Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Saxony-Anhalt election of 2021: Reiner rebuffs populist right radicals

 The 2021 election in the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt, which took place three days ago, showed a surprising turnaround for the CDU, whose popularity has been waning ever since Angela Merkel decided to retire as German chancellor effective from this year. 

However, the Premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, managed to strengthen his position and gain 10 seats for the CDU, all 40 of their total coming from Wahlkreis (single member constituencies). In fact the CDU won every single Walhkreis in Saxony-Anhalt except Zeizt in the south-east, which was won by the radical populist right AfD, although in polling 37.1% of the vote they were not entitled to list seats on top of those 40 constituency seats. Many of these seats were won on less than one third of the vote, particularly in the cities of Halle and Magdeburg, highlighting the importance of ensuring that there are enough list seats in an MMP system to balance out the constituency seats (this is not true in the Senedd's case, for example, as there are twice as many constituency MSs as list MSs).

In addition to losing all but one of the Walhkreise it had held in 2016, AfD ended up down 2 seats on their 2016 total, leaving them with 23 but still runner-up to the CDU. Given the general decline of the AfD since Brexit happened (this has impacted other Eurosceptic parties in Europe to a significant extent), not to mention the cordon sanitaire that other major parties apply to them at both state and national level, it is rather surprising that they have maintained their runner-up position in Saxony-Anhalt. 

Meanwhile, Die Linke continued its decline in Saxony-Anhalt, losing 1/4 of its 2016 seat total and only coming second in one Wahlkreis: Halberstadt, home to world's slowest concert. Like in much of Europe, Die Linke's decline is primarily to demographic change as older voters with stronger memories of communist rule and "Ostalgia" die and the proportion of younger voters with no memory of East Germany increases, in addition to a slow but steady industrial decline combined with a rise in the tech economy. The SPD also expectedly declined in Saxony-Anhalt, falling below 10% for the first time and only winning 9 seats; furthermore only two Wahlkreis provided an SPD vote above 20%: Weissenfels and Wermigerode, both of which are dominated by light manufacturing.

The Greens did not perform nearly as well as expected, although they did win an extra two seats. This was partly due to the recovery of the free-market liberal FDP, which not only crossed the 5% threshold with 6.4% (having missed it by only 0.14% in 2016) giving them re-entry with 7 seats, but also overtook the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt by 5,157. Both parties are weak in the Land outside the state capital of Magdeburg and the city of Halle, birthplace of George Handel, although interestingly the salt-making town of Stassfurt provided the FDP's best results. Another reason is that they are part of the governing coalition in Saxony-Anhalt and the SPD are not, meaning they were not able to win over lapsed SPD voters as easily as they are doing in current Bundestag polls in the run up to this year's Bundestag election in September. The Greens missed out on winning the Wahlkreis of Halle III (Halle North East, essentially) by just 608 votes, and also finished second in Magdeburg II ("Magdeburg East") with 15.9%; conversely there were many Wahlkreis where they did not even poll 5% and their vote was clearly squeezed by the FDP in Stassfurt, for the Wahlkreis with the best FDP result had the worst Green result (1.6%). 

The biggest disappointment of this Landtag election undoubtedly came for the Freie Wahlen (Free Voters) who failed to win any seats despite excellent performances in rural areas. They only polled 3.13% on the list vote, not nearly enough for list seats, but in constituency seat terms they only missed out on winning the northeastern Landtag constituency of Havelburg-Osterburg by 354 votes. This was the only standout result for the Freie Wahler, however, who generally only polled 5-6% in most Wahlkreise and even in Zeitz, the only Wahlkreis won by a non-CDU candidate, the Freie Wahler managed only 11.1%. A new party, dieBasis, failed to make any real impact although its vote share of 1.47% is the best from a new party in a German Landtag election in more than 10 years, and it was able to beat the Human Environment Animal Protection Party (Tierschutzpartei), Germany's largest animal rights party.

