Sunday, 31 May 2015

Why Susan Foreman Should Never Return To Doctor Who - And Nor Should Several Other Sixties Companions

I read recently that Peter Capaldi would like Carole Ann Ford to return as the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan Foreman.

However fan pleasing this would be, I believe this is wrong.

Time-travel can be horribly wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey and complicated, but there is one principle established in Pyramids of Mars, where Sarah Jane Smith notes that they know that Sutekh didn't destroy the Earth in 1911, and the Doctor responds by taking her to 1980 to see the devastated Earth. Their failure to stop Sutekh would create a new timeline in which Sarah was never born. That wouldn't affect her on one level, as her birth was an event in her personal past, but would no longer be an event in the new timeline. If Sutekh won then she would have to explain to various aliens why she was born in 1950ish despite humanity being wiped out about 40 years before her birth.

One fixed point in time was Adelaide Brooke's death in The Waters of Mars - and she was driven to become an astronaut by the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. But in Victory of the Daleks, the Doctor is surprised that Amy Pond cannot remember those events - which implies that there is a new timeline in which the Davros never proceeded with his Reality Bomb plan. In this new timeline:

  • Davros wasn't killed in the destruction of the Crucible, as it was never destroyed - he is still out there somewhere.
  • Dalek Caan wasn't killed
  • The Void didn't collapse, so the events of The Next Doctor - including the Cyberking - never happened
  • Adelaide's parents weren't killed
  • Adelaide wasn't inspired to become an astronaut
  • The future of humanity among the stars which the Doctor told Adelaide about didn't happen

One of the key Doctor Who adventures was Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor manages to delay the Daleks' development. That means a new timeline was created in which the previous Dalek adventures - The Daleks, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Chase, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, Death to the Daleks - never happened.

Now, from the Doctor's perspective, these are parts of his personal past. But they are no longer events in the current timeline.

Think about that for a moment. Steven Taylor only escaped from the Mechanoids because the Doctor and his companions (Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright and Vicki) arrived there fleeing the Daleks in The Chase. The Doctor can remember Steven's adventures from there up to The Savages, but in the current timeline these events were altered due to Steven's absence. From the universe's perspective, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki never arrived and never met Steven. Also note that Ian and Barbara leave for London, 1965, in a Dalek time machine. The Doctor and Vicki see them leave, and from Ian and Barbara's perspective, they arrive in London.

But as far as the universe is concerned....

Well, if the Daleks' development was delayed, then the current timeline is one where the events of The Chase never happened, and - although this contradicts The Day of the Doctor and Sarah's comments in Death of the Doctor - from the universe's perspective, Ian and Barbara never returned and are just a couple of schoolteachers who went missing 52 years ago, with a cold crime squad maybe one day deciding to investigate.

The Daleks' Master Plan - well, from the Doctor's perspective, Katarina was killed (and the same is true from her perspective), but if the current timeline is one where this adventure never happened, then her death is no longer an event in the universe. Doesn't mean she's alive - she just went missing from Troy at the end of The Myth Makers as far as the universe is concerned.

Victoria Waterfield's debut was The Evil of the Daleks. Now, this is where it gets complicated. There is a Victoria who travelled with the Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon, whom he will remember. But if he went back to see Frank and Maggie Harris from Fury of the Deep and asked to see Victoria, they wouldn't have a clue who they were talking about. If The Evil of the Daleks never happened, then the Doctor could travel back to a time after 1866, meet Victoria (who would not know who he was), her father and Theodore Maxtible, and see how their continuing time-travel experiments using mirrors and static electricity were going (or rather, failing to go).

And what about The Dalek Invasion of Earth? What went through the Doctor's mind as the Time Lord on Skaro handed him the Time Ring and sent him on his mission? Did he realise that his mission would necessarily mean that his previous encounters with the Daleks would no longer have happened due to the timeline changing, and the cost to him at a family level?

Due to the rewriting of the timeline, there is no apocalyptic post-invasion 22nd century Earth for the Doctor to travel to to see Susan. The Dalek invasion - and its consequences - were removed from the timeline. From the universe's perspective, Susan no longer exists.

And that is the cost to the Doctor of the Time War - permanent separation from his grand-daughter, getting on with her life in a world that doesn't exist.

The Election Where The SNP Won More Seats Than The Liberal Democrats Despite Having Fewer Votes

Electoral reform seems to be in the air at the moment - and I do agree that Single Member Plurality has had its day - and one common argument is that under SMP (or First Past The Post as it is often called) party X can win more seats that party Y despite having fewer votes.

And indeed, not all that long ago on a May Thursday there was an election where the Scottish National Party won more seats than the Liberal Democrats despite having fewer votes.

I am, of course, referring to the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament conducted on a form of proportional representation (party lists with seats allocated by the d'Hondt system).

The Scottish National Party won 2 seats on 389,503 votes, while the poor Liberal Democrats won just 1 seat on 1,087,633 votes- that is half the SNP's seats on 2.79 times as many votes. And to make things worse, the Greens won 3 seats on 1,255,573 votes - that is thrice the number of seats the Liberal Democrats won but with just 1.15 times the number of votes.

How could this happen under proportional representation, which should do as it says on the tin?

As for European elections we subdivide the United Kingdom into nations (and England is further subdivided into regions) then where a party picks up its votes is important - not just the total number of votes. The SNP's vote is focussed in one part of the UK, not spread around like the Liberal Democrats.

