Friday, 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

On the Albanian Parliamentary election of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why the Conservative-DUP deal is so dangerous

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

So what exactly is the Democratic Unionist Party?

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

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

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

Why is this pact bad news?

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

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

Friday, 23 June 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 22 June 2017

Welcome to the first week of post-2017 general election in terms of local by-elections. The results for this week's were as follows:

East Cambridgeshire DC, Soham North: Conservative 423 (59.7%, -4.2%), Liberal Democrats 178 (25.1%, +4.1%), Labour 108 (15.2%, +0.1%). Conservative hold.

Powys UA, Yscir: Conservative 165 (29.8%), Independent Chris Davies 144 (26.0%), Plaid Cymru 101 (18.2%), Green 80 (14.4%), Independent Daniel Evans 62 (11.2%), Independent Steve Evans 2 (0.4%). Conservative win (Yscir had no nominations in 2017 which is why this by-election was held).

Sheffield MBC, Nether Edge & Sharrow: Labour 2641 (45.0%, +6.5%), Green 2509 (42.7%, +8.6%), Liberal Democrats 722 (12.3%, -2.3%). Labour hold; the Conservative candidate failed to hand in their nomination papers on time.

South Gloucestershire UA, Winterbourne: Conservative 873 (47.9%, +0.5%), Labour 615 (33.8%, +17.7%), Liberal Democrats 333 (18.3%, -0.1%). Conservative hold.

Stockton-On-Tees UA, Yarm: Conservative 1179 (50.8%, +3.7%), Independent 677 (29.1%), Labour 394 (17.0%, -3.7%), Liberal Democrats 73 (3.1%). Conservative hold.

These by-elections did not by any means follow the pattern shown at the 2017 general election a fortnight ago, partly due to limited media coverage and the sense of 'Corbyn vs. May' fading away. This allowed the Greens to reduce the Labour majority to 132 in the by-election in Nether Edge and Sharrow, where they already hold one of the seats. Nether Edge and Sharrow's natural Green vote is much stronger than similar wards elsewhere, meaning that the Greens remained competitive when they had lost so much support in cities such as Oxford and Norwich.

Had Yscir been part of a multi-member ward elected by STV (which would be the case if it was in Scotland and not Wales), it would certainly have received at least one nomination for 4 May 2017; its small size was a contributing factor given that most Welsh wards have to be much smaller than English equivalents given the poorer road and rail connections in rural Wales. This also means many councillors have to travel considerable distances for evening meetings making council work difficult in rural Wales (and also in Scotland even with STV instead of FPTP). The arguments for proportional representation of some type, especially at a local level, are practical as well as political.

It was otherwise a slow week, which is testament to the low swings in these by-elections. The sharp Labour surge in Winterbourne is partly due to the absence of UKIP from the ballot paper.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

French legislative elections round 2: A bolt from the Macron

The second round of the French parliamentary election (see this post for analysis of round 1:  ) resulted in a wide victory for President Emmanuel Macron's En Marche movement, who in alliance with the Democratic Movement (France's equivalent of the Liberal Democrats) won a total of 350 circonscriptions (308 for En Marche, 42 for the MoDems) giving them a majority of 123. This can be described as a bolt from the Macron since En Marche did not exist in 2012, the last time France had elections, and the MoDems were only a small party.

Meanwhile, the dominant social-democratic party, Parti Socialiste, was not wiped out as some were expecting, but they and their allies came a poor third with 45 seats nonetheless, compared to the 331 they won in 2012. They retained relatively few seats in mainland France (their overseas deputies were luckier). It is worth noting that only a minority of PS candidates made it through to the second round, giving them limited opportunities to mitigate their losses from round 1. This is shown by the fact their second round vote share was not much lower than their first round vote share.

The tide of Macronism swept away even Les Republicanes, since Macron's promise of economic reforms (although not on the scale Francois Fillon wanted) were able to win so many moderate conservatives over, whether LR candidates had made it through or not. LR and its allies lost 40% of their deputies, the same proportion it had lost after the fall of Nicolas Sarkozy, but this time they were in opposition against PS in their worst years in history, exacerbating their heavy losses. One of their most notable high-profile losses was that of Nathalie Kosciuzko-Moriet, aka NKM.

France Insoumisse, the banner under which the hardline socialist Front Gauche (FG), managed to make important gains, including the election of Jean-Luc Melenchon himself after failing to win a parliamentary seat in 2012 and finishing fourth in the recent Presidential election, but their seat total of 17 is one behind their 2007 result of 18, which was acquired at a time of PS trouble but in 2007 the PS did not suffer the losses it has this year. Part of the reason FI did not live up to expectations was that the older and more established French Communist Party (PCF) made no alliance with FG unlike in 2012 (and in fact some of their candidates included FG dissidents), although some of their candidates were not opposed by FG. PCF is likely to ally with FI in the new parliament in practice, however, given the protests that have already occurred over Macron's proposed socio-economic reforms.

