Gay Marriage, Conservative Divorce?

‘Prediction is very difficult’, said Niels Bohr, ‘especially if it’s about the future’ – and it’s always potentially embarrassing when you revisit things you wrote and in which you had confidently predicted what was to come.

Take, for example, this 2009 article, looking at the likely state of the Conservative Parliamentary Party after the election.

It argued the party would look very different: lots of new MPs, more women, more from ethnic minorities, although no less middle class than before.  That was at least right, if fairly easy to predict.  It went on to argue that in the short term this would be good for the whips, because new MPs are less rebellious, but that balancing their demands with those of the more established MPs  would cause problems of party management. That was (at best) only half right, with the new MPs being far more rebellious than expected.

It also argued that there was a group of existing rebellious Conservative MPs whose behaviour was unlikely to change, and of those it identified almost all have indeed continued to cause trouble for the whips (save for the most rebellious of the lot, Ken Clarke, who finds himself in the Cabinet – but let’s see how long that lasts…). And it argued that whilst there would be backbench trouble ahead, there would at least be a short honeymoon. That one proved almost completely wrong; the honeymoon was so short as to be non-existent.

When it came to the issues that might trigger discontent, it argued that predicting which issues would cause difficulties for in government was ‘a bit of a mug’s game: too much depends on the circumstances in which legislation is introduced, how it is handled by ministers and so on’. But it argued there ‘are several issues where at least the potential for trouble is clear’, of which ‘the most obvious’ was Europe.  So, again, correct, if fairly obvious.

The other area highlighted was issues ‘such as abortion, Lords reform and homosexuality’.  Whilst not traditionally high politics, these issues can often be defused at least in part by allowing backbenchers to vote as they please, but as the example of fox hunting showed after 1997, such issues can matter to backbenchers more than some traditionally important ones.  And (as the 2009 piece noted), based on their voting thus far, ‘David Cameron, and especially George Osborne are much more socially liberal than much of their parliamentary party, and that split will need to be handled carefully’.

Abortion has already caused some headaches.  The vote on gay marriage – which has been promised before the next election – will be another good test of this thesis.  Whilst the Conservative Party’s relationship with the issue of gay rights is more complicated than it first seems – as the excellent new book Tory Pride and Prejudice shows – the stance of the majority of Conservative MPs over the last few years has been predominantly hostile to moves to liberalize the law, whenever they’ve been given a chance.

In March 2007 for instance, 85 Conservative MPs voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which brought into force provisions for gay adoption. This dwarfed the 29 Conservative votes for, on a free vote, which included David Cameron.

It is true that the majority of those Conservative MPs to vote – again on a free vote – backed the Civil Partnership Bill itself in 2004 at both Second and Third Reading, but on a lowish turnout in both cases, and when it came to the detail of the bill many dug their heels in.  By Third Reading, the division was 43 Conservatives for, 39 against, with the rest absent.  Our suspicion is that there will also be a lot of convenient absences over gay marriage.

Much will depend on how the mass of new MPs behave.  Conventional wisdom is that they are more socially liberal than those they replaced.  Maybe so, but by how much?  One other point made in that 2009 paper is that it is not easy to read directly across from attitudes claimed when outside the Commons to those inside, and we’ve so far had relatively little hard evidence on which to judge claims about the new intake.  There have been just over 40 free votes since the 2010 election, but many have not been on issues that would provide much or any insight into how the new MPs will vote on an issue like gay marriage.  Until they vote, like everyone else, we’re just guessing.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

The Iron Lady Special Edition

The Iron Lady has been a great success with cinema audiences. It has also provoked much comment about what it says about Thatcher and Thatcherism and also provoked speculation about what impact it might have on current political attitudes.

As we don’t like to be left out of a heated debate, some of us at Nottingham have had our say over the last few weeks.

Steven Fielding put the film into context by looking at earlier dramatisations of the ex-Prime Minister.

Emily Robinson reflected on Mrs T’s own reflections on History.

Matthew Bailey suggested that if the film encourages audiences to sympathise with its protagonists that might be no bad thing.

Finally, Steven Fielding asked if it was, after all, a political bio-pic with the politics left out?

