Does Steve Double have a double?

Steve Double is the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay. Steve’s a bit of an enigma. Earlier this year he was an enthusiastic no-deal brexiteer who thought May’s deal was a ‘betrayal’. But now Steve’s a loyal supporter of Johnson’s deal.

Steve has ‘consistently voted for a reduction of spending on welfare benefits’ but apparently there’s another altogether kindlier Steve who’s ‘compassionate and liberal-minded’, at least according to his own twitter account.

Then we have the Steve who ‘consistently voted for a stricter asylum system’. This Steve mustn’t be confused with the Steve who works closely with a campaign to help refugees settle in Britain and promotes humanitarian responses to immigration.

One Steve said brexit was ‘an opportunity for the UK to recover some of its diluted heritage’; the other Steve stated ‘Britain is more multi-cultural than ever before and this is something to be proud of’. (These two statements were made at the same meeting!)

Meet the Steve who spurns no opportunity to wrap himself in the St Piran’s flag. This must be a different Steve from the one who’s keen to promote the Great South West.

Steve and others at first meeting of Great South West parliamentary group

One Steve thinks it’s ‘time to truly decentralise Britain.’ This can’t be the same Steve who has ‘almost always voted against transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or to local councils’, can it?

Then there’s the Steve who was horrified at the weak jokes tweeted by Lib Dem candidate Danny Chambers in North Cornwall. That Steve wasn’t at all shocked by the other Steve, who happily retweeted doctored Tory videos of an interview with Labour’s Keir Starmer at the beginning of this election campaign.

The only explanation has to be the existence of two Steve Doubles. This explains how he has found the time since February 2018 to take on another half-time job in addition to his parliamentary duties. Not to mention tweeting to all and sundry. Either that or he’s an alien or robot that doesn’t need to sleep.

Neither Steve seems to worry over-much about the climate emergency

The Steve, it’s a bit unclear which one it is, that describes himself as a ‘Christian Cornish Conservative’, has been spending three days of his time since February 2018 as a ‘policy advisor’ to the Good Faith Partnership (GFP). It’s not clear where its funding comes from, but this looks like a bona-fide faith-based charity that works to encourage humanitarian responses to immigration, welcomes resettled refugees, wishes to improve financial inclusion and publicise the challenges Christians face in the Middle East. Although it’s not exactly clear who’s advising whom. While Steve says he’s a ‘policy advisor’ to the GFP, the GFP claims it’s placed advisors with Steve and two other parliamentarians.

Advice doesn’t come free. For this Steve is paid £20,500 a year, not to mention the £500 the GFP handed over to help pay for Steve’s trip to Brussels in November 2018 to discuss UK immigration policy after brexit. Since June this year the number of days Steve has been doing this has been cut from three days a week to two and a half, although the daily rate rose from £133 to £144. This is, of course, in addition to his £79,000 annual MP’s salary.

Amazing how one man can find time to do both these jobs, although one might have thought providing policy advice couldn’t possibly take up three whole days a week. You’d think a meeting every month or so would be quite sufficient.

However does he fit it all in? There’s only one possible explanation. Sorry to break the news to the voters of St Austell and Newquay but there just has to be two Steve Doubles.

which Steve is this?

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Labour stalls: Tories eye up landslide

Last weekend’s polls shows the Labour ‘surge’, or more accurately ‘creep’, stalling, or even falling back a little. Meanwhile, the Johnson juggernaut continues to inch its way upwards. This close to the election it looks like curtains for Corbyn, who seems to have become strangely subdued over the past few days as his lieutenants begin to manoeuvre to avoid the oncoming blame.

based on an aggregate of seven polling companies

The rock-solid block of support for the Tories from the elderly and the uneducated, the complacent and the couldn’t care less looks immoveable. They’ve been promised the biggest illusion of all in this election of illusions – a post-brexit nirvana of everlasting prosperity amidst a return to the 1950s – and by God they’re determined to get it.

but only if coming a distant 3rd is defined as ‘winning here’

Labour has been unable to squeeze the Liberal Democrats to the same extent as they did in 2017 or as clinically as the Tories disposed with the threat of Farage’s Brexit party. Their only hope now is massive tactical voting. But this looks increasingly unlikely as Lib Dem and Labour tribalists run amok confusing voters for short-term party gain. The other is a dramatic, last-minute announcement by Jeremy that he’ll resign in the New Year if he wins the election. Come on, Jezza, your final act will be a heroic sacrifice for British socialism. Not too much to ask for, is it?

Here in Cornwall it’s looking more and more like a clean sweep for the Tories. The suspicious lack of constituency polling in this election makes it more difficult to predict, but the only place where a tactical vote looks possibly worth it is St Ives. Anywhere else, it won’t make any difference. So don’t bother.

