Election Sundays are notable for two things – a slight scaling down of the activity carried out on the ground by the parties, coupled with a ratcheting up of the ridiculousness of the rhetoric by the Sunday papers. Today, of course, we had the spectacle of the Mail telling us that an arrangement between Labour and the SNP would be the biggest crisis in British politics since the Abdication in 1936. It’s an odd point to use, even if you’re looking for purely constitutional crises, as the Abdication was something that was seen as completely unthinkable before it happened but then when it came, it was all handled with a minimum of fuss and the country did quite well out of it. You’ll certainly find few people who’ll argue that several decades of King Edward VIII would have been better for the country than George VI and Elizabeth II.

It’s all feeling very much like The Day Today reporting on a constitutional crisis:

But don’t worry Britain, everything will be all right:

In future election news, there was an interesting development in the next Tory leadership election battle as Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband found themselves sitting next to each other on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning sofa. Unfortunately for Boris, his prospects of a coronation shrunk even more as Miliband showed he’s found the way to respond to Boris: stay calm, and don’t get drawn in. I suspect he might have been watching Eddie Mair’s interview with Johnson, where Mair’s refusal to get drawn into Johnson’s blustering tempo led to Boris getting progressively more flustered and open for a clever counterpunch.

Of course, Miliband impressing me on one hand had to be coupled with him annoying me on the other. During his solo interview with Andrew Marr, he casually announced that his government would find ‘back office savings’ in local government allowing him to make more cuts in its budget. There are two key points here: first, local government has been making cuts and finding savings for several years now, and if there were easy savings to be made without cuts to services, it’s be doing them already; second, it’s annoying that he’s taking the standard Westminster approach to local government of assuming it’s there to be commanded and bossed around, not free to find its own ways of doing things. He’s not being different from any government before him, but it’s just annoying when politicians of any party talk like that.

One point of interest that might explain that is that as far as I can tell there are only two Prime Ministers (and they’re the only two party leaders) of the last hundred years with any direct experience of local government. Attlee was Mayor of Stepney just after the First World War, and John Major was a Lambeth councillor in the 60s. It’s a pattern reflected across the senior leadership of all the parties – being a councillor might help in becoming an MP, but a hindrance to getting further than that.

Back to the list of minor parties in the election and we find that the Communities United Party is the next up. They’re not new for this election – though Mark Pack found them a bit of a mystery when they stood in the European Elections last year – and their website isn’t much of a help in deciphering their political stance, but it’s a bit worrying when the picture of the leader on the front has the caption ‘legend leader’ on it and a lot of the website is plastered with adverts for his legal services firm. Still, they have four other candidates standing across London as well as the ‘legend’ Kamran Malik in Brent Central, so it would be unfair to refer to them as solely a one-am band.

Today on Election Leaflets throws up a high-profile independent with a leaflet from Mike Hancock’s campaign to ensure he gets his full £30,000 resettlement allowance re-elected in Portsmouth South. His main call within the leaflet is for better pensions, which might reveal what he expects his situation to be after the election. Still, it makes for an interesting curio in this election, and the sort of thing it’s interesting for Eection Leaflets to have archived for the future.

And that’s how we leave it with eleven days to go. We’ve made it this far, surely we can do the rest?

, , , , , ,

This morning, I had a feeling that the Telegraph’s story about Tory preparations for a Boris Johnson coup was going to be the big story of the day, hence why I dashed off a quick post about it. In my defence, how was I supposed to know that the Prime Minister would manage to forget what football team he supposedly supports?

Yes, I know it’s trivial to care about what football team a politician supports, but I think it also shows just how manufactured Cameron’s public image is that he felt the need to invent one, instead of just honestly saying that he was never that much into club football but enjoyed watching England. But that would be an honest answer and thinking outside the box, which isn’t the sort of thinking you hire a PR man for.

Even that failed to distract from the main story of this election: everyone except Nicola Sturgeon going slightly batshit about the rise of the SNP. Today we had Nick Clegg making comments about how he wouldn’t go into any deal with the SNP, which of course had various members of the party up in arms and pointing out that it wasn’t his decision. Not that the media ever actually pay attention to the ways political parties work, of course. Clegg responded by sending out an email to members that walked back his comments somewhat.

However, what concerns me in all this is that general message going out here is that the SNP are to be excluded from power (and especially UK-wide government) at all costs. There’s a concept in political science (and part of my dissertation) called the ‘structure of competition for government’. This is related to the overall party structure in a polity, but relates how parties interact in government formation. For instance, until 2010 Britain had a closed structure of competition – only two parties got to be in Government, and they alternated with each other. Other countries (Sweden, for instance)have more open structures, but the parties tend to be structured in blocs (usually of left and right) and while there’s movement between parties, there’s normally alternation between the two blocks and no crossover between them. There are also very open systems like the Netherlands, where a variety of coalitions come together in government with no real fixed pattern.

