Friday, 28 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Why 68 is too late

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

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

Earlier this week, Left Foot Forward made a suggestion that the Green Party should consider affiliating with Labour:

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

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

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

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