Tag Archives: UK Election

The inevitable election post

So I returned from lunch yesterday and, while waiting for my coffee, I quickly glanced at Newsthump. It seems appropriate, somehow, that I learned of Theresa May’s snap election from a satirical article.

I was surprised. Given the number of times that May has ruled out a snap election, along with her delusion that no Brexit deal would somehow be better than a bad deal, I was expecting her to go into the 2020 election having “delivered Brexit” and worry about the consequences once the Labour Party were gone and forgotten. So there is a possibility that it has finally sunk in that extricating the UK from the EU will be a lot more complex than the bonkers wing of the Tory Party keep claiming, and that having everything done and dusted by the middle of 2019 might not be as realistic as she had led herself to believe.

Of course, with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, May can only have her snap election if two thirds of MPs vote for it. Will the Labour Party vote for its own demise. Of course it will. I have to admit, though, that I was surprised when only 9 Turkeys voted against Christmas (the other four belong to other parties).

Brexit is, of course, the big issue for this election as the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis notes:

On the steps of Downing Street, the prime minister said that her decision was driven by Labour and Lib Dem “threats” to vote against the final deal on Brexit.

… which also says a lot about May’s dislike of Parliamentary democracy. It’s the government’s job to convince Parliament to support, not demand that MPs blindly rubber-stamp every decision like some North Korean politburo.

On a related note, Tom McTague and Charlie Cooper in Politico observe that a larger majority would also enable May to push through a domestic agenda that is far more statist than many in her own party would like:

She has no manifesto of her own to deliver reforms such as an industrial strategy supporting struggling sectors, an increase in the number of selective schools, and tighter rules on big business governance.

An election that delivered a larger majority would make it less likely that a relatively small number of Conservative MPs could derail government policy, as occurred when the Chancellor Philip Hammond was forced to reverse tax increases on the self-employed in last month’s budget, to ward off a backbench revolt.

Although how much of a domestic agenda she can implement while Brexiting the economy to pieces remains to be seen.

And then there’s Scotland. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon has called the election a ‘huge miscalculation’ and framed it as an attempt to finally kill off Labour in England:

That means that this will be – more than ever before – an election about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland but which now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it.

Whatever the arguments in England, the election in Scotland will inevitably be about whether or not the SNP has a mandate to call a second independence referendum. As Alex Massie notes:

The case for independence itself remains unproven, of course, but that is a matter of secondary importance right now. Right now the argument is over whether or not there is a case for a second referendum. Until now, Unionists had on the whole the better of that argument, not least because a referendum inspired by Brexit could not sensibly take place until such time as the impact of Brexit is felt and understood.

Theresa May burnt that argument this morning. She did so as a Conservative, not as a Unionist. That is her choice, her prerogative. But it remains something she did not have to do.

I have a blog and an opinion which clearly qualifies (if not obliges me) to offer up my predictions. So here’s my take on what happens next.

The Tories will be returned to power with a three digit majority.

Labour will haemmorage seats across the country, but will still be the second largest party after June. Regardless of the size of the defeat, Corbyn will cling to the leadership of what remains of the Labour Party. Assuming there are enough moderates left in the party to prevent the McDonnell amendment from being inserted into the rules, Corbyn will refuse to resign and will probably lead them into another glorious defeat in 2022. If the far left do pass the amendment, then the Labour Party will cease to exist as a poilitcal organisation.

2015 was probably the high point for the SNP and they will probably lose a few seats, but will still send at least 50 MPs to Westminster. That said, I’m not sure who wll take seats off the SNP — maybe an unashamedly pro-Union, pro-Brexit Conservative Party will see a continued upswing in their fortunes.

The Lib Dems will do phenominally well in terms of votes and will increase their number of MPs. That said, for a party that currently has 9 MPs, doing well means double figures. The number of MPs the party gains will depend largely on how their share of the vote is distributed and I expect them to remain the the forth largest party in the Commons

In the aftermath, we will finally see what sort of Brexit Theresa May really wants. Scotland will see another independence campaign — and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone can blame the Scots if they do decide to leave the UK.

