03 July 2009

Where Now For The Split Left?

First past the post is ruthless and condemning voters who split their vote amongst parties with perceived similar ideologies, to continually wasting their vote and leaving their parties in permanent opposition.

Most people (around 60%) consider themselves left-of centre. They vote for policies that are left-of-centre, they want to see a left-of-centre government.

First-past-the-post invariably delivers them a Tory government full of hard-right Thatcherites or a weak centrist Labour government.

It can allow a right-wing party opposed by 60% or more of the populace to remain in power for decades. In short, it is hopeless at representing what people actually want.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the upcoming by-elections in Norwich-North and Goldsmid ward here in Hove, East Sussex, both being held on 23rd July.

The Greens have a great chance of winning here in Goldsmid and should take around 15% of the vote in Norwich North. However the Tories could win both seats on less than a third of the vote. Because the left are significantly split between Labour, Green and Lib Dem, they can win upwards of 70% of the vote between them and still end up with nothing.

The Lib Dems have a curious mix of voters - disaffected soft Tories and left-of Labour supporters. Lib Dems lose out heavily when the Greens do well, which is why the Lib Dems are campaigning hard here in Goldsmid and Norwich despite having no chance of winning either. They have to prevent the Greens becoming a strong force, or as shown in Brighton they are quickly replaced by them.

If the Greens win here in Goldsmid they will have 13 councilors in Brighton and Hove, the same as Labour. On the cusp of a Caroline Lucas win in Brighton Pavilion next year to bring them their first MP, in 2011 they could easily take the other 2 seats in Goldsmid (1 Labour and 1 Tory) and threaten the Lib Dems 2 seats in neighbouring Brunswick and Adelaide - hence the Lib Dems frightened campaign here in Goldsmid.

The 2 Tory councillors in Central Hove could also fall to the Greens and they could grab 2 more seats in Preston Park off Labour to add to the one they already have there. This would give the Greens a total of 21 seats, the Tories 22 and Labour just 10 with the Lib Dems wiped out and just one (Tory) Independent. Labour would still have their traditional working class strongholds in East Brighton and Hollingbury and Stanmer and also seats in Portslade and Moulsecomb and Bevendean. The Tories would remain overwhelmingly strong in the outer suburbs of Brighton and Hove but with no seats in the central areas.

Scandalously Labour's weakened hold on its traditional strongholds could let the Tories gain more seats in areas they should have no chance. The Tories managed to beat Lis Telcs in Moulsecomb and Bevendean in a truly terrible result for Labour in what should be a safe seat. Why the Labour leadership think that Lis is the right candidate for Goldsmid is beyond me.

So, the future looks bright for the Greens here in Brighton and Hove. In Norwich North their 15% vote sadly will probably mean another Tory is elected.

The Greens do well in middle class bohemian urban areas - this means that nationally in the next 20 years or so, they could have 3 MPs in Brighton and Hove and maybe a few more in Bristol, Norwich, Lewisham, Oxford, Cambridge and Leeds. So maybe 10 or so at most MPs out of 650. That is the best that they could achieve without breaking into Labour working class strongholds. Labour will continue to have 200 or so seats even if their vote collapses in the aftermath of the Brown debacle - which it could well do.

The Lib Dems are on a path of slow decline under Nick Clegg - they will lose seats to the Tories and probably have around 40 seats after the next election - a drop of 24 seats.

With the new electoral geography and reduced number of seats that the Tories are proposing with their fiddling of the boundaries, it is not inconceivable this could keep the Tories in power for 3 terms even if their vote drops below 35%.

In short, the future looks fairly bleak for those of us on the left in the next few decades, even though we may have the support of nearly 65% of the population. Democracy eh?


  1. Some interesting analysis and speculation in your post Neil, particularly in terms of Preston Park - in fairness to Juliet & Kevin, they work very hard in the ward and have a fairly solid personal vote behind them, for good reason (plus they've always been pretty decent to me on a personal level, and we work well as a team when it comes to advocating for residents - which is as it should be).

    I agree that a split Left is a recipe for Tory success under FPTP, but as an ex-Labour voter (from a family of Salford/Manchester Labour activists) who watched the party's principles being horrifically eroded under New Labour (ditching Clause IV was the beginning of the end for me, and the treatment of Red Ken over the Mayoral nomination in '99 was the last straw), I can't bring myself to vote for a party whose policies I don't agree with.