How to be an MP

I recently spoke at the book launch for Paul Flynn’s latest book How to be an MP. It was, people think, the first book launch held in the Speaker’s House, and was introduced by the Speaker, John Bercow.  I think I was invited to speak because, a few months ago, when Paul Flynn was getting lots of stick for offending someone or other (and those who know him know that doesn’t help narrow the time frame down very much) I tweeted that people should leave him alone because he’d written what I described as ‘the single best thing ever written about being an MP, full of humour, insights, wisdom’.

That quote was about his earlier book Commons Knowledge, which came out in 1997, but with publisher’s typical chutzpah that quote has found its way onto the jacket of the revised and updated book.  But no complaints: if the new book is half as good as the old book, then it’ll be a cracker.  For those of us who have to teach parliament to undergraduates, an up-to-date Flynn publication is a Godsend.  There are lots of good books out there about Parliament, but many of them are – bluntly – a little dull (I may even have written some of the duller ones), and it’s useful to have something with a bit more punch to get students interested in the topic.

I dug out my old copy of Commons Knowledge to prepare for the launch and almost every page has some underlining or marginalia.  Every page is quotable.

For example:

Those who are slightly mad, eccentric or possessed by demons are magnetically attracted to MPs. The obsessive, the weirdos and devotees of religious cults ventilate their irrationality at great length and frequency to Members (p. 63).

All MPs know exactly what he means.

Or this, from p. 27, his advice for aspirant ministers:

Cultivate the virtues of dullness and safety. Be attuned to the nation’s lowest common denominator of conscience, idealism and cowardice. At all costs avoid any appearance of humour, originality or interest in your speeches.

Whatever, whoever, can he mean?

Or this, p.93:

The expectation is growing of the omnipotence of MPs as a point of help of last resort… A woman rang me from a hotel in Milan to say her husband had died ten minutes ago and asked what should she do next. I was paged in the Chamber by a man who complained that the dustmen had left his emptied bin in the middle of the drive. He had been forced to stop his car and move the bin to the side. I asked why he was ringing me. He said he had already run 10 Downing Street and they told him to contact me.

One point that I made during the speech was that what MPs do does matter.  The public do notice what goes on in the Commons.  In September last year there was wall-to-wall media coverage of the latest report by the Committee On Standards In Public Life showing the extent to which MPs expenses had damaged the standing of Parliament and MPs.  The next day, however, some of my colleagues at Nottingham reported some more up-to-date figures, which showed that the way Parliament had responded to the phone hacking scandal had led to a noticeable increase in trust in MPs.  The latter survey also revealed that hacking had damaged the reputation of journalists, both broadsheet and tabloid, which may explain why, with the honourable exception of Bloomberg, not a single national media outlet covered the second story.

How To Be An MP is dedicated by Paul to David Taylor, MP for North West Leicestershire until his death in late-2009. David was always incredibly helpful and kind to me in my work, – and I say that despite the fact that he caused me lots of problems.  Because when you’re studying the way MPs vote, the last thing you want is people who vote in both division lobbies at the same time. David Taylor wasn’t the first person to do this as a means of recording an abstention, but he raised the art of double voting to an art form.  Back in 1997, the Modernisation Committee said that it would be in favour of an Abstention option in the Commons, but nothing happened, and once he’d realised he could do it de facto, David was soon abstaining all over the place.  I once got into an argument with a Labour MP who told me that the act of voting in both lobbies was known as a Skinner Abstention.  That was rubbish, not least because Dennis Skinner has never abstained on anything in his life, ever.

Previous Speakers are on record as deprecating the act of double voting, but I’m hoping that the current reforming Speaker, in his infinite wisdom, will somehow get it on record that they’re a perfectly acceptable thing to do, and they should hereafter be known as Taylor Abstentions.

And there I was following the advice on p. 50 of Commons Knowledge, where it says:

Flatter the Speaker, subtly.

Philip Cowley

Who or what is ‘progressive’?

On 3 July 2012, I am hosting a one-day conference, exploring the contradictory and shifting meanings of the word ‘progressive’ in modern British history.

Over the past few years, this has become a ubiquitous political word, with all three main parties vying to present themselves as the most progressive. All three have also drawn upon the idea of a Lib-Lab progressive tradition, stretching back to the late nineteenth century. However, the roots of that tradition are by no means as stable as they sometimes seem, and have lent themselves to a variety of interpretations. Moreover, ‘progressive’ has also been applied to a diverse range of causes: from eugenics to gay rights and from theosophy to evolution.

I am looking for papers which explore contemporary and historical uses of the word ‘progressive’. Can anything be described as ‘progressive’? How has progressivism been promoted and resisted? What does this tell us about attitudes towards progress and modernity?

As well as historians and political scientists, I’d also like to hear from politicians, journalists, policy-makers and pollsters. If you would like to contribute please go here or contact me at my Nottingham email address.

Emily Robinson

Happy Birthday, International Drug Control?

One hundred years ago today the International Opium Convention was signed at The Hague.

The original 11 signatory countries agreed to introduce national legislation banning a particular menu of drugs, more for reasons of prejudice and economic vested interests than for their inherent danger. As a result, many drugs remained legal, notably tobacco and alcohol. Since then 182 countries have signed up to the various prohibition conventions that eventually came under the auspice of the UN and the number of substances banned have ‘grown like Topsy’ and continue to do so as the world becomes awash with ‘legal highs’ that are quickly added to the list.

As the author of the soon-to-be published Fixing Drugs: the politics of prohibition I wonder is this birthday a matter for celebration and whether we should look forward to more of the same?

Certainly prohibition has resulted in many happy returns for international criminals who control drug trafficking and for terrorists and insurgents who benefit from the easy pickings of the black market. These profits are paid for by the peasant farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world (like Peru, Bolivia and Afghanistan). They are paid for in the health of drug users (predominantly the young) exposed to the risks of ingesting drugs of unknown strength and purity. They are paid for through the fear and insecurity in the daily lives of those living in areas where drugs are traded and trafficked, in which systemic violence is the norm for enforcing contracts and defending or extending turf. Mexico is unlucky enough to be on the drug war’s front line.  These profits are paid for by tax payers across the globe, forced to foot the bill for the massive anti-drugs-industrial-complex: the exponential growth in the criminal justice bill, the overcrowded prisons, the producers of chemicals and hardware for enforcing crop eradication. It is measured in the opportunity cost of resources poured into a costly failed policy. It is paid for in the criminalization of usually law abiding young people, who are simply doing what young people do – taking risks and experimenting with drugs – legal and illegal.

So, should we sing Happy 100th Birthday International Prohibition or should we say: the party‘s over? As I argue in my forthcoming book, there are alternatives, such as decriminalisation and a serious attempt to deal with supply, that governments across the world now need to consider very seriously indeed.

Sue Pryce

Wrapping up Taiwan 2012

In the end, the result of the combined presidential and legislative elections looks like a comfortable and routine win for Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT. Sitting presidents who successfully steward an economy through a global crisis and reduce pressing security threats, seldom fail to be re-elected. Yet, those who have followed the campaign closely will know that this reduction hides a range of issues and complexities that have been documented on this blog since November 1st.

Whether you interpret it as a mandate, a signal of increasing opposition, or the result of various peculiarities, voters granted Ma another four years, with a legislative majority, to continue implementing his policy programs. The direction of cross-Strait relations has been set, but the pace of detente across the Strait is likely to slow. A strong losing effort from Tsai and the DPP means that Ma and the KMT have less latitude to implement their rapprochement policies at will.

The low hanging fruit in cross-Strait economic interactions has been harvested, and further advances will necessitate much trickier negotiations. The CCP is preoccupied with its own domestic problems and upcoming leadership transition, which is likely to lead to a holding position for the rest of the year. Thereafter, pressure may build on Ma to get serious about talking politics with Beijing. Given the strength of popular support for maintaining the status quo, and a rejuvenated opposition (despite the loss and Tsai’s resignation from the DPP leadership), Ma will face more pressure than in his first term. Assuredly, Taiwan’s political situation will continue to demand our attention.