In the discussions over electoral reform in the next few years, bear in mind that in any system, the SNP will be punching above their weight - even in the system of proportional representation we use for the European Parliament.

Jump Around

Today is not going well, thanks to the Migraine Monster clambering in through my bedroom window during the night and putting my head in a clamp.

Living in a block of flats, there is the problem of noise. And the flat above is very noisy.

The boy in the flat is about 8 or 9 and lives with his mum. And from him there is a lot of noise. Running around, shouting...

And the jumping.




I appreciate he has energy to get rid off - so why can't his mum take him to one of the local parks for a runaround?

The jumping is at the right noise frequency to make any headache or migraine worse.

This can go on beyond midnight, which brings me to the real problem.

On many evenings I hear this going on, the running around, jumping and shouting, and I cannot sleep while it goes on, even when wearing earplugs. And the thing is, there doesn't sound like an adult there. OK, one evening this week I did hear his mum yelling at him to stop and go to bed (this was around 1/2 past 11), and I realised how rare this is. He ignored her and carried on.

But I have noticed this pattern - him running around, jumping, shouting, with no sound of any adult there. Then hearing the front door of the block of flats open and shut some point between 1/2 past 11 and 1/2 past midnight. Then the sound of the same with the door of the flat above. A woman's voice and him stopping shortly afterwards. If he is getting to bed that late on a school night, then his education is going to suffer.

Something is clearly not right.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The EU Negotiations & The West Minster Question - Why Can't We Become The EU's Scotland?

It used to be said that Parliament could do anything except turn a man into a woman - a restriction on its powers that Labour removed under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

However, there are times when Parliament has a self-denying ordinance - and this is thanks to the Scotland Act 1998. When I looked at the West Lothian Question I outlined that sovereignty still resides at Westminster, and that there are procedures where the British Government can prevent Bills passed by the Scottish Parliament from becoming law.

There are 3 stances on devolution:

  • If you believe in legislative devolution then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Scottish Minister for Education answerable to the Scottish Parliament
  • If you believe in executive devolution then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Scottish Secretary answerable to the UK Parliament
  • If you believe in integration then you think Scotland's schools system should be overseen by the Education Secretary answerable to the UK Parliament

All major Unionist parties support legislative devolution.

In the UK, devolution is asymmetric - the Scottish Parliament has more powers devolved to it than the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly, and there is no English Parliament.

Within the European Union, there are ways in which the United Kingdom is distinct, just as Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own distinctive characteristics within the United Kingdom.

To begin with, there is the political centre-right. The British Government is composed of the European Conservatives & Reformists. Now, the ECR has led governments in both Poland (where their main rival is the European People's Party) and the Czech Republic (where it has shared power with the EPP), but the UK is different in having the ECR being able to form Governments on its own.

Mentioning the EPP in the above paragraph brings me to the next distinctiveness. The EPP is the European Union's leading party, producing the Presidents of both the European Commission (Jean-Claude Juncker) and the European Council (Donald Tusk), and in the United Kingdom it is - well, where is it? 0 Members of the European Parliament, 0 MPs, 0 peers, 0 Members of the Scottish Parliament.....

It's as if the Conservatives not only returned 0 MPs from Scottish constituencies but had 0 MSPs and 0 councillors in any of the 32 councils in Scotland.

We accept that Westminster is sovereign, but in certain policy areas it allows its powers to stop at the border. So, why can't we push for the same in the European Union, arguing that we have a system in the United Kingdom that works and allows Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to express their distinctive characteristics?

What I think we should be arguing in any re-negotiations is that the heartland of the European Union - the Benelux countries, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and maybe others - is the European Union's "England". It is the dominant section. But just as there are circumstances where Westminster only legislates for England and Government ministers only have powers in England, then we could push for something similar in Europe. Have policy areas where the European Parliament only legislates - and the European Commission only has executive powers - within that European heartland.

In Scotland, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats hold that things like transport, health and education should be matters for the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, to legislate for and have executive authority over - but they are still fully signed up to being in the United Kingdom. And the same way, the Government should emphasise to the other European Union governments that there is no contradiction between the United Kingdom playing a full part in the European Union while - in some policy areas - Brussels' powers stop at the English Channel.

How Christians Disagree Well - Thoughts On The 20th Anniversary Of My Baptism

20 years ago, something happened to me at Central Baptist Church, Leicester (sometimes referred to as "Charles Street Baptist Church".)

Among evangelical Christians there are various stances on baptism. The two main ones are:

  • It is OK to baptise the children of Christians - baptism was is the sign of the New Covenant, just as circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant, and as circumcision was performed on the sons of Israelites, baptism can be performed on the children of Christians. This is called "paedobaptism".
  • In the New Testament the call is "repent and be baptised", in that order, so baptism should be restricted to Christians. This is called "believers' baptism"

Then there is also the mode of baptism:

  • Some Christians believe it needs to be full immersion in water, symbolising Jesus's death and resurrection.
  • Others believe that sprinkling of water is sufficient.

Note that there can be a combination - there will be those who believe in "adult baptism" (even that is a confusing term when used to refer to "believers' baptism") can be done by sprinkling.

