Who might drop out next?

Scott Walker made it clear as he dropped out of the race for the White House that he believes other Republican candidates should do the same. That got me thinking… just who might be next to go?

It took a bit of thinking to come up with this shortlist, because there are all kinds of things to consider. Low poll numbers aren’t necessarily a killer. You might think Lindsey Graham would be on his way out, but having a very inexpensive campaign machine he would be well-advised to hedge his bets and wait to see if one or two more dropouts might see a scrapping of the two-tier debate format. Graham performed admirably at the last debate, and I would argue won the debate on the small stage. With the field thinning, he might be hoping he can hang on long enough to get on the main stage with the real top-tier candidates. That would give him more exposure and hopefully boost his campaign.

Money, or rather, the lack of it, is crucial in determining who might quit next. Candidates who’ve overspent relative to donations will find themselves in trouble, and the plain truth is that without significant cash resources, it’s impossible to be competitive. This was Scott Walker’s problem, and he’s not alone. Chris Christie and Rand Paul have both been reported to be having similar cashflow problems. The difficulty with the money issue is that not every campaign declares how much they’re taking in, spending, and have spare, so it can be hard using that as a predictive factor.

That being said, here’s my shortlist of candidates vying to become the next dropout from the race to be President:

#5: Rick Santorum

Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

His “Iowa strategy” was never a great way to build a campaign. By focusing so entirely on one single state, it leaves precious little time after the first-in-the-nation caucuses to put together the rest of what has to be a nationwide campaign. But that isn’t what’s harming Santorum. What’s going to stop his second attempt at the presidency is the simple fact that he’s not even close to winning in Iowa, the state on which all of his hopes rest. His advantage is that he’s keeping his campaign costs relatively low, but as it becomes increasingly clear that he can’t even win Iowa, any residual support he has will dry up, and so will his funding.

#4: Rand Paul

Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul.

Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul.

He’s been having a torrid time lately. A weak campaign launch led to a surprisingly successful few weeks of campaigning, which saw Paul’s strongly libertarian position on the issue of government surveillance gain popularity. But lately he’s foundered, languishing well down in the single-digits. He only just scraped his way onto the main stage for the debate (Carly Fiorina would’ve stolen his spot if CNN had been fair about their inclusion criteria). Taking on Donald Trump hasn’t worked out very well, either. He still has some support from the party’s libertarian wing, but even there he’s seeing supporters – and donors – desert him for other candidates.

#3: Mike Huckabee

Cable TV host, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Cable TV host, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Mike Huckabee’s second White House bid has never really taken off. Mediocre debate performances have contributed to mediocre poll numbers, and while he remains a top-tier candidate, he’s at the bottom of that top-tier. He’s had to compete with several others for the evangelical/religious right vote, leaving him trailing badly even in Iowa. Like Santorum, Huckabee’s hopes also rest entirely on Iowa to act as a springboard, but if he continues to trail there he’s unlikely to make it to the caucuses. His strong support for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to prohibit statewide bans on gay marriage, smacked more of a TV host’s publicity stunt than anything political. While it may have increased his appeal among the Christian right, that’s a category he should’ve been winning already, and Davis’ position is not supported even by a majority of Republicans so the issue may have hurt him more than it helped.

#2: Jim Gilmore

Who? Gilmore not only didn’t qualify for either of the main debates, he failed to qualify for even the second-tier CNN debate as his poll numbers were below 1%. He spent his evening twittering his answers to approximately 1,000 twitter followers. Not a promising development. His quitting the race would make about as much difference to the field as his entering it did.

#1: Bobby Jindal

Governor of Louisiana and former Congressman from Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

Governor of Louisiana and former Congressman from Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

Jindal has had a very poor race so far. He’s unpopular in his own state, and he just hasn’t made any sort of real impact on even the second-tier candidates he’s been debating against. Santorum and Huckabee have a clear strategy in targeting Iowa. Other candidates have other strategies, like Jeb Bush courting the party’s biggest donors, or on the other side of the aisle, Sanders focusing much of his energy on New Hampshire. Jindal has no strategy. There’s no one thing we can point to to say: “ah, if he does that well he’s got a chance”, because he isn’t targeting one particular group, or one particular state. He’s just drifting – which kind of sums up his candidacy. He’s drifted about on many issues, including birthright citizenship, to such an extent that most voters (the ones who’ve heard of him in any case) couldn’t even tell you what he stands for or what he’d do if elected. He’s my top pick to become the next dropout for those reasons.

