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.

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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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Worth Reading 49: The reboot

Yes, yes, I’m doing these again. It’s almost like I’ve decided to try being a blogger again for a while, isn’t it?

Stephen King: Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake! – A wonderfully angry rant about what rich people get away with in American.
The rise of gernotocracy? – (pdf file) A report from the Intergenerational Foundation on the democratic deficit between different age groups, with suggestions for how to combat it. Whether you agree with the recommendations or not, there’s a lot of food for thought within it.
Bill Hicks on Freedom of Speech – Wonderful letter from the late, great comedian to a priest who’d complained about Channel 4 showing Revelations
Spoilers – Charles Stross responds to some of the reviews and comments on his excellent novel Rule 34
. He’s not complaining about them (‘we have a technical term for an author who argues with reviewers: “idiot”‘) but pointing out some interesting additional information on the book and its background that’s interesting if you’ve read it. And if you haven’t, then you should give it a try.
The Economist fails the Turing Test again – Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell explains how to automate the writing of Economist articles.

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