Confessions of a Political Animal

February 5, 2010

Living in an Alternative (Vote) London

But who? And how?

The Prime Minister’s proposals for electoral reform are too limited and too late. But despite that I support them.

Not only because I believe the introduction of Alternative Vote is a key step on the way towards the introduction of a genuinely proportion (and more psephologically interesting) electoral system but also because the rabid response of the right has convinced me that Brown must be on to something. This has ranged from Cameron’s none-too-subtle barbs about rigging the electoral system at PMQs, through to the ill-advised playing of the Mugabe card by Reading East Tory Rob Wilson MP*.

As I like to give all politicians the benefit of the doubt (stop sniggering at the back, there) I’m prepared to be convinced that if we weren’t 100 days from a general election then the response would be a bit more considered. Because if this is an attempt to rig the electoral system, it would be an astoundingly cack-handed way of doing it. Alternative Vote makes no significant amendment to the UK’s constitutional settlement, it is highly unlikely to break the dominance of the two major parties and will leave the vast majority of seats in the same hands as currently, albeit with a little more legitimacy for the sitting MP.

Whether the AV transition is likely to happen this time round or not is a moot point. But I remain convinced in some degree of historical inevitability of electoral reform in the UK, and AV seems a very likely first step whenever it comes around. So what would it mean? I don’t have the time or inclination to go through each of the UK’s 650 constituencies, but I thought I’d have a run through the London region: not only because it’s my home, but also because we have some experience of this sort of system. The Supplementary Vote system used for electing the Mayor is a hybridised form of AV, in which the voter is limited to expressing two preferences, rather than being able to number all the way down the ballot paper. So there is a bit of evidence, albeit somewhat unwieldy, as to how voters might react to a preferential system. (more…)

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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…)

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 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!

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…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 29, 2008

In praise of people who don’t agree with me

Has near-unanimity damaged the case against Heathrow extension?

Has near-unanimity damaged the case against Heathrow extension?

Waiting for my train at Charing Cross last night, I was flicking through a magazine in the WHSmiths reading room outlet. A columnist making the case against a third runway at Heathrow had written a piece reeling off the political opposition to the scheme. This included

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who whatever you may think of him commands several million votes [sic], many times more than any Member of Parliament and a sizable chunk of the British electorate, is opposed to the third runway[.]

Indeed he is, although his opposition seems to rest more on the inconvenience that extra flights will cause to Conservative-voting West Londoners than to any commitment to cutting air travel or emissions: see the approval of increased flights from City Airport or the Heathrow-on-Sea plans as examples.

But, I thought, surely you are understating the case – in the Mayoral elections it certainly wasn’t just Johnson who was against the expansion of Heathrow. Without doing a full search through every (more…)

October 11, 2008

A continuing question of scrutiny

A few weeks ago, I took Tory London Assembly Member Roger Evans gently to task for a low-grade ConservativeHome article in which he claimed that the Conservative Assembly group was doing a pretty good hash of their new-ish role as Boris’ cheerleaders ‘critical friends’. In that post I pointed out that the Tory group was asking a miserably low number of questions of the Mayor per member compared with the other parties and that the quality didn’t make up for the lack of quantity.

So, how goes the scrutiny of the Mayor from the ‘government’ benches? Well, the first big change is that Roger Evans himself is now the Conservative group’s leader. And the second big change…is that nothing much has changed. The Conservative group is continuing to table nearly four times fewer questions to the Mayor (questions for October 15th Mayor’s Question Time here) per member than any other party group. Even the Assembly’s increasingly delusional resident fascist Richard Barnbrook has found time – despite having single-handedly deposed Sir Ian Blair – to table five questions (and only two involve some form of race baiting! Well done Richard – you can kick the habit!). The Tories managed to piece together just 4.4 each, with Roger Evans and Brian Coleman, another (more…)

September 14, 2008

A little local difficulty…turns national

Should Camden's Lib Dems be looking for a new chief whip?

Should Camden's Lib Dems be looking for a new chief whip?

This is a cautionary little tale for the chief whips and leaders of party groups on local authorities everywhere, courtesy of Camden Liberal Democrats.

In 2006 the quaint traditional annual custom of the ‘Labour Local Elections Bloodbath’ took place in, amongst other places, the London Borough of Camden. The Labour group lost half of its councillors, including many in traditionally safe Labour wards, with control of the council shifting to a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition. Amongst the seats lost was Kentish Town, where two Labour councillors lost their seats to the Lib Dems: a by-election in December 2006 following the resignation of the remaining Labour councillor permitted the Liberals to complete the set. The influx of new Liberal Democrat councillors in Camden in 2006 mirrored the national situation of Labour in 1997: a lot of individuals who had not expected to win and were not necessarily suited to the role suddenly found themselves elected.

One of the Liberal Democrats elected for Kentish Town was a Mr Philip Thompson, who had at least the distinction of being just 24 when he was elected. So far as we can tell, he distinguished himself no further until 2008, when he took up an offer to study for a PhD in American Politics at…the University of Arizona. And for some reason, thought that this was entirely compatible with remaining a representative for Kentish Town, 5000 miles away. As the Camden council website continues to list Cllr Thompson as being chair of one of the licensing committees and a member of the scrutiny committees for the Culture & Environment and Health & Adult Social Care Scrutiny committees, we must assume that he considered it possible to (more…)

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