Saturday, 22 April 2017

General Election 2017: Predicted winners and losers

Theresa May has called a general election for 8 June 2017. Here is who I predict will be the biggest winners and losers coming out of that.

Labour leader: Jeremy Corbyn
Lots of Labour MPs are say they are not standing for re-election, Jeremy Corbyn still struggles to control the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the party, in general, has been looking unelectable for the past few years now. This disarray adds up to electoral failure. The Fabian Society says the best-case scenario is a loss of 40 seats however that number could be much higher and MPs are considering possibilities from 20-100 losses.

The Liberal Democrats only have nine MPs so they don’t have much to lose. Whether they will win back the trust of young people after they raised tuition fees last time they were in government is something that I am curious about. They are currently selling themselves as the soft Brexit party; they have said that they want Britain to remain in the single market so it is likely that the Lib Dems will hoover up votes from many die-hard remainers.

The figurehead of UKIP Nigel Farage resigned as leader, their only MP Douglas Carswell said that he is standing down and would be voting Conservative, and their current leader Paul Nuttall failed to win the Stoke by-election earlier this year. UKIP’s main purpose was to get Britain out of the European Union and now that’s happening, UKIP’s place in British politics is uncertain. They received 12.6% of the popular vote in the 2015 general election and I think they would be very lucky to get anywhere near that amount of support this June.

Some generous estimates say that the Conservatives might win another 150 seats this June. More sensible predictions consider seats that they’re likely to lose to the Lib Dems and say their gains to be closer to 80 seats. Editor of The Spectator Fraser Nelson says that the election will have been worth it for Theresa May if the Conservatives win at least a further 50 seats. Regardless of how big their majority is going to be, one thing is almost for certain: they are going to win. In the popular vote, they are currently polling at twice that of the Labour party and Theresa May is making stability a key theme of her campaign - something which the Conservatives claim to be good at.

In 2015, the Scottish National Party won all but three seats in Scotland so they have a lot at stake. For the past two years, the SNP have presented themselves as a stronger, Scottish alternative to the Labour party. Nicola Sturgeon is a commendable leader and MPs such as Mhairi Black have offered the media emotive sound bites in the House of Commons. However, the EU referendum might have changed attitudes in Scotland and there have been reports of bullying and intimidation from the power-obsessed SNP. Whether the Scottish Conservatives manage to snatch any seats from the SNP will be something to look out for.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A left wing “progressive alliance” would be a waste of time – especially for Labour

Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas: frenemies?
After Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election earlier this week, the Green Party invited leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats to discuss the possibility of a “progressive alliance”.

The Green Party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley said the aim would be stopping “the Tories wrecking our country.”

Hoping for cooperation in some seats, the Greens see this as the only way of stopping another Conservative majority in the House of Commons. Exactly what the Greens have in mind is unclear.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also called for an alliance to be made in order to keep the Tories out of power.

Regardless, a few hours later, Jeremy Corbyn ruled out any kind of agreement between the parties. This enraged many Labour supporters and even more people who simply don’t want to see the Conservatives return to power. However, Corbyn made the right decision. The pact would not have benefited the Labour party in any meaningful way nor would it have prevented another Conservative government.

The last time an electoral agreement (like what the Greens might have been proposing) was struck was the Gladstone-MacDonald pact in 1906. The Liberals and Labour worked together to ensure they were not splitting the anti-Conservative vote. They did this by only letting one of their candidates run in some seats. For anything like this to be successful in 2017, there would need to be more than one strong left-wing party. The Greens and Liberal Democrats currently only have 10 seats between them and are not even the second party in most Labour constituencies. UKIP are the party taking most votes from Labour – especially in the north of England.

If it did happen, the pact would undoubtedly weaken Labour. Even though the Lib Dems and Greens collectively got over 3.5 million votes in 2015, they did not manage to concentrate their support. Meanwhile, Labour received just over 9 million votes, won 232 seats, and has since grown into the largest party in Europe with regards to membership. The Labour party also has a superior internal structure and a more sophisticated organisation meaning any alliance formed would be far more beneficial to the Greens, SNP, and/or Liberal Democrats.

The possibility of a Labour coalition would work in favour of the Tory’s narrative. If you watched any PMQs before the 2015 general election you will remember David Cameron repeatedly taunting the Labour party; saying that they’d only ever get into power on “Alex Salmond’s coat-tails.”

If Labour made any kind of deal with the SNP specifically, it is likely one of the terms would be to guarantee a second Scottish independence referendum. As the New Statesman pointed out earlier this week, the SNP care primarily about independence. Moreover, if Scotland did leave the United Kingdom, Labour would stand no chance of being elected ever again.

