Sunday, 22 February 2015

How Long Would A Labour/Liberal Democrat Government Have Lasted In 2010?

There is an interesting article on post-election scenarios on the London School of Economics general election blog, where the following is noted:

The first is the crucial distinction between entering Downing Street and being able to govern. This was one of the big, under-discussed issues in 2010. It was certainly possible to come up with scenarios then under which the Lib Dems could do deals with either Labour or the Conservatives. Both would have generated a majority and enough, therefore, to form a government. But only one (Con-Lib) generated a majority large enough to govern, day-in, day-out, on the run-of-the-mill legislation that is the stuff of government. The other (Lab-Lib and others) generated a bare majority, and had far too many moving parts.

And, as MPs have become increasingly independent-minded, so the size of a majority required to govern increases. Even with a majority of 80-plus, this government has been defeated in the Commons. This applies to a majority government too; you don’t have to be Mystic Meg to see the problems either a Conservative or Labour administration with a majority of 10 would face. But it could be a crucial factor in post-election negotiation.

We all assume the finishing line is around 323 seats (if Sinn Fein do as well as last time, and then don’t take their seats). But there’s little point in crossing the finishing line first if you soon fall back over it. Any deal that can guarantee significantly more than 323 on a regular basis will be prioritised over razor-thin deals.

We can look at the strengths of the parties to tell us how majorities can decrease during a Parliament (beginning from the first meeting to the dissolution):

General election Starting majority Ending majority Change
May 1955 59 51 Down 8
October 1959 98 82 Down 16
October 1964 5 3 Down 2
March 1966 97 63 Down 34
June 1970 31 13 Down 18
February 1974 -32 -36 Down 4
October 1974 4 -17 Down 21
May 1979 44 35 Down 9
June 1983 143 138 Down 5
June 1987 101 86 Down 15
April 1992 22 -3 Down 25
May 1997 178 179 Up 1
June 2001 166 161 Down 5
May 2005 66 51 Down 15

Note that two out of the three largest falls in majority have been after elections which returned a Government with a tiny majority.

Now consider the result of the May 2010 general election. We would have Labour (on 258 seats) and the Liberal Democrats (on 57 seats) having a combined total of 315.

Although there are 650 MPs, there are only 641 voting ones. The Speaker and 3 Deputy Speakers don't vote, and the 5 Sinn Féin MPs choose not to vote. 2 of the Deputy Speakers would come from the Labour/Liberal Democrat benches, giving them 313 of the 641 voting MPs (compared to 305 Conservatives). To get a majority of 1, a grouping would need 321 MPs.

Support from the Greens, Plaid Cymru and all the 13 voting Northern Ireland MPs would bring in 17 additional MPs. There would have to be a lot of juggling to ensure these are kept onside, but assume that a solid deal is made with all of them - the most optimistic outcome for Labour. That gives 330 of the voting MPs, an effective majority of 19.

Majorities decrease over time. One method is via an MP losing/resigning the whip, but there is no law saying that a whipless MP has to vote against their former party. An MP doing a direct defection to another party is another matter - but again, it depends on the losing and receiving party. A Conservative MP who defects to the UK Independence Party might vote with Conservative MPs in a division - one who defects to Labour is much less likely to do so.

The crucial majority-decreasing is via by-elections. So, which by-elections would there have been under a Labour/Liberal Democrat government?

We can say which by-elections would not have happened - those from MPs resigning to stand for Police & Crime Commissioners. Under a Labour/Liberal Democrat government there would not have been the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act 2011 and therefore no PCCs.

When considering the by-elections I will look at the worst feasible outcome for a Labour/Liberal Democrat government. If I think Labour will hold a seat, then I will say so.

Although Labour won the Corby by-election from the Conservatives in November 2012, I will work on the assumption that - as Governments tend not to gain seats at by-elections - this would be a Conservative hold.

First up is Oldham East & Saddleworth in January 2011. This was a a close marginal in 2010, and the Conservatives last won part of the seat (Littleborough & Saddleworth) at the 1992 general election - the last Conservative victory in Oldham East was the 1955 election. But it is possible that the Conservatives win this (Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 310 - by this stage, Barnsley Central's Eric Illsley and Rotherham's Denis MacShane have lost the Labour whip, but let's assume they would generally vote with the Government).

Next up is Barnsley Central in March 2011. Safe Labour - no way they would lose this, even if they were in Government. Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 311.

