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…)

November 25, 2008

European Left Watch: Austria – as you were

set to be Austria's social democratic Chancellor

Walter Faymann: set to be Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor

It has taken the best part of two months since Austria’s inconclusive Nationalrat elections, but the country at last seems on the verge of having a new government. ‘New’ is only a formally acurate description in this instance, however, as the party make-up of the coalition will be precisely the same as that which governed Austria (with very limited success) for the previous 18 months.

The two months since the elections at the end of September have been pretty tumultuous in Austrain politics. The election was called early following the breakdown of the grand coalition government of the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) and the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), with polls showing that very few Austrians wanted the continuation of this form of government, which had proved highly ineffective. Prior to the elections, the unpopular sitting SPÖ Chancellor announced he would not be remaining as party leader and Chancellor candidate, being replaced by Walter Faymann in both roles.

The elections themselves saw both major parties losing electoral support (results table in the last post) and the two populist, anti-immigration hard-right parties (the FPÖ and the BZÖ) gaining significantly, to a combined total of nearly 30% of the vote. This effectively left two options for (more…)

October 22, 2008

Boris: Racism ends in 13 days, official

Apologies for the Boris-centered nature of this blog at the moment – but the man keeps on delivering the goods, so to speak, and it would be rude to ignore him.

The news following the mayoral election that Mr Johnson would be keeping on writing his column for the Daily Telegraph, at a rate of a cool quarter of a million per anum, was met with a mixture of surprise and outrage. Now the outrage is reasonably understandable, but the surprise really shouldn’t be. The problem is that many of the Mayor’s critics fall into the trap of dismissing him as a bumbling fool: but the truth of the matter is that he is a highly skilled political operator, and the retention of the column is a crucial part of his operations.

Johnson is clever enough to work out that the day-to-day routines of running London are not, in themselves, going to be enough to keep the Mayor in the national media eye. In fact, it won’t even necessarily keep you in the Evening Standard. This problem becomes all the more acute when your conception of the job of Mayor seems to boil down to running bus design competitions for 11 year olds and passing off your predecessor’s achievements as your own. So what’s a Mayor with greater political ambitions to do? The answer is quite simply: keep on with your previous career as a professional controversalist – especially when past experience shows that you can shrug off any ensuing criticism through your ‘loveable’ bumbling persona. So over the (more…)

September 29, 2008

European Left Watch: Still ahead in Austria, but will the SPO get to lead?

It’s Monday, so it must be the day after a European legislative election.

Austria went to the polls yesterday and, as the Animal (and the polls…) predicted, the social-democratic SPÖ emerged retaining its position as the largest party in the Nationalrat. The SPÖ’s leader, Walter Faymann, has claimed the right to the Chancellery. However, the big story of the night was the worrying surge of the hard-right at the expense of the two mainstream parties. The combined vote shares of the FPÖ and Jörg Haider’s BZÖ amounted to 29%, well in excess of the 25.6% achieved by the centre-right ÖVP, and only marginally short of the SPÖ’s 29.7%. This success appears to have been built on the back of a virulent campaign of anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric: the FPÖ’s neo-Nazi linked leader Heinz Strache went in for some particularly choice phrases, including describing burqa-wearing women as ‘female ninjas’.

As was widely expected, the elections, which were the result of the ÖVP walking out of their deadlocked grand coalition with the SPÖ appear to have done absolutely nothing to break the (more…)

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