Media endorsements are building a narrative to keep Cameron in office, whatever the result

Those of you who read Simon Wren-Lewis will understand his concept of ‘mediamacro’ – the tale of the UK’s macroeconomic situation over the last few years as reported and explained by the media. It’s a simple morality tale where the country overspent and now has to repay its debts, because just like a family budget, you have to pay off your credit card eventually. It’s easily repeated, easily expressed and also completely wrong in depicting how a national economy actually works. However, it’s a very useful story to have as the official narrative if you want to justify a certain set of ‘austerity’ policies.

What we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks of this election campaign, amplified over the past few days is what we could term ‘mediapolitics’ if it wasn’t such an ugly word. However, like mediamacro, it’s an attempt to report and explain the possible post-election situation in simple and easily-understandable terms that are completely wrong but very useful in pushing forward a certain set of political parties as the next Government.

As with mediamacro, it’s an attempt to create a framing narrative for post-election discussions. Just as mediamacro doesn’t question the assumption that all debt is bad and all debt must be paid off as soon as possible, so the political narrative is based on the idea that any Government formed post-election must be ‘stable’ and ‘legitimate’. These are useful words because they sound like they should be objective definitions, capable of being used to discriminate between different outcomes, when in terms of the way British politics and government work, they’re entirely subjective and capable of being used however you wish. It’s effectively the media accepting the Tory ‘coalition of chaos’ slogan and assuming that there would be questions over the potential stability and legitimacy of a government relying on the SNP, but not of one that needs at least the passive acquiescence of the DUP, UKIP and the Better Off Out wing of the Tories to survive.

This narrative then sets the tone for reporting on Friday and beyond, if the result is in line with the current forecasts: David Cameron will be portrayed as bravely staying in Downing Street to out together a stable government that can run the country, while Ed Miliband will be said to be cutting back room deals and threatening the stability of the country by refusing to denounce a backbench Labour MP who suggests talking to the SNP. The Tories will be portrayed as ‘winners’ for having got a handful more seats and votes and will thus possess some sort of ineffable momentum that gives them the right to form a Government, while Labour will be the sore losers, standing in the way of the will of the people.

(If there’s one lesson British politics in this election needs to learn from American politics it’s the way these sort of media narratives were used to spin the 2000 Presidential election. The right-wing media aggressively pushed the line that Bush had won Florida, and all the attempts to show otherwise were just being sore losers. Rather than fighting fire with fire, the left meekly decided to let the courts decide it, letting the right create the accepted narrative of events.)

One of the interesting things about this narrative is its flexibility. For the early part of the campaign, the message was simply about getting the Tories a majority to ensure they could be a stable and legitimate government but as the election has progressed, it’s become clear that the public are stubbornly refusing to break the ongoing opinion poll tie and so the Tories will likely not be able to stumble over the finish line by themselves. So, all the media endorsements of who to vote for aren’t a simple ‘vote Tory’ but add in a ‘vote Lib Dem in a few places as well’. As Jennie Rigg pointed out last week, no matter how gleefully you quote sections out of context, that’s not an endorsement of the Lib Dems, it’s an endorsement of the Lib Dem role in coalition now it’s become clear that the party is needed to ensure the Tories continue in Government. The Independent’s endorsement says that almost explicitly, and when even the Sun is recommending that people vote Lib Dem in seats that threaten Labour, it’s clear that something’s up.

Those endorsements aren’t about backing Liberal Democrat principles or wanting to see the party govern on its own, they’re about binding the party permanently into the right-wing bloc within the Parliamentary arithmetic to ensure Cameron can stay in office. ‘We backed you as part of the coalition, so now you have to go ahead and be part of it again’ will be the message given out on Friday and afterwards with the expectation being that negotiations won’t be over whether there can be another coalition with the Tories but merely what shape it will take and which pledges the Tories will symbolically shed to let it happen. Unless Labour can confound this narrative by winning both in terms of votes and seats, there’ll be extraordinary pressure to ensure that ‘the winner of the election’ be allowed to form a Government. It’s highly unlikely Cameron will find the press calling him ‘the squatter in Downing Street’.

