Would you buy a used Conservative from this man?

So it seems to be a day for heavy politics like candidate selection. UKIP is tearing itself apart over this issue, which is surely interesting – if you can’t select candidates you’re not a functioning political party. For example, here’s a piece from the Indy‘s Paul Gallagher, describing a wave of resignations, sometimes en masse, from the party after disputed selections.

The really weird bit is that all the selection disasters involve the same man, Neil Hamilton, for it is he. Hamilton keeps putting himself forward, very often he gets on the shortlist, and then Nigel Farage intervenes to stop him. Well, obviously. Farage has more than enough gut sense that he doesn’t want a busted chancer like Hamilton anywhere near his election campaign.

There’s also a second layer of conflict here. Gallagher’s piece makes this clear as follows.

In Boston and Skegness, probably the most ‘kipperish of constituencies, the 22-year old ex-Tory councillor Robin Hunter-Clarke who is UKIP branch chairman drew up a shortlist of five back in August including an important local ‘kipper, Paul Wooding, and Neil Hamilton. Farage recently had the UKIP national executive committee veto Hamilton off the list, because NEIL HAMILTON.

As a result, Hunter-Clarke, surely to be known for ever more as the ‘Kipper Nipper, had to find a replacement, and he found just the man looking at him from a mirror. This pleases nobody, because it isn’t as if Wooding, who is a postman by trade, would have been any happier with celebrity Hamilton running against him. The locals want their guy; Hamilton wants his; the Nipper appointed himself, with the blessing of the national executive.

The obvious question: who is it, other than Neil Hamilton, who wants Neil Hamilton? The answer turns out to be spread-betting jillionaire and top political donor, Stuart Wheeler, who has threatened to pull his money like he did from the Tories if Hamilton doesn’t get a seat. Wheeler is bankrolling Hamilton to try any seat that looks winnable.

Right – so the party leader and the money have fallen out.

But this just kicks the can down the road. What does Wheeler see in Hamilton? What Hamilton sees in Wheeler is clear. Plants grow towards the light. Chancers burrow towards the cash. Wheeler is a mark. The question, then, is what spiel Hamilton is using to work him. I want a deep profile of Wheeler at this point, because he’s important – he played a big role in the great narrowing of the Tories in the late 90s, in Hague’s disastrous swing to Tony Martin conservatism in 2001, and in the invention of UKIP. But we’ll have to do with Michael White back in 2009:

I’ve met Wheeler a few times; he even invited me to a dinner at his Mayfair penthouse once, which is a decent thing for a Tory of his stamp to do for a Guardianista and oik. Hence my belief that he is a nice person, certainly admirably courteous. But that was the summer of the Tory leadership contest where he supported first Liam Fox, then David Davis against his fellow-Etonian. When he asked me why he should not support Fox, I fear I replied that I thought him a political idiot.

Again with the nice, I see. But White doesn’t mean Wheeler is a political idiot, he meant Liam Fox. The record shows White had a point. Wheeler, however, is described as follows:

Very decent of him. But backing a rival party in words, deeds or chequebook, is always potentially a hanging offence in most parties. It strikes at the very heart of a party’s rationale: claiming to be right and seeking to get elected. Those who flirted with – or joined – Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which did John Major a lot of harm in the 90s, were often kicked out.

Right. That includes Wheeler, and all his mates.

Eton, Oxford, a stint in the Welsh Guards, a law degree and a stint in merchant banking: these are not unworldly qualifications. Neither is founding the hugely successful IG Index, the pioneering spread betting firm, nor being a gambling mate of Jimmy Goldsmith, John Aspinall and Lord Lucan, all of them colourful, all of them dead.

I reckon Wheeler is troubled by the Referendum party experience – after all, UKIP is a bit like it – and Hamilton’s playing him through this repetition compulsion, making out that he personally would have made it through 1997 if it hadn’t been for that pesky Goldsmith. Perhaps Wheeler’s studying for finals, too, being the last of the gang left alive. The answer, of course, is to place a real pro like – of course – Hamilton rather than a dangerous amateur like the rest of UKIP.

