Miliband need offer Sturgeon nothing

The SNP bandwagon shows no sign of slowing down. In fact it seems to be picking up momentum. Two new Scottish polls have the SNP at over 50 per cent of the Scottish electorate (one had them leading Labour by 50-26 the other by 54-22) . It looks like the SNP could win 54 out of 59 seats in Scotland (with Labour  down to 3, the Lib Dems 1 and the Conservatives 0). For comparison the 2010 seats in Scotland were Labour 41, Lib Dem 11 SNP 6 and Conservative 1. This would put a big prize the SNP’s way. With another hung parliament – where no one party has a majority – looking like a dead cert – and the Lib Dems reckoned to fall from 57 seats to less than 30 and perhaps nearer 20 – it looks like the SNP and their allies the Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cyrmu*  could decide who is the Prime Minister of the UK after May 7th.. While that is scary for English voters the SNP are not in as strong a position as at first glance and are in a position to demand very little.

This is because party leader Nicola Sturgeon has made it quite clear that she would only support Labour leader Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and under no circumstances the Conservatives even if current PM David Cameron offered her a another referendum on Scottish independence – which he wouldn’t anyway. History shows that unless a minor party is prepared to back either party they don’t get much out of the big party in deal negotiations

The first example is from the 1970s. As I mentioned before the Labour party had won the October 1974 election with a majority of 3 seats. By 1977 by election defeats and defections had wiped out that tiny majority and Labour were in a minority. In March 1977 Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher tabled a no confidence motion in the government. If she won it meant a General Election would be held – and as Thatcher was 13 per cent ahead in the polls it would have been a disaster for Labour. The 11 SNP MPs would not back Labour nor the 10 Ulster Unionists. Labour looked doomed.

But luckily for Labour another party was in trouble. The previous summer Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe had resigned over allegations of a homosexual affair** and the party had not recovered. Prime Minister James Callaghan’s policy advisor Bernard Donoughue called the 13 Liberal MPs “hysterical” and polls suggested that an election would mean only 5 held their seats (Dominic Sandbrook “Seasons in the Sun : The Battle for Britain 1974-79” page 647). So as neither Labour or the Liberals wanted an election in 1977 the two parties got talking and agreed the “Lib-Lab Pact” where the Liberals would agree to support Callaghan’s government thus thwarting Thatcher’s no confidence motion as the 13 Liberal MPs gave Callaghan a majority.

And what did the Liberals gain in return? Not much. Labour “accepted a limited number of Liberal party proposals” and…that is it. They didn’t even get proportional representation (PR) for the 1979 European Parliament elections. Labour offered them a “free vote”  on the issue (where MPs are allowed to make their own minds up rather than have to do what the party tells them to). But as most Labour MPs in the 1970s were against PR  anyway it made no difference and PR was defeated.

The reason the Liberals couldn’t demand more is that they could only support Labour. The alternative was a General Election  that they did not want. So they had little bargaining power over Labour in negotiations. The similarity with the SNP today is striking.

In contrast in 2010 when the Lib Dems held the balance of power after that election  they made it quite clear that they were prepared to deal with Labour or the Conservatives. So when Labour offered them a referendum on electoral reform the Conservatives had to follow suit otherwise the Lib Dems could have formed a coalition with Labour instead. They formed a coalition with the Conservatives and in 2011 the referendum on electoral reform was lost. But had before the election they said they were only prepared to work with one party the referendum would not have happened in the first place.

Another analogy is from the Simpsons of all things. In the episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (8F09) Mr Burns sells the nuclear power plant to a couple of Germans but then changes his mind and wants to buy it back. He goes on his knees and says “Please sell me my plant back. I’ll pay anything”. But the Germans – who want to sell the plant – make the mistake of telling Burns they are desperate to sell. Burns then gets off his knees and says “Desperate eh? Advantage: Burns” and proceeds to make them an offer of half what they paid for it.The Germans are not happy but as they are desperate to sell and that is his final offer – and no one else has bid for the plant – they have no choice to accept (a consequence of this is that Homer – who the Germans fired – got his job back).

So on May 8th if the SNP hold the balance Ed Miliband has to act like Mr Burns. Yes he is desperate to get to 10 Downing Street –  but the SNP are desperate to get David Cameron out so it is “advantage Miliband.” He need offer the SNP nothing since they will want neither Cameron to stay PM or a second election which they would get the odium for causing and could put their newly elected MPs at risk. So Miliband needs to do nothing . Just sit back and wait for the SNP to take him to Downing Street. For they have no other choice.

*Plaid Cyrmu had 3 MPs in the last Parliament. Polls suggest they will have 3 MPs again after this election.