Of note amongst the parties who polled less than 1%-and there were, in this election, 14 of them-are the slight rise of the Garden Party (a rural interests party), the splinter of the Animal Protection Alliance into two groups (their splinter, Animal Protection Here!, polled slightly better in fact) managing to poll 1.05% between them, the stalling of the satirical Die PARTEI whose vote share only increased by 0.2% and who lost votes in the few areas remotely favourable to it, and the collapse of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) and the AfD splinter group Liberal Conservative Reformers (LKR). For all its irrelevance, the Pirate Party managed to beat both of the latter two parties, as well as two minor ecological parties: the long-running Ecological Democratic Party (ODP) and the Climate List Saxony-Anhalt, which barely registered, unlike similar groups in Mecklenberg-Vorpommern and Baden-Wurttenberg where they took a fair few Green votes, which in Saxony-Anhalt (and most of the former East Germany for that matter) are nowhere near as plentiful as they are in Baden-Wurttenberg or Berlin. LKR, who only existed due to ructions in the AfD and with no other raison d'etre, won the wooden spoon award of this Landtag election, polling a miserable 473 votes on the list vote. As for the few Independents, only Thomas Jaeger in Naumburg polled remotely well (he polled 4.6%, beating both the Greens and Die PARTEI in that Wahlkreis).

This election had relatively little real change, and the turnout figure proved to be no exception-it dropped but only by 0.78 percentage points. The current coalition of CDU, SPD and Greens is set to continue, despite speculation of a CDU, FDP and Greens coalition which whilst mathematically possible would be of no particular benefit to Herr Haseloff over the current coalition that he leads in Saxony-Anhalt.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Why Dominic Cummings' revelations are not affecting opinion polls much

The recent revelations of Boris Johnson's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, about management of the pandemic inter alia, made headlines across the British media for days. By all rights, especially with two crucial parliamentary by-elections going on in Batley & Spen and Chesham & Amersham (with a Delyn by-election likely as well), this should be causing a serious leakage of Conservative voters to other parties and/or the possibility for greater abstention amongst Conservative voters. Is it?

Let us look at polls that were taken shortly after Super Thursday:

  • YouGov (11-12 May): Conservative 45%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrats 7%, SNP 5%, Green 8%, Reform UK 2%, Plaid Cymru 1%, Others 2%.
  • Redfield & Wilton Strategies (10 May): Conservative 45%, Labour 34%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 4%, Green 5%, Reform UK 2%, Plaid Cymru 1%, Others 1%.
  • Opininum (13-14 May): Conservative 44%, Labour 31%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 5%, Green 7%, Reform UK 3%, Plaid Cymru 1%, Others 2%.
And similar polls taken at the end of last month:

  • YouGov (27-28 May) Conservative 43%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 5%, Green 8%, Reform UK 3%, Plaid Cymru 1%., Others 2%.
  • Redfield & Wilton Strategies (31 May): Conservative 45%, Labour 34%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 4%, Green 5%, Reform UK 3%, Plaid Cymru 1%, Others 1%.
  • Opinium (27-28 May): Conservative 42%, Labour 36%, Liberal Democrats 6%, SNP 5%, Green 5%, Reform UK 1%, Plaid Cymru 1%, Others 3%.
(NB: Due to rounding, polls do not necessarily add to 100%).

Only the Opinium poll shows any significant difference, mainly due to increased signs of tactical voting. The other polls show that the revelations of Mr Cummings about Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock et al., have had no significant effect. But why?

1. Dominic Cummings has lost any real credibility. Last year he was infamously spotted breaching coronavirus regulations to travel to Barnard Castle for an eyesight test, and since losing his position as chief adviser to Boris Johnson it has been downhill for him from then on. The political divisions that currently exist in British society mean that current Conservative supporters are not, generally speaking, swayed by Mr Cummings' coverage in the media, and due to the circumstances that created the current "coalition" of Conservative voters, impact would be limited anyway barring a major split (see also Fidesz in Hungary) or a "United Progressive Alliance" against the Conservatives (very unlikely to happen, especially with previous alliances of this type having failed).

