Category Archives: Northern Ireland
A by-election in the Westminster Northern Irish constituency of Belfast West was held on June 9, 2011. The by-election was sparked by the resignation of the constituency’s Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams in December 2010 in order to run (and win) for a seat in the Irish Dáil. Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s stronghold has been held by Gerry Adams since 1997 and prior to that between 1983 and 1992.
Belfast West is by far the most heavily Catholic seat in Northern Ireland, with a 82.7% Catholic community background in the 2001 census and only 16.2% having a Protestant community background. It is also the poorest seat in Northern Ireland, with 80% of census areas in the constituency being amongst the poorest 20% in Northern Ireland. The population is largely young and poorly educated. Belfast West includes the heavily Catholic working-class areas of Lower Falls and Upper Falls, which both split 4-1 in Sinn Féin’s favour against the SDLP in the 2011 local elections. The constituency also expands to include most of the Court electoral area, more specifically the Shankhill area, which is a heavily Protestant (and very poor) neighborhood north of the barricades. In 2011, the Court district elected 3 Democratic Unionists, one Unionist independent and one Progressive Unionist. The seat has been held since 1966 by nationalists, being represented by Gerry Fitt who won the seat in 1966 as a Republican Labour candidate, founded the SDLP in 1970 and left the SDLP in 1979 to sit as an independent. Fitt was defeated by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams in 1983, who was himself defeated on a wave of tactical voting and rare cross-community voting by the SDLP’s Joe Hendron, one of the few Northern Irish politicians to enjoy a cross-community appeal. Hendron was defeated by Adams in 1997, who increased his margins in every election since to reach a record high of 71% of the vote and a 54.7% majority in 2010. Since 2007, Sinn Féin’s mastery of vote management has allowed them to win 5 out of the 6 Assembly seats with the SDLP’s Alex Attwood (the Environment Minister) winning the last seat. The DUP lost its seat here in the 2007 elections.
The candidates were Sinn Féin MLA Paul Maskey, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood and DUP councillor Brian Kingston who were joined by 2011 Assembly candidate Bill Manwaring for the UUP (the UUP won 4.2% in 2011), 19-year old student Aaron McIntyre for the Alliance and Gerry Carroll of the far-left People Before Profit which won 4.8% in 2011, their second best showing in Northern Ireland after Foyle. The by-election was boring, and turnout was 37.53%. Turnout in the Protestant areas must have been terrible, given that turnout there is always lower than in the Falls area.
Paul Maskey (SF) 70.63% (-0.45%)
Alex Attwood (SDLP) 13.45% (-2.92%)
Gerry Carroll (PBP) 7.62% (+7.62%)
Brian Kingston (DUP) 6.06% (-1.52%)
Bill Manwarring (UUP) 1.68% (-1.43%)
Aaron McIntyre (Alliance) 0.53% (-1.32%)
Shockingly unsurprising results, with Sinn Féin holding the seat with a huge majority (57.1%, the largest ever majority for any party in this constituency) though losing a bit of votes from the 2010 Gerry Adams high, though its showing is stronger than its 66% result in the May elections. Aside from the UUP’s disastrous result and the overall piss-poor showing of the Unionists, the main noteworthy result is Gerry Carroll’s very strong showing for the PBP which managed to place third and hold its deposit.
Assembly elections were held in Northern Ireland on May 5, 2011 as part of the UK election bonanza, covered in earlier posts which you’ll find scrolling down this page. Northern Ireland’s Assembly has 108 seats elected by STV in 18-multi member constituencies which elect 6 MLAs each. Given Northern Ireland’s troubled history, Northern Ireland is a consociational democracy, and a consociational democracy which takes the word consociationalism to its true meaning. The Northern Irish executive, led by a First Minister and Deputy Minister forming a powerful duo and various ministers, is neither elected through popular vote nor is it a traditional government seeking confidence of the Assembly. Rather, the makeup of the power-sharing executive is determined by the d’Hondt PR formula and cabinet seats are apportioned based on the number of seats held by a party in the Assembly. The largest party of the largest community gets the office of First Minister, while the largest party of the minority community gets the office of Deputy First Minister.
When talking Northern Ireland, we often talk in terms of communities. Politics is also tightly regimented along lines of community. Northern Irish parties are, with almost all parties identified to said communities. The Protestant or Unionist side includes the Democratic Unionist (DUP) and Ulster Unionist (UUP) parties with two smaller parties, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). The DUP, led by the famous Reverend Ian Paisley between 1971 and 2008, was originally the more radical of the two main Unionist parties and the more right-wing of the two, being based in the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church. The DUP originally opposed power-sharing deals, but the growing influence of younger pragmatists within the party led to it to accept power-sharing, culminating in Paisley becoming FM in 2007. The UUP, long the dominant party of Unionist politics (and Northern Ireland), has been in terminal state since 2007 at the earliest and in bad straits for most of the twenty-first century as the DUP has outplaced it as the largest Unionist party. The UUP is often seen as the most moderate party, largely due to the work of its ex-leader David Trimble in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. The party has had a hard time adapting to life as the second fiddle in Unionist politics, and its desperate and ultimately failed linkup with the Conservative Party in 2009-2010 was one of their leadership’s desperate moves. The smaller parties, PUP and TUV, are much smaller in weight. The PUP is the only left-wing Unionist party, and is linked to the UVF paramilitary – a linkup which has divided the party and led to its only MLA walking out of the party in 2010. The TUV was founded in 2007 by former DUP MEP Jim Allister as a radical Unionist party opposed to power-sharing. Allister did well in the 2009 Euros, winning nearly 14%, but the TUV has since turned into an also-ran and personal machine for Allister.
On the Catholic or Nationalist side, the two parties are Sinn Féin (SF) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). SF, which we all know well, is the more left-wing and ‘republican’ of the two parties and was pretty much the political wing of the IRA. SF’s participation in the peace process was vital, and it has enjoyed more and more success as it moderated its position, allowing it to become the largest of the nationalist parties. The SDLP conciliates moderate nationalism with social democracy, and played a vital role in bringing SF to the table and making the power-sharing agreements work. Since then, however, the SDLP has suffered loses – like the UUP – and is now the second largest nationalist party. However, unlike the UUP which is still struggling to grasp that reality, SDLP has had less problems and it isn’t in a terminal condition.
