Confessions of a Political Animal

September 4, 2009

What a difference 12 months doesn’t make

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Last autumn I wrote a couple of posts examining the effectiveness of the London Assembly’s questioning of the Mayor – and in particular the interesting (that’s to say hands off) approach adopted by the Conservative Group.

So, with a year passed and the summer recess over, I thought it might be apposite to see if anything much had changed. After all, the Mayoralty has certainly moved on in those twelve months (in many cases in ways the Mayor would probably rather forget), so shouldn’t the Assembly have moved with the times too?

With the usual caveat of  quantity not being everything, let’s take a quick look at just how many questions the political groups are now tabling, using the forthcoming Mayor’s Question Time on 9th September (questions publ;ished here) and comparing it with that held on 10th September 2008. (more…)

July 29, 2009

What a load of Phibbs

conservative-homeIn many ways I admire ConservativeHome. It’s an attractive, reasonably open and user-friendly site that does genuinely appear to seek to engage with the Party’s grass-roots activists and supporters.

It has a problem though – serving as it does as a bit of a shop window for the Tories, it does with some regularity highlight to the outside world the more, ahem, interesting points of view and personalities within the Party. You know, the sort any party would want to keep a little under wraps – it’s not a partisan thing, every party has them. However, ConservativeHome sometimes seems to go out of its way to highlight them. Take, for example, the innocuous sounding statement ‘Cllr Harry Phibbs edits ConservativeHome’s Local Government page‘. I don’t know a huge amount about said Cllr Phibbs, but I’m learning – largely through his own teachings. And the more I learn, the more I feel that an equivalent statement would be ‘Margaret Moran MP edits LabourHome’s Probity in Public Life page’.

Cllr Phibbs represents the Ravenscourt Park ward in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, flagship council of the Tory right since they took control in 2006 – tax-cutting, service-slashing, employee-bullying, homeless-bashing. The council’s most recent brush with the media spotlight has surrounded the intriguing views of Leader Stephen Greenhalgh about exactly for whom and where social housing should be provided. Some have intimated that his policies are almost Porter-esque. The Animal is saying nothing for fear of the libel courts. (more…)

July 14, 2009

European Left Watch: Bulgaria, Albania…and Henin-Beaumont

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

What Harold Macmillan would describe as ‘events, dear boy, events’ have prevented me from catching up on two European parliamentary elections held in the past couple of weeks. One was disastrous for the European centre left, the other mildly encouraging.

Bulgaria went to the polls on 5th July to elect its 240-seat National Assembly, with 87% of the seats being awarded nationally through a new proportional system. The remaining seats are elected through plurality rule.

Until the elections, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) headed a coalition government with the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev. In common with many avowedly centre-left governments in the former Soviet bloc, the actual programme of the coalition took a decidedly rightwards slant, including the introduction of a 10% flat tax rate. Throughout its four-year term of office, Stanishev’s government was mired in allegations of corruption and entered the election very much on the back foot, trailing the centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria(GERB) grouping – itself founded as recently as 2006 and led by Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov. (more…)

June 10, 2009

Party like it’s 2008 – sort of.

London Boroughs Euro Labour

Note: I have published my data sheet for the London European election results with borough-by-borough breakdowns here. I am missing the exact breakdown of independent candidate votes in Hillingdon and the results for the City of London (unless the latter are included in a neighbouring borough). If anyone has access to these, please could they leave me a note? Thanks! UPDATE: data now complete thanks to Nick in comments.

If the patterns emerging on the map above (apologies for the atrocious reproduction quality) look slightly familiar, it’s probably because, like me, you spent some time last year poring over maps like this or thiswhich showed clearly the inner/outer London divide in voting in the Mayoral elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that last week’s European elections produced similar results – voting patterns aren’t likely to change that much in 13 months – but they are evidence of the re-emerging political disconnect between the ‘two Londons’. The dominance of New Labour did much to smooth over that disconnect. It may be the case that its death throes are widening the gap further than ever before.

