peterbirks: (Default)
2017-06-02 08:38 pm
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Thoughts on a General Election: Week 6

 Thoughts on a General Election - Week Six:
Although we've had quite a lot happen in the last seven days, there hasn't been any particular change of trend, strategy or competence.
Labour has eased McDonnell out of the limelight, presumably because they think the holes in Labour's numbers are now their weak point. Once again, a smart move on Labour's part.
Corbyn has been eased into the picture with consummate skill. If you had predicted at the start of this campaign that in the final week he would be sitting in front of Peston, telling him that he would keep his allotment if he became PM, I doubt that many would have believed you. Semiologically, this is classy stuff. The underpinning point here is that no chap who owns an allotment *and plans to keep it even if he wins* could possibly be a threat to the British way of life. Genius.
Meanwhile the Conservatives have more problems than you can shake a stick at.
1) They have refocused away from "strong and stable in the national interest" into claiming to be the best party to deliver a strong Brexit. Unfortunately the "firm on Brexit" line doesn't really work. The LibDem's abject failure to make "Remain" an electoral issue should have been the clue. The voter sees Brexit as something he or she wants the new government to get on with; arguing about who is going to do it better is not really a vote-winner. It's even less of a vote-winner when the only people we have seen on either side who look like they might be really good at it are in the Labour Party.
2) What can one say about May? Even today she was responding to a question with the homily "What we have made absolutely clear is...." presumably without realizing that beginning an answer with this is on a par with "you are feeling sleepy, you are feeling sleepy..." . There's been little strategy and, more importantly, woeful delivery. I don't like to try to read people's minds, but I strongly suspect that even the longest-living, lifelong-loyal Conservatives are going "Gawd, this is embarrassing". It's like those maths lecturers at svchool or college who were so hopeless at social skills that they would spend the entire lesson/lecture talking to the blackboard while writing up equations which the class copied down. You never heared a word he said because his chin was in his chest and he mumbled.
3) UKIP seems to have imploded to about 3%. Curiously, I do not think this will make much difference. It might save a few seats for Labour in that the Conservatives will be unable to slip through "on the rails".
4) LibDems utterly irrelevant. The attempt to mobilize the Remainers just did not work. Half of them had become "let's make the best of it" and two thirds of the 20% left seem to be supporting Labour.

Can Labour win (i.e., form the next government)? I don't think so. Nothing is impossible, but for them to form the next government I think they need three non-correlated events to coincide:
(a) a continuation of the trend of the past three weeks rather than a pause,
(b) for the YouGov assessment of the youth turnout to be right, and for the ICM assumption to be wrong,
(c) Labour doing what the Conservatives did in 2015 -- getting the votes where it matters.

Party workers don't like hard-headed analysis. Because of their emotional investment, they think in terms of "reception on the doorstep". The fact that the pollsters have less than a great track record (despite their protests to the contrary in recent months) serves only to reinforce their belief that "it's not what I'm sensing on the street" has strong statistical validity. It doesn't.

Can the Conservatives win a bigger majority?
It's beginning to look difficult. It keeps coming down to Labour successfully harnessing the youthful vote *in the right places*. It's no fucking use in safe Conservative seats or safe Labour ones. You could have every drinker and eater around Brixton market's Tapas Bars on a Friday evening swearing that they will vote and it won't matter a toss. What are the youngsters going to do in the marginals?
If Labour fail in this, then the Conservatives might, just might, squeak a slightly bigger majority. But their efficiency last time was very high. That is what sets the bar in 2017. The Conservatives don't just have to pick up the votes efficiently, they have to do it even more efficiently than they did last time. A big ask.

I've put numbers for the UK in, plus numbers for the latest polls specific to Scotland and Wales.

Latest prediction
Cons 331
Lab 239
LibDem 8
SNP 49
PC 3
Green 1
Speaker 1
NI 18

Cons Majority of 12.
peterbirks: (Default)
2017-05-26 10:55 pm
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Thoughts on a General Election. Week Five

Thoughts on a General Election: Week 5.

The fallout from the "let's raid Granny's home for everything bar £100k" policy generated one of the most abject u-turns in campaign history. Even David Butler termed it "unprecedented" and I reckon he's covered more UK General Elections than anyone else alive.
And it will be too late. As YouGov's poll showed, the so-called "dementia tax" is now stuck in the voters' minds. It's almost as if the Conservatives sat down to try to work out the worst kind of typically Corbyn proposal possible, and then chucked it in their own manifesto.
The impact on the opinion polls was immediate and significant. A "wobble" threatened to become a stroke. A lead of 19pp was down to 5pp in only three weeks. For the first time it was being seriously hypothesized that Labour could get the most seats.
Even Conservative supporters have been calling it "the worst Conservative campaign in living memory". It's probably up there (or, rather, down there) with Churchill's in 1945, which made similar errors and which treated the Labour opposition with a similar scare strategy.
And yet, at 43% to 38% we would still see a Conservative majority. But, probably fatally for Theresa May, it would be hardly any larger than the one achieved in 2015.
The bomb attack in Manchester should have worked in favour of the Conservatives, but Labour had every opportunity to exploit it. They only had to hammer home (a) the 20,000 cut to the police force and (b) that Corbyn had questioned it at the time.
But this seems to be an election of attempted suicides. Corbyn chose instead to focus on how the west must bear part of the blame -- sorry, *responsibility* -- because of its actions in the past. As with the care home cost debacle on the Conservative side, and once again apparently beyond the with of the Party leadership and most of its supporters, the truth of an analysis is irrelevant. What matters is how well it plays with wavering voters and how it will be treated by the other side.
May being abroad, mixing with world leaders, is also something that should work in favour of the Conservatives. Certainly Blair would have been milking it for all it was worth, looking as statesmanlike as possible and "above" the party political fray. The adjective "presidential" was not an insult when it came to Blair. it was how he worked and he was successful at it.
But May is beginning to look significantly second-rate. And her team looks second-rate. They don't seem to have their finger on the pulse of the nation;
Corbyn's team is in places beyond fifth rate. But McDonnell has turned himself into a friendly reassuring uncle. I wouldn't be surprised if he brought out a pipe, because this is straight out of the Harold Wilson playbook of 1963. And there is some talent in the Labour Party (notably Keir Starmer and -- I am biased here, my own MP Heidi Alexander) . Of course, most of that talent resigned because they thought Corbyn was electoral suicide. What we have got instead is not electoral suicide per se, as what would be elected suicide, because the financial promises are (a) unsustainable (b) disingenuous and (c) gambling on most voters not understanding simple financial facts (such as, if you borrow money to buy an asset, it is still borrowed money; having the asset does not stop it being so).
I assume that there is talent tucked away in the Conservative Party, but I haven't seen much evidence of it in this campaign.
Current seat predictions as of latest poll:
Cons 334, Lab 236, LibDem 10, SNP 47, PC 3, Green 1, Speaker 1, NI 18.
peterbirks: (Default)
2017-05-14 01:03 pm
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Election thoughts - week three

