Monday, June 30, 2008

Are the Lib Dem starting to see their faults?

A truthful poster for the Lib DemsThere have been some interesting posts on Liberal Democrat Voice in the aftermath of the Henley by-election. Several of the posters there seem to have finally decided they don't like their party's way of campaigning. This is, of course, not a new complaint from activists - see Another Lib Dem speaks out. But they're being spoken with an even louder voice. And of course the recent run of Liberal Democrat failures in Ealing Southall (the first time they failed to take a government held seat from second place since 1989), Crewe & Nantwich and Henley has shown it's not always the best strategy.

We can leave aside the bar charts based on any old numbers that make it look like they're "winning here" (although when knocking up in Henley I met a Lib Dem activist delivering leaflets who very kindly let me have one and she didn't like the bar charts either) and also the very "Winning Here" signs which aren't always the most popular and focus on one issue - local candidacies. When the Liberal Democrats have picked a local candidate they will go all out to demonise other parties' candidates for not being from the constituency. When the boot is on the other foot they'll use their other face to complain about "living here" slogans and attack the rival candidate as an "unpopular decision maker". And then we get candidates who literally take up residence after being selected just to pretend they're local.

Yes other parties have picked up these tactics as well. But the reason they do so is in order to counter the Liberal Democrat By-election Machine and it creates a vicious circle. Only when the need to counter is removed can this, and other problems in by-elections for both parties and voters, can things get better.

Liberal Democrat Voice: But Mr Gladstone, are you local enough? addresses the issue of locality head on, both in terms of what it means for Parliament if it's full of parish pump politicians (indeed one of the reasons I'm sceptical of STV) and also for the Lib Dem campaigns.

Now will the Lib Dem leadership take things on board or will they carry on being the same old Lib Dems? Unfortunately I think we already know the answer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who wants to be Gordon Brown?

The search for a person who will stand again David Davis on the government's position of forty-two days internment continues, with the news that the Labour Party has declined to put up a candidate and Kelvin MacKenzie is now unlikely to run either.

One interesting suggestion is for a Conservative who is in favour of forty-two days to stand, with ConservativeHome's own Tim Montgomerie being suggested. (Blaney's Blarney: A viable opponent for David Davis?) I believe this would result in Tim's expulsion from the party and it could also turn the whole election into a wider debate about the role of ConservativeHome in the modern party, which is not what most people want to see.

But if no major candidate is forthcoming, there is always the possibility of a paper candidature. As I previously blogged in I am seriously impressed with David Davis, in some of the by-elections over the Anglo-Irish Agreement when no-one would come forward to challenge a sitting Unionist (and yes, it was disgraceful that at the time the Conservative Party was not organised and contesting elections there and thus did not put up to defend the government policy, however bad that policy was) a Unionist activists changed his name by deed poll to "Peter Barry", the name of the Irish foreign minister, and stood as a paper candidate in four seats on a pro Agreement platform. Thus voters were able to choose between pro and anti-Agreement options.

So would anyone like to be Gordon Brown for an election?

I also note that someone I'd never heard of before called Andy Burnham, who is apparently the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has managed to get a headline saying Davis 'should fund by-election' (BBC News). Would it be too much to hope for that Andy Burnham is also calling for Gordon Brown to personally reimburse the country all the public money that was spent in persuading enough MPs to support this measure?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lies, damn lies and statistics

I've just been sent a copy of the absolutely fascinating railway station usage statistics that try to work out how many people use each railway station each year - not as easy to calculate as you may think once season tickets, travelcards and the like are factored in. But they show some interesting results.

First off the bit most people are interested in - the ten busiest stations. And no surprises for guessing where most of these are:
  1. London Waterloo 83,993,314
  2. London Victoria 66,749,335
  3. London Liverpool Street 55,265,748
  4. London Bridge 47,576,684
  5. London Charing Cross 34,779,287
  6. London Paddington 27,258,741
  7. London Euston 25,585,113
  8. London Kings Cross 22,503,777
  9. London Cannon Street 21,106,127
  10. Glasgow Central 21,002,296
These should be treated with some caution because most tickets are sold for "London stations" and can be used for other stations on a direct or reasonable route. For instance tickets allocated to London Bridge may actually have been used for Blackfriars or City Thameslink.