This is the final posting on the Taiwan 2012 blog. Ballots and Bullets will continue to operate (covering various issues in international politics), and I will post here periodically, on both Taiwan and China. I will also contribute to the China Policy Institute’s blog.

The period covered by the Taiwan2012 blog has been difficult, as my wife was seriously ill after our daughter was born in October. It has therefore been particularly gratifying to have been able to share an interest in Taiwan with so many people. Between November 1st and this final post, the blog has generated 60,000 page views, including well over 4000 on Election Day. I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and support, and to everyone who has commented and read the blog during the last 12 weeks.

Thanks to Steve Fielding, Phil Cowley and Steve Tsang at the University of Nottingham for supporting this initiative. Students Scott Pacey, Shih-Hsin Chen, Chris Agass, and Esther Tseng have been a great help. For initial technical support, thanks to Sajhd Hussain and Cemal Burak Tansel.

Especial thanks to the following good people who have written posts for the blog (in some cases, multiple posts): Paul Katz, Sigrid Winkler, Dafydd Fell, Michael Turton, Jens Damm, Mikael Mattlin, Sheng-chih Wang, Julie Chen, Linda Arrigo, Gunter Schubert, Harry Wu, Chris Wang, Muyi Chiu, Dalton Lin, Tim Rich, Malte Kaeding, Sasa Istenic, Chun-Yi Lee, Julia Famularo, Wang Hong-zen, Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Glaser, John F. Copper, Scott Simon, Cal Clark, Lin Pei-Yin, Ko-hua Yap, Jerome Soldani, Tony Liu, Michal Thim, David Blundell, Ann Heylen, Daniel Lynch, Youann Goudin, Steve Tsang, Esther Tseng, Myron Chiu, Stephane Corcuff, Edward Friedman, Mau-kuei Chang, TY Wang, J Michael Cole, Alex Tan, Stefan Fleischauer, Martin Aldrovandi, Bo Teddards, Gerrit van der Wees, Portnoy Zheng. I think that’s everyone, if I’ve missed you off, please mail me to rectify!

The winner of most-viewed guest post is Paul Katz, for his brilliant pastiche “And by their friends ye shall know them“.

Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, for example these good folks on Twitter: @TimMaddog, @Taiwanderful, @davidonformosa, @chungiwang, @Koxinga8, @KeepTWfree, @TaiwanCorner, @taiwanreporter, @filination, @Brownlaoshi, @blickpunktaiwan, @Portnoy, @TaniaBranigan, @kerim, @ChinaLetter, @paulmozur, @samgeall, @Oscar_Wang, @116East, @ChinaMehmet, @markmackinnon, @fravel, @taiwanreporter, @riceagain, @alicemuwu, @Brianglucroft and many others to whom I also extend my thanks.

My thanks to Michael Turton at the View From Taiwan for publicizing the blog throughout, to TJ Cheng for his similar support in the US, and to Dalton Lin of Taiwan Security Research and the many other blog owners who linked to linked to the blog (if your name should be here, please let me know).

Finally, hope to see you all in 2016, if not sooner. Happy Lunar New Year everybody, 恭喜發財。Jon

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com

Nick Clegg: more warm words on employee ownership?

In a recent speech in the City of London, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called for more firms to follow the example of John Lewis by making their employees shareholders in the company. This belief in employee ownership was, he said, a ‘touchstone’ of modern liberalism that he hoped to see become a central feature of the British economy.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats do indeed have a long history of advocating wider ownership, which has included a commitment to greater employee ownership. Many of the arguments that have been used to justify calls for greater industrial partnership in the past – which have included higher productivity, higher profits, higher wages, fewer strikes, the distribution of economic power, and the creation of more ‘capitalists’ – were reiterated in Clegg’s speech.

But if both coalition parties have consistently advocated employee share ownership, they have been equally consistent in refusing to legislate to make it a reality. While the Liberals have switched between legislative compulsion and voluntary approaches to employee ownership (as Stuart White pointed out in an article in British Politics) even the most enthusiastic of Conservative advocates have regarded industrial partnership as a remedy ‘which the State cannot dole out with a spoon’.