2. The increasing realignment and polarisation of British politics limits the impact of one-off events/disasters for a particular political party. Even a repeat of 1992's "Black Wednesday"-which prompted the eventual downfall of the Conservatives culminating in Tony Blair's landslide victory for Labour in 1997-would not do as much damage to the Conservatives as the actual Black Wednesday did, especially with Conservative support being even more skewed towards the elderly and outright owner-occupiers than in the 1990s. Also, with Europe no longer an issue amongst the Conservatives with Britain having left the EU, divisions would most likely be primarily around personalities and as has been seen before in British politics, it would not last long.

3. Too little time has elapsed between those polls. It takes months, and often a year or two, for trends caused by particular key events to become apparent in politics; three weeks is not nearly enough.

Friday, 14 May 2021

On the Airdrie & Shotts by-election

Given how much of a rest we have needed since the long local elections weekend finished, you probably missed the fact that there was a by-election in Airdrie & Shotts. The results of that by-election were as follows:

Stephen Arrundale, Liberal Democrats, 220 (1.0%, -2.6%)

Ben Callaghan, Conservative, 2,812 (12.9%, -4.7%)

Martin Green, Reform UK, 45 (0.2%)

Donald Mackay, UKIP, 39 (0.2%)

Neil Manson, SDP, 151 (0.7%)

Anum Qaisar-Javed, SNP, 10, 129 (46.4%, +1.4%)

Jonathan Stanley, Scottish Unionist Party, 59 (0.3%)

Kenneth Stevenson, Labour, 8,372 (38.4%, +6.5%)

SNP hold.

This will go down in history as the first by-election involving the SNP defending one of their seats, and it only happened due to SNP rules prohibiting MSPs serving simultaneously as MPs, even though this type of double-jobbing is still legal under United Kingdom law. Given its timing coverage was unsurprisingly low, but it does show that tactical voting for a unionist party to oust the SNP can only stretch so far, and although it secured a 2.5% swing to Labour, with the Liberal Democrats being squeezed to just 69 votes ahead of the SDP, it was not nearly enough for Kenneth Stevenson to defeat Anum Qaisar-Javed, who becomes only the second Muslim woman to be elected to a Scottish seat in Westminster after Tasmina Akhmed-Sheikh (SNP MP for Ochil & South Perthshire from 2015-17 and now a member of Alba).

Unlike in Northern Ireland, the nationalist vote in Scotland is almost entirely united around the SNP (the Scottish Greens also support Scottish independence and self-determination but are of course more focused on green politics and environmentalism) and the unionist vote in Scotland is very divided between mainstream parties who because of significant social and economic policy differences cannot stand aside for each other to form unionist pacts against the SNP the way the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists can in Northern Ireland against Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Although this by-election was on paper an opportunity for Labour to make a comeback in Scotland at Westminster level with only a 6.5% swing to Labour needed to gain the seat from the SNP, election fatigue meant that Labour voters in particular lost interest, especially after having failed to make any headway against the SNP in last week's Scottish Parliament election, which above all else accounts for turnout plummeting to 34.3% even though like with Hartlepool the seat was not safe by any means. In 2017, Airdrie & Shotts was a near-miss for Labour who only lost to the SNP by 195 votes that year and the swing against Labour in Airdrie & Shotts in 2019 was below average.

All in all, a by-election that if it had been held last week or been delayed to June could have been interesting, but was not.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Super Thursday 2021 part 6: Overall reflections

 Like the 2019 general election, this set of local elections affirms a political realignment in British politics, where the ex-industrial and ex-mining north and Midlands are becoming more safely Conservative, with the south east conversely moving towards the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • Net Conservative gains in the north (North East, North West, and Yorkshire & The Humber): 107
  • Net Conservative gains in the Midlands (East and West Midlands): 114.
  • Net Conservative gains in the south (East of England, South East, and South West): 14 (although most county councils in the south actually saw net losses for the Conservatives, most notably East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex, as well as 10 notional losses in Buckinghamshire).
The majority of these were from Labour but they made notable gains from the Liberal Democrats in some councils; the Lib Dems lost all representation in Walsall and their 4 net losses in Maidstone & The Weald proved decisive to the Conservatives' gain of that council from no overall control. 

