Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Why are Remainers so resigned to Brexit?

Photo credit: LBC

It's been nearly 16 months since the EU referendum, and I can safely say the attitude of (many) Remainers has shocked and surprised me. Fair enough, Tory Remainers in the Cabinet are between a rock and a hard place; they can't 'stick to their principles' and declare that we'd be better off in the EU (as they'd said pre-June 2016) without drawing the ire of the Leave masses. Damian Green, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, will surely be slapped down for telling Emily Maitlis on Newsnight that it "would have been (better)" to stay in the EU. But what about MPs in other parties, or more to the point, everyday Remainers?

I'm basing a lot of my thoughts on introspection, although a YouGov poll back in June found 26% of people who backed Remain thought the government had a duty to enact Brexit. It continues to puzzle me that so few of my friends (in the millennial age category) who voted Remain last year seem bothered about Remaining now. On June 23rd 2016, I remember a lot of weeping and wailing amongst young people in particular, with one of my friends admitting they cried when hearing the result. Many of them (like me) posted long rants about how terrible a decision it was to Leave the European Union. So why are they so indifferent now?

I've asked this to a few people, and predominantly the response is "I don't like that we're leaving, but we just need to get on with it now". This line of thought has also made Question Time rather turgid; every week there seems to be a sheepish panelist who says "I voted Remain, but..." This is where Ian Dunt's analogy is very apt. 

As Ken Clarke said in his blistering speech when voting against Article 50, MPs (and the public) aren't duty bound to support whichever party wins a General Election, so why on a binary choice like the one put to us last year should it be any different? Clarke noted "Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way". It's not a paradox to accept the result AND propose an alternative/make the case for staying in.

In 2015, when I stood for Parliament, I of course accepted the national result and the result in the Derbyshire Dales seat. Similarly, I didn't then pledge allegiance to something I didn't believe in (Patrick McLoughlin as MP, or the Conservatives as the majority government). It's such a basic point to make, but in one of the huge political decisions of our lifetime, it seems to get lost in translation.

Robert Peston's tweet about 'Remainers' discomfort', as I've mentioned, doesn't surprise me at a government level. Theresa May, whose position is already shaky, would face an immediate coup if she admitted that Brexit still isn't her preferred choice. But why the resignation from others? If over 60% have expressed their skeptism at the government's handling of Brexit, why are they so happy to be passive about it? The retort to that might be that there is a growing clamour for an alternative, namely Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. However, Corbyn and his front bench team haven't pledged any policy that comes close to some sort of EU re-entry/second referendum/referendum on the final deal. Sadiq Khan came closest to suggesting a Remain policy, but Labour's Brexit position, despite being altered to back a longer transitional period, is still fuzzy. Remember these quotes from recent months?

John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor: "The damage that would be done to our economy by pulling out of the Single Market at this time could be substantial"

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Business Secretary: "We wouldn't want to leave membership of the Single Market"

Jeremy Corbyn: "Our aim is to have tariff-free trade access to Europe - I think we should put it in those terms rather than anything else at this stage"

John McDonnell, again: "I think people will interpret membership of the Single Market as not respecting that referendum"

Barry Gardiner, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade: (Reporter question) You want to end up with the same benefits, but you're definitely leaving?

"No, what we've said is it's an open question"

Emily Thornberry, Shadow First Secretary of State: "The Labour position is this - we leave the European Union, as leaving the European Union it means we need to leave the Single Market"

Rebecca Long-Bailey, again: "We want to retain the benefits that we currently have as part of the customs union and the Single Market. Now whether that's inside or outside - that's a moot point."

Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party: "We think that being part of the customs union and the Single Market is important in those transitional times...and it might be a permanent outcome of the negotiations". 

My own view is that many Corbyn supporters are so determined not to admit fault in their leader, that they're prepared to swallow whatever Labour's Brexit position may be. Fair enough some Labour voters of older generations may not be as ideologically wed to the idea of EU membership, but were the legions of young voters who voted Labour in 2017 really happy when Corbyn said 'wholesale' EU migration had destroyed conditions for British workers? 

I'm not intending to re-run the 2016 referendum. I support the Lib Dem position on having a referendum on the final deal, with the option to reject the deal and stay in the EU (so not a second 'In or Out' referendum). I'm just puzzled as to why many people seem to think one vote on one day in June 2016 is eternal and should guide all policy. Had the vote been 52-48 to Remain, I'd have been similarly confused had the likes of Nigel Farage, Liam Fox and John Redwood said "I'm not happy we voted Remain, but we should just get on with it". I also highly doubt that Leave voters across the country would've glumly accepted the verdict (nor should they have done, as we live in a democracy).

I'd just quite like to know the answer to Eddie Mair's question (which flummoxed Amber Rudd): when does the remit of the EU referendum run out?


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Election 2017 analysis - part 2

A post-election analysis from Charles Britten

Thanks once again to Ben for allowing me access to his blog. This piece can be considered a follow-up to the article I wrote ahead of the election. Hang that landslide my pre-election blog began with a mention that the situation was comparable with 1923: After several years in coalition with the Liberals, the Conservatives had just come into power on their own as a majority government for the first time in many years. But then the prime minister was replaced and his successor sought a new mandate to help push through an agenda that would alter Britain's economic relationship with the rest of the world. The result? A hung parliament. At the time, I suggested the only feature of that election likely to repeat itself this time round was Labour' seat tally, which in 1923 had been 191. After all, a landslide looked on the cards and, even with all the usual caveats, this year's May local elections did nothing to change the outlook. Therefore, the eventual result may leave this commentator looking as embarrassed as the rest, but I must protest: It is a fact that I wrote a detailed blog for this site before the 2015 election explaining how the electoral volatility that has become such a feature of British politics in recent decades has made frequent hung parliaments more likely, much in the manner of the 1885-1929 period when six out of 13 UK elections brought such an outcome.

I therefore plead glorious prescience. Maybe, just maybe, I know what I'm talking about. Drilling down into the 1885-1929 period, one difference with the present should be noted. That era brought hung parliaments, but interspersed these with a series of large majorities; the smallest any government had in that time was 72. If the current period is to be similar, the small Tory majority of 2015 may turn out to be a particularly anomalous result. In short, this year's election was called because it appeared a landslide was on the cards. It still could have been a substantial Tory win but for some extraordinary turns of events, and it may be that the next few elections will follow this pattern of either someone winning big, or nobody winning. The campaign factor If Labour's 1983 manifesto was dubbed "the longest suicide note in history" by Gerald Kaufman, so the words of the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley Nigel Evans that "we shot ourselves in the head" will resonate. The fiasco over social care was simply the worst feature among many of a manifesto that has been swiftly dismantled. Undoubtedly the Conservatives failed to win because of a poor manifesto and a dismal campaign. Labour, by contrast, were seen as having performed very well, Diane Abbott aside. A strong pitch to the youth vote and a highly active social media campaign - albeit one that may have irritated far more people than it converted - helped create a positive perception. If nothing else, it looked energetic, organised and passionate, helping to conceal the reality of a Labour Party full of sitting MPs who loathed Corbyn and hoped to survive the election to see him off afterwards. The fact that the Conservatives did not draw attention to this fact at every opportunity was a key reason why they missed this electoral open goal. 

