Voting strategically in 2017


If 188,000 people in just two states had voted for Hilary Clinton rather than for a third-party candidate in the recent US elections, she would be President right now. And if just 1% of the people who chose not to vote at all had voted, she would have won by a landslide.

In the UK, just 98,000 people in 40 constituencies gave the Tories their slim majority at the last election and it only takes this many people to put an end to Tory rule in the UK.

The General Election of 2015 was decided by fewer than 100,000 in just 40 constituencies. In Gower, if just 27 people had voted Labour rather than Green, the constituency would have remained Labour rather than going to the Conservatives. In Derby North, 41 people doing the same would have changed the result there. In Thurrock, if just 536 more Labour voters had turned out to vote at all, the constituency would likewise have gone to Labour rather than to the Conservatives.

This is the pattern repeated over and over in election after election, constituency after constituency, country after country. The Nazis became the largest party in the German Reichstag with only 37% of the vote in 1932 and were only able to take power the following year because the other parties would not work together to stop them. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, for evil to triumph, it is only necessary that good people do not vote strategically!

In 2015, the Conservatives won with 37% of the total votes cast. That was from a voter turnout of 66%, meaning that, in fact, only 24% of registered voters – and an even smaller percentage of total eligible voters – voted Conservative at the last election. The reason they won, and the reason political parties have been winning elections for decades, is that more of their supporters turned out to vote in key marginal constituencies than did the supporters of other parties and the opposition was split, giving Tories overall majorities in constituencies which would easily go to either Labour or LibDems if they, and the smaller parties, were not splitting the opposition vote.

Just to recap what happened at the 2015 election: the Conservatives did not appreciably increase their vote over the previous election. In fact Labour increased their share of votes by 1.5% while the Conservatives increased their vote by only 0.8%. What happened was that in 12 constituencies, a small number of people voting Green or Plaid Cymru meant Labour losing the seat to the Tories. In 15 constituencies, a slightly larger number of people voting Green or Labour gave a LibDem seat to the Tories. And in 13 other constituencies, an abnormally low turn-out in otherwise solid Labour strongholds gave the seat to the Tories.

Without those 40 constituencies going to the Conservatives at the last election, they would not have had a working majority in parliament, even with the LibDems as coalition partners. If Labour and the LibDems can win back those seats on 8th June, the Conservatives would be unable to form a government. That is short of saying that the Labour Party would be able to form a government, since they would gain only 25 seats on top of the 232 they got in 2015 (and the LibDems would gain another 15). Even with the support of 56 SNP, 3 Plaid Cymru and 1 Green, that would still leave Labour eight seats short of a working majority in parliament.

Perhaps if the Conservatives are unable to form a majority government even with LibDem support, the LibDems might be prepared to form a coalition with Labour and the other opposition parties. The Labour Party would undoubtedly prefer to govern without the LibDems, so we will look at where they could aim to win an additional eight seats.

To end Tory rule in the UK, we need only convince 98,000 people in 40 constituencies to vote differently – or to vote at all. For a Labour government supported by SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens but not the LibDems would require convincing an additional 22,500 people in eight more constituencies. Neither of these goals are impossible.

4,879 people in 10 constituencies need to be convinced to vote Labour instead of Green if they want to remove their Tory MP:

1,067 in Bedford
690 in Brighton Kempton
378 in Bury North
165 in Croydon Central
41 in Derby North
27 in Gower
422 in Morley and Outwood
523 in Plymouth Sutton
730 in Telford
806 in Weaver Vale

2,374 people in two constituencies need to be convinced to vote Labour instead of Plaid Cymru if they want to remove their Tory MP:

2,137 in Cardiff North
237 in Vale of Clwyd

10,135 people in five constituencies need to be convinced to vote Lib Dem instead of Green if they want to remove their Tory MP:

3,833 in Bath
733 in Eastbourne
1,083 in Lewes
2,469 in St Ives
2,017 in Twickenham

45,373 people in ten constituencies need to be convinced to vote LibDem instead of Labour if they want to remove their Tory MP, because in these constituencies, the LibDem rather than Labour candidate has the best chance of beating the Tory:

4,914 in Berwick on Tweed
5,102 in Brecon and Radnor
6,453 in Cheadle
5,575 in Colchester
6,552 in Hazel Grove
2,834 in Kingston and Surbiton
5,241 in Portsmouth South
3,921 in Sutton and Cheam
1,495 in Thornbury and Yates
3,286 in Torbay

35,236 Labour supporters in thirteen constituencies who did not vote at the last election need to be convinced to vote this time (Labour) if they want to remove their Tory MP:

3,340 in Blackpool North
2,774 in Carlisle
4,270 in Dudley South
3,082 in Halesowen and Rowley
3,733 in Ipswich
1,443 in Lincoln
4,590 in Morecambe and Lunesdale
3,793 in Northampton South
1,925 in Peterborough
1,026 in Plymouth Moorview
2,316 in Southampton Itchen
536 in Thurrock
2,408 in Waverley

And for a Labour coalition government without the LibDems, we need to convince another 22,438 people in eight more constituencies to vote Labour who did not vote Labour (or at all) in the last election:

801 in Bolton West
2,412 in Corby
3,620 in Crewe and Nantwich
3,584 in Erewash
3,053 in Keighley
3,245 in Northampton North
2,750 in Warrington South
2,973 in Warwickshire North

To further strengthen a Labour coalition government, we would also want to remove Tory-supporting MPs in Northern Ireland, by convincing:

798 Greens in Dumfrieshire Clydesdale and Tweedale to vote SNP
530 Greens in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to vote Sinn Fein
3,837 SDLP voters in Upper Bann to vote Sinn Fein
2,597 Green, Sinn Fein and SDLP voters in Belfast East to vote Alliance

To be fair to Greens and Plaid Cymru, who would be giving up votes in up to 20 constituencies, Labour voters in two of their strongest constituencies could be urged to switch their votes to Green or Plaid Cymru to give each party one additional seat in parliament:

5,500 Labour voters in Bristol West to vote Green
229 Labour voters in Ynys Mon to vote Plaid Cymru

Assuming all other seats remain unchanged, which if of course a big assumption, the above results would give us a Labour government in coalition with, or with the working support of, the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru. This would radically alter the political landscape of the UK and put an immediate brake on the disastrous policies of the present government.

