I just looked back at 2010, and discovered my post for day 30 then was called ‘all over bar the voting‘, because that was the last day of the campaign, with just polling day to come. Is there anyone happy we still have over a week to go this time? Campaign duration’s something else we likely need to add to the list of things to review in the operation of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Today’s excuse for the commentariat getting their knickers in a twist was the news that Ed Miliband had been photographed leaving Russell Brand’s house last night. Cue much mirth and then faux-outrage at the idea that he might have been having a conversation with him. All of the pointless bloviators were at it:

Even when it turned out that he was there to do an interview with Brand for his YouTube channel, people still appeared to think this was in some way a mistake by Miliband, which seems to be a point being made solely for partisan benefit, not because it makes any sense. We hear politicians regularly tell us how important it is to vote, and the commentariat love nothing more than telling politicians how they should be engaging with the non-voters (especially the young) to hear their concerns and address them. Well, when the nation’s most public and prominent non-voter asks you to come and do an interview on his million-subscriber YouTube channel which he’ll talk about to his ten million Twitter followers, why not engage? And to see some of my fellow Lib Dems mock Miliband when just a few days ago they were praising Nick Clegg for going on The Last Leg (which began as an engagement with Alex Brooker about his not voting) really isn’t a pretty sight.

This goes to the same issue as the Green Party video from a couple of weeks ago – the political class and the commentariat might mock something, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just something different and an attempt to reach out to the sort of people their finely wrought columns, Sunday morning chats and carefully thought out blog posts will never reach. I don’t like Brand, as I think he misses out the whole ‘actually being funny’ part of comedy and he appears to have some rather odd and sexist attitudes that many ignore, but I don’t think that puts him somehow beyond the pale where no one should engage with him. Yes, he’s a preening self-obsessed fool who loves using ten big words where one small one would do and is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is, but so are most politicians, commentators and political editors. I suspect Miliband might get a better conversation from him that he did from Boris Johnson the other day.

As we’re talking about non-voters, it seems apt that today’s minor party from the great big list of parties is the Above and Beyond Party, who are standing in five constituencies across England and Wales. They have one main aim at this election – a ‘none of the above’ option being added to the ballot paper at all future UK elections. Once that’s achieved, they’ll then go on to their main aim, which is to become ‘a movement for radical change, refocusing its energies on encouraging the electorate to vote none of the above in all subsequent general elections until the political establishment properly addresses the need for a new system of governance.’ Like yesterday’s Hoi Polloi, they think the current system is generally corrupt and needs to be replaced with something entirely different. Indeed, amongst all the various minor parties and independents on the ballot, there are plenty who want to change the system entirely (and not just through the various forms of Marxist revolution) and I do wonder if they should be looking to work together more to amplify their voices rather than all losing their deposits. (Though for what it’s worth, I would like to see a none of the above option in our elections)

And finally, today’s dive into the pile of Election Leaflets brings us one of those independent candidates wanting to change the system, but doing it in the sort of clothes you’d expect someone wanting to represent Shoreditch (and Hackney South) would wear. This is Russell Shaw Higgs, who does give off something of the air of an aging Nathan Barley in his pictures, but gains points for being the first candidate I’ve seen talk about sortition in an election leaflet.

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Harold Wilson at microphoneA couple of weeks after the General Election, we’ll all be gathering around our TVs for another night of overblown histrionics and complicated voting analysis when it’s time for 2015’s Eurovision Song Contest. With the death of former British Eurovision entrant Ronnie Carroll causing a bit of a stir in the election a couple of weeks ago, I decided to look at under which parties and Prime Ministers we’ve had the most success in the contest.

My first discovery was that only three Prime Ministers have presided over British Eurovision victories: Wilson, Thatcher and Blair. They’re also the three longest serving Prime Ministers of the Eurovision era, which perhaps indicates a link between success and Prime Ministerial longevity. Wilson’s the most successful, with three victories and just one each for Thatcher and Blair. It is worth noting that Blair’s victory (Katrina and the Waves, 1997) came on just his second day in office, while Wilson’s final victory came just two days before he left office, so there is also a possible link between victory and Prime Ministerial transition.

