Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why Green voters might decide the outcome of the 2015 election

Before the last election David Cameron coined the phrase ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’. In a survey published in the Guardian today, only 16% agreed that the current government has been ‘the greenest government ever’ as David Cameron promised. The short-lived appointment of John Hayes as Energy Minister probably signalled more than anything else that greenness was no longer the top Conservative priority.

Ironically however, this lack of greenness could prove to be David Cameron’s route back into power after the 2015 election.

Many commentators suggest that we are on course for a hung parliament after the next election. Huge amounts of attention have been focused on Ukip support and the instability on the right of the political spectrum.

But, allegiances on the left could prove to be at least as unstable. Lurking, almost unnoticed in the political undergrowth on the left, is a party which has representation in the House of Commons and which once achieved 15% of the vote in a European election. A party which is in many ways the polar opposite of Ukip - a patient, low-profile, thoughtful, not-populist, female-led, party – the Green Party. Not the party which commentators are looking at for a decisive intervention in 2015.

Channel 4 News this week held some interesting focus groups with voters, who had supported the Lib Dems at the last election, but who had deserted the party after the coalition was formed. These voters appear to be on a journey, destination unknown. Many of them appear to be hovering in Labour territory at the moment, but not firmly attached to the party. Several mentioned the Green Party as a possible deposit for their 2015 vote. For protest-inclined voters who cannot use the Lib Dems as a protest vehicle any more, and who are annoyed at the lack of progress on climate change, the Green Party could be their logical destination.

A few percentage points of current Labour support comes from this group, and could go with this group between now and the election, depriving Labour of its lead over the Conservatives.

Vote Green, Go Blue?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The seat with 110,000 voters which hasn’t had a by-election for 110 years

The Isle of Wight has the distinction of being the constituency with the largest electorate in the whole country, with over 110,000 voters. It is also a constituency which has not seen a by-election for 110 years.

The last Isle of Wight by-election was held on this day in 1904 and even then it wasn’t a very exciting by-election. There was only one candidate and he was already the sitting MP.

Jack Seely had been elected as the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight in 1900. In 1904 he resigned the seat on leaving the Conservatives, but was re-elected unopposed in the by-election.

Seely joined the Liberal Party, remaining MP for the Isle of Wight until 1906. He then moved to become MP for Liverpool Abercromby from 1906 to 1910. He then moved again to become MP for Ilkeston from 1910 to 1922.

In 1923 he came back again to the Isle of Wight and sat as the island’s Liberal MP from 1923 until he was defeated by the Conservatives in 1924.

Since then the constituency has changed hands between the Conservatives and the Liberals/Liberal Democrats, who held the seat from February 1974 to 1987 and again from 1997 to 2001.

Seely had an eventful career, serving as Secretary of State for War from 1912 to 1914. He sat for three different seats, representing two different parties. But, try as he did, he did not manage to give the Isle of Wight much in the way of by-election excitement.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Alex Salmond should avoid Belper on 19 September

Unless the opinion polls are completely wrong, or there is a sudden change of mind by around 300,000 Scottish voters – both of which are very unlikely – the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September will result in a No vote.

Assuming that this happens, Alex Salmond’s concession speech will be likely to determine his political legacy. He will have a choice.

He could blame the Westminster parties for sinking the independence vote by sabotaging his plans for currency union and resign. He could become a Ted McHeath and enjoy a protracted political sulk.

On the other hand, he could write himself a modest victory. Although the impetus for further devolution will then be in the hands of the Westminster parties, Salmond could reasonably take credit for the fact that the UK government is willing to devolve more powers to Scotland, short of independence. He would need to remain in post to see Devo-Max become reality, and to claim his share of the credit. The big question is whether he will have the stomach for this.

Some concession speeches have enhanced reputations. William Hague’s modest and personal statement after the 2001 Conservatives’ election defeat has bolstered his reputation. Michael Portillo was another loser who famously went down with dignity, after losing his seat in the 1997 general election.

At the opposite end of the scale was Labour Party deputy leader, George Brown’s graceless announcement that he would ‘lend’ his constituency of Belper to the Conservatives after his defeat in the 1970 general election.

For the sake of his legacy, Alex Salmond should avoid Belper and claim a partial victory.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Ukip - Don't panic Captain Miliband - well, maybe just a bit!

Thanks to some new research from Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford, we now have the clearest picture yet of where Ukip’s support is coming from. The profile of Ukip supporters is strongly skewed towards older, white, male voters who finished their education at an early age.

