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David Herdson says that the Battle of Skinner’s Seat is only the beginning

May 30th, 2015

Salmond

Salmond: the new Parnell in Westminster

The House of Commons can be a pretty rowdy place at times but it does at least have rules and conventions to which its members are expected to adhere. At one time, it had far fewer rules and rather more conventions (as the Lords still does). The reason why the change came about can be credited to Charles Stewart Parnell, the dominating Irish politician in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He astutely recognised that a convention, unlike a formal rule, can be broken without sanction, and that where such conventions are necessary to business, those who cease to abide by them rapidly become thorns in the side of the government.

Parnell’s MPs did just that, filibustering and obstructing Gladstone’s government in the hope that the nuisance they caused would result in him promoting Home Rule to get them off his back. Although they failed with Gladstone, they placed the issue so firmly on the agenda that a third of a century later, the cabinet was still debating the parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone when they should have had their eyes on Sarajevo.

A century later, another nationalist leader is returned to Westminster with a clear intention of making a similar mark. The argy-bargy over who gets to sit in the corner seat on the front bench below the gangway is in some ways the sort of childish nonsense that does little to endear politicians to the public. On the other, it displays a very Parnellite attitude to parliamentary convention. We can expect a good deal more along the same lines, not least because as with most Scottish members, they don’t have a great deal to do – no government responsibilities and little casework with most domestic concerns handled at Holyrood. Indeed, Salmond has himself made the comparison with Parnell.

These tactics are nothing new for the former First Minister. To take one example, back in the early 1990s, the then handful of SNP managed to delay the start of a Budget Speech. With far more MPs and far less responsibility, an imaginative use of parliamentary procedure could cause a lot of difficulty whenever the SNP is so minded.

Some may object that Salmond is not in fact the SNP’s Westminster leader. This is untrue: he is the leader in fact; he is simply not the leader in name. His media profile, his political ability, his pugnacious political style and his unique position in his party define that. He did not go to Westminster to make up numbers (he has no need to: could make very good money outside parliament), so clearly still feels a sense of mission. And that can only propel him back to the front.

But here is where the politics gets cute. If the SNP does take a particularly belligerent attitude towards the government, where does that leave Labour? Indeed, against the Conservatives, the SNP has to take a belligerent attitude in order to keep all those ex-Labour voters on board. But does that mean Labour should respond by trying to outgun the SNP (risking looking irresponsible) or by making a virtue of not engaging in such tactics (risking looking weak).

The battle to be leader of the opposition is about a lot more than Labour’s internal election.

David Herdson

p.s. Successful democracies achieve a balance between the financial muscle of the wealthy few and the electoral power of the poorer many. Any system that becomes too lopsided becomes exploitative and corrupt as the side that gets the upper hand uses that advantage to live off the earnings of the other. FIFA demonstrated yesterday more than adequately that it’s reached that stage. What to do? Put simply, if the problem is money then so is the answer. It was no coincidence that the great majority of Associations that generate the great majority of football’s money voted against Blatter and the great majority of the rest voted for him – as they will continue to as long as the money’s there to go round. And most of that money comes from one source: the World Cup. Without World Cup income, the rest of the money-go-round falls apart.

Were those Associations who voted against him to boycott the World Cup unless meaningful anti-corruption reform takes place, and were they backed by pressure on and from sponsors, the Blattersphere could not survive. But the boycott would have to achieve a critical mass; one or two countries alone would do more harm than good by simply highlighting their own isolation.




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PB/Polling Matters Podcast: What does Labour do next?

May 29th, 2015


Polling Matters is an independent, non partisan podcast providing, in conjunction with PB, expert polling news and political analysis in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election.

This week, host Keiran Pedley discusses why Labour lost and what’s next for the party featuring interviews with Lord Foulkes and Professor John Curtice and analysis from regular Polling Matters contributors Rob Vance and Leo Barasi.

Keiran tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley



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Richard Tyndall on “Laying the groundwork for an ‘Out’ vote”

May 29th, 2015

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The three challenges for those who want a NO vote

It has been generally accepted that the ‘Out’ side currently face an uphill fight to try and win the referendum which will be held at some point over the next two or so years. Whilst there is overwhelming support in the country for reform of the EU and strong, but minority, support for leaving, unless the ‘Out’ side can produce a convincing argument as to why life will be better outside, they are not going to turn around the 25% or so of public opinion they need to convince in order to achieve their aims.

