The impact of AV on Oldham East and Saddleworth

January 19, 2011

One of the more interesting predictable aspects of the Oldham East and Saddleworth post-mortems was the discussion of what effect holding the election under the Alternative Vote system would have had. VoteNoToAV, an unofficial but enthusisatic member of the “No” twittersphere, got the ball rolling with this soon after the result was announced:

Anyone like to argue that this by-election held under FPTP wasn’t fair or democratic and that we didn’t get a clear winner? #NO2AV

There’s also this PDF distributed by the No campaign about the effects AV would have had on the by-election. As usual with much of the No campaign literature, it spends most of its time bashing the Lib Dems and never once gives any reason why we should keep First Past the Post. I was, however, intrigued by its first paragraph:

Had the 2010 election been held under AV, Liberal Democrats (sic) would have comfortably won Oldham East and Saddleworth last May…

I don’t know how they know this for certain, as they cannot know the second preference intentions of the Oldham East voters.

However, what the No camp seem to be implying is that, whilst under FPTP Phil Woolas was rewarded for his racist and illegal leaflets by winning the seat in May, under AV he would have lost.

It’s good to see the No camp sticking up for honest, fair campaining in this fashion.

The real lesson to take from Oldham East is that you cannot accurately predict who would win an AV election based on the election results of a FPTP one. It’s the same with the predictions of number-crunchers who say things like “In 1997 New Labour would have had a majority of 7million under AV”: you don’t know because people vote differently under different electoral systems. Also, the whole campaign would have been different, with candidates also campaigning for the second preference votes of voters for other parties, rather than merely relying on their core voters.

Under AV, the whole dynamic would have changed. Thus, you would see more votes for smaller parties (such as the Greens, the Pirates and, maybe, the Monster Raving Looney Party) because people could vote for a smaller party with their first preference whilst still being able to influence the outcome of the vote with their second. You would also have seen an increase in Tory first-preference voting, instead of some voting Lib Dem tactically. That’s because AV virtually ends tactical voting.

It’s true that the result would have been closer under AV, but, as John Rentoul says, “In the dull grey light of the waking world, Labour would probably have still won in Oldham under AV, just.” Not only would the result have been closer, but Labour would also have had to work very hard to ensure it retained the seat in the next election. That’s because AV makes more seats more competitive. It would have meant political parties having to knock on more doors and engage with more members of the public, and not rely on a core vote of 35-40%. And that can only be a good thing.

The upshot of all this is that when someone confidently says what the result of this by-election, or that election, would have been under AV, you should treat it with a serious pinch of salt.


Old and Sad: Goodbye to all that

January 14, 2011

This is my final blog on the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. I’m looking forward to moving on from it, and blogging about other topics. In my notebook I have 14 (!) blog posts in various stages of stages of completion, as well as about half a dozen more I want to write and haven’t got round to starting yet. Now When the bloody thesis is written I can finish some of these.

In this post I just want to give a few worthy plugs and say a few quick thank-yous, which I hope will not stray into the self-indulgent territorry.

But first…

My earlier post was long enough without discussing the votes received by the other parties in last night’s result, but I think they merit a quick mention. The BNP lost their deposit, lost 1000 votes from May and came fifth behind UKIP, which can only be A Good Thing. For their part, UKIP gained 300 votes from their May performance, with most disgruntled Tories seemingly voting Lib Dem or staying at home.

In Labour/Lib Dem marginals the votes of the other left-wing parties are always going to be squeezed, and it proved the case yesterday for the Greens and the Pirate Party.

And now…

The first of our thanks and plugs I should give a quick mention to Loz Kaye and the Pirate Party. Loz seems a very decent chap, and the head of a party with an interesting set of issues. I hope we hear more from Loz and the Pirates over the coming years.

Richard Jones at the Saddleworth News deserves a massive pat on the back for his incredible by-election coverage. Anyone he did not interview was probably not worth interviewing, and for a one-man-band his workrate was exceptional. His daughter also become a minor celebrity in the course of the campaign.

Also, thanks to those who wrote the online hustings posts: four candidates, Jonathan Arnott as well as guest-bloggers Paul Cotterill, Simon Turner and Nick Thornsby. They were all interesting and informative, and popular to boot, so thank you all.

As always with political issues, discussions on Twitter are never dull. Andrea, Nick Watts and Ian Barker are three of the many tweeters who made discussing #oes very fun indeed. 

Of course, there is one final goodbye:

 Now that the by-election is over, it’s the official end of the Phil Woolas saga. No more stirring up of racial tensions, no more getting the white vote angry, no more seeing him on TV, no more of, well, all the horrible things he did and said.

