Posts Tagged 'Elections'

Newark by-election: what it tells us

The result of the Newark by-election is in and the media’s talking heads and the analysts in the parties are scurrying around trying to draw conclusions and pointers from it.

While there is much talk of halved majorities and the UKIP ‘surge’, it would actually appear, going deeper than the superficial glance  some normalcy is returning to Newark and the overall result is noteworthy for slightly different reasons.

All the analysis and reporting focuses on comparions between this by-election and the 2010 General Election.  But this ignores the exceptional circumstances of 2010 – where the least popular government in modern history hemorrhaged votes and seats, everyone in the bubble seemed to agree with Nick which boosted the Lib Dem share of the vote and despite the Tories being hot favourites to win, they had already conspired to underperform due to late policy reversals by Cast Iron Dave.

It would seem far more realistic, with the Tory-led coalition being unpopular and Labour doing OK in the polls, to look back at previous elections in the constituency to give a more ‘business as usual’ look.  Combining the elections in 2001 and 2005 gives us an average vote for the parties (main parties only) when the polls looked much as they do now.  In Newark the averages look like this…

While the media rightly points out UKIP’s performance as noteworthy in Newark having increased their vote there by 413% from 2010, are they really right to suggest the UKIP effect halved the Tory majority?  UKIP have apparently already fallen back a little from the European Elections performance in the constituency. But surely the bigger news is what the result tells us about the performances of Labour and the Lib Dems…

We can see that with this being a by-election the votes cast for main parties and the turnout are down as expected from 2010.  But look at the votes and vote shares compared to the 2001 & 2005 combined average.  Labour has gone from 36% vote share to 19% and the Lib Dems from 14% to 2%.

Labour might content itself issuing its current line that Newark is not its kind of territory.  But their share of the vote, for an opposition party seeking to form the next government, with their track record in the constituency in 2001 and 2005, is staggering.

In contrast, the unpopular Tories, whose MP had lost the whip in disgrace before resigning from Parliament, expected to get some punishment from voters but in fact despite this being a by-election ripe for a protest vote and a kicking at the hands of fed up voters, their share of the vote was actually higher than in 2001 and 2005.

No doubt many Labour voters stayed at home or voted tactically with UKIP. UKIP maximised its vote in its effort to score a major upset.  The Lib Dem collapse contiued to exhibit itself in amazing fashion. Some Tories stayed away to make their point or even flirted with UKIP. But even so, the election stats are remarkable for different reasons than the media would have you think.

Media hyperbole: Where is this ‘anti-EU’ vote they speak of?

This time it seems it is the turn of Janet Daley, writing in the Barclay Beano, to offer her penetrating analysis into the European Election result and what it means.

But where is this anti-EU vote she is speaking of?  It’s all well and good for Daley to criticise (rather succinctly) the ‘codswallop’ responses of the main parties to their showings in the elections, and ridicule their claims that they have heard the people, or that messages have been received and understood, but the very foundation of her piece – that there was an anti-EU vote last week – is frankly rubbish.  Consider this extract:

I am not one of those delusional commentators who believe (or claim to believe) that nothing much of any significance has happened and that all this excitement is just overblown media froth. On the contrary, my reason for insisting that none of the things that are assumed to be self-evidently true about the post-elections world will actually prove correct, is that the results were too important – so devastating, so cataclysmically mind-altering that they cannot be assimilated. There is no way that the European Union – which is to say, those who run it, think entirely within its conceptual parameters, have their political and personal futures invested in it and can conceive of no reality outside of it – can come to terms with the consequences of these elections.

So the election results were too important? They were devastating? They were so cataclysmically mind-altering they cannot be assimilated?

Across the whole of the UK last week (using the vote tally on this BBC page – all these figures are provisional and subject to final confirmation by the Electoral Commission in the Autumn) there were 16,454,950 votes cast in the European Election, a reported turnout of 34.19% which means the current UK electorate stands at around 48,127,962 (** see end of post).  Therefore some 31,673,000 people who were entitled to vote stayed at home  The total number of votes for parties whose manifesto includes withdrawal from the EU was 4,999,885 – and 12.46% of that vote wasn’t even for UKIP:

But then, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that many UKIP supporters backed the party not because of its anti-EU position, but purely because of its saturation message opposing immigration. That is no surprise when UKIP issued a follow up A5 sized leaflet in many areas that contained no other message than an anti-immigration one.

This actually points to the anti-EU vote itself being ‘soft’ and much of grounded in other issues.  So back the data that has evidently been completely ignored by La Daley. Of those who voted in the European Election, 30.38% voted for anti-EU parties, just 9 in every 30 who turned out.  Of all eligible voters therefore, those who cast a ballot for anti-EU parties was just 10.38%.  While I have not found this kind of breakdown in the media, you can be certain the parties and the EU mandarins will have crunched these numbers in far greater depth than me.  They will be asking the same question as me, where is this anti-EU earthquake, this mass rejection of the political union?

So when Daley, in her hyperbolic fit, declares…

The facts do not compute. They are incomprehensible. Therefore they must be dismissed as some irrational, contemptible spasm to which the masses are occasionally susceptible and which the enlightened institutions of the EU were specifically designed to over-rule.

she may wish to reconsider exactly which facts do not compute or are incomprehensible. The only irrational, contemptible spasm on show is her witless article.  It is laugh-out-loud rubbish written without any attempt to look at what really happened on that Thursday just over a week ago.

Putting things into further context, consider the most recent in the series of polls by YouGov that shows how voters currently divide if asked in a referendum whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave.

With all this in mind, how does Janet Daley’s conclusion bear any relation to reality?

It has become received wisdom that the reason for that massive electoral rebellion against the EU was that the people were throwing a harmless tantrum: they were just letting off steam because they knew that their votes in this election did not matter. And what do people do next when they realise that their votes don’t matter?

I don’t know what world Daley and her ilk inhabit, but it’s certainly not the one the rest of us live in.

There are messages in the data.  The anti-EU side is not getting its message across.  The anti-EU side has not countered the blatant lie regarding 3 million jobs being dependent on EU membership, the crass distortion that 50% of our trade is with the EU (wilfully ignoring that a significant percentage of this goes to final destinations outside the EU), or that our place in the world is enhanced by EU membership – when it actually excludes us from influencing global negotiations and decision making regarding the laws and regulations we must observe in the globalised world.  People have heard these messages time and again and the likes of UKIP have done nothing to challenge and correct them with the truth.

In 12 months time we will know if there is to be an in-out EU Referendum.  But we should not wait until then.  All anti-EU groups, regardless of the career aspirations of their directors and staff, need to agree common lines to take and push them at every opportunity, in the same way the pro-EU groups already do. Otherwise a possible 2017 referendum will just be a re-run of 1975 and we will be stuck in this damaging union for generations to come.

———–

** The 48,127,962 electorate figure is not official – it has been calculated by taking the total number of votes cast in the BBC table and accepting they make up 34.19% of the eligible electorate (for European elections) which we are told voted.  If this figure is accurate it is astonishing. Please note therefore the use of this figure comes with a significant health warning.

In the 2009 European Election the electorate was 45,315,669.  That means the electorate could well have grown by 2.81 million in just five years, or to put it another way, an extra 562,458 voters would have joined the electoral roll each year on average since 2009.

To put that in context, between the 2004 election and 2009 election the official electorate as reported in the BBC elections coverage grew by 1,197,216, or 239,443 per year on average. So if the assumed 2014 electorate figure is correct, the average annual increase of new voters to the roll from 2009-2014 is more than 134% greater than the average annual increase between 2004-2009.

Added to this we keep being told that the number of people absenting themselves from the electoral roll for a variety of reasons, which hints at population growth well in excess of official estimates.  This is very interesting indeed.

So what has the European election changed?

Despite a disparate, disconnected and contradictory smorgasbord of ‘sceptic’ parties having made gains in the European Parliament this week, the answer to that question is ‘nothing’.  As Nigel Farage explained yesterday after his return to Brussels:

There is a big dissident voice now in this parliament. And yet, I just sat in a meeting where you wouldn’t think that anything happened at all.

If anything underlines how meaningless the European Elections are, this is it.