    Hence going over to the Dark (Green) Side. Oh, and the fact that to put it bluntly we're f***ed if we don't take urgent action on climate change - and Labour's half-arsed efforts in this area just don't cut it for me I'm afraid.

    Some sort of national coalition of the Left would obviously be desirable in terms of a tactical defeating of the Tories under FPTP, but let's face it - we (Labour, Greens, SWP, "No 2 EU" zzzzzzz) do in-fighting better than anyone. It takes real political and personal maturity to make these things work, as well as a degree of understanding and buy-in from the electorate.

    Thank you for getting me thinking this evening though!

  2. Amy, thanks for the comment and glad you liked the analysis. Good to hear you get on well with Kevin and Juliet, there are still some good eggs in the Labour party, but the party both locally and nationally has lost its way.

    I am afraid I am fairly pessimistic about getting progress in the Labour party but still not convinced that being in another party is the best way to stop the Tories.

    Improving the Labour party is all about making it more democratic. When I went for the Labour candidacy for this ward, I was pulled aside and had to face an interview with leader Gill Mitchell and local secretary Dan Yates before I could give my speech to the members. They asked me whether I would ALWAYS vote with the Labour whip if I was elected. I answered that I couldn't give that guarantee, as it depended on how strongly I and local people felt about an issue. They repeated the question a few times rewording it and seemed dumbfounded at my refusal to agree with them. They left the room without a word, I was unsure whether they were going to let me speak. But I was eventually allowed to address the members - from what I heard afterwards I only lost the vote because the leadership outvoted the local members - democracy eh! Another member accused me of being undemocratic for refusing to bow to the Labour whip. This for me, signifies where Labour has gone wrong. I know all about 'collective responsibility' but if no-one EVER challenges the majority, you might as well have robots as councillors IMHO.

    It would be interesting to see some sort of left national coalition for change - Vernon Bogdanor, an Oxford academic on electoral systems (who also taught David Cameron) thinks PR will happen in the next 10 years because so many parties will gain seats in certain geographical areas that there will be perpetual hung parliaments. I hope he is right, but I think he underestimates the extent the main parties and media will go to to keep the status quo.

    I think the next 2 decades could be Tory, but the Tory vote is dying, just as Labours vote is, so maybe Bogdanor could be right - heres hoping.

  3. I'm genuinely sorry to hear you had such a run around when standing for the Labour candidacy. We don't often agree on things but the left needs more honorable, (if slightly boneheaded in my view, (I have no interest in writing emoticons but imagine one winking if you like)), people standing.

    I think a great deal of the problem is along the lines of the issues you ran into. Those who lead the left seldom tolerate dissent and if you give two left leaders a piece of rope they will pull on opposite ends. A Tory MP I know told me that he decided to join the party because it was the only one that allowed a degree of freedom to say things outside or against the party line. That is something that those on the left need to be able to do without the cry of "Splitters!" being raised. The media reaction is part of it but the rot is from Labour HQ.

  4. Falco, I am curious about the internal mechanics of the Tory party. For instance, I am under the impression that the local Conservative party does not have a vote in choosing their candidate and cannot deselect them. They can only affirm the candidate that is put infront of them. If true this makes the Labour party hierachy look like democrats. Plus remember that Tories (unlike Labour) do not get to show their frustration at party policies at party conference - the whole Tory charade is purely for the media, like US political rallies or like the Nazi's Nuremberg rallies.

    I could never join the Tories, because I cannot agree with their fundamental philosophy. The Tories talk about freedom, but they closed down social mobility - they pulled up the drawbridge and the middle and upper classes get the best of everything. Labour has been tentative and disappointing in trying to reverse this, but when you look at the stats - the Tories tripled inequality and poverty and Labour have stabilised it. Why has it not been reduced under Labour? It is complex but there is a timelag between changes in wealth and income inequality and also Labour have not targeted the super rich - the top 2%, they have just closed the gap between the poorest and the top half to top 10% of earners - accumulated wealth takes decades to be significantly affected by changes in income.

  5. So what your really saying is that there is no consensus on the left that could unite the disparate groups enough to make a big push for power and implement their shared ideology.

    What makes you think that some sort of PR that led them to the point where they were continually squabbling over how to build a Government would be good for us? Even worse, what makes you think they could find enough policies to agree on what legislation would occupy a parliament for 5 years (actually, as I write that I think that would be a benefit). Finally, how could they agree when it comes to responding to extenal shocks?

    That glimpse of the future under PR scares me more than the thought of Brown as PM for another year followed by 5 years, at least, of Cameron.