and if you do…will anything happen?

The British Election Study is back and it’s very interesting indeed. Here’s the key chart.


The pink zone is essentially people who were convinced by Labour but not motivated to go and vote. Either mobilisation fell dramatically in 2010-2015, or else we managed to turn a lot of heads, but not get them to turn out. The BES commentary says:

The evidence in the BES suggests that the reason for the increased impact of differential turnout is not due to a change in the relative enthusiasm between Labour and Conservative supporters since 2010. 84% of Labour supporters in 2015 said that it was “very likely” that they would vote, compared to 86% of Conservative supporters, while in 2010 the figures were 87% and 90% respectively. Rather the data suggest that the increase in the turnout gap between Labour and the Conservatives can be explained by shifts in party support amongst those who are actually less likely to turnout to vote, even if they say they will. This evidence strongly suggests that differential turnout was a major factor in the polling miss.

The people we successfully addressed agreed, but they didn’t believe anything would happen. Emerging low-trust society, how are ya.

Also, perhaps that database of Shapps’s worked better than we (or they) thought. Mobilisation was a big, big part of our problem, so it is not surprising the mobilisation-first strategy failed. That said, good luck with the option of trying to get as few people as possible to vote!


UKIP as cashpoint

The previous post was about chancers, among other people. Here’s another post about chancers.

What’s interesting in this one is the multiple levels of chancership. You have the two blogger/staffer/whatever types, classic chancers, who would love to hire on with UKIP, but mostly because they could sell that experience to someone with more money. You have the Americans, who have more money but are still only Breitbart, who would love to get involved with UKIP so they could have a business in Britain.

And you have Nigel Farage himself, who after all the toing and froing the post describes ended up by adding a sinecure with Breitbart to the one he has with Russia Today. Cute, in the Irish sense. On the way, Farage did manage to meet Rupert Murdoch, which is serious, but also Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, which is…somewhat less helpful, unless you’re Breitbart of course and you have a radio show to fill.

As they say in Nigeria, when thief thief thief, the world laughs. Especially as the dense, intertwined chancership seems to have rendered UKIP much less effective than it might have been…except from the point of view of its proprietor.

Chancers, respectability politics, and IDS: A4e, Kids Co, and Trussell

What to make of this story? Camila Batmanghelidjh has been basically forced out of Kids’ Company after the Cabinet Office wanted to know what it’s been doing with the money. Much detail is available in a Buzzfeed piece of the sort you’re meant to think Buzzfeed doesn’t do.

She, of course, blames austerity, cuts, etc. This is pretty rich coming from someone who repeatedly endorsed David Cameron in the run-in to the 2010 elections and even afterwards, appearing at the 2006 Conservative conference and taking part in the Big Society founding meeting at Downing Street in May, 2010.


This may have been the brief interlude between the coalition being formed and the first Osborne Budget, but they had already agreed on the extra £6bn in-year cuts, so it’s not as if we weren’t warned.


One way to look at this is the photo above. The Tories had a go at being nice, that’s how she fell in with them, and then they turned on her. Because they’re Tories. By December 2010, this narrative was already falling into place. Even the Lib Dems had their own creepily sexist and racist version of the same pattern.

But there was always another side to the Big Society project. The May 2010 kickoff meeting also included Ray “Robocop” Mallon, mayor of Middlesbrough and professional populist, for example. That doesn’t sound like the nice straightforward story about the Tories letting down a nice charity for children, does it? Also, this blog post was justly much read for what it said about working for Kids Co – pretty much the management from hell – but it also mentioned them “feeding in” to the DWP’s policy agenda. It also brought out was the degree to which their astonishingly high staff-pupil ratios were achieved by ruthlessly strip-mining volunteers.

The post and indeed the whole site has now been scrubbed, to the point of getting rid of it from the Internet Archive. But let’s take a look at what they might have been feeding in to policy. Here’s a document from July 2007.

Ms Batmanghelidjh told the MPs: “I actually think the mothers [specifically black – ed] are hugely responsible because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy. They can get rid of the male partner, they can survive on their own.

