Category Archives: UK Elections

Will the moderates stand up and be counted?

It is not an easy time to be a political moderate. The Labour Party has been captured by the left-wing Corbyn project and the Conservative Party is increasingly being driven rightwards. In the age of ‘populism’, being a moderate does not seem to be a sensible career choice.

Let’s start by looking at the Labour Party. First; their internal organisations. The left of the party has a clear majority on the National Executive, following recent elections and will only see their power enhanced by the resignation of Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol. Secondly; their membership. The Labour membership is dominated by those sympathetic towards Corbyn. This isn’t changing anytime soon. Thirdly and lastly; political reality. Moderates on the Labour side believed the General Election would finish Corbyn off. That was wrong. Labour’s 2017 General Election performance only strengthened Corbyn’s position.

Now onto the Conservative Party. Firstly, who runs the party. A leaked letter from the famous European Research Group set out clear terms of what is expected from Brexit. It would not have escaped Downing Street’s attention this letter had enough signatories to trigger a vote of no confidence. Secondly, the future leadership contest. Jacob Rees-Mogg is clear favourite to be the next Tory leader. His position strengthens with the day (although it is not clear MPs would let him into the final two). Lastly and as with Labour; the political reality. Some strategists in the Conservative Party believe the party can hang onto power not by regaining socially liberal voters, but by moving culturally right and taking votes in Old Labour heartlands. The direction of travel is clear.

However, there are MPs in both parties who are unhappy with this situation who share more in common with each other than certain wings of their party.  So what can they do?

For Labour moderates, there is no clear path to them regaining control soon. Corbyn will not continue forever, but looking at the current membership, it seems inevitable a Corbyn ally will follow. For Tory moderates the chance appears remote. Yes, a Tory leadership contest in this Parliament opens the possibility of putting a moderate on the ballot paper. However, could a moderate win with the membership?

So, what happens next? Firstly, they can form alliances in Parliament and drive the agenda this way, using parliamentary arithmetic to their advantage. Secondly, there is the nuclear option. A new party. Maybe, just maybe this is the way for moderates to coin a phrase ‘take back control.’ This will require bravery and putting aside tribal differences. As time develops, this option may become the most viable. As their parties drift away from them, moderate MPs must consider all options.

These MPs may have to accept the time has come or is coming for them to make a stand. The decision is simply for them; do they allow this to continue or do the act? Over to you moderates!

Non-voters: Labour’s chance of winning next election?

Non-voters; the elephant in the room at every political science convention.  In the 2017 general election, the under 40 bracket had a turnout of 60.25% compared to the average of 69%.  This underrepresentation of under 40s has consequences for the Labour party after all 61% of these people voted Labour. That means that whilst older voters are significantly more likely to turnout and vote, younger voters stay at home, which has ultimately affected policies. Younger people have been far worse off due to austerity and older people have been largely unaffected due to austerity and have actually become better off.  Labour supporters regularly argue that Labour should target non-voters to win the next election. The question is could non-voters actually tip the balance of power in favour of Labour?

One of the most important things to consider is if non-voters would actually support Labour policy. Researching into the political opinions of non-voters is quite difficult after all, one of the reasons why people don’t vote is that they aren’t interested in politics at all! One interesting piece of research by Georg Lutz, Kathrin Kissau, Jan Rosset called The political preferences of political elites, voters and non-voters in Europe  suggests that there are actually differences in political opinions across Europe between voters and non-voters. The research paper suggests that non-voters support redistributive policies more than voters and also support tougher immigration policies than voters. At best, this is a mixed picture for Labour. Its advantageous for Labour to see non-voters picking Labour economic policies but highly disadvantageous to Labour to see them support tougher immigration policies.

