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Speaking of politics elsewhere… February 6, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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UK Polling Report notes a new poll in Sheffield Hallam, that’d be Nick Clegg’s seat, that sees Labour with a 10 point lead. Now, you know me, I’m far from in the LP camp, but… fair dues where appropriate, if they did unseat Clegg that would add both to the gaiety of the UK (and more broadly) and, fractionally, to the credit of its voters. UK Polling Report has some useful stuff about the methodology used and adds a note of caution, but they do suggest that it will be a close run thing for Clegg. Great.

Speaking of polls January 14, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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I like this from UK Polling Report:

Tony Twyman, who died last year, was the man behind much of the mechanics of TV and radio viewing figures, most notably as technical advisor for BARB viewing figures. In broader market research he is more widely known for coining Twyman’s Law – “Any figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong”. The point is, of course, that strange and unusual things in a single poll are more likely the result of sample variation or error than some amazing shift in public opinion, and you should be cautious of them before getting excited (My colleague Joe Twyman likes quoting it without attribution in the hope people will jump to conclusions… not so fast!).

That attitude to polls in this state – that any that look ‘interesting’ or different are probably wrong is well worth keeping in mind.

According to UKPR Labour remain on their poll of polls just ahead of the Tories, and they predict an LP majority of…er…2. It’s swung back and forth now for a while, but with the LP always in the lead. And this batch of polls with all of 17 weeks to go are useful. Note the GP’s strength, something that gets much much less attention than UKIP. Note the Liberal Democrats weakness:

Opinium/Observer (2/1/15) – CON 32%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 17%, GRN 4%
Populus (4/1/15) – CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%, GRN 5%
YouGov/Sun (5/1/15) – CON 31%, LAB 34%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 14%, GRN 8%
YouGov/Sun (6/1/15) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 13%, GRN 8%
YouGov/Sun (7/1/15) – CON 32%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%
YouGov/Sun (8/1/15) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 7%
Populus (8/1/15) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%

That ‘strong [social welfare] safety net’ in the UK..? January 5, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.
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A desperately depressing piece here on the suicide of at least 60 benefit claimants in the UK – in some instances it appearing that ‘sanctions’ from the DWP were at least a factor in their deaths. There’s something, though, about the language used in the piece, a certain sort of bleakness:

And new information provided by the Disability News Service via a freedom of information request has uncovered that the Department for Work and Pensions has carried out 60 peer reviews following the deaths of customers. A peer review, according to the DWP guidance for employees, must be undertaken when suicide is associated with DWP activity to ensure that any DWP action or involvement with the person was appropriate and procedurally correct.

Customers? Somehow that’s not quite the power relationship at work, one suspects.

As to the DWP:

The DWP said: “As the Oakley review acknowledged, sanctions have a vital role to play in the benefits system and we accepted his recommendations to simplify communications further. As part of this, we always make clear to job seekers the conditions of receiving their benefits and if they fail to meet those conditions.

“We also continue to spend £94bn a year on working-age benefits, so we have a strong safety net in place. If claimants demonstrate that they can’t buy essential items as a result of their sanction, they can apply for a hardship payment.”

That all sounds so easy, doesn’t it, that last? ‘they can apply’. And what guarantee is there they will receive those hardship payments?

Meanwhile in the UK December 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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UK Polling Report gives Labour a majority of 26. Given how wishy washy the BLP is these days that counts either as a triumph or an indication of the wretched nature of contemporary British politics. I’m inclined to the latter view.

There’s a wrinkle on that from the latest ICM Scottish poll which points to massive SNP gains in Scotland at the next election all but wiping away the LP presence there into low double figures. That outcome is hardly unexpected given the runaround that Scottish voters got towards the end of the referendum campaign and immediate aftermath – that it impacts disproportionately on the LP is perhaps ironic given the unavoidable fact that there are insufficient Tories to act as a more logical scapegoat. I’ve long felt that had devo max been incorporated as an option during the referendum that would now be the case (actually, a strong argument could be made that that is the functional case), and discussing this with Michael Carley yesterday we were of the conclusion that by not incorporating it the potential for an exit of Scotland from the union sooner rather than later is now very high indeed. Nice work Mr. Cameron – surely one of the most short-term of British politicians we’ve ever seen.