Finally, and most importantly, a “progressive alliance” simply would not work. The maths does not add up. If you look at current polling data, the Conservatives are estimated to win a majority of approximately 100 seats so any sort of opposition alliance is a waste of time anyway. Unlike the EU referendum, the 2016 US election, and the current French elections where the polls were/are extremely close, the 2017 general election is a done deal. No sound minded person is predicting anything other than a Conservative majority so I think we should spend our time focusing on something worthwhile for the next 50 days. A new series of Doctor Who has just started. Wanna talk about that?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Thoughts on the snap election announcement

Theresa May made a speech on Tuesday morning announcing a general election for 8 June 2017. Mrs May claimed the reason for calling the snap election is to "guarantee certainty and stability" and allow the government to have a stronger negotiating position with regards to leaving the European Union. Here are my thoughts on the announcement and what it means:

  • Many praised Theresa May for risking a general election however I think it's a stretch to call this a risk. It is anything but that. The Conservatives are polling at twice the numbers of Labour, economic growth is good, and the Conservatives are predicted to win a majority that could be as high as 150 seats.
  • Earlier this year, the government needed to make a U-turn on their policy to raise National Insurance on the self-employed. It would have been a reversal of a 2015 manifesto pledge therefore some Conservatives were threatening to vote against it. A larger Conservative majority in the House of Commons would ensure controversial legislation like this would get passed. The election also allows Theresa May to put forward a manifesto that is truly hers and not be bound to what David Cameron promised in 2015.
  • I think it is a little dodgy holding another general election whilst up to 20 sitting Conservative MPs are under investigation for violations of electoral law. 16 police forces are looking into whether some MPs overspent during the 2015 general election. If found guilty, MPs involved could be imprisoned for one year and barred from Parliament for three. It makes me feel uneasy that those MPs are allowed to run campaigns again whilst there is evidence of their recent monetary mismanagement that they have not yet been penalised for.
  • This election will probably devastate the Labour party when they lose however it will give them a chance to replace Corbyn with a stronger leader who can unite the party, better hold the government to account, and convey a clear message to the public. If the party wants to survive, it can't make the same mistake of electing a leader as un-pragmatic as Corbyn when there is inevitably another leadership election in the summer or else the party may never recover.
  • With some Labour MPs saying that they won't be seeking re-election in June and many more still refusing to unite behind Corbyn, it will be interesting to see the role that the Labour leader will play in the campaign. Many are already speculating that Labour will be trying to avoid a Corbyn-centric campaign.
  • It will also be interesting to see how far policy pledges alone can take a party. Labour appears to be publicising their manifesto as well as they can without the support of the mainstream media. However, concerns over Corbyn's leadership and the disarray of the Parliamentary Labour Party mean that many are calling the party "unelectable" so it is likely that many of those who vote Labour are voting because of manifesto planks alone.
  • Since the announcement of a snap election, Labour has kicked up a fuss about Theresa May going back on her word as she had previously said that she was not going to hold an early general election. Labour are doing a good job at highlighting May’s untrustworthiness but they need to be careful not to go too far or else the public will see them as dwelling on this point rather than focusing on something they can actually do something about. Also, if they moan about the election too much, it further instills the notion that Labour does not have any electoral confidence in themselves.

With around 50 days to go until election day, I look forward to seeing how Labour tries to portray themselves (it is still ambiguous where they stand on Brexit), I hope the Conservatives campaign spending is monitored closely, and I am fascinated to see how voters respond to third parties - especially the Lib Dems and UKIP.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Camping proves good for your health

Scientists have recently proved that camping can help you get a better night’s sleep.

It is common knowledge that using phones and tablets or watching TV straight before you go to bed can stop you from sleeping well as it reduces the amount of melatonin which is produced (the hormone which makes you feel sleepy).

Researchers have proved that disconnecting from devices completely for a few days can fix that though. Five volunteers were sent camping in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and had their melatonin levels monitors regularly throughout the trip. The results showed that melatonin levels rose 2.5 hours sooner than usual meaning that the campers felt tired earlier and slept better. This occurred when the experiment was conducted in both summer and winter.

Not only does camping naturally reset your body clock, it also offers more obvious health benefits such as fresh air and exercise.

Victory for public health campaigners as plain packaging nears full implementation

In 2016, the government passed plain cigarette packaging legislation. The new law stated that packaging for cigarettes must have a standardised size, shape, and shade of green. The boxes must also carry health warnings which cover at least 65% of the surface area.

This was fantastic news for anti-tobacco industry lobbyists and public health campaigners. In the North East of England, it is predicted that the average smoker starts at the age of 15. At that age, being cool is often considered to be important and smoking can be perceived as the chic thing to do because of the glamorisation of smoking through fancy packaging. Plain packaging aims to prevent this.

Unsurprisingly, cigarette manufacturers were less pleased about the new laws. Last May, they accused the health minister of introducing these new regulations unlawfully. However, the high court and the court of appeal have since ruled against these claims.

A loophole was exploited in the plain packaging law though. Companies were allowed to sell cigarettes which don’t have the new packaging as long as they were produced before 20 May 2016. This caused cigarette manufacturers to ramp up production so they had a large amount stock to sell off before the law was implemented.

Another tactic that the cigarette manufacture Imperial employed involved applying stickers to the standardised packs to make them look more appealing. They argued that this technically was not part of the manufacturing process however a legal expert disagreed.

Ultimately, this is win for public health campaigners. Despite creative efforts from the cigarette companies and spending large sums of money on legal hours in attempt to stop the legislation, plain packaging is now almost universal everywhere. All non-standardised cigarette packaging produced before 20 May 2016 must be sold off by 20 May 2017 meaning that fancy cigarette packaging will gradually become increasingly rare as the dark green boxes finish phasing in.