Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Today I thought I would share this great anti-war song – “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was released in September 1969, and is specifically about the lucky men who were born into families which, somehow, meant that they were not called up for the draft to fight in the Vietnam war.

These were the senators’ sons, the millionaires’ sons, the fortunate sons. Sons like George W. Bush, who miraculously found himself in the National Guard, far away from any danger, rather than in Vietnam fighting. I wonder why? Oh, maybe because his father, George H. Bush, had the political clout and importance to make sure his precious son didn’t go and fight in the jungles of Vietnam, unlike the poor white and black men who were drafted there.

As the draft went on, it became more and more apparent how many fortunate sons were avoiding going to war, thanks to their family’s influence in bending the rules. And how many poor blacks and whites had no choice, they were forced to go and would be jailed should they refuse. The Vietnam war was wrong on so many levels, but the inequity of the draft was certainly one of its wrongs.


“Fortunate Son” was released in September 1969, and talks of the privileged few who, somehow, avoided the Vietnam war draft.

“Fortunate Son” is rated at 99 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It really is a great song, I am surprised that I haven’t blogged about it before.

Some folks are born, made to wave the flag
Ooo, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Ooo, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all
But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yeah

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, yeah
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!”, y’all

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one

Here is a video of the song. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Just over 7 years ago, in early 2009, I bought a CD of some of Robert Kennedy’s greatest speeches. Whilst his brother John F. Kennedy gave some memorable speeches, for me Bobby Kennedy possibly surpassed JFK with his eloquence. One of his most moving and wonderful speeches has been passing through my mind these last two weeks or so; with the senseless shootings of innocent black people by police in the United States, the killing of the five policemen by an assassin in Houston, the horrific terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day which has killed at least 84 people, many of them children, and the failed coup in Turkey with over 100 dead. And, just as I was putting this blog together yesterday, the shooting of 3 more police officers in Baton Rouge.

Robert Kennedy (RFK) served as Attonery General under his brother’s Prisidency, but in 1965 he entered the Senate as one of the senators for New York. On 16 March 1968, RFK announced that he would run for the presidency, and set about touring the USA to garner support for his campaign. On the evening of 4 April, he was due to give a speech in Indianapolis when he learnt en-route of the assassination of Martin Luther King. He broke the news to the gathered crowd, many of whom had not heard the news until Bobby Kennedy told them. He gave a very moving and powerful speech on that evening, and I may blog about that particular speech another time. 

But, today I am going to share the speech that he gave the day after MLK’s assassination, on 5 April 1968. The speech is entitled “The mindless menace of violence“, and it was delivered at the Cleveland Club in Ohio.

Kennedy toured the country as part of his campaign to become President of the United States, concentrating to a large part on some of the poorest communities in the country, where he met with dissaffected whites, blacks and latinos who had been left behind by the ‘American Dream’.

“this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.”

It is quite a long speech, nearly 10 minutes long, but bear with it and I think you will be struck by its eloquence. Bobby Kennedy wrote the speech himself, putting it together in the hours after the horror of MLK’s assassination had sunk into his mind. 

The speech opens with these lines….

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people……

But, Bobby Kennedy was also deeply concerned with the economic disparities in the United States, and with the sickening racism which had profoundly disturbed him. He later goes on to say…


For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. 

Followed immediately by these words…

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

The entire text can be found here at the John F. Kennedy presidential library website.

There are several versions of this mesmerising speech on YouTube, but many seem to have had an annoying soundtrack of some music added. I feel the added music detracts from hearing Bobby Kennedy’s words, which are powerful enough and do not need any music to make them more dramatic. So, the version I have included here is just RFK’s incredible words.

What strikes me most when I hear or read these words of Bobby Kennedy is how little progress we have made. One could argue that we have digressed; there are more mass shootings now in the USA than in the 1960s when these words were spoken. There is more terrorism and conflict than ever. And, in the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump, we have a man who is the very antithesis of the wonderful ideals for which Bobby Kennedy stood.

I would say “enjoy” this video, but I am not sure that one can enjoy this speech. It is moving, harrowing, thought-provoking, upsetting, but also uplifting. To think that RFK was himself assassinated within a few months of giving this speech, it only adds poignancy to his words and highlights even more the truth and sadness of the mindless menace of violence

Read Full Post »

I am writing this on Friday (24 June), the day that the result of the referendum to stay or leave the European Union (EU) was announced. I assume everyone reading this knows the result, the citizens of the (Dis)united Kingdom have voted by 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the EU. To say that I am shocked and disappointed would be an understatement. And, I am also ashamed. I am ashamed that my country, Wales, voted by 52.5% to leave. That is a higher percentage than the DUK average. I am ashamed to be Welsh at this moment.

