Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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Really, I want the Lib Dems to do well in Eastleigh…

On Thursday the most interesting by-election of this Parliament takes place.

Eastleigh, recently vacated by the disgraced Chris Huhne, sees the two Coalition parties fight it out. It is a Liberal Democrat stronghold, held since 1994. Even Labour’s 1997 landslide resulted in only a third place with 26.8 % of the vote.

Here is the 2010 result:

General Election 2010: Eastleigh
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne 24,966 46.5 +8.2
Conservative Maria Hutchings 21,102 39.3 +2.1
Labour Leo Barraclough 5,153 9.6 −11.5
UKIP Ray Finch 1,933 3.6 +0.2
English Democrats Tony Pewsey 249 0.5 N/A
Independent Dave Stone 154 0.3 N/A
National Liberal Party – Third Way Keith Low 93 0.2 N/A
Majority 3,864 7.2
Turnout 53,650 69.3 +4.9
Liberal Democrat hold Swing 3

This by-election raises issues for left-leaning voters. Who do you vote for when the only real contenders are in Government delivering policies that are diametrically opposed to your principles?

This is the dilemma that  First-Past-The Post poses across the country. It turns the decisions made in elections from working out the best choice to calculating the least worst. Framed in this fashion then, what is a Labour and Green supporters least worst option, assuming your priority to to remove this Government?

The answer is quite clear – vote Liberal Democrat. That’s right – vote Liberal Democrat.

In 2015 the Liberal Democrats will be fighting 57 seats. Of these, in 38 the Conservatives are the second place party and Labour are runners-up in 19.

Below is a table with the effect of different swings from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives and Labour on the seats that Liberal Democrats would lose.

  1. Liberal Democrat
  2. Conservative
  3. Labour
Swing Achieved Gain for Conservative Gain for Labour
5 % 15 0
10 % 30 2
15 % 37 5
20 % 38 18
25 % 38 34
30 % 38 38

For example, should the Conservatives get a swing of 5% from the Liberal Democrats in these seats, they would take 15 seats. Should Labour get the same swing in the same seats, even a static Conservative vote would result in no gains whatsoever.

Next, seats where Labour are second:

  1. Liberal Democrat
  2. Labour
  3. Conservative
Swing Achieved Gain for Labour Gain for Conservative
 5 % 7 2
 10 % 13 4
 15 % 17 9
 20 % 18 16
25% 18 18
 30 % 19 19

Here a 10 % swing from Liberal Democrat to Labour would gain Labour 13 seats, and the same swing the Conservatives with a static Labour vote would win 4 seats,

The end goal of removing the Conservatives in 2015 is hampered seriously if the Liberal Democrats lose ground in the south, south east and south west where Labour are not contenders. Every seat the Conservatives win makes the job of Labour harder.

By-elections since 2010 strongly suggest that the Liberal Democrats have suffered serious swings to Labour, enough to virtually eliminate them from most urban areas, the north and the regions. Labour have also gained on the Conservatives.

The pincer movement of Labour gains in the north and urban areas and Liberal Democrat holds in the south would be fatal to David Cameron’s attempt to even be the largest party. UKIP making taking Conservatives votes would simply compounds the Conservatives in a triple squeeze

So if you live in a seat Labour are a poor third, allowing the Conservatives win by not voting Liberal Democrat really is cutting of your nose to spite your face.

Perhaps you should try one of Polly Toynbee’s nose pegs?

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A Shuffle to the Right

The Cabinet reshuffle has set the tone for the second half of this Parliament, and gives a guide to the shape of the next General Election.

By leaving George Osborne in place, the Prime Minister has set out his stall to stick to an economic approach based on cuts and Austerity. This plan is now set in stone, and the Coalition is firmly chained to it.

The Green credentials of this Government, already looking very shabby, have been firmly cast away. Justine Greening, firmly opposed to a third Heathrow runway, has been removed as Transport Secretary. The Government is already talking about reviewing Airline capacity in the UK, a real insight into their current thinking. The Coalition agreement does include a no third runway clause, but increasingly that whole document is looking as durable as one of Gerald Ratner’s earrings. In addition, the Conservative back-bench rebellion over wind farms have borne fruit. A wind farm sceptic is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

David Cameron is shaping his Cabinet to supply the red meat that Tory back-benchers and local activists are demanding. I believe we will see further benefit cuts, more anti-ECHR rhetoric, additional curbs to union rights and range of other policies to keep the Tory faithful cheering. He has realised he cannot win the election on the economy, so a line up of traditional dragons the Tories can slay is being prepared. David know full well he can cut back the public sector, attack benefit claimants and when the left stands up to this, he has created a common enemy. With the media largely behind him providing PR support, it could be an effective strategy.

The Liberal Democrats are in an appalling position. They know they have the power to pull down the Coalition. They also know they are politically dead whenever the General Election happens. David Cameron can push and push, and if they complain too much they will be left with a single-shot revolver on their desk. If they don’t like it, they know what the alternative is. Every time Nick Clegg’s MPs have caved in – the health bill for instance – they become weaker and weaker. They are now pitifully weak.

This shift has serious consequences for Labour. Labour has in effect been shadowing much of the Conservative’s policies. When the Coalition promises Austerity, Labour hasn’t fully rejected it. Labour simply says it would cut a bit less sharply and more fairly. When major cuts to disability benefits are on the cards, Labour says that they do need reform, but they wouldn’t do it quite like that. The timidity in offering a principled alternative is something that Ed Miliband may regret in the future. He has been good tactically, but on the strategic aspects of creating a credible alternative Government in time for the 2015 General Election, he has done much less well. How will Labour handle a media-led campaign against the ECHR, and a new populist attack on benefits? The record to date suggests very passively.

To conclude, this reshuffle is a serious game changer. Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats that haven’t yet turned into invertebrates need to work hard together to challenge what David Cameron wants to offer the country. If they don’t, Britain may be sleep walking into a nightmare.