All this may well require a reorientation of parts of the left to that potential exit and what it implies, it is one thing for the Tories to be beaten back in Scotland in terms of representation. For Labour to go the same way and for an explicitly nationalist party to be in the overwhelming majority presents profound democratic issues in relation to how the union proceeds. Or if it can. It is understandable that some would prefer a single battlefield for the left on the island of Britain, but truth is that’s not quite the status quo or status quo ante, and may well not be the situation in the very near future.

That the Tories calculate this may have a benign effect upon their electoral prospects in England is of a piece with the flip side of Cameron’s short-termism, a sort of unthinking tendency to the expedient. Well, who knows, perhaps that will be offset, even partially, by the rise of UKIP. That’s the thing with trying to be too bloody clever in politics, chosen goals slip away into the unattainable as new elements crowd in to disrupt plans.

So, speeding towards the end of the year, British politics looks as if it’s likely to be becoming yet more chaotic. Who would have thought even ten years ago that Scotland would be shifting slowly but inexorably to some sort of rupture, that UKIP would present if not quite a threat a serious alternative? And all this before we even begin to consider the East/West dimension of Northern Ireland. Though festering away in the background remains some very curious issues. Am I alone in thinking that the issue of what appears like an appalling child abuse conspiracy at the heart of Westminster politics seems to have a lower than expected profile in the British media? That too has extremely serious (and rightly so) implications for British politics in the near to medium term.

“Red Action – Left Wing Political Pariah” December 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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Many thanks to the person who forwarded the link to this… from the Red Action Archive, and a chapter by Mark Hayes from ‘Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956′ which has been discussed on the CLR before.

As has also been noted here, one group that developed from Red Action and AFA in Britain is the very interesting Independent Working Class Association which in some ways both exemplifies the problems of contemporary leftism (going so far as to eschew the very term ‘left’) and efforts to overcome or engage with those problems (particularly in a British context).

Random thoughts on current UK polling and the problem with having two larger centre right/right of centre parties… December 7, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics.
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Looking at the excellent UK Polling Report one will see that the LP has regained a 10 seat majority in their poll of polls project having been just one shy of a majority for a few weeks now. It’s something, isn’t it, that even Miliband’s unpopularity and the LPs wishy washy right social democrat approach – and perhaps I’m being overly kind there – still commands more support than ‘Call me Dave’s’ operation… Granted the Tories must face a right populist insurgency from UKIP, but hey, them’s the breaks. And then there’s the smaller party of coalition government faltering rapidly.

Actually all this sounds sort of hazily familiar, doesn’t it? Unpopular coalition in situ. Smaller party heading for wipeout. Populist opposition forces and social democratish parties gaining popularity.

Differences abound, the LP is no SF, or perhaps vice versa, the broader picture of political contest in the UK remains broadly one where power shifts between the LP and the Tories and back and forth. There’ll be no UKIP breakthrough, even on 20% of the poll because of first past the post and so its threat is a marginal one, its capacity to genuinely upset the political system limited – though we can bet as much as can be co-opted by the Tories (and perhaps sotto voce the LP) will be.

Though in that that’s not so different to here. The potential for FF and FG to work together in extremis remains. Could that do the trick or would it merely accelerate the attitude of disdain that is directed by much of the electorate towards them?

And looking at here, RiD, que, shea and SonofStan point to the belief, the near certainty, that FF and FG would always share in power though not with each other – that as long as that transfer between them across elections was in play all was well. We still get a hint of that, don’t we? The cosmetic (and sometimes not so cosmetic) rhetoric FG used to direct against FF as regards its intrinsic nature seems to be vanishing – though not entirely, as an existential threat to that pre-existing structure sees it beginning to collapse. After all, Haughey is long gone, Ahern too in a way, and what are they compared to SF or Ind/Other in terms of alarming people?

