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My long-term readers may recall something I wrote in November 2003 about an eccentric misrepresentation committed by then MP Anne Campbell in her constituency propaganda. To refresh your memory, she published this plot of her election majority over time,
Some time ago one of her other constituents emailed her to ask why she thought this sort of thing acceptable. A copy of her answer came into my possession. I wouldn't usually publish such correspondence -- and I do so here without the permission of either party -- but in my view an MP's opinions of her constituents are a matter of legitimate public interest, as is dishonest propaganda. So here we go: (my comments are interspersed with the text)
Note here (a) the slightly surprising confusion of the URL of my web log and my name; (b) the bald, certain and quite wrong claim about my political affiliation. Regarding the latter I am reminded somewhat of a story -- recounted, I think, in one of John Simpson's volumes of autobiography -- of Brian Redhead interviewing Nigel Lawson, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Today Programme. In response to some difficult question other Lawson blurted out, ``You're only saying that because you vote Labour.''
Redhead calmly turned off Lawson's microphone and said, to the listening nation, ``We will now have thirty seconds' silence in which you can reflect upon the enormity of claiming to know how I vote in a secret ballot, and the nation can reflect upon the failure of your economic policies.''
Is he implying that I am somehow ashamed of my 1997 majority and that a large majority in 1997 somehow diminishes a very healthy majority in 2001. If anyone should be trying to hide the 1997 result it is the LDs who did worse in 1997 than they have done for many years.
I did promise to vote against top-up fees in 1997 and I did - immediately after the election when the government legislated to prevent universities from charging top-up or variable fees. I repeated the promise in 2001 and I am saying the same thing now, even though the government appear to have changed their minds. I have been wholly consistent.
I wrote a clarification on this point back in 2003. I had said `top-up fees' when I meant `tuition fees'. Anne, also, was apparently confused on this point. In 1997 she promised that ``Labour will not allow universities to introduce tuition fees''; yet in 1998 she did not vote against the Teaching and Higher Education Act which brought in tuition fees; nor did she even back this rebel amendment which would have satisfied her commitment to a ``new system of financial support [i.e., grants] [which would] ensure that students have enough to live on while studying.''
So, based on the first 302 respondents to the General Election 2005 Estimation Quiz who have expressed a voting intention, here are the results so far:
(In the plot above, I've obtained the `all respondents' curve by weighting each party's supporters to reflect the average of recent opinion polls; I won't claim that that's likely to be a very effective way to produce a balanced sample of the population.)
I don't usually go in for this international law stuff, since it's always seemed a bit irrelevant to me. But unaccountably, the government do take it seriously, and 10 Downing Street has finally been provoked by various leaks into publishing the advice given by the Attorney General to the Prime Minister over the legality, or otherwise, of the war. Here is the last paragraph, which I found interesting:
36. Finally, I must stress that the lawfulness of military action depends not only on the existence of a legal basis, but also on the question of proportionality. Any force used pursuant to the authorisation in resolution 678 (whether or not there is a second resolution):
- must have as its objective the enforcement [of] the terms of the cease-fire contained in resolution 687 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions;
- be limited to what is necessary to achieve that objective;
- must be a proportionate response to that objective, i.e. securing compliance with Iraq's disarmament obligations.
That is not to say that action may not be taken to remove Saddam Hussein from power if it can be demonstrated that such action is a necessary and proportionate measure to secure the disarmament of Iraq. But regime change cannot be the objecting of military action. This should be borne in mind in considering the list of military targets and in making public statements about the campaign.
The first part of the document argues that there were (subject to caveats) reasonable grounds to think that the war could be prosecuted legally. This last section describes what could be done. Specifically, only actions which were `proportionate' to achieving the disarmament of Iraq (of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to produce them, and some categories of ballistic missiles) would be allowed.
