Category Archives: By-elections
Kyle Hutton is an avid reader of World Elections, and a Liberal blogger from Ontario, who runs a partisan blog at Blunt Objects, as well as a blog looking at historical elections in Canada at Canadian Psephos. You can follow him on Twitter here.
A federal by-election was held in Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador (also known as the “Big Land”) on May 13th, 2013, following the resignation of that riding’s Conservative MP Peter Penashue, who won the seat from the Liberals in a close race in 2011’s federal election.
Before we get into why the by-election was called, we must first understand some of the history and demographics that make up the Big Land.
Labrador is the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, taking up the eastern seaboard of the huge Labrador Peninsula, the large span of land that covers northern Quebec and Labrador, from the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 30,000 permanent residents, and only two towns of significant size (Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador City, both between 7,000-8,000 residents). Despite the small population, there is extensive industry in Labrador, ranging from large-scale iron-ore mining and hydro-electric projects in the west, to extensive logging and fisheries in the east. There is also a Canadian Forces air base located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though its importance to the military has declined significantly since its heyday in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when it served as a training base for several European air forces. Though 5-Wing Goose Bay and Search & Rescue services still use the base, Canadian Forces personnel there number under 100.
While Labrador is a mostly Anglophone and dominated by whites (who make up just over 62% of the population), there exists a large Aboriginal population that numbers around 38% according to the 2006 Census. Around 15% of Aboriginals lay claim to Inuit ancestry, while the rest are either Métis (15%) or undefined First Nations (7%). The Innu Nation is probably the largest and most well-known of the First Nations groups, representing many of the First Peoples communities in northern Quebec and Labrador (Nitassinan, or “Our Land”). Most of their members live in central Labrador, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though are spread throughout the district.
The Inuit of Labrador are somewhat split into two groups. The first live in the north of Labrador, in an area recognized by the Canadian and Newfoundland governments as an autonomous area known as “Nunatsiavut,” governed by their own council and somewhat similar to what Nunavut would have been like had it not become its own territory. The major settlement in Nunatsiavut is Nain, which numbers just under 2,000 people, though the claimed regions go as far south as Rigolet, which is at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet (that which feeds Lake Melville, the large basin in the middle of Labrador).
The second group of Inuit are actually a Métis group with heavy roots in Inuit culture, known as the NunatuKavummiut. Unlike their cousins in Nunatsiavut, however, their claimed territory of NunatuKavut, which takes up most of southeastern Labrador from Lake Melville to the coast, is unrecognized by either the federal or provincial government. Though they have a council and a President (led by former MP Todd Russell), they do not enjoy the same status as the northern Inuit. The largest town dominated by NunatuKavummiut is Cartwright, which has under 1,000 residents.
Labrador joined in Confederation in 1949 as a part of the province of Newfoundland, previous to which it had been a somewhat neglected northern district in a semi-independent British Dominion. Like the rest of the province, both the MHAs and MPs elected from Labrador for the first couple of decades after ‘49 were Liberals. This was mostly due to the phenomenon known as Joey Smallwood, who had led the province into Confederation and dominated its politics for years, though federal Liberals also heaped federal money on the region during their terms in power. Labrador was represented by Liberals continuously since 1949 to 2011, except for the brief stint of Ambrose Peddle between 1968-1972. In 1988, Labrador was molded into its own district despite being the least populated riding in Canada, which it remains to this day with only 27,000 residents, falling underneath the “distinct region” clause of Elections Canada’s redistribution rules.
Set amongst the background of the Liberal collapse, NDP rise, and Conservative majority built elsewhere in the country, Newfoundland and Labrador stuck out like something of a sore thumb on any map, returning four Liberal MPs from Central Newfoundland, two New Democrats from St. John’s, and of course, Peter Penashue in Labrador. Much of the reason for the lack of major Conservative momentum in the province was due to how damaged the Harper government had been damaged by former Premier Danny Williams’ – himself a Conservative – “Anything But Conservative” campaign, which encouraged voters in 2008’s federal election to reject the party for reneging on equalization payments to Newfoundland. The Conservatives, previously the main challengers to the Liberals in the province, dropped like a stone to only 16% support province-wide. The effects were pretty clearly felt in Labrador, where the Conservatives dropped from just under 40% in 2006 to 8% in 2008. Todd Russell, the Liberal MP since 2005, won with a whopping 70% support, though mostly on the back of low turnout (38.6%, or just 7,787 voters).
Enter in Peter Penashue, the former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation for a dozen years between the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as holder of various other leadership roles. The recruitment of Penashue by the Conservatives was a major coup, representing a major voting bloc in the riding and having an extremely high profile even amongst non-Innu. He had a profile equal to that of Russell’s, plus the backing of a Conservative establishment really pining for a win in the province. As we’ll see in a minute, he may have had too much backing for Elections Canada’s liking.
On May 2nd, Penashue battled in a tight race for the riding with Russell, with it being called for the latter prematurely by some media until they saw they had a race on their hands. In the end, Penashue won with a mere 79 votes, or roughly 1.7%, over Russell. Much of his win came from voters in Lake Melville region (basically, Central Labrador), where much of the Innu population lives, as well as support from the northern Inuit communities. He won 88% in the two Innu-dominated polls, and his support in those polls provided him with his margin of victory. Russell’s support ballooned in NunatuKavut polls, but came in second (or third) everywhere else. Finally, the NDP dominated in Labrador West – basically around Labrador City and Wabush (iron ore mining is important in the area), the NDP’s traditional base of support both provincially and federally.
Penashue’s Resignation and Re-Candidacy
Peter Penashue was named Intergovernmental Affairs Minister in the majority cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conseratives, as well as being Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the government (by virtue of being the only Conservative from the province!). However, he ran into trouble following revelations that his 2011 campaign had taken nearly $28,000 in illegal campaign donations, usually in the form of free airplane trips (you need a plane to cover Labrador’s large and sparsely populated interior), as well as a $5,500 donation from a local construction company. This money was on top of roughly $44,000 that the Conservative Party had given Penashue’s campaign, as well as a loan from a local Innu business, run by his brother-in-law, interest-free, which is illegal under Canadian law.
Despite paying back Elections Canada for the illegal donations (and then some), as well as laying the blame at the feet of his rookie campaign manager in 2011, Penashue resigned from cabinet and his seat on March 14th. In a somewhat different twist, he also announced his candidacy for the by-election as a Conservative, hoping for redemption from Labrador’s electorate.
Penashue faced no opposition from the Conservative establishment in either Ottawa or Labrador, with Prime Minister Harper even calling the by-election rather quickly than in the past (for example, the last by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham, and Victoria weren’t held until three months after the last resignation). The date was set for May 13th, a day before the previously-announced date of the general election in British Columbia, causing some speculation that Harper was hoping to drown out a possible loss in Labrador to the expected NDP victory on the other side of the country.
Penashue, despite the issues surrounding his candidacy, was a fairly obvious choice for the Conservatives. He remains the highest profile federal Conservative in the Big Land, if not in Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Even if the Conservatives wanted someone else, they would ne unable to match Penashue’s popularity.
The main challengers to Penashue were expected to be the Liberals, based mostly upon the race back in 2011. The New Democratic Party, while posting an impressive 19.8% and 2,120 votes in that election, were not seen as a threat unless they ran a star candidate, or the vote split in the riding in a big way. The Greens, for their part, decided not to run a candidate in order to avoid “splitting the progressive vote” (they managed 1.3% in 2011), while going so far as to ask the NDP not to run a candidate and give the Liberals a free pass. Suffice to say, the NDP rejected this proposal.
The race also came at an opportune time for the Liberals, who had recently concluded a leadership race just the month before. Papineau MP Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had won a resounding victory in that race (including over 90% support from Liberals in Labrador). Many in the media, rightly or wrongly, said the Labrador by-election would be Trudeau’s first big “test” as leader.
Todd Russell, the former MP and re-elected President of NunatuKavut, was originally expected to run but was pre-empted by the extremely popular Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones, which apparently shut down Russell’s hypothetical run (he was none too happy about it, though he didn’t raise too much of a stink as the campaign went underway). Jones, whose provincial district covers southeastern Labrador and the majority of NunatuKavut, was formerly the leader of the provincial Liberals before stepping down to undergo successful treatment for breast cancer. She was quickly acclaimed as the candidate, resigned her seat in the House of Assembly, and started campaigning early. Labrador received visits from both Interim Leader Bob Rae, and then permanent leader Trudeau, as well as a slew of Liberal MPs and personalities. In other words, the Liberals really wanted this riding back, seeing it as the first big step towards rebuilding the party.
The NDP for their part had a contested nomination, with Harry Borlase, an analyst for an environmental research and development agency based out of St. John’s, coming out on top. Borlase was born and raised in Labrador, though some sources I’ve seen said that he lives in St. John’s (who knows). Either way, he was far from the big name that the NDP probably wanted to elect, which is odd considering they have a strong base in Labrador West, even winning those communities in 2011. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a high-profile visit to the riding – to Labrador West, specifically – in the early stages of the campaign. The provincial NDP also have big momentum, with the most recent poll placing them first in the province, ahead of the governing Conservatives. The extremely popular provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, however, did not pay a visit to Labrador for this campaign.
The Libertarians also nominated Norman Andrews, a local blogger (though he barely posts) and advocate for Labrador power for Labradorians… I think. Not really sure what he was about.
Aside from the ethics issues with Penashue’s 2011 campaign and resignation, the big questions for Labrador these days surrounds the Lower Churchill hydro-electricity projection, a series of proposed generating stations being built along the Churchill River that will put an estimated 16.7 Terawatts into the system per year. The project is supported by the provincial government and being built by energy giants Nalcor and Emera, with investments worth billions of dollars in order to route that power across the Straight to Newfoundland itself (then to Nova Scotia), rather than through Québec which has had a bad habit of ripping off Newfoundland and Labrador in the past.
The big contention currently is Phase I, located at Muskrat Falls just outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is expected to be a huge job provider for the community (possibly totalling $1.9-billion in revenue), though at the same time there are concerns from residents of being “swamped” by the project, the thousands of new workers and mouths to feed, and the potential for the status-quo to be upset in their usually-calm community. There are also a whole slew of concerns about what effect Phase I will have on the environment, and protests from NunatuKavut members on the provincial government’s refusal to negotiate with them on the pace of, and revenues from, development. At one point near the start of the campaign, Todd Russell and other members protesting on the road to Muskrat Falls were arrested by the RCMP for disruption of the peace.
This all being said, all three major party candidates held similar positions in favour of Muskrat Falls, though drilling down on details such as getting more local workers or bringing in the NunatuKavut into talks, you see some slight discrepancies.
Issues also began to spring up in regards to Labrador’s representation in Ottawa. Penashue came out and basically said that without a federal Conservative representative like him, Labrador would be at the mercy of spending cuts – including for 5-Wing Goose Bay, Search & Rescue, and so on. At one point, Penashue came out and said that he had held up funding for some project in Newfoundland to get funding to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is apparently gravel in some parts. Essentially, the question Penashue tried to build a campaign issue around was “who will get us the most pork?”
Finally, though not limited to Labrador alone, is the current unpopularity of the Conservative government. While not doing terribly in recent polls, the Conservatives have had to deal with several problems since the beginning of their majority term in 2011. The biggest to affect Labrador are the spending cuts by the government, which has resulted in the shutdown of Search & Rescue centres on the Atlantic Coast, vital to many Labradorian’s safety; as well as the government’s targeting of seasonal workers who use EI to supplement their income in the off-season, which affects thousands of residents. The phenomenon of Justin Trudeau may also have played a factor, as the new Liberal Leader has proven exceptionally popular according to polls – but as British Columbia showed us, maybe we need to take a grain of salt with polling these days.
Yvonne Jones (Liberal) 48.2% (+9.1%)
Peter Penashue (Conservative) 32.5% (-7.3%)
Harry Borlase (NDP) 18.8% (-1.0%)
Norman Andrews (Libertarian): 0.4%
Turnout was 59.5%, up over 6% from the 2011 federal election, and the best turnout since at least 2004, and the second-highest number of votes (about 12,000) since the riding was created in 1988.
Jones won with an easy 16-point margin, or nearly 2,000 votes over Penashue, with voters in Labrador turfing their cabinet minister in favour of a member of the third party. The turnout as well probably says more than the result does, as voters were clearly engaged in this race, and seemingly were more than happy to vote for the Liberals. While it is hard to say where the boost in turnout went to, it is interesting to note that Jones gained nearly 1,600 votes over Russell’s 2011 result, while Penashue only lost 334 votes.
It is hard to say where Penashue lost this race, though the entire reason for the by-election would certainly be enough for most voters. While Penashue did do the honourable thing in paying back the money to Elections Canada, as well as resigning in order to redeem himself, voters may not have bought his story and made him an example of what happens when you don’t keep an eye on your campaign expenses. Alternatively, it is possible that the unpopularity of the federal Conservatives could have made his campaign, no matter how good it was, dead-on-arrival.
However, the result is not as bad as some earlier polls suggested, including Penashue ending up third behind Borlase, so the Conservatives can rest easy knowing that they did not completely blow it.
For the NDP, the campaign result is, at best, “OK.” They lost some ground but gained about 100 new voters with their candidate Borlase, and likely maintained strong support in Labrador West, overall not doing terribly and not getting their vote squeezed into oblivion. However, failing to make a big impact in Labrador is an issue, given that of the five by-elections held since 2011, the NDP have fallen behind their previous totals in all but one (Durham). The Official Opposition, especially one the size of the NDP, should in theory be doing better than they have so far.
Finally, much can be said about Yvonne Jones’ campaign and personal popularity, and the fact that this is a traditionally Liberal riding. Though Penashue tried to take Jones down a notch with accusations that she held back from repaying expenses to the House of Assembly (something which Jones, who was on the board to review the rules surrounding expenses, adamantly denied), Jones did her best to keep the focus on Penashue and the Conservatives, on the ethics issues and on her previous record as a strong representative for Labrador in St. John’s. It is pretty clear that voters responded well to her campaign, and the spinsters in Justin Trudeau’s office are painting this as the first of many victories for the Liberals. Whether that is true remains to be seen.
Special European parliamentary elections were held in Croatia on April 14, 2013 to elect Croatia’s 12 members of the European Parliament for the remainder of the EP’s 2009-2014 term. Croatia’s MEPs are elected in a single nationwide constituency using open list proportional representation. Croatia will formally become the 28th member state of the European Union (EU) on July 1, 2013.
Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union in a referendum in January 2012, although turnout was only 43.5%. Croatia’s accession process formally began in June 2004 when it became an official candidate country and negotiations between Zagreb and Brussels were launched in October 2005 and lasted until June 2011. Public opinion had generally been strongly supportive of EU membership, with the exception of a brief period in April 2011 after the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced Croatian war hero Ante Gotovina to 24 years in jail for war crimes/crimes against humanity in the Croatian war of independence in the early 1990s. Gotovina and fellow general Mladen Markač were later found innocent on all charges and their convictions overturned by the ICTY’s appeals panel in November 2012.
The Kukuriku, a centre-left multi-party alliance led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), won the December 2011 election defeating the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) which had been in power since 2003. In the 1990s, the HDZ was a hard-right nationalist party led by Franjo Tuđman, a controversial strongman whose policies during the war years and the turbulent 90s isolated the country diplomatically. The HDZ was voted out of office in 2000, replaced by a heterogeneous reformist coalition around Prime Minister Ivica Račan (SDP) and President Stjepan Mesić (left-liberal HNS). Račan’s government, rapidly crippled by divisions between coalition members, only lasted until 2003 but under his and President Mesić’s leadership, Croatia gradually emerged from the semi-isolation of the Tuđman era and placed on the road to EU membership. The HDZ, transformed into a pro-European centre-right party under Ivo Sanader, won the 2003 elections by a decisive margin and was narrowly reelected in 2007.
While Sanader’s first term was generally successful because of a strong economy and EU negotiations, the second term proved to be a disaster from which the HDZ has yet to fully recover from. Croatia was hit particularly badly by the onset of the economic crisis in 2009-2010, which wrecked economic growth. Public opinion responded very poorly to the HDZ’s austerity policies, which included a very unpopular hike in the VAT and the introduction of a new ‘crisis’ income tax. Ivo Sanader resigned in the summer of 2009, and he was succeeded by Jadranka Kosor. Around the same time, Sanader himself and the HDZ as a whole were hit by a whole slew of particularly egregious corruption scandals. While Kosor herself was probably not directly involved and she took a hardline stance against corruption once in office, the whole thing blew up in her party’s face once prosecutors started digging and unearthing some pretty big corruption scandals – many of them involving Sanader himself. In January 2010, his ploy to reclaim the party’s leadership was foiled and in December, the Parliament voted to strip his immunity. He initially fled across the border to Austria, but he was arrested on an Interpol arrest warrant within hours. Sanader was sentenced to ten years in prison in November 2012.
Crippled by the stench of corruption and the economic crisis, Jadranka Kosor’s HDZ was handily defeated by SDP leader Zoran Milanović’s Kukuriku centre-left coalition in the 2011 elections. Although he was elected on a vaguely anti-austerity and broadly left-leaning agenda, Milanović’s government has been forced to tackle the economic crisis and the country’s large budgetary deficit – unsurprisingly, in the form of austerity measures and economic reforms which have included major public spending cuts, pension reforms, the sell of state assets (privatizations) and the liberalization of foreign investment. The country’s economy remains in a weak position: it has very low credit ratings, the GDP shrank by 2% in 2012 and it is still projected to be negative this year, unemployment is still rising exponentially (now up to 17%) and debt repayments combined with new EU contributions will frustrate the government’s objective of reducing the deficit in line with IMF recommendations. The IMF projects the country’s deficit will be 4.25% of GDP this year.
The government has also faced a few low-intensity scandals or embarrassing affairs. In November 2012, the Vice Premier and leader of the largest junior coalition party (HNS-LD) Radimir Čačić resigned after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail by a Hungarian court over a car crash he caused in 2010 resulting in the death of two people. In March 2013, the tourism minister was forced to resign after a media investigation revealed details about how his family had profited from a real estate deal in Istria.
In October 2012, the government was rattled by a bizarre affair likely orchestrated by the right-wing opposition which has since blown up in the opposition’s face. The right-wing newspaper Večernji list alleged that Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić had been illegally tapping the phones of intelligence operatives. The left-wing newspaper Jutarnji list countered with claims that the intelligence operatives were tracked because of suspected contacts with the mafia, and accused HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and Večernji list of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government. The weird scandal backfired on the opposition – in December, Ostojić ordered an investigation into a spying scandal from Karamarko’s days as Interior Minister. Karamarko is accussed of tracking Attorney General Mladen Bajić and several journalists.
