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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 6:20 pm 
Sanno
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Since Axiem asked, and others might be wondering, I thought I'd give a brief explanation of this 'election' thing that we're having shortly - how it works, who's running, etc.

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Constituencies

Despite the name, the 'general election' isn't. It's actually 650 independent elections in diferent geographically-defined areas (533 in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales, and 18 in Northern Ireland). These areas are called "constituencies", but in other countries would be "seats" or "districts". And even here, they're talked about collectively as "seats" - we talk about someone standing in a constituency, the swing in a constituency, etc, but about the government gaining or losing seats. I'll just say 'seats' throughout, since 'constituency' is frankly a bugger to type. These seats attempt to be of roughly equal size, but that doesn't always work - the Isle of Wight has a huge seat because they prefer to have one MP for the island rather than two MPs they have to share with someone else. At the other extreme, some Scottish areas are overrepresented because they're already so huge that if you made them bigger it would just get silly. Seat boundaries are set by a largely independent commission.

Each constituency elects an 'MP', a Member of Parliament. They do so in a very simple way: everyone votes for who they want to be the MP, and the one with the most votes wins.

Think of this as basically like voting for the US House of Representatives.

---------------------

Who selects the MP candidates?

That's a matter for the parties. In general, traditionally, there was a 'local association' for each party in each seat, and they picked their favourite candidate. This is still theoretically the case, but over time the central national parties have exerted more and more power over the selection process, so now it's mostly up to the central party. If an MP keeps voting against their party, their party will "withdraw the whip" and forbid them from being selected for that party again. Occasionally they stand as independents and win... but it's very rare. So MPs are terrified of their parties and do whatever they're told.
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The Commons

MPs sit in the House of Commons, the equivalent of the House of Representatives. The big difference is that there is no separate vote for 'President'. 'Originally', our equivalent of the President was... well, the King, but other than him, it was the Speaker of the House of Commons - so imagine America without a Senate or a President, with Paul Ryan in charge. Now, the Speaker has become an almost entirely apolitical figure - they're elected from among the MPs, so they begin with a party, but they're meant to act apolitically (eg traditionally they don't vote and everyone agrees not to challenge them in elections).

Instead, our ruler is the Prime Minister. The position has existed informally for centuries, but only began to be legally acknowledged in the early 20th century, and it's still debateable about whether it's constitutionally recognised at all. The PM is simply "whoever can command the House" - whoever can get shit done. They're not formally voted on - the Queen asks someone to 'form a government' and they either can or they can't. In practice, however, the PM is almost always the leader of the largest party in the commons. They serve at the pleasure of their party - they are appointed and dismissed through internal party processes. So, Margaret Thatcher won many elections, but was suddenly deposed by her own party.

So, in each seat, the one with the most votes wins. In the Commons, the one with the most seats wins. Sometimes, nobody gets more than 50% of the seats, and we have a "hung parliament" - these are extremely rare, and generally mean another election soon after. [In these cases, either the largest party can form a 'minority government' and hope that their rivals won't all gang up against them; or, two or more parties can join a formal 'coalition'. But, as I say, both options are incredibly rare.]

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But what about the Lords? And the Queen?

The House of Lords is the upper house. It is not formed of hereditary peers anymore. Instead, they are 'life peers' appointed by the parties in rough proportion to their strength in the Commons. More peers get appointed every year and they serve for life (if they can be bothered), so the number grows and grows. Life peers include retired politicians, "people who have contributed greatly to the nation" (i.e. rich businessmen who have given lots of money to a party), and some lawyers and academics. There's also a small number who, as a concession to the old aristocracy, are elected by and from among the aristocracy to represent them.

The important thing about the Lords is that they can't do much. Their job is 'scrutiny', and they're basically a brake: bills go through the Commons in a rush, and the Lords can slow them down, debate them, point out problems, and, in very rare cases, delay them for up to a year.

The Queen then signs them. The Queen has important theoretical, constitutional functions. She tells PMs when they have to admit that they've lost, for instance. She can theoretically refuse to sign a bill that abolishes democracy. And when push comes to shove, the army would feel very unhappy if they were given an order that the Queen didn't approve of, like shooting people in the streets. She also meets with the PM every week, and basically acts as "the only person who really doesn't care what the PM thinks about her", so can give advice and warnings that others can't. But in terms of actual, practical political power... she has none. She is, as it were, an emergency safety valve.

---------------

So who are the parties?

You're following so far? There's an election in every seat, and the party who win the most seats get to be in power. We're not talking puny US power with checks and balances, either. Yes, there are parliamentary committees, and they're robust places for criticism, but they have no real power. The PM has the power. The PM decides what bills to put to a vote, and if she's the PM then by definition she has a majority of the votes, so she always wins. Years go by between PM defeats. They basically only happen when the PM only has a razor-thin majority, or on really emotive issues. [these are called 'matters of conscience', and if the PM thinks they will lose a vote, then they make it a matter of conscience, which means that people don't have to obey their parties, so it's not embarrasing when they don't].

Traditionally, since the early 20th century, there have been two serious parties:

The Conservatives, a.k.a. The Tories. The Conservatives emerged from schisms within the Tory Party in the 19th century, and have kept the old name as a nickname. The Tories are traditionally right-wing. They cover everyone from "One Nation" Tories, who believe in the rich caring for the poor, through to free-market libertarians, who... don't. They're also traditionally the party of the religious and the moral and the old and the white and the rich. They are usually in power.

Labour. Labour came out of the trade union movement, and the unions remain important to it. Labour are theoretically left-wing. They are the traditional party of the working class, and a few do-gooding middle class folk in certain areas. They are also traditionally more welcoming to non-white voters, and to voters in marginalised areas of the UK - traditional strongholds include Wales, Scotland, and the North, and particularly in urban areas.

Alongside these there has been a third party, variously known as The Liberals, The Alliance, and The Liberal Democrats (currently). Or 'lib dems'. They were in power a lot in the 19th century, having emerged from the Whigs, but collapsed in the early 20th century. They come and go, sometimes having dozens of MPs, and sometimes having 'few enough that they can hold their party conference in the back of a taxi'. ('party conference' = 'convention').

