Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Election

Last week, I wrote a preview of the upcoming (23 February 2017) Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, one of two taking place on that day

https://ianrmillard.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/stoke-on-trent-central-preview/.

Now that the main candidates are declared, I am ready to expand on that and to predict the result as best one can a month before polling.

The Stoke Central constituency has existed since 1950 and the Labour Party has won every election since then. Until Tristram Hunt appeared in 2010, the Labour vote varied between 48% and 68%. Hunt’s votes have been 38.8% (2010) and 39.3% (2015). Stoke Central has moved from being a Labour safe seat to one which can be regarded as marginal:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoke-on-Trent_Central_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections

The Labour vote in 2015 was about 12,000, that of both UKIP and Conservatives about 7,000. The Liberal Democrats, until 2015 the second party, crashed to fifth place (behind an Independent) with 1,296 votes. In fact, the LibDem vote in 2010 was 7,000, the same as the UKIP vote in 2015, perhaps a sign that the “protest vote” bloc at Stoke Central is around 7,000 or so. Arguende. The LibDem candidate for the by-election is Zulfiqar Ali, a consultant cardiologist, who lost his deposit (vote share 4.2%) in the 2015 General Election.

Tristram Hunt, the outgoing-going-gone Labour Party MP, was never very popular in his own constituency, though London TV studios loved him. He made no bones about despising the leader of his own party, tried and failed to formulate policy of his own and was surprisingly bad (for someone of his background and education) at arguing his points when (as so often) being interviewed.

Hunt stepped down as MP in order to take a job as Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. MP pay is about £74,000 (plus generous expenses); the V&A Director presently gets a package worth £230,000. Hunt may be getting more. No wonder that he said that “the V&A offer was too good to refuse.” So much for political conviction, vocation and, indeed, loyalty (whether to party or constituents). Stoke Central is well rid of him.

The Labour candidate in the by-election is Gareth Snell, a still fairly young former leader of the Borough Council of Newcastle-under-Lyme (3-4 miles from Stoke-on-Trent). His selection indicates that Labour are going to play on local roots and try to pretend that God is in His Heaven and Jeremy Corbyn far away, Corbyn being (arguably?) an electoral liability (seen as a credible future Prime Minister by only 16% in a recent poll).

The Conservatives have not been even the second party at Stoke Central since 2001. This by-election is one which will be decided between Labour and UKIP. The recent Theresa May Brexit speech may well have shot UKIP’s fox overall, but at Stoke Central no-one is expecting a Conservative win or even a Conservative second. The Conservative candidate is Jack Brereton, 25, who was elected at age 19 to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Since the 2001 General Election, the second and third-placed candidates at Stoke-on-Trent Central have received very similar numbers of votes (behind victorious Labour).

UKIP, joker in the pack. Paul Nuttall, a Northerner who was recently elected leader of UKIP, is the candidate. He must have a chance despite his partly-“libertarian” views (of which Labour is making the most, of course, claiming that Nuttall believes in NHS privatization). UKIP has a steep climb in the by-election, but it is possible. This is a by-election. The result will not affect who governs the UK. People can protest with their votes. Labour is now seen as the pro-mass immigration party and the pro-EU party. Stoke Central voted nearly 70% for Leave in the EU Referendum.

If turnout is low, if the 2015 Labour vote halves to about 6,000, if the 2015 UKIP vote mostly holds up at 7,000 or not much less, then UKIP can win. If.

It is not credible to imagine a win for the Conservatives or LibDems and they will vie for most votes not going to Labour or UKIP, but this is very much a Labour/UKIP contest. If enough people (eg 2015 Conservative voters) vote tactically for UKIP, UKIP has a good chance. On the other hand, many 2015 LibDem or Green voters may also vote tactically for Labour.

In 2015, an Independent got over 2,000 votes. Will those votes go to UKIP, now that that candidate has not renewed his candidature? Open question.

Unemployment is high, immigration is high and having had Labour MPs for 66 years has not prevented either in recent times. There is strong cultural resistance in the seat to the Conservative Party. UKIP is the insurgent here.