The government has become fairly unpopular, with its approval ratings down to 30% and its polling numbers down nearly ten points from its 2011 result (40%). But, thus far, the HDZ has struggled to profit from the government’s unpopularity. It remains badly tainted with the corruption scandals from its last term in office, and the stench refuses to go away. Indeed, the party itself is currently on trial for corruption. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor lost the party leadership in May 2012, placing third in a leadership election won by Tomislav Karamarko, who appears more right-wing and nationalistic than recent HDZ leaders. Kosor was recently expelled from the party. The main beneficiary, instead, of the government’s declining popularity have been the Labourists (Hrvatski laburisti), a new left-wing party which won 5.1% and 6 seats in 2011. Claiming to represent the working-classes, the Labourists oppose austerity policies.
The SDP ran a common list with the left-liberal HNS-LD and the main pensioners’ party (HSU). The HDZ ran a common list with the nationalistic right-wing Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP AS, one seat in 2011) and a smaller pensioners’ party. The Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS) and the Social Liberals (HSLS) ran a common list and the right-wing regionalistic Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB) ran with smaller allied parties. The small regionalist Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), although a governing party in the current coalition, ran its own separate list led by IDS leader and Istria County head Ivan Jakovčić.
Turnout in these EU elections was an utterly catastrophic 20.84% – certainly one of the lowest turnouts in any EU election (besides Slovakia). Very low turnout in EU elections is the norm in the newer member states in eastern Europe, where any original enthusiasm for joining the EU has certainly not translated into any interest into the EU Parliament. Besides the fact that basically nobody in Croatia or in the rest of the EU for that matter actually cares about the EU Parliament or actually knows what it does, this particular election was very low-key. The major elections will be local and county elections in May, this election was a dress rehearsal for those elections in which no party placed tons of efforts or attention.
HDZ-HSP AS-BUZ 32.86% winning 6 seats
SDP-HNS-HSU 32.07% winning 5 seats
Labourists 5.77% winning 1 seat
HSS-HSLS 3.86% winning 0 seats
Ivan Jakovčić (IDS) 3.84% winning 0 seats
HDSSB 3.01% winning 0 seats
Croatian Growth 2.55% winning 0 seats
Youth Action 1.49% winning 0 seats
Pensioners’ Party 1.48% winning 0 seats
HSP 1.39% winning 0 seats
Greens 1.16% winning 0 seats
Pirate Party 1.13% winning 0 seats
All others 9.39% winning 0 seats
The centre-right opposition coalition led by the HDZ eked out a surprise victory, taking six of the country’s 12 seats. Whereas sparse polling prior to the election had shown them trailing the governing SDP-led coalition by a fairly substantial margin and on track to win only 4 or 5 seats, it came out ahead by a whisker. At cause here is probably the low turnout. When turnout is so low, elections are even more unpredictable and even good pollsters will have lots of trouble accurately predicting the outcome – because tons of voters lie to them by saying that they will certainly vote when in fact a lot/most end up not voting. Therefore, given the low turnout it is hard to interpret this election as a significant defeat for the governing coalition – their real test will be in the local elections next month, where turnout will be much higher and the stakes fairly high as well. Nevertheless, it remains an unwelcome surprise for the government.
The HDZ’s list was likely boosted by the presence of Ruža Tomašić, the leader of the right-wing/far-right HSP AS, who was sixth on the party’s list but who won the most preference votes of any candidates on the list – she won 26.6% of all votes cast for the lists’ candidates. Tomašić is a prominent anti-corruption crusader who gained notoriety – and controversy – recently by saying that “Croatia is for Croatians” and that the “others” are just “guests”. It is unclear whether she will join her five HDZ colleagues in the European People’s Party (EPP) group.
It also helps that the HDZ tends to be very good at turning out voters and motivating its electorate, something which has allowed it to outperform the SDP in close elections – such as the 2007 legislative election or the 2009 local elections.
The Labourists too will be disappointed by their performance. National polling consistently gives them about 10% of voting intentions and they had a solid chance to win two seats in this election. Their result, barely above their 2011 result percentage-wise, was disappointing for them.
As is usually the case in EU elections, a whole slew of tiny parties and third parties did very well. 29% of voters cast votes for parties or lists which did not win any seats, over 9% cast votes for lists which did not even win over 1% of the vote. In Istria, Ivan Jakovčić’s list won 44.5% of the vote in the county. The HDSSB also did quite well, polling up to 22.5% in Osijek-Baranja County.
Unsurprisingly, the first EU elections in Croatia were marked by apathy and general indifference. Surprisingly, however, the governing party which had been expected to win ended up narrowly losing – the sign of rising discontent with the young left-wing government in the midst of recession and austerity, or just a quirk from low turnout?
A by-election was held in Ireland on March 27. One of this blog’s reader, EPG, posted this summary of the by-election in the comments section for another post, I have re-posted it here in a guest post for everybody to enjoy.
A legislative by-election was held in the Meath East constituency of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house, on March 27. The by-election was caused by the death of Shane McEntee, a Fine Gael TD (member of the Dáil) and the Junior Minister for Food.
Meath East is located to the north-west of Dublin. The south of the constituency is dominated by Dublin commuter towns, such as Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunboyne. This is the heartland of an archetypical symbol of the Irish economic collapse called the “negative equity generation”: first-time house-buyers who purchased homes with large mortgage in the mid-2000s, and who now owe far more than their houses are worth. Many (probably most) are not originally from the county in which they now live, an important cultural marker in small and localistic Ireland. Meath East is more rural and settled in the northern part of the county, while the north-west end includes Kells, the largest town in northern Meath. The constituency’s somewhat bizarre, salamander-like shape is due to the exclusion of Meath’s largest town, Navan, and the inclusion of Kells, on population ratio equalisation grounds. Ironically, Meath was the home of James Tully, the Labour TD who oversaw a gerrymander that backfired in the 1970s (the Tullymander). To compound his misfortune, he then suffered shrapnel damage at the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat after Labour’s return to power in the 1980s.
The coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour has fallen sharply in popularity since their election in 2011, while the opposition parties of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have risen, as have independents and other candidates. This was probably predictable, since the government has continued most of the last (Fianna Fáil-Green) government’s policies, especially on economic issues, due to its support of the EU-ECB-IMF “troika” programme of financial support for the Irish State. This by-election was therefore considered a contest between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties. Meath East is mainly “exurban”, especially in the southern end of the constituency, but also small town and rural. This means the Labour Party was not considered a contender; their support is mainly in cities and important towns with local industry, and their current popularity is low in any case. It was enough to win one out of three seats in Meath East in 2011 under the STV proportional representation system, but it wouldn’t be enough to win an instant run-off by-election, even if they had held up their popularity. As for Sinn Féin, they did well at the by-election in Donegal South-West in 2010, which is also a rural area. But despite the despair of the negative equity generation, Meath is still a relatively prosperous part of Ireland, with big farms and many professionals who commute to jobs in Dublin. It’s a much higher-income area than Donegal, and that’s bad for Sinn Féin. Fine Gael outpolled Fianna Fáil hard in Meath East at the 2011 general election, and the big question was whether Fianna Fáil’s image-improvement since then would close enough of the gap to let them win.
Fine Gael fielded Helen McEntee, daughter of Shane McEntee, who worked on his political and ministerial teams. Family candidates are popular in Irish elections, especially by-elections, and form the “dynasties” that have provided many Taoisigh (heads of government), including the current Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his predecessor Brian Cowen, who both won by-elections to succeed their fathers. She primarily campaigned for a “sympathy vote” rather than seeking a mandate for a pretty unpopular government (). Labour chose Eoin Holmes, a county councillor and film producer who talked a lot about entrepreneurship. Fianna Fáil chose Thomas Byrne, the former TD who lost his seat at the 2011 epic fail but got a Senate seat as a consolation prize. Sinn Féin’s candidate was Darren O’Rourke, who works as an assistant to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party’s former parliamentary party leader in the Dáil (back when Gerry Adams was an MP in Northern Ireland). The Greens chose their former candidate, but they are now considered a minor party compared to the big four, with no Oireachtas representation. Independents and others included a Workers’ Party candidate and Ben Gilroy, a Direct Democracy Ireland activist who is popular among the crazy “Freeman on the Land” movement.
Helen McEntee (FG) 38.49% (-2.38%)
Thomas Byrne (FF) 32.92% (+13.31%)
Darren O’Rourke (SF) 13.02% (+4.14%)
Ben Gilroy (DDI) 6.45% (+6.45%)
Eoin Holmes (Lab) 4.57% (-16.46%)
Seán Ó Buachalla (GP) 1.74% (+0.66%)
Seamus McDonagh (WP) 1.08% (+1.08%)
Independent candidates 1.73% (-6.80%)
The huge story from this by-election has been the collapse of Labour’s vote, which was far bigger than national opinion polls would have suggested. Polls suggest that Labour has lost 6 to 10 points nationally compared to 2011. However, other stories are worth noting. Fine Gael’s vote held up much better than its partner, and much better than national polls would suggest. McEntee held onto her strong support base in the north of the constituency, as well as probably getting a sympathy vote (common for family members in Irish by-elections, though Fine Gael will deny this and claim that her success is a mandate for the party nationally). Interestingly, after 29 years when governments never won by-elections, this is the second government victory out of two by-elections in this Dáil. Labour won the first of these in late 2011, though their successful candidate left the parliamentary party about five weeks later. The last time Fine Gael won a by-election while in government was in 1975, when their candidate was a young Enda Kenny.
Fianna Fáil has recovered strongly, though they still can’t outpoll government candidates in actual elections. It seems that Fianna Fáil, not Sinn Féin, is enjoying the surge of anti-government feeling in relatively prosperous areas like Meath East (and the Dublin commuter belt more generally), though nobody would deny that Sinn Féin is the main beneficiary in deprived urban and rural areas. Among other opposition groups, Direct Democracy Ireland’s performance is striking. Small parties and independents rarely do very well at Irish by-elections. Gilroy ran a campaign strongly focussed on opposing repossessions of houses by banks, in tune with his support among the fringe, legal conspiracy theorists of the “Freeman on the Land” movement. This is at a time when the Irish government is openly discussing policies to make repossessions easier, due to the abnormally low rate compared to other countries with property price ex-bubbles like the USA, the UK or Spain. Gilroy caught a zeitgeist for what is basically a one-man party (though the Irish party registration requirements are reasonably strict, so he must have lots of supporters).
I now have details of the second and third counts, after which McEntee was elected. The second count excluded all but the top five candidates and Gilroy (DDI) won more of their transfers than any of the remaining five. This is less surprising than it may seem for a fourth-place candidate, as many independents tend to be fringe candidates themselves. They would be close to Gilroy’s anti-system and anti-party profile, which is even more anti-system than Sinn Féin. Independents in Ireland often seem to fill the “anti” role played by right-wing populists in other European countries, but with a local twist, and they have a similar support base of broadly non-left people with middling incomes. Fianna Fáil won fewest transfers, even fewer than Labour, which may suggest that the public is polarised by its recent rebirth. The third count was a run-off between McEntee (FG) and Byrne (FF). McEntee won 54.5% of the two-party vote after getting far more transfers than Byrne. A lot of SF or DDI voters must have given a higher preference to McEntee than to Byrne, their fellow opposition candidate, as McEntee’s third-count transfers (1,900) were much larger than Labour’s final vote total on the second round (1,200). Even if we assume that any remaining Labour supporters are firmly pro-coalition and sympathetic to Fine Gael, that still leaves about 800-900 of McEntee’s transfers that must have come from SF or DDI, after accounting for the usual transfer attrition. But she didn’t even need to do that well with opposition voters on these counts; she was safely ahead of Byrne from the outset. McEntee is now the youngest woman in the current Dáil.
The broader, national consequences are still unclear, though they can’t be good for Labour. Each of the opposition parties would have hoped to do better. Fianna Fáil wanted to win and Sinn Féin wanted to win votes in line with national polling (i.e. about 8% higher than in 2011). Fine Gael is glad to win and to have lost few votes, but the party was shaken by the sad death of Shane McEntee and would have preferred if this by-election had never happened.
A legislative by-election was held in the Oise’s second constituency in France on March 17 and 24, 2013. The results of the June 2012 legislative election in the constituency were declared invalid by the Constitutional Council, for reasons related to false statements in the incumbent deputy’s campaign propaganda. A by-election was held on the same day in Wallis-et-Futuna’s at-large constituency; these were the fourth and fifth legislative by-elections since the June 2012 elections: by-elections were held in Hérault (6), Hauts-de-Seine (13) and Val-de-Marne (1) in December after the initial results of the June 2012 elections were invalidated in these three constituencies. There are two pending by-elections in the constituencies for French citizens abroad (constituencies 1 and 8), the results of the June 2012 election in those two seats were also recently invalidated by the Constitutional Council but a date has not yet been set for the by-elections.
French legislative elections or by-elections are fought on a two-round system. A candidate must win over 50% of valid votes representing at least 25% of registered voters to win outright by the first round. If a second round is organized, all candidates who have won over 12.5% of registered voters are qualified for the runoff; or, if no candidates meet this requirement, the top two candidates in the first round. In by-elections were turnout is almost always lows, this means that only the top two candidates will qualify.
The incumbent deputy in Oise’s 2nd constituency, reelected in June, was Jean-François Mancel of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The incumbent deputy in Wallis-et-Futuna, elected in June, was David Vergé, classified as a right-winger but who sat with the Socialist (PS) group. In Wallis-et-Futuna, the ConCon also declared Vergé and some other candidates from the June 2012 to be ineligible for any elected office for a period of one year.
These by-elections come at a bad time for the incumbent centre-left government. Less than a year after he defeated incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande is nearing record levels of unpopularity, his approval ratings having sunk faster than any other President under the Fifth Republic. His approval rating currently stands at about 31%, the lowest for any President after ten months in office and approaching the record lows set by Jacques Chirac in his second term (mid to low 20s). Part of this unpopularity stems from the particular politcal and economic conjuncture. The French economy, like that of most of its neighbors, remains weak with high unemployment, low economic growth and a large public debt. The situation, naturally, was never going to brighten up miraculously with the election of a new head of state. Secondly, Hollande’s victory in May 2012 owed a lot to the ephemeral appeal of anti-Sarkozysm on the left and parts of the centre. As I noted in my analysis of the runoff last year, “the fact that the election was more Sarkozy’s defeat than Hollande’s victory and that Hollande owes his victory to anti-Sarkozysm will certainly come back to haunt the PS and Hollande in the near future, once voters forget Sarkozy and shift their judgement to the new incumbent.” While the economic context has further aggravated matters, a good part of the government’s unpopularity is of their own making.
Faced with an ever bleaker economic picture – unemployment at 10% and up nearly 1% on the previous years, flat economic growth in 2012 and a high public debt (90%) – the government has suffered heavily from the perception that it is slow to react and that it has found itself completely lost and powerless against the economic crisis. The right, which disliked Hollande from the get-go, has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and decried its economic policies (the UMP has placed particular emphasis on higher taxes). But many on the left have felt let down by the government on the economic front. It was fairly clear that for all of the PS’s flowery rhetoric about growth, it would be forced to implement austerity measures including spending cuts in the public sector (the public sector is a PS stronghold); and it has done so, although it has disguised it as ‘efforts’. Hollande had promised to renegotiate the European Fiscal Compact to give it a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation, but he and his governing majority ultimately approved it without any major changes. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap, entirely, his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. For many voters on the left, very little positive change is perceptible and many voters feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.
On a whole slew of other issues and campaign promises, the government has either ‘delayed’ reforms or watered them down fairly significantly. For example, because it lacks a three-fifths majority to pass major constitutional changes, a number of promised constitutional reforms have been have been written off the agenda. Faced with major internal unease within its own majority, the government has ‘delayed’ – probably indefinitely - a major reform to crack down on dual office holding (cumul des mandats). Proportional representations seems, once agian, to have been lost somewhere along the road. The latest round of ‘decentralization reforms’ which seem to be obligatory for every President has been delayed, held up in the Senate and met with the wrath of some local officials. While the government will likely be able to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption rights eventually, it has mobilized social conservative groups and is widely rejected by the quasi-entirety of the opposition.
On the symbolic aspect of things, Hollande had made a big deal of Sarkozy’s centralizing, autocratic and flashy (bling-bling) presidential system and he famously presented himself as the ‘normal President’ in contrast to the ‘hyper-President’ Sarkozy. Yet, the symbolic changes at that level have been slow to come. The ‘normal president’ mantra was quickly dropped. By choosing his close ally Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister (rather than party rival Martine Aubry, for example) Hollande signaled that he was continuing in Sarkozy’s, rather than Mitterrand’s, footsteps by choosing a close ally and partner as Prime Minister. While the left criticized Sarkozy for sidelining the Prime Minister and concentrating powers in the executive branch, Hollande has done largely the same. Ayrault, ten months down the road, appears effaced and a mere ‘sidekick’ in comparison to his President.
Having been in opposition for ten years upon taking office last spring, the PS and the wider ‘presidential majority’ has had some trouble adapting to the rigours of governing. Cabinet ministers, from early on, have contradicted each other or diverged from the government line publicly, and Ayrault has often appeared powerless or unable to put his ministers back in place. And the government has been hit by its first ethics scandal: the budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, a respected figure, was forced to resign on March 19 after facing allegations of tax fraud and a secret bank account in Switzerland. Meanwhile, some signs of internal disagreements between the PS and its minor allies (particularly the Greens/EELV) have appeared on some issues, while the Left Front (FG) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Communist Party (PCF) have been vocal critics of government policies.
A few government ministers have been able to escape the government’s unpopularity. Top amongst them is Manuel Valls, the Interior minister, who is the most popular in France at the moment with wide support on the left and right. He has largely continued his right-wing predecessors’ tough crime and immigration policies, notably by continuing the expulsion of the Roma and dismantling illegal ‘squatter settlements’. Valls’ tough policies on crime, security and immigration has the right worried that the PS might be succeeding at ‘reappropriating’ the security issue from them.
Despite the government’s unpopularity, the right-wing opposition has had trouble appearing as a better alternative. Sarkozy’s right-wing party, the UMP, was almost torn apart in November at the party congress meant to choose Sarkozy’s successor as the head of the party. Although both warring sides in the UMP’s civil war have since come to an agreement (a new congress in the fall, in the meantime the leadership is made up of an equal number of members from both sides), it is an uneasy truce between the two rival camps united only by their common opposition to the government. The few major UMP politicians who are very popular with the electorate at this point in time are those who are out of the limelight and the intrigues at the Parisian headquarters (Christine Lagarde as IMF managing director, Alain Juppé as mayor of Bordeaux and respected ‘party elder’). Finally, Nicolas Sarkozy’s potential ambitions for a rematch against Hollande in 2017 might be complicated by his recent indictment in an old corruption/party financing scandal.
