Category Archives: Elections

That Portillo moment

The BBC Parliament channel is running the election night coverage of the 1997 General Election.

After these years of four Tory wins in a row, it was uplifting to hear both Ian Duncan Smith and Cecil Parkinson suggesting five in succession was too much to ask. And also agreeing that crashing-out of the ERM, way back in the early months of the parliament, had been the decisive moment when public confidence went AWOL and couldn’t be recovered.

While Stephen Twigg at Southgate is etched on my memory, what I had forgotten is just how tremendous were the swings against Tories in 1997: Portillo was out on a swing of 17.4% — though David Dimbleby, off the cuff, gave the number as “seventeen and a half percent”. Or, another way, over the parliament since 1992, the Tory party in Southgate had mislaid way, way over nine thousand voters.

The applied question in 2020 must be whether the abysmal performance of this Johnson administration can recover from its present slide. There was a seven per cent ‘swing’ against, in the polling over just this last week.

It has been conventional wisdom that Johnson’s majority, some eighty seats, makes him unassailable. Well, well! I remember the Daily Telegraph in October 1959 assuring us that the Labour Party was finished ‘for a generation. Similar opinions were offered after the election wins of Margaret Thatcher. John Major, in 1992, was cock-of-the-walk.

A swing of Portillo proportions would change the 2019 result from Tories 43.5%/Labour 32.2% to something nearer Labour 41%/Tories 35%. And that’s being generous.

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Filed under BBC, Elections, Labour Party, politics, polls, Tories.

“Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000”

The art-work that Norman Rockwell did for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, edition date 4th November 1944, is up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York:


There’s an essay on the subject, with consideration of other Rockwell comments on elections, by Lisa Pisano on line here. She says:

Occurring in the midst of the Second World War, the election dominated the national discourse as Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican governor of New York, challenged the longstanding Democratic incumbent president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for the office. Though the war had turned in favour of the United States by late 1944, Roosevelt faced considerable hostility from those who disapproved of his signature domestic and foreign policies. Rumors concerning the President’s failing health also surrounded his campaign. For the first time in over a decade, more Americans than ever had to ask themselves, “which one?” […]

In Which One?, Rockwell depicts a resident of Cedar Rapids, Iowa standing in a voting booth, poised to cast his vote for one of the two candidates. Indicated by the array of political pamphlets that line his pocket and the morning newspaper he holds, the voter has clearly attempted to educate himself on his choice, yet the bemused expression on his face reveals that he remains stymied by the task and he continues to weigh his options on this rainy November day.  

I’ve also just seen a piece by  for The New Yorker‘s Cultural Comment, niggling at Rockwell’s constant theme: little crises of American experience

Consider “Which One? (Undecided Voter; Man in Voting Booth),” from 1944—the last year, before the present one, in which a Presidential election was contested by two New Yorkers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey. […]

The undecided voter is a smartly dressed middle-aged gent, inviting demographic speculation. When younger, he must have been something of a dandy. When still younger, he may have come from nothing much—rising in the world, as Americans, or at least white Americans, frequently did back then. He likely works in upper-middle management somewhere—no higher, one suspects, given a self-conscious raffishness that’s a bit incongruous at his age. He holds out against conformism.

So: a cinch for F.D.R. in past elections. But now, in 1944, the man wonders whether Republicanism might be better styled for his enhanced station in life. (You know he belongs to the country club.) […]

Being conscientiously informed on “the issues,” as evidenced by the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the man holds and by the brochures that protrude from his coat pocket, doesn’t settle anything. Does it ever? Aren’t our votes always episodes of autobiography, not about what we know but about how, and as what, we opt to see ourselves?

In 1944, as today, once the Primaries are out of the way, Iowa receives minimal attention from Presidential candidate. That’s because the State has just six votes in the Electoral College, of the 270 to guarantee a victory. It was a whit more significant in 1944: ten Electoral College votes of the necessary 216 majority. It is, however, a “swing state”, going for the winner some three-quarters of the time: Obama in 2008 and 2012, Bush in 2004, but Al Gore in 2000.

Iowa went for the Dewey/Bricker ticket in 1944, one of the dozen states that defied the lat FDR steamroller.  It was a 547,267  (51.99%) to 499,876 (47.49%) split.

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Filed under Elections, New York City, New Yorker, Norman Rockwell, United States, US Elections, US politics

Hung for a sheep as a goat?

ldRather enjoying the little spat (as reported on the BBC news web-site) arising from the Trump campaign’s claim to be “winning”. Obviously a meme borrowed from the Liberal Democrats here in the UK (heroes to zeroes on a single parliament).

