Damning facts about our electoral system

Well done Mark Pack for highlighting an extraordinary series of facts about our cranky old electoral system. 29% of seats haven’t changed hands since 1945. Half of the seats in England haven’t changed hands since 1970. When you add this to the research by Mark Thompson (that showed that MPs in the safest seats were three times more likely to be involved in expenses scandals than those in the least safest seats) we are starting to get good solid evidence to support electoral reform.

Is Brian Coleman following every London fire engine in a taxi?

Following on from my post about Conservative London Fire authority chair Brian Coleman yesterday (more here, here, here and here) Mark Pack draws attention to the man’s apparent double standards with respect to public expenditure.

Mr Coleman attacked Lynne Featherstone with all sorts of sexist language because she rang up the fire brigade, explained her problem and they decided to send a crew costing £250. Coleman says this is a misuse of public money and should be paid back.

Perhaps Coleman should himself pay back some of his taxi fares which he has enjoyed at the public’s expense. The average London Assembly member claims £685 for taxi fares in the period that Coleman claimed £8,000 taxi fares. Indeed, in one eight month period, his taxi bill was greater than all the other LA members’ bills, and the Mayor’s bills, put together! And he’s got a free travelcard so he could go by bus or tube anyway!

What on earth is Mr Coleman doing with all these taxi journies? Following every passing fire engine to check it’s call is valid?!

Henley: Withering criticism of Tory "lies"

ThameNews.net carries some extraordinarily strong words directed at David Cameron from the Green candidate at the Henley by-election, Mark Stevenson:

“You may remember how our campaigns (in the 2001 Witney general election) coincided on several occasions, how we had a number of conversations and even joined for lunch at a country pub. I remember being impressed by your evident desire to take green politics seriously, I also remember being impressed by the way in which you sought common ground and to build on it”

Mark goes on to express his concerns about the Conservative campaign tactics in the run-up to the Henley by-election:

“. . . a Party that deliberately engenders misinformation for its own advantage is a Party that lies; a Party that lies to the public is not fit for government. It is certainly not a Party that embodies the values that I remember you held in 2001.”

Mark Pack covered a related ThameNews.net story here on Liberal Democrat Voice earlier.

Cameron strong-arms local Henley Conservative party over candidate selection

BBC South Today (Peter Henley reporting from…..Thame – chicken!) have reported this evening that the Liberal Democrats in Henley have made a flying start with our by-election campaign. Here’s the video report.

The report also says that David Cameron has strong-armed the local constituency over the way they choose their candidate. Mark Pack explains:

The background is that the local party had a timetable it wanted to follow for selecting their candidate, including the use of an open primary. Conservative Central Office tried to talk them out of both, sending John Maples to tell them what to do. According to a well-placed eye-witness John Maples’s pleas were rebuffed and David Cameron then had to meet personally with the local party to get it to fall into line.

On BBC Radio Oxford this morning the local party chair, John Walsh, confirmed that the local party had been “firmly told” what to do.

The Conservative selection is now taking place on Friday night.

The sunrise and sunset times which may give Gordon Brown pause for thought

Recent council by-election results have been interesting.

Last week, Labour romped home in the home of the vital “Worcester woman” with a stonking 17.6% swing.

This week there have been vote share increases for the Tories in Dover (up 4.1%) and Portsmouth North (up 3.3%). But Labour’s share also went up – by 3.2% in Portsmouth. There were 8.2% and 12.6% decreases in the Tory vote share in other Dover seats which were contested. In Cheshire they were up 2.1% in one seat but down 13.2% in another. In Corby the Tories were down 2.7%. And I am not entirely sure that a win in Sunderland is likely to put that seat top of the Tories’ list. Thanks to John Hemming for his results list. Mark Pack provides an incisive analysis of recent by-elections in key seats here.

Being an old git, I go back to boring things like lighting up times and weather forecasts. These are the things which might feature low on the radar of those three upstarts, Balls, Miliband (E) and Alexander, who are advising Brown on the election timing. Being at that age when the weight of the testosterone in their bodies exceeds the weight of their brain cells, I suspect they are more on the balls of their feet wanting to knock the Tories out for another ten years.