This is followed by Leicester South in May 2011. Again, not one you would expect Labour to lose.

Then there is Inverclyde in June 2011. When I projected the May 2011 Scottish election results onto the Westminster constituencies this came out as a narrow Labour hold. So, we can assume that Labour would still have won this by-election under a Labour/Liberal Democrat government.

Next is Feltham & Heston in December 2011. Yes, this was a Labour hold - but during the Thatcher/Major era this was a marginal, with the Conservatives winning it at the 1983 and 1987 elections. In 2010, it was marginal. So assume that the Conservatives win this (Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 310).

If Labour couldn't hold Bradford West in March 2012 when in Opposition, there is no way they would hold it in Government. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 308 - by this point Falkirk's Eric Joyce has lost the Labour whip.

In July 2012 Labour gives MacShane the whip back, but the following months see a couple of deaths of Labour MPs - Croydon North's Malcolm Wicks in September and Middlesbrough's Stuart Bell the following month.

With the assumptions that the Conservatives win the Oldham East & Saddleworth and Feltham & Heston by-elections, then Bell's death would see the Conservatives and Labour/Liberal Democrats tie on 307 MPs each.

Guy Fawkes Night 2012 sees MacShane resign, and with it the Conservatives overtake the Labour/Liberal Democrat government. In this parallel world, there would have been editorials in Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph saying that the Government has lost its right to govern, and there would need to be an election by Christmas. However, Bedfordshire Mid's Nadine Dorries losing the Conservative whip the following day would see the Conservatives and Labour/Liberal Democrats tie again - this time on 306 MPs each.

This shows one of the features of modern politics - as a Parliament continues, it gets more fragmented. Minor parties pick up more seats, MPs lose and resign whips. The Labour/Liberal Democrat government's loss of 7 seats since the Deputy Speakers were chosen does not mean that the Conservatives would have gained 7.

We now come to the end of November 2012, with Labour winning by-elections in Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham. But what if Labour had been leading the Government at the time and had to worry about an anti-government vote? Well, to be honest, these were quite safe seats, and I expect Labour would have held them if in Government. Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 309.

The next by-election is Eastleigh in February 2013, caused by the resignation of the Liberal Democrats' former Energy & Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. In reality the Liberal Democrats would have held this, but what would have been the worse result for a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government?

On one hand, it would have been the UK Independence Party gaining the seat, showing that they can win by-elections which do not involve a sitting MP defecting. Nothing succeeds like success, and a UKIP that was winning by-elections would be a long-term threat to Labour. However, in the short-term, the worse result for a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government would be the Conservatives' Maria Hutchings winning. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 308.

Next up is a resignation that might not have happened under a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government - that of David Miliband as MP for South Shields. In the parallel world, he could have been Prime Minister of the Labour/Liberal Democrat Government! The May 2013 by-election was comfortably won by Labour.

In May, the Conservatives give Dorries the whip back (Conservative 308, Labour/Liberal Democrat 308), but this is followed by Patrick Mercer, the MP for Newark, resigning the whip. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 308.

This is followed, a few days later, by Mike Hancock, the MP for Portsmouth South, resigned the Liberal Democrat whip (Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307), and in July 2013, David Ward, MP for Bradford East, lost the Liberal Democrat whip (Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 306), but had the whip restored in September. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

In October, Eleanor Laing, the Conservative MP for Epping Forest was elected Deputy Speaker. Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

This brings us to the start of 2014, with the death of Paul Goggins, Labour MP for Wythenshawe & Sale East - which would see the Conservatives and Labour/Liberal Democrats tie on 306 MPs. The by-election the following month was a comfortable hold for Labour, and there is no reason to assume they would lose it if in Government. Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

Following his acquittal, April sees Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley (and Laing's predecessor as Deputy Speaker), having the Conservative whip restored. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

In June, the Conservatives win the Newark by-election, caused by Mercer's resignation. Conservative 308, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

In August, Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Clacton, defects to UKIP. Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 307.

In September, Jim Dobbin, Labour MP for Heywood & Middleton, dies (Conservative 307, Labour/Liberal Democrat 306), with later that month Mark Reckless, Conservative MP for Rochester & Strood, defecting to UKIP. Conservative 306, Labour/Liberal Democrat 306.

In October, Labour won the Heywood & Middleton by-election, but it was close. The worst outcome for them would have been UKIP winning it.

