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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2015 General Election Day 16: After a Tory victory, this blog will be sold off at half price

Another day, another Tory policy announced and ends up spinning off the rails before lunchtime. I’d seen mention of extending Right To Buy to housing associations last night, just after we were getting over the momentary excitement at the thought of Hampstead and Kilburn’s election being delayed then finding out it wasn’t, but even then it seemed like a silly idea. True to form, like just about everything they’ve tried for the last week, it turned out to be full of flaws, but it’s yet to reach the terrible interview stage. Sajid Javid got to be floored by Jo Coburn as their NHS funding pledge unravelled, so who will be asking ‘and how can you force charities to sell assets at below market value?’ and who will be floundering as they attempt to respond?

Two manifestos were out today – the Greens had their launch at 10am, followed by David Cameron releasing the Tory one at 11am. Both of them revealed problems with the Lightfoot Test I introduced yesterday – based on an idea of the late Chris Lightfoot, it’s the page on which I first encounter something offensive or stupid – in that while Labour went straight for policy on the very first page, they fill several pages with pictures and contents pages, thus managing to artificially enlarge their number. So I’m now modifying the scoring system to not include any intentionally policy-free pages to prevent this inflation affecting any comparison of scores. (Labour’s score still remains 1 under this new system)

The Green manifesto is the most information-packed of all the manifestos I’ve seen so far, and there are a lot of policy pledges in there as well as a lot of scene-setting text and background information. The design suffers from putting seemingly random words in italic text throughout which gives the impression of someone emphasising the wrong words throughout. However, it’s a good attempt at using their increased prominence to push the full range of Green policy, and not compromise on it to get to the big time. However, it only gets a Lightfoot Test score of 9 (page 15 of 84 in the full version) as that’s the page they mention banning all genetically modified food, which is rather silly in my view, and also ignores that we’ve been genetically modifying our food (both flora and fauna) since the dawn of humanity, it’s just that in the past few decades we’ve been able to do it with more accuracy.

Still, there are some good bits in there – I’m always going to applaud a party who’ll put Land Value Tax and Basic Income into their manifesto, and the sections on equalities and digital & information rights are very good – and it’s not a manifesto of despair or Gradgrindian bleakness, which makes it all the more annoying when you run into some of the more stereotypical examples of Green thinking.

For a party content to let their inner idiot run freely through the manifesto, however, you need to turn to the Conservatives. You’re probably not going to be surprised that they get a Lightfoot Test score of 1 to match Labour’s. Yes, on the first summary page of policies (page 4 of 83, just before the full page picture of David Cameron’s face to test your strength of will before reading) – which begins with the creepy statement that ‘we have a plan for every stage of your life’ – they feature the Right To Buy for housing associations. But fans of bad ideas will have a field day with this manifesto, as it’s absolutely littered with them.

In short, I’d sum this manifesto up as being both good and Conservative, but the parts that are good are not Conservative, and the parts that are Conservative are not good. There’s plenty of crowing over things that were achieved in Government, but almost all the good ones are Liberal Democrat policies and/or pushed through by Liberal Democrat ministers. Indeed, putting raising tax allowances as one of their lead policies, when David Cameron dismissed it as unaffordable in 2010 is perhaps the defining example of Tory chutzpah.

Moving away from parties with hundreds of candidates, after yesterday’s look at TUSC we head back to Your Next MP’s list of parties fielding candidates and find that next in the list are the SNP, then Plaid Cymru but I think they’re well enough known to not need me writing about them. Instead, we’ll move onto the next in the list – the English Democrats. Unfortunately, the English Democrats still have the odious Steven Uncles standing as one of their candidates. Uncles, for those of you who don’t know, threatened to sue Chris Lightfoot after he said the English Democrats “appear to be some sort of quasi-fascist mob” in the post where he first used the Lightfoot Test, then withdrew the threat after discovering political parties can’t sue for libel. All pretty silly, but then after Chris’s death, Steven Uncles made some pretty horrific comments about him, and for such time as the English Democrats remain associated with a nasty character like him, that’s all the attention they’re going to get from me.

