Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Analysis: Overall

Welcome to my General Election post-mortem. Here I will introduce the phases in my analysis that I will conduct.

Firstly, I will cover a quick reaction to the general picture of this election. This is part of this post.

I will then move on to examine the impact of the election for all three major parties, Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats.

I will also look at the wildly differential turnout and discuss whether or not tactical voting played an impact in this election.

Finally, I will conclude with a look at prospects for 2009/2010.

These six posts have been published in reverse so they read like a straight essay with sections. I didn't write them backwards as it would look if I published them one after the other... so I have altered the dates to improve its readability. Your comments will be very much appreciated, either as responses to the posts, or even in e-mail. Bear in mind that most of this is my opinion, so I could be wrong...


2005's General Election was a fascinating result, despite a rather tired campaign. For those who stayed up overnight hoping that Blair's majority would be pegged significantly, most of us are now pretty pleased at the outcome. It was impressive that despite the inherent dangers of the First Past The Post (FPTP) system in producing rather disproportionate results, the electorate still managed to get exactly what they wanted.

All along, most people wanted Blair back... but they wanted it with a reduced majority. Labour spent months telling us that this was not possible and that we shouldn't "play games" with the electoral system. We can't get Labour in any other manner. It is mega majority, or no majority. If we want Labour, we have to vote for them.

And yet, that's exactly what we didn't do. 62.3% of those who turned out to vote didn't vote for Blair (excluding the four parties of Northern Ireland). We knew the dangers of FPTP, but by educating the electorate and making everyone aware of the situation their constituency was in, people were able to cast a more thoughtful vote than before to deliver exactly what was needed.

Of course, this has happened in the past. Parties never stop targetting constituencies very specifically. But now the electorate had access to the internet in a much wider manner than before, they were able to assess the situation for themselves, rather than rely on those dodgy graphs on Lib Dem leaflets that always manage to sum up the battle as "Only the Lib Dems can win here!". Even in seats that seemed quite a distant possibility, they were able to realise that the lie put about by Labour of "Vote Lib Dem get Michael Howard as PM" was exactly that, a lie. Sure there were seats where voting Lib Dem in this election actually has brought about a Lib Dem MP... but there was never a danger of a Tory government.

We the electorate were prepared to take a risk. We had faith the Tories were flatlining at 33% and in the end they went below that to just over 32%. Given that, it was safe to vote Lib Dem, thus sending a message to Labour that we don't want their mega majority, and that we are prepared to accept Conservative MPs in certain seats in order to achieve less dominance.

But the big surprise of the night was just how much people were prepared to vote Lib Dem. Wild, massive swings from Labour to the Lib Dems happened across the country... except surprisingly in seats were the Conservatives were challenging the Lib Dems or vice versa. The tide rose so high that it swept away dead wood in certain inner city constituencies who thought they were onto a cushy number. If only it had swept further to give some more Labour backbenchers a fright...

And that is the problem. It didn't. Yet, it could very easily have. Many people were prepared to vote Lib Dem, but there is no doubt that there were more. And what's even more annoying is the fact that had they done so - and perhaps they were fooled by Peter Hain's "back door" theory - given the Tory share of 32%, there was no danger of electing a Tory government. In fact, there would have come a point with an even greater swing where voting Lib Dem would have paid off great dividends.

Meanwhile, Labour MPs were spectacularly unseated. But the extra interesting part is that the gains were confined to very particular parts of the country. So particular, in fact, that the Tories could have a legitimacy problem by the next election if they do not broaden their support.

Nevertheless, the result came. We saw it and it was good. But it could have been so much better. A hung Parliament was a very distinct possibility. The average Labour to Lib Dem swing was 5%, but if this had been doubled Charles Clarke, Ruth Kelly and Phil Woolas would now be drawing the dole. Yet, in many constituencies it was doubled, even tripled.

So what gives? Why was this election such a mess? That's what I'm hoping to look at in my further posts. Read on, fair visitor!

Analysis of Labour's election result
Analysis of the Conservatives' election result
Analysis of the Lib Dems' election result
Assessment of tactical voting and turnout in this election
Looking to the future for politics in this country

Analysis: Labour Suffers

A majority of 66 may be a struggle for Tony Blair. By historial standards, 66 should be enough to drive through most normal legislative programmes.

But this is not history. And Tony Blair's legislative programmes certainly are not "normal". They are aggressive, statist and authoritarian, something which doesn't sit too well with a lot of traditional Labour backbenchers. There is a culture of rebellion setting into the party. The last parliamentary session had unprecedented levels of it. Once you rebel once, it makes it easier next time. Notch up more than a couple, and you suddenly become a real troublemaker for the whips.

Hilary "Strongarm" Armstrong, still Blair's Chief Whip, is going to have a lot of work on her hands this Parliament. The reason for this is very simple...

1997 and 2001 elected tidal waves of new MPs. Most of these MPs are unquestioningly loyal to the New Labour project. They file through the lobbies without thinking, and a number of them are well equipped with Autopilot oratory, a la Dr John Reid, which allows them to open their mouths to release a stream of Blairite anti-Conservatism, anti-Lib Dems, authoritarian mumbo-jumbo and tired, worn out cliches about hard-working families and those who play by the rules. Such clowns were richly rewarded with government posts.