To achieve this will take sharply focused effort of many people from across the country, dedicated to seeing a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn while also recognizing that this can only be achieved with cooperation from Green and Plaid Cymru voters – and from more progressive LibDems who do not want to see another Tory-LibDem coalition.

It may be a particularly hard sell to convince Labour voters in ten designated constituencies to vote LibDem, since voting LibDem is tantamount to voting Tory under present circumstances. However, by voting Labour in those constituencies, they are guaranteeing a Tory MP who will vote with the Tories. By voting LibDem, they can remove their Tory MP and at least with a LibDem MP, there is a chance they might vote against certain Tory legislation or even join a coalition with Labour if the circumstances are right.

The bottom line to all this is that in a first-past-the-post electoral system, with only two major parties realistically able to form a government, we can either vote strategically or we can let the Tories rule indefinitely. Surely, for those who believe in a different kind of society to the one which the Tories are giving us, voting strategically makes a lot more sense…

Owen Jones has questions which should be addressed to the whole Labour Party

Jeremy_Corbyn_Global_Justice_NowOwen Jones has thrown down the gauntlet with a set of questions which ‘all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’. But my first question to Owen Jones is, why are your questions only being put to Jeremy Corbyn supporters? Personally, I think they are all very good questions and we need to take them seriously, but surely it is the whole Labour Party that needs to address them, not just Jeremy Corbyn supporters.

Owen’s first question asks how Labour’s currently ‘disastrous polling’ can be turned around. I would like to throw out one very obvious answer to that question: by uniting the party behind its elected leader! Since Jeremy Corbyn has been elected, the extent of the backstabbing, coup plotting and in-fighting that has gone on inside the Parliamentary Labour Party is almost beyond belief. MPs have willingly fuelled an already hostile media with so much anti-Corbyn – and anti-Labour – material it is a miracle the polls show any support for Corbyn or for the Labour Party at all.

There are very good reasons, however, to be more than a little bit sceptical of polls at this precise moment in our history. We are living in exceptional times. There is enormous volatility in public opinion right now because people are very uncertain – not only of where we are heading, but of what they make of it all. So while it is certainly true that Labour and Corbyn are polling very badly at the moment, that does not mean those polls cannot, or will not, improve.

How much the polls improve, however, depends much more on the behaviour of the MPs who oppose Corbyn than on Corbyn himself. Those polls are disastrous for Labour because Labour is in a disastrous state. Much more needs to be done to turn the polls around, and as party leader, Jeremy Corbyn needs to take that on board and address the concerns that Owen is raising. But without a united party behind him, there is very little he can do to turn the polls around significantly in the short-term.

As with many of the other questions put by Owen Jones, it is the party as a whole which needs to have and to present a coherent vision for the way forward and policies which the whole party can rally behind. This is not just a matter for Jeremy Corbyn, let alone for his supporters. One of the reasons this has not happened is that it is not just the bulk of MPs who have briefed against the leader and announced in parliament and to the media what they think current Labour Party policy ‘is’, for instance on Trident renewal. Labour Party staff and officials have also been responsible for putting out press statements and policy briefs which are directly counter to what Jeremy Corbyn has been saying, for instance on Hinkley Point. How can Jeremy Corbyn be expected to present a clear vision and a clear set of policies when other parts of the party are actively opposing these?

The truth of the matter is that even if Owen Jones and/or other big names on the left of the Labour Party swing in behind Owen Smith and give him their full support, Jeremy Corbyn is still going to win this leadership contest. Of course the fact that Jeremy Corbyn can draw huge crowds of supporters up and down the country does not mean he can win a general election. But it does indicate he can win the leadership election and if you believe any polls at all, you cannot possibly believe that Owen Smith can win this one.

That puts Owen Jones’ questions in a slightly different light. Given that Jeremy Corbyn is going to remain leader of the Labour Party, probably with an even larger mandate from the membership than he got a year ago, how do we address the challenges facing the Labour Party and its electability at the next general election? Rather than pitching these questions at Corbyn supporters in the vain hope that they might vote for Owen Smith instead, why not look at them as challenges facing the Labour Party as a whole?

Yes, we – the Labour Party – need to get our act together. We, the Labour Party, need to pull back from negative ratings in the polls and move ahead to win support from young people, older people, even from people who voted SNP, UKIP or Tory at the last election. We, the Labour Party, need a clear vision and to spell out a set of clear policies for going forward. Yes, we the Labour Party need a more effective media strategy. We need to mobilise Labour’s mass membership and build a movement out of it. Let’s get to work on those things, but first and foremost let’s unite as a party behind our elected leader and put all these other issues into perspective. It is open warfare within the Labour Party that could cost us the next election, not the deficiencies of the current party leader.

MPs have failed us – yet again

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On 18th March 2003, MPs voted, by a very large majority, to go to war in Iraq. They can claim to have been misled, to have been acting out of loyalty and good faith, but the reality is that the debate in the House on 18th March was packed full of misinformation, half-truths and downright lies, punctuated with accusations and insinuations about anyone who dared to question the logic for going to war.

No one now disputes the fact the Iraq War was an unmitigated disaster which not only caused many unnecessary deaths but actually created a situation which 13 years later makes the UK less safe and less secure as a result.

On Monday night, MPs voted again, by an even larger majority, to upgrade the UK’s nuclear capabilities. Once again, the debate in the House was full of flimsy rhetoric, faulty logic, unsubstantiated claims, misinformation and spin.

The whole notion that without Trident, the UK is suddenly going to be overrun by Russia or North Korea is patently absurd. It is as if we are being told all over again that Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons are ready to attack the UK within 45 minutes. Have the majority of MPs really learnt nothing from the Chilcot Report?

