Category Archives: Politics

Back to Blogging…

…a summary exhortation on the Summer elections.


I’ve been off the blog for a while for two very different, but equally important reasons:

  1. I changed phones in March and I forgot to change my phone number on WordPress, so my two-factor Authentication wouldn’t let me in and I needed to hunt on old laptops for the back-up codes.
  2. Elections got in the way.

The first is my own fault.The second, which probably increased the time it took to solve the first, was caused by the decisions and unavoidable circumstances of many others – but I can honestly say that it was one of the most exciting and interesting experience of my life so far. I never expected to be running the Local Elections for the 3 wards in Glasgow Anniesland – and definitely didn’t expect to become an Election Agent over the course of 3 days – but I immensely enjoyed both of these times, despite the time and planning both involved.

I will write more thoroughly over the coming weeks about both the Local and General Elections, but I wanted to give a few thoughts – and in some ways having a few weeks’ distance from the 4th May and 8th June has been useful to see how things have panned out.

At a local level, my reaction can be summed up as almost complete satisfaction. At the Local Elections, there were 5 Labour Candidates standing across Glasgow Anniesland’s 3 wards – and all 5 were returned. That’s a 100% hit rate. It is testament to the Labour Campaign in Glasgow and the way we ran it – but also the amazing talents of our Council Candidates. And for the General Election, while Labour didn’t win in Glasgow North West, if you had said that the SNP majority wouldn’t just be halved, but quartered, you would not have been believed. But that was exactly what happened, not just in Glasgow NW, but across the city – and across the whole of Scotland the SNP’s seemingly immovable grip suddenly became a lot weaker.

Hopefully, and I genuinely say this more in hope than expectation, I will be able to finish and post my thoughts on both elections before the next one is called – and I think there are lots of lessons Labour can learn from these elections, both at a Scottish and UK level. And whenever the next General Election is called – there is one thing I know:

The Labour Party needs to win 64 seats to form the next government. Glasgow North West is Target number 58. The Road to the next Labour Government goes through Glasgow!

Immediate Thoughts on #IndyRef2

Shortly after The EU Referendum I was with a few like minded Labour friends discussing where we go from here. We had all been part of the No campaigns in the #IndyRef in 2014 and all bore the scars of that 18 month long campaign. We remembered the long days,the abuse we faced, the lack of sleep, the 20+ hour polling day – but also the celebrations afterwards.

In spite of this, we all agreed that, if there was another independence referendum was called, after the 2015 Election; after the Scottish Elections just past; after Brexit; after Theresa May…we’d  vote Yes.

We were angry. We were angry with Brexit that Scotland opposed, but the UK accepted. We were angry with the Tories exploiting the situation during the election and presenting themselves as the only opposition voice in Scotland. We were angry with the UK leadership casually flirting with the SNP as part of a ‘progressive alliance’. We were angry and ready to give up.

But, in time, we all went back to No. The moment was over before it had begun. After the Summer passed so did our brief flirtation with independence. Our heads regained control of our hearts – and our hearts remembered what they really loved.

There is no doubting, I think, that Brexit has changed things. The dynamics in place in 2014 no longer apply in 2017, and won’t in 2018/2019. Something ‘feels’ different. I’m still not convinced a second referendum is needed – or, indeed, wanted – but it has been clear for some time that it was coming. Not because the country was crying out for it; not because Nicola Sturgeon particularly thinks she can win it; but because there is only so long you can promise to lead the faithful to the promised land before they leave you alone in the desert. It had to come – sooner or later, for better or worse.

But then, when you think about it, what does Brexit change, exactly? If notification under Article 50 is given by the end of March 2017 – we will be out of the EU by April 2019. So, unless Sturgeon is suggesting that we can go from referendum to independence within 7 months, Scotland will be leaving the EU. It won’t be ‘negotiating from the inside’ or seeking a ‘continued membership’ (as was dubiously argued by Yes in 2014), we would be on the outside looking to get back in. This has already been confirmed by EU (and NATO) spokespeople. This is now a fact no longer up for debate.

So – if we are outside we will, presumably be looking to get back in. This isn’t a given since remaining something is not the same proposition as becoming something – but if we didn’t re-apply for EU membership, what would Independence be for? So, when we apply we will have to meet the convergence criteria to join the EU – which include joining the ERM and agreeing to eventually join the Euro. At least that solves on of the 2014 #IndyRef’s biggest issues for the Yes Campaign – except the first 2 (at least) years where we won’t be allowed to use the Euro until we show we can meet the convergence criteria. So we still need to decide what we want to do for that time.

And then we have to actually go about meeting the convergence criteria which include a limit on the Deficit to GDP ratio of no more than 3% – Scotland’s is currently estimated to be about 9%. So we either have to increase tax or cut spending. Given that the current Scottish government have shown no inclination for the former (despite now having the power to do so – which they campaigned for during the 2014 referendum), one can only assume they would pursue the latter.

If that were the case, then how would their social policy, or investment in public services be any different to that currently being pursued by the UK Government? You can argue that the current party of government won’t necessarily be the first party of an independent Scotland’s government – but any government would face the same choices. We would need to get our deficit down if EU Membership was the end goal.

And it may not even be a choice to cut spending – it would almost certianly be required out of economic necessity. The most recent GERS figures show that Scotland has a larger than expected deficit. This taken with the fact that the Barnett Formula gives Scotland c. £1,400 per head means that some policy decision will have to be taken by necessity – whether or not EU Membership is the goal.

