Monday, February 26, 2007

Was Thatcher really a Thatcherite?

Following on from my earlier post about Prime Ministerial legacies, I've been reminded that whilst it is no secret that the Thatcher government did many things the left don’t approve of, it is more surprising that there is a lot that can be said against it from a right wing perspective.

Both Thatcherite and Anti-Thatcherite legends tell us that between 1979 and 1990 the Thatcher government set about a continuous process of "rolling back the frontiers of the state", limiting the amount of legislation passed, aggressively promoting the private sector over the public, reducing central controls, respecting individual liberty, taking a firm course in foreign policy standing up for the UK's interests and actively defending its sovereignty, pursuing a free floating pound and so much more.

So how is this compatible with a government that shadowed the Deutshmark before signing up to the Exchange Rate Mechanism? A government which signed both the Single European Act and the Anglo-Irish Agreement? A government which time and again introduced new controls such as the Dangerous Dogs Act, or considered others such as limiting attendance at football matches to club supporters (before the industry and sanity prevailed)? A government which emasculated local government, introducing stringent central controls right down to dictating a National Curriculum and passing legislation to bar local authorities "promoting" things? A government which intervened to keep ball by ball cricket commentary on the public sector broadcaster rather than leaving it to the free market? A government that kept up a relentless stream of new legislation passed? A government which participated in the "nationalisation of blame" by making many things a matter for government and legislation, with the result that by 1990 numerous questions were asked at PMQs about subjects that in 1979 would have been considered "not a government matter"?

A government that was "the most centralizing, regulatory and interfering [government] that the country had ever had"?

Much could be said on this and there is clearly scope for a right wing critical history of the Thatcher years. But one thing is clear – Thatcher was never so strident and vocal in her early years in power. It was only towards the end of the 1980s that the government began to sound ever more distant from the centre, and that was when things started going wrong.

The idea that strident Thatcherism was electorally successful in and of itself is also hard to maintain – the Conservatives in the 1980s repeatedly polled shares of the vote than in earlier years confined them to opposition and much soul searching. Conservative electoral success was built on a divided opposition and the ability to answer the question "Can Britain be governed" at a time when many in politics were losing their nerve. Those who presently advocate a "return to Thatcherism" or even to go further (look for example at the way certain Thatcherite groups welcomed the introduction of university tuition fees and their subsequent extension, despite there being no such fees when Thatcher was either Education Secretary or Prime Minister) would do well to ponder that.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Prime Ministerial legacies

Paul Burgin has a post wondering why Margaret Thatcher has been given a statue in the Commons whilst still alive (Mars Hill: The Statue) and briefly commenting on her and other Prime Ministers' legacies.

Thinking back over the past hundred years, it's quite rare for a former Prime Minister to have had a politically good post premiership. Arthur Balfour had a very successful subsequent ministerial career - indeed so successful it's possible to remember him whilst forgetting he was ever Prime Minister - whilst Alec Douglas-Home proved a benign elder statesmen in Ted Heath's Cabinet. But Ramsay MacDonald's time as Lord President of the Council proved cruel to all involved, including him. And Neville Chamberlain was blighted by his health and a constant campaign to remove him from office that devastated his legacy. Indeed it's only been since I started my PhD that I've come to realise just how narrow a view is held of Chamberlain - even many sympathetic biographies turn him into almost a one policy area Prime Minister.

No other twentieth century Prime Minister subsequently sevred in another office, unless one counts Stanley Baldwin's time as Lord President of the Council between his second and third premiership. But Baldwin was still at the height of his powers and returned to Number 10, to retire on a high. Indeed Baldwin's retirement was expected for months (and his successor was unanimously clear) and he managed to leave Downing Street with a higher standing than any of his successors. Tony Blair must be kicking himself. But Baldwin's reputation came to grief before he died - during the war his reputation was tarnished in the row over the country's preparations for war. It has only been in the last forty years that his reputation has been steadily restored.

Others have been hampered by health (Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Andrew Bonar Law, Harold Wilson) and either died very soon or dropped out of public life almost immediately. Some floated around for so long that when they died it was a surprise it had not happened earlier (Lord Roseberry lived for 34 years until 1929). Others had to watch as their political legacy was dismantled and even their own party turned on their government's legacy (Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Jim Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major). Some have been respectfully quiet about this, but the actions of Heath and Thatcher in bitterly attacking their successors have brought no credit to them. The legacy of the war preserved Churchill's reputation, even though his peacetime government was an example of a man clinging to office long after he was no longer competent, whilst Clement Attlee died before the backlash against his legacy. Conversely whilst the legacy of Herbert Asquith's government remained in place his own reputation for indecisiveness, the circumstances of his downfall and the subsequent split and destruction of his party meant that he did not die in glory.

What will Tony Blair's legacy be like once he's into the period of lectures and memoirs? Well the observant amongst you will have noticed there are two Prime Ministers I haven't yet mentioned - Anthony Eden and David Lloyd George. Frankly it's hard to think of anything positive to say about Eden's premiership - by the summer of 1956 he was increasingly discredited. And of course it ended in disaster when he launched an attack on an Arab country to domestic and international disapproval. Hardly anyone has managed to justify the Suez Crisis and it increasingly seems that the Iraq War will be remembered equally disastrously.

And then there's the Prime Minister who broke his party, sold honours and ended his days with virtually no-one in politics supporting him. Tony Blair has long said that his political hero is Lloyd George but Blair is hardly the dashing young radical or a country's saviour in time of national crisis. However he has certainly emulated many of the worst features of the Goat (but before anyone suggests anything, I have heard nothing about Blair giving tours of ceilings). With every new revelation about Loans for Lordships, Blair looks more and more tainted, just like his hero.