The question is, what difference did any of this make? In the end, despite all their egregious errors, the Conservatives still managed to get 43.5 per cent of the vote in Great Britain (42.4 when Northern Ireland is included). On either count this was still their best figure since 1983. If their support had dropped a bit from the high 40s, this alone could not account for Labour's rise from poll ratings in the mid-20s to 41 per cent of the GB vote (40 per cent across the UK as a whole). It may make a lot more sense to say that, for all that Theresa May's falling ratings did not massively impact Tory support, they may have had the impact of ensuring that Corbyn did not look half so bad by comparison as he once did. This may be one factor, but not the only one, that bolstered the Labour vote. Conversely, it might be argued that, given how bad the Tory campaign was, Labour missed a golden chance because of its leader and policy platform. So far, only Nottingham East MP Clive Lewis has put his head above the parapet to say so. But that is an issue Labour will need to confront - if it ever can snap out of the delusion evident in its spurious claim to be the "real winner" of the election. 

Did the polls get it all wrong? Before considering the details of the results, it is worth examining the opinion polls, now as much a source of debate as any of the issues. One plausible reading of the situation is that the polls were wrong all along and the Conservatives were never really 20 points ahead, meaning the race was always going to be tighter than they thought. This theory could be supported by noting the numerous polls showing a consistently substantial Tory lead. Even if this had shrunk markedly during the campaign, several established pollsters like Ipsos Mori and NOP had the Conservatives well ahead on the morning of June 8th. In the past the polls had either been accurate or had overestimated Labour support. This was true in 2015 and even more so in 1992, the two most recent Conservative majorities, when the polls had been firmly forecasting a hung parliament. This time, they exaggerated Tory support, probably because, having been wrong in the opposite direction in the past, they overcompensated in trying to correct against a built-in Labour bias. To say they got it wrong again is to understate the point: to exaggerate a Conservative lead was an unprecedented occurrence. However, not all pollsters got it wrong. Some, like relative newcomer Survation and YouGov, were very accurate. Indeed, YouGov's startling prediction of a hung parliament two weeks out turned out to be almost spot on. Their sophisticated, detailed methodology and large sample size may be the model for all pollsters to follow in the future. Having put all the polling data together, the Electoral calculus site had given a final forecast of a Conservative majority of 66. However, it also noted that the margin of error gave a range that, at one extreme, would give the Conservatives only 314 seats, Labour as many as 269 and the SNP as few as 34, all very close to the actual figures. They were also right for the other parties bar the Liberal Democrats, who they tipped to win eight at the most (even here, however, they saw Nick Clegg's defeat coming). While this figure was set at one end of a scale, the exit poll was very close to being right, but with a caveat: it tipped the Conservatives to make no gains from Labour in England, but several in Wales, as well as holding seats such as Gower and Cardiff North. In the end, they made net losses in Wales, yet made gains in England, with these errors largely cancelling each other out. 

The overall accuracy of the exit poll belied the fact that there were some extraordinarily close results. In 2015 the lowest majority was 27. This time it was two (Fife North East), and four other seats were won by less than 25 votes. While only 12 seats were won and lost by less than one per cent in 2015, this time the total was 30. Of these, no less than eight were held by the SNP. Notably, the Conservatives would only have needed to win those seats they were up to half a percent shy of victory in to gain a majority. Factual though this may be, however, it should not be emphasised too much. After all, Theresa May did not call the election in the hope of getting a tiny majority by being lucky in the most marginal seats. Nonetheless, a one per cent swing would have given the prime minister an increased majority.

The youth factor

A key factor in the Labour vote surge was, it was claimed, a large jump in turnout among voters aged 18-24, most of whom supported Labour. Undoubtedly, there is some evidence of an effect, but how much? Firstly, an early tweet claiming that the youngest demographic in the electorate had seen a 72 per cent turnout was inaccurate. Later polling showed it was in the mid-fifties. Nonetheless, that is at least ten per cent above the estimated figure for 2015. Moreover, the specific promise most likely to appeal to young students and graduates - the abolition of tuition fees - does appear to have resonated, with Labour seeing some of their most startling swings in areas with high student populations, such as Canterbury, Chester (which had been the number one Tory target seat) and Birmingham Edgbaston, which has gone from being the middle-class marginal the Conservatives always held until 1997 and could ever quite win back, to a genuinely safe Labour seat. Against that, the 'youth effect' has not been seen everywhere. Many of the seats with higher than average numbers of young voters showed little sign of an unusually large swing to Labour. Moreover, the overall impact on turnout was very limited, as this rose from 66 per cent to 68 per cent, itself a continuation of the post-2001 trend for turnout to rise slightly with each passing election and still low by historical standards. 

The higher youth vote was also much too small to account for all of Labour's increase in vote share. What is evident is that there is now a clear correlation between age and voting behaviour. It always was true that younger people tended to lean more to the left and older people to the right, but the general tendency has become much more pronounced. It remains to be seen how the Conservatives respond in policy terms to the perceived need to make a more compelling offer to younger voters, but this will undoubtedly play a part in shaping its future policy-making. The Brexit double whammy Labour's lead among younger people and graduates contrasted with that of the Conservatives among the older and less-skilled, reflecting the split that had characterised the electorate in the EU referendum. Overall, the Conservatives did better in 'leave' areas of England, while Labour thrived in 'remain' areas. In terms of electoral geography, this helps explain the poor correlation between the seats gained and lost by the main two parties and their target lists. Rather than voting along the lines they had in 2015, many voters switched according to their referendum choices. The Conservatives had a very low correlation indeed. Of the 19 seats they gained, plus their by-election win in Copeland, just eight were in their top 50 targets, and only one of them was among the dozen gains from the SNP. For Labour, the correlation was strong in the most marginal seats - they took 14 of their top 20 targets - but lower down the list things became rather more peculiar. Thus it was that while they could not take Morley and Outwood (6th on the list with a majority of 0.9 per cent), they were able to take Portsmouth South (87th), Battersea (88th) and Canterbury (104th) from the Conservatives. While Labour were able to defend several marginals in London (eight seats they won in 2015 were in the top 25 Tory targets), they were also able to make four gains in the capital. Like London, Labour also performed very well and made gains in other strong remainer cities like Bristol and Brighton. 

