2017 General Election Diary Day 49: Too far gone to turn around

What we could have seen on election day, December 2010.
Seven weeks since this all started, and now just a couple of days to go. I’m pretty sure it was a nice day back in April when all this began, warm and full of sunshine. Now, the weather seems to be reflecting the mood of the country after nearly two months of election related nonsense. Everything’s very grey and it feels like there’s a quest to wash us all away or at least cleanse of us of our misdemeanours. Or maybe it’s just a weather system brought on by the collective wish of the population to have a day without any leaflets being delivered, and this is the easiest way to bring that about? I’m just remembering the absolute drenching I got on the referendum day last year, and hoping that doesn’t happen again, though it’s worth noting that after 2010 returned a hung Parliament, some in the Civil Service were apparently expecting another election later than year, and pencilled in an expected date. On that date in December, much of the country was under a heavy covering of snow, which would have made things very interesting…

We’re in the stage of the election when parties are starting to shift into ‘getting out the vote’ mode, which isn’t something that just happens on election day itself. Hard as it is for us politics obsessives to believe, a lot of people need to be reminded that the election is happening on Thursday and that they have to go and vote then. That’s why you start seeing a lot of leaflets now that stress that, and we’ve also recently seen the ‘make a plan to vote’ message appear in a lot more political literature as studies have shown that if people do that beforehand, they’re more likely to remember on the day itself.

Some people’s thoughts are turning to what happens after the election and that also includes Jeremy Corbyn telling us of his plan for his first day in Number 10. Frankly, I find it all rather unbelivable in that he doesn’t appear to have included at least an hour for just wandering around the place and saying ‘holy shit, how did I manage this?’ with additional time for any conversations with new Cabinet members saying the same thing. (it’s important to use expletives at key moments of history).

And a reminder for those of you waiting until the polls settle before making your predictions: they’re not going to settle, so you might as well just try your best guess in my election prediction contest now. And while Corbyn is wandering around swearing for one reason or another, I’ll be poring over the new political maps to work out just who the winner of that contest is, and if it’s possible to visit all the tripoints during the next Parliament. If you want something to shape your prediction on, then the Britain Elects Nowcast might be handy as it’s an actual map of the country so you can see what borders with where. However, as with almost all election maps and predictions, it doesn’t attempt to give any details for Northern Ireland.

The election in Northern Ireland has been one of the hidden parts of this general election, getting at best only occasional and cursory coverage from anyone dealing with the election, and with all debates there squeezed into the same framework that applies to the rest of the UK. The potential of parties to win seats is more often depicted in terms of what that might mean to any potential coalition or minority government deal-making than it does to the political future of Northern Ireland. It’s entirely possible that there might be a third election there this year if no deal on the new Assembly is possible given the current numbers. I’m just as guilty as anyone of not paying enough attention to what’s going on there, but the results there on Thursday will matter as more than just some slightly different colours appearing on the screen but as seeing what the political makeup of the only part of Britain with an EU land border will be.

And so for Election Leaflet Of The Day we shall have what I think is the first leaflet from Northern Ireland of this campaign which helps to give an idea of the different political language and issues that dominate elections there. It’s from Gemma Weir, Workers Party candidate for North Belfast, and if you want to comprehend the different nature of politics there, ask yourself how you would explain the slogan ‘no sectarian headcounts’ to someone from the rest of the UK. Then when you’ve explained that, try and explain how the Workers’ Party evolved from Sinn Fein and the difference between ‘Official’ and ‘Provisional’. Then apologise when they tell you they just wanted directions to the train station, not a discussion on Irish politics.

Fifty-three hours to the exit poll and the big decisions are yet to be made – BBC or ITV for election night coverage?

2017 General Election Diary Day 24: Unhacked

Today in ‘that title for a post isn’t tempting fate, is it?’

