Category: politics

More questions on the Biryani Project.

Randy McDonald, and probably others, seem to have found the Afzal Amin piece baffling, so I thought I’d draft a brief explainer as follows.

Afzal Amin, potential Tory MP and ex-army officer, tried to incite the EDL to stage a provocative demonstration in his heavily Muslim constituency during the campaign, while also inciting a group of radical-ish Muslims to protest the EDL. He then tried to get the EDL to call off the demo (that he incited) when he asked. The point was to create a situation in which Amin could appear at the last minute and resolve the conflict without a nasty ruck between EDL football thugs and semi-jihadis, presumably vastly adding to his prestige and authority and getting him elected.

Obviously, as this involved the EDL backing down and CAVING IN TO THE TERRORISTS, or maybe just COMPROMISING WITH THE SYSTEM, they needed a big side-payment. Amin promised their leaders money or possibly jobs, plus support to integrate the EDL into respectable politics, and also offered to pay rank-and-file EDL activists hard cash to campaign for him. Using hired canvassers at an election is illegal in the UK in itself. He also seems to have had ambitions to roll out the process elsewhere in the UK, and to be inspired by David Kilcullen/Galula/etc counterinsurgency theory. Unfortunately for him, he was caught – somehow – by the Mail on Sunday‘s investigations team, which managed to video him conspiring with the EDL in a curry house.

A really interesting question is where he was going to get the money to pay off the EDL (and presumably also his vaguely edgy Muslims). It turns out he has an incredibly shady fake NGO, which got a no-bid contract to the tune of £120k with a bit of the government that has responsibility for counter-radicalisation policy, the CONTEST programme, incidentally headed by a political buddy of his. So the obvious conclusion is that he planned to put the EDL, and probably the Muslims, on his NGO’s payroll and bill the expenses to the government. At which point we need to ask whether the CONTEST people knew about the whole caper and this was some sort of ill-thought out amateur spook scheme. That said, it’s not like huge irresponsibility, deceit, incredibly careless handling of public money, and the use of government resources for one’s election campaign aren’t enough to be going on with.

Before the whole affair sinks into obscurity, I think it’s worth following up some questions that are still outstanding. First of all, Amin mentioned to the EDL that he’d been meeting “some Muslim lads” regarding what I will from now on call the Biryani Project. This sounds very much like he wanted to make sure there would be an angry and at least somewhat radicalised reception committee for the planned EDL march, in order to maximise the conflict he would then solve.

Presumably, if the Biryani Project was indeed meant to serve as a model and be rolled out nationally, it would need angry Muslims just as much as it needed the EDL. Logically, if he needed to hire Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, he would also need to hire the Muslims. So that’s another group of people he’d need to pay or place in a sinecure of some sort. What did he promise them and how did he intend to deliver?

Secondly, who were these Muslims? A place to start looking would be here – via Labour candidate Kate Godfrey’s Twitter feed, it seems he tried to incite the Muslim Public Affairs Committee to insult him about his military service.

Why he bothered when Dan Hardie will insult him about his military service for the sheer pleasure of the thing is another question.

MPAC UK’s involvement needs some parsing, though. The simplest explanation is that they were the “Muslim lads”, in which case we might reason that they were involved and are accelerating away from the mess, or alternatively, if we accept they are telling the truth, that Amin was deluding himself about their involvement. Both are possible. It is also possible that he addressed himself both to MPAC UK and to some other group.

In general, we should be looking for a group around Dudley who were offered a grant, and I suspect a detailed review of the DCLG’s report and accounts (here) might be telling. I’ve yet to find anything suspicious, although I do wonder why literally the only Google hit for “Srebrenica memorial day” and the organisation DCLG thinks it gave the grant to is the DCLG accounts. That could be a clerical error, though. Anyway, the Curzon Institute’s grant is in there, and Amin says he’d been talking to the EDL for at least a year – which means he had DCLG’s money in hand when he began the project.

Meanwhile, Theresa May sets out an important counter-radicalisation initiative:

After several months of disagreement the only official anti-extremism unit to be formed immediately is an “Extremism Analysis Unit”, which set out a blacklist of individuals and organisations with whom the government and the public sector should not engage.

Presumably, except over a chicken biryani at the Celebrity Restaurant, Dudley?