Prediction

The bookmakers still have Labour as odds-on to win the by-election and it would be tempting to call it as a Labour-UKIP-Conservative 1-2-3, but I am going to be bold and say that Paul Nuttall and UKIP can crack this. The seat must be one of the best chances UKIP has had or will have: anti-EU, pro-Leave, anti-mass immigration, disenchanted with the System parties and very much a “left-behind” area. Also, Tristram Hunt abandoning the seat for a quarter-of-a-million-pound job must sit badly in an area which is one of the poorest in England. In addition, Nuttall has the cachet, such as it is, of being his party’s leader.

In sum, I see the 1234 as: 1.UKIP; 2.Labour; 3.Conservative; 4.LibDem.

Effect

If the result is as I have predicted, it will push even more anti-Corbyn Labour MPs to jump ship and it will weaken Labour even further in the North (it being of little importance now in Scotland or most of the South of England). If Labour hangs on to win, then everything depends on the majority obtained but it might well be just a slower car crash.

Copeland By-Election: Watershed?

Three weeks ago, I wrote a preliminary blog post about the upcoming Copeland by-election

https://ianrmillard.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/the-copeland-by-election-the-blog-before-the-blog/

in which I examined the history of the constituency. I also took a look at the factors influencing the present by-election. The time has now come to attempt a prediction with reference to wider political trends.

The Copeland constituency has been in existence on its current boundaries since 1983. The previous constituency, Whitehaven (created during the electoral reform of 1832), was rock-solid Labour (often over 60%) from 1935 until the boundaries were changed in 1983

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitehaven_(UK_Parliament_constituency)

The Copeland constituency has continued Labour since its creation: the Labour vote reached its high-water mark in 1997, in the Tony Blair landslide. In that year, the Labour candidate achieved a vote of over 58%:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections_in_the_1990s.

His successor, Jamie Reed, started off in 2005 with a Labour vote of 50.5%. However, the Labour vote share has steadily declined since then, most recently to 42% in 2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections_in_the_2010s

The Conservative vote has been more volatile, ranging in various elections from 29% to 43%. The Conservatives achieved nearly 36% in 2015, only one point down on their 2010 showing.

The UKIP vote in Copeland has mirrored in a modest way that of much of the country: 2.2% in 2005, 2.3% (beaten by the BNP, which got 3.4%) in 2010, jumping to 15.5% in 2015.

The Liberal Democrats have never done very well in Copeland, their vote share flickering around the 10% mark, not exceeding that in 2010 (one point down from their 2005 showing in fact), then crashing to 3.5% in the 2015 debacle.

In 2010, the Green Party stood for the first time since 1987 but received a vote of less than 1%. That improved to 3% in 2015.

There are several factors which do not bode well for Labour:

  • Jamie Reed may be seen as a “rat leaving the sinking ship”, having taken a potentially lucrative position with the company which operates the constituency’s largest employing entity (by far), the Sellafield nuclear plant. That may seep into perceptions of Labour MPs as a whole;
  • recent polling shows Labour nationally as having the support of only 25% of voters;
  • the same polling shows that Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a potential Prime Minister by only 16% of voters;
  • Copeland voted heavily for Leave in the EU Referendum;
  • Copeland is believed to be hostile to the mass immigration which Labour and its embattled leader seem unwilling to criticize, let alone promise to halt.

Labour has now selected as candidate a local councillor, Gillian Troughton, a former medical doctor and supporter of the nuclear industry, in which her husband works. That may help Labour’s campaign, as will her support for the NHS and the local hospital, but Labour’s problems locally stem from its general decline nationally and its generally pro-EU, pro-mass immigration positions.

Traditionally, the Conservative vote in Copeland comes from particular communities along the coast and inland and that vote seems to be rather solid. There is no reason to suppose that the Conservative vote will not hold up fairly well, bearing in mind Theresa May’s recent stance on Brexit and also the immigration question.