It didn’t take a genius to predict that the NHS would be an issue in this election, because it’s an issue in every election as the parties all attempt to prove that it will be completely safe in their hands, but will definitely collapse in days if anyone else gets their hands on it. What they probably weren’t expecting was that the part of the NHS that would come under most scrutiny during the election campaign was its IT and cybersecurity provision. What’s interesting is that it’s not yet become an election issue, possibly because no one has yet thought that having a policy on NHS iT security was something necessary. It’s also a sudden shock that no one’s quite sure how it’s going to play out, and it’ll be interesting to see if it becomes something important, or if it becomes like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 as something that happens in the news at the same time, but only gets peripherally linked to the election itself.

In Northern Ireland, we can now see what’s happening with the various Unionist candidates, and there are a few where the DUP and UUP have co-ordinated enough to ensure that there’s only one of them. The key one where they haven’t, though, is Belfast East. No UUP candidate there in 2015 was one of the keys to the DUP winning the seat back from Alliance’s Naomi Long, and with the UUP now standing there (and the Conservatives too), that gets the seat a place on my list of seats to watch, especially as it’s usually one that declares relatively early.

In other election pact news, it seems that some candidates are now remembering that you can withdraw for a short time after nomination, as there has been news of some Green Party candidates doing that to endorse Labour and Liberal Democrat ones. However, the biggest withdrawal appears to be from UKIP who will be missing from over 200 constituencies where they’ll be calling for people to back the Tories, and one where they’ll be calling on them to back Kate Hoey, who is somehow still an official Labour candidate. Buzzfeed have worked out some of the effects that could have, but as yet no one has produced a ‘coalition of chaos’ graphic to show the range of chaotic individuals from Nigel Farage to Boris Johnson, backing Theresa May. There’s Blukip images from the 2015 Lib Dem campaign, but they’re a bit out of date now.

Haven’t quite got the time to do a full minor party of the day feature, but am wondering what’s happened to Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol who stood in a few constituencies last time. Part of that is prompted by the announcement of Liberal Democrat legalisation policy today (the full report is here) but mainly because I spotted West Tyrone has a candidate from “Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance” which seems an odd attempt to get the same acronym.

But we do have time for (strong and stable) Election Leaflet Of The Day, which in this case is actually two (strong and stable) letters from the same (strong and stable) candidate, one Theresa May who appears to be standing (strongly and stably) in both Leeds North East and Bolton West. Yes, it’s the generic (strong and stable) Tory letter to postal voters, (strongly and satbly) personalised to the recipient and mentioning the (strong and stable) constituency they’re in, but definitely part of the (strong and stable) national campaign, not the local.

Remember, if you don’t see the fnord, it can’t hurt you.

2017 General Election Diary Day 20: One month and counting

That’s the local elections out of the way, we’ve all had a nice weekend break of following the French election (and for those wondering where the British En Marche! is, try my post on the problems of creating a new centre party) which means there’s now nothing in the way between now and June 8th. Yes, it’s time to get your head down and head directly for the general election, and wonder if we’ll be praying for a brick wall to get in the way of that head-on running between now and then.

Before you suffer a major head trauma, though, don’t forget that I launched my election prediction competition today. No prizes, and it needs skills in geography as much as it does guessing voting behaviour, but hopefully enough of you will find it worthwhile enough to make it a worthwhile competition.

Let’s talk about electoral pacts. And before you all scream and say ‘no, not again’, this is about Northern Ireland, where the lack of pacts does mean some more seats might be in play for interesting results. The DUP and UUP have stood down in, respectively, Fermanagh & South Tyrone and North Belfast, but there’s no deal in East and South Belfast which makes it more likely that SDLP will hold South Belfast, while the Alliance Party’s chance of winning in East Belfast will be helped if there are both DUP and UUP candidates there. Everything in Northern Ireland is happening in the shadow of the Assembly election earlier this year (and the prospect of another later this year) and it will be interesting to see how much voters attribute praise and blame to the different parties for their role in the deadlock over that.

I know people with more knowledge of Northern Ireland and its politics do read this blog occasionally, so feel free to correct me on any points I make. However, I would say that it is interesting to look at the Northern Irish press during the election campaign as it’s a very good way of getting both a look at an election where the issues are very different, and a different perspective on what’s going on here in the larger of the British Isles from people semi-detached from that campaign.