Now, as I recall, nobody sensible thought that there were any `weapons of mass destruction' (see rants passim for explanation behind scare quotes) in Iraq. It is hard, therefore, to see the action taken as being `proportionate', especially given the number of civilians we have apparently killed.
|If you scored...||you're doing...|
|less than 20||very badly|
|less than 40||badly|
|more than 50||better|
|more than 60||pretty well|
|more than that||I don't know -- not enough people have tried it yet|
As my (presumably) politically-obsessed readers will have noticed, nominations for the General Election closed last week, so now we know who is standing in each seat. To each of us, therefore, falls the task of deciding who, if anyone, to honour with a vote.
The way you are supposed to do this is to read the manifestos of each of the parties and candidates standing, and pick the ones which will be best for the country. This is a long and tedious process, best avoided, but as I pointed out at the time of the last European Elections, our politics has now become so devalued by idiocy of one sort or another that a simple optimisation is possible. For each candidate, read the associated manifesto until you discover something spectacularly offensive or stupid, then stop. If you find a manifesto bereft of any idiocy or offense, then vote for that candidate. In the event that you find more than one such manifesto, this procedure won't help you, of course, but this is unlikely to arise in practice. If no manifesto lacks for idiocy and offense, then you -- and we -- are in trouble. More on this later.
|Suzon Forscey-Moore, Independent||Independent|
|David Howarth||Liberal Democrats|
Anne and the Labour Party will no doubt be familiar to my readers. The party's manifesto weighs in at 112 pages, though if you go to the party's web site they will offer you a personalised version of the document, presumably with lies tailored to your particular prejudices, though tellingly that page did not work at all when I tried it.
The Labour party have designed this document to come out rather well in my analysis, since it starts off with a fluffy and basically content-free preface by Our Leader, and then a recap of Labour's term in office so far. While this stuff is misleading, it's not actually offensive by political standards, and it's only after 14 pages that we get to their actual policies.
I came close to stopping on page 48, where Labour trumpet one of their `achievements' in office (legislation to allow the seizure of assets from `alleged criminals' whom the Police have been unable to convict -- i.e., innocent people) and threaten to,
develop new proposals to ensure that criminals are not able to profit from publishing books about their crimes.
-- a silly and pointless attack on free speech. But it would be a mistake to duck out too early, since a mere four pages later we encounter a `points system' for immigration (i.e. 1970s industrial policy masquerading as 1970s racism, effectively), the introduction of some sort of gastarbeiter nonsense:
UKIP's manifesto is, if nothing else, short. Specifically, it is short: 16 pages. The first offensive policy is on page 2 (page 1 is the cover): as you may have spotted, UKIP propose to leave the EU. Bzzzt!
Suzon is the organiser of The Campaign for a Fair Hearing and an advisor to Action 4 Justice. I can't find a manifesto or an election address for her campaign in Cambridge, but the two organisations named on that page campaign respectively for,
the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor and the establishment of elected constitutional and constituency courts of review;
The Liberal Democrat manifesto is, pleasingly, only 20 pages long. A hint of something offensive comes in on page 11, where we learn that,
[Liberal Democrats] will consult with business and public services to agree numbers of work permits for economic migration to make sure that Britain continues to prosper.
-- yes, it's immigration quotas. As with Labour's ``points'' scheme, it's always possible that the quota might be set so as not to limit immigration in practice, but this is still wrong in principle and an unwelcome intervention by the state in the economy. (Even the CBI -- usually quick to reject free trade -- has spotted that immigration quotas are a bad idea.)
The Green manifesto is 32 pages long (but that's OK -- I didn't print it out). There's a lot in here that's pretty silly, and the promise on page 15 to waste NHS money on,
-- code, I think, for `treatments that don't work' -- comes pretty close to being offensive. But it would be unfair to make no mention of their defence policy (unilateral nuclear disarmament) and their Iraq policy,
One admirable feature of the Conservative manifesto (32 pages) is that it is somewhat upfront. ``Controlled immigration'' is promised on the very first page, but it is only on page 19 that we discover (a) another bloody points-based system for economic migration; and (b),
Graham has a website setting out his positions rather than a manifesto document as such; there's also this cam.misc thread in which he announces his candidature. Leaving aside the question of how wise it is to stand as a little-known independent in a Parliamentary election, Graham's valuable quick comparison chart reveals him to be another supporter of immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
Respect's manifesto (link hidden in a news item on their website) weighs in at 20 pages. One page three (page one is the cover and two the contents) we learn that they are -- of course -- another troops-out-now mob. I couldn't be bothered to read on to discover how they present their leader's enthusiasm for the murderous rule of Saddam Hussein.
