Here come the new seats (same as the old seats)

Details have emerged (care of Guido Fawkes – see, he ain’t all bad, even if he has blocked me on Twitter) of the boundaries review which follows the coalition’s decision to get rid of 50 mps.

There’s a midnight media embargo on it, but it’s midnight where I am, so here’s an early look at how it lines up in Lancashire.

In Blackpool, it’s a case of back to the future – Blackpool South and Blackpool North and Fleetwood will be pretty much as they were from 1997 to 2010.

Fylde gets Poulton-le-Fylde, which strengthens its Tory credentials even further, while Lancaster inhertits much of rural Wyre – again, just as it did before the last review, as well as a few Trough of Bowland towns, including Chipping and Ribchester, which have about as much in common with Lancaster as Fleetwood did. Morecambe and Lunesdale stays much as it ever did, with a bit more Lune Valley added in for good measure.

Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire stay much as they were before 2010.

In east Lancs, it all starts getting a bit more bizarre and unfamiliar. While Blackburn stays largely the same, Rossendale and Darwen is squeezed into Darwen and Haslingden, with Rochdale North and Rawtenstall taking the rest (and knocking a few grand off property values in the leafy Rossendale valley, no doubt).

Burnley is split down the middle, with half of it joining with Accrington and the other merging with Pendle. The fag end of Pendle becomes part of a Ribble Valley mega-seat, stretching from the Yorkshire border to the edge of Preston.

But even that doesn’t compare to the megaseat of Penrith and Kendal which stretches, in the commission’s own words, ‘From the outskirts of Carlisle to the Lancashire border.’

The consultation excercise will continue until 2013, after which you’ll see an epic bunfight between existing Tory MPs, not many of whom are ready for the knackers yard just yet, for the choicest morsels.

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Home truths from abroad

I’m not allowed to vote in the local elections in Blackpool (due to moving to Hong Kong in January). And it’s probably just as well.

In my ward, Tyldesley, there’s a true Hobson’s choice. We can pick a couple of Labour candidates who we kicked out four years ago, or a couple of Tories who’ve got a profile lower than a snake’s belly (sersiouly, I once pushed their names through the archive at The Gazette and came up with one – yes, one – reference to one of them. And it wasn’t even for council business) and a list of achievements that’s as short as the membership list of the Nick Clegg appreciation society. Not even a paper Lib Dem to break up the monotony. For the first time, I’d be faced with the unedifying prospect of spoiling my ballot paper – there’s just nothing between ’em.

It’s a similar picture in much of Blackpool. The same old faces from the same old parties. The only candidates I can really vouch for are the ones I know personally. The town hall would be a better place if Jon Bamborough won in Anchorsholme and Steven Bate took Ingthorpe. And it would be a poorer place without Fred Jackson in Victoria, Jim Houldsworth in Marton (even though some people really don’t seem to like him), Lily Henderson in Highfield and Henry Mitchell in Bispham, all old stagers with a contribution that goes beyond sticking their hand up when the party whip tells ’em too.

For a fuller preview, have a look at the always excellent Philtheone blog. Phil predicts a balanced council with two Lib Dems holding the balance of power. I think a couple of independents might just muddy the water and that Labour’s youthful leader Simon Blackburn might find himself in trouble (voters in the western part of Lancashire seem to have a taste for decapitation – up in Lancaster, no sitting council leader has held their seat since 1995).

There’s an even more comprehensive look forward to the vote in Fylde, where independents are likely to prevail, on Counterbalance – just a thought, but isn’t this the kind of thing local newspapers used to do?

AV it!

Watching from a distance, it’s possible to view the campaign for the AV referendum with a detached amusement. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to stomach the ‘No’ brigade.

It’s perhaps not surprising that ‘No to AV’ is turning into one of the most dishonest and tendentious political campaigns in British history. For a start, it’s being engineered by the seconded chief of the Taxdodgers’ Alliance. Secondly, and more to the point, the only logical argument in favour of FPTP is that you favour a system that allows a party which 64 per cent of the population actively went out and voted against to have powers that would make a dictator blush. Not surprising, it’s an argument no one is making.

