2017 General Election Diary Day 34: U-turns, caps and Libertines

Seems I picked the wrong weekend of the campaign to take a break from politics and blogging, as everything appears to have been turned upside down over the last few days. ‘Dementia tax’ went from being the sort of thing you don’t even write on the flipchart when someone suggests it to a Google search term both the Tories and Labour were bidding to advertise on, and meanwhile Donald Trump touched a mysterious glowing orb as part of a ceremony, and Jeremy Corbyn made a surprise appearance at a Libertines gig where he was greeted with acclaim by the thousands of people there.

Yes, I feel like I’ve fallen into a parallel universe too. Apparently we’re in a version of 2017 where not only are the Libertines still a thing, they can also get massive crowds of people along to watch them.

As everyone is fond of pointing out, election wobbles happen to every party in every campaign. Everything up to then has been smooth sailing and easy going, then something comes out of left field – who knew they were going to care that much about one manifesto promise? – and suddenly you’re under pressure, the polls are looking a lot closer than you thought and campaign HQ is inundated with reports of candidates and canvassers being chased down driveways by people saying they’ll never vote for you again. Now, there’s a lot of suggestion that this is essentially meaningless, that campaigns change nothing and elections are decided on fundamental impressions and perceptions decided long before. All campaigns – even Blair in 1997 – have wobbles, they say, and then go on to win and look back at them with a happy nostalgia at their naivety, but we forget that there are an awful lots of campaigns that went on to lose who have similar tales without the rosy tint. If there’s one thing we should have learned from recent years, it’s that politics and public perception can change very very quickly. We don’t know how many hammer blows it takes to knock down a strong and stable wall, but it’s probably not as many as you might think if the first few gentle taps reveal that it’s actually pretty weak and wobbly.

(At present, that final sentence is my entry in the Most Tortured And Painful Metaphor category of this year’s election blogging awards)

And for a question now that may turn out to be oddly prescient in the next Parliament. The Salisbury Convention says that the Lords won’t block any policy that’s in the new Government’s manifesto. What happens if the Government disowned part of that manifesto during the election campaign in favour of something else? (The best answer to that so far involves the Lords killing a cat, and I don’t really wish to find out if there is an official ceremony for doing that somewhere in the bowels of the great uncodified British constitution)

Also from the weekend, here’s the Foreign Secretary being caught out in a lie on national TV:


But don’t worry because the interviewer decides it’s all a bit of laugh and doesn’t go on to press him over it. Maybe if people stopped referring to him by the middle name he only uses for political purposes and went for ‘Mr Johnson’ or ‘Foreign Secretary’ instead, this would stop seeming like a fun little silly game with a comedy character, and serious politics with a man in a position of real power and influence?

For all those who claim that referendums are the settled ‘will of the people’ and can’t be turned over by a mere election manifesto, would you care to explain why the Tories are talking about changing the way the London Mayor and Assembly are elected? They’re actually talking about switching all Mayor and PCC elections to single member plurality systems (the system some refer to as ‘first past the post’ despite it lacking anything that even resembles a winning post), but London’s was agreed as part of the referendum that approved the Mayor and Assembly and overturning the will of the people on Mayoral referendums…is something the Tories have form on, so why are we surprised?

And with things hotting up on the election trail, we now have a decent selection of candidates for Election Leaflet Of The Day, though the winner has to be this one from Lee McCall, independent candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, who has stumbled on an unintentionally creepy slogan. ‘I’m not running for office, I’m running for you!’ he promises his electorate, bringing up the image of him chasing them all over the Isle of Sheppey. It could also work as the closing line of a political-themed rom-com, where the protagonist suddenly realises what’s important in their life and tells them so.

Maybe we all just need to hope in a happy ending. Eighteen days till we find out if we’re getting one…

2017 General Election Diary Day 31: Death by nostalgia

There’s an assumption politicians often make that they are perfectly in tune with the electorate. Elections are often a way of finding out whether or not this is true and seeing just who knows best bout what the electorate wants, but underlying this on all sides is an assumption that the political awareness of politicians and the electorate has the same cultural base. One of the more interesting side-effects of this was in the last election where the debates featured numerous politicians talking about austerity and its effects, and the resulting effect that one of Google’s most popular searches in the UK was ‘what is austerity?’ as a large amount of the viewing audience had no idea what they were talking about.

