Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Parachuting Boris?

One of the odd ideas floating around, as demonstrated in this Daily Telegraph article.

The idea is that if Prime Minister David Cameron fails to win the May 2015 general election, then Conservative MPs oust him and Mayor of London Boris Johnson is parachuted in to a safe Conservative seat and then wins and becomes Conservative leader.

So, what is wrong with it? Like all careful plotting, it relies on a cast of tens of thousands knowing their role- constituents and Conservative party members alike.

Firstly, what does it mean to lose a general election? Or to fail to win?

Once upon a time, a single party would win over half the seats in the House of Commons and - incredible as this sounds - Governments would be made up of politicians from just one party. It was immediately obvious who had won and who had lost.

But now? Did Cameron lost the May 2010 general election? He did form a Government comprised of his own Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. But what if Labour had won just a few more seats and the Conservatives were the largest party and a Labour/Liberal Democrat government had been formed? Would Cameron have lost?

There was a narrative that was common among the Conservatives in the wilderness years. And it can be summed up as:

Margaret Thatcher led us to landslide victories in June 1983 and June 1987. Then MPs knifed her in the back and John Major became Prime Minister and simply threw away a massive majority and led us to a huge defeat in May 1997.

The problem with that narrative is that there was an election between 1987 and 1997- that of April 1992. And look at the result of that:

  • Conservatives - 41.93% (down 0.37%)
  • Labour - 34.39% (up 3.56%)
  • Liberal Democrats* - 17.93% (dowm 4.64%^)
  • * In August 1987 the Liberals and Social Democrats voted to merge, and the Liberal Democrats were formed in March 1988. 3 Social Democrat MPs - Rosie Barnes (Greenwich), John Cartwright (Woolwich) and David Owen (Plymouth Devonport) - chose not to join the Liberal Democrats. Owen retired at the 1992 election, while Barnes and Cartwright sought re-election, and neither faced a Liberal Democrat challenger. I have included them in the Liberal Democrat total

    ^ Compared to the combined Liberal and Social Democrat vote in 1987

    A common explanation is that the Conservative vote held up fairly well, but Liberal and Social Democrat voters switching to Labour pushed plenty of Conservative seats into the Labour column.

    Now consider if the changes in share of the vote were matched at the 2015 election, and we get Labour on 292, Conservatives on 290*, and the Liberal Democrats on 40.

    [* The calculator gives 291 Conservative MPs, but this includes John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Buckingham]

    When you remove the Deputy Speakers (2 Labour, 1 Conservative), you have the two main parties tie-ing on 290 MPs. A Conservative/Liberal Demcrat or a Labour/Liberal Democrat government are both possible.

    So, the Conservative vote has held up and the sitting Government can continue. Has Cameron won or lost?

    And what about if the Conservative vote increases, but a large voter switch from the Liberal Democrats to Labour means a Labour Government? Has Cameron lost then?

    In hung parliament and coalition territory, the terms "win" and "lose" are a bit harder to define.

    Secondly, it assumes that Johnson would, in the cold light of day, want to become Conservative leader. Just assume that Cameron has, by a commonly-accepted definition, lost, and Labour leader Ted Miliband is then Prime Minister. Would Johnson really want to throw away a third term in power for opposition? What would he really want to be from May 2016 to May 2020- Mayor of London or Leader of the Opposition?

    Thirdly, to be a candidate for the Conservative leadership he would have to be an MP. There is a story I've heard - and maybe any Labour people reading this can confirm - that one resson Michael Foot resigned as Labour leader after the 1983 election so a leadership election was completed in October 1983 was that Tony Benn had lost his seat in 1983 and Foot wanted the leadership election to be in motion before Benn had the chance to get back into the House of Commons, so that Benn could not be a candidate.

    A quick resignation by Cameron after the 2015 election could lead to the nominations closing while Johnson is in the middle of a by-election campaign.

    Fourthly, the Conservative MPs might not be compliant. In the last 2 leadership elections, MPs have ensured that an obvious winner has not made the top 2 (Michael Portillo in 2001 and the Minister without Portfolio, Ken Clarke, in 2005) from whom the members chose the leader.

    Fifthly, even if Johnson manages to be a candidate, and Conservative MPs let him through to the final round, there is no guarantee that the members would elect him.

    Sixthly, in every constituency there is a group of awkward people. The Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011 has at its heart the idea that in every seat there should be a roughly equal number of awkward people. They are called voters and have an annoying habit of not doing what they are told. While powerful men and women can draw up great schemes, it's the voters who can - armed with no more than a pencil - destroy such a person's dreams and plans. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

    The result in Blaenau Gwent at the May 2005 general election is a useful reminder of just how awkward these people can be.

    Voters don't like being taken for granted. Just after the 1983 election, Thatcher appointed William Whitelaw to be Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords. Naturally enough, he had to leave the House of Commons and there was a by-election in his Penrith & the Border seat in July 1983, which saw David Maclean (later to be Conservative Chief Whip) win, but narrowly, as the Liberals nearly overturned a 30% majority.

    Yes, they might find Johnson a safe seat. But Penrith & the Border was a safe seat. The voters don't like being used. Is someone really going to stand for re-election in 2015, promising to do the full 5 years, while deep down just keeping the seat warm until Johnson decides to stand? That would be treating their constituents with contempt.

    Tuesday, 25 December 2012

    Why I Wanted To Be A Deer

    Yesterday late afternoon, after a church service, I walked up to North Baddesley to deliver some Christmas cards. An interesting journey as pavements vanish and one is left walking along grass verges. Wet, slippy grass verges.

    Cards delivered, and time to walk back. You don't have to get very far from North Baddesley before it become quite rural. And, walking down Rownhams Lane, to the left of me there was a rustling noise and the sight of a deer leaping off away from me.

    Thankfully there was a fence, as at least that meant it couldn't leap in the direction of traffic.

    I was a bit annoyed with myself for unintentionally scaring it.

    As I was walking along I was thinking that if only I could have become a deer, then I could have reassured it that it didn't need to be scared of me.

    Of course, if I had simply become a deer, then I would no longer be human, and not able to share my human knowledge with it. What would be needed would be for me to find a way to be fully deer and fully human.

    Sunday, 16 December 2012

    If A Quarter Of Voters Are Unrepresented

    There has been a lot of attention to a ComRes poll that puts the UK Independence Party in third place on 14%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 9%.

    What if this were repeated at a general election?

    Rather than look at how each party's vote has changed, look at how votes have moved between parties.

    Labour would gain 105 seats from the Conservatives, 33 from the Liberal Democrats and 1 from the Greens - a net gain of 139.

    The Conservatives would gain 23 seats from the Liberal Democrats, while losing 105 to Labour and 1 to Independent Community & Health Concern - a net loss of 83.

    The Liberal Democrats would lose 33 seats to Labour, 23 to the Conservatives and 1 to Plaid Cymru - a net loss of 57.

    Plaid Cymru would gain 1 seat from the Liberal Democrats.

    Independent Community & Health Concern would gain 1 seat from the Conservatives.

    The Greens would lose 1 seat to Labour.

    This gives an election result of:

  • Labour - 397 (which will include 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Conservatives - 223 (which will include 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Northern Ireland parties - 18
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Plaid Cymru - 4
  • Independent Community & Health Concern - 1
  • The Speaker - 1
  • At the May 2010 general election, UKIP set the record for the highest share of the vote for a party which didn't win any seats. On this opinion poll it will dramatically break that record!

    And the Liberal Democrats would achieve the second highest ever share of the vote for a party which didn't win any seats.

    This would create a bizarre result. We are used to the idea that First Past The Post can leave people feeling unrepresented, but this has usually meant constituents having an MP from a party they didn't vote for, or a party getting a small number of seats compared to its share of the vote.

    But this would be different. UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens would between them command around a quarter of the vote- but not have a single MP between them.

    Among the current Cabinet, the Liberal Democrats would naturally all lose their seats. Lord President of the Council Nick Clegg would lose Sheffield Hallam to Labour; Business & Innovation Secretary Vince Cable would lose Twickenham to Labour; Energy & Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey would lose Kingston & Surbiton to the Conservatives; Scottish Secretary Michael Moore would lose Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk to Labour; and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander would lose Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey to Labour.

    The only Conservative Cabinet casualty would be Welsh Secretary David Jones, losing Clwyd West narrowly to Labour (this would be the second closest Labour/Conservative marginal).

    In Scotland, of course, Moore and Alexander would not be the only Liberal Democrats to lose their seats. Indeedn all 11 Liberal Democrats representing Scottish seats - as well as Minister for Scotland, David Mundell, who is Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale - would lose to Labour, leading Scotland to have 53 Labour MPs and 6 Scottish National Party ones.

    The Welsh story is a bit different. The Liberal Democrats would lose their 3 seats to different parties- Brecon & Radnorshire to the Conservatives, Cardiff Central to Labour, and Ceredigion to Plaid Cymru.

    Jones would be the most senior Welsh Conservative to be defeated, but not the only one. Aberconwy, Cardiff North, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire,Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan would all fall to Labour, giving Labour 33 seats, Plaid Cymru 4 and the Conservatives 3.

    The highest Liberal Democrat share of the vote would be in Orkney & Shetland, where they would be in second place (Labour winning the seat for the first time, and the first time since the July 1945 general election that a non-Liberal candidate won) with 25.49% of the vote. The only other seat where the Liberal Democrats would get over a quarter of the votes is Westmorland & Lonsdale, where the Conservatives would win, with Labour second and the Liberal Democrats third on 25.12%.

