Confessions of a Political Animal

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…)

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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…)

May 27, 2009

No expenses spared

banknotesStudy leave, exams and recuperation now over, the Animal is given to understand that there has been something of a hullabaloo going on in the febrile world of British politics. Before going on to my substantive point, therefore, four quick observations on the whole ‘Troughgate’ merriment.

1) A number of the claims are beyond the pale. There are some MPs from all parties, including my own, who need to go, go now, and go, like, yesterday.

2) We are getting dangerously close to a situation where certain sections of the media and population will denounce any MP with an expenses claim greater than, say, £0.00 as having their snout in the proverbial trough. Yes, there is a collective failure of non-whistle blowing; there is very limited evidence of a collective malaise of greed.

3) If at the conclusion of this mess, we end up with a situation whereby the only people who can afford to be an MP for a non-London seat are those who can privately afford to rent, furnish and run a second property, then democracy in this country will be in a far worse state than it is currently.

4) <Selfish mode> As a former employee of an MP, I am so glad that the feudal, tax-exiled Lords of Brecqhou have probably got my bank account details.</selfish mode> (more…)

April 17, 2009

A Third Way for MP’s career paths?

parliamentThe Animal has returned from a very successful wildlife watching trip to Badenoch and Strathspey (and before anyone asks, Mr Charles Whelan was not amongst the fauna spotted) to find that there has been something of a hoo-hah over blogs, emails, smears and spin doctors.

My immediate action, having been at the receiving end of plenty of Tory-inspired smears during my brief career in student politics, is to sigh, shrug and mutter “’twas ever thus”. And then to refrain from any further comment.

But one thing stands out from this mess for the Animal is not that the political blogosphere has somehow ‘come of age’ (I’m far from convinced) but that it has confirmed the existence of a new career path for Britain’s politicians: that of MP as blogger. It is a highly risky path, albeit probably no more so than the high-wire route of seeking government office. It is probably also a route with relatively few vacancies in a limited market: but then so are the routes of scrutiny and executive. And it does hold out the possibility of far greater glory, notoriety (and indeed power) than will ever accrue to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Folding Deckchairs. (more…)

January 13, 2009

Not gerrymandering, but still a bad idea

House of CommonsThe reaction to today’s announcement from David Cameron that an incoming Conservative government would seek to slice off 10% of MPs has been understandably suspicious. After all, the Tories don’t have a great track record with electoral reform: in government the party preserved university seats and business votes and fought against universal suffrage. And the words ‘gerrymandering’ and ‘Dame Shirley Porter’ go together like the words ‘homeless’ and ‘asbestos-ridden tower block’. The Guardian’s article (linked above) is suitably sceptical, while even the Cameron-hugging Evening Standard rather damningly starts its article with the sentence

David Cameron will cut 60 Commons seats and redraw the political map to give the Tories more chance of winning elections [my italics], he revealed today. 

And that was my first reaction to the news as well, with a lot of talk about allegedly over-represented Labour heartlands in inner-cities and Wales seeing their seat numbers slashed. Obviously that would be to Labour’s disadvantage, but the reality is a lot more complex than that. (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 9, 2008

Time to scrap the Standards Board?

town-hallIt isn’t normally considered good form to call for the abolition of a body that may soon have the opportunity to cause severe embarrassment to a politician you happen to dislike. However, the Animal has been meaning to write about the Standards Board for England for some while now, and the story about the complaint being made against Boris Johnson has prompted me to get on with it.

The Standards Board was created through the Local Government Act 2000 by the erstwhile Department for Environment, Transport & Regions, as a recepticle for allegations of serious misconduct on the part of councillors. The rationale behind the Board’s creation was reasonable enough: a combination of the long-running and inconclusive Shirley Porter saga and the equally long-standing allegations of corruption amongst Doncaster’s Labour councillors (‘Donnygate‘) convinced the incoming Labour government that the existing channels for policing standards amongst councillors were unsatisfactory.

So, in the time honoured tradition of post-war politicians (and not just Labour politicians, as some would have you believe) the government (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 18, 2008

Early Day Motion Watch #2 – Its the economy, stupid

Back in August we looked at the phenomenon of House of Commons Early Day Motions (those unfamiliar with this particular arcanity might want to look at my original post or more reliably here for enlightenment), or parliamentary graffiti as I prefer to call them, with a promise of regular analysis to come once Parliament returned from the summer recess.

Well, hold your breath no longer, for that moment has arrived. Parliament has now been sitting again for two weeks, largely overshadowed by events elsewhere. In that time MPs, returning flushed with ideas for motions hatched during the long recess, have tabled 143 early day motions, details of which are viewable here (EDM 2143 is the first tabled post-recess). Parliament’s return inevitably leads to a small glut of the most pointless type of EDMs: those celebrating the successes of local sports teams and personalities. Remarkably, however, barring an SNP motion on one particular cyclist, not one parliamentarian has chosen to table a motion congratulating Team GB in Beijing. Local rugby teams, on (more…)

October 1, 2008

Tories and LGBT rights: a duty to deceive?

Margot James, Tory Vice-Chair for Women

Margot James, Tory Vice-Chair for Women

I have come across Tory Margot James before when she was the Conservative candidate for the seat I lived in at the time of the 2005 general election. As the first openly lesbian Conservative candidate, her selection caused a certain amount of media comment.

Since then, Ms James has been on an upward trajectory, having been appointed as party vice-chair with responsibility for women’s issues by David Cameron and being selected as the Tory candidate for Stourbridge. Whilst in every respect apart from her gender and sexuality Ms James is the archetypal Conservative candidate (privately educated, self-made advertising millionaire), it is still commendable that the Conservative party has reached the position where an openly homosexual woman can move on from a candidacy in an unwinnable inner London seat to a highly competitive marginal (Labour majority 407). Splendid stuff, but my eye was caught this morning by an article on the BBC News website, illustrated with a picture of Ms James, headlined ‘Gays ‘have a duty to vote Tory”. A duty? Really? Surely you mean ‘opportunity’, or ‘right’? The only people I can think of who have a duty to vote for any party in a democracy are those who owe that party their living. This article deserved reading. (more…)

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