Rugby League links.

Something completely different. There’s been a lot of Rugby League lately and a lot of it was good.

Who thought Fiji would beat Papua New Guinea? 22-10, and it sounds like a terrific match, especially going by this.


More boringly, who could imagine both that this is the first time the Kumuls and Fiji have had a game, and that even I couldn’t find a way to watch the damn thing?

But that’s League for you. So is this; the UAE RFU has had the local RL expansion bod locked up.

New Zealand beat Australia, again, and they’re now officially ranked No.1 in the world, so they’re coming to beat us this autumn. The Guardian‘s Patrick Skene has a cracking interview with Kiwi legend Olsen Filipaina, including the killer detail that Graham Lowe got him riled up to beat seven bells of shit out of Wally Lewis and stymie the 1985 Kangaroos by getting his mum to threaten to “clip his ears”.



And it’s incredible to see Cougar Park full again. But not in these circumstances.

Update. Department of “what it’s all about”, Leigh vs Wakefield yesterday.

The coalition had a majority of 76.

While we’re rejecting stuff, here’s something else to reject. The notion of a progressive alliance or progressive majority involving the Lib Dems wants rejecting, badly. You might think 2010 killed it, but it stumbles on. (Before you all write at once, yes, I believed in it, but I got over it and there’s no reason you can’t.)

Back then, everyone thought the new government would be unstable and chaotic because it was a coalition. There were those of us who started a whole web site. As it turned out, though, it was chaotic because the Tories and Lib Dems together kept pratfalling, like that time Cameron left the West Country in the pub and it went all soggy and Francis Maude tried to dry it out with petrol. The coalition, as such, could not have been more stable.

There were maybe three reasons for this. First of all, the Lib Dems were never going to pull out of it because what happened to them at the elections would have happened to them at the elections. Second, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act constrained the Tories from pulling out of the coalition. As such, it was a costly signal, a self-binding commitment that made a stable agreement possible. And third, the Lib Dems and the Tories agreed on much, much more than they would ever have admitted, basically everything with a £ sign in front of it. Clegg was even willing to give up their support for the EU in the election campaign. The ultimate evidence of this is how many of their voters seem to have swung to the Conservatives.

(A thought: does anyone have a read on how much Tory-Lib Dem tactical voting existed? Everyone tends to think of this in terms of Lib-Lab tactics, but there’s no reason why it doesn’t work the other way.)

Since it was a stable government, it’s no surprise that it was able to push its programme through. It had, after all, a parliamentary majority of 76, and the coalition whip worked reasonably well until they let Michael Gove have a go. Although they often had to give Tory backbenchers the Gina Ford controlled crying treatment, the margin provided by the Lib Dems was easily enough to keep them in line when it came to anything important. The whips could simply use Liberal votes, denying the troublemakers any leverage.

Compare the current situation. The Tories no longer depend on the Lib Dems, but then they don’t have no 76 majority no more. Rather than depending on the Lib Dems, they depend on the 6 most marginal backbenchers on whatever issue is up for a vote. Unlike the Lib Dems, Tory backbench rebels usually aren’t facing certain termination in the event of an election, so it’s entirely down to the whip to keep them in line. Every substantial vote can be a crisis. It’s the political version of Back To ’95, good times for lobby correspondents. Ironically, the coalition had the effect of concealing the Tories’ internal coalition.

Question: were the Lib Dems more of a “restraining influence” than the 6th most marginal Tory? Well, the only issues they ever disagreed with the Tories about were the civil libertarian ones. On things like the budget, they didn’t do any restraining, so that’s no loss. The 6th most marginal Tory on, say, the snoopers’ charter is likely to be a lawyer, so I think we have a reasonable chance on that one. The only reason to be defeatist about this is if you still, after all I’ve said, believe in a progressive majority with Lib Dems.

This calculation changes, of course, if the SNP suddenly discovers it doesn’t mind Tories that much after all as long as it gets what it wants.

I am the party of no.

Something I left out of this piece, because it doesn’t really fit my self-imposed terms of reference for the Pol, is my own two cents on what the Labour party should do. (Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?)