Recently-stagnating UKIP can probably expect a surge in its vote, though it seems that the party will probably not be able to do well enough to win, which would require its 2015 vote to increase by at least 50% and probably more. However, UKIP will probably be able to garner votes from disaffected 2010 and 2015 Labour voters.

Turnout is key. In 2015, the Labour vote was 16,750, the Conservatives received 14,186, but UKIP’s vote was only 6,148. It is quite likely that former Labour voters will not so much vote Conservative or even UKIP, but simply stay at home and refuse to support Labour. If turnout slumps, particularly among those former Labour voters, then the Conservatives might well pull ahead of Labour , especially if the UKIP vote increases .

Prediction

Conservatives to win Copeland, with UKIP second and Labour third.

Effect

Only once in 35 years and twice in 60 years has a by-election seat been lost by the official Opposition party. If that happens in Copeland (even leaving aside the result of the simultaneous by-election at Stoke-on-Trent Central), Labour will go into a tailspin.  If Labour is pushed into third place, that effect will be magnified immeasurably.

Corbyn has made it clear that he will not resign whatever happens. Failure at Copeland would lead either to a second attempt to depose Corbyn via leadership challenge or (more likely) to a mass exodus of anti-Corbyn careerists, Blairites, Brownites and Zionists following Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt out of the House of Commons and possibly out of the Labour Party. If that exodus, in turn, leads to the loss of further Labour seats, then it is hard to see Labour recovering. Ever.

We may be seeing the death of one of the two major (i.e. long-established, sometimes governing) political parties, something that has not occurred since the collapse of the Liberal Party in the 1920s.

Stoke-on-Trent Central: Preview

I shall blog in more detail about the upcoming by-election at Stoke-on-Trent Central when the runners and riders are fixed. This is merely an advance viewing of the contest based on the background.

Tristram Hunt, the Labour Party MP, was never very popular in his own constituency, though London TV studios loved him. He made no bones about despising the leader of his own party, tried and failed to formulate policy of his own and was surprisingly bad (for someone of his background and education) at arguing his points when (as so often) being interviewed on TV.

Hunt stepped down as MP in order to take a job as Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. MP pay is £74,000 (plus generous expenses); the V&A Director presently gets a package worth £230,000. Hunt may be getting more. No wonder he said that “the V&A offer was too good to refuse.” So much for political conviction, vocation and, indeed, loyalty (whether to party or constituents). Stoke Central is well rid of him.

The Stoke Central constituency has existed since 1950 and the Labour Party has won every election since then. Until Hunt appeared in 2010, the Labour vote varied between 48% and 68%. Hunt’s votes have been 38.8% (2010) and 39.3% (2015). Stoke Central has moved from being a Labour safe seat to one which can be regarded as marginal:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoke-on-Trent_Central_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections

The Labour vote in 2015 was about 12,000, that of both UKIP and Conservatives about 7,000. The LibDems, until 2015 the second party, crashed to fifth place (behind an Independent) with 1,296 votes. In fact, the LibDem vote in 2010 was 7,000, the same as the UKIP 2015 vote, perhaps a sign that the “protest vote” bloc at Stoke Central is around 7,000 or so. Arguende.

The Conservatives have not even been the second party at Stoke Central since 2001. This by-election is one which will be decided between Labour and UKIP. The recent Theresa May Brexit speech may well have shot UKIP’s fox overall, but at Stoke Central no-one is expecting a Conservative win or even a Conservative second.

Can UKIP win? The answer, even at this stage, must be a qualified “yes”. Much will depend on its candidate and that of Labour. If Paul Nuttall, a Northerner, stands, he must have a chance despite his partly-“libertarian” views. UKIP has a steep climb but it is possible. This is a by-election. The result will not affect who governs. People can protest with their votes. Labour is now seen as the pro-mass immigration party, the pro-EU party (to an extent). Stoke Central voted about 65% for Leave in the EU Referendum.

If turnout is low, if the 2015 Labour vote halves to about 6,000, if the 2015 UKIP vote mostly holds up at 7,000 or not much less, then UKIP can win. If.