Early polling evidence that the Liberal Democrats would not gain much from the 'remain' vote was only partially true, but what is clear is that many remainers flocked to Labour, despite the fact that the party's basic policy of leaving the single market and customs union, and ending free movement, was basically indistinguishable from the Conservative platform. Indeed, perhaps some who voted Labour hoping for a different kind of Brexit are now wondering what they did after Corbyn sacked three frontbenchers for supporting Chukka Umunna's Queen's Speech amendment calling for Britain to stay in the single market. For those whose biggest concern was avoiding a hard Brexit, a vote for the Liberal Democrats or even the Greens would have been infinitely more appropriate than one of either of the two main parties. The fact pollsters were wrong in predicting remainers would stick with their 'normal' party was a blow to the Conservatives. Moreover, it was only slightly mitigated by their relative success in 'leave' areas of England. The big hope had been that they would hoover up most of the UKIP vote, including many former Labour voters, thus winning scores of seats in traditional Labour heartlands. In the event, the broad picture across the country was that Labour actually picked up more of the vote falling away from UKIP, unless a more even split was compensated for by switchers from elsewhere, plus extra votes from young people. However, what was more notable than the general trend was the capricious way in which the UKIP vote unravelled in specific areas. For example, Walsall North fell to the Conservatives because they picked up most of the UKIP vote. An identical shift would also have secured Walsall South. Instead, Labour harvested most of the old UKIP vote and made a marginal seat into a safe one. Similarly, in the East Midlands those unexpected Tory gains in former Labour bastions like Mansfield and Derbyshire North East did not show the whole picture. In most Derbyshire seats the old UKIP vote went to the Conservatives, but not in High Peak, which Labour gained. And in Wales, which voted for Brexit, Labour got back most of the votes they had lost to UKIP in 2015, making gains from the Tories as a result. Thus the Conservatives suffered a Brexit double-whammy. In remain areas they suffered, while leave areas turned out out to be much less consistently favourable than hoped. This shows that gambling on winning an election based on a major shift in voting allegiances from left-right to national-international was a risky step into the unknown for Mrs May. In the event, the fact that 'leave' voters in general and former UKIP voters in particular did not flock to her cause in the numbers anticipated meant she would never get the huge landslide she hoped for, although it took the other failings in the campaign to deny her a majority at all. 

The Liberal Democrat recovery - of sorts

If the remain vote did not flock to the Liberal Democrats, it did at least help produce a 50 per cent increase in seats, despite an overall loss of vote share. The two gains in London brought Vince Cable and Ed Davey back into the fold, while Bath may be the start of a comeback in the party's former stronghold in the south-west. Tactical voting against the Conservatives in remainer areas clearly played a part in this, as it did in Scotland as unionist voters sought the best-placed party to unseat sitting SNP members. However, the successes of the party south of the Severn-Wash line and north of the Tweed contrasted with a very poor performance in Wales, the Midlands and the north. Tim Farron barely held onto his seat, Nick Clegg was one of two members unseated by Labour in Yorkshire, Southport went to the Conservatives and Ceredigion to Plaid Cymru, whose final total of four seats - notwithstanding the failure to snatch ultra-marginal Ynys Mon from Labour - was much better than some pre-election polls had forecast. The election does leave the Liberal Democrats with a few more target seats to go at, particularly traditional areas like rural Scotland and south-west England, but little prospect yet of returning to the levels of strength seen between 1997 and 2010. However, if Brexit proved as much an impediment as a benefit in leave-voting areas like Cornwall this time, the focus on other issues after Britain leaves the EU may work in the Liberal Democrats' favour in future.

The Scottish situation

If Brexit had set the agenda elsewhere, in Scotland it was Nicola Sturgeon's bid to use the EU vote to push for a new independence referendum that focused Scottish minds. Apart from the fact that many SNP members, voters and even some MSPs were pro-Brexit, the EU vote made almost no difference to sentiment about the union. Most Scots might prefer EU membership, but leaving the UK to chase it is another matter. Thus it was in Scotland that the Conservatives, pitching themselves as the most unambiguously pro-union party, were able to make most progress and recorded their best result since 1983. However, here as elsewhere Labour did better than expected, with some large swings to pick up several seats and come close in others. Indeed, most of the several very marginal seats the SNP hold are now particularly vulnerable to Labour attack, notwithstanding the anticipated boundary changes before the next election. Like the Liberal Democrats in England, the SNP has historically been under-represented in seat by spreading their vote too thinly. By hitting almost 50 per cent last time they solved the problem at a stroke, but there is a tipping point where their vote is in the 30s and the Labour and Tory vote not much less, leaving a string of very marginal seats, including several three-way fights. The SNP could easily lose many more next time. 'Peak Nat' has indeed passed and whatever other problems Theresa May now has, the prospect of losing Scotland off the back of Brexit is not among them. 

The next election

If you had thought Mr Corbyn had gone far enough with claiming victory in an election he still lost, he showed up at Glastonbury to prove everyone wrong. Having turned up at an event run by a millionaire to tell people who could afford to pay hundreds of pounds to see millionaires performing how capitalism had failed them, he then declared he would be prime minister within six months. Time for a reality check: The arrangement with the DUP, controversial though it may be for various reasons, will keep the current government in place for two years. The duration of the deal is no coincidence; it means they can get on with the Brexit process and then, after March 2019, try to find a new prime minister who is better at campaigning than being bloody difficult, before going to the country again. That next election could be every bit as unpredictable as the last two, and the big danger for the Conservatives is that Brexit will go badly, the economy will struggle in the aftermath and they will get punished at the polls. Against that, it is hard to see them campaigning as badly again next time. What could make the next election especially hard to call is the possibility of a Brexit unwind. This would involve voters who made their 2017 choice based on 'leave' or 'remain' sentiment focusing on different priorities. Scotland may provide a template for this, with the 2015 election shaped by the previous year's referendum. The passing of 'Peak Nat' was evident this time, although the result was still the SNP's second best ever. Back in England, whatever the overall result, nobody should be surprised if the startling results of Mansfield and Canterbury are both reversed at the next time of asking. It might seem paradoxical that at a time when the two largest parties have secured their highest joint share of the vote since 1970 and so much talk is of a return to 'two tribes', we actually have a situation where regular hung parliaments are now a reality. After all, Labour has failed to reach 300 seats on three successive occasions, while the Tories have won one majority in the last six elections. Despite their low vote shares, the other parties still collectively won 66 seats, enough to keep the electoral arithmetic precarious. This is why large majorities are the most likely alternative to hung parliaments; to win in such circumstances generally requires one of the two main parties to heavily outperform the other. 