Scotland, not surprisingly, voted to stay, in fact 62% of those voting in Scotland want to stay in the EU. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has already said that a fresh referendum for Scottish indpendence is “highly likely”, as she feels it is totally wrong for Scotland to be forced out of the EU against its will. And, I agree with her. I only wish I could say the same for Wales, but we actually voted to leave. 

As anyone who reads my blog (all two of you) will know, I am a massive rugby fan. Tomorrow, Wales will take on New Zealand in the 3rd and final test of their summer tour. We have not beaten New Zealand since 1953. Also, later tomorrow, our football team take on Northern Ireland in the 2016 Euros; if we win we will get to the Quarter Finals.

I would love us to beat NZ for the first time in 63 years, and for us to advance to the Quarter Finals of the 2016 Euros. But, I would willingly give up all of this to have had Wales mirror Scotland and have voted to stay in the EU. I have always thought of my small country as outward looking and inclusive, but it seems I was wrong. A majority want to turn their backs on our European neighbours. I would bet my mortgage that Wales will regret this decision in 5-10 years’ time and wish they had voted differently.

By 2020, I predict, Scotland will be back in the EU as an independent country; whilst Wales becomes an increasingly economically poor western part of the rump which is left of the (Dis)united Kingdom. With Scotland independent, the London government will be perpetually a Conservative one, and do the Welsh people honestly think people like Boris Johnson (the most likely person to become Britain’s next Prime Minster) or Michael Gove give a damn about the poverty blighting the South Wales valleys? The poverty that Maggie Thatcher set in motion when she dismantled the coal industry in the 1980s? They probably don’t even know where Wales is.

I have just seen this on Twitter, and so thought I would add it. Although I’m a little too young to be a baby boomer, my generation voted overwhelmingly to “leave” too. “Sorry” doesn’t seem adequate……

I am sad, I am angry, I am shocked. But, most of all I am ashamed. And envious of Scotland, a beacon of sanity in a sea of madness…….

Read Full Post »

Tomorrow (Thursday 23 June) the (Dis)united Kingdom is holding a referendum to decide whether its four constituent countries should stay as members of the European Union or not. The fact that I refer to the “United” Kingdom as the “Disunited” Kingdom may suggest that I want out of the European Union. But, I don’t.

I think Wales benefits hugely from being a member of the European Union (EU). At the moment, Wales cannot make the decision about our membership on our own, it is decided at a (D)UK level, which means England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all pooled together. So, it may be the case that Wales (and Scotland) decide they want to stay in the EU, but the overall DUK vote is “out” because most of the DUK’s population is based in England.

I am not sure what the reaction to such a scenario would be in Wales, but I am fairly sure that in Scotland it would trigger another referendum for independence. In September 2014 you may remember that Scotland held a referendum to decide whether they wanted to leave the United Kingdom. The “no to independence” won by 55% to 45%; but it is widely thought that a vote to leave the EU when Scotland are overwhelmingly in favour of membership of the EU would trigger another referendum for independence from London. Personally, I would love to see both Scotland and Wales gain independence from London, but I would prefer that not to happen because the DUK votes to leave to EU. 

I particularly like this graphic.,”mewn” is Welsh for “in”

Scotland is not only far more independently minded than Wales, it is also more pro-EU. I think Wales is more pro-EU than England, but not by as much as I would like. Which surprises me, because Wales benefits hugely from being a member of the EU. We are too small a country to do a lot of things on our own, and working at a European level to deal with big issues is just the kind of Europe in which I want to live. Wales also receives more back from the EU than we pay into it; EU grants have helped rebuild the ruin caused to Wales by 11 years of Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister.

There have been a huge number of lies and misinformation during this referendum campaign, but one  of the things I wanted to take issue with is the lie about how our lives in the DUK are now governed by “unelected officials in Brussels”. First, let me say something about the system of government in the DUK for those not living here who don’t know how it works.

The general election, which was held in May of last year (2015), saw the Conservative party win an overall majority in the House of Commons, even though they only got something like 20% of the popular vote. That is because of the “first past the post” system that is used in British general elections. Even though 80% of the adult population didn’t vote for them, they can pass any laws they wish to in the House of Commons because they have more seats than the rest of the parties put together.

Hardly democratic!

Secondly, the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, has some 800-odd members, not a single one  of whom is elected! The House of Lords has law-making and law-modifying powers. True, there is the “Parliament Act”, which allows the House of Commons to rail-road something through even if the House of Lords opposes it, but the point I am trying to make is that the so-called “home of democracy” (Britain/England) is one of the most undemocratic countries in Europe!

And, this lie that laws are made by un-elected officials in Brussels really bothers me. Who votes for these EU laws? The European Parliament, that is who. 

