Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stuart Wheeler must be expelled

One of the basic rules of a political party is that members do not incite voters to vote against the party's official candidates. It is a clear cut rule that is held by nearly all significant parties and one that has been enforced irrespective of the identity of the individuals involved.

The news that Conservative Party donor Stuart Wheeler has given £100,000 to the UK Independence Party (BBC News: Tory donor gives £100,000 to UKIP) is a clear cut breach of these rules. There can be no two ways about it - UKIP is a rival party. Wheeler cannot remain a member of the Conservatives whilst endorsing a rival.

Back in 1999 the party did not hesitate to expel members, even some once-medium sized names, who had endorsed the "Pro-Euro Conservative Party" when it stood against the Conservatives. The same principle must apply to Wheeler. There can be no double standards on the basis of which way a lot of people in the grassroots feel about the issue of EU membership.

Hattip to ConservativeHome Tory Diary: Eric Pickles must expel Stuart Wheeler.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saucer of milk, table 11 please!

One of the more amusing moments in the Labour blogosphere is the war of words between Kerron Cross and Luke Akehurst. Or in each other's words, "the former Vice-Chair of Croxley Green Parish Council" and "the man who dreams of being 'Chief Whip in an 8th term Labour Government'". I am trying to think of an intra-Conservative exchange on this level.

For more, see Kerron Cross: How To Improve BBC's Election Night Coverage? and Luke's Blog: Kerron still Cross

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Conservatives in the European Parliament - A History

I've done a few posts about the European Parliament lately but one other thing I've noticed that is not so well known about is the actual history of the UK Conservatives' groups in the European Parliament. So here's my best attempt to briefly detail it:

When the UK, together with Ireland and Denmark, entered the European Economic Community (as was) in 1973, the European Parliament was not directly elected but instead appointed by national parliaments. Upon entry the UK Conservatives and the Danish Conservative People's Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti) jointly formed the "European Conservatives" group (the first point of confusion as a lot of names get recycled). In 1979 direct elections to the Parliament began and at the same time the number of seats were increased, benefiting the European Conservatives no end. After the elections they had 64 members, albeit very lopsided with 61 from the UK (including the solitary Ulster Unionist) and 3 from Denmark. The group at this point renamed itself "European Democrats" (another name that would be later recycled).

However the group's numbers then went into decline over the next decades, not least because of the deteriorating position of the UK Conservatives in the Euro elections. In 1984 the UK Conservatives won 45 seats, the Ulster Unionists 1 and the Danish Conservatives 4. With the accession of Spain, the group was joined by the Spanish People's Party (Partido Popular). Up until 1989 the group was usually the third largest in the European Parliament, behind the Socialists and European People's Party.

But 1989 saw a dramatic downturn. The Ulster Unionists held their seat, but the Danish Conservatives dropped to 2 and the UK Conservatives fell to 31. The Spanish People's Party switched to the European People's Party. The result was that the 34 member European Democrats fell to the fifth place in the Parliament, now also behind the Liberals and Communists/Far Left, and only four seats ahead of the Greens.

This prompted the UK Conservatives to reconsider their options, as many believed that being in a small grouping on the fringes of the Parliament would make it impossible to achieve their goals, and so during the last years of Margaret Thatcher's leadership an application was made to join the European People's Party. However, in a move that will now surprise many, it was the EPP who were sceptical about the move. The initial application to join was rejected, because the European People's Party is a Christian Democrat grouping and was sceptical about taking on non-Christian Democrat parties. The situation became more intense with the Danish Conservatives also seeking entry to the EPP, leaving the UK Conservatives potentially ever more isolated. However the prospect of narrowing the gap between the EPP and the Socialists appealed and in May 1992 the UK Conservatives were admitted as associate members of the grouping in the parliament, without joining the wider Europarty federation.

The UK Conservatives' number of MEPs plummeted in the 1994 elections, dropping to just 18 MEPs. (The situation was enhanced by the UK then being the only country to not use proportional representation. It was the result of this that was a major factor in making the Socialists the largest grouping in the Parliament.) Meanwhile back home the Conservative Party was getting ever more Eurosceptic, whilst at the same time demands for a widening of party democracy meant that the party's link with the avowedly federalist EPP was starting to come under pressure, although I can't recall it being much of a factor in the 1997 (MPs only) leadership election.

In 1999 the UK changed voting systems for the parliament, with MEPs from Great Britain now elected by regional lists (although Northern Ireland retained the Single Transferable Vote). With the Labour government suffering severe unpopularity and the Conservatives getting a boost a reversal in numbers would have come in any case, but now the delegation was doubled with several new MEPs who questioned the link with the EPP from the outset. However the viability of an alternative grouping was doubtful, especially as the election as a whole saw the EPP overtake the Socialists to become the largest grouping for the first time since direct elections. UK Conservative leader William Hague also felt that it would not be advantageous in domestic politics to be isolated from the main centre-right parties in Europe. Consequently he negotiated a compromise arrangement whereby the "European Democrats" were formally revived and the overall grouping became a nominal coalition of the EPP and the ED. It was also hoped that with the forthcoming expansion of the European Union the ED subgroup would pick up further parties from new member states.