Despite having more victories under Labour Prime Ministers, the overall record under Tory governments is better with Britain’s average finishing position under purely Tory governments being 4.88 and just 9.12 under Labour governments. The coalition has fared even worse, with an average finishing position of 19.6, which makes the average under Tory PMs 7.16 – still better than the Labour average. Of course, there is an effect of the number of contestant countries increasing over the years, which I haven’t controlled for.

In terms of individual Prime Ministers, the list goes like this (excluding Douglas-Home, who only saw one contest during his time in office, Matt Monro’s 2nd place in 1964):

1) Wilson (average finishing position of 2.66 over 9 contests)
2) Heath (3 over 3 contests)
3) Macmillan (3.5 over 6 contests)
4) Thatcher (5.27 over 11 contests)
5) Callaghan (6.66 over 3 contests)
6) Major (7 over 6 contests)
7) Blair (14 over 11 contests)
8) Brown (15 over 2 contests)
9) Cameron (19.6 over 5 contests)

What’s clear from that is that there’s been a general decline in Britain’s performance over the years with each Prime Minister doing worse than their predecessor except for Wilson and Thatcher. The general trend appears to be for a long-term decline beyond the control of any political party leaving little hope of a British revival, unless someone finds a way to resurrect Harold Wilson.

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Let’s start with a couple of tales from the doorsteps, and see which one you find the most amusing. Both of them are from Devon, so maybe they do elections differently down there. First, we have the Greens of Exeter with a complaint:

Maybe I find this more than amusing than most, given that the Greens called on me back when I was first a candidate and also called on me the other week, but if you’re ‘appalled’ at someone knocking on a door, it feels to me that someone’s outrage-o-meter has been set a little too sensitively.

Meanwhile, in Torbay, the local Conservatives found all that door-knocking such a bother when they last did it in 2011 that they’re not going to bother doing it again this year. Not doing any canvassing is a model adopted by many candidates, few of whom are successful and even fewer of whom tell their electorate that they’re not doing it. We shall have to wait and see what success this approach bears for them.

On a wider note, I do think the model of canvassing that most parties use is badly broken, especially the further out from an election it’s used. It’s always good for politicians to get out on the doorsteps and talk to people, but expecting people to have firm political identities that an be recorded and treated as fixed is a mistake, in my opinion. The idea that you can define large chunks of the population as being definite supporters of any party isn’t backed up by any of the current data on how voters see themselves (see Elections and Voters in Britain for a lot more on this). As with so many things in our politics, a lot of canvassing rests on assumptions made in the mid-20th century that aren’t reflective of how people are now.

One other thought on voter intentions that might be of interest. A few weeks before the election, I went to a presentation by Chris Hanretty (one of the people behind Election Forecast) explianing their model. It’s assumptions follow polling trends from previous elections where for a long period in the run up to polling day, past electoral performance is as important as current opinion polling. It’s not quite as simple as taking an average between the two and calculating a swing – there are lots of weightings and demographic data in their model that are important – but one point he made is important: from around ten days out, current polling becomes a much more important part of the prediction than past performance. If that holds then we would expect to see increases in the Tory and Lib Dem shares in polls over the next ten days, while Labour and UKIP fade off while their overall prediction stays roughly the same. However, if the polling stays around its current level, then we’ll likely see opposite changes in the prediction.

However, for those of you wondering about the accuracy of the different focusing models, I must arn you of a potential flaw in May 2015‘s. As I’ve mentioned before, my department are having an election prediction competition and if May 2015’s current prediction is the final result, then I’d win the contest (and £200). This implied accuracy of my predicting skills is something you might want to take into account while assessing different forecasting models and websites. (For comparison, I’m 11th of 37 based on Election Forecast and 5th against Elections Etc’s current numbers)

Today’s minor party focus breaks from the order of the list in response to a request from Therese on Twitter who wants to know more about the Hoi Polloi who are not so much a party as one person’s description of themselves. That person is Geoff Moseley, a cinematographer and he’s standing for Parliament as the vanguard of a peaceful revolution, wanting to stop politics being just “the current dichotomy of power rocking back and forth between the left and right wings of the same deranged bird”. Beyond that webpage, though, there’s very little about him which implies that the revolution will be a very peaceful one.

