Tag Archive | "house of commons"

Eastern Promise

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Eastern Promise

Posted on 09 April 2011 by admin

Lewis Baston (far left) with Bob Blizzard and colleagues launching "How the East Was Lost ... And How to Win Again" at the House of Commons March 2011

Labour lost badly in eastern England last May. It need not do so again

Labour’s performance in eastern England in 2010 was disastrous, with Luton the only bright spot. The swing against the party (seven per cent) and the proportion of Labour seats lost (85 per cent) were both the worst in any region. East Anglia is without a Labour MP for the first time since 1938. However, this was merely the culmination of a long trend. Our losses in local elections have also seen us reduced to a low ebb – in 1995 we had around 1,100 councillors, but now there are only 264.

One might be tempted to respond to these depressing facts by writing off the east as being a no-hope Tory region, but this would be wrong. Eastern England is a key region for Labour and we cannot afford it to become our equivalent of the Tory wilderness in Scotland. Of the seats we need to win to gain a workable overall majority, only one region (the northwest) contains more constituencies than the east.

In writing our report, How the East Was Lost … And How to Win Again, we studied the figures and talked to the candidates who had fought seats for Labour in eastern England. Several themes emerged. One was that voters in the east, while not being enthusiastic about David Cameron, did not want Gordon Brown to be prime minister. Another was that there were big concerns about immigration – not usually racism as such, but more often expressing worry about the impact of immigration on jobs, housing and public services. This also tapped into a sense of ‘fairness’, in that Labour was seen as tolerating the selfish abuse of systems that should work in the public interest, be they migration, benefits or banking. Labour lost votes and seats through a ‘hollowing-out’ in core areas, a Conservative vote that was energised by some very strong constituency campaigns, and also direct switchers from Labour to the Conservatives.

What sort of policy agenda can recapture the east for Labour? Most potential Labour voters in the east favour ‘tough-minded’ solutions to issues such as benefits and migration. They know we have caring values, but want to be sure that we are not pushovers. They need to be reassured about Labour’s economic competence and that we understand people’s aspirations – a decent house, a chance to get on, a good education for their children. We need to have some solid things to say about housing and infrastructure in this growing region, too.

In 1997 Labour performed strongly in eastern England, winning the largest swing outside London, but the reversal of fortune was temporary. Despite the strength of the Tories in 2010, there is potential here for Labour simply because the Conservatives’ agenda in government harms the opportunities for housing, work, education and public services that the much-discussed ‘squeezed middle’ want to enjoy, and these voters are thick on the ground in eastern England. But we need a strong policy offer, an authentic local voice of Labour, and a more dynamic party culture, in order to reap the benefits.

Bob Blizzard and Lewis Baston . Bob Blizzard is the former MP for Waveney and Lewis Baston is senior research fellow at Democratic Audit. Their report is available from this website: click here

Photograph Copyright the fantastic Katie Drouhet Photography: website and Facebook

Article originally published at Progress Online 9 April 2011

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Hung parliament: The numbers game (4 May 2010)

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Hung parliament: The numbers game (4 May 2010)

Posted on 04 May 2010 by admin

A slight difference in seats won can drastically change the long-term outcome of government, prompting divisions and even a second election.

In principle, it is simple to determine whether a party has a majority in the House of Commons or not. There will be 650 seats in the new parliament, so to obtain the smallest overall majority requires 326 seats, giving a majority of two.

However, it is rather more complicated in practice, because of the complexities of the devolved British constitution and party politics. In 1964 the Speaker was the only MP unaffiliated to the three largest British parties. In 2005 there were 31 of them, and the number could well increase this time, and the disposition of these “fourth parties” affects where we can place the winning post.

There are some election outcomes which, while technically being a hung parliament, would allow the Commons to be run by the largest single party without the need for Cameron or Brown to consult the Liberal Democrats.

