Saturday, June 28, 2003

Money where your mouth is

Thanks to a reminder from Matthew Turner, I've found IG Sport's current spreads on the result of the next British General Election. (Hopefully, that link will work permanently, but if not go here, then select 'politics' from the menu)

Spread betting's slightly more interesting than just checking the odds, as it deals with the number of seats betters expect each party to win, rather than just which party will win. If you're tempted to have a bet, I'd advise against it - spread betting can lose you lots of money very quickly...

Of course, the predictions in the spreads aren't scientific, and are just based on how much money is being staked on the different parties (you could call it a capitalistic opinion poll, really), but it's interesting to see how the spreads move over time, reflecting people's perceptions of what the result will be.

Fifa in sensible decision shock

Yes, it is possible - they've decided that the World Cup should stay with 32 teams, rather than increasing to 36 as was suggested. In amongst all the wrangling over the number of places each confederation got, it seems someone realised that trying to narrow down 36 sides to 16 for the knockout stage was going to cause some serious problems.

Friday, June 27, 2003

The well-dressed traveller's choice

I know a few of my American readers might want one of these. Any suggestions for a British version?

Move along, citizen, nothing to see here...

This makes for interesting viewing.
This makes for interesting reading.

But it's all just conspiracy theories, right? Nothing to get really worried about...

Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control.

Looking ahead to 2004's excitement

The Daily Kos has a series at the moment, doing a 'how they can win' analysis on the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for next year's US Presidential election - just how they can win the nomination, not the election itself, as yet. There are analyses up for John Kerry, Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, Bob Graham and John Edwards at the moment, with Joe Lieberman coming soon, assuming someone can remain awake long enough wile thinking of Lieberman to write it.

Very interesting, anyway, and gives a good early account of the signs and pointers to watch out for during the primary season next year. My best guess at this time is that the fight is pretty much between Kerry, Gephardt and Dean, but events always have a habit of getting in the way of my predictions.

Disclaimer

The latest YouGov/Telegraph poll, showing the Conservatives with a lead for the first time since the fuel crisis has various bloggers of the right excited (such as Mr Cuthbertson) but there are couple of points beyond the headline figures worth noting.

First, while a majority doesn't see them on the side of either, more people still see the Government as being on the side of business than on the side of the trade unions. While Labour might still be constitutionally tied to the Unions, it seems that link has been broken in the people's minds.

Secondly, and most interestingly, when asked about tax, 67% of people support a 50% tax rate for people earning over £100,000 (coupled with a raise in the 40% band to £40,000 a year). So, people don't think labour is on the side of the Unions and they want higher taxes for the rich. Tommy Sheridan must be almost as happy as IDS today.

Oh, I was one of the people YouGov interviewed for the poll. You can either try and guess what I answered, or just dismiss the whole thing based on clearly faulty sampling methodology, should you wish.

Advice from a professional

Something that may be of interest to political bloggers - Hugo Young on the role of the political commentator.

Brent East by-election

I've just had an email from the Liberal Democrats, saying that the Brent East by-election (called after the death of Paul Daisley MP) is likely to take place on July 17th. The writ for the by-election hasn't been moved in Parliament yet, but that seems a likely date (though I suspect it could be the 24th, instead, depending on when the writ is moved) - I suspect the Government wants to get this over and done with as quickly as possible, and not leave it hanging over the summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Look-e-like-e

Now here's a way to fill a boring afternoon - have a look through some of the pictures on the Susan Scott Lookalikes agency website. It's quite a revelation. Firstly, you find yourself wondering what sort of mirrors some of these people have, as for many of them, their resemblance to their supposed 'lookalike' is fleeting at best. For instance: 'Gary Lineker', 'Jeremy Clarkson' and 'Dale Winton'.