 What is becoming increasingly clear is that Labour is having the best of the General Election campaign, but that this is at the expense of UKIP and the LibDems. The Conservative vote is holding up. This could have two paradoxical effects:
1) It won't make a great deal of difference to Labour seats if they get 28% or 31%. The Conservative majority could vary from, say, 60 to 110, while Labour seats would shift from, say, 160 to 185.
2) But that 30% barrier is important in another way. because if Labour gets 31% this time, Corbyn supporters can say that he performed better than Ed Miliband did in 2015.  Far from leading Labour to political destruction, Corbyn and his backers could argue, with some validity, that his view is more popular than was Miliband's.
There is a paradox here, because it could be argued with equal possible validity that the strength of the Labour vote is down to two possible explanations:
a) National: The Labour manifesto is having an effect; the Corbyn campaign is getting through
b) Local: People are voting for Labour candidates who are telling voters that "look, there's no chance of Corbyn forming the next government. But vote for me and I'll be one of the ones getting rid of him"
c) the true position almost certainly being a combination of the two.
That could lead to the farcical situation whereby a person who votes for an anti-Corbyn Labour MP achieves the aim of electing that person, only for that vote also to be taken on a "national' percentage scale as a support for Corbyn's Labour, making it far harder to unseat Corbyn. Anti-Corbyn Labour MPs want to win themselves, but want a national disaster that makes a Corbyn leadership untenable. And many Labour voters probably find themselves in the same boat.

Andy Ward this morning referred to Theresa May as "an empty shirt", and I don't think that's an inaccurate analysis. Home Secretaries are rarely "top tier" (the last before May to become PM was Callaghan, while the last one to become a good PM was Asquith, who was HS from 1892 to 1895) and, let's face it, her coming to the leadership was like something out of Lemony Snicket.

As such the Conservatives are adopting the best strategy -- keep everything tightly under control and reduce the number of even controlled media appearances as much as possible. Northern Ireland was a great place for her to campaign. A good excuse for high security and not a Conservative or Labour Party supporter in sight. I wouldn't be surprised if she popped up next in Gibraltar or the Shetlands. That this is infuriating Labour supporters is just more evidence that this is the right tactic.
As ever, Labour party supporters think that it's about winning the argument, whereas in fact it's about winning the election. Elections in the era of The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Eurovision and "Cash In The Attic" are not the same as elections when Nye Bevan could windbag to 50,000 people and no-one would notice the lack of substance in the (unrecorded) speech.

But Labour can't try to beat the Conservatives at this game. As such, they are probably right to focus on "issues" -- especially ones that appeal to people who don't understand the hard facts of economics. If the Conservatives are the mum and dad saying "it's tough out there, the world is full of enemies, but we must hang together and hunker down as a family", then Labour is saying that the street outside is a wonderful place and let's all go to the sweet shop every day -- that bloke who lives in the rich house on the hill can pay. If a kid points out that there are 500 streets out there and the rich bloke at the top of the hill is unlikely to want to pay for all of them -- and might indeed fuck off to a Caribbean island if we try to make him, well, we can always wheel out Diane Abbott to say that the total cost would only be 6/6d.

For the LibDems, well, a disaster at the moment. No traction. It looks like 80% of the population have shrugged their shoulders over Brexit and said "we might as well get on with it". The UKIP supporters are drifting to Labour or Conservative (even if they came from LibDem in the first place) and the UKIP voters that arrived from Labour appear to be drifting to the Conservatives -- a fundamental shift that probably would not have taken place had UKIP not existed. If the LibDems start shuffling along at 8% and UKIP drops back to 5% (greens on, say, 2%) then we will be close to one of the most binary elections since 1959.

That, however, ignores Scotland which, much as some of would like to, we cannot. The SNP single-party state looks slightly vulnerable to a resurgent and individualistic Scottish Conservative Party. Just as there is a Labour Party in England that is surreptitiously (sometimes not so surreptitiously) anti-Corbyn, it seems plain that the Conservatives in Scotland are campaigning on a distinctly Scottish front. And it is working. On the downside for the SNP there could be a drop to 43 seats or so. More likely, I think, is 49-50 seats, with LibDems taking one and Conservatives taking five or six.

Current prediction is Con 374, Labour 187, LibDem 16, SNP 49, PC 4, Green 1, Speaker 1, NI 18. 

peterbirks: (Default)
2017-05-06 10:00 am
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Secondary election thoughts - Week two of campaign

Week Two of the campaign.