The same thing comes about with politicians (along political commentators and, to be fair, academics) assuming that everyone has the same detailed knowledge about the history of politics that they do, and so can easily remember the swing in their constituency in 2001, and the key slogans that were being used in that election, when a lot of people have trouble remembering what constituency they’re in (let alone council ward) and even when the last election took place. Nowhere is this level of political nostalgia revealed than in the field of billboard posters. So, when Labour released their new poster this morning, the commentariat were quick to go ‘ah-ha, it’s a homage to an old Tory poster’ because they remember this sort of thing. Meanwhile, any member of the public seeing it is more likely to wonder just how someone is wearing three boxing gloves at once, rather than having any memory of seeing something similar twenty-five years ago.

(Whether any member of the public ever sees 90% of posters that are ‘unveiled’ by parties is an interesting question, given that most of them only exist as images for press conferences and the occasional poster van that does a couple of circuits of Westminster before heading off to hawk something more profitable.)

There is continuing trend in political campaigns to launch advertising campaigns that are somehow a response to something that happened years or even decades ago (consider how many times people have referenced the ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster) and it’s definitely a new phenomenon. I can’t recall anyone’s 1992 election campaign featuring posters that referenced election campaigns from the mid-60s, for instance. There’s a feeling of it being part of a political re-enactment society, where everyone likes all the ritual and rigmarole of poster launches even though they know they don’t mean anything anymore, but who wants to go to report on the start of a new social media targeting strategy?

And while we’re talking of obscure and possibly outdated methods of election campaigning, let’s turn to Election Leaflet Of The Day, where my absence has finally opened the trickle gates and allowed a decent number of new leaflets to appear on the site. So, let’s turn our attention to Boston and Skegness, where as well as the usual array of candidates, there’ll be a small party with no MPs and little support standing. However, we don’t have any leaflets from Paul Nuttalls of the Ukips on the site yet, so we’ll have to look at another small party, calling itself ‘A Blue Revolution’, with the subheading of being ‘The Worker’s Party’. (I suspect the latter is what they really wanted to call themselves but were thwarted by there already being a well-established Irish party with the same name) Their manifesto appears to be a mix of populism and some form of socialism (cut bureaucracy and more workplace democracy, but only in the public sector) and they call for Britain to maintain strong links with ‘the real countries of Europe’ which appears to be an odd bit of rhetoric, rather than an assertion of there being some fake countries in Europe. Or perhaps they think all the bureaucracy is being used to maintain Ruritania’s EU membership? We shall have to await their appearance in Parliament to find out.

Twenty days to go, and the finish line is creeping ever closer…

UPDATE: Being an idiot, I forgot to put in a link to today’s leaflet of the day. It now has one.

2017 General Election Diary Day 29: How far do we have left to fall?

It’s late, and I need to sleep so I should probably skip this update, but I’m probably not going to be able to do a post tomorrow either, as I’m going to an event at the LSE in the evening. And that’s why I want to write something now, because the event I’m going to is called “Illiberal Democracy in unstable times”. It’s focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, but it’ll be interesting to hear if any of the countries talked about have a policy proposal like this:

Firms will be asked to pay more to hire migrant workers and they in turn will be asked to pay more to use the NHS.
Theresa May will make a commitment to bringing immigration down to the tens of thousands target, which has been missed since 2010.
She will warn that “when immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society”.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said that the prime minister would put forward an “uncompromising” message that immigration is too high and would come down under her leadership.

There’s your new Global Britain, folks. Open to the world, as long as none of them actually want to come here and work or study, and if they do then we’ll make sure they pay through the nose for everything, bury them in paperwork to allow them do it, and then expect them to be grateful for it. And it’ll cost us £6bn every year to do it. That’s strong and stable government for you. That’s about £120m a week they’ve got to find even before they start looking for the extra £350m a week the NHS is meant to be getting because of the supposed benefits of leaving the EU.

This isn’t strong and stable government, this isn’t even conservative government, it’s petty nationalism and a sign of just how debased our political culture has become that the media are just nodding along at nonsense like this.

Illiberal democracy in unstable times? We’re going to show them exactly what that means, aren’t we?