The sole exception to this came during the privatisations of the 1980s, when the Thatcher administrations coupled share sales with offers of free shares to workers in the industries concerned. Privatisation aside, however, neither party has had much success in making wider employee ownership a reality. Attempts to persuade firms of the wisdom of this course have generally fallen on deaf ears.

And these most recent proposals are unlikely to break that pattern. For while Clegg has proposed to give employees a right to ‘request’ shares, there appears to be nothing in his proposals that would compel employers to accede to that request. Seeking to encourage greater employee share ownership is a noble objective – but without legislation, encouragement is unlikely to lead to action.

Matthew Francis

The 8th Legislative Yuan and the blue-green divide

The joint presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan are over and it is time to sum up the results. Without doubt, there will be plenty of opinions why the result turned out the way it did. The presidential election seemed to have overshadowed the legislative ones in terms of visibility, but the legislative elections were equally important. As Dafydd Fell pointed out in November, the legislative elections were neglected, especially in media, but as the Chen Shui-bian era showed, having a presidency “besieged” by a Blue-dominated legislature was no big gain. The discontent with the DPP that resulted in resounding defeat in 2008 can be partly attributed to administrative inefficiency while perceptions of DPP’s presidency as corrupt helped the KMT avoid its share of responsibility. In the light of this experience, it is surprising that the DPP did not put more effort in to trying to secure a legislative majority. A Ma Ying-jeou checked by DPP-dominated legislature would have been a better outcome for the DPP than Tsai Ing-wen as president with a “hostile” KMT legislative majority.

There are few basic facts about the elections: the KMT won and the DPP lost. The KMT performed worse than in 2008 but that was generally expected. The DPP performed far better than in 2008 (and that was generally expected too), but not well enough to secure the presidency and/or legislative majority. The People First Party (PFP) was very near to total failure in its pursuit of some seats in the Legislative Yuan, while scoring only slightly over the 5% threshold on legislators-at-large list (PR district) that secured them 2 seats (in addition to 1 seat in districts). However, what has been largely left unnoticed is the surprisingly good performance of the Taiwan Solidarity Union  (TSU), with support for the nationwide party list reaching almost 10%.

Support for respective political parties on legislators-at-large list serves as an important indicator for the real party preference in Taiwan’s society. The first reason is that single nationwide district that is big enough (34 seats in this case) generally produces fairly proportional results even if there is an entry threshold, which in Taiwan is 5% of votes, provided that not too many votes are “wasted” below the threshold. According to the CEC, this was the case for only slightly more than 6% of votes. The second reason is that single-mandate (FPTP) districts, through which 73 (or 2/3 of total LY seats) legislators are elected, typically produces significant disproportion and so they did this time, although to a lesser extent than in 2008. Additionally, smaller parties, including PFP and TSU, did not compete in single-mandate districts on large scale because of their slim chances of getting elected. The PFP did field a few candidates, but failed, and their only seat from districts is 1 of the 6 reserved for aborigines that are selected under the old SNTV system. The following table offers a breakdown of the legislators-at-large results.

The table shows what the overall results (that take into account the total allocation of mandates) are hiding. In terms of total number of seats, the KMT still enjoys a comfortable majority with 64 legislators (57 out of 113 is needed for a majority), although during last election term several KMT legislators lost their seat for vote-buying and other violations. Should that situation repeat, KMT will have serious reason to worry. However, the main message is that the pan-green camp is back in legislature and that when support in votes is considered it is almost as strong as the KMT. In 2008, DPP was left alone in despair and its junior partner TSU disappeared from the LY benches. Yet, in 2012, the TSU made an impressive 9.6% return.

Further research on the election results will most likely reveal that TSU made it to LY because a significant number of DPP supporters split their votes between the DPP (presidential elections, FPTP districts) and the TSU (PR district). The TSU is the more radical of the two parties in the green camp when it comes to the independence issue and growing concern on the part of the population that Taiwan is getting too close to China could be a contributing factor for casting a ballot for TSU. DPP voters also heeded the call from Tsai Ing-wen after she expressed support for the TSU and hoped that the party would exceed the needed 5%. In any case,voters that supported TSU took a leap of faith since it was far from certain that their votes will not get lost under the threshold. This is very different from strategic voting on the part of PFP supporters who voted for Ma knowing that their presidential candidate had no real chance. It is a question whether the DPP benefited from the TSU’s performance or not. However, as long as the pan-green coalition remains united, it is less relevant whether DPP could have had 3 seats more.