But these things are top of the list with old fogies like me, when considering whether Brown will call an election this year (No, he won’t – as I have already said – but then again, I have nothing to lose if I am proved wrong!).

Brown is worried about the SNP bounce, so let us focus on Ochil and South Perthshire constituency. The Labour MP there, Gordon Banks (no relation to the Pele killer shot-saving goalie, I presume) holds a majority of 688 over the SNP from the 2005 election. He is 1.5 percentage points ahead of them. Tight.

So let us consider the Labour activists who will be going out to canvass support in the week up to November 1st, if that is the date on which Brown calls the election.

I have been doing a bit of research on lighting up times in Alloa, which is at the heart of this constituency. I have got the data from the US Naval Observatory site here, using Longtitude/Latitude data from Multimap.

On the Friday before the election, 26th October, those activists will be canvassing in the dark from 17:49hrs. So they will find that many people will not open their doors to them in the evening. Also on that Friday, those activists will start to hear the odd whistle, bang and flash of light. The start of the Bonfire parties in the run-up to November 5th. Another reason for people to keep their doors firmly closed for fear of allowing pets and children to be further frightened by the fireworks.

As they go out canvassing on Monday October 29th, those activists will find that it is even darker in the evening. The sunset will be earlier at 16:42, due to the clocks going back on October 31st.

On the evening of Wednesday 31st October, the day before the election, those Labour activists will find that everytime they knock on a door they will either not receive a reply, or be met with a handful of sweets or, worse still, an earful of swear words ending with the preposition “off”. It’s Halloween. Best not to bother to try canvassing then.

On the actual election day, November 1st, the sun will not rise until 07:21 hrs, 21 minutes after polls open. Not a great incentive for people to bother to vote on their way to work. And the sun will set at 16:35, discouraging many people from voting after work.

Obviously these vote-discouraging factors may impact the SNP vote as much as the Labour vote, but will Gordon Brown want to gamble on that? And in other constituencies with similarly restricted light situations (most, if not all, of the constituencies in the UK), the Tories will be able to rely on their hefty postal vote share and their electorate with its high proportion of people with heated cars and the ability to vote during the working day.

A point about the weather. In the first week of November last year, the temperature on some days in Scotland barely got up to 4 °C. In Oxfordshire, it went down to -5.2 °C at one point. Again, not ideal conditions for getting the vote out.

Of course, Brown may go for October 25th, even though this seemed to have been fairly authoritatively ruled out earlier in the week, via Nick Robinson. That way, he will avoid Halloween, Guy Fawkes parties and clocks going back. But it will still be dark when most of the canvassing is being done in the evenings, and dark on election day from an early hour.

On October 25th in that weathervane seat of Basildon it will be dark at 17:45hrs. In Portsmouth North it will be dark at 17:53hrs and in Alloa the sunset will be at 17:51hrs. …Not easy conditions under which to encourage those stubborn voters to venture from their comfy armchairs down to the polling booths.

Tories on their Blue Tree – they're making it up as they go along

When they originally revealed their new “tree” logo, the Tories unveiled a Scottish and Welsh version, as well as an English version. There seemed to be strict rules on how the logo could be interpreted.

I was rather surprised, therefore, to read on the BBC that the Conservatives had played down their latest “Blue sky” version of the tree by saying that it was intended all along that the tree would change colour whenever anyone felt like it (paraphrasing). Here’s the BBC report of what the Conservative spokeswoman told them:

She told the BBC: “We are not changing it at all. When we launched the tree last year there were various colours on it.

“You can change the backdrop on it. You can change the colour of the tree to make it look like a winter tree and things like that.”

It is up to organisers of press conferences and other events to decide the backdrop to use, the spokeswoman added.

That old terrier Mark Pack has tracked down the Conservative style guide for the logo which appears to completely contradict the statement made to the BBC by that Conservative party “spokeswoman”.

The style guide does show this light blue version of the logo:

But that is a world apart from the following new dark blue logo with sky and sunshine winning the day:

Indeed, the style guide is extremely specific – it is 22 pages long – and says, for example, “Never use tints” and “Don’t create new colour logo versions!” (their exclamation mark!)