However this arrangement did not satisfy everyone and a low level campaign against the EPP link rumbled on in the UK Conservatives. Once again I don't recall it being a factor in the 2001 leadership election, the first to have the grassroots members voting, but at the time it was the position on the European single currency that was the main point of interest and litmus test for Euro issues in the party. Iain Duncan Smith investigated trying to revive the European Democrats as an independent separate grouping, but could neither find the numbers nor get the support of the party's MEPs. In 2004 the UK Conservatives ran on a manifesto that included sitting with the EPP, but the ED subgroup picked up very few new members - from the new states only the Czech Civic Democrats (Občanská demokratická strana - ODS) came on, whilst the group was also joined by the one member Italian Pensioners' Party (Partito Pensionati) and the two member Portuguese Social Democratic Centre – People's Party (Centro Democrático e Social - Partido Popular - CDS-PP).

At the same time the growth of the internet has transformed the way in which the UK Conservative grassroots discuss issues, and this has been seized to the full by those campaigning against the EPP link. In the 2005 leadership election the candidates were asked their stances on the link, with Kenneth Clarke supporting it, David Cameron and Liam Fox opposing it and David Davis declaring he would leave it up to the MEPs (I can't remember Sir Malcolm Rifkind's stance). However, although a few MPs did make something of the issue, it wasn't that major to the leadership campaign and the precise wording of what was actually pledged by Cameron seems more elusive than the missing Doctor Who episodes.

David Cameron was elected leader and intense speculation and arguments soon broke out about what to do in the European Parliament and what promise to follow. Several UK Conservative MEPs declared that they would defy a withdrawal and stay with the EPP, in line with the 2004 election manifesto. The grassroots had been spun a tale of how there were many "Atlanticist Eurosceptic Conservative parties" just waiting for the UK Conservatives to take a lead and soon a viable alternative grouping would be formed. This has proved elusive in the 2004-2009 parliament, enhanced because a 2006 agreement with the Czech Civic Democrats stated that a new group would not be formed until after the 2009 election, because of domestic Czech political requirements. The issue has become ever more a litmus test for the Eurosceptic grassroots, many of whom place far more priority on ideological consistency than on influence and access to posts in the European Parliament.

Now recently the UK Conservatives have formally lodged notice with the EPP of their intention to no longer sit with them after the 2009 elections, and together with the Czech Civic Democrats, the Polish Law and Justic (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - PiS) and whichever other parties can be scraped together for a new grouping. It remains to be seen if this group will get & keep the numbers to be a recognised grouping in the European Parliament...

Obama conforms to stereotype

The arrogant American abroad is a well known stereotype. They exhibit many traits but one of the most annoying is when they automatically assume that everyone can use their things, usually their money, and tries to force it on. I have experienced it myself once when selling something on eBay and the buyer mailed me dollar notes. Unless I go to the US anytime soon they are utterly useless (they're too low an amount to make changing them worthwhile and the small number of shops who do accept them are primarily ones for tourists at airports that neither sell much I want nor charge low prices).

A similar thing comes with DVDs. In order to prevent free trade in DVDs, especially in an era when one can buy directly from the US over the internet, the DVD industry included the region code system that means many DVDs can only be played on players configured for the same region. Some but not all DVD players in the UK can play discs from any region but it's not exactly "recommended" by the manufacturers. But the stereotypical American seems ignorant of the problem and assumes that any player in the world can play a Region 1 disc.

And Barack Obama has conformed to the stereotype. (Daily Telegraph: Gordon Brown is frustrated by 'Psycho' in No 10) His entire gift to Gordon Brown is utterly useless over here.

By the way this has a bearing on Brown's DVD meme. I now get just six points for seeing the films, as I don't have any of them on Region 1. How do other people do?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"A peace process too far"?

Thanks to Iain Dale's Diary: The Daley Dozen: Wednesday for pointing me too Slugger O'Toole: Fianna Fail's European dilemma..., which in turn points to Irish Examiner: FF's Euro wing is trying to wriggle between a rock and a hard place.

Can anyone tell me which party produced the Irish Taoiseach who wrote the following? And which party produced the UK Prime Minister he was writing to?
I would like to testify that you did more than any former British Statesman to make a true friendship between the peoples of our two countries possible, and, if the task has not been completed, that it has not been for want of goodwill on your part.
The answers are, surprisingly, Fianna Fáil and the Conservatives. (The men in question were Éamon de Valera and Neville Chamberlain.)

As I've noted before, the Conservatives are not the only party who have had problems relating to alliances in the European Parliament. The Irish party Fianna Fáil have had similar. Even the recent announcement that they are going to join the European Liberals has provoked criticism and internal rows. But Fianna Fáil can't stay where they are forever as the Union for a Europe of Nations is in danger of dropping below the rules for being a recognised group in the parliament, not least because the Conservatives are seeking recruits for their new group from it.

The Examiner makes an interesting hint:
The Tories and FF might have more in common than they both realise. Both consider themselves natural parties of government and both are instinctively suspicious of ideology.
Indeed there is so much in common that there are many Conservatives who admit they would strongly consider voting for them if they were voting in Ireland. Might a linkup in the European Parliament be a solution to both parties' problems here?

Unfortunately there are some rather major stumbling blocks on this possibility:
Trouble is the Tories want to be with Europe but are not of it, to use Churchill's phrase.

And then there's the issue of the North. Everyone's for the Agreement these days but there's about a century's worth of bad blood between the two parties. It would be a brave Fianna Fáiler who made the case for a Tory link-up. It's probably a peace process too far.
There's also the not insignificant problem of Fianna Fáil's support for the Lisbon Treaty in spite of the Irish "No" vote last year, which would be the major stumbling block at the Conservative end - would the grassroots be happy.