Despite Marine Le Pen's strong performance as Presidential candidate by Front National standards, Front National only won 8 deputies in the Assembly as moderate voters scrabbled to stop them building a significant long-term base. However, they still came through in a few northern circonscriptions, if narrowly in most cases; nevertheless this represents yet another significant defeat for nationalist populism in Europe, which is likely to be repeated later this year in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It is sadly the French Green movements who lost out most in this election amongst smaller parties; only one EELV deputy, Eric Alauzet, was re-elected and several independent ecologists switched to Macron's side, even though M. Macron's reforms will likely be environmentally detrimental. Their 4.3% vote share is also the worst since 2002. Had the EELV not allied with PS or withdrawn in favour of PS in the Presidential election, it would have had a much stronger chance of retaining a group in the Assembly. A lack of proportional representation in French elections also constricts them just as in the UK; a two-round system is almost as bad as first past the post when it comes to ensuring fair results, and also encourages greater enforcement of tactical voting-useful against FN, problematic otherwise. Regional parties of various types won 5 seats between them, although only on overseas territories of France and not on mainland France (sometimes called Metropolitan France). The only others successfully elected to this assembly were M'Jid El Guerrab (representing overseas French voters), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of France Arise in Esonne's 8th circonscription, ex-FN politician and Mayor of Orange Jacques Bompard in Vaucluse's 4th circonscription, Jean Lassalle, the only Independent to run for President of France this year, in Pyrenees-Atlantiques' 4th circonscription, Christian Hutin of the Citizens and Republic Movement (MRC) in Nord 13, and Jimmy Pahun, an Independent, in Morbain's 2nd, and Sonia Krimi in Manche's 4th. (NB: 'miscellaneous right' and 'miscellaneous left' are not included in the latter total)

So what next, you ask? With such a secure majority, it is certain that Macron's reforms will come to pass, but what effect will they have? Whether Macron's movement can last is also an important point, since En Marche mainly gained prominence through M. Macron himself, like similar new centrist movements in Eastern Europe which are often led by prominent businesspeople without a particularly strong ideology.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Things that need to happen to stop a repeat of the Grenfell Tower fire

Earlier this week, the fire in Grenfell Tower, a housing block located within London's wealthiest borough, Kensington & Chelsea, resulted in the deaths of as many as 100 people at this time of writing, although media sources claim fewer deaths. This fire occurred because of neglect to the building by uncaring landlords, the use of flammable cladding (instead of fireproof cladding) which had been banned in several other countries after similar fires, a lack of sprinklers in the building, the fact that the fire escape was placed near the gas mains, and a lack of tenants' rights.

Grenfell Tower is located in one of the poorest areas of London, made starker by its location in the same borough containing mansions worth millions of pounds; the average house price in Kensington & Chelsea is in fact as high as £1,694,000, compared to only £220,000 in England as a whole; in other words, houses in Kensington & Chelsea cost nearly octople (eight times) as much as your average house. Rents in this area are also the second highest in England, only behind Westminster, and before the fire residents complained they were being pushed out of the borough, a process happening in social housing in many wealthy areas of London:

Limited tenants' rights in the UK compared to those of landlords, a lack of rent controls, and a lack of social housing or replacement of social housing which was sold off in the 'Right to Buy' era, exacerbate these problems, as does a lack of effective council power to enforce fair planning laws or make sure new buildings constructed by developers are safe, in an age where developers are much more concerned about profits than more important things.

So what needs to be done to prevent another Grenfell Tower fire, you ask? Several UK councils are already promising to fit new and existing blocks of flats with sprinklers, and in fact just a month prior to this event many did so following the Lakanal House fire of 2011: 

However, fundamental fire safety laws regarding construction and maintenance of buildings, especially housing, need considerable reform, and so do tenants' rights. At a minimum here is what needs to be done:

1. Require all new buildings and housing to be fitted with sprinklers in case of accidental fires.
2. Ensure that fire escapes in houses or flats are not built near gas mains or anything potentially flammable.
3. The usage of cladding that is not verified to be fireproof must be banned.
4. A better balance needs to be introduced regarding planning so that developers are not able to just run roughshod over councils when building new housing.
5. Greater encouragement towards terraced housing as opposed to just blocks and blocks of high rise towers, which simply due to their physical design and height impose an inherent risk to residents in case of a fire
6. Improvement of tenants' rights in the UK and stricter limits on eviction; many tenants have been evicted simply for complaining about problems which are in fact the leaseholder's responsibility.