That advice might change after the YouGov MRP prediction is belatedly released late tomorrow. I’ll update on Wednesday.

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The mystery of the missing polling data

In 2017 the most accurate prediction for the election came from YouGov’s MRP (multilevel regression and post-stratification) model. This, based on a massive set of ongoing interviews, was updated daily in the week or ten days before polling day and indicated a gradually closing gap between Tories and Labour.

This time around YouGov produced its first estimate on November 27th, eleven days ago. This showed a very healthy Tory lead. Since then, they’ve chosen to remain silent, unlike last time. YouGov now says it will publish its second, and presumably final, prediction at 10pm on Tuesday.

Why is this of more than passing interest to psephological anoraks like myself? Because of tactical voting.

In Britain we have 450 seats that are safe and, outside by-elections, will very rarely change hands. In those places you could vote for Lord Buckethead, spoil your paper, let the dog eat your postal vote or not bother at all, knowing that you’ll still be lumbered with a Tory or Labour MP. The other 200 seats could potentially change hands. However, it’s not easy to predict which will switch.

Tactical voting is a basically conservative strategy that merely delays the long overdue junking of a voting system designed for a two-party system that’s still being used in a multi-party system. However, until that reform arrives, if ever, we’re stuck with the necessity of voting tactically in some seats.

But which seats? Here, knowledge is the key. It’s no good relying on the simplistic assumption that just because a party came close last time, they will this time. Even worse, we can’t believe a word the parties themselves actually tell us. So we need polling data – and preferably data at a constituency level.

This is what YouGov’s MRP polling provided in 2017, when it regularly updated its findings on a daily basis. Knowing which way the trends were moving helped us more easily make a sensible and measured decision on whether to vote tactically and who for.

Take the last election in Camborne-Redruth. Here’s what the YouGov poll was predicting, updated every other day and appearing on this website. In the final week of the campaign Labour was steadily closing the gap – by 7 points – and almost stole the seat.

But this time, YouGov’s decision not to update their poll means there’s no way of knowing whether voters are swinging to Labour in this constituency more or less than elsewhere and whether Labour’s Paul Farmer is in with a realistic shot of taking the seat. Therefore, potential tactical voters like myself are unable to make a proper decision. I shall therefore stick with my preferred choice and not waste it on a tactical vote.

We could of course rely on the regular snapshot polls. However, these are not at constituency level and it’s difficult to extrapolate trends from polls that all use slightly different methodologies. The absence of the YouGov data means that in this election we have much less reliable information on which to base our decision.

Polls can of course influence voting behaviour as much as reflect it. The absence of regular YouGov updates last week when it appears Labour was (slowly) closing the gap, operated to dampen any surge that may have been occurring under the radar.

I don’t usually buy into conspiracy theories that claim opinion polls are designed to help the Tories. Yes, the usual polls underestimated the Labour vote in 2017 by almost 6%. But in 2015 they underestimated the Conservative vote by 4%. Opinion polling has become less accurate as voter volatility has increased.

But I cannot understand why YouGov has this time refused to release its data. Who does this benefit? Clearly, if information on trends is not out there, then any movement to Labour becomes less certain. People become confused on whether it’s best to vote tactically for Labour or for the Lib Dems or for others. Moreover, they are more likely to rely on the inaccurate and false findings peddled by the political parties. And the Tories therefore breath much more easily.

In addition, by 10pm on Tuesday at least one in five voters will have already voted by post, so news of any swing towards Labour that late will have absolutely no effect. Convenient, to say the least.

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Sheryll Murray and the Armenian connection

Voters in South East Cornwall are no doubt aware of marmite Conservative MP Sheryll Murray’s enthusiasm for a no-deal Brexit. They may also have fond memories of ex-councillor Sheryll’s colourful tired and emotional debut in the Houses of Parliament back in 2010. Some may be worried that her voting record makes the DUP look kind and caring. Others will know of her love of food banks or that she was one of 72 Tory MPs who voted against requiring private landlords to make houses ‘fit for habitation’ in 2016. (She should know as she rents out a house). They may even care about her role in removing financial support for the Cornish language from Cornwall Council’s devolution ‘deal’ with the Government.

But do many of them know anything about her connections with a conservative right wing political and business network, centred on the eastern Mediterranean?

They’re not so keen
They love her

Amusingly identifying one of her policy interests as ‘the environment’, Sheryll has made nine expenses-paid flights since the 2017 election. One of these was in 2018 to the States with an all-party group, paid for by a consortium of Heathrow and other airports. There she met with American politicians and ‘aviation stakeholders’. It’s safe to assume they didn’t discuss the urgent need to cut down on flying.