The pattern of Green gains across England also bears noting:
  • Net Green gains in the north: 24.
  • Net Green gains in the Midlands:10.
  • Net Green gains in the south: 54.
And these gains were spread relatively evenly between from the Conservatives and from Labour, depending on whether they happened in urban areas or rural areas.

(NB: By-elections that took place in councils with no election this year have not been factored into the totals above).

Although Sir Keir Starmer's lacklustre leadership has been blamed for Labour losses, with a vaccine bounce responsible for surprise Conservative gains, the reality is that even a repeat of the 2019 scenario would still have seen some net Conservative gains in the north and Midlands, due to demographic change. The fading away of traditional industries has seen an exodus of younger people to major cities where employment opportunities are better, combined with people increasingly wanting to retire outside the city if they cannot do so abroad, excessive house prices pushing those on middle incomes out of most of the south with more sensible house prices in the Midlands attracting substantial increases in home ownership, and greater ethnic diversity stretching into the suburbs, has produced political changes that no party leader will be able to reverse even in normally favourable circumstances. It will be a long time before the Conservatives regain control of Oxfordshire, and they will probably never again control Trafford. Labour will likewise not be regaining control of Cannock Chase or North East Lincolnshire anytime soon.

The south east's shift towards Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, combined with a similar shift in much of the south west, is reminiscent of the north east of the United States of America, as well as the southern state of Virginia which borders on the US capital of Washington DC, moving firmly into the Democratic camp having once been a Republican bedrock in the days when the "Boston Brahmins" were key influencers in the Republican Party, and the coalmining state of West Virginia now one of the most safely Republican areas having been a Democrat stronghold in the 1960s. In this context the Conservatives were lucky not to lose control of East Sussex and Gloucestershire county councils, and Labour losing control of Sandwell and Sunderland is not that far away.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile, are being pushed further back into their affluent enclaves into the south, including Cheltenham, Three Rivers, and Winchester, and Labour are being pushed further back into the cities, university towns, better educated metropolitan boroughs, and the south coast thanks to Brightonians who can no longer afford to live in Brighton & Hove moving across to Worthing, Shoreham-by-Sea, Peacehaven etc. In the shire counties outside those areas, only the Green Party, and a few Independents, made any headway against the Conservatives, although their announced plans to overhaul development and planning laws, which could see local councils unable to block planning applications in designated growth zones, have undoubtedly been responsible for many Conservative losses in the south.

It must be mentioned that above all else, shifting cultural values have been responsible for this realignment, hence why so many Conservative gains were made in council areas with ageing populations with high levels of home ownership, especially where right to buy had its most significant effects in the 1990s and 2000s, with the few Labour and Liberal Democrat gains being where the young and well-educated are increasingly dominant. The road to Downing Street will no longer run through Corby in future, but rather through Milton Keynes, Calderdale and Kirklees where the majority of wards continue to remain marginal. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Super Thursday 2021, part 5: Mayors and Police & Crime Commissioners

The Mayoral contests outside London produced more interesting results than expected, even where the overall outcome was not in doubt at any time.