Often people think it’s the males who are the culprits, the irresponsible people who actually come along and make these girls pregnant and walk off. And they underestimate the level of rejection and cruelty from the females towards the males.

I actually think the males are really vulnerable and it starts in adolescence. The minute the adolescent boy begins to look slightly like a male and behave like a male, often the mother wants that young male banished from the house. A hate relationship often develops. I really think we underestimate the vulnerabilities of young black men.”

I don’t know about you but I see a hell of a lot of NOT OK in there. The “males”? That’s not a bit…veterinary? Also, I read the first paragraph as carrying an anti-welfare subtext, especially as the target audience was a bunch of MPs.

What we’re talking about here is US-style respectability politics, really. For some fine snark, which would do for a quick start tutorial, try Adam Serwer. This is very important in understanding Iain Duncan Smith and specifically his interest in the works of Lawrence Mead. It’s a double-edged sword; one swing blames the poor for their problems, while the backswing has at the unglamorous poor-bloody-infantry in schools and social services with their unions and budgets.

As I’ve said before, I see A4e, Kids’ Company, and the Trussell Trust as key institutions in understanding how we got into this mess.

A4e actually did start off as a grassroots charity in post-steel Sheffield, but it drifted – in terms of its leaders’ aspirations, in terms of the increasing irrelevance of the approach both it and the DWP had learned, and in terms of its ability to manage a rapidly growing team of people who were working on commission, essentially a sales force.

Kids’ Company represents something different. In its constant drive to recruit celebrity donors, it came to offer legitimacy to the politicians. Iain Duncan Smith, more than David Cameron, locked onto this as political cover for his respectability politics agenda. Because it didn’t really have an articulated agenda of its own, it also leaked unexamined prejudices into the policy market (see above). And its commitment to an interventionist, treatment-ist world view fit right in with the IDS agenda.

Trussell will need another post, or a PhD, but I’m deeply suspicious of it because I can’t think of anywhere that has foodbanks that has ever managed to get rid of them and return to a normal society. I suspect they know this and worry about it, which is why they’re really quite critical of the DWP, rather than just hollering for more budget, and why Iain Duncan Smith keeps falling out with them.

And of course there’s the great overarching IDS theme, the role of the chancer. It is beautifully ironic that the great chancer of the times himself accuses Trussell of chancerism, when they are the least chancerish of the satellite NGOs spinning around DWP. Chancers are important; have you ever wondered why everyone started carrying bottles of water around in the 1990s? Wonder no more. Yes. He’s her dad.

Weak, weak, weak.

Just a final thought about the Harman/Welfare Bill saga. My original thinking was that it was all about Labour/SNP politics, and I kind of expected a U-turn once it became clear the SNP would be available and would vote no. So, look how that turned out.

Apparently it was all about looking “weak on welfare”. The problem, though, is that Labour avoided that by just looking weak. This is worse, because specific events create a general perception, which then frames future events. It also ended up looking divided. This is worse still. And to think we started off the week by re-forging the opposition whip with the SNP and knocking down a string of awful Tory initiatives.

If you thought Ed Miliband looked silly with a bacon sandwich, well, this is what really hopeless leadership looks like.

The price of BBC independence. In favour of cynical payoffs

I notice people are whining about BBC “payoffs” again. This is pathetic. If the BBC is meant to be independent, that means politicians of all descriptions shouldn’t be able to threaten the people who work there with the sack. This can be achieved in two ways – either we take the politicians’ power over the BBC away, or we take the power of the sack away, by stuffing it with money.

The first option was the one chosen by Lord Reith when the BBC was created. It would of course be lovely if the BBC could hire the people it wants by offering civil service rates and a final salary pension. The problem, however, is that it didn’t work.

Historically the political class has always tried to bully the BBC, usually with the self-interested complicity of the press barons. They can’t give it up. The charter review process itself sticks the Chekhovian gun on the mantelpiece that will eventually get fired, rather like a BBC executive. As a result, if the BBC management has to rely on sticking it out for 38 years to get their money, the BBC won’t be in any way independent or interesting because anyone who is either of those things will get sacked or won’t join it in the first place.

