and glass-making has gone from Stoke-on-Trent and this is the most affluent of Stoke-on-Trent's three constituencies, with the turnout being the highest (although still considerably below average) and the unemployment rate the lowest. With a large UKIP vote to squeeze, the Conservatives will have no trouble here on current opinion polls. Dead cert Conservative gain.

Coventry North West. Metropolitan areas should be turning against Theresa May and her 'hard Brexit' mantra, but this varies from city to city and many cities are just as divided in that respect as small and large towns. As with many of these seats, the current Labour majority in Coventry North West is the lowest since 1983, and Geoffrey Robinson does not have a particularly good reputation amongst the left in Labour either due to his 'champagne socialist' lifestyle. Even though Coventry South is actually more marginal, it is in the wards of Coventry North West where the Conservatives have been making the most progress in recent years, and thus this seat could fall to them this year, although inner-city Labour voters are more likely to support Jeremy Corbyn's mantra. Probable Conservative gain.

Alyn & Deeside. The Conservatives are performing well in Clwyd but Alyn & Deeside, formerly known as East Flintshire (part of which in 1983 was moved to the current Delyn constituency) is holding up best for Labour out of the six and despite increasing Conservative strength in Flintshire, Labour could still hold on against the trend. However, the odds are not in Labour's favour at present by any means. Likely Conservative gain. 

Bishop Auckland. There is considerable local strength in Bishop Auckland (at least by the standards of towns within Durham County Council) and only in 1983 was the Labour majority over the Conservatives lower than it is now. The Durham Council elections will be a key indicator as to whether the Conservatives can take the seat, even though some other pollsters have predicted it to be a nailed-on Conservative gain. The seat is turning against Labour but with the Conservatives unpopular in most of Durham, success is not guaranteed. Likely Conservative gain.

Mansfield. In 1987, Labour only held this seat by 56 votes due to the NUM being less than willing to campaign for Alan Meale, who is still Labour MP for this seat, and Labour is looking vulnerable. The Labour majority is higher than many of the seats listed above and whether they hold it will be a key factor in whether the Conservatives achieve a 3-figure landslide or not, and whether any Liberal Democrat recovery outside constituencies winnable for them occurs. One to watch for this election. 50/50 Labour hold/Conservative gain.

Workington. Workington is poorer than Copeland and also is less dependent on the Sellafield nuclear plant, and its Labour vote is more solid. Also, with the Conservatives needing to defend their by-election in Copeland, Workington will be easier for Labour to hold, but it is far from safe. Probable Labour hold.

Penistone & Stocksbridge. Whilst on paper it appears that the Conservatives may take it, this will likely not happen in practice due to the fact that within the constituency there is only Conservative strength in Penistone itself, and not Ecclesfield or Stocksbridge (there are no Conservative councillors in Sheffield at all nor any realistic prospect of there being any at the moment) which form half of the constituency. Even with tactical voting from UKIP, Labour will likely be returned as they have been in Penistone since 1935, as UKIP's fall could benefit Labour indirectly. Likely Labour hold.

Stoke-on-Trent North. Stoke-on-Trent North, like Stoke-on-Trent South, is turning against Labour but Ruth Smeeth was only elected two years ago and the 'incumbency bonus' should work in her favour. The Conservatives are not as strong in Stoke-on-Trent North, either, nor in Kidsgrove (part of the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme), but a Labour loss cannot entirely be ruled out due to the question of where the UKIP votes will go (they will not all go to the Conservatives). Likely Labour hold.

Great Grimsby. Like in Wrexham and Wakefield, there have been several close shaves for Labour since they first won Great Grimsby in 1945. In 1959, they held on by just 101 votes in a straight fight with the Conservatives, achieved a majority of just 731 in 1983, and on his last successful election Austin Mitchell only held on by 714 votes; he retired in 2015 and was replaced by Melanie Onn. This is attributable to the small size of the seat, which will either be split in half or absorb the nearby coastal town of Cleethorpes in the next round of boundary changes. As Melanie did well to fend off both the Conservative and UKIP challenges (she achieved a 5.6% swing in Labour's favour) she has very good chances and Grimsby may benefit from Britain not having to comply with the Common Fisheries Policy once Britain leaves the EU. Likely Labour hold.

On current polling, of course, many other Labour seats will fall to the Conservatives as well, and every general election will spring a few surprises.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My 2017 general election analyses: Lab vs. Lib Dem seats

In 2015, at the height of the Liberal Democrats' meltdown, 12 of the Liberal Democrats' 57 seats were lost to Labour (as I mentioned earlier, 27 were lost to the Conservatives. 10 were also lost to the SNP and this will feature in tomorrow's analysis.)

Given that Labour will suffer the most damage overall in this election (as it has many seats to lose; UKIP has little left to lose apart from votes as it now has no MPs and will lose its MEPs just like all other parties), will the Liberal Democrats be able to recover any of the 12?

Cambridge. Julian Huppert's expertise, particularly in science, has been missed by many in this last Parliament, and he only lost Cambridge by 599 votes in 2015 with his vote share also having the 2nd lowest decrease amongst English Lib Dem MPs (it only dropped by 4.3%; David Ward's vote share dropped the lowest amongst Lib Dem incumbents in England with it dropping by only 4.2%). Although the Liberal Democrats have not made any more headway against Labour in the last two years locally, combined with a limited amount of Conservative votes left to squeeze, Labour's loss of moderate voters combined with further tactical voting (since the Greens do not have enough support to break through the very tight squeeze) and Julian's strong personal vote will easily see him through. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

Burnley. This suffered one of the lowest Lib Dem to Labour swings of seats the Lib Dems lost (6.3%) but the incumbency of Gordon Birtwhistle was key to this. It has not yet been confirmed at this time whether Gordon will try and regain his old seat, but the Liberal Democrats' local strength in Burnley will mitigate any loss of incumbency if Gordon does not stand again. Labour will also lose more heavily in constituencies like Burnley where their traditional working class vote is most likely to desert them, as it did to some extent in 2015. However, UKIP polled well and the Brexit factor may work against the Lib Dems in the end since Burnley voted Leave by a wide margin. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

Bermondsey & Old Southwark. Simon Hughes has been reselected for his former seat (and without him having represented it and its very similar predecessors), it would be a rock-solid Labour seat just like its neighbours) and a Remain backlash against Labour, most of whose MPs supported the triggering of Article 50, is likely. This race is overall only between him and Labour MP Neil Coyle, and Southwark's high remain vote and increasing gentrification in the exact area he used to represent should easily see him through. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

Cardiff Central. Cardiff Central has a high student population and memories of the Lib Dems' broken promises on tuition fees will come back to haunt them again. Also, Plaid Cymru is very weak in this seat having never even saved its deposit at any time (or in the 1974-83 version of Cardiff North, this seat's predecessor), meaning they will not cause any trouble for Labour here as they will in neighbouring Cardiff West. Even though former AM Eluned Parrott is the Lib Dems' candidate, this will likely not be enough despite the high Remain vote and generally liberal electorate. Likely Labour hold.

