Sunday, 21 December 2014

Elected In The 50s - A Look At Surviving Ex-MPs

Today has seen the news of the death of John Freeman, a matter of weeks before his 100th birthday. Freeman was the last surviving MP from the Second World War (he was elected in July 1945) and the last surviving MP to have taken the Parliamentary Oath to George VI.

There are still a handful of people around who were elected as MPs in the 1950s:

By-elections in the 1951-1955 Parliament

  • Denis Healey (Labour). Elected at the Leeds South East by-election in February 1952, caused by Labour's James Milner being elevated to the peerage after he failed to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons after the October 1951 general election. Healey remained an MP until retiring at the April 1992 general election (his seat had been modified to become Leeds East at the May 1955 general election). He was Defence Secretary throughout the Labour Government of October 1964 to June 1970 and Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout the Labour Government of March 1974 to May 1979. In Opposition, he was Labour's deputy leader from November 1980 to October 1983 and Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary from December 1980 to June 1987.
  • Roy Mason (Labour). Elected at the Barnsley by-election in March 1953, caused by the resignation of Labour's Sidney Schofield. Mason remained an MP until retiring at the June 1987 general election (his seat had been modified to become Barnsley Central at the June 1983 general election). He was President of the Board of Trade from October 1969 to June 1970, Defence Secretary from March 1974 to September 1976 and then Northern Ireland Secretary until May 1979.
  • John Eden (Conservative). Elected at the Bournemouth West by-election in February 1954, caused by the resignation of the Conservatives' Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. Eden retired at the June 1983 general election.
  • James Ramsden (Conservative). Elected at the Harrogate by-election in March 1954, caused by the resignation of the Conservatives' Christopher York. Ramsden retired at the February 1974 general election. He was War Secretary (outside the Cabinet) from October 1963 until the post was abolished in April 1964.

May 1955 general election

  • Richard Body (Conservative). Elected for Billericay (a Conservative hold). Body stepped down as an MP at the October 1959 general election, and returned as MP for Holland with Boston at the March 1966 general election, following the retirement of the National Liberals' Herbert Butcher. Body remained an MP until retiring at the June 2001 general election (his seat had been modified to become Boston & Skegness at the May 1997 general election). He resigned the Conservative whip in November 1994, and sat as an Independent until taking the Conservative whip again in January 1996.
  • Robin Chichester-Clark (Ulster Unionist Party). Elected for Londonderry (a UUP hold). Chichester-Clark retired as an MP at the February 1974 election. He was Minister for Employment from April 1972 until March 1974, being the only post-partition MP holding a Northern Ireland constituency to serve in Government.
  • Robert Lindsay (Conservative). Elected for Hertford (a Conservative hold). Lindsay remained an MP until defeated by Labour's Helene Hayman at the October 1974 general election. Boundary changes for the February 1974 election made the new Hertford & Stevenage notionally Labour, and this seat was won by Shirley Williams, choosing to follow the Stevenage part of her Hitchin constituency, with Lindsay standing in the new Welwyn & Hatfield constituency.
  • Thomas Mitchell (Sinn Féin). Elected for Ulster Mid (where the sitting Independent Republican MP, Michael O'Neill, was retiring). In July 1955, the House of Commons passed a resolution, noting that Mitchell was serving a sentence under the Treason Felony Act 1848, and - as per Section 2 of the Fofeiture Act 1870 - was unable to be an MP. At the same time, there was an election petition from Charles Beattie, the defeated UUP candidate, asking to be declared the winner. However, the Commons resolution meant that a by-election was held in August 1955, where Mitchell again defeated Beattie. An Election Court ruling in October 1955 decided that Mitchell's election was "undue", and Beattie was declared the winner. In February 1956, the House of Commons passed another resolution, stating that Beattie was also ineligible to be an MP. As there was no third candidate to award the seat to, a new by-election was held in May 1956, with Independent Unionist George Forrest defeating both Mitchell and O'Neill. Mitchell tried to win his old seat back at the October 1964 and 1966 general elections.

By-elections in the 1955-1959 Parliament

  • Edward du Cann (Conservative). Elected for Taunton in February 1956, caused by the Conservatives' Henry Hopkinson being elevated to the peerage. Du Cann remained an MP until retiring at the 1987 election.
  • Philip Goodhart (Conservative). Elected for Beckenham in March 1957, caused by the Conservatives' Patrick Buchan-Hepburn being elevated to the peerage. Goodhart remained an MP until retiring at the 1992 election.

October 1959 general election

  • Clive Bossom (Conservative). Elected for Leominster (a Conservative hold). Bossom retired at the February 1974 election.
  • John Hollingworth (Conservative). Elected for Birmingham All Saints, unseating sitting Labour MP, Denis Howell. At the 1964 election, Hollingworth was defeated by Labour's Brian Walden.
  • Timothy Kitson (Conservative). Elected for Richmond (Yorkshire) (a Conservative hold). Kitson retired at the 1983 election.
  • Stratton Mills (Ulster Unionist Party/Conservative/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland). Elected for Belfast North (a UUP hold). Mills retired at the February 1974 election. In December 1972 he resigned from the UUP, although, in common with the UUP MPs, he continued to take the Conservative whip. In April 1973 he became the APNI's first MP.
  • John Morris (Labour). Elected for Aberavon (a Labour hold). Morris retired at the 2001 election. He was Welsh Secretary throughout the 1974-1979 Labour Government.
  • John Osborn (Conservative). Elected for Sheffield Hallam (a Conservative hold). Osborn retired at the 1987 general election.
  • Jim Prior (Conservative). Elected for Lowestoft, unseating the sitting Labour MP, Edward Evans. Prior retired at the 1987 general election (his seat had been modified to become Waveney at the 1983 election). He served as Minister for Agriculture from June 1970 to November 1972, and then Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons until March 1974. When the Conservative returned to power in May 1979, he became Employment Secretary, and was moved to Northern Ireland Secretary in September 1981, before leaving the Government in September 1984.
  • Dudley Smith (Conservative). Elected for Brentford & Chiswick (a Conservative hold) but was defeated by Labour's Michael Barnes. Smith returned to Parliament in the Warwick & Leamington by-election of March 1968, caused by the death of the Conservatives' John Hobson. At the 1997 election, Smith was defeated by Labour's James Plaskitt.
  • Alan Thompson (Labour). Elected for Dunfermline Burghs (a Labour hold). Thompson retired at the 1964 election. As the maps from the Boundary Commission for Scotland website show, this was a non-contiguous seat surrounded by Fife West.
  • John Wells (Conservative). Elected for Maidstone (a Conservative hold - the previous MP was Bossom's father). Wells retired at the 1987 election.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Sound of Muzak, Catchphrase Christianity And The Perfect Church

As Christmas approaches, there is one thing that gets on my nerves. Go into a supermarket, or a coffee shop, and blaring out will be the Christmas muzak. Last year, I was driven up the wall at Sainsbury's with The Little Drummer Boy blazing out the loudspeakers, so went to the customer service desk:

  • Me: Could you stop playing that Bieber rubbish?
  • Assistant: It's not Bieber, it's Michael Jackson
  • Me: He's just as bad

And the thing about Christmas muzak is that it is so soulless. Anything Christmassy, whether Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or O Little Town Of Bethlehem - doesn't matter if it's secular or not - has all emotion removed from it with an effectiveness that would make a Cyberman seeth with jealousy, and what is left is something that is technically perfect, yet bland and meaningless at the same time.

And I am also thinking here about "catchphrase Christianity" - the use of those little catchphrases which sound so full of wisdom, yet are not actually found in the Bible.

If you find a perfect church, don't join it or else it won't be perfect!

One thing you frequently find in sermons is - quite correctly - there are no justifications for sinning.

It's just my nature

It's my upbringing

I've always had a bad temper - just one of those things

I'm not a gossip - I only share things "for prayer purposes"

In the book of Revelation, Jesus has messages for some of the churches - Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These are a mixture of encouragement and criticism (except for Smyrna).