To finish on a lighter note, I have to thank Richard in the comments on an earlier post for drawing my attention to another bit of candidate nominative determinism. The Green Party candidate in Forest of Dean is James Greenwood, combining party and constituency in a single surname. Now, if we can find a few more of those, I might be able to persuade someone to fund a study of whether nominatively determined candidates are more or less successful than others.

And that’s just about it for today except to note that some councils have started sending out postal votes today, so the first votes in the election could well be cast tomorrow. But if you still haven’t registered to vote, you can do it up until Monday by clicking here.

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After lamenting the lack of public engagement in the campaign yesterday, I should start this post with some praise for our local Greens who have held a public meeting for people to meet and question their candidates. If you want to know what happened there…you’ll have to check out the Colchester Chronicle who’ve been live-tweeting from it. They’ve called it ‘Grill The Greens’, and the pedant in me would like to point out that one needs to steam your greens to get the best taste and nutrition from them.

Here’s a thought: given that we’ve known the date of this election and the start of the campaign for several years, why have none of the major party manifestos been launched yet? We’ve had campaigning and press events since launch, we had the official start of the ‘short campaign’ last Monday, I’ve been writing these blog posts for 13 days so far, and yet still no one has come out with the official list of the policies they want to implement in Government. We’re told they’ll likely come out next week – though I expect someone at Tory HQ is frantically rewriting it to include the new pledges they’ve come up with over the last couple of days – but there’s no reason they couldn’t have been launched back when the campaign started. (That way, of course, we’d also know which of this week’s policies were always planned, and which were scribbled on the back of an envelope)

Polling is now discovering important information about voters in Britain, with the revelation that people called Tim are more likely to vote Lib Dem than anyone else. Many in the Lib Dems may question the validity of the research when they note that Lynne is the third least Liberal Democrat-supporting name. I can think of at least two who’d disagree. But at least we know that ‘come on Tim’ is a proper Lib Dem rallying cry.

Today’s news from Election Leaflets is that the SDP is still with us, and standing a candidate in Kent. Unfortunately, not against Farage in Thanet South, but over in Gillingham and Rainham (though while his leaflets say SDP, the official statement of persons nominated has him with no description). There have been some lingering continuing SDP candidates since David Owen’s original continuing SDP was wound up in 1990 with one of their last councillors dying last year.

However, I would question if this candidate is actually part of the official SDP or a chancer borrowing the name, especially given the lack of a party description on the official list (you can only use a party name as a description if your nomination is supported by that party’s Designated Nominating Officer). It’s true that micro parties can go through some odd changes in ideology (the continuity Liberals stood as part of the hard left No2EU slate for the 2009 European elections) but here the SDP name appears to have been appropriated by a right-wing political gadfly and previous English Democrats candidate who uses this leaflet to complain about various other parties he’s been involved in and rant about immigration.

Whether he is official SDP or not is hard to tell as the only website for the party I can find is a bizarre string of rants and conspiracy theories that doesn’t seem to have much relationship to anyone standing for election. However, this is the rather odd world of fringe and micro parties in British politics where many odd people tend to gather and then fall out each with each other. (Major party politics is where odd people gather, grit their teeth, and pretend to get on with each other)

We’re a third of the way through the election campaign – 13 days gone, 26 to go until election day. However, voting will be starting much sooner than that as the postal ballots will start going out within the next week and at least one reporter is taking up a suggestion I made last time and trying to find the first voter in the country:

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The Green Party video: reaching voters other parties can’t reach?

changethetuneThe Green Party’s ‘Change The Tune’ election broadcast has generated quite a response since it was first released on Wednesday. Most of that reaction – and I include my initial ones – to it was pretty derisory, with lots of political types on Twitter saying it was the worst election broadcast they’ve ever seen, what a terrible idea it was, why didn’t it feature Caroline Lucas talking about policy etc etc

What we didn’t consider was that it wasn’t aimed at us, and indeed wasn’t really aiming to be the traditional election broadcast. How many of them get reported by MTV?

