Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Just forget about Scotland", part 2

I've been having a listen to the Polling Matters round-up of 2015, in which Rob Vance has once again been doing his "just forget about Scotland" routine.  He doesn't use those exact words this time, but the basic sentiment hasn't changed at all from his last offering on the subject a few months ago.  It's very telling - and rather amusing - that he starts out by saying that Labour can't take power without putting together a majority in the "British parliament".  That of course is absolutely right, but he actually means the opposite, ie. that Labour need an English rather than a British majority, and therefore that the Scottish component of the British parliament can be largely ignored.  He doesn't even properly correct himself after 'mis-speaking', which tends to confirm my theory that certain London commentators are literally incapable of differentiating between an English and a British parliament, between English and British public opinion, between an English and a British party system, etc, etc.  To them, it's inconceivable that Scotland could ever matter in a British general election, because Britain is England.

The problem for Vance is that arithmetical laws and basic constitutional principles don't really yield to what is essentially a chauvinistic cultural conceit.  You kind of sense that the rational part of his brain knows this, which explains why he feels he has to hang his assumptions on the vague notion that English Votes for English Laws will progress in such a way as to render SNP MPs practically irrelevant in the formation of a British government.  He adds almost as an afterthought that he's not sure of how that will happen.  But here's the thing - if he can't at least make one or two realistic suggestions of how it's even possible for Scottish voters to be disenfranchised to quite such an extreme extent, what he's saying is effectively gibberish.  The moment that Scottish MPs are barred from voting on motions of confidence (and thus helping to determine who forms the government) is the moment Scotland has ceased to be part of the United Kingdom.  We'd essentially have the same status as Gibraltar or Bermuda or any other dependent territory that lacks representation in the UK parliament.  That just isn't going to happen.

A fairer point to make is that a more radical form of English Votes for English Laws could leave a Labour-led government that has a British but not an English majority in the position of being 'in office but not in power', ie. without the ability to drive through its programme on English health, education and possibly even taxation.  But the bottom line is that it would still be in office, which is not nothing.  And in any case, there is no sign so far of such a radical version of EVEL emerging - all we have to date is a very casual change in the House of Commons' Standing Orders, which an incoming Labour government could easily change back in the space of a single day.

What this is really about is that Vance finds it emotionally impossible to accept that Labour will either have to defeat the SNP in Scotland to take power at Westminster, or else do a deal with the SNP.  But barring an implausibly enormous pro-Labour swing in England, that's exactly the position.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The state of play in the EU referendum remains as clear as mud

I've been meaning to update the EU referendum Poll of Polls for quite some time, but because I had settled on a method that gives equal weight to telephone and online data collection, it wasn't possible to do it in the absence of any recent telephone polls. But it seems that phone polls are like the proverbial London buses - you wait months for one, and then two come along at the same time.


Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?


Remain 50.1% (+1.4)
Leave 37.6% (+0.4)


Remain 43.1% (-0.7)
Leave 41.7% (+3.4)


Remain 57.0% (+3.5)
Leave 33.5% (-2.5)

(All polls conducted at least partly within the last month are taken into account. The online average is based on nine polls - four from ICM, two from Survation, one from ORB, one from BMG and one from YouGov. The telephone average is based on one poll from ComRes and one from Ipsos-Mori.)

As you can see, the trend is far from clear.  If only online polls existed, we'd probably be halfway towards convincing ourselves that Leave have made significant progress in recent weeks and have practically drawn level.  But the two new telephone polls suggest public opinion is moving in completely the opposite direction, so much so that in the 50/50 average, the online trend is more than cancelled out, and the Remain lead has slightly increased.

I'm fairly confident that the method I'm using is the best one available, because almost any alternative you can think of would give too much weight to online polls, which are conducted far more frequently.  That might not be such an issue if the gulf between the results produced by the two types of poll was not quite so huge and consistent, but it is.  However, the problem with what I'm doing is that each telephone poll is given a disproportionate amount of weight, and so if there's any specific problem with an individual poll, it becomes greatly magnified.  Unfortunately, I'm a bit sceptical about the approach Ipsos-Mori are using for their phone polls, because they ask about referendum voting intention in two different ways, and they use the actual referendum question second, not first.  Logically, I have to use the results from the real question, but I can't help wondering if the first set of results are more meaningful.  If we used those instead, the average Remain lead in telephone polls would be significantly lower, at 54.5% to 35.5%, and the 50/50 average would be Remain 48.8%, Leave 38.6%.  If that's a better reflection of reality, it could be that Leave have indeed made some modest progress of late.

UPDATE :  I see from John Curtice's analysis that I've misunderstood Ipsos-Mori's approach slightly - they don't ask respondents the question two different ways, but instead split the sample in two and ask each half of the sample one of the two versions of the question.  That makes the numbers for the actual referendum question much less problematical, but quite what the value of the exercise is escapes me.  OK, it helps Ipsos-Mori make a comparison with the question they've been asking for years, but surely that consideration is more than outweighed by the detrimental effect of cutting the sample size in half.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Genuine question for Dan Hodges : if Jeremy Corbyn has already killed the Labour party four times, how can it possibly die again?

