600 seats again

On Newsnight yesterday they had a price about what the political impact might be of the reduction in seat numbers to 600, based on a projection by Simon Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone. Mark Pack has kindly put Wilks-Heeg and Crone’s actual paper up on scribd here.

The paper is based on the electorate from December 2009, rather than the electorate at the General Election in 2010. In actual fact, the boundary review will be based upon the electorate in December 2010, but for obvious reasons those figures don’t exist yet. Wilks-Heeg and Crone have worked out the number of seats each country will get, and what that should mean for each region, and then made some educated guesses about how that might pan out in terms of partisan effect. Their estimates are that the Conservatives would lose 13 seats, Labour 25 and the Liberal Democrats 7 – meaning the Conservatives end up gaining 12 seats relative to Labour.

At this stage it is very difficult to make firm predictions about what the partisan effect will be from boundary changes. We don’t know the final electorate figures, nor what county boundaries the Boundary Commissions will choose to cross, nor indeed whether there will be any more changes to the proposed legislation as it goes through the Commons (campaigns like OneWight may, for example, manage to get extra exemptions). Even once those things are decided, there will be various different ways that boundaries could pan out. You can work out complex projections of what might happen, as Lewis Baston of the ERS did for Scotland and Wales a few months back, but they can only project one possible solution out of many alternatives. At this stage, Wilks-Heeg and Crone’s projections are probably as good as it is worth doing. For what it’s worth, my “back of an envelope” calculations are much the same as Wilks-Heeg and Crone’s – based on a crude look at where seats are likely to go and what knock on effects might be, I’d expect the Conservatives to lose somewhere around 10 to 12 less than Labour.


191 Responses to “600 seats again”

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  1. NEILA

    “One thing that strikes me is the degree to which cabinet ministers seem to have been given fairly strong control of their briefs, with Downing Street only wading in where it sees a “gaffe” brewing”

    Yes I agree.
    That seems to be the Cameron style.

    I think this will be a massively reforming government. ( if it survives long enough)

    That there is constant tension on how to fine tune the detail is a very good thing. Provided the overall objectives are retained-IDS making it more financially worthwhile to work than live on benefit ; Fox cutting the MOD down to size, Gove putting more power in parents’ hands ; Lansley removing excessive cost layers etc.etc.

    The edifice of the Labour State is massive though, and none of this will be easy.

    Meanwhile , every disagreement, discussion, tension, will be portrayed as rifts by those who believe Cabinet Ministers should just smile, nod & repeat what the PM says is hapenning.

    Provided Cameron sticks to the key principles he outlined on the steps of Downing Street he will be fine .

  2. @Barney Crockett

    “But what do I know?”

    A very good question ;-)

  3. @ Eoin

    Essentially what you have with the Labour leadership race is like a big primary because you have trade unions and MPs who have extra voting power (much like a superdelegate has) but the election is open to rank and file Labour Party members. Whatever advantages any of the candidates may have had in their constituency selection process or standing in a safe constituency, they have to face the electorate now and compete for voters and show their skill. So I guess that is a good vetting process.

    So I apologize for getting off topic here from UK Politics but since you brought up that great pain of the 08′ primaries, I felt like responding.

    I too supported Hillary Clinton. She would have made a great president. She did win the most popular votes but the Democratic Presidential Primary is not a FPTP system. It’s a whole mess and hodgepodge of different types of proportional voting. The huge turnout can be attributed to their respective personal popularity and their history making campaigns.

    I would say though that Obama didn’t win because of the debates. He lost nearly all of them and Hillary outperformed him in all of them (even in the one debate she lost and other one where she was an utter trainwreck but still won). It’s one reason she was able to stay alive throughout the primaries even when it looked as if she was about to be finished off.

    I find, having experienced the campaign first hand, that most of the media theories on the 08′ primary are rather off based. Obama won the primary for a number of reasons.

    Obama won the Democratic primary for several reasons but the one that people seem to miss is the dynamics of the Democratic Party.

    Your average Democratic voter is diverse, they might live on a multi million dollar estate and drive a Mercedes or they might live in a housing project (or in an apartment on Section 8 assistance) and take public transportation. But generally, the rank and file Democrats don’t follow Democratic politics closely or get involved in campaigns. They simply vote in general elections. These voters loved Bill and Hillary.

