Sunday, 31 March 2013

Habeas Corpus Christi - The Logic That Led Me To Christ

Today is Easter Day, when we remember the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this was a major factor in my conversion.

I need to explain the background. I did not grow up in a Christian home. My exposure to Christianity was through a brief membership of the Scouts - so I associated church with the St George's Day and Remembrance Day parades and it was all about looking neat and smart.

At secondary school we did have Religious Education. In my first year our teacher was an evangelical (and also took us for one PE lesson). He seemed different to other teachers, in a positive way, and it was only later that I realised what an influence he had. He gave us all Gideons New Testaments. I would read it, but be confused.

He left - we were told in assembly he was becoming a monk (he was actually becoming a pastor) - and another teacher took over RE. His approach was different. As he would remind us, when we aay "Jesus is alive", we don't mean that Jesus rose from the grave or that even a ghost of Jesus appeared to people. His example was that we might say that George Gershwin is alive, but by that we don't mean you can meet Gershwin, but just that when his music is played, he lives on in that. And in the same way, when Jesus's teachings are followed, he lives on in the teachings. Nothing more than that. Good people might earn their place in Heaven, and Jesus would be there, but just as a good man. Nothing more to Jesus than that.

And after school was sixth form college, where everything happened. I got bullied badly - the worst was what was called the "Ham-hoist"* which involved grabbing my legs unexpectedly and throwing me to the ground. I put my back out being Ham-hoisted once.

[* To annoy me, some people called me "Ham", which I now know is a Biblical name]

Some bullying was - with hindsight - funny. Like the "Wanted: Dead or Alive. Preferably Dead" posters of me that were put up one day.

And the only friends I made were in the CU. I thought they were nice people, even if they believed weird things.

At the same time my great-uncle, whom I was close to, was dying from lung cancer caused by years of exposure to asbestos. And he ended up becoming part of an evangelical Baptist church which was run by the dad of one of the men in the CU. One moment stood out in all this.

My great-uncle was an orchid expert, and built up an impressive collection. One day, he set the heating in his greenhouse wrong and the orchids all died. Years of work gone to waste, with no time to build up a new collection. I was upset by this and mentioned this to the people in the CU.

A few days later, his pastor turned up with an orchid for him!

I also joined Mensa. And there was a little article about how quantum physics can prove life after death. Intrigued - I was into physics after all, and enjoyed reading about quantum physics - I wrote off for details, unaware it was the spiritualists.

I absorbed what I read, encouraged by seeing teachings from beyond the grave by Silver Birch, and moved by the knowledge that everyone lives forever.

Christianity? Pah! As it was explained, the Gospels were written in the fourth century by the Catholic Church to back their teachings.

Something didn't ring true. I inquired about judgment, whether someone like Adolf Hitler would be punished for his actions in his life, and was informed that no, there is no-one to do the judging. No God there to do any judging.

And then there was a thing about spirits coming from beyond the grave, and how they can read the minds of living people. And if a religious person encountered one of these spirits it would tell them what they wanted to hear - that God exists.

Hang on a sec! If a spirit tells a religious person what they want to hear, rather than the truth, what is the evidence that these spirits are telling everyone what they want to hear? Why believe anything they say if they give one message to one person, one to another?

Is that all the world beyond can do? Send us disembodied politicians??!!

And then there was the bit about Jesus' resurrection, which blew it all apart. One of the booklets I received was informing me that Jesus did appear as a spirit, and all that was needed was for one of the disciples to go inside the tomb and see Jesus' body lying there. If only, if only, that had happened then all this stuff about Jesus being physically resurrected would have been knocked on the head, and we would have another moral teacher, but no Church - especially not the Roman Catholic church.

Going to local libraries and reading books in the religion section made me realise that the New Testament was not written in the fourth century but was much older. Something must have happened.

Reading the New Testament accounts I learned that people did find the tomb empty - Peter (Luke 24:12) along with John (John 20:5-8). What had happened?

Maybe they went to the wrong tomb. But Joseph of Arimathea owned the tomb (Luke 23:53-46) and Ms Magdalene observed the location (Mark 15:47). Hmm, but surely she would remember which one? And even if she didn't, she could go to Joseph and say "I can't find the tomb". In addition, wouldn't it be an odd coincidence if you go to the wrong tomb and find it empty with just some linen cloths that had been used for a burial there?

And even then, supposing the disciples did make an awful mix up, considering that Pilate put a guard on the tomb (Matt 27:62-66). Pilate knew where the tomb was, and if the disciples did start going around declaring Jesus had risen from the dead, all he needed to do was produce the body.

Also note that the guards were still there when the Maries went to the tomb (Matt 28:1-4) which made finding the right tomb easy.

Maybe the disciples - who didn't believe Jesus would rise - stole the body. The interesting thing about this is that the Pharisees were aware of Jesus's prediction that He would rise and suspected a ruse by the disciples. Faced with a group of simple peasants, should we really think that a group of tough Roman soldiers would wet their tunics and run away?

The other factor for me was the growth of the church. It is hard to keep a conspiracy secret. I am amazed by those who believe that the Moon landings were a conspiracy. Someone would squeal. And conspiracy theories draw in a cast of thousands who have to act against their best motives.

The Moon landings provide an example. A couple of years ago I chatted with a man who believed they were a hoax. And I noted that Russian craft have observed the landers from lunar orbit. Ah yes, but the Russians were in on it as well.

Really? There was a space race between the USA and the USSR, and the USSR knew that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never stepped foot on the Moon but - for some unfathomable reason - chose to let the USA take the glory. Why, for crying out loud?

If the disciples had stolen the body, one of them would have spoken out under the persecution that followed. There would be a record of a Jewish sect, and one of them saying "It was all a practical joke that got out of hand" or "It was all Peter's idea. He's the ringleader". If the evidence existed that would have stopped the early Church in its tracks, why wasn't it produced?

While I was coming to my conclusion, my great-uncle died in the week before my 18th birthday, unaware that I was about to be converted. It happens like that. The pastor's son who was such a huge influence on me didn't see me come to faith as we had finished college and it would be 20 years before we met again.

By that October I was about to start at Oxford University - at Corpus Christi College - and knew I had to act on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. It cannot be just an interesting pub quiz answer. It has to be more. And it was the current Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones', appendicitis which pushed me to my final step of converting.

A Familiar Anglicanism

Today is Easter and I went back to my parents' for the day. And went to church twice.

The first was the 9am service at what is the parish church. A small, historic church, the first one in England to be bombed by the Luftwaffe. And the service used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

I admit to liking the BCP. It's the sense of history. One day Jesus will call me home. And there will come a point when the last person to remember me will be gone. I will be no more than a name. Of course there is the internet so people keep a presence (one man on my Facebook friends list died last year - never sure whether the correct thing is to unfriend now or not, as it hasn't become a memorial site) these days. The only record of my grandmother online is in the list of names on the Stardust spacecraft. For one friend who was killed 20 years ago climbing Mount Taranaki there is no online reference to him at all.

After my health scares of last April and this January I have become more aware of my mortality and I notice ways that has affected me - not necessarily morbid ways.

The thing about the BCP is that awareness of an unbroken chain of believers dating back to when Jesus Christ was in Galilee. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that the early church used the BCP or that Jesus spoke Shakespearian English. But the BCP reminds me that I am using the same words that people used 350 years ago (and in some parts, over 450 years ago). One day the 22nd century will begin. And as time passes, we will be seen as the Middle Ages. Then we will be Ancient History. Nations will fall, new nations will rise. There will not "always be an England" - one day that name will be known to historians only.

The Church of God will remain.

The BCP reminds me that the Church is old, rooted in history, and will keep going.

I then went to the Anglican church in my parents' town (a bit complicated as ecclesiastical and civil parishes are not coterminous). This was the 1/2 past 10 service and used Common Worship.

Now, I was converted in the autumn of 1990, and that was the church I went to during vacations. And for me, discussions and remembering of things like Series 1, 2 & 3 went over my head. I was used to the Alternative Service Book. The words in that were familiar.

And I noticed this today - so much of Common Worship comes from the ASB that most of the Communion I knew off by heart. It was familiar, comfortable and comforting.

Christian Conference Season

One thing I quite enjoy going to is Christian conferences. Depending onn emphasis, there is the chance to network with other people who love God, to have fellowship and to have teaching.

In the second quarter of 2013 there are three I have decided to go to.

First up is on 18 May and is the London Men's Convention. I have been to quite a few of these and the teaching is sound, Bible-based and relevant. And they also recognise the range of Christisn masculinity (no expecting men to conform to one stereotype).

The speakers for the early convention are Graham Beynon, Jonty Allcock and John Tindall.

The second is the following Saturday and is Unbelievable?, which looks at apologetics, and features the Amy Orr-Ewing, the Alister McGrath and a Peter Williams among its speakers.

I am looking forward to this as I think apologetics - being able to contend for the faith that was delivered nearly two millennia ago (Jude 3) and to always have a defence for the hope we have (I Pet 3:15).

These are two I have already booked to go on. The third is one I intend to book for and is the Bristol Men's Convention on 8 June, which is something I've not been to before.

If These Churches Feel So Strongly About Poverty..

Here we go again. One might imagine that with it being Easter churches might put out statements which are - at least - vaguely connected to Jesus.

Four left-wing pressure groups denominations - the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain - have decided to condemn welfare cuts, whilst Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith has said that the United Kingdom is not managing to cut the welfare bill.