The trouble was that these people were those elected at the height of the Labour swing from the Conservatives and were sitting on tight majorities of no more than a few thousand. They were ripe for the chop if ever the circumstances were right.

But the Tories just flatlined. In some seats they could manage an extra 1 or 2%, but it wasn't enough to clinch it. So they needed some extra help.

The help was provided by the Lib Dems. Labour supporters who couldn't bring themselves to vote Tory were given plenty of reasons to vote Lib Dem, least of all the war in Iraq or the general issue of "Can we trust Tony?" but it went further than that. Given all that we had heard about the Lib Dem policies, I can't help but feel that many left-wingers will have been pretty keen on the 50% tax for over £100,000 income proposals, on top of student tuition fees, ID cards and others.

So traditionally loyal Labour voters deserted the party in their droves. More than a million people appear to have moved from Labour to the Lib Dems. Given turnout rose very little, it is hard to draw any other conclusion. The result...

47 Labour losses. And when you analyse these losses carefully, you may come to the same conclusion as me, that these were no great losses. In fact, if Labour had to lose anywhere, these are the best places in which it could happen.

Using TheyWorkForYou.com, I have analysed the MPs that lost their seats. Out of the 47, 11 were new candidates that had never been MPs before. Given that many of them will be parachutings in to replace retiring Labour MPs (who were more likely to rebel), these are no real worry.

In my classifications, 21 of the remaining 36, nearly 60%, would be classed as "uber-loyal"... that is they had moderate or strong support for every policy. Three of these were government ministers and one was an ex-minister. No more than a few of these uber-loyal MPs had dithered on Iraq, but they had all at some point expressed support. One of the greatest pleasures of the evening was seeing ultra Blair-bitch Lorna Fitzsimons be dethroned by a tidal wave of liberalism. Her vapid, fawning speeches in the Commons have been the source of much nausea for me.

Another 12 were classied as loyal or very loyal. These people may or may not have rebelled or dithered on Iraq. Some of them may also have voted against one other contentious policy. The remaining 2 - yes, just 2 - had rebelled more than twice and had anti-war credentials.

As I said, no great loss. This serves as an important rebalance to the fundamentals of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It puts more power in the hands of principled rebels who are not willing to see Blair riding roughshod over Parliament and the fundamental liberties of this country. ID cards could be difficult. More wars could be difficult if the Tories oppose. They will certainly hold out for fair deals on pension and welfare reform. This will force more consensus in government - a very good thing. As most other commentators have concluded, it will also ensure Blair does not survive the full four years. Challenges to the leadership are unlikely, unless the number of rebels prepared to pay the price is large... but Blair will find some point to hand over the reins of power for a quiet transition and coronation.

Blair has never governed with such a low majority before. Sure, he has lead a party in opposition, but as we all know, it is very easy to be against things. Back then they had a focus for their anger - John Major and the Conservatives - and it was very easy to traipse through those division lobbies against the government. But now they have to lead, and not everyone likes to be lead. There will be struggles and there will be battles... particularly if Labour continues to lead as if it did have a massive majority.

That is the issue. Labour's mandate in this election is very weak. The lowest percentage of the popular vote in history for a winning party which has translated into a pretty comfortably majority, and with a low turnout, this should make things more conciliatory. But Blair does not work like that. He has massive programmes of "reform" (that's what he thinks) and "great vision". The country has shown that it does not share that vision, regardless of the outcome.

Labour have suffered. Their response? An Orwellian creation of the Ministry of Love Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry will ensure that we all work hard to Deliver Labour's Key Third Term Reforms!

The next four years will prove very interesting for us all. We expect a different style. I hope we see it, for the sake of the country.

Analysis: Conservatives Stumble

Those of us well versed in researching and checking to see if things are true before thinking a 66 majority is enough for New Labour to govern effectively will also realise that the Conservatives flatlined this election. In terms of the popular vote, they achieved an extra 0.6%, some of which will be subsumed by the 2% increase in turnout.

So how did they gain so many seats? First of all, it's not "so many" seats. They only gained 31 seats off Labour. The rest of the decline in Labour majority is down to the gains of the Lib Dems and Nationalists. If you look, around 14 of these seats were also only gained by Labour voters switching to the Lib Dems. This is either "tactical unwind" - i.e. traditional Lib Dem voters switching back to their own party after they decide they no longer wish to vote tactically to keep the Tory out, or Labour voters who have decided they want to support the Lib Dems in this election, for whatever reason.

Bear in mind that the Tories also lost three seats, including Solihull which is an immense shock. Parties that are preparing for government shouldn't be losing seats, no matter how few. But they did perform well to defend those that were under severe attack from the Lib Dems decapitation strategy. In fact, they managed to increase majorities significantly in these areas. Perhaps a sign that the Tories have managed to expose the flank of the Lib Dems and could make signficant further gains in future off the Lib Dems continue to be so left-wing. Of course, given how small the Lib Dems are, this is hardly fertile territory for becoming the government.

Other seats were gained with traditional hard graft. Hats off to the Tories, they performed extremely well in certain places. But that in itself is also a problem.

