Thursday, May 29, 2014

If the Green party has the best policies, why does hardly anyone vote for them?


According to the Vote for Policies website, the Green party has by far the best range of policies.

Over 400,000 people have taken the survey in which they must pick their favourite policy out of a range of six without knowing which parties they come from. It isn't a completely blind survey because in some categories it is fairly easy to identify the policies of a particular party (the BNP on immigration, the Green Party on the environment ...), but it is very good, and it's about as close to a properly blind political policy survey as it is possible to do.


The Green party policies have been picked as the best over 25% of the time, with Labour in second with just over 20%, the Lib Dems 3rd (17%) The Tories 4th (15%) UKIP fifth (12%) and the BNP last (10%).

Of the 9 categories in the survey, Green party policies have been judged the best in 4 of them (health, education, crime, environment) and second best in 4 more (economy, welfare, immigration, democracy). The only category in which they weren't judged as one of the two best out of six was Europe, where they were judged 4th best.

In order to put this into perspective a little, it is interesting to note how unpopular the policies of UKIP were. They finished 3rd in one category (economy), 4th in another (welfare) and 5th in all of the other 7 categories.

In a blind "tasting" the Greens romped to victory, and a small minority of people picked the UKIP policies as the best. However in the 2014 European elections the pattern was reversed and UKIP were the ones that romped to victory, whilst the Green party came in 4th, marginally ahead of the politically toxic Lib Dems.

This huge disparity between the quality of policies and the performances in elections is very interesting, and it raises an important question. If people aren't voting for political parties based on the quality of their policies, what are the reasons they are voting for them?

In my view two of the most common reasons people vote for parties are habit and media coverage.

Habitual voters, who always vote for the same party no matter what, make up a significant proportion of the voting public. There are millions and millions of die-hard Tory and Labour voters all over the UK. In former industrial areas you could stick a red rosette on a donkey and it would win a landslide victory. Even if David Cameron killed, dismembered and ate a baby live on television, there are Tory heartlands that would still vote for him in droves, simply because he is a Tory.

There's little that can be done to change the voting habits of habitual voters, because to them politics is like football. They have their team which they will support through fair weather and foul, and it doesn't matter how much better another team might be playing at any given time, they're sticking with their own team rather than switching allegiances and supporting the best team (glory supporting).


The role of the mainstream media in this is very important. The pre-election blanket coverage of UKIP played a decisive role in their success in the European elections. It's frankly amazing that of all of this blanket coverage, barely any of it related to what UKIP's policies actually are. It is also amazing that UKIP went into this election without a proper manifesto and actually won it. It just goes to show how little value people put on policy when a party without a proper manifesto can win an election outright.

I did my best to redress the balance by asking what the UKIP policies are on hugely important issues like the NHS and TTIP, but just a few tens of thousands of people read my articles, and the mainstream media were too busy marveling at the UKIP circus to bother asking any serious questions. Reams of coverage focused on the ridiculous antics of the Ukipper fruitcakes, and when it did come down to policy, the media tended to present Nigel Farage and his UKIP colleagues with an open goal by limiting the discussion to the issue of Europe.



In my view UKIP were helped to success by the media because the media knows that the UKIP circus is "click-bait". The reason that the Greens did so poorly, despite having the best manifesto from an objective point of view, is that they were more-or-less completely ignored by the mainstream media as boring stuff that nobody will click on.

Even when it came to election results night and it became clear that the Green party had leapfrogged the Liberal Democrats into 5th place, the mainstream media cut them out of the coverage by lumping them into the grey column with "others". UKIP winning the election was obviously the big story of the night, but the Lib Dems finishing in fifth behind the Greens was surely a noteworthy story, worth a little bit of coverage.


Things got even worse in the aftermath of the election when BBC Newsnight hosted a debate on "four party politics", in which the party that finished fourth in the election was excluded from the debate and replaced with a representative of the party that finished fifth!

It is absolutely clear that the Green party is not going to get a fair deal of coverage from the mainstream press, so that makes it doubly important that they do something drastic with their social media policy. Let's put it this way. I am a just a bloke from Yorkshire and I've got more Facebook followers than the Green Party page, and more than twice as many people have been talking about my stuff as theirs - in the week of their most important election in the electoral cycle!

I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet and brag about my statistics, I'm trying to say that if I can achieve this on my own with no financial backers, no massive team of volunteers, no graphic design team, no public relations officer, no policy unit ... then the Green Party is clearly doing something wrong.

The Green party has made a few small but significant strides in recent years. They have 3 MEPs, a wonderfully honest and hard working MP (Caroline Lucas), two members of the London Assembly, minority control of Brighton council, and they form the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich and Solihull. They have good policies that people really like when they don't know that they come from the Green party, and they have a core of very dedicated activists.

The problem is that they simply aren't managing to reach out to people, mainly because the mainstream media bias against them.

Instead of complaining to the BBC about their blatantly biased coverage, the Green party needs to engage alternative strategies. The old world of traditional media still dominates now, but the party that really figures out the new world of social networking and independent bloggers is going to be at a distinct advantage in the future.

That it is the Green's only only chance to ensure that as many people as possible actually get to hear what they have got to offer right now, makes it that much more important that they do something drastic with their social media policy as a matter of urgency.



 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only source of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  is the  PayPal  donations box (which can be found in the right hand column, fairly near the top of the page). If you could afford to make a donation to help keep this site going, it would be massively appreciated.
 Don't forget to check out the Vote for Policies website for yourself.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How the rise of Podemos in Spain should be an inspiration for the progressive left in the UK


With the extreme right scoring victories all across the continent, the European election results were a bitter disappointment to anyone looking for genuine alternatives to the right-wing Thatcherite economic policies that have dominated European politics for the last two decades.