    However, the top target seats would be:

  • Yeovil- a 2.56% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place in the closest Conservative/Labour marginal]
  • Norfolk North- a 2.70% swing from Labour [Conservatives in second place]
  • Westmorland & Lonsdale- a 3.05% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place]
  • Bath- a 3.17% swing from Labour [Conservatives in second place]
  • Twickenham - a 3.60% swing from Labour [Conservatives in second place]
  • Lewes - a 4.37% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place]
  • Orkney & Shetland - a 4.49% swing from Labour
  • Ceredigion - a 4.52% swing from Plaid Cymru [Labour in second place]
  • Kingston & Surbiton - a 4.73% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place]
  • Southport - a 4.74% swing from Labour [Conservatives in second place in the closest Labour/Conservative marginal]
  • Thornbury & Yate - a 4.80% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place]
  • Devon North - a 4.88% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place, UKIP in third place] in a seat wher the Liberal Democrats would fall from first to fourth place
  • The Liberal Democrat problem is obvious. On that opinion poll, they are looking at obliteration. Not only that, but their top targets are generally seats where they are third (or even fourth).

    UKIP would have 500 seats where they get over 10% of the vote, and in 39 of those they would get over 20%. The highest share of the vote is 23.87% in Christchurch.

    However, the targets which they would win with a swing of less than 5% are:

  • Devon North - a 4.37% swing from the Conservatives [Labour in second place]
  • Norfolk North - a 4.68% swing from Labour [Conservatives in second place, Liberal Democrats in third place]
  • Something is obvious here. It seems that UKIP target seats would also be Liberal Democrat ones, and indeed, in every seat where UKIP needs a swing of less than 10% to win, the Liberal Democrats also need a swing of less than 10%.

    While on the subject of UKIP target seats, one of the most interesting is Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, which would be a Labour seat. UKIP would need a swing of 8.62% swing to win it from Labour, but would have to leapfrog the second-placed Conservatives, the third-placed Scottish National Party and the fourth-placed Liberal Democrats. This would be the seat with the smallest gap between the first and fifth parties.

    For the Greens, there are only 3 seats where they would get over 10% of the vote:

  • Brighton Pavilion - 33.01% of the vote, and the only seat where they need a swing of less than 10% to win (0.14% swing from Labour)
  • Norwich South - 17.67% in a seat where Labour is first and the Conservatives second [the Liberal Democrats falling from first to fourth place]
  • Cambridge - 11.13% in a seat where Labour is first, the Conservatives second, Liberal Democrats third and UKIP fourth
  • There are things to note. Firstly, this is a middle of the mid-term poll.

    Seocndly, shifts in votes are consistent, and every seat will buck the trend in one way or another (although the poll indicates a Liberal Democrat wipe-out there would be some who would buck the trend). This creates an element of volatility - a small bucking of the trend can change who the winner is, and with this repeated across loads of seats, any result is going to be a surprise.

    Thirdly, and connected with this, there will be a rise in three- or four-way marginals. And there is the potential for some seats to be ones where during the election campaign you cannot be sure which one of five parties is going to win it. The first genuine five-way marginal cannot be too far away.

    Fourthly, we should expect more seats to be won on a majority, but not a plurality, of votes.

    Fifthly, the overall result will be less proportional.

    Tuesday, 11 December 2012

    2020 Vision On Electoral Reform

    One date to put in your diary now is Thursday, 7 May 2020, for something will happen that has never happened before and will not happen again until Thursday, 3 May 2040.

    The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 set the date of the next general election (to the House of Commons only) to be Thursday, 7 May 2015 - thanks to the failure to introduce legislation for House of Lords reform, the Commons will be the only chamber at Westminster we'll be voting for, although I have looked at how House of Lords reform can be salvaged in line with previous proposals. And then every 5 years on the first Thursday in May, with certain exceptions.

    The Scotland Act 1998 sets the elections to the Scottish Parliament to be every 4 years on the first Thursday in May from 1999 onwards. However, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 postpones the 2015 ones to Thursday, 5 May 2016.

    The Government of Wales Act 1998 (now superseded by the Government of Wales Act 2006) sets the elections to the Welsh Assembly to be every 4 years on the first Thursday in May from 1999 onwards, just like the Scottish Parliament. And, just like the Scottish Parliament, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 postpones the 2015 ones to Thursday, 5 May 2016.

    The Northern Ireland Act 1998 sets - yes you've guessed it - elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly to be every 4 years on the first Thursday in May, with the first elections being Thursday, 25 June 1998, and the cycle would then be 2002. 2006, 2010, 2014 etc.. However, the Northern Ireland Act 2000 allowed the Northern Ireland Secretary to suspend the Assembly, and under the terms of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Act 2003 the next election was on Wednesday, 26 November 2003. The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 set the next elections to be Wednesday, 7 March 2007, and since then the 4-year cycle in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has re-commenced. That put the last elections on Thursday, 5 May 2011, coinciding with the Scottish and Welsh ones, so we would have expected the three non-English devolved legislatures to be elected at the same time.

    But the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 did not apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly, so in May 2015 the good people of Northern Ireland will be voting (using First Past The Post) for the House of Commons and (using the Single Transferable Vote) for the Northern Ireland Assembly, with the following Stormont elections being on Thursday, 2 May 2019.

    The Greater London Authority Act 1999 set up the two parts of the Greater London Authority- the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly. It set the first election to be Thursday, 4 May 2000, and then the first Thursday in May every 4 years. So, the next one occurs at the same time as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

    And this brings us to the Police & Crime Commissioners across England (outside Greater London) and Wales, elected under the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act 2011, with the first elections having been on Thursday, 15 November 2012, and then on the first Thursday in May starting with 2016.

    So, in May 2016 there will be 4 simultaneous elections covering all of Great Britain:

  • Police & Crime Commissioners
  • Greater London Authority
  • Scottish Parliament
  • Welsh Assembly
  • And these will be on the same 4-year cycle.

    Not only that, but:

  • 89% of the United Kingdom electorate would be using the Supplementary Vote (for the Mayor in Greater London; for the Police & Crime Commissioners in the rest of England and in Wales)
  • 25% of the United Kingdom electorate would be using the Additional Members System (for the Scottish Parliament, Greater London Assembly and the Welsh Assembly)
  • Now, if you have a 4-year cycle and a 5-year cycle, then every 20 years they coincide. And, when these are up for re-election in 2020, it will be alongside elections to the House of Commons.

    This will be a general election where the whole electorate of Great Britain will not only be voting (using FPTP) for their MPs, but alongside that will be voting using SV and/or AMS.

    As people enter the polling booths in May 2020, FPTP won't be the way we do elections here. It will be just one of the ways we do elections here.

    Saturday, 1 December 2012

    Notional Result- Brighton Pavilion

    I have been having a look at notional results and in my last post considered how they could be unreliable, and suggested one way forward, by projecting the May 2005 general election results onto the proposed constituencies for the May 2015 general election.

    I touched on the issues around the proposed Brighton Pavilion

    However, start by turning to the west of Brighton Pavilion, to the proposed Hove seat, which is actually the current Hove with the Brighton & Hove City Council ward of Regency picked up from the current Brighton Pavilion.

    Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher drew up the notional results of the 2005 general election based on the real 2010 constituencies. For Hove they got:

  • Labour- 16,829
  • Conservatives- 16,381
  • Liberal Democrats- 8,077
  • Greens- 2,593
  • Others- 1,072
  • and for Brighton Pavilion they got:

  • Labour- 16,283
  • Conservatives- 10,416
  • Greens- 9,804
  • Liberal Democrats- 7,174
  • Others- 1,064
  • The real results for Brighton Pavilion in the May 2010 general election are:

  • Greens- 16,238
  • Labour- 14,986
  • Conservatives- 12,275
  • Liberal Democrats- 7,159
  • Others- 1,176
  • The real results for Hove in the 2010 general election were actually:

  • Conservatives- 18,294
  • Labour- 16,462
  • Liberal Democrats- 11,240
  • Greens- 2,568
  • Others- 1,291
  • The notional reults for the proposed Hove are:

  • Conservatives- 19,213
  • Labour- 17,934
  • Liberal Democrats- 12,024
  • Greens- 3,712
  • Others- 1,895
  • If we take the difference, we get:

  • Labour- 1,472
  • Greens- 1,114
  • Conservatives- 919
  • Liberal Democrats- 784
  • Others- 604
  • This is, as far as we can calculate it, how the good people of Regency voted in 2010. We then divide each party's votes by the number of votes they got across Brighton Pavilion as a whole and multiply that by the notional 2005 result calculated by Rallings & Thrasher, to work out how Regency voted in 2005:

  • Labour: 16,283 x (1,472 / 14,986) = 1,599
  • Liberal Democrats: 7,174 x (784 / 7,159) = 786
  • Conservatives: 10,416 x (919 / 12,275) = 780
  • Greens: 9,804 x (1,114 / 16,238) = 673
  • Others: 1,064 x (604 / 1,176) = 546
  • We now add those to the notional 2005 results that Rallings & Thrasher calculated:

  • Labour: 16,829 + 1,599 = 18,428 (37.35%)
  • Conservatives: 16,381 + 780 = 17,161 (34.78%)
  • Liberal Democrats: 8,077 + 786 = 8,863 (17.96%)
  • Greens: 2,593 + 673 = 3,266 (6.62%)
  • Others: 1,072 + 546 = 1,618 (3.29%)
  • So, this is the notional 2005 Hove result based on the 2015 boundaries. If the 2010 election had been fought on the 2015 boundaries, then these are the results that Labour and the Conservatives would have been using to indicate it was a 2-horse race.

