Tag Archives: Nick Clegg

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.
Advertisements

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.

Should there be UK Election TV debates?

Today is a big milestone in the UK political calendar. There are 100 days of campaigning left before the country goes to the polls on May 7th in what is looking like the most unpredictable UK election since 1974. There are many questions to be answered including Will there be leader’s debates on TV? And if so who’ll take part?
Unlike in the US, leaders debates did not occur in the UK until the last election in 2010 where there were three debates – on ITV, Sky News and the BBC – between then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The debates attracted TV audiences of 9.3 million (ITV), 4.1 million (Sky News) and 8.1 million (BBC) (Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley, the British General Election of 2010, page 266) and according to the same book (page 267) “The prevailing view among broadcasters and politicians…was that the debates had been a success and that they had come to stay”. So why with 100 days of the campaign left are the debates not a certainty to happen again? And would that be a good or a bad thing?
The event that has caused the problem has been the rise of a fourth party in UK politics, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Since 2013 there have been seven by-elections in Great Britain. UKIP has won two, come second by less then 5% in two, and second in the other three. They also won last years European Parliament elections in the UK. The broadcasters (the three that covered the 2010 debates plus Channel 4) responded to the rise of UKIP by proposing a “4-3-2” plan. One debate would have four participants – the 2010 trio plus UKIP leader Nigel Farage – one would have the same participants as 2010 and the third would be a US style two headed debate between Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
And then the problems started. The Green Party (who have one MP – who unlike UKIP’s two MPs* – won her seat at the 2010 Election as a Green) felt that if UKIP were in a debate, their leader Natalie Bennett should be too. And enter in a bizarre alliance, David Cameron, who said he would not take part in the debates unless the Greens were there. (I should explain that the reason we didn’t have debates in the UK pre 2010 is that the Prime Minister of the day always turned them down. We only got debates in 2010 because Gordon Brown was so far behind in the polls he felt he had nothing to lose.) So it looked like the debates were off.
So the broadcasters got their thinking caps on – and came up with a “7-7-2” plan. Two of the debates would include SEVEN parties – the four already in plus the Greens, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru – the latter two also wanting in despite the fact they are regional not national parties – while the third would be a Cameron v Miliband head to head. However, this plan is causing trouble too. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to take part in all three debates and other parties want in – among them the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall) the Cornish Nationalists also want in – even though they only stand in six seats out of 650 – and even more ridiculously the Monster Raving Loony Party want to take part. The debates are disintegrating into a shambles. The broadcasters – showing breath taking arrogance – are bullying parties into taking part saying if any party does not turn up the debates will go ahead with the absentee party represented by an empty chair. But should the debates take place? In my opinion no.
First of all five parties might be too many. Seven would be. As the British General Election of 2010 (page 265) put it “The debate format had its limitations. Chiefly arising from tackling eight or more substantial topics in under 90 minutes”. And that was with three participants. Imagine the chaos with seven politicians trying to get a word in. Also a debate works best with just two participants – which is why they work in US Presidential elections and also where there is a “Yes or No” choice like last year’s Scottish independence referendum. They are not suitable for the multi party democracy the UK has been since at least 1974.
However my third reason is most important. I was never for the debates and the events of 2010 proved that. They had the effect of totally overshadowing the rest of the campaign. More seriously they turned politics into a game show – the equivalent of reality TV shows like the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. But politics is too important for that. Being good on TV should not be the most important quality for a Prime Minister. And it isn’t. Being good on TV won’t help a Prime Minister when it comes to making the most important decision he/she has to make: Should I send my country’s troops into war? Two of the UK’s last three Prime Ministers -Tony Blair and Cameron – got this wrong, although in Cameron’s case he was rescued by Parliament refusing to back his plan to attack Syria.
The other point is that the UK does NOThave a Presidential system. On May 7th we are electing a Government for the next five years – not a Prime Minister. And the debates in 2010 had the effect of giving more publicity to party leaders who are over exposed anyway.
I hope the parties don’t succumb to the broadcasters’ bullying and the debates don’t happen. For those who use the US as an example, the first presidential debates in the US were between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. They did not happen again until Ford debated Carter in 1976. There is no reason whatsoever why they have to become a regular event here. Remember the broadcasters only care about ratings. We have imported a lot of things from the US. But not everything that works in the US is suitable for the UK. TV debates are one of the things that aren’t.
*UKIP’s two MPs were elected in 2010 as Conservatives. Last year they defected to UKIP, resigning their seats to fight them under their new party’s colours. Both retained their seats.