The liberal Alliance Party (APNI) is a non-sectarian, cross-community liberal party. The Alliance is not exceptionally strong, but APNI candidate Naomi Long stunningly defeated DUP First Minister Peter Robinson in his East Belfast constituency in the 2010 general election. Furthermore, APNI was allowed a seat at the table – David Ford as Justice Minister – an exception to the d’Hondt formula of cabinet allocation. The Green Party (GPNI) also has one seat in the Assembly, and they’re cross-community as well.
Here are the results, marked by a low turnout of 54.5%
DUP 30% (-0.1%) winning 38 seats (+2)
SF 26.9% (+0.7%) winning 29 seats (+1)
SDLP 14.2% (-1%) winning 14 seats (-2)
UUP 13.2% (-1.7%) winning 16 seats (-2)
Alliance 7.7% (+2.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
TUV 2.5% (+2.5%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green 0.9% (-0.8%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PBPA 0.8% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UKIP 0.6% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PUP 0.2% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independents winning 1 seat (nc)
(56 Unionists vs. 43 Nationalists, +1 Unionist and -1 Nationalist)
The overarching trend here is stability. There has been no drastic movements, with no party gaining over 2.5% more than its 2007 share of the popular vote and with no party losing or gaining more than 2 seats. The DUP remains the largest party and gains two seats, while Sinn Féin gained one seat. The second fiddle party within each community, SDLP and UUP, suffered loses (again). The Alliance gained the most, but fell short of gaining another seat in North Down by a handful of votes, that last seat falling to the Greens who held their seat there despite the retirement of the popular Green MLA there. Jim Allister’s TUV actually did very poorly, down further from its rather disastrous 4% in the 2010 GE. But Allister was elected on the last count in North Antrim.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness had hoped to become First Minister after these elections, which would have required SF placing first ahead of the DUP which it did in 2009 and 2010. But the DUP remained rather comfortably ahead of SF, and did roughly 5% better than in 2010. In this story, one of the main actors is Peter Robinson, the comeback kid. The First Minister had a rough ride in 2009 and 2010, with his wife Iris (a former MP and MLA) being embroiled in a sex scandal, a series of bad things which culminated in Robinson shockingly losing his East Belfast Westminster seat to the Alliance’s Naomi Long in May 2010. Since then, Robinson has been on the way back and his efforts paid off. With 28% first preference votes, he easily topped the poll in East Belfast and led the DUP to a strong showing after the 2009 disaster (at Jim Allister’s hands) and the setback of 2010.
The SDLP and UUP both suffered loses for the second consecutive election. There’s no hiding from the fact that both of these parties are in dire straits and must reinvent themselves in a way which prevents them falling further down the road of irrelevance. Their respective positions seem confused, and probably confusing to voters and members. The overall picture for the SDLP is bad, but not all that bad as it still managed to top the poll in South Down and Foyle (though not by a whole lot, especially in Foyle). The picture for the UUP is bad, and Tom Elliott’s recent outburst at his count in Fermanagh and South Tyrone only makes the whole thing worst. Elliott, the UUP’s leader since last year, has made no secret of his conservatism and his positioning within the right of the party (rather than, say, the civic unionism of David Trimble and Sylvia Hermon). Furthermore, in Unionist politics, competition for ‘ethnic intransigence’ seems to be a constant, and Elliott’s goal seems to be pushing the UUP into a TUV-lite position to the right of the growingly pragmatic DUP. At his count, Elliott attacked the “traitorous scum of Sinn Féin” and Shinners wearing “the flag of a foreign nation”. Perhaps Mr. Elliott should study the results of the TUV before acting like a Unionist dinosaur.
Northern Ireland seems to be consolidating into a two-party DUP and SF system, with the SDLP and UUP risking long-term extinction or irrelevance if such trends continue.
The Alliance did well, gaining a second seat in East Belfast where it won 26.3% of the overall first preferences, up 7.5% on its 2007 performance (the DUP won 44.1%, up 6.4% since 2007, in East Belfast). As aforementioned, it fell short of a second seat in North Down, that seat instead being held by Steven Agnew for the Greens. Agnew won roughly 8% of first prefs and was elected on the last count. The popular Alliance-turned-Indie-turned-Green Brian Wilson had won the GPNI’s first seat there in 2007, likely due to a large personal vote, but retired this year. His wife Anne was the APNI candidate who fell short of that seat, ironically enough. As a final note about North Down, the DUP did quite well there with 44% (up 10%) against a mere 10% for the UUP which has apparently not recovered from the Sylvia Hermon episode of 2010.
Jim Allister’s TUV did horribly, its paltry 2.5% result being the party’s lowest result in its brief existence. Even in Allister’s North Antrim, the TUV won only 12% of first prefs (10% for Allister himself), lower than the 16.8% he won there in 2010. Yet, Allister managed election on the ninth count. The TUV’s low showing shows the low weight of radical unionism in Northern Ireland, and Allister’s platform of being a thorn in the side of the executive probably won’t amount to much.
In East Belfast, both the PUP-turned-Indie incumbent Dawn Purvis and the PUP’s leader Brian Ervine lost out. Purvis was eliminated on the final count, after polling 5.3% of first prefs. Ervine won 4.6% of first prefs and was eliminated on the tenth count, right before Purvis. An Independent, David McClarty, was elected in East Londonderry on the seventh count with 8.6% of first prefs. McClarty ran as an independent after being deselected by the UUP. The UUP will now try to win him back (in order to get a second cabinet seat), but Elliott’s outburst won’t help considering McClarty commented that they made Jim Allister look like the Dalai Lama.
Of the smaller parties, the far-left PBPA won 5% in West Belfast and 8% in its Foyle stronghold but transfers weren’t good enough to get it a seat there. UKIP won 5.6% in South Down, where its candidate is a local councillor.