I remember as an undergraduate there would often be motions at JCR meetings mandating the Committee to go on marches to represent the JCR. I once heard this concept mocked - quite rigthly - as feeling so strongly about some issue that you're going to stay back in Oxford and mandate other people to march on your behalf.

And this is how these denominations are coming across.

One source of revenue for the churches is from the Government. Er, actually the money the Government has coming in from taxpayers of all religions and none. And this is Gift Aid, which is - on one level - a marvellous idea as it increases charities' revenues.

But, if the churches didn't take their Gift Aid, then there would be more money for the Government to spend on welfare. Simples! So why don't these churches call for this? Or at the very least treat the Gift Aid money as money from the Government taxpayers to be spent exclusively on projects to help the poor people they talk about?

Put your money where your mouth is

One event in the early church was the prophesied famine covered in Acts 11:27-30, and Paul tells the Roman church about churches elsewhere which were pleased to help the poor in the Jerusalem church (Rom. 15:25-29)

How pleased the church in Jerusalem must have been when Paul arrived bearing photos of protest marches and examples of postcards that the young churches had sent to Caesar asking him to "do something" to help.

No! The early church dug into their pockets and gave sacrificially to help the poor. What I find in the Bible is that it's up to the people of God, and not the State, to do this.

What did the Victorian Christians do when they saw a practical need? They got off their backsides and did something. And that attitude is still there today, with Christian-based charities helping the poor and suffering, and individual Christians working for secular charities.

Yet from the hierarchy of these denominations it seems that all you need to do is make a little political point attacking the Government and you have done your job. No need to get one's hands dirty. No need to reach into one's pocket. Just moralise about the Government's duty to reach into other people's pockets.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

It's Finger Lickin' Bad

One thing that really gets on my nerves - and I saw an example while getting some odds and ends this evening after Doctor Who - is the poor quality of food hygiene in supermarkets.

Back in the mid-nineties I worked in various food factories in Leicester and one thing was essential - the holding of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health's Basic Food Hygiene Certificate.

Although I am not the world's tidiest person, when it comes to food hygiene I am fussy. Open a packet of cereal and its contents go in an airtight container. Never use the same knife for meat and then something else, or even for two different types of meat. Separate chopping boards (although not the colour-coded ones).

But it seems that basic food hygiene is an alien concept in modern supermarkets.

The most common is when they get carrier bags for you. Finger in gob, lick and get the carrier bag and then touch your food.

A few weeks back there was a daily ritual at the supermarket over the road from where I work. I would do some food shopping, and whoever was at the till would - you guessed it - put finger in gob etc.. The next stage of the ritual was my finding the duty manager and explaining why it is unhygenic. I get the promise that all till staff will be told and it will not happen again. And then the next day - yep, you've guessed that as well. So, by now I know that all duty managers are thinking of is "what shall I say to make annoyed customer shut up and clear off?".

Or else there is the chewing gum fad. One thing we learned was that you never chew gum (or anything else) or eat while handling food. But now it's chew chew chew. I remember shopping and seeing the actions of one woman at the fruit and veg. Chew, chew. Hand in gob. Sort chewing gum out. Pick up fruit and carry on sorting. I did explain to the duty manager why that is unhygenic, but couldn't get her to comprehend.

Or else the sneezers. I recently shopped, put my shopping on the belt at the till, and the till operator sneezed into her hands. And then carried dealing with the shopping of the person in front of me. So I just started putting my shopping back in the basket and went to another till.

Friday, 29 March 2013

General Elections Without Scotland

With the Scottish Government having announced that the independence referendum would be on 18 September 2014, there is one - of the many consequences - of independence, which would be that MPs from Scottish constituencies would no longer have any reason to sit in the House of Commons.

And with this in mind, time to have a look at what election results would be without Scotland. This assumes that the political history in England, Wales and Northern Ireland runs the same as in the real history.

We begin with July 1945:

  • Labour - 356
  • Conservative - 163*
  • Liberal - 12
  • Ulster Unionist - 9
  • National Liberal - 8
  • Independent - 7
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • Independent Labour - 2
  • Independent National - 2
  • Communist - 1
  • Common Wealth - 1
  • National - 1
  • Independent Progressive - 1
  • Independent Ulster Unionist - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Douglas Clifton-Brown, MP for Hexham]

    Labour majority 145

    February 1950:

  • Labour - 278
  • Conservative - 246*
  • National Liberal - 11
  • Ulster Unionist - 10
  • Liberal - 7
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Clifton-Brown, MP for Hexham]

    Labour majority 3

    October 1951:

  • Conservative - 264*
  • Labour - 260
  • National Liberal - 13
  • Ulster Unionst - 9
  • Liberal - 5
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • Irish Labour - 1
  • [* Includes William Morrison, MP for Cirencester & Tewkesbury, who would be elected Speaker after the election]

    Conservative/National Liberal/Ulster Unionist majority 17

    May 1955:

  • Conservative - 284*
  • Labour - 243
  • National Liberal - 15
  • Ulster Unionist - 10
  • Liberal - 5
  • Sinn Féin - 2
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Morrison, MP for Cirencester & Tewkesbury]

    Conservative/National Liberal/Ulster Unionist majority 58

    October 1959:

  • Conservative - 308*
  • Labour - 220
  • National Liberal - 14
  • Ulster Unionist - 12
  • Liberal - 5
  • [* Includes Harry Hylton-Foster, MP for Cities of London & Westminster, who would be elected Speaker after the election]

    Conservative/National Liberal/Ulster Unionist majority 108

    October 1964:

  • Labour - 274
  • Conservative - 262*
  • Ulster Unionist - 12
  • National Liberal - 6
  • Liberal - 5
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Hylton-Foster, MP for Cities of London & Westminster]

    Conservative/National Liberal/Ulster Unionist majority 0

    An interesting result, with the sitting Government returned with exactly half the voting MPs. By-election chnages would have pushed the Government into a minority and the Liberals would hold the balance of power.

    This is an era before the rise of Plaid Cymru, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Social Democratic & Labour Party, so MPs basically fell into 3 categories - Conservative & allies, Labour, Liberal. These days a party could go some way below an overall majority and theoretically still be able to govern as a minority, as long as the other parties didn't gang up. In the 1960s, if you lost your majority, the other main party would simply need Liberal support to oust you.

    But who would be Prime Minister? In October 1963, Harold Macmillan resigned and the Conservative party chose Alec Douglas-Home as the new Prime Minister. The problem was that he was a member of the House of Lords, and so disclaimed his peerage under the Peerage Act 1963 and in a November 1963 by-election was elected MP for Kinross & West Perthshire, in Scotland.

    So, in our scenario, he would have to contest a non-Scottish seat. Which one?

    One that springs to mind is Luton, which had been vacant since the National Liberals' Charles Hill had resigned in June 1963 to become Chairman of the Independent Television Authority. So, Douglas-Home could have been the National Liberal candidate for Luton - but in the November 1963 by-election the seat was won by Labour's William Howie. In theory, Douglas-Home could then have found another seat to contest, but his authority would have been badly damaged.

    Another option is a bit more leftfield. In June 1963, David Campbell, the Ulster Unionist MP for Belfast South, had died. How about Douglas-Home serving as Prime Minister while representing that seat? How different would Northern Ireland politics have been if there had been a Prime Minister sitting for a Belfast constituency? Or at the February 1974 general election, would Douglas-Home, as a holder of a Great Office of State (Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary) and a former Prime Minister, be the biggest scalp claimed by the Unionists opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement?

    A third option is the safe one. In November 1963, Douglas-Home had John Hare, the MP for Sudbury & Woodbridge (whom he had appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), elevated to the peerage - and hence triggering a by-election. It could be a simple swap, with Douglas-Home able to stand in a safe Suffolk seat.

    Now, you may have noticed that the earldom of Home is a title in the peerage of Scotland, not in the peerage of the United Kingdom, and assumed that Douglas-Home would not have been eligible to sit in the House of Lords if Scotland had been independent, so if he wanted a political career at Westminster he would already have had to be an MP. However, he also held the barony of Douglas in the peerage of the United Kingdom - in our scenario this would be the only peerage he would have to disclaim, and could remain Earl of Home while Prime Minister.

    March 1966:

  • Labour - 318*
  • Conservative - 219
  • Ulster Unionist - 11
  • Liberal - 7
  • National Liberal - 3
  • Republican Labour - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Horace King, MP for Southampton Itchen]

    Labour majority 76

    How would this election have been triggered? Douglas-Home losing a vote of confidence and calling an election? Or Labour's Harold Wilson becoming Prime Minister through a deal with the Liberals and going for an early election for a real mandate?

    This election is the National Liberals' last one, as will shortly be absorbed into the Conservative party.

    June 1970:

  • Conservative - 299
  • Labour - 244*
  • Ulster Unionist - 8
  • Liberal - 3
  • Unity - 2
  • Republican Labour - 1
  • Protestant Unionist - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, King, MP for Southampton Itchen]

    Conservative/Ulster Unionist majority 56

    February 1974:

  • Conservative - 276*
  • Labour - 261
  • Liberal - 11
  • Ulster Unionist - 7
  • Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Democratic Labour - 1
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Selwyn Lloyd, MP for Wirral]

    Conservative "majority" -13 or Conservative/Liberal majority 9

    In the real world, Labour's 19 seat advantage over the Conservatives in Scotland, as well as a strong showing by the Scottish National Party meant Labour had a 4-seat lead over the Conservatives in what was not just a hung Parliament but one where even a Labour/Liberal coalition would be a minority Government.

