New committee chair elected

SarahWollastonMPThe UK House of Commons today elected a new Chair of the Select Committee on Health.

Regular readers of this blog will know that chairs of select committees are elected by the whole House. This is a relatively new development – the reform was adopted at the end of the previous Parliament and implemented for the first time in May 2010, at the start of the current Parliament. By all accounts, it has proven to be a very positive change; select committees have gained a lot of respect and they are seen to be more beholden to the House rather than to party whips.

Committee chairships are allocated among the three main parties roughly in proportion to their representation in the House, unlike here in Canada, where the party which forms the government chairs all but three committees. The Health Committee is chaired by a Conservative, and thus the House had a choice of four Conservative MPs who put themselves forward as candidates: Charlotte Leslie, Dr. Phillip Lee, Dr. Sarah Wollaston and David Tredinnick.

The House uses the Alternative Vote to elect Committee chairs, meaning MPs rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference. It took four stages of counting before one candidate ended up with the required 50% + 1 of the votes in play, and in the end, Dr. Sarah Wollaston was elected Chair.

Dr. Wollaston is a very interesting person for another reason. Before becoming the Member of Parliament (MP) for Totnes in 2010, she was the first person to be selected as a parliamentary candidate for a major British political party through an open primary, in which she emphasised that she was an outsider to politics, who had worked a ‘real job’. She won the nomination for the Conservative candidature and at the general election won the seat with an increased Conservative majority.

This is how the announcement of the results played out in the House this afternoon:

Mr Speaker: I will now announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of a new Chair of the Select Committee on Health. A total of 433 votes were cast, with two spoilt ballot papers. The counting went to four stages and 421 valid votes were cast in the final round, excluding those ballot papers whose preferences had been exhausted. The quota to be reached was therefore 211 votes. Dr Sarah Wollaston was elected Chair with 226 votes. The other candidate in that round was Dr Phillip Lee, who received 195 votes. Dr Wollaston will take up the post immediately. I warmly congratulate her on her election. The results of the count under the alternative vote system will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and published on the internet for public viewing.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) for his exemplary leadership of the Health Committee for more than four years. That leadership has been widely respected. I thank him for everything that he has done on behalf of patients, acting, as he has done, as their voice. The NHS touches people’s lives a million times every 36 hours. It is the most extraordinary achievement and also the most extraordinary challenge. The new chief executive of NHS England has called on everyone in the NHS to think like a patient and act like a taxpayer. The role of the Select Committee is to ask those challenging questions on behalf of patients and taxpayers so that this most cherished institution can continue to be there for all of our constituents when they need it the most.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for her words.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on her success in the election. I know that she has the knowledge and, above all and perhaps more importantly, the wisdom to be a very good Chair of the Health Committee and I wish her all the very best.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious words.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you know that parliamentary procedure says that we should not be allowed to applaud in this Chamber, but might not this be the kind of occasion when the Speaker abolished the rule and allowed applause?

Mr Speaker: There is an old adage that was taught to me by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) some 30 years ago that if one is intent upon a particular course of action, one should never give a bureaucrat a chance to say no. I think that I will leave it there for today.

Related Posts:

Ontario Provincial Election June 2014

ontario_smallThis blog will not engage in a discussion of the policies of political parties, either at the provincial or federal level. However, it will provide links to sites that might prove useful to voters for the 12 June 2014 Ontario provincial election.

Vote Compass Ontario 2014

Vote Compass is an educational tool developed by political scientists. Answer a short series of questions to discover how you fit in the Ontario political landscape. If you’re unsure of which party to vote for, this might help. And even if you are certain which party you want to support, the Vote Compass results might surprise you!

Party Platform Comparisons

Comparison of party positions on six key issues from Yahoo News.

Political Party Platform Comparison from the Consulting Engineers of Ontario (PDF)

Comparison of the parties’ education platform from the OSSTF

Comparison of parties’ positions on key issues from the Globe and Mail

General Election Information

Elections Ontario has all the information you need about the upcoming election. Start with their We Make Voting Easy page.