The new cabinet will have a DUP FM, a SF Deputy FM alongside 4 DUP ministers, 3 SF ministers, and one minister each from UUP, SDLP and Alliance. The Alliance will likely have two ministries overall, though, with David Ford likely to hold his Justice portfolio. If McClarty joined back up with the UUP, the UUP would get a second seat at APNI’s expense. The Alliance could take such matters into court, as could the UUP if they only get one ministries to the APNI’s two considering the APNI is half the size of the UUP.
Local election counts are underway, with the same trends showing up: DUP and SF stable, SDLP and UUP loses, Alliance gains.
The United Kingdom’s general election last night, on May 6, is certainly one of the most interesting and poignant election in a longtime, beating out, in my mind, even Obama’s 2008 election. Even now, nobody knows what the hell happened and what will happen. It was an unpredictable wild contest.
All but one of the 650 constituencies up for election are in, only Thirsk and Malton, where a UKIP candidate died before the poll, will vote later, on May 27. Turnout was 65%, up around 4% since 2005. There were long queues at certain polling stations in places such as Sheffield, where the local returning officer closed the door at 22:00 and shut out some people from voting. In other places, certain voters were issued with ballots at 22:00 and allowed to vote after the legal closing time. Some stations ran out of ballots, or had problems because uni students turned out to vote without their voter card. The chaos at certain stations led to scenes of anger by shut-out voters, who tried to block ballot boxes from exiting the station to go to the count centre, and the BBC was also quite angry at the situation. A reform of the polling booths law is likely to come up soon.
The results are as follows, excluding Thirsk and Malton, with changes on 2005 notionals, excluding by-elections:
Conservatives and Speaker 36.11% (+3.8%) winning 306 seats (+97)
Labour 29.02% (-6.2%) winning 258 seats (-91)
Liberal Democrats 23.03% (+1.0%) winning 57 seats (-5)
UK Independence Party 3.10% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
British National Party 1.90% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish National Party 1.66% (+0.1%) winning 6 seats (nc)
Greens 0.96% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Sinn Féin 0.58% (-0.1%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Democratic Unionist Party 0.57% (-0.3%) winning 8 seats (-1)
Plaid Cymru 0.56% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Social Democratic & Labour Party 0.37% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force 0.35% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
English Democrats 0.22% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alliance Party 0.14% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Respect-Unity Coalition 0.11% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Traditional Unionist Voice 0.09% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Christian Party 0.06% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independent Community and Health Concern 0.05% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 0.04% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish Socialist Party 0.01% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 1.08% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
There are a few general discernible trends in this election, but the major trend is that the election was awfully local. There were wild swings to and from certain parties in various parts of the country, some safe Labour seats fell to the Tories while some marginal Labour seats held on. Some seats which should never have fallen did, and some seats which should have fallen did not. The national swing is 5%, but it was very far from a universal swing (another shot in the back of the classic UNS), with some very low swings in some areas and a high number of seats bucking the trend. A look at those areas later on.
The discernible trends in this election are that Labour held up better than expected, and that Cleggmania died out badly and the LibDems had a rather bad night after the weeks of euphoria, which didn’t really die off at any point during the campaign. The daily pollsters did very badly, but the exit pollsters got it almost spot on down to the last seat numbers, and UNS didn’t fail as badly as expected (partly the result, I’m sure, of the poor LibDem result). What the pollsters did get right, however, is that the Tories, while largest party by far, lack an overall majority of seats and the next Parliament will be a hung one: the first since February 1974.
To begin the actual analysis, here are the results by major regions:
England: Con 39.6% (297), Lab 28.1% (191), LD 24.2% (43), UKIP 3.5%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1% (1)
East Midlands: Con 41.2% (31), Lab 29.8% (15), LD 20.8% (0), UKIP 3.3%, BNP 3.2%, GRN 0.5%
Eastern: Con 47.1% (52), LD 24.1% (5), Lab 19.6% (2), UKIP 4.3%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1.5%
London: Lab 36.6% (38), Con 34.5% (28), LD 22.1% (7), UKIP 1.7%, GRN 1.6%, BNP 1.5%
North-East: Lab 43.6% (25), Con 23.7% (2), LD 23.6% (2), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.7%, GRN 0.3%
North-West: Lab 39.5% (47), Con 31.7% (22), LD 21.6% (6), UKIP 3.2%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 0.5%
South-East: Con 49.9% (75), LD 26.2% (4), Lab 16.2% (4), UKIP 4.1%, GRN 1.4% (1), BNP 0.7%
South-West: Con 42.8% (36), LD 34.7% (15), Lab 15.4% (4), UKIP 4.5%, GRN 1.1%, BNP 0.8%
West Midlands: Con 39.5% (33), Lab 30.6% (24), LD 20.5% (2), UKIP 4%, BNP 2.8%, ICHC 0.6%, GRN 0.6%
Yorkshire and the Humber: Lab 34.7% (32), Con 32.5% (18), LD 23% (3), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.8%, GRN 0.9%
Northern Ireland: SF 25.5% (5), DUP 25% (8), SDLP 16.5% (3), UCUNF 15.2% (0), OTH 7.1% (1), APNI 6.3% (1), TUV 3.9%, GRN 0.5%
Scotland: Lab 42% (41), SNP 19.9% (6), LD 18.9% (11), Con 16.7% (1), UKIP 0.7%, GRN 0.7%, BNP 0.4%
Wales: Lab 36.2% (26), Con 26.1% (8), LD 20.1% (3), PC 11.3% (3), UKIP 2.4%, BNP 1.6%, GRN 0.4%
Analysis of England, Wales and Scotland
The marking thing about this election, noted above, is the absence of a large, quasi-universal swing or trend from one side to another. There were some large swings in certain seats, but it’s hard to discern a general common trait about those seats or regions, though I personally noticed that there were large swings in safe Labour seats, maybe the result of voters voting as a protest vote against the ‘owners’ of the place when it’s safe to do so and is unlikely to cause a change of hands in the said seat.
