What is happening in the UK election?

by Harry on April 24, 2010

Well?

Listening to the BBC and reading the papers I get no sense of the level of panic that it seems to me that the two major parties ought, it seems to me, to be feeling, nor of whether the pollsters have any idea how to model the sudden change in the LibDem popularity. (Fiddling with the BBC site indicates that the LibDems wouldn’t get many more seats even with 30% of the vote—I find it hard to believe that the designers have really thought out their assumptions beyond a 25% or so showing, which itself would be historic). 6 days in, the poll bump seems not to be going away. I’ve no idea whether the polled support for the LibDems will translate into actual votes or gain them more. Is the apparent absence of panic premised on a good understanding that this is all fake? Or is it just impressive acting?

More or less open thread.

{ 126 comments }

1

P O'Neill 04.24.10 at 7:09 pm

It is fascinating. Another factor not getting much attention in the overall discussion is that a regional party could have enough seats to be a facilitator of a minority government. The Tories have made a complete shambles of their NI pact but seats from there or Scotland could still matter. Which will be strange in the context of devolution but there you go.

2

Andrew Brown 04.24.10 at 7:31 pm

I don’t think anyone really believes the liberals can do it. Third parties have seemed within reach of a decisive breakthrough once a decade for forty years now — Orpington in 1962 (?); 1974; the founding of the SDP in 1983; even in the runup to the Blair landslide in 1997 it seemed possible Paddy Ashdown would be a kingmaker. So the politically interested have been here before and just can’t quite bring themselves to believe that this time will be different. The unspoken assumption, I think, is that even if the Lib Dems do very well this time, whoever forms a government with their support will be able to call another election in six months’ time and crush them. Despite all the evidence, no professional politician can really believe the electorate wants a hung parliament and a minority government.

3

Aosher 04.24.10 at 7:39 pm

The Tories are certainly panicking. Last Thursday, on the day of the second debate, stories were fed to the four main right-wing newspapers – the Sun, the Telegraph, the Mail and the Express – denouncing Nick Clegg in terms of various stridency (The Telegraphs story was an overblown, but accurate, question over an unusual accounting trick used by Clegg for some donations; the Mail frothed rabidly about “Nazi slurs” based on a Guardian column from 2002). The papers in question plead coincidence but there is evidence to suggest that the Conservatives slipped at least a few of the stories into the public domain. Meanwhile, Cameron and his crew have been talking up the negative aspects of a hung parliament (in which no party has a clear majority) – saying that it will lead to a stockmarket collapse, a run on the pound, and the potential of an IMF bailout.

Labour won’t be panicking, however – the Yellow Surge makes a hung parliament more likely, and may even keep Gordon Brown in power in a “Progressive Coalition” if Labour can retain a seat-lead. Brown went noticeably easier on Clegg in the debates than Cameron did. Some are predicting that Labour are a spent force in British politics. But if the Lib Dems erode the Tory lead enough, Labour could even win outright, even with a distant third place on the votes cast.

Speaking of the wacky effects of First Past The Post, the Lib Dems would have to get something close to 50% of the vote in order to get a simple majority in the House of Commons, so don’t bother expecting that. In fact, unless the Lib Dems get another wild jump, they will likely remain a distant third in terms of their numbers of seats in the House. The BBC seat calculator is based on a unified national swing (UNS), which is somewhat complicated: under UNS, the difference in the proportion of the national vote between the parties is compared with the differences logged at the previous election, and the differences between those differences (the “swing” from each party to the other party/ parties) is transplanted onto in all constituencies. This was broadly accurate when elections were two-horse races, but with three parties in the mix it becomes fearsomely complicated, and no-one really knows what the effect will be. In practice, UNS is actually too simplistic to be appropriate in this situation, as a great deal of each parties’ support will be amplified in seats in which they are incumbent or competitive. (The Tories, for example, won’t expect to see anything like 33% of the vote in Scotland, but will probably see 40%+ in many English seats, especially rural ones.) Add into the mix a much higher than usual projected turnout – likely to be 70%+, for the first time in decades – and we’re pretty much through the looking glass as far as predictions and projections go.

One thing is clear – the Lib Dem bump isn’t fake and does appear to be sustainable. The Lib Dems have made it clear that one of the main conditions of their support in a coalition scenario is electoral reform, in which the UK system will move to something closer to proportional representation. The main effect of this will be to ensure that the Lib Dems remain an electoral force even if they return to their more habitual 20% vote share (which, up until now, had usually meant around 10% of the seats in the Commons).

4

weserei 04.24.10 at 7:48 pm

Most swingometers out there are based on the idea of a party’s vote expanding and contracting in basically all available directions. In reality, there are at least 7 different groups of swing voters that may not respond in a coordinated way:

A) Tory/LD swingers
B) Labour/LD swingers
C) Tory/Labour swingers
D) Tory/minor party swingers
E) LD/minor party swingers
F) Labour/minor party swingers
G) True floaters
plus of course the additional categories in Scotland and Wales created by the SNP and Plaid.

These groups are, by simple law of averages, not evenly distributed, and many swing voters may not know, or be honest with themselves, about which one they are.

Now, no swingometer I’ve seen distinguishes between these categories–and very few pollsters make an effort to figure out what’s happening at this level. The Liberal Democrats’ gains in the last couple of weeks could be coming from any of A, B, E, and/or G. And given voting figure can mean (relatively speaking) that the Tories are winning with group A, the Lib Dems with group B, and Labour with group C–or that it’s the Lib Dems that are winning A voters, Labour that’s winning B voters, and the Tories that are winning C voters.

Based on the geographical distribution of vote shares, it seems that the Lib Dems have the most chance of picking up large numbers of seats if they win a lot of group A, because there are more Tory-LD marginals than Labour-LD marginals, at least for most values of “marginal.”

But the Liberal Democrats are probably still going to be banderjaxed by the geographical distribution of their vote. The Alliance got almost as many votes as Labour in its first general election and a minuscule fraction of the number of seats.

5

Harry 04.24.10 at 7:51 pm

Andrew — this is a different league from Oprington/SDP etc. National 30% in reliable polls on the eve of an election? I can see people might not believe it, but from here it seems like they’re just refusing to face a new reality. It was stupid to have the televised debates, no?

Aosher — thanks, that’s a big help — both the explanation and the analysis…

6

Naadir Jeewa 04.24.10 at 8:05 pm

I’ve tried to work with some regression models over here, but they underpredict Lib Dem seats, even for the 2005 elections.

Overall, I think it’s just that electoral geography in a FPTP system makes British 2.5/3 party politics even less representative of the popular vote than the US electoral college. It’s going to be like Bush v. Gore, only much worse.

7

Phil Ruse 04.24.10 at 8:13 pm

Perhaps one reason for a lack of panic is that they’ve seen it all before in the shape of massive SDP/Liberal popularity in the 80’s – and that never came to much. Admittedly it wasn’t so close to the election date :)

But if we want MP’s directly accountable to a local electorate as opposed to a centralised party then FPTP systems are always to be preferred to a proportional system. Technically we vote for the person, not the party.

8

hix 04.24.10 at 8:21 pm

One can always use the German system or at least the French to get some regional personality show and a much fairer representation of the electorate at the same time.

9

Barry 04.24.10 at 8:30 pm

Phil Ruse

It is not true that PR excludes accountability to local electorates, as can be seen by looking at elections already taking place in the UK, for the London assembly along with assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, along with various democracies around the world

The Liberal Democrat preferred form of PR (not would necessarily emerge from a cross-party agreement if such a thing does happen): STV in multi seat constituencies. This means larger constituencies, but more chance that a voter is represented by an MP of their preferred party.

It’s also possible to have directly elected MPs topped up by MPs elected on a list to preserve national or regional accountability

There’s also the d’Hondt system in which there are multi-seat constituencies with candidates elected by dividing the number of party votes by the number of available seats (rough summary)

10

MatGB 04.24.10 at 8:34 pm

Weserai’s mostly correct, with one addition.

Some of the Lib Dem vote is coming from former non-voters who’re energised and enthused for the first time ever. Turnout’s been falling for years, now with the LD campaign getting equal footing in the media they’ve got something to vote for (instead of against).

Tories are panicking, and it’s showing. Labour isn’t panicking as much, but probably should be.