For all the huff and puff, the acres of media coverage and the stream of analysis of ‘political earthquakes’ by the well paid talking heads, the 73 MEPs from the UK have arrived on the continent to find it is business as usual.  The same discussions, the same agendas, the same intrigues… for all the talk of ‘reform’ the EU continues on its journey to political union and the voices of the people still fall on deaf ears.

 

Euro elections 2014 – UKIP ‘wins’, Lib Dems crushed, BNP all but buried, but most pollsters red faced

The results are almost in for Great Britain, with just Scotland to report its final figures once the Western Isles have completed their count.

Round up

As most of the opinion polls over the last 10 days predicted, UKIP has won the largest share of the popular vote for the first time, adding 10 MEPs to its complement so far with another possible in Scotland.  The increase in UKIP’s vote from 2009 so far is 74%.  But back to this in a moment.

The Liberal Democrats have been utterly crushed with a vote share lower than the Greens and just one MEP of their previous 10 scraping back in the South East.  The Lib Dem vote was more than halved. Nick Clegg’s ‘Party of In’ strategy has completely failed and his future as leader is now surely in doubt ahead of the general election.

The most pleasing moment of the night was seeing the burial of the BNP as a political force. 764,000 voters from 2009 have deserted the party – most likely for UKIP and its anti immigration message – its two MEPs have been removed from office and its local organisation is in ruins. Then BNP is now a paper party.

Labour performed a little less well than predicted while the Conservatives performed a little better than expected. Neither will be happy with the outcome of the Euro poll, but neither will be panicking yet.  Domestic factors are at play and will increase in importance in the coming months. For both parties there is everything to play for.  Cameron’s position seems secure, but Labour ranks are breaking regarding Miliband and his team. This is personality politics writ large and in that race, Miliband has a big problem.

Opinion pollsters

But there is something of a wake up call this morning for most pollsters who published polls over the last 10 days.  Only one pollster, You Gov, came close to correctly projecting the vote shares.  Their methodology in their poll conducted between 20-21 May most accurately reflected the actual voting percentages within the usual margin of error:

You Gov / (Actual)

UKIP – 27 / (27.5)
Lab – 26 / (25.4)
Con – 22 / (23.9)
Lib – 9 / (6.8)

For UKIP, Survation (32), Opinium (32), TNS (31)  and ComRes (33) were way off the mark.  ICM was even further out having Labour winning with 29 and UKIP in second on 25.

A recent exchange on Twitter between me and the CEO of Survation, who aggressively defended his research and methodology when I argued their handling of non responders and undecideds was overstating UKIP’s likely support, seems to confirm my argument. That Survation research specifically concerned the Eastleigh parliamentary constituency, but as we saw in the local election results Survation’s adjusted findings of 32% for UKIP was nowhere close to borne out in the 15 seats contested, with the Lib Dems comfortably holding all their seats and gaining one from an independent, and the Conservatives holding their seats.

It is always possible that in the last few days before the elections UKIP’s support softened, but YouGov has been consistently the most accurate pollster and their polling seems to best reflect voter opinion.  The other pollsters have some thinking to do. Ascribing voting intentions to people who say they don’t know how they will vote in a forthcoming election, in the way Survation and others have been doing, might make for big headlines, but it is generating numbers that are wrong by more than the margin of error.

UKIP

The way people voted is very interesting indeed. It looks like reading into the Euro Election results as a guide to the general election in 2015 would be a hazardous thing to do.  We have known there is a substantial protest vote in Euro Elections and this seems to have been exhibited here too.

In the European poll UKIP has received 27.5% of the vote, dwarfing their previous share in 2009.  With Scotland to provide its finall tally, UKIP has increased its vote from 2,498,226 to more than 4,350,000, over 2 million more votes.  Almost certainly 750,000 of those have come from former BNP supporters, but that still means they have harvested another 1.2 million voters from the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and previous non voters.

Yet where council elections took place, UKIP took just 17% of the votes.  This suggests that where council elections were taking place, many people segmented their vote. When choosing their councillors they largely voted for their preferred party, but on the European ballot paper many were happy to stick it to the main parties to show their dissatisfaction. The conclusion that can be drawn is that as the Euro Election is meaningless many voters were happy to give their vote to UKIP – but cannot be relied upon to do the same at the general election.

Turnout

Although Nigel Farage predicted this election would see a record turnout, at 34.1%  it is slightly down from 2009 (34.4%), which itself was lower than the 38.2% in 2004.   In 1999 the turnout across the whole UK (which includes Northern Ireland) was just 23%. In respect of absolute numbers of voters he might yet be correct, as population increase has seen the size of the electorate grow. We will find out later.

Regardless, whereas about 7 in 20 eligible voters turned out this week and next year it is likely to be about 13 in every 20, there is an increasingly dogged section of the electorate, around one third, that simply will not participate in the political process. For all of UKIP’s proclaimed insurgency providing a voice for those who don’t feel represented, legitimacy of the system is increasingly in question.

General Election

The additional 6 in 20 voters that will turn out to vote in May 2015 are very unlikely to vote UKIP.  We know UKIP’s core voters were utterly motivated and turned out this week.  We also know UKIP were loaned votes to make a point to the other three main parties, so this is their high watermark.  While UKIP’s general election vote will be higher than 2010, their total number of votes will be less than this week.  This will mean their share of the vote and their vote concentration in areas where they appear strong this week, will be diluted. The recent You Gov nationwide polling for the general election has UKIP sitting around 13%, which seems to be an excellent reflection of what will come to pass.

Ahead of the general election we can expect to see more scrutiny of UKIP, but most probably a change of tack. Rather than focusing on the characters in the party, the other three parties will likely start applying pressure regarding the absence of coherent polices that the media will happily run with.  This has implications for any subsequent referendum as time and again we will hear that UKIP wants the UK to leave the EU, but has no plan about how this can be done cleanly or painlessly.

Conversely we can expect to see an onslaught against Ed Miliband as voters are asked to contemplate the idea of him being Prime Minister. It’s not an attractive vision and it has the capacity to drive more people towards the Conservatives.  If this begins to happen, Lord Ashcrofts polls in the marginal constituencies will start to see the gap between Labour and the Tories narrowing.  That is what watchers need to look out for.  If that happens, as it permeates the consciousness of those floating voters, we can expect to see a classic two party squeeze in 2015.  The Lib Dems will have retreated to their existing constituencies to try to retain them as part of this squeeze and their scope for causing upsets elsewhere has largely been neutralised.

Things are therefore all set for another two horse race where UKIP’s involvement will be limited to that of spoiler rather than contender.  The extent of the spoiling will depend on UKIP’s credibility under further scrutiny.  The next six months could tell us a great deal.

Tory attempt to steal the general election exposed

Following the local election results and the media’s coverage of UKIP’s resounding victory this week, it has emerged the Tories have made a formal application to the Electoral Commission to exclude all 2015 general election results from central London when determining the seat tally and which party will be invited to form the next government.

Conservative Party spokesman, Crispian Keswick-Grantham explained the move:

We have learned the lessons of this election. UKIP’s stunning win, congratulations to them, has taught us that London really has no part to play in elections.

We are a one nation party and we are listening to the people of this nation. It has become clear that educated, cultural and media savvy voters are not really part of this nation and have no understanding of what is important to the country outside the M25. Therefore their votes should not be included in May 2015.  We are at one with UKIP and the media on this, including London votes makes no sense.

Keswick-Grantham rejected claims this was just a cyncial ploy driven by Labour’s substantial support in the capital and the Tories’ lack of popularity, and an effort to prevent Labour MPs being returned to Parliament – thereby ensuring the media declares the Conservatives the election winners regardless of their actual vote and seat tally.

That is a baseless and laughable accusation, but one we considered might be made by Labour sympathisers.  To demonstrate there is no such attempt on our part and that we are taking an even handed approach to this idea, we have extended the scope of the exclusion in our application to cover Scotland too.

We attempted to ask Nigel Farage for his reaction to this breaking story, but were informed by a UKIP spokesman that it was already past opening time and he would have to get back to us.

Elections 2014

23:15

With 150 of 161 councils having completed their counts we now have a clearer picture.