There’s no getting around the fact that the European Election results were very, very bad for Labour, but as Dave Hill has pointed out, what was calamitous in the rest of the country was merely dismal in London. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped 7% nationally compared to 2004, it fell by only half of that in the London region; the Tory increase was smaller even than the limited national figure (+0.6% in London, compared to +1% nationally), whilst UKIP, surging into second place across Britain registered a 1.9% vote decrease in London, narrowly falling into fifth place behind the Greens. (more…)

June 4, 2009

Dear Hazel

blearsDear Comrade,

I thought about writing this last night. I didn’t, because it’s generally a good rule that when you want to write something really angry, you should wait twenty four hours and see if you’re still just as angry then. Also, I didn’t want to leave myself open to accusations of hypocrisy by effectively acting in the same way as you have. However insignificant I am in this Party of ours (and believe me, that’s insignificant), I do not bear my responsibility towards it lightly. I did not want to publish this before polls closed.

We have never met. I am a party member of ten years standing, hardly active enough to be called an ‘activist’. I’ve delivered a few leaflets, served in a few branch positions, occasionally written vaguely supportive things on this blog. I’m extremely happy that for the past six years of my professional life I have worked alongside Labour politicians from every wing of the Party, all genuinely committed to helping the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised. There are real and deep ideological debates within our Party and we debate those forcefully, but we are united in the knowledge of a common aim and a common enemy. We do not, as a rule, engage in public character assassination. However, comrade, by your despicable actions yesterday, you have – in the eyes of many members – forfeited that protection.

Those of us who sat through hustings meetings in the last deputy leadership contest (no fewer than three in my case – I know I’m sad, but I enjoy elections) will have had the pleasure of hearing you harangue the audience, and indeed several of the other candidates, on the duty of loyalty that we owe to the party and its leadership. This, indeed, was very much your USP. I did not and do not share your hardline views on cracking down on ‘dissent’ within the Party. Slavish loyalty to the Party leadership is destructive and dangerous. But in the position you held until yesterday, there was one very distinct duty of loyalty that you held. (more…)

June 3, 2009

Public Service Announcement

euTomorrow, as you know, is European election day (and, for some, local election day). I’d be surprised if any of the select and very welcome audience of this blog was in any doubt as to the importance of casting their vote. Democratic expression is always important, but the stakes could not be higher tomorrow.

A low turnout tommorrow massively increases the chances that London, along with other areas of the country, will be represented in the European Parliament by a member of the racist BNP. There can be little doubt as to the risk that winning seats in Brussels could be the thin end of a very nasty wedge for this vile party: the cash and legitimacy they would receive as MEPs could place them on a similar trajectory to that followed by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s equally unpleasant Front National, which became a major player in French politics on the back of European seats.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a member of the Labour Party, but I’m not blind to the fact that we are not currently flavour of the month. This is a shame, as the top two candidates on Labour’s London list, incumbent MEPs Claude Moraes and Mary Honeyball have proved to be superb representatives, fighting for worker’s rights, improved overseas aid, equalities and EU expansion. I would strongly urge a vote for them. However, I know that many people will not feel able to do so – and I don’t think it is in any way disloyal for me to say that in a preferential voting system that the strong record of the Green’s London MEP, Jean Lambert would mean that her party would feature high on my list.

But what is important is that voters inclined towards any stripe of party other than the BNP turn out tomorrow – and I am hoping that such a description covers pretty much the entire audience of this blog. The indefatigable Labour MP Bob Marshall Andrews was once caught on TV telling a constituent that he considered him a racist and he didn’t want his vote. Well, if you are considering voting BNP, then you are pandering to racism and I don’t want your readership. Instead, head over here for a superb set of examples of just how ludicrous and unpleasant the BNP are when they obtain power.

Tomorrow – vote for who you like, but please vote to stop the BNP.

PS – hat-tip to Dave Cole for alerting me to the interesting EUProfiler.eu website. I’m not entirely convinced by its analysis of the positioning of UK parties (say what you like, the Tories are not to the left of Labour on a socio-economic scale – two years ago, maybe, but not any more), but the ability of the site to compare your ideological position to that of practically every party in the EU – as well as rather randomly Turkey, Switzerland and Croatia – is fascinating. As I’ve always thought, I need to move to France so I can start voting for the Parti Socialiste – but it was news to me that the Luxembourg Greens will meet my needs just as well!