The Tories gained 100 seats exactly (slightly less excluding by-election gains they held). Most of those seats tended to be marginal seats, where the race often depends on the national mood and turnout patterns within the seat, or more middle-class areas gained by Labour in its 1997 landslide and narrowly held onto by Labour in 2005. The Tories also gained twelve seats from the LibDems, most of which had been gained by the party in the Tory landslide defeat of 1997. One of those seats is Winchester, a famous seat where the LibDems won by two votes in the 1997 election and held it in a subsequent by-election as well as 2001 and 2005. The Tories lost 3 seats (excluding the Speaker’s seat), all to the LibDems: Solihull (technically a hold, but a notional gain), Eastbourne and Wells. In Norwich North, traditionally a Labour area, the young Tory MP held on by a comfortable margin of around 10% after a 2009 by-election gain. In Crewe and Nantwich, another Tory gain from Labour in a 2008 by-election, the Tories won by a large margin, 46-34 over Labour. Birmingham Edgsbaston had been a seat everybody had been talking about as a must-win Tory gain if they wanted to win nationally. Labour held on to it 41-38, though Labour lost seats which were notionally safer than Brum Edgsbaston. The Tories will also win in Thirsk and Malton on May 27, giving them 307 seats overall.
Labour lost 94 seats, all but a handful to the Tories. They did however win back three seats: in Chesterfield, they defeated the LibDems in Tony Benn’s old seat, they gained back Bethnal Green & Bow from Galloway, and they picked up Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales coalfields from Dai Davies, an Independent who won a 2006 by-election to replace Peter Law, who had won as an Independent Labour candidate in 2005 in protest at Labour’s all-women shortlist in the constituency. Davies has likely been hurt by some poor decisions of hers.
The LibDems had a poor night. The Cleggmania seen in polls absolutely didn’t translate into increased support for the party, which has in fact suffered a net loss of 5 seats and a gain of only 1% in the popular vote. The reason hasn’t been satisfactorily explained yet, but it’s likely that voters were convinced at the last minute that the election was still a two-horse race, or Labour voters who had toyed around with Nick Clegg decided to vote Labour in fear of a Tory government. Increased media scrutiny of the LibDems and poorer debate performances in the last two debates certainly didn’t help. However, the traditional problems of the LibDem strategy should also be noted: vote spread too thin around the country or poor strategic choices in terms of constituencies. The party suffered 13 loses overall, compensated by 8 gains. In Cornwall, where they held all 6 seats prior to the election, they lost three. It could partly be the result of an unpopular move to a unitary authority in 2009, a move backed by the local LibDems, but I think the LibDems suffered the consequences of that in the 2009 locals rather than in 2010. It should also be noted that the Tory majorities in Truro & Falmouth and Camborne & Redruth were extremely thin (less than 1%). LibDem hopes for gains in Oxford, a major student town, were dashed with a Labour hold in Oxford East and the defeat of the LibDem incumbent in Oxford West. Another student town where the LibDems had hopes was Durham, but Labour won 44-38 there. Perhaps the student vote didn’t turn out as much as it should, or it could be related to the student registration problems in certain places. The LibDems gained 8 seats in all. In Norwich South, the seat with the lowest vote share for the winning party, the LibDems very narrowly defeated Labour MP and internal Brown enemy Charles Clarke, while in Burnley they finally gained the seat infamously known for its 2001 race riots after successes at the local level since the last election.
There were a number of rather shocking results. In Redcar, a very safe working-class Labour seat (held in 1983, so it’s safe), the LibDems won a massive victory with a huge 21.8% swing to the LibDems. The closure of the Corus steel plant in Redcar likely explains the result, along with local government LibDem strength, but it remains the major English shocker of the night. In Montgomeryshire, held by the Liberals/LDs since 1983 (and excluding a one-term Tory between 79 and 83, since 1880) and by Lembit Öpik since 1997, the Tories won a shocking and unexpected victory on a 13% swing to them. Lembit Öpik’s flamboyant and controversial style likely did him in. There were also large swings to the LibDems in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, a safe Labour seat in the South Wales coalfields, were the Labour share dwindled from 61% to 44% while the LibDems saw their vote increase by 17%. Labour held the seat, but it was surprisingly close for a safe Labour seat. The result in Pontypridd was also close, with a 13% swing to the LibDems. Demographic changes and younger professionals moving into this once-coalfield seat likely explains the result there. Also in Wales, Plaid failed to gain Ynys Môn (Anglesey), held by the party’s leader in the Assembly, though it isn’t all that shocking given that no incumbent has lost re-election on the island since the 1950s.
In England, Labour held on to Luton South, where its retiring MP was embroiled in the expenses scandal. The Independent in Luton South, Esther Rantzeen, who stood on an anti-sleaze platform, did horribly with just 4% of the vote. Hazel Blears, another Labour MP embroiled in the expenses scandal, held on in Salford, winning 40% against 26% for the LibDems and 21% to the Tories. Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary and expenses scandal culprit, was defeated in Redditch by a decisive 44-30 margin by the Tory candidate. A number of cabinet ministers lost their seats, but no high-ranking cabinet ministers lost in the end. Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood came close to having a “Portillo moment”, but held on 38-35 against the Tory’s Antony Calvert.
In Scotland, the trend there bucked the trend south of the border, with Labour actually increasing its vote share to 42% by 2.5%. Also amusing is the fact that no seats changed hands in Scotland. The SNP, which forms government in Holyrood, up for re-election in one year, will likely be quite disappointed. Salmond had a goal of 20 seats for the party, though most bookies thought 8 seats would be the SNP’s seat count. It failed to win Ochil and Perthshire South, where Labour increased its majority and the SNP vote fell; and Labour’s majority in Dundee West increased from approximately 5% in 2005 to 20% this year. Glasgow East, a safe Labour seat won by the SNP in a shocking 2008 by-election, wasn’t even remotely close: Labour’s defeated 2008 candidate won 62-25 against John Mason, the incumbent MP. Overall, the SNP increased its vote share only marginally to 19.9%, placing it second, but still far from its 29% level in the European elections in 2009 or the 33% in the Holyrood election in 2007. The LibDems had hoped to win Aberdeen South and two seats in Edinburgh (two seats which they only narrowly lost, though), but its seat share remains stagnant and its vote fell nearly 4%. The LibDems also lost Dunfermline and West Fife, a 2006 by-election gain from Labour, to its original 2005 winner. Gordon Brown also saw his majority in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath increase, now a crushing 50% majority over the SNP. The Tories only marginally increased their vote share and they failed to win either Dumfries and Galloway from Labour, or two SNP seats which were on the party’s target list. Even if Cameron forms a government, the Tories will have but one MP from Scotland.