So if we can't trust the most used statistics, how about the least used? Here are the ten least busiest stations (with the area added):
  1. Tyndrum Lower (Stirling) 17
  2. Buckenham (Norfolk) 22
  3. Coombe Halt (Cornwall And Isles Of Scilly) 32
  4. Golf Street (Angus) 38
  5. Barry Links (Angus) 44
  6. Denton (Greater Manchester) 65
  7. Sugar Loaf (Powys - Powys) 67
  8. Breich (West Lothian) 75
  9. Dorking West (Surrey) 79
  10. Thorne South (South Yorkshire) 79M
Yes a railway station in the London commuter belt is officially the 9th least used station in the country! Some of these are again distorted because most tickets for these stations are actually for "station groups" that are allocated to the main station for a town and this hits Tyndrum Lower, Dorking West and Thorne South. So once again never trust the statistics.

The other seven stations all have microscopic services. Golf Street and Barry Links are tiny little stations that are little more than bus shelters with one train a day each way that are only kept this way for special occasions and to avoid the hassle of the closure procedure so again not likely to attract huge tickets being allocated to them. Buckenham has no trains stopping during the week and just four at the weekends to cater for bird watching huts! Coombe Halt serves a tiny settlement and is located at a reversing point on the line (although most trains don't go the final distance to the platform), whilst Sugar Loaf serves mountains and is a request stop mainly used by trekkers. Denton, in Greater Manchester, has just one train a week and is another station given artificial life presumably for planning reasons. Breich has three trains a day and, presumably like some of the others, suffers from being on a low frequency line that cannot accommodate extra stops without knock-on effects to the wider network.

Even so the ludicrously tiny numbers for all these stations are too low to be believable. But then does anyone ever believe any figures from Network Rail?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Now Sinn Féin become heroes?!

It seems that the Irish have rejected the EU Constitution "Treaty" in their referendum. (BBC News: Irish minister says EU vote lost) And the only party in the Dáil who campaigned for a "No" vote was... Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin are not exactly ideological soulmates to many Eurosceptics in the UK. So I can well imagine that many are looking on in amazement at which side they've found themselves on. Of course to attribute this result to Sinn Féin alone would be absurd - they're only a tiny force in the Dáil and it seems that other campaigners and general scepticism have contributed as much to this result.

Now the big question is whether or not this "No" vote will be accepted by an EU that is notoriously weak when it comes to democracy. Or will the Irish have to have more referendums until they "get it right"?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oddest comment on Haltemprice and Howden yet!

Amidst everything else in the news coverage I've noticed a BBC News reporter running through the various parties who aren't going to be standing in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, including the Scottish National Party!

Now being a stereotypical southerner I can't get away with claiming to know anything about geography north of the Watford Gap, but I was always under the impression Haltemprice and Howden is in Yorkshire. Which is not exactly a part of Scotland.

Is this the BBC's way of giving balanced news coverage to all parts of the United Kingdom?!

I am seriously impressed with David Davis

I turned on the television to see the news that David Davis is resigning to fight a by-election on the issue of 42 days detention. (BBC News: David Davis resigns from Commons) This is one of the most impressive moves I've seen in politics in a long time.

I've been searching my memory (and a very good book co-edited by my supervisor) for previous cases where MPs resigned to fight by-elections and the precedents are mixed. Here are all the ones I can find from the last seventy years:

Kinross and Western Perthshire by-election, 1938. This by-election saw the Duchess of Atholl, who had resigned the Conservative whip earlier in the Parliament, resign her seat in protest at the government's European policy. She was unopposed by Labour or the Liberals (after their leadership intervened) but lost the seat to the new Conservative candidate in a two candidate fight.