The reality of life to many people in this group is that they grew up in a society of low unemployment, where manufacturing and heavy manual work was available and well paid, where physical strength and resilience were prized. From other research, we know that immigration overall has been positive for the country as a whole, but has had a negative impact on a minority of the population. This minority of the population are primarily these older, less qualified, male, former-manual workers. These are today’s Ukip supporters.

There are two starkly different realities of life – both are true for the people living them. For a young, graduate in the south of England, immigration is the source of variety of life, Europe is a market and work comes and goes, but it is there if your cv and inter-personal skills are up to scratch.

For many Ukip supporters, cvs, inter-personal skills, immigration and contract work are threats, not a means to a life-affirming career. While other groups in society have been the focus of sympathetic, or sometimes unsympathetic, attention, who has been taking any notice of this group? Their forbears were the, fit, vocal and respected, salt of the earth – glamorised in election posters, history books and fiction.

What are the implications of all this for the other parties? Ukip has certainly drawn some support from protest voters who have moved from the Lib Dems now that they are in government. Ukip has drawn some support from Conservatives who are strongly Eurosceptic. But, for the most part the Ukip supporters sound just like the bedrock of Labour support up to the 1980s.

The Labour Party has, partly deliberately, and in many ways sensibly in view of changing demographics, shifted its support towards women, younger and more highly-educated voters. In the long run this is likely to be a productive strategy, going with the grain of society. In the short run, older, white, men without degrees are left more or less disenfranchised and ripe for being recruited by a new, angrier, party which might shake things up on their behalf.

Ukip has in some ways been lucky and in some ways very clever. The party’s main focus on Europe is not a major concern of many of its supporters, but in the process of putting this message out it has stumbled on a relatively-untapped pool of support. This pool is limited and never likely to be sufficient to make much of an impact in Westminster politics, but it is enough to give the other parties a fright and to get people talking about the formerly-taboo subjects of immigration and Europe.

The Conservatives have panicked first and panicked most over Ukip, perhaps unnecessarily. The Lib Dems are resigned to losing the protest vote. That came with the territory of being in government. Labour has been preoccupied with its internal affairs and relations with the trades unions and has probably not yet woken up fully to the potential impact of Ukip in some of its safe seats, especially in northern England – seats where the Conservatives are not the threat.

This risk has already been glimpsed when George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election, taking a seat that had had a Labour majority of 5,763 in 2010. The Lib Dems won Redcar in 2010, a seat which had had a Labour majority of over 21,000 in 1997.In Scotland, the SNP took Glasgow East in the 2008 by-election, where the Labour majority was 13,507 in 2005. Some of Labour’s safe seats are clearly only safe as long as no-one really attacks them. In many that attack is not going to come from the Conservatives.

Overall, the Conservatives have probably over-panicked and Labour need to do a bit more (but not too much) panicking about their northern strongholds. For the Lib Dems, there may have been a loss of protest voters, but no point in panicking – they have already gone and they are not coming back.

Don’t panic Captain Miliband – well, maybe just a bit!

Friday, 28 February 2014

How significant was Eastleigh?

Since 1945 the Liberals/LibDems have won 30 by-elections. (This includes five which were defences of seats already held – Montgomeryshire, Truro, Cheadle, Winchester and Eastleigh.) Which was the most important victory?

Four possible measures of importance could be analysed:

1) Swing - the percentage change in votes cast at the by-election

2) Durability - the number of years the seat was subsequently continuously held

3) Political importance of the winner - the positions held by the winning candidate

4) Changing the political narrative - the political and media reaction to the victory.

The top 3 victories on each measure would be:


Top: Bermondsey 1983 (44.2%), Second: Christchurch 1993 (35.4%), Third: Sutton and Cheam 1972 (32.6%)

Durability of Victory:

Top: Roxburgh 1965 (49 years), Second: Berwick 1973 (41 years), Third: Bermondsey 1983 (31 years)

Importance of Winner:

Top: Roxburgh (David Steel, party leader), Second: Bermondsey (Simon Hughes, deputy party leader, party president), Third: Berwick-upon-Tweed (Alan Beith, party deputy leader)

Changing the political narrative:

This last category is rather subjective, but both Orpington and Eastleigh gave a severe jolt to the Conservative Party’s confidence about winning the next election and both demonstrated that the Liberals/LibDems are more resilient than many people believed. Torrington was the first of the Liberal post-war victories, but the seat was only held for one year, until the Conservatives won the 1959 election and regained the seat. Eastbourne in 1990 came at a time when the LibDems were struggling. It gave a significant boost to party morale and credibility and hastened the demise of Margaret Thatcher.