And yes, Liberal Democrat members will have a say in deciding if the party goes into coalition again or not, but the same pressure of the narrative will apply here. How dare you presume to go against the winner of the election? The people have spoken! We must be in Government to ensure it’s stable and legitimate, etc etc The membership will get a vote, but they’ll only get to cast that vote once the media have decided the frame it will be cast within – do you support a stable government for the country, or do you want to bring the illegitimate losers to power and send the entire country into chaos? Besides, we’ll likely here how the Federal Executive and Conference are just arcane committees stuffed full of sandal-wearing bearded weirdos who shouldn’t be allowed to hold the country to ransom. And what’s all this about a two-thirds majority being required? That’s just some bizarre procedural foible that’s standing in the way of us having the stable government we need.

The narrative is being built and the rest of the media will fall in line with it, just as they have with mediamacro, because it makes it so much easier if you can portray elections as having clear winners and losers. Complexity – especially the idea that elections might not be about simple winners and losers – takes time to explain, the narrative wins out. We need both to challenge it and build a counter to it, or everything will be settled by the time our brains are working properly again on Saturday.

2015 General Election Day 36: Russell Brand, Sunderland, Ignoreland.

Russell Brand is not a cult. And there’s no typo in that previous sentence.

However, some of the reaction to his recommendation that people (mostly) vote Labour on Thursday appears to be a assuming that he is, or at least a cult leader. ‘Young people’ supposedly follow Brand’s every utterance and do exactly as he commands them, so by this logic none of them will be registered to vote and his endorsement means nothing. Or they’re registered to vote, and that proves his endorsement means nothing. (Some people are claiming that Brand told people not to register to vote which I don’t recall, so if anyone has evidence of that, I’d be grateful)

electoral-commission-voting-graph-860x390As we can see, there’s actually been a large number of people registering to vote during the campaign, and they appear to be mostly younger voters, precisely the type of people who are more likely to pay attention to Russell Brand (whose interview with Ed Miliband is now getting close to 2m views, by the way). It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that those people may well have heard Brand advocating not voting last year and thought ‘yesh, I’m not going to vote!’ and then put that consideration to the back of their mind. Then, when the election rolled around and there was lots of publicity about how important it was to register to vote, and social media was full of people saying ‘hey, it’s really easy to just click here and register’ those very same people would have thought ‘yes, I’ll register to vote’. Even if we’re assuming that these people are strongly influenced by Brand, he wasn’t doing anything at the time that would have led people to reject the ‘register to vote’ messages. Thus, it’s entirely possible for people to be fans of Russell Brand and also for them to be registered to vote and receptive to his message to vote Labour.

The point is that people get their information from a number of sources, which an election campaign ought to make clear. Most people don’t have strong opinions on most political subjects, and they’re very strongly influenced by what they’ve seen or heard and accepted most recently and for most people who hear it, Brand’s endorsement of Labour will be just one of many they hear between now and Thursday. Yes, there may be a small number of people who didn’t register to vote because of what he said and are now desperate to vote Labour, but unless his persuasive powers are akin to those of a cult leader, I doubt they’ll be more than a very few. (And for more on the whole issue of how people come to make political decisions see this post and read the books I talk about there)

A couple of things that may be of interest to you: the BBC look at how political party colours have developed over the years, and some of the traditional colours still in use; and the New Statesman look at the times when interesting things might occur on election night, though the PA’s result timings are quite often subject to wild variation on the night. One thing I remember from 1992 was that there were several seats thought to be in a race for the first result, and correspondents had been dispatched to all of them in anticipation of getting the first result. Unfortunately, no one had predicted that Sunderland was going to claim that title, and so there were no cameras there to pick up the declaration, which left everyone feeling a little embarrassed, but since then no one has come close to Sunderland’s speed of counting. Unfortunately, I don’t think now that any local authority would be able to build a Sunderland-rivalling counting operation effectively in secret to pull of that sort of shock again.

Some of the research from the Qualitative Election Study of Britain that I worked on last week is now being published, if you’re curious about their findings. The good thing about qualitative research is that you can publish snapshots and points of interest from it without having to wait until the end of the whole project and then run a big statistical analysis on anything. There may be more parts to come, and there are also some post-election focus groups taking place as part of it to find out more about the process of how people decided to vote and what they think of what’s happened since then.