Oise’s second constituency includes the west of the Oise department and the southwest canton of Beauvais, the main urban centre in the region. The constituency, whose borders have remained the same since 1986, is made up of the cantons of Auneuil, Beauvais Sud-Ouest, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, Fromerie, Grandvilliers, Noailles and Songeons. This constituency includes parts of four traditional natural regions: the Plateau Picard in the north; the Bray in the centre; the Thelle/Thérain valley running towards the south; and the Vexin français in the southwestern end of the constituency.
The common way of describing constituencies similar to this one is ‘rural’. Indeed, Beauvais is the only large city in the constituency where no other commune has over 3,000 inhabitants. However, the ‘rural’ descriptor is both deceptive and simplistic; the second constituency is much more of an exurban/small town constituency rather than a purely rural area. With the exception of the two northernmost cantons, most of the constituency is a patchwork of villages and small towns economically and socially tied to Beauvais and/or Paris. Beauvais is the only commune in the canton where over half of the economically active population are employed in the town where they live. Historically, this is also a working-class area with small industrial centres or small industries (glass-making, sugar beets, metallurgy, railway classification yards in cités cheminotes).
Politically, alongside the rest of the department and most of the region, the constituency has shifted heavily to the right and far-right over the course of the past decades. Socialist President François Hollande won 43.9% in the constituency in May 2012; about 4% worse than Lionel Jospin (PS) had done in the constituency in 1995 (remembering that Hollande did about 4% better nationally). For an even starker contrast, 31 years ago, François Mitterrand won the constituency with 51.5% in the 1981 election – nationally, Hollande and Mitterrand (1981) won by almost the exact same margin, in this constituency Hollande performed nearly 8 points worse than Mitterrand in 1981.
Nevertheless, this constituency has never really been markedly left-leaning. Less industrialized and urbanized than other parts of the department, the French Communist Party (PCF) was never as strong here than in other parts of the department, and there was some subsisting Radical strength in the more agricultural parts of the constituency (Bray) in the 1950s.
Nicolas Sarkozy won the constituency with 60.7% in 2007 and held it with 56.1% last May. In the second round, Sarkozy was victorious in every canton in the constituency with the exception of Beauvais Sud-Ouest, where Hollande won 53.4% thanks to his strength in Beauvais itself (the part of the city contained in the constituency includes a large zone urbaine sensible, a low-income urban neighborhood). Sarkozy thoroughly dominated the near totality of the ‘rural’ part of the constituency, with results above 58% in most cantons. The sole remnants of left-wing strength outside Beauvais subsist only in Sérifontaine (canton of Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, an old PCF stronghold with a large metal industry) and Feuquières, a glass-working town in the north of the constituency (canton of Grandvilliers), an extension of the ‘Glass valley’ region along the Bresle river. But whereas Lionel Jospin had won nearly 60% in both those towns in 1995, Hollande won only 53.6% in the former and 55.8% in the latter. Some isolated remnants of left-wing dominance from another era may still prop up, however, in towns such as Hermes, an old cité cheminote where Hollande won 48.7%. For the sake of comparison, Mitterrand had won majorities in six of the seat’s eight cantons in the 1981 runoff and over 54% in Beauvais SO (54.4%) and Coudray-Saint-Germer (54.4%).
Marine Le Pen did extremely well in the constituency, placing first in the first round with 27.9% against 27.6% for Sarkozy and only 22.1% for Hollande. Compared to her father’s performance in 2002 and 1995, she posted some very impressive results in constituencies just like this one across eastern and northern France. The FN has always been rather strong in this constituency, but Marine Le Pen was stronger than her father had ever been in the constituency.
The seat is an interesting mix of two distinct FN electorates: the area around Beauvais and the south of the constituency, in the Thelle/Thérain valley and the Vexin, are exurban areas drawn to Paris or smaller regional centres (Beauvais, Creil etc). The FN’s electorate there is relatively blue-collar as well, but it is of a more ideologically right-wing and périurbain subi variety. Even though the local foreign population is low (3%), because many of the inhabitants in the region tend to commute to large cities and interact/confront large immigrant populations there, the FN’s rhetoric on immigration is a powerful influence. The FN’s original support in the region came largely from these kind of areas – for example, in the 1984 Euro elections, the FN did better in the exurban-type cantons (Auneuil, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Beauvais SO) than in the industrial-type cantons (Formerie, Grandvilliers, Coudray-Saint-Germer). This is also a type of FN electorate which embraced Nicolas Sarkozy by the first round in 2007: Sarkozy won 33.4% in the first round in 2007, against only 23-24% for the mainstream right in 2002 (Chirac, Madelin, Boutin). His gains – and Le Pen’s loses – were heavier in the southern part of the constituency, the most suburban/exurban part.
However, the two northernmost cantons (Formerie and Grandvilliers) are less suburban/exurban. Demographically, they are the most working-class parts of the seat and also the most economically deprived (highest unemployment, lowest incomes); but most of the old industries are dead, and most people work outside their town/village of residence. The FN vote is more recent, and the FN support tends to be a ‘pure’ protest vote which rejects the main parties and expresses discontent but also concerns and fears with the economic situation. These voters are described as ninistes in that they identify as ‘neither left nor right’, rather than very right-wing like their counterparts in other parts of the country. Marine Le Pen performed best in these two northern cantons, winning 32% and 34% respectively. In 2007, they also showed themselves to be more resistant to ‘electoral Sarkozysm’ – Le Pen’s loses were significantly lower in Formerie and Grandvilliers than in the other cantons.
Marine Le Pen also won 31% in the cantons of Coudray-Saint-Germer and Noailles – including 38% in Hermes. Her worst results were in Beauvais SO (20.7%) and the canton of Chaumont-en-Vexin (24%), which includes more affluent and well-educated Parisian outer suburbs.
The constituency has been held by the right since it took its current shape, with the exception of 1997 when the PS’ Béatrice Marre defeated the right thanks to a triangulaire with the FN. Logically, the UMP regained the seat in 2002 with 55% in the runoff and held it in 2007 with a reduced majority (52.8%). The UMP won the 2012 triangulaire by only 63 votes.
The UMP (RPR before that) incumbent since 1978 (with the exception of 1981-1986 and 1997-2002) is Jean-François Mancel, who is also the general councillor for the canton of Noailles and was president of the Oise general council between 1985 and 2004. Fitting in with his environment, Mancel is broadly on the right of the UMP (he is a copéiste); in fact, in 1998, he negotiated electoral alliances at the cantonal and regional level with the FN. Mancel is not a particularly strong incumbent and is not very influential within the ranks of his party, he has been weakened by a number of corruption allegations.
The main candidates were the same as in the June 2012 election: Mancel for the UMP, Beauvais SO general councillor Sylvie Houssin for the PS and Florence Italiani for the FN.
The results of the first round (March 17)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 40.61% (+7.25%)
Florence Italiani (FN) 26.58% (+3.35%)
Sylvie Houssin (PS) 21.37% (-9.13%)
Pierre Ripart (FG) 6.64% (+1.39%)
Clément Lesaege (Pirate) 1.97%
Renée Potchtovik (LO) 1.57% (+0.84%)
Michel Ramel (DVD) 1.25%
Turnout 32.79% (blank and invalid votes: 2.76%)
The results of the runoff (March 23)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 51.41%
Florence Italiani (FN) 48.59%
Turnout 35.3% (blank and invalid votes: 10.09%)
The first round was a major defeat for the PS. Sylvie Houssin, the PS candidate, was eliminated from the runoff by the first round, having won only 21.4% of the vote – over 9% less than in June. The local PS candidate was badly hurt by the government’s unpopularity. As is usually the case, a large part of the left-wing/PS electorate which had voted for the PS in June 2012 did not turn out in this by-election. This had already been the case for the PS in the 3 by-elections in December (which had ended in three bad defeats for the PS, including the loss of one seat to the UMP); but it worked the other way around in 2010 or 2011, when the UMP lost a good number of its voters to abstention. The results at the communal level, turnout in the first round was clearly lower in left-wing precincts, and higher in those precincts where the FN or UMP performed better.
The two main winners of the first round were the UMP and the FN. Mancel nearly came back to his level in the “blue wave” first round of the 2007 legislative election (41.9% against 21.1% for the PS); although basically all candidates won less raw votes than in June, Mancel only lost about 5,500 votes while Houssin shed a full 9,300 votes.
The FN had a strong performance in the first round, in addition to qualifying for the runoff by finishing ahead of the PS. This is a bit different from what happened in the December by-elections, particularly the one in the Hérault where the FN had fancied its chances. In December, the FN had fallen flat on its face in the Hérault’s 6th constituency; their intakes in the two petite couronne seats where they were weak was also unimpressive. What is the difference between the two by-elections? The FN’s underwhelming result in the Hérault in December may, in part, have something to do with the local FN electorate: a clearly ideologically right-wing electorate, which has shown itself to be more susceptible to the UMP’s consistent attempts (since 2007) to woo them over. In the Hérault, many either did not turn out or supported the UMP candidate, who was the former UMP deputy (defeated by the PS in June) who himself was on the party’s right. In the Oise, however, the FN electorate is sociologically different and slightly more resistant to the UMP’s strategy. Furthermore, Mancel is not greatly appealing to many ‘soft’ FN voters.
The FG’s candidate won 6.6%, better than he had performed in June 2012 but not a remarkable gain. The FG has been attempting to profit from the government’s unpopularity on the left, and it has been a very vocal critic of Hollande and his government’s policies from the get-go. However, in both the December by-elections and this by-election, the FG’s performance – decent, but not anything to write home about – has likely been below their expectations. The PCF had similarly tried to benefit from the PS’ unpopularity at the end of Mitterrand’s second term, but its electoral performance in 1992 and 1993 showed that it had not really been able to turn the PS’ unpopularity into electoral success. Time will tell if the FG will profit from the government’s unpopularity – particularly with a sizable number of left-wing voters – in upcoming nationwide elections where turnout will be higher.
If the first round had been a major blow for the PS, the runoff was a major blow for the UMP. The boomerang came back and hit the UMP in its face. Mancel was reelected with a majority of only 768 votes against the FN candidate, with 51.4% of the vote. The FN came within a whisker of a major upset victory.
The FN’s strong performance begs one big question: where did its new voters, nearly 6000 additional votes, come from? There are, two main theories on this question: the ‘transfer’ theory and the ‘substitution’ theory. According to the ‘transfer’ theory, the FN gained votes from those who had voted for the PS (or FG) in the first round. This theory is not as crazy as it may seem. To begin with, past elections have shown that a good number of left-wing voters from the first round will vote for the FN against the mainstream rights in runoff elections where the left’s candidate was eliminated by the first round. In both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in the 2011 cantonal elections, the FN gained about 10 points from their first round result; in both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in June 2012, the FN gained about 16% from their first round result. Secondly, the left-wing base in the constituency (outside Beauvais) tends to be white working-class voters, who may realistically prefer the FN over the UMP.
There are also local circumstances at play which may explain PS/FN transfers. Although the national PS leadership de facto endorsed Mancel against the FN, the local PS candidate did not endorse any candidate. She stated that voters were faced with a choice between the extrême droite and droite extrême; two sides of the same coin. Left-wing voters had no reason to show up and ‘save’ Mancel against the FN: there were no national issues at stake, and Mancel is unpopular on the left because of his 1998 deals with the FN and various corruption clouds which have hung over his head for years.
While left>FN tranfers undeniably exist, the June 2012 legislative election showed that they were far less significant than right>FN transfers. In 9 right/FN runoffs in the last legislative election, there was only a weak correlation (0.21) between left-wing strength in the first round and FN gains between both rounds; there was, however, a 0.64 correlation between left-wing strength and a decline in voter turnout between between both rounds. Turnout declined by an average of 8% in the 9 right/FN battles in June, it only increased by 1.2% in left/FN battles. The percentage of voters who turned out in the runoff but cast blank or invalid votes was also very high (over 10%) in right/FN runoffs.
This by-election, however, is an outlier in this case. Turnout increased in the runoff, by about 2%. However, there was a major increase in blank and invalid votes, from 2.8% to 10% (about 2000 ‘new’ blank or invalid votes); the number of valid votes was actually slightly lower in the runoff than in the first round.
The ‘substitution’ theory would hold that while a larger number of left-wing voters did not turn out or cast invalid votes, that decline was compensated by the stronger mobilization of FN voters. Florence Italiani did indeed have a bigger reservoir to build on; Marine Le Pen won over 19,000 votes in the constituency in April 2012, Italiani only won 7.2k in the first round and 13,190 in the runoff. Her strong result in the first round might have allowed FN voters who had not turned out on March 17 to mobilize in her favour for the second round.
The national context during the week between both rounds might have further boosted the FN. It was, really, the dream scenario for the FN: a PS cabinet minister forced to resign in an alleged tax fraud scandal, followed by the former UMP President indicted by the courts for a campaign financing scandal; the current economic situation in Cyprus; and the Court of Cassation’s controversial decision to annul a lower court decision which had confirmed the lay-off, in 2008, of a daycare employee who had refused to remove her hijab.
The data from the 9 right/FN runoffs in June 2012 would tend to confirm that the ‘substitution’ theory is a better explanation than the ‘transfer’ electorate, although both are relatively valid. The results from this by-election, however, troubles the substitution theory a bit. That being said, we are dealing with a case unlike the 9 constituencies from June. This was a by-election, with structurally low turnout which will always tend to messy things up a bit. The low turnout levels in both rounds makes it harder for us to draw clear conclusions from the results, and makes it tough to prove either theory.
Joël Gombin did an ecological inference analysis on the runoff at the precinct level for the runoff. He found that 43% of Houssin’s voters from March 17 voted for the FN in the runoff, while remaining 57% split fairly equally (19%, 18%, 20%) between abstention, blank/invalid votes and the UMP. The 43% seems like a reasonable estimate, although it should still be taken with a grain of salt given the difficulties of analysis in low-turnout by-elections.
Indeed, at the communal level, the FN won most of the traditionally left-leaning towns in the constituency (Sérifontaine, Feuquières, Hermes, Formerie; but not Beauvais) and often by quite strong margins. And even in those towns, while turnout remained very low in both rounds, it did not decline by much (if at all) between both rounds. In some low-income precincts in Beauvais, where the left had been strongest in the first round, the FN generally did quite well in the second round despite being well below average in the first round. Yet, we should still be careful about assuming that all FN ‘extra’ votes came from the left. Nothing can prove that the same 30% turned out in both rounds, though it does appear quite unlikely that the runoff electorate would be an entirely different bunch of people than first round voters.
Gombin’s data revealed a few oddities. There is the matter that Italiani would have kept ‘only’ 62% of her first round voters and lost a quarter of them to Mancel. While it is clear that there a number of FN voters who vote for the FN in the first round as a protest vote or to send a message but who will vote for the right or left in the runoff; it is tough to see why a quarter (!) of first round FN voters would prefer to vote UMP in the runoff against the FN. Granted, some right-wingers might have been tempted to send a message by voting FN in the first round but ‘played it safe’ in the runoff, but can they account for some 25% of Italiani’s 7.2 thousand voters from the first round?
His results also indicated that about 19% of Mancel’s first round voters went to the FN in the runoff; he kept 74% of his first round intake. There has been no research, as far as I know, on the behaviour of first round mainstream right voters in right/FN runoff situations, but it can be a bit puzzling as well. One explanation which Gombin tentatively suggested was Nicolas Sarkozy’s indictment in the Bettencourt affair in the week between the first and second round, and the negative effect it might have had on some UMP supporters.
The ‘substitution’ theory has been taken up by the local PS in Beauvais, which obviously has political interest in writing off the FN’s strong performance as a result of the mobilization of the electorate rather than the result of left>FN transfers, which would discredit its ‘two sides of the same coin’ strategy. Again, however, it is foolish and overly partisan to write off any kind of left>FN transfers. Both theories are valid, although in this particular case it would seem that evidence leans towards the ‘transfer’ theory
What lessons can be taken out of this by-election? Firstly, it shows that, on the ground, the traditional ‘republican front’ strategy is basically dead and whatever kind of cordon sanitaire which might have existed on the ground in the past between the FN and the other parties is long gone. We should stop treating voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.
While this by-election risks re-opening the old myth that there is a massive reservoir of voters who hesitate between the PS/FG and the FN, it is nevertheless clear that a certain part of the left-wing electorate flirts the FN and is open to voting for the FN in particular circumstances. In this sense, the PS should stop treating the FN issue as something which only concerns the right, because the FN is a potential danger to the left as well (though perhaps not as much of a problem as it is for the right).
The current political situation in France is ideal for the FN. The left-wing government is unpopular, including with a good part of its historical and/or current electoral clientele; but the main right-wing opposition is struggling to keep the lid on a simmering internal civil war and it has generally failed to present itself as the sole credible alternative to the left for the moment. With a morose economic and social situation, and a political climate in which both traditional parties are unpopular; the FN has almost everything going for it as things stand. Furthermore, as this by-election further confirmed, the FN is becoming less and less ‘toxic’ and repulsive to voters and its electoral potential in the runoff – while still far, far away from the 50%+1 it will need to win power – is clearly far wider under Marine Le Pen’s leadership.
Nevertheless, we should be careful about reading too much into low-turnout by-elections and we would do well to steer away from the inevitable mass panic and pandemonium which ensues whenever the FN does well somewhere.
The by-election in Wallis-et-Futuna received next to no attention from the national media, largely because politics on those remote islands of the French Pacific are disconnected from metropolitan politics and are heavily based on local factors. Even if the national parties exist on the islands, these partisan labels are meaningless. Insular politics revolve around local personalities – especially the endorsements of various traditional rulers – and campaigns have no ideological overtones. Voters often vote for the candidate based on family ties or the endorsement of their local ruler. National political trends don’t impact local politics at all. The seat was held by Benjamin Brial, a local Gaullist baron, between 1967 and 1988; and later by his son, Victor Brial, between 1997 and 2007. Albert Likuvalu, affiliated with the Left Radicals (PRG) at the national level, defeated Brial in 2007 but went down to defeat in 2012 – he placed third with barely 17% in June. David Vergé, the victor of the June 2012 election, was aligned with the vaguely centre-right opposition in the local legislature, but he joined the PS group in the National Assembly in July.