In modern times, however, the party system has fallen into chaos. Alongside the above three, there are also:

The SNP. The Scottish National Party. They want more power for Scotland - ideally independence - and a generally left-wing platform of policies. The voting system overrepresents them in parliament.

Plaid Cymru. The Welsh version of the SNP, but less succesful.

UKIP. The UK Independence Party. They want Brexit, and a generally far-right platform of policies. Their leadership is traditionally a bunch of weirdo rich guys who appeal to upper-class english stereotypes and wear tweed a lot. But their voters are usually poor and uneducated working-class people.

The Greens. They believe in... stuff. Bicycles. Beards. Having two leaders, one male and one female, to overthrow the patriarchal and confrontational assumptions people make about politics. I don't know, but probably vegetarianism, wool, abolition of magnets (newfangled nonsense!) and the compulsory eating of asparagus. Wait, no, that's cruel - asparagus is people too.

Four parties you may hear about in a historical context:
The SDP - centre-left group who broke away from Labour in the 80s. They allied with the surviving liberals to form the current Lib Dems.
The Fucking Fascists. These were at one point the National Front, and then became the BNP. The BNP are still around, but the latest version is the EDL (English Defence League). They don't like muslims, black people, overly pale people, or people who eat cheese. Mysteriously, the electoral support of the BNP (the EDL are too hip and with it for crusty old things like elections) has plummeted, at exactly the time that support for UKIP rose. UKIP are able to have the same policies as the BNP, but are much more acceptable - BNP candidates are tattooed bald thugs with criminal records, while UKIP candidates are people who laugh a lot, have a lot of teeth, and say "spiffing!", so they're much more electable and it would be rude to suggest that they're fascists.
Respect. A brief left-liberal movement associated with minorities, pacifists and so forth.
The Monster Raving Looney Party. Traditionally the theoretically-amusing protest vote party. Never won anything, and have declined now because its harder to distinguish the lunatics from the serious politicians.

And then there are The Irish...
More: show
Northern Ireland is different from everywhere else because a) they have their own electoral system (STV), and b) the main parties want to not get anywhere near that... situation. So they have their own parties:
The UUP. Used to be the right-wing Protestant party. Moved toward peace, so became unpopular.
The DUP. The more extremist right-wing Protestant party (strongly associated with fundamentalism). Continued to advocate terror up until the Good Friday Agreement, so overtook the UUP and became by far the largest party in NI.
The SDLP. The traditional left-wing Catholic party. Negotiated peace with the UUP, so became unpopular.
Sinn Fein. The more left-wing, more Catholic, more terrorist party, who overtook the SDLP. NI only works when the DUP and Sinn Fein are in coalition, which is difficult, because they hate each other (the DUP are far-right evangelicals and Sinn Fein are Catholics and Socialists). Both have, however, renounced terrorism now.
The Alliance. A brief modern attempt at a non-sectarian party who wanted peace and goodwill and progress, so, naturally, nobody likes them and they lost their only seat last time.



------------


OK, so what's going on with each party right now?

The Tories: their leader, Theresa May, is the PM. Her policies are deeply unpopular, seen as cruel and austere and out of touch. She has attempted to move her party away from the socially-cuddly, economically-hardline policies of David Cameron, toward a socially-brimstone, economically-protective, more traditional Tory platform designed to appeal to disgruntled UKIP voters. May was assumed to be going to smash the opposition (or Crush the saboteurs! as one newspaper put it), but recent polls show things are NOT going how she hoped, and we're on course for another narrow win, or even a hung parliament. On the other hand, many people will vote for her by default, because that's what you do with Tories - you vote for them, that's what voting is for.

Labour: chaos does not begin to describe it. Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is in open war with his own MPs, who are desparate for him to fail. After a rocky start, he caught up to the Tories in the polls, so his MPs staged a political suicide of mass resignations from his cabinet (leaving him with a shadow cabinet of idiots, children and has-beens), which absolutely tanked the party's popularity and brought them to the bring of destruction. They've been gloating about how he'd be brutally crushed this election, allowing them to take control again, but recent opinion polls show them gaining rapidly in the polls.

The root problem is that most of the "PLP" (parliamentary labour party, the actual labour MPs) are from New Labour, a 1990s movement to essentially adopt Tory policies while not actually being the Tories, and rely on everyone hating the Tories. Corbyn, however, comes from Old Labour, the actually left-wing part of the party. The PLP only accidentally let him get elected, and want to change the rules to make sure no left-wing MPs can get elected in future. However, the members of the Labour Party (the 'grassroots') are a long way to the left, and getting further left with every year. As a result, Labour are internally fucked. More on this in an addendum. Externally, their more left-wing brand of policies actually seems to be popular with voters, and they seem to be grabbing a lot of old UKIP voters. They will almost certainly still lose, but it may not be by that much.

The Lib Dems. Having been in coalition with the Tories from 2010 to 2015, the Lib Dems got mullered in the last election. They've, very slowly, been clawing back. Their leader, Tim Farron (an evangelical christian), has moved them back in a more left-wing, socially liberal direction, and is putting everything on opposing Brexit, or at least opposing 'hard Brexit'. This will lose him a lot of votes, but it may also gain him enough disillusioned Remainers from the other parties to grow his own vote share.

UKIP. At death's door. People thought that Brexit might be a breakthrough for them, that they might even take over from Labour. But having achieved their main objective, it seems that their voters are diserting them en masse. Their leader is... some guy. Not Nigel Farage anymore. I don't think? He comes and goes. Since most of them aren't real politicians, they're not very good at all this stuff - they were a one-issue, one-personality-cult party, and they've lost both their issue and their leader. And their only MP defected.

The Greens. Have an MP. Just the one. In Brighton. Brighton is a lovely city. It's the gay capital of the UK, it has a lot of bicycles, and is home to an international beard competition. There's apparently a shop there that sells only CDs with computer-generated artisanal static on them, for the real vinyl experience. [no, seriously, it's a great place. Just not very representative]. Outside of Brighton, the Greens get a small but respectable voter share, but spread out so thinly that they have no real hope of an MP anywhere.