To repeat the obvious, boy-wonder, chip of the old block, Eric Trump plucked a graphic out of the aether, to demonstrate the same phantasy that the all-winning Liberal Democrats have nurtured these many years. It demonstrated — but of course — how the Trump machine was steamrollering the American continent.

Unfortunately, the graphic he had chosen was lifted from to show how men were trending for Trump:


As compared to women:


Then the fun began: and it went quite silly. I was reckoning on “…if only goats voted” (based on USDA graphic for distribution of goats in the USA, showing a frightening concentration in Trumpish Texas), but then I recalled …

John Kennedy’s first outing as a Democrat politician wannabe was Massachusetts’s (then) 11th Congressional District. Patrician JFK worked his Irish-American patch assiduously, but was less-than-convincing with his accent and a hotel as his registered address, so he enrolled himself with the Knights of Columbus. The pay-off was candidates had to parade on St Patrick’s Day with a “relic” or token of Irish ancestry. Kennedy got landed with leading a goat. The JFK Presidential Library has the evidence:


It was the goat what won it, and the rest — as they say — is history.



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Filed under BBC, Elections, History, United States, US Elections, US politics

Looking for silver linings

I just love elections, even when they go sour (and I’ve been on the shitty end of quite a few). I could — I suppose — blame Theodore H White, and that purplest-prose opening bit of The Making of the President:

themakingofthepresident1960It was invisible, as always.

They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that Nixon had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort, for Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable  — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his Boston hotel at 8:30, several million had already voted across the country-in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible, but it was certain that at this hour the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic if it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world-the power to mar- shal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal-all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.

That gets me, every time, from the initial “It”.

1960 wasn’t my first experience of US Presendential elections: that would be my Dear Old Dad tuned to AM-crackly, fading, AFN for the first Eisenhower election in 1952. On the other hand, in 1960 JFK was the New Kid on the Block.

So this one is my fifteenth. And I’m following it closer than ever, because I’m able to, now all is so much more cyberspatially-immediate.

Things may, for the moment, seem to be a “done deal”, though yet another October Surprise may pop out of the woodwork.

Here, then, is Ryan Grim (by name and nature as “Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post”) with a nice speculation:

If Donald Trump does what he claims he does to women, he’s guilty of a crime punishable by time in prison. There’s no telling what Trump’s legal fate is over the next few years, but the first chance that the American public will have to cast judgment comes at the ballot box.

And that judgment holds the potential to be devastating: The American people are within striking distance of delivering the most brutal rejection of a major party candidate in U.S. history. 

That title is currently held in the modern era by Democrat George McGovern, who won 37.4 percent of the vote in 1972 against Richard Nixon, a defeat so thorough that it marked the beginning of the end of the liberal wave that had begun with FDR and the New Deal. 

Trump, according to HuffPost Pollster’s analysis, is now pulling in 42.5 percent of the vote. That was before he was caught on audio boasting about his penchant for sexual assault. 

Trump supporters can do their part in driving Trump down to 37 percent by abandoning him in droves, as at least some elite Republicans are starting to do. But there’s also a role for people who were planning on sitting this one out because the Democratic alternative is less than inspiring, or because they don’t live in a swing state. 

Helping make Trump the biggest loser in American history doesn’t require you to vote for Hillary Clinton. A vote for anybody other than Trump ― Green Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, writing in your own name ― drives down Trump’s overall national percentage by driving up the total turnout.

White that’s not, but I’d never made the connection between the doomed run of George McGovern and “the end of the liberal wave”. The more we have learned about Trump’s character and attitudes, the more welcome the Grim humiliation of >37.5% seems.

I’ve just spent a fortnight in New York City, the well-burnished bits of commuter New Jersey, with a side trip up to the north end of Long Island. What it revealed, from the lawn banners and vehicle decals, was a remarkable social divide. Benign, intellectual, prosperous, leafy Essex County, NJ, is awash with Hillary ephemera. Not too far away, in the harder-scrabble neighbourhoods, Trumpery gets a showing. Similarly, there is a vast political chasm in the bare couple of miles between East by Northeast (bring your wallet and own company) and Montauk’s The Dock (which I recommend for beer and conversation).

All is changed, changed utterly …

When White wrote the first Making of the President (and his own reputation), the Democratic Party was a strange beast, and involved in a strange metamorphosis:

The Democrats were not divided on these issues of the future, of war and peace, as a fortnight later the Republicans were to be. By unspoken consensus, they were united on foreign policy and defense. What divided them were matters of the past, the emotions that reached into the origins of America rather than into the whither of America. They were divided on the relations of white and black, and divided on the attitude of Protestant and Catholic…

In amateur of days another dominant note was struck by the mysterious process of common press observation. From the sounds and sights, from the hundreds of lost and milling faces in the Biltmore, the press distilled a swift truth that was a remarkably accurate historic assessment: that this was the convention where the young faced the old, this was the convention where one generation gave way to another, this was — in James Reston’s felicitous phrase — the assembly that witnessed the Changing of the Guard.