Scotland votes “No”. What should happen next?

So Scotland voted “No” after all. And as I thought would happen all along by a bigger margin than the polls were suggesting – by 55% to 45%(I should at this point congratulate Peter Kellner and his polling company You Gov who after the polls closed but before the result, predicted a 54 to 46 margin which was almost spot on). Alex Salmond has resigned. David Cameron, Ed Miliband Nick Clegg and the UK Queen are sleeping a lot easier. But what happens next?
One thing is clear. Whatever happens now the Westminster establishment MUST deliver the extra powers for Scotland that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised during the campaign. In 1979 during another Scottish referendum, another former UK PM – Sir Alec Douglas-Home – promised if the Scots rejected Labour’s devolution proposals and the Tories won that year’s General Election the Scots would get better devolution – which although both events happened – never materialised. If the UK establishment don’t keep their word this time the union could be in deep trouble and we could end up like Quebec doing this all over again in 15 years time – which no one outside the SNP wants.
However they shouldn’t be in this position as they should never have made these promises in the first place. They were made in a blind sate of panic over one poll on September 6th which put “Yes” 2% up (the only poll that did so). And personally I don’t think the Scottish Parliament needs more powers. Except one.
Although I voted “No” I had friends who voted “Yes” (don’t worry we haven’t fallen out). They hate Alex Salmond and have never voted SNP in their lives. So why did they vote “Yes”? Two words. The Tories. They told me “We don’t want a Tory Government in Scotland again and we’re voting for independence to ensure that does not happen”. So I started thinking “How can we stay in the Union and avoid Tory Governments”? And then it hit me. Give the Scottish Parliament the power of veto. Every bit of legislation passed by a UK Government has to be passed by the Scottish Parliament too. The Tories can’t hurt us unless OUR Parliament allows us to. Obviously this can’t just apply to Scotland so the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies would have this power too as would a new English Parliament which in my opinion is now needed to get rid of the unfair anomaly that is the West Lothian Question*. This English Parliament would replace the House of Lords – the UK’s unelected second chamber – which everybody agrees is an anachronism but we’ve been trying to reform it since 1968 with very little agreement so why not just get rid of it and replace it with four second chambers? All four National Parliaments would have the power the Scottish Parliament currently has plus the power of veto over all UK legislation except the budget defence and foreign affairs. If say the English and Northern Irish parliaments passed a bill but the Scottish and Welsh did not the law would just apply to England and Northern Ireland
This would have another advantage. A lot of people complain about the “elected dictatorship” – an oxymoron which actually means that a Government with a House Of Commons majority is able to do what it wants. But if you gave the four national parliaments the power of veto that removes the elected dictatorship because a Government has to get its legislation through every one if it wants its policies to become law al over the UK. it brings into the system the American system of “checks and balances” to stop a mighty executive from doing what it wants. You would in effect end up with “The United States of Britain”. It has to be a fairer system than what we have now.
I should also mention that the turn out at the referendum was an astonishing 85% – last seen in UK elections in the 1950s – proof that the referendum was on the whole good for Scotland as it got people talking about politics again. The challenge for the parties here is to sustain this interest. Secondly I would like to pay tribute to Alex Salmond. I might not agree with his views but we would not have had this referendum without him. He turned the SNP from a rabble into a party of Government. Those people who voted “Yes” should remember he gave them the chance to be able to do so. His successor as First Minister and SNP leader – probably Nicola Sturgeon – has a hard act to follow.
*The West Lothian question is named after the constituency of the Labour MP Tam Dalyell who first raised it. He said it was unfair that he as the MP for West Lothian could vote on English affairs but the MP for West Bromwich could not vote on Scottish affairs. The Labour Party to its shame has ignored this anomaly. It has to be got rid of otherwise it will be English not Scottish nationalism which will be a threat to the unity of the UK.