Consider how many people have learnt about it just from that tweet (MTV UK have 1.5m Twitter followers, by the way, much more than all the political parties combined) and look at how many people are talking about it on social media. This is a broadcast that’s succeded on two fronts – it’s got lots of traditional media coverage, but perhaps more importantly, it’s reaching an audience who wouldn’t normally pay any attention to party election broadcasts.

I wrote the other week about John Zaller’s model of how public opinion forms, and this is an important illustration of part of that. One of the important ideas in Zaller is the difference between ‘high information’ and ‘low information’ voters. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re most likely a ‘high information’ voter – that’s not back slapping, just a fact that the sort of person who reads political blogs is someone who’s probably accessing lots of information about the election, has well-formed opinions on many issues but because they have so much information is unlikely to change their views or who they vote for. On the other hand, low information voters aren’t paying much, if any, attention to the election and don’t have many opinions on political issues. However, they’re also likely to be very resistant to political messages delivered in a traditional way even if they see them. They’ll ignore PEBs on TV, won’t be following politicians or parties on social media and will likely ignore political messages they see, especially if they’re from a source they don’t know or trust.

This Green Party video, however, isn’t getting shared by the traditional channels. Sure, it’s being shared and discussed by high-information politicos on Twitter and blogs, but that’s incidental. Because we’re high-information, we’re going to pay attention to things like that, even if it’s very unlikely to change our minds. The problem for most election broadcasts is that’s pretty much the only audience they reach after they’ve been shown on TV. Most people won’t see them on TV, won’t notice them even if one of the few shares of them makes it to their social media streams and will be blissfully unaware that they even exist. The Green video, though, has effectively gone viral with people beyond the usual political suspects sharing it and saying ‘you need to watch this’. Going back to Zaller’s model, this is how it’s reached the Accept stage of opinion formation: because it’s recommended by someone they trust, people will choose to watch it and, crucially, pay attention to the messages in it.

It’s not going to have such an affect as to sweep the Green Party to an unexpected or even a surge in the polls, but it’s got their message out to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally take on political messages. That doesn’t make them more likely to vote, but if they do vote, it’s more likely that they’ll think of voting Green.

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Yesterday, it was feeling like this election campaign was going to be a long haul of staged photo opportunities and announcements of policies that we’d already heard dozens of times before. As John Lanchester discusses here, thanks to knowing when the election would be for years everything was feeling very flatlined, with some quite ridiculous attention being paid to polls fluctuating within the margin of error. Four more weeks of that without even a full-scale debate to distract us on the way was starting to feel like a bit much.

Then last night things got interested. Labour launched a policy that hadn’t been endlessly trailed, discussed, accepted and processed for most of the past five years and for a brief time, no one quite knew how to deal with it. It was a moment of genuine interest in an election campaign that has been sorely lacking in them, and has continued to be throughout the day.

Proposing to get rid of non-dom status is both a good policy idea (it makes the tax system fairer and may well raise more money) and a good campaign issue, especially to launch as a surprise. If other parties support it, then Labour get to say they’re setting the agenda, and if they reject it, then they have to put themselves on the side of the super-rich who don’t have the numbers to shift many polls.

Or you can try what we saw today which is to carp about the details, take comments out of context and not realise that you’re doing a very good job in helping them keep the issue in the headlines, usually combined with an explanation of just what non-dom status is, which doesn’t usually help the cause of keeping it. The most interesting thing for me was the footage of Ed Balls talking about the issue in January being brought out as though that was some trump card that destroyed the policy when it could just as well be seen as ‘politician changes his mind in the light of new evidence’, which I thought was something we wanted to see more of? The interesting comparison here is with recent Tory tax announcements in which they’ve taken to proclaiming the originally Lib Dem policy of raising the tax allowance as their own, but no one in the media regularly challenges Cameron about he used to say we couldn’t afford it.