All this while we have to deal with the problems of current Scotland. Scotland where education is underfunded and under-resourced to such an extent that parents are having to take on classroom based roles. A Scotland where the NHS is facing budget cuts and in Glasgow had to cut £60million in one year to stay within budget, with the job cuts and reduction in service delivery that involved and when it’s newest shiniest hospital has faced issue after issue with no long term answers in sight. A Scotland where the Police Force is underfunded, the Crown office overworked, courts being closed, the already poorly paying Legal Aid budget shrinking in real terms year-on-year and cases take longer and longer to reach trial. A Scotland where Local Authority budgets have been cut – in Glasgow by over £300million in 10 years – and cuts of £58million this year alone leading to under-investment in roads, schools, breakfast clubs, bin collection and social care where a 15 minute care visit becomes the goal, not the baseline.

And that’s why, after a few weeks, me and my Labour Party friends returned to where we began – agreeing Scotland is stronger when part of the United Kingdom.

Because as ‘engaging’ as the first Independence Referendum was in 2014 – it was easy to forget that children still needed to go to school, people still got sick and people still needed to travel to work every day. Politics isn’t just the grand ideas – it’s getting on with life. A life that we share with our friends, neighbours, and strangers south of the border too. The same struggles of austerity and underfunded health care that people in Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle and Stoke face just as the people of Glasgow, Perth, Inverness, Dundee and Kincardine do. It’s this desire to fight these problems, together, that got me really involved in politics in the first place. That’s why I joined the Labour Party – part of a movement of like minded people up and down the UK aiming for a better Britain.

And – when we have been given the chance – Labour has created a better Britain. The creation of the NHS; Founding the Open University; de-criminalising homosexuality; Civil Partnerships; The National Minimum Wage; increasing Child benefit; Independence for the Bank of England; Devolution for Scotland and Wales; Peace in Northern Ireland; lifting 600,000 children out of poverty over the 10 years of the last Labour government; Health and Safety at Work; Human Rights. All achievements of Labour in Britain – only achievable and sustainable because of the UK coming together and using its strength to make positive change, because we believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.

But this, as well as Brexit, present another break from 2014 and a challeneg to those who want Scotland to Remain in the UK. Back then The SNP and Labour were virtually neck-and neck in Holyrood polls and Labour still 20/30 points ahead in Westminster polling. With a General Election just around the corner it seems possible, nae likely, that Ed Miliband could be Prime Minister and a Labour Government would always be better than a Tory one. Maybe, just maybe, it was worth giving the UK a final shot to convince us it would be that revolutionary reforming country once again. Now, just over 2 years and a 19-point Tory lead later – is it possible to see a possible future Labour government, in any form, to put our faith in again?

Head in the Game…

…or Heart on the sleeve.


“Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown) were the most important left-wing politicians in the UK since the 70’s. Discuss”.

Over my lifetime, I have experienced, in a very real sense two different kinds of UK government. Both have affected real social change across the country, but only one has done it in a way I like. But for some, this wasn’t enough. This is what is at the heart of the Labour Leadership election.

My brother has recently become politicised (thanks to the #IndyRef of all things – he was very strongly Pro-Union) and has taken a great interest in American Politics – mostly, I think, thanks to tumblr. He has recently told us that he supports Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination because he has the best policies. I agreed with him, but told him that I wanted Hillary Clinton to win instead. He asked why and I replied, simply, that he wouldn’t stand a chance of winning, but Hillary would. He complained, as many people new to politics do, that I should stick to principles and should vote for who I thought was best, even if it would be harder for them to win.
In some ways, I feel sympathy for this view. Bernie Sanders would be a revolutionary in American terms (if he could get ANYTHING in his platform through a Republican Congress), provided that after winning the nomination, he won the Presidency. Although the disaster hairea that is Donald Trump (who once compared off-shore wind-farms to the Lockerbie Disaster) is leading the Republican field, when faced with a choice between a leftie and oblivion, I’m not convinced that the US would vote to survive.

Which brings us back to the question I’ve set myself. Since the 1970’s the Labour Party has had 6 Leaders that have faced an election: Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband. Of that list, spanning 50 years, only 1 won a General Election. And out of that list, he is the one spoken of least fondly. Despite leading Labour to its first (and second and third) election victories after years in the wilderness of opposition, should he ever appear, he is hated and questioned. Why?
Iraq aside, which is a millstone around Labour’s collective neck, what did Tony Blair’s (and, let’s be honest, Gordon Brown’s and Co-PM-In-All-But-Name) Labour Party do that marked them out as right-wing. They funded the NHS and cut waiting times. They spent money on schools that was badly needed. They introduced the National Minimum Wage, which so improved the pay of so many people. They created Tax Credits which, while an IT-Nightmare, supported so many people and helped them out of shoestring budgets. All this while devolving to the nations, reforming the Lords – and the minor achievement of brining peace to Northern Ireland.
What he did, it seems, is what he didn’t do. They didn’t fund the NHS enough and dared rely on private investment to build hospitals sooner. They improved schools, but dare experiment with ‘Academies’, which the Tories bastardised to create ‘free-schools’ . They introduced the Minimum Wage, but looking back, it wasn’t that much – despite the opposition (and lack of support from some) at the time. And tax credits were good – but there were still kids that were poor in Drumchapel, even though Child Poverty was at its lowest point ever. And they didn’t devolve enough, and the Lords still exists and the fact there still is a Northern Ireland for peace to be brought to shows the real imperialist intentions. If they were really a Labour party, they would have been much more radical. In short, they bottled it.
But, and the important thing I think, was that they were in power. Tony Blair realised something – that a centre-left Labour government can do more than a far-left Labour opposition. No matter how amazingly redistributive and socially-reforming a Labour Party Manifesto is, it doesn’t matter one bit if we’re not in government at the end of it. We’ve only just had a reminder of this.