    The next step is to take how we have calculated the Regency ward to have voted in 2010 and subtract that from the real 2010 result for Brighton Pavilion:

  • Greens: 16,238 - 1,114 = 15,124
  • Labour: 14,986 - 1,472 = 13,514
  • Conservatives: 12,275 - 919 = 11,356
  • Liberal Democrats: 7,159 - 784 = 6,375
  • Others: 1,176 - 604 = 572
  • These figures are how that part of the current Brighton Pavilion that remains in the proposed Brighton Pavilion voted in 2010.

    The motional results we have for Brighton Pavilion are:

  • Labour: 16,718
  • Greens: 15,351
  • Conservatives: 13,266
  • Liberal Democrats: 7,751
  • Others: 1,350
  • If we take the difference, we get:

  • Labour: 3,204
  • Conservatives: 1,910
  • Liberal Democrats: 1,376
  • Greens: 227
  • Others: 778
  • What's causing the difference? It's because the proposed Brighton Pavilion takes in a Brighton & Hove City Council ward - Moulsecoomb & Bevendean - from the current Brighton Kemptown. The low Green vote in that ward could mean that the voters don't give a stuff about polar bears. Or it might mean they were living in a constituency which the Greens were not focussing on as they concentrated on (successfully) getting Caroline Lucas elected as MP for Brighton Pavilion.

    And if the 2010 general election had been fought on the proposed 2015 boundaries then this would be a ward that the Greens would have extensively campaigned in to get Lucas elected.

    Rallings & Thrasher calculated the notional 2005 results for Brighton Kemptown to be:

  • Labour- 14,939
  • Conservatives- 13,086
  • Liberal Democrats- 6,482
  • Greens- 2,506
  • Others- 1,325
  • The real 2010 results were:

  • Conservatives- 16,217
  • Labour- 14,889
  • Liberal Democrats- 7,691
  • Greens- 2,330
  • Others- 1,578
  • As we have done before, we can take the 2010 results for Moulsecoomb & Bevendean and divide them by the 2010 results across the whole of Brighton Kemptown, and then multiply them by the notional 2005 results that Rallings & Thrasher calculated. What we then get is how the good people of Moulsecoomb & Bevendean voted at the 2005 election:

  • Labour: 14,939 x (3,204 / 14,889) = 3,215
  • Conservatives: 13,086 x (1,910 / 16,217) = 1,541
  • Liberal Democrats: 6,482 x (1,376 / 7,691) = 1,160
  • Greens: 2,506 x (227 / 2,330) = 244
  • Others: 1,325 x (778 / 1,578) = 653
  • The final step in this lengthy calculation is to take the notional 2005 results for Brighton Pavilion that Rallings & Thrasher calculated, subtract the 2005 Regency vote and add in the 2005 Moulsecoomb & Bevendean vote:

  • Labour: 16,283 - 1,599 + 3,215 = 17,899 (37.95%)
  • Conservatives: 10,416 - 780 + 1,541 = 11,177 (23.70%)
  • Greens: 9,804 - 673 + 244 = 9,375 (19.87%)
  • Liberal Democrats: 7,174 - 786 + 1,160 = 7,548 (16.00%)
  • Others: 1,064 - 546 + 653 = 1,171 (2.48%)
  • This is the notional 2005 result on the 2015 boundaries. If the 2010 general election had been fought on the 2015 boundaries then these are the results the parties would have been using as the results of the last election. And it gives the Greens a higher mountain to climb.

    At thr 2010 general election, the Greens increased their share of the vote by 9.42%, the Labour vote decreased by 7.48%, the Conservative vote increased by 0.40% and the Liberal Democrat vote decreased by 2.22%. If we assume that the notional Brighton Pavilion would have seen the same shift in vote, then we get the Greens on 29.29%, but Labour winning on 30.47%.

    Wednesday, 28 November 2012

    The Swaythling Problem- Looking At Notional Results

    With my drawing up notional results completed, I now need to look at one problem with them.

    There was once the era when:

    Every boy and every gal, That’s born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative

    By the 1950s and early 1960s there politics was basically the Conservatives and Labour. Yes, there might be a small group of Liberals, but really we had a two-party system.

    So, to all intents and purposes you knew that if boundary changes moved a group of voters from constituency A to constituency B they would vote the same way regardless of which constituency they were in. No tactical voting.

    When we draw up notional results, we make the assumption that people would vote the same way under proposed constituencies as they did in the real constituencies. But these days there is tactical voting and targetted seats.

    To take the extreme example- the proposed seat of Brighton Pavilion which I looked at when I considered the proposed South East England constituencies.

    The real seat of Brighton Pavilion was narrowly won from Labour by the Greens' Caroline Lucas. With the new proposed seats, Brighton Pavilion is altered by the transfer of two wards of Brighton & Hove City Council. Firstly, Regency is moved into an expanded version of the current Hove seat. And secondly, Moulsecoomb & Bevendean is picked up from the current Brighton Kemptown.

    When we draw up notional results for Brighton Pavilion we effectively assume that if the proposed constituencies for the May 2015 general election had been in place for the May 2010 general election then the Greens there would have fought an odd campaign. In Hove they would be extensively focussing on just the Regency ward in a seat they wouldn't stand a chance of winning, while in Brighton Pavilion it'd be all hands to the recycled pumps- except for the Moulsecoomb & Bevendean ward, which could be the ward that makes the difference between a Labour MP and a Green MP.

    There is another example, very locally, that is connected with tactical voting. And this is the constituency I live in, Southampton Test, which picks up one Southampton City Council ward (Swaythling) from Romsey & Southampton North to form a new Southampton Test, which is only 32 voters short of the maximum allowed.

    The new Southampton Test is drawn from two very different constituencies. Romsey was a safe Conservative seat when created for the May 1997 general election, but the Liberal Demcorats won it in a by-election in May 2000, and it was a close Liberal Democrat/Conservative marginal at the June 2001 and May 2005 general elections. Probably many Labour-leaning voters went tactically for the Liberal Democrats to keep the Conservatives out.

    Southampton Test is often considered a bellwether seat, oscillating between the Conservatives and Labour. However, in May 2003 the Liberal Democrats overtook Labour to be the largest party on Southampton City Council- a situation which remained until May 2006 when the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats tied on 16 seats each. With the large student population, and a council led by the Liberal Democrats, at the 2005 general election I was seriously thinking Southampton Test would be another of those Liberal-Democrats-gain-from-third-place seats. At the very least I expected them to push the Conservatives into third place (which they nearly did) and to then pick up enough votes from disillusioned Labour supporters and tactically-voting Conservative supporters to go on and win Southampton Test at the next election (at the time, elections were normally 4 years apart, so I expected that one in June 2009 to coincide with the European Parliament ones).

    But what about Swaythling? Well, drawing up notional results tells us that this ward would have brought in plenty of Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, and not many Labour ones. But this is in part due to Romsey & Southampton North being a seat Labour can't dream of winning.

    The notional results give a proposed Southampton Test that would have seen a smaller Labour majority over the Conservatives, and a larger Liberal Democrat vote, than the real Southampton Test. It is possible that there were Labour voters who might be natural Liberal Democrat supporters but voted tactically to keep the Conservatives out but might have voted Liberal Democrat if they felt that party was in with a chance of winning.

    Suppose that it were indeed the proposed Southampton Test in existence at the 2010 general election, then what would be of use to the parties and voters? The notional results for the 2005 general election would be used.

    Note that I am not talking about what the 2005 general election would have been if the 2010 constituencies had been used, but what the 2005 general election would have been if the 2015 constituencies had been used.

    Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher drew up the notional results of the 2005 general election based on the real 2010 constituencies. For Southampton Test they got:

  • Labour- 18,022
  • Conservatives- 10,205
  • Liberal Democrats- 9,826
  • Others- 2,714
  • For Romsey & Southampton North they got:

  • Liberal Democrats- 19,217
  • Conservatives- 19,013
  • Labour- 4,816
  • Others- 1,025
  • Remember these are the notional results of the 2005 general election if the current (not proposed) constituencies had been in place.

    Now look at the actual result of Southampton Test of the 2010 general election;

  • Labour- 17,001
  • Conservstives- 14,588
  • Liberal Democrats- 9,865
  • Others- 2,733
  • The notional results for Southampton Test (the 2010 result projected onto the 2015 constituency) we have are:

  • Labour- 18,006
  • Conservatives- 16,548
  • Liberal Democrats- 12,937
  • Others- 3,330
  • The difference between the notional 2010 results and the real 2010 results are:

  • Liberal Democrats- 3,072
  • Conservatives- 1,960
  • Labour- 1,005
  • Others- 597
  • What does this difference represent? The only thing that has changed is the inclusion of Swaythling, so these are, as near as we can get them, how the good people of Swaythling voted in the 2010 general election.

    The next step is to look at the actual result in Romsey & Southampton North (including Swaythling):

  • Conservatives- 24,345
  • Liberal Democrats- 20,189
  • Labour- 3,116
  • Others- 1,289
  • We can now calculate the percentage of each party's supporters who were in Swaythling, and then multiply that by the Rallings & Thrasher notional result for Romsey & Southampton North- this gives us the number of Swaythling voters for each party at the 2005 election:

  • Liberal Democrats: 19,217 x (3,072 / 20,189) = 2,924
  • Conservatives: 19,013 x (1,960 / 24,345) = 1,531
  • Labour: 4,816 x (1,005 / 3,116) = 1,553
  • Others: 1,025 x (597 / 1,289) = 475
  • This shows us something interesting about the Labour vote- just under one-third of the Labour vote in Romsey & Southampton North comes from Swaythling.