2017 General Election Diary Day 28: The title-writers’ union have gone on strike

Sixteen years ago today, John Prescott punched someone. You probably remember that, but do you remember anything else from the 2001 election? In my mind, it’s always been politics as scripted by Samuel Beckett: there was a lot of talking by bizarre and unreal characters, but at the end very little of consequence had actually changed. Unlike Beckett (or like him, depending on your perspective), there wasn’t any desire on anyone’s part to see it happen again.

Now, this election doesn’t feel like one where nothing much is going to change after it, but it does feel like one that’s been devoid of much in the way of interest. Despite the way I’ve managed to drop a day or two from the numbering of these entries, it’s been four weeks since our collective dull post-Easter Tuesday was interrupted by ‘the Prime Minister will be making a surprise announcement at 11.15’ and yet since then, it’s felt like we’ve all been just going through the motions of an election, and no one’s really that enthused by it. Perhaps it’s because the last two elections came at the end of five-year political cycles and we were all hyped up to fever pitch by the time they happened, or maybe we’re all just tired out politically after so much happening in the past two year or so and enthusiasm is in thin supply. Or maybe it’s just me and everyone else is having a whale of a time while I’m just having a week of busy days and nights with little time to actually plunge myself into the full election madness?

Which is all a long-winded way of me saying I can’t think of much to write about today as even Labour’s manifesto launch feels a bit of a damp squib because we saw everything that was in it last week, and with well-known positions on Brexit being the main theme of the election, the manifestos are somewhat of a sideshow especially as they’ve been rushed together in haste for a snap election, not prepared and tested over time in expectation of a scheduled one.

Even Election Leaflets has been pretty dull this election, probably because the rushed nature of the election means we haven’t got as many fringe candidates as we have in previous years, so I’m forced to pick through professionally produced leaflets from the major parties which provides slim pickings for Election Leaflet Of The Day. So, we’ll go for this Liberal Democrat leaflet, which is recorded as being delivered in Cornwall but has also been seen elsewhere. It appears to come from the Overly Literal Design Agency, where someone’s picked up on the phrase ‘the election’s in your hands’ and run with it, even though the metaphor appears to stop before you get to the copy on the inside, unless it’s a subtle primer to get people to look at Trump and May’s hands together in the picture. Trump’s entirely normal size hands, of course.

And by counting on my fingers, I see we have twenty-three more days of this to go. Never has June seemed so far away as it does now.

2017 General Election Diary Day 27: Peaking too early?

One thing I saw today, and naming no names, was someone questioning why the Tories stepped up the ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an evil terrorist sympathiser’ over the weekend when we’re still so far from polling day. Were they concerned that Labour were doing better than they thought and hitting the panic button early? On the face of it, doing something like that with over three weeks to go until polling day would seem a little over the top, except it’s not three weeks until polling day.

Sure, we’re all waiting for June 8th, but the first votes in this election will be cast in about a week’s time as that’s when the postal votes will be dispatched and a lot of them will be filled in and sent back straight away. In 2015, about one-sixth of the electorate were registered for postal votes, and they were an even larger share of actual voters because they turn out (or post in) at a higher rate than people at polling stations. Consider how many seats have majorities that are less than one-sixth of all voters and you’ll realise just how crucial it is to get as many key messages as possible out before the postal votes do.

And let’s face it, being able to cast your vote and then forget about anything election-related until the results start coming in does have a certain appeal.

Theresa May’s finally been allowed out to meet real people, but as well as wondering how much play it will get in the media, it’s worth noting where it happened. One of the signs in 2015 that the Tory polling was showing them making big gains in Lib Dem-held seats was that David Cameron and George Osborne started doing campaign visits to seat like Yeovil which weren’t considered under threat, but toppled with the other yellow dominoes on election night. This time, though, May’s not out in a seat the Conservstives are hoping to gain, but in Abingdon, part of the Oxford West and Abingdon seat they took from the Liberal Democrats in 2010 and held in 2015. Now, it could be Tory strategists feeling it’s so safe it’s OK to send her out in public there, but it might also be an indication tht there are shifts going on beneath the headline polling that could lead to some interesting results on election night.

And if you can predict where all those shifts are going to go, don’t forget my prediction competition.