The seat calculators, bTW, are mostly entirely wrong. UNS doesn’t work above 25%, the BBC works on UNS only. Doesn’t take into account local seat circumstance, doesn’t take into effect tactical voting, doesn’t take into effect campaigns on the ground.

One of the biggest swings this time isn’t going to be any of what Wiserai says though; I suspect biggest swing is going to be Labour to non-voter, followed by non-voter to Lib Dem.

All this is helped by the Tory campaign being absolutely awful, and focused almost entirely on negativity. My area is plastered with posters attacking Gordon Brown. There’s very little out saying positive stuff about the Conservatives.

Whereas pretty much every house in the constituency has had multiple multiple leaflets from their local LD Cllr reminding them they’re about, how good the LD candidate is, and how much support the party has now in what was a Labour held seat.

That’ll make a difference. OK, I’m biased, I helped write those leaflets, but the positive feedback has been immense, and that’s heartening.

11

Guano 04.24.10 at 8:41 pm

A few months ago the Labour Party expected to lose badly, so for the Labour Party the current situation is an improvement. The Conservative Party spent most of 2009 vilifying Gordon Brown personally and expected that David Cameron wouldn’t have to do much to win except say that he represented change. Unfortunately for him, the electorate saw Nick Clegg and thought that he represented change more than Cameron did. I think that the Conservative Party really is in panic: they haven’t got a narrative prepared for this situation .

12

Chris Hanretty 04.24.10 at 8:48 pm

@Naadir: Regression models predicting seat share on the basis of vote share under-predict LibDem seat share — even ones that go beyond the Tufte-inspired model you link to (http://www.dcern.org.uk/documents/ForecastingtheGeneralElectioninBritain-March2010.pdf). Plug in current poll figures to that model, and you get a low-ball result for the LibDems.

The difference between UNS and the most sophisticated model I’ve seen (basically UNS with a stochastic element and some tinkering around the edges) isn’t that huge. PoliticsHome suggests 98 seats for the LibDems based on their model; the UNS calculator at the BBC suggests 88 on the same split.

Either way, the LibDems need stonking huge pluralities in the opinion polls to get to serious triple figures.

@Phil: you can have proportional representation and still vote for an individual: just have multi-member constituencies, like they do in Ireland.

13

Danny Yee 04.24.10 at 9:01 pm

If a proportional voting system is too radical a change, why not start with preferential voting in the existing constituency system? It seems to me that that would help the Lib Dem’s, as they are likely to get more second preferences and would have a good chance in all the genuine three-way battles.

14

ConfusedAmerican 04.24.10 at 9:05 pm

Can someone direct me to a good discussion of why first-past the post is so disadvantageous to the Lib-Dems? Aren’t a lot of Labour and Tory votes concentrated in particular districts? That’s like majority-minority districts in the USA, which is bad for the party that’s over-concentrated. . . . Obviously I’m missing something but I haven’t been successful at finding a good discussion online. Thanks!

15

Doctor Science 04.24.10 at 9:06 pm

British 2.5/3 party politics even less representative of the popular vote than the US electoral college

As a USan, I am boggled. Surely that is not possible … What do you-all have that has *more* of a distorting effect than the US Sentate?

16

Hidari 04.24.10 at 9:11 pm

‘Andrew—this is a different league from Oprington/SDP etc. National 30% in reliable polls on the eve of an election? I can see people might not believe it, but from here it seems like they’re just refusing to face a new reality. It was stupid to have the televised debates, no?’

No it was stupid to allow Clegg to appear on the televised debates.

As usual to those who don’t live in the UK, the ‘atmosphere’ here, (not just the political atmosphere but that too) is extremely weird. People are extremely hostile to politicians (partly, but not just, because of the expenses scandal) but in the absence of any serious left wing opposition, there is nowhere for this feeling to go. I get the impression (possibly wrongly but this is my feeling) that there is possibly a bit more sympathy for the BNP and other radical parties of the Right than the mainstream media is letting on: certainly in a recent interview with Radio 1, immigration seemed to be the big topic that young people were borderline obsessed with. People are very angry and very scared about the (utterly appalling and getting worse) unemployment situation. Despite the ‘official’ line, people are (rightly in my opinion) worried about a double dip recession, and there are huge areas of the UK economy that give cause for concern.

Given that the public mood is more attuned to the radical right than the radical left (it’s a good thing for us all that Nick Griffin is so obviously a buffoon: a Pim Fonteyn or a Geert Wilders would probably sweep to power) Clegg is purely being successful on the platform of ‘Look! I am not David Cameron or Gordon Brown! Vote for me!’.

Certainly the most ‘liberal’ aspects of his programme are apparently out of step with increasingly right wing British voters.

17

Doctor Memory 04.24.10 at 9:13 pm

Doctor Science: a little thing called the “House of Lords”, on which the Senate’s institutional uselessness is closely modeled.

18

Harry 04.24.10 at 9:16 pm

Hidari – I agree the stupid thing was permitting Clegg in. I just think that having it without him would either have been illegal or politically infeasible.

19

Aosher 04.24.10 at 9:34 pm

Hidari – It’s worth noting that the Green party still has significantly more support than the BNP, and looks likely to gain two seats in this election (the BNP are vaguely competitive in just one). It’s probably also worth noting that right-left systems don’t map very well when it comes to the BNP – their anti-immigrant and protectionist instincts are as much old-Labour as Tory, and they draw much of their support from ex-Labourites disillusioned by Blair’s swing to the centre.

Harry – it wouldn’t have been illegal, as shown by the fact that other middleweight parties – not least the regional heavyweights in the SNP and Plaid Cymru – have been unable to force their way in despite a huge amount of lobbying on their part. It was more likely thrown to the Lib Dems as a sop – a hung parliament has been a strong possibility since well before the election was called, and before he became popular both of the other leaders invested a great deal of effort and capital in wooing Clegg and his party in the hopes of grooming him as a future (junior) coalition partner. I don’t think that Cameron’s team thought it would have quite the effect that it did.

20

Naadir Jeewa 04.24.10 at 9:51 pm

@Chris – Thanks for that.

@Doctor Science. The role of Duverger’s Law, combined with large chunks of the urban landscape being Labour safe seats despite low turnout, where the majority of seats exist.

21

Phil 04.24.10 at 9:54 pm

Andrew—this is a different league from Oprington/SDP etc. National 30% in reliable polls on the eve of an election?

The swing to the SDP in by-elections in 1982 was massive – I remember joking with a friend that they were going to end up breaking the mould of British politics by giving us a one-party state. At the 1983 election the Alliance ran Labour very close for second place, which was pretty extraordinary given that Labour had been in government four years before. So yes, we do feel we’ve seen it all before.

But there’s a broader point, which is that things are looking pretty grim here at the moment – all three of the main party leaders have been talking about the need for cuts after the election, and there’s widespread concern that the economy’s going to take another turn for the worse. Up till the leaders’ debates, people were resigned to the election being a referendum on Brown’s period in office, which he would lose, leading to the inevitable programme of cuts being overseen by Cameron. The problem is, people don’t like or trust Cameron. More to the point, people don’t really buy his “cometh the hour, cometh the Blair” act, for a variety of reasons. One is that he’s still Dave from PR – he’s just not that good at doing the conviction politics thing. Another is that he hasn’t actually done what Blair did, which is to sanitise his party for the centre ground by breaking with everything and everyone that seemed too ‘extreme’; the Tory hinterland still stretches a long way to the Right. (Cameron hasn’t even attacked the fringes of his party to the same extent that Major did.) And a fundamental reason is that the demand isn’t there in the same way that it was for Blair. Whatever people say now, the Tories were much more unpopular in 1997 than Labour is now – we really, really wanted rid of them.

Put all that together, and then tell the British people that actually Cameron isn’t the only possible alternative to Brown, and it’s not surprising that people are fairly sanguine. As for a hung parliament, well, we’ll give it a go – how bad can it be? Worse than Cameron? I can’t see it.

22

Metatone 04.24.10 at 9:54 pm

The reality is that the Tories are sloshing Ashcroft’s money around the marginals like water and all the polling of marginals suggests that it is working – they are on to take a narrow majority. Clegg-mania is just another false hope for the Lib Dems (and indeed anyone with an interest in improving the democratic responsiveness of the UK system of governance.)