    Party activists saw things differently. Even though Democratic Party organizations had been disintegrating since the late 1960’s, the activists blamed the Clintons for lack of proper party infrastructure. They believed that Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky cost the Democrats the White House in 2000. They believed Hillary, with her healthcare reform project, had cost the Democrats the Congress in 1994. They beleived that as president, Bill Clinton compromised far too much and got little accomplished. They blamed Bill for things like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. They despised Hillary for her vote to authorize Dubya to invade Iraq. They suspected both Bill and Hillary had sabotaged John Kerry’s 04′ campaign in order to pave the way for Hillary in 08′. And finally, they believed Hillary would lose the general election. Obama won these voters because those who were anti-Hillary coalesced around him as their leading contender as other Democrats chose either not to run or fizzled.

    A great number of states, especially those that aren’t heavily Democratic hold caucuses instead of primaries. They are extremely low turnout affairs. And generally people who have s**t to do aren’t the type who turn up at a caucus. The folks who turn up to vote at caucuses are the political activists. The dynamics of the party being the way they were, Obama cleaned up with the caucuses and could do so without huge investment. So Hillary won most of the primaries, mainly out of support by rank and file Democrats and that lent to her popular vote victory but it wasn’t enough to overcome the delegate leads Obama had in the caucuses and eventually the superdelegate leads of Democratic politicians who saw their opportunity to get the Clintons.

    And btw, even though I supported Hillary, I don’t blame Obama for taking advantage of this system and exploiting it as far as he could.

  4. It’s sweet to hear the optimism of blues like Colin and Neil. It occurred to me the other day that 13 years is an awfully long time. I would have found it extremely hard to post without an innocent delight at everything Blair did in 97 too. Just because blues didn’t win the same kind of massive majority and the polls aren’t as unequivocal, I really should remember what it’s like when the world suddenly sounds the way you want it to again, how willing we are to justify every slip and gaffe.

  5. @ Eoin

    On the heels of my long post, I had a question for you. I was curious if you could think of (cause you seem to know these things) a British Prime Minister who led his party to victory while fighting for a seat that he had initially gained for his party from a major opposition party.

    I wouldn’t count David Cameron since Witney was only Labour by way of the defection of Shaun Woodward.

  6. @Sue Marsh,

    I wouldn’t exactly say that the world sounds the way I want it to sound. I’d much rather it sounded wealthy and prosperous (like in 1997) for a start. There are lots of things the new government has done and/or said that I am not at all partial to. Their stance on prisons, and on defence spending and the Afghanistan withdrawal, for example. Or the abolition of the Audit Commission (slightly counterintuitive for a penny pincher. Why not just slash its budget and demand reform?) Also the deep cuts in public spending will hurt me as well (they are already gunning for my pension and spreading disinformation about “bonuses” and overtime in the police). But on the whole I think the whole show is much more thoroughly on the road than I could have dared hope for when the GE exit poll was published.

    I have to admit I am waiting with slightly bated breath to see if the headline spending cuts are an opening gambit in a game of brinkmanship between the Treasury and the spending departments. Some of the proposed levels of cuts, if carried out, will certainly cause pretty severe damage to services, not least because there are vested interests that will make sure that they do. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the final figure for reductions is somewhere halfway between the original (non-specific) Labour plans and the current Coalition plans. But if they feel they can and should go the whole way then we’ll have to judge them on the results.

  7. I think it’d be great if David Laws became Chancellor. He’d be a great role model for gays and lesbians worldwide. He would be breaking down a barrier, a marble ceiling so to speak. Sure, there were openly gay cabinet members under Blair and Brown but none occupied one of the great offices of state.

    I don’t think it will happen though because I doubt that David Cameron wants to put a Liberal Democrat in one of the four great offices of state. Plus a lot of back bench Tories who don’t like gays might not like having a gay guy as Chancellor. Plus, independent of his sexual orientation, Laws has no children. Lots of major public service cuts (at least from what I read) are to services for families with children. That helps build up resentment. Here’s someone taking away what I need because of his own ideological preferences and theories when he has no idea what it’s like to need services like this. It’s just bad politics.