Monday, 12 June 2017

French legislative elections round 1: En Marche Est Triumphante

The weekend after our snap general election, France held the first round of its own legislative elections, although these were timed to happen now anyway. The two-round system applies to parliamentary elections in France just as it does to Presidential elections, although since there is no proportional element it is nearly as difficult for smaller parties to enter the legislature as it is in Britain, and the tactical voting element is often even stronger (especially against the extremist and racist Front National).

The dramatic rise of En Marche!, President Emmanuel Macron's centrist and reformist movement, and the collapse of the most dominant force on the French left, Parti Socialiste, are undoubtedly the key stories of the premier de tour de elections legislatives de France. En Marche has only elected two representatives so far in round one alone, but they lead in the vast majority of French circonscriptions (constituencies for the Assembly of the Republic) and are set to win a landslide majority in round two of the French legislative elections next week, despite having only achieved 28.21% in round one (tactical voting will see many of them through). The Parti Socialiste meanwhile has seen an extraordinary collapse, in wake of the ineptitude of previous President Francois Hollande and a pressing need for economic reforms in France. They finished fifth in the popular vote with 7.44% and their general secretary, Jean-Christpohe Cambadelis, was defeated in the 16th circonscription of Paris, and he even finished fourth behind En Marche, Les Republicanes and the French Green Party Europe Ecologie Les Verts. PS only led in 7 constituencies and in not many more will they qualify for the second round, meaning that losses of at least 300 seats are certain for PS. On EELV's side, their former leader, Cecile Duflot, finished third in Paris' 6th circonscription and was eliminated as a result, and in only one constituency, Doubs' 2nd ('Besancon East'), did they lead on the first round, although Eric Alauzet will likely have an easy win in round 2; very few other EELV candidates qualify for round two. The backlash against EELV happened because of their previous governmental collusion with PS, to the point where their Presidential candidate withdrew to support Benoit Hamon (who has also been defeated in these elections) and many moderate EELV voters (and in fact, middle of the road voters from all French walks of life to varying degrees) were turned on by En Marche, and lost by EELV anyway as a result of said association with PS.

Front National, meanwhile, despite the relatively strong performance of Marine Le Pen in the Presidential run-off against M. Macron (easily beating her father's performance against Jacques Chirac in 2002), could only finish third with 13.02%, and due to the heavy tactical voting practised against FN the number of FN deputies will not exceed single figures once the second round ends. The run of crucial defeats against the 'populist and racist right' is set to continue in Europe and this election is continuing the trend; none of the FN candidates who qualified for round 2 are certain to win next week, even in north-eastern France which contains their strongest base. Even though the hardline socialist La France Insoumisse (FI) movement only finished fourth, this will be enough for them to become a significant opponent to Macron's tenure in the legislature and Jean-Luc Melenchon will almost certainly be elected in Bouche de Rhone's 4th circonscription, which can be summarised as 'Marseille Central'. The Communists finished seventh but because of their bedrock support in certain communes, they will still be represented assuming PS voters turn against En Marche (and many will not); after all, M. Macron's reforms will prove to be highly controversial even if they achieve a few positive things for the French economy and French society in general.

2017 will prove to be a historic year for France in many ways-but what will be achieved in the long term?

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The 2017 general election: what have we learned?

The 2017 general election, like the February 1974 general election, was a snap general election and both marked a real turning point in British politics.

February 1974, which elected the most Liberal MPs for 38 1/2 years, marked the point where the two party system had really cracked. It opened the door for many smaller parties to come through and politics locally and nationally became a more crowded field. The Green Party was one of them, and in England has reasserted itself as the fourth party with UKIP's collapse and imminent demise. Due to the unfairness of FPTP, Caroline Lucas is still the only Green MP and is one of only 9 MPs (the other 8 being Liberal Democrats) in England bearing neither the red rosette nor the blue rosette.

June 2017, conversely, marks a turning point back to two party politics in the UK, for the Conservatives achieved 42.4% of the vote, the highest since 1983 (and equal to their vote share of 1983), and Labour achieved 40% of the vote, not much less than that achieved in both of Tony Blair's landslide victories of 1997 and 2001. The combined Liberal Democrat, UKIP, and Green vote was meanwhile only 10.8% across the UK. In so many seats in England, and a few in Wales for that matter, the Labour and Conservative candidates were the only candidates to save their deposit. Many Liberal Democrat candidates even in previously strong constituencies dropped from second to third, or did not move up to third having been pushed there by UKIP in 2015.

So what can be concluded from this election?

1. Theresa May should never have called it in the first place.

This general election was called only 2 years and a month after the 2015 general election, and general elections are expected every four or five years at most (the maximum duration of any Parliament in peacetime is exactly five years). The only reason Theresa May called it was to take advantage of an apparently large lead over Labour in opinion polls, which despite having improved their methodology are often inaccurate, and to give her a mandate for a hard Brexit, which in the end she did not get. General elections should only be called when the Parliament's life has run its course, or when it is clear the government can no longer function. Theresa May had a working majority which she has now lost.