UK pollling report has the figures.

23

yoyo 04.24.10 at 9:55 pm

Did cameron really have a choice about the debate? If Labour and Libdems both decide they want to get together and debate how Tories love making love to pigs, you sort of have to show up. It seems like it was inevitable once Labour got in such a bad spot.

24

Chris Hanretty 04.24.10 at 10:46 pm

@Metatone: I’m not sure the figures on UK Polling Report bear out your claim. On the latest IPSOS/Mori marginal polls I can see , the required swing for a majority is somewhere >> 5%, and the swing in those seats according to those polls is just at 5%, somewhere in hung parliament territory.

Now, it’s true that the swing from Labour to Conservative is higher in the marginals than in the country as a whole, but it doesn’t seem to me sufficiently big to get them out of hung parliament territory — which really requires quite a large swing indeed.

25

RK 04.25.10 at 1:06 am

It’s not at all obvious to me that PR is always and everywhere an improvement over the current system. You can make the proportion of seats a party gets reflect their proportion of the vote, but it’s much harder to make voting power correspond to voter preferences in a clear way. On some notions of what’s valuable in a political system, plurality voting in single-member districts actually works decently.

26

bruce 04.25.10 at 1:23 am

If the Economist is right about it taking 2 or 3 votes to elect a Tory, for every Labour member elected, and 10-15 to elect a Liberal Democrat for every Labour member? Then the Tories are right to panic, and Labour is right to not worry.

‘due to Labour’s regional strength’, as Colby Cosh says. Here I thought it was actionable gerrrymandering.

27

Doctor Science 04.25.10 at 2:44 am

Doctor Memory:

I thought the House of Lords was largely ornamental? Am I wrong? — or baffled, that will do. Wikipedia is not helping.

The US Senate is disproportionately weighted toward the lower-population, rural states, but it is *not* “institutionally useless”, oh no Precious. Senators have enormous, real power — it is rare for a Presidential race, like our last one, to be Senator v. Senator, but it is not a bizarre fluke.

28

Doctor Science 04.25.10 at 3:00 am

Naadir Jeewa:

The role of Duverger’s Law, combined with large chunks of the urban landscape being Labour safe seats despite low turnout, where the majority of seats exist.

… Confused USan is still confused. My question @15 was because, in the US, rural and lightly-populated states are notoriously over-represented in the electoral college. So for instance, California has 55 electoral college votes for a population of 37 million (1.4 million people/vote), whereas Wyoming has 3 electoral votes for a population of 544,000 (181,000 people/vote).

You seem to be saying the your system is unfait because … the majority of seats are going to the majority of the population? whut?

Generally speaking, y’all should keep talking about what’s going on. Given that we USan spent most of a year, a billion dollars, and an incredible proportion of the world’s political bandwidth talking about our last election, it’s refreshing to hear about something different.

29

bay of arizona 04.25.10 at 3:34 am

So people hate the incumbent, but saw the conservative alternative and hated them too. If there was a third party in the US it would be great for Democrats this year, in theory.

30

Naadir Jeewa 04.25.10 at 3:42 am

@Doctor Science. Hah, I’m confused too. I’ve spent the year studying American politics for a degree course, and could do with comparing it with my own country’s political system.

Well, a more detailed explanations goes as follows:

1. Labour voters are in the majority of Northern and urban areas, and the seats are won by Labour with slim to modest majorities, with vastly lower turnout than Tory seats. So Labour gets to maximize the distribution of votes available to them. In addition, urban constituencies are a smaller size, making them easier to win.

2. The majority of Conservative voters are situated in a smaller number of rural and Southern seats. Seats are won by massive majorities, meaning lots of votes are wasted shoring up the majority.

3. The Parliamentary Boundary Commission, tasked with redistricting, always uses population data from the beginning of the review period, so new boundaries are often 10 years out of date. As former Labour stronghold industrial areas shed their populations, their constituencies get smaller until the following round of redistricting.
This election is the first using the new post 2005 boundaries, so the tilt towards Labour should be reduced by 15% (which isn’t a big reduction given the size of the bias).

4. The growing popularity of Lib Dems and other parties eats into the anti-incumbent vote that would normally accrue to Conservative ala Nader in 2000.

Turnout’s likely to be higher this election, so perhaps the Labour bias will be reduced, but I wont count on it.

There’s more here (paywall)

31

william u. 04.25.10 at 3:47 am

“You seem to be saying the your system is unfait because … the majority of seats are going to the majority of the population? whut?”

Formally, there’s no disproportionate influence of unpopulated regions, as there is in the U.S. But consider this example: a system of single member, winner-take-all districts in a system of three parties: A, B, C. Parties A & B are competitive across the country, while party C is heavily concentrated in one region. Party C takes that region, while Party B is second to Party A in the rest of the country. It’s possible that Party B will have a greater share of the vote than Party C, but fewer seats.

Here are figures from the last Canadian general election:

party / popular / seats
Conservative, 37.7%, 46.4%
Liberals, 26.3%, 25%
Bloc, 9.98%, 15.9%
NDP, 18.2%, 12%
Greens, 6.8%, 0%

Note the outsized influence of the Bloc, while NDP (no longer a Western party, I guess) and the Greens get banderjaxed (whatever that means.)

32

william u. 04.25.10 at 5:19 am

“unpopulated regions”

er, underpopulated. Jarvis Island doesn’t exercise any tyranny over the mainland (yet.)

33

Andrew Brown 04.25.10 at 6:07 am

“Cometh the hour, cometh the Blair” — that’s lovely. If it’s true, then the election ought to be Clegg’s. He’s the best Blair of the candidates. If Cameron loses, then Boris Johnson gets his shot at being Berlusconi.

But I still think that the system is too heavily stacked against the lib dems for them to make it. That wasn’t Harry’s question, I know. He wants to know why no one else is panicking. I think the serious answer is that they all also believe the system is too unfair, though they are not going to say so. Also, the thought of say 150 Lib Dem MPs, only half of whom had ever expected to be in parliament … it’s too horrible for the pros to contemplate seriously. So they won’t.

34

ejh 04.25.10 at 6:20 am

Whereas pretty much every house in the constituency has had multiple multiple leaflets from their local LD Cllr reminding them they’re about, how good the LD candidate is, and how much support the party has now in what was a Labour held seat.

That’ll make a difference. OK, I’m biased, I helped write those leaflets, but the positive feedback has been immense, and that’s heartening.

Ah, Lib Dem leaflets. Let’s hope these say “from the Liberal Democrats” somewhere near the top, rather than, as is normal for the Lib Dems, being called “Focus” and being made up to look a if they were a local newspaper rather than a party political leaflet.

35

ejh 04.25.10 at 6:22 am

(Whoops! The italics make it look as if I, rather than previous poster, wrote the Lib Dem leaflets. Nothing could be further from the truth. )

36

Alison P 04.25.10 at 6:52 am

I always remember Chris’s post (nearly two years ago – blimey) about Wanting what you don’t want. As a Labour supporter I want Labour to win on any given occasion, but I don’t want them to always win. In some ways for them to lose to the Lib Dems, or to lose power to a Lib Dem coalition of some kind, is the best outcome for this paradoxical want/not want. I imagine that other Labour voters, and even Labour MPs, have a similar feeling.

On the other hand I worry that British politics is now drifting to a system like in the US where there is a choice between two right wing parties, with no systematic representation for working class interests.

37

Matthew 04.25.10 at 8:35 am

The Lib Dems do badly under the FPTP system in the UK because basically to win a constituency you typically need to get above 40% of the vote. Imagine an election in which all 3 parties get 30%, but in the Southern half of the country the Tories get 55%, Liberals 30%, and Labour 5%, and in the Northern half the Tories get 5%, the Liberals 30%, and Labour 55%. This will give the Conservatives 50% of the seats on 30% of the vote, Labour 50% of the seats on 30% of the vote and the Lib Dems nothing on 20% of the vote.

This is a broad approximation of what happens. It’s not so uniform, so the Lib Dems do get some seats, and Labour do better than the Conservatives mainly because turnout is lower in their seats (note that in 2005 the vote shares were something like 35/32/22 Lab/Con/Lib but if you take the average vote share over the 630 constituencies it was something ilke 37/31/21 – this is because Labour’s votes count for more, and there’s nothing you can do about it from turnout angle – boundary changes can make a diffence).

