2017 General Election Diary Day 11: Too many votes, too many votes…

This is going to be a short entry for today, because I’ve left it till quite late in the day before writing it and also there’s not usually much in the way of election news on a Saturday. It’s not quite the politico’s day off (there are all sorts of doors to be knocked on) but there’s a sense of everyone knowing that it’s not a big day for watching the news. At the weekends, the Sunday papers and TV political show circuit are the most important thing and everyone’s waiting to see what bombshells get dropped through those.

I’ve also reaching a point of meta-weariness with ‘strong and stable’ (which, thanks to a certain professor of my acquaintance is now triggering Hear’Say in my head whenever I see it) where I’m not just tired of hearing that Theresa May has been declaiming it to an audience in a half-empty village hall somewhere in Aberdeeenshire, but I’m also tired of the reaction to people hearing this news, whether they be outraged or prompted into humour by it. It’s now taking on the feeling of being a Stewart Lee routine, in which the punchline is repeated ad infinitum to see just how many times it can be pushed back and forth over the line of being funny/not funny. It’s not an election, but a psychological test of whether we will all have surrendered our own identities by June 8th and merely identify ourselves as ‘Strong and Stable Citizen #12896573’.

Strong and stable, too many votes…
Talking of earworms and anti-humour, did you know ‘strong and stable’ also works as a replacement for ‘Too Many Cooks‘?

Anyway, let’s jump on to the end, and finally I have a plethora of choice for Election Leaflet Of The Day! There’s Labour, Lib Dem and Tory leaflets to pick from (including a generic Tory one that’ll be great for campaigning in This Particular Town) but I’m going to go for the one with the least direct election content but the most pathos. Someone obviously wasn’t paying attention to the news yesterday and didn’t hear that Isle of Wight Tory MP Andrew Turner got himself into a bit of trouble with his blatant homophobia and decided he wasn’t got stand for re-election. Someone today decided it was time to get out and deliver those leaflets from ‘The Island’s MP’ they hadn’t got around to doing yet. One side of it being nearly blank does suggest he knew there wasn’t going to be a need for any policy promises, though.

Tune in tomorrow when we’ll see if Robert Peston is going to live up to his promise on Have I Got News For You to ask other politicians for their views on sin, and if I have time in the morning, there’ll be a blog post from me on why polling companies asking questions to see if people have fascist tendencies isn’t the problem, it’s the answers we should be worried about.

2017 General Election Diary day 10: In Particular Town, vote Conservative Candidate!

So, here’s the Prime Minister not even knowing the name of the town she’s just done one of her speeches to the (carefully vetted and filtered to ensure no dangerous opinions are let in the room) public:

Will ‘this particular time’ become the Miliband’s bacon sandwich of this election campaign? Don’t be silly, ‘man looks a bit weird in one of the dozens of photos we’ve taken of him eating’ is much more important than ‘everything about the Prime Minister’s campaign is staged for the cameras’.

In other news, there was a big social media campaign for an event that told people if they backed it they could have an amazing time with all sorts of wonderful things from around the world coming to them. So, they backed it, and the event actually happened, only for it to dawn on people that the promises of amazing things were pretty hollow, there was no plan for delivering any of them, and now people had this thing they were told would be wonderful, they were going to be stuck on an island with no way to get off it.

Anyway, that was the Fyre Festival (aka all those ‘Santa’s Winter Wonderland was just a deer in a field’ stories you see ever November, but targeted at the ‘rich kids of Instagram’ demographic) which bears absolutely no resemblance to any of the issues around this election.

In other unrelated news, it turns out that when your national media neglects to mention that the Very Real Concerns and Economic Anziety candidate in an election is actually a fascist, people who vote based on Very Real Concerns and Economic Anxiety will back the fascist over the centrist.

Back to things that are definitely to do with this election and some good news for Theresa May as the circular firing squad forgets about the minor ceasefire prospect floated over the last few days and begins eagerly rearming. Lewes Green Party prove that the Greens have just as many ‘the good must be destroyed to allow the perfect to come forward, as that definitely always works’ types as the Liberal Democrats and Labour. While UKIP are withdrawing all over the place to help Conservative Brexiteers (and Kate Hoey) get elected, at least we’ll always have our wonderfully unsullied ideological purity to keep us warm at night.

Before I get too annoyed, let’s turn to Election Leaflet Of The Day, which yet again is a rotten borough with just one candidate put forward. Step forward Labour’s Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith with this letter to constituents urging them to sign up for a postal vote. Standard election campaigning there, with nothing to mock, so I’m going to break my own rules and point to a Scottish local election candidate promising to work hard to get the local council to deliver services for his community. Nothing unusual there, you might think, until you see he’s a Scottish Libertarian Party candidate, and you think he’d be calling on the free market rather than the council to solve those problems.