If you look at the electoral map of Britain, you can almost draw a line across it from the Bristol Channel to the Wash. Above this line, the Tories are mostly weak and are in fact weakening. If you look at the results for these regions, the Tory vote bucked the trend and either remained the same or declined in certain parts. It is significant that the only decapitation strategy that worked was in the constituency of Westmorland & Lonsdale, where Tory shadow minister Tim Collins was removed by the Lib Dems. Other decapitation efforts were also in the north, but these cases managed to succeed due to effectively getting out the Tory vote, and the failure of the Lib Dems to convince Labour voters to shift.

But below this imaginary line, the Tories grew above the average trend. The South and South East is slowly becoming very strong areas for Conservative growth. There are now very large numbers of marginals in the South East after this election that will fall with just two or three percent shifts to them. If the Tories strengthen, they will gain a very large number of seats next time. This is a very good omen for their future prospects. The South West, which was once a Lib Dem stronghold, is now home to a very large amount of very marginal Lib-Con seats. Further rises there will also reap dividends.

Another point of significance is that by the next election, England and Wales will see a redrawing of the boundaries. Since the population of this country seems to like conglomerating in the south and south east, there will be many new seats added there. Conversely, seats will disappear from the north as the population begins to decline. This is new fertile territory for the Conservatives; there will be plenty of new seats that will be naturally Blue. This could add 10 or 20 easy victories to the Conservative column without really trying.

But this trend should alarm the Conservatives. Do they really want to be a party for the South and South East? Will such a government not lack legitimacy and credibility? Would that not be embarassing that they cannot find any appeal for those in the North? We aren't exactly a block vote... in fact, we're pretty diverse. But enough of us just cannot see the merit in Tory principles.

The next leader of the Tory party is going to have to crack that nutshell, and not just by appealing to rural people like they always do. Until there are more than a majority of MPs below my imaginary line, they must appeal beyond this base. Economics really aren't everything. We are expecting much more. You can't rely on your immigration policy alone to mop up inner-city votes. Indeed, if this election showed anything it's that if you do that you actually drive up the votes of the BNP in such areas. Well done.

Much as it seems to have pained the Tories in recent years, the voters of Britain are in the centre. To win an election, they have to appeal to them. As a result, we should expect politics in this country to become even more meaningless than the five Conservative slogans we heard all throughout this campaign. This will not help turnout.

The Conservatives have stumbled. The Lib Dems tried to push them over in this election. Yet, by doing so, this seems to have accidently resulted in the Tories doing a magnificent somersault and finishing with a forward roll to finish much further ahead than they started. But however their wins come, they will take them. They now don't need to worry about electoral reform. Nice work again.

Analysis: Lib Dems - Where Now?

This is a very disappointing result for the Lib Dems. Large amounts of resources were poured into their "decapitation strategy" and by the end of the night it weilded no more than the head of Tim Collins, whose impression on the electorate is so weak that his ineffective performances at the despatch box will hardly be seen as a great loss for the Conservatives. But a win is a win, isn't it?

Yes and no. Most people had already written off Oliver Letwin - he was doomed. David Davis was looking a little shaky. Theresa May was in trouble, and even Michael Howard could have paid the price. The strategy was simple: appeal to Labour voters in any way possible - they switch, they get a Lib Dem, and they get to celebrate in the fact that they ousted a top Tory. Pretty good deal, huh?

Yet it didn't turn out that way. In fact, in all of these constituencies, the majorities actually increased, and it took off significantly in a couple. But the media seems to have taken this as Lib Dem votes shifting away to the Tories because they're so left-wing.

But if you look at the numbers, this doesn't appear to be true. The Lib Dem vote generally holds steady. It is the Tory vote that takes off, while the Labour vote either goes down a fraction or stays steady. The possible scenarios:

- The media was right, and Lib Dem voters deserted for the Tories, but it was made up by Labour voters coming to the Lib Dems
- The Labour voter had already been squeezed to its maximum and all that was left is those who will vote Labour till they die.
- The Tories managed to perform extremely efficient "get out the vote" operations. This is borne out by the fact that turnout increased significantly in a lot of these places.

The final scenario is the most likely. The Tories had a too strong local machine.

Election night arrived, and the news was coming in from constituencies that the Lib Dems had failed to remove their targets. I became very glum.

Then it became apparent that there were big swings taking place. When Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central was declared with an 11% swing to the Lib Dems, and even after some significant swings in Sunderland just an hour before, it started to become clear that big things were happening in the country. I went from glum to angry.

The big things happened. Cardiff Central, Leeds North West... Manchester Withington! Rochdale, Hornsey, Bristol West, Cambridge... Solihull! Brent East!

Labour heartlands. Falling to massive, positively enormous swings to the Lib Dems. And they weren't only "just scraping them"... they were coming out with healthy majorities. It made for a fascinating night.

My anger turned to frustration. It was now clear: the Lib Dems had targeted the wrong seats. Many people were predicting protest votes from Labour to Lib Dem, but not on this kind of scale. All across the country, the Lib Dems took seats that appeared to be by accident rather than by design. Sure, the candidates will have worked hard, but no one would have ever expected so many people to change their mind. Perhaps if the Lib Dems had turned its resources away from the decapitation strategy and worked more on going after disaffected Labour supporters, they could have produced some deeply shocking results.

In many places, they have now become 2nd place to Labour. They have closed the gap, and if the swing were repeated next time now more people realise there is a genuine chance for change, they could continue to rise. But in many respects, there was a chance of a Lib Dem tectonic shift in Labour heartlands. If the effort had been put in, it could well have been achieved. It wasn't, and I feel this has been a missed opportunity. I fear that the electoral circumstances may never be this favourable again.