Sadly, it won’t be an end to friends mentioning “Phil Woolas” to me merely to provoke a reaction, but I’m learning to cope with that thanks to numerous, extensive sessions with a whole battalion of therapists.

I’m now going to go with the pub, discuss the by-election a bit more, and then never write about Phil Woolas again. And I can’t tell you how good that feels.

Have a good weekend everyone!


Old and Sad: Labour hold; Lib Dem disaster

January 14, 2011

So, at the end of all that, it’s a Labour hold. It feels like an anti-climactical end to a roller-coaster of an eight months for the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency. We’ve had one of the bitterest general election campaigns fought in recent years, two recounts, a wafer-thin majority, a court case, an MP leaving in disgrace and, according to the Independent, “the most unusual by-election ever“.

Now Debbie Abrahams has been elected as the Labour MP (full results here), the area should return to some sort of normality until 2015, the most likely date for the general election. I doubt anyone living in Oldham East wants to see any election leaflet until then; everyone is suffering from election fatigue.

I’ve been saying on Twitter and Facebook (and to anyone who would listen) that Labour would hold Oldham East for about the past week or two. This has hardly involved sticking my neck out much, though. Ever since the polls showed that Labour were 17 points ahead on Sunday, the result has felt a bit of a formality.

In May, 14,186 people voted for the Devil Incarnate with a Labour rosette attached to it. The Labour vote would only have gone up since then, given their boost in the polls. In contrast, the Lib Dem vote of 14,083 would only have gone down, despite a significant amount of tactical voting from the Tories.

To win this by-election, the Lib Dems were relying on two factors. Firstly, that the personal vote that Elwyn Watkins had developed would over-ride his party’s current chronic unpopularity. Second, that people voted Lib Dem out of a sense of injustice and outrage over Phil Woolas’s leaflets. Both these factors turned out to be insufficient.

The Woolas shenanigans has not been a factor in the campaign. Both Debbie Abrahams and Kashif Ali have said that it just was not a doorstep issue. I’ve mentioned before that it was a big issue for me, but it really isn’t that surprising that most residents of Oldham East and Saddleworth don’t care much about it. After all, we have the biggest cuts to public spending in living memory coming up. That’s a much bigger issue then who-said-what in an election leaflet eight months ago, and I say this as someone who thinks that the Woolas case is, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a pretty big deal. The fact that anger over cuts seems to have caused people to vote Labour, who would have made the majority of these cuts had they been in power anyway, seems to be by-the-by.

The big story here: disaster for the Lib Dems

Let nobody try and persuade you otherwise: this is a terrible result for the Lib Dems.

Saddleworth is, as one of their main organisers in Oldham put it to me, “the kind of area where people vote Lib Dem because their parents do”. That kind of area is thin on the ground. It was also a by-election, where the Lib Dems generally excel, in a constituency where they only finished 103 votes behind Labour in May. They had a reasonably popular local candidate, hundreds of activists on the ground, and Nick Clegg visited Oldham three times. Not to mention the fact that their campaign had a head start of both Labour and the Tories, and they also moved a writ to hold the by-election as early as possible.

Nick Thornsby has been admirably trying some damage-limitation. He said last night:

A Labour majority of 3,558 is less than Phil Woolas achieved in 2005, when the seat was identified as a target by the Liberal Democrats – not an outstanding result for them by any means.

Ah yes, 2005. When the Lib Dem candidate was Tony Dawson, who screwed up his party’s chances of gaining a winnable target seat by, as I recall:

a) Claiming he lived in the constituency when he actually lived in Southport
b) Being accused of doctoring photos on election literature
c) Making obscene comments on internet forums

You could hardly claim, then, that 2005 was a high water mark in Lib Dem support.

The other argument against a Lib Dem collapse is the fact that their share of the vote actually increased. However, this rose from 31.63% in May to the heady heights of, er, 31.9% yesterday. The number of Lib Dem votes actually fell by almost 3000, and would have fallen by much more were it not for tactical voting from some Conservatives. UK Polling Report reckon that at least 22% of Tory voters switched to the Lib Dems. Most of the other Lib Dem voters, it seems, just did not turn up at all.

The Lib Dems really believed they could win this by-election; for them not to makes you wonder where they can win at all now.

The strange collapse of the Tory vote

Baroness Warsi has been on the radio talking about how effective the Tory campaign was, despite losing 6500 votes from May. In some respects, Warsi was the perfect choice from the Conservatives to front the by-election campaign. On the one hand, she is a senior Tory (party chair, no less), Northern, Asian, and therefore could connect to the large Asian vote. On the other hand, she is completely incompetent and a liability. For an election where the Tories didn’t really want to win, but wanted to pretend that they did, Warsi was the perfect choice.

