Archive for the ‘elections’ Category

Oh, there’s so much about this election that needs serious, sensible, rational commentary.

It’s a pity there’s so little of that present in the punditry and commentary we do get, though.

And though I’ve commented previously about elections, including this one, and was even foolish enough to make some predictions, and will no doubt write some more before 12th December… something a bit lighter today while not completely leaving the subject alone.

This post was occasioned by the news that the Tories have today suspended a prospective parliamentary candidate for previously made antisemitic remarks.

They suspended him, and won’t be spending any more money on the campaign, and various people have rightly praised the Tories for doing both.

However, others have read far more into those actions that the actions themselves warrant.

From that reportage and those social media posts, you’d think that the Tories had “dumped’ the candidate, that the candidate will no longer be standing in the general election. Maybe that either another candidate will be selected in a hurry to stand for the party in that constituency, or even that no candidate was standing in that constituency representing the party.

Problem is, that none of that is true.

The final date for candidates to be formally – legally – nominated to stand for parliament was last Thursday, 14th November. From the moment nominations closed, no additional candidates can be added to the election for that constituency, nor can the ballot paper contain additional names.

What’s often missed, or less well appreciated anyway, is that from the moment nominations closed, no amendments at all can be made to the ballot paper.

Whoever were the nominees the moment nominations closed, their names are on the ballot when voters vote.

So, let’s take an example.

The constituency of Somewhere in the county of AnyWhere.

Mr Jones, Ms Smith and Mr Whatdjamacallit are, respectively, the nominated candidates from The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.

Mr Jones? The day after nominations close, he’s found to have worn blackface and dressed up as a nazi. The party suspend him.

Yeah, he’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Conservative party” next to his name.

Ms Smith? Oh, turns out she claimed all jews have hooked noses and only love money, oh and they’re all paid by israel to fiddle with kids. She’s duly suspended from the Labour Party.

Yep, she’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Labour party” next to her name.

Mr Whatdjamacallit, on the other hand, get caught with his hand in the till, ripping off the small charity she helps run. Police are called, he’s suspended from the party.

You guessed; he’s still on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.

Ludicrous? Possibly, but that’s how elections run in the UK.

Oh, by the way, if any of them had died, ah, that might be different. Because then sometimes the election for that constituency is suspended… until a new candidate can be selected, after the general election. Most recently… Thirsk and Malton in 2010, where the election was suspended after the UKIP candidate died.

But no suspension if the party has just picked a racist, say.

Now I can understand there being a cut-off to the period for nominations; of course there needs to be one. I can certainly understand there being a cut-off before the election to allow ballot papers to be printed correctly, checked and verified.

I can’t understand, however, why those two dates are absolutely the same date, four weeks before the election.

Apart from anything else, it tells the parties,

“yeah, sure, suspend them formally, but you know in safe seats that the candidate will be elected no matter what. You and we both know it doesn’t matter; a [suspended] Tory candidate will still be elected in a safe Tory seat, a [suspended] Labour candidate will still be elected in a safe Labour seat.”

And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, after they’ve won, the suspension is quietly lifted.

(And, literally, while I was typing this, it happened again; this time an antisemitic Lib Dem candidate. the Lib Dems have said they’ve removed him from election material and won’t campaign for him… But as above, he’ll be on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.)

OK, so given the above, and that most people don’t know about the ‘no amendments from the day nominations close’ rule, I wondered what other arguably things, what other odd facts and figures about British elections, that people might not know.

Here’s a baker’s dozen:

Largest winning vote share in any constituency:
George Currie, Ulster Unionist, North Down, 1959: 98.0%

Lowest winning share of the vote:
Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP, Belfast South, 2015, 24.5%

Smallest Majorities (since 1945):
2 votes:
Stephen Gethins, SNP, North East Fife, 2017
Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat, Winchester, 1997

Most recounts:
7: for both Brighton Kemptown in 1964 and Peterborough in 1966

Highest Turnout %:
Fermanagh and South Tyrone, 1951: 93.4%

Lowest Turnout %:
Lambeth Kennington 1918: 29.7%

Most candidates:
15: Sedgefield in 2005 (PM Tony Blair’s constituency)

Fewest candidates:
The last four seats to be uncontested at a general election were Armagh, Londonderry, North Antrim and South Antrim, at the 1951 general election. The last seats in Great Britain to be uncontested were Liverpool Scotland and Rhondda West, at the 1945 general election.

Three seats were contested only by Labour and Conservative candidates at the 1979 general election: Birmingham Handsworth, Dudley West and Salford East.

Most unsuccessful attempts to get back into The House of Commons:
Robert McIntyre, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1966, 1970, Feb 1974 and Oct 1974

Longest break from the Commons:
A contender for the longest gap prior to returning at a general election was possibly Henry Drummond (1786-1860), who returned to the House of Commons in the 1847 general election as member for West Surrey, after a near 35-year absence, though aged only 60. He was previously MP for Plympton Erle from 1810-12.