A far more concerning research regarding non-voters comes from a Survation study from 2013 which included looking at policy views of non-voters. The research has outcomes which offer grim reading for Labour; many non-voters hold consistently right-leaning views on government policy that is to say the government should prioritise right-leaning policy then left-leaning policy. Examples of this include non-voters significantly more like to prioritise cutting welfare spending, cutting taxes and reducing crime. It is true that more left-leaning policies were supported by non-voters such as increasing the number of jobs and improving schools. Non-voters particularly value increasing the number of jobs. However, what is interesting is that in Britain at least, the old left-wing troupe of non-voters being radicals under the bedsheets is completely unfounded.

So why don’t people vote?  There are many reasons for this. Many people generally lack interest in politics, in fact, 18.9% of people are not interested in politics according to the 2013 Survation poll. This is, however, the minority of those who don’t vote. The largest group in the poll were those who said “my vote wouldn’t make  difference”, followed by “parties and candidates are all the same”.  Considering this is half of all of the non-voters, this should be the focus of policies to reduce non-voting. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be dealt with by Labour. To make votes to be meaningful, it would require electoral reform, which the Labour party doesn’t seem in a hurry to support.  If non-voters still believe that “parties and candidates are all the same”, then nothing will ever convince them to vote because all things considered, Labour and the Conservatives are completely different today. Therefore, it is unlikely for Labour to make substantial gains from non-voters.

 

Is it time for Labour to consider a progressive alliance?

A recent report from the Fabian Society has suggested that the time may have come for the Labour Party to seek new ways of winning power. The report concluded that the Labour Party has little chance of winning the 2020 General Election and should consider working with parties such as the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in order to return to government.

Previously the idea of a progressive alliance had been raised by front-bencher Clive Lewis who claimed that working with other parties was essential to beating the Conservatives. This advice has largely been rejected by the party but with the current polls placing Labour in a disastrous position, is the Labour Party really in a position where they can afford to ignore such advice?

From a purely electoral perspective the benefits seem clear. In seats where Labour are the main opposition they can be given a free run at the Conservatives and where Labour are too far behind they can allow a better placed party a free run. Logically the end result would be progressive parties being more competitive in more seats and thus giving the Labour Party and its new allies a better chance of being in power. So what is the downside?

Tactically this sort of deal could prove very difficult. For instance could the parties who are used to fighting each other agree to work with each other and would local party constituencies be happy with any deal. From a policy angle there are also slight but clear differences between the parties. Could Labour act with a party that supports independence for Scotland in the SNP or a second referendum in the Liberal Democrats? Lastly in this scenario you have to consider the response of the opposition. The Conservatives were incredibly successful at playing on voters fears of an SNP-Labour coalition at the last election and would happily go back to their old playbook.

Rightly or wrongly at present the Labour Party still considers themselves a party of government. Therefore for the time being any permanent deal with opposition parties will be firmly rejected. Occasionally at a by-election or local elections pacts may be struck but don’t expect this to be a common theme. The Labour Party may well be on its way to its worst defeat in living memory, but regardless of how bad it becomes there will be no progressive alliance.

 

 

MPs were right to vote to leave Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is renowned across the world. The buildings are a place of great historical significance and repute and the envy of many. The buildings quite rightly occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of this nation and are a representation of our democracy and should be treasured. They are one of the great tourist venues and help to portray this country all over the world.

Yet, despite all of this MPs were right to vote to relocate away from Westminster so refurbishments could take place.

MPs this week voted by 236 to 220 to support an amendment that saw members across the House come together to back a full programme of works that is likely to result in the House of Commons moving to a venue in Whitehall from the middle of the next decade. This would be the first time Parliament has moved out of the palace of Westminster since the Commons chamber was destroyed by a bomb in 1941.

The amendment successfully defeated Government proposals which would have further delayed a final decision. The Government appear to have been worried the cost of the repairs, part of a proposed £5.6 billion modernisation would be hard to justify in a time of economic hardship. MPs in the end appear to have been convinced to support the amendment due to the potential risk of a large scale fire.