The problem, according to me, was defining a political statement that addressed about four quite divergent constituencies. The cliché options – Blairism, Blue Labour, imitation SNP, Socialist Labour like the party of that name – only seem to address two out of four at best. Ed Miliband tried to identify a constituency that cut across them, in essence, people discontented and robbed by the design of the UK-wide markets in energy, housing, transport, labour, and media created by Thatcher and Major. This didn’t work but at least he recognised the problem, which is more than you can say for the entire leadership field from Tristram “literally the least popular MP in the country” Hunt across to Liz “Who?” Kendall via Andy “I worked for Gordon y’know” Burnham and Yvette “So did I” Cooper and even Keir “let’s impress the ‘kippers with a human rights lawyer, that’ll work” Starmer.

Here’s my suggestion. What about rejectionism?

All the constituencies can, at least, agree that we reject the Tories. Rejectionism doesn’t aggravate the divisions among them. Rejectionism mobilises, which is good. Rejectionism is tactically appropriate in the context of a parliament with a majority of 11. Rejectionism will put us in the right place for the London Mayoral elections, the EU referendum if it happens, and the Holyrood elections.

I think it was Graham Lowe who said that you should work on your best performances and your worst performances. (Years later I realised this was just the principle of management by exception, but there you go, and it’s worth having a Rugby League quote that’s not from Jack Gibson.) It’s not just that the best outperform when they’re playing at the top of their game, it’s that they don’t collapse completely when they suck, as they inevitably do some of the time. It’s important not to let the Tories repeat the 2010 experience, rushing to action while we’re arguing.

The lesson here is from the US Republicans and the French conservatives. Like Labour, they were in charge when the great financial crisis blew up and were punished by the voters. They have, however, managed to cause a hell of a lot of trouble in opposition. Even if the teabaggers are no closer to the White House than they were in 2008, they have managed to colour public discourse, advance their agenda at the state and local level, and keep the activist base mobilised. French conservatives have the advantage that France is stuck with the euro, but we ought to be impressed by the speed with which they went from utter rout in the 2012 elections to filling the street with numbers against the mariage pour tous. The only parties who were in charge in 2007 who have managed to renew themselves did so through hairy-arsed, gut rejectionism, and especially, through an aggressive campaign in local government.

I would point out that this should not be confused with your favourite left-of-the-left campaign. The problem with those is that they always come with a shopping list of nice things as long as your arm, half of which is unacceptable to one important constituency or another. Rejectionism skips this in favour of the clearest possible message: no.

So here’s my advice. Appoint Tom Watson as combined Opposition Chief Whip and Defence Commander. Appoint somebody party leader. I’m not sure I really care who. Then pick a highly emotive issue (it doesn’t much matter which) and start the biggest possible row.

This may not be a policy, but then, who cares? Ed Miliband had one of those and look what they did to him. In the end, perhaps my point is that we all spent too much time being an alternative government rather than yelling NO. Anyway, as the Germans say, kommt Zeit, kommt Rat. With time comes counsel. We can work out detail later. For now, we need a big fuck-off row, and hairy-arsed rejectionism. This is the only option I can see that minimises the damage and contests both UKIP and the SNP as well as confronting the Tories.

if you can’t spell this you might be a troll

So I got round to reading the original paper about automatically predicting who’s likely to be a troll. This was always likely to be fun:


Defining trolls as those who get banned for trolling, a pragmatic solution if nothing else, they obtained a large corpus of comments from three high-volume sources, CNN, a gamer news site, and Breitbart. (Clearly they weren’t about to risk not finding enough trolls.) They paid people to classify the comments on various metrics, and also derived a lot of algorithmic metrics, and used this to train a machine learning model to guess which users were likely to be banned down the line.

The results are pretty fascinating. For a start, there are two kinds of troll – ones who troll-out fast, explode, and get banned, and ones whose trollness develops gradually. But it always develops, getting worse over time.