Shortest period between general elections:
7 months: November 1806 – June 1807
7 months: November/December 1885 – July 1886

Longest period without a change in government:
The longest continuous Conservative government was in office for eighteen years, between May 1979 and May 1997.

The longest continuous Labour government was in office for thirteen years, between May 1997 and May 2010.

Leader or Deputy party leader losing seat:
Always an event when it happens; most recent occasion was the constituent of Moray in 2017, when the SNP’s deputy leader, Angus Robertson… lost his seat.

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Not sure how long this will be; I want to write something on this, but I don’t honestly know how much there is to say.

There’s plenty to ask, though, so let’s start with a question.

I’m only going to ask one question today. More, perhaps on another occasion. I’m not expecting [m]any answers to this questions… for several reasons, including that the days of people responding to this blog seem to have passed.

However, that question:

What does it take to change your mind?

I’m not using ‘your’ here as a shorthand for people in general, but specifically you, who’s reading this blog.

What does it take to change your mind?

One answer might reasonably be to respond with your own questions: “About what? About what subject are you asking me to change my mind?”

Alistair Cooke, quoting a friend of his, suggested that while you can be educated as to the merits of art, or music, there are three subjects on which you should never attempt to change someone’s mind:

  • whether something is funny
  • whether something tastes nice
  • whether someone else is attractive

But even leaving aside those matters, (I’d also add these days ‘whether a movie or tv show is enjoyable‘) there are plenty of things where the reasons that you might change my mind depends on the circumstances, i.e. it’s different for each.

A matter of fact? Show me, in the words of my old audit tutor, independent, arms length, third party, verifiable information.

If I’m convinced that, say, ‘defenestrate’ is a synonym for ‘eviscerate’ (which I shamefully did for too many years), point me at a dictionary.

If I assert that Luton Town Football Club play at Anfield, show me where they do play, not from their website – ‘Independent’, remember? ‘Third party’, remember?- but from a newspaper report, or website, or from the Football League themselves.

A matter of opinion? This is where the ‘independent third party arms length’ bit falls on its arse. Because too often, when it comes to matters of opinion, especially in politics, the commonly held view is ‘no one’s independent’.

It often, but doesn’t always, comes down to ‘if they agree with me, they’re right; if they disagree, they’re not only wrong but obviously biased.’

Or what’s worse ‘prejudiced’ which implies, suggests, bad faith on the part of the person with whom they disagree.

More on this in a moment.

But going back to the original question: What does it take to change your mind?

If someone makes a statement, a matter of opinion, mind, about the merits of a candidate, or the demerits, with which I disagree, how do you change my mind?

I’m not sure, to be honest.

I don’t think I make up my mind quickly. I consider and balance and make a decision. And yes, once that decision is made, as far as I’m concerned, the decision has been made. And for me to change my mind thereafter, there better be a damn good reason to do so.

Before I’ve made up my mind, the burden is on everyone, defending or decrying each ‘side’ of the matter. Once I’ve made up my mind, the burden of proof is on someone wanting to change my mind.

So it’s not prejudice, but conclusion based upon my knowledge (which could be lacking), experience (which can only be personal, subjective) and – the crucial bit – other information which informs not my prejudice but my post-judice, my judgement.

But let’s go back to politics for a moment.

take just four things in this current election that people have to decide upon when casting their vote, things which will inform their vote. (I’m specifically referring to those who’ve already made their mind up.)

  1. whether the Tories can’t wait to are going to ‘sell off the NHS’
  2. whether, now, the best we can hope for is a Brexit Deal or whether we should revoke the whole damn thing
  3. whether Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite, and Labour now, sadly, institutionally antisemitic
  4. whether the Lib Dems should do one or more of the following:
      – stand down parliamentary candidates in Tory/Lab marginal seats even if Labour won’t reciprocate in Tory/LD marginals, and
      – despite election pledges, get Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 if the only alternative is to let Johnson back in.

Now, whichever side of the line you find yourself on any or all of the above, what would it take for you to change your mind on the matter?

I suspect, to be brutally honest, that nothing would, with the possible exception of 2 above.

If you currently believe that the NHS is going to up for grabs to the highest bidder if Boris Johnson gets his way, then I genuinely doubt that anything, any evidence, any promises, any pledges, from anyone, will change your mind on that.

And if you disagree with that conclusion, ask yourself the question: what would it take to change your mind on that?

Because likely as not, if anything could change your mind, whichever ‘side’ you’re on, then it would probably already have done so. It’s not like we’re short of the arguments right now, or as if they’re not they’re, and regularly offered to you.

