Friday, 6 May 2011

Election Thoughts and Political Projections

I like to vote. Other than having a genuine interest in politics and current affairs, I can't explain why I like to vote. I've been voting since 2005 and haven't missed a chance to vote. It confuses me why people don't vote (assuming it is physically possible). Even if you hate politicians that much, you could go and spoil your ballot paper. I think we should introduce legislation to make voting compulsory - but have an option on the ballot paper saying "no vote". Anyway, that is somewhat irrelevant to the point of this blog. On Thursday, I got another chance to vote. Two votes actually - local council and the referendum on whether we should adopt the Alternative Vote voting system for Westminster elections. Some people are very protective of how they vote, insisting that it's a secret ballot for a reason. However I have made no secret of the way I vote. For local council, I voted Conservative and in the referendum, I voted No to Alternative Vote. I found out at work that day that the referendum votes wouldn't be counted until Friday afternoon, but we would know the results of the council election Friday AM.

I am writing this Friday evening so I know the results of the local elections and indeed the referendum. What I didn't realise was the votes in Wales and Scotland were essentially general elections for their respective assemblies and parliaments. Locally, not much changed in terms of the composition of Portsmouth council. It was held by the Lib Dems, although the Conservatives gained a seat from them. Only 1/3rd of the seats were up for grabs in Portsmouth, though I don't imagine the Lib Dems would have lost Portsmouth if all the seats were up for grabs (it might have gone to No Overall Control perhaps). Other local areas had elections as well for their local councils. Havant and Chichester remained strongly Conservative. Gosport and Fareham didn't have local elections.

In terms of the country, the big losers of the election were the Lib Dems, losing 10 councils (notably including Sheffield - where Nick Clegg's constituency is) and losing 798 seats. The big winners were Labour, having gained 27 councils and 853 seats. 17 councils moved from no overall control to being controlled by one party (by the looks, mostly Labour). Possibly the big surprise was the fact that the Conservatives didn't lose out. Generally speaking, governing parties get punished at local election time. Overall, the Conservatives didn't gain or lose any council's, and gained 28 seats. That might not be seen as a massive success (and indeed it isn't) but it was widely predicted they would lose quite a lot of seats, as many as 250 I saw predicted. So considering the predictions of heavy losses, the fact they made a gain at all (no matter how small) is a fantastic result. It goes to show that the country as a whole punished the junior partner in the coalition government, the Lib Dems, following the first year of this government. I'm not entirely sure why (other than the backtrack on promises) but the result essentially confirms the Lib Dems generally don't have an active role to play in 21st century UK politics. I assume that in 2015, if the economy hasn't picked up, they will lose most of their parliament seats, which would likely confirm the end of Nick Clegg as party leader (if he hasn't already gone).

I don't know a great deal about the Welsh Assembly, so I cannot comment much on their results other than to say Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems were the main losers. Labour gained the most but amazingly, the Conservatives gained here as well and became the 2nd biggest party in the Assembly. So with two strong results for Labour, this was shaping up to be a good night. Unfortunately (for them anyway), Scotland happened. To be honest, all the political parties had a bad night in Scotland, aside from the Scottish National Party (SNP). On my recent visit to Scotland, I can tell you for free that there were not many Conservative or Lib Dem signs around, and I know that Scotland is still fairly anti-Conservative (poll tax). So to see both of those parties receive losses was no big surprise. Labour lost fairly heavily as well, with the SNP picking up all but 1 of the seats lost. One major surprise for me is that half of Gordon Brown's UK constituency went to the SNP, which could make the next UK general election a lot more interesting (considering he is a former PM and they tend to be in very safe seats). The Scottish election this time around is historic, in that the system was designed to promote coalition governments (it was designed by Labour, and like fuck are they going to design a system where they will be out of power). However the reason that this election is historic is that the SNP won the first overall majority in the history of the Scottish parliament and will now likely have a referendum on independence for Scotland. The repercussions of this election could be huge, and could change the UK forever - so I am interested to see how this plays out but I honestly don't know if Scottish independence would be a good thing or not. Based on one policy of the SNP (anti-nuclear weapons), they might shut down the submarine base in Helensburgh, which would kill my home town for jobs - and I can't support that!

So we've covered councils, Wales and Scotland. Let's look at the referendum then. I learned during various politics lectures that the people who write the questions for referenda try to make them needlessly confusing in order to skew the result. So when it came time to vote, I read the question more than once just to make sure I was voting the way I wanted to. The question was fairly plain and easy to understand. When voting no, I thought the country would vote no but I wasn't sure. I did not expect the result that we have got. 439/440 regions have declared their referendum results (waiting on Northern Ireland) and it is a very clear win for the No 2 AV campaign. The results (as of 11pm Friday 6th May) are as follows:

Yes 2 AV - 5,863,519. 32%
No 2 AV - 12,640,417. 68%

I never anticipated such a massive result for the No 2 AV campaign but it was a clear message sent from the people that did bother to vote (because the turnout was just over 40%) that we don't want the alternative vote! A 36point lead cannot be disputed. I do wonder what the impact of this decision will be and indeed the impact of the elections on the country as a whole. Will Clegg's future as Lib Dem leader be in doubt? Will the next campaign for electoral reform be about fully fledged Proportional Representation? What will happen to the coalition? Is it really as strong as they claim in the media? What will happen in Scotland now they have a nationalist party with an overall majority in charge for the first time? I don't know the answer to these questions yet, no-one does. However, this could be a really interesting time for UK politics and I for one am interested to see what impact, if any, Thursday’s election will have on the UK.

I was going to write this blog and include my review of my day watching Bath and seeing Ginger. However if you have reached this stage in the blog without having died, you have realised that I had quite a lot to say about the elections. The blog about Bath RFU/Ginger will be a lot shorter and written/posted probably on Sunday. Until then, you stay classy!

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