Monday, 31 May 2010

David Laws - a tragic story but he can return

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David Laws
I sincerely hope that David Laws can clear his name and come back into front line politics. There is talk that he will resign as an MP. That would be a mistake on his part as he begins to sort out the turmoil in his life. I remember David as a decent, quietly spoken man of great integrity and a thoughtful, intelligent contributor to debates.

For the record, yes it appears he should not have claimed the rent of a home owned by his partner and his words about not really living with a 'partner' seem dubious at best. However, no doubt in the stress of trying to protect his privacy he has made mistakes - and paid for them in a big way.
David Laws: desperate act of an MP scared of being 'outed'
It would be understandable to succumb to the tabloid criticism and at times vile media attempts to try to out him and for him to throw in the towel. He should not. Voters decide who they want for their MP and not journalists. It is easy to say that sexuality doesn't matter in today's society but there is still extreme prejudice out there at times and no wonder David sort to protect his sexuality. Ignore the froth of the endless newspaper stories, David. It was right to step down as a Minister and refer yourself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Let him look into it, then pay back any money that is required and move on with your life.

There the matter should rest. Otherwise, every single MP should resign now (all of them have secrets) and we will never have anyone anywhere representing British voters. The rules have to be followed but sometimes the pursuit of truth turns into persecution and the effects on individuals are traumatic.

I trust David, his partner, James and their families can have some privacy and piece together their lives. Hang in there, David and life will get better. I trust you will be back in Government shortly.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tread carefully with North Korea

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As tensions grow with North Korea (DPRK), so the calls for sanctions increase. It is highly likely that North Korea was responsible for sinking the South Korean navy ship the Cheonan on 26th March killing 46 sailors and triggering a furious response from President Lee in Seoul. Even the United Nations has condemned the action.
Part of the sunken warship Cheonan
The Cheonan being recovered after sinking

Such an act of violent aggression is unacceptable and Pyongyang needs to understand that given the history between the two countries, such an attack would be considered an act of war. However, Pyongyang is stating that it did not authorise an attack and such claims are a "fabrication". The South responded with a propaganda war dropping leaflets and using loudspeakers urging North Koreans to defect. Whilst such actions are to a degree understandable they are hardly helpful to resolving the situation. It was unlikely that such tactics would have any diplomatic effect other than provide further excuses for the North to escalate matters.

Sure enough, North Korea has now stated it will sever all ties with the South and is continuing to ratchet up the rhetoric. Given the evidence that a North Korean manufactured torpedo hit the Cheonan it is almost certain that the Government must have been involved if not authorised it. Perhaps it was a reckless accident, in which case, North Korea should come clean and take responsibility. Covering up the actions whether accidental or deliberate will not win it any friends.

North and South Korean soldiers stand guard on the border

The Chinese are taking a cautious line understandably but behind the scenes must be deeply angered that at a time when the US and China are engaged in improving relations the whole issue of 'North Korea' is climbing rapidly the diplomatic agenda.

President Hu addresses China-US Dialogue

This is China's backyard and as a superpower is demonstrating leadership in dealing with the ongoing erratic and dangerous games played by President Kim.

It would not be surprising if it it turned out that the North had explicitly ordered the attack to position itself for further concessions with China and the US and negotiate additional help and support as its economy falters. The CIA reports that many North Koreans suffer from "prolonged malnutrition". With South Korea accounting for 38% of the North's exports, the ending of trade will yet again hit ordinary people hard.

This is a game of brinkmanship. Where will all this lead to? With North Korea seemingly intent on developing "offensive" nuclear weapons there can be no doubt that it would use such weapons if President Kim felt sufficiently threatened. The breakdown of the Six Party Talks (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the US) following a second nuclear explosive test and a series of cruise missile tests in May 2009 has left a diplomatic vacuum. However, is it a coincidence that President Kim hinted at a resumption of talks earlier this month when he visited China?

Maximum range of North Korean missiles
The map shows estimated maximum range of a successful launch. 
Range is also affected by the size of the payload.

The maze of diplomatic talks needs to be approached with the utmost care and China is critical to their success.The stakes are high. Yet the fact that North Korea wants to talk seems to demonstrate that they are engaging in a high profile 'gunboat diplomacy'. Perhaps it is new aid or cash that they want. China can earn a lot of appreciation if it can lever a deal out of the forthcoming storm. With President Kim Jong-il looking frail on his visit to China will the young (28 years old), reclusive, heir apparent Kim Jong-un succeed him as President and bring North Korea in from the cold?

