Category: politics

12 links on Bob Crow, and how to get the look

1: Houses have got stupid expensive. You may have noticed

Here’s a great chart from James Plunkett of the Resolution Foundation, making the point that it will take you your life to save for a deposit. Note that the curve takes off like a homesick angel in the mid-90s, when prices start back up again, but also, when wages…didn’t, much.

2: What if we counted them in wages, not prices?

If you want to measure prices a few years ago in today’s money, you usually scale up or down by the inflation rate in the meantime. This assumes that wages keep up with inflation. A big part of the problem is that although general inflation hasn’t been very bad, wages suck, so housing has got much more expensive in terms of hours of work. And, y’know, the CPI and RPI-X inflation measures don’t count housing costs. Because reasons.

Fortunately someone else did the sum. Shelter.

Shelter analysed house prices and earnings across England for the period between 1997 and 2012 and found that while the average price of a home had increased more than threefold, from £75,762 to £253,816, average wages had gone up by much less, from £16,500 to £25,932.

Had earnings risen at the same rate as house prices, the average salary would have been £55,296, or £29,000 more than it was.

Or to put it another way, you’ve sucked up a £29k pay cut in terms of house. NICE decade, indeed.

3: And who did this to us? The rich.

3: Meet the one guy who knew what the hell was going on


Here’s the late Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, wearing the shit out of a Fred Perry. We’ll get to that later.

4: RMT members just…didn’t have to go through with that

It’s like he had some sort of “plan” or “strategy”. Let’s call it a plategy? Or a splan?

5: One of the ways he did this was by dressing *sharp*


Note the panels of different cloths, leather, and tweed on the hat. Also, the jacket, and the knows-just-where-the-camera-is projection. Here’s the whole outfit:


6: I mean it.


Contrast with the backdrop. And another polo. The message: Look where I am. I have every right to be here.

7: I really mean it.


Again, the combination of the backdrop – the books – with Crow and what was obviously a favourite. Look where I am; I have every right to be here.

8: No, I really mean it


Prince of Wales check.

9: He’s not taking RT seriously…


Is he now. Same jacket, deployed less formally.

10. A more haute touch


Kitsuné does a very similar jacket to this one.

11. Why Boris Johnson fails

What we’ve seen in the last 10 items is a story about successful political resistance articulated through the visual language of being a serious Millwall fan. It’s a cliché that the genuinely posh and the working class understand each other in a way the squeaky-bum exam passers never will. Although Boris Johnson managed to be in this photo:


he never even tried to play a theme that has resonated in Britain since the times when Winston Churchill stood on a double-ticket with a Socialist candidate in Rochdale. Clown.

12: Bob Crow scared all the right people

Yes, you, clown, the person who takes the tube every day but can’t get on a bus without delaying everyone around you, as RMT industrial action amply demonstrated. Yes, you, Johnson. Yes, you, Tony. And indeed you, Gordon – Bob Crow eventually won the Tube PFI war, although it took years.

Of course, he had advantages, having his foot on London’s neck. But everyone thought that was true of Arthur Scargill.

I disagree with George Lakoff. Greenpeace knows propaganda

So George Lakoff is interviewed in the paper. This thread discusses (facebook warning). My opinion is requested.

“The progressive mindset is screwing up the world. The progressive mindset is guaranteeing no progress on global warming. The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, fracking is fine.’ The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, genetically modified organisms are OK’, when, in fact, they’re horrible, and the progressive mindset doesn’t know how to describe how horrible they are. There’s a difference between progressive morality, which is great, and the progressive mindset, which is half OK and half awful.”

Really? Is it actually true that “progressives”, whoever they are, are saying that genetically modified organisms are OK? As far as I know they are not. It seems more accurate to say that campaigns against them seem to have done quite well in their own terms – who now remembers when Monsanto was the Google of the future? – through completely shameless shock propaganda.