Only time for a short post today, but let’s not forget Election Leaflet Of The Day, which is loved by some, all, or none of you. There are still a bunch of council election leaflets going up on there, which I assume is people loading stuff up there late. At least I hope so, or some candidates really need to have a word with their delivery teams if they’re not getting literature out until after the election has happened. And this time, we get to see one of the party leaders in action with a letter from Labour’s candidate for Islington North, a certain Mr Jeremy Corbyn. It may be a particularly historic document as perhaps the first time his constituency campaigning has been totally in line and on message with Labour’s national campaign.

This time next month, it’ll be all over bar the Dimbleby. Look forward to that, if nothing else.

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?

Northern Ireland: Did the centre hold?

Obviously, the big story from last week’s Northern Ireland election was the dramatic drop in support for the Unionist parties which led to them losing their minority in the Assembly (and its predecessors) for the first time ever. Rather than add to the analysis of the (Nicholas Whyte in the Irish Times is a good starting point, but there’s plenty of good coverage out there), I want to look at the political centre in Northern Ireland, to follow on from my post last week.

One interesting feature was that early results (based on first preference votes) didn’t look too rosy for the centre parties, but as votes began to transfer down through the preferences, things started looking better as a trend of UUP and SDLP voters being willing to vote across the cultural cleavage became clear. Seats that had looked tough to hold earlier on in the count were being held thanks to voters. Nicholas Whyte puts it succintly:

A remarkable feature of the election is that voters themselves seem more inclined to cross the divide. The SDLP’s vote share decreased yet again, giving them their worst result in history. But they managed to come out with no net losses. In several cases, seats that had appeared beyond their grasp in the early stages of counting fell into place thanks to transfers from the UUP – not just failure to transfer within Unionism, but an active choice by a crucial minority of moderate voters to try and block the extreme parties.
To be specific: UUP transfers were crucial for the SDLP seats in Lagan Valley and East Londonderry, and the SDLP returned the favour for the UUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The animated results on the Belfast Telegraph’s election site help to make this trend clearer – in seat after seat, when the final UUP or SDLP candidate is eliminated or elected, a large chunk of their vote transfers to the other party (or to the Alliance and the Greens) rather than staying within their side and transferring to the DUP or SDLP.

MLAs designated as ‘other’ (neither unionist nor nationalist) now make up a larger percentage of the Assembly than ever before, going up from 11.1% (12 out of 108) to 12.2% (11 of 90) in the new Assembly. On a wider scale, the more ‘centre’ parties and MLAs (those who can attract significant cross-community support or transfers) now total 34 out of the 90 members. While it’s not the majority of the Assembly those parties represented at the foundation of the Assembly, it’s a reminder that a swing back of support from the DUP and Sinn Fein would not have to be too huge to give the centre parties a majority in the Assembly again. The strength of transfers between them and a growing population in Northern Ireland that want to move on from the politics of the Troubles might make negotiating post-election deals an even more multi-sided game in the future.

Northern Ireland elections and the political centre

(Like my post the other day, and as I expect posts here to be frequently from now on, this is me thinking aloud about issues that circle around my PhD thesis so thoughts, comments and corrections are welcome)

It’s electoral systems geek Christmas right now as Northern Ireland counts its latest Assembly election. As one of the few places in the world to use STV elections and because it has both parties and voters ready to utilise the full potential of the electoral system, it’s fascinating to watch how election counts unfold and see how votes transfer between parties and candidates. (For live coverage, I recommend the Slugger O’Toole blog and Nicholas Whyte’s analysis of the constituencies and the effects of the drop in seats from 6 to 5 in each of them gives a good background)

Beyond the general geekery, one thing that has caught my attention in this election has been the potential development of a new politics of the centre in Northern Ireland. One thing I’ve been working on in my research is the question of how we define a ‘centre party’, and I’m currently looking at ideas of how the political centre can have two different meanings, depending on the political context of the times and the current situation in Northern Ireland gives an interesting illustration of that.