When I look at the story of the Labour Leadership contest so far, I worry that we have already forgotten this, and just how terribly frustrating opposition is. As I write, Brian Eno (that committed Labour supporter who voted Lib Dem in 2010) is speaking at a Jeremy Corbyn rally stating that “electability isn’t the most important thing“. What matters is wanting to do good things, not actually getting the chance to do them…apparently. So long as you are ideologically pure, you are fine; but should you temper (not change!) your principles for the niggling purpose of “getting into government” – then you do not belong in the the Labour Movement. If this is our outlook, then I may never see another Labour Government. We shouldn’t give up our goals and aims and principles, but we must convince the voters that they should be put into practice. Not forget who we are in the pursuit of power; but gain power by getting people to look at us.
The halls that Corbyn has packed out; the supporters he has encouraged; the members he has brought; the people he has swayed – how many weren’t already Labour people? How many has he pulled, even from left of the party (the Greens, the various socialists)? The answer, I give with 100% certainty, is not enough.
Cooper, Burnham and Kendall are all members of the Labour Party for exactly the same reason I am, and the same reason Corbyn is: they want to help the poorest and create a fairer, more equal, more socially just Britain. They want a strong NHS, a great education system, and a welfare state that supports the poorest in society. The difference is that they all accept that the public, generally, at large are not socialist. Not in Wales, not in Scotland and definitely not Middle-England. If they cannot support Miliband, they cannot, in the space of 5 years, elect Corbyn. And, quite frankly, I want a Labour government. A Labour Government is not a Tory-lite government. It might not do all you want, but would Brown’s “Red Tory” government have done all the Coalition government did? Would Miliband’s government have done all what the Tories are planning now. If you say yes, you are either lying, disingenuous or a cybernat.

If Corbyn is my Leader come the end of next month – then I will support him to the hilt. I will try and convince people up and down my nation and my country that they should vote Labour in 2020 and make him PM. And will love that campaign because our manifesto will be all I want it to be (and possibly more). It might help us a bit in Scotland (but not as much as people think it would), and I will be able to sleep easy with my conscience clear – but if I wanted to do that I’d have joined the Greens. I will sleep easy, but I will be up all night at the count on 7th May 2020 with a heavy heart as we once again fail to bring the country with us. We return to the opposition benches, once again leaderless, and once again wondering if we just weren’t Labour enough.

I would rather be in power doing some of the things we want, than be in opposition wanting to do something. And that is why Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown) were the most important left-wing politicians in the UK since the 70’s. They did it.


This post has been a long time coming, but was typed today thanks to my reading Stephen Daisley’s Open Letter to Labour. I think Kendall may have the gone too far in the principle/electability trade-off, but it’s an important read. I have not yet decided how I will vote.

Why I’m Labour

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am voting Labour in this General Election. But I want to talk about why.

I’m voting Labour because I believe, fundamentally, that the Labour Party is a force for good. Every government of change in this country has been a Labour government; and every Labour government has fundamentally changed this country for the better.

In the 1920’s, it was a Labour Government that created affordable local housing for people.
In the 1940’s, it was a Labour Government that created the Welfare State as we know it today, and created the NHS that brought us into he world and we now all rely on.
In the 1960’s, it was a Labour Government that decriminalised homosexuality in the UK, which was the first big step towards the equality this country now enjoys.
In the 1990’s, it was a Labour Government that introduced the National Minimum wage, that protects so many workers of all ages and kinds.
It will only be a Labour Government that will provide the change that this country once again desperately needs.

It is only a Labour Government that will ban exploitative 0-hours contracts across the UK, protecting the rights of working people across the UK. Working people, people who are relying on working income to feed their families and heat their homes, should be able to rely on regular work and decent income, without having to wait on a text to see if they should bother to go in that morning, and whether they’ll be paid at the end of the day. It is the only part that has constantly and consistently supported the Living Wage in public procurement and in private business.
It is only a Labour Government that has pledged to tax the richest and support the poorest. It has will re-introduce the 50p tax-rate, ending the Tories tax-cut for millionaires; and will lower taxes for the least well off in society. It will introduce a Mansion Tax on homes worth over £2million, and use that money to properly provide our public services which have been under-funded both north and south of the border. It will end once and for all the scandalous Bedroom Tax.
And it is only a Labour Government that has a real plan to help real people and stand up for the powerless against the powerful. It will take on the energy companies by freezing energy prices for 2 years and give the regulator to make sure prices are fair. It will stand up to Murdoch and his media empire, by creating proper regulation of the press to stop them hacking phones and going after the family of 17-year old girls who don’t support their point of view. It will tackle tax-avoidance and not turn a blind eye to it as has been done before, and end the archaic position of non-doms who escape their fair share of tax. No more!

This is a Labour Party that will stand up for people across the country and across our nations. And that means letting the nations standing up themselves. A stronger Scottish Parliament than the one it created in 1999, and one prepared for new responsibilities as it approaches its 20th birthday. An end to the House of Lords and a new elected Senate of the Nations and Regions to ensure that all regional voices are heard and shape the future of the country. And a conversation about how we continue in the future, with a real examination of how our country works.

