Tuesday, 14 December 2010

MBE asks: Was it English votes for English fees?

MPs regional breakdownAye votesNo votesAbstentionsTotal
Northern Ireland012618
ALL MPs32530416645

A guest slot on the big vote and the West Lothian Question

Linlithgow and East Falkirk includes much of the late, lamented constituency of West Lothian. Last week its Labour MP, Michael Connarty, was one of 51 Scottish representatives to vote against Higher Education funding reforms, even though only English universities were directly affected.

Of course, his constituents would pay more to study in England, and, indirectly, spending changes south of the border affect Scottish funding. Rather than unravel how “English Votes for English Laws” could be defined, lets examine its Commons arithmetic at the tuition fees vote.

English MPs were 311-209 in favour of the measures with 8 absent or abstaining, a hefty majority of 102. Yet the overall margin of victory was slashed to 21 by MPs from Scotland (majority of 45 against), Wales (24) and Northern Ireland (12).

It may seem strange to grandstand over a vote with no direct impact in your seat, but Lib Dem rebellion was strongest in Wales with all 3 MPs voting no; their Scottish MPs voted 5-4 (2 abs) while surprisingly their English colleagues were most loyal at 23-14 (6 abs).

This suggests local circumstances, and the leftward political centre of gravity in the Celtic nations, were factors in the Lib Dem rebellion’s size and shape: more so than their English MPs’ calculated aversion to cutting subsidies for their own constituents.

Total discipline from Labour, SNP and Plaid, and cross-party consensus in Northern Ireland, accentuated the Anglo-Celtic gulf. In contrast, all eight Tory rebels – 6 noes, 2 abstentions – hold English seats, although so do all bar nine Tory MPs!

The West Lothian Question also worked against the Conservatives in 2004, when Labour’s plan for “top-up” fees in England scraped through by five votes. English MPs disapproved, but 46 loyal Scottish Labour MPs, with less to lose, proved crucial.

England’s MPs are now distributed 296/188/43 plus one Green, Speaker, three Deputy Speakers and a vacancy. The Coalition’s theoretical majority there is 150, while the Tories alone have an outright majority of 64. Some form of EV4EL may tempt Cameron, particularly if the Lib Dems look unreliable. But if even the difficult fees vote could be steered through, does he really need it? And with its potential to reduce their leverage, should the Lib Dems be wary?

  • Numerical notes: tellers are included with voters, but the Speaker and his deputies excluded from consideration. With one by-election due, this restricts England to 528 potential votes from 533 seats. No allowance was made for the alleged “vote swap” of two English Lib Dems absent in Cancun. NI includes five abstentionist Sinn Fein MPs.
  • My Burning Ears

    Monday, 13 December 2010

    2011 - the visions of antifrank

    It's that time of year where we look back over the last year and pretend that we knew what was going to happen all along. All the political journalists are no doubt preparing their predictions for the year ahead, so I thought I would get in first.

    So, where to start? I'm a firm believer in making predictions based on things we already know. So what do we already know?

    1) The public don't like what the Government is doing

    Government approval is negative and has been for some time. Minus 7 is typical.

    2) The public are cooling on David Cameron

    His approval ratings are now barely positive. He is, however, the leader with the best approval ratings.

    3) But his party is doing fine

    The Conservatives' ratings are at worst barely lower than their last election result and at best significantly better. After they have spent 7 months introducing cuts, I expect that they are fairly content with that tally for now.

    4) And Conservatives love David Cameron

    Ignore all the rightwing headbangers' mutterings: while David Cameron is getting 95% satisfaction ratings from intending Tory voters, he is in a very strong position.

    5) Labour supporters are really unhappy with Nick Clegg.

    Upwards of 70% of Labour supporters in YouGov surveys rate Nick Clegg as performing his job very badly. This analysis is not shared by Conservative or Lib Dem voters, both of whom broadly approve of him.

    6) The Lib Dems have lost half or more of their support

    Whether or not you believe the YouGov ratings that are now regularly dipping into single figures, the other pollsters are also finding a lot fewer Lib Dems than voted for that party in May.