On the bright side, there were a few rays of hope. One of the very brightest being the spectacular rise of the Podemos (We Can) party in Spain, which finished as the fourth party in Spain despite only having been founded in March 2014, just 10 weeks before the election.
   

Background

The neoclassical economic models predicted ever increasing prosperity and stability if the governments of Europe embarked on a spree of privatisations and financial sector deregulations, but this prescription of free market ideology resulted in the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis.

By the time the global economic crisis hit, the neoliberal consensus had become ossified as the global economic orthodoxy, meaning that, after they got over the initial shock of the crisis they didn't see coming, the political and economic establishment reverted to type and presented exactly the same neoliberal policies that had caused the crisis as the solution to the crisis, simply by rebranding them as "austerity".

A crisis the political and economic establishment utterly failed to predict should have triggered a paradigm shift, with politicians and academics throwing out their old neoclassical textbooks and searching out new ideas from the heterodox economists who had been driven to the margins by adherents of the neoclassical orthodoxy. Instead of doing this, they quickly reverted to type, using the crisis as an excuse to intensify the speed and scale of free market reforms.

The reaction of the ruling PP party in Spain (they're like the Spanish Tory party) has been to gleefully impose free market reforms, enforce massive cuts in social spending (especially in education) and to attack workers rights. As a result of these ideological reforms, the unemployment crisis has gone from bad to worse in Spain. The youth unemployment rate is significantly above 50% and it has stayed that bad since early 2012. The general rate of unemployment is above 25%*. These figures are totally unsustainable, and the negative social consequences of such high unemployment are immeasurably vast.

After making all of these cuts, and doing nothing to alleviate the unemployment problem, the Spanish government then added insult to injury by handing a huge €19 billion bailout to an insolvent Spainsh bank called Bankia**.
     

15M - Real Democracy Now - Indignados

Whilst the youth of the UK were using the police shooting of Mark Duggan as an excuse to set about trashing and looting their own communities, the youth of Spain took a different approach. They organised massive peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins all over the country.

The reaction of the Spanish establishment to this growing peaceful insurgency was to use the police as a militia in order to break up the protests and intimidate people from joining in.

When these events weren't being repressed by the state they featured policy forming committees, petition signings, music and street theatre. When these peaceful demonstrations were repressed by the state, they turned into chaotic bloodbaths.

It soon became clear that these "indignados" protests couldn't just be shut down by brute force, so the Spanish government tabled new legislation to essentially revoke the right to peaceful protest by imposing fines of up to 30,000€ on protesters for committing "offenses against Spain".

In April 2014 Amnesty International stated that "The excessive use of force by Spanish police and plans to strengthen repressive legislation are a damning indictment of the Spanish government’s determination to crush peaceful protest".
          

Podemos

Despite the concerted efforts of the Spanish establishment to crush this popular protest movement, they have clearly failed, because on the 11th of March 2014 the indignados movement transferred itself from the streets to the political arena with the formation of the Podemos political party. 

Just ten weeks after the formation of the party they stood in the European elections and picked up 1.2 million votes (8%) to finish fourth and bag five MEPs. The party that finished above them in third place is the United Left party almost tripled their vote to bag six MEPs. Both of these progressive left parties look set to join the left-wing European parliamentary group led by Alexis Tsipras of Syriza.

To go from nothing to the fourth most popular political party in Spain in less than three months is nothing short of incredible. It is a remarkable achievement that should act as an inspiration to the progressive left all over Europe.
              

Polices

The Podemos policy document is 36 pages long and divided into six sections (if you read Spanish you can view it here).

1. Economic reforms
Introduction of a Universal Basic Income, renationalisation of strategic infrastructure and services, financial sector reforms, early retirement schemes, measures to promote the growth of small businesses, a serious clampdown on tax-dodging.

2. Promoting liberty
Increased use of referendums, restrictions on lobbying activities, public accountability of political parties, freedom from state surveillance, protection of the rights of expression, association, protest and political participation.

3. Promoting equality
Equal access to health, equal access to other public services, elimination of gender inequality, reversal of the privatisation of the education system, reform of university education, introduction of a right to a "dignified life", guarantees for women's reproductive rights.

4. Promoting fraternity

Promoting political participation, a referendum on Spanish withdrawal from NATO.

5. Redefining sovereignty
Scrapping the Lisbon Treaty, renegotiation of/withdrawal from free trade agreements, ending the use of memoranda of understanding, introduction of referendums on constitutional changes, wide ranging anti-corruption measures.

6. Recovering the land
Environmental protection, reduction of reliance upon fossil fuels, promotion of public transport and renewable energy, agricultural reform, recognition of access to water as a basic human right.
Why in Spain and not the UK

The lightning rise of Podemos (and the tripling of the vote for the more established United Left party) in Spain contrasts markedly with the election results in England. The anti-neoliberal anti-establishment parties took a huge chunk of the vote in Spain, but in the UK the protest party of choice is UKIP, which is even more fixated with the bankrupt neoliberal free-market ideology than the Lib-Lab-Con Westminster establishment they pretend to offer an alternative to.

The fact that UKIP have managed to soak up the protest vote despite being a Tory donor bankrolled "Thatcherism on steroids" party full of failed Tory politicians (Neil Hamilton, Roger Helmer, Bill Etheridge, Janice Atkinson ...) means that there was very little space for the genuine alternative parties.