    Without Scotland, the Conservatives - rather than Labour - would be the largest party, and a majority administration with the Liberals would have been numerically possible. The combined Labour and Liberal MPs would have been fewer than the Conservative tally.

    You might wonder whether a Conservative/Ulster Unionist Government (majority 1) was possible. By this stage, due to the Sunningdale Agreement, relations between those parties broke down irretrievably, and in some seats Ulster Unionist fought Ulster Unionist, with all 11 Unionist seats being from MPs opposed to Sunningdale.

    October 1974:

  • Labour - 278
  • Conservative - 261*
  • Liberal - 10
  • Ulster Unionist - 6
  • Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Lloyd, MP for Wirral]

    Labour "majority" -7 or Labour/Liberal majority 13

    In the real world, Labour won this narrowly. Without their 25-seat Scottish lead over the Conservatives, Labour would be forced down to being the largest party in a hung Parliament - and there would be the first two hung Parliaments in a row since the January/February 1910 and December 1910 elections.

    May 1979:

  • Conservative - 317
  • Labour - 225*
  • Liberal - 8
  • Ulster Unionist - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1
  • United Ulster Unionist - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, George Thomas, MP for Cardiff West]

    Conservative majority 71

    June 1983:

  • Conservative - 376*
  • Labour - 168
  • Liberal - 12
  • Ulster Unionist - 11
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Social Democrat - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Sinn Féin - 1
  • Ulster Popular Unionist Party - 1
  • [* Includes Bernard Weatherill, MP for Croydon North East, who would be elected Speaker after the election]

    Conservative majority 173

    June 1987:

  • Conservative - 366*
  • Labour - 179
  • Liberal - 10
  • Ulster Unionist - 9
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Social Democrat - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Sinn Féin - 1
  • Ulster Popular Unionist Party - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Weatherill, MP for Croydon North East]

    Conservative majority 153

    April 1992:

  • Conservative - 325
  • Labour - 222*
  • Liberal Democrat - 11
  • Ulster Unionist - 9
  • Plaid Cymru - 4
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 4
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Ulster Popular Unionist Party - 1
  • [* Includes Betty Boothroyd, MP for West Bromwich West, who would be elected Speaker after the election]

    Conservative majority 72

    So, no nail-biting votes in the House of Commons and the Government manages a full 5 years without becoming a minority one.

    This election was followed by the resignation of Neil Kinnock as Labour leader, and John Smith, then the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, replacing him. But Smith sat for a Scottish seat.

    If we look at the November 1991 elections to the Shadow Cabinet, then the top 3 - Shadow Trade & Industry Secretary Gordon Brown, Smith, and Shadow Health Secretary Robin Cook - all have Scottish seats. In fourth place is Ann Clwyd, then the Shadow Minister for Overseas Development.

    With Smith unable to stand, is it too far fetched to think that Tony Blair becomes Leader of the Opposition two years early?

    May 1997:

  • Labour - 363*
  • Conservative - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 36
  • Ulster Unionist - 10
  • Plaid Cymru - 4
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 2
  • Sinn Féin - 2
  • UK Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, Boothroyd, MP for West Bromwich West]

    Labour majority 138

    In October 2000 Boothroyd resigns and is replaced by Michael Martin, Labour MP for Glasgow Springburn. Of course, if Scotland were independent, then Martin would not be Speaker.

    June 2001:

  • Labour - 357
  • Conservaive - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 42
  • Ulster Unionist - 6
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 4
  • Sinn Féin - 4
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
  • Labour majority 127

    May 2005:

  • Labour - 315
  • Conservative - 197
  • Liberal Democrat - 51
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 9
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Ulster Unionist - 1
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
  • Respect - 1
  • Indpendent - 1
  • Labour majority 43

    May 2010:

  • Conservative - 306*
  • Labour - 217
  • Liberal Democrat - 46
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 8
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Green - 1
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 1
  • Independent - 1
  • [* Includes the sitting Speaker, John Bercow, MP for Buckingham]

    Conservative majority 20

    The exclusion of Scotland would have altered the results of some close elections. The 1964 one would have been effectively a dead heat (if the Liberals supported Labour) or the return of a Conservative-led Government, instead of a Labour one.

    The first 1974 one could have seen the Conservatives remain in power, rather than the return of Labour.

    And 2010 would have seen the Conservatives govern alone.

    One thing to note is that the 1945 election - not 1997 - would have been Labour's greatest electoral victory.

    Why Is Easter In March?

    A couple of evenings this week, those nice people at South West Trains cancelled the last train from Andover to Basingstoke, and put on every commuters' ultimate nightmare - the rail replacement bus service. Which stank. I think just beforehand it had been used to host a chainsmokers' convention.

    Hence, I get to Basingstoke at 1/4 to midnight, hang around for a slow train to Southampton Central, get in about 20 to 1, no buses that late, and walk home.

    Wednesday morning I was hurrying home and it was quite cloudy, with a full moon shining through a gap in the cloud.This wasn't any old full moon - this was the Paschal Full Moon, the first one of spring.

    In an earlier post (keep it open in a new tab or window as I will refer to it later) I mentioned the calendar reform by Ugo Boncompagni which gave us the Gregorian calendar we all know and love today.

    For the Roman Catholic Church it was/is important that Easter was celebrated on the right day.

    In my previous post I looked at the different types of lunar months, and the important one for this is the synodic month of 29.530589 days.

    The average year length in the Gregorian calendar is 365.2425 days. 19 years will be 6,939.6075 days on average. It depends how many leap years there are in those 19 years - there will be 4 or 5, so 19 years will be 6,939 or 6,940.

    235 synodic months is 6,939.688415 days - very close to 19 years. So, if you have a full moon (or perhaps, the Paschal Full Moon) on a day one year, it is likely to be on the same day 19 years later. This is called the Metonic cycle.

    The Jewish calendar is a luni-solar one, with most years having 12 months, but 7 out of every 19 having 13 months. Hence 235 months every 19 years.

    If you have a copy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer there will be tables about using the Golden Number to calculate Easter. The Golden Number is found by:

  • Take the year (2013)
  • Add 1 to it (2014)
  • Divide by 19 (106, remainder 0)
  • The Golden Number is the remainder - if the remainder is 0, then the Golden Number is 19.
  • So, this year has a Golden Number of 19. One table will give the Paschal Full Moon for each number (really an ecclesiastical Paschal Full Moon, as the real one could be a day different due to leap years). And we see the date given as 27 March - with Easter being the following Sunday (31 March).

    12 synodic months is 354.367068 days, so if you have a full moon on one date one year, you should expect one about 11 days earlier the following year (if you onserve meteor showers, then it is best for the peak to be near new moon - useful advice I got once is that if a new moon is on a particular date one year, it should be on a near-enough date 3 years later). So, we should expect the Paschal Full Moon to be about 11 days earlier from year-to-year, so Easter should be about a week (or maybe a fortnight) earlier each year.

    Except when you have an earlyish Paschal Full Moon, 13 synodic months is 383.897657 days, so you should then expect the Paschal Full Moon to jump about 19 days later the following year.

    A Golden Number of 1 gives the Paschal Full Moon (ecclesiastical) as 14 April. This is a Monday, so Easter is the following Sunday - 20 April.

    Actually, the real Full Moon is on 15 April, when there is a total lunar eclipse.

    What was the problem that Boncompagni wanted to sort out?

    The British Empire didn't switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian until 1782, and there is a dating convention of writing [OS] for "old style" for Julian calendar dates and [NS] for "new style" for Gregorian calendar dates.

    The vernal equinox is often on 7 March[OS]/20 March[NS]. This year the full moon was 14 March[OS]/27 March[NS]. And this highlights what the problem was.

    Under the Julian calendar, with an ecclesiastical vernal equinox remaining 21 March, this week's full moon was still a winter one.

    The next full moon is 12 April[OS]/25 April[NS] - and under the old calendar this would be the Paschal one, the first of spring. And Easter would be 15 April[OS]/28 April [NS].

    Hence, Boncompagni's problem that people could be celebrating Easter incorrectly as the Sunday after the second full moon of spring.

    The Moon And The Month

    [Another post in preparation for writing about Easter]

    We were taught at primary school that the word "month" comes from "moon" - that a month is about the time that the moon takes to go round the Earth.

    And this is an approximation.

    But there are different types of month.

    In my previous post (I suggest opening it in a new window or new tab as I will refer to it later) I had a look at the tropical year and the First Point of Aries. In stellar co-ordinate systems there is something called ecliptic longitude and ecliptic latitude. These are both zero at the First Point of Aries.

    If you picture a line perpendicular to the ecliptic at the First Point of Aries (go back to the image of Pisces in the previous post) then anything along that line has an ecliptic longitude of zero.

    The average time it takes for the Moon to return to an ecliptic longitude of zero is known as the Tropical month and this is 27.321582 days long.

    New moon is when the Sun, Moon and Earth line up. You might think that one tropical month after new moon it would be new moon again, but this ignores that the Earth is in orbit around the Sun.

    Suppose, for example, we have a new moon at precisely the vernal equinox. The Sun (at the First Point of Aries) and the Moon both have an ecliptic longitude of zero. One tropical month later, the Moon has an ecliptic longitude of zero. But the Sun?

