Friday, May 28, 2010

You know times are tough

. . . when a Prime Minister's home phone account is (accidentally) disconnected. Details here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

So much for "drill, baby, drill" . . .

. . . as the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico continues (details here).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Election results: ConDem-nable?

Well, the vote share was roughly what I predicted as already noted. Plus, I was right on there being a hung Parliament with no party in overall control.

Where I was wrong was thinking that the Conservative Party would form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. Anyone who knows anything about the election would have heard various calls from senior figures in the Lib Dem camp (and even Labour) who appealed to voters to vote tactically in order to ensure the Conservatives did not take power. The big shock was that --- after campaigning on a "vote for us: we will keep the Tories out of No. 10 Downing Street" --- the Lib Dems then, well, form a coalition government with the Tories that has the effect of contradicting a key election theme. This Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is already being referred to as "ConDem" with many Lib Dem supporters disillusioned as a result.

The coalition and its policies appears ever alarming:
1. The Cabinet has a mere 4 women
2. 23 Cabinet ministers are millionaires (so much for the claim of "new politics")

And there's more. The ConDem coalition is pushing for a new law that would see Parliament dissolved only if supported by 55% of the House of Commons (see here). This is a constitutional outrage in more ways than one. This might mean that the Prime Minister would -- for the first time -- be able to lose a vote of confidence, but this would not be enough to trigger a new election (and the Tories might be able to hang on to power . . . even if the Liberal Democrats deserted them). Expect to hear a lot of opposition to this legislation shortly.

So far, not so good. I continue to believe we will see (a) a rise in top up fees for university students by this government and (b) elections by the end of the year. We shall see if this turns out to be true soon enough . . .

Sunday, May 09, 2010

UK election prediction: the likely effects on higher education

Further predictions pertaining to current UK election results:

1. The next research assessment will be postponed by at least two years.

I fear higher education policy may not receive the attention it is has been enjoying in recent years by ministers. This is both because of budget cuts, but also the likelihood there will be another election before the end of the year. I say two years as there was already speculation the REF would be delayed by one year: I think everyone will be pushed back another year given the likely election and that the rest of this year will be about debating cuts and preparing for another election campaign.

2. Fees will rise.

One easy way for government to find savings in its budget may be to ask students to pay a greater share of the costs of higher education. Some speculate that the current review will recommend rises of up to £1,000 in fees per year for home students leading to a free market. Whatever the veracity of these guesses, I suspect it is now even more certain than it was before "top up fees" may rise further.

I hope I am wrong at least on (2), but we shall see soon enough . . .

Where things stand after the UK election: the progressive alliance?

It is the morning after the day before the morning after the day before . . . and so on. The party winning the most votes and seats, but not an overall majority (the Conservative Party) are in talks with the party that came third (the Liberal Democrats). A deal between them would oust the party that came second (Labour) which is currently in power.

Much of the analysis has looked at what the Tories and Lib Dems would have in common. These items might include scrapping ID cards, cutting bureaucratic overspend, etc. Nevertheless, the two parties have far more difference than similarities. Virtually every Lib Dem supporter I have spoken with since the election threaten to switch their political allegiance to anyone but the Tories and Lib Dems if the latter do a deal with the former.

What has been coming out recently are overtures from other parties, including the Scottish National Party, to form "a progressive alliance" (see here). Indeed, this alliance would bring together virtually all parties but the Conservative Party. Its aim? Endorsement of progressive politics. Reform the voting system. Tackle the budget deficit while trying to secure frontline services, such as the NHS.

What is surprising to me is that while many parties may be interested in a deal with the Labour Party, it isn't clear who really wants a deal with the Tories. Sure, the Lib Dems are holding meetings now, but the speculation is that at best (for the Tories) the Lib Dems will agree not to vote against the Queen's Speech and key bills that Conservatives would like to see take shape. The only party that did have an interest in joining a coalition with the Conservatives -- the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) -- had the small, little problem of, well, losing every contest it entered: there will be no UUP MPs in the new Parliament.

Verdict? When the one party that wants to join forces with you loses every seat it contests, then you have a friend problem. The Conservatives may well fight against any attempt to make the UK's electoral system more fair because the fact is they can only gain power these days through the first-past-the-post (FPTP). As a whole, the UK is not a conservative or right-centre country. The evidence is that where the Tories come up short they have no genuine allies to find common cause . . . at least allies who might win at least one seat.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Conservative Party hypocrisy: who has the "moral right" to govern?

Today, the Times has run its lead editorial making the case for the Conservative Party's "moral right" to form the next government (see here). This "moral right" has been raised by several Conservative MPs and the Times endorsed the Conservatives in the recent general election.

What is this "moral right"? The paper argues here:

"[. . .] It is David Cameron, not Mr Brown, who now has the moral right to govern the country. The general election has put the Conservative Party first in terms of both votes and seats. The Conservatives won two million more votes than Labour. Yet Mr Cameron lacks the constitutional right to govern outright, having fallen short of an overall majority. [. . .]

Note the emphasis on Cameron winning more votes, even many more votes as providing the foundation for this "moral right" to lead the next government. These extra votes (noted twice) have given rise in this case to the most seats held by a party and together (and not apart) this provides the "moral right" in question. Note also that this is a right not simply because a peculiar first-past-the-post system has determined party x will have y seats. Instead, the case seems largely dependent upon the Tories winning more votes. The message is clear: the Conservatives won more votes and, thus, have the more secure mandate to govern.