It’s possible to square this circle if you have really strong political cover. The classic example is of course the civil service itself. But the BBC will never be as big or ugly a lobby as the civil service, and even the civil service gets bullied by politicians more often than it would like to admit. Actually it’s worse than that. Very often, the party trying to intimidate the BBC is the state, and it should be obvious that Downing Street cannot protect the BBC against Downing Street.

This leaves the second option. BBC people implicitly recognise that the political class can turn on them at any time, but in exchange for taking the career risk, the BBC implicitly promises them a lot of money if it happens. This means occasional, embarrassing payoffs, but it also means that a modicum of BBC independence is possible.

If politicians really are angry about “BBC payoffs”, they should leave the BBC alone, resist the temptation to get worked up about TV shows they didn’t bother to watch, stop micromanaging bits of its web site. They won’t do that, of course. They’re politicians and it is too big a megaphone for them to leave it alone. It’s almost as if…they don’t really want the BBC to be independent, and that’s why they whine about payoffs.

It’s certainly not the principle of rewards for (perceived) failure – as recently as 2010, MPs who lost their seats could get a year’s salary as a resettlement grant. More recently this has been cut back to a maximum of 6 months’ money, but ministers get 3 months of their ministerial salary on top of that and there’s up to £55,000 available for the costs of closing down your office.

It would be nicer, I agree, if we could go with option 1. But we’re just not that kind of society, and I’m not even sure if that’s a bad thing. We never were, either – back in the good old days, the BBC sent all its employees’ personal files to the police for vetting except for Jimmy Savile’s. If nobody ever tried to influence the BBC, would that mean its independence was so rock-solid there was no point, or that it had completely internalised what the politicians wanted?

Another Labour-SNP post.

Circling back on this post and also this one, I think the EVEL fiasco has been a really important political event, because it has decided a really important issue.

Coming out of the elections, there was a possibility at least that the SNP and the Government would come to an arrangement. The Government would give them what they wanted regarding devomax, and in return, the SNP would take a strict interpretation of the idea that they stayed out of non-Scottish issues. This could have been formalised by EVEL or just left as a political agreement. This would have suited the Conservatives rather well, as it would have given them a free hand on anything that could be coloured as an England-and-Wales issue.

The alternative was that the SNP would stay in protest mode and assert Scottish interest in almost anything controversial. As we’ve seen this week, this wouldn’t suit the Conservatives at all. The first option would basically replace the Lib Dems with a sort of negative coalition partner – rather than adding to the government bench, it would subtract from the opposition bench. The second would do the opposite.

For the SNP this amounts to a choice between holding onto their precious capital of authenticity, and cashing it in for influence. I discussed this issue in a previous post. Arguably their authenticity is so precious they would be well advised always to pick opposition, but as with a lot of political decisions, leaving it uncertain up to the last minute has value. Also, they have to balance cooperating at Westminster with competing at Holyrood.

So the ideal situation for the SNP is one where Labour decides to go quiet on some issue, because they can’t count on the SNP to vote against, and the SNP then flips, making them look like the real opposition. We’ve seen this play out over the Welfare bill this week – although the tax credit elements are clearly UK-wide, housing is a devolved issue and as Joe Halewood points out, the SNP might want to implement some of the Bill themselves in order to give social tenants a rate cut and ram the bill to Labour-run local councils.

Going back to my authenticity post, I think the idea of an In-party in Holyrood that’s an Out-party in Westminster fits the facts pretty well and therefore Labour should work on the presumption they will show up. So, yes, joining the bandwagon against Harman a bit late.

The SNP is in. Let’s find out which Tories are really up for it.

So Labour are voting against the relevant clauses in the Finance Bill tomorrow and the Welfare bill is up to the new leader. The SNP will be voting against fox hunting on Wednesday.

These facts are connected. The Westminster SNP is apparently pissed off enough about the attempt to pass EVEL earlier in the week that it doesn’t feel bound by the idea that it should abstain on anything in Holyrood’s area of responsibility.

