19 May 2017

Keeping the peace in Europe

In the previous post, I disagreed with Emmanuel Macron’s remark that “Europe is what has enabled us since 1945 to preserve peace … in our continent” rather than NATO. This view is not unique to the President of France, for example, as expressed in this tweet, much liked and retweeted, from Andrew Stroehlein* on Europe Day:

But if we zoom in on the period since the end of the Second World War in 1945, something is not quite right:

NATO was established in April 1949, the date apparently being staked out for the EU flag. The latter was designed in 1955 and adopted by the Council of Europe in December that year. In 1985 it was also taken up for the European Communities from which the EU inherited it in 1993. The Council of Europe**, which like NATO was founded in 1949, is distinct from the EU and aims to uphold human rights, democracy, rule of law in Europe and promote European culture. No doubt it can be regarded in doing so as contributing to the preservation of peace, whether its existence is sufficient for it is another matter. Something similar could be said to apply to the first of the pan-European institutions which subsequently led to the EU, the European Steel and Coal Community, founded in 1951. 

Meanwhile NATO, to quote, possibly apocryphally, its first Secretary General, General Ismay, got on with its job: "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".

*Stroehlein is European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, based in Brussels.

**Not the European Council which is part of the EU, as is yet another body, the Council of the European Union.

9 May 2017

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Macron?*

On Sunday 7 May the Downing Street spokesperson on duty that evening said that Theresa May had congratulated Emmanuel Macron on being voted French president and that
“The leaders briefly discussed Brexit and the Prime Minister reiterated that the UK wants a strong partnership with a secure and prosperous EU once we leave.”
They “looked forward to meeting and holding discussions at the upcoming NATO and G7 summits”. 

So it’s now definitely worth reviewing Macron’s opinions on Brexit and the UK. Eleven months ago, just before the Brexit referendum, when he was economy minister and still a socialist, he gave Le Monde an interview:
How would you vote in the “Brexit” referendum? 
If I were British, I would resolutely vote "Remain" because it is the UK's interest. Leaving the EU would mean "guerneseyfication" (the île anglo-normande [Channel Island] that is a British crown dependency but not part of the EU) of the United Kingdom, which would then be a small country à l’échelle du monde [literally “on the ladder of the world”, so on a much lower rung in the world, or, more loosely, on the world stage]. It would become isolated and a trading post, a place of arbitrage on the border of Europe. 
If the British choose Brexit, what should be their status? 
The European Council of 28 June must collectively have a very firm message and timetable in the event of a negative vote. We cannot, in the interest of the EU, leave ambiguity floating and too much time elapsing. One is in or out. The day after the departure, there will be no financial passport for the British institutions. The European Council will have to issue an ultimatum to the British on their [the UK’s] intentions and the President of the Republic will be very clear on this aspect. If the UK wants a commercial treaty to access the European market, the British will have to contribute to the European budget like the Norwegians or the Swiss. If London does not want it, it must be a total exit. 
"When we are no longer capable of providing a project for Europe, we give room for doubters. Our challenge, the day after, is twofold: to avoid contamination and immediately relaunch the dynamic of a positive project for Europe".
In February 2017, Macron made an En Marche! campaign visit to London which included a visit to Downing Street. It is informative to contrast the versions of what he said outside Number 10.  One was intended for francophone consumption, emphasising the importance of cooperation on defence and counter-terrorism, but in English Macron chose to stress that he wanted to put in place:
… a series of initiatives to get talented people in research and lots of fields working here to come to France. I was very happy to see that some academics and researchers in the UK because of Brexit are considering coming to France to work. It will be part of my programme to be attractive for these kinds of people. I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on. I think that France and the European Union are a very attractive space now so in my programme I will do everything I can to make it attractive and successful.
More recently, Macron was interviewed by Monocle magazine:
M: Let’s talk about Brexit. What is the best response to the UK when it comes to negotiations? 
EM: I am a hard Brexiter. I think that Europe has made a mistake negotiating the inter-governmental accord [the “special status” deal David Cameron struck with the EU in February last year]. It created a precedent, which is that a single state can twist the European debate to its own interests. Cameron was toying with Europe and we agreed to go along with it, which was a big mistake. Britain must understand that our interest in the medium to long term is to have clear rules. So if Britain wants to trade with Europe it has to choose a model, such as the Swiss, Norwegian or Canadian. We have to accept that there are losses. But it’s the British who will lose the most. You cannot enjoy rights in Europe if you are not a member – otherwise it will fall apart. Europe is what has enabled us since 1945, in an unprecedented way, to preserve peace, security, freedom and prosperity in our continent. The British are making a serious mistake over the long term. [Foreign secretary] Boris Johnson enjoys giving flamboyant speeches but has no strategic vision; the turmoil he created the day after Brexit proves it. [Former leader of Ukip] Nigel Farage and Mr Johnson are responsible for this crime: they sailed the ship into battle and jumped overboard at the moment of crisis. Theresa May has handled it but what has been happening since then? On the geopolitical level as well as on the financial, realignment and submission to the US. What is going to happen is not “taking back control”: it’s servitude.
These remarks were made during the period when Macron had one eye on the Elysée and some expectation of a second-round contest with Marine Le Pen, distinctively anti-euro and anti-EU. His views as President will perhaps be more nuanced. However, his forecasts for the UK of "guerneseyfication", slipping down the échelle du monde and servitude, combined with his belief that “Europe is what has enabled us since 1945 to preserve peace … in our continent” rather than NATO, suggest that, however brilliant an énarque he may be, his judgements are founded on a view of how France would like the world to be rather than realism.