A day's silence did Labour and the LibDems no favours -- the quieter the campaign, the better it is for the Conservatives.
Whether or not the Diane Abbott error on LBC will harm the Labour campaign remains to be seen. But I don't think I am going out on a limb when I say that it is unlikely to have converted many to Labour from Don't Know.
The local elections seem to me to have advanced our knowledge of the way this campaign is going in six ways:
  1. Labour will hold up better in Wales than the opinion polls predict.
  2. The Conservatives will do well in Scotland, now being seen as the default anti-SNP vote in many once-solid-Labour seats. May has also adopted a deliberate "one-nation" campaign that doesn't just include Wales and Scotland, but embraces them. The Thatcher Conservative Party was quite simply Middle England and Basildon Man. It was the equivalent of Nixon and Reagan's "Sunshine Belt" strategy and Trump's "Rust Belt" strategy.
  3. May's campaign harks back to the Conservative campaigns in 1955 and, specifically, 1959. The main difference in Scotland of course is that the opposing side is now the SNP rather than Labour.
  4. UKIP is imploding and the Conservatives are the main beneficiaries.
  5. The LibDems haven't achieved a national "all remainers support us" breakthrough. But they don't need to, or even want to. UKIP in 2015 was quite specifically the only "Leave" party, but it did them no good. What the LibDems need to do is focus on heavily Remain seats that were LibDem up to 2015. That might, just might, get them into the 30s.
  6. My current (very tentative, because we've had no opinion polls for a few days and I haven't seriously broken down the council voting) gives Cons an overall majority of 66, Labour on 192 seats, LibDems on 31 and SNP on 45.

I've been through all the council results in Wales, Scotland and England, and some odd regional differences have appeared.
My conclusion from the regional breakdown is that it doesn't look great for the LibDems in England, and it looks slightly less bad for Labour. Indeed it looked to me that in England the Conservatives would in the main be accumulating votes where they didn't need them.
However, there's a physical band in "middle England", geographically rather than demographically, running from Derbyshire in the East Midlands down through Warwickshire and Birmingham, and into Worcestershire, that seems to be reflecting a particular Lab-to-Con shift. This permeates out slightly to Staffs, bits of Yorkshire and Lancashire. I may adjust my spreadsheet to give Cons a "skew" in this geography, while giving Labour a relative benefit (still an absolute decline, but a relative benefit) elsewhere in England.
Scotland looks better for the LibDems and okayish for the Conservatives.
Wales is looking better than expected for Labour. Plaid Cymru doing better, but probably not enough to pick up any extra seats.
Of course, general elections are very different beasts, and LibDems, as I say above, might well outperform in the right constituencies on the day -- but in past elections this has usually manifested itself in a couple of gains and just as many, if not more, disappointments at targets missed.
Conclusion. I'd mark down LibDems a bit from 31, push Labour up a fraction to 195, Cons flat at 358. But I'll put the geographical loading into the spreadsheet ( a slow job, I fear) to see what difference that makes.

Labour Party campaign addition and a bit of editorializing:
Robert Peston quoted one Labour candidate as follows:
"When I knock on doors I tell people they can vote for me if they like me and not have any fear of Jeremy becoming prime minister - because there is absolutely no chance of that" .
Corbyn was in Manchester tonight to celebrate the victory of Andy Burnham, but of Burnham himself there was no sight.
I received my campaign letter from Heidi Alexander today. She is the Labour candidate for Lewisham East, a staunch Remainer last year and a strong anti-Corbynite. Of the current leader there is no mention in her campaign letter. None.
Peston claims that Labour candidates see Corbyn as "toxic" and that they are adopting an almost LibDem strategy -- fighting as individuals who will represent their constituents locally as individuals.
The Heidi Alexander letter is almost unique in that in the body of the letter she not only omits to mention Corbyn, but she omits to mention the Labour Party. She signs it "Labour Candidate for Lewisham East", and the footer has "Vote Labour".
I don't think I am wrong in saying that all of this is, to say the least, unusual.
Perhaps Peston is wrong; perhaps Heidi Alexander is making a mistake and there's a mass of people out there waiting to sweep Corbyn and socialism to power. But my feeling is that what there is really is a small homogeneous block of mainly white middle-class people, working in academia, teaching, for charities, local government or the NHS, who are mistaking their own wishes and dreams for a national feeling. That small group could be responsible for leading Labour to a horrible defeat.

All that said, Labour doesn't look to me as if it will melt down as far as some are predicting, and this could be spun into a Corbyn 'victory' of sorts. But any Labour candidates who are looking to win seem to want him nowhere near them. So we have the farce of Corbyn himself being shuttled into campaigning in either unwinnable seats or unlosable ones.
Last time round Labour made the "Echo Chamber" mistake. They aren't repeating that, thank goodness. It's more a matter of an "it isn't fair" campaign, It isn't fair that people picked up on Diane Abbott's incompetence. It isn't fair that the electorate don't get to see how wonderful Jeremy Corbyn really is. It isn't fair that the campaign is focusing on issues different from those which Corbyn supporters consider "important".
This is possibly true (in part). It isn't fair. But to go on about it begins to sound rather like whinging.
peterbirks: (Default)
2017-04-18 03:45 pm
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Some early election thoughts