In general, we can conclude that trolls of all kinds post too much, they obsess about relatively few topics, they are often off topic, and their prose is unreadable as measured by an automated index of readability. Readability was one of the strongest predictors they found. They also generate lots of replies and monopolise attention.


Not surprisingly, predictions are harder the further the moment of the ban is into the future. However, the classifier was most effective looking at the last 5 to 10 posts – it actually lost forecasting skill if you gave it more data. Fortunately, because trolling is a progressive condition that tends to get worse, scoring the last 10 comments on a rolling basis is a valid strategy.

Their algorithm, in the end, identified trolls with about 80% reliability. Very interestingly indeed, its performance didn’t suffer much if it was trained against normal below-the-line noise and then used on gamergate, or if it was trained against gamers and then used on libertarians (perhaps less of a surprise), or whatever. The authors argue that this is an indication that it’s picking up some kind of pondlife tao, an invariant essence of disruptive windbag.


The really interesting bit, though, was when they got to the feedback-loop between potential trolls, moderators, and the civilian population. You might think that being able to identify potential trolls within the first 5-10 comments presents the possibility of an early-intervention strategy. My own experience with Fistful of Euros back when it had 150-comment threads about the Middle East was that explicit early warnings – yellow cards – often worked. They found, however, that earlier and more aggressive intervention from moderators and other users was correlated with faster escalation. Specifically, those who had posts deleted early saw their readability index scores worsen rapidly, one of the strongest markers of trollness.

Now, you might say this doesn’t matter. Just stick the OtoMerala Super-Rapid 76 in automatic close-in defence mode and let the machines do the work!

But there’s a serious issue here and it’s our old pal, the Terroriser algorithm. They make the excellent point that 80% is pretty good but it’s a lot of false-positive results. Given that the principal components we mentioned above are basically conventional norms of discursive civility, there’s also the problem that our filter might be both racist and snobbish. The fact it worked well across dissimilar communities, though, is encouraging.

The distinction between fast and slow trolls – Hi-FBUs and Lo-FBUs in the paper – also suggests that there’s something going on here about different strategies of anti-social behaviour. Perhaps trolls with more cultural capital adopt strategies of disruption that allow them to persist longer and do more damage? More research, as they say, is needed. That said, I wouldn’t write off early intervention completely, and neither do the authors – the question may just be an optimisation.

Obviously what it needs now is an implementation.

why Ed Miliband won’t commit in advance to the SNP

Why won’t Ed Miliband commit to a deal with the SNP in advance? The explanation is incredibly simple. Here are the last three Scottish polls – Survation for the Daily Record, TNS Global, and Ipsos MORI. As expected they both show a monster LAB>SNP swing. But the interesting bit is this: there are a lot of undecided voters.

TNS, for example, shows 29% of their sample as Undecided. That’s twice as many as all the other parties other than Labour or the SNP. That’s as many Don’t Knows as there were Scottish Nationalists. That’s more than the gap between the SNP and Labour. The biggest groups of DKs are the young (34% of 18-34s, 38% of 18-24s). Socioeconomic groups C1 and C2 and women are the other likely DKs, but the difference from the national result is much smaller.

Survation formulated its questions rather differently. As a result, you might think TNS got a dodgy sample, as they only saw 11.5% Undecided. However, they also asked those respondents who picked a party in the voting intention question if they might change their minds between now and polling day – i.e. if they might actually be undecided. They found 19.2% were still, in this sense, undecided.

You can’t add the two percentages, because the second only includes those who picked a party. But we have the full tables, so we can tot up the 163 undecided here and the 111 earlier and divide by the weighted n=968, and conclude that 28.3% of Survation’s respondents are undecided.

Ipsos MORI, on the same basis, gets 26% undecided/DK. Pretty close!

If you’re Scottish, you are much more likely to prefer a Labour government to a Conservative one. TNS makes the split 35% to 16%. Therefore, if you’re undecided you are most likely wavering between a Labour-first route to this or a Labour-SNP route. The most immediate reason to prefer Labour is obviously that voting SNP denies Labour seats it needs to form a government and therefore risks a Tory-[something] coalition.

If Ed Miliband was to pre-commit to an alliance with the SNP, this possibility would vanish and with it, any chance to save seats in Scotland. Also, you know if he thought there was any advantage in stabbing Scottish Labour in the neck he’d already have done it.

With almost a third of the voters still in play, there is absolutely no point in giving up. This ain’t the movies, so it’s not as if all 29% of them will break for Labour, but there is a possibility that the SNP will disappoint significantly on the night. Rather like they did in the referendum, in fact. Also, Survation provides the interesting detail that the biggest group of people who might change their minds, out of those who named a party, are ex-Lib Dems, or in other words, the group of people in the UK most likely to support Ed Miliband.

That’s why Miliband won’t pre-commit to a deal with the SNP.

that was meant to be satire

So I was all sarcastic about Iain Martin pretending Peter Lilley foresaw the great financial crisis back in 1997. And then I found out from a comment on Simon Wren-Lewis’s blog that Lilley actually claims this himself.

” …..I was shadow Chancellor when the Bill that became the Bank of England Act 1998 was introduced. He pointed out that I then warned the House that: –

“With the removal of banking control to the Financial Services Authority…it is difficult to see how…the Bank remains, as it surely must, responsible for ensuring the liquidity of the banking system and preventing systemic collapse.”

And so it turned out. I added:

]“setting up the FSA may cause regulators to take their eye off the ball, while spivs and crooks have a field day.”-[Official Report, 11 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 731-32.]

So that turned out, too. I could foresee that, because the problem was not deregulation, but the regulatory confusion and the proliferation of regulation introduced by the former Chancellor, which resulted from a failure to focus on the banking system’s inherent instability, and to provide for its stability.”

The line about regulators “taking their eye off the ball” is the one Martin relied in his book on RBS. It was nonsense then and it’s still nonsense now. The plain English meaning of Lilley’s remark is that the process of setting up the FSA might distract the regulators temporarily. Does anyone imagine the phrase as he uses it might stretch to events ten years in the future, long after the FSA was operational?

The remark about the Bank of England “remaining…responsible for ensuring the liquidity of the banking system” is even worse. “Ensuring the liquidity of the banking system” is what a central bank does all day, every day. In 2007, it ensured the liquidity of the banking system by lending the banks a lot of money, and then later by implementing QE. It did so until it thought Northern Rock was insolvent, and then, as its principles required, cut it off.

Lilley might have had a point had he said “solvency” rather than “liquidity”. The problem, in the end, was that the banks ran out of capital, not out of cash. If it had only been a liquidity problem, the Bank of England would have been able to fix it with much less drama. But he didn’t say that.

And he couldn’t possibly have done so. After all, he is still in denial about financial deregulation. He claims the problem was too much regulation. Surely, if he believes that, distracting the regulator would have been a good thing? And if the problem is too much regulation, what would the Bank have done to restrain the banks? Wouldn’t that be awfully like regulation?

The main conclusion I draw from this is that Lilley is just as weaselly as he was when he was a minister.

An interesting chart on Ashcroft polls

Someone wanted an evaluation of Ashcroft polling (possibly Dan Hardie). LSE‘s election forecasting project has tried to characterise the difference between their model and Ashcroft observations. They are looking at this in the opposite sense, because they have a forecasting model and Ashcroft polls offer more observations to constrain it with, but you could also look at it as being how much they diverge from an adjusted, blended national VI uniform swing model. Going straight to a chart:


A higher result for LSE’s model than Ashcroft’s poll is to the right, and vice versa. Also, this chart shows us the degree of variance in these results through their spread.

So it looks like LSE reads high/Ashcroft low on UKIP and Ashcroft reads low/LSE high on Tories. There is quite a bit of variation, but the distinction is clear. LSE is high/Ashcroft low on the Greens, but not by much, although the difference is very consistent. On Labour and the Lib Dems, there doesn’t seem to be a systematic difference and there is a lot of variability, i.e. randomness.

I think I said earlier that the big difference between pollsters at the moment seems to be how they split Tories and ‘kippers.