One need not become a legal positivist to know that this "moral right" is rather different from the "legal right" (or simply put the legal reality). The rules of the British election game is that the Prime Minister is in office until s/he resigns. Until this happens, it is the Prime Minister who has the right to form the next government if s/he can build a sufficiently large coalition. This other message is clear: Conservative Party supporters claiming this "moral right" (e.g., that Cameron, not Brown, should have first go at forming the next government) wish to depart from the legal procedure.

How genuine is this position? Compare the following statistics on percentage of the vote secured versus seats won:

(a) Conservatives: 36% - 302 seats
(b) Labour: 29% - 256 seats
(c) Liberal Democrats: 23% - 56 seats

Thus, the Liberal Democrats have won 6% less of the popular vote than Labour, but emerge with 200 fewer seats. The unfairness in share of the vote versus seats won is genuinely striking.

Conclusion: if the Conservatives claim a "moral right" to govern based upon their vote share, then surely the Liberal Democrats have a similar "moral right" to greater representation in Parliament. If legitimacy and mandates come in the form of votes, then the more votes a party secures the greater its representatives. Conservatives cannot claim a "moral right" to govern based upon the size of its votes and then deny the "moral right" of Liberal Democrat supporters to greater Parliamentary representation.

It is high time there was electoral reform in the UK. If the Conservatives are serious about taking power and serving in the national interest (and if the Liberal Democrats want to join a coalition with the Conservatives that would not alienate its electoral base), then some alternative to first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting must be agreed and introduced. The ball is in David Cameron's court.

Friday, May 07, 2010

UK election results

The election results are now nearly complete. I had predicted here the following results:

Conservatives - 35%
Labour - 28%
Liberal Democrats - 27%
Other parties - 10%

I came very close! The actual results are (with only a few more seats to be declared):

Conservatives - 36% (+1%)
Labour - 29% (+1%)
Liberal Democrats - 23% (-4%)
Other parties - 11.9% (+1.9%)

More or less, I'm off by just 1% . . . which I think was better than all other pundits (although off on Liberal Democrats like everyone else).

The bigger differences are my prediction of how this vote share would translate into seats. I was less on the money here (prediction - result):

Conservatives: predicted 278 - result 302 (+22)
Labour: predicted 263 - result 256 (-7)
Liberal Democrats: predicted 80 - result 56 (-24)

The big results worth noting are the following:

1. Conservatives do not win outright. Many pundits thought they would pull this off. I thought they would win the largest number of seats, but fail to win a majority.

2. All parties lost. The Conservatives let slip a huge lead that should have seen them clinch a landslide victory. This moved further and further from their grasp as the election campaign marched on. They most definitely underperformed. Labour made historic losses across several seats and come away with some major former ministers losing seats as well, such as Jacqui Smith and Charles Clark. The Liberal Democrats surprised everyone by not polling nearly as well as virtually everyone (including me) had predicted. I had thought they were on for their best result in decades. This did not turn out to be the case. I believe virtually all smaller parties underperformed -- the Scottish National Party achieved only 6 of their hopef for 20 seats -- with the only winning party being perhaps the Green Party, winning its first MP.

3. Tynemouth stays Labour. My local constituency -- surprising in my view -- kept its Labour MP, Alan Campbell. I say surprising as his seat was the number 1 target for the Conservative Party in the North East. I was inundated by flyers, etc. and virtually nothing by Labour until the morning of the poll (save for one Campbell flyer a week or so ago). Yet, Campbell won by an even bigger margin. I called this wrong.

4. Hung Parliament. As I predicted, we will have a hung parliament where we may have a coalition government.

5. Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. I suspect that the most likely coalition will be between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Both are progressive parties with more in common than in disagreement. The opposite is true with the Conservative Party. Together, the Lab-Lib Dems would command 52% of the popular vote so they could claim a mandate.

So what's happening now? Full results are here. The Conservative Party is eager to strike a deal (if possible) with the Liberal Democrats. The latest is here. Again, I think this may be very unlikely.

I will keep following events closely.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Britain goes to the polls

Today is election day across the United Kingdom. For excellent coverage, see the BBC here. A party must hold 326 seats or more to have a majority. The current situation is the following:

Conservatives: 210 (winning 33.2% of the vote)
Labour: 349 (winning 36.1%)
Liberal Democrats: 62 (winning 22.6%)
Other parties: 29 (winning 8%)

My prediction is that the Conservatives will make big gains, but not big enough to win an overall majority. Part of the reason for this is that I expect the Liberal Democrats to make significant enough gains.

I predict:

Conservatives - 35% and 278 seats
Labour - 28% and 263 seats
Liberal Democrats - 27% and 80 seats
Other parties - 10% and 29 seats

This would result in a hung parliament with no one party with a majority. Some predict the Conservatives will forge ahead with a minority government. I think it is far more likely there will be a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition which together would have a clear majority. It will be forged on conditions of (a) Gordon Brown stepping down as PM, (b) electoral reform - including a move towards proportional representation, and (c) Labour wanting to remain in government.

End prediction: Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition

For local interest, I suspect that Wendy Morton (Con) will become the new Tynemouth MP, replacing Alan Campbell (Lab).

This has been a close and even surprising election campaign. I will post results when available.

UPDATE: My thanks as ever to Brian Leiter for noting this post on his Leiter Reports. No, I lack predictions on philosophers running in the election. Of course, Brian would have my vote if he ran!

UPDATE 2: How well did I do? About 1% off. Full details here.