In any other situation where the Tories finished 2,500 votes behind Labour, there would have been a massive Tory campaign to win the seat in a subsequent by-election, and potentially destablise Ed Miliband’s leadership. Arif Ansari, the BBC’s political editor in the Northwest, made the point last night that whilst the Lib Dems and Labour were constantly telling him what events they were planning and who was coming to the constituency, he was having to chase the Tories to work out what was going on with their campaign. Then, when David Cameron did campaign in the constituency, he forgot the candidate’s name.

This blog from Guido Fawkes gives some of the reasons Tory activists were grumbling about their by-election campaign. It inclues this briefing note that was given in the last week of the campaign:

Suggesting they hadn’t updated their briefing notes since November. Nice one.

Still, we probably cannot read too much into this result. It’s been a Labour seat since 1997, governing parties don’t usually win by-elections, and there’s a long way to go until the next election. However, we do know now what the political narrative of the next year will be: the crumbling Lib Dem vote.


Why you should vote English Democrat in Oldham East and Saddleworth

January 9, 2011

The first post of Paperback Rioter’s Online Hustings for Oldham East and Saddleworth. As Stephen Morris, the English Democrat’s candidate for OES, was first to respond it is his article that starts us off. He is chairman of the North West branch of the English Democrats.

In 1997 after 18 years of a Tory Government the people of UK were expecting great things from Labour, after 13 years the UK and especially England is no better off. Remember these slogans: Labour: “Things can only get better”. They didn’t. “No more boom and Bust.” It busts. “Education, Education, Education.” Labour forced through tuitions fees on English students, now the Tories backed by the pledge-breaking Lib Dems with Scottish and Welsh MPs voted to increase fees on English students only.

When devolution was created one nation was left out, that nation being England. Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland have a Government or assembly to look after their interests with over 17 devolved departments, but England was left out with all UK MPs deciding her policies. We in England pay prescription charges, tuition fees, have road tolls and had Foundation Hospitals forced onto us to name a few, whilst the Scottish and Welsh governments have rejected  these for their own countries, Scottish and Welsh MPs still voted them on to the people of England, their MPs voted on a purely English issues.

The English Democrats do not want the breakup of the UK, but those nations within it should be treated equally, each nation looking after its own interests with MPs answerable to the people – that’s Democracy.

We want a free and fair education system; our young people are our future. We would abolish tuition fees and ensure that standard of education was raised in our schools. We would ensure that our history was taught in schools as well as making sure there was a return of discipline and order.

We believe that natural resources should be used in a way which gives due consideration to the long-term consequences. We preserve our countryside for future generations as it is part of our rich national heritage and cannot be replaced.

We want a referendum on our current relationship with the E.U. the people of England have never had a vote on the current arrangements where our laws and soon our taxes will be decided by the E.U. bureaucrats.  We would support the withdrawal from the political processes of the E.U. but advocate being part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), in a global economy we should be free to trade throughout the world and not tied to the E.U, this works for Norway and Switzerland.

We would put a stop to mass Immigration, the provision of our public services works on projections of the population, if we have no control then those projections become irrelevant and those public services will show considerable strain, affecting our workers and the quality of services they provide.

We need MPs that will put England First! Not Scotland, Wales or N. Ireland or the E.U. English MPs who are committed to restoring our industry and will protect the front line public services in England and give our children the free and fair education that they deserve.


Oldham East and Saddleworth Online Hustings

January 9, 2011

You can tell it’s squeaky bum time in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Almost every Labour activist I follow on Twitter seemed to be campaigning there this weekend. There’s quite a few Lib Dems oop North as well.

 I mentioned earlier this week that I will be hosting an “online hustings” on this blog for the by-election. I asked every candidate (apart from the BNP) to write an article of no more than 500 words saying why we should vote for their party. Four candidates have replied with an article, and I have prominent bloggers from four other parties with a blog. There’s no word yet from the Monster Raving Looney Party: if you are readng this, there’s still time if you want to write an article!

I have not invited the BNP to take part in this because I don’t want my blog being used as a platform for their views. Should you wish to read more about the BNP candidate, there is an interview with him on the Saddleworth News website. Left Foot Forward have an article about him too, which is less than complimentary.

I shall be posting the eight articles on this blog in the order in which I received them, so:

Monday: English Democrats; Green Party, Pirate Party.

Tuesday: Liberal Democrats, Bus Pass Elvis, UKIP.