And, if I’m really optimistic, the fact of the Tories’ overwhelming majority will encourage the sane wing of the party to grow a spine develop the same sort of rebellious streak that the anti-EU Tories have displayed for so long. And then maybe, just maybe, it may be possible for a combination of Moderate Tories, LibDems and the SNP to reign in the worst excesses of the Brexit Delusion.

We live in hope.

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Referendum

After my last post, @mcnalu queried my assumption that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU would result in an exit:

@expatpaul the only point I wonder about is whether a referendum will result in exit. Polls suggest no, but do I believe them?

It’s a good question and it’s certainly true that a majority of people say they want to remain in the EU. However, the majority of British people also support either reducing the EU’s powers or leaving the institution altogether. NatCen sums this up quite nicely:

The majority of us are Eurosceptic – our latest British Social Attitudes survey found 62% of Brits support either leaving the EU or reducing its powers. And although an anti-EU stance is common where we might expect – among supporters of UKIP and the Conservative party, for example – it’s also gathering pace in unexpected places. As many as 43% of those who feel European now say they want the EU’s powers reduced.

As the table below shows, Euroscepticism has been simmering away since the mid to late nineties. Since 2012 however the feeling has increased, having peaked in 2012 at 67%. However, the problem isn’t that straightforward. While we’re highly Eurosceptic, when given a choice between staying in or leaving, a majority (57%) say they want to stay. So the picture is complicated and people’s views on this issue are highly nuanced and emotive. The next government will have to be both bold and sensitive to navigate this complex terrain.

So, 57% of the population want to stay in the EU and 62% are in favour of leaving the EU or reducing its powers. I am sure there are many ways to interpret this apparent contradiction, but to me, this suggests that support for Britain’s continued membership is spongy.

Most people recognise that, on balance, staying in the EU is beneficial but also recognise that there are plenty of problems with the institutions and would like to see them addressed. This is not an unreasonable position but, when every step involves hammering out an agreement among 27 heads of government, change is always going to be a slow and painful process.

By promising to complete his negotiations and then have a referendum in 2017, I think Cameron is – at the very least – running the risk of creating wildly unrealistic expectations. People will be disappointed and, even if they don’t swing into the anti-EU camp, if enough people are disappointed enough to not bother voting in the referendum, the result will be heavily skewed in favour of withdrawal.

Digressing for a moment, this YouGov political tracker (pdf) seems to bear this out. As of May 8-9, 45% of people would vote to stay in the EU and 36% would vote to leave. The detailed questions indicate that people do recognise the value of the EU and, if David Cameron actually managed to renegotiate terms to “protect British interests” the percentage of people saying they’d stay in rises to 58%. Unfortunately, YouGov don’t ask how people would vote if Cameron failed to renegotiate terms.

And back to my second point: turnout.

Britain doesn’t have a lot of experience with referenda so there aren’t a lot of data points available when it comes to predicting how many people are likely to vote. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only data point we really have is the 2011 AV referendum, in which 42% of the electorate voted. I am ignoring the more recent Scottish Independence referendum for reasons that will, hopefully, become apparent as I continue.

The turnout for the 2014 European Parliament elections was 34%. The average turnout for 2012 local elections was even worse. As The Guardian notes:

Basically, Brits don’t vote in elections that aren’t general.

And low turnouts lead to the motivated minority having a disproportionate effect on the result.

While it’s true that pollsters will attempt to adjust for turnouts, the previously noted paucity of data points leaves me with very little faith in their ability to judge these adjustments accurately.

In summary, while a majority of UK voters support staying in the EU there is also a very strong desire to see the implementation of reform. By promising to have his negotiations completed in time for a 2017 referendum, David Cameron is, at minimum, running the risk of creating some horribly unrealistic expectations about what can be achieved and by when.

People are going to be disappointed and, with the EU not being a primary concern for many, these people are likely to stay at home when the referendum comes around. Consequently, the two groups that are likely to have the most influence are older voters (more likely to vote overall and more anti-EU than the average) and the vehemently anti-EU who are going to vote against no matter what.

Because of the way Cameron has approached this, support for staying in the EU is, in my view, likely to fall further and faster than the polls are currently able to indicate.