Similarly, I wouldn’t count on many fracking projects ever getting to production in the UK or the rest of Europe. Rhetorically, the main reason is that it sounds a bit like a prude trying to not say fucking. As far as I know, the main objection is that in the US you can get away without saying what’s in the fluid. The laws of the US are here or there in Europe, and gas is a lot better than coal environmentally, which suggests to me that propaganda – i.e. framing – is doing the work, for good or ill.

I’m also not convinced that “progressives”, whoever they are, are losing on this issue – would you bet on a new coal-fired power station ever opening in the States again? In fact, the green movement is pretty effective at this stuff, for good and ill. I would actually rate them second behind the Tories.

Lakoff does have a good and interesting point in that people seem to always want to rehearse the opposition’s argument before attacking it. OK, take a memo.

I’m a bit concerned that his views haven’t changed a bit since 2004; since then, importantly, I think we’ve seen a subculture of evidence emerge (think Nate Silver or Jon Portes’ twitter feed) that wasn’t there before. It would be good to nurture it. Story is the point. The means are neutral. Also, omnishambles is a powerful political pattern.

In general, I can’t help but feel that everything in this piece is either obvious (don’t be defined by the enemy; don’t make their case for them) or else dependent on Lakoff’s caricatures, for example, of GM obsessives who think they’re OK. People who oppose GM don’t, and the fact that “GM” is a thing explains it all. Selective breeding, even with the aid of DNA sequencing, isn’t GM in some undefined way. GM is associated with intellectual property rights, but it’s not the IPR, it’s the GM. I could go on, but the point is that the thing, GM, which is unequivocally evil and globally understood to be unacceptable, has been successfully created. This is a practical example of effective framing and whatever.

The core expertise of being Green is projecting a vague aesthetic creepiness around a selected target, in the same way that the core expertise of being Conservative is projecting a vague scariness based in snobbery around your target.

The Ideal Content-Free Politician Leaves…

It seems incongruous to cite Langewiesche and Michael White in the same post, so I broke this out separately and it grew. White worries that public anger at MPs’ pay and expenses and even actual thieving will rob us of inspiring examples of public service, such as Denis MacShane.

What gets me here is that MacShane is as good as it gets for White – a second-division pol who ferociously supported the Iraq War and also the Euro, combining two absolutely catastrophic policy disasters into a greater whole through a kind of alchemy of dross. This is what we should look up to.

In his second act, he picked on “trafficked women” as a cause but couldn’t actually find any, having utterly failed to listen to anyone who knew anything at all about the issue, and turned to the man who accompanied him throughout his political career – Signor Ben Trovato. I can think of few pols who have been caught making up their facts as often as MacShane – only the wretched Iain Duncan Smith comes to mind.

But the real problem with MacShane wasn’t what he did, it was how he did it. His whole approach to politics had a mean streak a mile wide. Few Iraq War boosters were as keen to smear, insult, and mock those of us who were right. We were Islamofascists. We were crypto-racists. We were in bed with the enemy. We were, invariably, anti-Semites.

Then, he turned around and viciously abused White’s colleague Nick Davies for disagreeing with his crusade to rescue fallen women. The sorry story is here. Davies was suddenly “taking the side of the managers of the sex industry”. The rhetoric barely changed at all – he just swapped a couple of nouns and he was ready to go, a variable geometry political thug offering multi-role capability against a wide range of targets. And then he invented a fake thinktank in order to pad his expenses!

My dear colleague, Daniel Davies, argues that there is something tragic or at least tragicomic about MacShane, and that his crime was motivated by the effort to live up to the European public intellectual role he felt the UK lacked. I would amend this.

The problem with MacShane was that he was like Quentin Crisp’s pig farmer who was born to be a ballet dancer – a man whose talents and aspirations lay in radically different directions. He imagined he was Danny Cohn-Bendit, but was more like David Batty. Can anyone remember any ideas he might have had about the European Union? The senior pols who promoted him didn’t want him for his thoughts on Europe, but for his thug’s sense of gut tactics and his willingness to cart it up, come what may. And like Crisp’s pig farmer, after thirty years, pigs were his style.