The breakdown of the vote in England shows that the English electorate returned 57 MEPs from economically Thatcherite political parties (22 UKIP, 17 Tory, 17 Labour, 1 Lib-Dem) and just 3 from all of the alternative parties combined (3 Green).

The Green party have established themselves as the biggest alternative party, but their share of the vote actually fell from 8.1% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2014. They managed to return one additional MEP thanks only to the spectacular collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats.

The Green Party may try to convince themselves that they did well because they won an extra seat, but if we compare their performance with the progressive left in Spain we can see how much of a disappointment a 6.9% share of the vote should actually be.

The established United Left party picked up 10% of the votes in Spain and 6 MEPs, and Podemos picked up 8% and 5 MEPs despite having only been founded ten weeks before the ballot. These two parties (not the only left wing parties to win seats in Spain) picked up 18% of the vote and 11 of the 54 Spanish MEPs between them.

Of the 73 MEPs representing the UK, only 3 could be described as representatives of overtly left-wing parties (the 3 Green MEPs), if we allow the definition to be stretched a bit to include social democratic nationalist parties (Paid Cymru, the Scottish National Party, Sinn Féin) that still only takes the total to 7 out of 73. 

It is quite difficult to explain the huge difference in performance between the progressive left in Spain and England, but one possible explanation is that swathes of the British electorate have allowed themselves to be convinced by the right-wing press that the EU is some kind of communist plot (the old EUSSR chestnut) when it is in fact a project built on a foundation of neoliberal economics.

Perhaps the Spanish public aren't politically naive enough to allow themselves to believe that a communist organisation would have an an independent central bank (ECB) filled with neoclassically trained economists, led by a former Goldman Sachs employee (Mario Draghi) which goes around forcing privatisation all over the place?



Where is the progressive left in the UK?

The Green party has a strong manifesto with a lot of progressive economic ideas (there is actually an awful lot of crossover between the Green manifesto and the Podemos manifesto), however they failed to unite the left-wing vote and actually saw their share of the vote fall by over 12% since the last European election in 2009.

It's not like there are no left wing groups and no progressive organisations in the UK. There are plenty of organisations promoting left-wing politics and progressive economic policies including The Green Party, UK Uncut, the No2EU coalition, the People's Assembly, TUSC, the Socialist party, Respect, Occupy, Left Unity, the National Health Action party, the Tax Justice Network, Positive Money, the New Economics Foundation and many more, however they are splintered into sub groups, meaning the supporters of all of these groups have ended up with only three MEPs between the lot of them, all of them from the Green Party.

The progressive left is badly underachieving in the UK because it is failing to speak with a unified voice, which is absolutely vital given the fact that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly dominated by supporters of the Thatcherite economic ideology (even the supposedly left wing Guardian refuses to take an editorial line against neoliberalism).

If the progressive left in the UK want to achieve anything significant, they can't allow their message to be diluted, and they definitely can't rely on the mainstream news to be impartial when they inform people of their agenda. They've got to use alternative media (independent blogs & social media) and they've got to get out on the streets and actively explain what is going wrong, and what they plan to do about it.

In my view the only way the progressive left is going to achieve anything in UK politics is if they put their differences aside and unite behind some basic principles upon which they all more or less agree. Whatever this agreement is, it's got to be concise, it's got to be binding and it's got to be agreed as soon as possible.

Another thing the progressive left needs to do is find themselves a young and infectiously enthusiastic leader in the mould of Pablo Iglesias of Podemos in Spain, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza in Greece or Camila Vallejo, the student activist turned politician in Chile. Finding a young leader would be great, but it isn't a definite prerequisite, because you only have to look at the phenomenal success of Beppe Grillo's 5 Star movement in Italy to see that you don't necessarily have to be young to become an anti-establishment figurehead.

The UK progressive left took an absolute hammering in the European elections, but there isn't time for moping around feeling sorry for themselves, they've got to look at the success of the progressive left elsewhere and attempt to emulate it.

Of all of the successful progressive left parties, Podemos is by far the most inspirational story because they've shown that it is possible for a progressive left-wing party to take politics by storm. If they can go from nothing to the fourth most popular political party in Spain in the space of ten weeks, then anything is possible.

The rise of Podemos is a demonstration that the progressive left can achieve great things in the face of brutal establishment hostility. What it takes is solidarity and strong leadership.

The course of action for the progressive left in the UK should be absolutely clear. They need to unify, and they need to find themselves a strong leader. The only questions remaining should be 'how quickly can it be done?' and 'who can we unify behind?'.
 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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* The youth unemployment rate in Spain was 53.9% in March 2014, and the general rate of unemployment in Spain was 26% in the first quarter of 2014.

**Bankia was run by a guy called Rodrigo Rato, a former PP finance minister and managing director of the IMF.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

12 Things you should know about the 2014 European elections


In this article I'm going to highlight 12 talking points from the 2014 European elections. They're not really just 12 things, but lots and lots of different things organised under 12 subheadings.


The UKIP earthquake actually happened on Sunday

In their desperation for UKIP to win and create a big news story, the mainstream press declared the UKIP local election results an "earthquake" and a "triumph" even though the UKIP share of the local election vote actually fell dramatically from last year. UKIP won far fewer new council seats than Labour (who apparently were the big losers despite winning more than half of the seats on offer); they failed to gain control of a single council; and they finished with far fewer council seats than even the politically toxic Lib-Dems.