To add to the mix, there is also the renewal of baptismal vows (which may include immersion in water, like baptism), with the Church of England's Common Worship having services Affirmation of Baptismal Faith within a service of Holy Communion (which seems to be for a small number of candidates) and A Form for the Corporate Renewal of Baptismal Vows (which seems more focussed on the whole congregation).

Unfortunately, there is also the problem of a quasi-pagan view of baptism, which acts as if the Church of England's service book is the 1662 Book of Common Spells. I recall one lady I knew - she was not too keen on her grandchildren spending time with their other grandparents as they were "religious", yet she pressed for them to be christened, "just in case something happens to them". She didn't want it in the main service as she didn't want her family to have "religion" rammed down their throats. And she felt it had to be done using what she called "the Old Bible". I have no idea where to begin with all that!

The Church of England itself can get confused - Canon B21 states:

It is desirable that every minister having a cure of souls shall normally administer the sacrament of Holy Baptism on Sundays at public worship when the most number of people come together, that the congregation there present may witness the receiving of them that be newly baptized into Christ's Church, and be put in remembrance of their own profession made to God in their baptism.

However, their FAQs are quite fluffy, dealing with the issue of having a baptism outside the main service. Despite was Canon B21 states, the FAQs answer the question:

Can we arrange a Christening at a separate time to the Sunday service?


There may be opportunities to have a service at a different time, again usually on a Sunday, but talk to the vicar and ask their advice about what is possible at your church.

There we are, you can make the baptismal promises without sharing in the corporate worship. The FAQs even tell you:

You do not have to have been a regular churchgoer

Even if the early church practiced infant baptism, what would they have made of people wanting their children baptised as a social event, with no history of - or intention of - being involved in a worshipping community?

Now, my background was having infant baptism in December 1972, when I was 5 months old. My baptismal present from my grandmother was a Book of Common Prayer, which I still have by my bedside. However, I did not have any meaningful Church connection growing up, and didn't become a Christian until I was 18. That was through the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union.

Now, OICCU came across as predominantly Anglican - I assume because the big evangelical churches in Oxford city centre were Anglican. And from my background I wasn't really aware of anything much outside the Church of England - although my great-aunt and great-uncle attended a Baptist church (another great-uncle, my grandmother's and great-aunt's elder brother, whom I never met, was a Church of England vicar). So, baptism never came up as an issue. The first time I saw a believer's baptism was while I was in Oxford, when it was one of my friends at New Road Baptist Church.

After Oxford there was a few months of living an ecumenical life - as a volunteer at Cedar Lawn Methodist Home for the Aged in Stratford-upon-Avon, while worshipping at Stratford-upon-Avon Baptist Church.

After Stratford-upon-Avon it was a move to Leicester, and there I was introduced to a very different form of evangelical world to that I had experienced at Anglican-dominated Oxford or more small-town Stratford.

When I moved to Leicester, just across from the end of my road was Melbourne Hall Evangelical Free Church - the first time I had encountered an evangelical free church. The world of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches was completely new to me.

Melbourne Hall has a positive dominance, as it is the father (or grandfather or even great-grandfather) church of other evangelical free churches in the Leicester area, giving the city and the region around it one aspect of its distinctive evangelical culture. One of the philosophies of the Melbourne Hall strand of evangelicalism is the church plant, where a church grows to the point where it is too big and splits positively (rather than the more sadder faction-driven splitting that occurs in churches) and one/some of the leadership team and some of the congregation form a new church elsewhere.

As well as the conservative evangelical churches, there were also the charismatic ones - again, not something I had come across in any detail. The one I was most aware of was New Trinity Church (now Trinity Life Church) - an Assemblies of God church which was the second closest church to me.

What connected the charismatics and the conservative evangelicals was a focus on believers' baptism. This was the first time I came across an environment where being baptised post-conversion by full immersion was seen as the norm. And this had got me thinking.

At the time, as an Anglican, I was worshipping at Holy Trinity. And one day I mentioned to the vicar that I was thinking of getting baptised by full immersion. I had expected him to, as a good Anglican, inform me that I had been done as a baby. A few weeks later, he wrote to me to tell me that some people from Holy Trinity would be getting baptised at Central Baptist Church and would I like to join them? I did. This was pushing Anglican rules to the limit - after all, no-one holding any formal office in the Church of England would be doing the actual baptising. The vicar would be preaching, but again, this is different - a vicar cannot reasonably be expected to say to a Baptist church that he or she cannot preach a sermon at a service because there will be baptisms.

Those of us wanting to be baptised met the pastor of the Baptist church on the Thursday evening for what we called the "dry run" and then on the Sunday were the actual baptisms.

Since then, as I have - due to moving around - swung between Anglicanism and Evangelical Freeism. And I have had to work out what happened that day. Was I renewing my baptismal vows (as Anglicans would have it) with my real baptism in 1972, or was the 1972 event a sham and 1995 the real baptism? I guess I will never resolve that tension fully. To some extent, as one can only be baptised once, this is the same event from two angles - if we believe that infant baptism is a covenantal matter, then in 1972 God was making His side of a covenant, and in 1995 I was responding.