    We now add these to the Rallings & Thrasher notional results for Southampton Test:

  • Labour: 18,022 + 1,553 = 19,575 (41.43%)
  • Liberal Democrats: 9,826 + 2,924 = 12,750 (26.98%)
  • Conservatives: 10,205 + 1,531 = 11,736 (24.84%)
  • Others: 2,714 + 475 = 3,189 (6.75%)
  • These are the 2005 general election results projected onto the proposed constituencies for the 2015 general election. Suppose that the 2010 general election had been fought on the proposed 2015 boundaries, then these would be the notional 2005 figures used. Every issue of Focus in the run-up to the election, every piece of campaign literature from David Callaghan, would urge Labour supporters disillusioned with the Government to vote for the second-place Liberal Democrats and would tell Conservatives that the best way to defeat Labour is to vote for the second-place Liberal Democrats.

    My gut feeling is that if the 2010 general election had been held on the proposed 2015 constituency boundaries, then the Liberal Democrats would have done better in Southasmpton Yest, and the other two main parties worse, than the notional results give.

    Maybe a way forward in producing more accurate notional results is to look, not at the most recent election, but the one before that, and draw up notional results (e.g. 2005 election on proposed 2015 boundaries) and somehow work forward from those.

    Sunday, 25 November 2012

    Does Christ The King Have A Prime Minister?

    Ecclesiologically I am not an Anglican. I worship at an Evangelical Free church, having left the Church of England (or more precisely, having stopped worshipping at an Anglican church) last autumn.

    But I still use Common Worship in my daily prayer. And today brings us to Christ The King.

    The Bible readings for today- Dan 7:9-14, John 18:33-37 and Rev 1:4-8- emphasise Jesus's Kingship.

    From Daniel's vision of the Son of Man (Jesus's term for Himself), to the Apostle John's encounter with Jesus, and Jesus informing Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, we have this clear message- Jesus is a King, and His kingdom is one that lasts forever.

    I wonder what goes through people's minds when we think of Him as King? And whether that changes depending on whether we live in a republic or monarchy.

    In medieval times, when the King's word was law, unconstrained by Parliament, then there must have been a clear understanding of what Christ as King meant. He says it, it happens. He commands us, we do it.

    It is often said that the Queen reigns but does not rule. Basically, the Royal Prerogative is exercised by a Government accountable to an elected Parliament, and the Government takes actions in her name.

    Is this the same in the Church? That ministers and pastors exercise authority in Christ's Name? As His Government or as His civil servants?

    What does it mean for the Church to recognise Christ as her King?

    Thursday, 22 November 2012

    After The Women Bishops Vote- The First Evangelist

    After this week's General Synod vote, time to turn to one thing that I have noticed which concerns me.

    About 20 years ago, I was in Mensa's Politics Special Interest Group, and the discussion turned to the ordination of women as presbyters. One lady commented that there were 4 women identified in the New Testament as priests- Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia and Chloe. Case closed.

    What struck me wasn't just the "oh look- tbe Bible mentions a woman, ergo she must be a priest" approach, it was the subtle message about the Apostle Paul. He came across as someone a bit grand- rather than a man willing to get his hands dirty and work manually (Acts 18:3) (keep that page open). A man who surely could not associate with anyone who wasn't wearing a dog collar and didn't have Rev in front of their name.

    A bit of the attitude that one former vicar of mine described as "the minister ministers and the congregation congregates". An approach he disagreed with.

    One argument I heard for women being ordained to the presbyterate is that there are not enough male presbyters to carry the load. Can I just suggest that if more people in dog collars is the answer, then maybe we're asking the wrong question!

    In the debate about the pros and cons of ordaining women to the presbyterate, it often came across as if Rev in a dog collar saying words over bread and wine was the be-all and end-all of Christian ministry.

    When we hear that it is only by allowing women to be consecrated to the episcopate that we are affirming women's ministry, or that women will only feel a valued part of the Church if we have women bishops, then take a step back and ask what the underlying assumption is..

    Is it that the only ministry that counts is that of the mitre and crozier? That lay ministry is something not to be affirmed, or - at best - is a second-rate ministry? What message is being said about ministry in general? With all Bishop this, Vicar that, what seemed to be lost in all the heat generated was any idea the lay ministry matters. Singificant that it was the House of Laity that the draft Measure fell in - just a reminder that the Church isn't all about Bishops and Clergy...

    We heard a lot about how God has given women gifts. Yes, and the New Testament passages restricting women from preaching and exercising authority in the church setting were written in the full knowledge of that- it's not as if Paul had been unaware of how Acts 2:17-18 fulfilled Joel 2:29.

    It has been said that women are the backbone of the church, and then in a leap of logic this needs to be reflected in the episcopate. Is it more a case that it's laywomen exercising their God-given gifts that are the backbone of the church? And then the Church sends the message that real ministry is done by the big boys (and since April 1994, the big girls as well) in fancy robes with titles in front of their names...

    It may seem an odd point to start talking about tongues, but in a Twitter discussion I referred to this. Paul has to write to the Corinthians about the correct use of tongues in services (I Cor 14:26-33). Tongues are a gift from God, but there is a time and a place and a manner.

    A couple of examples. The first is from the March for Jesus back in May 1994, and I ended up in a small group when it was time to pray in groups. And in our group, whenever anyone started praying in English, a young man would start praying loudly in tongues, verbally drowning whoever was praying in English. You can say "Amen" to a prayer in English. How can you say "Amen" to a prayer in a language you don't understand?

    The seocnd was a couple of years later, at a prayer meeting labelled as ecumenical, where the speaker asked people to get in pairs and pray out loud together- one in English, one in tongues- and then swap later on. I got up and walked out.

    When God gives a gift is it really for use whenever and wherever you feel led? Does the Holy Spirit really lead people to use gifts in a manner that is contradictory to the Bible?

    So, yes, there are many men and women to whom God has given gifts for the building of His Church and the extension of His Kingdom. But every gift needs to be exercised in a manner that is consistent with the Bible. A woman might indeed be given the gift of teaching- but it doesn't follow that the appropriate time and place is in the pulpit on Sunday. If you go back to Acts 18 (you did keep it open, didn't you?) then in v.26 we encounter Priscilla, a woman with the gift of explaining Christianity. But her arena wasn't the front of the church, but in private, one-to-one instruction, giving him the individual instruction that he would not get in a big church setting.

    Part of Twitter discussions have been about Mary Magdalene- sometimes she gets called the Apostle to the Apostles, but nowhere in the Bible is she called an apostle.

    She was, indeed, the first person on record to see Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 20:11-18). But an Apostle, with the authority that it entails?

    Is it not possible that Mary was the first evangelist? With the simple message that evangelists share- He is risen. Jesus is alive. Sharing the message with Jesus' closest circle of friends.

    Sometimes a wrong idea of evangelism develops, and I have fallen into this trap. That it's all about special church events, with a big name speaker, and waiting for people to come through the front door of church to be met on our terms, so they are the ones making the effort. And, yes sometimes that is the way. But Mary didn't rush off and have a set of flyers printed to say she would be giving a talk entitled "That Jesus You Crucified Has Risen" at the local town hall the following week. No, it was the basic go and share the message that Jesus lives.

    Rather than spending the next years arguing over who can wear a mitre, just draw a line under it and concentrate on what Biblical ways the laity can be empowered and encouraged to exercise their ministries.

    Sunday, 18 November 2012

    What If The General Synod Doesn't Vote For Women Bishops?

    Tuesday sees the big vote in the General Synod over the Draft Bishops & Priests (Ordination & Consecration of Women) Measure which may get a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops, House of Clergy and the House of Laity, or it may fail to in one, two or all three Houses. To miss a two-thirds majority in just one House is enough for it to fall.

    We've debated it long enough- just get on with it so we can concentrate on more important matters. I love that logic. Surely if there are "more important" matters then campaigners for women bishops could set that aside and concentrate on the "more important" matters.

    Of course, if it falls then no doubt the supporters of it will try again and again until Church of England doctrine changes.

    One thing we need to note is that this issue has set evangelical against evangelical. On both sides, evangelicals have formed alliances with people we really should not have done, against fellow evangelicals. That is a sad consequence of this whole issue being put on the agenda.

    Above all, if the motion falls, let there be no triumphalism. There will be evangelical women who will see what they believe they have been called to turned to dust. There will be hurt people. There will be a situation which has to be dealt with pastorally.

    We are called to bear with one another in love and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4: 3-4) and Jesus prayed fo the church's unity (John 17:22).

    Sometimes we get so caught up in structure and organisations and buildings that we think ekklesia refers to an organisation rather than a family.

    I remember when I was a new Christian, and was struck by letters that appeared from time to time in the Christian press. To sum up, they could be along the lines of:

    Oh, how terrible it is that the other churches ignore Jesus' command that we should be one. If only the Anglicans stopped baptising babies... If only the Pentecostals stopped their prophecies and tongues... If only the Methodists stopped having women ministers... If only the Baptists got rid of their old hymns.... Why oh why oh why can't all the other churches in our town get rid of their practices that stop us from being united?

    I used to be a mamber of an Anglican-Methodist church. The process was slow. The old Methodist church had been subject to a compulsory purchase and the new building was built in the Anglican car park. As time went on, there was more sharing of worship until full merger happened. And yes, it can be tricky to combine the horizontal Methodist structure with the vertical Anglican one. Bishops doing confirmation services have to recognise the Methodist presbyterial confirmation (i.e. an Anglican bishop and Methodist minister jointly lay on hands and confirm). Next door was a United Reformed Church. In the summer holiday period, evening services alternated between the URC and the Anglican-Methodist.

    Churches can have family unity without organisational unity.