Strong on oration, weak on facts

This piece is now at https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/timmon-wallis/strong-on-oratory-weak-on-facts and can also be found below:

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Image by Voice of America News: Scott Bob report from Azaz, Syria. Wikipedia (Public domain)

Hilary Benn’s closing speech during the House of Commons debate on intervention in Syria has been hailed by the media as ‘extraordinary’ (The Guardian), a ‘truly great speech’ (The Independent), ‘historic’ (Sky News), ‘outstanding’ (ITV News), ‘one of the greatest in Commons history’ (The Evening Standard’), ‘one of the best’ (The Times). Undoubtedly it was a great piece of oratory. But how does it stack up in terms of substance?

Benn started out by insisting that UN Security Council resolution 2249 provided “clear and unambiguous” authorisation for the UK to engage in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. He quoted from the resolution, saying that the UN has specifically called on member states “to take all necessary measures” against ISIS, but conveniently omitted what immediately follows that phrase in the resolution, which is “in compliance with international law”. Resolution 2249 calls on member states “to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, and in particular with the United Nations charter” to deal with ISIS. What does that actually mean?

The United Nations charter is actually clear and unambiguous in how it defines what member states can and cannot do to each other or on each other’s territories under international law. Bearing in mind that Syria is also a member state of the United Nations, it is protected under chapter I of the UN Charter from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. The UK is operating in Iraq under the direct invitation of the Iraqi government, which is very different from the case in Syria, where the only outside actor operating at the invitation of the Syrian government is Russia.

Benn also refers to Chapter 51 of the UN Charter, saying that “every state has the right to defend itself”. However, what Chapter 51 actually says is that:

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

The UN Charter does not give states a blanket right to defend themselves however or whenever they feel like it, based on intelligence that they may be facing an ‘imminent’ threat or based on any other security concerns, however legitimate they may be. Under the UN Charter, the right of self-defence applies only if and when an armed attack (by another state) has actually occurred. Even under those very limited circumstances, self defence against an invader is only authorised until such time as the UN Security Council has been able to intervene with a collective UN response to the situation.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter spells out what a collective UN response entails under international law, and although it has rarely been put into practice, the procedure is clear and unambiguous. Only the UN itself is authorised to ‘take action’ to restore international peace and security under Chapter VII, and when a UN Resolution ‘calls on member states’ to take action, that is clearly and unambiguously different, in UN parlance, from the UN deciding to take action itself, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

So while Hilary Benn and David Cameron may feel confident that they have a clear and unambiguous legal basis for bombing ISIS in Syria, in fact there is no more legal basis for bombing ISIS than there was for going to war in Iraq in 2003. The simple fact is that UK is now engaged in offensive military actions on the territory of a member state of the UN who has not given us permission to do so. That is clearly and unambiguously acting outside of international law.

Hilary Benn then went on to talk about the ‘achievements’ of coalition air strikes in Iraq, saying that these have ‘halted’ the progress of ISIS in Iraq and gave as specific examples the cities of Sinjar and Kobani which were under ISIS control and have since been ‘liberated’. These two examples, however, show up exactly the weakness of the case for bombing ISIS in Syria right now. Both Sinjar and Kobani were re-taken by Kurdish forces on the ground supported by aerial bombardments of ISIS positions by coalition bombers. But no one is seriously suggesting that Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria are ready or willing to re-take Raqqa, the ISIS ‘capital’ and main focus for Cameron’s air war. Without such a force, bombing by itself can achieve very little.

Benn did not at any point address this fundamental flaw in the argument for bombing, except to suggest that however many troops there may be available for taking back Raqqa right now, there will be fewer of them the longer we wait to ‘act’. “The threat is now,” says Benn, “to wait for a peace agreement is to miss the urgency.” But nowhere did Benn explain how a knee-jerk reaction to the atrocities in Paris is actually going to make a difference to the situation in Syria. He merely flailed around saying we have to do it, whether it makes any difference or not. That may be good oratory but it is a very weak argument.

Even more disturbing is Benn’s apparent loss of memory about what has been happening over the past 14 years. British, US and other countries’ warplanes have been dropping tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya for most of that time, and yet during that same period groups like ISIS have grown rather than shrunk, and terrorist atrocities around the world have increased, not decreased. So where is the logic that yet more bombing will somehow produce an effect that 14 years of bombing so far has not?

The rest of Benn’s magnificent piece of oratory focused on the evils of Daesh and a comparison between them and the fascists of the 1930s. “What we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated… we must confront this evil,” he said as he built up to his final crescendo. His unspoken assumption was that the only way to defeat ISIS is to bomb them, whereas an important argument against bombing rests on the historical fact that bombing is not what got rid of fascism in the 1940s and it is not likely to get rid of ISIS in the 2010s.

While the media are lapping up the great oratorical skills of Hilary Benn and even hailing him as the next leader of the Labour Party, his speech looks insubstantial and weak compared to the one his father gave in 1998, railing against the ineffectiveness of bombing in general and the importance of standing by the UN Charter in dealing with a situation which successive British governments have only made worse and his son now thinks will be solved by yet more bombing. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfXmpJRZPYI with a much younger Jeremy Corbyn listening behind him!)

 

 

Two Countries with the Same Delusions of Grandeur

France’s Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, wants Britain to join him in bombing Syria (“Britain, France Needs You in This Fight”, The Guardian, 27 Nov). It’s nice to be wanted. And it’s nice to know that Jean-Yves Le Drian and Michael Fallon are such good buddies that they have already met ten times this year alone.

Jean-Yves would like British forces to help France “defeat” ISIS with our spiffy Tornados, ‘second-to-none’ Brimstone missiles and top-of-the-range armed drones. He says “we have achieved a great deal together”, citing Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of this. I’m surprised he did not mention Suez as one of the great examples of British-French military collaboration. At least in Suez, the British and the French were not just tacked onto a US-dominated coalition but were out in front, bombing Egypt all on their own.