Birmingham Yardley. Of the strictly Lab vs. Lib Dem contests, this is the most interesting. Both John Hemming, the former MP, and Jess Phillips, the current Labour MP, can be considered maverick and sometimes controversial figures who appeal well to middling swing voters who would otherwise switch back and forth between Labour and Conservative. The odds however are overall strongly in Jess' favour as she is one of the few Labour MPs whose politics can appeal well to enough UKIP voters to make a difference and it is also harder for an MP who lost their seat at the last election to regain it; relatively few MPs manage it. Likely Labour hold.

Bradford East. Earlier this week, David Ward, the Liberal Democrat responsible for making this a Lib Dem seat at all in 2010, was suspended as a candidate for making anti-Semitic remarks, just shortly after he was reselected. Without him, the Liberal Democrats could now even fall to third place, since it was his own work that allowed him to win it from Labour in 2010 (he also managed to minimise his loss of the seat quite well in 2015, retaining most of his vote share when he only had a majority of 365 to defend) and Labour is now assured to hold on here. Dead cert Labour hold.

Hornsey & Wood Green. An important factor is that Lynne Featherstone, whose campaigning was responsible for the Lib Dems' capture of this seat in 2005, cannot stand again as she is now Baroness Featherstone. This seat voted Remain by an 81-19 margin but with Catherine West firmly on the pro-European side, this will be an easy hold for her in spite of the Lib Dems still being the only remotely viable competitors in Hornsey & Wood Green to Labour. The Liberal Democrat vote could actually fall (possibly even to the point where the Greens claim third place instead of the Conservatives!) even though the Lib Dems' candidate was selected some time ago in anticipation of this early general election. Dead cert Labour hold.

Redcar. The Labour majority at first seems too high for the Liberal Democrats to recapture it-but Labour is under threat in next-door Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland (especially since Tom Blenkinsop is retiring this year) and has been performing under par at best in the North East recently. Even when Ian Swales retired, the Lib Dems still retained second place as well, which is better than a few of their incumbent MPs did in 2015, and like Burnley, Redcar is likely to experience the desertion of many traditional Labour voters, which gives the Lib Dems at least an outside chance, although it will be very difficult overall. Likely Labour hold.

Bristol West. This will be one of the most tightly contested seats this year, and Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato is now favourite to win the seat from Thangam Debonnaire, who has been one of the least useful new Labour MPs. The former Lib Dem MP, Stephen Williams, is also trying to gain the seat but in practice he will find himself shut out of the race as most of the Lib Dem support in Bristol West has switched over to the Greens (in the wards making up Bristol West, there are 9 Green councillors, 9 Labour councillors, only 2 Liberal Democrat councillors, and zero Conservative councillors) so only they and Labour are now in contention here. Likely Green gain  (no realistic chance of a Liberal Democrat gain at present).

Manchester Withington. Like Hornsey & Wood Green (demographically similar to Manchester Withington, and like it once a reliable Conservative seat) the Lib Dems are the only credible challengers to Labour. However, they are too far behind even with Labour polling so badly (but also closing the gap somewhat) and only John Leech himself made any gains for the Lib Dems in Manchester in their last set of city council elections. Combined with Jeff Smith's incumbency factor, this is an easy win for Labour-in fact the Greens overtaking the Conservatives in a heavily pro-Remain seat is likely to be the only interesting thing that happens in this seat in 2017. Dead cert Labour hold.

Norwich South. Simon Wright, this seat's only ever Lib Dem MP, is not standing again and in any case he finished fourth in 2015, having achieved only 29.4% of the vote even when he won it from former Home Secretary Charles Clarke in 2010. Labour's administration in Norwich is not particularly popular but the Green Party has been losing ground in Norwich recently, with losses of county council seats almost certain; they also lost 4 of the 5 city council seats they were defending in 2016 (and had lost a councillor in Wensum in 2015 at the same time they targeted Norwich South, where their vote share actually decreased), which is an important fact to note since every Green council seat in Norwich lies in the boundaries of Norwich South. This seat's Labour MP, Clive Lewis, has achieved a reasonably high profile and he will likely hold on well since Jeremy Corbyn can appeal well to those types of Labour voters. Dead cert Labour hold.

Brent Central. Without Sarah Teather, this would never have been a Liberal Democrat seat at all, or even a viable Liberal Democrat target, and when she stood down the Lib Dem vote in Brent Central collapsed, dropping by 35.8% (a record that is unlikely ever to be beaten in British elections) and causing Brent Central to revert to type as a very safe Labour seat. And so shall it remain at least for now. Dead cert Labour hold.

Monday, 24 April 2017

French Presidential election 2017: round one analysis

The first round of the French Presidential election of 2017-one of the most important this year and certainly for a generation-has just concluded, and it proved to be a tighter race than pollsters believed.

Less than 5% separated the top four candidates-Emmanuel Macron (En Marche), Marine Le Pen (Front National), Francois Fillon (Les Republicans) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (France Insubmissive). Benoit Hamon of the beleaguered Parti Socialiste, meanwhile, finished not only in fifth place as predicted but with a record low PS vote of 6.35%, even when he was endorsed by the French Greens' candidate, Yannick Jadot of EELV. Social democracy as a political force is experiencing a terminal decline, and this election represents yet another example of this, as M. Melenchon meanwhile achieved more than treble the votes of M. Hamon despite his poll surge coming too late for him to be a contender for the run-off.
It was in the end Emmanuel Macron who topped the first round poll, and not Marine Le Pen, which will be a sigh of relief to anti-racists and anti-fascists everywhere who are worried about the Trump phenomenon rising across Europe.

In such a tight race, how did M. Macron come out in front in round one in the end?