Ahead of the late-May NATO and G7 summits referred to earlier, here is a reminder of where the UK is currently placed on the global ladder:

An échelle du monde
So when the UK leaves the EU, the latter will lose:
one of its three G7 members,
a key member of NATO and one of the four EU members of NATO which currently meet the 2% of GDP defence expenditure requirement (but see below),
one of its two permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5),
one of its two of the five Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Nuclear Weapon States (NWS),
its only member of the ‘5 Eyes’ intelligence community,
one of its three members of the Commonwealth.

None of this is likely to worry Macron who seems to be focused on Germany as a partner, not in a servile way of course, as he explained to Monocle:
M: What role can France play with Germany on the global stage? 
EM: Paris and Berlin have to reinforce a much stronger partnership that is in line with our common interests. Angela Merkel is well aware of the current dangers and challenges. Germany is becoming a great military power again. Two per cent of its GDP will be spent on defence – more than France, which hasn’t happened since 1945. Burdened by its history, Germany cannot handle this alone. France is not strong enough economically to play the role it once had at international level. Paris must reinforce an independent diplomacy and at the same time build new areas of discussion and co-operation with Berlin.
Bon chance with that!

*Pastiche of the theme song of Dad's Army (a British TV sitcom set during World War 2).

30 April 2017

Caledonia and Catalonia

There were 11 posts here between 2012 and 2015 labelled “Scottish Independence”, a subject of interest to this blog because it might have led to the relocation to South West England of at least part of the Royal Navy (the deterrent submarine force). Now, 30 months after the decisive No vote of September 2014, the independence issue has been revivified by Brexit and “Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will”, although apparently with no mention by the SNP so far of the nuclear weapons issue.

In 2015, before the EU Referendum, I pointed out that the departure of Scotland (Caledonia to the Romans and the poetically inclined) wouldn’t be such a disaster for what would remain of the UK (Not so Little England) as some Remainers were suggesting. But whether the arrival of Scotland would be welcomed with open arms by some of the remaining 27 EU member countries is another matter, particularly for the Spanish, as this except from a BBC Scotland article by Nick Eardley on 10 March suggested:

What of the Spanish problem?

The SNP's Europe Spokesman was in Madrid earlier this week. He's been one of the party figures travelling around Europe trying to drum up support for Scotland remaining a key player, in spite of Brexit. He says the SNP will remain neutral on Catalonia - arguing the case of the want away Spanish region is different from Scotland. Some will interpret that as a way of trying to make Scottish independence - with full EU membership - more palatable to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Esetban Pons MEP is vice chair for Mr Rajoy's People's Party in the European Parliament. He told me: "If Scotland in the future wants to come back they have to begin the procedure as any other country." 

But, I asked him, would Spain try and veto Scotland re-entering? 

"No because if you are thinking about Catalonia the situation is very very very different to the Scottish situation."