Related Posts:

On by-election timing

I have previously written about the differences in calling by-elections in both Canada and the UK, pointing out that, in general, by-elections in the UK tend to be called within days of a seat becoming vacant, while in Canada, it can often take months for a by-election to be called.

The Canadian federal electoral district of Macleod has been without representation for almost six months now. By-elections must be called within 180 days of the Chief Electoral Officer being officially notified of a vacancy, which means the deadline for calling the by-election will be 17 May 2014. There are currently four other vacant seats in the House of Commons.

In the UK, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer resigned his seat on 29 April 2014. Two days later, on 1 May, the writ was issued and the by-election date set for 5 June. The constituency of Newark will be without an MP for little more than a month.

As I had explained in that earlier post, in Canada, under the Parliament of Canada Act, when a seat in the House is vacant, the Speaker of the House of Commons informs the Chief Electoral Officer by means of a Speaker’s warrant.

After receiving the warrant, section 57 of the Canada Elections Act authorizes the Governor in Council to fix the date on which the Chief Electoral Officer is to issue the writ. The date of issuance must fall between the 11th and 180th days after the Chief Electoral Officer receives the warrant from the Speaker. The Governor in Council also fixes the date for election day, which cannot be earlier than 36 days after the Chief Electoral Officer issues the writ. As I explained, the “Governor in Council” is the Governor General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister; in other words, it is the Prime Minister who decides when to call a by-election. It is the Prime Minister who determines how long some Canadians will go without representation in the House.

I wonder why things were arranged like this. It isn’t the Prime Minister’s House of Commons; it shouldn’t be up to the PM to decide that some citizens will be denied representation for months on end.

In the UK, the Prime Minster has no say in when by-elections occur.

The writ for a by-election in the UK is usually issued on the same day as or the day following a motion in the Commons for the Speaker to make out the warrant for the issue of a writ. By Parliamentary convention the Chief Whip of the party to which the previous Member belonged will usually arrange for the motion to be moved.

The writ is issued by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery and sent to the Returning Officer or Acting  Returning  Officer  for  the  constituency. The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, as explained on the UK Parliament website:

is head of the Crown Office, which has custody of the Great Seal of the Realm, and has administrative functions in connection with the courts and the judicial process. The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery initiates a parliamentary election in a constituency by sending an election writ to the Returning Officer, and receives all ballot papers and ballot stubs after the election is complete; these are retained for a year. Since 1885 the office of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery has been combined with that of Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Justice.

In other words, he or she is a civil servant.

As explained in this Commons Library Standard Note, the by-election timetable is set in motion following the receipt of the writ. Previously, the governing legislation allowed for a 13-day timetable, but in practice no by-election using a 13-day timetable had occurred in the last few decades. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 has lengthened the by-election timetable from between 13 to 19 days to between 21 and 27 days.

The only means by which the UK Government could hold up the process of issuing a writ for a by-election is by delaying the appointment of the MP who is resigning to the Chiltern Hundreds. As I have explained in this post, MPs in the UK cannot actually resign their seat. Death, disqualification and expulsion are the only means by which a Member’s seat may be vacated during the lifetime of a Parliament. When an MP wants to resign his or her seat, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will disqualify them by appointing the MP to one of two offices that are used for disqualification: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and of the Manor of Northstead. In the case of former MP Patrick Mercer, he announced his resignation on 29 April, and on 30 April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed him to be Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. The next day, 1 May, the chief whip of the Conservative Party moved the writ in the House of Commons.

Surely this is a better model? It removes the possibility of a Prime Minister playing politics with by-election timing and in the process, denying citizens their right to representation in the House of Commons for months on end.

Related Posts:

On early candidate selection

There will most likely be general elections in both Canada and the UK next year. I say most likely only because Canada’s “fixed election dates” aren’t binding on the the Prime Minister/Governor General. There will definitely be a general election in the UK – on May 6 2015, to be exact. Their fixed-term parliaments law is binding. The next election in Canada should happen in October 2015, but as I said, the PM could well decide to call one earlier or even later.