2. British politics has become much more polarised.

With the collapse of UKIP, and the Greens being squeezed in many constituencies, most races boiled down to whether Labour or the Conservatives would win, and many contests which were held by the incumbent party featured majorities of less than 1000 votes. Turnout sharply increased as a direct result in many constituencies, although the overall turnout increased by 2.3% due to a slight decrease in turnout over in Scotland. In a large proportion of cases the combined Conservative and Labour vote was 90% or more. If this continues a problematic return to two-party politics is on the cards, and neither the Conservatives nor Labour are interested in structural electoral reform (some Labour MPs are, though).

3. Plaid Cymru is now the third party of Wales and the key alternative.

Apart from their gain of Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru did not perform well in this election, partly due to Leanne Wood's stance being similar to Jeremy Corbyn's in socio-economic terms. However, in the majority of Welsh constituencies they did not win, Plaid Cymru finished third (but they pushed themselves up to second in Blaenau Gwent) as UKIP dropped out of sight and the Liberal Democrat vote continued to crumble even with only 10 Green Party candidates in Wales instead of 35 in 2015. The Liberal Democrats now have no MPs in Wales and dropped from 8 saved deposits to a pathetic four (Ceredigion, Brecon & Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire, and Cardiff Central). Only in Powys and Ceredigion are they remotely competitive now. Plaid Cymru may be in for a hard fight in the long term, but they are nevertheless able to hold what they have.

4. The SNP will still be dominant in Scotland despite having lost 21 seats-but they must hold back independence ambitions for now.

Several SNP losses were by margins in the low hundreds, Stirling being a good example. A lot of people support Scottish independence, but so many people are still not convinced and also want to wait a few years before the question needs to come up again. Nicola Sturgeon failed to heed this, and in rural areas where support for independence was lower the SNP lost out badly. Most SNP losses were in rural constituencies, not urban ones. However, the SNP still had its second best ever set of results and remains the dominant force in Scotland for now, because it is able to unite those who support its cause and most of those who no longer support Labour.

5. There will be no second referendum on EU membership-we are leaving and that is final.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives are going to hold a second referendum on EU membership, whichever side takes power. Even many Remain voters, who helped spark a backlash against the Conservatives especially in London, are willing to accept the result in return for concessions so that Britain does not end up with a bad deal once the Article 50 process finishes. The Green Party in particular did advocate that chance for voters to offer a new referendum in case the proposed deal was inadequate, but even many pro-EU voters did not take that chance as the election results show. We must therefore accept that Britain will be out of the EU for some time, whether Theresa May can form a government this year or not.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Theresa's plan backfired! My analysis of the 2017 snap general election

Theresa May's opportunistic plan has backfired-the Conservatives, far from gaining a landslide majority, now have no majority at all. At this time of writing only Kensington is still to declare, and there is a chance it could elect a Labour MP despite having some of the wealthiest real estate in London (especially around Earl's Court).

Only a handful of Labour seats fell to the Conservatives despite UKIP's collapse and subsequent transfer of votes. Those seats were Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland, Copeland (a by-election hold), Walsall North, Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, and Stoke-on-Trent South, with crucial seats like Newcastle-under-Lyme being held by Labour, if only by 30 votes in the latter. It is worth mentioning nonetheless that the last three of these seats had been held by Labour since 1922, 1935, and 1935 respectively, and it was inevitable Labour's dominance in Stoke-on-Trent would be brought to an end. Labour in return gained from the Conservatives Lincoln, Bedford, Ipswich, Peterborough, Warrington South, Weaver Vale, Crewe & Nantwich, Bury North, Croydon Central, Enfield Southgate, Colne Valley, Keighley, Gower, Vale of Clwyd, Cardiff North, Reading East, Warwick & Leamington, Brighton Kemptown, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Bristol North West, Stroud, Derby North, High Peak, Stockton South, Battersea, and for the first time ever, Kensington, Portsmouth South and Canterbury. The majority of those particular seats delivered a substantial Remain vote in last year's EU referendum or were only narrowly won by Leave, and aided in a backlash against the Conservatives. The same phenomenon ironically helped in Labour's capture of Leeds North West and Sheffield Hallam from the Liberal Democrats, ousting former deputy PM Nick Clegg in the process. In only 7 seats in England did Labour's vote share fall; six of these (especially St Albans, the only English constituency were Labour were pushed from second to third by the Lib Dems) were due to efforts by the Liberal Democrats and the other, Waveney, was due to the loss of Bob Blizzard's personal vote.