So, where would we be if there had been a Labour/Liberal Democrat Government after the 2010 election, and the worst case scenario had happened for them in by-elections? For the past 5 months, since Reckless's defection, the Government and the Conservatives would have tied on 306 MPs each. Among the voting MPs, there would now be 29 Others:

  • Democratic Unionist Party - 8
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • UK Independence Party - 3
  • Greens - 1
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 1
  • Respect - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 1

To have an overall majority of 1, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would need the support of 15 of these 29 (as would the Conservatives). Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, Greens and the 2 Independent ex-Government MPs would provide 9 of these. By this stage, such a Government would have to turn to the DUP or SNP to get a majority.

The most optimistic Conservative could only hope for the backing of 11 MPs (DUP and UKIP).

Although there would have been brief periods (November 2012, June - August 2013, September 2013) where the Conservatives would have more seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined, there does not seem to be any point where the Conservatives - without the Liberal Democrats - would have had enough support to govern.

It seems that a minority Labour/Liberal Democrat Government could have lasted the whole 5 years.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Proportional Representation Day 2016

While attention is focussed on the general election on 7 May this year, there is an interesting set of elections coming up in May 2016 across the United Kingdom:

Area Election for Voting system
Greater London Mayor of London Supplementary Vote
Greater London Assembly Additional Members System
England (outside of Greater London) Police & Crime Commissioners Supplementary Vote
Wales Police & Crime Commissioners Supplementary Vote
Welsh Assembly Additional Members System
Scotland Scottish Parliament Additional Members System
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Assembly Single Transferable Vote

This will be an unprecedented situation - every voter in the UK will be eligible to vote using a system that is not Single Member Plurality. 86% will be using Supplementary Vote and 25% Additional Members System.

Looking at any recent opinion poll, by 8 May this year we will see that SMP no longer provides the USP that is promoted by its supporters - that of giving a Parliament where one party has over half the seats and forms a Government on its own. To fail to do this once can be explained away as a fluke result, a transitional period, just as if the April 1992 general election had (as polls suggested) given a hung Parliament we would have said that the people were rejecting the Conservatives, but not yet ready to trust Labour.

After this May, it will be clear that the system we have used since the February 1950 general election is broken, and a year later everyone will have experience of using other systems, which will inform the inevitable debate on whether to change the system and what to.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

What's Sauce For The Stormont Goose....

With little over 3 months to the general election, the Conservatives have come up with an interesting poster:

The prospect of Sinn Féin suddenly deciding to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and taking their seats in the House of Commons to support Labour is a bit far-fetched, and it appears that recent Labour/Sinn Féin talks were simply over the peace process.

Surely Sinn Féin have other aims - the Irish general election has to be held within the next 14 months, and from the latest poll it appears that the only way the current Fine Gael/Labour coalition can remain in power would be to bring in Sinn Féin. In May 2016 there is the Northern Ireland Assembly election, where Sinn Féin would be aiming to become the largest party.

I would assume that Sinn Féin's intention would be to produce the Tánaiste (in the Republic of Ireland) and First Minister (in Northern Ireland) as well as there being meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council where a Sinn Féin minister from Dublin discusses a matter with their party colleague holding the equivalent Belfast post.

However, after seeing this poster, I wonder why shouldn't Sinn Féin be allowed to enter the Government if they take their seats? Or just come to a confidence-and-supply deal?

With a close election, things might come down to the Northern Ireland parties. Conservative member of the House of Lords (and former Ulster Unionist Party First Minister) David Trimble has suggested the Democratic Unionist Party may back Labour, while the Social Democratic & Labour Party leader Alasdair McDonnell has said:

If I was to make a prediction today, I would be predicting a Labour/SDLP - and remember SDLP, you heard it here first - Scottish Nationalist government,"

How Scottish Labour MPs who have lost their seat to the SNP would feel about a Labour/SDLP/SNP coalition is another matter!

Before anyone from a major party starts saying they wouldn't touch Sinn Féin with a bargepole, just remember in a hung Parliament there are two choices when it comes to Sinn Féin:

  1. Enter Government with them
  2. Don't enter Government with them

For the parties at Stormont, when a Northern Ireland Executive is formed, there are also two choices when it comes to Sinn Féin:

  1. Enter Government with them
  2. Don't enter Government

Sorry, but all major London-based parties have supported mandatory coalition in Stormont. You can't say you won't come to a deal with Sinn Féin when you have decided that the Northern Ireland parties have to if they want to sit in the Northern Ireland Executive.