Of course, in a first-past-the-post election, one has to consider (a) whether there is any chance of an individual candidate winning, since otherwise one's vote is wasted; and (b) the qualities of the individual candidates. Here I am handicapped by only having met three of the candidates, but by a happy chance it turns out that those are the three who stand the most chance of winning:
I assume what's going on here is that he believes that, because I am opposed to ID cards and the National Identity Register, I must be a Liberal Democrat. I am not. No fuses obviously blew when I failed to defend the local income tax (a policy on which I in fact have no strong opinion) but in any case he declined to continue the conversation any further.
(The 2004 local election result is rescaled to bring the support for `other' candidates down to its normal level of ~8% in a general election. The Daniel Davies prediction is from his Adjusted Regional Swing Estimate model as given here; it's based on data from 10th April, but the polls haven't moved much since then. The other predicted results are from here and here. Backing Blair has Cambridge down as a safe Labour seat, so I assume that they are using a UNS-type model like Martin Baxter's site.)
Update: I unaccountably left Martin Lucas-Smith out of the list of candidates I've met. Ho-hum. Nice bloke but he's not going to win. I went on Sunday to an event described as a hustings at which all of the above candidates were present, which gave an opportunity to discover Suzon Forscey-Moore's manifesto -- vague, but not unlike what I have presented above -- and hear from the others. Unfortunately, the audience at this event -- run by the Cambridge churches -- were prohibited from asking questions of the candidates (a fact which, it is rumoured, is not unconnected with Anne Campbell's decision to appear at it alone among such events); instead, the candidates were asked to respond to a set of five questions which were circulated in advance. And in another tragic reverse for British democracy, the candidates representing political parties -- except for the bloke from Respect -- were permitted fifteen minutes of speaking time each, compared to five minutes for the others. This was, to put it bluntly, completely fucking hopeless.
So, it's election time, the traditional occasion for whinging about the British electoral system, such as it is. No doubt if I cared enough I could find all sorts of telling commentary on this from around the ``'blogosphere'', but rather than making you suffer that I'll quote something posted to NotApathetic:
I live in Nicholas Soames' constituency, Mid Sussex, and even if I could vote as often as a Birmingham Labour councillor it wouldn't move him an inch closer to being thrown out on his ear.
(This also has the pleasing side-effect that, rather than having to to spend a despairing hour Googling for cries of electoral pain from the rest of the UK ``'blogosphere'', I can just find something appropriate with a nice quick database query. On which subject -- I'd be most grateful if my half-dozen readers could help out with the soulless task of helping me cluster comments on NotApathetic -- I can promise you that it might be worth your while.)
Since this gives me another opportunity to expose you to my thoughts on bonkers electoral systems while re-using graphs I've already drawn, I thought I'd weigh in. (Plus, I got an email the other day from Paul Davies of Make Votes Count, asking me to contribute thoughts on this.)
As you will know -- unless you have been remaining in a state of happy ignorance for the past few centuries -- in the UK, MPs are elected on single-member constituencies under a first-past-the-post electoral system. Each elector may vote for up to one named candidate. In the last Parliament there were 659 MPs, and in the next one there will be 646 (following boundary changes in Scotland); the median constituency has about 68,000 electors. Labour constituencies tend to have proportionately fewer electors than Tory ones:
-- I understand (though I have not checked) that this effect is due mostly to quirks of demographics, of which the one most usually advanced is that Labour constituencies tend to be more urban and that, as technology changes, towndwellers are fleeing their lives of urban squalor, and exchanging them for lives of whinging about fox-hunting, driving SUVs down country lanes at break-neck speed, and the other trappings of rural squalor. Apparently the Boundary Commission can't keep up and the result is that the median Labour constituency gets by with only 66,000 electors while the median Tory constituency has about 72,000. This fact, no doubt, warms the hearts of the many Labour MPs who benefit from it.
