January 21st, 2012

Lib Dem, libdem

Who should be the new Lib Dem MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber?

Mark Pack asks who should replace Diana Wallis as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber? Her husband Stewart Arnold came second in the selection for the party's candidates back in 2007, as shown in these figures taken from the offical results site.

Collapse )</p>Mark Pack admits in his piece that the winner of the contest to be second on the list is not necessarily the same as the person who would win if the contest for first on the list was re-run with the original winner excluded, and goes on to say that those figures are not available. But in fact they are; it is not too difficult to take the transfers of Diana Wallis's votes from the second stage of the real election, work out how many physical ballot papers went to each of the other candidates, and see what the result would have been with all of her votes transferred. (It's fairly clear from inspection that her transferred votes were now at a value of 0.56.)
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It is straightforward if tedious to repeat this exercise for each of the counts and therefore to reconstruct the election result for the top spot on the ballot paper, as it would have been if Diana Wallis had withdrawn after the votes were cast but before they were counted. Incidentally, this is how vacancies are handled for the STV parliamentary elections in Malta, which also tend to feature lots of candidates, but a very topheavy pattern of first preference votes. (Also Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and Cambridge Massachusetts.)Fortunately the order in which the losing candidates would have been excluded is the same as in the real election.
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It's fairly clear then that the next spot on the list is Stewart Arnold's, fair and square; and while I'm not going to grind through the calculations again (it's more complex to work out the lower places from the information given), I would be astonished if the next spot down does not fall to Rebecca Taylor by a fairly clear margin over James Monaghan or any of the others.

The legal position is pretty clear. As outlined by Richard Gadsden, once the Returning Officer for Yorkshire and thr Humber is notified that that there is a vacancy, the RO contacts the next person on the list and gives them a deadline. If they have responded saying they want the job by the deadline, and they have the approval of the nominating officer of their party, then they become an MEP forthwith. Otherwise, once the deadline expires (or if they write back refusing the seat), the Returning Officer writes to the next person on the list and so on until the list is complete. (If the seat doesn't get filled at all, then there is a by-election by region-wide FPTP. The seat cannot stay vacant for more than six months.

So legally the place is Stewart Arnold's, if he wants it and if the party approves. (And the party ought to approve if he wants it; procedurally, he is completely entitled to take up the seat.) But things have moved on since the candidate selection of 2007, and the optics of an MEP handing their seat over to their spouse are, frankly, pretty disastrous. I feel very sorry for the three people most concerned, Diana Wallis, Stewart Arnold and Rebecca Taylor, all of whom I know and like, and I am certain that Diana Wallis will not have resigned her seat other than with a heavy heart and after deep reflection. But I hope that there will be mature consideration in Hull this weekend about what happens next.</p>

January Books 17) The Treason and Trial of Sir John Perrot, by Roger Turvey

A brief book going in detail into the demise of the Elizabethan courtier John Perrot, of interest to me because of the supporting role played by my ancestor Sir Nicholas White. I had gone over some of this ground before with Hiram Morgan and Perrot's son, but this is a great little example of how to pull it all together, including even one of the surviving transcripts of Perrot's trial, the high point perhaps being the fatal moment when he was confronted with evidence that he had called the Queen a "bastard piskitchen woman".

I felt that Turvey's thesis that Lord Burghley Was Behind It All was not really borne out by the evidence. What seemed to me clear was that Perrot, having returned to London after his term of office in Ireland, was becoming an alternate power centre on Irish affairs much to the dismay of everyone else working on Ireland, and the leading faction in the Dublin administration decided to discredit him as best they could. But I doubt that Burghley jumped on the band-wagon until it was already rolling, though I agree that his decision would have been necessary for Perrot's trial and conviction for treason, a process in which the odds were stacked against the defendant procedurally. Even then, probably nobody anticipated Perrot's death from natural causes before a date for his sentence could be set. Turvey tracks Nicholas White and Richard Meredith to London as prisoners due to their support of Perrot, but unfortunately doesn't cover their trial in Star Chamber (though does cover the detail that White's son was prevented from access to the Queen).

The book helped me a bit - and certainly gave me a reading list - for understanding how the royal court functioned in Tudor times. It helped me rather more in understanding exactly how the Irish administration functioned. Apart from the official designation of roles and office-holders, there was a whole shadow politics going on behind the scenes, as the viceroy's decisions and policies in Dublin could always be overturned in London, and because many of the leading figures in Ireland had their own routes to the Queen's ear. White had always been close to Burghley, but obviously became collateral damage in the fall of Perrot. A good piece of work.

January Books 19) Why Can't Elephants Jump?, ed. Mick O'Hare

Another great collection of New Scientist columns with readers asking questions and other readers answering them. Lots of interesting trivia; two different answers given for why we westerners tend to eat a sweet course at the end of the meal (not totally sure I believe either of them); the title question is answered somewhere in the middle; at the very end, a question about how Big Ben is kept on time is answered by someone who had actually had the job of keeping it on time. Entertaining stuff.

January Books 20) Scotch on the Rocks, by Douglas Hurd and Andrew Osmond

A Conservative prime minister, having failed to secure an majority for his party at Westminster, finds himself dealing with a Scottish Nationalist Party leader who is ascendant in Scotland; can a slide towards independence be bought off with an offer of maximised devolution? Obvious fantasy, dear boy.

This novel was co-written by a future Tory cabinet minister and leadership candidate over forty years ago (published in 1970, though reference to the success of devolution in Ulster indicates it was written in 1968 or before). It is the third of a trilogy of novels set in the near future (ie the late 1970s) about a Conservative government dealing with imperial retreat (I have read the second one, in which Hong Kong is handed over to China after threats of nuclear war, but have not read the first which is about Rhodesia). My introductory line was a little misleading: the hung parliament at the start of the novel comes after two Tory terms rather than three Labour ones, the SNP hold the balance of power at Westminster and so can demand devolution as the price of support for a minority government, and there is of course no devolved Scottish administration already in place. This is more or less incidental detail, of course: the most interesting departure from today's debate is that I don't think the word "referendum" appears once in the novel. Back in the 1960s, the will of the people was deemed adequately discernable from the results of elections to the House of Commons.

I can't strongly recommend Scotch on the Rocks as literature. The connection between the high politics of Westminster and the low politics of security forces fighting nationalist extremists doesn't mesh particularly well thematically, with the one connecting character being the only woman of significance in the narrative, an earl's daughter who has gone radical. It seems more of a goodbye to the characters established in the previous two books than a terribly robust story in its own right. But it's interesting as a political prediction by one of the more reflective (if not necessarily effective) thinkers in recent British politics. It's also noteworthy that Collapse ) It's absurdly easy to get hold of this second-hand, and rather thought-provoking reading for today's political analysts.