Enoch at 100

Enoch at 100

This post originally appeared at Progress Online. Enoch at 100 is not really, as its subtitle claims, ‘a re-evaluation of the life, politics and philosophy of Enoch Powell’, more a rather belated Festschrift. It is an overwhelmingly friendly assessment of its subject. While Tom Bower in his chapter on immigration does not shy away from the necessary criticisms of ‘Rivers of Blood’, the section still argues that Powell had a point even if he ruined the respectability of the argument by the manner in which he put his case. Make no mistake, Enoch at 100 is a case for the defence. As with all edited collections, the contributions vary in quality. The dullest chapters are those that shoehorn Powell into political arguments that have mutated beyond recognition (Europe most notably) since Powell’s death, and attempt to work out what he might have had to say about current debates. The chapters that were securely rooted in their time, such as Andrew Alexander on defence and foreign affairs, were more convincing – although it is hard to reconcile the crudity of Simon Heffer’s argument on Powellite economics with the high quality of his Powell biography. Some of the personal reminiscences were engaging (the two arguably left-of-centre contributors, Frank Field and Anne Robinson, are in this category). Michael Forsyth’s elegant chapter on the constitution quotes Powell’s wonderfully cynical description of the true function of the House of Lords, for which it is almost worth the price of admission in itself. I wish that the book had contained a chapter about Powell’s relationship to party politics, and his attitude to the deployment of low cunning in the service of political goals. Powell was sometimes fastidious about the mucky business of politics, particularly when practised by Harold Macmillan: he called Macmillan’s address to Conservative members of parliament in 1957 that won him the prime ministership ‘devilry’, and was clearly genuinely offended at the political scheming that went on during the leadership contest of 1963. But then, a little later, he plotted with Harold Wilson, in the unsavoury surroundings of the gents’ toilets in the Aye division lobby, to maximise the damage to the Conservatives in the February 1974 general election. Powell rightly rejected the accusation that he was a traitor: ‘Judas was paid! I made a sacrifice’, but doing so makes one wonder whether he was identifying himself with another character in that drama. Powell’s victories were often merely the prelude to painful, slow defeats. By arguing the Tory case so forcefully in 1970, he helped provide Edward Heath with the means to take Britain into Europe. By the narrowness and exclusivity of the nationalism he espoused, and the inflammatory rhetoric he used, Powell...

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One week to go: by-election analysis

One week to go: by-election analysis

This post originally appeared on Progress Online. There are two parliamentary by-elections next Thursday. The vacancy in Clacton is caused by Douglas Carswell resigning from the Conservatives, joining the United Kingdom Independence party and now seeking ratification of his defection from the electorate. The Heywood and Middleton vacancy has arisen because of the death of Labour member of parliament Jim Dobbin. Clacton 2005 GE % 2010 GE % 2013 County % 2014 Euro % (Tendring total) Con 44.5 53.0 32 25 Lab 36.0 25.0 15 13 LD 13.5 12.9 4 2 UKIP 4.6 – 29 48   Clacton, the main town of the constituency, is a Victorian seaside resort, still popular with retirees from across London and Essex. Matthew Parris, famously, did not think much of it, but when I visited on a warm late summer day this year it was a pleasant enough place to stroll along the beach, and seemed less down at heel than when I went in 1992. The constituency also includes the little port town of Brightlingsea. Ukip scholars Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin rated Clacton the most fertile territory in the country for the anti-European Union party – it has a high proportion of older voters and people who have been ‘left behind’ by economic change, and few members of the worst groups for Ukip (ethnic minorities, young people and the well-off). Unlike other constituencies that come out high on the demographic analysis (such as Knowsley), Clacton has a history of Ukip activity at a local level. Way back in 1997 the predecessor seat, Harwich, had the best result in the country for the anti-EU Referendum party (9.2 per cent), which probably threw the seat to Labour (although active Labour member of parliament Ivan Henderson held on well in his own right in 2001). Local politics in the last 25 years have seen Liberal Democrats, Labour, Tories and local parties have boom and bust cycles. With the personal profile of Douglas Carswell – who can genuinely claim to have been repulsed and radicalised by seeing Westminster from the inside – Clacton should be an easy win for Ukip. There are probably enough loyal Tories to keep their party in second place, but the Labour vote seems to have continued falling since 2010. Douglas Carswell looks like being the anti-Europe mirror image of Dick Taverne, who was triumphantly re-elected member of parliament for Lincoln as an independent social democrat in 1973 after leaving the Labour party.   Heywood and Middleton 2005 GE % 2010 GE % 2012 Locals % 2014 Locals % Con 21.7 27.2 26.9 21.4 Lab 48.3 40.1 54.0 39.9 LD 20.2 22.7 13.6 9.8 UKIP 1.9 2.6 1.4 24.4 BNP 4.8...

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Your guide to interpreting tonight’s results. 

Your guide to interpreting tonight’s results. 