The Liberal Democrats avoided a net loss of seats after all, managing to finish with 12, but they did make some critical losses. They finished third in Southport behind Labour, who were reasonably close to gaining a seat that had never been theirs, and lost their last remaining seat in Wales, Ceredigion, to Plaid Cymru's Ben Lake by just 104 votes. Great hopes like St Albans and Cambridge were also missed and in many places which once had a 'Liberal tradition' they finished third, Cornwall being a strong example. The Liberal Democrats also lost more deposits than in 2015, not less, a victim of the major squeeze exacted by Labour and the Conservatives on everyone else. The Liberal Democrat gains were Eastbourne, Bath, Oxford West & Abingdon, Twickenham, and Kingston & Surbiton from the Conservatives, and East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh West, and Caithness, Sutherland & Ross from the SNP on anti-nationalist votes. They have however lost overall in vote share terms and are competitive in fewer seats than last time, as they can no longer rely on 'traditional' voters; in fact, no party can due to the substantial demographic changes that have taken place in the last 20 years alone. The losses incurred by all three major parties in traditionally strong areas for them (Labour in the former coalfields, Conservatives in prosperous middle class areas, Liberal Democrats in the West Country and Pennines) are testament to this.

In spite of all these spectacular losses, the SNP remain the largest party in Scotland and also hold a majority of Scottish Westminster seats, making this their second best ever night. Lost by the SNP were Banff & Buchan, Angus, Aberdeen South, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Gordon, Ochil & South Perthshire, Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, Ayr, Carrick, & Cumnock, Moray, East Renfrewshire, Dumfries & Galloway and Stirling to the Conservatives despite the Conservatives being third in many of those initially; Glasgow North East, Rutherglen & Hamilton West, Coatbridge, Chryston & Belshill, East Lothian, Midlothian, and Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath to Labour, and the three seats to the Lib Dems mentioned above; in some cases however the majority was in the low hundreds. This has certainly coloured the palette of the Scottish constituency map, with 35 SNP, 13 Conservative, 7 Labour, and 4 Lib Dem MPs returned in Scotland, and certainly shows that the unionist opposition is still rather divided in Scotland despite Ruth Davidson's best efforts. Much of this happened due to Scottish voters growing tired at Nicola Sturgeon's demands for another Scottish independence referendum, leading many voters to unite against her especially in places with a low appetite for independence, and rural areas where the SNP suffered the biggest hits (the Conservatives gained only one remotely urban constituency from the SNP-East Renfrewshire; the rest were rural and sparsely populated).

Plaid Cymru were very disappointed in Wales to have finished third in Ynys Mon despite fielding former MP Ieuan Wyn Jones; the national upswing to Labour helped them hold that seat, although Plaid held on to Arfon nonetheless. They also held Dwyfor Meirionydd and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr without any problems, and narrowly gained Ceredigion. However, they slipped back in Rhondda, Llanelli, Cynon Valley, and Neath, lost more deposits, and recorded few other vote share increases, Blaenau Gwent being a big exception. They will therefore have to resort more to holding on to what they have next time, in case another snap election ends up being on the cards.

The Green Party suffered a very poor night in spite of holding Brighton Pavilion with a record majority of 14,689. Only 8 Green candidates saved their deposits, which in the cases they did not win were in the constituencies of the Isle of Wight, Bristol West, Sheffield Central, Buckingham, Skipton & Ripon, North Herefordshire, and North East Hertfordshire. Their only vote share increase of note outside Brighton Pavilion was on the Isle of Wight and they finished third instead of second in Bristol West and Sheffield Central despite having campaigned heavily there for months beforehand. In many straight fights with Labour, their vote was decimated to its core level, and rural areas proved to be a missed opportunity for the Green Party that should have been capitalised on. The Progressive Alliance project, much vaunted by Caroline Lucas & Jonathan Bartley, cost the Green Party dearly especially against Labour, and meant they were unable to gain any of UKIP's protest votes. It also had no effect in the end, for many of the gains Labour and the Liberal Democrats managed were clearly achievable without it in light of the majorities achieved. The Green Party must not become a poodle of Labour under any circumstances; Greens must stand on their own and adopt a more universal approach, and reach out more to rural voters and coastal voters. The Green Party must return to its roots and core values, and must stop shifting to the left simply to out-do Labour. I will promise to ensure the Green Party can achieve all this and regain credibility that it lost in this election, and if I have to stand against, and oust, Caroline & Jonathan in the next leadership election to achieve these goals, then that is exactly what I will do.

