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.

No, the Treasury did not “check it was FCA-compliant”

Remember that time the Conservative Party wrote to pensioners spruiking the 4% codger bonds and pretending to be an official communication from the Government? Sure ya do because I blogged it.

Back then, either Rowena Mason or Patrick Wintour got the following response from a nameless “Treasury aide”, i.e. one of Osborne’s spads aka @ToryTreasury, either Rupert Harrison, Poppy Mitchell-Rose, Eleanor Shawcross, or Ramesh Chhabra.

A Treasury aide said: “HM Treasury officials checked and confirmed this is FCA-compliant.”

Got that? HMT, he claims, checked that this was compliant with the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules. I can tell you now, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act request I filed, that has just been answered, that they did no such thing or at least the FCA denies it has any record of it. I’ve caught and rethrown it to NS&I.

The FCA also says that if you asked it, it wouldn’t answer because it doesn’t “pre-approve” financial promotions. It also says that National Savings & Investments is outside their authority because it belongs entirely to the Treasury, oh miracle. However, they also specifically deny that anyone checked.

Presumably the check consisted of Osborne asking himself if he thought it was OK, but in that case, why bother saying that they checked that it was OK with the FCA when the FCA doesn’t have anything to do with it?

so who is meant to be getting the extra £3.9bn in LHA?

OK so, we’ve had the Tories’ big idea, Right to Buy in clown shoes, denounced at the same time by the Southwark Renters’ Maoist reading group and the Confederation of British Industry. Truly, the coalition was the golden era of the harebrained scheme and the half-baked thinktank.

But let’s try to keep a straight face. What if the idea isn’t to “move” social housing, but rather to replace it in-situ? Travelling without moving; wasn’t that a Jamiroquai song? The Tories apparently want to sell councils’ most “expensive” homes.

Expensive here is a term of art; as everyone already pointed out, they are already built and don’t cost that much to run. What is expensive here is the land they sit on, which should point us clearly towards London. The idea is that as long as this land is not sold, the local authority is foregoing the money it could get from selling it, and this is a kind of cost. However, the local authority cannot just sell because it has a legal obligation to house people. What to do?

A surface reading of the proposal tells us that the homes sold would be replaced by “cheaper” ones. Most comment on this assumes that this means building new somewhere else, on cheaper land. But as we are now talking about building new, it might also mean building more cheaply, or perhaps more cheaply from the point of view of DCLG, in other words, getting someone else to pay.

Now, the proposal is that 12,000 “expensive” flats would be sold. This, of course, doesn’t clear the land they are built on – right-to-buy property is always leasehold on the council’s land. At the same time, 12,000 more “cheaper” units are meant to be built. These are described as “affordable”, a word that has a specific legal definition – it means that the rent is set at the 80th percentile of market rents in the area, usually about three times the social rent charged by local authorities. In effect, this means that more tenants end up claiming more Local Housing Allowance, a straight transfer from taxpayers to landlords. The NAO has scored the cost of the Tory proposal in LHA at £3.9bn.

The policy statement says that councils will “oversee” the process. Obviously this does not state that they will own the replacements, nor that they will be the client for the job. One way in which it might indeed be “cheaper” from a council or DCLG point of view would be if the job was done by private developers. The money from sales would be used to get the ball rolling, but they would borrow the rest, in the knowledge they could count on a substantial revenue stream from LHA. This might explain the Natalie Bennett-esque weirdness of the numbers involved.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me think about the emerging lobby for “estate regeneration” and the curious entity, “Create Streets”, run by intimate of Peter Lilley and ex-Tory MP, Nicholas Boys Smith, his mate Heneage the Dublin boom-era developer who dumped his losses on the Irish taxpayer, and George Osborne’s old speechwriter.

The idea is that either major London estates get clear-felled, and then rebuilt at much higher density and 80% rents, or else that a lot of new, 80% rent, property gets built as in-fill in the existing ones. Either way, a lot of people lose their existing homes in exchange for promises, and the 80% rents get billed to the central government budget for Local Housing Allowance. A hint that we’re going this way might be the mention of a £1bn fund being set aside for “brownfield”, i.e. urban, projects.

This outfit is seriously under-scrutinised and the reason is that it is hugely well-connected and is paying for a lot of lobby, with God knows who’s money. Here’s Faisal Islam uncritically nodding along. Here’s mysteriously influential unelected pol Andrew Adonis rebranding it “city villages” alongside Gary Yardley of Earl’s Court Project infamy and his ex-Blairite PR man who happens to be all over Tessa Jowell’s campaign for mayor like a nasty rash, in a piece by the Guardian‘s Dave Hill that takes the opportunity to complain about the dirty hippies in fine Iraq War-era style:

On the plus side, City Villages takes on some of the head-bending housing supply issues that much of London’s current, high-profile, oppositional housing activism hasn’t much to say about…Activists are against that too…

He’s sort of aware of the problems, but he just wants to mourn this terrible lack of civility from the internet juicebox mafia. I remember that. Well, Dave, if it’s ideas you’re after you could try the London Labour Housing Group blog. But the last time we did this the government minister responsible’s son ended up owning them all. You can see how some people might be a little tetchy.