As regular readers know by now, I like to highlight differences between how things are done here in Canada and how they are done elsewhere. Today I’m going to focus on when candidates are selected for the next election.

In Canada, political parties tend to wait until a few months or even weeks (or even days) before an election is expected or called to choose their candidates. Some, usually in ridings in which a party isn’t very competitive, might not get a candidate until after the writs have dropped. The deadline for candidate nominations is the 21st day before voting day.

In the UK, parties like to get a much earlier start. In fact, it isn’t at all uncommon for parties to select a candidate years in advance of the next general election.

For example, the last general election in the UK was in May 2010. In January 2011, the Labour party gave the green light to candidate selections in 26 marginal ridings – constituencies in which they had finished a very close second in the May 2010 election. What that means is that Labour had nominated candidates – what are called prospective parliamentary candidates, or PPCs – in place up to four years in advance of the next general election.

Labour isn’t alone in doing this. All three of the main parties will target key ridings that they think they have a chance of winning next time around – the aforementioned marginals – and will try to get a candidate in place at least a year, often 2-3 years ahead of the next election. Parties appearing to lag on this front will be the subject of media attention.

These candidates then have 2-4 years to campaign in their constituency – doing door-to-door canvassing, attending local events – in other words, getting themselves known to local voters. Most of these activities don’t really cost anything – the largest expense would be travelling around the constituency.

I mentioned this to some colleagues and they thought it was extremely bizarre. Why on earth, some asked, would a party want to commit itself or tie itself to a candidate so far ahead of an election? That struck me as a very odd response. If a party is willing to commit itself to a candidate they hope will be one of their MPs for at least the next four years, why wouldn’t they be willing to commit to them 2-3 years before the election date?

Recently, the federal NDP nominated a candidate in the riding of Edmonton-Centre for the 2015 election. A few weeks later, the candidate withdrew due to health concerns. I did see more than a few comments on Twitter questioning the wisdom of selecting a candidate so far in advance of the actual election. Again, I think it makes far more sense to get a candidate in place as early as possible. Health concerns happen; that’s not a good enough reason to not choose someone well in advance of the next election.

Some regularly complain that voters only vote based on party label – that no one votes for the actual individual anymore. Well, that’s hardly surprising if most, if not all, of the candidates in your constituency are nominated only a few weeks before voting day. Odds are most voters don’t know any of these individuals, and won’t be able to get a sense of them during the short election campaign. However, if a party had a candidate in place years in advance, that person would become quite well known in their own right, and some voters at least might be more open to voting for the actual person rather than their party label.

I wouldn’t expect parties to nominate a candidate years in advance in every single constituency. UK parties don’t do that. They target the marginals, the constituencies which they only narrowly lost in the previous election and that they think they have a real shot at winning next time around.

Of course, it is probably a lot easier for PPCs in the UK to campaign well in advance of an actual election; constituencies are much smaller in size – geographically-speaking – and it would be much easier to get around to the various villages and towns. However, the large size of most rural ridings here in Canada is another argument in favour of having a candidate in place 2-3 years ahead of the actual election: that way, the candidate can actually campaign effectively and repeatedly across the entire riding, something that may prove difficult to do during the official 36-day election campaign.

I think it makes a lot of sense for parties to identify seats they might win and ensure that they have candidates in place well in advance of the next general election. It would provide them with an active, constant presence in the riding, and allow their candidate to be known and build a base of support. And maybe it would help voters base their decision on the candidate, rather than just party label, which I think would be a very good thing indeed.

Related Posts:

Coalition government: not liked, but expected

A few years ago, I wrote a post exploring why the very idea of  coalition government became such a negative thing in Canada. I’ve also written a number of posts explaining that, in the United Kingdom, coalition government has become the expected outcome in the event of a general election which results in a hung parliament (this being the most recent one).

UK polling firm Ipsos Mori today released its Political Monitor January 2014. Along with the usual data regarding voting intentions and satisfaction with the various party leaders and the economy, there are some very interesting numbers regarding the outcome of future elections.