Meanwhile, their flank to the Tories has been exposed. There are many of them now sitting on wafer thin majorities, many of whom are key figures in the party. This presents a serious dilemma... move back to the centre in order to defend these once Lib Dem heartlands (including the South West which is now looking dangerous) ... or go for an all out assault on Labour - an assault which could bear massive dividends if it split the Labour movement between those who feel the Lib Dems are now holding their old socially progressive territory and those who want to hold the centre ground.

This is a dilemma they must quickly resolve. They now have four or five years to plug away at this. A new leader probably won't help... but the fact is that in 2009, Charles Kennedy will have been leader for 10 years. There must be some new talent rising through the party. They desperately need it if they are to continue their slow but steady rise in British politics.

They may have to accept that they're going to lose seats to the Tories. But there aren't many, and there is far more to gain by continuing to gun for Labour core support. But this is a very difficult future for them. They already look opportunistic when compared with the Liberal Democrats of old. There aren't too many committed libertarians any more within the Lib Dem movement - most of them are quite keen on state intervention in health and education. So there is a chance to remould the party into something quite different. But if Labour try to redress the balance, the Lib Dem seats on this front will topply like dominoes. Gordon Brown could be enough to bring the likes of Manchester Withington back into the fold, and if the Lib Dems then lose seats to the Tories, they could end up much smaller than when they started.

This is actually a very difficult time for the Lib Dems. Sure, more seats are good, but they still don't have a heartlands. We still don't know who the core vote of this party is. They need to start consolidating their gains more. I just wish I knew how...

Analysis: Turning Tactical

I think a lot of us made big mistakes. I forecast that tactical voting could be a major issue in this election. I feel now that I was wrong.

The situation out in the country swung wildly over the evening. If ever anyone wanted to make a case for the argument that there is no such thing as national swing, then 2005 was your night to prove it. On the face of it, all those sensational swings could well have been the result of people voting tactically all over the place - that's the kind of odd thing you normally get with tactical voting.

But it's not. All of that was down to a more boring explanation: it was just conventional voting. People seemed in this election to continue to vote more for what they actually believed in. Many Labour voters were fed up with Labour, and so decided to switch to the Lib Dems. This may well have been a protest vote, but it isn't a tactical vote. People were prepared to vote for the Lib Dems regardless of how the seat ended up. Indeed, this voting pattern resulted in a number of Tory MPs - though not many - slipping in through Peter Hain's infamous back door. This is principled voting, something which we should be doing anyway if we had a better electoral system.

In seats where tactical voting could have played a role, such as in the Lib Dems decapitation strategy, it didn't seem to have any impact. The Labour vote refused to be squeezed even further than it already has been, indicating that there are limits to tactical voting eventually. It is possible the message was not put around well enough, but that is something I'd find it to difficult to believe.

It is possible that some people voted tactically for a Tory to rid themselves of a Labour candidate, as the Backing Blair website suggested many people do, but I don't think this was ever likely. If we're cynical, third parties were invented for tactical and protest voting purposes! That's what we use them for! There is anti-Tory tactical voting, but the Lib Dems are the main beneficiary.

But that seemed to unwind as well in this election. Lib Dems who may have voted Labour to keep a Tory out decided that the Tories were the lesser of two evils and so returned back to their home party. This is a step back for tactical voting in the election where it was supposed to take the giant leap forward.

This is both good and bad. I can see the merits in this concept given our electoral system. Change has to come from somewhere, and if this is the only way of making seats marginal, we have to use it. But it would be so much better if we could get true voting reform so that everyone really could vote for the party of their choice without being whipped into fear that their vote could have unintended side-effects.

We have not yet seen any data from those websites that were setup to encourage people to exchange votes for this election. Last time, tacticalvoter.net claimed that their efforts turfed out two Tories. I'm sure they will claim they were also responsible for some in this election, but it's not nearly enough. The fact remains that out of the Top 10 targets on Tacticalvoter, they only achieved the 1st one, and in many others the Tories managed to massively shore up their vote to defend against it. Given that there are so many more people on the internet now, you would have expected this to have made much more impact. The Lib Dems should have taken Orpington, that's for sure, but they ended up missing it by thousands. What happened?

Meanwhile, turnout was up slightly at 61.3% from 59.3%. Better than nothing, that's for sure. Yet, in certain parts of the country, turnout reached spectacular highs. Solihull in Birmingham managed to achieve an astonishing 83% turnout, up 20%! There are many theories in psephology (the science of elections!) that the more an election has salience, the more people turnout. I considered this theory in an essay I wrote recently, and I believe it to be one of the key factors, far and above the impact of education levels of the electorate.

In certain areas... and Solihull, being a middle-class constituency, is a good example... this election was very relevant to the electorate. The issue of trust resonates far more among certain demographics than others, and it is probably true to suggest that it did here. Iraq was the same, often dismissed as being of little interest to anyone other than the chattering classes who have the time and effort to worry themselves about legality and technicality.

Well, it seems they did. Time and again in similar constituencies, turnout was up between 5 and 10%... and in all of these places turnout was higher than the average anyway. Very impressive indeed. But if it wasn't because of the issues, then it was because the contest was close - as we saw in most of the marginals - i.e. because it was salient.