So what constitutes different? The first table below compares the UK and Spain and Scotland and Catalonia and also the impact of the latter pair’s removal on the former pair. The major loss would be Spain’s in terms of population and the economy whereas for the UK it would be more significant in terms of physical area.

The next tables show the impact on the UK and Spain for area and population relative to the other EU countries (the UK will be in the EU until 2019 at least) of these losses and where Scotland and Catalonia would enter.

The final table shows the impact in GDP terms. Five countries out of 28 (Germany, France, UK, Netherlands and Italy) provide nearly 90% of the EU budget. Another five countries are the source of the rest.

However, there is one highly significant difference between Scotland and Catalonia. UK public expenditure  per head in England is lower than in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, in effect a transfer of resources (currently around £9 billion in the case of Scotland) which has the effect of reducing differences in living standards. By contrast, Catalonia was sending a similar amount to the central Spanish treasury in 2011. Perhaps not so surprising then that there is a continuing majority in Scotland against independence, even post-Brexit, nor that the opposite is the case in Catalonia!

But perhaps a more intriguing aspect of post-Brexit Spanish-UK relations than Scotland vs Catalonia is Catalonia vs Gibraltar. The latter both owe their present status to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, as this article from the Guardian in 1977 (recently tweeted by @dentard) reveals:

All statistics from Wikipedia unless otherwise indicated.

17 March 2017

Sussex Modernism at Two Temple Place

I posted here in 2013 about Artists in Cornwall, the second annual Winter Exhibition held by the Bulldog Trust at Two Temple Place on the Victoria Embankment, London. Their current and sixth show, Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion, brings together some of the art, craft, photography and architectural design which flourished in that area* between 1900 and 1950.

Many people will be aware of the presence of Eric Gill (Icon 1923, below top left) at Ditchling, the Bloomsberries (Duncan Grant, Bathers by the Pond c1920-21, below lower) at Charleston and Roland Penrose and Lee Miller (1952 photograph, below top right, of Henry Moore with Mother and Child 1936-37 – on display at Two Temple Place) at Farley Farm House. However, Sussex’s rural nature combined with its proximity to London would attract other cultured and creative spirits, although the extent to which they were aware of each other’s presence, let alone its influence, is probably unknowable. Nonetheless, it is almost certain that they would all have been conscious of the avant-garde arts of their time and can quite fairly be accommodated under modernism.

The show at Two Temple Place has brought together a fascinating selection of items, many from local collections, revealing Sussex’s twentieth century cultural heritage. Two examples are by Edward Wadsworth from 1940, at the tail end of 1930s English surrealism, Light Section from the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (below top) and Bronze Ballet from the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (below lower):

Other exhibits have come from further afield, like Edward Burra’s Landscape near Rye, 1934-35 (in the poster above). A striking item of furniture on display is the Mae West lips sofa designed in 1938 by Salvador Dalí and Edward James for the latter’s home in West Sussex (below top). The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea, designed by Mendelsohn and Chermayeff in the mid-1930s and one of the UK’s most important Modernist buildings, is represented by photographs and its original architectural model (below lower):

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion is a free exhibition and ends on 23 April 2017.

*’Sussex’ consists of the English counties of East and West Sussex bordering the English Channel and the seaside conurbation of Brighton and Hove. The great circle (shortest) route from London to Paris passes through East Sussex, close to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route established in the mid-Nineteenth century.

27 February 2017

Those two impostors

When the Sunday Times ran an exclusive on 22 January 2017 about a Trident missile having “experienced an alarming failure after being launched from a British submarine off the coast of Florida in June last year”, they went into the “What did they know, and when did they know it?” mode much-beloved of investigative journalists. Readers of the story, which derived from “a senior naval source”, were told that
The incident happened shortly before Theresa May became prime minister but she omitted any mention of the failed test when she persuaded parliament to spend £40bn on new Trident submarines in her first big Commons speech on July 18. The revelations are likely to cause a political storm. MPs will want to know why such important information … was withheld …
As Cameron remained PM until 13 July, this line was not exactly supported by
The source had told this newspaper that the test took place at the end of June – about the time of the Brexit vote on June 23.
or by a story in The Times the next day, US urged Britain to keep Trident blunder secret:
Officials from the Obama administration asked David Cameron’s government not to comment on the malfunction during a test of the Trident nuclear deterrent in June, it is understood.
The Sunday Times returned to their story on 29 January, sticking with “the serious malfunction [having] been covered up by Downing Street” but shifting the emphasis to “problems with the gyro within Trident’s guidance system” and US documents, backed up by “A source close to the US military”.