The candidate endorsed by the UMP, Napole Polutele, faced two centre-left candidates: Mikaele Kulimoetoke (the runner-up in June 2012) and Lauriane Tialetagi Vergé (PS, the wife of David Vergé, the deputy elected in June 2012 and ineligible for elected office for one year). In the first round, he won 37.4% against 33.1% for Kulimoetoke and 29.5% for Tialetagi Vergé. In the runoff, which featured the same candidates, Polutele won with 37.5% against 32.4% for Kulimoetoke and 30.2% for Tialetagi Vergé. Turnout was 75.7% in the first round and 79.7% in the runoff.
There are, as aforementioned, two pending legislative by-elections will be called in the 1st (North America) and 8th (Israel, Greece, Turkey, Italy) constituencies for French citizens abroad. Both seats were held by PS deputies whose elections were invalidated; both were also declared ineligible for elected office for a period of one year due to irregularities in their campaign’s financing. The PS is extremely vulnerable in both constituencies, both of which favoured Sarkozy over Hollande on May 6 – in fact, Sarkozy won 63% in the eight constituency! Nevertheless, both are unpredictable because turnout will be extremely low (in June 2012, turnout was 20% in the first and 13% in the eight!) and the local right, as in June, is badly divided in both constituencies.
While everybody was busy with Italy, an important by-election was held in the UK – in the constituency of Eastleigh. Chris Terry was nice enough to offer me a fantastic guest post on this by-election. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and you can follow him on Twitter here.
A by-election was held in Eastleigh, England on the 28th of February.
The by-election was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne MP. Huhne was a prominent Liberal Democrat, originally Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK’s coalition government. He had twice run for leader of the party, both times coming second. The second time he was only very narrowly beaten by 1.2% by current Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. 1,200 votes were held up in the Christmas post and an unofficial check of them revealed that Huhne had had enough votes to win the leadership, though, to his credit, he stood by the result.
Shortly after being made a Minister in Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2010 Huhne had split from his wife, Vicky Pryce, a former head of the Government Economic Service. He had left her for his press officer, Carina Trimingham. The nature of this revelation caused Pryce to leak to the press that Huhne had had her claim responsibility for speeding when he had been caught by a speed camera. Lying in this way was perversion of justice, and so a court case started against Huhne and then also against Pryce, as she, too, had been complicit in this. Pryce claimed not guilty due to ‘marital coercion’, a rarely used defence in UK law. Huhne eventually pleaded guilty on the 5th of February. He has not been sentenced yet but, as it was clear he would receive jail time he resigned his seat. Pryce’s trial is currently subject to a retrial as the Jury could not reach a decision in the original trial.
The 2010 election had resulted in Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974 and the first peacetime Coalition government since before the war. After thirteen years of Labour governance Britain was suddenly faced with a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 election the Lib Dems and their leader, Nick Clegg, had become briefly extremely popular, riding a wave known as ‘Cleggmania’ from Clegg’s strong performance in Prime Ministerial debates. Polls early in the campaign had shown the Lib Dems challenging for the most votes. On election day, however, they fell back from these optimistic predictions, winning 23.0% (a gain of 1%) of the vote, and remaining in third. They also lost six seats. Nonetheless this was their strongest popular vote since 1983, and their second strongest since 1923, shortly after Labour had leap frogged them to being the main opposition to the Conservatives. They also held the balance of power in a hung parliament, and formed a Coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives.
After forming the Coalition, Lib Dem fortunes quickly deteriorated. Lib Dem voters are a heterogenous group but perhaps a majority in 2010 were either protest voters or left-of-centre. Many voters had voted for the Lib Dems because they saw them as more left-wing than Labour. A particularly symbolic moment for many was the vote on University tuition fees. The Lib Dems had long been against University tuition fees and during the 2010 campaign its MPs had signed a cast-iron pledge designed by the National Union of Students to the effect that, as a MP, they would not vote for any rise in tuition fees. This was a short-sighted policy in many ways, both Labour and Conservatives clearly favoured tuition fees in private and considering Britain’s economic position (a budget deficit equivalent to around 10% of GDP) it was difficult to see where the money would come from. The Lib Dem’s therefore ended up having to agree to raising tuition fees from a maximum of £3,000 a year; to £9,000 a year (it is very rare to see a University charging less than the maximum). The Lib Dems had had a very strong youth and student base and this was seen as a massive betrayal. The Lib Dem party itself split in the Commons. 27 Lib Dems, almost all ministers in the government, voted for the rise, 21 voted against and 8 abstained, in an atmosphere notable for the massive student protests in London.
From 23% in 2010, opinion polls indicated that the Lib Dems may have fallen into the single digits nationally, with some polls showing the Lib Dems as low as 8%, though some higher, at around 15%, with the polls mostly averaging around the 10% mark. Considering Britain’s First Past the Post electoral system if uniform swing applied this would mean the loss of a startling number of Lib Dem seats, the vast majority. However a glimmer of hope remained for the Lib Dems in their results in local elections where they demonstrated a capability to maintain strength in the areas where they have MPs and particularly against the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats as a party have often relied on strong local figures maintaining a strong profile as ‘local MPs’ and therefore having a strong personal vote. Indications were that this was continuing. A tradition of Labour supporters tactically voting Lib Dem to stop Conservatives getting in also seemed to continue. It was in areas where the Lib Dems had strong second or third places in 2010 where they lost the most votes. This suggested that the Lib Dems may save more seats than uniform swing indicated, especially as 38 of the party’s 57 seats were in seats where the Conservatives were in second place.
The Conservatives had had started in government fairly well, with a surprisingly long honeymoon period in the initial days of the Coalition in contrast to their Lib Dem partners. However since the 2012 budget things started to fall off the Conservative wagon. The government had cut the new top rate of tax introduced by Labour for those earning over £150,000 a year from 50% to 45%, whilst also removing certain exemptions from the tax code. A particularly odd argument that raged on was that of the ‘pasty tax’. The government had removed an exemption from VAT for hot takeaway food, such as pasties, a savoury pastry filled with meat and vegetables. The pasty is seen as a food of the working class, and so the ‘pasty tax’ was seen as symbolic of a government that did not understand ordinary people. Embarrassing photo ops had to be arranged where politicians explained just how much they enjoyed a pasty. At one point David Cameron was asked at a press conference when the last time he had a pasty was, he responded with a story about buying a pasty at Leeds railway station, but it was later revealed that the pasty shop he mentioned had shut down at the time he said! The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many other prominent Conservatives come from aristocratic backgrounds and the Conservatives have often been seen as the ‘Party of the Rich’. There was therefore a contrast between the ‘tax cut for millionaires’ as Labour framed it, and a tax raise on a beloved lunchtime meal of the ordinary working man. The Conservatives have also been tainted by associations with the Murdoch press after the fall out from the phone hacking scandal and had to deal with an increasingly rebellious and unruly set of backbench MPs, who feel that the Coalition government has been insufficiently right-of-centre. Cameron has had to deal with an increasingly vocal and rebellious backbench who apparently feel that his moderation was beyond their failure to win in 2010. Unlike Blair who was able to hold moral authority over his party by virtue of his large majorities and therefore claim superior democratic legitimacy Cameron has had no such luck and many Conservative MPs feel a weak attachment to the Coalition Agreement, feeling that their party’s manifesto is more important. One particular backbench MP, Peter Bone, is well known for his almost weekly calls for Cameron to end the Coalition. While his is a lone voice, it is nonetheless a sign of the times in the party.
Labour had been launched into a leadership contest immediately after the 2010 election. The favourite was David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, a former aide to Tony Blair widely seen as on the right of the party. His main competitor was Ed Miliband, his younger brother, the former Energy and Climate Change Secretary and a former aide to Gordon Brown, who was seen as closer to the centre-left of the party. To the surprise of many commentators Ed Miliband won, just.
Ed’s earliest period in power was problematic for the party. He was painted out in the right wing press as ‘Red Ed’, opposed to any and all cuts to the state. He was seen as uncharismatic, nerdy, and even a little weird. There was a strong public perception that he had ‘stabbed his brother in the back’ with rumours that the two no longer spoke.
However as the Conservative’s problems grew Labour grew in strength in the polls, and this led to a change in the narrative about him. Ed also became more confident in front of a camera and in the Commons. While Ed still has his problems and is not riding any Obama-like wave of ascendancy, he is no longer seen as the unremitting disaster he was initially presented as.
Nonetheless, approval ratings for all three party leaders are now pretty terrible and there is a certain anti-establishment feeling in the UK. This has fed into the rise of a new(ish) force – UKIP. Originally short for UK Independence Party (the party recently changed its official name to just the acronym), UKIP was originally a very minor party, eclipsed by the similarly Eurosceptic Referendum Party of millionaire former Conservative donor Sir James Goldsmith. UKIP was originally a single-issue party with a single raison d’etre – the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The party had done well in European Parliamentary elections in the UK, aided by a broadly Eurosceptic electorate, a proportional voting system and low turnouts UKIP had managed to get 3 MEPs elected in 1999 (coming fourth), 12 elected in 2004 (beating the Lib Dems into third) and 13 in 2009 (beating Labour into second).
UKIP had never been particularly good at winning votes in general or local elections however. In 2010 it won 3.1% of the vote in the UK, but came nowhere close to a seat anywhere, with its most prominent candidate, current leader Nigel Farage, only succeeding in third place against Commons Speaker John Bercow (by convention the three main parties do not run against the Speaker). However since 2010 UKIP has been gaining steam, pulling off a string of impressive by-election results, often coming in second, though never actually winning. The party’s best record is 21.7% of the vote in Rotherham in November 2012. The party has also climbed in the opinion polls, where it ranges between 8% and 16%. The party’s success has been due to a variety of factors. Firstly their current leader, Nigel Farage, is a ‘straight talking’ sort of politician who has become popular with news organisations due to his bombastic style replete with quips and put downs for his political contemporaries. In one infamous speech in the European Parliament he lambasted the President of the European Council, the former Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, as having the “charisma of a damp rag”, as “looking like a low-grade bank clerk” and as coming from a “non-country”. UKIP has also rounded its policies with policies designed to appeal to right-wing Conservatives in particular. The party increasingly concentrates on opposition to immigration and gay marriage. It is said to be pulling away significant numbers of activists from Conservative Future, the Conservatives youth wing. Finally the party appears to be benefitting from the removal of the Lib Dems as a viable protest vote.
All the seats that had been up for by-election so far had been either Labour safe seats, with the exception of Corby, a Lab/Con marginal which has tended to be the former rather than the latter in recent years. In all of these bar one notable exception (Bradford West, where the former Labour MP George Galloway won backed by his far-left RESPECT coalition) the Labour candidate had won, often fairly resoundingly. Eastleigh, however, was a LD/Con marginal. The Eastleigh by-election therefore provided an interesting opportunity for the psephologically-inclined to see how the Lib Dems might perform against the Conservatives at the next election, scheduled for 2015. It was also important to both Coalition parties. For the Lib Dems, a win would mean rare positive press, a significant morale boost for their base and a demonstration that the party was not heading towards electoral wipe-out. For the Conservatives the win was less necessary but it would show that the party was capable of defeating the Lib Dems, who hold significant numbers of Conservative target seats. Eastleigh was therefore, by many measures, the most important by-election since 2010.
Eastleigh is a railway town (a town that primarily developed because of its railway station) in the South of England. It is just 5 miles North of the city of Southampton, one of the larger cities in the South of England, besides London. Like most of Southern England outside London, Eastleigh is overwhelmingly White British, predominantly middle class, though there are working class areas, and economically active.
Up until 1994 Eastleigh had been regarded as a Conservative safe seat, won by the Conservatives at every election since the seat’s creation in 1955. In 1992 the Conservatives had won it with 51.3% of the vote, defeating the second placed Lib Dems with a majority of 23.3%. The sad death of the Conservative MP, Stephen Milligan, a rising star in the party, from what appeared to be a sex act gone wrong led to a by-election in 1994. By this point John Major’s Conservative government had become exceptionally unpopular and in the by-election the Conservative vote collapsed, with the Conservatives winning less than half of their 1992 vote, at 24.7%, coming third with the Lib Dems winning the seat with 44.3% for their candidate, David Chidgey. The seat was held by the Lib Dems from then on. The Conservatives, however, targeted Eastleigh which continually remained just out of reach. The Conservatives would gain votes, but the Lib Dems would succeed through tactical voting in their favour from Labour. Chidgey stood down in 2005, to be replaced by Chris Huhne. In doing so the party lost Chidgeys personal vote and Huhne was only able to defeat the Conservatives by 1.1% of the vote. He increased this in 2010 to 7.2%.
In many other respects Eastleigh has become something of a fortress for the Lib Dems. The party currently holds all of the council seats in the constituency, giving it a stupendous majority on Eastleigh borough council of 40-4 against the Conservatives (with the 4 Conservatives holding seats in areas outside the constituency boundaries). Remarkably the Lib Dems have even managed to gain seats in Eastleigh since 2010, gaining 2 in 2011. No other council is so dominated by the Lib Dems. They also hold all six county council seats in the constituency and even managed to top the poll locally in the super-low turnout Police and Crime Commissioner elections held last year. The Lib Dem machine in Eastleigh is infamous for its effectiveness and ruthlessness at Lib Dem ‘pavement politics’, the art of taking to the streets and campaigning viscerally on local issues. So effective is the Lib Dem machine that local businesses advertise on the back of their leaflets due to their reach. Having such a strong activist base and so many councillors gives the Lib Dems a strong advantage in terms of knowledge of the seat and voting data, something the party exploits.
At the last election the result had been as follows:
Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrat) 46.5%
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 39.3%
Leo Barraclough (Labour) 9.6%
Ray Finch (UKIP) 3.6%
The candidates and the campaign
The four most notable candidates (in order of their party’s performance in the 2010 election) were:
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrats). The Lib Dems took the safe route with the selection of their candidate in the form of Mike Thornton. Thornton is a local councillor, which gave them the opportunity to localise the contest somewhat and avoid the associations with Nick Clegg that would have happened if the Lib Dems had run a Westminster insider. Some on the campaign trail said he was boring, but this also meant he was uncontroversial.
During the campaign it seemed as if the entire Lib Dem activist base had decamped to Eastleigh for the month. The Lib Dems have traditionally been very good at targeting seats they hoped to win and highly effective at by-elections. They are very good at focusing a campaign on local issues – in this particular case opposition to a local housing development project in a classic piece of British NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard). While all parties notionally support increasing the housing stock nationally in practice at a local level people tend to think that the houses should be somewhere else! This strategy was masterminded by former Lib Dem Chief Executive Chris (now Lord) Rennard and is known as ‘Rennardism’ in some circles. In a twist of fate for the Lib Dems, Rennard was publicly accused of sexual harassment by 10 female former Lib Dem activists during the campaign with the intimation that this is why he lost his position as Chief Exec. The Rennard allegations created significant questions for the leadership, with their knowledge of the allegations being a key question. Rumours about Rennard had circulated in the Westminster village for years, but there had never been proof. Clegg’s claim on the Sunday prior to the by-election that he had not heard the allegations before therefore stretched credibility, and he quickly had to release a statement to the effect that he had heard rumours but nothing more. The Lib Dems were therefore faced an ironic situation where they may have lost the by-election due to the behaviour of Chris Rennard, a man who had previously been seen as responsible for many historic Lib Dem by-election wins. Nonetheless the party broadly remained the favourite, though not overwhelmingly so, during the campaign.
Maria Hutchings (Conservative). The Conservatives once again ran their candidate from 2010, Maria Hutchings, a local businesswoman. This was unsurprising given that the party needed a candidate with local credentials to take on the Liberal Democrat strategy of localised pavement politics. With the party having no local councillors Hutchings almost certainly represented the person in the party who knew the seat and its voters the best.
Hutchings was on the right of the party and stated during the campaign that she would have voted against the government’s recent same-sex marriage bill, a source of consternation on the Conservative backbenches and amongst party activists. She also stated that she would have voted for a motion backed by many Conservative rebels in the Commons for a referendum on European Union membership, another source of great division in the heavily Eurosceptic party. She also uttered some statements which were seen as controversial, such as stating that she had sent her son to an independent (fee-paying) school because he was gifted and wanted to be a surgeon and therefore the right kind of education for him would be “impossible” to find in the state system. This was in contrast to Thornton, whose daughter had had a state education and who is now currently studying Medicine! Hutchings also failed to attend two hustings (local Q&A sessions) for the candidates, the first time apparently because she was campaigning with Cameron, the second because she was “meeting with voters”. This led to allegations from her opponents that the party was trying to ‘hide her’ away.
John O’Farrell (Labour). In the 1994 by-election Labour had succeeded in coming second in Eastleigh, beating the Conservatives into third place. As recently as 2005 the party could still pull in more than 20% of the vote, but their vote had collapsed to less than half that in 2010. While no one expected Labour to win the by-election unless extremely lucky, there was an opportunity here to give a sense of momentum by winning back tactical voters from the Lib Dems, and put down a marker that Labour were viable in the South of England outside London and a few urban conurbations, the weakest area for the party. Compared to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the party took a radically different tack in its approach to candidate selection, however, selecting John O’Farrell, a comedian, television broadcaster and writer, who lives in Clapham, South London. O’Farrell is best known for his appearances on comedy panel shows such as Have I Got News for You. He has run for parliament before – running in 2001 in a Conservative safe seat, he is also known in Labour circles for his bestselling book Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter. The book is a memoir tracing the eighteen years of opposition that Labour found itself in between 1979 and 1997 and O’Farrell’s story is a story familiar to many Labour activists and to the party as a whole – that of the transition from radicalism to moderation.
O’Farrell’s campaign was predicated on suggesting that a Lib Dem or Conservative MP for Eastleigh was essentially the same thing as they would both be supporting the same government. Being a comedian his twitter feed included many humourous quips about the by-election. O’Farrell is well known and popular within the Labour Party and I suspect his candidacy helped to galvanise supporters and donors in favour of his campaign. During the campaign O’Farrell was attacked for excerpts from his bestselling memoir when he spoke about a momentary glee on hearing about the 1984 bombing of the Conservative Party conference by the IRA and of supporting the Argentines in the Fawklands War. In the book O’Farrell highlights these as examples of what he sees as the idiocy of radical knee-jerk politics and explains that he is now disgusted by both views but this was still used as a stick to beat him with. Perhaps more damagingly however, friends of mine who were campaigning on the ground say that Eastleigh voters appeared to feel that in nominating a South London based Comedian Labour were not taking the by-election ‘seriously’.
Diane James (UKIP). UKIP nominated Diane James, a councillor and healthcare expert from Waverley in Surrey, originally elected as an independent, James had later joined UKIP. Eastleigh had a special resonance for UKIP as during the 1994 by-election their candidate had been none other than Nigel Farage, their current leader. Farage turned down the opportunity to campaign in the seat again, however.