This post originally appeared on Progress Online. Nobody is venturing an exit poll for the Scottish referendum. We will have to find out the result the old-fashioned way. The reason for this requires some explanation. British pollsters have, over time, fine-tuned their skills in exit poll predictions in general elections. The painstakingly thorough (and expensive) poll in 2010 was extraordinarily accurate, and did a lot better than the assembled pundits at predicting the deflation of the Cleggmania bubble. But, methodologically, how to do it was relatively clear – take large samples in the marginal seats, enough to be able to make some general conclusions about the national swing, regional variation, the effect of incumbency, tactical voting and the Liberal Democrat vote, and then apply the results. Voting intention polling between elections has also become highly sophisticated: although different companies have different approaches they try to adjust the raw figures to get a representative sample, using findings like past voting behaviour and assessing the likelihood to turn out. The Scottish referendum, by contrast, is a one-off; there is no comparable last vote to base the sample upon, and the results of the Westminster election in 2010 and the Holyrood election in 2011 were so radically different that commentators have got confused about terms like ‘Labour voters’ (42 per cent in 2010, 26 per cent and 31 per cent in the two ballots in 2011). There is also no recent experience of an electoral event with an 80 per cent plus turnout. The best poll guidance one can offer is to look at the last polls of voting intention, and then assume that most of the remaining ‘don’t knows’ will end up voting ‘No’, but even this is speculation based on past patterns in referendums. The count will take place overnight, starting from close of poll at 10pm. Each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities will count the votes in its own area. The first stage is verification of all the ballot papers, which may take some time if there is the expected heavy poll. If there is a clear win for one side, rumours should start to seep out of the counts at this point. These things are never certain, but it is expected that some of the smaller authorities will declare first, although the big South Lanarkshire council often manages rapid general election counts, so may come ahead of the pack. We have no real way of knowing how referendum results will vary between local areas – the high turnout and the intensity of the campaign will no doubt shift some of the geography. The Welsh referendum of 1997 looked lost for devolution until Carmarthenshire came in, last, with a...

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Is it worth campaigning in the Summer?

Is it worth campaigning in the Summer?

This post originally appeared on Progress Online. The ‘dog days’ or ‘silly season’ are nearly upon us. The prime minister has had his reshuffle, restoring the sensible pattern of John Major’s premiership that new ministers should be given the summer to read themselves into the new job and know what they are talking about by the time full-scale politics resumes, and that the team presented at conference is the one that will be in office afterwards. The Commons broke up on 23 July, and the Lords did so yesterday. The political year ends with public opinion looking rather like it has done for months on end – Labour consistently but rather narrowly ahead of the Conservatives, Ukip doing very well and the Liberal Democrats embarrassingly badly. The government is modestly unpopular, and people think Labour’s heart is in the right place, but the Conservatives still have their strengths in key issue areas like leadership and the economy. What can we expect to happen to public opinion during the summer lull? The conventional wisdom is that governments tend to improve their opinion poll ratings during the summer. Warm weather and holidays are supposed to make people feel better about life in general, and the government’s performance benefits from a more indulgent and rosy perspective. More concretely and cynically, politics is often about mishaps and it is easier to look competent when there is nothing much going on and the usual scrutiny mechanisms are disarmed, with parliament in recess and much of the media class camped out in Tuscany along with the politicians. While plausible in theory, there is no decent evidence that governments actually do improve their fortunes during the summer. Your correspondent, with the invaluable assistance of Mark Pack’s spreadsheet of opinion poll results, has trawled through 50 years of voting intention polls to prove this point. The table shows the net swing to the main government party from the main opposition party over the summer, based on the differences between their mean voting intention measured in July and September (i.e. approximately covering the mid July to mid September lull). The mean pro-government swing between the average poll in July and the average poll in September is a measly 0.2 per cent, which given that polling figures are imprecise anyway effectively means that there is no summer effect whatsoever. Looking only at poll figures from the first 15 years of this series (1964-79) it looks as if there might once have been something in the theory, possibly, but the most recent years show small movements with no consistent pattern. Summers, as anyone of my generation will recall, were more idyllic back then, anyway. The apparent end of the pattern...

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Election 2014: The numbers

Election 2014: The numbers

Labour seats where Labour lost the popular vote in the 2014 local elections Party names in brackets in the 2010 columns indicate the main competitor party in 2010 where this is different from 2014. There were 9 Labour seats where the party did not come top in the popular vote in the 2014 local elections. In three of them the Conservatives were ahead, and in the other six UKIP ‘won’. The Conservative ‘gains’, though, were all in seats where the Tories had also won the local government elections in 2010. Even so, it suggests worryingly small pro-Labour swings in the seats concerned, and considerable vulnerability to UKIP. Labour target seats from Conservative   Labour target seats from Lib Dems   Notes The tables are of the party shares of the vote in Labour’s target parliamentary seats in the 2014 local elections. Target seats where there were no local government elections (e.g. Loughborough) are omitted. Target seats where only a minority of the seat had local elections (e.g. Norwich North) are also omitted. Exact figures should not be taken too seriously. There are several things that can make them misleading: People may vote differently in local and general elections. There are some places where this is a regular pattern – for instance, the Conservatives seem to do better in local elections in Birmingham and Wirral, but worse in Stevenage, than in general elections, and the Liberal Democrats often gain more local votes than seats in some areas (Bristol, Watford). There may be year-to-year variations caused by local issues. These are observations, not predictions – things will change before May 2015. This is a snapshot, albeit a fairly detailed one. Candidates may differ – not all parties put up full slates of candidates everywhere, and this will affect the shares of the vote. Liberal Democrat shares of 0 per cent in Lab/Con marginals mean that no Lib Dems stood for the council, and are definitely not a prediction that they will get zero votes in a parliamentary election. No adjustment is made for missing local candidates, even from the major parties. Turnout is considerably lower than in general elections. To some extent, ‘swing 2010-14’ (second column from the right) helps adjust for differences between local and national voting; the swing is taken from the 2010 local elections, not the general election, and may be a better approximation of changes in opinion since 2010. The swing figure is omitted in cases of boundary changes since 2010 (Swindon, Milton Keynes) and where it is meaningless. Where a projection is based on partial elections in the wards of the constituency, the figures are given in brackets () and may not give an accurate idea...

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