**Homosexuality was far less tolerated in 1970s Britain than it is now.

 

If Clegg goes Cameron could go with him

One interesting feature of UK General Elections is that even the most famous politicians in the UK have to get re elected in their own constituencies. David Cameron for example is not the Prime Minister – he is the humble Conservative candidate for Witney. Likewise the man who wants to replace him as Prime Minister – Labour leader Ed Miliband – is just the Labour candidate for Doncaster North. And if either lose their seat they cannot be Prime Minister as you have to be an MP to be Prime Minister. Now I should say that Witney and Doncaster North are safe seats for their parties and the chances of either man losing are nil.

However famous names can and do lose at elections. One example was Patrick Gordon Walker who lost Smethwick (see previous post) in the 1964 election which eventually cost him the job of Foreign Secretary. But the most famous slaughter of big names came in Labour’s 1997 landslide where 7 out of 22 MPs who were in the Conservative Cabinet lost their seats including the most infamous defeat in UK politics.

In 1997 Michael Portillo was the most hated politician in the country – called a “bastard” by his own party’s Prime Minister John Major. And Labour hated him too!   Still he was defending a majority of over 15,000 in Enfield Southgate so he was expected to win – and then become leader of his party after their election defeat. But  Labour took Southgate on a huge swing of 17.4 % (the UK swing to Labour in 1997 was 10 %). It was such a memorable event it became known as the “Portillo Moment*” and briefly coined a UK catchphrase “Were you up for Portillo**?” But that result only affected the leadership of the Conservative Party – not the result of the election. There is just the possibility of a “Portillo Moment” in this year’s election – and this could decide who goes to Number 10 Downing Street on May 8th.

The man in question is the leader of the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems for short) and the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Like Portillo he is defending a majority of over 15,000 in his seat – Sheffield Hallam. Like Portillo he should be safe. But like Portillo he is hated in the UK. This is partly because a lot of Lib Dems hate the Conservatives and didn’t want the party to go into coalition with them. But his real mistake was to say during the 2010 campaign that he would oppose an increase in tuition fees for students in England and Wales – and then he voted for an increase once he was in government. As the Lib Dems had campaigned for the student vote in 2010 on the issue of not raising them they felt betrayed. I don’t think many students will vote for the party this time. And unfortunately for Clegg his constituency includes Sheffield Hallam university! A poll earlier this year in the seat suggested he was behind Labour and just ahead of the Conservatives. He might even finish third.

But this matters more than just wither or not Clegg holds the seat. If Clegg does lose the seat it could cost his boss David Cameron his job of Prime Minister. This is because it looks like no one party will get a majority and who becomes Prime Minister will depend on who can do deals with smaller parties. Most people think that the current  coalition was built on the chemistry between Clegg and Cameron. As I wrote above the majority of the Lib Dems are hostile to the Conservatives and a new leader – which the party would need if Clegg loses – is likely to want to either deal with Labour or go back into opposition.

This could cause real trouble for David Cameron. if the Lib Dems won’t deal with him who will? A look at the other parties who had MPs in the last Parliament is not encouraging for him.

Scottish National Party (SNP) – had 6 MPs in the last parliament. Their constitution bans deals with the Conservatives.

Plaid Cyrmu – 3 MPs – won’t back a Conservative government that the people of Wales reject. The Conservatives have never won a general election in Wales

United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – 2 MPs –  might go with the Conservatives but would take Cameron to the right where he does not want to go. Also unlikely to win many seats and might lose the two they have.

Green Party – 1 MP – Caroline Lucas who said in 2010 she would not vote for a Conservative government. One suspects if the party wins more seats those MPs would agree with their former leader.

Respect – 1 MP – George Galloway who got kicked out of Labour for opposing the Iraq war. There is no way he would back the Conservatives.

Then there are the Northern Ireland parties:

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – 8 MPs – Cameron’s best hope. But they would want rid of the bedroom tax and more spending for Northern Ireland which Cameron would oppose.

Sinn Fein  – 5 MPs – who don’t take their seats so can be discounted. Wouldn’t deal with the Conservatives anyway.

Social Democratic and Labour Party – 3MPs – A sister party of Labour. Enough said

Alliance Party – 1 MP – A sister party of the Lib Dems but the MP – Naomi Long – did not back the coalition or take the Lib Dem whip.

It is clear form the list above that the parties outside the “big three” are more likely to back Labour than the Conservatives. That means Cameron’s only hope of remaining Prime Minister is to do a “Coalition version 2” with the Lib Dems. But if Clegg is defeated the chances of that happening are at best greatly reduced and at worse gone. With this in mind of the 650 seats in this election Sheffield Hallam is the most important. It could on its own decide David Cameron’s fate. It could very well be that if Nick Clegg loses his seat that David Cameron’s chance of remaining at 10  Downing Street go with him.