On the other side of the political divide, what of the Democrats? Bernie Sanders continues to gain momentum and support, while a wooden Hillary Clinton continues to lose it. She’s now running consistently behind Sanders in New Hampshire, and he’s nipping at her heels in Iowa. This won’t force her out, of course. But there’s still plenty that could.

#1: Hillary Clinton

Presidential candidate, former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Hilary Clinton.

Presidential candidate, former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Hilary Clinton.

The e-mail scandal. It hasn’t gone away, and in fact it’s got an awful lot worse for the Democratic front-runner. First she broke the rules (if not the law). Then, she was forced to turn over her private e-mail served to the government, and the FBI have been poring over it. As I’ve already pointed out, the e-mail scandal boils down to this: we’re asked to believe that not only is Mrs Clinton honest when she says that she voluntarily turned over everything work related, but that she’s substantially more honest than the average person and didn’t succumb to the surely massive temptation to quietly delete anything which might’ve been embarrassing (let alone anything incriminating). Do we believe that Mrs Clinton is such a paragon of virtue? According to sustained polling data, most American voters don’t. So expect more to come from the e-mail scandal. It hasn’t gone away yet, and it isn’t likely to any time soon. Right now I’d say her chances of still being in contention in three-six months’ time are evens. It depends mostly on the scandals swirling around her.

So there we have it. Two down already, and surely more to go before too long. The 2016 race is getting interesting, and we’re still well over a year out!

Two Dropouts

In an unexpected turn of events, Scott Walker has decided to drop out of the 2016 presidential race. His decision follows that of former Texas governor Rick Perry who announced his decision just before last week’s debate.

I always felt that Perry had the credentials to be a strong candidate. As the governor of the nation’s second-largest state (or, as he liked to put it, the world’s thirteenth-largest economy) he’d done a great job through the Bush and Obama years to guide his state to economic prosperity. Those job numbers the Obama camp have been so fond of trotting out? Most of those jobs were created in one state: Texas.

But Rick Perry struggled. He couldn’t shake off his “oops” moment from 2012 (in fact, I can barely remember a time when his name was mentioned where that incident wasn’t since he announced his candidacy). That hurt him a lot. And in a crowded field, he struggled to stand out. When he realised he wasn’t going to make the cut for the main debate last week, he and his campaign knew that that was the end. Getting onto that main stage was his chance, but Carly Fiorina beat him to it.

Scott Walker started very well, but if I’m honest I never expected him to last. He was the front runner on the back of basically a single, well-received speech in Iowa back in January, and that’s a very shaky foundation on which to build a campaign. Summing up his potential candidacy last year I wrote that “on a personal level, he seems rather bland and lacking in charisma. This puts him at a serious disadvantage on the national stage where he’d have to face larger-than-life characters”. I stand by that assessment, though I wouldn’t have imagined that the larger-than-life character he’d have to define himself against would’ve been Donald Trump!

Walker simply couldn’t stand out in a crowded field, and that’s why he’s ending his campaign. It’s a shame, but with no major gaffes or stumbles, perhaps this campaign will stand him in good stead if he should choose to run again in four or eight years time. As for poor Rick Perry? This was realistically his last opportunity to be president.

Thanks Hungary!

Finally, a European Union country has started to do something about the endless flow of migrants into Europe.

Before we go any further, let’s clear one thing up. The correct way to describe these people is “migrants”. Not “refugees”. Migrants. That’s what they are – economic migrants who are trying to illegally enter the EU to look for work (or not), and generally seek a higher standard of living. And look at the pictures on the news – not the soft news bulls**t sob stories about one family making the journey – the pictures of the huge crowds of people at railway stations in Germany and Austria, and now at the Serbian-Hungarian border. They are, by and large, young men. Not families, not the elderly, not women and babies. Young men. They are economic migrants looking for work, benefits, and a higher standard of living than they’d get back home.

Refugees – the real refugees – who fled their homes in fear for their lives, are being catered for by and large in the nations bordering Syria – Lebanon and Jordan in particular. These are the people who need help, and they’re being catered for. Who’s providing the aid? European Union members – the UK in particular.

