Polling Day: Spoiling The Ballot Paper

We arrive at polling day after what has to be one of the most lacklustre and uneventful election campaigns in recent memory despite that the result is too close to call. Here we agree with Scribblings From Seaham that it has “felt to be an interminable farce of a general election”.

With a deep reluctance to deal with issues which matter to voters, a lack of policies of any substance and a largely staged television campaign with a reliance on pointless stupid gimmicks is it any wonder that 1 in 4 voters have yet to make up their minds by polling day.

I’m one of those 1 in 4 and when I began to write this blog piece on why, I realised I was repeating many of the points I had made 5 months ago. Here I wrote:

Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances.

And

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.  

Perhaps if I lived in a marginal Tory seat then I would have to grit my teeth and vote Tory for the first time to ensure a referendum. But I don’t. I live in a seat where Tory PPC/MP “Lazy Vaizey” has his votes weighed not counted. How I vote won’t make any difference to the outcome, a situation common among many voters.

With UKIP, despite that my local candidate is very good, I cannot endorse a party which is helping us to lose the eurosceptic argument with YouGov now reporting a 12-point lead for the “inners”, up two points since April.

So unable to vote for any of the options available it’s for the first time in a General Election that I have spoiled my ballot paper (see above) and I’m not the only one.

I simply can’t wait for the whole charade to be out of the way to see if the Tories will win an overall majority. If so we get an EU referendum and then the real work starts.

Quote Of The Day

I thought the following quote rather wonderfully summed up the current mood on the general election campaign and the leaders’ debates. This from a fellow Swindon Town fan:

Well, this leaders debate hasn’t really helped much in revealing the best candidate has it.

You’ve got the self serving rich boy party, the racist party, the liar party, the tree hugging party, the hi-de-hi party, the braveheart party, and the ‘not even the best Milliband’ party.

Meh.

Quite.

The Decline Of The Westminster System: The Fusion Of Powers

 

As we edge closer to the general election in May, it is rather inevitable that the polling would show a trend in decline regarding UKIP’s support, which has been consistently argued by EUReferendum:

Talk of a major Ukip “revolution” at the general election looks to have been seriously overblown, says Politics.co.uk, a view based on new constituency polling released by Lord Ashcroft.

The data show that Ukip is not on course to win any of its key target seats currently held by the Conservatives. Most worrying for the party, we are told, in the poll of Boston and Skegness – where Ukip won its largest majority in last year’s council elections – it has been pushed back into second place.

There are a myriad of reasons for a decline in UKIP’s poll rating. As has been well documented here and elsewhere, such as Complete Bastard, is that UKIP’s problems have in the main been self inflicted. There is a fundamental lack of coherence, a geographical divide in message – depending on Labour areas or Tory ones, no fully worked out policies, and u-turns in under 24 hours at the whim of the party’s leader.

So-called policies which do manage to remain intact, on its website, are almost identical to the ones contained within the 2010 manifesto which Farage infamously dismissed as drivel.

Thus, with the decline in UKIP support, we can note with wry amusement that UKIP will be having their Spring Conference in Margate – where apparently we will see the launch of UKIP’s manifesto. For those who may have not visited Margate recently, it would be described by estate agents euphemistically as ‘tired‘. Many of its attractions, like the Winter Gardens, are in need of urgent repair.

However we also consider that the UKIP has an inherent problem, which is not entirely its fault, and that is the failings of the “Westminster System” and First Past The Post. ‘Winning’ the Euro elections is one thing, but with the business end of a Parliament coming to its end, and a looming election, the electorate have real choices to make. Ultimately they have to make a decision on who they would like as Prime Minister. UKIP is going to face a squeeze in an electoral process that is a Presidential System by proxy.

As Tory Michael Heseltine noted on BBC’s Question Time last night (04:30 mins in):

“There’s only one choice Cameron and Tories and economic recovery or Miliband and Balls the people who caused the economic problems in the first place.”

The Westminster System is no longer about electing MPs but electing Prime Ministers by proxy. Further confirmation comes with the forthcoming leaders’ debates which we have criticised here.

Interestingly we can also look back to the 19th Century to make our case with Chartism. Chartism: A New History by Malcolm Chase is a fascinating account of a British mass movement for democratic rights in the 19th Century.

Chartism was one of the very rare moments in British history where it is legitimate to speculate how close the country came to revolution. And what is interesting is Chase’s attention to detail which allows the story to come alive for those in the 21st Century. One intriguing passage was this regarding the presentation of the first petition:

The Petition was finally presented to the House of Commons on Friday 14 June 1839. Few Chartists had expected it to make a difference to parliamentary attitudes and in this respect 14 June did not disappoint. No indication was given whether MPs would formally debate it, and when Attwood and Fielden…rolled the giant [petition] into the Commons chamber it was greeted with laughter.