  8. Three items from the Sunday papers struck me :-

    David Blunkett in “talks with” IDS’s old outfit CSJ.

    In an article ( about University funding) Adonis , in THe Sunday Times says this :-

    ” Within the public services, New Labour made a serious mistake in 1997 in abolishing grant-maintained schools and GP fundholding rather than universalising them on an equitable basis”

    …..well “alright!” as Kinnock would say ( Adonis next for The Big Tent ?)

    Finally-an opinion that it is actually a bit weird to see two brothers running against each other for Labour Leader….yes ..actually I think I thought that too.

  9. SOCAL LIBERAL.

    If there ever is a “reason” to appoint David Laws as Chancellor-or any other role in Government ( & I could certainly conceive of & welcome a few)-then it most certainly is not because he is homosexual-or shorter than average-or single-or anything other than his ability to do the job.

  10. @Neil A,

    “I have frequently given my opinion that the most abjectly disadvantaged members of our society are the working poor. They have barely a pot to tinkle in, are expected to pay almost all of their own bills and don’t even have the compensation of being able to sleep in till midday and watch TV all afternoon. Between the LibDem plans on tax and IDS’s plans on benefits tapering, that fraction of the income column may be about to get some well-earned respite”.

    I totally agree. No party is for the poor working classes not on benefits. Consequently, many young people (and older) now are choosing not to work at all if they can only get a rubbish, lowly paid job. I certainly don’t blame them. I mean, what rational person would choose to work in a rough job with an aggressive boss/long hours and rubbish pay, if they will always struggle to own their own house, pay the rent/bills, have luxuries etc? That is why certain trades/jobs now have an aging workforce. Most younger people simply refuse to do the menial/tough and lowly paid jobs anymore.

  11. It says a lot when we have to get people from abroad into our country ‘to do the jobs British people no longer want to do’! I personally think we could learn a thing or two from Asian/Eastern European people on work ethic. One of my best friends is Chinese, and let’s just say that we certainly don’t produce the worth ethic in this country that he (and his culture) has.

  12. SocallLiberal,

    In 1931, The then Labour leader lost his burnley seat at the general election. Other than that I cannot think of any other example of the leader invovled in a tussle of the kind you mention…

    Robert Peel if I am not mistaken had to switch from his Oxford seat, which he held in 1829 to amworth in 1834… My memory is a bit hazy on that but if i am not mistaken Tamorth was a safe blue seat..

  13. @Sue Marsh,

    I think Tories are also optimistic because:-

    a) We probably have 5 years in power.
    b) We were out of power for 13 years, as you so rightly said.
    c) We are confident that, despite the economic difficulties, we will triumph at the next GE. Many are optimistic about our chances of holding onto power for the next few terms at least (i.e. for 10 to 15 years).

    You cannot compare the successes of 2010 with those of 1997. The economy was booming in 1997. Spending therefore could, and did, go through the roof (with a rather short-term political view some might argue). Tony Blair, like him or hate him, managed to create a gigantic wave of public optimism. This has since been shattered by the Iraqi war and the expenses’ scandal (amongst others). Trust in politicians (of all parties) is now at an all-time low. Returning landslide (or hefty majority governments) has therefore become considerably less likely. Tolerance is now the goal of all political parties, rather than outright popularity.

  14. Matt
    Tories are, IMO, optimistic bacause they don’t have the slightest clue what the real world is like. Pace comments recently from Roger Mexico. Problems of motivation of the native unemployed are certainly there but are intractible to deal with in a world where the real downward pressures on the workforce are so extreme. It isn’t hard to have a work ethic in a country where the poor die in the streets or where the previous welfare system has collapsed.
    The idea that labour did not help the working poor is ludicrous. The complaint from the right might more rationally be that for those with children the help was too great (though I would not agree).
    As R Mexico has asked, where is the preparation for the wave of new benefit applicants?

  15. “Problems of motivation of the native unemployed are certainly there but are intractible to deal with ”

    That is an opinion Barney-not a fact.

    Arguably the last Government reduced the “motivation” you identify by allowing thousands of “native” workers to be unemployed, whilst the jobs created in the boom years went to immigrant workers.