And another plea: please upload any leaflets you get to Election Leaflets, because I’m seriously running out of material for Election Leaflet Of The Day as there’s not much fresh going up there. (It also provides a good resource for other people as well, if you’re not so keen on helping me) So, for today we have a leaflet from a former party leader challenging for a seat in Sheffield. Not the one you might be thinking of, it’s the Greens’ Natalie Bennett who’s asking voters to make her ‘the North’s first Green MP’. I guess ‘the first Green MP for anywhere outside Brighton’* was a bit too unwieldy to fit. Still, nice to see the ‘leaflet that can also be used a window poster’ design still being in use.

*If you want to argue about the precise status of Cynog Dafis, the comments are open.

2017 General Election Diary Day 26: All bollocks, all the time

We’re halfway through the election campaign! Yes, we’ve made it through the twenty-six days since Theresa May stood at her podium outside Downing Street and ended a whole hour of Twitter speculation by announcing this election, and we now just have twenty-five to go until it’s all over. Or, as I write this, there are 602 hours until the polls close, which is just about the right amount of time to go and do something truly productive, like watching all of Doctor Who or Star Trek instead of paying any more attention to whatever the scandal of the day happens to be.

We do have some interesting data on the calibration of the political scandal scale, with the discovery that saying ‘bollocks’ is not as scandalous as tweeting a picture of a flag. Both have been done by Emily Thornberry, but only one turned into a major scandal that caused her to have to resign her position. Given that the country definitely hasn’t got any calmer or more accepting since late 2014, we can no doubt expect that the last Andrew Marr show before the election will sound something like a Derek and Clive sketch. Just don’t mention the flags.

My Eurovision prediction turned out to be right (like all good political science predictions, it having turned out to be correct, I’ll ignore all the caveats I put around it and claim I definitely saw it coming) with a contest happening during a British general election giving us a first victory for a country. In line with 1966 and 2001, the other times a country won for the first time in a general election Eurovision, this clearly heralds a Labour victory on June 8th. Or a government being returned to power in their first election. I shall come back here in a few weeks time to selectively cut and paste the version of that prediction that turned out to be correct.

Coming up in the next week, we’ve got the manifesto launches for almost all the parties which will be interesting to see what policy surprises have been kept from us, and how accurate the leak of Labour’s manifesto was last week. We can also have the fun of seeing what locations the parties pick for launching them in, which is one of those thankless tasks where some keen events organiser spends ages trying to find the perfect venue for the party. They need to find something that fits with the party’s ethos and the message of the manifesto while not being somewhere that bored journalists and commentators can find something worth mocking in, or a place with connections to something that the party wouldn’t like. And once you’ve done that, if you’re really lucky it might be mentioned in a throwaway comment in the papers and you might just be able to tell what the venue is in the TV coverage behind all the party branding. Maybe all the parties should just club together and hire a featureless blank white room for the week that they could all use?

Tome to round up with Election Leaflet Of The Day with our first bilingual leaflet of the campaign from Labour’s Geraint Davies in Swansea West. It’s a constituency I used to live in, and after I left came back to help a friend win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in Mayals ward, so it’s amusing to see two supposed Lib Dems from there urging a tactical vote for the Labour candidate. The seat was a close fight between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but Davies got a decent-sized majority in a multi-way split in 2015. If he really needs the tactical votes then it might indicate the level of trouble Labour is in in Wales, with Tories pulling ahead in polls and seats like Swansea West, where they used to weigh the Labour vote, suddenly becoming marginal.

Halfway through – it’s all downhill from here.

2017 General Election Diary Day 25: Runaround, now!

Let’s get this straight. Some former Labour voters are backing the Tories because they think we need a strong and stable leader, while some Tories are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they want to oppose Brexit, and some Liberal Democrats are switching to Labour because they want radicalism, while some former UKIP voters are going back to Labour because they think they’re the party that will deal with their Very Real Concerns, while others are going to the Tories because they’re now the party of Brexit. Meanwhile in some places Greens have stood down to help Labour and Liberal Democrats, while only Liberal Democrats have stood down to help Greens. Oh, and in one corner of Surrey, they’re all either standing down or not campaigning to try and unseat Jeremy Hunt. Does that cover it all? (Apart from voters in Scotland, of course, who have their own programmes of voting behaviour)

In short, it seems we are going back to either the 70s or early 80s, and are merely awaiting the giant ghostly head of Mike Read to descend from the skies and tell us to ‘runaround, now!’ and everyone’s questions will be answered. (Except those of who wonder just how to capture the way he says ‘now’ in conventional letters)

As ever, Saturday is a quiet day on the media front as everyone’s preparing themselves for the Sunday talk shows, and also because the imminent prospect of tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest is capturing attention. After all it has politics, international intrigue, a complex voting system and behaviour, explosions, dancing, exhortations to national pride, cultural diversity, and somewhere buried under all that, there’s a song. And just like British politics, despite years of people trying, no one has yet been able to build a model to predict and explain the result.