And what other legacy has Blair got? Most of the changes that have happened under his government can't really be attributed to either him personally or his leadership. He did not received the Nobel Prize for the Northern Ireland Peace Process, whilst Mo Mowlam has always received the credit for the government's contribution. Donald Dewar is remembered as the deliverer of Scottish devolution. And the public services have been shaken up so many times that it seems all that's been achieved is to pour lots of money in and charge the public more. (And in any case with a dominant Chancellor of the Exchequer it's going to be difficult to extract credit for Blair rather than Gordon Brown.) Nor does anyone talk about "Cool Britannia" anymore.

Tony Blair has spent years claiming he is a man of substance not style. But his legacy is a mixture of bad substance or style gone wrong. Which would he prefer to be remembered for?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

So there *is* an alternative to Gordon Brown

Michael Meacher demonstrates his ability to get photographed with world leadersThe forthcoming Labour leadership contest today got to the nearest thing to excitement it has yet come to (and that's really saying something) with the announcement that Michael Meacher is going to stand. (BBC News:
Meacher enters Labour leader race
) Whilst umpteen leading Labour figures are fighting it out for one of the most pointless jobs in politics the Labour leadership election has so far been notable only for the sheer dearth of talent it has revealed and the despair of many in Labour at the prospect of Gordon Brown and his poor poll ratings. One would hope that a serious alternative candidate could bring some excitement to the contest but currently the election looks about as inspiring and effective as Ming Campbell.

Additional: I've been reminded that Meacher was so effective and respected as Environment Minister that he had to get Greenpeace or somesuch to pay for his attendance at an intergovernmental summit on climate change!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It could have been worse...

A few days ago I took the test to see "What Modern US President Are You Most Like?" and came out as Richard Nixon. (Which US President am I like?) But it seems I could have drawn a shorter straw...

Chasing Vincenzos: This One Is Making The Rounds Today... has their result:

You Are Most Like Calvin Coolidge

Nobody can think of one damn thing you ever did. Most people have no idea you exist.
Someday people will realize that that is the best of all politicians.
Until then you'll just have to deal with being nobody, because that's about as good as it will get for ya there, chumley.
Suddenly being most like Richard Nixon has its advantages!

A recent flurry of posts? Or not...

Some of you who read this blog on a feed (particularly those on Facebook) may have recently seen a large number of posts appear, many with old dates. The reason is quite simple - having recently upgraded this blog I'm now in the process of adding labels to the old posts to allow for better searching. Unfortunately this means each labelled post gets republished and the feeds pick this up...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Biased Broadcasting Corporation?

Okay I know what some of you are thinking. Members of both main parties (as well as most of the minor ones) criticise the BBC for bias at some point or another. But does that mean we should dismiss all such criticisms or give them consideration?

I remember a while ago when the BBC News website ran an "On This Day" piece about the introduction of the "right to buy" policy. (BBC On This Day: 20 December 1979: Council tenants will have 'right to buy') The "in context" section did not provide a balanced consideration of the impact of the policy but instead was a one sided listing of problems generated, with not a word about the social revolution the policy brought about or its popularity. A complaint elicited the following response:

I have re-read our report on the right-to-buy policy and looked again at the research in the light of your comments. You were quite right to point out that the In Context section of this particular story did not give any details about the take-up of the right-to-buy and therefore appeared rather one-sided.

The In Context section of this report has now been partly re-written and amended to give the story a more balanced perspective.
It seems others have not been so successful in raising concerns about BBC bias in current affairs reporting. Robin Aitken worked for the corporation for twenty-five years and describes some of the attitudes he encountered. (This Is London: What is the loneliest job in Britain? Being a Tory at the BBC) Highlights include:

But by the time I was appointed BBC Scotland's business and economics correspondent in 1981, I had doubts. The BBC in Scotland was deeply antagonistic towards the Conservative Government; our narrative was one of devastating industrial decline and Government heartlessness... But surely if BBC impartiality meant anything, we would have balanced our story by emphasising the growing banking, oil and electronics industries. Instead, we constantly lamented the closure of shipyards and fretted about the ailing Ravenscraig steelworks.
By the time I moved to London to work on the Money Programme in 1989, Thatcherite economics could no longer be dismissed: they worked. The Left's bitterness towards Thatcher, however, was undiminished. The real Britain was recovering, but inside the Money Programme offices it was a gloomy economic winter where every privatisation was doomed and government spending was ruthlessly cut to satisfy wicked monetarists.
John Major had little opportunity to enjoy his success; within months, Sterling was ejected from the Exchange Rate Mechanism and his Government never recovered. The BBC mounted a barrage of negative coverage on everything from the NHS to sleaze. That was coupled with a devotion to the European ideal. I remember arguing with a senior editor about the Maastricht Treaty and saying it was an issue of democracy, not economics. He told me I was mad. As the 1997 Election approached, the Government was constantly on the defensive and the BBC was often happy to do Labour's Opposition work for it.
At a Forum meeting in December 2000, I suggested to Greg Dyke, the new director-general, that there should be an internal inquiry into bias. Dyke, a Labour Party donor and member along with BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, mumbled a muddled reply. As he left the meeting, I overheard him demand angrily of his PA: "Who was that f****r?" At the end of the meeting a reporter from the BBC staff magazine Ariel asked for more details but warned me that "controversial" topics were often spiked. Sure enough, not a word appeared.
If the Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist", I wrote, the BBC was "institutionally Leftist"... As one senior news presenter told me: "Anybody who attacks the Labour Government is always coming from the Left, and the Tories are written off as insane or - if there's the slightest chance of them getting anywhere - evil." ... What would the BBC have said if the Metropolitan Police, faced with accusations of racism, had held a brief internal inquiry that concluded that there was no problem?