    For a Labour politician , now, to say what you have just said, is cynical in the extreme, and a commentary on the outcome of Labour’s policies on “british jobs” & welfare benefits, which no Conservative supporter could express more accurately.

    Fortunately, the current government ( I hope!) does not agree that the legacy you identify is “intractable”.

    The UK has no economic future if it’s government believes that it is.

  16. Matt

    I think you need to be careful about pronouncements on national “work ethic”. Remember that immigrants to a country, by the very fact they are economic immigrants, are going to be more enthusiastic, enterprising, energetic, etc (and that’s just the ‘e’s). In many cases they will also have good connections within an existing entrepreneurial network.

    They also tend to be young and without commitments (or those have been left back home). They can live in poor conditions, work very long hours, move around easily.. It’s easy to denounce other people’s work ethic when you’re 22. ;)

    I suspect you wouldn’t have to look far to find denunciation of the Chinese or the Eastern Europeans in their native lands as having a poor work-ethic, weighed down by (the legacy of) communism etc.

    As far as the British working class, I wish IDS and co good luck as far as benefit reform goes, but a lot of the problem lies with the housing market and its effects on the cost of living. Until that is sorted out after 30 years of neglect, benefit traps will always remain.

  17. @SocialLiberal,

    I understand that you have open primaries where any voter can vote, and closed primaries where only party members can vote. To vote in a closed primary in the US, do you ever need to pay a party membership fee, or do you simply need to register as a party supporter? In the UK, to be considered a party member you need to apply for membership (which can be rejected) and pay a fee. Even in the case of the union members, the union has paid an affiliation fee in the party and the individual union member has paid into the union’s political fund. So unless you have something comparable, I would very hesitant to import the US political terminology of primaries to describe UK candidate selection or leadership election processes.

    While we’re on the subject, there’s a new Campaign for a PES Primary, also importing your terminology (campaignforapesprimary.blogspot.com). What they mean is that they want members of each member-party of the Party of European Socialists (of which Labour is a member-party) to have a vote in deciding the next Socialist candidate for President of the European Commission. (As far as I know they have not decided whether they advocate one-member-one-vote or whether votes should be in some way weighted by country – i.e. perhaps to over-represent small countries – before determining the final outcome.)

  18. @Barney,

    There’s no doubt that Labour tried to help the working poor, which is what GB’s tax credit idea was all about. A valiant effort, but I really think it was the wrong solution to the problem. The credits reach too “high” (ie families on up to £50,000 pa can still get some child tax credits), they are very tiresome to administer and they create a lot of “churn” (ie you’re basically getting some of the money the government took from you back).

    What would be better would be a properly adminstered, fully-integrated tax and benefit system where your financial circumstances gradually improve as your earned income increases, rather than having dramatic cutoffs where working an extra 4 hours a week actually results in you having £30 less to spend (invented example, but you know what I mean). This is something of a Holy Grail and there are lots of problems with designing it, but its exactly what IDS has been putting his mind to ever since being ousted as Tory leader. If he can cut the Gord(i)an Knot then I for one will cheer him to the ceiling.

  19. Colin
    You can attack me as a Labour politician all you like but I would point out I am willing to post in my own name, I think the only politican to do so on this site, and invite criticism from every quarter. However I do take exception to “cynical”. I try to process the facts as honestly as I can. If that agrees or disagrees with accepted wisdom then so be it. My motive in posting is to improve my knowledge however inadequate that might seem to some.

  20. The tories opposed means testing for years… As late as 2007 they were still criticising it…

    So that we can properly target those who need help the most means testing is the only way..

    A point often missed is that single guys over the age of 25 are entitled to tax credits prodided their income is sub 15k I think they get £500 p.a.

    The admin is a slight problem I accept as the lag can be 18months in which amounts overpaid are hard to claw back. But the idea of means tested Working tax Credit is a fantastic one…

    It is also true that up to a family earning up to £64k can claim a modest amount back but Labour were trying to acknowledge that middle class families also find it tough…

    a combined income of £45k for example does not get you very far at all…

    Obviously those under £22k are the ones we try to help the most… It is more or less the poverty line for a family with children. (the figures are approximate you would have to add inflation for 09/10).