On a blue-green divide axis, it seems that the green camp re-emerged united in the LY whereas cooperation between the KMT and PFP cannot be taken for granted. The KMT does not need the PFP and the PFP will gain little from cooperation with the KMT unless it is ready to concede defeat and let itself absorb (back) into the KMT. An important lesson for the green camp is that both parties can benefit from mutual cooperation. In this regard there is a striking contrast between TSU and PFP that alienated its pan-blue partner by fielding its own candidate for president, hoping it would boost its performance in the LY elections only to end up with the same number of seats as the remarkably less visible TSU.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs.

Experiencing the Taiwanese Campaign Rally

This is the second Taiwan Presidential election I have had the pleasure to observe on site. In 2008 I spend more than two weeks on the road and managed to watch rallies and election related events in Pingtung, Kaohisung, Tainan, Changhua, Taichung, Taoyuan and Taipei. This time my trip was shorter and the election observation already began with a disappointment. The flight from Hong Kong was delayed so I missed all the great action on Super Sunday. Unfortunately Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT did not plan any large scale events such as election rallies in the last week of the campaign until the night before the election. So I decided to follow Tsai Ing-wen from the DPP to Southern and Central Taiwan.

I have to point out that what I present here is purely anecdotal evidence. Yet as many contributors to this blog have already pointed out, the election campaign started very late to get into full swing and there is a significant decrease of printed campaign advertisements and campaign literature. Thus on-site observations of campaign rallies contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of this year’s election campaign.

I attended the central rallies of the DPP in Kaohsiung on Wednesday night and in Taichung on Thursday night. I can only comment on the atmosphere and the speech given by Tsai Ing-wen in Kaohsiung. Ninety percent of speeches were made in Taiyu which I unfortunately do not understand and thus relied on very brief summaries from fellow attendants. In Taichung the situation for Mandarin speakers was slightly better. In Kaohsiung the rally began with representatives of agricultural and fishery bodies endorsing Tsai Ing-wen and proceeded with a first introduction of the Legislative Yuan candidates for Greater Kaohsiung. The Legislative Yuan candidates were introduced at the beginning in Taichung as well each giving short speeches. In Taichung the focus was on representatives from the cultural sector, particularly individuals with important positions in the music scene came out to voice their support for Tsai. Their addresses appeared to be bit long and many in the audience began to talk among themselves while a music professor went on about the positive attributes of Tsai.

The second stage in the rally was as music performance which catered more to the young participants. In Kaoshiung and Taichung the crowds appeared to be very satisfied with the two hip hop acts. In Taichung the satisfaction of the attendants was even greater as the performers incorporated a classic ‘graduation song’ into one of their pieces which the crown happily sung along.

Another round of endorsements brought party heavy weights like Hsieh Chang-ting and Chen Chu in Kaohsiung and Yu Shyi-kunand Su Tseng-chang to the stage. The crowds cheered them enthusiastically: this was particularly the case with Su Tseng-chang who seemed to be very pleased by the response. He played with the audience and swung between Mandarin and Taiyu in his address. An interesting novel element was the string focus on successful women from different sectors such as business and education who gave endorsements to Tsai, highlighting that Taiwanese women have proven their leadership qualities in various key positions. The endorsement section concluded at a high with the appearances of Vice-presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan who forcefully addressed the audience in Taiyu. In Taichung this was preluded by the appearance of Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tseand a large group of intellectuals and university professors supporting Tsai. When Lee entered the stage the crowd went mad.

The third act of the rally was a slower musical number in anticipation of Tsai’s arrival. The musical acts were well-known Taiwanese singers which connected very well with the audience. In Taichung two classic Taiyu songs frequently employed by the DPP such as 伊是咱的寶貝 were performed and the audience went to sing them along for the entire time.