Bias not only stifles public debate; it is destructive for the corporation, too. Adherence to a left-of-centre agenda brought the BBC to its biggest crisis in decades and one I witnessed at close quarters on Today.
In 2007, there is a solid consensus within the BBC on most issues of private morality and, in many cases, public policy. One presenter described the sense of superiority that working at the BBC confers on its staff. "It's the whole thing that 'we know best' and it's our responsibility to educate the poor unfortunates beneath us in how things should be."
Now I'm not going to deny the BBC has produced good quality programmes, because it has. Equally I'm not going to deny its international reputation, especially in countries with less independent media. But it is concerning that accusations of left-wing bias (and I mean "left-wing" not "pro Labour" - it's telling that criticism of Labour is made from the left) routinely surface and are glibly dismissed. These latest accusations are not those of some ranting party member, they are from a former BBC journalist of twenty-five years standing.

The charges of BBC bias aren't going to go away and already some are seeking to use them to reinforce their calls for an end to the licence fee and public service broadcasting. Such a move would be a pity - do we really want another Channel 5, only one was can all receive?

LGBT group commit heterosexism

You couldn't make it up... A former Mayor of Cambridge has been accused of being "heterosexist" by an LGBT group after he said more homes for families should be built. (BBC News: Mayor demands 'anti-gay' apology) Has this LGBT group lost the plot? LGBT people have families too!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Words fail me

BBC News: 'No bed' for woman in labour:

A woman who went into labour at home claims she was told to look in the Yellow Pages because her local hospital had ran out of beds.
Maybe this was an abnormal occurance - the hospital insists their practice when full is to search for a bed at a nearby hospital - but it's horrific that such attitudes can be found in today's "better than ever" NHS.

Northern Ireland election predictions

As previously promised, with these scheduled for March 7th, here are my seat by seat predictions:

(For those not familiar with NI politics, the Assembly is elected by Single Transferable Vote, with six members elected from each of the 18 Westminster constituencies. Nick Whyte has a very useful and heavily cited website - Northern Ireland Elections - with the recent electoral history for each seat.)

Please note these were written a few weeks ago, before the final confirmation of candidatures and some recent developments.

Belfast West

Previous results: 1998 4 Sinn Fein (SF), 2 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP); 2003 4 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (DUP gain from SDLP although in practice the DUP just snatched the seat from Sinn Fein)

One of the easiest to start with. Sinn Fein should retain their current four seats, whils the SDLP vote may be in decline but is still enough to retain their seat. This leaves the sixth seat, currently held by the DUP. Recent elections have shown that although the overall Unionist vote doesn't quite reach a quota it is relatively resiliant and the DUP have been doing ever better at consolidating it. Sinn Fein are good at vote management but balancing five candidates without any leakage is a tall order. I think the DUP have the factors in their favour.

Prediction: SF 4, SDLP 1, DUP 1 (no change)

Belfast South

Previous results: 1998 2 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Northern Ireland Women's Coalition (NIWC); 2003 2 UUP, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 SF (SF gain from NIWC)
Also of note: Allianace won one of the five seats here in the 1996 Forum, albeit elected on a party list basis. Their candidate came third in 1998 but fell behind four others on transfers.

A difficult one to predict on the basis of recent election results. The Women's Coalition has now folded and Alliance are optimistic about gaining votes as a result. The general election result seems to have had quite a lot of tactical voting whilst the locals suggest things are tight.

I think three seats will remain Unionist, with recent results suggesting a 2 DUP, 1 UUP split. There are definitely two Nationalist seats and the SDLP are considerably ahead of Sinn Fein, who have been affected by some local factors. However Alliance are optimistic and have selected a candidate from the Chinese community, who may or may not bring in currently unpredictable votes. However on the votes alone Alliance have appeared close before and failed to come through.

Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 SF (DUP gain 1 from UUP)

Belfast East

Previous results: 1998 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Alliance; 2003 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Alliance (no change)

The DUP have quite a history of vote mismanagement in this constituency, getting fewer seats than the first preferences implied in 1975 (for the Convention), 1982 (for the Prior Assembly) and 2003. Last time both the PUP and Alliance are cited as the beneficiaries. David Ervine was facing an uphill struggle for re-election and with his death I think the PUP's chances are gone. The UUP have actually seen their vote increase in recent years, mainly at the expense of Alliance (historically this was Alliance's strongest seat) but I don't think it's anywhere near enough to make a third seat viable (and the UUP is historically bad at vote management). Alliance should hang on.

Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (DUP gain 1 from PUP)

Belfast North

Previous results: 1998 1 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist; 2003 2 DUP, 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP (DUP gain 1 from ind U, SF gain 1 from PUP or the other way round)

This seat used to be quite unpredictable due to the main parties all doing well - in the 1996 forum the DUP, SDLP, SF and UUP all polled between 17% and 19%, with other parties taking a quarter of the vote. Since then the UUP have collapsed big time, SF and the DUP have both grown and consolidated the vote. On the nationalist side the SDLP are in a strong position to hold their seat, leaving two for Sinn Fein, whilst on the Unionist side the DUP vote is looking like reaching three seats.

Prediction 3 DUP, 2 SF, 1 SDLP (DUP gain 1 from UUP)

North Antrim

Previous results: 1998 DUP 3, UUP 2, SDLP 1; 2003 DUP 3, UUP 1, SDLP 1, SF 1 (SF gain 1 from UUP)

The 2005 Westminster elections implied the DUP could hit four seats, although Ian Paisley normally outpolls his party as a whole and vote management is unlikely to make up the gap. The UUP vote has been declining here but they seem strong enough to hold onto their one seat. On the nationalist side Sinn Fein's growth has been enough to secure their current seat, whilst the SDLP's decline doesn't look enough to make their seat vulnerable, especially when it seems doubtful there'll be a strong challenger.