It is not credible to imagine a win for the Conservatives or LibDems and they will vie for most votes not going to Labour or UKIP, but this is a Labour/UKIP contest. If enough people vote tactically for UKIP, UKIP has a good chance. On the other hand, 2015 LibDem or Green voters may also vote tactically for Labour.

Unemployment is high, immigration is high and having had Labour MPs for 66 years has not prevented either.

Labour must still be odds-on to win Stoke Central at this point, but UKIP has a serious chance.

The Internet: Privatization of Public Spaces

I have been concerned for some years about how “public space” on the Internet is really just privately-owned space. Offline, there are sometimes concerns raised about how parks and other spaces, which are usually open to the public, are made less than fully open to the public by the imposition of charges, fees or conditions. In fact, there have in the past often been fees and conditions imposed on entry to parks etc, but in those cases those unable or unwilling to comply could go elsewhere. That is not always so online.

In the offline world, there are public markets and competition between marketplaces in various ways. Online, though the same may be true superficially, the reality is that a few key players operate in a quasi-monopolistic manner. Facebook, Twitter, ebay, Amazon have little real competition. The private individual is granted access to these spaces essentially at the will or whim of the proprietor. If expelled, the individual has no redress save appeal (and not by right) to the website itself. There are no means to go to law to enforce re-admittance, because the relationship between the website and the individual is one based on contract and the contractual power lies with the website.

Taking Amazon and intruding a personal note to make the argument more concrete, for 2 or 3 years (up to 2011 or 2012) I reviewed books on Amazon (at one time I owned over 2,000 books and bought one every few days). I was on the Amazon UK “Top 100 reviewers” list and the vast majority of those who voted or commented liked my reviews and found them helpful. Very few hated what I wrote but one of that tiny handful (literally about 3 or 4 people) was a Jew who objected to some of my reviews because they examined events 1933-45 from a revisionist (truth-seeking) perspective. This person trolled virtually every review I wrote, “commenting” sarcastically on each, insulting me as well as my reviews, trying to bait me to argue with him (with the obvious idea of then screaming “antisemitism!” and “hate speech” and getting me chucked off Amazon, of course. “They” do the same on Twitter etc).

After about 2 years, the aforesaid Jew (who, by the way, operated under a pseudonym, as the same sort of trolls often do on Twitter) managed to interest the Jewish Chronicle in his complaint. The Jewish Chronicle wrote about my reviews, the attention resulting in my being barred from reviewing books on Amazon. About a third of my reviews were removed. Oddly enough, those reviews were removed en bloc. Most had nothing to do with the 1933-1945 era, National Socialism, Jews, Israel etc. There was no possibility of appeal, not even to the site itself.

I then started to review books on the American Amazon site. The same occurred before long, except that this time the same Jew must have contacted Amazon directly after complaining about me under my reviews (all of them…), because all of those reviews on the US site disappeared overnight and I was barred without warning. No appeal, no explanation. So much for American “free speech”!

The above illustrates the problem. While there are other online booksellers, some of which allow reviews, in the end the reviewer, the citizen, is there as guest of the website and can be chucked off at any time. Amazon’s position is quasi-monopolistic, yet it is not merely a retailer but a provider of what amounts to a public intellectual forum.

Twitter is the same: if someone is barred from Twitter, he is effectively muzzled, his right of freedom of expression taken away. He has no redress (though Twitter itself does give a possibility of appeal). It is not good enough to say that “other sites exist”. Twitter is in a global quasi-monopolistic position.

Tellingly, the Zionists and others (but mostly Zionists) often make the point that barring someone from Facebook, Twitter etc is not an attack on free speech because those sites are “private platforms” and can get rid of unwanted authors at will.

The privatization of public online space is wrong. The solution is to give the citizen a legal right to appeal against removal from any website which has more than x number of users or subscribers. The present situation is an unwarranted extension of the economic sphere into the sphere of law and rights.

Free Speech: Individuality and Collectivity

Rudolf Steiner often spoke of the ever-increasing individualism in our age (that period which he named the “Fifth Post-Atlantean Age”, which started around 1400 AD and is due to run until about 3500 AD). This is an inevitable continuing process and will bring many benefits if people are guided by conscience. However, if people are not guided by individual conscience, the forces of the individual will tear apart society.