Two big differences this year: first the UK becomes the first country to enter the contest after deciding to leave the EU (and sorry Leavers, but the European Broadcasting Union predates and is separate from the EU) and this year, it’s taking place during the general election campaign rather than being part of the post-election comedown party circuit for politicos. It’s not the first time this has happened, but previous times when they have occurred at the same time don’t give us much to go on in terms of patterns. Here, as best as I can tell, are the three times it has happened (I’ve assumed the general election campaign runs for about a month before the date of the election itself):

2001: Hosted in Sweden, won by Estonia (Tanel & Dave with 2XL – ‘Everybody’), UK placed 15th (Lindsay Dracass – ‘No Dream Impossible’)
1987: Hosted in Belgium, won by Ireland (Johnny Logan – ‘Hold Me Now’), UK placed 13th (Rikki – ‘Only The Light’)
1966: Hosted in Luxembourg, won by Austria (Udo Jürgens – ‘Merci, Chérie’), UK placed 9th (Kenneth McKellar – ‘A Man Without Love)

I see two patterns in this data for election campaign Eurovisions: the UK has a rather middling performance and the winner is a first of some sort. Austria and Estonia had their first wins, and Johnny Logan was the first (and still only) singer to win the contest twice. Not that there’s much data to make that prediction on, of course.

If you think you can make better predictions on obscure election-related topics, then don’t forget my election prediction competition will be running until polls close.

Finally, it’s time for today’s Election Leaflet Of The Day, which today appears to be a response to my plea yesterday to tie together UKIP and the Tories into their own coalition of chaos. It’s from the Liberal Democrats and delivered in Portsmouth South but appears to be a part of the national campaign as there’s no mention of a candidate’s name on there (Gerald Vernon-Jackson is the candidate there). It’s a start at setting out a message, but how much is it going to be repeated?

Johnny and the Coalition of Chaos perform their hit ‘What’s Another Five Years?’
Right, I’m off to find out what the odds are on Johnny Logan becoming Prime Minister. See you tomorrow, when we’ll be at the halfway point!

2017 General Election Diary Day 23: Vote for the Nonattitudes Party

Labour’s draft manifesto was leaked just after my post last night, which means people have had twenty-four hours to make all the jokes they want about it before I got a chance to do anything about it here. However, it does reveal something interesting about political behaviour that people – especially those involved in politics – don’t often understand. Taken individually, a lot of Labour’s policies like rail and energy renationalisation, or banning zero hours contracts are very popular, but Labour still trail in the polls and Corbyn – closely associated with a lot of these popular policies – isn’t popular. There are two main reasons for this.

First, is that most policies on their own tend to be popular, especially when they’re presented with no downsides. Second, and more importantly, most people don’t think about politics in the way people heavily immersed in the political system do (and that’s going to include most, probably all, of you reading this). I wrote about some of this a while ago in a post on John Zaller, but the main person of interest in this is Philip Converse who proved over fifty yesrs ago that most of the conventional wisdom about people’s opinions is wrong. He found that most people have what he called ‘nonattitudes’ on most political issues, because they don’t think about them. Asked to give an opinion on something, and not allowed to say ‘I don’t know’ either by the pollster or social pressure, they’ll give an essentially random answer. When it comes to picking who to vote for, they’re not weighing up all the carefully-considered and fixed opinions they have on a wide variety of issues, they’re responding to whatever considerations and associations are foremost in their mind at the time. It’s why asserting that ‘public opinion’ wants something (or that the ‘will of the people’ exists) is so problematic because in most cases, the public aren’t thinking about something enough to have an opinion on something.

(This, by the way, is why opinion polling is so hard and why question design is as much art as science, as you need to discover if people have actual consistent beliefs as well as finding out what they are)

Nominations for the election closed today, so we’re now in the stage of the election where various people at the BBC, PA and other organisations are collating information from local authority PDFs to get their election news up to date. If you’ve got time to help out with an open source project to share data about candidates, then you might want to check out Democracy Club.

