Category Archives: UK Politics

The Labour leadership race is now a shambles

You wouldn’t think it is possible but the UK Labour Party is now in an even bigger mess than it was on May 8th – the day after their shock election defeat and the resignation of Ed Miliband. The leadership election is now a total shambles with one MP saying it should be postponed – even though the result is not due to be known until September 12th and ballot papers have not even been sent out yet. How did Labour get into this state?

First lesson is never nominate a “joke” candidate. When veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn  announced his intention to run he was treated as a joke. After all apart from anything else he surely wouldn’t get the 35 MP nominations (out of 232) needed to be able to stand. But some Labour MPs (in order to “have a debate”) nominated him with no intention of voting for him – since after all he was a “joke” candidate with no chance of winning against “serious” candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. But – for all the fact that Corbyn like Michael Foot in the 1980s would be totally unelectable – at least you know what you’re getting with him. No one seems to know what the other three stand for. And so like the episode of “The Simpsons” where a radio station offers an elephant as a joke prize thinking no one will want it – and then Bart Simpson comes along and wants the elephant (which the station doesn’t have) Corbyn mania is seeping the Labour Party with one poll putting him ahead. The Labour establishment – including some MPs who nominated him! – are now in full “stop Corbyn” mode and are even claiming the party is being infiltrated by militants and communists who are joining the party in order to vote for Corbyn.

This may or may not be true. But if it is Labour has only itself to blame. So desperate are they for new members anybody can join Labour for just £3 – and if they do they get a vote in the leadership election (it is Labour members who vote for the leader). The Conservative supporting Daily Telegraph has encouraged its readers to join Labour  so they can vote for Corbyn who they think is unelectable. It has become such a farce that at the weekend Labour MP John Mann actually called for the contest to be delayed in order to vet new members. What Labour should have done of course is insist that only people who were members on May 8th – the day Miliband resigned and the election was triggered – were eligible to vote.

And that is Labour’s other problem. The election has gone on for far too long. It started on May 8th. It is not until August 12th that the deadline for new members comes, not until August 14th that ballot papers are sent out and not until September 12th that the result will be announced. Four months! This has left Labour totally rudderless in the Commons under a caretaker leader Harriet Harman who both she and the MPs know will be out in September. This means she has no authority. While the decision to abstain on welfare reform was wrong – you are either for something or against it – she didn’t have the authority to control her MPs – 48  of whom rebelled against her line. One suspects a leader who wasn’t a caretaker would be more able to control their backbenchers. Also as this means Labour are more concerned  with their leadership election it means the Conservative Government is getting a far easier ride in Parliament than its small majority of 11 suggests it should.

In contrast the Liberal Democrats – also in shell shock after the election and whose leader Nick Clegg resigned on the same day as Miliband – have already held their leadership election and have a new leader in post. Namely Tim Farron who was elected on July 16th. Nearly two months before Labour will have theirs elected! In fact for a party who had their MP tally reduced from 57 to 8 in May the Lib Dems are in quite good health. Party membership has gone up and their ghastly poll ratings have improved from 8% to 10%. Not much it is true but baby steps…. The Lib Dems amazingly are in a healthier state than Labour.

I don’t think Corbyn will be Labour’s next leader. The election is held on the “alternative vote” method which means if the top candidate gets less than 50% the second preferences of the bottom candidate are taken into account. So even if Corbyn is top on first preferences I can’t see many of the other three candidates supporters giving their second preference to him. And Labour surely can’t make the mistake that they did with Michael Foot in 1980 or the Conservatives did with William Hague in 1997.In the UK elections are won from the centre ground. A party that deserts the centre gets hammered. A lesson that both Foot’s Labour Party (1983) and Hague’s Conservative Party (2001) learned the hard way.

The problem is a party’s members are generally more extreme – or certainly have stronger beliefs – than the rest of the country’s more apathetic electorate (that is why they join a party in the first place) So what they want is not necessarily what a party needs to get elected. The Conservative membership after 2001 swung even further to the right with Iain Duncan Smith. That choice was a disaster but very luckily the party’s MPs overthrew him in 2003. If he had led the party in a general election I reckon they would have suffered such a devastating defeat they would not have recovered even now.