As a result, trying to pick off the centremost 6 Tories on the welfare bill is most definitely back on. A few days ago it looked like doing anything effective about it meant trying to find 62 votes, as there was no assurance of the SNP having a vote or using it if they did. Now, though, they’re going to be available, so the target is down to 6. What was really important this week was getting the cooperation between the Labour and SNP whips going again and seeing off the EVEL gerrymander.

Having got that done, a lot of possibilities open up. On the tax credits/housing issue, who are the six weakest Tories? Let’s get the chin music going. They tell me it’s hell out there.

All politics is eventually about the whips

Everyone’s waiting for something to happen about Greece. If you think the suspense is bad, imagine what it’s like if you have a pan-European politics column to fill and you have undertaken a public commitment not to fill it with speculation, gossip, or bullshit that you can’t substantiate with data. At the moment, there is literally nothing but unsubstantiated speculation, gossip, and bullshit going.

So did anything happen in the UK this week? A few weeks ago Adam Bienkov blogged that

Hoping for Tory self-destruction is a losing game

I disagree; as I pointed out here, the record shows the coalition was a lot like a Tory government with a 76 majority. It has been replaced by one with an 11 majority. This changes a lot of things.

For a start, there was this. When David Cameron: A Soap Opera hits our screens, as it surely should do, the title will be The One Where They Abstained On Their Own Division. In case you missed it, the Tories tried to implement their daft idea of “English votes for English laws” through the back door, by changing the House of Commons rules rather than by passing proper legislation that would need a debate, committee scrutiny, a trip to the Lords, etc.

Unfortunately, Lib Dem MP from the Orkneys Alistair Carmichael was fly to this, and used the fact they wanted to do it through the parliamentary rulebook to beat it. It would only take one MP objecting to trigger a full debate, and Carmichael objected. At the end of the debate, the Tories unexpectedly abstained, therefore losing the division by 289 votes. This is obviously a crazy-arse thing to happen, and the simplest explanation was that they realised late in the day that at least six of their votes couldn’t be counted on and therefore decided to fold rather than lose a proper division.

That turned out to be true. In fact, no fewer than 20 Tories were unconvinced, and the 8 DUP members were planning to vote with Labour, the Liberals, and the SNP. For their part, the opposition seems to have managed to revive the long-standing cooperation between Labour and SNP whips very quickly despite all the bitterness at the elections, so much so that they could throw the opposition vote around like a Eurofighter while the government side fell over in a heap.

A major reason for some of the Tories’ discontent was simply that they objected to altering the constitution in such a secretive and amateurish fashion. But the very fact the Tory leadership wanted to do it this way is a tell; if you were confident you had the votes to do it properly, you wouldn’t faff around with the Commons rules, you’d put forward a bill. The only reason to dick around like this is if you don’t believe you have the votes.

Something else which happened this week: Tories against fox hunting. Yes, really. Another reason why they tried the EVEL caper was that they wanted to call a vote on a statutory instrument, an administrative change rather than legislation, that would basically gut the Hunting Act in England and Wales. This would be much easier to achieve without the Scots. So, That Time We Abstained On Our Own Division was meant to be the prequel to That Time We Cared About Fox Hunting, Again.

But again, the caper is the tell. If they believed they had the votes, they could it. The fact they are trying all sorts of get-out-of-games notes is evidence they don’t believe in the stability of their internal coalition. And it turns out that there are at least 20 waverers, including a government minister, Tracey Crouch MP. So, if you think a one-third chance of voting no is the cut-off to be considered a waverer, that’s easily enough to wipe out the majority in expected-value terms. What exactly happens on Wednesday night is down to the SNP, who are blowing hot and cold, trying to decide between not getting involved in non-Scottish issues and punching the Tories on an issue their supporters are furious about.

And then there’s the daft GP appointments thing.

So, we’ve learned that a majority of 11 – i.e. a target of flipping six votes – is just as hairy as it was in the 90s. We’ve also learned that Harriet Harman is a pretty effective opposition driver, and that Labour-SNP and Labour-Liberal whipping cooperation is apparently unaffected by either the election or the coalition. These are important facts.

