Sunday, 14 May 2017

Local Diversity Representation

Phew! That's a bit of a mouthful; but the other title I came up with was probably too jokey: "Diversity isn't where a Welsh poet lives" (Dai Verse city.)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to look at my local elected Council and see how it measures up in regards to gender mix and ethnic diversity. It's only because Labour have for years attempted to 'weaponise' these topics – as we have all witnessed when they fling labels around such as 'sexist!' and 'racist!' (the exclamation marks have in effect part of the word) – so I wondered how the party groups were doing in these two respects, partly as a break from all the current General Election activity. In particular: have Labour put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

Because we have had so many changes over the years, including several party defections and a few by-elections – even since the last local elections just two years ago – that the only sensible way to tackle this is to look at the state of the party groups as they are today (there are no Independents) which means just Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. I found this council web-page useful for reference.

First, the gender mix: here are the numbers of male (M) and female (F) councillors in each party group, followed in each case by the percentage female…

Conservatives (38) – 28 (M); 10 (F); 26% F

Labour (15) – 9 (M); 6 (F); 40% F

UKIP (2) – 2 (M); 0 (F); 0% F

Overall (55) – 39 (M); 16 (F); 29% F

Okay: that's not bad for Labour, actually, and okay for the Conservatives – though those who are avid 'equality' freaks will no doubt be less pleased. Personally, I have never been concerned about these matters – which is probably why it has taken me so many years to post about this! It was actually inspired by something I read about Emmanuel Macron's mostly-white campaign team just minutes before I started writing this; also because of the 'diversity' theme of tonight's Eurovision Song Contest  – which was presented by three white males, by the way…

Right: on to ethnic mix now. It's the same style of tabulation for this, with (W) meaning 'white' and (E) standing for 'ethnic', as these are the preferred terms, as I understand the thinking to be this week. No doubt it will change soon enough(!)

Conservatives (38) – 33 (W); 5 (E); 13% E

Labour (15) – 14 (W); 1 (E); 7% E

UKIP (2) – 2 (W); 0 (E); 0% E

Overall (55) – 49 (W); 6 (E); 11% E

Poor UKIP really don't have enough members to do much about their participation in this diversity exercise – and to be fair to them, when they did have three members (up until several months ago) the third was at least female. Labour, though, are sadly lacking here – and they are the ones who kick up a fuss about these things. Next time they do so, feel free to fling this back at them!

Though there isn't any completely up-to-date census data on this, I think the overall figure is roughly proportional to the mix in our local population of some quarter of a million souls, perhaps a fraction high if anything.

Whether this exercise will prove to have been of any value or not remains to be seen – but at least we have the information on record in a form that might come in handy for reference purposes

Friday, 12 May 2017

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

As many of those folk who have known me for a long time, and especially in close-up, will already know, I am a very strong believer in a healthy democracy. This needs at least two (but hopefully not too many) political parties with credible policies and a reasonable hope of being elected to government.

We have increasingly lacked that proper structure here in Britain, which is why I have (as many readers will be aware) been playing a small part in trying to fix the issue. For the past nearly seven years this has meant trying to find a replacement main opposition party to the Conservatives – whose ongoing tenure in government seemed to me assured for many years to come – in the knowledge that Labour were going to more or less destroy themselves in about half a dozen years.

As I told people in the second half of 2010 and later, I knew that Labour had set themselves upon an irreversible path to their own demise once they had installed Ed[ward] Miliband as their party leader – though I doubt any of them believed me back then. The party was turning to the left, and then some. Now, of course, those people perhaps understand at least something of why I made that bold claim, and with such conviction.

Fast-forward to today and what do we find?

Labour continued to turn leftward, eventually and inevitably installing the real party-killer (Ed-M was just the catalyst that made it not only possible, but just about unavoidable) Jeremy Corbyn. It had to happen. Equally predictably, this move allowed the ever-lurking out-and-out Communists to infiltrate and dominate the party, using the movement they created called Momentum. Their long-awaited day had come!

Thus today's Labour party has become the wolf in sheep's clothing, and is busy transforming the party from within. The parliamentary party has, as they'd have expected, become a serious problem, because of all those pesky 'moderate', 'Blairite' or 'blue Labour' MPs as the current leadership (and especially Momentum) brands them.

Thus we are seeing a number of more 'suitable' candidates for the upcoming General Election being parachuted in to safe Labour seats, while the less safe seats are becoming more marginal in the present political climate so will probably be voted out of office anyway – not a significant issue, then.