It was a cynic’s career, by a cynic, for cynics. And that was what Westminster politics valued and got. Cynicism and ruthlessness have their place in politics – it’s an adversarial activity, after all – but nobody thinks they are actually admirable in themselves. Except, apparently, for Michael White.

The problem here is a standard one for people who live at the centre of politics. They come to believe both that Westminster is of all-dominating, cosmic importance, and also that it is of no intrinsic interest. They are not interested in politics so much as in politicianing, a sort of professional sport. MacShane was a specialist in one of its component disciplines, and importantly, one that is entirely neutral with regard to content.

Hence it doesn’t matter to White that MacShane achieved essentially nothing of substance except for widening the vocabulary of political insult a bit. Before him, it wasn’t routine to call people anti-Semitic because they disagreed with you. Now it is.

White expects us to take politicianing seriously, as if it were actual politics, while he and MacShane continue to treat it with utter cynicism – in other words, to piss on us and tell us it’s raining. We may not be able to turn off the flow, but we can at least disbelieve the assertion and wear a hat.

And of course the tone matters, too, as it did with MacShane. White is apparently trying to achieve greater public involvement in politics, especially among the youth, by patronising the shit out of the public, and especially, the youth. Good luck with that. Or perhaps it’s not so daft. If White hadn’t chosen to patronise me and some people I know, I certainly wouldn’t have bothered to write 778 words on MacShane. And if MacShane hadn’t chosen to insult various people I know, I wouldn’t have bothered to write about him ever.

Welcome to Tartania. Set your economic policy to 2011

OK, consider this country: its monetary policy is controlled by someone else’s central bank, and therefore so is much of its financial and bank regulation policy. Despite this, it has a full set of national symbols. It’s located somewhere on the periphery of Europe, and there’s every reason to think it might experience an inflow of capital and a run-up in housing prices. It has a couple of hometown banks with major executive aspirations and lots of political pull. Its politicians really, really love telling the citizenry and each other that they’re proper Europeans now, and they love being treated as such by diplomats even more.

Now consider another country. Its monetary policy is run by a central bank that sometimes looks like it might as well be somewhere else, and is heavily influenced by its politically powerful banking sector. It has the full set of national symbols mentioned above, and an enraged radical might argue that they serve to cover up the reality of its domination by finance capitalism via the central bank and other policy institutions.

The second country is, of course, Ukania, Tom Nairn’s sarcastic gloss on the United Kingdom and pretty much the intellectual foundation of the modern Scottish Nationalist Party. But what about the first, so very similar? It is somewhere we could call Tartania, the polity that the current SNP’s policy would set up.

As it stands, “independence” includes keeping the pound sterling and therefore the Bank of England in its new role, with its substantially broader remit and its reduced independence from the Treasury. It also includes keeping the BBC, the NHS, the Queen, and the Regiments. Actually, not just “keeping” them, but also reviving some of the old unit titles. Surely nothing could be more Ukanian – or Tartanian – than reviving battalion titles invented by the Cardwell Reforms?

It’s the whole symbolic tool kit. In the past, the big idea was joining the Euro. Like I used to, they believed the EU was a force for social democracy. In practice, it would have served to legitimise the Troika in the same way as it allegedly served to legitimise Thatcher. Now, the mission has been refocused: the theoretically hated symbology of Ukania is to be used to legitimise the SNP, which is now an end in itself. There is no radical case for the SNP.

2013 if you read it on Twitter

A new crisis for Ed Miliband, as Edward Snowden discloses that GCHQ’s secret laser spectrometer detected horse DNA in Iain Duncan Smith as long ago as 2002. But does Nicolas Anelka really speak for all women?

Boris Island: Shag, Marry, Avoid?

The Airports Commission is eventually going to opt for Gatwick. Prediction. How did I come to this conclusion? And how representative is the commission as an institution?

Well, we can understand the decision-making process here with a simple model. There are various actors involved, who have preferences. To illuminate this, let’s play a game of Shag, Marry, Avoid. We could call these “Tolerate, Demand, Veto” instead, but I think it’s much more fun this way. Basically, any actor has a choice they would prefer, one they would accept failing that, and one that they would reject entirely.