And that is what Labour members must realise. If they elect Corbyn the country will not vote for it and I suspect Labour MPs – the majority of whom will not have voted for him – will either defect to another party or – like what happened to Duncan Smith –  bring him down. Before the May election the talk was of a defeated Conservative Party splitting with the right wing defecting to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). It would be ironic indeed if the party to split would be Labour. But Labour members must decide. Do we want to be in power or just be an impotent protest group? Should be an easy answer…

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A memo to the UK FAs : Please let these women go to Rio

So England’s women gave Norway “a hell of a beating”. Well they didn’t really. They were poor in the first half and relied on their keeper Karen Bardsley to bail them out. But once captain Steph Houghton scored an unexpected equaliser England took control and the winning goal by Lucy Bronze (a defender by the way) was magnificent and would not have been disowned by a Premier League player. So onwards and upwards and with the unimpressive hosts Canada in wait there is a 50-50 chance this story continues past Saturday.

But there is a cloud on the horizon. As I wrote in another post the top three European finishers in this event go to the Olympics in Rio next year. There are four European teams left in the event.  England France and Germany are already in the Quarter Finals and Holland play defending champions Japan tonight – and are expected to lose. If they do there will be three European teams left and the issue of Olympic qualification will be sorted out.

Except it won’t be. Because England can’t take part. FIFA have given the other three UK FAs – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a veto over the women’s participation in the Olympics. And guess what? They have vetoed it. This is absolutely shameful.

Now the reason the three FAs have given for this is that they are scared that if the England women took part in the Olympics as Team GB they would lose their independent voice in FIFA and lose their own football teams. That is the reason they give But it is false. FIFA have said there is no threat – and male and female GB teams took part in the 2012 Olympics and the four UK teams are still there. I don’t think there is any reason to fear that one.

They are not scared of losing their separate national teams. What they are scared of is losing their privileges. The five star hotels. The luxury flights. The right to travel around the world. The right to have a veto over the laws of football (the four UK FAs have four votes out of eight on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which controls the laws of football). The right of the UK to provide one of FIFA’s vice Presidents. That is what they are scared of.

The funny thing is that these three FAs claim to support women’s football. Tripe. Utter tripe. If these idiots cared about women’s football they will recognise that the Olympics are vital to women’s football. The last Olympics (with its 73,000 gate for GB V Brazil and its 80,000 gate for the Final) proved this. Any FA that cared about women’s football should snatch at the chance that last night’s victory might have given England.

The UK Government should intervene. If the English FA won’t “go it alone” and ignore the other three then all male professional football in England should be shut down from August 1st. It is easy enough done. All male football grounds in England need a licence to be able to stage matches. it would be easy to take the licences away. Faced with a catastrophic loss of income and pressure from the big English clubs  the FA would buckle – and very quickly.

If Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland don’t agree Swansea should be thrown out of the English Premier League. Wales should not be allowed to be British when it suits them and Welsh when it does not. I admire Swansea but they have to be sacrificed for the greater good. The Welsh have their own League. If they don’t want to have a GB women’s team they should not be taking part in the Premier League.

Also Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland should be pulled out of the men’s Euro 2016. Easy enough done. All you need to do is take the passports of the players away so they can’t go abroad. All three have a chance of being at Euro 2016. I reckon even the threat of them not being able to take part will make the three FAs back down.

These plans are draconian – but would not be needed. I suspect even the threat would force “the three dinosaurs” to back down. The reason they give for not letting the women go to the Olympics is fear of the loss of privileges. If you threaten them with just that they will back down.

Last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Tracey Crouch – a former player now a coach – as Sports Minister. She clearly cares about women’s football. Now is her chance to put her money where her mouth is. She should say that England’s women MUST go to the Olympics next year. She should persuade. She should threaten. She should bang heads together. She should NOT take no for an answer. For the good of women’s football in the UK do it Tracey. These women (assuming Holland don’t upset the applecart and beat Japan) have EARNED the right to take part in the Olympics. The outdated, sexist, parochial and pathetic Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish FAs should NOT be allowed to take that away from them. if they do, their men should have Euro 2016 taken away from them. See how they like something that means a lot to them being taken away …

Some thoughts on the 2015 election

Well no one expected that result did they? Every poll in the UK General Election predicted a hung parliament. As it turned out we got a single party majority – albeit a small one of 11 for the Conservative Party – even more astonishing as it is only the second time the party of the incumbent Prime Minister has increased its number of seats after a full term in office since 1959 (also 1983). So what happens next? Here are some issues and questions that came out of the election.

1. Will the Conservatives behave themselves? The last two Governments with small majorities (1974-79 and 1992-97) ran into problems with rebellions from their own MPs and lost their majorities to by election defeats and defections. The 1992-97 Major government (the last majority Conservative government) was a shambles with the Tory right holding Major to ransom. Will they have learnt their lesson? The funny thing is Cameron’s majority is now smaller (10) than the one the previous coalition had (76). Will it last the full five years?