    Well, that's moved on, and by then would be just on the border of the neighbouring constellation Aries (all constellation images from Heavens Above:

    So, the Moon has to catch up the Sun, which takes it a couple of extra days or so to do. This gives us the Synodic month of 29.530589 days, the average time from new moon to new moon.

    These are not the only months. You'll notice I've been talking about the Moon having an ecliptic longitude of zero, rather than being at the First Point of Aries. If you recall the pictures of Pisces and Aquarius you would see five of the planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Uranus and Neptune - were near the ecliptic but not on it.

    And the same is true for the Moon. For example, the northernmost part of the ecliptic - which will be where the Sun is at the summer solstice - lies in Gemini

    Actually, it's only just in Gemini. It's very near the border with Taurus:

    I recall recently walking home and seeing the Moon, and later realising it had actually been in Orion:

    The ecliptic passes through 13 constellations (not 12) - but Orion isn't one of them! But the northern part of it (traditionally marking his club) is very close to the ecliptic - close enough to have the Moon passing through it briefly.

    The full moon nearest to the winter solstice - the full moon that will be highest in the sky and above the horizon longest - will probably be in Gemini or Taurus. But if the Moon is near its furthest below the ecliptic then it could be in Orion. And if the Moon is near its furthest above the ecliptic it can be in Auriga:

    We are all aware that north of the Arctic Circle there is the Midnight Sun. Well, in parts of the USA, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia south of the Arctic Circle you can at times have the Moon above the horizon for over a day - when it is to the north and at its lowest it is still above the horizon.

    The Moon moves from below to above the ecliptic at its ascending node and from above to below at its descending node. The average time from ascending node to ascending node is the Draconic month and is 27.21222 days - shorter than both the tropical month and the synodic month. Hence, if there is a new moon at the ascending node (something I'll come back to in a moment), then at the next new moon, the Moon will be above the ecliptic.

    After 242 draconic months - 6,585.35724 days - the Moon would again be at the ascending node. What's so special about this? 223 synodic months is 6,585.321347 days - just 52 minutes less than 242 draconic months.

    Suppose there is a new moon with the Moon near a node, then the Moon is likely to be seen in front of the Sun - a solar eclipse. This close connection between 242 draconic months and 223 synodic months gives us the Saros cycle of a little over 18 years. If there is an eclipse one day, there will probably be one a Saros cycle later. The American total solar eclipse of August 2017 is one Saros later than the August 1999 one that I saw from Alderney.

    What's Another Year?

    [Note - this might seem a bit random, but I was drawing up a post on Easter and realised I would spend a lot of time on this, so decided to do it as a separate post]

    We know that the year is 365 days long, but in a leap year there is an extra day (29 February). I'm quite pleased that a 29 February is so rare, as it is the only day that I dislocate my shoulder on.

    The idea that every fourth year is a leap year isn't totally accurate, as the final year of a century is only a leap year if it can be divided by 400. The final year of last century (2000) was a leap year, but the final year of this century (2100) won't be.

    Over a 400 year period, there will be 97 years with 366 days and 303 with 365 days. This is 146,097 days, so the average year length is 365.2425 days.

    One year used by astronomers is the Tropical year, which is measured from vernal equinox (the start of the northern hemisphere spring) to vernal equinox.

    The image - taken for today from Heavens Above shows the constellation of Pisces, in which we find the First Point of Aries.You can find the First Point of Aries by looking for the 0 hours along the x-axis and the 0 degrees along the y-axis and seeing where they cross. At that point - the First Point of Aries - you will see an inclined white line cross. That is known as the ecliptic and marks the path of the Sun in the sky. You will see that the Sun does, indeed, lie on the line, and there are 3 planets (Venus, Mars and Uranus) near the Sun and near that line. You can also make out Mercury, down in neighbouring Aquarius:

    If you're in the tropics or the southern hemisphere then Mercury is an impressive object in the pre-dawn sky at the moment.

    The Sun is at the First Point of Aries at the vernal equinox.

    The tropical year is 365.2421897 days long. The old Julian calendar simply had every fourth year a leap year, but something happened when the average year was 365.25 days long.

    We can see that the difference between the average Julian year and the tropical year is 0.0078103 days, which might not seem much (it's just over 11 minutes). Over a century this becomes 0.78103 days - which is 18 hours 45 minutes. So, each year, spring was starting earlier.

    In May 1572 Ugo Boncompagni became Pope Gregory XIII and one task he set about was calendar reform. This might seem an odd thing for the Vatican to be worried about, but it has all to do with getting Easter right.

    In 1582 he took the papal bull by the horns and decided to abolish the days from 5 to 14 October inclusive (for that year only), so 4 October was followed by 15 October.

    Abolishing days is one of the perks of being Pope - yet not one of them has abolished Monday mornings.

    Boncompagni also altered the rules concerning end-of-century years always being leap years, and so brought the average year length closer to the tropical year. The average year is now 0.0003103 days longer than the tropical year, and over 400 years this amounts to 0.12412 days - just under 2 hours 59 minutes. So, after 4 centuries, spring is starting a little bit less than 3 hours earlier.

    If You Think The Church Is Stuck In The Eighties...

    A few weeks back we were singing one modern hymn at church. I cannot remember which one, but there was a line about Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection being the events that divided history.

    Except we don't act that way with the calendar. For some reason we have a BC (Before Christ)/AD (Anno Domini) split based on a miscalculation of His birth.

    We take His birth as the event that divides history, from which our calendar is based.

    If we really want the crucifixion and resurrection to be the dividing line in history, and convention takes these to be AD 33, then surely we should treat this as Year 1 (remember, there was no Year 0. 1 BC was followed by 1 AD - hence my amusement as the country went all gaga over the ending of the 99th year of the 20th century and the starting of the 100th year of the 20th century. The century and millennium began on 1 January 2001).

    Hence, if we really take the crucifixion and resurrection as dividing history, surely we should start our calendar from then, and take 32 years off...

    Have a great 1981

    Thursday, 28 March 2013

    Maundy Thursday And Communion Frequency

    I remember when I was at St Andrews going a few times to the parish church. And by parish church I mean the Church of Scotland. And sometimes there would be white cloths decked over the backs of pews as the Kirk prepared for its Communion Sunday.

    Getting on for 20 years ago now, I was a volunteer with Time For God, being placed with Methodist Homes for the Aged. At one of the conferences I heard about two previous volunteers.

    For one lady, Connunion was so important and so sacred that she celebrated it only a few times a year.

    For another lady, Communion was so important and so sacred that she aimed to celebrate it daily.

    Two Christians, starting from the same principles, and wanting to honour God and coming to completely opposite conclusions.

    Often, when we disagree, we have to see what the other person is actually saying, rather than assuming they don't love God as much as we do, or maybe they don't take the Bible as seriously as we do, are not as Spirit-filled as we are etc.

    I am wondering with Communion, how frequently we should take it. I did try to find a Maundy Thursday Communion service - the local Anglican parish church does one, but by the time I got home from work today I had a pounding headache and had to rest. And even cooking lamb (I felt it was kind of appropriate for today) has been put off - no appetite.

    In Judaism, the festivals were celebrated annually - no more frequently, no less frequently. And the first Maundy Thursday, when the sacrament of Communion was instituted, was a Passover celebration. Does this mean that Maundy Thursday isn't just a day when we celebrate Communion, but the day we celebrate it?

    Sometimes Acts 20:7 is produced as the text that backs weekly Sunday Communion - it was the first day of the week, they were breaking bread. But in Acts 2:46 the believers were breaking bread daily in their homes. Hmm, so did the early church go from daily Communion to weekly, or does Luke mean something different when he refers to breaking bread? And just because in Troas they celebrated it one Sunday, does that mean it has to be celebrated every Sunday?

    There is one danger, that of finding Bible passages, ignoring what that particular section is focussing on and then looking for the umbras and penumbras, assuming that when a writer mentions X, they are referring to Y, and using that as a legalistic stick to beat others with.

    More importantly than how often we receive Communion is how we receive it. I don't mean posture or style. but our heart attitude. Are we eating the bread and drinking the wine in gratitude?

    One final thought - this weekend marks something greater than Christmas, and the modern Anglican Christmas marks that. One trend is of the Christmas Eve "Midnight Mass", and years ago I heard it pointed out that as we are marking the start of Christmas Day, it is in a service where we, once again, eat bread and drink wine to remember Jesus Christ giving up His life for our redemption.

    Could UKIP Have MSPs?

    There was a recent article in The Scotsman om whether the UK Independence Party could have an impact in Scotland.

    I notice that in the June 2009 elections to the European Parliament, UKIP got 5.23% of the Scottish vote. While not enough to elect any Members of the European Parliament, parties have had Members of the Scottish Parliament elected on smaller shares of the vote.

    UKIP's vote is not evenly distributed, but a breakdown by local authority area is available, and the Boundary Commission for Scotland has the breakdown of electoral regions by local authority areas.

    Now, not all local authority areas remain in one electoral region - Argyll & Bute; East Lothian; Midlothian; and Moray are each split across two regions and South Lanarkshire across three. When this happens, I assume that each party's vote is evenly spread across the local authority area.

    So, what would the result of the May 2011 Scottish election be if the regional vote was the same as the 2009 European?

    For each region, I only list parties getting over 5% of the vote.

    Begin with Glasgow, where the Scottish National Party won 5 constituencies and Labour 4.