I've been throwing in some preliminary numbers for the election. If I eliminate Scotland, Wales and NI as different regions requiring a different technique, and just focus on the 533 English constituencies, the latest polls indicate as a baseline C +6%, Lab -7%, UKIP -4% and LD + 5%.
However, applying this in a blanket fashion to all 533 constituencies would obviously be a mistake.
What I planned to do was to take the voting in the 2016 referendum and to "map" it onto the 2017 election (not as easy as it sounds because the constituencies were not precisely the same). For every percentage point that the referendum vote moved away from 52%:48% in the direction of "leave", I would add 0.7% to UKIP and subtract 0.7% from LD. Now, for want of a lack of certainty, I did not plan to map any pro- or anti-Leave skew to Lab or Con's vote in the forthcoming election. That might well be wrong, but I don't think it will be massively so.
It's taken me a couple of hours to put together the "database". I'll update in future on how I see this affecting the predicted result. And, of course, I'm yet to start on Scotland or Wales, where it's such a tough call to design an algorithm that I will probably just analyze it seat by seat.
In case I haven't expressed this sufficiently clearly, let's take a hypothetical "Remain", "Labour Held" seat which in 2015 voted:
20,000 Lab
16,000 Con
12,000 LD
5,000 UKIP
It voted 53:47 for Remain.
So our base result would be:
18,600 Lab
16,960 Con
12,600 LD
4,800 UKIP.
However, there's a 5 percentage point difference in favor of Remain from the national result in 2016. Applying the skew to the base result, we get:
18,600 Lab
16,960 Con
13,041 LD
4,632 UKIP
In this particular case, there would be no change, either as a result of the base swing or as a result of the fact that the constituency was pro-Remain. I'll have to go through each of the 533 seats (well, I'll have to design a function to tell the spreadsheet to do it and to highlight the changes in various colours, then to add up the totals! another couple of hours' work) to see how it might affect the final result.
peterbirks: (Default)
2016-06-23 10:04 am
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A difficult decision

 I have found this referendum vote the hardest electoral decision in my life. My route to my eventual decision will not be so much an issue-related discussion as a philosophical one.


My feelings:

I love Europe

I am a free-trader

I am an economic liberal in the Gladstonian sense

I am a social liberal

I consider small companies to be the dynamic lifeblood of an economy

I consider large companies, in the main, to be position defenders that have nothing to do with free enterprise.

Regulation, as a default, is a bad idea. It is not always bad, but a strong case needs to be made for it.

Decisions made by committees are usually slow and more often than not wrong. If half the committee want to go in one direction and the other half want to go in another, "staying where you are" is not a compromise – it is a worse decision than the other two. Fudges eventually lead to a bigger disaster down the road.


Who I am

I am old

I am in London

I am probably a net beneficiary of being in the EU


The difficulties

1) This is a vote where the reason why you vote the way you vote can differ from the ostensible reason on the ballot box

2) This is a vote where people disagree on (a) what the vote is about (b) the permanence of any such decision and (c) the significance of such a decision.


What this means is that, even if I laid out my complete political, social, economic and personal positions, people on both sides would claim that the reasons I give are reasons why I should vote on "their" side. Now, you don't tend to get this in ordinary politics. If I said that I thought the economy was constructed to exploit the working class, that would hardly be pounced on by the conservatives as a reason to vote for them. Alternatively, if I said that the NHS was an inefficient bureaufuck that is only liked by people because it did a lot of good for their gran or prematurely born kid, or because it pays their wages, that would hardly be seized upon by Labour as a good reason to vote for them.


I began this campaign with the statement that I would probably end up voting "Remain", but with a heavy heart. Over the following 10 weeks the arrogance of the Remain side and their choice of campaign ground led me to shift my ground dramatically. A week or so ago I would perhaps have put the likelihood of me voting Leave at around 80%.

What put me off?


Mutual back-slapping humour that Remainers thought was an attempt to persuade the undecided but which was in fact just a way to make them feel even cleverer and more superior than they felt before, which led to ….

More smugness

A refusal to engage on genuine issues, resorting instead to "independent" analyses from interest groups that all benefit from EU membership.

Assertions that all Leavers were racists, Little Englanders, xenophobes, or, well, let's face it, not as intelligent as we Remainers are"

A refusal or inability to understand genuine concerns among people who liked Europe, liked immigrants, but disliked Brussels.



Perhaps shrewdly, the Remain camp seem in most cases to have realized that their mockery, smugness and sense of moral superiority was perhaps not the best way to persuade people on the fence such as myself. I seemed to see arguments which consisted mainly of two lines:

(a) the EU benefits the writer

(b) Everyone who is on the Leave side is a racist, a Little Englander and/or looking to return to a mythical 1950s.


Contrariwise, I began to read a significant number of rational, well-thought, arguments on the Leave side which reflected how I felt – that the EU was an out-of-date, impractical, over-large, over-bureaucratic, protectionist club that worked in favour of

a) employees of large organizations

b) senior executives in large organizations

c) politicians

d) research fellows

e) anyone who lives in Brussels


It worked to the detriment of

(a) small businesses, with insanities such as the working hours directive meaning that, if work had to get done, the net result was that people worked the extra hours anyway, but could not officially be paid for it.

(b) farmers in emerging markets outside of the EU

(c ) companies that could have developed trade with countries outside of the EU, but were never able to because the EU system of trade discouraged such development

(d) the young in Spain, the young in France, employees of small companies, the unemployed young.


As Mervyn King observed, it's possible that this vote is not as significant as we like to think. After all, come 2025, even if Leave wins:

But, let's look at what will not change:

We will still be in the European Economic Area or WTO

We will still be in NATO (and France won't).

We will still be in the UN, G8 and G20

We will still be in Europe.

We will still deal with Interpol and Europol

Travel to Europe will be as easy as it was before.

Human rights legislation will not vanish. The EU Convention and European Court of Human Rights are not part of the EU. Until parliament passes a new bill of rights for the UK, these will still apply, as will precedents already passed down to UK courts from Brussels.

We will not eject people from the UK. Under the Luxembourg compromise all those already in the UK are legally entitled to remain.