Of course, the cost of repairs is far from ideal, however the alternatives are far worse. Firstly, the longer a decision is delayed the greater the costs of the repair are likely to be. Secondly, the risk of a catastrophic event is now quite significant. Thirdly, the building in many parts is no longer fit for purpose. This means carrying on as before is no longer an option. A report from the Joint Committee of the Palace of Westminster further underlines this point.

This decision should not be seen as MPs simply spending money on themselves. Nor, should it be viewed as a selfish or irresponsible decision. The repairs for Westminster are a necessity and the sooner they begin than the sooner MPs can return back to the Palace.

The Houses of Parliament are places where our elected representatives make decisions on our behalf, important decisions which shape our future. These decisions should be made in a building fit for purpose and not in danger of calamity. This is not the end for the Palace of Westminster, but merely the start of a new beginning.

The Automation Risk in British parliamentary constituencies

Automation: the force modernity that drives forward progress towards a better future. Or is it? The risks of automation have been well documented by researchers in universities.  The most terrifying of these researchers is the one done by two Oxford University researchers, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne who both suggest that the number of jobs at risk of automation in the United States of America is 47%[1].  The fact that nearly half of all jobs are at some risk of automation should alarm policymakers.  However, the research is only for American employment. What would be the effect of automation and AI on British politics?

Research conducted by the Think Tank Future Advocacy has analysed the effects of automation by different British parliamentary constituencies to look at the risk of automation by each parliamentary constituency and their research identified that the constituency most at risk of automation was none other than John McDonald, the shadow chancellor’s seat of Hayes and Harlington[2]. What I have done is combined their analysis of the various constituencies and the parliamentary vote for both the Conservatives and Labour in 2017, the UKIP vote in 2015 and the EU referendum results in 2016.  The findings I believe are a good indication to look at the current state of politics in the UK.

Labour, the party of the workers and trade unions should have a strong correlation towards its vote being in areas at risk of automation. Yet, overall there was a negative correlation between Labour vote share and seats at risk of automation.

Labour Vote Versus Automation

 

The graph which plots Labour vote by constituency versus constituency risk of automation shows that Labour wins more votes in parliamentary constituencies where there is a lower risk of automation. That means Labour won votes in areas in the 2017 election[3] where jobs are less likely to be automated. If Labour wins in areas where jobs are less likely to be automated, then it must be the case that the Conservative party have an even stronger negative correlation between Conservative votes and constituency automation risk, right? Wrong.

It turns out that the Conservatives have a strong positive correlation between Conservative vote by constituency and automation risk. This means the Tories won a larger number of votes in the 2017 election in areas with a greater risk of automation.

 

Tory Vote Versus Automation

So, what is going in British elections for the Conservative voters to be more threatened by automation that the Labour Party? This research highlights underlying trends within British politics, that demographic voting trends have changed in Britain over the last two decades.

Firstly, the class is no longer a good predictor how people will vote in an election. Labour, the party of trade unions and the working class only received 44% of the working class vote in 2017 compared with 39% of the middle-class vote[4]. In contrast to this in the 1997 election, Labour won 57% of the working-class vote and just 34% of the middle-class vote[5]. Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn won more middle-class voters than Labour led by Tony Blair. The underlying trend here is that Labour over time has become more cosmopolitan, urbanised and diverse in its kind of voters, getting voters from young metropolitan graduates alongside ethnic minorities, public sector workers and women, whilst the Tories have concentrated greater support from older voters generally in smaller towns. The largest single predictor of how someone would vote in the 2017 election was not class but age; 63.6% of under-thirties voted for the Labour Party[6]. Compare this to the 63.5% of over the sixties voting for the Conservative Party[7] and it becomes clear that class is now a weak predictor of how people vote.