Two years ago I wrote about how the process of partisan dealignment - the unravelling of the old class-based ties between voter and party - had prompted more people to vote for parties other than Labour and Conservative. However, the fluidity of allegiance has also led to more switching between the two, and for varying reasons. Nowadays there is little class-based difference between the two parties; the greater contrasts are found in age and, to a lesser extent, other demographics closely linked to which side of the Brexit debate people tend to fall on. If these played a big part this time - allied to Labour's pitch towards young, metropolitan graduates who were strongly pro-remain - there is no reason to suppose that this will still apply in a post-Brexit world. But the question of what and who will provide the compelling answers to the various problems of today remains to be seen. That alone does not mean more hung parliaments are bound to happen, but such outcomes are more likely when neither party has an obvious winning formula to hand. Some, of course, will deny that 'Peak Corbyn' has arrived and declare that it is inevitable he will win next time. Others might consider how the same was said about Scottish independence, now a fast-receding prospect as the SNP wanes. Historical inevitability may appeal to keen adherents of Marxism with their insufferable sense of entitlement, but nothing is inevitable about the British political scene now. To make assumptions about what is certain and what is not smacks of hubris and arrogance. Exactly this was the undoing of Theresa May. Those treating Labour's defeat as a stepping stone to future victory would do well to heed the lesson, but they almost certainly won't. In these uncertain times, perhaps predicting nobody will win is simply the safest bet.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The 2017 general election: an analysis


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

We have another fascinating and in-depth guest post from Charles Britten

Picture the scene: After many years out of power, the Conservatives govern in coalition with the Liberals at a time of great national crisis. Then, finally, they win an outright majority for the first time in over 20 years. However, the following year the prime minister is on his way out and his successor, seeking a mandate for a major change that will significantly alter Britain's international trading situation, soon calls a snap election. The result is a hung parliament and a minority Labour government.


That was the situation in 1923, an extraordinary election when the Conservatives won 258 seats, Labour 191 and the Liberals 158, the high-point of three-party politics in Britain. Suffice to say, the only aspect of that result that might repeat itself this time is the Labour seats total - and that may be their best-case scenario.


The by-election that never was


At this point, I must follow customary procedure and thank Ben for letting me run loose with another guest blog. As ever, the disclaimer is that the views expressed are not necessarily from the centre-left, and in this case will form an overview of what may indeed be an historic election, a time when Britain's history as a nation is undoubtedly taking a different turn, whatever one's individual view of whether this is for good or ill.


The blog I originally planned was to be about the Manchester Gorton by-election, the first time this writer had been a constituent in such an event. Theresa May, however, had other ideas.


There are, of course, obvious reasons for the snap election, about 20 of them in fact, each a percentage point of lead in the opinion polls. True, there is a case for giving the prime minister a personal mandate: A large majority might indeed provide more strength and leeway in the Brexit negotiations. That will not really be because of the opposition from the other parties she cited; after all, opposing things is their job. Rather, it will help buttress her against the otherwise vulnerable situation of being undermined by backbench eurosceptics opposed to the inevitable compromises that any negotiation will bring. Some believe a bigger majority will lead to a harder Brexit. This is possible, but then again, the likes of Bill Cash will have less chance to twist her arm.


For all that, let's cut to the chase; this election would not have been called without that massive poll lead. They didn't have opinion polls in 1923, but suffice to say, had they done so Stanley Baldwin might have thought twice about going to the country. This time, a landslide of historic proportions awaits.


Poll dancing


Of course, the statement above is controversial; what, you might ask, about the polls? After all, they got things wrong last time, when it seemed a hung parliament was all but certain.
It bears repeating, however, that when the polls are wrong, it is only in one direction: they overestimate Labour support and underestimate that of the Tories. It is a point that seems lost on Corbyn supporters trying to discredit their dire figures. Quite simply, the polls would have to be far more wrong at this stage than they ever have been for the result to be remotely favourable to Labour.


What a Conservative landslide would look like


The largest Tory majority since the second world war was 146, which Mrs Thatcher secured in 1983 with 397 seats. That was the largest tally the party had managed since 1931, a year when everyone ganged up on Labour, including Ramsay MacDonald, the man who had led both the party's governments up to that time. That last time the Conservatives won more than 400 seats in a 'normal' election was in 1924, which may have far more in common with this election than 1923.


To talk about a landslide, however, is to suggest the Conservatives will win abundantly in areas where they have not done for many years.


In terms of electoral geography, three major impediments to Conservative victory were present even up to 2010; There was an over-reliance on winning in the suburbs and the shires when many of these areas returned Liberal Democrat MPs on a much larger scale than the old Liberals and Liberal-SDP Alliance ever did. The party had also lost ground in the large cities outside London, and in Scotland. Last time, the first of these three concerns evaporated due to the Liberal Democrat collapse, particularly in the south-west. But the others remain.


The historic Tory decline in Scotland has, of course, been well documented. However, the few polls produced so far have suggested the party is starting to make a serious comeback. While the SNP remain ahead, the unionist vote appears to be shifting to the Conservatives. While others talk about 'progressive alliances' to defeat a hard Brexit in England, up in Scotland the national question is paramount, and the tactical voting is likely to be against the SNP. This could also benefit the Liberal Democrats in several seats, such as Dunbartonshire East and Edinburgh West. Talk of a dozen Conservative seats has been greeted with caution, but it is far from risible.


City slickers


If having just one seat in Scotland has been headline news, the severe Tory weakness in big cities outside London in recent elections has somewhat slipped under the radar. The party only holds a handful of seats in other big cities - I define these as where the population exceeds 400,000 - and almost all of them are in satellite towns moved into these cities by boundary expansions in the 1974 reorganisation of local government. It is no coincidence that these constituencies do not even bear the names of these cities, as they maintain distinct identities. This includes appendages like Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham, Pudsey in Leeds and Shipley in Bradford. If these seats are discounted, the regional big city tally of Tory seats stands at just one: Bristol North West. Not a single seat with the prefix Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Bradford is Conservative-held. Looking back half a century, even in the Labour landslide of 1966 there were Tory seats in all these cities.


The biggest change came in the 1990s. Birmingham, Sheffield, and Leeds all had Conservative seats as late as 1992, when three of the five Edinburgh constituencies were also held by the party. In 1997 these were all lost, and new Labour's capture of the middle-class vote in big cities has been an enduring feature of the electoral landscape.


Nowhere has epitomised this shift more than Birmingham Edgbaston, a middle-class suburban seat and once a Tory bastion. Labour won it for the first time in 1997 and Gisela Stewart has held it for them ever since. Now she is stepping down, this is a marginal the Conservatives are almost certain to win, along with neighbouring Northfield. Moreover, if Birmingham displays the same sort of swings as the country at large, even Erdington may be captured as well. A swing of that magnitude may also win Leeds North East (another historically Tory seat) and Bradford South.


Similarly, more Bristol seats, particularly Bristol East and possibly Bristol West in a four-way marginal, are serious prospects, while the startling polls in Scotland could see the Tories back in Edinburgh. Indeed, it may be one of the most noteworthy results of the whole election if they come from a distant third to win Edinburgh South, taking a top SNP target seat and wiping Labour off the Scottish electoral map at the same time.