* There is even a UK band called The Portillo Moment.

**This means were you awake/did you see Portillo’s defeat live on TV? The result was declared at 3.01am and the result of the election was already known so a lot of viewers would have gone to bed. If you are interested I was up for Portillo.

Here’s to you Jackie Robinson

Today’s post is about one of my heroes – even though he died before I was born. He is Jackie Robinson who in 1947 became the first black player to play in modern Major League Baseball (MLB) breaking the sport’s colour barrier.

I say “modern” quite deliberately as the ban on blacks – which lasted for 60 years – is an example of what I call an “invented tradition”. For blacks and whites had played together in the 19th century. Some say the ban came about when Cap Anson shouted “Get that nigger* off the field!” at black pitcher George Storey and refused to accept his pitch and that he was so powerful (like W G Grace in cricket at the same time) that if he didn’t want a black man pitching to him a black man didn’t pitch to him. Wither or not that is true the ban begun.

Except it wasn’t  really a ban because unlike say women playing football with men today there was no law either in the US or baseball itself that forbade integrated sport. It was more a gentlemen’s agreement backed up by threats not to play against any franchise that broke ranks. So the blacks had to from their own Leagues –  the Negro Leagues – so they could play.

It would be nice to say Robinson was signed out of morality by Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey but the cynic in me thinks it was because attendances in the white game were going through the floor. His franchise was down to 5,000 and even Boston was down to 4,000. In sport then as now it’s all about the Green as an American would say.

Two aspects of Robinson’s signing were interesting. The first is that some people thought Rickey was an opportunist thief who was stealing black players from their real owners. This was plainly nonsense as black players belonged in the Majors (Storey won 30 games the year before the Anson incident mentioned above) Secondly most people agree that Robinson was not the best black player in baseball at the time of his signing. Most people thought Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige or Monte Irwin were more worthy of the honour. But sport – and never more so than when one is breaking down a taboo – is not just about ability. Temperament and the ability to perform under pressure are also important. And Robinson was under pressure like no man before or since.

Imagine you are Jackie Robinson. You MUST play well otherwise racists will say your failure to do so proves that blacks are inferior. You are going to get racist remarks and taunts thrown at you. You will have players spiking you as they slide into base or deliberately shove you as they run on to the next base. You have to sit in a blacks only section of a bus depot. You have the manager of the Triple A team you are sent to in order to prepare for the Majors ask for you to be sent to any other Dodger affiliate (quite rightly Rickey refused). And you have to turn the other cheek. For if you get in a fight the experiment is over. (In passing imagine if Robinson had broken the colour bar in 2015 not 1947. Think of the abuse he would have got on Twitter).

Robinson did not get involved in a fight. He played well. His average in 1947 was  .297  and he was Rookie of the Year.  His career average was .311 and he had 137 home runs and 734 RBIs  He helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955. But the key was that he was a success. And when the  pioneer succeeds the rest follow and great players like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays got their chance.Ironically the Negro Leagues who had their best talent “creamed off” by MLB eventually folded. They shouldn’t have been needed – but if they hadn’t existed where would Robinson and the other black players have developed their skills?

There is another reason for baseball to be proud of Jackie Robinson. Because when MLB became integrated in 1947 it was ahead of American society. For in 1947 “Jim Crow” laws which enforced racial segregation were still in force. It was not until 1954 that the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case ruled that racially segregated schools were ruled to be unconstitutional.It wasn’t until 1955 that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white as the law said she should And it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed that US law caught up with baseball. A contrast by the way to sport’s woeful record on gender equality where it lags behind society.

And baseball is proud of Jackie Robinson. In 1997 his number 42 was retired by MLB**. No player can wear it except on April 15th which is “Jackie Robinson Day” in the Majors and every player in MLB wears it. Some idiot on ESPN said last year that Jackie Robinson Day shouldn’t be held very year but that is plainly tripe. After all Martin Luther King Day is celebrated every year and he is society’s equivalent to Robinson. in fact I think MLB should make sure all 30 franchises play on April 15th – weather permitting of course! – regardless of what day it falls on in the same way that the Reds always open the season at home.

Tomorrow when I watch baseball and see a great feat by a black player I will remember Jackie Robinson as but for his bravery under pressure the feat might not have happened. He is sport’s Nelson Mandela. Truly a hero.

*That is two posts in a row the word “nigger” has appeared. I don’t intend to make a habit of it.