South Korean protester shouts slogans while holding a picture of a boy believed to be the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Yong-un, February 19, 2009
Kim Jong-un - the next President of North Korea?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

John Bercow deserves to be Speaker

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File:John Bercow.JPG
John Bercow is a man of integrity with a quiet demeanour and a thoughtful, tolerant outlook on life. In the times that I came across him I found him to be puritanically polite with a cricketing sense of fair play.

I sincerely hope that the House of Commons re-elects John Bercow and that it appreciates a good Speaker when it has found one. 

Elected in 1997, I remember this polished MP carefully choosing every word to tackle Ministers and offer his views on all manner of debates. He made a positive impression.

In 2002, he stuck out his neck to defy Conservative Whips over a vote on gay and unmarried couples adopting children. He urged a free vote on a matter of conscience. That is the mark of an independently minded, parliamentarian. Too many have forgotten the paramount importance of parliament in a digital, PR age with Prime Ministerial TV debates and 24/7 news. John Bercow is the essence of what is decent in the Commons. After the expenses scandal he can lead the Commons forward through rapid, progressive changes to modernise it.

In 2005, he was presented with the prestigious 'Opposition MP of the Year' award for his repeated meticulous scrutiny of the Government in numerous debates and question times. In 2008, he was in charge of the 'Bercow Review' for review of children and families affected by speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), which was widely praised.

In 2009, at a speech to the Hansard Society he set out a persuasive vision of how parliament should and could re-connect with the public and how to create a 'people's parliament'. 

Yes he flipped his house and yes he paid an accountant to complete his tax return. Compared to duck houses, moats and the rest these were minor infringements of the spirit of the rules.

John Bercow

It is rather his manner and outlook which is to be cherished. John Bercow has been an excellent Speaker and offers a modern vision for the future of the mother of all parliaments. I trust parliamentarians will back him.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Déjà vu 1997?

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David Cameron will make his first visit to Wales as Prime Minister
It does feel a little like the heady days of May 1997 with a new energetic Prime Minister full of bright ideas and popularity ratings rising like the space shuttle on take off. This time it is a Conservative Prime Minister, but his decision to bring in Frank Field as ‘Poverty Czar’ and Will Hutton on a ‘fair pay review’ for the civil service demonstrates that he is reaching out to mainstream left of centre thinkers. 
Will Hutton
Will Hutton

Likewise, Cameron’s decision to bring in the Liberal Democrats to a Coalition Government signals his intention (for now) to try and build a consensus approach to change. Now of course, there will be challenges to that approach and no doubt in the future some of those brought in will feel that they are not being listened to. We must expect a few high profile walk outs and condemnations but there seems to be a steely resolve to make the new system work. With fixed term parliaments and surrendering forecasts to the Office of Budget Responsibility there has been an attempt to decentralise. Cameron has promised to make it the “greenest Government ever” but concerns remain over how he will lead the fight against climate change. He has already been to Scotland and today is travelling to Wales.

Those tough spending rounds following the Budget on 22nd June by George Osborne the Chancellor though, which will be the litmus test for the Government to see if it is as good as its word (the markets will be scrutinising that one) and then the pain from real cuts to real public services. There is talk of “brutal” cuts to the NHS. DFID has already found ‘frivolous’ projects being axed by Andrew Mitchell.
George Osborne
But credit where credit is due, David Cameron has made a positive start and is doing well. On the Andrew Marr Show, he was like a breath of fresh air in talking about long overdue change. He was scathing about 75% of civil servants earning bonuses in the past year in spite of the terrible recession and mediocre performance. The fact remains that Labour and especially Gordon Brown had become stale in Government. The fizz of that first term with constitutional changes to devolved Government and the big social changes such as the Minimum Wage petered out and the public was no mug; it could see that the Labour Government was stuttering along.