There is a lot of ink spilled over the waters of baptism, but what I want to focus on are three things when we disagree:

  1. We need to find out why someone holds a different viewpoint. I don't mean use the theological equivalent of "pop psychology", but find out what Bible verses they rely on, and accept that they may be correct
  2. We also need not to major on minors. We should never place a secondary issue in the position of being a salvation maker-or-breaker. I am happy to discuss my views on the early chapters of Genesis - but not with a person who sees a belief that something happened over a period of 6 days in 4004 BC as something that separates true Christians from heretics.
  3. In the Bible, the victory we focus on is Jesus' victory at Calvary. There should be no attitude of wanting a victory over other Christians. We should not seek to "own" (in the very modern sense of the word) other Christians. Driving someone out of a church should not be your ambition. I don't approve of the ordination of women, but what has impressed me about the way that Libby Lane, the Suffragan Bishop of Stockport, has gone about her work is that she has not given any indication that she sees her appointment and consecration as a victory over Christians like me or seeks to make the Church of England a cold house for us

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Thanet South and the Local Elections

I guess you've seen something doing the rounds - Nigel Farage, the former ex-leader of the UK Independence Party, failed to win Thanet South, yet UKIP won control of Thanet District Council.

And there is this "proof" from the man made that complaint to the police that the result was rigged - when they have real crimes to solve:

A few things to note:

  • That shows 149,034 people voting - 156% of the electorate. Before anyone thinks that is odd, in local elections with multi-member wards, the number of votes cast is much higher than the turnout as people cast more than one vote.
  • Hence UKIP vote (and other parties' votes) are going to be higher at local elections (with more votes cast) than at a general election - there is nothing at all suspicious about this for people with a basic grasp of maths
  • People vote different ways at local and general elections - otherwise, the Liberal Democrats in New Forest East would be tweeting #newforestrigged every election
  • The Thanet constituencies contain more than Thanet - as the official description under the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order 2007 shows

So, what was the local election result in Thanet South? It takes 14 wards (Beacon Road, Bradstowe, Central Harbour, Cliffsend & Pegwell, Cliftonville East, Cliftonville West, Eastcliffe, Kingsgate, Nethercourt, Newington, Northwood, Sir Moses Montefiore, St Peters and Viking) from the District of Thanet, as well as 2 wards (Little Stour & Ashton and Sandwich) from the District of Dover.

As most of these are multi-member, we work out each party's vote by taking the candidate from that party with the highest vote in that ward.

So, the local election result for Thanet South is:

  • Conservative - 16,811
  • UK Independence Party - 14,980
  • Labour - 12,487
  • Green - 1,652
  • Liberal Democrat - 1,385
  • We Are The Reality Party - 793
  • Independent (Ralph Hoult) - 513
  • Independent (Ruth Bailey) - 230
  • Independent (Dean McCastree) - 201
  • Ramsgate First - 199
  • Independent (Peter Cook) - 168
  • Independent (Bayo Oyediran) - 104

So, no mystery here. The Conservatives topped the poll at both the local and general elections.

One interesting thing to note is that - in complete reverse to the conspiracy theory - Farage actually won more votes than UKIP's local election votes in the constituency.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Whatever Happened To Multi-Party Marginals?

I had a concern about last week's general election - namely that as the party system fragmented further, there would be an element of randomness in the result, with many seats being won on small (say less than 30%) shares of the votes, and a rise in 3-way and 4-way marginals. I would not have been surprised if a genuine 5-way marginal appeared (my money - if I were a betting person - would have been on Brecon & Radnorshire).

Instead, the opposite has occurred, with these multi-party marginals becoming rare. As the party system fragments it has also solidified into a collection of 2-party systems, with the overwhelming majority of seats falling into one of these categories:

  • A safe seat for one party, with the identity of the runner-up being only of interest to political anoraks like myself
  • A marginal seat for one party, with another party being the sole clear challenger

There are now only 4 seats with less than 10% of the vote between the first and third parties:

Constituency Gap between 1st and 3rd Winner Runner-up 3rd
Thurrock 1.97% Conservative Labour UK Independence Party
Belfast South 7.32% Social Democratic & Labour Party Democratic Unionist Party Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Upper Bann 8.13% Democratic Unionist Party Ulster Unionist Party Sinn Féin
Ynys Môn 9.96% Labour Plaid Cymru Conservative

The closest gap between first and fourth place is 10.68% in Belfast South, with Sinn Féin in fourth place. In Great Britain the closest is 14.11% between the Liberal Democrats and UKIP in Southport.

With 15.44% between the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party, Belfast South has the smallest gap between the first and fifth candidates.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Should Tony Benn Have Been The Winner Of The 1981 Labour Deputy Leadership Election?

We are now entering a political summer of leadership elections - at least among parties whose leaders haven't resigned, or have been de-resigned in circumstances which would be rejected as a plot for an Ealing comedy on the grounds that it was too far fetched.

Ted Miliband's resignation as leader of the Labour party means that there will be an election to replace him. I have no intention of considering standing to succeed him [in November 1991 there was an election to see who would succeed him as our JCR President. I considered standing, but after having a chat with him about what it entails, decided not to].

The current Leader of the Opposition Harriet Harman, has confirmed that she will not seek re-election as Labour's deputy leader.

And this brings me to one of the most interesting deputy leadership elections - that of September 1981, when the serving Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Denis Healey, saw off a challenge from Tony Benn.

In the Republic of Ireland all legislative elections are by the Single Transferable Vote, where a candidate needs to reach a set number of votes, known as the quota, to be elected. But sometimes, the last candidate to be elected in a contest has failed to reach the quota. The reason for this is that the quota is calculated based on the number of valid votes in the first round of counting. As candidates are removed by being elected (for reaching the quota) or eliminated (by coming last), then there will be an increasing number of non-transferable votes, which do not have a preference for any candidates left in the election. But the quota is not recalculated.