UKIP ran a surprisingly slick campaign in Eastleigh, and managed to succeed in gaining momentum as the campaign went on. The party nonetheless gained controversy when its leaflets claimed that when immigration laws are relaxed later this year 4 million Bulgarians would come to the UK (the population of Bulgaria is 7.4 million, so this would represent a very large number indeed!) but this did not seem to hurt the party. On Election Day the party pulled ahead of the Conservatives in the betting odds and there were many rumours of a late surge for the party.
In the grand tradition of British by-elections many minor party, fringe and joke party candidates stood. In all 14 candidates stood. The others were Danny Stupple, an independent standing on an anti-gay marriage platform, Michael Walters for the English Democrats, Darren Proctor for the far-left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Kevin Milburn for the Christian Party. The National Health Action Party, a single-issue party that has gained some media attention for its opposition to NHS privatisation and particularly the government’s controversial new health law stood a candidate, Dr. Iain MacLennan, for the first time. Jim Duggan stood for the Peace Party, Colin Bex stood for the Wessex Regionalists and Ray Hall ran for the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party, a single issue party which campaigns against pub closures and for the rural way of life. By-election favourites, the Official Monster Raving Looney Party, a joke party that dates back to the 1960s, ran their leader Alan “Howling Laud” Hope. Finally perennial by-election candidate, David Bishop, stood under the latest of his Elvis Presley themed joke labels, ‘Elvis Loves Pets’.
Five polls were carried out during the campaign. Three showed the Lib Dems ahead by 3-5% and two showed the Conservatives ahead by 3-4%. The most notable thing from the polls was the fall in the Labour vote and the increase in the UKIP vote. The last poll of the campaign, by Populus, showed Lib Dems 33%, Conservatives 28%, UKIP 21%, Labour 12% and Others 6%.
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 32.06% (-14.44%)
Diane James (UKIP) 27.80% (+24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 25.37% (-13.93%)
John O’Farrell (Labour) 9.82% (+0.22%)
Danny Stupple (Ind) 1.85%
Iain Maclennan (National Health Action) 0.94%
Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 0.56%
Kevin Milburn (Christian) 0.39%
Howling Laud Hope (OMRLP) 0.33%
Jim Duggan (Peace) 0.31%
David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 0.17%
Michael Walters (ED) 0.17% (-0.33%)
Daz Procter (TUSC) 0.15%
Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 0.07%
Turnout was 52.8%, down by 16.5% from 2010 but still a very healthy turnout for a by-election.
The Lib Dems therefore succeeded in holding their seat, something which they are exceptionally happy about. Nick Clegg described the victory as “stunning”. The Lib Dem victory does indeed have much to commend it. Despite the hard times of coalition, the Rennard scandal, the jail term of Chris Huhne which had started the whole by-election the Lib Dems had succeeded in running a well-targeted, slick campaign won on local issues, with a solid dependable local candidate. This will be the model the Lib Dems will pursue in 2015 and on this by-election gave them some confidence that they may save more seats than many expect. That said, this is a rather pyrrhic victory. The party still lost almost 15% of the vote compared to 2010, most likely to a combination of abstention of the historically unreliable Lib Dem vote and to UKIP, in the form of protest votes. In a sense they only won because the Conservatives lost almost as much of their vote as they did, and the Lib Dem loss is in line with national opinion polls too. According to an ‘exit poll’ of sorts, (with a low sample, 760) by Conservative Party election expert Lord Ashcroft, 43% of Lib Dem voters voted for the party tactically suggesting that despite the Coalition the party successfully retained Labour tactical voters. 26% of Lib Dem voters also stated that the main reason they voted for the party was local services, totally unprompted. Only 43% of Lib Dem voters said they would ‘probably’ vote for the party in 2010, however now he is the MP Thornton will no doubt pursue the traditional Lib Dem strategy of working very hard as a local MP and building a strong personal vote, so they probably have the advantage in 2015.
UKIP also pulled off a victory of sorts. While they didn’t win the seat, their 27.8% of the vote represents their best every score in a parliamentary constituency, and they came within 4.3% of victory. This gives the party a continued feeling of momentum. According to the Ashcroft polling the party won roughly equal amounts of the Lib Dem and Conservative vote from 2010 (around a fifth in both cases) and 83% of their voters said they “unhappy with the party they usually support nationally” and three quarters said that they were “unhappy with all the main parties at the moment” further evidence that UKIP’s appeal is primarily anti-establishment and ‘plague on all your houses’ based. There does indeed appear to be a late surge element – 31% made up their minds in the last week, 18% on the last day. As with the Lib Dems only 43% said they would probably vote UKIP in 2015, with 10% saying they would likely vote Conservative.
The Conservatives are reeling. Coming in second would have been poor, but understandable, coming third puts the party in an extremely difficult position. The party is calling this a mid-term protest vote and noting that voters often vote against the government in these types of elections. While that’s true, the voters did elect a MP from a party that is in the government! The Conservatives have historically been poor at by-elections as the party is bad at targeting its campaign activities, and not as good at the ‘ground war’ aspect of a by-election as other parties. Sections of the party have also blamed Cameron for moving the party too far to the left and abandoning the party’s core vote to be picked up by UKIP. However as Professor Tim Bale, the leading academic expert in the Conservative Party, notes, the Conservatives have been attempting to ape UKIP for some time in many respects in the form of Cameron’s recent call for an EU referendum and the Home Secretary, Theresa May’s promise to cut immigration by another quarter. In Bale’s view by doing so the Conservatives could be creating the impression that UKIP’s concerns about both are perfectly valid and giving the party credibility, as he puts it “Rather than shooting Nigel Farage’s fox, all Cameron has done is feed it”. The whole argument also ignores that Maria Hutchings stood on a platform that was clearly right of the party leadership. Yet the party leadership is once again under significant pressure from its activists and backbenchers to shift right as a response, and Sunday’s right wing newspapers are replete with references to getting rid of the Human Rights Act, a particular object of hatred for the right-wing media.
Labour are the only one of the main three parties to have gained votes, but they remain below 10% of the vote. This is hardly the marker that they can win votes in the South of England which the party wanted. The party appears to have made a serious tactical misstep by selecting O’Farrell. Polls suggest that the party lost around half its support over the course of the campaign with most probably going to the Lib Dems, but some also likely going to abstention or UKIP. By running a comedian from South London Labour appear to have given the local electorate the idea that they were not taking Eastleigh seriously. The party will have to work harder to convince the electorate that it can succeed in the South of England – a particular focus will be on this year’s county council elections.
Three federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 26, 2012. These three by-elections were to fill vacancies in the federal constituencies of Durham (Ontario), Calgary Centre (Alberta) and Victoria (British Columbia).
Durham is a large exurban constituency east of Toronto which includes the municipalities of Clarington, Uxbridge and Scugog (plus a small first nations community). Major communities include Courtice and Bowmanville, two major towns along the 401 east of Oshawa, and the smaller towns of Uxbridge and Port Perry in the north of the riding. Durham is nearly homogeneously white (95%) and predominantly Protestant (52.5%).
There are some local industries and employers in the constituency, including a nuclear power plant in Darlington, but the demographics of the constituency reflect a largely exurban population, which commutes to work in Oshawa or Toronto. The constituency has a large percentage of married individuals (57.2%, 31st in Canada), a lower percentage of people aged over 15 (79.9%), a fairly high median household income ($77,210 – 19th in Ontario) but a fairly low percentage of highly educated residents (12.7% of residents have a university certificate or degree) and a very high proportion of homeowners (88.2%). Only 22.5% of residents work in the municipality where they live, the 9th lowest in Ontario.
White, English and Protestant, Durham has historically been fairly Conservative. The Uxbridge and Scugog (Port Perry) areas, historically part of Ontario County, have a Liberal tradition while parts of former Durham County were more Conservatives. The Tories won handily in 1988, but throughout the 90s (from 1993 to 2004), the Chrétien Liberals held the seat with comfortable majorities although only because of the division of the right. The Liberals never won over 50% of the vote, and in all three elections the combined right-wing vote was higher than the Liberal vote. In 2004, Conservative journalist Bev Oda regained the seat, earning a small 2.5% majority over the Liberals. With the slow collapse of the Liberal Party in the exurban GTA in 2006, 2008 and 2011 Oda was reelected with larger majorities -17% in 2006, 31% in 2008 and 33% in 2011. In 2011, the NDP – which had placed fourth behind the Greens in 2008 – placed a distant second, ahead of the Grits.
Oda, who served as Minister for International Cooperation in the Harper government between 2007 and 2012, was compelled to resign in June 2012 after ethics scandals (in 2011, she had directed staff to add a handwritten annotation to a CIDA memo which resulted in a funding request from an NGO being ignored; in 2012, at a conference she turned down staying at the conference hotel and preferred a more costly hotel).
Oda won every poll in 2008 and she lost only one poll in 2011 (a mobile poll covering seniors’ residences). The Tories tend to perform best in the more rural parts of the riding, while the Liberals and NDP find some stronger support in urban areas – especially Courtice and Bowmanville, where the NDP broke 30% in a few polls in 2011 (including, interestingly, some newer middle-class subdivisions). The Liberals, in 2011, performed best in Uxbridge.
The Conservatives nominated Erin O’Toole, a local lawyer whose father is the incumbent PC MPP for Durham. The NDP unearthed a strong candidate, Larry O’Connor, the former mayor of Brock (a township which is outside of the riding) and a NDP MPP for the area between 1990 and 1995. The Liberals renominated their 2011 candidate, Grant Humes, while the Greens nominated Virginia Mae Ervin, who had run in 2006 and 2004.
Erin O’Toole (Con) 50.72% (-3.83%)
Larry O’Connor (NDP) 26.26% (+5.16%)
Grant Humes (Lib) 17.28% (-0.57%)
Virginia Mae Ervin (Green) 4.07% (-1.32%)
Andrew Moriarity (CHP) 1.28% (+0.49%)
Michael Nicula (OP) 0.39%
The Tories held Durham with a large, although slightly reduced, majority, as was expected. Turnout was 35.8%. The results in Durham are good for the Tories, who broke 50% and especially for the NDP, which maintained and improved on its second place showing in the riding. Prior to the Orange Crush in 2011, the NDP could only dream of finishing second in a riding like Durham (although it did have a few good results in the 70s and 80s). The next NDP breakthrough obviously won’t come from the exurban GTA, which remains a wasteland for the NDP; but that such ridings which had previously been Tory-Grit battles are becoming Tory-NDP places is good news for the NDP.
Calgary Centre (Alberta)
Calgary Centre covers downtown Calgary south of the Bow River. Major neighborhoods in the riding include the Beltine, Mount Royal and some surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Calgary Centre remains largely white (78.8%), with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (5.9%). Religiously, Protestants make up a narrow plurality (32.6%) of residents while 24.5% are Catholics and 30% claim no religion.
There is a fairly big contrast between the downtown core areas of the riding – neighborhoods such as Beltline, Cliff Bungalow, Connaught, Downtown East Village or Lower Mount Royal – and the suburban parts of the riding. The downtown, particularly the aforementioned neighborhoods, have a younger, more ethnically diverse and less affluent population. Most downtown residents are renters, living in apartments or some of the newer high-rise condos close to the Bow River. The downtown neighborhoods, particularly the Beltline, have pockets of deprivation and have struggled with poverty and social problems. On the other hand, the suburban portions of the riding tend to be more affluent. Upper Mount Royal, Scarboro, Elbow Park, Rideau Park, Britannia, Bel-Aire and Mayfair are all very affluent and educated residential suburban neighborhoods. Some of the riding’s outer suburban neighborhoods (Glenmorgan, Glenbrook, Rosscarrock, Killarney etc) are slightly less affluent, made up in good part of older post-war lower middle-class bungalow housing. The riding’s demographics reflect its diverse social makeup. It is the Albertan riding with the highest percentage of never married individuals (48.4%), there are not many households with children (only 14%, one of the lowest in all of Canada), it is highly educated (33.6% with a university certificate, diploma or degree) but not extremely affluent (median HH income is $49,042, the second lowest in Alberta) and a narrow majority of individuals rent their household (53.8%, the second highest in Alberta).
It has been said that a riding like Calgary Centre, if located anywhere outside of Alberta, would vote Liberal or NDP. In the context of Albertan federal politics, heavily dominated by the Conservatives (and their predecessors) due to the toxicity of the Liberal Party post-NEP, Calgary Centre is solidly Tory. The last time the seat went Liberal was in 1963, for a single term and the last time parts of the ridings were represented by a Liberal was in 1968. The Tories have held the seat with large majorities since then, taking over 50% of the vote in the 1970s and 1980s. The Reform Party won the seat in 1993 and 1997. The riding was closely contested in 2000, when former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a Red Tory who was the leader of the remnants of the PCs in the 2000 election, ran in Calgary Centre against the Canadian Alliance. The Liberal vote, which fell to only 9.8%, coalesced around Clark, allowing him to win 46-38.5 over the Alliance.
In 2004, former PC MP Lee Richardson won the seat for the new Conservative Party, with a 21% majority over the Liberals. Richardson, who had a moderate and pragmatic reputation as a Tory MP, retained the seat in subsequent elections with ever-larger majorities. In 2011, he won a 40% majority taking 57.7% against a paltry 17.5% for the Liberals and 14.9% for the NDP. The Greens have been strong in the riding, taking second with 16.6% in 2008 but dropping to right below 10% in 2011. At the provincial level, Liberals have been more successful - they hold the seat of Calgary-Buffalo. Richardson did very well in the suburban parts of the riding, especially the most affluent residential suburbs – where he took about 70% of the vote. The non-Tories (Liberals, NDP, Greens) have done best in the downtown area – the NDP won 2 polls there in 2011, the Greens won 3 polls in 2008 and the Liberals won a bunch of downtown polls in 2004 and a few in 2006 (and one in 2008).
Lee Richardson’s retirement to take up a job with Alberta Premier Alison Redford led to a crowded contest for the Tory nomination. Ultimately, Joan Crockatt, a journalist who was viewed as Prime Minister Harper’s favourite candidate and one of the more right-leaning candidates, won the Tory nod. For some reason, her choice went down pretty badly in Calgary Centre – was it because she was perceived as the candidate imposed by the PMO, because of her proximity to the Wildrose Alliance rather than the PCs in provincial politics or just other unsuccessful CPC nomination candidates who were particularly bitter? Polls showed the Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke (a conservationist and former provincial party president), within striking distance of the Tories and the Greens (their candidate was Chris Turner, a journalist and author) pulling over 20%. Crockatt retained a small lead in later polls, but this was the most closely watched by-election of the three. Liberals feared that their momentum might have been brutally halted late in the campaign, following the comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty (he said that Alberta Tories should “go back to Alberta” and that they have a ‘protectionist’ view of the energy industry) and even Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau (in 2010, he said that Canada was not doing well because Albertans control “our community and socio-democratic agenda”).
Joan Crockatt (Con) 36.89% (-20.79%)
Harvey Locke (Lib) 32.67% (+15.14%)
Chris Turner (Green) 25.64% (+15.73%)
Dan Meades (NDP) 3.84% (-11.02%)
Antoni Grochowski (Ind) 0.51%
Tony Prashad (Libertarian) 0.44%
The Conservatives retained the seat, although with a 4.2% majority which is a very far cry from Lee Richardson’s 40 point margin in May 2011. However, what counts for them is that they retained the seat and averted a huge PR disaster – which the Harper government is always very keen on avoiding. Of course, the fact that they came within 4% of losing a seat which has been solidly Conservative for ages should be worrying for the Tories, though it would still be risky to extrapolate any provincial (let alone) national trends from this result. Crockatt was probably a bad candidate, despite being rather well known on the Calgary media circuit, and she is probably to the right of her fairly socially liberal and ‘Red Tory’ constituents. The Tories will need to dissect what happened, but I would wager that this by-election is one of those fluke by-elections which don’t portend any future trends.
The Liberals had a good result, but because they had focused their sparse resources on the riding to the exclusion of the two other ridings, a defeat – even if it is by a very close margin – will be disappointing for them. The Liberals have shown that, under particular circumstances and low turnout, they can come close to the Tories even in solidly blue Calgary. With such a close race, Liberals will be left wondering if they could have won the seat if McGuinty had not said what he said and the 2010 Trudeau tape had not been put back in the front light. However, no polls showed the Liberals actually leading in CC – even prior to the McGuinty/Trudeau comments – and their 32-33% of the vote on November 26 is basically where the polls had placed them.
Yet, the Liberals are not on the verge of breaking through Harper’s “Alberta Firewall”. Polls do show that Tory support has dropped from the 67% they won in the province in May 2011, but at 58-60%, it’s not really catastrophic for them and the fact that both the Liberals and NDP have definite problems in reaching out to Albertans makes it easier for the Harper Tories in Alberta. The Greens were the true winners, taking a very big 25% of the vote.
The NDP did very badly, which could be a reflection of the local unpopularity of Thomas Mulcair’s comments about the “Dutch disease” in relation to Alberta’s oil sands, but it is probably more a reflection of the fact that the NDP didn’t bother contesting the by-election, certainly not with a strong candidate like the Grits or the Greens.
Interestingly, turnout in CC was the lowest of the three by-elections at only 29.4%. As a urban core riding, it has always tended to see lower turnout levels, but one would have expected heavier turnout considering the high stakes and close contest. Did Tories unhappy with Crockatt choose to stay home? This seems likely a good explanation, considering the Tory raw vote dropped from 28.4k in 2011 to 10.1k in this by-election while the Liberals won about 400 more votes and the Greens took an extra 2.2k votes. The Greens, who have proven that they can attract ‘Red Tory’ voters with some success in the past, likely took votes away from the Tories and the NDP (they lost about 6.2k votes). This is one of those by-elections where poll-by-poll data will be warmly welcomed.
Victoria (British Columbia)
The riding of Victoria includes the city of Victoria, the provincial capital, the suburban district of Oak Bay and parts of the district of Saanich. The riding is predominantly white (85%) with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (4%). In Victoria, the largest religion is the lackthereof: in 2001, 40.5% of residents claimed no religious affiliation while 35.4% were Protestant.