They are elected by member states of the EU. Ironically, in the DUK, the EU elections are done by proportional representation, far more democratic than the first-past-the-post system used for the London government. Yes, the laws may be proposed by “unelected mandarins” in Brussels, but most of the laws brought before the British Parliament are proposed by unelected mandarins in Westminster – the civil service. 

If a majority of the EU’s parliament pass a proposed law, each country’s representative (usually the leader of that country’s government) makes the final “ok” about that law. It is a far  more democratic system than we have in Britain. So, the argument that we are ruled by un-elected officials in Brussels is just a lie, and does not stand up to any level of scrutiny.

It is possible that the main issue on which people will decide how to vote is immigration. Some people feel that the DUK is drowning under a tide of immigrants. Let me again explain some things to readers who do not live in Europe, or do not know how the EU and Britain’s immigration works. The EU has the principle of free movement of people. So, any one in any  member state can go and live and work in any other member state. The only restriction on this, as far as I am aware, is that you may not be able to claim welfare benefits from a country which is not your own, and you may not be allowed such free movement if you have a criminal record. Britain is not in the Shengen zone, so even EU citizens coming into the DUK must show a passport upon entry. Thus, they can be refused entry if there is a legitimate reason to refuse it.

There was a man on BBC Radio this morning who was saying something which has been shown time after time to be true – Eastern Europeans are prepared to work much harder than “British” people. If it were not for these hard-working people, a lot of the menial jobs in Britain would not get done. The British economy depends on such hard-working people, be they from Eastern Europe or beyond the EU; and if these people were not here who knows who would pick fruit and clean office buildings and work in fast food restaurants, because “British” people largely shun such jobs.

Also, more than 50% of the immigrants to Britain come from beyond the EU. The DUK Government has complete control over who it allows in from outside the EU. So, to think that leaving the EU will somehow stop the “tide” of people coming to work and/or study in the DUK is a fallacy. 

Study after study has shown that immigrants, be they from within our beyond the EU, are a boon to our economy. They add far more to the British economy than they take. The DUK’s economy would suffer if these immigrants were not allowed to come here.

As of my writing this, the polls are neck and neck; within the margin of error there is nothing to choose between the “remain” and the “leave” camps. I sincerely hope the undecided will realise what a massive error it would be for the countries of the Disunited Kingdom to turn their backs on Europe. We should be working with our European neighbours for a better, safer and more prosperous Europe. Not throwing our toys out of the pram just because the EU is not perfect. 

Of course it’s not perfect, but it is far more democratic than the Houses of Parliament are! And, by staying in it we can help improve the EU so that more of its citizens (all 508 million) feel that it is a model for how to cooperate internationally.


Read Full Post »

Last week I discussed in more detail the results of the 2015 General Election in the Disunited Kingdom. As I mentioned a few times in that post, the DUK general election uses the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system. For anyone not familiar with this system, is simply means that the DUK is divided up into 650 constituencies (with roughly the same population in each); then in each constituency there is a vote. The party who wins the most votes in that constituency returns a member to Parliament, a Member of Parliament (MP).

Back in the days when, at least in England, politics was dominated by two parties, the FPTP system worked reasonably well. But, if you think about it, even with two parties it is mathematically possible for party A to win more seats than party B, even though they get less of the popular vote. Nowadays the system is clearly flawed, as in addition to the Conservative and Labour party (who have dominated DUK politics for the last hundred years), the Liberal Democrats, the United Kingdom Independent Party, the Green Party and, in Scotland and Wales the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru respectively also stand.

What would the seats in the new Parliament have looked like if the DUK had a system of proportional representation (PR)? I am very far from being an expert on PR, but my understanding is that there are several different types, so I am just going to discuss the simplest. I will look at the number of seats each party would have won in each of the DUK’s countries following the percentage of the vote they won there.

PR in England

As we saw in my blog last week, in England there are 533 seats. Of these, the Conservative party won 319 of the seats (59.8%), Labour won 206 (38.6%), Lib Dems 6 (1.1%), UKIP 1 (0.025%) and the Green Pary 1 (0.025%). In terms of percentages of the vote, the Conservative party won 41% of the vote, Labour 31.6%, the Lib-Dems 8.2%, UKIP 14.1% (more than the Lib-Dems, even though they only got 1 seat) and the Green Party 4.2%.

If the election had been determined by a simple PR, then the Conservatives would have won 220 seats, Labour 169, the Lib Dems 45, UKIP 76 and the Greens 23 seats. Notice how different this is to the actual result, where UKIP and the Greens got only one seat!

PR in Scotland

As we saw last week, in Scotland the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) swept the board, winning 56 of the 59 seats there. The other three main parties shared 1 seat each, with UKIP and the Greens not getting any. But, if Scotland had PR the results would have been quite different. The SNP got 50% of the vote, and so would have ended up with 30 seats, Labour got 24.3% and so would have got 14 seats, the Conservatives got 14.9% so would have got 9 seats, the Lib Dems got 7.5% so would have got 4 seats, UKIP got 1.6% so would have got 1 seat, and similarly the Greens would have got 1 seat from their 1.3% of the vote.