Turnout is still a problem - but now we can see clearly that it is beginning to be confined to inner cities, where the result is very predictable, and where the issues are not relevant or engaging to the electorate. They do not address their concerns or their issues. This rising disenchantment is a danger to our democracy, and the politicians must do something about it. It is part of the general decline in social cohesion which is felt most in the inner cities, and this problem requires much more than just a close election. Politics just isn't seen as relevant - it doesn't change anyone's lives in these areas. Well... it does, but it isn't seen like that.

Politicians need to be able to talk the language of these people. If they can do that... and perhaps the best way is by leaving inner city parties to select their own candidates, preferably one who is representative and has the ability to communicate with the disaffected masses (for they are masses in these areas), then they will begin to change the situation.

There is a lot to learn from this election beyond the result. Hopefully, I've been able to shed some light on two key issues.

Analysis: The Future

I have already tried to extrapolate some of the trends in this election's results in the other articles themselves. It is hard to analyse the future, since by its very nature we don't know what it contains just yet... but let's speculate.

The Tories have a real chance in 2009/2010... but they must learn to make themselves more relevant to more people. Fate will be kind to them next time, and they will gain many more seats by default because of favourable demographic trends in the South and South East. This is very good for them. They will be a danger, especially if they can pick a leader that is capable of communicating better with the electorate. David Davis is not that man. He will fail the Tory party for the simple reason that he is too right wing.

If anything, this election has demonstrated that we are not comfortable with the agenda of the right. We may be worried about immigration - perhaps needlessly - but we still have an internal brake that will regulate it. The electorate seemed to agree with the Tories on immigration, but many people were concerned that they themselves were beginning to get racist, and so dismissed their negative thoughts by voting against them, even if they didn't feel that way.

It is hard to see where the next leader of the Conservatives is from. If I were them, I would consider taking a risk on David Cameron or George Osbourne. They have plumped for party old relics far too often, but now is the time for radical change. A new young leader would invigorate the party, and it would help them to forge a new image against the one that they are the party for aging cynics. Next election will be a nailbiter, and such a leader would make it so.

Labour have problems. They are no longer safe, and Blair should consider resigning after the EU constitution referendum, if France or someone else does not reject it before then. But he cannot serve more than two years. Any longer and it will leave Gordon Brown with little more than a fag-end of a lame duck Labour administration, giving him little time to look like he can lead the party to an unprecedented fourth term. This would play right into the Tories' hands, who by then could be looking very professional and modernising with a young leader, while Gordon Brown would now be approaching his 60s. It would almost be the reverse of the situation between Tony Blair and John Major, ironic though that may be.

Labour have seen that there is deep anger within the party. Peter Laws in Blaenau Gwent's election should be a clear message that the party grassroots are beginning to get fed up with bullying from the centre. His presence in the next Parliament will be a constant reminder that they must allow some decentralising. Either that, or they should stop trying to piss off so many people and instead of constantly battling against their own party, they should work with it. It seems so obvious, but people like Blair, Milburn and Mandelson have made a career out of opposing. If it is their style and they have no other mode of operation, then the simple answer is to remove them. The Parliamentary Labour Party now have more power to do that. They need to act sooner rather than later.

The Lib Dems are in a dilemma. They can advance, but they are at a junction. They can go forward and left... they can go straight on and try to defend their vulnerable position, or they can turn right to attack the Conservatives properly. This last one seems unlikely, and the first does too. But the second one is fraught with danger, as I have already considered. Sooner or later, however, they are going to need a new leader. But I can't see one who could fill Charlie's boots. They have a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, the minor parties have a chance. I was hoping for a Green win in Brighton Pavilion, and they did indeed pull off a very respectable result. They can work on this for the next election. It would be nice if they achieved one or two MPs, and I would have encouraged all Lib Dems to vote Green there, just so some representation could be achieved for other points of view. But the Greens made the big mistake of fielding candidates in far too many constituencies, costing them vital money which could have been used in the two fights they focused on. Instead, they cost the Lib Dems a seat in Oxford East, and who knows what could have happened in Norwich South if they hadn't resisted the Lib Dems efforts to unseat Charles Clarke. All this nonsense leads us onto electoral reform...

Many people have joined the call for electoral reform, and it's a sentiment I would like to echo. Yet, I suspect we all want a more proportional electoral system. The question is, which one? Labour could well make soundings in this area by bringing back the Jenkins report and their proposal of AV+. Labour like this system because it will have an unhealthy tendency of killing off the Tories altogether, since Labour voters will vote 1-Labour, 2-Lib Dem... and Lib Dem voters will do the reverse, leaving the Tories very much out in the cold. There is no question that some reform is needed, but I remain to be convinced as to which is the best way. I strongly dislike list systems for the power it gives to party patronage. At least we have a chance to get rid of people we don't like under FPTP. Some people would stick around forever with party lists...

Whatever happens on this score, 2009/2010 will be a genuinely difficult election for all parties, possibly the first such slice of real battleground democracy since 1992. This can only help motivate people to come back to the political fray, something this country desperately needs in our growing isolationist society.