A majority (51%) of those polled believe that the 2015 general election will result in another coalition government. That belief is strongest amongst Conservative (58%) and Liberal Democrat (66%) supporters. Labour Party supporters are less likely to think that will be the outcome (42%) – most likely because their party continues to lead in the polls.

But while a majority think there will be another coalition government in 2015, that doesn’t mean they like the idea. A strong majority, 60%, believe it’s a bad thing that no party achieved an overall majority in the 2010 election. That percentage has increased gradually since May 2010, when 52% thought it was a bad thing that no party had won an overall majority. And when asked about the 2015 election, 65% of those polled believe it will be a bad thing if that election again results in a hung parliament. Unsurprisingly, Liberal Democrat supporters are the only ones who overwhelmingly think hung parliaments are a good thing (55%). Supporters of the two largest parties, the Conservatives and Labour are equally unenthusiastic about hung parliaments, with only 21% thinking that it’s a good thing if no party wins an overall majority.

Ipsos Mori then asked supporters of each party who their preferred coalition partner would be from amongst the other parties, should the 2015 election result in a hung parliament. Conservative supporters strongly favoured a resumption of the current coalition with the Liberal Democrats (70%). Only 40% strongly supported a coalition with UKIP – assuming of course that UKIP even wins any seats in 2015. Labour supporters were almost equally supportive of a coalition with either the Liberal Democrats (62%) or the Greens (63%). Given that the Greens have only one seat in the current Parliament, and that is unlikely to change much in 2015, a coalition with the Green Party is not very likely. Liberal Democrat supporters actually favoured the Conservatives (65%) over Labour (53%) as coalition partners. That might surprise some. There is wide-spread assumption in the UK that the Liberal Democrats are a left-wing party, one that would more naturally align itself with Labour. I’ve never quite understood why people feel that way – the LibDems have always struck me as a very centrist party, even slightly right-of-centre in terms of economic policy. That their supporters more strongly favour the Conservatives as coalition partners possibly confirms my views. Or it could simply be a reaction to having had to endure a lot of abuse from Labour politicians and supporters since entering into a coalition with the Tories in 2010.

My interest in this is again to point out how the idea of coalition government has become, if not liked, at least accepted in the UK. The political parties and their supporters at least grudgingly acknowledge that it’s not only a viable alternative to single-party minority government in the event of a hung parliament, but perhaps a preferable option. Labour and Conservative supporters would certainly prefer that their party form a majority government on its own, there is no doubt about that. But the current coalition has demonstrated a couple of things: 1) despite constant predictions that it would fall apart, it hasn’t, and 75% of those surveyed believe it will last until May 2015 (only 40% thought that in July 2012); and 2) it has provided stable government during a difficult economic period. In other words, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has worked. And ultimately, isn’t that what matters most?

Related Posts:

A few thoughts on IPPR’s Divided Democracy report

The Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) new report, Divided democracy: Political inequality in the UK and why it matters, takes a novel approach to the issue of declining voter turnout.

Declining voter turnout is not a new issue, nor is it one of concern only to the UK. While most studies look at the reasons why more and more citizens are staying away from the ballot box, this report looks at the consequences of lower voter participation among certain sectors of society, young voters and lower-income voters.

It is this growing inequality of turnout that is the focus of the IPPR’s research:

Unequal turnout matters because it reduces the incentives for governments to respond to the interests of non-voters and thus threatens a central claim of democracy: that every citizen’s preference, no matter their status, should count equally. (p. 2)

This argument isn’t new, of course. We’ve all frequently heard people say that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about policy decisions that are made. In the UK 1987 general election, there was a 4 percentage point gap in the turnout rate between the highest income group and the poorest. By the 2010 general election, this gap had increased to 23%:

The age gap is even more striking. Just 44 per cent of 18–24-year-olds voted in the 2010 general election, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Turnout inequality between young and old voters has grown at an alarming rate in recent years – the turnout gap between these two age-groups jumped from 18 points in 1970 to 32 points in 2010 – and shows little sign of being reversed. Worse still, there is now clear evidence of a ‘cohort effect’: younger people today are less likely than previous generations to develop the habit of voting as they move into middle age. (p. 2)

What did this mean for the Government’s austerity measures?