So let’s not allow the mainstream media to paint this crisis as one of desperate families of refugees fleeing war. They’re predominantly young male economic migrants. That’s a simple fact. Many of them are Syrians, but by no means all are Syrian. There are reports of Iraqis, Afghans, and even Pakistanis among the migrating herd. The refugees have already fled, and they’re by and large being catered for in camps in nations surrounding Syria, with huge financial support from other nations.

How did we let this mass migration happen? It’s almost entirely the fault of two people: EU president Jean-Claude Juncker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. These ideologically-driven morons couldn’t understand one simple fact: if you sent a message that illegal immigration will be tolerated, more and more illegal migrants will come. Look at the United States for a shining example of how not to do things. By providing what essentially amounts to a blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants in the USA, the Obama administration has encouraged more and more illegal immigrants to head to the USA! There are now an estimated twelve million illegals in the country.

Contrast this with Australia, whose notoriously strict immigration policy has meant that no illegal immigrants even make it to Australian soil. Those who attempted to do so were turned around to their departure points, or else interred off-shore. This policy of recently-deposed PM Abbott worked. It verifiably worked. Not only did it stop the problem of illegal immigration for Australia, but it saved lives.

How? When word spread that illegal immigrants would not even reach Australia, they stopped trying to make the dangerous crossing by sea. No journeys on over-filled, unseaworthy boats meant no lives lost at sea.

The European Union did the precise opposite. Not only do they pick up migrants from their unseaworthy boats off the north African coast, but they actually transport them on their own naval vessels to safe ports in the EU! It’s ridiculous. Now all the migrants do is take their vessels just beyond Libyan territorial waters, switch off their engines and wait to be “rescued”. And the saps in Europe – particularly in Italy, but also in Greece, France, and Spain – let them get away with it. This pseudo-kindness is making the problem worse, encouraging hundreds of thousands more people to try to make the dangerous journey, and is costing lives.

If Europe had adopted the Australian model, the first couple of boats that sank would’ve been the last. That dead Syrian boy that everyone got worked up about last week? He’d still be alive. His death, and the deaths of countless others, are a direct result of the EU’s utterly failed reaction to the migration crisis. It’s the fault of Mrs Merkel and all those like her who throw away the most basic rule of being a nation of laws – maintaining a border. Mrs Merkel encouraged mass migration, and mass migration is what she’s getting.

But it’s disorganised, dangerous, and criminal. The people we see storming the now-fortified Hungarian border, the people on the dinghies and fishing vessels on the Med, they’ve all paid thousands of dollars apiece to be there. These aren’t the poor people of Syria – these are the rich people of Syria and elsewhere. The poor? They’re still in their country because they can’t afford to pay the thousands of dollars that human traffickers demand to get them across the Med. This is a criminally-led enterprise which is profiting gangs of people-smugglers to the tune of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Again, that is the fault of the EU, and leaders like Mrs Merkel.

It should be obvious that an open-door immigration policy encourages immigration, and a refusal to uphold the law prohibiting illegal immigration only encourages more illegal immigration. European leaders haven’t been able to understand how this works, or if they do they simply don’t care. But the facts are plainly obvious: their attitudes to the immigration crisis have made it infinitely worse. It’s bad for the peoples of Europe, who don’t want to see hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving on their shores. But it’s especially bad for the migrants themselves, who give their money to criminals and risk their very lives to cross into Europe.

The problem needs to be tackled at source. Syria and Libya need to be stabilised, the Islamic State needs to be fought, and the criminal people-smugglers need to be stopped. We do absolutely nothing to solve the problems of Syria by importing Syrians to Europe. We can fix the Syria situation through hard graft: fighting enemies which need to be fought and providing Syrians with the means to rebuild their nation after years of civil war. That includes making sure that there are the right kinds of people in Syria to rebuild Syrian society. It’s no good if millions of Syrians have resettled in Europe – they are needed in their homeland to make things better for their countrymen.

Europe is also finite in size and capacity. If we import everyone from a third world nation, everyone under threat or living in less than ideal conditions then there’d be no room for anyone else. Given our massive foreign aid budgets, both individually and collectively within the EU, there’s more than enough money sloshing around to improve conditions for people in other places. If we continue to allow mass illegal immigration to Europe we’re going to end up with a decline in European living standards, not a raise in living standards elsewhere. These issues must be fixed at source.