And Chase then describes the attempts to present the massive second petition in 1842:

[It was arranged] to bring ‘the Chartist leviathan petition’ direct to the Commons chamber while it was in session. But…Parliament’s officials had realised the physical problem this posed. The Petition became jammed tight in the Members’ Entrance. Attempts were made to dismantle…part of the door frame; but eventually the Petition had to be disassembled and taken into pieces into the Commons. Heaped up on the floor of the chamber, it dwarfed the clerks’ table on which, technically, it was supposed to be placed.

One senses here the familiar futility of lobbying a system that would not listen. But those with a keen eye will notice that the Chartists’ leviathan petitions, in 1839 and 1842, were delivered to Parliament. Not to Government, not to Number 10, but to Parliament – to representatives.

In stark contrast we now see petitions presented to the Prime Minister (government), and with the rise of e-petitions such process is now made official:

Alone this little detail illustrates that the people now, perhaps unconsciously, have appreciated how the power has been consolidated and fused between the government and Parliament. Bypass the monkeys – the middle men – and go straight for the organ grinder. And it’s with great irony, that Chartists tried to petition representatives when they had no vote and now in the age of universal suffrage we no longer bother.

Thus if we want an effective ‘people’s army’ and a ‘revolution’ we need to fundamentally change our failed parliamentary system. Demand #3 of the Harrogate Agenda is as good as place to start as any:

3. Separation of powers:
The executive shall be separated from the legislature. To that effect, prime ministers shall be elected by popular vote; they shall appoint their own ministers, with the approval of parliament, to assist in the exercise of such powers as may be granted to them by the sovereign people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; no prime ministers or their ministers shall be members of parliament or any legislative assembly;

Happy New Year

With 2014 now drawing to a close here at TBF towers we would like to wish all our readers a happy and prosperous 2015.

2015 has the potential of being rather interesting for eurosceptics with the impending general election in May (has it really been nearly five years since the last one…?). For us this may (or may not) prove to be a watershed in terms of the UK’s membership of the EU and a promised referendum by Cameron should he win an overall majority.

Yet for the first time in decades, where the outcome of an election could have been confidently predicted, the 2015 general election is proving, so far, too hard to call. The Tories haven’t yet achieved the 6% lead required just to have a majority, but Labour has its own problems being saddled with a leader who is clearly not a credible Prime Minister in waiting. Then we factor in the possible collapse of the Lib Dems and the rise of the “UKIP effect”.

Perhaps the tight nature of the election reflects a national populace who have a low opinion of politicians overall, are expressing general apathy towards the process and see little difference between the bigger parties.

Eurosceptics though have a dog in the fight, namely Cameron’s promise of a referendum on UK membership. As it currently stands anything less than a Tory overall majority denies us a potential referendum. This position may change in due course given that a week is long time in politics so just under six months is an eternity. Labour may also promise a referendum nearer the time. Anything can happen and this is particularly true of UKIP.

As we approach May, UKIP will inevitably face the traditional two party squeeze but it also faces other internal issues which have been seeping out in recent months. While newspapers have been conducting their usual summary and reflection of the year just past – the ‘rise of UKIP’ being one of them – it has been a very bad couple of months for the party. Bad headlines regarding allegations of unwelcome sexual harassment, racism and other shenanigans have led to a significant drop in poll ratings in recent weeks.

It is also true that what is emerging are internal tensions if not yet outright civil war within the party. The latest example being a leaked document reported by the Daily Mirror:

Ukip chiefs hired a City barrister to keep “bad stuff” hidden from the public, leaked documents show.

National executive committee meeting minutes from June 2013 detail how Matthew Richardson became Ukip secretary.

They state Mr Richardson’s role as party secretary would be deciding “whether to take injunctions out” when Ukip is criticised in the media.

The minutes state: “We need to ensure all of the bad stuff is kept out of the public domain.

“As party secretary (Mr Richardson) would try to ensure that we keep a tight reign on things.”

The revelation is damaging for Ukip chief Nigel Farage, who tries to present his party as a ‘people’s army’ which does not indulge in typical Westminster spin.

With further ‘leaks‘ today, can the party manage to hold itself together before May, only time will tell.

All in all though it leaves us with something of a dilemma. Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances. Having checked just to make sure, we discover that voting while inebriated isn’t illegal:

I’ve been in the pub and feel drunk. Can I vote?

Yes. Polling station staff cannot refuse a voter simply because they are drunk or under the influence of drugs. However, if the presiding officer suspects you are incapable of voting you will be asked a series of questions to determine whether you are up to the task of casting your ballot. If the voter cannot answer satisfactorily they will be told to come back when they’ve sobered up.