The mainstream press actually shot themselves in the foot on the Thursday night, because the UKIP "earthquake" headlines would have been far more profound had they saved them for Sunday night and Monday Morning, after it had become clear that UKIP had won the most votes in the European ballot and created a genuine shock to the system, rather than just picking up a few council seats scattered all across the country.


The press should have saved their superlatives for Sunday night, because that is when UKIP made history by winning the European ballot. It is the first time in living memory that a UK level election has been won by anyone other than Labour and the Tories, and it is the first time in the history of the Conservative party that they have failed to finish in the top two.

UKIP received the most votes by a significant margin, they won the most seats overall, they increased their share of the vote in every single region and they even took an MEP in Scotland, which is quite incredible given that their former party leader in Scotland recently insulted the Scottish people by describing them as "subsidy junkies" (this is especially insulting because every Scot with a Brain in his head should know that the UK takes far more out of Scotland than it gives back in "subsidies").

The only ray of hope from this UKIP "earthquake" can be found in the large discrepancy between UKIP local election vote and their vote in the European ballot. This discrepancy suggests that hundreds of thousands of people voted against UKIP in the local elections, but held their noses and voted for them in the European election in order to send a message to the establishment that they want the UK to withdraw from the EU.
 

Fascism is stalking Europe again

I have criticised UKIP a lot, because I strongly dislike their Uber-Thatcherite economic stance, their immigration fearmongering tactics, their lack of transparency over their policies, and the fact that they are bankrolled by a pack of former Tory party donors, however I've stopped short of ever branding UKIP a "fascist" or "racist" party, because I don't believe that this kind of melodramatic language is useful. They obviously attract a hell of lot of bigoted people, but they do tend to regularly sling the bigots out of the party when they get caught saying homophobic, racist or sexist things (which is a ridiculously common occurrence).

I won't stop short of using this kind of blunt language to criticise the extreme right Front National party in France.

These people, led by the disgusting Le Pen family, are fascists, racists and bigots. In the week before the election (the founder of the party, MEP candidate, and father of the current leader) Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested using the horrific Ebolavirus as a solution to Europe's "immigration problem". This unbelievable statement actually gave his party a boost in the poll ratings!

It is absolutely extraordinary that this bunch of disgusting far-right extremists have won a landslide election victory in a country as big, multicultural and generally centre-left as France. I hope all the non-extremist French people who didn't bother to vote feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves for letting these freakish extremists win the election and make their country look like a laughing stock of backwards, hate-filled nutters.

It's an illustration of how dangerous these Front National extremists are that after it became clear that they had won the European election in which only about a third of French people had bothered to vote, they immediately used this success as their justification to call for the French parliament to be dissolved!

I strongly dislike UKIP, but at least our anti-EU protest party in Britain is just an Uber-Thatcherite Trojan horse, in France the chosen anti-EU protest party are a disgusting bunch of fascists.

The victory for Front National in France wasn't the only example of extreme right parties on the rise. In Austria the neo-Nazi Freedom Party came second, the Hungarian extreme-right nationalist party Jobbik came second, and Geert Wilders extreme-right PVV came second in the Netherlands too. It is also possible to argue that the ruling PP party in Spain has shifted so far to the right that they should now be classified alongside the extreme-right fringe*.



The people of Britain have spoken

Before the election I did my best to use facts and evidence to explain to the public that UKIP is a Thatcherism on Steroids party pretending to be patriots in order to hoover up the anti-EU protest votes, to question their lack of clearly stated policies on several vital issues and to highlight their appalling voting record in Europe - so it was hardly a surprise to find my Another Angry Voice Facebook page filled with gloating Ukipper comments when the result of the European poll was released on Sunday 25th May.

One of these UKIP gloaters was so ignorant of what the election meant that he told me that "the majority of Britain has spoken" as if the majority of the country had gone out and voted for UKIP.

Even if we just count the people who actually bothered to vote, UKIP got 26.6% of the vote, which is nowhere near "the majority". However it's also got to be remembered that only 34% of people actually bothered to turn up to vote at all. UKIP might well have won, but they did so with the votes of just 9% of the eligible electorate. Only a Ukipper could be ignorant enough of how politics actually works to declare a 9% electoral mandate to be a clear "majority".

66% of the electorate didn't even bother to vote in this election, meaning that if the British people have spoken, they didn't say "I love UKIP" they said "I really, really don't give a fuck about this".


Labour did OK but they've only got themselves to blame

This result was hardly a glowing endorsement of the Labour party, but they did manage to significantly increase their share of the vote and win themselves seven extra seats. They now have 20 seats in the European parliament, which is one more than the Tories. This is a good performance when viewed in terms of the traditional Labour-Tory rivalry, given that in 2009 the Tories won twice as many seats as labour (26 to 13).

Even thought this is the best Labour performance in an European ballot for decades, they still finished second, a significant margin behind UKIP, but in my view they've only got themselves to blame for this.

Had Labour given the public the referendum on the EU they so clearly want and deserve, instead of adopting the anti-democratic "we won't let you vote because you'll vote the wrong way" stance, the UKIP thorn could have been drawn years ago.

By refusing to give the people the referendum they want, and furthermore signing up to the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum, Labour essentially turned the European elections into an impromptu referendum on the EU and allowed a more-Tory-than-the-Tories party to piggy back to electoral success on the back it.

The Labour party should never have allowed their commitment to the EU to over-ride the right of the UK public to self-determination, and the price they're going to continue paying for it, is that they've created a Frankenstein's monster of a protest party.