Secondly, it’s not entirely the case that Labour represented constituencies are overwhelmingly less likely to be threatened by automation. My research found a sort of paradox between Labour constituencies that are less threatened by automation and constituencies with a greater risk of automation. I have called this “The Eagle Paradox”. Why the Eagle Paradox? Because the Labour MPs of Maria Eagle and Angela Eagle represent constituencies on either end of the automation spectrum. Maria Eagle’s seat of Garston and Halewood is ranked 6 on the list of constituencies with the most risk of automation, whilst Angela Eagle’s constituency of Wallasey stands at 562 out of 632 seats. This illustrates the more complex nature of Labour’s constituencies; on the one hand, Maria Eagle represents the more traditional Labour constituency with large amounts of manufacturing typical of Labour heartland seats in the past. Angela Eagle represents the sort of constituency that Labour has improved in over the last two decades in seats which are a more middle class, cosmopolitan, urbanised constituencies.

Thirdly, a more disturbing tendency found in the research I conducted was that there was a strong link between Right-wing populism and constituencies. In the 2015 election, the UKIP party did significantly better in constituencies where jobs are at greater risk of automation.

UKIP vote Versus automation

 

The UKIP in 2015 was correlated with constituencies with a greater risk of automation[8]. The Conservatives at the 2017 election targeted UKIP voters who voted for Leave in the referendum s part of their electoral strategy. As a result, this would be a good indication of the reasons why Conservative vote is correlated with stronger support in areas with a greater propensity for automation because the Conservatives won UKIP voters. The nationalism and Right-wing populism behind the Conservative coalition of voters explain in part the reasons why the Conservatives are doing better in areas with a greater risk of automation. The Conservatives in part have successfully rebranded themselves as a populist, pro-Brexit, nationalist party whose voters are socially conservative, older and traditional in their outlook.  The strongest positive correlation between parliamentary constituencies does not come from political parties but from the European Union referendum result; constituencies, where the Leave vote was stronger, had a very strong correlation with parliamentary constituencies at risk of automation[9].

Leave EU vote versus automation

There is, therefore, a potential clear link between Right-wing populist movements on the one hand and automation; that area where jobs are at a greater threat of automation are vulnerable to Right-wing populist. This connection between Right-wing populism is not just limited to the UK. The New York Times piece, Robots Can’t Vote, but They Helped Elect Trump, Thomas Edsall cites research conducted at MIT that automation helped push people to the populist-Right of the political spectrum[10].  This he argued was a significant factor to the reasons why Donald Trump was elected in 2016 election. This gives us a warning that automation pushes voters to the clutches of the populist-Right.

[1] Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne, THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION?, Oxford Martin School Publications, https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf , September 17, 2013

[2] Matthew Fenech, Cath Elliston, and Olly Buston, The Impact of AI in UK Constituencies: Where will automation hit hardest?, Future Advocacy, http://futureadvocacy.com/publications/, 2017

[3] Vote share figures from the election were accessed in Vyara Apostolova, Lukas Audickas, Carl Baker, Alex Bate,Richard Cracknell, Noel Dempsey, Oliver Hawkins, Rod McInnes, Tom Rutherford, Elise Uberoi, General Election 2017: results and analysis, House of Commons Library, BRIEFING PAPER Number CBP 7979

[4] Ibid, page 43

[5]   Ipsos-Mori, How Britain voted 1997, 31st May 1997, https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/how-britain-voted-1997

[6] Chris Curtis, How Britain voted 2017, Yougov, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/06/13/how-britain-voted-2017-general-election/

[7] Ibid

[8] UKIP vote accessed at, UK parliament.net; Olivia  Hawkins, Richard Keen,  Nambassa  Nakatude, House of Commons Library, General Election: Results and Analysis, Briefing Paper, Number CBP7186, 28 July 2015. The outlier in the graph is the constituency of Clacton that UKIP managed to win in the 2015 election.

[9] Leave Vote in EU referendum accessed Map Logic.com (https://www.map-logic.co.uk/products/eu-referendum-results-by-constituency) ; Martin Baxter, Electoral Calculas.com.