Vote share / Seat share:

Labour – 31% votes / 49.0% seats
Conservative – 29% votes / 32.6% seats
UKIP – 17% votes / 4.0% seats
Lib Dem – 13% votes / 10.4% seats

Labour has had a reasonable but not great election. It has made gains, but not as many as an opposition aspiring to win a general election in 12 months should be. Its vote share reflects the opinion polls and shows the lead over the Tories is narrowing.

The Conservatives lost 18% of the seats they held in this part of the election cycle.  Their vote share is under 30%. But they are gaining ground on Labour as economic factors continue to confound every one of Labour’s chosen battleground issues.

The Lib Dems are fighting a rearguard action. The general election will see them posting even greater numbers of paper candidates and pulling what activists they have left into a few dozen constituencies in a desperate effort to maintain their Westminster seats. For them the aim is having enough seats to negotiate another coalition. Anything less and they will be an irrelevance.

The media, having hyped the UKIP challenge for weeks, has had to follow through by justifying the hype with stories of this election being a huge result for the party – or the first tremors of the promised political earthquake. But the hyperbole has had to be toned down as it became clear that UKIP’s both vote share and percentage of seats won have fallen from last year’s result. Last year UKIP got 20% of the vote and 6.1% of the seats.  This blog has been saying for some time the polls show UKIP has fallen back from their high point last year, and now the evidence is incontrovertible. Which makes the headlines look ridiculous and Farage’s ‘victory parade’ in Essex surreal.  Securing just 17% of a low turnout, having got out the enthusiastic UKIP vote, underlines the glass ceiling effect Farage’s approach is having with voters.

To counter this inconvenient reality the media have come up with a ludicrous wheeze. They are arguing that UKIP has done brilliantly – so long as you pretend London does not exist. This is the same as them saying at the last general election Labour actually won, so long as you ignore the south east and much of the midlands. It’s ludicrous. You can’t just exclude a huge part of the electorate in this way to fit in with a prepared narrative, because they will have the vote next May. What then? An appeal to the Election Commission to disregard any votes cast inside the M25?

The big story that is being completely ignored concerns turnout. The record turnout predicted by Farage didn’t materialise.  It seems 64% of those eligible to vote have not bothered. Given the opportunity to protest against the three legacy parties and the political class in general by supporting Farage’s ‘People’s Army’, the outlet provided by UKIP did not appeal.  That should be food for thought.

Now we wait for Sunday night to see how the European results stack up.

 

14:30

With more than half the councils having declared their results, the UKIP earthquake has hit 4.7 on the political richter scale.

This earthquake has prompted Nigel Farage to carry out a victory parade (no, really) in Essex (without a steel band) where UKIP now controls no councils.

So here are the numbers… 2401 seats confirmed at this time and UKIP have won 113. That is 4.7% of the seats available so far. This compares to the 6.1% of available seats UKIP won in 2013.

But in this media event, the journos would have it that this is a shattering result, evidence of a UKIP surge and of course, a political earthquake. Short memories or short of headlines to pitch in excited tones? Curious.

 

11:05

There’s been a fair bit of excited chatter on the BBC about UKIP and particularly their result in Sunderland. As Nick Robinson wrote:

From the very first result – a council ward in safe Labour Sunderland – the tremors could be felt. UKIP secured 30% of the vote in an area where it hadn’t even run before. [...]

[...]  The Farage factor has cut Tory support the most – Essex man has shown signs of becoming UKIP man.

It has, though, also damaged Labour – challenging them in their northern heartlands and undermining Ed Miliband’s hopes of winning in key election battlegrounds in the Midlands.

This is overstating things. The ‘north’ is not a single entity. Factors influencing UKIP’s support in Sunderland do not necessarily resonate in Wythenshawe.  UKIP might shine in Rotherham, but fail to flicker in other parts of Yorkshire.

We are not seeing a national rise across the board of the type the SDP experienced in the early 1980s. There are pockets of particular disaffection – particularly if immigration is a big issue – where UKIP’s message plays well. But in neighbouring towns they fail to make any headway.

What is being consistently overlooked by the political talking heads and the media is the turnout. At a projected 36% this election is another landslide for the Apathetic and Disengaged Party.  UKIP said they were pulling in lots of people who had given up voting.  But the effect of this has not driven up the turnout.

So it is clear even UKIP’s brand of anti politics is being largely ignored, and around only 1 in 10 eligible voters are voting for them.  To call this an earthquake when looking at the facts in context, seems a bit daft.

 

09:59

Morning all. What we know so far is that with the results coming in for the local elections, UKIP has currently held one council seat and added 89. The figure will continue to rise, particularly outside London, but any gains in the capital will be small in number.

With the motivating factor of the European Elections, wherever there were council seats up for election outside London it was clear UKIP would do well, as the overwhelming majority of its support base would turnout to vote. This therefore is a almost certainly the UKIP high watermark.

Labour gains are far fewer than they would have hoped and much lower than an opposition party at this stage of the parliament should be winning.  These are anxious times for Team Miliband.

The Lib Dems could not have done more to play down expectations with their national vote share down so much.  But as always they have played their tactical game – one that Farage after many years has finally woken up to – of pouring what resources they have into carefully selected areas to maximise their councillor tally.

The Tories have lost control of seven local authorities, all but one to no overall control.  They expected to do a lot worse than this, although later London results could increase the pain.  What this shows is the Tories are somewhat stronger than many thought, even with a lot of theirs and Labour’s vote staying home.

The big point to take on is that the turnout seems set to be around 36%.  This is up slightly from the Euro Elections in 2009, but lower than in 2004.  Nigel Farage’s prediction of a record turnout therefore appears at this stage to have been scuppered.

One political earthquake looks likely to be replaced by another

National polling over the last few days has caused some ripples among political anoraks.

As Political Betting has highlighted, Labour and Conservatives are now level pegging on 34% according to You Gov.  The last time that Labour was that low with the firm was in June 2010 only weeks after the party’s GE2010 defeat.   With four pollsters in two days showing the same broad picture the trend is becoming clearer Labour is down.

Miliband effect kicking in?

It seems no one has quite ‘got’ why this has happened yet. Most people are not political anoraks and therefore take little or no interest in politics until the week before they are going to vote.  Now there is a nationwide election due and we are less than a year from the General Election, so more people are inevitably taking a look at politics, whether they will vote and if so who they will vote for.

This is forcing people to look at Ed Miliband for the first time in a while and consider whether they seem him as this country’s next Prime Minister.  It seems they are concluding that he is not Prime Minster material and slowly turning away from Labour.

Where’s the UKIP bounce?

What is interesting is that there does not seem to be any rise in UKIP support, as the national polling for 2015 still shows the party rooted firmly in the 15% range.  UKIP has made much of its belief that more of its voters in the forthcoming European Elections will stick with the party in May 2015, and that a political earthquake will result.

What this assessment seems to ignore is that only around 30% of the electorate will bother to vote in the Euros, with UKIP mobilising just about all its support.  Most Labour and Tory voters and a good many Lib Dems will stay at home.  In May next year around 65-70% of the electorate will turn out for the personality politics vanity contest.  UKIP’s current vote will be significantly diluted.

Make no mistake, UKIP has the capacity to hurt the Tories next year.  But if  Labour support continues to fall back and the UKIP polling share doesn’t advance then the Tories may mitigate a lot of the damage.  UKIP’s political earthquake would then only have power comparable to a fart on a waterbed as the classic two party squeeze returns.

A lot can change between now and next May.  But as things stand it’s hard to see people’s perception of Miliband changing, particularly as the economy continues to improve.  Similarly it’s hard to see where UKIP will make any new breakthroughs, particularly as its immigration strategy is permanently alienating many more potential supporters than it is attracting.

One earthquake fails to materialise, but another might loom

Cameron could well be on course for a second term in Downing Street.  It’s not a prospect that fills me with joy, but as a result of that the UK would be on course for an in/out EU referendum in 2017.

This could be the best opportunity for the ‘out’ side to secure a Brexit from the EU. That would be an earthquake right at the top end of the political richter scale.