UKIP were never going to do well, particularly with Article 50 already having been triggered, and it will continue to be triggered even without a majority for the Conservatives, since the DUP support Brexit as well and because there are not enough anti-Brexit MPs to prevent it. UKIP spectacularly fell back in many of the seats where it had done so well, its highest vote being in Thurrock where Tim Aker still secured 20.1% of the vote, compared to 7.6% in Clacton and 7.7% in Boston & Skegness. UKIP lost the vast majority of their deposits, despite still coming third in many constituencies, although it is worth mentioning that only 338 UKIP candidates stood. Even with the Greens' fall in vote share many UKIP candidates failed to beat the Green Party. They also did not save a single deposit in Wales. Their vote share collapse or lack of candidature was undoubtedly responsible for the few Conservative gains from Labour, even though Labour increased their vote in all those cases, and they made many Conservative seats even safer, so they did have a significant part to play in this election after all. However, in a considerable number of seats where UKIP did not stand, the Conservative vote actually fell, even outside London (such as in the case of Reading East which Labour captured). With Brexit now clearly on course to happen, UKIP has lost its raison d'etre and will likely cease to exist in a matter of years.

Northern Ireland was a very interesting story, with the SDLP and UUP wiped out and Independent Unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon being the only Northern Irish MP not from the DUP or Sinn Fein. The DUP finished with 10 seats, their highest ever despite memories of the RHI scandal still being fresh, and Sinn Fein finished with 7 seats, also their highest ever total. The Green Party saved both their deposits from 2015, though, with Steve Agnew increasing his vote in North Down to 6.5%. The Alliance Party failed badly, suffering a considerable swing in Belfast East despite the UUP's intervention, and only finishing third in highly competitive Belfast South. Not only did the UUP lose both their seats but their vote share fell sharply in every other seat they contested except for Lagan Valley. The Northern Irish Conservatives, as expected, flopped badly even in Strangford and North Down. Only one TUV candidate bothered to contest a Northern Irish constituency, although Timothy Gaston did save his deposit with 6.8%.

All the minor parties did badly, apart from Louise Irvine of the NHAP in South West Surrey who was backed by the Greens and achieved 20% of the vote. This was still nowhere near unseating Jeremy Hunt, although his majority did decrease to 35.5% in what is one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. The Yorkshire Party did much better than in 2015, when they were Yorkshire First, but all 21 candidates lost their deposits. However, they did often beat UKIP, Lib Dem, and Green candidates depending on constituency; their best vote share was 3.8%. Like the Green Party, they do better in rural Yorkshire than in urban Yorkshire, especially in the ex-mining areas. The Christian Peoples' Alliance stood more candidates than every other minor party to no avail, since none of them achieved even 1% of the vote apiece and most of them lost support compared to 2015. UKIP's collapse did not help them at all as it could have; in fact their candidate in Maidenhead was beating by the OMRLP's Howling Laud Hope. All 10 Pirate Party candidates did badly, in line with the decline of the whole Pirate Party movement; none achieved more than 200 votes. UKIP's collapse did not help the BNP at all, since they all achieved derisory votes as in 2015; no other far right party stood at all. The only party of the far left to oppose Labour was the Workers' Revolutionary Party, and all five of their candidates did very poorly, usually achieving less than 100 votes each. It was a decent night for Independents, though, since many saved their deposits, although Claire Wright was unable to capture East Devon from Hugo Swire despite achieving 35% of the vote, squeezing out other parties in the process. Notable Independent performances include those of Salma Yaqoob in Bradford West with 13.9%, most of the ex-Respect vote, ex-Lib Dem MP David Ward in Bradford East, where the official Lib Dem candidate lost their deposit when David kept his with 7.8%, Jim Kenyon in Hereford & South Herefordshire with 11.0%, and Gail Turner in Ashfield with 9.2%, which was largely responsible for the Conservatives' failure to capture this seat from Labour's Gloria de Piero. Simon Danczuk, meanwhile, polled only 833 votes as an Independent in Rochdale, the seat he once held for Labour before being suspended by the party (he later resigned). Former Camborne & Redruth candidate Michael Foster's stand against Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing mantra failed spectacularly when he polled just 208 votes in Islington North. The wooden sppon for this election goes to Bobby Smith of Give Me Back Elmo Fame, polling in Maidenhead an all-time low of 3 votes, and the second-lowest on record in a British general election.

The most marginal seat is now Lanark & Hamilton East, a three-way marginal between the SNP, Conservatives and Labour, which the SNP held by 265 votes and with Labour only 360 votes behind the SNP. The closest three-way marginal in England meanwhile is the above-mentioned Southport, with Wales' three-way marginal being Ceredigion, won by Plaid Cymru's youngest MP to date.

Even though in theory Theresa May can bring the DUP to the table in order to retain power, it will be anything but strong and stable as she kept repeating throughout the Conservatives' terrible campaign. Perhaps there will be another snap general election in less than a year's time, and it is time Britain moved with the times and abandoned FPTP at Westminster level. Only electoral reform and proportional representation can bring strong and stable government in times of uncertainty for the United Kingdom as it begins its course to exit the European Union.