Today on Election Leaflets, we have the first sign of an organised anti-SNP tactical voting campaign on the ground with this leaflet from Scotland In Union. How many of them there are being delivered, I don’t know, and their recommendations for who to vote for on their website seem to be based more on bookies’ odds than polling data, but it will be interesting to see if there is tactical voting in Scotland as part of the wider shift in voting intention there that seems likely to show up there next week.

There are just ten days left. I’m starting to feel that I might just find something to write about every day until then…

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englandjigsawIn this interview with the Guardian, George Osborne does make some good points about the importance of devolution, and does seem to be genuinely committed to giving more powers away from Whitehall, even to the extent of giving some local authorities more control over the purse strings. Sure, it’s not full devolution or a commitment to proper federalism, but when it’s compared to Eric Pickles’ vision of localism – where you’re locally free to decide how much you agree with him – it’s a refreshing change.

However, all that’s tempered by his devotion to a single model of devolution – combined authorities (usually as ‘city regions’) with elected mayors. I’ve written before about the problems caused by combined authorities in that they’re just adding another level of bureaucracy to an already confusing system of local governance and not making things any easier or more democratic.

However, in the light of some of the rhetoric from the election campaign, I’m still confused by the way Osborne – and so much of Whitehall – is continuing to push elected mayors, despite the fact that people have consistently rejected them. We hear howls of protest whenever it’s suggested that the SNP might consider having another independence referendum in Scotland in the next few years, on the grounds that last September settled the issue for a generation. Apparently, though, the people of English cities aren’t allowed to have the same decisive say over how they want to run their affairs. People want more power locally, and to insist that they can only have that power if they agree to Whitehall’s way of running things – a directly elected model of sole power that doesn’t apply nationally – is to get devolution wrong from the start. It shouldn’t be about regions conforming to what the centre wants to get power, it should be about them claiming the powers they need to use in the way they decide is best.

Insisting on a single way of doing things is the Treasury’s way of asserting and remaining in control through any devolution process. Insisting on something the people have already rejected because Whitehall knows best is anti-democratic and undermines the whole purpose of devolution from the start.

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This morning, I had a feeling that the Telegraph’s story about Tory preparations for a Boris Johnson coup was going to be the big story of the day, hence why I dashed off a quick post about it. In my defence, how was I supposed to know that the Prime Minister would manage to forget what football team he supposedly supports?

Yes, I know it’s trivial to care about what football team a politician supports, but I think it also shows just how manufactured Cameron’s public image is that he felt the need to invent one, instead of just honestly saying that he was never that much into club football but enjoyed watching England. But that would be an honest answer and thinking outside the box, which isn’t the sort of thinking you hire a PR man for.

Even that failed to distract from the main story of this election: everyone except Nicola Sturgeon going slightly batshit about the rise of the SNP. Today we had Nick Clegg making comments about how he wouldn’t go into any deal with the SNP, which of course had various members of the party up in arms and pointing out that it wasn’t his decision. Not that the media ever actually pay attention to the ways political parties work, of course. Clegg responded by sending out an email to members that walked back his comments somewhat.

However, what concerns me in all this is that general message going out here is that the SNP are to be excluded from power (and especially UK-wide government) at all costs. There’s a concept in political science (and part of my dissertation) called the ‘structure of competition for government’. This is related to the overall party structure in a polity, but relates how parties interact in government formation. For instance, until 2010 Britain had a closed structure of competition – only two parties got to be in Government, and they alternated with each other. Other countries (Sweden, for instance)have more open structures, but the parties tend to be structured in blocs (usually of left and right) and while there’s movement between parties, there’s normally alternation between the two blocks and no crossover between them. There are also very open systems like the Netherlands, where a variety of coalitions come together in government with no real fixed pattern.

The interesting thing about Britain is that the structure of competition has blown wide open since 2010, with the old two-party structure seemingly gone. We’re in a position where a new – and possibly much more open – structure is being formed, and this election will be crucial in that process. However, while we may get an open structure, it will also be a very skewed one if one party remains locked out of power because all the potential partners for them won’t come to any agreement with them. That doesn’t have much effect when it’s a small fringe party with a handful of seats but when it’s a party with a significant number of seats it has a major effect on government formation. You can ignore them all you want, but they can still vote in Parliament.

As examples, consider what’s happened in Sweden and Germany recently. Both have relatively large parties that are excluded from being part of government formations (the Sweden Democrats on the right in Sweden, and Die Linke on the left in Germany), but taking them out of the equation makes it very hard for traditional groupings of parties to form a majority. In Sweden, neither left nor right could get a majority, and Germany had to have a CDU-SPD grand coalition because nothing else would form a workable majority.

Beyond the whole issue of telling the people of Scotland that their votes don’t count if they cast them for an unapproved party, excluding the SNP from any say in power runs the risk of leaving no workable coalitions except for a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories. I still think it would take us two inconclusive elections to get the point where one could be formed, but we’re going to get to a point where that’s the only logical solution left on the table. Well, we could go for electoral reform and an entirely new system that reflected the people’s views much better than the current one, but that would be really crazy talk.

After that long rant, and because it’s getting late we’ll combine today’s obscure party and dip into Election Leaflets with the Pirate Party. They’re standing six candidates in the election on the typical Pirate programme of internet activism and digital rights, but what I think is interesting is the look of their literature which manages to break out from the usual bright primary colours and smiling photos of the candidate style of usual election leaflets. It’s something different, and they’re raising important issues (even if I’m far from being convinced about their stance on copyright) that others aren’t, so maybe something of them – either design or policy – might be picked up by other parties in the future.

Twelve days to go. Hopefully the press won’t have completely exploded in incandescent fury at the SNP and demanded the tanks be stationed at Berwick by then.

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Don't worry David, I've never gone back on my word.

Don’t worry David, I’ve never gone back on my word.

I think we might be in the election silly season, as today we’re getting swamped by odd stories and speculation. This includes the idea that if the Tories don’t get a majority, David Cameron will step down and allow Boris Johnson to be appointed Tory leader without an election so he can try and form a minority administration.

So far, so silly, but if they do try it, they might want to take heed of the words of a Daily Telegraph columnist writing at the time of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair:

The British public sucked its teeth, squinted at him closely, sighed and, with extreme reluctance, decided to elect him Prime Minister for another five years. Let me repeat that. They voted for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to serve as their leader. They were at no stage invited to vote on whether Gordon Brown should be PM.
I must have knocked on hundreds of doors during that campaign, and heard all sorts of opinions of Mr Blair, not all of them favourable. But I do not recall a single member of the public saying that he or she was yearning for Gordon Brown to take over. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t remember any Labour spokesman revealing that they planned to do a big switcheroo after only two years.
It is a sad but undeniable truth that there are huge numbers of voters (including many Tory types) who have rather liked the cut of Tony’s jib. They have tended to admire his easy manner, and his air of sincerity, and his glistering-toothed rhetoric. They may have had a sneaking feeling – in spite of Iraq – that he has not wholly disgraced Britain on the international stage; and though you or I may think they were wrong, they unquestionably existed.
In 2005, there was a large number who voted Labour on the strength of a dwindling but still significant respect for the Prime Minister. They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.

The same columnist was equally scathing about the idea of the new Prime Minister relying on other parties to support him:

in revelations that yesterday rocked Westminster, it emerged that Sir Menzies Campbell has been engaged in talks with Gordon, about a “government of all the talents”, which must be faintly mystifying to all those Labour candidates, activists and voters who have been engaged in fighting the Liberal Democrats. They thought they were campaigning for Tony Blair – and it now turns out there was a secret plan to bring in Gordon Brown and assorted Liberal Democrats, including good old Paddy Pantsdown.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember the electorate being asked their views of a Gord-Ming Lib-Lab coalition. It is fraud and double-fraud.

It was ‘a scandal’ and trying to build some form of coalition in that situation was ‘fraud and double fraud’.

I’m sure we all eagerly await the same columnist – one Boris Johnson – denouncing this proposed move in the same terms.

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Some more election activity from me, as I helped out a friend by delivering a couple of hundred leaflets for her – it was a sunny day, and I needed the exercise. So, it’s another day when I’ve not been keeping up with the minutiae of the campaign itself, but I’m not sure I’m missing much. In 2010, David Cameron complained that the debates were sucking the life out of the campaign, but this year it feels like the campaign itself is doing that, and reducing itself to nothing before our eyes. There’s a real campaign going on, with leaflets being stuffed through doors that are then perhaps knocked on by the ever-decreasing armies of canvassers, but that seems entirely separate from the bizarrely sterile series of photo opportunities and stage managed appearances that the media are covering. Perhaps the biggest possible shock any of the leaders could deliver now would be to state that they’d not be doing all that any more, and would instead be spending eight hours a day either door-knocking or phoning voters. That’d be something different, for once.

So I don’t really have much to say on today’s spat over Libya, except to note that David Cameron appears to think Ed Miliband’s comments were ‘ill-judged’. This, of course, comes from a man who approved Michael Fallon’s attempt to depict Miliband as someone who would stab his country in the back, and didn’t think that was ‘ill-judged’.

If you’re looking for some analysis right now, I recommend this post on May 2015 which explains the many paths Ed Miliband could take to get him to 323 seats. However, it follows others in automatically assuming the Liberal Democrats are part of the Tory block of MPs, which I’ve said before I don’t regard as too reliable an assumption, especially assuming the party would go along with a deal that involves support from the DUP and UKIP. Of course, that just makes things even easier for Miliband to get to Number 10, and the thought has occurred to me that if Douglas Alexander is drowned beneath the SNP tide, Clegg would probably be a useful candidate for Foreign Secretary in a Miliband cabinet.

On the list of parties standing in the election, we’re down into those with single figure numbers of candidates now, and it’s interesting to note that two forces once perceived as a big threat – the British National Party and Arthur Scargill, now leader of the Socialist Labour Party – are both standing eight candidates. There’ll be no sighting of Scargill on election night, though, as he’s not standing anywhere. Just behind them with seven candidates is the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, once the electoral home of choice for various members of the Redgrave family in their quest for revolution and socialism, now just another splinterous faction amongst the many on the left.

Today’s discovery on Election Leaflets is a fascinating one – Elliot Ball, candidate for the 30-50 Coalition in Bethnal Green and Bow (and their only candidate, it seems). I’ve been excluded from the audience for a political leaflet before, but never in such an odd way – the 30-50 in their name refers to linking the idealism of the under 30s with the experience of the over 50s, so those of us between those ages are neither idealistic or experienced enough to count, it seems. It seemed the usual sort of oddity you find at election times until I noticed the name ‘Richard Franklin’ listed as the chairman and founder of 30-50. Could it be? Yes, it is.

Richard Franklin, for those of you who don’t know was a regular on Doctor Who in the early 70s, playing UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates. His acting career didn’t reach such heights again, but he has been somewhat of a political gadfly in his later life. He’s been a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in 1992, the Referendum Party in 1997, UKIP in 2001, and then his own ‘Silent Majority Party’ in 2005, the number of votes he received getting fewer each time. Having had dwindling success as a candidate, he’s obviously decided to take a more behind the scenes role and use his experience to mentor the idealism of younger candidates. The question is whether 30-50 can beat the 78 votes Franklin got last time he stood and start a new upward trajectory, or are they doomed to continue to drop? Up against ten other candidates, it may be hard to stand out of the crowd.

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