Interestingly, removing non-dom status is another tax policy with a Lib Dem pedigree, as Vince Cable has talked about it for years. Naturally, this was seized on by Nick Clegg who pointed out that both the big parties were borrowing Lib Dem tax policy, which showed how essential the party’s ideas…sorry, I was in a parallel world for a moment there. Instead, he waffled a bit about being in the middle and helped reinforce the Tory message by claiming ‘the wheels had come off’ Labour’s policy.

Still, things are now interesting, and perhaps this isn’t going to be the sole event of interest in the elction. Perhaps Labour have other new policy ideas up their sleeves, or might it push the Tories to scribble ideas on fag packets to try and get some momentum back?

Elsewhere, it feels like a brainstorming meeting in the Green Party hit on the idea of ‘boy band’ and then got stuck:

It’s a party election broadcast in the fine tradition of British sketch comedy – someone had one moderately amusing idea and then stretched it out far beyond the point where everyone got the joke. However, it’s been shared much more on social media than any other election broadcast I an remember, has had articles written about it and will probably get a lot more attention than a bunch of people talking earnestly against a natural background while policies flash up on screen would have got. The cynical part of me wonders if that was the plan all along.

And finally, it seems that those of you wanting lots of detailed policy thinking from your candidates should be moving to Weymouth to hope you get a pamphlet (‘leaflet’ seems far too small a word) from Mervyn Stewkesbury, who’ll give you his opinion in great depth. That the front page includes the advice ‘if you want to know more about myself read Appendix 1 Page 9’ gives you some idea of how detailed his ideas are.

Remember that the nominations for the election close tomorrow, so you’ve only got till 4pm to get those papers in to the Returning Officer. If you’re not standing, do spare a thought for all the council staff who’ll be having to check the nominations are valid, and all the various journalists typing in long lists of names for general and local elections so we can all see who’s standing.

One interesting day down, let’s hope there are more to come.

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Here’s something interesting I noticed on Twitter earlier today:

It appears to come from a ComRes poll testing support for Green Party policies while doing some other polling on the party for ITV news. However, from what I can see, this is a poll based on the general voting population, not Green Party supporters or any other subset, but I’ll need to wait until the full data is on ComRes’s site to confirm that.

However, for those of us who are supporters of basic income, it’s a very interesting statistic, especially as there are only 40% opposed to the idea (a further 23% are of no opinion, making the breakdown of those who expressed an opinion something like 47% in favour to 53% against). What it shows, I think, is that there is a substantial amount of people out there who are amenable to the idea of a basic income, and that it can be a policy that could get widespread support for a party that proposed it. (I’m looking here at my fellow Liberal Democrats For Basic Income)

I’ll write some more on this when I’ve seen some more of the data behind it, but it is worth noting that the question is phrased in a very positive way for basic income, by mentioning actual cash rather than keeping it theoretical. However, that’s also a lesson to those of us who support it about how important it is to get the messaging right when promoting the idea. If only we had a basic income-supporting version of Lord Ashcroft who’d fund a series of survey questions on the issue…

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Worth Reading 159: You can’t checkout from here

Times Like These – Flying Rodent argues that we take the Times far too seriously – indeed, the fact that its habitual grovelling to power isn’t a national joke says a lot about us as a nation.
A different cluetrain – Charles Stross on some of the factors that will drive the politics of the future.
The history of a political surge – A Green perspective on the processes that have driven the recent growth in that party’s membership.
Disaster – Simon Wren-Lewis on the economic hole we’re currently in, and not showing any signs of climbing out of.
Has The Good Right got it right? – Alex Marsh on the latest (though oddly pre-election, not post) manifesto setting out yet another new direction for conservatism.

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