OK, so we’re now in the single-candidate parties in our trawl through the list, and today I’ve discovered the Children Of The Atom party and such a marvelously X-Men-esque title was guaranteed to get my attention, especially when I discovered their sole candidate was standing in that hotbed of radioactive futurism, Shrewsbury. Their website covers a lot of areas and resists being boiled down to a few pithy phrases, though I’ll try. Their name comes from being atomists who “place value on the individual above all else”, but that comes a way down the page after a lot of stuff about positive money creation, debt and other related concepts. However, I would expect to find out more about them soon as “We will shortly recruit a nationwide team comprised of the most extraordinary, gifted and highly intelligent people in the UK, to oversee a radical and visionary ground-up reconstruction of all social, economic and government systems.” Which should be interesting to watch.

Finally for today, our dive into the pile of Election Leaflets finds us Ken Martin, an independent candidate in Maldon who wants to restrict all laws to no more than two sides of A4. He appears to have taken this approach to his own leaflet, deciding he has to give the voters his views on everything in a similarly small space of paper. There’s a lot of ideas and information in there, regularly marred by One of my Least Favourite tactics of the Amateur political screed writer of putting Random Capitals on words with no Rhyme or reason. Besides, doesn’t he realise that if you want to write in depth about your obscure political you should get a blog?

To justify the headline of this post, here’s some REM to play you out:

2015 General Election Day 35: Rock of pledges, cleft for me

milibandstoneAnd lo, it didst come to pass that someone in Labour HQ took the words ‘my pledges are carved in stone’ far too literally. I’ve been involved in enough election campaigns to know that at this point – five weeks in! – everyone’s starting to get quite frayed at the edges, and ideas that seemed poor a few weeks ago will suddenly look like utter genius because they’re new, fresh and different. You’ve been looking at the same leaflets in the same design for weeks, and so naturally the idea of carving your pledges into a massive block of stone will initially seem like the greatest idea in the history of political ideas. It’s just that at some point between the meeting that comes up with that and someone placing the order to the stonemason for it, there needs to be someone in the loop who says ‘hold on, has it not occurred to you that this is a really stupid idea?’

Indeed, there’s an idea for future Governments to implement. Just as ancient Rome tempered the ambition of the triumphant general with a slave telling them to remember they are mortal, so the Government could do with an Office of It’s A Bit Of A Shit Idea, Isn’t It? or an independent Institute of Mockery And Pointing Out The Obvious Flaws. During Parliaments, they could examine all proposed policy and then take on a wider role during elections, of informing parties just how silly their new idea would make them seem. I’ll happily take on the job of setting up one or both of them, especially as there’ll be no one yet in place to tell them how bad an idea that is.

Anyway, let’s pause for an election advert.

Lifestyle!

We’re into the all hands to the pump stage of campaigning now, where the priority is knocking on as many doors and delivering as many leaflets as you can before polling day and hoping no one makes a major error that messes everything up. It’s a chance to try and tactically squeeze as many voters as possible, and deliver enough messages to your supporters just in case they’ve forgotten it’s election day on Thursday. People who live in marginals and have gone away for the bank holiday weekend will likely come home to small mountains of leaflets delivered while they were gone.

So with just a few days to go, competition for the final places in my minor party of the day slot has reached fever pitch. Or no pitch at all, leaving it entirely up to me to choose the Young People’s Party and its two candidates as today’s party. The first thing I’m going to say is the obvious one: looking at the pictures of senior party figures, they don’t look that young. Young by the standards of most people involved in politics perhaps, but not young by the standards of society. Their manifesto is interesting and goes some way to explaining the name as they’re an explicitly Georgist party, strongly in favour of Land Value Tax because it supports the ambitions of the young more than the current system in their view. Indeed, the manifesto is interesting because it starts strongly with calls for LVT and Citizen’s Income, but slowly descends into oddness and down the pub ‘I reckon’ policies that moan about political correctness and sub-Clarksonian moaning about climate change science. It’s a party I can’t quite see the point of – though it’s always good to see Georgism being promoted – and one I doubt will be causing any great shocks on Thursday.