2017 is a date well before a point by which Cameron could ever hope to deliver on his renegotiation pledges.  There is no prospect of treaty change, which Cameron acknowledges some of his pledges require if they are to be delivered.  Four years after promising reforms he would have achieved nothing and would fight a referendum on a platform of promises that he can deliver, eventually.

People would see the reality that repatriation of meaningful powers to nation states just will not be allowed to happen.  Just like that crushing moment when a child discovers Father Christmas is not real, many pro-reformers will finally see their fantasy for what it is and admit at last the only options are in or out.

At least that is what will happen, if UKIP don’t secure enough votes in 2015 to deprive the Conservatives of some seats they currently hold in Parliament.  UKIP supporters face a paradox:

  • fight the Tories and do enough damage to prevent them winning the 2015 election, handing Downing Street to Miliband and thus losing any hope of bringing about a winnable in/out referendum.  Or,
  • don’t fight the Tories in the hope that they win the election and present EUsceptics with the golden opportunity they have craved for decades, to have and fight a winnable referendum and take Britain out of the EU

Welcome to the often soul destroying world of realpolitik.  After more than 20 years of campaigning to get the UK out of the EU, UKIP may find itself in a position where putting party first actually deprives voters of the chance to escape from the control of Brussels.

UKIP – the best and the worst for the anti-EU side

UKIP’s billboard poster campaign is a curious mix of badly judged rubbish tempered by something more incisive that the party doesn’t do enough of.

The poster campaign tells us a great deal about the party’s approach to the forthcoming European Parliament elections and shows the party at both its best and worst, with implications for the wider anti-EU part of the electorate.  Starting with the worst…

The EU policy at work poster is plays on the anxieties of low and semi skilled workers, portraying a man in a hard hat who made to appear as though he has been adversely affected  by cheap labour coming to this country from other EU countries.  The problem with this is that only certain sectors have been affected and the impact has not been across the board.

Indeed many farmers have been grateful for cheap labour on their land, particularly at harvest when produce needs to be picked or dug up within a small time frame. Whereas they frequently struggled to hire enough labour for the task, labour from other EU states has ensured a reduction in produce spoil and maximised output.

The open goal missed here is that as an independent country we could decide what our needs are and welcome those with the skills we need, or who will perform tasks there there is a labour shortage.  But that isn’t what the poster says, as such it characterises the party in an unfavourable manner.

Then there is the casual ignorance of highly skilled roles that could not be filled, such as dentists, which now have been thanks to labour from EU member states, to the benefit of large numbers of patients.  Indeed my own excellent dentist is from Lithuania and prior to dentists from other EU countries coming to my town, getting NHS dentistry was all but impossible.  Are UKIP suggesting this is a bad thing? It is but one example, but there are others where this country’s less well off most certainly benefit.

Dentists from elsewhere in the EU were among those looking for work, but did not displace UK workers when providing a much needed service.  It shows this issue, and the one above regarding benefits of unskilled labour, is not as black and white as UKIP like to suggest; and without the application of some specifics and detail UKIP will only reinforce the electoral glass ceiling it has created for itself by alienating people who see there have been positives as well as negatives and may feel UKIP’s sweeping generalisations are irresponsible or plain inaccurate.

Then there is the bus/limo poster.  At first glance it’s clever, but there is an element of rank hypocrisy here because our daily grind is also funding the very comfortable lifestyles of UKIP’s MEPs.  UKIP separating themselves from the gravy train when they have first class seats on it is basically dishonest.

We have already found that Nigel Farage has been taking full advantage of any allowance going, but has also tapped into an opportunity to boost his European Parliament pension fund at taxpayers’ expense so that he stands to get a £71,000-a-year pension from the EU when he leaves retires.  Criticising other Eurocrats for something UKIP MEPs will also benefit from leaves the party open to attack, such as with the image below, which Richard showed on EU Referendum today.

Finally, however – the figures used in the wording notwithstanding – we find an intelligent piece of campaign material, below, that gets to the heart of the matter of who really runs this country.

This is the kind of thing that makes people think and cannot be countered – the EU runs the UK.  It is an honest reflection of reality and could be adjusted to address the concerns over control of immigration, the use of British taxpayers’ money, trade, international affairs and various other negatives this country experiences as a result of not being independent and self determining.  This is what UKIP can achieve when it applies some brain power.

This is what the whole anti-EU side needs, but sadly there is too little of it.  There are still many good people in UKIP, but as we have said before they are being let down by the slapdash ignorance of the leadership.  UKIP still deserves better.

Democracy through the Wythenshawe prism

We have learned that the media will do all it can to ignore the crucial matter of political and electoral legitimacy. The establishment can’t have ordinary people actually thinking about or discussing MPs sitting in Parliament after securing only a tiny amount of support in the ballot.  That would be dangerous to the establishment.  The media, as its ally, continues to help distract attention away from this significant issue.

84.4% of eligible voters in Wythenshawe and Sale East did not vote for the candidate elected as the area’s MP.  71.8% of eligible voters in the constituency did not even vote.  The turnout was mentioned in Chris Mason’s piece, but only as part of the result, tucked away as a bullet point neatly at the bottom of the vote tally, no further discussion of it wanted or permitted.

This is an issue that is not going to go away.  In a democracy the elected representatives must have legitimacy.  Mike Kane’s election ‘victory’ with only 15.6% of the available vote is nowhere close to legitimacy.  We do not live in a democracy.  It is time people made a stand in order for this country to become one.

The real Wythenshawe election result

Party politics is a tribal business and it was no surprise this morning to see my tribe had won the Wythenshawe and Sale East By Election in a landslide. The results were as follows:

Makes no Difference so Not Bothered   –   61,034  (71.8%)
Labour   –   13,261  (15.6%)
UKIP   –   4,301  (5.1%)
Conservative   –   3,479  (4.1%)
Lib Dem   –   1,176  (1.4%)
Green   –   748  (0.9%)
BNP   –   708  (0.8%)
Monster Raving Loony   –   288  (0.3%)

We will get to the implications for democracy in just a moment.  So what does this mean for the parties?

Labour said they knocked on every door in the constituency, yet even with the abuse-enabling postal vote they were unable to motivate even 16 in every 100 voters to make a positive vote for them.  This was always a win and from the moment he was appointed, Mike Kane could have used his candidacy as collateral for long term borrowing and planned a new, well funded lifestyle with plenty of holiday time and boondoggles to cherry pick from.

UKIP as ever talked a great game but even before the declaration, Paul Nuttall was moaning about a postal vote stitch up and the inability of a party to build momentum during a campaign. This is fatuous nonsense.  This is not the 1960s where voters had a range of policies to choose from on the big issues that matter, and therefore wait to be persuaded by powerful arguments before choosing who to vote for.  With the EU running almost all the major portfolios, parties have little scope to change anything of substance and even less therefore to offer voters.  Swing votes are increasingly cast on the basis of economic self interest, be that a desire for lower taxation and efficient services, or the preservation of benefits and welfare payments, in constituencies that are marginals between Labour and the Conservatives.

I said to friends before the election that anything less than 5,000 votes in this election would represent a failure for UKIP, as their vote would turn out even while others stay at home. Even as a dustbin for protest votes and with substantial media coverage over recent months, UKIP only managed to enthuse 5% of Wythenshawe’s voters to come out and support them in rejection of the other parties.  This does not indicate any sense of a breakthrough. It shows the limitations of UKIP’s appeal and it represents a bad result for the party in the current political climate.

They will do better in some other constituencies where a vote for UKIP can inflict a bloody nose on another party in a close race, or where the election is meaningless, such as the European elections.  But for all the noise of UKIP fanatics on comment threads, in the real world voters are not flocking to the party in the way its vocal followers imagine.  On this showing, second place in the Euro elections seems more likely now.

Conservative election managers were expecting a pounding and they rightly got one.  Their vote collapsed with it being obvious Labour would win easily.  Tory campaigns have been hit hard by the loss of supporters, particularly since Cameron became leader and turned the party into the new age Social Democrats, then rejected the option of forming a minority government and calling another snap election to secure the extra seats they needed for a majority – instead getting into bed with the Limp Dums in order to give Cameron the cover he wanted to dump much Conservative policy.  The party is finished in the northern urban areas.  It has nothing to offer that differs from Labour and its own efforts to maintain a client state in years past is coming back to bite it hard now finances necessitate welfare to be reined in.