In smaller cities, the pattern is more favourable to the Conservatives. They already hold seats in places like Norwich, York, Cardiff, Derby, Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth and Brighton, to which they can add this time round. In particular, look out for possible gains in Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Aberdeen. A consequence of such successes would be that the Conservatives could argue more convincingly that they are not just a party of the English shires.


However, two notes of caution; while replicating the swing in Copeland nationally would be enough to produce a thumping Tory majority, the Stoke central by-election the same night saw Labour's vote hold up far better, with only slight improvements in the Tory and UKIP votes. If this applies in both medium and large cities, the Conservative urban gains will be far fewer in number than the national polls suggest. Much will depend on whether the Stoke by-election reflected the presence of UKIP leader Mark Nuttall as its' candidate, for the city is one of those places where UKIP polled well last time, and if a large proportion of these votes can be swung to the Tories, Labour's goose will be cooked.


A second factor may be the fact that the strongest appeal of Corbyn's Labour is among the young, middle class urban base, the types who voted remain - paradoxically, given the pro-leave history of Labour's left - rather than the traditional Labour voters who make up the bulk of its support in places like Stoke. This means in those big city areas where they captured middle-class votes in the 1990s, the Labour vote may hold up significantly better than elsewhere. Expect this effect to be most evident in London.


A dragon turns blue?


If the above analysis appears to omit Wales, it is because this warrants its own study. Thanks to the SNP surge in 2015 the shifting Welsh scene was ignored. The Tories were expected to lose seats. Instead, they were up to 11, their best tally since 1983 and a haul that included the unprecedented capture of Gower. Barely less notable was the increased majority in Cardiff North, where Labour were expected to easily overturn a majority of 194.


Now, however, things could get even better for the Conservatives and worse for Labour. Not since the 1850s have the Tories won a majority of Welsh seats. Labour has been the largest party there in every election since 1922, with a majority every year since 1931. An historic shift beckons.


If winning Gower was a highlight of 2015 for Welsh Tories, Wrexham could be the equivalent this time round. Losing Bridgend, now a marginal, would be another hammer blow for Labour in their south Wales heartland, although not unprecedented as they did lose there in 1983.


This shift is not simply a Welsh Conservative renaissance; the impact of UKIP in traditional Labour-voting areas has been profound. For so long the south Wales valleys have been rock solid for Labour; even in the catastrophe of 1931 they still won all the mining seats there, in stark contrast to sweeping losses in other coalfields such as Durham and Lanarkshire. But this link is being loosened and if Labour loses Wales, the journey back will seem longer than ever.


Progressive alliances and tactical voting


Faced with the prospect of a Tory landslide, one response has been for many supporters and members of 'progressive' parties to advocate anti-Conservative pacts and alliances. In a handful of seats, there have indeed been some local agreements. But there always was little chance of a serious national arrangement. After all, Labour is so divided internally that reaching an external deal would be implausible.


There are also practical barriers. In an interview with the BBC, the Green Party's sole MP Caroline Lucas bemoaned the rejection of the idea by Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron, yet she did so while very obviously speaking from Bristol West, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge conspicuously in view. This highlighted the problem; Bristol West is the only realistic target seat for the Greens, yet it is a Labour-held constituency won last time from the Liberal Democrats, who will be keen to regain the seat in a pro-remain area. So who could possibly be persuaded to stand down there?


Tactical voting is advocated by some as an alternative. But it would be highly unlikely, even in a repeat of the exceptional levels of such voting seen in 1997, that this factor will thwart Theresa May. Indeed, the polling data so far indicates many UKIP voters from 2015 are now backing the Conservatives, which could significantly increase their victory margin. In this election, tactical voting will be anything but a one-way street.


The Liberal Democrats may also be the beneficiaries of some tactical voting, not least - as mentioned above - in Scotland as they are better placed than Labour to make gains for unionism against the SNP, mainly because those who would otherwise vote Tory would be more comfortable switching their vote to them than Mr Corbyn's party.


The Remainer vote fallacy?


This election has placed Brexit front and centre. That being the case, battle lines will be drawn on a Leave versus Remain axis, even if, as we have seen, party allegiances cut right across these. This will be even more true with the second referendum pledges on Brexit made by the Liberal Democrats and Greens.


One of the reasons Mrs May is riding high in the polls appears to be the willing embrace of the Brexit verdict delivered last June, drawing away support from UKIP. The impact of this could be highly significant. In a joint article by psephologist Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus and Guardian columnist Martin Robbins, it was argued that the 'remainer effect' highlighted by the Richmond Park by-election would not be the boon for the Liberal Democrats some expected. Their analysis suggested that the number of Conservative remainers switching to the Liberal Democrats would be small, while many more Brexiteers were switching from UKIP. The conclusion was that in seats in strongly pro-remain parts of south London, hopes of regaining seats from the Tories were slim.


However, that may be unduly pessimistic. The fact that the south-west of London was so overwhelmingly pro-remain might just provide enough momentum for the Liberal Democrats to win back seats there, especially with big beasts like Ed Davey and Vince Cable seeking comebacks. What is less likely is that that the Liberal Democrats can win back many seats in south-west England, which was mostly pro-Brexit. However, Theresa May's campaigning appearances in seats the Tories are defending in the region shows this is not something she, at least, is taking for granted.


Overall, a pro-remain position is not likely to win a lot of seats for the Liberal Democrats. But with a few gains from Labour likely - watch for Cambridge and a comeback by Simon Hughes in Bermondsey and Old Southwark - and possible gains from the SNP, Tim Farron should at least command a parliamentary party back in double figures, and possibly as many as 20 MPs.


The local angle


The election is an extraordinary one in several ways, not least the fact that in the middle of the campaign we have other votes, with this week's mayoral elections in major conurbations and local elections in many places. It is common for local elections to coincide with general elections, but not for them to happen during the campaign. Thus we have an almost unprecedented factor to consider. One can, therefore, only guess how it might affect the general election campaigning.


Labour's best case would be to elect a bunch of city mayors and do quite well in council elections. This may boost morale if nothing else. However, local elections are often poor indicators of the national political weather, even when held on the same day as a general election; in 2010, for example, Labour lost 97 seats nationally but made significant overall gains at council level.


A more frightening prospect for Labour is a string of bad results. That could send the party into a tailspin. Scotland certainly promises bad news, particularly the likely loss of Glasgow to the SNP.


Are Labour finished - and if so, who will replace them?


I mentioned above that this election may end up looking far more like 1924 than 1923. On that occasion, the Conservatives won 412 seats, Labour 151 and the Liberals 40. Swap the SNP for the Liberals and that may be very close to the figure this time round.


A Labour total of 151 would also be comparable with 1935 (154) and 1922 (142). While these numbers look awful, it is worth noting that the following elections after each of these three results all led to Labour governments, which should serve as a reminder not to write them off.