Meanwhile, on the question of Amin’s career, the Wikipedia article has improved to the extent of including the London Gazette mentions for his commission, promotion, and retirement, which places him in the Education & Training Branch throughout. The “Counterinsurgency and Stabilisation Centre”, which someone asked about, is a terminology error for the Land Stabilisation and Counterinsurgency Centre, which was headed by Alexander Alderson and whose name implies it belonged to Land Command rather than the Defence Academy.

ramshackle coalition of interests: black country edition

My first thought about this story was that it was roughly what would have happened if the surviving characters at the end of Four Lions – the hopeless MP, the sinister-but-pathetic spook, the bungling police negotiator, the windbag imam – had to draw up a policy to prevent this from ever happening again. In fact, the story is much better than that.

For a start, there’s the point, now widely remarked on, that Defence Academy lecturer on counterinsurgency Afzal Amin essentially carried out a key-leader engagement with the leaders of an extremist militia, deliberately generating a serious but manageable community dispute that he could then resolve, gaining influence and authority. In Smethwick. Less Three Cups of Tea than Three Pints of Lager and a Portion of Onion Bhajis.

But there’s so much more. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka fake ISAF veteran/Stone Island terrace dandy/thug “Tommy Robinson”, is meant to have given up politics and checked himself into a “deradicalisation” course via the Quilliam Foundation. Yet there he is, apparently able to order the EDL onto the streets. Curious.

And Amin promised Yaxley-Lennon that he “would never go hungry again”, as well as that the EDL would appear “reasonable” and be integrated into normal politics. The second is a matter of opinion, but the first sounds very much like an offer of hard cash or something that could be turned into cash. He also specifically offered to pay the EDL for canvassers, which is flagrantly illegal.

Right. Cash. At this point it’s probably time to turn up this story from the Daily Diana of all papers in January last year.

Amin’s company, Curzon Education Ltd., got a contract from DCLG to deliver 50 talks by “distinguished military figures” to schoolchildren about the history of soldiers from the British Empire and Commonwealth in the world wars. This was worth £120,000, and was approved by Baroness Warsi as the responsible minister on a DCLG “Cross Government Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred”, described as part of the government’s “social cohesion work”. Interestingly, Amin repeatedly refers to his scheme with Yaxley-Lennon & Co as being about “community cohesion” or “confidence-building measures”.

The project seems to have started as a wizard wheeze of Amin’s. Apparently he discussed it with Sir David Richards when he was Chief of the Defence Staff, but he waited until he left the service and became a Tory PPC to act on it further. He briefed it to Francis Maude, who routed it to Eric Pickles at DCLG, who tasked his officials. Didn’t I tell you Maude is a crucial node in the lobbying network?

Amin is an old political buddy of Warsi, so presumably she introduced him to Maude. The job was never put out to tender, although Pickles’ officials beat Amin down from £500,000 to £120,000, amounting to a generous £685 hourly rate. In parallel to this, it seems, he was also angling for a free school, so Michael Gove and friends will have been involved in the lobbying process.

Asked about it by the Daily Di, Amin denied he took any salary from “the Institute”. But the Institute – the Curzon Institute – is of course not the same thing as Curzon Education Ltd., which is company number 08631266. (It has never filed accounts.) Admittedly it is limited by guarantee, so it cannot make a profit, but that doesn’t stop it paying salaries, so this is a non-denial denial.

Curzon Institute? Whassat? Well. Here is an incredibly thin and amateurish website, which names precisely three individuals involved with it. All are described as working on some specific project, rather than the institute itself. One of them also helps to run the HALO Trust mine-clearance charity, another is Afzal Amin, and the third is basically some guy. This is what it says it does:

The Curzon Institute’s vision is to be the preferred partner in the provision of advice, products and services to all agencies and organisations that work with UK and European minority communities and who employ personnel abroad.

And yes, it’s named after comically pompous imperialist Lord Curzon:

Lord Curzon was a patriot, a formidable visionary, an able ruler of disparate communities and all the while a humble servant of our nation

I’m not sure Curzon’s mother would have thought him humble. Here he is, arriving at a massive state ceremony he put on to honour…himself.


As we will see, though, the institute named after him is a ramshackle coalition of interests, as he said about the Congress Party. The Curzon Institute is not a registered charity, nor is it a company. (There is a contemporaneous Curzon Initiative Ltd in Birmingham, though, a commercial company, but I have yet to find a direct link between them.) Its domain name is registered to “Identity Protect Limited”, which provides anonymous DNS registration. It does not give a street address. It is a wanktank in the purest form. But it is a wanktank that has some damned interesting job adverts.

Have you served in the British Police or the British Armed Forces? Are you interested in a very well paid and exciting career opportunity as an international trainer and mentor? The Curzon Institute’s Consultancy Branch is pleased to be recruiting retiring and retired Police Officers and Armed Forces personnel for work overseas. If you are interested, if you want to take on this challenge, then send in your CV with full career and educational history and a covering letter. We welcome all applications and a working knowledge of Arabic or French would be helpful.