The interesting thing about Britain is that the structure of competition has blown wide open since 2010, with the old two-party structure seemingly gone. We’re in a position where a new – and possibly much more open – structure is being formed, and this election will be crucial in that process. However, while we may get an open structure, it will also be a very skewed one if one party remains locked out of power because all the potential partners for them won’t come to any agreement with them. That doesn’t have much effect when it’s a small fringe party with a handful of seats but when it’s a party with a significant number of seats it has a major effect on government formation. You can ignore them all you want, but they can still vote in Parliament.

As examples, consider what’s happened in Sweden and Germany recently. Both have relatively large parties that are excluded from being part of government formations (the Sweden Democrats on the right in Sweden, and Die Linke on the left in Germany), but taking them out of the equation makes it very hard for traditional groupings of parties to form a majority. In Sweden, neither left nor right could get a majority, and Germany had to have a CDU-SPD grand coalition because nothing else would form a workable majority.

Beyond the whole issue of telling the people of Scotland that their votes don’t count if they cast them for an unapproved party, excluding the SNP from any say in power runs the risk of leaving no workable coalitions except for a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories. I still think it would take us two inconclusive elections to get the point where one could be formed, but we’re going to get to a point where that’s the only logical solution left on the table. Well, we could go for electoral reform and an entirely new system that reflected the people’s views much better than the current one, but that would be really crazy talk.

After that long rant, and because it’s getting late we’ll combine today’s obscure party and dip into Election Leaflets with the Pirate Party. They’re standing six candidates in the election on the typical Pirate programme of internet activism and digital rights, but what I think is interesting is the look of their literature which manages to break out from the usual bright primary colours and smiling photos of the candidate style of usual election leaflets. It’s something different, and they’re raising important issues (even if I’m far from being convinced about their stance on copyright) that others aren’t, so maybe something of them – either design or policy – might be picked up by other parties in the future.

Twelve days to go. Hopefully the press won’t have completely exploded in incandescent fury at the SNP and demanded the tanks be stationed at Berwick by then.

, , , , , ,

Don't worry David, I've never gone back on my word.

Don’t worry David, I’ve never gone back on my word.

I think we might be in the election silly season, as today we’re getting swamped by odd stories and speculation. This includes the idea that if the Tories don’t get a majority, David Cameron will step down and allow Boris Johnson to be appointed Tory leader without an election so he can try and form a minority administration.

So far, so silly, but if they do try it, they might want to take heed of the words of a Daily Telegraph columnist writing at the time of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair:

The British public sucked its teeth, squinted at him closely, sighed and, with extreme reluctance, decided to elect him Prime Minister for another five years. Let me repeat that. They voted for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to serve as their leader. They were at no stage invited to vote on whether Gordon Brown should be PM.
I must have knocked on hundreds of doors during that campaign, and heard all sorts of opinions of Mr Blair, not all of them favourable. But I do not recall a single member of the public saying that he or she was yearning for Gordon Brown to take over. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t remember any Labour spokesman revealing that they planned to do a big switcheroo after only two years.
It is a sad but undeniable truth that there are huge numbers of voters (including many Tory types) who have rather liked the cut of Tony’s jib. They have tended to admire his easy manner, and his air of sincerity, and his glistering-toothed rhetoric. They may have had a sneaking feeling – in spite of Iraq – that he has not wholly disgraced Britain on the international stage; and though you or I may think they were wrong, they unquestionably existed.
In 2005, there was a large number who voted Labour on the strength of a dwindling but still significant respect for the Prime Minister. They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.

The same columnist was equally scathing about the idea of the new Prime Minister relying on other parties to support him:

in revelations that yesterday rocked Westminster, it emerged that Sir Menzies Campbell has been engaged in talks with Gordon, about a “government of all the talents”, which must be faintly mystifying to all those Labour candidates, activists and voters who have been engaged in fighting the Liberal Democrats. They thought they were campaigning for Tony Blair – and it now turns out there was a secret plan to bring in Gordon Brown and assorted Liberal Democrats, including good old Paddy Pantsdown.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember the electorate being asked their views of a Gord-Ming Lib-Lab coalition. It is fraud and double-fraud.

It was ‘a scandal’ and trying to build some form of coalition in that situation was ‘fraud and double fraud’.

I’m sure we all eagerly await the same columnist – one Boris Johnson – denouncing this proposed move in the same terms.