Today on election leaflets, we find that Dennis Skinner doesn’t even stick to the party line for leaflet design. The only concession to modernity appears to be that the photo is now in colour, but his style of campaigning has kept him in Parliament for 45 years, so why change it? Elsewhere, I know I’ve said I want leaflets to look different and use varied design principles, but this independent candidate in Bath appears to have gone a bit too far down the ‘leaflets that look like they’re from an estate agent’ path. Or for crazy leaflets, Mike Nattrass is still pushing his ‘An Independence From Europe’ party, complete with scary photo, and going back a few weeks to one of the earliest nutty leaflets I featured, Mike Walters has now discovered he can’t call himself an SDP candidate so is now an ‘independent troublemaker’, though I suspect the Poppy Appeal may be complaining about the picture on the back.

As I was writing this we went past the point where there were 100 hours left until the polling stations close on Thursday. The election’s getting very close, very fast…

Is 290 the key number to watch for on Thursday night?

Less than 100 hours until the polling stations open, and thoughts are naturally turning more and more to just what the result of this election will be. Like everyone else, I’ve been pondering the various post-election deals that are possible and it feels to me that the key number of MPs either Labour or the Conservatives need to win to have a chance at forming a stable Government is around 290.

My thinking’s based on the current numbers for MPs from the other parties being suggested by the various forecasts: an SNP total of 40-50+, Liberal Democrats winning somewhere between 25-30 seats, Northern Irish seats remaining roughly the same, UKIP winning around 3 or 4 and Greens holding their one seat. What I assume is that neither Labour nor the Tories would make a deal with the SNP, but either would make one with the Liberal Democrats. What we can also do is assume that even in the absence of a deal, the other parties are likely to vote in a certain way, especially on issues of confidence.

The reason 290 is key is that it’s the point at which either main party in agreement with the Lib Dems would have enough support to be able to expect to win votes in Parliament regularly. For example, a Labour-Lib Dem government would expect the regular support of the SDLP and (Northern Ireland independent) Sylvia Hermon, and could probably count on Plaid Cymru and the Green’s Caroline Lucas (as well as Alliance’s Naomi Long if she’s re-elected) giving support as well in exchange for some concessions. So, 290 Labour MPs, plus 25-30 Lib Dem MPs and 10-12 others gives a Parliamentary majority without needing any deals with the SNP. Indeed, such an agreement would create a headache for the SNP (and George Galloway): vote against it and they’re voting with the Tories, abstain and they’re doing nothing in Parliament.

On the other side, the same applies but with fewer parties involved. With the support of the DUP, 290 Tories allied with the Lib Dems would have enough seats for a majority in Parliament without the need for any formal deal with UKIP (who’d face the same ‘vote with Labour or do nothing’ dilemma as the SNP in the other scenario) though getting Lib Dems to agree to a deal that formally involved the DUP might be tricky. Indeed, assuming that getting Lib Dems to agree to any deal is a simple matter of getting Clegg on board with it fails to account for the role of the wider party in agreeing it, as Jennie explains here.

They key point here, though, is that for both Labour and the Tories, 290 looks like being the key number of seats to win on Thursday (though that can go up or down depending on how many Lib Dem seats there are – the key figure is having around 315-320 for the two parties combined). If one of them (and the maths suggest it will be only one of them, unless the Scottish polls are way off) can make it there then they will very likely form the core of the next Government, but if neither of them can, then we can expect a long period of coalition negotiation and deal-making before we get a new Government and the shape of it won’t be clear for much longer.

2015 General Election Day 34: Who can answer the Balustrade Lanyard question?

I do enjoy it when elections give British people the chance to passive-aggressively display their arguments to the rest of the world:


And you just know that there were probably some very intense negotiations between those people about which poster went where in the window to ensure equal exposure.

My prediction of the royal baby bringing a bit of a break from campaigning to allow for a regroup before the final charge to polling day doesn’t seem to have come true, mainly because it all happened so quickly. There are still news sites with live updates, but it’s barely filling a whole day’s news with speculation, let alone spreading out over the weekend and allowing for any time off. Tomorrow’s big TV interviews have already been booked in, the schedule’s already set and nothing will knock it off course. Indeed, all leaders need to do nowadays is make sure they’ve fired off a tweet or two of congratulations, and then get back to campaigning. Meanwhile the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are having a conversation around the issue of ‘but I really like the name Nicola, why can’t we use it?’