If Labour would have dealt with the EU issue in a democratic way by giving the public a referendum at some point during their 13 years in power, UKIP would have lost their raison d'etre, and perhaps the UK might have experienced the birth and rise of a genuine protest party that is fundamentally opposed to neoliberalism (as in Greece, Italy & Spain) rather than promoting the growth of a terrifying "Thatcherism on Steroids" party which is even more enthusiastic about the destructive ideology of neoliberalism than even the Tory establishment are.
       

The Liberal Democrat meltdown

The Liberal Democrats went into this election with eleven MEPs, they have come out of it with just one. If we look at the crude numbers, the shocking scale of the Lib-Dem carnage becomes absolutely clear.

  • In the North West their vote fell from 236,000 to 105,000, they lost their MEP and finished 5th behind the Greens.
  • In London their vote fell from 240,00 to 148,000, they lost their MEP and finished fifth behind the Greens.
  • In the North East their vote fell from 104,000 to just 36,000 and they lost their MEP.
  • In the East Midlands their vote fell from 221,000 to 108,000, they lost their MEP and finished behind the Greens.
This carnage was repeated across the country. The Greens jumped above them into fourth place (with a higher % of the vote and three times as many MEPs) and the Scottish National Party (who only stand candidates in one of the twelve regions) beat them too by returning two MEPs.
 

Nick Clegg has been destroying the party from within for four long years, but it's not him that is suffering, he's got another year of claiming his six figure ministerial salary, swanning around in ministerial cars and enjoying his smug sense of self-importance. The people who are suffering the consequences are outside the Westminster bubble. 10 Lib-Dem MEPs have lost their jobs, over 300 Lib-Dem councilors lost their seats a few days previously and prior to that, countless Lib-Dem activists have encountered a torrent of hostility as they knocked on doors and tried to drum up support for their imploding political party.

Just as Labour should take a long hard look at themselves over the rise of UKIP, the Liberal Democrats need to look at the causes of this massacre. Had the Lib-Dems been shrewd negotiators they could have turned the 2010 hung parliament to their advantage, but they displayed an abject lack of strategic thinking and utter contempt for large chunks of their own core demographics, so they are getting what they deserve.

The fact that the vast majority of the casualties are falling outside of Westminster has insulated Nick Clegg and his allies from the true scale of destruction, so it's conceivable that he might actually even be allowed to carry on driving the party into the ground until the next General Election.
  

A Thatcherite whitewash in England

For the purposes of this section I'm going to forget for a moment that the Labour party long ago gave up being a social democratic party in favour of presenting a sickly concoction of neoliberalism-lite and pseudo-socialist window dressing. I'm also going to have to forget that the one remaining Lib-Dem MEP represents a party dominated by Orange Book neoliberals too.

The Two devoutly Thatcherite parties absolutely hammered the opposition in every English region apart from London and the North East. Even regions that were devastated by Thatcherism in the 1980s have now returned a majority of devoutly Thatcherite MEPs.

Immesurabe damage was done to the Yorkshire economy when the Thatcher regime decided to abandon British heavy industry and manufacturing in favour of promoting the fantasy of the "post-industrial economy" built around the City of London financial sector.

The mining, steel and heavy manufacturing sectors were all deliberately repressed and left to ruin, leaving areas of Yorkshire blighted by high unemployment, poverty and crime to this day. Despite this appalling legacy of abuse inflicted on Yorkshire and her people by Thatcherites with their heads full of toxic neoliberal dogma, the people of Yorkshire have returned 4 Thatcherite MEPs (1 Tory, 3 UKIP) and just two from all of the other parties combined (2 Labour).

The story is similar in the North West, where Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal experiment hammered the region's industries and infrastructure. Recently declassified documents show how back in the early 1980s Margaret Thatcher wanted to completely abandon the city of Liverpool to post-industrial decay (neoliberal theory says just leave it to market forces, rather than the government intervening to reduce the scale of social devastation), but now the region has returned five Thatcherite MEPs, and just three from the opposition (all of them representing "neoliberalism-lite" New-Labour).

In England the final score is an absolute rout in favour of Thatcherism. Of the 60 MEPs representing English regions, 39 belong to the two overtly Thatcherite parties, whilst only 21 come from the other three parties combined.

If we accept the fact that New Labour and the Liberal Democrats are also adherents of the neoliberal orthodoxy, the score in England is Thatcherism 58 - Alternative parties 3.
  

Scotland is a very different country

The two devoutly Thatcherite parties routed the opposition in England, but they were minor parties feeding off scraps in Scotland. The Scottish National Party romped to victory ahead of Labour, with the Tories finishing a distant third and UKIP finishing an even more distant fourth.

Despite falling just short of bagging a third MEP at the expense of UKIP, the SNP result is a very good one indeed. They are after all the ruling party in the Scottish Parliament, and they've passed this mid-term election test with flying colours, beating the Tory and UKIP vote combined.

UKIP took just 10.2% of the Scottish vote, and UKIP and the Tories combined only managed to get 27.7% of the vote between them. Meanwhile in England the two Tory parties took significantly more than 50% of the vote between them.

The hugely different voting patterns between Scotland and England are demonstrated by the fact that the Tories and UKIP bagged 65% of the seats available in England, but in Scotland they were quite lucky to even sneak away with 33% of the seats.

It seems that four years of the most right-wing government in living memory hasn't been enough to ward the English away from voting for Thatcherite parties, and if I was a resident of Scotland, I'd much rather brave the uncertainty of independence and self-determination, than risk facing a Tory-UKIP coalition ruling over Scotland from down in London.