But the latter problem is a temporary one that will fade with time - who now even remembers which parties were for and against Maastricht? The former - well other past bad blood has certainly been overcome, but this isn't exactly an insignificant one, even for a notoriously pragmatic party like Fianna Fáil. There have been times when the two parties' leaders have been close, as shown above, but it would take so much more.

And yet... the European Parliament has certainly thrown up other strange alliances. How many years will pass before this one doesn't seem so unthinkable?

Posts in the European Parliament - in response to Roger Helmer

I was going to post this as a response in the comments to this one by Roger Helmer MEP, but as it's long and technical I'll make it a new post in itself.

It is not strictly true to say that posts in the European Parliament are allocated on a per head basis - there is a bias towards larger groupings - but also if an alternative group is to be formed then most of the other parties involved would not be automatically entitled to positions such as chairs and vice chairs and we Conservatives would probably have to give them some of our allocation just to get & keep them on-board.

The allocation formula is D'Hondt, which has a bias towards larger groups and coalitions - see this conference presentation for an example of the number crunching. One practical outcome is that the European People's Party-European Democrats group currently has one more committee chair than a strict "per head" basis.

To my awareness the best analysis of not only the likely numbers involved but of the entire situation is P. Lynch & R. Whitaker (2008) "A Loveless Marriage: The Conservatives and the European People's Party." Parliamentary Affairs 61(1) (January 2008): 31-51. (Those with access can see the article via the online archive.) In the article (amongst other matters) Lynch & Whitaker modelled two hypothetical groups in the European Parliament in 2007 to demonstrate the numbers and allocation. (Whilst the 2009 elections will bring changes, they do not anticipate these to be so great as to have a significant impact on the numbers involved.) The two groups include a "smaller" one, based on both a limited number of recruits and six Conservative MEPs staying in the EPP-ED (although Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson would be in), and a "larger" one with all the Conservatives on-board plus further countries. The impact on posts is clear.

For the record the smaller group consists as follows:

1. 22 Conservatives & Unionists (with six staying in the EPP-ED) - UK
2. 9 Civic Democrats (ODS) - Czech Republic
3. 7 Law and Justice (PiS) - Poland
4. 4 For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (LNNK) - Latvia
5. 1 Pensioners' Party - Italy
6. 1 Independent - Kathy Sinnott - Ireland

Total: 44 MEPs

The larger group consists of all the above, the remaining six Conservatives and the following:

7. 4 Centre Party - Finland
8. 3 Movement for France (MPF) - France
9. 2 Social Democratic Centre–People's Party (CDS-PP) - Portugal
10. 2 United Democratic Forces (UDF) - Bulgaria (and this was based on the January to May appointed interim delegation before the UDF failed to win any seats in the subsequent election)

Total: 61 MEPs

Now others can comment on the ease of obtaining each of these nine, or for that matter whether they will have seats after the elections (e.g. the UDF didn't get anyone elected in the 2007 elections and this led to a change of leadership that makes them more unlikely to join up if they get the chance). But these hypothetical groups show well who would get the gains and losses.

The allocation of committee chairs and vice chairs becomes a factor here. The parties that would be in the smaller group currently have between them 3 chairs and 6 vice chairs. In the larger group it's 3 chairs and 10 vice chairs. But if the new groups were formed then the smaller group gets 1 chair and 4 vice chairs. The larger group gets 1 chair 6 vice chairs.

And assuming the use of the D'Hondt formula to divide up the allocations within the group then the losses overwhelmingly hit the other parties, not the Conservatives, again because of the D'Hondt bias towards larger parties. In the smaller group, the Conservatives will retain 1 chair and 3 vice chairs. In the larger group the Conservatives actually gain another vice chair entitlement. So from a Conservative point of view the raw numbers suggest there's nothing to lose (but we'll come to the question of which committees) and possibly a little bit to gain. But the changes for the other parties are as follows (smaller/larger):

ODS -1 chair/-1 chair
PiS -1 chair/- 1 chair + 1 vice chair
LNNK -1 vice chair/-1 vice chair
Pensioners same/same (nothing to start with)
Kathy Sinnott -1 vice chair/-1 vice chair
Centre Party NA/-3 vice chairs
MPF NA/same (nothing to start with)
CDS-PP NA/-1 vice chair
UDF NA/same (nothing to start with)

So what exactly is in it for these parties to move away from their current groups? And remember some of these groups are already quite Eurosceptic so it's not the same issue as between us and the EPP. The best I can see is that the Conservatives would have to hand over some of their entitlement, along with other posts in both the parliament and the group to other parties (e.g. giving the ODS the post of group leader).

And this doesn't even address the fact that as well as the drop in raw numbers, the choice of committees is allocated on the basis of group sizes. The larger group would get onky the 8th choice, the smaller group the 12th choice. These are not going to be the most influential committees.

Similarly the rapporteurs, who "prepare reports on bills that set out the EP's position and propose amendments", are allocated in a similar way so once again it is the large groupings who will get proportionally more rapporteurships and, crucially, the more important bills. (And once again the Conservatives might find they have to give over some entitlement to others in the new group.)

Now all this talk about posts in the European Parliament does not in itself matter one iota to voters. What does matter is output. It is the holding of posts that enhances a party's ability to influence the output of the European Parliament. It is here that MEPs can best stand up for the interests of the public and get the best results.