I hope you have enjoyed my attempt at analysing this election. All comments are welcome, either by responding to the comments section or by e-mailing me.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Almost Landslide

So the results are in. First off I will say that last night's election coverage from the BBC was both good and bad. Too many fluffs, too many mistakes and too many cuts to result announcements too late. But the number crunchers were intelligent and sensible, providing a good insight to what was going on. A partial well done. I stayed up till 6:30am this morning, decided to snatch four hours sleep and am now feeling pretty good. Surprising the limits you can push yourself to when you really need to.

But in terms of the result, I hope to conduct a very thorough analysis of the result by the end of the day. I had high expecations for the Lib Dems, probably too high, but under normal circumstances I would have been content with 62 MPs. Yet, given I now know what has happened, I am very disappointed.

The thrust of my analysis will be to look at what happened underneath the radar. As everyone has already concluded, this was a very weird election with some apparently random swings all over the place. It wasn't helped by the BBC's obsession with "Lab-Con" swing, which was irrelevant in many seats. We know the real story of this election is the disaffection of 1 million Labour voters who have turned their back on the party and voted Lib Dem. The Tories have gained seats, but in terms of actual vote numbers they have barely moved.

I will look at why this election result shows the Tories to perhaps be in more trouble than people think, and yet at the same time they are perhaps on the cusp of victory for 2009/2010 - a victory that would be very hollow indeed.

Then what of the future for all three parties? There will be an interesting few months ahead. Change is imminent within all three parties. What will the visions for the future be now?

And the final majority of 66? I can live with that, even if some particularly nasty Tories have managed to emerge out of the rotten party woodwork.

As for Bob Marshall-Andrews? He is, and always will remain, Left Out Liberal's Official Hero!

Check back later when I hope to start work on this detailed and hopefully interesting post-mortem.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Vote Early or Late. But Only Vote Once.

My plea for electoral fraud to be low will naturally be ignored. I am not convinced that this election is going to be safe, and the fact that 20,000 people in Blackburn have requested postal ballots sounds incredibly suspicious.

But all we can do is make sure we cast our vote. I will be voting later and will take great pleasure in voting for Liberal Democrats, as I have said I would all along. I believe they have run a generally positive campaign, and the reaction Charles Kennedy gets is pretty good. It is possible that a little too much time was spent on Iraq in the closing days and not enough promoting their policies, but it's too late for that now. I urge you all to not waste this opportunity to restrict Blair. We all know what is coming in this next Parliament: ID cards, more "anti-terror" legislation, further privatisation and marketisation of education and the NHS, worsening social inequality and who knows what more international excursions are planned.

New Labour is not the party of Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan or even Kinnock. Kier Hardie would be turning in his grave at the way New Labour has turned its back on its roots. Regardless of the grassroots of the party at the moment, they have no control over the top. It is quite simply a party being lead from the front. It is therefore wrong to support New Labour because you think that "they're not all like that". I know that. Everyone knows that. But what matters is the 400 odd MPs they elect. The rest of the party is almost an irrelevance. They will not be writing the laws. They will not be executing them. Vote for what you can see - a sham party obsessed with authoritarianism - not for what you think Labour are. The two do not match, and they will never match while Tony is in power. They simply want power for the sake of it. They do not have a grand vision for the furtherment of society.

This is the last chance the British people will get to rid ourselves of him. New Labour is a sinister machine, desperate to cling onto power and desperate to have another whopping majority. We cannot allow this to happen. By the next election, so many more the freedoms we are used to in a liberal democracy will be curtailed in the name of protecting "the most important liberty: the right to life". Well excuse me for wanting to protect freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. What use is life if we are all zombies with no thought or ability to do anything about our objections?

Once political freedoms have gone, they don't come back. While we're in this perpetual state of war against an abstract noun, it is not in the interests of New Labour to let the people run wild and free. They can curtail all the liberties they like and the British people don't seem to mind. One day they will wake up and understand why the few of us concerned about these things spend our time endlessly worried about the quality of British democracy. Accept it. The war on terror has no ending. Habeas corpus has been suspended. Do you really think any government of any colour in the future is ever going to say, "The war on terror is over! We are victorious! And now you can have all your political freedoms back and we promise never to house arrest you again."

It's time to get real. This is the last chance to do so.

I shall now finish this general election blog with a quote from George Orwell's 1984. It is scarily relevant to our current situation and serves as a warning of the fact that we are slowly sleepwalking into a police state. It is a superb book and I highly recommend it. Beware of democratically elected and fully legitimised dictatorships.
"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power... We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?"

George Orwell, 1984
Vote wisely...

The Blogosphere Bites

Other bloggers seem to have saved the best till last. There are dozens of reasons for not voting for New Labour this election. Right now, Britain's finest bloggers have produced some of the greatest prose this campaign, summing exactly why you should reject Blair's politics of fear.

All of these are highly recommended:
Here's to a good election.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


The final day of canvassing has arrived. And of course, that is cause to celebrate. All media outlets seem to be happy discussing the fact that the last day is here, and it's more of a news event than anything the politicians will actually do today.

So effectively, we have reached the end of the road. The papers are beginning to cast their endorsements, and none of them are a surprise. The Guardian is still sickeningly pro-Labour, despite the fact that for the past four years there has not been a day that has gone by without their editorial column criticising Labour for being too authoritarian, too illiberal or not progressive enough.