Fib Dim supporters repeatedly rejected suggestions they would lose their deposit here, but they did, then promptly went into a self imposed media blackout.  Previously the party of all things to all men, now they are nothing to almost everyone.  The party will now write off the Euro elections and prepare to see its MEP tally slashed to almost nil.  All attention will turn to a ‘hold what we can’ strategy for 2015, where what remains of the Lib Dem activist base will be drafted in to selected constituencies where they have MPs for the most bitter and nasty election campaigns we will have ever seen in a desperate battle to retain most of their seats.  If any party is devoting more time to party maintenance than anything else, it is Clegg’s declining rump.  They have nothing to offer and most voters now treat them with the contempt they have long deserved.

Green / BNP can be lumped together as two cheeks of the same authoritarian arse.  While one seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades in our industrialised and open country through damaging and regressive eco-loony policies, the other seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades to build a more inclusive society through racism and identity politics.  Neither party is credible.  Neither party appeals to anyone outside a limited number of angry and hate fuelled drones who want to ‘purify’ this country through ecological and traditional fascism respectively.  Thankfully here they made up little more than 1% of eligible voters, but even that was too many.

Monster Raving Loony entertainment is always a fixture in By Elections and in addition to those who treated the election as a farce and stayed away, another 288 made an effort to come out and treat the party political process with a bit of extra contempt by voting for those upholding Sutch’s legacy.

So what does this mean for democracy?

We still don’t have it.  We have an electoral process, but that’s all.  Mike Kane will settle his backside onto the green benches, but will now answer to Labour whips in Parliament, vote as he is told and parrot prepared lines to take.  He will go through the motions of being a lawmaker, but ultimately change absolutely nothing for the residents of Wythenshawe and Sale East.

In 2015 he will stand again and will win again.  More people will be motivated to turn out and vote just to ensure the hated Tories do not sneak in by some fluke of electoral happenstance.  The Tories will regain second place as many of their stay away voters from this campaign come out in forlorn effort to stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister.  UKIP back will likely slide back into third as the enthusiastic support they have has already turned out and few others will jump into their camp at the General Election, so they will be overtaken by Conservatives who will turn out after getting in a lather as a result of the General Election hype.

All in all, after great expense and column acres of discussion, analysis and interpretation, nothing of substance will change.  Voters will be no more empowered and have no more control or ability to change things through the system than they had before.  People power will remain a soothing catchphrase.  Slowly though, more people will reject the process and increase the number of those who could be tempted to look at a radical alternative to what masquerades as democracy today.

UKIP’s failure will be due to flawed strategy

‘UKIP’s failure?’ I hear some UKIP supporters ask.  ‘We are rising in the polls, we’ve added 13,000 members since 2013, we are taking votes from the Tories and Labour, we are the main challengers in a number of seats, we are favourites to win most votes in this year’s Euro elections, the other parties running scared,’ are comments that are repeatedly made in threads on newspaper websites and blogs. But there is good reason to believe the foundations underpinning these claims are soft.

We will come to the polling in a moment, but first we need to set the scene and look at UKIP’s prospects in this year’s Euro elections.  Farage has talked up the party’s prospects and its members are highly confident that UKIP will win the most votes in the election.  However the Euro polls are still showing that UKIP is behind Labour and will likely only come second at best.  There is even still a chance the Tory vote could just squeak them into second at UKIP’s expense.  It’s worth remembering UKIP’s total vote in 2009 (2,498,226) actually fell from that in 2004 (2,650,768) despite a larger electorate.

This time around, if the party can’t secure the most votes in the Euros, even in these perfect conditions for a protest vote, huge media coverage and a core support that will definitely turn out while millions of Labour and Tory voters will not bother themselves with a trip to the polling station, then success in the 2015 General Election is a pipe dream. Don’t forget, just a year after the 2009 Euro elections, in 2010 at the General Election, UKIP’s total vote fell to 919,546 (with the BNP on 564,331).  That’s a lot votes loaned to the party in meaningless Euro elections that go somewhere else when people are asked to elect a government.  Although with UKIP hoovering up BNP supporters and votes along with disaffected Tories and previous non voters who wish to register their disgust at the three main parties, it would be realistic to see UKIP get well in excess of 1,700,000 in 2015 – possibly even clearing the 2 million mark with room to spare.  But that won’t translate into seats.

Back to polling then.  While polling in some marginal seats funded by Alan Bown has UKIP, when the figures include undecided voters and those who refuse to say who they will vote for, as high as 19% (Thanet South) and 16% (Great Grimsby), nationally the party is still rooted stubbonly around the 13% mark.  But the polls are not telling the whole story here because it is impossible to tell from them what the effect of the BNP’s collapse is.

We know a number of white working class Labour voters defected to the BNP.  With the BNP imploding we know anecdotally that many of their members have been attracted to UKIP as the next best alternative by the immigration message that has taken centre stage.   This 13% average UKIP polling figure is a lower percentage than before the May 2013 local elections in which UKIP won a number of district and county council seats.  There is no breakthrough at the moment and UKIP’s position, third in the national polls, is only that way because the Lib Dems are being punished by former supporters for being in coalition with the Conservatives and have seen a lot of their support desert to Labour. These numbers and other factors considered, we will not see UKIP win any Westminster seats in 2015.  Despite much bravado, it seems that UKIP is hitting a glass ceiling of support.

What does this suggest?  A failure of UKIP’s own making.  What voters are now seeing is a party of blatant contradiction they cannot trust, whose offering is nothing more than a dustbin for protest votes,  ‘vote for us because we’re not Conservative/Labour’, which is offering nothing positive or differentiated of its own.

In the south people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to the Conservatives and trying to appeal to those who want low tax, smaller government, shrinking welfare budgets, stronger defence etc. People who are attracted by Farage lauding Margaret Thatcher, in a clear message that he is positioning himself to them as Thatcherite.

In the north people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to Labour and trying to appeal to those who believe in government running most things, funded by higher levels of tax than the south want, preserving or even increasing welfare budgets, who would like strong defence because many young men and women from the region join the forces in the absence of other opportunities.  People who are attracted by pictures of Farage drinking bitter in a pub, in a clear message that he is positioning himself as an ordinary working class bloke.

The two are too mutually exclusive, and thanks to national media and 24 hour news, this ‘all things to all men’ strategy employed by Farage is all too visible to voters who will rightly feel it is nothing more than an electoral ploy, saying different things to different people based on what UKIP thinks they want to hear.

While some voters will feel moved to support UKIP regardless, when it comes to putting an ‘X’ on a ballot paper, will that be enough for UKIP to hold on to enough potential supporters in the north and south respectively, who see the party’s schizophrenic pronouncements in different parts of the country?  People who loathe the blue or red side so much they would vote tactically for whoever is best placed to form a government that would keep Cameron/Miliband out of Downing Street.  That’s the crux of the matter.

No matter whether the party is comprised of enthusiastic amateurs or professional political animals, as a strategy it may result in some short term gains.  But in the long term it is doomed to failure. Depressingly, as that happens, so the Eurosceptic cause as a whole will be adversely affected.

Representative Democracy: The disengaged

Four in 10 people are “alienated” from  Britain’s political parties and say they will not consider voting for any of them, according to new research that is reported by the Independent.  It is an interesting article that is worth a couple of minutes of your time to read.

The problem with the article is that it drifts off into the realm of fantasy when it goes on to tell readers that, although the polling carried out by TNS-BRMB does not mean people are apathetic about politics,  the Committee on Standards in Public Life which commissioned it believes the findings pose worrying questions about the future of democracy in Britain, maintaining the illusion that we actually have democracy in this country.

Lord Bew, who chairs the committee, said the growth in the size of this group over the last 10 years represents a real challenge to politicians, parties, local organisations and community groups to provide the public with a sufficiently attractive and relevant set of options to choose from.

