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.