The most spectacular result was Ben Houchen, Conservative Metro Mayor for Teesside, achieving 72.8% against his sole opponent, Labour candidate Jessie Joe Jacobs (who polled 27.2% and failed to top the poll in a single Teesside authority); even in Middlesbrough, one of the poorest towns in Britain, he polled 68.6%, a testament to his high personal popularity as Teesside mayor, as did the dramatic turnout increase from 21,2% to 34%; demographic changes to the Conservatives' benefit have not yet touched Middlesbrough to the extent they have touched Hartlepool and Redcar. Promises to create freeport status for Hartlepool undoubtedly enthused aspirational working-class voters across Teesside to turn out for Mr Houchen. Similar changes happening in the four Black Country boroughs-Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, and Wolverhampton-proved very helpful to Andy Street's re-election as West Midlands Metro Mayor, although in fact it was wealthy suburban Solihull gave Mr Street his best result in that election; in that borough he had a majority of 52.2% over Labour's Liam Byrne, currently MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill. In spite of the high competition Solihull councillor Steve Caudwell saved his deposit for the Greens with 5.9%, and in addition to Solihull he also achieved excellent results in Coventry, even though the latter city has never elected a single Green Party councillor; there are currently 15 Green councillors in Solihull. As with London, the rising need to tackle pollution and transport problems boosted the Green vote significantly. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats' candidate Jenny Wilkinson lost her deposit despite her local renown and did not poll 5% or more in any borough in the West Midlands Metro Mayor, another sign that liberal-minded voters are increasingly turning to the Green Party. By contrast, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham easily won the Metro Mayor elections in Greater Manchester and Liverpool respectively, with Mr Burnham topping the poll in every single ward of Greater Manchester, even those located in the constituencies of Cheadle, Hazel Grove, and Altrincham & Sale West. The North West's harsh experience of lockdown, as well as a plan for the Conservatives to run Liverpool via commissioners following the events after the arrest of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, significantly tarnished the Conservatives there. The inaugural election for West Yorkshire Mayor, meanwhile, was marked by a particularly strong desire for devolution, as represented by the Yorkshire Party's Bob Buxton coming third with 9.7%, ahead of the Greens' Andrew Cooper who polled 9.2%, even though across West Yorkshire there are 10 Green councillors and no Yorkshire Party councillors. This undoubtedly cut into the Conservative vote, as the Yorkshire Party have been achieving their better results in towns and villages in Yorkshire that are trending away from Labour in the long-term; the Conservatives could not consolidate on their new-found strength in the borough of Wakefield, nor in the suburbs of Leeds and Bradford which were not part of those cities until 1974. The result does mean that there will be a by-election in the Batley & Spen constituency of Tracy Brabin (the first Mayor of West Yorkshire) that has just been vacated, and like Hartlepool that would have been gained by the Conservatives in 2019 had the Conservative vote not been substantially split (by the Heavy Woollen District Independents in Batley & Spen's case); it is almost as vulnerable to a Conservative gain as Hartlepool is.

South of the Wash, however, the Conservatives managed to lose both the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Mayoral election, previously regarded as safe due to long standing Conservative support in Huntingdonshire and Fenland in particular, and the West of England Mayoral election, where the Green surge in Bristol proved decisive. The incumbent in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, James Palmer, had run into difficulties dealing with the administration of CAPCA and other projects in Cambridgeshire, although demographic change in South Cambridgeshire due to an influx of science professionals also turned the tide against him-South Cambridgeshire, currently under Lib Dem control, was the only authority other than Cambridge to vote for Labour's Nik Johnson in round 2 but it was enough for Nik Johnson to win. The transfers from the Lib Dems' Aidan van de Weyer, who topped the poll in South Cambridgeshire, were even more decisive in Cambridge where he came second in that mayoral race. In the West of England, Dan Norris' promise to support a "Green Recovery Fund" undoubtedly gained him considerable second preferences from Green voters, and not just in Bristol either where former councillor Jerome Ungoed-Thomas came only 8.5% behind Mr Norris, who served as Labour MP for Wandsyke (the predecessor to North East Somerset, notoriously represented by Jacob Rees-Mogg) from 1997 to 2010. In the second round Mr Norris' win over Samuel Williams (Tim Bowles did not stand for re-election, saying he was retiring to pursue other interests) was decisive enough that the inclusion of North Somerset in the West of England Mayoral region (which was vetoed by Bristol earlier this year) which would likely have delivered a closer result than expected, would not have changed the outcome of that election. It is also clear that the considerable vote of John Savage, the Independent candidate who stood in 2017 but did not stand this year, proved helpful to Mr Norris' victory and Mr Ungoed-Thomas' excellent result; there was little change in the Conservative vote. 