I am voting Labour because I believe in Labour’s fundamental tenant: that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we can achieve alone”. It is this that encapsulates the Labour Party in Scotland, Labour across the UK and the entire international Labour Movement of which I am proud to be a part. The SNP have claimed that they can keep Labour honest, and make us true to our word. As much as I appreciate their support of Labour’s policies (many of which they have voted against in the past – tax rises for the richest, rent-caps & the Living Wage condition in public procurement among others), there is, I think, too wide a gap between the two. Labour is a Democratic Socialist Party; the SNP is a Nationalist one. The first requires solidarity; the second demands separation.
I believe the Union (for all its faults) is a fundamentally good thing and Scotland benefits from it. Only be coming together and sharing what we have will we be able to help those who need it most. What illustrates this fr me is the Mansion Tax, a Labour Policy with SNP support. 95% of all the money it raises will come from the South-East of England and only 1/3 of 1% will be raised in Scotland – yet that money will benefit people all across the UK, with c.10% coming to Scotland. The same with a bankers’ bonus tax (affecting the richest in London). These policies only help the poorest in a UK context. If we cut Scotland off from this pooling and sharing of money, we do Scotland a disservice. Full Fiscal Autonomy, which Nicola Sturgeon has committed SNP MPs to supporting, would deprive Scotland of so much.
Not only would it mean a £7.6bn funding gap this year alone (rising to £10bn in the next 5 years) it would cut Scotland off from so much more. Money that could fund 1000 new nurses and 500 new GPs. Money that, would not only reverse the some 140,000 college places lost over the last 8 years, but actually help the poorest Scottish University students as well. Fee-Free tuition is great, but it alone does nothing and helps only the middle and upper class. Labour’s plan to increase bursaries for the poorest students by £1000, is what will help us get working class Scots into University – something that Fee-paying England is currently doing far better than us. Money that would let us provide £1,600 for every 18 and 19 year-old not in further or higher education, and not in training, to get ahead. And money that can guarantee a job for every single 18 to 14 year old that out of work for more than a year.
Labour offer pooled money for progressive, radical policies – I don’t want to walk away from that.

The Labour Party has not, is not and can never be ‘perfect’. It can never offer a socialist paradigm because it knows it can never implement it. It was, let us not forget, Atlee’s government, idealised by so many in Scotland, who introduced the UK’s first nuclear weapon – but I hope that, along with the rest of the world, it will be a Labour Government that gets rid of them, not just the UK, but the planet. But The Labour Party, in particular this Labour Party, and only the Labour Party, is offering a radical vision for so many people.

It is once again only the Labour party that can be the government for real, effective, lasting change for working people – based not on where they come from or what they’ve done, but what they need.

It is that government that I will be voting for.

Elections, Prime Ministers and their Causes – Part 3

The 2015 General Election is one of uncertainties. Who will be the largest Party? Who will work with whom? Who will be Prime Minister? Will anyone be able to get enough support to pass that magic number of 326 (half the seat in the House of Commons +1) and form a Government? What does it mean if they can’t?
With all this uncertainty, the possibility of a SECOND General Election this year has been mooted.

This week, I want to look at these questions in a bit of detail, combining the Legal Framework with the Political Reality of #GE15. Over the course of three posts this week, I will examine “What causes a General Election”, “What ends a Prime Minister” and “What Creates a new one”, all through a #GE15 lens.

In part 2 we reached a situation where David Cameron could no longer stay Prime Minister, but now we have to face a governmental vacuum. So, “What Creates a New Prime Minister”?


Who, then, could replace Cameron once he resigns? The country cannot be left Prime Minister-less. The Queen (for it is at her pleasure the PM serves) would have to invite someone else to fill the role. According to the definitive guide to such things, the Cabinet Office Manual, that person would be the person “best placed” to command the confidence of the House of Commons. That person, in the current election, is Ed Miliband.
It is important to note that it is not incumbent on Miliband to prove he can command the confidence of the House, merely that he is best placed to do so. In practice, this will be tested when Prime Minister Miliband presents his Queen’s Speech. If that fails to pass (which is a possibility), it will then be clear than he doesn’t command the confidence of the House of Commons and the duty then falls on him to resign as Prime Minister. Who would replace him…it’s hard to tell. It would, theoretically be the (new) leader of the Conservatives – whose Queen’s speech would fail and would have to resign to be replaced by the (new) leader of the Labour party – whose Queen’s Speech would fail…and so on.

All of this is going on without another general election happening, since while the Queen’s Speech is a test of the Prime Minister’s ability to command the Confidence of the House of Commons, as we discussed in Part 1 it is not one of the statutorily defined triggers set-out in the FTPA2011. It then becomes a political calculation for the smaller parties (since the 2 main parties will never support the government of another in peace-time), to decide which side of the fence they come down on.
It would take an MP to table one of the motions quoted above to cause an election and see if the mess sorts itself out – or the House could vote to repeal/amend the FTPA 2011 and we go back Prime Ministers being able to call an election at a time of their choice (though even whether that would happen is a controversial legal proposition).

Bringing all this Together

Attempting to tie all this together then, it is entirely possible that we are in for a confusing and rocky few months after this election. Unlike in 2010, its clear going into the election who’s most likely to side with whom, so when the results come in, the blocs should be easier to make up.
If there are more ‘Anti-Tory’ MP’s (LAB+SNP+GRN+SDLP+RESPECT) on May 8th than ‘Coalition Friendly MPs’ (CON+LD+DUP/UUP) then Cameron’s days as Prime Minister are numbered, and Ed Miliband will eventually be invited to replace him.
However, that could well prove to be the simplest part of the process. Ed would then need to demonstrate that he commanded the confidence of the House of Commons by passing his first Queen’s Speech. He doesn’t need MP’s to just be ‘Anti-Tory’ – he needs them to be ‘Pro-Labour’ as-well. It’s possible that LAB+SNP alone will have enough votes to get Ed into Number 10 – but if the SNP abstain from voting in the Queen’s Speech (which is entirely possible), then it could still fail, meaning Ed might not have enough confidence after all. The SNP’s line that they will “lock out the Tories” isn’t enough in the longer-term; they need to be willing to keep Miliband in for there not to be another General Election.
If they don’t  though, we wouldn’t be bracing ourselves for #GE15.2 quite yet, because there are only 2 ways to hold an early General Election under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011:

  • 434 MP’s vote to hold one.
  • 1/2 of MP’s voting support the motion, “That this House has no confidence in her Majesty’s Government.” and that MP’s do not pass the motion, “That this House has confidence in her Majesty’s Government.” within 14 days of doing so.

Analysing the SNP’s position in all this then, the following is entirely possible:

  • they count AGAINST David Cameron, and therefore would lead to his resignation as PM.
  • ABSTAIN from Miliband’s Queen’s Speech (not wanting to vote against it because of the perception; but not wanting to vote for it because they haven’t got any concessions – which is what Miliband seemed to signal in the TV Debates last week).