That means you can get to the stage where there are two candidates left, neither of which has reached the quota - and the reason for this diversion will become clear in a bit.

In those days Labour used an electoral college with the following weightings:

  • 40% for the trade unions and affiliated socialist societies (collectively called "affiliates")
  • 30% for the constituency Labour parties (known as "CLPs")
  • 30% for Labour MPs

Each elector was able to list their candidates in order of preference, like the Alternative Vote.

There is one candidate I have missed out - and the third man was John Silkin, at the time the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. And it is his elimination for coming last that creates an interesting situation.

I remember reading that if non-transferable votes had been dealt with differently then Benn would have won. So I decided to examine this.

First consider the first round:

Candidate MPs CLPs Affiliates Electoral college vote
Healey 125 112 3,968 45.37%
Benn 55 490 1,030 36.63%
Silkin 65 24 1,429 18.00%
Total 245 626 6,427 100.00%

Then Silkin is eliminated and his votes redistributed according to second preferences:

Candidate MPs CLPs Affiliates Electoral college vote
Healey 137 118 3,969 50.43%
Benn 71 506 2,383 49.57%
Total 208 624 6,352 100.00%

So, there we have it. Healey wins.

But look at the totals down in the bottom row. It is clear that not all of Silkin's votes actually had second preferences. When the weightings were calculated for the final round of voting then these non-transferable votes were ignored - so Healey's 137 out of 208 votes from MPs became 65.87% of the votes in the MPs' section and became 65.87% x 0.3 = 19.76% of the overall electoral college vote.

But should it have been? Isn't this like recalculating the quota in an STV election at each round of voting? Shouldn't it have been Healey's 137 out of 245 votes from MPs (including the non-transferable ones from Silkin's first preferences), becoming 55.92% of the votes in the MPs' section and hence 55.92% x 0.3 = 16.78% of the overall electoral college vote?

Couldn't the exact same result been expressed as..?

Candidate MPs CLPs Affiliates Electoral college vote
Benn 71 506 2,383 47.77%
Healey 137 118 3,969 47.13%
Non-transferable 37 2 75 5.09%
Total 245 626 6,427 100.00%

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Christian Votes Conservative

This is an edited version of what I wrote on my Facebook page - I have removed some details which are personal and are the sort of I would only share with close friends:

Firstly, I have to say I am glad the election is over.

The way the Daily Mail has acted towards Ted Miliband, day-in day-out, has been terrible. Judging his dad on an adolescent diary entry is bad. Matriculation photo of Ted in sub-fusc spun in a way that shows ignorance of Oxford traditions. And the reliance on articles written by Martin Winter without mentioning that Winter was chucked out of the Labour party and had an axe to grind.

And is there anyone alive who can, hand on heart, say they have never had a bacon sarnie malfunction?

I know that among my Christian friends there will be differing views of the outcome. I have not agreed with everything the Government has done. I am proud that we have reached the UN target on international aid, helping the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 provides the tools to tackle the scourge of people trafficking. Recongising marriage in the tax system - although the financial amount is small - demonstrates that we believe marriage is the bedrock of society.

Although it was an idea we pinched from the Liberal Democrats, raising the Personal Allowance has enabled people on low incomes to keep more of what they earn, and reduced their reliance on the welfare state, which I believe is better than robbing Peter via his taxes to pay Paul via benefits and robbing Paul via his taxes to pay Peter via benefits. Creating conditions which allow business to flourish led to over 2 million jobs being created.

The effects of the "living wage" could be replicated by raising the Personal Allowance and the National Insurance threshhold to the level where someone on the National Minimum Wage takes home 100% of what they earn, and thus placing no extra burden on small businesses.

I tend to take a high view of politicians - whatever their party - and assume that their motivation for going into politics is to secure the best for this country and their constituents.

What has been painful is the level of hate on both Facebook and Twitter regarding those of us who are Christians who believe that the Conservatives are the best choice for the country. No, I do not hate the poor; I do not hate the disabled; I am surprised to learn that I have turned my back on the sick, considering how often I have ended up in A&E and rely on tablets and inhalers.

The Government has increased spending on the NHS, and IMHO, an article in the Telegraph by someone who is not speaking for the Conservative party, suggesting that the funding model should be along the lines of the German system does not mean the Government is going to abolish it.

Nor is it a case that those of us who voted Conservative were just looking after Number One. Being a middle-aged, childless person there is not much I will get from a Conservative government. Too old to benefit from the new discount, starter homes (have to be under 40), too well off (although it doesn't feel like it) to benefit from the new Right to Buy (not eligible for a Housing Association home), too young to benefit from anything aimed at pensioners.

The Apostle Paul emphasised being all things to all people. I know Conservatives who are non-Christians. Whenever a clergyperson tweets Vote Labour, or has Vote Labour on their FB profile, it makes reaching Conservative non-Christians just that little bit harder, as it helps reinforce the perception that the Church of England is just another soft left pressure group. Not that I want to see clergypersons tweeting Vote Conservative either, as it would make outreach harder to a different group of people.