  • Labour - 30.62%
  • Scottish National Party - 28.12%
  • Greens - 9.53%
  • Conservatives - 9.11%
  • Liberal Democrats - 7.17%
  • Labour and the Greens would each get 2 additional MSPs, while the SNP, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get 1 each.

    Hence, in Glasgow, Labour would have 6 MSPs, the SNP 6, the Greens 2, the Conservaives 1 and the Liberal Democrats 1.

    Labour achieve their highest share of the vote in this region, while both the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (on 3.97%) get their lowest share of the vote.

    Next it's Highlands & Islands, where the Scottish National Party won 6 constituencies and the Liberal Democrats 2.

  • Scottish National Party - 29.36%
  • Liberal Democrats - 22.81%
  • Conservatives - 15.18%
  • Labour - 10.14%
  • Greens - 7.08%
  • UK Independence Party - 6.74%
  • The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives would each get 2 additional MSPs, while Labour, the Greens and UKIP get 1 each.

    Hence in Highlands & Islands, the SNP would have 6 MSPs, the Liberal Democrats 4, the Conservatives 2, Labour 1, the Greens 1 and UKIP 1. The Liberal Democrats and UKIP each achieve their highest share of the vote in this region, while Labour gets its lowest share of the vote.

    Next is Lothian, where the Scottish National Party won 8 constituencies and Labour 1.

  • Scottish National Party - 24.72%
  • Labour - 19.92%
  • Conservatives - 17.44%
  • Liberal Democrats - 14.43%
  • Greens - 11.50%
  • Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would each get 2 additional MSPs, while the Greens gets 1.

    Hence in Lothian, the SNP would have 8 MSPs, Labour 3, the Conservatives 2, the Liberal Democrsts 2 and the Greens 1.

    The Greens achieve their highest share of the vote in this region, while the SNP gets its lowest share of the vote.

    Now on to Scotland Central, where the Scottish National Party won 6 constituencies and Labour 3.

  • Scottish National Party - 31.80%
  • Labour - 29.59%
  • Conservatives - 10.41%
  • Liberal Democrats - 5.77%
  • Greens - 5.30%
  • UK Independence Party - 4.97%
  • Labour and the Conservatives would each get 2 additional MSPs, while the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP get 1 each.

    Hence in Scotland Central, the SNP would have 6 MSPs, Labour 5, the Conservatives 2, the Liberal Democrats 1, the Greens 1 and UKIP 1.

    The Liberal Democrsts and Green each get their lowest share of the vote in this region.

    Next it's Scotland Mid & Fife, where the Scottish National Party won 8 constituencies and Labour 1.

  • Scottish National Party - 29.15%
  • Labour - 20.90%
  • Conservatives - 18.03%
  • Liberal Democrats - 11.68%
  • Greens - 6.62%
  • UK Independence Party - 5.55%
  • The Conservatives would get 3 additional MSPs, Labour 2, while the Liberal Democrats and the Greens would get 1 each.

    Hence in Scotland Mid & Fife, the SNP would have 8 MSPs, Labour 3, the Conservatives 3, the Liberal Democrats 1 and the Greens 1.

    Now on to Scotland North East, where the Scottish National Party won all 10 constituencies.

  • Scottish National Party - 36.08%
  • Conservatives - 19.27%
  • Labour - 13.95%
  • Liberal Democrats - 11.09%
  • Greens - 5.98%
  • UK Independence Party - 5.45%
  • The Conservatives would get 3 additional MSPs, Labour 2, while the Liberal Democrats and the Greens would get 1 each.

    Hence in Scotland North East, the SNP would have 10 MSPs, the Conservatives 3, Labour 2, the Liberal Democrats 1 and the Greens 1.

    The Scottish National Party achieves its highest share of the vote in this region.

    Next Scotland South, where the Scottish National Party won 4 constituencies, the Conservatives 3 and Labour 2.

  • Conservatives - 25.30%
  • Scottish National Party - 25.24%
  • Labour - 18.19%
  • Liberal Democrats - 10.27%
  • UK Independence Party - 6.60%
  • Greens - 5.86%
  • The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would each get 2 additional MSPs, while Labour, UKIP and the Greens would get 1 each.

    Hence in Scotland South, the Conservatives would have 5 MSPs, the SNP 4, Labour 3, the Liberal Democrats 2, UKIP 1 and the Greens 1.

    The Conservatives achieve their highest share of the vote in this region.

    Finally Scotland West, where the Scottish National Party won 6 constituencies and Labour 4.

  • Scottish National Party - 28.99%
  • Labour - 24.14%
  • Conservatives - 16.35%
  • Liberal Democrats - 9.82%
  • Greens - 5.81%
  • UK Independence Party - 4.94%
  • The Conservatives would get 3 additional MSPs, the Liberal Democrats 2, and the Greens and UKIP getting 1 each.

    Hence in Scotland West, the SNP would have 6 MSPs, Labour 4, the Conservatives 3, the Liberal Democrats 2, the Greens 1 and UKIP 1.

    For Scotland overall, the result would be:

  • Scottish National Party - 54 (53 constituencies, 1 regional)
  • Labour - 27 (15 constituencies, 12 regional)
  • Conservatives - 21 (3 constituencies, 18 regional)
  • Liberal Democrats - 14 (2 constituencies, 12 regional)
  • Greens - 9 (all regional)
  • UK Independence Party - 4 (all regional)
  • In this scenario, the SNP would be 11 seats short of the 65 needed for an overall majority - however, after the May 2007 election they chose to govern as a minority with only 47 MSPs. A coalition with the Greens would bring them up to 63.

    And the only alternative - a Labour/Liberal Democrat/Green coalition - would be 4 seats behind the SNP.

    Of course, in reality, the 2011 election was unusual, with the SNP winning 53 constituencies - the same as Labour did in the inaugural election of May 1999. But in 1999, Labour did poorly on the regional side of the election, and only got 3 additional MSPs (all in Highlands & Islands). In 2011, the SNP dominated the regional side, picking up additional MSPs in every region apart from Lothian.

    Secondly, 2009 and 2011 are different elections. Not just for different elected bodies but from different eras. 2009 was the fag-end of an exhausted Labour government, while 2011 took place as part of a national backlash against a Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.

    However, this does show that if UKIP repeats its European share of the vote, then it should get a few MSPs.

    As a coda, 2009 might be electorally closer to the 2007 election, in that they both happened during a Labour government on its last legs. If we take the notional 2007 constituency results, we come up with something slightly different:

  • Scottish National Party - 41 (21 constituencies, 20 regional)
  • Labour - 40 (35 constituencies, 5 regional)
  • Conservatives - 20 (6 constituencies, 14 regional)
  • Liberal Democrats - 16 (11 constituencies, 5 regional)
  • Greens - 8 (all regional)
  • UK Independence Party - 4 (all regional)
  • An SNP/Liberal Democrat/Green coalition would have an overall majority of just 1.

    Sunday, 17 March 2013

    Leanne Wood, Rhondda And Dual Candidacy

    A couple of Welsh political stories - other than the reshuffle - concerning the next elections to the Welsh Assembly on 5 May 2016. Firstly, the Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, currently an Assembly Member (AM) for South Wales Central is planning to stand in Rhondda, which is currently held by Minister for Education Leighton Andrews.

    You may think that Wood is taking a risk, after all, the Government of Wales Act 2006 abolished the concept of dual candidacy.

    The Welsh Assembly is elected on the Additional Members System, where Wales is split into 5 regions. In each region are between 8 and 10 constituencies, all of which elect an AM. Then 4 additional AMs are elected on party lists using the d'Hondt system in each region to make the system more proportional.

    At the May 1999 and May 2003 elections, dual candidacy was allowed, so someone could be a constituency candidate and be on their party's regional list. In theory, a constituency AM could lose their seat but eemain an AM by becoming a regional one, and conversely, a regional AM could stand in a constituency and win. This is still the rule for the Scottish Parliament.

    The classic example is in the Scottish Parliament, with the Galloway & Upper Nithsdale constituency. At the 1999 election, the constituency was won by the Scottish National Party's Alasdair Morgan (the sitting MP). Also representing the constituency - as a regional member for Scotland South - was the Conservatives' Alex Fergusson.

    At the 2003 election, the good people still had Morgan and Fergusson representing them. But something had changed. In the constituency, Fergusson had defeated Morgan by 99 votes, but Morgan remained a Member of the Scottish Parliament by virtue of his high placing on the SNP list in Scotland South.

    The May 2007 election saw another battle between Morgan and Fergusson, with the latter increasing his majority (and becoming the Parliament's Presiding Officer), and the former continuing to represent Scotland South.

    One reason for abolishing dual candidacy was the interesting result in Clwyd West at the 2003 election. The constituency was won by Labour's Alan Pugh, who, obviously enough, became an AM.

    In second place was the Conservatives' Brynle Williams, followed by Plaid Cymru's Janet Ryder and then by the Liberal Democrats' Eleanor Burnham. All three of them became regional AMs for Wales North - indeed Ryder and Burnham were sitting regional AMs.

    There was a slight advantage for Labour in abolishing dual candidacy as in both Wales and Scotland there was a tendency for it be Labour AMs/MSPs losing to sitting regional representatives who had built up a profile locally.

    One thing to note, however, is that there are other ways for a politician to build up a profile. In South East England at the June 2009 election to the European Parliament one of our Members of the European Parliament was the Green Party's Caroline Lucas. Her work as an MEP since first being elected in June 1999 gave her a high profile which helped her to win Brighton Pavilion at the May 2010 general election.