Syria poses a unique problem: the Syrian government is unsustainable and has been effectively blacklisted by the West. But the forces opposed to the Assad regime are, in some cases at least, affiliated with Islamic extremism. These forces mustn’t be allowed to prosper either. Switching support to the Assad regime may be the least bad option for a variety of reasons. We saw in Egypt and Libya how overthrowing a “strong man” style of government led to chaos. Repeating the mistake in Syria would allow the Islamic State to prosper. The least bad option in the short term may well be the strengthening of the Assad regime, working together to defeat IS. This would bring the West into alignment with Russia and China, who have been firm supporters of the Assad regime. While it may be politically unappealing to western democracy, “strong man” leaders like Assad could be the West’s best defence against Islamic extremism.

Stability and strong governments in the region would stem the flow of migrants to Europe and save lives in the process. European leaders need to step up and tackle illegal migration with a firm hand. We need to put a stop to the criminal gangs who traffic human beings across the Med, and we need to stop incentivising people to make that dangerous crossing. We need to act quickly to prop up failed states in Libya and Syria which are the cause of many of these issues, and fight back hard against Islamic State and their associated terrorists. We need to cut off the flow of illegal migrants at its source, and we need to fix the problems in the Middle East and North Africa at source too. Leaders like Angela Merkel have got the whole response to this situation badly wrong. They should’ve watched and learned from Australia’s policy and implemented something similar at the first sign of trouble. Now, it’s almost too late. We’re now dependent on countries like Hungary, on the fringe of Europe, to keep the migrants at bay. If their border closure works, word may just filter back down the migrant chain and people could stop coming. But with the promise of permanent settlement in Germany and other EU nations, one suspects that the migrants and traffickers will just find an alternative route. After all, the incentives are just too good to resist.

Europe needs to follow Hungary’s example. Strong border controls and a crackdown on illegal immigration. It’s the only way to stop a crisis which has been brewing for months. But even if the policies of Merkel and her EU are reversed tonight, it may already be too late. Europe is see by the migrants as a soft touch, and rightly so. There may be no easy way to stop them now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s the only way to save lives.

The Labour Party Leadership

What a crazy summer it’s been! Seemingly out of nowhere, long-serving radical left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn has come to dominate the Labour leadership race, and with only a couple of days left until voting closes he remains the front-runner to succeed Ed Miliband.

Most political observers and pundits were shocked by this development, but should they have been? Changes in the way the party’s leader is elected have opened the doors to a “one man, one vote” style of representative democracy within the party, and now prevents MPs (of whom there are just over 200) from having a full one-third of the vote. Is it really surprising that Labour Party members and supporters would choose the most left-wing candidate?

Think about it – if you’re concerned enough about socialist issues to join the Labour Party, I’d say there’s a good chance you’re a left-winger. Trades unionists are also left-wing.  And if you look at the British left over the past decade or more, the issues that they care about the most have been the Iraq war and austerity. For people like that, Corbyn is the only candidate who’s fully and demonstrably on their side, so he’s their natural choice for leader.

Some Labour Party has-beens (Brown, Blair, Blunkett, Clarke, Kinnock, and so on) bemoan Corbyn’s “unelectability” in a general election. But we only need look across the pond to the United States for a reminder of one simple political reality – party activists do not care about electability. How else do you explain the support for Donald Trump among right-wing Republicans? His comments on illegal immigrants were misinterpreted, but that misinterpretation has stuck and now he’s incapable of gaining the Hispanic vote were he to be the GOP nominee. That means he’s as good as unelectable. Do Republican primary voters care? Not a wink. And Labour Party supporters in the UK don’t seem to care that Corbyn is unelectable for the same reason – they want the candidate that best fits their view regardless of overall electability. I’m guilty of precisely the same thing, for those of you who remember my pre-election post about UKIP.

I said at the start of this campaign that Labour’s candidates were a hapless bunch, and that’s another factor which has unquestionably helped Corbyn. That the strongest candidate was the man who placed fourth last time around shows the extent to which Labour is in trouble. I remind you all again that the front-runner in the early stages of the campaign was less popular than Ed Balls. How was that even possible?

So a combination of factors have created a perfect storm of Corbynmania. Weak rivals for the leadership, changed election rules, and a groundswell of support from party members and activists who have seen their views marginalised for years by the party they so loyally serve. Corbyn, for his part, is an energetic and charismatic speaker, who has addressed huge crowds with ease throughout the campaign.