This resounding victory for Thatcherism south of the border should be a dire warning of what could be to come if the Scottish electorate refuse to take their opportunity to end London rule in September 2014. If the Scottish people dislike being ruled over by a London based Tory & Lib-Dem coalition they didn't vote for, they're going to be sick as hell if they end up with a Tory-UKIP government in 2015.
   

The North East

The mainstream press will no doubt harp on about how UKIP were soundly beaten in London, but one other region of England comprehensively rejected UKIP too. The North East is by far the smallest electoral region in England, returning just three MEPs, and the people of the North East returned two Labour party MEPs and one for UKIP.

I'm particularly pleased about this result for two reasons. I grew up at the very top end of North Yorkshire, which is actually far closer to Middlersbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle than it is to the big Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield. This means I (mis)spent a lot of my youth in County Durham and the North-East, and I feel almost as much a North-Easterner as a Yorkshireman as a consequence. It gives me a sense of pride that this small region - the one that has been hit hardest of all by 35 years of neoliberal ideology - hasn't  succumbed to the "blame the immigrants", "blame the EU", "blame multiculturalism" narratives that convinced the rest of the country to elect Thatcherism on steroids.

The other reason I'm pleased for the North East is that the second name on the Labour party list was Judith Kirton-Darling, someone I knew quite well during my childhood and teenage years. She is someone I've always had a great deal of admiration for, she is a decent and honest individual, and just the right kind of person to do what politicians should and serve the people who elected them, rather than their own self-interest. I'm sure that Judith will do everything in her power to drag the Labour party back towards the left, and back onto the course of actively promoting social justice. On a night of bitter disappointment for the progressive left, seeing that Judith had won a seat was perhaps the only genuine moment of delight for me.
   

The Green flop

The Green party presented a decent manifesto full of interesting and progressive polices, and they were hoping to cash in on all of the protest voters fleeing from the Liberal Democrat train wreck, but they didn't do anywhere near as well as they should have done.

On the positive side they increased their number of MEPs from 2 to 3 and finished as the fourth party thanks to the astonishing collapse in Lib-Dem support, however their share of the vote flat-lined in most of the regions, and the Scottish Greens fell some way short of beating UKIP to the sixth seat in Scotland.

In my view the explanation for this flop was the fact that Caroline Lucas stepped down as party leader in order to concentrate on her job as MP for Brighton (in which she has done a fantastic job). Her replacement Natalie Bennett just doesn't have the charisma or infectious enthusiasm that Caroline Lucas has, and I think that's she is putting a lot of people off voting for the party.

It seems harsh to say that Natalie Bennett has been a failure after such a short time in the job, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Green party should have been picking up protest votes from the Lib-Dems in regions where the Lib-Dem vote imploded, but they flat-lined, even falling back a bit in several regions. They didn't finish ahead of the Lib-Dems by their own virtues, but rather by the fact that the Lib-Dems nosedived past them.

The Green party needs a strong charismatic leader to reach out to the public (and they also need to do something drastic with their social media strategy). Natalie Bennett should seriously consider stepping down for the good of the party after this disappointing flop.

   

At least some people in Europe are awake

Of the 73 UK seats in the European parliament, only seven will be occupied by politicians that belong to parties that can be seen as anything resembling an alternative to ideological neoliberalism (3 Green, 2 SNP, 1 Plaid Cymru and 1 Sinn Fein). It is quite remarkable that the protest party that has emerged in the UK is even more devoted to the Thatcherite ideology of neoliberalism than the three Westminster establishment parties that have been enforcing this destructive right-wing economic ideology for 35 long years.

Elsewhere on the continent the public aren't quite as politically illiterate as the English (who voted heavily in favour of UKIP when taken as a whole, when the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish didn't), many of whom are so gullible that they've let the right-wing press convince them that the EU is a communist organisation rather than the neoliberal shitshop it actually is**.

The most high profile alternative party is the anti-neoliberal coalition Syriza in Greece, who have gone from being a motley bunch of "lefties" that were the 5th party in Greece with just 1 MEP in 2009, rose to become the official opposition in the Greek parliament in 2012, and now they've romped home in first place in the European election to bag six MEPs.

The resistance to the neoliberal orthodoxy also showed in Spain, where the two traditional parties saw their share of the vote slump by 40% as a range of smaller parties took lots of votes and seats. The Spanish United Left finished third and took six seats, whilst another, brand new, left-wing party called Podemos (We Can) took 8% of the vote to finish in fourth and bag five seats, despite having been founded in March 2014. To go from nothing to the 4th biggest party in Spain in just over two months is an absolutely incredible achievement.

In Italy the ruling centre-left party scored a resounding victory with over 40% of the vote and bagged 31 seats. Beppe Grillo's 5 Star anti-establishment party romped into second place with 17 seats at their first effort in a European election. These successes left Silvio Berlusconi's party miles behind in third place and the extreme-right Legia Nord down in fourth place with just five seats.

The left and centre-left also performed strongly in Denmark where they took the majority of the seats, the anti-capitalist Die Linke party increased their share of the vote in Germany and the Cypriot Communist party took two of the island's six seats.

The UK public might well be a bunch of Turkeys voting for Christmas, but at least elsewhere on the continent a few people are waking up and voting for genuinely alternative parties. There is actually very little in common between 5 Star in Italy, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Cypriot Communists, but at least they're actually genuine alternatives to the right-wing economic ideology of neoliberalism that has ruled over Europe and most of the individual nation states for the last two decades, rather than a party that believes the only problem is that we haven't had enough neoliberal ideology yet, like UKIP.
  