Victoria is a popular tourist destination and an attractive city, with a growing lucrative high-tech sector. Home to the University of Victoria (UVic), the city has a large non-local student population. Like most of coastal Vancouver Island, the Victoria region is particularly attractive for affluent retireees who enjoy the temperate climate and the city’s usually relaxed pace. The city of Victoria itself has a diverse mix of unionized civil servants in neighborhoods such as James Bay and Fairfield, artists and students in Fernwood or downtown and young professionals who were drawn by the new high-tech sector in the city. Despite being a popular tourist destination and largely white-collar city, Victoria has pockets of deprivation and homelessness, loitering, panhandling and drug use continue to cause problem in some lower-income areas in downtown Victoria. Oak Bay, an old streetcar suburb, is wealthier and older. Parts of Oak Bay, notably Uplands and Ten Mile Point, are very affluent and popular with retirees. Some other parts of Oak Bay have some students, academics and public sector professionals. Parts of Victoria have seen pricey high-rise condo towers spring up, attracting more previleged retirees.
Demographically, this is a fairly old riding with the median age being 45 and the percentage of individuals over 15 being one of the highest in Canada (90%). Victoria has high percentages of widows and divorcees, but also a fairly large percentage of singles who never married (39%). There are relatively few households with children. The riding, unsurprisingly, falls in the upper tier of ridings in terms of education: 31% of residents have a university degree. In terms of income, however, the riding is generally ‘poor’ with a median HH income of $43,045, the second lowest in BC. 52% of residents rent their household.
Once upon a time, the famously monarchist and old English Protestant city of Victoria was a Tory stronghold. The Conservatives held both seats in the two-member riding between 1882 and 1902, in 1878 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald won the seat (despite having never even been to Victoria) following his defeat in his native riding of Kingston. The Tories held the seat again between 1908 and 1937. In later years, the Liberals and Conservatives played back-and-forth over the seat, with the Liberals holding the seat from 1937 till 1957 and again between 1963 and 1972. The Tories held the seat under Diefenbaker and then between 1972 and 1988, when they lost it to the NDP.
In the space of six years, Victoria has become a solid NDP seat, but 1988 was the only time prior to 2006 that the NDP held the seat. Between 1993 and 2006, David Anderson, a popular Liberal who served as Minister of the Environment between 1999 and 2004 held the seat with comfortable majorities. In 2004, Anderson defeated David Turner (NDP), the former mayor of Victoria, by 4 points. However, the Liberals failed to hold the seat in 2006, when the NDP’s Denise Savoie won the seat with an 11% majority over the Liberals. Since then, the Liberal vote has collapsed in Victoria, bleeding votes left and right. Savoie was reelected in 2008 and 2011 (with a 17% and 27% majorities respectively) but in both elections, the Tories placed second while the Liberals were relegated to third (with only 14% in 2011). The Greens have polled strongly in Victoria since 2004, most recently winning 11.6% in 2011.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the Liberals were dominant throughout the quasi-entirety of Oak Bay, doing very well in the most affluent areas, but they also had strength in parts of Victoria – including Fairfield and parts of James Bay. The NDP’s base was and remains the lower-income neighborhoods of Fernwood or North Park. Since then, however, the Liberals lost votes to the Conservatives in the affluent parts of Oak Bay and in the condo polls along the coast, while the NDP has secured very strong support throughout Victoria. In 2011, the Tories won the Uplands and Ten Mile Point neighborhoods of Oak Bay along with a few condo polls, while the NDP won practically everywhere else.
This by-election followed Denise Savoie’s resignation for health reasons. The NDP candidate was Murray Rankin, an environmental lawyer. The Liberals nominated Paul Summerville, who had ran for the NDP in St. Paul’s (Toronto) in 2006. The Conservative candidate was Dale Gann. Victoria is next door to Saanich-Gulf Islands, held since May 2011 by the Green leader, Elizabeth May. The Greens nominated Donald Galloway, a UVic professor. The Greens have targeted Victoria as a potential riding for a “second Green MP” in the 2015 election, and ran a strong campaign in this by-election.
Murray Rankin (NDP) 37.23% (-13.55%)
Donald Galloway (Green) 34.28% (+22.67%)
Dale Gann (Con) 14.44% (-9.19%)
Paul Summerville (Lib) 13.06% (-0.92%)
Art Lowe (Libertarian) 0.50%
Philip Ney (CHP) 0.49%
The NDP held the seat, but with a 2.9% margin it is too close for comfort. The NDP had been expected to retain the seat despite a strong Green challenge, but the Greens got closer to actually winning the seat (on election night, early results had the Greens leading) than anyone had expected. The NDP had likely not invested as much in this campaign as it should have, while the Greens – boosted by the presence of their colourful and energetic next door in SGI – targeted the seat and apparently ran a very strong campaign locally. The Conservatives and Liberals, who in the past had fought for the seat, fought for distant third and fourth place in this by-election. We should not read too much into the horrible Conservative result, given that the Tories generally see their vote share collapse in by-elections which they do not bother seriously contesting all while being able to poll very strongly in by-elections which they invest significant resources in. The Liberals should be worried by their result, but they too did not run a very active campaign.
Victoria had the highest turnout of the three seats contested, at 44%.
We hoped that a clear message could be drawn from these 3 by-elections on November 26, but as in so many by-elections it ended in an inconclusive night and mixed messages for all parties.
The one thing which is clear is that the Greens won the by-elections. Their vote share dropped in Durham, but they did extremely well in both Calgary and Victoria. Since 2011, the Greens have abandoned their old strategy of contesting every single seat and spreading their sparse resources across Canada. In the 2011 federal election, the Green Party’s campaign was basically all about electing Elizabeth May in SGI, and they were successful – but it was at the cost of losing support in almost every single other riding in the country. That strategy worked in 2011, and the Greens have opted to prioritizing and focusing their resources in the seats where they feel that have a solid shot at winning, even if that means seeing Green support drop even further in the other seats which they do not seriously contest. The Greens ignored Durham – their vote dropped – but they focused on Calgary Centre and especially Victoria. In both of these cases, their investments paid off. Victoria is now a prime Green target in the 2015 election, and Calgary Centre could potentially be promising. These by-elections will not lead to a sustained Green surge in the polls (besides – there’s no federal election until 2015), but the fact that the Greens have chosen to focus their efforts in a few ridings could be bad news for Harper’s opponents, who could see the centre-left/anti-Harper vote divided even further.
Could we count the Tories or the Liberals as ‘winners’ in these three by-elections? On the one hand, the Tories did well in Durham (showing that Fortress Rurban Ontario is still very solid) and they averted a PR disaster in Alberta but on the other hand, their vote collapsed in Victoria and CC was unacceptably close for them. Similarly, while the Liberals can pride themselves in a (very) strong result in CC, but on the other hand they did horribly in the other two seats and considering that CC had turned into a must-win for them, a loss stings. The Conservatives remain in a relatively solid position, even if Harper’s government is fairly unpopular and Tory support nationally is only a bit above their traditional floor (30-33%). The Liberals have lots of work ahead of them if they want to regain second place, let alone win power.
The NDP had a tough night. Victoria almost created a PR disaster for them, while their support fell off in CC. On the other hand, they did do quite well in Durham – maintaining a respectable second in a seat where second place for the NDP would have been unimaginable prior to the 2011 Orange Crush.
By-elections were held in the provincial constituencies of Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan on September 6 in Ontario (Canada), following a by-election in the provincial constituency of Fort Whyte in Manitoba (Canada) on September 4.
In the 2011 Ontarian provincial election, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned to power for a third straight term but they won a minority government with 53 seat, one short of the “magic” 54 seats needed to form a majority government (the speaker is a Liberal, giving the Liberals an effective 52 votes against 54 votes for the opposition).
Governing in a minority environment for the first time, the Liberals have been forced to work with the other parties. With a struggling economy and huge deficit, the government introduced an austerity-minded budget earlier this year which includes a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees, including teachers and doctors. The budget also included cuts in government spending and government services.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs), led by Tim Hudak, rejected the budget out of hand, claiming the Liberal budget did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The New Democrats were more open to compromise, and in April the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes proposed by the NDP. However, Ontario was almost thrust into a snap election in July when the NDP – unexpectedly backed by the PCs – started voting down key planks of the budget in June. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP finally blinked and abstained from the final vote on the budget, allowing it to pass in late June.
The PC MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, Elizabeth Witmer, resigned on April 27 following her appointment to head the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Her resignation created a vacancy in the riding which she has held since 1990. Witmer was a fairly high-profile moderate “Red Tory” who served in Premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eve’s cabinets. As a moderate and fairly consensual Tory, she built up a strong personal vote which allowed her to win reelection in her fairly swing-y riding in 2003, 2007 and 2011 despite the PCs losing at the provincial level.
Kitchener-Waterloo was created in 1996 and is composed of the northern parts of the city of Kitchener and the entirety of the city of Waterloo in southwestern (or midwestern) Ontario. Waterloo forms part of a larger urban conglomeration which includes the slightly larger cities of Kitchener and Cambridge.
Historically, Waterloo County had a large German population – the city of Kitchener was known as Berlin until World War I and was the centre of the German population in Ontario during the first decades of Confederation. According to the 2006 census, 27% of Kitchener-Waterloo’s population claimed German ancestry. Politically, this German influence in Waterloo County made Waterloo North a Liberal stronghold, at least at the federal level. The federal riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1917 and 1958. With a few short exceptions, the provincial riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1929 and 1990.
While Kitchener and Cambridge were historically major industrial centres, the city of Waterloo does not have a blue-collar industrial past. Today, Waterloo has developed a strong high-tech and knowledge-based economy. It is home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, but also high-tech giant Research in Motion (RIM), the developer of the Blackberry. The riding’s has a predominantly middle-class, white-collar professional population. Median household income is in the upper tier provincially and nationally and 29% of the population has a university education.
In the past two decades, the Liberals have had the upper hand in Kitchener-Waterloo. Federally, K-W was represented by Andrew Telegdi, a maverick-y Liberal, between 1993 and 2008. In the 2008 election, Telegdi was surprisingly defeated by Conservative Peter Braid by a tiny 17-vote margin (36.1% to 36%). The 2011 results in Kitchener-Waterloo were skewed by the fact that Telegdi ran a strong campaign which coalesced the anti-Tory vote around his name. Even if the May 2011 election was a disaster for the federal Liberal Party, Telegdi, who hadn’t stopped running since his 2008 defeat, managed to increase his vote share to 37.6% but Braid simultaneously increased his vote share to 40.9%.
Provincially, Witmer won by relatively tight but still quite comfortable margins in the past three elections. Her most decisive victory was in 2007, she took 40.8% against 31.2% for the Liberals and 17.5% for the NDP. In 2011, she won by a slightly tighter margin, 43.8% against 36% for the Liberals and 16.7% for the NDP.
The NDP represented the federal riding of Waterloo (which included the city of Waterloo but also surrounding areas) between 1964 and 1979 with Max Saltsman. Provincially, however, the last time the riding had a New Democrat MPP was in 1943, when the present-day NDP was known as the CCF. That being said, the riding in its current incarnation would likely have been won by the provincial NDP in the 1990 election.
The NDP has usually been confined to a range of 15-17% support in the riding in the past eight years. The Greens have a strong potential in the riding, they took 9.3% in the 2007 provincial election and 12.1% in the 2008 federal election. However, their vote fell to only 2.6% and 4.8% in the last provincial and federal elections respectively.
The Liberals are usually strongest in downtown Waterloo and around the University of Waterloo in the centre of the riding. The downtown part of Waterloo is a largely middle-class young professional, highly educated and relatively affluent area. Telegdi dominated there in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, and the Greens usually placed strong seconds or thirds in most polls in downtown Waterloo in the 2008 federal election. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have been strong the outskirts of the riding – largely upper middle-class suburban neighborhoods, a mix of both older developments and newer subdivisions. Federally, it was strong Tory inroads in these neighborhoods which had previously been reliably Liberal (until 2006) which allowed them to defeat Telegdi in 2008 and again in 2011. At the provincial level, Witmer won these areas easily in 2011 and certainly in 2003 and 2007. The New Democrats have found their strongest support in more blue-collar and lower-income neighborhoods of north Kitchener which are included in the riding, along with a handful of polls around social housing projects or apartment blocks.
Given the riding’s swing-y nature, Witmer’s resignation got the provincial Liberals excited at the opportunity for a gain, which would have given them a working majority of sorts in the Legislative Assembly. However, the by-election came in a tough climate for the governing Liberals. According to polls, the Liberals are languishing in the 26-28% range, in third behind the NDP (at roughly 28-30%) and the PCs (36-38%). In the past few weeks, the Liberal government has crossed swords with teacher unions, who have fought against the government’s two-year pay freeze for provincial employees, including teachers.
The Liberals had a contested nomination fight in the riding, but eventually re-nominated Eric Davis, a lawyer and their 2011 candidates. The PCs nominated Tracey Weiler, a local businesswoman. The NDP nominated their strongest possible candidate, Catherine Fife, the chair of the local school board and the president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. Fife had run for the NDP in the 2007 provincial election, running a strong campaign and placing a decent third with 17.5%.
This election turned out to be a close three-way battle in which all three parties invested lots of resources. The Liberals heavily targeted this riding in order to win a working majority, the NDP fancied its chances with a strong candidate and favourable provincial circumstances while the Tories needed to maintain their hold on this key swing seat.
Forum Research polled the riding thrice. Right when the seat became vacant, they saw the Liberals ahead. A few months later, they showed the PCs on top with a 4% edge over the NDP and the Liberals, who were tied at 30% apiece. Right before September 6, their last poll showed the NDP surging way ahead of both the Tories and the Liberals.
The results were as follows:
Catherine Fife (NDP) 39.84% (+23.17%)
Tracey Weiler (PC) 31.82% (-11.95%)
Eric Davis (Liberal) 24.05% (-11.99%)
Stacey Danckert (Green) 3.25% (+0.61%)
Allan Detweiler (Libertarian) 0.33%
David Driver (Freedom) 0.2% (-0.05%)
Elizabeth Rowley (Communist) 0.19%
Garnet Bruce (Ind) 0.17%
Kevin Clarke (People’s) 0.1%
John Turmel (Pauper) 0.05%
The result was a major upset, one of those memorable by-elections which will be (or ought to be) remembered down the road. The NDP, usually weak in this riding, came out of a distant third place to win by a large 8% margin, handing both the Tories and Liberals disastrous results.
The NDP upset in Kitchener-Waterloo is the result of a number of factors, some local and others more general. At the local level, Catherine Fife was undeniably a strong candidate and she ran a strong campaign. The provincial NDP organization invested tons of resources into the contest, NDP leader Andrea Horwath visited the riding numerous times over the past few months and Fife’s campaign received the enthusiastic and influential backing of the teachers’ unions, which are locked in a fight with the Liberal government over the government’s controversial two-year pay freeze. The union apparently bused down tons of volunteers to help out with Fife’s campaign.
Fife was further boosted by ‘national’ factors. Premier Dalton McGuinty is unpopular and voters were in no mood to give him a majority, but PC leader Tim Hudak hardly has a better image with the wider electorate. During the budget shenanigans, the PCs received negative media coverage, highlighting their steadfast opposition to the budget (and their refusal to work with the government), while their decision to back the NDP in voting down key planks of the budget was fairly hypocritical given that in doing so they went against parts of their own platform.
Hudak is also a fairly mediocre leader. He could easily have won the 2011 election, but the PC campaign derailed as Hudak allowed McGuinty to paint him as a radical. Hudak lacks the charisma or political talent of his federal counterpart, Stephen Harper. During the campaign, Hudak tried to downplay expectations for his party, saying that K-W was more of a “Witmer seat” than a “PC seat”, which is correct but which isn’t a very savvy thing for a party leader to say during a by-election campaign. Following the by-election, Hudak blamed the defeat on “union bosses”.
While both Hudak and McGuinty have terrible approval ratings, NDP leader Andrea Horwath has, by far, the strongest ratings of the three leaders.
K-W is not weak territory for the NDP, but it is not easy ground for them either. While the NDP’s base in K-W is likely larger than recent election results might indicate, K-W kind of fits the “too rich to vote NDP, too smart to vote Tory” mold (the phrase has been used since 2011 to describe residual pockets of Liberal strength, primarily federally). However, Kitchener-Waterloo and similar ridings are the kind of places which the NDP must win if they are to form government, both federally and provincially.
To win in a what is traditionally a really longshot riding for the NDP, Catherine Fife likely assembled a coalition of core NDP supporters in lower-income areas, left-leaning Liberals (middle-class young professionals, students) in neighborhoods such as downtown Waterloo and around the universities and certainly some moderate “Witmer Tories”. Fife might have been helped by local economic concerns about the future of Waterloo’s top employer, RIM, which has recorded major financial loses in recent months.
The result is an unmitigated disaster both for the PCs and the Liberals, perhaps more so for the Liberals. Tim Hudak has been placed under some pressure to step down following this embarrassing defeat for the PCs, and at any rate it is unlikely that the PCs will be as eager to force a snap election following this disaster. The Liberals clearly invested tons of energy, resources and manpower into this campaign and they presented this as their top chance to win a majority government, but voters resoundingly rejected the idea of giving McGuinty a working majority. While this isn’t quite the end of the road for the Liberal government, McGuinty and his government are in really dire straits. They have been hit by scandals, the budget has generally been unpopular and his fight with the teachers’ union doesn’t seem to be doing them any favours. A snap election anytime soon for the Liberals would certainly be tough for McGuinty, especially given that Horwath and the NDP would have momentum. The Liberals, after nearly 10 years in power, are really starting to be hit by voters’ fatigue.
There was another by-election on the same day in Ontario, in the provincial riding of Vaughan. Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara resigned his seat on August 1.
The riding covers most of the municipality of Vaughan, one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Ontario located just outside Toronto. Vaughan is a very affluent suburban community – it has one of the highest household incomes in Canada. It has a fairly young population made up, in very large part, of middle-class families. On the 2006 census, Vaughan topped all Canadian federal constituencies on the percentage of houses which are owned (94.3%) and built within the last 20 years (80.5%). It also had the highest national percentage of married couples (87%) and second generation immigrants (37.3%).
Vaughan (especially the neighborhood of Woodbridge) is notable for its large Italian population. In the 2006 census, a full 54.4% of the riding’s population claimed Italian ancestry, and the riding had the highest Catholic population of all ridings in Ontario in 2001 at 77%. However, the riding’s character is changing somewhat. A quarter of the population are visible minorities, including a significant South Asian population (9.3% of the total population).
Politically, Vaughan has traditionally been a Liberal stronghold both at the provincial and federal level. However, since 2011, politics in Vaughan have been marked by a stark contrast between the federal and provincial levels. After longtime Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua resigned his seat in 2010, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino gained the seat for the federal Tories in a 2010 by-election. In May 2011, he was reelected with a huge majority (26.5%), painting the entire riding Conservative blue. At the provincial level, Greg Sorbara has held the seat since 2003. Sorbara, who served in the David Peterson and later the McGuinty governments had originally represented the Vaughan region between 1985 and 1995, when he was defeated by the PC’s Al Palladini. Sorbara staged a comeback in the 2003 election, taking back the seat with 56% of the vote. He took 61.9% in 2007 and won 53% in the 2011 election. At the provincial level, the riding is still solidly Liberal red.
