The imperative to encapsulate an argument, any argument, into the scope of a blog-entry too often obliges a poster to present matters as a harsh binary.
So, either the recent British General Election (and its strange bedfellow outcome) was highly significant or … it wasn’t.
Newspapers have had columns filled with assertions that, yes, this is all a profound change, that sliced bread has been re-invented, and a new political era has dawned. Many of us, including Malcolm, are less salivating, more with Belloc about the 1923 election:
The accursed power which stands on privilege
(and goes with women, champagne and bridge)
Broke – and democracy resumed her reign
(which goes with bridge and women and champagne).
A second thought is that mystical concept, “swing”, the lasting legacy of David Butler and his Nuffield diaspora. Some suggest it owes less to voters floating and flitting from flower to flower than to differential turnout. For the sake of this piece, Malcolm is reluctant to shin into his attic book-stack to look out the seminal texts; so he is “going with the flow” here.
Differential turnout explains the Blair hegemony, not as a great surge of popular opinion for New Labour, but as the disillusion and disaffection of a significant section of natural Tories. Since recent General Elections have failed to enthuse more than two-thirds of the registered electorate, there’s considerable scope for stay-at-homes.
On one level, there is evidence that the LibDems in Parliament had long been creeping towards the Tory position.
The Public Whip blog did the number-crunching, with a remarkable cluster analysis presented as an animated .gif (above). The Guido Fawkes site, as per usual, ripped it off and implied it was original and profound. The Guardian‘s Simon Rogers re-published it as far back as 20th April.
That confluence might be no more than the natural experience of shared opposition; but the new ConDem package certainly hasn’t caused much dissent among the paliamentary LibDems (it’s a different matter, of course, among the dissident backbench Tories). Having so many LibDems on the government pay-roll (and others expecting the call in the course of the promised five years) must grease the wheels.
On another level, it is clear that the political volte-face has caused pained grimaces among the foot-soldiers. Tories are disgruntled, which is the normal state of mind among such sort. Decent types, most publicly the estimable Nich Starling, the Norfolk Blogger, have been wrestling with their conscience.
Meanwhile, in the undergrowth to the far left of the main track, something further stirs. The Labour Party reported as many as 12,000 recruits within hours of the coalition being sealed. If Redfellow Hovel is typical, circulation of the New Statesman and Tribune may also see a boost.
So we next come to the acid test.
Perhaps as early as this Thursday when Thirsk and Malton constituency finally gets around to its delayed voting.
Only if a Eyjafjallajökull erupts in the Howardian Hills will this be anything other than a Tory walk-over. Hence the bookie’s odds: Tories 66/1 on at Ladbrooke, 3/100 at Betfair. It’s a newly-reformed constituency; but that reflects the predominant Tory positions in the two “donor” constituencies.
Let’s look further.
The UK Polling Report has a hypothesised 2005 result which goes:
- Conservative: 21251 (48.2%)
- Labour: 9148 (20.7%)
- Liberal Democrat: 10782 (24.4%)
- UKIP: 1522 (3.4%)
- Other: 1417 (3.2%)
- Majority: 10469 (23.7%)
That’s interesting in itself: on crude demography and track-record, the Tory vote was down by 2.6% and the LibDems up 6.1% from UK Polling Report’s “notional” 2005 result. A theoretic, hypothetic, conjectural 4⅓ swing: entirely fictitious, of course, but enough to demote Labour into third place.
This time round, then, we should normally expect Labour to suffer further attrition from anyone-but-Tories” tactical voting. Except … that is no longer an option.
So, back to those betting odds. Suddenly, it becomes really interesting:
- Ladbrooke’s have Labour 16/1 and LibDems at 25/1;
- Betfair have the LibDems at 107/50 and Labour at 1/10.
There is logic in that
We can anticipate:
- some defections among “natural” LibDems, if not by changing their ballot, then by simply sitting this one out (see above);
- a degree of similar squeamishness among the throngs of “natural” Tories: there may not be a “turnip Taliban” this far north, but there certainly are some “gymkhana guerrillas” — and UKIP is on hand to offer a way to revolt;
- a deep sigh among “natural” Labourites, who may suddenly feel an urge to make a mark.
The McIntosh factor
An extra element is introduced by the Tory candidate, Anne McIntosh (below, left). She has been elected previously, and remarkably in three incarnations, including a bit of double-jobbing:
- MEP for Essex North East (1989-1994);
- MEP for Suffolk South (1994-1999);
- MP for the Vale of York (1997-2010) — the constituency was dissolved this time round.
She was granted the Thirsk and Malton fiefdom as one of Dave’s A-listers, ahead of the former Ryedale MP, John Greenway. In itself, that left a few bruises among the Constituency Association. Worse was to come: she fell foul of the Great Expenses Kerfuffle.
First she welcomed Dave’s holier-than-thou stand, and then, perversely, was one of the rump of mainly-Right Wing Tory MPs who voted against expenses reform. Although not one of the truly high-maintenance MPs, she had her moments:
- she was required to repay £948 “unjustified” expenses;
- she failed to provide evidence for mortgasge and rent claims;
- she was shown to have be making trivial claims for cleaning fluid for her “second” home, which was in any case just ninety minutes from her family home;
- she claimed car insurance, MoT, car-repairs and car-hire in addition to her mileage (a strict no-no, even under the previous system);
- her husband’s telephone bill materialised on her parliamentary account.
None of that was particularly exceptional in the corruption of the previous parliament. What established her reputation as a “trougher” (in the vocabulary of Sheffield University student politics) was her beer shampoo:
VALE of York MP Anne McIntosh has had a half a pint of beer poured over her by an irate constituent.
Tory MP Ms McIntosh, was attacked by David Andrews, leader of an environmental pressure group, during Friday’s constituency surgery, which was held in a pub in Thirsk.
Ms McIntosh, who is a Shadow environment minister, said: “I regret to say that there was an unfortunate incident involving a constituent which is the first time this has ever happened to me or at one of my surgeries.
Added to which, she has a growing reputation for being “difficult”. As yet, she is less than loved in her new constituency.
So, next Thursday, in Thirsk and Malton, it may not be quite so fine and binary.