A vote of no confidence in the government

The two parties that make up the coalition government went into the European election with 37 MEPs, which were won with 40.3% of the vote in 2009. Back in 2009 the Tories were by far the biggest party with as many MEPs as Labour and UKIP combined, and the Lib-Dems were the fourth party with 11 seats, just two behind Labour and UKIP with 13 each.

After the 2014 vote the two Coalition government parties have lost 17 seats between them, to bring their total down to just 20 of the 73 seats. Their combined share of the vote fell to 30.8%, meaning that the parties have dropped some 1.5 million voters between them.

Considering that 64% of people didn't even bother to vote, and less than a third of those who did bother, actually voted in favour of the two ruling parties, we're left with the astonishing statistic that these two parties only managed to win backing from 11% of the electorate between them.

If we see this election in terms of an approval test for the government, they failed spectacularly, because they didn't even manage to convince one in nine people to come out and vote for them.

There is no other way to view this but as a vote of no confidence in the government.
   

Bye bye Nick Griffin

After such depressing results for anyone who is opposed to the economic ideology of neoliberalsim that has ruled over us from Westminster and Brussels for decades, it is probably important that I try to end this political autopsy on a high note, which is the annihilation of the BNP.

The North West may have returned a majority of Thatcherite MEPs, however at least they rid themselves of the embarrassment of having BNP leader Nick Griffin as one of their European representatives after his share of the vote collapsed from 8% to below 2%.

My home region of Yorkshire also rid themselves of their BNP representative after an even more dramatic decline in their share of the vote from 9.8% down to just 1.6%.

We can all have our suspicions about where the majority of the BNP vote evaporated to, especially given disgraced former Tory MP turned UKIP bigwig Neil Hamilton's claims that UKIP attracts "decent" BNP voters, and Nick Griffins accusations that "they [UKIP] are using all of our rhetoric, they are using our slogans, they are recycling our posters and people like it".

Even though their vote seems to have been stolen by another right wing party, it's still good to see the BNP get pretty much wiped off the map as a political force.


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* = The ruling PP party in Spain have introduced draconian new laws to criminalise peaceful public protest, attacked womens' rights, and enforced "austerity" with absolute glee, whilst bailing out their corrupt banker mates ever more egregiously.

** = What kind of communist organisation would have an independent central bank led by a former Goldman Sachs employee that goes around forcing privatisation all over the place?

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

A different look at the 2014 local election results


Some of the mainstream media reactions to the local election results have been quite extraordinary. The same narratives have been repeated in the pages of countless newspapers and on nearly every television station. I'm just going to run through a few of these narratives and expose them for the counter-factual gibberish they are.

Labour did really badly

Labour did not do badly, they made net gains of over 330 council seats to bag more than half of all of the council seats up for election. They made a net gain of five councils, and Labour party gains also resulted in the Tories losing several councils to No Overall Control.

The media has painted these results as a disaster for Labour, but they gained almost three times as many new seats as the UKIP "earthquake" and they took complete control of
Amber Valley, Bradford, Cambridge, Crawley, Croydon, Harrow and Merton.

As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of New Labour, but you don't have to be a fan of theirs to see the astonishing levels of media bias necessary to paint the party that made by far the biggest gains as the losers.

UKIP caused an earthquake

UKIP did not cause an earthquake. In reality they won far fewer seats than even the politically toxic Liberal Democrats managed. They did manage to pick up over 160 new council seats, but they were scattered far and wide across the country, meaning that they gained control of precisely zero councils. The only way any of the UKIP councilors will get any taste of political power is if they form coalitions with the Tories in some of the Tory dominated No Overall Control councils. And even then, they'll be the minor player in any coalition, meaning experienced Tory councilors are likely to use these new UKIP councilors as convenient human shit deflectors just as the Westminster Tories have used the hapless Liberal Democrats for the last four years.

The really clear indicator that this was no UKIP earthquake was the fact that their share of the vote actually declined dramatically from the local council elections last year (from 22% down to 17%), and this decline happened despite the council elections coinciding with the Euro elections, which should have brought out lots of extra UKIP voters.

Only London rejected UKIP

The Guardian used some very crude statistics to print a ludicrous story claiming that the only area of the country that rejected UKIP was London. They compared the pro-UKIP vote in London (7%) with the aggregated average for the entire rest of the country (about 20%), as if the rest of the country is some kind of homogenous blob. The narrative of the story being that London is an enlightened city full of educated, cultured and well-informed people, whilst the rest of the country is inhabited by backwards, uneducated UKIP voting yokels. It's hardly surprising that the London based Guardian would come up with a narrative that is so contemptuous of the rest of the country, but the actual facts paint a very different picture.

A quick look at the results illustrate how UKIP were comprehensively rejected in major towns and cities across parts of the country.

North West
Out of the 243 council seats up for grabs in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, UKIP won Zero.
North East
Out of the 219 council seats up for grabs in Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, UKIP won zero.
Midlands
Out of the 224 council seats up for grabs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, UKIP won one single seat.
Yorkshire
Out of the 242 sets up for grabs in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, UKIP won just four seats (three of them in Sheffield).
Another way that we can demonstrate how the Guardian's crude use of statistics is completely counter-factual is through comparison of UKIP support in some specific London boroughs with UKIP support in some of the aforementioned cities.

There were more UKIP councilors elected in each of three single London boroughs than in the combined cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Leeds (combined population 2.6 million).*

Despite having a population of just 232,000 the London Borough of Bexley elected three UKIP councilors. Bromley (population 310,00) elected two UKIP councilors and Havering (238,000) returned seven UKIP councilors.