Cameron is off to a flying start. The whirlwind of change (for the better) is whipping through Whitehall. Yet if the Conservatives are polling at 40%+ again and commanding a clear lead in the polls, there will be muttering in the ranks that he has given up the right of going to the polls. There will be wistful gossip that he could go to the polls and win an outright majority easily. He should ignore the mutterings and see through this seismic change in the way British politics is being conducted. There is now an opportunity to forge a new way that Britain is governed.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Biodiversity threatened

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 Logo for IUCN Red List
Sometimes those who care passionately about the environment let themselves and the cause down by hyperbole that desensitises the public and the media to dramatic changes and deterioration in the natural world. But when the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) makes a statement the world (and particularly political and business leaders) should sit up, take notice and take action. 

Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)

The IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network - a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries. The IUCN’s work is supported by more than 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. The Union’s headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, Switzerland.
Bill Jackson is the IUCN Deputy Director General and he has said in the past week, “Twenty-one percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, 35 percent of conifers and cycads, 17 percent of sharks and 27 percent of reef-building corals assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ are threatened with extinction.”

So just in case you missed that:-

·         21% of all known mammals

·         30% of all known amphibians

·         12% of all known birds

·         25% of conifers

·         17% of sharks

·         27% of coral reefs

Orange-eyed green tree frog

All threatened with extinction.

The famous Red List is regularly updated based on meticulous research flagging the current status of birds and animals species by species.

That is not hyperbole but yet another reliable, scientific and important statement of FACT.

At the moment the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or SBSTTA, is meeting in Nairobi, Kenya between10th and 21st May 2010. 

Scientists are hoping to persuade governments to take action to halt the decline, reverse it and build a sustainable future.

Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) Threat category: ENDANGERED
As Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group has said,  “Countries are taking a very shortsighted view of the need to fuel their economies at the expense of nature, so much so that we’re now at crisis point when it comes to the loss of biodiversity.”

The IUCN has set out plans and proposals of how the world can build a sustainable future. Every politician and business leader should read it.
Celebrating Biodiversity 

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Two years of a fragile world economy battered by industrial strife?

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In spite of the European Union stitching together (at last) a rescue package of 750 billion Euros last Sunday, the cold winds presently sweeping parts of Europe is a sign of deep, brutal cuts and higher taxes soon arriving in most countries. The next two years will see growing waves of industrial strikes and unrest.

Police walk past a burning barricade in the city of Thessaloniki on 9 December 2008

We have already seen in Greece, riots, violence and general mayhem on the streets. Three deaths in Athens followed running battles between Police and protesters with attempts to storm parliament by militant unions. The shocking scenes of criminal attacks cannot be excused by the incompetence of the Greek Government or the affects of the banking crisis. There is no excuse for trying to change a democracy through violence. Today Greece asked for the first tranche of €20 billion from the €110 billion agreed to assist with debt repayments due this month.

This is an ugly sign of worst to come in many countries around the globe. Spain is expected to announce deep cuts in public spending and higher taxes to try and satisfy the powerful markets. There is an expectation that the budget deficit will be reduced from 11% to 4.7% by the end of next year. In reality that means finding 6.3 billion Euros of savings this year and another 13 billion Euros next year.

Portugal has announced it is aiming to reduce its budget deficit further than planned. It is now aiming to take it from 9.4% last year down to 7.3% this year. Ireland is trying to maintain its current level of budget deficit reduction and stave off increased reductions.

In the European Union, unemployment is climbing to 10%, with the promise of a ‘V’ shaped recession that bounces back strongly based on savage cuts and tax increases this year and next but the worry that if the cuts fail to satisfy the markets or the EU bailout plan fails then a ‘W’ recession is on the cards. Since, the EU will not allow the bailout to fail (it would be catastrophic for the Euro) then it reinforces the need to drive through real cuts in public sector spending. The worst is still to come.

In the UK as across the rest of Europe and beyond, that can only mean ultimately reducing public services in hospitals, school, transport and local government. Likewise, charities that deliver public services will find that after this year’s reduction in central government funding further cuts will almost certainly follow for next year and possible the year after. However much governments try and mitigate the reductions the fact remains you cannot protect all end users of public services from the affects of reduced budgets. Something has to give. Local Government in the UK was still complaining in the boom years with regular increases in allocations that it was not enough to fund services on the ground. What on earth will happen when real cuts are dished out in the emergency budget in the coming weeks by the Conservative/Lib Dem Government? Everyone will be affected from pensioners, the sick and the vulnerable in our society.

Business is urging on these cuts in the budget deficit but without a single word spoken by business leaders on how those who are most at risk in society will be protected. The CBI's plan has some well thought out and positive contributions to the debate but they fail to address the other side of the equation; social impact from cuts.