    And, for the House of Commons, being an AM or MSP can help build a profile that helps a politician become an MP. The Conservatives' Alun Cairns, who won Vale of Glamorgan from Labour at the 2010 election was a regional AM for Wales South West (interestingly, this region did not contain his new cnstituency, which is in Wales South Central). Another Conservative, the Minister for Scotland, David Mundell, won Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale from Labour at the May 2005 general election while being a regional MSP for Scotland South.

    The traffic isn't always towards Westminster though. At the 2007 election, the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, made his return to the Scottish Parliament after a 6 year absence by winning Gordon from the Liberal Democrats while still MP for Banff & Buchan, and then became First Minister - the post he still holds. The 2011 election saw Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas become an AM for Wales Mid & West - he had been MP for Ceredigion from a by-election in February 2000 (caused by the resignation of Plaid Cymru's Cynog Dafis the previous month to concentrate on his duties as an AM for Wales Mid & West) until being defeated by the Liberal Democrats at the 2005 general election. 2011 also saw the Liberal Democrats' Willie Rennie - who now leads them in the Scottish Parliament - elected as a regional MSP for Scotland Mid & Fife, having been MP for Dunfermline & West Fife between winning it from Labour at a by-election in February 2006 and losing it to Labour at the 2010 election.

    There should really be more traffic that way. Labour missed a trick at the 2011 election. Why not put the former Prime Minister and MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, Gordon Brown, top of the Scotland Mid & Fife list? Parachute former Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Edinburgh South West, Alistair Darling, in as Labour candidate for Edinburgh Pentlands (and high on the list in Lothian as an insurance policy), so he can lead Better Together as an MSP? Bung former Home Secretary and former MP for Airdrie & Shotts, John Reid, top of the Scotland Central list? (with former Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, second?)

    How different would Holyrood be with Labour MSPs who have held high political office - in one case the highest political office?

    And would the Liberal Democrats have such a meltdown if their former leader and sitting MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber, Charles Kennedy, had been chosen to defend Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch?

    Now, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government is considering abolishing the ban on dual candidacy, which would enable Wood to stand in both Rhondda and South Wales Central.

    Rhondda itself has an interesting history. At the 1999 election it was actually won by Plaid Cymru, before losing it to Labour at the 2003 election. But it has an older history.

    At the February 1974 general election, Rhondda was formed from two existing seats - Rhondda East and Rhondda West.

    Rhondda West was solid Labour since it was created at the December 1918 general election. Its inaugural MP was William Abraham, who had been MP for the old Rhondda seat since the November/December 1885 general election when he was elected as a "Lib-Lab" candidate, i.e. notionally a Liberal but supported by the trade unions.

    It is fair to say that Rhondda was solid Labour before the Labour party even existed.

    Unlike today, when constituencies have long lists of candidates, this is an era of few candidates. Indeed, st the October 1931 general election the Conservatives and Liberals didn't contest the seat, so the sitting Labour MP, William John, was only challenged by the Communists. At the November 1935 and July 1945 general elections, he didn't face any challenger - indeed, in 1945 John was the only Welsh MP to be elected unopposed.

    At the February 1950 general election, John retired, and the seat was won by Labour's Iorwerth Thomas. However, he died in December 1966, hence there would need to be a by-election.

    By this stage, Plaid Cymru was making its presence felt - just as the SNP was north of the border. It had appeared on the scene at the May 1929 general election when it only contested Caernarvonshire. In May 1966, Megan Lloyd-George, who had been Labour MP for Carmarthen since winning it from the Liberals - the party her father once led - at a by-election in February 1957, died. Hence a by-election was held in July 1966 - the first since the March 1966 general election.

    Plaid Cymru - like the UK Independence Party since the last general election - had had some by-election success, albeit not winning seats. Second place at Ogmore in June 1946 (albeit with no Conservative or Liberal candidates). Second place at Aberdare in December 1946 (pushing the Conservatives into third place) - something repeated in the same seat in October 1954.

    Basically getting second place in seats Labour easily held. But Carmarthen changed all that. Plaid Cymru's leader, Gwynfor Evans, who had come third in October 1964 and again in 1966, won the by-election, but lost it back to Labour's Gwynoro Jones at the June 1970 general election. In February 1974 Jones held to it, with a majority of 3 votes over Evans. but Evans won it back in the October 1974 general election, before losing it to Labour in the May 1979 general election.

    And in March 1967 it was Rhondda West's turn. Despite a 29% swing from Labour, and Plaid Cymru getting a higher share of the vote than in Carmarthen, Alec Jones held it for Labour.

    The next Welsh by-election was Caerphilly in July 1968. Another 29% swing, a higher share of the vote than Rhondda West, but Plaid Cymru failed to defeat Labour.

    That's Rhondda West. What about Rhondda East? Another fascinating seat.

    Like its neighbour, Rhondda East was solid Labour during its existence. But it's when it comes to the runner-up that everything changes.

    In 1929 the Communists contested the seat for the first time, getting a respectable third place behind the Liberals and pushing the Conservatives down to fourth place. In 1931 the Conservatives and Liberals didn't contest the seat, and - as in Rhondda West - Labour was only challenged by the Communists.

    The by-election of March 1933 was won - predictably - by Labour, but the Communists' Arthur Horner (who would later run the National Union of Mineworkers) came less than 3,000 votes from becoming the sole Communist MP (at the 1929 general election Shapurji Saklatvala lost Battersea North to Labour).

    From the 1935 to 1966 general elections - except for the Conservatives coming second at the October 1951 general election - the Communists were second in Rhondda East, until at the 1970 general election they were pushed into third place by Plaid Cymru.

    And Wood becoming AM for Rhondda would be just another chapter in its unique political history.

    Friday, 15 March 2013

    Why My Nose Stays As It Is Today

    Today is an event that happens every two years. Yep, it's Smugfest Day.

    I do not support Comic Relief despite the pressure.

    The first problem I have is the attitude. If you state that you choose to give to other charities, then you are a miseryguts and a killjoy. Some of us believe in giving quietly, without fanfare and regularly, by standing order or direct debit, so charities can plan. But's that being a miseryguts and a killjoy.

    I am reminded of Jesus's words in Matthew 6:1-4.

    Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    Comic Relief's gospel - and I use that word deliberately for reasons which will become clear later - is that giving to the needy should be accompanied by the modern trunpets, so celebrities can be praised by the public for doing stuff for char-i-dee.

    It's not enough to be charitable. One has to be seen to be charitable and receive praise for it.

    The second problem goes to the heart of the Comic Relief gospel. And that is the attitude that doing something funny for money absolves all sins.

    A couple of years ago, I criticised celebrity drug addict George Michael. And one woman who overheard pointed her finger at me, and angrily told me that Michael cares about the starving children in Africa (R) (TM) and did so much for Comic Relief. How dare I say a word against him!

    And I tried to explain this. In some parts of the world, crops for drugs are grown on land which could be used for crops for food. There are children who will go hungry today so that Western celebrity drug addicts can shove white powder up their noses.

    Drugs wars leave children maimed and orphaned. In some parts of the world there are children who have to bring up their brothers and sisters, or whose health is permanently damaged so that Western celebrity drug addicts can shove white powder up their noses.

    However, this could all be dismissed by the argument that a celebrity drug addict does stuff for char-i-dee.

    Frankie Boyle's "jokes" about an autistic boy? That's OK - he does stuff for Comic Relief.

    DHL? Oh, that's OK, they do stuff for Comic Relief.

    Dodgy person or dodgy organisation? Supporting Comic Relief justifies everything.

    The third problem is the deceit. As John Smeaton argues, Comic Relief funds organisations that promote and perform abortions.

    Now, if people want to give money to abortion providers that is up to them. But an organisation giving money to them and then stating "we do not fund and have never funded abortion services or the promotion of abortions" is wrong.

    There are two possibilities. Either Comic Relief genuinely does not know that some organisations it gives money to perform and promote abortions - in which case it does not research where money it raises is spent and therefore does not practice good stewardship with the money entrusted to it.

    The alternative is that it does know where the money goes and chooses to deny it. In which case it is untrustworty.

    But I note that the Comic Relief letter mentions it gives money to CAFOD. So that makes everything OK. Well it doesn't.

    We come across this modern morality. For example, I knew a lady who, as she liked to remind people, was a "nice person" and "such a good Christian". Others would - and I agree - describe her as a "nasty piece of work". She would remind people of her little good deeds which would earn her a place in Heaven.

    Reduce someone to tears by spiteful comments about a seriously ill relative who they are not sure will survive? Find it funny when something bad happens to a social inferior? That's OK - do a little good deed each day and brag that you are a "nice person".

    I remember seeing a poster advertising the National Lottery. It had some disabled children at the seaside with the slogan "Fun for you. Funds for them." I don't have time to go into the Lottery now, but issues about gambling addiction and opening the door to a social acceptance of gambling (I remember the bookmakers in Hythe with its frosted windows - now gambling dens advertise openly about how much you can win) and the potentila super-casinos.

    Someone objects to the National Lottery? Simple, just draw attention to the tiny percentage that goes on "good causes" and make out that what they are really saying is they don't like disabled kids having a day at the seaside.

    Someone objects to super-casinos? Simple, just waffle about "regeneration" and "bringing money to the City" which can be spent on the poor and disadvantaged.