    IDS’s ideas do not strike me as an attempt to trample over Brown’s if anything they are a volte face for the old blues… means testing works.. working tax credits work.. red tape can be reduced and the sums can be propoerly targetted but absolute full marks for IDS for trying to improve the system.

  21. I have been looking in detail at the current set-up for the number of electors for each seat. I ranked all the seats in order, low to high, and then labelled them as England, NI, Scotland and Wales. I then looked at the number of seats from each country in each decile, low to high:

    Decile England NI Scotland Wales Total
    1 16 12 4 33 65
    2 55 1 5 4 65
    3 57 2 5 1 65
    4 59 0 6 0 65
    5 54 2 7 2 65
    6 57 0 8 0 65
    7 59 0 6 0 65
    8 60 1 4 0 65
    9 59 0 6 0 65
    10 57 0 8 0 65
    Total 533 18 59 40 650

    It confirms that Wales and NI is most represented by low Electorates, but Scotland isn’t too bad.

    England

    Total 36,994,681
    Mean 69,408
    SD 4669

    NI

    Total 1,103,670
    Mean 61,315
    SD 4,914

    Scotland

    Total 3,995,489
    Mean 67,720
    SD 9,613

    Wales

    Total 2,225,689
    Mean 55,642
    SD 5,997

    Total

    Total 44,319,529
    Mean 68,184
    SD 6,417

    It nice to see the real data that we debate over!

  22. Neil A
    That is a good explanation of the dilemma. It is just it has proved elusive of solution. Like Gordon Brown in your allusion I doubt if it is open to the Gordian Knot method. But we will see.
    The Sunday Times carries an article pointing to an acute sharpening in the north – south divide and an apparent shift southwards in that divide. i would imagine IDS’s little scheme will again exaggerate this. The regional breakdowns of the yougov polls seem to show strengthenig polarity in nort – south opinions (with all the usual caveats in small samples).

  23. Very pessimistic polling for the Conservatives in today’s Daily Mail. The Harris Poll gives a vote split of 29 Con / 28 Lab / 12 Lib.

    Daily Mail are calling it the end of the honeymoon, but I think it’s a little early to do so on a single poll.

  24. Thanks for that Jay, but that does mean there is a large amount of others?

  25. Garry K

    Scotland had its seats reduced from 72 to 59 for the 2005 General Election. Most of the remaining discrepancy is due to the need to represent the separate geographical identities of the Highlands and Islands.

    Incidentally isn’t it odd that the Tories, so keen to support FPTP because it means one MP represents a community or communities, are now so keen to slice through the borders of those communities to get the numbers exactly equal?

    Wales is due for a downgrade, it nearly happened last time. There is one query I have though. I believe* that the Welsh assembly seats have to legally be the same number as the Westminster ones. If these are reduced from 40 to 30, will the regional seats reduced pro-rata to 15 and will the Assembly size go down to 45?
    This of course is Westminster’s decision not the Assembly’s. When the Scottish seats were reduced the Scottish Parliament’s size stayed the same.

    * As usual this means I read it on Wikipedia and don’t have the energy to plough through the official sites to check.

  26. @Roger Mexico,

    “I think you need to be careful about pronouncements on national “work ethic”. Remember that immigrants to a country, by the very fact they are economic immigrants, are going to be more enthusiastic, enterprising, energetic, etc (and that’s just the ‘e’s). In many cases they will also have good connections within an existing entrepreneurial network.”

    I am not certainly not denouncing them. That’s why I said their behaviour is ‘rational’ in the current climate.

    I am unemployed myself. I also refuse to work for peanuts for a hard slog. I am part of the very group I am talking about.

    “It isn’t hard to have a work ethic in a country where the poor die in the streets or where the previous welfare system has collapsed.”

    Very true, though the welfare system in the UK is the other way IMO. There has to be a balance where it is financially worth working. The problem is that in many low paid job it simply isn’t.

  27. @ Amber

    Sorry, that post came over a little harsh (forgot the smilie) :)

    As for who would replace Osborne, it would depend on the circumstances. If he just moves him because he feels like it, well it doesn’t really matter, but it won’t be Ken Clarke.