    It is possible that, after defeat, supporters of the consecration of women to the episcopate turn to "valid but irregular" practices. Basically find 3 bishops in the Anglican Communion, pay for their air fares from the USA, and get them to consecrate a women presbyter from the Church of England as a bishop. Such a bishop would be a valid Anglican bishop but, naturally enough, could not remain in the Church of England. Are there supporters for whom it is so important that they would do that?

    And what if evangelical churches feel the need to leave the Church of England and accept episcopal oversight from an Anglican denomination that does consecrate women? That would be sad, but let there be no hard feelings.

    As I learned as an undergraduate Christian, evangelicals can work together for a common purpose without organisational unity. If evangelicals feel the need to leave the Church of England then there is nothing to stop them working alongside evangelicals who choose to remain.

    Saturday, 17 November 2012

    Did The Church of England Approve Women Bishops In The 1970s?

    This follows on from a Twitter debate with someone who maintains that the Church of England General Synod agreed the theology on whether women could be consecrated to the episcopate 40 years ago. This was then clarified to 1975 and 1978.

    So, is this the case? Is Tuesday's vote on the draft Women Bishops Measure no more than a tidying-up vote? When I argued for a switch to the Alternative Vote system for electing the House of Commons, and relied on the two times (1918 and 1931) when the House of Commons backed it, or waiting for the preamble of the Parliament Act 1911 to take effect- well, is this the same thing? Is it a case of just as the House of Commons voted for constitutional reform that never took place, the General Synod voted for ecclesiastical reform that never took place?

    Well, frankly, no.

    1975 was a Synod motion agreeing "this Synod considers that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood". Nothing about bishops. And, at one level, there is nothing wrong about authorising women to preside at the Lord's Supper- there is no magic in the communion service. We don't use the 1662 Book of Common Spells. The same effect happens whether a man or woman says the words.

    And let's face it, a lot of the debate over ordaining women to the presbyterate boiled down to the presiding-at-the-Lord's-Supper issue.

    The Synod can change its mind though, can't it? Is it possible that in November 1992 it took a step back from its 1975 position?

    The Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 passed by the Synod and by Parliament has Resolutions A and B. The first allows a Parochial Church Council (PCC) to decide that a woman cannot exercise presbyterial functions (primarily certain parts of the celebration of the Lord's Supper) and the second prevents a woman from serving as the church leader.

    There are the two basic objections to women serving as presbyters. One- more Catholic- concerns the celebration of the Lord's Supper, while the other- more evangelical- concerns headship. And people who take one stance don't necessarily take the other.

    For example, when I lived in Leicester I was on an assertiveness course. The lady who ran it once mentioned her daughter being a deacon-in-charge of an Anglican church and had to rely on retired male presbyters to conduct the Lord's Supper.

    And conversely, there are Anglicans who feel that there is nothing wrong with a woman presiding at the Lord's Supper but that it's wrong for a woman to be the actual leader of a church.

    But surely by allowing a parish opt-out, the Synod was saying that there could be "fundamental objections" to women being ordained to the priesthood. In addition, alongside the Measure, the Synod passed the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 which introduced Resolution C, authorising the Provincial Episcopal Visitors (often called the "flying bishops").

    There is one thing to note about the Resolutions- they are not "sunset clauses". There was nothing in them to say they were designed to give Anglicans who opposed the ordination of women a little bit of breathing space as they found another denomination to worship in.

    Another thing to note about 1992/93 is that I remember a lot of emphasis on the great divide being presbyterate/epispocate not diaconate/presbyterate. That basically, a presbyter is really the same as a deacon but just does a bit more (the "just four paragraphs" argument, which interestingly focusses on the celebration of the Lord's Supper as the be-all-and-end-all of presbyterial ministry), so nothing in the Measure would lead to women actually becoming bishops.

    At one Anglican church I know there was a (now moved to the USA) presbyter who, whenever there was a service on St Stephen's Day, wear his stole over his left shoulder (deacon-style) rather than over both shoulders (priest-style) to emphasise that he was still a deacon.

    It is clear from the New Testament that the two orders of ministry are the diaconate ("deacons") and presbyterate ("priests" and "bishops").

    That's 1975. What about 1978? Did the Synod agree a theology of women bishops there?

    There was a motion asking "the Standing Committee to prepare and bring forward legislation to remove the barriers to the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate".

    Case settled? Clear will of the Synod?

    Well, it has to be passed by all 3 Houses- Laity, Clergy and Bishops. As it fell in the House of Clergy, it cannot be considered the will of the Synod.

    In 2000, the Synod passed a motion asking "the House of Bishops to initiate further theological study on the episcopate, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate in the Church of England" which led to a Commission led by Michael Nazir-Ali, then the Bishop of Rochester, which reported in 2004.

    Now, wait a minute. Surely if the Synod agreed the theology in the 1970s, then why set up the Rochester Commission? And why does the report only briefly touch on 1975 and 1978?

    On Tuesday there will be various arguments put for and against. But let's not have this "The Synod agreed it in the 1970s" put forward when, despite what someone in the Yes 2 Women Bishops movement is saying, it isn't the case.

    Sunday, 11 November 2012

    Putting Scaffolding On The Cross- "Creation Science" And Apologetics

    My tooth was really hurting. Couldn't ignore the pain while singing the choruses. Hurried out, seeing if there were a stall that sold aspirin or something like that.

    This was Wolfsburg in the summer of 1995, and I was at the Operation Mobilisation Love Europe conference, before we went off to our short-term mission teams.

    Nipping out I came across another guy I had chatted with briefly beforehand, and he was clearly troubled about something, so I asked him what it was. He explained that he was unsure about creation-evolution issues. I mentioned that there are a wide range of views among Christians, and that there were a few hardline recent creationists there for whom it was a salvation issue (I had already been informed by one of them that I was not a Christian) but that these people were a minority.

    And as I got up to go, he shared with me that he could no longer believe in the Resurrection. Now, my own conversion sprang from me realising that Jesus rising from the grave was the logical explanation of the events of the first Easter Sunday (sorry, I cannot give an exciting conversion story- it was just scientific and logical). He would think about what I said, and as my toothache had gone, I went back in to join the worship.

    Before the last day, he went home as he no longer considered himself a Christian. And for some, there was not the sadness that I felt for him, but the gloating. They knew from the first time they met him that he wasn't really a Christian. And the thing that stood out for me was that the big deal was that he didn't believe in recent creationism, not that he didn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

    When I was back in England I did write to assure him I was praying for him and to tell him to contact me (the days before email) if he needed to discuss anything. Never heard back.

    As a coda to this, these are the days of social media. Go to Facebook, put in his first name (I couldn't remember his surname), search, then narrow it down by location and then appears someone who has the same first name and what I am now sure is his surname. Contact or no contact? And if so, what do I say?

    A few years later I was given the chance to do a PhD in Astronomy at St Andrews University. And if people know you are a Christian and a scientist then the questions follow.

    In particular you will be presented with the little faith-strengthening arguments from science that people learned at Sunday school- which are often along the lines of "Science cannot explain X, therefore God" and are quite frequently "scientific mysteries" which had already been solved by then yet were still presented as things scientists couldn't explain.

    Then there would be creationist magazines passed to me to look at....

    Can I just say, if you wish to use a half-life as proof the Earth is young, please understand what a half-life is. Yes, after one half-life, half of a radioactive material will have changed into something else and only half of it left. After two half-lifes, half of what is left has changed, so a quarter of the original material is left. It isn't that after one half-life, half the material changes and that after the second half-life the other half changes.

    And please try to understand what the Second Law of Thermodynamics actually says.

    And I have never come across any example of a simple Christian with the Book of Genesis in their hand reduce an "evolutionist scientist" to sobbing "I don't know! I don't know!"

    So, what things do I want to note?

    1- Put the matter in perspective

    Take the example above. Yes, recent creationism is a viewpoint held by some Christians. But as well as what you believe being important, is how you believe it.

    I don't mean what your reasons are for recent creationism, but what your emphasis is on it. Is it something you believe but accept others differ on? Is it something that should take its place alongside the Trinity etc. as part of doctrinal creeds and statements of faith? Or has it gone further and reached the stage of being the be-all-and-end-all of Christian doctrine? If your idea of a Christian Union mission would be getting someone in to give a series of talks about the universe being only a few thousand years old, then yes, maybe such a missioner would be speaking truth but he or she would not be presenting Christ crucified. Even if the universe young, which is the Gospel message that needs to be proclaimed- Jesus's death or a young Earth?

    There is something I sometimes say- one man's hardliner is another man's heretic. Yes, you might make a young Earth a salvation issue, but other Christians would have an issue that you feel you were "done as a baby". On almost any secondary issue there will be Christians who put too high an emphasis on it and who, in the old phrase "major on minors", and you cannot keep all of them happy all the time.

    Recent creationists I have encounter vary from those who happily recognise ancient creationist and theistic evolutionists who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour to be their brothers and sisters in Christ to those for whom a young Earth is a salvation issue.

    2- Science develops by surprises

    By the end of the nineteenth century, physics was seen as complete. Then came relativity and quantum mechanics.

    When I've had creationist magazines shoved into my hand, sometimes a song-and-dance routine is made of scientists being surprised by a discovery. There are two paths you can take.

    The first is to look again, to ask other scientists to examine the case, to do some detective work, to re-analyse, to move the science on, and maybe a new theory will arise or an explanation as to why there is an anomaly. That is exactly how science develops.

    The second, worse, path is to jump up and down and declare that "evolutionist scientists" were surprised and interpret this as The Discovery that brings that part of science crashing to its foundations and in bringing part of science crashing down, somehow PROVES that the universe is young.

    Oh, and if you wish to take something that only applies to Main Sequence stars and apply it to an Asymtopic Giant Branch star, don't be surprised when astronomers have a giggle at your "proof" that the universe is a few thousand years old.