The Speaker customarily does not vote except to resolve ties, so a party with 325 seats will have an effective majority of one (assuming that John Bercow holds Buckingham and is re-elected to the Speaker’s chair in the new parliament). Sinn Féin MPs do not recognise the sovereignty of Westminster and therefore do not take their seats or vote, so the Commons will probably be around five MPs short. So 323 MPs is a working majority of two.

Staying with Northern Ireland, the Conservatives can rely on any MPs elected from their Ulster Unionist party alliance (a couple, perhaps) and Labour has a rather looser bond with the Social Democratic and Labour party and the independent (ex-UUP) Sylvia Hermon, which will account for two to four MPs. The two big British parties can therefore regard the winning post as being around 321 seats. The first Queen’s speech in the new parliament, on 25 May, will come before the postponed election in Thirsk and Malton (27 May), so 320 will be enough for a short period.

Even a bit below the 320-seat mark, there will not be much uncertainty about a party’s ability to get a Queen’s speech and other key votes through the Commons, even without Lib Dem acquiescence. The Democratic Unionist party (around eight MPs), even if it dislikes a government’s agenda, would be unlikely to precipitate another election by voting against it, and the Westminster representatives of the SNP and Plaid Cymru (10-12 seats probably) would probably feel similarly.

Taking these 20 MPs out, a government could win a Queen’s speech vote without giving more than the most minor concessions to smaller parties, in the face of opposition from the other two main parties, if it has around 310 MPs. If the largest party is much below 310, we are in proper hung parliament territory and the opinions of the Lib Dems would count. However, they would be likely to give a free pass in terms of “confidence and supply” to a party that gets over the psychological barrier of 300 seats, so most of the interesting possibilities start below that point.

Winning the key votes is one thing; day-to-day survival in the division lobbies is a bit different. A minority government with fewer than 320 MPs might have to take a relaxed view of Commons defeats on legislation (ministers often need to be away on government business), although it will be bolstered by the SNP and Plaid Cymru’s self-denying ordinance not to vote on what they consider “England only” matters. But the committee stages may be the problem, as the government would be vulnerable to defeat if the composition of committees reflected the lack of an overall majority in the house. It might have particular difficulty overturning Lords amendments and dealing with any backbench rebellions (although in the circumstances backbenchers would be less inclined to rebel than usual).

The position is not symmetrical. If the Conservatives are the minority government, they may face a poor attendance record from Labour MPs whose morale will be low and who will be busy tending to their constituencies. The opposition in general would not want to push its luck against a new minority Tory government, for fear of triggering a new election, while a minority Labour government would seek to avoid a second election and be more inclined to explicit co-operation with smaller parties to avoid being brought down by a “one more heave” front of Tories, Lib Dems and others.

A more nuanced idea of where the winning post is on election night is therefore 326 for a technical majority, 320 for an effective majority, 310 for a single party government without agreements with other parties, and around 300 for an undisputed, if provisional, right to govern.

A perhaps odd conclusion about this is that there is a set of outcomes that would lead directly to a second election later this year or in the first half of 2011, covering the ground between the Tories winning around 300 and 340 seats (the stresses of governing with a tiny majority are as great, if not greater, than those of governing without one). A minority Conservative government with fewer than 300 seats, existing by permission of Nick Clegg, would also be looking to have another election as soon as it could. But a full Tory-Lib Dem coalition, or any stable arrangement featuring Labour, would almost certainly try to govern for a full term.

A government with a long-term perspective is therefore most likely to emerge from either an election that produces a working majority, or a proper hung parliament in which parties have to reach agreement on a programme from the start – and not from the shadowlands of 300-340 in which a government has its eye on a second election and day-to-day survival in the division lobbies.

Published 4 May 2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/04/hung-parliaments-numbers-outcome

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

Posted on 16 April 2010 by admin

The party in yellow always sees a spike during campiagns due to higher visibility but Conservatives should still be wary

Even if the first reports of the post-debate boost for Nick Clegg were a bit outlandish, it seems that the leadership debates have added to the usual lift that the Lib Dems get from election campaigns.