    If, however, Cameron feels he needs to move Osborne (because the UK goes into a double dip recession, or the credit rating is downgraded, or both) then I think it would be Ken Clarke – he’s been there before, is generally well liked by the country and the left wing. The only people he’d really annoy is the right wing of his own party, but he could sell it as being necassary.

  28. correction: “the welfare system is too much the other way IMO”.

  29. The talk of Osborne’s demise is premature… He soaks up the blue falk and protects cameron from a lot. His reticence in committing early to fiscal policy prior to May 2010 probably helped his party considerably. His handling of VAT and NI strike me as very mature. opposition to 20% has not materialised (hell he even got Vincey to outline its merits). If unemployment is to climb he can claim that at least his NI freeze helped the private secotr employment figures recover.

    I am not a fan of his economics… I’d slash VAT and replace the loss with an income tax rise… I also though the NI rise on employers contribution as sensible.. but give him credit where credit is due- he got th epublic to swallow VAT.

    Being the chancellor is the toughest job in government. Being the chancellor during 25% cuts is sure to leave him the most hated man in the UK. I’ll not be adding to his woes that is for sure. I remember the grief GB got into with charles Clarke and Frank field… it happns to them all..

  30. I think the jury’s still out on Osborne so far as his financial acumen is concerned, but he has certainly proved himself to be politically astute. Considering how much there is about him that is personally unappealing (boyish face, squeaky voice, posh pedigree) to most voters, the fact that he his political strategies have been by and large successful says a lot.

  31. Neil A,

    Prior tot he election in my quest for Osborne’s achilles I done some digging. I had to stop for the more I dug the more I liked him… A bohemian philosopher of open mind.. he has the utmost tolerant and is utterly devoted to his family. Above all, a streak of loylaty that I wished some reds possessed.

    grrrrr!

  32. @Eoin,

    I think IDS’s approach is more subtle than just means-testing. The problem with conventional means testing is that it creates rigid cut off points which are a huge disincentive, or at the very least distort behaviour. (I can’t get help because I have too much savings? Right, I’ll blow it on a holiday then).

    I think tapering could be the way out of the problem, so long as it designed in such a way that the public and, more importantly, the spectacularly ignorant DWP employees that administer it, can understand it.

    As ambivalent as I am about the recruitment of various Labour figures as “tsars”, it does rather suggest to me that whatever else is on the coalition’s agenda, welfare reform is a genuine project.

  33. @Neil A

    The main problem is that IDS’s plan depends on being able to implement the entire list of changes, otherwise huge gaps will open up for people to fall through. And he’s being pressured hard to do just that by the treasury who want immediate short term cuts above all else.

    If IDS can’t implement a comprehensive plan, he’s best not implementing any of it. If he attempts to make crowd pleasing half measures, he’s sure just to add to the misery not improve it.

  34. @ Roger

    Yes, some Scottish seats are down to the low 20’s, the lowest being the Isle of Skye one.

    I could have put more detail down, but there was too much!

    Maybe Eoin is best placed to answer this, but are the NI Constituencies smaller as a result of the NI religious/political divide i.e. were they drawn up to avoid joining contentious areas?

    I am interested in the Welsh question posed, because they seriously out of kilter, and any attempt to even seats up must have a serious impact in that region.

  35. Matt

    Sorry, I wasn’t really being personal. It’s just that you hear this sort of thing so often and it doesn’t recognise the realities, some of which you pointed out yourself.

    I don’t think the welfare system is too generous though. Although, as I’ve pointed out before, the housing situation causes money to pour out of the government’s pockets; it doesn’t go to the claimants.

    If the last 30 years have been generous to anyone, it’s to the employers; especially the larger ones and those not in manufacturing. This isn’t just a matter of a tax system which increasingly favoured the rich and almost encouraged tax avoidance. There has been encouragement of EU expansion and laxity of operation against illegal and quasi-legal immigration. By the latter I mean things such as fake students or “specialists” who weren’t or for whose jobs locals should have been employed or trained. So firms have got used to being able to employ trained workers at cheap rates and low benefits, rather than investing in their workforce. And if things go wrong they just import more people. Hence the recent wailing about a possible immigration cap, however limited.