As for the non-metro mayor mayoral elections, the furore around the resignation of Joe Anderson following his arrest on suspicion of bribery and witness and intimidation, combined with Labour's decision to re-open the selection process after the first round and bar the original three shortlisted candidates from standing (no explanation was given initially, but it is now believed that this was done to stop Anna Rothery, endorsed by Corbynite Labour MPs, from becoming Mayor of Liverpool and to replace her with a candidate favoured by Sir Keir Starmer and co), led to Labour suffering their worst ever result in a Liverpudlian election for decades. Joanne Anderson polled just 38.15% in the first round, giving hope that the founder of KIND, Stephen Yip, might claim a surprise victory. However, with a lot of second round transfers being lost, Ms Anderson managed a decisive hold in the end. Meanwhile the Conservatives lost their deposit for the third time in a row. In Bristol, the Greens managed an excellent second place, the first time the Green Party made it into the second round of a mayoral election in the UK, coming only 14,179 votes behind Labour incumbent Marvin Rees. Even though a lot of votes from George Ferguson, who did not try to reclaim the mayoralty, transferred over to the Greens (and to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives), it was not enough for the Greens to defeat Labour, even as they levelled with them in terms of council seats in Bristol and even though Labour's unwillingness to support climate initiatives in Bristol was known. In Doncaster, the Conservatives hoped to capitalise on demographic change in Doncaster becoming more favourable to them, but in the end Ros Jones of Labour was easily re-elected even though transfers from ex-English Democrat Frank Calladine (standing as an Independent) and the Yorkshire Party would not have been that favourable to her. North Tyneside showed the lowest swing of these elections, and Norma Redfearn's easy hold for Labour in round one shows that Newcastle and North Tyneside, who have the most progressive politics in the North East, have no time for Boris Johnson's rhetoric. In Salford, Labour won in the first round for the first time, even though the absence of a UKIP candidate was expected to be more helpful to the Conservatives, but this proved not to be the case. The Greens saved their deposit in all five of those mayoral elections for the very first time, further cementing their rise in British politics. 

The Police & Crime Commissioners showed a substantial consolidation of the two-party vote on important posts as the Mayoral elections did for the most part. Not a single independent candidate won a PCC election, and the only independent PCC to stand for re-election, Martin Surl, came third behind the Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire. Dan Hardy, endorsed by retiring independent PCC Martyn Underhill in Dorset, was in fact the only independent to even make the second round, with Kevin Hurley spectacularly failing to regain his post in Surrey and Sue Mountstevens' deputy, John Smith, finishing fifth as an independent in Avon & Somerset; furthermore David Munro, who stood as an Independent after being deselected by the Conservatives, finished last in Surrey with 12.1%. The Conservatives swept most of these elections, losing not one of the PCC posts they had won in 2016 and gaining six from Labour, namely Cheshire, Cleveland, Derbyshire, Humberside, Lancashire, and Nottinghamshire, with the West Yorkshire post being absorbed into the Metro Mayor's office there as was the case with Greater Manchester's. Labour only gained a single PCC post, that from Plaid Cymru in North Wales, primarily because Plaid Cymru narrowly came third excluding them from the second round. Had Ann Griffith outpolled Labour she would have won on transfers, even with voters in Clwyd not naturally favourable towards Plaid Cymru as they are in Gwynedd. Of the 8 PCC posts Labour hold, three are in Wales (North Wales, South Wales, and Gwent) although ironically they held the PCC posts of Northumbria and Durham despite their setbacks in both Northumberland and Durham in the local elections. The Greens, meanwhile, greatly improved on their 2016 results in the PCC elections, with former Lord Mayor of Bristol Cleo Lake polling 16.4% in Bristol, where the most significant Black Lives Matter protest in Britain last year happened, culminating in the toppling of Edward Colston's statue. Furthermore all the Green candidates for PCC saved their deposits, whereas the Liberal Democrats lost six deposits, including three out of four in the four PCC elections in Wales, at the same time as making it into the second round of a PCC election for the first time, namely in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and Wiltshire, although the last of these has been declared void due to Jonathon Seed, the victorious Conservative candidate, being ineligible for the post over a historic drink-driving conviction (anyone who has ever been convicted of an imprisonable criminal offence cannot become a Police & Crime Commissioner, even if the conviction is spent and even if the conviction happened in childhood). The PCC elections incidentally featured the only saved deposit (out of elections requiring deposits to be paid) for Reform UK, in West Mercia where Peter Jewell polled 5.06%.