PR in Wales

In Wales, the Labour party returned 25 of the 40 MPs, with the Conservatives winning 11 seats, Plaid Cymru 3, and the Lib Dems 1. Neither UKIP nor the Greens won any seats in Wales.

In terms of the vote, Labour got 36.9%, the Conservatives got 27.2%, the Lib Dems got 6.5%, Plaid Cymru 12.1%, UKIP 13.6% and the Greens 2.6%. If we translate these percentages into seats of the total of 40 we would get Labour with 15, Conservatives with 11, Lib Dems with 3, Plaid with 5, UKIP with 5 and the Greens with 1.

PR in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the DUP won 8 of the 18 seats, Sinn Fein won 4, the SDLP won 3, the UUP won 2 and “other” won 1. The percentage of the votes was DUP 25.7%, SF 24.5%, UUP 16%,SDLP 13.9%, APNI 8.6% and UKIP 2.6%. So, had NI been using proportional representation, the DUP would have won 5, SF 4, UUP 3, SDLP 3, APNI 2 and UKIP 1 seat.


Using the simple way I have calculated this, the number of seats in the House of Commons for each of the parties would have been

  • Conservatives 240
  • Labour 198
  • Lib Dems 52
  • UKIP 83
  • Greens 25
  • Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 30
  • Plaid Cymru 4
  • Others (NI parties) 18

These numbers will be different depending on exactly how the proportional representation is done, but you get the idea. Below is a graph from the BBC, which went along with this story on PR. The clear parties to gain from a PR system would be UKIP and the Greens. UKIP only got one seat, but under PR this would go up to over 80! The Greens also only got one seat, but under PR they would have 25.

A comparison of the total seats won in the House of Commons under the "first past the post" system and using proportional representation. The big winner under such a PR system would have been UKIP

A comparison of the total seats won in the House of Commons under the “first past the post” system and using proportional representation. The big winner under such a PR system would have been UKIP

With PR, the Conservatives would still have the most seats in the Commons, but would not have an overall majority. This, of course, would mean they would have to work with other parties to pass legislation. For the figures I have worked out, with 240 seats and 325 requiring a majority (there are 650 seats in total), even working with UKIP’s 83 seats would not have been enough. But, it would have been fairly easy for them to also get some of the 18 members from Northern Ireland on board, as the politics of several of the parties in NI is reasonably close to Conservative ideas in terms of economic policy etc.

There was a referendum on reforming the voting system in 2011, and most people voted no. I wonder whether the same result would be returned if the same referendum were held now?

Read Full Post »

On Tuesday I summarised the surprise results of the DUK’s general election, today I will look at the results in a little more detail. I will finish this series of blogs next week, when I discuss how the results would have looked if the DUK used a different form of voting to the current ‘first past the post’ system.

The results in England

Below is a summary of the results in England – of the 533 seats in England the Conservative won 319 (59.8%), Labour 206 (38.6%), Lib Dems 6 (1.1%), UKIP 1 (0.025%) and the Green Pary 1 (0.025%). In terms of percentages of the vote, the Conservative party won 41% of the vote, Labour 31.6%, the Lib-Dems 8.2%, UKIP 14.1% (more than the Lib-Dems, even though they only got 1 seat) and the Green Party 4.2%.

The electoral map for England. As can be seen, most of England is a sea of blue, with Labour confined mainly to the urban areas of London, greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyneside in the north-east.

The electoral map for England. As can be seen, most of England is a sea of blue, with Labour confined mainly to the urban areas of London, greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyneside in the north-east.

If we zoom in on London even more we can see how few Tory seats there are in the Greater London area. It is an island of red in a sea of Tory blue.

London is predominantly Labour, but is surrounded by a sea of blue Conservative seats

London is predominantly Labour, but is surrounded by a sea of blue Conservative seats

The biggest change since 2010 was the percentage of the vote which went to the Lib-Dems, their share of the vote dropped by 16%. Conversely, UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose main policy is to withdraw the UK from the European Union) improved their share of the vote by 10.7% in England.

The percentage of the vote for each party in England.

The percentage of the vote for each party in England.

The results in Scotland

As I mentioned in my blog on Tuesday, the result in Scotland was, for me, the biggest surprise of the 2015 general election. Although, to be fair to the pollsters, many were predicting that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) would win most of the seats in Scotland, I personally expected it to maybe around half of the 59 seats, not the 56 that they won. The three main UK parties have been reduced to just one seat each, with Labour being all but wiped out from Scotland. Their losses in Scotland are the main reason that Labour actually have fewer seats than they won in the 2010 election.