There have been already been several inconsistent accounts published concerning which of the larger two parties would suffer most from a rise in Lib Dem support. The answer must be, unfortunately, “it depends”. But in terms of the parties’ aims in the election it is more likely that the Conservatives will have most cause to regret Nick Clegg’s equal time and his effective use of it.

Gaining seats from the Lib Dems is an element of the Conservative strategy to get over the winning line of 326 seats in the new House of Commons. Pre-campaign polls with figures like Con 40, Lib Dem 19 implied a 5.5% swing towards the Tories. Based on uniform swing (a particularly rough approximation when it comes to Lib Dems) this would gain 23 seats for the Tories, an important contribution to their target of 116 gains, which allowing for boundary changes would get them to 326.

Even before the debate, there was evidence that the Conservatives were struggling in their efforts to win seats from the Lib Dems. YouGov’s regional trends showed them doing poorly in the south-west, where many of these seats are located, and the Crosby/Textor poll of marginal seats showed no Tory progress at all in the Lib Dem held marginals. The Tories may still pick off a few of the 23, but might also lose one or two to the Lib Dems such as Eastbourne. If there are no net gains from the Lib Dems, the Tories have to find 23 seats from somewhere else. It gets worse – the party is under-performing in Scotland and would be lucky to gain any of the apparently vulnerable SNP seats or more than one or two from Scottish Labour.

There are 24 Lib Dem seats and two SNP among the 116 numerically most vulnerable to the Conservatives. If there were a neat, even swing from all others to the Tories, seat 116 (Waveney in Suffolk) would fall with a 6% swing. Taking Lib Dem and SNP seats, plus the more ambitious targets from Scottish Labour, off the boards means the required swing from Labour alone increases to 8 per cent. An 8-point national swing implies a Conservative lead over Labour of 13 points, although allowing for a 1.5% overperformance in targets from Labour would take it down to the Tories needing a 10-point lead to win. It is still a very tall order.

But what about Labour? A Lib Dem surge harms them as well, but perhaps less than one might think. There are eight Labour seats vulnerable to a 2% swing to the Lib Dems, but a sharp swing of 7% would only net the Lib Dems 10 more seats from Labour. In practice, however, Lib Dems always perform patchily, winning outsized swings to gain seats that did not look at all marginal (like Solihull and Manchester Withington in 2005) while missing some apparently easier targets (like Dorset West and Oxford East in 2005).

A national boost would probably in reality help bring in some long shots. The real danger for Labour is that Lib Dem voters might become unwilling to give tactical votes to vulnerable Labour candidates in marginals where there is a Labour-Conservative fight, and thereby hand the seat to the Tories (as happened in several places in 2005, like Shipley and St Albans). This would in turn make it easier for the Tories to gain the seats they need at Labour’s expense. But there were already widespread conjectures about “tactical unwind” happening.

If the Lib Dem boost is sustained, as it may well be (although not at the fanciful levels suggested in initial reports of the ComRes poll), it poses a clear threat to the Conservatives’ chances of achieving their strategic aim, a parliamentary majority (or a sufficiently predominant position in a hung parliament to run a minority government which could reliably get legislation passed).

It poses less of a threat to Labour, because fewer seats are directly at stake, and Labour’s strategic aims are more nuanced than just the big ask of a parliamentary majority. By brandishing an olive branch at Clegg during the debate, Gordon Brown was bidding for progressive voters for Labour, but also preparing the ground for Labour’s Plan B – a coalition, or minority government with an explicit accommodation with the Lib Dems.