    7) Those (few) Lib Dems that remain are reasonably happy with the government, the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg

    The remaining Lib Dem voters are supportive in large but not amazing numbers of all three

    8) Meanwhile, Ed Miliband is making a very hesitant start

    Only 27% of YouGov poll respondents were prepared to say that he was up to the job. 19% of stated Labour supporters said that he wasn't up to the job. His leadership ratings are now firmly negative, as the don't knows are breaking towards don't like.

    9) But despite this, Labour is doing fine

    Labour is in the lead with every single pollster at present

    10) And there is a succession of bad news ahead for the Government

    a. VAT is rising
    b. The tax take will rise further in the new financial year
    c. The impact of the cuts will become visible

    11) But the economic outlook is currently better than most of us would have predicted at the general election

    a. Economic growth has far exceeded expectations in the last two quarters and there are indications from both manufacturing and construction that these areas are growing strongly
    b. Though the possible impact of continuing Eurozone turmoil is hard to assess

    12) And the public have numerous opportunities to express their views

    With a by-election pending in Oldham East & Saddleworth, a referendum on AV, elections in Scotland and Wales and local elections throughout Britain, a large section of the public will get chance to pass judgement on current events

    augur antifrank's predictions

    With these trends, what can we expect in the year ahead? Well, the public are in a surly mood. No politician in the main three parties is meeting with consensus approval.

    1. Labour will prosper in the polls

    In the short term, this trend will help Labour. When the public is in a hostile mood, the lightning will be directed at the parties in power. As the cuts bite deeper and taxes rise, Labour should rise in the polls. Even if the economy continues to grow, the public will feel poorer. Ed Miliband will have to work quite hard to mess this up.

    Labour can hope to win something close to an absolute majority in both Scotland and Wales with good campaigns. If they don't win an absolute majority in Scotland but are the largest party (which has to be the single most likely outcome at present), will they seek to govern with a minority or will they seek to form a coalition? My guess is that they will seek to govern as a minority, though they would be wiser to form a coalition with the Lib Dems.

    2. The Greens may well become more influential

    But unless Ed Miliband can turn around initial public perceptions of him, it's likely that other parties also will benefit. The Greens seem to have a major opportunity: leftwingers in particular seem to feel let down by all their regular choices. If they positioned themselves wisely, the Greens could scoop up a lot of left of centre voters who don't yet feel that the Labour party that has yet found a new direction. To date, the Greens have decided against compromising with the electorate. Do they have the vision to see their opportunity?

    3. UKIP should resurface

    There is also an opportunity on the right. The Conservatives have got the sound money right wing vote locked up. Can UKIP exploit the cuts to its own advantage? They would need to take a populist rightwing approach, but such approaches have worked well in quite a few European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, for example) and UKIP could do much worse than look to continental Europe for inspiration. What they really need is an impeccable rightwing campaign that needs government spending. The armed forces, perhaps?

    4. The Lib Dems will continue to flounder

    The Lib Dems are having to participate in all kinds of nasty cuts with the Tories. This is a new and very painful experience for Lib Dems, who largely came into politics to do nice things (the Tories on the other hand have strong stomachs for such matters and it probably helps them keep their own voters happy).

    Such policies will not help the Lib Dems to attract voters back in the short term, at least in national opinion polls. Expect to see the Lib Dems retreat into hyper-localism. This may prove more effective than the major two parties expect in the local elections, but is unlikely to help them much in Scotland or Wales, in both of which they can expect to be spanked. On the other hand, they might just take Oldham East & Saddleworth if they can harness the tactical Tory vote.

    5. The Tories will stay in touch with Labour

    Tory supporters like the cuts, at least the principle of them. The Tory poll ratings have slid gently but consistently through the last few months and will probably continue to do so while the cuts continue to bite. But I doubt the slide will accelerate and in Scotland the Tories might even get an increase in support in May. In the local elections, the Conservatives will lose a lot of seats, but perhaps not as many as might be expected, given how badly placed Labour are in so many parts of southern England.

    6. The AV referendum will be lost

    The election will take place after two weeks of Royal wedding mania and no one cares about electoral reform. The referendum will be seen to be about Nick Clegg. If Ed Miliband campaigns hard for AV also, it might also come to be seen to be a referendum about him. At the moment, neither are voter magnets.

    7. Fewer than half of my predictions will come true.