The NHS will not collapse. Indeed it could become easier to find qualified staff from non-EU countries.


So, as you say, with so much NOT changing, why are both sides making such a fuss?

For some, the belief is that the EU took seriously wrong turns when

(a) it renamed itself the EU, thus setting down a "mission statement" for what it thought the former EEC was really about

(b) it tried a back-to-front economically insane system of "single currency, separate treasuries", with results that we can now see (and which, by the way, many of the current Remainers singularly failed to predict).

(c) it decided to expand from a relatively homogeneous western European system to one that welcomed the ex-members of the Soviet bloc -- more for political reasons than economic common sense.


One thing that is beginning to seem plain to me is that Europeans living in Britain (and those born in Britain who now live in Europe)  are far more vehement Remainers than most others. In a way that is unsurprising; their pro-Europe instincts would lead them to be so. But their view must also be considered tainted for just this reason. Disinterested, they are not.


However, in Europe as a whole the enthusiasm for the project is falling. Only a small majority of voters in the EU look on it favourably (Pew Research Centre).

It is not a fanciful concept to say that, because the solidity of the EU as a concept (with or without Britain) is weakening, the EU at the moment needs Britain rather more than Britain needs the EU. Should Brexit win, it is not fanciful to see the Schengen agreement fall apart, the euro gradually disintegrate into first two currencies (hard euro and soft euro), then three, and then into a situation where it's like the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish kroners – a currency that shares a name but which is effectively a different currency. Either new notes will be printed or a grey market will develop with different currency ratios from the centrally dictated 1:1

Little wonder therefore that the concern on the matter is so great on the European mainland.


I see the EU as a sclerotic crony-capitalist system which favours big companies and big government -- discouraging small entrepreneurs by creating high barriers to entry. That has led to an economic bloc with a growth rate abysmally below most of the rest of the world, and an unemployment rate amongst those aged 18-25 that it should be ashamed of. It protects jobs that exists (but which gradually disappear anyway) and discourages capital providers from creating new ones.


This lack of dynamism is endemic to the EU. A new Europe of entrepreneurship could give young people the futures they deserve. This EU can only give the gerontocracy and employees of large/public corporations the wealth that they don't deserve.


So, I found myself leaning more and more to support the Leave. Every post I saw on Facebook or Twitter urging Remain was pushing me further towards voting Leave.


Now, although there is an irrational side to this response – I was reacting to the smug middle-class liberal certainty of, quite often, youth – there was also a rational side. What I desperately wanted was rational discourse that would persuade me of the benefit of voting "Remain", not single-line bollocks about how anyone who voted Leave was an idiot and, probably, a racist.


The philosophical dilemma

I knew that most of those who would be voting for "Leave" would be doing so for reasons which I did not like. My dislike of the EU is that it is not internationalist enough, that it is protectionist and corrupt at its heart, that it is "crony capitalism".  Well, that's all very well, but if most of the people voting to leave are doing so because they want fewer Johnny Foreigners on their streets, my own vote for Leave would be unlikely to achieve the objectives I desire.

In other words, I had to ask myself whether the best way for me to achieve what I wanted might be, paradoxically, to support temporarily the system that I thought would eventually fail.

So, the philosophical question of "can I vote for a side where I disagree profoundly with the views of most of those voting the same way" leads to the practical question "can I vote in a way which might be less likely to lead to the outcome I desire than voting the other way?"


Let me be clear – I consider the current EU to be rotten to the core – its claims of democracy to be a sham, and its real rulers to be behind-the-scenes businessmen and politicians working along the lines of the Democratic and Republican parties in the US between the world wars. Many Remainers will disagree with my conclusion here, but that is by the by. I think the people really running Europe are corrupt. Just look at the pension arrangements of the Kinnocks (final salary schemes into six figures, paid for by the taxpayer) and the quality of the hotels that EU insiders stay in when they visit other cities. Say what you like about my mate Simon Billenness and his focus on international problems rather than ones nearer to home – at least he stays with local people and works on a restricted budget. You won't see many MEPs doing that.


Without heading into detailed practicalities on the case of issues, my eventual conclusion was that, for me, voting to Leave was the "right" thing to do, while voting to Remain was the "sensible" thing to do.  Simultaneously, I felt that voting Leave was the "brave" thing to do, while voting Remain was "cowardly".


As I said at the beginning. I would benefit from the stability likely to emerge in the short term from a Remain vote. I don't have 60 years of life ahead of me. For once I agree with Jeremy Hardy – a vote that is for "forever" rather than for five years, should mean that a young person's vote should counts for more than an old person's.


Large companies, financial services, passporting (it's a technical financial services thing) would all get blasted to the skies if we left (well, perhaps not, but the extra work over the next few years would make a big dent in the profits of many large companies). My equities holdings would take a bashing. Probably 95% of my wealth is in sterling, which would weaken. Property prices in London would fall.  All of these would work to my disfavour.

But that doesn't make voting Remain "right". For the good of the country, property prices SHOULD fall. Equites ARE overvalued relative to gilts, precisely because the sclerotic nature of the EU is condemning us to a decade or more of Japanese-style semi-deflation. But that's the side my bread is buttered.


An argument for Leave that I have seen put forward is that if we had never taken risks, well we would still be living in caves. And this is true.

However, it misses the point that in all likelihood 95% of the initial explorers who tried to not live in caves died from starvation, or animal attack, or whatever. The 5% that survived did much better than those who stayed in the caves, but the majority of the adventurers died. For the individual, the marginal gain from taking the risk might not be worthwhile, even though it would be for the overall good of the species.


In the past week it appears that Cameron and some others have realized that I am not alone in my demographc, that there are a number of rational people who love Europe, but hate the EU and those who work within it.