I wonder how much they were paid to be the mouthpiece of Blair for this campaign. It has been a remarkable, almost Damascene, conversion from their editorial staff. They've been commissioning op-eds from Polly Toynbee and David Aaronovitch left, right and centre to drum home the message that a vote for anyone other than Labour will be enough to let the Tories in. Yet, as A Big Stick and a Small Carrot has pointed out, what of Labour voters who voted Lib Dem tactically last time to keep a Tory out? If they vote Labour now, they could let a Tory in by the back door...

Just another quirk of our system, I guess, but no one seems to have taken Tony to task on this one. I digress.

I certainly will never be buying the Guardian again. You just know that as soon as the campaign is over, they will be back to gnashing their teeth about ID cards, civil liberties, education league tables, and even the war in Iraq will continue to fill their minds. So while the Guardian will be moaning about bloggers and their lack of impact this election (that article can only be a matter of days away; shame you can't copyright ideas or I could claim they stole mine when it arrives), I will be ensuring that they no longer get my readership. It's the Independent all the way for me.

Labour's party election broadcast last night has given me a sinking feeling, however. All the polls look the same; all the pundits are predicting little change. I fear we're going to sleepwalk into another landslide, and all the interest that I've developed in great clutch of individual exciting contests in the marginals could actually be a big disappointment. I've set my expectations too high, and I know I'm going to be very pissed off as the results come in over Thursday night.

But this is politics. We can't give up. Here's to 2009/2010.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Butter Wouldn't Melt

This morning has seen seen Charles Kennedy electioneering in Michael Howard's seat of Folkestone & Hythe, where his 6,000 majority could be vulnerable if Labour voters vote tactically. By voting Lib Dem here, Labour voters would actually be closing all the doors of Number 10 to Michael Howard. In fact, they'd be closing the door of the House of Parliament to him. How do you like that, Tony? What happened to the back door theory?

My favourite part of all this, however, is the fact that Tories are getting all indignant about it. Theresa May on the Daily Politics called out her disgust at the Lib Dems for targeting a party leader - it was unheard of in Britain!

As I've said before, if we've been dealt this pathetic electoral system, then don't be surprised if we try to use it to cause a little upset. It's a bit rich for the Tories now to complain if their leader is vulnerable. After all, they don't want to change the electoral system. So in that case, why should leaders not have to fight an election just like everyone else?

What's amusing is the fact that had Tony Blair been sitting on a 1-5,000 majority with the Tories in 2nd, I have no absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Michael Howard would be in Sedgefield every day rallying for voters to switch and Lib Dems to vote tactically to rid the country of Blair. They're only complaining now because they're on the receiving end, and they are clearly at risk. There is much talk of a rising tidal wave of orange seeping over Folkestone, but it would surely be too much of a majority to turn over... but it could end up a mighty close thing. Yet another key marginal to watch carefully.

I also would like to further add my disgust at the lie - and yes, this one is a genuine lie - told by Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford, on yesterday's Daily Politics.

The usual story came out of Blair's mouthpiece, that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote to allow the Tories to slip to victory and an overall majority without even trying. Quite apart from the fact that this has been dismissed again and again, simply because the Tories are polling such low figures, Nick went on to warn the voters of Bristol West that by voting Lib Dem there they will let in a Tory via the back door.

Ever suspicious of this kind of spin, I decided to check the numbers. I do accept that in a seat where the Lib Dems are far behind, and Labour/Tory have just a few thousand between them, it is possible that a Labour voter switching to the Lib Dems will give a Tory win. But Bristol West is very different:

LAB: 20,000; LD: 16,000; TORY: 16,000

In this case, a Labour voter switching to a Lib Dem will quite clearly be contributing to bringing about a Lib Dem victory. There is no other way of arguing this one. A blatant lie from the minister, and malicious scaremongering once more. As usual, it's the typical whinge that Blair is worried his majority is going to be pegged back, so seats like this must be secured for Labour.

Perhaps Blair thinks he will struggle with under 100 majority. It is an intriguing thought that none of us knows how he will react when faced with more unfavourable parliamentary circumstances. All the more reason to try to bring it about for him...

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bank Holiday Blues

A day off for most people, but the politicians continue to press on relentless. It's a shame there are some big stories today, since most people won't be paying much attention to the news. Greg Dyke has condemned Tony Blair and urged a vote for the Lib Dems.

Iraq is still bubbling, especially with the news this morning that a British soldier has been killed in action there. I suspect all parties will avoid this one for fear of looking insensitive, but to the rest of us it's just one further message of the failure of this war.

I have a busy few days ahead of revision and exams, so my postings may be few and far between until the 5th. In the meantime, I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has visited this blog so far - 1,500 visits and counting - and I hope you have enjoyed it. I still don't know whether to continue for more than a few days after the election, so words of encouragement or discouragement on that score would be welcome!

Have a nice day.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Student Vote

Since the media and the blogosphere seem to be suffering from immense all weekend hangovers, I thought it was about time I did what I promised some weeks ago and wrote about my thoughts on what the media likes to term the "student vote". This is the second (and possibly last) in my series looking at why the youth just don't want to vote.