Prediction: 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (no change)

East Antrim

Previous results: 1998 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UK Unionist Party (UKUP), 1 SDLP; 2003 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (DUP gain 1 from UKUP and 1 from SDLP)

The 1998 result was surprising both for the UKUP breakthrough and the SDLP seat - they gained only 6% of the vote and had only one councillor in the seat but benefitted from transfers and lousy vote balancing all round to narrowly beat the DUP for the final seat. In 2003 a defragmentation effect meant that despite both the SDLP vote and the nationalist vote as a whole increasing the seat was lost. More recent results suggest the trend is going Sinn Fein's way and on current boundaries it's very doubtful a nationalist seat will be gained in the near future. The Alliance seat looks secure for now. Of the Unionist seats I think the DUP will find it difficult to make it to a fourth seat, leaving it likely that the UUP will keep their two. (As this is the first appearance of a past UKUP seat, I'm generally sceptical that anti-St Andrews Agreement Unionists will be able to mount a significant enough challenge to upset the results and Bob McCartney has fallen out with so many and already shattered one developing party so he'll find it hard to find sustainable allies.)

Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (no change)

South Antrim

Previous results: 1998 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UKUP, 1 Alliance; 2003: 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance

Another seat where the UKUP's past success was just a flash in the pan. Alliance's David Ford (now the party leader) took the final seat in 1998 and managed to hold it by the skin of his teeth in 2003, scraping home on Unionist transfers after the Sinn Fein candidate had claimed victory! The four current Unionist seats should stay as they are but this leaves two seats with the DUP, SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein all looking hopeful and all with a serious chance!

The SDLP are still stronger in the local government elections which suggests they might edge Sinn Fein if there's only one nationalist elected. The DUP vote in the Westminster election was, if anything, probably below what it might have been - William McCrea is a *deeply* divisive figure, even compared to Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson. The political demise of Alliance is often predicted and often fails to happen but notably this is a seat where they've never topped 12% on the current boundaries and in most elections they have trailed both nationalist parties. My guess is that they'll lose out this time.

Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (SF gain 1 from Alliance)

Lagan Valley

Previous results: 1998 UUP 2, DUP 1, Alliance 1, UKUP 1, SDLP 1; 2003: UUP 3, DUP 1, Alliance 1, SDLP 1 (UUP gain 1 from UKUP)
However since the 2003 election Jeffrey Donaldson and Nora Beare both moved from the UUP to the DUP.

Prior to Donaldson's change of party this seat saw the DUP repeatedly failing to advance significantly. All this has changed with Donaldson's party and both Westminster and local government elections suggest that the DUP will win at least three. I'm sceptical that they can make it to four although this is not impossible. The UUP should hold onto one seat and on the local government results they may have a chance of two.

The two current non-Unionist seats are amongst the most open and unpredictable in the entire election. The sitting Alliance and SDLP members are both retiring,and both are estimated to have a personal vote that's been crucial in past elections. The Alliance vote is generally in decline here anyway and I think they're likely to lose their seat without Close. By contrast the Sinn Fein vote is growing. However there clearly aren't two nationalist quotas. What complicates it all is uncertainty as to where Close's personal vote might go. I'm inclined to call one seat for Sinn Fein and at a stab the other for the UUP.

Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SF (DUP gain 2, SF gain 1, UUP lose 1, SDLP lose 1, Alliance lose 1)


Previous results: 1998 SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1; 2003 SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1 (no change)

Sinn Fein have been heavily targetting this constituency in the hope of both a third seat and the Westminster seat for some time now, but it keeps eluding them. Mitchell McLaughlin is transferring to South Antrim in the hope of gaining a seat there, making a shift even less likely. Eamonn McCann has achieved comparitively good results for the Socialist Environmental Alliance but I doubt they'll make a breakthrough either. The DUP seat looks safe.

Prediction: 3 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 DUP (no change)

East Londonderry

Previous results: 1998 UUP 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1, independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist 1; 2003 UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (DUP gain 1 from ind U, SF gain 1 from SDLP)

The two nationalist seats look safe. On the Unionist side the question is whether the DUP can take one of the UUP seats. The UUP vote appears to be levelling off here, whilst the DUP have been performing better in Westminster elections than others. I'm doubtful they'll breakthrough this time.

Prediction: 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (no change)

Mid Ulster

Previous results: 1998: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1; 2003: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1 (no change)

Sinn Fein appear to be levelling out here, so they should hold all three seats. The SDLP has also been rather static since 1997, with all results within 17-22% so they should hold their single seat. The DUP should also hold their own seat (is Willie McCrea going to restand here or relocate to South Antrim?). The UUP seat is vulnerable to the DUP but it will take a push. I'm doubtful it will happen.

Prediction: 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP (no change)

West Tyrone

Previous results: 1998: SF 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1, UUP 1; 2003: SD 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1, Independent 1 (Ind gain 1 from SDLP)

A very difficult one to predict becase of Kieran Deeny, a local doctor who was elected in 2003 on the single issue of saving the hospital in Omagh and got a huge vote in the 2005 Westminster election (and, it seems, a genuinely cross community vote, although some was more anti-Sinn Fein than pro hospital). His transfers in 2003 suggest that the seat he won would otherwise have been gained by Sinn Fein.

There's not much precedent for single issue independents seeking re-election in Northern Ireland. Some independents in the Republic have managed to find new issues to get re-elected on; ditto some of the independent Mayors in the UK. Richard Taylor was re-elected in Kidderminster in 2005, but with a third of his vote gone and Health Concern as been drying up at the local government level. From what little I've heard it seems the hospital campaign in Omagh doesn't have the momentum it did in 2003, suggesting that Deeny will struggle to get back in if he stands. Equally his vote base may be shifting. As a further complication, one of the SDLP candidates is an Omagh based local doctor herself.