The other take-away from this is that clearly the day after the election will be time to pull, roll, and get on the Jowell campaign’s tail. The thing about being oppositional is that you have to learn to like it.

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.

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:

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, you had a whole year.

Hark at Liberal Democrat Steve Webb. Where once he suggested you might take your pension pot and buy a Lamborghini, now he is having to do the rounds of the media saying “When it’s gone, it’s gone”, as my mum says. But the interesting bit is this quote:

The three government-backed “guidance” services that are supposed to aid those looking to cash in their pension pots cannot currently be promoted publicly for fear of breaking strict pre-election rules.

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb has had a year from the 2014 budget to get this working. Liberal Democrat Steve Webb has, however, run out of time before the pre-election purdah kicks in to get it working. Look at Liberal Democrat Steve Webb.

Unlike Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, I don’t believe anyone’s actually going to cash the whole lot and blow it on hookers and coke – I’m more worried about daft business ideas, buy-to-let mania, and dodgy investment schemes. But as far as I can see it, Steve Webb has given every scam artist in the kingdom five weeks’ head start on the honking big pile of money.

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb is an embarrassment, but the scary thing here is that this is exactly the sort of thing his officials should have caught. What with fixed-term parliaments, the date of the election was perfectly predictable years in advance. Either the civil service has lost its grip on the calendar, or they were overruled.

When we look back on the Coalition, I think we will see it either as the era of the pet project and the half-baked thinktank, now happily closed, or else the point when we began to realise that the institutions were doomed, that a bit of the commonwealth might come off in your hand, that Somerset just went soggy and the Cabinet Office thinks you should keep petrol in your kitchen.

It’s a choice between competence and chaos, as someone said.

PS: I’m not bound by any pre-election rules, so Pensions Wise is the service you’re looking for and that Liberal Democrat Steve Webb should have organised a mass publicity campaign about 6 months ago if he hadn’t left it in the pub.


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.

Sources close to Alex Harrowell will say “This is a lot of cock”

Journalists. Please, please, cut one phrase out of your vocabulary. It is “He will say”.

Why? Well, try “Unseasonably Mild” Wintour’s latest.

The first problem here is that something given out by a political party is being repeated uncritically. We get a complete paragraph-length Cameron soundbite, plus literally all the talking points, factoid by factoid and implausibly precise number by implausibly precise number. Because he hasn’t said it yet, there is no real response from the opposition or anyone else. There are remarks from Ed Balls, but they are either from the past and therefore stale, or else they are yet more he-will-say material, which means they aren’t responses to what the other he will say. The journalist has stepped into the game and granted the initiative to Gang A.

The second problem is that he-will-say stories permit journalists to pretend they have news when they only have briefings. He-will-say is news in the way that “a train will leave Stevenage for Finsbury Park at 0628 tomorrow” is news, or in other words, it’s not news. Wintour, or whoever, wants you to think he has discovered hints about what he-will-say through brilliant investigation or intimate contacts. So do they all, but they all have the story, because they were all briefed. They could just wait for the release tomorrow, but that would give away the unbearable fact that they aren’t all that. This leads us to the third problem.

The third problem is that he-will-say stories permit PR people to make sure their nonsense gets into the paper. They tell the national political hacks what he-will-say, rather than waiting ’til he says it, because then the hacks can pretend they have a story, which makes sure it gets into the paper. The fact that it’s in the paper leads us to the fourth problem.

The fourth problem is that the TV and radio people show up for the actual speech, although there is now no news in it, because it was briefed out to the newspapers as a he-will-say. This is a further violation of the general anti-bullshit principle.

Now we might say that this is a structural consequence of the media today, or some such. But look how often Wintour does it. Michael White did it about twice as often. On the other hand, business, sports, or trade journalists barely do it at all. I can’t think of the last time I saw a business desk article with “He will say” in the lede, although it’s not like business lobbyists don’t speechify. So it’s evidently a feature of the special/sick relationship between big news political desks and politicians.

Before you ask, I haven’t noticed anywhere near as many “She will say” stories, but even if they were to appear more often they would be just as awful for the reasons I have described. It might as well be “Karellen will say” without the passionate opposition to animal cruelty.