However, there’s the Budget. Every last Tory will surely, surely be on deck to make sure every bit of it gets through, which may explain why Labour don’t seem to be planning to oppose much of it. You’ve got to pick your battles, of course. But the constellation of measures Osborne announced seems likely to have really strange consequences for housing in particular, and it frankly worries me.

There’s the drastically tighter bennies cap. There’s the tax credits cut. There’s the whole complicated gasworks of trying to force housing associations to sell, and then extract money from councils to compensate them. There’s the decision to order – how? – the HAs to cut rents, which might accidentally add £60bn to the national debt. And there’s the decision to take the BTLers’ goodies away. Usually I’d be delighted at the suggestion Fergus Wilson might lose a lucrative tax break, but it does look like a lot of them might end up forced sellers. Surely the Tories can’t be hoping for a price crash? Yes, the public likes “caps”, but they will like the catastrophic reorganisation of the housing economy less.

Joe Halewood has a rundown – I seem to recall Harman in particular has repeatedly talked about discretionary housing payments (DHPs) as if they would be enough to solve the problem. Those are going up, a bit. Does she believe this will work?

The tactical question here is how much of this stuff is achievable through the Finance Bill or executively, and how much will need primary legislation. As we’ve seen, anything ambitious that needs pukka legislation is exposed to picking off the 6 Tories nearest the median on that issue, and of course to rejectionism. Much of it is embodied in a primary bill, but perhaps the thinking is that the Scottish MPs won’t be available? Anyway, here’s some useful advice.

Open newslist 9

So I need to write some more stuff for the Pol. Progress so far is here. My self-imposed terms of reference require something that uses data or public documents and that results in a testable prediction. Also, I’m chary of doing something about Greece for fear both that the situation changes dramatically during the editing process, and that literally everyone else is writing about nothing else than Greece, Greece, and Greece.

A couple of techy things planned for TYR: why self-driving cars are just Aramis-style personal rapid transit rebranded, and therefore Pure Ideology. Also, declaring war against dickboxes, those shitty in-line popups that appear when you move your mouse cursor, and a general defence of adblockers.

Update: What about this?

The Affinities. Facebook that doesn’t suck, and the consequences

It wasn’t that long ago it struck me, watching the Twitter-war of the nanosecond: the social media killer app is just really fast ethnogenesis, the process by which a nation is created. Or was it: thank God these people haven’t got a finance ministry and can’t collect tax, or else there’d be a no kidding war?

The Affinities is the book for that feeling. In the near future, someone’s invented a social network app that actually works. Using a variety of survey-based, psychological, neurological, and biochemical tests, InterAlia will find the people you can get things done with.

It’s not that they’re like you. That would be mediocre at best. It’s not an IQ test, or anything that corny or racist. It’s that they’re…your people. The scene you were looking for when you buggered off. The right people to have in your Dunbar number.

The beauty of it is that they might come from any walk of life, enriching the gang – sorry – the affinity – with ideas, skills, and perspective. A while ago I watched the film Man on Wire, about the Frenchman who walked a high wire between the WTC towers just after they were built. The detail that stuck with me was how much engineering, or perhaps seamanship, was involved.

The wire had to get from one side over to the other, be anchored home, and hove taut. Clearly. But it also had to be stabilised in the Z-axis, against the tendency to twist or roll, and that was complicated. It needed two or more other wires as guys on each side, all of them made fast somewhere in the buildings. And the job had to be done on each tower simultaneously, so two independent teams were required. The wirewalker had a devoted St. Peter/crew chief figure who took care of these things, but he wasn’t going to be enough for the whole job – just carting all the kit up the fire stairs would be an athletic challenge.

Where to find the people, master craftsmen and gleeful pranksters you could trust with your life? Without breathing a word until the great moment? The answer was that they just kinda hung out in the right place and the right people seemed to fall into their lap once they hit on someone who had the right connections. The great welcoming Babylonian city was a reality. Al-Qa’ida’s suicide pilots were aiming for that as much as anything as they rolled out of their turns.

So, bottle it. Rather, implement it in software. That’s the Affinities. It thunders away because a secret society is the flip side of an open society you can’t trust any more.