[Chapter 6, page 154 in my text]

That all seems bizarre from our present stand-point: the South is hard-line Republican. Despite all his inanities and insanities, Trump will carry Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee. Not too long ago:

In 1950, the GOP had no senators from the South and only two congressmen in a Southern delegation of 105. Over the previous fifty years, it had mustered only eighty victories in 2,565 congressional races — and fifty of these victories took place in just two districts in east Tennessee. The Republicans had alienated the region during the Civil War, and had been widely blamed for the Great Depression. “I’ve never seen such shitasses in my life”, was Sam Rayburn’s verdict in 1933, after meeting some Wall Street Republicans. For their part, the Democrats had both defended Southern segregation and poured resources into the region through the New Deal, cajoling Northern taxpayers into paying for huge dams and roads.

[Micklethwait and Wooldridge: The Right Nation, page 52]

Even, more recently ago (when that cited book was published in 2004) its authors were predicting that the US would not be just “the Right Nation”, but was going to remain so. Ahem!

So, to a personal conclusion:

I’m wondering whether this 2016 Election is equally a turning-point, perhaps and much as 1964 and LB Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act and losing the South “for fifty years”.

Certainly neither major Party can continue to stand where it does. After the Obama revolution (the 44th President wasn’t born when JFK became President: he goes into “retirement” aged just fifty-five), we have reverted to older — and self-evidently uninspiring and unoriginal — candidates for both Parties. Notably, the main opposition to Hillary Clinton sprang from an even earlier generation — a 75-year-old “democratic socialist”. The Trump insurgence exploited a bewildered generation or two of workers whose wages have been frozen for decades — for them, neo-liberal economics has been a total and continued disaster. While my grandson struggles with  a school essay on the 19220s and quotes Coolidge on the chief business of the American people is business, we have to wonder — in a global age — what “business” is exclusively American any more.

Therefore will necessarily be a major reconstruction job for both parties in the next few terms. It might be helped by set-backs to the GOP in the Senate and House — thus releasing a few minds to look for the way ahead, and hopefully a more liberal one (especially if the Democrats are pre-occupied with the pragmatics of delivering).

One last thought: Obama had never held national office before he was elected to the US Senate in November 2004. Four years later, he was President-elect. We should be scanning the new intake.

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Filed under Elections, History, United States, US Elections, US politics

Odd man out

Unlike every pollster, snake-oil salesman, journalist, bean-counter and Uncle Tom Cobbley, I haven’t a clue what transpires after Thursday’s General Election.

I somehow suspect Sinn Féin will cling on in West Belfast, Labour in Liverpool, Walton, and the Tories in Richmond, Yorkshire. I like to think North Down kept Lady Sylvia as their elected Member. Beyond that, all is speculative.

What I do know is that stuff like this is wind-and-piss:


There are two precedents here.

The first was 1945.

The result then came through during the Potsdam Conference. Attlee, as the new Prime Minister, and his equally-new Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin (not, as generally expected, Hugh Dalton — and there are several stories in that), flew into Berlin prontissimo. Only a handful of senior Cabinet posts had been filled; and Attlee instructed the pro-tem Tory ministers, occupying the lesser posts (including some of Cabinet rank) to stay put, and carry on. It comes as a small shock to find that, as the War in Europe wound down, as the atomic age began, as hostilities continued in the Far East, the Commons did not meet between 15th June and 1st August, 1945.

The British Civil Service, at its best, ensured continuity.

Then, the most recent, 2010

By the dawn of 7th May, 2010, we all knew the Labour Government of Gordon Brown looked unlikely to survive. The BBC finally wrung its withers and declared, at breakfast time, we had a hung parliament.

Then the fun began.

The Cabinet Secretary became the ring-master, and in effect ordered Gordon Brown to stay put. Brown did so until the evening of 11th May, formally went to the Palace, tendered his resignation, and advised the Monarch to send for David Cameron.

That weekend there was a quite-extraordinary, and duplicitous campaign against Brown by the Tory press. Th Cabinet Office had briefed all and sundry on the state-of-play, and why it was a constitutional obligation for Brown to rest in his place. That didn’t quell the shrieks that Brown was a “squatter in Number 10”:


 Can’t Ya Lova Plurabumma


A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to

another arm of Murdoch’s grasping media- octopus, and today’s Times first leader:

Occupy Downing Street

If Ed Miliband tries to oust David Cameron from No 10 with SNP supportthe public will cry foul. The prime minister is right to warn he will stay put

David Cameron is defying Ed Miliband to book removal vans. That is the logistical significance of Conservative signals at the weekend that Mr Cameron plans to stay in No 10 even if he has no overall majority. The political significance is that he is staking an advance claim on legitimacy, because that is what the post-election battle will be about.