More here

http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/governments-and-parties/why-lib-dems-dont-do-as-well-as-other-parties/

38

Matthew 04.25.10 at 8:36 am

Slight correction to my comment:

the Lib Dems nothing on 20% of the vote

should be

the Lib Dems nothing on 30% of the vote

39

alex 04.25.10 at 8:44 am

“As a Labour supporter I want Labour to win on any given occasion”. And there’s a thing. Are you a supporter of a party that aims to make life better for the working majority, or one that drags us into aggressive wars, panders to international capital, curtails civil liberties on all sides, and presides over disastrous speculative bubbles while nursing deep corruption at its heart?

Of course, if the only choice were this, or a Tory party that agreed with all the bad bits, then it would be understandable. But if there are other choices, why would you support a Labour party that has all those bad bits?

40

JoB 04.25.10 at 8:52 am

I think there’s an optimal democracy between the obvious corner cases of one-party & a-party-per-citizen. I have come to believe it is three. It would therefore be good that the LD’s would be pushing through the limitations of the FPTP system. It would not be good to go to a PR system, as such, because you risk to wind up with 6-party governments and an opposition of exclusively fascist make.

41

ejh 04.25.10 at 9:21 am

Of course, if the only choice were this, or a Tory party that agreed with all the bad bits, then it would be understandable. But if there are other choices, why would you support a Labour party that has all those bad bits?

Well, there’s a few reasons I can think of, but let’s start with this: we can at least be reasonably sure that Labour will not go into a coalition with the Tories, but we can’t remotely be sure that the Lib Dems won’t. A lot of people seem to believe that the Lib Dems are an anti-Tory alternative to labour: but they’re not, they don’t claim to be and in many local councils they have proven perfectly happy to form administrations with the Tories.

At national level, the Lib Dems are certainly the nicest, and they don’t have anybody I can think of is their ranks to compare with grotesques like Phil Woolas or Hazel Blears, but they’re not a slightly more leftwing anti-Tory alternative to New Labour.

42

novakant 04.25.10 at 9:39 am

FPTP is terrible and undemocratic, PR works really well in some countries (Germany) not so much in others (Italy) – it would work well in the UK.

43

Phil 04.25.10 at 9:40 am

if there are other choices, why would you support a Labour party that has all those bad bits?

That’s exactly my reason for voting Green, although if I thought there was the remotest chance the Tories would win I’d vote either Labour or Lib Dem to stop them.

44

Phil 04.25.10 at 9:41 am

novakant – the Italian system has got less and less PRish since 1989, because of a widespread perception that PR was The Problem With Italian Democracy. The results don’t entirely bear this out.

45

Alex 04.25.10 at 9:44 am

we can at least be reasonably sure that Labour will not go into a coalition with the Tories

[citation needed]

I can well imagine them doing that. You know – We need a broad base of consensus to guarantee stability to the international bond markets…responsibility…a government of all the reasonable parties…implement the tough measures ahead.

Maybe not a Scottish Labour tribalist like Brown, but Straw? Mandelson? a Miliband? Burnham? Woolas? some of the decommissioned Blairites? You bet.

46

ejh 04.25.10 at 9:53 am

Oh, I can imagine circumstances where it would happen, much like the German Grand Coalition, but it’s not a reality anywhere (as far as I know) and I don’t think it’s a likely outcome of this election – whereas Lib Dem coalition is, were the Tories to be the largest party in a hung parliament, and it is a reality in lots of local councils.

It’s true that Charles Kennedy made no secret of his preference for Labour over the Tories. In my view it’s one of the reasons he was got rid of. Clegg, however, has been scrupulously right-bang-in-the-middle.

47

Tim Worstall 04.25.10 at 10:23 am

“There’s also the d’Hondt system in which there are multi-seat constituencies with candidates elected by dividing the number of party votes by the number of available seats “

I think I can put people off that idea fairly simply. Such a system would produce, as it did in the euro-elections where it was used, a large UKIP representation.

The thought of Tim Worstall MP (UKIP)* should be enough to put you off that particular voting system?

*(Yes, under the D’Hondt system based on regional constituencies like the euro-elections this probably would happen.)

48

bert 04.25.10 at 10:46 am

FPTP is terrible and undemocratic, PR works really well in some countries (Germany)

Sure, if you’re happy giving a semi-permanent fief to a party polling around 10%. From 1969 to 1998 Germany had a grand total of two weeks (in 1982) without an FDP foreign minister. Since 2009 they’ve had their feet back under the table again. LibDem support of PR is not free of self-interest, to state the obvious.

49

bert 04.25.10 at 10:56 am

Stating the obvious again: there’s far more to a political system than its electoral system.
Part of the problem with Italian PR was the way that positions on party lists became tradable goods in a patronage system run by corrupt party bosses.

And Worstall, for a change, is right. One of the strongest arguments for FPTP is that it keeps the undesirable elements out of parliament.

50

Alison P 04.25.10 at 11:09 am

why would you support a Labour party that has all those bad bits?

This is the key question. ejh expresses my views. I continue to support Labour because I think a system where power alternated between Tory and Lib Dem would mean that the interests of the working classes – of labour against capital – were not represented in Parliament, as they are not in the American system. I agree they are very imperfectly represented at present.

51

Matthew 04.25.10 at 11:24 am

I can’t see any benefit in devising an electoral system to prevent UKIP members of parliament being returned.

52

Naadir Jeewa 04.25.10 at 11:32 am

The thought of Tim Worstall MP has been in the back of my mind for some time.

I want AV for House of Commons, and nationwide-list PR for the House of Lords. The latter should be mainly party wonks who can scrutinize legislation, and serve fixed terms.

53

Alex 04.25.10 at 11:55 am

Tim Worstall MP would surely be rather like those BNP councillors who are sometimes elected but rarely re-elected.

54

soru 04.25.10 at 11:55 am

Sure, if you’re happy giving a semi-permanent fief to a party polling around 10%.

For me, that’s a blocking problem with any pure PR system. In the current election, it is reportedly possible for Labour to end up third in terms of the popular vote, but in power. Thing is, if that happens, it will be a freak, once a century type result. In some versions of PR, that result happens 99 times out of 100.

I’d like to see a 2-house system with one house with total responsibility for making all yes/no type decisions (fight a war, set a budget, etc.) . That would be elected by some system that gives a n unambiguous winner (FPTP, or some kind of AV).

The other house, elected by pure constituency-free PR, perhaps with multiple votes per person, would effectively control the Overton Window. Give everyone elected to it a large enough communications and research budget (say £5M in UK terms) that it became the main form of income of most news media. No need to outlaw private media barons, just have elected Lords who can outspend them.

The most common flow of ideas would be something like:

intellectuals -> activists -> significant minority -> Lords -> media -> majority -> Parliament -> policy

55

Nick Barnes 04.25.10 at 11:58 am

Is the apparent absence of panic premised on a good understanding that this is all fake? Or is it just impressive acting?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On

56

Naadir Jeewa 04.25.10 at 12:27 pm

@soru

Your flow would allow a bunch of anti-abortion activists get some extreme policy all the way to the Lords before anyone gets wind of it.

I still want to temper the role of accountable interest groups somewhat, which is why I suggest getting wonkish policy activists into the Lords so we can listen in to those conversations.

A common complaint I hear from some parliamentary folk is that MPs barely have time to scrutinise new legislation, particularly if they’re in a marginal seat. Often they’re handed an A4 summary of important legislation written by some clueless, fresh-faced intern. Also, the wonks in the Lords could also better scrutinise governmental departments. To that effect, they may still want to initiate legislative processes, but they still should have to go through both houses.

57

novakant 04.25.10 at 2:02 pm

Sure, if you’re happy giving a semi-permanent fief to a party polling around 10%.

You’re leaving out some relevant context here, i.e. Genscher. Be that as it may, I do believe that democracy was not designed to be the dictatorship of the majority, so I’m very happy that minorities such as FDP or Green Party voters have been represented in German government coalitions.

Germany has been a very stable democracy under PR and as others have pointed out the fact that Italy hasn’t been is more due to national peculiarities than PR itself.