    3- Defend the Gospel, not the apologetic

    This is where the Cross has scaffold added to it, to keep it upright. Don't develop a mentality that it is worth going to the stake to defend an apologetic argument.

    If an apologetic argument is shown to be wrong, ditch it. Pure and simple. Don't waste time and energy arguing it any more.

    Apologetics points towards the Cross. It is not a case that if one apologetic argument is shown wrong then the whole scaffolding around the Cross collapses and we have a worthless Cross lying on the ground of no use to anyone.

    If your favourite apologetic is the "god-of-the-gaps" then when the gap is filled, stop saying that scientists can't explain it.

    If I point out a gap is filled or that your favourite PROOF of the Bible is based a creationist magazine misinterpreting something, I'm just trying to stop you making a fool of yourself (and of Christ) when you give godless scientists a good laugh the moment you present your "scientific proof" of the Bible to them. All you've done is reinforced the stereotype that "religious people" believe despite evidence to the contrary. What do you want to share with them- Christ or your ignorance of science?

    4- Scientists Are Busy People

    Yes, your favourite magazine might have published a scientific PROOF of the Bible last month and not a single scientist has written in to respond. Ah-ha, scientists can't come up woth an argument against it.

    Actually, it's hard enough to keep up with bona fide scientific journals without spending time going through creationist ones.

    5- The End Doesn't Justify The Means

    And this is my big worry about parts of the recent creationist movement.

    The deception.

    No, not just getting facts wrong, which can be forgiven. But the continual relying on "proofs" and "evidence" that have been discredited.

    Even if recent creationism is true, why does the movement itself have to rely on lies and deception to spread its message?

    Does that honour Christ at all? Is sending young Christians to share the Gospel to scientists using "scientific evidence" that is untrue actually bring one scientist nearer to God?

    Pastorally, what happens when your new convert who was convinced by the "scientific proof" learns that his or her pastor- perhaps through ignorance- misled them? Aren't they then going to be suspicious of the genuine arguments for Christianity that were also presented to them?

    You never get the recent creationist movement hold its hands up and say "oops, that argument was flawed. Don't use it". Instead, if you try and engage with them you quickly find that their response is to lash out and question whether you are really a Christian if you dare to point out flaws im their "scientific proof".

    Thursday, 8 November 2012

    After The Presidential Election, Next Steps For Republicans

    So, incumbent American President Barack Obama has been elected for his second, and final, term.

    In some ways, the Republican situation reminds me of the Conservatives in the period of about 1998 to 2003. And, so here are my thoughts about how to reoover.

    Look like the America you want to represent.

    Look at the Conservative benches in the House of Commons. They are diverse- in terms of race, in terms of gender, in terms of class, and in terms of sexual orientation. No, I'm not calling for affirmative action or quotas, but the Conservative MPs of even 10 years ago came across as nearly uniformly pale, male and stale.

    The latest figures I have to hand give 93% of African-Americans who voted voting for Obama, along with 73% of Asian-Americans and 71% of Hispanic-Americans. The demographics of the USA are changing- how are Republicans going to reach out to non-whites and show what Republicanism means in a mutli-racial America?

    Hug a husky- or something similar

    When Prime Minister David Cameron was derided for hugging a husky and coming up with the "Vote Blue*, Go Green" slogan, his critics missed an important fact- that it was under the Conservatives that the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed, and that the world's first Department of the Environment was set up.

    Yet environmentalism became seen as something on the Left.

    Find a policy area that is identfied with the Democrats, yet was once a Republican one, and take it back.

    Remember that it was a Republican President, not a Democrat, who was responsible for the Emancipation of African-American slaves.

    [*In Europe, red is used for socialism and blue for conservatism]

    One more heave is not the answer

    There was one viewpoint in Labour circles developing between their fourth successive defeat at the April 1992 election and Tony Blair becoming leader in July 1994. And that was the "one more heave" view. Labour had done some changes in policy, and all they needed to do was wait for the Conservative Government to screw up.

    Wait for the next general election, then just "one more heave" and victory is assured.

    Although this is an example from the Left, Blair understood that things had moved on, and that Labour had to change policies without changing its principles.

    Republicans should not look back at any golden era, even that of Ronald Reagan's Presidency, and try to re-create it. Instead look at the guiding principles that have formed the basis of Republican administrations and ask how those principles apply today.

    Europe is not a four-letter word

    OK, pet grouse here. If Republicans wish to condemn a Democrat policy, which word is the worst insult in the Republican lexicon? "European" of course. Just describe a Democrat policy as European and you cannot come up with any stronger criticism.

    Hmm, remember former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush talking about the Swedish education system and calling it "voucherized"?

    Yep, Sweden. Supposed hotbed of European godless socialism, coming up with an education system that is a Republican dream.

    And no need to imagine how a flat tax system would work- just ask Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania about it.

    Focus on the big picture

    A party can come up with all sorts of dreams and plans. But these are worthless if you don't win.

    If you believe the election of a Republican President and a Republican Congress is what the USA needed then that should be the focus, with there being no room for shilly-shallying around with personal egos. If a candidate for an elected federal post is an embarrassment and/or a liability, cut them loose. Their are higher priorities than their career. For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe a horse was lost. For the want of a horse, the battle was lost.

    Choose the next Presidential candidate now

    2016 will begin with Des Moines being crowded with politicians, but why wait?

    In Westminster-style democracies, an important figure is the Leader of the Opposition. And a good one can successfully portray themselves as the Prime Minister-in-waiting, biding time till the next election.

    So, why not in 2013 give the USA a de facto Leader of the Opposition? Someone who is the ultimate visible face of the Republicans, rather than have it come across that shock jocks or politicians who talk about "legitimate rape" are the Republican mainstream. Someone who will develop a national, and international, profile as the person whom the Republicans wish to take office in January 2017. Someone who could go as far as drawing up a Shadow Cabinet, e.g. a Shadow Secretary of State who draws up the Republicans' foreign affairs policies, a Shadow Treasury Secretary who draws up the Republicans' finance policies etc.

    Tuesday, 30 October 2012

    After Sandy- American And European Religion

    There have been two big events in North America the past few days- first the earthquake in Canada that triggered a tsunami in Hawai'i and now the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

    Only a couple of weeks ago some of us Brits shared on Facebook our memories of the great storm of October 1987. I wonder what went through the minds of people elsewhere reading it.

    Let's face it- Europe is the geographically comfortable continent. Yes, there are floods sometimes. The occasional earthquake. But I can go on holiday 100% confident that I won't come home to a Southampton in ruins after a natural catastrophe.

    Tomorrow is Hallow-e'en. Gone is the old superstitious fears of ghosts and witches (and a good thing too) and instead a jolly celebration as Guy Fawkes Night gets eclipsed.

    So we tell ourselves modern ghost stories and scares, such as the Mayan calendar ending. We choose to be scared by things that deep-down we know aren't happening.

    Surely it's that time of year when the media decide which plague is going to kill loads of us.

    Humans are bad at risk.

    For example, I used to be scared of flying. I quite like flying now, although my preference within Europe is to go by train. A few years back I chose to fly to Dublin rather than take the ferry from Holyhead, due to time constraints. And when I mentioned that flying is one of the safest forms of travelling, one lady suggested I tell that to people who'd lost relatives in a plane crash.

    We worry about plane crashes. Yet happily hop in a car or on a train.

    I gather you are more likely to die in an asteroid or comet impact that in a plane crash, as an event like that- although rare- causes devastation on a wide scale.

    I visited the USA this spring. The flight from Reykjavík to Minneapolis/Saint Paul suddenly got diverted as we approach Sault Ste Marie, and instead of flying in over upper Michigan and Wisconsin (I was so tired when I got in, that I ended up referring to a state called "Wichigan") we went across the Canadian side of Lake Superior and near Thunder Bay and Duluth. The reason for the diversion was "storms". When I landed I learned it was due to a tornado.

    Yes, we do get tornados here. But this was different. The Sunday we were in a restaurant and it came over really dark and as we were going home there was wind, rain, thunder, lightning. And I was sitting by the TV, watching as tornado warnings were given across parts of Minnesota.

    And herein lies the difference between the two continents. We live in a fairly comfortable continent. Maybe the decline in religious faith is because we seem to have it all under control, with scientific progress solving all our problems.

    North America seems to be more of a frontier place. I'm not talking about the Wild West and wagon trains. But a frontier between the comfortable what-we-can-control scientific world and nature (and even much of European nature is tame and cozy- let's face it, unlike in the USA, I've never walked anywhere in the United Kingdom where there might be wolves or brown bears around). Nature cannot be placated, cannot be reasoned with. The US Senate cannot ratify a treaty made with it. Congress cannot declare war on it. You can build cities and civilisation knowing that one day it will be destroyed and there is nothing you can do to stop that day coming.

    And having that deep in the psyche has got to have an impact on religious faith.

    Should There Be A By-Election After Crossing The Floor?

    Mr Smith was elected for our party and people should expect him to stick with the party. As he has left, he should resign his seat and seek re-election as he is now serving under false pretences.

    We are glad that Ms Jones has done the best thing for her constituents and her nation by joining us.

    After not getting a position in last night's reshuffle, Mr White has resigned the whip.

    Ms Brown shrugged off calls to resign, saying that she has not left the party, the party left her.

    The party leadership said that Mr Whatsisname is a high-profile highly-respected politician who would be an asset to his new party.

    From time to time, a politician crosses the floor, changing their party allegiances, and there can be many reasons- both those given and those cynically assumed- for it. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, failing to get that government job they know they deserved, or simply finding themselves out-of-step with their party.