While I agree that the Church should speak out, it should always be careful that it is not coming across as supporting a particular party, regardless of what that party is.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Republic Child Poverty Campaign

Those people who were not living under a rock will know that yesterday the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a daughter, and this has given Republic its chance to leap in with its Born Equal campaign.

This urges people to respond by donating to the Child Poverty Action Group.

As Republic states:

Every child should be born with the same political rights, the same opportunity to become head of state and to represent their country


3.5m children live in poverty in the UK. That means lower prospects in terms of health, education and long-term employment than those enjoyed by other children. Like the rest of us, those 2,200 children born each day will need to work hard, compete with their peers and earn their success. All those children deserve to grow up in a Britain where there are no limits on their ambition, where their political rights are equal to everyone else's and where all of us are born equal.

I am old enough to remember when compulsory ID cards were The Solution to The Problem of welfare fraud. Then they were The Solution to The Problem of terrorism. I am cautious of something being a multi-purpose The Solution to whatever is The Problem du jour.

And now it seems that a republic has become similar. It is now The Solution to child poverty, by deliberately confusing political inequality (defined narrowly as being unable to become Head of State) with genuine poverty.

Within the Organization for Economic Development member states, the highest child poverty is found in the USA, Mexico and Italy - all republics. While the lowest is, unsurprisingly, in Sweden, which is a monarchy. Clearly it is not a case that republics have less poverty than monarchies.

As Holly Johnson sang in Americanos:

There´s a place where a kid without a cent; He can grow up to be president

Well, on paper anyway. Does anyone think that an African-American from the Bronx has the same chance as a Harvard-educated son of a lawyer?

Ireland and Germany are held up as examples of nations with an elected Head of State. However, its Presidents are normally political creatures. In Ireland the nomination process is controlled by politicians (with the hoi polloi only being able to vote for candidates chosen by politicians), in Germany the election is conducted by politicians. You have to have the right connections, know the right people.

If a girl born yesterday reaches adulthood and is addressed as Ms Mountbatten-Windsor rather than Your Highness, will that have lifted one child out of poverty?

Sadly, one technique used by campaigning groups or celebrities is to cynically link themselves with bona fide charities. Last year saw the whole "UKIP calypso" debacle, the Red Cross had to refuse donations from the song. Note that the UK Independence Party had not asked the Red Cross whether they could use their name. And cue the predictable UKIP spin against the Red Cross, portraying it as playing politics with people's lives.

As the Institute of Fundraising has in its Code of Practice, charity trustees are within their rights to refuse a donation.

Frances Barnwell gives some scenarios where this can be done, including:

  • They may decide that it would be unethical for the charity to accept funding from certain sources. Medical charities, for example, may be unwilling to accept research funding from the tobacco industry.
  • There may be a conflict of interest between the work of the institution and the activities of the proposed donor.
  • The donor’s reputation or associations may be such that accepting funds would undermine confidence in the charity's independence and adherence to its core values.
  • The donation may for some other reason pose a risk to the reputation of the charity.

Charities don't just accept donations with no questions asked. There is the risk of reputational damage, which can include the perception that they are being used - and sadly, it seems Republic are using the Child Poverty Action Group by linking the issue a charity campaigns on (child poverty) with its own obsession. The Republic image which I showed above does, at first glance, suggest that CPAG is supporting its political campaign.

Give because you care about child poverty, not because you're angry over the media reporting the birth of a girl.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Labour's Greatest Victory - What Went Wrong?

With the general election only a few days away now, although it is unclear who will win (and indeed, what "win" means in this context), one thing is certain - Labour will not get the landslides it did in May 1997 and June 2001.

What would be Labour's greatest victory? Surely it must be October 1951 - with little over 6 years in power, this election gave Labour 48.78% of the vote, ahead of the Conservatives & allies, and the highest share of the vote Labour ever achieved.

And as a result of this stratospheric level of Labour support, the sitting Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, had to move out of 10 Downing Street and return to being Leader of the Opposition.

The February 1950 general election gave the following result:

  • Labour - 315
  • Conservative - 298* (includes 26 Scottish Unionist, 17 National Liberal** and 10 Ulster Unionist)
  • Liberal - 9
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • The Speaker*** - 1

[* Includes Florence Horsbrugh, who had failed to capture Midlothian & Peebles from Labour, was elected in a postponed poll in Manchester Moss Side a fortnight after the general election]

[** In the days before the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, it was not always clear whether a candidate was from a party or not. I have included John MacLeod of Ross & Cromarty as a National Liberal]

[*** Douglas Clifton-Brown in Hexham, who is the only Speaker of the House of Commons to have met my dad]

Prior to dissolution, Clifton-Brown had 2 Labour Deputy Speakers - James Milner (Leeds South East) and Frank Bowles (Nuneaton). After the election, Bowles - despite being re-elected - stood down as a Deputy Speaker and was replaced by Charles MacAndrew, the Scottish Unionist MP for Ayrshire North & Bute. This gave Labour 314 of the 622 voting MPs - a majority of 6.

With what was - for the era - a small majority (in those days it was normal for one party to win over half the seats and have what was called a "majority", which meant it could - and I appreciate this sounds very odd to modern ears - form a Government on its own, without any coalition partners), it was clear that Attlee would want another election (which in those days a Prime Minister could do) with the aim of increasing its majority.