In Syria, on the other hand, the skies are already very crowded. US warplanes, along with those of at least ten other countries, have already conducted 2,700 bombing raids on ISIS positions in Syria and all the while ISIS continues to gain recruits, continues to gain territory, and continues to conduct terrorist activities around the world.

Perhaps with Britain joining in, the situation will suddenly reverse. But if Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq are anything to go by, all we will achieve is more death, more destruction and more chaos – the perfect breeding ground for yet more terrorism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Revised

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remembrance at the CO stone “for all the dead in all the wars”

Remembrance Day is forever remembered as the day in 1918 when World War One came to an end, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. As far as WWI is concerned, I am grateful for only one thing: that the last of the veterans who fought in that war are no longer with us.

Soldiers, of course, cannot be blamed for the wars they fight in. We should grieve for every soldier who was killed or wounded in WWI, along with every widow and every orphan and every soldier who fought and survived and indeed every civilian who lived through and suffered from that war. Wars are terrible things and we do well to remember that and to keep alive the memory of that most terrible of wars.

But I am grateful that there are no more living veterans of World War One because that frees us all to speak the truth about that ‘Great War’; the ‘War to End All Wars’: it was fought for nothing. Millions upon millions of people dead, four years of unimaginable bloodshed and destruction, engulfing an entire continent…for nothing. Wars are very stupid things, and this war was the stupidest of them all: armies in holes and trenches, gunning each other down by the hundreds of thousands, day after day, in the vain attempt to gain a few feet of territory from each other. And after four years of carnage, everyone was more or less right back where they started.

Of course many, if not most, wars are just the same: a clash of egos or ideologies or national ‘pride’ that leaves a trail of death and destruction – and to what end? Normally the result is that the men of war finally sit down and negotiate some sort of agreement that ends the war – an agreement they could have just as easily sat down and negotiated without the war, were it not for the egos and ideologies and national pride that got in the way first…

That is why I am proud to call myself a ‘pacifist’. I believe war is a stupid and outmoded way of dealing with human affairs and the sooner we rid the world of the scourge of war the better. I am not an ‘absolute’ pacifist because I do not discount the possibility that wars are sometimes a necessary evil and that I might find myself supporting, or even fighting, in such a war. But World War One was not a necessary evil, it was just plain evil. And the sooner we, collectively, acknowledge that fact and own up to the consequences of acknowledging that fact, the better.

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The above was written in 2012 for Remembrance Day and I still stand by every word of it. However what I then wrote about WWII at that time I have now decided was wrong. I tried to square the circle and argue that although WWI was an utterly stupid war fought for no justifiable reason, WWII was on the other hand a ‘just’ and necessary war against the evil of Fascism. Many people of course still hold that view, but I do not, for the reasons below…

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What about World War Two then? Was WWII was a necessary evil? It was a war to free the world from Fascism, and Fascism, especially its Nazi branch, is an ideology of war: it glorifies war and can only survive by making war. It is an economy of war, a politics of war, an enculturation of war. For Hitler and his cronies, it was of course not just a war against the rest of Europe, it was a war against all Jews, against all Slavs, all gays, all disabled people and many other categories of their own people.

Let’s be quite clear, Hitler and Naziism could have been stopped without a world war. There were many occasions in the lead up to World War Two when the German people could have said no and they didn’t, and there is much to learn from that, not just for Germans but for all of us. But once the malignant tumour had taken control and its poison had begun to spread and blood was already being spilt: once the Nazi war machine was up and running, could anything have stopped it at that point, except war itself?

Of course there were opposition and underground movements all over Europe and even in Germany, secretly rescuing Jews, undermining Nazi rule and fighting back nonviolently. There is also much to learn from these experiences and we now know that many a dictator and seemingly impervious regime has fallen purely through the nonviolent resistance of the people without a shot being fired. We know it can be done!

But in the case of Nazi Germany, it was surely far too late by 1939 for any kind of nonviolent resistance to have stopped Hitler and his war machine. The ‘appeasement’ policy of Neville Chamberlain appeared to give him more encouragement rather than curtail his ambitions. To rid the world of this hateful ideology, the world needed to be willing to fight back at that point, fight and beat the Nazi war machine. But how?

Unfortunately, the very fact that Fascism is an ideology of war means that it feeds off war, it lives off war, it thrives from war. To declare war on Hitler was exactly what he wanted and needed to keep himself in power and in full control of the Nazi machinery. War keeps everyone in a state of constant fear and willing to do whatever they are told for the protection and preservation of their ‘nation’.

Let us be quite clear about this. Hitler and the Nazis were doing terrible things by 1939. Jews were being persecuted,  attacked, beaten and killed on the streets, their shops and homes were being burnt, they were being rounded up and put into concentration camps. But there were no gas chambers at that point, no ovens, no mass murder on an industrial scale. Hitler’s so-called ‘Final Solution’ only took place within the context of total war and did not begin until the middle of 1941. It was not the precursor or pretext for that war.  We will never know if it would have even been possible to carry out the mass murder of Jews in Europe had there not been a second world war.

But the Nazis were also not the only party to commit atrocities or deliberately target and kill large numbers of civilians during WWII. Estimates of the numbers killed by aerial bombing vary enormously. In the case of the Blitz, the numbers of civilians deliberated targeted and killed in London and other British cities range from 20,000 – 60,000. The numbers of civilians deliberately targeted and killed by British bombing of German cities are estimated at 200,000-600,000, or roughly ten times the number killed in Britain. Even before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, estimates of the number of Japanese civilians deliberately targeted and killed range from 240,000 to 900,000.

The truth is that WWII dehumanised all sides and made us all accomplices in mass murder and the commitment of crimes against humanity. It fuelled the Fascism and Naziism it was meant to destroy, provided a cover for the worst genocide in human history and may well have prolonged the Third Reich longer than it would otherwise have lasted. And it led to the deaths of tens of millions of people, mostly innocent civilians who played no part in the fighting. Were there alternatives to all that slaughter and destruction available at the time? Perhaps it is too much to expect that the leaders of the day could have had the foresight to come up with them, but we need to learn the lessons of history and recognise in hindsight that there are always alternatives if we have but the courage, tenacity and creativity to seek them out.