Though I disagree with practically everything he stands for, I will say this for Jeremy Corbyn – he’s a man of principle. And there are precious few of those in British politics these days. Perhaps that’s why he’s doing so well.

Corrupting the “beautiful game”

I never thought I’d say this, but US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has done something exceptional. Where other countries feared to go, she went, and has stunned the world of football (soccer) by bringing corruption charges against many top officials in FIFA, world football’s governing body.

Everyone with more than a passing interest in football has known for years that Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, is a corrupt man in charge of a horribly corrupt organisation, but no law enforcement agency has gone after him and his cronies until now. It speaks to the sheer arrogance on the part of FIFA officials that they were so terribly corrupt that they took their bribery and suitcases full of illegal cash all over the world, including to the United States. It is the latter thing that’s caught them out, because the US has a zero-tolerance policy to any kind of illegal activity taking place on its soil, regardless of whether African officials were bribing European officials for something not in the slightest related to the USA. If it took place on US soil – and it did – they can be charged for it. And they were.

The problem with FIFA is that it’s not just one man – Blatter – who has become corrupt. The entire organisation is, from its deep roots in third world dictatorships right the way to the top. In such countries, bribery and corruption are commonplace, and Blatter has seemingly adopted that mentality, even going so far as to taint Africa’s first World Cup with it. African football federations give him their support because he bought it – and they’ve bought him in turn.

Almost everyone in the football world questioned the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – an oil-rich state in the Arabian gulf – when it was announced in 2010. There are all manner of reasons why it would not be a good idea to hold the tournament there, but Blatter brushed them all aside, supposedly in the name of “taking football to new places”. Now we know better. Qatar bought the World Cup. It’s as simple as that. And the corruption doesn’t end there, not by a country mile, and now the whole future of international football is in jeopardy. Qatar’s appalling treatment of migrant workers contracted to build their football stadia is a whole separate issue.

There are two ways for football fans to proceed, now that Blatter has bought his re-election. First is to encourage our national teams and confederations to boycott all FIFA matches and tournaments, including… the next two World Cups. If the biggest teams – France, Italy, England, Spain, defending champions Germany, and even the USA were to boycott the tournament, it would be an indescribably massive blow to FIFA. They would have to press ahead with African and Asian teams only, viewership would plummet, and sponsors would slink away. This is, oddly, the best-case scenario for forcing FIFA to change and for ensuring a good, less-corrupt future for football. But it would mean some short-term pain and missed opportunities.

The second option is one we can all take part in. By informing FIFA’s biggest sponsors that we will not buy their products as long as FIFA remains corrupt and their sponsorship continues, we can, if enough of us do so, force FIFA’s sponsors into a truly uncomfortable position. While no evidence has emerged – yet – that any sponsor was engaged in this illegal activity, it should be pointed out to these companies, categorically, that their continued association with an un-reformed FIFA will not be tolerated, to the point of not buying what they’re selling. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Adidas, even Visa all sponsor FIFA and we must, if we truly care about the future of the game, take a stand. I have written to many of these companies this morning to tell them that my family and I will not be spending our money on their products unless and until they change their attitude to FIFA. I hope I can encourage some of you to do the same. Below, you will find the e-mail that I sent, as well as contact details for some of FIFA’s biggest sponsors. If you don’t want to write your own message, or haven’t the time, I suggest you copy-and-paste the one I’ve written. Maybe, if we can get enough people involved, we can force some kind of change. I would like to take this opportunity to cite this article in yesterday’s Independent newspaper for providing some of the contact details of FIFA’s sponsors.

The e-mail I sent goes as follows:


Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to you today to inform you that, due to your continued association with FIFA, my family and I will no longer be purchasing your products.

As you are undoubtedly aware, FIFA is a wholly corrupt institution, and not one any respectable company would be interested in sponsoring. As FIFA has shown a consistent unwillingness to change itself – as any corrupt institution would do – it falls to sponsors such as your company to force change within the organisation. As things stand, FIFA is doing more to damage international football than anything, and your continued sponsorship of FIFA and its attractions, most notably the World Cup, is damaging your brand in the eyes of consumers worldwide. An endemic culture of corruption may be acceptable in the third world, but consumers in the west expect better from organisations and companies.