Seems legit, as they say. Now Afzal Amin’s statements since the Mail on Sunday burst the story suggest he was in touch with Yaxley-Lennon and friends for at least a year, and that he had some ambitions to scale the project up, taking it on the road around the UK.

For the past year, I have been undertaking discussions with Tommy Robinson and more recently with the leadership of the EDL to prevent further inter-communal tensions and violence. I recognised that there was an opportunity to promote better community cohesion between various communities in Dudley and that this may serve as a model for further dispute resolution in other towns and cities.

If it was going to cost £250 per EDL “canvasser” per week, as Yaxley-Lennon and Amin agreed, presumably the leadership would want paying too. Amin said as much. So who was going to be paying? I suspect, and this is now speculation, that they would be put on the Curzon Thing’s payroll, and the costs would be billed to some DCLG project or other, probably under the banner of counter-radicalisation. Amin mentions repeatedly that he contacted the police chief, too, so did he think he had official approval for his caper?

So we have several different themes here – ill-thought out and inappropriate spook plotting, use of government resources for party politics, a hell of a lot of general perversity and deceit, and some quite shameless grant-hunting. It’s emblematic, I tell you. In the light of yet more Shapps/Green, I think it’s the spiv element that’s the key.

My offer to you is…Nick Clegg.

Circling back to this post, here’s Alex Massie on a similar theme.

I would point out that if being in a coalition, in general, would be Cleggifying, being in a coalition with the Tories would be the absolute ne plus ultra of Cleggification. The fast support the SNP gained over the referendum campaign would fade away as fast as it had come.

Also, Massie suggests that the Tories might make the Scots an offer. However, there would be nothing to stop Labour from matching, beating, or pre-empting such an offer. As Massie says, the Michael Corleone* option – nothing, but a non-Tory government – has a very good chance of being better than the SNP’s alternatives on its own. This implies logically that this option, plus X, will also be better than the alternative.

The SNP BATNA is an interesting issue. The only way I can see a solution other than supporting a Labour government paying off for them is a sort of maximal #the45 heighten-the-contradictions strategy, hoping that the two years of ultra-vicious cuts planned for FY2016-2018 will piss everyone off so much that Indyref 2.0 would be a shoe-in. Did I say cuts? I said cuts.

That assumes, however, that a second referendum could be brought about quickly, and that the ensuing Cleggification doesn’t destroy the organising capability needed to win it.

Also, the SNP is an In party in Holyrood, where it has to administer the effects of the cuts. Ins rarely benefit from heightening the contradictions. Being a local pol in times of Tories always sucks because you get the abuse from the public, but you can’t get away from the fact the council has to have a legal budget and pay salaries, or you go to jail and Eric Pickles takes over and turns the library into a McDonalds. Scotgov has the same problem as the London Borough of Socialism on that score.

Labour’s BATNA, on the other side, is pretty simple. It’s I d-double dare you – walk out and dare them to put in the Tories. If they aren’t actually willing to vote down the Queen’s Speech, well, in that case they’ve already given in. Depending on the exact numbers it might also be possible to get away with the Welsh, Irish, and Greens as an alternative. If Labour were the plurality, I would even think this might be the first option – let them either vote no (and commit suicide), sign up by voting yes (and get a reward), or else do something weak like abstaining (and be ignored).

*Ed Miliband as Michael Corleone. You can totally see it. #meme

Why there won’t be a Labour-SNP coalition

A quick thought about this story. There are, at the moment, two kinds of politicians in Europe: the Ins and the Outs. The Ins are the respectables, either conservative, liberal, or social democratic. They form governments, run the European Union, and practically drip seriousness. On the other hand, nobody believes a word they say, and they are painfully easy to mock. Their biggest problem is that people increasingly don’t distinguish between different varieties of Ins, and increasingly don’t vote.

The Outs, on the other hand, are the people who are against. They don’t get to exercise much real power, and they are usually deeply unserious, but on the other hand, they seem to have actual public support and to communicate with the electorate. Here we find the various national flavours of the extreme-right, people like Syriza, Podemos, or Die Linke, the Greens up to a point, and the Euro-nationalists. The common factors of the Outs are usually that they are critical of either the European Union or the national state they’re part of, and that they project authenticity.

Nothing, of course, is as fake as authenticity. It’s basically always a style statement rather than a fact – but saying this doesn’t get rid of its attraction, and it doesn’t help you project it either. We can get a grip on this by considering a case study, Nick Clegg. Ha ha, you say. Clegg authentic? But this is now. Let’s remember then.