Of course it is pointless to blame the generation who lived through WWII and had to make those very difficult choices and decisions about whether to fight and how to respond to the nightmare unfolding around them. It is not our role to judge them or indeed to belittle the sacrifices which they made in the honest belief that they were doing the right thing. Let us honour the dead and grieve for all those who suffered from the horrors of WWII as well as those who suffered from WWI and all other wars. But let us not at the same time fall into the trap of accepting war – even WWII – as a ‘necessary evil’. It is time to move on from that, and to move on from war, full stop.

Tim Wallis, 11 November 2015

Dangerously Delusional

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Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – applies to politics as well as to physics!

David Cameron seems to think that extending UK air strikes in Syria would eliminate both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad (“No 10 plan for Syria without Assad and Isis”, 10/9/15). Yet, since the US and other coalition forces re-commenced air strikes in both Iraq and Syria last year, more than 44,000 sorties have been flown over Iraq and Syria, attacking some 7,655 ISIS targets and killing at least 10,000 ISIS fighters.

While up to 1,000 ISIS fighters a month may be killed from bombs and drone attacks, they are at the same time gaining at least that number of recruits every month, not just from Syria and Iraq but from the UK, France, Belgium, Russia and many other countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They are now conducting military operations in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Egypt and Russia as well as in Iraq and Syria. They show no sign of being ‘eliminated’. Why would the addition of a few bombers from the RAF make any difference to this situation?

In fact, more bombing is exactly what ISIS wants and needs to get more recruits and consolidate its power base. That is precisely why they engage in ritualistic beheadings and the killing of tourists. Their strategy is to goad western governments into responding militarily to their provocations because that is the oxygen they need to exist – and we obligingly give it to them.

Think again, David Cameron! What is needed in Syria is not more bombing but a serious commitment to find a negotiated solution with all the parties in the region, including Iran and Russia. Nothing short of that is going to stop the appalling loss of life, loss of homes, loss of livelihoods and the steady stream of refugees who have nowhere else to go.

 

 

Mistaken for a Rose

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I was not feeling particularly beautiful this morning. In fact, I was feeling decidedly ugly. I don’t know what sparked it off but it could have been catching a glimpse of my naked self in the full-length mirror by my bed. I usually manage to avoid that at all cost, but for some reason I peaked. That was my mistake. It was not a pretty sight.

All morning I was feeling agitated and restless. My life seemed to be passing me by while I just grew older and uglier. I started thinking about all the failures, all the lost opportunities… It was getting worse and I couldn’t breathe. I knew I had to get out. I needed fresh air, brisk exercise. I needed to feel the blood flowing in my veins again.

So I rushed out the door, heading nowhere in particular but still feeling distressed and self-absorbed with frustration and anxiety about who I was and what I was doing with my life. It was at that moment that I was literally hit by a beautifully formed, sweet-smelling pink rose. It ran straight into my nose. I suppose it was actually me who ran into it, but it was almost as if it had been lurking behind a garden wall, ready to attack as soon as I approached. And then, wham! It saw me coming and took the plunge.

It was just one rose, of course, on a bush full of roses in a garden full of rose bushes on a street full of rose gardens. But all the other roses on this street were neatly and properly confined to their bushes and well within the confines of their garden perimeters. This one was a maverick rose, plopped on the end of a long stem daring itself way out into the middle of the pavement, heading for distant shores.

Having survived the rose attack, I could not help but notice its intricate beauty – the vibrant colour, the delicate aroma, the richness of the texture, the audacity of the thing. I just stood there, soaking it all in with every one of my five senses and all those other senses that just know about things. I smiled. Suddenly all was right with the world and I with it. Vast encyclopedias of thoughts passed through my head in that brief moment of serenity and calm. I went on my way, a different man. There was, after all, immense beauty in the world and what a glorious thing to be in the world and to be part of it – to be part of that beauty, even me!

But that is not the end of my story. Having had my encounter with the rose, I realised my purpose in life at that particular moment was to buy some milk. So off I went to the shop. Not long after, I was on my way home, near by not on the street of the dangerous attacking rose. I was suddenly accosted by what seemed to be a gigantic (but in all probability a very normal-sized) bumble bee.

The bee flew straight at me from ahead of where I was walking and hovered for several moments like a hummingbird just a few millimetres from my nose. My instant reaction was fear and I tried to duck out of the way, but the bee maintained its position right in front of my nose, following my every movement as if attached to my face with an invisible string.

WHAT DOES THIS BEE WANT WITH ME? I trembled to think. Had I strayed into its territory, had I stepped on one of its baby bees, was it about to attack? As I wondered what terrible fate was about to befall me, I noticed how utterly beautiful it was. I don’t often get to see the underside of a bumble bee up so close – the rich yellow, the soft coat, the whirring wings, the bulging eyes.

Perhaps the bee was becoming too self-conscious at that point, or perhaps it had stared me down sufficiently to let me pass. Anyway, it flew away and that was that. I walked on. But then it hit me – the realisation that this bee must have mistook me for a rose!

Perhaps it had smelled the rose pollen on the end of my nose and was wondering how to get hold of it. Perhaps through my mystical union with the rose I had somehow become a rose, in my deepest essence. Perhaps when I became one with the rose, I also became one with the bee, who is already one with the rose?

How glorious to be mistaken for a rose! Even for a fleeting moment, to be a beautifully formed, sweet smelling pink rose instead of a flabby, middle-aged man past his prime. I walked on, still smelling the rose in my nostrils and feeling as good as if I were a rose – and not just any old rose, but that defiant, daring, firework of a rose, reaching out across the boundaries of its own existence to force itself upon another being and transfer some of its innate glory to someone in need of it. I felt more beautiful now. It was a good morning.