If you’ve concluded, say, that for whatever reasons, that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite and the party he leads is institutionally, or indeed that he isn’t antisemitic and neither is the party… what would it take to change your mind on that?

Right now? Again, I doubt any minds can be changed on the matters.

Me? I’ve said previously that I didn’t think he was personally antisemitic, but that I had changed my mind on that as time passed and I saw more, learned more, as more was revealed.

But my mind was changed on his motivations and character, not his actions. I always thought that he was – at best – supremely indifferent as to the antisemitism of his friends’, supporters, and those he campaigned for. So I switched some time ago to believing he shared their antisemitism.

(What could change my mind on that? Lots of things… that could and would never happen, including a genuine repudiation of his previous behaviour and actions, and his taking full responsibility for the antisemitic actions he’s taken, and the antisemitic tropes he’s promoted. Failing that, nothing.)

So, what could change your mind on any of those four above?

One final point, on the assertion that the Lib Dems should, reluctantly or otherwise, support Jeremy Corbyn to prevent Boris Johnson… My only observation is that it’s both striking and bemusing just how many Labour supporters, who’ve spent almost a decade utterly and genuinely, furious with the Lib Dems for breaking 2010 election pledges… now advocate a position that the only moral thing for the Lib Dems to do is… break their election pledge.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

Well, it is, isn’t it? A mug’s game.

Making predictions about elections, I mean.

Ok, with some elections, you can make a decent stab at a result, caveating your forecast to hell and back. And some elections, yes, are such foregone conclusions that the result itself is almost an anti-climax.

The obvious one that springs to mind isn’t 1997, to my mind, but 2001.

It was obvious in 1997 that Blair was going to have a thumping victory. But the size of the majority – over 160 – surprised many. That wasn’t the case in 2001. It was obvious from the moment that he called the election that the result was only going one way, the same way: another thumping majority. And after four years of a New Labour government, it was just a matter of whether the majority would be roughly the same as 1997’s, 20 seats fewer, or 20 seats more.

2005? Again, not a surprise that Blair won, and it was fairly obvious that his majority would shrink. Not sure everyone expected the final numbers, but yeah, not a huge surprise.

Since then, however, they’ve been difficult to predict. Partly because polling models never seemed to cope well with change, and overestimated this party’s support, underestimated that party. (For a long time, polls always overestimated Labour support; that seems to have been addressed, but we’ll see.)

2015 came along, and again, the result was a surprise to many who after five years of coalition government expected nothing but a coalition government going forward.

I did a countdown blog to the 2015 election, and — no, don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this 2020 countdown into an election blog, though there’ll no doubt be some election related material.

But no, as I say, I did a countdown blog leading up to the 2015 general election. It was fun, for the most part, commenting on stuff that was going on. But yes, I thought a coalition government was the inevitable result. I even wrote a piece about how Cameron was actively misleading the electorate, claiming that he really really didn’t want one, and you couldn’t vote for the Lib Dems again…

Well, more fool me.

After the election, before I did anything else on here, I held my hand up, admitted I’d got it wrong, and wrote a full mea culpa.

I started that piece with the words:

Notwithstanding Sir Humphrey Appleby’s view that you get anything potentially troublesome out of the way in the title of an Act Of Parliament (so you don’t have to actually do anything in the body of the thing), it’d be remiss of me to even begin to set out my thoughts on what happened on election day, or to suggest what I think will happen in the days and weeks ahead without admitting one, crucial thing: I was wrong.

I wrote something just under 40 blog entries specifically about politics, and the forthcoming election, and I was wrong. 

I was wrong about so, so much. Now, were I to start listing out all the things I was wrong about in regard to anything at all since only January… well, I’d take up far more of your time than you have a right to expect. 

But even limiting it to the election, there’s a lot. So, let’s get at least some of them out of the way in this entry and then we can move on.

About the only thing I was right about was my late-on-in-the-campaign prediction that whoever’s party lose the election, or didn’t do well…? Well, they’d speedily resign.

So, yeah, it’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

So early, in fact, that it might have escaped your notice that the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

Yes, the House of Commons passed that Bill, but it’s not an Act of Parliament yet. It still has to go through The House Of Lords, then – if unamended – back to the House of Commons and then off to Her Maj for Royal Assent.

Final day of Parliament will be next Tuesday or Wednesday, after which Parliament is dissolved. At that point they, all 650 of them, all stop being members of parliament (since parliament is no longer sitting) and those that want to get the job again are now standing for election as prospective parliamentary candidates, along with about 3,000 other people by the time the election takes place. (In 2017, 3,303 candidates stood for 650 seats.)