In 1997-2010 the Lib Dems were arguably the UK’s leading Outs, the party you picked if your answer to “Tories or Labour?” was “You can’t make me”. Opposition to the Iraq War, to PFI/PPP, drugs prohibition, tuition fees, and various manifestations of the surveillance state, and wholehearted support of the European Union (in the UK, an Out position) made them distinctly different to the Ins. As a result, Nick Clegg held a substantial amount of authenticity as capital going into the 2010 election campaign. The TV debate – the night of “I agree with Nick” – was the moment when he tried to use it to address the electorate directly, a classic Out strategy.

His problem was then how to use this to get In without destroying it in the process. Unfortunately, coalition by its very nature involves a lot of the sort of compromise, weasel-words, and expediency that we perceive as being classically In, and everything that the Outs reject. Clegg, I think, has spent down the capital, every penny of it, to the point where he’s polling worse than the Greens. Only he can say whether it was worth it.

Interestingly, along the way, the Lib Dems’ Outish unseriousness has been repeatedly exposed. Before 2010 they had a reputation for wonkish competence, but since then we have had things like their signature achievement, the pupil premium, that ended up making schools forcibly enrol everyone in free school meals to keep from missing out, or that time they didn’t realise schools would need kitchens to serve free school meals. These days, they still have the Outs’ flakiness, but they have lost their reputation for policy chops.

This leaves them utterly identified with the system, the big problem of the Ins, but also with a reputation for bungling, the big problem of the Outs. (Ask Natalie Bennett.)

This example must weigh heavy on the other key Out party in the UK, the Scottish Nationalists. Their post-referendum decision to double-down and blame everything on Labour seemed like bunker thinking in the days immediately after the referendum, but it has paid off. The greatly increased activist base created for the referendum had to be kept in action, or else it would have lost interest and wandered off. The organising muscles had to be exercised to maintain their strength, and only Scottish Labour presented a target worth going after in terms of votes or seats.

This leaves Nicola Sturgeon with a lot of Outish capital that must eventually be converted into something. The conversion has to happen, because In parties are expected to deliver something whereas Out parties are expected to express something. The SNP can’t choose to be a permanent protest party, because it’s an In party in Scotland – it’s the government. Its success has been built on a balancing act between being an In party in Holyrood but an Out party in Westminster.

This is useful; François Mittérrand liked to quote an 18th-century French cardinal who said that when you resolve an ambiguity you always deny yourself something. And he should have known. The danger, though, is that whatever happens in May will do just that, collapsing the wave-function into one of its possible states. The SNP isn’t going to give up being the government in Holyrood, so it’s easy to see what the failure mode here is. Outness is fragile. One false step and all that effort could be wasted. Going into coalition might Cleggify the SNP, and you bet Labour would try to make it happen, being their best chance to reverse the SNP surge.

At the same time, Labour has plenty of reasons to dislike coalition with the SNP. It would hugely complicate their plans to retake seats in Scotland, and there is an enormous amount of bitterness to swallow. Ed Miliband’s Labour is more of an Out party than you might think, probably more than any other mainstream social democrats in Europe – they’re very much about trying to address the public directly via TV debates, public question times, the Internet, and door-to-door retail campaigning, and Miliband does well at channelling public rage (see taxdodgers, Murdoch, energy prices).

So coalition is a big “no”. That said, there is a lot of negotiating space left. Both Labour and the SNP need to beat the Tories. They can agree that David Cameron should not be the next prime minister, and given the relative numbers, that Nicola Sturgeon won’t be either. Labour can offer policy concessions to the SNP, and most of all, a non-Tory government. The SNP can put them over the top. Some sort of agreement that stops short of coalition and maintains both parties’ freedom of action is obviously possible.

Of course, it was for Nick Clegg too.

Update: A more quantitative way to operationalise this would be to look at turnout. Outs get people to turn out. See this from Alberto Nardelli:

Hamilton out. Wheeler in.

We were talking about Stuart Wheeler and Neil Hamilton. It looks like Nigel Farage won – Hamilton has been given the bum’s rush and Wheeler is still paying the bills at ‘Kipper Towers.

Mr Hamilton mended fences with the leadership after it dropped its investigation into his expenses, although he has been told he will not be given a seat to fight at the election.

This rapprochement has paved the way for Mr Wheeler to re-enter the fray at a key time for the otherwise cash-strapped party.

Nice try, Hammo. It’s interesting that once Farage had demonstrated he was willing to call Wheeler’s bluff, there was obviously no point for Wheeler in cutting off the money just out of spite.