(A re-cap on how to read this: each point in the triangle represents a particular level of support for the three major parties, assuming a constant level of support for other parties. The colour of the triangle at that point shows which of the parties would achieve a majority in Parliament at that level of support, as predicted by a uniform national swing. The grey area shows conditions where no party is in overall control.)
For our purposes this diagram shows two important things: firstly, it is not symmetric under the exchange of any two parties -- the electoral system treats some of the major parties better than others; secondly, there are many points where a minority of support for a given party in the electorate will nonetheless yield a Parliamentary majority for that party.
Many people object to one or both of these features, and propose a variety of systems (usually referred to as `proportional') to replace our current tried-and-testing scheme. On the same type of diagram, such a system would look like this:
One very sensible argument for the first of these (thanks to Martin Keegan for forcefully articulating this to me) is that an election should be viewed not as an aspirational exercise in the choosing of a future government but as a referendum on the conduct of the previous one. In order to achieve this electors ought to be in a position to sack their MPs. The charming notion here is that politicians will eventually learn by association that they ought not to annoy the electorate too much. Many proportional representation schemes (like the utterly wretched one used in the European elections) rely on a party list; when support for a party falls, the representatives who lose their jobs are those which the party has placed lowest on the list, not those whom the electors think have done the worst job.
For many advocates of the existing system, the election of single MPs in single constituencies is a requirement that any future system should maintain. My proposal is designed to achieve this, while also managing to be perfectly proportional. Instead of varying the electoral system in the country, I propose that to modify the conduct of divisions in the House of Commons.
Presently, each MP in the Commons gets one vote, and, when the house divides, the side with the largest number of votes wins. (When there is a tie, the Speaker casts a tie-breaking vote, traditionally for the Government.)
Observing that while electors do vote for individual candidates, they typically also care about the candidates' chosen parties, I propose that, rather than giving each MP one vote, we give them a (fractional) number of votes equal to the fraction of the electorate who voted for their party, divided by the number of MPs of that party elected, multiplied by the total number of MPs. As an example, here is how the 2001 election would look:
|Party||Support (%)||MPs||Each MP's vote|
(As usual one should be a little cautious in interpreting historical election results translated into novel electoral systems since presumably the electorate's behaviour would change if the electoral system were modified. But the above seems plausible as a rough guide.)
There are various corner cases which one should treat. Independent MPs are easy to handle (treat as single-member parties -- for instance, Dr Richard Taylor would have had a voting weight of 0.71); harder are the cases of parties splitting or merging, or (as a special case) defection of an MP. Obviously one -- attractively simple -- possibility is for an MP to carry their voting weight with them for the duration of each Parliament, but that may not strike the right balance between support for an individual candidate and for their party. Similarly, a by-election can be treated as the election of an independent, or the new MP can be given the voting weight of the party they are joining. Anyway, these details don't affect the system fundamentally.
I agree that this is a Bad Thing, but (a) the damage is already done -- see European Elections passim; and (b) it is obviously true that many voters vote for parties not people, and, however much we despise this, we must accept it.
True. However, MPs are paid almost £60k a year and (Government) whips get an extra £25k on top of that. For those sorts of prices, occasional resort to mental arithmetic ought not to be out of the question; and if the arithmetic becomes too taxing, MPs' expenses budgets (£118k, on average) can probably stretch to the cost of a pocket calculator.
(No but seriously: implementing this would probably require some sort of electronic voting, perhaps with a swipe-card or similar, to speed up the process. Since divisions in the Commons are not secret ballots, there is no trust problem with implementing such a system.)
I.e., different MPs should not have different amounts of power. Well, the whole point is that they should -- because of the vagaries of the system by which they are elected. It's more important, goes the argument, to have one elector: one vote than one MP: one vote.