**Any player that wore 42 at the time the number was retired was allowed to carry on wearing it until he retired. Fittingly the last player to wear 42 on an every day basis was Mariano Rivera –  a great black player in his own right.

Football is stuck in a racist 1960s timewarp

The current UK General Election has similarities with that of 1964 – an unpopular Old Etonian Prime Minister against an opposition people don’t trust (in 1964 the party today the opposition leader) . One difference is that in 1964 the “big two” UK parties – Conservative and Labour – won all but 9 of the 630 seats so although the result was close – Labour won 13 seats more than the Conservatives – we still had single party majority government as Labour had a majority of 4 – if the gap between the two parties is the same on May 8th a hung parliament with no overall majority is a dead cert as other parties will easily win more than 13 seats.

One big difference is that there will be no seat where race will be an issue. In 1964 there was. Although Labour won the election the Conservatives gained four seats against the tide. Two of them – the very marginal Eton and Slough and Perry Bar – might have been because of racism but the Conservatives in those seats did not make an issue of race. But shamefully in one seat they did: Smethwick.

Smethwick is a town in the Midlands which in 1964 had seen an influx of non-white immigrants. Racists stirred up trouble by using the slogan “if you want a nigger neighbour vote Labour*” The Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths denied using the slogan but shamefully did not condemn those who did.  But the campaign had an effect. Griffiths gained the seat from Labour on a swing to the Conservatives of 7.2% (for a comparison the Great Britain swing to Labour was 3.2%). To give an idea of how strongly people felt about this result here are two reactions from the BBC TV coverage of the 1964 results – both given just after the Smethwick result was announced.

Ian Trethowan said :”Well this is the fateful single result of this election. A Conservative gain which in their hearts maybe one they preferred not to get because they must have got it through the white backlash”.

David Butler added : “The Conservative candidate fought a very lone wolf campaign there rather shunned by his own party.. and on a largely racial platform completely defied the national trend”.

Even former Conservative MP Lord Boothby called the result – a gain for his own party remember – “disgraceful”. And new Prime Minister Harold Wilson said of Griffiths:  “He is a parliamentary leper”

After the result Smethwick got nasty. Old women were saying on TV “send them all back on the next banana boat”. Smethwick’s Conservative council suggested renting council houses in Marshall Street only to white people and the US  Black Power leader Malcolm X visited Smethwick in February 1965 claiming that black people in Smethwick were being treated like the Jews under Hitler. Black families had petrol bombs put through their doors.

And then suddenly Smethwick came to its senses. In February 1966 the Conservative council that had proposed bringing apartheid to the streets of the UK was voted out of office. The next month – because Labour only had a majority of 2 – Prime Minister Wilson called a snap general election. On March 31st 1966 Labour regained Smethwick. Griffiths and his racist policies were swept into oblivion. Smethwick is now part of the Warley constituency has had a Labour MP since 1945 (apart from the shameful 1964-66 Griffiths episode) and no one will take notice of it as it is a certain Labour hold at this year’s election.

But there is one part of society that is stuck in a 1960s racist time warp. It won’t surprise any one to know it is football. Last month FA chairman Greg Dyke produced a plan suggesting clubs should field a certain number of “home grown”(ie English players). He is blaming foreigners for English football’s problems. Griffiths blamed foreigners for Smethwick’s problems in 1964.The sad part is that Dyke – a former Director-general of the BBC – was a supporter of Tony Blair and thus one presumes of Labour’s non racist immigration policy. So a decent man has been brainwashed by racists into supporting their point of view (as were Smethwick’s usually Labour supporting voters).

What should be done? Anybody who supports home grown quotas in football should be banned from football for life. Five former England managers came out in support of the plan. All should be banned for life. So should former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi who came up with this horrid remark – football’s equivalent to “if you want a nigger for a neighbour…” He said:

“While watching the Viareggio (youth) tournament it seemed to me there were too many black players”.

Peter Griffiths would have approved. Shameful. And remember Athletic Bilbao who refuse to sign non Basques  – in effect they won’t sign black players. Peter Griffiths would have approved.

The UK – and European – governments should insist that football clubs should be forced to select players only on merit. Nationality colour (and indeed  gender) should not be an issue. Any club which refuses to do this should be thrown out of football – good bye and good riddance Athletic Bilbao – and any player official and manager who disagreed should be arrested and thrown into prison.

The sad fact is that if Peter Griffiths was still alive – he died in 2013 – he would find much to approve of in the attitude of people in football to foreigners. That is shameful. And must change.

*I’m only mentioning that slogan to show how nasty the Smethwick campaign was. I know it is offensive. I feel the same way.