The electoral map for Scotland, where the SNP swept the board, all but wiping out three main UK parties who are left with one seat each

The electoral map for Scotland, where the SNP swept the board, all but wiping out the three main UK parties who are left with one seat each

With 50% of the vote, the SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats (95%), Labour got 24.3% of the vote but won only 1 seat (1.7%), the Conservatives got 14.9% of the vote but also won only 1 seat (1.7%), and the Lib-Dems got 7.5% of the vote but got only 1 seat (1.7%). Although UKIP obtained 1.6% of the vote and the Greens 1.3% of the vote; neither won a seat in Scotland.

The percentage of the vote for each party in Scotland. The SNP got 50% of the vote, but because of the 'first past the post' system, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

The percentage of the vote for each party in Scotland. The SNP got 50% of the vote, but because of the ‘first past the post’ system, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

The surge in support for the SNP has been truly remarkable, up 30% from the 2010 general election. As I mentioned on Tuesday, this is particularly surprising given the ‘no’ vote in last September’s Scottish independence referendum. Rather than the SNP’s support going down since that ‘no’ vote, it has actually increased and they are now the dominant party in Scotland by some margin. It will be interesting to see how they get on in next May’s Scottish parliament elections, where they are already the majority party. Will they sweep the board there too? Well, in fact, they are highly unlikely to do so; because some of the seats in the Scottish Parliament are determined by proportional representation (in Wales, 30 of the 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly are determined by PR). Assuming half the seats in the Scottish Parliament are also determined by PR, the chances of their having 95% of the seats there are very small; but they may well increase their majority.

The results in Wales

In Wales, Labour remain the dominant party. They won 25 of the 40 seats, with the Conservatives winning 11 (3 more than in 2010). Plaid Cymru held on to their 3 seats, but the Lib Dems were reduced from 3 seats to now only 1.

The electoral map for Wales, which remains predominantly Labour. Plaid Cymru retained their three seats, but the Lib Dems lost two of their three seats to the Conservatives, who also won a seat from Labour in the north-east of Wales.

The electoral map for Wales, which remains predominantly Labour. Plaid Cymru retained their three seats, but the Lib Dems lost two of their three seats to the Conservatives, who also won a seat from Labour in the north-east of Wales to gain 3 seats overall.

Wales has been predominantly Labour ever since the Labour party was formed in the early 1900s. It has never voted for a large number of Conservative MPs, in fact the current 11 could be the highest it has held in Wales. Does anybody know? In contrast, after the 1997 General Election (when Tony Blair swept to power), the Tories had no seats at all in Wales.

A surprising result for me in Wales was that the Conservative percentage of the vote (27.2%) actually increased from the 2010 general election result, but clearly the big losers in Wales were the Lib-Dems, who lost two seats and are now left with only one seat in Wales. Their percentage of the vote dropped by -13.6%, and UKIP’s vote surged by 11.2%, although because of the first past the post system they did not win any seats. Plaid Cymru had targeted Ynys Môn (the island of Anglesey) as a seat they could win, but Labour held on to it, albeit with a small majority of only 229 (Plaid increased its vote and Labour’s share went down, but it was not quite enough for Plaid to take it).

The percentage of the votes in Wales. Despite UKIP winning 13.6% of the vote, they did not win any seats. This is the first time UKIP have obtained more votes than Plaid Cymru

The percentage of the votes in Wales. Despite UKIP winning 13.6% of the vote, they did not win any seats. This is the first time UKIP have obtained more votes than Plaid Cymru

Labour’s share of the vote in Wales was 36.9%, up slightly from the 2010 election, but they lost two of their seats to the Conservatives – including the seat of Gower in west Wales which is the first time this seat has not been Labour in over 100 years. The Lib-Dems lost two seats, including one in Cardiff, which they lost to Labour. The other two seats the Conservatives gained was a Lib-Dem seat in mid-Wales and a Labour seat in north-east Wales.

The results in Northern Ireland

Politics in Northern Ireland is very different to that in the rest of the Disunited Kingdom. Labour and the Lib-Dems do not stand for election in NI, and even the Conservative party are a tiny minority. Politics there is dominated by parties which are not found anywhere else, and are split between ‘unionist’ parties (parties which want NI to remain part of the United Kingdom), and ‘republican’ parties (parties which want to see NI leave the United Kingdom and re-unite with the rest of Irish). Sinn Fein, who won four seats (down one seat from 2010) do not take up their seats in Westminster as they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

The electoral map in Northern Ireland. The only 'British' party which stands in Northern Ireland is the Conservative Party, so most of the parties in NI are not found in other countries of the DUK

The electoral map in Northern Ireland. The only ‘British’ parties which stand in Northern Ireland are the Conservative Party, UKIP and the Greens, so most of the parties dominant in NI are not found in other countries of the DUK

The main gains in NI were made by the Ulster Unionist Party, who won two seats and went from having zero MPs in the 2010 to now having two. Sinn Fein (the Irish Nationalist Party) lost one seat to go down to four seats.