CBI logo

Yes, understandably they want to see a strong economy being rebuilt so that they can delivered wealth creation and more jobs but they do not appear to appreciate the devastation a closed hospital ward or residential home for older citizens or increased class sizes in schools or fewer Police officers on the beat has on our communities. It is relatively easy to reduce the budget but much harder to rebuild society if another underclass is born. I trust the Lib Dems will stand fast against any attempt to undermine improvements to the social fabric of our society. It isn't in a great state now and we do need some real progressive policies to efficiently get people back to work and improve the quality of life in our most troubled areas.

The fact remains that the UK holds golden shares in the nationalised parts of the banks and as those companies return to huge profits so the public value in those shares grows. There will be rich dividends for George Osborne within two years to cash in and allow tax cuts and a modest sprinkling of public sector spending for chosen areas from 2012 onwards that will seek to rebuild the Conservative/Lib Dem Government’s inevitable unpopularity prior to the next election in 2015. 

No doubt the Conservative Chancellor will seek to improve rapidly the projected figures for the UK economy and will relish the opportunity to bring down the budget deficit quickly. After New Labour and the era of Brown’s economic policies has finally ended, so George Osborne will tear up previous debt management plans and forecasts to restructure the economy. It is very likely his policies to rebuild the British economy will ‘work’ but the question will be; what’s the affect on the vulnerable in society?

New dawn, new Conservative/Lib Dem Government

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British politics has just made a seismic shift in its politics with a surprise and sudden Coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Best of luck to David Cameron and Nick Clegg in delivering a strong, stable government but their relationship and the relationship between their parties will come under tremendous strain as the expected cuts in public services,wage freezes and increases in taxes start to bite this year and next. To be fair to the Prime Minister he made an impressive speech in Downing Street yesterday. Yet he will find that he cannot enjoy much of a honeymoon period.

I think though that as their popularity plummets they have no choice but to bind together and ride out the storm ahead. No doubt though the new Cabinet will have some ding dong discussions over the agreed Coalition Agreement.

Farewell to Gordon Brown who made a first class speech yesterday and left head held high with poise and dignity. His speech in Downing Street and later to Labour workers in Millbank was the best I have heard from him in many years. Those speeches came from the heart with passion and a sense of pride in his achievements and the achievements of the Labour Government. His flaws were there for all to see but no one can say he is not a decent man who deserves some peace and quiet now. He will still be contributing to the country, his party and to his charitable work for many years to come.

Labour will get on and choose its new leader and bide its time. Early indications (with Alan Johnson backing him) are that David Miliband will win that party election and become the Leader of the Opposition.

The Lib Dems did rollercoaster to Government but not in a Labour-Lib Dem Coalition which would have been the more natural partnership based on philosophy and policy. There is a story to tell on what exactly happened after the Labour Cabinet authorised a negotiating team to sit down with the Lib Dems yesterday but apparently seemed determined to scupper any talks. Did Ed Balls decide that he did not fancy trying to putting together an unpopular Rainbow Coalition and jepardising his own chances of becoming Prime Minister (since such a Coalition had more chance of breaking up early)? No doubt that story will come out soon.

Probably Labour strategists decided that it was much better to let a Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition carry the can for all the industrial unrest, strikes and public sector cuts over the next two years. That plan may well backfire given the amount of money available to George Osborne when he cashes in the nationalised bank shares and could find that after a troubled two years the Con-Lib Dem Government popularity starts to rise again in 2012.

Come the next election (if they make it the full term to 2015) there will have to be some sort of accommodation between the Conservatives and Lib Dems as they will be defending the same record in Government and fighting each other to standstill in key constituencies would be madness. There may not be a formal pact to fight the next election but rather tacit agreement where to focus resources to optimise each other's chances of electoral success.

There is an ominous precedent for a Conservative-Liberal Coalition Government during World War One when David Lloyd George split the Liberal Party in two by joining with the Tories. There then followed the Twentieth Century decline in the Liberal Party. I think Clegg will have to stick out the storm ahead and whilst publicly trying to show his independence knows that he has to make the Coalition work for at least two years.

