14 September 2011

Replacing Glenda

After the 2010 election, the Westminster MP with the smallest majority was Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, member for Fermanagh & S Tyrone, who had two more votes than the Social Democratic and Labour candidate. On the mainland, the smallest majority was in London's Hampstead and Kilburn where the results were:

Glenda Jackson was well-known as an actress from the 1960s to the 1990s when she entered politics. In June this year she announced (not as yet on her website) that she will stand down at the next election – in 2015 she will be 79. On 22 July Richard Kay had a story in the Daily Mail, ‘Will Fiona Millar be MP for Labour's luvvieland?’.  Ms Millar is the partner of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications and Strategy, who has previously been the subject of posts here.
Mother-of-three Fiona, 53 … is in line to replace the double Oscar-winning actress Glenda Jackson as Labour’s next candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. And unlike Glenda … Fiona has the happy distinction of already living close to hand. The fashionable North London constituency, which is home to dozens of rich Labour luvvies, is the second most marginal seat in the country.

One figure key to Ms Millar’s ambitions is Melissa Benn, feminist daughter of veteran Left-wing firebrand Tony and the woman who is expected to run Fiona’s election campaign when Glenda retires in four years’ time. The two women share a passion for education — they are in favour of comprehensives and against academies, grammar and public schools. A one-time journalist, Ms Millar founded the Local Schools Network to promote state education and is said to have cold-shouldered friends who have sent their children to be educated privately.
Shortly afterwards, Ms Millar told a local newspaper that “I haven’t got any plans to stand”, a well-known form of words for a non-denial, not being equivalent to “I will never stand”. But this was understandable, given that the Boundary Commission for England had embarked on its 2013 review.  This review is intended to produce parliamentary constituencies with no more than 5% below or above 76641 electors (based on the December 2010 registers) and will lead to a reduction from 533 to 502 constituencies in England. The Commission has now produced its initial proposals under which London would lose five of its current 73 constituencies, with only four being unaffected. The proposals include:
45. In Camden, we noted that the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, which contains wards from the boroughs of both Brent and Camden, had an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota. However, with the inclusion of the Fortune Green ward in the Finchley and Golders Green constituency, it was necessary to alter the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. We propose that it should contain only two Brent wards (Kilburn and Queens Park) and eight wards from Camden, including three (Gospel Oak, Highgate, and Kentish Town) from the existing Holborn and St Pancras constituency. The seven remaining Camden wards, including one (Belsize) from the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, form a Camden and Regent’s Park constituency, together with four wards from the north east of Westminster.
Some heroic number-crunching by the Guardian Datastore has attempted to analyse the impact of the changes, with the caveat that their work is “Based on a crude analysis of the composition of the new constituencies, using the 2010 election results in old ones. Assumes uniform vote across old constituencies”.

This analysis seems to suggest that Hampstead and Kilburn would become a less marginal Labour seat in future, and that for a Labour candidate adoption would be a prize worth having. Apart from those lucky enough to have London seats, most Labour MPs have to travel some distance to their constituencies which tend to be concentrated in South Wales, North East and North West England and Scotland.

However, even if at the next election Ms Millar were elected in Hampstead and Kilburn, her victory might be Pyrrhic. If the boundary changes are implemented, Labour will need a bigger lead over the Conservatives than in the past to form a government (UK Polling Report assessment). However, as Daniel Finkelstein pointed out in The Times (£) on 14 September:
One way in which this [fewer seats, especially safe ones] all might play itself out is simply that MPs band together to prevent the new boundaries being put in place. There are serious figures in Downing Street who think that the review will never be implemented because it is too radical.
Even assuming that there is a Labour government in 2015, Ms Millar may face another problem in recasting the educational system to be more comprehensive. This would be the consequence of another Commission, one to address the ‘West Lothian question’. As the FT reported on 9 September:
Ministers are to ask a commission of independent experts to address one of the toughest questions thrown up by devolution: should Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh MPs be allowed to vote on legislation that affects only England?
The so-called “West Lothian Question” – named after the constituency of Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who first raised the issue – has led to growing calls for “English votes for English laws”, since Scotland and Wales were granted devolution in the late 1990s.
English MPs are not allowed to vote on many matters that are now devolved to other UK assemblies and there has been a long-running debate on whether equivalent restrictions should apply to Scottish and Welsh MPs.
Education and health are the two major devolved issues. If Labour MPs from Wales and Scotland were to cease to vote on English educational matters, a Labour government might well not have enough English MPs to carry votes on major changes such as placing academies and free schools under local education authority control.

Before becoming an MP, Ms Millar would have to be selected as prospective candidate. Her partner is not exactly popular in, to use Richard Kay’s words, the ‘fashionable North London constituency, which is home to dozens of rich Labour luvvies’. One elite Hampstead resident’s views of Campbell might not be unrepresentative:
"a Burnley-crazed apparatchik churning out propaganda for a dead political regime – one whose own name is a byword for bullying and mendacity"
So said playwright Sir David Hare, according to the Sunday Times (£) in 2008, after Campbell had referred in his diaries to Tony Blair “looking like a prat” in a Nicole Farhi sweater. Nicole Farhi is Lady Hare – of course, the Hares may or may not be Labour party members with a say in the choice of candidate.

Ms Millar might, in the end, look for adoption in the other Camden constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, currently held by Frank Dobson, who will be 75 in 2015, or, if the boundary changes are implemented, in the new Islington North constituency. Both are safe Labour seats according to Guardian Datastore:

Meanwhile, if David Cameron manages to pull off both the boundary changes and the removal of Welsh and Scottish MPs from English parliamentary business, he will probably have done more for the Conservative party’s influence than any of his predecessors since Joseph Chamberlain.


The above may have underestimated David Cameron. According to the Guardian on 15 September, a government white paper published in the summer is proposing the introduction before the 2015 election of individual electoral registration rather than household registration.
The policy has been described by Jenny Russell, the chair of the electoral commission, as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of the universal franchise. … Russell warned: "It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90%completeness that we currently have to 60-65%."

Tristam Hunt, a Labour [political and constitutional reform select] committee member, said: "These plans show how little this government really cares about democracy or fairness. If they get away with it, the effect on the 2020 general election will make the chaotic boundary review published this week look minor. This is designed to wipe the poor and the young off the political map. "We are moving from a notion of registering as part as a civic duty to something akin to personal choice like a Nectar card or BA miles."

Roger Mortimore from pollsters Ipsos Mori warned: "It is a very dramatic change and I am opposed to it. So far there is a political effect, it is most likely to disadvantage Labour", because "people that are least engaged in politics — the poor, the young and the ethnic minorities and all those groups, when they do vote at all are more likely to vote Labour".

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