Of course, this must be contextualised. 1922 represented a party on the rise, finishing ahead of the Liberals for the first time. 1924 may have brought a big defeat, but the net loss of 118 Liberal seats meant the project to replace the party of Asquith and Lloyd George as the main alternative to the Conservatives was all but achieved. Coming after the horrors of 1931, 1935 saw a net gain of 102 seats. There are no similar mitigating factors this time.


However, many will sense that we have been here before: Labour lurched to the far left in the early 1980s and Austin Mitchell MP wrote a book called "Four Years in the Death of the Labour Party". Such forecasts of doom proved wildly wrong. The big problem this time is that Labour in the 1980s still retained strong support in heartland areas of Scotland and Wales. The first of these has gone, and the second is under threat. Even a solid performance in London may add to accusations that the party is increasingly 'metropolitan' in outlook, widening the apparently unbridgeable gulf between its middle class, big city-dwelling, socially liberal remain-voting bloc and its traditional working class, socially conservative, Brexit-voting support base in post-industrial areas.


All this would suggest the party faces an even deeper existential crisis than in the 1980s, but this time it is not the Liberal-SDP Alliance voicing ambitions to replace the party, but UKIP. That such a suggestion can even be made at all is evidence of how much things have changed; in the inter-war years Labour replaced the Liberals as the party of the left. For decades the Liberals, SDP and Liberal Democrats sought to either regain their old mantle or at least realign the centre-left. Now, for the first time, it is suggested Labour can be replaced from the right. Brexit has, it is postulated, created a new paradigm; no longer are political divides about left and right, with UKIP seeking to attract Labour's traditional supporters with an anti-internationalist platform as hostile to contemporary Conservative notions of the importance of free trade and neoliberal economics as it is to immigration and the EU.


However, this ambition is likely to fail. Had the UK not been in the EU, UKIP would not have been formed. It existed for one reason and the rest was window dressing. Lacking ideology, leadership and unity and its historic mission achieved, it is surely on the way out.


That leaves the Liberal Democrats. This election is being fought on turf favourable to them ideologically, and the huge growth in party membership should not be scoffed at. But a limited recovery is the best that can be hoped for. It is not, at least yet, in any position to challenge Labour for the leadership of the opposition. Nine seats is just too low a base to start from.


It is the absence of a strong alternative that gives Labour its best hope. In 1916. Lloyd George split the Liberal Party and made the division with Asquith's followers official when he waged electoral war on them in the general election of 1918. Having ended its previous electoral pact with the Liberals, devised its modern constitution and fielded hundreds of candidates, Labour was well-placed to fill the void. When, 13 years later, Macdonald did the same to Labour, there was nobody able to capitalise on their disaster, with the Liberals themselves fragmenting into different groups.


In a similar way, it is the lack of a viable alternative that may save Labour from ultimate oblivion. But, particularly if he can re-write the leadership election rules to enable his core supporters to keep the hard left in charge when he departs, Corbyn may cut off the obvious route to recovery taken by Kinnock, Smith, and ultimately Blair. It is such an act of ideological masochism that could pave the way for another party to take its place. The only truly viable alternative to the Conservatives is a party of the centre-left.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Virtue signalling won’t win the election


It’s very tempting to have a social media blackout for the next eight weeks. Echo chamber politics is rife, primarily (perhaps exclusively) on the Left, and particularly prevalent on Facebook and Twitter. The problem is, however good it may feel, it doesn’t win elections.

We’ve been here before, as little as two years ago. Remember when Ed Miliband wanted to ‘weaponise the NHS’? Relying on the NHS as an election tactic was meant to be Labour’s sure-fire way of winning the 2015 election, and if you were into ‘Milifandom’ you’d have believed that everyone else was thinking the same thing. This is what worries me at present; by playing down Brexit as an election issue, Jeremy Corbyn is not only missing an opportunity, but he’s going down a tried and tested route. A holier than thou approach to politics not only ends in failure, but it results in legitimate concerns being marginalised. The blogger Nick Tyrone made an excellent point about the NHS strategy back in 2015, namely that ‘crying wolf’ will come back to haunt you.

In the Coalition era, Labour would often say “we have x amount of days to save the NHS”, to the extent that Andy Burnham added the caveat “and this time we mean it” in 2013. Inevitably, this kind of approach resulted in embarrassment, as Tyrone puts more eloquently:

“…the NHS quite clearly still exists. People can still turn up at a hospital A&E or a walk-in clinic and not be asked to produce a credit card or cash. The NHS remains, very obviously, free at the point of service.”

This is still the case in 2017. It doesn’t mean that everything is great in the NHS; far from it. There are big issues over funding, and the A&E crisis is a huge cause for concern. Pontificating and halo-polishing doesn’t help these issues: it makes them worse. The Conservatives aren’t doing a good job with the NHS, but people will still vote for them, as Tyrone illustrates:

“Given the fact that people can clearly still see the NHS is operating, Labour’s over heavy line in 2012…makes everything they say on the NHS hard to buy”.

The same goes for Facebook and Twitter. I’ve no doubt that the Labour Party will get thousands of likes, comments and shares during the election campaign. There will be videos of rallies attended by enthusiastic activists, and people will truly believe that Corbyn will win the election. However, elections aren’t won solely on social media. This is where the echo chamber comes back in: a lot of people who don’t support the Labour Party won’t share their political preferences on social media. This is partly because of the oft-talked about ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon, but it’s also because of political shaming. We can all come up with anecdotes about people who scream “you’re a Tory” if you disagree with their viewpoint. For many, it’s not worth the hassle.

To the Corbynistas, I will no doubt be deemed a raging Tory who is part of a right-wing conspiracy against their dear leader. The truth is, I have done my own research on him, and I’m not buying what he’s selling, especially as I don’t believe it will work. I don’t take any relish in Labour’s election woes, because not only do I want to see an effective Opposition, but I don’t want a complacent Conservative government (which we’ve already seen since the 2016 EU referendum) taking the voters for granted.

I’ve already been told “Jc 4 pm…it’s going to happen…don’t watch the news mate its made by the right wing” (these aren’t made up). Yes, this is just one snapshot, but it is indicative of a failure to recognise that there are other political possibilities – namely that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t going to clinch a landslide majority. I could denounce opinion polls showing that the Lib Dems are below 12% as ‘fake news’, and say that the Lib Dems will win hundreds of seats, but it wouldn’t be the truth, however much I’d like it to be.


If you wail at people and say they’re Tories, then the odds are that those people will turn around and say “okay, I am a Tory” and vote accordingly. If the retort to that is “good riddance – look how many people support us”, then a nasty shock is coming in June. If you assume that most people think the same way as you, and that you know what’s best for people, then you won’t win an election. I saw how people scratched their heads after the 2015 election; if they think virtue signalling and echo-chamber politics will win the day this June, then they better be prepared for more of the same.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Thank you, Barack Obama


Donald Trump's victory in the US Presidential election is still an immensely difficult pill to swallow. Not only has America elected a bigoted thug as President, but they have denied the country the services of a talented and dedicated politician in Hillary Clinton. Worse still, the legacy of Barack Obama is at risk.