So will Labour try to take London backwards?

Ken Livingstone has announced what's been an open secret for ages now - he's going to run for Mayor in 2012. And if he can't get the Labour nomination he's going to run as an Independent. (BBC News: Livingstone seeks return as mayor)

Just imagine what the return of Livingstone would mean for London. It would mean London would no longer be run for the benefit of all Londoners but instead for a coalition of clientalist groups leeching funds whilst pretending to be representing sections of the community, in harness with a handful of select inner London boroughs. It would mean ever greater taxes on using a car, with no serious attempt to provide alternatives in outer London boroughs. It would mean directly insulting communities and countries. It will mean deals with dodgy dictators. It would mean proliferate waste at City Hall. It would mean a return to corruption investigations. It would mean taxes going up. It would mean needless fights with central government purely for the point of it. It would mean endless tokenism. It would mean promoting community division, not unity. It would mean disaster for London.

Last May Londoners voted to put an end to all that. To their credit the Labour Party leadership got the hint and are doing their best to stop it. (Evening Standard: Labour heavyweights plan mayoral bids to 'stop Ken') But will the London Labour Party members realise get the hint as well? And can't Livingstone get it?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I have succumbed... Twitter. You can follow my posts at timrollpickerin.

(Does anyone know how to set up a display feed for the blog sidebar?)

Brown's DVD meme

I've been tagged by Mars Hill: Gordon's DVD Meme. This is about the 25 DVDs that Barack Obama gave Gordon Brown.

Take two points for every film you own and have seen (only one if you own it but haven't got round to watching it yet), one point if you've seen it but don't own the DVD, and no points for those you haven’t either watched, purchased or been given.

OWN: Star Wars Episode IV, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Wizard of Oz.

SEEN: Gone With The Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lawrence of Arabia, ET.

NEVER SEEN: The Godfather, Schindler's List, It's A Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane, Singing in the Rain, Raging Bull, Vertigo, The Searchers, Psycho, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Some Like it Hot, Chinatown, City Lights, Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca, The General, and The Grapes of Wrath.

I get 10 points. Erm...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Battle Royal (Docks)

Today I went for the umpteenth time to the other end of the borough to campaign in the Royal Docks council by-election. Whilst canvassing voters I was surprised to bump into Steve Phillpott, a fellow History student in my days at the University of Kent. (I won't reveal how he's voting though.)

For those unfamiliar with this part of London, the Royal Docks ward is the southernmost part of Newham, below the Royal Docks themselves and consisting of Silvertown and North Woolwich (or for those who use the tube map for geography it's served by the Woolwich Arsenal branch of the Docklands Light Railway between West Silvertown and King George V stations). Here's the best map I can find electronically (although the ward boundaries are not precise), click for a larger version:

The response has been good so far and I have also been amazed by the number of people we've had out. (See also ConservativeHome: Could Newham be poised for a Tory councillor?) Our candidate, Neil Pearce, has been campaigning not just since the by-election began but over the years for improvements to the ward, including a successful campaign to retain the North Woolwich police station, and against the expansion of flights at London City Airport to a level far beyond originally agreed for the airport, because of the air and noise pollution they bring.

One of the more interesting moments of the day was when I saw a Labour leaflet claiming that we are in favour of a second runway at the airport! Now even leaving aside that this is totally contrary to our candidate's record, it's also not physically possible. Take a look again at the map above. The airport's only runway is at the bit that says "LONDON CITY AIRPORT" between the Royal Albert and King George V docks. Exactly where on earth could a second runway go? The only way I could imagine one is if it's on Royal Albert Dock and used by seaplanes! And these are hardly the most compatible planes for the destination airports.

Polling day is on March 26th and all help is much appreciated. To get details please either join the Facebook group: Neil Pearce for Royal Docks or ring his agent Billy on 07717 752657.

Updated: Many thanks to the commenter below who has provided links to images from the Labour leaflets showing the lies here and here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Boris didn't win because of the BNP

In the last few weeks there's been some rather high profile discussion within the Labour Party about their London mayoral candidate for 2012, with invariably a focus on why they lost the 2008 election. I don't wish to intrude on a private war, but one point I feel cannot go unaddressed is the claim being thrown around by some Labour members that Boris Johnson won the Mayoralty in part because the British National Party called for its voters to give him a second preference over Ken Livingstone. (Under the Supplementary Vote system used, these were the only two realistic options.) It is unfortunately standard "damn by association" stuff. Whilst there are many in the Labour Party who are honourable and above such behaviour, in my experience there is an element who will all too freely fling around accusations of racism as a means to get votes, not giving a damn about either truth or the polarising effect this can have on the electorate. The argument goes that Johnson's final majority over Livingstone was 139,772 and as the BNP candidate Richard Barnbrook got 69,710 first preferences then more than half that majority came from the BNP.

As is often the case in politics claims are made with only partial reference to the actual results and the truth requires a greater deal of detail to explain and will often have trouble competing with simplistic assertions made frequently and aggressively. To explain things fully it's necessary to go through the details on this.

Now the Mayoral election results are frequently badly announced and reported, because of the way the vote is counted and the second preference reported. Consequently most tables will list three figures for a candidate - their total number of ballot papers with a first preference, the total number with a second preference and (if applicable) the final result. However as that second figure includes people who gave preferences for both of the top two candidates the figures don't always add up.