The problem, as noted on that thread linked to above, is that once that structure is gone what is there left? If only 1 in 5 can bring themselves to vote FF, another 1 in 5 to vote FG and next to no-one wants to vote FG that means that even absent a cohesive oppositional force the system was we have known it is either under massive pressure or is on its way out. And the alternatives? An FF or FG minority government with the external support of the other? That’s no solution at all given how unpopular the very act of government – the reality of participation in government, appears to be today.

Of course none of this may come to pass. FG may claw back support sufficient to govern with FF in a strong coalition, or some constellation of Independents will offer long-term support. But even to put it in those terms is to underscore how fundamentally matters have changed.

All of which makes me suspect that if I was in one of the – ahem – traditional Irish political parties I might be looking at either the BLP or the Tories with some envy.

Terrible news for the Tories… November 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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…another by-election win for UKIP.

Where can this end? One can only hope in worse poll numbers for the Tories up to and including the election.

I’d still wonder at UKIP’s ability to win more than a scatter of seats. For example:

Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, described the Ukip triumph as “very significant because it is six months out from a general election and in a pretty middle-of-the-road constituency.
“Twelve months ago, the consensus was that they couldn’t win a seat at Westminster. Now they have two. People have not understood the strength of the forces driving this insurgency, built up over decades among certain groups of voters who feel they have been cut adrift,” he said.

Perhaps, but by-elections are notoriously different to general elections, and individual seats are – in the FPTP system, famously difficult for third and fourth parties to break into and win in. But, for the Tories this is particularly troublesome being so close to an election.

By the way, what do people make of this story?

Senior Labour MP Emily Thornberry has resigned from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet after being accused of snobbery when she tweeted a picture of a house decked out in St George’s flags.

What’s interesting is how some Labour MPs appear almost hyper sensitive… strange political environment there.

Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, suggested it was “derogatory and dismissive of the people”. He told the Mail Online it was “like the Labour party has been hijacked by the north London liberal elite, and it’s comments like that which reinforce that view”.

And later she had to tweet… ‘ “People should fly the England flag with pride!” A Labour source said: “It is fair to say that he [Miliband] made his view very clear that people should fly the England flag with pride.”

And yet, the thought strikes me it might make for an educative exercise to examine attitudes south of the border in Britain to the SNP’s use of the Scottish flag during the recent referendum and what that use was meant to represent as regards Scottish voters.

A modest proposal on partition… well… not quite… November 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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It’s unusual to read Dennis Kennedy (former deputy editor of the IT and unionist), a man given to asperity filled texts on matters cross-border, considering what happens on this island should Britain leave the European Union in the near to mid-term future. He notes that in the GFA/BA:

[there] is only one mention of the EU (in the preamble, where EU membership is cited as one factor in the unique relationship between the UK and Ireland), but it is the framework of EU citizenship that validates its essential core: the idea that conflicting Irish and British identities can co-exist as equals within present-day Northern Ireland, pending some future resolution of the fundamental divide.
How would the promise in the agreement to “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”, and accordingly to confirm their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship, be honoured if the UK, including Northern Ireland, was outside the EU, while the Republic was inside?

And he notes that in the event of an exit:

Scotland would almost certainly demand, and get, a referendum to make its own decision on EU membership, and would most probably opt to stay in the EU, not the UK. That would leave Northern Ireland painfully isolated within a UK that would be even more dominated by the 90 per cent of the population living in England, who are manifestly becoming increasingly nationalistically British or, in reality, English.

Kennedy writes that:

Northern Ireland is too small and too divided to permit the Scottish alternative of independence within the EU, so what options does it have, apart from voting No in any poll on leaving the EU and campaigning in Britain against exit on the grounds of the threat it would pose to a fragile peace?

And what then?

…is it time to revisit Conor Cruise O’Brien’s last and most controversial intervention in Northern affairs? In the late 1990s he suggested that the interests of the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland were more threatened by the UK’s determination to do a deal with Sinn Féin/IRA than they would be by a negotiated deal with Dublin to unite Ireland under a federal-type arrangement that guaranteed all existing rights to all residents of the North. This community, he maintained, would be better able to defend its interests under such an agreement than it would as “despised hangers-on” and a tiny minority in the UK.