I will, where possible, explain to my friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and extended family why I am no longer purchasing your products, and encourage them to do the same. Should you choose to reassess your sponsorship of this corrupt institution, I am certain that I, and many other ex-customers, would happily return to your brand. Unfortunately, the only leverage we ordinary football fans now have is to make clear to FIFA’s sponsors that their conduct is unacceptable. Until FIFA reforms, the only thing we can do is withdraw our support for it and its sponsors, and hope that doing so forces change.

I encourage you and your company to be a leader in the fight to root out the corruption at the heart of the “beautiful game”, and not be another participant in the corrupt regime which has already done so much harm to international football.

Yours sincerely,

<Your name here>



Here are the e-mail addresses of some of FIFA’s sponsors:

McDonalds: bod@us.mcd.com

Coca-Cola: consumerresponse@cokecce.com

Electronic Arts (maker of the FIFA video game series): StockholderCommunications@EA.com

Budweiser: Contact form

Adidas: Contact form

Letter-writing campaigns (or e-mail writing campaigns, in this case) have the potential to make a difference in the way companies behave. If even a small percentage of their customer bases are seen to be unhappy with their continued sponsorship of FIFA, it will prompt the companies to respond. Profit margins are their absolute bottom line, and anything which threatens that is a problem. A few people boycotting their products may not have a huge impact on their profit, but the negative reaction to their brands’ associations with a corrupt organisation like FIFA will have an effect. By telling these companies what we are doing and, more importantly, the reason why, there’s a chance that people-power could lead to real change, the kind of change a corrupt man and a corrupt institution cannot be trusted to make on their own. I hope that some of you will be interested in joining this boycott of FIFA sponsors. It’s time to send FIFA a message – if you think you can get away with cheating, you can’t. We’re going to hit you where it hurts.

Labour’s leadership

For the third instalment in this informal series about how the UK’s political parties are faring in the aftermath of last week’s election results, we’re looking at the Labour Party, the second-biggest loser on the 7th of May, and particularly at their search for a new leader.

When that exit poll appeared at 10:00pm on election night, many in Labour simply couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Some politicians and commentators made very foolhardy promises about what they’d do if it proved accurate – such as literally eating their hats (or kilts). If anything, the exit poll actually managed to underestimate the extent of Labour’s defeat, predicting as it did a larger share of seats for them, and no clear majority for the Tories. Since that truly extraordinary evening, many Labour figures have come out hard against hapless (former) leader Ed Miliband, and internal pollsters working with the party have said they had a better grasp of the gravity of the situation than general opinion polls seemed to suggest.

There’s a natural period of introspection after an election defeat, especially one of this magnitude, but the viciousness of some former ministers and senior figures in the party is actually quite stunning. It also makes a complete mockery of the concept of “party loyalty”; the idea that Labour should win no matter who’s in charge, how badly they’d mess up, or how out of whack their policies might be. The idea of being steadfastly loyal to a political party – not a political ideology – is just plain stupid. And that senior Labour figures would defend until polling day things which they subsequently admit were indefensible exposes them as rotten politicians who do not have the national interest at heart. But that’s an issue for another day. We already knew that the likes of Peter Mandelson and David Miliband are shady characters, their post-election bile merely underlined it.

What Labour has to decide now is where to go next. And it’s by no means as simple as it sounds. Labour didn’t lose because they were too left-wing, not left-wing enough, or even because their leader was an incompetent buffoon. There’s no single, tangible thing that Labour MPs and party members can point to as the source of their defeat, and this makes the scale of the challenge for Labour’s next leader all the more difficult. For example, in Scotland the SNP beat Labour in all but one seat with a hard-left, anti-austerity message. But in England, the Tories and UKIP came at Labour from the right-wing, and many English voters feared the influence of the SNP over Ed Miliband, should they have formed a coalition, not because of Scottish independence, but because they believed that Sturgeon and the SNP’s hard-left economic plan would raise the deficit and financially damage the nation. Those two sides are diametrically opposed. Labour managed to be simultaneously too left-wing for England, and not left-wing enough for Scotland. That’s something that may be irreconcilable, and a massive headache for the incoming Labour leadership team later this year.

