I have just read a very interesting article on the process which will lead to a new set of constituencies for the 2020 General Election. The LSE article highlights the fact that the four Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are drawing up new boundaries based on a map of 600 UK constituencies rather than the current 650. This was a Conservative manifesto commitment which will mean equal sized constituencies across the UK with exception of a handful of island constituencies. This is undoubtedly fairer and more democratic than the current arrangement where Wales (and by extension Labour) is grossly over-represented in Westminster, and where urban seats often have smaller electorates than many rural seats. The net changes are likely to benefit the Conservatives by anything from 20-25 seats overall, leading some on the left to complain of “gerrymandering” and “rigging” the system. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the changes will be implemented by the impartial boundary commissions and will right many historic wrongs in the current electoral map.
A separate issue (but linked by some) is the change to individual electoral registration by voters. Under the new system each voter has to register themselves if they wish to vote. No longer will the head of the household, or University, be able to register all occupants of a property. This has led to a drop of around 600,000 in the number on the electoral register, with falls particularly marked in university towns. This should not be a surprise as most students were previously registered in two addresses, that of their parents, or previous home address, and the address where they lived during their studies. There was nothing illegal or wrong about this as long as they only voted once in any given election. The fact is that the vast majority probably didn’t vote at all, and the politically active could vote twice and were very unlikely to be detected. Much of the fall in numbers is probably down to students only being registered at a single address. However, a second and more sinister factor was the manipulation of the register by some in certain urban areas. Local authorities do their best to monitor and check unusually large numbers registered at any given address but it did not stop some head of households registering unfeasibly large numbers to vote in their house. I well remember identifying some houses in predominantly Asian parts of Reading with 8 or 12 people on the register for a 3 bedroom house. Also finding streets where the same people were registered in more than one house which happened to be owned by the same person. Duplication is relatively easy to clear up when you spot it, but over-registration is much harder. It was often claimed in Reading that people were brought in from Slough by train and taxi to vote only to then be transported back from whence they came. It won’t surprise readers to know that this was in Labour voting areas. To help prevent this I would like to see a further step taken of having to produce identification to vote in order to ensure that only the correct registered person actually votes.
The changes coming for 2020 should be welcomed by all who respect and value democracy in the UK. The fact that constituencies will be much more equal in size and that there will be fewer MPs on the public payroll can only be a good thing. The average constituency size of 74,000 is a reasonable number for any MP to represent and is around the number that most English MPs have represented by and large for many years. The House of Commons will be a more comfortable place with 50 fewer bottoms to squeeze onto the green benches and the number of officers, staffers, stationery and other support needed will be consequently reduced.
For anyone interested in the Police & Crime Commissioner election in Lincolnshire on 5 May, there is an interesting debate with three of the four candidates below. It is worth noting that the guy described as an “Independent” is in fact from the Lincs Ind Party and is not a true independent candidate.
Today was the close of nominations for candidates for the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner. The incumbent is Independent Alan Hardwick but after 4 years in post he has decided to call it a day. Whatever the result therefore a new Commissioner will be elected.
Four candidates will fight it out for the £60,000 a year post overseeing the Chief Constable for Lincolnshire Police. They are:
Marc Jones (Conservative) – Marc is a County Councillor representing a Lincoln city division and with responsibility on the Council for financial matters.
Victoria Ayling (UKIP) – Victoria is a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate who stood unsuccessfully for UKIP in the 2015 General Election. She is also a Lincolnshire County Councillor.
Lucinda Preston (Labour) – Lucinda is an Assistant Head Teacher in Sleaford.
Daniel Simpson – (Lincs Ind Party) – Daniel is an East Lindsey District Councillor from Louth and stood unsuccessfully for the LI Party for Louth constituency in the 2015 General Election. He was a surprise late entry to the contest today.
The election will be held on 5 May 2016 and polls will be open from 7am to 10pm.