Wednesday: Labour, Conservative.

UPDATE – The posts have started to go up on the blog; I’ve linked to them from this post as well for ease of finding them.

The articles tomorrow won’t be published until late afternoon/early evening, because I have a Primary Teaching course tomorrow and that, understandably, comes first.


Thoughts on Old and Sad (or: I’m so vain I probably think this by-election is about me)

January 6, 2011

It’s very unusual for my home town to be the centre of anything, so I have loved keeping tabs on the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election campaign. Voting in that takes place on January 13th, one week from today.

The first by-election in any Parliament is always intriguing. Add the fact that we have a coalition government into the mix, as well as the exceptional circumstances in Oldham, and we have a perfect storm for political junkies like myself.

Not only is this by-election crucial for all three main parties, but it will also play a major role in determining the media narrative for 2011. Will the focus be on the crumbling Lib Dem vote? Or the stability – or otherwise – of the coalition? Maybe on Ed Miliband’s ineffective leadership? Perhaps the focus will be on disenchantment with the three main parties, as smaller parties see an increase in their vote.

As you’d expect, it’s a crowded field with ten candidates. We’ll be hearing from most of them next week in Paperback Rioter’s online hustings (check this blog out on Sunday for more information on that).

I even got the chance to speak to one last week, when Debbie Abrahams, the Labour candidate, canvassed our house. I gave her my best Paxman-style grilling; the impact of which was probably diminished by the fact that I was wearing my pyjamas and dressing gown at the time.

Debbie Abrahams was Head of Rochdale PCT but resigned over increasing privatisation. She also said to me that she was in favour of AV (“a step in the right direction”). Also, she is married to John Abrahams, a former Lancashire captain and current England under-19 coach. On the face of it, she is probably my dream Labour Candidate.

We talked for a bit about the cuts, and Debbie Abrahams reiterated Labour’s plans to halve the deficit in four years, as opposed to the three years set out by the Government in the Comprehensive Spending Review. She also said that Labour’s cuts would be “fairer” than the coalitions, but I am not sure how that is achieveable. It is the most vulnerable people in society that have the greatest reliance on public services, and therefore any cuts to public spending are going to affect them most.

The main reason I cannot vote Labour in this by-election is because there has still been no apology for what Phil Woolas did, nor any internal action taken against other Labour members of the Woolas campaign. An apology for his leaflets from Labour was a red-line issue for me – I would not vote Labour without that.

Debbie Abrahams said to me that Ed Miliband had apologised, and that “I was standing next to him when he did so”. I cannot find any evidence for this online; the closest is this article from the indefatigable Saddleworth News (their by-election coverage has been exemplary). When asked directly if he apologises for Woolas’s leaflets, Ed Miliband only says that he has “regret” over them. Which is not good enough for me.

I voted Lib Dem in May, and I’m sure you will be astonished to hear that I won’t be doing so this time. This is not only because Elwyn Watkins has said he would have voted for the tuition fees increase. As I’ve argued before, this is a ridiculous position that goes against not only his pre-election pledge, but also his party’s coalition agreement. Actually, the main reason why I shall not be lending Watkins my vote is because he has repeatedly said he would like to “rip up” the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. It is admittedly impressive that a Liberal Democrat is able to attack Phil Woolas from the right on immigration and asylum issues, and if I think about it too much my head will probably explode.

Given the sluggish Tory campaign, the next MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth will almost certainly be either Debbie Abrahams or Elwyn Watkins. Despite what I’ve said above, I would not be too displeased with either of them as my MP, for all their faults. They would both certainly be an improvement on the previous incumbent.

However, I am going to vote Green on Thursday, for Peter Allen. I met him on Uppermill High Street last Saturday, and he came across as down-to-earth and friendly. I’ve written before that I was impressed by Caroline Lucas at the Green Conference in Birmingham, whilst some of my favourite bloggers are Greens. They are also the only party that have a coherent anti-cuts message, and for that alone they deserve backing.


Phil Woolas: still crazy after all these years

December 8, 2010

Apologies for not blogging sooner on the Phil Woolas news. I wasn’t sure what to say, until I heard the man himself speaking straight after leaving court last Friday. It’s very impressive: every sentence contains an inaccuracy. It therefore deserves a good old-fashioned fisk. Woolas’s remarks are in italics; my commentary isn’t.

“The judges have said that there is no avenue of appeal for my electors, who elected me at four general elections, to have their say.”

Well, this is stretching it a bit. The judges found Woolas guilty under s. 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. That, I would argue, is the main conclusion they reached.