The problem for UKIP is that this isn’t bullshit. They really do have a lot of people who are in the party because no other party would have them. Placing old Tories or celebs mitigates this. At the same time, the ‘kipper USP is being the genuine local protest party, and you can’t be that if your fate is determined by some sort of cold war between Stuart Wheeler and Nigel Farage over a slimy old pol like Neil Hamilton.

a high-entropy node in the network of networks

What is it that’s changed in the paedophile inquiry? We’re now looking at a triple murder inquiry and the police seem to be taking it deadly seriously. I have a theory. North Yorkshire police just apologised for denying for years that they ever suspected Jimmy Savile or his associate, Peter Jaconelli. In fact, they investigated but nothing ever happened and for years they claimed there were no files.

This is important because Jaconelli was a significant figure, as mayor of Scarborough, borough councillor, county councillor, and chairman of the Yorkshire & Humberside Conservative party. I suspect, but I don’t know, that he might also have been the local Conservative Association chairman at some point.

On the other hand, he owned most of Scarborough, specifically the ice-cream business, slot machines, restaurants, and venues. How Savile might have known the owner of a high traffic seaside venue ought to be obvious. This is part of what I meant with this post. So it looks like Jaconelli was the intersection between Savile’s northern/showbiz circle, and the southern/political one.

Now the Tories are historically a decentralised organisation, much more so at the time, and he would had a lot of influence over candidate selection, most of all on his own personal patch. It is a matter of record that the man who is alleged to have received Geoffrey Dicks’ dossier in 1981 before it went missing was MP for Cleveland and Whitby, a constituency split off from Scarborough, between 1974 and 1983.

Dicks, of course, was a Yorkshire Tory himself, from Huddersfield West. If by chance the document was treated as a party matter, keeping it out of the civil service’s hands, that might explain where it ended up.

#simpleplan begins to scale up

A bit of #SimplePlan in action.

Enfield set up a wholly owned private company called Housing Gateway this year. Officials have viewed 122 properties, made offers on 77 and had 48 accepted. The company currently owns 22 homes and has tenants in five of them.

Oykener said he ensured tenants in those homes would not be eligible to take up the right-to-buy offer. “I specifically ensured that was the case. These special purchase vehicles, along with other benefits, are exempt from right-to-buy so that we won’t end up in this predicament in three years. We are not alone, councils all over are doing this.”

Other councils taking the radical step include Sheffield, Sutton and Ealing, according to Labour MP Gareth Thomas….

“Given the huge loss of affordable homes in London, in part because of the failure to replace those sold under the right-to-buy, the next mayor of London needs to consider setting up a London housing company to help build high-quality social housing, particularly co-operative housing of the sort found on London’s South Bank,” said Thomas.

I know Owen Hatherley will hate me for saying anything nice about Coin Street. But hey, it’s an emergency, dammit. (Speaking of him, not only is this a good piece, but most of the below-the-line screamers seem to think it’s by Owen Jones, who is not the same person.)

I note that Enfield has managed to double its properties viewed, close to double its offers, more than double its accepted offers, and multiply its closings by 10 since end-August (see discussion). The dream is alive.

Has anyone got numbers for the Sutton, Ealing, or Sheffield deployments?

#defenduss: so now we know.

Thanks, as always to Mike Otsuka, we have some insight into how the USS Trustees arrived at their valuation. Really briefly, they seem to have chosen a methodology appropriate for valuing a defined-benefit fund for closure, as opposed to one that will run on, and bish bosh, it becomes absolutely necessary to demand immediate closure.

If your plan is to close the fund, then it starts to look like an individual DC account just before retirement, and selling up the equities is obviously sensible. Selling them and buying government bonds hugely reduces the returns you might expect, and therefore, bang, you have your crisis.

I think the emphasis is now shifting from “fight the valuation” to “sack the board”. Here’s the message for them.

Meanwhile, the petition is handed in at Glasgow University in front of Adam Smith’s statue.

And here’s a new group for useful documents.

They don’t have any money.

I was saying that nobody seemed to bother to check the claim that defined-contribution pensions were cheaper. Nobody but weirdos like me ever suggested the following until now:

Once you account for falling wages among young workers—if you must: “the Millennials”—many mysteries of the economic behavior of young people cease to be mysterious, such as this generation’s aversion to home-buying, auto loans, and savings. Indeed, the savings rate for Americans under 35, having briefly breached after the Great Recession, dove back underwater and now swims at negative-1.8 percent.

Gee willikins! Could it be that they have no damn money? It’s not like this wasn’t obvious in 2006 or 2009 or 2011. Lost decade? Try lost 15 years.

Convincing versus mobilising

Here’s a really excellent post from Lord Ashcroft of all people.