2. Labour are in a horrid dilemma. Iain MacWhirter in his book “Road to Referendum” said that “Scotland thinks likes Denmark and England thinks like the USA”. Labour lost in England because they were perceived as being too left wing whereas in Scotland they lost because they weren’t left wing enough. Whoever succeeds Ed Miliband has almost an impossible circle to square.

3. The union is in danger again. How on earth can you force Denmark (Scotland) to accept the USA (England’s) policies? You can’t. You also can’t force England to accept Scotland’s policies. I suspect it was the SNP threatening to force a Labour government on a Conservative voting England that drove enough English voters into the arms of the Conservatives to give them a majority. The only solution is either Boris Johnson’s idea of federalism or give the Scottish Parliament a veto on Conservative laws. If Cameron forces austerity on Scotland there will be a second independence referendum – and very soon.

4. Coalitions have no future in the UK. The decimation of the Liberal Democrats – down to 8 MPs compared to 57 – proves that the British people do not want coalitions. Coalitions mean broken promises and the UK people hate politicians who break their promises  but if you are in a coalition you have to break your promises. Disraeli said that “England does not love coalitions”  and what happened to the Lib Dems proves that. A consequence of the Lib Dem massacre is that no small party in the future will join a coalition because they now know they will get decimated.

5. UKIP could fade away. Nigel Farage failed to win Thanet South and promptly resigned*. The problem for UKIP is they are going to get what they want – an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). If the UK votes to pull out of the EU UKIP have got what they wanted and I suspect the party will split as that is the only issue UKIP members have in common. If the UK votes to stay in the EU they might get the membership boost the SNP got after the Scottish referendum but I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprisesd if UKIP don’t exist in 2020 with their one MP Douglas Carswell – a maverick – standing in (and probably winning) Clacton as an independent.

6. But the Green Party won’t. The Green Party trebled their vote despite having an unimpressive leader in Natalie Bennett. if she has the sense to resign and make way for their one MP Caroline Lucas – whose Brighton Pavilion seat is now safe with a majority of over 7,000 – they could well get the anti establishment anti Tory vote. With the Lib Dems in meltdown and UKIP without the charismatic Farage the opportunity for the Greens is great as their environmental message could appeal to both fed up Conservative and Labour voters (for example current Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith used to be editor of the Ecologist magazine). I wouldn’t be surprised if during this parliament the greens go up in the polls and that Lucas might gain a colleague in parliament as they could win safe Conservative seats in by elections (as the Lib Dems used to do)

One thing is certain. The next five years will be crucial for the UK. The future of the UK in Europe – plus the future of the UK itself – could very well be decided during this period. It could be the most crucial Parliament the UK has seen since the October 1974-79 one – the last parliament  both with a European referendum and a single party majority smaller than this one (3). By 2020 the UK could out of the EU. It might even cease to exist. Once the euphoria of his win has died down David Cameron has a series of huge tasks.

*Events have overtook me. Nigel Farage is still leader of UKIP after the party turned down his resignation.

So what on earth will happen on May 7th?

As anyone who reads me will know I quite like making predictions. Some good (the 2014 World Series and the cricket World Cup for example) and some bad (too many to mention). But today I’m attempting my hardest task. To call Thursday’s UK General Election which is the most unpredictable since 1974.

I wasn’t even sure how to do it. I thought of predicting all 650 seats in the UK but most of them are safe (ie one party is a certainty to win) so it would have been boring to read – and boring to write. I thought of just predicting the marginal (the UK equivalent of “swing states” in the US) seats. Sky News has even produced a list of marginals for its “In The Margins” series but not all the 150 seats in that list are marginal. For some reason best known to Sky the list includes safe seats like Aylesbury (Conservative majority 12,648) but not Keighley (Conservative majority 2,940) a seat that has changed sides seven times since 1959. So Sky’s list is flawed.

What I decided to do is do a prediction range for each party – predicting the minimum and maximum number of seats I think each party will win. The range is actually very narrow. Since the war the conservatives have never fallen below 165 and Labour have never fallen below 209. But before I make the predictions for those who don’t know UK politics (or don’t remember) the 2010 election produced the following result:

Conservative 306 seats, Labour 258, Liberal Democrats 57, Scottish National Party (SNP) 6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, Green Party 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18* (the UK parties don’t stand there) I should also say a party needs 326 seats** for a majority.