  36. @Roger Mexico,

    “Sorry, I wasn’t really being personal. It’s just that you hear this sort of thing so often and it doesn’t recognise the realities, some of which you pointed out yourself.”

    No worries mate.

  37. @ Eoin

    That’s fascinating. You’re kind of like a walking encyclopedia or British politics (and I mean that in the kindest sense of the word).

    I think the difference in your system is that you have the Prime Minister’s Questions where you have to be on your feet and quick thinking. No American politician has to go through that. And frankly, I’m not sure that very many American politicians would even be any good at it. Barney Frank would be. Bill Clinton and Obama could learn how to be good at it. I’m not sure about how many others. I’ve watched some PMQs on youtube and a lot of the behavior of MPs shocks me because they do and say all these things that would absolutely be forbidden on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate.

    @ Colin

    I’m not saying Laws should be appointed because he is gay. I’m saying he’d be an excellent appointment because he’s gay and, more importantly, because he’s exceedingly well qualified for the job. And I think that even if you didn’t agree with Laws’s politics and economic theories, you’d be hardpressed to argue that Laws isn’t exceedingly well qualified to be Chancellor.

    And yeah, he is pretty short.

    @ Richard P

    I didn’t realize that. In the United States, everyone registers by party when they register to vote (except in a few states like Virginia). You don’t have to register with any party when you register to vote but in a closed primary, you must be registered with that party. But you never ever have to pay a fee to vote (the exception being that if you vote by mail, you often have to pay for the stamp when you mail in your ballot and if you have to mail in a request ballot, you pay for the stamp there).

    Ironically, regular primaries are far more democratic than presidential primaries. Presidential primaries are often wars of attrition, massing enough support to force the other candidates to drop out. In most primaries, the candidate who wins the most votes is simply the winner.

    It’s interesting to see the spread of primaries and the proposal for the socialist candidate for the EU presidency to have to face a primary in order to get nominated.

    The reason I like primaries (and one reason why they might be resisted heavily in parliamentary systems) is that they help make elected officials far more accountable in districts that are typically not competitive by party. Like the UK where there are hundreds of constituencies that will always be Conservative or always Labour (barring some fluke), the U.S. has districts that will always elect Democrats or Republicans. Thus the party primaries often serve as the election.

    But Congressmemebers who are elected to these seats still have to go through a truly democratic process in order to get elected and most of them know (not all) that they are accountable to voters and can’t screw around on the job. Because you have a primary, people can’t simply be installed into their positions and they can be kept accountable. This is important when you have Congressmembers (or state legislators) who aren’t doing their jobs and simply enjoying the trappings of power but represent districts who’s voters would never vote for the opposition party. There have been a number of heavily Democratic districts, for example, where you have high levels of poverty and a need for an active Congressman, where the Congressman doesn’t deliver. He enjoys having lunch at fine restaurants with his favorite lobbyists, enjoys fundraising, enjoys going to cocktail parties, votes for Republican sponsored legislation that hurts his constitutents, and generally ignores his constituent needs. These Congressmen can be held accountable in primaries where voters can simply vote to get rid of them. I can think of several Democrats like this actually (Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia), Matthew Martinez (D-California), Earl Hilliard (D-Alabama)).

    I think though that’s the very reason why there would be resistance in the UK. Being able to install their preffered candidates in constituencies is something that parties and party leaders generally like. Being able to parachute into constituencies is simply a given. How many MPs actually live in their constituencies and how many MP’s for both parties represent constituencies where if the local party had a primary they wouldn’t get selected as their party’s candidate? Geoffrey Robinson comes to mind as do some of the black Tory candidates who represent lily white constituencies.

    There may also be some practical difficulties as well. UK elections aren’t set for any given period, you know that you must have an election within 5 years of the last one (I think that’s how it is except in extraordinary times) but you don’t have a set date well in advance. Therefore, it’s kind of difficult in order to plan out when a local constituency could vote on their chosen candidate in time for a general election.

    But if the EU presidency has set terms, actually holding a primary may be helpful.

    As for the fact that only people who pay to be members of the Labour Party can vote for one of the leadership contenders, the contest may be more like a Caucus. Though you never have to pay to attend a caucus, a presidential caucus draws those who are the committed party activists. So there are still similarities.