In last summer’s Budget the government committed to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation every year until 2021 and continue to meet NATO’s target to spend 2% of GDP on defence for the rest of the decade.
1 April 2016 marks the first day that these commitments come into effect with the core defence budget increasing by £800m from the 2015/16 baseline of £34.3bn to £35.1bn. In addition, the MOD will receive £2.1bn from the Joint Security Fund by the end of this Parliament. This means the Defence budget will increase by nearly £5bn to £39.7bn in 2020/21.
Welcoming the new budget, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“Nothing is more important than defending our country and protecting our people. With increasing threats to our security, we have chosen to increase defence spending and give our Armed Forces what they need to keep Britain safe.”
The UK has the 2nd largest budget in NATO, the largest in the EU, and the fifth largest in the world. It is one of only five countries that meets the NATO guideline to spend 2% of GDP on Defence.
Over the next five years the MOD budget will increase as set out in the table:
|Ministry of Defence|
|Resource DEL (1)||27.2||27.8||28.5||29.2||30.0||31.0|
(1) In this table, Resource DEL excludes depreciation
The increased budget will allow the MOD to invest in stronger defence with more ships, more planes, more troops at readiness, better equipment for Special Forces, and more for cyber.
The government will fully protect the size of the Armed Forces, not reduce the Army to below 82, 000, and increase the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force by 700 personnel. By 2025 we will have a highly capable expeditionary force of around 50,000 (up from around 30,000 planned in Future Force 2020).
Over the next decade MOD will spend over £178 billion on equipment and equipment support, £12 billion more than in plans prior to the 2015 SDSR. Our investments include:
- Maintain the plan to buy 138 F35s over the life of the programme. *An extra £2bn on our Special Forces’ equipment.
- 9 Boeing P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
- Advanced High Altitude surveillance aircraft.
- More than 20 Protector armed remotely piloted aircraft
- Type 26 Global Combat Ships.
- We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates
- 2 new Offshore Patrol Vessels.
- 3 new logistic ships.
The Armed Forces will also become more, efficient and effective which means we will:
- Establish 2 additional Typhoon squadrons and an additional F35 squadron.
- Have a full Army division (made up of three brigades) optimised for high-intensity combat operations
- Create 2 new Strike Brigades *Double (from 1 to 2) the number of Brigades ready to deploy on operations.
- Reducing the number of civilians in the MOD by almost 30% over the next five years.
From 2016/17 all savings from efficiencies and reprioritisation will be reinvested in the defence budget, enabling £9.2bn to be invested in new capability over the Spending Review period.
After much discussion and consideration of a huge range of alternatives the people of New Zealand have spoken. They have decided to keep their traditional national flag which includes the British Union Jack and the four red stars of the southern cross. The process narrowed down the choice to the current flag and one alternative designed by Kyle Lockwood. Whilst I don’t dislike Lockwood’s design, I am delighted that the traditional flag will remain and that the Union Jack will continue to fly proudly over New Zealand.
The vote was conclusive but not overwhelming. Almost 57% voted to keep the existing flag, with just over 43% voting for the alternative design.
I hope that the people of Fiji will protest enough at their government’s plan to change their flag and keep their beautiful light blue ensign with the crest of Fiji in the fly.
Last night I watched the competition for the UK entry to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Most of the entries were pretty lame but I thought that the last song by Joe and Jake stood out as being by far the best. Fortunately the British voting public agreed and Joe and Jake won!
You can hear their performance of “You’re Not Alone” here:
It was my privilege to attend the funeral this afternoon of Cllr Geoffrey Whittle on behalf of the Commandant of RAF College Cranwell. Geoffrey was a real gentleman of the old school and was much loved by the local community in which he lived and which he served as a Conservative Councillor on North Kesteven District Council. I was privileged to meet Geoffrey on several occasions and can vouch for his modesty, kindness and friendly personality.