Against the forces of individualism stands “society”, which encompasses law, unwritten “laws” of convention and expectation and also the powers of the State (which holds itself out as the concrete expression of the people as a whole).

Society is, of course, a good thing. In proper measure, it makes possible and supports such aspects of life as law, public order, organized help for the sick, disabled, elderly, poor etc. It is a structure which supports the family, too. It also provides, via the State,  the structure for defence against outside forces (hostile states, natural calamities etc). However, if taken too far, society and/or the State becomes oppression, involving the repression of individual liberty in various ways (most obviously, perhaps, suppression of free speech or other freedom of expression).

Society restricts freedom of speech. It is hard to imagine a society beyond the most primitive or germinal in which complete freedom of speech exists (eg spoken or written threats against the person). On the other hand, when society (the State, or perhaps a religious or political cult) prevents individual expression, reasonable restriction becomes unreasonable repression. One thinks, perhaps, of the more extreme socialist states of the 20th Century, such as the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, China under Mao Tse-Tung, Albania under Enver Hoxha, Cuba under Fidel Castro. The same was true of anti-socialist tyrannies such as Nicaragua under Somoza.

Particular emergency conditions may lead to a temporary tightening of what is regarded as acceptable free speech. In the Second World War, the various combatants restricted free speech considerably. In the UK, those who spoke out against the war or government policy faced both prosecution (State) and persecution (society generally). Even the USA, with its famous Constitutional safeguards, clamped down on freedom of expression.

As in other fields of life, we can see that the tension between the demands of the individual qua individual and those of the collective results in what amounts to a compromise. It is a question of either where society (in practice, usually the State, but possibly a smaller community such as a town or even a family) decides where the line is drawn, or where the individual draws the line, based on conscience or preference and regardless of where the State and/or society has drawn it.

Most people, most of the time, obey the dictates of the collective. Were that not so, law could not exist except as a facade with nothing behind it (cf. Stalin’s Russia etc); neither could the State or its power, in the end. On the other hand, the individual must always obey conscience and it therefore becomes vital to distinguish between individual conscience and individual wilfulness or egoism. No outside force can decide what is conscience and what is wilfulness or egoism. The individual, the individual human soul, is the only judge or arbiter here. Where the individual and the collective collide, the results can range from martyrdom of the individual to reform or even revolution affecting the collective.

Where do I myself, as both individual and citizen (i.e. part of the collective) draw the line? For me, freedom of expression about social, political and historical matters should be absolute. Other forms of expression (eg threats, libels, fraudulent misrepresentations) can be (and commonly are) restricted to a greater or lesser extent.

It follows from the above that I prefer the approach taken in the United States to that of most EU states (including the UK). Restrictions on freedom of expression are often imposed for or from outwardly “good” motives, but rapidly become a slippery slope with evil results. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Notes

  1.  http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/communications_sent_via_social_media/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_defamation_law
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

The Copeland By-Election: the blog before the blog

I intend to write in detail about the upcoming Copeland by-election, once the main nominations are announced; this is meant to be a preliminary post containing a few thoughts around the contest.

The Copeland constituency has been in existence on its current boundaries since 1983. The previous constituency, Whitehaven (created during the electoral reform of 1832), was rock-solid Labour (often over 60%) from 1935 until the boundaries were changed in 1983

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitehaven_(UK_Parliament_constituency)

The Copeland constituency has continued Labour since its creation: the Labour vote reached its high-water mark in 1997, in the Tony Blair landslide. In that year, the Labour candidate achieved a vote of over 58%

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections_in_the_1990s

and his successor, Jamie Reed, started off in 2005 with a Labour vote of 50.5%. However, the Labour vote share has steadily declined since then, most recently to 42% in 2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections_in_the_2010s

The Conservative vote has been more volatile, ranging in various elections from 29% to 43%. The Conservatives achieved nearly 36% in 2015, only one point down on their 2010 showing.

