Archive for January, 2010

Seat profile #55: Cook

Cook is a Liberal seat in southern Sydney, covering Cronulla and other parts of Sutherland shire. The seat was won by Scott Morrison after a fierce preselection was overturned and the original candidate Michael Towke replaced. While the Liberal margin is not very large, the seat has a long history of voting for the Liberal Party and it seems unlikely the ALP has the capacity to overturn the 6.4% margin.

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Seat profile #54: Lindsay

Lindsay has been won by the party that won government at every election since it was created at the 1984 election. The Liberals lost it in 2007 following a scandal days before the election involving Liberals distributing fake leaflets tying the ALP to the Bali Bombers. The ALP holds the seat by a 6.3% margin.

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Seat profile #53: Leichhardt

Leichhardt is a bellwether seat covering Cape York and Cairns, and has been won by the party that won government since 1972. The seat was lost by the Liberal Party in 2007 with a 14% swing after sitting member Warren Entsch retired. Entsch has returned to politics in an attempt to win the seat back for the LNP in 2010.

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Seat profile #52: Fisher

Fisher is a Liberal seat on the Sunshine Coast, centred on Caloundra. It has been held by Peter Slipper for most of the last two decades, and has now become a marginal seat for the first time since the ALP lost it in 1993.

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Seat profile #51: Forde

Forde lies in south-eastern Queensland, and was the safest Liberal seat to fall to the ALP in 2007 with a swing of over 14%. The seat has been a bellwether seat since 1987, and contracted substantially in the last redistribution to become a largely urban seat mostly lying in the City of Logan.

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Elections looming in Northern Ireland

Political events in Northern Ireland in recent days suggest that an election for the Legislative Assembly may loom in the next few months, while the election for Northern Ireland’s 18 seats in the House of Commons may gain extra significance at the upcoming UK election.

The current Northern Ireland Executive is at risk of collapsing, as Northern Ireland’s two largest parties have failed to agree on the devolution of police and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Executive.

Northern Ireland is governed by a unique political structure where the four largest political parties all take ministries in the government, sharing power between nationalist parties and unionist parties. The government is headed by First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. The DUP and Sinn Fein are joined by the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party around the Cabinet table.

Northern Ireland was previously governed by a more moderate coalition led by the UUP and SDLP from 1999 until 2002, but the 2003 election saw both parties overtaken by their respective rivals. The current coalition took office in 2007, and the 2007 election reaffirmed the 2003 result with the DUP and Sinn Fein as the largest parties.

Negotiations over policing and justice powers have continued for months, with Sinn Fein wanting to see the Northern Ireland government take on authority, while Unionists supported a delay. In recent days this has reached a crescendo with Sinn Fein threatening to resign from the Executive, which would trigger an early Legislative Assembly election. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen have cleared their schedules for talks to keep both sides at the table.

The state of Northern Ireland politics is very unclear at the moment, and an election could have dramatic consequences. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has recently been battered by allegations of sexual abuse against his brother, while the SDLP is in the process of electing a new leader. DUP leader Peter Robinson recently stepped down temporarily as First Minister after his wife Iris resigned as a member of the House of Commons and Legislative Assembly over financial and sexual scandals. The DUP is also facing a challenge from the far-right Traditional Unionist Voice, which is pressuring the DUP from the right over its cooperation with Sinn Fein in the devolved government. With the prospects of the DUP losing grounds to both the moderate Ulster Unionists and the extremist Traditional Unionists, there has been speculation that Sinn Fein could become the single largest party at Stormont, despite unionist parties winning a majority in Parliament.

2010 Northern Ireland boundaries, used for both the Legislative Assembly and House of Commons. Seats are coloured by incumbent party in Westminster. DUP in orange, UUP in blue, SDLP in light green, Sinn Fein in dark green. Click to enlarge.

While there is a chance that an election will be held for the Legislative Assembly, there will definitely be an election for Northern Ireland’s 18 seats in the UK House of Commons. The 2005 election saw the UUP lose five of their seats, with the DUP winning nine, Sinn Fein five, SDLP three and only one seat being won by the UUP.