As Clara Becomes One Of The Longest Serving Doctor Who Companions

A couple of years back I looked at who the longest serving Doctor Who companions had been. We know that Clara Oswald will be in all of Season 35, which will have 13 episodes.

So, time to update my list of the longest-serving companions.

First thing to note is that it depends what you mean by Clara Oswald. Do we count Asylum of the Daleks's Oswin Oswald, or The Snowmen's Clara Oswin Oswald? One of my rules is that I count episodes where a past or future companion appears, as long as it is not a cameo. Although Jenna Coleman's name did not appear in the opening credits of Asylum of the Daleks (to avoid spoiling the surprise), Oswin is a form of Clara from when she entered the Doctor's timestream in The Name of the Doctor.

If you saw my last post, you will see that I have a rule for counting the number of episodes:

By number of episodes, I count a traditional 20th century episode as a single episode. The 21st century one (except for the specials, Last of the Time Lords, Journey's End and The Eleventh Hour) and the ones from Attack of the Cybermen to Revelation of the Daleks I count as 2 episodes each. Due to their length I count the specials, Last of the Time Lords, Journey's End and The Eleventh Hour as 3 episodes each. The Five Doctors counts as 4 episodes.

So, following this, I count The Snowmen, The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor, Deep Breath, Death in Heaven and Last Christmas as equivalent to 3 episodes each, and the others as equivalent to 2 episodes each.

Season 33 saw Clara in 10 adventures - Asylum of the Daleks and then from The Snowmen through to The Name of the Doctor. That is equivalent to 21 episodes. When we add in the final Matt Smith adventures - The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor - we are at 27.

Season 34 is equivalent to 26 episodes (remember that Deep Breath and Death in Heaven are each equivalent to 3 episodes), so this put Clara at 53. Last Christmas brings her to 56.

This puts her in tenth place in our list of longest-serving companions, having overtaken Susan Foreman while at the North Pole.

We know Season 35 has 13 episodes, which I will assume are the normal 45 minutes one. This counts as 26 episodes in the system I am using. So, by the end of the next season, Clara will be at 82 episodes - in third place behind Jamie McCrimmon and Sarah Jane Smith.

Why I Think ET Is Rare

There is a question I am sometimes asked - do I believe that aliens exist?

I was asked this as an undergraduate once by the editor of a college termly - Oxford Daze - which then turned into me being asked whether one of the other students was an alien. This was written up as:

After a few well-aimed kicks to the groin, Mr Pointer admitted his previous position was untenable and [ ] was an alien.

Often I am asked more seriously - and the answer I give is that I think it is unlikely, but I could be proved wrong. I also note that, if aliens exist, we do not know in advance when First Contact will be. We will not even know the second before it happens. It will be totally out of the blue.

And no, I don't believe aliens are kidnapping people for medical examinations. Any alien race advanced enough to travel to Earth would be advanced enough to hack the NHS computer system and download all the information they want.

I also need to add that my reason why I think aliens are rare is not a theological one. After that incident with the Martian meteorite that was thought to contain traces of life (it didn't), there were voices on one side saying the Bible teaches that aliens don't exist (it doesn't) and on the other side that discovering aliens would bring religious belief systems crashing down (it won't).

Sometimes my stance is objected to with the "Johnny Alien" logic - an extension of the Johnny Foreigner approach. For example, maybe aliens prefer not to travel in space, maybe aliens have such different technology we can't detect it, maybe aliens choose to leave us alone as we are not edible advanced enough.

The problem with this is that it would have to apply to all aliens - if just one alien race chose not to leave us alone, then we would have First Contact. If just one alien race nearby had technology that emitted at radio frequencies, we would detect it. You would need a galactic equivalent of the United Nations, with treaties and suchlike, with not a single rogue state, not a single explorer who wants to visit that pale blue dot, and not one private exo-entrepreneur thinking that our resources would be ripe for exploitation.

I have just seen the question Do all living organisms in Earth share one ultimate common ancestor? Or did life "begin" more than once in separate places? . And this is relevant to my stance - an argument I have seen and believe is convincing.

Suppose that life takes hold where it can. So if an alien planet could support even basic life at any point in its existence, it will. The universe is bursting into life, and ET is common. This would then apply to Earth. Wherever life on Earth could appear, it would.

And it would have done so many times and in many places.

This would mean that rather than one common ancestor, life on Earth would have many, with different lines which can be traced back to different points where life appeared. Yet we don't find it. Not one microbe, not one bacteria, not one animal with which we have no common ancestor.