 

Labour’s Love Lost

 

UK General Election Analysis

Guest Blog by Bill Gidding

Why did Labour and the LibDems do so badly at the polls and why was it such a surprise? At first glance, the answer seems obvious. Scots who narrowly lost the referendum on independence last year decided to give the SNP one last try at gaining more power for Scotland through Westminster. In England, relentless campaigning by the Conservatives and the mass media convinced voters that the Labour Party could not be trusted with the economy and might be tempted to ‘do a deal’ with the SNP that would somehow be against the national interest. Meanwhile as junior coalition partners, the LibDems were unable to distinguish themselves sufficiently in government to stop their supporters voting in droves for the real thing once they were given the choice between a Deputy PM and an actual PM.

A more careful examination of the election results, however, reveals a very different picture. In nearly every case where LibDems or Labour lost seats, it was because people who previously voted for them were this time voting for a more ‘left-wing’ alternative – or not voting at all. The net result of voting for what was in most cases a smaller party meant that the Conservatives were left with a de facto majority even without necessarily gaining a single vote from the other parties.

We cannot know exactly who voted which way and why they did it, of course. But by comparing results constituency by constituency with the results of that same constituency in 2010, some very clear patterns emerge and they lead to some inescapable conclusions.

In terms of seats, the Conservatives gained a total of 8 seats from Labour and 26 from the LibDems (plus 1 that was previously held by an Independent), while losing 10 to Labour and 1 to the SNP, for an overall gain of 24 seats. Out of 650 parliamentary seats, a gain of 24 is not that many. In fact, the Conservatives increased their overall share of the vote by just 0.8% – from 36.1% in 2010 to 36.9% in 2015.

Labour on the other hand increased its share of the vote by 1.4%, from 29.0% in 2010 to 30.4% in 2015, even though it had a net loss of 26 seats. The Liberal Democrats, of course, lost a large number of seats as well as votes, while the SNP gained almost the same number.

The reason why opinion polls of voting intention right up to polling day turned out to be wrong is quite simple. Most opinion polls use a sample size of around 1,000 voters to get a remarkably accurate snapshot of the country as a whole, within a standard margin of error of approximately 3%. So when polls predicted Conservatives and Labour neck and neck on roughly 33% each, what that really meant was that pollsters were reasonably confident (with a 95% likelihood) that they would each poll somewhere between 31.5% and 34.5% of the vote. That in itself was not that far off the mark, although as we shall see the numbers of people who actually voted made a significant difference. But translating those percentages into seats is way beyond what any opinion poll can do with any degree of accuracy when the voting is so close in individual constituencies and there are so many local variables that could swing things in more than one direction.

 

Voter Turnout

Of the 110 seats which changed hands in this election, 32 of them did so with such tiny majorities as to make it impossible for any poll ever to predict. The Conservatives won Gower from Labour, for instance, with a majority of just 27 votes. They won Derby North from Labour with just 41 votes. They won Bolton West from Labour by 801 votes and Eastbourne from the Liberal Democrats by just 733 votes. No poll would have been able to reliably predict which way seats like that would go with such tiny numbers of votes involved.

And while the overall turnout for the election was roughly 66.1%, one percentage point higher than in 2010, this figure disguises quite large discrepancies from constituency to constituency. In 181 constituencies, the turnout was above 70%, including many in the 75% range and as high as 81% in Renfrewshire East. Apart from Scotland, virtually all the seats with a turnout of more than 70% were traditionally Conservative ones.

In 100 constituencies, the turnout was below 60%, many in the low 50s and even as low as 46% (Manchester Central). Apart from Northern Ireland, virtually all the constituencies with turnout below 60% were ones where traditionally Labour has been strong.

The size of the electorate also varies from constituency to constituency, but assuming an average size of around 70,000 electors in a constituency, the difference between a 60% turnout and a 70% turnout is about 7,000 votes. Since nearly all the constituencies which changed hands, outside of Scotland, did so with majorities of considerably less than 7,000, we must assume that the people who chose not to vote – or what we might call the Russell Brand factor – are at least as important to the outcome in many constituencies as those who did actually cast a vote.

Indeed, the real winner of this election was ‘none of the above’, since 33.9% of all registered voters did not vote at all, while only 23.8% of all registered voters actually voted Conservative, 19.9% for Labour and 22.4% for other parties.

This does not take into account those who were eligible to vote in this election but did not even register to vote. Because of changes in the voter registration process which took effect in 2014, it was estimated that as many as 7.5 million people who were eligible to vote were nonetheless not on the electoral register. While more than 2.3 million people registered to vote in the final days leading up to the deadline for voter registration in April, there are as yet no accurate figures available for the number of people who were eligible to vote but not registered, and therefore not able to vote on polling day.
Scotland

Labour lost 40 seats to the SNP in Scotland. That much is clear. And in most of those seats, turnout was high and the SNP majority was high, overturning previously ‘safe’ Labour seats with swings of 30% and more. The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from the result in Scotland is that huge numbers of previously loyal Labour voters switched their allegiance to the SNP.

The exact same pattern occurred in LibDem seats in Scotland, with the one exception of Berwickshire, where the Conservatives had been the second largest party and almost gained the seat as a result of the LibDem vote going to a much smaller third party (ie SNP) while the Conservative vote remained intact. In the end, the SNP took that seat with a majority of just 328 over the Conservatives.

In the one seat which Labour retained in Scotland, Edinburgh South, the incumbent MP, Ian Murray, fought a strong anti-Trident, anti-austerity campaign, deviating sharply from national Labour policy and campaigning strategy on those issues. His narrow escape from the fate of his 40 Labour colleagues in Scotland is illustrative of the reasons why the SNP took so many votes away from Labour in Scotland.

Whether or not the SNP can be considered a party of the ‘left’ is open for debate. However, they clearly fought on a campaign of opposing Trident, opposing austerity, and challenging the Conservatives across a whole range of issues on which the Labour Party was seen as being very soft.

Since a clear majority of Scots voted against independence in the referendum only last year, it does not make sense to conclude that they voted SNP in this election in order to further the cause of Scottish independence per se. It is much more likely that large numbers of Scottish voters were incensed that the Labour Party so closely aligned itself with the coalition government not only on the referendum issue, but also on many other issues of particular concern to Scots, such as the renewal of Trident and the austerity cuts.