The seat’s voting patterns are rather homogeneous. In 2011, Fantino basically swept the entire riding, with the Liberals barely holding on to some decent showings in Woodbridge and Maples. In the provincial election, Sorbara, in contrast, painted almost all of the polls in Vaughan Liberal red.
The Liberal candidate was Steven Del Duca, director of public affairs for the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. The PC candidate was Tony Genco, the PC candidate in October 2011, who had previously run for the federal Liberals in the 2010 by-election and for the provincial Liberals in 1999. The NDP candidate was Paul Donofrio.
The results were:
Steven Del Duca (Liberal) 51.2% (-1.82%)
Tony Genco (PC) 33.39% (+2.15%)
Paul Donofrio (NDP) 11.32% (-0.01%)
Paula Conning (Green) 1.78% (+0.37%)
Paolo Fabrizio (Libertarian) 0.96% (-0.92%)
Bart Wysokinski (Family Coalition) 0.45%
Stephen Tonner (Ind) 0.37%
Erin Goodwin (Freedom) 0.28%
Phil Sarazen (People’s) 0.24%
In contrast to the disastrous Liberal rout in K-W, the Liberals held up very well in Vaughan, holding the seat by over 17 points and losing only 1.8% off their October 2011 vote. However, the Vaughan by-election was much lower on the radar for all parties (besides, maybe, the Liberals, who in the closing days saw Vaughan as a good opportunity to save face). Tony Genco is pretty much a terrible candidate, and it does not seem as if the PCs invested much resources into this contest.
Affluent Toronto suburbia is still very difficult ground for the NDP, and it ignored this by-election to focus all it had on Kitchener-Waterloo. Therefore, considering that this is a by-election in a constituency with zero NDP groundwork and that the NDP ignored this by-election, the NDP can certainly be very pleased that it held on to its 2011 vote share. However, maybe, just maybe, this indicates that K-W was a result influenced primarily by local circumstances and that there is not (yet?) a massive Orange Crush in the works at the provincial level.
The greater 905 region is must-win country for Tim Hudak (as it was for Harper) if he wants the Tories to win the next provincial election, but Vaughan itself is not a must-win constituency. It remains, despite Fantino’s popularity federally, a structurally Liberal riding which is, at best, a long-shot target for the PCs unless they get some star candidate and the Liberals have a crummy candidate.
The overall results of these two by-elections in Ontario is a major victory for the NDP and a defeat for both the Liberals and the PCs. While the Liberals can be pleased by their very strong resistance in Vaughan, the result in K-W is still an unmitigated disaster for them which they can difficultly spin. The PCs had a terrible showing in K-W and a very underwhelming, mediocre result in Vaughan, two results which will place Tim Hudak’s hold on the PC leadership in question, even if he himself shows no willingness to step aside.
Fort Whyte (Manitoba)
A provincial by-election in the constituency of Fort Whyte was held in Manitoba on September 4. Fort Whyte’s incumbent MLA since 2005, former provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Hugh McFayden, stepped down from the PC leadership and resigned his seat earlier this year.
Fort Whyte is located in southwestern Winnipeg, covering the suburban neighborhoods of Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Bridgwater Forest, Fort Whyte and Whyte Ridge. The seat was created in 1999 from parts of Fort Garry and St. Norbert, the result of strong population growth in suburban southwestern Winnipeg. The riding is made up quasi-exclusively of newer affluent upper middle-class suburbs of Winnipeg. The riding has the second highest average family income in the province and some 30% of the population hold university degrees, once again one of the highest in the province.
Fort Whyte has been a PC stronghold since its creation in 1999, and this part of Winnipeg has been represented by PC MLAs since at least 1958. Between 1999 and 2005, Fort Whyte was held by John Loewen, a moderate Red Tory who resigned in 2005 to run for the federal Liberals in the 2006 federal election. In a by-election he was succeeded by Hugh McFayden, who became the leader of the PCs and leader of the opposition in 2006. McFayden led the PCs into the 2007 and 2011 provincial elections, but both times the PCs were defeated by the NDP, which has been in power since 1999. Following his defeat in the 2011 election, in which the PCs failed to increase their representation, McFayden announced his resignation from the party leadership.
In the absence of any other candidates, former provincial cabinet minister and federal Conservative MP Brian Pallister was acclaimed as the new PC leader. Brian Pallister served in Gary Filmon’s provincial Conservative government as Minister of Government Services between 1995 and 1997, resigning to run in the 1997 federal election for the federal PCs. A “Blue Tory” within the federal PCs, Pallister ran for the PC leadership in 1998 on a right-wing platform aimed at appealing to Reform Party supporters, placing fourth on the first ballot. In 2000, he left the party to run for the Canadian Alliance in the 2000 federal election in the constituency of Portage-Lisgar. He held that seat until 2008, and was a fairly unremarkable Alliance and later Conservative backbencher.
Pallister was the PC candidate in Fort Whyte. The Liberal candidate was Bob Axworthy, who is apparently the brother of former federal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. The NDP candidate was Brandy Schmidt. The results were:
Brian Pallister (PC) 55.18% (-7.29%)
Bob Axworthy (Liberal) 31.56% (+23.64%)
Brandy Schmidt (NDP) 11.25% (-18.36%)
Donnie Benham (Green) 1.72%
Darrell Ackman (Ind) 0.29%
There isn’t much to say about this by-election, except that Pallister, as everybody expected, held a Tory fortress by a landslide and that the Liberals did really well. Pallister did considerably worse than McFayden in the 2011 election, though he still beats the 52% which McFayden won in the 2005 by-election and 2007 election. Pallister doesn’t strike me as a particularly wise choice for the PCs, given that the NDP probably don’t like anything better than running against a guy who served in the government they always love to criticize.
The Liberals did really well, winning their best result on record in the riding since its creation in 1999. In the 2011 election, the Liberal vote had taken a major hit in the riding compared to previous elections, when the Liberals had managed to pull in around 15-20% of the vote in Fort Whyte. McFayden seemingly gained a good part of the 2007 Liberal vote in his 2011 reelection bid in his seat. Some of this vote likely returned to the Liberal fold, but given that Axworthy – a starlet candidate given his last name – likely was the most visible anti-Tory candidate in the by-election and managed to coalesce most of the anti-Tory vote around his name. In this vein, I don’t know how to interpret the NDP’s pretty terrible result. Is this a bad sign for the Greg Selinger government, or is it, as I suspect, because the NDP really didn’t put any effort in this by-election?
The NDP has been in power for 13 years, since 1999. Since 2009, Manitoba has been governed by Premier Greg Selinger. In the 2011 election, the NDP won reelection with a huge majority – 37 seats against only 19 for the PCs and a lone Liberal holdout – but the popular vote was relatively narrow, the NDP winning over the PCs by only 2%. The PCs’ problem is that their votes are homogeneously concentrated in a handful of rock-ribbed conservative rural ridings, especially those German Mennonite rural areas south of Winnipeg where the PCs win with majorities well over 40-50%. In contrast, the PCs have found themselves nearly shut out of Winnipeg, taking only four seats in the city in the last two elections. If the PCs are to win the next election (after 16 years in power in 2015, the NDP might be hitting voter fatigue), they will need to make some significant gains in urban Winnipeg, notably in more middle-class suburban ridings in the south of the city which have voted for Harper’s Conservatives by solid margins but narrowly reelected NDP incumbents in 2011. If they are not able to make some gains in Winnipeg, then they will confined to the opposition benches for another term. It is, of course, too early to say if Brian Pallister will the good leader to lead them to government, 16 years after Gary Filmon lost reelection in 1999.
Tired of Canada? The Netherlands votes on Wednesday, September 12.
Provincial elections were held in two constituencies in Quebec (Canada) on June 11, 2012. These by-elections filled two seats – Argenteuil and LaFontaine – left vacant by the resignation of these respective MNAs.
Quebecois provincial politics remain as uncertain as ever. The provincial Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest, in office since 2003 and not due at the polls until (officially) late next year, remains as unpopular as ever, with over 70% disapproving of the government’s performance. The governing Liberals continue to be hurt by a string of corruption, bribery, graft and illicit party financing scandals. The provincial Liberals are very unpopular, but the opposition PQ has not really proven to be
However, since February, the province and the Charest government have been rocked by a massive student strike which protests a 75% increase in tuition fees for post-secondary institutions spread out over the next five years. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees of all Canadian provinces, but student associations found the tuition fee increase unacceptable. Neither side have been able (or willing, really) to come to an agreement or even move past meeting each other, meaning that the student movement has turned into a generalized political and social crisis, which the government is unable to deal with. In May, the government adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricts freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval – with the aim of breaking up the student movement which has, at times, degenerated into violence.
The political impacts of this movement are surprisingly hard to measure. Voters are generally split (along partisan lines) on the issue, though a narrow plurality usually side with the government over the students. This might explain why the PLQ has regained a narrow but still weak lead over the PQ in recent opinion polls. The PQ leadership generally, more or less ambiguously, backs the student movement; while the small far-left Québec solidaire (QS) party fully supports the student movement – its sole MNA, Amir Khadir, and his daughter, were arrested by police for participating in demonstrations. QS, if polls are to be believed, has moved up to a strong 8-10% range in voting intentions.
When I last talked about Quebec politics in December last year, the fad was the CAQ – the new political party led by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister. The CAQ - Coalition Avenir Québec (they seem to hate prepositions) – has since then merged with the weak centre-right ADQ, which provided the CAQ with a parliamentary caucus. Legault is a former péquiste but a big part of the CAQ’s appeal is its claim that it lays beyond the sovereignist-federalist divide which has defined politics in Quebec since 1970. The appetite for independence is not very strong in Quebec, so the CAQ’s novel message of being a post-sovereignist centrist (or centre-right) party allowed it to ride a wave of support late last year, with December proving to be the CAQ’s peak with over 35% support in polls and a comfortable first place showing. However, the CAQ’s surge was built on nothing, other than a major thirst for change for change’s sake (given the PLQ’s unpopularity and the PQ’s uninspiring state of perpetual chaos). Legault has offered little in the way of consistent policy proposals, and those who backed the CAQ in December did so only because it represented change and a new third way. The CAQ’s predictable collapse, however, came sooner than expected. By January the CAQ’s numbers started falling, and since April has stabilized at a bit over 20% support, roughly what the ADQ was pulling before it disappeared below the waves.
The result of the CAQ’s rise-and-fall was a second coming for the PQ, which had a terrible year in 2011, hurt by internal feuds, bickering, divisions, chaos and an uninspiring leader, Pauline Marois. However, Marois and the PQ have managed to re-appear as a credible alternative to the governing Liberals. Marois still isn’t going to break popularity records any time soon and the PQ’s support, while seemingly solid, is largely unenthusiastic support by voters eager for change, at any cost.
The riding of Argenteuil fell vacant after the Liberal incumbent and former cabinet minister, David Whissell, resigned his seat, unofficially preferring to focus on his parallel business career – he is a major shareholder in an asphalt company and was in a position of conflict of interest as a cabinet minister and government MNA. Whissell held the seat since a 1998 by-election, and won reelection in 2008 with 49.6% of the vote. This seat has been held by the Liberal Party since 1966, and had never elected a PQ member. Between 1979 and 1994, this riding’s MNA was Claude Ryan, a one time leader of the PLQ.
Argenteuil is in the Laurentides region and is about halfway between Gatineau and Montreal, on the north shore of the Ottawa River but expanding into high-growth exurban territory around Saint-Colomban and Lachute and upwards to Morin-Heights, an affluent ski resort in the Laurentians. The region has traditionally had a large Anglophone community, which still accounts for 16% of the population. This is a traditional Liberal stronghold, although races can be close. The NO won only very narrowly here in the 1995 referendum, with 50.3%, and the 1998 election was very close in this riding. Since 2003, however, the Liberals have maintained the upper hand. Whissell won 53% in 2003 and 49.6% in 2008, while in 2007 he won with 37.6% against 29.7% for the ADQ. The Liberals usually poll best in rural English communities in the western parts of the riding, as well as the ski resort of Morin-Heights, while the PQ is dominant in exurban Francophone Saint-Colomban (where the ADQ was strong too).
The PLQ nominated Lise Proulx, the PQ nominated Roland Richer while the CAQ got themselves a star candidate – Mario Laframboise, a former Bloc MP in Ottawa for the region until he was handily defeated by a young Dipper in the 2011 federal election. This election, alongside LaFontaine, was the CAQ’s first electoral foray, so a strong showing by the CAQ was almost imperative for the party, which since the new year has found itself struggling more than it probably ever expected. The Green leader, Claude Sabourin, who has run here since 2003, ran again. The by-election saw the first electoral outings of three new parties: Jean-Martin Aussant’s hardcore nationalist Option nationale (ON) party, the new Conservative Party (PCQ) led by former federal Tory MP Luc Harvey and the centre-right Autonomist Team (EA). The PLQ was thought to have a fairly significant edge in this riding, though both the PQ and CAQ put significant efforts into this contest.
Roland Richer (PQ) 36.16% (+2.54%)
Lise Proulx (PLQ) 33.4% (-16.18%)
Mario Laframboise (CAQ) 21.4% (+10.16%)
Claude Sabourin (Green) 2.99% (-0.49%)
Yvan Zanetti (QS) 2.7% (+0.61%)
Patrick Sabourin (ON) 1.34%
Jean Lecavalier (PCQ) 1.05%
Georges Lapointe (Ind) 0.83%
Gérald Nicolas (EA) 0.14%
The Montreal riding of LaFontaine was vacant since May after Tony Tomassi, the independent (former Liberal) MNA for the seat was compelled to resign after a long-running corruption case against him. In 2010, he was forced out of his cabinet position (family minister) and the PLQ caucus after a scandal surrounding daycare licenses erupted. Tomassi had held this seat in eastern Montreal since 2003.
LaFontaine covers most of the neighborhood of Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies in northeastern Montreal. Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies are two largely suburban and fairly well-off middle-class areas on Montreal Island. However, the Rivière-des-Prairies neighborhood is marked by a strong Italian community. Overall, 47.5% of the riding’s population had an non-official language – usually Italian but with significant Hispanic and Creole minorities – as their mother tongue (while only 9.3% claimed English as their mother tongue, 26% spoke English at home). 26% of the riding’s population is made up of visible minorities, most of them Haitian. This demographic makeup makes this riding a Liberal stronghold. In 2008, Tomassi won 69.8% of the vote against only 19% for the PQ. He won 69.5% in 2003 and still managed 62.5% in 2007. The riding was more marginal in the past, when it included more Francophone and péquiste areas in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Indeed, under significantly different boundaries, the old riding of Lafontaine elected a PQ member as early as 1970. The Liberals won in 1985 and since the 1988 and 2001 redistrictings removed the remnants of Pointe-aux-Trembles, the Liberals have turned this riding into a core Liberal stronghold.
The PLQ nominated Marc Tanguay, the president of the party. The PQ and CAQ nominated sacrificial lambs, as did all other smaller parties including the new ON, PCQ and EA.
Marc Tanguay (PLQ) 53.32% (-16.44%)
Frédéric St-Jean (PQ) 17% (-2.11%)
Domenico Cavaliere (CAQ) 15.58% (+9.08%)
Sébastien Rivard (QS) 5.09% (+3.18%)
Gaëtan Bérard (Green) 3.02% (+0.29%)
Paolo Zambito (ON) 1.64%
Patrice Raza (PCQ) 1.26%
Marc-André Beauchesne (Ind) 1.02%
Renaud Blais (PN) 0.86%
Guy Boivin (EA) 0.41%
Turnout was 42.4% in Argenteuil but only 25.6% in LaFontaine.
The Liberals were the main losers of June 11. Their fairly startling defeat in Argenteuil has proven a major loss for the Liberals, both in political terms and in more general media/spin/image impacts. The PLQ’s line that by-elections don’t matter doesn’t really cut it for them: by-elections aren’t the most important things in the world, but idle voters and the media do make something of by-election results. Similarly, the argument that low turnout leads to such “fluke” results might be true from a psephological standpoint, but the media and the idle voter know that by-election turnout is always ghastly but still play along anyway.
The Liberals lost a full 16% in both constituencies, generally in line with their loses in other provincial by-elections since troubles began: -14.8% in Bonaventure (Liberal hold, December 2011), -17.9% in Kamouraska-Témiscouata (PQ gain, November 2010) and -10.4% in Saint-Laurent (Liberal hold, September 2010). If a -16% swing against the Liberals was applied throughout the province, the Liberals would win only 26% of the vote (which is less than what polls currently give them: 30-32%). The PLQ has been unable to gain any political support out of the student movement, when some could have thought that the image of a “tough” government against “unruly mobs” could gain it a bit of support. However, views on the issue are divided along partisan lines: those most likely to appreciate the government’s policies are already PLQ (or CAQ) voters. At 26% support, the PLQ would be hitting rock-bottom – that is, likely third place with Francophone voters but maintaining only a solid 60-70% core vote with the rock-ribbed federalist Anglo and allophone communities.
The PQ’s victory in Argenteuil has kicked up the party’s moods once again, and it is a significant victory for the PQ in a constituency which had never elected a PQ member. However, instead of undue triumphalism, the PQ should read the other (hidden) message these results carry for the PQ: it is largely stagnating a bit above or a bit below its 2008 result (35% – which I guess is still ‘good’ when the PLQ could be at 26% in the province…). These results are some nice proof for the old fact that the PQ’s success and potential victory in the next provincial election will be due far more to the PLQ’s state of ruin and utter discredit than to any genuine support for the PQ’s message or for its hapless leader. I guess a win is a win, but in the long term, a win better be a real win rather than a win-by-default. The PQ appears to have retrieved its 2008 support, likely gaining back the preferences of some fledgling Francophone voters who had toyed with the CAQ fad while it lasted but who have since returned to the PQ as the least worst of uninspiring options.
The CAQ’s first electoral foray was marked by two defeats, including a rather bad one in Argenteuil. The CAQ had downplayed expectations, but it was still hoping for a second place finish (a la ADQ 2007) in Argenteuil, especially with the recruitment of a star candidate like former MP Mario Laframboise. In LaFontaine, the CAQ’s result is not all that bad (it is fairly amusing that the difference between the CAQ’s results in these two very different constituencies is that small…). It appears as if the CAQ’s ‘remaining’ vote has come heavily at the expense of the PLQ rather than the PQ. This would give credence to theory that while the CAQ fished on both sides of the pond during its surge, its decline was more pronounced with more traditionally péquiste voters, while retaining a good base with disillusioned or unhappy former Liberals. The CAQ can also be assumed to have kept a good part of the former ADQ electorate.