Then there’s always the risk that Cameron won’t deliver – he certainly doesn’t want one and only promised under political duress. Raw political calculation though suggests he won’t have a choice but to deliver – he would be removed as leader and PM before we could say 1922. And his recent Article 48 proposal gives a very stong hint that he is already preparing for a referendum campaign should he win outright in May. Personally I have an additional advantage in that having access to the full version of Oxfordshire’s electoral roll means I know where he lives should he renege…

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader. Witterings from Witney notes yet another ‘policy’ inconsistency within UKIP.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.

And despite UKIP policy in the last 5 or 6 years, in so much as they have one, on demanding that Cameron promise a referendum, UKIP due to its disproportionate effect on Tory votes will deprive the party of victory which is so far the best chance we’ve got. ‘Vote UKIP and let Labour in’, is more than a soundbite. Although in terms of Prime Ministerial ability preferring Cameron to Miliband as Prime Minister is akin to wishing to be run over by a car doing 29mph instead of 30mph illustrating if one was needed what a mess our current system of governance is in.

But then, like many others, I live in a safe seat – in my case Tory – it matters little what I think…my vote is largely an irrelevance. So a spoiled ballot maybe an option which will have no impact on the outcome whatsoever and saves me from dilemmas.

Thus the UKIP sentiment of ‘sod the lot‘ is understandable, although perhaps a better way maybe of annoying the establishment is for them to lose an in/out referendum. Oh the delights of seeing europhiles such as Howe, Clarke and the ungracious Mandelson (20mins in) weeping quietly into their state-subsidised drinks as a reaction to a successful “out” vote victory persuades me that dislike of the Tories is outweighed much more by the dislike of our EU membership and the lies that have gone with it.
 
So decisions, decisions decisions.

And with that thought in mind happy new year to you all…

Stamp Duty

 

I’ve made my feelings clear before, in rather robust terms, on the complete lunacy of stamp duty on the housing market. Owen Paterson with the launch of his think-tank, UK2020 a month ago acknowledged the problems inherent with it

Stamp duty completely distorts the housing market by having absurd cliff hangers meaning an extra penny on a house price can cost thousands extra. Trying to sell a house, for example, which is worth just over £250,000 then becomes a nightmare. It means a jump in duty from 1% to 3%, which obviously becomes a deterrent to anyone attempting to try to sell or buy a house within a significant range of the £250,000 bracket. At the very least if we are to retain the tax it has to be altered.

It is welcome therefore that in the Autumn statement that Osborne is attempting to iron out the stamp duty ‘jumps’

The chancellor said that from midnight the current system, where the amount owed jumps at certain price levels, would be replaced by a graduated rate, working in a similar way to income tax.

Clearly with the 2015 election in mind Osbourne’s headline plan has a multitude of benefits; mainly appealing to “middle England” who are attempting to successfully sell their house, the headline of a tax cut and an attempt to outflank Labour on proposals of the mansion tax:

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the headline announcements were “real electioneering” by the Conservative chancellor, saying the stamp duty proposals were the Tories’ “own version of the mansion tax” proposed by Labour and the Lib Dems.

Thus we can see, along with Article 48 on immigration, Conservative policy is beginning to take shape six months before an election. Policy not aspiration. Contrast this with Ukip whose ‘non-existent’ policies are in a mess, and unlike the Iron Lady whom Farage alleges he admires, he is for turning, often, and with embarrassing consequences.

Whatever we think of either party, what is clear is with the steady rolling out of policy Tory candidates and PPCs will be prepared well in advance, particularly in hustings. However UKIP PPCs will have a manifesto dumped on them just weeks before and any policies contained within liable to be changed on the whim of its leader. We are thus seeing a repeat of what’s gone on many times before. Its grassroot support deserves much better.

That aside we also see the cynicism of the Tories. Osborne could not have been unaware that stamp duty was fundamentally broken, he’s been informed before. Thus it is very interesting that he attempts to address the issue particularly just before an election. He’s allowed a broken system, and all the difficulties it entails for the rest of us, to continue right until an impending election when he makes the necessary amendments purely for political purposes.

This is of course further evidence that the only mechanism which concentrates politicians’ minds is the threat of being removed from office before an impending election. Thus the current representative system of being “lied to on Thursday and ignored on Friday for another five years” does not work. Above all else we need another way.

The Hidden Trap

David Cameron’s speech this morning, which I described earlier in robust terms, seems to have done its intended trick and united his party albeit temporarily (the divisive gay marriage vote is yet to come). So it’s no surprise to read Daniel Hannan singing his master’s praises, despite him knowing that the renegotiation option is not possible.