They would then have to decide whether to support an election-causing confidence motion. Do they Support the motion, bringing down a Labour government and creating echos of 1979, which they have tried to escape? Do they oppose it, rendering their opposition to the Queen’s Speech a little weaker, and making them look a little uncertain of what they actually want? Or, do they abstain, and risk being made to look missing in action – and risk abetting the collapse of a Labour government, if not abetting it?
The Lib Dems would also have to look at the lay of the land, depending on their numbers. I’ve talked about them being ‘Tory-friendly’, but it’s more the current leadership than the party itself. Whether Nick Clegg is still an MP after May (let alone Lib Dem leader) is still up for discussion – so it’s entirely possible the party my shift to be more pro-Labour, and that may well be enough to see Miliband securely in No.10 until 2020. But even then, that depend on a Lib Dem MP who is sympathetic to Labour – many of whom are unlikely to survive this election – becoming the new leader.

The only thing that’s certain is that the 2015 General Election will not finish when voting does.


See Part 1, “What Causes a General Election”;
And Part 2, “What Ends a Prime Minister”.

Elections, Prime Ministers and their Causes – Part 2

The 2015 General Election is one of uncertainties. Who will be the largest Party? Who will work with whom? Who will be Prime Minister? Will anyone be able to get enough support to pass that magic number of 326 (half the seat in the House of Commons +1) and form a Government? What does it mean if they can’t?
With all this uncertainty, the possibility of a SECOND General Election this year has been mooted.

This week, I want to look at these questions in a bit of detail, combining the Legal Framework with the Political Reality of #GE15. Over the course of three posts this week, I will examine “What causes a General Election”, “What ends a Prime Minister” and “What Creates a new one”, all through a #GE15 lens.

Having looked at Planned and early General Elections, I want to move on to look at “What Ends a Prime Minister” after an election is over.


I’ve looked at how the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 has changed the way Votes of Confidence effect Parliament and elections. Now, instead of looking at Parliament, attention turns to Government, and what it takes, not so much to create a new government, but to end the old one.

Government and Parliament

What is key here is clearly separating “The Government” and “The Parliament” in our minds. The Parliament is the 650 MPs elected at elections who legislate. The Government is, while drawn from the Parliament, a separate body who govern the country. The fates of both are not intertwined.
It is possible for there to be a new Parliament, but not a new Government. Blair’s Government continued from 1997 – 2008 with 2 elections in-between, each time changing the Parliament. It is also possible for there to be a new Government, but not a new Parliament. There are two ways this can happen. The first way is a ‘change of personnel’, such as the Blair/Brown switch that happened in 2008 – where the people in government change, but the same party holds power. these are simple and (generally) uncontroversial. The second is a much more drastic, and involves a change of party in government mid-way through a Parliament.
When the coalition formed in 2010, it wasn’t expected to last. It wasn’t expected that the Tories would be so dominant and the Liberal Democrats so subservient. It was entirely possible the coalition would collapse. It was conceivable that, had the arithmetic been right, a LAB+LD+OTH coalition could have ousted the Tories – without an election. The government would have changed, but the Parliament wouldn’t have. This is, perhaps, best called a ‘change of control’ transition.

As I discussed, under FTPA, there can only be an election held every 5 years, using the Parliamentary method or the Governmental Method. The Act regulates Parliament, not Government. It does not state when a new government can or cannot be formed. And this could be key in the Post-#GE15 negotiations.
Labour has ruled out a coalition with the SNP – but the SNP has said they will work to keep the Tories out of Government. UKIP’s condition of an EU Referendum in 2015/16 would be too far a policy shift for Labour to manage and keep face (plus the politics of a Labour/UKIP alliance would be disastrous), but is only 1 year earlier than the Tories’ proposed referendum date of Summer 2017. In reality, therefore, it appears this is a Labour+(SNP)+SDLP v Conservative+UKIP dividing line, with the Lib Dems jumping either side of it as they deem fit.
I say “it appears” because, in all the excitement of coalitions and Fixed-Term Parliaments, a basic constitutional principle seems to have fallen by the wayside: How we get a government. I know asking how we get a new government seems an odd question to ask when discussing how to end a Prime Minister (and therefore a government) – but there is a logic here.

Prime Ministers

A Prime Minister is the MP who command the confidence of the House of Commons. This is the Constitutional Law 101 definition of the Prime Minister. In almost every Parliament, that person has been the leader of the party that had a majority after a General Election (or resignation of the previous leader of that party) by virtue of that majority.
It follows from this that when a Prime Minister demonstrably no longer commands the confidence of the House of Commons, they must resign. This condition is one sided – it does not require anybody else to demonstrate that they command the confidence of the House (but we’ll get back to this soon). Therefore, it is for the Prime Minister returning from an election to show that they still have the confidence of the House; not for someone else to show that they have it instead.

But how can we apply this principle to coalitions, especially when Gordon Brown didn’t immediately resign as Prime Minister after the 2010 election and tried to form a government? The reason Brown didn’t immediately resign is because it wasn’t clear he had lost the confidence of the House for some time. It was entirely possible – and indeed for a day or so seemed more likely – that the LibDems were going to come to some agreement with Labour which would have meant that (along with the SDLP, Green and, possibly, SNP seats) would have given them enough seats to command the confidence of the House, allowing Brown (or whoever led the Labour Party after the election) to pass the Prime Ministerial application test and remain in (very wobbly) power.
When it was clear the Labour/LibDem wasn’t going to happen, Brown didn’t have to wait until the coalition we have now turned up. He could not command the confidence of the House of Commons, and so had to resign. Whether or not what we now know as ‘The Coalition’ had emerged, Brown could not remain Prime Minister. It is clear in a #GE15 context, therefore, that if it emerges that Cameron cannot command the confidence of the House, he has a constitutional duty upon him to resign. It would not be like 2010 where Brown (and the country) couldn’t tell which way the wind was blowing; We know who’s teaming up with whom, so it should be easier than before to see the blocs as they form and how strong they are.

