Saturday, November 2, 2019

UK speaker, general election, and consequences for Jagmeet Singh.

Britain is going to the polls on December 12th. Before they do, however, they will elect a new speaker.

This seems odd, and from a Canadian context, potentially outrageous. In Canada, the Speaker runs as a candidate for his or her party, and often times, fails to win re-election. There have been instances of a Speaker simply not running in an election; 1992, 1983, 1959, 1951, etc; but a british speaker has never lost re-election to their own seat. It is actually not unheard of for a speaker to have their seat contested, and while this has not happened in recent decades, it did happen from time to time prior to the 1990s, especially with Labour candidates standing against Conservative speakers. As such, the idea of electing a speaker just prior to a general election is not as absurd as it may sound to Canadian ears.

There are 8 candidates running to become speaker, 5 from the Labour party. It is quite likely that only one of these candidates will make it to any "final 2" round of balloting. It is likely that some, if not many, Tory MPs will be willing to vote for a Labour candidate whom they consider fair, but enough will vote on partisan lines to make it difficult if not impossible for a "final 2" round of balloting to have two Labour MPs. The strongest tory candidate is probably Eleanor Laing, one of the secondary deputy speakers.

Facing her are two popular Labour MPs. Harriet Harman is running on a reformist platform. Given the recent row about the treatment of women in politics, either could be a welcome choice to Parliament. However, both face a major road block in Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Hoyle is the current Deputy Speaker, and is generally seen as fair by many MPs. He has been in the deputy speaker's chair for nearly a decade, contrasted with Harman who served as Leader of the Opposition for part of 2015. As such, Tories willing to vote for a Labour MP as Speaker are much more likely to see Hoyle as a friendly face than Harman.

It is thus my guess and assumption that Hoyle will win before we ever get to the "final 2" stage, perhaps with two or three other candidates still on the ballot by the time he reaches his Majority, if it even comes to that. Using the 2009 speaker election as a model, I'd venture to guess that Hoyle takes around 220 votes on the first round, compared to 120 for Harman and Laing each, with Bryant or Leigh down at about 40 votes, leading the stragglers. If this does come to pass, its likely that not only would the 5 lower-placing candidates withdraw, but both Harman and Laing may also decide the can not win, and allow Hoyle to win without the need for a final ballot.

This will then bring us to Tuesday, when the house dissolves and we had to a general election.

Where Mr. Singh comes into play will be determined as the election plays out.

We saw in the previous election that elections matter. Labour entered the campaign on roughly 25% of the vote, largely based on Mr. Corbyn's perceived unpopularity. Corbyn, however, would show himself to be a strong campaigner, and would end the election on 40% of the vote.

The conclusion was that "Jeremy Corbyn is good at campaigns." This is not an unreasonable conclusion as many in the Labour party had claimed just such a thing would play out prior to the election.

Some in the NDP said the same about Jagmeet Singh. And, when the election started, the NDP was sitting on roughly 12%, yet managed to rise to above 20% in some polls, before settling back at 16% on E-day. The conclusion was that "Jagmeet Singh is good at campaigns."

There is a problem with these assumptions. Corbyn and Singh were both unknown and unpopular, at least, compared to other leaders. Both introduced themselves to the voters, and voters found both to not be as bad as they had expected. The problem is that it is quite possible that Corbyn is not a good campaigner, only that he simply dispelled the negative mythos built up around him. If that is true, then Corbyn will fail to increase Labour's vote total in this election.

Why that poses a danger to Mr. Singh is that politically interested Canadians, including those in the NDP, will be watching the UK election. Failure of Corbyn to again increase Labour's flagging poll numbers (the party currently sits at around 23.5%) would indicate that his first raise (from 25% to 40%) was not based on campaign quality, but on the dispelling of his negative mythos. That means that should Jagmeet Singh's popularity begin to slag in polls, a recover could not simply be automatically expected when the writ next drops. It would mean that polls showing Canadians do not like him, mean they do not like him, instead of meaning they'll like him when we get back to another election. It would mean that some in the NDP would start to get ancy about finding a new leader, one that might appeal better in Quebec. It would mean that Mr. Singh's leadership could be in danger.

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