The fact is, that Parliament never intended for there to be a right of appeal in cases such as these. As this BBC blog puts it:

Mr Woolas did well to get even [as far as judicial review].

The law was deliberately drafted to avoid exactly this kind of legal delay; once an MP has been disqualified, they are expected to simply shut-up and go.

So the fact that Woolas was granted a judicial review on the facts, and yet his appeal was rejected anyway, is worth recounting.

Also, the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth will now have a say in a by-election. Woolas cannot stand, because he broke election law, and his punishment was to be disqualified as a candidate for three years. It is surely right and proper that if you have broken election law, you should receive some sanction for it.

So, one sentence in and Woolas has already got three things wrong. Let’s carry on.

“This is the only area of law, as far as I can see, where there is no appeal.”

This makes little sense. The court granted Woolas the right to appeal against the facts, but said that he had dishonestly made untrue statements against Elwyn Watkins that Woolas knew were untrue. As the summary judgement shows, the original election court said that Woolas had made three untrue statements that were illegal. The decision last week granted him leave to appeal, yet still found him guilty on two of those three charges.

[a little addition thanks to Peter: there are further avenues Woolas could appeal to from the High Court (such as the Court of Appeal) but he is not going any further. Not that this means the factual findings would change]

“We won on the costs argument, we won on the point of law, that I’m pleased with.”

I assume the costs argument means that he no longer has to pay Watkins’ costs. Woolas neglects the fact that he has to pay a £5000 fine.

“But the judges’ hands were tied by what is out of date law.”

This is nonsense. The law Woolas was found guilty under was passed in 1983. It was amended by New Labour, and as I’ve pointed out before, Woolas voted for that law!

After this, Woolas says thanks to both people in Oldham and Labour for the support he’s had. Then a journalist asks “What mistakes did you make, Mr Woolas?”, at around 1.02 on the video.

“I don’t believe I did make any mistakes.”

Still no apology for stirring up racial tensions. Still no apology for trying to “make the white vote angry” in a town that had race riots less than nine years ago and has a fairly significant BNP presence. Still no acknowledgement he’s broken the law.

“I believe I’m the victim of the circumstances of this law.”

Woolas is trying to paint himself as the victim. That’s an, er, interesting move.

“As I say, I believe it’s unfair that the electorate have not got the chance to say what they think.”

They do, in an upcoming by-election. Though if opinion polls were anything to go by, 71% of voters backed the electoral courts’ decision.

But he must have some regrets, surely? Only a moral vacuum could have no regrets over the kind of campaign that he led.

“I don’t regret anything that has been said.”

Oh.

“My argument is that my election leaflet and the way that has… (pause) this was one leaflet in fifteen years of Parliament that I’ve been thrown of out Parliament for.”

Although, of course, it was two leaflets. Woolas was found to have made illegal remarks in both The Saddleworth and Oldham Examiner and the Labour Rose. Sigh.

“My argument was and is that wooing certain types of vote, that is a political comment.”

Indeed. But the court decided differently. See paragraphs 121 and 122 of the full judgement. The court has said that merely saying that Watkins was an “extremist” would have been a political statement on his position, and therefore not illegal:

However when it was asserted in The Examiner that those whose votes were being wooed by Mr Watkins were those who were not simply extremists but those who advocated extreme violence, in particular against Mr Woolas, it plainly suggested, as the Election Court found, that Mr Watkins was wiling to condone threats of violence in pursuit of political advantage. It was not then a statement about the type of support he was wooing, but a statement that he was willing to condone threats of violence. That further statement took the statement from being a statement as to Mr Watkins’ political position to a statement about his personal character – that he conducted criminal conduct. It is not simply an implied statement in relation to a political matter, but a statement that goes to his personal character as a man who condones extreme violence. (my emboldening)

Woolas goes on:

“I never said, as some have said, that the Liberal Democrats supported violence. That is a preposterous thing to say. Of course that is not the case.”

This is the weakest of straw men. I’m slightly obsessed with the Woolas case, as you might have noticed, and I have not read once, in any of the reports connected with it, that he accused the Liberal Democrats of supporting violence.

But that was the interpretation given by the judges.

*hits the roof, goes absolutely apoplectic, kicks kitten*

Apologies for that outburst of anger, but Phil Woolas brings out the worst in me. As the judgement clearly shows, this was related to the personal conduct of Elwyn Watkins, not the Liberal Democrats. To say otherwise is a complete untruth.

Not by the people, but by judges. And I regret that much.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, it is a fallacy to suggest that it is undemocratic for judges to intervene in this way.

That’s enough for now. I’m going to have a lie-down.


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