Of course, when the referendum comes around there will be a campaign to remain in the EU. In my view, this campaign needs to get its act together already. They need to be pointing out, and explaining why, Cameron has set himself up to fail. They need to be working across EU NGOs and political groupings to build a visible reform agenda with some realistic timelines attached.

Then, when 2017 comes around, they will be able to say “the idiot has thrown his tantrum, now this is what the grown-ups are going to do.”

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Random post-election musings

So that’s it then. The Scottish Nationalists won is Scotland, and the English Nationalists won in England.

This is not a good result.

From my (slightly detached) position, it does feel a lot like two elections were contested – one in Scotland and one in England and Wales – and they have returned very different results. Scotland has, in effect, voted against the London parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat) leaving the SNP to mop up as the only remaining alternative. In England and Wales, on the other hand, the electorate appears to have taken leave of their collective senses and fallen, frankly divisive, rhetoric coming out of the Conservative campaign.

So, two elections, two results, and an overall majority for the Conservatives. The phrase “May you live in interesting times” purports to be a translation of a Chinese curse. While no actual Chinese source has actually been produced, I do think that the UK is about to go through some very interesting times indeed.

To start with the Conservatives, David Cameron is not a strong leader and the Conservative Party is not a one-nation party. Indeed, for a long time I have felt that the main problem with the Conservative party is that it counts very few actual conservatives among its members. Let me digress for a moment to justify that assertion…

It used to be that Conservatism in the UK was a change-resistant but essentially pragmatic philosophy, best summed up by this quote from Edmund Burke:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you
have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

Note the assumption that the great and the good will come together and agree what is best for the nation.

In the 1980s, the traditional/Burkian/one-nation Tories were marginalised as “wets” and steadily pushed out of the party, to be replaced by a harder, more ideologically Libertarian and more English cadre of MPs and members. In the 1950s, the Tories were winning slightly more votes than Labour in Scotland. In the 1960s, Labour were winning slightly more votes than the Tories in Scotland. In the 1970s, the Tory vote in Scotland dipped slightly and in the 1980s, the Tories decided that Scotland didn’t matter and let their share of the vote plummet.

And now, all (or nearly all) of the one-nation Tories are gone, and the party that has been elected is an economically ideological English nationalist party.

It may well be true that the English are an instinctively conservative nation. The problem is that the Conservatives are no longer an instinctively conservative party.

Digression over, let me try to get back to the point.

David Cameron has made a career of not really standing for anything and he gets away with this because he does have a good sense of what people want to hear and an unscrupulous willingness to say it. We saw this when he was campaigning for the leadership for the Conservative party – his commitment to leave the mainstream centre-right grouping in in the European Parliament was classic Cameronism. It was a purely tactical response to the fact that David Davis was – at that time – more popular among anti-EU Tories. It was also an entirely short-term response that led, in the longer term, to a more isolated Conservative party in the European Parliament and a more isolated Britain in the EU.

And now this man, who has spent the best part of a decade annoying other EU heads of government with his infantile behaviour, thinks that he can renegotiate some (vague, unspecified) parts of the UK’s EU treaties.

What is the French for “Go stuff yourself”?

I’d be laughing now if it wasn’t for the fact that Cameron has also promised to hold an in-out referendum on the basis of his fantasy negotiations.

I don’t think that Cameron is going to get anywhere when he attempts to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU. And, truth be told, I don’t think Cameron expects to achieve anything either. He was worried about both UKIP and his own right wing and has committed himself to a disastrous course of action in order to stave off a short term threat to his leadership. I don’t know whether he is still worried about UKIP – this was always a bubble that was bound to burst – but he now has nothing to shield himself from the hard-right, English nationalist elements in his own party.

Even if he did come back with a collection of concessions, nothing will be good enough for the anti-EU parts of his own party (which is most of them), and none of this will be good enough for the more rabid parts of the press (which, in circulation terms, is most of them). Then his much vaunted referendum comes around, and I think the result will probably prove to be quite predictable.

In short, Cameron’s weakness as a leader will open the way for his backbenchers to drive the UK out of the EU.

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