The SNP’s Welsh allies, Plaid Cymru, did poorly, with their vote down to only 11% in Wales. They won back Arfon, notionally held by Labour, but they fell short by a large margin in Ynys Môn and they fell far, far short of winning back Ceredigion, a narrow LibDem gain in 2005 where the LibDem majority increased substantially. The margin in Ceredigion is now 50-28.
The Greens broke through in Brighton Pavilion, winning their first seat ever (on less than 1% of the national vote) and marking one of the first seats won by Greens in a FPTP national election. MEP Caroline Lucas defeated Labour 31-29, while the Tories polled a rather poor 24% of the vote in a race rumoured to be a two-way Green-Tory contest. The Tories, however, did win Brighton Kemptown and Hove, both won by Labour in the past three elections. The Greens victory in Brighton Pavilion reflects a winning strategy for such parties, especially the Canadian Greens: focus almost all resources on one seat with a star candidate and bomb that seat with leaflets; while forgetting other seats. The Greens did that and it paid them dividends, though overall the party’s share of the vote actually fell slightly and in most other constituencies it did as well. The Greens also did well in Norwich South, their ‘second target’, with 15% of the vote. It polled barely over 2% in both Oxford seats.
George Galloway, Respect’s sole MP and a major victor of the 2005 election, moved from his constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow to Poplar and Limehouse, and he took a trashing there, winning only 18% of the vote against 40% for Labour and 27% for the Tories (who didn’t win the seat after all). In Bethnal Green & Bow, Respect’s candidate won 17% and third-place. Respect’s best result was won by Salma Yaqoob in a massive mud-sliding contest in the new seat of Birmingham Hall Green: Yaqoob won 25% and second place, narrowly ahead of the LibDems and not too far from Labour’s 33% of the vote.
The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin was standing in Barking against high-profile Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and the leader’s result was quite bad for the party and reflects poorly on the party’s overall results. Griffin won only 15% of the vote, the BNP vote actually down on 2005 and still in third place behind the Tories (18%) and far away from Labour, which won 54%, up 4% on 2005. Overall, however, the BNP’s vote increased to 1.9%, likely its best result in a general election to date, and the BNP was the party, with the Tories, that saw its vote increase by the largest amount (+1.2%). This is likely due to running far more candidates than in 2005, though the BNP increased its Westminster presence in the North East. The BNP’s result is not as bad as it’s made out to be (nor is it all that good), but in Barking, it’s very bad and at the local level, the BNP lost all 12 seats in the Barking and Dagenham borough council, where all seats are now held by Labour.
UKIP’s former leader Nigel Farage, injured in a plane crash the day before the vote, was standing against the Speaker in Buckingham. John Bercow, the Speaker, is not entirely popular, especially in his own party, where his pragmatic and liberal stances are not all that welcome. Yet, Farage didn’t make an impact and there was no late sympathy vote. Farage ended up in third, with only 17% and behind an anti-Bercow independent who polled 21%. Bercow’s vote, however, was down roughly 11% on his 2005 result.
Elections in the UK are often fought on bases of classes, and those patterns have remained largely stable since 1935. On a map, the Tories win the most land area (as they did in 2005), because they represent largely sprawling rural or suburban areas. The party’s strongest majorities are found, obviously, in the South-East and East, though in rural and very wealthy areas as a general rule. As previously mentioned, the Tories gained ground from Labour either in seats were the boundaries make them closely split between Labour and Tories, or in more well-off urban and suburban areas won by Labour in its 1997 landslide (eg, Lincoln and so forth). In other rural areas, old patterns based on historical religious adherence, die hard. Cornwall, parts of the South-West and Wales have always been weaker Tory land because the Tories were historically seen, especially in Celtic Cornwall and Wales (Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnorshire), as the English Anglicans in opposition to non-conformist Celtic Cornwall. In Wales, the Tories have usually found strength in wealthy areas (Cardiff North, the Vale of Glamorgan) but also areas with a large number of English retirees (Pembrokeshire) and areas more English than Welsh (Monmouthshire). Scotland actually used to be a strong Tory area, but Thatcher’s policies and the SNP killed it off. Thatcher was unpopular by the end in Scotland, and the SNP appealed to those voters who had voted for the Unionist Party of Scotland (merged into the national Tories in 1965) because of the Unionist’s Scottish Protestant rhetoric. Labour has been reduced in this election to its base in working-class (usually old mining) areas. Almost all Labour seats are found in urban or densely-populated industrial valleys, giving the impression on a general map that they’re a small party. Labour’s best areas are in the Welsh valleys (the Rhondda etc), Liverpool and surrounding industrial hinterland, coal mining areas in the Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the mining stronghold of County Durham, Scottish mining areas in central Scotland and Fife, the Black Country around Birmingham, and the working-class areas in East London (or similarly working-class areas in western-ish London) and other cities including Glasgow. The Liberal Democrats have strongholds built largely on persons rather than demographics. While they do well in traditionally Liberal areas such as Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands or eastern rural Wales, personality encourages a lot of their vote. The LibDems, as mentioned in previous posts, often take different rhetoric to win different seats. It can sometimes even be borderline populist and nationalist, such as in Burnley, or Cornish nationalist as with Andrew George in St. Ives. As evidenced by the result in Ceredigion and especially Westmorland and Lonsdale, their MPs often have a large sophomore surge. That being said, there are some traditionally LibDem demographics: students (Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Manchester Withington), young professionals and wealthy liberals (parts of south London), and some strength in certain resort towns (Torbay, Southport, Eastbourne). Sometimes, the LibDems win under slightly disconcerting circumstances (in some cases, gay opponents: Norfolk North and Simon Hughes’ 1983 by-election win in Bermondsey). The LibDem’s weird patterns of support, which are generally well spread out and peaking only in a handful of seats, account for their weak results under FPTP. However, the LibDem strategy of working hard in certain seats to win them and hold them makes sure that on 23% of the vote, they manage 57 seats in 2010 rather than 23 on 25% in 1983, so it has its dividends as well.
A note on local elections: after 157 of 164 councils declared, the Tories hold 65 (-8), Labour has 37 (+15), the LibDems have 13 (-4) while 45 remain NOC (-3). The Tories lost 121 seats, now holding 3364 councillors against 2857 for Labour (+414) and 1615 for the LibDems (-141). A notable Labour gain is in Liverpool, where the LibDem majority has been defeated. In the London boroughs, Labour has picked up a good number, and Barking and Dagenham is an entirely Labour council. The BNP has only 19 councillors left, down 26. More results here.
David Cameron is favoured to form cabinet, and negotiations are underway as this is posted with Nick Clegg’s LibDems. Labour had called by election night for a Lib-Lab pact, but Clegg had said during the campaign that the party with the most votes and seats should have first digs at forming a government. Hope for a Lib-Lab pact is extremely low, and Labour already rebuffed SNP offers at a grand Labour-LD-SNP-SDLP-Plaid coalition. Cameron yesterday highlighted the common ground between LibDems and Tories, but there remains significant differences, most notably on Europe, immigration and electoral reform. Electoral reform remains a top priority for the LibDems, but the Tories are the most reticent of the two major parties (Labour called by election night for some sort of talks on the matter) for electoral reform. The Tories might bury LibDem calls for electoral reform by accepting to long-winded committees on the matter or STV voting for the Lords or local elections. The LibDems ought to be cautious and intelligent when talking to the Tories. If there was to be a deal, an informal deal between both would be far better for the LibDems than a formal coalition, where the LibDems would obviously have the shed their ‘alternative’ image and would be associated by voters with Tory policies. It also remains to be seen if the LibDem electorate, a lot of which vote for the party because it’s neither red nor blue, would be happy about a Lib-Tory deal. If talks fall through, Cameron could still form a minority cabinet relying on on-and-off support from Northern Ireland’s unionists, the LibDems or even the SNP-Plaid for a majority on various matters. However, such a minority wouldn’t be as stable as Harper’s minority in Canada, given that Labour is probably structurally and financially stronger than the Canadian Liberals and could afford to defeat Cameron in the House and force a snap election. It is quasi-certain anyways, however, that the current Parliament won’t last as long as its predecessor and an election might be held as soon as winter.
Its best to analyse politics in Northern Ireland separately from the ‘other island’ because of the major differences. Northern Ireland has 18 constituencies (which also serve as multi-member STV constituencies for the Assembly elections). Politics remain sectarian in Northern Ireland despite the power-sharing in Belfast and the end of the Troubles, and political parties reflect those sectarian lines. However, the increase of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland will sooner or later trouble the delicate balance of power between the two major sectarian forces. Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs are ignored in times of majorities, but in times of hung parliaments, the unionist MPs are courted actively. The Tories in the past sometimes depended on support from unionist MPs, and Sinn Féin’s abstentionist MPs reduce the magic majority line from 326 to 323 in 2010. The unionist MPs might come in vital for a Tory minority government.
In Northern Ireland as a whole, Sinn Féin topped the poll with 25.5% of the vote, up 1% on 2005, while the DUP share of the vote fell 8.7% to 25%. The SDLP, the second nationalist party, saw its vote go down by only 1% to reach 16.5%, while the second unionist party, the UUP/UCUNF won only 15.2%, down 2.6% on 2005. The non-sectarian liberal Alliance won 6.3% (+2.4%) while the hardline anti-power sharing TUV won only 3.9%.
In Antrim North, Ian Paisley Jr. had no trouble in the race to succeed his father, winning 46.4% against 16.8% for Jim Allister, the TUV leader and former MEP. While Paisley Jr’s result is down 10% on 2005, he maintains a comfortable 29.6% majority in the seat. Allister’s result is rather bad and would only yield a handful of Assembly seats next year if the numbers hold up.
Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, was standing in Antrim South, the only seat where Empey’s UUP-Tory coalition had a real chance of winning. Despite a 3.6% swing from the DUP to the UCUNF, Empey is 3.5% behind incumbent DUP MP William McCrea with 30.4% against 33.9% for the DUP incumbent. The TUV polled 5.4%. Empey’s defeat will likely call into question his leadership, which is already rapidly evaporating, but also the continued existence of a clearly dwindling UUP, especially in face of the 2011 Assembly elections, where Martin McGuinness could become First Minister on the back of unionist divisions.
The shock came from Belfast East, the seat held by incumbent First Minister Peter Robinson, also leader of the DUP, since 1979. Robinson temporarily stepped down as First Minister earlier this year after it was revealed that his wife, Iris Robinson (formerly an MP as well) had sexual affairs and illegal financial dealings with a teenager. A poll had shown he wasn’t at much risk in a Protestant DUP stronghold, but they failed to see the wave, which came not from the nationalists or UCUNF, but from the non-sectarian Alliance. Its candidate, Naomi Long, elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2009, won 37.2% of the vote against 32.8% for Robinson, on a massive 23% swing to the Alliance from the DUP. Robinson remains as First Minister, but his authority is severely shaken by this shocking defeat.
In Belfast South, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell had been elected in 2005 thanks to vote splitting between the unionists, but this time around he had no trouble winning. His share of the vote increased by nearly 11% to reach 41%, giving him a 17% majority over his closest rival, the Democratic Unionist Jimmy Spratt, who won 23.7%. Anna Lo, an Alliance Assembly member of Chinese descent, won a very pleasing 15% of the vote, which shows her popularity as an Assembly member (it isn’t an ethnic vote, obviously, only 3% of the constituency’s population is non-white) and the party’s appeal in the seat. McDonnell’s large victory reflects Sinn Féin’s drop-out in his favour, but also the growing Catholic population in the seat.