IPPR’s analysis of the 2010 spending review shows that those who did not vote in the 2010 general election faced cuts worth 20 per cent of their annual household income, compared to 12 per cent for those who did vote. The cuts have disproportionately affected the young and the poor – precisely those groups that vote with least frequency. People aged 16–24 face cuts to services worth 28 per cent of their annual household income, compared to 10 per cent for those aged 55–74. Those with annual household incomes under £10,000 stand to lose the equivalent of 41 per cent of their average income through cuts; by contrast, those with incomes over £60,000 will lose on average £2,104, which represents just 3 per cent of this group’s average income. (p. 2)

The bulk of the report is a detailed analysis of voter participation rates in the UK and the impact of the 2010 spending review. What I want to comment on, however, are the two recommendations put forward to address the problem: universal compulsory voting and compulsory first-time voting.

IPPR has often argued in favour of compulsory voting. While acknowledging that this is often a controversial proposal, compulsory voting is “currently practised in approximately a quarter of the world’s democracies”. They also point out that in none of these countries is voting itself actually compulsory. What is mandatory is showing up at the polls. Studies of countries with compulsory voting all show an increased voter turnout, and more importantly, “drastically” reduced turnout inequality through the greater representation of “marginalised and apathetic” groups. Despite the benefits of compulsory voting, the IPPR researchers seem resigned to the fact that the British will never accept it given that it flies in the face of a citizen’s right to choose not to vote, and so they propose instead compulsory first-time voting.

Compulsory first-time voting is just that: voters would be obliged to go to the polls once, on the first occasion they were eligible. They wouldn’t actually have to vote – they’d only have to turn up – but as an added incentive, there would be a “none of the above” option on the ballot paper. To ensure compliance, a small fine would be levied against those who failed to turn up at the polls.

Why force first-time voting? The researchers offer the following reasons. Research has shown that if people vote in the first election they’re eligible to vote in, they are more likely to vote in future elections. Forcing them to vote the first time could lead to voluntary continued voting. Second, this initiative deliberately targets young people, who have the lowest participation rates. Third, if young people turned out in larger numbers, politicians would be forced to take their concerns into consideration. And lastly, there could be a trickle down effect: “if young people from poorer backgrounds were required to vote then this might encourage their non-voting parents and grandparents to exercise their democratic right, thereby closing the political inequality gap between the classes as well as generations.” (p. 22)

I don’t dislike this idea, but I admit to being somewhat confounded by the “none of the above” option on the ballot paper. While it is not 100% clear in the report, I assume that everyone’s ballot paper would have this option, otherwise you’d need two ballot papers, one for “regular” (non first-time) voters, and one for the first-timers. While doable, this seems like it would be a lot of work and added confusion for no good reason. We assume then that the “none of the above” option would be available to all voters. I find it rather interesting that this is mentioned twice (pp. 2 and 21), almost in passing, but never really explained or dealt with in any detail.

I think we’ve all wished at some point that there was such an option on our ballot paper. But what would happen if that option actually won in some constituencies – meaning the “none of the above” option garners more votes than any of the candidates? Of course, with First-Past-the-Post, the candidate with the most votes, even if they were second to “none of the above” would still end up elected. However, this strikes me as problematic – for a couple of reasons. The first is purely optics. I can’t imagine any candidate would feel particularly happy to have “won” by finishing second to “none of the above”. If this occurred in only a handful of constituencies, it might not be that big a deal, but if it occurred in a lot of constituencies, I can’t help but think that some would question the wisdom of including that option on the ballot. The second reason ties in with the first. There is already significant displeasure with the fact that under FPTP, a candidate doesn’t need majority support to win; he or she simply needs more votes than any other candidate. Consequently, a majority of MPs end up elected with less than 50% of the vote. If you add in another option – specifically “none of the above”, that risks reducing the winning candidate’s percentage of the vote that much more. Part of me can’t help but think that the combination of MPs being elected after finishing second to “none of the above” and with even lower percentages of the vote really won’t do much to improve anyone’s opinion of politicians. If anything, it might even undermine their legitimacy.