In a Deenyless election it's relatively easy to predict SF taking his seat whilst the other three parties hold theirs. With Deeny in the field, it's easy to predict 2 seats for Sinn Fein and 1 for the DUP, with the other three going to any combination of Deeny, SF, SDLP and UUP. As a wild guess, I'll go for the UUP holding onto their seat, the SDLP holding theirs and Deeny taking the other.

(Since writing this, it's been confirmed that Deeny is restanding. But I'll post my original thoughts anyway.)

Prediction: Without Deeny: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1 (SF gain from Independent)
With Deeny: SF 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, Ind 1 (no change)

Fermanagh & South Tyrone

Previous results: 1998: SF 2, UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SF 2, UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1 (no change)
However since the 2003 election Arlene Foster moved from the UUP to the DUP.

Recent election results have been comparitively static save for a UUP to DUP shift coinciding with Foster's defection. Other than Foster's party change being upheld, I doubt there will be notable gains.

Prediction: SF 2, DUP 2, UUP 1, SDLP 1 (DUP gain 1 from UUP)

Newry & Armagh

Previous results: 1998: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SF 3, SDLP 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (SF gain 1 from SDLP)
Since the Assembly election Paul Berry has left the DUP to become an independent Unionist.

Let's keep the joke out of this thread! Davy Hyland and Patricia O'Rawe have both been deselected, although O'Rawe may be reinstated. Hyland has left the party. Both Hyland and Berry seem likely to stand as anti-St Andrews Agreement candidates.

Berry has been at the forefront of the DUP growth here and even when the stories were at their height he still beat the UUP in the general election (albeit with about the only clear swing to the UUP). In the past Unionists who have fallen out with their parties generally haven't managed to at the very least deprive their old party of the seat, let alone win it themselves when running as an independent (with the notable exception of James Kilfedder and, arguably, Bob McCartney, though North Down is electorally a law unto itself) and there's no party with an existing machine for Berry to go to (unlike Donaldson, Beare and Foster). So I think the two Unionist parties will continue to hold their seats.

On the nationalist side, the local government results suggest that the SDLP has a chance of retaking a second seat from Sinn Fein, and the latter's problems may help to fragment some votes. However the SDLP vote hasn't noticably climbed so I reckon Sinn Fein will edge it.

Prediction: SF 3, SDLP 1, UUP 1, DUP 1 (no change)

Upper Bann

Previous results: 1998: UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, SF 1, independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist 1; 2003: UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (DUP gain 1 from ind U)

The two nationalist seats look safe. On the Unionist side the votes have some way to go for the DUP to take a third seat from the UUP. This looks like another no change.

Prediction: UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (no change)

South Down

Previous results: 1998: SDLP 3, SF 1, UUP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (SF gain 1 from SDLP)

Another seat where the recent election results suggest no change all round. There appears to have been some tactical voting for the SDLP by otherwise UUP voters for the Westminster election. The Greens are targetting this seat with a local councillor but it seems doubtful they'll come remotely close.

Prediction: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (no change)


Previous results: 1998: UUP 2, DUP 2, Alliance 1, UKUP 1; 2003: DUP 3, UUP 2, Alliance 1 (DUP gain 1 from UKUP)

This is becoming the DUP's strongest constituency and they're pretty much assured of three seats. A fourth is not out of the question but as with North Antrim this isn't the easiest thing to achieve and their Westminster result seems to be ahead of their core vote. The UUP vote has been declining and their second seat will need transfers to survive (and bad vote balancing could sink them). Alliance are looking decidely shakey and didn't get quota last time, though local government results give them more optimism. The SDLP have been hoping to make a breakthrough for a while but I doubt it will happen. As a stab I'll go for another no change.

Prediction: DUP 3, UUP 2, Alliance 1 (no change)

North Down

Previous results: 1998: UUP 3, UKUP 1, Alliance 1, NIWC 1; 2003 UUP 2, DUP 2, UKUP 1, Alliance 1 (DUP gain 1 from UUP and 1 from NIWC)

This is one of the most difficult to predict as Westminster elections have seen a lot of tactical voting whilst there are a lot of independent and small party votes in locals. Last time round the election counts were almost completely based on eliminations. Alliance's Eileen Bell is standing down and we also have the recent move of ex Alliance turned independent councillor Brian Wilson (who got 4.4% of the vote last time) to the Greens which could put them into serious contention (as the local results hint). The Conservatives are also targetting the seat with James Leslie, a former UUP minister. All manner of votes seem up for grabs.

I think the following can reasonably be expected: 1 seat definitely for the DUP, 2 seats definitely for the UUP. I'm sceptical they can take a third seat. 1 seat definitely for either the DUP or the UKUP - I suspect the DUP this time. Of the remaining two seats I'm very doubtful the DUP could take a third. UKUP's McCartney will need a boost in his appeal - last time he scraped home and his party's local government base has evaporated, although he's always polled in excess of it, and current politics make it unlikely the DUP will want to throw him a lifeline. Alliance's local government base gives them cause for optimism, though it's only two points down from last time, yet in the last Assembly elections they still struggled. With the Greens running a strong candidate (and ex North Down Alliance) they could be able to surprise us. As a stab in the dark let's have a flutter on both the Greens and Alliance taking the last two seats.