Gerry Adams managed to increase his vote in Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s heartland, to 71%. In Belfast North, despite a 7% increase in its vote share, Sinn Féin failed to wrestle the seat from the DUP, which won 40%. However, Sinn Féin’s 7% increase here is larger than the SDLP’s 4.5% slide, reflecting the growing Catholic population in the seat and maybe a sign that Sinn Féin might be able to win it in the future.
Lady Sylvia Hermon, North Down’s MP, was the UUP’s sole survivor in 2005, but she left the party after it allied with the Tories and stood for re-election as an Independent against Ian Parsley, the Alliance-turned-Tory guy. Parsley obviously wasn’t a top-caliber opponent to a very popular local MP. Hermon won 63%, up from 50% in 2005, against Parsley’s 20.4%. The Alliance suffered from Hermon’s popularity and their vote slid by 2% to only 5.6%.
Another setback for the Robinson clan was in Strangford, Iris Robinson’s old seat, where she was retiring (obviously). The DUP’s vote slid nearly 9 points to 45.9%, mainly to the benefit of the UCUNF, which won 27.8% (+6.4% on 2005). The DUP held on narrowly in Upper Bann, with 33.8% against 25.7% for the UCUNF and 24.7% for Sinn Féin, which placed a disappointing third after a poll had showed them in a strong second to the DUP.
The DUP held on in East Londonderry with a 15% majority on Sinn Féin while high-profile DUPer Sammy Wilson won re-election in East Antrim with a 22% majority on UCUNF.
Sinn Féin faced a very, very tough contest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic seat but one where a united unionist front can win. Rodney Connor, the unionist unity candidate, was the favourite against Sinn Féin incumbent Michelle Gildernew. Gildernew held on by four votes about a number of recounts against Rodney Connor. Both polled 45.5% of the votes. Because Gildernew was threatened, the SDLP’s vote was massively squeezed, being halved to reach only 7.6%. If the SDLP had dropped out to save Gildernew, it would have been a much easier election for Gildernew.
Sinn Féin easily held on in Mid Ulster (Martin McGuinness’ seat), Tyrone West and Newry & Armagh. The SDLP’s former leader, Mark Durkan, was re-elected in Foyle with a 12.7% majority over Sinn Féin, though both parties vote slid, likely in favour of Eammon McCann of the far-left People before Profit, which won a record 7.7% in the seat. The SDLP’s new leader, Margaret Ritchie, held on in South Down, with a comfortable 19.8% majority over Sinn Féin, despite the retirement of popular SDLP MP Eddie McGrady.
The DUP will send 8 MPs against 5 Shinners, 3 SDLPers, one Alliance and one independent – for the first time since its creation, Northern Ireland will not be represented in Westminster by a unionist majority (10 unionists in 2005, now down to 9 against 8 nationalists and one non-sectarian).
The United Kingdom votes in its long-anticipated general election on Thursday, May 6th. For an election which was awaited by so many electoral pundits, it has not let them down one inch. The inclusion of three TV debates between the three major leaders – a novelty in British elections – has changed the general outlook of the election vastly. Whatever the results may be, it will likely go down as an historic election of sorts.
The Liberal Democrats’ historic surge since the first debate, up to 33% in some polls and rarely falling below 28% or so since then, is obviously the most striking aspect. Because of the appeal of their new, young, charismatic leader, Nick Clegg; but also because of a general antipathy towards Conservatives and Labour. The LibDems have an unusual electoral coalition, including various groups of voters which on the outside are worlds apart on policies in a number of cases. They don’t have any old lasting strongholds (except Orkney and the Shetlands!), like Labour has in the coal fields or the Tories in rural England, meaning that their electoral successes often come from a localized message against their party of choice or policy of choice. If not, it comes from a personal vote.
The result is that it renders even more useless the holy universal national swing (UNS) calculators. Those little gadgets work on the flawed assumption that the national swing from one party to another will be the same in all constituencies, in all regions. The UNS is a good thing to sell papers and grab headlines, but it isn’t the most useful of electoral outcome predictors. The LibDem surge renders it all the more useless.
The current lines in polling seems to have the Tories at around 33-36%, Labour and LibDems usually at 28% each, giving or taking a few points. The polls have been remarkably stable in that range, though YouGov’s daily tracker today had the LibDems down to 24% – something not yet backed up by any other pollster. In terms of seats, the UNS and other predictors seem to indicate that the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament with somewhere in the high 200s-low 300s in terms of seats, with Labour likely in second with somewhere between 210 and 250ish seats. The LibDems would likely be between the high 70s and mid 90s. A poll in marginal constituencies indicates a Tory majority of two, but if there’s one thing I am allergic too, it is those polls in ‘marginals’ or in specific constituencies.
This would result in a hung parliament, which would mean that no party would have an outright majority. There are a lot of possible consequences of this, including a minority government similar to Canada, a Tory deal with the Northern Irish unionists (or SNP, but only if the Tories are very close to an overall majority) or a coalition deal between one of the parties and the LibDems. The LibDems will probably be in a good position to ask for a number of concessions on stuff such as electoral reform or working with Labour on condition that Brown goes, so I would personally argue that there’s a better chance for a Tory minority government than the Tories agreeing to LibDem electoral reform and forming a coalition with them. However, there is an outside chance that Labour could push Brown out and agree to work with the LibDems, but it would require the Tories to be far away from the majority threshold, and at least the tolerance of other parties such as Plaid or the SNP.
There have been differing analyses of where the new LibDem vote comes from exactly, but given the topic, it’s better to wait until the 7th to see the results. The LibDems would be leading, according to YouGov’s last regional breakdown, in the South-West, which would indicate their resistance in all 6 Cornish seats but also pushing through in Devon and around Bristol where they’re already naturally strong on balance. In London, they could win marginal Labour seats in Islington and that general area of northern London. In Birmingham, the bookies seem to be betting on the LibDems picking up the new inner city seat of Birmingham Hall Green. In Liverpool, the constituency of Liverpool Wavertree, a rather well-off seat in the middle of deprived Liverpool could be won by the LibDems, who could also pick up Burnley, famous for its race riots in 2001 and for being the original base of the BNP. In the mining Labour heartland of the North-East, the LibDems could pick up seats in Newcastle and Durham (City), bourgeois enclaves in proletarian land.
The minor parties, namely the Greenies, UKIP and BNP will each have their eyes seat on one seat each. The Greenies hope to pick up Brighton Pavilion, a Labour-held seat where the incumbent is retiring and where the Greens are running their leader and incumbent MEP Caroline Lucas. The LibDems seem to have informally ‘dropped out’, leaving the seat wide open for Lucas, who is the favourite in this very hip and young seat in the coastal resort of Brighton. Former UKIP leader and incumbent MEP Nigel Farage is taking on the Speaker, John Bercow, in his Buckingham seat. As per usual, neither Labour nor the LibDems are opposing the Speaker, who is a former Conservative. Farage is unlikely to win. The BNP will watch the east London seat of Barking, where its leader Nick Griffin (also an MEP…) is facing the Labour incumbent. Barking is a white working-class Labour stronghold, but the BNP’s rhetoric plays well in this area close to major immigrant areas in Tower Hamlets. Griffin is unlikely to win, but the BNP wishes to do well enough to increase its representation on the borough council (all London boroughs are also up on May 6, with a number of other seats in English local government). The controversial George Galloway won a shocking and controversial victory in Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005, in a race dominated by the Iraq War in the Bangladeshi heart of London. Respect, Galloway’s party, has since gone down the route of civil war and divisions, and got creamed in recent electoral outings. Galloway is now running in the new seat of Poplar & Limehouse, next door to Bethnal Green & Bow, probably to lose as a candidate rather than as an incumbent. Some say Galloway’s standing might split the left vote and allow the Tories to pick up Poplar & Limehouse (which includes the gentrified Docklands, where I assume there’s a base of Tory support). Respect is also going to watch Birmingham Hall Green, where Salma Yaqoob is running and already won the support of some Labour members.
Ed Balls is the only important cabinet minister facing a tough fight in the new seat of Morley & Outwood, and given that he is a likely leadership contender if/once Brown leaves the leadership, his victory or defeat will be a mjaor point. Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty, two of the largest names involved in the 2009 expenses scandal will likely go down to a hard defeat.
The race is also being played in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where issues are sometimes different.
The Conservatives are looking to make major gains in Wales, where they currently hold (notionally) three seats against 30 for Labour, 4 for the LibDems, 2 for Plaid and one seat held by an Independent. The Conservatives did top the poll here in the European elections, which marked the first time since 1918 or so that Labour didn’t top the poll in its Welsh heartland. From their three seats today, the Tories would like to gain at least five seat to have a Welsh caucus of eight seats. The LibDem surge seems to have affected Wales as well, though seemingly to a lesser extent, which means that the LibDem’s on-the-wire victory over Plaid in Ceredigion in 2005 will likely be secured and the LibDems may target seats such as Swansea West. Plaid is seemingly polling quite poorly, but Labour’s decline might help it gain Ynys Mon and win outright in Arfon (held by Plaid, but Labour on notionals). A Plaid gain in Ceredigion, however, seems more and more unlikely.
The SNP is putting a lot of stock into this election in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament, led by the SNP, is up in May 2011. However, Scottish voters seem to prefer Labour at Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood. However, the SNP did rather poorly in 2005, polling roughly 18% to the LibDems’ 22%. Their vote will undoubtedly go up, and they could gain around two seats from the six they currently hold. The LibDems in 2005 had managed to coalesce a part of the Scottish anti-Labour vote, which usually floats between them and the SNP, so them improving on their 2005 result even minimally would be excellent and allow them to gain ground in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In Northern Ireland, much has been made of the electoral pact between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists, forming the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists-New Force (UCUNF). But the pact was not approved by the UUP’s sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down, who left the party and is standing for re-election as an independent and is very likely to win. Lady Sylvia has been close to the Labour Party in the past, and she said that she was not a Tory. The UCUNF’s only major hope is in Antrim South, where its leader Reg Empey faces incumbent DUP MP William McCrea. The bookies seem to be betting on Empey for a narrow win, but a p0ll by the Belfast Telegraph says otherwise. Empey’s defeat would call into question his leadership and maybe the party as a whole (if he loses, 2010 could be the first election since… the 1800s that the Ulster Unionists do not win a single seat), especially in regards to the 2011 Assembly elections and the prospect of the Shinner Martin McGuinness become First Minister on the back of Unionist division. In Antrim North, the old patriarch of the DUP, Reverend Ian Paisley is stepping aside in favour of his son, Ian Paisley Jr., who is facing his father’s former hardline ally, Jim Allister and his new anti-power sharing Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in his first electoral outing. The goal for Allister is not to win, but to make a strong showing as to better position the TUV to win seats in the Assembly next year. The Telegraph says that TUV would win up to 5 seats on its current numbers. The other race to watch is in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic constituency held by Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew (and held by hunger striker Bobby Sands for a very short while in 1981) but one where a unionist unity candidate could conceivably win. The unionist parties (DUP and UCUNF) agreed on the candidacy of Rodney Connor, who must be the narrow favourite in the seat, which is, ironically, the birthplace of the late 20th century Sinn Féin party. However, a poll by the Telegraph has Gildernew leading him by just one point – 44 to 43. The SDLP did not drop out here, but Sinn Féin did in South Belfast, where the SDLP’s 2005 gain was on the back of unionist divisions. With Sinn Féin out there, and the Catholic population increasing, the SDLP will hold on rather easily.
There’s a mock election poll running on this very blog – down the right-hand side. After 34 votes, the Tories are ahead on here with 32% against 26% for the LibDems. The Greens are third with 12%, while there’s a massive tie for fourth with Labour, UKIP, BNP and SNP each at 6%. Mebyon Kernow and Plaid have 3% each. This would give a Tory majority of 94, with 148 LibDems, 89 Labour and 40 others…