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I just got the statements from the various people who want to be the Labour candidate for mayor of London.

The good news is that candidates Christian Wolmar, Diane Abbott, and David Lammy all seem to be supporting some version of the simple plan. Wolmar wants to set up a London Housing Development Agency. Abbott wants “an agency that builds homes”. Lammy, and this is a surprise, specifically wants to issue London housing bonds to finance a building programme.

That’s about as specific as any of them get, although Gareth Thomas wants to raise the minimum wage. The rest of Lammy’s statement is mostly about how great he is. The fourth sentence is as follows:

London has given me all I have – going to Harvard, becoming a barrister and later a government minister

Sadiq Khan’s doesn’t say anything at all about what he might do, but does say:

My story is the story of the best of London

Tessa Jowell’s is like you might expect:

I believe I can win, and I promise you I will deliver.

Neeraj Patil, apparently, feels your pain. There, there. And the NHS. Which the mayor isn’t in charge of. Christian Wolmar is very pleased with what the Guardian said about his campaign, and lots of stuff about trains. Keran Kerai didn’t bother to proofread:

We need to make the city think that they can achieve in getting housing. Building homes will change some of that by helping the supply and we can also create social housing to give people a place to have shelter. Homelessness need to be solved. Polices times can be improved. Waiting in need needs to be improved by the NHS.

We need to build better backbone to the city. Transport need to be upgraded. We need to look to convert the city to the future by investing in green tech. We need to spread the wealth of the city by linking it to UK and foreign cities.

My past in mathematics has given me the logical step towards building a better London. I how to use data to predict treads and how best to serve those options. I have lived in London and know the big problems we face in housing and transport. The way I lay out way to do it by creating a system of learning and adapting to change in the future of the nation.

We need to build a legacy for Londoners to have a dream to feel that London is their home and that the future is brighter than ever. Investing in trade links will help to create wealth for London as well, using it to help Londoners with their problems. Policing and health care is one of the things people want improvement in.

Diane Abbott should get some credit for managing not to use me or I even once in her statement, quite a literary achievement.

The coalition had a majority of 76.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interesting chart on Ashcroft polls

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


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

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

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

Just like the Tories.

Last autumn, we were all arguing about Labour’s fiscal policy and to what extent it had pre-committed to sticking with Tory budget plans. This hinged on, among other things, whether they were going to exclude public sector capital investment from the numbers or include it. It looked for a while as if it was going to be excluded, but more recently the Eds have been talking about the current budget, i.e. the budget less capital investment. This is important, among other things, because capital investment is the primary channel for a Keynesian intervention in the economy.

If you doubt, recall 2010-2011 – a lot of people were in the habit of protesting that there “hadn’t been any austerity yet” but for some reason the economy was tanking. There hadn’t yet been much change in the overall budget balance, but there had been massive cuts to public sector capital investment, largely because it’s easy to cut investment projects. They are distinct, discrete lump sums and you can make them stop. Identifying and cutting spending in the NHS, say, or the civil service is much more difficult. Idling a lot of public sector construction was a great way to set everyone’s expectations low. In the first 2 years of the Coalition, they cut public investment by 40 per cent. They have taken it from 3.3% of GDP to 1.4% and their forward plans would take it down to 1.2%.

And then the Eds signed the Charter for Budget Responsibility. This is one of those tiresomely American devices that were fashionable at the time, when the Treasury was convinced that the public needed reassuring with austerity-y mouthnoise and extra committees to prevent that terrible out-of-control spending we had in 2005. It’s issued pursuant to the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011, which sounds like it should have a catchy acronym title even if it doesn’t. As a reminder, here’s that out-of-control spending in 2005-2006 again:

The Tories tout the fact Labour didn’t vote against this version as some sort of big concession. However, if you read the thing, you’ll find that it requires only cyclically-adjusted, current balance by the end of the five-year forecast horizon. Unpacking this, this means that it provides an escape hatch in the event of a recession, because the assessment is linked to the output gap, quite a bit of wiggle-room anyway in the determination of the economic cycle, and it excludes capital investment.

Signing up to it, therefore, actually grants Ed Balls substantially more freedom of action than he had before, not least because he can refer critics to the austere and solemn charter. We were arguing, before this, about whether it might be possible to sneak a school or two in. The Charter, as it stands today, explicitly keeps the option open. LSE’s John van Reenen reckons this could be a difference of £35bn over the five years to come, concentrated on public sector capital investment.

And, don’t forget, the horror is still to come. Under Tory plans, we’re going to get as much austerity again, packed into the next two years:


The Daily Hell seems to have recruited a visualisation designer from the Liberal Democrats, going by this little effort.

Screenshot from 2015-04-07 10:17:14

Why are the bars in the first one of varying thickness? Why is time represented as flowing from right to left? In the second, why is a change of 10 percentage points represented as equal to one of 13.5 percentage points?

In other trivia, I was amused by this interview with Tamara Rojo in which she claims what everyone else needs is more discipline, hard work, and dedication, and the government should subsidise the arts more generously. Well, yes.