I feel privileged to have witnessed history in the making back in 2008/2009. It was in sixth form that I first took an interest in politics, and it was US politics that I got into first. I was studying the US Civil Rights movement, just as America elected their first ever African-American President. I remember the buzz and excitement of "yes we can", along with Obama's inspirational inauguration speech. He didn't overplay the race card, but poignantly remarked:
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
Boy are we going to miss him. Expectations were sky high, but given just how much his hands were tied, he left a remarkable legacy. Let's not forget the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, where the Republican Party essentially said "now you sort it out". Let's also not forget how Obama lost his supermajority in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President". Obama also lost the Senate in the 2014 mid-terms, and throughout his entire Presidency he's been met with obstruction and intransigence from the GOP and rabid Tea Party.

With that backdrop in mind, look at what he has achieved. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Obama comprehensively overhauled healthcare, giving insurance to millions of people who previously did not have it. Crucially, 'Obamacare' outlawed insurance companies from denying healthcare coverage to people based on pre-existing health conditions. Obamacare is still a far cry from what we're used to with the NHS in Britain, but it's still a massive leap forward for the American model.

Let's also look at the economy. Unemployment in the US is now at 4.9%, down from highs of nearly 10% around the start of Obama's first term (source: http://historyinpieces.com/research/us-unemployment-rates-president). Given how wrecked the economy was when he took over, unemployment fell steadily throughout his two terms. I remarked in 2012 that the unemployment figures were "stubbornly high" at the end of Obama's first term (7.9%), so a reduction of 3% in four years isn't bad going. Obama's stimulus package in 2009 also shored up the economy, along with his auto bailout in Detroit (remember Mitt Romney's "let Detroit go bankrupt" quote?). The Obama administration also brought in much needed banking regulation via 'The Volcker Rule', which restricted certain kinds of speculative investments.

Furthermore, Obama repealed 'don't ask, don't tell' in 2010, meaning that the LGBT community could serve openly in the US military - another key measure for fairness and justice. He signed executive orders to ban torture methods such as waterboarding, and he somehow maintained a pluralist tone in the face of Republican opposition. Obama didn't deliver in every area; he failed to close Guantanamo Bay, for example. However, with his hands tied behind his back most of the time, his Presidency was a good one.

Had Hillary Clinton won, she would have maintained much of the Obama legacy, and it would've been the first time since 1940 that the Democrats had won three consecutive elections. It's such a pity that Donald Trump pledges to undo much of what Obama achieved. I'm pleasantly surprised (though sceptical) that Trump has now come out and said that the key Obamacare provisions will remain, despite previously pledging to repeal it. I got it badly wrong when I predicted in 2012 that the GOP would have to moderate their approach to win another election:
Obama has forced the Republican Party to rethink their policies and positions; lurching rightwards is not the answer to clinching those crucial swing states.
Barack Obama's oratory power was extraordinary, but he had the concrete policies to back it up. He had charisma, but also an approachable nature which is rare in politicians. He saw off the war hero John McCain in 2008, and the serial flip-flopper Mitt Romney in 2012. He's left with a beautiful family, and maybe a 2020 Presidential contender in Michelle Obama. From a man inspired by his Presidency, I'd like to say: thank you, President Obama.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Saturday, 5 November 2016

The best candidate, not the lesser of two evils


Election day in America is drawing closer, yet I'm still perplexed at the popular narrative that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a "lesser of two evils", something to be done whilst holding your nose. Clinton has her flaws, but I've no doubt in my mind that she absolutely must be elected President.

I seem to be one of the few people who actually likes Hillary. Whilst not inspiring, her pragmatic approach in the Democratic primaries made sense, given how both the House and Senate are controlled by the Republican Party (that could change on election day). Unlike many in my age demographic, I wanted her to win the nomination rather than Bernie Sanders. I admire her public service, and how she has stood up for the rights of women across the globe. Crucially in an election, she is very experienced in political affairs, a fact which is unfortunately being used against her in the "clean up Washington" mantras of disaffected voters.

The polls are tight, but if Clinton wins this will be the first time the Democrats have won three consecutive elections since the FDR era (see the 1940 US election). In my post-2012 election blog entry, I noted the following:

Having suffered a second consecutive election defeat (and with no landslide victory since the Ronald Reagan era), Obama has forced the Republican Party to rethink their policies and positions; lurching rightwards is not the answer to clinching those crucial swing states
Let's now look to Donald Trump, and see how laughably wrong my prediction was. There's almost no need for repetition of the things that Trump has said and stands for, yet people forget or conveniently ignore the following:

I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me. Believe me. And I’ll build it very inexpensively. I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.
I did try and f*** her, she was married...when you're a star you can do anything
 They are just a few of the awful things that Trump has said, and clearly believes in. I may be pointing out the bleeding obvious to some people, yet there's still a Trump delusion. On BBC Question Time on Thursday 3rd November, panellist Charlie Wolf was asked "is Clinton just as bad as Trump?" His response? "She's worse". I'm not giving Wolf the "entitled to his opinion/each to their own" shtick; he's utterly delusional. Even if you took away all of Trump's horrendous comments about minorities, the disabled and women, where's the political experience? Americans are being asked to elect the most powerful figure on the planet - do they really think Trump is the best equipped candidate?

The paradoxes don't stop there. There is, quite rightly, no compulsion on Christians as to who they should vote for in an election. However, I'm gobsmacked that Trump is somehow perceived as the more 'Christian candidate', or rather the candidate that Christians 'should' vote for in America. You can't cast the first stone by attacking Clinton on abortion rights, then ignore Trump's infidelities and attitudes towards women. Pat Robertson is one of the most extreme examples of delusional counter points for Trump, defending Trump's remarks as "macho talk". I want to stress that I'm not labelling Clinton "the more Christian candidate"; such labels are always dangerous and unhelpful in elections, and should be avoided. I'm merely pointing out that there's a plank of wood in the eyes of those who theologically denounce one candidate whilst ignoring the significant character flaws in another candidate.

I thought the Republicans couldn't get any worse with their candidates after serial flip-flopper Mitt Romney. I would have enthusiastically supported Clinton for President whoever had been the Republican nominee (that's not out of mindless tribalism: look at who the other contenders were). The situation is that much more crucial because of Trump. Had Romney won in 2012, or John McCain in 2008, I think the US would have been worse for it, but you could make arguments that they wouldn't have been disasters. If Trump wins, it will be a disaster for the US, and the rest of the world as a knock-on effect.

In case you still think there's some kind of equivalence or 'two evils' here, let Seth Meyers balance out the flaws in each candidate for you:

Do you pick someone who’s under federal investigation for using a private email server?