 

[10]  Thomas B. Edsall, Robots Can’t Vote, but They Helped Elect Trump, New York Times, January 11th 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/opinion/trump-robots-electoral-college.html

All graphs were created by the author himself with help from research

Pressure builds on Theresa May

With Theresa May away in Davos this week, pressure has continued to mount on her at home. The latest drama begun with a tweet from Nick Boles who criticised the lack of ambition of the Government. This was followed by Sir Nicholas Soames who branded Theresa May’s vision as “dull, dull, dull.” The drama threatened to blow into a full-brown crisis when media reports indicated a vote of no confidence in Theresa May may be imminent.

Additionally, Theresa May has also had to deal with calls from Boris Johnson for more money for the NHS and Chancellor Philip Hammond angering Tory Brexiteers by calling for a soft Brexit.  This caused new chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg to intervene who called for a fundamental change in ministers tone on Brexit.

So how much trouble is the Prime Minister in? In regards to a vote of no confidence in her leadership, no-one can be totally sure. A quirk of the Conservative leadership system is that only the chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady will be aware of how many letters he has been sent calling for this vote. This vote would be triggered if Mr Brady receives 48 letters, 15% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It is hard to predict with any certainty how many letters Mr Brady has.

Events are starting to move in an ominous direction for the Prime Minister though. Firstly, the Brexiteers are starting to mobilise. Secondly, the criticism of May is becoming public.  Thirdly, the botched reshuffle highlighted how little authority the Prime Minister has. This is a powerful combination. This led to Philip Hammond calling on rebel Tories to “stick with” Theresa May.

Theresa May’s position has been under threat since the disastrous General Election. Famously described by George Osborne as a “dead woman walking” on the weekend after the election, nothing has changed since then. Theresa May has always been at the whim of her backbenchers. If the mood is turning bleaker then Theresa May’s grip on power is likely to be fading fast.

What may save her, is the only thing that has been saving her to date, mainly the Conservative Party doesn’t want a leadership contest and there is no obvious replacement. However, this won’t last for ever.  Theresa May and the Conservative leadership remain in a state of stasis. A leader with no vision and no plan will always be on borrowed time. And that is what it is increasingly feeling like with this Prime Minister.

What now for UKIP?

UKIP has enjoyed better days. Embattled leader Henry Bolton, (the party’s fourth in two years) remains under pressure over racist remarks made by his then-girlfriend Jo Marney. Bolton, under pressure from the party hierarchy split from Marney, only to be caught seen having dinner with her this week.

The backlash from this saga has been severe on UKIP.  West Midlands UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge resigned as a party spokesperson and called for Bolton to stand down, with fellow MEP Jonathan Arnott quitting the party totally. Furthermore, rumours abound Bolton will face a vote of no confidence from the UKIP NEC this weekend, but may survive due to the party being unable to afford the contest to replace him.

UKIP has been on a downward spiral for some time.  The 2017 local elections saw the party lose all but one of their councillors. Following on from this, the party went on to gain only a measly 1.8% of the vote in the 2017 General Election. Recent revelations have also indicated the party is losing members. This is not a party moving forward!

It’s not always been like this for UKIP. It was their initial growth which was a factor in Cameron promising the EU referendum in 2013. Additionally, UKIP won the 2014 European elections, gained 2 defecting MPs from the Conservatives and secured nearly 4 million votes at the 2015 General Election. History will still show their impact on UK politics in the last decade as being significant.

So what has happened? Firstly, larger than life former leader Nigel Farage stepping down in 2016 after the EU referendum was a hammer blow for the party. Farage brought air time, recognition and relevance, attracting voters across the country. The party has never fully recovered or found a new appeal.

Secondly, they won. UKIP’s sole purpose was to secure and win a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Now this has been achieved a large proportion of UKIP’s supporters feel the job is complete.  What is their left for UKIP to achieve or campaign for?

Lastly, the internal organisation of the party is shambolic. UKIP have always lacked professionalism and structure. Without this base, no political party can sustain itself for the long term. The chaotic nature of the party is a significant factor as to why it’s in this mess.