    There was the old joke in the 1980s that Her Majesty's Opposition was really the House of Lords- dominated by Conservatives. There is some truth in this. Although the emphasis these days is on working peers being created, peerages were often used to kick MPs upstairs- in particular former Cabinet ministers- although the trend is moving away from this. Indeed, among Prime Ministers of the last half-century, Ted Heath, John Major and Tony Blair did not enter the House of Lords (it is possible that Major and/or Blair will do so at some point in the future).

    The little joke has a serious point. Those given peerages in the Honours Lists were the older generation making way for the new, formed in a different set of circumstances. There was the massive creation of life peerages under Blair- which, despite criticism, was fair enough as Labour was way behind the Conservatives- and this leaves a Blairite group in the House of Lords who will, unless there is radical reform (now kicked into the long grass), become increasingly out-of-step with Labour if the party moves to the left.

    Why do an older generation of peers disagree with the younger generation of MPs? Because they formed their opinions in a different era. A change in leadership can be a change in policy. The Labour that Blair led to victory at the May 1997 general election had different policies to the one that Neil Kinnock led to defeat at the April 1992 one. When Blair was first elected an MP at the June 1983 general election, it was on a platform of nationalising everything that moved (as well as everything that didn't), abolishing the House of Lords and withdrawing from the European Communities. As leader, he got rid of Clause 4, did the biggest peerage creation on record and made no attempt to hide his wish to be President of the European Council.

    Parties are organic beings. They change policies. What can be the old orthodoxy can become the new heresy. A long-serving MP can find themselves out of sorts with the party without changing their views.

    So, in some cases it can be I didn't leave the party- the party left me.

    Whenever there is a defection, there is the common call for the elected politican to resign their seat and fight a by-election. But is this fair?

    At one level it is, but even then you have to define what you mean.

    Someone who resigns the party whip has left their party. So. as they are no longer with the party they were elected under, should they resign their seat? But, did they jump or were they pushed? If they jumped, then does that mean that if they stuck their heels in and waited to lose the whip then they don't have to resign their seat? Would we end up with courts having to put MPs (especially whips) in the witness box to determine exactly the cirucmstances of resigning the whip?

    OK, you might say, allow MPs who lose the whip, or resign it to stay, and let's only worry about those who change party.

    But even here there are definitions. Define "party". What if a coalition has a single whipping system? Are they one party or two? In the House of Commons, the third party is effectively the Demoratic Unionist Party now. And if you take a coalition to be functioning as a single party in Parliament (but two distinct parties in the country) then if a Labour/Liberal Democrat government were formed, then that too would be a single party for Parliamentary purposes.

    So, picture legislation requiring a by-election to take place. And the Liberal Democrats decide to form a coalition with Labour.

    It could then be argued that- if in Parliament a coalition is treated as a single party- the Liberal Democrat MPs have left one party and joined another. So, all of them face by-elections? And if effectively a new Labour/Liberal Democrat parliamentary grouping is a new party, does that mean it's distinct from the Labour one that existed, and therefore Labour MPs should all face by-elections?

    And if you say that losing/resigning the whip is not a cause for an automatic by-election, but joining a new party is, then what happens when someone is an MP for a party in everything but name, for example Jim Kilfedder, who was MP for Down North from the June 1970 general election to his death in March 1995- sitting as an Ulster Unionist initially, then an Independent Unionist from October 1975 until forming the Ulster Popular Unionist Party in January 1980- and voted quite frequently with the Conservatives.

    How often does someone have to vote with a party to be defined an MP for that party? Consider a hypothetical Liberal Democrat MP who chooses to become an Independent but keeps in contact with the Labour Whips Office and votes with the Labour leadership more frequently than many Labour MPs. Would they be considered a Labour MP? If not, could someone get round an "automatic by-election if you change parties" rule this way?

    Some Governments have faced major rebellions which led to several MPs losing the whip- Conservatives over Suez in May 1957, Labour over post-devaluation economic reform in February 1968.

    But the one which is most recent is the Maastricht one. This was over the Treaty of Maastricht which had been signed in February 1992. Traditionally treaties were ratified by the Royal Prerogative, although the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act 2010 now gives Parliament a role. However, a piece of legislation- which became the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 was needed to introduce some changes into national law as a result of Maastricht.

    One part of the Treaty was the Social Chapter, which the United Kingdom had an opt-out on. In July 1993 Labour added an amendment which had the purpose of adding the Social Chapter to the legislation. This amemdnemt led to a tie (317 votes each) and the then Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, ruled that she could not create a majority where none existed and gave her casting vote with the Government.

    Interestingly enough, one Conservative MP who voted with the Government was Roger Knapman, who was Conservative MP for Stroud from the June 1987 general election until being defeated by Labour at the 1997 election. In June 2004 he made a return as a Parliamentarian- but this time as a UK Independence Party Member of the European Parliament for South West England & Gibraltar.

    One Conservative MP who ended up abstaining was Rupert Allason, the MP for Torbay, who lost the whip, but got it back in July 1994.

    The next major event was a vote in November 1994 on what was to become the European Communities (Finance) Act 1995. And at this, 8 MPs lost the whip- Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton South West), Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth), Christopher Gill (Ludlow), Teresa Gorman (Billericay), Tony Marlow (Northampton North), Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills), Teddy Taylor (Southend East) and John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood). As a result, Richard Body (Holland with Boston) resigned the whip.

    Now, the Whipless Nine acted as a group- the joint-fourth largest in the House of Commons. So, should they have been made to face by-elections as they had effectively formed a new parliamentary party in all but name?

    The idea that if someone changes party they should face a by-election sounds simple and logical, but then scratch the surface and there are difficulties.

    One question is who does an MP represent? There is the old idea that an MP owes their conscience to their constituents. And we ultimately elect people not parties, although party affiliation will play a large part.

    An MP is not a delegate- as Joseph Grimond, Liberal MP for Orkney & Shetland from the February 1950 general election until retiring at the 1983 one, noted, the two great issues he supported was membership of the European Communities and the creation of a Scottish Assembly, but these were rejected by his constituents in referendums (June 1975 and March 1979 respectively). Does that mean he was failing to represent his constituents?

    There are, of course, occasional high-sounding calls that on "moral issues", MPs should leave their opinions at the dooe to the Palace of Westminster and simply vote, as delegates, following whatever opinion poll a particular organisation had commissioned. Except, of course, sometimes MPs are expected to be in the vanguard, making ptogressive legislation and waiting for public opinion to catch up, or other times public opinion is so wrong and reactionary that MPs have a duty to ignore it. MPs can never win.

    But there are now devolved legislatures using the Additional Members System, which brings me to an article in The Scotsman by Brian Monteith, who was elected as a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament on the Mid Scotland & Fife list at the May 1999 election, re-elected at the May 2003 election and lost the Conservative whip in November 2005.

    The Scottish National Party has changed its policy on NATO, and as a result, 2 SNP MSPs for Highlands & Islands- John Finnie and Jean Urquhart- have resigned the SNP whip, and have faced calls from within their old party to resign and for Mhairi Will and Drew Hendry to take their places.

    Monteith makes an interesting point about list members- they are there because of their parties, and in the SNP's case by members who opposed NATO membership.

    On a purely practical level they cannot be removed and it is for them to decide whether to remain as members or not. That has been the rule that our professedly democratic parties, including the SNP, signed up to and have operated under at every election since the parliament was created. There have been ample opportunities for these parties to demonstrate their unhappiness at the arrangement that, once elected on the list, a member should resign from parliament if he or she leaves the party, by calling for a change in the legislation governing the elected status of MSPs. I am unaware of any such proposal. Furthermore, any covenant that candidates would be required to enter into before election that would force MSPs to resign has as much value or force as the SNP manifesto has for [Scottish First Minister} Alex Salmond.

    By throwing away one of the SNP’s most fundamental policies the conference threw away any hold it had on Finnie and Urquhart.

    Precisely. Finnie and Urquhart were elected on a platform of leaving NATO. They haven't changed their policies- the SNP has.

    The thing is, parties change opinions. There are often battles for the souls of parties- someone has to win and someone lose. A change in leader can be a change of course. Some MPs might find that the party is not what they joined.

    There is one form of victor's justice which involves either removing the whip or constructive resignation of the whip, pushing an MP to decide enough is enough. What is more dishonest- staying and mouthing support for something that was not party policy when they were elected or resigning the whip (with potentially joining another party)?

    I worry that any legislation that forces floor-crossers to face a by-election has unintended consequences. Do we want the Whips Offices to be able to threaten MPs with a mandatory by-election? Is that justice or victor's justice?

    Sunday, 28 October 2012

    Twas The 9 Before Christmas

    Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? I did some in June- well I was in Hawai'i and have a principle that if you know someone wants something, then buy it when you see it.

    But Christmas preparations come earlier each year it seems. Already there are the cards in the shops. At least when I lived in Leicester they waited till Diwali- although it was amusing to see that Woolworth (shows how long ago this was) would have its Diwali tinsel advertised and then suddenly it would be advertised as Christmas tinsel.

    I was surprised a couple of yeara back to hear a radio station do a competition for the 12 days of Christmas- starting on 13 December.

    Then this time of year brings out the devout followers of Christmasianity, those who if you tell them that you celebrate Christmas as a quiet religious festival wave tinsel at you and shout "Bah! Humbug! Humbug!" because you are not celebrating the Christmas of tinsel and mince pies and EastEnders that they think you should celebrate.

    A line I often take is that Christmas is at heart a religious festival- and we can argue whether it was hijacked from a pagan festival or not till the cows come home- and that New Year is the secular festival which we can, of all religions and none, unite around. One year I am going to open my presents on New Year's Day.