For instance the figures for Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone usually appear as follows:

Johnson 1,043,761 - 257,792 - 1,168,738
Livingstone 893,877 - 303,198 - 1,028,966

In actual fact the more relevant figures for the second column are 124,977 and 135,089 - these are total second preferences cast for Johnson and Livingstone respectively by voters who voted for neither for their first preference.

The official results don't go into enough detail to tell us how every individual voter gave their first and second preferences, although it's relatively easy to use the totals given to calculate the number of Boris Johnson 1, Ken Livingstone 2 votes at 168,109, and Ken Livingstone 1, Boris Johnson 2 at 132,815 (see this forum post by David Boothroyd).

But for other candidates it's much harder to work out results. We'll come back to this later, but first lets look at the impact of the voting system on the result. Or rather the non-impact.

Advocates of preferential voting frequently argue that it breaks the "problem" of vote-splitting and can often deliver a different outcome to whoever would have won on first preferences alone. Now the Supplementary Vote is a limited model, and the voting system doesn't get much coverage, but it's notable that here the only difference to the outcome it made was to narrow Johnson's lead over Livingstone by just over 10,000 votes. This is far from unusual - in many preferential vote elections I have seen the transfers frequently make no difference to the order of elimination or who is elected, instead just dividing up in similar proportions to the first preferences. Outside of co-ordinated voting at conference, only when two strong candidates are chasing the same block of votes and both campaigns are savvy enough to appeal for second preferences and their main rival candidate has more homogenous support have there been significant changes to the outcome. (This is not to say that in a closely fought race the distribution of preferences doesn't sometimes tip the balance but it's rare. The only Mayoral election to date where this has happened was North Tyneside in 2005 when a 1400 Conservative lead on first preferences was converted into a 1002 Labour lead on transfers.)

It's true that some parties called for their voters to use their second preference a particular way, but how many voters actually follow such an instruction? Remember the UK is not Australia where use the "How-to-vote card" is perfected to a fine art (although even there vote leakage can and does occur). The Greens' candidate Sian Berry and Livingstone made a reciprocal transfer call, but how many Green voters followed through? Similarly how many BNP voters followed the party's call for a second preference for Johnson?

Well apparently Giles Edwards and Jonathan Isaby's book "Boris v. Ken" has some figures in this area. I don't have the book myself, but this post and this one gives the figures for transfers from the eliminated candidates:

Brian Paddick: Total votes 236,685. Livingstone 73,612, Johnson 70,157, someone else or blank 92,916.
Sian Berry: Total votes 77,374. Livingstone 36,365, Johnson 10,984, someone else or blank 30,025.
Richard Barnbrook: Total votes 69,710. Johnson 22,200, Livingstone 4,353, someone else or blank 43,157.
Alan Craig: Total votes 39,249. Livingstone 10,352, Johnson 10,328, someone else or blank 18,569.
Gerard Batten: Total votes 22,422. Johnson 6,671, Livingstone 1,681, someone else or blank 14,070.
Lindsey German: Total votes 16,796. Livingstone 6,661, Johnson 1,327, someone else or blank 8,808.
Matt O'Connor: Total votes 10,695. Johnson 2,485, Livingstone, 1,120, someone else or blank 7,090.
Winston McKenzie: Total votes 5,389. Livingstone 945, Johnson 825, someone else or blank 3,619.

Redone as percentages:

Brian Paddick: Livingstone 31.1%, Johnson 29.6%, someone else or blank 39.3%.
Sian Berry: Livingstone 47.0%, Johnson 14.2%, someone else or blank 38.8%.
Richard Barnbrook: Johnson 31.8%, Livingstone 6.2%, someone else or blank 61.9%.
Alan Craig: Livingstone 26.4%, Johnson 26.3%, someone else or blank 47.3%.
Gerard Batten: Johnson 29.8%, Livingstone 7.5%, someone else or blank 62.8%.
Lindsey German: Livingstone 39.7%, Johnson 7.9%, someone else or blank 52.4%.
Matt O'Connor: Johnson 23.2%, Livingstone 10.5%, someone else or blank 66.3%.
Winston McKenzie: Livingstone 17.5%, Johnson 15.3%, someone else or blank 67.2%.

Or taking just the active second preferences:

Brian Paddick: Livingstone 51.2%, Johnson 48.8%.
Sian Berry: Livingstone 76.8%, Johnson 23.2%.
Richard Barnbrook: Johnson 83.6%, Livingstone 16.4%.
Alan Craig: Livingstone 50.1%, Johnson 49.9%.
Gerard Batten: Johnson 79.9%, Livingstone 20.1%.
Lindsey German: Livingstone 83.4%, Johnson 16.6%.
Matt O'Connor: Johnson 68.9%, Livingstone 31.1%.
Winston McKenzie: Livingstone 53.4%, Johnson 46.6%.

Unsurprisingly a lot of votes transferred in line with ideology but there were some very significant leakages. Less than half the people who voted Green followed the call for a Livingstone second preference. Less than a third who voted BNP followed the call for a Johnson second preference.

The BNP transfer contributed only about 18,000 of Johnson's final majority of 139,772 - hardly a decisive factor. It was the strong campaigning by Johnson and outreach to the whole of London, as opposed the Livingstone strategy of just being a Mayor for certain inner London boroughs, that produced the massive increase in votes that won him the Mayoralty.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How long before we're back in the European People's Party?