This is where the lack of understanding about how this country is governed, and by whom, is utterly exposed.  The politicians, parties, local organisations and community groups cannot provide the public with attractive and relevant options to choose from because they do not govern the country, the EU does. This is why we have meaningless posturing, endless broken promises that could never be kept, fights over narrow meaningless matters and soundbite politics, instead of genuine choices and real change when people want it.  This needs to be repeated over and over until people understand it.

British politicians do not run Britain.  This is why no matter who is elected in this country, on the substantive issues nothing changes because they do not have control over those issues.  This is not a sovereign country.  Our control over the laws in this country has been lost, our control over the taxes payable in this country has been lost.  Whether most stay-away voters realise this or not, they do at least see that voting changes nothing and is not a worthwhile exercise.  More people are joining their ranks.  The disengaged is a growing constituency.  The only solution is a wholesale change of the system where the people hold the power, not the political class.

Getting back to the democracy illusion, one of the comments in response to the article captures the essential point about our condition with ruthless efficiency. It is an excellent potted summary that deserves to be shared around, for it underlines the reality and helps to reinforce the necessity of challenging and changing the system to replace the cheap and nasty sham we have with real democracy:

Their fear is growing, the establishment is circling the wagons

Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman, and the subsequent furore about not voting, has evidently rattled the political class.  So much so, the columnists are still pouring out their implorings for people to trapse to the ballot box and continue doing what clearly has no effect whatsoever, and think tanks are now weighing in to spread their own brand of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

The latest examples are in the Independent today, where Jane Merrick reports (without any question or challenge) a tidy piece of scaremongering from the Labour party’s closest thinktank, the Institute of Public Policy Research.  And John Rentoul uses his space to argue that even a vote for Nick Clegg is better than not voting.  The IPPR piece stands out for its FUDmongering:

People who do not vote are more likely to face public spending cuts and reduction in household incomes, a leading think tank reports today.

Political parties are more likely to tilt their policies and economic decisions towards groups who turn out at the ballot box than those who do not, the IPPR says. As a result, it leads to a “vicious cycle of disaffection” because low turnout groups feel politicians are not listening to their concerns, and this makes them even less likely to vote.

There really is a worry among the political class that the increasing tendency of large chunks of the electorate to stay away from the polling stations, recognising that however they vote nothing will change and the will of the people will be ignored, will increase as a result of high profile personalities articulating the reality and encouraging more people to follow suit.  To help things along, this comment has been added to the article’s discussion…

So where are the hard truths then? – Part 2

Continuing from the previous post… In his comment piece in the Guardian, Russell Brand has himself admitted that he said nothing new or original in his interview with Jeremy Paxman, acknowledging that it was the expression of the knowledge that democracy is irrelevant that resonated with both Paxman and a wider constituency.

In his op-ed, Brand argues that:

As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change.

What Brand this fails to acknowledge or deal with is the reason why the people who politicians were elected to serve are not being served.  It is too simplistic to say the politicians are only looking after the interests of big business.  The fact is the power to effect change in this country has been given away to the European Union and politicians here cannot rein in behaviour of the corporates when EU laws give them a mandate to act as they do.

Whether Brand realises it or not, the issue again boils down to sovereignty – who should run Britain?

When Brand says that politicians are frauds, he is right on the money about many of them.  This is because there is a significant number of politicians who understand very well the limitations that EU rule has on a government’s scope for domestic governance.  Despite this they make impossible promises and hold forth about changes that need to be made in areas of policy where the UK no longer governs itself – while staying silent about the EU dimension.

However, there are politicians who simply do not understand the EU dimension and think the UK still has the ability to effect changes.  Given the fast moving world of current affairs and the sheer breadth of things they need know just enough about to comment upon, as if they were in control of a brief, these are the people who don’t take the time to learn how this country is really governed, where power really resides and how little can actually be changed even if Westminster was of a mind to.

This takes us back to the so-called ‘democratic process’, which is just long hand for ‘voting’.  This is about the limit of involvement people can have in our so-called democracy.  But where is there any value in voting when the people we elect do not have the power to change those things we are opposed to?  Back to Brand’s op-ed again:

The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right. The lazily duplicitous servants of The City expect us to gratefully participate in what amounts to little more than a political hokey cokey where every four years we get to choose what colour tie the liar who leads us wears.

Replace ‘The City’ with ‘the EU’ and Brand has actually got it spot on.  The reason we only get a few derisory tit-bits is they are all there is within the gift of the people we elect to give to us.  The reason they hop a few inches left or right is that all the big issues are dealt with in Brussels, so there’s no point in ideological battles when any mooted changes could not be delivered unless the EU willed it.  That leaves us with the change in tie colour every four or five years, because the three main parties are all fighting over that narrow piece of ground where Britain still has some control over its affairs.  That results in the insignificant differences Brand references.

Somewhere else Brand has managed to land on solid ground is with these words:

I like Jeremy Paxman, incidentally. I think he’s a decent bloke but like a lot of people who work deep within the system it’s hard for him to countenance ideas from outside the narrowly prescribed trench of contemporary democracy. Most of the people who criticized me have a vested interest in the maintenance of the system. They say the system works. What they mean is “the system works for me”.

Perhaps. Or perhaps they just have no imagination.  Perhaps that is why the likes of that fool, Harry Mount, rush forth with a blanket rejection of Brand’s comments and have to work in extremes.  The alternative to what ‘democracy’ we have today, the likes of Mount argue, is violent revolt, lawlessness, social breakdown, chaos.

Not for Mount is there any consideration of a different system where there is real democracy.  One where the politicians have to ask for permission from the people before executing some of their plans.  Not for Mount is there any route to this other than though armed revolt, rather than peaceful, intelligent civil disobedience that demonstrates a removal of consent by the people and removal of power to implement the wishes of those over whom we have no control and who we cannot hold to account.

Just as politicians avert their eyes from the EU elephant in the room, the other parts of the establishment avert their eyes from the one way they can be brought down, without them being given the excuse to use force of arms. Although Brand heads off on a flight of emotional indulgence, he does return to the core issue, possibly without realising what he has hit on, when he writes:

Here’s one for blighty; Philip Green, the bloke who owns Top Shop didn’t pay any income tax on a £1.2bn dividend in 2005. None. Unless he paid himself a salary that year, in addition to the £1.2bn dividend, the largest in corporate history, then the people who clean Top Shop paid more income tax than he did. That’s for two reasons – firstly because he said that all of his £1.2bn earnings belong to his missus, who was registered in Monaco and secondly because he’s an arsehole. The money he’s nicked through legal loopholes would pay the annual salary for 20,000 NHS nurses. It’s not illegal; it’s systemic, British people who voted, voted for it. I’m not voting for that.

What he has described is the result of the loss of sovereignty.  This is what happens when a nation state can no longer levy taxes because it is precluded from doing so by the law that applies in the political union.  This is a powerful case for leaving the EU, where corporatist interests are indeed put first.  We have never voted for it, as Brand asserts.  The politicians simply made it possible by taking decisions in our name and refusing to seek our permission.  It doesn’t take a violent revolution to correct that.  Just making ourselves ungovernable in a peaceful way is far more effective as it breaks the very system from which they derive their power and exert control.  This is Harrogate Agenda territory.  And it doesn’t require a single vote for the least worst choice of identikit political climber, it doesn’t require a spoiled ballot paper.

Brand finishes his piece thus:

If we all collude and collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete. The reality is there are alternatives. That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal. Even the outlet that printed this will tomorrow print a couple of columns saying what a naïve wanker I am, or try to find ways that I’ve fucked up. Well I am naïve and I have fucked up but I tell you something else. I believe in change. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty because my hands are dirty already. I don’t mind giving my life to this because I’m only alive because of the compassion and love of others. Men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws. This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.

He is mostly right.  If we collude and collaborate, if we believe in and want real change, if we defy the system in intelligent ways that frustrate and undermine our tormentors, we can indeed embark on a journey together and bring about a system where we, the people, have the power and our interests are served.

These are indeed hard truths, though perhaps moreso for those people who continue to troop to the polling station and put an ‘X’ in a box, particularly those who do it without enthusiasm because they feel it is their duty to exercise their franchise.  In the main, most of them do not realise all they are doing is legitimising a system where they are not able to vote for the people who really do make the decisions about how Britain is governed.

