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basicincome

We will work towards the eventual creation of a new ‘Citizen’s Income’, payable to all irrespective of sex or status… Unpaid work will at last be recognised as valuable. Women caring in the home, for example, will receive an independent income from the state for the first time. The Citizen’s Income will be buttressed by a single benefit for those in need, unifying income support and family credit, with supplements for people with disabilities and for child-care support. These reforms will ensure that every citizen is guaranteed a decent minimum income, whether or not they are in employment.

So what bunch of crazed radicals came up with that policy? Well, it’s from the 1992 Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Yes, Citizen’s Income (also known as Basic Income and many other names) was Liberal Democrat policy for a while, until it got dropped in 1994. Despite some people wondering if it might make a return under a previous leader, it’s remained in the Home for Former Policies ever since.

(If you what to know more, the Basic Income Earth Network and Citizen’s Income Trust are good places to start)

Recently, though, I’ve noticed lots more people talking about the idea, especially in terms of thinking of new ways to run and organise the economy, and the more I read and think about it, the more I think it’s not only a good idea, it’s a great liberal one. What better way to free people from poverty, ignorance and conformity than guaranteeing a basic income for everyone? If you want opportunity for all, why not free them from worrying about how they’re going to meet their basic needs? A fairer society where people have the chance to use their opportunities to develop new ideas can lead to a stronger economy because people had the chance to get on in life rather than being ground down as they sought to simply support themselves.

And I’ve run out of party slogans to use here, but I think you get the point. What we need, though, isn’t just to sit around and agree that it would be a good idea, but work to actually make it happen. I think it needs to be more than something that just floats around in the ‘that would be a good idea’ cloud, but to get it into party policy, let alone getting popular support for it and making it happen, is going to require work to do so.

So, to try and push it forward, I think we need to find a way to get supporters of Basic Income within the Liberal Democrats together and talking about it so we can set out a path to achieving it. I’m open to suggestions on how we go about doing that – email lists, Facebook groups, blogs, forums, Twitter hashtags, posted newsletters, conference meetings and whatever else are all possibilities, depending on interests – but I think the important thing is getting organised and doing it, not waiting around for something to happen.

So, if you’re interested, say so in the comments here, or let me know some other way – there’s links to my varied social media contacts at the side – and we’ll come up with some way of getting us all talking and planning. If there’s enough of us, who knows what we might achieve?

deweySo, Lib Dem Voice took the route of the Literary Digest as their survey got the result of the presidential election completely wrong. They predicted that the first round results would be 52% for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne, with the actual result being 47% for Brinton, 27% for Cooper and 26% for Lynne. That’s one candidate given almost double the votes she actually got, while the other two are underestimated by about 50% each. Basically, as a prediction of the result, it’s not much better than a random number generator would have been.

So, we’ll have a quick pause for a ‘told you so‘ because that prediction felt wrong to me for the reasons I set out there – the LDV surveys come from a skewed sample that isn’t a balanced representation of Liberal Democrat members. Yes, I know they like to put various disclaimers on them, but those disclaimers always come after a headline that says ‘Lib Dem members think‘ (or something similar) which means the first impression is that this poll represents all members. Indeed, if you just look at the headline – and that’s all you get on the LDV Twitter feed and on other social media – you don’t get any disclaimers, and just get told ‘what Lib Dem members think’.

Now, we often get the claim that these surveys have shown similar results to other surveys of Lib Dem members undertaken by polling companies, so I went looking for the evidence on that. As far as I can see, this is based on a few questions from a few years ago (and Mark Pack’s FAQ on it that people point to is over two years old too), so hasn’t been done on a significant scale or recently. Pointing out that something was vaguely accurate a few years ago does not magically make it accurate now – especially when there’s a very big piece of evidence (the Presidential survey) that says it’s not.

This matters because the LDV surveys and their results are taken seriously by many people, and they could well be giving a wrong impression about what party members think. As it stands, people are being told that Lib Dem members overwhelmingly continue to support the coalition and think the party is on the right track, but what if they don’t? If the people being surveyed aren’t representative of the wider party membership, why are their views being presented as if they are? The most recent piece of comparable data suggests that using the LDV poll as a guideline to what members think isn’t accurate, and it’ll take a lot more than pointing at something from a few years ago to change my mind.

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litdigThe Literary Digest holds an interesting place in the history of politics, thanks to its role in the 1936 US Presidential election. For several elections before it had been conducting a mass poll that had allowed it to successfully predict the result of the election, which obviously helped to gain it a lot of attention and sales. In 1936, it did the same thing, sending out over 10 million surveys to voters, and receiving more than 2 million back, which gave it the confidence to predict the election result. The result of their poll was clear: Governor Alf Landon of Kansas was going to defeat incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt.

As we know, that wasn’t just wrong, it was badly wrong. Roosevelt won the election in one of the biggest landslides the US has ever seen, and the Literary Digest, which was already doing poorly in the face of the Depression, went out of business two years later. Meanwhile, George Gallup had used a poll of just 5,000 people and predicted the result of the election much more accurately (though not completely accurately – he missed the size of the Roosevelt landslide).

Gallup’s success came from something we take as routine now – rather than aiming to cover as many people as possible, his poll had taken a sample from the population. In trying to cover as many people as possible and sending their samples to names they had from their subscriber records, phone directories and car registrations, the Literary Digest had failed to sample across the whole of the population, as the poor were unlikely to fall into any of those three categories and were much more likely to vote for Roosevelt than Landon.

What’s important to note here is that the Literary Digest’s methods had worked before and successfully predicted the result of previous Presidential elections, hence their confidence in calling the 1936 result from their data. What they’d missed was the effect of the Depression on both their sample and voting patterns. A large group of people were excluded from their sample because of their poverty, and because of that poverty that group had a very different voting behaviour.

Which brings us to Liberal Democrat Voice. They’ve been conducting regular surveys of members of their forum (which you have to be a Liberal Democrat member to join) and publishing the results on the site for a while. Now, while this is a sample of Lib Dem members, it’s not a randomly chosen sample but a self-selecting one, especially skewed towards those who like to talk and read about politics on the internet. Now, they regularly claim that when tested against other surveys of Lib Dem members their poll is generally accurate, and thus they refer to the poll as a survey of ‘Lib Dem members’ not ‘our forum members’ in headlines, but we’ve now got a strongly testable prediction to see just how accurate a representation it is.

As many of you will likely have noticed, voting in the Liberal Democrat Presidential election finished yesterday, and Lib Dem Voice published the results of their latest survey, asking how people would vote in that. That gave a result of 52% of first preference votes for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne. Unfortunately, there’s no George Gallup in this scenario, who’s done a survey using a different methodology, so it may turn out that they’ve got the result right. However, to me, it looks like a very big hostage to fortune that might well have oversampled a particular type of party member whilst missing out a large chunk who will vote in the election.

We shall see when the result comes out, but there might be a few nerves at LDV Towers while they await it…

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wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegAs I’m sure my regular readers have noticed, I’m currently a student in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. The University and the Department have recently been honoured with the appointment of the first Regius Professorship of Political Science which has been granted to David Sanders, who has lectured in the department since 1975 and been one of the most important figures in British political science in that time.

Last night, he delivered his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor: “The Reluctant Europeans: Britain and the EU, 1973-2015″ I naturally went along to hear it, and there were lots of interesting points made. The University were filming the lecture and the discussion that followed, so I would expect it to be available in full on their site soon. Until that is available, I did get pictures of many of the slides that illustrated and expanded his points, which you can see here.

The main thrust of the lecture was looking at how Britain has always been a more reluctant member of the EU than other countries and trying to explain why that is so. Support for the EU is lower amongst both the general population and the political elite in the UK than it is in the other member states, and Sanders believes that there are seven main reasons for this. He calls these seven stories that we tell ourselves, and they are:

  • Our historic conception of British foreign policy sees Britain as a world power, not just a European one, and we don’t want to be constrained by Europe.
  • A perceived economic disadvantage, where the rest of Europe does better out of free trade than we do
  • A sense of constitutional disempowerment – Europe as the remote and uncontrollable behemoth – coupled with a story of ‘we never signed up for this’
  • A widespread belief that the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court were imposted on us by the EU, and that the decisions made there go against the authoritarian instincts of many Britons
  • The issues and perceived problems caused by immigration, and by mainstream politicians ceding discussion of immigration to the extremes for many years
  • Beliefs about the relative transparency and efficiency of the British state compared to Europe, and beliefs that Britain implements rules more rigorously than other EU states
  • Inconsistent messages from mainstream parties, reflecting their internal divisions over Europe, have led to no consistent pro-European message to lead public opinion
  • There’s more information on each of those points, including some YouGov polling on questions relating to them, on the slides Professor Sanders used during the lecture.

    I’m not going to go into too much more detail as I’ll likely miss out important points as I wasn’t taking notes, and the whole lecture should be available soon for you to see, I hope. However, he did conclude the lecture with a discussion of points that both those pro- and anti-Europe should take note of in advance of any referendum that may occur. There are issues that both sides haven’t addressed that could be crucial in any campaign – for those in favour, they’re mostly centred around the list above, but for those against, there is strong evidence that the financial benefits of being in the EU are much bigger than the costs, and that the most enthusiastic supporters of Europe are the young, particularly those with friends and family living or working elsewhere in the EU. Support and opposition to EU membership in the UK is affected by external factors which cut across all demographic groups, and the prospect of success in any referendum could be strongly affected by any shocks that might occur in the run up to it.

    After the lecture, there was a very interesting panel discussion, chaired by Essex graduate John Bercow MP, and featuring Professor Anthony King, Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Dame Helen Wallace and David Sanders. Again, a lack of notes prevents me from covering it in detail, but Anthony King made a very interesting point about how the key difference between any future EU referendum and the 1975 one would be that the popular attitude towards the political class has fundamentally changed since then. In 1975, the party leaders’ endorsement of a Yes vote helped to secure the victory, but it’s unlikely it would have the same effect now as it did then, especially having seen what happened in the Scottish referendum. There was also some discussion of what might happen in the effect of strong regional and national differences in a referendum, especially the scenario where Scotland and Wales vote to stay in the EU but are outvoted by England.

    All in all, it was a very interesting evening, and definitely worth watching if and when the University make it available.

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    Labour annual conference 2014Four thoughts come to mind:

    Can you trust any ‘new leader’ polling?
    So, we now have polling that shows that having Johnson, Umunna or Burnham would give Labour a bigger lead in the polls right now. Anthony Wells often counsels against putting too much faith in any ‘how would you vote if..’ polls, and I think that is the case here. Voters may well take a ‘grass is always greener’ approach to any suggestion of change, but no one has any idea just how people will react should the Labour leadership change. When people have no idea how someone will actually perform as leader, it’s not a good idea to rely too much on their judgements of how they will vote in a hypothetical scenario.

    That said, I do wonder if changing the party leader could have an interesting effect of poll shares by changing the likelihood of party supporters to vote. That’s a question that I’m not sure is ever asked in the hypotheticals, but for me could be a key factor. I’ve said before that I think a lot of UKIP’s success is down to the fact that they can motivate their base to vote better than the other parties, and I wonder if a new leader would motivate Labour voters more – the lesson of Heywood and Middleton is that Labour do seem to have a motivation problem.

    Where can Labour get votes from?
    Anthony Wells’ excellent diagrams of vote shifts reveal the problems all the main parties are having in holding on to voters in an extremely volatile political environment. The question they pose, though, is where are Labour going to win the voters they need from? They’ve shed votes to Greens, nationalists and UKIP, and it’s hard to see the strategy that can draw voters back from all three of those. Is drawing a small percentage of voters back from the SNP (with the possible benefit of protecting all those Scottish seats) a viable strategy? Or does the party need to be looking at how they draw more voters back from the non-voters, and hope gains from there can dwarf any losses?

    Young cardinals, old popes
    Alan Johnson is the perfect king over the water because he hasn’t been assembling a faction around him ready to take the leadership, and so all the Shadow Cabinet members who have can step aside in his favour, ready to go for it the next time. (I suspect their scenario imagines Johnson as a one-term PM, with the real leadership contest in 2019/20) However, is it necessarily in the interest of the more established contenders like Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham to take a pass this time? Putting their ambitions on hold for five years would give the next generation (Umunna, Reeves, Creasy et al) plenty of time to stand out and shine, and give Prime Minister Johnson a real influence through Cabinet appointments and the rest in who gets to follow him.

    What if?
    We’re in a very strange time for British politics, one that’s certainly unlike anything else I’ve seen in my lifetime, where all of the established parties are under threat. In this position, Labour ditching Miliband would have inevitable knock-on effects in the other parties. If he goes, that’s just the beginning of the story: suppose a new leader does open up a poll lead for Labour, while UKIP win the Rochester by-election. That seems likely to trigger more Tory defections and/or more calls for Cameron to quit. Given the volatility of the polls, and the variability in shares across the pollsters, it’s entirely possible in that scenario for us to see a poll (however rogue) that puts UKIP in second place and the Tories in third. Could Cameron survive then, and what would be the effect of the Tories trying to replace a sitting Prime Minister a few months before an election when one of the leading candidates to replace him doesn’t have a seat in Parliament.

    We live in interesting political times. I look forward to when the historians of the 2030s get to tell us just what was going on, because I’m not sure we’ve got much of an idea right now.

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    My post earlier reminded me of something I’d read before that was even more illustrative of belief in the One True Party than the article I linked in it.

    This piece, in response to the Guardian’s endorsement of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 election, is a perfect illustration of how some will argue that you must support the One True Party whatever it has done or might do. I really can’t describe the full oddness of it, but if it was about religion instead of politics, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was written by a cult member. It’s that special.

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    I don’t normally read LabourList, but this morning someone on Twitter linked to this article about Labour’s fight against the Greens. It starts out almost sensibly, then descends into such a pit of belligerent tribalism that I began wondering if it was a parody. (Then I noticed it was by arch-Blairite ‘moderate’ Luke Akehurst, and was assured it was serious)

    There’s a certain category of politico – and I’ve seen them more in Labour, but they exist in every party – who are convinced that theirs is the One True Party and argue that case with a near-religious zeal. In this world view, anyone who disagrees can only do so because they are evil or misguided. There are only two sides to any political debate – the right side and the wrong side – and the One True Party is invariably on the right side. Anyone who disagrees with the One True Party is obviously evil, and anyone who suggests there might be a way to achieve something that’s not the One True Party’s way is misguided.

    This is what lies at the root of Akehurst’s assault on the Greens – that they’re getting in the way of Labour, his One True Party. His arguments aren’t based much on ideology (and when they are, it’s all about how hard it is to triangulate Greens) but purely on the principle that Labour are always right, thus Labour need to be in power, and thus anyone who gets in the way of that is harmful and needs to be stopped. The Greens didn’t actually win a seat in Hackney – in Akehurst’s view, they ‘blocked’ someone from Labour getting their rightful place on the council. Greens aren’t people with different views and arguments, they’re ‘a huge drain on campaigning resources’, because all that matters is how the One True Party does. It’s probably the statement that ‘if you want PR for councils at least let your primary motive be improving Labour representation in rural areas, not giving a free pass to the Greens in councils where we have been fighting for years to stop them getting elected’ that shows the One True Party view most clearly. The idea that PR might be a good thing in itself cannot even be processed, and everything must be judged in terms of how it helps or hinders the party.

    One True Party types exist in all parties, though, not just Labour and we shouldn’t pretend that they’ve never served a useful purpose for their parties. In a time of tribal and class-based politics, where voters (and even activists) generally had little information to work on, it was important to build loyalty to the party as an institution, not necessarily the ideas behind it. When most elections were just about two parties, descending into tribalism ‘the One True Party is always right’ partisanship does make a certain kind of sense.

    We’re not in those times any more. Obviously, for some people politics still is a predominantly tribal affair, or even just a game between opposing sides where winning is the only important thing, no matter how you get there. However, I’d argue that with the breakdown of strong loyalties to parties amongst the voting public, this sort of approach isn’t likely to attract support in the way it used to. Trading insults back and forth with your opponents might feel good to the One True Party activist, but it’s not likely to attract the voter who knows that there are no true parties, just a group of different parties that might do different things. When offered with ‘you must vote for us because we’re right about everything’ in several different forms, is it any wonder when they go for something entirely different?

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