Archive for December, 2013


Overloading the EU juggernaut – how far can enlargement go?

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Never mind Romania and Bulgaria, the real problems come down the line

When Charles de Gaulle spoke of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, he was promoting an alternative vision of the continent to the ‘ever closer union’ of the EEC: one which spanned economic systems and didn’t impinge on national interests as the EEC did (and which in his mind was incompatible with France’s position as a great power).

At the time, the EEC had only six members and barely stretched east of the Elbe, never mind to the Urals.  Fast forward half a century and the picture is very different.  With the exception of the Western Balkans, Switzerland and Norway, the EU now covers virtually the entire continent west of the former Soviet Union, with all that means for freedom of movement and immigration.  Already, the final accession restrictions coming off the two countries that joined in 2007 – as they will on Wednesday – has sparked renewed debate in the UK about a potential influx of economic migrants.  That, however, would be as nothing compared with the two giants lurking in the wings.

The first of these is Turkey, whose relationship with the EU has moved forward at a glacial pace since it became an associate member in 1963, applied for full membership in 1987 and began accession negotiations in 2004.  The very slowness of that progress is testament to the schizophrenia within the EU about its view of Turkey.  On the one hand, it’s a member of NATO, a secular, democratic state that’s growing and industrialising; on the other, it has an overwhelmingly muslim population and it’s questionable as to whether it’s either geographically or culturally of Europe.  It’s also very populous and (at least to Western Europe), very poor.

The other is the Ukraine, which like Turkey, is also pulled in two directions, something very visibly demonstrated in the ongoing protests.  It might be wrong to categorise those directions as Moscow and Brussels; Moscow and anti-Moscow might be more accurate but with the EU as the only realistic alternative, the two amount to much the same for practical purposes.  Even so, while it’s not yet a formal applicant for membership, it may well be if the current protests end up with the opposition coming out on top.  As much as anything, that process comes down to how the Ukraine views itself (or how it resolves different views of itself, as well as bridging divides between the east and west of the country and between cities and countryside).

All of which gives EU leaders, and particularly those in the west of the continent, something of a headache as it brings all sorts of difficulties in both foreign and domestic policy.  Struggling against the after-effects of recession, high unemployment, falling or stagnant living standards and political protest, neither voters nor politicians are likely to welcome the prospect of 120 million new EU citizens from low-wage countries.  They might be a bit concerned about what it might mean for the future of the Eurozone too.

On the other hand, geopolitics means that the leaders at least have to leave the door open in principle.  To not do so would be a rejection that would push both buffer states towards their alternative poles of attraction – the Middle East and Moscow, respectively – a result that could have major consequences for the future and which would seem particularly wasteful given their aspirations.

So they can’t say yes and they can’t say no.  For the time being, they can continue to play for time while political instability and national policies in the countries rule membership out for the time being – but that’s not a stable long-term solution.  It might all sound like a hypothetical question but it actually goes to the heart of the entire EU project: what is it for, who is it for and at what point do they pull up the drawbridge to avoid overloading the applecart?

A Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals?  De Gaulle’s vision was meant to be in competition with the EEC’s; instead, it’s close to policy.  Yet as much as the actual or potential applications of Turkey and the Ukraine reflect their own self-image, the real determining factor will be the self-image of the EU itself.

David Herdson


The factors that drive much of the pro-LAB bias in general elections could work for the Tories in the May Euros

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Don’t write off the Tories to win most votes

We all know that the electoral system for Westminster seats seems to produce an outcome that is more favourable to LAB than the other parties. A big part of the reason for this is illustrated in the chart above. Labour has far fewer wasted votes.

Thus looking at the first two columns – a much smaller proportion of LAB votes were “wasted” in seats where the party finished 3rd. A second factor is that turnout levels in seats won were markedly higher in CON seats than LAB ones.

    For traditionally LAB has found it much harder getting its vote out where it doesn’t matter – its heartlands and Tory ones. LAB voters are less likely go to the polls if they don’t see their vote making a difference.

It should all be different next May’s Euro elections. The closed party list electoral system and the fact that the GB is split into 12 massive multi-member “constituencies” mean that the Tories could be helped more.

Higher turnout levels in CON areas and votes not being “wasted” in 3rd place seats should give the blues more bangs for their bucks.