Here’s something interesting I’ve read today: an article on academic blogging site The Conversation about the prospects of David Cameron actually being able to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU before a 2017 referendum. It makes clear what I’ve always thought – there’s no desire amongst the other members of the EU to open up treaties and renegotiate, and if there was then it’d be a much more fundamental process that wouldn’t happen until after 2017 when the next French and German elections are set to take place. In effect, Cameron’s promise of a renegotiation and a referendum before the end of 2017 looks as though it’s built on sand, and the only thing he can offer by then would be a referendum on membership on the current terms against a backdrop of him having failed to deliver on his promise of reform. I’m sure that the referendum would be fought on the substantive issues not on broken promises, just like the AV referendum was.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is telling 99.9% of voters that their votes don’t matter:


But hey, we don’t need electoral reform in this country and the system isn’t completely broken.

With not much else to talk about today, let’s look at the minor party of the day, who today are the not-so-massed ranks of the Patriotic Socialist Party. (I’m not going to link to them directly because while they seem more Illinois Nazis than actual Nazis, they’re still Nazis) I find them of interest because they sometimes seem to be electorally stalking me having consistently stood candidates in Redditch (where I was born and raised) and Colchester (where I live) though with a stunning lack of success in both. Their performance in last year’s Wivenhoe by-election was a particular highlight, obtaining only 2 votes in an election where you need ten proposers and seconders to stand. They’re best described as the British version of the Strasserites in that they’re Nazis who emphasise the socialism in their name as much as the nationalism. The Strasserites were purged out of the original Nazis, and while no one seems to be in a position to purge the PSP out of their own party, their message is – thankfully – not meeting with anything resembling success so their two candidates in this election (standing in neither Redditch nor Colchester) will merely be providing a useful £1000 to the cost of running the elections.

A double dispatch from Election Leaflets today, with two leaflets for minor candidates in Worsley and Eccles South. First we have independent candidate Geoffrey Berg who wants to give you more time, but isn’t quite clear about how he’ll manage that. It seems to be through a shorter working week, but the lack of detail is one example of how independent candidates miss out by not having other people to point out that they might want to rewrite that leaflet to get their message over more clearly. There’s also a candidate from the Reality Party standing there and even though the leaflet has a big picture of him on it, it’s not Bez.

Tonight’s the last flurry of Saturday night polling results for this election. Will any of them show something other than variations within the margin of error? And when will a pollster ask the most important question of all: what are people’s opinions on Balustrade Lanyard?

Leaders’ Question Time and the future of election debates

BBC_Question_TimeThat’s the end of the set piece events for this election, so the politicians will be relaxing and not expecting to be facing any more tough questions until around this time next week. Of course then they’ll actually have to come up with an answer to the question Cameron and Miliband ducked last night: just how will you govern if you don’t get a majority? I know I bang on about this, but if you want a picture of what’s wrong with our political system, it’s two leaders who won’t get 40% of the vote, let alone 50% of it, insisting that they’d have a right to govern entirely alone without any compromises. (It’s also a media who collude in those delusions and talk about winners and losers in a system where we all lose)

As for last night, I thought Cameron did the best job in ignoring the question he’d been asked and delivering the pre-prepared responses in the same subject area. It felt like there were a bunch of interns back at CCHQ playing Buzzword Bingo, and he’d insisted that none of them could win unless he unleashed every single one of them. Miliband was a bit rough at the first, especially when the audience were at their most aggressive, but improved as time went on and stayed calm throughout, which contrasted with the tetchiness that always seems to linger just below the surface when Cameron interacts with anyone. Clegg did well, though he looked quite tired at having to explain the tuition fees issue for the umpteenth time, but dealt well with the audience and didn’t pander to them, being willing to point out to the ‘eight countries are leaving the EU’ questioner that he was just wrong. (Like any Question Time, this would have been improved by Dimbleby telling some questioners the premise of their question was wrong)

Will it have changed minds and been a decisive moment in the campaign? Like all the other events in the election, probably not, but perhaps it’s interesting because it’s not been decisive. A lot of the Tory campaign strategy did seem to revolve around the idea that Miliband would fall apart under the strain of the election, but that hasn’t happened and perhaps the improving public opinion of him has been what’s stopped the Labour vote falling away through the campaign as previous experience might have suggested it would.