Actually, of course, as with all electoral-reform suggestions, the latter is the most important objection in practice. Such a scheme could only be implemented by a government with a majority in the House of Commons, and so -- since it would almost certainly result in that government losing its majority in the next election -- no rational government would implement it.
Consider a completely toy model. Suppose that you are in charge of one of two major political parties. Suppose that you derive benefit +b per unit time from being in power, benefit -b from the other major party being in power, and, on average, 0 from a hung Parliament where policy-making is by deals between the two major parties and other smaller parties. Suppose further that, owing to (waves hands) demographic change and stuff, power alternates between the two major parties, with each being in power for time T before being swept away to make space for a period of T under the other government. Finally, suppose that at any point during this cycle when you are in power, you can pull the plug on the whole thing and replace it with a proportional electoral system which will ensure a permanent hung Parliament. Would it ever be rational to reform the electoral system?
Well, this is very simple to answer. Obviously at any given point the net present value to a party in power from the expected future alternation of power between it and its mortal enemy can be obtained by simple discounting; whereas the net present value of eternal shifting coalition government is always zero. Suppose that each government lasts 20 years and politicians discount future power at a rate of 5% per annum. For a rational government, the net present value of preserving the current system, compared to bringing in a proportional one, reaches zero about twelve years into a Government's lifetime:
In unrelated news, I hear that the Labour Party has inserted a pledge to review the electoral system during its third term into its manifesto.
Update: a couple of things I forgot to mention while writing the above. Firstly, if you're looking for arguments against the proposed scheme, consider the incentives which apply to parties campaigning in particular (e.g. marginal) constituencies. Secondly, I should probably say that my twenty-years-of-one, twenty-years-of-the-other model of British politics is probably an unjustified extrapolation, but from here it certainly looks as if the Labour Party will be in power for a while yet. A third comment: implicitly my scheme requires that, to achieve any influence, a party must be able to have a single MP elected somewhere. Most proportional-representation schemes require a party to reach some threshold -- say, 5% of the total vote -- before getting any representatives elected; in my scheme you have to be able to win a single constituency. That requirement is, of course, a consequence of demanding a link between constituencies and MPs; in any case, it seems a reasonable way to keep the nutters out of power.
You have probably already seen this South Park drawing thingy; if not, have a play -- it's great fun. (Requires `Flash', obviously. But hey -- it could be worse: it could be `Java'.) Anyway, here I am, South Park style:
Moving swiftly on, regular readers will no doubt appreciate learning that I have finally won a minor victory in the Chip-and-PIN wars: Egg, an `Internet Bank' (meaning: like a normal bank but hiding their surliness and incompetence behind a website rather than behind counters in branches) finally issued me with a PIN-suppressed card. Naturally this required an extended and tedious correspondence and I am ashamed to say that I had to resort to argument-from-authority to finally get them to do what I wanted:
In line with the changes that have been made within all financial product providers and the launch of the Chip and PIN facility I regret to inform you that all future cards dispatched will be Chip and Pin enabled, it's no longer possible to be issued with a Chip and signature card.
Could you explain why? Further, when I asked for a chip-and-signature card, I was told that one would be issued. Clearly this previous statement was not correct -- or yours was not. How did that happen?
I am not satisfied with the security of the `Chip and PIN' system. Rather than rehearse them here I refer you to the comments made on this by Prof. Ross Anderson a few weeks ago. As he has pointed out, for the customer, `chip and signature' cards are more secure. So I would like one.
I've read the comments on the BBC Website made by Prof. Ross Anderson and can appreciate your concerns. However, I would ask you to please follow the below link detailing the benefits of the new Chip and PIN system.
A couple of other comments on the Internet Banking experience. Firstly, Egg don't let you communicate with them by email, but you can send messages to them by filling out a stupid little form on their website. And they won't email you their responses, but they can send you an email which tells you that they've responded. Their website is the normal commercial cack, though in an improvement on normal banking practice it does seem to work on about 90% of the occasions I've tried to use it.