So we’re left with the smear and the half truth, both familiar to long-time observers of the Taxdodgers Alliance. The front page of the No to AV media webpage gives the game away – six smears against the Yes campaign, one ‘positive’ story – some F-list Tory sportspeople backing the no campaign (including such glittering luminaries as, err, pram-faced Fleetwood boxer Jane Couch)

They have a go at the Electoral Reform Society for, err, campaigning. In fact, our idiot boy Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, comes out with this gem

“The Electoral Reform Society – which is running some of the referendum ballots – stands to benefit if AV comes in because it could be one of the people who provide these electronic voting machines”

Erm, yes. Except we won’t need the machines because, in my experience, the bank clerks and social workers who count our elections can … err … count. And so what if the Electoral Reform Society did benefit? If its subsiduary, Electoral Reform Services, makes more money from clients (such as The Conservative Party, which runs its elections on a system that is a kissing cousin of AV) what will it do? Well, given that it is a wholely-owned subsiduary of the Electoral Reform Society, we can probably speculate that it will spend the money on … campaigning for electoral reform.

And David Cameron is equally dishonest and duplicitous, declaring falsely that under FPTP, all votes are of equal value. Are we to assume, then, that the Conservative party spends the same in marginal Morecambe as it does in safe-Labour Preston or solidly Tory Wyre? Well, fortunately, we have the figures. Wyre’s 71,612 voters had £7,179.16 spent on them by their Tory candidate (10p a head). Preston’s 61,025 voters received a lavish £725.75 (a tad over a penny apiece). For marginal Morecambe? £31,135.24 for 69,254 voters (45p). So, to David Cameron, your vote is worth at least four times as much if you live in a marginal than in a safe Tory seat. If you live in safe Labour territory? One 45th as much. The true figures, taking in cash from Central Office are, needless to say, likely to be even more damning.

It seems to Cameron, all votes are equal – but some are more equal than others.

Anyway, that’s quite enough logic and reason. Time to take a leaf from the ‘No to AV’ playbook, here’s the best negative argument yet against FPTP;

Anything that unites John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, Nick Griffin, Baroness Warsi, John Redwood and Norman Tebbit simply has to be a very, very bad thing

What if you called an election and nobody came?

DID someone say there was an election on? You could quite easily miss it.
Driving around Blackpool (home to two tight marginal seats) I’ve seen two election posters. Count ’em, two. Both for Conservative candidate Ron Bell, a local councillor and former serviceman.
Impressive they were too, taking up the full garden of a medium-sized semi, wth the candidate’s face beaming out like that of Chairman Mao in a communist propaganda frieze. The only question is, who’s paying for them….
Not a single leaflet has fallen through the door since polling was announced. In fact the only campaign literature in recent months has been a two-sides-of-A4 missive from Ukip’s Hamish Howitt.
In what is surely a first for his party, the word Europe isn’t mentioned in a lengthy invictive about council waste, seemingy typeset in Microsoft Publisher, without the aid of a spellchecker.
Driving around – on the long road to Barrow a couple of times a week and on an ultimately unhappy jaunt up to Newcastle on Saturday, evidence of a Labour campaign is in short supply – although an impressive display of orange lines the A6 and A590 through Westmorland and Lonsdale, where Lib Dem Tim Farron looks likely to be re-elected. Evenly-spaced Tory posters in fields give an impression of strength but reflect the views of only a handful of voters.
At the risk of sounding prematurely aged, it’s all a stark contrast to he elections of the 80s and even the 90s, the days when things could only get better.
Take 1992. Turnout reached 77.4 per cent and John Major’s Tories won more votes than any party before – or, for that matter – since. Will any party break the 10 million vote barrier this time? It’s unlikey – Major’s Tories got 14 million.
There was a sense that the election mattered – just as there was in 1997. You couldn’t escape it even if you wanted to, ’cause the parties brought it right to your door.
Now, it seems, the ground war, the phalanax of canvassers, the leafletters, the knocking up operation, have become part of history. The air war – fought through mass media and staged events like tonight’s leader’s debate has taken over.
And, as every generations pass, the politicians become even more remote, and politics becomes something other people do. It’s a dangerous path, and the politicians – from the local councillor to the next PM – need to start burning up some shoe leather… urgently.