The Labour party manifesto for this election reads like something that wouldn't have gone amiss in former Communist East Germany – and its supposedly draft version was leaked to two news outlets so that it became in effect de facto policy. As I posted on social media less than a day ago, the idea was to make it effectively impossible for the party to materially change anything – and indeed at the meeting to discuss any such changes that was held later in the day, it was reported as just 'tinkering' and making no substantive alterations.

Thus the Corbynite faction have what they have sought all along: the leader they wanted, the now-official policies they wanted, and their own/preferred people forming a majority of their parliamentary party a month from now.

This was the real reason they embraced the 'snap' election so readily: not to win it (they knew that wasn't possible) but to transform Labour into a genuine Communist Party disguised as something else, even if the camouflage isn't exactly fooling most people. Still, they have enough supporters for their needs, considerable evidence of which I continually find in various places.

Such a wolf can never again be a suitable alternative party to the Conservatives. As I said seven years ago, Labour had set itself upon a one-way street to destruction: there can be no way back. Perhaps, as some have surmised, they will split as they once did when the SDP was formed by 'the Gang of Four' more than a generation ago. If so, though, it will be for the same actual reason (i.e. not the public face) which will be currently-elected members seeking to avoid losing their seats – self-interest, in other words, so this would not make a breakaway party trustworthy.

With UKIP now losing support hugely, the party falling apart internally (which has been going on for some time now) and rapidly becoming a 'dead end', as I labelled them a few years back; the Greens continuing to fool nobody so with barely three percent support; and a slowly resurgent Liberal Democrat party as the only other even vaguely realistic alternatives; it is the last of these that – for all its faults – looks like being the only conceivable future opposition party out of those currently in existence.

What about possible new parties, though?

The wealthy UKIP financial supporter Arron Banks has been rumoured to be creating a new party, a kind of UKIP Mk 2 that is provisionally being called "The Patriotic Alliance" – but all has gone very quiet on that front for the past two months; i.e. from well before the snap election was called, so the current hiatus wasn't caused by that.

So, in conclusion, what we expect to happen in the next few months? Theresa May's Conservatives look set for a landslide win in next month's General Election. After that, Labour might or might not split, Arron Banks' new party might or might not be launched, and the Lib Dems might or might not continue to climb up the pecking order. It looks like interesting times ahead!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Counting the County

A luxury of sorts that we have here in Medway is that our Unitary Council deals with matters that a county council would handle in a dual-tiered area, as well as the borough matters. Thus Medway Council deals with education and highways (for example) as well as waste collection and libraries, among other topics.

Therefore, when it comes to county council elections, we can sit back and relax while the rest of Kent goes to the polls. This is what happened yesterday; and many other elections were going on around the country, from county and district/town/borough to mayoral elections and even a by-election in the nearby Tonbridge & Malling council area.

Despite there being no impact in my home area, I felt that this was all so significant on this occasion – especially falling so close to the snap General Election next month – that I stayed up all last night to follow the results as they came in. I resumed at mid-morning to get the results from those places that did not count their votes overnight but had waited until the morning to make a start. These included Kent County Council, in whom I was understandably most interested.

Anyway, there were 81 seats being contested in various 'divisions' as they are called, some having one seat and others having two seats. This was down three seats from the previous 84, owing to some boundary changes. The resulting seat counts were as follows…

Conservatives 67 seats
Liberal Democrats 6,
Labour 5
Green 1
Liberal Democrat Focus Team 1
Swanscombe & Greenhithe Residents' Association (SGRA) 1


Note especially that UKIP, who had 17 seats before the election, were completely wiped out – something that happened almost universally around all of Great Britain where elections were held on this occasion. Altogether, GB-wide, UKIP lost over 50 councillors, and retained just one.

The oddity with the Lib Dem designations has meant that officially the party group comprises six members – already more than Labour so making the yellows the official opposition group – but in practice the 'Focus Team' member will undoubtedly form part of that group. Labour's membership, meanwhile, has lost more than half of its former twelve seats.

Overall, this is a healthy step-change for the county council in clearing out much of the deadwood, though in the longer term it needs to achieve a less one-sided make-up, which could lead to cosiness and stagnation. That, though, is for the next elections in four years from now.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Snap Election

I had been wondering for some time just how much longer Prime Minister Theresa May could put off seeking a snap General Election in the wake of all the derailing threats that other parties were making in the Commons, more especially in the Lords, and elsewhere in the country regarding the Brexit process. Although I wasn't exactly expecting it to happen, I had been watching daily for signs of a change of heart from the PM's previous position.