(As an aside, in a fantastic act of security, they even have a page somewhere which purports to show you your credit-card's PIN. I have no idea whether this works, since obviously I'm not going to click on it -- I don't want to know my PIN, and I certainly don't want Egg to have any grounds for claiming that I do -- but I do hope the genius responsible for this innovation has been promoted to yet greater things.)
Egg promise to answer such messages within one day of their being sent, which makes it sound pretty feeble as a way to get any customer service. But actually it's a hell of a lot better than the normal telephone `service' banks provide. Instead of having a stressful battle with some stupid phone menu and incalcitrant operators, you can sit down in comfort, quaff a couple of glasses of wine, jot down a quick email to the bank, and relax to await an answer.
Of course, this `business at the speed of thought' does make it a bit slow to get them to do anything, and coupled with the fact that they only had about a two-thirds success rate in actually sending me cards it took about three months from when I applied for a card until I finally had a usable one. I remain slightly baffled at this performance but frankly I can't be bothered to complain about it.
Elsewhere, much discussion of Who should you vote for?, a small and fun quiz which suggests a party for you to support in the coming General Election. (You may be heartily sick of the election by now, but I'm not, yet -- give it another week.) My name's on the acknowledgements for the quiz (because I helped make a couple of optimisations for the thing before it became really popular) but otherwise it's nothing to do with me, so I'm a bit annoyed that (inter alia) Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber decided that I'd written it, despite a prominent denial on John Band's site, where he found the link. Ho-hum.
Anyway... there are a number of legitimate criticisms of the particular method they use; in particular they only ask about issues on which the main parties have differed and which are prominent in the coming election campaign. So the recommendations come out looking a little bit silly; for instance, they suggested that I vote Green (disqualified because they're unilateralists, among other reasons) or UKIP (disqualified because they're swivel-eyed loons, and also because of their policies -- see a previous note for more on this.).
This being the internet, there were also quite a few of the other sort of criticisms; specifically a number of people have claimed that the site is a Liberal Democrat plot. Now, to be honest, I'm not certain that Liberal Democrats do plot, but I can't say for sure. Frankly I can't be arsed to compile a list of these people, but this rant by `Recess Monkey', who previously worked for a Labour MP gives roughly the flavour. Amusingly the extent of the evidence for this theory is that people who vote Labour tribally object to the suggestion that perhaps they should vote for another party on the basis of its policies. I suppose this sort of optimisation must save a lot of effort in the polling booth.
(Actually I was going to write something more interesting about this but having had a brief Google for further evidence has just left me despairing at the idiocy and political tribalism of the people advancing this theory. I'll leave you with this USENET thread in which one of our glorious Lib Dem councillors reveals that he came out Tory on the test. The singular of `evidence' is, of course, `anecdote'....)
Some of my half-dozen readers may have seen this piece by Peter Kellner in last Sunday's Sunday Times, referring in part to an opinion poll which YouGov did at the beginning of March. The aim of this was to apply the process used in my on-line political survey to a balanced sample of the British population, to discover the axes which best describe Britons' political beliefs.
YouGov have very kindly allowed me to make use of the data from the poll. (Many thanks also to Tom Steinberg, who collaborated in this work.) Hopefully this is the sort of thing which some of you find interesting; there's quite a lot to say, and this is just a very brief summary.
To start with, you can answer the questions in the poll at, http://www.politicalsurvey2005.com/ and see how your views compare with the rest of the British population. Then read on....
Now we can look for the combinations of statements which maximise the variance in the population. These combinations correspond to axes of belief along which the population is most spread out. Once we have the axes, people's political views can be summarised by numbers which give their positions on those axes, and compared to the views of other members of the population.