Prediction: UUP 2, DUP 2, Alliance 1, Greens 1 (Greens gain 1 from UKUP)

Overall (compared to 2003)

DUP = 36 (up 6)

SF = 26 or 27 (up 2 or 3)

UUP = 23 (down 4)

SDLP = 17 (down 1)

Alliance = 4 (down 2)

Greens = 1 (up 1)

Independent = 1 or 0

UKUP = 0 (down 1)

PUP = 0 (down 1)

Feel free to laugh at these results when some of these predictions are proved totally wrong on the night!

Which US President am I like?

With thanks, or not, to James Cleverly: Who am I?:

You Are Most Like Richard Nixon

Oh sure, you give people plenty of reasons to call you "Tricky Dick."
But you're actually quite diplomatic, even though you secretly hate your enemies.
I don't know whether to laugh or worry...

Apparently the UK still controls the US...

Kerron Cross has had one of the strangest comments yet left on his blog, as he reports in his post Kerron Is Un-American and Facist on Fireworks. His previous proposal for fireworks to banned from general sale to the public in this country has been attacked for being "un-american" and "an assult on my rights as a citizen of [the United States]".

I didn't know we'd taken the US back into our empire!

Comedy from the Northern Irish elections

The latest elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly have begun. At some point soon I'll post my early constituency by constituency predictions.

In the meantime I'm struck by two pieces of comedy in the blogosphere. The first is this comment posted on the Slugger O'Toole thread Splitters!:

I don’t know if the “fault” lies with my browser, but the News Letter also seems hellbent on creating dissention (or worse) in the DUP ranks.

Here’s how a side bar items appears on their Belfast Today page:

minister backs
member of the
Free Presbyterian
Church is backing
former DUP
member Paul
Berry in the
more »

What can it all mean? :0)

Posted by Dawkins on Feb 16, 2007 @ 02:02 PM
I'm sure that one will go down well!

Then there's The Online Journal of the Jacob S Mills Collective - Serious politics question:

Do you feel that, while the Alliance party, in adopting the slogan "Don't send us back through the time warp!" in their party political broadcasts, may appeal to the Whovian and indeed the Trekkie communities, they run the risk of alienating the core Rocky Horror constituency?
Indeed! How will this affect their chances of gaining a seat in studentville Belfast South?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Kent Union result

Whilst I'm posting, I've just noticed I never mentioned the result of the referendum at the University of Kent. (On trustee boards for students' unions) The referendum took place which is a change from my days there - I seem to remember Alix Wolverson constantly announcing (or failing to announce) that a referendum petitioned for had been cancelled for one reason or another - and the results were:

"Should Kent Union increase the number of Trustees from 5 to 9, including two elected student members and two appointed lay members?".

Votes for Yes: 250

Votes for No: 95

Spoilt Ballot Papers: 1

(Source: Kent Union: Referendum Result)
Without knowing how strong the campaigns were it's hard to tell if this turnout is good or bad compared to other elections, although I can remember some absolutely pathetic turnouts (just 38 students in one of them - albeit with only four hours of polling and virtually no publicity or campaigning).

One point to note is that the two current student members will be directly elected - I have heard of some elsewhere in the country advocating that it would be wrong to do so and that instead a selection process should be used "because elections may get it wrong". (Bizarrely they are often elected Union officers speaking against the exact same process that put them in their current posts.) I'd be interested to know how they could justify such a course given the 1994 Education Act's requirement for major office bearers to be elected by all student ballot, rather than selected by some "jobs for the boys" process.

Mark Clarke selected for Tooting

Just a quick note to say congratulations to Mark Clarke who has been selected as the Conservative candidate for Tooting. I wonder how the Tooting Popular Front will react?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A new era for university alumni?

It has been reported that new proposals are afoot for donations to universities, with proposals to support the donations privately raised from alumni. (BBC News: Universities to get funding boost) Hopefully this could help build a US style culture of alumni donations, with a favourable supportive financial regime.

Who cares about someone's past?

It must be a slow news day as the media are making another fuss about David Cameron and drugs. (BBC News: Cameron defiant over drug claims) Frankly who cares?

A lot of people have made mistakes in their past and paid the price for it at the time. Why should they have to keep on paying years later?

And when is the media going to put Tony Blair under this kind of pressure? He's never answered the question and few would be surprised if he had.

Mind you, the real shock would be if Gordon Brown admitted to it. Somehow I can't imagine him having been interesting!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Where does New Labour find these ministers?!?!

From Iain Dale's Diary: Now it's Harriet Harman's Turn for a Gaffe. She's written to the leader of Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council, Cllr. Brian Silvester, asking him for his support in her quest to become Labour's Deputy Leader. But Silvester is a Conservative!

Just why does she think she is well qualified for this non-position?

Lies and the Lying Lib Dems who tell them: A fair and balanced look at the Mingers

With apologies to Al Franken.

Last Saturday I was out on the doorstep campaigning for the Conservatives in a by-election in the East Barnet ward. Despite being a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour, the local Lib Dems seemed to think they had a chance. And all the usual Lib Dem lies came out on their leaflets.

First there's the usual bar chart using some very dodgey figures to prove another challenging party "Can't win here". On this occasion the figures were the "Change in votes in the Chipping Barnet Constituency 2005-2006" - an utterly meaningless comparison in the first place (between Westminster and Council elections) and not relevant figures for the ward itself.

Then there was the usual attempt to portray the Lib Dem candidate as "a local champion" and "local choice", completely ignoring the fact that until last May he was a councilor in another ward many miles away. Then the voters decided he wasn't the local choice there either. After that he declared in a leaflet to residents that he would never leave that area.