March 4, 2009

The BNP and the fear of the other

ethnicity-and-bnp-vote-chart-1

Does the above chart show that multi-culturalism works?

By itself, no, but it could be read as making some interesting points about the impact that experience of diversity has on the likelihood of people to support far-right, anti-immigration parties, such as the BNP. The Animal’s chart doesn’t tell us anything particularly new – it is a well known fact that the BNP does best in heavily white areas – but after inputting the data for it, I was surprised at just how strong the correlation was. The chart plots the proportion of the population in each London ward that is of white ethnicity (caveat emptor: these figures are from the 2001 census. From a social scientist’s perspective, 2011 just can’t come soon enough) against the vote share achieved by the BNP in the cross-London Assembly list section of the May 2008 elections. This is probably the most appropriate election to use, as it requires voters to select a party, rather than a candidate, thus removing mostpersonality factors: this was also the BNP’s strongest section, with their overall vote share narrowly propelling Richard Barnbrook into the London Assembly.

My second chart confirms the picture hinted at by the first: (more…)

February 12, 2009

The seven silly sins of the anti-PC crusaders

Carol Thatcher

Carol Thatcher

I’m well aware that the fuss over Carol Thatcher’s apparent vocabulary malfunction has pretty much blown over now, at least until some media organisation decides to re-hire her. So no-one’s really going to care about the Animal’s two-pennyworth, especially as others have said what I would have said far better. And its a bit late for me to work up an outrage over the Mayor’s defence of the woman, though given his apparently…er…gritty vocabulary, perhaps he was just as well to take the stance he did.

However, a long series of links followed in an idle moment brought me back to the story, as reported on Tory über-blogger Iain Dale. Nothing particularly remarkable about his take on it: the usual rent-an-outrage anti-BBC meanderings that we expect from the right-wing blogosphere. For some reason, though, I continued below the fold into the comments section and found myself dragged into the happy world of the apologist-for-mild-racism at play. And what struck me was just how formulaic it all was. I’d read the self-same comments in defence of Prince Harry, Prince Phillip, Jeremy Clarkson, Prince Harry again, Patrick Mercer, James McGrath (yes, you’d forgotten who that was too), Chris Moyles and Prince Harry. So, with examples liberally culled from the pearls of wisdom dropped below Dale’s article, the (more…)

December 18, 2008

London 2010: Will national meet local?

ballot-boxWith yesterday bringing the latest in a string of polls showing Labour within striking distance of the Conservatives – well within the single figure Tory lead that I suggested would be a signifier of the game being ‘on’ for the next general election, there has been a resurgence in discussion of Gordon Brown calling a 2009 election.

At the risk of very quickly looking silly, however, I still consider 2009 to be an unlikely date for the next general election. The polling evidence to suggest that Labour would be the largest party remains too limited for Brown to call an election with any confidence – and no poll has pointed to a Labour majority. If the polls continue to to show a similar picture into the new year, with Labour sticking around 4-5 percentage points behind the Tories, then Brown may conclude that a Labour-biased hung parliament and some sort of Lib-Lab coalition or agreement is the best available outcome and take the plunge. However, once we hit January the available windows (more…)

December 3, 2008

European Left Watch: Neck and neck in Romania

the world's largest administrative building

The Romanian Parliament: the world's largest administrative building

What will almost certainly be the EU’s last legislative election of 2008 took place on Sunday in Romania (the first since accession to the EU), with the results finally being announced late yesterday. Not that the results shed much light on the likely make-up of the country’s next government.

Romania is pretty unique in having a bicameral parliament where both houses (The Senate and The Chamber of Deputies) are elected on the same day in their entirety, using exactly the same electoral system. The system in use, closed list proportional representation should, in theory, produce a highly proportional outcome, although it has not on this instance prevented the party that came narrowly second in terms of vote share from coming narrowly first in terms of seats.

Over the past four years Romania has experienced relatively turbulent politics, following an inconclusive outcome from the 2004 elections. Following these elections, a broadly centre-right coalition government was formed of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Liberal Party(PDL), the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) and the Conservative Party (PC). To form a narrow parliamentary majority, the modestly named ‘Justice and Truth Alliance’ government, (more…)

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