Dafydd Llewelyn's re-election as Plaid Cymru PCC for Dyfed-Powys (the majority of the Mid & West Wales Senedd region) now makes him the only PCC not from the Conservatives and Labour, and in a worrying development the Conservatives have announced plans to pass legislation that would change the supplementary vote system for all Mayoral and PCC elections to first past the post, even though this would have changed the overall outcome of just one such PCC election that happened this year (that of North Wales) and even though voters are not particularly dissatisfied with the system. Turnout significantly improved compared to 2016 but it is clear that many voters see the post as a waste of taxpayers' money, and the strict requirements and £5000 deposit rule out a lot of credible candidates, hence turnout remaining well below that of local elections in the area. In fact turnout was overall lowest where no local elections were taking place simultaneously (e.g. Bedfordshire, Dorset).

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Super Thursday 2021 part 4: The London Assembly and Mayor of London race

With a record 20 candidates, the race for Mayor of London was bound to produce some interesting results. It did but not for the reasons one expected: Shaun Bailey, who before was widely regarded as having run one of the worst Conservative campaigns in London and was seen as out of touch with ordinary Londoners, managed to trail incumbent London Mayor Sadiq Khan by only 108,670 votes (amounting to 4.7%) in the first round, although as expected Mr Khan easily won in the second round. In the same way that the north and the Midlands are trending towards the Conservatives, London is trending towards Labour although this is slowing down.

Mr Bailey managed to retain most of the Conservative votes Zac Goldsmith did primarily because the Conservatives are connecting rather well with Hindu and Sikh communities in London, which accounts for Mr Bailey being able to carry both Brent & Harrow and Ealing & Hillingdon in the first round of the Mayor of London contest, and follows on from the above average pro-Conservative swings seen in Harrow East and Brent North in the 2019 general election, contrary to London overall swinging to Labour or only slightly to the Conservatives that year due to Liberal Democrat surges. Mr Khan's transport policy, meanwhile, especially with regard to proposed airport expansion, also drove some Labour voters to the Greens and their mayoral candidate, Sian Berry. Inner-city voters nevertheless remained more impressed with him than with Mr Bailey. 

As with 2016, Sian was the only candidate from a party other than Labour or Conservative to save her £10,000 deposit, doing so handily with 7.8% of the vote although this represents a surprisingly low increase of 2%, given the fact that the Greens made a net gain of 88 council seats across England and at the same time elected a third AM, Zack Polanski, to join Sian and Caroline Russell. The inquiry that concluded that air pollution levels were definitively to blame for the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, daughter of Green Party Assembly list candidate Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, also helped boost the Green vote as did the noticeable impact of pollution levels returning post-lockdown. The Liberal Democrats once again lost their deposit, partly because their initial candidate, Siobhan Benita, pulled out last year, to be replaced by former MEP Luisa Porritt, and the Brexit backlash effect did not materialise to the extent they hoped it would, and in any case with the Brexit transition period over that effect is now largely insignificant. Another reason was because of Rejoin EU acting as a spoiler for the Liberal Democrats, who are also firmly committed to Britain rejoining the EU sometime; their candidate Richard Hewison polled 1.1%, nearly double the percentage Ms Porritt lost her deposit by.