Neither of the Sunday Times reports made anything of the closeness of the British Trident test (actually on Monday 20 June – see below) to the date of the EU Referendum. A post here last year looked at the opinion polling in the days leading up to the Referendum and any impact of the death of Jo Cox MP and suspension of the campaign on Thursday 16 June. Parliament was recalled on 20 June and campaigning resumed the following day. At this point Remain seemed to be doing better in the polling than hitherto, or as it turned out, on the day.

The Sunday Times’s political editor, Tim Shipman, has written in depth about the Referendum in a highly-regarded book, All Out War.  At the end of a chapter on the aftermath of Cox’s death, he records:
… Another senior figure in the campaign described Jo Cox’s death as ‘a disaster’ for Stronger In: ‘That weekend , I bet the papers would have splashed on a five-point Leave lead in the polls, and I think on Monday and Tuesday the markets would have crashed. We would have had a cycle which was much closer to Scotland. Actually it took the sting out of the campaign. It meant that the bounce back to the status quo never really happened. That was something we were banking on happening”. 
Cox’s death also meant Mark Carney’s final intervention on the day of her killing received almost no publicity. ‘He was just wiped off the news agenda, and that was devastating from our point of view’, a Tory source said. … (page 388)
The next chapter of Shipman’s book deals with the final ‘Great Debate’ of the campaign held at Wembley on Tuesday 21 June. By then the news of the test failure would have reached Whitehall - which raises an interesting point: what effect, if any, the news might have had on the campaign.  In so far as it could appear to the public as being a loss of face for the government and the prime minister, it might have been considered as unhelpful to the Remain side and even as undermining its authority. 

Two other, albeit less intriguing, points about timing lurk in all this. Firstly, if the story didn’t break surface last summer soon after the event, why should it emerge in January, seven months later? Perhaps it should be noted that President Obama’s period of office ended on Friday 20 January and the new Trump staff in the White House would have had no interest in responding to The Times’s story on Monday 22nd, if they were even aware of it.

Following the Sunday Times story, a Labour MP, Kevan Jones, put down an Urgent Question on 23 January:
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the test firing of a Trident nuclear missile in June 2016.
The Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, responded:
In June last year, the Royal Navy conducted a demonstration and shakedown operation designed to certify HMS Vengeance and her crew prior to their return to operations. It included a routine unarmed Trident missile test launch. Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle. We do not comment on the detail of submarine operations, …
Lines which he continued to take in response to questions. Another MP, John Spellar (Labour Minister for the Armed Forces, 1999-2001), asked:
Will the Minister confirm that in Lord Hennessy’s book “The Silent Deep” there is a full description of a previous firing?
Spellar could have asked the book’s author who must have been in Westminster, for later the same afternoon in the House of Lords, Earl Howe, Defence Minister, repeated the statement Fallon had made earlier (although the words “In June last year” were replaced by “On 20 June”) and Lord Hennessy would speak:
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I witnessed the launch in question from the survey vessel two and half miles away from where the missile came out of the sea. I put it to the Minister, with great respect, that it would make it much easier for those of us who very powerfully support the independent deterrent, and the building of the four “Dreadnought” submarines in the successor class, to make the case generally in the country when we are interviewed in the media if the Minister could assure us that a full analysis has been successfully made of whatever went wrong—I have no knowledge at all of the nature of what went wrong—and that remedies have been put in place. I understand that every particle of a D5 missile is riddled with the highest security classifications, but in this case, such an assurance could be possible and would be very welcome.
Earl Howe replied:
My Lords, the most important assurance is the one that I have already given: this is a system in which we have absolute confidence. It has never been the practice of government to give Parliament details of submarine operations or of the systems and subsystems that are tested during a demonstration and shakedown operation. But I hope I have said enough to reassure noble Lords about our deterrent and its reliability.
Peter Hennessy, as well as witnessing the June 2016 launch, had been present at launches in May 2009 and October 2012 (The Silent Deep, page 638). By yet another near coincidence of timing, the paperback edition of his book had come out on 2 June 2016. The Submarine Service seems to have embraced Hennessy as warmly as the civil service used to in the days when his books on Whitehall would admiringly recount how “down these mean corridors a man must go”. But perhaps he shouldn’t book his flights to Florida for 2020, say, too soon, in view of Fallon’s response to Spellar’s question above:
… I have already made it clear that, of course, earlier Governments in different circumstances took different decisions not to share details with Parliament, but to release information publicly about the completion of tests. We have to take our decision in the light of the circumstances that prevail at the time and the national security considerations.
And if 2020 turns out to be the next year a British submarine tests a Trident missile, do not expect it to take place before 7 May!