Related Posts:

Voter gender bias towards female party leaders

“The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership. It explains some things and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.” – Julia Gillard, 26 June 2013, farewell press conference

GillardRuddAustralian elections expert Antony Green has written an extremely fascinating article exploring the gender bias behind support for the Australian Labor Party (ALP). As you may recall, the ALP recently underwent another leadership spill which resulted in Prime Minister and party leader Julia Gillard being dumped by her party in favour of former party leader and PM Kevin Rudd.

During Gillard’s term as party leader and PM, gender because a prominent issue in Austrlian politics. As Green notes:

That opinion polls tended to show Mr Abbott polling less well among female voters was another factor in bringing gender into the general political debate.

Labor regularly highlighted Mr Abbott’s polling with female voters and the Liberal Party’s decision to feature Mr Abbott more often with his family and with his female colleagues and candidates suggested Liberal Party polling revealed something similar.

And of course, there was that now-famous attack on Abbott by Gillard in which she accused him of being a misogynist. That video went viral thanks to social media, garnering over 2 million views (at time of writing).

But what new polling is showing is that while the Liberal Party is less popular with women, Labor under Gillard was much popular with men:

On July 16, after the change of Labor leadership, the Australian featured a special analysis of Newspoll looking at the shift in gender voting with the change in leadership.

The article pointed to Labor’s support among women having lifted from 34 per cent to 38 per cent with the change of leadership. The article’s headline was all about Rudd being more popular among women than Gillard, the story re-visiting the misogyny and gender debate.

What I thought more revealing in the Australian’s table was the shift in the male vote after the change of leadership. Labor’s vote among men rose 7 per cent from 28 per cent to 35 per cent.

Before the change, a Fairfax Nielsen poll published on June 16 had highlighted a slump in Labor support among male voters; Labor slipping from its traditional position of polling more strongly among men than women had been evident earlier.

For all the talk of Mr Abbott’s problem with female voters, not nearly as much attention was paid to a clearly evident problem that Ms Gillard had with male voters, the other dimension to a gender gap in voting.

The leadership spill occurred on 26 June 2013, and the above poll would have been conducted days afterwards. Labor’s policies did not change overnight following the leadership change, therefore it is fairly safe to conclude, as Green does, that the increase in support for the part among male voters was entirely due to the change in leadership. The question remains, of course, did men simply dislike Gillard as a person, or did they dislike her specifically because she was a woman? That we will never know.

Political opinion polls conducted in Canada frequently single out the differences between male and female support for certain political parties, and sometimes for the party leaders as well. However, very little analysis is devoted to these differences, or to the fact that certain parties consistently poll better with one gender. If any analysis does focus on this, the difference in support by gender is attributed to policy – the party in question has policies which appeal more to male voters and less to female voters. It isn’t surprising that no attention would be given to the gender of the party leader since, barring a precious few exceptions, party leaders in Canada (at the federal level at least) have been overwhelmingly male.

There have been only four female leaders of major federal parties since 1867. The Liberal Party has never had a female leader, the Conservative Party (back when it was the Progressive Conservative Party) has had one, and the New Democrats (NDP) have had two. The Green Party is currently led by a woman, who is also the party’s only elected MP.

The NDP had two consecutive female leaders, Audrey McLaughlin (1989-1995) and Alexa McDonough (1995-2003). The party’s performance under their respective leaderships wasn’t stellar, but it isn’t possible to know to what degree gender bias may have been a factor. McLaughlin assumed the leadership from Ed Broadbent. Following the 1984 election, several polls afterward showed that Broadbent was the most popular party leader in Canada. Broadbent was the only leader ever to take the NDP to first place in public opinion polling, and some pundits felt that the NDP could supplant the Liberals as the primary opposition to the Progressive Conservatives. Nonetheless, he was not successful in translating this into an election victory in the 1988 federal election, since the Liberals reaped most of the benefits from opposing free trade. However, the NDP elected a party record 43 seats in that election, a record unchallenged until the 2011 election. The party’s first election under McLaughlin’s leadership (1993) was a disaster; the party was reduced to 9 seats, losing official party status. Things improved only marginally under McDonough – the party won 21 seats in the 1997 election, but then was reduced to 13 in the 2000 election.

