Category Archives: UK Elections

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!

Have we reached peak Corbyn?

The Government is stumbling from one crisis to another. Two senior ministers have resigned in the last few weeks and many others are under pressure. Brexit talks appear to be at an impasse and there are doubts whether the Government can get the current Brexit bill through Parliament. Under these conditions, most political analysts would expect the opposition to enjoy a substantial and growing lead. Yet this isn’t happening. So why have the polls not moved dramatically?

Firstly, it is not totally fair to say there has been no movement. The Britain elects poll tracker has a slight Labour lead of 1.5%. This is a change from the General Election where the Conservatives enjoyed a 2 point poll victory over the Labour Party. Labour has also gained 9 seats in council by-elections since the General Election whereas the Conservatives have lost 10. So, the evidence does suggest that the Labour Party is ahead at present.

However, that is not enough for many on the Labour side. Former leader and known Corbyn critic Tony Blair has suggested his party should be 20 points ahead. He has not been alone in his criticisms. One possible answer for the current static nature of the polls could be that we have reached peak Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn shocked everybody with his performance at the 2017 General Election. His energy and enthusiasm on the campaign trail was a pivotal factor in costing the Conservative Party an overall majority. This looked to have terminally wounded Theresa May. Yet, May has held on despite coup attempts, a disastrous conference speech and reports that up to 40 MPs are willing to call for a vote of no confidence. Not only this but she still retains a small lead over Jeremy Corbyn in the question over who would make the best Prime Minister. This lead is small, but it is consistent and has been static for the last few months after Corbyn made significant ground before. Very few leaders of the opposition have made the transition to Number 10 without leading on this question.

There could be several sensible explanations for these polls and given what has happened with political polling in the last few years we must take these findings with a pinch of salt. All political parties and leaders do have a ceiling though. Corbyn has divided the nation and maybe given his brand of politics, this is as high as we can expect him and Labour to go. However, until we see further evidence it would be foolish to consider this anything more than a working hypothesis.

Sexual harassment scandal plagues Westminster

Westminster is a place I largely admire. It is a place of great history, great tradition and great prestige. This week though, has not been a good week for Westminster. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour by MPs across the political spectrum have haunted Westminster. The scandal began when reports emerged of female researchers and aides using a WhatsApp group to share information about alleged sexual abuse and harassment in Westminster.

Whilst this story is ongoing, it is first important to remember two things. Firstly, all have to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, there is a major difference between two consenting adults engaging in a relationship and claims of sexual misconduct or harassment.

At time of writing, the biggest casualty is former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who was forced to resign after admitting his conduct had “fallen short.” This has not stopped further stories about Fallon, including reports of sexual assault, which he strongly denies. Additionally, first Secretary of State Damien Green is facing an investigation. The senior Cabinet Minister is accused of making inappropriate advances to a female activist and Conservative journalist. Furthermore, backbench Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke has seen the whip removed following “serious allegations.” The Times reports that according to a former senior Conservative Minister, seven members of the Cabinet are considering their position.

Labour too has faced a difficult week. At the beginning of the week a Labour activist claimed she was raped at a Labour Party event in 2011 and advised not to report the story. Later in the week, veteran MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended over a sexual misconduct claim. Reports claim Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had previously been warned about Hopkins. Lastly, on Friday the Labour Party announced they were investigating Clive Lewis over allegations he groped a woman at Labour Party Conference. This followed swiftly accusations against former Minister Ivan Lewis who accepted his behaviour towards female women had been “unwelcome.”

Undoubtedly, these revelations provide further evidence Westminster needs a culture change. Powerful men for too long have been exploiting their position. They have abused young aides (mainly women) both verbally and physically who have felt powerless to act knowing these MPs had great power over their future career. This is a situation no-one should have to face. It has likely caused some to leave Westminster and others to shy away from jobs in Parliament. This is a wake-up call for Westminster and one they should heed. It is time for action.