It’s the extent to which the parties will work together which could make the life of a post-#GE15 Government difficult – but that’s for Part 3…

Elections, Prime Ministers and their Causes – Part 1

The 2015 General Election is one of uncertainties. Who will be the largest Party? Who will work with whom? Who will be Prime Minister? Will anyone be able to get enough support to pass that magic number of 326 (half the seat in the House of Commons +1) and form a Government? What does it mean if they can’t?
With all this uncertainty, the possibility of a SECOND General Election this year has been mooted.

This week, I want to look at these questions in a bit of detail, combining the Legal Framework with the Political Reality of #GE15. Over the course of three posts this week, I will examine “What causes a General Election”, “What ends a Prime Minister” and “What Creates a new one”, all through a #GE15 lens.

Today, I want to look at the first, and possibly simplest of these questions – What Causes a General Election.


Regular General Elections

This is the simplest point to discuss. Section 1(2) of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 [FTPA 2011] appoints the date for the first General Election after the act comes in as 7th May 2015. This is the simple.
Section 1(3) goes on to state that the polling day for each election thereafter will be “the first Thursday in May in the fifth Calendar year” after the last one. So, the next general election is 7th May 2015; the next 7th May 2020; the next 1st May 2025 and so on. Section 1(5) lets the Prime Minister, under Statutory Instrument approved by Parliament, delay the election for up to 2 months, but that doesn’t really mess with things. The next election would still be the 1st Thursday in May five years later.

This is the Best case scenario. Everything goes as it should; there are no disastrous governments; no mass defections; no wafer thin majorities coupled with rebellious backbenchers. This is the mode of almost every government since WW2. But the drafters were no naive to assume there would never be a repeat of the Vote of Confidence in 1979.
There are two ways to hold early general elections.

Early General Elections

The first is best described as the Parliamentary Method.
Section 2(1) compels an early General Election take place if the following motion, laid out in Section 2(2), is passed by a 2/3s majority of the whole House of Commons (i.e. at current seat numbers, 434 MP’s):

That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.

This way of calling an election is unlikely to ever be a possibility in reality. At the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives alone won 310 seats, keeping them safe form this kind of early election. In most cases, the largest party (if they are the ones attempting to form a government) or the party of the sitting Prime Minister (if they are attempting to keep hold of power) would need to have fewer than 227 seats to be unable to stop a motion passing. This has never been anywhere near a possibility since World War 2. eve allowing for a large rebellion, this would be very unlikely to pass if the largest party didn’t want it to.
Of course, there may be situations where a fresh election might be in the largest party’s interests. Two such situations could be:

  1. Where the 2nd Largest Party has had a major mess up since the last election. Perhaps there has been a damning revelation about a leading figure. Maybe coalition negotiations take an unexpected turn?
  2. Where a’worst case scenario has come to pass. Voting SNP really did get Tories. Voting Labour really did get UKIP. Now that the hitherto vague threat has become a reality, people might vote differently and be able to push the largest party over the line, giving it an overall majority – however slim.

These situations are possible – but unlikely. If anything were to happen, it is most likely to be the second method of calling an early general election. This can be called the Governmental method and is more of a two-stage process.

The first step is contained in s.2(3)(a), which compels an early General Election to take place if the following motion, laid out in Section 2(4), is passed by the House of Commons (i.e. more MPs vote for it than don’t):

That this House has no confidence in her Majesty’s Government.

The second step, contained in s.2(3)(b), is that the following motion is not passed by the House of Commons within 14 days of the above motion:

That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.

Provided that there is no counter-motion within those 14 days, then an Early General election is called. This is a much more likely scenario if the Parliamentary arithmetic adds up. In a #GE15 context, it could be that there are more “Anti-Tory MP’s” who, while not wanting to enter into formal coalition, want to end a Tory Government.
All this is much closer to the traditional “Vote of Confidence” we’re used to. But it’s vital to note that nothing in this Act replaces the law regarding confidence in the government.

That’s what we’ll be discussing next in Part 2, “What Ends A Prime Minister?“…

Sketchy Round the Edges…

…or why I need to check my tweets before hitting send.


I do a thing every night Sunday – Thursday. I carry out “NatOnal #HandWatch”. It’s not mean-spirited, I don’t think. It’s a bit off fun. It’s an establishing meme of Scottish Politics along with Soleros being the lolly of choice and things being in Alex Salmond’s pocket, the the front cover of ‘The National’ will have hands on it. Somewhere. There will be hands. They may be badly photo-shopped hands, but there will be hands nonetheless.

Some of my personal favourites so far are:

I accept its silly and pointless. I didn’t start the whole “Hands on The National” (or NatOnal – because the map of Scotland does not look like an ‘i’) idea, I just picked it up and ran with it. I don’t agree with The National’s political outlook, but it serves a market and good on them.

But today this cartoon was included in the paper, and I saw this preview on twitter last night and it made me uneasy. CAtqW4SWcAAxdmm

I’ll start by saying I genuinely love Greg Moodie’s art style. I don’t know why, but I love it. The stuff from before the #IndyRef, even attacking my own side, I love it. But my issue with the cartoon was the inclusion of Charles Kennedy sweating over a pint. The man’s issues with alcohol are well known and he doesn’t try to hide them. I said that I felt this cartoon was in poor taste (which may or may not be the right word in this situation).
Let’s get my complaint down here. I’m not complaining he’s making fun of alcoholism generally. Nor am I complaining about the political viewpoint – that’s not relevant. I’m asking what having Kennedy staring and sweating over a pint is adding to this frame.