Labour could hardly have expected to hold onto many of its seats in Scotland after Ed Milliband said he would rather give up the chance to govern than to go into any kind of coalition arrangement with the democratically-elected MPs from Scotland. Nevertheless all the opinion polls were already suggesting that the SNP would sweep the board in Scotland and at least in that one instance, the polls were right.

 

Voting for alternatives on the left

What about in England, then? Did the Labour Party lose out to the Conservatives because they were too left-wing for the English electorate? The Conservatives took a total of 8 seats from Labour and lost 10 seats back to Labour, so the net result was 2 seats gain for Labour. In 4 of the 8 seats lost to the Conservatives, the resulting majority for the Conservatives was smaller than the total number of votes for the Green Party in those seats. In other words, if the Labour Party had managed to appeal to voters opposed to, for instance Trident and the austerity cuts, they might well have kept those seats. In Vale of Clwyd, there was no Green candidate, but the Plaid Cymru candidate in this case polled 10x more votes (2,486) than the final Conservative majority turned out to be (237). And in Plymouth Moor, the Green vote plus a small number of TUSC party votes added up to more than the Conservative majority of 1,026.

The final two seats which the Conservatives took from Labour (Bolton West and Southampton Itchen) also involved very small majorities that are almost entirely accounted for by votes going to the smaller left-wing parties.

 

Table 1: Labour seats lost to the Green or Plaid Cymru vote

Constituency Conservative majority Green/Plaid Cymru vote
Bedford 1,097 1,412 (G)
Brighton Kemptown 690 3,187 (G)
Bury North 378 1,141 (G)
Croydon Central 165 1,454 (G)
Derby North 41 1,618 (G)
Gower 27 1,161 (G)
Morley and Outwood 422 1,264 (G)
Plymouth Sutton 523 3,401 (G)
Telford 730 930 (G)
Weaver Vale 806 1,183 (G)
Cardiff North 2,137 2,301 (PC)
Vale of Clwyd 237 2,486 (PC)

Source: The Guardian, election result supplement, 9 May 2015

 

The Liberal Democrats lost a total of 49 seats. The nine lost in Scotland to the SNP and the 12 lost to Labour in England can easily be explained by the fact that the Liberal Democrats, even more than Labour, were associated with the Conservative agenda on austerity, Trident and many other issues which LibDems had previously fought against. But how do we explain the 26 seats that went to the Conservatives?

 

When not voting LibDem means the Conservatives win

The fact is that in many of the (previous) LibDem strongholds, particularly in the Southwest of England, the Labour Party has been very weak to virtually non-existent. These have been straight two-way contests between LibDems (ie Liberals) and Conservatives for many decades.

What happened in this election was that large numbers of LibDem voters, dissatisfied with their party’s alignment with the Conservatives, instead voted Labour (or Green). But with Labour having no chance of winning many of those seats, the Conservatives ended up winning – without increasing their share of the vote to any significant extent. In five of the LibDem seats which were lost to the Conservatives, the Green vote was greater than the resulting Conservative majority, so in those cases it was LibDems voting Green who gave the constituency to the Conservatives.

 

Table 2: LibDem seats lost to the Green vote

Constituency Conservative majority Green vote
Bath 3,833 5,634
Eastbourne 733 1,351
Lewes 1,083 2,784
St Ives 2,469 3,051
Twickenham 2,017 2,463

Source: The Guardian, election result supplement, 9 May 2015

 

In 10 other constituencies the increased Labour vote, or a combination of the two, lost a LibDem seat to the Conservatives.

 

Table 3: LibDem seats lost to the Labour vote

Constituency Conservative majority Labour vote
Berwick on Tweed 4,914 6,042
Brecon and Radnor 5,102 5,904
Cheadle 6,453 8,673
Colchester 5,575 7,852
Hazel Grove 6,552 7,584
Kingston and Surbiton 2,834 8,574
Portsmouth South 5,241 8,184
Sutton and Cheam 3,921 5,546
Thornbury & Yate 1,495 3,775
Torbay 3,286 4,166

Source: The Guardian, election result supplement, 9 May 2015

 

Results from a high turnout of Conservative voters

In the remaining 10 seats where LibDems lost to the Conservatives, the total votes for Labour, Green and other small parties do not add up to enough votes to explain how the Conservatives were able to achieve such sizable majorities from the collapsed LibDem vote. In Chippenham, for instance, Conservatives gained a 10,000 majority from a fall in the LibDem vote of less than 8,000 from 2010. Some of the LibDem vote clearly went to Labour and to the Greens. Perhaps some even went to UKIP and to the Conservatives, but it still doesn’t add up to as many votes as the Conservatives gained.

Here, I believe, we must start looking at the pool of non-voters and the level of turnout, which in this case was quite high at nearly 75%. As noted above, high turnouts, at least at this election, are associated with strongly Conservative seats while low turnouts are associated with strongly Labour seats. If Conservatives were able to increase turnout from their core supporters across the board – for instance using the fear of a Labour-SNP ‘deal’ to get out the core Tory vote – that could explain the voting numbers in a number of constituencies that follow the pattern of Chippenham.

In this case, the drop in the LibDem vote can be accounted for by increases in Labour and Green votes, with perhaps some of it also going to UKIP and Conservatives. But the increase in the Conservative vote needed to achieve a majority of that size can only have come from an increased turnout of largely Conservative voters.

In constituency after constituency, I believe the evidence suggests that the increase in the Conservative vote, as well as in the UKIP vote, came largely from people who did not vote at all in 2010, while the fall in the LibDem vote went largely to the Labour Party, the Greens and back into the pool of non-voters.

When it comes to the seats which Labour had been hoping to take back from the Conservatives at this election, the level of turnout again becomes a crucial factor.