Perhaps that lack of reaction is what we need to give us the space to discuss how debates and other set piece events are part of future election campaigns. Discussion of the 2010 ones was overshadowed by the effects of Cleggmania and the worry that they’d unbalance the campaign, but that hasn’t happened this time, even if discussions about them did take up far too much time in the run-up to the election. I suspect some form of debates will be part of future campaigns, but I think we’ve seen that a range of formats might be the way to go in the future. As well as debates, more Question Time-type events would be good, but also more interviews where they’re put on the spot. However, I also think we need to cover a wider range of issues and people than we’ve seen this year – did we really need more questions about immigration last night? I know there have been debates with other party representatives on different issues, but these have been buried away in the middle of the day, or stuck on BBC News and maybe deserve a higher prominence. We complain about the presidentialisation of politics, but this could be a way to weaken that, and also to ensure all issues get some coverage and give exposure to other politicians.

Right, can we have the election itself now, please?

2015 General Election Day 32: Into the second month

It’s starting to feel like this election campaign began before the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant. Indeed, I’m not quite sure there was a Duchess of Cambridge, a House of Windsor or even a single monarchy back when it began. But no, it wasn’t in the days of the Heptarchy it began, just at the end of March and now we’re over a month later and still things feel as though nothing has changed in all that time, and we’re in stuck in an endless election loop. This time next week, though, the polling stations will be open and votes will be being cast in them and I’ll be spending my first election day in a number of years not running around like a blue-arsed fly, which will be interesting.

Sweepstake idea for election night: during Channels 4’s ‘alternative election night’ coverage, when will Jeremy Paxman first get visibly annoyed at having to cut away from an interesting interview or piece of actual news for some comic filler?

It’s the last big setpiece event of the election tonight as the Cameron, Miliband and Clegg don’t go head-to-head on Question Time. Yes, we can have all three in the same building at the same time – just like Miliband and Cameron were way back in March when they were interviewed by Paxman for C4 – but they can’t actually talk to each other. The order tonight is Cameron, then Miliband, and finally Clegg, but no word yet on if the others are kept in a soundproofed room while the others are speaking, and they all get a prize if they give the same answer to the questions.

I would normally have left the day’s election post until after it, so I could share my thoughts about it on the day itself, but tonight I’m going to be doing some more assisting on the QESB, so I’m unlikely to have the time to write anything before midnight, and if I don’t get my election post for the day done before Monday, then the Pumpkin Party win a seat. Or the blog turns into a pumpkin, it’s definitely one of those. It’s definitely been interesting helping out on the project both in terms of hearing what people are saying in focus groups and watching qualitative research being conducted. Plus it’s given me some interesting ideas for my Masters discussion, which I may discuss more on here when the election is over. Trust me, by September you’ll all be almost as bored of ‘the structure of competition for government’ as you are now by ‘variations within the margin of error’.

With the leaders all off prepping for their TV appearance tonight, it’s been a pretty quiet day on the election campaign trail, though that’s possibly because almost everything that could be said has been said in all the possible ways it can over the past thirty one days, and everyone’s hoping the stories about the royal baby coming are true because it might give them the day off that they’ve been hoping for since this all began. After this, though, it’s a frantic dash to the finish and it will be interesting to see where parties are targeting their campaigning and VIP visits in these last few days, as they try and shift a few hundred more votes in a constituency. This is also the time when the strength of the parties on the ground will be apparent – who can get out their and deliver the most leaflets and knock on the most doors before polling day, and who can drag out the most voters on the day itself? It might seem trivial, but swinging just a handful of seats from one column to another could be the difference between government and opposition, as John Lanchester explains here.

Today’s pickings from the depths of the list of parties is the Liberal Party. Yes, the continuity Liberals who didn’t join the Liberal Democrats post-merger in 1988 are still going, unlike their counterparts in the SDP. They still have a handful of councillors in scattered parts of the country and are standing four candidates: three in some of their traditional areas, and also one in Chelmsford. As a party, their ideology has wandered back and forth between the centre and the left over the years, seemingly depending on who is in control of the party at the time – at one point they were part of the No2EU electoral alliance that formed the basis for TUSC, but now the front page of their website shows that whatever they believe, they’re committed to explaining it in extremely long run-on sentences. I know that I sometimes have problems with using full stops as much as I should, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written a sentence that’s 223 words long and contains a quite ridiculous number of semicolons.