Senior figures in the party are quoted all over the media saying that they need to “listen to what the voters said” and “learn from the mistakes” of the election. But not one of them has actually opened up about what they believe those mistakes were – and it’s hard to learn from a mistake if you can’t even identify it! A change in leadership will be good, or at least a good start, for a party that hopes to win back power, because it was obvious that Miliband could in no way get the job done. He was too personally tainted from the 2010 leadership election, untrustworthy on economic issues (first forgetting to mention the deficit at all, then refusing to admit the previous Labour administration over-spent, and finally because he’d have had to rely on the SNP to govern), and finally, he was simply too weak to be a national leader. The writing was on the wall for Ed Miliband years ago, but few could see it – or wanted to see it.

So who’s in contention to take over? We’ve already had the bizarre situation of a candidate formally declare, then quickly rule himself out. Chuka Ummuna, the shadow business secretary, only became a candidate a few days ago, but yesterday he said that the increased pressure involved for himself and his family meant he would be withdrawing. You’d think someone who was serious enough to launch a formal bid for the leadership – and who therefore intends one day to be Prime Minister – would have expected extra attention and scrutiny. But this is Labour, and nothing is really what you’d think.

So Ummuna’s out – not that he was ever really in – and I would argue has probably damaged his long-term leadership intentions in the process. But he’s irrelevant for now, because we need to look at who’s left. Yvette Cooper – whose husband, Ed Balls, lost his seat at the election – is running, as is the shadow minister for older people Liz Kendall. Mary Creagh became the third woman to announce her candidacy in what was regarded as a surprise move, leaving Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, in the odd position of being the only man in the field.

The general consensus is that Burnham is the front-runner, and I’ve seen nothing to convince me that that is not the case. Cooper and Creagh both have the appearance and charisma of low-level bureaucrats, and neither could really be taken seriously as a potential Prime Minister. Kendall is probably too new to being an MP, and too inexperienced in the bigger leagues – though she’s by no means a stranger to politics – to become leader, so that leaves Burnham almost by default. What Labour really need to keep in mind is that they need an electable, Prime Ministerial candidate. They failed in that regard when Ed Miliband was selected with overwhelming union backing, and if they want to turn their already-slim chance to win the 2020 election into anything at all positive, they need a leader who can appeal beyond the voters who slavishly back them every time.

Andy Burnham it is, then? Looking at the field, and now at the front-runner, if I were a Labour man I’d be asking myself one question – “is this really the best we can do?” Let’s keep in mind that the current front-runner is the man who placed fourth behind the incompetent Ed Miliband, his big brother David, and the recently-seatless Ed Balls in the 2010 leadership battle. Fourth. Behind Ed Balls. Just so we’re clear – the current front-runner for the Labour leadership is a man less well thought of than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Got that? Okay, good. Now you can understand why the Tories are so happy.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Andy Burhnam, and he is streets ahead of the other wannabes in almost every department, but that’s not a huge accomplishment in such an undistinguished field. If I were a Labour man – and again I stress that I’m not – I’d be looking for someone else to throw their proverbial hat in the ring, because the current field is poor. Burnham, to his credit, is trying to stay away from being seen too much as a union man or a New Labour-ite, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen over the past week-and-a-half it’s that all of the old Gordon Brown/Tony Blair divisions within Labour are still there, and those two ex-leaders’ factions are still bitterly divided. Outgoing (Blairite) leader of Scottish Labour Jim Murphy laid into the leader of one of the UK’s biggest unions, Len McCluskey, who has recently endorsed Burnham for the leadership. A period of in-fighting is to be expected, but wouldn’t it be more logical to think that the in-fighting might happen between current leadership candidates and their supporters, rather than adherents to former leaders who’ve long since departed the scene? But again, this is Labour, so nothing really makes sense.

I’m instinctively wondering if there isn’t going to be someone else who might be planning to declare their leadership intentions. If there isn’t, it looks like Andy Burnham should walk it in a very weak field, but that’s not something that bodes well for the party in 2020.

Messing up the voting system

In the aftermath of the UK’s general election, some have suggested that the first-past-the-post voting system is no longer fit for purpose. UKIP raise the point that they received over four million votes nationwide, yet were able to return only a single member of parliament. The Scottish Nationalists, by contrast, polled less than one-and-a-half million votes, for which they were able to return fifty-six MPs. That discrepancy, UKIP and others who favour changing the voting system argue, is incredibly unfair and indeed undemocratic.