In such a circumstance, why bother voting?  If it changed anything, they would likely ban it.

So where are the hard truths then? – Part 1

Last week we had Russell Brand, who for reasons passing understanding is now a very rich ‘celebrity’ holding forth on politics and being selected by our dumbed down media to be afforded a platform, telling Jeremy Paxman that he ‘can’t be arsed to vote’ and looking forward to a revolution, in a Newsnight interview.

Now we have the Guardian focusing on Paxman’s confession that he himself, grizzled establishment beast that his is, once did not venture out to vote because looking at the candidates he found ‘the choice so unappetising’.  This was enough to spark off the Guardian’s Michael White into writing an op-ed, that we will look at in a moment, as it actually prompted this post.

Back to Paxman for a moment though.  Regardless of who he works for and the editorial line he takes, some of his withering assessment is illustrative and quite valuable.

Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant.  I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo-chamber. But it is all we have.

In one recent election, I decided not to vote, because I thought the choice so unappetising. By the time the polls had closed and it was too late to take part, I was feeling really uncomfortable: the person who chooses not to vote – cannot even be bothered to write ‘none of the above’ on a ballot paper – disqualifies himself from passing any comment at all.

At the next election we shall have a choice between the people who’ve given us five years of austerity, the people who left us this mess, and the people who signed public pledges that they wouldn’t raise student fees, and then did so – the most blatant lie in recent political history.

It won’t be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don’t bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences.

It was in response to these comments that the Guardian’s insufferably arrogant Michael White entered the fray with a voter apathy piece.  Now, things are never black and white, there are always shades of grey, which is why there were some parts of White’s piece that seem well judged.  But this is Michael White, so he undoes his good work with some typically idiotic rot:

But Paxman speaks to a wider malaise in which the media itself plays a larger part than it ever cares to admit. Yes, politicians promise too much and under-deliver. But the idea promulgated by Brand, that they deliberately “lie and deceive” while remaining indifferent to voter needs, is risible. If anything, current politicians are too keen to appease voter demands – better services for less tax – than to tell hard truths about our problems.

This is so much establishment bollocks.  Take David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband for example, promising too much and under-delivering.  Why does this happen?  It is perfectly fair to argue that they are lying and deceiving.  It is not risible.  Their failure is not about being more keen to appease voter demands than to tell the hard truths about our problems.

The first hard truth is that they infer action will be taken, or promise action will be taken, on matters where they know all too well the UK Parliament has no control, because sovereignty has been ceded to the European Union.  They know it because they are briefed about the limitations of what they can and cannot do by advisers and civil servants. They don’t make these promises to appease voters, they do it to conceal the extent to which power has been given away.  That is why they indulge in such tawdry pretences.

If these men and their ilk wanted to appease voter demands we would have had, for example, an EU referendum years ago, we would not have invaded Iraq, our troops would have already ended the Afghanistan debacle, illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers would be removed from the country as soon as their claim was rejected, people wanted on terrorist charges overseas who abuse our hospitality by using this country as a base from which to incite violence would have been deported, wind turbines would not be replacing coal and gas power stations at greatly increased expense to consumers, fuel duty would have been slashed, and idiotic rules on waste collection and spiralling landfill costs we are forced to pay would have been dropped. Just for starters.

So Russell Brand is right about the lies and deceit.  What about this assertion from White?

Consensus can be a boring but necessary part of life, at home as much as in politics. Compromise is part of the process of politics whereas polarisation fuelled by outrage (real or fake) is more fun, but also more dangerous.

The reason why there is so much consensus is that the major issues of ideological difference have been removed from national control.  Change cannot be effected, so the three main parties are congregated around the scraps that are left, where there isn’t really scope for wildly divergent viewpoints.   There is a hard truth here, but none of the politicians acknowledge it.  The EU elephant is in the room, the deception is maintained.

The hardest truth of all is that democracy has been utterly subverted.  We hear lots about democracy when politicians seek legitimacy through elections.  But when constituents try to influence how their elected representative votes on a matter in the House of Commons, they are rebuffed by the MP – often with words to the effect of they represent all constituents, not just those who write or call to press for him/her to vote in a certain way.

So where from here?  Since writing this post commenced in the late afternoon, Russell Brand has been given space in the Guardian for a lengthy opinion piece.  The comments and ideas there concerning elections and voter anger will be covered in part 2…

MPs hint that representatives with small electoral mandates lack legitimacy

MPs appear to have questioned the democratic legitimacy of elected representatives who have a small electoral mandate.

The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee has released a report following its scrutiny of the actions of Ian Johnston, Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner.  Johnston was accused of bullying former Chief Constable, Carmel Napier, into retiring in June.  The committee swung into action to give the illusion of control and hauled Johnston and Napier into Westminster to investigate the process of removing a chief constable and if Johnston had exceeded his authority.

Clearly there was no love lost in the battle of egos and after the session, Johnston had some things to say about his interrogators.  This did not go unnoticed by the parliamentarians and they made that blindingly obvious in paragraph 9 of their subsequent report which reads:

We were disappointed that, shortly after we took evidence from Mr Johnston, he took to Twitter to criticise a member of the Committee for asking questions that he believed had been prompted by Gwent MPs, describing the proceedings as “sad really”. Mr Johnson even described Mr Ruane as a “plant of Gwent MPs”. This disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism, from a politician elected by less that 8% of the electorate, who had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable, is further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak.

It was in their arrogant fit of pique and effort to be dismissive of Johnston that the MPs opened a Pandora’s Box they might one day regret delving into.  Until now only bloggers and a couple of journalists have raised the legitimacy question of MPs – and governments – being elected by a minority of voters.  But now, MPs who have relied upon the accepted practice that the person in an election with the highest number of votes is the winner and has democratic legitimacy, have raised questions about power being held by people with small electoral mandates.

The committee’s report suggests that the principle underpinning our complaint is accepted, so now it’s just a question of figures.

So what size of mandate confers legitimate entitlement to represent a constituency?  Clearly 8% is not sufficiently impressive for the members of the Home Affairs select committee.  No doubt they consider their own mandates as conferring sufficient legitmacy to warrant their place on the ego trip aboard the rather luxurious gravy train.  So let’s see what the figures are…

Home Affairs Select Committee
(approx % of eligible voters in their constituencies who voted for them in 2010)

Keith Vaz 35.5%
Nicola Blackwood 27.6%
James Clappison 36.2%
Michael Ellis 21.3%
Lorraine Fullbrook 30.8%
Dr Julian Huppert 25.4%
Steve McCabe 23.9%
Bridget Phillipson 27.8%
Mark Reckless 31.9%
Chris Ruane 26.9%
David Winnick 20.5%

On average the committee members have squirmed into Parliament with the support of just 27.9% of eligible voters in their constituencies… some of them with barely one vote for every five available.  It’s hardly a thumping endorsement.  It is a questionable mandate.

The committee’s comment in the report is an important development.  Democracy in this country exists in name only.  The illusion of a mandate is what gives these people the opportunity to inflict their whims on the rest of us.  Now they have opened the door to the idea of a small electoral mandate being of questionable legitimacy, the concept of ‘None of the Above’ can no longer be dismissed so readily and not voting really does have the potential to undermine the political class.

UKIP advances as voter anger with mainstream parties runs far deeper than realised

By rights and in keeping with electoral convention, in the first County Council election results that were announced on Thursday night, UKIP should only have managed to win a handful of seats.

To have won 42 seats before the main bulk of the contests have even begun counting, against a backdrop of a concerted smear operation by the Conservatives against UKIP candidates and the absence of anything that could be fairly described as an effective UKIP local organisation, is a stunning result.  This reveals the depth of voter anger with the mainstream parties runs far deeper than perhaps even we realised.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be very fearful men this morning and with good reason.  Make no mistake, if the UKIP advance continues with the results to be announced on Friday this election, and the forthcoming European elections in which UKIP were already expected to do well, could represent a game changer in national politics ahead of the 2015 General Election.  The results could be that significant.