Fallon must have been left wishing that in the past others had adopted the reticence implied in Kipling’s advice:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster  
And treat those two impostors just the same

20 February 2017

Elisabeth Frink at Hauser & Wirth

Two previous posts have been about exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in Bruton: in 2014 their opening exhibition was of works by Phyllida Barlow who will have a solo show in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017; last year, drawings by Louise Bourgeois. Their current show in Bruton is Elisabeth Frink: Transformation.

Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) was a major figure in British sculpture from the early 1950s until her death. The sculpture and drawings selected for this show concentrate on the 1950s and 1960s. Birds appear frequently in her early 1960s work:

 and in semi-abstract form in her drawings:

The male form, often nude, appears frequently in her work, never, it seems, the female:

Birdman, 1960
Her large male heads, particularly the Goggle Heads from the late 1960s, are well-known in her late works:

Goggle Head I, 1969 (left) and Desert Quartet III and IV, 1989 right
It may seem carping when there is no charge at Hauser & Wirth for their exhibitions, but to me this show was woefully under-curated. The exhibits were not labelled, or even numbered, so their titles, dates and provenance had to be gleaned, and then only to a limited extent, from the press release and from a commendable Education Guide. It surely would not have been a major effort to overcome these deficiencies, most of the information presumably having to be collated for insurance purposes if nothing else. Annette Ratuszniakh’s Elisabeth Frink Catalogue Raisonne of Sculpture 1947-93 would have been of help.

Elisabeth Frink: Transformation continues until 7 May 2017.

19 February 2017

Peter Mandelson and Alternative Facts

From the transcript, the first question that Marr (AM) put to Mandelson (M) this morning: 


 AM: Peter Mandelson, Brexit is going to happen, isn’t it?

 M: The question Andrew is, on what terms? And what we’ve learned since the referendum and obviously the government has to respect, and parliament has to respect the decision, the majority decision expressed in the referendum, even though it represented only 37 per cent of the public who voted to leave. …

Only 37%?  Wasn’t the result 51.89% Leave, 48.11% Remain (I certainly thought so when I posted this the other day)?

But the turnout was 72.21% and, guess what, 72.21% of 51.89% is 37.47%, hence Mandelson’s “37 per cent”. However, on that basis the Remain vote would be 72.21% of 48.11%, ie 34.7%. And, anyway, it wasn’t “37 per cent of the public who voted” – perhaps the non-voters didn’t care or didn’t know, they can’t be assumed to be Remainers!

Mandelson always regarded himself as the architect of Blair’s 1997 election victory when Labour secured a 179 seat majority. Using Mandelson’s measure above, Labour’s 43.2% of the votes cast on a 71.3% turnout would have amounted to “31 per cent of the public who voted”!

18 February 2017

Donald Trump and Tony Blair February 2017

President’s Press Conference, The White House, 16 February 2017 

... And just while you’re at it, because you mentioned this, Wall Street Journal did a story today that was almost as disgraceful as the failing New York Time’s story, yesterday. And it talked about – these are… front page.

So director of national intelligence just put out, acting a statement, any suggestion that the United States intelligence community, this was just given to us, is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.  So they took this front page story out of The Wall Street Journal top and they just wrote the story that its not true. And I’ll tell you something, I’ll be honest, because I sort of enjoy this back and forth that I guess I have all my life but I’ve never seen more dishonest media than frankly, the political media. I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest.

But I will say that, I never get phone calls from the media. How did they write a story like that in The Wall Street Journal without asking me or how did they write a story in The New York Times, put it on front page? That was like the story they wrote about the women and me, front page, big massive story. And it was nasty and then they called, they said we never said that, we like Mr. Trump. They called up my office, we like Mr. Trump, we never said that.