Ultimately though if the Government is successful it will be David Cameron and the Conservatives that will benefit the most. Since they are so close to a majority already they would not need the Lib Dems post 2015 if there seats increase by another nineteen (assuming they win  the by-election). What then for the Liberal Democrats? They will have been castigated by Labour and the Left and potentially could yet again find themselves squeezed between the two major parties.

Will an AV system make much of a difference to the outcome of an election? Below would be the results for First past the post as per 2010, Alternative Vote and Single Transferable Vote. (It assumes the Conservatives will win the by-election to take them to 307 seats). Clearly AV will boost the Lib Dems by 22 seats and bring down the Conservatives by 16 seats with Labour a fraction up. It would strengthen the Lib Dems position in a hung parliament. However, on a full blown STV system neither of the two parties will again hold complete power and put the Lib Dems in Government on a permanent basis. However, the opportunity for PR may have been lost for another generation after the collapse of the negotiations with the Labour Party and the refusal of the Conservatives to entertain the idea. The only slight hope now is that the Lib Dems table an amendment to the Voting Reform Bill and hope Labour will back them (unlikely on a free vote with at least one third of Labour MPs opposing).

Party                2010 result       AV             STV
Conservative     307                    281            246
Labour              258                   262             207
Lib Dem             57                      79             162
Other                 28                      28               35
Total               650                    650             650

On the other hand, if Labour collapses into in-fighting, during and after the leadership election, can the Lib Dems build on their success and increase the number of seats at the next election under an AV system, to  block any single party from outright power?

If one or two hours yesterday was a long time in politics then heck anything could happen over the next four years.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Brown goes, media in a frenzy (again) and Lab-Lib Dem deal back on(?)

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Oh for goodness sake! I just press 'Publish' on my article about Con-Lib Dem Government and blow me there is an avalanche of tweets that Gordon Brown is stepping down. I had thought he would have to go but now the rumour mill is pumped up to suggest that the deal for a Labour-Lib Dem Coalition is on....

So there will be a new Labour leader by September. The Miliband brothers will be fighting over a deal to choose one of them to face Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harmen.....

Alastair Campbell must be loving it......

BP disaster oil leak

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The BP oil leak that started on 21st April is an environmental disaster. Whilst BP have claimed today that 90,000 barrels have been recovered (up from 30,000 on 7th May) they are less forthcoming about how much has already leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.
Estimates vary between 5,000 and 20,000 barrels a day gushing into the sea. Friends of the Earth have warned of the potential lethal affects of the oil impacting on the marine ecology.
Questions have to be asked (given BP's protestations that turning off and controlling the leaks is not easy) as to what were the company's contingency planning and disaster recovery plans? It is little use saying the problem is 'difficult' given the fact that they must have known how difficult it would be if anything went wrong. 
Oil and oil sheen from oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Where was Plan B? the enquiries into this disaster should result in severe penalties for the company to send a strong message to all oil companies that the risks they run to make huge profits ($6 billion for the first quarter of 2010) are not acceptable. I don't rate trying golf balls as the obvious solution and certainly not the answer buried BP's Plan B......

I think BP will have to review its pretty chart on its website for "oil spills".

There is no immediate end in sight for this disaster.

Con-Lib Dem Government

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Well there you go. What do I know? The Lab-Lib Dem Coalition looks like it is dead in the water.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown

It just proves that trying to reasonably predict the outcome to the 2010 election is as easy as winning the Lottery. The problems ahead for any type of Minority Government/Pact/Coalition are not to be under-estimated. As the talks continue (and there could be announcement later today), the chances are (at the moment) a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government will emerge. It has the merit that it will have the most chance of lasting the distance as opposed to either a minority Lab-Lib Dem Government or a Grand Coalition of Lab-Lib Dem-Nationalist-Green Government. However, knowing the personalities involved and the hardcore of Lib Dems who really don't like the Conservatives there will have to be some tough selling to the Lib Dem back benches on a Tory deal and then some tough whipping to make sure the new Government can win all the crucial votes. When it comes to the Budget in the next few weeks there surely will be 5 or so Lib Dem MPs who will oppose the expected drastic cuts in public spending with another 5 abstaining. There is going to be really battles with the Left of the Lib Dems.

When no serious change in the electoral system comes about; let's face it most Conservatives on a free vote will vote against PR together with enough Others to block any Bill in the Commons, then the Lib Dems will realise that they are stuck with First Past the Post for another generation.