In 1951, 29 seats changed hands:

Seat 1950 1951
Anglesey Liberal Labour
Barry Labour Conservative
Battersea South Labour Conservative
Bedfordshire South Labour National Liberal
Belfast West Ulster Unionist Irish Labour
Berwick & East Lothian Labour Scottish Unionist
Bolton East Labour Conservative
Bolton West Labour Liberal
Buckingham Labour Conservative
Conway Labour Conservative
Darlington Labour Conservative
Doncaster Labour Conservative
Dulwich Labour Conservative
Eye Liberal Conservative
Hexham The Speaker Conservative
King's Lynn Labour Conservative
Manchester Blackley Labour Conservative
Merioneth Liberal Labour
Middlesbrough West Labour Conservative
Newcastle-upon-Tyne North Conservative National Liberal
Norfolk South West Labour Conservative
Oldham East Labour Conservative
Plymouth Sutton Labour Conservative
Reading North Labour Conservative
Rochdale Labour Conservative
Roxburgh & Selkirk Liberal Scottish Unionist
Rutherglen Labour Scottish Unionist
Wycombe Labour Conservative
Yarmouth Labour Conservative

Overall, the Conservatives gained 18 seats from Labour, 1 from the Liberals and 1 from the Speaker, while losing 1 seat to the National Liberals* - a net gain of 19 seats.

The Scottish Unionists gained 2 seats from Labour and 1 from the Liberals - a net gain of 3 seats.

The National Liberals gained 1 seat from Labour and 1 from the Conservatives - a net gain of 2 seats..

Irish Labour gained 1 seat from the Ulster Unionists.

The Ulster Unionists lost 1 seat to Irish Labour.

The Liberals gained 1 seat from Labour while losing 1 seat to the Conservatives, 1 to the Scottish Unionists and 2 to Labour - a net loss of 3 seats.

Labour gained 2 seats from the Liberals while losing 1 seat to the Liberals, 1 to the National Liberals, 2 to the Scottish Unionists and 18 to the Conservatives - a net loss of 20 seats.

[*Newcastle-upon-Tyne North is a technical gain - Cuthbert Headlam, the sitting Conservative MP, retired, and the Conservatives and National Liberals chose the National Liberal Gwilym Lloyd-George as their combined candidate]

This gives us:

  • Conservative - 321 (includes 29 Scottish Unionist, 19 National Liberal and 9 Ulster Unionist)
  • Labour - 295
  • Liberal - 6
  • Irish Nationalist - 2
  • Irish Labour - 1

After the election, William Morrison, the Conservative MP for Cirencester & Tewkesbury was elected Speaker, with MacAndrew reappointed as one deputy, and Rhys Hopkin-Morris, Liberal MP for Carmarthen, as the other. Hence, out of 622 voting MPs, 319 of them were from the Conservative benches, meaning that Winston Churchill returned as Prime Minister with a majority of 16.

Not only was this Labour's highest ever share of the vote, but they were also ahead of the Conservative grouping, which was on 47.97% (of which 3.88% belonged to the Scottish Unionists, 3.70% to the National Liberals and 0.96% to the Ulster Unionists).

This was the last general election with uncontested seats - in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists won 4 seats (Antrim North, Antrim South, Armagh and Londonderry). But, even if these had been contested (in May 1955, Sinn Féin contested all of Northern Ireland's seats, with their highest share of the Province's vote until May 2005), this would not be enough to pull the Conservative grouping ahead of Labour in votes.

Could the explanation be the one we were given in A-level History - that Labour's record in Government saw its vote increase in its heartlands while losing marginals to the Conservatives?

The problem with this is that out of the 293 seats that Labour won in both 1950 and 1951, its majority decreased in 225 of them.

We need to look for another reason, and for this we will pay a visit to the Lancashire town of Bolton.

1951 was a bad election for the Liberals - the landslide election of January/February 1906 was 45 years in the past, with only older voters being able to remember it. During the inter-war period, the Liberals were able to maintain a place as a reasonable-sized third party. But even that was gone.

We can look at the 9 seats the Liberals had won in 1950:

Seat MP 1951 outcome Conservative challenger
1950 1951
Anglesey Megan Lloyd-George Lost to Labour Yes Yes
Cardigan Roderic Bowen Liberal hold Yes No
Carmarthen Rhys Hopkin-Morris Liberal hold No No
Eye Edgar Granville Lost to Conservatives Yes Yes
Huddersfield West Donald Wade Liberal hold No No
Merioneth Emrys Roberts Lost to Labour Yes* Yes
Montgomeryshire Clement Davies** Liberal hold Yes No
Orkney & Zetland Joseph Grimond Liberal hold Yes*** Yes***
Roxburgh & Selkirk Archie Macdonald Lost to Scottish Unionist Yes*** Yes***

[*In 1950 Roberts also faced a Plaid Cymru challenge, which was not there in 1951 - his vote fell by just 0.21%, but 1951 saw an increase in both the Labour and Conservative share of the vote]

[**Davies was the Liberal leader, and turned down Churchill's offer to be Minister for Education, which went instead to Horsbrugh]

[***Scottish Unionist]

There is a pattern noticeable - out of the 5 seats which the Liberals held, in 4 of them there was no Conservative challenger. And with this, we are starting to see why the 1951 election produced such a peculiar result.