Emmanuel Macron was the youngest candidate in this race, being aged only 39, and appealed well to younger voters afraid of what may transpire in the wake of Britain leaving the EU and Donald Trump's antics in the USA (not to mention Vladimir Putin becoming more aggressive, if subtly). His new movement had a large amount of momentum in a few short months, amplified by scandals surrounding Francois Fillon and the lacklustre campaign of Benoit Hamon, combined with general disapproval for PS itself. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen's divisive 'populist right' (in reality racist nationalist just like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands) made far more enemies than friends, as expected, and she in fact only achieved 21.43% and second place in spite of the amount of media attention she received, even compared to M. Macron, M. Fillon, and M. Melenchon. Just as in the Netherlands last month, and in the most recent Austrian Presidential election, this represents another key blow against the rising tide of racist populism. People want real change of some type from the old system-and a lot of them do not want the anti-immigration, xenophobic type of change and will avoid it if they can. They will, however, vote for positive change from the old system, and M. Macron is almost certain to emerge victorious in round two. The only other candidate with views and a vision remotely similar to Mme Le Pen's, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of France Arise (the French equivalent of UKIP in practice) achieved only 4.72%, meaning France is still progressive as a nation after all. Of the other candidates, none polled much more than 1%, and it was LaRouche-stye candidate Jacques Cheminade who finished last with only 0.18% of the vote.

Despite the fact that this election was more competitive than ever, turnout actually decreased from 79.48% to 77.77%, which is an indirect consequence of the increased amount of negative campaigning that generally results when extremist candidates (just like Marine Le Pen) become real contenders to win rather than just on the fringes. It may appear from this that the second round is an easy win for M. Macron, but nothing in modern politics must ever be taken for granted.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

My 2017 general election predictions: Con vs. Lib Dem seats

There has been much speculation over a Liberal Democrat revival for the 2017 general election, on the basis of Remain voters turning against the Conservatives, particularly when few pro-European Conservative MPs resisting Article 50 triggering or protecting the rights of EU nationals. However, it is clear that many former Liberal Democrat voters are still unwilling to trust the party again, especially those who voted Green in 2015.

Of the 27 seats the Liberal Democrats lost to the Conservatives in 2015, will they be able to recapture any of them?

1. Eastbourne. What is most notable about this seat is that when the Conservatives won it back, the Conservative vote share actually decreased by 1.1%, even accounting for Nigel Waterson's defeat in 2010. The Liberal Democrats also retained control of Eastbourne council the very same day, and Stephen Lloyd is running once again. However, Eastbourne, due to its older and mostly British demographics, recorded a higher than average Leave vote in spite of the Lib Dems' organisation, and this factor could work against the Liberal Democrats. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

2. Thornbury & Yate. The Lib Dems were wiped out in their heartland, South West England, back in 2015, going from 15 seats straight down to zero. This is the easiest South West seat for them to recapture, given that they only lost it by 1,495 votes (3.1%). Even without Professor Sir Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrats can gain this seat, although their chances will be tied into their performance in the West of England Mayoral election this May. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

3. Lewes. Theresa May's hard Brexit strategy, along with her lack of respect for civil liberties and human rights, will backfire in constituencies like this one, especially when the Liberal Democrats only narrowly lost it. The new Lib Dem candidate, Kelly-Marie Blundell, has raised her profile considerably, although with incumbency a considerable advantage in this snap election, success is by no means certain and it will be a hard contest. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

4. Twickenham. Sir Vincent Cable is running again but with a pro-European Conservative MP, Tania Mathis, who stayed true to her views amidst the Article 50 trigger vote, this seat will not be handed to him on a plate and the Liberal Democrats in Richmond-upon-Thames will also be stretched trying to retain their by-election gain of Richmond Park at the same time. The heavy swing (11.5%) Sir Vincent experienced when defeated also means considerable effort will be required to recapture Twickenham. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

5. Kingston & Surbiton. Another case a former cabinet minister from the Coalition years wanting to return-this time, Sir Ed Davey. Kingston-upon-Thames was not as pro-Remain as Richmond-upon-Thames and demographically it is not quite as liberal and well-educated (but still very much so). However, James Berry, unlike Tania Mathias nearby, has not particularly stood out among new Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats are in a good position to squeeze votes as they are in Twickenham. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

6. St Ives. Like Eastbourne, the Conservative vote share decreased rather than increased when they gained this seat from Andrew George, who has a strong personal vote; this is key to winning in Cornish politics locally and nationally. The Liberal Democrats are also re-organising relatively well back in their heartland. However, Conservative MP Derek Thomas, having been born and raised in the St Ives area, has the same 'personal and local vote' advantage meaning that Andrew George has in fact an uphill battle to get his seat back. 50/50 Conservative hold/Liberal Democrat gain.

7. Sutton & Cheam. Of the three London seats the Liberal Democrats lost to the Conservatives, this is the hardest to gain, and not just because of the larger Conservative majority. Paul Burstow is not re-running and Sutton & Cheam's 'natural' Liberal strength is not as strong as that of Twickenham's or Richmond's; it is mainly because of groundwork that the Liberal Democrats have been holding control of Sutton council for so long. Amna Ahmad nevertheless stands a good chance as local support has remained rather solid. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

8. Bath. Ben Howlett has been one of the most socially liberal Conservative MPs by any standards (which fits in well with the city of Bath), although both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have high potential nonetheless (it is worth noting that Lib Dem PPC for Bath Jay Risbridger once stood for the Greens back in 1992 in Yeovil). It has been claimed by some that this should be an easy Liberal Democrat gain, particularly with the Brexit issue, but the reality is rather different. With the Greens on the rise in Bath in the long-term, Liberal Democrat success is in fact not too likely. Probable Conservative hold-some chance of Liberal Democrat gain; outside chance of Green gain.

9. Torbay. Torbay is the poorest constituency in Devon and this will work against the Conservatives, who under Theresa May have continued to push the austerity agenda to even worse heights overall. The Liberal Democrats look set to do well on the coasts and they are gaining ground in the Torbay area (note that part of it is in the Totnes constituency), so with or without Adrian Sanders they have good chances. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

10. Yeovil. Apart from the general Lib Dem collapse, the main reason that the Liberal Democrats lost Yeovil in 2015 is down to David Laws and the scandals he was involved in. The fact they are running a new candidate this time will certainly help the Liberal Democrats here, although that also depends on their county council performance in Somerset in May; the relatively high Leave vote must also be taken into consideration. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

11. Colchester. Sir Bob Russell, contrary to previous rumours, is standing again-but the Liberal Democrats have actually fallen further in Colchester since he lost his seat, as demonstrated by their inability to run a full slate of candidates when Colchester had all-out elections last year; in fact there were more Green Party candidates! The only strike in Sir Bob's favour is how Colchester stands out from Essex in its general character, and high potential for tactical voting-and even that, on balance, is not a particularly useful factor. Likely Conservative hold.

