¦ What You Can Get Away With

It’s the afternoon of the 19th of January as I write this, not long after Lord Ashcroft released his latest voting intention poll for the general election. According to the New Statesman’s database, this is the 22nd opinion poll released so far this year, and there’s at least one more to be released today. We’re still almost four months from the election and we’re currently averaging over one opinion poll being released a day, not forgetting the many different polling aggregators and polls of polls that update regularly based on the new figures that come in.

Given that I’ve blogged, tweeted and discussed polls many times before, and I’m a student in a department that has consistently used various types of polling data, this may be a somewhat heretical question, but are there just too many polls out there now?

It seems to me that we’re in a situation where we’re getting much more polling information than we’ve ever had before but there’s so much that it’s almost impossible to distinguish signal from noise. Minor up and down movements in daily trackers are dissected and analysed by a Twitter crowd of thousands, and that discussion is then forgotten the next day when the reverse movements are treated with the same reverence, despite it being just a return to the norm. Most of the polls are all within the margin of error with each other, giving us the oddly paradoxical result that only those that are significant outliers from that norm get properly remembered.

The other problem is with that so much polling out there it comes to dominate the conversation because everyone can find a little snippet of polling data that supports the argument they want to make. Want to argue that everyone should note the rise of the Greens? Ashcroft’s latest has them at 11%. Want to argue that UKIP are the main threat to the establishment and the Greens are nowhere? ComRes have UKIP at 18% while the Greens are just on 3. Looking to argue that as the election comes closer, people will stop flirting with minor parties and go back to voting Tory or Labour? Populus have them both over 35%. Want to argue about different polling methodologies and the effect they have on the results? Take your pick, and go for it.

This is in January for an election in May. As everyone steps up their operations as the election comes closer, and more and more attention is paid to the polls that do come out, they’re going to dominate the election discussion even more. We could reach a point in April where there’s a different poll showing opinions UK-wide, in Scotland, for a region, a constituency or the important left-handers under 35 demographic every hour of the day.

Yes, data is a good thing, but too much data thrown at people without the time to process it all is going to lead to everyone cherry-picking the results they like best and ignoring the rest. No one needs to change their mind because everyone can find support for what they want to believe.

We’re about to be buried under an avalanche of data, from which I’m not sure anyone will be extracted without injury. At least the election actually happening might give us a break for a few days, right until someone decides they need to know what the result would be if the election had been held a week later.

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(The first, and possibly last, of a series of pitches for films that don’t exist)

From an early draft, which ended with a musical number.

From an early draft, which ended with a musical number.

The Pitch: The country’s in the middle of an election campaign, and the Prime Minister discovers that his advisers have got it badly wrong. Despite his refusal to participate, broadcasters are still going to go ahead with a leaders’ debate and he’ll be represented merely by an empty chair if he’s not there. Realising he needs to be there, he now has just 90 minutes to get across a gridlocked London, but can’t use any governmental resources. His quest takes him on a bizarre journey across the capital, discovering new truths about himself and his country. Can he avoid the empty chair, and if he gets there, what will we he say?

The Cast:
Prime Minister: David Tennant
Aide who’s a bit sleazy and doesn’t have much to do in the second half of the film: Matthew Horne
Aide who’s very idealistic and about to quit until she sees the human side of her boss: Romola Garai
Adviser played by someone who we clearly only had on set for a few days because he had better things to do: Steve Coogan
Supposedly edgy street kid who never swears or does anything that dangerous: Some poor sod fresh from the Brit School who’ll look back on this as the highlight of their career
Leader of the Opposition: Christopher Eccleston
Leaders of other ill-defined parties: David Mitchell, Olivia Colman
PM’s party enemy who’s somehow hoping to benefit from all this: Rupert Penry-Jones
Antique expert (archive footage): Arthur Negus
Debate moderator: Keeley Hawes
Overly stressed producer: Pip Torrens
Those annoying cameos you expect in any British movie: Danny Dyer, Meera Syal, at least one member of Girls Aloud, Roger Moore, Ken Livingstone, Anne Widdicombe, Jeremy Paxman’s beard
Pointless cameos just to make sure the fanboys watch it: Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy
Not returning our calls, no matter how desperate we got: Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi

Likelihood of good reviews: Low
Likelihood of anyone abroad understanding 10% of what’s going on: Very low
Likelihood of appearing continually on ITV2 from now until the end of time: High

maninthehighcastleLooking back over my previous posts, I see I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle for over four years. It was first announced as being adapted by Ridley Scott for the BBC in 2010, but after disappearing into the netherworld of development hell, it was then announced as an Amazon series last year, and the first episode of it has now appeared as part of their latest pilot season.