Also, nice chart:


It’s always bloody property developers, isn’t it?

Three political predictions

The Staggers‘ MAY 2015 dedicated election blog is rapidly shaping up to be important reading. Here’s a post of theirs that points out that there has been no big change in the polls in England and Wales. Instead, what has changed is Scotland, with the surge in SNP support since the autumn.

In other words, Labour has lost at least a point because of Scotland, and maybe closer to 1.5 percentage points. That accounts for most of Labour’s dip in national polls since summer’s end.

You read it here first.

If you look at the Ipsos-MORI poll (the green triangle on the chart), about 11 per cent of the weighted total sample is Scottish. Therefore, the 39 percentage point uplift in the SNP share of vote they picked up in the November political monitor translates to 4.3 percentage points of national voting intention.

There’s even a nice chart and all. Meanwhile, on the subject of Scottish politics, I argued that the only chance of EVEL actually happening would be if the Tories watered it down enough that Labour could accept it as a washup item. Not surprisingly, the upshot has been a no-deal, but was anyone expecting to find out that rejecting it was worth something close to a commitment from the SNP?

Further on, the LSE election blog takes up something I blogged a while ago. Is personal approval important in British general elections? The answer is that 10 points of approval count for about 2.3 points of national VI.

A decline in a leader’s personal net approval rating of 10 points, is associated with a decrease in vote share of only 2.3 percentage points

Also, at least going by Jack Blumenau’s chart, most of this effect is accounted for by exactly two data points:


Those would be the 1983 and 1997 general elections. So if you’re as popular as Tony Blair in 1997, or as hated as John Major was in that year, or riding as big a khaki wave as Thatcher in 1983, you might be able to win through personal popularity.

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.

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.

A bad sign

There’s a lot that could be said about this weekend’s political entertainment, but the bit that stays with me is that I fear we’re losing the best thing about Ed Miliband, which was calm, sitzfleisch, and the ability to wait out stupid media bullshit. This really is something you want in a leader, and we had an example of it not so long ago in applying the Gina Ford strategy to his critics.

Rafael Behr described the position as being like the chess concept of zugzwang, where you don’t have any good moves but you’ve got to make one. But one of the ways politics isn’t like chess is that there is no timer. (Knowing him, he probably got the ten-buck word out of something by Martin Amis.) Doing nothing is usually an option, and it’s quite often a good one.

Similarly, filtering out the noise and focusing on the essential is a skill you want in a leader. It’s as good as nailed on that the whole period from here to election day will be nothing but stupid media bullshit pseudo-events; we can’t afford more pilot-induced oscillation.

Pilot-induced oscillations, as defined by MIL-HDBK-1797A,[1] are sustained or uncontrollable oscillations resulting from efforts of the pilot to control the aircraft and occurs when the pilot of an aircraft inadvertently commands an often increasing series of corrections in opposite directions, each an attempt to cover the aircraft’s reaction to the previous input with an overcorrection in the opposite direction. An aircraft in such a condition can appear to be “porpoising” switching between upward and downward directions. As such it is a coupling of the frequency of the pilot’s inputs and the aircraft’s own frequency

Thinking about that, I reckon what the Labour Party could do with is a nice big phase damper to ballast it. Like so.

(Also, did anyone else notice that the Sun literally put Dan Ware on its front page as a cover-mount freebie? They placed his face and the trail for the story in a box over the strapline that also contained a giveaway offer. Perhaps, if you renew your Sky Sports subscription before the end of the month, they’ll send you a free dickhead. Which reminds me that someone on twitter said, very wisely, that the best argument that Emily Thornberry did anything wrong is that she exposed an ordinary civilian to the newspapers, a horrible and exploitative process that ought to be reserved for the professionals.)

Still the Omnishambles government

Con trick. £30bn extra cuts. That lower immigration thing is no longer operative. Voting on the European Arrest Warrant or maybe not. They get precisely nothing from their “renegotiation” and then the courts take the whole point away.

Miliband goes to the CBI and the members hiss a journalist for talking leadership crisis. The Libyan recruits in Bassingbourn turn out to be so bad the only good news is that here we keep the rifles locked up, so they can’t set up checkpoints on the roads like they did in Jordan. Even so, the army sends half a battalion of Royal Highland Fusiliers to keep them in line until they can get rid of them.

The government announces a revival of their awful national roaming scheme because of Crimson Dave’s dropped calls, but then they launch the consultation on the next lot of spectrum without a coverage requirement.

Can anyone smell omnishambles?