The percentage of the votes for each party in Northern Ireland

The percentage of the votes for each party in Northern Ireland

Concluding remarks

Next week, I will discuss how different the House of Commons would be if the Disunited Kingdom were to use proportional representation rather than the current ‘first past the post’ system. It is clear from the details of the general election results above that the make-up would be quite different. I think the results of this election are amongst the most surprising of any general election I can remember, and I feel that they have created more interest in politics than there has been for a couple of decades. After saying that, the percentage of people who did not vote (33.9%) is larger than the percentage won by the Conservatives (24.4%), and this is clearly a worry. The Scottish referendum had a voter turnout of over 80%, so this general election’s turnout of 66.1% is not great. Should voting be compulsory, like it is in Australia?

Read Full Post »

Last Thursday (7th of May) the (Dis)United Kingdom had a general election, and much to everyone’s surprise the Conservative Party won an overall majority in the House of Commons. Leading up to election day all of the opinion polls were putting the two main parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, equal on 33-34% of the vote each; and so all the predictions were of their being a hung-parliament with no party having an overall majority. This had been the case since the last General Election in 2010, with the Conservatives governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats; having failed then to secure an overall majority.

The first signs that the opinion polls had got it wrong was when the exit poll was released at 10pm, the moment that polls closed. The exit polls predicted an overall majority for the Conservatives, but many pundits refused to believe that the opinion polls could be so wrong. Former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown said he would “eat his hat” on TV if the exit polls proved to be correct.

The front page of the early edition of the Independent newspaper, reporting the exit poll's prediction of an unexpected majority for the Conservative Party

The front page of the early edition of the Independent newspaper, reporting the exit poll’s prediction of an unexpected majority for the Conservative Party

When all the results were finally in on the morning of Friday the 8th, the results were quite shocking. The fact that the Conservatives had won an overall majority was one of the shocks, but probably the biggest shock was the result from Scotland where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56 of the 59 seats. The new political map of the Disunited Kingdom is shown below.

The new political map of the (Dis)United Kingdom. Conservatives are blue, Labour red, SNP yellow, Liberal Democrats orange, Plaid Cymru green. I will discuss each country's results in more detail on Thursday.

The new political map of the (Dis)United Kingdom. Conservatives are blue, Labour red, SNP yellow, Liberal Democrats orange, Plaid Cymru green. I will discuss each country’s results in more detail on Thursday.

The number of seats held by each party is shown below.

The Conservatives won 331 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, Labour won 232 seats, the SNP won 56 seats, the Liberal Democrats 8 seats, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland also won 8 seats, and the “others” are Plaid Cymru (3), UKIP (1), Green Party (1), Sinn Fein (4), Social Democratic and Labour Party (3), Ulster Unionist Party (2) and “Other” (1).

Because the United Kingdom general election uses the “first past the post” system (which I will explain more in a blog later this week), the percentages of the vote each party got is poorly related to how many seats each party won. Below is a graph of the percentage of the vote won by each party, and the change from the 2010 election.

The final results of the 2015 General Election; the Conservative party won 3xx seats, giving them a majority of xx seats in the 650-seat House of Commons

The percentage of the vote won by each party. Because of the “first past the post” system (which I will explain in more detail on Thursday), the percentages do not correlate well with the number of seats won in the House of Commons. Also, note that the percentage quoted here for the SNP is misleading, as they only stand in Scotland, where they actually obtained 50% of the vote.

The SNP sweeps the board in Scotland

For me, the biggest surprise of the election was the result in Scotland, of the 59 seats the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56. Labour, who had been the dominant party there for most of the last hundred years, were all but wiped out; and this was the main reason that Labour’s number of seats in the House of Commons fell from the 2010 election. Each of the three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems) now have only one seat each in Scotland.

Given that the referendum for Scottish independence last September returned a “no” vote (55% to 45%), the rise of the SNP since then is remarkable. I am sure most pundits would have expected the SNP’s fortunes to fall after they failed to win a “yes” vote on Scottish independence, but instead their popularity has soared. I am sure the post-referendum rise of the SNP will be the subject of many studies over the next several years.

Quite what this overwhelming SNP result in Scotland will mean for the cause of Scottish independence we shall have to wait and see. The SNP campaigned on a promise of stopping the ruling party in London from continuing with austerity, which both the Conservatives and Labour felt was necessary to reduce the deficit. But, with the Tories now having an overall majority, how much can the SNP actually do to influence David Cameron’s new government?

Is the majority really 12?