Once we’ve specified the actors, and coded them as Shag/Marry/Avoid for each airport option, we can then look at a rule to model the decision process. This is the table I came up with.

Under my scoring, first-past-the-post would return the Rt. Hon. Heathrow Airport MP on the strength of its 8 marriage proposals. However, this isn’t a parliamentary election, and second choices and veto power are both important. Under an alternative vote-like system, I get 8 votes to marry Heathrow and 8 for all other options. Typically, AV requires 50%+1 for a first round win, so we reallocate the shags – i.e. the second preferences. This gives us Heathrow 11, Gatwick 13, and (Boris Island 3, Stansted 3, Somewhere Else 2) drop out. If we then subtract the avoids, i.e vetoes, we get Heathrow 7, Gatwick 12 and (Stansted 3, SE 2, Boris Island -8).

Another way of doing this would be something like approval voting, where voters cross off all the candidates they reject, and the least rejected candidates win. This gets at the minimum consensus aspect of the whole thing. SE and Stansted both have 0 vetoes, Gatwick 1, Heathrow 4, and Boris Island 11.

This of course raises the problem with approval voting – unless you do something else, it’s possible to have a winner nobody positively wants. In real institutions that use it, this is often dealt with by requiring a given number of electors to second you before you get to take part.

If we require more than one “marry”, Stansted and Boris Island are both eliminated, leaving Somewhere Else, Heathrow, and Gatwick. SE has no vetoes, Gatwick 1, and Heathrow 4. SE wins, but if there has to be a winner, then it’s Gatwick. Alternatively, as I’ve included lobbies for the North and Midlands in the scoring, we might read that as being “Gatwick, plus expansion outside the South-East”.

Yet a third option would be a balance of opinion. We might count a Marry as one point, a Shag as 0.5 points, and an Avoid as -1, implicitly coding a Shrug as 0. In that case you get net scores of Heathrow 5.5, Gatwick 8, Boris Island -9, Somewhere Else 2, Stansted 1.5.

The upshot, then. All three rules tried converge on the same result. Hardly anyone actually wants Boris Island and a lot of people hate it. Quite a lot of people support Heathrow, but a significant group of actors also hate it. Gatwick is everyone’s second choice – quite an advertising slogan, no? – and only one group wants to veto it.

And further, the airports commission does seem to be surprisingly democratic, at least in that you can simulate it as a plebiscitary process with the same inputs and it gives the same outputs.

When is a Tory? A polls post

I was babbling about polls earlier, so here is some more. Ipsos MORI did a quick-reaction flash poll after the Chancellor’s statement. This is worth having, as they can apparently get 1,071 adults weighted to the profile of the population to do an online poll between Gideon sitting down and close of business. The eye-catcher is this question.


This is rather what I was going on about in my post on the windshear between opinions about the “UK economy” as an abstraction and about one’s personal affairs. But there’s more here:


They provide a crossbreak of the question covering just those people who stated that they were informed about the statement in some way, for example, having watched it on the news.


The more they knew, the less they liked. I think you could make a case that working the windshear and adding energy to the argument is sense. Also, this contemporaneous YouGov poll is crushing if you’re a Tory. If this keeps up, I wouldn’t mind betting that the polls repeat the odd seasonality of the last two years again this year.

Seasonality? Yeah. If you dump the lot and plot a moving average (I used 8 periods, to operationalise a couple of polls a week) you get something like this. Over the winters of 2011 and 2012, they lost about 10 points peak to trough, and recovered a bit in late summer/early autumn, netting out about a 5 point loss for each cycle. Since early autumn, the average has turned down again.


Perhaps it’s the energy bills, or just the fact that official politics is turned off for most of the summer. Remind me, when in the year do we usually have a general election?

Voting may affect your interests. Think carefully before voting

This exchange, and chart, illuminate the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for Ed Miliband.

So, people expect the UK economy to be doing a bit better. They see an inflection point in February and then another one, marking a dramatic transition to growth, in June. Now the first thing that strikes me here is that I wonder what the same poll looks like for last year, as this might well be seasonality. But this is beside the point.