12. Cheltenham. The Liberal Democrats performed well in Cheltenham locally last year and this is one of the seats where the Conservative MP (in this case Alex Chalk) is being investigated for possible election expenses fraud. It will be a tight contest but in practice the Liberal Democrats generally win out locally in Cheltenham, especially with a low UKIP vote and a considerable Green vote. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

13. Cheadle. The northern equivalent of Sutton & Cheam in many ways (since it is in the south of the Greater Manchester conurbation and it is also strictly a Con v. Lib Dem contest in practice), but it will be a more difficult task for the Liberal Democrats than Sutton & Cheam as they have not been recapturing local support they have lost in the borough of Stockport. Also, in prosperous seats like Cheadle, the UKIP vote is more likely to switch to the Conservatives than in poorer seats. Likely Conservative hold.

14. Portsmouth South. This is certainly very interesting electorally-in spite of all the bad publicity that the Lib Dems received over Mike Hancock and his misdeeds, and in spite of the fact that Portsmouth South would be a safe Conservative seat had it not been for Mike Hancock himself, this remains a marginal seat and the Liberal Democrats held onto much of their vote in the circumstances they were placed in. Flick Drummond is also a rather poor MP and Portsmouth South is rather fluid electorally (both the Labour vote and Green vote are high by the standards of seats the Lib Dems recently held), meaning this is in fact one of their best chances for a comeback. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

15. Berwick-upon-Tweed. In more rural areas which traditionally have had a Liberal Democrat presence outside the South West, the Lib Dems will find it much harder because personal incumbency, a strong factor in this snap election, matters more in rural seats. The considerable swings Anne-Marie Trevelyan achieved when Sir Alan Beith retired (and also in his last outing in 2010) are testament to this, although as it is the Lib Dems' only realistic chance of a gain in the North East of England a narrow gain is possible, depending on local election performance this May in Northumberland. Likely Conservative hold.

16. Brecon & Radnorshire. Kirsty Williams (now the sole Liberal Democrat AM in Wales) actually managed a swing in her favour in last year's Welsh Assembly election in the exact same seat. However, turnout at Welsh Assembly elections is considerably lower than at general elections and whether there will be a true Lib Dem revival in Powys at Westminster level is still debatable, and the Conservatives are performing well in Wales at all levels (even though it is Clwyd where they will reap the most reward at this election in all likelihood). Likely Conservative hold.

17. North Devon. The best chance of a Liberal Democrat gain in Devon by far, but they will find it difficult to recover straight away, especially since North Devon's Conservative MP, Peter Heaton-Jones, is not being investigated by the CPS over mis-declaration of election expenses. The county council election results are crucial to whether there is any chance of a return-and it likely will not happen at this election. Likely Conservative hold.

18. North Cornwall. North Cornwall gained media attention due to the investigation into possible election expenses mis-declarations by the Conservatives, and with this certain to come to light during the campaign (despite the Conservatives' best efforts to hide this scandal). Cornwall is also fickle politically and along with Somerset has overall the strongest Liberal Democrat base in England in county terms. The considerable local by-election swings they have been achieving there also point the way to a recapture-but a not inconsiderable Conservative majority stands in the way and they will have to directly win over many Conservative voters to win-a difficult ask given the Conservatives' current standings in the polls. 50/50 Conservative hold/Liberal Democrat gain.

19. Wells. A difficult one, even though Tessa Munt, who when she won in 2010 became the first non-Conservative MP for Wells in 86 years, is restanding. Tactical voting potential is limited as the Green vote is rather solid in Glastonbury in particular and there is little of the Labour vote left to squeeze. Likely Conservative hold.

20. Hazel Grove. The northern counterpart to Carshalton & Wallington demographically and politically. In trying to retain Hazel Grove when Sir Andrew Stunell retired, Lisa Smart did particularly badly although that has not stopped her from being reselected for 2017.However, Hazel Grove is more competitive than Cheadle and the Conservative vote is less solid, although its Leave vote was correspondingly higher. In spite of the incumbency factor, watch for a surprise. Probable Conservative hold

21. St Austell & Newquay. Stephen Gilbert lost considerably in 2015 but because Steve Double made no real increase in the Conservative vote at the same time (and the loss of important EU funding will hit Cornwall hard, which will work against the Conservatives with their current Brexit plans), this constituency remains marginal in practice. The South West is the only region where any notably large number of UKIP voters will switch to the Liberal Democrats now that UKIP is ceasing to be a viable party of protest at any level, although they will also switch to the Conservatives just like everywhere else depending on what transpires. In spite of the Conservative majority being as high as 8,173, this seat is worth watching. Probable Conservative hold.

22. Eastleigh. Despite the strong local organisation they have in Eastleigh, at constituency level recapturing this seat will be a very difficult task due to the size of the Conservative majority. However, this strong organisation, combined with a Remain backlash from well-educated urban voters, gives the Lib Dems at least an outside chance. Likely Conservative hold.

23. Chippenham. The Liberal Democrats lost this very badly and Michelle Donelan had achieved strong results for the Conservatives before she was elected Conservative MP for this seat. Wiltshire's Remain vote was not high either. The Liberal Democrats will likely close the gap, but there is no realistic chance of this seat returning to them this time around. Dead cert Conservative hold.

24. Mid Dorset & North Poole. The Liberal Democrats were lucky to have won this seat at all and always held onto it rather precariously. With a low tactical voting potential and the Conservatives having achieved as high as 50.8% when they gained it in 2015, there is little else to say here. Dead cert Conservative hold.

25. Solihull. It is only because of the ineptitude of a former MP for this seat, John Taylor, combined with pro-Lib Dem tactical voting in 2005, that the Conservatives ever lost Solihull in the first place. With the Green Party having won many former Lib Dem council seats and Lorely Burt not re-running, this seat will almost certainly revert to type. Dead cert Conservative hold.

26. Taunton Deane. So much ground was lost by the Liberal Democrats in this seat in 2015 and this requires a larger swing even than some constituencies which the Liberal Democrats have not won in recent memory or which were lost in 2010 (see below). Barring exceptional circumstances this seat will clearly stay Conservative. Dead cert Conservative hold.

27. Somerton & Frome. With David Heath no longer in the picture, the Conservative majority so high, the Conservatives still performing well in the polls, and with the Greens consolidating their support in Frome, there is basically no chance the Liberal Democrats will recapture this seat-in fact the Greens have better chances in the long run. Enough said. Dead cert Conservative hold.

There are also constituencies which the Liberal Democrats do not currently hold where they also have reasonable chances. The only realistic chances for them in the near future among this category are at present: Montgomeryshire, Oxford West & Abingdon, Bosworth, Maidstone & The Weald, St Albans, Watford, West Dorset, and Newton Abbot. Even then, they are unlikely to gain more than one or two of these this year, if that.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

2017 general election analyses and predictions: Con vs. Lab seats

Parliament affirmed yesterday Theresa May's call for a snap general election, by a majority of 522-13 to confirm the date as 8th June 2017, just 7 weeks from now. (As a result, the Manchester Gorton by-election has now been countermanded, or cancelled, the first by-election to be countermanded in 94 years. Predicted by-elections in Leigh and Liverpool Walton will also not take place either.)