As the campaign goes on and more people hear about it, it’s interesting to se Election Leaflets look at times like everyone’s uploaded the same leaflet, only to realise it’s just a bunch of election communications that have arrived using the same party template. There are standard Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP, Plaid and SNP leaflets all visible now in which the only real change is the photo and the candidate’s name. This, of course, is how we get leaflets asking for a vote for Name Surname who’s strongly in favour of First Local Policy Proposal Goes Here, and will work hard for the people of Constituency.

But you also get the one-offs like this leaflet for the Digital Democracy party‘s only candidate. Leaving aside the question of using an analogue method like a leaflet for an avowedly digital candidate, on reading it I can’t help but feel that he’d do well if someone explained to him the concept of a self-selected sample as basing your opinions solely on those who’ve chosen to come and register on a web site then answer some single issue questions seems to me to be a poor way to find out what public opinion is. Still, at least his leaflet looks good and doesn’t appear to be a template.

Only another week of these posts to go – but how many days will I need to be writing government negotiation posts for?

2015 General Election Day 31: Not a filthy assistant

I’m beginning to wonder if our politics are the ones the people in The Thick Of It watch if they want a laugh at strange and incredible things that sensible politicians like Dan Miller, Peter Mannion or even Nicola Murray would never consider. The whole idea of a politician proposing a law to ban tax rises, for instance, is something so absurd that even the nuttier wings of the Tea Party hasn’t put forward. Even they can see that getting the people who pass laws to pass a law that would act only on them and could be ignored by them merely passing a law to get rid of the original law would be straying far too deeply into the realm of the absurd.

I’ve had a chance to see Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband and I’ll be very surprised if it does Miliband any harm and could maybe do him well. Not sure if it will move the polls, but I’m not sure if anything will move the polls as everything seems to be circling around the same points and varying within the margin of error.

But the real comedy of the absurd comes from The Sun which appears to believe Scotland is now so separate from the rest of the UK that no one can see the different cover it has there:


One reading of that is that Rupert Murdoch is just backing whichever party will do the most damage to Labour and rewarding those who’ve shown themselves most willing to prostrate themselves before him, but even then there are ways to endorse two different parties that aren’t completely contradictory. Vote SNP in Scotland to give Scotland a voice, while the people of England and Wales are being encouraged to vote Tory to keep that voice from having any influence. The next time the Sun accuses someone else of hypocrisy or inconsistency, we may well have a brand new definition of chutzpah.

For any freelance photographers reading this: a quick trip to Berwick, where both versions of the paper are usually on sale next to each other, might deliver a rewarding image other newspapers might want to buy.

I’ve been having a new type of involvement with the election campaign for the last couple of days (and some more tomorrow) as I’ve been doing some (very low level) assisting with the Qualitative Election Study of Britain which has been running a few focus groups at the University. Yes non-quantitative political research has been carried out at Essex and the sky hasn’t fallen in. (And that joke will have sailed right over the heads of 99% of you reading this) It’s been really interesting to watch and listen to the focus groups, but it’s not my research so I can’t really tell you of anything that was discussed there. However, for those of you interested I would recommend reading some of the publications from previous cycles and keeping an eye out for news as the work carries on.

Back in the numbers game of the lower reaches of the parties list, we find today’s featured party is The Peace Party which is standing four candidates. It’s an interesting party because it’s done something most minor parties never get close to doing: saving a deposit at a by-election. That was in Middlesbrough in 2012, when they got within three votes of the Tories, a handful of votes that could have had an interesting effect on political narrative at the time. Interestingly, Middlesbrough isn’t one of the constituencies they’re standing in this time, which may be connected to their candidate in that by-election being a former Labour councillor who quite Labour to join Peace. It seems likely that Middlesbrough was a one-off for them, but they’ve been around and standing in elections for over a decade now, so their perseverance and dedication to their cause should be admired.

spiderjerusalemElection Leaflets today brings us the shocking news that a candidate loves living in the constituency she wants to represent. Until someone puts out a leaflet headlined ‘I hate it here’, which likely won’t happen until the Transmetropolitan Party takes off, that’s not really news. Meanwhile, in Cardiff Central, an independent candidate is telling voters they have been hypnotized. Not by him in an attempt to get votes from mesmerising the electorate, but by the political parties and only an independent candidate can break the trance. Unfortunately, he loses all my sympathy by claiming that ‘an independent MP should not be a politician’, which triggers my reflex to defend the meanings of words and point out that by the very act of standing for election you’re a politician. It doesn’t depend on you being in a political party to be in that role.