So, how does this turn out? Principal Components Analysis gives us as many axes as we put in variables -- in this case, respondents' answers to the questions. But only some of these axes are statistically significant; in this case we find two, of which the first is very significant and the second of only marginal significance.
|agree||Prisons are too soft on criminals|
|agree||The UK should withdraw from the European Union|
|disagree||Most immigrants are beneficial to the UK|
|agree||Some crimes are so serious that the only proper punishment is the death penalty|
|disagree||It's more important to rehabilitate criminals than to punish them|
|disagree||The government should give more aid to poor countries|
|agree||National law should always override international agreements and European directives|
|agree||Working people pay too much tax|
|disagree||The cost of living in the UK should be allowed to rise in order to fight global warming|
|agree||The government is mostly interested in helping itself, not ordinary people|
-- a person who agrees or disagrees with each of those statements in the sense given will end up at one end of the axis (we, arbitrarily, made this the positive end); a person whose views are the opposite will end up at the other end. Slightly facetiously we refer to this as the `Axis of UKIP': the extremal positive views are those of people who are Eurosceptic, believe in capital punishment and harsh prison régimes, and oppose immigration. At the other end of the axis people believe in further European integration, the primacy of international law, the benefits of immigration, and so forth.
(The thicker line is the cumulative distribution, measured against the vertical axis; read it as `the fraction of people to the left of this point'. The people named at each end of the axis are plausible stereotypes to whom you might ascribe the extremal views on that axis, but note that I'm not making a statement about their actual positions!)
Note that the tail of more internationalist people on the left is much bigger than the tail of more isolationist people on the right. I'm not sure why that is, but it may be because to push yourself very far to the right you have to agree to quite a lot of quite offensive things. And perhaps rehabilitationist/internationalist extremism looks less offensive than rightish extremism anyway.
Here's how people who said -- in early March, but the polls haven't moved that much since then -- they'd vote for each of the major parties show up on the first axis, compared to the whole population:
Observe that the median UKIP voter is in almost exactly the same place as the median Tory. Core UKIP voters look just like core Tory voters, and they have the same beliefs about Europe, capital punishment and immigration which Tory voters do. And, with curious symmetry, Welsh and Scottish Nationalist voters show roughly the same relationship to Labour voters as do UKIP to Tories:
Greens and non-UKIP nutters -- black is BNP, purple Veritas, and pinkish Respect -- look like this: (but please note that there are very few voters for these parties, so these plots are pretty approximate)
|disagree||Britain's railways should be renationalised, and run by a public corporation rather than private companies|
|disagree||The rich don't pay enough tax|
|agree||I am comfortable with the way that genetic engineering is being used in the food industry|
|agree||The UK was right to go to war in Iraq|
|agree||Most people should take responsibility for saving enough for their retirement, rather than relying on the Government to pay a big enough pension to live on|
|disagree||This country should try to become more like France or Germany than the United States of America|
|disagree||We should tax certain imported goods to protect British jobs in industries that produce those goods|
|agree||In general, private companies are run more efficiently than public services|
|disagree||The West must accept at least some responsibility for al Qaeda's terrorist attacks|
|disagree||The government is mostly interested in helping itself, not ordinary people|
Again, this is identifiably left/right in some sense -- but it is the right of the free market, free trade, and the war against Iraq. In summary, the person on the extreme positive end of this axis is the person who has read every Economist editorial of the past five years and believed all of them. The stereotype I would suggest here is Margaret Thatcher -- or Oliver Kamm.
Note that Lib Dem voters are significantly to the left of Labour voters on this axis. Partly this is because of opposition to the war against Iraq; partly this is because the Liberal Democratic party no longer resembles is classical Liberal antecedents.
I'm going to leave this for now, otherwise I'll still be writing this while everyone else is in the pub. But those who are after further insights may find these slides from a talk I gave on this interesting.
Oh, and I should probably also thank the nice people at NTK for their helpful career advice.
- One or more moles in your constituency Labour Party;
- a cabinet Minister;
- a small group of volunteers;
- something to protest about;
- some leaflets;
- a banner.
Get wind of an occasion when a cabinet Minister is coming to your constituency to kick-start a candidate's local election campaign. Surround the venue with people handing out leaflets, waving banners, etc. Await arrival of the cabinet Minister. A photo-opportunity should now arrange itself.