Then the Lib Dems shed their attempt to portray themselves as a nice, cuddly party that doesn't engage in "tribal politics" when they called local Conservative councilors "despicable". As the local paper said "Negative campaigning is still alive and well" and "Neither Labour not the Lib Dems have mentioned the positive effect of CCTV and Safer Neighbourhood Teams." (Barnet Times 18 Jan 2007)

There was also the spectacle of the Lib Dems putting out leaflets in colours traditionally associated with both Conservatives and Labour, no doubt because they've realised voters can see through the rubbish on yellow. But voters can see through it, no matter what colour the Lib Dems print it on.

If Sir Menzies Campbell is to make any lasting impact on the Lib Dems during his brief leadership, he could do no worse than to take a stand against the nasty tactics of local Lib Dem campaigners. Or else he could end the pretence of the national party to be something it isn't. There is a reason why both Labour and Conservative activists can get on well with one another, but find Lib Dems unbearable.

A truthful poster for the Lib DemsAnd the result? In this two horse race the Lib Dems came third.

Conservatives - 1666
Labour - 1025
Lib Dems -552
Green - 147

More details can be found on the blogs of Cllr Robert Rams' Blog and Hunter and Shooter.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Doctor Who - The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis & Castrovalva

A bit later than usual, but in keeping with tradition on this blog, here are my old reviews of the latest Doctor Who stories released on DVD from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide. The previous reviews can be found for Inferno, The Hand of Fear, The Mark of the Rani, The Sontaran Experiment and The Invasion.

It's a bumper one this time, as the latest release is a box set called "New Beginnings" containing three stories. First The Keeper of Traken:

A well crafted Eden

The story opens with effective narration from the Keeper as he brings the Doctor and Adric up to speed on events but this is perhaps forgivable since it means that the story can thus take a more relaxed pace than others and focus on character development rather than explaining the back story. The Keeper of Traken draws heavily on Biblical stories, telling the tale of an Eden that comes under threat from a very deadly serpent in the garden. The plot is simple but exceptionally rewarding for the viewer due to the twists it offers along the way, as well as making the surprise element a bonus to the story rather than the only thing going for it. Drawing also upon medieval influences for the structure of Traken society the result is a strong debut script from Johnny Byrne.

This story sees both the debut of Nyssa and the restoration of the Master as an active and viable foe. The former is ably played by Sarah Sutton but doesn't immediately stand out as being likely to become a companion, especially since at this stage she is left behind on Traken at the end of the tale. The Master's return adds to the sense of foreclosure as the season comes to a close and by this time the original viewers would have known that Tom Baker's departure was imminent as well. The Master's presence in the story is well concealed in the first couple of episodes, but by the end of Part Three it becomes clear that Melkur is a TARDIS whilst the Master has now been shown in a shot. For the fans who can remember the Master's appearance in The Deadly Assassin this is a clear revelation, but it's not until the final part that the dialogue actually confirms this. It makes sense that the Master is finally given a more active form to revitalise the character for future stories. Anthony Ainley gives a good performance as Tremas, making the character extremely likeable and sympathetic after he is brought down by a wife who initially sought only to save him. It is thus a real sad moment when he is absorbed by the Master. The final scene is too brief and so only gives a few hints as to how strong the character will be against the Doctor.

The rest of the cast are competent, with the honours going to Margot van der Burgh as Kassia. The only weak performance comes from Robin Soans as Luvic and makes one wonder how the character ever became a Consul and just how safe Traken is when Luvic becomes Keeper at the end. Denis Carey appears as the old Keeper and gives a dignified performance that conveys a true sense of power despite his withered physical form.

On the production side the design work is good, especially since the story is shot completely in the studio. Each set feels natural and the result is a realistic feeling medieval palace environment. John Black's direction is good and there are some nice little touches, such as the use of two monitor screens with slightly different angle shots inside Melkur which is a detail that many would have overlooked. The result is an enjoyable story that both tells a tale in its own right as well as re-establishing a major character for future stories. This is Tom Baker's penultimate story but his Doctor doesn't feel like he has quite hit the end of the road yet. All in all an enjoyable tale in its own right.
Next Logopolis:

End of the road?

After a season in which all the other regular faces have changed, the tone and style of the stories have dramatically altered and in which the Doctor's characterisation has noticeably aged, Logopolis finishes off both the season and Tom Baker's Doctor. With script-editor Christopher H Bidmead also writing the story we get the clearest realisation of his vision for the series as being strongly rooted in science and kept away from fantasy. We also have one of the greatest threats of all as the universe itself becomes imperilled due to the Master meddling without realising it. The whole story is fast paced and makes for a high speed ending to seven years of Tom Baker.

The story starts off with the Doctor pondering how everything eventually decays and then he sets off to try to repair the TARDIS' Chameleon Circuit. Although this has been jammed for years, a logical reason is given for his deciding to devote attention to the problem. What is less clear is just why any police box needs to be measured for calculations relating to the TARDIS when the police box could easily have differences due to variations in construction or damage. This minor point is overlooked as we get a small scale beginning to the tale on a Barnet roadside, introducing new companion Tegan. Her debut in many ways harks back to the series' roots as she wanders into the TARDIS by mistake and then it takes off. Janet Fielding's debut performance is strong and shows much promise given her strong independent streak. The story goes through a strange point when the Doctor decides to flood the TARDIS but doesn't explain his reasoning properly - is he somehow hoping to drive the Master out of his ship - before he meets with the Watcher and promptly abandons the plan without a word to Adric before heading onto Logopolis. Here we get another well constructed society and a strong concept of the universe being held in place by the Logopolitan's computations and how it all falls apart once the Master tries to take control. Finally we return to Earth and a radio telescope, a setting also seen in the Master's debut story Terror of the Autons, where the Doctor and the Master manage to stop the entropy but the latter has his own schemes. This fast pace does work, with virtually every single location fitting in with the plot. Most of the science sounds reasonable to the non-scientific viewer, though how the radio telescope can instantaneously transmit both the signals to the CVE and the Master's recorded message in time for the Universe to be saved and blackmailed is beyond me.