It will be one heck of a ride with the Lib Dem Whips having to cajole, persuade and invariably lean on their back benchers to get through a range of votes over the next four or five years. British politics will have a seismic shift because the next 2 years will see the Con-Lib Dem Government become very unpopular very quickly as the scale of the cutbacks in schools, hospitals, transport and local government becomes finally apparent. The two parties will be forced together to ride out their unpopularity. That means that every week journalists will be looking for splits between the party leaders and on key votes. The party conferences will become bumpy rides as activists (especially in the Lib Dems) complain bitterly about the Coalition. Could it actually result in resignations from the Lib Dems moving towards (or joining Labour). Will the Pact/Coalition split part within a year and force a second general election? Will the alignment mean an electoral pact at the next general election?

On the other hand with supposed secret talks going on between the Lib Dems and Labour is their a final spectacular twist in all this and the talks with the Conservatives collapse in recriminations and the Grand Left Coalition is back on? Goodness how the media are loving this!


My election prediction

How far out was I?

My Prediction                                   Actual result

Conservatives         285                    307 (Conservatives likely to win final by-election)
Labour                   262                    258
Lib Dems                 74                      57
Green                         1                        1
Other                       28                      27
Total                     650                    650

If the Lib Dems had held up their vote as predicted by virtually all the polls, then my prediction would have been about spot on. The Lib Dems seats were overestimated by 17 seats and the Conservatives underestimated by 22 seats. As it is, I take some comfort from the Labour prediction being almost bang on together with the Others prediction likewise (including the new Green MP, Caroline Lucas).

Friday, 7 May 2010

UK - The Negotiations to begin?

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After a long night with many well known faces leaving parliament and the worn out faces of Cameron, Brown and Clegg dominating the newsreels, what has the electorate delivered?
It seems to be a hung parliament with neither Labour nor the Conservatives having enough seats to form a majority Government. the Conservatives are close with a perhaps around 305 seats, Labour struggling to make 255 seats, Lib Dems on perhaps 60 seats and then the all important smaller parties from Northern Ireland, Scotland, wales and a Green MP coming in with some 30 seats!

The Lib Dems will be bitterly disappointed after Clegg did so well in the first TV debate but after all the attacks they failed to make the break through that seemed to be predicted by the polls.

There will have to be a lot of negotiations for a non-Conservative Government to be formed. It is possible but I cannot see Gordon Brown remaining as Prime Minister now. Losing 100 Labour seats is not a mandate to continue with any credibility. History will judge that he called the big decisions correctly during the worst recession for thirty years and the worst banking crisis for seventy years. However, his unfriendly style on TV never played well with voters and came from another era when politicians may be great intellects but not not have to know how to 'perform' in the media. In 2010, that is an essential asset for any politician.

What of the Conservatives? Cameron has gone on the attack (understandably) to say Labour and Brown have lost the mandate to rule. He may be right and Cameron is close to forming a Government; but not quite. The Conservatives have defied all the polls throughout the election and are within touching distance of gaining power for the first time in 13 years but David Cameron will quietly rue the day that he didn't win an outright majority given the appalling mess the Labour Government found itself in just six months ago. At that time the polls were predicting a huge majority of 90+ in the Commons for the Conservatives.

Back to those negotiations. Can Brown or more likely a new Labour leader stitch together a Coalition? Can Cameron defy the Commons and form a minority Government or can he charm enough of the smaller parties and crawl over the 326 line?

The media will be in a feeding frenzy for the next few days trying to work out the intentions of those smaller parties. If there is a Centre-Left Coalition can it really last four or five years as a Government? It is hard to believe that it will not tear itself apart given the economic situation and the two or more years of public sector cuts. If it can be formed then Cameron will bide his time and wait and I have a feeling he will enter Number Ten sooner or later.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

UK Election 2010 - Time to vote

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Election Day in the UK - Thursday 6th May 2010
So it is nearly that time when the pain and distress comes to an end and finally the British people can put the candidates out of their misery. Tomorrow is Election day in the UK. The leaders are madly trying to pack in as many last minute photo opportunities and persuade the newspapers that each of them is the best choice as Prime Minister. The last celebrity endorsements and spin doctors’ musings are being milked for all their worth.