Several MPs have already announced their retirement, including Birmingham Edgbaston's first (and so far only) Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, long-serving Southport Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Conservative MP for Tatton since 2001.

Current opinion polls show Labour trailing the Conservatives by as much as 20 percentage points, which would easily give the Conservatives a three-figure majority close to that achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1983 (i.e. 144), even if the Liberal Democrats recapture some seats from the Conservatives (and even then, only a few are likely to fall to them). The more interesting battles are in seats Labour gained from the Conservatives in 2015, where the Greens have enough support to win, where the Liberal Democrats may make a comeback, and long-serving Labour seats that are looking vulnerable to the Conservatives for the first time in decades.

It is therefore best to first look at the ten seats Labour won from the Conservatives in 2015 and the eight seats the Conservatives won from Labour in 2015-can Labour hold any of their gains in spite of their current woes, and could one of the Conservative gains in 2015 buck the trend?

Labour gains from Conservative in 2015:

1. City of Chester. The City of Chester has been trending towards Labour for nearly 30 years now; before 1997 it had never elected a Labour MP at any time. The UKIP vote was also weak and the constituency voted Remain, which should give Labour the advantage. However, it may revitalise the Liberal Democrats to the point where they split the Labour vote and allow the Conservatives to recapture the seat; the Conservative vote is likely to remain stable in this seat at least given Chester's relative prosperity and Labour's knife-edge majority of 93 will almost certainly fall. Dead cert Conservative gain.

2. Lancaster & Fleetwood. The Greens will benefit more than the Liberal Democrats in this seat given their better organisation and stronger hold in Lancaster council, and the city of Lancaster is where Labour's vote should hold up. In the town of Fleetwood, however, Labour's vote is much more vulnerable and less sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn's stance. In light of this, and despite a weak UKIP vote, this constituency is likely to fall to the Conservatives, although Cat Smith has apparently been doing reasonably well. Likely Conservative gain.

3. Ealing Central & Acton. Of the ten constituencies here, this had the highest remain vote (67%) and the lowest UKIP vote in 2015 at 3.8%. Labour should theoretically be in a better position than most of the seats mentioned here, and possibly the Conservative vote here could actually fall. However, the high Remain vote also makes the Labour vote more vulnerable to even a minor comeback the Liberal Democrats given that most Labour MPs backed Brexit when the Article 50 trigger vote came around. Probable Conservative gain.

4. Brentford & Isleworth. Brentford & Isleworth is not too dissimilar from Ealing Central & Acton in demographic terms, and like Ealing Central & Acton it was a narrow Labour gain in 2015 from a Conservative incumbent. However, its Remain vote share (57%) was not as high as Ealing Central & Acton's was and the Conservative strongholds in Chiswick are more solid in spite of latent Green Party potential, although affluent Remainers may turn against the Conservatives slightly. Labour still remains vulnerable to some kind of Lib Dem revival as in Ealing Central & Acton. Likely Conservative gain.

5. Enfield North. Enfield North was quite a surprise Labour gain, given memories of Joan Ryan's involvement in the expenses scandal of 2009, but Enfield is trending away from the Conservatives as many Conservative voters are being pushed outside London by increasing house prices and living costs; the considerable Conservative majorities Tim Eggar achieved through his tenure will likely never be seen again here . Joan Ryan may see herself through once again, particularly if Nick de Bois declines to try to regain the seat. Probable Labour hold.

6. Ilford North. Ilford North was a safe Conservative seat in the past, but demographic changes in Redbridge, which saw Labour gain control of the council in 2014 for the very first time, are rapidly pushing this seat out of Conservative reach; Ilford North was the only Conservative seat Labour gained that Labour had not lost in 2010 (and a majority as high as 5,404 was overturned). Wes Streeting is also well-known (he was once NUS President) and as he is critical of Corbyn he can deflect social media attacks more easily than Labour candidates supportive of Corbyn. Reminiscent of Labour's situation in Battersea in 1992, it can be said. Likely Labour hold.

7. Wirral West. Like North London, Merseyside is losing Conservative support and votes in the long-term at a significant rate, as demonstrated before and after the now notorious Esther McVey won Wirral West in 2010, and particularly in 2015 in Wirral South, Sefton Central, and Southport. Labour will likely campaign hard to retain the seat and there are relatively few UKIP votes to grab in prosperous seats like this one. However, success for them is by no means certain and if Esther McVey does not stand here again, former Conservative voters may warm back to them. Probable Labour hold.

8. Wolverhampton South West. An important factor in this seat is that Labour MP Rob Marris has declared he will not stand in this snap election, eliminating any 'incumbency bonus'. Combined with its relatively average demographics and average Leave vote last year, and with many UKIP votes to squeeze, a Conservative recapture is almost assured. Dead cert Conservative gain.

9. Dewsbury. Of the ten seats Labour captured from the Conservatives in 2015, this had the highest Leave vote (based on ward estimates) in the EU membership referendum of 2016, and this will likely good news for the Conservatives, especially if Simon Reevell attempts to regain this seat. This seat also recorded the highest UKIP vote of the ten in 2015 (12.4% from a standing start) giving Labour almost no chance of holding the seat given that the Conservatives will likely work hard to squeeze that. Dead cert Conservative gain.

10. Hove. This seat is the most likely to buck the trend-the incumbent fits in well with Hove, the Conservative vote is unlikely to recover any time soon (and has been steadily getting worse locally), there is little Liberal Democrat organisation in Brighton & Hove to begin a revival, and the Remain vote was high. All in all, this is the most likely of Labour's gains to stay in the Labour column in 2015. Likely Labour hold.

Conservative gains from Labour in 2015:

1. Gower. This seat had the smallest majority of any seat at the 2015 general election-a  27 vote Conservative majority over Labour, achieved by former police officer Byron Davies, who was also born, raised and educated in Gower (this matters in suburban and rural seats). Byron has proved himself to have a particularly strong personal vote by Conservative standards even before he won Gower in 2015, and Wales is looking particularly bad for Labour psephologically. It may be a knife-edge majority but as North Warwickshire proved in 2015 (where a Conservative majority of 54 in 2010 increased to 2,973 in 2015 even when the incumbent MP retired) this will just make a tight contest tighter. Likely Conservative hold.

2. Derby North. Some of the blame for Labour's defeat can said to be attributed to its former incumbent, Chris Williamson, and apparently issues with organising postal votes: With relatively average demographics, including an overall Leave vote, the Conservatives should be able to hold this seat but this cannot be guaranteed, especially if the Liberal Democrats (who have reselected Lucy Care) can recover some of their lost votes. Likely Conservative hold.