58

Doctor Science 04.25.10 at 3:36 pm

@Naadir Jeewa:

I still don’t understand how the problems with the system you describe are comparable to the inequities in the US electoral ballot system, much less worse — which is what you said @5.

As I said @28, there is nearly a 10-fold difference in the weight the electoral ballot gives a Wyoming voter compared to a California voter. Overall, the enhanced weight of less-populated states, especially the rural Western ones, predisposes the system to tip toward them.

The consequences of the bias toward rural states are more evident in the legislative process than for presidential elections. For instance, much of the health care bill debate centered around the actions of the “Gang of Six” Senators, who together represent less than 3% of the population.

I’m off to 538 for more info.

59

Madeleine Conway 04.25.10 at 3:57 pm

It wasn’t just the debates that have boosted the LibDems – it’s the combination of Vince Cable and Clegg that have convinced a significant chunk of the population that the LibDems working in coalition with either party would temper the worst excesses of both in power.

And both Labour and the Tories are, I think, widely perceived to be excessive one way or or another. Labour are looking excessively tired and lacking in ideas, while the Tory fringe of anti-Europeans, combined with Cameron’s coterie of former public school boys – and I use the term boys advisedly, because although there are some interesting women politicians campaigning on the Tory ticket, very few of them are on the front bench of the shadow cabinet. Theresas May and Villiers are the closest to big ministries (Work/Pensions & Women and Transport respectively) – also seem excessively little England.

The other reason that this election is so up for grabs has not yet been mentioned – the expenses scandal has led to a higher number of resignations from sitting MPs, leaving more vacancies than usual. The LibDems are relatively unscathed by the expenses scandal.

Finally, Labour is keeping quiet about the dangers/likelihood of a hung parliament, while the Tories are squawking like discombobulated chickens. I suspect this makes the undecideds think that a hung parliament would deliver a well-earned bloody nose to Labour without returning us to the grubby politics associated with the Tories and highlighted by the Ashcroft donation and Murdoch’s apparent ongoing desire to manipulate British politics away from Europe and towards the US.

The final outcome of the election will be interesting because it is likely to reveal a good deal about the way that print and broadcast media influence may be declining.

60

alex 04.25.10 at 4:25 pm

People who whinge about how bad PR and coalitions are for decision-making, economic health, etc etc etc, really should spent more time contemplating German politics and society.

There is a basic question here – is a parliamentary chamber simply a machine for giving legislative power to whichever party achieves a plurality in the country, or is it a centre for representation of assorted strands of national life? Does it, in other words, aspire to represent the nation, or merely serve the government? I think it should do the former, which is why I’d be quite happy to see an ‘awkward squad’ of Ukippers [and even, gasp, BNP] at one end, and Greens, Trots, and whoever else can rake up the votes at the other. Pearl-clutching may ensue, especially about the BNP, but what the hell – if you can’t make an argument against them, you’re failing anyway.

61

Sebastian 04.25.10 at 4:27 pm

“Germany has been a very stable democracy under PR and as others have pointed out the fact that Italy hasn’t been is more due to national peculiarities than PR itself.”

I know this will sound snarky, but it is not meant to be. How do we know that PR itself doesn’t have a bunch of typical problems that due to national peculiarities, Germany mostly avoids?

62

nick s 04.25.10 at 4:35 pm

The discussion from the Graun’s editorial meeting that if voters had a box on their ballot paper that said “hung parliament”, they’d put a cross next to it, seems to sum up the popular mood. Since that box doesn’t exist, people voting in ways that they think will produce that result can lead to all sorts of surprises.

Such a system would produce, as it did in the euro-elections where it was used, a large UKIP representation.

Can you detect the small problem in Timbo’s argument? Yeah.

63

novakant 04.25.10 at 5:41 pm

64

jim 04.25.10 at 5:50 pm

Everyone seems to agree that the current polling implies about 100 seats for the LDs. If that is so, then there will be a hung parliament. It’s very hard to see either of the two major parties falling below 200 seats. And if the LDs have a bit over 100 and each major party stays above 225, then Clegg has his choice of coalition partners. Not a bad negotiating position.

It should be pointed out that, while it would be very hard for the LDs to get a parliamentary majority, it is within their reach to become the largest parliamentary party. Given a smidgen of tactical voting (in constituencies where the Labour candidate runs third, some small percentage of Labour supporters vote for the Liberal Democrat to keep Cameron out; in constituencies where the Conservative runs third, vice versa), they’d need to get to about 35% of the vote, gaining about equally from Labour and Tory, for all three parties to end up around 200 seats. Would 18 days be enough time for coalition negotiations in such a situation?

65

Harry 04.25.10 at 6:44 pm

What I’m gathering is that the models assume there is no more tactical voting than is already built into the poll data. My guess is there’ll be quite a bit of tactical voting beyond that, but it might not all work for the LibDems (indeed, a fear of them really making a breakthrough might work against them).

66

Christopher Phelps 04.25.10 at 7:32 pm

Beyond the question of who will come out on top in seats, if the LibDems top Labour and Tories at the polls, what precisely will it signify politically? On bankers, they seem to the left of Labour, as on Iraq, torture, and civil liberties, but Clegg also wastes no chance to denounce Labour’s “union paymasters.”

Zero clarification on this exists on British left websites, as far as I can see, from which one would never know that the race is mainly LibDems, Tories, Labour. Instead it appears the BNP is the only party in the race — to be defeated of course — unless one sees occasional mention of the Greens or Respect. So Billy Bragg is out in the face of the fascists. Nice to see, but the BNP seems a bit of a sideshow….

67

djr 04.25.10 at 7:40 pm

Harry@65 – it’s not obvious what the thought process would be that would lead a conservative-minded person who was planning on voting tactically for the Lib Dems to decide not to do so (and thus, presumably, make it more likely that the Labour candidate will hold the seat), or vice versa, due to fear of a Lib Dem breakthrough. For seats that are currently Lib Dem, I suspect that incumbency effects will outweigh and unrolling of tactical voting.

68

Phil 04.25.10 at 8:19 pm

djr – the point is that the rising tide which floats tactical boats also makes some people more inclined to vote Lib Dem just to make a point. (Not a new phenomenon – I remember Hugo Young arguing in 1983 that Labour supporters ought to think about the anti-Tory vote and cast a tactical vote for the SDP, while SDP supporters ought to think about the importance of breaking the mould and cast a principled vote for the SDP.) If it starts to look as if voting Lib Dem will actually get Lib Dems elected, I think a lot of people will go back to Plan A.

69

Phil 04.25.10 at 8:20 pm

Oops. That tag hasn’t stuck, has it?

70

djr 04.25.10 at 9:01 pm

I still don’t see it, if plan A is to vote for your true preference in the hope that they might scrape into second (with your least favourite winning the seat). I should add that I don’t yet think that there is a significant section of public opinion that believes that Nick Clegg is about to move into Downing Street, and I think that ultimately anyone who’s planning on voting tactically will be doing it with an eye to the great tribal division of British politics as maintained over decades, not on a Lib Dem poll surge.

Which reminds me: We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!

71

harry b 04.25.10 at 9:11 pm

“Tactical” is the wrong term for the voters I’m thinking of — so I understand your perplexity. “In your face” is more what I’m thinking of — voters who are willing to go LibDem to give their own party a bloody nose, but not to knock them out. I think there are a good number of such voters.

Chris — if the LibDems truly break through, and some strong form of PR results, the two major parties, both of which are composed of complex coalitions, lose their glue. Tories know that they would bleed supporters (and maybe MPs) to UKIP. Labour doesn’t really know what would happen, and my guess is that the left, in particular, is not really up to contemplating what it means at the moment. They have always thought of Labour as ‘their’ party, but the right has controlled it fairly effectively for a good while now, and leaving it to create some non-quixotic, union-supported, left-social-democratic bloc is (I think) the best bet for having influence in the short-to-medium term. But the tribalism folks refer to here is pretty deep. The far left has no influence at all in what is about to happen — hence the obsession with the BNP, which is the kind of thing they are used to dealing with, and doesn’t require much imaginative engagement.

72

harry b 04.25.10 at 9:12 pm

PS — chris — hope you’re enjoying your first election. Aren’t you glad Brown didn’t call it before you got there!