By the way, I find nothing in the Bible to suggest these represent Seven Ages of the Church.

Sardis and Laodicea are striking. The image there comes across as smug, self-satisfied churches. I guess they would have seen themselves as the perfect church. And I am sure we've come across those.

I know that some, by the perfect church, are looking for one which has the music just right, the coffee and the carpet just right etc. and will be persistent critics who will never be satisfied.

However, just as churches are reasonable in expecting Christians to aim to be Christlike and not to make excuses for falling short, the converse should be true.

Churches should always be reforming, looking at ways they fail to be Christlike (which is different from keeping the person who wants a particular style of music happy), and see how they can change and improve (and yes, each individual church member needs to see themselves as part of the problem and ask how they can be part of the solution). Pointing out that a church is very unwelcoming (for example) isn't something to be tackled with a "No church is perfect" response, but a "OK, where are we falling down on this and how can we improve?" response.

Don't Deny UKIP The Helium Of Publicity

I see today that the University of East Anglia has given in to pressure and cancelled a debate where there was to be a speaker from the UK Independence Party.

In the letters page of the local paper - Southern Daily Echo - there are often letters from a little gaggle I call the "UKIP Letter Writing Society". And the way I deal with them is not by calling for them to be banned but by challenging them with evidence and not being deterred by suggestions that I need to learn the FACTS about the EU or that I should read "an excellent little book" by Richard North.

Let's continue giving UKIP the helium of publicity, so their views can be challenged with logic, reason and evidence.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Article 50 Is Not A Blunt Negotiating Tool

I am old enough to remember the Maastricht Treaty, and this was the era when Euroscepticism took hold in the Conservative party, with one buzzword being "renegotiation". The logic went like this:

No, we're talking about renegotiation, not withdrawal. All we want is some reasonable changes to the Treaties so we are treated fairly. But if the other member states behave unreasonably, then we will have to look at leaving.

Translation - let's make some demands the others will never agree to, and shed a few crocodile tears when leaving.

In an article in The Times (€), Owen Paterson, the former Environment & Rural Affairs Secretary, is calling for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be a manifesto commitment:

He will argue that, in order to present the best possible alternative to EU membership, Mr Cameron must trigger the formal mechanism for cutting ties with Brussels.

He will call on the prime minister to make a manifesto pledge to invoke immediately article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty if he wins a second term in office. The clause allows member states to activate a two-year process for leaving the union. Mr Paterson will say this was the only “legally binding” way to make the EU enter meaningful negotiations.

Following negotiations, he proposes an in/out referendum in 2017 offering voters a stark choice: fully integrated European membership, including joining the euro, or leaving the European political project and retaining only a trade agreement similar to the one enjoyed by Norway.

“The eurozone has already embarked upon a path that we can never follow,” Mr Paterson will say. “We are simply recognising that reality. We must either be fully committed to ‘Le Project’ or we must build an entirely new relationship. The British people must be allowed to make that decision. Article 50 is the only way of making that happen.”

So, invoking Article 50 in May 2015 will enable us to open up negotiations and then have an in/out referendum in 2017, will it? Let's look at what it says:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

It is immediately clear that this is not about renegotiation the Treaties and then deciding whether to stay or not - its purpose is for a nation that has already decided to leave to negotiate not its EU membership but its relationship with the EU after it has left.

Invoking Article 50 will not be a give-us-a-better-deal-or-we're-out threat. It will be telling the rest of the EU that we are going by May 2017. No ifs, no buts, no referendums.

A Conservative manifesto with invoking Article 50 in it is one that is committed to withdrawal from the EU, but would be dressing it up in misleading language of "negotiation".

One Parliament Or Two - The Flaws In "English Votes For English Laws"

After the Scottish independence referendum, there is a consensus that Holyrood (i.e. the Scottish Parliament) should be given more powers, and this raises the English Question - basically, what sort of devolution, if any, should be offered to England. Regional devolution? City-regions? More powerful local councils? English Parliament?

One thing to note is that local government is devolved to Holyrood. If it wanted to bring back the old regional councils - Borders, Central, Dumfries & Galloway, Grampian, Lothian, Strathclyde, Tayside - as the upper tier of two-tier local government, then it could. (Yes, I've missed out Fife, Highland, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Western Isles as these are each the same as a single local authority).

Therefore, if an English Parliament were set up then it would have the power to create regional assemblies, require major cities to have directly-elected Mayors, reform local government etc.

One "solution" being suggested is "English votes for English laws", which would mean that the Speaker of the House of Commons would designate some Bills as "English-only" and only MPs representing English constituencies could vote on them (there are weaker suggestions, such as Second Readings being for England-only MPs).

Sounds fair, doesn't it? After all, as some supporting it say, that would mean England would be getting what Scotland has - our own Parliament to discuss things that just affect us.

But it doesn't. And this brings me to the concept of the dual mandate.

When the Scottish Parliament was first elected in May 1999 there were people who were both MPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament:

MP/MSP Party Constituency/Region End of dual mandate
Dennis Canavan Independent* Falkirk West Resigned as MP in November 2000
Malcolm Chisholm Labour Edinburgh North & Leith Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party Perth Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Donald Dewar Labour Glasgow Anniesland Died in October 2000
Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party Moray Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Sam Galbraith Labour Strathkelvin & Bearsden Resigned as MSP prior to the June 2001 general election, at which he retired as MP
Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat Scotland Central** Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
John Home-Robertson Labour East Lothian Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
John McAllion Labour Dundee East Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Henry McLeish Labour Fife Central Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party Galloway & Upper Nithsdale Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Alex Salmond Scottish National Party Banff & Buchan Resigned as MSP prior to the June 2001 general election
John Swinney Scottish National Party Tayside North Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party Angus Retired as MP at June 2001 general election
Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat Orkney*** Retired as MP at June 2001 general election

  • * Cananvan had been expelled from Labour in March 1999 after being nominated for the Scottish Parliament against the official Labour candidate
  • ** Gorrie was MP for Edinburgh West
  • *** Wallace was MP for Orkney & Shetland

There were also members of the House of Lords elected to the Scottish Parliament:

Peer Party Constituency/Region
James Douglas-Hamilton Conservative Lothians
David Steel Liberal Democrat
Mike Watson Labour Glasgow Cathcart

There are no dual mandate MSPs at the moment. The crucial thing is that if someone wants to be an MSP they have to stand for the Scottish Parliament, which sounds rather obvious, but there is an important point here. MSPs have one job, MPs have another, and if someone wants to do both they have to be elected to both.

English Votes for English Laws is not giving the people of England the same as Scotland has. It would create 533 people who would have a dual mandate - sometimes being being part of the UK Parliament and at other times being members of an English quasi-Parliament.

There would be nobody who the people of England would be electing to represent us solely on English devolved matters, while the people of Scotland can choose people to represent them on devolved matters.

When I looked at the West Lothian Question, I briefly looked at the issue of the "bifurcated Executive", whereby there would be a UK Government which would not have a majority in the House of Commons on "English-only" matters.