The SNP. Dominate the whole of Scotland, and are the third-biggest party by seats, but not by votes. They have 5% of the vote and 56 seats; the Lib Dems have 8% and 8 seats, while UKIP have 13% of the votes and 1 seat. Their leader is Nicola Sturgeon. She is using Brexit to demand a new referendum on independence.
[confusing things: Scotland does have its own parliament, with powers over certain devolved issues. It also has MPs in Westminster.]

Plaid Cymru. Still exist.

--------------

All clear? Any questions? (other than, "what the hell is going on with Labour?")?

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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 6:46 pm 
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Is the moment the polls decided to go and fuck themselves the day when May announced the June elections in April?

(Interestingly, it looks as if the Lab started gaining from both the Lib Dem and UKIP, in a brief comeback to an adversarial parliamentary system…)

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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 6:57 pm 
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Appendix: What the hell is going on with Labour?

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OK, so, the PLP hate Corbyn. Why?
- he's left-wing
- he's not a team player; he's been around for yonks, but never part of any government. He's a backbench, semi-independent rebel who stood for leader not quite in a bet, but not far from it
- he has a lot of Issues that make political advisors scream. He's historically supported the IRA and Hamas, while calling for unilateral disarmament.
- his friends are idiots and children and old weirdos.
- although he has a lot of fans, his complete lack of charisma and tendency to mumble through interviews in a confused, slightly-senile-uncle fashion displaying no understanding of the issues or any particular desire to be Prime Minister, and the way his speeches make the average voter sort of fall asleep, all make people think they should have a better candidate.
- likewise, he's so obviously weak. He's situationally weak, but he's also personally weak - he changes his mind, he backs down, he fails to crush his enemies, he avoids fights.
- so, generally, they think they disagree with him on policy AND find him a bad politician. Even people from his own side of the party are scheming against him now.

So they need to get rid of him, right? Well, here's where things get complicated.

British parties are, in absolute real terms, groups of MPs. That's how they started and it's how they basically still are. But over time they started official fanclubs, and to make themselves look 'democratic' and 'listening', they started to pretend that they WERE their fanclub, that their fans were the ones making the decisions. So if the PLP came to power, they could follow the guidance of anyone they wanted - they're just some guys. Their leader is, de facto, whoever they want to have leading them. But according to their rhetoric, the "leader" of "the labour party" is voted for by the labour party.

Who is the labour party? It's lots of things. It's the PLP, but it's also the local associations, and it's the central 'national executive' that organises them. It's also ordinary members of the party.

And ordinary members of the party love Corbyn. Why wouldn't they? You don't join the party unless you really like labour stuff, and Corbyn is hardcore labour, labour without concessions. So they love him. And they get to vote for him.

Traditionally, a leader resigns when they don't have the backing of their MPs, because without that they can't do anything. But Labour are in opposition, so they can't do anything anyway. So Corbyn has refused to resign. The PLP managed to force a second leadership contest, but the members just voted for Corbyn again. They can't get rid of the guy! The more they scheme against him, the more popular he gets!

So why doesn't Corbyn just get rid of the PLP instead? Well, not so fast...

First, Corbyn likes being seen as the victim, not the aggressor. If he attacked the MPs en masse, he'd look like he was the one causing the trouble and he doesn't want that.

More importantly, his hands are tied. To get rid of MPs, he needs support in the local associations and in the national executive committee. But the NEC has a big tranche representing the PLP ex officio, leaving Corbyn fighting for the support of local associations, trade unions, affiliation socialist societies, etc. He did have a majority, but the Scottish and Welsh wings turned against him, so he no longer controls the NEC. The NEC have therefore refused to allow his idea of letting local associations hold automatic votes over whether to re-select their candidates. So he can't get rid of the existing MPs easily.

But it gets worse. He wanted his allies to be nominated as candidates in target seats and to replace retiring MPs. But because this is a snap election, and because it's been called right before an expected change to the constituency boundaries, there were no candidates in any seats, other than the existing MPs (they were waiting to see the new seat boundaries first). So as an emergency measure candidates have been imposed from a list drawn up by... the NEC. [or in some places there have been votes on the candidates, but the voters were only have local and half NEC]. Since he doesn't control the NEC, almost all the current candidates are anti-Corbyn.

So Corbyn is fucked either way. If Labour do badly, he'll be seen as a loser, proven to be unelectable. If Labour do well, they'll gain seats and he'll look good - but all the new candidates will oppose him. [particularly because he's more popular in safe seats, so the more marginal seats they win, the more candidates come from areas that oppose him, whereas the more they lose the 'purer' the party is and the more it will support him].

On the other hand, the PLP are fucked both ways too. If Corbyn does well he'll have more authority so it'll be harder to unseat him. If he does badly, it's the most anti-Corbyn MPs who will lose their seats.

Meanwhile, the MPs are confident that if Corbyn can be removed, the membership can be blocked from electing a replacement. See, their rules say that all candidates need at least 15% of the PLP before they are allowed to stand. No left-wing candidate will get that next time. So if corbyn resigns, the PLP get to take over again (and somehow the problem that literally nobody in the country wants to vote for them will go away). But because Corbyn knows this, he can't resign, no matter what happens...

Theoretically, there are two ways out. If Labour do well enough in the next election, Corbyn may be able to sway enough of the NEC to his side to change some rules. Or if they do badly enough, the PLP may be able to do likewise. At the moment they're in a stalemate, with two different powerbases and the NEC caught in the middle. There have been suggests that the way out may be to accept a left-wing candidate who just isn't as rubbish as corbyn... but it's not clear who that may be, or how either side could trust the other.

Imagine if Sanders won the majority in the primaries, and in most house districts, but the DCCC was able to impose its own candidates in each race and kept picking people who hated Sanders...



Pole: yeah, looks it. the small parties always poll better when there's not actually an election on. also, there's a vicious circle for UKIP: as it's been apparant that they're being wiped out, their voters have fled to Labour and Tory - I suspec that's part of the reason for Labour's rise.