Come back tomorrow when we’ll be searching for any Greens For Global Warming candidates.

2017 General Election Diary day 7: Open to offence

Some really shocking news to get going with today: Open Britain have finally remembered that they’re supposed to be a political campaign group, and have taken a stance that has got them criticism from Tories for being too political, which is normally a sign that you’re doing something right. It’s also provided us with further proof, after the Commons votes on Article 50, that ‘Remain Tory MPs’ not called Ken Clarke are a mirage, as all of them will always put the Tory part of that ahead of the Remain when they come under pressure. Anna Soubry, for instance, calling it ‘blatant partisanship…when we must all come together’ shows that she’s swallowed whole the notion that Brexit means abandoning all democratic norms of opposition and scrutiny.

I’ve been critical of Open Britain in the past, and their refusal to do anything that might be slightly controversial (like referring to the Unite For Europe march as the ‘Make Your Voice Heard’ protest) has been incredibly annoying, but maybe they’ll finally get the fire in the belly for a proper fight against Brexit now, even if it is now several months too late.

Today’s big speech came from Keir Starmer, setting out Labour’s line on Brexit, which was that they continue to probably not be in favour of it, but will deliver it anyway as they have to continue pandering to Very Real Concerns. They will commit to letting EU citizens remain in Britain if they get into power, but quite what they’ll have to do with their time isn’t clear as they also remain committed to the Tory policy of crashing the economy by leaving the Single Market and hoping for the best.

Theresa May’s back on her Potemkin campaigning, and this time her standing in front of placard-waving Tory activists, then giving vague platitudes to journalists instead of actual answers happened in Wales. However, there are now reports that at some point since the campaign started she may have had contact with an actual member of the public. It didn’t go well. Oddly though, Graham Mills and his views haven’t been plastered all over the media like Gillian Duffy was in 2010.

Oh, and Tim Farron has clarified that he doesn’t think gay sex is a sin, so can we either draw a line under this, or insist that any MP who claims a religious faith provide us with detailed theological explanations of what they do or do not think is a sin?

Some news from Northern Ireland, where it seems attempts to form anti-Brexit electoral pacts are running into the same problems as they are in the rest of the UK, with differences on other issues coming to the fore. The election there is taking place amidst a huge number of other issues, and any decisions parties make isn’t just in the light of what it might mean in this election but how it plays in the post-Assembly election negotiations and in any potential future Assembly election if those talks break down. I suspect if any deals (beyond the Unionist pact) are possible, it’ll be a limited one between the Alliance and the Greens, in an attempt to try and win the Belfast East seat back from the DUP.

And finally, it’s Election Leaflet Of The Day time again, and yet again I’m wishing I included local elections here as then I could talk about how there’s a independent candidate looking to represent Weymouth on Dorset County Council called Francis Drake. If ever there was a perfect justification for knighting a local politician, his name alone is it. But sadly as he’s not running for Parliament, the leaflet of the day is yet again an uncontested seat as only this from Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, has been uploaded since yesterday. As with yesterday’s winner, it’s a generally competently designed and written leaflet with no grounds for mockery. Am I going to have to wait until after the local elections are done for the genuinely weird and wonderful election leaflets to start appearing?

2017 General Election diary Day 4: Breaking pledges before the vote

So, about that whole one post a day thing during the election. I’d like to explain here that it was always an aspiration and never a firm commitment, but global circumstances have since arisen that will make it hard to meet that aspiration within the course of the campaign. Or in other words, I’m going to try and get an election post up here every day, but with lots of other things going on right now, there may well be more days like Thursday where I don’t quite get round to it, then Friday when I don’t have the time to write two posts, so we get slippage. The advantage of this approach is that there’s a good chance I’ll end up getting nowhere near 50 posts, and so this whole thing will end up seeming a lot shorter than it actually is in reality.

So what’s happened since yesterday morning? Well, Theresa May’s still yet to encounter a member of the public in anything other than a carefully controlled, almost hermetically sealed environment. And if your answer to that involves invoking something about the security of the Prime Minister, then please have an explanation for her happily pounding the streets during the Witney by-election. Just like Cameron in 2015, her plan is for a campaign that runs through a series of Potemkin villages, safe in the knowledge that the press is too craven or cowed to challenge her on it. If anyone ever does get the chance to ask her a question, can I suggest ‘if we can have an early election because you want to overturn the results of the last one, why can’t we have another referendum on the EU?’

