Category: politics

and if you do…will anything happen?

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

2010-vs-2015-turnout-lpoly-pre-shaded

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!

1OoT074

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.

Camila+Batmanghelidjh+David+Cameron+Chairs+JGM4O-T_vyFl

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.

Camila-Batmanghelidjh

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.

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 just..you know..do 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.

IDS and the Great Skip of Initiatives

So I was having a long talk with Declan Gaffney on Twitter about incapacity benefit and the Department for Work and Pensions. The Gaffer mentioned that when he’d been working for the Greater London Authority with John Hutton’s DWP in 2006, nobody seemed to have been aware that the IB caseload was rapidly ageing-out, and that therefore it was increasingly ridiculous to expect people to launch a new career with only a couple of years to go before retirement age and anyway the problem was going to solve itself.

I nearly fell off my chair – the big run-up in IB happened in the 80s and early 90s. A lot of ex-industrial workers had at least one problem that could justify IB, and the political imperative to make claimant count unemployment look better led to them being transferred from unemployment to inactivity, in the dry statistical terms. Further, the older people were naturally less likely to get on their bikes, etc, etc. And by 2006, it was all twenty years in the past. Wasn’t all this trivially obvious? Apparently no.

I said to the Gaffer that the main problem with DWP is that it’s always fighting the last war. He agreed, saying that by the mid-90s it had just about come to terms with unemployment and therefore missed inactivity as an issue. By 2006, I said, it had been trained as an organisation to worry about inactivity and especially incapacity, as unemployment seemed to have gone away.

This led it to see its mission as dealing with relatively small groups of people with complex and entrenched problems, justifying more intervention and a sort of pseudo-medical attitude. It also led DWP to engage with the NGOs that had sprung up in the post-industrial north, mostly, to look after the long-term unemployed. It’s worth remembering that A4e started off as a charity called Action for Employment in Sheffield.

It was around this time Iain Duncan Smith was in the process of reinventing himself. Having decided to “faire du social” as the French say, he, most of all politicians, needed to import some ideas about how. He got the ideas from the US neo-conservative Lawrence Mead and his circle’s idea of a culture of poverty. This seemed to fit the facts, ish, and also fit with his own Christian-inspired self presentation. The IDS package consists of Mead-ian moralising, DWP treatment-ism, and charity capitalism.

But of course, none of this stuff was in the least bit applicable to the 2010s. First of all, unemployment made a comeback in a big way. DWP struggled to realise the world had changed. Then it began falling, but two new problems emerged: underemployment, and soaring housing benefit calls. Meanwhile, the post-industrial IB caseload was aging out, leaving the group subjected to Atos assessments enriched with people whose problems were much worse than a bad back.

So what’s going on here? Meet Michael D. Cohen and his Garbage Can Model of decision making. Cohen observed that organisations do not, in fact, observe problems and proceed to derive solutions to them. Instead, having met a problem, they reach into the garbage can, the stock of unused proposals that is always lying around, and try to force-fit anything that seems likely to the problem. This explains why the same old rubbish comes up every time there’s a crisis. In the UK, rather than a garbage can, we might say we have a skip full of initiatives.

We will now pause to consider the Labour Party leadership contest.

That done, back to the DWP. They’re always behind because the stuff in the can is always the surplus of ideas from a while ago. That’s why it’s garbage. We could think about how to do better, but that would probably take us in the direction of why cache invalidation is a notoriously hard programming problem. Also, it strikes me that the history of DWP from the 1980s is the history of our movement towards a low-trust society. I just found it in this skip.

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.

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.

After the latest update the problems will be solved…

Remember that time Mitt Romney bought his campaign a massive IT system that completely broke down and failed utterly, because they gave all the money to their mates’ outsourcing company and did everything on the cheap, and nobody would take any responsibility for it? Now consider the possibilities of getting Grant Shapps to procure a major computer system. He’s a digital entrepreneur, after all. Both of him.

The Tory Diary:

Thirdly, there’s the question of campaign technology. VoteSource has arrived, Merlin is mercifully on its way out, and I gather that after its latest update many of the new system’s early teething problems have been solved. However, it’s far from ideal to receive and have to adapt to a whole new platform so shortly before polling day. Grant Shapps would, I’m sure, have introduced it earlier had he been appointed Party Chairman earlier, and previous Party Chairmen should have acted on it years ago, but the practical impact remains the same regardless of intentions. Most associations still only have a small number of people trained in using VoteSource, while recent weeks have been spent battling with and then ironing out problems (either of the system or of its users’ abilities or both).

O HAI. It looks like Flipper’s trying to tell us something. Shapps decided to cut over to a completely new platform? After the campaign started? This could be fun. You’ve got to love the “if only the Tsar knew!” bit where they say the solution would obviously have been even more Shapps.

That said I did have an exciting technology moment on the doorstep the other weekend when our voter ID database claimed I was about to canvass probably the only black, cockney Plaid Cymru voter in London. Well, as the board runner said, anything’s possible, but the returns use a one-letter code for most things and then get OCRd, so it’s quite possible that a slightly sloppy character going through the slightly chancy OCR process gives you a weird data point.

She’s going to vote Labour.