The other line on the chart represents their expectations of their own personal situation. This looks rather different, basically flatlining around -10% negative balance of opinion. There’s an uptick at the forecast horizon in August, but there was also one in August last year.

So, we have dramatically different expectations for the abstract concept of the UK economy, which is a national-level phenomenon primarily experienced through the mass media and mass politics, and for the lived experience of one’s own economic life, which is a local phenomenon experienced directly and through social contacts, local media, and perhaps also through the social media.

This phenomenon is a frequent observation in contemporary Britain. YouGov polls, for example, ask the questions “Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?” and “Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing you and your family?” Here’s an example (PDF). Immigration is no.2 in the first case, no.6 in the second. Europe is no.6 in the first, no.10 in the second. “Family life and childcare” is no.10 in the first, no.4 in the second.

I think of this as “political windshear” – the wind at ground level doesn’t blow with the same force or direction as it does at altitude. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about it in terms of voting intention, because after all there is no way in the Westminster system to express separate national and local preferences in a parliamentary election.

However, it is obvious that some of the best Tory (and Blairite) themes blow only at altitude, and that the big theme that cuts across all parties (the economy) is experienced very differently depending on whether we discuss the abstract notion of the economy or the personal and social experience of it.

On this basis, I see good reason for Labour to be optimistic – they are in a position to campaign on “Are you and your family better off now than you were in 2010?”, and have an opportunity to play a lot of successful conservative themes in reverse (e.g. the appeal to household finances, and rejection of abstract macro tropes in favour of stupid empiricism).

This is the inverse of the position in late Thatcherism, when although macroeconomic numbers and general mood-music were horrible, and a lot of people were in deep economic misery, a political majority existed that did actually feel better off.

If a recession is when your neighbour loses their job, and a depression is when you lose yours, a recovery is when George Osborne insults your intelligence on TV.

There is some reason to be cautious, though. I say that it doesn’t make sense to talk about national and personal voting intention, but there is a bit of data because Lord Ashcroft’s polling asks about it. This poll of 40 marginal seats, for example, asks both “If there were a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” and “Thinking specifically about your own constituency and the candidates who are likely to stand there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency at the next general election?”

Table 2 summarises the results.


In Labour target seats, there is a very slight shear effect in favour of Labour and Lib Dem candidates (+1 and +2 respectively) and a bigger one against UKIP (-3). In Lib Dem target seats, there is a really strong shear effect in favour of the Lib Dem (+11) and against Labour (-6). It should be remembered that these are swings, so you can’t tot them up and claim a 17 point advantage for the Lib Dems versus Labour. The rest of this effect breaks down as the Tories losing 1 point, UKIP 2, Others 2 (i.e. 6+1+2+2=11).

Across the board, this implies that some substantial Lib Dem machine advantage still exists, but by its nature it’s concentrated in seats that are Lib Dem targets and that are LD-LAB marginals. It also suggests that in general, UKIP will do less well than national polls predict, by 2 to 3 points, although we would really need to see data about CON targets to understand this effect.

That said, the effect is relatively small in the context of a Labour lead of 14 in their 32 most marginal LAB-CON seats, and is generally much less significant with regard to constituencies than it is with regard to issues. If Labour get the message across that (to quote me) “voting may effect your interests. think carefully before voting”, winning the central CON-LAB contest would render Lib Dem survivors less interesting or relevant.

It also suggests that national parties, and especially Labour, should put more resources than they do into either taking local elections in targets ahead of the general election, or taking them afterwards in order to consolidate.

A successful shear campaign would probably tend to pull up national voting intention with it, but I haven’t attempted to model this.

Mike Smithson has also looked at this issue, and he argues that it means that Labour voters in LD-CON marginals are still likely to vote tactically, while UKIP voters are harder to win back for the Tories. This would be a net disadvantage for the Tories.

He also blogs polls of 2 high value CON-LAB marginals and finds a really drastic crash in the LD vote outside LD target seats.