Not Gravesend by-election, 1955! Sir Richard Acland resigned from the Labour Party and the Commons in protest at the party's support for nuclear defence. He was going to fight as an independent but the 1955 general election overtook events. In a contest against Labour and Conservative candidates the Conservatives gained the seat.

Lincoln by-election, 1973. Dick Taverne had been fighting a battle with militants in his Constituency Labour Party and took it to the wider electorate. In a six candidate contest (although with no Liberal candidate), Taverne won standing as "Democratic Labour".

Mitcham and Morden by-election, 1982, a by-election that a lot of people talked about recently in the run-up to Crewe and Nantwich. Bruce Douglas-Mann changed from Labour to the Social Democratic Party and opted to ask the electorate. The Conservatives gained the seat and people still wonder why defecting MPs always resist calls for by-elections.

The 15 Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986. All fifteen Unionist MPs resigned their seats in protest at the introduction of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However getting the other parties to contest the seats proved difficult - the SDLP and Sinn Féin only ran in the four seats with a Nationalist majority and although the Alliance and Workers' Party reluctantly stood candidates across another seven seats, in four a paper candidate had to be found. This led to a man changing his name to "Peter Barry", the name of the Irish Foreign Minister, who polled a poor vote. Maybe someone wants to stand against Davis as "Gordon Brown"? The most significant outcome was in the Newry and Armagh by-election where Jim Nicholson lost to the SDLP's Seamus Mallon.

And that's it. I suppose Davis's position is closest to the Northern Irish by-elections although he has made a personal decision whereas the Unionists were making a party decision.

So how will Haltemprice and Howden go? I don't know. But Davis is taking a very strong principled stance on the issue, maybe even making a courageous decision, and that is good for politics in general.

Oh and with the news the Liberal Democrats aren't fielding a candidate means this will be the first by-election without a candidate from one of the three largest UK parties since South Antrim in 2000. For those who want to cry that's Northern Ireland then the next previous was Newham North East (the other side of my home borough) in 1994 when the Liberal Democrats nominated their only local councillor, Alec Kellaway, who defected to Labour during the campaign! (Kellaway appears to have always been a Social Democrat who decided Labour rather than the Lib Dems were his natural home. At the time of the SDP-Liberal merger he had originally joined the David Owen "continuing" Social Democratic Party.) But lest anyone cry foul on that then it was Glasgow Centralin 1980. A Young Liberal thought not standing a candidate was a bad move and so stood as a maverick, but only got 1.7% of the vote.

Now a lot of the history books will have to be rewritten...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

From Leaving Soon to Coming Back?!

I've just seen the scary news that Ken Livingstone is contemplating another run for the London Mayoralty in 2012. (New Statesman: Ken to run in 2012) One has to wonder who he's fooling - the murk surrounding his personal office and associates has if anything increased since he left office and more damaging revelations could come soon. The voting public indicated they were tired of him last month and the Labour Party will want a new candidate rather than running Yesterday's Man. An independent bid wouldn't have the fire or issue that it did in 2000.

So why is Livingstone still hopeful? Well my best guess is this. One of the worst kept secrets in British politics is that Livingstone's office was dominated by a group called Socialist Action. (Those who've been involved in student politics may have encountered one of their front groups, the Student Broad Left.) When Ken Livingstone lost his job so did many Socialist Action members and the organisation will be seeking a new source of funds. Is the talk of a Livingstone comeback motivated by a desire to try to get the old supply back?

Are the polls believable?

Normally any partisan beast or supposedly "neutral" commentator will have one of two attitudes to opinion polls. When they show the result one wants it becomes a stick to beat others with. When they don't show the result there is no end of nonsense about the way in which polls are compiled, together with that classic statement "The only poll that matters is the general election," which is politician-speak for "We are going to lose big time."