Merciful Dan Hodges has at last given Jeremy Corbyn some respite.  Just for once, it's Hodges' own fellow travellers in the PLP who are responsible for "killing" the Labour party, because (you've guessed it) they're not doing enough to get rid of Corbyn.  However, regular readers of Hodges' column may be a tad puzzled as to exactly how, in practical terms, it's even possible for these "spineless" parliamentarians to be killing the Labour party - an organisation which has apparently already been put to death by Corbyn on no fewer than four separate occasions since August.

Dan Hodges, 31st August : "Labour has ceased to be a real political party...we’ve now reached the point where it isn’t really possible to call Labour a political party at all."

Dan Hodges, 12th September : "The day the Labour party died. The Labour Party as we know it – and as some people once loved it – died today. Each and every one of us will be touched by its passing."

Dan Hodges, 5th October : "The Labour movement is dead."

Dan Hodges, 25th November : "The Labour party has ceased to exist."

Hmmm. I think we can only conclude that a key part of the cruel Corbyn/McDonnell masterplan is to keep bringing the Labour party back to life every few weeks, just so they can kill it all over again. Will this non-singing, non-bowing, Albanian-quoting, party-going, peace-loving Marxist madness never stop?

* * *

Meanwhile, Hodges' even more unhinged Blairite brother John "the Gardener" McTernan has excelled himself with possibly the most hypocritical paragraph that has ever been written in the history of the English language. Indeed, if McTernan's name hadn't been at the top of the article, I might have assumed it could only have been written by the Professor of Hypocrisy at Hypocrite University.

"This strategy of ridiculousness – so ridiculous, to adopt the immortal words of Blackadder, it could only be thought up by the Professor of Ridiculousness at Ridiculous University – has as its current emblem the proposal to make Ken Livingstone a peer of the realm. Pause for a minute to savour the delicious irony – and total stupidity – of that concept. The "new politics" is about making appointments, rather than electing parliamentarians and then making them Shadow Cabinet members? New precisely when? The mid-eighteenth century?"

Tell me, John - in which parallel universe did the Labour Prime Ministers you worked for appoint only elected politicians to the government? Is it a figment of my imagination that, for example, Gordon Brown appointed the ultra-right-wing Digby Jones of the CBI (who wasn't even a member of the Labour party, let alone the House of Commons) as Trade Minister, and then immediately made him a Baron so he could continue in the job?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Corsica follows in the footsteps of Scotland and Catalonia by electing a nationalist administration

Understandably, the mainstream media in the UK have been most interested in the French regional elections because of the failure of the National Front to make a really telling breakthrough and seize control of at least one council.  But we shouldn't lose sight of the historic result in Corsica, which represents the biggest challenge for decades to the French state's Neanderthal notions of absolute sovereignty.  Of the large European states, France is the most backward in that respect, even more so than Spain, which at least allows nations like Catalonia a very substantial measure of autonomy.

Corsican Assembly second round election result (vote shares, changes are from second round in 2010) :

For Corsica 35.3% (-0.4)
French Centre-left 28.5% (-8.1)
French Centre-right 27.1% (-0.6)
National Front 9.1% (n/a)

Seats :

For Corsica 24 (+9)
French Centre-left 12 (-12)
French Centre-right 11 (-1)
National Front 4 (+4)

It may seem slightly bizarre that the nationalists have achieved victory in spite of their vote edging down slightly, but the explanation is that the National Front didn't make the second round last time, so the presence of the far-right has had an impact on all of the other three parties/alliances - but the nationalists less than the others.  In any case, the nationalist vote was split last time between two parties in direct competition with each other.

The constituent parties of the alliance are the Party of the Corsican Nation, which is actually anti-independence but in favour of significantly increased autonomy, and the pro-independence Corsica Libera.  It would be interesting to know whether the Party of the Corsican Nation have come under fire for deciding that the most natural alliance is with other civic nationalists, and not with other 'unionists'.  It certainly makes perfect sense that they've taken that view, because as long as Corsica Libera have a pragmatic understanding that autonomy within France is the necessary first step towards their goal, the two parties' immediate constitutional priorities coincide entirely.

As you can see, the alliance has fallen just short of an absolute majority (they have 24 seats, and the combined opposition have 27), but there doesn't seem to be much doubt that they will form the new administration.  What this result reminds me of most is the SNP's minority victory in 2007, when unionist parties in combination retained an overwhelming majority of the popular vote.  The big question now is whether the Corsican nationalists will be able to use their limited power as a springboard to greater things, as the SNP did so successfully.

UPDATE : The UK media's early reporting of the results in mainland France was disappointingly ill-informed.  For example, the presenter on the BBC news channel wrongly told viewers that the National Front's vote had "collapsed".  In reality, the far-right party achieved its highest ever raw popular vote in any election, and seemed in terms of vote share to be fractionally up on the 27.7% achieved in the first round.  The fact that it didn't win outright in any region can be entirely explained by massive tactical voting, and in a few cases by the complete withdrawal of the centre-left from the contest.