So, yes, the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

And that’s the first prediction: people will get stuff wrong. Not the politicians – but see later – not the pundits, but interested observers, people who don’t actually know this stuff inside out, so misinterpret, misunderstand. These aren’t people lying, nor actively seeking to mislead. They just get stuff wrong occasionally. They mishear a word or phrase, or don’t quite understand the rules, or procedures. We’ve all done it. We will all do it again.

My hope, a forlorn hope, no doubt, is that this is understood. That it’s appreciated that people fuck up from the best of motives, that mistakes are made and sometimes they’re in good faith. Not everyone making a prediction, or saying what is happening is doing so from bad faith. Sometimes they’re misinformed; sometimes they’ve misinformed themselves.

Second prediction: people will lie. Will knowingly mislead. Will deliberately tell untruths. And all for political advantage. Yeah, being open to all of that above doesn’t mean you should be a fucking idiot. If someone is openly promoting a political candidate and/or party, and is promoting untruths about political opponents, or casting separating aspersions on those who vote, or may vote, for someone else…

Yeah, they may well believe every word they say and type is gospel. Doesn’t mean you’re obliged to. And neither does it suggest that you’re mandated to assume good faith. And certainly not if they repeatedly do it.

Third prediction: Parties and candidates will call for clean elections. Third and a half’th prediction: they don’t mean it. Oh, they may mean it when they call for it; that’s possible, I guess. But the moment they think they can gain advantage by a bit of let us say not-exactly-ethical manoeuvring, either they or their staff/supporters will do it and sleep well afterwards. The purpose, their objective, is to win an election; as long as it’s not breaking the law – and sometimes not even that will stop them – it’s all fair, they’ll protest. It’s all part of the game.

Prediction Four: Each side will regard an opponent’s entire political history to be up for grabs, but anything in their own record more than five years ago will be decried as ‘dirty tricks’, “desperate smearing’ and, of course, ‘out of context’, that favourite of the caught out. I found it genuinely bemusing how the left regard, say, anyone who served in Maggie Thatcher’s cabinets as beyond redemption, but anything from a decade or two back, hell from 2012 (!), in Corbyn’s history is apparently off-limits. Or how the right will cheerfully pull up stuff from Corbyn and McDonnell’s pasts in the 1980s, but the contents of memos Letwin wrote about race are ‘in the past…’

Fifth Prediction: For some people, every poll that suggests ‘their’ party is doing well will be trumpeted; every one showing it’s doing badly will be ignored or the polls or polling company, will be attacked. The hypocrisy that surrounds polling never fails to astonish me. I might have more to write about this subject another time, but for today, I’m just slapping that down on the table like a wet, slightly smelly, fish.

Sixth Prediction: Four in one here. Whether or not tv debates happen,

(1) Someone will point out that they’re a new thing, someone else will point at the US, and someone else will publish a long piece on whether we’ve entered a period of presidential politics in the UK.

(2) Each party will claim the others are the reason that debates might not happen, and claim the rules they want are perfectly reasonable but the other lot are being wholly unacceptable.

(3) Smaller parties will demand they should be treated exactly the same as larger parties, including parties with no MPs currently, or only one or two.

(4) If they happen, when a party leader doesn’t do well, the format will be blamed. Or the host. Or the broadcaster. Never the leader just not being any good.

OK, four personal ones to end on.

Prediction Seven: I’m going to hate this election campaign. Not only for the obvious, pre-stated, reasons, but because the nastiness has already started.

I’ve already seen accusations that unless you vote for this party, you don’t care about the environment; unless you vote for that one, you don’t care about the poor; unless you vote for this party, you lack human empathy; unless you don’t vote for that one, you have no national pride.

Note: these aren’t ‘don’t vote for that party.” That I can understand. “Vote for anyone else…”, I get. “Vote for whoever gets rid of that MP”. Again, I completely understand and appreciate that. “Vote tactically.” Again, yes. I may or may not agree, but it at least makes sense to me intellectually.

What I don’t get, what I can’t agree to, is the “you must vote for this party, because they’re the only ones who care; they’re the only party who cares about [insert subject of choice]”.

I’ve whinged before about how I’m not sure when we went from ‘the other lot are good people with bad ideas” to “the other lot are bad people with worse ideas.” But we got there long ago, and this election campaign will prove it once again.

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

Ninth Prediction: I’m gonna forget how bad I am at predicting election results. At some point, I’m sure I’m going to forget it. I’ll get carried away one night, or I’ll have one too many single malts, or I’ll just get pissed off with the incompetence of this politician or that campaign. And I’ll make a prediction.

Prediction Ten: I’m going to regret making any predictions at all, including the ones above.

Oh, and one more, not a prediction, resting on a sensible appreciation of the facts and the history, and forecasting an extrapolation, but a feeling of impending doom, as if I’m watching a car crash approaching. This is the final time, the final week, that I’ll regard some people as friends and that they’ll regard me in the same light.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…