Various websites refer to the Conservatives as having a 12-seat majority. This is certainly the case if one simply takes their total number of seats (331) and subtracts the number of seats held by other parties (319). But, this simple calculation has always puzzled me for several reasons.

The first reason is that Sinn Fein, the Irish Nationalist Party, do not take their seats in the House of Commons as they do not recognise its right to rule Northern Ireland and they also refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen. In this election, Sinn Fein won 4 seats, but as they will never vote on anything in the House of Commons this reduces the number in the opposition ranks from 319 to 315. This would give the Conservatives an effective majority of 331-315=16.

The second reason is that the House of Commons has a speaker and three deputy speakers. By tradition, none of these four votes on any legislation, even though they are included in the total numbers mentioned above. The current speaker is John Bercow, who is a Conservative MP, and so is included in the 331 total number of seats the Conservatives have, but as he cannot vote this effectively reduces the Conservative seats to 330. I am not sure who the three deputies will be in the new Parliament, but they do not necessarily come from the majority party. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that one will come from each of the main parties. So, this would reduce the number of Tories to 329, and the number in opposition to 313, leaving a majority of 329-313=16, which is certainly a large enough majority for the Conservatives to be able to pass all the legislation they wish to do, unless of course they face back-bench revolts.

On Thursday I will discuss the results in each of the four countries in the DUK in more detail, and also how different the make-up of the Commons would have been if the DUK used proportional representation instead of the “first past the post” system.

Read Full Post »

A week from today, on the 18th of September, Scotland will decide whether it wants to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom and become independent. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the result of this referendum will have far reaching consequences for all of the countries in the Disunited Kingdom (as I prefer to call it), including for Wales.

Unlike Wales, which was conquered by England in the late 12th Century and was absorbed into England in the Act of Union of 1536, Scotland was never defeated by England. It was independent until 1707, when the Scottish Parliament voted to dissolve and to form a political union with its larger neighbour to the south, and for Westminster to become the Parliament for a new Great Britain.

Interestingly, despite this over 300-year union, Scotland has always retained a separate legal and educational system to England, although decisions about them have been made by the whole British Government in London. In 1999 Scotland and Wales were both given a limited amount of independence (devolution) from the Westminster Government, and for historical reasons the level of decision making afforded to the new Scottish Parliament was greater than that afforded to the new Welsh Assembly.

It may surprise some of my readers in e.g. the USA and Australia that the level of decision making which Scotland and Wales have is much less than the individual states do in the USA and Australia. Having lived in the United States for 9 years, and in 4 different states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin), each of those states has the ability to raise their own taxes, make their own laws and control much of their affairs like health, education, roads. Far far more independence from Washington D.C, than Wales or Scotland have from London.

Over the last 15 years I think it is fair to say that most people living in Scotland and Wales feel that devolution has been a success. Here in Wales we now get a block-grant from London, but can decide on matters of health and education how that money is divided up. So, for example, in Wales medical prescriptions are free (which they are not in England), we are charged 5p for plastic bags in shops (to cut down on their usage), and university fees for students from Wales are £3,000 rather than the £9,000 which English students have to pay (the Welsh Government pay the difference as the universities in England and Wales mostly charge £9,000).

I am no expert on the level of devolved powers Scotland has, except that it is more than those Wales has, but in the eyes of some these levels of devolved powers have not been enough, and on the 18th the Scottish people will decide whether they wish to go several steps further and have full independence from the rest of the Disunited Kingdom. For most of the last several months the “no” campaign has had a comfortable lead in the opinion polls, but this last weekend the polls showed that the gap has narrowed considerably and one poll even showed the “yes” campaign to have a narrow lead. This led to most of the London newspapers having headline stories on Monday (8th) about the impending doom should Scotland vote to break away.

This is how the Daily Telegraph have reported the narrowing in the opinion poles.

The headline from Monday's Times newspaper

The headline from Monday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper

And, this is how The Times has covered it.

The headline from Monday's Telegraph newspaper.

The headline from Monday’s The Times newspaper.

This is how the Daily Mail covered the story. My apologies for posting a screen capture from this awful newspaper, which I find nothing better than a xenophobic hate-stirrer, but I thought I should include it as an example of how the more hysterical right-wing press are covering the story.

The headline from Monday's Daily Mail newspaper

The headline from Monday’s Daily Mail newspaper

It was also announced on Sunday (the 7th) by George Osborne, the Chancellor, that the Government would be laying out details of how Scotland will be given more independence from London should they vote “no” in the referendum. I think it is fair to say that the British (London) Government is in a bit of a panic, as the possibility of a “yes” vote now seems more likely than it did even just a few weeks ago. Just yesterday (Wednesday the 10th), the leaders of the three main “British” parties David Cameron, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg all headed to Scotland in what some see as a last-ditched effort to “save the union”. The “three amigos”, as they have been dubbed, have stayed out of the debate thus far, and it may transpire that their going to Scotland will backfire on the “no” campaign and be perceived as English politicians meddling in Scottish affairs.