Where the party’s misfortunes due to having female leaders? As Prof. Alan Cairns states in his paper, An Election to be Remembered: Canada 1993, it is impossible to know. In the 1993 election, two parties had female leaders: the NDP’s McLaughlin and the incumbent Progressive Conservatives were led by Kim Campbell:

The potential effect of this on their party’s support was unknown. Although McLaughlin suggested there was an anti-feminist backlash, this was discounted by most observers.

There were a great many other factors at play in the 1993 election which impacted the NDP’s fortunes. The PCs under Campbell’s leadership had a disastrous campaign, and the party itself was extremely unpopular after two terms in office, and it was decimated at the polls, reduced to only two seats. That result had very little to do with having a female leader.

Getting back to Australia, and Antony Green’s excellent article (please do read it in full!), the evidence is quite clear that male gender bias against Julia Gillard played a major factor in Labor’s polling:

In summary it is clear that in changing leader, Labor received overall support among intended Labor voters, received greatest backing for the change from among Centre voters, and received overwhelming backing from male voters – with little evidence of a major backlash among female voters.


Whether Labor’s problems were caused by sexism in the electorate, sexism by Ms Gillard’s opponents, sexism in the media, or missteps by Ms Gillard herself, clearly Labor couldn’t allow the impasse on the leadership to persist.

Labor’s bounce in the polls after the leadership change has subsided, and the Coalition are still favourites to win the election.

But Labor is still polling better than before the leadership change, and the Vote Compass data reveals that the story is not about Tony Abbot and female voters, but male voter attitudes to Julia Gillard.

This is obviously an area which requires more study, but until female party leaders are more commonplace, such study won’t be possible.

Related Posts:

Australia General Election 2013

Australia-VotesA federal election has been called for 7 September 2013. Below I will post links to sites which may be of some use to those following the parties and issues. This post will be updated as more interesting links come to my attention, so please check back often. And if you know of a site which should be listed here, please let me know in the comments, or by using the contact form.

Vote Compass Australia 2013

Not certain which party to vote for? Vote Compass is an interactive electoral literacy application developed by Canadian political scientists and run during election campaigns. It offers an accessible framework for learning about party platforms, stimulates discussion on a wide variety of election issues, and encourages democratic participation within the electorate. Based on an individual’s responses to a series of propositions specifically developed for a given election, Vote Compass generates a real-time analysis of how one’s views compare to the platforms of each political party vying for office. This analysis is powered by an open database which contains a public record of each party’s stand on the issues included in Vote Compass. Vote Compass has been in use in Canada for federal and some provincial elections for a few years now, and an American version was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal for the 2012 US presidential election. The Australian edition was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Antony Green’s Election Guide

Antony Green covers pretty much everything you might want to know about the 2013 election – each federal electorate, including the candidates, an election calculator to predict the election outcome by applying a uniform swing, and electoral pendulum to find out which electorates are the most marginal – and the safest. And of course, there is Antony’s blog, which is always worth reading.

The Australian Electoral Commission

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums and maintaining the Commonwealth electoral roll. The AEC also provides a range of electoral information and education programs and activities. Everything you need to know about the upcoming election can be found on their website, including how to make sure you are registered to vote, and how to complete your ballot paper for both the House of Representatives and the Senate elections.

Policy Platform Comparisons

ABC – Policies: Where the Parties Stand

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) provides an analysis of the parties’ positions on key issues, e.g. the economy, asylum seekers, education, etc. They point out where the main parties agree as well as where they diverge.

Sydney Morning Herald Overview of Party Policies

Not a side-by-side comparison chart, but the SMH looks at the major policy positions of each party, grouped together under key subject headings such as the Economy, Education, Health, etc.

Related Posts:

Coalition government gains traction

The UK House of Lords Constitution Committee has launched a new inquiry into the constitutional implications of coalition government.