So here is the prediction and I’ll start with the two main parties:

Conservative: 275-295 (that means in my opinion they won’t win less than 275 or more than 295)

Labour: 280-300

As you can see that means it is not certain who will be the biggest party but I would give the edge to Labour because the UK constituency boundaries favour Labour as their seats are in cities thus smaller than the Conservatives and need less votes to win them. It is possible (like February 1974) that Labour will get more seats than the Conservatives but less votes. All the polls suggest a swing to Labour of 2-4 per cent which means Labour should gain seats from the Conservatives as most Con-Lab seats go with the swing. Only 32 Con-Lab seats went against the swing in 2010. I do think the Conservatives might gain a couple from Labour against the swing – Hampstead and Kilburn (majority 42) and Southampton Itchen (majority 192) are two possibilities. But it is clear Labour will make gains from the Conservatives.

But this election isn’t as simple as that. The result will be decided by what happens to the small parties – the Lib Dems , SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cyrmu  and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). And they are very hard to predict. But I’ll try.

Lib Dems: 20-30. It shows how ghastly the Lib Dem poll ratings are (down from 23% in 2010 to 10% if they are lucky) that some people will be amazed that I think they won’t fall below 20 and might get 30. But the Lib Dems are hard to “dig out” of a seat – especially if they have a sitting MP. They will struggle in three scenarios. Where a sitting MP is retiring (ie Berwick upon Tweed) where there is a large student population – like party leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat – and in Scotland which has not forgiven them  for joining with the Conservatives in coalition after 2010. So I reckon they will hold seats they should lose like Wells (majority 800) which is not a university seat and where the MP was first elected in 2010 but lose safer seats like Bristol West (majority 11,366) which has the university in it. It will be bad for the Lib Dems – but not as bad as people fear.

SNP: 20-30: This goes against the polls that think the SNP could win 50 seats or even all 59 in Scotland but I doubt that. There are signs of a backlash against the SNP with unionists thinking of voting for the party best placed to beat them in different seats. Plus the fact that in most Scottish seats the SNP are a  long way behind (for example the closest Labour-SNP seat is Ochil and Perthshire South (majority 5,197) and it would not take much of a “switch back” to save quite a lot of seats) The SNP will make gains. But I’ll be surprised if they get more than 30 seats.

UKIP: 1-5. I wrote about UKIP back in October  and nothing has happened to make me change my opinion they will get votes but not many seats. Douglas Carswell their first MP will hold Clacton but that might be all they get. Their other MP Mark Reckless could lose his Rochester seat back to the Conservatives and party leader Nigel Farage is a toss up to win Thanet South. Polls say they could win Thurrock, Castle Point (their best bet) Cambourne and Redruth, Great Grimsby and maybe even Rotherham but I’ll be surprised if they win more than 3 and they won’t win more than 5.

Plaid Cymru 2-4. Could gain Ynys Mon (Anglesey in English –  majority 2,461 ) from Labour or lose Arfon (majority 1,455) to them but I reckon they will hold their three seats and gain none.

Green Party: 1-2. Fairly easy to predict. Former leader Caroline Lucas has been a good MP and should hold Brighton Pavillion. They are targeting two Lib Dem seats – Norwich South and Bristol West. They might gain the Norwich  seat which needs a 7.3% swing to go but won’t gain the Bristol one.

Respect: 1-2. Didn’t win a seat in 2010 but gained Bradford West – with George Galloway the MP – in a 2012 by election. Galloway should hold it and they have a slim chance of gaining Birmingham Hall Green (majority 3,799) from Labour.

As you can see my prediction (as almost everybody’s is) is for another hung parliament. But this time I don’t think we will get a coalition but a minority government (that is where one party rules but other party/parties agree not to bring the government down). And since most MPs outside of the big three are more pro Labour (as I wrote before) it is possible that Labour leader Ed Miliband could form a government even if Prime Minister David Cameron has the biggest single party. In that scenario I reckon (like 1974) there will be another election before this year is out (October?) as Labour try to become at least the biggest party and gain legitimacy. In that situation I think the SNP, Greens and UKIP would all lose votes and Labour might even get  a majority.

One thing is certain. it will be a tense nervous night and it could very well be a case as in 2010 of “A  long Night with no winner” (as the “British General Election of 2010” put it)

*Four seats changed hands in by elections between 2010 and 2015 so the current total is Conservative 303 seats, Labour 258, Lib Dem 57, SNP  6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, UKIP 2, Green Party 1,Respect 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18
**But as Sinn Fein’s 5 MPs don’t turn up in practice the number of seats needed for a majority is 323.

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.

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.