The ambivalence of the project bites pretty quick. The protagonist is a hipster UX designer in Toronto who’s there because you’ve got to get out of the valley, as we used to say in Wharfedale, and because he can’t stand his Fox News-glued father. Like the big forces in life that take us towards ourselves – love, education, emigration – joining the Tau affinity also takes him away from home, family, and certainty.

As it turns out, it also takes him away from the wider society. Even though Tau feels a lot like the IETF – it’s full of unmaterialistic, creative, but argumentative potheads – a secret society dedicated to its members is always a dangerous thing. It starts off by looking after mates in trouble. Doesn’t it always? But it’s one of those irregular verbs. I am part of a deeply rooted community. You are privileged by the old boys’ network. They are no better than the Mafia. Or: I am part of a network of activists linked only by solidarity. You are a tiresome old-school social democrat. They are a dangerous entryist vanguard.

Another problem that comes up is that InterAlia Inc. owns the intellectual property to the test. Tau, at least, has the instinctive solution to this and the hacker chops to pull it off: reverse-engineer the process, improve it, and release an open-source implementation. It’s a cool project, but it runs them into conflict with the Hets, the people who really like hierarchy, who naturally also like software patents. Things get ugly and suddenly it becomes very significant indeed that the Affinities usually manage to collect a tithe from their members.

Unfortunately, it was around here that I started to worry about the plot. For example, fairly early on, we’re told that very rarely, people “drift” out of the requirements for their affinity. Periodic re-tests are carried out. This gun having been placed on the Chekhovian mantelpiece, it gets fired at the protagonist when the Tau leadership want to ease him out for political reasons.

But…he is the guy who led the open-source test kit project. Surely there is nobody who would be harder to fool, especially as he has already used the test to detect a spy in the organisation? He doesn’t even bother to check, which is odd seeing as we know he also re-tested during the development project at least once.

Also, rousting him is itself deeply un-Tau. The leadership – a problematic concept in itself, they’re lousy with The Tyranny of Structurelessness – is angry about an incident in the conflict with the Hets in which he displays the Nelson touch and ignores a directive from above in favour of the man on the spot’s judgment. And it works, at least tactically. The strategic-level plan doesn’t work out, but that’s because it was ill thought-out from the beginning. Actually I think this is unconvincing in itself, but it’s in the totalitarian powers of the author to decide how characters respond, so.

The Tau are really out of character punishing him over this, because they’re Auftragstaktik all over. They may think they’re a bunch of ineffectual artists, but they’re also the Artists’ Rifles – out of the only two ex-military Tau we meet, one is ex-SF and the other light infantry, which is telling. They’re precisely the people who volunteer for desperate things because they’re so very bored and they won’t put up with petty discipline. Their scheme on the night goes to rat shit, so does the revised scheme, but in the end, the third improvised plan kills. Without killing anyone.

I was also not particularly happy about the off-stage plot furnishing. This book includes a war between India, Pakistan, Iran, and China that starts off with real combat between proxies, escalates to offensive electronic warfare/CNE that leaks into the global Internet, and ends up with a Chinese strategic air offensive that stays conventional but causes most of Mumbai to burn down with not far shy of a million deaths. This seems hard to achieve with a few precision guided munitions, no nukes or mass bombing, but then Bomber Command failed to get Hamburg alight for three nights until they got a lucky direct hit on the telephone exchange.

Hey. That wasn’t my point. This was my point. All this war serves only one purpose in the plot: to turn off the phone network in a corner of upstate New York for a few hours. This is a pretty poor reason to casually kill off a million brown people to make room for the backswing of the hero’s sword. And in the Tau/Het conflict, you don’t need to take the Hets’ radio network down to give the Tau an advantage – people who like authority that much will only get themselves into a bigger tangle if their comms setup lets them ask permission from the boss more often. Nelson could have put his glass to his good eye, after all, but he chose to see no ships.

I thought this was actually worth reading. It’s built on a good idea rooted in intelligent foresight. It deals with big universal themes through the consequences of technology. It has atmosphere and pathos. I just wish he hadn’t burned Mumbai for plot convenience.