Eight days to go – this time next week it’ll be all over bar the voting.

Worth Reading 169: The absurdity of fatalism

14 things I desperately want to hear a candidate say before this campaign ends – And they’re 14 things Jonn Elledge probably won’t hear.
The Cambridge Election: Princess Bride Style – Excellent exploration of an individual voters dilemma in choosing who to vote for.
Mediamacro myth 6: 2013 recovery vindication – Simon Wren-Lewis’s latest post on bad reporting and understanding of economics issues, but you should read his entire series of posts.
Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless – Robert Reich on an issue I’ve been thinking about recently – how the modern economy and modern society leaves so many feeling they have no power over anything.
Sacked for speaking your mind? Don’t expect the free speech brigade to help – An Australian story, so some of the references might not be clear, but the important point is about how libertarians obsess over state power while letting corporations do whatever they want.

2015 General Election Day 28: Who’s ahead in Wabznasm North?

Election Sundays are notable for two things – a slight scaling down of the activity carried out on the ground by the parties, coupled with a ratcheting up of the ridiculousness of the rhetoric by the Sunday papers. Today, of course, we had the spectacle of the Mail telling us that an arrangement between Labour and the SNP would be the biggest crisis in British politics since the Abdication in 1936. It’s an odd point to use, even if you’re looking for purely constitutional crises, as the Abdication was something that was seen as completely unthinkable before it happened but then when it came, it was all handled with a minimum of fuss and the country did quite well out of it. You’ll certainly find few people who’ll argue that several decades of King Edward VIII would have been better for the country than George VI and Elizabeth II.

It’s all feeling very much like The Day Today reporting on a constitutional crisis:

But don’t worry Britain, everything will be all right:

In future election news, there was an interesting development in the next Tory leadership election battle as Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband found themselves sitting next to each other on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning sofa. Unfortunately for Boris, his prospects of a coronation shrunk even more as Miliband showed he’s found the way to respond to Boris: stay calm, and don’t get drawn in. I suspect he might have been watching Eddie Mair’s interview with Johnson, where Mair’s refusal to get drawn into Johnson’s blustering tempo led to Boris getting progressively more flustered and open for a clever counterpunch.

Of course, Miliband impressing me on one hand had to be coupled with him annoying me on the other. During his solo interview with Andrew Marr, he casually announced that his government would find ‘back office savings’ in local government allowing him to make more cuts in its budget. There are two key points here: first, local government has been making cuts and finding savings for several years now, and if there were easy savings to be made without cuts to services, it’s be doing them already; second, it’s annoying that he’s taking the standard Westminster approach to local government of assuming it’s there to be commanded and bossed around, not free to find its own ways of doing things. He’s not being different from any government before him, but it’s just annoying when politicians of any party talk like that.

One point of interest that might explain that is that as far as I can tell there are only two Prime Ministers (and they’re the only two party leaders) of the last hundred years with any direct experience of local government. Attlee was Mayor of Stepney just after the First World War, and John Major was a Lambeth councillor in the 60s. It’s a pattern reflected across the senior leadership of all the parties – being a councillor might help in becoming an MP, but a hindrance to getting further than that.

Back to the list of minor parties in the election and we find that the Communities United Party is the next up. They’re not new for this election – though Mark Pack found them a bit of a mystery when they stood in the European Elections last year – and their website isn’t much of a help in deciphering their political stance, but it’s a bit worrying when the picture of the leader on the front has the caption ‘legend leader’ on it and a lot of the website is plastered with adverts for his legal services firm. Still, they have four other candidates standing across London as well as the ‘legend’ Kamran Malik in Brent Central, so it would be unfair to refer to them as solely a one-am band.

Today on Election Leaflets throws up a high-profile independent with a leaflet from Mike Hancock’s campaign to ensure he gets his full £30,000 resettlement allowance re-elected in Portsmouth South. His main call within the leaflet is for better pensions, which might reveal what he expects his situation to be after the election. Still, it makes for an interesting curio in this election, and the sort of thing it’s interesting for Eection Leaflets to have archived for the future.

And that’s how we leave it with eleven days to go. We’ve made it this far, surely we can do the rest?