The CAQ’s result was about 9.5% better than the ADQ’s results in these two constituencies in 2008. Surprisingly, if the CAQ performed 9.5% better than the ADQ did in 2008 at the provincial level, it would be standing at 26% support (thus tied with PLQ for second) – quite a bit higher than the 20-22% support it garners in polls. However, such results are hardly encouraging for the CAQ, which has rapidly transformed into a boring third party which nobody cares about.
QS improved its vote in both ridings, including by a significant 3.2% in LaFontaine. Most of this additional support likely comes from the PQ. But given that polls show that QS could be as high as 8-10% nationally, and seems to have benefited a bit from the student movement, these results are a bit underwhelming for them. Of course, these are hardly the type of places where I would expect a student movement-generated QS mini-surge to be strongest (a rural constituency with no unis on one hand, a largely allophone suburban constituency on the other hand…), and perhaps that turnout played a trick on them.
Its results were still much better than those won by the irrelevant others: the Green leader did fairly terribly, the ON was (as expected) a flop (like all other hardcore nationalist PQ splinters have been) and the new Conservative Party went nowhere. Of course, neither of these two new parties have a real base: the PQ eats up potential ON voters, the PLQ and CAQ eat up any potential PCQ voters.
Jean Charest has until 2013 to call an election, but he could be calling an election in the province as soon as this fall or this winter. The PLQ is continuing to rush into the wall at full speed, and there is little which it can do about it. The Liberal government has lost a good deal of its political legitimacy as a government (and this is a very big deal) with the student strikes, and it could be tempted to end its own misery sooner rather than later.
By-elections were held in Burma (officially known as Myanmar) on April 1, 2012. These by-elections covered 37 seats (originally scheduled to be 40) in Burma’s lower house, the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), 6 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities, the upper house) and two seats in two regional Hluttaws (Bago/Pegu and Ayeryarwady/Irrawaddy regions). The Pyithu Hluttaw has 440 seats and the Amyotha Hluttaw has 224 seats.
Burma was ruled by the military between 1962 and 2011 and is only very slowly emerging from decades of being an international pariah state. In 1962, General Ne Win staged a military coup which overthrew a troubled civilian government and replaced it with a military-driven socialist single-party state under the leadership of Ne Win and his “Burmese Way to Socialism”. The Burmese Way to Socialism can more accurately be styled as the Burmese Way to Bankruptcy, because the illogical mix of Marxist dogma and Buddhist astrology bankrupted a country which used to be one of Asia’s wealthiest countries. The autarkic policy resulted in Burma’s quasi-complete isolation on the world stage, economic ruin at home, inflation, debt and a decline in rice exports. This policy took place in a context of internal conflict with Burmese insurgents and ethnic minorities liberation armies, both of which seriously weakened the hold of the Burmese state on its sovereign territory. At the same time, political opposition was violently repressed by the military. Anti-government protests in 1962, 1974 and 1976 were all quashed by the military. However, in 1988, in a context of economic collapse and near-bankruptcy, Ne Win’s regime faced a serious threat from a student-led protest which quickly turned into a full-scale uprising.
In this chaotic context, the military staged a quasi-coup in August 1988, suspended the constitution and instituted martial law. The new military junta, officially known as the rather aptly-named SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), cracked down on civilian opposition, including a new opposition force known as the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, the hero of Burmese independence. Aung San Suu Kyi quickly rose to prominence as the major leader of the Burmese opposition after her role in the 1988 uprising. In 1989, the SLORC placed her under house arrest (which she remained under, save for a few stints, until 2010). However, the SLORC did agree to hold free elections in May 1990. However, after the NLD won 80% of the seats up for grabs, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the results, preferring instead to cement its power and crack down on the NLD. The SLORC did try, very half-heartedly and under heavy foreign pressure, to negotiate or play nice with the NLD, but nothing came out of these talks. This policy came at the price of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, which kept Burma’s military regime isolated. However, the regime could remain solid through close ties with Beijing. Economic, military and political alliance – or rather dependence – on China was not, however, the regime’s preference but rather something it imposed on itself (or was imposed on it) because of its policies.
Burma is a state which has failed to unify its territory since independence. Although successive military rulers since 1962 have attempted to promote the idea of a Burmese nation-state, centered around the dominant Bamar ethnic group and Buddhism (Bamars account for about 70% of the population), in reality Burma is not anything close to a nation-state. Isolation in small, isolated hamlets in remote mountains or valleys of Burma’s periphery and a tradition of indirect rule under the British (especially in Shan State) have contributed to the state’s failure to assert its authority over its entire territory.
The central government and the unity of the country has found itself challenged since the 1960s by armed insurgent groups seeking independence or autonomy for Burma’s peripheral “ethnic states”. The three most prominent insurgent challenges from the periphery are the Karens (a Buddhist and Christian ethnicity in eastern Burma and around Rangoon), the Shans (a Buddhist ethnicity in Shan State) and the Kachins (a predominantly Christian ethnicity in northern Burma).
Since the late 1990s/2003, the regime has been trying to soften its image a bit. The harshly-named SLORC became the SPDC in 1997. In 2003, the regime announced a “roadmap to democracy”. However, in 2007, the regime violently cracked down on the so-called “Saffron revolution”, an uprising led by Buddhist monks. In 2008, the regime got a new constitution approved, which would officially transfer power to civilians but which in practice did not change much. The military’s commitment to any democratic transition is certainly quite debatable, but the military is not a monolithic beast either. It is rather divided, either on the basis of personality squabbles (such as the 2005 fight between the SPDC’s boss General Than Shwe and his then-PM General Khin Nyunt) or on the desirability of reforms. At any rate, the military, in the ongoing transition process, intends on controlling the process as tightly as possible. It reserved a quarter of the seats in all legislatures for military personnel, appointed by the military itself (hence destroying whatever legitimacy these legislatures had). It established its own political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to control the ‘elected’ seats. Elections were held in 2010, but they were badly rigged and had no international legitimacy. The USDP, officially a civilian-led party, in practice a pro-regime party or tool of the SPDC, won nearly 60% of the seats (in addition to the 25% of seats held by the military). The NLD boycotted the vote, leaving only inoffensive tiny ethnic parties or pro-regime outfits such as the vaguely leftist National Union Party (NUP) which had been the creation of Ne Win’s old single-party (the BSPP) for the 1990 election.
Whatever the commitment of the SPDC to any democratic transition, it did hand over power – officially – to the civilians in 2011. In March 2011, Than Shwe, the hardline military boss of the country since 1992, stepped aside in favour of a civilian figure (still very pro-regime and in cahoots with the military), Thein Sein. Whatever we say of him, Thein Sein is far more open-minded and reformist than Than Shwe ever was. In November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and started holding talks with the regime. Political prisoners were released in small waves beginning in 2011. Some political restrictions and regime censorship have progressively been eased or lifted. On the economic front, the government is moving towards economic liberalization to attract more foreign investment. The west has been cautious but generally warm towards the reforms. Of course, much work remains to be done. The electoral process is not yet free, fair and transparent; human rights violations continue in remote ethnic states; political liberties still weak and an independent judiciary still miles away.
For a regime which until only a few years ago was branded as one of the most repressive and backwards in the world, in a country internationally known as a pariah state, the pace of the reforms since 2010 has still been quite staggering. What is at play in this apparently very bizarre turn of events?
Firstly, the regime – since 1962 – has never benefited from a strong base of popular support. The Burmese population as a whole have not experienced democracy much since independence, but they have an old appetite for freedom which was very clear in the 1970s, in 1988 and in 2007. With an international context (Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Russian protests) not too favourable to autocrats, the military may be protecting itself from a violent overthrow in which it would risk losing all it has gained (although the reforms started before the Arab Spring). The military arguably sees an officially civilian government as a good way to protect itself while still ensuring that it retains political power.
Secondly, the Burmese government has resented its ‘humiliating’ dependence on China, which has become the regime’s top political, economic and military ally. Chinese businessmen have come to invest in the underdeveloped but resource-rich country in droves, China sets the price for and sells the bulk of the military’s weaponry (in return it has access to military bases in Burma) and China (alongside Russia) acts as one of the regime’s sole ally on the international stage. However, in recent years, Rangoon (Yangon) has grown wary of China’s increasing influence over the country. In the long term, the regime feared that its dependence on China would weaken Burmese sovereignty and transform the country into something akin to a Chinese autonomous province. The regime has not marched in lockstep behind Beijing in the past few years. Instead, it has been eager for Western investment and a little competition to China’s economic hegemony in Burma. The regime is quite committed to economic liberalization, which in good part necessitates a lifting of Western sanctions, something quite dependent on political reforms and democratization.
These by-elections covered only about 8% of the total seats in Burma’s legislature, seats which had fallen vacant following the resignation of their sitting (USDP) members to join the government. The opposition NLD, which had boycotted the 2010 elections, was allowed to participate in these by-elections, after their leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010. She herself stood in a Rangoon area constituency in the lower house, covering the dirt poor and ethnically diverse township of Kawhmu. The NLD put up 44 candidates out of 45 seats, one of its candidates was disqualified. The ruling USDP put up candidates in all constituencies, while smaller parties which had run in 2010 including the NUP, the liberal NDF and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).
Though the NLD alleged irregularities in the registration and voting process, foreign observers generally agreed that, despite falling short of international standards, the elections were generally legitimate, free and fair – quite unlike the sham 2010 elections. The results were:
NLD winning 43 seats (37 PH, 4 AH, 2 RHs)
USDP winning 1 seats (1 AH)
SNDP winning 1 seat (1 AH)
The NLD was widely expected to win these by-elections, but the size of their victory surprised both observers and the military. In 1990, the NLD had won a similarly impressive landslide victory over the tools of the ruling elite, and their victory this year looks just as big if not even bigger than their 1990 victory. Observers had expected and the military had hoped that the USDP would be able to resist the NLD’s ascent a bit, but really to no avail. The USDP’s candidates were trounced in the vast majority of constituencies, and only won a single seat – the Amyotha Hluttaw seat in Sagaing region (constituency 7) where the NLD’s candidate had been disqualified. More shockingly, the NLD won the four vacant seats (for the lower house) in Naypyidaw, the military regime’s new capital since 2006 – and an apparently very boring place filled with military personnel and public servants. The NLD even won Zabuthiri Township in Naypyidaw, which had been Thein Sein’s ‘seat’. If even the public servants of the regime opted to vote for the NLD over the USDP, it clearly indicates the size of the NLD’s victory.
Aung San Suu Kyi will become an elected parliamentarian. She was easily elected with something over 80-90% of the votes in her Kawhmu constituency. Kawhmu is an impoverished rural township in the Irrawaddy delta in Rangoon region, which furthermore has a large Karen population. The NLD has tended to be popular with Burma’s peripheral ethnic minorities, although some ethnic minorities still tend to perceive the NLD as the beast of the Bamar intellectual elite. The NLD’s only clear defeat, indeed, was in Shan State where the SNDP (a Shan minority party which had participated in the 2010 elections) won an upper house seat centered around Lashio, a region where the SNDP is somewhat locally influential. That being said, it is hard to judge the appeal of the NLD to ethnic minorities, though the democratization process has reconciled them somewhat with the Burmese state. Only a few by-elections were held in the ethnic states, and the political and military situation in a lot of these states remain shaky.
The NLD won an overwhelming victory, but it would be wrong to hail these by-elections as groundbreaking. They certainly are in a sense, but these only covered 8% or so of the seats in the legislature, and will only give the NLD a very small rump in the lower house and an even smaller bench in the upper house. The USDP, complemented by the quarter of seats still held by the military, retains a large majority in Burma’s legislature. It still has the final word, obviously, on democratization, though it is hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence will have an impact on these reforms and on the USDP’s policies. On the other hand, the military might recoil from the prospect of further political reforms after seeing the beating it and their proxies got in free elections. If these results were repeated in the 2015 elections, the USDP would be dealt a huge blow and the NLD and their allies would control a large majority. That prospect might frighten the military’s officer corps, which fear that the process is slipping out of their hands. They might step in to block reforms, reassert their powers or trouble Thein Sein’s reformist leadership.
A parliamentary by-election was held in the British constituency of Bradford West on March 29, 2012. The seat, which covers parts of downtown Bradford as well as the Yorkshire city’s northwestern outskirts, was vacant following the resignation of Labour MP Marsha Singh, who had represented the seat since 1997, earlier in March.
Thus far, the by-elections to this Parliament have been uneventful affairs, boring by-elections fought in safe Labour seats across Britain (and Belfast West, which was hardly exciting). On paper, Bradford West was shaping up to be like all other by-elections in this Parliament’s lifespan. Covering parts of the textile centre of Bradford, the constituency is a poor multicultural working-class population with a long list of social problems and neighborhoods which are similar to some American inner-cities. The constituency includes the bulk of Bradford’s large Pakistani population which accounts for 35% of the seat’s population, which is also 38% Muslim and only 50% white British. The seat’s three downtown core wards are heavily Asian Muslim, but the seat also has a sizable white working-class electorate and a middle-class suburban base (Thornton & Allerton). The seat’s political history is surprisingly colourful. In 1997, Marsha Singh’s first election after a fractious nominating process, the seat was one of two seats in the country to record a swing to the Conservatives. Singh won, but with an 8.5% majority much smaller than his predecessor’s 19% majority in 1992. In 2010, Singh was reelected – this time recording a counter-cyclical swing against the Tories to Labour, taking a 14% majority.
Labour politics in Bradford West are said to be dominated by biradari networks (an Urdu word meaning ‘family’) which denotes an hierarchical system of clan politics dominated by connections and family ties to Mirpur, a city in Pakistan where most of Bradford’s Pakistanis hail from. Labour’s candidate, Imran Hussain, a deputy council leader, fitted the profile of biradari clan politics quite well. Hussain was certainly, on paper, the favourite to win a fairly safe Labour seat where the Conservatives have never staged a real challenge and where the LibDems were weak even before their post-Coalition electoral implosion.
Enter George Galloway, one of the most controversial politics in the country. Galloway, a former Labour MP, gained notoriety in 2003 for his staunch opposition to the Iraq war and his support for Palestine. Standing for the Respect Party, the charismatic and assertive Galloway knocked off Labour MP Oona King in the east London seat of Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005, but he was defeated when seeking reelection in 2010 in the new seat of Poplar and Limehouse, winning only 17.5% of the vote and third place. In 2011, he failed to win election to the Scottish Parliament standing for Respect.
Galloway was always going to make a presence in an otherwise boring by-election, but casual observers never guessed the impact he would have. Those with their ear on the grounds knew that something, however, was up. Galloway, running largely on his opposition to British military involvement in Afghanistan and benefiting from his strong popularity with the Muslim population, was able to motivate first-time voters, previous non-voters, Muslim voters who had always voted Labour and so forth. Galloway is still very popular with Muslims in Britain, who fondly remember his charismatic opposition to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as his fabled fights with interviewers and US Senators. Galloway seized on tensions in the Asian community concerning the system of biradari politics, which he was strongly critical of. On the sidelines, Galloway may have tried to exploit racial tensions and play a communitarian card by sending out a letter to voters “of the Muslim faith” which insinuated that Galloway – who is not Muslim – was somehow a better Muslim than Hussain.
Turnout was strong at 50%, still down 15% on 2010. The results were:
George Galloway (Respect) 55.89% (+52.83%)
Imran Hussain (Labour) 24.99% (-20.36%)
Jackie Whiteley (Conservative) 8.37% (-22.78%)
Jeanette Sunderland (LibDem) 4.59% (-7.08%)
Sonja McNally (UKIP) 3.31% (+1.31%)
Dawud Islam (Green) 1.47% (-0.85%)
Neil Craig (Democratic Nationalists) 1.05%
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 0.34%
Galloway won a shocking victory, which was more than a narrow upset but rather a political earthquake. He scored a 36.6% swing from Labour to Respect, making this by-election one of the most historic by-elections in British political history since, perhaps, Simon Hughes’ landslide victory in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election against Labour. Galloway didn’t win just because of a turnout fluke, because turnout was very strong for a by-election. Reporters on the ground have indicated that he was able to mobilize first-time young Muslim voters, apathetic voters who had usually not bothered to vote in the past but also traditionally Labour Asian Muslim voters who were mobilized by Galloway. Galloway motivated voters by appearing as a radical anti-establishment candidate, opposed to the war in Afghanistan (obviously very unpopular in this type of constituency) and standing against politics as usual symbolized by Labour’s system of biradari clan politics. Labour has often tended to take Asian Muslim voters for granted and much has been written about this complacency in the context of Bradford. On March 29, that complacency and friends-and-neighbors system of clan politics in Bradford likely blew up in Labour’s face.
It certainly makes for a very bad result for Labour leader Ed Miliband, but it must not be forgotten that a lot of this huge upset is due to George Galloway’s personality. This won’t be a game-changing political event, because Respect simply isn’t a strong enough political force with any other well-known leaders besides Galloway (and maybe Salma Yaqoob) who could capitalize on an event like this. Galloway has an appeal to Muslim voters which his party doesn’t really have, because he is a superstar and political hero for a lot of younger Muslim voters in Britain. In Bradford West, Muslim turnout was likely very heavy and probably huge for Galloway. It would not surprise me if Hussain, ironically, was only able to hold Labour’s old white working-class voters.
Galloway’s win can be attributed to motivating a wide base on the issue of Afghanistan and anti-system opposition to politics-as-usual and by seizing on racial issues in the community including the issue of clan politics and Labour’s attitude towards Muslim voters. A good piece by Labour MP John Mann on LabourList says that Labour’s response in Asian areas were negative, and decries that the party had “no game plan” and fielded no Muslim, Urdu-speaking or hijab-wearing doorknockers.
Labour finds itself with a pie in its face, but the Tories are hardly coming out any better. The Tories did terribly, winning only 8.4% of the vote – losing nearly 23% since 2010. Some Conservatives might have voted strategically for Galloway to stick one to Labour, but in large part it seems like a repeat of a mayoral election in Tower Hamlets in 2010 when Tories simply did not seem to show up. The Tories aren’t strong in Bradford West, but they certainly have a floor (perhaps something like 25-30%) which is still much higher than high single-digits! Their turnout was probably particularly awful, because I doubt a whole load of Conservative voters in Bradford could have stomached voting for Galloway.
The LibDems did awfully as well, but such is to be expected at this point. The party’s performance in by-elections thus far is only marginally more impressive than the FDP’s polling numbers in Germany.