So what steps should ‘Out’ be taking over the next few months to try and maximise their vote?

Firstly – and perhaps most obviously – they need to actually start working together as an organised campaign. There are dozens of different groups and organisations, all of which are committed to leaving the EU, which could play an important part in the campaign. The trouble is that at the moment there is no single campaign organisation, no clear leadership and not even the start of a move to create these basic structures. Someone needs to sit down and start making phone calls to create an umbrella body which will coordinate and run the Out campaign with as wide a support base as possible. If this is not done soon then the natural result is that this task will default to the one political party that has consistently campaigned for Out – UKIP. And at that point I am afraid I believe the battle will already have been lost.

Which brings us to the second step: A credible leader. Whilst many in UKIP believe this is the task that Nigel Farage was created for, this is certainly not a view that is universally held, even within the ‘Out’ movement. Moreover, it has to be recognised that for every voter for whom Farage is an attraction there are probably at least two or three more for whom he is a definite turnoff. Although UKIP gained four million votes at the General Election this is a tiny number compared to what will be needed to win a referendum and a ‘core vote’ strategy in this instance is obviously a non starter. So the question is how do the ‘Out’ side reach out to the non-UKIP Eurosceptics and the undecided?

There are two possibilities here. The first would be to go with a politician from another party – with all respect to Douglas Carswell, for whom I have a huge amount of time, his membership of UKIP carries with it similar baggage to Nigel Farage. When looking at possible candidates there are three who particularly spring to mind. The first two are from Labour; Frank Field and Kate Hoey. Both are very well respected long serving Labour MPs who have appeal far beyond their party and are known to be independent thinkers. With either of them in charge of the Out campaign there would be a great chance to attract left of centre Eurosceptics who might otherwise be put off by an apparent right of centre leader. Both do however have potential issues – Frank Field has had health problems recently whilst Kate Hoey is on record as saying that, whilst she might support Out, she would prefer if possible to stay in a reformed EU. That sort of mixed messaging could provide a hostage to fortune. The other alternative from politics is the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan. A long time advocate of leaving the EU he is articulate and supremely well informed about the EU and its failings. But again, it has to be recognised that he too has potential issues, not least his comments about the NHS made in the USA a few years ago.

That then leaves possible leaders from outside politics. The appointment of a business leader such as James Dyson or the JCB chairman Lord Bamford would send a message that businesses need not be afraid of Britain leaving the EU. These and many other hugely successful business leaders are advocates of leaving the EU and it is their voice that should be heard to counter the myths about millions of jobs lost or companies leaving the UK.

Once the organisation and leadership are in place the emphasis needs to be on looking forward not back. As has been pointed out many times on here, Out will only win if they can present a unified and credible prospect for Britain’s future outside the EU. This means a future that ensures a continuation of trade links without the political interference that characterises our current relationship with our European neighbours. For me the only sensible alternative is membership of EFTA and through it the EEA. This would allow people to understand simply what the relationship with our European neighbours and the rest of the World would be after we left the EU. It would go a long way to negating the scaremongering about isolation and loss of business and would provide a solid platform on which to build the rest of the ‘Better Off Out’ message.

The most obvious and oft cited argument against this is that it will not deal with the issue of immigration. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed head on. Yes there is free movement of peoples in the EEA but in that case, on this narrow issue, it is no different to our current EU membership. Whilst there may be a significant minority of people for whom immigration is the main driver of Euroscepticism, I believe that many of those would, in the end, vote to leave anyway and that therefore the numbers who would vote against leaving because the alternative still allowed for free movement is very small. That is not to say this would not be a challenge but it is one that would have to be dealt with early on in formulating the Out campaign so that the position in favour of EFTA membership, for all that some may not see it as perfect, is the one that is presented to the public during the debate.

Obviously there are many issues and external events that could derail either side of the debate over the next 12 -24 months. But the ‘Out’ side has to ensure that it does not make the task of winning the referendum any more difficult than it already is by establishing these three key points – organisation, leadership and message – as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Richard Tyndall



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How Scotland and the LD collapse almost completely reverse the bias in the electoral system

May 29th, 2015

The dramatic shift in Britain’s political landscape

As we all know one of the constants in British politics over more than a quarter of a century has been that the electoral system has been “biased” towards Labour. Essentially for a given vote share the red team will have more MPs than the blue one.