73

djr 04.25.10 at 9:38 pm

Ah, right, that does make more sense. (My impression is that “tactical voting” in the UK these days almost inevitably means Labour / Lib Dem switching to keep the Tories out.)

I have no idea whether there are large numbers of people who will pull back from giving Labour a bloody nose. (I suspect that Conservatives in the same position are likely to vote Conservative, but it’s probably a smaller group as the Tories weren’t in power in the run up to the last two general elections.) On the other hand, anyone who’s voted Lib Dem in the last few elections may now think of the Lib Dems as “their” party. Then there are people who previously didn’t vote Lib Dem as they didn’t want to “waste their vote” – but again, it’s hard to judge the real size of this group. To get back to your original point, I expect you’re right that none of these effects are included in the models, simply because there’s so little data to calibrate them.

74

Hidari 04.25.10 at 10:12 pm

75

Naadir Jeewa 04.25.10 at 11:24 pm

This should confuse things:
http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/04/labour-danger-uniform-swing.html

“In general, however, Labour backers should not take too much confidence from uniform swing calculations: they have been badly wrong in the past and there is some evidence that they may be badly wrong again. Particularly if Labour’s vote were to wind up in the mid-20s, its very hard to see how they could thread the needle in such a way that the outcome wouldn’t be devastating to them.”

76

Mrs Tilton 04.26.10 at 6:30 am

Andrew @33,

Also, the thought of say 150 Lib Dem MPs, only half of whom had ever expected to be in parliament … it’s too horrible for the pros to contemplate seriously

If nothing else, a seriously three-party House would make it much more difficult to rewrite the text to “When all night long” for an updated version of Iolanthe.

77

Chris Bertram 04.26.10 at 7:04 am

I’m struck by the fact that, as the Tory press tries to spin a “Tory revival” (probably by cherry picking from a whole bunch of polls they’ve commissioned), the betting markets continue to swing further in favour of NOC.

78

Phil 04.26.10 at 7:10 am

djr – by “Plan A” I meant “vote either Labour or Tory, just like most of us always have done”. harry b pegged it, anyway (“in your face” voting).

79

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 7:12 am

Harry, yes, enjoying it, all very interesting, definitely. What you write makes sense but I’m still left wondering if any clear (or misty) political signal about the intentions of the electorate can be gleaned if the LibDems come out ahead of Labour. The differences do not to me seem monumental, but to the extent issues are in the forefront it would seem to me that the LibDems are to the left of Labour, mostly. It seems to me much better that the LibDems accelerate than that all the dissent go to the Tories. I admit my novitiate status, though.

As for what you say about proportional representation, do you think it will actually materialize? I’m doubtful, even if the LibDems show very well at the polls. Cameron has rejected it. Labour makes noises about it, but they can’t be serious, can they?

If there is proportional representation, the kind of quixotic social-democratic project you chart would seem completely logical.

80

alex 04.26.10 at 7:29 am

@63 – interesting on the plurality voting list, by my count only 9 of those countries weren’t once British colonies/protectorates. Long shadows and all that…

81

Martin Wisse 04.26.10 at 8:47 am


In the current election, it is reportedly possible for Labour to end up third in terms of the popular vote, but in power. Thing is, if that happens, it will be a freak, once a century type result. In some versions of PR, that result happens 99 times out of 100.

You’re comparing apples with oranges. In fptp, Labour can win only 30% of the popular votes but still a majority of seats; in pr the same 30% of the votes won’t win them a majority of seats, but will put them in a position as a valid coalition partner. Which means that in pr Labour cannot govern without taking into consideration the opinions of that other 70 %, which under fptp it can…

82

ejh 04.26.10 at 9:11 am

to the extent issues are in the forefront it would seem to me that the LibDems are to the left of Labour, mostly.

So a lot of people seem to think. However, what seems to me increasingly likely to hapen is the following:

(a) people vote Lib Dem instead of Labour because the Lib Dems are to Labour’s left ;

(b) the Lib Dems then enter into coalition with the Tories, thus achieving the opposite of what the Lib Dem vote was supposed to achieve.

I further suspect that this is likely to be followed by:

(c.) the people who voted as in (a) settling for a Tory/Lib Dem coalition on the grounds that it’s better than a pure Tory government.

83

ajay 04.26.10 at 9:13 am

80: well, they called Britain the Mother of Parliaments for a reason, you know.

84

Bobrovski 04.26.10 at 9:27 am

the BNP seems a bit of a sideshow….

Not if we get PR, I think – which is the main reason I’m watching the Lib Dems’ progress with some unease, despite my basic impulse to be delighted by the main parties’ distress.

In response to the original post, and as others have said, the Tories are absolutely panicking; Labour aren’t, because they thought the Tories would just walk into government. (A hung parliament is better, for Labour, than a Tory landslide.)

85

JoB 04.26.10 at 9:38 am

I really don’t think that any beauty contest between FPTP and PR and anything in between (PR with narrow or wide circumscruptions, FPTP for one house and PR for another) will be of avail.

The rich countries of the West have citizens that are increasingly less willing to participate into the voting process; and if they participate their votes swing increasingly arbitrarily from one to the other with more and more of a fraction remaining in the inert parties on right and left which make it their business to remain pristinely above the everyday mud by being uncompromising in ‘what really matters’.

I’m far from sure that this is a bad thing in the long run (but see the ‘dead horses’ thread).

86

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 10:05 am

#82: Fair enough as a likely scenario esp. given this morning’s news about Clegg and coalitions (though that may just be an anti-Brown feint since other polls show that 60% of LibDem voters would otherwise vote Labour if they had to pick and could not vote LibDem). But what should a voter disgusted by New Labour with its market sellouts and wars do? Vote Labour, even for a left-wing member, and Brown will just take it as ratification for more of the same. That’s the dilemma I see pushing people to the LibDems for some hope of either forcing a change of course in Labour by punishing it or simply repudiating it (cf. New Left Review editorial piece by Tony Wood).

87

ejh 04.26.10 at 10:15 am

But what should a voter disgusted by New Labour with its market sellouts and wars do?

Gawd knows. Get drunk on May 6 and don’t watch telly for a few days? Personally I’m not voting at all (I don’t see the point in applying for a postal vote just to vote for Tessa Jowell, not least because if Labour need my vote in that constituency then they’re doomed anyway).

88

Harry 04.26.10 at 12:25 pm

My suspicion is that there is a lot of “throw the bums out” sentiment driving this, mingled of course with genuine latent support for the LibDems (very roughly conceived: and my guess is that, as has long been the case, the genuine locked in supporters of the LibDems are to the right of the LibDem activists and leadership, even now that the LibDems have swung back from being clearly to the left of Labour as they were in 01 and, I thought, in 97).

If the world turns upside down then individual MPs may have genuine influence – -certainly, if you have a chance of helping get a left wing LD into a seat that’s a priority; I’d also say that helping a left Labour MP retain a seat is a priority too. I might even support a Tory to prevent a very right wing LD or Labour person.

In the light of what people have been saying (which has been very illuminating for me), it is worth thinking about who the George Lansbury and Clement Attlee of the rump Labour group would be, if that is what happens. Will Cruddas retain his seat for example?

89

bert 04.26.10 at 1:00 pm

Just looked up to see a live feed of Cameron in front of a hustings with the huge slogan “let’s scrap ID cards”. If nobody got a shot of his bulbous head with the word “crap” in the background, I’m fucking emigrating.

90

bert 04.26.10 at 2:05 pm

That last comment belongs on Twitter, sorry.
As regards a LibDem-Tory deal on PR, I can imagine Cameron promising a referendum, on the understanding that he would campaign against.
(Then you have the wrangling over what the question would be, of course. Given that the options on PR are far broader than a simple Yes/No, the best option might be multiple-choice, with AV. But I think you might have a job selling that to all involved.)

91

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 3:06 pm

Harry, BTW, somewhat off-topic, shouldn’t that be called *strategic* voting, not tactical voting? I am genuinely perplexed by the phrase “tactical voting.” First of all because voting itself is the tactic, as is writing letters to the editor, burning down buildings (not an advisable one except under some really unusual conditions, i.e., Nazi rule), holding up giant puppets, putting out newspapers, etc. But how one deploys the vote to affect an outcome, that is *strategy* isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be calling that strategic voting? Do we know our tactics from our strategy?