If one person "changed my mind" I would say it was Tristan McDonald – he made (for me) the key point that voting leave now is a bit like immediately leading out the ace of trumps in a bridge contract. It will win the trick, but it might not be the best strategy. And, although this is the last "referendum" (at least, I hope it is) it is not the last chance for leaving. That option will not go away. Since I oppose referendums, I could say to myself that a "Remain" vote (being for the status quo) also includes the opinion "I don't think the people should have the right to decide".


Also, Moneyweek makes the valid point, with which I think I agree. This is that the "Leave" vote in this situation really should require more than a simple majority of voters. It is, effectively, a constitutional change, so perhaps either a 60% majority or a simple majority of the total electorate should be required (or voting should be mandatory). Since I know that there is no hope of this larger majority being achieved, I can vote "tactically" to help the Remain side over 50% of those who vote.



And, thus, with a heavy heart, I was back where I started, voting Remain. I disagree with nearly all of the campaign stances on the Remain side, and with most of those on the Leave side (although at the top end, the Leave side has put forward a far more rational and sustainable argument)


So, there I stand, a person who is a "sensible coward", intending to vote for a muddied compromise. I wish I were a brave idealist prepared to vote for something which I believe in, but which I don't think my vote would achieve. Over the past three months I have come to dislike most of the campaigners on both sides, with the appeals to me from the "sensible arm" Brexit side having more emotional resonance than those from the "sensible side" of Remain.


This has been helped, partly, by the fact that the sensible side of Brexit has already won. The change in tone from the Remain camp; the admission that work needed to be done. Sure, Remainers might say "but that was always the case", but they weren't shouting about it until there seemed to be a very real threat that they would lose. The EU, and the British governments that follow Thursday's vote, have been put on notice that membership of the EU is not the "given" that they thought. Eurosceptics in other parts of Europe have been encouraged; even the most dogmatic and narrow-minder of the Germans have started to realize that they cannot create reality by changing an EU regulation. I am not an evangelist over this vote and I have come to like less those who are (on either side). It's a complex nuanced question forced unnecessarily on the British public,  demanding a blunt yes or no simple answer that both sides will misinterpret.

Not only that, we cannot know the full implications of either yes or no. Anyone who thinks that, in the face of these difficulties, that the answer is simple, has a different take on the EU from mine.


peterbirks: (Default)
2016-06-08 09:07 am
Entry tags:

Reading the runes

 I have long been fascinated by opinion polls -- indeed, by statistics in general. That I am hopeless at the mathematical side of statistics just adds to my fascination.
Opinion polls seek to guess how people in their millions will act on the basis of relatively small samples. It was immediately obvious that just asking 1,000 people at random in the street would be at risk of generating an erroneous response (although the degree of that likely erroneousness is possibly less than many would think).
Pollsters realized that a good way to increase the accuracy would be to ensure that the sample of 1,000 people reflected as much as possible the population as a whole - age distribution, sex distribution, and so on.
This, however, leads to another problem. Over the years it was discovered that, shock, horror, what people said was not always the same as what they did. Even more concerning, what people really believed was often different from what they did (the famous female claimed belief in what attracts them to a sexual partner/life partner differs drastically from empirical evidence of whom women actually choose). The ways in which questions were phrased also had a significant impact on the response.
Clearly, opinion polling was something of a nightmare. And, given the misperformance of the pollsters leading up to the last general election in the UK, the pollsters still haven't got it right.
So, what is it that they are getting wrong?
The two major problems are the aforementioned "tendency to deceive" (people respond with what they think they ought to say, rather than what they really feel) -- a factor that has been a curse for the intellectual left-wing for decades. These days they flood Twitter and Facebook, demonstrate to their own satisfaction that the argument has been won, and wake up the day after voting to have been told "fuck off". The secret ballot allows visceral emotions to come into play. A person might not vote for a candidate because he or she doesn't like the fact that the candidate is fat. But no respondent to an opinion poll is likely to say that, and no online social media campaign is going to mention "the elephant in the room" if a candidate is 25 stone-plus and female.
The second problem is more complex -- one that is only just coming to be fully appreciated. That is, how do you decide what is a "representative" sample?
In the early days of polling, the techniques were primitive - mainly age and sex. This came most unstuck in 1948 in the US, when a telephone poll predicted that Harry Truman would lose. As seems obvious now, the key was in the phrase "telephone poll". With a market penetration still under 50%, people with a telephone were markedly more likely to be better off, and, therefore, Republican voters.
So, clearly we have to add "income" to our representative mix. In fact, what pollsters need to do is to add any variation in the make-up of the general population that is positively correlated with the way that people are likely to vote.
You can see the problem here. This in itself is something of a judgment call. As it is a sample, the pollsters must by definition filter out "irrelevancies". The problem appears to be that in a dynamic society, some things that used to be relevant have ceased to be so, while other things which did not use to be important, now are.
With the referendum, where "all bets are off" when it comes to traditional party politics, the problem is multiplied. What on earth is "relevant" when it comes to picking a true representative sample, when the split is not along traditional party lines? Also, there appear to be significantly more "elephants in the room" -- things which neither side are prepared to mention, but which could be significant factors when it comes to voting. That in turn feeds back to a higher likelihood of a "propensity to deceive" and a greater danger that the phrasing of the poll question will distort the result from reality.
I'd quite like to see some sample results from randomly asking 200 people each in, say, five streets in England. I suspect that the numbers obtained would not be a long way different from the carefully calculated "representative samples".
In poker I have long argued that you can learn more from small samples than you think. The conventional wisdom in poker is that you can't learn anything from, say, a player's actions over five hands. I argued, way back in the early 2000s, that if this was all that you had to work with, ignoring it was stupid, just because there was a higher probability that the answer you obtained would be wrong. Sure, with five hands the standard deviation is many times higher than it would be on a sample of 50, 500 and 5,000. But it is not TEN times higher than the sample of 50 - it's closer to three. It is not a thousand times higher than a sample of 5,000 -- it's closer to 80.
Sure, the conclusion you reach if the player raises four times and folds once in his or her first five hands might be erroneous. But the probability that this player is loose-aggressive is still significantly higher than it was when you had a sample size of zero.
In other words, completely random samples (and I mean virtually completely -- no self-selection on the basis of sex and age and only a minor one on grounds of geography) might have their place. And they have one plus -- they are much easier, quicker and cheaper to compile.

Peter Kellner, in his blog, referred to an interesting statistc -- that being the percentage of people who see Brexit as a "risk" compared with Remain as "safe". The rough percentage appears to be that 10pp more people see Brexit as the "risk option".
This offers an interesting left-field take on the referendum. It means that 10pp of the "Remain is safer" believers, or 5% of voters, would need to think that Brexit was "a risk worth taking", to make Brexit the likely winner. The remaining voters would be committed to Brexit or Remain either way. That 1-in-20 number strikes me as uncomfortable reading for Brexiters. Look at the general population's attitude to risk-taking on a major level. Nearly all of it is about risk-avoidance. Indeed, the huge risks that they do take are usually ones that they take unwillingly and, not infrequently, without the knowledge that they are taking the risk (see 40-year mortgages, Equitable Life, negative equity in the early 1990s). When a risk is known and perceived, and conceived to be significant, people usually plump for safety.
From that point of view, the Remainers' best argument could well be the one that they are uncomfortable to make -- that, even if being in the EU is shit, the equivalent of an abusive relationship -- even if this is the case -- we are now so inextricably tied into the EU that the risk of leaving is too great. That, no matter how bad it is, leaving would be too big a risk.
This is what I mean by "the elephant in the room". It's probably Remainers' strongest argument, but it is one that no Remainer is willing to accept exists (or, if they are, willing to campaign on it).

peterbirks: (Default)
2016-02-26 08:26 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

     Pew Research reports that in the US it's become a land of alien tribes.
The downside of the splinterization of information provision is that:

"They can't stand the other side's viewpoint - and because hyper-partisan news and social media enables them to live in ideological isolation - they don't even have to try to understand it."

It's going to go the same way in the UK. Most partisan people I know gravitate towards social media friends who think the same way and media outlets that reinforce their own point of view. There will be no dialogue and no compromise, because it will be easy to find posts which make you think that your own view is the "norm". Everyone you work with will be within your political spectrum; you will never meet those on the other side and they will become cartoon characters with cartoon names.
It's a grim prospect for a country that was once a home of dialogue but that has now become, on both sides, one of caricature.
You think that the "other side" is more different than it was, say, 60 years or 100 years ago, but nothing could be further from the truth. Neither Corbyn nor Cameron is the devil incarnate; neither is going to bring about the end of civilization as we know it, and the suffering of either the taxed or the underprivileged is as nothing to how it was in the decades gone by. Our period isn't "special" and your opponents aren't unique. Everyone is just trying to achieve their own vision of "fair and just", and if you refuse to see that, it's because you only mix with people on your own side.
peterbirks: (Default)
2015-09-13 12:55 pm
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Potential cracks in the coalition

A major weakness amongst politicos is the inability to see the opposition as a coalition. While they can see the infighting and demands for compromise in their own faction, they tend to see opposing factions as homogenous masses of like-thinking (where "like-thinking" equals "wrong-thinking") fools.
This has been repeated with Corbynism; both the left- and right-wing press see Corbyn's victory as one of a small faction of the Labour Party, but they therefore (and incorrectly) assume that it's a united faction.
This is even weirder because, when you think about it, fans of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper have much more in common with each other than they do with Corbyn, but that does not stop three factions appearing in a (rather narrow) part of the political spectrum.
With Corbyn's fans, the potential cracks are even larger. Four groups appear to me to make up this "coalition". And Corbyn will find it very hard to please some groups without displeasing others.

(1) The unions, particularly Unite, Unison, and the RMT. The "traditional conservative left".
It's not hard to see what the leadership of this group will fight for: (a) legislation making life easier for the unions and (b) actions that will not threaten the jobs of existing employees.
Potential source of conflict: Trident, other "politically incorrect" industries that provide jobs in certain narrow geographical areas. Second potential source of conflict: immigration and refugees/migrants.

(2) What we might loosely call the "hard" left, both inside and outside the Labour Party. Those who perhaps left the Labour Party but re-affiliated to vote. People with a sympathy for Respect, Socialist Worker, Morning Star, or elsewhere on what was once the Bennite wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Potential source of conflict: Backtracking on Trident, NATO, Hezbollah, anti-Israeli sentiment, any alignment/discussions with the USA or indeed any government not politically approved.

(3) The New Puritans. Into which I would place hard-line feminism, people who think that LGBT issues are more important than anything else rather than just a single factor in social change. Also hard-line environmentalism, hard-line animal rights.
Potential source of conflict. Quotas. Representation.