Yesterday came the announcement that the Conservatives have formally informed the European People's Party of our intention to cease caucusing with them the end of the current Parliament and seek to create a new grouping of Eurosceptic Conservative parties. (ConservativeHome: Tory Diary - The Conservative Party's exit from the EPP would seem a step closer) This issue has excited a few, bored many and bewildered more for years now but I'll make a couple of prediction - the new group will not succeed and the Conservatives will return to caucusing with the EPP before too long.

The first thing that gets overlooked is that groupings in the European Parliament tend to be very broad churches because the member parties come from quite disparate political circumstances. The groupings are largely vehicles of convenience designed to strengthen the individual parties' position and enable them to do more than they could achieve in isolation. So individual parties are frequently able to put up with a lot of ideological disagreement without taking themselves into the wilderness.

It's also worth noting, as Nicholas Whyte does in his good post From the Heart of Europe: Fianna Fáil and the liberals, that being in a grouping confers potential benefits beyond the Parliament itself:
In addition, the growing importance of the pan-European parties as political vehicles is starting to rub. At the height of his powers, Bertie Ahern was being talked about for one of the top EU jobs. Although that prospect seems much less likely today, the fact is that the internal dynamics of EU politics meant that no FF candidate could ever be a serious runner in the first place. FF's current political grouping is fourth in the pecking order, a long way behind the Liberals, who themselves are not exactly snapping at the heels of the Socialists or the EPP.
Nicholas's full post is worth a good read as it traces the history of a major conservative~ish party (in so far as Fianna Fáil has any core ideology) sitting outside the European People's Party (in their case because Fine Gael blocked entry) and having to make alliances with either the products of temporary divisions in other country's rights (e.g. the French Gaullists or Forza Italia) or the flotsam and jetsam of politics, the latter of whom are not exactly the best bedfellows:
It was all very well to be in with the Gaullists, but times have changed; when the two largest delegations in your group are the Italian post-fascists [Alleanza Nazionale] and the Kaczyński twins [the Polish Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - Law and Justice], you may want to start thinking about moving.
Fianna Fáil has finally managed to join the Liberals, despite not being a liberal party. (Once again this is partially down to the repercussions of the domestic politics of a country - in this case Ireland's liberal party, the Progressive Democrats, have just collapsed and so removed the main veto wielder on Fianna Fáil's application.)

Now whilst Fianna Fáil itself has always been a very unlikely candidate for this proposed Eurosceptic Conservative grouping, its problems are indicative of the calculations that many parties make when choosing their grouping, invariably gravitating towards the largest blocks who offer influence and jobs. Tiny groups on the fringe offer only ideological purity or a temporary berth whilst waiting to get into a larger group. This does not bode well for any attempt to lure other parties out of the European People's Party.

And British-style conservatism is not that popular in Europe - the Czech Civic Democrats are a very rare example of a major party who truly are a mirror image of us. In most countries the main centre-right option is Christian Democracy, and it is the differences between Christian Democracy and British-style Conservatism that are at the root not only of our long term uneasy relationship with the EPP (remember that some two decades ago it was the EPP who were sceptical about our caucusing with them, not the other way round) but indeed with the EU project as a whole, a project that is very much a Christian Democrat one. The result is that there are very few natural allies for the Conservatives in a separate grouping, a problem compounded by the requirement to have members from at least six or seven different member states, and several of the parties already in smaller groups are not exactly comfortable bedfellows.

So I predict that this proposed new grouping will struggle to get the numbers needed to be a recognised party and that once more attention is focused on the flotsam and jetsam that is the only alternative then the entire project will collapse. This leaves only two options, only one of them viable, for the Conservatives in the European Parliament.

One theoretical option is to not sit as any party as all but to sit as independent "non-inscrits". The idea that a serious major party of government in any member state would sit totally in isolation in the European Parliament is laughable. Much is made by Conservative critics of sitting with the EPP of the position of Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan in sitting as non-inscrits after being expelled from the EPP. But can anyone tell me what either has actually achieved? I don't mean what speeches they've been able to make, I mean what difference have they made to the output of the European Parliament from their position?

(Tumbleweed rolls.)

And so this will leave only one realistic option - begrudgingly return to sitting with the European People's Party, with all the previous measures negotiated to give even a fig leaf of separation (the whole notional "European Democrats" grouping) lost.

Now frankly there's been far too much time spent in the party rowing about this issue. But the situation is far more complicated than many of the extremists have claimed it is, and so the outcome is not going to be the most optimum one. And rowing about it even more is not going to make the slightest difference.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Image choice is crucial

Apologies for the lack of recent updates as I've been kept busy by several matters. There's quite a few subjects I'll blog on over the next few days, but to start with one I've just noticed...

ConservativeHome: "The Eurosceptic way to voters' hearts should be through their wallets." reports on MEP Roger Helmer's latest campaign. Whilst he's got a good message, his posters have picked completely the wrong image:

Yes it's provoked people's reaction that they want the shirt off that back! It's not exactly the reaction the poster's hoping for, is it?

Oh and don't worry, there is apparently another version of the poster for those whose taste is male.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Car crashes in African politics

I've been reluctant to post this but as others have pointed it out (see David Boothroyd's comment on Iain Dale's Diary: Sad News from Zimbabwe) I'll go ahead and say my reaction to the sad news from Zimbabwe.