3. Vale of Clwyd. When Chris Ruane lost this seat to local doctor James Davies in 2015, it clearly showed that Labour had not learned their lesson when it comes to appealing to small-town and rural voters-and if anything they will do worse among these types of voter under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, as like Michael Foot he is appealing mainly to metropolitan socialists above other types of voter. Flintshire and Denbighshire are also trending well towards the Conservatives. James also has a strong local background like Byron Davies which means he will have no problems holding this seat at present. Dead cert Conservative hold.

4. Morley & Outwood. Like Derby North, the previous Labour incumbent is partly to blame for their defeat, but non-London suburban seats like this one are favouring the Conservatives at present anyway. Andrea Jenkyns has not been a particularly good MP, but her background and recent coverage she achieved with the birth of her son will doubtless win many UKIP voters. On current polling she will likely achieve re-election, although that small majority will likely encourage Labour to make an effort. Likely Conservative hold.

5. Telford. When Lucy Allan gained Telford in 2015, she did not get off to a particularly good start, with allegations of bullying from former office staff, and this could count against her if it resurfaces for the 2017 general election. On the minus side for Labour, though, Telford is very typical of seats that are turning against Labour in the long-term and Theresa May will appeal well to voters in these seats with her current stance, and this former industrial town is doing well to maintain relative prosperity. Dead cert Conservative hold.

6. Bolton West. This is in many way's Greater Manchester's answer to Morley & Outwood, for it was a Conservative gain in 2015 and its demographics are not too dissimilar from Morley & Outwood's; it is also on the edge in metropolitan terms geographically. Chris Green, this seat's current MP, is not well known but this will make little difference to the outcome especially as it is in these seats where UKIP's inevitable unwind will benefit the Conservatives. Dead cert Conservative hold.

7. Plymouth Moor View. Labour have been neglecting many of their traditional voters in southern and eastern coastal seats, which was not only displayed in their loss of Plymouth Moor View in 2015 but also in increased Conservative majorities in seats such as Hastings & Rye and Waveney simultaneously. UKIP also polled particularly well in Plymouth Moor View and the incumbent's naval past (Johnny Mercer was once a Royal Navy captain) will appeal particularly well to those voters. and Labour have better chances in neighbouring Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, which is more favourable to them. Dead cert Conservative hold.

8. Southampton Itchen. This is similar to Plymouth Moor View on many levels-it has a prosperous and more progressive neighbour (Southampton Test), an incumbent who is well-respected and can appeal to soon to be ex-UKIP voters, a relatively high Leave vote, and traditional Labour voters turning against Labour. Royston Smith, a former Mayor of Southampton, obtained the largest majority of the Conservative MPs who gained a seat from Labour in 2015 and he will likely just sail through given issues within Southampton Labour itself. Dead cert Conservative hold.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

So it is happening after all...

Earlier today, to the surprise of many, Theresa May called a snap general election and announced that she intends for it to be held on 8th June 2017. This is a rather fitting date, given that this will be 34 years (less one day) since Margaret Thatcher's infamous landslide victory of 1983, and Theresa May is only the second female Prime Minister of the UK. Tomorrow, Parliament will almost certainly vote to approve this move, given that almost every party now backs an early general election to end this speculation and uncertainty.

So what will it all mean?

Well, since there will only be a short time to campaign, and because Labour are so divided, the Conservatives are on course to achieve a much increased majority, and possibly even a 3-figure landslide victory and win seats they have never won in living memory. In many ways this would be reminiscent of Harold Wilson's victory of 1966, which not only increased Labour's small majority of 4 straight up to 96 but also delivered seats that had never before been in Labour hands, such as Monmouth, High Peak, and Lancaster. Many Labour seats that have been in Labour hands since at least 1945 are now vulnerable again to the Conservatives, and these include such places as North East Derbyshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Bishop Auckland. Even constituencies held by Labour for longer than that, such as Mansfield and Workington, are potentially vulnerable when Labour loses hold of key voters and UKIP voters end up backing the Conservatives due to their firm support for implementing Brexit. Any revival the Liberal Democrats speak of will be largely limited to their former heartlands in the South West of England, and a few other constituencies where they have built up a strong local profile. The Green Party are set to make at least one gain in the midst of all this, with the seats most winnable for the Greens being Bristol West, Sheffield Central and the Isle of Wight. Opinion polls may be saying different things, but because the respondents to opinion polls are often younger than average, they are not particularly trustworthy even with improvements to polling methods. UKIP, meanwhile, will almost certainly be the biggest loser of this snap election, with its only MP Douglas Carswell having left the party and many financial backers, especially Arron Banks, having pulled the plug; whether Arron Banks will stand against Douglas Carswell in Clacton remains to be seen.

It also means that investigations into misrepresentation on election expenses by 24 Conservative MPs who were elected in 2015 will be overlooked in media terms, since the general election will take place after the CPS decides whether to prosecute, meaning that some of these MPs may leave Parliament anyway. This is because many of them narrowly won seats from the Liberal Democrats in 2015 and are likely to lose them this time around-keep an eye on county council elections in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset in particular.

Predictions party by party for this snap election (for Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, and SNP/Plaid Cymru) coming soon.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

My 2017 election forecasts: Scotland and Wales

Local elections for all the authorities in Scotland and Wales (which are all unitary authorities) will see many interesting contests, especially in Scotland where the Single Transferable Vote system is used in elections (however, the fact that all wards have to have 3 or 4 members means it is often not too proportional when it comes to smaller parties being represented). Most Scottish councils have also experienced significant local boundary changes for this year's elections. Labour's loss of support in rock-solid heartlands of Wales gives Plaid Cymru one of its best chances against Labour in local elections, and needless to say the Conservatives have their chances as well in Wales, particularly in Clwyd (read: Conwy, Flintshire & Denbighshire).

The SNP are set to make large numbers of council gains in Scotland, especially in the Glasgow commuter belt (old Lanarkshire, basically) and of course the city of Glasgow itself. However, at the same time, the Conservatives are set to make strong advances in southern Scotland and the city of Edinburgh, which will be the most hotly contested council area in Scotland this year. The SNP could suffer a few losses of their own as a result, in addition to Liberal Democrat revivals in more rural areas of Scotland, particularly Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh.

Which are the Scottish and Welsh councils to watch this election?


Edinburgh. All five major parties in Scotland have councillors there, and all five have good chances to make a real impact; indeed Edinburgh could be the scene of some of the only Labour council seat gains in the whole of Scotland this year. The Conservatives have become popular in Edinburgh once again (a point made clear by Ruth Davidson's win of the Scottish Parliament seat of Edinburgh Central last year) and despite the competitiveness of this city, the Conservatives have the best chances due to the overall prosperity of Edinburgh and anti-nationalist vote transfers. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.