Published 16/4/2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/16/pollwatch-debate-lib-dems-tories

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Poll position (Oct 1 2009)

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Poll position (Oct 1 2009)

Posted on 01 October 2009 by admin

The Tories are doing better in marginal seats than the national polls suggest, warns Lewis Baston

Even now, unbelievably, some Labour people seem to be complacent about the next general election. The argument goes that the Conservatives, because of electoral system bias against them, need to be 11-points clear of Labour in the national share of the vote to have a majority. This is true only if the swing is uniform, ie the same across the country. While uniform national swing is usually the best rule of thumb for translating poll figures into seats in the House of Commons, it is only an assumption, not a rule. For instance, Labour did significantly better in 2001 than uniform swing predicted because Labour MPs first elected in 1997 often boosted their majorities.

The local elections in June 2009 were a test of how far ahead the Tories really need to be to win an election. The ‘national equivalent vote’ of the parties (ie the local results translated into what they would mean in an election across the whole country) was, depending on whose projection you look at, the Conservatives on either 35% or 38% and Labour on 22% or 23%. This means a swing of 8% or 9% from Labour to Conservative, slightly more than the 7% they need to win a majority under the uniform swing assumption. Given that governments rarely repeat their worst mid-term performance in a general election, some people assume that an overall Conservative majority is unlikely.

The results in the key marginal constituencies where there were local elections in June should explode any such complacency. While the national swing appears to have been 8-9%, it is much higher in most of the marginals.

In the constituencies where more or less any swing will switch the seat to the Tories or LibDems, it seems about average – although 8% or 9% is easily enough to do the job. The ominous finding is from the constituencies where the Conservatives need a bit more of a swing to gain from Labour. In these cases the average swing is 13% or thereabouts, which would cut a swathe through Labour’s parliamentary representation. There were 61 Labour-held seats with county elections in June. Only four would have survived an election like the county elections. This is because the Conservatives seem to be getting the big swings where they need them.

In some of the target seats, the Conservatives are simply blowing Labour away – swings of 18% in South Ribble and 17% in Tamworth are extremely large by any comparison, and reflect a particular loss of support in areas where New Labour did particularly well in 1997. In others, Labour’s traditional vote has also melted away, as in Leicestershire North West where the BNP won what had been the safe Labour ward of Coalville, while the Conservatives have stood still or gained slightly. In this set of elections in the new towns, where Labour has done poorly for years in local elections, the swing may not appear quite so bad, but this often reflects the Conservatives losing votes to the right – UKIP, BNP and English Democrats – which might not help in general election conditions. Some coastal areas where Labour prospered in 1997 also have high swings – Dover, Morecambe and Waveney all have swings in the 15-16% bracket.

The Conservatives are not stupid in matters of political strategy, and know that they need either a 7%-plus national swing, or to do better in the marginals. They have focused their energies, campaigning messages and money (from Michael Ashcroft and elsewhere) on the marginals they need, and it seems to be paying dividends.

Local elections, although they are strong evidence, do not automatically reflect what would happen in a general election. People sometimes vote differently in local and national elections, and a different range of parties and candidates stand in each election. Turnout is also a lot lower, and the voters who stay at home in local elections but vote in general elections may not share the views of those who vote in council elections.

Labour needs to do two things in the short term – recover ground in the national polls, and raise its game in the marginal seats. In the longer term, Labour also needs to scrap an electoral system where pouring resources into a tiny number of seats can win party control over the government, and replace it with one where there is a genuine national dialogue.

Lewis Baston is from the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and author of Politico’s Guide to the General Election. To read the full research see here.

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/articles/article.asp?a=4735

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Dual (duel?) candidacy (9 Dec 2005)

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Dual (duel?) candidacy (9 Dec 2005)

Posted on 09 December 2005 by admin

The Wales White Paper announces the government’s intention to end what is known as dual candidacy for the Welsh Assembly. Dual candidacy is an issue that comes up when you have two different routes into the legislature, as in MMP (AMS) systems. Should, or should not, people be allowed to stand as candidates in both a single member district and on the party’s list?