On the domestic political front, Cameron’s speech is a superficially clever old wheeze. Cameron gets to outflank the Labour party who now seem embroiled with confusion over their EU policy (perhaps less time faffing about with the Nash Equilibrium and more time developing principles might help), while leaving UKIP with a conundrum I’m not confident that they will resolve adequately. Time will tell I guess.

The potential trouble for Cameron though comes down to detail – can he maintain, for five years, the assertion of repatriating powers despite it not being possible? We’ve had form from Mr Cameron on this before with the ‘fake veto’. Initially it gave him a poll boost, yet when reality hit home, less than two months later, the picture was somewhat different. In that context five years is a very long time to keep up successfully a lie, and as Richard North writes a massive lie is exactly what Cameron’s speech was.

Yet despite the so-called clear water, a description beloved of the media, between Labour and the Tories on the EU issue, this is immaterial. The Tories are very unlikely to win the next election, for various reasons, but a referendum on the EU, or lack of one, will not be one of them.

Nor indeed does the next election necessarily rest on the performance of the economy. Despite the political cliche of “It’s the economy, stupid”, elections in this country in the last 20 years, since the phrase was coined, don’t bear that out. John Major won in 1992 in the midst of a recession, yet lost heavily when the economy was picking up in 1997 (When told by Treasury officials in 1997, the economy handed over by the Tories was better than expected, Gordon Brown’s response was; “Do you want me to write a thank-you letter”?). Yet ten years later Brown’s popularity sunk, not because of the credit crunch that was to come, but because of the election never was. Brown’s dithering displayed a lack of leadership – the killer weakness is incompetence, or the impression of it. Here the coalition has displayed it in spades, epitomised by Osborne’s disastrous budget of last year

But despite that by far the biggest threat to a Tory majority government is none of the above nor indeed UKIP but the electoral system. The electoral bias is significant according to the UKPolling Report (my emphasis):

It is far easier for Labour to secure a majority in the House of Commons than it is for the Conservatives. If Labour lead in the vote they will secure an overall majority, if the parties are neck and neck then Labour will be by far the largest party. In contrast, depending on how well the Liberal Democrats do, the Conservatives need to be in the region of 9 or 10 percent ahead in the polls to secure an overall majorty.

Currently the Tories are 5 points behind. So without implementing a boundary review, the Tories are at a huge disadvantage, and it looks as if the latest boundary review has been knocked on the head for this Parliament. Then there is postal voting, a system of electoral fraud that benefits Labour more than the Tories. Without resolving these issues, the Tories are more than likely to be dead and buried at the next election. Thus I’m not convinced a referendum on the EU will be enough to save them.

Therefore Labour don’t actually have to promise one to win and, unless they reverse their own policy, we won’t be getting a referendum. One wonders if this is why Cameron has promised one in the full knowledge he won’t ever be called on to deliver?

And even in the miraculous event he does win the next election, his reluctance to make explicit what he would do in the face of the inevitable failure of renegotiation is very apparent as highlighted by Norman Tebbit in the Telegragh:

He was quite clear that if his negotiations not just to repatriate powers, but to reform the very structure of the EU and bring into question the concept of “ever closer union” were successful, he would campaign for a Yes vote. He was rather less clear about whether if they failed, he would then campaign for a “No” vote. Indeed he repeatedly dodged that question.

In other words; “we won’t let matters rest there”? We’ve been here before.

And there lies the hidden trap. By promising an EU referendum we’re either faced with voting for a liar who won’t deliver or, with the odds heavily stacked against Cameron winning the election, the Tories inevitably losing the next election thus prompting the accusations yet again that EU promises don’t win elections. In such circumstances one can see the issue being ‘parked’ for another generation.

Perhaps that’s the point all along?

It Was Twenty Years Ago…Yesterday

I didn’t get time to blog, but yesterday marked 20 years since the 1992 election when the Tories won their last ever majority. The election itself was notable for many reasons; the War of Jennifer’s Ear, the infamous Sun front page and Major campaigning on his soap box. And as the picture above illustrates (shamelessly nicked from political betting) the exit polls got the predictions spectacularly wrong.

1992 also marked the terminal decline of the Tory party as divisions, particularly over Europe, wreaked havoc from which they have never recovered. Diehard party members and supporters departed en masse, donations and subscriptions collapsed between 1992 and 1997. Labour’s win in 1997 was less to do with Tories switching sides but that they stayed at home instead.

On a personal note, I remember 1992 well. It was the first election I ever stayed up all night to watch – I missed out being able to vote in it by just 2 months. It also marked the beginning of my journey of eurosceptisim, as the next 18 months left their mark on our country in the form of Maastricht and the ERM crisis.

20 years on and still they can’t win an election. Couldn’t happen to nicer chaps. Bastards.