The some of the responses to my (I promise, genuine) concerns were not ones I can agree with:

I disagree. Satire can be in good taste (if indeed taste is the right word). Private Eye’s ‘Royal Baby’ cover was a great example of that – indeed, most of Private Eye is. And besides, unnecessarily mocking somebody’s struggle with alcohol is difficult to justify.

The Lib Dems are rightly going to suffer for being in coalition with the Tories for the last 5 years. I think everyone should be reminded of their broken promises and u-turns. They are a party, I feel, that has no political credibility. However, I don’t see what that has to do with a man’s alcohol issues. The two are not connected in any way. The political vapidness of the Lib Dem platform can’t be used to justify unrelated personal criticisms.

No. It’s probably not worse than the Sun’s ridiculous Wrecking-Ball spread from a few weeks ago, which was sexist. It’s definitely not worse that David Coburn’s “Humza Yousaf, or as I call him Abu Humza” comment (for which he still hasn’t resigned). I think both examples are ridiculous. We can argue about whether its worse than Steve Bell’s cartoon (which I think was a classic Guardian “I’ll use a reference only about 5% of the population will get first time round”). But we have a deep-rooted problem facing addiction issues, and mental health issues more generally, in this country. Making fun of someone for it isn’t a great way to help open up the discussion.

I don’t object to Nigel Farage being pictured with pint – primarily because he isn’t an alcoholic. His constant use of pubs for photo-calls is a cultivation of his “man-of-the-people” image, not a chronic dependency. The point being made here is a fair one, but in my mind, the two are of a different class.

There was then this comment:

I include this (borderline defamatory) comment only so I can show one of the best things I’ve ever created…Referendum Dogs (based on a picture a friend took after the 2012 Local Elections. You can take it as “Labour are criminals”, or just that it’s a cool picture.

ref dogs twitter

I don’t think Greg Moodie should resign or be fired. I don’t thing he should be abused or harassed online (some of the comments he’s received on twitter are well out of order). But I do wish that The National had exercised a bit more discretion. The Lib Dems as an entity, are fair targets – as are all political groups. But there is a point where you cross from criticising the politics of a person to criticising the person themselves.
Some have attempted to justify this as satire – and generally I’d agree with them. But in what way does Kennedy hold a pint improve the satire? I don’t think it does. “But”, say others (including Mr. Moodie), “in other frames of the comic, other people are drinking the pint”. That’s absolutely accurate. But I’m not sure that this completely expunges the issue. Why…look at Kennedy’s eyes in this frame:

CAuTbrMWgAAXbQk

To my mind, and it may well just be my mind, they seem to be following the pint. And, a picture of the paper itself suggests this is common to each frame:

CAx23qnXIAADCHt

I don’t know if this pattern is repeated in all the frames, but 3’s generally enough to establish something more than a coincidence.
To make clear, I’m not offended. I’m not hurt. I’m not harmed. But I am of the opinion that perhaps, just perhaps, a national newspaper should show a bit more awareness of what it publishes and how it can be seen.

Lessons from Kirkcaldy…

…or why no-one can be completely happy.


At any other time, Labour wouldn’t have to worry. A by-election in Kirkcaldy East (deepest Brown territory) cause by the resignation of an SNP councillor because of interesting business dealings in Austria. In 2012, the result was clear: Labour Candidates got just shy of 50% of the vote compared to the SNP’s 36.4%. Labour had half the electorate behind them. Easy, right:

Kirkcady East By-Election results

In the end it was the SNP who were victorious – bagging 47.3% of the vote and Labour falling back to the 35% mark. This should leave SNP folk buoyant, they’ve just won a seat that they should have really lost. That’s true, but in the longer term, there are other considerations that might not make it quite so joyous.

Firstly let’s quickly look at the state of the ‘other’ parties:

  • The Tories: Slight increase in %age support, but nothing big. It’s most likely down to the traditional low by-election turnout.
  • The Lib Dems: Disaster. The Lib Dems have lost yet another by-election deposit and only lost a whole 2/3’s of their 2012 support. They also managed to get only a 1/3rd of the votes UKIP did. That itself is a terrible result.
  • The Greens and UKIPBoth of the “minor” parties didn’t stand in 2012, so any support they got would be a gain for them. Both also lost their deposit but the greens narrowly (by 9 votes) pipped UKIP – based on polls, it should have been the other way around.

—–

So having dealt with the minor parties,  the swing here is important. For the SNP to win there had to be a LAB>SNP swing of 7%. They managed to bash straight through that got a swing of c.12.8%. Even on the low turnout – that’s a pretty good result. But, it possibly should have been better.
The most recent polling is placing the SNP lead somewhere around 20-25%. In 2010, LAB’s vote lead was 22% – meaning there has been a c.20% swing since the last General Election. Yet, in the by-election, the swing was only 13%. And this difference is significant. Come May, the SNP need a swing form Labour of 15% to really do substantial damage to Labour. 15% would see them take 20 seats from Labour. 13% would only give them 11 gains…which is not what the SNP are preparing themselves for. So while Thursday’s by-election sin was a good result on the night, more needs to be done if the SNP tidal wave is to strike in May.

Obviously, there are lots of caveats that must be made. It was a by-election last Thursday, which always suffer from decreased turnouts. A council election is not a Westminster election, so different factors can be at play. But, as a friend on twitter put it, this by-election can serve as a “straw in the wind” to give the general direction of travel, if not a precise landing point.
There are still 3 months to go until The General Election, and lots more is bound to happen that will change people’s minds…but as things stand, neither the SNP nor Labour can be truly happy with how things are.

The Electoral P(o)ints

This is the second of two posts looking at Al Murray’s ‘Pub Landlord’ standing in Thanet South constituency in the 2015 General Election. This post looks at what effect he could have on the election itself; while the other post looks at why he’s standing in the first place.