We can look at the results for England at all elections since 1945 (the Speaker is listed among their original party's tally and parties in bold are those forming the UK Government) - note that we are including the English university constituencies until their abolition at the 1950 election (Oxford University, Cambridge University and Combined English Universities each elected 2 MPs by the Single Transferable Vote and London University elected 1 MP by Single Member Plurality, or "First Past The Post" as it is often known as):

July 1945

  • Labour - 331
  • Conservative - 159
  • National Liberal - 7
  • Liberal - 5
  • Independent - 2
  • Communist - 1
  • National - 1
  • Common Wealth - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent National - 1
  • Independent Progressive - 1

Labour majority 152

February 1950

  • Labour - 251
  • Conservative - 243
  • National Liberal - 10
  • Liberal - 2

Labour/Liberal majority 0, Conservative/National Liberal majority 0, or Conservative/National Liberal/Liberal majority 4

October 1951

  • Conservative - 259
  • Labour - 233
  • National Liberal - 12
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative/National Liberal majority 36

May 1955

  • Conservative - 279
  • Labour - 216
  • National Liberal - 14
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative/National Liberal majority 75

October 1959

  • Conservative - 302
  • Labour - 193
  • National Liberal - 13
  • Liberal - 3

Conservative/National Liberal majority 119

October 1964

  • Conservative - 256
  • Labour - 246
  • National Liberal - 6
  • Liberal - 3

Conservative/National Liberal majority 13

March 1966

  • Labour - 286
  • Conservative - 216
  • Liberal - 6
  • National Liberal - 3

Labour majority 61

June 1970

  • Conservative - 292
  • Labour - 217
  • Liberal - 2

Conservative majority 73

February 1974

  • Conservative - 268
  • Labour - 237
  • Liberal - 9
  • Democratic Labour - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1

Conservative majority 20

October 1974

  • Labour - 255
  • Conservative - 253
  • Liberal - 8

Labour/Liberal majority 10 or Conservative/Liberal majority 6

May 1979

  • Conservative - 306
  • Labour - 203
  • Liberal - 7

Conservative majority 96

June 1983

  • Conservative - 362
  • Labour - 148
  • Liberal - 10
  • Social Democrat - 3

Conservative majority 201

June 1987

  • Conservative - 358
  • Labour - 155
  • Liberal - 7
  • Social Democrat - 3

Conservative majority 193

April 1992

  • Conservative - 319
  • Labour - 195
  • Liberal Democrat - 10

Conservative majority 114

May 1997

  • Labour - 329
  • Conservative - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 34
  • Independent - 1
Labour majority 129

June 2001

  • Labour - 323
  • Conservative - 165
  • Liberal Democrat - 40
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
Labour majority 117

May 2005

  • Labour - 286
  • Conservative - 194
  • Liberal Democrat - 47
  • Respect - 1
  • Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern - 1
Labour majority 43

May 2010

  • Conservative - 298
  • Labour - 191
  • Liberal Democrat - 43
  • Green - 1

Conservative majority 63

You can see why this is an attraction for some Conservative - longer periods of Conservative rule, forming an English Government without the Liberal Democrats at the moment...

To which I have a one-word response - Tullymander.

A tullymander is a gerrymander that backfires.

Although it might seem attractive to Conservatives in 2014, how about 2024? 2064? 2114? 2214? When I followed the debates on Scottish independence, I was struck by the short-termism of the Yes campaign, with an emphasis on how it would stop the Conservatives ruling Scotland. In 300 years' time, I expect the terms "Conservative Party" and "Labour Party" will sound as unfamiliar as the terms "Court Party" and "Country Party" are to modern ears.

A problem, as I have noted, is that English Votes for English Laws would mean that there would be Governments (normally Labour ones) which would not be able to get their business through the House of Commons on "English-only" matters. You could take three approaches to this.

One approach would be that we would just have to live with this - there is not much difference between the gridlock that exists in the US Congress when the House of Representatives and Senate are controlled by different parties. Labour and the Conservatives would have to sit down and decide "English-only" legislation that would be acceptable to both.

A second approach is that we would have to ensure that a Government could get its "English-only" legislation through, and if that means an early election, with the Prime Minister getting back the power to set an election date, then so be it. So, off we trudge to the polling booths until Scotland and Wales elect enough Conservative MPs so that there could be a Conservative majority Government for both the UK and England, or England elects enough Labour MPs for the other result.

Then there is a third approach - that of an English Executive, complete with an English First Minister (who may or may not be the Prime Minister).

When I looked at the West Lothian Question, I noted that objections were made when Labour's John Reid became Health Secretary and later Home Secretary, on the grounds that he was a Scottish MP overseeing departments whose remit did not cover Scotland. Actually, they do, in part.

If we look at the current Government and consider Ian Livingston, the Minister for Trade & Investment. Now, he is one an example of a recent development in ministers, namely who has a cross-departmental role, at both the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

So, does Vince Cable, the Business & Innovation Secretary, have an England-only department, an rUK department or a whole UK department? If you look at the list of departmental responsibilities, then the clear answer is that it depends.

Any English Executive - and I appreciate this would be an issue if an English Parliament were set up - would come across the issue that the way departments have evolved has been messy rather than logical, with fuzzy boundaries, rather than sharp, clear lines saying "this is an England-only department" or "this is a whole UK department". Any English devolution of this sort would give the civil service hours of fun as they determined which was which and then suggesting to the Prime Minister how departments could be created, restructured, abolished and merged to ensure that they were England-only, rUK or whole UK.

Related to this, any Bill would have to be carefully examined to make sure that it didn't combine two or more of these categories, as it would get very tricky if there were MPs who could vote on some clauses and not on others.

"English votes for English laws" most definitely does not create any sort of equality between England and Scotland voters. If we are to have a Parliament that decides England-only laws, then I want a vote for it. Not a vote for someone who sits in the United Kingdom Parliament and then has to moonlight as a Member of the English Parliament.

If you project Scottish election results onto the Westminster constituencies - as I did for May 2007 and May 2011, then you see the growing separation between how Scots vote for the Scottish Parliament and for the House of Commons. In 19 (out of 59) constituencies in 2007 the poll was topped by someone from a different party than the previous Westminster election; in 2011 this has increased to 43.

Once we separate out what is England-only and what is all-UK, then the logical consequence is that people may be attracted by different parties. You may, for example, support the Conservative stance on foreign affairs, defence and social security, while being attracted to the Labour stance on health, education and the environment.

If we want true equality on this issue, then we cannot go for a UK Parliament with English MPs dual-mandating as a pretend English Parliament. We need to go for a full English Parliament, elected by the people of England voting on manifestos that deal with England-only issues.

The First Labour Government Shows Us That Fixed Terms Can Be Less Stable

In just a few months, we will see the first general election held under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 - the scheduled date is 7 May, but it could be postponed via Statutory Instrument (which would need to be passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords) to as late as 2 July, with the Explanatory Notes giving a 2001-style outbreak of foot and mouth as an example of a scenario that could lead to this.

One thing that is often said is that this leads to more stability - a Government takes office, knowing it has the full 5 years. Rather than manically legislate, it can pace itself. Opposition parties can plan, knowing when the next election date is and sure that the Prime Minister isn't going to call a snap poll.

But is this actually the case? Could the Act make general elections more frequent, rather than the intended less frequent?

On 6 December 1923 there was a general election which produced the following result:

  • Conservative - 258 (including 14 Scottish Unionist and 10 Ulster Unionist)
  • Labour - 191
  • Liberal - 158
  • Irish Nationalist - 3
  • Independent - 2
  • Christian Pacifist - 1
  • Scottish Prohibition Party - 1
  • Independent Liberal - 1

The new Parliament did not meet until 8 January, with the Conservative Stanley Baldwin still Prime Minister - a post he had held for the previous 8 months.

On 21 January, there was the debate on the King's Speech, with John Clynes - at the time the deputy leader of the Labour party - moving an amendment:

But it is our duty respectfully to submit to your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House

The Commons voted by 328 to 256 to accept Clynes's amendment (i.e. to turn the motion on the King's Speech into a No Confidence Motion) and then voted by 328 to 251 on the revised motion (i.e. on what was now a No Confidence Motion).

Note that the Government didn't fall immediately - the following day when Parliament met, the Conservative Harry Barnston, of the Whips' Office, was answering questions about the Humber. Later that day, Baldwin informed the Commons that George V had accepted the Government's resignation. The Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald about to become Prime Minister.

Now consider how this would have worked under the 2011 Act. If the Commons passes a No Confidence motion, then there is to be an early general election - unless within 14 days the Commons passes a Confidence motion. It doesn't specify whether this is in the same or a different Government, although the Explanatory Notes give the intentionas :

The intention is to provide an opportunity for an alternative Government to be formed without an election.