Any excuse to drag out an old favourite.
In other news, the likelihood of biscuit-related headlines fell sharply with the news that Eric Pickles will be standing down at this election. One thought that crosses my mind in relation to the number of MPs stepping down here is that it might present some interesting problems for the Tories at the next election, when the number of MPs are set to go down to 600 from 650. I’ve argued for a while that that’s not the big problem some people think it is because a lot of the shrinkage will be taken up by retiring MPs and rearranging the remaining candidates to fill the gaps. If, however, all those MPs who would have retired then have now gone, and been replaced by keen young things wanting to hold on, then there might be the problem of trying to fit far too many MPs into far too few winnable seats. (That’s the sort of thing that can fall into the category of ‘nice problems to have’ if it comes about, though)

Also in potential nice problems to have, if this election was to end with a potential coalition on the table, and if the coalition was to involved the Lib Dems, then there’d need to be a Lib Dem conference to approve the deal. (This, of course, is one reason why any sort of coalition involving the Lib Dems is ridiculously unlikely to happen) The trouble is that the Lib Dems now have a system where all members can come to conference and vote, and with a party membership now around 100,000 it could make the choice of venue interesting. I’m assuming Wembley Stadium will be free in June if needed?

We’re still in somewhat of a phony war period, shown most notably by the fact I can’t yet start doing election leaflet of the day because everything on the site is still local elections related. Whoever uploads the first general election leaflet on there will be noticed, but until then the best we have is weird pictures from a UKIP candidate and a Scottish Conservative candidate yet again showing why most fashion designers shy away from the repeated Union Flag as a style statement. All very slim pickings so far, but still a long long way to go…

2017 General Election Diary Day 1: Can we survive 52 days of this?

Until this morning, the biggest surprise news I might have expected to hear this week was who the new Doctor is, then there came news that Theresa May was going to be making an announcement at 11.15.

I might almost have preferred that, but instead it looks like we’re getting the first snap election Britain’s had for a while and everyone’s spent the rest of the day running around wondering just what it all means. Me included, and having failed to come up with an explanation for everything, I’ve decided to resurrect my General Election Diary feature just so I can chronicle all the strange things that go on over the next seven weeks and also leave a historical record of my descent into gibbering incoherence by the 8th of June. We’ve got the longest UK election campaign I can recall in a time when all politics appears to have gone stark staring bonkers, so who knows what I might be happily chronicling in a few weeks time as if it’s entirely normal?

So, what has happened today? Well, the Prime Minister called for a General Election in a speech that gets scarier the more often you see it. Talking about how “At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.” and β€œThe country is coming together but Westminster is not.” amongst other things is the rhetoric of an autocrat, not a democrat. She uses a good chunk of her speech to dismiss the various opposition parties not just as having different views to her, but of being fundamentally wrong and somehow opposed to the will of the people. The point of democracy is that because there is no single overriding, everyone-agrees-to-it ‘will of the people’ we find ways in which everyone gets their voice heard, and through those debates, challenges and discussions we come up with what’s best. Instead of that, we’ve instead got a Prime Minister who wants to sweep away and dissent and opposition as unpatriotic and invalid. It makes me quite scared for what comes next if she wins a majority in June.

Never mind, though, because we’ve got a united opposition party who’ll be able to take the fight to… Oh. Never mind. It does seem like we’re not to get the absolute civil war of mandatory reselection of all sitting MPs before the election, but they’re not looking like a party ready for the fight, or even wanting one. When Corbyn is promising that Labour want ‘a Brexit that works for you’ it’s hard not to feel dispirited.

This does feel very different from other election campaigns I’ve experienced, partly because everyone’s still trying to convince themselves it’s actually happening (and until Parliament votes to dissolve itself tomorrow, it technically isn’t). It’s an election where a lot of news that would normally come out in the pre-election period (who’s standing again, and who’s not) is going to happen in the next week or so, and meanwhile a lot of people are still out campaigning for the local elections in two weeks time. Everyone’s off-balance so look out for lots of little slip ups over the next couple of weeks as people get themselves into the game and works out their campaign plans. That this caught everyone by surprise suggests that even the Tories haven’t done too much pre-planning of it, as something would have leaked, but it’s probably a good time to buy shares in printing companies given all the election literature that’ll be coming out over the next few weeks.