At the July 1945 election there were a few 2-member constituencies around, one of which was Bolton, won by Labour's Jack Jones and John Lewis. For 1950, the seat was divided, with newcomer Alfred Booth winning Bolton East for Labour and Lewis winning Bolton West - both seats which saw the Conservatives second and the Liberals scoring a good third place.

If we move forward to 1951, we can see the total number of votes scored by the parties across the Bolton seats:

  • Labour - 50,274
  • Conservative - 27,106
  • Liberal - 26,271
You might expect that Labour would hold both seats, but they lost both - Bolton East fell to the Conservatives' Philip Bell, while Bolton West was won by the Liberals' Arthur Holt (who had contested the other seat in 1950). In Bolton, the Conservatives and Liberals formed an electoral pact which involved each standing down in one constituency, and which led to the Liberals' sole gain.

We can look at the number of seats not contested by these parties in Great Britain:

Nation Party Total constituencies in nation
Conservative* Liberal
England 4 415 506
Scotland 1 62 71
Wales 3 27 36
Great Britain 8 504 613

[*including Scottish Unionist and National Liberal]

As we can see, the Liberals had given up any pretence at being a national party, contesting just under 18% of the constituencies in Great Britain - equivalent to a party contesting 112 seats next week.

In 1950 they had contested 475 constituencies.

We can now look at the 8 constituencies without a Conservative candidate:

Constituency Outcome Candidate in 1950 Liberal share of vote
1950 1951
Bolton West Liberal gain from Labour* Yes 20.46% 52.76%
Cardigan Liberal hold Yes 52.17% 67.30%
Carmarthen Liberal hold No 50.19% 50.46%
Colne Valley** Labour hold Yes 19.16% 47.84%
Dundee West Labour hold Yes 1.86% 45.72%
Fulham West Labour hold Yes 4.95% 3.18%***
Huddersfield West Liberal hold No 58.23% 58.50%
Montgomeryshire Liberal hold Yes 50.03% 68.49%

[*Liberal gain from third place]

[**The Liberal candidate was Violet Bonham-Carter, daughter of former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith]

[***Third place. The runner-up to Labour's Edith Summerskill was William Brown, who had been Labour MP for Wolverhampton West between the May 1929 and October 1931 general elections, before returning as Independent MP for Rugby at a by-election in April 1942, holding his seat at the 1945 election, but losing to Labour at the 1950 election]

So it is clear that in some seats the Conservatives were standing down to give the Liberals a chance - successfully in 5, unsuccessfully in Colne Valley and Dundee West (where the Liberal candidate was the Mail on Sunday's John Junor).

One thing that is now quite common is for a party to win a seat on less than half the vote, thanks to a divided opposition. In 1951, Labour won 13 seats this way (in all but one of them the Labour vote was less than the combined Conservative and Liberal vote):

Constituency Labour Conservative Liberal
Anglesey 40.19% 21.65% 38.16%
Bradford South 47.16% 39.43%* 13.40%
Carlisle 46.79% 39.19% 14.02%
Falmouth & Camborne 46.29% 44.07% 9.64%
Gloucester 48.81% 43.58% 7.62%
Hornchurch 47.37% 45.60% 7.04%
Merioneth 42.94% 18.41% 38.65%
Nottingham East 47.77% 47.17% 5.06%
Pembrokeshire** 48.45% 31.63% 19.92%
Sowerby 46.03% 42.70% 11.27%
Uxbridge 49.14% 45.56% 5.29%
Walthamstow East 47.54% 44.99% 7.03%
Western Isles*** 48.77% 40.70%* 5.56%

[*National Liberal]

[**This was the constituency which saw the greatest increase in majority for Labour (from 129 to 9,026). However, the Labour share of the vote went down in 1951. In 1950 Labour's Desmond Donnelly had unseated the National Liberals' Gwilym Lloyd-George]

[***The Scottish National Party came fourth with 4.97% of the vote, and the Labour vote is higher than the combined National Liberal and Liberal one. In 1950 Labour's main challenger was the Liberals, with neither the National Liberals nor the Scottish Unionists fielding a candidate]

Fighting two elections close to each other had clearly hit the Liberals, and they were not able to field as many candidates. Hence the need to select which seats to fight - and when you compare the results, it appears that they concentrated on seats they had done better in at the 1950 election when deciding where to contest in 1951, which is quite logical. This then reduces the number of unwinnable seats where they have a spoiler effect which enables Labour to win on a minority of the vote.

The near-collapse of the Liberals in such a short space of time must have hit Labour this way, with the anti-Labour vote becoming concentrated around one candidate, normally Conservative, making this election the closest we have seen to a straight two-party fight.

Yes, Labour was ahead of the combined Conservative, National Liberal, Scottish Unionist and Ulster Unionist grouping in votes. But when you throw the Liberals into the mix, something different is seen.

Across Great Britain, Labour won 49.36% of the vote. The Conservatives, National Liberals and Scottish Unionists won, between them, 47.78%. Adding in the Liberals to this brings it up to 50.38%. On a proportional system you would expect Labour to have 304 seats (rather than 295), and the Conservative grouping, along with the Liberals, to have 309 (rather than 318). So we are 9 out each way. The real disproportionality crept in with Labour avoiding Northern Ireland, allowing the Conservatives to have 9 allies from the Province.

While this was Labour's greatest triumph, they could no longer benefit from a divided opposition, and the anti-Labour vote was expressed as nearly as efficiently as it could be, sending Labour into 13 years of Opposition.