Most of the other flights on parliamentary ‘business’ were to the Mediterranean and middle East, where Sheryll appears to have a special interest. ‘Fact-finding’ visits to Cyprus were interspersed with a trip to Israel in 2018, paid for by the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Israeli Government. This was followed by a trip to Turkey, courtesy of the Conservative Friends of Turkey, to meet with ‘business people and politicians’.

In August this year she was back in Turkey again. This time the trip was funded by the Yunus Emre Institute and another Turkish cultural organisation. The Yunus Emre Institute is a Turkish-government funded soft-power institution with close links to the President Recep Erdogan. During that visit she met with ‘key officials’ and saw the condition of Syrian refugees. It’s fair to say these probably did not include any Kurdish refugees from secular and socialist Rojava, branded ‘terrorists’ and fleeing Turkish tanks.

As well as these visits to right-wing regimes Sheryll has a particular fondness for Armenia. In 2017 she joined other Tory brexiteers in attending a conference on ‘Progressivism and Conservatism’, hosted by the Prosperous Armenia Party. This is a pro-Russian, eurosceptic, socially conservative and economically liberal party led by tycoon Gagik Tsakuryan, described by some as an Armenian version of Trump.

Sheryll wasn’t the only Cornish Tory MP to attend the 2017 conference

There’s a very comprehensive account here of the way Tsakuryan has been courting Conservative MPs and other European politicians. Sheryll returned to Armenia in late 2018, again paid for by the Prosperous Armenia Party, to attend an ‘investment and trade round table’. What exactly is her fascination with Armenia? Is she helping broker a trade deal that will replace the UK’s trading relations with the EU? Or is she being used, wittingly or unwittingly, to shore up the reputation and credibility of an Armenian politician?

Voters in South East Cornwall, who are preparing to give Sheryll a massive majority next week, should be asking themselves who else she represents. Her connections with ideological soulmates in the middle east is rarely, if ever, questioned in the mainstream media here. It ought to be. Instead, let’s get back to Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism. Now there’s a real issue.

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Climate emergency: What the parties say

Wildfires raging in Australia and California and, earlier this year, in Siberia. Floods in Venice. ‘Biblical’ deluges of rain in northern England. October again the hottest October on record. Must be something going on. Oh right, ‘the world has, at most, about three decades to completely decarbonize before truly devastating climate horrors begin’ (David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth, 2019, p.214). Not that you’d necessarily be aware of the seriousness of things from this election, which is somewhat odd, as it was billed as ‘a’ or even ‘the’ climate election.

As fossil capitalism drags us ever closer, or maybe past, the tipping point, politicians struggle to keep up with the panic now gripping climate scientists. Instead, they persist with the conceit that dealing with the climate emergency is just another manifesto pledge, along with funding the NHS or getting Brexit ‘done’. Sleepwalking voters are massaged with traditional electioneering promises by the bucketful. In the meantime, most of us cling to the belief that things will go on getting progressively better while a benevolent state sorts out the climate.

The truth is it won’t. Thus far, political leaders have turned out to be either ignorant, complacent or complicit. We’re living through the beginning of the end of a short-lived (in the context of human history) consumerist frenzy, the unsustainability of which some of us have been pointing out for years. (For a frightening worst-case scenario of the consequences of business as usual see Wallace-Wells’ book, cited above).

So, what do the parties promise to do about the unfolding climate emergency? In order of the most alert to the most irresponsibly complacent we have …

  1. The Green Party. As we might expect, the Greens are keenly alive to the climate emergency. They calculate that we need to spend £100 billion a year on a ‘green new deal’ to achieve net zero by 2030. It should be pointed out that this doesn’t save future generations from climate breakdown; it merely staves off some of the most disastrous scenarios.
  2. Labour claims that under its plans a ‘substantial majority’ of emissions will be cut by 2030. It promises to spend £250 billion on a Green Transformation Fund, as part of a total £400 billion fund, over the five years of a Parliament. The words are fine – they will ‘put people and planet before profit’ and ‘tackle wanton destruction by taking on the powerful interests that are causing climate change’. But policies are weaker. Moreover, some of Labour’s infrastructure promises, like Cornwall Council’s spaceport, contradict their commitment to tackling the climate emergency. The classic example is their ambivalent position on airport expansion.
  3. The Liberal Democrats promise to phase out carbon emissions by 2045 and spend £130 billion on ‘infrastructure investment’. They will also end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. But again, their £130 billion includes spending on carbon-costly projects such as HS2 and 300,000 houses a year.
  4. Finally, the Tories offer to spend just £5 billion. £1 billion is going on developing clean energy. This will ‘help us lead the world in tackling climate change’. Another £4 billion will be set aside for funding decarbonisation projects. This will miraculously achieve net zero by 2050. The Tories are hamstrung by their ideology (and possibly fossil fuel donors), living in a dreamworld where ‘free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet’. They refuse to recognise that free markets and prosperity have been part of the problem not part of the solution.

