Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Ambition Over Integrity

It's possible, but by no means certain, that Boris Johnson's premiership has entered the end game. But even now, with the resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak hot in the Prime Minister's in-tray, he can't stop lying to the party faithful. Beset by some unexpected nibbles in the Johnson flank from the resigning junior and bag carrying ranks, it's reported that he's promised 80 or so loyalists that a bonfire of tax can now commence with cuts galore to come. People with memories may recall how Johnson had long briefed to the press that "levelling up" wasn't working because Dishy Rishi kept kiboshing Johnson's schemes. Not only does Johnson lie as easily as he breathes, he treats his loyalists as credulous fools too.

The problem with writing while events are unfolding is the danger of immediate irrelevance. With two senior cabinet members gone, politics turns upon the decisions of those who haven't declared their loyalties. As this post has gestated, the normally loyal Nadhim Zahawi entered Downing Street. Would he pick up Sunak's mantle at the Treasury, or find a spine and tell Johnson it's time to pack up? If the tittle tattle was to be believed, there was a barney as he demanded the chancellor's job while Johnson was minded to give that to Liz Truss. In the end, Zahawi prevailed - suggesting Johnson isn't as invulnerable as, even now, it is supposed. He moves to Number 11, sans the heated stables for his nags, while Michelle Donelan gets to inflict on schools the misery she's forced on universities. The fate of high politics determined by low ambition, it was forever thus.

Instead of committing to predictions likely to unravel within minutes, what do the two big beast resignation letters have to say? Like all the notes published this evening, it rattles off the Tories' success in raising tractor production before coming to the rub. In Javid's case, he says the Tories are no longer seen as sensible decision-makers guided by values. The no confidence vote was supposed to be a moment of "humility" and "new direction", but what the party got instead was the same old, stale old Johnson shtick. Though he thanks the Prime Minister for seeing off the dastardly Jeremy Corbyn.

Sunak's resignation was a bit more on the nose. Opining with the challenges the country face, he makes a play about standards in public life - forgetting his own recent brush with the law. Sunak lays out his record of obsequious loyalty after he said government was not "conducted properly, competently, and seriously." He goes on to say this might be his last ministerial job, before reminding the reader - and the voter in an upcoming Tory party leadership contest - that he's keen into "low taxes" and "tough decisions". Ideological catnip for a party faithful begrudgingly accepting of the "socialism" under Johnson's watch.

In reality, in a cabinet not overly blessed with talent Javid and Sunak, who have a bit more about them than the rest of their erstwhile colleagues, can see the Johnson moment is coming to a close. The question is not a matter of if and when, but how much damage Johnson can inflict and who will pay the price of eternal irrelevance on the backbenches with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries. If there was a decent bone in either men's bodies, they wouldn't have presided over tens of thousands of unnecessary Covid deaths, the miseries of an NHS being run into the ground, and trying to clamp down on people's hopes and aspirations that have been opened up over the last five or six years. They want to emerge from the carnage of the Johnson government as future players, if not leaders. As Sunak said, he was loyal and he pushed Johnson, bigged him up, supported him. Until he became inconvenient to his ambition. Neither Sunak or Javid deserve plaudits or pats on the back for "being brave". They are as culpable as Johnson for the present mess. If this was a truly just world, the only thing they would be entitled to expect is contempt.

Image Credit

Sunday, 3 July 2022

New Left Media July 2022

Looking to while away your day? Why not fill it with some new left media projects? Here's what I've spotted these last couple of months.

1. An Alternative Union (Twitter) (YouTube Channel)

2. Posle (Twitter) (Magazine/Multimedia)

3. The Popular Pod Twitter) (YouTube Channel)

If you know of any new(ish) blogs, podcasts, channels, Facebook pages, spin offs of existing projects (like the Popular Pod above) or whatever that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for new media that has started within the last 12 months. The round up appears hereabouts when there are enough new entrants to justify a post!

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Can Labour Win a Tamworth By-Election?

The Conservative Party just can't catch a break. After the bad by-election results, leadership speculation, and jaw dropping revelations about Boris Johnson getting caught in flagrante at work in the foreign office, exhausted Tories might have hoped for a quiet weekend. The fates had other ideas.