  38. Socialliberal.

    Clement Attlee became Prime Minister in 1945, retaining his Limehouse seat, which he won from the Liberals in 1922. Albeit the Lloyd George Coalition – Tories and Liberals, just like now, and in similarly disastrous econmic circumstances (the crash in 1921 was worse than that in 1931) – was in effect the retiring Government. Attlee had to move to Walthamstow West in 1950 as Limehouse, which had a very small electorate in 1945 because so many voters had been bombed out, was abolished.

    Jim Callaghan whilst Prime Minister sat for Cardiff South East, which he gained from the Conservatives in 1945 (there was some redistribution in the meantime, but all of Cardiff was Tory from 1931 to 1945, so it is not material). But of course Callaghan became Prime Minister after Wilson’s resignation rather than by leading his party to victory in a general Election.

    Lloyd George became Prime Minister in 1916, and led the Coalition to victory in the 1918 General Election. He became an MP by gaining Caernarvon Boroughs from the Conservatives in a bye-election in April 1890, and sat continuously for that seat until he became a peer in 1945.

    On a separate point, Eoin is intersting about Sinn Fein’s selection of young candidates rather than long-term activists. Most of us in Britain, as opposed to Ireland, are not up on the Sinn Fein constitution in relation to selection procedures!

  39. @ Frederic Stansfield

    Thank you! I really appreciate your response. That’s fascinating. I was just thinking about the differences between U.S. presidential nominees and party leaders in the UK. For example, just going back to 1960 (though I could definitely go back earlier), almost all U.S. presidents were originally elected to seats they gained at the expensse of the opposition party.

    John Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate win in 1952 was a pickup for the Democrats.

    Richard Nixon’s California Senate win in 1950 (as well as his House win in 1946) was a pickup for the Republicans.

    Ronald Reagan’s California Governor’s Race win in 1966 was a pick up for the Republicans.

    George Bush’s Congressional Race Win in Texas was a pick up for the Republicans.

    Bill Clintons Arkansas Governor’s Race Win in 1982 was a pick up for the Democrats.

    Dubya’s Texas Governor’s Race win in 1994 was a pick up for the Republicans.

    Barack Obama’s Illinois Senate win in 2004 was a pick up for the Democrats.

    I think the difference for Attlee was that the Labour Party had just been born at that time and was winning it’s initial seats. If you start out at 0, you don’t really have any safe seats to run in. As for having to move to a different constituency because of being bombed out is something I don’t normally think about when it comes to politics but it makes sense. I think that most Americans (those who know who he was….mind you most Americans could not identify David Cameron if you asked them who he was) have a far more negative view of Attlee than Brits do because he’s seen as the guy who was elected in place of the war hero. But Attlee did a lot of good things and made radical changes that were needed in post war Britain just as Roosevelt and Truman made radical but needed and positive changes to the United States.

  40. Thanks for the complimant, Socialliberal.

    There is a serious issue behind your question. In effect there are two classes of MPs, those put into safe seats who can hope for senior office (and on the statistics are likely to get it), and those in marginal seats who can at best hope to become junior ministers.

    The situation is worse these days becasue there are so few bye-elections are which high-flying defeated MPs can get back. This used to be a regular event after general elections. Harold Macmillan, who became MP for Bromley after being defeated in the 1945 general Election, is one example.

  41. @Frederic Stansfield

    I think that there is a possibility that MPs in marginal seats can become full fledged cabinet members. I haven’t really followed the new cabinet under Cameron (though George Osbourne’s election in 2001 was techincally a gain for the Tories even if it was expected) but under Brown, there were some Cabinet members who represented marginal seats:

    Jacqui Smith
    Ruth Kelly
    John Denham
    Ben Bradshaw
    Jim Murphy

    Alistair Darling might be counted as well since his constituency was taken by the Tories in 1983.

    I once read that when Harold MacMillan resigned from the Prime Minister’s office and was replaced by Alec Dougas-Home, Douglas-Home had to resign his seat in the Lord’s and a Tory MP in a safe seat resigned his seat so that Douglas-Home could take office from the House of Commons.

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