The UKIP vote in Copeland has mirrored in a modest way those in much of the country: 2.2% in 2005, 2.3% (beaten by the BNP on 3.4%) in 2010, jumping to 15.5% in 2015.

The Liberal Democrats have never done very well in Copeland, their vote share flickering around the 10% mark, not exceeding that in 2010 (one point down from their 2005 showing in fact), then crashing to 3.5% in the 2015 debacle.

In 2010, the Green Party stood for the first time since 1987 but received a vote of less than 1%. That improved to 3% in 2015. There has been debate in Green circles about whether they should withdraw, so as to give Labour their small vote share but (leaving aside the question of whether Green voters do actually favour Labour in lieu –some vote UKIP, according to polls–), the Liberal Democrats seem to be unwilling to withdraw, so it seems likely that the Greens will stand. Copeland contains the Sellafield (formerly Windscale) nuclear plant [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield], which all Labour candidates and MPs to date have backed strongly (it is the biggest –and best-paying–employer by far in the constituency). Indeed, Jamie Reed stood down as MP in order to take up a lucrative (and secure) position at Sellafield.

Jamie Reed was one of the earliest rebels against Jeremy Corbyn, indeed the first to throw down the gauntlet after Corbyn became Labour leader. This is a “rat leaves sinking ship scenario” and very obviously so. Copeland voted Leave in the EU Referendum; Reed is strongly pro-EU. The constituency is also anti-immigration despite having relatively few immigrants and/or non-whites.

Choice of candidate will be key, especially for Labour. Word is that local Labour is not only pro-Sellafield, but anti-Corbyn. If their choice prevails, the candidate will be the same. That might (arguably) help Labour somewhat, but Labour’s generally pro-EU and also pro-mass-immigration stance will not.

Turnout will be very important too. Since the 1980s, turnout has gradually declined from over 83% at one time to not much beyond 60% in recent elections. By-elections usually have far lower turnouts than do general elections. That disadvantages Labour in this case.

Labour has lost the “incumbency factor”, Corbyn is little-regarded by the voting public, Labour is perceived to be pro-EU and pro-mass immigration, as well as disunited and (at least arguably) almost irrelevant. There is also the point that Labour’s Jamie Reed resigned for purely selfish motives (no future as a Labour MP, at least under Corbyn’s leadership; lucrative business career in prospect). These factors will not assist turnout and will not assist Labour.

Jamie Reed’s majority was 2,564 in 2015, 16,750 votes as against 14,186 for the Conservatives (UKIP got 6,148). The Conservatives are tipped by the bookmakers, for what that is worth. Certainly Conservative voters have all to play for here. On the other hand, Labour voters might well be very unenthusiastic. They may not switch votes, but will more likely vote with their feet by staying at home.

If Labour’s vote were to be reduced by about half and the Conservatives’ by about a third, that would leave Labour with (in rough figures) maybe 9,000 votes, the Conservatives with 9,500. This could run very close indeed.

The joker in the pack is, appropriately, UKIP. Even on basis of the above scenario and even if all 2015 UKIP voters vote UKIP this time, it still leaves UKIP with a steep climb. To win, UKIP is going to have to increase its 2015 vote by at least 50%, from 6,000 to (at least) 9,000. On the other hand, it is that kind of shock result that goes down in political history. These things happen. UKIP now has a Northerner as leader. That may help.

So far, UKIP since 2015 has fulfilled my predictions: stagnation (at best) rather than upsurge. Copeland might just provide a (one-off?) breakthrough for UKIP, but only if all the cards were to fall right: a good UKIP candidate, a poor Labour one, helpful headlines around polling day.

This by-election was always going to be close to call. In the absence of nominations, I am not yet ready to call it, but the result will be significant in its effects: the closest by-election since the 2015 General Election. If Labour loses, other Labour MPs may jump ship (the newspapers suggest at least 20). That would of course also be the case, a fortiori, were Labour to come third, which is in fact not impossible, though it would have been unthinkable until recently.