Then finally Tsai arrived, slowly forcing her way through the masses, greeting everyone and shaking hands. People went crazy. Yet in Kaohsiung, once she was near the stage many people began to leave. The exodus from the ground continued when she began to speak. Asking people why they left, most answered that they have seen enough and the event would be over soon anyway. Certainly many people wanted to avoid the usual traffic chaos after mass rallies, but the reaction from the crowd during Tsai’s speech was also significantly less enthusiastic compared to the appearances of Hsieh, Chen or Su. One important reason might be that she was speaking mostly in Mandarin and is less of a campaign performer. In Taichung it appeared that significantly less people left the site.

In her short speech Tsai Ing-wen focused on the importance of democracy for Taiwan and linked it to the Kaohsiung Incident. In Taichung she mentioned local issues such as transportation and  stressed the importance to come out to vote, as in the Greater Taichung mayoral election the DPP missed a victory just by a little bit. She also stressed the importance of democracy with regard to cross-strait relations. She answered the KMT claim with her as President cross-strait relations would suffer and less mainland tourists would come to Taiwan, by stating that without democracy Taiwan would be not unique and mainland tourists would not find Taiwan interesting. The reaction of the crowd in Kaohsiung to this line of argument was less enthusiastic than in Taichung. Tsai proceeded to criticise the government for its unfair economic policies and stated that happiness means first and foremost a stable job, a home to return to and a warm meal. Shortly after her speech the rallies concluded.

In comparison the participants in the south appeared to be a bit less enthusiastic about Tsai as a candidate but strongly committed to the DPP as a party. It is also important to note that it seemed to be a larger proportion of young and middle age people attending the rallies than in 2008. Both observations support the perception that Tsai might be able to attract support beyond the hard core basis of the party who would come out for the DPP no matter what.

Finally a short remark to last night’s KMT rally with the memories still fresh and less organised. Basically the rundown of the rally was similar to those of the just described by the DPP and also the 2008 rallies. Again a mixture of musical numbers and performances by dance groups catering to the youth, the introduction of Legislative candidates and endorsements by key KMT politicians. Among these were in Taipei Eric Chu, Hau Lung-pin and Lien Chan. It was telling that a sick Lien Chan with an almost disappearing voice did give a more forceful performance than Hau. Hau praised Ma for his contributions to Taipei during his mayor-ship but went into tiny details about waste water management and other issues and how much the city has saved thanks to the visionary policies of Ma. The audience had to be constantly cheered up by the two hosts at the rally. Yet over-all the atmosphere was very good. The speeches in the rally were mostly given in Mandarin, but Chu and Legislative Yuan candidates spoke in Taiyu as well, constantly reminding the audience to come out to vote. An interesting element was the comparatively strong presence of the ROC national flag. This was key ingredient of the 2012 KMT campaign and it was highlighted by a hip hop dance performance with the ROC flag as central feature.

The turn-out was very impressive with the entire Kentagalan Boulevardand its adjacent streets packed with people from different age groups. One of the highlights of the rally was a video link in which Ma, who was in Taichung at the time, spoke to supporters in Kaohsiung and Taipei. He re-uttered his classic statement that he is strongly committed to Taiwan’s future and like all Taiwanese drinks Taiwan’s water and eats its rice. He criticised Tsai and her policies as not well thought through and immature. In his speech, as well in his address to the crowd in Taipei later, he frequently switched between Taiyu and Mandarin and  delivered a forceful and convincing performance. In my opinion his performance was better than in some rallies in 2008.

Overall the traditional campaign elements employed in rallies by DPP and KMT were dominant and the parties achieved their goal to mobilise large amounts of people and energised them before voting day.

Malte Kaeding is Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Surrey

What if Gordon Brown had called an election in 2007?

It is now more than four years since Gordon Brown decided not to have an election in late-2007. No election in post-war history has come so close to being called, only then not to happen.  Having allowed speculation about a possible contest to get out of hand, Brown baulked at the final hurdle, once shown the results of Labour’s opinion polling in marginal constituencies.