The populist argument says no – that candidates who failed at constituency level should not have a ‘back door’ into parliament. In Wales it has become known as the ‘Clwyd West question’ because in that constituency three of the four defeated candidates popped up as Assembly Members because they were also on the lists.

Peter Hain, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Wales, agrees. (The link takes you to the uncorrected transcript of evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, scroll down to Q241 and following.)

Hain has often been a constructive thinker on electoral issues, and has done much to promote discussion of the electoral system within the Labour Party. But on this occasion he is wrong, some of his arguments to the Committee were extremely weak and his remarks were marred by rudeness.

The least defensible part of Hain’s evidence was his rude response to the work of two academics who had researched the use of MMP abroad, which was personally discourteous and also inaccurate.

Peter Hain was presented with the finding from two academics that the only system similar to the one he proposed had been used in pre-Orange revolution Ukraine, and why that was the most appropriate model for Wales. Hain replied:

It is not, and indeed the two academics are wrong because I researched this very carefully. The issue of dual candidacy is one that has proved controversial in many other jurisdictions that have introduced additional member systems, and there are not many that have. This is a fairly unusual system. For example, it was considered by New Zealand’s independent commission on electoral systems and two Canadian Provinces that are planning to introduce the additional member systems and are committed to banning dual candidacy. I draw from that that in those British-type parliamentary systems, New Zealand and specifically in Canada, they are committed to doing this. The somewhat gratuitous reference to Ukraine is wrong, and I suggest the academics get better researchers in the future, similar to the ones I have got.

The reference to New Zealand is flat-out wrong. In 2001 their Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry (yes, a government that held an open review into their electoral system!) in New Zealand was very firm about dual candidacy – in support of the idea.

The committee was unanimous in its view that dual candidacies should continue. Members saw the placement of candidates as an issue for parties to determine. Committee members also considered the alternative would impact unreasonably on small parties who may not be able to field candidates in all electorates. Committee members agreed that parties must have the flexibility to decide where and how members will be placed as either electorate candidates, or on the list, or both. There may be very good reasons for a party’s decision in this regard. The committee also considered that the impact of a prohibition on dual candidacies on smaller parties would be unacceptable. This could be seen as restricting their ability to participate in the democratic process.

There was much more concern in the early years of MMP in New Zealand about the position of MPs elected on party lists who subsequently defect from the party. This led to legislation in 2001 banning party-jumping by list MPs. I might return to the issue of party-jumping among list MPs in due course. The committee’s recommendation on dual candidacy was wholeheartedly endorsed by the New Zealand government, who agreed that a ban would interfere in the proper functions of parties in candidate selection and be an unreasonable imposition on small parties.

While it is true that recent Canadian proposals have included bans on dual candidacy, it is not generally regarded as a problem in most countries – the Canadian debate on MMP may have been influenced by the entirely artificial fuss about the system in Wales. AMS is far from an unusual system, either. It has been used since the 1940s in Germany, and was adopted by several countries in the 1990s (there are fashions in electoral systems as in other things) such as Italy, Japan, Hungary (in a complex variant) and New Zealand.

Dual candidacy is just one of the wrinkles and anomalies with AMS systems – STV is a lot tidier in that there is only one route in. Some countries seem to manage just fine with AMS – presumably because, unlike in Wales and Scotland, some thought has gone into the role and purpose of the list members. Another issue is the partisan split. In other countries (including Scotland) all parties have some list representatives, while in Wales a Labour executive draws its support exclusively from Labour constituency members. This then leads to a temptation, into which Hain has unfortunately fallen, to delegitimise the opposition members (mainly from the lists).

It is certainly not an abuse for candidates to stand in both list and constituencies – it is often a lifeline for smaller parties. Peter Hain would do well to read the New Zealand committee’s conclusions properly, and not use his position to take gratuitous shots at people who do research whose conclusions he doesn’t like.

http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk/blog/archives/2005/12/dual_duel_candi.html

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