A lot of the theory about political parties is based on the idea of them being an expression of cleavages in society. For instance, in conventional ‘left-right’ politics, parties developed to represent the interests of workers on one side and business on the other. (This is a simplification, but I’m writing a blog post, not an entire paper) When I talk about centre parties, I’m talking about parties that instead try and sit in the middle of that cleavage as an attempt to bridge between the two sides (again, blog post not paper, but you can read my in depth thoughts on this here). This is why Northern Irish politics are interesting in this terms as not only is the main cleavage and dimension of competition a nationalist-unionist one, rather than left-right, it has a clear centre party (the Alliance Party) that intentionally places itself in the middle of that cleavage as well as two main competing parties on either side of the cleavage (Sinn Fein and the SDLP on one, the UUP and DUP on the other).

One of the key changes in Northern Irish politics since the Good Friday agreement has been the movement within each side of the cleavage away from the moderate parties. In the first post-Agreement election, the UUP and the SDLP were the two leading parties, with David Trimble and John Hume leading an all-party power-sharing administration. Since then, the DUP and Sinn Fein have supplanted their more moderate rivals, eventually leading to the position after the last election where they formed an administration between themselves, leaving the more moderate parties to go into opposition. The DUP/Sinn Fein administration collapsed in January over the ‘cash for ash’ scandal, prompting the current election, but part of the reaction to that has been the UUP and SDLP leaders both saying that they would give each other’s parties their second preferences in the vote.

This, I think, helps to illustrate the idea I’m working on of there being two separate but linked idea of the political centre and what it means to be a ‘centre party’. In conventional times, a centre party is merely one that defines itself as being in the middle of the cleavage, but in more polarised times, the conception of the centre widens to include all of those who make common cause in defence of conventional politics against the threat from extremists on either side of the cleavage. Northern Ireland makes for an interesting example of this change because of the strength of the cleavage beforehand, where there’s been very little cross-community voting but now the UUP and SDLP appear to have come to a common realisation that they have more in common with each other across the centre than they do with their rival parties from within their own community. The idea of parties uniting in a democratic centre isn’t new – it’s been a feature of countries threatened by extreme parties, and those emerging from dictatorship into democracy – but it’s interesting to see it playing out in a politics based on a different dimension of competition.

One idea I need to look into more is perhaps the difference between ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’ centre parties (or perhaps it’s more a difference between explicitly centre parties and those with a centrist tendency?) to look at this idea more, especially the question of when a system reaches a tipping point when competition switches from being cleavage-based to becoming about the centre vs the extreme.

And on that note, it’s time to go and see how the people of Northern Ireland have actually voted, and whether the voters have followed the party leaderships in moving towards the centre, or if they’ve just made all this speculation pointless.

Worth Reading 163: Impossible darts

The Ulster Question – A good summary of the situation in the Northern Irish seats at the start of the General Election campaign.
Why there won’t be a Labour-SNP coalition – Interesting analysis from Alex Harrowell about the difference between establishment In parties and challenging Out parties.
A shortage of optimism – Lewis Baston on the electoral and policy problems that haunt both major parties.
Grant Shapps is a lying liar who tells lies – Just in case you had any doubts, Tim Ireland exposes the full details of Shapps’ mendacity.
A troubling attitude to statistics – Jonathan Portes of the NIESR explains how the Government’s claims of £1.2bn in savings from the Troubled Families Programme are based more on wishful thinking than any sound methods.

Worth Reading 91: The Psalm of Protection

Five more interesting things for you, gathered from across the internet.

The Whiffle Flib test – Hopi Sen offers a way to ensure that political speeches are devoid of all meaning and context.
Security Myths and Passwords – Why making people change their passwords once a month doesn’t improve security. (via)
Leadership That’s Working? – a look at Northern Irish politics now that Protestantism and Unionism are slipping away from the status of an absolute majority (via)
What If We Responded to Sexual Assault by Limiting Men’s Freedom Like We Limit Women’s? – And the ‘what about the men?’ whiners turn up straight away in the comments to prove the point.
Friends without benefits – “I seem to have a chronic inability to be angry about people claiming benefits. I know I’m supposed to be furious. I’m meant to be incensed that people can have 10 kids and not work. I’m meant to be incandescent that a family where no one has a job brings in near to my previous salary in benefits. But nothing happens. I’ve tried reading the Mail, the Sun and the Express, I really have, but somehow it fails to make me cross at all. (Well, the people claiming benefits don’t.)”