Let’s not forget that CCO’B in his one man unique reworking of Éire Nua managed to see the retention of the RUC as crucial to any future dispensation. Let us also not forget that he resigned (or was he forced to resign?) from the UKUP after delivering unto the nation this particular evidence of his genius.

But…

Would any significant section of traditional unionism even look at a federal proposal? The once great obstacle of “Rome Rule” has almost vanished, but other roadblocks remain, and the answer is almost certainly no.
But might unionists consider it if life within a very much changed UK was less agreeable to them, and particularly if they felt they were being edged closer and closer to a united Ireland, either by pressure from London or by demographic change in Northern Ireland?

That’s actually an interesting question. Is it plausible unionists might say ‘we agree to this, but not that…’. It wouldn’t be the first time given their acceptance of home rule in six counties.

So… what then would be the bill of fare?

Obviously a new constitution would be needed to accommodate the new Ireland, and some sort of devolved structure for what is now Northern Ireland.
Some things would have to go: the name of the state could no longer be Éire, nor could Irish be the “first national language”, nor the tricolour the national flag. (Though it’s not in the Constitution, a new national anthem would be needed, and we could throw in neutrality and the names of the railway stations as beyond their sell-by date.)

Anyhow, that last is a clue that Kennedy isn’t being entirely serious. He proceeds to quote Michael Sweetman writing forty years ago saying:

We [in the Republic] have got to go back to 1912 and relinquish a great deal of what has happened since in order that both parts of the country can make a new start.” He deplored “consistent attempts to impose a narrow concept of Irishness, involving the primacy of Gaelic culture, the rejection of British strands in Irish traditions, and a particular view of history which made a virtue of fighting against Britain and a vice of defending British rule”.
And he added: “It is not from that kind of Republicanism, with its glorification of violence in the past and its incitement to violence in the present, that the new Ireland will come.”

I wonder. But regardless, he takes Enda Kenny to task:

What a tragedy that a Fine Gael Taoiseach could still say last month that he was always proud to be a 1916 man and that he saw the Rising as the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland.

The funny thing is that it’s not quite as contentious statement as he seems to imagine. One could believe precisely that, with some shading, and not see it as necessarily a good thing in and of itself. One presumes that one J. Bruton feels something along those lines. As it happens I think Kenny, if he gives the matter any thought at all (and that 1916 video tends to indicate he probably doesn’t), probably does believe it was on balance a good thing, etc. Probably. Perhaps.

And:

At this point we can probably stop fantasising. The Rising was the “formative and defining act” of a partitioned Ireland, in which one part was in many ways Rome-ruled, socially conservative (to put it mildly) and at times dangerously ambivalent towards armed republicanism. This held no attractions whatever for the “divided brethren” in the North. Much has changed in many ways, and in the minds of many of the people, but the State, and its political leaders, cling to their founding fictions.

Interestingly though, he doesn’t addresss the other part of that partitioned Ireland, does he, or not really or what happened next? Indeed, if we are going back to 1912 as he seemingly suggests implicitly is a good thing then what of that motive force of advanced nationalism, the response of political unionism to Home Rule?

Anyhow, he does ask a reasonable question:

Waking up at this point would save us from wrestling with the question of where the £9 billion London transfers each year into Northern Ireland would come from. In 1998, Conor Cruise O’Brien blithely assumed that London would be so happy to be shot of Northern Ireland, and Dublin so pleased to welcome it, and the international community so delighted for us all, that they would all stump up. Fat chance of that now. All of which leaves Northern Ireland, as ever, in the quare place.

Though, on reflection, it’s not that difficult to see a not entirely grateful UK or rUK being willing to part subsidise matters for a limited period following some sort of agreement.

But let’s put aside much of that and consider what is most telling about this. That being that people on this island are beginning to wake up to the possibility – as yet still slim, that the future shape of Britain may be very different to what it is today. And more importantly, perhaps they are waking the thought that the pressures and dynamics within and on the UK are of a much greater order than was thought previously. That, in fact, the UK as we know it may well be gone in a relatively short space of time.