Here in Colchester, our candidate austerity continues to bite. In 2015 we dropped from nine candidates to six, and this time we have just four. If this rate continues then at the next election we’ll have to find a way to have two-thirds of a candidate. In other trivia, this is the sixth election since Colchester became a single seat again in 1997, and in all that time, across all parties, we’ve had just two female candidates.

(EDIT: Turns out I should check for myself and not take someone else’s word for it. There are five candidates in Colchester this time)

In other nominations news, Zoe O’Connell has compiled her list of trans politicians standing for election and found that there are six at this election, which is a record. I also wonder if Helen Belcher, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Chippenham, is the first trans candidate in a seat formerly held by their party?

(If you’re looking for information on other representation, there’s some early figures from the Constitution Unit at UCL, which will no doubt be updated now nominations have closed)

Now we have lists of candidates, I’ll soon be able to start looking through them for some of the more fringier political parties standing, though I do wonder if there’ll be a lot fewer this time because a snap election means people have less time to get organised and raise the funds for an election campaign. However, there’s not the time to do that today, but there is time for Election Leaflet Of The Day, which almost went to a Tory newspaper that appears to be called ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’ but it looks so generic that I’m assuming you’ll get a copy through your door soon. Instead, to follow up on the news about trans candidates, the award goes to one of them: the Green Party’s Aimee Challenor in Coventry South.

In four weeks time we’ll be in the post-Sunderland results gap. Is anyone excited by that thought?

2017 General Election Diary Day 22: Vote Dredd for a strong and stable Mega City One

Today we had the shock news that British election law is so weak that it’s very very hard to actually break it (which is probably why Phil Woolas was so shocked that a court found he actually had). The main problem, I find, is that what people think election law should be is a very long way away from what it is. For instance, a number of times I’ve heard people (of all parties) complaining about a leaflet, a poster, or something else and saying they’re going to go and complain to the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer has no powers to intervene in electioneering, merely ensure that the election process itself is carried out properly – for most electoral complaints, the sole recourse is a legal process that starts with complaining to the police. It does lead to some particularly perverse situations, like a letter advising you to vote for party X in your constituency doesn’t count as local expenditure because it doesn’t mention the candidate’s name. If you’re wondering how parties can get in under the very low constituency election spending limits yet still bombard you with paper for the next four weeks, that’s how. (It’s also one of the reasons why sites like Election Leaflets are so useful to see what sort of things are happening)

All that doesn’t stop filling in the forms to record your expenditure at the end of the election being a laborious and tiresome process, especially when your candidates suddenly give you a receipt for a bunch of posting they did without telling you or something similar. I was an agent for local elections once, and it was a somewhat interesting experience, but never ever again.

Either a debate, or they’re both doing really badly on the French version of Every Second Counts.
You may have noticed in some of the coverage from France that there are very prominent timers visible during all the debates showing just how much time a candidate has used or has left, and those limits are strictly enforced. It’s another example of something in British politics that’s been half-heartedly reformed over the years, but no one’s actually gone on to finish the job and do it properly to ensure elections are truly fair and balanced between all contenders.

If you’re reading this blog, then I tend to assume that you do have some knowledge about how the election works, but even so you might find MySociety’s Beginner’s Guide To The Election interesting and useful. Over my time in politics I’ve heard variations of all the questions they have on that page, and many more besides, and it’s often quite staggering to see just how little we do to educate people about just how the system works, and how much of it is assumed.

A quick bit of electoral pact news: the Greens have announced that they’re not standing in Lewes, to give the Liberal Democrats a better chance of retaking the seat, while in South West Surrey a combination of withdrawals and decisions to not do any campaigning appear to make Dr Louise Irvine of the NHA Party the best-placed challenger to Jeremy Hunt. The prospect of actually removing the Health Secretary has so overjoyed Labour HQ that they’ve…suspended the membership of some of those who made the decision. The ‘we must stand everywhere’ tendency amongst all the parties is actually a lot newer than you might think, but like so many British things, people act as though it’s an immutable law that’s been in place since the dawn of time rather than a few decades ago, and breaching it will cause horrible things to happen.