Glasgow. An SNP gain overall control from Labour result seems bolted on given the magnificent swings the SNP have achieved in recent years, but with STV and the increasing rise of the Scottish Green Party, it is not as clear-cut as it seems. However, Glasgow is the most nationalist of the Scottish cities and even a substantial number of Green gains in the north are very unlikely to prevent an SNP landslide (in relative terms) as neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have any traction in Glasgow anymore. Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Aberdeenshire: This is the council most likely to see the SNP losing their largest party status; Nicola Sturgeon's swing towards social-democratic nationalism may pay dividends in Glasgow and the outlying commuter belt but they will pay a heavy price in many of their rural heartlands in such counties as Aberdeenshire and Perthshire. Although the SNP may have fielded 12 more candidates than the Conservatives, this could in fact prove costly due to crucial 1st/2nd preference votes being more splintered and due to the fact that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will work strongly against the SNP. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.

Aberdeen City. Like Edinburgh, this could see a unionist claw-back from the SNP, although in Aberdeen's case this is likely to be limited to the outer suburbs; the traditionally Labour inner city will almost certainly fall to the SNP. Any Conservative and Liberal Democrat gains will on balance cause more damage to Labour than the SNP, and with the Greens having limited support there the SNP are well on course to become the largest party, although gaining overall control is nearly impossible as only 25 SNP candidates were nominated. Prediction: SNP become largest party.

Dumfries & Galloway: The only genuinely three way contest between Labour, the Conservatives, and the SNP in Scottish council terms. Whilst none of those three parties have nominated enough candidates to achieve single-party control of Dumfries & Galloway, it will be a tight race to see which of them becomes the largest party. The Conservatives' gain of Dumfriesshire from Labour (in fact Labour were pushed into third place by the SNP) and their hold of Galloway & West Dumfries despite the SNP's best efforts last year should bode well for them, but Labour and Conservative voters are less willing to transfer to each other than in Edinburgh just to stop the SNP. Other parties will be out of sight here in practice. Prediction: Too close to call (council will be in NOC in any event).

Of the other Scottish councils, I predict that: the SNP will retain overall control of Angus and Dundee City, gain overall control of North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Midlothian, Inverclyde, Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Fife, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. All of these are overall strictly SNP vs. Labour contests where other parties, irrespective of performance, will not be able to affect the overall result much. Argyll & Bute, Highland, Na h-Eileanan Siar (outer Hebrides, basically), Orkney and Shetland will again return a majority of Independents, the SNP will remain the largest party in Moray and Perth & Kinross, the Conservatives will remain the largest party in the Scottish Borders and South Ayrshire, and Labour will (just) remain the largest party in East Dunbartonshire and East Lothian.


Caerphilly: With almost every ward featuring at least one Labour and one Plaid Cymru candidate apiece (and not many others besides), this is a key test for this year's Welsh local elections as to whether Plaid will be able to make a strong advance in Labour's former heartlands; in the Welsh Assembly they achieved many large swings in some safe Labour seats (capturing Rhondda in the process) and whether this can be repeated remains to be seen. Plaid have always been relatively strong in Caerphilly compared to much of the Welsh Valleys, and given Labour's woes and declining support in Wales, and other parties having little support in Caerphilly, Plaid should have no problems here. Prediction: Plaid Cymru gain from Labour.

Cardiff: Any Liberal Democrat revival in Welsh elections locally is likely to be limited to here and Swansea, but what makes Cardiff more interesting is Plaid's recent surge in the western part of Cardiff. Much of it has been down to Neil McEvoy, a somewhat controversial figure who was suspended from the Plaid Cymru Senedd group last month. Another important factor is that for reasons unknown to me, the Green Party has actually put up fewer candidates in Cardiff than in 2012, even in student-dominated Cathays, and this will likely benefit the Liberal Democrats considerably (then again, with memories of the Lib Dems' broken promises on student fees to come to the fore, it may not). The Conservatives meanwhile will consolidate their holds in the prosperous northern wards. Prediction: Labour lose to NOC.

Vale of Glamorgan: Back in 2007, this Welsh council was one of only two under Conservative control (the other being of course Monmouthshire); the Conservatives lost overall control of both in 2012. A Conservative recapture of Monmouthshire is almost certain, but the contest will be considerably tougher in the Vale of Glamorgan especially with Plaid Cymru making a strong challenge in Penarth in particular, and the Green Party fielding the most candidates it ever has done in the Vale of Glamorgan. Being the closest Welsh equivalent of a swing commuter belt due to its links to Cardiff, the result here will really matter. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party (possible Conservative gain from NOC-watch this space).

Carmarthenshire: Like Caerphilly, this is a key battleground between Labour and Plaid Cymru, albeit one where Plaid's chances are much better. This is an area where Plaid must finally be able to break through in order to capture Llanelli at any point in the near future, and make sure they hold Carmarthen when it is recreated through the upcoming boundary changes to parliamentary constituencies. In contests which are just Plaid Cymru vs. Labour, Plaid will likely hold out. However, the large number of Independent councillors (and candidates, some credible and some not) could possibly forestall Plaid Cymru's attempts to win overall control. Prediction: Plaid Cymru gain from NOC.

Wrexham: Wrexham as a whole is trending away from Labour as its image and demographics change. Although only the Labour Party and Independents of various types have put up enough candidates to have a chance of gaining overall control of the council, increasing dissatisfaction with Labour in northeastern Wales in particular is likely to lead to many Independent gains. Many Independent councillors in Wales are small 'c' conservative in practice, especially in rural areas, so this is a must-watch for this year. Prediction: Independents gain from NOC (Labour lose largest party status).

Conwy: In practice, Conwy County Borough will be fought perhaps more tightly than the city of Cardiff, because like Cardiff, the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Independents, and Plaid Cymru all have areas of strength there (but unlike Cardiff, there are no Green Party candidates standing). Most of the Independent incumbents are restanding but there is no guarantee they will all hold on given Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives consolidating their strength here more than ever before. Either could become the largest party depending on their performance against Labour, but if personal votes hold up, Independent councillors could remain the largest group once again. Prediction: Too close to call.

Denbighshire: Like the Vale of Glamorgan, this is a traditional contest between Labour and the Conservatives, but because of considerably stronger support for Independent councillors, gaining overall control is generally not a possibility for either of those parties. However, whichever party or group becomes the largest is a critical factor, and the Conservatives are gaining considerable ground here, as demonstrated in 2015 when they won the Vale of Clwyd constituency from Labour. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.