I have been reminded of one of the first ever articles I read on African history as an undergraduate: "Remembering Du: An Episode in the development of Malawian political culture" in African Affairs 97:369-396 (July, 1998). For those without access to the article it looks at the death of Dunduzu Chisiza and how "car accidents" involving significant political rivals have become a significant factor in the politics of not just Malawi but in many other African countries. Coincidence can be all too convenient.

Zimbabwean politicians who have died this way include (again, thanks to a comment by David Boothroyd):
* Josiah Tongogara (December 1979), single car crash in Mozambique. He was the leader of the anti-Mugabe faction in ZANU which wanted to run a joint election campaign with ZAPU.
* Rufaro Gwanzura (August 2000), car crash in Zimbabwe. MP for Marondera West.
* Border Gezi (April 2001), single car crash on the Masvingo road. Minister for Gender, Youth and Employment with a large following among young members of ZANU-PF.
* Moven Mahachi (May 2001), single car crash in Zimbabwe. Minister of Defence and popular among the armed forces.
Understandably the Movement for Democratic Change are launching their own investigation into this incident. (BBC News: MDC to examine Tsvangirai crash) Many will be hoping that this was a genuine and tragic accident, but I hope this does not lead to the investigation being fudged. Truth must not be sacrificed to convenience.

Put your own house in order first Gordon!

Gordon Brown has attacked the ban on same-sex marriage recently passed in California. (BBC News: Brown attacks US gay marriage ban & PinkNews: Exclusive: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declares Prop 8 gay marriage ban "unacceptable") Perhaps he should first look at the situation in the UK, where he can do something about it.

Under the enactment "Proposition 8" the situation in California is that mixed-sex couples can get married and same-sex couples can get inferior civil partnerships. This is exactly the same unequal arrangement that exists in the UK. Worryingly people are now calling for civil partnerships to be extended to mixed-sex couples, with some unable to disguise their hope that it will lead to the extinction of marriage.

So here's a simple suggestion. Let's sweep away this two-tier, pseudo "separate-but-equal" arrangement, abolish civil partnerships and make the state marriage laws gender blind and available to all. Any couple should have the right to enter into this great institution, to partake in the responsibilities it involves and derive the benefits from it. Those who do not wish to enter into marriage should not be entitled to the benefits by any side provision.

It will be an equal system. And there are other benefits as well - it will be a simpler system than there is at the moment. It will protect marriage in the way the current arrangement does not by removing inferior alternatives and allowing more people to partake in it. And if the UK Prime Minister wants to condemn inequality in other parts of the world, he will not be a hypocrite.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Brown wasn't the first to meet Obama

Everyone's been billing Gordon Brown as the first western leader to meet President Obama. For instance The Guardian's website indexes a story with "PM in DC: Brown was the first western leader to see President Obama, but how was his speech to Congress received?" From this we can conclude one of two things.

Either the Grauniad is prone to inaccuracies. No surprise there.

Or Canada isn't part of the west.

And here was me thinking Stephen Harper is a very western leader!

National Post: British press declares Canada no longer part of the western world has the details on this one, including photographic evidence.

Oh and whereas Obama was able to spare only half an hour for Brown, Harper got a full visit to Ottawa. But then did Brown really think his meeting was for any greater purpose than snubbing Sarkozy?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Individual voter registration

I see from Liberal Democrat Voice: Government finally agrees to introduce individual electoral registration that the government has come round to the idea of individual voter registration for Great Britain (Northern Ireland has had it since 2003). I am not sure if this is the best move. As with many things related to our electoral system the devil is in the detail, a detail often ignored by people making sweeping statements on the matter.

Under the current system, voter registration is done on a household basis. Every year forms are sent to all households to fill in with details of all eligible voters in the household. From recollection if the details have not changed then there is no need to return the form and the assumption is that the existing registered voters are still there. It is possible to register mid year as well.

You'll immediately note the obvious problem that it's quite easy for "ghosts" to linger on the electoral register simply because nobody has sent an update for the household. As I've noted before (Malapportionment in the UK?) this can result in people appearing twice or more on the register, even though they can legally only cast one vote, with knock-on effects on turnout. This is one of a number of factors that contributes to urban seats generally having a low official turnout.

Another problem is that when it comes to dwellings of multiple occupancy a lot of people really don't know what does and doesn't constitute "the household". Often the addresses used reflect the location of the post box rather than the actual section rented and so people aren't aware of the way the property is divided up on the registration database, to say nothing of the format (e.g. is it "1A" or "Room A, Flat 1"?). University students are amongst the worst hit because halls of residence usually have central mail facilities and numerous different ways of expressing the individual room address, which of course is never actually directly delivered to. (I have heard many stories of well prepared freshers, or perhaps their parents, buying a TV Licence before arriving at university, only for the student to later get threatening letters from enforcement - delivered late because they're to a room number - for the simple reason that the licence is not in the format the licence database, and only the licence database, uses.) The solution here has been for universities to register all their residential students, but I haven't this practice to be universal.

Then there's the issue of fraud. What is to stop somebody signing up loads of fake occupants, then subsequently registering them all for postal votes?

So how would individual registration improve things?

Well it could introduce a greater requirement to prove the existence of the individual. Of course this brings its own problems when you get people who don't actually have much proving they live at their current address because they're renting and don't want to go through the hassle of changing everything too many times.

The biggest problem by far is that many potential voters would never get the forms themselves, and not have the support of someone filling in the form on their behalf. The student situation is one of the most obvious, but it also applies to many over dwellings of multiple occupancy who would never get the forms. There is a very real likelihood that many more citizens would end up disenfranchised through no fault of their own. A real danger could arise that political parties start engaging in registration drives, aiming to win purely by packing the voting roll rather than being the most popular option.