Usually Northern Ireland seats don’t play a significant role in UK elections. Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats traditionally don’t run in Northern Ireland, and there are a small number of seats. Sinn Fein do not take their seats in Parliament, and most elections produce majorities large enough to make the other parties irrelevant.

In 2010, the Conservatives will need a large lead in order to win a majority in Parliament, which is raising the prospect of a hung parliament. Presumably this has motivated recent moves by the Conservatives to lock in the support of unionist parties in Northern Ireland, who could command as many as twelve seats after this year’s election.

David Cameron has already agreed to an electoral pact with the UUP, whereby the two parties would support a single candidate in each constituency. Reports have recently emerged of talks between Conservative shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson and representatives of both the DUP and UUP earlier in January, raising the prospect of the parties developing closer links to the Conservatives, which could have serious implications for the Northern Ireland peace process under a British government openly aligned with protestant unionism.

These moves have resulted in a number of prospective Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland resigning over the prospect of an alliance with the DUP. It certainly appears that Northern Irish politics will be very interesting over the coming months.

Cameron cutting seat numbers in UK

David Cameron, the leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom, is planning to immediately cut the number of seats in the House of Commons following an election victory this year, according to reports.

Cameron’s plan involves immediately introducing legislation following an election which would trigger a rapid review of electoral boundaries in England and Wales in order to cut the number of seats by approximately 10%.

Electoral boundary reviews in the past have taken as long as seven years, and the new boundaries being used for the 2010 election are based on registered voter figures from the year 2000. Cameron’s legislation would give only 18 months for a new review.

The Conservatives are arguing that the cut in the size of the Commons, which will have 650 members after this year’s election, is intended to cut the cost of politics, not to achieve electoral gain. While it is probably a good idea to shrink the Commons to less than 600 seats, the costs of those 65 members of Parliament really don’t add up to a lot in the scheme of things.

There is some electoral benefit for the Conservatives in speeding up the process of boundary reviews. Strong Labour areas like the inner cities tend to be depopulating, which means that boundaries drawn using out-of-date data will tend to mean that the number of voters in Labour seats is less than in Conservative seats. Yet this is only a minor issue. The main bias against the Conservatives in the electoral system comes from the geographical distribution of Conservative voters. Labour voters tend to be more ‘effective’, spread efficiently over marginal seats, while Conservative voters are locked up in huge majorities in safe seats. This is the main reason why the Conservatives need to beat Labour by a wide margin to win a majority. No redrawing of the boundaries will fix this: all systems of single-member electorates favours one party over another.

Labour in the UK is crying ‘gerrymander’ over the proposal, although it seems that numerical fairness is on the Conservative side. It seems that the Conservative plan is a good idea, but won’t achieve any of the aims being spun by either side about removing the bias in the electoral system.

In other news, I have just finished the South-East England region in my map of the 1997-2005 electoral boundaries, which I am hoping to finish before the UK election later this year. Maps below the fold.

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Seat profile #47: Brisbane

I have justed posted my 47th seat profile: the Queensland seat of Brisbane. This has followed up on me recently posting guides to Sydney, Melbourne and Grayndler, all strong Greens inner-city seats. With Andrew Bartlett standing for the Greens in Brisbane, the seat will likely increase in significance. You can read the profile here.

Election guide update

Over the break I have completed about twenty-seven seat guides for my guide to the 2010 federal election. Some of those which have been posted include:

Just today I have posted the guide to the seat of Melbourne, the Greens’ best chance of winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

New South Australian electoral maps

With South Australia’s state election coming up on March 20, I have taken the opportunity to improve the electoral maps for South Australia posted on this blog. The maps for the 2006 election and for the upcoming 2010 election had already been posted, but were quite large files which took a while to download and were difficult to view on slower computers. I’ve now fixed these maps to be much smaller files and easier to use, without reducing the accuracy of the maps.

In addition I have also produced maps for the previous two redistributions. South Australia holds a redistribution after every election, so these maps cover elections from 1997 until the coming election.

You can download the maps at the following links:

Screenshot images from the new maps posted below the fold.

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