The big question, then, is was it worth the wait? On the evidence of this pilot episode, yes it was, and also worth the (hopefully shorter) wait for it to return as a full series. His involvement may not be quite so hands on this time, but Ridley Scott has shown yet again how to adapt a Philip K Dick novel. Just as Blade Runner used the characters and themes of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? but was prepared to deviate from the plot, so does The Man In The High Castle. There’s an understanding that a book and a TV series tell stories differently, especially one that’s being told through the multiple levels of Dick’s imagination. In short, I would definitely recommend watching it, whether you’ve read the book or not. Spoilers for the book and the adaptation follow, so read on at your own peril.

Read the rest of this entry

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1) It’s like Sherlock, only set in Victorian times

A spectre is haunting Europe’s criminals – the spectre of Karl Marx, Consulting Detective!
Abandoning political philosophy, Marx and Engels decide to use their considerable intellects to solve crime instead. Each week, they’re brought in to solve a crime that has left the police baffled, and are able to solve it, by explaining that the crime was an inevitable result of living in a capitalist society and the bourgeoisie as a whole are responsible.

“Revolutionary, my dear Engels!”

2) #clickbaitcommunism

“Karl, we like your manifesto, but all these long sentences and paragraphs are a bit nineteenth century, yeah? Could you Buzzfeed it up a bit?”

Eight Spectres That Are Haunting Europe
How Workers Everywhere Are Throwing Off Their Chains Using This One Weird Trick
Are You A Member Of The Proletariat? Find Out With This Test

Now, if someone’s got a time machine I can borrow, I’m pretty sure I can get at least one of these onto That Mitchell And Webb Look.

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Today’s trivia question: which British politician said this

“Every major statesman needs the wilderness years. Nelson Mandela had them and I suppose that’s my lot, too, so I’m ruling nothing out at this stage.”

You can find the answer here or in the tags to this post.

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Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income – Because they understand a world of more automation and fewer jobs needs it.
The hypocrites have jumped aboard the Magna Carta bandwagon – Peter Oborne on good form: “Mr Cameron’s Government has launched something close to an out-and-out attack on the rule of law. The idea that either he or his ministers give a damn for the principles that underlie Magna Carta is preposterous.”
Why I am not Charlie – “This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do.”
We have been here before – “The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.” Jason O’Mahony argues for the second option.
This Week In Panic-Stricken Commentary – Flying Rodent on his usual great form, looking at the reaction to what happened in Paris from Nick Cohen and others.

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Speaking about the threat of terrorism, Chancellor George Osborne said: “My commitment is very clear. This is the national priority. We will put the resources in. Whatever the security services want, they will get.”

If there hasn’t been a terror attack in your country:
“We are doing all we can to stop the terrorists but our resources are stretched. We need more powers and resources.”
If there has been a recent terror attack elsewhere:
“That could happen here. We are doing all we can to stop the terrorists but our resources are stretched. We need more powers and resources.”
If there has been a terror attack in your country:
“We did all we could to stop it but we didn’t have enough to prevent it from happening. Our methods are not in question, we need more powers and resources to stop it happening again.”
If there’s a global outbreak of peace and love, sweeping across all nations as weapons are cast aside and humanity unites in a new era of joy of optimism:
“We cannot guarantee that this will last. Even now, people may be plotting against us under the cover of everybody getting along. We need more powers and resources.”

Whatever happens, they will always ask for more powers and more resources. If our politicians won’t stand up to them and say ‘no’, who will?