Geoffrey was also a WW2 Bomber Command veteran who carried out many missions over Germany. During one, aged just 20 years, he won the Distinguished Flying Medal. It was therefore fitting that he was elected to represent Ashby de la Launde and Cranwell ward on the District Council. A ward that includes RAF College Cranwell and RAF Digby.
All Saints Church in Ruskington was packed today and a good number of RAF personnel from a number of units and squadrons attended the funeral; 45 Sqn provided a flypast; and the Band of the RAF College provided a bugler to play the Last Post. A family member told me that he was thrilled by the RAF presence and it was only at the Last Post that the tears began to flow.
Geoffrey was sent off in style and I was pleased to have played a very small part in honouring his service to the RAF and the community. He will be very much missed by his family and friends!
The Sleaford Town Council by-election in Mareham Ward today was a Conservative gain. I stood for the local Conservatives against the only other candidate a Lincolnshire Independent. They are a local political party who are well dug in some parts of the county and have almost complete control of the Town Council. I undertook my usual campaign of door-knocking and talking to residents about their concerns. I found that I was well received and despite some awful weather I got round a good part of the ward. I certainly made sure that every letterbox I could get to had a leaflet from me.
The Lincs Independents also leafleted but their candidate didn’t seem to even step into the ward. He certainly didn’t turn up at the polling station on the day and not even for the count! However, his party colleagues were there in force, with their leader on the Town Council giving me a lecture on the importance of working with them and of unanimity! We will see how that goes!
In the end the result was close but I defeated the Lincs Independent candidate by 148 votes (51%) to 140 votes (49%). Turnout was just 15.4%. I am currently the only Conservative on the Town Council.
Photo: L-R Cllr Richard Wright(North Kesteven DC), Cllr Richard Willis and Cllr Stuart Tweedale (Lincs County Council).
After a long break from writing I feel that it is time to resume blogging again!
Readers will know that I like to write about a range of subjects covering political and economic matters, defence issues, world affairs, and other general thoughts and musings. Whilst I don’t intend to write as often, I do intend to post occasional updates which I hope will be of interest.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing the Conservatives just 1% behind Labour:
Conservative 35% (no change)
Labour 36% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 8% (no change)
UKIP 13% (up 2%).
Labour is failing to regain the leads it enjoyed about a year ago when it was regularly 5-8% ahead of the Conservatives. UKIP’s rating is up in this poll but it has generally been sliding since the Euro election results.
The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll published on 24 July.
There is a new Populus online poll out today which shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives cut to just 2%:
Conservative 35% (up 3%)
Labour 37% (no change)
Lib Dem 9% (no change)
UKIP 9% (down 4%)
The UKIP rating has been sliding since the Euro elections and this poll suggests that some of the UKIP vote is returning to the Conservatives!
Populus interviewed a random sample of 2,070 adults online between 23rd-24th July 2014. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain and the results have been weighted to be representative of all British adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow which the Conservatives taking a 1% lead over Labour following last month’s 1% Labour lead:
Conservative 34% (up 3%)
Labour 33% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 12% (up 2%)
UKIP 9% (down 7%)
This is a huge drop in UKIP support taking them down into single figures. However, the net effect of the changes this month is a small Conservative lead which will cheer David Cameron as he embarks on his reshuffle.
The over-65s are much more likely to support the Conservatives than other age groups, with 52% backing the party compared with less than 30% across most of the rest of the age groups. There is also a strong regional variation in Conservative support with 21% in Scotland (up on previous elections), 18% in Wales and 21% in the north of England. In the crucial marginal-rich area of the Midlands the Conservatives are on a healthy 46%.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 11-13 July 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
Hundreds of workers who have helped to build the HMS Queen Elizabeth, along with the ship’s company, joined the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary, military Chiefs and dignitaries to witness Her Majesty christen her namesake with a bottle of whisky. The ceremony, held at Rosyth dockyard near Edinburgh, marks the completion of the flagship which at 72,000 tonnes is the largest ship ever built for the Royal Navy:
- With a height of 56 meters she is taller than Niagara falls;
- At 280 meters long she has a flight deck the size of 60 tennis courts;
- Four jumbo jets could fit alongside each other on the 70 meter wide deck;
- Her range is 10,000 nautical miles and she carries enough fuel to transport a family car to the moon and back twelve times;
- She is fitted with a long range 3D radar that is capable of tracking more than 1,000 targets at once or can spot a tennis ball travelling at 2,000 miles per hour.
Operating with Lightning II fifth generation stealth Joint Strike Fighter jets, the QE Class will be versatile enough to be used in a full range of military tasks from warfighting to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Today’s naming ceremony comes just a week before Lightning II is due to take to the skies in the UK for the first time, marking another step towards the return of carrier strike operations.
The construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth has sustained around 8,000 jobs at more than 100 companies across the UK. Blocks of the ship were manufactured at six yards in Devon, Rosyth, Portsmouth and on the Clyde and Tyne before being assembled in Rosyth.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first warship to be christened by Her Majesty in 15 years. To honour the ship’s birthplace in Scotland, a bottle of Islay whisky from the first distillery the Queen visited was smashed against the bow.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said, “HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest ship that the Royal Navy has ever had and is a true demonstration of the UK at its best, with over 10,000 people across the country working together to deliver her. This occasion marks a major milestone in regenerating the UK’s aircraft carrier capability, enhancing our ability to project power anywhere in the world.”
Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord, said, “The naming of HMS Queen Elizabeth heralds a new dawn, not only for the Royal Navy but for the delivery of our Nation’s security. Her journey ahead will be global, strategic and one of inter-Service and international partnership. Powerful, versatile and credible, this ship will be at the heart of the UK’s defence capability for the next 50 years, but she already stands testament to the best of British shipbuilding, engineering and technology. We are especially proud to welcome Her Majesty The Queen to Rosyth, and are honoured that she has graciously accepted the role of sponsor for our Nation’s future flagship.”
Following today’s naming ceremony the dock will be flooded to enable HMS Queen Elizabeth to float for the first time. Work to prepare the ship for her sea trials in 2017 and flight trials with Lightning II aircraft in 2018 will continue.
Work is already underway on the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship HMS Prince of Wales which will start to be assembled in Rosyth dockyard later this year. The Defence review next year will decide whether Prince of Wales is to enter service or be mothballed or even sold. In my view the Government would be simply mad not to bring both carriers into service and provide the necessary funding to the Defence budget to make this affordable.
Now that the economy is growing robustly it is time to begin to increase the Defence budget back up to a level closer to 2.5% of GDP with an aim of 3% of GDP. That would allow the Navy a few more escorts which will be necessary to escort the carriers and fulfil all the other RN commitments around the world.
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow which has Labour recovering to be just 1% ahead of the Conservatives following last month’s plunge in Labour support:
Conservative 31% (down 2%)
Labour 32% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 10% (down 3%)
UKIP 16% (up 1%)
So Labour has recovered to a slim lead after a 2% Conservative lead last month but the Lib Dems have slipped to their worst rating with ICM since they switched to telephone polling in the 1990s.
ICM also asked leader approval ratings, finding drops for all three leaders. David Cameron’s net rating fell back to be just into negative territory at -5, after +2 last month. However, Cameron is well ahead of Nick Clegg whose rating plunges from -21 to -37, and Ed Miliband also plunges new depths of unpopularity down from -25 to -39. George Osborne’s approval rating is now +6, ahead of all the others.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 13-16 June 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
1. Governments usually get a kicking (Conservative-led Governments especially)
2. An effective party of opposition usually makes significant gains and often takes seats off the Government of the day
At this stage in the Parliament and in a seat which Labour held from 1997 to 2001 (albeit on slightly different boundaries), it was reasonable to expect that Labour would be looking to take Newark from the Conservatives if they wanted to be in with a chance of winning next year’s General Election. After all the last time a Conservative Government won a by-election in one of its own seats was as far back as 1989! Labour ran a lack-lustre campaign almost as though they hoped that UKIP would beat the Conservatives to set up trouble in Cameron’s party.
The Conservatives surprised commentators by running a high energy and very effective campaign. Large numbers of young and enthusiastic Conservative supporters were bussed in from around the country and MPs and candidates were strong-armed to support the campaign. This is something which I had been advocating ten years ago to senior party officials to no avail. Party Chairman Grant Shapps put hundreds of experienced and motivated activists onto the streets of the constituency and this was reflected in surveys which showed that more people had received a leaflet, a telephone call or a knock on their door from the Conservatives than any other party.
Much has been made of UKIP’s gains in recent local Council elections but in reality they have been small and not led to control of a single higher tier local authority. What UKIP really needs is to gain a Westminster seat. They came close in Eastleigh against the depleted Lib Dems and there was some talk that they could take Newark. The climate was right for them, the by-election followed hot on the heels of UKIP’s Euro-election success and it was caused by a Conservative MP resigning under a cloud. At the beginning of the campaign UKIP were ramping their chances with talk of a “volcano” following on from the claimed “earthquake” of the Euro-elections. When the veteran MEP Roger Helmer was chosen as the UKIP candidate expectations dimmed slightly but we still had claims of the by-election being “neck and neck”. I was watching the live coverage in the early hours of this morning when Nigel Farage conceded the seat but stated that UKIP were “2-3,000” votes behind the Conservatives, that UKIP had gained “over 30% of the vote”, and that this was “UKIP’s best result ever”.
So what were the results? Here they are:
Jenrick (Conservative) – 17,431 (44.9%)
Helmer (UKIP) – 10,028 (25.8%)
Payne (Labour) – 6,842 (17.6%)
Baggaley (Ind) 1,891 (4.89%)
Kirwan (Green) 1,057 (2.73%)
Watts (Lib Dem) – 1,004 (2.6%)
Nick The Flying Brick (Loony) – 168 (0.4%)
Hayes (Ind) – 117 (0.3%)
Bishop (BP Elvis) – 87 (0.2%)
Rodgers (Stop Banks) – 64 (0.2%)
Woods (Pat Soc) – 18 (0.05%)
Conservative majority – 7,403 (19.1%)
Turnout – 52.8%
UKIP’s hype was massively over-blown and Farage was left looking ridiculous when the Conservative majority over UKIP turned out to be almost three times his claim and close to 20%! UKIP also failed to get the 30%+ share Farage had so confidently claimed. UKIP’s vote share was also LESS than it gained in Eastleigh making it a hat-trick of false claims! Today Farage has vanished and even cancelled a planned photo-call in the town square.
And what about the Lib Dems? They used to be past-masters of Parliamentary by-elections, winning seats from Labour and Conservative with huge swings all across the UK. 20 years ago they would have relished a contest in a seat like Newark. However, since entering coalition with the Conservatives the Lib Dems are a shadow of their former selves. They have lost two-thirds of their 2010 support and seemingly their “mojo” with it. In 2010 they managed just over 10,000 votes in Newark. This time they plunged to sixth place, losing their deposit with 2.6% behind the Green Party and an Independent. They did however manage to beat “Nick the Flying Brick” the Loony Party candidate! I won’t gloat too much because it seems quite likely that some Lib Dem supporters voted tactically for the Conservatives in order to keep UKIP out.
A few by-elections are defining moments in British politics. This one may be just such a by-election. With the development of anti-UKIP tactical voting and the apparent willingness of some Lib Dem voters to back the Conservatives, the prospects for 2015 suddenly look much brighter for David Cameron.
It may be the moment that UKIP was shown to have passed its peak and the Conservatives charted the course to victory in the 2015 General Election.