Well the big news from May 7th is that that is all over and now the Tories will get more seats for an equal vote share than Labour. This is largely because of the total LAB collapse in Scotland and the Lib Dem decline.

The details are set out in illuminating article by Tim Smith of the University of Nottingham just published. He writes:-

“The largest contributor to this shift was third party victories, which swung from a Labour lead of 21 seats to a Conservative lead of 39 seats. The pro-Labour element of this had been mainly due to the fact that there had been far more Liberal Democrat MPs in seats where the Conservatives would otherwise have won than in those where Labour would otherwise have won. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats to just 8 seats eliminated most of this. Meanwhile, the SNP landslide in Scotland then pushed the bias in the other direction making Labour the primary victim of third party wins…

..In the UK system the boundaries are not deliberately gerrymandered by partisan redistributions, but nevertheless, they now very much favour the Conservatives whose votes are much more efficiently distributed. When the parties’ vote shares are equalized, Conservative wins waste far fewer surplus votes than Labour, with the latter now tending to pile up larger but ultimately unnecessary majorities in safe seats. The reason for this big increase in Conservative efficiency was caused by their very strong performance in the right places, i.e. marginal seats, and this was helped by the large number of first term incumbents standing for re-election for the first time. Labour did best in its safest English seats.”

This means, of course, that new boundaries would make the system even more favourable to the Conservatives.

Mike Smithson





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The latest state of play in the battle to become LAB leader

May 28th, 2015



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Looking back to those final GE15 phone polls one thing stands out about LAB backers…

May 28th, 2015

There were more non-GE10 voters in the LAB totals than in CON

The British Polling Council inquiry into what went wrong with the GE15 is well under way and no doubt many will be putting forward theories about what caused them to be so wrong.

One of the factors that I believe was partly responsible for the overstatement of LAB shares is featured in the chart above – a larger part of its support according to the surveys was coming from those who did not vote for the main parties at the 2010 election.

From the data that’s made available by the pollsters it’s not possible to identify whether these were non voters or not but given that 90%+ of the overall 2010 vote went to LAB-CON-LD it is a reasonable assumption that the above is a good pointer.

Part of this is accounted for by those in the 18-23 age bracket who, clearly, could not have voted at the previous general election and they were more likely to be LAB backer but that is only a partial explanation.

The same happened in much of the by-election polling over the past year. LAB was attracting more non-voters at the previous election than other parties.

    All the evidence is that the best guide to whether you will vote in the next election is whether you voted in the last one.

The BPC needs to address the way pollsters deal with likelihood to vote. It should be more than just telling the interviewer that you are 10/10 certain.

Mike Smithson





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We now have the actual wording of the referendum question

May 28th, 2015

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union”

As expected the wording of the EU referendum question makes remaining in the EU the YES option while leaving the NO one.

There’s a view that people prefer to vote Yes to things than be negative and the planned wording therefore favours staying in the EU. I’m not so convinced. The last two big referendums, AV in 2011 and the IndyRef in Scotland, both saw No sides win.

What will be interesting is how the question plays out in the polls. The latest finding by YouGov last weekend had the wording “Do you think that the UK should be a member of the European Union?”

This was neutral in relation to the status quo and had Yes 12% ahead.

We don’t know yet about timing though reports overnight suggest that the government is aiming for May next year when the devolved government elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland take place. There is also the London Mayoral election.

Mike Smithson





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Getting EVEL through will be a tough fight for the Tories

May 27th, 2015

The next move is with John Bercow

A significant moment on this historic day in the commons was a point of order by Alex Salmond about the Tory plans to introduce EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) by changing the House’s standing orders.

Salmond argues that this is a major constitutional issue and that the incoming government should not be allowed to make a change which creates two classes of MPs by using its majority to change standing orders – the rules under which commons business is carried out.

Bercow responded by saying he’d look into the Salmond point and report back. My reading is that the government’s initial plan won’t get through and some other mechanism will have to be made.

The big thing today, of course, has been the presence of the huge contingent of 56 SNP MPs who look set to have an impact in all sorts of ways and this was just a taster.

Mike Smithson