Then you have to ask the question - who would book some of these people for an event? Do they get many 'I'm having a party, could you send a Karl Marx lookalike along, please?' Why would anyone book an Anthea Turner lookalike when the real one is available for £10 and a chocolate bar? And does mere possession of a Darth Vader costume really make you a lookalike?
When I read all the various 'I'm a leftist, but I think Bush should be re-elected because the war on terror is so important' arguments, I just laugh. I suspect British Spin does as well, but he recovers enough to write a good post that points out all the fallacies in the arguments they advance to justify it:

in order to be a leftist for Bush, you have to say-
What you say in a campaign is irrelevant to your presidency (unless you’re a Democrat),
The war against terrorism is the most important issue we face in the world (but for a Democrat to say it is more important than invading Iraq is disgraceful)
No issue matters more than the war on terrorism, (which is why I must support a president who is passing massive Tax cuts for the wealthy at a time when there are huge gaps in US homeland security).
The Polynesian island of Niue has just got free wireless web access for the whole island. So, how many tech journalists are going to be trying to convince their editors that they need an all-expenses paid trip there to research it?
The Onion's on a week off at the moment, so the AV Cliub is just rerunning some of the best of it's old interviews, including an excellent one with Berkeley Breathed, creator of the Bloom County comic strip. He has a great response when asked what his politics are:

Liberal, shmiberal. That should be a new word. Shmiberal: one who is assumed liberal, just because he's a professional whiner in the newspaper. If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Did you know that there's anti-Semitism in Israel?

The Israeli attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into a local neo-Nazi website that jokes about gas chambers, advocates shooting Palestinians and denies that the Holocaust happened.
The website, published in Russian by a group calling itself the White Israeli Union is believed to be the work of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who claimed to be Jews when they entered Israel but who are blamed for the sharp rise in anti-semitism and advocacy of white supremacy.


I don't really know enough about the subject to comment, but I just thought the article and the issue itself was fascinating enough to bring to people's attention. I'm hoping that the Head Heeb, who knows more about this sort of subject than most bloggers, will have something to say about it.

Update; There is now more about this on the Head Heeb.
As part of the review into security after a man in a dress broke into a party, it's been announced that:
Files will also be kept on people obsessed with the Royal Family, Metropolitan police commissioner Sir John Stevens said...

Now for the first time, intelligence will be gathered on publicity seekers or others who may be fixated with the Royal family, Sir John announced.

"These people may present risks and threats and could encourage more sinister actions from others. In a post 9/11 environment no chances can be taken," he said.
At last! The police are going to be giving the Daily Mail, News of the World and all their ilk the attention they deserve. I fully expect the Daily Mail to entirely endorse these recommendations, then present itself at it's nearest police station to be locked up as noth a 'publicity seeker' and someone 'who may be fixated with the Royal family'.
An early entry for 'German Parents of the Year':

A couple anxious not to miss out on a concert by ear-blasting heavy metal rockers AC/DC took their nine-day-old baby with them, according to police in Germany.

You see - you let AC/DC fans start breeding, and this is what happens... (via Spin Starts Here)

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

British Spin has an interesting post on the potential of the internet in British politics, which includes his prediction that:

There will be an major insurgent political movement in the UK within the next 10 years, and that it will organise, fundraise, evangelise and motivate through the internet.

He doesn't give details of exactly what this movement will be (but then, who wants to give too many hostages to fortune?), but he bases a lot of his prediction on the development of the 'political internet' in the US - which I blogged about back in April, just to plug my own status as a traiblazing blogger. Ahem...

Of course, one could argue that his prediction has already been fulfilled. For instance, the Stop The War Coalition did a lot of its work online and a lot of MoveOn's anti-war work was 'echoed' in the UK, but while these (and other examples) could be shown to prove the letter of his prediction, they wouldn't really hold up to the spirit of it. The 'model' to which the campaign that fulfills the prediction has to aspire would be on the lines of the Howard Dean campaign in the US, which made the internet a fundamental part of its strategy from day one and is now reaping the benefits while others try to catch up. While we still have to wait till next year to see if the Dean campaign can win the Democrat nomination, in the few months I've been blogging Dean has moved from being among the also-rans to one one of the leading candidates in the race for the nomination, putting the early frontrunners (Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman) onto the back foot.