    On one level, when I get home from church at lunchtime on Christmas Day, Christmas is over. Liturgically, of course, Christmastide runs to Epiphany on 6 January.

    Normally there will be the complaints from the Church of England that Christmas is commericalised and that we are ignoring Advent.

    At home I have a copy of the 1980 Alternative Service Book, which was authorised for use in the Church of England from 1980 to the end of the 20th century (31 December 2000). There was still a fair bit of controversy about it when I became a Christian in 1990, and I could not follow all these discussions and arguments about "Series 1", "Series 2" and "Series 3".

    But where did the ASB start the liturgical year? With the 9th Sunday before Christmas, which in the Common Worship calendar is the Last Sunday after Trinity. And is today.

    Interesting that for about 20 years the Church of England bought into the common idea that this time of year is simply the run-up to Christmas.

    Wednesday, 24 October 2012

    Scotland And The European Union- It's Complicated

    So, the Scottish Government did not seek legal advice over whether Scotland would be part of the European Union if it became independent.

    For Scottish Nationalists, there has been one argument on this- Scotland is currently a member of the EU, and will remain so. And even if Scotland left the EU, then so would the rump state left, comprised of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    We have been in a similar situation before. The United Kingdom of today is not the United Kingdom of 80 years ago. Well, it is, nnd it isn't.

    So, here follows a (quite lengthy) look at history.

    In December 1921, London and Dublin signed what is often called the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the following March, the Westminster Parliament passed the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922. There was a significant provision- it stated that when the legislation for ratifying the Treaty was passed, then Northern Ireland would have a right to opt out. In December, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 was passed, and the devolved regions of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland formed the Irish Free State- the day after this, the Parliament of Northern Ireland exercised its right to opt-out of the Irish Free State.

    Under the Royal & Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland chamged its name to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    The thing is, no-one says that one nation ceased to exist and two new nations took its place. If Scotland became independent, surely it would be like the Irish Free State situation- one devolved area of the United Kingdom leaves, and the bulk of the United Kingdom carries on.

    As to the name of the rump nation, a bit of history- there used to be a sovereign nation called the Kingdom of England (or England for short), and this term included Wales. In July 1706, England and Scotland- which had had a common Head of State since March 1603 (when James VI, King of Scots, had become James I of England) signed a Treaty, and the English and Scottish Parliaments each passed an Act of Union the following year and in May 1707 the new nation of Great Britain was formed.

    Ireland had its own Parliament, which, under the Crown In Ireland Act 1542 legislated that the English monarch would be Ireland's Head of State.

    In the summer of 1800, the Parliaments of Ireland and Great Britain each passed an Act of Union, and on 1 January 1801, the first day of the 19th century and the day that Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the dwarf planet Ceres, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed.

    Looking at how Great Britain and then the United Kingdom were formed, a name could be the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland, drawing its name from the two Kingdoms (well, one Kingdom and part of an old Kingdom) that would form the remaining country.

    In one part of the nation, such a name would not go down well! The Wales & Berwick Act 1746 made clear than any references to "England" in legislation (and this was applied retrospectively) would include Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was ground-breaking in that it applied only to Wales (by tha way, the legislation simply closed pubs on Sundays- from the title you might think that one couldn't visit Wales on a Sunday as it was closed).

    Hidden away in the Welah Language Act 1967 is the crucial legislative change that references to England in future legislation did not include Wales. So, the post-1881 system whereby Wales was considered a part of England which might sometimes have special legislation applied to it was replaced by one where Wales was not considered part of England. Note that this legislation was passed the year after Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen by-election (July 1966) to become Plaid Cymru's first MP.

    The Local Government Act 1972 (in a clause that curiously was repealed by the Local Government Act 1992) settles Monmouthshire's status by placing it firmly in Wales- although not everyone agrees, given that at the May 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly, the English Democrats contested Monmouth.

    So, with history lesson behind us, the logical name for the remaining nation would be "the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland", which would be shortened to "the United Kingdom", although most English people will shorten it to "England".

    The House of Commons Library produced a research briefing paper entitled Scotland, Independence and the EU which I am having a read of.

    Three models are identified:

  • Continuation & Secession
  • Separation
  • Dissolution
  • In the first model, Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom and forms a new state. In the third model, the United Kingdom ceases to exist and is replaced by two new states (in which case, the United Kingdom would have to re-apply for United Nations membership and perhaps have to wait its turn to be voted a temporary member of the Security Council, although it could argue that Russia simply took over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's place).

    But, 1706 and all that. What I am thinking is that it would be the second model. England didn't occupy Scotland, or vice versa. Two independent nations had Parliaments that voted to unite. Now, some Scots might argue that the Scottish Parliament was bribed or blackmailed into voting for Union- but surely it is a case that two nations united voluntarily and then- if the Scots vote for independence- voluntarily separated. And therefore, the United Kingdom is in a unique position among EU member nations.

    If this model is accepted- and we have history on our side to argue it- then Scotland becomes the EU's 29th member upon independence.

    Now, either way, if Scotland does vote for independence, then the EU question has to be finally settled. The current deal is for the Scots to have just one question on the ballot paper, but surely there is space for a second referendum question alongside it, on a seperate ballot paper- If Scotland becomes an independent nation, do you believe it should be a member of the European Union?.

    What if an independent Scotland wants to be part of the EU, but Brussels rules that it isn't and it has to join the queue? Well, I can see three options:

  • Scotland just has to accept it is outside the EU
  • Independence is postponed until it can join the EU
  • The United Kingdom has a complicated system of overseas territories and dependencies, which rely on us for the foreign affairs and defence. Why not come up with a similar model, whereby an independent Scotland is considered part of the United Kingdom for EU purposes and no other?
  • So, that third option could mean that the Parliament of an independent Scotland authorises British minister- after consultation with Scotland's Foreign Secretary- to represent them in Europe for the interim period, and conversely, British ministers make themselves available for questioning by Scotland's Parliament.

    Friday, 19 October 2012

    When A Constituency Name Dies

    One thing that the Boundary Commissions have to deal with is naming constituencies.

    I have been going through the proposed new constituencies and when I look at the ward breakdown, I see the names of old constituencies.

    One thing that has happened over the latter half of the 20th century is that the population seems to have become less concentrated in the big cities, and more in the suburban areas.

    If you go back to the October 1951 general election, one which the Conservatives won narrowly (and where Labour got its highest ever share of the vote- there is the irony that Labour did better in defeat than it has ever done in victory), the big cities are:

  • Birmingham- 14 seats (Labour 9, Conservative 5)
  • Glasgow- 15 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 7)
  • Liverpool- 9 seats (Conservative 5, Labour 4)
  • Manchester- 9 seats (Labour 5, Conservative 4)
  • The situation now for them is:

  • Birmingham- 10 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 1, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • Glasgow- 7 seats (all Labour)
  • Liverpool- 4 seats and one shared (all Labour)
  • Manchester- 3 seats and 2 shared ones (Labour 4, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • The decline can be explained, in part, by constituencies now crossing boundaries (such as Blackley & Broughton crossing the border between Manchester City and Salford City; Garston & Halewood crossing the border between Liverpool City and Knowsley Borough; and Wythenshawe & Sale East crossing the border between Manchester City and Trafford Borough). But that is only part of it.

    One thing to note about that era is that there were Conservative MPs in these cities. In Glasgow, the last Conservative was Tam Galbraith, who was MP for Glasgow Hillhead and died in January 1982- the by-election in March 1982 saw the former Labour Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, elected as a Social Democrat, with support from the Liberals.

    Liverpool is interesting- the last Conservative seat to fall was Liverpool Broadgreen to Labour at the June 1983 general election. However, there had been boundary changes, and the last Conservative MP was Malcolm Thornton, for Liverpool Garston, who won Crosby in 1983 (this was a seat which had been Conservative at the May 1979 general election, the sitting MP Graham Page had died in October 1981, and the by-election in November 1981 was won by the former Labour Education & Science Secretary, Shirley Williams, elected as a Social Democrat with support from the Liberals).

    It seems that at the 1983 election, boundary changes sent Garston notionally Labour and created a new notionally Conservative seat, Broadgreen.

    Manchester was slightly better for the Conservatives, with Fred Silvester losing Manchester Withington to Labour at the June 1987 general election.

    However, this is a side track. As these cities see their representation fall, then we see historic names abolished. Sure, sometimes a seat will be created that draws heavily from 2 old ones and will be City Name X & Y. As time goes on. names vanish.

    In the review that led to the current constituencies, the Boundary Commission suggested a Plymouth North and a Plymouth South. Plymouth historically had 3 constituencies- Plymouth Devonport, Plymouth Drake (whose name vanished at the May 1997 general election) and Plymouth Sutton. To keep the historic names, the Boundary Commission settled on Plymouth Sutton & Devonport for the southern seat.

    Their latest proposals bring back a Devonport/Sutton split, but the only suggestion I have made so far is renaming their proposed Plymouth Sutton as Plymouth Sutton & Drake.

    [Added 20 October- in line with bringing back names of historic constituencies, I have also suggested renaming the proposed Manchester Central as Manchester Ardwick & Moss Side]

    Southampton is an unusual one, as the Boundary Commission avoid the bland points-of-the-compass approach and take the names of the rivers to give us Southampton Test and Southampton Itchen- there is part of the city in Romsey & Southampton North.

    One of the original proposals was a Hedge End & Hamble taking part of Southampton Itchen along with the southern bit of Eastleigh and the western bit of Fareham, crossing the river Hamble. I never got round to suggesting Southampton Hamble for this one- which would have been in keeping with the "Southampton river-name" approach.