Something I occasionally bang on about is that public opinion has more dimensions than just agree/disagree. Pollsters very often ask about how important issues are, as well as which party you agree with on them. The difference between which issues respondents rate as important for themselves, personally, and for the nation as an abstract idea, is often very big.

Consumers of polling, like politicians and journalists, rarely put the two measures together. Obviously, it’s better to have a lead on something that is more important to the public than something that is less important. If Issue X is 10 times more important, subjectively, than Issue Y, a 1 percentage point lead on X might be worth as much as a 10 point lead on Y.

Some politicians get this wrong. Eurosceptics, for example, look at the number that says the public seems to agree with them, and miss the one that says that the public doesn’t care very much. It’s natural to overestimate how important the issues you think are important are to others. It’s also natural to overestimate how important issues you think you can win are to others. It becomes a problem if you do it with everything. Everybody’s met Uncle UKIP and Auntie Palestine, who collect political obsessions to go with the ones they already had, like crockery.

Ashcroft has a really nice chart based on his polls, which always ask about this. Although it’s not that pretty, it’s a great example of data visualisation – it shows both the relationship between two lots of data and also the change over time, and it uses a classic consultant’s trick to tell a story, cutting it into quadrants by setting the axes at the average values. Here’s one I made earlier with some mobile phone companies.


You can see that a lot are average, some are worse and getting worse, and there’s a group who are doing really well. There’s a key factor that links them, but if you want to know that you can buy the report. So it is with Ashcroft, although I took more time over the graphics.


So, the left half of the chart shows issues that Labour has a lead on, the right, the Tories. Higher on the chart is more important, so you can think of the two upper quadrants as being the two big parties’ target areas. Because the data points are plotted one after the other, you can also see change over time.

First point: Labour has a lot of issues in its half of the chart. Second point: some of them are important. Third point: the Tories have only a small group of issues on their side, and they are relatively unimportant.

Fourth, and really importantly, Tory issues move together.

As a first guess, I would discount a lot of the movement on this chart as noise. A lot of the issues dance to the music of sampling error, or just follow the national voting intention poll. But look at the curves for “Cameron vs Miliband” and “Tory economic team vs Labour”. They have changed a lot and they have done it in the same way.

While all the Milibashing has convinced some people – it’s moved right – it’s also sickened a lot of people, because it’s moved down, a lot. When you campaign, you’re trying to do two things: convince, and mobilise. You need to win the argument, but you also need to make people think it was worth having the argument. The Tories are paying for the success of pouring abuse on Miliband with the people turned away by the undignified bully yelling. This goes, quite clearly, for the personalisation strategy in general.

Then, look at the other Tory issues, like “Welfare”, “Immigration”, and “Europe”. They are also moving, and moving together, but they are moving in the opposite direction. They are being driven up the agenda, gaining importance, but at the same time, they are moving left. Milibashing convinces but demobilises; playing ‘kipper mobilises but does not convince. It’s been pointed out before that since the prime minister took up Euroscepticism as a theme, the European Union has become more popular.

There’s a good reason for this, which serves as an example. There are about 2.5 million other Europeans in the UK and as many Britons in the rest of the EU, for a total of 5 million people who use the open border as directly as possible. There are about 60 million people here. If you reckon about 10 close family and friends each (the median number of names in a mobile phone calls list is between 7 and 10), very roughly, there are four chances in five that you love someone who would be affected by exit. It shouldn’t be surprising that if leaving the EU is put on the agenda, as a real thing rather than an abstract idea, a lot of people would think again.

Of course, the distribution won’t be that even, but then, this doesn’t count anyone who needs to trade with Europe, who owns property there, who wants to take on public sector contracts there, who draws farm subsidy, etc. Either way, that’s a hell of a lot of people. Pleasing the smallish group of people who care intensely about hating the EU comes at the cost of alienating them.

The Crosby strategy is very obvious from the chart – look how tightly the Tory issues are grouped together. But it’s like a marksman boasting of the tight grouping he got on the wrong target. They’re doing it with everything. Perfection would be getting your issues towards the top corners of the chart, both convincing and mobilising.

Now, what about Labour? The big changes on our side are the economy, which has moved Torywards and gained a bit of salience. £55bn in cuts ought to do something there. “Cost of living” is really salient, and has come in a bit. More action against the privatised utilities and landlords is the obvious recommendation. But the really interesting one is “Equal opportunity”, which has gone way up in importance. Both are even higher than the NHS or education.