As well as the problems of finding a 'charismatic leader' for this movement and the fact that 'our internet development lags behind the US and the far east' there's also the question of what issue this movement will coalesce around. Of course, one can't predict what issues may come up in the next ten years, or even the next year - after all, anyone who predicted that over a million people would protest on the streets of London against war with Iraq two years ago would have been laughed at - but I would suggest that the likelihood is that this movement will be around an issue that the major parties are ignoring (or being seen as ignoring) for, despite all their campaigning faults in recent years, they are still very effective at piggy-backing onto campaigns and co-opting them.

However, there is also the possibility of it being an 'insurgency' from within a party (akin to the Dean campaign in some ways) with members of a party using it to change it from within. The effect of the internet the next time one of the major parties has a leadership election could be quite interesting to observe.
One of the good things about ICM's polls for The Guardian is that they put a breakdown of the results online (it's in Excel format). The 'headline' voting intention figures (Labour 38%, Conservatives 34%, Lib Dems 21%, Others 7%) continue the trend of all the recent polls with Labour in the high thirties, the Tories in the mid-to-low thirties, Lib Dems in the low twenties and others in the mid-to-high single digits. Labour have lost support from the last election, but it's mostly gone to the Lib Dems and others, with the Tories not making any significant gains.

However, some of the other questions they asked add some depth to those figures. Firstly, they asked 'are you satisfied or unsatisfied with the job Blair/Smith/Kennedy are doing as leader of their party?':
    Kennedy is the only leader with an overall positive score - +18% to Blair's -13 and IDS' -20%
    Blair still has the overwhelming support of Labour voters - +51% - but IDS gets a slight negative (-2%) from Conservative voters while Kennedy has a positive rating from supporters of all three parties
    Broken down by region (North/Midlands/South - no indication of where the borders are, or if they include Wales and Scotland)), Blair and IDS do best in the North, but both still have negative numbers (Blair -1%, IDS -13%) while Kennedy does best in the south - his +23% there is the exact opposite of IDS' -23%. Given the number of Tory/Lib Dem marginals in the South, those will be worrying numbers for the Tories
    Interestingly, broken down by age, all three leaders get their best results among 18-24 year olds, which raises interesting questions about whether young people really do distrust politicians

On other questions, Blair gets negative scores for his handling of 'European and international affairs' (-15%) and 'domestic UK issues like health, education and law and order' (-27%) while the replacement of the Lord Chancellor with the Department of Constitutional Affairs elicits a big shrug of the shoulders and a 'dunno, guv' response (17% in favour, 18% against, 65% no opinion)

Finally, the poll also included the question 'From everything you have seen and heard, do you think the military attack on Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein was justified or unjustified?'. Overall, 48% thought it was justified, 40% unjustified:
    By age, those between 18 and 24 thought it was unjustified (37%-53%) - 25-34 year olds (51%-39%), 35-64 year olds (51%-37%) and those 65 and over (44%-43%) thought it was justified.
    By social group, ABs thought it was unjustified, C1s C2s and DEs thought it was justified
    Only a majority of Labour voters (61%-31%) thought it was justified, with Tories (44%-47%), Lib Dems (38%-58%) and others (47%-50%) thinking it was unjustified
    By region, the North (51%-36%) and the Midlands (52%-40%) thought it was justified, but a narrow majority in the South (43%-45%) thought it was unjustified

Finally, looking at the breakdown of respondents by age/sex/region etc there are some interesting discoveries to be made:
    It appears that the average Tory voter is older than the average Labour or Lib Dem voter (the Tories actually come 3rd for support amongst 18-24 year olds, but it's a very small sample when broken down to that age group only). However, the median Tory voter comes in the 45-54 year old age group, while the median Labour and Lib Dem voter is in the 35-44 year old group.
    By sex, Labour's support divides 50-50, while both the Tories (53-47) and Lib Dems (54-46) have a majority of female voters (others are overwhelmingly supported by male voters - 66-34)
    Labour voters are the least likely to have taken a foreign holiday in the last three years - 59%, compared to 61% of Tories and 64% of Lib Dems
    Conservative voters are the least likely to have internet access - 41% have no access, compared to 37% of Labour voters, 35% of Lib Dems and 32% of others