An unexpectedly high tally of seats to accompany a strong percentage of the overall vote is likely to bring about several things.  Firstly, UKIP can expect more scrutiny, but significantly more air time and coverage in the media to present their narrative – albeit in need of urgent improvement and cohesion.  This will result in more potential voters taking a look at the alternative to the mainstream parties, which could lift UKIP’s support even higher.

Secondly, with something now approaching a local base developing, we can expect to see an increase in dissatisfied Conservative councillors defecting to UKIP, as they become confident they have a fighting chance of still being re-elected outside the Tory umbrella.  Don’t underestimate the vested self interest of electoral prospects informing the decision making of councillors, many of whom are sick to the back teeth of Cameron’s evisceration of conservative principles and policies.

Thirdly, with wider coverage and evidence that UKIP can win seats promoting more confidence, party membership can expect to increase in the coming months.  Crucially for UKIP this would also result in more money – and there could now be a real prospect that some current Tory donors might consider switching their money to UKIP, as electoral success from virtually no base will show their cash could be used to achieve some tangible success.

Fourth, the EU referendum strategy, which Cameron has developed around the idea of batting it away into the long grass beyond the next General Election – and only then if the Conservatives win, which is now looking a more distant prospect – is likely to unravel.  Internal pressure within the Conservative party to address the issue much sooner in an effort to arrest UKIP’s progress, will be deafening as the non-wets assert themselves with electoral evidence of the strength of their argument.

In politics, momentum should never be underestimated.  A combination of opposition to EU membership, anger over immigration, and the opportunity to protest against the cosy mainstream political stitch up and reject the main parties, has given UKIP momentum.

What matters now is how it’s used.  As this blogger has always maintained, with Farage at the helm things have the capacity to fall apart quickly and people might find the party is all fur coat and no knickers.  There are a number of risks but two in particular that stand out.

First, that the lack of cohesion on policy due to Farage’s refusal/incapacity to ‘do detail’ results in contradictory statements and voting which embarrass the party.  Second, that Farage’s autocratic control of the party, which because of its relative size makes him more powerful comparatively than Cameron is over his Tories, means some unsavoury candidates have slipped through the net and as they are exposed – make no mistake, the media poodles will pore over them continually – they bring the party into disrepute.  There is a greater than average chance that UKIP proves to be its own worst enemy for the reasons this blog and others have trailed for many months.

We now wait to see what Friday’s results bring.

Elections 2013 prediction time

Here are my completely unscientific forecasts (like a political equivalent of the Met Office’s output, if you will) for the elections taking place today.  I could get it horribly wrong as I’ve not given it much thought and these are gut feel numbers based on nothing but intuition and prior experience.

South Shields – Labour hold with around 55% of the vote on approx a 51% turnout.
UKIP to come second with around 6800 votes giving them around 21%.  This will be a hoovering up of the BNP votes from 2010, taking a few from Labour and the Lib Dems, and winning over a proportion of the disillusioned previous Conservative vote.

County Council Elections - Labour to take control of seven authorities.
UKIP to win no more 20 seats, but their vote will lead to more second places in wards and Conservative seats being lost to Lib Dems and Labour.

If the UKIP figures sounds low relative to the polling numbers, it’s because the polling numbers are national and UKIP has nothing resembling a coherent local organisation to identify and target their support and concentrate efforts on getting out their pledged voters – in addition they will get virtually no postal votes for the same reasons.

Farage, famously and to UKIP’s detriment, doesn’t do detail.  Whereas what’s left of the Tory machine will work hard to get out their supporters in wards where canvassing shows UKIP is a threat.

Do feel free to leave your predictions in the comments and we can compare them tomorrow.

And they call this ‘government’

As the BBC reports, Iain Duncan Smith has said that wealthy elderly people who do not need benefit payments to help with fuel bills or free travel should voluntarily return the money to the authorities.

The Work and Pensions Secretary has told the Sunday Telegraph that he would ‘encourage’ people who do not need such financial support ‘to hand it back’.

Well that should do it!  Thanks very much, Iain.

For decades the political class in this country has served its own interests, with naked bribes to voters in return for being able to enjoy the trappings of power.  The cost of welfare and the other promises that make up many of these bribes is largely responsible for the staggering level of borrowing and the horrific debt this country simply cannot repay.

Once again reality meets political expediency and instead of doing the right thing by British taxpayers Ministers are trying to do the best thing for their own electoral prospects while doing contortions to appease the plethora of bodies constructed by the transnational overlords and follow rules everyone else avoids.

Collectively this is why the government doesn’t get serious about only spending our money on essential services and supporting the vulnerable people in our society.  This is why our money gets spent supporting overseas based families of migrants who have contributed barely anything to the pot in the short time they have been in the UK.  This is why now hear the government enthusiastically ‘plays by the rules’ in forking over hundreds of millions of pounds for healthcare costs for UK nationals treated overseas, while permitting the NHS to fail to keep accurate records of foreign nationals treated here under the services British taxpayers fund, so we only get back a fraction of what we are due for use of our overstretched resources.

The government could slash taxes, but instead it chooses to hoover up our money so it offer some of it back in credits and benefits in return for votes.  Too many voters don’t understand that while they are being given these bribes with one hand, they are crumbs from the table as much more is siphoned off and wasted on administration and diverted for spending on things people do not support.  The government could rejuvinate the economy and reduce borrowing dramatically if it simply let people keep more of their own money and spend it on what they want, rather than fritter it away on boondoggles, wheezes, special interests and these disgraceful, self serving bribes.  But it won’t because if it controls the money it controls everything.  It can  build the insipid client state and increase the size of government to justify the ever worsening kleptocracy that has developed.

Voting for any of the political parties is an endorsement of the continuation of this scandalous behaviour.  Voting for any of the political parties props up the faux democracy that exists in this country.  It does not result in change.  It results in the electorate and taxpayers continuing to be treated with ever more contempt.

What we need is not a reshuffle of the deck chairs, nor a rotation of faces who are all committed to perpetuating the same corrupt system that holds sway in this country.  We need a complete overhaul of the system, to bring about real democracy where control and decision making rests with the people and where the executive serves the people rather than dictates to them.  We need a genuine revolution.  The potential alternatives to this, borne of desperation and anger, are too awful to contemplate.

We need real change.  It will never be realised by playing the political class’ game and using their rules – and that includes the charade of traipsing to polling stations to vote for the least worst option in the certain knowledge that on the major, substantive issues nothing will change.  They will continue to take their steer from unelected, unaccountable, self selecting entities instead of us, the people they are supposed to serve and whose wishes they are supposed to execute.  It is time for people to assert themselves and take the power back.

We have to define the game and set the rules that should be used.  We have an outline of how they should look.  Now we need people to consider how they can be realised.  In the meantime, while that discussion takes place and the approach is refined, we need to withdraw our consent by refusing to play their game and refusing to heed their desperate attempts for validation as they plead for people to use their vote.  Don’t feed the beast.

Candy Crowley: Romney was right, just picked the wrong word

The moderator in the debate between Obama and Romney stepped in to ‘correct’ Romney as the pair clashed over what Obama said (referencing the assault on the embassy as a terrorist act, or not) the day following the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.  Now outside the heat of the debate and having done her pro-Obama work, the reality emerges.

If Crowley had been unbiased and impartial, not that one expects that in the US media which leans so far to the Democrat party it’s a surprise it’s not toppled over, one wonders if Crowley’s injection would have been rather different.  Elsewhere someone who has undertaken their own fact check of Obama’s speech that day offers this assessment:

As for the actual Rose Garden speech by Barack Obama the day after the Benghazi Massacre, the one and only use of the word terror comes toward the end  – the exact phrase being “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”  The president was unclear as to whether or not he was referencing the specific coordinated terrorist attack in Benghazi, or acts of terror in general.  This confusion is furthered by the fact Obama referenced that anti-Islam video in this same speech and placed its reference toward the beginning, further adding to its significance as the primary cause of the attack.

Possibly this small but significant part of the debate is going to get a lot of focus in the hours and days ahead.  It will be interesting to see if Romney plays this up as the actual quote is spread far and wide.  Fraser Nelson is already helping that along  http://specc.ie/QpwjkK.


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