In my last essay, I generalised about the scope of youth voting altogether - i.e. anyone between 18-24. This time, I'm going to narrow the focus just a little to pick up on those particular bunches of people who may have the good fortune of being registered in two constituencies and can pick which one to vote in based on where their vote will be more effective. Or they could even get a postal vote in one and then vote in person in a different constituency. Certainly puts new meaning to the phrase "Vote early and vote often!" But it can be done.

Because our university students are theoretically being educated, most people would expect that they might be more inclined to turn out as they should be more aware of current affairs. I suspect this is broadly true, but the impact is very small. We still mostly won't vote. Worse is the fact that the media seems to think that students vote in enormous blocks to deliver support for one party. Yes, the Lib Dems and the Greens will be disproportionately voted for in comparison with the rest of the population, but there are still significant chunks of support for Conservatives and Labour.

The other point to take into account is the fact that a lot of University students will not be on electoral rolls at their University address. Many students live in halls of residence for the first year, and hall wardens often register the students with the local council. This is not guaranteed. If not, then they will have to actively register themselves - which is not likely to produce much success.

Of those who are registered, they may well vote. Well done to them. But there's no guarantee it will be an informed vote. As per my previous article, we must remember that this is probably the first election they will vote in, and it's probably fair to say that a lot, but likely a minority, will vote as their parents do. Politics is a dim and distant thing. An adult thing. Students are adults, but they still like to "rebel" against the norm. What better way to do it than protest against the political system - especially a system that likes to label people and fit them into convenient pigeon-holes. A lot of them just simply aren't ready for party politics. They still have not been socialised into the political culture. As before, they're not long finished being children, so there's a lot of catching up to do in this area. Politics and all its baggage is a lot to digest, and it really does take time to absorb it.

So a lot of them won't vote at all. But first years are just a proportion of the student vote. There are other years in University, of course, but the difference here is that most of them will be living in their own houses.

And that means active registration. No one does it for you. The electoral roll call letter turns up in October, and it most likely gets chucked in the bin or put under a pile of books, magazines or computer games. A lot of student houses simply have no one registered to vote in them [based on a small unscientific survey I did]. Of course, there will be plenty who do register, and there is also the added fact that second and third years have an extra year or two of life experience. They may be more interested in politics now. But still, because of simple apathy or just plain forgetting (students are remarkably forgetful) many of them will not be registered at all.

A significant majority are still registered at home. If they were bothered, they could request a postal vote for there. But again, that requires effort, and no amount of shit adverts from the Electoral Commission is going to motivate them to download the form, fill it in, get an envelope, buy a stamp and post it.

These factors all come together to decide that a majority of students just will not vote. At all. But to those who do want to vote, there is still the issue of deciding who to vote for. Because of all the hoo-ha about tuition fees, a stereotype of students only interested in their own financial affairs is forming. Sure, that was probably there anyway, but people are beginning to tire of hearing about students whinging about having to pay their way through life.

They may well be true. But they apply to everyone. I've heard more than enough of the "Me First" economics in this election, or the politics of the Back Pocket as I like to call it. Kerching. Tax is too high! Pensions are too low! Everyone has money issues - even if they're financially solvent - and they demand solutions. So why criticise students for learning from the Expert Whingers of their elder generations?

But there's more to it than this. It is possible this is unintentional, but the fact remains that no matter how much complaining students do, they will not change the system for them while they are in University. It is too late. Even if they successfully lobby for change, they will have long since graduated before they get a chance to reap the benefits. Changes in student funding are normally planned so they do not hit those who are currently going through the system. It would be unfair.

So who are the students campaigning for? In many cases it is not understood, but most realise this fact that they are stuck with what they've got. So, in fact, they are campaigning on behalf of those who are still in school - those who don't have a voice. Student campaigns on tuition fees are actually because they want to ensure that future students don't suffer the way they have. In many respects, what looked like Me First economics is in fact selfless acts - which they won't be rewarded for - but, if they are successful, will help out all of those who come to University after them.

Maybe students are more concerned about social equality than everyone else, despite the growing stereotype of being only out for themselves. Perhaps they are in fact putting everyone else to shame. Maybe you don't have any right to look down your nose at them.

A plurality of students are going to support the Lib Dems this election. The last election was held in June 2001 - by which time most students have finished the academic year and have gone home. Thus, last time, there was almost no "student vote" to speak of.

This time, there will likely be 1,000 or more students in student constituencies who will vote. This figure will rise in areas that have been specifically targeted, such as Cardiff Central where the Lib Dems can taste victory. In isolated cases like this, there is a chance it will have an impact. But even in student constituencies, we're not going to see tectonic shifts in support.

What's frustrating is that if mobilised, this section of the electorate could deliver surprises. Norwich South - Charles Clarke's constituency - could be lost if one party made a concerted effort to get students registered and then relentlessly pulled for their vote on the big day with a push to get out the vote. Although they do split their vote many ways, in certain areas if they are targeted well, there is a signficant chance that they will come out to deliver an upset. After all, how many of us voters wouldn't turnout and tactically vote if there was a chance to ditch Clarke. But this effect is amplified with youth and student voters. The significant majority of students don't consider themselves affiliated to a party - and in that sense they are the most volatile of the electorate. It's not a great leap to vote for someone even if it's just to deliver a blow to the system.

This could have been exploited in this election. As it stands, the impact will be minimal. But it's one to bear in mind in the future. As I've said before - we have this ridiculous electoral system... we might as well have some fun with it.