UPDATE: Labour gained Kensington after 3 recounts by a majority of 20 votes.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

My final predictions for the 2017 general election

Just one day to go now, everyone.

Labour are still edging close to the Conservatives in opinion polls-but that depends on whether enough young people will turn out to vote tomorrow. An ICM poll puts the Conservatives on 45% and Labour on 34%, but a YouGov poll puts the Conservatives on 41% and Labour on as high as 40%. The key difference between these polls is that ICM assumes that the higher youth turnout will not occur in the end, whereas YouGov assumes it will actually happen.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are still stuck on 8%-the same percentage they polled in 2015. UKIP are on 5%, with the Green Party on 3% even though they have far more candidates to vote for than UKIP do in this general election. The SNP are still comfortably ahead in Scotland, this time with the Conservatives as the main challengers to them instead of Labour, and Plaid Cymru are not having nearly the same level of success in Wales.

Earlier, I made many predictions for this election, which were made when the Conservatives were dramatically ahead of Labour, always by more than 10%, and were often polling as high as 48%, a figure last bettered by the late great Harold MacMillan in 1959. This time, the Conservative lead over Labour has dropped considerably, particularly due to gaffes and refusals to participate in televised debates by Prime Minister Theresa May, to the point where there is an outside chance of Theresa May losing her small majority of 10 despite the inevitable transfer of large numbers of UKIP votes to the Conservatives (dependent on constituency, of course).

It remains true nonetheless that the Liberal Democrats are recovering best in Greater London and that the Green Party will perform much better south of the line flowing from The Wash to the Bristol Channel than north of it.

After considerable thought and recalculation, these are the seats that will or should change hands in this election (note that gains are compared to the 2015 general election):

Conservative gains from Labour (21)*:

North East Derbyshire
Walsall North
Wolverhampton South West
Birmingham Northfield

Stoke-on-Trent South
Stoke-on-Trent North
Coventry South
Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland
Bishop Auckland
Lancaster & Fleetwood
Wirral West
Blackpool South
City of Chester

Conservative gain from UKIP (1):


SNP gain from Labour (1):

Edinburgh South

Green gain from Labour (1):

Bristol West

Plaid Cymru gain from Labour (1):

Ynys Mon

Liberal Democrat gains from Conservative (6):

Kingston & Surbiton
Portsmouth South

Labour gains from Conservative (3):

Croydon Central
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport
Brighton Kemptown

Independent gain from Conservative (1):

East Devon**

Conservative gains from SNP (3):

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine
Dumfries & Galloway

Liberal Democrat gains from SNP (2):

East Dunbartonshire
Edinburgh West

Sinn Fein gain from UUP (1):

Fermanagh & South Tyrone

Alliance gain from DUP (1):

Belfast East***

*In many of these particular constituencies there is no UKIP candidate standing this year, and in half of them no Green candidate.
**The Independent in question is Claire Wright.
***There is a UUP candidate in Belfast East where there was not one in 2015.

There is also a good chance that the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell will lose his highly competitive Belfast South seat, but who he could lose it to is a debatable matter due to the unpopularity of the DUP and speculation about how much the Alliance Party can capitalise on this at a Westminster level. Other seats to watch in England include all four of the seats Labour gained from the Conservatives in London in 2015 (i.e. Ealing Central & Acton, Enfield North, Ilford North, and Brentford & Isleworth), Bury North, Hyndburn, Chorley, Leeds North West, Cardiff North, Carshalton & Wallington, Cambridge, North Norfolk, Southport, Richmond Park, Bristol East, Bradford South, and Bradford West; I believe the incumbent party will hold these seats but they all have reasonable chances of changing hands so I advise you to watch these seats as well on election night.

In total this gives: Conservatives 345 (+15), Labour 211 (-21), SNP 52 (-4), Liberal Democrats 16 (+8), DUP 7(-1), Sinn Fein 5 (+1), Plaid Cymru 4 (+1), SDLP 3 (nc), Green 2 (+1), Independent 2 (+1), UUP 1 (-1), Alliance 1 (+1), Speaker 1 (nc), UKIP 0 (-1). I therefore predict that the Conservative majority will rise to 40.


Monday, 5 June 2017

My analysis of the 2017 Maltese general election

Malta, part of the British Commonwealth and also the EU (along with Cyprus), held a general election recently, which in spite of all the whiffs of corruption around Labour, led by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, led to another Labour victory.