Last night’s Survation poll had the party just 1% behind UKIP and 8% behind LAB. My guess is that the the three parties could be a lot closer together and I wouldn’t rule out the Tories winning most votes overall.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


Final tally of local by-election changes for 2013 sees the Tories as the main losers

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Conservative GAINS

From Labour: Leashowe and Moreton East (Wirral), Earls Barton (Wellingborough), Disraeli (Wycombe), Arbury (Nuneaton and Bedworth)
From Liberal Democrat: Warden Hill (Cheltenham), Chase (Malvern Hills), Balsham (South Cambridgeshire), Sunbury East (Spelthorne), Greendown (Vale of the White Horse), Beverley (Kingston upon Thames), Maybury and Sheerwater (Woking), Comberton (South Cambridgeshire), Iver Village and Richings Park (South Buckinghamshire)
From United Kingdom Independence Party: St. Mary’s (Worcestershire)
From Independents: Sawton (South Cambridgeshire), Newby (Scarborough)
From Others: Firthville from East Lindsey Independents (East Lindsey)

Labour GAINS

From Conservative: Woolaston and Stourbridge Town (Dudley), Pensby and Thingwall (Wirral), Kingswell (Gedling), Streonshalh (Scarborough), Cam East (Stroud), Wilnecote (Tamworth), Melcombe Regis (Weymouth and Portland), Wollaton West (Nottingham), Liversedge and Gomersal (Kirklees), Newtown (Dartford), Southway (Plymouth), Cleadon and East Boldon (South Tyneside), Bracebridge (Lincoln), Ramshill (Scarborough), Shepshed West (Charnwood)
From Liberal Democrat: Junction (Islington), Alexandra (Ipswich), Shepton West (Mendip), North (Oxford), Eastfield (Scarborough)
From Scottish National Party: Rutherglen South (South Lanarkshire), Liberton and Gilmerton (Edinburgh), Govan (Glasgow), Hamilton South (South Lanarkshire)
From Green: Abbey (Cambridge), Hanover and Elm Grove (Brighton and Hove)
From United Kingdom Independence Party: Thetford West (Norfolk)
From Independents: Seaton (Allerdale), Seaton (Cumbria)
From Others: Chapel St. Leonards from East Lindsey Independents (East Lindsey), Swanscombe from Ratepayers (Dartford)

Liberal Democrat GAINS

From Conservative: Cromer Town (North Norfolk), Aldwick East (Arun), Lodbourne (North Dorset), Orwell and Barrington (South Cambridgeshire), Howick and Priory (South Ribble), Abingdon, Peachcroft (Vale of the White Horse), Aylsham (Broadland), Abingdon, Fitzharris (Vale of the White Horse), Littlemoor (Ribble Valley), Dalston (Carlisle), Scotter Rural (Lincolnshire)
From Labour: Adeysfield West (Dacorum), Golcar (Kirklees)
From Independents: Broomfield and the Walthams (Chelmsford), Wadebridge East (Cornwall),
From Others:

Plaid Cymru GAINS

Scottish National Party GAINS


From Liberal Democrat: Torrington (Torridge)


From Conservative: Foxhills (Runnymede), Gooshays (Havering), Humberston and New Waltham (North East Lincolnshire), Southlands (Adur), Wickford, Castledon (Basildon), Staniland South (Boston), Waltham Abbey, Honey Lane (Epping Forest), Bromsberrow and Dymock (Forest of Dean), Cliftonville East (Thanet), Seasalter (Canterbury)
From Labour: Rawmarsh (Rotherham), Crockenhill and Well Hill (Sevenoaks)
From Liberal Democrat: Coninsby and Tattersall (East Lindsey), Watlington (King’s Lynn and West Norfolk)
From Others: Fenside from English Democrats (Boston)

Independent GAINS

From Conservative: Feniton and Buckerell (East Devon), Watton at Stone (East Hertfordshire), Chertsey Town and Row Town (Runnymede), Esk Valley (Scarborough), Caerhun (Conwy), Weston Super Mare North and Worle (North Somerset), Dunstable, Northfields (Central Bedfordshire)
From Liberal Democrat: Newport (Uttlesford), Exning (Forest Heath)
From Scottish National Party: Heldon and Laich (Moray), Landward, Caithness (Highland),