UKIP has been written off many times before only to bounce back, but this time it seems like it is at the end of the road. A party with no cause, no charisma and no organisation has no place in UK politics. Until one or probably all three of these factors change UKIP will be destined for the scrap-heap. Still, they can always claim it was fun while it lasted.

 

Both May and the Government will survive 2018

Politics in the United Kingdom is becoming notoriously difficult to predict. Therefore, it may seem like a fool’s game to predict what will happen this year. However, that is what I am about to do. My predictions are as follows:

  1. Theresa May will still be Prime Minister
  2. The Government will not have fallen.

Let’s begin with my first statement. Theresa May’s position has appeared precarious since the General Election. The loss of the Conservative majority appeared to be a fatal blow from which the Prime Minister could not recover. Undoubtedly, this weakened the Prime Minister, but yet she has clung on and will continue to cling on. Why?

Mainly, it is because the political climate has not changed substantially since the morning of the 9th June 2017. Firstly, there remains no obvious candidate to take over from the Prime Minister. Secondly, Conservative backbenchers remain nervous about whether a move against the Prime Minister would hinder Brexit. Lastly, there does not appear to be a desire from any potential candidate to take over the role whilst Brexit negotiations are ongoing. The Prime Minister’s future is inextricably linked to Brexit and whilst Brexit talks are ongoing which they will continue to be during 2018 then her position is safe.

Ok, let’s now move onto the second statement. The Government only has a small majority and is reliant on support from the DUP. In theory this means the Government is vulnerable. Additionally, we have seen the Government face defeats in the House of Commons since the General Election. So, given this political environment, how can I be so sure the Government will survive 2018?

The answer is simple: Jeremy Corbyn. A number of Conservative MPs may have misgivings about the direction of the party and their policy positions, notably around Brexit. But, crucially they will not do anything to make a Corbyn premiership and an early General Election more likely. The other players to consider in this calculation are the DUP. The DUP have always been highly critical of Corbyn and McDonnell. A Government led by those two would be seen as a disaster by the DUP.  The DUP may seek to renegotiate their current terms but would not facilitate an early General Election and bringing down the Government.

2018 will bring more political surprises and shocks, but I firmly believe these two things will stay the same. In reality only time will tell. Happy 2018 all!

 

 

 

Britain remains divided over Brexit

On Monday, Theresa May will to travel to Brussels for lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier. Prior to this meeting, the UK will have present proposals on the Brexit Bill, the Northern Irish border and citizens rights. These proposals will then be debated and discussed by the EU27 who will decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made to move talks onto the next stage.

Regardless of how these talks develop and how the proposals are received, it appears unlikely it will impact significantly change public opinion in this country which remains firmly divided on Brexit and whether to hold another referendum. As parliament continues to debate legislation, public opinion on Brexit and the European Union has remained relatively static.

Polling from Opinium shows Remain would have a 1% lead should the EU referendum be held today. However, that remains well within the margin of error. Furthermore, the polling shows that 91% of Remainers and 88% of Leavers would stick to their 2016 vote. Lastly, only 35% of the public are in favour of a deal on the terms of the referendum against 53% who are opposed to a referendum on the terms of a deal.

This shows that despite a perception that Brexit talks have been handled badly to date and that according to YouGov, those that believe the Brexit vote was the wrong decision have a four point lead over those who believe it was the right decision, there remains no overwhelming desire for a second referendum on Britain’s membership or even a referendum on the terms of the deal.

Voters are liable to change their mind and may yet do so but presently there is no clear evidence that this is happening. The General Election (albeit a few months ago now) offered a test of whether British voters wanted to change their mind on Brexit. There was no clear evidence that they did. The noises about reversing and stopping Brexit are coming from the same voices. These are voices which are being driven by their own opinions rather than by the weight of public support and it will always be the latter that politicians will be concerned about.

As the Government prepare and plan their next move, it is clear as it has been since the 24th June 2016, the UK will leave the European Union. The only real question is whether the UK leaves with a deal or without a deal. Sorry, Remoaners we really are leaving!