Of the other councils, Labour will retain control of Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Swansea and Torfaen; Plaid Cymru will win Gwynedd from NOC and Rhondda Cynon Taf from Labour, the Conservatives will gain Monmouthshire from NOC, Ceredigion, Flintshire and Ynys Mon will remain under NOC, and Pembrokeshire and Powys will remain under Independent control (however, the Greens are not without chances in Powys with 17 candidates, the most in a Welsh council area this year for them).

Friday, 14 April 2017

My analysis of local by-election results from 13/4/17 and forecasts for English county councils

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

Middlesbrough UA, Coulby Newham: Conservative 501 (38.5%, +10.3%), Labour 468 (35.5, -8.2%), Independent 318 (24.1%), Green 32 (2.4%). Conservative gain from Labour.

West Dorset DC, Piddle Valley: Conservative 303 (60.8%, -8.0%), Green 195 (39.2%, +19.4%).

Normally in local by-elections, the absence of a Liberal Democrat candidate in a seat held by Labour is overall helpful to Labour, but in places where Labour are dominant and voters seek a credible anti-Labour vote, this is not the case. Combined with the overall competitiveness of Coulby Newham ward, and strong support for Independents, a Conservative gain was not surprising at all. In Piddle Valley, the fact that the Green Party was the only opponent to the Conservatives did not make a real difference, as the Conservatives still held the ward with ease albeit on a considerably reduced majority. This is an important consideration given the use of local progressive alliances to back Greens against Conservatives in such places as Stroud, Gloucestershire, and Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire in the upcoming county council election, and the fact that in some cases Greens are the only opponents against Conservative candidates/independent candidates with small 'c' conservative views in practice (e.g. in Powys).

We are now three weeks away from the English county council and unitarised county council elections of 2017; most are Conservative-controlled but some are under no overall control (NOC) and Durham, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are Labour controlled. The Scottish and Welsh local elections will happen on the same day (more analysis on these later). Many of these councils, like Hertfordshire and Surrey, are unlikely to change hands, but there are many which could.

Which are the county councils to watch this year?

Norfolk. Norfolk is a tale of several places-the progressive and liberal city of Norwich, coastal towns small and large, particularly Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn, and the villages across the Norfolk Broads. It is under no overall control but is likely to fall to the Conservatives with UKIP's collapse in the majority of Norfolk. Another interesting feature is whether the Green Party can stop another 'Corbyn effect' rout in the county council elections by Labour, since all four of their seats on Norfolk County Council are in Norwich and only Nelson can be considered safe for the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats will likely see gains or recaptures only in the North Norfolk area, increasing the chances of the Conservatives regaining control further. Prediction: Conservative gain from NOC.

Nottinghamshire. In county council terms, Labour are likely to experience their heaviest losses here this year, as the former coal-mining areas are well and truly turning against them in the long term, not that this will always benefit the Conservatives (it will almost certainly do so in Gedling's divisions, though). A pact between the local Liberal Democrats and Greens in Broxtowe ( is likely to see the first Green Party county councillor elected in Nottinghamshire, although in the new West Bridgford North division (created from the former 2-member West Bridgford Central & South division in recent boundary changes) the Greens have very good chances as well.  Prediction: Labour lose to NOC.

Warwickshire: Labour has suffered considerable setbacks in this county since 2013, with the Conservatives significantly increasing their majorities in all the seats where Labour were the clear challengers in 2015 (especially since they had just lost those seats in 2010) and Labour's loss of North Warwickshire council. Furthermore, boundary changes reducing the number of seats from 62 to 57 will indirectly benefit the Conservatives, making a Conservative gain likely in the face of UKIP's fall even with a Liberal Democrat gain or two amongst the divisions of Stratford-on-Avon. Prediction: Conservative gain from NOC.

Gloucestershire: This could see one of the best performances in a county council by the Green Party, especially because in Stroud there appears to be a progressive alliance between the Greens, Labour, and Liberal Democrats not too dissimilar to the one in Broxtowe. Even with UKIP almost certain to lose all 3 of their county councillors here, it is very unlikely that the Conservatives can gain control of Gloucestershire especially with the Liberal Democrats having held up in key areas even in 2013, irrespective of the ground they can obtain against Labour in the city of Gloucester. Prediction: NOC hold.

Oxfordshire: On paper from analysis of the 2013 results, this looks like a relatively easy Conservative recapture, but the 'One Oxfordshire' proposal, as well as budget cuts, have become decidedly unpopular in most of Oxfordshire, and not only in Oxford either but also growing towns like Banbury and Bicester. Any Liberal Democrat recovery will be less pronounced in the South East than in the South West, and again due to UKIP's fall a few Lib Dem losses could occur in Oxfordshire. The city of Oxford marks a key Labour vs. Green battle just like that in Norwich; the Greens could make one or two gains but there is simultaneously the worrying prospect that Labour could win one or even both Green county council seats there. Prediction: Too close to call.

Somerset: Of the counties in the South West, this has the best chance of being gained by the Liberal Democrats, or at least the best chance of the Liberal Democrats becoming the largest party on the county council. This is also one of only a few counties where UKIP's impending collapse will be of benefit to the Liberal Democrats more than the Conservatives. All three Labour divisions are safe enough for them not to be a factor, although a Green gain somewhere in Somerset is a strong possibility. Prediction: Conservative lose to NOC (with at least an outside chance of Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative).

Cornwall: This is the most politically fickle county in Britain and the only one in 2013 to produce such things as five-way marginal divisions on multiple occasions. Politics is very localised there although the Liberal Democrats have considerable natural strength nonetheless, as do the Conservatives. As in Somerset, a Lib Dem revival is likely, but Cornwall elections are always full of surprises and therefore it is very unlikely the Liberal Democrats can obtain overall control, especially with many Independent councillors restanding and Mebyon Kernow likely to make another improvement. Prediction: NOC hold.

Isle of Wight: Local politics there is in many terms as localised (and therefore less dependent on political party performance) as Cornwall's, and the Green Party has some very good chances due to the high profile of their 2015 candidate for the Isle of Wight, Vix Lowthion, and their much improved organisation in Wight (in 2013, there was only one Green candidate). The aftermath of the debacle with the Isle of Wight's Conservative MP, Andrew Turner, still has not entirely faded away and with the Island Independents coalition not having performed too badly, the Conservatives are unlikely to regain control. Prediction: NOC hold.

In other forecasts, I believe that the Conservatives will regain control of: East Sussex and Lincolnshire, and hold all other county councils they currently hold (except Somerset, see above). I believe that Labour will meanwhile hold Derbyshire and Durham, and Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumberland will remain in No Overall Control.