Or do you pick someone who called Mexicans rapists, claimed the president was born in Kenya, proposed banning an entire religion from entering the US, mocked a disabled reporter, said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured, attacked the parents of a fallen soldier, bragged about committing sexual assault, was accused by 12 women of committing sexual assault, said some of those women weren’t attractive for him to sexually assault, said more countries should get nukes, said that he would force the military to commit war crimes, said a judge was biased because his parents were Mexicans, said women should be punished for having abortions, incited violence at his rallies, called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, called for his opponent to be jailed, declared bankruptcy six times, bragged about not paying income taxes, stiffed his contractors and employees, lost a billion dollars in one year, scammed customers at his fake university, bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself with money from his fake foundation, has a trial for fraud coming up in November, insulted an opponent’s looks, insulted an opponent’s wife’s looks, and bragged about grabbing women by the pussy?

How do you choose?


Photo credit: Quartz

Monday, 10 October 2016

My top 10 superhero themes


I’m an admittedly recent convert to the superhero genre, but for me the music in a superhero film (or any film) is vital. Associating a theme with a film and vice versa is a huge mark of success, and it’s an achievement that I think is more difficult in many cases for superhero films. 


My list is a personal choice, so don’t be shocked or offended at my selections (which do much to play up to my Marvel fanboy inclinations):


10) Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012): Hans Zimmer

The mob would have been after me had I not included this one. The darker tones of this theme perfectly reflect the Christopher Nolan style of the Dark Knight trilogy. I prefer Marvel over DC (don’t shoot), but there’s no denying the craft of Nolan’s vision across the whole trilogy, and Han Zimmer’s score is the icing on the cake.





9) Superman theme (1978-1987) John Williams

If this were a top 10 ‘iconic’ superhero themes, the Superman theme would be far higher. It’s right that Man of Steel and Batman versus Superman had a darker portrayal of Kal-El/Clark Kent, but it’s such a shame that the 21st century adaptations were so far away from the light-hearted nature of the original Christopher Reeve films (which this theme encapsulates well). Quite simply, John Williams is a genius, and this theme is one of a significant catalogue of classic themes that he’s composed.


8) Iron Man 3 theme (2013) Brian Tyler


A surprising addition to the list, I always think it’s difficult for a theme to stand out when it’s used only once in a series of films. Far more orchestral than the previous two Iron Man themes, this theme stuck with me when I first heard it: it’s more serious in tone to reflect Tony Stark’s struggle with PTSD, but nevertheless still has a triumphant nature to it, which is emphasised when all of Tony’s suits come to the rescue at the film’s denouement.




7) Iron Man theme (2008) Ramin Djawadi


When I finally gave the MCU a chance last year, my introduction was Iron Man. Fortunately, the experience was a good one. I love how the electric guitar takes precedence in this theme, fitting in well with Tony Stark’s rebellious, Black Sabbath-influenced nature. Some superhero films can be a bit too serious when they get to the ‘first suit-up/display of powers’ scene, but Iron Man gets it right when it shows you Stark’s joy at fly testing the Mark 2 suit for the first time, with this theme neatly sending up a playful emotion.




6) Captain America: Civil War theme (2016) Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman features regularly in this list, and with good reason. The airport battle scene is epic enough in this film, but Jackman’s score does a good gradual build up as ‘Team Iron Man’ and ‘Team Captain America’ run towards each other for a comic book smash up. When both teams do battle, the score is dramatic but not triumphant; the somewhat mournful tone reflects the fact that former friends are now fighting each other. The score isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The tone of the music is briefly lighter again whenever Ant Man features in the battle (got to love Paul Rudd).


5) Captain America: The Winter Soldier theme (2014) Henry Jackman


“Captain America: he’s cool now”, is how the humorous Honest Trailer Youtube series sums up The Winter Soldier. I feel that The First Avenger is still an underrated MCU film, but there’s no doubt that The Winter Soldier shifts it up a gear. The film feels more like a spy thriller at times than a superhero film, and bearing in mind that Steve Rogers is taking down HYDRA (a Nazi-death cult), it’s therefore appropriate that this theme is somewhat dramatic. The theme is very well placed just after the elevator breakout scene - it’s a massive break from the (arguably) more sidelined role of Steve Rogers in the first Avengers film.



4) Spiderman theme (2002-2007) Danny Elfman

Just as some superhero films are too serious, some are also too cartoony and childlike: the Tobey Maguire Spiderman trilogy gave us a memorable theme tune that is more sombre than many superhero iterations, which is an important aspect given the struggles that Peter Parker has to go through. Danny Elfman’s theme is still quickly paced, however - the webslinger needs to travel in a hurry.

The Amazing Spiderman’s two films (2012 and 2014), sadly, didn’t give us a memorable theme like this one.



3) Magneto’s theme/Frankenstein’s Monster (X Men: First Class 2011) Henry Jackman


Epic movie scenes inevitably include epic movie scores. Jackman’s score ramps up the tension perfectly when a young Magneto confronts two ex-Nazis in a bar. The theme is repeated on a regular basis throughout First Class, but it never gets dull or annoying; Jackman varies the use of instruments on each occasion. The X-Men film series has had quite a few different composers, so not many of the themes have been retained for more than one film: it’s a pity that ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ has yet to be reused.



2) The Avengers theme (2012 & 2015) Alan Silvestri


You can’t beat a good old triumphant movie score. Alan Silvestri already has the Back to the Future theme under his belt, and I love The Avengers theme. Comic book stories and films can be dark (see DC), complex (see The X-Men) and even joyless (see Batman versus Superman), but a lot of the time they just need to be fun. The Avengers is a format based on a collection of comic book heroes at the end of the day - there’s no shame in playing up to the geeky nature of it!

Who doesn’t go full on fanboy/fangirl when this theme kicks in during 2012’s The Avengers?

Captain America: Dr Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry

The Hulk: That’s my secret Captain: I’m always angry

[Cue epic shot, epic theme and group shot]

I was so pleased that this theme was reused in Age of Ultron (slightly modified), and with Silvestri’s return to the MCU there’s no doubt that it’ll feature again during Infinity War.


1) X Men theme (X2, DOFP and Apocalypse) John Ottman

I absolutely love this theme. The original X-Men trilogy (2000-2006) had a separate composer for each film, and had the franchise stopped in 2006 it would have missed a signature theme. Fortunately, John Ottman’s enduring collaboration with Bryan Singer meant that this brilliant theme made a comeback in Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. The other X-Men themes are by no means poor, but John Ottman’s score really stands out.


The adrenaline really kicks in when this scene goes in tandem with the familiar circular opening titles. How can a mood-setting monologue by Sir Patrick Stewart not lead into a memorable theme? There are slight variations in how Ottman plays the theme in each film, but each iteration captures the genre perfectly.



Disclaimer: I do not own any of the copyright of these videos - all rights belong to the relevant composers/film companies/production companies/Youtube accounts. I am not making a profit out of this - it is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.