, ,

Some more election activity from me, as I helped out a friend by delivering a couple of hundred leaflets for her – it was a sunny day, and I needed the exercise. So, it’s another day when I’ve not been keeping up with the minutiae of the campaign itself, but I’m not sure I’m missing much. In 2010, David Cameron complained that the debates were sucking the life out of the campaign, but this year it feels like the campaign itself is doing that, and reducing itself to nothing before our eyes. There’s a real campaign going on, with leaflets being stuffed through doors that are then perhaps knocked on by the ever-decreasing armies of canvassers, but that seems entirely separate from the bizarrely sterile series of photo opportunities and stage managed appearances that the media are covering. Perhaps the biggest possible shock any of the leaders could deliver now would be to state that they’d not be doing all that any more, and would instead be spending eight hours a day either door-knocking or phoning voters. That’d be something different, for once.

So I don’t really have much to say on today’s spat over Libya, except to note that David Cameron appears to think Ed Miliband’s comments were ‘ill-judged’. This, of course, comes from a man who approved Michael Fallon’s attempt to depict Miliband as someone who would stab his country in the back, and didn’t think that was ‘ill-judged’.

If you’re looking for some analysis right now, I recommend this post on May 2015 which explains the many paths Ed Miliband could take to get him to 323 seats. However, it follows others in automatically assuming the Liberal Democrats are part of the Tory block of MPs, which I’ve said before I don’t regard as too reliable an assumption, especially assuming the party would go along with a deal that involves support from the DUP and UKIP. Of course, that just makes things even easier for Miliband to get to Number 10, and the thought has occurred to me that if Douglas Alexander is drowned beneath the SNP tide, Clegg would probably be a useful candidate for Foreign Secretary in a Miliband cabinet.

On the list of parties standing in the election, we’re down into those with single figure numbers of candidates now, and it’s interesting to note that two forces once perceived as a big threat – the British National Party and Arthur Scargill, now leader of the Socialist Labour Party – are both standing eight candidates. There’ll be no sighting of Scargill on election night, though, as he’s not standing anywhere. Just behind them with seven candidates is the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, once the electoral home of choice for various members of the Redgrave family in their quest for revolution and socialism, now just another splinterous faction amongst the many on the left.

Today’s discovery on Election Leaflets is a fascinating one – Elliot Ball, candidate for the 30-50 Coalition in Bethnal Green and Bow (and their only candidate, it seems). I’ve been excluded from the audience for a political leaflet before, but never in such an odd way – the 30-50 in their name refers to linking the idealism of the under 30s with the experience of the over 50s, so those of us between those ages are neither idealistic or experienced enough to count, it seems. It seemed the usual sort of oddity you find at election times until I noticed the name ‘Richard Franklin’ listed as the chairman and founder of 30-50. Could it be? Yes, it is.

Richard Franklin, for those of you who don’t know was a regular on Doctor Who in the early 70s, playing UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates. His acting career didn’t reach such heights again, but he has been somewhat of a political gadfly in his later life. He’s been a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in 1992, the Referendum Party in 1997, UKIP in 2001, and then his own ‘Silent Majority Party’ in 2005, the number of votes he received getting fewer each time. Having had dwindling success as a candidate, he’s obviously decided to take a more behind the scenes role and use his experience to mentor the idealism of younger candidates. The question is whether 30-50 can beat the 78 votes Franklin got last time he stood and start a new upward trajectory, or are they doomed to continue to drop? Up against ten other candidates, it may be hard to stand out of the crowd.

, , , , ,

You may recall that when I started regular blogging last year, the spur for that was writing about Conrad Russell’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Liberalism. The key to Russell’s liberalism is that it is a creed that always challenges and seeks to break down unaccountable forms of power. The other side to that coin – and a key difference of liberalism and libertarianism – is the recognition that power isn’t solely the preserve of the state, and can be exerted on us by a number of unaccountable forces.

One of the main sources of unaccountable power in Britain is the nexus of it that exists in the City of London, where the City’s own cloistered system of government reflects the corporate and banking power that is exerted from there over all of us. It’s the sort of unaccountable power that needs to be confronted and challenged to make it accountable to the people whose lives it dominates, and yet much of British politics exists in its thrall, scared to offend it in any way. Which leads to this:

Not a challenge to the power of the City, the ‘markets’ or big business, but a capitulation to them, using their fears as a motivation to get people to vote. It’d be a weak message for the Tories to use, but for liberals to just roll over and willingly spread the message of an unaccountable few is just wrong.

We’re supposed to be a party that challenges power, that breaks it down and takes it back to the people. Instead we’re dancing to someone else’s tune in the hopes of a few crumbs from their table. We need to do better than this.

, , ,

Two weeks to go until the election, and possibly the most interesting news in British politics today isn’t about the general election, but instead the position of Mayor of Tower Hamlets. If you haven’t heard, Lutfur Rahman has had his election in 2014 declared null and void because of his use of corrupt and illegal practices, which means there’ll be a new election to fill the now-vacant post on June 11th in which he’s banned from standing as a candidate. There were all sorts of odd things happening in Tower Hamlets during last year’s elections, and it seems that shining some light upon them has revealed the truth.