    It's this attitude that one good deed for char-i-dee justifies everything.

    There is a fourth issue. I was told recently that surely I can afford, on my salary, to give £1 to Comic Relief. Just a pound. Won't even notice it.

    I'm sorry, but choosing to give to charities other than Comic Relief does not make you a miseryguts or a tightwad.

    Saturday, 9 March 2013

    The Alternative Fates Of Jamie McCrimmon

    Yesterday I received the latest Doctor Who Magazine and was interested by an interview with Frazer Hines, who played Jamie McCrimmon from December 1966 to June 1969, with a couple of returns in the 1980s.

    One of these returns was in season 22's The Two Doctors, and Hines mentions that he could have suggested staying on, and that the then-producer John Nathan-Turner might have agreed to that.

    There are two theories about when The Two Doctors is set. The first places it in the normal narrative - namely that it is set in the era of Patrick Troughton playing the Doctor. At some point when the Doctor and Jamie were travelling with Victoria Waterfield, the Time Lords sent them on a certain mission. But if the Doctor was on the run from the Time Lords? And Jamie hadn't heard the name? One way that fans have got round this is by assuming that it was the Celestial Intervention Agency sending the Doctor and Jamie, and keeping their whereabouts hidden from the High Council (with maybe the Doctor agreeing to this to avoid being caught by the Time Lords).

    A second theory is that after Troughton's final adventure - season 6's The War Games, the Time Lords reunited the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria (and somehow restored Jamie's memory) and and sent them off on various missions. For me this is hard to reconcile with the sentence imposed by the Time Lords - that the Doctor's appearance would change and he would be exiled to Earth, which (from what I remember) was going to commence immediately after his trial.

    Now, if Jamie travelled with the sixth Doctor and Peri Brown, then he would have to leave at some point.

    The logical point to me seems to be leaving at the same time as Peri, in season 23's The Trial Of A Timelord: Mindwarp. As he saw the Doctor pretending to co-operate with the Daleks in season 4's Evil of the Daleks he would take the Doctor's actions in his stride.

    In Mindwarp the Time Lords take the Doctor and bring him to the trial, leaving Peri abandoned to her fate - and as we see in The Trial of a Timelord: The Ultimate Foe her real fate is much worse than the one we see in Mindwarp. I would assume that if Jamie were travelling at this point, the Time Lords would either leave him abandoned on Thoros Beta (and in a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, he would never return to the second Doctor) or else send him back to the end of the The Two Doctors to travel with the second Doctor again.

    I wonder whether, if Jamie did get abandoned on Thoros Beta, the Master would manage to send him as a witness to the trial in The Ultimate Foe along with Mel Bush and Sabalom Glitz. This could open the door to a further period of travelling with the sixth (and maybe the seventh) Doctor.

    Wednesday, 6 March 2013

    Matthew 18 Or Revenge?

    I am in the process of applying for church membership. And one issue that I have been worried about is having to put down my last church. Although I did discuss the matter with one of the welcome team who said he would mention the problem to the church leadership.

    The problem is that I left my old church on very bad terms, forced out. And my fear was that my church contacting the old church would lead to the old church telling my church's leadership things about me that were untrue and maybe leading to the elders going "Right. Well we didn't know that about him. Membership denied."

    But, on the other hand, reading between the lines of the church handbook I think I would have a right to reply if anything was said.

    I had to leave my old church in the autumn of 2011. I had missed a church event - and emailed in advanced to say why. That should have been the end of the matter.

    For one of the church ministers, it wasn't. Basically, "his nose" told him that really I was making a desperate "cry for help" over a deep-seated spiritual problem - so deep-seated that not even I was aware of it.

    Now, this is nonsense, but the problem is people believe gossip if it's shared "for prayer purposes".

    There was a bit of an email to-and-fro, with him insistent that He Knew He Was Right. It culminated with my turning up at the church Sunday evening and him wanting to discuss my spiritual problem with me. I just told him that I did tell the truth about why I didn't attend and walked away. The following morning in my Inbox was an email from him describing me as "not normal" for my walking away and my refusal to discuss my (non-existent) problem and suggested I seek counselling for the (non-existent) spiritual problem. At which point I contacted another one of the church leadership to explain why I was going to stop attending the church.

    The problem is things escalate as stuff gets shared. And after a while you find people on Facebook from the church suddenly unfriending you.

    And there is one annoying attitude. That is the lack of a right to reply. There was no chance for me to give my side of the story once some confronted me about the (non-existent) spiritual problem.

    I would go further. For some who shared and confronted me there was no such thing as my side of the story. The minister concerned had told them the full facts so they could pray for me. I needed to be brought to the point where I accepted that what was being said about me by him was true, the church would love to give me prayer and counselling, and it was up to me to help the church to help me. You can end up being confronted and shouting "That's not true" till you're blue in the face.

    You also come across the Saddam Hussein/Weapons of Mass Destruction logic. Just as the inability to find his WMDs showed that he was very good at hiding them, the lack of evidence of a spiritual problem which is being shared "for prayer purposes" means that the person it's about is good at deceiving others - and themselves - about it.

    The thing about church gossips is that they are so silky. Suddenly announcing, for example, that Peter is an alcoholic (and no that isn't what was said about me), isn't going to do anything. But the silky "Oh, you're a friend of Peter's so I'm sure you're just as concerned..", "You love Peter as well so I'm sure you'll want to pray...", "This is just so you can pray.." leaves Peter's reputation shredded and the gossiper's reputation enhanced as they were only doing it because they love Peter.

    This was all behind me. Yesterday evening I get an email entitled "Praying 4 You" from a lady I'd never heard of. I was going to delete it, but decided to open it. Apparently, there is a cycle of praying for members "of the church family" and it is my turn to be prayed for next week. Ho hum, that's nice - but it's from my old church. And the minister who caused me so much trouble is one of those doing the praying.

    The opportunity for him to again, share something untrue and hurtful about me, for "prayer purposes" is something I worry about. So I emailed her back to ask her to remove me from the prayer list.

    And in it, I also explained why I was no longer attending there. And I named name.

    I am still unsure of my motivation. Was it - as I justify to myself - following Matthew 18? After all, the minister concerned refuses to apologise so telling the church is a next step, and by naming name I am telling the church (and the next stage would be to treat him as a tax collector)?

    Or was I following a baser motivation? That of wanting to hurt someone who abused his ministry and leadership position to cause me so much hurt?

    Sunday, 3 March 2013

    With Every Beat Of My Heart

    This week I made two visits to the doctor's. Although the practice I go to has quite a large team, this week it was the same doctor. He must think I'm either a hypochondriac or a stalker.

    Tuesday's was a simple issue of my hearing. I had had a chest infection earlier this month, and one of the after-effects is that their is fluid in my Eustachian tubes. Both ears, so I can't hear very well. Everything sounds muffled and my alarm clock can beep as loud as it likes and won't wake me. Although I am a heavy sleeper. I have slept through earthquakes.

    Note the use of the plural.

    Indeed I worry about what would happen if Jesus returned when I was asleep. Would there be a team of angels round my bed trying to wake me up and then saying "Nah, can't wake him. Will have to leave him"? Or would they fetch the angel who sounds the trumpet and get him to wake me?

    Tuesday evening I was at work and suddenly my heart felt odd. It was beating irregularly - the only way I can describe it is that it felt like my heart was jumping around in my chest. I was standing and had to sit on a desk for a few minutes before it calmed down.

    So, on Friday morning I saw the doctor again, who suggested that it was an atrial fibrillation. On Tuesday I will have an echocardiogram which should give more details. This isn't the NHS moving especially quickly - I was referred back in January.

    It won't be my first one. I volunteered for one at a science exhibition back in July, as I thought it would be interesting for the punters to see what an enlarged left ventricle (which I've known about for years) looks like.

    The doctor also suggests that on Tuesday I ask for 24-hour Holter monitoring.

    The past year or so has not been good for my health, to be honest. And it has made me more aware of my own mortality.

    A few days back I had a lift, and the engine stalled. If something was behind us, then it could have gone into the back of us. The driver asked me afterwards, "Did you feel unsafe?"

    And my reply suprised me - Life is unsafe.

    Last Sunday evening at church, we sang Stuart Townend's In Christ Alone, and one part stuck out:

    From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny

    We all live with our feet teetering on the edge of eternity, never knowing when we'll fall off. Some people choose to ignore that fact, and act as if life is a great big fun merry-go-round that will never come to an end.

    Others are aware that life is unsafe. In a post from last April, I noted that there had been a couple of times when I realised that I had come close to being killed, but that St George's Day was the first time I thought I would die.

    You can either - as I think The Shawshank Redemption puts it - get busy living or get busy dying.

    It makes life more precious. When I was taken ill at work a few weeks back, and left Basingstoke Hospital, I recall sitting on the train to Andover, seeing the Sun and reflecting that when I was taken to hospital there was a point when I wondered if I would ever see the Sun again.

    Yesterday I ended up having to take the train to Gillingham, and as I waited for the train to Salisbury, I was standing on the platform, and saw an impressive display of crepuscular rays. Normally I would just notice them, but this time I stood on the platform and drank them in, choosing to be amazed by them. And wondering if I would be lucky enough to see a parhelion or two on thw way back (I wasn't).

    When you realise that life is fragile and precious, you become more aware of how impressive God's creation is. I read recently that mature Christians pray more not because they are more devout, but because they are more aware of their own weakness and fragility and hence more aware of how dependent they are on Him.