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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 7:13 pm 
Smeric
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I only watched the debate because I saw a snippet of it and I was taken by the accent of the man who turned out to be the UKIP representative. I assumed he was Scottish until I looked up more information ... not being familiar with any of these guys, it took me a while to even figure people's names out ... and realized he was from somewhere near Liverpool. His accent sounded much more "Scottish" to me than that of the man who was actually from Scotland. Dont know if Im just wrong about what a Scottish accent sounds like or if the Scottish representative had an accent unusually close to standard RP English.

I like the format of the debate, all in all. 7 people at once can lead to some interesting discussions, not something often seen in US politics. A lot of people seemed to interrupt each other, and there was some tag-teaming where three or more people piled on top of one candidate at the same time. The 2016 Republican field did have a 6 or 7 person debate early on, but it was whittled down quickly to just three and I get the impression that no-hoper candidates get more respect in the UK because they at least have the potential of joining a coalition whereas in the USA everyone knew Fiorina, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, etc had zero chance of actually becoming the nominee.

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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 7:15 pm 
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Quote:
There have been suggests that the way out may be to accept a left-wing candidate who just isn't as rubbish as corbyn...

I see only one possibility.

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PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 8:10 pm 
Avisaru
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Very helpful, thank you! My apologies if some of these are stupid questions, but I'd rather ask a stupid question than not understand out of fear of embarrassment.

It surprises me that with first-past-the-post voting for MPs, third parties are able to gain any traction at all. The game theory way I'd expect this to play out is that smaller parties would ally with one of the larger parties and essentially be absorbed, so as to try to beat the "real" opponents. Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?

Do MPs not have to be from the district they're being elected from?

If votes in the Parliament on legislation are a simple majority (which is what it sounds like?), then what can a minority party do? Or do people break from party voting often?

Can the House of Lords outright veto legislation? Or does everything that passes Commons go through Lords, and it's mostly a thing to introduce delays to give Commons a chance to fix it?

Do members of the royal family vote on an MP?

What sorts of local governments also exist alongside this (e.g. in America, you also have State governments that mostly more-or-less resemble the national government in structure but are smaller; and then boards of alderman or city councils or whatnot for cities)? How do the differing parties fare between them?


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 4:49 am 
Avisaru
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Axiem wrote:
Very helpful, thank you! My apologies if some of these are stupid questions, but I'd rather ask a stupid question than not understand out of fear of embarrassment.


I'll offer my answers here, but Sal's will probably be wittier and more correct. The poor lad's put a lot of work into this, so he deserves a break.

Axiem wrote:
It surprises me that with first-past-the-post voting for MPs, third parties are able to gain any traction at all. The game theory way I'd expect this to play out is that smaller parties would ally with one of the larger parties and essentially be absorbed, so as to try to beat the "real" opponents. Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?


The main 3rd party across Britain has historically been the LibDems, who each election hoped for a hung parliament so that they could be part of the governing coalition and, among other things, change the voting system. Most of this happened in 2010, but Mr. Clegg found himself breaking certain campaign promises and the party was duly punished for it in 2015. They have too strong a centrist identity to merge with either of the main parties; some of them loathe the Tories, and others will have nothing to do with Labour if they can help it.

The SNP, as Sal says, are currently the 3rd party due to quirks in the electoral system. (It should be pointed out that if the voting system more fairly represented the votes cast for each party, we would have had coalition governments since at least the end of the Second World War. Bu that's not British, chum, and we don't do that here.) They all loathe the Tories, and many hate Labour too, so there's no chance of them joining with either.

In general, third parties have a stronger identity here than in the USA, and principally because the two main parties are not really "broad churches" like the Dems and the Repubs.

Axiem wrote:
Do MPs not have to be from the district they're being elected from?


No. Winston Churchill was MP for Dundee at one point.

Axiem wrote:
If votes in the Parliament on legislation are a simple majority (which is what it sounds like?), then what can a minority party do? Or do people break from party voting often?


Welcome to the concept of the "three-line whip". Except on matters of conscience, MPs are supposed to vote the along official party lines, but quite often they rebel if (1) they want to make a point or (2) they disagree with the legislation and think that enough others do so also that there's a good chance of it being defeated.

Axiem wrote:
Can the House of Lords outright veto legislation? Or does everything that passes Commons go through Lords, and it's mostly a thing to introduce delays to give Commons a chance to fix it?


In theory, the first is true. In practice, the second and third are true.

Axiem wrote:
Do members of the royal family vote on an MP?


No, but the reigning monarch can in theory refuse to let a newly elected PM take office.

Axiem wrote:
What sorts of local governments also exist alongside this (e.g. in America, you also have State governments that mostly more-or-less resemble the national government in structure but are smaller; and then boards of alderman or city councils or whatnot for cities)? How do the differing parties fare between them?


We have local governments, typically county-sized but with city-sized ones for many cities. I'll leave explaining how the parties do in these to Sal, once he's recovered; it's a lot more complicated. In particular, there's a another party called "No Overall Control" which always does very well in local government, but for some reason never puts up candidates in national elections.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 5:08 am 
Avisaru
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Axiem wrote:
It surprises me that with first-past-the-post voting for MPs, third parties are able to gain any traction at all. The game theory way I'd expect this to play out is that smaller parties would ally with one of the larger parties and essentially be absorbed, so as to try to beat the "real" opponents. Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?


Erm, no. Indeed the trend has rather been in the opposite direction; we're closer the European norm of a proliferation of political parties than we were 50-odd years ago.

Quote:
Do MPs not have to be from the district they're being elected from?


No they don't, and that allows ridiculous parachuting in sometimes. I live in Richmond (Yorkshire) constituency, where the current MP is Rishi Sunak, born in Hampshire and the son-in-law of one of India's wealthiest men.

Quote:
If votes in the Parliament on legislation are a simple majority (which is what it sounds like?), then what can a minority party do? Or do people break from party voting often?


Minority parties with next to no presence in Parliament can do sod all basically, and defying the whip and breaking the party line doesn't happen often, no.

Quote:
Can the House of Lords outright veto legislation? Or does everything that passes Commons go through Lords, and it's mostly a thing to introduce delays to give Commons a chance to fix it?


No the House of Lords effectively does not have a veto, because if they did then the party in charge in the commons would get angry and do away with it. The best they can do is to ping it back to the Commons and ask them to go through it again, which is basically what you say in the next question, yes.

Quote:
What sorts of local governments also exist alongside this (e.g. in America, you also have State governments that mostly more-or-less resemble the national government in structure but are smaller; and then boards of alderman or city councils or whatnot for cities)? How do the differing parties fare between them?


I'll let Sal field this one, but just a preliminary, there's nothing like the level of devolved power equivalent to US states outside of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and those differ in how much power they actually have.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 5:41 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
Seat boundaries are set by a largely independent commission.


Now this is a big difference from the US: gerrymandering is not a concern to the same extent here, because the redrawing is not done by the party in charge, so the kind of concerted fucking-over like you see in the US doesn't happen. The system is still dysfunctional, just not necessarily due to constituency boundaries.

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The Conservatives, a.k.a. The Tories. The Conservatives emerged from schisms within the Tory Party in the 19th century, and have kept the old name as a nickname. The Tories are traditionally right-wing. They cover everyone from "One Nation" Tories, who believe in the rich caring for the poor, through to free-market libertarians, who... don't. They're also traditionally the party of the religious and the moral and the old and the white and the rich. They are usually in power.


Mind you, what counts as "right-wing" over here is sometimes fairly centrist from an American perspective; while the Tories may be secretly partially privatising the NHS through the back door, nobody is seriously suggesting doing away with it entirely, and the main question right now is which party will invest the most into the Health Service. Similarly, the Tories have actually borrowed a Labour policy from the last election of capping energy bills. They still have the same obsession about cutting tax and public spending as the Republicans do though.

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The SDP - centre-left group who broke away from Labour in the 80s. They allied with the surviving liberals to form the current Lib Dems.
The Fucking Fascists. These were at one point the National Front, and then became the BNP. The BNP are still around, but the latest version is the EDL (English Defence League). They don't like muslims, black people, overly pale people, or people who eat cheese. Mysteriously, the electoral support of the BNP (the EDL are too hip and with it for crusty old things like elections) has plummeted, at exactly the time that support for UKIP rose. UKIP are able to have the same policies as the BNP, but are much more acceptable - BNP candidates are tattooed bald thugs with criminal records, while UKIP candidates are people who laugh a lot, have a lot of teeth, and say "spiffing!", so they're much more electable and it would be rude to suggest that they're fascists.


Actually I think even the EDL are on the wane right now: they've been outnumbered by anti-fascist protesters at their rallies for a while now.

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Respect. A brief left-liberal movement associated with minorities, pacifists and so forth.


Before the last election they did have an MP in the form of George Galloway in Bradford: he's rather a weird guy, and the party has been criticised for dropping many socially liberal stances to try and appeal to the Muslim community. Dead Ringers (a radio-impressionist comedy on BBC Radio 4) a couple of series ago had great fun with this caricaturing Galloway as some kind of preposterous Islamist dictator.

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And then there are The Irish...


My brother asked why the Northern Irish parties didn't get to take part in the debate last night; my answer featured the word "clusterfuck".

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The Tories: their leader, Theresa May, is the PM. Her policies are deeply unpopular, seen as cruel and austere and out of touch. She has attempted to move her party away from the socially-cuddly, economically-hardline policies of David Cameron, toward a socially-brimstone, economically-protective, more traditional Tory platform designed to appeal to disgruntled UKIP voters. May was assumed to be going to smash the opposition (or Crush the saboteurs! as one newspaper put it), but recent polls show things are NOT going how she hoped, and we're on course for another narrow win, or even a hung parliament. On the other hand, many people will vote for her by default, because that's what you do with Tories - you vote for them, that's what voting is for.


And that's the most annoying thing about British politics: that people will reflexively vote Tory even though their policies often only serve to harm all but the well-off. It's even more depressing when you actually live in a Tory safe-seat and you know that you're vote's gonna do bugger-all, and no amount of hot debate (or politically-charged sermons from your dad, the vicar) will change that.

Salmoneus wrote:
OK, so, the PLP hate Corbyn. Why?
- he's left-wing
- he's not a team player; he's been around for yonks, but never part of any government. He's a backbench, semi-independent rebel who stood for leader not quite in a bet, but not far from it
- he has a lot of Issues that make political advisors scream. He's historically supported the IRA and Hamas, while calling for unilateral disarmament.
- his friends are idiots and children and old weirdos.
- although he has a lot of fans, his complete lack of charisma and tendency to mumble through interviews in a confused, slightly-senile-uncle fashion displaying no understanding of the issues or any particular desire to be Prime Minister, and the way his speeches make the average voter sort of fall asleep, all make people think they should have a better candidate.
- likewise, he's so obviously weak. He's situationally weak, but he's also personally weak - he changes his mind, he backs down, he fails to crush his enemies, he avoids fights.
- so, generally, they think they disagree with him on policy AND find him a bad politician. Even people from his own side of the party are scheming against him now.


Well he did manage to counteract some of those points in the debate last night: he did give quite a strong performance I feel, and certainly didn't shy away from criticising the Tories. And he's not completely screwed friend-wise: Emily Thornberry is a damn good shadow-foreign-secretary. But then Diane Abbot is still home secretary...

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He did have a majority, but the Scottish and Welsh wings turned against him...


Which rather makes Leanne Wood's criticism of Labour at the debate last night fall flat on its face. (basically her point was that people in Wales should vote for Plaid over Labour because Labour in Wales had voted down legislation outlawing zero-hours contracts, even though Jeremy Corbyn would have voted in favour of such legislation given the opportunity).

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So Corbyn is fucked either way. If Labour do badly, he'll be seen as a loser, proven to be unelectable. If Labour do well, they'll gain seats and he'll look good - but all the new candidates will oppose him. [particularly because he's more popular in safe seats, so the more marginal seats they win, the more candidates come from areas that oppose him, whereas the more they lose the 'purer' the party is and the more it will support him].


Bloody hell, when you put it like that...

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 7:19 am 
Avisaru
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That's a great thread, thanks.

One thing that's unclear is why May called for an election at all (Commenters over here mentioned she wanted a stronger majority; but if party discipline is good, why should it be an issue?)


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 7:49 am 
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Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?

Aren't congressional primaries a thing in the US, which make it easier for third-party politicians to be a candidate for one of the two biggest parties, basically preventing any splits?

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 8:00 am 
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Pole, the wrote:
Quote:
Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?

Aren't congressional primaries a thing in the US, which make it easier for third-party politicians to be a candidate for one of the two biggest parties, basically preventing any splits?

I don't understand the question. The parties run the primaries, so in order to participate in one, you have to declare party allegiance. Once you declare yourself a "Democrat" or a "Republican", you are by definition no longer a "third-party politician".


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 8:33 am 
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linguoboy wrote:
I don't understand the question. The parties run the primaries, so in order to participate in one, you have to declare party allegiance. Once you declare yourself a "Democrat" or a "Republican", you are by definition no longer a "third-party politician".

Well, that's the point.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 10:28 am 
Avisaru
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Ars Lande wrote:
One thing that's unclear is why May called for an election at all (Commenters over here mentioned she wanted a stronger majority; but if party discipline is good, why should it be an issue?)


As well as anti-EU MPs, she also has to keep the right-wing newspapers and what's left of UKIP happy, and negotiating a deal which will satisfy all of them is going to be very difficult with a majority of only 18 (or whatever it is currently). If more moderate Conservative MPs are elected, this will matter less.

Plus there's the small detail that the main opposition party is in chaos and its new leader won't survive another humiliating general election defeat, but that's probably being too cynical.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 11:14 am 
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alice wrote:
Ars Lande wrote:
One thing that's unclear is why May called for an election at all (Commenters over here mentioned she wanted a stronger majority; but if party discipline is good, why should it be an issue?)


As well as anti-EU MPs, she also has to keep the right-wing newspapers and what's left of UKIP happy, and negotiating a deal which will satisfy all of them is going to be very difficult with a majority of only 18 (or whatever it is currently). If more moderate Conservative MPs are elected, this will matter less.

Plus there's the small detail that the main opposition party is in chaos and its new leader won't survive another humiliating general election defeat, but that's probably being too cynical.


Theresa May being cynical?
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 11:22 am 
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Axiem wrote:
Very helpful, thank you! My apologies if some of these are stupid questions, but I'd rather ask a stupid question than not understand out of fear of embarrassment.

No problem! Others have mostly answered these, but...
It surprises me that with first-past-the-post voting for MPs, third parties are able to gain any traction at all. The game theory way I'd expect this to play out is that smaller parties would ally with one of the larger parties and essentially be absorbed, so as to try to beat the "real" opponents. Are things heading this way maybe, or are there other economic/institutional things that make that result different than e.g. here in America?
[/quote]
The current situation is indeed bizarre, and possibly impossible.

First, there's the Libdems. The Liberals split, and were overtaken by Labour, and should have vanished, but somehow they didn't. It's believed that this is to a large extent because they still had a really strong base in local politics. Even so, they came close to being wiped out at times. It also helps that they had regional strongholds where Labour never really competed - rural areas in the north, southwest, and in Scotland. Labour being originally an urban worker's movement, it took time for them to move into the countryside, so the Liberals remained the de facto opposition to the Tories in those areas. [One analysis describes the UK as a series of two-party systems in different areas, but not always the same two parties].

In the eighties, the Liberals, traditionally a centre-right party, merging with the SDP (centre-left), saw an opportunity when Labour were heading off into serious socialism and Thatcher was dragging the Tories to the right: the Lib Dems became the party of the middle.

They have a sort of uneasy alliance between their left (sdp) and right (liberal) wings - in the late '00s and during the coalition they were ruled a bit from the right (what was called "Orange Book" liberalism), and now they've moved back to the left. What unites them, however, is liberalism.

I think the key is that the main Tory-Labour battlegrounds, where elections are won, are often lower-middle-class workers, who are not generally very liberal. So the two big parties don't have to appeal to liberals, so they're both instinctively a bit authoritarian. This has allowed the LDs to survive by targeting the more liberal voters, boosted by a sizeable protest vote against the main parties (they're traditionally, although not currently, popular with students).

--------------------------------------

With the LDs, the system was a so-called two-and-a-half party system, with two governing parties and a third minor protest party. This is rare but not unknown. Then what happened, however, was that nationalist parties rose up. They favoured devolution and/or independence, and a range of local issues, and only competed in their regions - the SNP in Scotland, and Plaid in Wales. As Labour moved rightward in the 1990s, that left room on their left, enabling the nationalists to become the attractive party for the left in their respective areas.

Regionally focused parties are also a well-known exception to two-party dynamics.

-------------------

But then there's UKIP. UKIP shouldn't be able to exist... and indeed in some ways they don't. They've only ever had one MP, and that's because he defected to them from the Tories. They do, however, have MEPs (members of the european parliament), because nobody care about them and normal strategic thinking doesn't apply there - they're just protest votes. But more broadly, because they had a powerful single issue that the two main parties were mostly ignoring, they've been able to get enough votes around the country to be a serious political factor, even without winning seats (there were a bunch of seats where UKIP came second).

And the Greens? They've always been around, but they're probably doing well now because a big chunk of LD support left in horror when the LDS actually agreed to share power.

------

The situation is probably not stable. People wondered whether we might be in a transition, with UKIP replacing Labour, but that seems not to be happening now. Instead, UKIP will disappear. the Greens will probably eventually be swallowed up by the Lib Dems again (not officially, but in terms of voters). The SNP will go away when Scotland leaves the union - or when they're comprehensively defeated, particularly if Labour can pivot back to the left to take their voters back.

Quote:
Do MPs not have to be from the district they're being elected from?

They do realistically have to spend a lot of time there, holding 'surgeries' (meetings where ordinary people come and yell at them about local pothoes and roadworks and stuff). But no, they don't have to originate there.
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If votes in the Parliament on legislation are a simple majority (which is what it sounds like?), then what can a minority party do? Or do people break from party voting often?

Minorities cannot do anything.
(well, they can make a fuss. They can embarrass the PM in PMQs (when the PM is asked questions on TV by other MPs), and in committee meetings. But they've no actual power.
It's common, particularly on unimportant votes, for a small number of people to vote against their party. But it's very rare for a large number to defect on the same important vote, so it's very rare for the PM to ever be defeated.
Quote:

Can the House of Lords outright veto legislation? Or does everything that passes Commons go through Lords, and it's mostly a thing to introduce delays to give Commons a chance to fix it?

Theoretically, the Lords can "veto" legislation for up to one year, provided that it's not a "money bill". Also, by convention (the Salisbury Convention), they shouldn't do this for any legislation directly promised by the government in its election manifesto. However, even this power of temporary veto is extremely rarely used - only seven times in history.
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Do members of the royal family vote on an MP?

Probably not - nobody with a peerage is allowed to vote in the general election.
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What sorts of local governments also exist alongside this (e.g. in America, you also have State governments that mostly more-or-less resemble the national government in structure but are smaller; and then boards of alderman or city councils or whatnot for cities)? How do the differing parties fare between them?


Town councils, district councils, county councils, and separate unitary councils for the larger cities. There's devolution (i.e. separate legislatures, with different powers) for Wales and Scotland, and also for London, although it's not normally called devolution in the case of London. Various urban areas also have mayors, although only the Mayor of London actually has any substantive powers.

There's an obvious lack of an intermediate level between Westminster and the county council (which is still basically local-level government). Various governments have tried to introduce Regional Government, dividing the country up into eight or so different regions, but this has been met with extreme hostility from the public. The public generally hate being democratically represented, because it involves the existence of politicians...




-------

Ars Lande: there were four reasons for calling the election:

- Labour looked to be in serious trouble, and a snap election was meant to kick them when they were down.

- May doesn't have a huge majority. It ought to be enough... but there are controversial issues on the horizon. Brexit may be difficult - there may well be a huge rebellion from the far right of her party, and a small one from the left as well. If she could make her majority bigger, she could do what she wanted, but when it's small... she probably won't lose votes, but she'll have to avoid pissing off her rebels too much. Plus, a big win would generally strengthen her standing and authority within the party. The party can get rid of her at any time, remember! She's already got some problems dealing with the more libertarian elements. A big win would let her crush them, and let her kill the careers of potentially dangerous rivals like Boris.

- people don't like unelected PMs. Over time, more and mroe people will grumble "we never voted for her!" and "why's she scared of facing the electorate?". So often new PMs who come in between elections want to call an election before too long just to make clear that THEY have legitimacy, that they're not just riding on the coat-tails of their predecessor.

- an election resets the clock. The next election was due for 2020; now it won't be due until 2022. May as well grab the two extra years if it looks like an easy win.

If, however, it turns out that she loses her majority... well, she'll probably still remain as PM (hard to see everyone else uniting against her at the moment), but it'll badly damage her authority and standing and make everything much, MUCH more difficult, particularly Brexit. Most PMs would probably have to resign, but I suspect May won't (and since there's no obvious replacement for her right now, her party probably won't force her to - but it'll make it hard for her to survive until 2022).

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:22 pm 
Boardlord
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All good stuff, thanks Sal.

My question is: why the big surge for Labour since the election was announced?

And is this something May should have predicted? She evidently expected a landslide, but isn't it a bit embarrassing if the Tories actually lose seats?


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:52 pm 
Avisaru
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zompist wrote:
My question is: why the big surge for Labour since the election was announced?


Well she had said multiple times beforehand that she wasn't going to call a snap election, so there's the trust-betrayal factor (though that's probably worn off by now).

I also reckon that perhaps people have cottoned on to May's motivations for calling it, and are justifiably scared of the possibility of a stronger Tory majority, and so support for Labour may have picked up because people are voting for the only party that could conceivably form a majority government over the Tories [actually that's another thing to note: most of the older generation still thinks in terms of a two-party system, so you get on the BBC all the time people saying "oh, I've voted Labour all me life, but I do like that Theresa May so I think I'll vote Conservative" as if there are no other parties out there, and the media often feeds into this misconception (this drives my Lib-Dem supporting dad completely nuts)]

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And is this something May should have predicted? She evidently expected a landslide, but isn't it a bit embarrassing if the Tories actually lose seats?


She probably should, but she hasn't, and that would probably make it all the worse for her if she loses. It's a bit like a repeat of David Cameron with the EU referendum: he called a referendum to appease both UKIP and the more vocal Brexiting elements in his party, assumes he can't possibly lose, acts arrogantly in ways detrimental to his position and falls on his arse embarrassingly at the last minute.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 1:38 pm 
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The LibDems and Labour also attract the young and educated. LibDem college students seem to be a stereotype similar to the disenchanted leftist college students who vote Green or Libertarian, except that LibDems actually (barely) have power in Parliament while the Greens and Libertarians have no power in Congress.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 4:16 pm 
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mèþru wrote:
The LibDems and Labour also attract the young and educated. LibDem college students seem to be a stereotype similar to the disenchanted leftist college students who vote Green or Libertarian, except that LibDems actually (barely) have power in Parliament while the Greens and Libertarians have no power in Congress.

The Germans have this stereotype, too, vis-à-vis the Greens, with the difference that they actually get into government. The German state of Baden-Württemberg, where the Greens are the leading partner in a coalition with the CDU (Merkel's party), even has a Green PM.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 6:41 pm 
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zompist wrote:
My question is: why the big surge for Labour since the election was announced?

That is indeed the killer question. That's what Theresa May and her staff are wondering around dazed and muttering. What the fuck is happening? If, indeed, it IS happening?

The biggest answer is that this reflects a change from people treating polling as a symbolic 'who do you like?' question to treating it as a 'who will you vote for?' question. Note that both the main parties leaped forward, while all the small parties have declined. Indeed, the initial leap was largest for the Tories (all defecting from UKIP, it looks), while Labour have shown more gradual but much larger gains.

I guess part of it is Frislander's theory: people have worken up, gone 'oh shit, we need to stop the Tories', and are reluctantly giving up their Libd Dem, UKIP or Green allegiances to unite behind Corbyn.

In the case of UKIP, it looks like everyone's losing confidance that anyone will vote for them and they're all leaving the ship. At first a lot went Tory, but the later losses seem to have gone to Labour.

It's also, frankly, because Corbyn's policies are really popular, and May's are really unpopular. The manifesto launches seem like they may correspond to the Tory's sudden decline, as well as Corbyn's continued growth. There's kind of a sense that, oh yeah, Corbyn actually IS going to offer all those policies he said he was going to offer! and... wait, May's stuff wasn't just trying to look tough, she's actually going to campaign on that!?

There's also a methodological issue. Polling here is extremely unreliable at the moment (because it's 650 different unique elections with half a dozen significant parties to track, and there isn't really a uniform swing). Election polling is presumably a lot more expensive and complex than the more indicative stuff the polling companies through out during the intervening years (the giant yougov polls that are grabbing the headlines right now aren't equivalent to what was going on before). It may be that changes in methodology are picking up something that earlier polling, with simpler assumptions, just hadn't realised.

Quote:
And is this something May should have predicted?

No.
I mean, what I've said above makes sense, in hindsight. And late moves for one or other party are certainly not unheard of. But this is a really big move, and wasn't expected at all, and isn't realy representative of recent elections (e.g. the LD vote normally rises as you get close to the election, but now it's falling - possibly because the quanta are different).

A key thing to bear in mind is that we've not had a genuinely snap election since... 1982, the Falklands bounce? Otherwise it's been at most a year early, so maybe people have been sort of in that mindset already. This time, it looks like people have been suddenly snapped out of one mindset and into another by an election call that was a genuine shock (people were predicting it back in the autumn, but everyone thought May had decided against it, so it was a shock when she hadn't. Although for a New Iron Lady, she does seem to change her mind about things an awful lot...)
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She evidently expected a landslide, but isn't it a bit embarrassing if the Tories actually lose seats?

Hugely. In other circumstances it might well cost her her job.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 12:50 pm 
Smeric
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It's interesting to see to which extent your descriptions are objective or subjective...

The Greens were second in Bristol West last election. If it weren't for the major gains in support for Labour (which is where former Green support is going lately), the Greens could be getting that seat this time around.

Corbyn isn't useless, even if the tax-dodging media bosses such as want him to portrayed as such. It's no coincidence that Labour are making sudden gains, just at the moment (electioneering period) when the media are actually obliged to show a lack of bias. Corbyn was the most well-applauded politician on the recent debate (available on youtube), followed by Caroline Lucas of the Greens.

And people didn't just desert the Lib Dems because they formed a coalition, but because they formed a coalition people didn't expect them to make, and they did the opposite of at least one of their major campaign promises (they rose the cap on tuition fees in contrast to their manifesto claim).

it's also important to note that part of the reason Alliance lost their sole MP (Naomi Long) is due to the First Past the Post system. And Traditional Unionist Voice not standing a candidate against the DUP in Belfast East, the constituency where Naomi Long won 5 years before. Their percentage vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly election earlier this year was 9%, their best support since 1982. And their support in the last Westminster election actually grew, despite the loss of their MP.

The electoral system is also part of the reason why there is much talk about tactical voting (e.g.this site). And there are some agreements between local parties, mostly along Brexit lines .e.g the Lib Dems don't stand in a constituency where the Greens have a better chance and vice versa.

@Soap:
You can be forgiven for thinking that, as Nuttall has a stronger, more distinctive accent (I managed to find something good about UKIP!)


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 1:48 pm 
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Quote:
The Greens were second in Bristol West last election. If it weren't for the major gains in support for Labour (which is where former Green support is going lately), the Greens could be getting that seat this time around.

Wow! Two seats instead of one. They do matter now!

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 3:12 pm 
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jmcd wrote:
Corbyn isn't useless, even if the tax-dodging media bosses such as want him to portrayed as such. It's no coincidence that Labour are making sudden gains, just at the moment (electioneering period) when the media are actually obliged to show a lack of bias. Corbyn was the most well-applauded politician on the recent debate (available on youtube), followed by Caroline Lucas of the Greens.


Indeed, though that doesn't excuse his more questionable decisions (I mean for goodness sake, Diane Abbot as shadow home secretary!).

Quote:
And people didn't just desert the Lib Dems because they formed a coalition, but because they formed a coalition people didn't expect them to make, and they did the opposite of at least one of their major campaign promises (they rose the cap on tuition fees in contrast to their manifesto claim).


Yeah, they did fuck up on the tuition fees one, but I don't think they really had much of a choice, and I certainly don't think the subsequent reaction from the press and at the next election was justified. And it's not like they all voted unanimously in favour either (it was actually 28 to 21).

Soap wrote:
I only watched the debate because I saw a snippet of it and I was taken by the accent of the man who turned out to be the UKIP representative. I assumed he was Scottish until I looked up more information ... not being familiar with any of these guys, it took me a while to even figure people's names out ... and realized he was from somewhere near Liverpool. His accent sounded much more "Scottish" to me than that of the man who was actually from Scotland. Dont know if Im just wrong about what a Scottish accent sounds like or if the Scottish representative had an accent unusually close to standard RP English.


Nope, Angus Robertson was definitely using a proper Scottish (Edinburgh to be precise: they speak more softly there than in Glasgow). And Nuttall's is a proper Scouser, though there may be some slight resemblances with Scottish because of the Irish influence on Mersyside.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 6:10 pm 
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Joined: Fri Sep 13, 2002 9:01 am
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Location: Just outside Hamburg, Germany
linguoboy wrote:
mèþru wrote:
The LibDems and Labour also attract the young and educated. LibDem college students seem to be a stereotype similar to the disenchanted leftist college students who vote Green or Libertarian, except that LibDems actually (barely) have power in Parliament while the Greens and Libertarians have no power in Congress.

The Germans have this stereotype, too, vis-à-vis the Greens, with the difference that they actually get into government. The German state of Baden-Württemberg, where the Greens are the leading partner in a coalition with the CDU (Merkel's party), even has a Green PM.



Oh, I'd say the name of the German Greens might give people from other countries misleading ideas about how they're like - sure they started out in a similar spot to the similarly-named parties in other countries, but by now they're a good deal closer to the center than those other parties.


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