The reason for this inquiry is “the increase in the general election vote share for parties other than Conservative and Labour means that government by coalition may become more common in future as single parties are unable to secure an absolute Commons majority.”

The Committee’s inquiry is focusing on three key questions:

  • The impact of coalition government on the principle of collective ministerial responsibility.  Examples of disagreements within the current coalition that have raised questions in this area include those announced at the onset of the coalition, such as on the renewal of Trident, and some which have emerged during the course of the Parliament—for example the amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 which delayed the constituency boundary review.
  • How democratic legitimacy is secured under coalition governments.  The classic model of a majority government implementing its manifesto as endorsed by the electorate does not necessarily translate to a hung Parliament. This raises questions about the practices and procedures that should be adopted to secure democratic legitimacy, including the status of coalition agreements drawn up following a general election and whether manifestos should be changed to reflect the possibility of a hung parliament.
  • The organisation of the executive under coalition government.  The Committee will explore what is the most effective and accountable way to run a coalition government, including areas such as the appointment of ministers and the structure of the Cabinet and its committees.

(Side note: you don’t have to be a UK citizen or resident to contribute to this inquiry. If you are interested in the topic and want to contribute your thoughts on the above, download the call for evidence guidelines (PDF). The deadline is 30 August 2013.)

The next general election, in 2015, will more than likely again result in a hung parliament. And unlike in Canada, there is growing acceptance in the UK that the proper response to a hung parliament is coalition government, not single party minority government. This inquiry is just one example of that acceptance. Another is the news that the UK Conservative backbench have set out certain “red lines” for their party leadership – policy areas on which they will not compromise in any future coalition negotiations. The same article mentions that the Liberal Democrats will likely do the same – spell out their own red lines for joining a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives.

Of course, the next election is still more than a year away, and polls can – and most certainly will – change between now and then. Combined with the vagaries of First-Past-the-Post, one of the major parties could very well eek out a majority mandate on its own. But what is encouraging is that the idea of coalition government, despite the ups and downs of the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, has gained acceptance and parties are preparing for that possibility.

Now if only Canadian political parties could start thinking more boldly as well…

Related Posts:

Some interesting links and websites

Apologies for the lack of blogging, but real life has been rather busy of late. However, in the interim, here are some links to interesting reports, sites, etc.


Communicating statistics – Not just true, but also fair

The UK House of Commons Public Administration Committee has released a report recommending that departmental press officers and government statistics staff should work together much more closely to ensure that press releases give an accurate and meaningful picture of the truth behind the figures. As the Committee Chair, Bernard Jenkins, MP, explained:

“Politicians tend to promote the statistics that best present their case. Finding the whole truth about government statistics is not always easy, and it should be. The numbers may be perfectly true but the act of selecting certain numbers distorts the true picture. This is important when those numbers are being used to justify a particular policy, a particular apportioning of resources. In some cases, spinning reduces the story behind the statistics to such an extent that the picture is no longer true.”

Number10 website revamp

The official website of the Office of the UK Prime Minister has been undergoing a revamp. It now features a very interesting and useful history section. This includes a blog on the history of government written by guest historians, and a detailed history of 10 Downing Street – the official residence of the Prime Minister.

History of Parliament website

The History of Parliament website will appear to anyone interested in the history of the UK Parliament. From the site’s About page:

The History of Parliament is a research project creating a comprehensive account of parliamentary politics in England, then Britain, from their origins in the thirteenth century. Unparalleled in the comprehensiveness of its treatment, the History is generally regarded as one of the most ambitious, authoritative and well-researched projects in British history.

It consists of detailed studies of elections and electoral politics in each constituency, and of closely researched accounts of the lives of everyone who was elected to Parliament in the period, together with surveys drawing out the themes and discoveries of the research and adding information on the operation of Parliament as an institution.


UK newspaper The Guardian has launched an online Australian edition (it also has a US edition). There is a subsection dedicated to this fall’s general election, and a very interesting look at political donations in Australia.

The always excellent Antony Green provides a very handy guide to upcoming Australian elections, both national and state.

Related Posts:

Page 1 of 812345...Last »