This suggests to me that life starting and taking hold is a rare event.

For Our Peers, Life Should Mean Life

What do these Irish politicians, elected to the Dáil Éireann at the February 2011 election, have in common?

  • Jerry Buttimer (Labour, Cork South Central)
  • Ciarán Cannon (Fine Gael, Galway East)
  • Paudie Coffey (Fine Gael, Waterford)
  • Paschal Donohoe (Fine Gael, Dublin Central)
  • Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael, Dublin Mid West)
  • Dominic Hannigan (Labour, Meath East)
  • Michael McCarthy (Labour, Cork South West)
  • Nicky McFadden* (Fine Gael, Longford-Westmeath)
  • Joe O'Reilly (Fine Gael, Cavan-Monaghan)
  • John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael, Carlow-Kilkenny)
  • Shane Ross (Independent, Dublin South)
  • Brendan Ryan (Labour, Dublin North)
  • Liam Twomey (Fine Gael, Wexford)
  • Alex White (Labour, Dublin South)

[* McFadden died in March 2014]

At the time of their election, they were sitting members of the Seanad Éireann, a unique body whose members are chosen in different ways:

  • 43 are elected by councillors, Teachtaí Dála and Senators
  • 11 are appointed by the Taoiseach
  • 6 are elected in the university constituencies

One feature is the shuttling back-and-forth between the two chambers. One of the dramatic results of the May 2002 election - which saw the then main Opposition party, Fine Gael, have a dramatic collapse in support - was the fate of Mary O'Rourke, then the deputy leader of the leading Government party, Fianna Fáil, and Minister for Public Enterprise.

Despite Fianna Fáil increasing its share of the vote and number of TDs nationally, in Westmeath O'Rourke lost her seat to Donie Cassidy, a Fianna Fáil Senator (who was Leader of the Seanad) - interestingly, it was the elimination of McFadden which gave Cassidy enough votes to put him over the quota and seal O'Rourke's fate. For Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, the solution was to appoint O'Rourke to the Seanad, where she took Cassidy's role as Seanad Leader - effectively Cassidy and O'Rourke had swapped jobs.

In the May 2007 election, there had been boundary changes, with O'Rourke being elected in Longford-Westmeath, while Cassidy lost his seat - so there was another O'Rourke/Cassidy job swap, with Cassidy becoming Seanad Leader again.

Fitzgerald - now the Minister for Justice - has also had a chamber-hopping career. In 2002 she lost her seat in Dublin South East to the Progressive Democrats' Michael McDowell (who then became Minister for Justice). Interestingly, 3 of the 4 TDs elected there in 2002 at some point had been, or would become, leaders of their parties (McDowell, Labour's Ruairi Quinn, and the Green Party's John Gormley). In 2007, Fitzgerald contested Dublin Mid-West, but was unsuccessful (one of the elected TDs there was Mary Harney, at the time Minister for Health, who would a few days later replace McDowell as Progressive Democrat leader as he lost his seat to Fine Gael's Lucinda Creighton).

You might think this look at Irish politics has no relevance to British politics. And indeed it doesn't - yet.

The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 is a recent piece of legislation that allows life peers to resign from the House of Lords. In some ways, it is like the Peerage Act 1963 which allowed hereditary peers to disclaim their peerages, and then be eligible to become MPs.

Like the 1963 predecessor, the 2014 Act allows peers who have resigned to become an MP. No time gap required. There is one crucial difference - the 1963 Act banned ex-hereditaries from being given an hereditary peerage in the future (but they could, and some did, become life peers).

The 2014 Act does not ban ex-life peers from being given a life peerage later on.

We can now see why the Irish example is relevant. The 2014 Act - although no-one has used it this way yet - allows chamber-hopping.

Irish Senators comprise those who have lost their seats and are looking to be TDs again, and the next generation, those whom the parties hope will become TDs in the future, getting parliamentary experience. Senators do not become Government ministers - unlike members of the House of Lords.

Later this year, if normal tradition is continued, there will be a list of working peers. What is to stop a party putting youngish politicians on the list, with the promise that, if they work hard, follow the party line, then there is a frontbench post in the months to come, and then the promise of being parachuted into a safe seat for the May 2020 or May 2025 general election? With campaign literature stating I was responsible for the Widgets Act which brought new jobs to the Flydale North constituency and suchlike.