Perhaps what is most curious is that in Britain this realisation doesn’t seem to have hit home. There the Tories appear near oblivious to what UKIP and euroscepticism appear to have wrought already on the union while Labour hasn’t fashioned anything close to a narrative about this. And all the while the contradictions become ever clearer as regards the structure of the UK as it is (though that, of course, does not mean that it will not persist well into the future). There’s a subtle irony in that, is there not?

“Against the Grain” – history of the British far left November 5, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left.
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We’ve mentioned this previously a couple of times, Against the Grain: The British Far Left From 1956 edited by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley, but here on Socialist Unity there’s an excerpt from the Introduction.

More unintended consequence after the referendum on Scotland and independence October 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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…or perhaps not. A new poll suggests that in Scotland there may be significant losses for the Labour Party as the SNP increases support substantially. And the knock on effect is that that may dent Labour’s prospects come the next British General Election.

The dramatic poll for STV said the SNP could win up to 54 Scottish seats and said Labour’s popularity was its lowest level since 2007, only a month after Labour had spearheaded a victorious referendum campaign against independence.

The poll put the SNP at a record high of 52% in Westminster voting intentions and Labour at just 23%.

It’s not just the referendum, there’s also this:

In a mark of the damage caused by the bruising resignation of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont last week, when she accused Miliband of treating her party like “a branch office”, Miliband said his party had already been though a “tough week” and implied it would get worse.

Of course there’s a way to go to the next election, but…

With the Ipsos Mori poll for STV implying that the SNP would win 54 Westminster seats – a ninefold increase on the six seats it currently holds – losing scores of crucial Scottish Labour seats would be a potentially fatal blow to Miliband’s hopes of winning an overall majority at Westminster, since UK-wide polls suggest Labour and the Tories are neck and neck.

It’s difficult to blame the Scottish electorate. Some like to see the flow of support to the SNP as ‘nationalism’ incarnate, but I tend to see that as a shallow reading of the situation. When contextualised with the support for devo max options in polling the support of the SNP suggests that the dynamic both at the referendum is more one of disenchantment with both Labour and the Tories (the latter being all but wiped out in terms of representation at UK level in Scotland). Given that the SNP pushes a mildly progressive line (though with some pretty gaping flaws) it’s hardly surprising that many might prefer that over a Labour Party that appears transfixed with fear at the idea of articulating anything more than the mildest most anodyne centre (with the emphasis on centre) left ideas, and even then resiling from that. Add to that a sense that they are makeweights for a British Labour Party that is incapable of making headway under its own steam, and Scotland and the Scottish must suffer due to that incapacity, and it’s hardly surprising there’s a detachment from it. Indeed it’s also important to note the demographics of this. Prospect recently had some intriguing thoughts on why outright federalism is unfeasible in the UK, in large part because of the different weights of population in England, Scotland and Wales. Simply put England is too big, Scotland too small, and Wales too small again. So any simple federal arrangement simply results in English predominance. Given the actual distinctions between those areas (different legal and other systems) it’s hardly surprising that that would rankle.

UK Polling Report has an interesting take on this:

[polls] have been suggesting a strong showing for the SNP since the referendum. Today we have a proper, bespoke Scottish poll by Ipsos MORI and if anything it shows the SNP doing even better than the crossbreaks suggested. Topline voting intentions in Westminster with changes since the general election are CON 10%(-7), LAB 23%(-19), LDEM 6%(-13), SNP 52%(+32), GRN 6%(+5).

And…

This would, to say the least, be rather a radical turnaround from the last general election. I don’t think swingometers offer much guidance in the case of really extreme results (a uniform swing would be mathematically impossible on this results – for example, there are about 9 seats in Scotland where Labour got less than 19% in 2010, so couldn’t lose 19% this time round…. but for the record on a uniform swing these figures would result in the SNP winning all but two seats in Scotland.

Well, who can tell? The politics of this subsequent to that sort of an outcome are fascinating. As is the question as to who might be pleased with such outcomes…

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