The new election will be of interest, not least because the campaign for it will likely begin as soon as the general election is over, and probably with a lot more media attention than a local election usually gets. One fear would be that if George Galloway is defeated in May (we can but hope), it would give him a way back in to politics on his old stomping ground – and putting the unchecked and unaccountable power of a local Mayor in his hands would be a recipe for disaster.

Back in the general election, there’s still two weeks to go till polling day (but of course, many have already cast their votes by post and will continue to do so) but a lot of people do seem to be getting somewhat burnt out after three months of the long campaign, then three and a half weeks so far of the main campaign. Two weeks from polling day seems a hell of a long time away, and I do wonder if party leaders and the news media are hoping for the new royal baby to arrive in the next few days, just to take them out of the spotlight for a day or two. It’d give everyone a chance to stop, refocus and then relaunch everything for the last week or so of campaigning. Indeed, maybe we should propose that all future election campaigns have a pause period during them, to give people space for reflection?

standardsWhile we wait for the pause, let’s look at today’s minor party: Left Unity. Or ‘Left Unity – Trade Unionists and Socialists’ as the majority of their candidates describe themselves, where they’re standing as joint candidates with Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) we looked at a while ago. Left Unity are yet another attempt to unite the various factions of the left into a single party and become Britain’s Syriza, and are currently doing a good impression of the pre-crash Greek left in not getting the attention of many people at all. This is nothing new in the world of the hard left, where almost every year sees an attempt at creating a new workers party or a new organisation to unite the left under a common banner, and yet by the end of the process, things seem more divided than they ever were before. Coalescences like this tend to work for a short time – as everyone calculates how they can take it over and benefit from it – but then tend to fall apart when everyone realises that this just might not be the vehicle that will bring about the inevitable triumph of the working classes.

Meanwhile, no doubt spurred on by my regular plugs for them, Election Leaflets have had over 2000 leaflets submitted this campaign with surely more to come as the paper storm reaches critical level. Today’s pick from there is a candidate who does make me wonder if the Trades Descriptions Act should apply to party names – the ‘Liberty GB’ party candidate in Lewisham West and Penge. There are many ideas and policies one thinks of in connection with the word liberty, almost none of which feature on this leaflet which is instead the sort of ‘common sense’ string-em-up or deport them nonsense, seemingly concerned solely with the liberty of older white men, not anyone else. Take it as a warning – if you’re at a loss as to who to vote for, don’t always rely on the party name to tell you about them.

, ,

nusconferenceIt’s NUS Conference week, which in my time as a student meant it was the time of year when thousands of students (accompanied by the contestants in the Britain’s Most Obscure Trotskyite Sect competition) descended on Blackpool for a week of increasingly bitter political debate, badly organised elections, heavy drinking, the making and breaking of friendships, and the cultivation of a ridiculously over-inflated sense of self-importance. Nowadays it’s all different, as it takes place in Liverpool (even NUS doesn’t rate Blackpool as a conference destination any more).

To mark Conference, NUS tweeted out an infographic with a bunch of factoids about NUS Conference over the years, including a list of MPs who’ve been to one. Unsurprisingly, most of those MPs are Labour (see this post of mine for some explanation why) but there are also a few Conservative MPs listed (one of whom is Rab Butler, which gives you an idea of how far back they had to go to find them) and three Liberal Democrat MPs. The first two on the list are quite well known – Tim Farron, who was President of Newcastle’s Union Society, and Lembit Opik, who was President of Bristol Union and also served on the NUS NEC – but the third is the much more obscure Ian Cunningham MP. Indeed, he’s so obscure that he never actually existed.

There’s never been a Liberal Democrat MP called Ian Cunningham. There wasn’t a Social Democrat one called Ian Cunningham, and from what I can tell there wasn’t a Liberal MP since 1922 (the year NUS was founded) called Ian Cunningham. There doesn’t even seem to be an MP with a name similar to ‘Ian Cunningham’ who NUS could have got confused with.

In normal times, this would be something to be joked about, an embarrassing slip where a bit of filler text didn’t get deleted. But this is a time when NUS are running a ‘Liar, Liar’ campaign targeted at Liberal Democrat MPs – and in their own publicity, they’ve just made up a Liberal Democrat MP! ‘His’ name is right next to a whole bunch of NUS Presidents who became Labour MPs – Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, Jim Murphy, Stephen Twigg, Lorna Fitzsimons – and then voted both to introduce fees and then increase them, in direct opposition to their party’s manifesto, but does NUS publicity mention them at all, let alone criticise them?

NUS can criticise people all they like, but until they start getting their own facts right, they shouldn’t expect people to take them seriously.

, ,