First-past-the-post may not be perfect, but in a parliamentary democracy it’s the least bad system available. It maintains a strong link between members of parliament and individual constituencies – and lest we forget, it is voters in these constituencies that MPs are elected to serve. What good would it do to change to a wholly proportional system if that meant sacrificing the one remaining link between the political class and the people they nominally serve? Far from making things better, it would worsen politicians’ corruption, and make the entire political system far more London-centric than it already is.

Some parties, like the Greens and Liberal Democrats, are probably genuine in their belief that changing the voting system would be fairer and better for the country. UKIP are not – their recent change of heart regarding the fairness of the voting system is purely political, and reflects their growth as a party. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing or to dismiss it outright, I’m simply pointing out what Nigel Farage has gone on record as saying in the past – that first-past-the-post is the least bad voting system available for one main reason: it provides the country with majority governments that mean politicians spend less time involved in shady backroom deals, and that the voting public generally know what to expect from each of the parties based on their records and campaign literature, rather than wondering how much of a party’s manifesto will be sacrificed during post-election negotiations. FPTP failed in this regard in 2010, but surprised everyone by returning a Conservative majority in 2015. Arguments against it suffered a serious blow when that happened.

However, FPTP works best in a two-party system, not the four- or five-party system that may (or may not) be developing in the UK right now, and it does seem unfair when UKIP can poll four million votes, and the Greens over a million votes, yet between them they manage only two MPs. The issue then becomes how to reform the voting system in such a way that strong constituency links can be maintained, hung parliaments avoided, and all the smaller parties can still be well-represented at Westminster.

The current Conservative government wants to cut the number of seats in the House of Commons, and thus the number of MPs, from 650 down to 600. This is a good idea – but there’s a way in which they could go further, and take big steps toward achieving the aims stated above. Of the 600 seats in a reformed House of Commons, have 500 of them remaining as normal – MPs elected by first-past-the-post in a constituency – but have the remaining 100 not tied to any constituency and assigned proportionally based on nationwide vote share.

This would mean a reform of the system, but not a total change. Constituencies would be larger, because there would essentially be 150 fewer of them. Boundary changes would have to be done by a completely unbiased and non-partisan authority outside of the control of the government to ensure that these substantial changes don’t end up unfairly harming or helping any political party, but it could be done. Constituencies would be drawn up based on several factors – population size, geographic area, and culture. You couldn’t, for example, suggest that island constituencies in the far north of Scotland be merged with areas of the mainland – the cultural differences are too great. But you could, for example, merge two Labour inner-city constituencies or two Conservative commuter-belt constituencies. It would take a great deal of effort to do it fairly, but it could be done.

The second part of this system – the 100 proportionally-elected MPs – would be elected in the same kind of way we elect MEPs today: each party would produce a ranked list of up to 100 candidates, and for every 1% of the vote they receive nationwide, the next candidate on their list is appointed as a proportional MP for that party. UKIP, for example, would have 14 MPs elected under this system, based on their 2015 results, plus one constituency MP for a total of 15. That’s much better than the one MP they elected under a purely FPTP system. Any party which polls over 1% of the national vote would be eligible, and percentages would be rounded up and down using simple mathematics – 14.15% becomes 14%, 22.93% becomes 23%, etc. The proportional MPs would not just be important to the smaller parties – the bigger parties would need them as well, as they’d represent almost 17% of the Commons. It would mean they would need to make sure they were performing well nationwide, not just in target seats. Labour’s “35% strategy” would probably not work under such a system.

I very much doubt if this kind of first-past-the-post/proportional representation hybrid will ever be adopted, or even considered by political parties, but if anyone is going to start messing up the voting system, it seems like the least bad way to do it. What’s important is to maintain that link between politicians and the people that they are elected to serve. Changing to PR would not only sever that final remaining link between the political class and the people, but it would also leave the door open to hung parliament after hung parliament, and backroom political deals and negotiations that are not merely undemocratic, but may be harmful to the country. However, if recent trends, like the rise of UKIP and, to a much lesser extent, the Green Party, continue, it is clear that millions of voters are being left unrepresented. While those of us who study politics in depth can brush it off, saying “well that’s how the system works!”, there’s a real danger that if those voters become disenchanted with the entire political process, they will stop participating altogether, and that’s something we need to avoid. In short, what I’ve laid out is a suggestion for limited reform, maintaining that vital constituency link, but also bringing in elements of proportional representation to boost smaller parties’ share of seats. It seems workable to me, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?