(4) The New Enthusiasts. Let's not deny that Corbyn has galvanized a previously jaded and cynical non-electorate aged 18 to 25. What is worrying is that much of this has been based on two dangerous themes - anti-politics and populism.
Anti-politics is always a short-term honeymoon -- look at Syriza, or the comic in Italy. It's a short-term honeymoon because to get anywhere in the real world of politics you have to act like a politician. If you don't (hello Yannis Varoufakis) even your friends will drop you.
Populism is more dangerous because it is the devil on the shoulder of democracy. As many countries have found out, populist decisions such as subsidies for the price of rice or wheat or other food staples, are very easy to introduce and very difficult to get rid of. On the plus side, you can maintain populist stances in opposition without upsetting anyone except people who can add up the cost.
We have seen New Enthusiasts many times before in other countries -- think Obama volunteers or, in my youth, the great Eugene McCarthy (perhaps the closest parallel in recent history to the Corbyn movement). McCarthy got shafted by the Democratic Party establishment, so the New Enthusiasts were able to maintain their faith. How well Corbyn can keep these New Enthusiasts onside in the face of the special interest groups in the unions and New Puritanism will be the first real test of his leadership (the second, of course, will be how he copes with the significant opposition within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)).
Other potential sources of conflict with the New Enthusiasts: Europe, Scotland, Economic Strategy, Union-supported job laws that will benefit those in jobs at the expense of those coming onto the labour market.

Which brings us to Corbyn's other major problem. While he has to manage one kind of coalition amongst his supporters, he has to manage another, entirely different set of factions, within the PLP. His dealings with the first group will impact on his relationship with the second, and vice-versa.
All of this will demand a great talent for compromise, pacification and, I fear to say, fudging. Although this is a good short-term tactic for keeping a coalition together, it is a bad long-term strategy because it turns you into "just another politician", using words that don't mean very much because these are the only words that won't upset anyone apart from those people who would like meaningful statements.
But, hang on, meaningful statements are precisely what the New Enthusiasts want.

IN all of this, the Conservative Government, Conservative policies, do not figure, except that Corbyn will try to rally a unity around opposition to the Conservative policies. But the things on which all of Labour agree will pale into insignificance compared with

As you can see, that makes for a difficult time ahead. Thatcher would have solved this by ruthlessly ditching former allies so as to maintain a single force. Lenin did the same. Hitler, on the other hand, played the "let them plot against each other" hand, on the sound grounds that if they were plotting against each other, they would be plotting against him.

What path will Corbyn take? My fear is that he will not be a strong enough personality (or ruthless enough) to impose his will the way Thatcher did. The analysis this morning that Tom Watson will be a crucial character in the drama that will unfold, is undoubtedly true. Watson is the most important Deputy Leader that the Labour Party has ever had.
He's the LBJ to JFK.
And we all know how that one panned out.
peterbirks: (Default)
2005-08-11 01:11 pm
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Politics is and politics does

I discovered a good way to reduce my stress levels. I stopped getting het up when what politicians did was completely at odds with what they said. Often I didn't really care much about what they were doing anyway, so why should it matter if they said something completely different? And yet for some reason it did matter, to me, anyway.

There should be some kind of competition each year, like the Emmys, where politicians are awarded kudos for the most barefaced bullshit.

And, old George W has won it this month, no doubt about it. The transportation bill, signed into law by the president yesterday, consists of more than 6,300 projects. It will cost $286bn. Er, that's about a thousand bucks for every man, woman and child in the US. Now, if this were put together in a joined-up-writing kind of way that would radically improve the transportation infrastructure of the US, one could see the economic arguments in its favour. But politics is and politics does; things don't work that way in the US.

Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Don Young gained nearly $1 bn for Alaska, where few people live and no-one visits. (This includes $231m for a bridge near Anchorage to be named "Don Young's Way"). And House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas got $700m for the area in and around his home district of Bakersfield, California. Oh, and Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois (where Bush signed the bill into law) got the third-highest amount in the US for his state.

In terms of fiscal responsibility, in other words, this ranks about nought out of ten. And Bush's justification? "The bill I'm signing is going to help give hundreds of thousands of Americans good-paying jobs". Well, that's alright, then. It's New Deal economics. Franklin Roosevelt is alive and well.

Now I have no beef with pork barrel politics (to sort of mix carnivorous metaphors). I know that's how the world turns. And I now have no beef with politicians who say one thing and do another. But I do get a bit annoyed when people are fooled by it. C'mon, is Bush a fiscally careful president or not? The only difference I can see between this and the spending of Gordon Brown in the past few years is that Bush will spend it on roads, while Brown spent it on hospital administrators. Both are likely to fail in their ostensible aim, but are likely to be remarkably successful in the hidden aim -- to get their party re-elected.
peterbirks: (Default)
2005-07-18 08:22 am
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Actuarial tables for ex prime ministers torn up

It isn't looking to be a good year for ex-prime ministers. Considering the fact that Tony had ruled the roost for nearly eight years, the survival on January 1 of Callaghan, Heath, Thatcher, and Major was a major blow to annuity providers. But by the end of the year there are likely to be but two ex-prime ministers alive, and Margaret is looking dodgier on her pins every day.

Heath will probably go down as the man whose commitment to Europe got us in in the first place, although of more interest to macro-economists would be his "drive for growth" from 1970 to 1973. The great "what if" here is, would it have worked had the oil crisis not blown it off the rails? The probable answer is, no, if only because Tony Barber, nominally Heath's Chancellor, but probably little more than a gopher, was renowned for his hopelessness at economics.

And now it looks like we will be getting "Thatcher Lite" in Germany before the end of the year. Angela Merkl, definitely a better choice than the quixotically selected Edmund Stoiber for the last CDU/CSU vs SPD battle, seems to be putting forward reform proposals that could have been stolen from the Thatcher 1979 manifesto (with the exception of the real vote winner -- sell the council houses off at a knock down price). The funny thing about many Germans is that they spend most of their time reflecting on how miserable they are, and yet as a nation they have roads that work, public transport that works, and the most amazing amount of free time -- well, those employed in the state sector or within the financial sector do. Now they want to get rid of that and become more like us and the Americans, with no free time, no job security and a public transport infrastructure creaking at the knees.

Sometimes it seems an odd world.