31 August 2012

Tories Still Plan To 'Pack and Crack' Election

It is unlikely the Tories can improve upon the 10.7m votes they got in 2010. Although most Tory voters were under no illusion how harshly this government would hit the poor and they will remain Tory voters no matter how bad austerity is, the cuts will no doubt cost the Tories.

The narrative, that Labour's public sector spend caused the deficit, rather than the global banking crisis has been bought wholesale. These voters will be disappointed that cuts have failed the economy and deficit reduction but ideologically they wanted the cuts anyway.

But the Tories have a demographic problem. Tory support amongst the 18-34 age group is just 20% compared to 45% for Labour. Tories lead Labour by 40% to 30% amongst over 55s, but every year 200,000 Tories die compared to just 140,000 Labour voters. And every year Labour gain 130,000 Labour supporting teenage voters to just 60,000 Tories. (nb. 80% turnout of over 55s, 600,000 deaths, 40% turnout of 800,000 18 year olds).

So just to maintain voteshare, on top of new 18 year old voters, the Tories need to convert another 60,000 voters every year. Hard enough when you have an unpopular Labour government, but surely impossible when hitting so many people with unpopular cuts, even with the help of a servile media.

Labour are bound to improve on the 9m votes they got in 2010. Around 1.5m Libs have defected to them and I expect extra turnout will help them above 10.5m votes.

So it is not surprising the Tories are desperate for some help from boundary changes. To borrow an American term, the proposed changes are a classic gerrymandering example of 'packing and cracking'. Pack as many Labour votes into constituencies they win safely anyway and crack Labour marginals between several Tory voting seats.

Our system is all about maximising your opponents wasted votes rather than delivering truly representative democracy. Scandal? You bet, but most people don't understand maths, so its easy for people to not get what is going on.

The experts say this fix is worth 20 seats to the Tories and for a majority of seats they need a 7.5% lead over Labour rather than 10.5% previously.

This underestimates how much these new boundaries will help the Tories, for the following reasons.

Firstly, It is 20 seats from the new total of 600 rather than 650. This is 3.5% of seats. Since they won 47% of seats in 2010 with 36% of the vote, we can see how this figure is significant. It will deliver a majority of seats with the same 36% of votes.

Secondly, the demise of the Lib Dems helps the Tories more than Labour. The % lead required is calculated on there being 80-90 non Tory and non Labour seats. Since the Libs seem destined to lose over 30 seats, this slashs in half the lead either party would need to win outright. The Tories could win if just 3% ahead. In a dead heat election, the Tories might lose 30 seats to Labour but gain 30 from the Libs. A Tory minority government!

Of course packing and cracking does not solve the Tories regional problem. They are dying in the North of England, struggling in Wales and dead in Scotland. This limits their boundary gains to the South and possibly Midlands, but the Tories will settle for that for now. Expect the Tories to offer something to the Libs to get these boundary changes. But hopefully the Libs won't be so stupid, if only because they will be big losers themselves.

For further gains the Tories need to look to US Republican methods of voter suppression. Anything that makes it harder for people to vote benefits right-wing parties, and in the US this has been taken to an art form.

From stringent voter ID, limited and overcrowded voting booths, confusing ballot papers, overly slow bureaucratic and discriminatory, slapdash, deliberately over zealous even corrupt registration procedures, lifetime bans for any criminal record or even anyone with a similar name to a criminal - many millions of poor, predominantly Democrat voters have been disenfranchised.

The introduction of electronic counting machines without audit trails even brings into question the legitimacy of the whole counting process. Even if not true this can discourage turnout.

If all else fails, just make it prohibitively expensive and bureaucratically difficult for candidates to stand, let alone the exorbitant cost of running an effective campaign. This makes sure only the richest (usually right-wing) candidates can win.

From 2020, the Tories plan the more expensive and bureaucratic individual voter registration that the Electoral Commission warn could remove up to 10 million eligible voters from the electoral roll.

Already handicapped by a overwhelmingly hostile media, Labour cannot afford to lose out in the boundary/ registration fight. The Tories are fighting dirty. Watch this space.

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