But I have to say I am finding some of the current opinion polls to be too good to be true. Maybe that means on election night I'm going to enjoy the result, maybe it means I'll be able to say "Told you so," to anyone who can't strangle me. The latest poll suggests that Gordon Brown has a worse approval rating now than Iain Duncan Smith did. (The Times: Gordon Brown slides to record poll low as crucial vote looms)

Now I can remember the two years of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership and I have to say I don't recall being particularly depressed by the whole affair. Maybe that's because after four years of William Hague, when things did get very depressing, just doing about the same was at least familiar. Certainly I viewed the events of Halloween 2003 with a degree of dread that changing the leader could get the party into an even worse mess than it was already in. As it happened I was proved wrong. But I can understand why Labour are scared to even consider a new leader, quite apart from a rulebook that makes a leadership challenge less likely than Downing Street being invaded by Elvis Presley and Lord Lucan riding on the back of the Loch Ness Monster.

But will Gordon Brown see it that way? I think Iain Dale puts it well: I Wouldn't Want to be a Mobile Phone in No 10 Tonight.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

So no more President Clinton

Today Hillary Clinton is going to do what she should have done days ago and concede she's lost the race for the Democratic nomination. BBC News: Clinton to bow out of campaign She has learnt the hard way that she did not have a God Given Right to it and her attempts to bypass the voters by appealing to super-delegates or sending a mob to harass the Rules & By-laws Committee to get a favourable outcome would, if successful, have made her not the Democratic Nominee but the Undemocratic Nominee.

Why has she taken so long? Is being a sore loser inherent in the Democrats' nature? Or is just hard for Clinton to accept that it's not going to be her?

If there's one thing that's irked me more than anything else about her campaign it's been the argument that she should be elected so there can be a woman President and break the glass ceiling. Well if she had won the nomination and Presidency (and inflicted the horror of another term of the Clintons on the world) it wouldn't have been a triumph for women. It would have been a triumph for political marriages.

The US has a number of women in high political positions who have got there on their own merit - Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice to name but two. But Hillary Clinton is not in this category.

The US and the wider world needs change for the future. Not changing to the past. There are now two very good candidates who each represent a forward direction of change. But let's hope that Barack Obama is sensible enough to not put the past in the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket.

Friday, June 06, 2008

May on this blog

It's a little later than usual, but time again for the monthly look at who's been visiting this blog. For those who wish to see stats for earlier months you can now click on one of the labels at the end of this post. Comparisons are with the stats for April.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. educationet (+26)
  3. Facebook (-1)
  4. Blogger.com (-1)
  5. Mars Hill (-1)
  6. Liberal England (NEW)
  7. Antonia's blog (-2)
  8. Wikipedia (-2)
  9. Richard Kimber's Political Science Resources (NEW)
  10. Yahoo (+6)
Dropping out of the top ten are ConservativeHome (at 13, down 5), Live Search (at 14, down 4), nourishing blogrolls (at 47, down 38) and Piled Higher and Deeper (at 57, down 50).

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. what president am i most like (+3)
  3. oldest political party (+3)
  4. tim roll-pickering (-2)
  5. whatever happened to dan quayle (-1)
  6. seals of office (RE-ENTRY)
  7. what harms the environment (-4)
  8. grumpy old men muppets (+1)
  9. brent central (NEW)
  10. laura mcalister - devolution
A return to some new entries mixed in with the old favourites.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in:

BALTIMORE, BELFAST, BIRMINGHAM, BROOKLYN, BURLINGTON, BURY, CALGARY, CARY, CHARLESTON, CHARLOTTESVILLE, CHATHAM, COVENTRY, DALLAS, DRAPER, DUBAI, DURHAM, EDMONTON, GARDEN CITY, GLADSTONE, HALIFAX, INDIANAPOLIS, IRVINE, ISLIP, LEEDS, LEICESTER, LIVERPOOL, LOMBARD, LONDON, LUTON, MALE, MANASSAS, MANCHESTER, MELBOURNE, MOUNTAIN VIEW, MT LAUREL, NEW ALBANY, NEW YORK, OXFORD, PHILADELPHIA, REDMOND, RESTON, SCOTTSDALE, SHEFFIELD, SOUTHAMPTON, SYDNEY, TORONTO, WAKEFIELD, WASHINGTON and "others".

Thank you all for reading!

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