And the only response is any thinking Gofer’s:

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper”

The point being when the parliamentary arithmetic is >323, Cameron (or Ed Miliband) has lost it. However, any party leader able to mobilise those 323 votes is legitimate. But until then. over a long-drawn out political argy-bargy, whether the Tory Press like it or not, public opinion wouldn’t wear it. If Cameron tries to sit it out, all the way to a defeat over a Queen’s Speech at the end of the month, he will discover the painful truth:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

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Filed under Britain, Elections, Labour Party, Murdoch, Quotations, Shakespeare, Sinn Fein, Times, Tories.

The next ten words

The West Wing, series 4, episode 6, Game on:

President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet:

There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.

Here’s Bob Neill, the senescent Tory MP for Bromley & Chislehurst doing his dirty dozen:

My [Private Member’s] Bill [for an EU referendum] is not about whether, at the end of the day, we should stay in the EU or leave. That is exactly why David Cameron is right to insist that we seek a proper re-negotiation of the terms of our membership first, and then put what is on offer to the British people in a vote.

Got that?

The essence is those ten words:

 not about … we should stay in the EU or leave.

Forgive me for being familiar, Bob. We were once on first-name terms back in Havering, when you were junior under-strapper, substitute voice-mail for John Loveridge.

So what is it about, Bob?

  • You apparently agree there should be a proper re-negotiation of the terms of our [EU] membership before putting the issue to a referendum.

OK, Bob. As a barrister you might be aware of the law’s delays. Yet you assume there would be a “result” negotiating with the 26 other nations of the EU between the hypothetical enstoolment of a new Tory government in mid-May 2015 and Cameron’s promised 2017 referendum.

Do tell us, Bob, when the EU has ever moved that quickly.

  • You seem to imply the Referendum is not about continued membership of the EU. It’s more about the conditions of membership:

many of my constituents work in the City of London, the global leader in financial services, so a genuine free market in that industry alone (which we do not yet have – just try getting into the German insurance market as a UK company) is an imperative. Any new relationship with our partners must reflect that reality. But it needs a fresh public endorsement …

Well, Bob, you and I know full well that the City of London would spawn kittens in droves if #Brexit was imminent.

Yet, when you won (just: majority 633) your 2006 by-election in one of those rock-safe suburban Tory seats, Farridge for the Kippers was still a whimper of his later swagger. He ran third, well behind the Lib Dems.

Now there’s up to a third of the 2010 vote up for grabs: add the Lib Dem defectors and the “word-in-the-street” types to the essentially racist elements. And the Kippers are on the march: they took Cray Valley Ward and only the BNP vote-splitters stopped them taking Mottingham in the Borough Elections.

We could continue in this vein, but — yes, Bob — You’ve got a real fight on.

What are your next ten words, Bob? And the ten after them?

Are you a serious “better-off-outer”, or are you just playing footsie with the weirdoes, the fruit-cakes, and the plain nasties?

And you used to be such a nice young man.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, Elections, EU referendum, London, Tories., UKIP

Terminal apathy

Here is an election result from yesterday:

Oxford City Council, Carfax Ward:

Lab 168 (May 2014: 448)
Lib Dem 101, (May 2014: 276)
Green 63  (May 2014: 483);
Conservative 24, (May 2014: 315)
UKIP 24 (May 2014: Loony 45).

And the bottom line: turn-out 8.6%.

Yes, folks, fewer than one-twenty-fifth of the electorate are now represented by their chosen party.

This is how we do things in England, under first-past-the-post. Ninety-odd percent of the electorate can’t be arsed to vote.

Of course there are extenuating circumstances. Carfax Ward covers the historic heart of Oxford. In term time the numbers voting could — should — be swollen by the students.

That in itself suggests further issues.

By the nature of things, at least of quarter of the student vote  will “churn”. Most students, who are not politically engaged, do not get involved in the affairs of the place where they spend half the year (except to patronise “convenience stores”, off-licences, pubs, clubs and similar low joints).

Oxford Carfax is an extreme case. On the same day, Folkestone Harvey Central Ward voted: turn-out below 23%. In Old Dean, Surry Heath: turn-out just over 20%.

The story is repeated weekly, as torpor and apathy are the main winners.

Time for electoral reform: proper electoral reform and single-transferable voting.

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