On this occasion, Peter Hain MP PC, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy seal, was visiting Cambridge to address a Labour meeting at which Anne Campbell was to be re-adopted as the Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge. Since both Anne and Peter Hain are enthusiastic supporters of ID cards -- and since most members of the constituency Labour Party are not -- this was an ideal opportunity to remind those present of the costs and dangers of the government's proposals -- proposals which may be dead for now, but are likely to reappear after the election.
I should at this point remark that NO2ID and its Cambridge local group are non-party-political organisations, a point underlined by the fact that many members of the Cambridge Labour Party wished us luck and took NO2ID badges to wear during their meeting. (And, naturally, in the event that a cabinet minister who was, somehow, not a member of the Labour Party and was nevertheless in favour of ID cards were to visit Cambridge, we would do our best to make them aware of our position.)
Anne herself did not accept a leaflet or a badge, but she did listen patiently to our concerns about ID cards for several whole minutes before explaining, equally patiently, that the world has changed, that ID cards are needed to fight terrorism -- a view which is, I understand, not even held by the Home Office any more -- and (a new one, this) that in any case we're going to be stuck with biometric passports anyway, so it's pointless to object to ID cards.
Sadly we didn't win the game of Ambush the Cabinet Minister. Apparently Peter Hain did turn up, but he was so late that by then we'd concluded that he wasn't going to arrive at all. Depending on your view of our government, you'll conclude either that this is a typical example of lacklustre New Labour organisation, or that he'd presumably been delayed by urgent and vital ministerial business -- a privy which needed sealing, or a civil liberty which needed abolishing, or something like that. Or we scared him away.
So then, that General Election, eh? For the benefit of those of my half-dozen readers who don't live in the UK, the gag here is that we get to vote our Labour government back in to power so that it can carry on invading things, abolishing our civil liberties, and whatnot. In principle we could also elect the Conservatives, a party which hasn't been in power for eight years and also has a policy of invading things, abolishing our civil liberties, and whatnot; but that's not very likely. Venturing into the really hypothetical, there are also the Liberal Democrats, of course; but when they were last in power they too had a policy of invading things, abolishing our civil liberties, and whatnot. (To be fair, that was almost ninety years ago.)
Anyway, you people mostly come here expecting a graph, and I wouldn't like to disappoint you. Here's my estimate of the probable outcome of the election, based on recent opinion polls recorded on Anthony Wells's site:
The axes of the figure show the estimated fraction of the population intending to vote for each of the major parties; the white circle shows the current estimate from opinion polls. The coloured areas show the regions of the plot in which -- under the assumption of uniform national swing -- each of the corresponding major parties would win a majority in Parliament.
For those of you who like this sort of thing, I will keep a copy of this and a more conventional plot updated at http://election.beasts.org/ as the campaign goes on. (Many thanks to Anthony Wells and Martin Baxter for collecting and publishing the data which goes into those plots.)
Of course, given the futility of the electoral process, you might decide that you aren't going to vote at all. If so, well, you might want to consider using Not Apathetic to tell the world why. The world might not be listening, but you never know. Thanks very much to Matthew and Sam, the unpaid mySociety volunteers who did most of the work on that site.
Equally, if you aren't actually entitled to vote but want to get involved in all the fun, well, there's still time! Under the new system brought in by our glorious leaders, you can vote in our election; all you need to do is fill out a form, post it to any local authority, and they'll send you a handy postal ballot form which you too can use to re-elect New Labour. And if that's too complicated for you, on Tuesday The Times published a handy guide on how to cheat in an election; in case that link doesn't work for you, here's an extract:
- Forge applications for postal votes, ask for them to be diverted to bogus addresses and then fill in the ballot papers.
- Offer to collect completed postal ballots from voters homes. Open them, scribble out crosses for rival candidates and insert your own in their place.
- Bribe or threaten postmen to hand over postal ballots.
This is all done with wwwitter.
Copyright (c) Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License. Comments, if any, copyright (c) contributors and available under the same license.
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