So, the question must be asked – how will the Pub Landlord’s candidacy effect the election in South Thanet? Ladbrokes have him at 66/1 to win which is pretty low (but not as low as the 100/1-shot Lib Dems). But, lets be honest, much like Eurovision – winning isn’t the point here. It’s to make a point about UKIP, but by just standing Murray is going to win votes – an those votes have got to come from somewhere…but where, and what effect will it have?

Firstly, those most likely to vote for a fictional character are the apathetic voters. Those who, for whatever reason, just don’t care about the outcome. The are most likely to be non-voters (so there’s no -ve effect for other parties there), or those who would consciously spoil there ballot anyway (again, no -ve effect for UKIP, CON, and LAB). But these voters alone wouldn’t allow Murry to win.
But it’s not just the apathisers that he will need to attract. People who would have voted for other parties could now consciously vote for the Pub Landlord. Foremost among these are those who would have voted for an actual pub landlord who is already standing against Farage. Nigel Askew is standing as Bez’s (of Happy Mondays fame) ‘The Reality Party’ candidate. There is also an Independent standing in South Thanet. The latest Ashcroft poll (Nov 2014) has support for these ‘others’ at 1% – but this was taken before Bez’s Reality Party news broke – which may increase that figure, albeit only slightly. Most of these people’s support will come from “Screw everyone else” sector – so are likely to switch to Murray at election time.
Greens too (the majorest of the minor parties for the time being), being honest, do not stand a chance of winning. Green votes are, in this case, mostly protest votes, as they will be in c.640odd seats in May. There is a possible issue the Murray’s manifesto is diametrically opposed to Green policies and values – but somehow I reckon that Murray’s not going to stick to rigidly to it if he gets elected (he won’t). And hey, if you’re going to protest – why not vote for someone that will have a wider base and could cause more of an upset?

But what about the major parties? Labour, The Concervatives, Lib Dems and UKIP are all in unusual situations here. The Lib Dems firstly, similarly to the GRN, don’t stand a chance. This isn’t a “you’re in bed with the Tories” thing, it’s just a fact of Thanet South. They got 15% of the vote in 2010, while LAB and CON got 31% and 48% respectively. They were never in the race, and their support is now only at 7% That means that there are now 8% of 2010-LDs looking for a home. They left because of the Tories (you can presume), and could go to Labour, but if that offering isn’t to impressive, why not vote for Murray?
Now consider Labour’s unusual position. Thanet South is officially a CON-LAB marginal, but that is misleading. It is a LAB-1997 seat, won in extraordinary times in extraordinary circumstances (the Tory MP and 1997 candidate was Johnothan Aitken). Before 1997, Labour had NEVER won the seat before, nor any of its past versions (Thant East, Thanet West of the Isle of Thantet). The fact both parties were neck and neck last July was a wonder in itself. So, there are two options for the Labour voter:

  1. Stay with Labour – there is a chance that they could win, it’s happened before and Murray won’t get the support; or
  2. Vote for Murray – Labour probably won’t win and if enough support musters around Murray, he could stop both UKIP and the Tories.

Where would the other support come from? That’s a difficult question. The Tories want to win this seat. Tory voters in Thanet South know that there is a good chance of them to win the seat, but UKIP do present a threat to their vote. They know that if not enough Tory voters vote Tory then UKIP could over take them or, even worse, Labour could come up the middle of a split CON-UKIP vote. Of all the parties, I’d imagine that the Tories will stay the most solid and see the least (but still some) leakage. Those voting Tory just to keep UKIP out may swithc, but again, it’d have to bee seen that Murray could actually win – which is not likely to happen.
But then comes UKIP. Farage knows that Murray is their focus, and so will most UKIP voters. I say ‘most’ quite deliberately, because of the Steven Colbert issue – some people think Al Murray is ‘The Pub Landlord’ so will vote for him in good faith. Murray may succeed where all other parties fail – he might actually out-UKIP UKIP! If this is the case, the UKIP deficit will only grow, potentially improving Tory chances. But also, c.20% of UKIPs 2015 support (6% of voters) comes from 201-LAB voters. Might Murray’s satirer prove effective in highlighting UKIPs potential deficiencies and moving those people back to Labour? Or maybe they left Labour in search of a new home and found UKIP – might Murray be there man?

It’s unclear what will happen as a result of Murray’s Pub Landlord standing in Thanet South. The only thing we can be sure of is that he won’t win. Even with half of 2015-Planned-Non-Voters deciding to vote for Murray (which won’t happen) & ALL the insignificant party support (IND and Reality Party) & ALL the GRN support & HALF the LD support came under too, there he would still be a good 8% behind Labour, 10% behind UKIP and 13% off the Tories..
However, he might garner just enough support, to chance the outcome. If Murray would have to take more support from the Tories than he does from UKIP to increase Farage’s chances of winning the seat. Given the solidity of the Tory vote in Thanets past, and the softness of the UKIP periphary vote – this is unlikely to happen. He has scuppered UKIP chances just by standing. But, and this is a big but, if Murray can take just 1/10th of the Tory vote away, and scare 1/10th of UKIP voters back to Labour – which is a distinct possibility thanks to that very same soft-UKIP periphery – Murray could actually switch the seat from Blue to Red and cause a reasonably sized boost for Miliband.

Don’t you just love FPTP?


I have done the sums for the scenario in the last paragraph. According to the Ashcroft polls, about 70% of people in Thanet South are likely to vote in May 2015.
On that basis, if Murray got the backing of:

  • All the OTH [1.4%] + GRN [2.1%]
  • Half the LDs [2.4%] + Half of otherwise NVs [14.7%]; support would be c.20.7% [4th]

But, if, at any turnout, 1/10 of 2010-CONs leave and go anywhere and 1/10 2015-UKIP voters got to LAB, Labour will win by less than 1%.