All modern-day Prime Ministers face constant media speculation about the timing of a so-called ‘snap’ election. But Brown could have killed it off, or at least dampened it down at any time. Not doing so was deeply damaging, both to him and to his party.  Labour was never again able to sell him as a ‘father of the nation’ figure. Instead it faced growing accusations that he was a calculating yet indecisive politician. As one of Brown’s closest aides put it shortly afterwards: ‘We’ve handed strength and competence away. We’ve not just lost it, we’ve given it away’. Few politicians have trashed their own brand in such a comprehensive way. Asked why things had gone so wrong, one Brown aide later answered bluntly: ‘Irresponsibility, inexperience, over-exuberance, immaturity.’ He added: ‘Not every person who is responsible is guilty of all four.’

Brown was then forced also to publicly rule out 2008 as well. A Parliament he had planned would only last three years went on to run the full five. Labour would almost never again lead in an opinion poll, and things would never look as electorally promising for the party as they did in late-2007. Given what eventually happened at the 2010 election even the 20-seat majority predicted by Labour’s private opinion polling now looks like a wasted opportunity. A conventional wisdom has already grown up around the idea that not calling the election in 2007 was one of Gordon Brown’s biggest mistakes.

That, at least, is the scenario examined in a chapter I contributed to a recent volume of political hypotheticals, edited by Duncan Brack and Iain Dale.  My conclusion, though, is less certain than the conventional wisdom.  No Labour victory, even with a small majority, can be assumed in 2007. For one thing, while Labour’s own internal polling was pointing to a small majority, the Conservative private polling was pointing to a hung parliament. Indeed, one private Conservative poll of 120 target seats, distributed only to a very small group at the highest levels of the leadership just before the election was abandoned, predicted the Conservatives would gain almost 90 seats (around 70 from Labour, 20 from the Liberal Democrats). This was not sufficient for a Conservative victory but it would have made them the largest single party, and produced a result very similar to that which would eventually result in Labour losing office in 2010. If that poll was accurate, then Brown’s decision not to call the election may not be as misguided as many now suppose.

The only saving grace for Brown might have been that in any coalition negotiations he would have been dealing with his long-standing friend Ming Campbell who then led the Liberal Democrats, and would have been more amenable to any deal with Labour than Nick Clegg was to turn out to be in 2010; but it would still have been very difficult for a Prime Minister who had thrown away a majority of more than 60 on an entirely needless election to remain in power, whoever he was negotiating with.

Even if we assume that the Conservatives’ polling was wrong, and that Labour’s polls were the more accurate, given the volatility in the electorate, who knew what change a three-week campaign could produce? A YouGov poll, conducted on 5–6 October for The Sunday Times showed a Tory lead of 3 per cent; the same polling organisation had a week earlier revealed an 11 per cent lead at the end of the Labour conference. A swing of 7 per cent in a week suggested an extremely uncertain electorate, and one which could have swung any way in an election campaign. The campaign of 2007 would have been very different from that of 2010 – no TV debates, for one thing – but the Gordon Brown of 2010 was hardly an effective election campaigner; he would have been better in 2007, but may still have struggled. The truth is that no one knows what would have happened in an election that never took place.

A more interesting hypothetical is to ask what would have happened if Gordon Brown had stuck with his original plan for a poll in 2008.  As soon as stories about an early election began to circulate in the media, he could have realised the potential damage were they to get out of control, and put a stop to them; he would have needed to say nothing publicly, merely tell his advisers to let it be known that there would be no election in 2007. With none of the hype surrounding a forthcoming election, and behind in the polls, David Cameron may have had a difficult 2007 Conservative conference. Labour could then have used the planned combined Comprehensive Spending Review and Pre-Budget Report to build on their lead in the polls. Perhaps Brown’s poll lead would have remained high entering 2008, providing the launch pad for a Labour victory in early 2008. An election in an alternative 2008, in which Brown did not make such a hash of 2007, might well have proved better for the party than a rushed election in 2007.

Perhaps the key error, therefore, was not whether to have held the election or not, but to have allowed expectations to build up in such a way that not holding it was to prove so damaging.

Philip Cowley