The vote shares of the two dominant parties in Malta, the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party (Malta's conservatives) only increased slightly, by 0.21% and 0.34% in terms of first preference votes; Malta is one of only a handful of countries to use Single Transferable Vote at all levels. Because of the near-total dominance of the two parties, however, Malta has not been able to develop a multi-party parliament in the way Ireland has, even though all Maltese constituencies have 5 seats and Irish constituency sizes can vary from 3 to 5 seats. Malta also uses compensatory seats to make sure first preference votes match seats, a feature that does not exist in the Irish Dail.

Malta's Green Party, the Democratic Alternative, remained in third place but still gained no seats, and its vote share also dropped from 1.8% to 0.83%. Despite having originated as a split from Labour, it performs best in the strongest Nationalist districts of Malta, which are districts 09, 10, 11, and 12; these four districts all have a consistent and stable Nationalist majority whereas the other nine districts have Labour majorities throughout the majority of elections. This is analogous to Ireland as well where the Irish Greens have managed to perform best in middle-class urban seats usually dominated by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and with limited Labour support. The Green Party of England and Wales, meanwhile, has not succeeded in winning over that many Green-minded Conservatives even in rural areas where it sometimes forms the only real opposition, despite having the potential to do so and in spite of the fact that many of the seats where it performed well in either are Conservative-held or have been in recent memory (Brighton Pavilion, Bristol West, and the Isle of Wight are clear examples of this). Other parties fared even worse, with their aggregate vote totals not managing to equal AD's. Maltese politics is very tribal; no parties other than Labour and the Nationalists have won any parliamentary seats since 1966 and turnout always exceeds 90%, although the 92% turnout for this election was slightly down from 2013 where the turnout was 93%.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

What will these Labour surges actually mean?

In recent opinion polls, Labour has been substantially closing the gap on the Conservatives, culminating in the latest opinion polls showing Conservative leads over Labour being reduced to just 3% (although this was from a poll with a sample size of only 1,875) in some cases, and the average considerably less than 10%. The Conservative slide has been occurring in spite of UKIP continuing to flatline at an average of just 4%.

Why is this happening with 1 week to go before polling day? What is causing it?

As I mentioned earlier, opposition parties generally close the gap on the governing party (or the other way around, if the governing party is sure to lose, which this year is certainly not the case); however, this is being enhanced with Theresa May's refusal to attend election debates of any sort and the Conservatives running poor and lacklustre ground campaigns in many key constituencies (e.g. Ealing Central & Acton). It also transpires that former UKIP voters are not as willing to hand their votes to the Conservatives as previously indicated, since the Conservatives are slipping somewhat amongst working-class voters (those in economic classes C2, D and E; middle to upper class voters are in economic classes A, B, and C1), who generated a stronger Leave vote in the EU membership referendum last year.

Younger voters, who are much less likely to vote Conservative than older voters, are also displaying a greater interest in this election than the 2015 election and more of them are registered to vote in spite of Individual Electoral Registration initially having caught out students and private renters in particular. The greater turnout amongst young voters, where turnout has been in steady decline over the past 20 years, will be a crucial factor in many seats, especially metropolitan and prosperous suburban seats.

Labour is also squeezing out Liberal Democrat and Green voters more, particularly in university cities and more traditionally radical areas (which had particularly high Remain votes) like Hackney North & Stoke Newington and Lewisham Deptford; this is particularly bad news for the Green Party since many of its stronger performances in 2015 were in safe Labour seats where Green support has been stronger than average due to demographic factors. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's non-environmental policies have been edging noticeably closer towards the Greens in many ways. In London, this also includes Hackney South & Shoreditch, Holborn & St Pancras, both Islington seats, Tottenham, Bethnal Green & Bow, and most of the south-central portion of inner London (i.e. the former County of London area). Outside London, this can be extended to include such seats as Nottingham East, Oxford East, Liverpool Riverside, Manchester Gorton, and Norwich South (in all of these five seats, locally and nationally, only the Labour and Green Parties are in contention in practice; furthermore in these five, the considerable Green vote is likely to be heavily squeezed). Labour's surges will be considerably heavier in Remain areas than Leave areas, so despite this surge Labour could still lose considerable numbers of seats to the Conservatives, and not gain enough to counter their losses.

Will it have as much an effect as predicted?

Not significantly, especially since the swing of voters from UKIP to Conservative can counteract any buoyancy these improvements provide, especially in seats without a UKIP candidate at all. It is well worth remembering that false flag polls usually crop up in elections at least once, and therefore those of you particularly interested in tracking polls need to keep doing so until election day. The Liberal Democrat vote can only be squeezed so far, and in so many seats where they were never competitive it has already bottomed out. The same is true for the Green vote in uncompetitive constituencies. In some marginal constituencies where the Remain-Leave vote was just as tight as the 2015 election result, such as Bedford, it will be enough to deliver a Labour gain, however, if those polls ring true.