As it turns out, there are boroughs of London that are far more keen on UKIP than some of the former industrial cities of the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands, but why would the London centric media let facts get in the way of a good story about the divide between smart and savvy Londoners and the disgusting uneducated yokels in the rest of the country?

UKIP are as much a threat to Labour as they are to the Tories

This narrative is particularly insidious. It is absolutely clear that the UKIP appeal is much stronger in the traditional Tory heartlands than it is in Labour strongholds. The strongest indicator of this is the big decline in UKIP support since the 2013 local elections (almost all Tory councils) and the 2014 elections (about two thirds Labour councils).

If UKIP were equally threatening in Labour councils, one would have expected a sharp rise in the UKIP vote this year because of the draw of the Euro elections, however the UKIP share of the vote actually slumped dramatically.

As mentioned above, UKIP utterly failed to make any inroads at all in big Labour cities, returning absolutely zero councilors in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle or Leeds.

The media have pointed at Rotherham, (where UKIP now have 10 councilors) as their evidence that UKIP are on the rise in Labour areas, but it's the only example they can find.

It would be easy to feel a bit ashamed of my fellow Yorkshiremen for having been duped into voting for the "Thatcherism on steroids" party, especially after all the damage Thatcher and her cronies inflicted on South Yorkshire industry, however Rotherham is a very special case.

What makes Rotherham such a special case is the extraordinary story that hit the national news headlines in late 2012, when someone on the Labour dominated council decided to use the fact that they were UKIP supporters as part of the justification for removing two children from their foster family. This story propelled Rotherham into the national headlines and gave UKIP an enormous profile boost in the town. It's easy to understand how UKIP managed to win a few people over with their "plucky underdog" narratives when everyone in Rotherham knows all about somebody on the Labour council unilaterally declaring UKIP an extremist organisation.

All UKIP candidates had to do in order to win sympathy was to appear reasonably normal and say "Look at me, I'm not an extremist am I? The Labour council are bullies, you should side with the underdog not the bully" and boom, they picked up 16% of the council seats.

The real story in Rotherham isn't UKIP at all. It's actually the question of where the hell are the Tories and Lib-Dems? Rotherham has been controlled by Labour for 80 years and the Labour council has become hopelessly complacent, but the public of Rotherham have overwhelmingly rejected the Tories and Lib Dems in favour of sending the council a clear message of protest by voting for UKIP.

The facts speak for themselves, UKIP have done far more damage to the Tories than they have to Labour, yet the mainstream press seem determined to talk up the UKIP threat to Labour too, as if it's somehow comparable. I imagine they're doing it because they simply want it to be true, because the evidence clearly shows that the Tories are the ones that should be running scared, not Labour.

The Greens are irrelevant

The mainstream press didn't actually present this claim explicitly, but it was clear that they ware saying it by omission. The Greens didn't win as many new seats as UKIP, but they fielded nowhere near as many candidates, and their campaign wasn't funded by a rogues gallery of wealthy former Tory party donors either.

The Green party leads Brighton council already, are they are now the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich and Solihull. They also have the only non-Labour councilor in both Islington and Lewisham.

It's hardly an earth shattering performance, but their gains are surely worthy of some small footnote at least, rather than lumping them in with "other" and completely ignoring them as so many news outlets have done.

Lets not talk about the Tories eh?


In order to spin the narrative that Labour were the big losers (despite gaining well over 300 seats) the press had to talk down the big losses suffered by the Tories.

The Tories lost control of 12 councils, suffered a net loss of over 170 seats, and found themselves edged out of the possibility of re-forming coalitions in several of the No Overall Control councils too.

Swathes of the mainstream media has been far too busy criticising Ed Miliband's poor leadership and Labour's supposed failure to apparently even notice that the Tories did so badly.

The Lib-Dems are toast

The Liberal Democrats' suffered heavy losses, and their days of hoovering up protest votes are clearly over, but they have managed to protect five of the six Lib-Dem councils they were defending.

If gaining an extra 300 seats to take more than half of the total council seats up for election was some kind of disaster for Labour, losing over 300 seats (over 40% of the seats they were defending) is hardly a roaring success for the Lib Dems, but they managed to keep control of their strongholds in Sutton, Cheltnham, Eastleigh, South Lakeland and Watford.

The huge Lib Dem losses were suffered in areas where they were the protest vote and in some of the big northern cities. Liverpool is a particularly shocking example. B
etween 1998 and 2010 the Lib-Dems outright controlled Liverpool council, now they only have three councilors left, meaning the Green party have now become the official opposition to Labour. In Manchester they suffered a complete wipeout, despite having been the official opposition with a decent 34 councilors as recently as 2010.**

The Lib-Dems are never going to be able to con left-wing voters into believing that they are slightly to the left of New Labour again, but they do still maintain a few Lib-Dem strongholds, meaning that the electoral wipeout so many betrayed Lib-Dem voters would love to see in 2015 is never going to happen.

Conclusion

Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers!
  
 

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 * I realise that this is an incomplete data set (as pointed out in the comments) but I'd rather be guilty of using a big but incomplete data set to undermine an argument extrapolated from a single crude statistic, than to be guilty of using a blatant assumption to make an accusation of bad faith (as the guy who was complaining did when he called me a Labour supporter). Assumptions make the foundations of very weak arguments - I am not a Labour supporter.

**I had to amend the article slightly because I somehow managed to get the results in Manchester and Liverpool confused by claiming the Lib-Dem wipeout happened in Liverpool by mistake. Maybe as a Yorkshireman, I should avoid writing about Lancashire issues from now on if I've managed to get my Mancs and Scousers all mixed up?

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