92

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 3:10 pm

PS Although addressed to Harry it’s really a question for everyone since Harry isn’t the one who started using the phrase tactical voting.

93

Richard J 04.26.10 at 3:11 pm

Bert>

Is this not good enough for you?

http://ow.ly/i/1g5M

94

Phil 04.26.10 at 4:19 pm

What’s tactical is the short-term choice to vote for a party you don’t actually support. I guess you could say it’s the tactic of using the vote as a means to an end, as opposed to voting on grounds of principle and loyalty.

95

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 4:25 pm

Yes, exactly. The vote is a tactic, but instead of voting for what one wants one votes for what one really doesn’t want as part of a strategy. So it is strategic voting.

96

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 4:33 pm

PS I guess I’m swimming against an established term. But the term makes no sense.

97

jim 04.26.10 at 5:11 pm

Re: Clegg talking first to the Conservatives:

Clegg needs to be careful about a Cameron-led coalition. Even if he is promised PR, the coalition could pass PR in the Commons, the Lords throw it out and Cameron call an election.

I wonder if Labour would have the stones to offer a Labour/LD coalition with Clegg as Prime Minister (but with most of the Government Front Bench Labour). It solves the problem of what to do with Gordon and it gives Clegg the assurance that no-one will call a snap election on him before the stuff he really wants out of the deal gets the Royal Assent.

98

bert 04.26.10 at 5:57 pm

Thanks Richard, that’ll definitely do to be going on with.
This is the event, btw, fwiw: http://www.inthenews.co.uk/video/news/general-election-2010/video-david-cameron-heckled-in-romsey-$1374330.htm

99

Harry 04.26.10 at 6:12 pm

“tactical voting” in this context deciding not to vote for the party you most want to win nationally, because locally its candidate will not win, and instead voting for the candidate of the party you would like to see win in your seat, given that it has some chance of winning. Many tactical voters I know are anti-Tory tactical voters who have never lived in a seat where Labour was the second most likely to win.

Is this helping?

100

Christopher Phelps 04.26.10 at 6:37 pm

I know what tactical voting means, I just think it really ought to have the name strategic voting… But I’m giving up now! (The term is way too entrenched in the discourse to dislodge. Maybe someday I’ll get an article out of this. The whole Internet, a friend of mine likes to say, is a plot to get us to write for free and I’ve just proven him right today.)

101

engels 04.26.10 at 7:00 pm

As Phil says it’s ‘tactical’ because it’s instrumental. You disregard your instincts, principles or what appears to be the most straightforward route to your goal in a calculated move to gain advantage (cf. ‘tactical withdrawal’).

102

ejh 04.26.10 at 7:48 pm

my guess is that, as has long been the case, the genuine locked in supporters of the LibDems are to the right of the LibDem activists and leadership, even now that the LibDems have swung back from being clearly to the left of Labour as they were in 01 and, I thought, in 97).

I’m not sure this is quite right. I think quite a large proportion of the Lib Dem activists are of the right rather than the left of the party, and if this weren’t the case the tax policy changes wouldn’t have happened.

103

harry b 04.27.10 at 1:43 am

Probably quibbling, but I agree that the activists are significantly of the right of the party — I just meant that their committed voters are probably to the right of them and the leadership on average. Don’t have any actual evidence for that, but its how it seems…

Cards on table — last time I voted (2001) I voted LD, for a sitting MP who retained his seat — I’d have done the same in 2005 and would this time too (I can vote, but having thoroughly committed myself to living in another country I feel I shouldn’t, and anyway my vote would go to a successful incumbent). I’d vote Labour in some other constituencies, but not with less enthusiasm than I had for my MP, unless it was a constituency with a left Labour candidate. I’d always vote LD to keep a Tory or SNP/PD out, and without any angst.

104

sg 04.27.10 at 4:52 am

Clegg today “clarified” his position on coalitions, to say he’ll be willing to put labour in power without Brown. That does open the way for him to be PM…

I don’t know how stable a coalition with the Tories would be – if Cameron doesn’t deliver them government the Tory trogs will want his guts on a plate, and it could be difficult for him to engage in a coalition with the Lib Dems on a “compassionate” or “red” tory basis if a large slab of his own party are undermining him at every stage. Just like Nick Griffin, he’s done a faustian deal with the forces of satan (literally, in Cameron’s case, obviously) and he only gets to be the big man so long as he delivers what they want – electoral success. A hung parliament with a lefty-looking party like the lib dems will have him in the frying pan.

Plus, if he has to offer up any kind of voting reform to cut a deal with Clegg, they surely won’t even let him govern – they’ll just take him out the back and turn him into glue. The Tories know that the moment UKIP and the BNP become a viable parliamentary force, they’ll bleed votes like a Mexican bullfighter. UKIP is the natural party of conservative Britain and BNP is the natural party of the lumpen proles (when they can haul themselves away from their chips and cider for long enough to vote), and asking the Tories to change the voting system in favour of the Parties of the Oik is like asking them to “just quietly go over their and slit your throat will you old chap?” Up to now the (even) more unsavoury elements of the British polity have been kept out by its ridiculous electoral system (voting on a weekday, non-compulsorily?!! some people are just so barbaric!!!). That’s why the Tories are opposed to electoral reform, and the Lib Dems like it.

Unless one of the major parties can pull a rabbit out of a hat (or a war out of their arse, in Brown’s case) by next week, it’s BNP and skittles from now on for the Tories… oh, and won’t Griffin look like a smug and self-satisfied bulldog’s arsehole if he wins Barking Mad and Daggy, then PR sees another bunch of his thuggish mates swan on in at the next election, thank you very much Cleggy boy!

105

nick s 04.27.10 at 6:31 am

(c.) the people who voted as in (a) settling for a Tory/Lib Dem coalition on the grounds that it’s better than a pure Tory government.

If Dave stabs Clegg in the back over PR — or stabs him in the front by making it contingent on a referendum or half-hearted Commons support — then the Lib Dems are going to be in a quandary about whether to withdraw support, since an early election built on voting reform isn’t going to be as compelling as Vote For A Right Old Dog’s Breakfast, and the bloom will have worn off for the LDs.

I do think it’ll be back to the polls (FPTP) within a year, though.

106

ajay 04.27.10 at 9:34 am

UKIP is the natural party of conservative Britain and BNP is the natural party of the lumpen proles (when they can haul themselves away from their chips and cider for long enough to vote)

I really don’t know where to start with this one.

107

Christopher Phelps 04.27.10 at 11:42 am

Engels, see, there you go, tactical withdrawal–that really ought to be a strategic withdrawal. It figures this error in lexicon traces to military intelligence (oxymoron).

Back to my chips and cider now.

108

alex 04.27.10 at 12:44 pm

It’s still better to have a handful of BNP MPs making arses of themselves inside the Commons [and probably getting caught fiddling their expenses] than letting them play the martyr outside, especially if keeping them out means letting 30% of the electorate choose a government with a 100-seat majority.

If, as is of course true, the BNP’s arguments are bollocks, let them be shown publicly and repeatedly to be bollocks, until they fade away into total insignificance. Don’t ‘refuse to engage’ with them, when sections of the electorate quite clearly are.

Having said that, it is nice to see that all the action at the centre of the political spectrum can push the fringe parties into apparent insignificance, in the short term at least. Unless we’re all in for a shock come 7 May.

109

Pete 04.27.10 at 1:00 pm

Looking at the results of the Euro elections, it does look likely that the conservative right could lose a lot of votes to UKIP, but the BNP will remain a fringe party.

http://www.europarl.org.uk/section/european-elections/results-2009-european-elections-uk

110

sg 04.27.10 at 2:41 pm

alex, that’s been the refrain of the British left for the last 10 years, and it’s culminated in the BNP winning a million votes and two seats in the European election, and UKIP becoming the second most popular party. They won those votes because people felt that their vote would count – a similar situation to any system Clegg will introduce. And the voters certainly don’t seem to have noticed the BNP making arses of themselves in local councils – their vote held up best in the areas where they already have representation, and apparently the BNP actually have a chance in Barking and Dagenham under fptp. If they win that one you can kiss goodbye to any chance of Griffin’s ugly snout being punched in by a disaffected ex-skinhead – he’ll have them eating out of the palm of his hand.