3 amazing facts that show Hopi Sen is wrong

OK, so. John Band and Oliver Rivers decided I was going to write in Buzzfeed house style for the next whenever, and it’s substantially less annoying to write than gawkerese or Belle Waring. Here goes.

Thousands will die or maybe they won’t

The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne isn’t happy about energy prices, much like Ed Miliband and everyone in the UK who hasn’t rammed the bill to Brenda’s Debating & Drinking Society. Ultra-Blairite Hopi Sen takes issue with this. God knows why, but he seizes on this chart to argue that everything is OK.

That’s a chart showing that not as many olds have fallen off their perch when it gets chilly in recent years. Most of the actual change there seems to have happened between about 1960 and 1990, but it does seem to have got a bit better since about 2000. Hopi’s argument is that this shows that energy privatisation is great.

Which is weird. Why? Well, look at this table.

They’re not dying because council houses


That’s right – the older your house is, and the older you are, the more likely you are to freeze. Can’t do better here than just lift a quote:

the lack of a significant relationship between deprivation and excess winter mortality suggests that in the UK those who are deprived often live in social housing, which is, on average, more energy efficient.

Hopi then tells us that the Decent Homes program spent a bunch of money insulating council flats, which is good.

Good job we’ve basically abolished those


The red bit on this chart of total UK housing construction is council houses. You’ll observe that we actually BUILT MORE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR WHEN THE GERMANS WERE DROPPING BOMBS ON US AND WE HAD NO MONEY FOR FOOD than when Hopi’s old boss was in charge. After we got rid of him, you can just see a tiny hint of red.

Also, remember I said most of the improvement in “not letting granny freeze to death like a stray dog” seems to be between 1960 and 1990? Yup. When rather more than half those houses were built.

OK, here’s a boring non-Buzzfeed bit with long words and no graphics. Look away

You can see some of the problems with the Blair government here. The first one that sticks out is that they were completely concentrated on either the extreme poor or the extreme rich.

In this case, spending money on council housing retrofits helped prevent deaths among the desperate, but only if they were council tenants. Great, but I can’t help but think New Labour: We won’t let you physically freeze to death, so long as you’ve got a council tenancy that’s as rare as hen’s teeth is a slogan betraying a certain poverty of aspiration.

Another problem is that this does nothing at all for anyone who isn’t actually going to physically freeze to death. Ed Miliband’s public stabbing of Npower is very publicly framed as a cost-of-living issue that affects everybody. This should remind us of Mike Konczal’s useful notion of pity-charity liberalism. Normal people offer humanitarian aid to essentially powerless clients, who are subject to a whole lotta intervention, badgering, and prodding to make sure they are deserving.

One of its problems is that it doesn’t build up a political coalition in its own interest. Another is that it lets the kind of people Orwell was talking about when he said that some people are drawn to socialism out of a hypertrophied sense of order let their freak-flags fly. And a further one is that it reinforces the arguments the oppo use against social security generally. It’s taking money from you! and giving it to Those People!

And finally, apparently it’s council housing that protects the vulnerable from the rapacity of the privatised energy industry. Yeah, well.


Simple Plan implementation!

It’s probably a telling data point that I, and quite a few other people, thought Faisal Islam was being sarcastic about this story and the councillor had somehow finagled the money. Perhaps he got the council to buy the property from himself? Emerging low trust society, h’ware ya.

But apparently not. Stevenage borrowed from the Public Works Loan Board (i.e. the Bundespicklesministerium) and bought up a bunch of houses, which they’re going to rent and use the (LHA-funded) rents to pay down the loan from central government. The annoying thing is that PWLB funding is relatively dear, and is contingent on approval from people like Eric Pickles and George Osborne. But it’s a start on the Simple Plan.

If this is the transaction, they got 2.37% from government over 9 years, 6 months, but there’s a further twist because of the process of transition from handing all housing revenue to central government to keeping it in-house. This apparently involves councils taking out loans from the PWLB (presumably to reflect the central government contribution in the past?).