As well as introducing Tegan, this story also sees Nyssa firmly entrenched as a companion whilst Anthony Ainley makes his full debut as the Master. Nyssa is competently played by Sarah Sutton despite the limited role she has in the story, and the scene where she watches as the entropy blots out Traken forever is very moving. Ainley's debut as the Master is competent, with the character remaining unseen for the first half and always moving in the shadows to achieve his goals. His overconfidence and delight in his schemes is all too clear at times and shows a weakness that can lead to his downfall.

The rest of the cast are limited given that none of them appear in more than one location of the tale. Dolore Whiteman gives a good performance as Aunt Vanessa that makes the character's fate completely undeserved whilst John Fraser brings a strong sense of dignity to the Monitor. Otherwise the parts are too small to be noticed one way or the other.

The production of the story is reasonable though there are signs of the budget running low, most obviously in the use of studio sets for some exterior scenes at the Pharos Project which sit uncomfortably with the location film. However the Logopolis set is done well and manages to crumble easily without looking at all fake. This story has yet another brilliant musical score by Paddy Kingsland that works wonders in setting the tone for many scenes.

This story is Tom Baker's last and he plays the part as one looking towards imminent doom but still trying to cling on to life and hope. Throughout the entirety of Season 18 it has been clear that the Doctor is mellowing and ageing beyond the earlier carefree years and is instead a much older wanderer. There are still traces of those days but this does indeed feel like a natural end of the road for this incarnation. The role of the Watcher is unfortunately never properly explained but the presence of this ghost like figure almost beckoning the Doctor forwards is a reminder of how close the end is. The final scenes as the Doctor sees his life of past foes and friends flash before his eyes are natural and really add to the idea that death is near. Thus once the Doctor regenerates it feels like we've known that this has been coming for quite a while. All in all this is a good story which in one sense is an ending for the series but through the introduction of Tegan, the return of Nyssa and the use of the Master there are also several encouraging signs for the future. 8/10
Finally Castrovalva:

A small scale beginning

Peter Davison's time in the series gets off to a good start with this relatively relaxed tale. After the apocalypse that was Logopolis we get a story that takes place on an incredibly small scale and focuses heavily on the individual characters. This is very much in keeping with the new Doctor's charecterisation as being far more down to earth than the all conquering superhuman that his predecessor appeared to be at times.

Christopher H. Bidmead's script is once more full of some strong scientific concepts, most obviously recursion but also the hydrogen inrush and the Zero Room, but the real focus is on charecterisation. The story is very teasing since it isn't until the fourth episode that the Doctor is fully recovered and revealed. Until then we only get glimpses as to what he is like and this leaves the viewer wanting more. With Adric spending most of the story a prisoner of the Master, the real emphasis is on Tegan and Nyssa. Both Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton give strong performances as their characters seek to come to terms with the events going on around them and ensure that they and the Doctor survive them all. Both Adric and the Master are confined to the sidelines for mush of the story but Matthew Waterhouse and Anthony Ainley make the most of their scenes. Peter Davison has a difficult role, since the Doctor is not quite himself for much of the story and at times appears to be turning out like some of his earlier incarnations, but Davison is successful in doing good impressions of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee that don't become in any way laughable, whilst also ensuring that his own portrayal of the Doctor slowly asserts itself.

The first half of the story is set almost entirely aboard the two TARDISes, focusing only on the existing characters with a highly simplistic plot but this allows for the all important character development. Equally well handled is the setting of Castrovalva. The sets are reminiscent of Escher's work, whilst most of the four principle Castrovalvans are characterised well, though Ruther does appear to be surplus to requirements at times. 'Neil Toynay' gives such a good performance as the Portreeve that it was a genuine surprise to me when I first watched the story to discover that this character is in fact the Master in disguise. Bidmead's script is successful in pushing most of the suspicion onto Shadovan and a small amount onto Ruther, luring many viewers into believing that they are an agent of the Master whilst those who try to doubleguess the writer are lured instead towards Mergrave.

Productionwise Castrovalva has some good sets, location work, direction and music but the story is unfortunately let down by the crudity of early 1980s video effects. This is one of a number of tales that would definitely benefit from modern CGI effects given the requirements that some shots have. Fortunately the script handles most of the recursion concepts in the dialogue and so things aren't as bad as they seem. To blame a story for trying something bold and being let down by the contemporary video effects would be unfair, especially when the story should be judged according to its contemporaries. All in all this is a strong debut for the new Doctor that makes the viewer want to come back for more - a critical factor given that the story was seeking to keep the series going after the departure of the longest serving Doctor and in this respect it had a task second only to The Power of the Daleks. 8/10
Doctor Who - New Beginnings can be purchased from

Eurosceptics turn their back on the UK

The UK Independence Party has announced a rebranding of itself as "the Independence Party". ( Ukip name change is part of attempt to woo disaffected Tories) In the party's quest to find extra issues, it's now trying to present itself as a party in favour of greater local devolution, having realised that opposing proposals to twin towns with places in Europe isn't a viable strategy for local government. But the timing of this - in the run up to elections for all three devolved parliaments - can't be coincidental. By downplaying the UK UKIP have shown themselves to be mere opportunists, willing to present themselves as both nationalists and unionists depending on whatever will get them votes anywhere. In that respect they could be Liberal Democrats!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

January on this blog

For those eagerly awaiting the stats for January on this blog I'm afraid there are none - due to problems with Tracksy my account had to be recreated, losing most of the information.

Normaly service will be resumed next month. In the meantime, earlier stats can be found on the pages for February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.


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