If more Labour voters had bothered to vote in Blackpool North, for instance, where turnout was only 63%, they almost certainly could have taken that seat from the Conservatives, since the Conservative majority was 3,340 while a turnout of 73% instead of 63% would have brought out at least double that number of additional voters.

This pattern is repeated in at least 55 marginal seats across England and Wales, where the Conservative majority is very small relative to the lower than average turnout. Not all those non-voters would have necessarily voted Labour, of course, but just imagine how different the result would have looked if that many seats had changed hands from Conservative to Labour, in addition to the seats which could have stayed Labour or LibDem as described above.

 

Why did more Conservatives than Labour voters bother to vote?

It is a reasonable assumption to make that Conservatives were more successful in general at bringing out their core supporters to vote than the Labour Party was, based on turnout in safe Conservative seats as compared with turnout in safe Labour seats. This corresponds to the opinion polls which under-predicted the Conservative vote and over-predicted the Labour vote based on people’s voting preferences before knowing whether or not they would actually vote. This also chimes with the campaigning strategy of the Conservatives (and much of the media) which was to alarm (Conservative) voters with the prospect of a Labour-SNP government that might jeopardise the interests of middle England and thus motivating them to get out and vote. The Labour Party on the other hand, struggled to make its mark as a definitive and inspiring alternative to the coalition government and fought a campaign that was trying to appeal to ‘middle England’ rather than to its traditional core supporters.

By extrapolated that general trend to individual constituencies, we can safely assume that if more Labour supporters had turned out to vote and had voted Labour, the Labour Party might indeed have won a number of additional seats. This is by no means an exact science but it is a pointer as to the direction in which the Labour Party would have to move in order to win seats such as these:

Table 4: Seats Labour may have lost due to low turnout (of Labour voters)

Constituency Conservative majority Turnout
Blackpool North 3,340 63.1%
Carlisle 2,774 64.7%
Dudley South 4,270 63.3%
Halesowen & Rowley 3,082 59.1%
Ipswich 3,733 65.4%
Lincoln 1,443 63.2%
Morecambe & Lunesdale 4,590 65.0%
Northampton South 3,793 63.5%
Peterborough 1,925 64.9%
Plymouth Moorview 1,026 61.6%
Southampton Itchen 2,316 61.8%
Thurrock 536 63.9%
Waveney 2,408 65.1%

Source: The Guardian, election result supplement, 9 May 2015

 

Ironically, the seat of Thurrock, which almost went to UKIP, could have gone to Labour if just 537 more Labour voters had turned out to vote. This is because UKIP split the Conservative vote putting Labour into a close second place.

 

Implications for Labour

One of the most alarming features of this election for the Labour Party is the number of additional seats which they could have easily lost – and could easily lose at a future election – if many more of their core voters decided not to vote. In other words, if turnout were to fall by a further 10% in constituencies currently held by Labour, they could lose up to 100 seats to the Conservatives – without a single Labour voter choosing to vote Conservative instead of Labour!

 

Table 6: Labour seats most vulnerable to a further reduction in turnout

Constituency Labour majority turnout
Barrow & Furness 795 63.3%
Birmingham Edgbaston 2,706 62.9%
Birmingham Northfield 2,509 59.5%
Blackpool South 2,585 56.5%
Brentford & Isleworth 465 67.8%
Bridgend 1,927 65.8%
Cambridge 599 62.1%
Chester 93 70.8%
Clwyd South 2,402 63.8%
Copeland 2,564 63.8%
Ealing Central 274 71.4%
Halifax 428 62.1%
Hove 1,236 71.0%
Ilford North 589 62.6%
Middlesbrough South 2,268 64.2%
Newcastle-under-Lyme 650 64.4%
Stoke-on-Trent South 2,539 56.9%
Wakefield 2,613 60.9%
Walsall North 1,937 54.9%
Westminster North 1,977 63.4%
Wirral West 417 75.6%
Wolverhampton SW 801 66.6%
Wrexham 1,831 64.2%

 

Conclusions

In summary, what is most likely to have happened at this election is that disaffected LibDem voters voted for Labour and disaffected Labour voters voted for the Green Party, SNP and other smaller left-wing parties. A large number of traditionally Labour voters did not vote at all. The net result of these disaffected voters voting (or not voting) as they did was to give the Conservatives a working majority in parliament because:

  1. In LibDem strongholds the second largest party in most cases has always been the Conservatives, so by voting Labour instead of LibDem the existing Conservative vote was sufficient to win.
  2. In Labour strongholds where there was a viable alternative to Labour, such as in Scotland, sufficient numbers of Labour voters either voted for the alternative or did not vote, giving the SNP a clean sweep.
  3. In marginal seats where the left-wing alternative to Labour was insufficient to overtake the Conservative vote, voting for Green or other smaller parties again meant that the existing Conservative vote was sufficient to win.

 

In none of these cases did LibDem or Labour voters switch their allegiance to Tories. On the contrary, they voted for more left-wing parties and if Labour and/or the LibDems had offered a real alternative to the Tory Party, they may well have retained the seats they lost and gained many others.

The final irony of this election is that UKIP split the Tory vote in a number of constituencies which could have gone Labour as a result, had Labour been offering more of an alternative to its own voters.

What this election has shown is that by joining a government with the Conservatives, compromising on their principles, breaking their promises and supporting policies which were previously anathema to Liberal Democrats, the LibDems lost the faith of their core constituency and lost their votes. The Labour Party, by acquiescing to the Conservative agenda, by accepting austerity, by not challenging the narrative that blamed the last Labour government for the recession, the Labour Party also lost the faith of their core constituency and lost their votes, both in Scotland and in England.

It is a well-known principle of political science that people rarely change their political stripes very much or very radically, even when their own circumstances change or the party they support changes. What causes political change, especially in a first-past-the-post system like ours, is the degree to which political parties are able to appeal to their core constituencies and inspire them to get out the vote. And when they fail to do that, people will turn to smaller parties with broadly similar values in order to register their discontent – or will simply not vote at all rather than vote for a party they, and their family and friends, have opposed all their life.

 

Addition sources

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results