From Conservative: Liberal GAIN Pickering East (Ryedale), It’s Our County GAIN Pontrilas (Herefordshire), South Woodham Ferrers Independents GAIN South Woodham, Elmwood and Woodville (Chelmsford), Non Party Independent GAIN Scotter (West Lindsey)
From Green: Ratepayers GAIN Whitwell (Bolsover)
From United Kingdom Independence Party: Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern GAIN Stourport on Seven (Worcestershire)
From Independents: Stoke City Independents GAIN Baddley, Milton and North (Stoke on Trent)

Overall Tallies

Others Breakdown:
Scottish Nationalists -6, Independents -4, Greens -3, Plaid Cymru unchanged, Others +3, United Kingdom Independence Party +12

Harry Hayfield


At last news a survey on EU2014 – next May’s national contest that nobody seems to want to poll

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

UKIP, odds on favourites to win trail LAB by 7%

On May 22nd next year the whole of the UK will be voting in the elections for the European Parliament yet there’s been very little media coverage and almost no polling. Whilst we have eight or nine Westminster VI polls a week you had until tonight to go back until early October to find the last EP2014 survey.

This is surprising because EP2014 represents a massive opportunity for the new insurgent party of British politics, UKIP. If they have progressed as much as current Westminster polling is pointing to then there’s a realistic chance that they could come out with most votes – an outcome that would make it harder for the party to be dismissed at GE2015 – a year later.

Topping the poll on May 22nd 2014, for instance, would make it much more difficult for Nigel Farage to be denied a place in the GE2015 TV debates.

That last polling, by Survation for the Mail on Sunday, had LAB 35%: UKIP 22%: CON 21%: LD 11%. The drawback is that these findings were weighted to Westminster turnout levels and not the expected much reduced figure that we see at Euro elections.

Tonight’s poll, which was carried out at the end of November, has LAB maintaining its 7% lead. Unlike the previous survey the results were weighted to a specific EP2014 turnout question.

These are a set of elections where the red team has struggled to get its people interested and out to vote. In fact they have never topped the UK aggregate totals since the closed list voting system was introduced even during the early Blair years.

Last time UKIP pipped Labour for second place. This time the expectation is, just look at the betting, that they’ll come top.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


The politics of interest rates: New YouGov poll finds more saying a rise would make them better off than worse off

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

But is the headline just wishful thinking from the Times

With the possiblility of interest rates increasing in 2014 the Times is leading on polling that suggests that more pople would benefit than would lose out.

This certainly runs contrary to the general media narrative that low interests rates are a “good thing”. Maybe this is because those who work in the media are more likely to have big mortgages than those who do not.

Certainly the point that there are more savers who rely on interest income than borrowers has been made many times. The huge drop in rates following 2008 left many struggling. It also impacted on the levels of pensions that those coming up to retirement in money purchase schemes could expect to receive.

    What is not clear from the Times story is anything to back up the extraordinary headline that “Rate rise will keep you in Number 10 voters tell Cameron”.

The polling detail in not out yet but there’s nothing in the report that points to how this would play electorally.

Methinks that there’s a bit of wishful thinking there from the Times – Cameron’s biggest media cheerleader.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


The Christmas Game: Part II

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Many thanks to Harry Hayfield, for providing the fun for Christmas Day.

Below are the The Google Earth outline of five UK parliamentary constituencies.

Can you guess what those constituencies are with the only clue being all the maps are aligned North to South,

The answers will be posted later on this evening, the answers to the previous thread are.

Number One: Tyrone West, Number Two: Blaenau Gwent, Number Three: Ogmore, Number Four: Glasgow East, Number Five: Leicestershire North West

Enjoy guessing six to ten.


Constituency Six

Constituency Seven

Constituency Eight

Constituency Nine

Constituency Ten


The Christmas Game: Part I

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Many thanks to Harry Hayfield, for providing the fun for Christmas Day on PB.

Below are the The Google Earth outline of five UK parliamentary constituencies.

Can you guess what those constituencies are? The only clue being all the maps are aligned North to South.

The answers will be posted when the thread for constituencies six to ten is published this afternoon.

Have fun guessing one to five.


Constituency One

Constituency Two

Constituency Three

Constituency Four

Constituency Five


Happy Christmas to everybody

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

MS Mug shot

Mike Smithson