One potentially interesting development is Theresa May ruling out taking part in any election debates, to which all the opposition leaders have responded to with disdain and called for them to carry on with an empty chair for her if necessary. It’s obvious why she doesn’t want to do them – no clear frontrunner in an election ever wants to take a risk like that – but pre-emptively ruling out participation in them could be a mistake. Before 2010, the traditional way around this was to say that you were open to the idea, then send in negotiators with so many demands that the broadcasters and other parties couldn’t agree to them, and watch the whole thing fall down. That might have worked this time, given the short timescale, but stating from the outside that you won’t do them after they’ve been a feature of the last two elections risks them going ahead without you. Maybe the plan is to have a debate where the opposition leaders all bicker amongst themselves, leaving May above the fray, but it feels to me that ‘we’ll need to discuss terms’ would have been a better response at this point than ‘we won’t do them’.

Come back tomorrow when we might have more of an idea what’s going on, or we might just have seen the whole election disappear as a damp squib when Parliament refuses to vote for it and May realises that voting for no confidence in herself to make it happen is just a bit too silly.

Why I think the next General Election will be in 2018

Polling_station_6_may_2010Despite the existence of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, there’s a lot of speculation about just when the next General Election might be. It’s entirely understandable given the current political situation and how much has changed in the fifteen months since the last general election, even if making one happen is now more difficult than it used to be.

At the moment, the general consensus is that May is looking at the prospect of an election in May 2017. There are good reasons for this: she’s inherited a small Commons majority, she needs a proper mandate for Brexit negotiations, she has a good size lead in the polls, and the official Opposition is in absolute disarray. The only real doubt is how she’d actually get Parliament to dissolve itself – would Labour MPs vote for it (some but not all are needed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed), or would the public accept the Conservative Party no-confidencing itself to trigger an election?

While the signs do point towards an attempt for an election in 2017, I’m still not convinced it will happen, because I think there’s a strong case for May waiting until 2018 for it to happen.

First, while the Government only has a small majority, the division and disarray in the Opposition means it’s not as important an issue as it was for, say, the Major Government in the 90s when a coordinated Opposition made life tough in the Commons. If the Opposition aren’t organised or unified, then a small majority is effectively much larger than it might appear.

Second, while May might want to seek a mandate for Brexit negotiations, how long will it take for her and the rest of the Cabinet to work out what mandate to ask for? Do they want to go for full hard Brexit, or just to join the EEA instead of the EU, or one of the myriad of options somewhere between the two? If May goes to the country looking for a mandate, given the circumstance the first question is going to be ‘so what’s the plan?’ I don’t think ‘elect us, then we’ll work one out’ is going to be a winning slogan, and I’m not sure that a proper plan that all sides of the Government can agree on can be worked out in time for an election next year.

On top of those factors that mean 2017 might not be as simple a choice as it seems, there’s another big reason for waiting till 2018 – the implementation of the boundary review. This will reduce the number of seats in the Commons from 650 to 600 and massively redraw and rebalance the electoral map of the UK to the benefit of the Conservatives. What it may well also trigger is a wave of selection battles amongst the Labour Party as the current aim of the party leadership appears to be to force all MPs to go through reselections for the new boundaries, prolonging the party’s current strife. We should also remember that new boundaries will also give May a chance to cement her leadership of the Conservative Party and ensure that the new Conservative candidates at the election are to her liking. Rather than keeping broadly the same mix of Tory MPs in a 2017 election, there’d be much more scope for changes in a 2018 one on new boundaries.

A 2017 election must still be a temptation – especially if the economic forecast for the years after 2017 isn’t good – but by waiting till 2018, May would get the chance to win a victory that could be close to a landslide for a party that’s committed to her vision over a Labour Party that would be swinging hard to the left. The risk of waiting and leaving herself at the mercy of unexpected events is greater, but the rewards of a 2018 election – especially if Labour continue to implode – could be well worth that risk.

Worth Reading 52: Pick-up

All three parties and some Human Rights Act too. It’s like Question Time in here.

Gay Marriage – Never expected to be linking to a Tory MP’s post on equal marriage, but here’s a well though through and Christian perspective in favour of it from Desmond Swayne.
How my riots tweet landed me in hot water – at taxpayers’ expense – And after a Tory MP, we have a Labour Councillor in Lewisham, talking about the iniquities of the Standards Board regime.
And I am not making this up… – Wiggy explains the Human Rights Act, and how criticisms of it are usually based on people not understanding what it means.
Case for snooping powers backfires for Theresa May – What? A Government minister using erroneous evidence to argue for more powers to snoop and censor us? I’m shocked – shocked! – to discover such things happening.
Happy Birthday to the Libera-Tory Coalition? – Alex Wilcock looks back on two years in Government from a Lib Dem perspective.