Worth Reading 85: Tie your tie

Do Not Hire John Brown Advertising – Andrew Hickey gets plagiarised. Plagiarist turns up in the comments to provide a great example of chutzpah.
It’s Official: Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work – “Having adopted the policies of Keynes in response to a calamitous recession, the United States has grown more than twice as fast during the past three years as Britain, which adopted the economics of Hoover”
We are all Alliance now – Spineless Liberal responds to the threats against Alliance politicians in Northern Ireland.
502: French conservatives temporarily unavailable – Alex Harrowell explains at A Fistful Of Euros how a close leadership election has split the French right.
Why we are calling for an end to the war on drugs – Julian Huppert explains the position of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

And don’t miss this special message from Alan Partridge:

2010 General Election Diary Day 28: A 23% swing from Fish to hurricanes

I should remember to never talk about the weather. Yesterday doesn’t appear to have been a blip in the generally sunny election we’ve been having, and the rain has returned. Typical Bank Holiday weather, of course, including a brief hailstorm, but really scuppers the best laid plans of deliverers and canvassers.

That didn’t stop electioneering from going on between the showers. David Cameron appears to be launching a special Conservative effort to target the insomniac voter, by promising that the Conservatives will campaign ‘through the night’ on Tuesday. I suspect someone’s borrowed an idea from American politics, where there’s much talk of candidates doing 36-hour last-ditch campaign swings, but it makes sense in a country with multiple time zones and many opportunities to sleep on flights between events. It doesn’t really mean much if you’re wandering round Smithfield at 3am trying to get a photograph with someone who’s not covered in too much blood.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft today with Duncan Bannatyne. Bannatyne is currently hosting a series called Seaside Rescue. Ever get the feeling that their hearts just aren’t in it at Labour HQ, or are they attempting to make lives easier for newspaper headline and caption writers?

Here’s a list of celebrity Lib Dem supporters. Rumours that Armando Ianucci’s there because a) we’re the only party not to have asked him to direct an election broadcast and b) a strong third party and a balanced Parliament creates some interesting plots for The Thick Of It would likely be strongly denied by the party’s press officers.

Today’s linkage gives you the opportunity to see Mark Reckons using the word ‘bunkum’, which just doesn’t get used enough in political discourse, Liberal England bringing us Betty Boothroyd’s views on electoral reform, and Chris Brooke discussing post-election possibilities for the Liberal Democrats.

Elsewhere, Splintered Sunrise collects several Northern Ireland election broadcasts into a single post, showing that one result of the peace process is that Sinn Fein can now make videos that are just as banal as any other political party. However, my personal favourite in that collection is the SDLP’s, which features a number of scenes that look like attempts to enter a competition for the world’s worst Reservoir Dogs-esque walk.

Things I didn’t expect to be posting links to in this election campaign: Lib Dem flashmobs in Trafalgar Square.

They Work For You have created a very good site to help you decide who you should vote for. Linking with the work done by Democracy Club, you get to answer questions on local and national issues and see how they match up to your local candidates, not just national party lists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my results gave me Bob Russell (Lib Dem) first, Peter Lynn (Green) second and Garryck Noble of the People’s Party Essex third, with BNP and UKIP tied for fourth. And no, I haven’t discovered some latent swivel-eyed loon tendency – that’s far behind in last place because our Labour, Tory, English Democrat and independent candidates haven’t responded to any of the questions.

As for my campaigning, I’ve done about 350 deliveries today, which takes the total up to about 3,350, I believe. Whole lot more to come over the next few days, but none of it is in my house at the moment.

And finally, some music, with Right Said Fred’s ‘Lib Dem anthem’. While it does have a singalong chorus, I can’t see it being requested that much at the next Conference Glee Club: