Theresa May now has the chance to reshape Britain

So, it’s a General Election. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act proved as impotent as its opponents had always said it would be. Roll on June 8. After the Scottish referendum of 2014, General Election of 2015, and EU referendum of 2016, this will be the fourth year in a row with an epochal vote for the UK.

One difference between this year’s vote and the other three is that there is no real doubt about the outcome. The only two questions are how massive Theresa May’s massive majority will be and how catastrophic Labour’s catastrophic defeat. In 1923, the Liberal Party won 158 seats — the last time it was a serious contender for government. Can Labour do better than that, and maintain the illusion, just a little longer, that it might one day recover?

Aside from Jeremy Corbyn’s personal haplessness, the three really big reasons the Conservatives will win big and Labour will be gutted are Scotland, Brexit and the economy.

Labour has never won an overall majority in a General Election without winning a majority in Scotland. Yet they only have one Scottish MP at present. And there’s every chance the Conservatives will get more. Under their dynamic leader Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives are now thoroughly established as the real opposition to the SNP.

The SNP will presumably put seeking a second Scottish independence referendum in their manifesto and claim a mandate. Will the Conservatives say there should be no referendum this coming Parliament? Or could they agree to a 2022 independence referendum, once Brexit is out of the way, drawing the SNP’s sting?

On Brexit, Labour remains appallingly split. A rump want to keep arguing for a second referendum. Others want to move on. For the Conservatives, Brexit means it will pick up votes from Ukip, now that party’s raison d’etre is gone. If you want Brexit, vote for the government that’s promising Brexit. What point is there in voting Ukip now?

The Conservatives may even pick up quite a few votes in northern England, where former Labour voters (some of whom may not have voted for several elections) have crossed the Rubicon by voting against Labour in the EU referendum and now might be harvested for the Conservatives.

On the economy, the Tories can claim their policies of the last seven years have been dully effective. We have very low unemployment. Growth has been steady if not spectacular. Things could have been a lot worse – for example if Jeremy Corbyn had been in charge.

And during the campaign, voters will be exposed to the full force of Corbyn’s deranged economic programme and philosophy. There will probably be a series of Tory election broadcasts that do little more than repeat Jeremy Corbyn’s own views in his own words. There’s no need for spin.

One useful thing an early General Election does is to get the Conservatives out of various of the daft election pledges made in 2015. We saw in the debacle of the 2017 Spring Budget how 2015 promises were making policy awkward.

What could go? Obviously they won’t want to continue with the pledges of no change to self-employed taxation or NI. They probably won’t want to pledge to ringfence spending on pensioner benefits any longer, either.

Other spending pledges to keep an eye out for might be commitments on international development and defence. The pledge for these might be combined in some way? Could they be really brave and refuse to pledge to ringfence NHS spending? If they are ever going to get rid of that absurd pledge, a can’t-lose election like this would be the time.

Connected to the above might be migration issues. Surely they can’t pledge to keep net migration to an average of below 100,000 over this parliament? Maybe some modified vague pledge such as promising, by the next election, to be getting net migration “down closer towards” 100,000? They might also promise to end free movement with the EU “by the end of this parliament”. That could allow up to three years of transitional arrangements, giving May some helpful wriggle room in the Brexit talks.

We can pretty much bank on May getting a majority greater than 100, perhaps north of 150. With no opposition worthy of the name, she will have full freedom to do whatever she likes domestically for the foreseeable future. Time for all those right-wing think-tanks to flaunt their wares. The UK could look a very different country by the time all this is done.


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It Takes A Man To Apologise.

“I’m sorry.” Two simple words and yet for some two of the hardest to say. We easily utter them in response to trivial matters like accidentally bumping into a stranger on the street or giving the cashier the wrong change. Yet it seems in important matters and especially to those in public office, we can find public servants practically choking on the words.

This week in Faringdon, Oxfordshire there is apparently a breed of Town Councillor who will not apologise for offending a resident.


Councillor Mark T Greenwood has publicly accused me of being a ‘nasty little racist prick’ on social media (see tweet below), for a comment I made to @jongaunt from The Jon Gaunt Show with regard to a debate about a British Muslim – Muhammad Ashraf Ali Yusuf, who has filed a petition demanding the Muslim call to prayer be played on loudspeakers from mosques in British towns and cities.


I must admit that I have been called worse and have usually ignored such comments, but never from a public servant who is supposedly representing me. Does Councillor Greenwood also believes that anyone of the 96% White/British who live in Faringdon who are similarly concerned with such a petition, also nasty little racist pricks?

Now let’s get this straight Councillor Mark T Greenwood, I love working in the very multicultural city of Oxford because of it’s multiculturalism, my work colleagues are multicultural, I have many Muslim and other faith friends, I have dated women whose ethnicity and beliefs have been different from mine.

I can understand why those two little words are stuck in your throat. You are a Liberal and that’s your way of closing the debate, but I’ll try to explain to you how and why to properly apologise is a necessary step in moving from Liberal boy to Liberal man.

Your faults may be:

Pride. Apologising can be particularly hard for men because it involves the admittance of fault. It’s hard to say that we messed up. That we were wrong. Is your pride getting in the way?

Embarrassment. If we messed up, doing something truly boneheaded even though we knew better, it can be difficult to talk about it to the person’s hurt or public we let down. Do you feel stupid and would rather pretend like it didn’t happen?

Anger. Is your anger over how someone has “offended” you so great that you try to justify what you said and can’t get past it to apologise?

The antidote to all 3 obstacles Councillor Mark T Greenwood? Humility.

The reason we put up these walls is that we have an overinflated view of our true selves. We’re always right; we always have it together. But it is not true. We’re human. We mess up sometimes. You have to accept your imperfection as a part of life. Suppressing it will cut you off from others. Embracing it will allow you to grow as a man.

Don’t live your life as though every day you’re pleading your case before an imaginary court, presenting evidence for why you are not at fault and are innocent as charged. It’s not as important to be right as it is to have healthy relationships with the public you represent.

Would you rather be right than give up your relationship with a resident? Would you rather be right than lift the hurt feelings from another? Being self-satisfied in your justice offers little benefit but the feeling of smugness. And smugness won’t keep you warm at night.

You can find the things, no matter how small, that you could have handled better. Once you apologise for those things, that will get the ball rolling. Don’t let pride stop you from being the bigger person and taking the initiative.

Apologise as soon as you can after making a mistake. The longer you wait, the more resentment is going to build up on both sides, the harder it will be to make the first move, and the more awkward the situation will become. Be a man and nip it in the bud.

You have offend someone and you have failed to debate like a gentleman and ended up being snarky, attacking the person personally, you should apologise for your boorish behavior.

Here’s How to Apologise Councillor Mark T Greenwood.

Write it if you can’t say it. Sometimes our embarrassment or pride prevents us from going in person to apologise to someone. While a face to face apology is always ideal, if you absolutely can’t do it, then it’s better to get it out than not do it at all. And sometimes a letter or note is actually a superior medium to talking because it allows you to express all of your feelings without forgetting what you want to say or running the risk of setting off another argument.

Be sincere. This is the cardinal rule of apologies. An insincere apology is in some ways worse than no apology at all. The person’s hurt over your offense will merely be compounded by their anger at your hypocrisy. An insincere apology may take the form of saying you’re sorry but saying it in such a way that your lack of contrition is patently manifest.

Take complete responsibility. Never, ever make any excuses while you’re apologising. They instantly ruin the weight and sincerity of your confession. Don’t use any “buts.” As in “I’m really sorry that happened, but….” A man takes full responsibility for his mistakes.

Express your understanding of why you were wrong and the weight of your mistake. A person wants to know that you fully understand the seriousness of the situation, that you have thought through exactly why what you did was wrong and the full consequences of your actions. Nobody wants to hear an apology from someone who clearly doesn’t know why they’re in the wrong but feels like apologising is what they’re “supposed” to do.

Prove your contrition with your actions. In the end, words will matter very little if your actions don’t match them. After you’ve apologised, stop dwelling on it. Simply start acting in a way that demonstrates the sincerity of your apology.

One thing I do know, is that i’ll be waiting a long time before the coward apologises.


The great British constituency shake-up is no anti-Labour conspiracy

In what may prove to be one of the most radical shake-ups of Britain’s electoral map in modern times, the boundary commissions representing the various countries of the UK are proposing to dramatically reduce the number of constituencies, reducing the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 MPs. They suggest merging various constituencies into each other before the 2020 election so that they are closer in size.

Accusations are already flying about unreasonable decisions and of the government tinkering with the electoral system for partisan gain. But are such claims justified?

There’s no doubt the proposals will (if they actually go ahead) significantly alter the constituency map of the UK. The commissions are required to ensure that every constituency (with the exception of four geographically tricky seats) must have an electorate which is within plus or minus 5% of the national average constituency size. Based on the registered electorate in December 2015, this means that no constituency (except the four) can have an electorate smaller than 71,031 or larger than 78,507.

This means a major shift in the number of seats going to each of the constituent countries of the UK. Every country will lose MPs. But they lose to different degrees. The smallest reduction (both in absolute and relative terms) is in Northern Ireland. The largest proportionate change, meanwhile, occurs in Wales, which stands to lose over a quarter of its current MPs. England, meanwhile, will have the largest absolute fall in the number of MPs (33 will go). However, given the very large number of MPs representing England, this is actually a modest relative reduction (of just 6%).

Similar issues exist within England if we look at the allocation of seats to different regions. By and large, the biggest proportionate falls in the number of MPs come in the north, the West Midlands and London. Elsewhere, the reduction is less dramatic.

Is it a plot?

Despite the clamour, all this isn’t actually unfair. Scotland and (even more so) Wales are currently substantially over-represented in the House of Commons. The average Scottish constituency contained 69,484 electors in 2015, and the average Welsh seat just 57,044. By comparison, the average English seat, with 72,666 electors, was substantially larger.

This matters, as it violates the principle that every vote is of equal value. Crudely, the more voters who live in your constituency, the less your individual vote matters. Because there are more voters per MP in England than in Scotland or Wales, English votes count less (the same holds for variations between constituencies within each country).

What is more, population change tends to exacerbate these differences over time. Some areas experience relative population decline while others experience relative growth. If constituencies are not changed regularly to take population change into account, areas experiencing relative decline will tend to end up with more MPs than their electorates really entitle them to, while areas experiencing relative growth will tend to become increasingly under-represented.

But these changes are not random. To help redress this bias, the constituency map has to be redrawn regularly in order to take population change into account. These changes are an inevitable consequence of population movement. And, as a result of redrawing the boundaries, areas of relative population growth will tend to gain more MPs while areas of relative population decline will lose them. Change is essential if each MP is to represent roughly the same number of electors. Not redrawing constituencies regularly to take account of population change would be the real unfairness.

Bad news for Labour

That said, boundary reviews would almost certainly generate far less excitement if they did not also have potential partisan consequences. Because of the geography of party support in the UK, those areas losing the highest proportions of seats as a result of population change are areas where the Labour party (and, in Scotland, the SNP) do well. Areas where the population grows most (and hence which do best out of boundary reviews) tend to be relatively Conservative-voting areas such as the South East.

So, traditionally, Labour fears boundary reviews while the Conservatives tend to welcome them.The current proposals certainly fit that narrative. Working with remarkable speed, pollster Anthony Wells has estimated the likely outcome of the 2015 election had it been fought according to the proposed changes. If everyone voted the same way again, but many in different constituencies, the result would have been rather different.

The Conservatives would lose 10 MPs but the party’s proportionate share of English and Welsh MPs would actually increase from 57.4% to 60.2%. Labour, meanwhile, would lose 28 MPs – a drop in its share of English and Welsh seats from 40.3% to 38.3%. The Liberal Democrats would see their parliamentary representation more than halved and the Greens would be wiped out in Westminster.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the loudest outcry has come from Labour MPs. Many have attacked the boundary review as a Conservative ploy to discommode Labour. But (again) is this fair?

By now, it should be no surprise to learn that the answer has to be “No, this is not unfair!” If we compare the average electorates in seats actually won by the various parties in 2015 with the average electorates in seats they would have won had the contest been fought in the revised constituencies, we can see why.

                                               Balancing the votes out.

In the actual 2015 seats, Conservative MPs in England and Wales represented rather larger constituencies (in terms of the electorate) than did Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. For the reasons outlined earlier, this means Labour was in effect over-represented relative to the Conservatives. These proposals redress the balance. The electoral system would still be very unfair to the Liberal Democrats and other smaller parties, of course. But this is because it is a first-past-the-post system, not because of constituency boundaries.

The idea that the boundary reviews are orchestrated and manipulated by the Conservative government is, frankly, nonsensical – and all serious politicians know it, even when they claim otherwise.

The reviews are conducted entirely by the (strictly impartial) boundary commissions, who are guided solely by the rules set out for them in law. They are only allowed to consider electorate size and community representation. Partisan issues are off the agenda. We live in a suspicious age, but I can assure the sceptical: the commissions really (really!) are impartial.

In other words, Labour’s objections smack of special pleading. Rather than thinking of the review as unfairly skewing the constituency system in favour of the Conservatives, it is actually much more accurate to think of it as rectifying a tendency for ageing constituencies to favour Labour unfairly. The argument that the boundary review is a deliberate Conservative conspiracy fails to stack up.

Disclosure statement

Charles Pattie has receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.

The Iraq Inquiry in full, 12-volumes, 2.6 million word report.

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry was published on Wednesday 6 July 2016. Sir John Chilcot’s public statement can be read here.

Below you can find links to the Executive Summary and the individual Sections of the Report.

The Executive Summary

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry – The Executive Summary

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry