¦ What You Can Get Away With

ICM do a regular poll called the Wisdom Index. Rather than asking people how they will vote, it instead asks them what percentage of the votes they think each party will get at the next election. Personally, I don’t think this is a useful way of polling people as I don’t people have thought in any detail about what percentage of the vote different parties will get, and will instead just suggest a credible-sounding number that they’ll likely have seen in press reporting of other polls. There may be useful information to be gained in asking people what party they think will win the election (see Noelle-Neumann’s work on the ‘spiral of silence’ for more on that) but I don’t think the actual percentage vote shares predicted are that useful.

And today, we see some reporting that twists even those figures into absurdity with the claim that they show Labour falling behind the Conservatives in Scotland. (Which would not, as the article asserts, be for the first time ever as the Tories were winning Scottish majorities up until the 1950s) What the poll actually shows is that Scottish respondents believe that the Tories will win more votes UK-wide than Labour – they weren’t asked to predict the Scottish result. The poll is specifically not asking people to think about how they will vote in Scotland, but how other people will vote in the rest of the UK. Now, there might be interesting conclusions (especially about the SNP surge) to be drawn from Scottish voters thinking the Tories will do better in the rest of the UK, but ‘Tories to win more Scottish votes than Labour’ isn’t one of them.

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mphbasicFirst of all, let me just say thanks to everyone for their response to my post yesterday about basic income. There clearly are a lot of people out there interested in the idea, so I’ve been spending a bit more time thinking about how we can take it forward.

I think there’s two main areas that we need to work on, though within those areas there are lots of other issues to be dealt with: policy and promotion.

Policy is the discussion of just what type of basic income we want to see, from the question of do we want a universal basic income, guaranteed minimum income, negative income tax or any of the other variants that have been proposed through what sort of level it should be set out to how does it get paid for and implemented? From what I’ve seen in the last day, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the basic idea, but perhaps a lot of differences about the detail, and that’s something we need to discuss.

Promotion is the question of how do we get from where we are to getting a basic income policy adopted by the party. There are educational issues of how we get information out there to people about what basic income is and issues of how do we want to go out and take the discussion to people to win the argument for basic income. It’s also about getting supporters on side who’ll take up the idea in Parliament and out in the press, as there’s a bigger argument to be won than just the one in the party.

Both of those issues are linked, and we have to be careful not to get into a chicken-and-egg situation where we discuss ourselves into permanent inaction: ‘we can’t go out and publicise basic income to people until we have our policy right, but we can’t get our policy right until we talk to people and find out what version they want’

So, to move on the discussion from the ‘that’s a good idea’ stage we’ve reached, I’ve created a couple of groups to discuss the issues some more and hopefully get us moving on.

There’s an email list on the Lib Dem list server which you can find out more about by clicking here. If you’re registered with the list server you can subscribe there, otherwise you can do it by emailing sympa@lists.libdems.org.uk with ‘subscribe basicincome’ in the main body of the email and no subject line.

There’s also a Facebook group called Liberal Democrats For Basic Income, which you can join by following that links and clicking ‘join group’.

Hopefully, those two should cover most people’s preferred options for discussing, sharing and planning, but if you have any other suggestions or proposals then please speak up and let us know as I don’t want to exclude people from discussions, but hopefully we can now start to move forward and get some things done!

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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?

A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA – Be warned, this story does describe some pretty horrible incidents, but it’s worth reading for the exposure of how rape culture is permitted by institutional power.
On Countering The UKIP Cri-De-Colon – “if you’re not prepared to defend what are supposedly your defining principles for fear of losing just one election, you might as well pack up the whole party and leave politics to the bigots.”
“Immigration” is not “immigrant” – Andrew Hickey on why pandering to bigots isn’t even addressing the root cause of their complaints.
The Disappearing Sea – How the Aral Sea dried up, and what it left behind.
They refused to fight – A great piece by Jim Jepps on the experience of conscientious objectors during the First World War.

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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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hateAs part of my long-running scheme to become insanely rich while doing as little work as possible, I had another brilliant idea that will surely make me loads of money if someone else is willing to do all the work and then pay me for the inspiration.

Watching the usual Thursday night flurry of indignant commentary on Twitter’s #bbqt hashtag, it occurred to me that there exists a large group of people (sometimes including me) who appear to only watch some things on TV in order to mock it and argue about it on Twitter. There’s very little ‘hey, this is great, you should turn it on and watch it’ and lots more ‘oh god, this is terrible, they’re all completely wrong.’ This proves that we can have lots of fun socially hate-watching something, while the things we love we prefer to do alone.

That’s all well and good (though a little short of any actual evidence), you say, but how does this revelation lead to your masterplan of getting rich through doing as little work as possible? Yes, certain programmes do have an oddly negative fanbase, but monetising that group to provide me with the many mansions I’m sure I deserve is not a simple prospect, is it? Let’s be honest, whoever is behind Dimblebot isn’t having to sell their mugs and t-shirts through tax havens to protect their millions.

But that’s because they’re thinking too small. What we need is a way to unite all the various hatedoms, to give them one place in which to gather and virtually vent their spleens, to guarantee that at any time of day they can join in an active community of haters who’ll appreciate their wittily crafted quips and bile-laden put downs. What we need, in short, is The Hate Channel.

It’s quite simple. A TV channel that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offers programming that’s solely designed to aggravate and promote communal snark (use of the official #hatechannel hashtags will be promoted, of course). As it’s a likely to begin life as a lower-tier service, it will have to buy in a lot of pre-hated content, but most people are so happy to have something to virtually shout at that they won’t care that it’s a repeat. (No one ever listens to what Goldstein says in the Two Minute Hate, after all)

I’m envisaging mining the archives for previous seasons of classic reality hatealongs like The Apprentice and Made In Chelsea. For drama, there’d entire decades of terrible stuff that was just unlucky to be shown in an age before Twitter: save yourself from the 879th iteration of your argument about Steven Moffat by joining in the bile-ridden discussion of Bonekickers, Attachments, Bugs and countless others, while classic drama will resurrect the most earnestly wooden and dated Plays For Today and other 70s drama to enable group mockery of outdated social norms. Sport will centre around exclusive rights to complete match broadcasts of the World Cup’s least interesting 0-0 draws, cricket’s dullest draws and a The Complete Commentaries of Clive Tyldesley. News will be easy to cover, with The Best Of Kay Burley at 6pm and 10pm every night (with no repeats guaranteed!), followed by Newsnight’s Most Pointless Moments and repeats of Question Time. Current affairs programming also dominates weekend mornings giving viewers the chance to catch up with Andrew Marr’s Least Penetrating Interviews and Sunday Morning Vaguely Religious Themed Shows’ Least Intelligent Arguments.

As the budget permits, new and original programming will be interspersed into the mix, and I’m sure the daily three-hour broadcast of Richard Littlejohn In Conversation With Katie Hopkins will arouse much righteous indignation, with political balance provided by Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee Explain Why You’re Wrong About Everything. I’m also sure that the very flexible panel show format Extremely Minor Celebrities Saying Something Mildly Controversial will prove a great hit, providing everyone agrees to leave all their restraint behind before watching, but as that seems to be de rigueur for most modern TV commentary, we should be fine.

Once the viewer numbers pick up, we’ll be able to ensure that it remains a constant feed of hate-watching by only allowing adverts that actively encourage angered responses. Christmas advertising will start in January each year, and be accompanied by a stream of cheaply made adverts for companies operating on the very edge of legality and morality, all repeated endlessly with ad breaks chopped into programmes at random. Aspect ratios and picture quality of all programmes will be endlessly tinkered with, just to ensure that every form of internet pedant has something to annoy them, and schedules will be advisory at best, regularly tinkered with to ensure that you never quite get to see what you were expecting.

The Hate Channel – We Hate What You Hate, And We Hate You. It’s the future of television, now make it real and give me my 10%.

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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