Anyway, hope that was of interest to people. Unfortunately, it didn't have the one breakdown I really wanted - how the 'others' section breaks down. There's been growth in the people saying they'd vote for 'others', but I'm interested in seeing if this just a general trend towards the minor parties, or if it reflects dynamic growth for one or two of them. If anyone's seen any figures covering this recently, please let me know as I'd especially like to see what share of the vote the Greens, UKIP, SSP and BNP are getting.
Today's Guardian has a fascinating story about Dave Dodson and Bob Selden, who were assigned a rather strange duty by the US Army in the 60s - designing a nuclear bomb.
The question the project was designed to answer was a simple one: could a couple of non-experts, with brains but no access to classified research, crack the "nuclear secret"? In the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, panic had seeped into the arms debate. Only Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union had the bomb; the US military desperately hoped that if the instructions for building it could be kept secret, proliferation - to a fifth country, a sixth country, an "Nth country", hence the project's name - could be averted. Today, the fear is back: with al-Qaida resurgent, North Korea out of control, and nuclear rumours emanating from any number of "rogue states", we cling, at least, to the belief that not just anyone could figure out how to make an atom bomb. The trouble is that, 40 years ago, anyone did.
It's a fascinating story, and one that makes you wonder about many things - if I was assigned that task, could I have achieved it? Is anyone doing similar work at the moment, but for an employer slightly scarier than the US Army? And, when Hollywood inevitably discovers this story and makes a film of it, will they keep it as an interesting drama, or add a few jokes to make Dude, where's my Bomb?

Monday, June 23, 2003

Given that Big Brother Africa has been such a success that Channel 4 are now using it to try and boost the popularity of their own Big Brother, how long will it be before we see Big Brother Europe?

OK, the language factor might make it slightly harder to bring off than the African version (where all the contestants come from countries where English is one of the main languages) but it shouldn't be too hard to find a group of bi- or multi-lingual contestants from across Europe - though I suspect English would be the principal language as it's the most widely spoken second language across Europe.

Plus, it'd give all the papers lots to write about - The Sun would no doubt start a 'Towel Watch' on the German contestant, The Star would be able to fill its pages with 'Euro-Babes', The Guardian would lament over how the other contestants' use of English puts our language teaching to shame and The Telegraph would complain that we should be taking part in Big Brother North Atlantic or Big Brother Commonwealth instead. I'm sure a number of bloggers would also come out with 'Big Brother Europe? At least they're admitting it now!' as well...
Harry Hatchet (and friends) have now made the move to Movable Type - one day I may get around to joining them, but as it would require me to get a new host, and move my 60 megs of files, it can wait for a while, especially as I've paid for this one through to January.

One thing I like to do with blogs is look back through people's archives to when they started blogging - it can be quite interesting to see how people's writing style and 'voice' change over time. Looking back at Harry's first entry, I found this quote, setting out his aims for Harry's Place:

weblogs are an excellent way of pointing people in the direction of interesting items on the web and that is all this site aims to do.

I think the term I'm looking for is 'mission creep'...
The talk of a possible split in the Church of England over this gay Bishop means that one of my favourite words is being used regularly in the press - schism. I'm not sure why I like it so much - there's just something about the way it sounds, and it makes a split or argument sound so much more dramatic when you can call it a 'schism'. Maybe that's what the Hard Left should be doing to rebrand themselves - instead of branding those who dissent from the party line 'splitters' they should call them schismatics instead. Much more dramatic, and much more likely to get them some interest again.

Of course, while the Church of England may undergo a schism, it won't be like the mediaeval schisms of the Catholic Church because it won't be creating an antipope and 'Anti-Archbishop of Canterbury' just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? Of course, none of the people we now call 'Antipopes' called themselves that - they thought they were the rightful Pope and the other guy was the Antipope (which prompts the question - could a Pope and Antipope ever meet, or would they just cancel each other out?) but I have to admit, if there's one thing that makes the priesthood an attractive career option, it's that slim possibility that one day, far in the future, you could get to say 'I am the Antipope'.

Finally, if the Church of England does split, will Rowan Williams embark on a solo career? It's Glastonbury this weekend, and that's the traditional place for people named Williams to embark on a new direction after splitting from a an established powerhouse.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Following in the footsteps of Richard Dawkins, I'm a Bright.