Explanatory Notes do not have any legal force. As the Act stands, there is nothing to stop a Government defeated on a No Confidence motion from seeking to overturn it via a new Confidence motion.

Now suppose this Act had been in force in 1924. The passing of the No Confidence motion on 21 January would have meant that Parliament would have to have been dissolved, unless by 4 February the Commons passed a Confidence motion in a Government. But Baldwin's resignation announcement also included postponing the next sitting of the Commons until 12 February (it might seem odd these days for a Prime Minister to make an announcement like that, but until Stafford Cripps was appointed Leader of the Commons in February 1942 by Winston Churchill, if the Prime Minister were an MP then he would also be Leader of the Commons).

The Act places no requirement on the Queen to invite someone else - for example, the Leader of the Opposition - to attempt to form a Government. In theory, a Government that has been defeated at the general election (whatever that means in the era of hung Parliaments and coalition Governments) could still be in office in when Parliament meets after the election and introduces its own Queen's Speech. And then, when defeated in a No Confidence motion is still technically the Government and so the Leader of the House of Commons announces a postponement of all business until a date more than a fortnight in the future. Hence, it would be perfectly possible for a defeated Government to prevent the Confidence vote on any Government taking place that Parliament, and hence trigger a general election.

It is possible to consider a situation where this might happen. A coalition Government exists at the time of a general election, and when the votes are counted, the leading party has increased its share of the vote and number of seats. Its junior partner has lost over half its seats (and with its leader having lost his Sheffield seat and deputy leader retiring from his Aberdeenshire seat, is left leaderless) and teams up with the Opposition party and minor parties to decide that the Commons has no confidence in the minority Government (which is more-or-less a continuation of the outgoing one, but with the junior coalition partner gone). The sitting Prime Minister could make the case that his party has improved on the previous performance, and the verdict of the people was a positive one - they wanted his party to remain in power but without being constrained its then partner. He could argue that the electoral momentum is with his party, and note the example of Labour's Harold Wilson having Parliament dissolved in September 1974 with the aim of winning those extra few seats to turn a minority Labour Government into a majority one.

Such a Prime Minister could suggest he wants to do in a matter of weeks what took Wilson months, and so instruct the new Leader of the Commons to draw up a parliamentary timetable which means the Commons does not meet in that crucial fortnight, and is unable to hold a Confidence motion. Under the 2011 Act, Parliament must be dissolved and a new general election held a matter of weeks after the last one.

To prevent such a sequence of events happening, there needs to be one or both of these solutions:

  1. The quickest and simplest is for a change in House of Commons Standing Orders to give the Government less control over the timetable, and for a Timetable Committee to be set up - with the Government in a minority on it. Such a committee would decide on recess dates and non-sitting days.
  2. Last week saw the Scottish Parliament elect Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister. As I have looked at before, it would be possible for a change in law so that Westminster follows the Holyrood lead and one of its first acts after a general election is electing a Prime Minister, and for the passing of a No Confidence motion to set in process a new election of a Prime Minister by the Commons (which might simply be the sitting one re-elected), with dissolution only happening if no Prime Minister is elected in the timescale set down.

Although it is commonly assumed that MacDonald's government in turn fell on a No Confidence motion, the reality is slightly different. On 8 October 1924, Conservative former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Horne, introduced a censure motion:

That the conduct of His Majesty's Government in relation to the institution and subsequent withdrawal of criminal proceedings against the editor of the Workers' Weekly is deserving of the censure of this House.

The censure motion was passed and the following day, MacDonald announced that Parliament would be dissolved.

It is important to notice that MacDonald's government did not face a Confidence or No Confidence motion during its brief existence. When George asked him to form a Government, it was taken as read that he could form one. The confidence of the Commons was implicit.

The 2011 Act, however, requires confidence to be explicit in these circumstances, creating a hurdle for a modern day Prime Minister that MacDonald never had to leap over. The question is whether MacDonald would have won a Confidence motion in February 1924, or whether the people would have to trudge back to the polling booths?

In the debate on the King's Speech, the Conservative Austen Chamberlain - a former (twice) Chancellor of the Exchequer who would go on to become Foreign Secretary - noted:

It is not so very long since I was pleading with my friends of the Unionist party, at the famous meeting in the Carlton Club, not to break up the Coalition which had then existed for many years between a large and powerful section of the Liberal party and our own party. I ventured to point out to my friends before that election—the last election but one—and I repeated it after- wards when the results were known, that we who defended the old principles and the old freedom, were not so strong that in the face of a common menace we could afford to indulge in mock quarrels. I was answered by Mr. Bonar Law [who would become Prime Minister following the break up of the Coalition in October 1922] in a passage not quoted by my right hon. and learned Friend, but parallel to it. He said that if you teach the country that there are but two parties capable of Government, one comprising all that is most liberal in the Liberal party and all that exists in the Unionist party, and the other comprising the Socialist party, then is it not certain that sooner or later, some day, the Socialist party will come into power. Yes, "some day," if we had continued the Coalition. But barely a year has passed, and to-morrow a Socialist Government enters into office. The Coalition is dead. At this moment nobody can revive it—nobody would revive it if they could. But the Coalition being dead, co-operation is a necessity, and the only question is, who shall co-operate with whom. Between whom shall new alliances exist? I cannot help thinking that a great deal of nonsense has been talked on this subject by a great many I hope not otherwise than sensible men. The late Mr. John Bright once observed that the trouble with great thinkers was that they usually thought wrong.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald), in advance, denounced any "wangling" that should dash the cup from his lips, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley [former Liberal Prime Minister Henry Asquith] and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley [the Liberals' John Simon, who had been Home Secretary and would go on to become Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and finally Lord Chancellor] lent countenance to this doctrine. But what is going to happen? Two parties have got to "wangle," if that be the word, into the same Lobby to get this Government out. Two parties have got to "wangle" into the same Lobby to keep any Government in. Oh, yes, Sir, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley talks easily at the National Liberal Club about the limits of his acquiescence. We are to turn out my right hon. Friend to-day, and put in the hon. Member for Aberavon to-morrow, and, the day after, if we are in any difficulty, we are to turn to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley. No, Sir; men must be deemed to intend the natural consequences of their acts. The King's Government has to be carried on. If you put a Socialist Government into office, day after day you will walk into the Lobby to keep them there. The assistance must be active or passive. It must be passive by abstention—if the right hon. Gentleman and his friends chose to abstain, the result to-night would be different—or it must be active by their intervention; and they have chosen the course which requires constant activity on behalf of a policy in which they do not believe, in support of a Government which they profess to mistrust, rather than the middle course that might give the country what the country wants.

To summarise what Chamberlain is saying - the Liberals have ganged up with Labour to force out a Conservative government, and they need to accept there are consequences. They can assist Labour passively or actively. Under the current rules, they would have had no choice but to support Labour actively on a Confidence motion - to abstain would trigger a new election.

The 2011 Act was written for a new era of politics - one where hung Parliaments and coalitions were the norm, but where either the Conservatives or Labour could get enough support from other parties to form a Government. But events of the past few months have shown that the era it was written for is already passing into history.

One election in the Victorian era was that of November/December 1885:

  • Liberal - 319
  • Conservative - 249
  • Irish Nationalist - 86
  • Independent Liberal - 11
  • Independent Liberal/Crofter - 4
  • Independent Liberal/Labour - 1

No party had the 336 MPs required for an overall majority, and in the following February, the Conservative Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, resigned, and the Liberals' William Gladstone returned as Prime Minister with Irish Nationalist support - but split the Liberals over Irish devolution and the Government collapsed, with the July 1886 general election seeing the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists form the new Government.

And the one thing that has changed this year is the rise of the UK Independence Party (in England, and to some extent in Wales and Scotland) and the Scottish National Party. And if they both have breakthroughs, then we could be looking at an 1885-style result, with the Conservatives or Labour having to rely on both for support if they want to form a Government.