On Thursday evening deputy chief whip Christopher Pincher resigned after he sexually assaulted a couple of men at the Carlton Club. Johnson accepted his resignation and said he considered the matter closed, but then was forced to suspend him after The Sun and The Times dug up stories about past assaults on other men, including MPs. Deliciously, according to Dan Hodges in the Mail, Johnson knew about these incidents when he appointed him - as if his serially poor judgement couldn't be called into question any more than it has. For his part, the appropriately named Pincher has booked himself into a private clinic for "treatment". Surely, that means a by-election can't be far in the offing. So shunting the politics of this latest bout of sleaze aside, what can we say about the chances of another famous Tory loss?

Pincher sits in Tamworth on 66% of the vote, and with a majority of 20,000. At every election since 2010, when the Tories took the seat, it has become progressively safer. Labour, as the second placed party by some distance would be expected to be given the "clear run" via the gentleman's arrangement with the Liberal Democrats, but might overturning the huge majority be beyond Labour's reach? There isn't much of a third party vote for Labour to squeeze, nor given the hopeless state of the extra-Tory right is there any chance Reform UK and the ragbag of fash and near-fash deposit losers will peel right wing votes away. Also, the one recent by-election where the Labour was the main opponent in a Tory defence didn't go too great. In Old Bexley and Sidcup, called after the death of James Brokenshire, saw a modest advance for Labour but the Tories returned a 20 point advantage. A million miles away from the spectacular victories pulled off by the LibDems lately.

Bracketing the politics for a moment, are there signs of a Labour revival in the constituency a campaign could capitalise on? The constituency comprises Tamworth town and a series of rural wards belonging to Lichfield district. Unfortunately for Labour, the latter were - predictably - solidly Tory at the general election and last year's County Council elections. In Tamworth's borough council elections this year, the Tories won 7,945 votes versus Labour's 6,743. It's doable then, by no means a forlorn hope. But could Labour pull it off?

Bearing in mind the Tamworth council results came well after PartyGate, this might suggest the limits of a protest vote. On the other hand, the level of discontent in the Lichfield parts of the constituency are hard to gauge - but aren't likely to be off the scale. However, unlike the LibDem triumphs in North Shropshire, Tiverton, and Chesham and Amersham, the seat has been held by Labour before and a lot of their former voters are knocking about. If they are now minded to give the Tories a by-election thumping, which can't not be exacerbated by the circumstances of Pincher's disgrace, then making the switch back to Labour won't be a massive obstacle when so many have previously supported them. But, of course, it depends on the politics. As I've argued plenty of times, by ignoring the interests of Labour's new core constituency Keir Starmer is alienating our people and that will hurt come the election. But in a by-election, seeing as Wakefield returned and advances were made in the so-called red wall in the local elections, despite having nothing much to offer, popular anti-Tory sentiment might carry Labour over the line in Tamworth.

Should this happen, it would strike fear into the hearts of Tories more so than your routine LibDem by-election win. History shows the Tories tend to win seats back from the LibDems when the general election comes around, so the overturning of huge majorities by the third party don't count for much. Losing heavily to the main opposition party, however, is different. It might suggest Labour are reaching into new parts of the country the Tories hitherto through safe, and suggests the real number of marginal seats are much higher. Make no bones about it, if there is a Tamworth by-election and Labour win it, the 1922 Committee no confidence rules will be rewritten quicker than it takes for a Johnson cover up to unravel and he'll be out the door. And it would supply the clearest sign yet to Westminster watchers and sundry politicos that Labour's on its way to Number 10.

Image Credit

Friday, 1 July 2022

Quarter Two Council By-Election Results 2022

This quarter 184,996 votes were cast over 98 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Please note several seats were newly created or unfilled vacancies, so councillor gains/losses won't tally. For comparison you can view Quarter one's results here.

  Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Q1  22
+/- Q2 2021
Average
+/-
Seats
Conservative
         92
54,607
   29.5%
  -6.6
   -10.3
   594
  -21
Labour
         80
69,360
   37.5%
+17.0
    +4.5
   867
  +11
LibDem
         64
33,386
   18.0%
  -9.3
    +6.8
   522
  +15
Green
         42
14,194
    7.7%
 +1.5
    +0.1
   338
   +4
SNP*
          1
   96
    0.1%
  -1.4
     -0.5
    96
     0
PC**
          2
  611
    0.3%
 +0.3
     -0.3
   306
     0
Ind***
         42
12,172
    6.6%
  -0.8
    +1.7
   290
    -1
Other****
         11
   750
    0.4%
  -0.7
     -1.8
    68
    -1


* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were two by-elections in Wales
*** There were eight Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of Harlow Alliance (76), Liberal Party (84), Reform UK (36, 107, 35), SDP (125), TUSC (69, 46), UKIP (24, 25), and the Yorkshire Party (93)

Oh dear, the worst quarter for the Conservatives in the nine years I've been covering council by-elections. The party has really suffered while Labour and the Liberal Democrats can toast very strong performances - for Labour, probably the best in the same time interval. Either Tory local authorities have suddenly got really bad, or significant numbers of their voters are turning against the party. Perhaps a bit of tactical voting is in the mix too. It would seem the concern I had last month about the depression of the Labour vote is a thing of the past. With another month of Johnsonian scandal under the belt, another parliamentary suspension, and who knows what else might come out in July it's reasonable to expect the trend of Labour success to continue - along with Tory woe.

Image Credit

Local Council By-Elections June 2022

This month saw 42,699 votes cast in 22 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Nine council seats changed hands. Furthermore, seven seats were newly created or vacant during the last round of local elections, hence the net gains and losses will not tally in the table below. For comparison with May's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
May
+/- Jun 21
Avge/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
          20
10,804
    25.3%
  -5.8
      -3.8
    540
    -5
Labour
          20
12,757
    29.9%
  -11.9
     +6.4
    638
   +5
LibDem
          18
10,364
    24.3%
  +9.5
    +12.5
    576
   +8
Green
          13
 2,905
     6.8%
  -0.3
      -9.1
    223
     0
SNP*
           1
   96
     0.2%
  +0.2
      -6.5
     96
     0
PC**
           2
  611
     1.4
  +1.4
     +0.8
    306
     0 
Ind***
          18
 4,819
    11.3%
  +6.2
      -0.9
    268
     0
Other****
           5
  343
     0.8%
  +0.6
     +0.6
     69
    -1

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There were two by-elections in Wales
*** There were three independent clashes
**** Others running this month were Harlow Alliance (76 votes), SDP (125 votes), UKIP (24 and 25 votes), Yorkshire Party (93 votes)

Only scraping into second place in the popular vote by 440 votes, June proved to be another bad month for the Conservatives. Five net losses were the scores on the boards, with seats dropped to the Liberal Democrats and, horror of horrors, Labour as well. A consolation gain from Kidderminster Community Health, who didn't bother standing a candidate, hardly speaks of a party in rude electoral health. Of course, one can't blame this nosedive solely on the national picture. As this month's infestation of independent candidates testifies, local issues matter. But the determined swing against the Tories since December suggests something's afoot.

Naturally, the LibDems and Labour will be happy. The latter particularly seems to have found its by-election mojo again. But if these results are overdetermined by the national picture, I'd suggest it's an anti-Tory sentiment rather than a pro-Labour one. But as long as the party carries on showing reasonable leads in the polls - Ipsos has Labour on an 11 point lead, for instance - Keir Starmer feels he can take his time before setting out his policy stall.

By my reckoning, there are 22 more by-elections to look forward to this month with seven Conservative defences - seven more opportunities to cause a bit more pain.

9th June:
Breckland, Mattishall, Con hold
Crawley, Southgate, Lab hold
Sevenoaks, Penshurst, Fordcombe & Chiddingstone, LDem gain from Con

16th June:
Rother, Brede & Udimore, Con hold
Sunderland, Copt Hill, Lab hold
Warwick, Leamington Clarendon, Lab hold
Wyre Forest, Franche & Habberley North, Con gain from Oth

23rd June:
Harlow, Bush Fair, Lab gain from Con
Kingston, New Malden Village, LDem gain x3
Neath Port Talbot, Port Talbot, Labour gain x2
Shropshire, Highley, LDem gain from Ind
Waverley, Hindhead, LDem gain from Con

30th June:
Buckinghamshire, Bernwood, LDem gain from Con
Croydon, South Croydon, Con hold
East Riding of Yorkshire, Bridlington North, LDem gain from Con
Eilean Siar - Barraigh agus Bhatarsaigh, Ind gain
Eilean Siar - Sgìr’ Ùige agus Carlabhagh, Ind gain
Liverpool, Fazakerley, Lab hold
Middlesbrough, Berwick Hills & Pallister, Lab gain from Ind
Newark & Sherwood, Ollerton, Lab hold
South Derbyshire, Midway, Lab gain from Con
Wyre, Cleveleys Park, Con hold

Image Credit