It has now happened, in a clear-cut case of cause-and-effect. If the others had not behaved as they did (and still are) then this would not have become necessary. It is as simply and correctly stated as that. The election will be held on 8 June, just seven weeks from tomorrow.

Because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, this has necessitated a Motion to be voted on in the House of Commons, and Royal assent after that. The first hurdle was completed a few hours ago as I write this, with well over 500 MPs agreeing to the General Election, and just 13 (nine of them Labour) MPs voting against. This comfortably exceeds the requirement of at least 2/3 of the full House assenting – the minimum thus being 434 out of the 650.

The general assumption is that the Conservatives will hugely increase their majority, which was just 12 seats after the previous election. I believe top psephologist Michael Thrasher (of Thrasher & Rallings fame) anticipates an overall majority of something like 120 or so. My own estimate, just for the record, is 165 plus-or-minus 9% of that figure: in effect, between 150 and 180.

A new spanner in the works, though – if it goes ahead – is a move to create an 'unholy alliance' of main opposition parties (Labour Lib Dems, SNP, perhaps Green) to field just one cross-party candidate in each target Conservative seat, so that all the non-Conservative votes will (they think) go to that candidate. As many Conservative MPs were elected with less than 50% of the actual vote, this suggests that the one significant opponent could take the seat, ultimately depriving Mrs May of an overall majority.

Thus goes the theory, demonstrating one-dimensional thinking in the process. Of course we can ignore fringe candidates like the perennial 'Save the NHS' and others of a similar nature, as well as the likes of TUSC and the always-entertaining Official Monster Raving Looney participants. This is nitty-gritty stuff. On the other hand, there is also UKIP, but their influence is waning.

If this scheme should go ahead, it makes two fatal errors: (1) that the electorate will vote the same way they did last time, or in the current polls, polarised into voting for any candidate who is not-Conservative regardless of party designation. The news is that they will not: people are already declaring wholesale that they will vote Conservative this time. Number (2) is the same for UKIP voters from last time and who have stated so to pollsters: they too are switching in large numbers to the Blue candidate.

Thus such an approach seems likely (I think certain) to fail; and if anything it will probably result in Mrs May gaining an even larger overall majority than my seemingly optimistic estimate. I say 'estimate' because – as those who have followed my prediction will know by now – I don't make any firm predictions until I know who is on the ballot paper, the day the Statements of Persons Nominated are published.

That is how I have been able to be so devastatingly accurate in the past…

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Reckless Abandon

The news today is that Mark Reckless – once upon a time Conservative MP for near-to-me Rochester & Strood constituency, who then switched party to UKIP – has now resigned from that party too. Just like his friend of many years, Douglas Carswell MP, he is now sitting as an Independent, though he is no longer an MP but a member of the Welsh Assembly.

Somewhat like the European Parliament, Assembly Members (AMs) can sit with a particular political grouping if they wish, and if they are accepted, and it appears that Mark R. will be sitting with the Conservative Group in that structure. As far as I am aware, he has not re-joined his original party, and I don't think they would want him – at least not unless and until he has demonstrated true loyalty to them this time, I can well imagine.

This is quite possibly what this 'grouping' move is intended to demonstrate over time, in the hope that he will be invited back in a year or two. It could be that he wants to be an MP again, and sees no chance of that happening if he had stayed within UKIP. Not only was he unlikely to be selected as a candidate (because he was not much liked within that party) but recent election results – including the by-election a few weeks ago where their leader Paul Nuttall stood and failed to take the seat, carrying on the tradition of his predecessor – show that the party is unable to win seats.

With opinion poll figures for UKIP showing a downward trend for a long time now, and vote share in by-elections dropping hugely, the writing was on the wall: there is seemingly no electoral future in UKIP. This surely at least partly explains why both Douglas and Mark have now left the party, and at this specific time. The official line is that with the triggering of Article 50, their work within UKIP is now complete. It's plausible, though I am sceptical.

That event did provide a convenient excuse on the occasion of this second resignation – but it does not account for the timing of the Carswell departure, which was a little before that date, in a kind of 'no man's land' on the political calendar – and the two departures must be viewed together, just as their both joining UKIP was staggered just weeks apart, and of course because of their long friendship.

Overall, I don't see today's change making much difference to anyone outside Wales, and probably very little change there either. I shall keep a weather eye on what develops over time; but that, I think, is all it warrants.