For links to the party manifestoes see this post.

During the 2017 election I pointed out how parties persisted with the fairy tale that action on climate change could somehow be bolted on to a continuing commitment to fossil-fuel driven economic growth, noting how all parties mentioned ‘growth’ at least as many times as they did ‘climate change’.

Things are a little better this time, but the fantasy continues.

positive mentions of ‘growth’
Greens0
Labour2
Liberal Democrats7
Conservatives13
mentions of ‘climate change’‘climate emergency’‘climate chaos’total
Greens6261042
Labour1714031
Liberal Democrats139022
Conservatives7108

In the meantime, the illusions fester. We’re told that more and more voters are raising the issue of climate breakdown spontaneously. Yet only 3% of those concerned citizens intend to vote for the party that most urgently wants to do something serious about it. Doh!

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Polls latest: Labour closing gap – but is it too late?

The story of the polls over the last three weeks is as follows. The Brexit Party’s support has collapsed, Farage having been comprehensively out-bluffed by the Tories. Brexit Party voters have swung almost to a man or woman behind the Conservatives, giving them an extra 4-5% in the polls, most of this occurring in the first week of the campaign.

After a stable start, Labour’s share of the poll has been creeping upwards, by 2% in the second week and 3% in the third. This has been enough to narrow the Tory poll lead over the past fortnight by 4-5%. But that lead – at around 10-11% – still guarantees them a clear majority.

Given the idiosyncracies of our absurd voting system, Labour doesn’t actually need to be that close but just 6-7% behind in order to be in hung-Parliament territory. Yet unless it can continue its rise in the polls at the same or higher rate in the week left, or the Tory share starts to fall by a few points, which doesn’t look likely, Labour is not quite going to make up the deficit by Thursday week. Although it may well be closer than the media would like us to believe. Cue panic-stricken attacks on Corbyn as the real picture gradually dawns.

The Lib Dem vote hovered around 14-16% in the first two weeks of the campaign before, last week, there were unmistakable signs of a slide, by around 2%. There are still plenty of Lib Dem votes out there for Labour to squeeze, therefore. And more than existed in 2017. Meanwhile the Green vote has been stable at just over 3%, with the SNP vote holding up and together with Plaid and others accounting for around 5%.

On the other hand, there are imponderables. What will the turnout be and will it vary from one part of the UK to another? How many (if any) seats will the Tories lose in Scotland? Will tactical voting work? However, the latter is made less likely in many seats by deliberate misinformation, mainly from the Liberal Democrats, on who the best candidate is to vote for. And of course, the polls, as in 2017, could be wrong!

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Curiouser and curiouser: Has Ukip taken over the Liberal Party in Cornwall?

Although Paul Holmes has been spotted on election hustings at Camborne-Redruth, the other five Liberal Party candidates in Cornwall have so far preferred to keep a very low profile in this election. The most interesting of these mystery candidates is Robert Lee Smith at St Ives, with an undisclosed address in the constituency.

In the European elections of 2014 Robert Lee Smith was the candidate for Ukip with an address at Newmill, near Penzance. Under the matier name of Bob Smith he stood for Ukip at Camborne-Redruth in the 2015 general election. In 2012 he stood for Ukip in the first elections for a Police Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall. At that election he was described as an educational and child psychologist and given his proper title of Doctor. Further back, Bob had stood for Ukip in Falmouth and Camborne in 1997.

Bob Smith in 2014

Bob (67), who arrived from Coventry in the 1990s, was not just a fleeting member of Ukip, like many others having joined in a fit of enthusiasm and left in a cloud of disillusion. He was a founder member in 1993.

The last time it was heard from, the Liberal Party was supporting the Ukip candidate in Truro at the 2015 general election. Is Bob now just returning a favour? Or he has he ditched his Ukip principles after a long allegiance of more than 20 years and now labours for the left populism of the Liberals? Anyone can change their minds but, apart from both parties being pro-brexit, this seems to be a quite a jump. Or is the Liberal Party in Cornwall just a front for what’s left of Ukip? Like the alien in Alien are they sucking the life from their hosts as they prepare to burst forth again when the time is ripe?

And what effect will the few hundred votes they gather have? Will they be confused Lib Dems, unable to tell the difference between Liberal Democrat and Liberal? Or will they be brexiteers, unable to stomach voting for the mendacious Tories? Who knows? In this weirder by the moment election of illusions who actually cares?

Update: It appears that Bob Smith is not alone. Two other Liberal Party candidates – Paul Nicholson in Truro and Falmouth and Elmars Liepins in North Cornwall were also former Ukip members.

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