And it was totally — they totally misrepresented those very wonderful women, I have to tell you, totally misrepresented. I said give us the retraction. They never gave us a retraction and frankly, I then went on to other things.

Tony Blair's Speech on Brexit for Open Britain, London, 17 February 2017 

... There is an effective cartel of media on the right, which built the ramp for pro-Brexit propaganda during the campaign; is now equally savage in its efforts to say it is all going to be ‘great’ and anyone who says otherwise is a traitor or moaner; and who make it very clear to the PM that she has their adulation for exactly as long as she delivers Brexit.

It hugely skews the broadcast coverage. For example, a week ago there was the annual survey of top business bosses of the leading UK companies. Over half said Brexit was already having an adverse effect on their business. And half did not have confidence in the Government negotiating a good deal. It led the FT. It was barely covered elsewhere. The BBC had it as an item of business news. Suppose the survey had come to the opposite conclusion. It would have had at least 4 papers headlining it and would therefore have featured prominently on the broadcasts.

15 February 2017

Brexit: London Boroughs and MPs

In a post here in January about the 2016 Richmond Park parliamentary by-election, I pointed out that “Anyone who attempts to look at [the relationship between the by-election and the 2016 EU Referendum] will encounter a problem: the Referendum results in London were reported at borough level, not by parliamentary constituency” and that I would “provide some further analysis of the London boroughs and the parliamentary constituencies within their boundaries” so here it is, for what it’s worth.

What constitutes London? Its orbital motorway, the M25, might provide a clear physical boundary but many people outside it earn their living in the city and its area assessed in terms of economic impact spreads a long way. For political purposes London is the combination of its 32 Boroughs with, at their centre, the City of London, both of these having Mayors. Within that London, there are 73 Parliamentary Constituencies (PCs). However, the City of London does not have its own MP, sharing one with next-door Westminster. So, for the purposes of most of what follows, I have combined the separate Referendum results for the Borough of Westminster and the City into “Westminster and City of London”.

A further complication is that 10 of the PCs straddle two LBs, Richmond Park being an example with its voters in Richmond upon Thames and in Kingston upon Thames. The table below shows how seats are distributed across the boroughs, 18 out of 32 sharing a PC with another. After the 2015 election the majority of London seats were Labour, and there was only one Liberal Democrat.

The 18 LBs and 10 PCs are shown below:

The 2016 EU Referendum introduced a new dimension into UK politics. The most pro-Remain area in the UK was Lambeth LB at 78.6%, 30.5% more than the UK average. But another London borough, Havering, at 30.3% was 17.8% below. 369th of the 380 UK reporting areas, Havering was almost as inclined to Leave as Boston in the East Midlands, the 380th at 24.4% Remain. The Remain and Turnout percentages for the LBs are shown in the chart below:

The chart shows that in London with exceptions (eg Richmond upon Thames) the relationship between Remain and Turnout was slightly inverse: that is to say, as the first went down, the second went up.

Across the UK, turnout for the Referendum in 2016 at 72.2% was higher than in the previous year’s general election at 66.4%. This was the case in most of the London PCs, but not all:

The LBs where turnout was less in 2016 than that of constituent constituencies in 2015 are shown below:

The Lewisham turnout reduction is unusual, involving all three of the PCs in the borough.

Finally, the chart below brings together the 2016 Remain results for the LBs (measured relative to the UK outcome – x-axis) and the majority in each of the PCs in 2015 (y-axis), both being percentages. PCs spread across two LBs are denoted with hollow bullets and linked with dotted lines. The outcomes of the two London by-elections in 2016 (Tooting just before the Referendum and Richmond Park nearly five months later) are indicated by the vertical arrows leading to stars.

The bullets with green shrouds indicate the PCs of MPs who voted against exercising Article 50 on 8 February. Not surprisingly, these represented constituents from LBs that had favoured Remain. The Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington is a notable exception. The MPs for the two PCs with voters in boroughs with marked differences in attitude to Remain (Erith and Thamesmead in both Bexley and Greenwich and Ruislip Northwood and Pinner in both Harrow and Hillingdon) did not vote against Article 50.