There are a couple of sayings - nothing succeeds like success and strike while the iron is hot. If you look at the seats that changed hands at general elections, you see the SNP picking up 6 seats in February 1974, and then in the October 1974 general election going on to win a further 4. Momentum was with them.

Why did the Liberal Democrats not see significant electoral breakthroughs until May 1997? Until then, voting for them was seen as a "wasted vote". And the June 2001 and May 2005 elections both saw increases in seats for them.

Suppose in May 2015 we do elect a hung Parliament where neither a Conservative/Liberal Democrat or Labour/Liberal Democrat majority is possible, and there are significant numbers of SNP and UKIP MPs. Both these parties would see an iron that is white-hot. The SNP would have shown it can win seats in Labour heartlands of central Scotland, while UKIP would have shown that a vote for it is not a "wasted vote". A second election would be in both their interests.

There are then two scenarios that could play out. The first is:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron chooses not to resign after the election and introduces a Queen's Speech
  • The Commons votes down the Queen's Speech, leading to a No Confidence motion
  • The Government is defeated on this, and Cameron resigns
  • The Queen asks Ted Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, to form a Government
  • Thanks to the 2011 Act, the Labour Government has to face a Confidence motion
  • The SNP and UKIP ensure that the Confidence motion is not passed
  • 2015 becomes a year with a second general election

The second is:

  • Seeing the election results, Cameron resigns
  • The Queen asks Ted to form a Government
  • The Labour Government introduces the Queen's Speech
  • The Government is defeated on this, and Ted resigns after a very short ministry
  • Given that Cameron has not attempted to form a Government after the election, the Queen asks him to form a Government
  • Thanks to the 2011 Act, the Conservative Government has to face a Confidence motion
  • The SNP and UKIP ensure that the Confidence motion is not passed
  • 2015 becomes a year with a second general election

The second scenario would see the Government flip quickly from Conservative/Liberal Democrat, to Labour-led for a brief period, and back to Conservative-led, with the possibility of another Labour-led one depending on the outcome of the second general election.

What sort of timetable are we looking at here? The last election was Thursday, 6 May 2010. The Commons met on Tuesday, 18 May. The Queen's Speech was Tuesday, 25 May. So, if this timetable is followed, we should expect the Queen's Speech on Tuesday, 26 May 2015.

If there is a vote of No Confidence, then there is a fortnight for a Confidence motion to be passed, or else there is a dissolution. This is not an automatic one (unlike the one that will happen in March) - instead this is a more traditional one, with the Queen dissolving Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. It doesn't happen straight-away either. In 1979, the Labour Government lost a No Confidence motion on 28 March, but dissolution was not until 7 April - 10 days later. This is to allow essential business to be cleared before dissolution.

So, if there were a vote of No Confidence on the day of the Queen's Speech, the fortnight deadline for a Confidence motion would run out on Tuesday, 9 June. The earliest date for dissolution would be Thursday, 11 June, which would trigger a general election on Thursday, 16 July - just 10 weeks after the last one. And, it would be possible for the whole process to be repeated with the next Parliament and for us to be going to vote yet again on Thursday, 24 September, with Returning Officers pencilling Thursday, 3 December in their diaries.

I know that this would lead to cries of the Unionists ganging up with Project Fear, or of LibLabCon, but if we do traipse off to the polling booths in July, then the Conservatives and Labour would have to come to a deal whereby whoever loses will abstain on any Confidence or No Confidence motion in the winner, which would at least ensure that there was a minority Government that could last more than a couple of months.

Any constitutional innovation is a work-in-progress, and the next step has to be Scottish-style election of the Prime Minister by the Commons, to provide stability that the 2011 Act cannot provide.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Longest Serving 20th Century MPs

Having looked at when records for the longest-serving women MPs will be broken, I am now turning to MPs who have served in the 20th century.

David Boothroyd's site provides a list, but it has not been updated for a while.

If we look at continuous service, then we have 2 MPs - both Prime Ministers - serving for over 50 years. David Lloyd-George for 20,032 days and Edward Heath for 18,709 days.

After the May 2015 general election, with Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House of Commons and Conservative MP for Louth & Horncastle, retiring, the longest-serving MPs will be a group first elected in June 1970 - Ken Clarke, Conservative MP for Rushcliffe; Gerald Kaufman, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton; Michael Meacher, Labour MP for Oldham West & Royton; and Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover.

They will reach Heath's record on 6 September 2021, while having to wait until Easter Monday 21 April 2025 (which - under current timetables - lies in the 2025 election period) to reach Lloyd-George's record.

Hence, any of them re-elected at the 1 May 2025 general election (their 14th successive victory) would take his seat as the 20th century's longest continually-serving MP. Looking at that timing, would any of them, if re-elected in 2020, want to announce their retirement at the end of that Parliament, knowing that on dissolution (when they would cease to be MPs for the final time) they would be just 4 weeks short of breaking a record? The option to accept a peerage in a Prime Minister's Resignation Honours List which would follow the election if there were a change in Government could be there to enable them to break Lloyd-George's record and retire in the summer of 2025.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Voters Prefer Oxford - Why Labour Should Keep Its Leader

If some reports are to be believed, then there is discontent with Ted Miliband's leadership of the Labour party.

However, there is one thing that Ted has in his favour - he is a graduate of the world's greatest university, Oxford University. And not just any old college, but its greatest college - Corpus Christi, where he was in the year above me.

If we look at the general elections of the past 60 years, then we see an interesting pattern:

Election Conservative Labour Winner
Leader University Leader University
May 1955 Anthony Eden Oxford Clement Attlee None Conservative
October 1959 Harold Macmillan Oxford Hugh Gaitskell Oxford Conservative
October 1964 Alec Douglas-Home Oxford Harold Wilson Oxford Labour
March 1966 Edward Heath Oxford Labour
June 1970 Conservative
February 1974 Labour
October 1974 Labour
May 1979 Margaret Thatcher Oxford James Callaghan None Conservative
June 1983 Michael Foot Oxford Conservative
June 1987 Neil Kinnock University College of South Wales & Monmouthshire Conservative
April 1992 John Major None Conservative
May 1997 Tony Blair Oxford Labour
June 2001 William Hague Oxford Labour
May 2005 Michael Howard Fenland Polytechnic Labour
May 2010 David Cameron Oxford Gordon Brown Edinburgh Conservative

As is clear, every time the people have a choice between an Oxford or non-Oxford Prime Minister, they choose the Oxford one.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

It Was Friday, But Sunday's Coming

Already on the train ride into London Waterloo, I see the Christmas decorations in some workplaces - Santas, snowpersons, reindeer etc. It does seem way too early, although if the Church of England still followed the Alternative Service Book lectionary, then tomorrow would be 9 Before Christmas.

There is November to get through - All Saints' Day, Remembrance Sunday and Thanksgiving (yes, I celebrate Thanksgiving, finding it a useful annual moment to reflect with gratitude) - before we move onto Advent, beginning late November or early December.

One thing that is normal in Church of England churches is what is often incorrectly called "Midnight Mass" (from Article XXVIII it is clear that the Church of England doesn't have Masses, due to the theology behind the Mass) - that late evening celebration of the Lord's Supper, beginning on Christmas Eve and running into the first minutes of Christmas Day itself. As Christmas begins, the church is marking Good Friday and Easter Day.

And this is one of the strengths of Common Worship in my opinion, with its focus being on daily acts of worship. I try, where possible, to use its Morning Prayer when I get up and a merger of Evening Prayer and Compline before hitting the hay, so my waking day is bookended spending time with God.

The Collect for Friday from Compline:

  • Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God
  • who at this evening hour lay in the tomb
  • and so hallowed the grave
  • to be a bed of hope for all who put their trust in You
  • give us such sorrow for our sins
  • which were the cause of Your passion
  • that when our bodies lie in the dust
  • our souls may live with You forever

The Collect for Saturday from Morning Prayer:

  • Grant, Lord
  • that we who are baptised into the death
  • of Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
  • may continually put to death our evil desires
  • and be buried with Him;
  • and that through the grave and gate of death
  • we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
  • through His merits,
  • Who died and was buried and rose again for us,
  • Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord

The Collect for Saturday from Compline:

  • Stay with us, O God, this night
  • so that by Your strength
  • we may rise with the new day
  • to rejoice in the resurrection of Your Son,
  • Jesus Christ our Saviour

The Collect for Sunday from Morning Prayer:

  • God of glory,
  • by the raising of Your Son
  • You have broken the chains of death and hell:
  • fill Your Church with faith and hope;
  • for a new day has dawned
  • and the way to life stands open
  • in our Saviour Jesus Christ

And, finally the Collect for Sunday from Compline:

  • Almighty God,
  • by triumphing over the powers of darkness
  • Christ has prepared a place for us in the new Jerusalem:
  • may we, who have this day given thanks for His resurrection,
  • praise Him in the eternal city
  • of which He is the light;
  • through Jesus Christ our Lord

Weekend-after-weekend, the Collects place the focus on Good Friday and Easter Day.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

There Ain't No Black In The Union Jack - Yet

With the people of Scotland preparing to vote on Thursday on leaving the United Kingdom, The Times has raised the suggestion that the Union Jack/Union Flag could be changed (£) from:


The gold cross on the black background would represent St David of Wales's Cross, although when I see the black background I thought of St Piran of Cornwall's Cross.

The problem with that design is that it still includes the white from St Andrew's Cross.

At the moment Wales is not included in the flag. The simple reason is that when Great Britain was formed in 1707 it was the union of the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) - it was not until the Welsh Language Act 1967 that it was made clear that, going forward, references to "England" in legislation did not include Wales.

But can we include Wales now? Yes, with a minor adjustment. So, how about this?:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Referendum Isn't About Boris - And It Would Take Him Time To Return Anyway

Among all the noise of the Scottish independence referendum, there is one issue that crops up sometimes - with today's Sunday Times suggesting that there are Conservatives who feel David Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister if the Scotland votes to leave (£).

That, to be blunt, would make their day, and it is a shame that people on both sides of the debate see it as being about short-term things, especially when politicians who are from the Conservative and Unionist party are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of around 40 fewer Labour MPs, or a Prime Minister ousted and someone to their liking taking over.

Another senior backbencher said: “It’s a golden opportunity for a lot of people who hate Cameron and are just looking for an opportunity to get rid of him. There will be a push to topple him and get in a caretaker government. Today walking around the lobbies the grumpy discontents are very excited about the idea. The Boris campaign is quite excited about the idea. All the usual suspects will gather and circle.”

The plotters want the MP John Randall to stand down and force a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat so Boris Johnson can return to the Commons to take over as leader. Those plans are rejected by Johnson’s allies, who say that any move against Cameron would be “a disaster for Boris”.

Here we go again - let's bring the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, into it. People can make these grand schemes and plans as if constituencies and voters are simply pieces to be shoved around as if it's a board game. But that ignores voters.

But suppose that these unnamed plotters get their way. On the morning of Friday, 19 September, a Returning Officer announces that Scotland has voted for independence, and - as the plotters hope for - John Randall resigns as MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip. To make the timetable as quick as possible, assume he resigns that day.

The first step would be for Michael Gove, the Chief Whip, to arrange for the writ to be issued. To do this, Parliament would have to be sitting - but it rises for the Conference Recess next Friday (12 September), returning on Monday 13 October. So, the earliest day that Gove can have the writ issued is 13 October. And there is the Clacton by-election to get out the way before that, so the Conservatives might not be enthusiastic about another by-election.

The current timetable was part of the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013, and was brought into effect earlier this year via the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 (Commencement No. 5 & Transitory Provisions) Order 2014. This amended the relevant Schedule of the Representation of the People Act 1983 that dealt with election timetables.

Once you do the calculations, you get the by-election somewhere between Day 21 and Day 27 of the process, where the writ is issued on Day 0. The 1983 Act defines what is meant by a Day for the calculation purpose (this was amended by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, but as this deals with Maundy Thursday it need not concern us).

So, let's look at the timetable:

Day(s) Number(s) Dates
Days 0 - 4 Monday 13 - Friday 17 October
Days 5 - 9 Monday 20 - Friday 24 October
Days 10 - 14 Monday 27 - Friday 31 October
Days 15 - 19 Monday 3 - Friday 7 November
Day 20 Monday 10 November
Day 21 Tuesday 11 November
Day 22 Wednesday 12 November
Day 23 Thursday 13 November

So, the earliest date for an Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election would be 13 November.

I have looked previously at the rules for electing Conservative leaders. Suppose Cameron does, as early as 19 September, resign as Conservative leader. Then the rules come into play, with Graham Brady, the MP for Altrincham & Sale West, the Returning Officer due to being Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

The contest has to be held "as soon as practicable" and nominations close "at Noon on a Thursday". In theory, Brady could set this closing date as early as 25 September - and at this point it is too soon for Johnson to be a candidate.

The Conservative Party Conference is from 28 September to 1 October. As exhaustative ballots are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then if there is more than one candidate, then MPs would be voting while the Conference is still happening. So a more reasonable assumption would be holding off the close of nominations until the Thursday after the conference, which would be 2 October. Then there would be a set of ballots on 7 October, 9 October, 14 October, 16 October etc. until MPs have whittled these down to 2 candidates for the membership to decide on. This could be as early as 7 October - again, way before Johnson could return to Parliament.

There are no hard and fast rules as to when the ballot of members would be - if we look at the October - December 2005 leadership election then we have 47 days between the MPs deciding on who the 2 final candidates will be and the announcement of the result. A similar timescale would bring us to Sunday 23 November.

I think the Sunday Times suggestion belongs alongside the Daily Mail in the pile of breathless journalism that collapses once you think about it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

First Thoughts on Douglas Carswell's Defection

Today has seen the news that Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, has defected to the UK Independence Party, and will contest a by-election.

A short while ago, I questioned the Daily Mail's idea of how Boris Johnson could become Prime Minister, but had a caveat - namely Newkip. To sum up, if there were to be a small contingent of UKIP MPs in Parliament after the May 2015 general election, then Conservative MPs who voted against a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Queen's Speech and lost the whip as a result could either defect straight to UKIP or form a new party that would have a relationship with UKIP akin to that between the Liberals and the Social Democrats in the 1980s.

At this point it may seem very odd to talk about one of the most pointless elections in the United Kingdom in the 21st century - the Northern Ireland Assembly election of November 2003. With no devolution, it didn't have a role to fulfill. But, look at Lagan Valley. Top of the poll there was the Ulster Unionist Party's Jeffrey Donaldson, the sitting MP for Lagan Valley.

And look closer - failing to be elected as a Democratic Unionist Party candidate was Andrew Hunter, at the time the MP for Basingstoke. Donaldson and Hunter had one thing in common - neither of them were MPs for the parties they were standing for in the Assembly election.

Hunter had been Conservative MP for Basingstoke since the June 1983 general election, but had lost the Conservative whip in October 2002 when he confirmed he would contest the Assembly elections for the DUP, but didn't become a DUP MP until December 2004. Donaldson had been UUP MP for Lagan Valley since the May 1997 general election, but in June 2003 he - along with Antrim South's David Burnside and Belfast South's Martin Smyth - resigned the UUP whip in the House of Commons.

In the June 2001 general election, the UUP ended up 1 seat ahead of the DUP. The June 2003 defections put the DUP ahead - but surely this would be temporary.

In January 2004 Donaldson did something that was game-changing - he defected to the DUP (Burnside and Smyth followed this by accepting the UUP whip again). The DUP's lead over the UUP could no longer be a temporary thing. And at the May 2005 general election, the DUP returned 9 MPs, to the UUP's 1, Sylvia Hermon in Down North.

I remember realising a couple of things at the time - Donaldson's defection was bad news for the UUP. But I thought it would be bad news for the then leader of the DUP, Ian Paisley.

This might sound odd - after all, Paisley had achieved the position of being leader of Northern Ireland's largest party, and in in October 2005 was appointed to the Privy Council, being given the honour traditionally awarded to the UUP leader, as if the Establishment was recognising the DUP as the voice of Unionism.

Alongside Donaldson, Arlene Foster, who had been elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Fermanagh & South Tyrone - and is now the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment - also defected from the UUP to the DUP.

So, why had I considered it to be bad news for Paisley? Yes, the DUP would be getting stronger and bigger, but it is easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. A Bennite might welcome the 1997 election as finally bringing a Labour government, but would also know that this was a larger Labour in which Bennite views were in the small minority. Paisley's party could grow - with Paisleyism becoming a minority viewpoint.

And, in a similar fashion, Donaldson and Foster were the modern, younger, professional politicians who could bring over the sort of middle-class Unionists who traditionally voted UUP.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader and Member of the European Parliament for South East England, has been chosen as UKIP's candidate for Thanet South. Just imagine if he wins.

UKIP MEPs seem to focus on silly stunts at the European Parliament and have poor attendance records. Such an attitude won't go down well in the House of Commons. Picture Farage arriving at Westminster next May as the MP for Thanet South, and then being greeted by his parliamentary colleague for Clacton - who will have a decade's experience of being an MP, and knows the hard slog and committee work and debating Bills and constituency surgeries. And if UKIP is in discussion with other Conservative MPs about defecting, then Farage would arrive to find an established contingent of UKIP MPs who have been together as a group for months, with a parliamentary leader, receiving Short money, getting used to their parliamentary leader being allowed to ask a question at Prime Minister's Questions, and all the things that are part and parcel of being a minor party in the House of Commons. The more Conservative (and maybe Labour Eurosceptic) MPs who defect, the bigger the pond that Farage would find himself in, full of experienced MPs with him as the newcomer.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

If There Were A New Boundary Review, Would The Hampshire Constituencies Survive?

It is fortunately rare that oodles of parliamentary time is spent on an Act of Parliament which becomes law but which has no impact - and we had the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011 which fell into that category. It had two purposes:

  1. A referendum on switching from Single Member Plurality (often called "First Past The Post") to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons
  2. Changing the way that boundary reviews are carried out, so the House of Commons is fixed at 600 MPs and all constituencies (with rare exceptions) are within 5% of the electoral quota

In May 2011, a switch to AV was rejected in a referendum.

And a clause in the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 postponed the Boundary Commissions submitting their reports from 2013 to 2018 - effectively meaning that May 2015 general election would be held on the current constituency boundaries.

One of the controversial aspects of the Act was that the constituency boundaries would be constantly reviewed - every 5 years the Boundary Commissions would be submitting reports to Parliament (which could, in theory, vote them down). This led to concerns about constantly changing constituencies, with some wards constantly flitting from constituency-to-constituency, the way Chandlers' Ford is often treated as a problem to be fitted in somewhere.

The Boundary Commission for England did draw up proposals, and I am using the 2014 electorates to examine one issue - supposing these proposals had gone ahead and been approved, would they be viable for the May 2020 general election?

Begin by looking at the number of constituencies that each English region would have:

Region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Eastern England 56 56
East Midlands 44 44
London 68 69
North East England 26 26
North West England 68 68
South East England (excluding the Isle of Wight) 81 82
South West England 53 52
West Midlands 54 53
Yorkshire & Humberside 50 50

As can be seen immediately, if the Boundary Commission proposals were introduced, then in the next review, London and South East England would each gain a seat, while South West England and the West Midlands would each lose a seat, meaning that there would be constituency changes in those regions at least.

The electoral quota would be 76,970, and on a 5% rule, constituencies would have to be within 3,848 electors of that - so the minimum size is 73,122 and the maximum 80,818.

We can now break down South East England:

County Constituency entitlement Nearest integer Difference from quota
Berkshire 8.02 8 235 over
Buckinghamshire 7.31 7 3,462 over
East Sussex 7.63 8 3,584 under
Hampshire 17.29 17 1,291 over
Kent 16.34 16 1,648 over
Oxfordshire 6.25 6 3,238 over
Surrey 10.86 11 995 under
West Sussex 7.86 8 1,337 under

If you add up the integers, we get 81 - so one less than the 82 that South East England would be entitled to. The reason for this is that South East England would be entitled to 81.57 constituencies, so when you start dividing it up and rounding to the nearest integer there is no surprise that we would be a seat out.

There are some counties - Buckinghamshire, East Sussex and Oxfordshire - where the average constituency size would be close to the maximum or minimum allowed. Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire would be entitled to 13.57 seats between them, and so together could have 14 constituencies (rather than the 13 if treated separately) with the average being 2,379 below the electoral quota.

The proposed pairing of East Sussex with Kent would be entitled to 23.97 seats between them, and if they had 24 constituencies, then the average would be 96 below the electoral quota.

This gives the constituency allocation for the sub-regions as:

Sub-region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Berkshire & Surrey* 19 19
Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire 13 14
East Sussex & Kent 24 24
Hampshire 17 17
West Sussex 8 8

[* The Boundary Commission proposed a Spelthorne constituency that would cross the Berkshire/Surrey border]

We should also note there are local authorities which would be the right size for one constituency - Crawley, Lewes, Shepway, Tunbridge Wells, West Oxfordshire and Worthing. Not all of these would be reasonable - Lewes separates Brighton & Hove from the rest of East Sussex (and the Boundary Commission proposed splitting it between Brighton East & Seahaven and Lewes & Uckfield).

The Boundary Commission proposed keeping Worthing split between Worthing East & Shoreham and Worthing West. A single Worthing seat would cause disruption - looking at the map of South East England it seems that Arundel & South Downs would have to be split up.

The Commission proposed splitting Shepway between Dover & Deal (just one ward - North Downs East) and Folkestone & Hythe (which contains only one non-Shepway ward - Saxon Shore from Ashford).

The Commission proposed splitting Tunbridge Wells between The Weald and Tunbridge Wells.

Crawley and West Oxfordshire are coterminous with the constituencies of Crawley and Witney.

Next we can look at the electorates of the proposed constituencies based on current figures:

Constituency Electorate From quota
Aldershot* 81,595 +6.01%
Basingstoke 81,277 +5.60%
Eastleigh 80,686 +4.83%
Fareham 77,982 +1.31%
Gosport 80,552 +4.65%
Hampshire East 73,574 -4.41%
Hampshire North East & Alton* 78,868 +2.47%
Hampshire North West 82,328 +7.03%
Havant 79,459 +3.23%
New Forest East 73,377 -4.67%
New Forest West 73,679 -4.28%
Portsmouth East 77,963 +1.29%
Portsmouth West 72,334 -6.01%
Romsey 81,390 +5.74%
Southampton Itchen 74,712 -2.93%
Southampton Test 79,469 +3.25%
Winchester 81,131 +5.41%

[* After the Boundary Commission drew up its revised proposals, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England drew up a new set of wards for the District of Hart. Hence some new Hart wards are split between the proposed Aldershot and Hampshire North East & Alton constituencies. The figures I've given may not be totally accurate]

Most constituencies are above the electoral quota - that's just a feature of Hampshire being a little bit too small for 18 constituencies.

One thing that stands out is the way that Hampshire's population centre-of-gravity is shifting northwards. In part this could be a new era's "M3 rule" - it used to be said that the Liberal Democrats won by-elections in seats on or near the M3. And the first impression is that the population is increasing along main rail lines (the line from London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids) and the M3. Unlike the Local Government Boundary Commission - which asks councils for predicted future electorates - the Boundary Commission for England has no power to consider this, only being allowed to take into account the electorate at one fixed point in time.

It is clear that if the Boundary Commission's proposed constituencies had been implemented for the May 2015 general election, then there would need to be a redrawing for the May 2020 general election as 5 constituencies are now larger than the maximum and 1 smaller than the minimum.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Howard & Hilda From Hemel Hempstead - The Double Standards Of Authoritarians

I was a bit bemused by Richard Littlejohn's column in today's Daily Mail:

How many times have we seen young Asian men with backpacks pass seamlessly through security while Howard and Hilda from Hemel Hempstead are forced to stand and watch as the contents of their hand-luggage are examined with forensic precision?

Ooh, the cliches.

Having flown several times, I can tell you the number of times I have seen "young Asian men with backpacks" (define Asian please. Russian? Chinese? Indian? Arab?) walk through airport security whilst elderly couples have their hand luggage examined with forensic precision.

None. Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Anyway, if Howard and Hilda have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear.

I notice something about those who loudly call for more authoritarian measures, always with the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument that is designed to shut down any libertarian reasoning using the ad hominem logic - if you don't support a toughening up of security, then clearly you are a bad person who is worried that something will come to light.

And that is that it seems fine that any new powers the police might get are used against people who "look a little bit Muslim" or are anything "different". But when they get used against people who are decent, respectable, white, i.e. "like us", then it's wrong.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Is "Missy" River Song?

On Saturday evening, I went to the cinema to see Doctor Who's Season 34 opener - Deep Breath. At the end, we are introduced to a strange character calling herself - and credited as - "Missy", played by Michelle Gomez, although in publicity material she has been referred to as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere.

I am wondering whether Missy is River Song.

The final two stories of this season will be In The Forest Of The Night and Dark Water/Death In Heaven.

There have been a couple of times where forests have been connected with River. Firstly, her debut was in Season 30's Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead (were there Silence in the library? I don't recall seeing any). And it is during Season 32's A Good Man Goes To War that we learn she is Melody Pond - in the Gamma Forests, as the TARDIS told Rory Williams in The Doctor's Wife, the only water is the river.

Dark Water - so, does the water here refer to River, and, as the Gatekeeper, are we faced with a River who is a much darker character?

If we recall River's fate, it was to spend forever in a computer-generated reality in the Library (is this the Nethersphere?). And those who had been killed on her expedition were uploaded to the computer thanks to their data ghosts.

No doubt, in 3 months time, I'll be proven wrong....

Where Are The UKIP Voters Coming From?

If you've been following my blog, you will know that I have been working on projecting the May 2014 European election onto the constituencies used for the May 2010 general election (and which will be used for the May 2015 general election).

One thing is the surge in UK Independence Party support, and from the types of constituencies they "won" in May, there seem to be various strands of support.

The first one is what we can call the Maggie-Tony-Nigel voters. Seats which fell to Labour in the May 1997 landslide, have returned to the Conservatives and in May were won by UKIP. The impression here is that these were areas where the Conservatives did well when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and were won over by Tony Blair when he became leader of the Labour Party, becoming key in Labour winning the 1997 general election, and stuck with him in June 2001. By the May 2005 election, Blair had become jaded and tired, and these voters were losing faith in him, half-heartedly turning back to the Conservatives, while waiting for something else to come along. One thing that is striking is just how fickle these sorts of seats are - the Conservatives could lose their 2005 and 2010 seats easily.

The second one is the rural Tories. Another striking feature are true-blue rural areas falling to UKIP. Whether this is due to the Conservatives being seen as more urbanised, or for another reason (UKIP's stance on HS2?), I cannot be sure.

The third one is the radical Western Liberals. Even as early as the May 1999 European elections, it was clear that UKIP were doing well in parts of South West England which had Liberal Democrat MPs. And this has accelerated. If you want your politics to be slightly anti-establishment, you're not likely to vote for a party that is in Government.

The fourth one is the Northern Old Labour. What is noticeable is that UKIP topped the poll in seats which stuck with Labour through its lowest point - the June 1983 general election. Why abandon Labour now? Well, consider where Labour was ideologically in 1983 - one of its major policies at the time was to withdraw from the European Communities (the collective term for what were then the European Coal & Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community). And there was still quite a socially conservative strand reflecting general working-class values. Labour is now socially liberal and pro-EU, and for these voters UKIP offers them the Labour Party from an earlier era.

I appreciate these are quite broad generalisations, but the impression I get is that UKIP has been drawing its support from these different groups.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Queen Of The rUK

I was interested to see a suggestion in a letter in The Times that if Scotland were to vote for independence, then there would have to be someone from Scotland as that country's Governor-General.

In April 1199, Richard I, the King of England, died, and he was succeeded by his brother John, who held the title of "Lord of Ireland". From that point, the King of England was also Lord of Ireland. Under the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, the Irish Parliament recognised Henry VIII as being King of Ireland.

In March 1603, Henry's younger daughter - and last remaining legitimate descendant - Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, died. Under the terms of his will, if this happened, then the throne would go to the descendants of Mary, the youngest of his two sisters. Mary had, unsurprisingly, died a long time before her niece (just under half a century earlier, in June 1533). Neither of Mary's sons achieved adulthood, so we need to look at her daughters. The elder was Frances, who had died in November 1559, and she had had 3 daughters - the eldest of which, Jane, had briefly been Queen. The second daughter, Catherine, had died in January 1568, being married to Edward Seymour, the nephew of Henry's third wife, Jane.

If Henry's will had been followed, then the next Edward Seymour, Catherine's 41-year-old son, would have succeeded Elizabeth as Edward VII, and today we would have Teresa Freeman-Grenville as Queen.

However, the elder of Henry's sisters was Margaret, who had married James IV of Scotland, and hence was grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. And upon Elizabeth' death, Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, became King of England and Ireland. This is the Union of Crowns. Note that England and Scotland were legally distinct countries (as indeed was Ireland - to which we come to later).

You might notice that I have not mentioned Wales - at the time, it was part of the Kingdom of England.

In May 1707, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland united to form Great Britain.

In January 1801, Great Britain and Ireland united to form the United Kingdom - which reduced in size when the Irish Free State was created in December 1922.

First thing to note - and very important to note - there is no such person as "the Queen of England". Hasn't been for the past 307 years. In discussions about Scotland's future, have no time for silly ideas that Scotland would have to lose the Queen if it becomes independent. It was the Scottish royal family that got the English throne, not vice versa.

When it comes to discussing Scottish independence, we have been here before. As I have mentioned, the United Kingdom used to be a bigger place until about 92 years ago, when 26 counties in Ireland became a separate nation. There is nothing new in the issues independence raises.

It is true that the Irish Free State, as per Article 60 of the 1st Schedule of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922, had a Governor-General to exercise regal functions on behalf of George V. The post's functions were abolished under the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act 1936 and in December 1936, Domhnall Ua Buachalla left office (by giving Royal Assent to that Act) and was not replaced. The post of Governor-General was abolished by the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act 1937.

But Scotland is a slightly different case to the Irish Free State. The monarchs of England (and later Great Britain) were the monarchs of Ireland from 1199 to 1707 due to conquest. In 1603 the Scottish monarch became also the English one. The Royal Family had no personal residences in Ireland, while in Scotland there is Balmoral - a place I have visited a few times, mainly to see Crathie Kirkyard where my great-great-great-grandfather, John Spong (who was Queen Victoria's travelling tapessier) is buried. There is a royal presence in Scotland which there wasn't in Ireland. Scotland is a home for the royals.

Scotland is not like Canada or Australia or New Zealand - all of which were British colonies which became independent while keeping the British monarch as head of state. Scotland is an old nation. It existed before the United Kingdom was thought of. It has never been a British colony.

A Governor-General for Scotland would send the message that the Queen is - as she is gratingly referred to by ignorant people - "the Queen of England". That the granddaughter of a Scottish duke has a looser connection with Scotland than she does with rUK. That Balmoral is her holiday home for when she is in ex-pat mode.

If Scotland becomes independent, then the Queen will be head of state of both nations - Scotland and rUK - equally. It will be up to her, Edinburgh and London to sort out how she divides her formal time.