Brown is promising to fight every inch of the way, [there is some serious trouble ahead if you are forced to wear a hard hat]

Sarah and Gordon Brown

Cameron claims the Conservatives have had the strongest finish, [or was that fish?]
David Cameron

and Clegg attacks Labour for being ‘desperate’. [will more people vote for you if you 'love' them?]

Nick Clegg

The exhausted candidates race around knocking on doors and urge on equally exhausted volunteers to deliver the last bundles of leaflets. As for the British electorate, they will be glad that normality could just be over the horizon. We will be able to get back to repeats of old movies and sitcoms and catch up on soap operas and celebrity reality TV without being disturbed by the endless analysis of the election by commentators (on second thoughts....). However, before then we will have to endure various ‘highlights’ shows and documentaries analysing the 2010 Election.

So what do the latest polls say?

The BBC Poll Tracker is showing:-

Latest BBC Poll Tracker                  Election Seat Calculator
Conservative         35%                        270
Labour                  29%                        272
Lib Dem                26%                          79
Other                    10%                          29
Total                   100%                       650

Latest Sky reports

Conservative         37%                        296
Labour                  28%                        248
Lib Dem                27%                          78
Other                      8%                          28
Total                   100%                       650

This seems to confirm that (as I predicted) the Lib Dems have slipped back from those giddy days just after the first TV Prime Ministerial debate when Clegg catapulted his party’s standing in the polls from around 21% to sometimes 33%.

As usual, I have to qualify the uniform swings that calculate the number of seats as this never happens on the ground. There will be local factors at play from a sitting MPs expenses being scrutinised to only new candidates standing (so no incumbency to factor in to the equation) through to local politics affecting the outcomes such as who is supporting the planned incinerator or . However, it gives us some idea as to what people are telling the pollsters (and not necessarily how they actually vote....).

What we can say though is that :-

1.       Cameron and the Conservatives seems to have lost around 5% of the vote since the election campaign kicked off and perhaps will only gain around 60 seats (up from 210 at 2005 election). The Conservatives will talk this up as making the threshold of power and given they may be doing much better in the marginal seats then Cameron could yet pull something amazing out of the hat at the last minute. If on the other hand it turns out they are some 50 seats short Cameron will come under a lot of criticism in the coming weeks.

2.       Brown and Labour is staring at losing around 80 seats (down from 349 seats at 2005 election) but let’s face it compared to the low expectation, the poor Labour campaign and Brown’s own goals including poor TV debate performances, Bigot Gate, a lacklustre manifesto, then Labour would (as I predicted) be in the position of still clinging to power through a Coalition with the Lib Dems. There will be pressure on Brown to stand down if Labour is much lower than 290 seats. Whilst Clegg won’t force Brown out as leader, the party may well now feel enough is enough and lever Brown out (especially if a deal can be struck with the new leader (David Miliband?) but not with Brown).

3.       Clegg, in spite of dropping back from polls that may have given him over 90 seats may still have pushed up the Lib Dem number of seats by a modest 15 to 20 seats (up from 62 seats in 2005 election). The Conservative onslaught against the Lib Dems on the immigration amnesty, the Euro and Trident took its toll. However, let’s not forget that prior to the campaign starting it seemed most likely that Clegg would be looking at around 15 fewer seats so if this all plays out as the polls suggest, Clegg will be hailed as a hero by Lib Dem supporters. The more tricky bit will come with the potential Coalition negotiations and then actual seats in Government.

4.       The Nationalists such as Plaid Cymru, SNP, Unionists, Sinn Fein (and possibly the Greens) could suddenly find themselves in the eye of the storm come 7th May if either the Conservatives or Labour are scrambling around for a handful of votes to win a confidence motion in the Commons and take power.

25 hours until polling closes. Are there to be any last minute twists and turns or has this election played its last trick?

A Lab-Lib Dem Coalition or can Cameron somehow pull off a final surprise by winning many more seats in the marginals than predicted and perhaps with Unionist help clamber over the finishing line?

And my prediction (which is always madness to try and estimate election outcomes)? Hung Parliament. Lab-Lib Dem Coalition.

Conservatives         285
Labour                   262
Lib Dems                 74
Green                         1
Other                       28 (perhaps the SNP gaining 3 seats and Plaid Cymru gaining 2 seats on 2005 election)
Total                     650

No BNP MPs but they will no doubt have picked up many more votes and their poison will continue to increase.

Now get voting!