29 January 2017

The Richmond Park By-Election, 2016

The parliamentary by-election in the Richmond Park constituency held on 1 December 2016 was unusual, even for a by-election. It came about because the incumbent Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, had committed himself at the time of the 2015 general election, to resigning should a Tory government chose to proceed with a third runway at nearby London Heathrow. Earlier in 2016 Goldsmith had run for the Conservatives in the London Mayoral election – had he and not Sadiq Khan won, he would have resigned his seat then.

Because of the Conservative government’s Heathrow decision, in the December by-election Goldsmith stood as an Independent. Labour and the Liberal Democrats put up candidates against him but not UKIP, the Conservatives or the Green Party. In the June 2016 EU Referendum Goldsmith had supported Leave. The Liberal Democrat candidate in the by-election made it clear that she, like her party nationally post-Referendum, now supported Britain remaining in the Single Market. When the results came out, press coverage concentrated on Goldsmith’s losing his seat and the surge in the Liberal Democrat vote:

Much of the comment pointed to the high levels of Remain support locally in the Referendum earlier in the year. Anyone who attempts to look at this relationship more closely will encounter a problem: the Referendum results in London were reported at Borough level, not by parliamentary constituency. As the map below shows, the constituency (PC) of Richmond Park lies mostly in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (LB RuT) and partly in the Royal (London) Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RB KuT). The rest of LB RuT forms the PC of Twickenham. The RB KuT, except for the wards contributing to the Richmond Park PC, forms the PC of Kingston and Surbiton. 

The Referendum results for LB RuT and RB KuT are shown below in the context of other areas in London and the UK. Both were in the top 10% of Remain favouring areas across the country, but locally KuT was only just above the average for London and RuT was not one of the top 10 London boroughs.

The prevailing opinion was that the Liberal Democrat’s by-election success could be best explained in terms of a reaction to the Referendum. That is to say, local distaste for Brexit in 2016 had replaced local endorsement of Goldsmith’s anti-Heathrow stance in 2015. And there does seem to have been a differential effect in the turnout with the anyone-but-Goldsmith voting holding up quite well.

Perhaps some insight into Goldsmith’s fall from grace can be found in his original rise to favour revealed by comparing Richmond Park to the other two constituencies mentioned above in the three consecutive general elections of 2005, 2010 and 2015:

In 2005, all three were comfortably held by the Liberal Democrats, part of a cluster of seats in south west London which they had built up in previous elections. In 2010, the Tories improved their position moderately in Kingston and Surbiton and Twickenham but made a considerable improvement in Richmond Park where their candidate, Goldsmith, was elected. In 2015, all three seats became Tory-held, some of the former Liberal Democrat voters apparently preferring Labour or Green after five years of coalition. The Conservatives would probably have done better but for the rise of UKIP.

Does the 2016 by-election herald a return to favour for the Liberal Democrats and offer prospects of regaining the other two constituencies? If there were to be by-elections in either of them soon, the answer is probably yes, given the enthusiasm in the boroughs concerned for Remain and the small Conservative majorities by comparison with Goldsmith’s in2015. However, once the UK has exercised Article 50 in March 2017, events will move on and the key issues for voters at the next general election, quite possibly three years away, are not yet obvious.

After the 2015 election and until December 2016, there was only one Liberal Democrat MP in London, Tom Brake (a far from household name), in Carshalton and Wallington, the seat he has held since 1997. That constituency lies in the LB of Sutton together with the PC of Sutton and Cheam. In the Referendum LB Sutton was 28th among the London boroughs by pro-Remain ranking and one of only five of the 32 boroughs to be more pro-Leave than the UK as a whole (Table 2 above).

It seems obvious from the general election results 2005-2015 above and Brake's small majority in 2015 that the Tories would have added his scalp to their collection but for the votes taken by UKIP. If there were to be a by-election in Carshalton and Wallington in the near future, it could well be taken by the Tories. This raises the interesting point that the anti-Leave position currently adopted by the Liberal Democrats may not work for them everywhere as well as it did in Richmond Park – Labour’s problem writ small. 

A future post will look more closely at the national Liberal Democrat position post -Referendum in terms of the constituencies now held and those they might want to regain. Another will provide some further analysis of the London boroughs and the parliamentary constituencies within their boundaries.