And this doesn't even address the issue of how voters get taken off the register, unless it will be automatic if no form is received. Once again the current bureaucracy isn't really set up for this.

If individual registration is to work it will require a much better system than there is at the moment. It will require some imaginative and flexible thinking about how to ensure that voters are not excluded by awkward hurdles, and it must accept that not everyone lives in a house with a direct letterbox where everyone will get the forms. Unfortunately in my experience those who run the nuts and bolts of elections are frequently either unable or unwilling to exercise common sense and instead making things even harder than they need be.

Thought for the day

A comment of mine from the thread ConservativeHome: 'The Left must rescue Cameron from the Tory Right':
Personally I ****ing hate terms such as "genuine conservatives" and "true conservatives" when bandied about within the party. They are usually defined (if not openly) as "one who agrees completely and rigidly with the viewpoint of the person using the term." They are terms used to try to claim some moral high ground for one narrow strand of opinion and dismiss other equally valid opinions. They belong to a McCartheyist tendency that has no place in a broad church party.
I know I am not alone in feeling this.

Monday, March 02, 2009

University Challengegate Revisited

It seems either my memory was at fault or the information we were given was faulty, hence my previous post University Challengegate was wrong in my prediction. (BBC News: University quiz team disqualified) In fairness I wasn't the one who filled in the forms.

However I would note that I am not the only former entrant who was under this impression (see the comments on BBC News: BBC in University Challenge probe) and there is a general confusion on this matter. It doesn't help that for most universities (bar those with January/February entries) the period for University Challenge runs across two academic years, throwing up the problem of both prospective continuing students not coming back as planned but also other contestants failing their year in the summer exams, after the team has been entered. There was clearly no intention to break the rules here and it's unfortunate that the outcome has been as it is.

You don't have to be white to be racist

The last time I heard the n***** word being used in person was a couple of weeks ago when coming home on the train. A fight sort of broke out on the ram packed train because people were being pushed into each other as the trains have limited capacity and the inside layout makes it worse. An Asian man started having a go at an Afro-Carribean man, culminating when both they (and I and about a hundred others) extracted themselves from the train at Forest Gate. As we all headed up the stairs the Asian man shouted the n***** word. Fortunately the flow of the crowd prevented any further incident.

I recall this because a story has come my way of a councillor in Bristol who has been embroiled in a racism row, calling an Asian councillor a "coconut" - i.e. suggesting a BME person is really white on the inside - who says "How can I be a racist when I'm black?" (The Sun: Race row over 'coconut' jibe) This must go up there in the cannon of wriggle-out clauses along with "I can't be racist/homophobic, I have BME/LGBT friends".

If a white councillor had used such a remark there would be rightly howls of outrage. I am glad that there are many who are not taken in by Cllr Brown's protestations. Let's be clear - it's a derogatory term based on preconceived stereotyping about what role a person of a particular race should fulfil, what attitudes they should have, what they should support and so forth. That is racism pure and simple. Cllr Brown should be ashamed and consider her position.

If she resigns from the council, it seems it won't make much difference as apparently she's been making only occasional attendances to qualify for her expenses. There's more on this, plus the footage of the incident itself, at Bristol Dave: Want to know who actually supports all this equalities shit?, Bristol Dave: Shirley Brown/Marshall Part II and Bristol Dave: Shirley Brown/Marshall part III.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

UKIP - One party, one(ish) policy, one leader

I have just read Daily Telegraph: Why Ukip has just lost another member in which leading UKIP member Robin Page explains why he has resigned from the party.

Five years ago the story about UKIP was one of optimism, a party that was self-confident and aiming for a major breakthrough. Ever since the party has flopped around, it has lost a quarter of its MEPs, it has had very public spats and has degenerated into a cross between a rubbish bin for dissatisfied politicians and a vehicle for one politician's ego. Nigel Farage has achieved his ambition of being the biggest fish in the goldfish tank that is UKIP. A party run on undemocratic lines by a leader noted for his racism (Iain Dale's Diary: The Question Nigel Farage Must Answer) - UKIP is going in a very dangerous direction.

University Challengegate

Twice in the past I was part of teams entered for University Challenge; however we never got past the earliest stages. So I take the news that one of this year's winning team may not have been eligible (BBC News: BBC in University Challenge probe) with interest.

My memory from both entries is that the forms were filled in around about March/April time, then we went to the off-screen auditions in about May. The possibility that by the time the final was reached some of us may no longer have been students (whether due to graduation or failing the year) was there, especially as our enrolment was always for one year at a time (which in other spheres has resulted in the annoyance of having to renew some archive access cards every year). However we were always told that one had to be a student at the point of entry. As far as I am aware the rules have not changed since. There is probably nothing in this story beyond ill-informed journalists digging for scandals.

The real point of outrage about this year's University Challenge winning team is not the fact that one of the members has graduated since entering or Gail Trimble's knowledge but that Oxford and Cambridge are allowed to send multiple teams from the individual colleges, whereas other universities can only enter on a university wide basis. Ironically it was this year's runners' up, the University of Manchester, who famously protested this rule in 1975 when their team answered every question with either "Trotsky", "Lenin", "Karl Marx" or "Che Guevara". Here's to putting the universities on an equal footing.


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