It’ll be interesting to see the kind of wheeling and dealing that goes on under a proportional system with UKIP in the top 3, and the BNP in the top 5. If Gordon Brown’s willing to throw out a few nationalist slogans when a couple of disaffected workers throw a racist wildcat strike, what’s the next regressive generation of Tories going to do when they have to start negotiating a hung parliament with Nigel Farage?

111

alex 04.27.10 at 2:51 pm

I see, so people’s votes mustn’t count, in case they vote for the wrong people? Just like to be clear what definition of ‘democracy’ you’re operating under.

112

ajay 04.27.10 at 2:58 pm

110: don’t over-egg things. UKIP are not the second most popular party in Britain in any meaningful sense. Turnout in the Euro elections was about 35%, half what it normally is in a national election – and you can bet that one-trick ponies like UKIP got much higher turnout of their supporters than the others did.

As for the threat from the BNP: they don’t really look that hopeful in Barking. (where they’d need a swing of 32% from Labour) or in Dagenham (where they’d need a 42% swing).

113

sg 04.27.10 at 3:30 pm

actually Griffin needs a 16% swing to beat Hodge, not 32%; according to Wikipedia Barnsbrook got a 10% swing in 2005, and Hodge suffered a 13% swing against her. That was before European election money, Griffin’s descent on the seat, and the expenses scandal. Again according to Wikipedia, Hodge has been losing votes every election since she won the joint. Securing a 16% swing isn’t exactly a doddle, particularly if you’ve got a face made for radio and a brain made for pigswill; but they have a history of gains in that seat, so …?

114

Danny Yee 04.27.10 at 9:24 pm

Maybe the UK could follow Australia’s example and make voting compulsory? Now that would upset the apple cart!

115

sg 04.27.10 at 11:45 pm

they could start by holding the elections on a weekend – but to do so would indicate an actual genuine concern for the opinion of the lumpen proles, and who would want to do that?

116

bert 04.28.10 at 12:01 am

They won those votes because people felt that their vote would count

I don’t think that’s right.
There’s a huge chunk of people for whom Europe is too complicated to bother with and the results are too remote to matter. The Europeans are the national elections where such people indulge in protest voting. The BNP and UKIP don’t owe their strong showing to a strong desire to have the BNP or UKIP represent voters’ views in Brussels. The reason was the expenses scandal, not any calculation about the effects of the electoral system.

117

sg 04.28.10 at 12:52 am

By “felt that their vote would count,” I mean that they realise in the European elections that their preferred party actually has a chance of being elected, so they don’t have to engage in the standard two party balancing act. I don’t credit the claim that there is a huge proportion of British people who will vote completely differently in the European elections on a purely protest vote basis. What is much more likely is that they’re making rational decisions in the national election based on fptp.

The British left seems to engage in an awfully large amount of underestimation of the fringe right. Dismissing UKIP as a single issue party or one-trick ponies; pretending against 20 years of evidence that the BNP is going to stupidify itself out of existence; assuming that the huge numbers of people voting for the fringe right in Europe are somehow just having a laugh; and underestimating the degree of serious, entrenched racism in the British working and lower-middle classes; are all mistakes that benefit the far right. Refusal to talk about or accept the concept of “broken Britain” is going to be the death of the left, for the simple reason that you can’t keep your head that far up your arse and expect people to keep voting for you once an alternative shows up.

Clegg’s going to introduce the alternative if he gets the chance, and then we’ll see what kind of protest voting mood the British are in…

118

Steve 04.28.10 at 3:46 am

UKIP is the natural party of conservative Britain

It’ll be interesting to see the kind of wheeling and dealing that goes on under a proportional system with UKIP in the top 3, and the BNP in the top 5.

I think it’s pretty obvious, to be honest. Labour will avoid both parties like the plague, and have to negotiate with parties to the left, ie Lib Dems (maybe), SNP & PC, Greens, Respect, TUSC. The Tories will have to hold their noses and work with UKIP, plus the Greens perhaps (who you haven’t mentioned, but are bigger than both UKIP & the BNP).

UKIP are not ‘the natural party of Conservative Britain’, the Conservatives are. Most natural Conservative voters, for instance, solid middle-class professionals that many of them are, are well enough aware that however much they distrust Europe, and however much it makes for a convenient bogeyman, actually leaving the EU would be a financial disaster. As you’ve seen from all these ‘messages from businessmen’ about the hung parliament that the Tories keep dragging out, they understand that their base instinctively likes appeals from authority, and just where are the economists and businesspeople saying that leaving the EU would be a good idea?

Everybody will avoid the BNP, like the plague. And they won’t be in the top 5, although they could make 8th, once you’ve factored in the Nationalists as well.

I think it’s fascinating, this idea that we shouldn’t have PR because it will allow the BNP to influence the debate. You might have noticed, but in fact Labour already base much of their campaign literature, and more than a few of their immigration policies, on stopping the BNP by apeing the least odious parts of their platform. You don’t have to believe me; Phil Woolas and Margaret Hodge appear to have talked about little else for five years.

119

sg 04.28.10 at 5:08 am

perhaps I should have written conservative with a lower-case “c,” my bad.

The Tories are the natural party of upper class Britain; but lower and middle class Britain espouse a different kind of conservatism entirely, a much more insular and racist one. It’s precisely these sentiments that UKIP appeals to, and that have seen it coming on in leaps and bounds since its formation. Until one of the major parties goes back to a form of protectionist and anti-immigrant politics which suits these people, the Conservatives will only ever be the choice they make when they don’t have a choice.

The Greens don’t appear to me to be bigger than UKIP and the BNP – they got 2% more of the vote in the European elections than did the BNP, and came far behind UKIP. The order for the European elections was Tory, UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem, Greens, BNP. The last 2 got the same number of seats. UKIP got more votes than the Greens and Respect combined in the 2005 general election, and the Greens and the BNP got roughly equal numbers. Respect could capture a seat, but how will that landscape change under a proportional system? UKIP will far outnumber all the other minor parties, and will move into the top 4, with Greens and BNP jostling for the 5th position.

This is yet another example of underestimating the strength of the fringe right, and the nature of their trajectory in British politics in the last 20 years.

I’m not suggesting Clegg should back away from PR (not that he could even if I wanted him to); just that the consequences are a potential disaster for the Tories, which means that they won’t want to cave in on that; and public discourse in general will have to shift to the right if the BNP and UKIP get seats proportional to their vote share in parliament.

120

ajay 04.28.10 at 8:40 am

Refusal to talk about or accept the concept of “broken Britain” is going to be the death of the left

Britain isn’t broken. Please don’t confuse Cameroonian election slogans with descriptions of reality simply because they rhyme.

lower and middle class Britain espouse a different kind of conservatism entirely, a much more insular and racist one.

[citation needed]

121

Phil 04.28.10 at 11:14 am

“Broken Britain” assonates. To rhyme it would need to be “broken token” (or “smitten Britain“).

122

ajay 04.28.10 at 11:50 am

Indeed, this is central to my point.

123

sg 04.28.10 at 2:06 pm

It’s not just a slogan, ajay, but a simple statement about the state of British society. While the left clutch Polly Toynbee’s editorials and pretend that everything’s okay, they’re going to keep sliding from view. Why exactly do you think Brown is so on the nose at the moment?

124

ajay 04.29.10 at 10:46 am

It’s not just a slogan, ajay, but a simple statement about the state of British society.

Yes. It’s a simple and false statement about the state of British society.

See here, for example
http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15452811

125

alex 04.29.10 at 11:10 am

As so often, we are trapped between nostalgia and utopia. It is the inclination of many of those that reflect on human societies to ignore what is, in favour of yearning for that which never was, and never will be. That they muddle through nonetheless is the remarkable thing, perhaps down to the fact that much of the real work is done by those who have neither the time nor the inclination to reflect.

Of course, it will be better after the revolution. Dammit! See, you’ve got me doing it now…

126

Alex 04.29.10 at 11:55 am

The Greens don’t appear to me to be bigger than UKIP and the BNP – they got 2% more of the vote in the European elections than did the BNP

They got 2% more of the vote than the BNP, but they don’t appear to you to be bigger.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but not to their own facts, and certainly not to their own private set of mathematical operators.

Comments on this entry are closed.