We shall see the outcome of all these deals tomorrow, when nominations close and we get the lists of who has been nominated, and just whether any party may have accidentally made an error on their nomination papers which means they won’t be standing a candidate. I believe the standard time for nominations closing is 4pm, so watch out for local council websites being slammed with requests for candidate lists from then on.

And when you know who’s standing, don’t forget to take the chance to take part in my election prediction competition, described as “the geekiest general election prediction competition yet” by one participant.

And finally, time for Election Leaflet Of The Day, and one that will definitely be counting towards local expenses as it mentions the candidate’s name quite clearly. It’s from Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, though while his name is clear, let’s play a game of ‘which party is he a member of?’ A clue: it’s not Open Britain, even though that’s the only political organisation to get a mention on the front page. Can you spot the references to his party anywhere? And should everyone hand correct bar charts before scanning and uploading a leaflet they’ve received, like the recipient of this one did?

And for once, the big pledge everyone’s excited about today isn’t election-related, it’s that there’s going to be a Judge Dredd TV series. Honest. Just like the announcement that there’s going to be a return of Blake’s 7, which is something that’s definitely going to happen any day now.

2017 General Election Diary Day 21: Polling, polling, polling

Let’s talk about one of my least favourite innovations in recent politics: the Twitter poll. I understand the thinking behind Twitter introducing it – ‘interact with your friends and get their opinions’ – but like all seemingly benign social media inventions, its taken on a new and more twisted life of its own complete with the annoying accompanying phrase ‘please RT for a larger sample’. While as a social scientist I’m glad that people have understood that sample size is an important aspect of polling, it’s only been taken on in the way of a cargo cult, where the more click offerings one makes to the gods of polling, the more accurate the poll will magically become.

The problem is that it doesn’t work like that – your sample size can be as large as you like, but if you’re not sampling the right thing, you’ll not get the right result. The classic example of this is the 1936 US Presidential election, where the Literary Digest predicted Roosevelt would lose based on asking millions of its readers to respond to a poll. Their results – from a sample of over 2 million people! said there’d be a clear victory for Alf Landon over Franklin Roosevelt by 57% to 43%. The actual voters went decisively the other way, giving Roosevelt a 60%-37% victory. The Literary Digest sampled lots of people, but it didn’t cover a wide enough range of the population to get a genuine picture of how people would vote. Actual opinion polling is more concerned with getting a representative sample of the population rather than the size of it because if you properly strike the balance between a random sample and a representative one you’ll get a broadly accurate response. There’s still a chance they’ll get it wrong – that’s the problem with taking any sample rather than the full amount – but they’ll usually be in the right range. Any poll with a self-selecting sample is only going to be right by accident, not by design and trumpeting that your Twitter poll shows the result in a constituency or that the Bus Pass Elvis Party are about to sweep the country isn’t far away from demanding to know just why Wikipedia’s page on Alf Landon doesn’t mention his Presidency.

and no, I’m not going to discuss the more accurate polling right now because the numbers are just far too depressing and we spent far too much time in 2015 obsessing over variations that were firmly in the margin of error than was ever healthy.

In more important news, the retreat into Potemkin campaigning continues with Theresa May now apparently only taking pre-approved questions from journalists while Buzzfeed are now barred from Corbyn events for the the crime of having reported something he said to them. However, we will get the spectacle in a couple of weeks time of seeing Paul Nuttalls of the Ukips being interviewed in primetime by Andrew Neil. But not Caroline Lucas, either because the party with an MP that won more than one council seat last week isn’t important, or because the death stare she’d give Andrew Neil after half an hour of his patronising nonsense pretending to be questions might harm the audience.

And finally, it’s time for Election Leaflet Of The Day, and we have out first independent General Election candidate to be featured. Ajmal Masroor is standing in Bethnal Green and Bow, and his leaflet makes much out of the fact that he came second to Labour there in the 2010 election while standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate. He also, in a rare event for someone standing who’s not previously been elected to Parliament, has his own Wikipedia entry which indicates he’s quite well known and unlike many other candidates we’ll likely see over the next few weeks, understands enough to get his leaflets properly designed and written. That may make him a candidate worth watching for a surprise result, or it may just indicate an independent who’ll achieve the rare feat of keeping his deposit.

Thirty days till he, and many hundreds of others, discover just what’s happening to that £500.