This Mayoral election also proved that Internet ramping does not necessarily win votes: YouTuber Niko Omilana, who last month polled at the 5% deposit retention threshold, in the end only polled 2%, primarily because he was mainly using the election to promote his content and had no stand-out policies, nor any ground campaign. This was however slightly ahead of actor Laurence Fox, who was endorsed by Reform UK and campaigned against "extreme political correctness"; he only polled 1.9%, which also proves how badly the small "right libertarian" vote was split in London although it was more than double the votes of UKIP and Heritage put together.

Joke candidate Count Binface, whose manifesto promises included renaming London Bridge Phoebe Waller Bridge and banning loud speakerphones, managed 1%, one of the best votes for a satirical political candidate, beating seven candidates including Jeremy Corbyn's brother Piers, who stood on an anti-lockdown platform. Brian Rose also did the same, to both their cost: the combined "anti-lockdown" vote would have at least clinched fifth place ahead of Mr Omilana (Mr Omilana polled 49,628 votes; the total of Mr Rose and Piers Corbyn's votes was 51,715). Lockdown hit London particularly hard due to so many non-essential businesses, as well as tourist attractions and entertainment venues, being closed for months, which is primarily why Messrs Rose and Corbyn managed to poll over 50,000 votes between them. Unsurprisingly, the wooden spoon went to Valerie Brown of the Burning Pink Party, formed by XR activists; the only notable coverage she received during the campaign was when she and her campaign manager were arrested for criminal damage to HSBC's London headquarters. The 5,305 votes she received were nevertheless slightly more than Ankit Love of One Love managed in 2016 (he is still the only candidate for Mayor of London to poll fewer than 5000 votes, with 4,941).

The London Assembly was once again reduced to 4 parties, with UKIP being decisively ejected and the Liberal Democrats picking up an extra list seat, although they increased their vote share by just 1% compared to the Greens' increase of 2.8%. There was only a 1.9% swing in list votes from Labour to the Conservatives but it proved to be enough for Labour's Murad Qureshi to lose his list seat, with the Conservatives' Emma Best gaining the last list seat. In only two single member constituencies, South West and Croydon & Sutton, did the Greens finish behind the Liberal Democrats, and for the first time ever the Greens finished second in a single member London Assembly constituency (two in fact: North East and Lambeth & Southwark), further confirmation that the Greens are displacing the Liberal Democrats even in London, with the exception of wealthy and well-educated southwestern suburbs stretching from Hampton Court Palace to the Sutton part of St Helier to Wimbledon. Expected Conservative gains of Barnet & Camden and Brent & Harrow from Labour on the back of popular incumbents retiring and favourable demographics did not materialise, nor did a Labour gain of the richest London Assembly constituency, West Central, from the Conservatives. In fact the largest pro-Conservative swing in a single member London constituency was in the supposedly marginal Havering & Redbridge, even though psephologically Havering and Redbridge are moving in opposite directions, with Redbridge becoming more solidly Labour and Havering becoming more solidly Conservative.

As for other parties contesting the London Assembly, the Women's Equality Party lost much of the momentum it gathered in 2016, although it still came fifth despite not fielding Sophie Walker as its lead list candidate this year. Their result also showed that gender politics has been given rather excessive coverage in the media and that in reality the majority of voters do not care for it either way. Amidst the Green surge the Animal Welfare Party did surprisingly well with 1.7% but this made no significant difference; even if all the AWP voters voted Green the Greens would not have won a 4th list seat. Reform UK's efforts failed spectacularly, as they finished behind UKIP who they sought to replace, and once again the divided anti-lockdown vote gave embarrassing results for the London Real and Let London Live Parties, whose combined vote total easily beat that of UKIP's and Reform UK's. The wooden spoon went to the alt-right National Liberal Party, whose 2,860 votes is the lowest ever vote total for any list in the history of the London Assembly.

In contrast to the rest of Britain, turnout for the London Assembly and Mayor of London elections actually decreased compared to 2016, with turnout dipping to 42.7% and 42.2% respectively despite a record number of candidates and party list, partly because many Londoners were still concerned about catching COVID-19; vaccination rates in Greater London are below average at present.