    One lesson I have had to learn is dependency. Now, part of my idea of masculinity is that one stands on one's own two feet. You go in to work when you have a headache and your knees are aching because you have a job to do, and bills to pay. Being single and living on my own, I have found I have to get on with life - no-one is going to appear by magic and do the cooking for me.

    The week I was at my worst my parents persuaded me to go to their home. And I did, learning again to have meals cooked for me, and ended up spending most of the time asleep.

    Most Sunday evenings after church, a group of us go to Tragos, and a couple of Sundays ago, I went along and was offered a lift home. As I often do, I declined. I was walking home, feeling short of breath (from the chest infection) and unsteady on my feet (due to my ear problems), and then it struck me - why was I being so independent and foolish by turning down a lift? The offerer lived near me, he wouldn't be going out of his way, and for him it was something normal to do. So I turned around and went back and later got the lift home.

    So, over February I was learning more about having to rely on others sometimes.

    One day, there will be a moment when my heart beats for the final time, when my lungs take their final breath. And there is a comfort in knowing that the time, location and method of that has been decided by God, and that my future lies in His hands.

    Saturday, 2 March 2013

    Eastleigh And Government Formation

    One other aspect of the Eastleigh by-election is that, although the Liberal Democrats lost support, they were not significantly punished for entering a coalition with the Conservatives. Yes, they lost their historic role as the protest vote party to the UK Independence Party, but still held the seat.

    After the May 2010 general election, and when the coalition was formed, there would sometimes be the argument that people voted Liberal Democrat on the understanding that in a hung Parliament they would back Labour. We saw this with Eastleigh, with letters in the local paper from disgruntled Labour supporters who had voted tactically for the then-MP, Chris Huhne, on the understanding that they were preventing a Conservative government, and then they get the slap in the face when he becomes Energy & Climate Change Secretary.

    However, they did prevent a Conservative government. Their tactical voting created the conditions for a Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.

    There is an arrogance in such an assumption, which I will return to.

    If we look at the seats which the Liberal Democrats gained (up to the May 2005 general election), then yes, it is fair to say that at the May 1997 general election, with massive tactical voting ensuring the Liberal Democrats gained 30 seats from the Conservatives (and a further 7 at the June 2001 general election), then it would have been a very strange decision if there had been a hung Parliament and the Liberal Democrats had entered a coalition with the Conservatives, when it is clear that much of the Liberal Democrat gains was from wanting to oust a Conservative government.

    By the time we get to the 2005 election, then the Liberal Democrats are gaining 12 seats from Labour and only 3 from the Conservatives.

    At the 2010 election, the Liberal Democrats gained 5 seats - Bradford East, Brent Central, Burnley, Norwich South and Redcar - from Labour, but only 3 - Eastbourne, Solihull and Wells - from the Conservatives, so it wasn't really a case of winning excessively more from one of the main parties than the other.

    With that out the way, I mentioned an arrogance. And that is the attitude that in Great Britain there are only two types of seats - a Conservative seat or a Labour seat. Sure, from time-to-time a Conservative seat might elect a Liberal Democrat MP due to tactical voting from Labour supporters, but it is still, deep down, a Conservative seat.

    And, indeed, the history of the Liberals after the Second World War has some support for that. It seemed that Liberal MPs were simply keeping a seat warm for a major party, and that seat's representation by a Liberal was no more than a flash-in-the-pan.

    There were exceptions. In March 1962, Clement Davies, the Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire (who had been Liberal leader from August 1945 to November 1956) died, leading to a by-election in May 1962, which was held by the Liberals' Emlyn Hooson (who lost it to Labour at the June 1970 general election), But a Liberal MP succeeding a Liberal MP was unusual.

    The only other pre-1997 examples that spring to mind are Jim Wallace (now the Advocate-General) succeeding Joseph Grimond as MP for Orkney & Shetland at the June 1983 general election (a seat that is still Liberal Democrat, with Alistair Carmichael - now the Deputy Chief Whip - succeeding Wallace at the 2001 general election) and Liz Lynne succeeding Cyril Smith as MP for Rochdale at the April 1992 general election (but losing to Labour in 1997).

    But in the 21st century we have something new - Liberal Democrat seats. To be a Liberal Democrat seat involves more than having a Liberal Democrat MP. It means the Liberal Democrats being entrenched there. I note that Eastleigh and Orkney & Shetland are now both on their third consecutive Liberal Democrat MP.

    To suggest that the Liberal Democrats won Eastleigh in 2010 as voters didn't want a Conservative government is to view 21st century politics through a Conservative/Labour dichotomy that belongs in the mid-20th century.

    My opinion is that the Liberal Democrats won Eastleigh in 2010 because the voters wanted a Liberal Democrat MP.

    I have alluded to something in my last post - namely that in the opinion poll carried out by Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft, 23% of those who voted Labour in 2010 and who voted on Thursday switched to the Liberal Democrats. It doesn't seem that Labour supporters are desperately keen to punish the Liberal Democrats for entering Government with the Conservatives. The impression I get is of Labour supporters accepting that - given the choice of a Conservative or a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government - the latter is the lesser of the two evils.

    Eastleigh & AV

    This week has seen the Liberal Democrats retain the seat of Eastleigh.

    One response is to note that a centre-right vote has been split allowing the Liberal Demcorats to hold on. That is probably a bit simplistic, and as the study by Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft shows, there were a lot of cross-party dynamics.

    One cannot simply assume that people who voted for party X would have voted for party Y if Y had had one of X's policies.

    And you should never assume that if only Y adopts X's policies then it can do so without losing any voters. In the Daily Mail, we see Simon Heffer fall into the trap of stating that:

    It has been estimated that [the UK Independence Party] prevented the Tories from winning up to 20 more seats in the last general election. How many more will it deny them in 2015?

    These estimations rely on various assumptions:

  • That people who voted UKIP at the May 2010 general election were drawn nearly exclusively from disaffected Conservative voters
  • That adopting policies pleasing to UKIP would bring these voters back to the Conservatives without alienating any existing Conservative voters
  • Hopefully, one outcome of the Eastleigh by-election will be the recognition that UKIP is an anti-politics party, taking the traditional protest vote role from the Liberal Democrats, and drawing support from all parties. We should see the end of the simple "add the Conservative and UKIP vote to get how many votes the Conservatives would have got if they had traditional policies".

    What if the by-election had been under the Alternative Vote system? The real vote was:

  • Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrats) - 13,342
  • Diane James (UKIP) - 11,571
  • Maria Hutchings (Conservatives) - 10,559
  • John O'Farrell (Labour) - 4,088
  • Others - 2,056
  • The first stage would have been to delete all but the top 3 candidates. This might seem drastic but if all the voters for the Others gave their second preferences to O'Farrell, he would have 6,144 votes, and would be 4,415 votes behind Hutchings. Hence, he would not win under AV and can be deleted.

    Now, how would the vote go? If we look at the summary of the Ashcroft poll, then we see that out of those who voted Labour in 2010 and who voted on Thursday, 23% voted for Thornton, 17% for James and 6% for Hutchings.

    There are a couple of things to note:

  • Labour didn't stand a chance of winning in Eastleigh. Although at the July 1945 general election (when most of the current Eastleigh was in the Winchester constituency) Winchester had a Labour MP (George Jeger) and at Eastleigh's inaugural general election of May 1955 it was a close Conservative/Labour marginal (and Labour came close to winning in March 1966), the June 1983 general election was the one where the Liberals dramtically overtook Labour to become the main non-Conservative party.
  • In the light of this, there is significant tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats despite being in coalition with the Conservatives.
  • It is reasonable to assume that around half of Labour's second preferences would go to Thornton, and the remaining half split between James and Hutchings, but with James getting more than Hutchings so extending her lead.

    Although supporters of the Others might rank Hutchings above Thornton and James, this would be unlikely to be enough to avoid her getting knocked out at the second stage of counting, leaving the third stage of counting being the battle between the Liberal Democtrats and UKIP.

    From the Ashcroft poll, out of Conservative voters in 2010, 22% voted for James and 14% for Thornton.

    Put some figures on this. I will:

  • Ignore the votes for Others
  • Assume that second preferences among remaining candidates would be distributed in proportion to the change in allegiance in the Ashcroft poll
  • In practice, let's start with Labour's 4,088 votes. As remarked about, out of those who voted Labour in 2010, 23% voted Liberal Democrat, 17% UKIP and 6% Conservative. That makes 46% in all:

  • Liberal Democrat - 23% / 46 % x 4,088 + 13,342 = 2,044 + 13,342 = 15,386
  • UKIP - 17% / 46% x 4,088 + 11,571 = 1,511 + 11,571 = 13,082
  • Conservative - 6% / 46% x 4,088 + 10,559 = 533 + 10,559 = 11,092
  • Finally, the Conservatives' 11,092 votes. As noted above, out of those who voted Conservative in 2010, 22% voted UKIP and 14% Liberal Democrat. That makes 36% in all:

  • Liberal Democrat - 14% / 36% x 11,092 + 15,386 = 4,314 + 15,386 = 19,700
  • UKIP - 22% / 36% x 11,092 + 13,082 = 6,778 + 13,082 = 19,860
  • To be honest, too close to call - depends on whether supporters of Labour and the Others would prefer the Liberal Democrats or UKIP - but it is possible that under AV, James would have become UKIP's first MP.