The headline from yesterday (Wednesday)'s Daily Mail

The headline from yesterday (Wednesday)’s Daily Mail

As a Welsh person who has always wanted Wales to be independent, I am watching what happens in Scotland with much interest. Realistically, I cannot see Wales even holding a referendum on full independence any time soon. Having been to Scotland several times I have certainly got the impression that they are far more confident about their ability to run their own affairs than Welsh people are. I have always put this down to the difference in mentality of a people who were never conquered by England compared to the Welsh, who were conquered.

But, whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no”, it is now clear that Scotland will have more independence from London than it currently has, and this can only mean that Wales will gain more independence too. Already, just in the last year, Wales has gained the right to create and vote on its own laws which fall within its devolved powers. How much longer before we can also raise our taxes, to allow us to raise more (or less) than the London Government does?

The outcome of the referendum next week will certainly be historic, and I await it with bated breath.

Read Full Post »

Cardiff, where I live, is currently in a state of lock-down. I have never seen so many police or security barriers in my life. Even the student hall of residence near our house is now filled with police, and on Sunday I saw three coach loads of them arriving. Yesterday, on the way into work, the main shopping areas had dozens of police walking around. Apparently there will be nearly 10,000 police officers on duty this week, with some 8,000 having been brought in from outside of the area from other police forces.

The reason for all of this kerfuffle is that on Thursday and Friday of this week (the 4th and 5th) the Celtic Manor near Newport (some 15 miles from Cardiff) is hosting the NATO conference. In addition, Cardiff Castle will play host to a banquet for the leaders, and even Prince Charles is going to get his snout into the trough of free food.

Police outside the eastern end of Cardiff castle with a security barrier which runs all the way past the castle for several miles

Police outside the eastern end of Cardiff castle with a security barrier which runs all the way past the castle for several miles

Barak Obama will be visiting – and I believe this will be the first time an incumbent US President has visited Wales, but I may be wrong. It is also apparently the largest gathering of World leaders ever to take place in the Disunited Kingdom. Even my daughter’s school is affected. She goes to school in Barry, which is about 20-25 miles (30-40 km) from the Celtic Manor, but her school will be closed on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. There was even talk of closing the main artery road into and out of south Wales – the M4 – but I think that is no longer the case. Helicopters are constantly flying overhead, it’s like Splott on a typical Saturday night 😛

The Western Mail has set up a link to their stories about the NATO summit, which is here. Organisers of the summit are, of course, expecting anti-war protests. And given the current military action that the US and other countries are taking in northern Iraq, things could get rather tense in Wales over the next few days.

Read Full Post »

Towards the end of last week it was revealed that in the Chilcot Inquiry (which is a public inquiry in the Disunited Kingdom into Britain’s role in the Iraq war) the full details of conversations between then Prime Minister Tony Blair and then US President George Bush about the war (including the build up to it) will be kept secret. I think this is nothing short of scandalous.

The story as reported in London's Daily Telegraph

The story as reported in London’s Daily Telegraph

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong? Tony Blair and his US counterpart George W. Bush served as political leaders of their respective countries, offices into which they were voted by the public. Their salaries were paid for by the taxpayers, and they were public servants, as are all politicians. Edward Snowden’s recent revelations show that the US and DUK governments have been illegally snooping on their private citizens’ communications through the NSA and GCHQ respectively, and yet these public servants somehow have the right to privacy when we don’t? It stinks, that is all I can say.

I strongly believed back in 2001, and I still believe, that the US/DUK invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law. They did not have a UN mandate to invade, and yet both Bush and Blair went ahead and invaded anyway. They did this on the premise that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), something which was subsequently shown to be not true. Somewhere in the build-up to this war lies were made, and I think it is our right to know who made those lies and when. Was it the CIA and British Intelligence who lied to Bush and Blair about the presence of WMDs? Or did Bush and Blair doctor the intelligence to justify their invasion? The Chilcot Inquiry should have been our way to find out, and yet I don’t see that we ever will with this pathetic decision to not reveal the full details of their conversations.

Let me repeat, Bush and Blair were both public servants. They were making decisions to send American and British soldiers into a war where thousands of them died. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who also died as either collateral damage to the invasion, or in the fighting between Sunni and Shia muslims. Blair and Bush have no right to keep those conversations private, as they were public servants engaged in business which affected the publics of the two countries. I really don’t understand why Chilcot has bowed to the pressure from either the US or DUK governments to not reveal the full details of those conversations, but he should not have given in and the Inquiry is all the poorer for it.

Am I the only one who feels this withholding of all the conversations regarding the Iraq war between those two “leaders” in wrong?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »